Posted by Craig Vroom

A Rotary Youth Exchange student pauses before a Winter Carnival Parade spectator on the streets of McCall. “Would you like to buy some beads?” she asks. “No thanks,” replied the reveler. She tries again. “Would you like to buy some beads from a pretty, Swedish girl?” He breaks into a wide grin. “Of course!” he exclaims, as he reaches for his cash. Emboldened by the sale, Swedish student Alma refines her sales pitch for the next customer: “BEADS for NEEDS from SWEDES!”


Multiply the energy and enthusiasm of Alma by 27 and you had enough moxie to sell over $2,000 dollars in beads. Those fifteen inbound and twelve outbound students accepted the challenge from McCall’s Colby Rampton the night before and sold every bead issued them. They raised enough funds to provide a number of McCall Rotary college scholarships for youth in our community!

The next day John Lodal, District 5400 RYE Director, mused about the students. His comments reflect the great respect and admiration he has for them. “They grow so much during their exchange year. They come in as courageous and curious kids and leave as informed world citizens. It’s an amazing transformation. They see a challenge and embrace it.” In his unique, gravelly voice he enthusiastically described the way the students had gone all-out to sell those beads for scholarships. “They were incredible! This was truly Service Above Self, baby!”

Stepping into the unknown and meeting a challenge is nothing new for these students. After all, they have left (or will be leaving) behind everything that is normal and comfortable to them: friends, family, language, and country. So, McCall was a much needed break for many from the rigors of being an international student. They arrived in McCall Thursday evening to a winter wonderland at Pilgrim Cove Camp, ready to get to work. Staying at the camp gave them the opportunity to take some training, make new friends, and renew friendships with others. Hosts Kari and Lori, managers of the camp, made them feel comfortable and welcomed.

The next day found them on the slopes of Brundage Mountain. Local students helped the others find their way to the chairlifts and down the mountain. They tested their alpine skills on skies and snowboards. As John described it, “Nobody got hurt and Eduardo is now the newest member of the Brazilian Ski Team!” They witnessed the unveiling of a truly remarkable snow sculpture at 7,640 feet: Ullr, the Snow God Legend. And, to top off a perfect day, the group treated themselves to a dip in Zim’s hot springs. That night, after dinner, District 5400 Governor Jennifer Deroin welcomed the group, encouraged everyone to embrace their experience, and asked them to remember the importance of the message they take with them. And then she got them up to dance!

On parade day, after selling all their beads, the students hustled over to their float. But this year McCall had yet another challenge for them. The night before, the Chamber had said that they did not have enough volunteers to man McCall’s urban legend, Sharlie. What would the parade be without our parade icon? But our RYE students promptly volunteered to save the day! Max from Germany led the way as

Sharlie’s head. They tied a rope around him, attaching him to the rest of Sharlie’s ‘tail’, and off he went, snaking his way down the parade route, thrilling kids and scaring small dogs. Who would have guessed that a German boy from Herrenburg, living in Idaho Falls, was this year’s Sharlie? The rest of the RYE group hopped on their float and proudly displayed their homemade signs to the cheers of 20,000 spectators along the route.

RYE students come from all over Idaho and the four corners of the world. They will be diplomats for the rest of their lives, each bringing a small part of their country and their language to others. Each contributes, in their own way, to world peace. Aurore, from Belgium, told me that her perceptions of

American kids were almost totally based on the film, High School Musical. Some in her hometown expressed doubts about Americans and her decision to come here. But she knew it was a ‘good opportunity’ and she ‘is so glad’ she came. She has made many friends in the small town of Montpelier and will bring back some wonderful memories of her time

in Idaho. She will truly be a diplomat to the Belgium people. So, to Alma, Eduardo, Max, Aurore, and all the rest of you RYE students: McCall gave you this wonderful weekend but YOU gave so much more to all of us in McCall. Thank you so very much!

No story about the kids is complete without a shout out to the many Rotarian- associated adults that made the weekend possible: Michelle and Shayne Carpenter of Twin Falls, Cynthia Billmeier, Matt Romriell, and Rich Kirkham of Pocatello, Anna Mathieu of Hailey, Dave Shaw, Mike Markley, Beth Markley, Todd Fischer, Pam Lodal, and Laura Spencer of Boise, Lauren Murdoch of Blackfoot, and Mike Dittenber of Caldwell. A big thanks goes out to Colby and Rotarian Katie Moser for leading McCall’s New Generations team. Other McCall Rotarians and residents who engaged with or supported the kids included President Elect Stephanie Nelson, Eliza Barkley, and Michael Hayes and Judd DeBoer of Brundage Mountain.

Watch the parade here!