April 2020 -- Thomas, Catherine and Andrew Gump can whip up an exquisite Spanish paella, genuine Belgian waffles, and a delicious (and simple) salad vinaigrette from the Alsace region of France. They learned each recipe from a native of those locales – yet all from the comfort of their own kitchen in Edina.
The Gumps are six-time veterans of Rotary Youth Exchange, a global program that immerses students ages 15-19 in new cultural settings for a full academic year. Unlike most foreign exchange initiatives, Rotary International’s is managed principally by volunteers, and students typically switch between three host families over the course of their stay.
In a given year, roughly 9,000 students from all across the world take part in the Youth Exchange. Each is sponsored by a Rotary club or district in their home country, and hosted by another while abroad. The Rotary Club of Edina Morningside participates regularly on both sides of this exchange.
The Gumps’ involvement with the program began shortly after Thomas joined Rotary in 2013. “There was a need for a family to host a student for a week or so, only while the other host family was out of town,” Catherine recalled. “We raised our hands.”
This brief but fun stint with Louis from Alsace ended with the Gumps offering to host him between Thanksgiving and spring break, as well – during which “he was part of our family,” Catherine explained.
Indeed, they have been in touch ever since. “[Louis’] family came to visit at the end of his exchange year. We had so much fun, they visited us again the following year!” Most recently, Catherine and son, Andrew, returned the gesture and visited their home near the French border with Germany and Switzerland.
After this overwhelmingly positive introductory experience, the Gumps’ became one of the Rotary Youth Exchange’s biggest local champions. They have since welcomed to Edina students from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Spain, South Korea and – most recently – India.
Given this diversity of cultures, each and every host experience has offered new learning opportunities for all involved. Their most recent guest, Ayush from India, offers a perfect case in point, notes Thomas. During the five-day celebration of Diwali, “having Ayush with us prompted us to invite one of Andrew’s friends (who is from India) and his family … to learn about the Hindu Festival of Lights.”
Thomas has had many opportunities to extol the program’s virtues to other Rotarians. He is among the city’s most active. He served a term as president of the Edina Morningside club, and is on deck to lead Rotary District 5950 as Governor in 2020-2021. District 5950 encompasses both Edina chapters and 60 others throughout central and southern Minnesota.
In spring 2020, Doug McElrath – the current president of the Rotary Club of Edina Morningside – put forward the whole Gump family for the Edina Community Foundation’s Connecting With Kids Leadership Award.
In his nomination, McElrath described them as “inclusive, selfless and tireless. … They have provided a connection for Edina youth to meet and make friends with students from all over the world.”
One expects that Louis, Ayush and the other students the Gumps have touched would wholeheartedly agree with that character reference and endorsement.