By Kate Roff, a former Rotary Youth Exchange student, January 24th, 2017, published in Rotary Voices

Being lost in the middle of the bustling, hazy, city of Bangkok, Thailand, is not ideal for a 17-year-old Australian girl. But, it was a moment that changed my life.

I was on Rotary Youth Exchange and despite excellent instructions from my caring host-family; I had no idea how the intricate bus system worked, and hadn’t mastered the language yet to ask. After boarding the wrong bus for the third time, a young student calmly stood up, took me by the arm and walked me miles down the road to the right stop. She spoke little English, but waited patiently until my bus arrived and told the driver my destination. It must have added a full hour to her day, and she wanted nothing in return – just to help a stranger.

Bangkok street scene

A bustling, hazy, street scene in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Joe Powers

I was shocked. I had never encountered such kindness. That was one of many moments I was humbled by the generosity of the Thai people during my exchange year, and something that I hold up as proof of genuine compassion in the world.

Today, I am the founding editor of Peace News – a new media platform that provides alternative news stories from conflict zones. While mainstream war reporting focuses on violence, explosions, and hatred, we focus on telling stories of peace-builders. Wars need to be covered, but we aim to provide balance to the reporting – in every conflict zone there are people taking risks for peace, and we want to show that side as well.

In my line of work I see, and hear about, horrific violence, and it’s often difficult to keep faith in humanity. I believe it’s a growing fear for many people today, and sensationalist media representations of how ‘bad the world is becoming’ don’t help. We often need reminding that there are still great people out there, that there are inspiring examples of tolerance and empathy still going on.

My year as an exchange student showed me that there is good reason to have hope, and provided me with a platform to direct my career. Through the endless examples of kindness from a host country, and also exposure to many cultures through other exchange students, I saw enormous capacity for a global community. Rotary taught me to appreciate and respect diversity – a hot topic today with global immigration debates.

I have no idea who that student was who stopped to direct a confused foreigner all those years ago, but her act reminds me daily of what one moment of empathy can do. She taught me to have a little trust in the world we are so often trying furiously to change – and to always travel with a bus map.

Learn more about Rotary Youth Exchange