Broadening Your Horizons

When Kim Allen took a vacation to China earlier this year, one of the things on her “to do” list was visiting a Toastmasters club. She found one in Beijing – and wasn’t disappointed. Allen, a Toastmaster from San Diego, California, was surprised and delighted by many things at the club meeting; for one, all of the 20-plus members delivered their speeches in English – and delivered them beautifully. A few members, she notes, were novice English speakers who struggled at times, but they stayed positive and persevered.

Not only was Allen impressed with the quality of the presentations, she was also touched by the warm and enthusiastic welcome given to her by Angela Han, president of the club – which is called, appropriately enough, Global Communicators.

“It was a wonderful experience!” says Allen, who was also excited to tell her hometown club – the Great Communicators, in San Diego – about the meeting.

Her cross-cultural connection is typical of the bonds forged when members visit clubs in other countries. The great thing about Toastmasters is its global reach: Pretty much wherever you travel, there’s likely to be a club somewhere in the vicinity. After all, there are now Toastmasters clubs in 106 countries.

Members around the world speak a universal language – the vocabulary of Toastmasters. And when you visit a club in a different part of the world, you celebrate that spirit of international fellowship. I’ve experienced it myself. During my recent vacation in Hawaii. I basked in the sun, enjoyed the shimmering ocean views and took in a Toastmasters meeting. I visited the Toastmasters at Kapalua Resort, which met near our hotel. Club president Jennifer Villatora welcomed me with a brightly flowered Hawaiian lei, and introduced me to the members, who told me how the club offered them communication skills and camaraderie. I saw both on display during this spirited meeting. Just beyond the window of the club’s meeting room were the gorgeous, sprawling grounds of the Kapalua Resort, bordered by a blue expanse of ocean. Not a bad place to hold a Toastmasters meeting! Jennifer even gave me a tip on where to go hiking afterward.

Sharing Common Ground
Jay Davidson is another Toastmaster who knows the rewards of visiting clubs. The retired elementary school teacher from San Francisco, Calif., has done a great deal of traveling over the years, to Australia, New Zealand, England, Egypt, Africa, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. And almost everywhere he goes, he seeks out local Toastmasters groups.

“It seems like a good connection for common ground,” says Davidson. “It’s a good way to meet people who have similar interests.”

Those shared connections transcend language and cultural differences, as evidenced by Reamick Lo’s Toastmasters experience in Scotland. Lo, a DTM from Canada, visited a club in Edinburgh during a two-week vacation.

Lo’s decision to visit the Edinburgh club was a spur-of-the-moment inspiration. She was on her flight from Canada to Scotland, getting ready for her backpacking trip across the country, when the thought hit her: “Wouldn’t it be fun to visit a Toastmasters club while I’m there?” When Lo attended the Capital Communicators meeting, in the heart of Edinburgh, the group was eager for an outsider’s perspective and requested that she serve as its General Evaluator.

That’s when the Canadian visitor got nervous. Concerned that she couldn’t do justice to the group, Lo worried about how she would understand the members’ Scottish accents during their speeches. “I listened very hard at the beginning,” she says. “But as the meeting progressed, my nervousness was quickly relieved by the strong sense of support, camaraderie and growth the club had to offer. There was so much fun and laughter in the room!”

Instead of intently trying to hear every word and analyze every vocal nuance, she realized she could focus on the big picture: “All I had to do was open my heart and mind – which is another gateway for active listening and effective communication.”

“That evening, I learned as much from my fellow Toastmasters in Edinburgh as they learned from me,” writes Lo, a member of the Politically Speaking club in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I discovered that visiting a club outside my home country helps expand my comfort zone a great deal. It challenges me to speak and build an immediate connection with a new audience.”

Since her Edinburgh adventure, Lo has visited Toastmasters clubs in Japan, Hong Kong and the United States.

A Sentimental Journey
Vimal Goyle grew up in India and moved to the United States with her husband in 1970. Nearly 40 years later, she had the opportunity to visit a Toastmasters club in her native land. “I was very excited,” says Goyle, who attended a meeting of the Chandigarh Toastmasters this past January.

A physician in Topeka, Kansas, Goyle traveled to India to attend the Indo-U.S. Healthcare Summit in New Delhi. She was in the country for two weeks and went to three different cities, including Chandigarh. The Toastmasters club there typically meets on Saturday afternoons, but when Goyle told club leaders she wouldn’t arrive in the city until Sunday afternoon, they graciously rescheduled the meeting for Sunday evening so she could attend.

The club – which was less than a year old – held an installation ceremony for its seven new officers. Held in a restaurant, it was an elaborate and lengthy affair – a sign of how seriously the members take their Toastmasters experience, says Goyle. The district governor drove 200 miles to attend the event, she notes, and the officers’ friends and families were present – even their children. Afterward, a lavish buffet of Indian food was served.

The club designated Goyle as its “chief guest” and presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a gift. “It was very nice,” she says. “I was treated with such hospitality.” A member of the Via Christi Toastmasters club in Topeka, Goyle says it was a moving experience to see this new, flourishing Toastmasters club in the land where she grew up.

“I was amazed and happy to know that all these members were so excited and working very diligently on behalf of the club,” she says, adding that she made several friends with whom she plans to keep in touch. “I had never known how Toastmasters exists on such an international level. These club members in Chandigarh have the opportunity to learn and to improve. I’m 67 – I wish I had had that opportunity when I was growing up.”

Goyle, a Toastmaster since 1998, took two guests to the meeting in Chandigarh – a family member and a friend. After the meeting, she says, both were interested in joining a club in their home communities.

Think About Logistics
These traveling Toastmasters recommend consulting the Toastmasters Web site in advance of your trip. Look up clubs located in the areas where you’re traveling for contact information, addresses and more. Try to pre-arrange a club visit if possible.

Davidson, who has ventured to clubs in Istanbul, Cairo, Buenos Aires and Sydney, suggests that you call the club’s contact person a few days before the meeting to confirm the time and location.
“Consult the Toastmasters Web site in advance of your trip and look up clubs in the areas where you are traveling.”

Allen, the San Diego resident, checked the Toastmasters Web site before her trip to China this past March. She found several clubs in Beijing and Shanghai, the two cities she would visit. As it turned out, the Global Communicators club was less than a five-minute cab ride from her hotel in Beijing. (And just to make sure she didn’t get lost, Angela Han, the club president, spoke to her guest over the phone before she rode over, describing some landmarks she could note along the way.)

An assistant recruitment coordinator for the District Attorney’s Office in San Diego County, Allen still gushes with enthusiasm when she recalls her visit to the Beijing club. Making an international connection with fellow Toastmasters was a special experience, she says.

“I’m an avid traveler,” says Allen, “and I will continue to seek out Toastmasters clubs around the world.” 

Paul Sterman
is an associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine.