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Reflections of a RYLA Junkie: How RYLA Oceania compares to my local RYLA experience

By Katey Halliday

After getting my first hit of RYLA in 2011 through Rotary District 9500 in Adelaide, I was hooked. I went on to become a team leader and Coordinator for the program so I could continue to get that ‘RYLA high’. Even after leaving the leadership team, I continued to get involved as the training coordinator for the leadership team, and a guest speaker on several occasions. So of course, when the opportunity to participate in a brand new RYLA Alumni experience arose, I was eager to be among the first to try it.

Many who have attended RYLA before, or have been long-time supporters, will know that RYLA is a powerful experience for so many who are fortunate to attend. It’s natural to wonder how it compares to the RYLA Oceania experience, so I’ve outlined some of my reflections below.


While still very much a program for youth, our local RYLA program is for people aged 18 to 26 who generally reside within our Rotary District. RYLA Oceania is for people aged 25 to 35 and this year, the inaugural year, the average age of the 24 participants was 28. Participants came from across Australia and New Zealand, over 13 different Rotary Districts.

At local RYLA, the age participants are at tends to mean they are studying or very early on in their career. That was certainly the case for me when I attended local RYLA in 2011 with a view to add ‘leadership experience’ to my resume after quickly learning that the law degree I was studying was not going to land me a job. Nine years later, I am doing RYLA Oceania at a time when I am looking to develop myself further in my established career, having been working in my current field for three years now.


At local RYLA, having no idea what to expect naturally means that participants can be a little guarded. The team leaders do a great job of helping to break down barriers and ensure everyone feels confident to be themselves.

Everyone participating in the RYLA Oceania program had previously participated in a local RYLA program. With all of us knowing the positive impact that RYLA can have in such a short amount of time, everyone was eager to ‘hit the ground running’! Conversations flowed as soon as we started meeting each other, and we soon gained an appreciation that we were all there for similar reasons and were willing to help each other out.

For me, my local RYLA journey in 2011 kicked off my involvement in Rotary as I went on to help establish the Adelaide City Rotaract Club with two friends I had made on the program. For many though, the one-week RYLA program is where their involvement with Rotary ends. RYLA Oceania is a 12-month program which begins with an eight-day leadership retreat which builds the foundations of the program going forward. Both local RYLA and RYLA Oceania are jam-packed, intensive and you learn a lot, but the structure of the RYLA Oceania program extends beyond the program to ensure the skills learnt are put into practice with a formal support network.

The Inaugural RYLA Oceania participants, 2020


RYLA Oceania is built around three main elements; a leadership curriculum, a mentoring component, and a community project:

· Leadership curriculum – We are fortunate to have access to a wide range of presenters and receive new content every month delivered online, with activities to engage in and a support network to discuss outcomes with.

· Mentoring component - Formal mentoring programs often involve participants being assigned a mentor. The RYLA Oceania team decided that rather than assigning us with a mentor, they would give us the knowledge and skills to identify what we would like from a mentor, how to identify one, and how to establish a mentoring relationship with them. We were told that in a lot of ways, this is like dating! When you think about it, it’s true. You meet them, you think they’re great, you ask if they’re available for a coffee, if the coffee goes well you email them the next day and tell them you had a great time, what you got out of it, and ask if they’d like to catch up again. It might take a few meetings before you even bring up anything about a ‘mentoring’ relationship.

· Community Project – Prior to retreat week, we were given six project briefings to review and asked to submit preferences for which ones we’d like to work on most. Everyone was assigned to work on a project that was either their first or second choice. I am fortunate be working on a project to assist the Rotary LGBT Fellowship to promote LGBT inclusion within Rotary; something I feel passionate about given the work I do in Diversity and Inclusion, and our District’s involvement in the Adelaide Pride March for the past two years. The project team meets regularly online given that our members are based in separate states, and we have been gaining insight from people in Rotary who are members of the LGBT community and their allies on how Rotary could be more LGBT inclusive.

Community Project planning

What I hope to get out of RYLA Oceania

We spent a lot of time at retreat week focusing on personal goals. I have done enough local RYLA programs to feel like I knew how to set goals effectively, but the goal setting we did at RYLA Oceania was next level! One session gave us the opportunity to share our goals with others. Imagine having the undivided attention of six people for 45 minutes while they listened to your personal goals, gave you feedback, and encouraged you to think more deeply about ‘why’ these goals were important to you. Not only that, but then having these people bear witness to you achieving your goals over the next 12 months. I have never felt more focused, motivated, and confident about goal setting before, and it feels great!

My reflection group and accountability buddies

A big thank you to the Adelaide City Rotaract Club, Adelaide, Adelaide Light, and Adelaide Parks Rotary Clubs, and District 9500, for supporting me to attend RYLA Oceania. The program so far has exceeded my expectations and I’m eager to see what all the inaugural program participants achieve.

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