Outbounds 2006-2007

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Lisa Austill
2006-07 Outbound to India

Hometown: Macclenny, FL
School: Baker County High School
Sponsor: Baker County Rotary Club
Host: Umbergaon Rotary Club
District 3060, India

Lisa - India

Lisa’s Bio

Hello everyone, my name is Lisa. I am eighteen years old and in my senior year of high school. I live in the small town of Macclenny, which is about a thirty minute drive west of Jacksonville. I work at the local grocery store, where I am a cashier.

When not at school or working I am usually found hanging out with my best friends Whittney and Kendall. I enjoy playing tennis, the beach, jogging, driving, watching movies, listening to music, and going to concerts. I love to sing, I have been singing since I was a wee, little tyke. I really like soccer and volleyball, but I’ve never really played. I am a vegetarian, and have been for about seven months.

I am seriously looking forward to my year abroad in India. I have done some research and found that I will be living in the area of Gujarat. I think, no, I know that this trip will be sensational.


November 4 Journal 

Well, I have now been in India for three months. Yeah, I know that so many of you could wring my neck for a journal. So, without delay, here is what has been going on over here in the Asia subcontinent.

I arrived in Mumbai on the 29 of July at 11:30 pm. I was greeted by a warm and humid night, and a large group of people including my first host family, aunts, cousins, uncles, Rotarians, and others that I am still not sure who they are today. From the airport we drove to a restaurant to get a bite to eat. Here I got my first taste of India. I had an egg omelet with chutney (a green sauce made from mint, coconut, and green chilies), then Kulfi (Indian ice cream), and was stared at the entire time. After we ate my host mom asked me if I would like to ‘fresh’, not knowing what this was I followed her to a bathroom. The restroom was a public one (and I later found out it would not be one of the worst ones that I would enter.) I entered the stall and found a hole with two foot pads in the floor complimented by a faucet and bucket beside. I did have to pee, so I sucked it up and made it quick. Then, the whole party departed for the four hour drive to Vapi. We arrived at Vapi at 5:30 in the morning; I was given the traditional Indian welcome, some gifts, and then took leave to have some much needed rest.

The following morning I awoke at 10 am. without feeling the least bit tired and had no problem making the 10.5 hour time adjustment. When I came downstairs I found that the party that had been there earlier that morning had left and it was my host mom, Ba (grandma), and I. In the next few days I came to learn that I was living in an interesting situation. My host family lives in Mumbai, my host dad has a factory in Umbergaon, and so that is where he participates in Rotary. Umbergaon is an industrial town of one hundred thousand people (mainly factory workers) and there are no schools that go past tenth grade. Subsequently, my host dad has rented a house in the closest city with decent schools, which is Vapi. Vapi is a larger industrial town with a population of almost two million, which is located forty-five minutes from Umbergaon. So, my parents don’t really know anything about Vapi, they are almost as new to the place as I am. It gets confusing sometimes but it is cool. I also found out that my twelve year old host sister doesn’t live with us. She lives in a hostel, as she goes to a boarding school. This I must say was definitely a bummer.

During, the first two weeks I did numerous things. I made really good friends with my next door neighbor, Dhvani; she attends the same school as me and is in ninth grade. Together we explored some of Vapi and Daman, and she helped me get my school uniforms and such. I went to Umbergaon and visited some Rotarians and a good amount of factories. (Let me just inform that my host parents asked me to call them as mom and dad. I cannot bring myself to say these names so I call Malay ‘papa’ and Parul ‘mama’. I had the worst time of calling them anything like this in the first month, but it is now getting better/easier.) I went to my Papa’s soap factory, my Dadaji’s pencil and crayon factories, a timber factory, and a battery cell top factory. (Dadaji means grandpa. He is a Rotarian that came to the airport along with everyone else. At the restaurant he teased my papa by saying I should call Malay Dadaji because his hair is white, so I asked who was older and he now has this endearing nickname.) I also visited a school there on my fourth day in India. This was a pretty interesting experience as I planted a tree, gave a speech to a few hundred little kids, and as I was leaving I was literally swarmed by over twenty little kids asking me for my autograph!

During the second week my papa, mama and I went to Mumbai for the second time. This was really cool because I got to go to my cousin, Anutch’s, birthday dinner and spend time with him, his older brother, and their two friends. This was the first time I got to spend with people of my own age (they range from 17 to 22). The next day my papa had business out of town so all three us drove through Pune to Aurangabad where we stayed the night. The next day my mama, the driver and I went this place called Ellora. I don’t think I have ever been more in love. At Ellora, there are over 30 Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves beautifully carved out of mountains in a lush forest setting. Some of the Buddhist caves date back to over five thousand years. That day we then drove back to Pune where we stayed the night, had an authentic Maharashtran meal, and met one of my papa’s good friends. My papa had a meeting here the next day so my mama and I went and picked up my host sister, Pruthvi, en route to Vapi. I must say, I really enjoy her company. It is nice to see the regular banter between the children and adults, to hear them speak in their language about conversations I can relate to, and just to be able to have someone in the house that I can joke around with more easily. (Srushti, you are definitely lucky.) She was only at home for the next day, but that was good enough.

The next day was Rakshabandan, a celebration where the sister ties a ‘raki’ (bracelet) on her brother’s wrist, they feed each other sweets, and he gives her a gift and his protection. For this celebration my cousin Som and his family came from Mumbai. So, Pruthvi, Dhvani, and I all tied rakis on Som’s wrist. (I also did this a few days before with my cousin Anutch, it is quite a funny thing to do if you’re new to it; putting the bindi (dot), feeding each other, not knowing what step is next, etc. all lots of fun. Oh, and for Anutch’s birthday I was informed that the proper way of celebrating and showing your love is to feed each other the cake. Yeah, there was a lot of cake on the faces and fingers.) At the end of the day Som’s family left and we took Pruthvi back to school.

The next day was my first day at school. I am studying in eleventh because they thought that the students in 12th would be studying too much and didn’t want me to mess up scores. I am studying in their humanities courses for reasons; 1 I have already completed almost all of their subjects, and 2 I can learn about their economy, history, and government, and how it differs from my own. I do wear a uniform to school. It is a fawn colored pinafore that comes down to my calves, where my white socks begin and continues to my black Mary janes! Yay! All the students are really nice. All the time I have kids in the younger grades coming up and asking my name, home country, and height.

While this was going on, there was a major flood in a city called Surat, three hours away from me. There are seven other exchange students in the district of Gujarat, six of these are in Surat. So, to take these people out of risk of disease, and to allow their families to recuperate, they decided to move them to Baroda for a week or two. One student already stays at Baroda, and since they would be doing a lot of group activities they decided to bring me along.


November 17 Journal

 Continuing on …

Let me start this part by telling about the other seven exchange students in my district. Ron is from New York, 18. Miho is from Tokyo, Japan, 16. Colleen is from Yakima, Washington, 18. Michel is from Brasil, 18. Samantha is from Syracuse, New York, 18. Kaydin is from Revelstoke, Canada, 18. All of these students are staying in the city of Surat. Emilie is from the south of France, 16, staying in Baroda. We came to Baroda by train and were split up among different families. Miho and I were put together with a family known as the Chhabras. The parents are the owners of a pharmaceutical company, so, we went to see their factory once. We saw the full process of how they make all types of medicines. We also had a hilarious 15 year old host sister named Amrit. Also, during these two weeks all us got together to learn some Gujarati songs, visit some pretty sweet looking temples, go shopping, actually went to a palace, visited a school, and learned about ten or more dance steps to get us ready for navratri. Miho and I got really close with our host family and each other as well. She was really self-conscious about her English when we met and by the end we could barely stop talking to each other. Miho even made some really good potato soup for us one day, but three days later we were both in the hospital for food poisoning. My body wound up not taking in liquid for well over 24 hours. This was the first time since I was born that I have stayed overnight in a hospital and the first time that I can remember having an I.V. put in me. It sucked to be sick, but the Rotarians and doctors visited all the time and made sure we had everything we needed. We were in the hospital for a day, and a few days later I went back to Vapi.

In September, went to Umbergaon a few times, but for the most part I stayed in Vapi and attended school and my mehendi class. I also took exams at school which were kind of interesting. Apparently, you don’t really have too much knowledge of what will be on the exam, so, you wind up memorizing all the chapters that you have studied. I got hand it to them; they are great about focusing on their studies. I settled into school a bit more and really enjoyed. I also found out that I’m pretty good at mehendi!

On the 23rd of September the festival of nine nights began, Navratri. It is a festival celebrating the defeat of Ravana by Lord Ram and Hanuman. Ravana had ten heads and had kidnapped Lord Ram’s wife Sita. Every night of the nine people go and dance in huge circles wearing dresses like the one I am wearing in the picture. It is called a lehanga. They will dance for half the night and the other half they play dandiya, which is a dance with wooden sticks that you strike upon your partners’ sticks. It was so much fun. I was able to attend one night in Vapi; the program there was run by the Rotaract Club and had about four thousand people. I also attended one night in Mumbai with my cousin and his friends. I was a bit more confident this time in my playing; in Mumbai there were around 40,000 people. The night I played in Mumbai was my 19th birthday. Yay! In the morning we had breakfast of Jelaby and Gattia. For lunch my entire family and some friends of the family went to a restaurant, then we went to a mall to buy my host sister clothes. Then, I completed the day with a night of dancing.

On the 4th of October I left my family in Mumbai, and joined my Dadaji and the other exchange students for a tour of Gujarat. Our first destination was Bhuj; to there from Vapi I took a 16 hour train ride. (I really like trains here. Everyone uses them all the time and you meet the most interesting people!) We stayed in a desert in Kutch two hours from Bhuj for two nights. We, along with 38 Rotary students from two districts in Maharashtra, were invited by the Gujarat government to take part in a huge cultural festival there. Let me report on this tour in date form, it will be easier for the both of us.

5th Oct. Arrived in Bhuj at 10 a.m. Drove two hours into the desert and got settled in our tents. (The tents had beds, electricity, a/c, and a bathroom with plumbing.) Then this guy from Washington state and I went on a twenty minute camel ride!! It is so… different. It was so peaceful to just be going though the desert on a camel. In the afternoon we saw a classic horse race and met the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. At evening we went to a huge bazaar they had set up and saw a performance of the story of Kutch. At eleven we drove two more hours into the desert. Here there was nothing but sand. We all rode on carts pulled by camels for twenty minutes and they brought us to these three stages were people were playing classical music, Garba, and dandiya. This night is considered auspicious because it is the first full moon after the monsoon season and before Diwali. Apparently, you can only travel by night there because it is too hot during the day, and the full moon enables you to see. I’m not sure I could explain the beauty of this night.

6th Oct. We arrived at camp at 5 am. and at 6 am. we left on the six hour drive to Doliveara. These are the remains of a five thousand year old city 45 km from the Pakistani border. The city had irrigation, planned roads and buildings, and many other civilized traits. In the afternoon we drove back to Bhuj where we attended a carnival with the Chief Minister.

7th Oct. Left Kutch in the morning, and the eight of us from Gujarat continued on with Dadaji to Saurashtra. We arrived at Morvi in the afternoon. Relaxed and looked at palaces and different sites at night.

8th Oct. Visited a school in the morning then left for Surendranagar. Settled in with families, visited a Nestle factory, and went to Rotary meeting.

9th Oct. Departed to Rajkot where we spent two nights. Here we visited a doll factory, Rotary meeting, a few temples, a Rotary library, a Rajasthan themed restaurant, and numerous schools, including that of M. K. Gandhi.

12th Oct. On the way to Junagadh we visited Gondal. Here we visited two old palaces and one current palace of the king. At his current home we viewed his collection of cars. Had lunch with the Rotary club, and then continued on our way. Before Junagadh we stopped by Jetpur where we met with the Rotary club, conversed, and had a snack. We reached Junagadh at nine, split up into different houses, and slept.

13th Oct. We stayed in Junagadh for two nights. Here we visited a few temples, a zoo, and a Rotary meeting.

15th Oct. Left Junagadh in the morning. We had lunch in Porbander and visited the birthplace of Gandhiji and his wife. From there we moved onto Mithapur. The Rotary club of Mithapur arranged for us to have a casual Rotary meeting on the beach with a bonfire and dinner. Ron had brought his guitar and we shared American music and the Hindi and Gujarati songs that we had learned. I don’t believe that any of us had ever seen more stars in our life than on that night. The sky had more than you see when you attend a planetarium. It was gorgeous.

16th Oct. Went to a temple in Dwarka, had lunch, then departed Mithapur for Jamnagar. Our district governor is from Jamnagar so we attended a meeting with him on the first night. The next day toured a two temples, an auyer vedic college, a museum, and got visit with the families we were staying with.

18th Oct. We went to Bhavnagar and celebrated the start of Diwali with a Rotary school for working children and then attended a Rotary meeting. The next day they took us to Palitana where we had a look at some amazing Jain temples. After returning to Bhavnagar we had dinner with our families then boarded the train back home. (Note to reader: this tour was provided by our district for us to learn about the culture of Gujarat. Except for Kutch we stayed with different Rotarian families the entire trip. Their generosity was amazing. I don’t think I can thank them enough.)

20th Oct. Arrived in Mumbai and went to Matheran, a hill station, with my parents, sister, Ba, and uncle. We spent the Diwali vacation here, hiking, horseback riding, watching monkeys, and overall enjoying ourselves. Diwali is the celebration of the homecoming of Lord Ram and Sita. It is celebrated just before the Hindu new year with lights and fireworks.

We returned to Mumbai for a couple of days; and I spent plenty of time with my sister, family, and friends. I went to see Open Season with my family one night and that is the first time I felt truly homesick. I found I would be the only poerson laughing at a joke sometimes, because I was the only one that understood the American reference. I wound up tearing up in the theatre to such a simple movie. Thankfully it subsided over night. A few days later Pruthvi (my sister), Ba, and I attended an ashram at Lonavala, another hill station. Learned some shloks (prayers) and helped take care or 30 odd little youngsters that were also attending it. We stayed here for two nights and then returned to Mumbai.

I have been staying here for the past two weeks exploring the city, and visiting with friends and relatives. I have decided to take up the sitar. I’ve attended the theatre here a few times (saw a play in Marathi and another on the riots of Gujarat), seen a few Bollywood actors around town, went to a revolving restaurant, saw the Gateway of India and the Queen’s Necklace, and really enjoyed. In a week or two I will be leaving my first host family to go to my second. I am a pretty nervous, but I know it will be just as great as the first.

Phillip Cardona
2006-07 Outbound to Turkey 

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club
Host: Galata Rotary Club
District 2420, Turkey

Phillip - Turkey

Phillip’s Bio

 I’m Phillip, I’m a senior in high school, I’m 18 years and I have a profound love of music. Whether it be collecting, playing, or listening, I can find solace in music. I was born in Miami, Florida on January 13, 1988 at South Miami Hospital. I grew up in a suburb of Miami called Kendall, it’s about five minutes from the everglades. Before actually settling into our quite dwelling in Miami, my parents moved me around Europe and Colombia. I lived in Barcelona, Spain and Bogotá, Colombia for about two years collectively before going back home to the states. Growing up was was like a roller coaster ride, it had its uncertain moments; eventually though things would turn out to be fine.

My childhood was fine, I had a big group of middle school friends. The more positive bunch would ironically enter my life as the summer of 9th grade approached; I recall 6th and 7th grade being tough years for me. I suppose I had a lack of direction, I didn’t have any real dominant male figure around who could put his “foot down”. It was not until my mom remarried and my step-dad came into the picture when I slowly, but surely got my act together. It’s also when we moved to Orlando, Florida. I was now in 10th grade and ready to make new friends, and have fun in my new city. I started discovering new bands, I even started playing in a couple of bands that would eventually implode. The experience of making music and bonding with new friends was memorable even today.

I now write this biography on my computer in Fruit Cove, Florida. We moved to Fruit Cove at the end of sophomore year. At first the transition was a drag, for lack of better words. No friends, no car, no band, no fun. Everything a teenager in eleventh grade would describe as essential for having a good time I didn’t have for those brief months. I’m now at the end of my senior year and I couldn’t be happier with my life. I have a steady working class job that gives me income to save up for anything my heart desires, I have a band that I feel is my best musical project to date, and a small but loyal group of friends. Most importantly though, I believe I’m more mature about my actions and the way I conduct my life.

September 27 Journal

 Istanbul, Turkey has taken me in like one of their own. And I say Istanbul, Turkey because yes my host family has taken me in and treated me with more kindness then I have ever received from people I’ve just met. But Turkey has treated me like their son. From the mini-bus drivers who take me around the city, to the staff at businesses that always greet me with a Hoþ geldiniz every time I frequent a cafe, restaurant or any other place of business and to finally my loving family. Whom upon meeting and dining with them, I knew was going to make their home my home away from home.

I was picked up at the airport by my brother and my host uncle. We drove around the city. My brother told me we were taking the long way because they wanted me to see the city. That was fine by me. As we drive by I was witnessing first hand two continents looking at me! Asia on the other side of the bridge and my side, Europe. We made it home and I took the first advantage to hit the ol dust trail (nap). When I wake up hours later, my brother asked if I was hungry? I said “yes” and he took me upstairs where a meal of every Turkish tradition was waiting for me. After the meal was over, or so I thought my host mom Sibel brought me a cake with writing in it that said “Welcome!”. That’s when I felt that I made the right decision the to be here, and how lucky I was to have a great family. Time flew by, and before I knew it was the Rotary camp and the following week for two weeks we had language camp. It was enjoyable. Thanks for reading journal!

Gule Gule!

November 24 Journal

 Hello, Readers, future Rotary exchange students, my friends all over this world, my family and Al of course. Well, it’s been a significant amount of time since I last updated my journal. Quality over quantity I say.

Since I last wrote in my journal, I was still feeling Turkey out. Really getting to know it you know? Last month my host family went to Spain for vacation, we had a week off of school for Bayram (Muslim holiday). Remember, Turkey is a Muslim country. Secular, but Muslim nevertheless. American Rotary students aren’t able to leave the country while on their exchange, so a friend from my school who was going home for the holiday (my school is a boarding school) offered me a place to stay for a week. At this point, I had to accept not knowing where he lives? what his family would say? were they nice? do they like Americans?

The holiday and the family turned out an amazing experience. During Bayram like most holidays you visit your family and wish them a happy holiday and which is the custom in Bayram the host of the house offers you candy, but before eating it you clean your hands with a type of hand cleaning oil. I did this about 100 times during the vacation and went to neighborhoods I thought I would never set foot in (traditional Muslim neighborhoods). My friend’s family took me in as one of their own.

A fond memory I will always have will be walking through a field at sunrise next to my friend’s uncle listening to my Ipod. He point to the Ipod and says “Bu ne?” Turkish for What’s this? At the time I was listening to “Cokertme” (I’ve also grown quite fond of Turkish music). If you don’t know, “Cokertme” is one of Turkey’s most popular songs, the Turks are known for their bombastic music styles and I’m loving it. My friend’s uncle puts his arm around me and in the middle of the field we start singing “Cokertme”, I think I might have earned his respect when he saw I knew some of the words (I listen to the song at least 5 times a day). So at this point an 18 year old American boy from Florida is in the middle of a traditional Muslim neighborhood with a 40 year old Turkish man singing “Cokertme” and doing a Turkish dance (trying to do the Turkish traditional dance).

After we made it to the bus station, we said goodbye. My friend, his mom, and I had to catch another bus back home. A couple days later school started again, my family came back from Spain and my life with my friend and his family ended. I’m glad to be back with my host family and the comfort of the environment of my Turkish home. I’ll always remember those days with my friend and his family.

In this day and age, it seems the world regards humans not as who they are, but what religious beliefs they hold, their economic power and what political party they might vote for. Well, since I’ve had this experience (being abroad) I’ve been able to be with people that have covered all borders of the political and religious spectrum and I can try to accept people better now. I’m glad Turkey chose me, life can take you anywhere and Rotary has been a great a medium for this. I would like to thank Rotary and all the work they put in this. And my family and my mom whose words of wisdom and prayers are always with me.

Lots of love from Istanbul, Turkey.

February 15 Journal

 Well, where to begin? Its been about a almost two weeks since I’ve been back in Istanbul. The hustle and bustle of the big city once again. I was on my tour, the Turkish tour of the western coast of Turkey. I can now say I’ve been to the Black, Aegean and the Mediterranean sea. Not only have I been to these seas, but I even swam in all three. Although, I might add it was a tad cold.

It was a great experience. Some more notable parts of history which I was given the pleasure of seeing and visiting were the Virgins Mary’s home, very spiritual experience I must say. St. Nicholas cathedrals, aka Santa Claus’ home. The highlight for sure was Troy. Yes, you read correctly! Troy as in the great movie which was made after it! Although everything we saw was great. More ruins the I could count, lots of amphitheaters and enough beaches to last a lifetime.

My favorite part of the tour was meeting the “authentic” working Turkish people. Sometimes in the big city you forget you’re living in a country that’s so close to the east but yet so far and out of touch with it. And that you only have trouble a couple hundred miles in any direction and the eastern culture that you’ve never known is right in front of you and you love it. I remember this restaurant we stopped at in a town I don’t quite remember, anyways we approached the restaurant and we all crouched around our table and ate on the floor which is still common in Turkey with the exception of Istanbul and other big cities, and all around us were hammocks and the little river which gave this particular restaurant its character. Another interesting fact I noticed is how the owners let the dogs roam around and eat our meal with us.

Anyways, It was a great time. I’m thankful for Rotary for constantly providing me this chance of a lifetime. Hope everyone is doing great. Allah emant ol.

May 22 Journal

 Hello fellow outbounds, Rotary, and anyone else who reads these journals.

Since I last wrote in my journal I have been lucky enough to visit eastern Turkey. If you aren’t aware, the first church in the world along with the first known civilization is located in Turkey. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit Urfa, a Turkish city located just miles from the Syrian border. I saw a camel for the first time out in the open just walking around, men sipping tea in their mud huts while wearing turbans on their heads. It was surreal in many ways that in a country like Turkey, where you see girls in tight pants and short skirts right here in Istanbul, there’s also another life people live, with far different ways of living and ways of thinking. Either way it was a positive experience because I’ve seen the west and the east in one country, which is what makes Turkey unique.

My time in Turkey is winding down quickly and I’m sad to see it pass by me. I’ve met so many new people and have established a solid friend group, both Turkish and American and even a Syrian. Turkey has gone pretty smoothly, I must say, and for the entire experience I would like to thank Rotary and all the individuals who have made my exchange great, and thanks a lot to Al.

Well, I think this will be my final journal. I hope everyone’s year has gone as great as mine and I hope to see everyone at the welcome home party.

GÜLE GÜLE.

Alex Copeland
2006-07 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: High Springs, FL
School: Santa Fe High School
Sponsor: High Springs Rotary Club
Host: Patos de Minas Rotary Club
District 4760, Brazil

Alex - Brazil

August 13 Journal

I think it’s impossible to be in Brasil for fifteen minutes without falling completely in love with the country. The houses stacked one on top of another and set to a backdrop of mountains is truly a beautiful sight. On the way to my new home, Patos de Minas, I could sort of communicate with my host mom but not enough to say everything I wanted to say. I wanted to thank them for giving me such a warm welcome at the airport and tell them how perfect Brasil is but all I could manage was, “I like mountains.”

My city is possibly the greatest city in the world. It is small enough that I can go everywhere by myself and big enough that there is ALWAYS something to do. When my host mom told me they lived close to shopping they literally meant close to a building called, “SHOPPING.” My host mom has hosted 4 students before me and feels the best method for me to make friends is to talk to random people on the street. Therefore any boy that gives me a second glance is immediately invited over to the house and is urged to call me if there are any parties that weekend. It’s insane how many people want to take me places.

I went to my first Brasilian party. Everyone gets really dressed up and I always kind of look like I’m about to go to the beach so of course I wore flip-flops, jeans, and a shirt that says “The Tank” that I bought at Goodwill. I got searched for drugs and weapons at the door. When I got into the party there were SO many people! This party had all techno music and apparently the appropriate way to dance to techno in Brasil is to sway from side to side. Well, I can salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, and tango but for the life of me I cannot sway side to side. The mechanics completely fail me. I didn’t know someone could be bad at swaying side to side but somehow there was this hopping movement involved that I just couldn’t grasp. I went home early at 3:00 because quite frankly I was getting grouchy and sleep deprived. But it was really a lot of fun!

So…culture shock didn’t hit me until my first day of school when I walked into my school and everyone stopped what they were doing and every guy whipped out his cell phone and started taking pictures of me. My class is 6 girls and 25 boys. I said Oi! (Hello) and everyone gave me a standing ovation. I sat down at my desk and everyone moved their desk as closely as possible to mine and started asking me a billion questions. My favorite question was, “What mean My Humps?”. And I would answer, “Have you ever seen a camel?…”

But school is finally pretty normal and I have a lot of friends there. My English teacher did not know I was American my first English Class and asked me to read out loud in English. I read the paragraph and was promptly told that I needed a little work on pronunciation but that by the end of the year I should do quite well. I have also been corrected when talking about President Bush. Apparently there is an invisible i only visible to Brasilian eyes. Bush is actually pronounced Bushee, just like club is clubee and hip-hop is hip-hopee. My P.E. class is basically just walking around the city listening to my ipod. And in Portuguese class I got the same grade as my friend Luana who is Brasilian. She’s actually kind of bitter about it right now. And Friday was “Dia do Estudante” which is basically a day honoring students so we had a rock concert in the gym. They played Nirvana and it was pretty cool except everyone kept on telling me to go dance on the stage by myself. It would have been a good photo opportunity but I would definitely lose some respect among the intellectuals.

The 50th anniversary of my Rotary Club was this year and I was here for the ceremony. It was a lot of fun and I learned how to dance forro with my host dad. They also like me to sing them songs in Portuguese so I went up to the mike and sang them the one song I know by heart which is about astronomers. They also like me to sing the ABC song in English and they all sang along. I have been on TV twice and the newspaper once here because of Rotary.

I have fallen in love with a little miracle called açai. It is a black fruit that is mashed up and frozen until it’s like a smoothie and then has granola and bananas spread over it. It’s a wonderful thing. But the best part about it is it turns your whole mouth black. It’s the kind of food I would eat on my first date with someone. The restaurant where they serve açai is probably one of the most amusing places I have ever been. Because everyone is smiling and laughing but no one has any teeth and your lips are black. I seem to be the only one truly excited about turning my mouth black but my excitement is contagious. Also when you walk out of the restaurant there’s always this guy with a microphone who dances with life size dolls ALL DAY. That’s his job. That’s how he advertises. By dancing with a life size doll in boots with pink hair. I definitely take pictures of him all the time.

Some stuff I haven’t wanted to try yet: hot dog flavored Cheetos, hamburger flavored Ritz Crackers, and steak flavored Ruffles.

People here are so friendly. I was eating açai one day by myself and these two girls with black mouths started talking to me. They are in college in Patos de Minas and they asked me if I wanted to walk around with them. So we walked around for awhile and then they took my number down. They called yesterday to see if I wanted to go to the club, “Finnegan’s”, so I went with six other girls that are all in college too. We had so much fun and two days ago they were complete strangers. That’s how it is here. Meeting people is SO easy.

I will be sending pictures pretty soon. I am having an incredible time and speaking Portuguese pretty good too. I can’t wait to hear about all the other outbounds experiences and I hope you guys are having a great time wherever you are.

Tchau beijos e abraços,

Alex

October 17 Journal

My 2 months here in Brasil have been the fastest two months of my life. I want to slow things down but it’s not possible. I went from a town of 4,000 people to a city where there is a choice of 5 parties every night and a festival for every food, country, person, and outfit. Like Fest Rodeio which was a rodeo festival and Festa de Pijama which is in November and everyone wears their pjs to this big huge club and dance all night. Festa Haviana is a party where everyone wears Havaianas (flip-flops made in Brasil) and then there’s Baile do Hawaiwhich is a dance where everyone wears grass skirts and tropical outfits. There is Axé Patos (a type of dance) and plenty of dances where everyone dances forro. Of course there’s Carnaval in February but here in Patos de Minas, Minas Gerais, Brasil, it’s all about one party. Fenamilho.

I live in the corn capital of Brasil. Even the trash cans are shaped like corn. There’s corn in pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs you name it. Fenamilho is the Corn Festival. Before you laugh, this is a 10 day party where 350,000 people come from all over Brasil. People start getting excited about Fenamilho (which is in May) about 6 months before the festival. It’s by far the hugest festival in Patos and it is a BIG DEAL here. They have concerts, clubs, food, and TONS of people. This is quite different from Pioneer Days in High Springs, Florida. Going to festivals and parties in Brasil is nothing like I have ever seen in my life. The biggest party you can go to in the United States is a tiny get together in Brasil. I love it here more than I could possibly explain. I feel so at home here on these streets and in this country. Everyone thinks I’m Brasilian at least for the first 10-15 minutes they talk to me. I thought I looked like such an American girl but apparently I can pass for Brasilian when I am not wearing an I Love New York shirt or singing the Beach Boys. It still amazes me when people actually understand what I’m saying. As I’m talking I’m thinking of other ways I can state the same sentence so they will understand better. People always seem to understand the first time and I’m always like, “Are you sure you understand, because I have 6 other ways to explain it.” Being fluent in Portuguese is probably my biggest accomplishment yet. I really got lucky that I had such patient and helpful people who are really so ready to laugh at me and tease me for weeks when I make a mistake.

I have really been blessed with 3 extremely amusing, dedicated best friends here. They really made all the difference in my exchange. They are not afraid to say “Stop eating Alex. You’re going to get fat.” or make fun of me when I mess up a word. But they also are the people that when I got sick rode their bicycles half an hour in the rain to come sit with me and watch movies with me. They also made a full outfit of trash bags so they wouldn’t get wet. Complete with hat, shirt, shorts, and shoes. I’ll send pictures later. Their names are Ana Claudia (Claudinha), Victor, and Pedro, and they are a great cure for homesickness.

Of the things I love in Brasil, my favorite is still acai. I love Brasilian coffee, pão de quiejo (cheese bread), churrasco (meat kind of like a barbecue but different and better), Guaraná (Soda), and a few other equally fattening items. I’ve started watching a novela (soap opera)…I said I wouldn’t but there’s this really funny one called Cobras e Lagartos with these ridiculous characters and plots and this guy called Foguinho and I can’t resist every night at 7:00. Patos de Minas is home to the ugliest dogs in the world. I saw one with a tooth OUTSIDE his mouth, I swear. When people told me I was going to be living with monkeys on my exchange year in Brasil I thought it was a stereotype. But I actually see monkeys a lot. I still get excited every single time too. I see them at school a lot and feed them food. That doesn’t mean I live in the Amazon. I’m just saying it’s not rare to look up in a tree and find a toucan or a macaw and if you leave your bag of popcorn on the ground and go back to it a few minutes later, it won’t be covered in ants, but in monkeys. Things that seemed so weird to me before now seem so normal like, duh we drink coke in a bag.

Homesickness comes very rarely but when it does it hits hard. I definitely crave El Indio Mexican Food, Mountain Dew, Skittles, and Combos all the time and want McDonald’s or Taco Bell like I’ve never wanted fast food before. I miss my family always. Even though I have best friends here there are some Adam’s…I mean people that are impossible to replace. My best friend in the United States, Adam, spent 250 dollars to call me. Things like that make me realize how valuable their friendship is to me. My friendship was worth 250 dollars to him. But homesickness is barely even worth mentioning in my case since I’ve felt it like 3 times for a couple hours and usually I am completely blissfully happy.

I had a minor episode involving a playground that got me bandaged up really nice. I’m not even going to try to top Julie, but it was pretty intense. Basically I got catapulted off a see saw and landed on the merry-go-round. My injuries included the ugliest bruises I’ve ever had in my life, not being able to move my neck for 5 days, and the embarrassment when people ask, “What happened?” What hurt the most was when I actually had to face the fact that maybe my butt was just too big for that see-saw. Maybe the equilibrium wasn’t the problem, maybe I’m growing up and I’m not a little kid anymore. I see myself maturing in little ways but I figure this is my last year of youth before I start working and going to college. This is the last time someone is going to cook for me everyday and the last time I can sleep in class. This year has definitely made the transition to independence easier, though.

I got to give a lesson in English class a few days ago about American culture. Our teacher wanted me to teach a quick, easy game and song and to bring in food or drink. I taught everyone Heads Up 7 Up. I brought in Gatorade because it was invented in Gainesville, the closest real city to my pueblo. I taught the class how to run from alligators and I taught everyone the theme song from “Jeopardy”. Everyone REALLY REALLY liked the song. No one knows what it means but now everyone thinks it’s like the coolest tune. It’s not uncommon to see a group of girls from my class walking down the street humming the tune, as if they are waiting for someone to buzz in. It was really interesting attempting to show American culture to people who don’t know who Bob Barker is. I tried to explain ebonics but it just wasn’t the same. I’m not even sure I know what crunk is and much less how to explain it.

People told me that Brazilian men are crazy. Everyone said it. There is no possible way to exaggerate the fact. Brazilian men LOVE women. Not in the way other countries do. I mean…they ABSOLUTELY LOVE women. I think they spend 35% of their daily time just staring at women. Men of all ages stare at women of all ages. And they yell, whistle, honk, wink, fake having a heart attack (that was just once but it was my favorite), ANYTHING to attract the attention of the woman in question. The more you insult the poor guys the more they chase after you. There is a famous saying here that says “Brazilian men never give up.” They don’t. Insults bounce off them. They are immune to dirty looks. The more you ignore them the more they stalk you. I’ve been proposed to six times. I’ve been sang to more than I can count. It’s the Brasilian way. I’ve become really used to it and now I sing back.

So a few days ago, me and another exchange student, Sebastian, went to the lake in my city, Lagoa Grande. We were sitting there talking, when a group of men start to do capoeira next to us. Capoeira is almost like martial arts and dancing mixed. They play an instrument called the berinbal (according to my friend Pedro who can barely spell his last name and thinks that Russia is a continent) and people sing and clap their hands. All of a sudden everyone started singing to me, “Menina Boa, Menina Boa“. They came over and asked my name and Sebastian and I started talking to them. They were really interesting and one asked me if I would like to try capoeira right there in front of the crowd of people in the middle of the lake. Nobody could possibly say no to that offer. So there in front of everyone I started to learn. I looked more ridiculous than you can possibly imagine in your wildest dreams. It was so much fun though. I taught them the somersault. I taught them the cartwheel American style. It was really fun just singing and talking to them.

It’s been awhile since my last journal and I had it all ready to go when I had a little accident. See, in Brazil a bicycle isn’t meant for just one person, but two or three. So in this fashion my friend Pedro was riding the bike and I was sitting in front of him when something happened. We hit a lizard-like object and I went flying. Pedro ended up with some scratches and I fractured my arm! So I got to wear a cast for a week and everything’s OK now.

Now everyone has been updated on my time in Brazil. It’s been incredibly fun, interesting, and slightly more dangerous than I anticipated. I am having a great time and missing everyone a lot. A special hello to the City Hall gang who I miss very much and who are probably wondering why I haven’t sent them candy and letters yet. I’m working on it. Adam, Jessi, Armando, K.C., Mela, Zach, Corby, Mr. and Mrs. Buffington, Mom, Mimi & Papi, Auntie Elaine, Uncle Zap, and Emily, my thoughts are always with you!

January Journal

Hello friends and family!

I just wanted to keep you updated because I probably won’t have a chance to communicate too often in the month of January. I am going on a tour of the beaches of Brazil with 150 other exchange students. I leave Jan. 5 at midnight and come back February 4th.

It’s summer here in Brazil and I am having a great time. I am on vacation from school from Dec. to Feb. I had the hottest Christmas of my life in 80 degree weather but I got to spend time in the capital of my state, Belo Horizonte. The capital has about 4 million people and it was so much fun.

I learned basic Portuguese in a month and after about 3 months I was completely fluent. Now everywhere I go people think I’m Brazilian. I have been here 5 months and I can honestly say there is no place like Brazil in the world. Everyone here has made me a part of their family and everyone says my name different. Everyone always says Alex? That’s the name of a boy.

Well about my trip. Here’s a little glimpse of what I will be doing in the next month. First of all the official name of my trip is A Viagem dos Sonhos or The Dream Trip.
January 6th- I arrive in São Paulo. Huge City. Like 20 million inhabitants.
January 7th- The historic city of Paraty. Free day to explore.
January 8th- Take a boat to the islands of Paraty and swim and then on the road to RIO DE JANEIROOOOOOO!!!!! At night we will be going to the COPACABANAAAA!!!!
January 9th- Tour of the Beautiful Gorgeous Spectacular Amazing City of Rio de Janeiro and then to the VERY FAMOUS rock Pão de Açucar. It’s super tall and you can see the WHOLE city and it’s in the middle of the ocean. Then Samba lessons from a professional samba school.
January 10th- You know that huge statue of Christ with his arms open that everyone in the world has seen someplace or other. well I will be on top of that statue Christ the Redemptor today! then off to the Sambodrome the place where Carnaval is celebrated.
January 11th- IPANEMAAA!!! One of the most famous beaches of Brasil and the world! and then the Samba City. And then a class to learn how to dance Funk…which is basically booty-dancing the Brazilian way.
January 12th- Going to BAHIA!!!! the birthplace of Brasilian culture. Porto Seguro! Free day to explore.
Jan. 13th- Spending the day at the beaches of Porto Seguro.
Jan. 14th- The 3rd most beautiful beach of brasil Praia do Espelho. (Beach of the Mirror, because the water looks like a mirror.) And then to visit the Indians of Brasil. And then lessons to dance axé!
Jan. 15th- MY BIRTHDAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!! I will be 19 years old today. I will spend it in Itacaré which is an ecological vacation place. They have jungles and rafting and waterfalls and beaches and it is the most visited beach by young people in Brasil.
Jan 16th- We are going to 4 different beaches today!
Jan. 17th- Waterfalls then the beach again. Then we all get Land Rovers to go out to the place where the rafting takes place.
Jan. 18th- Arrive in Lençóis. Explore.
Jan. 19th- Go to this really cool place that has a natural slide made of rock and waterfall where you fall down the waterfall until you hit the lagoon below. then off to the beach again.
Jan. 20th- HUGE WATERFALL! Show of Capoeira with optional class afterwards
Jan 21st- ARRIVE IN SALVADOR!! CAPITAL OF BAHIA!!! the first capital of Brazil (Now it is Brasilia) is the CULTURAL MECCA of Brasil.
Jan 22nd-Free day Exploring the city and then at night go to the nightclubs!!!
Jan. 23rd- Take a boat to the Ilha dos Frades. Go to many islands in the boat stop and swim every once in a while. Then a picnic on the beach.
Jan. 24th- We are going to projeto TAMAR! A group that protects marine turtles (turtles being my favorite animal) We get to see all the turtles they have there and swim with them. That night I get to RECIFE!!!
Jan. 25th- A beautiful beach called Porto das Galinhas. Snorkeling. surfing. we can rent boats. and optional scuba diving.
Jan. 26th- Free day. Exploring the city with some of the exchange students from Recife. Then Festa de CARNAVAL!!
Jan 27th- I arrive in Natal. take a boat to see the dolphins. I love living in a tropical country.
Jan. 28th- Free day to Explore the city.
Jan. 29th- I arrive in Jericoacoara!! Watch the sunset on the beach and go night time swimming.
Jan. 30th- Free day to explore the city
Jan. 31st- Free day at the beaches
Feb. 1st- I arrive in Fortaleza. Exchange Student Talent Show.
Feb 2nd- We rent little jeeps to run around the beach in. Skibunda Ski- you all know. Bunda- butt. Skibunda is where you use like a board to sit on and you ride down sand dunes until you fall into the water…in my case a sweet water lake…(I don’t know what that is but that’s what it says on the program) And then horseback riding! Super Huge Party with more than 200 exchange students.
Feb 3rd.- Wake up sore from horseback riding. Go to the beach and take a city tour.
Feb. 4th- Still sore from horseback riding. Arrive in the capital of Brasil…Brasilia…tour the city get on a plane and fly home to Patos de Minas, Minas Gerais, Brasil.

I have 2 Brasilian bikinis. I haven’t decided as of yet whether I am going to wear them as they were given to me by well-meaning friends. I have been told that people will think it odd to see me in an American bikini. I personally feel it is odder for me to walk around with half of my rear end visible but I am told that people don’t even pay attention to it. I highly doubt that.

I hope everything is fine at home and keep me updated on your lives even if it takes a little while for me to get back to you. I love you and miss you all. But I won’t miss High Springs that much when I am swimming in the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. It’s hard to miss Mountain Dew when you are drinking sweet fruit juice made in front of your eyes. It’s hard to miss Taco Bell when you are standing next to a statue of Christ and looking out over an enormous city and bright blue water. But it’s easy to miss all of you. I send all of you my love. I think about my friends and family every day and although part of me wants to stay in this beautiful country forever most of me wants to come back home eventually to see you all again.

Take care…Love Alex

March 3 Journal

The past few months have probably been the craziest of my life. First I had the Northeast trip. I went to many beaches in Brazil and it was crazy and really fun to see the exchange students. I was at the beach everyday and swam in waterfalls. I also went white water rafting and did not fall out of the boat, though I accidentally pushed the guide off the boat. (Don’t worry, he was fine.) I also went on a camel ride as a birthday present from my friend Matt. It was fun imagining what my friends back home might be doing while I was riding a camel on the beach in Brazil. All in all the trip was one of the best experiences of my life and I made friends there that I will keep in touch even when I am back in the U.S. on July 1st. (booooo) I will send pictures of the trip later.

When I came back it was almost time for Carnival. This is a huge deal in Brazil so I was really excited. I wasn’t a bit disappointed. Carnival was four days and although in my city it isn’t the same as in Rio de Janeiro (i.e. naked woman, sequins, parades etc.), it is a HUGE party. During Carnaval you can enter in a bloco where you get free drinks, two days of churrasco(barbeque…but better), and caldo (soup) every day. Four days of free everything for 110 reais (like 55 dollars). I would arrive at Carnival at midnight and leave at seven in the morning, sleep until 3 in the afternoon, take a bath, go back to Carnival, leave at seven p.m. and start all over again.

Anyways, I will try to write more journals soon and keep everyone updated.

May 23 Journal

Oi Florida!!! Saudades!!!!

Ok well that’s a lie. I mean I miss Florida….but not anywhere near enough to come home just yet! In fact the idea terrifies me. It literally keeps me awake at night! I fell in love with this country the minute I set foot here and it has only gotten better each day. I have had the time of my life in these past two months and I am not ready to end it yet.

I traveled to Belo Horizonte which is the capital of my state. I stayed in a house with 5 exchange students. Now for anyone who has ever been an exchange student you know this is a dream. I loved every second of it. Even the two hour argument about who was going to buy coke, even the cheating at UNO, even the fact that they used all my shampoo and conditioner and there was never any toilet paper or food. I loved it all. Even when my friend Stan from Poland woke me up at 6 in the morning by singing me Redemption Song by Bob Marley I couldn’t help but laugh at how lucky I was to get to spend this time with such good friends. Or how my Austrian Valentin refuses to call me anything but my lady.

I truly believe that your exchange student friends are just as important as the friends that you make in your countries. I have made friends among exchange students that are so important to me that I can’t imagine a life without them. I have a house in basically every country that I have ever wanted to visit. I can proudly say that my best friends are from Poland, Belgium, Austria, Canada, and Japan. I have learned pieces of everyone’s languages and how to Austrian waltz! My exchange student friends are SO AWESOME that when I couldn’t afford to go to the Amazon, they carried around a piece of paper with my name on it and took pictures with “me”. I wasn’t even there and I became the trip mascot!!!

I have one question for anyone who has ever been an exchange student. Does it really get any better than this? Is there any possibility that by some miracle I will have as much fun one day as I did on my exchange?

I am currently in the middle of my city’s biggest festival. Festa do Milho, Fenamilho, the corn festival… A HUGE 10 day party where attendance last year reached 300,000 people. It is the best party I have ever been to in my life!!!!!! I am having so much fun going out every night to this gigantic party and dancing all night and going home at 8 in the morning!

I leave this country in 3 weeks but I am trying not to think about it just yet. I am so grateful that I had such a perfect exchange year and so few bad memories but a billion good ones. I saw a toucan outside my window yesterday and I was so sad to think that this would never happen in the U.S. No more feeding monkeys at school. I would go back to being just another American kid when I have had this amazing life here. But Brazil will always be waiting for me and I will always be waiting for the moment when I can return.

Alex

Kenny Duffield
2006-07 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Wien Gloriette Rotary Club
District 1910, Austria

Kenny - Austria

Kenny’s Bio

 Guten tag, freut mich. My name is Kenny and I’m a junior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida.

I’d like to start out by saying I GOT IN & I’M GOIN’ TO AUSTRIA!!!!!

I’m 16 years old and have lived six years of my life in Gainesville. Before I lived in Gainesville I lived in northern California for ten years in a town called Santa Rosa. My family basically consists of two sets of parents. There’s my mom Jill and my step-dad Bill, and my dad Ken and my step-mom Jodi. I have two wonderful sisters, Kerri and Kristen and a baby brother on the way, Bryan. Kerri has her own apartment and works at Starbucks Coffee Co. and my other sister Kristen is a freshman at UF.

At Buchholz I do a lot of different activities, which sadly enough I probably won’t get to do in Austria, seeing as most Euro countries focus on the school work and not so much on extra-curricular activities. Here in Buchholz I pole-vault on the track team and also run on the cross-country team. Apart from sports I do a lot of acting and I’m about to start a play in March.

Some of the things I also love to do are to read, listen to music and drive my beautiful ’93 Honda Civic (which sadly enough I’m gonna have to sell before I leave; but don’t say anything to her, she doesn’t know yet.) I also love to travel. So far the places I’ve been are the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Costa Rica. From these trips I could tell right away that studying abroad for a year is exactly the thing for me, and I know I’m going to have a great time!

I want to thank Rotary District 6970 for this wonderful opportunity.


September 6 Journal 

I have now been in this country for 25 days. At 8:27 AM, I stepped off the plane into what would become my home for the next ten months. Before I had boarded the plane I was confident in almost every aspect of the trip. I had all my luggage, all my papers and I was ready to go. So I said goodbye to my parents and charged forward to the security checkpoint. About twenty feet later I had realized that I had walked straight into the handicapped line. Okay, good start. I made my way through the correct security line and headed to my gate. Thirty feet later I had realized that I was headed for the wrong gate. Okay, second good start. But now I was serious! I turned around very casually and headed toward the right gate and boarded the plane. Twelve hours later I landed in Vienna and made my first step into my Austrian exchange.

Waiting for me when I got off the plane was my host family. I was greeted with hugs and kisses and a lot of German words I didn’t understand. During the trip I had prepared a whole line of what I was going to say to my host family when I first saw them. When the moment arose for me to deliver my lines, I choked and all I could muster out was, “hallo!” It was a weak start in the country, but it was a start.

We packed the car with my luggage, and immediately made a tour of Vienna. The whole drive my mouth was to the floor as we drove by six-hundred year old buildings and stared up at gigantic historical monuments.

Finally, we pulled into my new home. The neighborhood is beautiful. All of the homes were lined with flower gardens and a lot of garden gnomes. As we came out of the car, I grabbed my bags and headed up the four flights of stairs. In Austria, land is very expensive, so they all build their houses up instead of out. Well, my room was on the fourth floor, and I had a lot of fun lugging my bags up that flight of stairs. As soon as I reached my room I unpacked my iPod, switched it on to some easy music and passed out before I even hit the bed. Seven hours later I awoke to my host brother telling me that if I was hungry, I could come downstairs. I hopped out of bed and bolted to the kitchen. For the past twenty hours all I had eaten was a lukewarm chicken and rice meal and a Sprite. Needless to say, I was looking forward to a good meal. Ten seconds later, I found out that I was in for a great meal. It turns out that in Austria, people don’t mess around with their food. There’s no experimenting with new ideas or new flavors, they simply stick to the traditional meat, soup, bread, cake and more meat diet. And I have to tell you, it was WONDERFUL! My host mom wanted to make sure that I had enough, so she just kept putting more and more food in front of me. I didn’t want to be a bad guest, so I complied with her wishes and just kept eating. And besides, who am I to turn down a good Austrian meal?

A few days later we headed to their holiday home in a small town called Gmunden. My host brother and I decided to go by train, and boy was that an interesting experience. By the time that we had bought our tickets the train was ready to leave. So, with tickets in hand we ran to the platform. If there is one thing that I have learned about European trains, it’s that they wait for no man. As we got on the platform we could see our train slowly pulling away in the distance. My host brother quickly yelled something to the platform manager but he didn’t hear him, so we just kept running. Finally we were right up beside the train and we hopped into the door. Since then we’ve always been early!

Three hours later we got off the train in Gmunden and headed for the house. A few hours later my host parents arrived and we again feasted on a wonderful meal. That night we went to the fireworks festival that Gmunden held every year. The festival was huge! People came from all over Austria just to see the fireworks show. Throughout the night the streets were packed while we made our way from booth to booth trying all the different Austrian chocolates. Two days later I headed to language camp with a bunch of other exchange students. The language camp was only three miles away in the next town. While we were there the teachers took us out on two trips. One, was a boat tour of the Traunse lake, and the second, was to an old salt mining town called Hallstatt. For the two weeks I was at language camp, I had the time of my life! I met over fifty other exchange students and made great friends with everyone there. Classes began every day at 8am and ended at 3pm. From 3pm until 6pm we’d study or play table tennis, futbol, foosball or just sit around and talk. The village was just a five minute walk so we usually went into town everyday after classes and also after dinner. The village was beautiful and there were a lot of great places to go. Alongside the lake there was a boardwalk which runs down all the way to Gmunden. Also you would not believe the lake. Except for the rocky mountains behind it, it looks like a crystal blue ocean; nothing like a Florida lake. The language camp was a great start to my trip and the people I met there, I’ll never forget.

Now just a week out of language camp I’m back to Vienna. Though the Austrian country side was great, it’s nice to be back in the big city again. Whoever said that, “Green acres is the place to be,” has obviously never been to Vienna. In just four short days I begin school and I guess we’ll see what Austria has in store for me. Though at times the transition from normal life to that of an exchange student can be tough, I don’t think I could have been as happy with any other path. Austria is wonderful, the people are wonderful, and so was my decision to become a Rotary Exchange student.

In the words of David Sedaris, “Living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.”


January 3 Journal

 Well, it’s been about four and a half months since I’ve come to Austria from the states, and a lot has happened in these past months. I’ve had Rotary trips, trips with my family and a lot of trips with other exchange students living here in Austria. Also, I’ve just been experiencing every day life here in Vienna. Now that I’ve been here for this long I feel more life a citizen than a tourist. I go to school, I meet Austrians, I go out with friends, and I’ve even got a library card! Now if that doesn’t mean that I’m a citizen here, than I don’t know what does.

About a month after my language camp, we had our first Rotary weekend, in Tauplitz. Whenever we have a meeting anywhere, we always take the trains. Now, four months into my exchange, this is no problem for me. But four months ago, it seemed every train ride had something go wrong. On Friday morning, I left my house and set out for the train station in the middle of the city, with a friend. We thought we had left ourselves plenty of time to get there, but apparently it wasn’t enough. By the time we got to the train station, we were just in time to see our train pulling out of the platform. Now in a panic we ran to the help desk and asked what it was that we could do. We were told to go to the south train station in the city and wait for the same train which would be passing through there in about twenty minutes. The man at the desk then told us the street car that we needed to get on that would take us to the other station. The only thing he didn’t tell us was how long the street car would take. When we arrived at the south train station, our train had been gone for ten minutes. Again, we headed back for the other train station. When we arrived for the second time at the train station we got stepped off the street car and bumped into my friend Paul, who also missed the train. The funny part is Paul missed his train because he couldn’t find the train station, which is almost impossible to miss, due to the gigantic building that surrounds the train station. Seeing that we had about two hours until the next train, we all went inside the station for a cup of coffee. About six hours later we arrived in Tauplitz very tired and very late. When we stepped off the train, there was a bus waiting for us to take us up the giant hill to our lodge. As we sat on the bus another train pulled in and a few friends stepped off, also late. It turned that we weren’t the only ones to miss a few trains. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the lodge where we met up with 80 other exchange students. Over the weekend, we went hiking, swimming and spent every night in the small town. The hiking trip was great. We saw some small glaciers and even found a cave that went back into the mountain about 60 feet. The trip was incredible and it was a great way to start off the year.

Apart from trips, regular life as an exchange student is great, especially when you’re in Vienna. The city is the perfect place for an exchange student because of all the history and all the space. Vienna is a city of about 1.8 million people and it has so much to offer. Every day, I leave school at about 12:45 and go home for lunch. At two, I go to my German course, stay there for two hours and then I usually spend the rest of the day in the city. Vienna is full of great places, whether it’s a museum, a park, a palace of the kings or just a really good café. I start in the middle of the city and then just work my way out. This is always the best way to find the best stuff that Vienna has to offer. My favorite part of Vienna, are the parks. In Vienna, there are parks everywhere, especially in the inner city. I love to just go out with some music and take a nap under a tree. Right now In Vienna it’s too cold to go out to parks, but just give it a few months and I’ll be back.

Just a few days ago my host brother and I decided to go snowboarding. It was a great trip, where I learned that the snow board was not meant for Kenny Duffield. In two months my Rotary District has a ski week. I think this time I’ll stick to the skiing. We arrived later that day back at my house completely exhausted and ready to lounge on the couch and watch the movie. So we popped in the movie Fight Club and fell asleep. I woke up two hours later to my host brother telling me is was snowing outside. I jumped off the couch and peered out the window to see about four inches on the ground with lots of snow still coming down. So we put on some shoes and a jacket and we walked around the neighborhood for an hour. While my host brother was making snowmen, I was freaking out about the snow. The snow had come so late to Vienna this year, and I was so happy to see it. The snow gave the weather a good reason to be soo cold.

Anyway, things right now are going really smooth. I fit in with my family, in my school and in just ordinary life in the big city. I love this trip and I love Austria, I can’t believe I only have 6 months left. I guess time flies while you’re having fun. Anyway, I have plenty of time left and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.


January 27 Journal

 

Today is January 20th and the freakish weather continues to blow over Austria. About two weeks ago the weather was quite nice, where the skies were mostly blue and not too cold either. Then last week a huge cold front sweeps in and before you know it I’ve got the heavy jackets on again. Then just this week, we get this wind storm that came down from Germany and it starts blowing the roofs off houses. It’s pretty weird stuff. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m just holding out for the warm weather.

Also, this week was the opening of the Rathause skate rink. The Rathaus is a government building in the middle of town and is also one on the most beautiful buildings in Vienna. Right in front of the building, the city made a huge skate rink, with trails, dance floors, and cafes. It is definitely the most elaborate rink I have ever seen. A few days ago they had the opening ceremony, so a couple of friends and I decided to go. The opening was really great. They had stunt guns, light and some sort of interpretive dance that no one understands. After the show, they opened the gates for free admission but unfortunately we didn’t have skates and the rentals were 6 Euros. So, we stuck around a while, met some people, listened to the music and just enjoyed the night. For most of the night we just leaned up against a railing and watched the skaters go by. It’s probably one of the best things to do. To be with your best friends, just talking and enjoying the night. It’s unbelievable how close you get with the other exchange students. My two best friends in Vienna are Sergio, and Ramses. In just five short months we have grown a bond stronger than any I’ve had before. The friends you have here are really friends for life, people you just won’t forget.

Speaking of friends you won’t forget, my friend Eric left for Brasil yesterday. Since it was Eric’s last night we all went out to a locale and just had one last time with him before he left. We spent a couple hours there and I had a lot of fun. After Eric left for his house, my friend Martha called me and invited me to a cafe where a band was playing music that was a cross between Turkish and Greek. The music was really great and we also ended up staying there for a while. After about and hour I said goodbye to Martha and left with my friend Sergio so we could go meet Ramses. Everything was going fine until we got on the streetcar. As soon as we got on we took a seat and just relaxed for a bit. Then all of a sudden this guy in the front of the car starts to take his clothes off. Piece by piece this guy completely undresses on the street car. While he was walking down the aisles, his girlfriend was screaming at him and I think an old woman fainted. Sergio and I hugged up against the walls when he came by, yet we couldn’t help but to crack up. It was honestly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard. As the street car came to a stop he redressed, waved goodbye to everyone in the car and, casually stepped out. As I stepped out I thought to myself that this is probably one of those things that you really regret in the morning. Or not. This guy seemed to know what he was doing. Anyway, after the crazy streetcar ride, Sergio and I met up with Ramses in the city and had a great time. As Usual.

Anyway, these are just a few stories from my life in Vienna. As you can see its a little crazy, well, the people are atleast, but the city still retains its dignity.

Evan Fowler
2006-07 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Wolfson High School
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Takaoka West Rotary Club
District 2610, Japan

Evan - Japan

August 25 Journal & Pictures
I honestly still can’t believe that I’m in Japan right now. I mean if someone was to shake me and say I have been dreaming for the past couple days I would totally believe them because to say the least I have truly been living in a Japanese oasis which is actually everywhere I look. I mean to go from wishing to get accepted to practicing a far off language that no one around me knew a word of is big, but there is more. To get off a plane to a group of people saying that same greeting I’d been practicing for eight months, can really throw you off.
The first thing I saw when I went to baggage claim in the Komastu airport, on the other side of a glass wall, were about thirteen people saying my name and holding a sign. I was so taken aback even though I knew I was to be greeted, it hit me like a brick, wow they really knew I was coming and they came. Then to greet them was the next big thing. I was shaking like crazy and pushing out the traditional Japanese greeting and falling over myself in nerves. There at the airport I met my other two host families, I knew my first host but I wasn’t thinking I would meet my other two that day so that also threw me off. I mean what do you say when someone says I’ll be your mom in a couple months, then someone else says yes and we will be your host parents after that. I have never felt so welcomed by people I had just met in my life, EVER. Through all the fuss and welcoming I had totally forgot my so-called plan for when I was met. I exchanged cards, bowed like crazy, and took pictures with my families and the other inbounds of my district. It was confusing but great to say the least.

My shaking nerves soon melted away to comfort when I met my second host family and my host sister Yuri, she had been an exchange student to Canada and spoke great English. I stayed with her family, the Honda family, the first night and was truly made at home. But before we went home we went out to a local museum where I saw some of the coolest art I had ever seen, from an underground pool, to a large spinning camera wheel, it was all amazingly awesome. Later I met my other host sister, and grandmother, and my host brother at dinner. They all reminded me of my own family at home, and her mom and father had such great personalities that I couldn’t help but to feel at ease. I went to the mall with Yuri and I saw all the Japanese stores that to me were just like home but better. We then took pictures in a photo booth, but much better than like the ones at home. The ones in Japan have so much more stuff that you would be busy for hours on end with them. Then to say the least my first meal was the ice breaking in eating Japanese food, it was Amazing. We had sushi rolls made at home, with so many choices, but the best part was I didn’t even feel  ぃけ- I was across the globe, the meal was so good I just stopped asking what things were, and since then I still don’t ask whatever I eat, it all tastes great. The next day my host sisters tried to help teach me some more words in Japanese and I learned more about the Japanese land layout with my host dad. They were in the end more then I could ask as a host family. I mind you I did all that my first day with them, so much when I look back but time flew like crazy.

The next morning I was to meet my first host family, the Kanamori family. They live in downtown T and consist of my host mom (okasan) and host father (otosan). The house is three blocks away from a huge amazing park that you could get lost in for days and a giant Buddha statue. After getting dropped off I again felt that nerve feeling but was soon at ease yet again to my surprise. My host mother is truly one of the nicest people on earth I have met and my host father also very nice and admirable to say the least. They have two grown children who live in Tokyo and were both exchange students who went to the New York area, so they know how an exchangee might feel at any given moment, but I have yet to have a chance to feel in anyways down or sad. In my first week I have done so much already. Me and my host dad went sailing twice and saw some of the most beautiful scenes over the mountains I’ve seen ever. While me and my host mom have chatted about almost everything that could matter and she has already taken me to get fitted for my school uniform and other things.

To make it even better, I have been fighting to learn the language for a while and now I’m taking class in the nearby town Toyama for a week via a 20 minute train ride by myself. This makes me feel very productive on what I want and need to survive this year. Everyday I wake up and greet my host parents for breakfast then maybe do some laundry and make my way to my classes. I have yet to start my actual school but I’m very much optimistic.

I’ve also already met more of the other inbounds for my district and they too are awesome friends. Plus I’ve made friends with the local jets (Japanese exchange teachers) which share that foreign gaze of Japan like me.

I used to think that the first journal entries were sugar coated to make everything sound great, but after being here and just feeling so great and uplifted by people I’ve just met over a week ago, I see why everyone is always so happy by the tone of their entry.

So with that I say good bye for now, I have more class tomorrow. I can’t wait to see where this year may take me from ups to downs and anywhere between, Ja matta

October 3 Journal & Pictures
As of now I think I’m close to two months, I really don’t know. To me it’s a good sign I’m not counting the days because I’m having that much fun. Well to recap there has been a lot of big and small stuff since my last entry. I started school but that’s so big I’ll get to that subject last.
Me and my first host family went to Tokyo about two weeks ago. It was amazing. The way there we stopped at a mountain temple that was built upon an old volcanic ground meaning there were huge volcanic rocks everywhere. Really big and really cool. Then we went to Tokyo and the next day my host brother showed me around. That was really fun too. First we went to the top of this one building and I saw all the different areas of Tokyo. Then he took me around to all the different popular spots. Of course I shopped a little. The main point is he was awesome and so was the time spent.

After my trip to Tokyo later that week I switched host families. My new host family is the Honda Family. They are really cool and I stayed with them my first night so I kinda very vaguely knew what it was like. They live a little outside of downtown Takaoka in an area called Toide. Which means my commute to school is no longer a walk but two trains and a walk. I have a host mom and dad, and two older host sisters, a brother who lives in Tokyo, and a host grandmother. It’s a really great and open family. My younger of the host sisters went to Canada last year so her English is great; she helps me learn formal Japanese and more teen friendly. Plus she is really cool so I feel really lucky that I’m with this family. I recently got a new bicycle which if I were told I was getting while in Florida I would just give you a weird look, but that’s pretty much the main source of transportation for people my age. Plus I’ve been walking everywhere so I was really happy to get one.

Also the two other inbounds in my town are great. They are both from Canada but we pretty much spend at least one of our weekends together walking around shopping and practicing Japanese. It’s like having a sample of my friends from home here with me. They are the best people to be with in a place like this.

Now to the big issue, SCHOOL. This is truly the first time in 13 years I’ve ever said this at all but I love school. To start I admit I had my personal doubts about it. Luckily to my surprise I was totally wrong which I love. I thought the teachers would either look down upon me for not knowing enough of the language but they are the best. They understand and really are supporting in a good way when I slowly start talking more and more in Japanese. My basic way of talking for now is I say as much as I know in Japanese and then I might switch to English. Since I’ve been here for about a month most know now I prefer to stumble over their Japanese and ask them to talk slower then to be talked to in English which is great. Also my homeroom class is the best ever. My homeroom teacher is really helpful in making sure I understand everything that is going on. He even helps by making sure I have everything I need for school such as kendo wear for kendo class, which is awesome to side track, and anything else by calling my host parents to let them know. Classes also have been amazement even to me. I still don’t understand a big gap of what the teachers say but the best part is that what they teach spans from 9th grade subjects then sometimes jumps to my level. So I can actually get the lesson in math, science, and world history. English classes are actually fun but for reasons I didn’t expect. They almost show me that everyone is human when learning a new language. I mean when they mess up I pretty much see myself so I help when I can, and in return I think that shows that I do respect them for even trying.

The students are above all to say the least what I wished for without knowing. They have interest in me and where I’m from but not to a point where that’s all I talk about. They let me feel like I’m just average which is actually good. It’s better to be in a class that doesn’t put you on a stool where you have to always talk in English or about Florida and other stuff. But now we actually have a good normal friendship or at least with some help from American phrases I taught them such as loser or whatever. Which is really funny to see them try. But usually after school if I don’t have kyudo we sit around and joke half Japanese and half English, they teach me jokes and what’s cool, and now and then I tell them jokes and what me and my friends do back at home. I’m in the kyudo club which is Japanese archery. It is really great to say the least. I practice like crazy but the other members are really nice and help me and try to explain as much as they can. This gives me even more Japanese practice and more great friends. I already feel a part of the school since everyday I greet my class then greet teachers in the hall on the way to class. It’s awesome.

Also, last week we had our school festival. It was another really big and cool event. My homeroom class made the room into a haunted house which was cool. Also we sang in a competition but I think we didn’t win, I really don’t know. But it was fun, the song of course was in Japanese and I studied it like crazy, so I’m kinda glad that’s over. But there was so much at the festival I can’t even go into it. But I’m having a great time and wish the best for the other outbounds and hope the new inbounds are having a great time in Florida.

Until next time, ja ne

November 13 Journal
I must say I thought before I left when the outbounds said they were too busy to think about journal entries they were just being lazy but now I know, it really does seem every week just collides into one huge day. Along with that same note I’ve been traveling around my district a lot so I guess with all the fighting to remember dates and better my language I actually did slip and totally forget about journal entries.
Anyways, well recently like I said I’ve been traveling. Nowhere really big just places that me and the other inbounds say “Have we gone there yet,” “No, why not,” “Let’s go there Saturday.” That alone keeps me busy and I love it. I also thought that I would never be able to ride a train myself but after being late for one or two you really learn your lesson while you wait an hour. I can honestly say here I learn lessons that everyone should learn but it’s actually fun.

Like for example, I’ll admit for about a week I thought my host sisters didn’t care much for me. I asked myself why, that’s not really fair of them, one was even an exchange student before. After thinking it over I was going to flat out ask, do you dislike me for some reason, did I do something wrong. Until one night I thought deeper, how much do I personally know about them. I couldn’t say I ever really took the time to ask about them. In the end it’s much better now, I’m glad I didn’t jump to the conclusion that they were the unfair ones when really I totally overlooked the simple fact that even with simple language abilities, showing pure interest is the best way to make friends. That’s the big lesson I’ve learn recently.

Also Kyudo is going great too (oh and I read about Hannah and how she is in Kyudo also, I accept her challenge. When we return we are so having a showdown). Anyways next Sunday I have a really big Kyudo test about sitting, walking, and shooting of course. I can’t wait. My fellow club mates though really do go out of their way to help me for which I could never express how grateful I am. Also the Kyudo teacher is always willing to stop and try to explain in simple Japanese how to make sure I pass the test, it’s when I’m doing kyudo I can hardly tell I’m away from home thanks to the great friends around me.

Plus the past week or so we had Halloween. I personally don’t really celebrate it to begin with but again I got all mooshy when my teacher gave me a trick-or-treat candy, then my host family gave me a Halloween pin as a present. It may not be the biggest holiday to me, but that they really do care enough to even think about how it might affect me really makes me happy. As of that I think that is everything: lots of traveling, great times, lessons learned, great friendships, it’s an everyday thing in the day of a Rotary Exchange Student. (Me and the other inbounds say that to ourselves when we have the chance, lol.)

P.s. Hope all the other Outbounds are having as much of a great time, I love reading their entries when I get a chance. miss you all.

December 26 Journal

As I’ve said before I am truly in love with this place. It is as if to call it paradise would be short of its true splendor. Honestly I don’t want to even think how I will survive back at home after this.
Lately like always I’ve been busy. School test, kyudo, and I switched host families. My current host family is still outside of the main city but I like it out here. Almost every morning I wake up to a great view of the snow-capped mountains. Also because of that great view riding my bike and paying attention is really hard at times but it’s ok. To add on to such a great land, my new host family is crazy great. It has yet to be a month and I truly feel at home. But the big thing even I was worried about was how I would handle Christmas and the holiday time.

Well, my Christmas was also great. It actually had nothing to do directly with the holiday itself which I later thought suited the time perfectly. In all honesty you can always celebrate a holiday with family and friends around or not, but you can never recreate the same feeling place to place, it’s also not fair to try to do so onto others. So the best way I thought to avoid bad feelings was to do as the locals do. Turns out I spent the day with my host mom and sister and dropped off gifts. It was actually one of the best days I have had with the family. I also got a chance to see my host father’s work, which was really cool. Instead the bigger holiday here is new years which I can hardly wait to do everything that consists with it.

So in the end, I may not have been with my true family back in Jacksonville or doing what I would have done every year, but instead I did what I set out to do from the minute I thought about being an exchange student, doing something new.

My host Rotary club along with all the members also show great support in everything I do which really acts as a booster everyday. After my kyudo test which I passed, my host club for an early Christmas gift bought me kyudo fuku or kyudo clothing. I went crazy over that alone, but to make it better they also bought me my own set of arrows. So I really do appreciate everything my host club has done and given me to say the least.

Also on another matter, it really does sometimes surprise me how everyday it seems I start to understand more and more about everything here in so many ways. Not only the language or culture, but when you take the time to try to see why the custom is done and do it yourself you start to understand. From that I mean to say that I’ve seen so many ways of living in Japan that I start to see that what I thought beforehand was a totally wrong view, yet at the same time very much right. Before I came here I thought only in my point of view, as in when I go to school the main interest will be music. After a couple friends, I start to realize that is only a part of each person’s interest. Usually it’s actually their own club which makes sense, but back in my high school, clubs where usually just a good thing to go on a college application.

Also, I start to see that overall passion in what you believe and do is actually strong here also. Not in the same way as America but shown differently. From what I’ve heard we Americans can be viewed as very outspoken people as a whole, when I heard that I thought nothing wrong with it and somewhat agreed; they made the point of why yell what people already know you know. Basically it’s the same old idea of sometimes cultures view each other in ways that are true yet wrong, and good yet bad, depending on where you stand. It’s actually very hard for me to explain in depth but I find that the same far off ideas of Japanese traditions all start to make sense.

Recently I also was given a chance to visit a very old temple in my city. It also was really big and awesome to say the least. I must admit temples and shrines aren’t really the rarest things here but the one I went to was a national treasure. Everything around it had a feeling of Japan. It sometimes gets hard to tell I’m still not really at home but in another country, that’s why I love to visit all the nearby places of interest. I’ve also seen several art museums of old Japanese art and poetry and even with my so-so language skills it somehow left me feeling more appreciative of even getting a chance to be in such a place. I still have so much to look forward to, and honestly it has been and seems things will be nothing less but great. So to end, again I must say I love this land and I wish I had a time machine to stay in this year forever, but until then I’ll make the best of every moment.

January 23 Journal & Pictures
Well so many things have happened this month. To start, the New Years events, which I never thought too much about, came and went. The Japanese traditions around this time of year are several and very different from house to house. My host family and I celebrated with some of the more average ones. To begin the night of New Years we went to a nearby temple to ring the bell and pray. It was so cold but breathtaking at how unbelievable it was that I was actually doing it.
The next day we awoke and had a breakfast together that was out of norm, but for a reason. The following days to come were spent cleaning. In Japan along with a new year comes a newly cleaned house. At first I thought ok no problem, I don’t have that much to clean. Instead I ended up cleaning the entire day, it seems somehow my room slipped away from me over the holidays due to the gift giving and receiving and much more. After cleaning my room I went outside to help my host dad wash the car. At first again I thought no problem just washing a car, I do it a lot of times in Florida. I was wrong yet again, it was freezing. I managed to finish helping and if I could go back in time I would have helped anyways. I love spending time with my host families. Not to mention this one is really open and funny. Every night I have to remind myself I need to go to sleep early because of school the next day because either we are watching a movie together, talking, or doing yoga, any of which is hard to pull myself away from.

Anyways back to the New Year holiday. The next day my host mom and I went to the local temple to see my host sister work. That day you were able to get a future paper. On said paper it tells your luck rating and supposed luck of the year. I should have medium luck and returning is lucky for me, weird if you ask me. Later that week we all went to a larger shrine outside of Kanazawa where we did a lot that day including going to the beach. I’ve been to several art museums with my host dad who also loves art. I’ve seen several different types of Japanese art that are really ancient yet their beauty is remarkable as if painted or carved just yesterday. I even got a chance to visit a museum about a Japanese poet a while ago. It was hard to understand exactly what the poem meant because it was in old Japanese, but even through the language barrier, you understand how much he really not only viewed but loved Japan and everything within it.

After my winter break ended school soon started all over again. I really missed my classmates seeing how I didn’t have time to see them over the break so I was eager to go back. Not to mention a week back into school I had my birthday. It was awesome how my classmates remembered and even better are the gifts I got. They were not gifts you would ask for but rather jokes we had. Like the Japanese food Natto, its a bean substance which I always hated, not to mention the smell. Also the only food I won’t eat. My classmates love it so they went out and bought me some for me to have my first actual taste. I still hate it, actually I hate it even more, but the thought that they even went through with such a plan was very funny, and we laughed the whole time.

The same day all my host families got together to have a dinner for me which was one of the best dinners I have ever had mainly because I got to see all my host families at one time. I had a great time, I didn’t even think twice about what I could be or would be doing back at home. Everyone here really went out of their way a million miles on my birthday so I’m still really grateful for that. The next week after my birthday my school had all day kendo and judo. Since I am in kendo class I had a personal round of kendo which I did ok on, then we had a class match which I made sure to give it my all. We still lost but we were all tired and yet still ok with losing after the matches.

Recently the Australians returned home so that was a slight reminder that this new life won’t last forever and that I have to go back sometime. I still have a lot to do in my schedule in the weeks to come so I just have to make sure to make the best of all the time left. One year truly seems shorter then ever when you’re half way through, but a special hey to the other outbounds and hope the inbounds are having a great time in Florida. じゃね (later)

February 19 Journal & Pictures
Well I still haven’t gone on my spring break but I still have done a lot in the past month or so here. To start, my host sister and I went skiing for my very first time. I can say that I’m not going to be in the Olympics anytime soon, but at least I had a great teacher to make sure I never really fell down, which I didn’t. We took a day off from work and school to just go out and have fun which was just that, really fun. When we first arrived we practiced of course the basic things like going, turning, and stopping. But I can still remember when we reached the top the first time, I looked down the steep side just thinking to myself that it didn’t seem to be that steep from the bottom view. While on my slow crawl down with ease I wanted to climb down the side that was less steep but one small twist of a ski and I was gone like a rocket. I can gladly say that through the maybe seven times that happened I never got hurt, so I’m lucky for that. Also as the day went on I slowly learned how to not zoom down a side of a mountain but actually ski. So it was great like I said before but the Olympics are far away. Plus to make it better my host sister took video to make sure I would never forget the time I was flying down a side of a mountain screaming, “yabii yabii yabii,” which is Japanese for (this is bad).
That weekend I attended yet another kyudo event. This time it wasn’t for personal rankings but instead district wide school ranking. I didn’t do too well I think but my school’s club got third place in the district for boys and the girls got second. Regardless I was happy for them, just shows I need more practice. It was still fun to watch how intense my clubmates became once they entered the stage to practice. It was as if there was nothing else but that target and the arrow. So, tense to say the least.

The next day actually my current host parents kind of surprised me to say we were taking a days trip to Nagoya. Nagoya is the prefecture on the opposite side of Japan so it was a little random but of course I couldn’t turn it down. I wasn’t sure why we were going or to do or see what but it was nice. The drive there we went through snow capped mountains which held little towns dotted with trees so that was a cool sight to see. When we finally arrived we actually went to see a collection of ancient historical buildings from around Japan all collected and moved to one spot. It at first seemed weird to read that the huge mansion I was standing in was once in Tokyo hundreds of miles away and that it had a big part in the royal family’s life. But in the end the collection of buildings were all important and interesting to see. It showed mostly the part of Japan that was effected and inspired by western countries such as Europe. A lot of the buildings you would expect to see in England and France, so I had a great time. Later that night we stopped by a night festival on the way back home where the houses were designed hundreds of years ago to hold amazing amounts of snow. Every house had a search light set up to show how big and tall the roofs were and how the structure itself could support mounds of snow. That too was something I was glad to see.

That following weekend my first host parents, the new exchange student form Australia, and I went to some famous cities which included Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. We had a three day trip so we ate out at great places that showed off the Japanese life and food. We also saw countless shrines but each had their own story and reason to why they were famous and all were really spectacular to see. While in Kyoto we walked down several streets that were very wall to wall restaurants. The street itself was so thin I could touch both sides at once with my hands. Not to mention it was lighted by electric lanterns which really added an extra effect. The final day we made our way to ancient Japan’s capital, Nara. There we saw the Huge Buddha. It was to say the least huge. I mean huge!!! Nara is also famous for a large group of deer that live within the Buddha grounds, so they randomly walk in and out of the crowd and you can feed them. That’s why Nara was my favorite city. On the way back to my town we stopped to see where the art of the ninja was practiced and how some houses were actually designed for ninjas. I actually always thought ninjas weren’t real and if so they were over done, but while in that small town they showed how many clever things they could actually do.

Not to fail to mention this month I’ve been practicing with the local teachers since we are putting on a charity play for the town in June. We are performing a half English and half Japanese production of Peter Pan. When they asked me if I wanted to help out or have a part I was more then happy. Since I was actually my school’s drama club president I really missed acting, not to mention I would get to do it in Japanese, so that added on a interesting effect.

So now to say the least my weekends are somewhat full with things I have to do, either traveling with host parents, friends, practice, or just hanging with my close friends at home, it’s always somewhat busy this month so I really can’t wait for spring break when I can finally take a huge break. So that’s it for me and congrats to the new outbounds.
Ja ne

Kyudo meet

Was once a house to the Royal Family of Japan
A kinda bad pic of a bell and prayer statue from the snow village Gokayama
Me and my host sister on the ski lift
A famous ancient symmetrical building
that is on a coin

The giant Buddha
building in Nara
Me in front of the Giant Buddha Building
The Giant Buddha
Me and some of the other exchange students at one of our Rotary gatherings
March 22 Journal & Pictures
Well it’s once again that time to write of my adventures in Japan. This time though I thought I’d take time to answer that everyday question I receive while on exchange, or at least one of the more reoccurring ones for me, “What do you do day to day as an exchange student?” Well, here is the ultimate response. This is what I call the day of an exchange student, or at least one in Japan from Florida District 6970, sponsored by The Downtown Jacksonville Rotary Club, and who happens to be named Evan. 🙂
Well the day starts off as any other day of school for me and every other person my age, quick shower, get dressed, and make my way downstairs for breakfast. From there it takes a new twist thanks to Rotary, I greet not my real parents but the next best thing, host parents, where I have a quick meal and make my way out the door. I then ride my bike to the train station where I board and ride two trains to get to school. This is the part that resembles almost every other person in Japan, but at the same time I stand out for one main reason. During this time I find myself still in awe that I’m really taking a train to school, not only that but right outside the window is the greatest view of Tateyama (the nearby mountain range) that always causes me to stare. I’d say its because I’m from Florida, aka the flat lands. lol

Then when I finally get to school, I set my stuff down and then yet again my day starts at school where I then rotate between Math, English, etc… depending on the day of course. At the same time of this ongoing schedule, I sit deeply listening to what the teacher says, not because like before I had no clue what he was saying, but now because I can say I actually do understand or at least a little, and dare I say, respond to a question, and better yet not just in English class.

After the daily classes are through, the class breaks into groups where we have weekly cleaning chores around the school. If you’re like me when first hearing this you’d ask, “Don’t they have people paid for that?” and yes, there is a staff, but it’s more then just cleaning. It’s truly to the best way maintaining the school. I mean if you knew that ball of paper you tossed in the hall would be picked up by you later would you waste your time to throwing it? NO. So in a way, the thought of the mess you make is the mess you clean is strong here, leading to a very clean school, which I’d say some Florida schools might want to pick up on.

After that quick clean-up I make my way back to the room, but first there is something new. Over by the student entrance there are bulletin boards, with names, and a huge crowd of people outside in front of the school as if some kind of mob. I make my way to the sidelines with my friends and ask “nani shite no” or “what’s going on”. They tell me that the entrance exams are over the letters telling the hopeful might-be-first-years to come to the school and see if they can find their name on the list of hundreds. From that once again I’m just like “ok” I guess I’m just used to getting a letter in the mail that says I have orientation on whatever day, which could be looked at kinda the same but still doesn’t match to how focused these people looked. When the teachers finally announced that the parents and students could look, a huge flock of people rushed through to get just a quick glance. You’d have thought they said free bags of money are there, but then again this is a yearly thing where if you don’t get the school you test for (which is only one) you have to go to an expensive public school – sounds light but there is way more into it then I’d rather tell right now. Just trust me, IT’S BIG.

Then I finally make my way to kyudo practice, where for about an hour or two I do my best, then make my way back home. After two trains, a bike ride, and a warm welcome from my host family, I sit down to a great dinner, conversation over the day and what new Japanese I learned, watch TV, then off to bed for yet another day.

In that it ends my average day as an exchange student, or at least one in Japan from Florida District 6970, sponsored by The Downtown Jacksonville Rotary Club and who happens to be named Evan, is very much average yet special for so many reasons, but this doesn’t even include the times between classes with friends and classmates, or the priceless jokes learned in kyudo, or those endless jokes my English teacher loves to tell my class (then ask if I might know them, but I’m sometimes just as lost as the other students lol) or those great trips with the host to near and places afar, or the weekends with friends.

In the end, being an exchange student here is more than I or anyone else could ever tell. I learn so much in so many ways, through reading books, seeing new places, eating the best of foods, or just going out and doing that one thing that you think is worth doing; in all it’s best to be compared to a dream and nothing less.
The kyudo Dojo

The rush to see who makes it into my school
A bowling trip gone wild…lol
The town’s Giant Buddha covered in snow
Me and my second host dad in the park
April 23 Journal
Well time is slowly winding down to my most unwanted reality of the truth. Lucky for the me though, just as the book said and those oh so helpful Rotex stated over and over, this point is somewhat the best.
To do a quick recap, earlier last month, or at least after my last entry, I went on my Rotary trip across most of the big spots in Japan. Of course it was nothing less then great, with great times, great people, great stories, and a taxi fee of over 3000 yen, roughly 30 dollars. I’ll actually tell that quick story.

Well we all went out for dinner in Osaka, the comedy capital of Japan if you ask me. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, along with the other 6 people of the Rotary group who came that night. Well we had free time to get dinner, then return by 10:30, so we decided to get a simple order of ramen at one of the million bars, then do a quick sight seeing. So we were on our way and soon after found a great place that had just what we wished for. Of course we sat down, had our dinner, then we made our way ever further down. This is where the story gets hazy, or at least for us who where there it did. So we kept walking on this long strip away from the hotel into the lights, the people, the great time known as Osaka in the air. We reached this great shopping strip and looked around for an hour or two and then we noticed, time was up. As soon as we turn to head back, we look and to our surprise, nothing looks a bit familiar. So of course we start replaying in our minds and out loud the way we came. I mean the hotel was just right up the street, then we made that one turn to the next street, but it runs even with the first street, then we crossed the hotel’s street to get ramen, but then we went further to get to the last shopping lane, then that one ran out and we went just as far towards the first street. So as you can tell we were kinda lost.

As we slowly tried to think of a way to get back, it starts pouring rain. The streets pretty much go empty for the shops which are closing to hide from the rain. So the next thought is, ok we need a taxi, who said Taxi, I don’t know but they owe me money. There were six so there we were running to find a taxi lane to get a taxi. Of course the nearest one is streets over, and not to mention we are at the end so have to run up a street to the front to get one. So we finally get a taxi, but have to split up seeing how like I said there are six. So me and two others get the first taxi and the second will follow, simple right? Wrong, within that very taxi I proudly say since it was my 8th month in Japan I could easily get around, but not in a town I’d never been too, nor recall any name of anything near the hotel. The only thing I could say was this street, straight, please, sorry, thanks so much. Lucky the driver was more then happy to drive to my loose directions, after telling him I have no idea where the hotel was. So we were off, somewhat relived to be out of the pouring rain but at the same time looking out the window to see passing famous spots one would see on TV about Osaka but in the other part of your mind know it was nowhere near the hotel. So to cut this ever so long story short, we drove around Osaka in a cab soaking wet for about 40 minutes, but as you can tell from this journal, arrived a little late and unharmed. (^O^)

So besides that adventure in Japan, life has been nothing but the best, as I slightly stated before, it really does seem to me that this season is the best of the year so far. From the sakura blossom, to becoming a second year, to meeting even more great people within my club and really being able to talk with them and share interest in their life and mine, to just making the best out of everything around. So with that I say good bye and Ja-ne until next month or so…

May 21 Journal
Well, like every month here, the past one has been crazy. I actually think, if possible, even more crazy than months before. Well I’m with my last host family, that alone is a bitter fact that is hard to swallow as I placed my bags on the floor. No more wonder of who is next, no more rush to pack for the next move, the next time I see my bags I’m heading back home. That thought just floated around my head the whole day as I moved in. Not to my surprise though, just like all my host families, the last is truthfully amazing. They don’t hesitate to make me feel at home in any way. It’s really weird how over this year I have truly gained another view of people in my life, they are more than just people I met in Japan, more than just the people who took me around Japan on their free time, more than just that one random club that hosted me for a year, more than just the people who put up with my oh so interestingly horrible Japanese while learning, they are something I may never really be able to sum up to one word besides the best thing that ever happened to me in Japan! … my host families.
Anyways, after the last moving day as I said earlier, I quickly felt at home. To start off my official stay, we went to the local tulip fair. I’m sad to say that beforehand I wasn’t much into flowers, I’d say it’s due to, as a boy with the last name Fowler, closely sounding to flower, I never really gave them a chance on my personal list of things to like, but that’s just a personal story, lol. But that day we saw the biggest array of tulips which are the prefectual flower for my region. For the first time I really felt like I wanted to see more and take in the wild colors and great view. To make everything that much better, my great host mom is always happy to take more than enough pictures to help me make sure I remember everything here in Japan.

I’d have to say since I’ve been here I’m quick to realize the great things but slow to pull out the camera, but with my current host family, not a thing gets passed by. Sadly as I write this I’m not able to download all the pictures of not just the tulip fair but of all the things we’ve done over the last month or so, which is actually a lot more then one would think. For example, the next weekend after the tulip fair was a week break for schools, so my two host brothers came home from college which was crazy fun. To try and sum up all the things we did, I saw Spiderman 3 in Japanese, yes that’s right – I actually saw it in Japanese and loved it still, I actually kinda got used to it right away, and dare I say rather keep it in Japanese in my mind for the personal memory that I finally have gotten to that point, the point where I can easily sit and watch a movie in another language without that fight to understand. It’s crazy great.

Anyways after that, the next week was my school’s big test, so I didn’t have to go, so me and the family went to Tokyo to see my host brothers again. once again it was fun. I got to see the sights of Tokyo one more time but this time with a more independent feel, not to mention when I was with one of my host brothers he was the one to forget the right station after I asked if it was the correct stop, so that’s a personal point for me I think lol. But yeah I really have more then millions of funny times spent with this family not alone to mention the past families, or Rotary, or school friends, and at the same time I’m still meeting new people. But with each new person it’s like a kick to the face and makes me think, gah this person is so cool, why couldn’t we have met earlier, before I only had so many months left. So I’m left feeling as if everything, every hour, every minute is a race before I leave. You would think that would be pressure or cause uncomfort, but actually I think it keeps me in focus, makes me really keep in mind that this time really is a once in a lifetime thing. I can easily come back any time and actually plan to, but it will sadly never be the same, so I have to live it up while I can right?

In final, I’m sad to say since I think I’m going to be so busy in the last months here, this is going to be my last entry out of country 🙁 But it was great fun and still is to even have the chance to do it. Also thought to mention that coming up is my school sports day where all the classes take a day off to run and pretty much exercise, but that comes after a huge introduction by each homeroom’s chosen person. For my homeroom it’s me, so yeah I’m more than happy they chose me to do it, even though our theme is Lion King, meaning I have to dress up like a lion, then yell out my homeroom’s number in front of everyone at my school. Sadly those pictures will never make it to the site, awww. lol. Well with that I truly say again thanks to Rotary for even giving me the chance to see the things I’ve seen, do the things I’ve done, and more importantly, dress up as a lion, fur and all.

Stacy Fusco
2006-07 Outbound to Italy

Hometown: Middleburgh, FL
School: Middleburgh High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club
Host: Castiglione Delle Stiviere Rotary Club
District 2050, Italy

Stacy - Italy

Stacy’s Bio

Ciao! My name is Anastasia, but everyone calls me Stacy. I am 16 years old. I was born in Hawaii and until I was about three, we moved back and forth between Hawaii, Japan, and Florida. Finally, we settled in Clay County, Florida, where I have spent the rest of my life so far. I live with my two brothers (17 and 15), and my parents.

I am half Japanese and half American; which means that half of my family lives in Japan and the other half lives in Florida. So every year my family and I go to Japan to visit our family and friends. I suppose this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to become a foreign exchange student. I know what it’s like to be bi-cultural and bi-lingual, and I love it! I love Japan so much and I know I will grow to love Italy as well. Thank you Rotary for this opportunity!!

November 4 Journal 

Wow, I’ve been here for almost two months now and it feels like two weeks. I’ve done so much already it’s crazy! I am staying with a family of four in a small town called Volta Mantovana. It is a very beautiful place. I have two sisters; Chiara who’s 17, and Giulia who’s 21.

Okay, let’s start from the beginning. I arrived here on September the 8th. On my second day here, I went to some type of medieval festival. It was really cool!! There were many streets that were all decorated in medieval time and there many people dressed up as well. And with the already old houses and stone streets, it was perfect! There were places where you could play medieval games and eat weird food. But my favorite stand was the stand in which they made candles in the old fashion way. I had never seen anything like it. It was totally awesome!!

Then on the 11th, school started. Most all of my friends here are from my class in school. I remember nervously walking in, wondering what I will have to face in the upcoming months for six days in the week. (yes, that’s right, SIX full days every week!!!). Then there was a blur of faces as everyone in the room (at that time about 10-15) came to shake my hand and introduce themselves. I couldn’t remember a single face or name for days. But everyone was really nice.

Later that month I had my 17th birthday. since I had only been here for a couple of weeks and I hadn’t made that many good friends, I expected that nobody would remember it. Boy, was I wrong. The night before my birthday, my friends at school took me out to eat pizza and play pool. They even bought me a gift (a cute cap with the Italian flag on it). I had the time of my life. Then on the day of my birthday, my host family prepared a very special lunch for me. Complete with one of the best cakes I had ever had! And at night another friend of mine from the Rotaract club here took my host sisters and me to Hard Rock Café “to make you feel at home.” That night alone would have made my year. Not only did I get to listen to American rock songs and eat a huge cheeseburger, but they had put a message for me on the big screen that was in front of the restaurant. It said something like “Happy Birthday, Stasy. Welcome to Italy. We hope you enjoy your stay.” And though they had spelled my name in the weirdest way possible, it was the sweetest thing ever!! After the meal, the lights in the whole restaurant went down low and some of the waiters came out bringing a cake with a single candle, and instead of rock songs on the speaker, the Happy Birthday song came on. I think that I could honestly say that that weekend was one of the best weekends of my entire life.

Well, other than that I have been to many small cities such as Mantova and Padova. Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by beauty. Either the beauty of nature, such as the mountains and Garda Lake, or the beauty created by man long ago, such as old cathedrals all painted with beautiful scenes of angels.

Thank you so much, Rotary for giving me this opportunity.

December 20 Journal

Oh my gosh!! I cant believe that Christmas is already pretty much here! Time is going by too fast!

OK, there are a few things that I forgot to mention in my last journal. Let’s start with school. I forgot to say that I joined the tamburello and the volleyball teams at my school. Tamburello is a type of funky tennis that you play on teams, a weird racket and without a net. but it’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately that only takes up two of my afternoons a week (unfortunate, because I really enjoy them). I have one main class in the third year. I was very fortunate, because I have a really good class, as in everyone in it is really awesome! I love to hang out with them. Then I have three new classes in the first year. In those classes I take German, economy, and law. Okay, so I realize that for me, taking Italian law and economy classes is pretty much pointless, but I’m actually learning a lot, and I’m enjoying them.

Anyways, about two weeks ago, I changed families. now I have two siblings. Tommaso, my host brother is 24 and Chiara my host sister is 20. They’re both really cool and extremely nice. I feel really at home with this family. I switched at the time I did because my second family was going to go the their apartment in the mountains for that weekend, and they wanted me to come with them. And that weekend turned out to be the highlight of…..maybe my whole exchange so far….

We arrived on Friday, and found that there was only artificial snow on the ski slopes. But my host dad took me to one anyway so that I could see it. I’ve seen snow before, but I didn’t remember anything about it. It was really strange, I thought that it would be a bit different, I don’t know how to explain it. One thing for sure, it was REALLY cold and wet! ^_^ I was so happy and excited!! But, I was a bit disappointed because I hoping that the whole place would be covered in snow. Well, the rest of that day, nothing of real interest happened. I went to bed and woke up with calm the next morning, then I looked out of my window to find the world WHITE!!! I was soo excited. I ran outside immediately with my jacket to take pics. And not only was there snow covering the ground, but it was snowing, and it snowed almost all day! it was so much fun!

The next day I went ice skating for the first time in my life, and I didn’t even fall once. I was actually really proud of myself for that, as it was a bit more difficult than I thought I would be. lol. I didn’t get the chance to go skiing yet, but my host brother promised to teach me during the winter vacation which started today. In fact, we are heading for the mountains again tomorrow!! ^_^ cant wait! The part of the mountains that we stay in used to be part of Austria, and so many people still speak German there. Well, it’s actually like a German mixed with Italian. It’s really interesting. Everything is like part German, part Italian, and part English (as they get a lot of tourists).

Anywhos, so today I just came back from watching Eragon with some of my school friends, and I found that I could actually understand a lot of things that were said! ^_^ I was soooo happy! I’m definitely going to try and watch more movies now.

Okay, well, I have to go and pack for tomorrow. I hope that everyone has a Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!!!!!

February 20 Journal

Oh my gosh!!!! Winter Vacation was AWESOME!! I don’t know where to start. My family and I went to the mountains again, and we stayed there for the most part of it. Well, at least Tommy, Chiara, and I did. One of the coolest things was that I learned how to ski!!! I got a private teacher to teach me for three days!!! It was so much fun…it makes me really sad to think that I might not be able to do it again for a really long time. I fell so many times, but I eventually got the hang of it. And I absolutely love it!!!

Then there was another day in particular. It was like a birthday party of some friend of Chiara and Tommy. The parents of this friend apparently own like a mountain or something (like the ski lifts, etc) and so at night like at least 30 people went up to the top of the mountain (even though, of course it was closed for everyone else). Then went sledding to about a third way down where the dinner-part of the party was held in this restaurant (which is either theirs as well, or pretty much rented for the night!!!). Although the restaurant part was cool, and the food was really good, the coolest part was the way there and the way down. From the top to the restaurant, I went with Chiara. She was on the front and I was in the back. And as I have never been sledding before, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. So, Chiara just told me that when she says slow down, dig my heels into the snow and try and use one of my hands to help as well. haha…well, let’s just say we had a little adventure. First off, we couldn’t see anything because it was night and really dark, and Chiara wasn’t so confident to start off with. The slope was pretty steep. I was in the back, so I had Chiara in front of me to shelter me, but she had no one, so as we started to go faster and faster and started to lose control, she kept screaming at me to help her slow down, but when I tried putting my hands down (and they were gloved) they turned to ice, and when we put our feet down, waves of snow kept hitting our faces!! So I picked up my feet because, if you don’t know, snow is really cold, and oceans of snow hitting your face while you’re going really fast down a mountain on a freezing cold night is a little bit different than oceans of water hitting your facing while knee-boarding on a hot summer afternoon in Florida. When we finally got to decently flat land and finally came to a stop, Chiara and I both had a layer of ice covering our face and hair!! …let’s just say that after dinner, I went the other two thirds of the way with Tommy, while Chiara went down with some other girls on this machine made for snow.

For New Years, Chiara and her friends took me to their friends’ house in Venice! We stayed in their small apartment that had four rooms, one really short and small hallway (wide enough for only one person at a time unless you want to walk sideways), and another room for the dining and kitchen. Sure, that’s enough room, except that there were about 13 of us in total, if not more! That was my first time in Venice, and I absolutely loved it. We were there for about 3 days. It was really weird living in a world without cars. If you wanted to do a lot of grocery shopping, you either did it a little at a time, or you had these little cart things to hold your stuff in. Or else you had no choice but to carry it all back to your house on foot. I’ve always known that there were no cars in Venice, but I never realized how strange and different that could actually be. A little before midnight, we started walking to one of the main piazzas, but we never reached it. We got as close as we could, all of us, except me, in there 20s holding hands like in kindergarten so as not to get lost. But there was so many people, we couldn’t even get close to it!! It reminded me of a Japanese train during rush hour. People packed in shoulder to shoulder. It’s crazy because the area was huge! But we ended up going to a smaller less important one! There was lots of people on the streets dancing and singing! It was a lot of fun!!

Soon after, school started again. But every once in a while we go to the mountains for the weekend. Nothing new there though. Chiara and Tommaso usually come home for the weekend, so most Friday nights I go out with Chiara and her friends. And on Saturday nights I’m either at the mountains or I go out with my school friends.

The only other thing interesting is the foods that I’ve tried. One day I came home from school and it was just me and my host dad. There was a pile of meat on the table. I had never eaten anything strange in this family then, so i just nonchalantly put some on my plate and took a bite. I was like “hmm…not bad.” Turns out he was feeding me RAW HORSE!!!! I just couldn’t get myself to eat any more after he told me. Then, about a week ago, my host brother and I were in the kitchen when I decided that I was hungry. So, he made me a toast and smothered something that I thought was some type of jam on it…but of course, it wasn’t. It was duck liver.

Well, that’s about it for now. Until next time!! Love everyone!

April 26 Journal

How much time is left until I have to go home?? I have no idea because I’m too scared to count. All I know is that it’s less than two months away!!

Anywhos, lots of things happened since the last time I wrote, and I don’t know where to begin, as always. I have done a lot of traveling these days, all but one here in Italy. I would start with the highlight of this month or two, but there’s a couple of them…..so I guess I’ll start from the beginning. Towards the end of February, I went on a four day vacation to my now most favorite city, LONDON!!! It was so awesome! Every little detail was amusing to me, such as the double-decker busses, the cute little houses, and the amazing English accent. We were pretty much running from place to place, but in this way I got to see everything!! Big Ben, the London Tower, the British museum, the Science and History museum, and tons of other famous places that you always see on TV. And it was especially awesome because the food was very similar to American food. I got a Starbucks with Krispy Kreme doughnuts everyday we were there (and for all the other exchange students that are Starbucks addicts and don’t have a Starbucks in their city, understand my joy).

The second most awesome thing that happened was my school field trip to Florence! We went for three days, and it was soooo much fun!!! The bus trip there and back was pretty long, but the time went by fast as I spent the whole time playing and talking with my friends. We didn’t get to see all that much of the city, but we saw the basic things. My favorite was the cupola (and I don’t know how to say that in English). It’s the little round part of the dome where you can climb to the top (which I don’t remember the exact number, but it’s about 400 steps up a steep winding staircase). And from there you can see EVERYTHING. It was amazing! Especially because that was one of the last things we saw, and so I was able to point out all the things that we had already seen from the ground. Then there is the Uffizi, a gallery filled with famous and gorgeous paintings….paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raffaello, Mantegna, and hundreds of others.

Another city that I got to visit was Milan! Technically, I’ve already been there three times before, but I have never had the chance to actually see the city. Both of my host siblings here live in Milan because they go to college there, so I stayed the night at their apartment. And spent the day in the city. We had sushi for lunch, which I really appreciated as I haven’t eaten sushi in too long, then we went to the dome, the really old castle, and a couple of churches. It’s a gorgeous city!

One day my host mother came to me and told me that she has a best friend in Verona (a small city between here and Venice) that wanted to host me for a day or two in their house. I went willingly, of course, as it seemed a lot of fun. And I am sooo glad that I decided to go. The family has three children (one about my age the other two in their early twenties) and everyone is EXTREMELY nice. The night I arrived we ate an excellent dinner, then their daughter took me on her motorcycle to see “Verona by night.” We first went to a church that was located on a large hill, and we could see the lights stretch for miles and miles. It was beautiful! Then we took a ride between the hills before meeting up with a friend of hers in the city where we went for a walk around the city. I fell in love. Verona is not really big, but is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever seen. I spent the next entire day walking in the city, seeing the balcony of Juliet (as in Romeo and Juliet), the Arena, and a couple of gorgeous churches. From then, I’ve returned one or two times, each time staying at least one night. Even though I am not living with this family, I feel as if they are my third family (which I won’t have, if I didn’t mention that already).

Other than that, my life these days has been full of parties and fun. I don’t remember everything from the top of my head, but two parties stand out in particular. One of them is the one that I held for my friends’ birthdays a couple of weeks ago, as it was the first party that I organized here in Italy. And it was interesting because I brought some American traditions into the party (e.g., party decorations and real cake with candles and starting before 8 at night). The other party was last Saturday. A friend of my host sister threw it, and it was an 80’s / 70s party held at a small disco place. It was really cute, and we were all really crazily dressed up. It was definitely a night to remember ^_^ ….And since this year is apparently unusually hot here, we were able to open the pool, which I have been using constantly as I haven’t been swimming since before I left the states (which for me, a Floridian whose favorite pastime is to swim in Florida’s natural springs with her best friends, is something absurd). Oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned, but I also started to take dance lessons. I take it here in my town, and the studio is really small, so it’s only me and this other girl. Which means if she doesn’t come, I have private dance lessons…hehe. I’m definitely not very good, but it’s a lot of fun. Another thing that’s been driving me crazy these past couple of months is the fact that the ice cream shops are open again!! I think that since they have opened, there’s only been two or three days when I didn’t eat a gelato or two (thank God I have the pool and dance to keep me in shape…lol).

Anywhos that’s about it for the events that have taken place. So now I’ll tell you about how I feel. And don’t be shocked, but I’m finally understanding everything! I have no problems watching movies or having conversations with my friends and family. And it’s AMAZING how much more fun life can be when you feel at home and comfortable and you know everything that’s going on without having to strain or to have things repeated a thousand times! (unless of course some Italians decide it’s funny to start speaking to you in dialect). I remember that before I came here I already knew that I would end up loving my country and my family. It happens to every foreign-exchange student, right? But it’s weird. It’s as if before now, I didn’t even know what loving a country was like. I see now how much I was taking my country for granted and I feel as if now I truly understand what it means to love a country. And I’m not talking only of America, but this country, this place, this home. I miss my real family in America, and I can’t wait to see them again, but I have no idea what I will do on June 19th when I will have to get on the plane and head back to America. Every moment of every day of this year will stay in my heart. And it’s a thing I can’t express in words, but I just wanted to thank you, Rotary, and my parents for giving me this chance and to let you know that it comes from the bottom of my heart.

Hannah Klein
2006-07 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Southpoint Rotary Club
Host: Urawa East Rotary Club
District 2770, Japan

Hannah - Japan
Hannah’s Bio

 Konnichiwa! My name is Hannah, I’m 16 and a sophomore at Bartram Trial High School. I was born in Philadelphia, PA where I lived for 15 years until my family moved to Jacksonville. Some activities I like to do are rowing, acting, and playing guitar. I started rowing in 2005 and I have stuck with it ever since. I’ve been on two teams and competed in races (not always winning, but they were still fun!). I also like to act. Theatre is a great way to express yourself while having fun. I’ve participated in many shows and I love it very much. When I’m not rowing or in a play, I like to play guitar. I just started playing guitar this summer and I’m gradually getting better at it. The guitar is a great instrument and a lot of fun to play. It makes you feel like a rock star!!

I have to say, I never thought I’d be living in Japan!! I’m very excited to be an exchange student this year. I hope to gain knowledge, life experience, and meet people from around the world during my year in Japan. It will be a challenging year, but I say bring it on! 😀


August 23 Journal 

 WOW! I still can’t believe I’ve been in Japan for over a week! I absolutely love this country. Stepping off the plane, I was pretty nervous because I had no idea what my host family looked like. But I heard a loud shout coming out of customs, “HANNAH!” It was Kyoko, Inbound from 05-06 in Jacksonville, with my host dad, Otosan, and Emi, my host sister, and another member of the Rotary Club. They had this big sign with rowers on it and huge smiles on their faces. I knew I was home. They were so welcoming the entire night and very patient with my Japanese. Which, on the first night seemed to have flown out of my head and into space somewhere. All I remember saying on the first night was, “hai” and “toire wa doko desu ka” (where is the bathroom). My first encounter with Japanese culture was probably in a public restroom. There were tons of buttons on the seat in Japanese and I had no idea what to press and what they did. The seat was heated too! Haha, I guess you can tell a lot about a country just by using the bathroom.

After the first night my Japanese returned and I started attempting to speak with my host sisters. They’re all really nice. I have 3, and they are all older then me. Their names are Emi, Miki, and Mio. Emi, Miki, and I love to watch a television show in the morning called Hana Yori Dango. Most of it I don’t quite understand, but by the end of the scene I get the general gist of it. Japanese TV is so entertaining. While Okasan, my host mom, and Otosan work during the day, I love to watch Japanese shows. That’s not all I do though! Okasan and I have gone out most days to run errands and do the grocery shopping. The grocery store is sooo much fun. There’s tons of food and lots of cool things I’ve never seen before. I brought my camera the first time and I went nuts. Okasan was laughing at me the entire time. There was this HUGE clam, and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup in Japanese, and enormous bags of rice, and lots of fun candy, and fish, fish, and more fish. I was in heaven. I love Japanese food but the things that my host mom makes are so much better then any of the stuff I’ve eaten in restaurants. The other night I had shark! Every morning I have a bowl of miso soup, tea, fruit, some type of beans or other vegetable, and usually some kind of fish. It’s perfect for my vegetarian diet. In my first week I’ve also learned to to make origami! Paper cranes are still a challenge to me but I can make a nifty little box and this cute blow up ball. My host father is very crafty and makes these tiny, beautiful, pretend sakura trees with my host mom as his job. They are used in a special festival in December with Hina Dolls. They have them all over the place and I love how they remind me I’m really in Japan.

The weather in Japan is a lot different from what I thought it would be. I read about how it’s humid, but I always thought it couldn’t be any worse than Jacksonville. BOY was I wrong! It is so hot here every day and very, very humid. Not all of the rooms are air conditioned in Japanese houses so one tries to stay in the rooms that are for most of the day. Luckily, I share a room with Emi and Miki that is air conditioned. I sleep on a futon on the floor, which is a lot more comfortable then it sounds. My mom would be proud of me- I take out and make my bed every night and in the morning I put it back in the closet. I hardly ever made my bed at home. Somehow it’s just easier here to keep clean. Maybe that’s because the entire house is immaculate from all the shoe changing you do everywhere. I have indoor shoes, and outdoor shoes for downstairs, and toilet shoes, and shower shoes, and outdoor shoes for upstairs, and probably another pair that I’m forgetting about right now. I’m starting to get used to that actually. But I do find it weird to have shower shoes. I don’t exactly know which part if the shower/bath I’m supposed to wear them for. Japanese traditional baths are very confusing. First, you shower yourself outside of the bath with extremely hot water and do all your washing and shaving out there. Then, you sit in this big metal tub that is the actual bath. This was really awkward to do the first night or four. I’m getting used to that too now. I think becoming used to all these different customs is the best sign that I’m becoming more Japanese. I even feel more comfortable sitting on my zabuton on the floor than in a chair while writing this email! I absolutely love Japan and wouldn’t trade this first week for any week of my life. Until later!

P.S.- coming out of the steaming hot water of the shower seems to turn me pink and the other night Miki called called me a Yudetako. boiled octopus *_^^_* the nickname’s starting to stick.


October 15 Journal

 Konbanwa!

So until now I’ve been in Japan for two months, and I’ve found that a LOT can happen in that short amount of time. I’ve been to several festivals, celebrated my birthday, and recently changed host families.

My favorite thing that I’ve participated in so far has been the Ohara Omatsuri, or Ohara festival. It was absolutely incredible! Every year the entire town participates in this festival. From what I understood of otosan’s explanation, it was a Shinto festival celebrating the different gods in the Shinto religion. Ohara is a fishing town and so gods like a water god were especially recognized. The men all dress in the traditional style clothing and carry these enormous and very heavy shrines throughout the city all day. The town is divided in a color code system and depending on what color you are, you wear the white outfit with your color head towel and sash, and these special “running shoes” that are really boots with only 2 toes. My okasan is from Ohara, and so we were the pink team.

The best part of the entire day was that I wore the outfit with my two host sisters Emi and Miki and participated with everyone in Ohara. I didn’t carry the shrines at all though. I think its a special honor reserved only for the men folk. I did however parade around the city with Miki and Emi. One of the most amazing things that the men do during the day, is throw these shrines up in the air in perfect unison and catch them before they crash to the ground. It was so amazing watching them do it, and it was really great because they did it all the time and I got the best picture of the ritual in action. It’s the National Geographic Picture of the Year, no joke.

The festival lasted all day but the main highlights were at the ocean and at the school track. The parading of the shrines starts at the Shinto shrine and winds its way around the town to the ocean. At the beach the men and the shrines go into the water about chest deep. During this time there was a typhoon off the coast and so the waves were huge and the wind was really strong. I was stunned that the shrines didn’t fall from everyone’s hands in the pounding waves. All the teams do this at the same time. There were probably about 15 teams so the surf was packed with people. It was so amazing to watch.

After the ocean ritual they parade around town some more (probably to warm up and dry off a bit) and make their way to the high school by sunset. At the school there’s a big race between the teams. Everyone runs as fast as they can while carrying the shrines at the school’s dirt track for a long time. This is the main event of the festival so everyone’s really pumped up and the adrenaline is flowing. Nightfall came and I thought that the festival was over, but they use lanterns to shed light on the field and direct (well, scream actually) the men in a circle. It was really beautiful to see the track all lit up with the lanterns. It was one of those things I realized I would probably never see outside of Japan.

Incredible…so after the race was done, we walked to the town center where a lot of booths were set up along the side, selling everything from food to pet goldfish to plastic gun toys. I felt like I had ended up on Dr. Seuss’s Mulberry Street. The entire day seemed like something out of his imagination. But I have to admit, it was probably the best day of my entire life.

After the Ohara Omatsuri things quieted down a bit, and school was my main focus. My school is pretty prestigious so classes are difficult. I have gym, math, chemistry, English, English writing, music, home economics, and special Japanese classes with various Japanese English teachers of the school. I’m always busy which is great. exhausting, but great; I joined the Kyu Do club at my school and I really love it. As of now I’m only on the practice yumi (bow) or gumi yumi. It’s really a giant rubberband. The friends I’ve made in Kyu Do are so much fun. We all joke around all the time and they love teaching me funny things in Japanese and practicing their English on me. I just read Evan’s journal and it turns out he’s in Kyu Do too. I think we should have a competition when we return to the states. He better watch out–I’m getting good ;-).

Things picked up again at the beginning of October when my birthday came. I had told a bunch of people about my birthday a while ago but I didn’t expect anyone to remember. Well, it turns out the Japanese have very good memories. We celebrated my birthday by going to a festival in Saitama city. It was fantastic! The various cities of Saitama prefecture make floats that have these big dragons on them and parade the floats throughout the city at night. I got some great pictures but of course the memory is even better. I’ll never forget my 17th birthday. Thank you to my family in the states that sent me emails and presents. And so much thanks to my friends at school here that sent me cute emails and gave me presents too. I felt really loved that day.

About a week after my birthday I began packing for my change into the next host family. I have six host families so there will be a lot of changing, but it’s hard to imagine that the rest will be as difficult as the first time. I had become so attached to the Okada’s and living with them was so natural for all of us. I really love them, they were more then I could ever wish for for my first host family in Japan. On the day I left, there were tears, and presents, and pictures–it reminded me of when I left Jacksonville in August. I have another family now that supports and loves me, and it’s so good to know that I’ve made an imprint on their hearts. My next host family is very nice, but their house is completely different from my first house, which is making it hard to get used to. The Okada’s house is much older and in a more Japanese style, and this house is very modern and more western in style. I have a table and chairs for meals now, a dog and a cat, a bathroom that could rival the Ritz’s, and my own room. Last night I even watched High School Musical on the Disney Channel! In English!! That was disorienting. I think if I wasn’t still sleeping on a futon I’d think I was back in the states! So things are different once again, and it’s a whirlwind of introductions and questions, but of course I’m enjoying myself more then ever. I never want to leave Japan, I absolutely love this country. Every day never ceases to amaze me, and I’m so thankful to live each day here this year. There’s no day but today.


December 28 Journal 

 minna, gomenasai! sashiburi desu, ne!?

Hey everyone, I’m sorry this journal is so overdue!!! It just goes to show what an amazing time I’m having, and how busy I am this holiday season. Since my last journal was October, (ouch) I’ll try to remember everything that happened up until the present time.

In October I changed host families into the Kaida household and lived with them throughout November. The Kaida’s are very sweet people and we enjoyed living with each other very much. One of the reasons I didn’t have the chance to write a journal in November was because the Kaida’s don’t have a computer. I was using my school library’s computer to catch up on emails, but as you might have guessed, that didn’t leave much time for anything other than that. Sorry!

Living with the Kaida’s was hard to get used to at first because their style of living was nearly the opposite of living with my first host family, the Okada’s. I was sort of living with 2 families, but under one roof. It’s kind of difficult to explain so I’ll give the abbreviated version. I was technically living with the Kaida grandparents, although according to Rotary I was living with their son and his family, made up of his daughter and wife, Shiori chan (who’s 6 years old) and Chie san. Everyday the younger Kaida’s came over to dinner and socialized at the older Kaida’s house, and we were a happy family of 6. The Kaida’s are much more western, and have traveled to tons of great places all over the world. To name a few: Australia, New Zealand, America, England, Austria, Rome (there’s more but I’ll end that list with saying, “wow!”). They had a plasma flat screen television, I ate cereal and fruit most mornings for breakfast, and the bathroom was wired with automatic controls (It’s a change, I’ll say that). On one hand I was a bit lucky to live with this family because they are on the wealthier side of people I’ve encountered living in Japan (*^^*)V. However on the other hand, I felt like I was missing out on a big part of the experience of how I originally imagined this year would be like. I realize now that living with the Kaida’s was a HUGE part of the experience of this year because it shed light on how different various families live in this country.

Living with the Kaida’s did allow me to visit some terrific places, though. I went to the All Star Series baseball game between the NPB and the MLB. Japan vs. America; normally I don’t get very excited when going to a baseball game, because I don’t find baseball an extremely exciting sport, but the Japanese LOVE baseball so I was expecting to have a great time. I did of course!! Before entering Tokyo Dome where the game was held, we took a side trip to a small amusement park right next door. It had the BEST roller coaster ever, and Chie san and I have a funny picture to remind us. We then went to the game and watched Japan unfortunately lose to America. The game was entertaining because the Japanese fans were very into the game and shouted funny things in English to the American players. I was shocked at how many foreigners were at the game. It’s funny how I don’t consider myself like any of them anymore, haha. I must have looked funny to them because I was sitting with Chie san, and chatting away in Japanese to people we knew sitting nearby. At the end of the game an American man and I bumped into one another and when we apologized, I started speaking Japanese automatically instead of English. I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t speaking English until he gave me the funniest look, and I rethought what I said. oops :-)! Honestly was a bit proud of myself. I went to bed with a big grin on my face that night.

Another amazing place I went to with the Kaida’s was Yokohama. Yokohama is an enormous industrial and factory area, because it’s right on the bay where ships come in. However since it’s near the ocean, many people go to Yokohama for vacation, and a lot of tourist attractions have developed in the area. We stayed at the Yokohama Grand Inter-Continental Hotel, where I slept in a bed for the first time since coming to Japan. We drove to Yokohama through Tokyo on the expressway, which I thoroughly enjoyed because I haven’t had much of a chance to be in the downtown area. Tokyo is amazing and I can’t wait to visit it some more. All there is is just buildings and skyscrapers and lights and stores, for as far as the eye can see. It’s the most incredible sight, honestly, there’s nothing like it. Tokyo’s vastness makes the world look a little smaller then it actually is. But now back to Yokohama: we stayed in Yokohama for about 3 days on a long weekend. Since Shiori was in tow we spent most of our time at the Cosmo Amusement Park. It was very cute, and I won a little Stitch doll from one of those crane games that nobody can ever win. We also ate dinner at the tallest building in Japan. Over 70 stories!!! My ears popped the entire time while riding the elevator… The view was so great and I took lots and lots of pictures from what seemed like the top of the world.

But my favorite place that I went to with the Kaida’s was the Urawa Red Diamonds game. The Urawa Reds are Urawa city’s incredible, amazing, soccer team that I’ve recently become a fan of. Now as much as everyone assumes baseball is what the Japanese love, its soccer that they are obsessed with. And since I live in Urawa, the Urawa Reds are like Japanese demigods. The fans of the Urawa Reds are absolutely insane, which makes going to the games so much fun. That is, if you can scrap a ticket. Luckily, I had the opportunity to go!! The fans have cheers that don’t stop the entire game, and HUGE flags that they wave when a goal is scored. There’s always one section of the stadium set aside for the die-hard fans who don’t stop for a minute to sit down or eat or even think about anything other then the game that’s right in front of them. It’s soooo much fun to watch and cheer along, and thankfully the Reds won. Actually I should mention that the Urawa Red Diamonds are now Japan’s National Soccer League Champions for the 2006 year. A title which makes them heroes to everyone living in Urawa. It’s like they won the World Cup! There are posters and flags and pictures absolutely everywhere around downtown Urawa, so everyone can feel the pride everyday. Way to go boys!!

Towards the end of my stay with the Kaida’s I was presented with the most incredible opportunity of a lifetime: my school trip. My school is a prestigious school in my area, and so with permission of the Japanese government, our school takes a trip to China. Yes…

I WENT TO CHINA!!!!!!!!!!

This was a bonus beyond my wildest dreams. When I found out I was going, my reaction went something like this: “omghjghdsofhdiognrgngfvdufrbnszhgbfdhruhgfhbjkomgomgomg!!!!”. I still can’t get over it…I went to the most AMAZING places ever, and did things I never thought I would do in this lifetime. I, Hannah Kay Klein, have been to the Great Wall of China, toured the Forbidden City, have gone to palaces of Chinese Emperors, watched a Chinese acrobat show, ate real Chinese food, made delicious gyoza, rode in a rickshaw, and did it all in Japanese. Now how’s that for a resume!?! Woohoo!! My favorite beyond favorite place was the Great Wall of China. Ever since I learned about the Chinese in 6th grade I’ve wanted to go to the Great Wall so badly. It’s mind boggling that I actually went. The Great Wall of China is incredible. It’s the most fantastical, enormous, I’m running out of adjectives, structure that I’vee ever seen in my entire life, and it was truly an honor to walk along. My pictures turned out amazing, and the stories are incredible. I can’t wait to share them with everyone!

So at the beginning of December, I was a bit high on life….which was a good thing because I moved to my next host family, the Saito’s. It might be a name you recognize if you’re a “Rotary Regular” because it’s 2006 Inbound from Japan, Akemi’s family. Moving families is a tough business. I knew the Saito’s from various meetings beforehand, but knowing people, and living with them are two different things. The Saito’s (and most other families) are different from the Kaida’s in many ways. Becoming used to families and then moving kind of jolts you around but I think it’s good for me to see how different families in Japan tick. The beginning weeks were difficult because school exams were going on, and I was studying along with my classmates. I was a bit stressed out from moving around and exams, and I think everyone in the family got off on the wrong foot. I took a step back and realized that I should start everything all over again, so patching things up at home became my main goal. Things are great now, and all the leaks are fixed.

I’m actually on winter break for 2 weeks right now, and we’ve all been bustling around doing things before school starts back again in early January. My kyudo practices have come to a short halt, but Evan, who accepted my challenge (Oh, it’s on…) needn’t be happy about that because I’m training for a competition, or taikai, later in January. Gambatte, ne!! Congrats to Evan for passing his test, I think I’m taking the same one in mid January. I really love kyudo, so it’s a shame that I have to take this break for a bit. However the activities that fill its place do make me smile quite a bit :-).

Today I returned from Nagano Ken where I learned to ski with a program called UCDI (short for You Can Do It) for the 3 days I was there. As my family and friends in America know, I don’t do well on ice (try 2 broken bones, two different times). So I admit, I was a bit apprehensive beforehand. But I find that learning new things in Japanese helps me to understand what it is I’m doing much better…so now I can really ski!! I rode the lift and skied down a mountain 4 times so now I call myself a skier. Yay!!

As New Years is just around the corner (wow, I can’t believe that), tomorrow I’m visiting a special temple with my family in hopes for a lucky and prosperous 2007 year. The Japanese New Year is a time for visiting temples and shrines in hopes that luck will come to everyone in the family in the new year. It’s a time for reverence and celebrating with extended family. I really like living with Shinto families because the temples and shrines are beautiful, and very peaceful to visit. It will be interesting to experience the New Year Japanese style, so I’m excited! After New Years, the Saito’s have planned an uber-amazing trip to MOUNT FUJI which I’m counting down the days till. I’m also praying for good weather–good weather means great pictures, bad weather means would-have-been-better pictures (no picture is bad). So I’m also really excited for that. Can’t wait to tell you all about it!!!!

I hope everyone at home and abroad is planning to have a happy and safe New Year, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the upcoming month! Ja, Matta ne!

p.s.– I don’t think I mentioned that I had my first dream in Japanese in mid November!! Since then, many have followed (^_^)v it’s SO cool, haha!


January 28 Journal 

 Look at me writing a journal on time! Now I just have to remember what I did since the end of December….yada.

The 2007 New Year started off with a bang. Literally. On the Japanese New Year, the Japanese visit temples and sound huge bells to start off the new year. The Japanese New Year is one of the most important holiday’s in the Japanese calendar. Preparations actually start a while before the actual new year. Families decorate the outside of their homes with a symbolic “wreath”. It’s made from dry rice stalks, pine branches, bamboo, decorative things like colored wire, nature-oriented figurines, and paper fans, a small fruit like an orange, and a tiny crane figurine. They also visit grave sites of their ancestors, and deceased family members. I went with my family to their family gravesite and lit incense, cleaned the graves, and gave flowers. They also pray there, but it is a personal thing to do, and I didn’t want to intrude.

On new year’s night, my family and I watched a music program, featuring all the popular bands as of now. I love, love, love Japanese music, and the artists are always SO entertaining. It was fun to watch, but it ended about 15 minutes before the stroke of midnight. My family wanted to watch a program that was showing the thousands of people at various temples across the country, ringing the bells and praying. Now, that’s all very interesting of course, and was great to watch, but it was too calm for me. I always get excited during New Year’s, and I wanted to bring a part of my traditions to this time as well. I was wondering what we could do, so I brought out new year’s crackers that I had kept. A tradition of my own family is to open them at midnight and play with all the toys inside. I think the Saitos thought I had finally snapped, and had gone bonkers because I was jumping around all excited and giving everyone a personal minute by minute countdown until the new year.

The second the clock read 12:00 am I screamed, “WOOOO!! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!!!!!” and handed out the crackers. They looked at me puzzled for a second, and then I told them how to open it. We all did it at the same time, and toys and gizmos of all sorts flew all over the room. We had a lot of fun trying to figure out how all the toys worked, and I made everyone wear the silly paper crowns for a picture. Their favorite thing however, were the corny jokes. They loved trying to figure out the meaning in Japanese and loved even more trying to figure out why they were funny. When my host dad figured out one of the jokes, he just shook his head and muttered, “Bunka, bunka, bunka”, or “culture, culture, culture”. But the joke was something about a cow and a clock, so I obviously understand his confusion.

We had a lot of fun that night, but I’ve found that the Saitos aren’t people who stay up late. At 12:15 they said they were going up to bed; I was a little shocked because at 12:15 in America on New Year’s people are still shouting “WOOO!!” However, they promised me a surprise New Year’s breakfast and said I could stay up as late as I wanted.

Well the surprise New Year’s breakfast was certainly a surprise. It was surprisingly disgusting. On New Year’s Day, called Oshogatsu, Japanese families eat very traditional Japanese foods. Now, I LOVE Japanese cooking on a daily basis. And before Oshogatsu`s breakfast there were only 2 foods I wouldn’t eat. However, at 7:00 am on New Year’s day, my list gained a few pounds. Oshogatsu`s cooking has a special name because it is only found at this time of year. It’s called Osechi ryori. Osechi ryori was created to lighten the load on the housewives because it’s all pre-prepared food, and also because it keeps for a long time while everything in Japan is closed for a few days in the New Year. I’ll touch more on this later. Right now I’ll try to explain the foods I “ate”, but hold on to your stomachs, ok.

The first is called kazunoko. It’s herring fish eggs, but they’re not loose like the kind you might be thinking of. They’re tightly packed into a strip that sort of crunches in your mouth. Its taste is like a sour, salt-watery taste. It actually tastes like you’re eating tiny eggs, and it all gets stuck in between your gums and teeth. yum…. Next is gomame. Gomame are small dried sardines, about the same size as your pinky finger, that are later sweetened by a sticky, sweet, brown sauce. They’re served whole, with head and eyeballs and tail and fins and bones, and yes, you eat it whole. No picking out the parts you don’t want to eat. The Japanese serve a lot of them at this time because they’re apparently very high in calcium. I’ll have milk, thank you:-). Next is kombumaki. Kombu is a food normally found all over Japan at any time of the year, but during Oshogatsu it’s prepared differently. It’s rolled into little cylinders and ours were stuffed with the gomame that I was talking about earlier, as well as spicy carrots. After picking out the the gomame I could take another look at it. Now, I don’t want to completely and totally bash Osechi ryori, because the sweets are very good. My favorite is omochi. I love omochi. It’s rice that is pounded into a delicious goopy mess, and can be cooked a million different ways. On Oshogatsu, my family made it over top of the stove. I guess you could say it was grilled. Anyway, the outside was a little crispy and the inside was all melty and sticky, and it was delicious. Lucky for me, eating omochi is another tradition of the japanese new year. Another sweet food that I liked was kuromame. Kuromame are black beans, but are soft and in a sweet, clear sauce. Those were very good and I ate way too much of them.

I should mention that the Japanese LOVE Osechi ryori, but realize that foreigners aren’t used to it, and don’t care very much for the foods. Believe me, I’m not alone. Actually, Outbound student to Japan, Dominique Ghirardi from 2005-2006 shared my point of view.

I said a little while back that Osechi ryori was created to lighten the load on housewives, and because the stores are closed at this time. The Japanese new year is a time for visiting family, so having foods that are easy to cook for the women frees up time to talk and drink. Because of the fact that everyone is visiting family or their hometowns for about 5 days, the nation pretty much shuts down for this period of time. Roads that are normally filled with honking cars and roaring motorbikes are empty and every store is closed. Every clothing store, every department building, every grocery store, every gift store, every shoe store, every pachinko parlor, every lounge or bar, everything is closed. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. About the 5th or 6th of January however, people return to their jobs and daily lives, and the world starts spinning again. All I could do was shake my head and mutter, “Bunka, bunka, bunka” :-).

During Oshogatsu the Japanese also go to temples to pray for luck in the new year. I like going to the temples and shrines because they’re so peaceful and relaxing. However on Oshogatsu, its the exact opposite. It’s more like a festival ground than a place to pray. On one of the days of Oshogatsu, I went with the Saitos to a temple in Omiya. It’s located in a large park, which can be rare in Omiya, and I was excited to go because it’s a famous temple. The streets were filled with people walking to the temple, and when we got there, we got in the line. It was fun at first because the walkway was filled with vendors like at festivals. Whiffs of okonomiyaki, takoyaki, cotton candy, choco bananas, hotdogs, sukiyaki, yakisoba, and baked potatoes made me want to drop any dieting resolution I had ever made. Festival foods are probably awful for you, but they are just too darn delicious to pass up. I had my favorite, takoyaki. Pretty soon the vendors became less and less until all the people there were eventually convened into a large clearing. We waited a whole 4 hours there, moving only a few feet every couple minutes. My face kept getting stuck in people’s fur trim winter coats, and was also stared at by a drooling baby boy for a total of at least an hour. We were all so tightly packed together that everyone gets really sore and grumpy, and then the pushing starts. That part was definitely not a fun experience, but eventually we made it to the temple. We said our prayers to the Shinto gods, bought a few new year’s good luck trinkets, and entered a much faster line back to the vendor’s area. I later saw clips off the TV that nearly all the shrines and temples were like this at this time. So it was a brilliant idea on our part to go to the big, famous one, right? In the next few days, I went to 3 different shrines, and had a much much more pleasant time, with the same foods and less cramping muscles.

After the New Year, I had the pleasure of going on a vacation with the Saitos to Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is stunning, simply amazing. Although I have yet to see it in the spring with all the sakura blossoms, I think that Mount Fuji is most beautiful in winter with all the snow. The way the sun hits the white and brown, really takes your breath away. Especially in the morning, when the sun is rising. Something about watching the sun rise while at Mount Fuji made me think about a million things at once. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to meditating, I think. I’ve come to the conclusion that the world spins as fast as it does so that people can watch the sun rise at Mount Fuji.

The Saitos reserved a room at a ryokan while staying at Mount Fuji, which is a traditional style Japanese hotel. It usually also has an onsen, or public bath. Inside the hotel, you don’t wear your clothes, but the cotton yukatta, or summer kimono, that is provided for you. You also wear this yukatta to meals and when you sleep. Since it’s cold in winter time you also receive a sweater-like item of clothing that resembles the top half of a kimono. Of course you don’t wear outdoor shoes either, but slippers that are also provided for you. In fact, I barely had to lift a finger at the ryokan. Meals were provided for guests at the hotel, as well as tea and tea treats in the afternoon. Every evening, your futon is laid out for you by the time you return from dinner. I didn’t bring pajamas because you sleep in the provided yukatta. They also give you fresh towels, toothbrushes, and toothpaste in the mornings after they put away your futon, change your sheets for you, and clean your room. All by the time you return from breakfast, that is. I once stayed in a Four Seasons Hotel in America, but honestly, the service was much better at the ryokan. And not once did I see the hotel staff doing this work. I still think it’s the Mount Fuji Magic.

Also at the ryokan, I went to an onsen for the first time. When I first learned about the onsens in Japan, I got a little nervous because I’m not used to bathing with other people at all. At this onsen, there were separate bathing rooms and baths for the men and women. Sometimes they aren’t separated, and men and women bathe together. The Japanese style of bathing is very different from other cultures of the world. You bathe outside the actual bath, (or in this case, a very hot pool) using a washcloth, a large, plastic bowl, and you sit on a stool. I do this every night, but in the privacy of my home and by myself. However, I ended up not really minding the other women being at the onsen. Most of them were much older then me anyway. At first I thought it was so surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was with my host mom and 10+ other women, chatting away in Japanese with complete ease while rinsing out my hair. I felt like I had been doing it my whole life, and back in the locker room I even felt a little proud of myself. I liked the baths the best. Since you’re outside of warm water for much of the time in Japanese style bathing, you get a little chilly. This explains the very hot water that the Japanese relax in after washing themselves outside of the bath first. It warms you up, and is very relaxing. At this onsen there were 3 different baths. One was just a pool of hot water, another was like a Jacuzzi and had jets, and the third was outside. My favorite bath ended up being the one outside. Don’t worry, I won’t practice this at home, Rotarians!! It was relaxing to look at the stars above your head and feel the chill of winter on your face, but at the same time, comforting to have the warm water and bath floor to sit on. You feel like you’re drifting into the space above you, yet you’re wearing a warm blanket and sitting in a rocking chair. It might be hard to understand what I’m describing if you’ve never experienced anything like it before, but I’ve tried my best to explain all.

After our incredible trip to Mount Fuji, I caught up on some homework that I had left for the last minute, and started up school again. After winter break in Japan, however, is testing for students. This lasts for about a week, and during this time clubs aren’t practiced. After testing I started kyudo back up again, which I was happy about. I love kyudo!!

I also had the opportunity to wear a kimono one weekend. My final host family has a photography studio, and they offered around Christmas to have my picture taken while wearing one of their kimonos. Kimonos are so beautiful, and I’ve wanted to wear one ever since coming to Japan. The day I wore the kimono was a holiday called Seijinshiki. It’s a coming of age holiday for guys and gals who are 20 years old. The girls wear kimonos and the guys wear nice suits, and everyone goes to temples and shrines and parties, and has a great time. This holiday is especially looked forward to by the girls, because technically the last time they wore a kimono was when they were small kids. It’s like prom for them, I guess. I had told my friends that I would be wearing a kimono on seijinshiki, and they all were really jealous. My kimono was black, the most formal of kimono colors, and was decorated in a pattern with gold, red, yellow, and green. I had my hair and make-up done and borrowed the kimono for the day. I had my pictures taken which was fun, and then I went around to all my host families so far to take pictures. It’s hard to wear a kimono!! It’s very restricting, and you have to be very careful when you sit down, stand up, and eat or drink. The hardest part was riding in the car. You can’t touch the back of the seat because of the obi (colorful belt) and the knot it has, but you have to be careful about the long sleeves and not to mess up your hair on the car ceiling. It’s a little hard to breathe, and you obviously can’t go to the bathroom, so you have to be careful about what you eat or drink. The sandals also hurt your feet really bad. However, as exhausting as it was, it was soooooo much fun to wear. I felt like a little Japanese girl with stars in her eyes and a big smile on her face as she was dressed up like a princess. I took tons of pictures because the kimono was so beautiful, and a special treat for me to wear. Especially on that particular day; I later showed my friends the pictures and they all said wearing a kimono really suits me, and that I looked beautiful. Wow, I should wear a kimono everyday! Fine by me!!!!!!

After my busy winter break, and first week of school, a bunch of Rotary events came up. There was a speech contest between the exchange students, where we had to talk about our experiences in Japan so far. It was only 3 minutes, so not a big speech of course, but fitting as much as I’ve done since coming here into a speech can’t be done in 3 minutes. Everyone did great, though. Next was the IM meeting in Kawaguchi. Actually this was more like a festival then like a Rotary meeting. I made mochi, and later got interviewed by a TV crew about the day. It was really cool, but either I missed watching it, or they didn’t end up using the clip because I never saw it. Still, it’s a real confidence booster when you can be interviewed on the spot like that and not stumbles over your words like a silly idiot. Which I didn’t of course :-).

Another Rotary event that hasn’t happened yet, but is coming up is the Rotary ski trip. All the exchange students (except Oskar, the Swede who doesn’t like snow) are going and it should be a lot of fun. As well as a lot of falling and laughing and pictures. I wasn’t able to go on the Rotary trip to Kyoto before, so I don’t really know everyone as well as they know each other yet. It’ll happen though, shinpai shinai yo 🙂

And speaking of trips, I believe the Florida inbounds are at Seacamp in Key West right now. Have fun everybody and enjoy the Keys!! Also as a side note to the future outbounds: Your sense of self changes while on this exchange. You find you can do things you never thought you could do at home. You learn how to be a new, and even better person than you are now, but not even realizing that you’re doing it. You learn how to love in a new way, and you look at things from different eyes. Congratulations for being as lucky as you are, and have no regrets in the wonderful decision that you’ve made.


May 3 Journal

 Oops, I think I’m a little bit late….. Luckily its because I’ve been having amazing, out of this world experiences in my beloved Japan. I might say out of this world, but in this period of time, Japan has become nothing but my world. It’s the only place I can picture myself in. Being with my friends, forgetting my English, going shopping in Tokyo, chatting under the sakura, representing my school in Kyudo competitions, reading Harry Potter and understanding some of the kanji … It’s everything I’ve waited my whole life to find. There are no thanks great enough to give Rotary for what you’ve given me. Thank you Rotary, for making me a citizen of the world. You’ve helped to provide me with the confidence, knowledge, and love that I know now will last a lifetime. If there’s one thing I aspire to be, it’s a Rotarian; so that I can make this experience possible for other kids like me looking for a home in a country where they don’t belong.

As the last sunset is setting on my year here, I’ve been striving as hard as I can to live each minute like it was my last. Which in turn means I can’t fit everything I’ve done until now into this journal. The highlights are the fun parts to know about though, aren’t they?

Right, February: Valentines Day was a treat. And a treat, and a treat, and a treat. The tradition of Valentines Day in Japan is for the girls to give everyone they care about, even the slightest bit, a homemade, baked dessert. Even if it’s someone who just, I don’t know, sneezed. They’re just like, “Oh! Are you all right? Here, have a piece of my homemade, gourmet cheesecake that I baked this morning. And here’s a mattcha chocolate truffle because your sneeze was so cute.” Not being sarcastic in the least, it took me until well into March to finish all the desserts I received from my friends on Valentines Day. It’s a verrrry different experience from American Valentines Day. Much more chocolatey and baked with love in every bite.

March: Having been living with my 4th host family, the Takenoyas, we became very close. I think of March as an extended holiday, thanks to the various trips I took with the Takenoyas. We went to Nikko, where we saw the famous monkeys that depict see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. We went to the Izu peninsula, with a beach like Hawaii, a landscape like Maine, and the most beautiful Hina doll display in all of Japan. March is a great time in Japan because of Hina Matsuri, or Girls Day. On Hina Matsuri, beautiful dolls dressed in old style kimonos are displayed as a wish for good fortune in marrying the girls when they get older. There’s a saying that if you don’t put the dolls away by the exact end of Hina matsuri, that it will become difficult for the girls to find husbands when they get older. We also went to Hakone, where we ate eggs with black shells, and Shimoda where Matthew Perry first sailed in on his Kurofune (black ships) to negotiate trade between the US and Japan. The pictures are incredible of all these places. I hope eventually you will see them.

April: The cherry blossoms, known as sakura in Japanese, are in full bloom, and the parties go non stop. A tradition of the time when sakura trees bloom is to have parties with family, friends, or co-workers under the cherry trees. A tradition known as Hana Mi, in Japanese. In English, it’s described as an outdoor zoo with sake and a few pretty, pink flowers. April was also the time when I took my Sho Dan test for Kyudo. Sho Dan is the first level of Kyudo, and could possibly relate to receiving different colored belts in Karate. Although Kyudo, unlike Karate, has only 10 levels, and the tests are much harder to pass. It took 2 months of studying a new, traditional form of Kyudo every week for me to pass this test. As well as describe the 8 stages of Kyudo, including body positions, mindset, and proper Kyudo etiquette. It was the most nerve-wrecking, intimidating and downright scary experience so far. More so then trying Nato for the first time–a slight joke 🙂 Evan, you get it. To my utter amazement and disbelief, I PASSED!! And could breathe calmly once I stopped the tears of happiness and relief. I even have a fancy little pin on my hakama to prove I’ve done it, which I look at fondly a little too much, perhaps.

The beginning of April was also my ‘Tokyo month’. Most of the famous places I’d wanted to visit in Tokyo were done in a very busy, camera battery draining, 2 weeks. Harajuku with my friends, Ginza, Shinjuku, climbing Tokyo Tower, Fuji Television shopping center, Parks, Temples, it goes on and on. No matter how much you think you’ve experienced in Tokyo there’s always a maid walking into Snoopy Town with a girl dressed like Pikachu, or a store selling sushi shaped USB plugs next to the fancy, French creperie to remind you that you’re not finished yet. There is absolutely no place in the world like Tokyo, Japan. It’s my land of Oz.

Later April: A new school year started, which makes me a 3rd year student, called senpai in Japanese. I have a new class, and have made lots of new friends. I changed host families into the Toyoshimas, who run their own photography studio in their house. No really, it’s attached to the kitchen. And the living room is where okasan does hair and make up and dresses everyone in their kimonos beforehand. It’s a lot of fun. There’s always someone new in the house about to get married, graduate from college, just had a new baby, or a big birthday recently.

I’m the 10th exhange student they’ve hosted through Rotary, which is a change from being the first in two of my previous host families. I’ve become close with my host mom, who recently took me on a trip to the large fishing market known as Tsukiji in Tokyo. We ended up seeing no fish but the sushi we ate for lunch, because it was Sunday and we didn’t think twice about the chance that the market would be closed for their weekly break. Instead, we ended up walking around Ginza and seeing part of a Kabuki play at the famous Kabuki theater. I’ve become a fan after seeing Kabuki for the first time. There were earphones, translating in English unfortunately, so that foreigners could understand better. It actually helped a lot because the Japanese was all ancient Japanese and is difficult for even everyday Japanese people to understand. I actually ended up explaining the story to Okasan during tea because she barely understood. I thought that was pretty comical, actually.

May: the beginning of May is known as Golden Week, because of a string of holidays in one week. Most companies and businesses have off for 4 to 7 days, and it’s about the busiest travel season all year for families and popular attractions. I have off from school, but still continuing my Kyudo practices. Recently Kyudo has become especially busy. The new first year students have finished signing up for their clubs, and Kyudo club has more than doubled from the past 2 years. It’s terrific that there’s so much interest, but space will become an issue, I think. And I know I won’t be able to remember everyone’s name. There’s also been a lot of competitions lately. Last week I got to the second level of my tournament, but ended there, and at today’s Enteki tournament I hit the target, exceeding my expectations. Enteki is a different form of Kyudo, where the target is 63 meters away, instead of the normal 28 meters. Oh, did I mention I started learning Enteki about 2 days ago? Nope, don’t think I did.

Lately there’s been much planning going on between me and my family back in America. They’re coming to Japan in about 3 weeks, an exciting yet scary thought. We’ll be going to Kyoto and staying at Mount Fuji for part of the time. I’m excited for them to meet my host families, see my accomplishments first hand, go to Kyoto, and everything, but there’s a part of me that’s nervous. What of, I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll have to write about the Klein invasion in the Land of the Rising Sun later o(^_~)o *wink!!*.

The schedule is squared away, but I should talk more about Japanese. I SPEAK IT!!! It’s taken hard work, dedication, a lot of books, and people’s patience, but I’m at a level where I understand everything that’s said to me and can carry on a perfectly normal, everyday conversation with just about anybody. About just about everything. I love the feeling of being able to be proud of yourself everyday for just opening your mouth and talking. Speaking Japanese is so unbelievably natural. It’s become physically difficult for me to speak English. I either speak with a Japanese accent, talk louder than I should, over enunciate my pronunciation, speak too slowly, or forget an English word and just say the Japanese instead. I don’t know what to say to anybody anymore! My friends all say I’m more Japanese than I am American. There’s a popular English learning school called Nova in Japan, and my friend told me I should start going before I go back to the US so I can communicate normally. She was joking, I think, but it was really funny to hear her tell me that I need to find an English tutor.

But if there’s one thing that I’m most proud of, it’s forgetting my English. To me it’s visible proof of all my hard work dedicated to learning Japanese, and immersing myself in this culture. I must say everyday that I don’t want to return back to America, that I want to live in Japan forever and be Japanese. And I hear twice a day how my friends and family here don’t want me to go back to America, that they WANT me here, in Japan forever. It’s hard to relay what hearing that feels like. “Hannah, I don’t want you to go back to America. Please stay in Japan.” It puts a smile on my face and breaks my heart at the same time. Every time I think about leaving, a big lump develops in my throat, and my eyes water up. It’s awful, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when I have to return home.

Kristen Moisio
2006-07 Outbound to Poland

Hometown: Port Orange, FL
School: Atlantic High School
Sponsor: Daytona Beach West Rotary Club
Host: Częstochowa Rotary Club
District 2230, Poland

Kristen - Poland

Kristen’s Bio

 Cześć!

My name is Kristen, and I hail from Daytona Beach, Florida, home of the tenth most famous beach in the world, and the sun-burned tourists who come to enjoy it. I have lived here with my mother, father, and sister my whole life. It seems like it is a great city, but probably only to visit because it gets pretty boring around here. We have a little mall and some theaters, but other than that, you can find most people hanging out at the beach or someone else’s house. As you can see, there’s not much to do, but we people of Daytona make our own fun. J

As far as hobbies go, I like to go to the mall and hang out with my friends just like any other teenage girl would. I am also very interested in the arts, especially writing, drawing, painting, and singing. Most who know me say that they can tell when I’m truly comfortable because if I am, I am almost always singing. I consider this hobby practically subconscious because most of the time I’ll just randomly break out into song without even noticing. It’s usually my friends who have to tell me to just give it a rest, because I really won’t stop (and my voice isn’t all that great!). Even my parents say that I was always singing because when I was little I would sing anytime, anywhere, no matter how long or loud. I have also been drawing and painting for quite some time, and that’s another thing that I’ve been doing since I was really little. I know that I will enjoy journaling a lot next year, so hopefully I will be keeping up with my writing, although I still haven’t decided whether writing in English would really be the best thing to improve my Polish…J

My future plans and ambitions as of now, are definitely getting into a good college, and earning a degree in either writing or journalism. I would love to write for a magazine as an adult, or even a novel one day. I have also thought about looking into a job as a foreign correspondent, so that I can travel and continue to act as a journalist. I’m not really sure about either of these, because I still have yet to truly discover who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life. Hopefully my year abroad will change a little of that because I hope to do a little soul-searching while I’m away so I can come back with a little more knowledge about myself than I had before.

I’m a sophomore at Atlantic High School, and I am fifteen years old. I know that I am probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest of the outbounds this year, but that doesn’t bother me one bit! I know that I would not have been given this wonderful opportunity if I wasn’t qualified for it, and I will not let my age affect my maturity. I am very excited to be going to Poland next year, and I hope that this proves to be one of the best experiences that I will take with me through life. Thank you Rotary for giving me this chance of a lifetime!


November 5 Journal 

 Cześć!

Okay, so I’m a procrastinator–nothing new there. I’ve been in Poland for a little over 2 months now, and I’m just now writing my first journal entry. Because of this, I have a lot of catching up to do, haha. I think I already had a book’s worth of story-telling after the first week, and now I have to sum up 2 months? Maybe now I’ll keep up with the entries a little more frequently 😀 But here it goes:

When I stepped off the plane, I tried to calm my nerves and slap my face a few times so that I’d wake up a bit. It was around 6:00 in the morning, and I couldn’t be more tired. Some people feel jet lag later, but I was definitely one of those people who faced it the second they got to their destination. Still, I trudged in to baggage, and then through customs, and then to the cute sign that said, “Welcome At Home Kristen!” When I met my host mom and host brother then, I wanted to say something in Polish, but it seemed like every word I had learned just flew out of my brain, and I just stood there, haha. Still their welcoming smiles reassured me that everything was going to be okay, and I was soon more at ease.

From where my plane landed in Warsaw (Warszawa), it was a three hour drive home. I got more acquainted with my host mother, Beata, and my host brother, Kacper, and so began my new life.

First of all, the drivers here are absolutely insane. It’s perfectly normal for a person to drive at 100-160 km an hour anywhere, anytime, and if there’s a slow person in front of you, it’s no big deal because you can just rush into oncoming traffic (yeah, there’s only one road going and one coming) to pass them. Seriously, I was fearing for my life on that ride home, but now I’ve gotten somewhat used to it. Besides, they seem pretty good at this type of driving. Thank God the driving age here is 18 though because if people my age were driving like that, we’d all be dead, haha.

I live in this city called Częstochowa… It’s about 3 hours from Kraków by train, I think, and they call it “the religious capital” of Poland. This is because on a hill in the city sits the beautiful Jasna Góra monastery which holds the famous painting of “The Black Madonna.” If you want to know more about the history behind it, wikipedia is a good source. Otherwise I’d be here typing forever, and I really don’t want to get my facts wrong. But it’s basically what my city is known for.

Then there’s school. I go to L.O. II, otherwise known as Traugutt. It’s supposedly the best school in Częstochowa, and students actually come from smaller cities and live in hostels just to go to it. I have seven lessons, but they’re all different depending on the day. And I start at different times too. Tuesdays and Thursdays I start at 8:55 instead of 7:55. It took some getting used to, and to be honest, I still haven’t memorized my entire schedule, but it’s okay because I can just follow my class around and I’m fine, haha. Oh yeah, and there are different classes in each grade. There are 3 grades, or “years”, and of them, I am first year. This is basically like being a freshman, haha. But high school is from 16-19, and I’m 16, so yeah. The classes are in letters A, B, C, D, E, and F. So, when someone asks me what class I am, I say 1F. The classes are divided according to what the student is most interested in. One is more focused on science and math, while the next focuses on art, and so forth. Mine, I believe is language and business, but my friends tell me that first years don’t really have serious classifications because they have to take the basic lessons first before they can move into the specific courses. Confused yet? Ha, trust me, it took me a while to get everything down.

My class is really nice…They were all shy at first, but now we talk, and I even have two good friends. My really good friend though is the other exchange student in my city. I don’t see her a lot, but it’s always nice to talk to her when I had a rough day. Her name is Lauren, and she’s from New Jersey. Together, we went to Lublin for language camp in September. There, I made two other friends, Adrina from Canada, and Jerry from Mexico. And from there we made a speech at a school, were on a radio show, learned a lot of language, and visited a lot of interesting places. Of these, was the concentration camp, Majdanek. This of course was one of the more depressing places that we visited, but I’m glad I went because I learned a lot. It made me realize how lucky I am to not have to go through any of that kind of suffering that the people in the camp went through. Sure I have problems, but nothing could compare to what they went through. It was a really eye-opening experience, and I won’t forget it anytime soon.

After Lublin was the Inbound Orientation, put together by the Rotaract Club of Toruń. It was an 8 hour train ride to Toruń, but I was with a bunch of my friends, so it wasn’t too bad. Toruń is known for a few things, like being the birth place of Nicholas Copernicus, and the type of gingerbread that is made there. While I was there, we all got to make gingerbread and walk around the beautiful old city. It was really nice, and the exchangers and I shared our experiences and had a lot of fun. There was a talent show that was quite funny, and a disco too. Oh yeah, going to discos is pretty much what everyone does in Poland. They’re a lot of fun, although I still don’t know how you’re supposed to dance to techno, haha…Anyway, the orientation was awesome, and I can’t wait until the Christmas meeting this December!

When I came back to Częstochowa, I went from there and developed a routine. I went to school during the weekdays, hung out with friends on the weekends, and pretty much lived like any other kid there. Well, except my Polish still isn’t too good, but it’s improving! I can now understand almost everything that is said, as long as it’s said clearly, and fairly slow. Pronunciation is hard, but I did accomplish one thing already. I can say a Polish tongue twister! I must say, I am very proud of this, haha. Anyone that asks me what I know in Polish gets a, “Stół z powyłamywanymi nogami,” in return. Yeah, I dare you to just try and say that, lol. It took me forever!

Next, what everyone’s been asking me about, is of course, the food. The food is basically like my friend Lauren puts it. It looks like Hell, but it tastes like Heaven. And this is coming from the girl who had to try “Flaki”, a traditional Polish soup made of sheep’s intestines. Ha, I’ve tried a few odd things, but nothing can come close to that. That’s the one thing I absolutely refuse to try! So far, I’ve liked everything except for mushrooms, which here is practically a sin. Mushrooms are a big deal here because one of the biggest pastimes is mushroom hunting. Basically you go out into the woods (or the “forest”, as they like to call it), and you look for mushrooms. Really, it seems like a simple thing, but seriously, they’re crazy for it. Mention it once, and you’ll get a 2 hour lecture on how great it is and what the most beautiful mushroom found by that person looked like. Haha, I still have yet to understand why they’re so amazed by this particular hobby, but I have all year to find out.

So skip a few weeks to October 31st, which just passed. This was Halloween. Sadly enough, I did absolutely nothing. I was in Gdańsk, visiting Jerry, the girl from Mexico, but we just ended up renting movies because there was nothing else to do. No trick-or-treating, no parties, no nothing. But that’s okay, I can see why it’s not such a big deal here. The big deal was of course November 1st, All Saints Day. On this day we visited the cemeteries of all their dead relatives and we lit lanterns and put flowers on their graves. It sounds sad, but it was actually a really nice day. People crowded the cemeteries from dawn until dusk. There were several masses held at each one, and you could here a choir singing in the background like in the church scenes of movies. It was interesting to take part in this tradition since Nov. 1st in my house in Florida is just like any other day. Jerry and I lit a lantern each for our own relatives, and we left them in the middle of the cemetery along with about a hundred others that didn’t have graves to be placed on. I felt very good to have taken part in it in my own way.

November 2nd will stand out in my memory forever because this was the first time I saw snow. Yes, the Florida girl saw real live snow for the first time at sixteen years old. Wow, was I ever amazed. It was like I was discovering this from a child’s point of view, realizing that snow is actually wet and it doesn’t stay wet for too long. Oh, and I needed special shoes for it, haha. Jerry’s host mom had to help me pick out boots that would last for winter because I had no idea how to even begin looking for them. Now, I own my very own winter coat, boots, gloves, scarf, and hat. I don’t know why, but I’m sort of proud of that, haha.

And that about wraps it up. I’m amazed that I summarized it all this well. I thought I was going to end up going on forever like I always do :D. I’m sure I left our a lot, but like I said, I’ll keep up with the entries more often. But for now, I want to give a shout-out to my mom, dad, sister, and grandma who I know are going to be reading this. I want to thank you for supporting and loving me through all this, starting from when I applied, and then to where I am now. And I also want to thank Rotary because I can’t believe I’m actually living this AMAZING roller coaster called youth exchange. I know there is a lot of work involved, and I am so grateful that you take the time out of your schedules to make sure that we all have the time of our lives. THANKS!!!


March 2 Journal

 Hej!

Wow, okay, so again I apologize for doing this so late. I’ve just been so busy and time seems to be going by so fast now. It’s hard to think of where it all went.

I left off right before the Eurotrip, and that was a turning point in my exchange because after having so much fun on that trip with all the exchange students that I’ve come to know and love, I hit a rough spot. Between the last two weeks of November and the first week of December, I felt really homesick and frustrated with the language and not understanding things like I so desperately wanted to. But, I knew that this was normal for the three month mark, and soon enough it passed.

The second week of December was the trip to Prague. I think that out of all the cities I’ve been to so far (i.e., Paris, Belgium, Cannes, Nice, Monaco, Venice, etc.), this was my favorite. It had gothic buildings and squares where people were lively and ready to celebrate the upcoming holidays. There was a lot of history in the city, and it was just overall beautiful and one of the most interesting places I’ve seen. I definitely wouldn’t mind going back at all, and I hope that I can someday.

After that trip and maybe two weeks later, I had to switch host families. Since they didn’t have a family lined up, I went to the family of the new Australian girl who was to arrive in late January. I moved the 23rd, which means that I went the day before Wigilia, which is the word for Christmas Eve in Polish. It’s similar to vigil, and this is the most important day in the season when it comes to traditions. This is the day that you spend with family from all over, and we have a twelve course meal that starts in the early afternoon and ends in the late evening because of all the breaks in between each meal. Most of my family was stuffed by the time they got to the tenth course, but I was pretty much starving because I was allergic to almost everything! They all thought this was funny though, and I got extra chocolate in my gifts afterwards =)

In this family, I have a mother, Dorota, a father, Jacek, a 16 year old brother, Paweł, and a 15 year old sister, Ania. I am the oldest, but only by a month, and I am in the same year as Ania, at the same school. We became really close really fast, and it’s going to be hard going to my next family because she really is like my sister. We have all of our little inside jokes, and she introduced me to all of her friends, so we all have fun hanging out together.

Next, like I said, on the 22nd of January, Brigid from Australia came to our family. I was prepared to move, but nobody wanted me to go, including me, haha, so we all decided one more month wouldn’t hurt. So Brigid, Ania, and I became friends pretty quickly, and we are known by our family and some of our friends as Charlie’s Angel’s because we are brunette, blonde, and redheaded, haha. Kind of stupid, but it only shows how close we really are.

I marvel at how much Brigid was like myself when I first came to Poland. All of her first experiences in this country, I remember having too, and I am always there to help her out because I know how difficult and strange it can be. It’s so amazing to see how far I’ve come since that early stage in my exchange. Some of the funnier things I’ve seen Brigid experience was number 1. dealing with crazy Polish drivers in which I saved her from getting run over three times, and 2. dealing with gypsies which aren’t trying to start a conversation with you, but are really asking you for your money. Oh, and then dealing with getting rammed into by the gypsy after you told her you didn’t have anything, haha. But to me (the last bit aside because I always walk away from gypsies fast enough), that’s all normal.

School’s great, and I have some really great friends now. In my class is one girl in particular, Dominika, and I sleep over her house sometimes, and hang out with her on a regular basis. I can safely say that she will be one of the people that will be at the airport crying when I leave, and this is because she already said this, herself. And of course I will be crying too because I’m already having a hard time believing that I have to leave so many wonderful people … Dominika has a three-year-old brother named Kuba (a very popular name here), and he is so cute. He talks to me in Polish, and I can usually get away with a one word answer in response, and he is almost always satisfied. He can’t pronounce his “r’s” yet, so he says my name like, “Klistine!” and it’s so adorable. I love going to their house =)

Speaking of my Polish, I’m understanding so much now, and I can function quite well now. It took a lot of patience, but I’m progressing more and more each day. I can order food, shop, and pretty much hold a decent conversation with someone without having them look at me like I’m speaking gibberish. And as for my first Polish dream, it was maybe a few weeks ago, and I woke up and thought, “Wow, I said everything wrong.” But it counts, right? Hahahaha…

And that’s about it. February was filled with winter break, in which I spent all with friends in both Gdańsk and then Kraków. No skiing for me, but I’m okay with that. As of now, I’m getting ready for my trip to Greece, which is on Sunday. I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to show pictures in the next entry! But I have to finish packing, so until next time,


April 12 Journal

 Hej!

First, before I say anything else, I would like to thank Rotary for this exchange, and the year of a lifetime. It has been nothing but extreme highs and extreme lows, but it has been worth every second, and I know I will keep these memories with me for a lifetime.

One of these memories, is of course my trip to Greece. I went in the beginning of March, and even though it wasn’t even spring yet, it was a comfortable 20-21 degrees (Celsius of course :D), and the sun was shining non-stop. Let me tell you, after quite a few months of seeing no sun at all, you’d be surprised how even a little sunshine can make your day. Seriously, I went from Poland, feeling tired and gloomy, to Greece, where in just a few minutes, my whole mood changed to overly happy and full of energy. While I was there I saw the Parthenon, the ruins of the temple of Zeus, Agora/temple of Hephaestus, the Acropolis, and so much more. And this was just in Athens! I loved it there. Every street is colorful and lively. There’s citrus trees and green plants everywhere (something I’ve missed about Florida), and you can see ruins from any point in the city.

Then, I went to Santorini by ferry. If you’ve ever seen “Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants,” then this is where Lena goes to visit her family in the movie. The ride was 8 hours, but with the other exchangers, it wasn’t bad. And the view from the ship was amazing, so some good pictures came out of it, even though in half of them with me in it were just of all of my hair in my face because of the wind. But oh well. When we got there though, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was like my version of paradise. There were high mountains and our hostel was at the top. Every building was bleach-white with bright colored roofs of blue or salmon, and pretty much every other color too, but those were the most common. Our hostel was actually a monastery because our Rotary chaperone knew a man there who would only charge us 5 Euro to stay, and it was really nice. You could go on top of the roof, and see the whole island, including the volcano across from us. Watching the sunset from that roof was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my whole life, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

And once that was over, I was kind of sad to go home. I wanted to vacation in Greece a bit longer, haha, but I had to come home. So, sure enough, I came home on a Thursday, and the two days later, I landed myself in the hospital with a 102.3 fever and bilateral pneumonia. Yeah, that’s not even a joke. And you know, it came so fast. Friday I only had a slight cough, nothing big, but the next day, I woke up and couldn’t breathe whatsoever. I went to the doctor and she just gave me some antibiotics, but since I have bad asthma, we wanted a second opinion. I went to the emergency room, and they admitted me that night. I was in there for a week, where I caught a nasty stomach virus, and was pretty much miserable. But hey, I was a trooper and got out alive. Now let’s just hope I never have to go back!

The next week I moved to my next family. They’re pretty cool, and they live a lot closer to the city than my last one did. In this family, I have a mom (Ela), a dad (Jarek), a host brother who studies in Warsaw (Janek), another brother (Staszek) who is a few months younger than me, and finally a sister (Marysia) who is 14. Another big family, but I’m not complaining because I actually like having a lot of siblings. The only thing I have a problem with is not getting enough hot water for my shower, haha.

Toward the end of this month I went up north to Toruń to see some friends and enjoy the city, because I liked it so much the first time I went. I saw Nicholas Copernicus’s house, and enjoyed the architecture, which is pretty unique compared to a lot of other Polish cities. Of course there are a lot of churches, but these are different because the architecture is more gothic. Toruń is also famous for these cookies called pierniki, and it’s very similar to gingerbread. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to them, so I can’t eat them, haha. Toruń is also home to Poland’s own “leaning tower” (think Pisa), except it’s more like a leaning bar, haha. Literally, I have no idea how it is still standing. I promise I’ll show pictures as soon as I have time!

Easter was an experience and a half…First of all, the Thursday of that week is “great Thursday”, and that’s when the official holiday time starts. Basically, family comes then, and they just keep coming and leaving until Monday. I’m not even going to lie, I was so bored, haha. I didn’t leave my house for 4 days, and all I did was eat and hang out with my host sister. We had maybe 4 different types of cake at all times, and about 5 meals a day! And then the Monday after…Oh God. The Monday after Easter is “wet Monday,” and this basically means that all day, you’re entitled to throw water on anybody and everybody, all day. I knew about this, but I thought the game was going to be fair. So here I am, sleeping away, and all of a sudden, I feel drops on my face. I open my eyes, and SPLASH! A whole liter of water is dumped on me. It was, hands down, the worst way to wake up in the morning. It took all the willpower I had not to scream every obscenity I know (I am NOT a morning person). What’s more is that they turned off all the water in the house so that I couldn’t even get revenge! Yes, wet Monday was a sad Monday…But they declared it over by the afternoon.

And that’s all for now. I’m actually getting ready for another trip, which starts with a Rotary meeting in Kraków, where I’ll be seeing the concentration camp, Auschwitz, and then I’ll be going to Budapest and Vienna from the 17th-22nd. Should be a lot of fun, and of course I’m excited 😀

So look forward to hearing about that later on! Oh, and to the future outbounds, LEARN YOUR LANGUAGES! And no, I’m not just saying that for fun.


 

June 28 Journal

 So this is the end…

I leave first thing tomorrow morning to Warsaw, and at 12:05 I’ll be on my first flight home…

It seems like every time I say that my heart hurts a little bit more.

I said goodbye to a lot of people today, and I didn’t think I could cry so much for people that I’ve only known for what now seems like such a little amount of time, but when I finally realized that this may be the last time I see them again for a while, I just couldn’t bear it at all. And to have people tell me that they can’t imagine life without me? That was just too much…I mean, I went to my favorite cafe today for the last time, and the waitress that I always talk to almost every day actually cried and said she would miss me! And you know what, I cried too.

I never thought that saying goodbye would be this hard.

So, to quickly describe my last three months in Poland without getting into all the trips and things I missed out on talking about because of my busy schedule, here’s a journal entry of mine from May 24th:

My room smells like lavender…I picked it yesterday and put it in glasses all over my room. It’s times like these that make me realize how much I’ll truly miss Poland, even after all the ups and downs and difficult situations that I went through over the course of this year.

Time goes so fast…

Now that summer is almost here, I keep getting hit (more like smacked in the face) with waves of nostalgia. I see the pubs finally opening the beer gardens up again, and I see flowers everywhere, and happy people already making plans for vacation, and I’m instantly reminded of my first weeks here. Back when I knew no Polish, and found or learned something new every day. I met many people that I would never talk to again, and I met many that would become my closest friends. I would get lost all the time, and I never wanted to take the bus by myself, solely because I wasn’t confident that I could find my stop, let alone press the button at the right time to get the door open (retarded, I know). And now that summer’s coming around again, I feel like I’ve come so far, and even though the season is familiar, I’m experiencing it in a completely different way because, now, this is my home. This is where I live. I can be anywhere in the city, and know how to get home, or to the nearest pub/club/or friend’s house. I can buy bus tickets and KFC twisters, and pretty much do whatever I could do in Florida, besides drive, of course (which is okay because now I can say that I’ve taken every form of alternative transportation out there, besides hovercraft). I can appreciate how I get the opportunity to walk everywhere, something I used to complain about profusely, and I can go for a bike ride and see the beauty in the country around me without complaining about not being an outdoors kind of girl, or having to deal with my allergies. The bums and gypsies don’t phase me anymore (meaning they used to scare the crap out of me), and I feel comfortable with my knowledge of Polish culture and language. I know what to say and not to say, and I finally understand how important a, “Dzien dobry,” is to an elder, or a kiss on the cheek is to a friend or a classmate. I say “no” like it means “yes,” and I use phrases that not many of my American friends would understand and words that I can’t explain in English because they just don’t exist. And after all the hard work I did to get to this point, I finally feel like I belong.

And now, after nearly 9 months here, and finally establishing that this country is my home, a big part of me doesn’t want to leave. But sure enough, in 1 month and 14 days, I’ll be on the plane back to Daytona Beach–the place where I was born, and raised, and will live until the next chapter in my life…

But all three of my host families have told me in some way or another that I always have a home here, and with some luck my friends will visit, and I will come back again one day. I guess all I’m trying to say is, I may leave Poland, but it will never leave me.

So. Thank you Rotary for preparing me for, and allowing me to have what was the best year of my life so far. Thanks for experiences that I’ll never forget and for letting me see the world at such a young age…But most importantly, thank you for letting me meet some of the most amazing people that I have ever met. The ones that I’ve cried for so many times, and the ones that I already have plans to see again. Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll do without them now, but I guess that means my exchange was a success, right?

Oh, and before I end this journal, I just have to say that today I was walking with my friend Lauren, and we were talking about sad things, seeing as how it’s my last day, and we see a man walking a cow down the main road in front of the cemetery. And it’s not like I live in the country, so it pretty much made my day to see that, and I thought, “Only in Poland,” haha…

xoxo

Kristen

(Barbie, Barbara, Mini-Keśu, Krysia, Krystyna, Barbrusia, etc.)

It’s amazing how many nicknames I have, really…

Mary “Masha” Opie
2006-07 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club
Host: Surat Thani Rotary Club
District 3330, Thailand

Masha - Thailand

Masha’s Bio

Hello! My name is Masha. I am 18 years old and a senior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. This being my last year of high school , in America, I am so busy trying to figure out what to do with myself.

I have two passions in life that I would like to pursue: recording and anthropology. Music is my life, I love everything about it, all the way back to its roots. There is not a day that goes by where I do not listen to music or practice my singing. I also love to be exposed to music of other cultures and genres than what I am used to. Music and sound in general amazes me and I would love interact with talented musicians and work in a recording studio where I have the ability to do nothing but produce a good quality sound all day. Every time I listen to a song or make a mix CD, I fix the recording in my head and think about the best way to make the artist’s message come to life.

I love Interacting with people in general, the human mind and body is so incredible to me. I cannot get over what has been accomplished over the years all over the world. This is why I want to go into anthropology. I would love to see what makes a certain group of people in another part of the world live the way they do. Interacting with people is so important to me but sometimes I enjoy just sitting back and making observations. I have always been curious of other cultures, how they were first developed, how long they have been around, and how far they have come.

I am so very thankful for this opportunity that Rotary has given me to spend a year abroad in Thailand. I know I will become better acquainted with myself and with people I have been waiting to meet my whole life. This trip will not only give me time to figure out which of my passions will be my calling, but will help with every day of my life thereafter.


July 24 Journal

 So, stepping off the plane in Bangkok I could not really get my first impression of Thailand. The flight was very long and I was way too exhausted to focus on my surroundings but, as soon as I took my first steps in the Surat Thani Airport I knew I was in Thailand. I was surrounded by Rotarians and students from my school (I did not know any of them at the time). They all were speaking and taking many photos of me and with me. Then all of the sudden I hear English!!! Yes! I can know what’s going on. The current inbound exchange student from Canada was there to help me. He was very helpful and I do mean very.

After photo time everyone took me to my first Thai restaurant. When we arrived I realized my bladder was about to burst and asked “Hong Namm Yoo tee nai?” (where is the bathroom) – they all laughed and pointed in the direction to go. So I walk in this dark room to see a toilet bowl built in the floor with a bucket and a faucet next to it. Okay so this was the beginning of culture shock. I did my best, then went back to my seat. Neal, the current inbound, laughed and said,” I bet that was wicked fun.” About ten minutes later I was eating only god knows what with noodles but it was delicious and very spicy.

After our meal the students from my school took many more photos and left. Then, the Rotarians that came to lunch took me to my first host family, it was then that I realized my host father was one of them. My house was beautiful and huge. (I got super lucky!!!) We all took off our shoes and I met Khun Mae(mom), Khun Na (her sister), Khun Yai (grandma), Pi Yang (the maid), and Pi pa Nom (the cook). Their house is on the river and has the most breathtaking view. I thought I had it made in Jacksonville with the sunrise but nothing beats the warm glow of the sun reflecting onto to the lotus flowers in my backyard!!!!!

Okay so enough about my first day. In my first week I did many things: I went to the supermarket (so many many things to buy) and I visited some of the nearby Wats which are Buddhist Temples. I have yet to see the most beautiful ones in Surat but I’m sure I will soon. I went to the night market, you can only describe by a rush of smells. Fish, fresh fruits, candy, ice cream, pork, chicken , pad thai noodle all being pushed in your face as you walk down a street. I loved the night market. Thailand is very busy for shopping and many farang (foreigners) love it for this reason.

After my first week my luck ran out and I got severe food poisoning at a Rotary Banquet from an oyster. I was in the hospital a total of 6 days. At first I was scared and all I could do was cry, but I did not want to seem like a bad exchange student, so I cried in private until a nurse came in and saw me. She was very kind she brought me candy and kept speaking to me in Thai. I did not understand her but her body language was very sympathetic. She came to check on me every ten minutes, but after the first time I was never alone again. All of the Rotarians who I met at the airport came to visit me and spend time every chance they got. My next host family (maybe) came and Khun Mae treated me as her own even though I had only met her one day. They kept asking “are you okay? we will take care of you.” I did not doubt them for two seconds. These people are my family and I have become very close and attached to all of them, even the ones that I can’t remember their names. My Khun Mae and Khun Pha (mom and dad) were in Bangkok when I was sent to the hospital and they came home as soon as they heard. I wish I could have been closer to the inbounds that we hosted in past so that they can feel as loved and cared for as I do now.

Since I’ve been out of the hospital I have been taking things easy and just sitting at home. I got a guitar though and I’m teaching myself, it’s harder than it looks. I also had my first day of school. I have to wear a uniform; it is a blue skirt past the knee with a light blue button up shirt. As I walked up with the president of my Rotary Club students stared at me and giggled as I passed. We walked to a podium and there was a huge presentation for my welcoming. They spoke about my time in the hospital and gave me flowers. Then I gave my Thai Introduction (prepared in the Rotary orientation, edited in Thailand) . Everyone screamed and clapped when I finished. It was a very warm welcoming. After the principal said his last words we walked to a room to figure out my schedule and now I am taking all art classes, no math, no science (YES!). Anjan Gao, who is my guidance counselor, took me to meet all of my teachers and some fellow students, who took me to have lunch in the cafeteria. Everyone surrounded me and asked me some pretty ridiculous questions but it was so cute. I love the school and I made so many friends. It’s going to be a good year (knock on wood).


August 18 Journal

 Okay, let’s pretend we’re all an exchange student in Thailand named Masha. If you’re Masha, then right now to your left, there are four roosters being chased by a dog and to your right, your host family laughing as Khun Na Roy (Uncle Roy) tries to get a coconut from one of the dozens of trees surrounding you.

So you’re Masha writing your second journal, but it’s really hard to concentrate when directly in front you the most brilliant shades of green make their way towards your feet. Here they come splashing in rhythm with Khun Maes Koh Samui song and the shades of green fade to white to blend with the sand. So I bet your wondering where you are. You’re in Paradise which in Thai is “Koh Samui”. That’s really just the name of the island but it feels like paradise. Koh Samui is unbelievable – it is exactly the kind of place movies make paradise out to be. Many tan people laughing, having a good time. It’s hotter than any day in Florida but everyone is sabai (feelin’ good) because the wind is blowing into the coconut trees that shade you.

Yep, they are swaying in perfect time with that Koh Samui song. So paradise Hollywood style, that’s where I am but I almost forgot to mention the one big detail that makes it totally Hollywood: all of us tan laughing people are drinking milk from a coconut through a straw. I never thought I would see the day when I am drinking coconut milk out of the actual coconut through a straw and, I made it myself. This is RIGHTEOUS! So okay I’m sorry but I’m taking this journal out of paradise and into the past month.

Since my last journal my Thai has improved ten fold. I CAN READ!!! well… I mean I can read small things like signs and soda cans, but still I can read and that is so cool to me. When I first started school I could not stop hearing about the exchange student before me and how fast he learned Thai. “do you know Neals, he’s Thai is mmmm very goood very much, yes” that was the usual thing teachers said to me in my first week at Surat Thani Song (song means 2). Hearing that made me really nervous about speaking Thai. Then as the days went on and turned to weeks the phrase changed to “Masha! Gian Mak Mak, Pood Thai dai laew!” Which means “Masha very good you speak Thai well already.” Then all my fears about the language vanished and it’s becoming easier and easier to communicate each day.

School is so fun, it’s unreal how popular I am. The second I’m alone there are people surrounding me again. You would think the popularity would do nothing but build my confidence up even higher but the truth is I think I never really had that confidence I bragged about in my interview to begin with. Since I’ve been here so many people have asked me to sing songs or help them with English. I try to say yes, but I get this weird after a rollercoaster feeling in my stomach, and my cheeks turn red and then I hear myself saying, “mai ow Mai ow, ka tor ka, poonie dai mai ka?” (I don’t want to, sorry. Is tomorrow okay?) I’M SHY! Well, I’m not as shy anymore but in my first couple weeks here I could not stop saying “Maybe next time, sorry.” Until one day at school I remembered my juggling skills, which were not that good before I left but I’ve had a lot of free time here for brushing them up. So I brought my trusty juggling balls to school that Friday and saved myself from singing until the following Monday at least. I’ve actually seen myself acting a lot different since I arrived. I say I’ve seen myself instead of I’ve felt myself because it is not until after said, did, or thought something that I realized it happened. I look at some ants or a spider and think “awww that’s beautiful” instead of “it’s going to kill me”. I love it too, I love watching myself slowly change. I don’t really feel it at all. Every adjustment made to my personality so far just feels normal. Then again it’s only been one month and a half but I know I’ve changed a lot more than getting over my fear of insects.

So other than than improving my Thai and becoming nature girl I’ve done a lot of things. Last Friday, 8/11 was Sport Day in my school and it’s a pretty big “festiwal” – for two or more weeks before Sport Day, everyone gets out of class early to practice and prepare for the big day. In school there are six color teams. You know what team you’re on by looking at the color dots on your uniform. I am See Dang (red).

So for two weeks everyone practices but the biggest attraction is not really the sports but the Parade before. You see on Sport Day at 8:00am there is a big parade put on by the students. It is about four kilometers long and marches to city hall/ stadium. In the Parade each color team is represented and it’s like a typical parade. First comes the music, then the school’s name, after that the person holding Paan for the King and Queen. Behind them I don’t really know because I was the person holding Paan for the King and Queen. It was a huge honor and a really really reeeallly long walk. I had to wake up at 4:00 am that morning to get my hair, make up and dress put on. “Suoiy mak” (very beautiful) is what everyone was telling me as I looked in the mirror at the artists’ finished work. The piece is titled “Farang wrapped in gold bricks” that’s at least what I call it. That’s also exactly what it felt like. The Thai girls made it look so easy to walk around wrapped in the heaviest gold beaded fabric on earth and were perfectly fine with it being plastered to skin. The dress had to be at least two sizes too tight and the whole four kilometers I was counting down to the moment when I would die of either a heat stroke or suffocate. Then at 5…4…3.. “Masha! Newoy mai?” (are you tired) it was over! I walked to the front with the Paan and placed it on the image of the King and Queen in honor of them and the Queen’s birthday 8/12. After I finished, I unraveled the artists’ gold bricks and the rest of the day I cheered for red team.

The next day I woke up early with Khun and Khun Pha and caught the first ferry to Koh Samui and here I am “Sabai”. Thailand is incredible, for the first time in my short life I really feel at home. You know that feeling you get when you sleep in an unfamiliar bed? Home sick but it’s more house sick or pillow sick? Well I’ve had the same pillow and blanket for almost two months and we’ve become pretty close but even when I’m away I still feel wrapped in the warmth of my blanket. I feel well, I guess I feel at home. Everywhere I go here is… home.


September 18 Journal

 It hit me at dinner… som taam (papaya salad), gai tot (fried chicken), kow neiuw (sticky rice) and a variety of other Thai foods from one of the nicest restaurants in North Eastern Thailand. One of Thailand’s great food establishments, that’s where it hit me. I can still hear thin slices of moo (pig) as they’re slapped on the grill, the smell of charcoal is heavy and almost overwhelming. Here comes the catch of the day. I see a boat coming up stream The Kong River. Oooo. The Kong River running smoothly between Laos and Thailand, with mountains, mountains, mountains for miles, at least at this end.

Well… Like I said, it hit me at dinner. Ten maybe twelve tan laughing people eating dinner, watching the sunset into the mountains; you know, paradise Hollywood style. So there I am in the middle of telling my fifth or sixth story that evening but, who’s counting anyway. Telling my fifth or sixth story, you know the one about that time mom and dad and I went to a place and something funny happened. Midway through the story I can see everyone’s faces crack into a huge, bulging smile that could burst at any second for the fifth or sixth time. I can hear myself making my way to the punch line of this funny tale but it’s not funny anymore, at least to me. Everyone at the table was laughing, cackling, roaring and yahooing, but me. It hit me at dinner as midway through my fifth or sixth story I catch a glimpse of a foreigner at the next table. He’s tall, a little big in the mid-section, brown short hair with hints of grey, a beard, and was wearing a suit and tie. I was homesick and really homesick for the first time in two months. After the cackles and yahooing died down one of my cousins looked at me and said “Masha, ben arai, kid-tung baan mai?” (Masha, what’s wrong, are you homesick?) I thought before I responded and replied “mai chai, nyuong non” (no I’m just sleepy). If I had been at home when it hit me I might have responded differently but I knew I would be traveling North Eastern Thailand for at least five more days and would be very busy. Homesick, is a very strange thing.

So I thought maybe I could be super exchange student and the next day I would forget all about this strange new emotion. I was wrong. From Mukdahan, which was the third stop in my travel up north last week, we headed to Bangkok to visit my host mother’s younger sister. My host mom was very busy so I decided to go shopping in Siam Paragon. Siam Paragon is one of Thailand’s greatest attractions for foreigners. There are so many things to see and do.

Walking through Siam, Star Bucks, KFC, Tommy Hilfiger, MAC make-up, Polo, Dairy Queen, and BAAM it hit me again. Homesick, it is a bad idea when you’re homesick to go to the most westernized place in the country you’re staying in. I was walking drinking my freshly brewed Starbucks Café Americano and it hit me. So I left. I left and I told my aunt that I was homesick and I needed to do something about it. So, we did. The next day we all headed to Ayyudaiya, where a lot of Thailand’s earliest history took place. Yeah, it felt good to be around people that love and have the whole ancient Thailand experience but I still felt half full. I felt half full until we made it to a gift shop where I saw some freshly made silver medallions. They were breath-taking and had a certain smell that let you know they were fresh and glancing over the shiny round trinkets what do I find? I find one with “Steal Your Face” on it (the Grateful Dead Symbol)!!! I could not believe it!!! The woman behind the counter could see the excitement in my eyes and though the tag read 350bht she gave it to me for 100bht and all I could say was “IIIYAH” (oh my god!) Seeing a freshly made “steal your face” medallion made all of my homesickness vanish. It made me realize I don’t have to completely let go of who I was before I got here and that some Thai people have good taste in music. So it hit me and it passed (I’m sure it will be back again, hopefully not soon) but now I’m going to talk about what happened before it hit me. This past month is hard to put in words because the only word I can use to describe it is Thai, “IIYAH.”

So… this is what I did in short: Paint for the minister of Thailand, go to a University in Bangkok to paint with some students from school, Travel to Prachuip, more painting for school officials in Surat, travel for a week in North Eastern Thailand and next month I’m going to a Buddhist meditation camp for two weeks. It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here two months and it’s even harder to believe that in two months I’ve traveled to the farthest North Eastern part to The Farthest South and half of the places in between.


September 23 Journal

 11 something pm, September 19th… The sun has been in bed for hours, my stomach is settling and my mind if finally drifting from today’s adventures to the possibilities of tomorrows. I find myself however unable to peacefully rest and, make the transition between the day’s ever rapid movement of here, there, doing, listening, learning, wanting, going to the next place and the still… yet bizarre, surreal, Thailish (English mixed with Thai) dream state that I have been experiencing the past couple of weeks. Instead somewhere buried towards the back of mind is anxiety; my body acknowledges its presence first and like a child throwing a temper-tantrum for attention, it kicks, and squirms in restless discomfort. My mind the bickering parents of the attention deprived child are distracted from their quarrel by a peculiar ringing … my cell phone. It’s my dad calling from 12 something pm September 19th in the USA. “Are you okay? I heard about what’s going on in Bangkok and was worried.” At that moment anxiety got all the attention it had been craving. “What are you talking about, what’s going on in Bangkok?” “There is a coup with like ten tanks, are you okay?” “Well, yeah I’m fine but…”

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK

“Dad, I gotta go my mom is calling me to the living room I’ll call you in a bit.” I pressed the button reading “end” on my cell phone and walked to the door. Opening the door I see my host mom and the whole family Pi pa nom, Pi Yaang, Khun Poah, Khun Yai… Staring deeply into the TV, Senses fully opened. “Masha, du TV, du anee pasa angrit” (Masha watch TV, this channel has English). Looking at the TV I fully comprehend what is happening but it seems all too familiar. The constant updates, every channel a man, a woman, yellow shirt and their tone of voice concerned; the red, white and blue banner with thick black font scrolling at a rapid pace across the TV screen… Looking around the room… the faces… the face of uncertainty, I had it too.

You see at about seven or eight pm the same day I found myself glancing over Ellen’s 9/11 journal and realized I had completely let that day pass me as if any other day. It was the first year since the tragic event, though there have not been many, I did not hear, or see anyone talking about it. I had forgotten … forgotten all about it and reading Ellen’s journal I remembered. I remembered that I should have said a prayer, or cried, or called my parents or something that I would have normally done on that day and I felt … well, I felt… selfish I suppose.

So through dinner, and during my evening shower and while trying to fall asleep, tossing, turning, kicking, squirming, I could not stop thinking about it, about how if I did not take the time to read that journal I would have let an entire year go by and not have felt one bit of remorse for the lost souls on 9/11. I mean … I was stuck on it! Stuck, in the back of my mind at least. Like three year old taffy on crème colored carpet. Then at 11 something pm all the feelings I let pass on 9/11 this year came rushing back through me. Is Elle okay? Are people hurt? How does this effect the country? What do I feel? How does the King feel about it? How does my Dad know, before I do?

All these questions racing through my brain.

11 something pm watching TV… the first coup in Thailand in fifteen years. Holding my hand and pushing my hair out of my face my host mom says “mai don gruah, mai me arai” ( don’t be scared, it’s nothing really) I look in her eyes and I see a hint of fear but looking in everyone’s eyes, Khun Phoh, Khun Yai, Pi Pa Nom, Pi Yang… hidden behind the uncertainty I see unity, the same unity you saw in eyes of every American on September 11, 2001. The situation in Thailand is nowhere near the same as 9/11 and no one has been hurt. In fact after the first day I think 80% of Thai people are happy. Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know I was safe and “Mai don grua, mai me aria ka.”


October 29 Journal 

 “Everybody is just doing their thing and wailing with it.” -Ken Kesey – As Quoted by Tom Wolff

Last month I finished reading a book by Tom Wolff titled The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It is a non-fiction essay on Ken Kesey, the merry pranksters and the whole acid head hippie movement. This book has absolutely nothing to do with Thailand, Rotary, or being an exchange student but, for some reason everyday I see random quotes from the book scrolling through my mind…

Last month on the 24 or 25th I don’t quite remember when, school let out for a month, “bid-term” (holiday break). Since my host mom was busy with work and everything she decided maybe it would be a good idea if the other exchange student from Japan and I went to my aunt’s house in paradise (koh Samui) for a few weeks. That way we could have some one on one time and I could teach her Thai. So, you know I told her I’d think about it… and at 8:00 am the next morning Haruka and I were on the first ferry headed to Samui. An hour and a half later we were welcomed by a cool ocean breeze, the music of an old islander playing the kiim in the middle of a crowd of farang (forgieners) and my aunt and uncle. Haruka had never been to Samui and her Thai was minimal but I knew exactly how she felt and what she wanted to say as we drove down the coast to my family’s bungalow resort. When we arrived they showed us to our private bungalow on the beach and told us what time lunch was and so on. After we were settled in our bungalow Haruka and I walked down the beach not saying a word but marveling at the natural beauty that surrounded us. It was everywhere from the sketches in the sand made by twigs and shells, the sway of the palms, the mountains painted in a green tropical bliss to a neighbor bathing his yak in the refreshingly warm green ocean waves… I had been here before and had the exact same reaction. There is just too much beauty not to be overwhelmed…

So we spent two weeks in that luxurious bungalow with cable TV, air conditioning, hot water and so forth but, I rarely set foot in it. Each day I would wake up at 6:00am and sweep the sand with the maid, run to the local fresh market and buy the ingredients for breakfast which, everyday was Koaw Tom Plah (rice soup with fish). And on my way back stop at Khun Tuwat’s (great grandmas) and knock down a couple of coconuts to save for later. Then P’Yin (the maid and cook) and I would make breakfast then after we ate everybody would help clean up. At 9:00 were yoga and meditation classes then, at 10:00 guitar, 10:30 op namn (take a shower) and at 11:00 head down the beach for art lessons. Each day was fully loaded, I became so involved with Island living that I had completely forgot the reason why I even came to Samui… Then one night after cleaning dishes with P’Yin and Haruka I realized Haruka had not really opened up at all since she got there. She hated coconuts and all fruits for that matter, didn’t talk much and spent more than half the day sitting in the bungalow. So, we went for a stroll down the beach… Haruka came to Thailand about two and a half weeks after I did and her Thai was not making much progress but her English was conversational. Walking down the beach she told me that she wanted to go home because she misses her mother too much and Thailand is nothing like Japan. As she went on talking about home, mom, dad and the dog one of those quotes popped in my head.

“You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” – Ken Kesey as quoted by Tom Wolff.

Haruka was off the bus … The next day I followed the same routine I had been doing everyday only this time I woke Haruka up to do it with me and I refused to speak English . It wasn’t until after the market that she even said a word but it was the words she said that let me know she was back on the bus. She said “tomorrow pbai gop p’masha again okay mai?” (Is it okay if I go with you again tomorrow?) And, I’m happy to say she is still on the bus. Not only was she on the bus but everybody, Na Tim, Na ray, Nong Ploy, Haruka , the whole gang got on as we headed to Chaiya for two weeks at the Buddhist mediation camp… The Rules: No Talking. Two meals a day No Smoking, cell phones, internet, candy, primping accessories etc, No connection to the outside world

What to bring: A Book. A Towel. Undergarments. Two all-white outfits.

Accommodations: A mat to sleep on. An outhouse. Candles for light, A hot natural spring to bathe in.

The Meditation camp was a big change from our four star luxury bungalow on the beach. Men and women were separated so, the front desk was that place we saw Na Ray for a few days not that that mattered anyway. NO TALKING!!! So, after we checked in, Na Tim, Non Ploy (my cousin), Haruka, and I headed to our room which we shared with 6 other women. After dinner at 4:00 pm we had our first meditation session and two hours later it was finished, hmmm and we headed to bed at 6:00pm.

I could not understand why we went to bed so early until the next morning at 4:00 am when I everybody was getting up and I heard the roosters crowing outside. I just got up and followed everybody else. At 4:00am the stars are still the brightest thing in the sky so I had no idea where we were going but when I ran into the girl in front of me I took that as a clue that we had reached our destination… Still stuck in a cloudy dreamlike haze I settled into Indian position to prepare for our first mediation session of the day. Yep 4:00 am in the middle of the forest is the perfect time and place to achieve mindfulness. In….and…out In…and ….out. Concentrating on the fullness of my breath…. In…. and…out…. In…and…out… Then …a voice, chanting in Thai comes out of speakers hidden the woods, followed by a light… fire, three of them surrounding a golden Buddha statue and, the chant gets louder as more voices join in. I can barely hear it though because, I have become so completely focused on my breath and, my mind that it just kind of fades away… Then two hours later the chant stops and I’m back …

And, that is how it went on for about four days until I realized my nose ring was throbbing in pain and a Mae Chi (Buddhist nun) told me it was red and pussing. So, we left the next day after we traveled Koh Sok (the national park in Surat). Everybody at the camp went to pay respect to Pra Putata, a highly respected monk that died about 6 years ago. Everybody, all visitors , Pra’s (Buddhist monks) and Mae Chi’s climbed 6 kilometers up a mountain in the rain and 6 kilometers back down soaked from the rain, covered in dirt, and leeches. I however, am sad to say that I and the rest of my party only made it less than a quarter of the way before turning around because of the rain and the condition of my nose. So, we left and I went to the doctor, he yanked out my nose ring and gave me some antibiotics.

For what was left of my holiday break I stayed in Surat going to art school everyday and hanging out with friends. It was good to be home and I got to see a 15 member pop band in concert. Next week I go back to school and I’m marching in sport day again. I’m also changing hosts. I’m going to miss family a lot but, it is about that time.

Some time next month I’m going back to the camp at Chaiya but, I can tell you for only being there four or five days I got a lot out of it, including this.

There is too much beauty in the world to worry about the stuff that ticks us off. It’s everywhere – it’s the sunset in my backyard becoming more magical each day. It’s the way my grandmother sings as she walks. It’s the stray dogs chasing tuk-tuks down the street. It’s the old woman in the night market who knows all of the locals’ names and exactly what they want. It’s the monks 12 kilometers later covered in leeches. It’s the way the water ripples in Surat’s Tapi River. It’s even the complexity of a simple blade of grass. It’s everything, including the things that tick us off, it’s Life just doing its thing and wailing with it.

 And so this is Christmas

And so yesterday was Christmas at least for me and other Old Calendar Orthodox Christians and there was no scent of pine in my house or stockings on the wall. There was no mistletoe hung or eggnog in my glass and, even two weeks ago when it was Christmas for the rest of world, I was not wrapping presents with a jolly, merry Christmas gingerbread smile.

In many countries children went bed on the 24th all dressed in their warmest pj’s to keep the chill of winter out and on the 25th woke up to the heat of a fire or heater in their home. Then some children may have walked to the window in their room and in a clockwise motion wiped the condensation away with their tiny hands. Some other children may have woke from their beds and without stretching or taking a breath ran as fast as they could to the tree decorated in ornaments, lights, dangly balls, kindergarten projects and strands of their favorite cereal and when they reached their destination excited and all out of breath they gazed starry-eyed at the lights, dangly balls and strands of cereal that cover the tree because it looked nothing the way it did the day before. Then they singled out which package shoved under that magical tree they fancied the most… That’s at least what they did in some countries.

In others such as Thailand, where the prime religion is Buddhism, children woke up on the 25th to the heat of their blankets and clothing, then without knowing what day it is they took a cool shower and prepared for school and as they were eating breakfast or brushing their teeth it may or may not have occurred to them what day it was. Or so I thought but to my surprise the spirit of Christmas was indeed there. As I walked into school on the 25th the first thing I saw was four girls wearing Santa hats and a boy in a Halloween costume holding a package.

I did not think too much of it until I saw almost all the Senior girls wearing red t-shirts with Merry Christmas written on the back and reindeer antlers on top of their pigtails. Then as I continued to head for first period a little puzzled by what I had seen I was stopped by one of the English teachers who asked if I could help her make a test for third period and without even waiting for an answer she grabbed my hand and dragged me to the meeting hall where just like a magical Christmas tree stuffed with presents was lit up in all colored lights, decorations and, music. My friends, being the presents, were dressed in all sorts of wild threads and they all came running up to me to wish me a “Mayree Keesmas” and there I was just like a little kid gazing starry-eyed at the tree that looked nothing the way it did before. It was fabulous and it lasted all the way until lunch. There is no better Christmas present then seeing four girls wearing long evening gowns and red afro wigs sing “we wish you a Merry Christmas…” in FRENCH!

On top of the big Christmas presentation surprise I got to see an even bigger presentation/party at my brothers M and Jay school which is the only Christian School in Surat. It was quite similar to the party earlier that day but, a lot more planned out and rehearsed with about 100 more students performing. Both parties were fantastic, but as I was sitting in the V.I.P. section at the Christian school party watching 7 year old girls dance to the latest Tata Young song (Thailand Brittney Spears), I found myself wondering if Thai people even knew what Christmas was about. Then just like a Christmas miracle I saw two of the seniors walk on stage to tell the story of the Nativity followed by a Mary and a Joseph. I think it may have been the first time I really watched the performance of the Nativity. It was beautiful; not just the performance but these Thai kids dressed in traditional Thai clothing tell the story of the Nativity in Thai…and I understood every word of it. It was THE ULTIMATE Christmas gift.

So, sorry for sounding cheesy and what not but THANK YOU ROTARY/ MOM and DAD…

But, that holiday has come passed and… it’s time to move even further back into the past two months. Since my last journal I’ve switched host families and now live with someone’s family you may know. She is a current inbound in Gainesville by the name of Cee and I’m not going to lie – at first the transition was little rough and the only sounds at the dinner table were made by our eating utensils. Then about one month into this new living situation I find tears jumping out of my eyeballs as I fall to floor in laughter and everyone else Mom, Dad, M, Jay are laughing too. So now here we are laughing, smiling and Sawadeeing everyday, and everything is working out just fine!

But before the big family click could happen, I had to go to Bangkok with the art students to an Art Gallery opening. The Art Gallery started at noon…It was about 1:00pm, the six of us had yet to eat rice that day and the Gallery had yet to open. Then while sitting in the third row, waiting, watching the big hand on the clock a voice comes over the intercom “ Sawadee garuna bid telrosap ka…” (Please turn off your cell phones.) And with somebody counting silently to three 1…2…3 everybody stood up from their chairs as Princess Patiep walked in the room. I was in shock I could not believe how lucky I was to be 6..7..maybe 8 rows away from the Princess. She was followed by a mob of yellow shirts and black pants. The room was silent as she stood at the podium before us and not saying a word she sat down in a very Royal looking seat. After awards were given and speeches were made two official looking gentlemen made their way to the royal seat and escorted Princess Paitep to a blank Canvas. Putting on her apron she stared deeply into the whiteness of the canvas and then without saying a word she went to work. All I could see from my point of view was a stroke of lime green, splats of purple and smudges of pink but ten minutes later when the piece was finished, it was apparent that she had painted two dinosaurs a pink one and purple one just chillin’ in a hazy lime green jungle. It was brilliant and after seeing that I was not even a bit curious of what the other art would be like in the gallery because it could not even compare.

After all was said and done by more officials we all rose from out seats as Princess Patiep without saying a word elegantly made her way out of the hall and the Art Gallery was officially opened. My friends and I enjoyed the gallery and about two more days in Bangkok and then headed bad to Surat .

When I got home I only had time to Sawadee and grab a change of clothes before I was back on the bus and headed to Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai for a week with my first host family. Now if you don’t know anything about the geography of Thailand, Surat, the province I live in is like the Georgia of Thailand. Bangkok is New York and Chaing Mai/ Rai is…Canada…yeah Canada. So, on the bus headed to Canada (Chiang Mai)… I got my walkman in one hand and a snack in the other and about 398635906830945936 songs and two days later and a stop at Seven-Eleven SAWADEE JOW!! We were there and it was the first time since I’d been to Thailand I needed a sweater.

Getting off the bus… a rush of smells; roasted sweet potatoes, cashews, Kow neiow (sticky rice), and Gai tot (fried chicken). The hotel we stayed at was in the center of Chiang Mai’s biggest night market and though it was rather chilly I was kept warm by the heat of steam and burning charcoal. For six days shopping, sight seeing, mountains, mountains, many mountains and Temples. It was fantastic but unfortunately most of our time was consumed by shopping at every stop we made, so I did not really get to see too much northern Thailand cultural jazz but, I did get five new skirts.

By the time we made it back to Surat it was SAWADEE KA…back on the bus for more Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai with the teachers at my school and this time it was around Thanksgiving so the chillness of Chiang Mai felt very appropriate. Our first few days it was mountains, mountains, a temple and a Ram Thai Dinner theater but about the third day and the second mountain I remembered it was Thanksgiving and was able to celebrate it perfectly. With a huge feast of gai yung (roasted chicken) Mang farang (sweet potatoes) and a variety of veggies I bought from a Chow Kow (a person who lives in the mountains). I was very thankful that there are people who live and sell food in the mountains.

The next day we headed to Thailand’s Disney Land… Pu Swon Loke (the Royal Flower Gardens) and was exactly like Disney Land aside from the rides. It was long lines, tour guides, cartoon flowers as mascots, garbage cans that sing and gardens representing every country. It was indeed a very magical floral place. So we spent about two more glorious evenings enjoying northern Thai dinning and cultural differences. I learned a lot more my second time around and even a little of the language.

Then it was back to Surat and SAWADEE goodnight! I got to rest for a good month or so and after the day after Christmas, it was back in the car with my new host family who I had barely been able to spend any time with and we were going to Phuket. Sadly I did not get to see much of Phuket while I was there because we were really there to visit my host dad’s work but I did however get to see some Phuket’s famous beaches which have been reconstructed quite beautifully since the tsunami.

So after three nights in Phuket and family bonding my host mom dropped me off in Hua Hen on her way to Bangkok so I could spend new years with some other family members of mine who all spoke English perfectly so it was a bit of a drag, but I still had a blast. I got be with my sister Elle and her family who had been an exchange student at my house two years back. And just like old times… two girls staying up all night telling stories, looking at pictures, giggling the hours away. Only this time it would be her parents we would be keeping up all night by our laughter and in-between jokes we would throw in some Thai. We spent New Years there in Hua Hen and then we headed for Bangkok and not one day did I feel like a guest in their home.

It was incredible because I can recall two years when Elle had told me “when you come to Thailand, you’re gonna love it and my family they’re gonna love you.” And two years ago when she said that I never thought twice about the possibility of me being in Thailand and now here I am and I love Thailand and her family I love them too. So this year my New Year’s resolution is go visit one of my other sisters who live in Brazil before I turn 21 because I’m pretty sure she said something similar to that.

Chris Redlitz
2006-07 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Orange Park, FL
School: Orange Park High School
Sponsor: Palatka Sunrise Rotary Club
Host: Ilheus Rotary Club
District 4550, Brazil

Chris - Brazil

August 3 Journal
Hey everyone!!!
Oh my goodness. My first week in Brasil has been one of, if not, the most wonderful, eventful, and stressful weeks of my life.

I arrived into Brasil with thirty other American exchange students from all over the United States, going to many different places in Brasil. We all met in Washington Dulles Airport and all flew into São Paulo Airport. There we split up to change airports, to catch connecting flights, or to stay there in São Paulo. I think I was actually traveling for more or less 36 hours, and during all this, I think I received about 3 or 4 hours of quality sleep.

During all my flights, and waiting around in the airports, I was continuously thinking about my host family and what they would be like. I couldn’t stop talking about them with my friends in the airport. I think I was getting a bit annoying, hahahahaha. As I stepped of that last plane in Ilhéus Airport, my heart was racing, and so were the butterflies in my stomach. I spoke with my sisters on MSN instant messenger, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of actually meeting them in person. As I walk in door, I see a huge crowd of people, waiting for me. There was probably close to forty people. The first person I recognized out of all was my sister Laís, who I had talked with many times, and exchanged pictures with on the internet. It was such a nice warm feeling to see her face and to meet the person I had been talking with and anticipating my arrival with. Laís like me is going to be an exchange student. She is going to spend a year in Boise, Idaho starting August 9th. Standing with her was my other host sister Lilian, who I had also spoken with on MSN a few times, and my Mom and Dad (Leslei and Fred). I was so excited to meet them and talk with them all that I walked right past the baggage claim.

After being shooed back to the baggage claim conveyor belt, I wait quite anxiously for my baggage to come. After receiving my guitar and one bag the conveyer belt stops, and my heart drops. Where is my other bag?!?! I proceed to ask one of the employees when I feel a hand on my back. It is Marcelo, my Brasilian counselor, who I had exchanged emails with. I tell him about my bag and he tells me `tanto faz´ which basically means don’t worry. He spoke with the employee, and after about ten minutes of deliberating, we learn that my bag is on its way to Salvador. Ilhéus was just one stop on the way to Salvador, and that bag had been checked all the way. I filled out a form and gave it to the manager and he said that the bag would arrive at the airport in the next day or two, which two days later it was delivered to our house which was rather convenient.

As I turn around from the counter, I am immediately inundated with kisses, hugs, and so much warm embrace, it was amazing. I met everyone there. My first, second, and third host families, their families, and all their friends from school. I probably received a good 150 kisses and hugs that night alone at the airport.

When we arrived home from the airport, I was given a grand tour of the house, and then we sat down for a wonderful dinner of lasagna. We stayed there talking for a good 2 hours. And after, I took a shower and sat in the computer room talking with my host sisters until 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. My host sister Laís speaks pretty good English, so for these two weeks that she will be staying here, she is helping and teaching me when I don’t understand something in Portuguese, and in turn I help her with English.

The next morning I awake to the most loud horrendous music coming from outside my window. I walk out onto the balcony that is connected to my bedroom (which I really think is amazing) and I see a person riding a bike with two twelve inch speakers attached to it. I though what in the world is he doing at 7:30 in the morning playing that horrendous music. My sister explained to me that the music he was playing were jingles from the local supermarket, as advertisement. It turns out that this is an extremely common site here in Ilhéus. After we proceed to eat a nice family breakfast, my mother asks me if I would like to go to school or not. I said yes even though I had only received 4 hours of sleep the previous night.

At my first day of school, I met all the people my host sisters had told me about on MSN. They were all so welcoming and all wanted to be my best friend. I felt like royalty. They were firing questions at me right and left. I didn’t quite understand all of it but I got the gist of what they were saying and asking me. I did a lot of smiling and nodding, and actually it worked. After we make our way into the class and sit down. The teacher begins to teach, although it really seemed like no one was listening to a word she was saying. The whole class was talking and would not settle down. I am amazed that they learn anything. At Vitoria, we have 3 classes each day. They start at 1:30 in the afternoon and end at 6:00. In total I have 9 different classes. After school that day, waiting for the bus to arrive (it is not the typical yellow school bus that you are thinking of. It is an enormous white bus that you have to pay 1,45$R every time you use it.) I was able to speak with some of the students one on one and actually have some conversations.

The next day my mother, sister and I went out to buy my school uniform, which is hideously ugly. I have to wear this uniform everyday, which isn’t so bad because every one wears it.

Later that day at school, I got to play my first game of Brasilian Futesal. It is similar to American soccer, but it is played on a small enclosed concrete court, with 5 players on a team. My goodness it is fun. That game I scored my first Brasilian GGOOOOLLLL!!!! All of the other players and students watching went crazy cheering me on.

In the next couple of days I have just been going to school, and normal things. My sisters have been showing me around the town and we have been buying things. I bought my first pair of Brasilian Havaianas. I have not met a person here who does not own a pair. It is kind of like underwear here.

On Sunday my friends from school and I went to the beach. The beach was utterly beautiful. We went swimming in the ocean a little but mostly we just hung out and talked about all sorts of things. We also drank beer. Here in Brasil, the drinking age is 18. But if you are a teenager, you are expected to drink. It is really odd. Culture shock kind of hit me. At first they offered me a cup of beer, and I said no thanks. Every one looked at me oddly, including my host parents. Eventually I said ok I’ll have a cup, and I drank a little with them on the beach. That day I think I saw every Brasilian I know. On Sundays everyone goes to the beach. And I mean everyone. My Rotary counselor was there. People from my school and other schools. Relatives of my family and friends.

Yesterday, the majority of the students in my class all contributed in buying a soccer ball. Here in Ilhéus, soccer balls are hard to come buy. They are quite expensive and the majority of the people are not very well off. Every student chipped in about 5$R and the ball will be kept in one person’s house, but will be the whole class’ ball. Saturday in the morning the students will go play because we do not have classes then. Normally on Saturdays we have classes but not this Saturday. I can’t wait to learn some of their Brasilian moves and teach them some of my American, (if there is such a thing) hahahahah.

After playing soccer on Saturday, I will come home and celebrate my sister Laís and her exchange to Boise. All of her relatives are coming and going to be a “Grande Festa´´. The next day on Sunday, all of her friends are going to throw her another party. She doesn’t know that we are doing this. Then she leaves on Tuesday.

Well, I’m having an amazing time here and I love every minute of it here. Every day is a new adventure that I take in stride. There is no other place I would rather be right now than Ilhéus-Bahia-Brasil.

Tchau, Abraços

Chris

September 13 Journal & Pictures
Hey everyone. This past month has been ridiculously eventful.
Everything started off with an amazing shrimp and lobster dinner the night before my sister Laís took off for the USA. It was so delicious and amazing. The next day I woke up vomiting up a storm. It was terrible. Later that morning I kind of hid that I was sick while we went to the airport and watched Laís take off. I really did not want her knowing or worrying that I was sick the day she left. Well I made it through sending Laís off, and that’s about it. For the next 3 or 4 days I was sick and in bed home from school. I went to the doctor and he just said that I wasn’t really sick. I looked at him odd. He said that I probably ate something raw or that my body wasn’t accustomed to. On the fourth day, when I was getting better, my host family told me that I had eaten Denden, a substance in the sauce that was with the lobster and shrimp. It turns out that all gringos, when they eat this for the first time, get really sick, my sister told me. That’s good news to know after the fact. Hahaha.

That next weekend, the Interact club of Ilhéus went to the Jubiabá Praia Hotel. For two days and one night, we played soccer on the beach, swam in the ocean and in the pool. We stayed up like all night that night on the beach, around a huge bonfire. I brought my guitar to the hotel, and played on the beach around the fire. Everyone loved it when I sang and played for them. I taught them all to sing some Christian sing along songs. It was hilarious for me and the other American and Canadian exchange students there to hear these well known songs being butchered with Brazilian accents. Their favorites were Kum-bay-ahh and This Little Light of Mine. A little later that night, some friends of mine from school arrived there to hang out with us. I didn’t know this but one of them could play guitar. He started playing some Brazilian music and every one started singing, including me, much to my surprise. I guess six weeks is enough to learn some popular songs. Hahaha. He was nice enough to teach me how to play these songs. He also invited me to play with him in his band.

Fast forwarding a bit now, just three days ago I presented an idea for a song that I had written last week. I played them the guitar line and sang to the best of my abilities in Portuguese and it turns out they loved it a lot. We are going to Pumar’s house next week to try to record it on his computer. I will be singing the lyrics in Portuguese. They said that the lyrics sounded a wee bit funny, but with my American accent, it evens everything out.

Rewinding now, At Jubiabá, I learned the meaning of close. Our room consisted of 2 beds and a bathroom, one double bed and one single bed. So logically we should sleep 3 to a room, right. Well it turns out we had only registered 3 rooms, and there were 17 kids in total… you do the math. Well we somehow slept 6 people into these 2 beds. It was amazing. And this isn’t even the weird part. No one organized boys and girls separate. They just all bunked into the same beds together, wherever they wanted to sleep. No one, except the exchange students, even thought it strange that boys and girls were sleeping together. That’s called Brazilian power. Hahahaha. I also learned a really important life lesson while I was in Jubiabá; how to turn on Brazilian hot water in the shower. All the showers have only one knob and a shower head. This knob turns counter clockwise to turn on the water and clockwise to turn it off. Every time I turned on the water I turned the knob about ¾ turn to get decent pressure. The water always came out ice cold. I would proceed to turn it more and it did not change. I thought it to be most peculiar that they don’t have hot water. Well in Jubiabá, the knob got stuck 1/8 turn and barely any water came out. Well I stuck my head under the trickling water, to wash my hair at least, and the water was blistering hot. What in the world. Well I finally got it unstuck and when I put it to my normal ¾ turn, it got ice cold again. It had just then hit me that the less you turn it the hotter it is. There is a fine line between hot and cold in the showers and now I’ve found it. Hahahahah I think I had been here for about 25 days without knowing this. Now I feel dumb.

That next week at school was a pain in the butt. We had tests galore all week. And often we had more than one test a day. Here in Vitória (my school) I do not do all the tests due to the fact that my Portuguese is rather limited. I do do the English, Spanish, Portuguese, Math, and Biology tests; because I have already learned these subjects and they are not hard in Portuguese. Since I don’t do all the tests here, I did a lot of sitting in on the younger kids’ lessons, more over to learn more Portuguese, because they are more or less at the same level as me. I was rather upset at my English grade. I only got a 6.2 out of 9, while in Spanish I got a 8.6 out of 9. This is because the English test is more or less in Portuguese. There is a small text in English and you have to comment about it and answer questions in Portuguese. In the Spanish test, it is all in Spanish, which I have already learned. Hahahah that’s kind of funny for an American to do bad on an English test and good on a Spanish test in a Portuguese speaking country. I get good grades on my math and bio tests because math and biology are more or less universal. You really don’t need to talk or write words to learn these.

That weekend, my friends and I went to the beach again to play soccer. That afternoon we went surfing. I am being taught by the 2 best surfers in my city. One goes to my school. I think I surprised them. The first time I went out there I was able to get up and ride the wave for a bit. I guess it helped living in Florida to try surfing once or twice. While I was at the beach, I did not use a bathing suit, or board shorts, or pants. I wore a sunga. A sunga is a Brazilian Speedo. Here in Brazil, everyone uses them. It is a much more open culture. Hahahah. And actually, I like my sunga. I feel like belong in Baywatch. That night we stayed up all night at the beach again. Dancing and singing. It was really fun. I really like these Brazilian beach parties.

The next Friday, three other exchange students and I set out from Ilhéus for Salvador for a weekend meeting/orientation. The weekend orientation in Brazil is so much different than the orientation in USA. We arrived there really early in the morning on Saturday and listened to some speakers speak for the morning and for an hour or so in the afternoon we watched some movies about Bahia (my state) and had a tiny Portuguese lesson. That afternoon we went to the beach and swam with the dolphins in the reefs of the coast of Brazil. It was just like you see in the TV and never think that you are ever going to do yourself. It was beautiful. Later that night we went to the Pizzeria and had some Brazilian pizza. At pizzerias here in Brazil, you sit and people walk around with various types of pizza, and if you want pizza with corn you call that waiter, if you want pizza with pepperoni, you call that waiter. It is really neat. That night, the exchange students split up and went to different houses to sleep. I was in Danilo’s house. He is 23 years old and a friend of all the Rotarians. We were 3 exchange students there and he had a blast just talking all night. That next day we all went out to the historic district of Salvador and took a tour, seeing many huge, beautiful churches, and other religious, and government buildings (which here, religion and government aren’t much different) haha. That afternoon we watched Brazil kick the snot out of Argentina. 3×0. What fun watching a big game in Brazil with Brazilians.

The next week of school consisted of only 2 days of classes because September 7th is Brazilian Independence Day. On the 6th my friends and I went to the beach. Do you see a pattern forming? Every weekend I go to the beach. On the 7th there was a huge parade which marched through the main avenue here in Ilhéus. I was able to walk in the parade with Rotary and Interact. It was really cool. After the parade, all the members of Interact and Rotarians went to have a big party on a military base. It was pretty neat. We ate fejuada (beans). I love the fejuada and all the other Brazilian food. I’m eating so much here. I have already gained 4 kilos (8-9 lbs.).

Two days ago I went to the AABB (the local club) and played soccer with this more or less professional team. They don’t get paid but they play against professional teams so. Since I was playing on the grass and on a normal size field, I got to play at the speed I am used to in the USA. It is more controlled than the normal street ball of Brazil.

Well I’m having lots of fun here in Brazil. I hope that all of you are safe and having fun in USA. I hope that all you outbounds are having fun in your countries. Drop me a line some time.

Lots of love

Chris

October 16 Journal & Pictures
Hey Guys. This month has been crazy. Well it’s a Brazilian youth exchange, what do you expect?
To start off, my school had a yard sale (I guess you could say) for the poor people of Ilhéus. My classmates and I brought in used clothes, food stuffs, and household appliances. We lowered all the prices by about 75 – 90%. We set up all the different rooms with the signs on the walls saying where to direct the people around, since there were many rooms of things to sell. Well it turns out that many of them couldn’t read, so some of my more outgoing classmates and I directed them around bringing them to where they wanted to go. What an eye opener. The proceeds went 50% to the school and 50% to APAE, the local school for the mentally challenged.

Well Interact is going great. I love Interact here. In the USA, it’s pretty lame, and no one does anything. They go the meetings to say they went. Well here in Brazil, if someone misses one of the meetings, everyone asks why they missed, and you have to have a good reason. It’s a big deal here. And very rarely does anyone miss the meetings. There are 28 people in the Interact club right now. And normally the majority of them go to all the projects we do. Every Tuesday morning a group of Interactors go to APAE and do some projects with some of the kids. I am the head of this project. One week we went and painted the faces of all the kids there, another week we went and made pictures with tiny rolled up balls of colored paper by gluing them onto a larger piece of paper, and last week we brought in a DVD player and a TV and served them popcorn and soda while they watched Spiderman. I really enjoy spending time with the kids there at APAE every week.

Here in Brazil, the Brazilians joke with the exchange students that they’re not here for exchanges, but they are here for a vacation, because every week there are parties to go to, shows to see, the most beautiful beaches you could dream of, and to top it all off, the most beautiful girls serving food and beer where ever you go. Well last week I went to a show of one of the most famous bands in Brazil, Armandinho. They packed in about 5000 people into the area of half a football field. What an experience. The show went from 11:00 to 1:00 and then after was a party celebrating the show that went from about 1:30 to 6:00 in the morning. When I got home the sun was already coming out. All the parties in Brazil are like this.

One weekend I went to my friend George’s house. Well this weekend was like heaven for me. I love soccer so much. Well when I got to his house and saw how crazy his family is for soccer, I was so happy. First George and I went to an indoor court to play with some of our friends and after we went home and watched the game between Brazil and Kuwait where Brazil clearly won 4×0. Then we went to play this soccer video game at the local LAN house. Walking home, we met up with some of George’s friends who were playing soccer in the road so we played with them for a while. The next morning we went to a soccer field made of sand. Yeah, it’s sweet. Well to sum things up the weekend was a blast. And to top it all off Sunday night we met up with one of George’s friends who is the son of the owner of the professional team here in Ilhéus. So we got into the game for free. Well it turns out that this same team has a team for people between the ages of 18 and 20. They said they would let me enter the team even though I’m only 17. What luck.

This weekend was the annual Interact conference of District 4550 in another city called Itabuna. Oh my goodness. This was probably the most fun weekend I’ve had here yet.

Ilhéus set out by bus about 4:00 on Saturday and arrived in Itabuna about 5:30. Well it turns out the bus dropped us off nowhere near the school where we were going to stay. So 15 Interactors, each with a bag, pillow, and a cochin to sleep on, had to walk about 2 miles since no one knew what local busses went in that direction. Well we got there at about 6:30, set up our beds, and mingled with the people from the other cities for about an hour. In total it ended up being about 100 people there. At 9:00 started the completely formal Rotary party and a huge dinner. The night started with a meeting and then had a party for the Interactors with lots of dancing and music. Everyone got back to the school and watched a horror movie. Boy that was super sweet, because interact is made up of 75% women and 25% men. So during the movie there were all these scared screaming girls for all the guys. Hehehehe

Well that night some of my friends and I stayed up really late, actually about 7 people stayed up all night talking and hanging out. The next morning we all went to this huge restaurant club and had presentations from Rotary and each Interact club presented some of the projects they have been working on. After that was the most amazing lunch and then we returned to the school where all the exchange students gave presentations about their home countries and how they are liking Brazil. After this, every one came back to Ilhéus to go to the beach since Itabuna doesn’t have a beach. Some of the exchange students and I from ilhéus showed all the others around Ilhéus and after we went to the beach and swam, surfed, and played soccer.

After coming back to the school, we had a Halloween ball, were everyone used costumes. 3 guys and I dressed up as women. We were the most beautiful men women you’ve ever seen. Well the party was amazing. It was held in this haunted mansion looking building. It was from about 10:30 to about 5:30 in the morning. The whole night we were dancing, singing, and partying and what not. One song of arrocha (type of music where a girl and guy dance really close using lots of fast hip movements, it’s a rather sexual dance) … everyone made a huge circle and one girl and I were in the middle of the circle dancing. Wow, I was kind of embarrassed, but it was fun. I didn’t know that male hips could move like that.

That next morning, after not sleeping not even one hour again, we had breakfast and after listened to this comedian present a serious subject. Hahahahah. He was amazing. I understood all the jokes he told. Right now I am fluent in Portuguese, the majority of my dreams are in Portuguese, and right now it is easier for me to converse with people in Portuguese.

This weekend I’m going to take it easy. I don’t think I will go to any parties or any shows. I need a week of relaxation. Well got to go study. I have a Chemistry test tomorrow.

Take care every one. Have fun, and be safe.

L8R

Chris

November 12 Journal & Pictures

Oi gente! Tudo bom?
Yet again, here comes another journal, describing, listing, and recounting all of my amazing experiences here in Brazil. Well duh… Brazil is nothing but amazing and wonderful.

Well first I would like to thank my sponsoring Rotary club of Palatka Sunrise, District 6970 for their contributions to my exchange. They often send me e-mails, cards, and news of what is happening in the USA. And more recently, they have given me a sum of money allowing me to go on a 5 day trip to Rio de Janeiro. I am extremely greatful for this magnificent contribution and I’m proud to represent Palatka Sunrise. Muito Obrigado.

This month has been a bit slower for me. In a way I’m pretty happy about that.

To start off this month, some of my mom’s coworkers entered in a city-wide soccer tournament. The fields were a bit smaller, and we played 7v7. Their team was lacking a keeper. One of them played with me and my friends one day and he liked how I played goalie, so he called me up. There were 10 teams in total. My team played 5 matches in the main bracket winning 3, losing 1, and tying the other. We won our semi-final game 3×1 and moved on to the Final match. In the final match, we went into overtime. The score was tied 1×1. The game seemed like it was at a standstill. Overtime expired and we went into penalty shootout. Ohh boy. Each team gets 5 shots and whoever makes the most wins the game. Me being the goalie I had all the pressure on my shoulders. That was pretty tough. Well in the end I stopped 2 of the shots and one missed the target leaving them with 2 goals. My teammates made 3 shots in total, so we won the cup. What a week end! At the end of the tournament my stats were: 25 saves, 6 goals against me (2 of which came in the last game in the penalty shootout), and one GGGOOOOOLLLLL. Yes the keeper made a goal. That was pretty funny. Well it turns out that the winners got a pat on the back and their names written down in this book. You have to remember, Brazil is not the richest country in the world, so there were no medals or trophies, or ribbons, just a handshake and congratulations.

The weekend after that, one of the exchange students from Sweden, who is in the other city, had her birthday party here in my city at a huge beach house. 50 Interact members and exchange students alike went to celebrate her birthday. We all got there at like 5 at night and began dancing arrocha until like midnight, when all of a sudden, the boy from Denmark, Mathias, switches the CD to Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody starts to play. My goodness, my heart fluttered. All the exchange students here began to dance and sing. I think that this song should be the anthem of Rotary youth exchange because every exchange student I meet knows and loves this song. We stayed the night there on the beach with a huge fire and lots of singing and dancing. Boy was I tired. Lots of people brought cochins to sleep on and pillows, but I didn’t. Actually, I was the smart one because we didn’t get back to the house until 5:30 in the morning in which the sun was coming out. Hehe Well we set back for home about 9:00 that morning all wiped out. What a weekend.

Last Wednesday until Tuesday, my family and I went to Salvador to spend time with their family. I met all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and Grandmother. The real reason my family and I went to Salvador is because my grandmother (mother of my dad) was in the hospital. She is not doing so well right now. But this didn’t stop us from having a good time. Lílian (my host sister) and I went many places with my cousins. We went to the shopping mall of Salvador. It is really big. It is about half the size of the Orange park mall, but it is 3 stories. Boy all the things there are expensive. One pair of Nike shoes that would normally cost like 50 or 60 dollars in the USA, is 1000 reais here in Brazil (450 dollars). We went to the movie theatre in Salvador. It was an experience. In the USA, the people are quiet when they are watching the movies, but here in Brazil; it is quieter in the zoo than at the movie theatre. I saw this really strange Brazilian comedy called “seus problemas acabaram” (your problems just ended). The next couple of days went by pretty slow. The last day there, Sunday, we watched Bahia play against Vitória, the two teams from my state Bahia. This is probably one of the biggest rivalries in the Brazilian Futebol league. My family roots for Bahia even though Vitória is the better of the two. I have a couple jerseys of the Bahian team because everyone that is a fan gives me one. Hehehe.

Well we got back on Monday morning, and I went to school that afternoon. Later that week (Wednesday) I got a cold and it escalated pretty fast. Until now I am fighting a pretty strong throat infection. About 5 days I have had it now. I’m getting a lot better but I have missed a bunch of school.

This upcoming week is the last week of school here in Brazil before summer break. This week is full of testing. 11 different subjects to test in 6 days. Yeah I have school on Saturdays.

This next weekend I’m going to Itacaré with my Interact club. Itacaré is the city with the most famous beach for surfing in the world. Every year, Billabong, and Quicksilver, hold their world wide surfing competitions here. It’s a huge event. I’ll fill every one in on this in my next journal.

I have so many plans for this summer break. I’m so excited.

Until later y’all
Um abraço

February 19 Journal & Pictures
Hey everyone, how’s everything been?
I know it’s been a really long time since my last journal but I’ve just been having so much fun.

My family and I went to Salvador for Christmas. We were there for about 1 week. The first couple days my sister and I went to the movies, shopping mall, park, and just hanging out in the city. When Christmas Eve came, the whole family came over to celebrate. At about 8:00 pm the party started. Everyone was talking, laughing, drinking, playing games, and dancing until about 11:30. At this time we started the Secret Santa which everyone was preparing for, for the whole week. Everyone had bought a 1 – 2 dollar item which was just for jokes. Everyone drew names from a hat and had to give a small speech about that person before giving them their present. To make a long story short, the presents were things like rolls of toilet paper without any paper, a dirty diaper, women’s size 100 panties, and I got a condom that was designed for a walrus. This was just a riot and everyone had a blast.

After that, at about 12:30, we had one normal gift exchange and it was a bit more like the normal Christmas I am used to. Filled with love and joy everything went in slow motion as I took it all in, realizing that now I actually have 2 families who love me and 2 places right where I belong.

We all came back to Ilhéus, including my whole family. We had about 13 people staying at my house for about 4 or 5 days. That was really fun. They all came for the New Years party that was taking place in Ilhéus. I stayed at my best friend Álvaro’s house for these days and went to the parties and shows with him. That was really fun to spend some days traveling and hanging out with him. On the 30th there was a really great band who played called Cidade Negra. They play a rather upbeat reggae. On the 31st we went to the New Years party and had a blast. When the clock struck 12:00, the fireworks went off over our heads and everyone gave so many hugs and kisses.

After the parties, shows, and holidays, came the summer break. I started to play soccer every day on the quadra with the local teen-agers. For about 45 – 50 hours a week for the next 3 – 4 weeks I was playing soccer, watching soccer, and just hanging out with my friends on the quadra. Here in Brazil, there are so many people who don’t have enough money for shoes so they play on the asphalt barefoot. I played with these guys barefoot so much that I ended up with so many cuts, blisters, and ingrown toenails. After so much time of playing I am now wearing “Sapatos Brasileiros” which means Brazilian shoes. They call it this because I built up another layer of skin that is like the hide of a rhino. During these days I was getting home at about 3 in the morning every day because they play at night also. Thank God the quadra is so close to my house.

About 3 weeks ago I changed my families. I am now living in the center of town with my Mother (Marta) and my sister (Sara). They have a small 3 bedroom house about 100 meters from the beach. I really like it here. I also have another sister named Luiza who is doing an exchange in Maryland.

Just the other day was my birthday and my friends more or less threw me a small party on the beach. I went with about 15 friends and my sister and mom and 2 cousins. We sat around talking, surfing, drinking, and doing everything you normally do at the beach. After, my mom took my host sister and me to Itabuna to watch a movie there. At the end of the day I was treated with a really nice talk with my whooole family back in Massachusetts.

Well I hit the 6 month mark here and I am really seeing how I am now a Brazilian, and no longer the gringo. =D 100% fluent in the language and culture. I find myself on the bus stop from time to time giving out the list of busses that some one could take to get to “Central de Abstacimento” or something like that. Even to the point that in my literature class there is a new teacher this year and she was never informed that I am American. On the first day of class we had to give little advertisement presentations to show what kind of person we were. I said that I am an English teacher and “this gringo can get you speaking fluently in just one lesson” and the teacher got upset saying that I had to write about myself and not a gringo. What a trip.

Alright well I’m going to watch the Brazilian soap opera with my mom now. I could never see myself doing this in the USA. Hehehe

L8r ya’ll

Katie Quinn
2006-07 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club
Host: Visé Rotary Club
District 1630, Belgium

Katie - Belgium

Bio

 Bonjour! My name is Katie and I am a junior at Bartram Trail High School. I enjoy traveling, playing sports, spending time with friends and family, and experiencing new and unique things. I live in Jacksonville, Florida with my mom, dad, and my three brothers.

Growing up, my family and I have spent a lot of time traveling and moving around. I guess you could say we have some-what labeled my dad as a “gypsy!” We never live in a place for more than a couple of years and we’re always on the move. One of the most unique places we have lived is Vienna, Austria. While living there we got to experience so much. We lived as tourists, going everywhere including Italy and Hungary.

My dream is to go everywhere and see everything, so Rotary has now given me an opportunity to start at my ambitions. I am very independent and have labeled myself as unique because, “In all the world there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it!”


September 9 Journal 

 The famous saying, time flies when you’re having fun, should be changed to time flies when you’re an exchange student! I have only lived in Belgium for a month now and I already feel so at much at home. Being an exchange student changes everything. It is sort of like getting a new life. I am living in a new country where I have a new name, a new family, a new house, a new school, and new friends. Everything is new and everyday is a new adventure.

I started my exchange flying a restless 7½ hours to Brussels on a plane with 20 other exchange students. I got off the plane, terrified, because I could hardly speak any French. Luckily, a former exchange student from my town, Carole, came to the airport with my host family. We got my luggage and decided to have lunch and walk around Brussels. Brussels is an amazing city! It’s not only beautiful and historical, but it’s the capital of Europe.

My first host family is great. My host-father speaks very well English, so everyday we sit down and he teaches me French. Within a week or so I could understand a lot of what was being said, and also respond with a few key sentences. My host-mother does not speak any English, so we have fun playing charades and doing a lot of pointing. A few days ago, she spoke one of her first sentences in English. We had gone to the store and she bought me shampoo, conditioner, and a few other girl things. As we were leaving I said merci beaucoup (thank you very much), where she responded in her best English accent, “You’re my little girl.” I almost cried it was so sweet.

I arrived in Belgium 2 weeks before school started, so I had time to travel and do some sight-seeing. I visited the Royal Palace in Brussels and also the Parliament building. In Parliament, I met the ambassador for the U.S. and attended a party with the Belgian Senators. I spent a weekend in the town of Huy for my inbound orientation. This was so much fun. I met exchange students in my district from all over the world, and we also had a disco-dance party. In my Rotary club, there is an exchange student from Japan, Yuumi, and an exchange student from Canada, Erin. The three of us have done many things together including a hiking trip and a shopping trip in Liege.

I attended my first Rotary meeting which consisted of about 25 men and no women. It was fun until it came time to eat. They placed a plate in front of me and said Bon Appetit! I didn’t know what it was and was curious, so I decided to ask. BIG MISTAKE! They informed me that it was lapin, which means rabbit in French. I almost cried as I sat there and ate that poor little bunny rabbit. They all thought this was amusing, but promised next time to give me something else.

I started school last week and it is very difficult. I go to school from 8:30am until 12:45, where I get an hour for lunch. Then I go back to school for my afternoon classes and don’t get home until after 5:00, so I am exhausted. I am taking English, Spanish, Chemistry, Physics, History, Religion, P.E., and Math. I love Wednesdays because they are always half days. On Fridays, I skip my morning classes and take a French class for beginners at a different school. I am the youngest one in the class, most of the people are 40 or older.

People here in Belgium are very nice and have been very welcoming. I love the country, especially the chocolate and waffles, and I couldn’t have asked for a better host-family!


November 18 Journal 

 CouCou,

3 Months…Where has the time gone? There’s no way to explain living in another country, it is something one must experience for themselves. Belgium is everything I imagined it would be and much more! After just 3 months I have established a home here, a wonderful new family and great new friends.

Being an exchange student comes with many “perks”. The sense of pride you have living as an exchange student is indescribable. You are opened up to so many opportunities and people are always willing to go out of their way to help you. This last month has been non-stop for me, the fall vacation brought about many trips.

I started my holidays from school off with a trip to London. Yes, London, England! London is a beautiful city with tons to do. I spent 4 days there with 100 other exchange students from around the world. You can probably imagine the trouble we got in. (Just kidding!) We toured everything from Windsor Castle and Madame Tussauds to London Tower and Big Ben. My best memory however came from the bus rides…every five minutes exchange students screaming at the bus driver, “Ahhhhhh, wrong side of the road!” Yes this was quite amusing.

I returned home from London just for 2 days and then it was off to Paris! I know, what luck. London and Paris in the same week! Paris consisted of 3 days with 65 exchange students. Paris was AMAZING! We went to Eiffel Tower where we were treated to a magnificent view of the city. We also went to Versailles, Montmartre, Basilique du Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and the Louvre. Paris was wonderful to visit and I used every opportunity to practice my French.

Belgium is one of the most interesting countries I have ever visited. For such a small country, Belgium is full of many different cultures and languages. I live in the south area of Belgium where they speak French. Because Belgium is so small, you can travel anywhere in the country in practically 2 hours. The only problem one faces is knowing what language to use. Belgium has 2 official languages, French and Dutch. This is very confusing at times because a lot of the French speakers don’t speak Dutch and a lot of the Dutch speakers don’t speak French. I went to Antwerp for the day with my third host family and everything was in Dutch. We got lost a couple of times and it was very difficult.

Never in my life did I imagine that at 17 I would be living and studying in another country. Everyone here is so wonderful and very helpful. Time is flying and when I look at a calendar I find myself saying, “Oh no, only 9 more months!” For all you future exchange students, my advice to you is live every day to the fullest! Remember Qui ne risque rien n’a rien. I would also like to thank the St. Johns community schools and Three Spring of St. Johns for donating English books for my school here. My English class really appreciated it and they have gotten a lot of use out of them!


January 30 Journal

 5 months have passed in what seems to have been 5 minutes. With every day that passes comes one day less I have in Belgium. The holiday season went by faster than expected.

I finished exams at school and started making plans for the winter break. I spent most of my days hanging out with friends and exploring many of the miraculous Christmas markets around the country. Christmas time is very festive in the big cities! The cities are decorated with thousands of lights and are packed with the year’s last minute Christmas shoppers. Belgian Christmas is a little different than ours. What we celebrate as Christmas, gift exchange and such, on the 25th, Belge celebrate on the 24th. The 24th consisted of myself, my host-brother, and host-parents sitting in the living room in front of the TV. First we opened presents and I was thrilled to receive a watch and pair of earrings from my host-family. Then it came time for the dinner. I hadn’t eaten all day assuming dinner would be a delicious buffet and assortment of Belgium’s finest chocolates and cakes…but things are never as I assume. Dinner consisted of fish, which I am sad to say I HATE!!! I never have liked fish and never will. Then it was time for round 2 of dinner, escargots, or as we say SNAILS! EWWWW could dinner get any worse at this point… yes it could and it did. Round 3…FROG LEGS!!! Who ever thought of eating frogs??? Not me that is for sure, but like a good sport I ate everything. I am not sure why they enjoy eating frog legs. There really isn’t much to them, literally. Plus they are kind of rubbery!

The next day, Christmas, we went to my host-aunt’s house for lunch. The food was better and it was nice to meet the whole family and hear stories about the old days. I spent the next couple days preparing for the New Years. My host-family was having a party with over 500 people. I was asked to help decorate the ballroom which was actually quite fun! All my hard work decorating paid off in the end and I was treated to a spectacular New Year! I danced until almost 8:00 the next morning and then slept all the next day! It was a ball… haha had to put that one in (I think the Belgian humor is getting to me.)

2 days later is was off to Brugge, Venice of the North! Brugge is by far one of the prettiest cities I have seen in Europe. It is really like Venice, with little canals and boat rides through the city. It was a great trip!

A week later came, to what I thought would be the hardest part of my exchange, changing host-families. It was actually quite easy and my new family is great. I have a sister for the first time which is a nice change! I also have a puppy and a cat and I am blessed to have the President of Rotary as my host father… 4D`s…got to remember then now!!!!!

For now things are going good, I am in my routine and it really feels like my life. I have Carnival vacation in 3 weeks, which is one of the biggest celebrations is Europe. I have already booked my plane ticket to come home which means I don’t have enough time left in this amazing country… also meaning I am done writing this journal!!

Vous voir bientôt et bonne chance a tous les etudiants pour 2007/2008!!


May 5 Journal 

 Salut tout le monde!

It has been months since my last journal so there is tons to share! At the end of March I celebrated my 18th birthday. My host sister’s birthday is the day after mine so we kind of celebrated together. We had a family party and were spoiled with tons of gifts. My most memorable gift comes from my host-grandparents. My host mother was watching a Discovery episode on the state of Florida. She was fascinated by everything and during the episode they mentioned that a Florida specialty is meringue pie. I guess this is kind of true, in southern Florida, but I have never eaten it. My host mom was so convinced that the only thing we ever ate in Florida was meringue pie and she was determined to get it for me for my birthday. Turns out my grandparents ended up calling every baker in town and no one knew what it was. Finally they found a baker in a nearby town who agreed to make it for me. So happy to find someone who could make it, my host parents decided to order not just one but 15 meringue pies! They showed up at my birthday party with all these pies and then a baby lemon tree. They said this way whenever I was homesick I could make meringue pie whenever I wanted. I planted the tree in the yard and thanked them for it all. Turns out meringue pie is disgusting and I was stuck eating it for a week! As they say, it is the thought that counts.

After that I took a 10 day trip to Vienna, Austria. I went and stayed with my god-mother who I hadn’t seen in a long time! Vienna is a beautiful city and I have been there a couple times before so it was nice to just go visit family! We toured the city and shopped.

I came back to Belgium at the beginning of the Easter holidays. We have 2 weeks off here so everyone was planning trips. My host family left to the United States to visit their daughter so I went and stayed with my first host family. At the house there is also a Japanese girl so we ended up doing lots of day trips. We went to the North Sea one day and then to Germany the next just to have Starbucks! I find it so amazing that to go to the closest Starbucks I take the train into a different country, all in 30 minutes. The second week I went to Venice, Italy with my third host family and two other exchange students. Venice was exceptional, just like I dreamed! We went for 3 days and saw everything. It is so amazing, a city build around tiny canals and waterways. The weather was beautiful so we really profited from the trip. I was a little disappointed with the pizza, I still say hands-down Pizza Hut is grrrrrrrreat!

The Easter vacation quickly came to an end and for everyone else it was back to school. I, however, was preparing to see my family for the first time in 8 months. I never thought I would be nervous or afraid to see my family, but after 8 months and a lot of change I guess it is possible. I arrived at the airport 3 hours before they arrived and paced around the airport. The airport actually isn’t that big so I kept running into the same people. Finally the plane arrives and I see everyone coming through the gate. I wait and wait and wait and no sign of mom and dad. They were the last ones off the plane and when I finally saw them I was so excited. After the hugs and kisses and skipping the line for a rental car everything was back to normal, as if I had never left. We spent 4 days in Paris and then came back to tour Belgium. Paris was fun and I was able to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle in the dark! ; ) We stayed in a hotel the other days in Liege and from there did day trips. We went to Brugge and Aachen and other places, but the most fun was the times spent with my host families. We visited each of my families’ houses and all ate dinner together. My parents were surprised at the fact that I do actually speak French and could communicate with my families. We also spent one day at La Flech-Wallone, a famous cycling race, where my dad was treated with VIP tickets and a ride in the official car. Sadly after 10 amazing days together it was time for them to leave. I was kind of ready to get back my now normal life and finish my exchange.

Sunday, April 29th was an important day in my town. It is basically a party, kind of political, where everyone dresses up. Men in coats and top-hats and women in mostly blue. It was interesting to see and was sort of old-fashion like out of a movie. Things are slowing down and I am back in school. I have less then 3 months left in my exchange and I change to my last family next week. I love my life here and can’t believe it is almost over. To all you future exchangers, time goes by quicker than you will know it, take full advantage of every opportunity, and have fun! Good luck to all you future outbounds and to everyone back home, see you soon!


July 1 Journal 

 “Somehow he thought they’d never understand, that nothing lasts and he just knows, that time is just spinning by, and life is passing him by so fast.” Al’s War-Less Than Jake

One awe-inspiring, heart stirring, overwhelming, and astonishing year is quickly coming to an end. So much is said about the exchange program and about being an exchange student, but only when you experience it can you truly understand it. Your life takes a dramatic turn and at the end you find not only the keys to surviving but the answers to life.

I finished my last journal sharing my stories and experiences from Easter vacation and the visit of my family. Since May lots has happened. The school year was rapidly coming to a close which at first seemed like an answered prayer. No exchange student truly enjoys school, but at the end I realized it was a wonderful thing. As I spent my last day turning in books, thanking teachers, and having students sign my flag, I thought about how I would probably not see a lot of the students again this year. I spend lots of time with my close group of friends from school, but others who were in my class or just simply an acquaintance I may never see again. It was at this moment when I realized how close my departure was approaching.

After school finished last month I decided to take part in some Rotary trips. The infamous Euro Tour most exchange students take part in was cancelled this year for students in Belgium. Luckily Rotary decided to organize a few trips for us instead. The first was an 8 day voyage through Italy. We started off driving through the night on a coach bus with 73 exchange students and 3 Rotary members. The whole way there we sang and danced arriving early the next morning in Venice almost too tired to visit. I have already visited Venice so I used the day as a chance to relax and catch up on sleep. J The second day was spent on the islands off the coast of Venice. We took a boat and spent the morning and afternoon on the islands. After that we drove to one of the most beautiful places in Italy, Lake Garda. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, located in northern Italy. We spent the evening in the ancient fortified town of Sirmione, located on the south of the lake. The next day was spent in Ravenna, a small city connected to the Adriatic Sea and home to the poet Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy.) After Ravenna we spent a day in Pisa seeing the famous Leaning Tower. Pisa is a small town and after seeing the Leaning Tower and the city’s Campo dei Miracoli we spent the afternoon swimming in the Mediterranean. This was amazing! My favorite place was the next day which was spent in Sienna. Sienna is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Italy, thriving with culture history. We also spent a day in Florence, Italy visit galleries and museums. Italy was 8 days of non-stop adventuring and learning. Italy is a gorgeous country and I would love to go back again some day!

After my 8 day trip I returned home to Belgium for 2 days before heading off to Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona was a shorter trip with less students so we got to visit more things. Barcelona is home to masterpieces of many great architects. The most famous of which is Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi’s work is admired by architects around the world as being one of the most unique and distinctive styles in modern architecture. We toured the city admiring all he had built. We saw La Sagrada Familia, La Casa Batllo, and Park Guell. Barcelona was all in all just breathtaking!

I am now back home in Belgium, trying not to think about my departure. I leave on 28 July, less than 4 weeks. Last night my host brother from my first family returned home from his year abroad. He spent his year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had a family dinner at his house and after spending time sharing stories and adventures he admitted how hard it was to leave. He said he feels like an exchange student from the United States who has just arrived in Belgium for the first time to start a new life. He mixes up his phrases, combining French and English, just as I and others do when we speak to people back home. Friday is my last Rotary meeting where I will give my presentation of the year. Things are winding down and every day that passes brings more tears and heart-aches. I can’t imagine that in 27 days I will be back home, or what I remember as home.

To Rotary members across the world and especially those of you in Florida who made this year possible for me and possible for every exchange student before me… THANK YOU! Words can not express how grateful I am for all that has happened this year and for your dedication to make it happen. Without the grace and generosity of Rotary members around the world and the encouragement from Al Kalter the foundation of exchange students wouldn’t be the same. Thanks to all of you, young students around the planet are experiencing new cultures and making the world more collective and unified.

Glenn Van Dyke
2006-07 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Episcopal High School
Sponsor: North Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Karlskrona-af Chapman Rotary Club
District 2400, Sweden

Glenn - Sweden

Glenn’s Bio
Hey, or rather Hej! My name is Glenn, I’m 16 and a sophomore at Episcopal High School, and next year I will be living in Sweden. I was born in Monterey, California before my family and I moved back to Jacksonville. I have a sister who is 27 and brother who is 25.
I have played the guitar for 5 years and music is my passion. It’s a great way to relax and I play every chance I get. As far as sports go, I surf, play soccer, and run track. They are all very different and I love that about them. I’ve surfed since I was 6, played soccer since I was 4, and just starting running track this year. I also love to take pictures. Sunsets, sunrises, unsuspecting friends who are sleeping, you name it and I’ll take a picture of it. It’s great to have memories of friends that you can look back on and wonder what you could have possibly been thinking to let someone have proof you dressed up ridiculously while doing something crazy.

I am so excited to have the opportunity to spend next year as an exchange student in Sweden! Not only will my year abroad make me fluent in a different language, but I’ll learn so much about a different culture. Not to mention I’ll be able to take pictures of Swedish sunsets, Swedish sunrises, and Swedish unsuspecting friends who are sleeping. I can’t wait for my year in Sweden! It’s going to be so different (cold), but I know that the year will be amazing. Adjö för nu.


August 25 Journal & Pictures
OK so I have officially been here a month. In some ways I can’t believe that its already been a month and then again it feels like I have been here so much longer.
OK wow…let me sum up my month. So the flight was fun as far as flights go I suppose.. I watched Finding Nemo and slept. When I got off the plane in Amsterdam I’m pretty sure people must have thought I’d been visiting one of the notorious cafes we have all heard about because I’m pretty sure I was walking through the airport with this giddy grin on my face. I was so excited.

I started really getting nervous on the flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen… I started thinking like will I like my family, will they like me, what do I say… it was really nerve wracking but I took a deep breath and listened to the flight attendant try to speak to me in Dutch and I was just genuinely excited. The first time I saw my family was when I walked through Customs which was really just a door that had ‘customs–nothing to declare’ written above it. I never even had to show my passport. I recognized them right away from the pictures they sent me… I later on learned that they didn’t recognize me at first because from my picture they said they thought I was on the larger side. haha I got a kick out of that when they told me.

Meeting them was a really cool experience. I mean it’s like you talk to these people on the internet for months and months and then to meet them in person is like wow…this is real. They introduced themselves officially and gave me hugs and then we left to go pick up my host sister at her horse riding training camp in Skåne. Well actually before we went to go pick up my host sister we made a stop at a Danish bottle shop. A Danish bottle shop as my host father explained it to me is a shop in Denmark where most Swedes go and bring their empty beer bottles to get them refilled and buy more beer because it is less expensive in Demark than in Sweden. So I can officially say that my first experience in Europe was driving from Denmark to Sweden with a car full of beer….o how wonderful. =).

I think I truly lucked out with my first host family. From the first moment I met them, we all just sort of clicked. In the car there were no awkward silences and I felt very comfortable with them. In the car they would ask me about Florida and stuff I like to do and I asked them about Sweden and then they would try to explain to me where we were even though it did absolutely no good. Then they would talk to each other Swedish and I would try really hard to understand and that didn’t work out too well for me either. But we got Tove from her training camp and headed to home in Karlskrona.

The drive was amazing. Everything is so beautiful….the countryside is breathtaking and everything is really…well amazing. then we entered Karlskrona. This town is incredible! It’s like a bunch of islands kinda put together. The downtown is right next to my island called Hästö and on my island there are all these hills and the houses are on the hills and they all overlook the Baltic Sea. My house is on top of a hill and in my backyard there is grass and a small garden and then you walk down some stone stairs and you are on the dock on the sea. It’s so hard to explain and my explanation does it no justice at all. All I can say is… it had me at hello… haha a cliché is definitely appropriate for trying to explain how incredible it all is.

On about the third night I was there, my two host brothers Jonatan and Oskar, Oskar’s girlfriend Michaela, their friend Adrian from Belgium, then two neighbors Viktor and Johan and I went down to the dock and played poker all night. it was so much fun. The coolest part was that we went down there at about 9pm, watched the sunset around 10:30, then watched it rise again at about 3:30. I was in awe. It was so strange but so cool. That next weekend there was a huge festival in my town called Sailet. There were all these rides and good food in the town and lots of parties and such. It was an awesome time!! I met a lot of Swedes then.

Since I have been here I have decided that my favorite Swedish word is kackerlacka which means cockroach. And the only other thing I knew how to say in the first couple of days was stor haj which means big shark…so throughout the entire Sailet every couple minutes my host sister would be like say it.. and that was my cue to yell either kackerlacka or stor haj…it’s amazing how many friends you make and and meet when people think you’re slightly crazy. But after talking to me they knew I wasn’t crazy, at least not too crazy and they too joined in on the fun of making me yell strange words and watching me embarrass myself. It was so much fun.

That’s also where I was introduced to Swedish candy which by the way don’t even get me started about. It’s so goood. I swear I could own stock in those pieces of sugary goodness haha. It will be the death of me. Candy is in all stores except of course clothes stores and every time we pass by it I have to run because it is so tempting and it will make me fat haha. My host dad sees how much I love it and he has created this idea of making a Swedish candy store chain and opening it in America. I told him he would make a lot of money.

The Monday after Sailet I left to go to Language camp with a bunch of other exchange students in Ronneby. That was a lot of fun. We stayed in a hostel and learned Swedish and of course…ate candy. We went into town a lot for shopping and fika which is Swedish coffee break. We ate pizza too…but Swedish pizza is different than American pizza. You can’t order it by the slice.. you have to order the entire pizza, but you can eat all of it because it is a lot thinner and not nearly as greasy. The food in general is really good. A lot of fish and meat, and you eat potatoes with almost every meal. They are so good.

I have only been here a month and I have fallen in love with everything Swedish. Everyone is nice and open, and when I say open I also mean literally because the Swedes enjoy being naked. Everyone in my house likes to walk around in their underwear even the girls. It was kinda shocking at first but now it’s just kinda like ehh… nice bra. haha. On the night I mentioned earlier where we watched the sunset and then rise again… all the guys decided to go swimming… and by swimming they mean skinny dipping. I did not accompany them mainly because the water was quite chilly and it was a windy night so just thinking about being naked in that water made me cold… also the fact that I had been there 3 days and I thought I should at least wait a little longer before taking part in Swedish nakedness. But everything here is so amazing. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to be here. I am enjoying so much living everyday and I can’t wait to see what this year unfolds.


September 20 Journal 
So almost two months and I already feel like I have lived here my whole life. I know my way around town, I have my own group of friends and I can even understand when people talk to me in Swedish. It’s amazing how in such little time you can feel like you have always been here.
I’ve been in school now for almost 4 weeks. The school is so different here. Mondays are the only day that I must wake up before 8 o clock and finish at 3. Tuesdays and Fridays I wake up at 8 and finish at 11 and Wednesdays and Thursdays I wake up at 9 and finish at 1. It’s so amazing. I can relate it more to college, how you have maybe a couple classes a day and then you’re free to do whatever.

I am in the economic class at a school called Af Chapman. I take a business administration class and then the usual math, science, Spanish, English, and Swedish of course. I am also taking a bartending class which they offer as an elective… of course I’m not drinking the product =), but I’ll be the life of all the parties ;)..just kidding.

I’ve made so many friends at school. For the first week it was kind of like people would invite me to go places with them and then there would be one person who was comfortable enough with their English to speak to me, so they’d all ask questions for a little bit and then it would just be me sitting there listening to them speak. But now everyone is more comfortable speaking English with me, and I have become more comfortable speaking Swedish with them. I have found that the more I try to speak Swedish with people the more comfortable they are around me.

Even though my Swedish isn’t excellent everyone is so helpful and they all correct me when I say something wrong… which is pretty frequently. The other day we were sitting in class and I raised my hand to say that I had a question which in Swedish is jag har en fråga. But the way I pronounced it was with a u instead of the å sound so what I really said was I have a wife. Everyone laughed and then someone explained that I needed to make my mouth more round when I pronounced fråga. It was funny. Things like that are common, but it is a good way to make friends because people see that you are trying. Everyday I can tell that my Swedish gets better… it’s like a puzzle that I finally have some pieces to.

The weather is getting colder now. It’s not cold yet, but being from Florida some days I already have to pull out my winter jacket. My family laughs at me as they all walk around in tank tops jeans and maybe a light jacket. They all say they cant wait to see me when it is actually cold. I’m sure it will be amusing… I’ll waddle around and not be able to move like the little kid in A Christmas Story when he walks outside in like a thousand jackets.

My host brother left for California two Tuesdays ago. I miss him already. The house is so quiet without him even though there are still like 3 other kids here. He is quite the character. We went bowling for his farewell party. He liked to run up behind you and scare you when you were about to bowl. That called for an amusing game.

Two weeks ago we had a kickoff dance thing at this club called Kino. It was so much fun! There were like almost a thousand people there and we were all shoved into this club and it was a blast. Back home at most dances it will be like all rap music and at first no one will dance and then finally someone will be the first to go onto the dance floor… but here there are no inhibitions. You go and dance to this techno European pop which by the way is surprisingly catchy and everyone is out there from the beginning. Me and a couple of friends went over to this one girl’s house to get ready together. That was fun. They all did my hair and makeup. Also at most dances or proms back home there is always an after-party, but here there are no after-parties…you go to a förefest which means before party. My host mom was telling me about this and how even adults do it before they go out. It’s almost like a tradition she said because alcohol is more expensive when you to the restaurants or pubs so it’s cheaper to have a couple of drinks before you go out. I thought that was interesting. This dance was also on a Thursday night. I though that was pretty crazy.

After that I went to a Rotary camp in Ljunby. That was a lot of fun. At language camp during my second week here there was kind of a prank war that started between the newbies (those of us who came during the summer usually Americans, Brazilians, etc..) and the oldies (those who came in January usually from Australia and New Zealand). During language camp on the last night the oldies ran into all the newbies’ room and attacked us with hair mousse. It was great, so this time I brought 4 cans of whipped cream and it was payback. One Australian girl had her birthday on that Saturday so we tied her up with duct tape, whip creamed her, taped her to the flag pole, tied a Swedish flag around her and sang happy birthday to her in Swedish. We had fun.

This past weekend was also a Rotary camp but this time in Kristianstad. It was with some exchange students living in the Copenhagen district in Denmark… and guess who was there… RAMSEY!! haha. It was crazy seeing him there, we started talking about how it’s such a small world. We went on a 30 km hike and it took like 7 hours. It was really pretty. All the forest was gorgeous.

I have joined a soccer (fotboll) team here called Karlskrona FF. They are very good and I’m happy to be playing with them. Plus the exercise is good to work off the candy. =). But it’s hard to get fat here… I mean you walk everywhere. I must walk like 6 miles a day. It’s crazy but it’s nice. Sometimes I’m walking home from the bus stop or wherever and it’s like sunset and I just look around and think about how amazing this is. I think in the states you kind of take for granted little things around you like trees or flowers or water because you kinda just hop in your car and go, but here when you walk through it everyday you can really appreciate it. I am looking forward to the seasons changing. Some of the leaves on the trees have started changing colors and with all the trees around here it’s going to be so pretty when they are all different shades. I am still loving every minute of my life here and as of now I never want to leave.


December 8 Journal 
I have been in Sweden for 4 months and so far it’s been the best 4 months of my life. So much has happened since my last journal (I guess that could be because I’ve been lazy and haven’t written one in awhile). Everything in Sweden still remains amazing.
Where to start….so for Halloween my mom sent to me a package with some masks and orbit gum and some Halloween things, so my host sister and I wore the masks around and bought candy at the store and watched scary movies, it was a lot of fun. I’ve also had some tests in school, two in naturkunskap which is like science and one in this business administration class, but I don’t understand that class so let’s just stick with the science one. I actually passed which I was proud of… the grading here goes like this…MVG is A….VG is B…G is C….and IG is fail. I got a G so I was excited!! and on another project I had to do about the influenza virus I had to write like 4 pages in Swedish…it was hard but I got a G+ on it so at least I’m passing :). I kinda feel bad for my teacher when he has to read my attempt to write 4 pages in Swedish trying to use big words and sound smart…you know how it is when you write papers.

OK so the day after Halloween we had our first snow!!!!! I was sooo happy… I swear though the neighbors probably think I’m insane because I would like randomly just go outside and stand in the snow and take pictures…what can I say, I was excited!. It melted though within like a day but pretty soon it should start snowing and sticking.

The other weekend I went to Stockholm with my family. Stockholm is incredible! There is absolutely nothing like it. It’s so gigantic and beautiful and crazy cool. We stayed with some friends of my host family and they were so nice… the mom, Annika, was so funny. We were like walking through the town and there were all these American tourists around and a whole bunch of them came up to us and tried to speak you know like the Berlitz travel Swedish to us to ask where they find bathrooms or different shops were and Annika like freaked out shoved me forward and started talking like a mile a minute in Swedish about how I should make friends with them haha it was kinda funny… she’s hilarious. Stockholm was awesome. We went into the American store and Annika made me explain pretty much everything in the store and the way it tasted. It was funny, but they were missing a lot of things. The clothes shopping there is soooo good. I didn’t really get a chance, but I’ll for sure be returning in the near future haha.

Wednesday before Thanksgiving I went to Osby to visit my friend Iris and Jo from the states and we made Thanksgiving dinner for like 14 people. It was soo much fun. Iris lives on this gigantic farm so we went out on the four wheeler and took a tour of the huge amounts of land her host family owns…it was soo pretty. (of course none of us were uhh driving the four wheeler.) The weekend after Thanksgiving we had a going away weekend for the Australian exchange students who leave in January. It was a lot of fun, but kinda sad. We went swimming in the Baltic at night which by the way was extremely cold, but oo so fun. Well actually it wasn’t really swimming, it was like one two three sprint down into the water and then trying to get out so fast you actually feel like you’re running on top of the water. It was awesome though.

The following week I made a late Thanksgiving dinner for my host family…they admitted that they were slightly skeptical especially when brought out the sweet potato soufflé with marshmallows on it…haha it was so funny my host mom Maria kept asking me, “now are you sure you eat this with the turkey” – haha she was convinced that it was some kind if dessert because it was so sweet. This past weekend we went to Göteborg… aka Gothenburg. We went to the amusement park there called Liseberg. But it’s not an amusement park like you’d picture one in the states. They have a lot of rides but most of them were closed for winter. There are tons of typical Swedish shops and big carousels open for the winter. They also have it all decorated with all these lights and I have to say it was probably the prettiest thing I have seen. It was incredible! All the trees were like covered in lights and yeah all I can say to it is wow. I felt like I was in some sort of story book where everything is perfect and any minute like old fashioned music would start playing out of nowhere and everyone should start ballroom dancing. haha…it was amazing.

The days now are so short too. The sun starts to set at like 3 and it’s completely dark by like 3 45. And the weather now is just getting colder and colder…pretty much everyday it’s a few degrees colder. I kinda like it. It’s so different from what I’m used to. I cant wait for the snow. I have already told my host siblings that as soon as I can I’m going to throw snowballs at them. I’ve been practicing a little by scraping the frost from the freezer and throwing that sometimes…just to keep them on their toes. Haha it always ends in all of us running around the house laughing so hard we can’t breathe. The other day Michaela (my host brother’s girlfriend who lives with us) and I were making lussekatter which is a traditional Swedish Christmas pastry and let’s just say all the dough that we were covered in could feed a small country. It all started with the “think fast” or “tänk snabbt” game and it escalated from throwing flour to smearing dough in each other’s faces. My host dad walked in the kitchen looked as us both and just shook his head haha…then he got the camera and and sent pictures to my parents…he thought it was funny. Michaela and I were laughing soo hard the whole time my host dad was convinced we had snuck into his wine cellar. Which we hadn’t… we just get horrible cases of he giggles occasionally when neither of us can look at each other because we will just start to crack up. My family also loves Christmas songs…one of their favorites is Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and they always make me sing it because I add in the lines, you know, like “like a light bulb” and “like monopoly” and stuff…it’s become my job. When we were in Göteborg we were staying with my host aunt and uncle and Maria and Tove (host mom and sister) made me sing it at dinner….like three times in a row…..haha I never thought so many people could get that much of a kick out of one song, it’s soo funny. I have also successfully learned my first Swedish Christmas song…it’s so catchy between that song and Rudolph I could be my own traveling Christmas caroling squad.

As of now, I speak only Swedish with my friends and speak only Swedish at home. Well unless they are explaining what a phrase means…I understand pretty much everything and I can hold a conversation pretty well. I’m still working really hard to become fluent…it’s so frustrating sometimes when I know what to say I just cant put the words in the right order…but I’m getting there.

In about two weeks there is a big party for Lucia; it’s like a Christmas tradition where a girl in the town gets voted to become Lucia and she wears a white dress and has a crown of candles on her head, and then of course all the kids go to this gigantic party at a club here with lots of Swedish techno to celebrate haha. It’ll be fun.

Well in November I should have changed host families but considering my current host family and I have become quite attached to each other I am staying with them. I’m so glad too. I didn’t want to move… We have too much fun in this house. I can’t even explain it, they really have become family.

We have so much fun together haha and the house is literally never quiet. I love everything about my life here…my friends, my family, the weather, the language…everything. I love who I am here and as everyday comes and goes I just want to scream STOP!! at the top of my lungs and just freeze time and stay here forever.


January 21 Journal 
I remember reading a journal of an outbound kid last year who had this really accurate illustration of how an exchange year goes by. The first months it’s like you’re holding this big heavy block by a rope very easily over a hole and as the months go by the block gets harder and harder to hold and it starts to slip right through your fingers. I can say I have some massive rope burns. It’s almost halfway through the year and, yes, six months is a very long time, but not if they go by as fast as these first six months have.
So let’s see, the past month has been more than incredible. Christmas in Sweden is so beautiful. For school we have this thing called avslutning, which was like the end of the term and we all went to Aula to listen to Christmas songs. The choir all walked in singing a song called Sancta Lucia which is very traditional Swedish and one girl is dressed as Lucia with a crown of candles. These girls who were singing were amazing!! They were so talented, it was soo good. This one girl sang that Halleluiah song by Jeff Buckley and I swear like everyone in there had goose bumps.

After that it was Christmas vacation yay! In the states like everyone puts lights all over their houses and and Santas in the yards but here they laugh at us haha. Pretty much every Swedish house has candles (well, lights that look like candles) in every window of the house and then they hang julstjärn (Christmas stars) in some windows. It is soo pretty! It was so much fun going for a run around Christmas as it was getting dark and looking at all the houses with the stars and the candles and yeah it was wow. That’s pretty much the only word that comes to mind. Christmas trees are also different here. We didn’t put our Christmas tree up until the 23rd of December. It was the cutest tree I have ever seen. It was short and slightly lopsided and it was perfect!

In Sweden as with most European countries we celebrate Christmas on julafton (Christmas eve) the 24th. You get to open your presents then and you eat and the food is excellent. I am obsessed now with sil or pickled herring. It is sooo good! I could literally eat that everyday. There’s a whole bunch of different kinds too, like the stuff it’s marinated in, onion, mustard, tomato, svartvinbär (I have no idea what kind of berry that is in English), and tons more. We also ate meatballs, the other kind of fish I cant remember the name of, Prince Johan sausages, a type of potato casserole, potatoes, honey baked ham, and yeah…soo good!

On juldagen, Christmas day, you get to eat again but since my family lived in France for a couple years a while ago they have a French Christmas dinner/late lunch. That was very good too. My host dad cooked everything. I tried duck liver paté … it was very good. And of course cheeses. My host sister and I made this ridiculous movie that day too…It’s quite amusing I must say! it’s on Youtube if you search for torn mime and then like on the third page you’ll see it. If you’re brave enough to sit through it haha.

I had to move into another family for two weeks on the 25th because my family went to the states to visit Jonatan my other host brother. A friend of mine from Australia lives with them so we had fun. We went to Copenhagen for the day but ended up missing our train due to a mishap involving a check and a restaurant so we pretty much stayed awake all night in the train station. Wow was that an adventure to remember.

New Years here was very fun. We went to a friend’s house and went into the jacuzzi and sauna and then went into town to watch fireworks and meet up with more people. I had no clue that sooo many people lived in my little town. We went to the dock for the fireworks and there were masses upon masses of people there. I was stunned. The fireworks were so beautiful. Its something I’ll for sure remember for always.

Thursday was my birthday. I can honestly say best birthday ever!! I was woken up by my entire family attacking me at 7 am with breakfast in bed and loud Swedish singing. It was soo cool!! It was such a surprise, and it’s a good thing I sleep with clothes on. haha. My host brother Oskar’s girlfriend Michaela lives here too and her birthday was yesterday so we celebrated both her birthday and mine on Friday. It was so fun. Tove (host sister) made me a cake in the shape of guitar. It was such a good birthday…!! I also pretty much chopped off all my hair then also. My neck is now cold.

All I can really say is, I love Sweden, it makes me smile! It has become home.


March 12 Journal
I know I missed another journal…I’m sorry. But hey I blame it on whoever gave February 28 days.
Spring time is just beginning in Karlskrona. It’s weird to think about it because here it’s starting to get warmer – well “warmer” around 43 degrees F and on Saturday I’m heading north to go skiing where it is about 5 or 6 degrees F.

OK… February was a very fun month. We have this break from school called Sportlov and the president of my Rotary Club invited me to go skiing with him and his two kids. We went to this place called Sälen. It was soo much fun!! I’ve been doing a lot of snowboarding here. It’s very addicting. We were in Sälen for a little over a week. It was so amazing and soooo cold. I actually got frostbite in one of my toes. but it’s fine now. It was white and I couldn’t feel it… I was so proud too! haha I know that’s not quite a good thing but I was kinda excited bc I had never been in such cold weather…In Florida frostbite is what you hear about in stories from your great grandfather saying well in the war I walked twelve miles without my boots….and then there I was with this frostbite thinking there’s no way someone could walk 12 miles without boots and only get frostbite in their big toe… because I had like 3 pairs of socks and snowboard boots and still got it. it was fun, definitely a highlight.

On the last day in Sälen, Sanna, the daughter of the family I was with, and I decided to switch. She borrowed my snowboard and I used her skis…just for the morning though. I didn’t fall at all on the skis, but a couple of times my legs had like a mind of their own and would go into a straddle position a little too far away for comfort… I’d be like ow ow ow ow all 30 m down the slope. O and then there would be these like little kids on skis who were about as tall as half my leg and they’d be like spinning around and swooshing here and there and were so good… Sanna and I decided we were going to throw snowballs at them. We didn’t… we refrained… but we resented them. Sanna and I also decided that she should stick to skiing and I should stick to snowboarding. So we went up the mountain and into the snowpark with ramps and stuff that we’d been playing in and jumping in all week and on the last day I went up on a rail and ate it and like banged my knee on the metal. It’s still swollen and bruised and it’s almost 3 weeks later haha. Of course on the last day, I mean what did I expect. They have this commercial here on TV where all these people are in a grocery store and no one can move around because they all have casts and then it says, like, welcome to the post sportlov sale…ha ha get it because everyone goes skiing over sportlov and then they fall and have casts. I think it’s funny.

My host sister turned 18 the weekend I got back from skiing. It was fun. and that’s all I have to say about that haha. =). And I leave for Åre on Saturday for some more skiing fun! hopefully this time I wont fall…maybe I should bring some knee pads. The good thing about falling when you go skiing is you just shove some snow down your pants and then you’re good to go. Very convenient.

I cant believe how fast time has gone here. I was thinking about it the other day but only for like 2 seconds because (1) I was slightly hungry so my thought patterns changed and (2) I can’t think about it. Everything here is so perfect and the thought of having to leave in four months makes my stomach like drop. It’s a weird feeling. I remember when I first arrived and seeing everything in the car ride to my town and instantly falling in love with everything. I am still in love with everything… probably more so. This is the best time now. It truly is where you can just sit back and relax in all the hard work you put in the beginning to learn the language and get to know everyone and then get to know the town and culture. I know the language, I know the people, I know the culture… these last months are going to be the best yet and I know I am for sure going to make them the best.

This is home. To all of you who are just beginning your adventure… just know it’s the best thing you will ever do in your entire life, and live every minute of it even in the minutes when you’re still in the states. It’s all part of it.

Alexis Vigil
2006-07 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Sponsor: West Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Barretos Rotary Club
District 4480, Brazil

Alexis - Brazil

September 2 Journal
I’m exhausted.
I am spending my exchange year in the city of Barretos, São Paulo. Barretos is most known for hosting one of (if not the) biggest rodeo festivals in the world. This year that festival occurred August 17-27…during the first month of my exchange. My host parents got together with my host Rotary counselor here and bought me a pass to go everyday to this festival. The first day, I was excited to go. Some friends of my host sister traveled to Barretos and stayed with us for a weekend just to go to the festival. About 3 PM, I was wondering why we weren’t leaving. About 7 PM, I figured that we were waiting to go the next day. At 10 PM my host sister told me to get ready. Confused, I put on some jeans, tennis shoes and a shirt. When I came out of my room, I noticed that all the girls were wearing ‘open’ shirts, and my host sister’s friend said “Aren’t you going to put on make-up?” “I don’t have any.” So, she pulled out her make-up bag and put eye-liner on me. I could’ve swore that she was going to poke me in the eye. Then, we went outside, my host sister and her friends pulled a beer out of the cooler, and then we packed five people into a two-seater car. We drove to the arena, and then we entered and climbed over a white fence to get inside the arena which had a dirt floor. The arena was packed with people. Then there was a techno concert that lasted until 2 AM. The whole time, I was wondering “Where’s the rodeo?” During this concert, there were a lot of drunk guys that would try to grab random girls to kiss. I think I screamed about 10 times. After the concert, I thought “YES!! We can go home now!!” But I was wrong. We left the arena and walked around, passing a lot of loud speakers blasting techno and Black Eyed Peas. People would stop and just dance in the streets. Finally, at 4 AM, we started walking toward the car. Talk about “culture shock”. But after the first day, when we would go, I met up with my friends from school there who don’t drink, dress promiscuously, or kiss drunk guys, so I felt more comfortable. And if any guy looked suspicious, my friends would grab my hands, form a line, and travel to another area in the arena. So I felt safe with them. I also stopped screaming whenever some guy would grab my arm. If you start slapping at them they leave you alone (haha). So with my friends, I started to have fun, but I have to say that I never got used to staying out until 4 AM. So I took every opportunity to skip a couple days of the festival. =) Oh, also, I found out that the rodeo stuff happens during the day, and at night it’s just big party. Nevertheless, I’m glad that’s all over!!

Other than the festival, I’m adapting pretty well – Yes Rob, hugs and kisses on the cheek and all, haha. I love school. Everyone is so nice!! The principal gave me a choice of what grade I wanted to go to, and I picked what’s equivalent to the Junior year. Because if I go the grade where everyone is my age, at the end of the school year in December, I’ll have to start the same senior year all over again, but with different people. So I chose the grade where I can stay with my friends for the longest time. The food is different here, but I’m getting used to it… and I still think that macaroni on pizza is pretty weird. And if anyone asks me what’s the best thing about Brasil, I always say ‘the juice’, haha! I don’t know what it is about it, but orange juice tastes so much better here! And I’m not having language difficulties… which I know is a miracle from God… and apparently I blend in here because everybody thinks I’m Brasilian until they hear my accent. So to the future exchange students: STUDY THE LANGUAGE BEFORE YOU LEAVE! It’s so much easier! Well, talk to y’all later!

Bjoos

December 2 Journal
It’s December already!!
Last week marked my four months here in Brazil. I feel so adapted that it seems like I’ve been here longer and I don’t want to go home so soon seven months from now. But at the same time, when I think about my family at home, the rest of my time here seems like an eternity. It’s like I have two lives, two families, two groups of friends and everything. But I think it’s worth it. This is definitely one of the best experiences I could ever have.

Summer break just began! I just left summer break back in July back at home, and now I have summer break until February! And then there will be a two week vacation in February for Carnaval…I love Brazil. =) During this summer break I’ll be traveling with an English teacher that I help once a week named Miriam to the city of São Paulo. It’ll be lots of fun. and plus, that’s where all the souvenirs are! The only souvenirs here in Barretos are from Festa do Peão, the big Rodeo Festival.

After four months now, my Portuguese has improved A LOT. And at the same time, my English has gotten a lot worse. When I help Miriam with her English class, sometimes the students correct me! Also, I think I’ve lost my fear of saying something wrong. I learned that it’s okay to mess up every once in a while. Plus, it’s usually funny when you do. For example, one day I tried to say that my brother has a beard and is really hairy, which means to say that he is “peludo”. On accident, I said that he’s “pelado”, which means butt-naked. haha!! My friends still joke about it today.

I LOVE my new host family. The family consists of a mother and a 19-year-old daughter. They are so nice and it’s here where I feel most at home. We go to church every Sunday and on Saturday there is a Teen Service, where there are three teams. Of course, I entered into my host sister’s team. Last week, each team had to present a play. I played a New York policewoman who only spoke English, to make it funny. And my host sister was the villain, and I had to arrest her and take her to prison. It was a lot of fun!. And WE WON!!! Our play was the best! Afterwards, we all played games in the churchyard until 1 a.m. and after that, everybody went to the lakes to play some more. My host sister and I ended up coming home at 4 a.m. I couldn’t believe it. I swear … only Brazilians would go to church at 8 and come home at 4 a.m. haha!

Well, I guess I’ll close out this journal. I’m having a great time, making lots of good friends, and losing a bit of my timidness every day. And I don’t think that crazy questions about America will ever end…last week someone asked, “Are there cows in the United States?” haha!

Beijos!

February 17 Journal
It’s CARNAVAL!! Which means…a week off of school!!! haha. Last night began Carnaval, the most well-known holiday in Brasil. On TV all you see is the colorful parades in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The decorations are extraordinary and the dancers from the samba schools wear beautiful, bright-colored costumes. After all the commercials and advertisements about Carnaval, I already learned how to samba.
Last month, I had my first birthday outside of the USA. And it was my first big party too! Because I wasn’t able to go on the big Northeast trip with Rotary, my host family put together a huge birthday party for me. There were 30 kilos of STEAK! (steak is way more cheaper here by the way) When I had first made the list of who I wanted to invite, I couldn’t believe that I had over 80 friends here after only 5 months in the country. I ended up only inviting 50 people, and every time that I took a name off the original list, it was like a stab in the heart. The majority of the people there were from my host family’s church that I fell in love with. When people started to arrive, I felt so nervous that I began to sweat like a pig. But after a while I got the hang of it. I helped serve soda to everyone and then I had asked the pastor to pray over the food. Extremely happy that I had asked, he asked everyone to stand up and hold hands and we prayed. Then everybody ate steak, rice, beans, cassava, farofa (spiced breadcrumbs), tomato sauce and bread. When it came time for the cake, everybody sang Parabéns for me and I gave the first slice to my host mom. After that, I couldn’t handle wearing dressy clothes for so long so I changed clothes and we all played games. The party was from noon til 6:30 PM. It was great!

Beijos

March 18 Journal
This week at school was Integração 2007. Every day there were at least two events that all the grades would compete in. Each grade chose a theme and by coincidence my class chose the United States.
I participated in the Checkers, Chess, Soccer, Exhibit, and Typical Dance competitions. In checkers, I won 1 out of 2 games, leaving our team in 3rd place. In chess, I won both games, leading our team to 1st place! In soccer, I only played one game and it was because there weren’t enough girls to play, and we lost (haha).

For the exhibit of the United States, I displayed everything that I had from home, even peanut butter and my Rotary pins, and we dressed my friend Fernanda up as the Statue of Liberty holding a basketball and a Coca-Cola bottle. My friends Vanessa, Marcella and Talita dressed up as cheerleaders, and Vinicius as a basketball player. And me and Larissa dressed up as breakdancers. After all this, nobody understands why we ended up in 3rd place for the exhibit, but at least it was fun!

And finally, I participated in the Typical Dance competition. The typical dance consisted of first my friend Alini dancing to Frank Sinatra and afterwards me, Larissa, Isabella, Keyla, Silvia, and Tali breakdancing to hip-hop music. I have NEVER breakdanced in my life, so we asked a breakdance teacher to pass us a choreography. After two weeks of practicing, we were ready for the competition Thursday night. The day of the competition, I woke up nervous 4:30 in the morning (an hour and a half too early) , I wasn’t able to eat lunch or dinner (I was only able to force myself to eat a cereal bar one hour before the show) and I began to shake and sweat right before the competition.

After hours of anxiety it was time…the song “New York” ended, and our song began. We ran out on the stage, I lifted my hand up to God for guidance and after that I couldn’t hear anything nor see anything… (no I didn’t faint haha) I just danced the best that I could and the song ended…the crowd went wild. When I returned to our team, everybody congratulated me and all I heard was that I was the best dancer, the judges were only looking at me, and that everybody was screaming my name. I couldn’t believe it. I surprised everyone…better yet, I surprised myself! While we were waiting on the results of the competition, they played music and everybody went to the dance floor. And then suddenly, all my friends started circling around me, telling me to dance some more! Finally, the results…we tied for 1st place!!!

About 11:30 I caught a ride with Alini and went home. When I went to bed, all I said was THANK YOU JESUS! because me helping to win a competition by breakdancing had to be a miracle. Friday morning I arrived at school, and everybody turned. I walked up to my group of friends and everybody applauded and shouted! Now everybody knows me as the American that can dance…I never thought that this would happen on my exchange year in Brazil.

Beijos!

June 4 Journal
Well, I have 11 days left.
Last Sunday my mom, stepdad and brother came out to visit me and they just left an hour ago to go back home. When they arrived here, I didn’t cry like I thought I would…but I think it’s because I knew that them coming meant that I going home soon afterwards. Plus, I know I’ll always have my family and friends at home waiting for me, but how do I know I’ll be able to come back to Brasil? And how soon?

So…11 days…what do I do in 11 days…

When I got back to my host family’s house today, I went ahead and packed one suitcase of stuff that I won’t need until I get back home. After that I cried. Man, being an exchange student is really cool, but at the end, it REALLY SUCKS!!! =) Now I’ll have to say good-bye to everyone that helped me grow this year and made me into a better person. Some people I actually consider family now. One of my host cousins asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding 2 years from now! So for sure, I’ll get a job when I get back to Florida, even if it’s just to save up for plane tickets.

So, right now I’m full of a lot of mixed feelings…I want to go home to see the rest of my family and my boyfriend that I had left back there one year ago. But at the same time, I want to stay because I feel like I’m already at home. But it was very nice to see my Florida family here in Brasil. They liked it a lot and I got to show them my life as an exchange student: my host families, Rotary club, art classes, churches, and all the friends that I had made here.

But now I’m sad because my exchange year is coming to an end. But I know for sure that even though my “stay” in Brasil is over, that doesn’t mean that the friendships and experiences are over as well. Now I have extended family and friends outside my home country.

Thank you, Rotary, for this opportunity that I’ll never forget. And I thank God that I made it through and that there will be tears when I leave because that means that I put my mark in other people’s lives.

Beijos

Mélanie Vistelle
2006-07 Outbound to Ecuador

Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: Eastside High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Guayaquil Centenario Rotary Club
District 4400, Ecuador

Mélanie - Ecuador

Mélanie’s Bio

Hola! My name is Mélanie and I’m from Gainesville, Florida. I was born in France and am 16 years old. I’m a sophomore in the International Baccalaureate Program at Eastside High School. I live with my mom and younger brother Christophe. One of my favorite things to do is play sports. I love soccer and basketball and I also run cross country and track. I sing in the chorus at school, and I help teach the little kids at Sunday school. I also enjoy listening to music, watching movies and spending time with my friends.

I can’t wait to go to Ecuador! I hope I learn a lot about the language, the culture and the people. I know that I’m going to have a great experience and I know that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Thanks Rotary for giving me this life changing opportunity!


September 14 Journal

I can’t believe that I’ve already been here for one month! The time has gone so fast. I’ve met so many nice people and seen a lot of beautiful things. My family is so great. They have helped me so much with learning the language and getting adjusted.

I just started school on September 11 and it’s a lot of fun. My school is called Liceo Naval and it’s a military school. I have three different uniforms and I have to wear a hat everyday. Every morning we have to stand in formation and sing the Ecuadorian National Anthem. My class always gets into trouble. We always have to run laps and do squats as punishment. It’s hard being at a military school because it’s very strict.

I’ve only been in school for four days, but I already have tons of friends. Their names are Mafer, Veronica, Pili, Karla, Jess, Andrea, Oscar, Michelin, Sebastian, Andres and Jonathan. I’m the only exchange student at my school and everyone knows me. I think I met half the school on the first day because everyone wanted to help and ask me questions about the United States. I’m part of the soccer team and we are going to play our first game very soon!

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I go to Spanish classes with the other exchange students. There are seven of us and there are no boys! Four of us are from the United States, one is from Canada, one is from Austria, and one is from Germany. We are all really close. They are such nice people. I’ve seen many beautiful sights already such as Salinas (a beach), the Malecon and Las Peñas. I’m having so much fun here and I have learned so much about the culture and the language!


October 23 Journal

 The last month here has been great. I’ve done a lot of traveling. Two weeks ago I went to Quito with my family and my best friend Ann-Christin, a German exchange student. We took a bus at 11:00 at night and it took nine hours to get there! I got to meet my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Everyone was really nice and I can’t wait to go back. We also went to Mindo, which is a little town 2 hours from Quito. My cousins from Quito came and we hiked and swam. We stayed in cabins in the forest and it was a really neat experience.

I also got to experience what the elections are like here. On October 15th, my sister had to get up at 6.00 to work at the election booth. Here, everyone has to vote so there were tons of people there. The voting is held in different locations and there are separate lines for men and women. They can only vote one at a time and they get a huge piece of paper with all of the candidates names and pictures on it. There were a lot of candidates running for president, I think there were almost 30. After 5.00 no one can vote anymore because they start counting the votes. They don’t have electronic machines to count the votes so the people working at the booths have to count them all! So far they have it down to 2 candidates. In November there are more elections to decide who the president will be. It was really interesting to see how different their elections are from ours.

I just got back from my first Rotary trip on Saturday. We went to Manabi, Portoviejo, and Canoa. The beaches were beautiful and the water was nice. We had soccer and volleyball tournaments and we chose a king and queen of the paseo, which means trip. The queen was the girl from Taiwan and the king was an American boy. We had a parade and everyone walked through the town holding their flags. All the people cheered for us as we walked by and it felt really nice to be welcomed by so many people. I met students from all over the world and I can’t wait for the next trip so that I can see them again. This last month has been amazing and it has really flown by! Thank you Rotary for this opportunity. It’s an experience that I will never forget!

Mélanie


November 20 Journal

 I’ve been here for 3 months!!! I can’t believe it. So much has happened like every month. 3 weeks ago we had a 4 day weekend and my family took me to Salinas again! I love it there. It was kind of cold (by Ecuadorian standards) but I swam anyway. We also visited another beach. It was amazing and the waves were huge. On the way there and on the way back we got flat tires!! Luckily my dad learned how to fix the tire from the first time, so the second time it didn’t take long to fix. We stopped at a roadside stand and had cold coconut juice!! It was so good! The coconuts were huge! It was my first time trying coconut juice and I loved it.

My sister’s birthday was the 10th of November, and we had a party for her on the 11th. It was fun. We went to the Navy Club and swam and went bowling. I got to meet her friends too. Later on, back at our house, we had a cake and threw it on her!! It’s the tradition here. The birthday girl/boy gets their face pushed into the cake!!! It was fun! The next day we put up Christmas decorations. It’s so early but everyone starts putting their decorations up after Halloween. My family said it’s because they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and so Christmas is the next big holiday! I helped decorate the tree and nativity set. It’s huge! My mom loves Christmas and she collects nativity pieces. I feel like it should be getting colder since it’s almost Christmas, but it’s actually getting hotter!

I had my first soccer game the other day! It was different from the usual soccer games. This kind of soccer is called futbol sala. The field is made out of carpet and it’s smaller than the regular fields. So are the goals. Also, instead of throwing the ball in you’re supposed to kick it and it can only be on the line for 4 seconds. Only 5 people play at a time and the halves are only 15 minutes each. We lost 9-0, but it was still fun.

I’ve had a lot of fun this month. The time is flying by, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far! Thank you Rotary and anyone who made this possible. It’s truly an amazing experience.

Mélanie


December 20 Journal

 It’s been four months and I don’t want to leave. I’ve made so many good friends here, I love my host family and Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen!!! So much has happened that I don’t know where to start.

First, all of the exchange students in Guayaquil got together and planned a Thanksgiving dinner for our host families. It was really fun. The day before we went to the store and bought a huge turkey, vegetables and desserts. The cart was piled high and we were all very excited. Even the girls from Canada, Austria and Germany helped. They couldn’t wait to learn how to make a Thanksgiving dinner.

The next day, we went to Caroline’s house and cooked from 9 in the morning until 7: 30 at night!! It was interesting making Thanksgiving dinner without the same ingredients that we have in America. They don’t have pumpkin pie mix here so we had to make little apple pies instead. We had to use empanada crust, but they turned out to be really good. Our host families came and they had a really good time. They loved the food.

They also had elections this year on November 26th. It was really hot and a lot of people had to vote outside. People were really excited; they were honking and waving flags around trying to get last minute voters to vote for their candidates.

Two weeks ago, we went to a retirement home and danced with people. It was fun. All of the exchange students were there and we gave everybody cake and soda. Then we danced with them and they were really happy.

Then, on Thursday we went to a town called Samborondon. It was really poor. We went to a school and brought presents to the kids. The school was one building with only 2 small class rooms. The kids were very excited to get their presents. It was an amazing experience.

The other day at school we took a trip to the jail. It was the carcel de mujeres, the women’s jail. When we got there, the kids ran up to us and hugged us. They were so excited to see us! The jail was a huge open building surrounded by four extremely high walls. There were separate buildings where the women slept and there was one whole building for only kids and their moms. There were also some seesaws, a slide and a few swings for the kids to play on. I felt bad for the kids, but it was nice to see their faces light up when they saw the presents that we brought for them.

Time has gone by so fast. I want it to stop, because I don’t want to leave. I have enjoyed every minute of my life here!


January 19 Journal

 I spent my first Christmas away from home this year. It was a little hard, but I was so busy that I didn’t have time to be too sad about not being with my family for Christmas. School got out on December 22 and that night my class had a party. We did a gift exchange and we ate a big dinner. Then, they had a few people get up and talk about everything that had happened during the year and I was one of the people they chose to speak. I was pretty nervous, but I was able to make a speech all in Spanish!! All of my friends were really excited for me!

The night before, I had a party with the other exchange students. It was in a 33 story building called the Bankers Club of Guayaquil. It was amazing. We all had to dress up in fancy dresses or pants and the food was delicious. I took a lot of pictures of the restaurant and we went upstairs to take pictures of the city from up high. We also had a gift exchange and we each talked about everything we have learned and seen so far this year.

On December 23rd, we left for Quito at 5 in the morning! It took us 7 hours to get there, but my sisters and I slept most of the way so the trip wasn’t too bad. When we got there our aunts, uncles and cousins were all at our grandparents’ house and we had big lunch of turkey, salad, rice, soup and dessert. Then we talked with the family for a while. My sister Lorena and I stayed at our cousin Pablito’s house and we stayed up until 3 in the morning playing Monopoly. The next day we visited my dad’s side of the family and then went back to our other grandparents house. My family called me to wish me Merry Christmas and then we opened presents. We had another big dinner. The next day we went to church. I also got to go to the middle of the world which was so amazing!! I have a picture of my feet, one on one side of the equator and the other on the other side!! Christmas in Quito was really fun!

New Year’s in Ecuador is a huge party!! Earlier in the day, we went out to buy el año viejo which means the old year. They are big dolls made out of paper, wood and firecrackers that you burn at midnight. People here really get into it. They have all different sized dolls and there are so many different colors and characters to choose from. They have interesting traditions here. One is to eat 12 grapes 12 minutes before midnight. You eat one per minute and after every grape you make a wish. We also wore pink pins on our shirts because pink is supposed to bring good luck. At midnight, everyone came out of their houses to burn the dolls. They pour gas on them and then light them. It was really hot and very loud. Everywhere you looked there were huge fires! My sister and I also ran around the block with backpacks. That is supposed to bring you a year full of traveling!

I learned so many new traditions that I want to bring back to the United States. It was my first time away from my family for Christmas and New Year’s, but I had such a great time. I’ve already learned so many new things and met a lot of new people. I feel like I belong here. I can communicate with my friends and family and even though I’ve only been here for 5 months I feel like I’ve been here forever. It’s going to be hard to go back because while I’ll be going back to my original family, I’ll be leaving my new family behind. This year has been the most amazing year of my life so far!


March 2 Journal

 Hola todos!!

Another month has flown by, I can’t believe it. This month was the first time I celebrated my birthday away from home, but it was awesome! My sister woke me up the morning of my birthday and my family came into my room singing and they each had a present. After I opened the presents I went downstairs to eat breakfast. There were 17 pink balloons and pieces of confetti hanging from the walls and the lamps!! For breakfast we had eggs and bacon which was delicious. Then my sister and I went to get our nails done. When we got back, my mom had a huge feast for us. There was pizza, chocolate fondue and birthday cake! I invited my friend Ann-Christin over to celebrate with us. We had a small food fight and Ann-Christin, Lorena and I all ended up covered in chocolate! Then I got a face full of cake because here, the tradition is to push the birthday boy/girl’s face into the cake!!!!!The cake was really good. Once we cleaned up, we all went to the beach. Once we got there, we played a board game and went to the movies. I’ll always remember my 17th birthday in Ecuador!!

The Tuesday after my birthday, my counselor called and asked if I could come to the Rotary meeting with him. My club had a cake for me!!! February was pretty much one big party, because we also celebrated Carnaval. That is a holiday where people go wild. You get sprayed with everything you can imagine. I was only sprayed with water and foam, but some people were hit with eggs, flour and even ink. Everybody wears their old clothes during Carnaval because you get hit with all sorts of stuff!

Another great month has gone by with my friends and family and everyday that goes by brings me closer to the day I’ll have to leave. It’s hard for me to think that I won’t be able to stay here forever. I feel so comfortable now. I have my friends and family and I can communicate without a problem. I didn’t realize that it was possible to fall in love with a new family and country, the way that I have.

Besos y saludos a todos,

Mélanie


March 21 Journal

 The highlight of this month was the Amazon trip!!! The Amazon is the most beautiful place that I’ve ever seen in the world! When we got off the plane we took a two hour bus ride before stopping to take a canoe. The scenery was incredible. Everywhere we looked we were surrounded by trees and everything was quite and peaceful. When we got to the Yachana lodge our guide, Jose, introduced himself and told us a little bit about the Amazon before we went to dinner. The food was delicious. We had soup, followed by meat and rice with vegetables and dessert. After dinner we chose our cabins and went to bed.

The next morning we had to wake up at 7 for breakfast. Then we got into the boat to go to the local market. It was small, but there were lots of useful things for sale, like batteries, toothpaste, soap, etc. Then we visited the Yachana school. It’s a school for poor kids. They go to school in shifts. There are 2 different groups and each group is there for 28 days. The other 28 days that they have off, they go home to help their parents. They learn basic math, science, history, and English, but their main focus is learning how to use the Amazon and its resources to their advantage. The first day we met them, they were building ponds to raise fish. After leaving the school we got our faces painted using a fruit that the natives use in their ceremonies. We also got to hold a monkey!!!!! After lunch we swam in the Napo river and visited the butterfly garden. By the end of the first day, everyone was exhausted!

The next day we returned to the school. We split up into 3 different groups to help the students with their daily work. My group helped build fish ponds. We had to use machetes to clear the field and we had to dig. I couldn’t take my eyes off of our beautiful surroundings! The digging and clearing was hard work, but it felt good to help the students, and we got to experience what they do everyday. After lunch we went on a hike. We learned about the trees and plants and how they can be used to cure illnesses. We also got to swing on a vine. I took lots of pictures. That night we went swimming again. The Napo was cold, but it felt good after the hard work that we’d done that day.

We went to the school again the next day, but it was raining. Since we couldn’t do any work outside, we helped the students make a window out of bamboo for the school. After lunch we visited a shaman. He lived on a small island across form the lodge. When we got there it was smoky and the guide explained to us what we were going to do. The shaman cleansed us by waving leaves around us and blowing smoke on us. It was an interesting experience. Some people form the Amazon go once a week to cleanse their conscience. After the cleansing we learned how to use a blow gun and a lance.

On the way to the school the next day, we went through the local town. The local school was having a graduation ceremony so we stopped and watched. The three kids who were moving on to the next grade had to bow down in front of the Ecuadorian flag and kiss it. It was a promise they were making to their country. We stopped and had watermelon too, before we finally got to the school. It was our last day to help the students and we planted seeds. After lunch we took the boat down the river. At a certain point we jumped out and floated all the way back to the lodge!! The current was strong and it was fun. That night we had a bonfire and ate marshmallows.

The last day we went on a 4 hour hike. The guide showed us bugs and we learned more about the plants and trees. It was a long hike, but it was fun. We had to ease through water and we got to swing on a vine again. It was sad because it was the last time that we would get to walk through the Amazon and enjoy its beauty. After lunch the guide taught us how to make baskets out of plants. It was really awesome and he told us that the natives actually use those kinds of baskets to carry fish, fruits, and other things they need. After dinner we packed our bags and went on a night hike. It was neat to see the rainforest by night. We saw lots of bugs that we hadn’t seen during the day.

The next morning everyone was sad. We all had a great time together and the Amazon was amazing. After breakfast we got into the boat for our last 2 hour canoe ride. No one said much as we went down the river. We were all enjoying our last moment in the Amazon. Then at last came the time when we had to say goodbye to Jose, our guide, and we left.

I had a great time in the Amazon. I didn’t know that anything could be so beautiful!!! Ecuador may be a small country, but it has everything from beaches to mountains to rainforest. Thanks to everyone who made it possible for me to come on this exchange. Muchas gracias mom, dad and everyone else who helped me be able to go to the Amazon. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.


April 20 Journal

 Yet another month has flown by! I can’t believe that I only have 2 more months left. There are still so many things that I want to see and do. This month, my mom and brother came to visit. We had a lot of fun together. My whole family went to the airport to welcome them to Ecuador. They didn’t come in until around 11 at night, so they were pretty tired. I stayed in the hotel nearby with them. In the morning, we got up early and went to my house for breakfast. My host mom had made eggs and we had bread and coffee. Then my dad, sister and I took them driving around Guayaquil. We showed them where my school was, where my sister worked and the Malecon which is sort of like a park where you can walk and relax. At night we went to Las Peñas. There are over 400 steps and at the top there is a light house and a church. After that we went home and had empanadas and watched the Gator basketball game!!! I’ve now made my host family Gator fans!!! Then we went back to the hotel.

The next day we went to my favorite place in all of Ecuador, Salinas. We left at 8:30 in the morning and arrived at 10:30. We went to the beach and talked. Then my host family took us to eat at a really great restaurant! My brother and mom had fish which they loved and everyone had a good time sitting around the table and talking. Everyone clicked right away, it was perfect. After that we all took showers before heading back to Guayaquil. Then we went out for yucca bread and yogurt which is one of my favorite foods!

On Monday we left for Quito, just my mom, my brother and I. My aunt, Tia Bachi, was at the airport waiting for us and she took us to the middle of the world. My brother and I took pictures with our feet on both sides of the equator and we took a family picture there too. They really enjoyed it. At my aunt’s house, my family met my uncle and cousin. Then we all watched the final Gator basketball game together because my uncle loves basketball! We won, GO GATORS!!!

The next day my aunt took us to Otavalo, which is about 2 hours away from Quito. Otavalo is well known for its markets and my mom was really excited to go. Along the way we stopped and took pictures. The conversation in the car was interesting because my mom would talk to my aunt in English and my aunt would respond in Spanish. I had to do a lot of translating! Otavalo was a really nice town. Since we went on a Tuesday there weren’t many tourists which was nice. We bought a lot of gifts for people back in the US. That night back in Quito, we found out that my dad (my real dad not my host dad) won the elections in his university and is now the president of the University of Reims in France!!!! Yay!!

Our last day in Quito was spent walking around looking at churches. We also went on the Teleferiqo, where we saw Quito from above. I’d been wanting to go and was really excited. It was cold, which was a nice change from the weather in Guayaquil. We went home for lunch and at 4 my cousin Pablito and his mom picked us up to take us to the traditonal market. It was nice, although my brother was starting to get tired of all the shopping we were doing. Then we went to a restaurant to eat and see the night view of Quito. My grandparents met us there and we had a good time. My grandpa was so excited to speak English and he told us war stories. Back at my aunt’s house, we packed to get ready to go in the morning.

Back in Guayaquil, my mom picked us up from the airport. We had a nice lunch and told my mom and dad what we did in Quito. Then we unpacked and rested before going to the iguana park. My brother really liked the iguanas and took lots of pictures. My dad also took us to some beautiful churches which my mom liked. When we came home, my sister Lorena was back from work and we went out to eat in a seafood restaurant. My mom and Christophe were really excited because they love seafood and Ecuador has some of the best seafood in the world! My brother had crab for the first time and we laughed a lot that night.

Friday was a holiday, so my sister didn’t have to work which was nice because she was able to spend the last day with my family. We got up early and had breakfast at my house again. Then we drove around and showed them more of Guayaquil. After that, we went to a nice restaurant for lunch. Back at home, Christophe, Lorena and I downloaded all the pictures they had taken while they were here. For their last Ecuadorian meal they had empanadas and then we went back to the hotel so that they could pack.

They left very early in the morning. We all woke up at 6 and had a quick last breakfast with them before going to the airport. We were all very sad. Before they got on the plane they told us what a great time they had had and my mom said that maybe we could come back next year with my dad. The rest of the day I was a little bit sad, but it was great to have been able to show them Ecuador.

I can’t believe that in 2 months I have to leave. If 8 months went as fast as it did, then 2 months is going to go even faster. It’s going to be harder for me to leave Ecuador than it was for me to leave the United States. I don’t feel ready to go at all. I have a great family and school is going well. I feel like this is where I belong now and I try not to think about the day that I’m going to have to leave. To any future exchange students: enjoy every minute of your exchange year because before you know it, it’s almost over. I didn’t think that it was possible to fall in love with a country that wasn’t mine, but now I know that it is. Thanks again to Rotary for this wonderful experience. I’ve learned so much and I know that I’m going to learn more in these last 2 months as well. This has truly been the best year of my life!!


May 20 Journal

 Friday, May 18 made 9 months that I’ve been here. A lot has happened this month. The best thing that happened was the trip to the Galapagos Islands!!!! For me it was the best trip we’ve taken this year. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. We left Friday morning from the airport at 7:30 in the morning. It was an hour and a half flight and I got to talk with the other exchange students that I hadn’t seen since the Amazon trip in February. The airport is very small and it’s on one of the main islands called Baltra. When we got there we had to wait for our bags to come off of the plane. The airport was so small it didn’t even have an electric belt to put the luggage on!! The people had to load a few bags at a time onto a small truck and drop them off by hand!! Once everyone got their bags we got on a bus. We drove for about 20 minutes and from there we got on a boat. The water was so blue it was incredible! I’d never seen water like that before in my life!! From there we got on another bus which took us to the Nimfa Hotel. We got our room assignments, ate and then went to the Charles Darwin Research Center. The turtles were huge!!!!!! They can live to be up to 200 years old! We took pictures of them and the guide showed us Solitary George, the famous turtle who is the last of his kind in the world. They’re trying to find him a mate, but so far they haven’t found any other turtle like him. We also walked on a beach and took pictures of the huge red and black crabs. We had only been there a few hours and we were already in love with it!

The next morning we had to wake up at 6:30 for breakfast. After that we took a 45 minute bus ride and then a 30 minute boat ride to an island called Bachas. We didn’t get out of the boat, but we just circled the island taking pictures. The animals were amazing!!! We saw beautiful birds and sea lions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the first time in my life I saw sea lions! We also saw water iguanas. Then we went to another rock and snorkeled with the sea lions!!!!! It was the most amazing thing. I had my underwater camera so I took lots of pictures. I got a picture right next to the rock with all the sea lions. They smelled bad but it didn’t matter because we were so excited to be swimming with them. After that we went to a beach with sand that was very white and soft. There were pelicans there too and I got some pictures of them from very close. It was amazing because the animals weren’t scared of us at all. We had lunch on the boat and then went back to the hotel. We walked around the little town and then rested before dinner. I couldn’t believe that I was finally in the Galapagos. I’d been looking forward to the trip the whole year.

We had to wake up at 5:15 the next morning!! After breakfast we took the bus again and then a boat. We went to an island called Daphne Punta Carrion. The island was full of animals!!! There were more sea lions and iguanas. There were also Blue Footed Boobies! They were beautiful. They’re white and they have blue feet. They were everywhere. They were guarding their eggs and some of them already had babies. The guide explained that the male and female take turns with the egg while the other one goes and finds food. They can live to be about 30 years old which is pretty old for birds. Then we ate on the boat again before going to the Playa Alemana which was beautiful. We also went swimming in cascades. Back at the hotel we ate and then walked around the town.

We slept in a little bit. After breakfast we went on an hour walk to Tortuga Bay. It was a beautiful beach with sand that felt like flour on your feet. We took tons of pictures. Then we swam and talked before going back to the hotel for lunch. Later that day we went to some lava caves which was pretty cool. It was hard to see because it was dark, but we walked through them. We stopped at a little store on the way back and there was a huge turtle shell that we got into and took pictures!! It was cool! Now I know why turtles move so slowly. Their shells are so heavy and it’s hard to move your legs.

The next morning we had to leave. On the way to the airport we stopped to see some holes formed by craters. We took a group picture and then headed to the airport. We were all sad because the trip that we had been looking forward to all year was over. I have lots of pictures to remind myself of the good time we had there.

This month hasn’t been all fun though. One of the girls from Guayaquil went back to Canada and it was really sad. We had a goodbye party for her and we went to the airport. It’s sad because our group is gradually getting smaller and pretty soon we’ll all be gone. I try not to think of the day I have to leave. I can’t imagine my life without all the wonderful people I’ve met here. I feel so lucky because this year has been perfect. I have an amazing family, a great school, and lots of friends. It’s hard for me to believe that I have to leave in a month. I feel like I should just be going back to the United States to visit and then come back to Ecuador. My family and my friends have changed my life forever and I’ll never forget everything they’ve done for me. Muchas gracias a todos por lo que han hecho para mi en este año! Ustedes son los mejores, nunca les olvidare!!!

Mélanie

Ellen Walker
2006-07 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Plombières-Welkenraedt Rotary Club 
District 1630, Belgium

Ellen Walker - Belgium

September 5 Journal and Pictures
 I don’t know where to begin, really. I arrived in Belgium the 20th of August and every day presents a new experience for me – from the hundreds of pâtisseries to choose from, to the AZERTY computer keyboard and the German Microsoft Word I’m using to type this journal entry. The flight over was amazing…ly long, but from Washington, D.C. to Bruxelles, it wasn’t just myself and Katie. There was a good 20 other American exchange students, all bursting with the same mix of nervousness, excitement, fear; no one knowing quite what to expect.
After picking up my luggage (all of it, thankfully!), I rolled the trolley anxiously through a winding maze of high yellow walls, and was spit out into an empty semi-circle. The outer realms being swarmed with host-families, I felt much like an animal brought up before a market; “Which of these families,” I wondered, “will be taking me home?”

I moved towards the exit, having not seen my name on any of the posters waving in the air, and just as I passed through the better half of the crowd, a very small woman with a very large bouquet of flowers planted herself resolutely at my side… and smiled. “Marie-Ange?” I asked, not knowing what sort of facial expression I was returning. “Ouiiii” came the song-like reply. And so it began: my new life, my new family, my new me.

After a 6 hour “nap” in my new bed, I was served a “traditional Belgian dinner” of steak, frites, and salad. I ate fries with a fork – and mayonnaise! I drank fizzy water in a very tiny glass and talked to a cat in French ! Like a classic British sketch comedy, my whole world had taken a violent turn into something completely different.

I don’t know about other countries, but here I have something called an “Oldie”; that being Chloe, the girl hosted by my same club who is from New Zealand and arrived back in January. She therefore has the experience I lack at the moment with “quoi que ça soit” (whatever it may be): culture, transportation, etc. My 3rd day in Belgium, Chloe took me and the other two “newies” – Viviana from Colombia and Ivette from Mexico – on a day-trip to Brugge, an incredibly beautiful city on the west coast. It was the first time any of us had met and my first train-ride!

The city was amazing, and being a) a tourist attraction and b) in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, most everyone spoke English. With all of our luck, however, when we got lost looking for the river, the two construction workers we asked for directions happened to not speak any English… or French… or German… The fiasco that followed, with Chloe’s confidence and my minimal German (which has a gross similarity to Flemish apparently), had us trekking single-file down a narrow passageway, but ultimately in the right direction of the river. On the train ride home, Chloe and I taught Vivi and Ivette the French words for anything we could see: train, field, horse, knee, nail-polish, etc., and when a family with 4 youngster came aboard, they were enthralled to join in the game and teach us everything they could think of as well.

This day stands out in my mind because as great as it was, I came home and felt an overwhelming sadness. Perhaps because it was the first time I had heard any English since my arrival; perhaps I was just tired. Upon reflection though, I know at least this much is true: I knew that the “fun” I had with these three girls was not at all the same “fun” I have with my best friend back home, and it was strange for me to feel so close to anyone so quickly. I know nothing is going to be like it is “back home”, and since this day I have never felt sad about these differences.

Last Thursday was another exceptional day : All 3 Rotary districts in Belgium gathered in Bruxelles, where we had the grand opportunity to visit the Royal Palace (no photos allowed) and the Senate. A hoard of well-dressed teens in matching blazers marching down the streets of the capital made quite a scene. Rotary banners were presented, speeches were given, and hands were shaken; but the cherry on top of this long day – the moment that made it all worth it – was when I met the American ambassador to Belgium. Nearly every student had the same luck, and I’m sure they knew what a once-in-a-lifetime sort of opportunity it was.

Yesterday was my first day at school – Institut Saint Joseph in Welkenraedt. I take the train from Eupen to get there, which to me is extra-super-cool! We (myself and the other 3 Rotary students) haven’t got actual schedules yet – for the moment we’re just following around the 6th-years (seniors) to get to know the school and make friends with those closest to our age-group. The students are all happy to help us and invite us to go get a sandwich around town during the lunch hour. Maybe it was just for the first day but they all seem to dress REALLY nicely for school – despite not having any dress code at all. And I’m not exaggerating when I say: ALL !

I love my host family – my host mom loves to talk, which is cool because I’m not the talkative type and I love when other people just take the gun and run. On the other hand my host brother Grégory doesn’t talk at all… he just watches car races and looks up car-parts on eBay and builds his car in the garage hehe. His dad owns a business fixing cars out of the garage so he is often around for breakfast and throughout the afternoon, but he doesn’t live at the house, so I don’t really consider him my host dad. I’ve been meeting the rest of the family little by little – my host mom’s brother Fifi and his wife and children know French fairly well but prefer German so they only speak to me in German, though everyone at my house speaks French to me. Bonne-Maman (Grandma) is a super fly old lady, she and I joke around a lot and I love the way she pronounces out every syllable of every word (not for my benefit, just because that’s how she talks), but it makes it really easy to understand her. My host mom’s boyfriend Josef is also lots of fun – he’s a bass guitar player in 3 bands and Marie-Ange and I went to one of his concerts in Visé, where I danced with the locals and sang to a Queen cover. So far I’ve been to the Eupen dam, the main church of Eupen, built in 1729, and Limbourg, and a beautiful little village at the top of a hill that dates back to 1632.

One last thing before I go: to prove my host family is absolutely too generous… they knew that I play the piano, and would be missing it terribly since they didn’t have one at the house… Apparently my host mom had cleared out a room and was hoping to have found a piano and had it moved into the room by the time I arrived as a surprise, but she didn’t have the time with her daughter leaving for Mexico – but I digress; my host family found a piano just for me and is having it moved into the house sometime this week! When I heard, I commenced to crying tears of joy, and I still can’t believe they’re doing this for me !

I guess it’s time to end this, and until next time.

September 11 Journal
 Today is September 11th. It’s an exceptional experience to pass this day as an American in another country. In the states it was just another day where you knew everyone was walking or driving past with the same solemnity at heart. For myself I always had half my mind on the day and another half on my birthday that would be coming in three days time. But today I am not in America, and there are no Americans beside me. Today I do not know what the people around me are feeling. I can’t even be sure they know what today is – at least in the same aspect of being anything other than a Monday. I want to stand up and yell to them, “Today is 9/11! Tell me how that makes you feel!”
Because I want everyone to know how I feel.

When we sit safely in the worlds we’ve grown up knowing, in our home-communities, in our home-towns, we don’t need others to acknowledge and justify our feelings, because there is an unspoken unity that exists between all Americans, between all Belgians, between any two people from the same country. You may never realize this unity exists, as I didn’t, until you’ve stepped out of that box where everything is comfortable and familiar. I woke up this morning and asked myself “Where are the all-day TV specials? Where are the radio broadcast discussions? Why has my principal not come on and asked us all to take a moment of silence??”

This is the reason I went on exchange. I don’t want only Americans to take a moment of silence for the tragedy that happened on 9/11. It wasn’t the American Trade Center than came down, it was the World Trade Center. I don’t want that unspoken unity to exist only between countrymen, but between all men. We all exist in this world, and there is never only one person or one country that is affected by a tragedy. The Rotary Club is absolutely right in believing that if every high-schooler went on exchange, in 20 years time there would be no war, no racism… just peace and understanding. Naïvety is nothing compared to the intense feeling of new comprehension you acquire for the rest of the world when you make an exchange.

I may not be able to talk every boy and girl at my school into going on exchange for a year. They may be frightened; they may not be interested at all; but I can at least give them all an opportunity to hear how I feel in this situation. Sure, I may tell them that it frightens me, I may tell them that I miss my family, and those sort of things aren’t going to make them want to leave, but I also have the opportunity to at least expose them to things they will probably never know unless they leave behind everything they think they know here.

I left America not considering myself very patriotic, but now I know it is impossible to be anything but that. Life is beautiful because it does not last, and every time I see the sun set behind the rolling hills, I know it is always the most beautiful thing I have seen that day, because it is the last thing I will see before turning in to bed.

La vie, elle existe toujours, malgré la morte et jusqu’à la morte; Vivez, donc, pour savoir vivre en réjouissant et pour être prêt à mourir à n’importe instant. [Life continues to exist, despite death, and until death; Live, therefore, to know how to live in rejoice, and to be ready to die at any moment.]

November 21 Journal and Pictures
Wow… that’s all I really know to say… WOW!!
3 months gone… Gone like… the wind ? Perhaps. The first months seemed to fly by, the second one took forever, so I suppose it all evened out in the end – 3 months seems to be about right. I’ve gotten into a groove, with my host family, with my school, my friends, just my life in general. I know where to go, what to do, how to get there, and most importantly: how to handle it when nothing goes as planned.

So much has happened, I’ve seen so many places, I don’t know where to begin. My birthday was amazing – I don’t know how to thank everyone who made me feel so happy on the day I feared I would be the most sad. All of the seniors yelled out « Happy Birthday ! » (in English, mind you) the moment I walked into the Locale that morning, my 3 Rotarian girls gave me little presents and hand-made cards, and my host family threw me a big dinner party in the evening.

With my host family I’ve been to see my host brother race cars at Francorchamps, I’ve been to see a Gérard Dépardieu film at the theater in Verviers, I’ve been to two of my host mom’s friend’s blues-rock concerts, I’ve seen the Brice & Joup brewery, the Schumacher factory where they make famous church organs, the world-famous spa in (you’ll never guess): Spa. I’ve now seen all 4 dams in Wallonie, including the completely dry one in Robertsville, and the one that is home to La Gileppe, an enormous stone lion that weighs 300 tons, with a height of 13.5m (44.3 ft), a length of 16m (52.5 ft), and a width of 5m (16.4 ft). I’ve been apple-picking in Weirde, and on a shopping spree in Maastrict (in the Netherlands), and to a battle-of-the-bands with the other Rotarian girl that lives in my city (but doesn’t go to my school).

With Rotary I’ve been to the world-famous Grottes (caverns) at Remouchamps, the closed coal mine in Blegny, the only farm I think in all of Belgium where the cows walk into a machine of their own volition to be milked. I’ve eaten a hundred different pâtés, wild boar, rabbit, pheasant, blood sausage, some pretty smelly cheese, and tasted the Beau-Jolais wine the day it came out!

I have to admit… my host family is über-kind. I know many people’s host families did something special for them at their arrival… and my family certainly wanted to – but time did not permit, and a week before my birthday my host mom rounded up 6 or 7 grown men, drove off to another town, and picked up a beautiful white upright piano. After nearly a month of not having a piano I had gotten in the habit of just “playing” at the edge of the table from the top of my head… I would sit and look at my sheet music longingly and hear the music in my head. My host family, God bless them, called up an old family member they had fallen out of contact with and asked if they still had this piano that had been in the café they used to own. Luckily: they did. And I was given the best present I could have ever received – the one thing that made me feel more like a part of their family than anything else because it showed me that they appreciate the fact that I appreciate something that much.

Recently I changed bedrooms; quite simply: from the big one to the small one. About a year ago my host family had renovated the attic and turned it into a beautiful second-floor bedroom for their daughter. Everything still had that new-ness to it when I arrived, and it was wonderful… until it got cold! The older, smaller bedroom is where my piano was placed, and when my host mom realized that I couldn’t get the hang of sleeping in a room that is too large to be heated without racking up an outrageous heating bill, she offered to put the single bed and armoire back into the piano room. I quickly accepted! Of course it was great having a room twice the size of my own back in the states, but I never needed that much space anyhow, and I’m such a Florida-girl, I’d much rather be warm than anything else!

For All-Saints, we get the entire week off of school (I like to think of it as Halloween-Holidays, but the Belgians don’t like to celebrate Halloween the way I do – I personally don’t see what’s so much more embarrassing about dressing up for Halloween if they do it for Carnavale). Most of Rotary went to London for 4 days, and Paris for 3… I, on the other hand, went to Marseille for a week and sat in the sun while it snowed for the first time back in Belgium! No regrets 🙂 Besides, I got to experience the Paris Metro on my way back anyway – my train let off in Paris, and an hour later I had to mount a train at a different station… an hour should have been plenty of time… for someone who didn’t spend 20 minutes standing on the wrong side of the tracks wondering why all the trains coming by were going in the opposite direction! In the end, I ran across to the other side and wildly jumped onto a subway whose doors were closing, and thankfully it was going in the right direction (if I had waited for the next subway I would have missed my train regardless, so I made an executive decision that I might as well get my cou on the one already there, even though I didn’t know it’s destination).

I used to think it was fun to bust out my fabulous french skills whenever a person who just met me would ask if I could speak “a little bit of French” “yet”… but I’ve recently changed strategies. One day at the market in Henri-Chapelle, a colleague of my host mom came up to greet us, and hearing I was her new “host daughter from America”, followed with the predictable “Do you speak a little bit of French yet?” slowly, and clearly. I smiled and responded, slowly, and clearly “Ouiii une tout -uh- petit peuhhh”. My host mom’s eyes went as big as saucers, and once her colleague had left, she busted out laughing… then she told me she was going to start talking to me in German just to teach me a lesson. Good times.

Just this past weekend I met the host family of Viviana, which may well be my next host family come January. I went because they had invited me to see their Harmonic Orchestra perform. Little did I know nearly the whole family was involved – the mother plays the clarinet, the daughter plays the flute, and the 2 sons play the saxophone and baritone. They asked if I played any instruments, and on hearing of my love for the saxophone, they told me that if I am to go to their house next, they’d be more than happy to find a spare saxophone and allow me to practice with the orchestra – maybe even play during Carnavale! It really is amazing the opportunities that arise when you put yourself out there, accept every invitation, and talk to as many Rotarians as possible!

To draw this to a close… a bit of wisdom from my little Colombian mama: It doesn’t matter what you can say or what you can’t say, you can always work your way around words and around languages. What matters is that you put yourself out there. You don’t have to be embarrassed of looking silly or sounded childish, because you’ll either never meet these people again, and it won’t make a difference, or the next time you see them they’ll be amazed at the progress you’ve made… what’s embarrassing is to have not progressed at all. We always have to progress, not just in our target-language, but in our lives, our souls, our families, our friends – everything moves forward and you have to either move forward with it, or not go anywhere… and that’s kind of boring!

March 7 Journal and Pictures
 It was a cold January morning. I could tell despite the central heating being on full blast as normal in my new host family. So I reluctantly turned out of bed and began dressing myself… not forgetting the rainbow-striped thick cotton stockings under my thickest pair of jeans, or the second pair of socks under my fur-lined boots, or a tank-top, tee-shirt, sweatshirt, and zip-up hoodie under my large wool winter jacket I bought in the Netherlands.
(nota bene: the Belgians don’t really wear all of this, it’s just me and my fellow exchangers from warmer regions J)

I had been sulking about it for over a month: No snow. Plenty of rain, definitely cold, but just a few degrees shy for snow. To make it worse, all the “oldies” kept talking about how last year there was tons and tons of snow, for 2 whole months! This January morning, I didn’t expect any more. After all, that hoodie does say: “BELGIUM: Where rain is typical.”

I stepped out of the house, turned to lock the door, pulling my scarf up higher over my mouth but to no avail – it just slipped right back down. I fumbled around trying to get my mp3 player going with my oversized gloves on and I noticed little specks of water on it. “Chouette, il pleut encore…” (Great, he’s raining again). But as I walked down to the street, towards my bus stop, I kept getting hit in the eye by something, even though I was keeping my face down – was this rain falling up?? I squinted my eyes like a confused child and looked around me. Everywhere I turned there were little flakes bobbing around in the air, some falling down, some falling up, some falling left or right or sideways or backways. My eyes widened with slow comprehension; it was snowing!

All I wanted to do was tell someone. It was the day I started school late so my entire host family had already gone either to school or work, I couldn’t wait to get to school to tell someone, but who to call?? Even as I asked myself, I knew the answer. I punched in my mom’s cell phone number from memory and expected what I got: the voicemail (seeing as it was 4am there and she usually turns her phone off at night) but I left the most over-excited message that has ever existed.

At school, while all the Belgians were huddled around each other, hating the weather, we exchange students were running around scooping up pitiful snowballs and throwing them around, just like the elementary school kids across the street.

The snow didn’t last, but the memories I have will stay with me forever. Since then it’s only snowed one other time, but I made the best of both days.

It’s moments like these that make the exchange so wonderful. You can’t expect everything to be 100% amazing all of the time, it’s just certain moments that photographs will never be able to explain to your family and friends back home. And there has been so much that has happened, I don’t know how to put it into words, not that words would do any of it justice. Christmas was great, I only cried once! And we re-made Thanksgiving dinner for a special family party right after New Years because my host mom wanted everyone else to get to try my dishes as well. My oldie sadly went back to New Zealand and my newie got in from Brazil just in time to run off to Bruxelles for New Years’ Eve with us! As it very sadly happened: I was sick for the entire week of Carnival. What’s worse was my entire host family and all my friends still went out to their parties every day and every night, obviously, so I was stuck in the house by myself looking out at the only sunny days we had had since August. But it’s okay because even though “carnival” is over, there will be 2 or 3 more weekends of parties and parades. At the end of March I will be going to Venice for 2 days with my old host mom and the other inbounds from our club – and I know that is going to be top notch! Especially as far as the weather is concerned!

To draw this to an end (and explain a funny picture I’ll be including):

Just the other day all the inbounds went to Anvers/Antwerpen with Rotary, and that, my friends, is one beautiful city! That night, upon returning, my host family all gathered to go to the home of one of my host mom’s brothers, to “inaugurate” the bar he had built in the basement, but apparently as of late he and his whole family has kept getting sick, so to make fun of him, everyone – all the uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, grandma, etc. – put on surgeon masks for the arrival, plus one uncle was dressed up in an exterminator costume, and my host dad was in a priest’s outfit, “purifying” the house with his toilet-bowl scrubber and holy tap-water. I’m not sure where they got this idea but it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever been a part of.

Until the next time, bisous!!

Ramsey Wilcox
2006-07 Outbound to Denmark

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club
Host: Hillerød Rotary Club
District 1470, Denmark

Ramsey - Denmark

Ramsey’s Bio

 Goddag, for the people that don’t know Danish that’s good day (the formal way of saying hello). My name is Ramsey, I am 15 years old and going to be sixteen in May. It’s too bad that I’m going to have to leave soon right when I get to drive, but oh well. I was born in Atlanta but only lived there for 2 months because my family moved soon after. We moved around Florida a bit because of my dad’s job, but I finally ended up in Jacksonville when I was five just in time to start school. I can’t really say I love Fruit Cove, which is a small suburb kind of place, because it can get so boring here. After the first ten years things can get kind of old.

As of now I like to play baseball with my friends. I’ve never really stuck with one thing in my life, I’m kind of an indecisive person. When I was little I did baseball but HATED it with a passion because the coach always stuck me in right field and all I did the whole time was pick grass and mess with the ants. So as soon as I got my chance I quit that and moved on to skateboarding. I liked to do that in middle school a lot with my brother and friends. We would go to construction sites at houses and make old rickety ramps that were basically death traps. I still skateboard from time to time but not as much as I used to do.

In middle school I played the saxophone for two years, but then my teacher said we had to choose between band and P.E. I was out of there. I couldn’t stand having to be in a chair all day and never getting to run around. Playin’ baseball now is a lot more fun because I’m not obligated to be on a team and I can just mess around with my friends, although I am thinking about joining one because now I can play what position I want.

My family is kind of big, four kids and two parents. It can kind of drive my mom crazy because I have three brothers and there are no other girls in the house. Two of my brothers are twins (Price and Wesley) and then there is Louis who is the eldest and he is 17. We are all very close, but Louis and I are the ones that go off and do our own thing. When the weekend comes me and him are gone until Monday. We both can’t wait to move out and just have our own place. That is why I am really excited to see how well I can do away from the family. I’m am really hoping that it is going to be completely different than America, that is why I chose Denmark. Farvel Saa Længe!

September 1 Journal 

 Hej alle, it’s Ramsey and I have been in Denmark for a month. Wow. I know it doesn’t seem a long time to you but in a way it does to me and in a way it doesn’t. Well time really flies by here; this month has seemed like two weeks but when I look back on what I have done it seems like a lifetime has gone by. It’s crazy.

Well shall I get started on what has happened? On my way over here I had to take a couple of flights and all of them were horrible. I flew from Jacksonville to Detroit and although it was a short flight I had the most upset baby right behind me screaming it’s head off. I thought I was gonna pick it up and kick it like a football but I held myself back. I was unbelievably thankful to get off that flight just to get on another horrid flight. Fortunately I met up with a bunch of other exchange students while looking for my gate. One is actually in my district too. Well we all boarded our international flight and with my luck I got to sit next to a three year old little kid who apparently thought the plane and me were his playground and took the opportunity to use it at his disposal. I thought to myself “you think the parents would do something about this” but they didn’t. There isn’t much to that flight except for that. When we landed in Amsterdam I think we went through customs there but I’m not sure because it took like two seconds. The line was huge back it didn’t take long at all I was astonished. I didn’t know why people complained about customs because I don’t remember going through anything in Copenhagen so the security in Amsterdam had to be it. After that we got onto our flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen. Luckily I had another baby right by me who liked to scream his head of so that made me happy (sarcasm for the slow ones out there). Besides all that the flights weren’t all that bad, just boring.

My family is really cool. It consists of Mette who is my host-mom, Jakob who is my host-dad, Jonas who is my thirteen year old host-brother, and Anne Sofie who is my host-sister. Unfortunately they have been having trouble with Mette’s parents who have apparently gone insane. Her dad is paralyzed on the left side of his body and her mom is not well in the head. Our house is really cool though. We live on a hill and it is really hard to explain. It is a two story house but since we are on a hill you have to go up to the second story to get to the back yard. It is so beautiful though because the first day as I walked out on the balcony I looked out over the protected forest in the middle of my neighborhood (I know it’s hard to imagine but try) and I found myself not able to look away from it. It is on the country side I guess you could say but it is like five minutes bike ride to the city which is really cool. The train systems are also incredibly amazing. I still can’t believe that I can hop on one and in thirty minutes be in the center of Copenhagen WHEN EVER I WANT. It is truly an experience.

The day after I got here I had to go to language school which was not that bad. I got to meet all the kids in the district and we are all really good friends now. Despite the distance between us we can get to each other so easily. By train it’s like ten minutes to anyone’s town. The cool thing is that our language school is in COPENHAGEN. How crazy is that? It is so cool. When we first started the language school we had it for two weeks straight until we went to a language camp for a week and now we only have it on Tuesdays and Thursdays for four more months which is so great because it gives you a break from regular school and all the exchange students get to hang out. Almost every day after language school my host dad and two host brothers took me around Copenhagen and showed me all the sights. We also saw Bill Gates’ boat with a helicopter on top of it too. It was crazy big and I couldn’t believe he had it in Denmark haha. Copenhagen is truly a wonderful city and so beautiful. I am so glad they have put all the work forth that they have to preserve it. After a week of that though my host brother Mathias left to go to Wisconsin and I officially took over his room. Anyways let me tell you about the language camp.

The language camp was in Jutland and was the best. The train ride there was a little hectic and I feel bad for the train employees because it was a bunch of kids stuck in the back of the train cart cramping everyone because we all wanted to meet each other but it was out of my hands. Because I and all the other exchange students in my district all had gone to language school I didn’t learn much that was new but it was still great. I think I learned more about the culture than anything. Every night was like a party haha because all the Brasilians through dance parties. Of course I had to show everyone my skills but I tried not to embarrass anyone too much but I may have haha. All the exchange students became really good friends during the week and we were all sad to see everyone leave but we knew it couldn’t last forever. Everyday though we all had huge beach volleyball games and they had these sauna things at the school too haha. The train ride back was surprisingly more pleasant because each district was split up in its own group. It was some nice relaxation.

I started school the next day after I got back. It is really cool and all the kids are really nice. Although I am so confused on which classes I take but fortunately I don’t really have to do much, just one worksheet in each class pretty much. We get like twenty million breaks in school though it’s crazy. The way they set up their schedule is also crazy. I don’t get it at all. I have to check online everyday to find out what classes I have although I have no clue where they are. Fortunately I have made a couple of friends and they show me around and help me out. The kids are all really cool and I can see myself becoming really good friends with them. The school system here is so different and can you believe the school throws the kids parties, talk about culture shock. How crazy is that? I almost couldn’t believe it myself but apparently they do. I am going to one tonight. I’m just starting my life here and getting into a routine because I have been busy with the tourist things and the language school and language camp; it is like I haven’t really started living here until this week came and I started going to school. To me this is when my exchange begins. I hope all the other exchange students are having a wonderful time in their countries and I wish everyone back in America well.

December 6 Journal

 Well, it’s been about three months since my last journal. I guess all I can say is sorry – feel free to e-mail and yell at me.

Well, let’s get down to business. Denmark is awesome. I have wonderful friends here, the language is coming along nicely, and I don’t want to leave. It’s so weird because when I got here I had a completely different feeling of Denmark but now it just feels right. It is so hard to explain and I guess you have to be an exchange student or at least go to another country for a while to understand. For the people reading this and thinking about whether they want to be an exchange student stop thinking and start acting. It is only one year out of your whole life and you won’t regret it.

As of right now everything is going good. My only problem is my school wants to switch me into another class and I really don’t want to. They put me in second year at my gymnasium and I should have been in the first year to begin with but there were no open spaces in the first year. Now there is an open space and they want to switch me. I love my class and everyone is so cool in it and I really don’t want to have to make friends all over again or anything like that. But I think I will be able to stay in the class I am in now so I am not worrying about it.

I have recently switched host families and my new host family is great. We get along so well and it is nice not having younger siblings in the house that I have to put up with. I have a 16 year old brother named Jeppe and a 15 year old sister named Mette.

OK rewind to about two and a half months ago. I got a call from my counsellor saying that there was a weekend in Sweden so I thought great I’ll go. Then I remembered oh yea Glenn is in Sweden I wonder if she will be at the rotary get together thing. Turns out she was. What a small world. I though that was pretty weird. We had fun on the weekend, we even took a six hour hike through the woods. Yea the walking part sucked but the Swedish forest is absolutely amazing. We went to this gorge thing where there were these massive rocks just lingering over your head just waiting to fall, it was probably the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life.

Rotary has been awesome to us here, they even threw us a thanksgiving dinner for us. It wasn’t like home but close enough and the turkey was damn good. The Rotex for here even threw us a Halloween weekend. All the exchange students in Denmark went to Holbæk which is a beach town on the middlewester coast of Zealand. We had this huge costume party and some Brazilian guy dressed up as a transvestite and won the award for best costume so that was pretty funny. We explored the city and had a huge indoor hockey tournament. My team didn’t lose a match but the catch is we just tied all of them. The funny thing though is that these three Canadians that play hockey couldn’t beat us so we rubbed that in their faces and it made for some good jokes afterwards.

After Sweden and Holbæk I was talking to some of my friends and they were like oh did you hear that the MTV European awards is going to be here. So we went and got tickets for them. You had to try out to get the tickets though. It was probably the most embarrassing thing I have ever done but it was worth it. Me and my friend got front row to where the bands were playing but it was really crowded and everyone would not stop pushing everyone around.

Those are pretty much the big things that have been happening. I have just been living my life here and loving it. Oh and I found a baseball club here too, which is extremely rare from what I’ve been told. Thank you Rotary for making this possible.

April 1 Journal

 Hej, how’s everyone doing? Well I’m doing great. Well, better than I was. It’s been awhile so I have a lot to tell you but not as much I should have. Well here is what’s been going on.

When January came around after Christmas break I was starting to feel a little crappy. Is this homesickness? No it couldn’t be – I knew I had gotten over it a while ago. Then what is this, I feel like crap all the time. Well, two weeks passed and I hadn’t been to school much because I was feeling sick. I got a call from the lady at my school that handles the exchange students and she said that she had finally decided to switch my classes because I was supposed to be a first year from the beginning and I wasn’t really doing anything in my second year class. So I went to visit my first year class and I met them and they seemed really cool. I started feeling light headed and I thought I was just nervous but I knew that couldn’t be it because I have basically gotten over any public things that make me nervous so that doesn’t happen anymore. I finally knew I had to go to the doctor’s office when I went to the principal’s office and passed out in a chair.

The next day my host mom took me to the doctor’s office and they took some blood tests and said I had a minor infection which they said was no big deal. But they wanted to test me for mono too. I ended up having to take myself back to the doctor’s about a week later which was less than fun and get a blood test. Well, it turns out that I had mono and that “minor infection” they were talking about was actually a pretty big sinus infection. So that put me out of action for about 2 months. My tongue was swollen I couldn’t bend my head back or forth because there was so much pressure in my head that it hurt to do that. My throat was on fire. I barely ate anything. I basically laid there in agony for two months. It basically was the worst time in my life.

I finally got over that though and have been having a great time. My host families have been somewhat messed up. My second family had dropped out on me so I moved in with a last minute family which I think I have already told y’all. But then their next door neighbor’s daughter became anorexic so they had to take in their neighbor’s other daughter while the anorexic one went to Odense for therapy for a month. So I had to leave, so there was room for the other daughter. My third family wasn’t ready for me and because I still had mono I was less than desirable to have. I would have stayed with my counselor but he was in Austria for a week. So I was going to stay with the club president but he changed his mind at the last second.

I ended up staying on a farm for a week with two of the coolest people I have met. It was a great place to rest up and so relaxing. They had two hunting dogs that were so well trained they would do anything and they kept me company. I even got to drive a tractor almost everyday. The guy at the house whose name is Jens took me to his mom’s old summer house which is one of few that are right on the beach with a private beach. It was awesome. Even though it was winter we had a great time walking up and down the beach with the two dogs looking for sharks’ teeth and just messing around. I even got to sleep in this humongous bed which is completely different from the usually 3 and a half foot wide bed.

After that week I moved in with my counselor Erik. He lives in probably the coolest town I have ever seen in my life. Okay to start, it’s a small town on the north coast of Nordsjælland. It’s a small town so everyone knows each other. It’s right on the beach with a nice harbor and my counselor even has a small boat we fish off of. His house is on a hill about a ten minute walk from the beach looking over the whole town and the town’s lake. Waking up in the morning and going out on his deck and peering out over the sunny town and the golden lake is probably the best way of starting your day that I can think of. He is even part of the local boat club so if we go out on the boat we usually go back up to the club house and sit down at the bar and talk it up with everyone.

I was a little depressed to find out that I was going to be moving from there in about two weeks to my third host family. Well, I had a London trip in the middle of March and my counselor decided that after that I would move to my third family. I talked to him about how I would only have basically a month and a half there because my Euro Tour is in the middle of May and asked if I could stay at his house. As luck would have it, his wife and son wanted me to stay too, so I get to stay in that town for the rest of my stay here which is probably the best news I’ve gotten since hearing about Euro Tour.

Well, speaking about my London trip, it was awesome. I had to wake up at about three in the morning and left the house at four to go down to Copenhagen Airport. Needless to say I was a little tired. Our plane left at about 7:20 and we got there around 8:50. I had to stand in the non-EU line for about two hours because of all the people coming back home from spring break but I was too excited to care. We checked into our hotel which was in the middle of London by Queensway and Bayswater station. We had everything around us so we were in a perfect spot. We saw everything from Buckingham Palace to The London Bridge.

We flew back from about a week of being there and I was tired. The most sleep I got a night was at a max of five hours. I was ready to just pass out completely. After my London trip my counselor informed me that he was going on a cruise in the Caribbean and that I was going to stay with the second family that dropped out on me. I was at first very displeased with this because I didn’t want to stay with the people that decided they didn’t want to have me. But I’m here now and have been for about four days and everything is ok. I’m relaxing on my Easter vacation and enjoying the warm weather that has finally arrived in Denmark. Yes the high 50’s is warm weather to me now. I hope all the other exchange students are having a great time. I miss you all.

Brianna Wilson
2006-07 Outbound to France

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Sponsor: West Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Moulins Yzeure Rotary Club
District 1740, France

Brianna - France

September 4 Journal & Pictures
It’s about 6:30ish in the morning in France and I feel this rush of anxious excitement and “Am I really here,” shared by the 30 or so exchange students getting off the plane. We’re greeted by a large group of Rotarians who start speaking rapid fire French to us, to which we promptly forget that one French phrase we’d practiced over and over again on the plane. I find my counselor, who luckily speaks English, and get through the preliminary questions about baggage. Then, after a two hour drive and a quick meal with my host club, I meet my host family at their/our house in Yzeure.
My town is actually three towns by name, but one town by proximity. I live in Yzeure, one of the three towns of Moulins. My host family is really sweet and my host Mom has dedicated herself to making me fluent in French. She works on my pronunciation for about 30 minutes a day if she can. This past week has not only been my first week in the country, but also the last week of Summer Vacation here in France. My host mom, who is a school nurse, has taken me on a whirlwind of activities I won’t be able to do during the school year. So far I’ve gone on a kayak/canoe trip, gone to an American Jazz concert (which is apparently very popular here), gone a horse and cart ride (which my host father drove), gone on some escapades with my host family, signed up for my classes at school (10 of them!), went to a traditional French Dance, and visited a Town called Vichy. Like I said, a whirlwind.

Vichy was interesting. They have this water there that is suppose to help you, health wise. My host mom had me try all the different types, which there were about 8, while she said, “This one helps with digestion” or “this one helps the pancreas” and so on. They all tasted like metallic, warm, tap water to me, so it was nice to hear my host mom tell me that most young people aren’t particularly fond of the taste either. The traditional dancing was also a lot of fun. Apparently, the Traditional Dance for France if a mix of the Waltz, the Polka, and Line Dancing. Well I know how to Waltz and Line Dance, but the Polka was difficult!

I haven’t had much culture shock yet, past the showers being so different. I think my biggest change so far has been me getting a cat. Yes, a cat. On my first full day in France I go on a horse and cart ride with my host family and in the woods we find these baby kittens someone has dumped. Well my family takes pity on them and me and my host sister beg them into taking one home to be our cat. They asked me to name it, and after much deliberation, I choose Florida, since it’s where I’m from and my host family’s daughter, Hélène, is staying. It’s absolutely adorable!

I also start school tomorrow and I have to say I’m nervous and excited. According to my family, I speak French OK, but my comprehension…well… that’s still coming along! Still, I’m excited to find out what this year has in store for me through places and experiences!

Hope everything is going good with all my comrades at the different parts of the world also!

Brianna

November 19 Journal
Monday you end at 4pm, Tuesday at 6pm, Wednesday at 9am (but come back for 1 to 3), Thursday at 3:30pm, and Friday at 5pm. And you start every morning at 8am, except Thursday. Then, lucky you, you start at 9am…
Welcome to the French School System, which is more confusing than I could have imagined. For a few weeks I didn’t even know I was missing a class and often I find my class has changed rooms. Also “Gym” class here, I found, doesn’t mean basketball, Ping-Pong, volleyball, or even normal athletics. It means gymnasium for the gymnast… Like the Olympics. Very Different.

Life is good, though, here in France. My host family keeps me busy with weekend trips to Lyon, traditional dancing, hiking, and movies. I went to a film festival in my town and really liked it. My host mom bought me a ticket for ten entrees plus a cine-concert, and the final film. I saw three sets of short films, 4 foreign films, 3 French films, and 1 Belgium Film, which I preferred. Quite funny.

Also the vacation just finished. My host mom kept me busy in the countryside for most of it. The first Thursday and Friday of it I walked around some small towns near Clermont Ferrand with my host family…. And hiked a Volcano. Yes a Volcano. There are actually three chains of Volcanoes in France… All relative close together and all relatively close to me… And all inactive and gorgeous. The one I hiked was called “Le Puy de Dome” and it’s 1465 meters tall. The following Saturday and Sunday were filled with family Birthday’s and the Monday I spent biking around and visiting my town. That Tuesday I went to a small Halloween party with a few friends. It was fun, consisting of face painting, eating, dancing a lot, playing charades, and singing karaoke with out the words. I then went hiking in the countryside for three days with my host mom and aunt. We hiked a lot of small mountains (or at least mountains to me) and another Volcano, “Le Puy Mary”, which is 1787 meters. The first time I hated it, but now I actually like hiking. The last two days of the vacation I rested because I caught a cold, which has luckily disappeared now.

But, alas, as I said the vacation is over and school has recommenced. This means people asking me for corrections on their English and political conversations. Politics are hot here with the change in politics in America and the upcoming election here. People often ask me my opinion here on the American politics, to which I carefully choose my response and often choose the route of “I don’t really like politics” to avoid a debate that would be very difficult for me. Though I understand most now, it’s still hard to talk. But, day by day, it’s getting better.

Now I look forward to Noel and cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. I explained Thanksgiving to them and they liked the idea of celebrating it with me so they can understand it better. I have to say, as good as French food is, I’m looking forward to Pumpkin Pie.

Speaking of food, I’ve gained weight here, so I’m now biking to school. It’s hard to resist French chocolate, and French bread. And Cheese. Yes, the strong cheese that I actually dreaded when I arrived, I now love. I guess that’s the difference. I’m changing here, but not in any dramatic ways or all of a sudden, but little things little by little. I like cooking, walking the dog, and hiking. I can actually clean the house without leaving soap suds behind. I understand things that I never thought I would in French. I’ve adapted to the French way of life and love it…

“Je suis contente de ma vie.”

January 31 Journal
Host dad pulls jokes on me all the time!
January: It’s finally happened! One week ago I wake up and my thoughts are something like “It’s the weekend! No it’s Tuesday. I hate Tuesday’. Blah. It’s such a long day. What’s that I smell? It smells like wet dog. I bet it’s the dog. Or maybe some old socks. Etc, etc.” You get the gist. I stumble out of bed and, after dragging myself into the hallway next to the door to the outside, my host dad asks me if I’ve looked outside today. My thought: “No of course I haven’t. I just woke up.” He then opens my door.

A slight gust of wind blows in and I look outside and one word fills my head. It has first filled the outside, and continued to fill the outside for the ENTIRE day. It trickles down quickly to my mouth as I (some what scream) the words: NNNNNNEEEEIIIIGGGGEEEEE! (Which translates into: SSSSSSSSNNNNOOOOWWWWW!) I made snow balls, had snow fights, made snow angels, and tried to make a snowman… All without gloves, since I’d forgotten them at home.

End of the day comes at 6pm and I wait outside the school for my host mom. The busses aren’t running, too much snow. Though aren’t running today either. Anyways, I wait for 40 minutes, and my excitement for the snow has died out. I now just want it to stop. It doesn’t, of course. I try calling my host mom’s cell. No answer. I call the house. My sister answers: “The car isn’t working, can you catch a ride?” My response: “Everyone’s gone.”

“Then you’re going to have to walk home. Sorry.” That’s a 20 to 30 minute walk. I’m freezing. So I stop into my counselor’s house, who lives in town, and ask for a ride. They say yes, thankfully, and I get home around 8pm. Anyways, because of all the snow I officially had my first snow day. :D! I was very, very happy. Yeah for Snow!

Then last weekend I spent the weekend with Rotary! It was so much fun to spend the weekend with all my different Rotary friends again, seeing how we’ve changed, and meeting the Rotex here! I met two old exchange students who went to District 6970 (one in Jacksonville, one in Gainesville). But I have to say my high point of the weekend was when I arrived and got to spend some time with my exchange sister, Emma Roux! She looked so different! I only stayed with her for 30 minutes, because she had to go, so I didn’t get a picture of her. But I’m hoping to spend a week with her in April!!!

The saddest thing that happened is my host sister in my new family just left for a year in Canada. That was sad, because I really got attached to her. But I’m hoping to see her this summer and she says she’ll try and make a trip down to Florida at some point…. Still it was hard to see her go.

I have now been here 5 months, though it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I’m starting to think about when I’m going home now and it’s a scary thought! I don’t want to leave! I’ve heard other exchange students say that before, but it never felt so real until now…

But I must think of other things, and there are plenty of other things to think about. Oh la vie, la vie … la vie of a Rotary Exchange Student…. A year that is unforgettable.

A bientôt !

Brianna

June 1 Journal & Pictures
Every day I walk to the same school, go to the same classes, see the same people. I know what stores I like, which clubs have the best reputations, and where to go when I need a quite place. I know the local sport teams, the market workers, and the local political subjects. I know about cheese, bread, and wine tasting. If someone stopped me on the street, except for my “petite accent”, they would think I’ve lived here my whole life…
And every evening when I open my window to close my shutters, and I hear the bids singing and I feel the spring wind, and see the cute house tops of the neighbors, I think: “Do I really have to leave this in two months?”

Yes, my dear readers, I have fallen into the typical Exchange Student pitfall – not only have I fallen in love with my country, I feel like I am French. I’m having the typical mixed feelings of wanting to come home and see my family and friends and at the same time not wanting to leave. I’m nervous about being accepted by my friends, knowing I’ve changed and that they must have too. And, in the middle of all this confusion inside my mind, trying to stay concentrated for the end of the year exams. Life, as usual in May, has been hectic.

My days are filled with reviewing for the final exams, theatre, and “football”. I am currently performing the theatre here with a local troupe. We have four shows, total, and my family, who came to see me about two weeks ago, even got a chance to see one. They were very surprised to see me performing the theatre…In French! And yes, this sports-hating, theatre girl has now become a soccer fan. I now often help my little brothers, ages 8 and 12, with soccer practice, before heading to my accordion lessons.

I am also with my third, and final, family now and quite happy. They treat me as one of the family. I even got a birthday card from my “French Grandparents”, that I’ve never even met, who said that “Our daughter considers you her daughter. She loves you very much. Therefore, we are your grandparents”… Yes, I’ve had a “successful” exchange – a new family, life long friends, and a new country that I now call home. I often get asked, now, “When are you coming back?” And, as much as I’m looking forward to my return to the US and continuing my life there, I answer:

“Soon. Very Soon. Now that I know the France, how can I live with out it?”