From chilly Wearside to the software city of north east Brazil. Jane O’Neill is off on the trip of a lifetime with the Rotary Club to promote the region and find out more about the South American country.
“I LOVE to travel and I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in many fantastic countries.
“So when the chance came up to apply for the Rotary Club Group Study Exchange (GSE), I was determined to get an interview.
“Hopefuls from across the North East, eager to take part in the four-week trip, were put through an intensive application and interview process.
“The Rotary Foundation was looking for four professionals aged between 25 and 40 to take part in a visit to the Ribeirao Preto area of Brazil, near São Paulo.
“For four weeks, team members have the chance to experience the host country’s cultures and institutions, observe how their vocations are practised abroad, develop personal and professional relationships and exchange ideas.
“But it’s not about lounging on beaches or long, boozy lunches.
“A typical tour involves five full days of vocational visits, 15 to 20 club presentations, 10 to 15 formal visits, two to three days at a district conference, three to four hours per day of cultural and site tours and time spent with host families.
“Before the interview, I devoted my spare time to researching Brazil’s history and culture – looking at the issues facing journalists there, who often don’t enjoy the same freedom of speech that the British press treasures.
“I also took along a portfolio of my work with the Echo, to show the panel exactly what a regional journalist does.
“The interview at Gateshead’s Civic Centre in front of four Rotarians was challenging. I’m used to asking the questions and they obviously needed to make sure I had the dedication to take part.
“I tried to emphasise my love of experiencing other cultures and having adventures abroad, shunning the traditional package holiday to go off the beaten track – and the skills a journalist could bring to the team, including communication, flexibility and the ability to get the best out of a busy schedule.
“I made the shortlist and was left speechless when offered a place.
“Since then it’s been an intensive round of meeting my fellow travellers, planning out a selection of presentations about ourselves and the North East, trying to learn Portuguese and booking up for the variety of vaccinations needed. “Joining me on the trip are an engineer, mental health nurse and council officer.
“We’ve spent the last few months working together so we can promote the rich culture and history of the North East and the good work of its Rotary Club.
“Some of us are seasoned travellers, some have extensive experience in voluntary work and we are all excited and a little apprehensive about the challenges that face us.
“We fly from Newcastle on Saturday, travelling via Heathrow and São Paulo.
“We’ll be staying with around five host families and are busy picking out presents with a North East flavour as thanks.
“They certainly won’t miss us wherever we go – we have all been measured up for a smart, blue team uniform.
“Although it will be autumn when we arrive in Brazil, temperatures will still be a comfortable 13 to 18°C, so we’ve decided on smart blouses for the women, plus blazers and waterproof jackets.
“On my return to the North East, we’ll be visiting local Rotary Clubs and the national conference in Peebles, Scotland, to talk about our experiences and I’ll writing about them in the Echo.
“I’ve been given an amazing opportunity and hope I can do Sunderland proud. I’m sure the trip will also help develop my professional and personal skills and create memories which will last a lifetime.”
“The team is led by an experienced Rotary member, Peter Tracey, of Whitley Bay, and is a member of the Rotary club of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
He said: “The GSE trip to Brazil is just the most wonderful opportunity for four young professional people to have an unforgettable experience and all thanks to the wisdom and generosity and far-sightedness of The Rotary clubs in the North East.
“The team of four will be able to visit another world, and there to see how their own professions are organised and developed.
“As well as that, there is the whole cultural experience of living in another country for an extended period with Brazilian families and all of this is possible because of the altruism of the Rotary clubs and their commitment to world peace and understanding.
“The GSE trip is fully funded by the Rotary Foundation, the charitable arm of Rotary International.”
RIBEIRAO Preto – which means Black Brook – is a municipality and city in the north eastern region of the state of São Paulo in Brazil.
It is nicknamed the Brazilian California, because of a combination of an economy based on businesses involved in food production, plus high technology, wealth and sunny weather all year long.
Average temperatures in winter are 19°C and summer 29°C.
With 605,114 inhabitants, Ribeirão Preto is the ninth largest municipality in the state.
DURHAM County Council worker Maxine Watchman will join Jane on the trip.
The 38-year-old is a performance and improvement officer at County Hall, Durham City.
She said: “I would be really interested to understand how local and central government operates in Brazil, and to experience how this works first hand.
“I would be particularly interested to see how local government engages and works with communities.”
The Brazil-bound team is representing Rotary International District 1030.
It covers the North East and includes 68 clubs, with 2,000 members and is a member of NECC in the voluntary sector.
Jane’s sponsoring club is Wearside, which meets on Mondays from 7pm in the Roker Hotel.
She would like to thank Rotarian Peter Fisher and wife Nicola for putting her forward for the GSE trip.
Jane is hoping to keep Echo readers updated with regular blogs and videos, which will appear on the Echo’s website.
You can follow her journey on Twitter by following @janethejouro and looking out for #EchoinBrazil.