The motto of Rotary International, Service Above Self, is reflected in all that Rotary does, including their scholarship program. Although the Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship program has sent over 36,000 students overseas since its inception in 1947, it is still one of the best kept secrets of international educational exchange. This year, the Rotary Foundation will send approximately 1,100 students overseas. True to its motto, Rotary offers a great opportunity for study abroad.
The Rotary Foundation spends around 26 million dollars a year for international exchange programs and is one of the largest sources of private funding for international study. Scholarships are available for students at the undergraduate and graduate level and are for short term (3 and 6 months) intensive language/cultural study, academic year and multi-year programs. There are also shorter programs available for vocational exchange (Group Study Exchange) and for university teachers who are interested in spending either 3-5 or 6-10 months teaching abroad.
Applicants do not have to be a university student at the time of application. See Rotary’s website for precise details of eligibility criteria.
The Application Process
The application process is fairly straightforward, but requires some degree of individual initiative. Applications can only be made to local Rotary clubs and it is up the student to find out when the club meets and to find out who the contact people are. You must ask if your local Rotary has any scholarships available.
If you are lucky, your Rotary club will be allowed to select a limited number of applicants to go on to the district interviews. It is a good idea to apply to the Rotary club in your home town (not where you are studying) because the first selection occurs at the local level and you will most likely have more competition from other students in a university town. International students will have to apply from their home country and may not apply for study in their current institution. Each Rotary club sets its own deadline for applications, so start checking as early as March. Some clubs might have deadlines as late as July, but don’t depend on it without checking first.
The best place to start is to take a look at the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship web page.There is a lot of information about Rotary’s programs and The Rotary Foundation that you should read before you apply.
You must apply through your local Rotary Club, which you can find using the Rotary Club Locator. If the information on the web page does not include the telephone number of a contact person, then call the Chamber of Commerce in your home town to find the name of the club’s president. Another way to find out that information would be to contact The Rotary Foundation at 847.866.4459. Your local club’s president will become your official sponsor so it is a good idea to develop a relationship with them. You should not show up on the due date and ask for an application without having spoken to the Rotary club’s president beforehand. The Ambassadorial Scholarships application form is very straightforward. You will also need two recommendations, transcripts, three short essays, and a language ability form. In all, the application is easily completed in one or two days.
In areas where there are more applicants, you might be asked to come in for an interview or to give a speech to the local club. At the district level, about one in four of the applications received scholarship awards.
In the interview, I was not asked a lot of technical questions about my area of study. The interviewers seemed to be interested in how I would represent Rotary and the United States abroad. Rotary International is a service organization and my field of study, Information Technology for Development, probably gave me an advantage over other applicants. Rotary will also not place large numbers of applicants at any one institution and you are required to list at least five choices when applying. In the year that I applied, there were over two hundred applicants who applied for the London School of Economics. Only seven students were allowed to go. There seems to be a preference for applicants who are interested in going to universities other than the popular European institutions, particularly if they are interested in going to developing countries.
Another advantage of being a Rotary Scholar is the support that you will get from the Rotary clubs locally and in your host country. You will be required to give presentations at Rotary clubs, but you should see this more as an advantage than as a requirement. Many of the returning scholars that I have talked to mentioned their contacts with Rotary clubs as one of the best experiences of their exchange year. Since Rotary clubs are based in almost every country, as a Rotary Scholar you also have the option of stopping by for a Rotary lunch or dinner almost anywhere in the world.
The scholarships are very generous. There are very few limitations – anyone who has had at least two years of college or two years of vocational experience may apply for almost any country and for study at almost any institution. There are no age limits. For undergrads, this is one of the very few scholarships available to you, so take advantage of it!
Rotary will not fund unsupervised research, medical internships, residencies or full-time employment. You can not apply to study in a city, state or province where you have lived or studied for a period of more than six months. Any applicant for Academic or Multi-Year scholarships whose native language is not that of the proposed country will have to show their ability to read, write, and speak in that language. The scholarships are for direct enrollment only and may not be used to fund a study abroad program sponsored by a home country institution. You are ineligible to apply for an Ambassadorial Scholarship if you are a direct descendant of a Rotarian. The last restriction is enforced very strongly, as the Rotary does not want to be seen as funding its own.
Academic Year Ambassadorial Scholarship
The oldest and largest of the Rotary Scholarship programs, the academic year scholarship provides up to $26,000 for an academic year abroad. A language proficiency exam is required.
Multi-Year Ambassadorial Scholarship (Temporarily discontinued)
These scholarships are available for two years of study and are intended to allow students to complete a degree program at one institution. There are no restrictions on the field of study.
Cultural Ambassadorial Scholarships (Temporally discontinued)
Scholarships are available for three or six months of intensive language training and cultural immersion in at a study institution assigned by The Rotary Foundation. Scholarships are available for study in the following languages: Arabic, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Swedish. Applicants must have competed at least one year of college-level language study in their chosen language.