I have been working with Rotary Districts in this program for about 27 years. This includes orientations in about 52 districts in the USA and Canada, attending the International Youth Exchange Conference frequently, attending the regional conferences, ie US/Canada, SACA, EEMA.
Based on the unique needs of this program, IYWT provides the following services to you volunteer Rotarians: Orientations, Visa Service, Ticketing, and attendance at most of the meetings above. (We used to be at the North American gateway airports on the day of departure to assist the students, but 9-11 and TSA stopped that. But who knows, we may be able to reinstitute that service at some future date).
I have found it best if we appear 'in-person' at one of your district Outbound Orientations. This allows us to meet with the current Rotarians and review any staff or policy changes, but more importantly it allows us to work together in our presentations to the parents and students, reinforcing the uniqueness of the Rotary experience, and building confidence in the students ability to successfully complete their exchange, while at the same time, building a sense of trust in the parents, that our responsibilities are not taken lightly and that they will be able to 'let go - and let Rotary'. This 'letting go' on the parents part becomes more difficult each year, first because this generation of parents seems to be over protective, and secondly, the mass advances in technology have made it far to easy for the parents to interfere in an otherwise successful exchange! (How many times have students called me from overseas asking "Ed, is there anyway you can get my mom to quit calling me 3-5 times a week - I can't go out with friends, enjoy my host family even go to Rotary meetings, because I have to be at the computer for the Skype call/cam session?").
Because of the student's age, the length of stay and purpose in the host country, this can be a very confusing, long, arduous process, and it is continually changing. We communicate with the governments of each host country and continually update each host countries latest changes to the 'Student Visa' as interpreted by the consul of jurisdiction. In April/May of the Rotary year, we communicate this information, with the key elements to successful completion of the paperwork and ask that it be returned to us in a timely manner. We are available by e-mail and phone to answers questions the students may have in completing this paperwork. Once returned to us, we double check it for accuracy and submit it to the Consulate of Jurisdiction for visa issuance. Each country and each of their consulates have different requirements for the issuance of this visa and different processing times. Because of the USA response to 9-11, (all Inbound students must personally appear at a US Consulate to obtain their visa) a few of our hosting countries have instituted the same procedure-most notably France and Spain. To accommodate this in-person interview, IYWT schedules a specific interview calendar date with the consulate and is there, at the consulate to assist each student. With a notarized document from the custodial parents to act on their behalf, we fly and meet students from outlying states, ie Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada, meet them at the airport, arrange and pay for ground transportation to and from the consulate, chaperone and assist the student, I even buy them lunch--and save these families the cost of an additional airline ticket (for the parent) a rental car or taxi tab, and usually a hotel/food costs for one night in San Francisco-and we get this done in one day with no overnight. We provide the same assistance at the consulate to those families that wish to drive into San Francisco. Other countries though they may 'require' the interview, will let IYWT stand in for them because of IYWT's years of relations with these consular officials, ie Ecuador and Italy so the student is relieved from appearing.
Until the visa is issued, no ticket can be issued, because a departure 'date certain' is impossible until the visa is issued. In most cases, we 'push' the paperwork issue with the student and their Rotarians both here and overseas so we can meet the needs of the receiving district, but delays do happen for a sundry list of reasons-and this then begins to test the parents ability to trust any part of the program. And although I tell them I have a waiver on most advance purchase rules, they still want to start shopping for an immediate ticket purchase-even though the ticket may be totally worthless if the visa hasn't been issued.
Due to the uniqueness of the Rotary Youth Exchange program (one year of high school-for students who have not attained legal majority), certain rules were developed over time regarding acceptable tickets for the program worldwide and reaffirmed at these various conferences. This consensus helps to insure both exchanging districts, that on a successful exchange, the student has a proper ticket to complete their Rotary year, and if problems develop, the student has a ticket suitable for their immediate departure. They are:
1. The ticket must be direct to the hosting country-ie NO-stopovers enroute to visit friends or family members
2. The ticket must be valid for one-year from first date of travel
3. The ticket must be an 'OPEN' return
4. No third party tickets are allowed, (unless IYWT assumes responsibility)
These rules have to be continually reinforced, due to the fact that most outbound parents believe they are travel agents and can beat everyone else's price, even if they 'fudge' a bit on these rules. THAT'S THE REASON THESE RULES WERE FORMULATED. In order to maintain 'peace, understanding and goodwill through the exchange of our youth' your Rotary counterparts are trusting that you have enforced these rules and that to avoid, as has happened in so many cases that necessitated this policy, the parents simply refuse to pay any additional costs and the host club/district then has to be out of pocket in order to send the student home!
With the above in mind, I shop through the airlines for contractual fares, (those fares outside the tariffs open to the general public) to not only meet the rules above, but to obtain 'equal to' or 'substantially less' than the open market cost.
This type of ticket is generally a contracted fare, built upon years of relationship with airlines. HOWEVER, this depends on the market being addressed. Most contractual tickets require a certain number of participants, or the group is not eligible. As the outbound destinations vary from year to year, so does the availability of contractual fares. When contractual fares are not available, then group fares or discounted fares are searched. If these are not available, then the open market fares are searched. Additionally, 'through fares' are not available to all destinations, resulting in the issuance of two tickets to the student. No matter the type, all tickets must still meet Rotary Rules. The 'class of ticket' is different for every situation above and may be different to different destinations on the same carrier.
Generally return reservations are based on the class of service. HOWEVER, being responsible to Rotary, I have various ways of bringing a student back in very short notice. In these situations, I can generally 'free-up' a seat to meet Rotary's wishes in both countries. I have also been able to 'upgrade' the class of service out of my own pocket if absolutely needed. I use these methods for 'early or emergency returns'; otherwise, I use the availability of the class of service for normal returns. That is why, on the normal return form we send out, we ask for a small window for the return date. It is not the normal circumstance for a student to know their return date next year so we can issue the ticket for this year's departure, as too many possibilities present themselves, that's why the OPEN return is ideal! Working together, we can usually finalized the return in Jan-Mar even with amendments later and normally not have to charge the student/parents any additional cost! (you might not believe it, but we change some students returns up to 10+ times before they actually get on an airplane home! And again, WITHOUT ADDITIONAL COST in 85-90% of the cases!)
Lastly, I not only bear in mind the Rotary Rules above, but work to the benefit of the sending Rotary District, receiving Rotary District and the hosting/natural family needs. That is why I generally set a specific departure date for a country (after first checking with the Overseas Rotary district). This allows the Rotary receiving district to go to the airport only once and receive all of the students that IYWT sends. It also works to the students benefit in that they are traveling together with others, on the majority of the outbound overseas flights - this also reassures the parents. And in the rare instance of an early or late departure can still accommodate the student with the discounted fares.
IYWT has also guaranteed that if a student drops from the program altogether, or is changed by Rotary to a different host country, even after ticketing, but before departure, they will receive either a 100% refund of the air ticket or the funds paid/ticketed will simply be moved to the new host country ticket!
Some Rotary Districts highly recommend IYWT, but do not insist that the parents use us. This is entirely suitable to me. Every year, a few parents opt out of IYWT for whatever reason, and that's just the nature of the business. However, it then becomes incumbent on you, the district Rotarians to insure that the family has purchased a suitable product. That is why most of my 50 other Rotary districts, because of the proven service I've given over the years INSIST that ALL OUTBOUNDS obtain their visa and purchase their ticket through IYWT.
Rotary Youth Exchange is a unique exchange program. It builds its quality because of volunteer Rotarians world-wide. It is less expensive than most other programs, because of this volunteerism. (YFU and AFS begin with a $5000-7000 admin fee and the ticket and visa costs are in addition). That's why Woody Angst (past District Chairman of 5010) has always said: "This is Rotary Youth Exchange, hundreds of other exchange programs exist, so if you the parents or students cannot comply with ALL of our Rotary policies/rules, then you should leave our program and investigate one of the other programs" . Rotary has built this quality over the years because of consistent policies/rules-amended over the years to meet new challenges and needs, but consistent in that the quality of the exchange continues to increase. And as both Woody Angst and Bob Brickman (past Central States and a Rotary Director have maintained: " We are a moderately priced program that covers the costs of the way we run Rotary Youth Exchange. A cheaper program is neither a larger program or necessarily a better program-it can lead to the dilution of what we have proven works! If we see an outstanding student with financial needs, that's what Rotary Fundraisers are all about" And as Abby Royce (Past Rotary President from Australia) told me when he re-opened Russia to Rotary and I asked him about youth exchange: "I'd rather have one dedicated student with a supportive family, that represents our Rotary ideals and purpose, than 10 students and parents who will twist this program into some type of personal exchange and give both Rotary and their country an unbecoming image!"
Even though less expensive than a lot of other programs, people are naturally cost conscience and will try to drive the price down further. To maintain Rotary's high quality program, many districts have implemented a "One Fee" program. The districts works with each of their vendors: ie, IYWT, printers, blazer providers, hotel room/catering for orientations, an insurance company, and the host country's language camps and socialized insurance costs, etc; then adds the expected district costs, ie international collect calls, Fedex, mileage, etc and builds a Total Outbound Year Cost-usually 5-7% is add to this number. This is simply divided by the number of outbound students and that becomes the complete price for the year per student. This 'one fee' cost is presented to the parents/students at the first in-house orientation, usually in October/November. This has been a very big success in the districts that employ it. Firstly, the parents are able to budget, instead of being presented a laundry list of sundry charges for 9 months! Secondly, it allows Rotary to send the best qualified student, without regard for parental financial ability to the country best suited for that student. Thirdly, it allows the sending district the 'control of vendor/providers' to insure the best possible quality/price is provided and meets Rotary International and specifically the sending/receiving district policies. It then frees up the Rotarians from the quality control work for each student and allows that Rotarian volunteer the time, to orient, support, guide, and encourage each of their students in the background, tips, abilities and skills need for a successful exchange year (that's the fun part!). AND at the end of each year's program, if any funds remain, it is usually pro-rated by student and sent back to the parents as a refund cheque. Talk about building credibility and reliability!
Thank you for the opportunity to assist you Rotary Volunteers !
(As you can probably tell, I truly love this program, you Rotarians, and the fact that we are truly building a better world through the exchange of our youth!)