D6990 Rotary Foundation Global Grant Scholar, Michael Matthiesen, April Update

In April 2014, the Rotary Foundation awarded a Global Grant Scholarship to Michael Matthiesen, who will spend a year studying at the University College of London. This prestigious grant was sponsored by Rotary District 6990 and matched 100% by the World Fund for a total of $30,000. Michael sends District 6990 news about his grant experience.

April has been one of the most Rotary focused months I have had since coming to London. I spoke at three Rotary Clubs, had dinner with my host, and engaged in other surprise Rotary centered events.

Fellow Rotary Scholar Jesse O'Shea and I in the Mountains of Madeira

Fellow Rotary Scholar Jesse O’Shea and me in the Mountains of Madeira

I kicked off the month by going with a trip to Portugal with one of the other scholars from Florida, Jesse O’Shea. We went to the beautiful island of Madeira, a Portuguese territory off the coast of Morocco. The island is a popular tropical getaway for the English, and is famous for being the birthplace of Cristano Ronaldo. The main city in Madeira is Funchal. Though Jesse and I didn’t expect it to be a Rotary Trip, upon arriving at our hotel we gazed across the street at a large Rotary Wheel! We ended up running into the Rotary Club of Funchal who hold meetings near the hotel we were staying at. The Rotary Club had also made a lot of donations to build up the local area, and there were tons of points on the island that indicated that this building, this statue, or this park was made possible by the Rotary Club of Funchal. Jesse and I both took pictures with the massive Rotary wheel that was across from our hotel. After Madeira, Jesse and I went to Lisbon where we ended up running into another scholar from Kentucky, Michael Fryar, who we didn’t know was traveling to Lisbon at the same time.

The statue of the Rotary Wheel right out side our hotel which was donated by the Rotary Club of Funchal

The statue of the Rotary Wheel right out side our hotel which was donated by the Rotary Club of Funchal 

Upon coming back to London, I ended up doing three speeches in two weeks. The first was the Rotary Club of Northwick. Upon arriving at the Northwick meeting I immediately noticed some of the Rotary Club banners they had on display. Apparently the Rotary Club of Northwick had strong relationships with Rotary Clubs in the Grand Bahamas, Funchal, and Orlando! I told them that not only was I from Florida, but that District 6990 covers the Grand Bahamas. They were an excellent club, and I appreciate them inviting me to speak. The Rotary Clubs of Battersea, Brixton, and Clapham (that’s one club) and the Rotary Club of Epping were also extremely generous hosts. The Rotary Club of Clapham had one Rotarian how had a fascinating story about being injured in the Dominican Republic, hospitalised in Ft. Lauderdale, and then the NHS flew him back to London on a medical jet, but, stopped in Canada, Iceland, and Ireland on the way back. In one medical visit the Rotarian had stopped in 5 different countries (Dominican Republic, USA, Canada, Iceland, and Ireland) as he said “it was the longest 16 hours of my life.” The Rotary Club of Epping, wasn’t in London but in a city just outside London, Epping. They were a charming lunch club that was doing so much to help those victimised during the Earthquake in Nepal. The Rotary Club President even shared a story about how a Nepalese Rotary Club was meeting at a hotel during the earthquake, and the earthquake collapsed on the club. To aid those is need, the club had already donated £1,000 and was planning on donating more. For those in Nepal, I pray they meet their goals.

Taking a Picture with the Rotary Club of Northwick President

Taking a Picture with the Rotary Club of Northwick President

Speaking at the Rotary Club of Clapham

Speaking at the Rotary Club of Clapham

However, the exciting part of the month came on April 20th, when I arranged for the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Matthew Barzun, to come speak at Goodenough College. Back in November, I had called the embassy to see if the Ambassador would do a speech for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but he still wanted to come and speak, and arranged the date in April. I was able to convince the Ambassador because one of the previous U.S. Ambassador’s to the UK under the Bush Administration was not only a Rotarian with the Rotary Club of London, the club that is hosting me, BUT was also a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar! The reputation Rotary International already had with the Embassy was a huge boost in getting the Ambassador to come speak at Goodenough, and it was one of the events of the year. Several Ambassadors had already come to speak at Goodenough throughout the year, but we noticed how the American Ambassador was different. Many noted the American style of diplomacy to be a bit different then other countries, and it went off well. Everyone loved the personality of the Ambassador and his staff. I was very grateful that he was able to make it, after keeping my fingers crossed since November!

A Picture of Rabhanath Swami and IThe cover of his autobiography Journey Home

A Picture of Rabhanath Swami and IThe cover of his autobiography Journey Home

On a Miami note, the week after the Ambassador’s speech, Civitatis International, a international Relations group that holds events at Goodenough, held a meeting with Radhanath Swami, a famous hindu spiritual leader in India. At the event, 17 Ambassadors from countries across the world (including Denmark, Bosnia, Columbia, Honduras, Venezuela, and more) sat at a round table and listened to the Swami speak on spirituality in politics and international relations for two hours. It was mesmerising to see huge players in London sitting and listening to a wise but quiet man from India. What was even more weird was…I was put at the front of the roundtable right next to the Ambassador from Denmark! Do not know how I ended up there, but I tried to stay on my best behaviour. During the Q&A session, I raised my hand and asked the Swami a question about how to apply the hindu teachings he was mentioning in social policy in the U.S. When I said I was from the U.S, he asked what city I was from. Of course, I said Miami. After I did, he smiled, and revealed that he was a gradaute of Miami Dade College North Campus from the 1960s! He is an American from Chicago that studied at MDC before running away to India on a spiritual journey and becoming the Swami he is today! It was weird having 17 Ambassadors, the whole Goodenough College Administration, and some my friends stare as the Swami and I had a conversation about Miami. When I told him I worked at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus, before coming to London he again smiled. At the end of the conference his staff gave me his book, told me to get him to sign it. I did, and we had another private conversation about Miami which ended in him giving me a hug. It was one moment I will never forget.


Michael Matthiesen, B.A 

Categories: Happenings in D6990

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