Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem- philosophy of place March 3, 2015

A poem created as part of my grad school  Poetic Diversity Project:

Where I grew up

all the faces were variations of my own

Snow White, Cinderella,

assorted Prince Charmings


My experiences with other cultures were

Princess Tiger Lily, Little Black Sambo, 

Emperor’s Nightingale.

But somehow I knew the world was bigger

and I wanted to wrap my tongue

around other languages

entwine new vowels

between rhythmic syllables and 

see inside minds that

offered something


Offered something 


Offered something

not better

not worse

just different

Because different is worth noticing

because different means to the same end

speak to a journey with different views

a different beauty

a different way

of being human,

offers something



poem- perspective March 24, 2014

Filed under: Poetry,Rotary — Shawn L. Bird @ 8:22 pm
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Most ferns unfold their fronds

beneath the trees in shady glades.

Along the winding roads

in the Olympic peninsula

ferns view a new perspective,

rooting into the moss

that wraps and drapes the trees.

Instead of remaining on forest floor the fern explore

the sights and sounds high above ground

the wind blown coast

the ocean salt.

Some ferns take advantage of a willing host

to see more of the world.

Their lives may be shorter

and less spread out,

but their perspective is expansive

without a doubt.



I was astounded to see what I’d call a Boston fern growing all along the roads, from the mossy trunks of all sorts of trees between Forks and Port Angeles* in Washington State.  Huge ones were beneath the trees on the shady side of the road, but on the west side of the road, where the moss was thickest on the trees, the same ferns were growing from out of the moss all the way up the trunks. I didn’t see huge established ferns, just single fronds unfurled on the trees, but dozens on each tree.  It kind of reminded me of being an exchange student, taking root in a new location, and seeing the world from a different view. 🙂  


*This is the road that Edward Cullen takes at ridiculous speeds in his Volvo in the Twilight books. Personally, I don’t think even someone with supernatural powers should be driving faster than 60 miles/hr on that road! 😉


6 word poem in summary of my life October 1, 2013

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:07 am
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I was lying in the bath, trying to think of a sentence that summarizes my life at the moment and I came up with

“I am home”

This summarizes my essential contentment with everything in my life: my new continuing contract at a school I love, opportunity to write and receive feedback from wonderful readers, and my brilliant husband of many, many years and the time we have together.

That just seemed too simple, so I thought of 6 word poems, and decided I needed 3 more words, and ended up with,

“Wherever I am, I am home”

Now I feel like a philosopher. 🙂

I first discovered this concept when I was an exchange student in Finland, and I realised that even though I was known as ‘The Canadian Evangelist” (because as the lone Canadian in my district, lost in a sea of Americans, I was obliged to be loud and proud about national superiority) I knew that I could quite happily have stayed in Finland.  I have experienced this sensation many times since.  If you’re content in your skin,  and you’re connected to those around you, it doesn’t matter where you are physically.  You can live in a tent and be well satisfied.

Explaining it completely defeats the purpose of it being only 6 words, doesn’t it? lol

How about you?  What’s your 6 word poem? (with or without long-winded explanation!) 😉


thankful February 12, 2013

Filed under: Rotary — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:30 am
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I was just chatting with our school’s exchange student, a lovely girl here for the year from Finland.  Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I was an exchange student in Finland myself, many years ago.  It has been really great having Satu here.  We greet each other in Finnish in the halls, and once a week or so we chat more thoroughly about things.  I hope she enjoys having someone to speak her own language to, because I sure love speaking with her.

I talk to myself in Finnish to practice, but that doesn’t help my listening skills.  I can tune into Finnish radio, but radio doesn’t have the necessary pauses that allow assimilation of meaning nor does it provide opportunity to clarify meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary.  Having Satu here has been fantastic.  In September, there was a lot that I struggled with when I listened to her.  I constantly had to check words.  Now, I find that I understand her so much better.  I’ve learned some vocabulary (What does it tell you about my exchange that I didn’t know the word for ‘homework’! lol).  It makes me so happy that so many years after my return to Canada, I can still speak fluently enough to have these interesting conversations with her.  When I promised my 4th mom that I would never forget my Finnish, I meant it.  I have kept my promise.

I also have really enjoyed the excuse to do some Finnish baking now and then.  When I take karjalan piirakoita or some pulla buns to school for her, it’s nice to know I’ve brought a bit of ‘home’ into her week.

It makes me thankful, once again, for the existance of the Rotary Exchange Student program, and thankful that I was part of it.  It is amazing how it never leaves you.  When you meet another exchange student, of any age, from any country, you instantly have a  common bond of experience.   There is always something to talk about.  Eyes sparkle with fun or commiseration.

Once an exchange student, always an exchange student.


club obligations and privileges October 6, 2012

Filed under: Rotary — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:10 pm
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I was just writing a note to a person on an exchange student forum, and I thought I would share my thoughts with you.  We were discussing how some areas of the world don’t understand the purpose of Rotary Youth Exchange, and therefore, don’t do anything to support the student.

Year after year our club has fantastic, interesting, and delightful exchange students.  How do I know?  Because we integrate our students into our club and get to know them.  Students chosen for this program tend to be talented, fascinating kids who are travelling to broaden their experiences and to prepare to make a difference in the world.  We send fantastic kids abroad to share them with another part of the world.  I am sad when I hear about clubs who miss the opportunity to know the amazing kids that they have under their noses, so here is my advice to Rotary Clubs all over the world, prefaced by my core belief that when a club agrees to host a student, EACH member of the club has an obligation to that student.

Each member of the club should make an effort to,

1. make them welcome to the country, city, and club

get to know who they are,  greet them on the street, and  invite them to attend club meetings, projects, and events, and personal activities.

2. include them in club activities

that means when  exchange students are at a club event, you integrate them by having them sit with members, you speak to them, you encourage them to participate in the program somehow.  Listen.

3. show interest in them, their experience, their home country  

Ask them about their hobbies and interests, and how things are similar and different in their home area.  Your way isn’t the only way.  Your students have experiences to share with you, just like you have experiences to share with them.  Listen.

4. welcome them into your home and family activities if you can.  

Even if you are not able to host a student in your home, you can include them into your activities.  When you know your students’ hobbies and interests, you can more easily identify opportunities to include them.  The student likes sports?  You can invite them to a local game- even free ones played by your grandkids.  Your student plays an instrument?  You can invite them to attend a recital or concert.  Your student loves history?  Take them to a local site you know well.  If you know what your student hasn’t experienced, you can invite them along on simple family events.  One of my more memorable experiences in Finland was foraging for mushrooms in the woods with a family!

5. share in their local experiences.

Consider yourselves the students’ family.  If they are participating in a concert, a sporting match, or speeches, go along to cheer and celebrate.

These inclusions are fantastic for everyone involved.  Your club learns more about the world, and more about your country by seeing it through the eyes of another perspective.  You will improve your club’s experience with your students, and your students will have a more memorable, and more valuable exchange year by having the opportunity to know you all.  You will feel blessed by experience.

Don’t waste your exchange students.  Celebrate them!


What I’ve learned this year… March 27, 2011

Filed under: Pondering,Rotary invocations — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:49 am
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Topic #75: What’s the biggest lesson you learned so far this year?

When I got an email from our former exchange student, a girl who’d lived with us for a year, asking if she and her husband could evacuate from Tokyo to our house, I learned our world is very small.  I learned that the ties that wrap around the earth, from exchange students to host families to other students, are a web of interconnectivity.  The purpose of youth exchange is to forge connections around the world.  That purpose is unfolding all over the world as millions of North Americans who’ve hosted Japanese students worry about ‘their kids’ half a world away.

I’m glad we can do something concrete to help amid this tragedy.  It is awesome that through youth exchange, we really can help change the world.  Let us be thankful for our connections around the world and the opportunities they provide for us to improve our planet.


Rotary is amazing August 12, 2010

Once again at our weekly Rotary meeting, I was struck by how this organization is amazing in the scope of its vision and in the power of its members to make the vision reality.  We had two guests, a Rotarian from Calgary, and a pop in visit by a Past District Governer from Kenya.  How cool is that?  Kenya.  A few weeks ago we had Rotarian guests from Finland and from the Philippines.  It is astonishing how wide our world is, and how interesting Rotarians are all over the place!

We had a typical summer meeting.  About half the club was away and our guest speaker had canceled on us a couple days before.    A few quick calls had been made to our outbound exchange student and a former exchange student to Malaysia who was in town from university.  Both of them gave us some time, and our meeting was quite delightful and inspiring.  It is a shame that only 11 of us got to experience the inspiration!

Many clubs sponsor the Youth Exchange program and believe in its power to improve the world, one young person at a time.  Last night that was very powerfully illustrated to me, and I think our outbound Maddie (who is off to Argentina this weekend) and her father were quite amazed by the possibilities of the journey she is embarking upon when they heard Chad Shipmaker speak.

Chad remarked to me at dinner that Rotary owns him.  It is certainly no doubt that this organization changed his life, though he is an impressive young man in his own right, and would have found a way to change the world without us, I’m sure.  I am just really glad that we have been involved, because we get to have some familial pride in his accomplishments.  After  his time as  a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Malaysia, Chad returned home to do a Bachelor’s degree at University of Victoria.  He worked in Africa for awhile in development work.  He was home working here when Rotary came into his life again.

Although many clubs participate in Youth Exchange, many fewer sponsor Group Study Exchange candidates.  Due in no small part to the efforts of Lynda Wilson, our current club president who was formerly on the GSE District committee while she was Dean of Okanagan College, our club regularly sponsors GSE applicants, and quite frequently our applicants are chosen by the district to join the team.  Chad Shipmaker was chosen as a member on a team that went to Chile.  Back on our radar, we started keeping a closer eye on him.

Soon after, he decided to do his master’s degree and applied to be a Peace scholar.  Our club proposed him.  The district agreed with our nomination and forwarded his application to Rotary International.  Rotary International was as impressed as we have been, and so this last year Chad has been studying at the Duke Centre for International Development in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  He is “Fellow, Master of International Development Policy” and “Rotary World Peace Fellow.”  Even the titles sound impressive.  Just wait until you find out what he’s learning! 

As I listened to Chad’s awe over the people he’s meeting, the speakers he’s hearing, and the work he’s been doing at the World Food Agency in DC, I can’t help but be inspired.  Chad is just one amazing alumni of our Rotary Youth Exchange program.  Not all RYE students are going to end up doing things quite as amazing as Chad, but we are in good company when we support the organization that gives us all the opportunities to change the world through the skills honed and polished through involvement with Rotary. 

Vision and the power to make it so.  Wow. 

 Rotary is awesome.


PS. Stay tuned for another blog on the amazing accomplishments of Chad Shipmaker, coming soon to this space!


Rotary Youth Exchange: open mind, broken heart July 27, 2010

Filed under: Commentary,Rotary — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:41 am
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In the blog about The Exchange Student Cycle, I mentioned that at the end of an exchange, the worst part of being an exchange student becomes clear. No one warns you about how difficult it is to come home.

When you choose to be an exchange student, you know in your head that you are going to become attached to your new country. You know that you will have host families and that you will make friends abroad. You hope they will be close friends. You hope you will love your families. Friends and families provide the strength and value of an exchange, but they also cause the greatest pain. When you leave home, you expect to see all your friends and families in a year, but when it comes time to leave your new country, you realize that you may never see these people again. They have become a precious part of your life, and you are leaving them behind to return to your old life. If you have had the wonderful year you wanted to have, you are about to be disemboweled. Unless you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, it is unlikely you will ever have experienced the suffering you will endure when you leave your exchange friends and families behind to return to your old life. You can never return to your exchange life. Even if you return to the country, it will never be the same again.

If you’ve had a successful exchange year, you will have embraced a new life. You will feel part of a new culture. You’ll be dreaming in a new language. You will feel like you belong in that world, and the life you left at home will seem very, very far away. You will wonder that you ever found it strange and difficult to fit in. You will find it difficult to remember what life was really like back home, and that’s the moment when they send you home.

Now the crushing truth becomes clear. You are leaving people you love behind, and you may never see them again. The pain is engulfing. Your heart is about to be torn in half, and left behind in your exchange country. When your heart is left behind, the exchange was everything it was supposed to be.

Rotary Youth Exchange: opening minds and breaking hearts since 1929.


The Exchange Student Cycle July 22, 2010

Filed under: Commentary,Rotary — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:37 am
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Canadian Rotary exchange students at Helsinki World Figureskating Championships 1983 (+1 Aussie)

A couple decades ago, when I was working as an exchange student counselor, I came across some information about the exchange student cycle. It was such an accurate description that I have always made a point to tell exchange students about this cycle, because it is good to be warned of the bumps ahead.  If you know what to expect, when you’re in a rough spot, you can think of it rationally, knowing that soon enough you’ll move into the next part of the cycle. Everything has a season. These are the seasons of exchange student life.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re involved in a two week exchange, a three month exchange, or a year long exchange; the cycle remains pretty much the same. An exchange is divided into three sections.  Each section seems to last roughly one third of the exchange.  Knowing the three parts to the exchange cycle helps you understand the changes in relationships and attitudes that occur throughout the year. If you imagine a typical ten month exchange in which a student arrives in the new country in late August and is set to return home around the end of June, the cycles will be split somewhere around November and March. There is no specific line, and you may find yourself moving back and forth between two stages for a month or two. If you rotate to a new host family every ten weeks or so, you will likely experience mini exchange student cycles in each home, as well as the over-riding year cycle.

During the honeymoon phase of the exchange, everything is new and wonderful. While sometimes there is an issue of culture shock, the student is usually expecting so much change that it isn’t too difficult to accept.  You’ve been warned that everything will be new and different.  You’re prepared for these differences and you’re excited to experience them. In this phase, the host family is still treating the student as a guest, showing them the sites and being solicitous. The school might be particularly challenging because of language issues, but you often feel like a celebrity, and are often treated as such. You tend to be on your best behaviour making an effort to be liked and interested in the new culture.  You tend to love your new culture a lot in this stage.

In the second phase, the bloom is off the rose. The family is used to having the student in the home. At this time, if there are host brothers and sisters, it is more likely that there will be some ‘sibling rivalry’ than at other times in the exchange. The novelty of the new experiences has worn off, and now the real work has begun. This is the point in the exchange when your new culture is a pain in the butt.  You long for your favourite meal, your favourite snack.  You want your friends.  You want your old, easy life. There is more expectation for you to be functioning in the new language, which can be stressful. School seems difficult and unaccommodating. In a year long exchange, this phase tends to coincide with Christmas time, which adds another challenge. You’re used to certain weather, special family traditions and foods, etc, but now you’re in a new place where the traditions are completely different, if they celebrate the holiday at all.  It’s not better or worse, it’s just different, but at Christmas time we often don’t want different, so it is not unexpected that you should be a little nostalgic for home and family. This is the period in the exchange where it feels like work. You let your best behaviour lapse and let your warts show up.  At this stage, petty irritations start to become issues.   This might be the point in the change when you want to give up and go home.  Hang on.  Keep trying,  talk to your counselor, and wait it out.  Luckily, at some point the challenge of this stage lifts, and one day you relax into life in your new culture.  You just fit comfortably into school and family.  You feel settled. 

Suddenly you realize that the exchange time is moving on, and that it is not going to be long before you are heading home. Now there is a last minute rush to do all the things you wanted to do. Now is when the student starts to enjoy every possible activity, because it might be the last opportunity to do it. There is a clear awareness that you have become at home in this new culture, and that it would not be difficult to stay here forever. In the third phase everything is bittersweet. Experiences are grabbed and savoured, but with the understanding of your attachment to this world, there is a sense of impending loss. The last few weeks of the exchange can be extremely difficult, as the worst part of being an exchange student becomes clear, but we’ll discuss that in another blog.

Be prepared for the changes and celebrate the victories!   You are experiencing one of the most challenging, most valuable, and most amazing year of your life.  Enjoy each phase.


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