My Rotary Exchange blazer extraordinaire

SA flagIt’s often hard to pick your favourite anything. Favourite song? I have so many. Favourite travel destination? Impossible to pick just one. But if asked for my favourite souvenir, I can definitively say it’s my oh-so-trendy, green Rotary Exchange blazer.

Germany flagIn December 1999 I went on a short-term Rotary Exchange programme to Germany. South African exchange students had a uniform: beige trousers, white shirt/blouse, and a patriotic dark green blazer. The group of us looked quite smart on the outbound journey.

On the journey home, however, we looked rather more like a Rio carnival parade: we wore mad hats and our heavy blazers were flamboyant and dripping with souvenirs.

Rotary Exchange blazer Normally it’s only year-long exchangers who come home with blazers decked out in memorabilia, but during our brief, 6-week time in Germany, we short-termer South Africans egged each other on towards having the bling-est, most crowded and colourful blazer possible. Everywhere we went – Berlin, Munich, Bremen, and more – our eyes were open for potential blazer material. (In fact, our eyes were so open to such finds that they were often closed to other things, like knee-injuring bollards and streets with cars that could run you over!)  

Decorating our blazers became our fun, competitive little project within the greater arc of sightseeing. We even met up one day near the end of our stay for a craftsy session where we finished sewing on all our badges and gizmos and then paraded ourselves around the town with the kind of confidence that comes with being young, being in a group, and being in a foreign country.

Rotary Exchange blazer Our blazers were decorated with souvenir pins, cloth badges, jewellery, coins, cardboard coasters, stuffed toys, banners, and anything else that could somehow be attached. My blazer is consequently a composite sort of souvenir, with each adornment reminding me of a different place I visited, of interactions with fellow exchange students and locals, and of heroic and foolhardy incidents.

I still today, 14 years later, look at my blazer and find myself thinking with pride: what a show-stopper you are, you colourful, crazy, wonderful, over-the-top blazer you!

Matt, Kate, Ben, Angela and Vash – I hope your memories of that trip are of the same awesome and epic variety as mine!


Does anyone else have a blinged-out blazer (Rotary or otherwise) to compete with mine? Please post a pic – I’d love to see it!


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