Almost 30 years ago, a teenage girl from Toowoomba, Australia boarded a plane and braced herself for a 20-hour flight to a small farming town in Central Illinois as part of the Rotary Club youth exchange program.
This week Diana Ruhle returned to Shelbyville for the fourth time and to the US for the sixth, showing that international ties made through student exchange programs can have lifelong impact.
Her month-long visit began in California for a week, then on to Oregon, Shelbyville, and then New York before heading back.
On Monday, Ruhle attended a luncheon which included some of her old host family members at the Rotary Club meeting held at Shelby Memorial Hospital.
Rotary member and former host, Don Behl remarked, “Little did we know that in 1985 we would host a young lady from Toowoomba who would someday come back to see us. When she got the letter (from Rotary) telling her she would be going to Shelbyville, IL, she must have thought, ‘Where in the world is that’?
Ruhle who is an elementary school teacher in Brisbane says that her opportunity to travel abroad opened a window to the world that would change her life forever.
When Diana was in Shelbyville in 1985 she attended Shelbyville High School and was assigned to eight different host families: Mr. and Mrs. Jim Swartz, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Heckler, Mr. and Mrs. Dwight Campbell, Mr. and Mrs. E.C Eberspacher, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Segabart, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Pancoast, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Johnson and the family of Mr. and Mrs. Don Behl.
“There was not one family I did not bond with,” said Ruhle. “Americans are the best hosts. You really know how to make people feel comfortable.” Behl said he is planning to return the favor and visit Diana soon, “We are putting the final points on the trip now.”