Posted by Markus Muhs on Jun 13, 2019
Rotary International's annual convention was in Hamburg, Germany this year. Since I have family in Hamburg anyway, whom I haven't visited in 6 years, I took the opportunity to make this my first RI conference visit, the 110th international conference in Rotary's history. 
We always talk about the scale of Rotary International: 1.2 million members in 35,000+ clubs in almost every country in the world. You don't truly get to appreciate the scale of the organization until you attend your first international conference. With around 25,000 attendees, the Hamburg conference wasn't even that big; the 2016 conference in Seoul had over 50,000 attendees!
Even so, you couldn't swing a Finkenwerder Scholle anywhere in the Speicherstadt, the Reeperbahn, or anywhere on the U-bahn without hitting someone wearing a Rotary lanyard. Even my baby cousin (I mentioned I had relatives there) asked her mom who all these people with name tags are who invaded her town.
While a good majority of the attendees seemed to be from North America and Germany, it's also incredible to see the growing diversity of Rotarians. My father, member of the Rotary Club of Peachland, joined me on the trip and he also attended the 2013 conference in Lisbon. He observed that the contingent of Rotarians from the developing world, especially from Africa (many stood out in their formal dashikis and matching kufi caps) has grown significantly. Also seen were considerable contingents from Egypt, Taiwan, and if memory serves it was also announced that the conference included its first attendees from Iraq. A highlight from the opening ceremony was the parade of flags, where youth exchange students from around the world announced the flags of all nations with Rotary clubs.
I mentioned this conference was huge. So huge that there were several people who I knew were in attendance but did not once run into during the 5-day conference. I even barely managed to connect with our Assistant Governor, Marilyn, and District Governor, Ingrid, due to some confusion as to where we were meeting in the House of Friendship (Which House of Friendship? It was so huge it filled two big halls. Above picture is just one of them).
By sheer coincidence, on the first full day of the conference, I did manage to bump into some people I completely didn't expect to be in attendance for this one. Every year for the past five years I've been flying down to Belize to take part in the Rotary Club of Edmonton's Belize Playground project, where I got my first appreciation of the international-ness of Rotary International, working closely with two clubs in Belize City, making new friends. Literally the moment I walked in the front doors of the Hamburg Messe I spotted the towering Rene Villanueva, past Governor of Rotary District 4250 (covering Belize and a swath of Central America), whom I first met when he inaugurated our playground build in 2016 (video here), along with several other familiar faces and some new friends from Honduras. It's fun when you meet people you know in a place far away from either of your homes, where you totally don't expect to meet those people. (My dad on the bottom left, and of course I'm wearing an Oilers hat; wouldn't you at an international conference of 25,000 people where you're trying to find your fellow members from district 5370?) 
The conference also gave some real opportunity to make some international project connections, as Edmonton Riverview members Roman and Sandra Bayrock and I met up with Jesper, a member of the Rotary Club of Kyiv, who currently is organizing a playground build with us and some other Edmonton area Rotarians for Ukraine in 2020. With all the e-mails that have been flying back and forth, it's great to put a face to the name.
Certainly, a highlight, where Rotary Passport is concerned, was a quick meeting we had on Sunday afternoon with Passport members from around the world. Yes, as unique as this Passport Club is (first in Alberta), the Passport concept is really catching on worldwide! In addition to the members we met from California, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Australia, Glenn Fong - who organized the meet-up - passed out a list of all known Passport Rotary Clubs worldwide, which includes 15 in the U.S., 7 in Canada (even one in Saskatchewan), 2 in Australia, one in New Zealand, one in Croatia, and one in Serbia. With our club having been chartered just 3 weeks ago, who knows, there could be even more by now.
As I was exchanging business cards with another Passporter, I realized that I had my actual passport in my camera bag, contained within my Rotary Service Above Self Passport cover, so it provided the perfect opportunity to take the above pic.
I can go on and on about the great speakers we heard from, the interesting break-out sessions I attended (including a couple on the future of Rotary and growing/retaining membership which pretty well stated without saying it that the Passport model is the future!), but I'll sign off with just a few more learnings and memories from the conference.
One is the reminder of one of the core facets of Rotary; the fellowship. When my dad and I were getting lunch on the first day at the crowded beer garden set up by Munich's Hofbrauhaus (one of a very few "food truck" type set ups on the Messe grounds; thankfully Hamburg has many other lunch options in the neighboring areas) we snapped up the last two seats on a crowded picnic table. Across from us were a couple of Belgian members of the Rotary e-club of Normandy. We had a great to exchange Rotary stories, I shared a little about our new Passport Club (which really piqued their interest, as they joined the e-club for similar reasons many of us joining the Passport Club) and practiced my French. It turns out that the Belgian dialect of French is actually one of the easiest to understand, due to Belgium itself being such a multi-lingual country and French speakers trying to make themselves easy to understand to Flemish and German speakers.
On the topic of fellowship, what also was an eye-opener for me, as I explored one of the two massive House of Friendships (for any non-Rotarians reading this, HoFs are basically areas where different clubs, initiatives, or partner organizations put up exhibits at our conferences) I was amazed at how many Rotary International Fellowships there are.  This includes BREW (Beers Rotarians Enjoy Worldwide), who were giving out free samples. It's on my to do list to join that one. Of course you've also got your obligatory wine enthusiast and Whiskey DRAM (Whiskey Drinking Rotarians and Members; they were also giving samples), and of course the oldest Rotary fellowship of yachters.
On the other hand you'll find a host of less Rotarytypical fellowships including an international Metalhead Fellowship.
All in all a great conference. I always say that when you join Rotary you give a lot, but you also get a lot in terms of personal development. The special guest speakers, talking on subjects such as leadership and organization, were top notch and shared advice that can be applied beyond Rotary in your work and personal lives. Speakers on subjects such as our work to eradicate polio and other Rotary initiatives were inspiring, and you get a greater feel for the larger scale "dogoodery" that is the center of what Rotary does. Here's just one example.
While I probably can't spare the time or expense to go to every international conference, I implore all Rotarians to make it their mission to attend at least one International Conference during their Rotary lifetimes. The next one's in Honolulu (sign up) and after that in Taipei. If you don't like to travel so far, the 2022 conference is a direct flight away from YEG in Houston, Texas.
Get your first taste of Rotary conferencin' at the District 5370 conference in Grande Prairie. Sign up here. The conference happens to feature two speakers who also happened to speak at a corporate conference I attended last year, Amanda Lindhout and Neil Pasricha. If you haven't heard their stories, they're worth the trip and price of admission alone!