Outbounds 2007-2008

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Aaron Dolbow
2007-08 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Edgewater, Florida
School: New Smyrna Beach High School
Sponsor: Edgewater Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Iwatsuki and Iwatsuki East Rotary Clubs
District 2770, Saitama, Japan

Aaron - Japan

Aaron’s Bio

Hello Everyone,

I’m Aaron Dolbow of Edgewater, Florida. I’m currently a sophomore at New Smyrna Beach High School and I’m going to Japan for the ’07-’08 Rotary Youth Exchange.

Though I’m originally from New Jersey, I moved to Florida with my family in the summer of ’05. At first I was hesitant about moving, but in the end, it turned out to be great. (but I do miss those freezing winters….)

Anyway, I have several hobbies that I devote time to at the moment. Of them, the most important one to me is soccer. With the school season over, I’m playing for a club outside of school and it is going great. Soccer is my favorite sport essentially because it requires constant movement, communication and teamwork, and the desire to have fun. This is all made better by the team I’m on, which just so happens to be an awesome team.

Another hobby of mine is participating in my school’s MUN team (Model United Nations). It might sound weird, but I really enjoy it. In MUN meets, you basically discuss the topic chosen about two weeks in advance, and present your country’s opinion on the issue (you get to choose a country from a specific list given to your school). The issue isn’t debated (it is not like a Debate team), but discussed and everyone tries to ‘conform’ on the best way to solve the issue.

I have more hobbies such as reading and practicing martial arts, but they are more like hobbies I take part in when I have spare time, and because of school at the moment, I don’t have that spare time to enjoy all of my hobbies.

I’m extremely excited about having the chance to go to Japan. I can truthfully say I’m not nervous now, but that will probably change when I get on the plane to depart.


 

August 29 Journal

Well, I’m in Japan and two weeks have gone by since I left home. I would be lying if I said it has been easy, because there have been challenges that I’ve had to face. But it sure has been a great experience thus far.

After arriving in Tokyo late evening August 18th, I was greeted by eight Rotarians, one being my first host father, Masahiro Taguchi. We took a few pictures, packed my luggage into the bus they had rented, and set off for my first Japanese home. When we got there, I was greeted by my first host family. It consists of otosan and okasan (father and mother), obasan (grandmother), Kana (sister), Nori (brother), and Aki (sister).

After a good night’s rest, I woke up the next morning not knowing what to expect. After giving a short speech in Japanese at a Rotary meeting, I was informed that it was Iwatsuki Matsuri (Iwatsuki festival). Basically, I put on a happi (a short festival coat) and helped in carrying one of the mikoshi (very heavy, portable shrine). It took about 20 people to carry it and march down the street, lifting it up and down. It was extremely fun, and somewhat painful on my shoulder.

Other things that I have done in the past two weeks include going to Tokyo Tower, meeting the mayor, the Saitama Summer festival, going to an Urawa Reds game, a trip to Iwatsuki High School (which I will be attending starting Sept. 3), and going to the Ueno science museum and zoo. But the best part has been spending time with my host family (which includes host uncle, aunt, and cousins). Whether it’s playing basketball or soccer, chess, watching horror movies, going out to the zoo, or just sitting around playing UNO, it has been great beyond explanation.

Well, that’s it for now. Until my September journal,

。。。さようなら


September 29 Journal

 As of lately, many people have been asking me if I am homesick after being in Japan for about six weeks. My answer every time was: No, not really. And every time the person looks at me with a surprised expression. Maybe a summary of an average day would help explain.

Every morning I wake up at five, just like I did in the U.S. I don’t need to do this, but I’m a morning person. Anyway, between waking up and 7:50, I eat breakfast and get ready for school. As for breakfast, it usually consists of eggs, sausage, and toast. I’m guessing that is probably surprising to many reading this, but yes it is true. But at 7:50, I grab my things, tell okasan and obasan that I am leaving, and run out the door. I get on my bike (provided by the Rotary) and pedal my way down the busy street. On my way to school, I stop by the MiniStop, a convenient store, and meet up with my friend Takase. We proceed onward and meet up with three of his friends, so there are five of us. As we cross the last street, riding behind as many as 20 other students on bikes, we pull up to the school and park our bikes. We then walk to our classes. As I enter mine, I’m usually greeted by a dozen ‘Ohayo`s and the occasional ‘good morning`.

From this point, my story can diverge into five different ones, depending on the day of the week. I’ll choose Friday. First class of the day is Math A, which I can actually understand, followed by Science, where I moderately understand the topic of the lessons. But the next class, Shodo, or calligraphy, is the most interesting one of the day. It’s different, interesting, and a good way to learn Kanji. Because shodo is once every week, it is a double period, increasing its greatness. After shodo, comes lunch, which is done in a way different from New Smyrna Beach High School. There are about 1000 students in my school and we all eat lunch at the same time. But the cafeteria is so very small, which brings me to first point about the major differences between Iwatsuki and New Smyrna high schools: students eat in the classrooms in Iwatsuki High School. The reason for this being allowed will be explained later.

Anyway, after lunch, I go to my most important class: Japanese. Due to my lacking experience in Japanese, I’m put into a special class where there is a whole two people; me and the teacher. This class is fairly productive in terms of learning, but I have this class only two times a week! So in the end, most of my Japanese learning will happen by self-study. My final class of the day is the only one I don’t really like: Home Economics. In this class at the moment, we are sewing these pink…. I don’t really know what they are yet, but sewing isn’t my favorite hobby. At least my classmates and I can laugh and joke about how bad I am at sewing.

After classes are finished, the best part of the day comes and no, it isn’t us leaving school. It is school clean up. Basically, this means everyone puts in some work to help clean the school. This is the reason why we can eat in our classrooms, because at the end of the day we will have to clean up any mess made during lunch. Finally, because it is Friday, I go to Seminar Room 3 where I have my Japanese lessons. Here, my Japanese teacher, her six other students (who are Chinese), and myself do some more Japanese studying. After this, I get on my bike and pedal my way home and by this point in time, it’s about 5:00.

Well, that’s a basic day for me, and in case I made ‘basic` sound boring, it is the complete opposite. Every night, I go to sleep eager for the next day to come because that’s how great it is. I’ve come, adapted, and love living in Japan.

I’ve been babbling on about what a normal day is, so now I’ll mention some special days. First, I’ll tell you about my first day at school…..

After I arrived at Iwatsuki on my first day of school, I was brought to the staff room where the teachers have a meeting every morning to discuss teacher related things. I gave a speech (in Japanese) after the two new English teachers from Canada. I was then escorted by my homeroom teacher to my classroom. As I walked in, everyone looked at me, I looked at them, and a lot of murmuring started. I proceeded to give another speech in Japanese. After I’m applauded, I’m shown to my seat. As I sat there, everyone just kept looking at me. I did my best to keep my expression as normal as possible, as though I had been through that situation a dozen times. After a few questions and replies, we are told to go to the gym. So we all grab our gym shoes (that we only wear when in the gym) and I noticed everyone had a green bag for their shoes, but I didn’t, so I had to carry them in my hand. But I few noticed this and asked me with simple Japanese words and hand signals if I had a bag for my shoes. I said no. So…they took their shoes from out of their bags and carried them in their hands, so I wouldn’t look stupid doing it by myself. A few more noticed this and did the same thing until there were about ten of us carrying our gym shoes in our hands. This really surprised me.

Anyway, we made our way to the gym and lined up in order of our homeroom. I’m in 1-3, which means 1st year, third class. But I got called by one of the teachers and was placed in a line by the wall with other people; for what reason? It was the line for speakers. I was put behind the two new English teachers again, but that was soon corrected. I was then put in front of them and told I would speak first. I waited 5 very long minutes. Then I heard an announcer announce something in Japanese that I understood. He said that the exchange student was now going to speak. At hearing this, the 1000 students suddenly and eagerly looked in my direction. I slowly made my way up the stage and stood at the podium. It was a large stage and I stood on it alone. Well, I gave the Japanese speech, everyone applauded, and I left the stage twice as fast as I had come. My heart was pounding for the next twenty minutes. After we left the gym, my host father showed up and told me he was going to take me home. That was my first day of school.

The next exciting event in my life happened at school. It was Bunka-Sai, the school’s yearly festival. I can describe the four days that this encompassed as FUN. I saw many things and did many things. I saw the school transform from a dull, colorless place to a loud, colorful place, I saw men dress up as women and do skits on the stage in the gym (I didn’t understand most of it but that didn’t stop it from being hilarious); I helped to decorate my classroom and to advertise snacks being sold in my class room (the latter of which was quite humiliating). I got to explore the high school, meet new people, and ate a lot of food. Overall, it was great, but mentally exhausting which was caused by the huge mass of names that I feel obligated to remember in fear of hurting someone’s feelings when I am unable to remember their name.

Finally, there was the first orientation for Rotary exchange students in this district. It was a lot of fun meeting people from all over the world: Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Finland, Canada, Taiwan, Denmark, Australia, and of course, the U.S. When it was time for the first activity, I was called up first to give a speech (why do I always have to speak first?). I had a rough draft of a speech that I wrote five minutes earlier, but I crumpled it up and winged it. I think I did alright. After all the speeches, each of us was introduced to our junior counselors (A.K.A. Past exchange students). I don’t know about the others, but I already knew who my junior counselor was: Akemi Saito, who was in Florida in 06-07. Anyways, we conversed, posed for pictures and exchanged pin badges and meshi (business cards).

Well, I’m tired of typing for now, so I will end this Journal. But I’ll give you a hint at one thing I will include in my next Journal: it’s a school club, very physical, and might be called Judo…..; )

Until next, Aaron


 

December 5 Journal

 Wow! Time sure flies when you’re an exchange student. It’s already been two months since my last journal, but it really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I have plenty to talk about, so where should I start……

Of course I should start with my move to my new host family (2nd of 5). In the days up until the big move, my first host father kept teasing me about how my next host mom is a ‘vegetarian’ and that I will eat only vegetables while living there. Those who know me understand why he was saying this: it’s because I really don’t like vegetables. Needless to say, I moved into the Ojima family household, which is made up of the mother and father, the 17 year old brother, and the grandmother. I also have a 20 year old host brother, but he’s in college and doesn’t live at home. After the first meal, I can declare that my new host mom isn’t a vegetarian, and that vegetables aren’t as numerous as my first host father said there would be. And while I am on the subject of food, I will elaborate on that which I have eaten.

The average Japanese diet consists of a lot of rice and seafood. Rice, I have no problem with. But I do have a big problem with seafood! I just don’t like it. In my first two months here, I did my best to try and like it, but that didn’t work. I will never like it. But I didn’t tell my first host family that until the middle of October. At this point in time, I would gladly eat vegetables over fish and seafood any day. As for my new host family, there has been absolutely NO fish. And I’m lovin’ it. This is probably because Kohei (host brother) doesn’t like seafood and fish either! But everyone in my new host family eats nato! For those who don’t know what this is, you don’t want to know. It has the most horrid smell that would make you want to throw up. Most Japanese don’t even like it. That’s how bad it is. Some of my favorite meals include: ramen, udon, and soba, and yakinikus. A yakiniku is basically a Japanese BBQ, and always has good food.

Now on to School. It is going really good and will only get better from here on out. For me, it has been easy making friends, but difficult making ‘true friends’. In this last month though, I feel I have really become friends with some of my classmates. I would say it has something to do with communication. I am able, now, to communicate my thoughts and feelings in Japanese better than I could a few months ago, which can only help strengthen my current friendships. I can’t say I’m fluent in Japanese yet, but I know I’m on the right path to getting there.

Also in school, I joined the Judo club. It’s as you might imagine: painful and very tiring. But that hasn’t stopped me yet. Basically, there are two people with white belts, me and one of the two girls in the club. Everyone else are black belts who have been training in Judo for years. To sum it up: they are a lot stronger than me, and more experienced. Therefore, I couldn’t really beat them in a serious match. But they usually go easy on me; not like that helps any. They are all really great people, who were very welcoming when I joined the club, and continue to do their best to help me, whether it’s in simple Japanese or a mix of Japanese and English. I truly appreciate what they are doing for me.

The only bad thing that is school related is the fact that my Japanese teacher who gave me lessons two days a week has moved away! I really hope this doesn’t effect my Japanese learning…….

Now for the highlight of the month: the Rotary Trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Himeji, and Nara. I can only describe it as amazing!!!! The flight there was amazing in its own way. We flew by Mount Fuji! I was lucky to have had the window seat on the side of the plane that faced the mountain. It was simply breathtaking, seeing Mount Fuji from above. We landed in Hiroshima, and visited the Atomic Memorial Dome and Peace Memorial Park. It seemed really strange being there. After, we went to Himeji, and visited Himeji Castle. It is the first, and only, castle I’ve seen in Japan thus far; I hope to see more in the coming months. The next day, we were in Nara and visited the Toudai Temple, which houses a VERY large statue of Buddha, and is home to many ‘bowing deer’. I did see a few bow to me, but the majority mauled me when I tried feeding them crackers. Later, we made our way to Kyoto, where we visited the Kiyomizu Temple and went shopping (maybe for Christmas presents…..). The last and final day, we went to Kyoto’s famous Golden Pavilion, or Kinnkakuji. It wasn’t the real one, which was burned down a few hundred years ago (like many things in Japan), but it was an exact replica, gold and all. The last thing we did, and arguably the best: dressing up as geisha or samurai (depending on gender). I got to dress up as a samurai, and posed for a few pictures….

Other things that I did over the course of October and November include: Saitama International Roundtable Meeting, karaoke, Rotary District Conference, a concert in Kasukabe, mistakenly went to Akabane (which is in Tokyo), and many other little things that I don’t have time to type about.

Well I’m tired and want to go to bed. So I’ll end this exciting, fun filled journal.

Ja ne!

 


 

February 14 Journal

 Well, my year in Japan is already halfway finished (or halfway begun). So much has happened in the last 3 months that it all seems to blend together, which is a bad thing in my opinion.

I’ll start with Christmas. Two days before Christmas, I, my host mom, and two host brothers went on a trip to Zao, a famous mountain a few hours north of Tokyo. It’s not as famous as Mt. Fuji, but it has one thing Fuji-san doesn’t have: a huge ski resort (at least I don’t think it does). So yes, I was snowboarding on Christmas! Before that day, I had only tried snowboarding once, and due to my impatient nature, gave up and did skiing instead. But this time I didn’t give up, and with the help of my host brothers, mastered the basics of snowboarding.

Two weeks after my trip to Zao, I switched to my third host family: the Motoyamas. My new host father is a mixture of hysterical outbursts with consistent strictness, but not overly strict. My new host mother is a really funny person, though a little crazy at times. My oldest host sister is in her second year of college, and has fairly good English, though I ask her not to use it unless I am helping her with some homework. My other older sister is currently in Brazil as a Rotary Exchange Student.

Every night, we all gather around a table, turn the TV on, and talk. Usually for two to three hours, we simply talk. Constantly conversing in Japanese, every night, has done wonders for my Japanese. My Japanese is, by no means, perfect, or even slightly perfect. But I do seem to have the ability to make them laugh all the time. And who knows, maybe I’ll be fluent when I return here later this year (more on that later).

But there is one drawback (and it isn’t that bad of a drawback) in living with the Motoyamas: their home, of all my host families, is the farthest from my school. It’s about an hour and fifteen minute trip. Let me give you all a detailed outline of my daily trip. From my house, I walk to the bus stop. From there, I ride the bus (Which follows a universal Japanese saying: there is always enough room. I mean to say that the bus is always filled with more people than you can imagine.) to Kita-Urawa Station, where I take a train on the Keihin-Tohoku Line to Omiya, which is in the opposite direction of Tokyo. Therefore, I have enough personal space to breath while on the train. In Omiya, a very large train station, I transfer to the Tobu-Noda Line, and take that until I get to Iwatsuki. From Iwatsuki Station, I walk a fairly long distance to my school. At this point in time, doing things like this isn’t much of a problem for me. I feel very comfortable using Japan’s ultra advanced transportation system.

Shortly after switching families, I went on my school ski trip. I was sad about not being able to snowboard, but I got over that and had a great time with my classmates.

Another exciting event: Kendo, Japanese sword fencing. Yes, I did in fact get to try it. And apparently my host sister is an expert because she did kendo for 11 or so years. But a general summary of it is this: a lot of screaming and shouting and killing each other with a fake sword that does in fact hurt. Overall, it was interesting.

Next, the Rotary Ski Trip! On this one, we got to choose skiing or snowboarding. So of course I chose snowboarding. This trip was different from the other two. On this trip, I felt more freedom to go where I please, to snowboard where I please, to fall and crash where I please, etc. It was amazingly fun, whether I was racing someone, teaching someone, or falling into someone, it is a weekend that I won’t soon forget.

Two days after the Rotary Ski Trip, I was informed that I was changing Host Clubs! That really shocked me. I didn’t know that was possible. But it happened; I switched from the Iwastuki Rotary Club to the Iwatsuki East Rotary Club! What a change. The only differences are the name of the club, the day of the week in which they have their meetings, and the people. But it is in the exact same room of the exact same building. It was a complete shock.

Speaking of Rotary meetings, I usually attend one or two each month, depending on when I might need money. But in all seriousness, the Rotarians of both clubs are really nice people who are really fun to hang out with. And whenever I go to a meeting, I’m required to give a speech. At first, this was a real challenge for me. But now, it’s somewhat easy, and I don’t need to write down any notes to help me when I speak. I simply wing it, and it always works out.

And I can’t forget my 4th ski (snowboard) trip with my host sister, Mizuho, and her friends. This trip was also very amazing, fun, etc. But what made this the best was the fact that it was on a huge mountain with a lot more variety than the previous trips. And I got to go off plenty of sweet jumps. I’m amazed at how much my snowboarding skills have improved in the last month. Maybe you’ll all see me at the next Winter Olympics.

Other things that I’ve been involved in through these last few months include going out with friends to karaoke, lots of Puri Kura (why don’t they have these in America?!), going to Tokyo with host sister and her friends, eating at a dessert buffet (that was great), cooking and ice skating with Akemi (former exchange student to Florida) and Shinobu (soon to be exchange student to Florida), and visiting Tokyo University with my host father and host cousins.

It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m sure my dear readers are already bored out of their minds, so I’ll end this entry of the Exciting Chronicles of Aaron in Japan!!!!!

Alex Grow
2007-08 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High School
Sponsor: Flagler/Palm Coast Sunrise Rotary Club, Dist 6970
Host: Taipei Fumen Rotary Club Dist 3480, Taiwan

Alex - Taiwan

Alex’s Bio

Hello, my name is Alex. I live in Palm Coast Florida and I have lived here for over 10 years now. I love to travel and go to new places. I’ve been to a lot of different countries in the past and I’ve loved them all, but now I am getting the opportunity of a lifetime to live in a different country. I am going to Taiwan, and I haven’t been to Taiwan yet so I can only read how it will be like until I get there and then I will know for sure; but I’m absolutely sure that I will love it. It had always been a goal of mine to learn a foreign language and now I’m going to learn the most spoken language in the world – Mandarin Chinese.

I live with my Mom and my Dad, I have two brothers who are both in college. I like to play sports a lot. I especially like to play lacrosse. I have been playing lacrosse for over four years now and it is a remarkably fun sport to play. I am also a certified scuba diver and I love to scuba dive. It is one of the most fun activities you could possibly do (just be sure that if you’re going cave diving 50 feet under water to check how much air you have left in your tank every once in a while). I like to read and I like to eat, eating is probably one of my biggest hobbies and as I read previous outbound students bios I found that the food is going to be very interesting in Taiwan and I am probably not going to know what I am eating before I eat it, which is perfectly fine for me, because I am a very adventuresome eater and will eat nearly anything you put before me.

I like to go to church and read the Bible, and I read that 5 percent of the population in Taiwan is Christian (which doesn’t sound like a lot) but it is enough to find a church every Sunday.

I can’t wait until I go to Taiwan, I have no doubt in my mind that it will be the most memorable year of my life.


September 8 Journal

 I love it here!!!!! I think that I am supposed to be getting homesick some time soon, but I don’t think that it’s possible. There always seems like there is something to do, somewhere to go. I live in Taipei so it’s a big city. I’ve never lived in a city like this before and before I came here I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that maybe it would always be really loud with an unbearable stench reeking around every corner with mice and rats crawling the streets; and although I did see a mouse run under a food stand yesterday there is hardly any noise and there is virtually no stench.

It is so easy to get around, if someone hogtied me, threw me in the back of their trunk, drove around the city 10 times, and dropped me off on a random alleyway, it would take me 2 hours to get home, maybe 3 if I had to un-hogtie myself. Now I’m not saying that that’s very common in Taipei but the point is, its very easy to find your way around, and you never have a problem finding transportation.

The one problem here that I am encountering that I didn’t anticipate as much was that everyone speaks English. We had a Rotary Inbound Orientation meeting with over 60 kids from over 12 different nations and they spoke English the entire time. My whole family except for my host grandparents speak English, half my classmates in school speak fluent English. It’s very hard to keep yourself away from English Influences; but I think that I am finally getting across to everyone that I “DON’T” want them to speak English. Many of them think that they are helping me out by speaking English to me when in reality it’s only hindering my grasp of Chinese. I think soon they will stop speaking to me in English for good, mostly they speak to me in Chinese but when I don’t get what they say, they get frustrated so they just say it in English which I don’t want them to do. I told them if its really, really important then they can say it in English, otherwise just say it in Chinese; the problem is I think their grasp of what is important is different then my grasp, their grasp is asking me if I have eaten yet, mine is if the whole building is on fire and if I don’t jump off the fifth floor of the building on to a miniature trampoline held by some firefighters then I’m going to die.

I’ve been in Taiwan for over two weeks and despite the English Influence when I look at the improvement I have made learning Chinese, it’s incredible. It feels like every day I only learn a little bit of Chinese, but when you add it together it turns out to be a lot. I can get in a cab, tell the driver where I want to go, and then hold about a 30 second conversation with him before he starts to ramble on in Chinese and then I have no clue what he is saying. 30 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but then again I’ve only been here for a little over 2 weeks so by the time I leave I’m sure I’ll have no problem holding a 30 minute conversation with the cab driver.

The people here are really nice. There are four exchange students going to my school and it seems like we are the stars of the school. I’ll have people say hi to me and calling out my name who I don’t even recognize. My first day of school was a really good day, I made friends really fast and for some reason they were addicted to applauding me. The first day of school I said a few words in Chinese and they all started to clap thinking that it was the most amazing thing that an America spoke some Chinese. Then another time they showed me a magic trick with a deck of cards and then they asked me to do a trick, and it just so happens that I knew one, so I showed them the trick and they started to clap again. They still do that, clap when I do something right. It’s a little different getting all the attention, I’m not used to people clapping when I show a magic trick.

Life here is fun and it will only get better. Chinese is a very hard language to learn but I’m up for the Challenge. I’ll let you know once I’ve convinced everyone to stop speaking to me in English, and I’ll keep you updated on life in Taiwan, and soon I will give you some pictures so you all can see what Taiwan really looks like.


November 13 Journal

 I would like to tell you about my day today. This is not an uncommon day for an exchange student living in Taiwan, in fact days like this happen all the time, each day is its own adventure, and at each day’s end there’s always something unique to talk about. Today I woke up at six in the morning. I was late. I was out the door by 6:10am, usually my host mom would stuff me with as much food as I’d ever want to eat in my life at the breakfast table, but today was different because I was going to school on a Saturday and was the only one up in my house.

The reason why I was going to school on Saturday is because it was our school anniversary. In celebration of our school’s anniversary, we get to go to school on a Saturday (which is ok because all we did was have fun). I ran to the MRT (the train/subway system) because I didn’t want to be late. It took me five minutes and I had to run there going downhill, uphill, through traffic. I also had to run by a stray dog who was giving me the sad, poor puppy dog eyes look without giving him the proper love and attention a dog should have, all for the sake of being on time to school. I got to the MRT station, and right before I entered the MRT station I observed the MRT leaving. “Great,” I thought to myself, “now I have to wait another ten minutes before the next one will leave. . I then waited the ten minutes for the MRT to go, and finally it left and I was on my way to school.

Forty five minutes later, and six chapters read from my bible later, I arrived at my station which I needed to get off at. I started at the station called Dansuia and arrived at the station Gongguan. I proceeded to walk out of the MRT station and to the bus stop which is conveniently located right outside the station. I waited there for about ten minutes or so and bus number one came, my bus. I was excited because according to my watch I had another fifteen minutes to get to school and the bus usually takes around ten to fifteen minutes to get there. I was going to be on time. I was waiting for my turn to get on the bus as I began to see how many people there were on the bus and how there were even more people trying to get on it. After everyone crammed themselves onto the bus there were four people left who for the life of them there was no possible way they could fit on that bus. I was one of them.

After all that effort I went through, having to run for five minutes straight (only stopping once to tie my shoe), and after running by that poor helpless dog who just needed a friend, I was going to be late for school. The day before, my classmates told me that I needed to be there at 7:30am. It was 7:30am when the second bus came, and this time there was virtually nobody on the bus, and only a few of us got onto the bus. I was even able to have a seat to myself, which is a very rare occurrence. Ten to fifteen minutes later I arrived at my school. I walked to the back entrance of my school (which was only a good twenty feet away from the bus stop where I got off) and was thinking to myself, “Please be open”. And when I got there, “Rats” it was closed. And through the bars of the back entrance I could see nearly the whole school, lined up in military like fashion, grouped by their classes, scattered over our whole track and field fields that we have, waiting the final few moments for the last stragglers to arrive before they begin their ceremony.

I was thinking to myself how stupid it is for a school to have a back entrance that they only bother to keep open for kids who happen to make it to school on time, when I found another gate which is always shut except on occasions when cars from the underground parking come out and this was one of those times. I wasn’t going to have to walk to the complete other side of the school to use the front entrance, only to walk back to the same side of the school I was just at. I walked by the gate, went to the grassy area where all the classes were lined up, and with my 20/20 vision began to scout out the dozens of classes trying to distinguish between the hundreds of unfamiliar Asian faces and the familiar ones that are my good friends and classmates. (You should know that in Taiwan you just have one class that you spend all day with and that class becomes your family and that family has pride of its class and truly believes that their class is better then every other class in the school.) Finding my class mates was much easier then I thought it would be. Usually everyone wears the same color uniform every day, and most people only wore that same uniform today but our class with its wonderful sense of class pride gave everyone the bright color yellow T-shirts that the class leaders had designed and handed out the day before. The T-Shirt made no sense at all (as most Taiwanese shirts with any English on them don’t), but the one thing that did make sense on the shirt was Class 03. Our class number is room number 103 and with that number comes the right to tell everyone else how class 103 is better then any other class in the school. So picking out the kids with the yellow shirts as opposed to light purple, green, and blue was pretty easy. They happened to be the only class still walking to where they were supposed to be and walking very close by to where I was standing searching out for where they might be. Then I hear many people calling from behind me, “Alex.” (half the time they call you in your English name, and half the time they call you your Chinese name, I guess it just depends on what mood they’re in).

I discovered my class and walked with them to where we were supposed to be and on the way there I noticed that everyone in my class had on their yellow T-Shirts. They also had on their sweatshirts, half way zipped down. One of my classmates asked me where my sweatshirt was. I began to get worried, thinking that we were all supposed to look exactly the same and I was the oddball out who forgot his sweatshirt at home and is now making the whole class look less unified by not looking like everyone else. Then one of my classmates said something like this “Ni leng bu leng” which basically means “Are you cold?” I realized that they really don’t care if we look unified or not, they are just concerned about my well being and think that I am cold. The temperature was the perfect temperature. It was by no means too cold and having the option to put on a sweater or not I would have gladly declined, but to everyone else in the school it seemed to be a brutal winter in which the only way to survive is to wear the school given sweatshirts. Every day, my host mom makes me take my sweater to school even though I usually only use it as a pillow. One morning a few days ago I came down to breakfast not even considering that it might be a tad bit chilly and found both my host parents wearing a sweater. They were startled that I wasn’t wearing a sweater too, and asked me if I were cold and I told them no. It seemed to boggle their mind (sorry for getting off topic).

Anyway, I was in the first row of our three lines group by our class as the ceremony began. Every once in a while the school will have a ceremony where the whole school stands and listens to people speak up on an outside stage that they have. The last time we had this ceremony it was more like a dance off, and there were a good amount of kids who were trying to become class president, and in turn the only way to win votes in their mind was to convince everyone that they were the best dancer or performer. It turned out to be more like a talent show where half the people blast American music that they don’t know any of the words to (and in most cases should stay that way) and then attempt to dance. Some dancing was very good, some not so good, but it was all fun. Then there were some kids who sang songs, others did little comedy skits and it was all fun except for the part that you had to stand in exactly the same place for 30 minutes not being able to move around. But this ceremony was a little different.

First we listened to the principal of our school talk for fifteen minutes. I had no idea what he was talking about and half the people around me didn’t know what he was talking about also, not because they can’t understand him like me, but because they were too busy talking and not paying attention to pay attention. Near the end of the ceremony things began to spice up a little bit because class 102 performed a cheer leading dance for us. About a month ago every class in our grade began to practice cheer leading dances. This is where everyone in your class that you could not imagine waving around pompoms to loud American music while dancing dances that you only see on pop music videos does, including all of the guys. I’m pretty sure that in America most guys might have a second thought about listening to the girls in their class when they tell them to wave around pompoms while doing a dance that all five year old girls dream of imitating, and doing the dance to the song “I’m a Barbie Girl”. But for some cultural difference that still leaves me in amazement to this day, not only do the guys willingly perform this act but they perform it with enthusiasm and with a complete lack of knowledge that nearly everywhere else in the world (America and Europe for sure) it is considered a very feminine thing to do. I find it funny and if I had the option to I would have been more then happy to consider the possibility of joining them in their cheerleading ritual. Unfortunately to my loss the Rotary has all the exchange students gone after school three days a week and that’s when the classes practice so I was unable to support class 103 except by filming them on the day of their performance.

The performance was about a week ago and there were fourteen classes in all and every class had its unique performance with its own style, song, and its dance steps that the students came up with themselves. It really was amazing. I never knew that fourteen Taiwanese classes that have had nearly no experience dancing except for the few weeks they had to practice this dance could dance and cheerlead better then American cheerleaders. They were all very talented and choreographed the dance very well. Class 102 ended up winning first place and since they won first place they ended up being able to dance for us at the ceremony today. So they danced and did the dance very well and then afterwards all the classes were dismissed to go to their own classrooms.

We went back to our classroom and began to get ready. “Get ready for what?” you might ask; well, you see today is not a normal day of school. Every class in the school prepared whatever they desired to eat and drink so that they could sell the food and the drink. Everyone was allowed to invite who ever they wanted to, to come and buy food and drinks and eat and just have a good time. There were games in some classrooms. In our classroom we had a Wii, in other classrooms there were X-box’s and some classrooms had messy games you could play while others had small mini games you could win prizes playing. It was a blast.

After setting up the food and the drink some of our classmates would stay in the room to sell its goods, while the others went out to have a good time and to buy whatever it is that they wished to buy. Everyone had all kinds of foods, sushi, tofu, chicken, sausages, fried ice cream, and foods you’ve never seen before. They also had all kinds of teas to drink and many sodas including a soda drink that they put a little bit of dry ice in your cup so that tons of bubbles are coming up through the soda.

I walked through the halls in my school (the halls are more like large balcony pathways and I’m usually walking the 4th floor where my class is) and while I’m walking through them, it would not be uncommon for people to use every effort known to salesmen everywhere to try to get me to buy whatever it is that they want me to buy. These efforts included pestering, pleading, yelling (in a nice forceful kind of way), pushing me, shoving food into my face, and telling me how cheap it is. I would have to constantly say “Bu Yao, Wo Bu Yao, Bu Yao,” in English, “Don’t want, I don’t want, don’t want.” Usually when I say this it only results in them resorting to a new sales method.

At about one o’clock everything had died down and the last little bit of food and drinks were being sold at a smaller price and everyone was cleaning up their class room. Every class room is tiled and right outside the door is a drain. Everyone helped move all the desks out of the classroom and then we proceeded to dump gallons of water in our classroom, sprinkle powdered soap on the water and begin to scrub the floors with all the scrubbing sticks we could find. Every day twice a day every class for fifteen minutes, spends the time cleaning their classroom. Usually what they do is take out the trash cans, mop the floors in between the desks and scrub the windows. Today was full blown cleaning and the whole process took about an hour. After the cleaning was done we took some pictures and then hung around our room for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

A group of us decided to go into the part of town where there were lots of shopping areas and went on our way. When we took the bus and arrived we had walked for nearly five minutes when we came to the last place I expected for us to go, McDonalds. We didn’t go there to eat, most of us were already full from all the food we ate at our celebration and didn’t want to gorge ourselves with a wonderfully healthy Big Mac. The McDonalds was huge and had a second floor underneath the first one. When we went down to the second floor it appeared that it was not only a McDonalds but also where people go to practice their life’s hobby. I found a group of about seven or eight guys who were doing nothing but solving Rubik’s Cubes, there was also a miniature haunted house and a couple of kids running around with glow in the dark masks as they were trying to scare people (I still don’t know if they were hired by McDonalds to do that or if its just a pastime for them). We then found ourselves a large corner because there were about fifteen of us and began to talk while a few of us ate small snacks from McDonalds and just had a good time.

A little while passed and everyone decided to play a game. I didn’t understand the game at first and didn’t participate but watched them all as they played. After a while someone explained the game to me and the game goes like this: someone has a deck of cards, but takes out each number two all the way up to the Ace, and then passes it out to everyone and who ever has the King gets to pick one or two or three people by calling out different numbers from the deck and who ever gets picked has to do what they tell them to do. The things weren’t that hard to do. One time they had to lick a lot of pepper onto their tongue and another time someone had to sing a song, but the thing which really confused me was one dare which in America wouldn’t be considered a dare at all. It was that sometimes when two people were picked to do a dare the guy and the girl would have to hug each other. I was thinking to myself, “OK, so where does the dare come in,” but then I realized that in the two months I’ve been going to school here I had never seen a guy and a girl hug.

Here in Taiwan its not normal for a guy and a girl to hug unless they are going out with each other. The dare for them was really a dare, and was really a nerve-wracking experience in which they had to hug the opposite sex and all while ten cameras were ready to take a picture right when they had gotten up the guts to hug each other. I then realized in that moment why my host sisters had a look of horror on their faces the first time I met them and gave them each a hug. How things work here is that girls are a lot more affectionate towards other girls then in the United States and guys are a lot more affectionate towards other guys but when it comes to girls and guys showing affection towards each other, that’s crossing the line.

After we spent our socializing hour in McDonalds a lot of us had to go, but there was a group of about five of us who stayed together and we went shopping down to many local shops. I was looking for Christmas gifts and they were trying to help me find them and for about an hour we did this and it seemed like the goal of every one in our little company was to find the Christmas gifts I was wanting. As an exchange student in Taiwan everyone gives you extra attention and treats you like royalty. Some exchange students think they treat us like royalty while others think they treat us like four year olds. I like to think of it as a four year old with royal blood. Really I think all it is, is a cultural difference – to many of the exchange students it seems like they are treating you like you’re a child, but really they are just trying to be nice.

For instance; my host mom gave me a bowl of soup the other day that had a lid on it and I was about to open the lid when she quickly shoved my hands away told me that the soup was hot and then herself opened the lid. In another instance my host dad has multiple times taken my chopsticks out of my hand if he thinks that I am taking too little of some food in the dishes that are in front of us at the dinner table and then will scoop as much as he possibly can of whatever food it is that I chose to only take a little of, and slap it on my plate as messily and quickly as possible. At first these things used to bother me, but now I don’t really care anymore. I just go with the flow. The people here want to make you happy and it seems like they will do anything for you. It’s very different from the United States.

After we were done shopping we went to a place to eat and met up with about five other students from our school. We ate our food which was very good (chicken, rice, vegetables, soup, with green tea to drink). Both before and after I ate, I taught one of my good friends how to play chess because there was conveniently a chess set in the restaurant. He learned how to play very easily and was very smart. We played a few games and many of the games were very close. After dinner I walked to the MRT station with four other guys from my class, two of the guys were going one way on the line and the other guy and myself were going another way. When the MRT came we said goodbye and got on the train and it wasn’t as crowded as it usually was and I usually never get a seat on the way back but there was one seat available. Normally I would just allow someone else to take it but since my friend was with me he kept on insisting that I take the seat and so finally I took the seat reluctantly. We talked some and I had him listen to my IPOD, every song him saying that he loved the song and thought it was awesome and then he had to leave and get off at his stop while I kept on going. I stayed in my seat not doing much except looking out the window every once in a while.

Then after a little bit there was a woman who sat next to me, and I was debating with myself whether to take out my camera and (which has a video setting on it) start video taping while I begin a conversation with the woman next to me, just to see what would happen. I then decided that I wasn’t really in the mood to get pepper sprayed in my eye and decided she probably wasn’t the talking to a foreigner type anyway. As I was thinking this my phone rang and I answered it and it was my host dad. I talked to him, telling him where I was and that I wasn’t hungry and no I didn’t want him to pick me anything up to eat and then I hung up. I mostly talked to him in Chinese and the women next to me saw that I knew some Chinese and so a few minutes went by and she struck up a conversation with me.

We talked, she knew a good amount of English so we talked in Chinglish or Engease or what ever you would like to call it for about fifteen minutes or so. She talked about how she was a bookkeeper and how bad her English was even though it really was good and I talked about where I went to school, how long I was staying here in Taiwan and how long I’ve already been here. It was great, in fifteen minutes I just made a new friend with someone I never had met before.

 

After I get off the MRT station, I took the long walk home. It took me about five minutes to run to the MRT station, but walking is at least fifteen minutes. I walked home, went in the door to my house and my father was sitting watching TV and he asked me a few questions about my day and then informed me that tomorrow I am going to play basketball with my host sister’s schoolmate who I have never met before. He said that he was going to give me a call on my cell phone to tell me what time to meet him to play basketball. Well, for most people that would be out of the ordinary but for an exchange student living in Taiwan, you expect nothing less.


January 15 Journal

 These last few months have been great in Taiwan. I have learned so much and find that I myself am changing day by day. The language is still hard, but I am light years ahead of where I was when I first arrived.

Right now I am on my New Years break. The break lasts for nearly a month and I have been on the break for only a few days so far. In Taiwanese culture they celebrate two New Years, they celebrate the New Year that we celebrate that’s on January 1st and then there is the Chinese New Year which can be anywhere from late January to mid February. On the January 1st New Year in Taiwan I had a blast. I went to a schoolmate’s apartment with a few other friends and we mostly watched TV and played games. A few minutes before the New Year we all went up to the very top of his apartment building which was 13 stories high and watched Taipei 101 which currently is the worlds largest building; and we watched it send off mountains of fireworks. My friend’s apartment was very close to Taipei 101 so the view was amazing. There were hundreds and hundreds of fireworks going off. It almost looked like Taipei 101 was on fire. By the time it was done the whole building was covered in smoke because of all the fireworks. I’ve never seen such a huge display of fireworks in my life.

All the exchange students here in Taiwan go to a Chinese class twice a week. In this class we not only learn how to speak Chinese but also read and write. The speaking part is not too hard for me but writing and reading is very difficult. I think I am making a lot of progress but it still is very hard. There is no sounding out words, it’s either you know the word by the symbol or you don’t. And some words have more then one symbol so it can get pretty confusing. Even though it is really hard I am really glad that I am learning it. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I mean how many Americans can say that they can read Chinese. I don’t mean to say that I am fluent in reading Chinese, but its good enough to where I can get by reading children’s books and I’m sure by the time I leave I will be an ever better reader.

I really am enjoying myself here in Taiwan and I am learning a lot each day. Until next time,


May 31 Journal

 The time is really getting close for me to head home. When I go home I will miss a lot of things, I will miss the food, miss seeing Taipei 101 (biggest building in the world), miss riding buses and trains every where I go and miss speaking Chinese all day; but I think the thing that I will miss the most are the friends that I have made here in Taiwan. I have made friends from all over the world, Germany, France, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Japan and so much more. I find it so fascinating that even though we come from all over the world with different cultures and ideas we still make great friends and find that we may have just as much in common as anyone from our own country. I’m finding that I am wishing to bring anyone and everyone home with me but of course that would be impossible.

Being an exchange student is a gift, one of the greatest gifts anyone could receive but as the year comes to a close many feel it also comes with a curse. We spend a whole year with these people, we talk to them, get to know them, become great friends with them even view them as family; but then you realize that you have to go, you have to go back to your own country and leave them all behind, many of whom you may never see again – that is the curse that comes with the gift.

People have said that the homesickness you get when you leave the United States go to another country is not as bad as the homesickness when you leave the country you’ve spent a year in and come back to the United States. Even though I have not left Taiwan yet, I believe this to be true and it may be different with every student but I believe when most people are homesick it’s not so much the country itself that they are homesick about, but the people in the country. When you leave America to go out to another country you are going with the knowledge that you will be back in 1 years time, when you leave the country you were in to go back to America you don’t know when you will be back or if you will ever see your friends again. If there are students out there reading this that are preparing to go out on an exchange then I don’t mean to frighten you by this, it’s only the truth of an exchange. Even though the gift of an exchange is carried by the curse of leaving it, that would be no reason to not accept the exchange. I am so thankful to Rotary and everyone for this experience, if I could go back in time a year I wouldn’t change a thing.

I believe a huge question for most upcoming exchange students is “How long does it take to become fluent”? I know that was a question I asked many people many times and always got a variety of answers. I can not speak for the other exchange students going to other countries but for myself learning Chinese I can not pick a specific point in time which I say “now I’m fluent”. For me it was very gradual, first it started out very, very slow, then it picked up the pace and I learned more, then time went by and I was able to learn faster and faster and faster. When you are first starting to learn a language your brain is not used to the language at all so it only makes sense that it will be very difficult to learn but as time goes by your brain starts to get used to the language and it then becomes much easier to learn more faster. What people consider fluent is an opinion, some would consider a 3 year old fluent in its language while others would consider a 5 year old, it totally depends on what you consider to be fluent. For me, I wrote in my diary at the beginning of the exchange saying that if I can hold onto a 30 minute conversation then I will consider myself to be fluent; now I can go on for hours speaking Chinese. There are still phrases I don’t know, words I wonder what it means and many times when people are talking to each other I don’t understand what they are talking about but all in all I consider myself fluent in Chinese.

I wish I could tell you all about Taiwan, I wish I really could tell you all that it really is and what the people are like and how they live. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, I would have to show you a year’s worth of video in order for you to really understand Taiwan for all that it is. Before I came to Taiwan I tried to imagine what Taiwan is like, I read up on Taiwan, saw pictures of Taiwan and studied the language before I left but none of that could even give me a slight glimpse of what Taiwan really is. I suggest that if you want to know about Taiwan then go to Taiwan. Don’t just read up on it or even just read journals about students who have been there. Taiwan is a place to see and the Taiwanese are a people you need to talk to.

Xie Xie Da Jia, Wo Drede Taiwan hun hao han Wo Ai Taiwan

Anna Snider
2007-08 Outbound to Denmark

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: Southpoint Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Faaborg Rotary Club
         District 1460, Denmark

Anna - Denmark

Anna’s Bio

 Hey everyone! My name is Anna Belisa Snider, and I am a future outbound to Denmark! I am a senior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. I am a vocal major there. I sing pretty much everything and i love it! Hopefully I can win over my host family in Denmark with my singing because learning Danish is going to be extremely challenging but Music is the only universal language, so hopefully that will help me!

Since I sing at school, my time usually revolves around rehearsals and performances. Even though it takes up a lot of time, I love rehearsing and performing. I moved to Jacksonville a little over 4 1/2 years ago. I hated it at first because I didn’t like middle school at all, but once I got to high school, I fell in love with it. I live with my mom and my older brother, Matthew. My oldest brother, Danny, lives up in Ohio and my dad lives in New Hampshire. My mom is a nurse and she loves her work! My dad works for Boeing, and he gets moved around a lot. We’ve lived in Italy, England, Canada, and now here. I’ve loved living in all of those places. It has made me who I am! It’s always great living in different places so you get a grasp of different cultures, but leaving every country has always been hard. But God closes and opens doors simultaneously, so I’m very excited about leaving Jacksonville and starting my new adventure in Denmark because I know it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime!


August 29 Journal

 Hej everyone!

It’s already been 3 weeks and 3 days since I stepped off the plane into my new country! Denmark is absolutely gorgeous!!! The first week I was here, the weather was perfect! I was walking outside in shorts, flip flops, and tank tops! Today, I went to school with pants, a long sleeved shirt, a jacket, socks, and some sneakers! The temperature changed so quick!

My house in on an island in the south of Denmark. It’s called Lyø and it has 50 homes, 1 church, 1 elementary school, and one shop. So obviously that’s a huge difference from Jacksonville! My school is in Faaborg, which is across the water. So I’ve been experiencing more than a language change…I get to ride a ferry to school everyday! Its okay…I usually go down to the benches in the bottom of the ferry and sleep!

School has been fun so far. I started on Monday and I love my class. Everyone is so nice and very helpful. I don’t understand anything except for in English and Spanish class. But it’s okay…I’ll get it soon! I actually help the other students in English! So that’s pretty cool. I really like my host family too. They are all really nice and funny. I have one younger host sister and two younger host brothers. They all help me out with my Danish, which is good.

I took a language course for a week and learned the basics of Danish. Then after that week I went away to a boarding school for an intro camp with all of the Rotary exchange students in Denmark. There were 100 of us and we had so much fun together. We went on tours and learned some more Danish and we went shopping and we learned how to Phillipino stick fight! Haha. That was so much fun!!! It’s like what ninjas do with their fighting sticks, how they spin them around really fast and crazy. It was quite a learning experience. I loved getting to know all the other students there and we all got really close.

So far Denmark has been great! I’m having a bunch of fun and I’m meeting a lot of new and exciting people! I know it’s just gonna get better and better as the year goes on!

-AnnaBelisa-


September 29 Journal

 So I’ve been here for approximately 2 months. A lot of different stuff has happened, and it’s all been exciting, sometimes boring, crazy, and all new! School has been….school. It’s a lot different from school at home but it’s not anymore exciting. I’ve made some really cool friends, who actually remind me a lot of my friends back at home!!! I absolutely love my host family!!! I don’t know if I want to move to the next host family, because I like this one so much! We always end up laughing in all of our conversations, usually because of my bad Danish or because of their bad English. So it works out great! My room has really started to look like my room at home too. It’s a mess! I try to keep it kept up, but it doesn’t really work out too well. It also looks like my room at home because I have a HUGE poster of Orlando Bloom on my wall again!!! I had to buy it the other day because my walls just looked so bare!! haha.

Everyday I’m learning more and more Danish. It still feels like I don’t know anything! But it really feels great when someone is having a conversation in Danish around you and then all of a sudden, you’re laughing at what they said. Not because it sounds weird, but because you understood!!! I figured out that speaking ‘danglish’ helps too. Or writing in ‘danglish’ is good too, because I work on using certain words even if I can’t make the sentences.

A few weeks ago, Frederik, the exchange student to Jacksonville from Denmark from last year, made his presentation of his year at the Faaborg Rotary Club. I went to the meeting and got to hear all about Jacksonville!!! haha. That was actually pretty fun having my host family see pictures from Jacksonville. By his presentation, everyone found out that he had an amazing year abroad, and that got me really excited for the upcoming months till next summer.

So I saw a Blockbuster the other day and I flipped out!!! It was like home! haha. I didn’t think they had Blockbusters here!!! I’ve gotten used to the bike, but I still miss my little chameleon-painted Civic when it’s raining and I’m riding the bike uphill with the wind against me! But when it’s nice outside then I love riding the bike! Here’s something exciting, I joined a Funk/Pop band!!! It’s so much fun. I went for the first time this week and I had the most fun I’ve had in a while! I’ve never sung with a band before other than my church youth band, but this time I was the only singer! So I was really nervous at first, but it was so much fun that all my nerves went away and we just made music!!! I loved it!!!

And here’s some advice to current and future exchange students…DON’T LOSE YOUR CAMERA CHARGER THE THIRD WEEK YOU’RE IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY, because it’s almost impossible to buy just a camera charger!!! But thank God for Mommy’s back at home who help you out!!!

So Denmark is great! Of course, I’ve had some hard days, but the good days make up for the bad ones!

~*~ Anna Banana ~*~


November 15 Journal

 Hej Florida!

I hope you are enjoying the beautiful sunny weather because it’s a different story over here in little Denmark! I woke up yesterday and looked out the window to find that everything outside was frosted over! It was so frosted that it looked like snow! So I bundled up in my winter clothes and hopped on my bike and rode to school in the FREEZING COLD!! In my first class of the day I looked outside the window and it was SNOWING!!!! I got so excited because it was the first time that it snowed since I’ve been here. But it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! It’s only the middle of November and it’s already snowing!!! How crazy is that? So I’m expecting to have a snowy birthday and a WHITE CHRISTMAS!!! YAY!!!

Along with the weather changing, my home and family changed too! I moved in with my second host family almost 3 weeks ago and it’s going great! This family has 4 teenagers! One plays the drums and one plays the piano… So it’s a house filled with people and lots of noise!!! Hah. I’m very comfortable here and I feel comfortable with my new host siblings and host parents. But I’m confused a lot because I have a host sister named Anna! So I’m still getting used to being called to the dinner table twice! My new house is not on the island. It’s in Faaborg, the town where I go to school. So it’s really nice living so close to town and school. I get over an extra hour of sleep every morning because I don’t have to take the ferry anymore. My bike ride to school every day is only about 8 minutes long, and the bike ride to the center of town is about 5 minutes. So it’s very convenient living here. But saying goodbye to my first family really kinda sucked. Packing my things up from my old room was awkward because I really didn’t want to. I was excited about moving into town and with my new family but I had gotten so close and comfortable with my first family that I didn’t want to start all over again. My host mom, Karin, and my host sister, Viola, went with me across the ferry to my new host house. When we said bye, I tried not to cry because I didn’t want my new host family to think that I didn’t want to live with them. But trying to hold the tears in only made it worse and I ended up crying along with my host mom and host sister. But I plan on visiting them on the little island very soon!

Before the ‘big move’ there were two weeks of busyness and fun! The band that I am singing in had a concert with a bunch of other bands around our town. We only played two songs but it was really fun to play for our peers and to hear them play too. And earlier that day we played at the Faaborg Radio Station…LIVE!!! I was really nervous, but it was so much fun! My host mom called everyone she knew and told them that I was singing on the radio so apparently everyone in the world was listening…which made me really nervous! Hah. And she taped it for me too so that when I got home I could listen to it!…greeeaaat!..Not. But I thought it was so cute how she got so excited for me like my real mommy at home!!!

After the big concert came the big week filled with HALLOWEEN!!! It started off with a Rotary get together for the weekend before Halloween. I took a train with Karolina, my friend from Illinois who lives about 30 minutes away from me here. We got to Holbæk, which is on Sjælland, and met the other exchange students at the bus station waiting for the bus to the school where we were going to stay. This weekend was the complete opposite of our intro camp. We had planned things at the intro camp, but here we could pretty much do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted! We had a DJ Friday night until Saturday at breakfast….so we slept 2 hours. Then we went shopping in downtown Holbæk for a couple hours then we had a Halloween night! Everyone dressed up and we had a little showtime too. Karolina and I were ‘Nik & Jay’. They’re famous Danish rappers/pop singers. They sing songs called ‘Boing Boing’, ‘Lega’, and ‘Jeg Elsker Dig’. So we got t-shirts and wrote their names on the back of our shirts, and wrote BOING on the front. Then we wore pants with our ‘boxers’ hanging out and we wore some really ‘stylish’ sunglasses! It was so much fun to be a guy for the day! Hah. Everyone took their pictures with us as if we were really them!! Haha. That night we had the DJ again, and this time we slept for about 3 hours, so a total of 5 hours for the weekend was pretty tiring! But it was an amazing reunion with the other 100 Rotary exchange students. After that weekend, some students from my school held a haunted house at the Faaborg Arresthusen, the historical jail which has been turned into a museum. So decorated and dressed up all scary and whatnot. Lots of students from the school came to see us then left scared to death! Haha. So it was pretty successful. On Friday night my little host brother, Lukas, had a Halloween shindig at his school and all the families of the students were supposed to go dressed up. So we all showed up with red lipstick allover our faces and arms, as if it was blood. The little kids believed it so it worked out great. They sang us some Halloween songs and put on a magic show too, so it was a cute little Halloween evening.

So…to sum everything up…I’ve been pretty busy lately, which is really good, because when I’m not busy then I tend to have bad days. So yeah I’ve had crappy days and some amazing days but they even out. I’m really glad that I’m still doing the Funk Band because it’s what I look forward to every week! School is …school and boring most of the time, but I found that I’d rather do the work than do nothing because then I get bored and restless. So I’ve had about 3 big essays in the last two weeks! I’m looking forward to next weekend because all of the American exchange students are having our own Thanksgiving dinner, since they obviously don’t celebrate it here. So it’ll be fun to get together with everyone again. But I wish everyone back at home to have an amazing Thanksgiving. Eat lots of turkey, watch the Macy’s Day parade, and go to the Jacksonville Landing for the Tree Lighting, because some of us can’t do that stuff this year! But I’ve heard about a lot of crazy Danish Christmas traditions and I’m excited to experience them!

Hej-Hej!  

 


 

December 10 Journal

 Goddag!!!

I have already survived two big parts of the year: Thanksgiving and my birthday. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of sausages and potatoes and a salad…but that’s because they obviously don’t celebrate American Thanksgiving over here. It was strange sitting there eating normal food while thinking about everyone at home eating the ‘BIG MEAL’. But I got through it. On the following Saturday, I took the bus down to Svendborg, to visit my friend Karolina, and to have our own Thanksgiving dinner. Two other girls came from Odense, who are also exchange students from the States, and one girl came from Australia, which was really nice. We bought a turkey, potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin, and some more little things. We actually cooked Thanksgiving dinner!!! We cooked the turkey by ourselves and made our own pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce! And let me tell you…that was the best pumpkin pie I have ever tasted in my whole life, and the funny thing is that I usually HATE pie!!! Anyways…so we made our Thanksgiving dinner and sat down and had a really nice relaxing and tasty dinner! It had been a while since we had all seen each other so we decided to make that night a sleepover!!! So we stayed up late talking and watching some movies, but of course with the proper supply of candy!

School has seemed to gone down hill for me. My original class had a project that they had to do, but they got two weeks off of school to do it. So I had two choices, I could have stayed home for two weeks and done one myself, or I could have switched classes for two weeks just to meet new people. So I decided not to be at home alone for two weeks and I decided to switch classes, which turned out okay in the end, but started out rough. I moved into a big class with a lot of ‘clicks’ so of course that sucked. The first two days I might have talked to a total of 6 people, everyone else seemed to not care at all that I was there or maybe just didn’t notice. I really didn’t like that class. But all of a sudden on the third day everything changed and everyone seemed really friendly and nice and talkative to me. So that was kinda weird but nice! I met a lot of new people when I switched classes because it was in a different grade so I met more students in that grade too. But academically it was kind of a waste of time…because I only had each class about twice.

Next came my big 18th birthday! Two days before, a package came in the mail for me!!! It was from my mommy! I was so happy to see it there on the counter! It was really nice to have little knickknacks from home and birthday presents from home. But the best part was the card and the candy canes! The candy canes reminded me of home because we always had tons of them at home during December! My birthday was on Sunday, so my host siblings and I went out on Saturday night to celebrate! We went to Falsetten, which is a place where bands go to play and a lot of students from my school go there. I got there at like 10:30 then left at like 2:30am. So at midnight everyone sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! So that was really nice. We went home and all slept in, but I woke up to something rather unusual…My whole family was in my room with Danish flags singing ‘Happy Birthday’ but in Danish! So that was kind of nice. We got up and had a HUGE ‘AMERICAN BREAKFAST’. It was soooo good!! Then later on, we ate cake…and muffins, and another cake, because they made two! Then for dinner we had tacos!!! So everyone was so stuffed all day long that we barely ate anything the next day! I talked to my mom, my aunt, and my two cousins on the phone later on in the day and talked to my brother and my abuela the next day and it was really nice to hear their voices. It was hard…but great to talk to them. I was more emotional on my birthday than I have been in a while, but I guess that is kind of expected.

So … Two big events down … a lot to go. I’m getting excited about Christmas but don’t think I’m ready yet! I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. Soon it’s going to be New Years, which means it’s 2008!!! That’s so crazy!!! Time is flying by!!!


January 21 Journal

 Goddag!

So a lot of stuff has happened since my birthday and most of it envolved food! Christmas in Denmark is pretty much a month long feast! We have this Christmas lunch/party called a JULE FROKOST. These gatherings are usually with family and close friends. Everyone gets together and eats about a 5 course meal and dessert and then the adults usually talk for hours after while the teenagers and kids watch movies or play games. There is usually a Jule Frokost every weekend, so during the weeks we pretty much didn’t eat a lot because we were either still stuffed with food, or trying to leave space for the upcoming Jule Frokost. They reported in the news that 100 Danish people were in the hospital during the week of Christmas because they ate too much food! That’s so crazy!!!

Anywho… Christmas Eve was a crazy day! We woke up late and got ready for church. We got to the church at 2 and there were hardly any spots left in the pews, which is extremely uncommon for a Danish church, but it was Christmas: the one day that every Dane goes to church. When we got home, the feast began! I can’t even remember how many courses it was, but I know there were lots! We ate for about 3 hours, all while Lauge, my little host brother, was impatiently counting the seconds on the clock, waiting to open the presents. After we ate, it was time to sing and dance around the tree! My host siblings and I went into the hallway while my host parents lit the candles on the tree. They turned off the light and we came in to see to tree all lit up perfectly! It was so cute! haha. So we all stood around the tree holding hands. We each got to choose a Christmas song to sing as we walked around the tree still holding hands. It was kind of like the Who’s in Whoville!!! haha. As soon as we finished singing and ‘dancing’, which was technically just walking, around the tree, it was time to open presents! My host parents and host grandma each sat in a chair while us kids sat on the floor. My siblings have specific spots to sit every year so we had to find one for me too! So opening presents took a long time because we opened each present one by one, but it was really nice because then you could see everything that everyone got. After we opened presents, we had Caffe and Kager (Coffee and Cake!). By the time all of the Christmas eve traditions were over, it was 3 in the morning!

Sleeping until 12 on Christmas morning was definitely different for me! I’m so used to getting up early to open presents! But Christmas day here was obviously a lot different from home because everything had happened the night before, so there was nothing to do on Christmas but to relax and watch tons of movies!!! I talked to my mommy on the phone, and it was so nice to hear her voice but getting off the phone kinda sucked. I ended up staying in my room for the rest of the night. But I was okay, just a little homesick.

The Friday after Christmas I went up to Odense to visit my American and Australian exchange students. It was really fun to talk to each other about our experiences ‘dancing’ around the Christmas trees. We walked around Odense for the whole day and talked and talked and talked!

After my exchange visit came New Years Eve!!! It was the best time I’ve had since I’ve been here! I had so much fun! I went over to my friend’s house from school, with 4 other girls from my class. We made our own dinner and it was soooo good! Then we danced a lot and played games and lit fireworks! But I spent midnight a different way than before … we were standing on a couch waiting for it to be 12 o’clock so that we all could jump off! After midnight, we took a cab to the middle of town to go to the club, Palæet! We ended up staying there until 6 am, then finally went home after a long night of dancing!

January 2nd was a big day! I drove to the airport in Copenhagen with my host mom to pick up CHLOE!!!! We waited outside the baggage claim for her, for what seemed like forever! She finally walked out and I almost didn’t recognize her because her hair is now light brown instead of blonde! But i saw her face and I had to scream out ‘Chloe’ because she was walking around like a little lost puppy! haha. It was so nice to have her here with me for 4 days. We didn’t really do many exciting things other than shopping, but it was so nice to have someone to talk to, to really really talk to. Most nights we stayed up late watching movies and then just talking about everything possible. It was fun being able to speak ‘slang english a.k.a. american’ to someone and having them actually understand. We actually baked some brownies too!!! And they were SOOO good! So Chloe got to see how it is in the crazy Danish wind!!! haha. I loved having her here because for the first time in a while I felt like I was actually ‘myself’. Thanks so much Chloe for coming to visit me!! I had so much fun!!

So now it’s almost the end of January and this month has gone by so fast! I found out which day I’ll be coming home and it’s gonna be on July 12th. I’m really excited about going home but I know I still have much more to experience here until then. Six months left!!!


March 21 Journal

 Whew… I can’t believe I only have less than 4 months left! It’s crazy how fast time has gone by so quickly. So February started off with SUPER BOWL!!!! Some of the guys from school invited me to their super bowl shindig and of course I was the only girl because there aren’t many Danish girls who are crazy NFL fans! But that was exciting to see other people scream at a screen, but the only down side to having super bowl here, was that we didn’t get any of the American commercials! The commercials, for some people, is the best part of the super bowl! But we lived, and the game was amazing; I think I was the only one going for the Giants, so I was screaming the loudest!

February 8th was our school’s Fastelavns Fest! (which pretty much is a second Halloween). Everyone dresses up and goes to parties and little kids go door to door and collect money. So our school had a big party and it was sooo much fun! Everyone was dressed up, and it made up for Halloween because we didn’t have a party then. But there was a dance contest at the school party and a costume contest and all kinds of fun stuff. But I had tons of fun, and I felt like myself again because I talked a lot and danced A LOT, like I used to!

On February 15th, I was at my host family’s summer house with them. It was close to Copenhagen so we went around to a bunch of touristy places. We walked around the Queen’s palace and we saw the Opera House and we had a tour of a HUGE Castle called Kronborg. It was absolutely breathtaking with the gorgeous rooms and huge paintings.

So my band changed our name! It went from ‘Malle & the Pøllekartoflers’ to ‘Funk Banana’. But we only got to keep that name for about 2 weeks because we stopped playing together. Our leader, Malle, can’t work at the Ungdomshuset anymore, which is where we practice, so we can’t play together anymore. That really really sucks for me because it was the one extracurricular thing that I did here, and It’s the one thing that I did here that made me feel like myself. Singing opens me up and lets me express what I’m feeling and thinking. I felt comfortable and relaxed when I was singing with the band. I loved singing with the band and I love being around them and talking to Malle about traveling and music and everything. I already miss them so much and it’s only been about 3 weeks. But before we stopped playing together, we decided to make a recording. We spent one whole Saturday from 10am till 10pm recording 4 songs. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I loved it, even though I wasn’t doing much when the others were recording their parts, but when it was so much fun to record! I loved making up random harmonies and trying them out and then just having the computer put them on top of what I have already sung before. It was really exciting and so much fun. I don’t have the recording yet because It’s still getting edited and everything but I’m really excited to hear what it’ll sound like when I get it.

The next weekend I went to København with my host family to see a ballet at the Royal Theater! It was called Sylfiden and it was amazing! I haven’t seen a ballet in a long time and it was so beautiful. It made me realize that I miss dancing and that I miss D.A. and seeing all the dancing there. All the costumes were soo pretty and the dancing was just perfect. I was sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time because I was getting sucked into the performance! I loved it!

Last Friday was the big day. I moved to my third and last host family. It was really weird to pack up my room again and it was really weird to unpack my stuff into my new room. I waited a long time before I started, almost as if I wasn’t really moved in until my stuff was set in it’s final place in my new room. I didn’t really want to be fully moved in, so I procrastinated the unpacking. The feeling I had in my stomach when I was leaving the house that had become my home was crazy. I felt like I wasn’t just leaving my host family, or leaving my friends, but I was really leaving my family. They had become like my real family and I felt like I was leaving home again. I realized that I’m becoming more and more like my mommy when it comes to my emotions. I just let them out now, and cry when I need to! So …yeah I ended up crying a lot that day.

The new host family is great. They are really nice and funny and they speak Danish to me almost 24/7, but they’re a lot different from my other host families. It’s just going to take some time for me to get used to living here. Right now we’re on ‘Påske Ferie’ a.k.a Easter Break. So we’ve been visiting family members and we were in København yesterday and today to see some tourist sites.

School starts on Tuesday again and it’ll be nice to see my classmates again, but for now I’m just hanging out with my new host family trying to get a feel for things around the house and trying to get used to their lifestyle.  

 


 

May 13 Journal

 Hey everyone!!!

So it’s been a good month and a half since I last wrote, oops! A lot has changed since March. The most noticeable thing was definitely the weather!!! I’m actually getting my Florida tan back! haha. No more jackets or gloves or scarves. Now just t-shirts, shorts and flip flops!

At the beginning of April, I went on a student tour with all the seniors to Copenhagen. We were there for 3 days and it was actually really fun. I got a lot closer to my classmates because we were with each other all the time. But talk about walking too much! Geez.. we walked for almost 8 hours every day and our feet were killing us! But of course we decided to go out at night… in heels. haha. We went to the Opera, Rusalka, at the new Opera House in Copenhagen. It was amazing!!! The theater was absolutely gorgeous and the music was so intense and interesting. Rusalka is pretty much the same story as the little mermaid, but in Russian. So it wasn’t that hard to follow because we already kind of knew the story.

The 13th of April was my little host brother’s confirmation. Confirmation in Denmark is like the biggest event in a young person’s life. It’s bigger than sweet 16 and 18. All the family and friends from all over the country came for the confirmation and we had a huge party afterwards. It was really nice to meet all the family and to talk to them all. We ate soooooo much food too!!! But we ended up exercising it all off by playing football with all the ‘kids’.

My band’s CD is finally done! It took about a month to finish it and it sounds great!!! We only recorded 4 songs, but they all sound pretty good. I was so excited to hear it and it was so nice to go to the Ungdomshuset (youth house) to see the band and listen to it together and everything.

On April 21st I did my Rotary presentation. I was soooooo nervous about the Danish! And to make me even more nervous….my laptop wouldn’t hook up correctly to the projector. So I sat there for about 30 minutes trying to get it ready while everyone was eating. Ughhh… But after some time, we switched it to my host dad’s laptop and then it hooked up to the screen. So after that my hands were shaking like crazy, because I was already nervous and I hate making people I don’t know wait for me. But nevertheless, it went quite smoothly. I spoke Danish the whole time except when it came to the questions. I understood them and everything but it was just hard to explain things without having them prepared. So I kind of just spoke Danglish (mix of Danish & English) when answering some of the questions. But it went smoothly and everyone said they loved it, so that’s good!

April 25th was our ‘Årsfest’, which is kind of like the end of the year party…. kind of like prom but definitely a lot different. Everyone dressed up in suits and dresses and got their hair done and nails and everything just like Prom, and everyone also came in cool cars or buses or limos or motorcycles. It was really fun to sit outside and see all the different types of transportation. Some guys showed up in wheelchairs with balloons all over them and one person came in a horse and buggy. I came with my host brother and a girl from my class. We showed up in a red Cadillac! Everyone thought it was cool because I’m American! haha. After everyone showed up, we went in and ate dinner…but our parents were all there (of course mine weren’t, but my host parents were there). After dinner, all the seniors (including me) started our ‘lancier’. It’s a type of old Danish folk dance thing, but it’s actually really fun! We had practiced in gym class for over a month to get it perfect! It was really fun and all the families and friends were around us watching and taking pictures. After the lancier, we had a dance inside the school. We had different rooms set up with different kinds of music so you could choose which room to go into. We stayed there til 1am then all the students took a 30 minute bus ride to Odense to go clubbing. We stayed there until 5 then got back on the bus to go home. It was an eventful night, but it all went by so fast!!!

I’ve realized that my best friends here are other exchange students. And I don’t even see them that often, but when we do see each other, we can actually be ourselves and I always have sooo much fun with them all. The week after Årsfest, I hung out with a lot of exchange students. We made our own little get together in Odense and then I had two exchange students come and visit me for a couple of days the week after. It’s always really nice to see each other because we can talk about anything, because we understand each other. It’s going to really suck leaving, because we all live so far from each other in the world.

We had a spring concert at school with music and drama and art. That was the first time that I performed at school, which is weird for me because I’m so used to doing it at home. But it was really nice to sing for some of my classmates and school friends. The band I sang with played ‘Everybody’ by the Backstreet Boys, so that was actually really fun to sing! haha. Our last day of school (for the seniors) was on Thursday, so we had a huge party afterwards. it started at 4 with an ‘X-factor’ show, it’s a little like American Idol but Danish, but what they did was acted like different students from school so it was actually really funny to see. After the show we ate some food then had a DJ come and we danced the night away until 4:30. Some people slept at the school but I went home. We had to meet at school at 8am on Friday, so it was a little hard to get up in the morning. But we didn’t have any classes, we just had breakfast with all the seniors and teachers. So that was actually really nice as the ‘last day’ kind of thing. We stayed there for a little bit then everyone went home.

I’ve been living with my third family for a while now and it’s going good. But I really do miss my other host families too. I’ve been back to visit my second host family about 5 times already! It’s always really nice to see them all. I also went back to the island the other weekend to visit my first host family and that was really nice. There was a big party on the island because one of the neighbors was turning 60 so they whole island was there and that was really nice to see everyone again. My host family thought it was so crazy that I can speak Danish now. They kept speaking English to me because that’s what they used to do and they weren’t used to speaking Danish with me. So that really showed how much I’ve improved since the first few months.

Today is the 13th of May. On the 15th of May I will be leaving for…. EURO TRIP!!!!! I can’t believe it’s sooo soon! Time has flown by so quickly. I’m so excited about Euro Trip!!! But of course, I’m still trying to figure out what to pack! We’re going to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Lido di Jesolo, Venice, Verona, Monaco, Avignon, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Arnheim and Hamburg. So we’re gonna have lots to do during those 18 days. I will definitely be taking tons of pictures too!

SO… that’s been my life for the past month and a half. Busy and full of fun! My time in Denmark is running short, so i’m trying to make the best of what I have left. 60 days!!!!

Blaire Waller
2007-08 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Liege Ouest Rotary Club
         District 1630, Belgium

Blaire - Belgium

Blaire’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Blaire Waller. I’m 17 years old, and a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I live with my Mom, step-dad, younger sister Kate, and my grandma. My dad and older sister live about 10 minutes away, and I find myself there more often than not.

In my spare time I kickbox, and do Tae Kwon Do. I’ve been kickboxing for about a year, but I only started Tae Kwon Do a little while ago. I’m currently a white belt, but I hope to be testing for my yellow belt soon. I absolutely love these, and spend about 5 hrs a week in class, and a couple of hours in the gym to keep my muscles in use in between my classes. When I’m not doing either of these I like to hang out with my friends. We go to the mall, walk my friend’s dog, go to the movies, or out to eat. Every once in a while we will stay in and have a movie night.

I’m incredibly excited to be going to Belgium, and I can’t wait to begin this new chapter in my life. I want to go over there with as little pre-conceived notions as possible, and an open mind. I can’t wait to learn a new culture and language, and meet many new people.


September 19 Journal

 So I’ve almost hit the one-month mark here, and it’s been pretty awesome. I started school about a week ago, I’m not gonna lie and say I like sitting through all the monotonous classes in a foreign language that I still can’t understand, but I’ve enjoyed meeting the students in my class.

So what have I done and seen here? Well, lots of things. Rotary took us on a tour of Brussels, it’s an amazing city with beautiful architecture, and we spent a whole day there. Also, recently Amelie took me to a few chateaus, we spent the day getting lost on our way to them, it was pretty fun. I’ve met a bunch of friends here, some other exchange students, some Belg. With my Belgian friends it’s difficult, but we manage to understand each other in what I like to call franglais, or frenglish (one’s the French version and the other is the English version).

I’m getting used to my school schedule right now, and I have to say another year of getting up at seven in the morning is not looking appealing right now, but that’s what I signed up for I guess. My classes are: French, English, Spanish, Religion (I know – me in a religion class is pretty funny), Math, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Social Studies, History, Geography, and Gym. It’s funny because everybody expects me to speak Spanish because I’m from Florida, so when I tell them that I in fact know less Spanish then French they are quite surprised. Another common misconception is that I’m from Miami, well they are really let down when I explain that no, I’m not from Miami, and I’ve only actually been there a few times.

Recently I had something pretty comical happen to me. So, I was in my History class and my teacher passes out a sheet of definitions, I was like great, I can translate this (something to do!) and I can learn some of the words she will probably use in class. So I start translating it and writing down the definitions in English. All of a sudden my teacher yells my name. Well, I look up and she completely goes off in French, saying something about this being History class and I should be listening. I just sat there with this really really confused look on my face cause I really didn’t understand what she was saying and why she would be upset with me for trying to learn. It seems that she thought I was doing my English work, and I was a normal student. One of my class mates then informed her that I was in fact doing History, and that I didn’t speak French, so I was translating the definitions. She just looked at me and was like “Desole (Sorry).”

Everyone here is really nice, except for one bus driver, but I don’t want to get into that because it would involve a large amount of cursing. That’s another thing though – I can actually use public transportation now, well kinda. This past weekend my host-family took me to the north sea. It was so beautiful, and actually a lot like the beach in Jacksonville. It was such a great day, I got to see more of the Flemish part of the country, which in architecture at least is very very different than the French part. Anyway, I feel that in just a month I’ve seen a lot of Belgium, done a variety of things, and I can’t wait to see and do others.

‘Til the next awful attempt at a journal.

A Bientot!


October 21 Journal

 So it’s been about a month and that means what? Yes, another Rotary Journal. I’ve done a lot of things this month, I’ve gotten a lot closer with the kids in my class, they’re all pretty cool, so I’m pretty excited. They all keep trying to set me up with someone in our school, but it’s all good. Anyway I had another Rotary day, quite boring, not gonna lie. Well, besides that, it was cool getting to see a lot of the exchange students I don’t get to see very often. I was also adopted into the Mexican clan of Belgian exchange students, I just need to work on my Spanish. Anyway we got to spend the day on a boat in Namur. It was pretty, but there really wasn’t a lot to see, and I’m not really a fan of boats, haha oh well.

That weekend I also went to my first Belgian ‘party’ – it wasn’t so much a party as a few of us getting together and having a good time. I must say it was quite awesome, there were some really amusing misunderstandings too. I thought this girl said something which means like lick there/here and was like uh excuse me? Haha well we figured the problem eventually and she said something which means like leave her alone. Also, she was saying it to this girl’s ex who happened to be on the phone while they were explaining this to me, let’s just say it was hours of amusement.

Right now there is a big fair in Liege, and it’s pretty cool. I have only been there one time so far and not for long because I was on my way to meet some other people. While being pretty sweet, the fair has helped me, officially, find the first Belgian food that I intensely dislike, laquments (well something like that my spelling is still dismal in French). Anyway it’s like this awful overly sweet version of a waffle, like the waffle from hell that almost makes you want to swear off all waffles until you consider that, and remember how freaking amazing the real waffles are.

Also, I started hockey. I’ve only gone a few times but so far its pretty cool, my friend Fanny says I’m picking it up really quickly and keeps asking if I’m sure I’ve never played before. There’s three shots in hockey, I can’t really remember the names, but there is one that is really easy for me – it’s like golfing, but not, so when I was able to do it really easily everyone was really surprised. Now there are two aspects of hockey I don’t like, though one I can admit is good for me. One: at the beginning and end of practice we get to run laps around this humongous field, I’m talking like full size football field here, the other is that for some reason the Belg’s think its smart to play in skirts, in winter. Now ok I can see that even though it’s already freezing here when you play you get hot, I can accept that, but seriously skirts?

Recently I’ve had a couple of depressing days, and while they suck to no end I realize that they are fleeting, and will go away. It’s good to have people to talk about it, other exchange students as well as my Belgian classmates. I feel like I’m beginning to build a life here, and sometimes it scares me, but then I realize how awesome it is. I can’t wait until it’s true, I have friends here, friends in a country different than my own who don’t speak my language and are so incredibly different, but exactly the same. I told one girl, Chloe, in my class that I was sad the other day and she asked me why. Well I said I miss my best friend. Guess what she responded? I’m sorry, well you have us, and then she gave me a hug. That was pretty awesome, and its very true too. I have realized that Belgium is an awesome country, minus the weather- believe me even the Belgians agree with me on that.

Well I guess that’s about all the news I have for this journal, but tune in for the next one, I’m going to see Zazie in concert soon! Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to go along with that one too.


January 7 Journal

 So I know I’ve been lax in writing these journals, but lately nothing has really happened to talk about. I guess I’ll just tell the little things that have.

Unfortunately I had to say goodbye to two really good friends this month, Joanna from South Africa, and Eden from Australia, those were both hard goodbyes, and I was quite sad to not be able to see them off at the airport.

I had Christmas here, which most Belg’s do on the 24th of December and the 25th is like a recovery day. Well the 25th also is my host mom’s birthday, so we did two parties in a row. I got to watch on as all of these adults stood around getting drunk off their faces and then decide to have rambling philosophical conversations with me, in French, most of which I surprisingly understood.

Well after staying up a good part of the night with them I finally decided to call it quits and go to sleep because I was leaving at 8:00am the next morning to go to l’ile D’Oleron, an island of the southern coast of France. I went with my 3rd host family, and while the vacation was a nice thought, it turned into the biggest disaster of any vacation I’ve ever been on. So it started out ok, even with the awful early morning, cause I could sleep in the car. However, sleeping in the car is only good for so long, and 12 hours is def too long. So one day down spent in the car, we arrived at the house to realize that the heat wasn’t turned on, and it was freezing, so we turned on the heat and started a fire, everything went pretty well.

The next day dawned, at noon my kind of wake up schedule, and we drove to the mainland to a town called La Rochelle, a port town, where we rented bikes and rode around for the day seeing the sights. It was quite a nice day, even though by the end it started to get a little chilly. After that we headed back to the house, now even though we had turned the heat on it was only in 3 rooms, the 2 bedrooms we were using, and the bathroom, the rest of the house was freezing. So once again we built a fire, and us three exchange students huddled around it.

The next day however was the beginning of the disaster, we were woken up at about 9 o’clock so we could go rent bikes to bike around the island. Now I wasn’t too excited about biking again, one day being plenty for me and already feeling that in some sensitive areas, but hey I figured it won’t be too bad. However, unlike the day before this day was very cold and very foggy. We got our bikes, and put on all of our layers of warm clothes, and started out. Now even with all the layers I was quickly freezing, however the others were apparently getting enough exercise by biking to be quite hot, and actually trying to be positive, a rarity for me, when asked if I was too cold I nicely said no too.

So we continued on our bike ride, me getting colder by the minute. My host dad with the excitement level of a child, decided we could take the path through the forest. Now one thing is I hate nature, like really really hate it, so being out on a bike ride on the streets is one thing but when I have to start going through woods, I begin to get unhappy not to mention that by that time I had lost feeling in my feet and glove covered hands. But we were going to see the sea, my future host dad was way too overly excited for this. We got there, and guess what, it was so foggy we couldn’t even see anything. If we could have though, I know for sure a few things, one I live near the sea, and so did at least one of the girls with us, another thing is that my beach is actually warm. By this point in time I was way beyond miserable and completely freezing, but did we get to stop, no of course not, we got to keep riding for about 2 hours, while my future host dad insisted on stopping to point out every bird we came across as well as a number of other equally insignificant things.

Well, the ordeal finally ended after about 4 hours of being completely miserable. We went back to the house and immediately went to start the fire, desperately wanting to get warm. Everything went well until we were going to sleep and I got what looked to be a huge outbreak of hives or something like that. Well there goes a night given up to scratching, oh and had I mentioned I hadn’t gotten any sleep the other nights cause the two other exchangers I was rooming with snore?

So by the next day I was going on basically no sleep, and I started to get slightly ill, sore throat, headache, and that itching didn’t go away, it even spread. We spent the day at a theme park for movies, yeah seems like a retarded idea for a theme park to me besides the fact that 3D movies make me nauseous. So there I was with the beginnings of a cold, nauseous, and itchy. By that night my nausea had gone away, but I was just as itchy, and my cold had gotten worse. The cold continued to get worse throughout the night, and by the morning it hurt to swallow, and I was just ready to go home. But first I had to go walk through a freezing cold chateau, which while beautiful and all I was way too sick to appreciate.

Well after a miserable car ride home, I was still sick but felt that at least here my host mom would help me feel better. She made me this tea that helped with my fever, and gave me some throat spray for my aching throat, and I went off to bed. Well I was woken up with the awful itching again, and went to find my host mom to see if she had something. She gave me some stuff, while telling me she would call the doctor tomorrow. So the next day the doctor came and was amazed at how swollen my throat was. He prescribed some antibiotics as well as a few other things to help me get better. Now I’m not going to entirely blame this on two days of being freezing on my vacation, but it’s probably a good factor.

Now while this was a pretty miserable experience it did make me realize something. Weirdly enough when I was sick, I wanted to go home, but I didn’t mean Florida when I thought that, I meant my home here with my first host family. This made me realize I really do think of this as my home, and I think of them as my family. This realization however comes with a bit of sadness because I’m about to switch host families, and not to say that I won’t get to see them ever again, but it’s not the same. I won’t get to come home and have those long talks with my host mom, and I won’t be there to watch movies with my little host brother. When you first arrive at your host families you feel like a guest, and by the time you feel like it’s your home, you have to change families again. And surprisingly in this time of family holidays, the thing making me sad is not being without my family, but the idea that I’ll soon have to leave my new one.


April 21 Journal

 So I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, but i can never think of anything to write about. I went recently to the outbound weekend for my district here in Belgium as the sole representative from Florida. There will be three Belgian exchange students from district 1630 going to Florida next year, and I was there to kinda explain a bit of what they could expect. The only problem with that is, I’ve never been on exchange in Florida and they don’t really know where they are going exactly. So I gave them a generalized idea about what to expect with some help from rebounds/Rotex from my district in Florida. I got to the weekend late, Saturday morning instead of Friday afternoon, there was a party at my school for the rhetto, seniors. The inbounds and some of the rebounds came up with some skits, and stories about our exchanges, and the outbounds got to hear the rules, and here they have to take a test they must pass to go on exchange. That Saturday night we presented our skits which had the audience in uproars, and was just generally a good time, afterwards we all hung out getting to know each other and talking about exchange. I was very glad I got to visit with my good friend Amelie who is a Rotex, but spent her year of exchange in my school in Jax. I left early the next morning, and me along with a couple of friends went back to my house to chill.

Recently I’ve often been asked if I’m sad about going home, and I always reply well yeah, I mean there are definitely some things that I miss back in Jax but overall Belgium has become my home. Also, I still have about 3-4 months left so I haven’t even started thinking about the end yet. We’ve already said goodbye to the first girl with my year here in Belgium and it was a shock for all of us I think. The end is getting close, and I’m pretty sure none of us are happy about it. All I know is that I plan on making the best of the time there is left and not wasting a minute of it.

Brad Patterson
2007-08 Outbound to Germany

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Salzgitter-Wolfenbüttel-Vorharz Rotary Club
         District 1800, Germany

Brad - Germany

Brad’s Bio

Guten Tag! My name is Brad Patterson and I will be graduating from Bartram Trail High School in May 2007. I live with my mom and dad, my sister, Jamie, and my dog, Cisco. I also have another sister, Tiffany, who will be getting married while I am away. I have lived in Jacksonville my whole life and as much as I love the Florida sun, I think it’s time to mix things up. This summer I will pack my bags and head off to the Futterland (a.k.a. Germany).

My interests include swimming (I did varsity swimming at BTHS for all four years), cycling, bowling, Apple computers, history, and politics.

I’d like to thank everyone who made this possible for me. I also have to give Roman Karkosch (an inbound from Germany) a huge thank you for helping me prepare for my trip and being a great friend. I can’t wait to write my first journal entry from Germany! Auf Wiedersehen!


September 16 Journal

 Guten Tag aus Deutschland!!!!!!

I am finally here. In Germany. Not jealously reading other’s journals as I sit in the States, but writing my own. From Germany.

Saying goodbye to my family was much harder than I expected. Taylor and I left our family, our friends, and our lives in Jacksonville as we flew to Detroit to catch our connecting flight to Amsterdam. We managed to keep each other awake the whole time by playing the in-flight trivia on the TVs. We said goodbye in Amsterdam and went our separate ways. Then our exchange really began, we were finally on our own. I was asleep before my plane took off and woke up only minutes before landing. This is it. This is Germany.

Hannover is an incredibly beautiful city with such an amazing history. I visited with Roman and then headed south to my city, Salzgitter-Bad. When I first arrived I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t the Germany I had imagined. My town is small, only 33,000 people, and not exactly your classic little German city. Needless to say, the first few days were very rough as I tried to build my relationship with my host family and also attend school. It took time but things are much better now and I am excited for the year ahead of me.

Every morning I wake up bright and early at 6 a.m. and walk up two stories to my shower. My house is situated on the face of a hill and every morning before I shower I look out a window and view a golden city, lit up by the rising sun with the beautiful Harz Mountains in the background. Sometimes when I go to Braunschweig and walk down the streets looking at buildings older than America, people sitting out in cafés sipping cappuccinos, and vendors selling Bratwursts by the meter. It’s moments like these when I realize I’m not in Florida anymore.

The food here is utterly amazing. I’ve had so many different types of cheeses, wursts, and bread that half the time I don’t know what I’m eating. If you have never had Italian Ice Cream, you have not had Ice Cream. I never thought vanilla ice cream could possibly taste so good. I might be the only exchange student looking forward to the infamous ‘Rotary 15’ but there’s no doubt that it’s only a matter of time. I just don’t know if it will be 15 pounds or 15 kilograms.

Tschüüüüüs!!!!!!


October 22 Journal

 I’ve been sitting here for about 30 minutes trying to start writing this journal. I end up writing a couple sentences and then deleting everything and starting all over again.

I guess one of the coolest things that happened since my last journal is that I’ve started to fly in gliders and single engine airplanes here. My host-brother is a member of a private airclub called Schäferstuhl which is just a place with a grass runway and a lot of airplanes. Usually one of the older men from the club take me up with them and we just fly around and do fun little acrobatics. Germany is beautiful this time of year because of all the leaves changing colors, but seeing that from 5,000 feet up was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. Unfortunately it is starting to get too cold and the weather is becoming worse and worse and we are done flying until next spring.

It is very hard for me to make friends here. In America you can say “I’m a foreigner!” and people think it’s really cool. My school here does a lot of short-term exchanges with a school in South Carolina and so I’m just ‘another American’. It’s also difficult because there are no school sports or after school clubs to meet new people. School here works differently too, you have about 25 kids in your classroom and the teachers come to you instead of you going to the teacher. While this is nice because I don’t have to worry about getting lost in the halls, it’s to my disadvantage because out of my whole school I only know those 25 kids. In most German cities there are swim clubs and soccer clubs that you can join and do that in your spare time but my town here is really small and doesn’t offer such things. It’s very difficult for me to stay busy but I manage.

I went to Hamburg with Rotex 1800 in early October, which was very neat. To be in such a historic city that played such a huge role in the history of modern civilization is very cool. We saw some very old cathedrals and of course had to take a quick stroll through the red light district. I still think its weird how Germans walk by buildings built in the 1600’s everyday without even giving any attention to it, but when I see it I can’t help but think, “This building is older than my country!”. Sometimes the train rides to and from the cities is the best part. All of the exchange students just… click. We get it. We are all going through the same feelings and become immediate friends.

During these two months I’ve experienced some of the coolest things in my life but it would be a lie to say it’s been easy. In fact, this has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes I feel so close to being fluent while sometimes I feel like I’ll never get there. I feel pressured to ‘be fluent by the holidays’ like everyone says happens. Although I go to German lessons 15 hours a week, it seems that as soon as I learn one rule of grammar they throw 3 more at me. It doesn’t help that everyone always speaks English with me outside of school. I ask them to speak German but the second I say ‘Wie bitte?’ (Pardon?) they go right back to English. I’m taking it one day at a time and slowly making progress.

I’m excited for the next few months though. I think the Holidays are going to be very very cool (and cold). Talk to you then!

Bis dann!  


November 5 Journal

 Ok guys, so I know I’m gonna seem like a nerd for writing the extra journal, but I really feel like I need to. Just as last time, I’m struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into pixels on a screen. I just don’t even know where to begin, so in advance, I’m sorry if I ramble. I’m sort of writing this for all the current and future outbounds.

I have just completed what I would consider the longest hardest two months of my life. The fact is that October was, honestly, just a really, really, REALLY bad month. I really felt like I was having one of the worst exchanges in the history of Rotary. Now that I look back, I realize that I was just sulking in my problems and not doing anything about them.

My “City”

Salzgitter is made up of 31 small villages. I was born and raised in Jacksonville and I have found it extremely difficult to adjust to the ‘small town’ atmosphere. My house is situated on the very tippy-top of, what a Floridian would call a mountain, they would call a hill. Although this provides us with a beautiful view of the distant mountains, it sort of separates me from the rest of the village. Walking down, or up for that matter, the ‘hill’ is no easy feat. Every German city has a central area with shops and cafés known as the Innerstadt (Inner-city) or Altstadt (Old-city). The larger cities have magnificent, beautifully decorated, ridiculously German-looking buildings bursting with the latest designer clothes and bustling Germans wandering through the narrow streets. Unfortunately for me, my village has a few cafés, a post office, and… yea. That’s about it.

My solution to this is public transportation. Every hour a train leaves for the nearby city of Braunschweig which is only a 15 minute commute. There I can bask in my natural habitat. Braunschweig is a truly wonderful city with an amazingly rich history. Everywhere you go you find buildings and get frustrated you can’t read the plaques explaining the history because everything’s in German (duh!). The only downside to this is that I ended up getting a 40€ ticket for riding a tram with an expired ticket (they are good for 90 minutes and mine was 7 minutes over!). I tried pulling the “just an exchange kid, didn’t know better (I really didn’t!!!)” routine but I still ended up getting one. Oh well. Live and learn.

My School

As I mentioned in my previous journal entry, schools here are different. One of my biggest problems is that I am now 19 years old and I am in a class of 16 year olds. My class here never really accepted me, and I never made any friends. I figured this was because of the age difference and it turns out I could not have been more wrong. Recently I went to a birthday party and started talking to a few girls. Then more girls came. And more. Then I realized, “People were actually caring that I am an exchange student?!”. After talking more I realized that all these people were in another class in the same grade as me. We all collectively decided that I should switch into their class since things seem like they have a lot more potential for friendships.

My Host Family

To be honest, the first 1½ months I just didn’t really click with my host family. We got along but I couldn’t help but felt like something just wasn’t right. It turns out I was just being a little harsh on them. My host brother and I are really good friends and I’ve been talking to him about some of my issues. I’m not going to get into details but I’ve definitely changed my mind and things are much much much better. Either way, I will be switching to a temporary host family for 10 days in November so I will see how that goes. I guess that’s when I have something to compare things to.

So I guess I’m really just hitting a giant reset button. I’ll get to experience a different family and I’ll get to transfer classes in school. I’ll still be in Salzgitter but hopefully this time I’ll have some more friends and get out of the house more. When you are an exchange student, boredom is your biggest enemy.

I’m not writing this journal to scare off potential outbounds. I’m writing this to let people know that you DO get homesick, and you DO get Culture Fatigue (Culture Shock). It’s just… part of it all. It’s even in the “The Exchange Student Survival Kit”. I plan on not just surviving this year; I plan on really doing things right and getting the most out of it.

Tschüß!


November 30 Journal

 It happened on Friday, November 16, 2007 around 6 P.M.

It was bound to happen. It was what I had been waiting for for well over a year now. On that cold, wet, windy evening something clicked. Ever since then I have been learning so much easier and things just make much more sense.

But first, I need to take you back a little bit.

Right now I am living with a temporary host family, only for 12 days. My (new) host mom works for my (old) host dad. Long story short, they heard about me and where interested in hosting me and so here I am. I can honestly say this is best time of my life. I am so happy here that I’m actually afraid to go back to my old (semi-permanent, as I will be living with them for 2/3 of this year) host family. This family is much younger and much more… alive. It’s an apartment-type house, which is really great because it’s so much smaller and more modern. I like the fact that it’s smaller because it forces you to be with each other. At my 1st house I would just sit in my room doing absolutely nothing other than German Course homework whereas here we play games, watch TV, and do, well, normal family things. I’ve only been here for a few days but I really do already love this family. It really saddens me, however, that I can only stay for these 12 days, as they really don’t have the room for me, there just aren’t enough beds.

My 1st host family was fluent in English, which I liked for about a week. Then the English just never stopped. Here they don’t speak much English so my German has drastically improved. Now I am finally at a point where I speak more German than most people can speak English, which is one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever experienced. In fact, I was out with my new host sister and a friend of hers and it wasn’t until the very end of the night when her friend realized that I wasn’t a German. That was a great feeling. All my hard work is paying off. All the hours spent literally reading and copying pages and pages of notes out of dictionaries and researching the different types of grammar have finally added up and are finally making sense. It’s really funny how much I’m learning about English grammar by learning German grammar. I wish I had paid more attention in English class as to what direct-objects and indirect-objects are because in German that can change EVERYTHING! A little advice to the upcomers, pay attention in your English class! You’ll be glad you did!

One normal morning I woke up, went and ate breakfast, showered, and came back to my room. But as I walked past my window I noticed it was unusually bright outside so I did a double take to realize there was a good 6 cm of snow on the ground! It’s been snowing on and off since then, but there’s no more snow on the ground.

I recently switched classes. That made a HUGE difference as far as friends and general morale is concerned. I am finally not just some bothersome exchange student but I am (happily) just another kid in school. People actually wave me down to come sit with them and walking through the halls I get so many people (most of which I don’t remember) come up and say hey. It’s really nice to finally feel welcome.

As the temperature continues to drop I am noticing more and more Christmas decorations popping up here and there and it always reminds me of home. People always ask me if I get homesick. That’s a really interesting question, actually. I think you are always homesick, you just get used to it. It becomes a part of your life and you just accept it. I know that I won’t get to see my parents or feel the Florida sand in between my toes until sometime next summer and I’ve just… accepted it. But as I notice more and more holiday decorations go up I find myself thinking about previous time with my family and how I took them for granted. It’s funny how 3,000 miles of separation and limited contact can bring you closer to people.

I guess that’s about all I’ve got for this update.

To everyone who reads this (which I would imagine is limited to relatives and Rotary kids), please make the most of this holiday season. Spend it with friends and family and not just wasting it on the computer or in front of the TV. Just go out and be American. Speak English. Enjoy life.

Tschüß!

Brad


 

December 21 Journal

 Can you believe it’s already Christmas time? I sure can’t. I knew this year would go by fast but this is incredible.

I’ve been sick the last few days so I’ve spent the majority of my time watching Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer in German. I think my IQ has lowered significantly, but even this far into my exchange, even though I would say it’s safe to say I’m fluent (albeit barely), I am still learning a lot about grammar and some new words by watching these kids shows. In the U.S. Dora the Explorer was bilingual with English and Spanish (don’t ask me how I know this, hahaha), English obviously the main language. In Germany she is, naturally, speaking German, but has English as her second language. It makes me feel pretty smart when she asks what something is called in English and I always get it right.

So, yea. Wow. It’s already December. What a month. I’m going through all my pictures trying to remember what all happened this month, seeing as all the months just seem to blur together. December was a pretty normal month, I had a Rotary Weekend in Wernigeröder, a Rotex Weekend in Stadthagen, and… oh yea… I WENT TO BREMEN AND SAW TAYLOR BRESNAHAN (aka Timmy) and we had the best time ever! It was so great to see him again. But let’s start at the beginning.

Rotary Weekend

So like once every-other-month we have a Rotary Weekend in some random city. This time it was in a city called Werniger. The weekends are a great time to relax with other exchange students, and seeing as this was our first time staying in a Hostel, we did not sleep much. Now I’m at a point where I know I won’t get sleep at any Rotary Weekends. Really all we did this weekend is went for like a kajillion kilometer (about a gazillion miles) hike through the woods. We also got to check out a really old castle. It STILL blows my mind when I get to walk through such historic buildings that are older than western civilization. We came out into the courtyard after a tour through the castle and noticed some Santa wannabe singing Christmas Carols on a microphone and everything, so, naturally, we ALL (and by all I mean about 70 of us) went up there and starting screaming along with him at the top of our lungs. It was one of the coolest memories I have of Germany.

Rotex Weekend

Just like the Rotary Weekends, we have these once every-other-month. Rotex Weekends are just cool. We essentially just all sleep in the big gym on the ground (in a sleeping bag, if you can remember one) and just… talk. and talk. and talk. We went Ice Skating together which was REALLY funny. I’m no pro, but at least I know how to roller skate, which helps. Some of the kids from Brazil just… couldn’t. It was really funny. I brought an American Football with me which was a huge hit with everyone. There was always lots of really loud music in the gym and we had dances every night. Even Santa popped in to say hello and deliver some presents a little early.

Bremen

So. Yes. I went with one of my friends from Brazil to Bremen to go visit Taylor, which could NOT have been any more fun. It was really really great. We just talked and talked and talked. We ventured through Weihnachtsmarkts (I’ll explain these next!) and just walked through historic Bremen. We shopped for socks. We ate some typical German food at a restaurant. It was just really fun. We prepped for this year together and to see each other after 4 months of not seeing anyone you know, it’s a great feeling to meet an old friend. We will definitely have to do that again soon.

Weihnachtsmarkt

Germans love Christmas. In every city, no matter how small, they have a Christmas Market called, you guessed it, Weihnachtsmarkt. It’s really just a bunch of booths set up, each of which sells something different. One will sell candy while others sell Bratwursts, beer, Crepes, Candles, etc. They are really cool and very VERY typical German. Lots of white Christmas lights, the smell of cinnamon and caramel apples in the air. The FREEEEEEEZING cold. Doesn’t get much better.

So I guess that about wraps this one up. Christmas is coming up. So is my first change of Host Families. I’m really excited for both. I’ll probably write my next post shortly after New Years so I can write about the Holidays in a little better detail.

I hope everyone that reads this is doing well and is enjoying their time with their family.

Bis 2008! Frohe Weihnachten!

Brad


 

January 22 Journal

 It’s official. I love Germany. Let me explain.

Christmas came and went, for the most part, without much celebration. On the evening of the 24th of December we went into a Goslar for our Christmas service. Although I may not be the most religious person in the world, it was really cool to experience a Protestant service in the country that started the Protestant revolution. The cathedral we went to was built in the 11th century and for this particular service it was only candlelit. It was so surreal. I felt like I had taken a time machine back to the time of Martin Luther. It was also really neat when we sang Silent Night, Holy Night (Stille Nacht) in German, the original language. The actual Christmas stuff occurs that night. After dinner the little kids (in this case, two 19 year olds) go to their rooms until ‘The Christmas Man’ comes through the chimney, lays the presents under the Christmas tree, lights candles on the trees (they don’t use electric lights), rings a little bell and quickly disappears through the chimney off to the next house. Hearing the bell, the kids come back to the room and open their gifts.

On the 26th of December I took a train up to Hannover to spend a few days with Roman. It was nice to see a familiar face again, and I had a great time. We actually ended up seeing the ‘Governor’ of Lower-Saxony doing a photo-shoot, so I got a few pictures of him.

I stayed there until the 28th and at noon the next day I moved to my next host family. This was the changing point in my exchange. I see my exchange as ‘before the switch’ and ‘after the switch’. Pretty much my first host family wasn’t really competing to win the ‘Best Host Family Award’. I never really felt totally comfortable and it turns out I was actually sort of depressed there. After I switched to my new host family all of that changed. Now I live downtown and I can actually go out. I immediately fell in love with my new host family and I am loving every minute of it. Just waking up and eating normal food is a Godsend and makes my day right off the bat.

Pretty much my dad runs a very successful, very formal restaurant in Braunschweig and my mom runs a nice Hotel here in my village. I have a 16 year old sister and a 13 year old brother and we all get along great. I think one of the newest things for me is that now I have a maid that comes and cleans my room two times a week… that’s always nice. Here we do a lot of traveling and eating out at nice restaurants. I am very very happy here and I am very lucky to stay here until I have to (yes, HAVE TO, not ‘get to’) leave Germany.

On the 19th of January I woke up very early and took a train to Aachen, Germany where I met Blaire, Chloe, and a few others from their country. It was really nice to see them and show them my country. Then we took a train to Belgium where I got to see Liege, Belgium for a while. It was kind of weird for me because for the last five months I have been speaking German and all of a sudden I get to this new place and NOBODY speaks my language! I really truly missed speaking German and that was a new feeling I had never really felt before. On my way back I had an hour to kill in Köln (Cologne), Germany. On the train I saw the huge Cathedral it had to offer and I decided I’d see if I could find it. I only had an hour and Köln is a huge city so I ran out of the train station and before I even really notice what I’m looking at my jaw hit the floor. Before me was the nearly 800 year old, 515 foot tall Cathedral of Köln. It was bigger than I had ever imagined. The only way I can really describe what it looks like is like this: you know when you build those sand castles at the beach where you pick up a scoop of very wet sand and let it drip out one drop at a time to slowly build up, higher and higher. Imagine that but a million times bigger, and a few other engineering differences. It was truly just mind blowing. I ran inside and took over 100 pictures in under 45 minutes. My theory was, take pictures now, learn about it later. It worked out pretty well.

So now I’m sort of getting ready for another very intensive German course I will be taking soon. I am going to my first German concert, my first formal ball, and then we are traveling to Berlin. I am really starting to travel a lot more which is very cool and I can’t wait for my 23 day EuroTour coming up in March.

Tchao,

Brad


 

March 11 Journal

 Hey guys, I don’t have much of a post for this month, as not too much has happened.

“Berlin is the newest city I have come across. Even Chicago would appear old and gray in comparison.”

Okay, okay. That was actually written by Mark Twain, but the man couldn’t be more right! Berlin was FANTASTIC! Everyone needs to see Berlin before they die. It’s just… I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my childhood to see A LOT of the U.S. but never before have I been so emotionally attached to a city like I am to Berlin. It is my ‘perfect city’. I could ramble on forever about how cool it was, but I’m going to sum it up with another quote from Hiroshi Motomura:

“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.”

This Friday, March 14th, I will hop on a train to Hannover and officially begin ROTEX 1800’s famous EuroTour. Ever since I read Julie Hundersmarck’s post about this last year I’ve been ready to get on that train. And here I am, days away, staring at it in the face. It’s 23 days, 15 cities, 8 countries, and 44 other exchange kids and it will for sure be the highlight of my year. It’s weird being so close to something that you know will be so utterly amazing that you will never in a million years forget.

I’ve just got one more quote for you before I wrap this one up. It’s a German saying that goes, “Träume nicht dein Leben, sondern lebe deinen Traum” and it translates to ‘Don’t dream about your life, but live your dream’. I heard that when I first got here and I didn’t even understand it because it was, obviously, in German. But I printed it out and hung it on my wall and look at it every day. By now I have it memorized and I am doing my best to fulfill it because I know the truth is the end is just a few calendar pages away, and for an exchange student, that’s not much. I can’t wait to be sitting here next month telling you about my awesome travels through beautiful Europe.

Oh yea – this week the temperature got into the double digits! I think it’s time to break out those Florida flip-flops and the long-forgotten sunglasses.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Brad


 

 

April 21 Journal

 When I last left you off, I was preparing to go on a trip through Europe with the other exchange students from my district and our Rotex.

I had the time of my life and made friends I will never forget.

Hannover, Prague, Budapest, Munich, Vienna, Venice, Rome, Vatican, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Lyon, Monaco, Paris, Antwerp, Brussels. 45 Exchange kids, 6 Rotex, 1 Bus. Talk about a dream vacation.

The trip was obviously amazing. I did all the typical touristy stuff which was nice. Living in Florida you sort of never get to experience the typical tourist stuff because you grow up around it, but that is obviously not the case in Europe.

We went to Europe’s largest Disco. We went to castle after castle after castle. We rode on a Gondola in Venice. We ate our weight in real Italian pizza and Ice cream. We threw coins into the Trevi fountain in Rome. WE SAW THE POPE IN THE VATICAN. We did pictures trying to ‘hold’ The Leaning Tower of Pisa. We sunbathed in Monaco. (Read: We saw the sun for the first time in months.) We went to the Palace of Versailles. We walked the Champs-Elysées from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. We saw the Eiffel Tower at night. We gave each other kisses under the Eiffel Tower (for good luck!). We had real Belgium waffles, chocolate, and ‘Belgian Fries’.

It was nice to be a tourist again. Us exchange students really became a great big family over that tour, and it was kind of hard not to. Waking up at 6, riding in a cramped bus until noon, see exotic European city until evening, partying at a disco until 4 am, squeeze in a quick nap. Repeat. That was our lives for 23 days, the best 23 days of our lives.

Coming back to reality was very hard and abrupt. Saying goodbye was a tearful event and being back home felt very awkward (and quiet). I was kind of depressed it was over for a few days, but realized life goes on. School seems a little more boring now, but I always have a blast with friends after school.

I think spring in finally here. Unlike Florida, Germany actually does have seasons. The Winter was not as cold as usual but stayed a lot longer than usual. I think yesterday was the first day I actually felt like it was Spring. Hopefully soon I can unpack those shorts and flip flops.

Us exchange students meet up a bit more on the weekends now, too. The sad thing is, they are for Going Away Parties, a harsh bit of reality. Saying goodbye to people is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. I don’t think I will fare too well having to get on my plane in July. But that is still a while away and I have time to prepare. The next big thing coming up for me is that my little sister (whom I am trying to convince to become an exchange student) and my best friend are flying here together in early May, followed immediately by a Rotex Weekend, so I have that to look forward to.

Pretty much I am back in the routine of things, chugging along, trying to stay busy.

Enjoy the Florida sun for me. I miss it.

Bis nächste mal!

Brad


 

May 25 Journal

 And so it begins, the beginning of the end. I suppose this is the 4th of 5 stages an exchange student goes through. First there’s the “oh my god, I’m going to (insert country here)!” phase, then there’s the “oh my god, I’m in (country)!” stage. Then you get used to life in said country, and that’s stage 3. Now I am in the “Wow. I have to leave my country soon” phase. It’s kind of weird because for so long everything was so new and so foreign, and now it’s my home, these are my friends, this is my family. And soon I will have to say goodbye to it all.

I remember before I got here I would read these journals and think to myself, ‘man, one day my face will be up there. One day I’ll be in Germany writing about all the cool things I did.’. And here I am, 10 months into my exchange with just 1 left to go. I suppose it’s just kind of surreal. I try to not think about having to say goodbye, but at the same time I try to keep in mind that every second I spend here is precious and try to enjoy it to the most. And I think I am doing a pretty good job of it. I had a lot of help getting me prepared to enter Germany thanks to a lot of Rebounds, but there’s one thing I’ve learned recently and that’s that nobody can ever teach you how to say goodbye.

I still have a month in a half left, but I just sort of got slapped in the face by father time as I realized just last week how little time I had left. I had another Rotex Weekend and had to say goodbye to 3 more kids that are leaving before our next, and final, Rotex Weekend. Needless to say, I am a huge crybaby when it comes to saying Goodbye.

But onto a happier subject: I recently had some visitors! My friend and sister came to visit me and it was a really unique experience and I loved every minute. It was hard at first, my English was not exactly as it was 10 months ago and I forgot A LOT of words, but to be able to translate everything for them was great. I took them to Berlin, Munich, and Vienna and had some pretty cool adventures. In Munich we visited the Hofbraühaus and took a daylong bicycle trip to a castle called Neuschwanstein which is actually the castle that inspired the Cinderella Castle in Disney World. In Vienna we rented bikes and I took them on a tour of the city (until I lost the map, and that’s when speaking German comes in handy). All in all it was a real treat and nice to see them again.

It’s kind of weird knowing I only have one journal left to write from Deutschland, but hopefully it will be a great one, full of awesome memories.

So until then,

Brad “Holzbrett” Patterson

Bristol Marotta
2007-08 Outbound to France

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School
Sponsor: Ormond Beach West Rotary Club, Dist 6970, Florida
Host: Saint-Quentin Rotary Club
         District 1670, France

Bristol - France

Bristol’s Bio

Hi everybody! I’m Bristol Marotta and I’ve been selected to go to France next year!! I’m 16 years old and I live in Palm Coast, Florida. I’m a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Everything and anything I like to do involves nature. Ever since I attended North Carolina Outward Bound School, I’ve appreciated nature and the outdoors [and showers] so much more. I love to hike, canoe, and rock climb but I haven’t had a chance to do much of that in Florida. My hobbies also include reading, writing and learning language.

Before I settle down and become truly an “adult,” I feel that I need to accomplish all of my goals: Travel everywhere, learn as much as I possibly can about these places, maybe write a book or two, and really truly make a difference in the world. I know some are a bit far-fetched, but nothing is impossible.

There are not enough words to express how excited I am to have this amazing opportunity. All I can say is thank you to everyone who helped me to make this possible: Rotary, for creating this amazing program and selecting me to be a part of it… my family, for giving me the support I need to succeed… My dear friend, Elena Mascarenhas from Brazil, for telling me all about this great program… my amazing French teacher for teaching me for the past 3 years about the French language and culture and sparking my interest in any language and culture… and so many others. I just want to say thanks to everyone. THANK YOU!!!


August 27 Journal

 Le départ

The departure was SO difficult for me. I wanted so much at that moment to run away and also to run to the plane. I had such mixed feelings about it. I was SO excited to get to go to France and yet SO nervous to leave my family who I had gotten even closer to before leaving. Of course I cried. I cried SO much. I cried all the way until the security line where the security guard held up the line and wouldn’t let me pass until I gave him a real smile. After that the tears stopped and I was just excited.

L’arrivée

I’m finally here!! I can’t believe it! That last plane ride was SO scary, just imagining what was going to happen, what I was going to say, what it would look like, etc. It was SO nerve racking. For the last 2 or so hours of the flight to Paris, Summer and I didn’t even pretend like we were sleeping. Instead we talked in an excited whisper about our host families and the language and the weather. We drew on the air sickness bags and tried so hard to stay busy during the time before. Then FINALLY, the girls were all squealing “AHHH!!! We’re in Paris!” This was such an exciting time. Now for the difficult part, meeting my host family.

La conaissance

 

My hosts met me at the airport, and my host district chairman as well. I was the first exchange student out of the baggage claim area and it was crazy to see all the host families patiently awaiting their students. There were SO many because all the exchange student for the entire country have to arrive on the same day in the same airport. I was so nervous, and I hadn’t seen pictures of ANY of the family members, so I didn’t know what to expect. Finally, there they were! Speaking in SLOW, over-articulated French so that I could understand. It was definitely amusing.

La ville

My city is roughly the same as the one back home with much more in it. All of the buildings are brick and very old, because “in this region we have the earth to make bricks” says my host. Its really a cute city, with such cool stores. I like it a lot.

La tourisme

For now, since school starts on the 4th of Septembre, I am a tourist. My family shows me so many interesting things here and I’ve taken A LOT of pictures. I would post them but from what I can understand my family’s computer has a virus and for now it’s not possible.

La nourriture

The food here is so different, almost everything is fresh, fresh, fresh, and I am pretty sure that there is not a single type of meat that the French do NOT eat, besides the pets. The food here is well made and we eat A LOT. It seems like all we do is eat. I am never hungry and I can only eat “un petit peu” of food each meal because I am still full from the last meal. It’s pretty awesome for those who like to eat.

C’est tout

That’s all for now, I will try to get a hold of a computer that can upload pictures as soon as possible!!


September 23 Journal

 Wow! Has it been a month already?! I can’t believe it! Before I left, I read all those journals and I read how everyone said that it was passing too quickly. I read that. I thought about it. I even thought that I knew what it meant. But no, I had NO idea.

On September 4th, I started school. School in France is very, very different. You do not choose your own classes; you are put with a group of kids (your class) on the first day and the teacher reads the class schedule to you. This is a good way to do it, I am sure, providing that you can understand what is being said, and that you understand that you should be writing it down. I am sure it also helps if you seat yourself in the right classroom. Getting to class, for me, is difficult. The schedule is very complex. Everyday is different and your schedule changes depending on whether it is an odd or even week. Some classes divide into groups for certain subjects. Sometimes a subject will change its classroom without warning. It makes for many interesting days to say the least. It was hard at first, but I am really getting the hang of it, I don’t have to follow people to EVERY class and I am actually liking school.

I have made quite a few friends so far and they help to explain things to me when I am completely confused. (I won’t fool you; it’s quite often.) They’re also helpful in the way of language and grammar. I haven’t met anyone (besides my English teacher) who speaks much more English than “See you later,” and I am grateful for that because I think my French is really improving.

Thank you so much for everything you all have done for me! I REALLY love it here and I really hope that all of the other exchange students are having as much fun as me!

*bisous à tout le monde*


October 27 Journal

Another month, another Rotary entry. Didn’t I JUST write the last one?

I am pleased to say this month has been another fantastic one. France has treated me so well, and I am really starting to feel like I belong.

I can answer questions in class, I can have conversations with my friends, I know my way around my city, I can order a baguette in the boulangerie and I can SPEAK FRENCH!! OK, sure, I am not fluent yet, but I have really progressed, and I am proud of my progress.

This month has been an amazing whirlwind: On October 7th, I went to the 100th birthday party of my host great grandmother. It was in a restaurant and it was a very big deal. Everyone dressed up and ate SO much! Every time I thought – this truly must be the last course – it was not. After the final course, everyone went to the grandparents’ house and what did we do? We ate some more!

At least French cuisine is well-made and not quite as caloric as American food! (Although at this point – I must admit I’ve gotten a good start on the Rotary 15.) It was a nice celebration and I got to meet a lot of the host family that I hadn’t gotten the chance to see yet.

Also this month, I’ve gotten to go downtown with my friends to look at the stores and get a <<look plus francais>> (a more French look) and I love doing that! Even if I don’t buy anything, its always fun to look. My friends really seem to enjoy making fun of me because I talk to the salespeople (something that’s clearly not done in France).

The 23rd of October (also known as my 2 month anniversary with France), I was invited to see my Rotary Club and to give a speech to them about how I like it here, and about Florida and myself. Although my speech was primarily for my Rotary Club, I was told that it also had another purpose. When I arrived I had only one family to host me, I was to give the speech in hopes of another family “falling under my charm,” said my host counselor.

Well, I don’t know how charming I was, having forgotten everything I had practiced so hard and having to make up a new speech on the spot, but my counselor later told me that I had enough potential families to last me 2 years. – How cool!

I really loved my new Rotary Club and I found all the presentations very interesting. The theme was “United States” and It was fascinating to hear what all my new friends think about my home country. I had such a great time.

But, in my eyes, my exchange is not about all these great once in a lifetime experiences. It’s not about the monuments I have visited, or all the great opportunities I have been offered.

My amazement lies in the little things, the normal everyday things that the French seem to not notice, never recognize as special: the new word I said that just came out perfectly, that story I read without having to look up a single word, the store owner who didn’t think I was American, the first lesson I understood, the look from my friend that meant she knew exactly what I was thinking, even if I was thinking it in another language.

This is hard to understand if you’re not an exchange student, how could these “normal” things compare to the magic of the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower? These things, these ridiculous, amazing, beautiful, little things are what MAKE my exchange. The fact that I can have normal moments and not just be a tourist makes this so special to me.

Merci beaucoup Rotary, vous avez changé ma vie avec plusiers choses que jamais je n’aurais imaginé.

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.

Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.

Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.

Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.

One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.”


December 7 Journal

This one has been another wonderful month- filled with new friends, new adventures, plenty new words, and, of course, new foods! I started off the month with a bang, I had “autumn vacation” and I got a chance to hang out with my friends, go to the fair, and help my friend paint her new room.

Then, the day school started up again, after only 2 hours of class, I was whisked off to Paris with my Rotary Club. They took me to see the National Assembly and I got a chance to see all the people inside talking about laws. It was very exciting to know that I got a chance to see what some people living here their entire lives will never get to see. I am so lucky. After the National Assembly, we saw an exposition of the works of Gustave Corbet, which I found to be very interesting as well, since I read about him a bit before going. After the exposition, it was dark outside and when we started driving home, we passed by the Eiffel tower which was all lit up. It was quite an amazing end to a beautiful day.

The next night I went to the 20th birthday celebration of my host cousin with my whole host family. It was a fun celebration, though I’ll admit, I was still a little tired from Paris. There was plenty of festivities, lots of people, music, and of course, lots of food. Everyone was very happy and ended up dancing and eating until 5am. What a nice celebration.

Not very long after that, my friend Julie invited me to her home to sample a French specialty that I hadn’t yet had a chance to try – frog legs. Her mother cooked plenty, and I surprised even myself by asking for seconds, thirds, and even fourths. I have to say, I really liked them. What an experience!

Since school has started again, I have been busy with trying to understand, and trying to rid myself of the Rotary 15 at the gym. (Although, with a boulangerie next door to my school, it’s not easy.) But I got a break and last weekend, my Rotary district had another exchange student reunion. This is something I really look forward to because I live the farthest away from all the exchange students, and this is the only time I get to see them.

We visited the very north of France, Calais, and before the reunion started, my host parents took me to see the beach. Well, let me tell you, it isn’t Florida. It’s still very pretty, but it definitely isn’t warm, and even the adventurous exchange student that I am wouldn’t be seen in her bikini there any time before July. After snapping a few pictures, I hurried out of the stinging rain and back into the warmth of the car.

With the other exchange students, I visited a miniature village called St. Joseph’s. There was plenty to do and plenty to eat. After a “small” lunch of fries, ham, some kind of 3 meat in one dish, and apple pie, the exchange students split up into groups and went on a sort of scavenger hunt. My group, of course, won the challenge. It was a fun day.

I found out recently that in January I will be changing my host family, and will be changing every 2 months after that until I leave. (Wow, my counselor wasn’t lying when he said that I had a lot of potential host families…) Although my current host family is nice, I appreciate the ability to experience another way of life, to see the French culture through another family’s eyes and I am excited to see what new things I can learn from my next family.

This is what we’re here for anyways, isn’t it? We are here to learn, to grow, to have new experiences, and to be challenged. Maybe not all the experiences are interesting (though most of them are), and not all the challenges are fun, but they do all help us to be stronger, to be smarter, and to be someone new. So I’ll say again, like in every entry before, thank you Rotary and everyone else who’s helped me, for pushing me to become this new person, thank you for challenging me, and thank you for another great month!


 

 

December 27 Journal

 This journal is in response to the question I’ve been receiving quite a lot lately… Won’t missing Christmas with your family in the USA be hard?

Missing Christmas with my family, our traditions, our spirit (some may call a bit over the top), and just the general ambience of the whole holiday shebang wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I didn’t find it that difficult at all. Sure, I missed my family but at this point in time, I have already passed 124 days without them, and I have at least 160 more to go. So, when you think about it, this is just another SHORT day that I have to cherish and learn. This is an amazing day to learn things about my country, because during the holidays, one does the things that are truly important to them. Needless to say, I spent my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day eating A LOT!

Christmas Eve: oysters, foie gras, lamb chops, amuses-bouche, cheese (bien sûr), trou normand (ice cream), Yule Log.

Christmas Day: appetizers, oysters, foie gras, chicken, York ham, salad, salmon asparagus, Yule Log, cheese, ice cream.

(& I am actually sure I am forgetting a lot…)

I spent a lot of time with the family of my host family. They are extremely generous and they even gave me some nice Christmas presents (one of which includes a small collection of French recipes, so that I can remember how much we eat in France.)

At the moment I find myself anxious to change my host family to experience a new lifestyle, different people, and another change. The 4th of January, that is exactly what I will do.

As I start to pack up my suitcases and look at the things I have accumulated since I arrived here just 4 short months ago, I think about everything I’ve done. A little Tour Eiffel. Ribbon in the pattern of the French flag from the supermarket. A mug from the National Assembly. Notes passed in class. Postcards from Paris, Guise, St. Quentin. How is it possible that I’ve done SO much in so little time? I don’t think it is possible for me to list all the things I’ve accomplished since the start. When I started this journey more than a year ago, filling out applications and making sure every copy had a signature in blue ink, I don’t think I knew exactly what an amazing adventure I was getting myself into. I knew, through these journals, that I was in for something great, but to understand the feelings behind every new discovery, every dream come true… you can’t get that from a journal. There is no way, even with English as my first language, to put into words how this feels. You have to live it. And, thankfully, here I am. It’s great. Thanks again everyone!


January 7 Journal

 I realize it’s a little soon for my next journal, but something happened that I would like to share with all of you. I changed my host family. This is an extremely important part of the exchange, in my opinion, so let me take you through the process.

A week or so before the scheduled change, I started getting my stuff together, getting organized, and thinking a little bit about moving. (Retrospectively, I think the early packing was a bad idea, since I ended up needing things that I packed, and pretty much unpacked everything I had already packed, hence repacking was necessary on moving day.) About 2 days before the change, I found it more difficult to get to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was really excited, but also a little nervous. I was so happy because I had met the family and they seemed like a perfect match for me, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking that changing the host family is a bit like starting over. Re-adapting to the family’s routine, finding the rooms in the house, and introducing my personality and culture to the family… it really is like starting over.

But then I thought some more (you see why I had trouble sleeping) and, well, it’s not really the same. Now, I can speak French (quite well if you ask me) I understand much more of the culture, and I’ve got a bunch of friends who will take care of me (especially if during lunch I can’t quite figure out how to open the front door and no one is home.)

And even if I am starting over in the family department, I am not starting my exchange over- in fact my exchange is almost half-finished, and if you ask me, a new family is one of the best ways to start the second half. Now I’m with my new family and I can tell you for a fact that I had nothing to worry about. They welcomed me into their family with open arms and are some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. (They ARE Rotarians, after all.)

A big thank you to Rotary for giving me this great new year, I hope yours is as great as mine!

And P.S. to all the 2008- 2009 Outbounds, I hope that you are preparing to have the year of your lives!! It is what you make it!


February 27 Journal

 Bonjour everyone!

I figured it was time for another journal- so much has happened!! Since I last wrote, I’ve passed through new friends, new foods, vacation, old friends, and even a new host family! Wow, we’ve got A LOT to catch up on!

I was recently invited to spend an afternoon with some girls in my class that I had never spent time with yet. I was really happy about it because it gave me an opportunity to make new friends that otherwise would have been difficult to obtain. (I find that my school tends to have very separate cliques.) So I gladly accepted their invitation to lunch at a local créperie and then catch a movie. I think this was an afternoon well-spent.

In the genre of new foods, I am proud to say I have now tasted tartiflette, raclette, blanquette, shark, and tongue. I am always happy to try new things and I am pleased that my host families generously give me plenty of opportunity.

Now for my personal favorite update- vacation. In France, we have 2 weeks of winter vacation in February when lots of people go skiing. My family did not go skiing this year, but instead took the chance to show me some more of France. During the 1st week of vacation, we went to the north of France to a beach town at the North Sea called Le Touquet. I LOVE this town! I got a chance to visit its market, stores and even tan a little bit (in my sweater and jeans, of course!) During the 2nd week of vacation, we traveled down to the center of France, near Moulins … an hour away from Summer! My host mom and I decided that it was as good of a chance as any to see each other again, and we did! I was extremely happy that we could see each other, compare French accents, weight gained, and explore a city that neither of us had ever visited, together. It was a REALLY nice day!

A week later, I returned home- St. Quentin- and changed my host family for the 3rd time. I love my 3rd host family as well. Unlike my two first host families, there are always plenty of people at the house. I have 4 host sisters! They are 6, 12, 15, and 16, and they are all VERY nice and helpful! Its a fun environment, and a very big change.

Now I am back to school and understanding everything more and more. I am quite pleased with my progress and, of course, life in general. I REALLY love it here – thank you so much everyone!


April 29 Journal

 Already in April?!! I sincerely doubt the possiblity to tell you EVERYTHING that has happened to me in the last 2 months in one single journal entry, but I’ll try to write a brief summary:

In the beginning of March, I started out by watching a great comedy about my region of France called Bienvenue chez les Sch’tis. It was very difficult to get tickets, since everyone wanted to go and see it. But, one Tuesday evening, my host family came home with tickets for everyone, and we all had a really nice night.

A week later, I got to try snowboarding with the other exchange students on a fake ski piste. Being from Florida and never having done anything like that before, I probably spent more time falling down the slopes than actually gliding like I imagined, but I had a lot of fun all the same.

The week after that, I was excited to learn that I had earned my very first point in Economy class! This is a VERY difficult class for me, and after hearing week after week “Marotta – zero,” finally, I got the chance to hear, as tests were being passed back, “Marotta – un. Felicitations.” (Marotta – one. Congratulations.) I took a bow in front of the class. Don’t worry though, my other grades are much better! That same week, I saw a play by Shakespeare with my French class, Othello, and, OF COURSE, I understood! (It still shocks me that I can understand everything.)

A week or so after, my friend invited me to go with her to watch her father race go-karts, so I stayed at her house the night before, and we left EARLY that morning to prepare for their race. I never realized HOW MUCH preparation is involved- we had to be at the track at 7AM for the race at 2PM!! It was really fun to learn more about the cars and get to know my friend even better.

The two weeks following that were our spring break, which I spent at Le Touquet- a beach town in the north of France- with my host family. These two weeks helped me to: get to know my host sisters better (since we all share a room), lose a bit of the weight that I’ve gained since I have been in France (since we walked or biked everywhere), and even become a bit bronzée (tan, since we had beautiful weather).

The week after, I got to do a high ropes course with the other exchange students. I don’t mean to brag (maybe a little bit) but I was one of the few people and the only girl to do the hardest level, black. I do have to represent Florida, don’t I? Also during this day, I got to talk with the French people who are leaving next year, including Arthur, who is coming to Florida next year, and wow. That is SUCH a shock to me that it has already been a YEAR since I was in their position!!

And now, here we are – only TWO months away from the end of my exchange. Only ONE more time that all the exchange students get together. Only TEN more weekends. My adventures in France no longer seem endless. The date “July 9th, 2008” strikes fear into my heart, but all I am concentrating on right now is living every last day of my exchange to its fullest, saying EVERY word, making EVERY friend, and living EVERY adventure that I can possibly dream of before my time is up

Again, a BIG, HUGE, ENORMOUS, “merci beaucoup” to everyone who has helped me make my exchange a dream come true!!

Bisous.

Until next time!


 

June 6 Journal

 This last month passed way too fast with so many amazing milestones- too many things to mention in any great detail: birthdays, traveling, shopping, taking every picture, living every moment that’s left… [It definitely shocked me to learn that some of the other exchange students are already home!] But there are two things that need longer explanations:

The first is the Rotary District Conference in my district. This was a moment last year that really started the exchange for me… really made me realize how real it was. (I still remember every feeling evoked by getting my blazer, marching behind the French flag…) So, returning to another Rotary District Conference was already pulling on a million emotions, but to add to the mix, it was also the last time I would see the exchange students!!

It was great time, and I was really happy for every last minute. We made a skit in our French regional dialect, paraded our flags [me proudly waving the Rotary Flag] and ate a delicious meal [France wouldn’t be complete without it!]

But before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to everyone and all of a sudden, I was talking and crying and taking a million pictures of everyone and basically, in true exchange student fashion, taking forever to leave. It was probably the hardest part of my exchange so far.

The 2nd huge event, that absolutely MUST be mentioned, is my birthday. What an AMAZING day! My host family had a surprise birthday party for me – and I REALLY didn’t see it coming at all! Here’s how it happened:

My host sister, Marion, came into my room to ask me if I wanted to go with her to my second host family’s place to help her baby-sit. I go with her a lot to baby-sit, so I thought it was normal and I agreed. We got to their apartment and my 2nd host sister feigned sickness and volunteered to stay home with the child we were supposed to be babysitting. Having “called the baby-sitters for nothing,” my 2nd host mother decided to drive my host sister and I back to our house.

When we arrived, some friends of the family, all three of my host families, and even my best friend from school was there!! It was really great! Everyone toasted to me, I blew out 18 candles, and they were even thoughtful enough to present me with a few gifts. I was so happy, and I even cried again. I could never thank everyone enough for giving me such a perfect night.

The next day, my birthday, I went to school and was greeted by my best friends who had hugs, gifts, and even my favorite French pastry for me. It was really sweet and made me feel really appreciated and more than that, extremely lucky.

To close this month’s entry, I want to say the same thing I always say, but I want you all to know that, if it weren’t for you, I never would’ve experienced these amazingly magical moments. So all I can say is…

THANK YOU!!!

-BRISTOL MAROTTA


July 18 Journal

 I am home.

This is not really the truth.

I am in one of my homes. I am in the United States. I am with one of my families. These statements may be accepted as truth, but just plainly saying “I am home” just does not tell the whole story anymore.

Two weeks ago, I was in France. I was packing. I was stressing out. I was enjoying my last week.

And now I am in America. Weird.

I decided to spend my last week in France with my host family. I am really glad I made the decision to reserve this week for them, because I was already REALLY close to my friends and I got to see them the day before I left, to say goodbye anyways.

The last week with my host family, we tried to act like everything was normal. We baked cakes, danced crazily around the house, watched movies, went shopping, filled up every spare moment with something fun. We got so much closer. I loved it.

More quickly than expected, THE day came. The day we woke up at 5:30, packed my bags in the car, did a quadruple check of the house, and headed to Paris.

I bid a tearful adieu to everyone, and I was off. It was really hard, harder than anything I’ve done, but luckily, I met some Rotary exchangers in the airport and had a few adventures before taking off. That helped me to put a smile on.

Since I’ve been home, it’s really weird. I just miss everyone in France so much. This year passed so quickly that it feels like just a dream. But I know it wasn’t a dream. It was so real to me and I will always keep the lessons I learned, places I’ve been, and people I’ve met in my heart forever.

Thank you so much Rotary for everything. I wouldn’t have been able to change my life so completely in such an amazing way without you.

Caroline Phillpot
2007-08 Outbound to Austria

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Eferding Rotary Club
         District 1920, Austria

Caroline - Austria

Caroline’s Bio

Hallo! I’m Caroline Phillpot. I’m 15 years old but I’ll be 16 by the time I leave to spend a year in Austria!!

What’s that? You want to know some more about me? Well since you asked…

I was born in a small town just outside of Chicago where I spent the first 12 and a half years of my life. Currently I live in Gainesville, Florida, but I’m not exactly sure where in Austria I’ll be living next year.

I’m a sophomore at Buchholz High School where I’m very involved in the drama program as a tech. We just finished our run of Fame! the musical. I was also in the Medieval Faire that came to town recently. I spent six months training to be a part of the living chessboard and I had a blast doing it.

College is definitely in my future but I’m not sure where or what I’ll be studying. I hope to be able to work in the music business when I “grow up” but not as a musician, more as the behind-the-scenes-named-in-the-thank-you-section-of-an-album person.

Hopefully this gave you some idea of who I am. Thank you for reading and thank you Rotary (yet again!) for making this possible!

Caroline


 

August 20 Journal

Wow is really all I can say at this point. Exactly two weeks ago (give or take a few hours) I had just said goodbye to my family and I was still in America. A few minutes later I was being patted down by one of the security guards because, silly me, I forgot to take my necklace off and it set off the alarm. Great start.

My first flight was pretty uneventful. I was the only Rotary student on the flight and it was only a few hours. I arrived in the Detroit airport on time at gate A 78. I then had to walk (because I didn’t realize there was a tram I could take…another brilliant deduction) to gate A 26. So basically that was about a million miles give or take a few feet. I’m passing gate A 29 when suddenly I hear “ROTARY!” being screamed. Next thing I know I have arms flung around me and someone with blonde hair is telling me how excited she is to find another person in Rotary. I manage to catch that her name is Alexa and that the guy standing over there is Andrew and he was too lazy to come over to catch me as well. We sit together at gate A 29 as we wait for Alexa’s plane to board. (She was leaving Detroit 2 hours before us but meeting up with us again in Amsterdam.) So she boards and Andrew and I head over to our gate where we run into Corrine, another Rotary student headed for Austria.

We all decide that we’re hungry and don’t trust airplane food so we walk to A 1 and the food court to get some pizza before we go. We spend who knows how long just eating and talking. When we finally start walking back, we all decide to make one last pit stop before the 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. It was while we were all in the bathroom that we hear “Last call passengers on the flight to Amsterdam.” Super. So we end up sprinting back to our gate where we’re told that the plane had been waiting 10 minutes for us. Oops.

The flight was long but uneventful. There was a little TV in the back of the seat in front of me so I spent my time watching a little indie movie I’d never heard of before and Shrek 3. (Which was quite funny.)

The three of us arrive in Amsterdam at 9:00am local time. Which was 3:00am my time. Needless to say I felt less than refreshed. It was here that we ran into Justin. He had been on the plane with us from Detroit but we hadn’t seen him because we had been at the food court. We spent the next hour trying to A) Find a girls bathroom who’s line wasn’t more than 20 people long and B) Figure out where we were supposed to be. When we finally managed to get to our gate, we still had 2 hours before our flight. Alexa was already at the gate and thrilled to see us. This is where we also ran into Paige. Yet another Exchange Student.

Another uneventful flight. We all arrived in Vienna and this is where I said goodbye to the rest of them to take my final flight to Linz. This had to be my favorite flight because it was A) Only 45 minutes long and B) Business class!! (Which doesn’t seem like it would make a huge difference but it really does.)

 I arrived at the tiny Linz airport right on time and it was just like something out of a movie. I was in a little jet so we just walked down the little stairs and onto the pavement. I noticed some people standing on the top of the building and waving and I wondered who they were waving at. I figured out that it was ME when they held up a giant hand drawn sign that said “Wilkommen in Österreich!” and had an Austrian and an American flag on it. It was my host family.

The first week I spent with my host family was full of me simply appreciating the little things. Like how everyone (including the Grandparents!) sit down to breakfast together, or how we always have fresh bread from the bakery, or even that the population of my town is that of my Highschool in the states. Everyday there was something new to show me, whether it was the GIANT mall in Linz or the Children’s day at the Red Cross.

After only getting to spend 5 days with my family it was off to language camp in Altmünster where I still am now. The other exchange students are so amazing. Who would ever believe that I would be able to say that I have a friend from a country where English isn’t the native language? It’s pretty surreal.

The school we’re staying at is pretty awesome too. It even has a slide down one of the staircases!

Speaking of slides, yesterday we took a field trip to Hallstatt to visit the salt mines and the bone house. The weather was predicted to be cold and rainy, so all of us packed on the jackets. What’s it like? Sunny and in the high 80’s. At least it was nice and cool in the mines. The mines also had two very long slides that the miners actually use to get to work. We all got to slide down them and had our speed measured. (25.6km/h!)

Today one of the director’s friends is coming to camp and is going to (attempt to) teach us how to waltz which should be very…um…interesting.

Sometimes I just can’t believe I’m actually here. The mountains look like a movie backdrop and I keep expecting that I’m going to run into it soon enough and the glorious illusion will be shattered. But then something like dancing in the (freezing) rain with friends or taking a boat ride on the lake makes me realize that it’s totally real, it’s actually happening, and that it’s happening TO ME!

I’ve only been here for two weeks and already I’ve fallen in love with the beautiful country of Austria. Unrestrained, unabashedly in love.

xo

Caroline


 

November 13 Journal

 Servus!

First of all, sorry for such a long gap between the last entry and this one! (*guilty face*) There’s just been so much going on! So, deep breath, and let’s dive in.

After language camp I had about two weeks just to hang out at home and get to know my family and new friends a bit more. My older host sister had just gotten home from Nicaragua, so our communication was less than stellar. (My German was still pretty minimal and her English had turned into Spanish).

SCHOOL

School started on September 10th. My first day was a bit awkward. I walk into the classroom where most of the kids are already and the boy who I was with, Martin, (he’s my neighbor so they purposely put me in his class) just says “Das ist die Caroline. Sie ist die Austauschulerin. Sie spricht night gut Deutsch.” Which means “This is Caroline. She’s the Exchange Student. She doesn’t speak German very well.” So a few people got up and shook my hand and introduced themselves (I promptly forgot their names 3 seconds later) but most just waved and then went back to talking with their friends. But this class has been together for almost 7 years now so, it’s really no wonder they’re so tight-knit.

School has gotten much better now. I’ve integrated a bit more and had a chance to hang out with some of the others outside of school. I’ve also made some friends in the 6th class because whenever the 7th class has Latin or French, I go to the 6th class for extra history. Last Friday was the first Oberstufenparty. This is basically like a Homecoming dance type thing only less formal. I was on the set-up and clean-up team, so I was asked to draw the poster. It turned out okay but, eh. I’m always so picky. I also had to help roll out the fake wood floor, help tack photos to the wall, wash dishes, and clean up the next day. I spent the night at the school with the entire clean-up team so that we could get up early and clean MORE! The party ended at 2:30 and we finished the first batch of cleaning at 5:30. Then we went to bed, and got up at 8 to finish cleaning. I was pretty much exhausted when I got home.

I also recently had my first math test here. I got the 6th highest score in my class, but it’s the equivalent of a C. But the teacher congratulated me in front of the class and so everyone clapped, which was a bit awkward. But I was still pretty happy about that. Apparently we’re doing calculus now…(I didn’t know that until I talked to my Dad on the phone and tried to explain it to him. Heh.)

FOOD

Yes I do have to talk about the food. It’s delicious! At first I was really worried because everything tastes like “comfort-food” so I was afraid I was going to start gaining weight. WRONG! My host-mom is notorious for cooking extremely healthy (but still amazing) food. I’ve actually lost around 6 pounds. (Walking everywhere probably also has something to do with that…) I’ve also discovered my favorite food ever here. Eierschwammel in Raumsaus mit Semmelknödel. Basically it’s like a giant ball of Thanksgiving turkey stuffing all mashed together then smothered a mushroom cream sauce. How appetizing does that sound?

LANGUAGE

It’s still pretty difficult for me to speak German at this point, but I’m doing much better than when I arrived. I understand about 60% of what is said, even when it is in the Austrian Dialect. (I understand my math classes completely for instance.) Of course there have been days where I’ve felt the most frustrated I ever have in my life. Like when the bus driver doesn’t understand me when I say “Eferding”. And some days it doesn’t feel like my German is getting any better, it just feels like my English is getting worse! But there are always the good days when I have an actual conversation with my host-mom over lunch and forget I’m speaking a different language until afterwards.

I’ve been learning German mostly by my friends thinking it’s funny to try to get me to say difficult words, and watching SpongeBobSchwammKopf with my younger host-sister. Needless to say my vocabulary is highly sophisticated. But it’s coming along.

PLACES I’VE SEEN

Here’s a quick list of all the cities in Austria I’ve visited so far and what I’ve done there.

1. Hartkirchen – Uh…I live here.

2. Eferding – This is where my Rotary Club is based.

3. Dachsberg – School.

4. Altmünster – Language Camp.

5. Gmunden – Language Camp shopping trips.

6. Bad Ischl – My older host sister lives here during the week.

7. Bad Ausee – Small salt-mines/Hiking trip with my rotary club.

8. Tauplitz – Hiking with the exchange students AND with my school class two weeks later.

9. Hallstadt – Bigger salt mines.

10. Wels – Nearest train station. Also where 5 or 6 other exchange students live. I was also there with some classmates for running sushi.

11. Linz – Nearest Mall.

12. Salzburg – Rotary Counselor’s meeting and shopping/touristy stuff with my host family.

13. Vienna – Shopping trip with friends, Exchange Student weekend, and in two weeks I’ll be staying there for a week with my class from school.

OTHER ADVENTURES

This is turning into a very long entry so I’ll just make a quick list of other things that have happened.

1. Discovering I do not like hiking. At all. (I ended up injuring my feet pretty badly. I won’t go into detail because it was just gross.) The views are gorgeous, but it’s really just not my thing.

2. Getting lost/stranded in the Wels Trainstation when my cell phone was dead, my host parent’s didn’t know when to pick me up, and I didn’t know my home number by heart. It was the end of an exchange student weekend in Vienna and so I ended up walking around in the rain for an hour and a half while dragging my suitcase, trying to remember where my friend Amanda (she’s an exchange student from Wisconsin.) lived. (I finally found her after asking directions to Mozart Straße a few times.)

3. Riding the U-bahn in Vienna for 30 minutes with some of the other students and then realizing we were going the wrong way! We got there eventually though.

4. Meeting the guitar player, Frank, from the band My Chemical Romance and getting a few autographs. (Which was totally totally amazingly awesome!)

5. Going to my host sister’s Maturaball and seeing her class do “The Time Warp”.

6. I’ve finally gotten used to the driving here. Which is very fast on very small roads. It’s still pretty terrifying when you’re in a charter bus going 80km/h trying to pass another charter bus going 80km/h on a road meant for only one bus at a time. But I don’t clutch the door/seat backs anymore which is quite the improvement.

7. And, of course, I love just hanging out with my friends.

Okay, I’ll leave you there for now.

Pfirt’di!

xo,

Caroline


 

January 5 Journal

 Hey! I guess since all the holidays are over, now would be a good time to write another journal entry, eh? (Oh gosh…I’ve been hanging out with the Canadians too much…) So let’s dive right in.

About two weeks after my last journal entry, my entire grade went to Vienna for a week. It was really cool to get to spend some time with the other kids in my class. I hadn’t really been all that close to them up until that point, but it’s amazing how easy it is to bond over getting lost on the U-bahn (which I am now a master of) or slamming bumper cars into one another in the arcade. Of course, this was mostly during free time, which was about an hour a day. The rest of the day was full of going to see historic buildings like Schönbrunn (the second time for me) or Parliament. We also got a chance to see the building where the United Nations meet when they’re in Austria. (Although technically it’s not a part of Austria, it doesn’t belong to any country.) And of course, two photos into it, my camera dies. Just my luck. But it was still really interesting. I was really proud of how much I understood when we were going on the tours. Sure there was stuff I didn’t understand (it got pretty technical) but I still got more than the gist of everything. This was my fourth time in Vienna. Third time staying overnight.

December 14th through 16th I spent in Salzburg for an Exchange Student weekend. This was my third time in Salzburg, but my first being there for more than a few hours. We saw a lot of historic things like the house where Mozart was born and another castle at the top of a mountain. (Which I had also seen before, but it was more fun with all the others there.) The last night we had our own little Christmas party which involved singing Silent Night in every language at the same time, watching the “oldies” give out awards, and saying hello and goodbye to the Short Term Exchange Students from South Africa.

Now on to Christmas. In Austria, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, not the 25th. As in, NOTHING happens on the 25th. But on the 24th, my family woke up around 10am and started setting up the Christmas Tree. They all thought it was quite hilarious when I was shocked that they put real candles on it. Then, around 2pm, we all had lunch together. Lunch consisted of cold cuts wrapped around Topfen (I don’t really know what this is in English. Something kinda like cottage cheese I guess.) bread, pumpkin soup, and pasta salad. It was pretty good, but honestly I like the regular everyday food better. After lunch, I had a chance to call my parents. I had some trouble getting through to them because they gave me the number for my Aunt’s house which had been disconnected, but eventually I got through on one of the cell phones. The rest of the evening/afternoon was spent singing typical Austrian Christmas Carols together, me trying to translate “The Florida Night Before Christmas” into German, and waiting for the Krist Kind to come. The Krist Kind is the “Christ Child” and he comes the evening of the 24th. The room with the Christmas tree is closed off, and when he comes, he rings a little bell and then all the kids can go inside the room and get their presents. Santa Claus is being gradually added to the culture here, but he is known as Weihnachtsman which literally translates to “Christmas Man” (Which sounds like some sort of strange superhero if you ask me). My host family loved the presents I gave them and the ones that my parents sent from America. I got a lot of cool stuff from them as well including socks knitted by my host Oma, Charcoal and canvas from my host sisters so I can work on my art a bit more, a book in English, and some chocolates.

Now let’s jump ahead to New Years. Aka Silvester. I spent my Silvester in Vienna. 75% of the Exchange Students were there. We all met up at about 11pm in Rhathausplatz and attempted to waltz with one another to Hungarian Opera music and ate Leberkäsesemmel while we waited for the new year to officially start. At 12, all hell broke loose. Fireworks were going off in every direction, people were spraying everyone with champagne, and general chaos ensued. All the Exchange Students basically clumped together in one giant group hug and yelled Happy New Year in as many languages as we could think of. After about an hour of trying to make sure you’ve given everyone you know a hug, we all went our separate ways. Amanda, Majo, Karina and I had made arrangements to stay at Amanda’s host brothers’ flat for the night, so all of that ran pretty smoothly.

The next day, Majo and Karina (both from Ecuador) had to go home, but Amanda and I decided to stay another night. So the four of us (Amanda’s host brothers, me, and Amanda) all went out to lunch together, and then I went to the MuMoK (Museum Moderner Kunst aka The Museum of Modern Art) for three hours while they went to see a movie, that I had already seen, next door.

That night was pretty cool as well. The four of us were watching TV and channel surfing, and then I saw something with lots of blue and orange flash across the screen. So I asked Fabian (one of the host brothers) to flip back really quickly, and what is it but the second half of the Gators Game!!! Now, normally I am not that much of a football fan, but to see my team on TV while halfway around the world, that was pretty awesome. Even if we did lose by 6 points.

Last night was my school’s Maturaball. This is basically a huge party, in the school, for the graduating class and anyone they’ve happened to talk to in the past year or so. Basically, it was completely packed. All the girls were in Prom-type dresses and MOST of the guys were in a suit. (Of course my friend Ingo shows up in a button up shirt, black pants, and vans. But he’s a little…spastic.) All around it was great fun.

Well, that’s all for now. I don’t want to take up your entire day now do I?

Liebe Gruße,

xo Caroline


 

February 6 Journal

 So. Another month, another Journal update.

What’s been happening? Honestly, not all that much.

The past month or so has been mainly winding down from New Years, and gearing up for those final tests until the end of the Semester in a few weeks. But yesterday was Faschings Dienstag, or Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, or Carnivale, or whatever you want to call it. Basically it involved going into the slightly larger neighboring town of Eferding and watching the parade with friends and getting confetti rained down on top of you. To give you a better idea of what it looks like, I was convinced I was at a giant Village People reunion, only with about 1000 extra people. Everyone dresses up in some sort of crazy way. This year there were a lot of Cowboys and Indians, and a lot of Soccer players. (The Austrian team is playing Germany tonight but the enthusiasm is mostly National Pride and optimism. We don’t really have much of a chance.)

Also, the “Newbies” have arrived! It’s so surreal when I think that I’ve been here almost exactly 6 months! (Exactly 6 months tomorrow in fact!) My friend Ashley and I ran into them in Gmuden, where they currently are for their language camp, while we were visiting her Host Grandad for his birthday. It was absolutely hilarious. They were all standing in one giant group and you could hear English and most of them looked totally lost. It was so strange to think that 6 months ago that was me! So talked to them for a little while (and when I say talk I mean they bombarded us with questions) and walked them back to their hotel. Unfortunately, I don’t have any newbies in my host club. There just aren’t enough people and they had enough trouble trying to find me a second host family that had kids that weren’t either grown and out of the house or babies.

Speaking of host families, I will be moving on the 29th of February or the 1st of March. It’s a bitter sweet occasion. I’m looking forward to being around new people and their house is amazing. It looks like a castle and I’m on the 3rd floor in one of the “towers” with what is essentially an entire flat, minus the kitchen, to myself. But it is also even more out in the country. As in, there aren’t any buses that go there and the “town” doesn’t even have a name. It’s basically 10 houses on a road and that’s it. I’ll have to be driven, or possibly ride my bike, into Eferding everyday to catch the bus to school. But the family seem really nice and I’ll have two older sisters. However, I really am going to miss the family I’m with now. They’re wonderful people and I’ve been very happy here. We’ve never had any sort of problems or arguments, just the occasional “I wish your room was a little bit neater” or disagreement over whether to watch Spongebob or CSI. (We finally decided on Doctor Who. Haha.)

My German is still improving, but it’s still not quite where I want it to be. I’m understood when I speak, but my grammar is somewhat atrocious. I’ve really been trying hard to learn on my own, but it’s difficult to stay motivated sometimes. Most of the other “oldies” are finishing up their German courses right now. I didn’t have one because I’m too far out and the only exchange student around. So I’ve been learning purely through listening and speaking. (And a little help from a Grammar book my Hostmom managed to find.) However, I am proud to say that Amanda’s host brothers have said that my German is better than hers, and she took it in school for 3 years! So I can’t be doing too badly. So long as I understand and am understood, I’m happy.

One of my friends recently asked me if going on exchange was “worth it”. All I could say was “It’s the best way you could possibly spend a year of your life”. So thank you again Rotary for making this life changing experience possible. I’ll never be the same again. (In a good way of course!)

Bis Später!

xo Caroline


 

March 25 Journal

 Servus!

Time for another update in “THE EXCITING LIFE OF CAROLINE” I suppose.

To start out, at the beginning of March I switched to my second host family. It turns out that they’re a lot like me personality wise, which is both good and bad. It means I eat breakfast with my host parents every morning (at 5:30 am. Ugh.) and lunch with my host sisters in the afternoon, but this is about all I see of my family. Both my host parents work during the day, so at night they like to relax in front of the TV or read a book. My host sisters, same deal. So after school we all go to our own rooms and find ways to amuse ourselves until it’s time to go to bed. A lot of the time, this is exactly what I’d like because I am EXHAUSTED after school, but other days I just wish we could talk a little more. Aside from that, however, they have been great. If I need to get out of the house and visit a friend, they have no problem driving me (which is saving me about 20€ a month not having to buy bus tickets every weekend) and they’ve been very flexible overall.

Now on to Ski Week.

Ski Week was the second week in March, the chance for all of the Oldies to meet the Newbies for the first time, and a chance for most of us to make complete fools of ourselves trying to ski or snowboard. I chose to take snowboarding which is, of course, harder. Now, me lacking coordination like I do, this probably wasn’t the wisest decision. To start off with, I could not go down forwards. See, you have to get from sitting on your butt to standing up with your board on, while putting all your weight on your heels. Yeah…no. Not gonna happen. So, do I give up? Of course not! I learn to go down backwards. This worked fairly well for the first three days until our instructor decided that he wanted to move us up to some steeper slopes. Uh oh. I managed to fall on my head twice in a row and was sent back to the hotel to make sure I would be OK. I ended up being driven to the hospital (the first of 6 kids that week!), had X-rays taken of my head, and was diagnosed with a mild concussion. But I was totally fine.

But then it got worse.

The next day, I wasn’t allowed to go for our snowboarding lesson in the morning, but in the afternoon all the students were supposed to go tobogganing together, so I managed to convince our supervisor, Doris, that I was well enough to go. So as my friend and I are speeding down the hill together on our sled, we manage to overshoot a turn. By a mile. Since she was in front, she managed to throw herself off into a snow bank. I, however, wasn’t so lucky. The sled crashed and I was thrown head first over an 8 foot fence. My head hit a tree and next thing I know the exchange student from California is asking me how many fingers he is holding up and I have a branch as big around as my arm laying across my knees.

I was able to tell him that he was holding up two fingers and then I rattled off my name and the date for good measure. I hear someone laughing behind me and turn around to see Doris on the other side of the fence, hands on her knees laughing with, what I hope was, relief. She told me that I “have more lives than a cat” because as I soon saw, I missed going over the side of a cliff by about 6ft. I managed to walk around the fence emerging with a lot of pine needles in my hair and a few nasty bruises but, fortunately, nothing worse. I have since been dubbed “The Exchange Student Who Lived”.

I had the week after Ski Camp off because of Easter, so I spent the time nursing my sore muscles and bruises and watching half of my host sister’s DVD collection.

Easter with my host family was really sweet. Easter Sunday my host sisters and I went out for Thai food with their Oma and then we all watched a movie together. My host parents were on a trip to Venice and didn’t get home until late that night, so we celebrated as a unit on Monday. I was woken up at 8am by my host sister telling me that her dad had finished hiding the eggs outside and that we had to go find them. For the first time ever (according to them) we found them all. I received a basket full of chocolate from both of my host families and then my current family and I went out for a (very expensive!) exquisite lunch.

My German has continued to get even better. I’ve started to not only dream in German, but to think in German! I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t my native language! I now talk to my friends almost exclusively in German. Also, I talked to my real parents the other day, and they said that I’ve started to speak English like a foreigner! My grammar has definitely suffered and apparently I pronounce everything very deliberately. I have also been told by several people, that I don’t speak German like I’m from America, I speak it like I’m from Czech! I’m not sure whether this is a compliment or not, but I’ll just assume it is.

Well, I best be off to bed now. It’s 9:45pm here at the moment and I start school again tomorrow.

Tchüssi!

xo Caroline


 

May 20 Journal

 Servus!

I can’t believe how fast time has been flying by. Eurotour starts on Thursday and goes until June 10th. Then I have one and a half weeks of school before I go to Rome with my class for a week. Then it’s the last day of school and I have ten days to say goodbye to the country that has been my home for the past 9 months.

But I’m trying not to think about that right now, so here’s what’s happened since my last entry:

I moved back to my first host family at the beginning of May because my second host family has a very busy work schedule during the spring/summer and wouldn’t be home hardly at all. I must say, I am very happy to be back. Both of my families have been great, but my first one actually feels like my family. Not to mention that I’m closer to my friends so I’ve been able to spend more time with them again, something that really hit me hard when I changed the first time.

A few days after I changed back, a phone call from one of my other Exchange Student friends, Carl, woke me up. He’s from New York but is currently living in Vienna. So I get a phone call from him and he’s freaking out because he and my other friend Corinne are in Linz and their train has been delayed and they have to wait 5 hours and they don’t know anyone there. So, after pointing out the fact that, I don’t live in Linz and I don’t know the city well, his pleas finally get the best of me so I tell him I’ll run down and ask my Hosties if I can take the bus over there really quickly. As I’m running out the door I manage to peek a look at the clock. Furiously I call Carl back and ask him what possessed him to call me at 6:30 AM?! After a few muttered apologies on his end, I figure the least I can do would be to run to the bus stop and check to see when the buses go so I can ask my host parents when they finally wake up.

I get dressed and run downstairs. I open the front door, and my host mom scares the life out of me by opening the door to her bedroom behind me and coming out into the hall. Her first question: “Did you just get home?” After assuring her that no, I did not just get home, I ask her if I could go to Linz later to meet some friends. She looks at the clock (7:10) and tells me that a bus leaves in 10 minutes and if I run I can catch it. So, next thing I know, it’s 8:15 am and I’ve arrived in the Linz train station to a VERY relieved Carl and Corinne.

After about an hour of pointless wandering we finally manage to find the Hauptplatz and an all you can eat Chinese buffet that opens in 2 hours. Considering that the two hadn’t eaten a proper meal for the past 48 hours due to touring Oberösterreich over the long weekend, they decided that we would wait outside on the curb until it opened. To pass the time, we played cards, relived some of the funnier moments of the past Rotary trips, and cut Carl’s hair with my Swiss Army Knife. (He had been complaining that it was too long, and I must compliment Corinne on her skill with the scissors. It didn’t look half bad in the end.)

We ate, walked back to the train station, and then parted ways. I arrived home at around 3pm, just in time to run to a Photography exhibit with my two best friends.

Just one of many adventures in the life of an exchange student.

My birthday was on Sunday, but I did the majority of celebrating on Saturday. I think I must be the only person alive that is able to come late to her own Surprise Party. I had been in Innsbruck overnight for the District 1920 Conference and had been planning to take the 1:30 train and be home by 5:30. Things didn’t quite go as planned. There were 22 of us all going the same direction, so we figured we’d buy a group card to save ourselves a couple euros. Just our luck, the ticket machine malfunctions and eats half of our money. Lucky for us, the people at the station managed to sort everything out, but there were a few scary minutes where we were worried that we were going to have to earn our money back by playing guitar in the lobby. (A few of the exchangies from Mexico and I actually started doing this. We earned 10 euros and 47 cents.)

We had to take a later train so I finally got home at around 7:30. At 8 a few of my friends turned up and we all went to a little rock festival that was going on not far away. (A few of my other friends were playing in two of the bands so it was really cool to see them play.) By the end of the night pretty much everyone knew that it was my birthday and I was being congratulated by people I had never even spoken to.

Sunday, the day of my actual birthday, was also pretty hectic, but for a different reason. It was my host sister’s Confirmation so everyone was up at 7:30 to go to church and all that jazz. I may not be the most religious person in the world, but it was a really nice ceremony. I got a few more “Happy Birthday”‘s but the majority of the day revolved around my sister, which is the way it should be. I mean, you have a birthday every year but you only get confirmed once!

And of course, today, just as I’m starting to realize that, yeah, I’m 17 and, yeah, I feel a bit older, I get a reality check. The bus driver gives me an under 14 ticket. Sure, it saves me 80 cents, but I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be offended. I mean, normally I have the other problem! It took pulling out my driver’s license to convince my class that I wasn’t turning 19 on my birthday and yet I couldn’t convince this man that I was 15 let alone 17!! Oh well. It was pretty funny after I got over the initial shock of it.

So, I better not start on any more stories now or this will end up being a hundred pages long! Plus I’m sure I’ll have some even better ones after I get back from Eurotour!

Bis Dann!

xo Caroline

 

Caitlin Wills
2007-08 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: DeLand, Florida
School: DeLand High School
Sponsor: DeLand Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lidingö Milles Rotary Club
         District 2350, Sweden

Caitlin - Sweden

Caitlin’s Bio

 Hejsan!

My name is Caitlin, and let me first say: I got in, and I’m going to Sweden (07-08 represent!)! I’m 18 years old and I’ve graduated early from Deland High, and I’ve never left the country before. This will be my first experience outside the U.S. and seeing snow! I live here with my parents and two kitties, Mazzy and Elsie, and my life pretty much revolves around my friends.

I’d love to pursue a career in either music or animal medicine (or some field with animals – I love them so), and to prepare for that, I like to volunteer at my veterinarian’s office and take classical voice training at Stetson nearby. I enjoy the outdoors, to an extent (e.g. getting lost in the woods and missing lunch makes me hate nature), and I love to feed people: cooking some elaborate meal and feeding everyone I know makes me happy inside.

So what’s there to say about a girl who has barely seen anything outside her small town in Florida – who is spending an exchange year in Sweden? “Can’t wait to find out.” I’m so thrilled to be in this program – thank you Rotary for this opportunity, and good luck to the rest of the outbounds!


August 24 Journal

 It still seems like just a few days ago I was in the Orlando airport losing my boarding passes three times in the security line (that’s a 15-minute time span, thank goodness for random acts of kindness) and waving goodbye to my parents… But no, in two days I’ll have been here a month, in this wonderful country called we call Sweden. It doesn’t seem like that long, and I dare not think of my exchange as 1/11th over – I haven’t even started school yet, so of course I have a long, long time left here.

I flew alone to Detroit, during which I was next to a screaming child. When I finally got to the Detroit airport, I walked 50 gates and met up with Michelle, so I thought “Oh yay! I won’t be alone on my flight!”, but, I was. There were several other exchange students on that flight as well, and they were all seated in the back of the plane, and my seat was toward the front; so I spent the 7-hour flight to Amsterdam trying to explain to random people around me that I couldn’t go have drinks when we landed and waiting for this hellish flight to end. We arrived, finally, all of us exchange students, passed through customs, and found our gate, only to wait an hour or so for boarding to begin. The flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm was the longest, or so it seemed; all the while thinking, “This is it,” no music on my ipod seemed to accurately fit my mood or thoughts, so instead I listened to the Swedish being spoken around me hoping the next time I was on this plane again, I would understand what everyone was saying.

We landed at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm around 4:30 local time, and eventually located baggage claim (where I waited a very, very long time for my bags to appear). Walking out of baggage claim, there was a giant crowd around the exit, and Eva, my host mom, walked right up to me and said “Finally!” My family was there, smiling (except my host brother, but he hates life, or something), and even though I was jet-lagged and felt gross from not showering in so long, I had never been more excited to be somewhere. I waved goodbye to the other inbounds because they all had connecting flights to catch, and walked out to the car where Eva explained that Steffe (my host father) brought his car as well, because they expected me to have so much luggage, but I ended up having the least out of all the other exchange students. I really wish I’d packed more; things are so expensive here!

We arrived 20 or so minutes later at my new home, which resided on the top of an apartment building on Lidingö, East Stockholm. After a quick shower and tour, we headed out to dinner at a restaurant called Foresta, which overlooks the water and the bridge that connects Lidingö to the rest of Stockholm. It was here that I realized, yes, people really do use forks and knives for everything. Even fries.

We were about to go on a tour of the island, but I was about to pass out as it was, so we decided to pass on that for the time being. Before I went to sleep for 14 hours though, I managed to give Peter what I thought was a cool gift from Florida: an alligator head. It’s got sharp teeth, it looks menacing, he’s a 15-year-old guy – that sounds like an OK gift, right? Well, apparently not. He screamed, said “No” several times in English and Swedish, batted it out of my hand, ran away, and hasn’t spoken to me since except to tell me when it’s time for dinner. Oops. I gave him chocolate and he said it was okay, but, he still doesn’t speak to me. Aside from that though, I really love my host family; they’re very helpful when they teach me Swedish and help me get used to everything here – and they’re very easy to talk to – well, Eva and Steffe, anyway.

When I eventually woke up, we went exploring in Stockholm – and to Gamla Stan, which is the old Stockholm (literally “Old Town”); this country is so beautiful, the buildings, the nature, the weather – though everyone here complains about the weather, I love it. There’s an ancient law here that says you can go anywhere you want, even if someone owns that piece of land, and set up camp, go fishing, whatever you want, as long as you’re respectful of the land – we’ve taken advantage of this when we were at the summer cottage in Svartsö; we headed out on the boat and found an island to have a picnic, it was quite amazing.

The food. Oh my god. I can’t even begin… Everything I’ve eaten so far has been a wonderful experience J Hahaha, everything from raw slices of fish with potatoes and sauce to mushrooms on toast to butter-and-cheese sandwiches, up until the salt candy, has been amazing. Salt candy is exactly what it sounds like, it’s salty, and it’s candy, and it’s disgusting, but at least I tried it. The other candy, however, is being stockpiled in my mini fridge (bahahaha), because it’s the only way to keep Peter from eating it. Coffee: everyone drinks it. It’s very strong. In Sweden we have “fika”, which is like a coffee break, and almost everyone has a fika everyday, to just drink coffee and some sort of pastry and relax.. It’s lovely. And I can honestly say I’ve had more coffee in this past month than I have in the past year. I’m actually on my third cup today as I write this (granted, it’s 1/3 milk and has a cube or two of sugar).

A few days after I arrived, I expressed an interest in the other Scandinavian countries. Two days later we went to Finland J Helsinki (Helsingfors as we call it) is nice, but Stockholm is better. Eva pointed out how all Finnish signs are also translated into Swedish, which was nice, but didn’t really help me at all. Apparently there’s a rivalry or something between the Swedes and the Finns, because the entire time on the boat ride there, whenever a Finn walked by, Steffe would say “Look.. At the elusive Finnish giant!” all the Finnish people we saw were very tall, so it was kind of funny. And anytime a Finn spoke to me, as soon as they found out I lived in Sweden, they were like “Oh, I have to go..” Hahahaah >.<

I understand what Glenn said in her journal last year about Swedes being open about things. Especially being naked. Sauna was an interesting experience, and people really will change in front of you or walk around in their underwear without giving it a second thought. But it’s okay, because all Swedes are incredibly attractive, haha.

The months leading up to an exchange, you find and talk to every other exchange student going to the same country as you at least once. All us inbounds around Stockholm have already met up: once in Stockholm and once in Uppsala, most of us are American but Rosie is from Canada. And of course we’re all going to see each other again at the language camp next week ^_^

Yesterday I went to school (Gångsätra Gymnasium) to set up my scheme for school; I’m in the Social Science program and have a class that doesn’t translate into English (something like… How different cultures affect your personality; basically, it’s like a class for exchange students!). As far as I can tell, Swedish high school is a lot like college; each day is different and you can actually sleep in (I start at 10 on Tuesdays =] )

I love everything so far, everything is still so new and exciting; it’s like being a child again, and I hope this feeling never goes away.

Kram,

Caitlin

Dillon Birdsall
2007-08 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High School
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nomi Rotary Club
         District 2610, Ishikawa, Japan

Dillon - Japan

Dillon’s Bio

Konnichiwa!, my name is Dillon Birdsall, I was born in Connecticut, grew up in a small town in Kingfield, Maine, and now reside in Palm Coast, Florida. I go to Matanzas High School in which I am a sophomore.

I have lots of hobbies and things I like to do. First and foremost I love to make people laugh. I want to be an actor/comedian when I get older, so getting to act and making people laugh is something very near and dear to my heart. I think the reason why I love making people laugh so much is because it makes me feel good to know that I made you happy and laughing, even if you’re having a bad day.

I also live for comic books. My whole room is filled to the brim with comic books and comic book memorabilia. I like comics because they combine great art with a really good story, not only that but they look cool. On the same note I really like drawing, I hope some day that I might be good enough to draw my own comics. I’ll let you guys in on a little secret: one of the real reasons I wanted to go to Japan is just to read all the comics they have.

Another one of my hobbies is cooking. I love to make food for my friends and family. Food and family have always been the same thing to me. My family lives to eat, we don’t eat to live. I’m also a big lover of animals, most of all reptiles (snakes, turtles), but I also think birds and mammals are really cool too. Along with everything else I love to travel. The world is an amazing place and I want to see as much of it as I can.

Well, what’s left to say, I’m a six foot three actor/comedian, who can’t get enough comic books, drawing, cooking, animals, and travel. So see you later.


 

August 28 Journal

 Dillon B SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPAN ADVENTURES PART 1

It is Friday, August 17 at 4:30 in the morning. I have been up all night trying to get on Japanese time and in the process make myself very tried. My parents are getting ready to leave, so am I. I look around my house and say goodbye to my pets, room, and home. I feel a weird combination of emotions as I hear my parents telling me it’s time to go. My bags are in the trunk – I have every thing I need for a year all in two 50 pound bags.

The car ride to the Jacksonville Airport is a happy one with me and my parents telling jokes and thinking on how just a few mounts ago I was not an exchange student and what my year would be like if I was not leaving. We arrive at the Airport at 6:00 and after checking my bags and getting my tickets it’s 6:30. I am not nervous or sad or scared. I am more disembodied as we go sit in the food court. We talk more about how amazing this is going to be and how everything is going to be ok. Josh calls and tells me he is at the airport and that he will be there soon. I only have one hour left. Josh and I talk and take some pictures. I have 45 min left and I need to get past security. I am told only one of my parents can come with me to the gate. I can not choose but my mom tells me that my Dad would really love to be with me to the end and that she will be ok. She is holding back tears, she knows how I hate to see people sad. I hug her and kiss her and tell her that I love her and I will truly miss her. She cries but smiles as me and my father pass security and head to my gate. I only have 20 min left. I sit and talk with my dad until I have no more time left. The plane is boarding and I have to go. I have to be strong. I am determined not to cry but I look at my Father and see silent tears running down his face. This is the first time I have ever seen him cry, I break a little and let out a sob. I tell him I love him and he hugs me very hard and tells me he loves me too. With a tearful eye I board the plane. I fell sad/excited/happy/nervous, and relaxed all at the same time as the plane takes off for my adventure.

The flight to Chicago goes fine. It’s only four hours. I am getting ready for the 13 hour flight to come. I arrive In Chicago and head to my gate; I meet Mr. Bokoff and then call my parents to say that the flight went fine. Soon after I meet up with all the other exchange students going to Japan. There are 26 of us in all and every one is very nice. Before you know it, it’s time to board the plane, and before you know it, it’s time to get off the plane again. But not in Japan. We are still in Chicago – the plane broke down, we are not sure how but it had something to do with the engine. Oh, did I mention we sat on the broken plane for two and a half hours? We get off the plane and head to our new terminal. The next flight they can get us will take four hours. It was ok though – in those four I get to know the other exchange students a lot better. Time passes quickly and soon we are on the plane and taking off. The flight goes fine or as fine as a 13 hour flight can go. Now comes the fun part.

We arrive in Japan at 6:45 pm local time. We have to go to the passport check-in area and we are all very excited. The Airport is very clean and bright. Large Japanese signs look down on us as we make our way to the passport check. All of us are so happy to be there we can hardly stand it. After checking in we head to bag claim. This is where my story gets very very interesting. The time is now 7:00. I have to get on a connecting flight to another Airport at 7:30. I need to get my bags and run to my gate. At the gate I am going to meet a Japanese man who will help me get on the right flight. But that dream is just that: a dream, well getting my bags I see my name on a large sign rotating around the bag claim conveyer belt. So I go to the bag claim officer, she soon tells me I need to get on a bus and go to terminal two. What!!!! What about the guy who was going to help me and about me running to the gate and not having to worry? TOO BAD. So I go where the women is pushing me to go. Oh by the way all the other exchange students are gone. Where did they go, I have no clue.

So I get on the bus and head to Terminal 2. On the bus I look at my watch and see that it’s 7:15, how in the wide world am I going to get out of this one. The bus stops at Terminal 2, and I rush off. This Airport is huge so I head to the giant green sign that says information, and ask for directions to my gate. This is funny, thankfully the Info ladies know English.They tell me that no flights go out of Terminal 2, and that my flight has already left. Yes that’s right, I am in a Japanese Airport, I cannot speck Japanese well and the words I do know are no help. Oh man what am I going to do, well, call Bokoff Kaplan they will know that to do. But wait, my phone card is not working and the phone is in Japanese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Calm down ask for help, get it (those poor info ladies thank god for them). They show me a machine that sells phone cards I have some yen and buy two. I call Bokoff but guess what they are not open on Saturdays, HAHAHAHAHAHAH its is just one thing after another. I then call my parents and they have a brilliant idea. The man I was supposed to meet, he must still be at the airport do an all call over the airport intercoms. YES that might just work; in fact it did work thank you mom and dad.

The man I meet is Hanade and he is extremely nice. He was an exchange student so he is fluent in English. He calls my host family and tells them that I will be there tomorrow at 11. He then tells me we need to stay at a hotel for the night, we do. The hotel is very pretty but I am so exhausted it does not really hit me. I get my room key and head up the elevators, the whole time thanking my Japanese savior, we say good night and I go to my room. Hanade is in the room next to me by the way. My room is nice, but I am so sleepy I barely notice. The minute my head hits the pillow I am asleep. What a day. God, I don’t want to do that again.

OH, look at all I have typed, Well next Time ON Dillon B SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPAN ADVENTURES Part 2, I meet my host Family, the Mayor, and my whole town.


September 19 Journal

 Dillon B SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPAN ADVENTURES Part 2

HELLO FROM JAPAN. There is so much to say I really don’t know where to start. Well I have been in Japan for little over a month, and so much has happened in that month it is hard to tell it. But let’s begin where we left off last journal.

I wake early the next morning and realize I’m not in my bed, Oh yeah I’m in Japan. I then remember last night and laugh, that’s all you can do really – take the good with the bad, you know. I look out my hotel window on to a beautiful sunrise. I now know why Japan is called the land of the rising sun. Fast forward … I wake up Hanade, we eat and then get on a bus to go to the airport. We are told that we need to get on a bus and take an hour ride to another airport but is ok. I am happy to see some of my fellow exchange students. They missed their flights too and they also have to take the bus. The bus trip passes quick, I then check in, give my bags up, and say a thousand thank yous and a few goodbyes to Hanade and the other exchange students. I head to my gate and wait for about 10 min and then board my plane. The plane is small and the seats are less than comfy but the flight is only 45 min so I just deal with it. I also notice every one on the plane looking at me. I don’t care – I’m so happy that I will see my host family, I cannot wait. 45 min goes quick and as quick as a fox the plane touches down. The airport is tiny so I won’t get lost this time. I pick up my bags and see a very happy sight; there they are, my host family and other Rotary members, 12 in all. It feels great to have so many people happy to see you. I say hello in Japanese and they all clap. I shake hands and take business cards. My host father calls my parents, we talk for a minute and then I say goodbye. My host family tells me it is time to go home and I am happy to hear it. I am exhausted and would love to sleep (still being on American time). Words cannot express how happy I was to be in Japan and be with my host family.

Like I said before, I have done so much in this one month, it is impossible to tell it all, so I will tell my high lights. Well, let me tell you about Nomi. It is a fairly small city but that does not mean it’s not an amazing place to live. Nomi is in a valley; for those of you who don’t know what a valley is, it is a flat area of land surrounded by mountains. The mountains in this area are amazing; I can look at them for hours and still be in awe. Also there are lots of rice fields in the area and when I say a lot, I mean that almost every house is 10 feet away from one. I live in a stunning house. It is all hard wood and has traditional tatamie mats. It has 3 gardens that circle the house, all of which could go in home designer magazines. I love this house, and I love my host family. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met and I feel truly honored to be hosted by them. My host father is very funny, my host mom is very caring, and my host sister is totally afraid of me but it’s ok, she is extremely shy. Oh and my host grandmother is interesting.

OK, now to the things I have done. On the 3rd day of my exchange I met the Mayor of Nomi. I was a little nervous; I did not want to say anything stupid or insult him; on arrival I also find out I will be in the paper. This is awesome – 3 days and I’m already in the news. OH Yeah. The Mayor is very nice and laid back, he tells me not to worry and we talk for a while, about my stay so far and if I like Japan? I tell him I love Japan and he is very pleased. 2 days after that there was a festival. It was amazing to say the least, in the day there were dance commotions and at night a festival dance. I did the festival dance – I looked like a moron because I did not know the dance, but I got on TV so all is good. Also lots of people were looking at me and a few said they saw me in the paper. I love it – I’m famous and I have only been here a month, but I don’t let it go to my head. I’m the first American they may have ever seen in the flesh.

OH I have also started school, it’s very interesting. Every one is extremely nice, but they are afraid I will speak to them in English so not many people talk to me. Although all the girls in my school say I’m cute about every time I walk past them I like that. I have also been to the zoo, Kanazawa, and so many other places I cannot say them all. All I can say is that this is the best thing anyone can do with a year. Yes, I admit I miss America, and my friends, family, and English but every time I meet someone new or eat a new food I feel more and more like I am transitioning into my new life and I love that.

Well until next time see you on the other side (of the world that is).

DILLON B

 


 

November 19 Journal

 Dillon B SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPAN ADVENTURES PART 3

Well hello everyone, it’s me Dillon, coming at you from the other side of the world. SO much has happened since my last journal it is very hard for me to type this one. How can I put so much in without making it a book, but I will give it a try. In my last journal I left off with school , so we will start there…..

School is not very fun right now, I am sorry to say. I have no real friends because my lingo is still that of a 2 year old, I also think some of the kids don’t like me or they are afraid of me and will not talk to me. I try very hard to be nice and say hi to everyone and I talk whenever I can, but most of the time I am ignored or just stared at blankly. Speaking of staring, WOW do I get stared at a lot! I mean… at first it was cool being looked at all the time, but now I would just like people to look at someone else. I know once my lingo gets better I will have a lot of good friends and will be much happier with going to school. The lessons are good and a lot of my art classes are great. Now to what I have been up to.

I have been to some amazing places since I last wrote. One of my favorites was the Tokyo game show. I went with my first host father and it was awesome! I got to see a bunch of new games and some that will never come to the USA. It was huge too, it took up half of the Tokyo convention hall, and that Tokyo convention hall is quite large. I have also been to Toyama, Kyushu, Kyoto and Nara along will a bunch of smaller places. In Toyama I climbed Japan’s 3rd most holy mountain, Mt. Tateyama. It was very very hard, but I got to the top and my whole host family was really impressed with my power. My first host father told me not many people make it to the top, which made me fell even happier that I did it! Kyoto and Nara were beautiful, the leaves are changing, which makes everything look ten times nicer. Yeah… it is starting to get cold and I am loving it and I can’t wait for it to snow. OH… I have also given a few speeches, and gone to a few more festivals since my last journal as well. I like the festivals so much and I wish I could just go around Japan doing them all. I got to push a very heavy float in one of the festivals and it was very funny to see me and 2 other exchange students in the middle of all these small Japanese guys, pushing this very heavy thing down the street. Oh yeah, I have also changed host families, they are just as nice as my first family, but different in lots of ways. They have only been married for one year and they have never dealt with kids before, but they are good parents nonetheless. It’s good to change host families, it is like going on a new adventure with a new tour guide, but I am very happy that I will be going back to my first host family in March.

Well, I wish I could say I have not been home sick, but I can not. Yes my friends, I have hit culture shock and I don’t like it. Living in Japan is very difficult at times, like never having a seat that fits me, or not being able to go somewhere without everyone in my Rotary asking me if I will be ok. But most of all, not being able to talk to people is really starting to get to me! I miss just having a normal conversation with anyone. I feel so frustrated sometimes, I just want to learn this language, but as hard as I try to study and I am studying very hard, it just doesn’t seem to be sticking in my brain. I of course miss my real family, but I know if I talk to them for long periods of time it’s just a step in the wrong direction. I like being with my other exchange students, but I talk to them in English and I don’t want to do that. I WANT TO SPEAK JAPANESE!!!! I just don’t know how to yet, but I am getting better, but I am still at that stage were my brain just wants it in English and it is having a very hard time converting it to Japanese. Every time I learn a new word or sentence, and I remember it, it makes me feel like there is hope, and as long as there is a little bit of hope, I think I will learn this language, I just hope it comes a little faster then it is happening now.

Well look at all I wrote again, ha ha… you can really can get lost doing these journals.

Well…. until next time, I’ll see ya on the other side (of the world that is).

DILLON B


 

December 26 Journal

 DILLON B’S – SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPAN ADVENTURES PART 4

HELLO everyone it’s me…. Dillon, having an amazing time in the “Land of the Rising Sun” and here to tell you what I’ve been up to this past month or so. So………let’s get started!

The holidays have come and gone in Japan, or at least Thanksgiving and Christmas that is, the funny thing is that in Japan they really don’t do these types of holidays, but that doesn’t mean my host families and my Rotary Club didn’t try their hardest to make these days fun for me! Let’s start with Thanksgiving, well… my new host parents didn’t even know that November 23rd this year was a holiday until I told them. They knew that Americans did “something”, but they didn’t know what ?!? I told them that on the 23rd of November… we (and when I say we, I mean the whole U.S.) eat lots and lots of food (more than we normally would) with our families and then we watch a lot of TV! There was no way for me to explain the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and meeting the Indians and the New World. My new host parents, the Tanaka’s had to work, but they told me we would do something special later, and we did, we went bowling!!! I have to tell you all, that bowling in Japan is amazing, and these places are huge!! The one we went to had these giant flat screen TV’s, playing all kinds of music videos. Yes… I love bowling in Japan! Then after bowling, we went for the funniest Thanksgiving meal I think I might ever have had or will ever have, my host parents took me out for Chinese food. Yes my friends, on Thanksgiving Day, I was eating sweet and sour pork with fried rice! Before we got to the restaurant my host mom asked me if I have ever eaten Chinese food before, she was very surprised when I told her I LOVE Chinese food and there are lots of Chinese restaurants all over America. It was a very fun and interesting way to spend the holiday, but I sure missed the turkey with all the trimmings though… oh well!

Now…….. Christmas in Japan is another story, this is a more well known holiday in Japan, but lots of people don’t do anything for it. Some families do what we do in the U.S. with putting up lights and a tree, but most just get a very small electrified tree and give one gift to their kids on the 25th. People still go to work that day and things go on like normal. The only way I could tell it was Christmas (besides me giving my host parents gifts and telling them Merry Christmas) was on the TV. My Rotary Club wanted me to feel right at home, so on the 22nd they had a Rotary Christmas party! I was asked to cook something for the event, so I made a simple marinara sauce over spaghetti, they loved it!! Well they should, considering Italian food in Japan is about as authentic as Pizza Hut is here in the States! To my great happiness and surprise I got quite a few gifts too! I thanked everyone a hundred times and gave them all hand written Christmas cards.

After the party, I got in a car with my first host family, the Kitade’s and they took me to Tokyo for the weekend. I think this is one of the BEST Christmas gifts I will ever get. We went to Tokyo from the the 22nd to the 24th. I went to the Shonen Jump Festival, which is like a giant Manga (Japanese comic book) convention on the 23rd. It was AMAZING!! After the convention we went to Akiehabara, I loved this place, it is full of nothing but video games, comic books and toys. I could have easily spent all my money in this one store, but I didn’t. After that, we went to our next hotel, which was very beautiful and very very expensive! The hotel was in Shinjuku, my second favorite place in Tokyo. You may have seen or read about Shinjuku if you look up Tokyo on the internet. It is one of the brightest places on earth at night. There are giant billboards and signs that light up like a fireworks display. It is also Japan’s red light district, which I found to be really funny. It was great to finally be in Tokyo, I was finally here… years of dreaming about being in this fantastic place, and there I was, finally….there! I was so grateful and thankful to Hideki and Yumiko for this opportunity. I took lots of pictures, but it just doesn’t do the place justice.

On the 24th we went to Ginza. Ginza was ok, but not really my kind of town or style. Ginza, Japan, is like our New York’s 5th Avenue. All those really expensive stores that you would find there like, Prada, Louie Vuitton, Gucci and Wako just to name a few. My first host mom, Yumiko loves Ginza, well… look at it this way, these stores are a Japanese women’s playground. We stayed until 12 noon and them drove back home to Nomi, which is about a six hour drive. On the ride home I saw snow, I was so happy to see it. I wished we could have stopped and played in it for a while, but there was no time. We got home at around 6 pm and unloaded all we had bought, then my first host family told me I would be spending the night with them, so they could see me on Christmas Day! I was so happy about this, although my second host family are good, I really wanted to spend most of Christmas Eve and Day with the Kitade’s. We had a big Christmas Eve dinner, a bit different then I’m used to (pizza, fried chicken, french fries and sushi, ha ha). I went to bed early, so I could wake up early and give my host family their gifts!!

On Christmas Day, I did what I love to do most…. relax! My host family loved all their gifts and I was just so happy I didn’t mess anything up. After breakfast, my host family went to work…. yes…. even on holidays Japanese people work. I called my parents and we talked for a very long time, it was wonderful to talk to them again since I hadn’t spoke to them in such a long time. Then I watched TV until 4 pm, which is when I had to go back to my second host family. They were at work too when I got home, but my second host mom told me we were going to have a big Christmas dinner that night. While she was cooking Christmas dinner, my host dad was still out working. I opened all my gifts from Rotary, both of my host families and my parents. I received a lot of nice gifts and was really starting to feel at home, here in Japan. My second host mom is a good cook and Christmas dinner was very good, also my second host family loved their gifts too. I do have to say, I had a great Christmas even though it was the first Christmas ever away from my parents and family.

Well… that was a wrap up of my holidays, now for a little bit about me. My lingo is getting better and it feels great to know that all that studying I’ve been doing is finally paying off! I don’t feel homesick so much anymore, but I will always feel some loneliness, but I don’t let it bring me down anymore. School has also gotten a lot better too, I now have some friends and I look forward to going to school now. My life in Japan is going really well and I know it can only get better with the passing of time. Speaking of time……. it’s flying by while being here in this country. I can’t believe I have been here for 4 months already. I have to honestly say, these have been some of the hardest and most fun four months of my life and I am looking forward to the rest of my exchange, which I know I will remember forever!

Well…. I seem to have written another book again, oh well. Hope everyone and everything is going great for you all back in the States and I want to wish you all a Happy New Year. I also want to wish good luck to all the New 2009 Outbound Students trying out for their place for an adventure of a lifetime with this fantastic Rotary Exchange Program.

Until next time, I’ll see y’all on the other side (of the world that is).

DILLON BIRDSALL


 

March 3 Journal

 DILLON B’S – SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPANESE ADVENTURE – PART 5

Hello once again it’s me Dillon, here to tell you all about my life since December in Nomi, Japan.

 

Well……… not much stuff has happened to me in the past 2 mouths, so it’s kind of hard to write this journal. I mean…… lots of stuff has happened, but nothing I really would put in my journals. I have been living in my 2nd host family’s home for about 4 mouths now, and I’m sad to say that my 2nd hosts are not the kind of people to go out and explore Japan and show me new, cool and interesting places and things. They are more like the kind of people who work all day, then come home and don’t talk to each other or me as a matter of fact. They are nice people as a whole, but we really don’t get along so well, that is to say we are really different from each other. I am having a very hard time just trying to have a good talk with them and besides the fact that they really don’t even like to talk to me and are completely uninterested in me. I always ask how their day was, how they’re doing, and they just say “fine” and leave it at that. They never ask me how I’m doing, or how my school day is going or anything?!? I sometimes take it upon myself to tell them things I would like to do or talk about, but I don’t think they’re listening to me very much. Oh well, I can’t blame them, like I said before they have only been married ONE year. I know I wouldn’t want a 16-year-old kid from another country in my home for 5 months if I just got married a year ago. But……. I am here and it looks like I’m not going to be doing and seeing as much of Japan with this family as my last, so I decided to see it for myself. For the past month or so I have been going into Kanazawa, which is about 25 minutes away from my home to meet up with some other exchange students and we hang out every Saturday. It’s really good to be with people who have the same sense of humor as I do and I can joke around and be sarcastic with them (by the way Japanese people have no clue what sarcasm is, and that’s too bad really). It is also good for me to get away from my family for at least a few hours and relax without worrying about my Japanese, if I’m saying something wrong or stupid.

My Japanese is getting better, it really is, and I’m so happy to say it is, but it’s still very, very bad. For anyone who does not know this language, Japanese is one of the hardest languages in the world for an English speaking person to master. I know that I will not be totally fluent by the end of my exchange. There is no way that in the next 4 months I will master Japanese, but this does not mean I’m not going to try!! My study habits are long and hard and go a little like this. Monday 4-5 hours of studying Japanese books and Japanese Internet sites for Kanji, while looking up other important facts. Tuesday thru Thursday 2-3 hours of studying Japanese. Friday one to two hours, and on the weekends I take a break. Even with all this studying you would think my Japanese would get better, but it’s NOT! I’m not mad or sad about it, I know I’m trying my hardest to get this language down and that’s all anyone can ask of me. I am seeing improvement and I am happy with that.

Now onto some of things I’ve been doing. Snow is falling thick and fast in this area of Japan. I am so happy to see snow again it’s not even funny. The only thing that I can’t do in the snow, is any of the winter sports I used to do when I lived in Maine. I would love to go skiing again, but there are no ski boots that will fit my size 14 feet, especially not in Japan. I would also like to go sledding down a big mountain, but no one in Japan knows what I’m talking about, plus there are no sleds for sale anywhere either. I would like to have a snowball fight with my school friends, but everyone is worried I would hurt them if I was to throw a snowball at them. Even though I can’t have fun in the snow, I still love looking at it.

New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day both passed without any incident. On New Year’s my host family took me to a shrine to pray. I was so happy that I was doing something I had never done before and my host parents, but they were bored and kept saying they were cold and wanted to go home. They also enjoyed laughing at me, when I was taking pictures of the shrine. On Valentine’s Day I gave my host mother some chocolate and she gave me some chocolate too (In Japan on Valentine’s Day women give chocolate to men, weird). I was hoping maybe some of the girls in my school would have the guts to give me some chocolate too, but no go.

I’ve done a few short home stays with different Rotary members, I really enjoy these outings. For one I get to get out of my host house and two, we do a lot of cool stuff I don’t get to do with my host family. On my last Rotary stay, I went to Mt. Haksan, another Holy Mountain in Japan, but I didn’t climb this one (thank God), I also went to a really cool dinosaur museum. I never knew that there were a lot of dinosaurs in Japan at one point in history. School is getting better and better too, and I finally have friends now, not really close friends mind you, but people who I can have a laugh with during the day. Also more and more people who were being mean to me are now being nice to me. I finally think the shock of me has worn off and they just see I’m a lot like them in many ways. Now that my Japanese is improving, I can actually talk to my classmates, which I do have to say, makes a nice change from them just looking at me blankly.

Now onto how I’m doing. At the moment I’m just really happy to be in Japan. I just wake up in the morning happy and go to bed the same way. I no longer feel homesick or have culture shock, but also I know in 4 very short months, I will be back home!! Just the thought of that puts a very big smile on my face. 🙂 As much as I love Japan, and I do really love it here, I can’t wait to go home. To be back with my friends and family after a whole school year. To be back in my own house, in my own room, in my own bed and speaking my own language, English! Just the thought of this makes me so happy go-lucky. Like I said, I love Japan, but now having lived here for 6 and a half months, I’ve never really felt like I truly belong here. It will be good to go back to a place that makes a little bit more sense to me. It’s not that I don’t belong here, it’s just that Japan and the U.S. are so totally different and that there is no possible way for me to truly act “Japanese”. I know I will never be mistaken as a member of this culture or country, I know that no matter how well I speak Japanese, everyone will be expecting me to speak in English. I know that every single Japanese person who looks at me, looks at me as an outsider and not one of their own. Is this a bad thing, NO……. it’s a good thing, it allows me to retain my self-identity. I don’t blend into the group and I’m proud of it. I stick out like a sore thumb in this country, but I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m going to live my last 4 months here to the fullest, and I’ll go back home to my friends and families with open arms, and that truly makes me happy!!

Until next time, I’ll see y’all on the other side (of the world that is).

DILLON BIRDSALL


 

April 29 Journal

 DILLON B’S – SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPANESE ADVENTURE – PART 6

HELLO – HELLO Everyone….. all over the world, it is I… Dillon Birdsall coming to you from the other side of the world, the amazing land of the Rising Sun, JAPAN. First and foremost, 9 days ago I had my 17th Birthday! Oh yeah… it was amazing, but I’m getting ahead of myself, let us go back to March and continue my story from there. Well… I’m extremely happy to say, that in March I finally moved back to my first host family, The Kitades. They were so genuinely happy to have me back and I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to be back! I really do consider them my only host family. The Tanakas (my second host family) were nice, but they weren’t really the kind of family I’m used to. The Kitades are amazing and I consider myself amazingly lucky to call them my host parents. Before I left the Tanakas we did finally do something really cool. We went around Ishikawa and saw really cool, old and famous places of the area I have lived in for the past 7 months here in Nomi, Japan. It was a good way to finally connect and share some good times with the Tanakas, it was a nice way to say goodbye.

Right after leaving the Tanakas and going back to the KItades, I went on my Osaka trip with my Rotary and 6 other exchange students. The trip was 4 great days and nights, visiting places I have wanted to visit most here in Japan. The first day we went to Himeji castle, I have to say that this castle is amazingly beautiful!! It’s one of Japan’s last standing castles. It is huge!! It is one of the biggest and oldest Japanese styled buildings I have ever seen. If you ever come to Japan, I would really recommend visiting it. All of us exchange students got along really well and that first night we went out to sing karaoke. This was the first time I have ever done that and I had a great time losing my voice singing Japanese songs. The next day we went to this amazing shrine in Hiroshima. This is probably the most breathtaking shrine I have ever seen, no picture can do it justice. The shrine is located on a very small island and there is a red giant gate out in the ocean called a Tori. Once again… if you visit Japan you’ve got to see this place. Later that day we went to the Memorial of the Atomic bomb and museum. Let’s just say… it was not a fun place to visit, just like at the one in Okinawa, I felt like crap being the only American in the group. The next day we went to Universal Studios Japan. It wasn’t much fun, think about Universal in Florida, but only smaller and with ten times more people! The next day we visited Nara and the world’s largest ferris wheel, we also visited a few more shrines. The best shrine of the day was one that had like…… a thousand deer living in it. Yes…….. deer……. the animal and they are so funny. They are not scared of people, and they expect you to feed them and if you don’t…. they eat your stuff. We visited a few more interesting shrines and then returned home to Nomi.

It is now April and spring has sprung. The weather here is amazingly beautiful and the cherry blossoms have come and gone. They were really nice to see, but they are only in bloom for about 2 weeks. I took lots of pictures during their blooming season. April is also my birthday month and my host family gave me an amazing Birthday gift. On the day before and on my actual B-day (April 21) we went to Tokyo. It was a great way to spend my special day. I love Tokyo, it is an amazing city, but I don’t think I could live there all year round, it’s way too busy. We went to all my favorite places, and I was not sad at all that I was away from home for my B-day or anything. Then on the 23rd my host family threw me a small B-day party. It was great, my host family was sad that they could not throw me a big party, but I was totally happy it was just us. It reminded me a lot like my family back home.

Well… now about how I’m doing. There is only one word I can think of and it’s……….Amazing!! I think that is the ONLY word I’ve been saying lately. I am sad to say that I only have 2 months left here in Japan, and time is going by way too fast that I can’t even begin to tell you. It seems so amazing to me that I have only 2 months left when it kind of still feels like I just got here. School is going great at the moment and I have lots of friends. They are not very close friends mind you, but I now have lots of people I can have a good laugh with. My Japanese is still not the best and I don’t know if I will get any better then I am in these last 2 months, but I’m kind of ok with that. I’m not saying that I will stop studying anymore or not trying to learn to be better, but I don’t know how much more I can learn or retain. When I look back on my first moments of speaking Japanese and fast forward ahead to now, I can see and hear how much I have grown… so much it’s not even funny. Although I know I will never be fluent in this language, but now at the end of my exchange, I am so happy with the amount of Japanese I do know. I can read my favorite comics now and I can recognize a lot of Kanji. I really feel great about this and that’s the best way to feel.

As the end draws ever closer, I feel two very strong emotions. One…I am over the moon in true happiness to know I will be going home, back to my old life and ways. To see my friends and family again is going to be great, But…. the other emotion I feel, is of course… sadness. To know that I will be leaving Japan for good and for God knows how long. I will be saying goodbye to my new life and my new ways of living life, and this is going to be kind of hard. I know where I belong and that is back home in the States, but now I know I have somewhere else I can call home and that is here in Japan. I know I will return back to the Rising Sun to visit, but I don’t know if I will ever live here again and that is what is very sad to me. Living here is not hard any more, I am not just some confused kid in a far away place anymore. I have lived here, studied here, made friends and family here and HERE will always be in my heart. It’s no longer a strange way of life, but a life I now know and understand. It’s my life now and it will be a part of my life forever, and I can’t tell you how happy and grateful I am about that. This year has been and will be, one of the best years of my life. I truly know how lucky I am to be here and I am going to live my last moments here in Japan to the fullest! (man… I have said that a lot, but it is so true).

Until next time, I’ll see y’all on the other side (of the world that is).

DILLON BIRDSALL


 

June 5 Journal

 DILLON B’S – SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPANESE ADVENTURE – PART 7

It was the best of times it was the worst of times…

I guess this statement best describes the feelings I’m having at the moment. I have never read the book, A Tale of Two Cites, but the title is most fitting for me, a Tale of two countries, two lands, hearts, and minds.

Japan, a place I had been dreaming about visiting since the age of six. A place I said that one day I would like to live and experience for at least a year. I can tell you, I did not think I would be living this dream for a very long time, or not until I was older and had the money to do so, but now I know that this was the perfect time in my life to have experienced Japan. This year has been more than I can describe to you all, more than I can write in a journal, more then I can almost wrap my brain around. I have done so much in this year abroad; I have been to so many places and have lived through so many experiences in just this year that I can’t even remember them all. But most of all, this year has been my transition from one home to two, from that dream to a reality and to a truly life changing experience.

I know and believe that I haven’t changed very much in the way I act. I believe I’m still the same funny, happy go lucky, make a sarcastic comment, kind of kid that I was back in America. But now…. now I can also think about things from a Japanese perspective and also from a world perspective. Gosh, look at me, writing all philosophical and deep. Ok…….. Let’s get back to how I normally am!

Hello……… hello every one from all around the world, it is I Dillon Birdsall coming to you from the breath taking land of Japan. Yesterday was the first of June, which started my last month in this awe inspiring country that I have called my home for the past 10 months. I now only have 27 days left here and then on the 28th I will have to say goodbye to a land I have come to know and will forever love.

I’ve done so many things since I last wrote, but like I said once before, not much I would call journal worthy material. I feel this journal is more for me, something to help me get some of my emotions out there, as I feel I have already done in my opening paragraphs.

If you were to tell me 3 years ago when I started high school, that one of my high school years would be spent in Japan, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you were to tell me, I would learn a different culture and language in the space of time of one year, I would not have believed you. But look at me now, 10 months in and I’m still not completely fluent in this language (and that’s an understatement), but I am in tune with this culture. I am still mesmerized with my own growth. When I look back on my first days here and how it all seemed…….. so weird and oh so different, and now it’s……… so normal and sometimes amusingly predictable. But this is what being an exchange student for a year in another country is all about. The change from an American kid to a kid living in Japan, it makes me Japamerican, a person who has melded both cultures into one, and this kid understands them both and loves them both the same way. There are things about Japan and America that I really don’t like, things that really don’t make a lot of sense to me, things that I will never know or understand and that goes for both cultures. But now, most of those little things that didn’t make sense….. Do. You can only get this way by doing what we exchange students do, and that is dropping out of your old life and by trying something new, like a whole new life in another country. Being totally open and totally happy to try new things and do things totally out of your comfort zone and most of all to say goodbye to what you think you know, and learn something, anything, and everything new!

My emotions are all over the place at the moment and they have been for quite some time now. I think that they will be this way for longer then I thought they would. I am in a state of jubilation at the thought of going home, getting on that plane and seeing my family, hugging them and telling them how much I missed them and my family saying the same thing back to me. But then the thought of my last days here, push their way into my thoughts and my heart and a feeling of great sadness falls over me. For I know the days are drawing near to the moment I have to say goodbye. Goodbye to all the wonderful people I have met, to this beautiful country, and an amazingly loving extended family. I knew this was going to happen the second I stepped off the plane the first one day I arrived. I knew that in a short 10 months, I would once again be saying goodbye to people and places that I love.

But it’s not the end…….. I’m happy to say. Yes, my days as a Rotary Exchange Student in Japan are soon to be over, but I know Japan will always be here for me and the Kitades have generously extended an open invitation for me to come back anytime I’d like. This still doesn’t stop my emotions from running wild, but it does give me hope, and a very good feeling to know there is more then one place I can call home. America will forever be the place I think of when I think of my home, but Japan will be right there in my heart as my second home.

I know I may sound weird, but it’s good to say these types of things I am saying, and when you are an exchange student everyone can understand these feelings as well. To be able to get your emotions out there and share them with all of you is a very good thing and I hope all the other exchange students share their feelings too.

This will not be my last journal for my exchange year, but it will be the last one I write from Japan. I will complete one more, which will wrap up my entire year and explain what my last days in Japan were really like. My last journal won’t be posted until I’m back in the States and home for a few weeks, this way I can truly look back and reflect on it all.

I am going to be a real geek now, and end this journal with another quote from a book that is actually my favorite, it’s Harry Potter. At the end of book four, Hagrid says to Harry…………

“What will come will come, and we’ll face it when it does.” I can’t think of a truer statement to reflect on. As I look back on my year abroad, it makes me look forward to the years I have ahead of me.

Until next time, I’ll see y’all on the other side (of the world that is).

DILLON BIRDSALL


 

Dillon’s Final Chapter

 DILLON B’S – SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME JAPANESE ADVENTURE – PART 8

THE END

Hello everyone, how are you? It’s me Dillon, coming to you, but no….. not from the land of Hello Kitty and Pokémon, but the land of the Wild West and the good old Red White and Blue.

Yes, I’m home, and I do have to say it is amazing to be home, but before I go into why it’s so amazing to be home, I need to conclude my past year in Japan.

My last Journal left you all about a month out from my return home and now I will catch you up to today.

My last days in Japan were……to this day I really don’t know how to describe my feelings, so I will just list them: Happy, Sad, Pensive, Reflective, Whimsical, Amazing, Hard, Exiting, and I guess most of all Indescribable.

My last month was filled with many goodbyes, the first of which was at my school. This was actually harder than I thought it was going to be. For such a long time, going to school was not what I would call fun, what with me being the “out cast” for a period of time and not really knowing the language. I thought I didn’t have many people who liked me, but as my days at school drew to an end the more I realized that I really was liked, and what’s more, I realized I liked going to my school. On my last week of school, I had to give a speech to the whole school again, just like the first time I went to school, but this time it was in Japanese and everyone knew what I was talking about unlike first time, and on my last day of school, I said my final goodbyes to everyone. We took pictures and even had people say to me that they were really going to miss me, and that I should just stay, in Japan and for the kids in my school, that is a lot.

Right after saying goodbye to my school, I had to say farewell to my Rotary. This one was just as hard, but not so much on the emotional front. To prove you have really tried to learn Japanese you need to show your Rotary you can give a speech, but not just a quick speech like I was doing every month, but a 15 to 20 minute monologue of my entire year. I do have to admit, I was worried about this speech, but it went really well. I was happy to see that like at my school, the men in my Rotary knew what I was saying and once again we took pictures and said our final goodbyes.

Now I only had one more week left with the Kitade’s, they being the amazing family they are, had one last trip for me. Throughout my year I had been very fortunate to have gone all over Japan to almost all of this amazing country, but there was still one place in Japan I had not yet gone, which was Hokkaido the top part of the island of Japan. As far as I knew, no other Rotary Exchange Student from our district had gone to this part of Japan and I was determined to see all of this country I could. The Kitade’s wanted me to see this area of Japan too, so for three days of my last week in this amazing country, at the end of this amazing journey, my host dad Hideki and I went to Sapporo, Hokkaido. I loved it there, it was one of the coolest cites I had been in Japan, but the whole time we were there, it felt bittersweet. Hideki and I went around and saw all the sites, famous points of interest, ate some utterly delicious food, and enjoyed our time together, but we both knew time was now running out and I couldn’t help but think about all the things I have done and seen throughout the year.

After the Hokkaido trip with Hideki, I only had 2 days left. I used these days to pack and ship my clothes and all the stuff I have bought throughout the year to send home to the US, but what I was really doing was using this time to get ready to say goodbye. I then went around my area of where I had called home for 11 months to just look around, and to take it all in one last time. I just sat back in a local shrine and thought about every single thing. The places I liked the most, the funniest things I saw on TV, some of the weirdest things I was asked, and every other little and large thing that made up my year. It wasn’t the first time I thought like this, but it was the first time I realized that it really was going to be over in only a matter of hours. I wanted to somehow split myself into two people, one that would go home and live the life there and the other half would stay in Japan and live life out here. I wished I really could be in two places at once, but I knew I couldn’t. The last two nights I ate dinner out, the first was with my first and second host families along with some other Rotary members. It was a nice gathering, but a little weird. The last night was with just the Kitades and that is exactly how I wanted it to be, just us having a good time at dinner. We joked around and had a really good time, it was a perfect way for my last night in Japan to end, but the morning was the thing I was least looking forward to.

Now it’s Saturday, June 28th at 5 in the morning, I had a good, but restless night sleep. I can hear my host family getting ready downstairs. I take one last look around my room and it looks exactly the way it did the first day I got there. Now I start having memories of my first moments in Japan of me missing my connecting plane, and having to stay overnight in Tokyo and how sorry I was to have missed my flight and making my host families go to the airport for nothing. It now makes me laugh a little. Now I go downstairs and say good morning, in the best happy go lucky kind of voice I can give, and the response back from my family is sad, but they try to give a happy kind of tone. We have breakfast and even more memories came flashing back to me of all the times we had talking in a happy mood because I was happy. I had the whole week to think about and deal with my goodbyes, and in my last moments of being in Japan I want them all to be happy ones.

I had learned over the whole year, that time really does fly by very fast and before you know it, it is time to go home. We all get in the car and I take one last look at my host family’s house, my house, and one more long look at everything else around me. Even though I keep up my happy attitude, I still feel weird with a sense of loss as I look around, knowing I might never, ever see it again and this made me feel really gloomy. Then I’m brought back into the moment when I hear Japanese-pop screams over the radio and I manage to smile, I vow to myself that I will see this country again even if it kills me.

We arrive at the airport and there is a surprise there for me, a few of members of my Rotary are there to see me off, along with my second host family the Tanaka’s. I check my bags and head to my gate with only 20 minutes left. I say goodbye to everyone and thank them all again in Japanese. I hug everyone and say one last farewell. Then everyone waves goodbye as I walk toward my gate and now we can no longer see each other. I feel fine, but all my memories are swirling around in my head with all the emotions that go with them, but I need to stay focused, I really don’t want to miss another one of my flights, but nothing happens and everything goes well. The only thing I can think about now is seeing my parents again. So then I travel from Tokyo to Chicago, with just one more flight from Chicago to Jacksonville which now seems almost as long as my year, but finally my plane lands in Florida and I run off, and there they are, my parents and all we can do is hug and all I can feel now is happiness.

I have been home now for about three months, and I don’t know what the best part of being home has been. I’m just happy to talk in English again and joke around. I didn’t know how much I appreciated America, until I came back and I also noticed how truly different and the same Japan and America are. I’ve been able to do some incredible things since I came home too. I’ve learned how to drive, see my friends. My parents threw me a big Welcome Home Party with generous gifts from my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncle and friends. Plus, my parents gave me some really cool Christmas and Birthday gifts that they saved for me over the year, so I could open when I arrived back. The best gift I received was a Wild West vacation with my family for a week, which we took only two weeks after my return. They surprised me with something I had wanted to do for years and that was, to be a part of the largest comic book convention in the world, The San Diego Comic.Con. We also traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, The Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Sedona, and Phoenix, Arizona. The whole trip was amazing and I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of this amazing United States. I’m back in school and setteling in nicely as a Senior, with a lot on my plate, by playing catch up from being away my Junior year of high school and also preparing for college next year with SAT/ACT and college application, even though it’s a lot of hard work, it’s exciting to know that in just a few months time I will have graduated from high school and onto another adventure called life.

MY last words…….I have regarding this past remarkable year.

Japan has turned from a land I wished and dreamed of going to, to a second home and a place I will always wish to be. Rotary has allowed me to live one of my dreams and truly one of the the most interesting, educational, incredible and fun filled years of my life.

Now for my all my Thank You’s;

A big thank you to my Mom and Dad for all their support and willingness and everything they have done to prepare me for this incredible year and my years to come. A huge thank you to the Kitade and Tanaka families for everything they shares and did for me over this past year in Japan. Thank you to Japan for being so beautiful and amazing.

Last, but definitely not least, a hugh thank goes to both my Rotary here in the States (Flagler Beach Rotary) and my Rotary in Nomi, Japan. Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity and continuing with this extraordinary program, so other students can be a part of something truly wonderful.

Dillon Birdsall

Gustav Fredrikson
2007-08 Outbound to Ecuador

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970
Host: Quito Norte Rotary Club
          District 4400, Ecuador

Gustav - Ecuador

Gustav’s Bio

Hola! My name is Gustav, friends call me Goose but in Spanish it’s Gustavo. I’m 15 years old, and a sophomore at Fleming Island High. I live with my parents, and have two brothers that live in Colorado.

I’m also a born competitor. I play sports such as tennis, track, cross country, ultimate Frisbee, and soccer. Ultimate Frisbee is fairly new to me – I’ve only played it a year and it’s my favorite. Like other teens, I hang around with friends doing things like go to the movies and play sports together.

I’m so excited to go to Ecuador! I’m eager to learn what other countries think of the United States, and it should be fun to become trilingual. I know this is going to be an opportunity of a lifetime. A big thanks to Rotary Youth Exchange which makes this possible.


August 21 Journal

The Goose Has Landed

Thursday August 16th 2007 – First Day – To Ecuador

I’ve been packing vigorously the last few days to get all I need for the year trip or as I should call it; Adventure. Lending things to friends, that I don’t need, can’t use, or can’t take. Nick got my Xbox and some other stuff. I passed other stuff to other friends. I woke up at 7:30ish and snoozed my way until about 7:45 took a shower, organized paperwork, ate a pancake, posted a goodbye on myspace and I was off. Driving to the airport I thought to myself “Goose what are you doing? All of this is going to be gone.” But somehow I wasn’t scared and I knew everything was going to be ok.

We checked in early and sat outside security for a while talking senselessly about nothing. Then I had to go. It hit me for a second I’m not going to see my parents for a year! But I hid my emotions by thinking of something else. But when I finished going through security and walked down to see my parents through a hallway they weren’t there, had they just left without waving to me? I shook off the sadness and walked to my terminal, looking back for a glimpse of my parents again knowing I’d get shut down. But there they were blowing kisses, and waving goodbye. I hit a couple of tears and walked away, looking down at the ground since it seemed everyone was staring at me, with my navy blue Rotary blazer on. Things popped into my head and I blocked them out. Knowing I couldn’t be sad on this trip because it was a experience of a lifetime.

I was the first to land in Miami out of the twenty or more Americans that would leave on the same flight to Quito. I waited for a good two hours pacing the nearly three-fourth mile walk from the longest distance between the farthest two terminals. I did this probably two-three times before A little sense got knocked into me and then I went to Starbucks to get my favorite raspberry green tea frappacino, which I had to tell them how to make. During my call to home from a pay phone in the airport I told my parents I was ok “yada yada”, then right when my mom asks if I had seen any other exchange students two navy blue blazers appear in the corner of my eye, I quickly finish the call telling my mom what I’d seen, and took of chasing them. One of them was Kenneth from South Carolina, and the other was Weston. We walked a bit and met up with John from Colorado. We straddled around the airport to find something to eat, nothing really struck my appetite. We socialized until the first girls came, then more came, it was like two, three herds of them. Only one other guy was among them, Russ. We finally board and start flying to Quito, chatting, asking questions, playing cards, or attempting to sleep on the four hour plane flight.

I’m nervous because I didn’t understand if my host family was going to be there or not. But sure enough when I turn the corner of the terminal I see a big glass window with a bunch of Ecuadorians behind it. I see a sign that says “Russ” and I think “good for him”! I keep scanning to see if their was any sign of anyone trying to grab my attention. I see two older couple waving at me! I frantically wave back. After going through customs, and getting my luggage which was the biggest of all the exchange students I enter the waiting area. Where I quickly separate from the other exchange students and find my host family? Sorta. There were two married couples from what I understood the people I emailed and was going to stay with, are going out of town or vacation or something so I had to live with another family who was equally nice.

We packed everything into the car, and drove through the city. Seeing much of what I saw in Lima a couple a years ago but cleaner, nicer, and more organized. We drove like crazy up and down hills for about 10-15 min until we came to Cumbaya. Enter a gated community and we drove a little more and at a push of a button the gate of their house in the left corner of the street opens. Out runs a German Shepherd, as we pull in the Shepherd comes back and another dog comes up (this is a small one with golden retriever, blonde skin and big ears) and I think a maid comes out. She helps us with the luggage and I’m brought upstairs to my room were I’m staying until Wednesday (I think). I call mom with a quick message saying I’m ok and such. I’m tired & hungry. But I’m not hungry for adventure yet, that’ll have to wait for tomorrow. I got ready for bed and to write in my journal, but I didn’t have a pen so I put on the stuff I traveled in (so I didn’t seem insane with my pajamas on. I don’t know why I did that) and asked politely for a pen, and quickly go back upstairs and start writing in my journal. I hear dogs barking. What time is it?

Friday August 17th 2007 – Second Day

I woke up around 7ish and didn’t hear any footsteps around the house so I thought no one was awake, although it was as light as day outside. I sat in bed trying to fall asleep again but couldn’t, so I walked down stairs and saw my host mamma (who I don’t know by name yet) and say hi, we chit chat a bit in English which she was great at, as good or better than I am at Spanish. I showed pictures of the family and gave her a book about FL. I had bread for breakfast and didn’t really understand the words that were coming out of the maids mouth. I went upstairs and took about a two hour nap. I tried to teach the German Shepherd some tricks, and petting Jasmine (probably the only name I know since I’ve gotten here) every once in a while. At around 4 or 5 a kid knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to hang out. I had seen him last night at the airport with the family so I knew it was ok. He was/is 13 and he’s great at English, he lives right next door (no fences separated). His older brother is an exchange student in Tokyo.

I got to use a dial-up computer that they have and send “ok” messages to my closest relatives. I got to go into Cumbaya see the club that my family is part of, and got to see the supermaxi which is like the Publix (grocery store) of Ecuador.

We stroll around a mall which is very much like our mall just a bit smaller. It has two levels on the bottom level there is a movie theater. I make my first purchase in Ecuador; I buy a Churrus and it’s the first one I’ve ever had. It was muy bien. I eat a sandwich for dinner and went to bed. The most important meal of the day is lunch here, so for lunch I had steak, a potato salad that I tried (but didn’t really enjoy) and a salad.

The days are from 6 am – 6 pm here, exactly twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of night time. This gives me a lot of time to catch up on the sleep I’ve been missing from the summer back home. People keep telling me what things are in Spanish but I keep forgetting. I still don’t know anyone’s name. My host mamma is a psychologist and my host dad is a doctor.

Saturday August 18th 2007 – Third Day

Today was amazing. I woke up around 8 or 9 and went down stairs for breakfast. Bread, hot cocoa, juice. My host pappa comes in during the middle of breakfast and said something Quito. Something. What I got out of it was I was going to Quito. I quickly finish breakfast and change. I pack my camera and Spanish dictionary into my pockets and I’m off. They were already waiting in the car. We drove into Quito which was much bigger that I had imagined. We drove to Cristobal Sarzora’s office (my host dad and his office is at the hospital).

We drove around the city which was HUGE! We drove only through Northern & Central parts. But I saw the southern part from the top of the city were the Virgin Mary stood, guarding it. The view was Amazing! The city was so long that because of the mountains I couldn’t see the whole thing. When I came home I started writing letters that I had bought. With the whole family we drove into Quito for dinner. We ate at a Korean Restaurant, which was good but there was so much food. I’m trying so many new foods each day.


October 15 Journal

Time flies when you’re having fun they say, and it seems perfectly true. Since I’ve gotten here in Ecuador I’ve been having a great time. My Spanish is improving faster then I ever could have imagined and everything seems easier then I thought it would be.

During the second month of my exchange all the students were required to take a Spanish Class for two weeks after school, which improved my Spanish enough so I feel like I can speak it and get my options across. During the classes all the exchange students through Rotary meet up and get to talk and exchange thoughts and ideas. I made lots of new friends that week.

Aside from making friends and getting better at Spanish through Rotary, I’ve been becoming good friends with all my classmates. During break I talk a bit about home but also about the current events here and how great and different this country is.

After school or during weekends my family takes me on what I like to call adventures! Last week we traveled across the equator to the northern hemisphere and went to the jungle. We had a two and a half hour drive until we came to a little town in the middle of, what seemed to me to be, the rainforest. We eat a grand lunch, which all Ecuadorians eat since its their main meal, and then went to a Hummingbird and butterfly exhibit. I fell dead asleep on the way home.

The experience and the things I’m learning here are beyond imagine. I’ve said it a million times and probably going to say a million more, “Thanks Rotary for giving me a experience of a lifetime!”

Until next time

Gustav Fredrikson


 

December 29 Journal

Wow, I’ve been so absorbed in this new culture of mine, I haven’t had time to write or check my Christmas or even Thanksgiving E-Mails. But here is a overview of most of the exciting things that have happened to me during the past few months.

November – I’ve gotten to know my family a lot better now and we have lots of inside jokes, but it’s weird being an uncle to two little girls a half and a third of your age who go to the same private school as you. School is getting more and more difficult, but my Spanish is rapidly improving because of it and I’m consulting my Spanish-English dictionary less and less. I’m finally getting a daily routine together. School starts at 7 and ends at 3, I come home do my school work until 6 or 7. Take a little nap and let everything sink in, and wake up at 8 to watch Zorro, a Spanish TV soap Opera. It’s not a very appealing show but it helps my Spanish and I can laugh at all the terrible acting. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my host parents take me into Quito while they’re on their way to work and drop me off at Carolina Park where I play Ultimate Frisbee from 5-7:30 with a couple locals and Americans. I take a bus or taxi back to the bus station where my parents work a little food store in the back and I help them until 8 when we go back home. I’ve gotten used to most of the local food but I don’t want to eat Cuy (Hamster) anymore, which is a local delicacy. Most of the dishes are odd but very tasty. But the one thing that is bugging me a bit is the lunch, nearly everyday rice and steak, and it’s the largest meal of the day here, it has no taste. For breakfast and dinner I only have a piece of bread or two and a cup of Green Tea.

December- In the middle of December all the exchange students met up together in Quito for our second trip, the Quito Trip. Even though I lived just outside of Quito and went there on the weekends to explore or to meet up with friends and go to museums, I still decided to go. Lots of exchange students from Quito decided not to go seeing this as a waste of money. But the odd thing was we never really spent any time in Quito at all, in fact we just spent the first night there in a Hotel. The next morning we went to Mital De Mundo, middle of the world. I had been to one of these areas that was supposedly the middle of the world just a few weeks before. I later learned that most of them were just hoaxes to get money from tourists. But this one convinced me, it wasn’t a fancy place, it was just an area with lots of historical information about Ecuador, but the equator line is simply drawn on the ground. But as our guide told us this was the exact line in which the equator went through, GPS had supposedly confirmed it. And to prove his point, which he did, he drained water from both sides, one side went clockwise while the other went counterclockwise, it was amazing. During the trip we went up north to Ibarra and Otavalo, these two little towns were famous for their markets. We were given an hour to go in these markets and to buy local traditional clothing, books, native fruit, anything. The girls went crazy buying native jewelry made of coconut and Brazil nut. I bought some new pants and a couple gifts for my friends back home. The trip was two days long and I spoke as little English as I could to the other exchange students not wanting it to ruin my Spanish that was coming along so great now. It’s amazing how fast you can learn a new language if you just submerge yourself in it.

Christmas crept up on me and hit me before I knew it. My first home until the middle of January is littered with Christmas decor. But it didn’t have the homey feeling like back in the States. It was still as hot as the day I came here. I wasn’t expecting the weather to change here since its on the equator, but it makes it seem like just one long season. And the days go by much quicker than you would expect. In the States I have a Swedish mixed with an American Christmas, here it’s totally different. At Christmas Eve you go to a family or friends house and eat dinner there and then at midnight you open presents. Christmas day nothing special really happens except the kids play with their new toys. There is a Santa Claus, but he’s so mysterious that nobody ever sees him. For Christmas Eve I visited my host dad’s family, the first time I had met his side of the family. My host Grandma or A-lita as I call her, is 97 and has 130 children, grand children, great grandchildren, and even great great grandchildren (that’s four generations.) On the 18th of December, 83 of those family members gathered at our family’s house and had a grand fiesta. They say Christmas time is one of the times when you’re most homesick, but not for me. I was always doing something new everyday either learning new Spanish traditions at the local market, or buying Christmas presents for my family at the mall with my friends. Life is never a bore here. I nearly forgot to call my family during Christmas because I was so busy.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. Next time I’m in Quito I’ll find a internet cafe and write more.

Goose, or as the Ecuadorians call me, Ganso!


 

April 3 Journal

When people said the year as a exchange student would fly by, I didn’t really believe them at first, but now looking back, it has. I wish I had set my home date later, I only have 1560 hours left in this amazing country, and I’m making use of every hour!

In March I visited the Amazon and it was an adventure that never gets old. I visited the Amazon for the first time with my family in Peru in 2001, but when I visited with Rotary and other exchange students it was totally different. The travel took long even though it was only a 25 minute flight from Quito, the boat ride took a majority of the day. When we arrived it was already dark, and we traveled about half a mile inland by candle light. Just hearing the sounds of the forest and the river in the background are enough to take your breath away. For dinner we had fish steamed in some sort of leaf, it looked terrible but was actually amazing.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and ate a hearty breakfast, I worked in sugarcane fields the first morning cutting down cane then grinding it down, it was remarkable at seeing how it all worked out. After lunch, we crossed the river in boat and went to the “medicine man’s” house, and were all baptized into the spiritual world after sitting in a chair while the shaman fanned us with smoking palms. For dinner we had a grand fruit salad which was made from local fruits and goat cream.

I spent the next morning carrying loads of bamboo for a new house, we carried so much that I couldn’t go on the afternoon nature hike because my back hurt. But after another exotic dinner of grubs and banana cakes, I was ready for the nocturnal nature hike. Even though I didn’t get the opportunity to see the jungle in the day it was certainly exciting in the night. We would spot creatures by seeing their eyes peek out through the jungle darkness. We saw spiders the size of my hand, snakes crawling through branches catching their prey, and the strangest insects known to man.

The next morning I was working again, most of the exchange students got split up, I was working with a Taiwanese guy who didn’t speak any English or Spanish and a couple locals who spoke primarily Cachou, the native jungle language here. Needless to say it was an interesting work day. After lunch a boat took all the exchange students a couple miles upstream, we jumped off the boats with life jackets on and floated downstream, the water was freezing so we dried off as soon as we floated back to the lodge. The idea wasn’t so smart, since a couple students caught bad colds. The next day we said goodbye to our guides and took the boat back home.

I’m making the best of everday. Tuesday and Thursday, I play Ultimate Frisbee; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I usually do something with friends or my family, and on Monday and Wednesday I stay home and study.

Haley Long
2007-08 Outbound to Slovakia

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Banska Bystrica Rotary Club
         District 2240, Slovakia

Haley - Slovakia

Haley’s Bio

Ahoj! I am Haley Long, I am 17, and I will soon be leaving my home, my family, and my friends to spend a year in Slovakia.

I am glad to have been chosen for Slovakia, and I like when people have almost no idea about the country. I like that everyone always asks me why I’m not going to a more prominently known European country, and I love how that has forced me to identify myself with Slovakia and has made me develop a sense of pride in my to-be host country already.

I’m so happy to be able to participate in this program and I can’t thank Rotary enough for giving me the opportunity to embark on this adventure, and for the chance to learn this new culture, its language and its people.


November 3 Journal

 So I’ve been in Slovakia for almost 3 months already and this will be my first successful journal entry thus far. (Yes, there were previous attempts, but they were lost some how in the technicalities of the Internet. Beats me.) Anyways I figured I should get down to business and write something before Al tells me I have to come home early because I didn’t do my journal entries on time.

To begin with, I’ll start at the beginning, the beginning being the morning I left. I was surprisingly calm, as was my mother and my friends Kelsey and Richard while the 3 of them decided to go through my suitcases tossing aside shoes and tank tops and dresses they announced as being “ridiculous,” considering the cold climate of Slovakia. When they were through, I kind of looked around my room significantly, and got the closest I would get to crying that day when I said goodbye to my dog.

We then dropped Richard off at work, got some breakfast there, and I said goodbye to him. The send off party was now down to 2- my best friend and my mother. When we got to the airport I couldn’t find my passport and plane tickets, and thus had my first freak-out. But I found them, they were in my bag. Okay, good. I got all checked in and then Bill Learn showed up! “What’s up Bill?” So we sat and talked while we waited for it to be time for me to go. (The next 36 hours would be a living hell of waiting.) So I went through security and they watched me of course, and waved until I was out of sight. I got to my terminal and waited for my plane, it got there and so I boarded the plane, then I flew on the plane. I would repeat said process a total of 4 times over 36 miserable hours filled with cranky air travel people, no sleep, and bad food. The worst part of my exchange thus far has definitely been the 12 hours I spent in the Prague airport with the most annoying exchange student I ever met – yeah it was terrible. I attempted to sleep on a completely uncomfortable lumpy metal bench-chair contraption while keeping a limb or two on my carry-on luggage so nobody would steal it. By the time I arrived at the Sliač airport and met my family there I felt like s***, there is no other way to explain it. Lucky for me the airport is only 10 minutes from my home in Banská Bystrica, and when we got home they fed me and we went over the super sweet first night questions (which I found to be surprisingly helpful), then I slept and when I woke up I thought, whoa, I’m in Europe.

The next month I spent waiting for school to begin, studying the Slovak language, going out to diskotekas and such with my sister, meeting new friends everywhere, traveling to various villages and cities in Poland and Slovakia for festivals, events, shopping, and stuff, and generally adapting to my life in Slovakia.

So about my absolutely lovely lovely Slovak family: I have a dad, a mom, a sister, and 2 brothers. My dad is super funny, works a lot, and is just a really great guy. His nickname for me is “opita opic,” it means “drunk monkey.” My mom, also, is fantastic, she is always cooking delicious food and helps me with everything I need. She has a strange obsession with witches, so our house looks like it’s Halloween year round. My sister is my age and is my best friend here; if it wasn’t for her I would be completely lost, and I might not have but one or two friends here and I would be completely depressed. My older brother is 20, he doesn’t live at home but I still see him all the time because we are going out dancing together every weekend. He dresses like he is straight out of the movie The Fast and the Furious- no joke, it’s great. My younger brother is 14, he is hilarious – he loves Slovak rap and hip hop (which in itself is hilarious), and although he’s never so much as met a black person, he’s pretty convinced that he is in fact black. So I love my family, they are great and I know I’m super lucky.

Okay, nobody knows anything about Slovakia, so if you’re curious here it goes: Some things about Slovakia…

Yes, we have Internet, toilet-paper, malls, cars, and we even have a Sephora in the Bratislava mall.

It’s perfectly conceivable and almost normal to go through an entire day and eat nothing but white food. No jokes.

You use public transportation to go everywhere. Almost everything is ridiculously inexpensive when comparing to American standards (excluding clothes, yikes – very expensive).

Everyone under 30 speaks at least a little English (almost). You can easily spend your whole life in Banska B. and not know more than a couple Slovak words (I know this is true, because I know people who are doing just that).

The boys are super pretty and many look as though they are harboring some very homosexual tendencies (usually they aren’t).

Slovak women are gorgeous and thin as a rail. I hate that.

Dovidenia.


 

December 30 Journal

 Dear Rotary, etc.

Things are quite good here right now. I turned 18 in November. That was fun. I received a total of three birthday cakes… -one from my Rotary club, -one from my parents, -and one from my sister and all of my friends. The best was third because it was presented to me at my favorite diskoteka in a nearby village that I go dancing at every weekend. And it was all a surprise, one great big surprise birthday party. I also got some gifts- and thus am slowly developing an impressive collection of “Slovensko” t-shirts, and stuffed animal ducks. Anyways, I had quite a lovely birthday.

During the last couple months this is what I’ve been doing/done…

I went to an obscure village situated on the side of a mountain to go to an open air art gallery showing Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian artists work.

I toured Bojnice castle, and helped pull three cars out of snow filled ditches on the side of the road on the way back to Banska Bystrica.

I spent eleven straight hours shopping in Bratislava.

I took up an aerobics class at a gym in the city.

I went to Poland, just to go shopping.

I saw Labutko, and cigansky ohen at dom kultura in B.B. and the Slovak version of ‘of mice and men’ in Bratislava.

I took a boat down a river that runs through a mountain range along the Poland/Slovakia border.

I moved to my second host family.

I spent one incredible weekend with some of my exchange student friends in Bratislava.

OK, so I moved to my second host family’s home (as previously stated), but I didn’t really move to a home… because I now live on the topmost floor of the tallest building and the nicest hotel in B.B. My family (or mom and dad- because I don’t have brothers and sisters) own the hotel you see. I feel, like Paris Hilton, kind of. It’s really different in this family than the first (obviously). I’m enjoying it, although I miss my host sisters and brothers, who don’t introduce me as their exchange student anymore, but just as their “sister”. At the hotel I eat every meal in the hotel restaurant (which is quite good), and the chef makes me my lunch for school everyday, always consisting of a variety of delicious fruits and a baguetta prepared in a new and creative way. I also have three rooms to myself- a bedroom, an office/living room type room, and a bathroom (but it counts as a room because it’s freaking huge.) So now I have all this cool new stuff, but I really just miss my first family, because they love me… and I never felt like a guest in their house.

Also, I was told that I can never sit on a floor of any kind… because if I do I will never be able to get pregnant. So that’s that.

And, I’m going to Florence, Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Athens, and the French Alps… some time later. (and quite possibly, Finland.)

Oh, and me and Pat are going to try to meet up soon… because why shouldn’t we- he only lives in the next country over, and there’s no more borders!

Chloe Dooley
2007-08 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Keystone Heights, Florida
School: Keystone Heights High School
Sponsor: Keystone Heights Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Hannut-Waremme Rotary Club
         District 1630, Belgium

Chloe - Belgium

Chloe’s Bio

Hi everybody, my name is Chloe Dooley and I am a senior at Keystone Heights High School. I’ve lived in the small town of Keystone for most of my life, so living in a big town, or even city, in Belgium would be a new experience in itself.

First of all, I love sports. This includes watching and playing, even though I may not be the best. I especially love football and basketball. Basketball is my favorite sport to play. I am hoping that I will have some sort of opportunity to play in Belgium.

I love working with little kids and have done so in many ways in the past. I’m hoping that one of my host families has young kids, especially since they will be the only ones on my speaking level when I first arrive. J

I chose to apply to be a foreign exchange student so that I could do something different before attending college. I also wanted the experience and the opportunity to learn French and more about myself.

I’m very thankful for being given this life changing opportunity and am looking forward to learning about the Belgian culture (especially since I wasn’t even sure what continent it was on when I was told I was going there-oops) as well as the French language!

I’m sure there will be tons to come later.

Au revoir,

Chloe


September 2 Journal

 So today I had been here exactly two weeks and not much has happened but I will start from the beginning…

The night before leaving I had every single friend of mine over at one point to say goodbye. I had no sad goodbyes, I was determined not to because it is only going to be a short year before I see them all again. Received some cards, pictures, letters and an awesome video w/ other people saying goodbye and talking to me and my friends serenading me w/ all of our songs. I decided to leave all those things at home because I would no doubt cry every time I saw them here. I had planned to have 2 of my friends stay the night but ended up having 3, plus me equals 4 in my queen sized bed- not the most comfortable 2 and a half hours of sleep I’ve had. Woke up at 5:30 in the morning and woke them up and cried a little when I said goodbye because they are the ones I will miss the most.

I arrive at the Jacksonville airport with my mom, dad, sister, and aunt and the first thing I see is that my flight will not be leaving until 2 hours after the original time. So, we leave (saw Blaire and her friends and family on the way out and told her about the delay) and go to Cracker Barrel for some breakfast and looked around the shop in there. I also took a 30 min cat nap on a bench outside. The morning was good, not depressing or anything-thank god. Then we returned to the airport and hang out for another hour. Half an hour or so until boarding Blaire and I decide we should go in. We take some pics together and w/ our families. My goodbyes were ok- no one cried except my mom, who I was very proud of for not breaking down the entire morning (especially when she had weeped while a lunch one time a month earlier!) until the very end, and that’s when I had to go because she would make me cry. I cried all the way through security and turned back to look at my family to wave bye about 20 times until finally I turned around and couldn’t see them anymore.

Blaire and I stayed connected to home while waiting to board- her on her computer and me crying while reading the letter my mom wrote, the letter my best friend wrote, looking at pictures my aunt gave me, and beginning a huge notebook my sister made in a 3 ring binder of cut outs and things to entertain me.

The first hour and 50 min flight is a blur- I slept. Blaire and I arrive in Washington Dulles and walk across the airport to our gate. I called my mom and ate Subway while listening to Blaire talk on the phone. Sabrina found us and informed us that we are at the correct gate, but should be at the other one w/ all the other exchange students because it is bigger. So, we head down there and meet a bunch of people, some of which were going to Argentina, some of which have already become good friends. After awhile all those going to Belgium went back to our gate and I began to hear French. I got excited hearing a boy in a family saying oiseau (when seeing a bird flying around), knowing what it meant.

The second flight was 7 hours, but quick. All the exchange students were seated in the back and I had a window seat next to Erin from Oklahoma. After talking w/ Erin for a bit I slept most of the flight, only to wake up for dinner and to listen to one cd. We arrived in Belgium half an hour early. We were in Belgium- I was so excited.

I’d been imagining this moment for awhile now. How it would be first seeing and meeting my host family? Especially after hearing about everyone else’s at the Welcome Home Dinner. Them all standing there, smiling big, possibly w/ a sign, and excited when greeting me. Nothing like I imagined. First of all, when you get off the plane, you are in the back and no one is there because you must go through customs and get your luggage first. So after going w/ Blaire through both and to the money exchange, we headed out. The first thing I see right up front is a family w/ a sign that says Blaire. I am now alone. I walk back and forth for about 40 minutes lugging my 50 pound bags, a purse, and a back pack looking for my host family. They had sent me pictures through email so I knew what they looked like. I looked everywhere, even in the restaurants. FINALLY, a girl I had only met at the last airport, Slone, told me that who she was with wasn’t her family, but the Rotary people of Belgium and they could help me. They finally got me with 2 men (one who is going to the dad of my 2nd host family), one who had a sign that said the name of my host club on it (which I had walked right past because I didn’t remember the actual name of my host club, only the district number) and the other with a sign that had my name, it was small but I still don’t know how I missed it.

They take me up 3 floors to meet my family. Excitement builds. The first person I see is my host father. I had been worried what he would be like because he is the only guy in my family and had never sent me an email like the rest of the family and didn’t smile in the pictures. But he is so friendly and nice and jokes around all the time. He is pretty good in English and I have seen him do nothing but smile since I’ve been here. I also met my host sister Elizabeth, who is 15, and my host mother Micheline. I met their other daughter Marie Charlotte, 18, who literally left 5 minutes later for Iowa. So, while everyone was trying to be happy to see me, they were all crying because of Marie Charlotte. There were also a few of Marie Charlotte’s friends as well as some other adults who I’m still not sure who they were.

From there we left for home, about an hour and a half away from Brussels. We live in Nandrin, which I still cannot say correctly w/ the French accent, and is 23 kilometers outside of Liège. My house is beautiful, just like the rest of the houses. Every single one, looks older w/ the brick (but still beautiful) and has flowers in the yard and window sills. Inside they gave me a tour (I am staying in Marie Charlotte’s room). When they took me to the garage to show me where the extra drinks were, my host mother couldn’t think of a word- so I tried to figure out what she was trying to say and said “recycle” because the recycle bins were next to the drinks she was pointing at, and she said “yes, bicycle! we have bicycles here” and pointed to them. It was about 9:00 in the morning, but I felt like it was early evening. We had breakfast- I immediately grabbed the nutella, having heard about how great it was before, and it was. Going to grab a second piece of bread (which is always fresh) with nutella, my host mom made a comment on how exchange students usually gain weight. Thanks… I took a nap by noon.

We went to the market, which is so small compared to our grocery stores, and then a separate place for fruit and meat. They also go to a separate place for fresh bread, which is so good. I rode a bike there once w/ my host sister for 5 or 10 minutes. Let’s just say this isn’t Florida. The terrain isn’t exactly flat.

So many things are different. Little things like the way the flush to the toilettes, the way they flush, light switches, outlets, etc. Milk is half and half and I like skim so that wasn’t a good change. But my family did buy me a different milk which is better. They are so nice, always trying to make me comfortable. I’ll ask them if they have something, just to know if they do, even if I don’t like it and they go out and buy it for me. Everything here is smaller too, cars of course. The bowls too, I feel like I’m eating my cereal out of a teacup. The keyboard is different as well, but I have gotten used to it.

My first culture shock was the nudity of women in the body wash ads, on TV, and even in a plain old magazine in the doctors office. Within a week I had to go to a doctor due to a rash I’ve developed for some unknown reason since day one.

So far I have tried crepes, chocolate mousse, ice cream, and rabbit, which I like. I’m not so found of goat though. I have yet to have a waffle and it is driving me crazy!

I’ve spent a lot of time at home except on the weekends because my parents go to work during the day. My school starts Wednesday and I cannot wait! It’s a Catholic school and I will have all the normal senior year classes, except French will be at a lower level. We don’t have uniforms, but we can’t wear certain bright colors like yellow, red, purple, pink, or any bright blues or greens. I’m ready to make friends my age- so far I have only met a 19 year old girl (one of nine kids of my host mother’s best friend) and the other exchange students of my district, which I had a blast w/ this past weekend at our Rotary weekend.

I’ve been shopping, to the small town of Huy twice, once w/ my family, once with the Rotary exchange students of my district, to the mall, to a BBQ, a dinner last night that lasted from 8:15 until 2:00 in the morning, and a small art show.

Until my next book…

Chloé


October 6 Journal

 So I haven’t been able to write until now because I didn’t think I could actually write a whole journal entry without being negative the whole time. I thought, Belgium has nothing to offer me and I have nothing to offer it. Plus, I was BORED OUT OF MY MIND. But, over the last week or two, I am slowly starting to change my mind. I am learning more French words every day, therefore my French and comprehension is improving, making everything a lot easier. I started school over a month ago, so I guess I will start there.

The first day of school my host mother walked me in, in true first day of kindergarten fashion, and we ended up meeting up with a woman whose daughter had gone to the Netherlands and had a boy from Venezuela. Everyone gathered in the court yard for the principal to make her little speech. In it, she informed them that they have an exchange student from Venezuela and then when she said they had one from Florida there was a lot of commotion and ohhhhs and awwws in the crowd- so much that you couldn’t even hear about the third exchange student, a girl from Massachusetts (that I met later)- and I have to be honest, I felt kind of cool at that moment.

The first two days of school I just followed a girl who had decided to help me around to her schedule because I didn’t have one. They gave it to me on the 3rd day. Now, two days ago, I found out that this girl, the one who has befriended me, always makes an effort to keep me included, and always makes me truly laugh, is moving to Canada in 3 weeks because her dad will be working there now. Bummer. One thing I find funny here is that everyone says Florida as Flor-ee-da as opposed to our Floor-duh. That is what the girl calls me: either Flor-ee-duh or Floride (in French). Like Liam, I have different classes every day w/ the same people. Other things that differ from my school back home: there are stairs everywhere, it’s old and an abbey, teachers switch classes, we get an hour for lunch, there is no track for gym, we have a 15 min break at 10:15, teachers erase boards with wet sponges and scrape the water off with things that are like the windshield cleaners at gas stations, classrooms for the same class change from day to day, free periods, and there isn’t exactly an uniform – but you can only wear black, dark blue, white, gray, other neutral colors, and brown (which isn’t even technically allowed). Probably more, but I suppose I am used to a lot of it by now.

Every morning I wake up and put on about 3-4 layers while waiting for the bathroom (I’ve never had to share a bathroom with someone where I couldn’t actually go in while they were in there too), and head off to about 6 of these classes each day: Spanish, French, English, Math, Gym, History, Biology, Physical Science, Geography, Religion, and Chemistry.

The students: boys wear way too much gel and slick it into weird mohawks – it’s disgusting. All of them are extremely studious and anal with their pencil bags, rulers, highlighters, and large 2-ring (yes, 2) binders with plastic sleeves for every single paper inside them.

Two activities that I’ve gotten involved with here are swimming and basketball. For swimming I go to an indoor public pool every Friday and swim down and back a single lane with my host sister and 4 other girls for an hour doing various strokes while wearing a swimming cap. I love it. Not the swimming cap that is, I look like an idiot and it doesn’t even keep your hair dry, which I thought was the purpose of them. But yes, it is a great work out and something new for me, as opposed to leisurely swimming in lakes and pools at home. And I can only laugh when I look around and see everyone in their professional looking one piece Speedo, while I’m standing there in my bikini from Aeropostale with little pink hearts all over it. As for basketball, I practice from 8:45 to 10:15 on Monday and Wednesday nights with girls ranging from 20-24 years old. At first I was intimidated, but practices are so much fun and not as serious as at home. But unfortunately I cannot play in games because my nationality is not Belgian.

We have a meal with some amount of family every weekend for some reason or another. I used to dread this, being bored out of my mind for hours with too much food and me not knowing what anyone was saying the whole time. But, things have improved a great deal. Last weekend was like a big family reunion at these grandparents’ farm. We all ate an actual pig that was roasting when we arrived after our walk through a nature trail to get there as well as waffles (finally!) and pie for dessert.

Today my host sister and I are babysitting a little boy of 2 and girl of 1-it should be fun!

*Chloe*


November 11 Journal

 Sorry that it has taken me until the middle of November to write my journal entry for October. When the beginning of November rolled around it had seemed like I had just written, plus I have actually been very busy.

I am now becoming one of your typical exchange students. One who loves their family and everything so much that they don’t want to leave. Well, not yet anyways. It seems to me that my exchange has been the opposite of what I had been told it would be like. I was in fact homesick and bored in the beginning and now I am doing lots of things – rather than the other way around.

We had a week of vacation at the end of October and it was absolutely the BEST. I went to London for about 3 days – which was an amazing trip. Then, went to a Halloween party, visited grave sites (which really wasn’t bad w/ my family – real quick and not emotional or anything) and had a meal for Toussaint, hung out for a friend’s birthday, and went to another family meal, and then the North Sea on the last day. Then school started back – ugh. Let’s just say that’s not my favorite part of exchange. But I do have to say that my favorite part of school would have to be my French classes w/ the primiere (equivalent to 7th graders).

I really love my family here so much. In the beginning, there were some things that annoyed me, but now I realize just how lucky I am. I’ve heard about other host families here who won’t let them (the other exchange students) go out when they will let their actual kids, eat foods in fear of them getting fat, or take them or pick them up from places, which results in them usually having to go home super early from outings just to catch the bus/train sometimes. My host family is the exact opposite. I really am lucky. They let me go out, are always within reason, let me eat whatever I want (“if I get fat, that’s my problem”, as it should be), and always try to pick me up or take me to hang out with friends if possible. They do for me exactly as they would do for their own daughter. Some students hate being home, but not me. Just today I decided it was necessary to tell them how much I appreciate everything they do for me and wound up crying. Because I was so happy. Being an exchange student just makes you more emotional sometimes I guess. I will be with them until April and will surely be attached when it is time to move.

I’m really loving how much conversation I can understand nowadays, especially in my family. It’s great. I’m no longer completely lost all the time. Sometimes I cannot think of words quickly or talk as fast as I’d like, but my speaking is really improving. I really am proud of myself sometimes and can’t believe how easily it is beginning to come to me. I think in French sometimes and can sometimes say things without thinking about it first. But I still haven’t had a dream in French!

The holiday St. Nicolas is on December 7th, but up until that date my host sister and I will be receiving candy each morning. It varies in each house, but we have already started. Apparently here St. Nicolas is a bigger deal than Christmas. More presents, etc.

Unfortunately I have stopped basketball. I was always too tired with the practices starting at 9:00 and not ending until 10:30, especially after a day of trying to understand French.

Nothing much else to report on. Everything is going great and I am staying busy with nothing in particular.


January 9 Journal

 So I’m going to try to write my journal entry about November and December before the end of January sneaks up on me. I just never seem to have time to write or don’t feel like it. I’m constantly trying to catch up on my email but there is just never enough time…

So-lets start where I left off.

Random things:

End of November:

-Went to my first movie at the movie theater with Blaire and 2 other exchange students. We saw ‘American Gangster’ in French and even snuck in candy just like at home. I snuck in a waffle while they had baguettes-how very Belg of us.

-Had a makeshift Thanksgiving with Blaire and the same girls and my oldie from Australia.

-Went to a friend’s school’s ‘soiree’

December:

I just started back school from about a months vacation because I didn’t have to take all the exams. We are supposed to pass 2, so I attempted 3. Anywho, in the meantime I did a lot of shopping in Liège for presents for my host family and happened to find some things for family back home as well. But Im getting ahead of myself-so lets go in order.

Two important things to know about Christmastime in Belgium: the ‘Marche de Noel’ (“Christmas Walk”-the German translation is Christmas Market) and St. Nicholas.

Marche de Noel- As far as I know these exist in Belgium, France, and Germany. And are in about every major city. They are like festivals back home-but all the booths look like little log cabins. They are specifically for Christmas and go all through December. Here they sell lots of little presents, knick knack items, ornaments, Christmas things, jewelry, etc and FOOD. One Wednesday each month our Rotary district takes us to do something interesting together. In the past months we’ve gone to see caves, mines, and a sugar factory. For December, they took us to Aachen, Germany for the Marche de Noel there. It was really great. I had a German bratwurst and this pancake-like thing, but more sugary with cherries. It was sooo good. I don’t know if that is due to the fact that I hadn’t had a pancake in about 4 months-but it was good. Another specialty of all the Marche de Noels is hot wine, which was pretty good.

St. Nicholas- As I mentioned in my last journal, this holiday is supposedly bigger than Christmas. But I only find this true with the enormous amounts of candy we receive. Like I said, my host sister and I received a little candy each day for about a month until the day of St. Nicholas. Then, the day of, there was a table full of candy, oranges, gum, and other ‘goodies’ and a present for each of us. I received a robe. We didn’t actually celebrate it on the day of but waited for the weekend for my host dad to get back from a business trip. I also received some waffles, some oranges, and some money from the grandparents later that day. I don’t know what was up with the whole orange thing but I like them so it’s all good.

Other events of December:

-Went ice skating

-Went to France for a weekend for some Marche de Noels there with my host family. We went to 2 different ones in 2 different towns Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night we stayed in a hotel in Germany. I really don’t understand that-but maybe I would if i looked at a map of exactly where we went, because everything is so close. But I was just along for the ride. It was funny to me because they were using English as the central language to speak together, and as an Anglophone, I found this a little bit amusing. That night I did my first translation though! My host mom was trying to ask for a menu in French and when I noticed that the waitress didn’t understand I translated. That felt good.

-I also shopped in the Marche de Noel in Liège and Namur

-At this point I was all Marche de Noel’d out

-Attempted to make chocolate chip cookies that didn’t turn out too great in my opinion

-Went to an Opera. Now this is something I thought I would never do in my life-but given the opportunity, I decided to go. I really looked forward to it, but when the night came thought, is this going to be boring? But not at all. Granted, I couldn’t exactly understand what they were saying the whole time-but there were subtitles, oh wait-but those were in Dutch, so scratch that. But it was mainly just the singing which I’m not even sure I could understand in English. But there was a lot of dancing and gymnastics and fast-pace stuff going on, it was really entertaining.

-Dyed my hair brown since I cannot seem to find someone in this country that can give me blonde highlights how I like.

Christmas

Christmas eve my family went to my host uncle’s house. We arrived at 7:30 and had champagne and about 6 appetizers while we went through our little secret santa game. Then we made it to the table at 11:00 pm to begin our 5-course meal. At this point I wasn’t even hungry. I find their Christmas to be a lot more fancy here, in this family at least. My family made a big deal out of what we would be wearing and to wear something nice, no jeans, and like I said-the champagne and 5-course meal, which consisted of some pretty fancy food. In the middle of dinner we played this game that was pretty fun where everyone put a post-it on their head with the name of a celebrity-written by someone else of course, and then we went around the circle asking 2 questions each for each turn trying to guess who we were. I was Hillary Clinton. We ended the meal and got out of there by 4:00 am. I find this a little bit crazy because then you are exhausted for the next day. Even my host uncle, whose house we were at, went to bed at 2:00.

So the next day I got up at 11:15 and was informed that we would be leaving for my house aunt’s house in 30 min. Here we go again. I got dressed and then we opened our presents. This was tough for all of us because of course the first thing I open is a mushy card from my dad and then they had received presents from their daughter who is on exchange in Iowa right now. I also received lots of presents from home which was nice. Anywho, we finished this in about 5 minutes. I know my family isn’t normal, but at home we usually take turns opening presents so everyone can see what everyone got and to see that they appreciate the gift from whoever. But even after talking with other kids they say they open presents at the same time at home, but not all, just one. And then get another, etc. Here I never got to see them open my gifts so I really have no idea of they liked them or what because I didn’t get to see the looks on their faces. But usually I like to, because I like to feel good about what I bought for them. Christmas day didn’t really feel like Christmas because we just had another really long family meal like we always do- so it was sort of like every other weekend. Except for the fact that a few presents were given before. Which I found this really random how only a few people bought for a few people. I know we already did the secret santa thing, but I just didn’t understand how they decided who they were going to buy for. I was so tired from the night before, and sick-so I skipped the main course and took a nap in the living room with my host grandpa. How he was the only other one tired I do not know. But it’s funny, because it’s always us taking naps in the living room in the middle of the meals-no matter whose house we are at. That night I called my dad and then my mom, but then talked to my sister for awhile and then felt too bad to talk to my mom.

The next week was probably most definitely the hardest week of my exchange. I had started to feel sick the weekend before Christmas and went to the doctor that Monday. Then, it heighted on Christmas day and for the week after that. I had swollen glands on my throat and it really hurt to swallow. (I don’t know what’s up with us Belgian exchange students getting sick…) I felt pretty alone this week. I felt like no one cared and had to take care of myself, which really made me homesick, especially for my mom-since I still hadn’t been able to talk to her because it hurt too bad and she is normally the one to take care of me. Plus, every day I was missing out on things. Things got really awkward really quick with my house family.

Thank god I was better just in time for New Years. I went with 2 exchange students to a private party at one of their schools. We paid 25 euro for dinner (pita) and all the drinks we wanted and danced all night. And even counted down in French! The next morning I had to take an early train home to go visit all the grandparents with the fam, since apparently this is what the Belg do on New Years Day-visit the grandparents. The whole day I was about to fall asleep sitting up due to my lack of sleep. That night I finally got to call my mom!

On January 2nd, I left for Denmark to visit Anna! It was a little colder there-and so much wind since she is right on the water. I got to see her school, her town, and hang out with her family and had a lot of fun! She has 4 host brothers and sisters and the girls are our age and it’s amazing how good the Danish are compared to the French or Francophones should I say, when it comes to speaking English! But then the trip ended sooner than I knew it and it was time to return to Belgium and school.

Recently everyone has begun to change host families, except me. I will be staying with my host family until the middle of April because my old second host family lives in a different town too far away for me to go to school. Why I was assigned to this family in the first place, I do not know. This makes 8 months with my first family and 2 with my second. So I requested to move to my now second family a little early. While there are no problems (everything was oddly perfectly back to normal when I got back from New Years) I would like to have more time to get to know my other family and experience more than just this one. Because there are some things that I still question if they are Belg, or just something that my family does. But, this is not possible, so it is how it is.

We have started dancing in gym which I think is really funny because that is something we would never do in the U.S. We also did some ‘gymnaste’ type stuff too.

At the end of the month I have to give a speech for French class that includes my opinion on something. I’ve decided that I’m going to do it on why people should do an exchange. Then my next Rotary meeting I’m giving a presentation on my ‘region’-so a little on the U.S. and then the rest on Florida and my town. I’m actually really looking forward to that because I like to tell people her about where I come from.

Being an exchange student you kind of change your opinion on how good you are at your language each day. Some days I feel like I could possibly be saying everything wrong in some way or another between the conjugation and feminine/masculine words. Others I feel really good and just say what I can and what I do know in the areas of conjugation and the whole feminine/masculine thing. I pretty much have speaking and lots of vocabulary down, so I’m mostly trying to crack down on the conjugation. I just wish people would correct me when I know I’m saying things wrong. Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty good about my French. My host counselor’s wife even told me yesterday that she thinks I already speak better than my oldie! So that was a nice compliment.

A bientot (for those of you who know French I can’t find the accent marks on the keyboard-désolé)


March 26 Journal

 Hello everyone. I just got done reading my last journal to see where I should start from and I feel like all that stuff happened soooo long ago! Which it was almost 3 months ago, since I’ve skipped a few months because they go by so fast!

So the day after I wrote my last journal I decided to ask my host mom if we were still planning on taking a weekend trip to Paris since they told me we could do that instead of me paying for the Rotary trip-or if I should start trying to make some other plans to do that. And she was like, I dont know, havent thought about it. A few hours later that night she came into the living room where I was and asked me “What was that question you ask me earlier?” Well, I had been talking to her alot about alot of stuff before dinner like I always do, so I couldn’t remember. And she was like, “about going somewhere…” And then she told me we were going to Paris that weekend (it was Thurs night)! Turns out that they were already planning it before I asked, but she just had to check with my host dad that night about a hotel or something before she told me and then I had happened to ask about it at the same time! It was so awesome and I will never forget it.

At the beginning of February we had vacation for carnaval and I went on a 3-day trip to Holland w/ Rotary. It was so cute. Main word of advice when you go there: the bikers (as in regular bikes) have the right-of-way. You hear that bell, you better dive out of the way. One night they took us to the red light district. That’s right. It was hilarious and a little scary though. Oh, good story. So when we were leaving I walked by a window and I was like-“that’s a man!” (drag queen) Then a random guy walking down the street goes “that is definitely a man”. I was with only like one friend at the time, so I ran up to the rest of the group and told them the story. Then I hear “hey, that was me!” He was still walking by us and I didn’t realize it-ha.

Went to my school’s soiree one night-that got a little boring with all the techno. That and “techtonic”. I don’t know if the others in Europe know about this, but it’s the type of dancing they do to techno. And that is one thing I won’t miss.

The other weekend I went to a little town called Durby for a Rotex activity. It was really a lot of fun. There was a ropes course in the trees, just like the one we did. But the difference here was that there were 4 levels-which went from easiest to hardest, and since it was set on a slope/mountain, as each level got harder it also got higher off the ground. We did the first 2 levels in the morning and then went for the “death ride”, as they called it. This is a zip line that goes off a mountain thing 62 meters up, where you are to literally RUN off the slope and DIVE into the air. I was pretty much scared when I was up there. I have to say, I didn’t dive- but I did run and it was so cool. If I had the opportunity to do it again I would dive cause then the fear is gone. In the afternoon we did the other 2 levels-which I cant decide if they are harder than ours, since I had to fall off that one. But it was pretty hard being short when your support was a rope above your head which was a bit of a stretch. It was a really good day though.

Right now I’m in the middle of my first of 2 weeks of Easter vacation. Everyone from my school left to go their Rheto (Senior) trip to Italy on Sunday. Half of the Rotary exchange students left for Greece Monday and the other half left for Italy Tuesday. So I’ve been at home alone (even my host sister was on a school trip in Rome and just got back last night) chillin’ for the past 5 days. It really hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be though.

Sunday was Easter, my last big family meal-w/ this family at least. Then we went to my first and probably last professional soccer game! It was really cool. I’m really glad I got to go. I felt like we were so close to the field since I’m used to football games. It made me excited to get back to American football next year. Oh yeah, but before we had like a 5 course meal cause we got the tickets from my host dad’s colleague, so we were in like the businessman/rich people section inside. Note: this makes 2 five course meals for the day-with only an hour between the two-and usually when we have those type of meals we don’t even eat dinner!

I’ve also been keeping myself busy with college stuff like paying tuition deposits, signing up for orientation, and doing some research on where to live and also organizing my room and some things for my mom to take home for me. I’ve enjoyed being an only child the past couple of days-getting to do whatever I want home alone-not like I’d ever want to be one in my life-but here it’s cool. And I will be in my next host family because their kids are all grown and out of the house, I think. But I’m not sure cause I don’t know them at all.

The reason that I’m not on any of the Rotary/school trips is that my mom and sister are coming to visit me the day after tomorrow! One more day. I’m going to meet them at the airport at 7:00 am Friday morning. I don’t even think I’ll be tired cause I’ll be way too excited to see them. We will stay in Brussels for a day, Liège for a day, eat dinner with my host family, and then go to Italy! It’s going to be so great. I’m just afraid for when they will leave. But it’ll be ok. Cause then that weekend I’ll be switching families, so that’ll be a change and then my dad and grandma will be visiting me for about 10 days at the beginning of May.

I remember when I’d look ahead in my planner to my birthday, February, and March and my mom visiting and think how far away all that was that it wasn’t even worth thinking about. Now even going home is right around the corner. I can’t believe I’m already to the point of only 3 months left. I feel like it will go slow while I’m in it but then once it’s over I will have felt like it had flown by. I will be ready though. Ready to get back to life, doing school work that counts for something, and get back to the heat!

Oh yeah, I also feel like I am going to have so much culture shock when I get home. I didn’t understand this when they told us about it before we left, but now that I am here, I get it, cause there are so many things that I forget about that exist over there while I am over here and will remember about randomly every week.

<3 Chloe

Joshua Yount
2007-08 Outbound to Argentina

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Orange Park High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: La Lucila Rotary Club
         District 4820, Argentina

Joshua - Argentina

Josh’ Bio

Hello everyone. My name is Joshua Yount and I live in Orange Park, Florida of the USA. I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and have lived many places since. I am a person who loves doing anything as long as it isn’t nothing. J I love swimming, surfing, soccer, golfing and anything that keeps me outdoors. I also like rebuilding cars and motorcycles which is a skill that I learned from my dad. However, there are always days that I like resting and just chilling with some friends or family.

I work at Chili’s restaurant as a waiter and love it. I am very much into music and play many instruments. The three that I play really well are piano, drums and guitar. I write music for the piano and drums. I was assigned to the beautiful country of Argentina and , as you may have guessed, look forward to learning how to play their music and learn their culture including the language, customs, and last but not least, the dances.

I enjoy going to movies with friends and then going to eat later. I eat a lot, which is another reason I’m looking forward to experiencing another culture so I can have the opportunity to try new things, including new foods. I don’t know what the future will bring but in another country I’m sure anything that happens will be unforgettable and will enhance my person. I plan on becoming a very prominent business man and entrepreneur and starting my own corporation someday. I plan on attending the University of Florida. GO GATORS.!!!!!

Well that’s pretty much all of me. If you want to learn more just email me and we can chat or hang out. I’m very open and will talk to anyone. Good thing or bad thing? Who knows.


September 21 Journal

 As the clouds parted, I saw for the first time the beautiful country that I will be calling home for the next year. I had been crammed in an airplane for 12 hours, and my neck had decided not to work. I turned my whole body so I could see out the window and there it was. A slight fog was sitting just above the ground. I could see houses and streets, trees and prairie, beauty and wonder. It was my first time seeing such a foreign landscape and I couldn’t believe that what I had been waiting for, for so long, was finally happening.

My plane touched down and I walked down the terminal, which by the way was full of English speaking people at this point. I walked up to the baggage claim and headed off to customs. That’s when good old culture shock gave me my first smack in the head. All the officers in customs were trying to tell me what to do, but it was as if there mouths were moving without sound. It’s not that I’m bad at following directions, IT WAS ALL IN SPANISH!!!! After officially ruining their day with frustration, I walked out into the crowd of parents who were all holding signs up for their students. I read names such as George, Jim, Laura, and Rebecca. The only problem was, there was no sign with the name I wanted to see, JOSH! I thought great, I’m in a country I know nothing about, speaking a language they know nothing about, and my family wasn’t there to help with the situation. I’ll have to say, I got just a little bit scared.

Finally I heard my name screamed about 7 different ways at the same time and saw my family and the family of a friend who lived in Jacksonville two years ago from Argentina running toward me. They were at the wrong gate. I got in the car and after answering all the question I understood, about 2 out of 200, the drive home began. I have to say something at this point. The lines In the road and the street lights mean absolutely NOTHING!!! I knew I was going to be dead before we reached home either by a tractor trailer or some runaway car, but we made it home safe. I went to my room and unpacked my clothes and set it up to look like home. We had a BBQ for my coming and a lot of family came and welcomed me. Aunts, Cousins, Grandparents, and friends. I knew everything was going to be alright.

After the first few days I was set in the routine of the home and used to being with the family all day. However, the day I dreaded was finally here, the first day of school. I can’t even tell you how scared I was that first day of school. I was afraid that since I couldn’t make good conversation that the kids would try to talk to me at first, but after realizing that all I was doing was smiling and nodding at everything they said they would leave me alone. Of course, as always when you assume something in another country, the complete opposite happened. After my first day of school, I was off with the kids to dance halls, soccer fields, and rivers. I’ve never had so much fun without saying a single word.

This first month has been more than I could have asked for and I’m enjoying every moment of it. I’ve been to the soccer field of River Play, to the President’s home (well about 100ft from it) and on a road that has 12 lanes (imagine crossing it, you’re half way across and the lights change and you have to sprint and put up with people honking and yelling names I can’t repeat). I figured out the bus system pretty well after taking a bus for an hour in the wrong direction while my parents were at work so I couldn’t call them. That was a journey, but all part of the experience because I was forced to stop a bus and ask the driver how to get to my home and it happened all in Spanish. In return for trying the bus driver drove me home at no cost. What luck!

It’s still really hard hearing nothing but Spanish all day and when I get home from school I’m usually ready to take a nap. Speaking of my school, for all you Harry Potter fans, it’s a castle. I have some pictures of the courtyard below. Its just amazing. I still don’t know what the teachers are saying, but I think I know which teacher teaches each subject. There is one teacher who writes numbers on the board so I assume that’s math. I’ve been wrong before though. I can only hope that the next month stays this amazing. After all this, you have to wonder what’s going to happen this next month. 

Josh

(also known as hosh, yosh, shosh, and yersh)


 

November 16 Journal

 Hey guys!! Sorry its been so long since I have wrote. Its been pretty busy and crazy and hectic and just simply amazing the past two months. We’re moving into spring right now. You would never be able to tell because it is sooooooooooooooo cold. I thought this was South America!! You know tropical, warm, thanks Al. Just joking. School is going so much better now that I can actually understand the teachers. You would have never guessed but it helps a lot when you actually understand. I’m doing really good with the language. I can carry a normal conversation without thinking but lack basic vocabulary as far as the names of things. Like street light or things like that.

OK, time for a sweet story. The other day during lunch I went to eat with a friend of mine from school. We were talking and what not and when we got back to the school I was getting the stare from my friends (the stare like how the heck are you talking to that girl ) so after I left her and went to my class I asked why they were making such a big deal about it. Ready for this?¿?¿ IT WAS THE PRESIDENTS DAUGHTER!!!!! holy cow. That was pretty cool. Need to ask her if I can come over for dinner to meet her family lol.

I bought a guide and for the last couple weeks I have been going and visiting the historic sights of Buenos Aires. The architecture would simply take your breath away. It’s amazing being in such an old city that has turned modern.

Don’t even know what to say about class here. Any teacher from the US would just die within two seconds of class. I cant even believe it. Its basically a free for all. ipods, cameras, arm wrestling, shouting, and running while the teacher just keeps right on talking like nothing is even happening. I must say this is more of a help for me because I am able to practice talking with my friends like all day. The amazing thing is all the kids study at home and learn all the material. We definitely don’t have that much discipline in the USA.

There are 4 futbol teams of Buenos Aires but two are way more popular than the other two and they only play each other once a year and I was able to go the the stadium and see the game. It was simply amazing how much the people get into the game, you just simply wouldn’t believe it. I’m for the team called River Plate. There are so many chants too. I need to learn those so I can scream them at the other games of river when they play other teams..

Guys. I can’t even try to tell you how good the food is here. (I had to get a gym membership just to kind of stay recognizable.) It is sooooooooooo good. But the hours when we eat here are Way different. breakfast pretty much doesn’t exist. Then there is lunch at like 1230. Then dinner doesn’t happen until like 10 at night. THAT’S A LONG TIME WITHOUT EATING!! especially for me. But here’s the thing. When you do eat, you eat enough to last like a week. Full on 4 course meals and then finished of with a good cup of mate. Mate is like a traditional tea like drink. It’s put in a silver bowl with hot water and you have a silver straw with a filter inside and you drink it. It takes some getting used to at first but now I cant quit drinking it.

Well, guys, I’m tired of typing so I’ll let the pictures say the rest for now. Hope to here from everyone soon. Suerte (luck) to all the exchange kids.

Josh


 

November 28 – Visit to the Zoo

 Hey guys. This weekend I went to the zoo of Buenos Aires. It was my first time ever going to a zoo, and it was sooooooo amazing. Seeing all the animals that you normally don’t ever see except on TV. The story is that the old government of Argentina, which was a really harsh one, didn’t put any money into public things like zoos. It was just recently that with the new government the zoo started receiving money to rebuild and bring in new animals and now it’s just amazing. Here are some fotos for ya.

 


 

January 14 Journal

 The holidays here seem to pass as one long day of vacation. You move from one family even to another and one trip to another so fast you hardly remember where you were the night before or where your going tomorrow.

Christmas here is pretty close to how we celebrate it in the US except that the big dinner and family get-together takes place the 24th not the 25th. The house was so full of family members for Christmas dinner that half of us just had to find a place on the floor to sit and eat since all the older people needed the chairs. The meal was pretty much like a normal dinner here, meat meat meat meat meat and more meat with sauces and toppings. (sooooooooooooooo good you have no idea)

The 25th we got up early to catch a micro (which is like a huge travel bus ) to go to Mar Del Plata. It was a city on a slope that sloped down to the beach in such a way that no matter where you were in the city you could see the ocean. It was a 2 week paradise of sun tanning all day and dancing all night, and the city was completely full with people from all the country and from outside the country. We passed new years there and watched the fireworks and danced on the beach with everyone. It was definitely a night to remember.

That’s another thing about here, you can meet up with someone for the first time in your life and that person is instantly your best friend. If you find yourself alone here, it’s your fault because the people are so open and so willing to share whatever time they have to have a good time.

After this city we came home for a few days then left for a town called Arresifis. It was small in comparison to Jacksonville or Buenos Aires but the funny thing is, we seem to have a better time in small towns because the people all know each other and all gather together to have fun and drink mate so it was really nice to spend a few days in a quieter way of life.

The language has improved dramatically. It was almost as if I woke up one morning and all the Spanish I was trying to learn and couldn’t all came into my head at the same time. It feels really good to be able to just say what I want to say and to actually nod my head to what people are saying and understand them at the same time jajajaja.

Well don’t have to much else to say so I will let you guys go. I hope all my fellow exchange students are doing well and that the future exchange students can maybe learn something from what I’m writing. (and that Rotary has an Argentinean all ready to do exchange in the Jacksonville area next year. 😉 )


 

April 9 Journal

 I know, I know, I know, way overdue. I guess that’s what happens when you’re having the time of your life in another country. The last time I wrote we were passing the Christmas, new year, season in Mar Del Plata, a beach city of Argentina. Well I loved it so much I have been back 4 times since then to visit. I have made many friends there. This is the golden part of foreign exchange, you end up making best friends and contacts all over the world.

Now we are going to move the best thing that has happened since I last wrote. THE NORTH TRIP!!!! We went on a 19 day trip all over the north of Argentina with 42 other exchange students from all over the world. Argentina has an ever changing landscape like the United states. Cordoba, which would be like the Arizona, New Mexico area of the US is a part of the country completely different from the rest. It has its own dialect, diet, and movement. It’s normally really hot in the afternoon so the “siesta” is almost law, because without AC there is not a whole lot else to do but sleep. We then moved on to Salta, which was a region like the Rocky Mountains, Dakotas mix. There, we went on horse back for 3 days traveling through the mountains and slept in tents at night. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. To wake up in the morning to see a never ending, rolling green landscape with a hint of fog, then to get on your horse and take off. Of course the highlight to the whole trip was, you guessed it, IGUASUUUU. The worlds largest waterfall. We stayed in the town of Iguassu for three days and took a full days hike all around the waterfall. We also were able to go in boats underneath the falls and let the water soak us; it was the most amazing experience of my life.

Upon arrival to Buenos Aires, I had to start school again. I thought it was going to be the end of all fun but the exact opposite happened. After being on a three month summer break, I never realized how much I improved with the language. I sat down in my seat, and as sociology began, I realized I UNDERSTOOD IT ALL. It’s just one amazing experience after another. I am now able to do the homework and take the test. I’m not saying I’m straight A’s just yet but I’m getting there.

As I enter my 8th month of exchange I come to realize just how short my exchange really is. A year of something as amazing as what I am experiencing just flies by, yet, at the same time, you can’t help but notice just how much you change, mature, and become more open to life and the ideas of others. You come to realize that there is a world out there outside your own borders with people who just might think differently than you without being wrong. You also get the amazing experience of being able to think and speak in a completely different language, with it all making since. Although I will admit I am not yet totally fluent. I understand 100% when people talk to me but I still make grammatical errors and speak with an accent when I talk. I’m hopping to be able to iron that out before I come home. Until next time.

Heather Lear
2007-08 Outbound to Italy

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Cremona Po Rotary Club
         District 2050, Italy

Heather - Italy

Heather’s Bio

Ciao! My name is Heather. I’m 17 years old and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. I live with my mom, dad and younger brother. I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School.

I am really interested in cooking and being in the kitchen. I really like cooking without recipes and seeing what crazy dishes I can create. Another thing I am really interested in is photography, which I use as a way to express myself and as a way to relax.

I am going to Italy and I am super excited!!!! I can’t wait to take on this chance of a lifetime. I would like to thank Rotary for making this possible, not just for me, but for all of the exchange students around the world.


October 25 Journal

 For two long months I watched patiently as the twenty-four other outbounds departed for their host countries. Finally, on September 2 it was my turn to say goodbye to everything I have ever known and take the long walk from my family, through security and onto a plane that would take me half-way across the world. I arrived in Detroit and decided that I would have a cheeseburger and fries as my last American meal for a year. As I stepped onto my flight to Amsterdam all I could think about was that I had never left the United States before and now here I am getting on a plane to live in another country for a year. I was ready for my next year and the adventures that it would hold. Little did I know the plane ride would be an adventure in itself. I had a window seat next to an older lady from Athens, Greece. She was a very nice lady, but she spoke no English and, well, I speak no Greek. Somehow I ended up becoming a translator for her. I am not exactly sure how I managed to translate between English and Greek, but apparently I did an alright job at it. My attempt to be helpful to this lady resulted in not getting any sleep on the flight. I was woken up several times to translate with the flight attendants and to change movies because five minutes into them she would decide she didn’t like them because they were in English. I think that sitting next to a lady that didn’t speak the same language as me helped put my anxieties about the language at ease.

As we landed in Amsterdam, my stomach began to twist in knots. Soon I would be in Italy. I slept the entire flight to Milan in hopes of making up for the loss of sleep on the last flight. I woke up just as we began to descend through the clouds and I saw my new country for the first time. As the wheels touched town my stomach was in my throat, it was time to meet my host family. I got off the plane and followed all of the other people and caught a glimpse of a sign that said baggage claim. This was it. I was about to walk through these doors and see my new family. Well, I didn’t see them anywhere. I waited for my bags to come out and after a while both of my 50 pound bags (after the removal of two pounds each at the Jacksonville Airport) appeared and I decided to just follow all of the other people because I didn’t see my host family anywhere. So it turns out, in Italy, you get your bags and then go out to meet the people who are picking you up. I recognized my host family instantly from the picture they had sent me just two nights before. They were holding a sign that said my name and I was whisked away out of the airport, stopped for a few photos, and then to the car for the two hour drive to Cremona.

We got to Cremona around two and I called home to let everyone know all of my flights went well and that I was safe. I unpacked, took a nap, ate dinner and went back to bed around eight and woke up around noon the next day. I got to walk around the city with their daughter’s best friend. Cremona is a beautiful city and it has so much amazing history, art, music, and food. Cremona was part of the Roman Empire and there are ruins that have been found around the city. In the basement of the elementary school across from my house they have found part of a Roman house. I didn’t know what to expect when I got here, but it is more amazing than I could have imagined.

In my first week I took a tour of the high school I would be attending, went to a fashion show in the piazza, saw the Po River, went to an outdoor jazz concert at a farm, visited the Cathedral and its crypt, had Italian gelato (yum!!), met the four other Americans staying in Cremona and ate an entire pizza! That is right, an entire pizza. The families of the exchange students went out for pizza the night after we had all arrived. I was rather confused when there was not an option on the menu for by the slice or an entire pizza. Well, my confusion just increased when the waiter began to bring out full pizzas for everyone at the table. I stared at my host mom in confusion and asked her if we are supposed to eat the entire pizza ourselves and of course we are! To my amazement I ate the entire pizza. It was amazing! The pizzas here are very thin and lighter than the ones at home, so eating an entire pizza isn’t as much food as you would think.

The following Monday was the first day of school. As if I wasn’t nervous enough already, the exchange students were coming in an hour late with the first year students. I was told that on the first day of school the older students throw water balloons at the first years and we had the pleasure of arriving at the same time as they did. I live in the center of the city and I can walk almost anywhere I need to go, including school. I walked with my host mom, and with Andrew (from Idaho) and his host mom to school. As we approached the building I spotted the kids who were throwing the water balloons, but our host moms didn’t seem to be fazed by the water balloons that were coming from every direction. They walked up to the kids and told them that we were Americans, not first years and that there was no need for them to throw water balloons at us. Of course that made them want to throw water balloons at us even more. I was hit right in the side of the head with one, but thankfully it only bounced off and didn’t break on me. We walked into the school and all the Americans were taken into a side room and given our room assignments. I would be in 3C with Rachel (also from Idaho). We were the first to be taken to our class and of course we entered in the middle of a lesson and everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at us as we were introduced and showed where our desks were. We took our seats in the front row. We sat quietly in our desks the entire day, because in Italian schools the teachers change classes, not the students. School went like this for the rest of the week. Our second week of school, we were given personalized schedules, because we leave the class for Italian lessons and we are also put in several different classes in different grade levels, so that we can meet more people and experience what the different classes are like.

At the end of the first week of school our classmates threw a welcome party for the exchange students. Actually there were two parties. Everyone was very excited to have us in their class and went out of their way to make the party really fun. There were big welcome signs, streamers around the room, many types of food and drink and music. Some of our teachers and even the principal came to the party!! Rachel, Andrew and I made brownies to take to the party and everyone loved them!

Over the next few weeks I went to two Stradivari violin concerts, birthday parties, climbed the Torrazzo (the tallest bell tower in Europe), explored the city, acquired a bike, rode that bike to a beautiful park that is on the Po River, gone shopping in Milan, learned to make espresso, saw a cat on a leash, I now make a mean risotto, bought the coolest pair of shoes ever, toured a cheese factory, went to an outdoor market that they have every Wednesday and Saturday, ate dinner in a few palaces, and had the most amazing time ever!

I can’t believe I have already been here for a month and a half, but at the same time I can’t believe it has only been a month and a half. I am beginning to feel at home and to get a grasp on the language. I see my Italian improve every single day and I know it will only be a short time until it becomes a second nature. I am excited to see what crazy adventures I will have in the next year and I will treasure every moment of it.

I wanted to share a recipe of a dessert that I learned to make last week. It is very easy and I suggest everyone make it!

Chocolate Salami

300 grams biscotti, crushed

100 grams butter

250 grams sugar

2 eggs

100 grams of cocoa powder

2 spoonfuls sweet liqueur, amaretto is good

Melt butter. Mix sugar, cocoa powder, butter and eggs. Mix in the biscotti and liqueur. After everything is mixed well form into the shape of salami (log shape) with tin foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.


 

December 12 Journal

 It has been three months already. I can not believe how fast time has gone by. It feels like just yesterday that my stomach was in my throat as I walked from baggage claim to meet strangers that have now become family. A lot has happened since my last journal. I left you last just before Halloween, which is not really celebrated here.

It was rather weird to know that it was Halloween, yet no one seemed to really notice. My school normally has a dance at a local disco on Halloween night, because it is the first night of fall vacation. Sadly this year we had to wait until the next night, because the discos were all booked Halloween night. Dances here are very different. They don’t call them dances either. They are parties that are thrown by the student body representatives and are held at the disco. It is not really different from going to the disco, except for the fact that it is only kids from your school (and in this case also another school). Very crowded, lots of techno music. A good time was had by all.

The next morning all of the exchange students got up bright and early and went to Venice with some of our host families and friends. We had an awesome time. Venice is a city that can not be compared to any other city in the world. It is very unique, beautiful and it has a certain charm about it that can not be duplicated. I did expect there to be less areas to walk around and more canals, but it was very nice because that means there were more shops. Let me tell you there were A LOT of them! I loved it. Around 5 everyone left to catch their train back to Cremona, but my host family and I stayed. We walked around and saw some amazing churches and architecture. It is unfathomable to think people built these by hand. They are gigantic and the detail is so intricate. After seeing all these amazing places, my host family took me to an amazing restaurant and I had a typical Venetian meal. While we were eating, a lady at the table next to us leaned over and asked me something about what I was eating and it turned out that it was an American lady was having a dinner with a lady from Italy that she had hosted 25 years earlier. I hope that in 25 years I will be doing the same thing with my host family. After dinner we drove to a villa right outside of Venice and stayed the night there. In the morning we drove back to Venice, saw more sights and returned home.

I also took another shopping trip into Milan with my host mom. She likes shopping even more than I do, so we always have a good time when we go shopping. We spent the first half of the morning wondering through Armani, Louis Vuitton, Prada and other shops that we would never be able to afford anything from. When we went into Gucci my host mom found a purse that she absolutely loved. Problem was that the purse cost 26,000 Euro. I knew that designer handbags were expensive, but I never realized how much some of them can cost. We spent the second half of the day in this 8-story department store on steroids. I have really bonded with my host mom a lot in the past month, now that I am actually able to communicate. and these times we have together are really special.

I have also been to Parma, eaten dinner in a couple palaces (thank you Rotary meetings), eaten dinner in a castle that was built in 1000 A.D. , been to a couple American movies in Italian (hilarious),became addicted to risotto, spent more money on clothes than I should have, cooked a Thanksgiving dinner with the American exchange students (and one German) for our host families and been to a giant festival for the candy of my city.

The festival is appropriately named Festa del Torrone, because the candy is called Torrone. It is difficult to explain, but basically it is a kind of nougat with almonds mixed in. Very delicious. It was created for the wedding of a prominent couple of Cremona, because the bride wanted a new candy created for her wedding. It is named Torrone after the Torrazzo, which is the name of the bell tower in the main piazza. I think the estimated number of people at the festival was 100,000. Considering Cremona has a population of about 70,000 people, you could say the city was rather crowded. There were street performers and booths selling everything from Torrone to salami and cheese to weird little statues made of spare tools. People were dressed in period clothing, some of them leading horses (and a donkey). I think my favorite part of was the presentation they made the last night. They revealed a 12 foot model of the cathedral made of Torrone. While I was still staring in amazement at the detail in the model, a wall of water came down at the front of the stage and one of the coolest light and music shows I have ever seen was projected across the entire piazza.

Now, I am sure that all of you are curious as to how my Italian is coming. Well, I can understand almost everything when a person speaks at a normal pace, which I am pretty proud of considering people like to throw in a little dialect sometimes. I have noticed that Italian has a lot less slang than English does. In a way this makes it a lot easier to understand people, but at the same time I am not able to translate English words that I use often into Italian and them have the same effect or meaning. The Italian grammar is a lot harder though. I can only hope that I am gaining as much Italian grammar as I am losing English grammar (college essays have been really fun).

I would say that I adapting well to the Italian culture and way of life. I really enjoy coming home at lunch and eating a home cooked meal as opposed to cafeteria food. Being able to walk everywhere is also very different and very convenient since I can’t drive here. Being able to walk through the piazza every night before dinner and see people I know and speak to them in Italian is really satisfying because a couple months ago I couldn’t do that, but now it is an every activity. On occasion I will be walking down the street or doing a normal daily activity and then realize I am in Italy. It is moments like these that show Italy has become a second home and how some of the customs are starting to become second nature.


 

January 10 Journal

 In the last month I think I have had some of the best and hardest times of exchange so far. Everything is finally starting to click, especially since we returned to school. Now every one talks to me and I can hold an interesting conversation about almost anything I want to. Before I would try to talk to everyone and there would be an initial interest and they would be amazed by the fact that I was from Florida and more than likely ask me if I live in the O.C. The conversation didn’t make it much further than me explaining that the O.C. is in fact in California, which no, is not the same as Florida and is on opposite side of the country, which indeed does take more than one day to drive across.

I never realized how much of our culture affects other countries too. They watch our shows with unfamiliar Italian voices, follow the election as closely as I do, read translated versions of our books, and even use mayo more than we do. Oh, another misconception about Americans is that we eat ketchup on everything….everything. For the first two weeks my host mom put ketchup on the table every meal and didn’t believe me when I told her I didn’t want any. The differences between our cultures have been the most fun for me, because we always do something that we can laugh about later and learn something new at the same time.

I would say December was pretty eventful. Originally, we were supposed to change on the 7th, but the boy who is coming to my family next and I wanted to spend Christmas with the people that have become like family to us. We asked nicely if we could wait until after Christmas and it ended up working out nicely because a girl in the country wanted to move into the city for Christmas, so she was told she could go to the family I was supposed to until we make our change in January. The Christmas season was extremely fun, but also a little sad for me. I am really close with my family at home, so it was a little odd not being with them. All 5 of the Americans in Cremona came over to my house and baked Christmas cookies one day. Then I also made them with one of my Italian friends another day.

On the 22nd my host family took me to Chamonix – Mont Blanc, France to go skiing. I have been snowboarding once before, so everything worked out pretty well. I had an amazing time, but it didn’t feel much like Christmas. Snowboarding in the Alps is something that I will never forget. I also got to snowboard down the run that they use for the World Cup. I did go down with a heel stop most of the time, but I only fell one time. Mont Blanc is also the tallest mountain in Europe, but you can’t actually ski on it. There is a viewing platform on the mountain next to it though, so we decided to ascend the 3842 m to the top. It took two of those big lifts and an elevator that went through the middle of the mountain to reach the top. Standing at the highest point possible in Europe (without being a skilled mountain climber) was one of the most amazing feelings I think I have ever had. I don’t think I can put into words how beautiful it was.

We also ate some really good food on the trip. It was really nice to eat something other than Italian food, even though I love the Italian cuisine. We had fondue bourguignon, a half of a cheese wheel that is put into a contraption that melts the top and you scrape the warm cheese onto your plate called la raclette and a hot stone that is sprinkled with salt and brought to your table with small pieces of meat that you cook yourself. These were my favorite dishes that we ate in France.

We returned to Cremona on the 29th. Oh and to get to and from Chamonix we had to go through a tunnel that was 12 km long! For New Years Eve I went to a concert in the piazza with some of my friends and we had an amazing time. It was really cool to count down the New Year in Italian. A little after midnight I realized that the ice-skating rink in the park was open and convinced my friends to go ice-skating. It was one of the best nights I have had here so far.

Now it is already January. I can not believe I have been here 4 months, but at the same time I feel like I have lived here forever. I can’t imagine what it will be like to go back to life in Florida because this is my life now, but at the same time I miss everything about Florida. I definitely have a second home now, which I am about to change from in about a week. The problem is that as of yesterday I am no longer sure which family I am going to. It turns out the girl that went to my next host family really likes them and has asked Rotary if she can stay. They haven’t decided yet because I was really excited about my new family because the mom loves cooking, but the other girl also likes them too because they are in the city. I guess I will just have to wait and see what happens, but I am sure where ever I am it will work out well.

Buon Anno a tutti!  


 

March 5 Journal

 5 months. How am I half way through my exchange already? Do I really only have 120 days left here? The scariest part is that the second half of the year is supposed to pass by even quicker than the first.

Well, I have been with my new host family for about a month now. I really am getting along with them well. I have been really fortunate to have two amazing host families this year. Even though they are completely different, I have fit in really well with both families. My first host family was a lot like my family at home. I even had a host brother that is only a few months older than my real brother. I am now an only child in my new host family. Changing was a lot like when I arrived except I am only a 5 minute walk away from my last family and there is no awkward language barrier. Well, that is not completely true….my new host mom speaks at mock speed, so I had some trouble understanding her for about the first week, but my language skills have improved a lot. I can understand the teachers better when they speak quickly and I have also noticed that I can speak quicker without thinking.

My second weekend with my new family, we went to a city in central Italy called Ascoli Piceno for Carnival. My host parents have a house in Ascoli because it is where my host mom’s parents are from. We spent the weekend with my host mom’s friends that live there. This was a little challenging for me. I heard that accents change drastically from region to region here, but I underestimated just how much they change. In addition to accents, every region has dialects. The combination resulted in a similar effect as my first days in Italy. By the end of the weekend I was able to understand fairly well though. The interesting part of Carnival in Ascoli is that EVERYONE in the city participates and throws a big party for the entire week of Carnival. The ground was covered in few centimeters of confetti and the costume of choice for men was dressing as old ladies. The costumes were extravagant and home made. One man built a movable ship and dressed as a sailor, another set of men were dolls in their boxes, a pair of men were an airplane and helicopter battling, there was a giant tooth brush and toilet paper duo and SO MANY others. It is a lot like Halloween except with a very colorful and cheerful atmosphere.

The highlight of my weekend though was Sunday afternoon. There was a tent that was teaching the dialect of Ascoli and we went to see what crazy stuff they were saying. While we were there my host mom volunteered me to go up in front of the crowd of people and learn some dialect. She made sure they knew I was American too. So then I was standing in front of a group of Italians who were probably thinking this girl can’t even understand Italian, how is she going to learn dialect? Well to their surprise I spoke in Italian without any problems. They were impressed. Next came the phrase in dialect, which I pronounced without difficulty. They were amazed. Then (my host mom whispered to me what it meant when no one was looking) I translated it into Italian and then English ( I did that part myself) to prove I knew what it meant. They were in awe. I heard people saying to each other “this American is translating dialect!” One lady even started taking pictures of me! I now have a diploma in the dialect of Ascoli Piceno.

Also a few weekends ago I took a day trip to Florence. I had an amazing time! I went with my current host mom, my first host mom and two of the other American boys that are here. It is a rather strange sensation to see famous artwork or architecture in person after seeing them a million times in pictures, movies and advertisements. I have also realized they are never how you expect them to be. I also got a picture with one of those guys that looks like a marble statue. Those guys always freak me out, but I took a picture with him anyways. My predictions were right, it was kind of creepy. There was also a scientology booth set up in the middle of a piazza and one of the boys took a test to see if he is the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, but the cool part was that he did it in Italian. It is still really weird for me to think I am speaking another language. Now that Italian no longer sounds like gibberish, it is weird to think that a few months ago when I stepped off the plane that I didn’t understand any of it. I am not sure how long it will take for this to stop feeling like a dream.

I would have to say the weirdest moment I have had so far was last week in English class. The 5th year classes here study some of the same literature that we study in English class at home, so I normally read out loud for the class to help them hear how a native speaker would read it. This particular day my Italian was spot on, I was understanding everything and responding without any trouble or pauses. The teacher asked me to read one of the passages from their textbook and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read something in English! I was pronouncing English words as if they were Italian and stumbling over them. The best part was that this particular class was a little intimidated by me, like they felt the need to speak in English with me and after this they realized my English isn’t perfect either and that I prefer speaking to them in Italian. Now they are a lot friendlier to me and actually speak to me in Italian when I speak to them in Italian. We now help each other with the languages instead of speak poorly in the opposite language with each other.

Moments like these, where I realize it is just easier for me to speak in Italian, are moments that make an exchange year what it is. Not only are we learning a new language and culture, but we are learning about ourselves and where we come from. I never would have imagined I would learn so much about America while living in Italy. I view life and the world in a new a way now, not different, just a little modified.


 

May 21 Journal

 Well the month of April was a blur (a very exciting, time of my life blur) and I am not sure when May snuck up on me, but here I am, a little more than 4 weeks left in my exchange. I don’t know if I want this to end. I keep thinking that my emotions can’t get any more confusing and mixed, but somehow they always do. I am at this crossroads in my life (there happen to be several roads) and I am not sure which road will lead me where I want to be. Part of me wants to be home so badly and to be with my friends and family, but I also know that life won’t be the same when I come home. Part of me is so ready to start college in the fall and take that next huge step in my life. But a big part of me isn’t ready to leave Italy. I can’t imagine not living here anymore, not seeing these people everyday, not eating pasta everyday, not speaking Italian everyday. I don’t feel I have done everything there is to be done, seen everything there is to be seen, not learned everything there is to learn (there are a lot of verb conjugations). A year seems like a really long time, but it feels like the blink of an eye.

My world wind of traveling started April 1 and didn’t end until April 30. My first trip was a week in Prague with two of the 5th year classes from my school. Prague is an amazingly pretty city, very fairytale like. The food, not so good. So it was decided very quickly by my classmates that I was going to be their English translator, funny thing is that no one really understood me when I spoke in English, but they understood the Italians perfectly fine. We devised a system though where I would translate and then they word turn around and say word for word what I just said. I may speak “the language of the world” but I have an accent that no one understands. In that week I also single handedly got about 75% of my classmates addicted to Subway and Starbucks.

When I got home from Prague our school was hosting Danish students for a little over a week because my class participated in an exchange to Denmark. After spending a few days with the Danish students (who are awesome by the way) my family arrived in Italy. It was so great to see my family again, but I was really nervous that it might be strange after not seeing them for over 7 months. It wasn’t weird though. Nothing really changed except my brother is now taller than me. We spent 9 days traveling through Italy, seeing all the major cities and tourist attractions. It was really fun to actually be a tacky tourist. I definitely saw the cities in a different light than I did with my host families.

The best part of the month was my trip to Denmark with my class and another class on a week long exchange. This trip was easily one of the best weeks of my life. The trip was really special for me because I got to see my friend Anette. She did a short 3 month exchange in Cremona with another program and she is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Originally I was supposed to stay with her, but some complications arose and I ended up staying with another girl, Sabine, and I am so happy that I did because I connected with her and her family so well in just a week that I feel like not only do I have an American family and two Italian families, but also a Danish family.

Besides meeting awesome people, learning about another new culture and falling in love with Denmark, I had the unique experience of watching 40 or so Italians get thrown into a culture extremely different than their own and see their reactions. (Denmark is surprisingly similar to America.) After spending 8 months here learning about the Italians and their culture, it was really interesting to see how they reacted. A funny thing I noticed was that the exchange student on the trip (three Americans) were able to say ok that will weird out the Italians and then like 2 minutes later “It was so strange that…..” After a couple days they were starting to get used to everything and they would speak to us about the differences and all of them slowly started to realize what we have been going through for the past 8 months. They experienced homesickness (it was the first time away from their parents for a lot of them), a language barrier, new foods, new people and a new culture. All of the things that every exchange student experiences. And in those few days we connected with our classmates in a new deeper way and it finally felt like they really accepted us into their culture and into their lives and finally understood why we are here and what we are doing.

Every day I feel more a part of the culture, more comfortable, more like I belong here and less and less ready to say goodbye to Italy. In 32 days when I step on the plane to Jacksonville I will leave an enormous part of me here, but I will always hold the people I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve had in a very special place in my heart.


 

June 11 Journal

 I have less than two weeks left in Italy and well to be honest I am freaking out a little. I am not sure where the year has gone and when I talk to the new outbounds and see the pictures from their orientations I am extremely jealous because they are embarking on their year and mine is rapidly coming to an end. The fact that I am going home has finally started to hit me this week. Hearing the phrase, “This may be the last time I see you” is beginning to pop up everywhere and I’m not prepared. I think that most of us were the best prepared possible to come over here and start our new lives, but nothing can prepare you for having to say goodbye to it.

The past few weeks I have gotten to travel around Italy and see a few more cities that I still haven’t seen and a few that I have. The new cities were Le Cinque Terre and Tivoli. Two places I highly recommend going. Both are beautiful.

So I know I am writing a journal sooner than I normally do, but I had some inspiration tonight and I wanted to share with you how small the world really is.

Flash to earlier tonight…. I was walking through the piazza with one of the other American exchange students after enjoying some delicious sushi and we notice a youth orchestra (I think that’s what they are), putting away all their equipment. All of a sudden we heard them speaking English and realized they were Americans, so what did we do? Go talk to them of course! I honestly expected them to think we were crazy, but they seemed as excited as we were to see other Americans. As we were talking to all of them I found out they were from Florida! So at this point I was extremely thrilled to see people from my home state and what happens? A guy walked up to us and introduced himself and asked if we were exchange students and we said yes. Then he asked really hopeful if we were with Rotary. It just so happens that I met Kyle and Katie tonight, two of the new outbounds going to Taiwan and Poland. How crazy is that!?!?! I know, I know, I couldn’t contain my excitement either. So of course I talked to them and hung for a few minutes before they had to go back to their hotel and we talked about exchange and how excited they are and what it’s like to go live in another country. This was the moment that it really hit me that my year is practically over and I am about to close this chapter of my life forever and leaving is even scarier than when I came, because this time I won’t have the guarantee of a return ticket in my hand to come home.

To all the new outbounds: I am extremely jealous of all of you because I would give anything to be at that point in my exchange again. Don’t take a second of it for granted, because you will blink and all of a sudden it will be time to leave the country that has become your new home and the people that have become your new family.

Laura Hundersmarck
2007-08 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970
Host:  Felixlândia Rotary Club
          District 4760, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Laura - Brazil

Laura’s Bio

Oi! My name is Laura Hundersmarck and I am going to be spending my senior year in BRAZIL!! I currently attend Buchholz High School in Gainesville, FL and live with my family. I moved to Florida 6 years ago from Pennsylvania where my best friend in the entire world still resides. I love my family and they are a big part of my life. I live with my parents and brothers at the moment. My younger brothers are named Justin and Ryan, they are 14 and 12. I also have an amazing older sister named Julie who is 18 and is currently spending her own exchange year in Braunschweig, Germany. We also have the cutest golden retriever ever named Ava.

At my school, I am on the diving team and have done 2 years of cheerleading, but I also spent 3 years on a competitive cheerleading team (outside of school). I am also in the National Honor Society and German club and my favorite class in school is photography. My favorite things to do include traveling, hanging out with my friends, watching all kinds of movies, sleeping, wakeboarding, snowboarding (which I recently did in the SWISS ALPS!!) and reading all the Harry Potter books over and over. I love little kids and used to babysit a lot. I’ve also just been accepted to be a counselor-in-training at Camp Crystal Lake which is going to be awesome since I had so much fun when I was a camper.

I am so excited about spending the next year of my life in Brazil. I have just heard from my host sister, Anna, and brother, Felipe. It felt really good to get their emails because now my trip seems so real, like it’s already started! I found out that I will be going to a town called Tres Marias in the state of Minas Gerais. I’m really excited about my year and I cant wait to learn some Portuguese!


August 22 Journal

 So I’ve been in Brazil for a exactly a month and I have already fallen in love. When I arrived in Belo Horizonte on July 22nd, I was overwhelmed and utterly exhausted. As soon as I went down the escalator to get my luggage, I saw my host brother and cousin, waving frantically and holding up a sign that said “Welcome to Brasil, Laura!” I couldn’t remember how to say anything, but “Oi!” so all I did was smile like crazy while I was introduced to my entire family, one of my cousins, and my host sister’s boyfriend. They were all speaking frantic Portuguese, giving me hugs and kisses and taking pictures with me. It was like my whole trip was leading up to this meeting and I couldn’t even understand what they were saying to me, let alone tell them how glad I was to meet them! It was in those first 2 minutes that I had felt scared, excited, nervous, anxious, and slightly relieved all rolled into one messy pile. It certainly was an experience I will never forget.

It turns out that I was placed with one of the warmest and loving families in Brazil. I have two twin sisters named Anna and Izza and two host brothers named Felipe and João. My host sisters are so nice and have really been there for me when I needed them most, which occasionally meant, speaking a little English. They both go to the college in Belo Horizonte, which is the capital of my state and about 3 hours away from my city, Três Marias. My host brothers are also so nice to me and always help me with my Portuguese. They joke around a lot and have a way of making me feel at home. Although I have four siblings, I don’t live with any of them. Felipe left on Sunday for the United States to begin his own exchange year in Andover, Massachusetts and João studies at a school in Belo Horizonte. My host parents, Silva and Beato, are extremely nice and loving. Neither of them speaks a word of English except for the phrase, “the book is on the table” (which I later found out were song lyrics) and each of them can recite the days of the week. My host dad owns a hotel and a shoe store that are very close to my house, and my host mom owns a perfume store two stores down from the hotel. It’s very convenient because I love perfume and shoes! Since I’ve been here, they have always taken the time to talk with me and ask me questions about my life at home and things I want to do while I am here. Now that I speak a little Portuguese, we are finally building a relationship.

During my first month in Brazil, I experienced so much. The first week I arrived it was winter vacation so the atmosphere was relaxed, but we did tons of fun things! I went to see my first waterfall with my host siblings and a couple friends and it was amazing! The water was freezing of course, but it so much fun. It was in this valley where we had to climb up a bunch of rocks to get to it, but once we got there it had a big pool to swim in and a place to jump off into the water. I also went to my first Brazilian night club called Taberna do Lago. It is right next to the huge lake that my city is known for and has a gorgeous view during the day time. We also had a going away party/barbecue for Felipe the first week I got there. It was so cool! There was tons of food. My host parents brought huge pots filled with rice and beans and there was tons of meat and chicken. The place also had these big coolers that had about 10 crates of beer in them. So many people showed up, friends, family and neighbors!! By the end of the night the place had turned into a night club and everyone was dancing with the stereo blasting and people just drinking glass after glass of beer. It was so different from anything I’ve ever been to.

I love the food here, too. Every meal is pretty much the same, but I like it all so that doesn’t matter. The big meal of the day is lunch. Everyday after school ends I go to my host dad’s hotel to eat lunch with my parents. We always eat rice, beans, some kind of meat, different types of sauces for the rice, salad and home made juice. It’s all so good! I experienced culture shock first hand, when I got to school my first day. It’s almost as if it’s optional to listen to what the teachers are saying. Everyone talks while the teachers are talking and does what ever they want. The things I’ve noticed so far include: talking on the phone, listening to ipods, sleeping, walking out of the classroom to talk to people in other classes or just having conversations all while a lecture is going on. Just yesterday, during Portuguese class, I talked with my friend Raissa during the whole period about what we did over the weekend. Later that day, during Math and Physics, a bunch of people put their desks in a circle and we played a game for like an hour and a half instead of doing work. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m actually in school. It’s so different from my high school back home. Here, I go to a really small private school, so things are bound to be different. There is only one class per grade so everyone is friends with everyone. I walk to school every morning with my friends Bruna and Carlos. It starts at seven (ughh) in the morning and goes until twelve fifteen, but halfway through the day, we have a break where we can eat, talk and walk around. It’s so great because each day is different and always seems to be better than the day before. For the first time in my life, I like going to school.

I honestly feel like I haven’t even skimmed the surface in this entry, considering everything that has happened to me. I really can’t believe I’ve been here for a month! I’ve loved every second of it!! Até mais..

Beijos e Abraços,

Laura


 

October 25 Journal

 So it’s been a little over three months since I got here and I don’t know how in the world it’s gone by. I’m finally getting settled into my city and life here, which consequently means the “newness” of everything has worn off. But of course, Brazil still has constant surprises for me…

I never saw myself living in such a small city, but it has its benefits. In a city of 30,000 inhabitants and the center of town being a five minute walk from my house, it’s inevitable that I have some luxuries. Every time I go into O Centro I run into at least five people I know on the way. In the beginning this was a hazard because I never remembered how I knew the person who was waving at me, but always felt obligated to say something to them when they passed. I would just awkwardly wave feeling flustered to where I couldn’t manage a single word, but now I always can get out a “está joia?” (how are you?) and a smile. It’s really nice to see people I know everyday, even if I still remember some of their names!

I’ve also had some small town surprises. Just yesterday, I was with my friend Bruna while she was buying hair clips and I watched her take four clips out of a pack of ten and then put the half-used pack back on the shelf. When I asked her what she was doing, she looked at me funny and said that she only wanted four, not the whole pack. Now to me, this was a wonder because if you want only four hair clips in a pack of ten in the US, you always have to pay for the whole pack! In Bruna’s words, it was a small town and everyone does it. Another convenient surprise was when I went to the post office and the lady at the counter recognized me as the American, because her daughter goes to my school, and was extra patient when she helped me send my first package.

School is getting harder now that the end of the year is coming (I finish December 15th) and everyone is more focused and studious during lessons. Classes are less out of control and more mentally draining for me than ever. As much Portuguese as I’ve learned already I still can only manage to understand surprisingly little in school. This is mostly dependent on which class it is. I have completely given up on Biology and my Brazilian History class, but I understand a lot in my Chemistry and Math classes. Coincidently, it usually depends on how fast the teacher talks rather than which class! But surprisingly enough I got 5 points out of 8 on my Physics test, when I’ve never taken a Physics class before in my life. The test schedules are very different here too. I take 3 tests on Thursday nights for 3 or 4 consecutive Thursdays along with occasional 8 am Saturday tests. I hardly ever take tests in school unless they are for electives.

The food here is amazing. It explains the weight I’ve gained since I arrived here, and it provides such temptation now that I’m trying to make myself eat less! It doesn’t help that my host mom is always bringing me plates of food when I least expect it and encouraging me to eat more at mealtimes saying gorda bonita which means “being fat is beautiful.” There’s a fine line between declining food because you’re truly not hungry and not wanting to seem rude. I also don’t want to seem closed minded about eating habits in Brazilian culture, but it still amazes me how Brazilians have the natural ability to eat a huge meal and then fill the plates with seconds. The truth is Brazilians love food. I think I’m well on my way to becoming one. My one true weakness is pão de queijo also known as “cheese bread.” My state, Minas Gerais, is known for it. Everyone seems to know how to make it. I’m planning on taking the recipe back to the US and introducing it to anyone and everyone I meet. I’ve also learned to love Brigadeira which is made at almost every movie night or social gathering where there’s a stove. It is made with condensed milk (which everyone loves here) and chocolate. It’s really addicting once you take one spoonful.

Portuguese is finally coming to me. I am definitely not fluent, but I can understand a lot more than I ever thought I would after three months. I understand almost everything in everyday conversation. Understanding is a lot easier than speaking, though. I’m constantly confused with verb endings and the correspondence of feminine/masculine and singular/plural words. I end up getting out half a sentence, than switching the verb tense three or four times before I get it right, then forgetting the rest of the sentence. It’s definitely frustrating, but when I say something at perfectly normal speed and don’t make a mistake its amazing. I can also talk easily when I meet new people and tell them the basics of my name, why I am here and how long I’ve been here. I’ve said it so many times it’s routine. And I have finally gotten to a point where I can learn a new word because someone describes it to me in other words that I already know in Portuguese and not having to revert to saying it in English. Things that I took for granted in the US, I now find to be extra rewarding. It’s the greatest feeling in the world now when I can make my friends laugh by saying something funny or laugh when I (finally!) understand their jokes. It’s also seems strange to even mention but when I got here I was scared to answer the phone but now, I can finally do it with no fear of what the person will say or how fast they’ll say it. The little things I’ve achieved are some of the some of the most rewarding.

For the end of the year senior trip we went to Porto Seguro, which is a beach city in the state of Bahia. The beach was absolutely gorgeous! We spent a total of 10 days there, but only 8 days at the beach. We rode in a bus up there for 24 hours, so you can imagine the craziness that lasted all night! When we finally got there we spent the day at the beach and I got really sun burnt. It was a horrible way to start off the week! There was this outdoor bar/restaurant with a stage and constant music called Axé Moi, where it seemed everyone would hang out during the day. During the second night we were there, we went to this night club called Transylvania which was outside and had a “Halloween theme” so there was people with extravagant make up around corners to scare us until we got to different rooms of the club. It was really cool and so different from any place I’ve been. During the third and fourth night, we went to these two shows called Chiclete com Banana and Ivete Sangalo. They’re really famous here and everyone loves them! Even though I didn’t know the words to most of the music, it was still fun to dance with everyone else! On the fifth day we went to this water park on the island of Arraial D’Ajuda which was so beautiful and overlooked the ocean. Although it rained in the afternoon, there was still this awesome show where everyone was in the wave pool while the band played music. It was so much fun! On the last day, we went to this outdoor club on the same island and it started to pour rain by 1:30am. Unlike some of the smarter people, I didn’t make an effort to get out of the rain (because in my state we hardly ever get rain, so now I love it), so after a half an hour I was freezing and went back to the bus to sleep until we finally got home at 5:30am! Everyone woke up with sore throats and terrible coughs. I couldn’t even swallow because my tonsils where so huge. It wasn’t exactly the best way to end the trip, and in the days after we got back I was still sleep-deprived and coughing terribly. But when I think about it the trip was totally worth it! It just makes me a zillion times more excited for when I go on the month long Dream Trip of Brazil’s most gorgeous beaches and cities with the other exchange students in January.

After school, I have a lot of free time so I’m still in the process of finding things to do to occupy my time. I joined a gym and am actually going regularly for the first time in my life. It’s so nice because they offer this aerobics class which I fell in love with. Every Tuesday, I return to school after eating lunch with my host family in the hotel (the one my dad owns) to help out in the English classes for a couple hours. It’s nice because they never speak English so I’m always talking in Portuguese with the kids or helping them by saying Portuguese words in English, if I know them!

I’m lucky there is always the weekends that are filled with things to do: movie nights with brigadeira and coke, walking to get ice cream at the sorverteria, and of course, festas!

Laura


 

January 5 Journal

 Hey guys,

Feliz Natal e um Bom Ano Novo!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I know I’m a little late. I guess it’s a mark of how much fun I’m having that I’ve completely forgotten to write my Rotary Journals for the last two months, or maybe it’s the fact that I can’t seem to explain everything that’s happened to me and do it justice at the same time.

I guess I’ll start with November. School ended on the 15th which meant a considerable amount of fun! On the last day, almost every boy in my class brought eggs, coffee (in powder form), markers and paint for a war that I didn’t know would take place. It started after our last exam and everyone who was smart, left the school as fast as possible. After that, it was on! We spent half an hour throwing eggs, drenching people and giving unwanted hugs to make each other as dirty as possible. After trying to run and avoid it all, I gave in and ended up with egg in my hair, paint on my uniform and (new!) jeans and had the time of my life! We all ended up walking home together laughing, talking pictures and getting countless stares from the people in the streets of my city. It was an experience I’ll never forget! The same day all the girls in my class (after taking 30 minute showers, of course) went to my friend Paola’s house for a sleepover! It was so nice to get to bond with them all. We ate a ridiculous amount of food, danced to blasting music and didn’t go to sleep until 5 in the morning!

Also in November, I went to Brasília with my host parents and fell in love! It is in the state of Goiás which is very different from my state (Minas Gerais). For starters, it’s much greener and full of trees. I didn’t realize how dry my state was until this trip. It was not until after this trip, which was my second time outside of my state (besides my trip to Porto Seguro in Bahia, which was at the beach) that I realized how much diversity Brazil has to offer. The ride there was gorgeous and when we got to the city I was literally blown away. The city reminded me so much of the US, but even better because I was still in Brazil! There were 4 lane highways, skyscrapers, and bright lights, along with lots of green grass and blooming trees and the best part: it was cold! Rain in Brazil always makes the weather colder and living in one of the driest states, rain is always an unexpected pleasure! In Brasília, it rains a lot which makes it a gorgeous green. I only stayed for the weekend because my host dad was going christening my host cousin, but I learned a lot about the city. My host dad told me that it is a cidade planejada which means “planned city.” There have been three capitals of Brazil so far, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and as of 1963, Brasília. It is considered a planned city because it was built from the ground up and was carefully set up. There are sections for neighborhoods, banks, and stores. Everything is separated and there are hardly any intersections because of ramps and the huge main highway that runs through the city. During my stay there, I was going to go to the christening, but instead my host dad paid for me and my other host cousin to go to a concert of a famous band called Asa de Aguía. It was such a surprise, because I found out that I was going about 10 minutes before I left!

The end of November and December meant summer break. Of course I took advantage of it and went out with my friends as much as possible, mostly because a lot of my friends are leaving to do their senior years in other cities to get ready for the vestibular (kind of like the SATs). My best friend, Bruna is one of them, so I tried to make the most of my last months with her. Also summer break meant that everyone who studies in other cities came home for the holidays. I spent Christmas with a huge family full of aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of the family. On Christmas Eve, we all got dressed up and ate a huge dinner (which crazily enough started at like 11pm). We also did a type of “Secret Santa” which took forever, since we had about 40 people. On Christmas day, it was very laid back. My host sisters gave me a shirt and a pair of sandals and my host mom gave me my favorite perfume from her store. We had a big lunch and then I called my family and friends in Florida and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

I had the best New Years of my entire life here in Brazil. My host sister and I started getting ready at about 10:45pm and didn’t leave the house until 11:30pm. I mean I knew Brazilians are known to be fashionably late, but I thought we were cutting it really close. I mean it’s New Years; the important part is at midnight! We ended up getting settled at our table at 11:50 and after being there for 10 minutes, I passed the New Year without really believing that it was 2008. We went to this place called the Mar Doce, which is a hotel/country club type place. The band was really lively and the dance floor was on top of the pool! I swear I haven’t danced or laughed as much as I did that night in probably my whole time in Brazil. It was definitely a highlight of my exchange so far! By 5am I started to get tired and ended up talking and sleeping for a little on a pool chair for an hour with my friend Léo. I didn’t get home until like 8 in the morning and went straight to sleep and didn’t really wake up until like 5 at night.

Although I had an amazing New Years and summer break so far, nothing will compare to the month I’m about to spend. I’m going on a trip of Brazil’s most famous beaches known as the Northeast Dream Trip for a month! If anyone read Alex’s January Journal from last year, like I did (with envy!) you’ll know what an amazing trip is in store for me! I’ll be in Rio de Janeiro this time tomorrow! Then Arraial d’Ajuda, Porto Seguro, Itacaré, Lençóis, Salvador, Recife, Porto de Galinhas, Natal, Jericoacoara, Fortaleza, and Brasíla! I know this trip is going to be a highlight of my exchange and I keep thanking my lucky stars for this opportunity! I’m thrilled to have the chance to experience the natural wonders of Brazil and spend it with exchange students from all over the world. Traveling and getting to know different parts of the world is my one true passion.

Então, até a prómixa!

Beijos e Abraços, Laura


 

March 4 Journal

 My Northeast trip was like a dream. It was my first time spending almost every day at the beach in the month of January. Can you even imagine!? I spent 27 days in the company of 82 exchange students from all over the world in the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. After going to ten different cities up the coast of Brazil for a month, I was amazed at how unique each city really was; they were all a completely new experience. From Rio de Janeiro, probably the most touristy city in the whole country, to the small town of Jericoacoara (where we had to take special jeeps to reach it), it never ceased to amaze me the unbridled beauty this country has to offer. If you don’t believe me, I have about a thousand pictures to prove you otherwise!

The prettiest beach was in a little town called Itacaré. We had to hike through the woods to get to it, and when we came out, it was paradise. It wasn’t just a strip of beach with large crowds and busy restaurants like all the others, but a little palm tree covered cove which made me feel like we were completely cut off from the rest of the world just for the day.

My favorite city on the trip was Salvador in the state of Bahia. The city is huge, but in the day-long city tour I had already felt like I got to know it so well. The churches and winding street shops were full of native Brazilian trinkets, along with postcards and T-shirts for a tourist like me! Of course it was blazing hot the whole trip and everyone savored the long air-conditioned bus rides as opposed to the sweaty walking tours, but in the end it was worth it to get a few shades darker. : )

It was funny that after meeting so many different people from 19 countries around the globe, my best friend turned out to be an American guy from Wisconsin! But of course, there were tons of exchange students who I will never forget and who made the trip amazing for me. I can’t even count the thousands of good moments we had together. After it all, I can now say that I went to the top of the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world, rafting in Itacaré, sliding down natural water slides in Lençois, took a boat to deserted island in Salvador, rode around on the sand dunes of Jericoacoara in buggies, went snorkeling in Recife, and took five native Brazilian dance classes; things that will be stuck in my memory for years after my exchange.

February has passed pretty fast. I came back with a week and a half until the new year of school started and basically spent as much time as possible with my friends going to barbecues, parties and going to the reservoir in my city. When I went back to school, it was a big shock. Five of my closest friends moved away to do their senior year in a bigger city (where the education is better) and start getting ready for the Vestibular (big entrance test for college). The first week my class kept getting new people everyday and now it’s even bigger than last year. Everyone new is really nice and I have a new group of friends in my class. At the end of that week we had a huge barbecue with our junior and senior classes. It was at a place called Cemig, which is like a country club center that overlooks the reservoir. There was loud music, food, and tons of people!

Two weekends ago, I had my second Rotary weekend. It was so nice because I got to see a handful of my friends from the Northeast trip. We all went to a city called Pirapora which is about 2 hours away from my city and has the same river (São Francisco River) that produces the reservoir in my city. We took a boat trip down the river Sunday morning and it felt like we were in the Amazon. There were trees on both sides and no view of the city or other boats. It began to rain torrentially in the middle of it and everyone got soaked and was running around in the rain. : ) On the way home, I stayed at one of my friends’ house for a night. She is from Finland and I got to meet her Finnish mother and sister who were visiting, as well as her Brazilian parents.

Last weekend was the 45th birthday of my city, Três Marias, and we had four days of concerts/shows in the city square. Everyone claimed the bands were not that good and not worth going, but in the end everyone turned up which of course made it so much fun. I got to see a lot of my people who I hadn’t seen in a while, including my next door neighbor and best friend who left to study in Belo Horizonte this year.

Above all, I’m psyched because my family is coming to visit me on the 9th of March! We are going to spend two days in two historical cities in my state (Minas Gerais), 3 days in my Três Marias, and one week in Rio de Janeiro! It’s going to be amazing being with my family again and having them get to know my Brazilian family and my way of life for the past 7 months. : )

Até o próximo mês…

Beijos e Abraços,

Laura

Kendra Curcio
2007-08 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: DeLand, Florida
School: DeLand High School
Sponsor: DeLand Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Tongkah Rotary Club
         District 3330, Thailand

Kendra - Thailand

Kendra’s Bio

Hey! My name is Kendra Curcio. I am an 18 year old IB Senior at DeLand High. I live in Central Florida but will be spending next year in Thailand!

I live with my mom, dad, and younger brother Zachary who is 16. My interests are photography, tennis, and ballet.

I decided to be an exchange student because I love to travel but haven’t had much of a chance having only been outside the country twice. That’s all for now.

Kendra


October 4 Journal

 I have been in Thailand for almost three months now but it does not feel like nearly that long, most likely because there is still so much to get used to here. Thailand is different from America in most every way.

I left Florida on July 5th from Orlando. Luckily my parents and brother where also flying out to Detroit later that same day so they were able to take me all the way to my gate. I waited and was the last person to board the plane. I was on my first flight alone from Florida to Detroit but it was not that long of a flight only about 2 and 1/2 hours.

When I arrived Detroit I found my gate and sat reading while I waited for the other exchange students that I was told I would be met by in Detroit. After waiting for quite a while the boy who had been sitting behind me since I arrived at the gate walked over and asked if I was a Rotary exchange student. It turns out he was one of the exchange students I was waiting for, but he had not been wearing his jacket so I had not noticed him. After a while longer two other exchange students showed up. Liz and Sarah from New York. The four of us sat talking about our excitement for our year in Thailand until the plane started to board. Right before it was time for us to board I heard my name being called it was my cousin Heather who had also flown to Detroit that day for my grandfather’s funeral. I jumped up and hugged her and then saw her husband and my mother, father, and brother running over to say goodbye again. We had not expected to see each other at the airport because we thought my flight would have taken off before theirs had landed. This goodbye was not so bad I had already cried during the first flight and now I was with the other exchange students so I boarded the plane to Narita happy that I had gotten another chance to see my family!

The flight to Narita Japan was about 13 hours, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected it would be, since I hate flying. I had the other exchange students to talk to and to play cards with. I attempted to sleep but I think I got at most 3 hours of sleep over my 23 hours of flying. After we landed in Narita and found our next gate we only had about 10 minutes before we had to start boarding again so we went quickly to a little shop and each bought a matching pin, they are shaped like flags and have Japanese characters on them, and then got our pictures taken together.

The flight from Narita to Bangkok was about 6 hours long. We were all seated separately so I switched seats so I could sit next to Devin, the other exchange student from New York, but both Sarah and Liz decided to sit each by themselves.

When we landed in Bangkok we got through Customs very quickly (they let us pass through when they saw that we were exchange students) and went to pick up our bags. We then begin to look for Sarah and Liz’s host families. Almost immediacy we saw a Rotary sign and signs with our names on them accompanied by a huge crowed of people. We were greeted by everyone and given flower necklaces and then many, many pictures were taken.

Sarah and Liz were taken home from the airport by their host families and Devin and I had to stay the night in Bangkok before flying out the next morning to get to the cities in which we would be living. I was brought to a hotel for the night and Devin stayed at one of the family’s houses. At the hotel I had only time to sleep for about 2 hours before I had to get up and get ready to leave for my last flight. The flight to Phuket was a very short one, only about 1 hour and I was alone again for this last flight. In Phuket, I was a little late getting out of the airport because one of my bags had been misplaced by the airlines, once it was found I headed for the exit and a man came running at me holding the front page of my Rotary application upside down in my face and yelling “You? You? You?” This turned out to be my host father. I was then introduced to my host mother one of my host sisters and my second host family which is the president of my host club, his wife and their daughter Gib 16 who had just returned from her exchange to Virginia.

My House: My 1st host house was two stories with a finished attic above where a Buddhist altar is located. The first floor has a kitchen, living room, office, two changing rooms (with two showers a small bathroom and a Jacuzzi tub inside), an entertainment room and a workout room, the second floor has 5 bedrooms each with a balcony and bathroom. We also have three cars, three car ports, a motorcycle, maid’s quarters, two guest houses and a pool. My host family who owns this house tells me that my third host family has the really big house!!

My Family: My first Thai family consisted of my Thai father kun paw (father in Thai), my Thai mother kun meh (mother in Thai), my Thai sisters nung Fah age 10 and nung Fai age 14, and my host mothers’ sister. Fai and Fah are nicknames (most Thais go by a nickname). Fai was named for fire, Fah was named for the sky, and my family called me pii Fon. Pii means older sister and Fon means rain. (Nung means younger sister.)

I recently switched to my second Thai family. Now I live with my new host parents who don’t speak English and a 16 year old host sister named Gib who was on exchange to Virginal last year. I am still just getting to know this family but I think I will like them very much!

1st month: My first week here we spent a lot of time shopping. My host family wanted to show me all the markets in Phuket as well as all the malls. The most popular place to shop is Central Festival which is the biggest mall here. It is bigger than most of the malls I have seen in America. It has many of the same stores as American malls do plus others. It also has a movie theater and a grocery store. However the most interesting place to shop is the markets. At the markets they sell most everything from clothes, to live seafood, to pets and everything is very cheap compared to America, though I am told for Thailand it is very expensive!

Also in my first week my host mom took me to ride an elephant! It was the first time that she had ridden one too. I really enjoyed it as we rode through the mountains where you could see the ocean below us. It was very pretty. My host mom however did not enjoy it because riding an elephant is very bumpy.

Most of the rest of the month I went wherever my parents went for business and when they had free time between stops they would show me interesting places around Phuket such as Buddhist and Chinese temples.

Near the end of the month I started school at Satree Phuket which means woman’s school. It is no longer an all girl school however. Though the majority of the school is still girls, 3000 girls and only 200 boys! I am in M5 which is equivalent to 11th grade. I am in a class with 17 other students. My first day in school the students in my class did not know I was coming so they were very surprised. They got together and planned an introduction for me! They are all very nice students and I get along with them great. This semester which just ended I followed my class to most of their classes which are Thai For the Thai student, Chinese, English Reading and Writing, Core English, Graphic Design, Social Studies, Hand Ball, Math, Business, Physics, Advice, Test Taking Skills for the English Exam, and Music Theory. I also take a cooking class 2 hours a week and an art class 1 hour a week with an M4 class. Next semester (which starts in about a month) my classes will change so I will no longer have to take Chinese or English classes. Instead I will take more cooking and art as well as Thai music, Thai Dance and Thai language.

We go to school from 7:30 until 4:15 Monday through Friday though my classes only last from 8:30 until 3:30. Every morning we have assembly. For assembly every student in the school comes out to the front of the school and lines up with their class. We then sing the national anthem and then there is a Buddhist prayer. Then we all sit on the ground while announcements are made.

My school is very strict. Last week at the M5 meeting we had a sock check. Every student in M5 was required to come to the meeting. After the teacher had finished speaking, she told us that there had been too many people wearing the wrong type of socks to school and that she was going to do a sock check. She had us leave the auditorium 5 at a time so that she could look at our socks as we left. Those who were caught with any color on their sock had to stay late for punishment. It took so long for all of us to walk out in groups of 5 that I was over an hour late for pick up!

2nd month: In my second month here I had my first Rotary orientation. There are twenty inbounds in my district: 6 Americans, 5 Brazilians, 1 Canadian, 2 Mexicans, 1 Japanese, 2 Taiwanese, 1 Finish and 2 Germans. We all became friends very fast. Our first day at orientation we were taken to the caves. The caves were really fun and scary because at the end we had to lie down flat in our boats and go through a part of the caves where the top was so low it was only inches from out faces. One rock hit my face and my friend on the other side of the boat almost got stuck on rock that pushed against her side

The second day of orientation was mostly meeting where we went over things such as rules, and language advice. In the evening we did cultural presentations where students presented anything they wanted to about any culture either by themselves or in a group. I was in a group with Sarah from America, Heli from Finland, and Ana from Brasil. We did our presentation on greetings and demonstrated how people greet in each of the country that the students where from plus Thailand.

That evening me and a few of the other students watched a meteor shower by the pool – it was exciting for me because I had never even seen a shooting start before.

The last day we had speeches to listen to, then we all had to say goodbye. In October all of the students are coming out to Phuket for about four days so we can see the Vegetarian Festival, and In the middle of November we have our first trip. It is to Northeast Thailand and into Laos!!

3rd Month: I switch families and houses this month so a lot of time was spent packing, unpacking and getting used to a new family. Yesterday I attended a Buddhist event at my school. It was similar to vacation bible school in the US. Monks lead the class. Most of the time there was a few hundred of us from M5 lined up by our classes sitting on the floor of the auditorium while the Monks talked and had us do different movements and prayers. The Monks made the class fun – they were making everyone laugh the whole time and teasing many of the students. They had us play Simon says except instead of saying “Simon says” he said “Nakrian” which means student. We also watched music videos, had snacks, and watched some videos that I still don’t understand why we were watching. The first videos were clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos and the others were videos of people eating live mice and lizards and slaughtering animals. The class lasted about 8-9 hours. And it was very interesting to be a part of, though I could not understand most of what was said.

Michelle Gershon
2007-08 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Ubon Rotary Club
         District 3340, Thailand

Michelle - Thailand

Michelle’s Bio

Who am I? I am everything and I am nothing at all. A passing image in the wind and a flicker in a shadow. I dance in the rain and sword fight with old wrapping-paper tubes. I am the spirit of adventure and a noticer of the small things (that capture the mind if only given but a chance). A student of the world, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am like Peter Pan, I refuse to lose my childlike sense of wonder.

I may sound silly, but that’s okay! After all, I hold silliness in the highest regard.

My name is Michelle (though I change my name often) and I hail from the land of lawn flamingos and voting catastrophes where I love to spend my days trying new things that I would never have thought to have tried before and simply being with those I love. My brother, Ben, and I make up games and make fun of each other (and our mum :)) all the time, I truly feel I can talk to him about anything. Be it on a huge canvas/stage or on the back of a test paper, I love to draw, paint, act and express myself through the arts. The outdoors intrigue me… Climbing trees and anything else that is there to climb, swimming and exploring, and simply lying on the grass beneath a blanket of stars all spark my fancy. Oh yes, and whenever possible I like to speak with a (albeit poor) British accent or to sing my words, or whisper. Sometimes all three.

I am a flutter in time, time doesn’t hold me to one place for even as I write this I am

changing and becoming something else. My perspectives grow as I learn more, and as the world creates itself around me, I too create myself. Soon, thanks to my Mother, my Brother, Rotary, and all my family and friends who have supported me, I will be in Thailand, the land of the free, becoming myself, fluttering through time in ways I never even imagined.


Michelle’s District Conference Speech

On April 27, 2007, at the Rotary District 6970 Conference in Gainesville, Michelle Gershon had the opportunity to open the Youth Exchange Plenary Session, as the spokesperson for the 2007-08 outbound class, as they look ahead to their exchange experiences. Here is the text of the speech she presented.

Ah-gat-dee-na! That means “Oh, what a beautiful day,” in Thai. And it is indeed a beautiful day because I am here and alive and I have the opportunity to speak to you fine people. And the reason I stand before you speaking Thai you may ask? Because I am going to be an exchange student; I’m now the “before” in a global social experiment. (Einstein Voice) Take one subject…er… student, equip them with a little language and a stylish blazer and throw them into another country and ‘poof’ one year later you have a changed student. (End Einstein voice) All right, so, it isn’t that easy, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into preparing the students, both on the part of Rotary and the students themselves. And sometimes the full effects of the exchange are not obvious right away. But I think they’re there just the same.

The Chaos Theory says that everything we do causes something else, which in turn causes something else which causes something else, which causes millions of other things to happen, more than we will perhaps ever know… Our collaborative efforts, all our random acts and words and ideas that have been spawned come together and react and affect each other to become something more. People ask me all the time why I want to be an exchange student, and I thought about it for a while, for a really long time and I couldn’t really find an answer that could explain this incredulous feeling inside me when the idea of going on exchange pops up, and I don’t think perhaps it is best explained in words, but felt beyond explanation. But for now I think I’ve found something that I can say: “If a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Florida will it cause a disaster in Thailand?” What I mean by that is: How does what I do affect other people? How does what other people do affect me? And how do we figure in to the big picture that we will perhaps never be able to see? I want to become a person of the world, and I want the world to become a part of me, and I want to change, as scary as change is, I know I have to run into it full force. And leap into it.

It’s funny, but before I’ve even left I’ve been affected already by the exchange program. I think I’m a pretty nice person, and I get along with people pretty well…. unless there’s some underground conspiracy that is at this very moment plotting against me, but that’s for another speech – come to the Sci-Fi convention next door if you want to hear about that…. anyway, I’m a nice person, but I’ve never made good, close friends very easily, the sort of people who I feel I can have a random conversation with about xylophones, but at the same time people with whom I feel I can share the deepest feelings that dwell within me. And, for the short time that I have known my fellow outbounds, I feel I have made some of the closest friends that I have ever had… I know, I know you can just see the sappy feelings spilling out of that statement, but it’s true, and I think just through our ideas about what will come, our hopes, our expectations (the one’s that we aren’t supposed to have) and our fears, we have all become open to one another, and if I can become open to all these strangers, and have them become some of my closest friends in less than a couple of meetings, than what will come of spending a year with strangers?

Perhaps a butterfly flapping her wings in Florida will cause a disaster in Thailand and there’s no choice in the matter, but perhaps that butterfly and all the other metaphorical butterflies that effect the world could see the big picture, and could alter the flap of their wings in such a way to change something, then perhaps that will change everything. Thank you.


 

August 31 Journal

“I am not a raindrop.”

As I begin to spill my thoughts onto this page, I find myself sitting on a balcony in Thailand with puppets drawn on my hands and a view of tropical trees dripping with dew in the morning sun. Why am I here? How did I get here? Perhaps I should start from the beginning? But then, of course, I would be faced with such a long journal to explain the existence of all that is; and quite frankly, though I do love a good debate, I’ll save my thoughts on that for later so that everyone with differing views on creation and evolution doesn’t attack me just yet, after all, I’ve only been here about…. a week? Maybe a little bit more… (Time seems non-existent….) and I’d like it to be a little longer before I am put into a hospital by an angry mob, save that for the second week…

I remember my last look at Florida being that of rain drops, still rain drops floating in the air as if they were in suspended animation high above the Florida sky, floating individually to be awakened in a year’s time perhaps, maybe. Unlike the water droplets stuck in space, floating there without wake, time moves forward. Or at least my plane did, forward Southeast (on Northwest Airlines) chasing the sun, which gave the feeling of not moving at all, but just hanging, waiting, the only beings alive and moving, while the world around us lay silent. When I stepped off the plane in Tokyo (and subsequently nearly left my passport at the gift shop) and later in Bangkok, I felt as though I had not really left the country at all, but just taken a long drive down the road from my home. That’s the strange thing about this exchange, everything is so different, yet that which is most important still remains the same. I expected there to be magical gnomes, or a purple sky or something overtly different, but no matter where I am in the world, it is just that, and it is for me to make of it what I see.

Once in Bangkok I looked through the mobs of people (and people dressed as bunny rabbits- to honor the King) to find my host family. We would be staying in Bangkok for 4 days until going to Ubon Ratchathani. On the way to Ba Sue’s house (My host Aunt, whom we were staying with), I looked out in amazement at the wonder of the city as I took it all in. I oooh-ed and aww-ed at the billboards-in Thai, and the signs-in Thai and the street signs- in English… and Thai… and sometimes Chinese too…. I sniffed the air which smelled of something I cannot explain and I laughed with glee at the driver (my cousin Pee Kang) as he drove on a different side of the road than I am accustomed too. As I took it all in I tried (and failed miserably) to have a conversation in Thai. Of course there are no failures, just mistakes, which I told my host family I was okay with and even excited to make.

And oh boy, did I ever makes mistakes! Let’s see, I didn’t use the toilet correctly, I moved something with my foot (luckily no elders were around to see that little catastrophe), I put the fork in my mouth (this I rectified quickly and apologized), I was attacked by a subway turn-style because I did not move quickly enough… and many, many other faux pas, but that’s okay, it’s good to make mistakes and laugh at myself, what fun would it be if I did everything correctly? I think my extreme blunders in language and in manner gave my host family confidence to make English mistakes and not worry, because their English is worlds better than my Thai. And so, my first week was filled with half Thai and half English conversations that only those involved in could understand. I was getting used to listening to Thai and figuring out what was being said. This is an especially easy task in a Thai market, when while browsing past pigs heads, strawberry smoothies and underwear all under huge umbrellas with tons of people and aromas and sounds someone points and shouts “farrang” (what? who me?) and everyone (those who do not shy away) ask, not me, but the people I am with “Where does she come from?” and “Can she speak Thai?”… Though the questions are not addressed to me, I take great pleasure in understanding these questions and answering them in my mind. Ameriga. Nit Noy.

For most of my time in Bangkok, I spent time with my host family’s extended family in their home or at the nearby, aforementioned market. But, on the last day before Kwang left for Florida and before my host Mom, Dad, and I left for Ubon, we did what I had been longing to do– EXPLORE BANGKOK!! Bangkok is the strangest combination of Urban and Rural. Large farm houses and rice fields blowing in the wind share the same city block with sky scrapers. There are subways and there are rickshaws, tuk tuks, taxi cabs, dogs, people of all sorts, even monks roaming the streets. There was a man on a motorcycle carrying a fully open ladder (which my host mum assures me is very common) and I often see elephants trotting down the road. All these opposing forces coming together and living in (relative) harmony in this… this.. Wonderland that is Thailand, that is Bangkok. It’s a treasure trove of culture.

 

After being attacked by the subway, riding the sky train, a car ride, a taxi cab ride and a short hop on a van we arrived at a huge Buddhist Wat (temple)/ palace that was beautiful and adorned with gold and gleamed with gem stones. We removed our shoes and went inside. We took pictures. We saw statues that were that were monumental and had been around for centuries. But despite all the beauty around me, I found the cornucopia of people around me infinitely more fascinating. People from Thailand, people from England, Germany, Spain, Japan… The many voices of the world came together like a box of exchange student O’s (fortified with calcium, so I hear), but they were not exchange students, just anyone who wished to get up early and walk amongst the crowds and run across the street narrowly avoiding parallel… 10 seconds for 50+ people to get across the street before the vehicles start moving and your time starts now…

I miss Bangkok.

My Bangkok home had many, many people. And I became very close with all of them in a very short period of time, as hard as being stuck in suspended animation is, moving through time at lightening speed is even more difficult, because before you know it, it’s over.

I’ll miss Bangkok and all the experiences and adventures I’ve had (and all the people I’ve met there), but I look forward to those I will surely have in Ubon, hold dear those I’ve had already had.

Today, I am on the balcony of another exchange student’s home. She said to me, this other exchange student, that she is happy that she has the whole year here, because she doesn’t have to sight see or do anything special, just live life. And I agree with her on one thing, we should just live life, but life, no one’s life is ever ordinary, no matter where you are or what you do. I laughed, because to me, we don’t have a WHOLE year here, we ONLY have a year here. We only have one year here, we only have one life, for certain, to live.

Yesterday I climbed to the roof of a four story building (my host mum and dad’s university) with my legs dangling free over the side. There was I, looking over Thailand and what my year would hold, scared to death, excited palms sweaty, camera at the ready (as seems to be the case with me now) but nothing could capture how I truly felt, how I truly feel.

My Thai name is “Nam Phone” it means “Rain” or more accurately “Rain Drop” and though my name might indicate differently, I am not a rain drop suspended in time, it’s all moving quickly, I’ve done so much already, too much to write it all and yet I have so many metaphorical mountains to climb and when I reach the summit, hands sweaty, scared to death, I will release a breath, because there my legs will be, hanging free.


 

October 8 Journal

“Lost and Found”

Songtell. The strange little contraption that was born a truck, but wished upon a star with all its might to be a bus and was magically transformed into something even better. Everyday to and from school I ride this gloriously mutilated machine. And when I say ride, I quite literally mean ride. You see, the songtell has places to sit and stand on the inside, and they have little windows to view the world as it goes by, which is fairly pleasant, but I much prefer to stand on the outside. To stand on the outside you have to hold on for dear life to metal structural poles- that or you always have option of falling off, if you’d like. I however, like to hold on and it’s amazing, because when I do this, every morning and every evening, I become a parachute. The best way to ride a songtell is not to simply hold on to the poles, but to grip two of them in your hands, rest your feet at angles on the edge of the standing platform and let the wind and surrounding atmosphere fill your sense as you race down the road. It’s fairly like water skiing on asphalt. Bending with the curves, smiling at the staring crowds, dancing in the blowing wind. In this way, I am able to not only have quite a fun ride, but to become a part of the city that has passed and the city that is rushing towards me. It’s quite a sight to behold, no; it’s quite a thing to become. Girls are expected to sit and be comfortable, but I think I would much rather live like this and become the scenery of the songtell, than to simply sit or stand inside and watch it all go by.

Alright, so, yes, the songtell is quite wonderful, but as with all good things, the ride ends (my hands usually fairly sore at this point from holding on for dear life, and all) and it’s time to get off and enter the circus that is my school, Nari Nukun. Before I first entered school here, I didn’t realize that I was a stripped gorilla wearing a tea cozy on my head singing “Oh, My Darling Clementine”, all four of the Beatles, Harry Potter, a Ms. Universe judge, and an assortment of other oddities, but in those first few weeks, that is what I became. Everywhere I went people cheered for me or giggled and ran away from me, they told me how beautiful I am and how good I am at Thai and they all wanted to know if I thought they were beautiful and they never seemed to have a negative thing to say to me. At first, I just smiled and waved to people or tried to strike up conversations in Thai, but then I realized how much I felt as though I were trapped in a glass box marked “For display only”, because I didn’t feel good having people telling me what they thought I wanted to hear, and afraid that I would get upset if they weren’t complimenting me every moment; that is when I decided to take action.

I decided to take a huge cultural risk (not knowing how it would turn out) and I just pretended to whack my “class buddy” (who helped me out in those first days) over the head and I jokingly called him a Buffalo and then told everyone that I’m not pretty and my Thai isn’t really as great as people say and that I’m actually quite silly. I stood on my desk, I poked my friends in the back (and pretended it wasn’t I who poked them), I shared my lunch with my friends, I danced in the rain, I went up to every group of people I could find and I spoke to them, older kids, younger kids, kids in the band, kids playing volleyball, kids taking a sword fighting class, I was nosey and curious and I asked to join in where I was not invited, I did everything that made me happy and that I wanted to do, and very quickly my friends came to the realization that it’s okay to joke around with me, it’s okay to tell me to back off or to correct my Thai, it’s all okay. I can live as I want to and they can live as they want to, without fear of offending the other. We can disagree and still respect each other, and in this way, I became much closer with my friends and with the school….

Oh, and with this new found closeness, my friends weren’t afraid to ask me to help them with their English homework. I was very happy to help them, of course. What would it be? Adjectives? Vocabulary? Grammar? Oh no. It was “Oh, My Darling Clementine.” (They must have seen me in my stripped gorilla days singing it.) The teacher assigned us the task of filling in the missing words from the song and then, in turn, singing it to the teacher for a grade. Now, apparently everyone in the school had this assignment, because wherever I went people were asking me to sing “Oh, My Darling Clementine” so that they could hear the tune and how the words are said… I’m fairly certain that this song will now haunt me forever, just as Clementine haunted the singer in the song…

In my wanderings and exploration around the school, I found a dance group practicing (and doing Karaoke!) and I asked if I could join in with them. I thought this group was just a small class of students who were learning dance moves and who happened to like to sing, I didn’t realize that they were practicing for a competition that would be held in front of the entire school. I wasn’t nervous about dancing in public, but when I learned that it was a contest, I knew that I could not dance with them, because though I love to dance, I have the rhythm of squashed bean in Bangkok, and I did not want to hurt their chances of winning. I was perfectly happy to just practice with them. But they insisted, and so, I agreed. We stayed after school for a week and practiced, and one day we made our costumes. We used old white plastic bags for the skirt (so that they flared out like a tutu) and then made little paper flowers out of old magazines. For the shirts we fixed the same flowers to tube tops and added long sparkly ribbon. Now, I told them, that I would wear whatever they wanted me to wear, however, I advised that it would be a huge lapse in judgment to put me in a tube top, so they let me wear a t-shirt instead, with two huge paper flowers on either side and long streams of ribbon all the way down. And the fun really began when they placed a pair of dealy-boppers on my head. Dealy-boppers are those headbands with two springs coming out of them and with something big and sparkly bouncing around on top.

On the big day of the competition they did my make-up. I don’t like to wear make-up, but having done theatre, I’ve become used to it for such occasions, and yet they had a field day. The make-up was so thick, I thought I would need a power sander to remove it. At the end of it all I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that, apart from the make-up, this was about the silliness level that my everyday outfits usually reach anyway. I was satisfied and really just happy to be there. The dancing was fun, the bright lights, the cheering, the exhilaration of it all. It was a great day. We ended up winning and yet still, that doesn’t seem important. I think, in the end, that I won something much better than a contest.

Almost everyday, Katoi (boys on the outside, but girls on the inside) ask me, usually in English, “Can I be sexy?” This surprised me because I thought that Thai culture was relatively conservative when it came to sexuality, but I soon found that they are in some ways, but in others they are quite open. Anyway, when they ask me this, I usually laugh and tell them, in Thai, “You can be whatever you want to be” or simply, “Yes, sure, why not?” So I became used to being asked this question, but then one day I was pulled inside the school shop by a group of female teachers and they asked me several questions, first the more common questions: “Where do you come from?” “Do you like Thailand?” “Who are your hosts?” “Can you eat Thai food?” etc… But then the questions started to get a little more uncomfortable: “Which of us teachers do you think is the most beautiful?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” And then, I’ll never forget, one of the teachers got up, danced around and said “Do you think I’m sexy?” I was dumbfounded. I just stared for a moment, and then I couldn’t help it, I just put my head into my arm and laughed and laughed, and laughed some more, I laughed so much that I literally fell onto the floor. I think it was then that it occurred to me that although the Thai language has the word “sexy,” that it means something slightly different to Thai people than it does to me. This was later confirmed by my English teacher. It’s funny to think that although the word literally means the same thing in both languages, it is viewed differently in both cultures. It’s all about perspective.

I still have a teacher who calls me “Daughter-in-law,” this seems to be a cultural thing as well, however I am usually reluctant to accept rides from this teacher (even though she is my neighbor), lest a shotgun wedding await me…

School is always an adventure, but one of my most exciting adventures came on one day after school.

I was riding the songtell for the first time by myself, having the time of my life, and yet, it suddenly occurred to me, that I had no idea where the songtell was or when my street would turn up. When we reached a shop that nipped my memory, I pressed the little buzzer that tells the driver to stop, paid my 5 baht (the special student price), and found myself… well… I knew that I was in the right city and country at least…. I was certain that if I walked about a mile or so in either direction from the stopping point that I would find my host’s house. No such luck. To be honest, it was still light out, and though it was not on purpose, I was hoping to be lost at some point. I love being lost, there’s something about not really knowing where you’re going and having to explore new avenues, see new things, try things you wouldn’t otherwise try, test your wits, doing all strange and unfamiliar things to find a familiar path, that is exciting to me. I was calm and was enjoying my journey around the city. I knew the street name, so eventually I knew I would have ask someone where the street was, and people would either shake their head or point in the direction that led me to where I began, but what most people did was take me around to all their neighbors and tell them that they had a lost farrang and that they needed to know where the street was… strangely no one seemed to know exactly, so I bid them adieu, and walked on. I was even offered a ride one time, but I wasn’t so keen to take a ride in a car with a stranger if I could help it, so I tried to be polite as I declined. But then it started to get dark, one group of rowdy men tried to stop me and ask me questions and made a jump at me, so I ran to the other side of the road and knew that I would either need to find home or catch another songtell back to school to use the phone or to stay with a friend for the night.

It was then that I found a lady with two children who was helping to move a large wooden couch to her parent’s home down the road. My instincts (or something within me, maybe it was just exhaustion) told me that this would be a good person to ask for help. She didn’t know where it was. I was let down, however she told me that I could go with her to parent’s home and maybe they would know. So, lost in a city at night, in a foreign land, with a different language, I stopped to move furniture. Alas, with a sigh and a sad shake of the head, she told me that her parents did not know where my street was, however she offered to take me on the back of her motorcycle to find it. At this point, I felt I at least knew this family a little bit, and knew that it would be better to take a ride with a stranger than to walk around at night in a foreign country with large groups of men threatening to jump me. And besides it was a motorcycle, and I had really want to ride one. (Don’t worry, I didn’t drive it, I just rode on the back.)

So this lovely person who agreed to help me on my quest for home, with her youngest son sitting in front of her, and me in the back, set off down the road. Her older son followed on his motorcycle behind us. We looked for a while, and then eventually we came to a whole group of motorcyclists (many people drive them here) who the lady knew, all who didn’t know the road, but all of whom offered me a place to stay if I ever get lost and who agreed to accompany me on my trip. There I was, on the back of a motorcycle, in Thailand, with a whole motorcycle brigade whom I just met, leaving their homes to help me find mine. As we dashed down the roads, shifting past the cars, under the light of a million sparkling stars (more beautiful than all the dance costumes in the world), though I was lost, and should be sad or more concerned, I couldn’t help but feel wonderfully content and happy. We eventually found my host’s house, I said goodbye and thank you to all those people who had helped me, wishing there was more I could offer than my thanks. I smiled and opened the gate. My host mother hugged me and my host father joked that tomorrow I could try again. And I would, and though the next day I did not get lost, I knew that if I did, there would be would be a whole country of people there to help me find my way.

I went to Korat and saw many gardens.

I jumped into a pool with all my clothes on.

I ate Dark Blue Sticky Rice.

I went to get ice cream with friends.

I climbed a rock.

I ruined my shoes.

I joked about a breakfast cereal called “Milo” and what it could mean, when they say “More Milo taste,” Soylent Green came to mind…

I wasn’t invited to a Rotary pizza party held for exchange students.

I got a letter from a friend.

I went to a national park that sits right near the border of Cambodia. There, we walked through the forest. Now, I thought this would be a fairly touristy walk… paths all laid out. We had a tour guide and a camera man, and I thought perhaps, maybe, we’d have a little bit of a walk uphill, but not much….

Well, it’s not first time I’ve been wrong. This was not a tourist walk, I was happy to find that this was a true walk through nature. We climbed through thick branches, over and under fallen tree trunks. We even walked over a dam, at one point. We climbed up hills and swam against rapid waters. I love this sort of thing, and though I was tired, I think I wouldn’t let myself realize this until I was ready to stop. I lost my shoe in the rapids and a friend helped me go and get it. We reached a halfway point, the true tourist spot that you could have driven to, it was filled with little waterfalls to play in. There was a spot where us kids went to slide down a mossy rock… It wasn’t really quite a slide, but you were pushed and the algae was slippery, so you had no choice but to move with the water pushing you. I would come back here the next day, when there were no tourists, and I followed the river as far as I could go. I felt like an adventurer, exploring the depths of the river and the surrounding forest all alone, and even though everything was so wild and exciting, I felt at peace. But with the group, after our little stop, we went on through the wild to the main attraction – a huge waterfall. After we were tired, we were already soaking wet, and had eaten very little and just walked about 10 km through thick forest, you would think at this point we would want to rest, but no, we decided to run, screaming and singing, into the water at the bottom of the waterfall.

It felt like a magical place that I could go to always. It became a strange part of me.

I went to a Wat, and I saw people dancing around in nondescript ways, swirling, punching air, swaying, rolling on the floor. It all seemed a whirlwind, it didn’t seem to make sense. So, of course, I asked to join in. I learned that it was a meditation room, but not meditating by sitting still and clearing the mind, a meditation room where anything you wanted to do was okay. You could do anything, except hurt other people, and not have to fear what people would think. The point was to just let go of all inhibitions, and in that way you could be truly free. I loved the idea of this room, it was open and you could see the forest all around and everything and everyone could look in on you, but it wouldn’t matter, because you would just be concentrating on climbing up the structural supports and sitting, feeling as though you were flying to the ceiling… that’s how I felt, I loved to climb up the beams and stay up there, trusting myself, unafraid that I would fall and then jumped down and rolled on the floor and danced, and did whatever else I did, I just did what I felt. I just did what made me feel good and what made me happy, and that, was my only concern. And I felt truly free. I dubbed this place “The It’s Okay Room.”

One night, at a party, I escaped to be on my own and sit under the full moon and stars, and I just sat and thought. I thought, about songtells, and of forests, and waterfalls, of pizza parties, and Katois. I thought about many things and reflected about what I had done, the random events of my life, how it is all just a patchwork quilt of events, but my quilt, no other one the same. And I thought, It’s okay to be random. And it’s okay to be lost, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to play in waterfalls, and to ask questions, it’s okay to make a fool of yourself, it’s all okay.

And you don’t need an “It’s Okay Room,” for it all to be okay. You can see it in a waterfall, you can taste in pizza or hear in the joke of a friend. You can feel it in the wind of the songtell. It’s all around us, even now. Wherever you are in the world. Just listen….


November 22 Journal

“Castle Away”

In my room here there is a digital clock that lights up when you touch it. The longer you touch it, the longer it stays lit and the more colors it changes. It’s quite a sight to see. At night I like to turn off all the lights and watch it glow its many colors. Red to Green to Blue to Purple illuminating everything. Though opaque when left alone, when touched, it dances with life there in the darkness of my room. My full attention is drawn to the clock, in that moment everything is clear, the clock transcends time. And soon I don’t always know when (though I know it will happen) the colors fade and that one bright light in the room becomes less and less, and suddenly, it is gone and there is nothing.

During bit term (a short holiday break from school), I volunteered at an Animal hospital called “Warin sat ta wa pa.” I saw many wonderful and strange and terrible things, I saw surgeries (which were interesting) and a mother dog who was about to give birth to her puppies, dogs hit by cars, rabbits who seemed to multiply every time I turned my head, miraculous recoveries, dogs and cats staying in the animal hotel while their owners were away on a trip. I love animals and didn’t even mind having to clean up their kee (I’ll let you use your imagination to discover what “kee” is…), and though I’m a top notch kee cleaner, I think my main duties involved just being there for the animals. What hurt me the most I think was not seeing blood and guts (for we all have those) or the excretion of kee (again, something we all do). What retched at my heart was seeing an animal sick and dying, alone in a cage. When something is dying, it’s like seeing the most beautiful light in the world, dancing in front of your eyes, you cannot stop looking, it’s all that’s there, it’s like all the life from the dying being is escaping from time itself and all the while fading until it’s gone and you find yourself alone in darkness.

My first day there, there was a puppy with a very dangerous virus. She was hooked up to an IV to give her medicine and fluids. It was my first impulse to take the puppy out of her cage and just hold her. So I did. The vets thought it strange the way I held the puppy close to me (something that I think they still find strange), but regardless of what they thought or think, I realized that my most important job was to make sure that the animals always had hope, maybe that would make all the difference that they’ll soon go home, maybe if they play for a little while or have someone hold them or walk them around or sing to them or let them know they’re loved. To be free of their cages, if only for a little while. I think that’s what everyone wants, I’m not proficient in dog, but somehow even though I don’t know the language I could understand that.

And even now, after bit term, I still go back there as often as I can.

Everyday I went to Warin sat ta wa pa, but I did other things too. I would simply walk around the city or take a random songtell to the middle of nowhere and find my way back, I went into random shops and made friends with strangers. One day I found myself in an internet café when I received a telephone call from another exchange student who asked me to sing the national anthem of the United States, so I therefore found myself signing the star spangled banner in Thailand in the middle of a crowded internet café (I’m a bit of a ham, so it didn’t bother me…I rather enjoyed it, actually). I rode with my friend from Warin sat ta wa pa on her motorcycle and I helped another to sell drinks at a race track, I played with her niece and nephew in the dark under the moon, running around and playing with the balloons, pretending we were mythical beings. I went to an Endorphin (a Thai band) concert. I had many adventures during bit term, and towards the end of it all, a visiting Rotarian meant three days of waking up early and random (action-packed) tours around the city.

Day 1- After introductions and all that, we packed up 2 Rotarians, 4 exchange students, a host mum, a driver, and a Rotex member into a van and we were off! On this day we went to Teung see Meung, which is a park I love to go to, and showed the Rotarian around. We looked at the various trees and such, and oh yea, the giant golden candle in the middle. We then went to eat pizza and I was criticized by the visiting Rotarian for being a vegetarian in Thailand, I explained that I think that one can adapt without having to give up something important to them or changing their beliefs. I think adapting is not about conforming to others or asking them to conform to you, but working together to create understanding. Anyway, he called the head of Rotary here a pansy for letting me stay a vegetarian and therein begins what I like to think of as a little silent, passive feud between them. The Cold War II, it was a war that had no actual fighting; just the feeling that something was…erm… on the edge of blowing up? Maybe they both took it as a joke, I’m not really sure, but I like to imagine the secret war going on between them. It’s all about perspective. Well, as the feud rumbled on, we went to feed birds on Moon River. Though moon has a lovely meaning in English, in Thai it means garbage, so we went to garbage river and to a little floating raft with pigeons who would flock to us, because we had the power of bread, it’s their oil, you know. It fuels them so that they can live another day. So we controlled the oil of the birds and they came to us and we chased them away and they came again because they needed that oil, that fuel, or at least they wanted it very badly.

Day 2- I looked for more signs of the feud, I think it mostly existed inside my head, but what exists inside our heads is just as real to us as that chair over there, and because we make the world what it is, does not that which exists in our heads make up the world?

Or maybe chairs just don’t exist too, it’s really up to you. I’m in a really rambling mood tonight, so I’m just letting my thoughts free of their cage, letting them spill out of my head and onto the page.

On day two of our journey we went to Pa Tem, which is a large cliff that overlooks Laos, separated by two rivers. Pa Tem is not only cliff, but a home to ancient rock formations and ancient cave paintings. We climbed the ancient rock formations and I saw a huge rock and told the Rotex (Ian?) that I was going to go climb it. So I climbed up a steep rock face using every nook and cranny and branch to hoist myself up, I jumped over large crevices in the rock and found my reward in a cliff over looking the forest …. And then my group was calling to me and I was trying to figure out the best way to get down before they left me, when Diana from Taiwan told me that there was a path if I just went farther to my right… So I climbed up the steep rock when there was little path leading up to the top all along… oh well… climbing was much more fun. When I got down, I was chastised by the Rotex member for climbing; he told me he thought I wasn’t being serious. It’s a fair assertion. We then went to the largest cliff over looking Laos and took the customary 20 million photographs. I hung my feet over the edge and was scolded. It was truly breathtaking, the view, I can understand why people take so many pictures. I felt like I was on the edge of the world. When our photo lusts were fulfilled we went to look at the underside of the cliff, which had ancient cave paintings. It makes one wonder what will be left of you in a few thousand years. Maybe we’ll just be bird fuel, maybe we’ll be something more, but I think that isn’t so important as what we do now, while we’re still alive.

Day 3- This day was the last day in our epic journey. We went to a school and gave food and blankets to the kids there. Mostly we were there as dolls, figure heads for Rotary. We gave someone a bag of food, an ice cream cone or a blanket, and then we smiled and went on to the next person. I’m not really content to do that, so I broke free from the group and went to go talk to the kids, because I’m a kid and they’re kids and I speak Thai fairly well and they’re learning English, so I thought it a shame to just stand there and hand them things, when we have all these linguistic powers at our disposal. So I sat with them while they ate, they were really kind; they offered me some of their food. They were shy at first, but by the end they were reciting to me all the parts of the body and various animals in English, they were quite good. They taught me a few Thai/ Lao (here people speak Thai and Lao, the language of Laos) words too.

We went to a zoo called “Tiger Zoo,” and it lived up to its name. It had tigers. Many animals actually. All in small, cramped cages. Cages that were grossly too small for the animals that inhabited them. I wish there were a law against this. The birds didn’t have room to fly, a monkey was on a leash and was therefore kept within a very small radius of said leash. A bear was all alone and did little but pace back and forth, back and forth. I wanted to set them free from their cages. At this point, I would like to say “so I did” and have it be as such, but I didn’t. That’s mostly because of Michelle’s Law of Freedom, which says this: every animal has a right to be free, but Hungry Tiger + Delicious Meaty tourists = Maybe there’s a better way to go about setting things fee.

We went to the house of the Rotary Mum at the end of the day trips, her son is in America now. She lives in the countryside, near the rice fields that dimple Thailand’s smile. We were told we could all live there for a few months if we want to, I really hope so. I would love that.

That night was a going away party for the visiting Rotarian. We rode to the party in the back of a pick-up-truck. Like cowboys, all Americans are cowboys. Except me, though I’m not American because I’m short and have brown hair, I’m Bulgarian. America’s so diverse that it didn’t occur to me that people might think that “true” Americans look a certain way. I think of the United States as not having a dominant race or religion or anything, but a mixing pot of all different races and cultures and religions. I have to explain often WHY I’m American. So I’ve decided that I have no nationality, I’m a person of the world, now that’s difficult to explain, but fairly worth it, I think. I’m just me, I have no boundaries to hold me in.

My rants are making this journal long, but it will all come together in the end I think, there’s always a common thread, that’s me, I’m the thread, I sew all the random events of my life together by the sheer coincidence that they all happened to happen to me.

Because all this took place during the Jay (Vegetarian) Festival, there was plenty for me to eat at the party, there was actually a whole table of temporary vegetarians. (Fun Fact: Though my Thai phrasebook says otherwise, Jay is usually used to refer to a vegan, vegetarians have another longer word Mat-sat-weet-lot, but sometimes it’s just easier to say “Jay”). There was a Karaoke Bar, and I, being the aforementioned ham, ran up there to sing “Hero,” “Hotel California,” “My heart will go on,” and “Zombie” and a few of my other favorite Karaoke songs. I was later joined by the other exchange students, after much prodding and poking. We sang Bohemian Rhapsody. I thought the Rotarians and Rotex that joined us alike would enjoy the fun nature of the song and they wouldn’t pay attention to the words really. I was mistaken. I’m pretty sure they understood someone getting shot in the head. And they at least laughed at the Beelzebub part and they liked our air guitar, I think. But at the end, one of the Rotarians said “That song is really noisy.” Oh well, it was fun at least.

I think that’s the theme of these trips. “Oh well, it was fun at least.”

So bit term was over and I returned, once again, to Narinukun school. And it was almost Halloween. Way back in September, I promised my friends I would bring them Halloween. And that I did. That day I dressed as Harry Potter- with wings. I was pondering for a while what I would dress as. I was thinking dead school girl, but the ketchup on my uniform would be difficult to get out. I thought fairy maybe, or Harry Potter… A ghost? My imagination glided over the inklings and swam in all the ideas. I finally decided on the day of Halloween to be Harry Potter – with wings. You see, I happened to bring my wizard hat, Harry Potter glasses, fairy wings, Harry Potter shirt and lightning bolt shaped scar- you know, just in case. I bought two large bags of candy to give to my friends and brought the America swag that Rotary gave us exchange students to give to people in our various countries. I gave everyone candy and taught them American games and handed out American prizes. They have Halloween in Thailand, but it isn’t the same as in America, where people go trick or treating and such, it’s more just acknowledged that it’s a scary holiday where people dress up (usually not at school, but I asked permission beforehand).

Phujongnioy. I didn’t mention it before, but Phujongnioy is the name of the nature preserve with the waterfalls that I mentioned in my last journal. This time we stayed in a tent… well we set up the tent, we were going to sleep in it, but it rained, so we had to go inside. We played in the small rapid waterfalls and we took a bamboo raft down the river. I felt like Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. Though the best part of this trip came when I asked the driver of the songtell, after our long hike up the mountain, if I could ride on TOP of the songtell instead of IN the songtell, or outside the songtell. Some songtells have little luggage racks on top and sometimes someone will sit there to keep the luggage from falling off, though these are special songtells for long journeys. To my surprise the driver said yes, with a laugh, and so I climbed up to the top, followed by Diana, who also wanted to ride on top (we discussed this earlier, Diana and I speak Thai together, I really like that!) we were then followed by several young boys. It was really exciting to ride down the bumpy road at high speeds with our feet hanging off and singing to the wind, only words we ourselves could hear.

After we stopped at the bottom to gather our things, Diana and I were ready to climb to the top again for the two hour ride back to school… but we were stopped by a chaperone mother. We explained that we wanted to ride on top and she was outraged. She couldn’t believe we wanted to do that, she called it unsafe and told us to be good and go inside the bus. I explained to her that she shouldn’t worry, because we did it before and it’s just as safe as riding inside, but more fun. That just made matters worse. She was really upset that we had done it before. I pointed to the boys who were still sitting at the top and said, if they can do it, so can we. We’re older and just as capable, if it’s not dangerous for them, than why is it dangerous for us? Her response was “because you’re foreign, if something happens to you” and I said “their safety is just as important as ours” and she stood firm and said no, I asked why, I wanted to shout and to say that it’s not because we’re foreign, it’s because we’re girls, so you think we cannot do it, but the bus was about to leave without me. Maybe I should have just stayed and let the bus leave without me. I got on the bus, but I wasn’t really there, I was lost in thought, not bound to Earth. It wasn’t so much the not being allowed to ride on top that bothered me, it was the inequality. Every time someone treats me like a doll or treats a boy like they shouldn’t cry or every time someone says “you aren’t able” I want to shout and fight (and I’m a pacifist)… I just know I have to fight by showing that I am able, we’re all able.

In India there was something called a “caste system” everyone was a part of a social level, you couldn’t transcend levels, you stayed in the one you were born into. And at the bottom were people called “the untouchables” these were the people that no one wanted to associate with.

Here in Thailand, there is not a caste system, and as far as I am aware, there never was. However it’s interesting to see how older or more “important” people are regarded with more respect and dignity. You don’t wai (the traditional Thai greeting) a waitress, but you do a teacher. I notice if someone considers themselves more important than someone else, they will push past them, they are actually irritated that that person happened to be standing where they wanted to be standing. How dare they! I don’t follow this, I let anyone go before me if they were first and I say “kor-toh-ka” (excuse me) if I’m in a hurry and make sure the person knows I mean not to be impolite. I wai everyone, I wai teachers and parents and waiters and waitresses and babies and dogs. America has a sort of caste system too, the rich are often given more privilege than the poor, people seen as “unpopular” are cast aside as unimportant.

These casts are the cages society places on us, but unlike the animals at the zoo, we can choose to do away with them.

I’ve decided to cast away the castes that bind me. The castes that keep my thoughts bound, I shouldn’t think, I shouldn’t feel that. I can’t do that. These are the cages worst of all, the ones we place on ourselves! The tigers in the zoo would kill (literally) to be free of their cages and here we are building them around ourselves! We keep these castes alive by silently agreeing to take part in them. If we let our cages fade away, then we won’t be left in darkness, but in light. We won’t be left with nothing, we’ll have the whole world before us, we’ll have everything.


 

January 20 Journal

“The Story” – Part One

Hello all you out there in listening land and welcome to another one of my journal entries. I call it listening land, not only because that is the common lingo of a radio disk jockey, but because I think when reading anything, you have to do a fair amount of listening to get meaning out of anything. The world has turned like a doorknob, flipped like a pancake, changed like your Aunt Martha in the proverbial dressing room of life and so many other colorful ways of expressing the action of stepping back, looking at the world and saying- “Wow, would you look at that (imagine a question mark here, the keyboard seems not to want me to use mine- oh, Thai Internet cafes…)” The world is really quite different than I remember it being just a short while ago.

I think we’ll have to take a short jaunt in my time machine WAY back to 2007 [remember that year (question mark)]….. close your eyes for effect…. why aren’t you closing your eyes (question mark)… oh, yes, yes, I suppose reading with your eyes closed is something only the cat in the hat can do, and even he didn’t recommend it. Okay, so use your imagination. Hey, look at that, you did it! We’re back in 2007, in November, and it’s a few days before my Birthday. Look, there I am! I’m the farrang sitting in class reading and wondering where everyone is… and who should burst through the door at that very moment, but most of my class carrying a birthday cake and singing “Happy Birthday.” I have to admit, that this wasn’t a complete surprise, because an English teacher asked me when my birthday was and what my favorite flavor of cake is, but I acted surprised, and I was very touched none-the-less. If we fast forward a little, we’ll see all traces of the cake magically disappear and in its place a large pink picture frame with pictures of my friends and painted on the glass a poem in English about me, that I have to say, made me blush profusely. That whole day, I had a permanent smile on my face…. I can now say I understand why Thailand is the land of smiles… and it has nothing to do with military force, as I once thought.

Sport Day. Sport Day, is the Olympics of Thai schools. Everyone, depending on their class, is assigned a color (I’m red- se dang) and so we compete in various sporting events and root for the people who happen to have the same colour t-shirt as us. I decided to cheer for everyone. Having the same color t-shirt isn’t incentive enough for me to want one person to win over another. But if we rewind a little bit (time machines can do that, you know) to one am in the morning, we will find me going to school to dawn traditional Thai dress. I was really excited to get the opportunity to wear a Thai traditional costume. Even at one in the morn, I was singing and running around… and then I was waiting for an hour to get my hair done, I was next in line, and they told me that I couldn’t get my hair done until I got my make-up done. So I went to go wait in the line to have my make-up done. I was fairly tired of waiting at this point and I recall, erm, behaving in a manner befitting of Grumpy from Snow White and the seven dwarves. A nail went through my foot as I was walking to try on my costume. Well, it resembled a nail anyway. In reality, it was a table post. You see, in Thailand (as in many Asian countries) traditionally tables are low to the ground and people sit on the ground instead of chairs. So in this class room where we were preparing about 70 people to wear a costume for the parade later in the day, they removed the table tops, leaving the posts which were welded to the floor and would therefore be quite difficult to remove. So yes, I was impaled by one these little beauties. It hurt, but I was kind of in a bad mood already, so I just scowled and fell to the floor summoning all the manner and grace that I could muster (which wasn’t much).

In the end the parade was really exciting. We piled into a van, very carefully, considering we were wearing head pieces larger than our actual heads and drove to a Wat. From the Wat, all the various colors would be represented as we paraded down the main street back to school. I love Geelasea (Sport Day), I loved dressing up in traditional Thai dress, despite all my whining, I look back at this and laugh at myself, I was pretty ridiculous, after all. Sport day is a culmination of all Fridays. On Fridays we wear our various sport day t-shirts and school looks as though a bag of skittles has exploded. It somehow brings us all together and the world seems much more interesting than when we are simply walking around in our everyday uniforms. When I get back to the United States, I think I’ll remember the school as being the sight of a miraculous natural phenomenon, a flood of skittle-people coming together.

Since school finished early on this day, I went to see a Thai film with my friends. It was in Thai (of course) and had no sub-titles, so I had to listen really attentively to understand. Thai people don’t react to films. They get emotionally involved in films. What I mean by this, is that they don’t just laugh or cry, they scream or grab their friends or point, they make the film really more exciting to watch… I admit it made my concentration drop, but it certainly added to the experience of the film. In the end, I got really into it too, and I was crying (not exactly a novelty, I admit) but I understood the film so well that I was able to get into it, just like my friends, and cry unashamedly.

Before my big birthday trip, climbing up a mountain, was the moon festival. To celebrate, one floats a decorated piece of wood, with a candle in the center, in a body of water and makes a wish. But the really fun part are the flying trash bags. As I recall, we were driving to my host parent’s University where we would be celebrating and I saw a most curious sight. At first I thought they must be a string of lights… but they were floating upwards and there were way too many to be aircrafts tragically set on fire, not to mention the fact that they weren’t plummeting to the ground. They were a bit big to be stars (isn’t it funny that we grow-up thinking stars are smaller than us, when really they are bigger than the entire Earth) and too stationary to be Meteorites falling to Earth. And then I saw it. Someone with a giant lantern illuminating the night sky by creating a rocket out of a trash bag. I stood in awe of this phenomenon, it was truly amazing. To me it looked as though little ghosts or stars were being born each moment. There was a beauty contest and a dance show, carnival games and food stands…. but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the sky… that is… until one of the garbage bags got caught in a tree. I thought the tree was going to burn down and spread to the dancers beneath it, but everyone else just continued doing what they were doing. It’s sort of a strange thing, to see someone facing impending doom and just continuing to dance. When I asked my host father if the tree was going to burn down, and if the people were going to get hurt, he just smiled and said “we’ll see.” Everyone seemed to have the attitude of “Mai Pen Rai” (Don’t worry) in the extreme. In the end, the wind the loosened the garbage bag and it was free, and no one was hurt. Mai pen rai.

The day before my birthday I woke up early to travel to Phukradung (a mountain) in a van with about 9 exchange students. I love long car (or in this case -van) rides, because I’m able to sit and contemplate for long periods of time while getting a good glimpse of the world all around me. In traditional Thai style, we stopped to eat about 5 times (not to mention the breakfast I had before I came). When we reached the bottom of the mountain we met up with all the other Rotary exchange students from the Isan district of Thailand and had dinner. We shoved 6 kids into two twin beds (and the floor) and I took my last shower for the next 4 days.

My Birthday. On my birthday, I would be climbing a mountain. So I strapped on my fairy-wings and was ready for an adventure. Khun Prapart (the head honcho here) told us there was a record for us to break- to make it up the mountain in less than 2 hours 15 minutes (this being the exchange student record, I think the fastest by anyone is 55 minutes.) Now, as tempting an offer as that is, I decided that I didn’t want to be in the group to race up the mountain, because climbing the mountain is the fun part, and think of all the wonderful things I’d miss if I concentrated solely on speed. Another exchange student named Monica, who felt the same way, decided to take it nice and slow up the mountain with me. We made sure to stop and explore everything interesting. We took the harder rockier paths instead of the smooth worn-in paths. We sang Disney songs and stopped to take pictures with interesting looking trees, plants and animals. I remember we found a secret clubhouse in the trees. As we were climbing we came upon a sign that said “Be careful elephants” so of course we went into the wooded areas where the elephants might be. We climbed a rock high above the path, and then wondered how we would get down (we decided sliding would be the most interesting.) When we reached each checkpoint, we would sit with our legs hanging off the cliff looking at the beautiful scenery below, chatting with the Thai people and eating ice cream. It was exhausting having so much fun… and then we started to realize that it was getting late, REALLY late. At the last checkpoint, there was a person coming down the mountain who told us that Prapart was looking for us. So we got our now-traditional ice cream…I dropped my ice cream as we were climbing, so we went back to get another, and then we found that every couple of minutes we were being bombarded by people sent by Prapart to make sure we weren’t dead. It became so frequent that every person coming down that we saw we would immediately say “Yes, we know, Khun Prapart is looking for us, thank you.”

The last part of the climb was the most physically demanding, but we continued to keep our spirits up and eventually we made it to the top. We were racing the sun. The victory was incredibly sweet, we reached the summit as the sun was climbing slowly down. And of course, as always, disregarding the guard rail, I hung my feet off the edge.

Now we only had the 3 km trek to camp. Along the way, on top of this mountain in Thailand, it seemed as though we were in an African Savanna (which sparked us to sing “The Lion King”). We stopped at one point to sign our names in the mud and to have a mud fight, we almost got some Thai people involved, almost. It was perfect really. It started out as a joke and then I fell in the mud and then from there it was all out war. In the trenches of Thailand, probably dehydrated a little bit, after climbing a mountain, we stopped to have a mud fight.

So, by the time we actually got to the campsite it was about…. very late, and we were relishing the idea that we were the holders of the wooden spoon award- the slowest to climb up the mountain at about 7 hours 30 minutes! At the top were Kwang (deer, the animal, not the exchange student) just walking around and interacting with people. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to wild deer. I slowly made my way close to one and gently patted the deer’s nose. When we went to dinner, everyone was really excited that we weren’t dead.

The next day we woke up at the break of dawn to go see the sun rise. We then spent our day walking 20km around the mountain. I don’t like using the word “spent” in terms of time, because then time becomes like money, something disposable, something to get rid, something to whittle away. Something we work really hard for, just to get rid of it again. If time were as simple as money than we wouldn’t spend time, but greedily hold onto it like an old miser holds money. I think of time as being more like a river than any sort of currency, you can try and try to hold onto it, but eventually it will just flow through your fingers and wash you away. So we tried to hold the day grasped in our hands firmly, but it just pulled us along as we walked the entire perimeter of the mountain. We stopped at the all the spectacular cliffs, we climbed over a majestic waterfall. The top of that mountain turned from African Savanna, to Thai waterfalls to Indian jungle to a grand desert oasis to an American plain lands before our very eyes. All on top of a mountain. And at night it was so cold that even the Canadians… who claimed to have slept outside in snow up to their elbows with only a sleeping bag in the dead of winter… huddled together with us and our paper-thin blankets for warmth. It was as though we were walking around the Earth. Anyway, somehow Monica, Diana, and I were separated from everyone again, so we found ourselves making the journey alone. We made nature-headdresses. All was well. And again, we became so far behind that the day was slowly building its cocoon to metamorphose into night. We were invited by Thai people to join in their pictures and we tried to get a motorcyclist (who, you know, just happened to be driving around on the top of a mountain) to give us a ride back to camp. But, alas, he was going to the other side of the mountain. Drat. So we had to ask directions and found a group of people who would show us the way, but after all that, the whole time we had a canopy of stars to guide us home.

The following day all the exchange students sat on a giant mat and played games brought to us from all over the world. The German girls really missed soccer, so they organized an Extreme Soccer Tournament- Exchange Student Style. Everyone played a part, we had half-time show, a referee, and even Prapart took part as spectator, the rule was, that if you hit Prapart in the head with the soccer ball, you get sent home, that made the game extra challenging. Anyway after a few hours of extreme competition, my team won! I was really excited, because I’ve not really played soccer much, but I enjoyed myself and eventually got into the zone, so to speak. I think I’ll have offers to turn pro soon, soon you’ll be eating cereal with my mug staring at you… that’s kind of creepy, actually. So maybe I won’t turn pro, but I did win a t-shirt and bragging rights. And no one got sent home.

The last day we spent walking down the mountain. Walking down a mountain is considerably easier than walking up, at least we thought. Falling down a mountain, was more how I would describe my experience. Falling up a mountain is definitely not the same as falling down a mountain. So we fell down a few times. It hurt, but it was a quick way to make it down and now I can say, I rolled down a mountain and lived to tell the tale.

And when I look back at everything, I still think “And to think it all happened on a mountain in Thailand.”

In this journal I wanted to recount all the events that lead up to now, for how can you understand the present if you don’t understand the past? This is the first half of a story, not a complete story however, for it will never be complete. Everyone reading this, everyone not reading this (I’d say a much larger percent of the population), everyone who ever lived and who ever will live is a part of the story. And though we might not understand all the changes and all the people around us and how they could possibly have anything to do with us, somehow they do. The past and present and future, change, the known is all dependent on what could be, on the unknown things that live in stories. An entire magic skittle school coming to life every Friday, a ghost made of a trash bag who lights up the sky, a fairy who lives on top of a mountain in Thailand.

 



February 29 Journal

Patchwork Quilt or “What is that you are sticking up your nose?”
Here you will see all the stray pieces of scrap memory that I’ve been collecting in the hat box at the back of my mind and will now attempt to bring them together into an intricate quilt for your amusement until my next journal, this is the break, the transition, the opening act… it’s rough and rugged, but when it comes together I think it will give you an interesting picture of Thailand….

A teacher of mine here suggested to me once to write down all my experiences in Thailand and write a book about it… He said just write down anything strange or interesting…. So, though I’ve been keeping journals in print and on the Rotary website, I started a special list of strange things long, long ago… Anyone who knows me well, knows that strange things hold a special place in my heart… And I decided to share some of the more interesting items on my list: Enjoy!

1. Testing for ripeness. People will often squeeze your arm as they talk to you, not just one squeeze and that’s it, they will take your arm and squeeze at various points as if they are testing a piece of fruit to see if it is ripe…. This unwittingly brings visions of Hansel and Gretel to my mind at times, but I think it’s just a way to connect with another human being.

2. Spoons are the stars of the show in Thailand. While in the United States we cruelly ignore the spoon, banish her to only to be used for soups. In Thailand the spoon gets the respect it deserves… One eats with the fork to push food onto the spoon (and then propel the food to their mouths by use of their arm and hand muscles which is prompted by a signal from the brain- you can rest easily knowing that this part is, at least, the same.) Though if you’re not used to eating everything with a spoon, this can give way to some difficulty at first…

3. Everything comes in plastic bags… everything… Sometimes if you buy a drink, they will actually pour the drink into a plastic bag (with tons of ice) and give you a straw to drink the liquid directly from the bag… This can be quite troublesome if you ever intend to put your drink down, but they often attach a rubber band so that you can hang the drink from your belt loops… I’m not sure if that is the purpose of the rubber band, but that is how I use it…

4. While we’re on the subject of drinks, if you drink directly from a bottle, it is considered very rude, so rude in fact, that in films they censure out the bottle touching the lips of the person drinking (as well as censuring out cigarettes and guns)… People drink everything with a straw, I once saw a man drinking from a beer bottle with a plastic bendy straw.

5. Elephants roam the streets. Not wild elephants, but it’s quite amusing to be doing some sort of activity and then look up and half see something conspicuous out of the corner your eye and then it hits you… By golly, you have an elephant walking past your window! I don’t believe the elephants like it very much, I think they’d prefer to be in the forest….but they get a lot of bananas this way (as payment…)

6. Students have to keep their hair short, and if it’s not short then a teacher can just cut off their hair whenever they please. I asked my friend why the students have to keep their hair short, and he said that whoever made this rule is worried that if students have long hair they will find themselves too attractive and thus become prostitutes (either that or spend too much time on personal grooming and not on studying, I’ve heard both reasons given…)…..

7. Once a teacher stated something, an opinion, and I said I disagree, he then polled all the students around him, who all said that they agreed with his opinion, and therefore, he concluded, it must be right and that I should now believe him. I told him that just because I disagree with him, does not mean that I don’t believe him, I believe that he thinks what he thinks and that I think what I think and that neither of us is right or wrong, we just look at the matter differently and just because many people share his opinion, even if the whole world shared his opinion, that would not be a basis for me to change my mind… This seems to be a common idea here, that if many people believe something, it is right and should not be questioned. Students don’t really seem to question the teachers at all, they believe because they are teachers they should just accept what they say, while I think teachers deserve respect, I think they should show respect for the individual opinions and minds of each their students.

8. Playful Hitting. People often make the gesture as though they’re about to hit someone or go through with the action for various reasons…Often times for being a Smart Mouth…Which I can often be, so I get smacked often…. It’s really quite funny actually…. People often times chase each other in reaction to being hit, it gives me the feeling of being in or watching a comical movie….Teachers can hit students, friends can hit friends, but younger people may never hit an elder, even in joking…

9. “What is that you are sticking up your nose?” This is the question most foreigners will ask upon coming to Thailand… especially during flu season. The answer is that it’s a sort of homeopathic medicine that you can buy in many different forms to relieve the symptoms of a cold, but most people prefer a little stick that one holds to their nose and sniffs.

10. Though in some of my classes we have desks, often we take off our shoes and sit at low tables on the ground, some homes and restaurants have arrangements such as this as well.

11. The Traffic Ballet. Stop lights are more of a suggestion, Mopeds don’t have to stay in a lane or really follow any rules at all (besides that its driver has to wear a helmet… not everyone on the moped, but just the driver…) few people wear seat belts, and pedestrians cross at anytime they want and yet at exactly the right time (crossing the street is an art you have to you here) … despite all this I’ve seen surprisingly few traffic accidents, it’s like watching a beautiful ballet… I sometimes see a cop directing traffic and think of him or her as a dancer being delicately controlling the movements of the tons of vicious metal staring them down with a flick of their wrist and a turn of their palm… delicately and carefully protecting the metal monsters from each other… Taming the streets….

12. Constant picture taking. Constant. In one year in Thailand you will have your picture taken more times than you’ve probably had collectively in your entire life. I sometimes feel like a Disney World character

13. Thai Soap Operas and Korean/Chinese Soap operas which are dubbed in Thai. Very amusing.

14. Price Gouging and discrimination based on race is not only legal- it’s encouraged! At a national park, it had an English sign that said “Adults: 400 Baht” and “Children: 200 baht” and then in Thai: “Thai Adults: 40 baht” “Thai Children: 20 baht”… If you can read the Thai signs, sometimes they’ll give you the lower price or barter with you, but often they are told by the government to charge higher rates to foreigners, such is the case for this national park I went to.

15. Everyone speaks to each other as if they know each other, even if they are strangers, it’s really nice. It makes me feel that no one is a stranger.

16. Sharing. If someone buys food, they share it with anyone who asks or wants any, and they expect the same of everyone else.

I realize that I wasn’t very objective in many of explanations and I don’t wish to claim that anything I say is completely objective… We all look at the world differently and I suppose in reading my journals you get a glimpse into how I see the world in little patches… I suppose that is what the world is ultimately the patchwork quilt of all our thoughts and ideas, all the patches we keep in the hat boxes in the back of our heads or gallantly present for the world to see… a quilt clashing, torn at corners, held together by a single thread but, individual and unique and beautiful.

 


April 4 Journal

…As we last left off, I went back in a time machine to the past when I was on a mountain and I believe you were engaged in the primaries which are still going on and which Floridians votes won’t count, if I am to understand correctly. Also a death of Bright Futures, no, no, that simply won’t do. Heather (in Italy) and I once had the discussion that Florida will probably break off from the United States to become the next Atlantis when we get back and everyone will laugh at our astonishment that such a thing should occur. Something that has become so common place to you – would leave me awe struck. But when I reflect on myself, I’ve always been a puzzle piece that never fit, so I could just wander to the ends of the Earth and everywhere in between and I wouldn’t quite ever fit, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore and instead of damn myself for it, I embrace it wholly. Forever Foreign. Forever Foreigners are flying purple elephants, they feel that wherever they go they don’t belong, they find that people are afraid of their differences or in awe of them, this is, of course, hilarious to the flying purple elephants of the world, who watch in amazement everything around them. Because though foreigners are flying purple elephants, so are the natives, the funny thing is that neither is aware of it. Rotary, before we left for our various countries, asked the outbounds to write their own personal definition of culture. These all included things that unite us as a group, a country…a world, but regardless of what I wrote then, I think that what unites us is exactly that which we think makes us different. Our individuality and our differences, our strangeness, that’s where culture really lies, in that we’re all different, that some dance down the halls, some people break dance in the middle of a traditional Thai dance circle, some people bite their nails, some people sing everything they say if they can help it, some really quiet inside themselves, some really loud for everyone to hear, some people won’t leave the house unless their belt matches their shoes, some people drink from a bottle of beer with a plastic bendy straw, if we all realize that we’re all strange and all the more wonderful for it…I’m a puzzle piece that never fit, in a world of puzzle pieces that pretend to fit together, but never really do and in that sense we create our picture, you just have to look and think to see it. If we could accept our own strangeness, then we could accept other people’s strangeness -I wonder then what would become of the world… If someone were to ask me what the most important thing I did in Thailand was, I would tell them that I looked straight into the eyes of a flying purple elephant and saw a flying purple elephant being reflected back at me.
The birth of December brought an event most anticipated by Thai people- The Birthday of the King. The 5th of December 2550/2007 was the 80th Birthday of the King of Thailand. This might be a fairly interesting piece of information to you, but I think it would be quite difficult for me to explain to you how revered the royal family is here, especially the King. People have bumper stickers all over their cars and everything they can stick it on that say “I love the King”, they have pictures of the royal family, not only every prominent public places (parks, almost on every street, official buildings, schools) but in their private homes as well, I have not seen a calendar that doesn’t have the king on it in Thailand. In Movie theatres, we stand for a salute to the king and the royal family… and you can choose not to stand, but I wouldn’t try it…. People all over wear these yellow shirts that represent the king, because he was born on Monday (and yellow is the color of Monday), literally it’s different style variations on the same shirt…Every Evening there is a special newscast about what the royal family is doing. There is a special language that is uber polite that you have to use if you want to speak to people in the Royal family… a whole language that is separate from Thai….It is illegal to show films which in any way portray a negative and/or fictional account of the royal family -“The King and I” would be illegal contraband…. The funny thing about this is that the royal family doesn’t actually have any literal power, (okay, okay… he approves supreme court justices, but he’s never not approved one) except that of influence, because the people of Thailand as a whole really admire all that the King has done for them, all the projects to help the country and the fact that he has refused to be a mere figure head, but someone who wants to help the people of his country. Even when the government has not been stable, everyone knows that they could rely on the royal family. So, upon waking up on this day, I thought that there would be huge parades, public parties everywhere, mass celebration… I imagined something similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Brazil… a celebration to equal no other…. but I was quite surprised to find that most people celebrated this gargantuan occasion by spending time with their families. After all, The King’s birthday is father’s day (as the Queen’s birthday was mother’s day)…

To celebrate the day, I ran a race at my host family’s university and then at night we listened to traditional Thai music while all holding a candle kept alive by a single flame passed from one person to the next in honor of His Majesty the King. Whenever the flame flickered out (which was often) we had to relight our candle with the help of the person standing next to us.

Shortly after the King’s birthday I switched host families for the first time. It was bitter sweet, I really liked my first host family, but at the same time was excited to see what it would be like to live with a new host family. In my host family’s home the roof opens and closes (I often imagine them having conversations with the statement “honey did you forget to close the roof AGAIN?” of course that’s just my imagination…), my host brother has won about every math competition in the country and really likes Alicia Keys, my host sister is extraordinarily obedient, loves to play video games and has a really interesting (read: sarcastic) sense of humor for a 12-year-old… but she is distinctly different from most Thai people, I like her, but her opinion of me is pending on the edge of a plank, which I will more than likely fall off… my host mum always make sure I have enough to eat and dotes on me and my host father is always smiling and likes to joke around with me and have long conversations (which I enjoy). I also have an A-ma. Because my host family is of Chinese ancestry, we refer to her by the Chinese word “A-ma” instead of the Thai “Khun Yai.” Also Pee Mam, Pee Na, and Pee Jong live with us on some days and take care of A-ma. It’s much different to live in the middle of the city with so many people as opposed to living in Warin Chamrab in a suburb with Ma Lek and Pa Ken, Kwang’s parents.

And, then shortly after the switch, I would move again… but quite literally move, because I would spend 10 days driving across Thailand in a double decker bus with all the other exchange students to Chaing Mai, Chaing Rai and the other northern provinces/cities of Thailand. I spent some time in hotels, but really the bus became my home.

Driving from Ubon to Korat and stopping in some cities in between to pick up a stray exchanger and straight on to the Northwest of Thailand from there ’till morning.

Instead of attempting to make this a chronological journey through the days, it will be one with many worm holes, skipping days and then going back to them and then catapulting to to another point in time momentarily. At the risk of being accused of lying on Oprah (like our dear friend James Fray with his book A Million Little Pieces ) I will tell you that this all happened. The following are the events as they happened to me, depending upon who you ask, there could be an infinite many versions of this story, but this is mine. You are just seeing the pieces float around in the stream of consciousness of my mind… Be aware that things do like to up and fling themselves at visitors. You’ve been fairly warned. And at that, onward we go with our journey…

I think I’ll start with the Elephants. Thailand is home to the biggest Elephant hospital in the world. Elephants from all over the world are taken here for care. One famous elephant was airlifted from Burma (Myanmar) after having stepped on a land mine. She is one of the permanent residents, but I believe they are making her a prosthetic leg so that she will be able to walk with ease, now she seems to be healing quite well, she looks to be much healthier than a few years ago, but then again, she had just stepped on a land-mine. Near the Elephant hospital is an Elephant preserve. Here we saw an elephant show, elephants picked up logs and preformed tricks with them… but the most fascinating of all were the elephant artists. Elephants painted pictures… they were given a paint brush in their trunks, paint and an easel… and they painted. They reminded me of kindergartners painting, and I think, not coincidently, that is how most of their paintings looked – as if a kindergartner painted them. I think Kindergartners put a lot of love and thought into what they paint, you can always see more than just a picture when you look at what they’ve created.

After the show we fed the elephants bananas. The elephants REALLY liked those bananas, when I hadn’t any more bananas, they were quite eager to grab whatever was in my hands with their trunks to try to get more…. I almost lost my wallet and my camera that way, but then again, I made the acquaintance of an elephant; How can I complain?

As I was thinking how exciting it was to see elephants painting and eating bananas from my hands, we were off – to go ride an elephant! Because there was such a large group of exchange students, a few of us had to wait for 20 minutes before we could have our turn to ride the elephants, but it was well worth the wait. When the elephants came back we were told to pair off, but to be careful not to have two heavy people on the same elephant, or the elephant would die. So to spare the elephant any sort of fatal accident, I paired up with nice light-weight Monica. Luck on our side, we happened to have an elephant driver and elephant who loved The Lion King, so as we gallivanted through the jungle on elephant back, songs of Disney (as well as others) could be heard… more than likely as far as towns long in the distance (we were pretty loud). And legend has it, that if you start to sing a Disney song in the jungles of Thailand, you will hear two foreign girls, an elephant trainer and, an elephant singing back to you. Of course that is just a legend that I made up, but where do legends start, but in the minds of people, and that is where they are kept alive… like the flames of a candle being passed from one person to the next. In that way, we as people are kept alive, long after death.

On my trip, I explored ancient ruins of what was once a flourishing Thai society, as I crawled through all the secret passages, cracks in walls, tombs, temples, courtyards… I could imagine the people that once lived there, these ruins were like a memorial built to those people… but one they build themselves.

One activity that I’ve dreamed of taking up is spelunking. That is: cave exploring! And on this trip, we had the opportunity to explore an above ground cave. I was at the back of the group (as usual) taking my time looking, climbing and taking photos of the cave. When we reached a point where there weren’t any more tourists lights, Khun Prapart said we should turn around, and I was about to BUT, I happened to notice a few people in our group going forward in the depths of the cave. When I questioned Prapart about why they were allowed to go forward, he said that they had torches (flashlights) , lanterns and other various ways of seeing in the dark (more than likely mobile phones…) So as Prapart and the group with him turned around to go back, Michelle (who is starting to resemble more and more the Curious George from the stories her mother used to tell her..) decided to go forward in the cave – without a light source. I groped my way through the cave, climbed over things, fell a few times, got a few battle badges and eventually caught up with the others ahead of me who had lights. We made our way to the farthest-back point in the cave that we could physically reach and took a picture to commemorate our achievement. Then we decided to turn off all of our lights and stand quiet and still for just one moment at the back of the cave. It was beautiful and peaceful , and then we all erupted in giggles: as often happens when a group of people tries to keep quiet for an extended amount of time.

Diana and I were the last to exit the cave, but before we did so, we took part in a traditional Chinese/Thai fortune telling game. You shake a cup until the a stick falls out and then you find the numbered fortune that corresponds with that written on your stick. My fortune was quite good.

I banged a gong!

I dyed my hair purple. But had I not told you it would have remained a secret, like the many hidden secrets that one meets with the passing of each new person and each new day; you have to be looking properly to tell it’s there at all.

All the exchange students were caught sleeping on the bus at one point or another and all, without our knowledge, had our photo taken. This all was done by Chase, because one person had played some practical jokes on him while he was sleeping.

We all have exchange student shirts that say “Thailand Okies” because “Okies” is Afrikaans for “Dude.” Joelle and Karley, my roommates on this tour, made them for everyone.

Commercial break to congratulate all the future Outbounds, make your years extraordinary, you’re the only one who has control over that! You’re all welcome to find me and talk to me, I’d love it, that is, if I don’t find you first!

One day we went to the highest mountain in Thailand… and instead of climbing it, like we did at Phukradung, we songtelled it up. Before we went, I asked if I could ride on the outside and got a resounding “NO.” So I sat, rather solemnly, I must admit, inside the songtell until… until I looked at the songtell behind me and saw Diana and Megan riding on the outside. So I pointed this out to my chaperone and asked her if I could do it. She said yes, and I, rather before she even really answered me, ran out of the songtell and hung off the back. It was exhilarating to zoom up the road, moving to and fro on that dirt-made mountain path. And then… and then… Prapart saw me from another songtell and made us pull over to tell me that it was dangerous and that no one was allowed to do it (he had already told the others). He yelled at my chaperone too, which I felt guilty about, because I feel it was my responsibility not hers, and I told her so and I told her if she got in trouble I would go tell Prapart that it was all my fault, but she didn’t get in trouble, he just told her so that no one else would do as I had done. So I sat the spent the rest of the ride inside the songtell-with my head sticking out of the window, like a dog’s, to feel the breeze and see what is coming towards me.

On top of the mountain we went to see temples, the spectacular view, and a waterfall. At the waterfall we were only allowed to take pictures, but I wondered-off and found a path to the top of the waterfall, so if you were to look at the collective pictures of all the exchange students with the waterfall, I would be mysteriously absent. But there is at least one of me, it’s conveniently located next to the Panda in my above group of photos.

Speaking of that Panda… One of our trips was to the Chaing Mai zoo. I saw quite a few animals that I hadn’t seen before in my life…and then I saw a huge flock of flamingos and smiled. it’s strange when and where you’ll find memories of home. I was thinking that the monkeys would hold more memories of my friends and family than the flamingos…

The Pandas were housed in an air-conditioned room with security. We had to pass through security, who put black tape over the flash on our cameras, made us disinfect our shoes, and checked our special Panda ticket… That is after we made the trek up a hill to get to the Pandas in the first place and passed several signs pointing us in their direction. The Pandas were the royal family of the Chaing Mai zoo. When we went in to see the Pandas, I was surprised to see how human they were. There were two of them, a girl and a boy, kept separated until mating season. One of them sat on a wooden bench, upright and slightly slumped (as though he had the bad posture of a teenager) and ate eucalyptus leaves which she grabbed as though they were popcorn from a bowl. And the strangest part was that, though we were watching the Panda, she seemed to be watching us, as though we were a fairly interesting television show.

The Golden Triangle. This is point where Thailand, Laos and Burma/Myanmar meet. And I went to it. You see, we were supposed to stay on the Thai side of the golden triangle, but we “secretly” hired a boat to sneak us over to Laos and on the way passed Myanmar. The golden triangle itself is actually a strip of land shaped like a triangle in the middle of the water, and by being in the water we were in all three countries at once. I say that we “secretly” hired a boat to take us over to Laos, but it is quite difficult for 30+ exchange students to do anything secretly… We had a half an hour to spend in Laos, once there, mostly we look photos and bought souvenirs, I tried out some of the Laos language that I’ve been learning, it’s very similar to Thai, so it wasn’t that hard to communicate…

As much fun as it was to sneak over to Laos, the best part was the boat ride there, I kept leaning over the side of the boat, and we were going at a fantastically speedy pace, so add those two factors together and you get the result of me getting sprayed in the face- repeatedly. I even made the boat driver laugh. The cool air on my freshly sea-battered face, speeding along in three countries at once, was a thrill that I won’t soon forget.

In Chaing Rai, directly adjacent to our hotel, was the border to Myanmar. All the exchange students were given most of the day to explore the city, and I decided to do it by going into Myanmar. I had easily found “The most northern point of Thailand” and I went beyond that, but I wanted to take a picture of one of my feet in Thailand and one of my feet in Myanmar. I decided to just go up to the guard and ask, but he said I had to go through immigration… I was going to give up then and there, because my host family had my passport in a safe place for me back in Ubon, but the guard told me that I could use my drivers license. So I went, and got past a few of the checkpoints by telling them that I was an exchange student and just wanted to take a picture of one of my feet in Thailand and one of my feet in Myanmar… I got so far as to the point of speaking to the Burmese guard, who told me that they would keep my driver’s license until I got back… Which made me question how I would get back in to Thailand without my driver’s license, and then he told me that I had to pay 500 baht, which I didn’t have… I had spent the last of my money sneaking over to Laos and buying souvenirs… It’s quite ironic that I was able to get through all the red tape and officials and the only thing stopping me was money… I find it even more ironic, looking back, that had I somehow found a way into Myanmar (I had also found a low gate later that night I could have easily climbed over… but the armed guards made me think twice about that little option…) I might not have been able to persuade my way back into Thailand and I would have had my license in the hands of Burmese officials…. I’m not sure if you know the political situation in Myanmar right now, but I’ll put it to you this way… The oppression is so great to the point that Burmese monks had to come over to Thailand to protest their oppression, for fear of being persecuted. They couldn’t even protest in their own country.

A little story about that: When I was in school, at Nari Nuken (long before this trip), I made a protest sign and hung it around my neck to show support for the monks and their cause. When one of my English teachers saw this she asked me what it was, and I told her “I want to support the Monks in their peaceful protest for freedom.” Her response was “How can you support a peaceful cause when your country dropped an atomic bomb on Japan?” And she smiled, as if this were some great evidence to end all great pieces of evidence, that I am evil and a hypocrite. I just stared at her for a moment, I was completely gob smacked that she would bring up something that happened before I was born, nay, before my parents were born, something that I didn’t ever even mention agreeing with or even mention at all. I just said “Just because my country does something, doesn’t mean I agree with it.” This has happened quite a few times, and every time a Thai person says it, they always have a smile on their faces, not the friendly smile which I have become so accustomed to, but a smile that makes me shiver. This shows me that there are still great divides between countries, great resentments still held in the air, like the scent of fish lingers in a market after everyone has gone.

I think it important to remember, that whatever mistakes the past has made, we should learn from them, make sure they never happen again, help people to make the situation better, but not feel guilty about them and feel we should have to carry their burden and shame ourselves, for we weren’t the ones who made the past; we are the ones who will make the future.

That goes for everybody, from every country.

This is where we backtrack a little bit through one of those wormholes I mentioned, way back to Chaing Mai and the Night Market.

The most fantastic market that I have ever been to. Right smack-dab in the middle of Chaing Mai city shaming the malls and twenty story buildings that it consumes, filling every crack of land that isn’t covered by building or a tourist is the Night Market. Everywhere you go, there is someone there to sell you something, usually an over-priced something. But, if you’re fairly proficient in Thai, you can usually take place in bantering (quite fun, I highly recommend it) to get a more desirable price…

Before I go on, there are a few things you need to know: 1. At Pukradung we all drew names to play “Secret Santa” and I drew Maria. She’s really bubbly and energetic, most of the exchange students know her as “Mom,” the Secret Santa was pretty much all her idea, and so therefore I really wanted to get her something special. I was thinking a “West Side Story” DVD, because it has the song “Maria” in it, and she told me she had never seen the film and had wanted to. 2. Ever since I’ve come to Thailand, I have been craving, yearning for, dreaming of… eating a sub sandwich. I eat them often at home and I even went so far as to beg my friend who is studying at culinary school (among others) to send me a sandwich in the mail.

Alright, now that you know that, I can tell you about the Subway that was waiting right outside my hotel… beckoning me to it… I went on two separate occasions, on one I hit a road block, because I asked for a Vegetarian sandwich and they were about to close and I could tell I was not welcome and I wanted my sandwich eating to be a pleasant experience, so I decided I would come back at another time. The next time I came back with other friends, but I promised one of my friends that I would go with her, and Subway is expensive in Thailand, so I decided to wait to eat with her… She forgot. So I never got my Subway sandwich in Thailand… and so when I eat them again in the United States, I think I will appreciate them all the more… Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t bring myself to eat them, what if they aren’t as good as at home? Perhaps I was building the anticipation and I just waited too long…. I think if you wait for something to come to you instead of going to it, it could be too late and you’ll never get your subway sandwich in life.

After that tragic story of love and loss, I will bring you a more cheerful tale. Remember what I told you about Maria and Secret Santa. Well, I was on a quest to find the perfect gift for her! I quite enjoy quests. So I bartered with the markets men and women, I crawled through little holes between carts, I climbed stairs and went underground (the markets really are everywhere…) I stopped to use the bathroom (for 3 baht..) but that was just suspense building, I did all that, but that was my exploring AFTER I found the gift for Maria. I bought her The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and decided that I would draw her a picture and write her a special note to go along with it. It would have been hard to draw her picture without looking at her, and keeping that a secret would have been futile, so I decided to take her picture and use that as a reference for my picture.

Just a little quip, When Gina (South Africa) and I were looking around the Night Market we found a shirt with a little cartoon girl on the front eating rice, she had a gun to her head with the phrase “Eat more rice (expletive removed).” This is what it feels like to live in Thailand sometimes, for anyone who might have wondered. You feel as though you have a metaphorical gun to your head which says “I’ll think you hate me and that I’m a terrible chef if you don’t eat my food.” and so you have to keep on eating… Though as exchange students, that isn’t usually a problem.

I spent most of my free time on these trips doing two things: exploring whatever city we happened to be in and climbing on to the roof of whatever hotel we happened to be on.

The best hotel roof was 22 stories up, it was completely flat and the tallest building as far as the eye could see. I almost fell asleep up there watching the stars…

That’s my new hobby, climbing on roofs. Have you noticed that in my journals?

But on one special night all the exchange students made a trip to the roof of our hotel. This night was 24 December. Maria and the others who were helping her to plan the Christmas Party were really considerate about what would be the best way to hold the party. The Swedish girls really wanted to celebrate on the 24th of December, as they did in Sweden. Many of the Americans and Canadians wanted to celebrate on the 25th, as is tradition in their respective countries. The party planners, I want to note, also took into consideration the feelings of us non-Christians about having a Christmas party. What were we do do about our dilemma of days? Why simple, of course. We had the party late on the 24th and spilling over onto the 25th, that way everybody got to celebrate on the day special to them. We had Santa-Chase, Elf-Dana, the two Yukis dressed as Dumbo and the Yukisaurus, The President and his two bodyguards, food and candy, games and the present exchange.

The present exchange worked like this, we all put our presents on the table, we each, in turn, walked up to Santa-Chase, would sit on his lap and be given our present by Elf-Dana. We then had to guess who our secret Santa was, turn around while the real secret Santa stood-up and run and give them a hug… the hug wasn’t a part of the rule, but we all added that ourselves.

When I was called to sit on Santa-Chase’s lap, I was given something wrapped in a Brazilian flag and tied with a Brazilian ribbon, with a Brazilian coin as an ornament. Inside were a pair of Brazilian flip-flops. Now, unlike many other districts, my district (at that time) only had one person from Brazil, so I didn’t have to do much guessing to know that Oswaldo (from Brazil) was my secret Santa. I was so excited, I loved my very Brazilian gift.

There were a few rather hilarious gag gifts, much giving of Kit-kat bars and chocolate, some really thoughtful and personal gifts too. I awaited when Maria would sit on Santa-Chases lap and receive my gift. When she did, she read the note and looked at the picture, and started tearing-up, so I got up and ran and gave her a really big hug, I was chuffed indeed that she enjoyed my gift. I always try to emulate Elephants and Kindergartners alike and put a lot of thought into my gifts. There’s always such a nice feeling around the Winter Holidays where everyone decides to decorate the world with lights, sing songs unashamedly and be really kind to one another.

The Long-Necked People. Up, high up in the hills, in the mountains, live the long-necked people of Thailand. At a certain age, really at the whim of the parent, a girl in the long-necked village will have golden coils placed around her neck to make her neck longer. What really happens is that the shoulders are pressed down to give the illusion of length, the neck itself is not actually elongated. To answer the question that I know is on your mind: Yes, they can remove the coils if they wish, we saw photos of the process, as well as real people, who had had it removed… the neck does not collapse, but I imagine it is something one has to get used to, after having it all ones life. I tried on one of the necklaces (it had the back missing, so it could be slipped on and off with ease). I asked one of the older women (before we were told otherwise) if one could ever remove the coils, she said “Yes” with a look of alarm on her face “But why would you ever want to.” Asian countries seem to have a tradition of mutilating girls (and sometimes boys too) for beauty. I wish I could say different of Western Cultures, but if you look at the popularity of plastic surgery and the obsession with the need to be ultra-thin, I think anything I say to that effect is null and void.

The last place we visited that I will tell you about is quite special. If you are an exchange student in Thailand, you are taken to a great many Buddhist temples, some of them are big and beautiful and elaborate with dragon statues and emerald Buddhas, like the one I saw in Bangkok. Some of the temples are old and are historically fascinating, often housing Buddha’s teeth or a bone of his, sometimes they hold within the law of Buddha written on papyrus so old and having survived so much time, some on stilts in the water…. But this one, it, to me was a message that no matter how much you might believe in your religion, your country, your political beliefs, you need to be able to step back and take it all with a sense of humor. This Wat was huge and white, everything was white, from far away that’s fairly interesting… all right, an all white temple… but, But, when you get up close and see all the details, you’ll realize how amazing this temple really is. It has two huge demons guarding the temple, they have huge clubs on fire and their bodies are the snakes that make up the railings, one of them is pointing down as though accusing every person who comes in of a terrible crime. On either side of the demons there are two huge tusks sticking out of the ground, there are two frog-like fairies with oddly over-distorted lips playing lutes with flowers in their hands and then.. inside is beautiful and painted and decorated like any other Wat. What makes this Wat so special, though, is that when you first walk in, on either side of you is a pit. Not just any pit, but a pit with thousands of clay hands reaching up at you. There are hands in every kind of position, some reaching up for help, one giving the I love you sign, one giving the middle finger, some with things written on them, one with a mouth sticking out it’s tongue at you, one with an eye on the palm, a devil’s claw, a foot, a robot’s hand, and if you look really closely a terrified face at the bottom of the pit! When you go to Wat and see this, it’s so unexpected, so bizarre, so amazing, and in one way or another, if you go there, you just have to smile…

So ends my tour to the great Thai North, and your tour through my memories, but before you step off the boat, I have something special I want to share with you all. For though my journal ends, my story as a human being will not end for a very long time.

Before I left for my Northern trip, I had been volunteering everyday after school at Warin Sat ta wa pa. I went everyday because there was a puppy who had spent so much time in a cage, that he couldn’t walk very well, he had been brought in for shots- and then just never picked up again. So, everyday, I took him to play in the grassy area across from the clinic for about 3 hours, but then at the end, I would have to go home and put him back in his cage. I always made sure that rain or shine or any other obligation, I would find a way to come and play with him. I… I started to fall in love with Lucky, I decided that I would adopt him. I asked my Mom and in the states, and she said I could bring him home, just make sure that he has all his shots and that I have any other paper work or information ready when he is to come back with me. I then asked my host family about it, I told them the situation, but they said absolutely no pets. So, I continued to play with Lucky everyday, I contemplated sneaking him into my room and to school with me everyday, but what if someone found him? What would become of him then? I thought of asking another family to take care of him for the rest of the year, until he could go home with me. I started thinking about what would become of Lucky while I was gone for 10 days on my trip. I asked one of the veterinary assistants at the Warin Sa ta wa pa to play with Lucky everyday while I was gone. She said she would try to, so I asked all of them to play with him. I knew that he would probably be adopted while I was away, and decided that was better than him spending 10 days in a cage. I cried, I almost didn’t go on the trips, so that I could stay with him, and after much thought, I decided that I had to let him be adopted and that it wasn’t fair to leave him to spend so much time in his cage. So I went and saw him for what I thought would be one last time, and went on my trips… wondering if I had made the most terrible decision of my life…

When I returned, Lucky was still there and the vets told me that they had played with him. I was so excited to see him, but at the same time I felt a stabbing pain that he didn’t yet have a home. That’s when I decided that this meant that he would go home with me and I would come and play with him even longer… stretching the day…. We would be together forever and I would never have to fear losing him again. I bought him a little yellow, plastic, squeaky dinosaur to chew on (because he seemed to like to chew on me… haha…) I bought him chew bone… and finally I bought him a leash (he already had a purple collar)… I told myself that when I bought him a leash it would be because he could then walk well enough that he could outrun me and I had to be more careful of letting him wander the grassy areas. I was so proud of him. I remember that day, I gave him a bath and he smelled so nice, he ran around and when playing with me he tore my shirt and bit me so hard, that I bled. But I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me and that he was just playing. I was the only person who he didn’t growl at, he would jump into my lap when he saw me and often lick me. I was so happy. One man once asked me what Lucky’s name was. When I told him, he said “Maybe his name is Lucky, because he is lucky to have you.” My mother had said the same thing, but I think I was the lucky one.

The next day, I went to the clinic and as I was about to go upstairs, one of the veterinary assistants told me that Lucky had been adopted that morning, before I came. I was shocked, and smiled and told her how wonderful that was: how happy it made me. This was the one time, I had hoped that I misunderstood Thai. I hung onto that… maybe it was a mistake of words, she probably meant another dog, Lucky is a popular name for Thai dogs. I kept telling myself. No, it just couldn’t be. I flung off my shoes and ran to Lucky’s cage. It lay shut, with his squeaky toy dinosaur, his bone and his leash. And no Lucky. They didn’t even take the stuff I bought for him with them when they adopted him. Now he’ll think I abandoned him. Abandoned twice in one life time. Now he’ll think I don’t love him. Now he’ll forget me. And I’ll never forget him. I crawled into his cage and cried. I cried for a really long time. I just sat there, holding the things I’d bought for him in my arms. Whenever I think about it, I cry. As I write this now, I’m crying.

I really am happy that he has a home, it’s better for him, I knew this would happen. I did. And I’ll never forget him. It’s this most terrible pain in my stomach, the most terrible pain, much more terrific than any physical pain. It’s like having my biggest fear in front of me, and not a facing of the fear, a realization that it’s something I can deal with and laugh at… it’s a realization that it’s worse than I could have ever imagined. I blamed myself for a long time for feeling guilty, for not doing something more to adopt him and make him mine. Now I search the city looking for who adopted him, because the clinic wouldn’t tell me.

So I search the world, this Thai world, this city, for traces of Lucky. I go by the clinic to see if he has come back for a bath. I go into the private sector, whenever I hear a dog barking, I wonder, Is it him? I haven’t given up my search, I want just one more chance, one more chance to say goodbye, I never got to say goodbye. one more chance for him to know that I haven’t forgotten him, and that I will always love him.

And though I learned to look into the eyes of a flying purple elephant and see one reflected back, I think I lied to you above, that isn’t the most important thing I’ve learned here. I’ve learned that all of our life stories are connected and important. All our stories overlap and blend together to create one story, to create history. And though history books tell of people like George Washington and Marie Curie, Buddha and Plato, that is just a mere snippet of the story! History is what we do each day. It’s all of us, all of us are the main characters in our own story. In that way, we are all the most important person, everyone who inhabits the Earth. The same way that we are all flying purple elephants, that we are all strange, we are all important and all the authors of our own destiny. We all have the power to change the story, to alter the course of history, just by living everyday! You could change the whole world, and you could possibly be the only one who knows! Perhaps all you have to do is learn to love yourself. I think that’s what I’ve done. Though this journal is about to end, my story hasn’t yet ended, I like to uses ellipses (…) in my writing to show that the story is never really over, thought keeps on going, with you and me and the rest of the world! Right now my world is changing, right now I’m still looking for Lucky, I could still find him, this story is not yet done! You’re watching me change the whole world. After all, what is just a puppy in story to you, is the universe and the stars and the whole world to me…

 



July 6 Journal

Three New Years

I noticed a little boy sitting on one of those helicopter machines that plays music and moves back and forth, but doesn’t really go anywhere. He took the wheel and moved it as if his life depended on it and pressed the buttons, but no matter what he did, he just moved back and forth, back and forth.

I don’t think it was important that he wasn’t going anywhere, just that he believed he was and kept on fighting, and one day he’ll drive a car and hold the steering wheel and his life will depend on it. And he’ll go somewhere.

“I can survive 6 months (more than) in a country where I barely knew the language, where I swim against the stream and have yet to drown! I haven’t changed the tides, for I am not the moon, but I’m still swimming baby!”

I was rereading my old hand-written journals and came across that little gem. I was most startled by it. It made me smile. It’s been a while since I’ve written Rotary journals and I’m trying to play catch up… I want to write everything down, I want to remember everything that I’ve done and share the experience of what it’s like to live in Thailand to all who happen to be passing by these here pages, but really what my journals should do, I hope, is encourage people to put on their own traveling boots and take the plunge into a whole new world. The traveling boots, I should mention, are completely weightless, because it’s not wise to plunge into the great roaring sea with heavy boots on. Literally or figuratively speaking.

Books and Journals can feed your imagination, but they are nothing like getting out and living your own stories.

That being said, time to move on to New Years, all 3 of them…

The first New Years is the one that we are all accustomed to, count downs, fireworks, big ball dropping, confetti, 1 January, I shall deem it the Western New Years. On 31 December I was sitting on the big over-stuffed red chair, writing a letter, in front of the television watching the New Years countdown with the volume turned WAY down so as to not wake up A-ma. I silently counted with the Thai people on television who were in Bangkok… sahm, sorng, neung… SAWATDEE BEE MAI! I then received quite a fright because the fireworks on television were making quite a racket, even with the volume on low, A-ma yelled to me to turn down the TV, but those weren’t television fireworks at all, but fireworks right outside my own house! So I ran to the gate, frantically tried to unlock it, and after a few failed attempts, ran outside. I was soon followed by my host brother, Tua, we stood outside in our pajamas watching a spectacular fireworks display in the park adjacent to my host house! We lived right in the centre of the city and it was fantastic to see the lights sprinkle the sky and rain down on the city. They gave the stars a run for their money. I remember just staring and being in awe, feeling my heart sink in amazement…

The next time that light would hold my attention so firmly in it’s grasp was not as pleasant an experience, but just as awe inspiring.

I was sitting in my room, late one night reading Atlas Shrugged by Any Rand (Maybe it was Emma by Jane Austen…One of those books anyway…), arguing with it as I do most novels, when the lights cut off. Not such a strange occurrence, it happens, but I really couldn’t continue reading in that state, but then, oh joy of joys my host mother brought me a flash light (one which I have yet to return to her actually…) so I could continue reading. But for some strange reason, I was pulled to the outdoor laundry area on the 4th level of the house. I often like to go there at night and watch the stars, but tonight it was different, and when I arrived there I realized how different it was. Smoke was billowing out of a building, it looked a little bit like the nightly food bazaar when the various chefs come together and barbeque and shishkabob their masterpieces to sell to the mass… but it usually didn’t create THAT much smoke… and it most definitely seemed to be coming from a different place. It was probably a barbeque and I was probably over-reacting. It happens. I decided, though, to risk looking like a fool and ran downstairs to tell my host parents, in case there really was a fire. It turns out that tons of people were standing on a median, my host mother included, staring at tons of other people running to and fro from blazing fire down the road. I ran to the median to speak to my host mother. I asked her what happened, and she said that she wasn’t quite sure. It was at that particular moment, that fire caught onto the electric wire above our heads and we all ran away from the median lickity split. My host mother told me that the fire was near an Indian restaurant that we liked to eat at called Ali’s.

I liked Ali’s because when I told the owner that I was a vegetarian, he told me that he is Muslim and follows a Hallal diet, and wants other people to respect his choices, so of course he will respect mine. This was a nice change from the strange look and shaking head that I often receive in Thailand when I tell people I’m a vegetarian. Oh, and also the food is delicious.

So when I heard that someone I knew and liked could possibly be hurt all other reservations left my mind and I started to run down the street into the unknown chaos. To be honest, had it been someone I didn’t know, I think I still would have been equally as determined. I was stopped by my host mother, but my mind was so clear and I so stubborn, that I wasn’t going to argue, I was just going to go. I just kept on going and my host mother sent my 16-year-old host brother as a sort of chaperone to make sure I didn’t get hurt. I slightly resented this, but as I said, I was in no mood to argue. Here Tua and I were again, watching fantastic fire lighting up the city, but in an entirely different capacity.

We barreled down the street he had walked millions of times, and I hundreds. We darted past the people fleeing past us and wove in between those watching in interest and those standing stalk still in fear. Deeper and deeper into the depths of the known street into the unknown dangers. It’s funny, because in silly instances such as a broken computer or a spilled jar of mayonnaise, I become flustered and am uncertain about what to do, but in really dangerous or vital situations, my mind is quite clear, I am unafraid and know exactly what I must do, even if I am uncertain, I don’t let that stop me.

As we went past fire trucks, the blaring lights and announcements and crying in Thai, parents holding back children and neighbors discussing last nights football match, it was as though all the problems and all the joys of the city had congregated there, in that very spot, they hadn’t ceased their goings on, they just moved to different spots. That spot of the city became a heart unable to pump out all the giggling and glaring blood moving into it and ready to burst.

At the very centre of the fire was a wooden building directly across from Ali’s. I frantically asked questions to find out what had happened. No one seemed certain. And just then, one of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen in my entire life blossomed into being, right in front of my eyes. Fire fighters were carrying a motorbike on stretcher out of the burning building. They treated it like a baby’s body gently and carefully, that is, until they threw it onto the street with a few other items in front of Ali’s shop. It was at this point, that I realized that at least no other people were trapped in the building, either that or the firefighters of Thailand have very strange priorities. In fact, after questioning around I found out that no one had been in the building, as it was night and the building was only in use during the day. Very lucky, most Thai buildings double as shops and places of residence.

I stood watching the fire being put out by long streams of water jetting out the hoses. The fire just held me there, for some reason I couldn’t move. Sometimes I did when the firefighters told us to move back, but I was transfixed in my spot. I don’t know what it was, perhaps I was looking for a sense of ending, finality a sense of certainly that the fire was out and that everyone was okay, no one was hurt. Maybe I was waiting for when I would have to jump in and save a cat that no one else had seen. Perhaps I, like so many around me, was just drawn in by the mighty power of this force of nature, captured by human hands and gone awry. Whatever the case might be the columns fell and embers consumed both my full attention and what was once a wooden building that I had never gone into. I was drawn out of my trance by two Thai boys talking to me in English “Hello, What’s your name? I love you. My name is.” It surprised me that even in this situation they were going on like that, I was shocked, even more than by the fire and not sure what to say, so I just mumbled something, I’m not sure what and walked away to look for Tua. He was standing with a large crowd of people not too far away, I called to him and as the last of the fire died, we walked back home. I don’t remember if we said anything to each other or not, I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I do remember that feeling of walking away into the night.

And now, because I cannot really think of another appropriate transition after that, a tale of Thai Dancing and English Camp, how will these so seemingly different activities live together in harmony? I imagine it is something like Oscar and Felix from the Odd Couple trying to coexist, they try and the results create hilarious train wrecks for us all to laugh at and for me to point out to my mother and say “See Mom, at least I’m not THAT messy…” Which is kind of a lie. But anyway, no matter, on we go with the story…

Prapart, the head of the Rotary Youth Exchange in Thailand, was having some visiting Rotarians from Taiwan and somehow the thought came to him “Why don’t I have the Inbounds and Outbounds from Ubon perform a Thai Dance, it will be great!” And thus I showed up for my first dance practice, I actually missed the first one because of a trip with my host family, which I’ll tell you about later. So my first dance practice was just more confirmation of how uncoordinated I am. Thai people seem to have no reservation with telling me when I’m bad at something, I prefer “Artistically disinclined towards traditional dancing” but Thai people pointing and laughing at me works too. One thing you have to learn in Thailand is to laugh at yourself sometimes. But even I eventually got the dance and the time for our big, messy, be-what-it-will debut was sneaking up quickly.

One day, I was casually walking and singing down the pavement, past the park, on my way to my host family’s shop, because it was almost time for dance practice and Pee Na was going to take me on her motorcycle to the place where it was being held. WHEN, I hear a most peculiar sound. “Hey Baby.” It sounded like. What? I turn around to see that it’s Joelle, another exchange student, calling to me from the back of my first host family’s car. Before I know it, I’m being coerced (read: pulled) into the car. When one is kidnapped, one has to access every option. So I assessed the situation. In the car were: My host mother in the front seat wearing sunglasses, Joelle talking at me, and a random Australian girl introduced to me as Sam. Joelle told me that she wanted me to come to an English Camp with her that weekend and that there was a meeting that day and that I was invited. Scary stuff, but I played it cool, as always. I told her that I had to go to dance practice that day, she had forgotten and asked me to cover for her, I said I would and before I knew it I was back on the sidewalk again. Still on my way to dance practice, but now with a new adventure to add to my agenda: English Camp.

After my brush with kidnapping, I made my way to dance practice, where, apparently I was the only one who showed up. I sat writing in my journal waiting for the others to come. When the teacher asked me where they were, I told her that I wasn’t sure, I know Joelle had another appointment to attend to, but that’s it. What about the others? I don’t know. When was the last time you saw them? Last practice. Do you have their numbers? No. What! You don’t call them? No. Why don’t you call your friends? I don’t really like the telephone. WHY DON’T YOU KNOW WHERE THEY ARE? Because I don’t. The teacher was getting pretty upset with me at this point, I asked her if she could just teach me and she said she couldn’t just teach one student and that I should leave. So I did. I went to see a movie at the theatre across the street instead. All in all an interesting afternoon.

English camp: that weekend was fun! It was held at my first host parent’s University in Warin Chamrab. We arrived and one of the things that we went over was that whenever anyone said “Are you ready?” we had to answer “Yes Baby!” And make a pelvic thrust motion. All in all it was very reminiscent of Austin Powers. And when asked “How are you?” we had to answer “I’m cool.” and pretend to dust something off of our shoulders. Very important words and motions in contemporary English-Speaking culture.

On the first day we played a few get to know you games. I think I enjoyed that everything was in English, but still it was quite strange. I don’t remember all the games, but there is one that I remember in particular, it was about greetings in countries from all over the world. First they would show us the greeting, then we would all repeat the greeting to make sure we were doing it right. After we made sure we had it down pat, the heads of the game would say start and we’d have to “pass” the greeting so to speak down the line as fast as possible and then sit down after we’d all had a go, whichever row was first to sit won a point. The trick was that if the judges said everyone in the row didn’t do the greeting properly, the point went to the second fastest row and so on. We started off with the easy “Sa-wat-dee” and Wai-ing motion of Thailand. Then transitioned into a bow and “Konichiwa” of Japan. A Hand sliding motion brought to us by Malaysia. A hug and “privyet” from Russia. Ciao Bella/Bello of Italy followed by kisses on each cheek. My personal favorite: The traditional “Hey Man Wassup” and gang symbol of the United States. And finally what is know as an “Eskimo Kiss” where you rub your nose together with the other person. As you might imagine, some of these were rather uncomfortable for some people, as it is not Thai culture to rub your nose together with someone in public, but it was to get us all comfortable with each other and laughing and that it did.

After all the warm and fuzzy group together, we broke into groups.

My group was about the environment. So we taught everyone an English song about a millipede who lost a leg, accompanied by dancing. We gave everyone instructions in English to draw a picture and played a game of matching definitions to words. Words such as El Nino, Recycling, Global Warming, Green House Gases. Fun stuff like that.

The next day we played a CRAZY relay race. That’s what it was called a “CRAZY” relay race. Did I tell you that this camp was called CRAZY English Camp? Well it was. And it is. So we ran, hoped, carried, ate, danced, changed clothes, and scuttled in the shape of a caterpillar all one or a few at a time until my team won! yay! Oh! We also played water balloon volleyball, two teams hold garbage bags and attempt to make the balloon pop on the other teams side. That was my favorite game, in the end, we just threw the remaining water balloons at each other.

A few nights later it was the debut of our dance. I was such a terrible dancer that I was placed in the back with the two boys Nun and Donut, we hung out, swapped manly stories and other man stuff. I cannot help but think this had something to do with my wanting to be greatly equally as a boy, but even if that was the motive, it was really fun! I even dressed as a boy. I have to say, I make a really pretty boy. In the end, we decided we were all Katoi, because we were wearing make-up and doing a traditionally female dance after all. Actually I decided that and told Nun and Donut. I think they found it amusing.

The 2nd New Year: The Chinese New Year. The Day before the Chinese New Year, I went to school as always, but when I stopped off at the 7-Eleven to grab a slurpee, I noticed a little Buddhist altar right next to the slurpee machine. I asked one of the clerks why it was there and she told me, because it was the day before Chinese New Year. That night when I got home, I spoke to my host family, and they told me I had gone to school too quickly and missed the tradition. My assumption was that if there was a tradition to take place it would take place on Chinese New years itself, not the day before, but I was mistaken and missed out on the ceremony, but I asked my host family to please tell me about it. So they explained that they had 7 chairs for 7 generations of ancestors to dine with them, they then would give little red envelopes filled with money, they then pulled one out for me and gave it to me. It was very kind of them. Along with it they gave me a little red-velvet bag to place on my blazer.

I told you before that I would tell you about why I didn’t go to my first dance practice and the reason was because I was on a trip with my host family to Patem. I had gone to Patem once before with Rotary, to recall your memory, it was a cliff with ancient cave paintings, but my host family knew I had gone there already and so took me to another part. A waterfall flowing through a hole in a rock. But first they packed everyone up in the car and took us to a resort on the Maekong river, the river that separates Thailand and Laos. On the first day we were allowed to just explore on our own. I decided to find a way down to the rock formations and the river itself. I couldn’t find a path from the hotel, so I wandered out of the hotel and found a gate made of wood which I could easily climb over and headed down to the river. I sat with my feet in the river, feeling the cool breeze, reading my book at the time, The Power of One, the character in the book had just gone to the crystal cave of Africa for the last time and I sat thinking that it could be the last time I touched this river. I rested in the sand and watch the clouds. A lady and little child came to bathe in the river. I was going to go in to the water, but decided not to. After the serene moment by the river, I decided to climb the rocks, explored around, on my way found some snakes skin and discarded M-150 bottles… actually many, many, discarded M-150 bottles, I figured somebody really liked that drink… I climbed to the highest rock and screamed words of triumph to the river and to Laos across the way. I the explorer, I the triumphant, the world was my oyster…I thought I heard someone calling to me, but it must have been the wind. Perhaps a voice telling me ‘carpe diem.’ As I was climbing back down the rocks and past the river, I decided “What the hell?” and jumped in, in all my clothing. I guess, before, it wasn’t my last time in the river after all.

I came back to the resort soaking wet for dinner. Though it was absolutely breath-taking, it was a touristy sort of place, and therefore had sandwiches on the menu, not bad not bad. It was a really nice family meal looking out on the Maekong river, and surprise, surprise, there wasn’t a litter bug with a particular hankering for M-150 at all, but they lit all the M-150 bottles and they created glorious candles shimmering amongst the rocks. Turns out there WAS a tourist path down to the rocks, just in the place I hadn’t looked, so I went down with my host brother and sister this time and we explored the rocks rugged terrain. My hosts had tried to call to me from the Hotel… perhaps that was the voice I had heard earlier. Perhaps.

We went into the recreation room and played pool together. We spoke about the future and about the finer points of pool, or as Thai people call it “Snooker.” I think that is what English or Australian people call it as well… I’d certainly not heard this word before Thailand though, but now that I know it, it seems to make a lot more sense to call it “Snooker” than pool, if I said “Meet me at the pool room.” You wouldn’t know if I meant a Swimming Pool or a Snooker Pool room, admit it, you wouldn’t! Also Snooker is much more amusing to say. Snooker.

The next day we went to see the waterfall I told you about. One of the first things I did was dive into the water. I was the only one who swam in it, but everyone found it amusing. I felt like a mermaid. I bet that’s why they hide, because it’s not always so nice to have people watching you swim and taking pictures of you. Wearing my white skirt would have been an embarrassing mistake, but luckily I thought enough to wear Snoopy boxers underneath. I followed the cave behind the waterfall to the very end which came out to a place that resembled a rice field after all the rice has been picked away. Basically there are yellow stalks and trees occasionally. I followed the trees and the trampled over the broken yellow stalks to the top of a cliff, I galloped across the gorge and found that I had gone in a complete circle back to the steps leading to the waterfall again. Go ahead, explore, get lost. Life always leads you back to your waterfall.

My 2nd host family own a shop called “Punchard,” and so I refer to them as the “Punchard” family. My host father explained to me that Punchard comes from the word ‘Pun’ meaning thousand and ‘chard’ meaning reincarnations. So the store names is A Thousand Reincarnations. They sell Thai handy-crafts. That is, Hand-made items to Thai people, but mostly tourists from Japan, Singapore and the United States. So I guess the name is lost to many of its customers. I’m glad that I know. It makes me think. I sometimes wonder if I would like to have a thousand reincarnations.

Right across the street from Punchard is a restaurant called “The Wrong Way Cafe.” One day my family asked me what I wanted to eat, and I asked them if they had ever eaten there, they said yes, but well… let’s just say it wasn’t their cup of tea, but that if I wanted to try it, they would be happy to send me over to eat there. I traveled the treacherous journey across the street and sat down on the table with comfy cushioned chairs on the sidewalk in the midday sun. Taking my first look around the store, I took in my surroundings, the television, the snooker table, the library corner…. I decided to go look in the library at the books, and low and behold ENGLISH BOOKS and a few German ones too, but those didn’t really excite me as much. That became, in my mind, my own personal library, I would often track events in my life by what book I happened to be reading at the time. The selection was fairly limited, but at least enough for me to read in half a year!

Around this time of the year Maëlle, a Swiss AFS volunteer/exchange student joined me and the 5 other exchange students at my school, she volunteers half-time at my school teaching French and half-time at the hospital. On her first day at school, I went up to her to introduce myself, as I had done when Diana joined our little Nari Nuken Family. She happened to mention to me that at the hospital there were doctors visiting from Yale University.

Valentine’s day was that week as well, and on Valentine’s day I came to school and the school looked as though a pink heart filled piñata had exploded above it, as though little love soldiers had come and bombed the place. Red balloons, roses, sparkly decorated banners, baked goods, drinks, lovey-dovey oozing out of every pore. I don’t know why Valentine’s day is so big in Thailand… My host father once told me that Thai people like any excuse to celebrate, hence all the New Years…. Each class set up a booth selling things, my class set up a baked-goods both, little jelly hearts. I, out of patriotism to my class bought two of the hearts, they were… erm…very beautiful… but um… better to look at than to eat, I would say. haha.

My classmates told me that we wouldn’t be having class that day because of Valentine’s day, just this little festival. So I walked around and enjoyed the festivities, thought about how in the United States we never get off for Valentine’s day, had a group of teenaged boys run up to me and offer me free condoms, some people had them pinned to their shirts which said “I love sex education.” It’s good that protection is becoming less taboo in Thailand, there’s a restaurant in Bangkok called “Cabbages and Condoms” with condom and cabbage sculptures, which aims to make condoms as easy to talk about as cabbages.

Anyway, after that humorous display (I wonder if the boys offered them to teachers…) I ran into my friend Maëlle who told me that she stopped by the school for Valentines day to see the festival, but was going to the hospital, and because there were no classes, I asked if I could tag along. And off we went…

When we arrived at the hospital, I thought it would be a lot more difficult for us to get clearance to go into the operating rooms, but it was pretty simple actually. Maëlle just told them she was a volunteer and that I was her friend and that was pretty much it. Simple. We suited up in scrubs, a face mask and a hair-net and we were super doctors, ready to operate. In fact, when we walked in the nurse told us that they had been looking for doctors to operate and that we were needed immediately. If I were a cartoon character, I would have said “sure” and had a completely successful operation, unfortunately I am not a cartoon character, so I said “No, No, I’m just a student!” She blushed and apologized and I said “Oh, no problem, I enjoy being mistaken for a Yale doctor.” Maëlle and I passed a real doctor in the hallway, we explained who we were, and he invited us to come in and have a look… Some doctors would tell us to come closer and have a look, don’t be afraid, how else would we learn, and others would tell us to stand against the wall and not to touch the sterilized material, or even breathe on it. Teenagers. Hmpt. Always getting in the way. We learned to avoid these Antipatique Doctors, as Maëlle called them, and stay in the rooms with the doctors who enjoyed having us there and teaching us about the procedures they were performing. One Thai doctor though, became so frustrated with us for breathing the wrong way that she said the doctors were complaining about us and sent us to the staff room for a break and told us we shouldn’t go into the operating rooms again. It’s very frustrating to be blamed for being trouble makers based on our age, that’s not really something we can control. Often times children are used as the scapegoats in Thailand, because everyone will believe the adults and no one believes the kids. In the staff room, we learned about the types of procedures they were doing, cleft lips, extra digits, eyes that won’t open all the way, things we might fix at birth in the US, anything really, on anybody who came and asked for help, for free. I asked how they got the word out and they relied entirely on word of mouth… We decided that we really wanted to learn and there was little point of us being there if we weren’t doing anything, so we went to the recovery room and spoke to patients.

I decided to go to the head doctor, one of the sympatique doctors, I told him what the Thai doctor had said and asked if we had done anything to upset him, and he said “Of course not.” and invited us to come join him for his next operation. The sympatique head doctor pulled us close to the operation table and told us to get up really close and see how they were making the incision in the leg. After he left, an antipatique told us to go over and stand by the wall, so we did. The head doctor then came back and exasperatedly asked us why we had moved away from the operating table, as we started to explain, he pushed us right up next to the table and went away again, the antipatique doctor then exasperatedly said “Girls? What did I just tell you?” So we moved back. That time the head doctor saw what happened and said very loudly, for all to hear “You are to stand right here and watch this operation, otherwise how are you going to learn anything?” So that was that and we got to watch the operation.

One boy had an extra thumb on each hand, when they removed the extra finger, one of the doctors joked that they should put them on string and make them into necklaces for us. I felt as though I was invading the patient’s privacy somehow, but I suppose doctors get over that, because the patients put themselves in the doctors’ hands. It’s still scary though, to think about that.

I asked one of the medical students if operating rooms were usually like this and she said in Thailand the rules were a lot less strict. For instance, usually in the US you don’t have people taking pictures in the operating room, but there was a lady going around taking pictures. And you cannot wear open-toed shoes in the US, and two kids wouldn’t so easily just be allowed in to the view the operations. Drat, there go my plans.

On a whim, she and I decided to go swimming in the school’s pool one day after school. I didn’t happen to have my bathing suit with me, so I begged and they allowed me to go swimming in my school uniform.

We decided to have a most fierce competition. The United States of America vs. Switzerland. Our country’s prides were at stake! We tried to strike fear into each other’s hearts by freaking the other out. She said that the United States would probably ban me from its borders if I lost. I said that everyone is already against the United States, so one more blow wouldn’t matter, but if Switzerland, a traditionally neutral nation lost in a battle with the US, she would never hear the end of it. Either way whomever lost would bring shame and humiliation to their country. We prepared for the competition, standing on the diving boards, preparing to see who would glide the farthest, or so I thought, she thought it was a who could glide the farthest, but then swim the farthest without taking a breath. We should have really squared away the rules in this most deadly of competitions instead of talking trash, but the talking of the trash is one of the most fun parts and is not to be eliminated over fairness or equality… as politics has taught us.

I brought shame and humiliation to the United States in the end. Oh well. Switzerland lost in the Euro Cup. Haha. We’re Even. I think I need to rub that in her face a little more than I have. I’m just too nice a friend.

One night, when I heard music emanating form the park, I found out that I could open the window in my room, which I previously thought I could not and climbed out of it, there is a little ledge there and I can look out at the city and the stars. My own secret window.

Thai New Year. New Year Number 3. Song Kran. Song Kran is a gigantic, country-wide water-fight to celebrate the New Year. People line every street just waiting to throw water at you and rub powder in your face, but if you’re like me, then you’re ready! My armor included a water gun with a plastic elephant backpack to carry around water and shoot my innocent victims. I soon found out that the best way to go about it though is to carry around a plastic bowl and use the MANY giant buckets full of water to splash on people. It’s really an amazing sight to be able to go anywhere in the city and be able to spray anybody with water. I loved riding on the back of the songtell and getting sprayed and splashed as we zoomed down the roads. Some people would even put ice in the water to make it extra cold. And it’s considered good luck to splash someone with water, so when someone asks if they can pour water on you, you thank them! I met up with different friends at different points and made new friends. One of my friends and I flagged down a truck with a big garbage can full of water, we went in a truck and sat in the truck bed throwing water with the two little girls and their mother at the the people lining the streets. There were people dancing and eating and celebrating! It was extraordinary fun. THAT was the kind of festival that I expected for the King’s birthday. One day I went to play with the Punchard family (I had switched by SongKran) and played with them, we even started a fun war with the people across the street. It was fun, but sometimes it was scary.

One time I was with a few people I had just met, and we were in the streets playing, when a drunk person came up to me carrying powder. I learned that if you ask people nicely, they will usually not rub the powder on your face. So I said, “No thank you,” In Thai, so I knew he understood me. But he kept on coming towards me and I backed away and kept on screaming “No, No, No.” At this point, whilst waving my hands in a “stop” motion, which means the same thing to Thai people. He kept on coming and I kept going farther way, I said “No, I don’t want any powder, stop.” and I was in the street, so I really couldn’t go very far, or I’d be hit by a car, so I just kept screaming “No” and backing away as far as I could. He grabbed me by the shoulders, rubbed the powder in my face and before he could do anything else, I reared my fist back and punched him square in the chest. He doubled over a little, and had a surprised look on his face and backed away from me and went away. You see, sometimes drunk people on Song Kran think they are at liberty to touch anybody in anyway they please, and though I don’t like violence, I feel I had the right to defend myself, and I did. The people I was with didn’t really talk to me after that and asked me in a sort of snide way when I was planning on going back home…

One hard thing to deal with in Thai culture is that girls are sort of expected to be submissive and stay out of “danger” and if not then let people do as they want to me. You see, I think, in their minds, I ruined their fun and should have just gone along with it. Because he didn’t actually do anything wrong, if I didn’t want to be touched, I should have stayed home. I wasn’t going to let anyone do anything to harm me, no one has that right, and even if no one else will stand up for me, I’ll stand up for myself. It’s really not nice to be treated as less than a human being, it’s awful. I went away from the people I was with, crying. And though this was a rather extreme example, every single day I have to defend something I do or think, because I’m “acting like a boy,” or doing something “dangerous.” It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Sometimes something is wrong in the world and we pass it by because “it’s not our place to say something” or “we have to respect their culture,” or really “we’re afraid,” I respect the Thai culture, if Thai people do something that is strange to me I laugh and say “It’s different,” usually I’m happy to try it their way, but the second they step over the line and hurt me or someone else, it doesn’t matter if “it’s the culture,” because hurting another person, treating them as less than a human being, in any capacity, is wrong. I think it’s wrong, that’s my opinion, yes, but that’s all I have to go on, and I trust it.

In Thailand, I’ve had three New Years. Three chances at a new beginnings. New Beginnings are amongst my favorite things in the world. With New Beginnings come a clean slate, the feeling as though no matter what happened in the past, you now have a new chance. You cannot erase the past, but sometimes you have to forgive yourself and give yourself a new start. “The first day of school welcomes a chance at a blank slate, no matter how much you might have procrastinated the year before or cheated or failed, the beginning of this year is open for you to make of it whatever you want, the possibilities are endless… that’s the wonderful thing about beginnings: possibilities. I feel the same way after it rains, as if despite everything, I still have all the possibilities in the world.” That’s something I wrote in an online journal, about smiling at people who frown at me. Smiles, are also new possibilities, they open you up to people and allow a new start, despite anything else that might have happened. I asked myself, if you will recall, if I’d want a thousand reincarnations and the answer is that I already have them, each day I awaken and have a new chance a fresh start, a new day! No matter how much in life we feel like we might be going back and forth, back and forth, and that there is nothing we can do to change anything, we always have an opportunity for change and for a fresh start, we just have to keep on fighting, not with our fists, if possible, but with the coming of a new year, a new month, a new day, rainfall, a smile. Keep on swimming and eventually the tides will change.

Michelle McCoy
2007-08 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970
Host: Landvetter-Råda Rotary Club
         District 2360, Sweden

Michelle - Sweden

Michelle’s Bio

Hejsan!

My name is Michelle McCoy and thanks to Rotary, I will be spending nearly a year in Sweden. I am 18 years old, a senior in high school, and have lived in Gainesville, Florida my entire life. This upcoming year will be the first year of my life without awful humidity, Gator football madness, and my amazing friends and family. Here, I live with my mom, dad, 14 year old sister, Taylor, and our two dogs, Licorice and Pepper.

School keeps me very busy, but I also find time to volunteer at a hospital, take voice lessons, and work as an after school counselor with preschoolers and kindergarteners. When I’m not busy with all of the above, I love to read, be with my friends, play with my dogs, go to the gym, listen to music, and as of lately, practice my Svenska.

I’m going to miss all of my friends and family while I am away, but I promise to keep in touch and I know I’ll be back before they even realize I’m gone. I also want to send my best wishes to all of the other 07-08 outbounds who are undoubtedly going to have the most amazing, most unforgettable year of their lives!

Sweden, I have heard nothing but positive things about you and absolutely cannot wait to meet all of the freezing cold adventure you have waiting for me 😉

Until then, 

Michelle


August 28 Journal

Months ago, I would’ve told you that I couldn’t wait to write journal entries about my exchange year for everyone to read. However, right now, I find myself completely unsure of how to sum up the past four weeks of my life. Laura, Noah, Bristol, all of the other outbounds have made it seem so simple. I hope mine will do my experiences justice.

Tonight, I’m writing my first entry in my Rotary journal from Sweden and couldn’t be happier about it. After 6 months of planning, I’m here. I’m experiencing a completely new culture first hand. I’m having to adapt to different foods, a different language, and completely different weather for the first time in my life. My mind is constantly stimulated and I can hardly believe that Sunday was my one month anniversary with Sverige.

On July 25, I gave a teary goodbye to everyone and everything around me and headed for the Jacksonville airport. It was there I gave my final hugs and kisses and assured my mother that I would survive the year and that it wasn’t nessecary for her to completely cry her eyes out in public. I boarded my flight alone, but quickly found myself surrounded by a talkative family of 14. I had about a million thoughts running through my brain and wasn’t exactly in the right state to appreciate what 12 kids did for extracurricular activities, but I put on my RPS and took it all in 😉 I arrived in Detroit and found Caitlin and 6 other exchange students who were wasting no time boarding the plane. We realized that our seats were scattered all over the plane, but in no time we were redistributing ourselves towards the back. Caitlin’s journal was correct when she mentioned flying for 7 hours by herself, but she forgot one tiny detail: After take off, I went to tell her there were more empty seats in the back, only to find her completley unconcious, face down on the tray in front of her (If you ask me, the 7 of us in the back with severe insomnia were having a much harder time). We talked nearly the entire flight, and we all agreed that we were in complete denial of actually being on a plane heading overseas for an entire year. 22 hours after I left Jacksonville, I landed at the Gothenburg airport, my final destination. There were only 2 other exhausted, anxious, still-completely-in-denial exchange students with me at this point, but we donned our Rotary blazers and stepped off of the airplane together. We got our luggage and headed for the crowd of smiling faces waiting at the arrival gate. I quickly scanned each person, searching for the people I’d seen in only two photographs. After what seemed like the longest 30 seconds of my life, I found them. I instantly ran into the arms of Hettan and Tomas, my host parents for the first half of my exchange. They greeted me with flags and smiles and (thank God) a luggage cart. We exited the airport and I felt my first gust of Swedish wind. It felt perfect on my warm, extremely nervous skin and was just the convincing factor I needed to assure myself that I was indeed beginning my very own exchange year.

Two days after I arrived in Sweden I met my host brother, Philip. We hit it off right away, instantly forming a brother-sister connection. He was preparing for his own exchange year to Idaho, yet he still found the time to show me the town, introduce me to friends, and translate for me. He never complained about my tagging along and was always patient when I didn’t understand something. One Sunday afternoon, he walked me to a statue where I’d planned to meet some of the other local exchange students. He jokingly asked if I needed him to stay and hold my hand throughout the day; naturally, I shook my head and laughed it off, but I really did find myself wishing that Philip was staying and that he could walk me through my exchange year step by step. After I gave him a hug goodbye and came face to face with the group of 10 girls from all over the world, I knew that I had to put on my bravest face, and I knew that no one was going to go through this year step by step but me. Luckily, the girls were nothing but relief, as they were riding on the same emotional rollercoaster I was. We’d come from the USA, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and Brazil, each girl with a completely different background than the one sitting next to her, yet we found a comforting connection in each other at that table in Göteborg and spent hours together that I’ll never forget.

 

I started school last week and so far, things are going wonderfully. I’m taking classes that I’m interested in (or should I say, will be interested in once I can understand what’s going on) and everyone is extremely friendly and helpful. I even got an invite to the city for coffee yesterday 🙂 I have to remind my classmates to speak to me in Swedish, but they either continue to speak in English anyway, or I have no clue what they’re saying, so it’s sort of a lose-lose situation. I’m the only exchange student in the school, so (it seems) teachers and students are always very excited to “finally” meet me. I’ve become quite the celebrity, if I do say so myself.

One thing Caitlin was right about, was that this really is like becoming a child again. In America, I had my own car and could drive hours away from Gainesville all by myself, but here, I need someone to show me how to take the bus 15 minutes from my house. I need someone to sit and read childrens’ books with me and correct my pronunciation. There are books all over my house that I’m dying to read and I often wonder when I’ll be able to. I know with lots of time and hard work the language will come to me, I only wish it would come sooner! I had my first dream in Swedish the other night though, and that has to be a step in the right direction, ja?

I’m so proud of the other outbounds, as I now know how unbelievably hard being an exchange student can be. I can’t wait to keep up with everyone’s journals and read about their brand new, super exciting lives. It’s stressful, it’s challenging, but each time I can order food without the cashier speaking in English, I’m rewarded with a feeling I could never feel in Florida. My life has already changed in so many ways after only one month, and I can’t wait to see what memories the next 11 months of school, traveling, new friends, possible visitors, parties, and language learning will create.

Until the next entry,

Michelle


October 15 Journal

 I’m close to being a quarter of the way through my exchange year, yet I still find myself needing the occasional reminder that I’m not in Gainesville, that I’m actually miles away and 6 hours ahead. I check the website regularly to check up on the journals, and I’m so proud of everyone… I’m completely amazed by the inbound and outbound entries I’ve read so far. Rev took the words right out of my mouth when he said he missed Southern hospitality, Michelle’s deeply philosophical entries continue to intrigue me, and hearing that Taylor made “100 friends right off the bat” on his first day of school doesn’t surprise me at all.

My birthday was one month ago, and in true Swedish fashion I was awoken by my host parents entering my room, singing and carrying trays of breakfast foods and presents. During the weeks leading up to my birthday I was nervous that none of my Swedish friends would care to celebrate with me, but shortly after my birthday dinner, I was elated to find almost twenty of my Swedish schoolmates gathering outside my door, preparing to greet me in song. They surprised me with tickets to a concert I’d been dying to find a way to, and while I didn’t want to overreact –especially with 40 eyes on me– I honestly could have cried. We wasted no time devouring the delicious cakes prepared by my family and sat around the table laughing our heads off for hours. My Rotary counselor stopped by as well, presenting me with my very own Swedish cookbook. While I know kitchens near and far trembled with fear as I flipped through the pages, I am now determined to master the art of cooking at least one delicious Swedish meal for my friends and family in Florida.

My Swedish is improving everyday and my host parents deserve all of the thanks in the world for it. They’re the ones who sit with me for hour long dinners and remind me what words go where, the many ways to pluralize nouns, and that making someone en kort (a card) and making someone en kött (a meat) are two completely different activities. I’m just now beginning my Swedish language course and I’m so excited to continue learning about this language, only now with some structure. I can’t help but stare in amazement at how Swedish words smoothly pour out of everyone’s mouths, while mine get stuck behind my heavy tongue that can’t seem to make the right sounds. I’m working at it, I know I’m getting it, but I worry that by the time I finally get it down every exchange student’s fear will be coming true… I’ll be going home. I keep trying to think positively though, looking at how far I’ve come since I first got here, how if I keep working hard, keep minimizing my use of English (which is probably becoming more and more apparent as I continue to write entries), I will become fluent. Swedish will be checked off of my list of languages to master.

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, and I know I’ll be missing my family more than usual as the holiday approaches. Each year we take turns saying what we’re thankful for, and it’s unfortunate that this year, the year I’m thankful for my encouraging, supportive, loving, wonderful family more than ever, I won’t be able to say it at the dinner table.

My fall break is coming up, but unlike my friends going to Paris and Copenhagen, I shall remain here. My host parents will be in South Africa (I’ve given up hoping for my surprise extra ticket), and how I’ll be able to restrict myself from breaking all 4 D’s has yet to be determined. We’ll just have to wait until the next entry to find out, won’t we?

Thanks for stopping by 😉

Michelle


January 17 Journal

 After Christmas, my host family took me on my very first ski trip, 6 hours north of Gothenburg. I spent most of my first day bottom-up on the kiddie slope, but by the end of the second day I was gliding downhill with the big boys. For those of you who have pictures of me being lowered from the ropes course at Camp Montgomery, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I HATED the chair lift. I went on it once and only once, and then remained on the anchor lift for the remainder of our stay.

One week after returning from our trip, I packed my bags and relocated to my second host family. Leaving the Hedbergs was no easy task. Like I’ve said before, coming here meant becoming a child again, and it was them who re-raised me. I truly owe them ett tusen tackar… But I suppose one is never done growing up, and I’m excited to be taught, to teach, and to create new, exciting memories with the Handans.

The Handans moved here from Bosnia 14 years ago, so I’m sort of getting a 2-for-1 culture deal over here. They continue to cook Bosnian food, and occasionally I’ll catch them speaking Bosniska on the phone. The whole family loves to exercise — My host dad, Fikret, is a handball coach, and my host sister, Enna, is a very devoted basketball player (she’s actually looking into playing on a college team in the US or Canada next year). My host mom, Jasmina, has asked me about going to a few aerobics classes with her, so with that on top of my own exercise routine, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble keeping the ‘Foreign Exchange 15’ off. Fikiret loves giving high fives, but I don’t think he realizes how strong he is, because I’m nearly thrown backwards every time he gives me one. Unlike my host mom and host sister, he only speaks a few words of English, which can make things complicated when I don’t know how to express myself in Swedish. A lot of our conversations end in laughter, and as amusing as they can be, I’m longing for that lengthy conversation where we understand each other completely, without the use of props or body language.

As hard as it can get, I’m so proud of how much Swedish I’ve learned since I first got here, and I’m sure a lot of the other outbounds feel the same way. I can understand so much of what is said to me, sometimes without even thinking about it. I can read and translate into English easily, but explaining the grammar and why certain words go where is an area that needs improvement. When speaking, my American English accent is terribly obvious, but as long as I get my point across, I’m happy. Jasmina is sitting next to me right now and insisting that I tell you all , “Jag pratar bara svenska nu. Jag glömde engelska,” or in other words, “I speak only Swedish now. I’ve forgotten English.” And while that may not be completely true, she has no idea how much the encouragement from others motivates me to continue learning and trying with the confidence that I can achieve fluency by the end of my year.

I’m celebrating my 6 month anniversary with Sweden very soon, and I can’t believe it’s already here. I have so much more planned for the spring than I did in the fall, and I know that in the blink of an eye I’ll be heading home. I’m looking forward to my life back in Florida, but for now I’m content with being in Sweden, sitting next to Jasmina, sipping on a warm cup of tea.

Thanks for taking the time to check on my year – Do stop by again J

Love always,

Michelle


April 2 Journal

 Spring is finally here, and this time, I hope it’s for real. We had a few weeks of sunny weather, blue skies, and little flowers blooming in the grass, but then, overnight, my area was drenched in more snow than I’d seen here all year. After two weeks the majority has melted away, and as gorgeous as it was, I’m hoping that was the last of it.

I have only three weeks until my class trip and could not be more excited. After the worst winter experience of my life, I am beyond ready to cram myself onto a bus with my schoolmates, and head to Berlin, Split, and Prague. I’ve only seen the beaches of Croatia online, but from what I’ve seen and heard from people who have been there, it is one of the most beautiful places on this here planet Earth. Be expecting lots of pictures, people. It’s looking like it’ll be the trip of a lifetime.

Over påsklovet (Easter break), I traveled across the country to Stockholm, the capital, and was hosted by the ever-so-wonderful, Caitlin Wills. She showed me the sights, like the Royal Castle and the National Museum, and also introduced me to some of the exchange students in her district. It was awesome to be around someone who completely understood where I was from in terms of culture and climate; I was a little sad to leave her. Now I’m just waiting for Caitlin and the rest of her district to head down here for a visit.

When I boarded the train back to Gothenburg, I realized that it had been overbooked, and found a place to stand towards the back with a few other unlucky passengers. The man next to me quietly asked if I could read his ticket and see if there was a seat number on it; although I was confused as to why a grown man was asking me to read his ticket to him, I did, and assured him that he, like the rest of us, had no assigned seat. He went on to explain that while he could speak Swedish (it was then I picked up on his accent), he was unable to read or write. We made small talk for a few minutes, gave a brief description of ourselves, until I excused myself to head towards the train’s restaurant.

I sat myself at a table across from a man, feverishly working on his laptop, only stopping to slightly chuckle at the stack of postcards I was scribbling on. At one point, he asked me what was being said over the intercom. He smiled as he told me he wasn’t Swedish and his Swedish wasn’t very good, so I leaned over and told him it was alright because I wasn’t Swedish either. He completely lit up at my response, and by the way he relaxed his posture, I could tell he was more comfortable talking to me. He excitedly asked where I was from, and after I told him and asked the same question, he told me he was from Iraq. We laughed at the irony of us sharing a table together, recognizing that whatever political turmoil was occurring outside of the train windows, it didn’t change the fact that we were both new in Sweden, adjusting to the weather, cultural customs, and the language. He explained to me he had to leave his job as a music teacher in Baghdad as politely and respectfully as he could, without creating any awkward tension. Throughout our moments of silence, I began to think about how this man, or the man who couldn’t read, or even my host family -refugees from former Yugoslavia- think of me. I ran down the mental list of everything I’ve ever complained about here (homesickness, the food, the weather)… And then the truth hit me: I don’t have the slightest clue about hardship. I’m someone whose parents paid for an amazing year in Europe, who learned Swedish just for the hell of it, who is going home to a healthy family, wonderful friends, and an education. I’m not someone who had no other choice. I’m not someone who has to learn Swedish as a means of survival, who has no clue when they’ll be able to see their family again. I’m not someone who hopes that they’ll be able to find a job half as good as the one they left in their home country. And then, like Plato was whispering it into my ear, all I could think was, ‘Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.’ It was like it was on repeat. I couldn’t help but say it over and over in my head while talking to that man.

So today, I challenge all of you – exchange students, parents, Rotarians – to take the extra step into being especially nice to someone. It just might make their day, or yours.

I’ll leave you with another quote I like:

”Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness.” – Mother Teresa (Note: ‘God’ = whatever/whomever you believe 🙂 )

With three and a half months left,

Michelle


June 9 Journal

 ‘Promise me you’ll never forget me, because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.’

Last month I took my first ever trip around mainland Europe with my school. We traveled to Germany, Croatia, Bosnia, and Czech. Bosnia was my favorite, particularly because of the personal ties I had with the country, given my second host family’s past. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. The city of Mostar sits in a valley, with creeks and streams flowing everywhere you turn. I couldn’t imagine how, in 1993, anyone could’ve been less than loving in a place so breathtaking. I began the trip satisfied with my group of five friends, but quickly grew to know almost all 60 kids on the trip. By the end, I felt like I could talk to anyone. We could hang out on the beach, go out for a drink, sit on the bus together…

Rotary recently planned a ‘food and bath weekend’ for my district at a pool house in Skene. We’d all heard the stories from former exchange students: that it was ‘the naked weekend’, the weekend where you were expected to bare all as a final test of just how much you’d adapted to the Swedish culture. The pool house was ours for the whole night, so we didn’t have to worry about strangers seeing us (aside from the few who were working the place), and candle light kept the room dimly lit, which I think helped those less confident ones in the beginning. In the sauna, we were given a salt scrub, a honey wash, and ice to rub all over ourselves, and in between, we rinsed in the pool. At one point, they brought out body paints, and while some went crazy painting themselves as hobos and clowns, others spent the hour painting some of the most intricate, lovely designs on another’s naked body. To be that close, that comfortable and intimate with someone, really showed the amount of trust and love we have for one another as a district, as a family… I tried to think of what Al’s reaction would be, had he entered a room and found 16 naked teenagers body painting, and no matter how I replayed the scenario, no one got out alive 😉

I had my second high school graduation last week, and it was without a doubt, the best day of my year. Everything I left Florida hoping to find was upon me – my families, exchange student friends, Swedish friends, Swedish… We had a champagne breakfast, watched our teachers sing songs and make fools of themselves, ran out into a screaming crowd like rock stars, rode around the city on a float for hours, splashed around in Gothenburg’s biggest fountain, then partied all night long. It was the first time all year I didn’t feel like ‘the exchange student.’ I was me, Michelle, just another kid in the class, another friend in the group, totally normal, for the first time in months.

I have no idea when this life of mine came together over here — How a country went from being so… foreign, to being my home, how a group of complete strangers became my family, or how Swedish became my second language, which I now read in, think in, and dream in.

Just like I was never completely ready to leave Florida, I don’t think I’ll ever be completely ready to leave Sweden. I’ll always be wishing for the one extra day, the one extra hour to be with the people and language I love. I applaud those who have done it, because God only knows how I’ll be able to.

I have two and a half weeks in Sweden, then two and a half weeks of EuroTour (no, I will NOT contain my excitement!!!), followed by two days of packing and lots of crying before heading back to Florida. My host mom just came in and saw what I was writing, noticed the box of stuff I’m sending home on the floor, and gave me a huge hug, letting me cry into her arms for a minute, just like my mom would’ve done… How I could ever thank these people, and let them know just everything they’ve done for me, is unfathomable. I can only hope, that somewhere in their hearts, they know that I haven’t taken for granted one second of the love they’ve given me.

This is the end. And it’s scary and it’s real and it’s here. I’m trying to remain optimistic, psyching myself up for new adventures like college and moving out, but something tells me my life won’t ever feel completely right again.

I have so much to do, so many people to see… I can’t spend another minute on this computer.

You’ll have me soon, Florida. I look forward to seeing you.

Kramar, Michelle

Natalie Correa
2007-08 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High School
Sponsor: Flagler County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Itabuna Sul Rotary Club
         District 4550, Bahia, Brazil

Natalie - Brazil

Natalie’s Bio

 Oi! My name is Natalie and I am 16 year old sophomore at Matanzas High School. I was born in Miami, Florida and lived there for 14 years until I moved to Palm Coast in 2005. I live with my parents and my two twin sisters. Some of my interests are cooking, reading, and color guard.

I am very thankful that Rotary has given me the opportunity to spend a year in Brazil. I hope that I can meet new people and learn more about Brazil’s culture. Até logo!


August 29 Journal

 37 days. In 37 days I have done more things than I could have ever imagined. I have seen whales out in the Atlantic Ocean, been to a Billabong professional surf competition, tried a fruit made into an ice cream and met people who have stepped on grounds that I have never even imagined.

When I arrived in Brazil 33 days ago I experienced my first culture shock, at the airport. I couldn’t speak a word nor understand anything anyone said to me. And I spent 10 hours there. I was with L. from Florida who I had met before but it was a culture shock nonetheless that I wasn’t expecting to receive within my first 24 hours. I arrived in my final destination at 2 AM in the morning after traveling for 42 hours. I was greeted by Leesa’s host family and a banner that said “Bem-Vindo a Brasil”. My family showed up about 10 minutes later and we went home and I was given my official tour of the house. I passed out about ten minutes later.

My first two weeks here were filled with excitement. I had açai (the dessert fruit), brigadeiro and bananas cooked every single possible way. Brigadeiro is a very popular dessert that has become my favorite very quickly. I went to the shopping mall but it was more like a corner from Macy’s back home. At the mall girls kept explaining to me that we were going to go see gatos. In my mind, I was thinking “Wow…the Brazilians have a huge obsession with cats”. Well I was completely off; they were talking about the cute Brazilian boys.

School here is very different. I have three classes a day. School starts at 7am and it ends at noon, so that the students can go home to eat lunch with their families. Here in Brazil, the students don’t have to walk from class to class; they stay in the same classroom while the teachers switch classes.

On August 4th I went to the first inbound orientation. I departed from Itabuna with two other exchange students at 10pm the day before. We arrived in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, at 7 am. We were greeted by 3 Rotex members, one of them Felipe, was an exchange student in Jacksonville in 02-03. The 3 Rotex members drove us to Lauro de Freitas, a town north of Salvador. The orientation started at around 9 am and it ended at 6pm. After the orientation, the Rotex members took us to Praia do Forte, a small fishing village north of Lauro de Freitas. We arrived there at around 8pm. The Rotex members showed us around the town and we went to sleep in a youth hostel. The next day we went to Projeto Tamar, a sea turtle preservation program. After Projeto Tamar, we went whale watching!! We traveled on a boat for 3 hours looking for whales. I couldn’t take many pictures because I got seasick, but it was still one of the most amazing experiences in my life! After whale watching, we came back to the hostel and had lunch, and then we returned to Salvador at around 8 pm. The Rotex members took us (Itabuna exchange students) to McDonalds to eat while we waited for our bus to arrive. You’ll never believe who I saw there…Elena! She was an inbound in my city last year. It was so nice to see her after two months. After finishing our food we went to the bus station and went back home.

The following week was very eventful. On Monday I went to Ilhéus, a city that is 40 minutes away from Itabuna, with my host family. We all went to a marketplace that sold many hand made items. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant by the beach to have acaraje, a traditional Bahian food. On Wednesday my host sister Fernanda departed to Belo Horizonte, were she would be staying for a day with my host aunt before departing to Florida. The 40 minute ride back home was really quiet. On Thursday I went to my first Brazilian Rotary meeting with the other Itabuna exchange students. Our Rotary club has their meetings at a churrascaria, a place where you eat a lot of meat. The food was really good. J After the meeting was over we took some pictures with the Rotary club president and we met our Portuguese teacher.

On Friday I went my first Portuguese lesson with the Itabuna girls (a nickname for the Itabuna exchange students). We listened to some songs in Portuguese and we learned some vocabulary. After Portuguese class, we went to Interact Club. Interact Club here is very different from my Interact club back home. The meetings are very formal and similar to a Rotary meeting. After the meeting was finished some members of the Interact Club threw a going away party for a girl who was leaving due to exchange. The next week I went with my host sister Carol, to her college class. It was a fun and interesting experience. After her college class was over, we went to a seafood restaurant. I ate a whole crab for the first time, it was really good. On Friday, the Itabuna girls and I went to Itacaré with some members of the Interact Club. Itacaré is a small city that is famous for its beaches. While we were in Itacaré we were able to see the Billabong Girls Professional surfing contest! After that we all went to a small beach that was next to the beach where the surf contest was occurring. After swimming we went to a Rotarian’s house. We had lunch there and we went back to Itabuna.

I can’t believe that I only have 11 months left in this wonderful country. Eu amo o Brasil!!

Beijos e abraços para tudos

Natalie


 

November 7 Journal

 3 months…has it really been that long? It still feels like I just arrived a few weeks ago.

I’ll start from where I left off. The Tuesday after the Itacaré trip I went to a dance class with my host mom. I learned forro and some samba. After the dance class was over I went to a pizzeria with the exchange students. Here in Itabuna the pizzeria is different. The waiters walk around with different plates of pizza and you call on the waiter that has the pizza that you want. On Friday I went shopping with my Host sister. Instead of going to the mall we went to the main street Av. Cinquentanário. Av. Cinquentanário is the main street in Itabuna. It is filled with many stores and the majority of the people shop there instead of the mall.

The following week I went to the salon with my host sister. I decided to get some highlights because they were having a special that day. Instead of getting light brown highlights like I asked, I got blonde highlights. I thought my hair was terrible, but everyone said it looked great. Now I look a lot more like my host sister because she has blond highlights too. The next day I went to the Itabuna Rotary Club. They have their meetings at the same place as my host Rotary Club, the churrascaria. So of course I was glad to goJ .

At the end of September I went to my host family’s beach house with Leesa from Florida. The beach house was located in Olivença, a part of the city of Ilheus. We were there for 3 days with all of my host uncles, aunts, and cousins. The house was small but nice and it was a 2 minute walk from the beach! During that time there was a city sports tournament. Many schools from Itabuna participated, my school Galileu didn’t win, we aren’t good at sports.

 In the beginning of October I went to a fashion show at the mall with my host sister. The fashion show was held in the cinema that was located in the mall. They had transformed the boring old food court in the cinema to a colorful nightclub. Throughout the fashion show I noticed that most of the models wore colorful clothing. My host sister explained to me that here in Brazil, everyone likes to wear bright colorful things. Most of the stores here in Itabuna sell many colorful bracelets that are “in”. I have bought a few already. =) The weekend after the fashion show I went to my host sister’s friend’s wedding.

On the weekend of October 12-15 I went to the District Interact Forum. I departed from Itabuna on October 12 with 8 other exchange students, and 40 Interact members from Itabuna. We arrived in Salvador at 6pm after a long 7 hour drive. The Interact forum was held in a high school. Most of the events were held in the basement of the school, and we all slept in the 3rd floor classrooms. During the forum we had long boring sessions on Friday and Saturday and on Sunday we had an Arabian dance. Some people dressed up in Arabian costumes and the others who forgot their costumes wrapped sheets around themselves. Before Leaving Salvador we went to Iguatemi, a shopping mall. I didn’t see much of the mall because we only had 30 minutes to buy something to eat. I was surprised to see a Subway in the food court. I didn’t know that there was some American fast food restaurants here.

School ended last week. My school Galileu is well-known for academics. Most of the students in Galileu pass vestibular, a difficult university entrance exam, and get accepted into the best universities. My classes were really advanced, I had math, chemistry, biology, Portuguese, Spanish, physics, English, literature, history, geography, grammar, and sociology. I only did some work in English and Spanish class. I understood some of the things in Chemistry class, even though I had never had it before. The chemistry teacher organized a Gincana for the last week. Gincana is a competition in school where classes, or teams, do various tasks in order to win a prize. During the week we had a costume contest, and a scavenger hunt. The clue for the scavenger hunt was wood. In a few minutes the school was being torn apart because most of the objects in the school, desks, tables, boards, etc, were made of wood. After 3 hours of searching, a boy from my class found the green card. The last day of school was filled with tears and festive parties. The 2nd years were crying the whole time because most of them were moving to a new part of the school that is for 3rd years only. The 1st year classes were having most of the parties. I was able to attend the parties because I was in the 1st year class during my first days in Brasil.

I am almost fluent in Portuguese. I can speak and read but I can’t write well. Most of the times I’ll write some words in Spanish instead of Portuguese. My Portuguese teacher told me that Spanish speakers won’t be able to write in Portuguese as well as other foreigners because the words are similar. I just finished reading my first book in Portuguese, “Ratos e homens”, the Portuguese version of “Of Mice and Men”. I felt really happy that I could read a book in another language.

My birthday was last week November 2. Here November 2 is Dia de Finados, day of the dead. Most of my friends were going to travel that weekend so my host family organized a birthday party for my on the 1st. The majority of my close friends came. The next day I had another birthday party with my entire host family. And on Saturday I went to the beach with my host sister and her friends for a third birthday party. After the beach we went around the historic areas in Ilhéus.

In two weeks I will travel to Salvador for an international youth exchange conference. I am very excited to see the other exchange students againJ After the conference I will switch host families. My next host family will be taking me to the state of Goiás and Mato Grosso! I will have the opportunity to visit Brasilia, the capital of Brazil and Pantanal.

Today an Interact club member asked me if I was homesick. I told her I couldn’t be homesick because my house was a 10 minute walk away. At that moment I realized that Itabuna is home too. It’s warmer and has more mosquitoes than Palm Coast, but I feel like I have lived here for my whole life. I know that my time here will only be a year but I feel like it will impact me for the rest of my life. It’s been a great journey so far and I cant wait to see what else is coming my way.

Beijos e abraços para todos

Nati


 

December 3 Journal

 I can’t believe that its been four months already. Much hasn’t happened except for the conference.

Two weeks ago my host district hosted the 27th Brazilian YEO meeting. All of the inbounds here had known about this event before our departure but we weren’t sure of how we were going to get there. The conference started on a Thursday, by Tuesday of that week the inbounds in the south of Bahia had no idea on how we were going to get there. I received a call on Wednesday, the day before the conference informing me of my departure…my bus to Salvador would be leaving in 9 hours the same day. That event reminded me of how Brazil is different than the United States. In the US we usually plan things ahead, here things are usually planned at last minute and as exchange student you just have to go with the flow.

At 11pm, I along with 3 other exchange students from Itabuna, and 2 from Ilhéus departed for Salvador. I always fall asleep on the bus ride to Salvador, but this time it was different. Within an hour of traveling the German exchange student was already using me as a pillow, and two ladies in the back seats just kept talking. I fell asleep when we were three hours from Salvador. I couldn’t keep sleeping when the sun rose. We arrived at 6:00 am and we had to wait for the Rotex members to arrive. At around 7am the Rotex members and 2 inbounds from Porto Seguro arrived. We all went to one of the Rotex member’s house to await for our weekend host families to arrive. At that time no one knew who they were staying with.

At around 8am a Rotex member took me and an exchange student from Itabuna. We went to the local gas station to meet my host parent. The lady had introduced herself as Elena’s mom. I was so excited! I thought that I was going to stay with another inbounds family because that’s what happened to the other exchange students. Elena’s mom told me that we wouldn’t be going to the house to drop off my stuff because she was going to take me for a tour. Before we left we met up with Thiago, a friend of the family who was visiting from Rio de Janeiro. It was his first time in Salvador so he was spending the day with us.

We went to Rio Vermelho, the barrio where the conference was being held. We picked up Al and Lea and we went for a tour of the historic parts in the city. First we went to a lake that had some pretty statues. The big soccer stadium was right next to it. Then we went to see a courthouse, and we went to Elevador Lacerda. Elena’s mom dropped me, Al, and Lea off so she could park the car. In under 5 minutes we were attacked by the vendors. I ended up buying a sea turtle necklace. After that we went to the lighthouse. We had some coconut water, it was really good. Then we dropped off Al and Lea at the hotel and we went to the house for lunch.

At around 3 I went to the hotel with Elena. She stayed with Lea while I reunited with the other inbounds for a tour. We went to Riberia. There we had some really really good ice cream. After that we went to the Senhor do Bonfim church. All of the inbounds bought some of the famous fitas. The fitas are colorful and you are supposed to tie them around three times symbolizing three wishes. Then we returned to the hotel for the opening ceremony. The inbounds were doing the parade of flags, so there was a little struggle for the flags. In the end I got the US flag! J After that there was a cocktail party, all of the inbounds were really hungry so we ended up taking lots of food into the little room were we had our stuff.

The next day I was dropped off at 9am at the hotel. I spent most of the morning in the pool with the other inbounds. Then at around 1pm we went to eat at a local restaurant. At 2 I rushed to the hotel with Leesa because we wanted to be there in time for the 6970 session J Al gave a presentation, and Tierney and Elena gave a speech. At 3 Leesa and I rushed out to see if the bus had left yet. An inbound from Germany, Maria told me that the bus left. We went downstairs to see if there was a Rotex member that could take us to the beach were everyone was. Luckily we found a Rotex member and he agreed to take us in 10 minutes.

During that time I remembered that Leesa was upstairs. I couldn’t leave because I was waiting for the Rotex member. Then Leesa came down a few minutes later as soon as the Rotex member arrived. We went with the Rotex member to the light house beach where everyone was. We didn’t find them there so we went to another beach, where we didn’t find them either. We stayed at the beach and watched the sunset. Then we met up with everyone at the hostel where the Rotex were staying. We went to eat something at the nearest mall before we went to Pelorinho. At around 9 we arrived in Pelorihno. We went to a restaurant for a while then the inbounds had to return to be picked up at the hotel.

The next day I went to the hotel at 9am again. This time we didn’t stay in the pool but we went to the beach in Lauro de Freitas, a city that was 40 minutes away. We stayed the whole day at the beach. It was fun, except for the blue jellyfish that were stinging everyone in the water.=( At around 5 we went to Mercado Modelo. The Rotex stayed there while the inbounds had to walk a mile to meet up with our ride. We were dropped off at our homes to get ready for the party at night. At around eight Elena’s mom dropped me off at Carla’s, Elena’s sister, house. I talked to Lea and her family for a while then I said my goodbyes and I went to the party.

The party was held at the yacht club. When I arrived I was told to go into a brown elevator that would take me downstairs. I thought it was a normal elevator but it didn’t go down the normal way. It went down to the side! It thought that it was broken and that I was going to die but I didn’t. The party was fun. I danced a lot with the other exchange students. When the party ended we were dropped off at our homes again. I woke up at 8am the next morning. I packed up my things and I was dropped off at the bus station. The bus would leave at 9 am. We were still waiting for two other exchange students so…we missed our bus L We were told that we had to pay for our tickets again, and we weren’t allowed to travel later. So the next available and cheap bus had no air conditioner. The bus ride back home was really bad. No one could sleep because people kept getting on and off the bus.

After the conference nothing interesting happened. Last week I made a Thanksgiving dinner with Leesa and Mirjam from Germany. I made a traditional Peruvian dish, Ceviche. It didn’t turn out well. Leesa and Mirjam helped make cornbread, brownies, and a pumpkin roll. At the end the kitchen was very messy.

I switched host families on Monday. I was really sad that I had to leave my first family. Just when I was starting to get used to them I had to switch. But my new family is great too! I have an older sister who just came back from her exchange year in México and a younger brother who is an exchange student in California. After only being in this family for less than a week, I’ll be traveling with them to Goiás and Mato Grosso. I am very excited to see Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. It’s funny that I’m going to see the capital of my host country when I haven’t even seen the capital of my home country. In January I will go to the summer festival in Salvador. It’s popular because many people go to the concerts of the famous singers. It’s like a party before Carnaval.

Well I’m off to pack for my trip! I hope that all of the exchange students are having a great time!

Beijos e abraços para todos

Nati


 

January 1 Journal

 After one month of traveling, I am finally back home in Itabuna.

My host dad, host sister, and I left Itabuna on December 3. We traveled the whole day and spent the night in Minas Gerais. The next day we woke up early and continued traveling to our next destination, Brasília. I was really, really excited when we arrived in Brasília. We went to the Congresso Nacional, Praça dos Três Poderes, Catedral Metropolitana, and to the Palácio da Alvorada. After taking many pictures we continued traveling to Goiânia, the capital of Goiás. Goiânia is famous for its many férias. Férias are like huge markets. I was surprised to see most of the clothes that are sold in Itabuna for 80-100 reals for 20-30 reals! On our last day we went to the zoo and a mall.

We continued traveling to the next city Barra do Garças, in the state of Mato Grosso. Before entering through Barra do Garças we had to pass by a bridge. The bridge starts in Aragarças, in the state of Goiás, then it passes by another small city, and then it ends in Barra do Garças. It was amazing to pass by 3 cities in 2 different states in less than a minute!!  Barra do Garças is really small, I usually went to a water park everyday.

On December 15 we went back to Goiânia to pick up my host mom at the airport. We stayed in Goiânia for three more days and then we traveled to Quirinopolis, in the state of Goiás. In Quirinoplois, we stayed with my host grandmother. I went to a lot of small fazendas (farms) that belonged to my host family members. On December 20 we arrived in Caçu, Goiás. We stayed in my host aunt’s fazenda. All of my host mom’s family came to the farm, there were more than 26 people in 3 rooms! There was a lot to do on the farm. I went to a small river that passed by the farm, I rode on a horse for the first time in my life, and I learned how to make Pamonhia. Pamonhia is made of corn and its popular around the center area of Brazil.

I knew that my Christmas in Brazil would be different, but I didn’t expect for it to be really different. On Christmas morning I made Christmas cookies for everyone as a gift. Then at night when everything was ready my host uncle went missing. Everyone formed groups and went to look for him. After 30 minutes my host cousin found him, he was sleeping in the car. Then at midnight we did Secret Santa. After exchanging gifts we had dinner and went to sleep.

The next day we traveled back to Barra do Garças. This time we visited a lot of family members that were in town for the holidays. We traveled back to Itabuna on December 30. We didn’t make any stops because we were trying to get back before New Years. We arrived in Itabuna yesterday at 8pm. We got changed and traveled to Itacare. Most of the popular places were filled with tourists so we decided to spend the last hours of the year on the beach.. The Brazilians have a tradition of opening bottles of champagne, and jumping in the ocean 7 times at midnight. At midnight everyone went crazy! My host family and I got soaked with champagne as we jumped in the ocean seven times. By 1:00 am I was exhausted from traveling, so I went to sleep early while all the Brazilians partied until 5:00 am.

Now I’m finally back home. I’m really, really tired from traveling so much. On the way back home my host parents asked me what I liked the most about our trip. They were surprised to hear that my favorite part was staying at my host aunt’s farm. All of the host family members were amazing, I felt like they were my real family. Five months of my exchange year have passed. I love my new life, my family, and friends. I haven’t gone back to America, but I’m already missing Brazil.

Muito obrigada Rotary!!!

Beijos e abraços

Nati


 

February 16 Journal

 E ai beleza?

At the beginning of January my host family decided to buy new decorations and furniture for the house. So we spent a whole day buying things at the home décor stores.

On the 10th, my host sister, 2 exchange students and I went to Itacaré, a city that is famous for its beautiful beaches. On most of the days we went to the beach in the morning and at night we walked around a street that has many stores and cafés. On the 13th my host sister went back to Itabuna because she was going to a festival in the capital. As soon as she left I was left in charge of the other two exchange students. I really didn’t know my way around the city so we got lost a few times. That same day the Rotarian who was taking care of us told us that one of the northeast trips was in town. She told us that they would be arriving at around 8pm. So at 8pm we went to their hotel to see if the group had arrived, the receptionist told us that they didn’t, so we waited for an hour and we gave up. We went back to the street with all the shops and we ate something at a café. At around 11pm we started to walk back to the house we were staying at then we found a group of foreign people. We didn’t know if they were exchange students or not so we asked them.

Us: Intercambistas? (exchange students?)

Them: Sim, Intercambistas (Yes, exchange students)

Us: Yay!!! Intercambistas!! (Yay! Exchange students!!)

At that moment someone jumped out from the group….it was Noah!!! I was like omg omg omg!!!!!! I couldn’t believe I was seeing him after 5 months. We walked with the group of exchange students back to the hotel. Then one of the trip chaperones invited us to go with them to the beach the next day. So we woke up at around 7 am the next day to meet up with the group at the hotel. That morning I saw Laura!!! I was really happy to see her too! After a long day at the beach we went back to the hotel. Everyone went to get dressed for dinner so the two exchange students and I walked back to the house where we were staying to have dinner. After dinner we met up at the street with all the shops and cafés. We stayed there for about 2 hours with the exchange students and we left because we were traveling back to Itabuna the next day.

I didn’t do much the next days. I usually stayed inside my house, watched Brazilian soap operas, and I got a haircut. I was really scared to go to a salon again after the last hair incident, but everything was okay this time. =)

Towards the end of January I went to CEPLAC (Comissão Executiva do Plano da Lavoura Cacaueria) with another exchange student in my city. CEPLAC is where the majority of the cacau fruit is grown in my area. The other exchange student and I had a private tour of CEPLAC. We tried the cacau fruit, had dried cacau beans (bitter chocolate), and saw the whole process of how chocolate is made. At the end we went to the snake building. There was about 20 types of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes there. While we were there it was feeding time, so we got to see a huge snake eat a rat. It was really gross to see the snake eat the rat.

The beginning of February was carnaval!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Here in Brazil many of the cities have their own carnaval celebration, but the two popular celebrations are in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador (the capital of Bahia). I couldn’t go to carnaval in Salvador because it was too expensive, but I planned to go to Porto Seguro, a city in the south of Bahia. I ended up getting sick on my departure day, so I spent carnaval at home watching clips of carnaval in Bahia. =( The next weekend I went to a fazenda with my host parents in a city that was 20 minutes away from Itabuna. I spent most of the time fishing with my host dad. I got seven fish by the end of the day! I think fishing might be my new favorite hobby.

School started again this week. It was really hard to wake up at 6 am again after 3 months of waking up at noon. Now school isn’t boring for me because I finally understand everything. One thing that I noticed is that the teachers at my school don’t use a book to teach, they memorize everything!

These past six months have been amazing! In Brazil everyone is happy, even the poor are happy. I’ve learned from the Brazilians to just be happy for being alive. I am so happy to be living here in Itabuna, Bahia, Brazil. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else!!!! Muito obrigada Rotary!

Beijos e abraços

Nati


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 24 Journal

 Oi gente!!! Tudo Bem?

At the end of February I went to Porto Seguro with a Rotarian and another exchange student. Porto Seguro is located in the south of Bahia, my host state, and it is where Brazil was discovered by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. On our first night we went to Passarela do Álcool, a street that is filled with artesenato (Brazilian hand crafts), jewelry, souvenirs, restaurants, and cafes. The next day we woke up early to go to the beach. The beaches in Porto Seguro are different, they have complexos de lazer, places that offer fun activities, music, and food all day long. We went to the “Axé Moi” complexo, the most popular and well known in Porto Seguro. After Axé Moi we went to Santa Cruz Cabrália to buy some things at the Indian market. The next morning we went to Arraial d’Ajuda. We spent the day on the beach and on a road that had many stores. At night we went to Ilha dos Aquarios (Island of the Aquariums). We had to take a small boat with about 40 people to get to the Island. The Island was full of Aquariums, and it was separated into sections. There was a section that offered night clubs, another that offered cafes with Axé music, and another section that offered jazz music.

A few weeks after my trip to Porto Seguro I went with my interact club to an orphanage. At the orphanage we played games with all the children and we gave them Easter eggs. I really enjoyed being at the orphanage, most of the children there never have any visits or gifts, so they were really happy to see us, and we were happy to see them happy. J At the end of March I switched host families. I was really, really sad to leave my second family. I felt like they were my real family. I tried my best not to cry when I was packing my things, but as they dropped me off I started crying. I think I cried more then when I said goodbye to my real parents last year.

The next day I had to unpack and pack my things again because my host Rotary club of Itabuna Sul, and the host parents in Itabuna paid for me to go on a trip to the south of Brazil!!!!!!! Muito Obrigada Itabuna Sul!!!!! J On March 29 another exchange student from Bahia and I traveled to Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, to meet up with the other exchange students. The trip wouldn’t start until 9pm so we stayed at the D-4760’s youth exchange chairman’s house for the whole day. Then at night we met up with about 30 exchange students at the bus station. There were exchange students from Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Poland, and Taiwan. We drove for about 12 hours until we arrived in Araçatuba SP. There we picked up about 6 more exchange students and we traveled for 12 more hours until we arrived in Foz do Iguaçu, Parana. We checked in to the hotel and then we went to Paraguay!!!! A lot of Brazilians go to Paraguay to shop because everything is cheaper there and there are no taxes.

We spent the whole morning and afternoon in Ciudad del Este. At night we went to a pizzeria. After eating there was some really good live music so we all stayed there until 1 am singing and dancing to our favorite Brazilian songs. The next day we went to Parque Nacional del Iguazu in Argentina. We had to walk long distances to get to the waterfalls. At around noon we took a break and had lunch. After lunch we took a train to Garganta del Diablo (Devils throat). It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen!!! Afterwards we went to the Duty Free shopping. Most of us were really happy to see some chocolates and candies that weren’t sold in Brazil. At night we had dinner at the hotel followed by a talent show.

The next day we went to Itaipu, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world. After taking a bus tour around Itaipu we went to the Iguaçu Falls on the Brazil side. We didn’t have to walk as much as in Argentina. The Brazil side of the waterfalls offered a full view of the waterfalls while the Argentina side offered a closer look. After lunch we went on a boat ride. The boat ride offered us an up close look of the waterfalls. By the end we were soaked because we drove under some waterfalls.

The next day we woke up early and traveled for 12 hours until we arrived in Curitiba, the capital of Parana. The temperature in Curitiba was about 15° C, it was really nice to feel cold weather again. After checking in to the hotel we were allowed to have free time around the main street. I went with some friends to buy sweaters because none of us had thought it would be cold. The next day we went to Bosque Papa João Paulo II (Polish immigrants memorial), Tangua Park, Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente (Free Environment University), the Oscar Niemeyer museum, Rua das Flores (Flowers Street), and the Botanical Garden. After the morning tour around the city we had lunch at the Madalosso, one of the world’s largest restaurants. We had free time the rest of the afternoon until 10pm, so I went with some friends and we walked all around the center of Curitiba.

The next day we woke up early and checked out. We went on a train ride to Morretes. In Morretes we had a typical meal called “barreado”. After lunch we went by bus to Florianópolis, the capital of Santa Catarina. We arrived In Florianópolis around 8pm. We had dinner and checked in to our hotel. The next day we woke up early and went on a boat ride around Lagoa da Conceição. Then we had a seafood lunch at one of the restaurants on the lake. After lunch we went back on the boat and we went to Joaquina beach where we had the opportunity to try sandboard. I fell off the board a lot of times. At night we had a party to celebrate the birthdays of the trip. We all stayed up until midnight talking and swimming in the pool.

The next day we woke up early to travel to Gramado, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Gramado was my favorite city. It was like a little piece of Europe inside Brazil. During our first day we went to Parque do Caracol, there we went hiking for a bit. After that we went to the caracol castle where we had the best apfelstrudel (apple pie) of the region with apple tea. In the castle there was also a museum with objects from the German colonization. After that we went to the chocolate factory!!!! Gramado is known for having the best chocolates in Brazil. In the factory we saw the largest chocolate bunny in the world. All of the exchange students wanted to eat it but we found out that it would take about 44 years to finish it J.

After the factory we went to Lago Negro. It was a huge black lake surrounded by little stores. There we had the opportunity to go on Swan paddle boats. After the lake we went back to the hotel to get dressed for dinner. We had dinner at a colonial café. There were different kinds of cake, bread, pies, cheese, and jellies. After that we went to a bar. The bar was huge! It had pool tables, bowling, and 2 different dance floors. We arrived back at our hotel around midnight. The next day we went to the Hollywood Dream Cars museum. There were many antique cars and Harley Davidson motorcycles. After that we traveled to Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. We arrived there at around 6pm. We checked in and got dressed to go for dinner. We had dinner at a barbecue restaurant with a show. During this time all of the exchange students exchanged cards and contact info because the trip ended the next day. It was really sad to say goodbye to all the exchange students. L

Now I have been back in Itabuna since last Thursday. I have only had a few days with my 3rd family but they seem very nice. I only have about 38 more days here. I remember that at the beginning of my exchange everyone told me that the year would pass by quickly, now I finally believe them. The thought of going “home” makes me sad. I don’t want to leave, I have family and friends here. I have changed, in a positive way. I’m more confident in myself, and I’m not afraid of saying what I want. The old shy Natalie has been replaced with a confident and outgoing Natalie. J

There are so many things to do before I leave, Rotary presentations, school tests, and the district conference. For now I’m going to make the most of my last days here, live every minute as if it were my last, and enjoy my life as a Brazilian teenager.

Beijos e abraços

Nati

Noah Peden
2007-08 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host:  São José do Rio Prêto – Norte Rotary Club
          District 4480, São Paulo, Brazil

Noah - Brazil

Noah’s Bio

My name is Noah Peden and I am sixteen years old. I live in St. Johns Florida with my two families. I have five siblings, three brothers and two sisters. I love to travel and going to Brazil will be my 14th country that I have gone to. The thing that is awesome about traveling is getting to know the culture and the people which is why I applied to the rotary youth exchange. I hope that as I go through with the program it will mature me and let me learn about a people I have never learned about before. Thank you very much.


August 21 Journal

 Well, it’s been one month in Rio Preto, Brazil and what a month it’s been. I arrived with six other exchanges from America on July 22 when we met our families at the Rotary office. It was a pretty overwhelming experience because as soon as I got out of the bus, the host families rushed over to the van and whisked everybody off. My own host mom had been calling the whole day to the secretary because she was so anxious.

Over the following week I ate new foods, met people from Brazil and all over the world, and became a part of a new family. Being in a family that doesn’t speak a word of English is very hard yet within the first week I could hold a conversation with a Brazilian with a little difficulty. The next week my host sister left to be an exchange student in Ormond Beach and I got to get a taste of what happened after I left my home. It was pretty sobering to see the sadness that the family took after one of its members left. But in one week they recovered with strength that was amazing. Now the mom doesn’t cry when Natalia calls and is strong for both Nati and I. My dad is a travel agent here and is usually able to help me with anything Rotary or travel related. My mom works at Lacoste at the mall or what they call shopping.

The next week I went to school for the first time where I met all of the people who are my friends now. I am the first exchange student at my school so the people there find me pretty amusing, but I have a lot of fun. It is very different from a US school where here the students do not change classes but the teachers do.

Every Sunday here the families go to a small farm and spend the day together playing futebol, and grilling all sorts of meats. It really is a lot of fun. All right, well, there is a lot more I could say but I don’t know how to put it into words that wouldn’t fill up a book. So until my next journal …

Tchau!


February 5 Journal

 I have been traveling for a month now, and as an exchange student every experience changes your perspective and your life. Traveling from the south of Brazil in Rio do Janeiro all the way to the north in Fortaleza is almost like traveling in different countries with the different culture, accent, and people. It’s amazing how by traveling for one full day I can go to different cities in the same country, but the two cities have completely different histories. For example, we traveled from Porto Seguro to Recife in about one week and they both have unique and interesting histories that differ from each other. Porto Seguro was one of the first places that the Portuguese landed in Brazil and in Recife the Dutch invaded and held the city for 25 years resulting in a different type of accent and culture.

Seeing all of the diversity of Brazil has really helped me realize how amazing this country is. Even though it is a third world country and is home to some of the poorest and dangerous cities in the world, this country has amazed me with how the people hold together. No matter what is happening in their country they always have the strength to stay the course and ride it out. On a different note Brazilians are happy and you’ll never find a Brazilian saying “Aww, I’m having a bad day today,” and just be depressed about it. Usually you could find them with a problem and happily working through it. I found this no matter where I went in Brazil, from Sao Paulo to Fortaleza.

I recently had my birthday in a little village on the beach called Jericoacoara and it was awesome. The night before my birthday we were allowed to go and walk around the village. I was able to have deep conversations with exchanges that I had just met three weeks before and have it feel like I had known them since I was born. I think that this is a critical part of exchange, knowing people from around the world and becoming brothers with them. That is why we, exchanges, are called ambassadors to other countries, because we become best friends with people from around the world. From this we go back to our respective countries and tell everyone that we know unique and wonderful people from all over the world. Right now I could tell everyone that have three best friends from Germany, Denmark, and Canada. This is the kind of thing that makes us exchanges and why we represent our respective countries all over the world.


April 4 Journal

 Well, it’s been about eight months in Brazil and it’s coming down to the homerun of the last two months.

Today I took my dad back to the airport in Sao Paulo because his trip to visit me ended. For the past three weeks my parents from the US have been visiting me and even this is a learning experience. I learned that I missed being around adults from my home country and I also had a taste of what it would be like when I get back to the US. It’s a very strange feeling missing the average adult from the US, especially being a seventeen-year-old teenager in Brazil. I asked one of my exchange friends here about it and he said that maybe I miss them because they know our culture and somewhat our point of view. Of course nobody could understand an exchange’s point of view unless they were an exchange but it is nice to talk with somebody that can offer suggestions that are familiar and from your own culture.

The other thing I learned while my parents were here is how much I’m going to miss my life here in Brazil. My host family, my friends, Brazilians and exchanges are the main things that I’m going to miss because they are what make a student’s exchange experience real, at least for me. I realized that Brazil really is my other country/home/culture now and that I will have re-entry culture shock in the US. That I will have to deal with people who have changed and some that have not even changed at all. The thing that I will miss most here though are the Brazilians, whether it be my family or my friends. Brazilians are the people that make sure things are ok from even the littlest things to helping you out through a particularly rough patch in your exchange. This is what I will say when people ask me what did you like most about your exchange or what makes you want to go back most? I will say the people there is what makes me want to go back most.

Patrick “Pat” Murray
2007-08 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Kecskemét Rotary Club
         District 1910, Hungary

Pat - Hungary

Pat’s Bio

Udvozlom! Hello my name is Patrick Murray. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I moved to Jacksonville, Florida about 5 years ago. I live with my Mom, and Dad. I have one brother and one sister. My brother’s name is Mike. He attends college in Miami and lives in the dorm. My sister’s name is Shauna. She lives in New Jersey and is a high school math teacher. She will be getting married this July.

My interests include playing hockey. I have been playing hockey for almost 11 years and have been fortunate to travel all over the U.S. to play in tournaments. I also love going to the beach and hanging out with all my friends.

I hope over the next year I gain new friends and have the most exciting experiences of my life.


September 25 Journal

 It has been about one month since I have left home and said goodbye to my loved ones. Everything has gone smooth. I’ve been extremely busy since the second day that I have been here. Nothing too amazing happened on the first day when I met my family (the nicest people you could meet) and drove home from the airport with an awkward silence for about 30 minutes. Once we arrived to my new home I was shown the house and where I would sleep. After that I ate a little and then went to bed about 5pm (that would be 11am Florida time) and I didn’t wake up till the next morning.

This is when I met my new friend Mark. Zsolt (my host brother), Mark, and I went in to the city and they showed me all around- where to go and where not to go. Around noon, my host mom drove us to the biggest lake in Hungry- Lake Balaton. Here we met some guys from Austria and played handball against them. For the next couple of days I adjusted to the time and where I was. On the weekend there was a family day for my Rotary Club where Hungarian gulaus (this is a traditional dish) was made over an open fire. We also played a lot of soccer. A few days later I went and played soccer with my host brother and more of his friends. That was a lot of fun and I met a lot of nice people.

These first two weeks may sound a bit boring compared to what I have been doing lately. Last week I went to Slovenia, about an 8 hour car ride, to the longest river in Slovenia, where my host family and I met with the other exchange students and Rotarians from my Club. In the morning we got up and ate breakfast and little did I know what I was in for. I went downstairs and was handed a wetsuit and a helmet. I put on the wetsuit which was about an inch thick and jumped in a van not knowing where I was going or some of the people I was with. We traveled up the windy roads of the Alps till we got out and unloaded rafts and paddles and headed into the coldest water I have ever been in (even with a wetsuit). We were white water rafting somewhere in Slovenia, somewhere in the Alps! And I had the time of my life- until the next day…

The next morning was similar, we ate and then I put on my wetsuit and jumped into a van and I expected that we were going to do the same thing as the day before, but was I wrong! It was just us kids! All the Rotarians left us with these guys that brought us up a mountain and through waterfalls which was some of the nicest sights I have ever seen. We arrived to the top of the mountain and one of the guides, whom I just met the day before jumps from about 40ft from the waterfall and was expecting me to do the same without second guessing! I just stood there and looked down. It was a long way down! Then I saw my host brother jump from the waterfall and of course I could not let him show me up! So what did I do? I jumped and it felt like the longest fall. About half way down in my fall I thought what if I land wrong, how am I going to get to the hospital? But then I hit the water and it was the most fun thing I have ever done. It will be pretty hard to top that for this year I thought to myself. That was until I was told we were going to Croatia!

Croatia was an even longer car ride than the trip to Slovenia, but was it worth it! We arrived and went to the beach. Now, I thought the water was clear in Florida but once again, I was wrong. The water was cold but it was the nicest water I ever swam in. Once again, it was a great trip! I don’t know if it is white water rafting or just playing soccer with some friends but this is a month that I will remember for the rest of my life! Thank you Rotary for making these unbelievable memories to last a lifetime!


November 8 Journal

 It’s been two months but really it feels like 3 weeks! The time is flying! So far this month, I have been going to school each day and I have also taken several trips to Budapest. It’s nice living only about 45min away from a city that is so big and has a massive amount of history. In 4 weeks I’ve been to Budapest 5 times and it never seems to get old or boring. The first time I went, I went by train with a girl form Taiwan and a girl form Brazil. We were lucky to meet my friend Mark who helped us purchase our tickets. It was such a good thing that I ran into him because we would have been going nowhere fast! Once we arrived, I think we all had the same thoughts running thru our minds, “Where do we start?” We began to walk and the then the girl from Brazil called the other Brazilian Rotary Students that were in Budapest. They came and met us and showed us all around! About a week later my host father asked me if I would like to go again and of course I said yes! This time we traveled by car. It was much easier and much faster! On this day I went to all the historical sites including the Parliament which is the 4th largest and most expensive in the world. Some how my host dad convinced the security guard that I was Hungarian and he got me in for free! The other times I went to Budapest, I enjoyed shopping and seeing more sights.

School!

School is a much different here than it is back in Florida. Each time the teacher walks into the room, all the kids stand at once until the teacher tells us to be seated. When I was back in Florida I never could have thought school could be so boring, but was I wrong. I also never thought I would be taking Hungarian Literature . Not all school is boring though, I do like English class and it is funny when the teacher asks me to give tests to other kids and talk to them in English. This is where school has never been so easy. Computer class is fun as well because the teacher tells me and the girl from Brazil to sit in the back and surf the web.

Sports!

Lately I have been going to handball training with my host brother. I had never heard of handball before but I think it’s one of the most fun sports I have ever played. To me handball seems to be a mix between basketball and soccer. It’s played on a basketball court but they use soccer nets for the goal. It’s a lot of fun! Lately I have been hearing a lot about hockey. I was talking to a man from our Rotary Club and he told me that by December 1 there will be an out-door ice rink in my city and we will be able to play every night! Also, that same man has a son who is younger and who plays hockey in a city nearby. He asked if I would like to train with them!

Food!

Hungarian food is not my favorite, but it’s not too bad. I have soup with just about every meal. Also, most meals include bread and potatoes. This would be a usual meal for lunch or dinner. Every day my host mother makes me three sandwiches just to eat between classes – not as lunch. I try to eat them but most of the time I end up eating 1 or 2.

So far I am having a wonderful time and I have the best host family. I couldn’t ask for anything else. I hear In December that I’m going to Austria for a long weekend with all the exchange students In Hungary and then again back to Austria in January with my host club for a ski trip. And from what my host father tells me in February I’ll be off to France for more skiing!

Until next time,

Hello from Hungary!


January 10 Journal

 The New Year is here and things only seem to be getting better! I am not going to lie- October and November were not the most interesting months, but now that it is winter and snow is on the ground, things just seem to be a lot more fun!

I don’t know if anything can top this December! Earlier in December, I went to Budapest and it had the coolest Christmas market – that was until I went to Vienna, Austria with all the Rotary Exchange Students in Hungary and you know when a bunch of Rotary students get together there’s never a dull moment! That was very cool even though we only had about 3 hours in Vienna!

Christmas was a blast and Santa literally came early this year. It was the 5th of December and Santa comes at night to give you candy. Like most other exchange students, we had a Rotary Holiday Christmas party and that was a lot of fun too but I was a bit nervous. Nervous, because the 3 exchange students in my town, myself, a girl from Brazil, and another girl from Taiwan, had to sing a traditional Hungarian Christmas song in Hungarian to over 100 people! But once it was over it was a lot of fun! Also, right before school let out for winter break we had a secret Santa with our class and that was a good thing because now it seems much easier to talk to kids from my class!

Also, we celebrated Christmas for 3 days-December 24, 25, and 26. The first night, Christmas Eve, was the most fun because my host’s extended family came over to our house and we ate a lot and sang songs and gave gifts! On the 25 and 26 we still did a lot of eating and played around! On the morning of the 25th, I was finally able to play hockey outside on a frozen pond. This was something that I had always wanted to do. It was also snowing. It was the coolest thing! I have been playing a lot of hockey but nothing serious, just some fun pond hockey!

I really love my host family! And I don’t want to change. I have been here for over 4 months and no one really knows when I am changing, so I guess that’s a good thing! I hear it may be some time next month after the ski trip to France I got as a Christmas gift from my host family!

New Year’s Eve was nothing different then back in the US, just a lot of people came over to the house and we just had a lot of fun! I can’t wait to see what the next month brings me or just this weekend because I am leaving to day to go skiing in Austria with my host club, and if it’s anything like the rafting trip I took with my host club, I know it will be great!

And finally, Zsolt and I thank everyone who sent us Christmas packages! Hope everyone had a great holiday!

Patrick

 


 

 

March 18 Journal

 It has been some time since the last journal. I think I was just about to leave for Austria. I have been doing a lot since then and school- well school is still the same! I also have changed families and my new host family is amazing.

My trip to Austria was a ski trip with my local Rotary club. It was a lot of fun and I can even admit, that even being only my second time- I wasn’t bad! It was only for a weekend but my host father told me it was practice for where I was about to go…FRANCE!!! Nine days of skiing in the French Alps! This was a trip of a life time. The trip was a Christmas gift to me from my host family, and it was only a week or so after I got back from Austria. We started from home at 8pm, my host father drove, drove to France! The 18 plus hour drive was nothing for me and Zsolt (Host Brother), we sat in the back and slept all the way until Italy. By then it was morning and light out. Four hours later we were in France, with all the smelly cheese, wine and baguettes you could ask for. I thought it was real neat that I could have dinner in Hungary, Breakfast in Italy and be in France for lunch. The only down side was that I forgot my CAMERA! But when it came time to go skiing everything went smooth until my host brother put me on a black diamond! (I think he just wanted me to look stupid) Just in case anyone wants to know if there is a difference between the black diamonds in Austria and France, Yes! I went down both, but, in France I went down with my face. I’m sticking to the blues and reds from now on- at least in France!

Little over a week ago I got back from Rome, Italy, where I spent a week with my parents and had a blast. It was a great time. The food was incredible and there were so many great sites to see. I think we went to about 100 or so churches, not to mention- the Coliseum, and other ancient spots. My mom and dad seem to be the just same as I when left them back in August.

School, oh, school. Friday, I am in the library (as I am writing this) and I take a look around, not many kids are here, but it’s early in the morning. Now, I notice all the guys are wearing suits and the girls are dressed up. But me no, I am wearing a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and it turns out that it is some big holiday (the equivalent to 4th of July). It would have been cool if my host family would have told me important things like this- but no heads-up today. Sooner or later though, another Rotary exchange student, a girl from Brazil, comes in wearing jeans and a shirt and apparently no one wanted to tell her either that we should be dressed up at school. But it was all ok.

The latest and greatest thing happened to me on Saturday! This was the nicest and coolest thing over the past 7 months. Thursday, Zsolt called me asking if I wanted to go to a concert on Saturday with him and I told him yes, but first let me ask my new host family- so I did and they ask “With who When, What time,”- like all normal parents and then they told me it was no problem. So I texted Zsolt and said “yes, but can I spend the night?” (knowing it would be too late to bother my host family). Five minutes later I get a reply: “Yes, But be here by 7:30 we are driving”-Zsolt. So Saturday rolls around and my host parents told me they would drive me to my previous host family’s home. I go to ring the door and Zsolt answers. And SURPRISE!!! All my friends and first host family was there! It was so nice but it wasn’t my birthday; my birthday is in August. It was my Name Day, and it was so much fun. I never had a surprise party. My first host family told me that they make a bigger deal for name days then they do Birthdays. A lot of people came from all around the county. It was the best!

So on a happy note, I got to run and also I have class!!!

Ruthven “Rev” Darragh
2007-08 Outbound to Turkey

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Stanton College Prep
Sponsor: South Jacksonville Rotary Club, Dist 6970, Florida
Host: Istanbul-Tarabya Rotary Club
         District 2420, Turkey

Rev - Turkey

Rev’s Bio

Merhaba! I am Rev Darragh, and I am seventeen years old. I am finishing off my last year at Stanton in north Jacksonville, and I just finished my last school theatre production (March 1-3). A new chapter of my life begins in Turkey…

I live with my mother, father, and two dogs just south of San Marco in central Jacksonville. My older brother lives in Deland and attends Stetson University as a Religious Studies major. I enjoy life.

My life abridged: I like to make music, to exercise, and to do artsy stuff. I play piano, guitar, bass, and I sing (there’s nothing better than music). I jog, have done Taekwondo (got my black belt), and play team sports occasionally. I have done school theatre for most of high school, and I dabble in writing, poetry, and photography. I like to converse about religion, politics, society, or anything else pertinent to my (or others’) life. My greatest love, as of now, is probably food and friendship.

I am very enthusiastic toward my upcoming Turkey journey; it will be both a long physical trip and a personal journey. My greatest fear is being unable to communicate, but this is also my greatest confidence (I feel that I can learn any language). I thank everyone involved for this opportunity…and I plan to make the most of it.


October 3 Journal

 Things are not so different as one may suspect, in Turkey. Not outwardly, at least. Many things are as modern and Western as anything that you or I have seen, and perhaps more so. The traffic here is just as atrocious as in New York, the shops just as cosmopolitan as in Paris, and the food is just as tasty as is that of any cuisine’s best dishes. Of course, this is in Istanbul, the de facto capital of the region, I declare, where the commerce pours in from the Bosphorous, and the tourists pour in to join in the commerce that pours in from the Bosphorous. The city is beautiful and vibrant, and growing. In its own way, Istanbul is the greatest city in the world: where else does history dating to millennia and night clubs that were built last year merge so flawlessly and beautifully (plenty of places, you may say, of course, but Istanbul is the BEST of those places).

For all of the wonders of modern society, there is a greater number of things that are, to some, of the past, and, of course, things that are uniquely Turkish. One needs not look far to see the street vendors selling their rolls of bread from open containers, or roasted corn or nuts from mobile hot-plate-carts. One indeed can hear these sellers shouting their wares, eager to, I suppose, finish their stock for the day so they too can chill out. It definitely is not a long shot to see a distinctly different style of driving; just look out your window, and you shall see cars screeching through winding streets, double parked, scraping by each other through narrow sections of road at speed, and disregarding the painted lane markers. And of course, there is the ever present grit that, while not horrible, would likely never be seen for long on US streets, and yet settles so evenly here. Let us not forget also the sketchy areas and establishments, and the houses that were built illegally, and now stand to the slow decay of time and the elements, whether or not they are occupied.

The most striking difference, to me, is the attitude that the Turkish people share. While they are a wonderfully pleasant and hospitable people, an uncautious American may at first miss this. Why? We in the USA (well, for now, YOU in the USA), or at least in the South, have this notion of eternal politeness and conversational etiquette, which must always be abided by. Don’t get me wrong, please; I have no problems whatsoever with this system. The thing is, such a system just isn’t there in Istanbul, amidst the dust and bus exhaust of daily life. As in many big cities, one loses his individuality, instead becoming just a face in the crowd. And it is this that I am not used to.

Did that make sense? If not, allow me to give some examples. When I sneeze on the bus, does anyone say “Bless You!”? NO. When I see someone on the street whom I don’t know, do I say, “Hi, how are you?” NO. And when I feel someone’s hand on my backside in a crowd, do I think they want to go out on a date? NO. I secure my belongings. But I ask them out anyway.

I hope that this has been fulfilling to the reader. Looking back, I don’t see too much that would actually inform you as to anything that I actually have done, but, well, this is all I’ve got for you now. I guess you’ll just have to come on back for the second installment of “The Life of Rev,” abridged.


November 4 Journal

 Greetings.

I have solemnly decided that, since my last entry did not really cover any pertinent information when it comes to what I have been doing in the past two months, I will now etch in painstaking detail my every action. So strap in, kids, it may be a bumpy ride.

I arrived on August 26, 2007, after quite a bit of travel time; departure from Jacksonville at about noon, and arrival in Istanbul at about four in the afternoon, Istanbul time. I was tired beyond belief, having slept little on the flights aside from that from Amsterdam. I was greeted by my host parents and brother (my sister was so mean as to not show up! I mean, she was only on a different continent!), my brother’s girlfriend, my exchange coordinator, and Gülten (the lovely exchange student whom my family hosted two years before) and her older sister.

My greetings were perfunctory because of my sheer exhaustion, and I just coasted on by, following my new family with my bags. I mean to say, I was not rude. Just really tired. In fact, I did not even realize who Gülten’s sister was until about four days later. After our greetings, we packed into the car (I was TOLD to sit in the front seat), and I was provided with a running commentary on the passing scenery. In German.

We arrived home after a long drive (we were driving in right through the worst of the Sunday traffic) along the Bosphorous, which was really beautiful to me; the European shore by which we were driving was lined with bare-chested men and boys swimming and fishing as the day melted into the warm afternoon and evening. I recall that the rest of the first day was not spectacular. I put my things in my room, then went swimming with my hosts at the neighborhood pool. What an excellent way to relieve the stresses of international air travel! We eventually had dinner. I was pleasantly surprised at the large volume of fruit that was thrust upon me at the end of the meal; all fresh, ripe, and delicious. I ate my first fig that night (these are AMAZING). And then I went to sleep.

The next days passed on pretty slowly. Most of them were spent in the house, watching National Geographic Wild television programs (about reptiles, for the most part) with my host brother. I fantasized about the days when I would break free of the domesticile’s confining walls and explore the outside world, but I felt unconfident in doing this at the time, because I had not a map, a cell phone, nor the slightest inkling about how I could not get lost. So I spent about nine days at home. I worked on my tan significantly (by the pool) and swam every day, and I also finished off both The Plague by Albert Camus and JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I thought these were perfect books for my situation; they are both excellent, but need some thought. And I had plenty of time to think.

But anyway… I got sick on the third day. I think it may have been a mix of drinking less water than was normal (I was not used to only drinking bottled water) and generally just the travel and the new climate, food, etc. I was fortunate to be done with my illness after only one day of suffering; the next morning, I felt fine. The only problem was, that the sick-day was the day that I met for the first time several of my fellow exchangers and some Rotex people, so I was kind of just lying back, trying to dissolve the nausea clogging my mind, while they were chatting merrily about, well, I don’t quite remember.

My orientation weekend followed, in the first week of September. I liked all of the exchange students, but from the beginning, we have had the slight (but apparently not unusual) problem of the Brazilian kids making one group and the others another. At first, there was a stark difference between these two groups (because of language, mostly), but that has fortunately since resolved itself, for the most part. There are four Brazilians (three girls and one boy, but NOW only two girls; one went home already), three American boys, four American girls, one Japanese girl, one Canadian girl (who arrived very recently), one Mexican boy and girl, one Brazilian boy that should be coming soon, and one Australian that is coming when her school finishes (different hemisphere). We really started to bond pretty well, or at least get along, right from the beginning.

The orientation camp was fun. It was held at a resort hotel that is close to the Marmara Sea and has a fine view of the surrounding countryside. Nothing spectacular happened, aside from the fact that on the Saturday of the weekend, a Turkish wedding took place in the pool area, which was really cool, aside from the fact that we could not swim on that fine afternoon. The couple actually invited us to come down and join the dancing festivities (we were watching “inobtrusively” from our balconies). Good times.

After that weekend, language courses at Bosphorous University began. The school is beautiful, and its faculty is highly talented. I very much enjoyed the language class, learned a lot, and would like to consider myself a stand-out in the class (but that of course is my slightly-biased opinion). After our classes on many of the days, we went out to various places, enjoying the sunny weather that persisted until only about a week or two ago. Eventually (after about a week of getting used to the transit system), I began to feel much more confident, and I began substituting my morning or afternoon commute for a walk. The school was only an hour away at a blazingly-fast pace, and was no mean feat (my house is on the top of a large hill, and the University is on top of a larger hill), but was thoroughly delightful. I simply love to walk in this city, although most of the time it is not wholly intentional that I do walk: several times, due to getting off the bus at the wrong stop or having similar mishaps, I have solved the problem by walking to my destination, rather than get mixed up again on a crowded bus or take the easy way out with a taxi.

My final explanation of this entry is that of my early communication with my family. Because my parents do not really speak English, and I DEFINITELY did not speak Turkish, we began conducting our affairs in German. I took it in high school, as did they, so we had a merry time of being similarly awkward in conversation. But we got along fine. Our language was actually more of a Gernglish: German with some English words thrown in here and there. But now, we have begun conversing (well, trying to converse) solely in Turkish. It is not so bad, except on the phone, as my parents have the tendency to speak loudly when giving instructions over the phone. But, NO PROBLEMO. I like them a lot, and I assume and hope that they like me.

Oh, fine. One more thing. Food. The following are foods that I have come to appreciate, or that I have had for the first time here. Fish (small fish fried whole that you eat all but the tail). Yogurt. Olives. Bread. Figs. Dates. Natural fruits and vegetables (that is, not the ones that are sold in Publix after being shipped for two months). Butter. Cheese. And, of course, well, everything that my host mom cooks (delicious).

So, that is my entry. I hope it has been enjoyable. Feel free to email me if you like. Turkey is a great country, and I think pretty much all of you readers would enjoy the lovely climate, food, people, and history.

Until next time …


December 15 Journal

 Hmmm, how to begin. I suppose I should say hello, so HOWDY! I am well, and I hope that you are well.

You should know, I have realized that, when I start writing in great detail, I begin to divulge quite easily from the path upon which I was intent on setting out, by throwing in random details or stories, or just talking (well, typing) too much… (as, I suppose, I just did), which makes my writing far less comprehensible and requires far more editing (argh!). So, I have decided to give skimpier descriptions, in order to cover more stuff. Unfortunately, this takes a bit of the, shall we say, personality out of what you read, so if you have questions, feel free to email, or otherwise contact, me.

(I stretch a large stretch, crack my knuckles, and settle into my chair, wondering, for the second time in this entry, “Where to begin?” “Aha,” I say to myself. “I think I shall talk about every difference I see, the smaller ones, the ones that are hard to describe in many words. Subtle differences. Given that there are MANY small differences, I will tell them in the most concise possible way. Yes, perfect!” I put my fingers to the keyboard, and begin to type.)

Most people greet with an air kiss to each cheek. They may clasp hands or grab the upper arm, in the process. Strangers, particularly men and professionals, may greet each other simply with a handshake. Very good friends hug while doing the kissing, may actually kiss the cheeks, and may pause between kisses (to extend the embrace), or repeat the kisses.

Friends commonly walk arm in arm, including men. Men are, physically, much closer to each other than in the US; prolonged physical contact (such as hands or arms on/around shoulders) is not uncommon. Men and women are more physically distant. Men tend to sit with other men on the bus, as do women with women.

As in many big cities, Turks are closer to strangers physically just because of the mass transit system; buses, metro trains, and other modes of transportation are filled beyond what we would consider their capacity (not altogether unsafely, in my opinion). I feel closer to the population, because I am not viewing them through a piece of glass that is part of a large metal box that carries only me or a few other people I know. Though many people use mass transit (most commonly buses), many people (those who can afford cars or motorbikes, gas, and parking) drive. A standard commute, for me, to get anywhere significant/common in my social life can take from one to three hours, depending on traffic. Traffic is terrible. If I can, I walk places, during the rush hour or when I see standstill traffic; walking can prove much faster, not to say more comfortable (buses from my area into the urban core are rather crowded).

Foods are more often made with bazaar-bought produce, which tends to be fresher and more local. Meat also tends to be of a more local nature. Turks are very conscious of the ingredients in the foods they eat; processed foods such as frozen dinners, to my knowledge, not available (or just quite rare).

Speed limits, parking zones, passing, obedience of traffic lights, and other such traffic laws are viewed with a far more liberal attitude.

Shoes are not worn inside the house (but neither are bare feet acceptible in most households).

There is a security service at virtually every business, somewhat upperclass neighborhood, parking structure, metro station, and so forth. (most guards just have radios and batons, though). Before entering any mall and most large indoor public and private spaces, you must pass through a metal detector. Car trunks are cursorily searched before you can park in parking garages.

The military is viewed very differently: military service is compulsory for men, so a soldier’s death is viewed as far more of a national emotional event.

Virtually everyone has a cell phone. Most young people have iPods (of course, mostly those who can afford one). Many people have computers. Few people have printers (as far as I can tell). While video games are popular, they are not in more than ten percent of households (my estimation, based on everything including GameBoys and such). Video games and other technology goods are very expensive.

Most homes are heated by radiator-like appliances, and have no air conditioning, but public buildings (such as malls and office buildings) normally have central heating and cooling.

People eat outside, provided it is not too cold or too rainy. All restaurants that have the space have outdoor seating areas with umbrellas or awnings (and some have heaters, even), which fill up before the inside does.

Smoking is allowed virtually everywhere (though not on the bus, in the metro, etc.). Many people smoke cigarettes. These are far more popular than the more traditional nargile.

Turks litter. The ground basically everywhere is a trash can, so to speak.

There is no such thing as free phone calls (like “nights and weekends”), and telephone service is generally more expensive.

Well, I have pretty much worn myself out on writing. I hope that you have gained some insight into what I see each day. I enjoy this country and like most everything about it. The holiday season, as I knew it, does not really exist. So, I have not really missed them, and do not expect to miss Christmas. The reason is that Christmas does not exist here (well, it can be found, but is not nearly as large of an event), so it just feels like the rest of the year, like a normal month. I have always felt that the holidays really creep up on me; I do not expect them, and it is a bit of a shock when they come along. So, I just feel like that shock is never happening, therefore not evoking the emotions that are usual at Christmastime. I feel like I am in the summer of a normal year (with Christmas as a far-off event).

Yep, I am definitely burnt out on writing. Bye. Drop a line, if you’d like.

Gorusuruz.


February 25 Journal

 The lights fade in the background, leaving to be seen only the intense face under the short hair. Shadows stretch themselves across the plain and into the pits and falls, being broken only by the pinprick glow-light of the sleeping monitor, and the slowly-pulled cigarette’s amber stain against the ridges of the nose and cheeks. The heater on the wall smolders against the cheap rubber houseshoes, and the heater on his hip digs in with its cold metallic bite, piercing through to the soul and the sole alike, as the man of the changing culture considers what to write. The idea comes, the monitor flashes on, and light falls upon the room. The hands stretch, descend upon the keys, and start their work, hindered only by the stubbornly sputtering cigarette, its last embers fading into grey as the last life falls off to the keyboard in a thin grey dust.

I don’t actually smoke, you know, but for the sake of Noir-ness, let’s pretend that I did. But that is not so important now. With the illumination of the room came the end of the noir, and the end of the introduction. Hello my dear friends, and welcome to my life.

I come to bring news, good news of not particularly exciting things. At least, that is how it seems to me. While I can say that everything that is going on now is great, I have unfortunately gotten past that phase where I was fascinated by every single thing. Each bus ride held joy, each time I step in a puddle gave excitement, each woman I dated was adventure. But now, those things that held so much oomph in my life now are so, while not dreary, drab. Bus rides grate on my patience. Puddles frustrate (and give me colds). And the women, well, they are just so much work.

But really. I am great. I am Ruthven Avery Darragh, the one and only son of Michael and Nancy Darragh that is currently eighteen and in Istanbul, and I was not created to become downtrodden and/or be defeated by the onslaughts of murderous men, villainous vixens, and treacherous terrestrials, not to mention boredom. No! My life is one of eternal education! At every moment, I try to keep in my mind that every experience is one that builds and contributes to the whole that is me. I am the sum of the whole of the parts, which themselves are every single thing that I have ever seen, heard, felt, touched, thought, been told, and et cetera’d. I try to remember that, as boring as the days at school may be, there is surely something to be found to occupy the mind, because there is no single thing on earth that does not contribute to the mind/self, if you can only find what that contribution is. Do you follow me? Even if I am bored way out of my mind, which happens often at school, I can console myself with the thought that some day, while stuck at my desk and working, I will look back fondly on the carefree and youthful days, in which a student was almost compulsed to relax and do nothing.

But on to the state of things.

Since the last time I wrote to you, I have done a great many things. But, come to think of it, this journal of mine has never seemed to be quite the catalogue of events (things that I have done), as those of my fellow outbounds seem to be, so how about I give you an account of every significant event, that I can recall, since the beginning of the year? Any objections? Good. Off we go then. Just do not be so presumptuous as to expect proper grammar or spelling (those have left me somewhat, since coming here), or to expect proper chronological order. Now, knowing that, we can begin.

As you know, my exchange has been long. Today marks six months nearly to the day (the actual “anniversary” being the day after my writing this, the 25 of February; I arrived on 26 August). And I am proud to report that I am still alive and well.

I have been in Istanbul’s European side’s farther northern area, called Yenikoy, with the same family since my arrival. My particular area of Istanbul is very nice and beautiful, with its view of the more pristine, more unspoiled part of the Bosporus. My area (and the area directly across from us, on the other side of the Strait) are predominantly residential, and there is a good number of wealthier settlements. But at the same time, I have witnessed an interesting mix. While they don’t clash, there is a startling different embodied here, based on altitude. On the tops of the hills of Yenikoy and the surrounding area, the rich have placed their homes, which are predominantly flats in buildings that are maybe five or six stories high. These hills are large, so the tops do give a significant view to the owner of a home located on them. But, as you go down the hill, the houses degrade in quality and/or expense. At the bottom of the hill, while there are still plenty of nice houses to be found, it is not rare to see the barely-livable (by our standards) houses called “night houses,” which are allegedly thrown up overnight illegally, so that the government cannot stop it. But also please note that all of the houses are not so, either very rich or very poor. I have only mentioned the extremes, and you should know that the majority of the houses in the area fall into the category of flats; just, some are smaller and in less nice areas. You follow?

Right. I recall my celebration of our American holidays. While some of my comrade exchange students really put a lot of effort into constructing a semblance of home, for holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I really outdid them all. Allow me to enumerate what I did for the mentioned three holidays. Halloween: bought a pack of Riesen chocolates, meant to save them to give them out to the other exchangers, but ended up eating most of them myself. Thanksgiving: forgot about the date (as I do every year), and realized when a Turkish classmate mentioned it. Oh, yeah, it’s Thanksgiving. woohoo. We did have a Thanksgiving Party, though, provided by Rotary. Every one was detailed to bring a national dish, and I had the distinct pleasure of cooking the turkey (in Turkish- “hindi”) for our festival, with my New Hampshirean comrade. We ended up cooking two small birds, which were completely doused in butter, at a fish restaurant, whose oven had no temperature settings, while our recipe came from The Joy of Cooking. Needless to say, the birds were not exactly worthy of Norman Rockwell, but the effort surely was, and it resulted in two edible and unburned, if rather buttery and gravy-less, turkeys. And lastly, Christmas: I took a self-prescribed three-day hiatus from school (after having had a Turkish Bayram, or holiday, for the few days prior). Christians apparently have three days off, but I put nothing to chance, so took off anyway, and I did as I wished around Istanbul. Not anything special, really. I did visit the Grand Bazaar for the first time, though, in that holiday. I missed going to church by about ten minutes (and in fact, I have not been to a service yet, though I do want to, to see a Turkish Catholic mass; I am neither Turkish nor Catholic). I DID, however, meet some of my fellow exchangers at Burger King. The more important holiday (but still almost meaningless, with only one day given to miss work/school) is New Year, on which I went out with some Rotary students, to a restaurant and a club, then spend a rather quite but exciting enough evening at home (like most of my New Years).

On the tenth of November, the great leader of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, died, and there is a national holiday every year. We Rotary Exchange Students had the distinct pleasure to accompany a group of young elementary children (as part of a 22-bus caravan) to the great memorial and tomb of Ataturk, called Anitkabir, on the ninth of November. We had a nice but very busy and very short tour of Ankara (pretty much just the major Turkish Republic sights: the first congress building, the modern congress building, and Ataturk’s tomb and the large museum there).

Ugh. I just lost all steam (plus, my host brother is about to kick me off of the computer). Humph. I will have to finish this entry some other time. But until then, remember me, because, as long as I live in your heart, I live.


July 14 Journal

 Hello my dear friends, and welcome back to my exchange student journal. I have, for nearly five long months, kept you in suspense as to the progress and status of my exchange, but wait no longer. I thought it fitting to spend part of my last day in Turkey, on one of my last bus rides in Turkey, to write my last entry from Turkey. Geez, I hope I can read this handwriting later; the bus is bouncing my already bad handwriting into a scrawl that defies human comprehension.

I have been quite well, thank you very much. I think that this last part of my exchange is definitely the best; as time became scarcer, the pace got quicker, and the fun really started rolling in. Lots of stuff has happened, events and experiences, new people and places that really defy explanation. I mean, it’s just been so wonderful; though it is rather cliché to say, I think that this past year has been the best in my life, yes indeed.

Well anyway, I think I stopped my last entry at Christmas or so. In late January and early February we had our first trip. It was really a fantastic time, and I felt that we really bonded for the first time, being together for so long in the minibus as we toured southwestern and Thracian turkey. An especially special part of the trip was that on it we first met our newcome Australian comrade, who arrived a week before the trip and filled out our number to nine. She added that much more energy and fun to our group, even as we groggedly dragged our sickened bodies around open-air museums in the nippy but still rather resemblant of Florida weather. You may ask why we were sick. That was a result of the absolute highpoint of our trip, which also turns out to be possibly my favorite memory of my exchange. On our visit to Pamukkale on the second day of the trip, we had a lovely tour of some stuff around the area, but right as we were heading to the last and most famous site (the Trevertines, which are white cliffs of mineral deposits of some sort from whose midst spurts warm water, and whose name is hard to spell), it started raining. Of course, given that our group consisted of eight hardy, tough, and iron-willed women (plus myself), we did not allow our spirits to be dampened. NO, we charged, AFTER stripping off our shoes (so as to not damage the mineral deposits), onto the cliffs, under the freezing-cold rain, and stood with rolled-up pants knee-deep in warmth, all the while trying to take pictures without the rain destroying our cameras. Eventually, we realized how soaked we were, and how little our hoods and coats actually did to keep us dry, and bared our heads to the downpour. But we soon fled away from the pools of water, when a bolt of lightning made one of the girls’ hair stand up completely, in a fashion not so different from that of the bride of Frankenstein.

My group here is eight girls and myself. We are a very interesting group. We feature an art prodigy and outdoorswoman of a New Hampshirean, a quiet half-Japanese girl from Ohio, a shopping fiend of a Japanese girl from Tokyo, an ardent environmentalist of an Albertan (Canadian), a country girl from small-mountain-town Colorado, a Mexican girl who loves German boys and gossip, a Californian track runner and Peace Corps aspiree, an adventurous and loud Australian from Newcastle, and, of course, yours truly. A very interesting group indeed. I find that, although we of course have our tiffs, disagreements and misunderstandings, we have come to love and appreciate each other very much. Perhaps it’s because our group is so small, but regardless of the reason, we, come though we may from different backgrounds and beliefs, have become as a family, they being my sisters (although occasionally our Japanese friend, the youngest one in the group, claims to be our mother). My own role is a combination of big and little brother. It’s odd, that we should become so close and such good friends with such different people, with whom we might not have even talked to, normally. But we have, and I have the feeling that I will have them as friends for a long time. One of the coolest things that I have learned from the girls is how different we are within the English-speaking countries, but also within just the USA. Seven of us speak English as our native language, and five of us are from the US, and I often am amazed by the differences that are apparent between us, whether they be foods, sayings, jokes, TV programs and music, or just stuff that we do for fun. We each have our own interesting regional flavour, and I am constantly reminded of how much more colourful life can be when we embrace people different from ourselves.

Soon after the trip, we had the Outbound Orientation. Although traditionally the Inbounds only joined the Outbounds at the end (the last day) of their first orientation camp, we were invited, because of our small number, to participate. In other words, we got to go for a weekend to a decent resort hotel (only decent, but definitely good enough for my tastes) and do pretty much whatever we wanted (because the outbounds had meetings), and eat for free. Really hard work, as you can imagine. The weekend was great; we ended up, on one of the days when we had to occupy ourselves for two hours or so, deciding to play a soccer match against the AFS exchange program kids in Istanbul, and then playing a practice match that left me quite sore, but happy. We also had a merry time amongst ourselves, basking in the memories of our own Orientation Camp, which had taken place in the same hotel about five months earlier; I was finally able to settle my ping pong grudge with my New Hampshirean colleague, albeit with her as the victor. And the weekend concluded very nicely with a talent show (that involved the Outbounds gawking at our “unique” dance and our rather “not normal” clothes – the girls made me cross-dress, kind of, followed by a bit of a dance party (that we gradually had to make quieter and quieter, because other guests were complaining). And the greatest part of it was that, earlier that day snow had begun to fall, lots of snow, and to spite our fear that we would not be able to return to Istanbul the next day, we cloaked ourselves and battled furiously with snowballs, which the Outbounds could only watch enviously from the huge windows in their meeting room. They soon joined us, though, and I feel that in general that weekend left me confident and refreshed, with new friends and, very soon after, a new haircut. After a few days of sickness caused by my walk home through the slushy streets of Istanbul, I saw that spring had begun to be sprung.

Soon after that camp (maybe even before) we began taking dance lessons in “Folklor,” or Turkish traditional dancing. We had high aspirations, and were to perform our show for the entire Istanbul Rotary District at a fancy dinner, and though our small number and “high talent” destined our dance to fail, and though we often accidentally kicked each other and I lost my shoes, it was a victory in our own minds. It was loads of fun, looking like an idiot and wandering afterwards around a gala dinner’s tuxedoed guests in a T-shirt and jeans (we were not told of the dress code until after we had gotten there and changed into our costumes). We did have a slight disappointment, though; we were supposed to perform and be aired by TRT, Turkey’s main TV network, but it didn’t happen. Just as good, though. The Rotarians were scarred enough from our first show to eliminate the need for a redo.

That night, one in March, was my last night at my host family’s house. Times had been good, and we had gone through quite a bit, from communicating in German as a common tongue as they tried to make me un-lost (well, more like un-misguided, not lost; I could have found my way, just after hours of trying), to speaking about home life, people, watching television together and analysing the shows and actors, and so on. We had gone from my brother yelling at me to my brother yelling at me more (but only, of course, in the nicest kind of shouting). We had had a good stretch, and then I was off, bound for Asia. My host mom went to the States, that’s why I changed; some of you may have met her when she stayed in Jacksonville, visiting her daughter, Destan.

The new family was very different. For one, they lived in Asia, and their home (well, my room) was much smaller, although it was also more centrally-located. They have a fifteen-year-old son, as opposed to my old family’s 22-year-old brother (and, of course, I myself have only an older brother). Their rules on everything from noise, to eating times, and when I had to be home were more strict, and were rather hard to get used to, especially at first. But after I got used to it, it was fine, great, really. They spent much more time talking as a family, and in a more intellectual fashion, and I enjoyed it lots and learned lots too.

But now, so you know, my friends, I have almost nine hours before I leave for the airport (at 3 AM tomorrow morning), so I must finish for now with the digest of my past activities, and instead give you the juicy part, brief though it may be: how I feel about my exchange and leaving.

i feel my exchange has gone well. There have been good times and bad times, but quite interestingly I’ve never felt debilitated or anything like that. I’ve never felt like the world is crashing down on my head. Nothing too big. Perhaps that’s because of the strong support network that I had in my fellow exchangers. My only regret of this exchange is that I did not make more Turkish friends, did not venture so much outside of the comfort zone of the exchangers. Of course, in a city such as this, friends are not so easy to make; everyone is stuck in their own small life, and don’t really look around at the faces that surround them in the streets, the bodies that press against one in the bus. The loneliness among millions. Well, the point still stands that I wish I’d made more Turkish friends. Then, my Turkish would doubtlessly be much better (though apparently it is quite good, I still have trouble speaking quickly with correct grammar), although many upper class Turks have an annoying habit of trying to speak English with me whenever possible. In fact, Turkey in general has kind of sold itself; after the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire and during the formation of the Republic, the principles behind the nation were adopted from elsewhere (in civics, law, government, fashions and clothes, even the alphabet). Turkey is dominated by the popular cultures of the United States and Western Europe, and students flock out to go to university or emigrate completely. Turkey is brand-dominated not just by the powerhouses of the world (i.e. McDonalds), but also by the smaller and lesser-known of brands, all of which are considered good because they are foreign. Few good schools teach in Turkish; mostly, they educate only in English, French, Italian, or German. And yet, Turkey is rather ironic because there is an unbelievably powerful sense of national pride and patriotism in almost every Turk.

Well, anyway, I am glad to be returning. I will be starting my freshman year at Grinnell College in about a month! I will return to my own culture, which I really took for granted, in the past. But I will miss Turkey. I will miss the city life of Istanbul, and cheap, efficient public transportation. I will not miss crowds and traffic. I am glad to be returning to the lush greenness of Florida, and will not miss the dirt and trash. I will miss the food, and the more natural and fresh ingredients. I will miss being able to sit, wherever I go, and rest while drinking a hot glass of tea, before moving on with my day. I will miss the Bosporus, which you will understand if you’ve ever seen it. I will miss the warmness of Turkish hospitality. I will miss getting food on the street for less than two dollars, from a stand with its shouting vendors. Most of all, I will miss the time that this year has given me, with nothing to do other than think about things. I am going back to the daily grind of life and work, but I will always remember this experience, and am much better for having had it. Goodbye Turkey. Hello United States. Bring it on.

I wrote this on the 14th of July, my last day, on buses and ferries as I made my last rounds of errands. I wrote it to commemorate the end of one thing and to celebrate the beginning of another. Please excuse the mistypes, and if you could only see the original handwritten copy…

Keep it real, folks. Hope to talk to you soon.

Taylor Bresnahan
2007-08 Outbound to Germany

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970
Host: Wildeshausen Rotary Club
         District 1850, Germany

Taylor - Germany

Taylor’s Bio

Guten Tag! My name is Taylor Bresnahan. I live in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I am a 15 year old sophomore attending Nease High School. I live with my Dad, Mom, and my two brothers.

I am very active in sports, my favorite sport is soccer. I have been playing soccer since I was 3, and I love it! My two brothers also play soccer. They help me out whenever I can get it. I have been playing club soccer for quite some time, so hopefully I might pursue a career in soccer.

My family has hosted two exchange students so far. Both were amazing! That is the reason why I got interested in Rotary Youth Exchange. As soon as I saw what it was like, and how much fun they were having, I knew I had to do it! Once I heard I was going to Germany I was ecstatic! That was my number one pick, so you could imagine. I can not wait to go and have the trip of a lifetime, just a few months away! I would like to thank anybody who made this entire trip possible.


September 25 Journal

 Deep down inside of me, I never thought that I would actually be leaving my country. All the days leading up to my departure I did not feel anything, until I hit that airport. Let me tell you, this feeling was the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life. I realized that leaving my family, all my best friends, my school, and especially my spoken language was not going to be as fun as I imagined. As much as I wanted to let the tears run, I did not, mainly because I didn’t want my friend Brad Patterson to see me cry. Brad flew with me from America to Amsterdam, and he made the plane ride a WHOLE lot better for me! He never stopped talking and saying, “DUDE WE’RE GOING TO GERMANY”!!! That one got old after 300 times. Without Brad on the plane and in the airports, I would have been extremely lost, so I have to thank him for that one. The plane rides were long, and the entire time I was thinking about my host family, and what I was going to say to them.

When I arrived in Bremen, Germany, I was greeted by my host family, and another family from Rotary. They made me a huge banner with Taylor written on it. Of course this greeting was spoiled in a way, because the exchange student from Canada right next to me was named Taylor, and she tried to convince me that the banner was for her, but I ended up winning that one. I was exposed to German culture right when I stepped through the sliding doors. A man from Rotary shook my hand and kissed me on the cheek, after a long plane ride and a bunch of nerves, this didn’t please me too well at the time, but obviously I understood. When we got my luggage the family drove back to our small little town named Wildeshausen. There are about 18,000 inhabitants in Wildeshausen, it is very small and cozy. When we arrived at the house, we all sat around the table and spoke to each other…..but me. This is because they were speaking German, and it was so fast, I could only pick up the occasional “the” here and there.

My first host family consists of a mom, and a sister. Having 3 brothers in my past, this was a huge change for me. I thought to myself “now I cant act goofy all the time without being frowned upon”. Nevertheless they are really nice, and very generous. So far I am loving all of it here with the family. The second day I was here they took me down to the soccer club, and I had try-outs for the team. I was confident that I would make it, but then again I don’t think I was born without confidence. After the try-outs the coach pulled me aside and said that I made it, and was very excited for me to start playing. This right there made my trip so worthwhile, making the soccer team was one of my goals that I was going for while I was in Germany. The third day I was here, my host sister and a friend took me to Bremen, and Hamburg, two of the biggest cities in the north. They took me to go sightseeing, and I loved it, all the cities here are full of churches and many older buildings, so these were great picture places.

About a week later, I had my first Rotary orientation weekend. This weekend was awesome. I met everybody from around the world, and just talked all day long. The majority of us were American, and Mexican, then two or three from each other country. We had little games like at the orientations back in the USA. I made about 40 new friends here at this orientation, and it helps when you are bored and want someone to talk to, because just pick one of these 40 people and they will talk to you. Every single one of them is very nice.

The first day of school I have to say was, AWESOME. I made like 100 friends off the bat. Making friends was so much easier that I had thought. All I had to do was say a German word wrong and everybody would laugh, then somehow they all wanted to talk to me. Right now 4 weeks in, and at school I still have not received any books. So it’s been this long and I have not had to study or do homework. I am loving it!!!!! Not to mention we get off of school October 11 for a big break, about 6 weeks. My October coming up is going to be a big one. On September 30- October 3, my host Mom is taking me to Oktoberfest, with her daughter and another exchange student from India. We are staying with her Mom in Bayern München. I can not wait for this, I always thought Oktoberfest was a dream for me, but now I am actually going. After the Oktoberfest, I have my first Rotary trip with all the exchange students from around the world. We are having our German tour, and we go everywhere in Germany, this tour last 5 days and is on October 20-25. I am really looking forward to meeting everybody again. After that tour, the very next day I am going to Barcelona with my host Dad, and my host sister. We are staying for 5 days, and are going to the beach and sightseeing. I am extremely anxious for this to come. Then November 3 I am going to a soccer game, Werder Bremen.

So overall, I am having the time of my life, and I don’t really want to leave and it’s only been one month. I am looking forward to eating more German foods, and growing even more. I still feel the deep pain of missing everybody from home, but I know that in the future I will make so many friends that will help me out and be there for me, so I have nothing to worry about.

Auf Wiedersehen, and greetings from everybody in Wildeshausen, Germany!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 


 November 26 Journal

 Alright, where should I start? This last months, was probably the busiest and most fun filled experiences I have ever had. In October I did so much. In the beginning of the month, I traveled to Bavaria with my host mom, and another exchange student from India. A few weeks later, I attended my Rotary German Tour, then I went to Barcelona, then I went to the Netherlands. I would say that was a pretty decent month for me.

 Ok, first of all, I traveled to Bavaria with my host mom and a friend for OKTOBERFEST!!!!! Now let me tell you something, Oktoberfest is quite something. The atmosphere, and the people, and the BEER ;). I absolutely loved it. Having a beer with my host mom was hilarious, we went into one of the tents, and we got 2 beers. After we drank the beers, we walked around the tent, of course I had my American flag and everybody was like “no flags kid”, I didn’t put it away because I had to support my great country at one of the greatest places on earth.

After Oktoberfest I went home and settled down for a few days, and then I was off to my German Tour. I had gone to Weimar, and Berlin. Our group had seen a Concentration Camp, and then the next few days, we stayed in Berlin. Berlin is amazing!! Mainly because they had a Billabong store, and I stayed there for like an hour, haha. I went to the soccer stadium, and saw all the historical places in Berlin, like Checkpoint Charlie, and Hitler’s Bunker, and the Berlin Wall, which in fact, there is 200 yards of it still standing, just a little fun fact for you. Basically I had an amazing time meeting other exchange students, and viewing a new city, one of the best times I have had here in Germany, I highly recommend going to Berlin if you have the chance, you will love it.

Three days after my German Tour, I went with my host dad to Barcelona for 5 days. Barcelona was pretty much amazing, and was so beautiful. I really liked how they built houses and villages right into the mountains, that was a really cool thing to see. My host dad and I went into the city, and saw the ocean, and the Olympic Stadium, also a really historical church, but I kind of forgot the name, haha. Overall Barcelona was a little bit cold, but was amazing in every way, and I would love to go there again.

Yesterday I just got back from the Netherlands; I traveled with my Rotary club to the city of Franeker. The first day I was there, we visited a farm, and here they experimented on cows. They also created BioEnergy here, and was cool to see how that worked. One neat thing about this place was they had water beds for the cows!!! Talk about a luxury place for cows! The second day we went to the coast and saw the Dikes, it was just alright because it was so bloody cold! We were pushing 35 degrees there.

My school right now is going great, I now understand most of what the teacher says, so it is getting a whole lot easier, and now I can actually start doing homework!! Haha no, I have tried but very unsuccessful. I am still making more and more friends, and I am loving it, the people here are amazing and are so caring, most of them help you out with absolutely anything you could imagine. Just a great bunch of friends, and I am extremely grateful that I have them. I also have German lessons two times a week, and they are going well. I am picking up just so much more and it is the best feeling in the whole world.

My host family is still going good; I love my host mom because she goes out of her way to buy me meat, and heavy foods. What a nice lady! I found out that I stay with my host family until February, so it’s a long time, and I am pretty sure that I am going to love the whole stay.

Ok so my last month was amazing, and I look forward to having much more. Just seeing everything that I have seen, and learning so much German makes me feel great. I am loving Germany more and more every day, I have a great family and great friends to look forward to. Even though the weather could be much better, I am going to get through it. I miss everybody back in America, hey if you’re reading this! I hope to write another journal at the end of November, so I will talk to you then.

Tschüss!!!


December 3 Journal

 I’m not going to lie, this month has been pretty slow going and boring. Typically you want to tell everybody that you’re having a great time. But in my case November truly has been nothing that special. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I have just felt down and bored all the time. I am thinking the problem is the weather, but it’s just the fact that everybody gets depressed during winter, so after school I want to make plans or do something, and my friends are too lazy or tired. Having nothing to do is basically terrible and drives you crazy.

The one thing that really made this month sad was my host mom’s mom died about a week ago. So my host mom traveled to Munich to visit the family, and I stayed home. It was really tough to see my host mom go through that, and hopefully she can recover. Also maybe the weather can brighten up a little bit, I think my friend Brad is aware of the weather that I am talking about. Ohhh man, it’s cold, rainy, windy, and I’m turning white!!!! I guess the only good thing is that I know I have a great group of friends to keep looking forward to, and an extremely nice and caring host family. So I always have that going for me. Even though it gets boring, I can always go to my host mom, and she makes me laugh, I love that so much.

Ohh almost forgot, this past weekend I went to a very small town called HARZ, its about 1000 km above sea level. That means there was tons of snow! I went with my friend from India and my future host family.  We visited their relatives, and it was so funny. I met pretty much the only guy in Germany that is in love with an American. I walked in the door, and he kissed my hand, then later at dinner he was rubbing my ear chanting.. “I love Americans, I love Americans”. Haha. He was also asking for pictures with me and playing with my hair, and telling me how great America is. That was extremely fun staying at his house J. But I really enjoyed seeing snow again, and having a snowball fight and building a castle!

Anyways, out of thoughts for now, so Tschüss.


April 3 Journal

 It has been a while since I have written a journal entry, but now I think it is an appropriate time to fill everybody in.

I’m going to start way back at the beginning of Christmas. Here in Germany Christmas was definitely not what I expected at all, not by a long shot. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you about what a wonderful time I am having and how everything is perfect because it is not. I knew on Christmas it was going to be tough without the family. This being my first Christmas away from home, it felt extremely uncomfortable. In Germany for Christmas it is not quite different from that in the United States. You get with your families and just enjoy the holidays, and you open presents. But for me I was shuffled between 2 families. I hated that so much, as much as I wanted to enjoy it I couldn’t. It was too hard and way too hectic to be going between 2 families on Christmas. I guess the only cool thing was that here in Germany you get to open 1 gift for the 25 days leading up to Christmas. They were small gifts, but still appreciated. During Christmas I was with my first host family and my host mom did everything she could to make me comfortable and took me out to eat. She is truly the most amazing host mom anybody could stay with, and I am grateful I got that chance to stay in her house.

After Christmas I got to do something amazing. I got to visit my old exchange student that my family had hosted back in the USA in 2006. Olga was the 1 and only reason I decided to go on my exchange program and I was ecstatic to see her again. I stayed for 4 days and she showed me around Heidelberg and overall I had a great time with her catching up on old times and spending time with her family, and seeing new things.

Absolutely nothing happened in January, it was only wet, cold, rainy and just no fun. But hanging out with my friends and playing soccer kept my mind off of it.

February we celebrated “carnival”. I went to a small city called Gardagasee, it was very colorful and fun, except for the fact that is snowed. My host mom dressed as a Hippie, and ended up getting a little drunk and flirting with some guys dressed as German troops. Carnival is a big deal here and I had a lot of fun going with my family and get hit in the face by flying candy.

March was absolutely AMAZING!!! So far March has been the highlight of my stay. Soccer started getting better, the weather is warmer and my old host mom took my friend and me to ITALY!! Italy was soooo amazing in every way. We stayed in a city called Limone, for 1 week. Every day was full of sightseeing and fun. I went to Torino, Bugliaco, Gardasee, and Verona. Verona was definitely the best part of the trip. So much to see in this city, the most popular landmark being the “Romeo and Juliet Balcony”. Not to mention the weather was amazing. The cool thing is I get to go back in 1 week for my Europe tour J

The language is going great. I would say I am about 80 percent fluent at this point, and it just feels great to know another language.

Soccer is just going up, up, up. I was recently named Co-Captain to my team. So yeah, I would say things could be worse.

So that is all I have for you until the next journal. Overall I am doing great and am looking forward to everything else to come.

Tschüss.

Summer Wilcox
2007-08 Outbound to France

Hometown: Keystone Heights, Florida
School: Keystone Heights High School
Sponsor: Keystone Heights Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Clermont-Ferrand – Chaine des Puys Rotary Club
          District 1740, France

Summer - France

Summer’s Bio

Bonjour tout le monde!!! I am Summer Wilcox and I am psyched to be going to France! I was born in Gainesville Florida, but I have been living in the small town of Keystone Heights for most of my life. I am proud to say that I will be one of the first students from Keystone Heights to ever participate in the Rotary exchange program.

I would call myself outgoing and very well-rounded. I’ve been involved in almost everything from sports, drama, dancing, and now (since I’m trying to finish my junior and senior year up before I go), I mostly help out by volunteering at the elementary school or for my local Rotary club.

I’m really into reading/writing. I read everything from philosophy to science fiction. My favorite books are the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series because of the author’s wacky outlook on life (which a lot of people say I have). In my spare time my friends and I have Dance Dance Revolution/movie get-togethers or we go “out on the town” which usually includes a cafe of some sort or a second hand book shop.

I’m so happy to be involved with this program. I have already met so many wonderful people and I feel incredibly lucky to be working with them. All for now and more to come. . .


August 30 Journal

Oh la la! I’ve been in France for a week and I’ve been having the time of my life:

The day before I left for France one of my friends said she would spend the night with me so that my mind would stay off the million things that could go wrong. In the end three of my friends stayed the night and one met up with me at my house at five in the morning. This was very generous of them since they had school the next day. I think this made the whole goodbye process a lot easier for me and everyone else.

I didn’t sleep at all that night, but I was ready to go in the morning all the same. My last American breakfast was Burger King at the airport (I ordered a crossantwhich). I shared that last breakfast with my family and we sat there going over all the important things like money and calling home. There was no crying. We spent most of the time reassuring one another that everything was going to be okay. Let’s do this.

Bristol and I ended up waiting an extra two hours because our flight was late. It went well. There’s a Starbucks and we had plenty to keep ourselves preoccupied. On the flight to Washington we were too excited to really concentrate on anything like reading so we either squealed about what lay ahead or listened to music. I don’t think either of us could believe we were going to France.

In Washington we met up with Sheila from Bokoff-Kaplan and a bunch of other Rotary Exchange students going to France. Tons of card exchanges. I think we waited there for about three hours. All of us started freaking out when we heard the French being spoken around us on the plane. This was the final step for what we were waiting for all year.

When we finally got to the Paris airport we were greeted by dozens of French Rotarians. I saw a short man that I recognized from a business card that was sent to me months before. It was Pierre Costecalde!!! He gave me my first official French greeting and seconds later another Rotarian was taking pictures of us. The Governor of my district was there so I took photos with him as well. The Rotarians found me a place to sit while they looked at my flight schedule. They were all huddled around it and then all at once they looked up with faces saying, “Aww! You poor thing!” I knew why. I had to wait in the airport for eight hours for my connecting flight.

 There were either students who had their host family already at the airport or those who had to get on connecting flights. I had a connecting flight to Clermont-Ferrand, my city which I now live in. I translated for other outbounds when they wanted to talk to the Rotarians, so that boosted my confidence a little. The Paris airport was almost alien looking, but it was great for people watching. One minute you see a British punk, the next a monk. I had to stay awake too because I had departed from the Rotarians and I couldn’t check in my luggage until an hour before my flight took off. That meant that I had to watch my luggage. There were a couple outbounds left so it wasn’t so bad. I met one from Thailand. I gave her an American dollar coin and in return she gave me a pineapple cake from Thailand. Making international relations gives you the best feeling.

My first and third host families met me at the airport since my current host mother and my third host mother are cousins. They gave me a bamboo plant and I laughed because it was the last thing I was expecting. Merci pour la. . .la. . .bam-boo? Oh! Bam-bow! D’accord! There was someone there from the local newspaper to take pictures of the inbounds. So far I’ve met a girl from Mexico and another from Missouri. I also met a girl on the plane who lives close to me and she gave me her information if I want to go shopping, so again more confidence boosting. I too collapsed when I got home.

I love my room, my house, my family, my city. . .EVERYTHING!!! I have my own balcony that has a view of the volcanic mountains and the city! It’s so beautiful here! I love it all! My city, like I said before, is Clermont-Ferrand and has so much history that it would take forever to go over. I will say that it is known for the black volcanic stone buildings, like the Cathedral, and it’s also the base of the tire company Michelin. The French want you to know that it’s not The Michelin Man. His name is Bibendum. Anyways, there are plenty of things to do here. I have a bus pass now so I will be trying to do as much as I can. I think the Rotary club here is either going to let me do fencing or dancing, so there’s that as well. I’m going to be busy!

The last couple of days have been a series of parties and initial foreign exchange student things. I am introduced as the “little American.” The first party we had was for the relatives for my host dad. I made brownies for everyone and wow! They loved them! They ate them all! Of course, I’m eating lots of cheese and French food! Don’t doubt that. I’m eating too much food to go into detail with.

 The third day we all went to my third host family’s house on the Virgin Mountain because it was the festival of their mountain. There were banners and decorations all over this small village and everyone was out and about celebrating. I’ve been speaking only French by the way so this event was a lot of practice. It seems like I met everyone in the town.

At a certain time everyone in the city climbs to the top of the mountain where there is a large statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. There are speakers all over the city so while we’re doing this everyone is singing and saying prayers together. At the top of the mountain we had mass and after that was done everyone went back down to their houses to party. Again, there were many family members. One of the cousins had a boyfriend from England that I watched rugby with. It was so much fun and the food was amazing. Afterwards we all watched fireworks that they shot at the top of the mountain around the statue. It was breathtaking to say the least.

Today I went to my school to set up my classes and I found out that I will be in terminale, which is like twelfth grade in America. They said if I find it too hard I can go down to premiere, but I’m liking the challenge so far so we shall see. The name of my school is Massillion and it is historical as well. It’s an international Catholic school where many of the Michelin employees send their children to go to school. The principal already gave me the name of a girl who attends the school and whose dad is American so she can speak English as well if I need any help.

The only thing I’m worried about now is sticking out too much. I think it’s very obvious I’m American with the clothes I wear. Not many people have curly hair here so that’s another factor since mine is and long at that. I’ve already tried to go shopping and I would say the look here is … Russian Despair? I think the weirdest thing that has happened to me so far is that my host mother flipped out when I asked if I could buy multi-vitamins. It was as if I asked if I could eat fire. “You eat all foods here everyday! No one takes vitamins here! You are healthy! Only for the children!” I wasn’t prepared for that, but I laughed it off anyways. I also wasn’t prepared for there not being any ice in the drinks and everything being so small. I’m loving the differences though. It’s French, therefore I love it.

I’m so glad I did this program. I’ve met so many people and made so many friends that there’s no way I could ever repay what this has done for me. Thank you Rotary!!! Thank you family!!! Thank you Madame!! Bonne chance to fellow outbounds as well! I love France!


October 7 Journal

 Everyday France gives me a new outlook, a new word, and a new love everyday. The number of each varies from day to day. I truly believe that I have an incredible amount of luck to be in such a country. Every day I take a step back and think, “I can’t believe I’m doing this! How incredible!”

A major source of my happiness is coming from the fact that my host club here makes sure that I have something to do every weekend and then some. I’ve done so much since my last entry and I have a whole schedule of things to come. I’m going to try to compile a list from the top of my head:

I went to a chateau called Ravel where a famous French film, The Chorus, was filmed. The garden design of the Chateau was done by the same person who designed the gardens at Versailles!

I visited a pottery festival near the chateau as well. People from all over France were there.

My host parents took me to see many of the area’s lakes and natural attractions such as Lake Aydat and the Puy-De-Dôme. This region is famous for the (dormant) volcanoes. It was hard to climb at first, but they said I’m from Florida and that I swim with alligators. Therefore I can do anything. J I’ve kept that outlook ever since.

Went to the top of the Plateau of Gergovie where a battle of Gaul and Julius Caesar took place. Gaul won. I’m going to stop by there next weekend again to see the world’s biggest kite.

I’ve been to a countless number of cathedrals and churches. The one that stands out the most is called Orcival. I think it’s the oldest in the region.

I visited the volcanic park Vulcania, which is like Disney World for volcanoes. I know it’s weird because you don’t associate volcanoes with France, but don’t worry! They’re all dormant, so it’s all good.

Today I went to another cathedral to go look at an exhibition of a man that was from Key West. He wasn’t there, but I signed his guest book to say hi.

The trip to Vulcania was with a group that my Rotary club set me up with called World Top. It’s an organization for all the foreign students at the local colleges. I was the only person from a high school so that was advantageous. The majority of the group was either Chinese or German. There were people with nationalities that I had never met before like Cameroon, Gambia, and Morocco. The thirty of us had each brought a dish from our country to share with the rest of the group. I, of course, brought brownies and in turn ate a Russian salad with a Spanish omelet. For dessert a couple of girls from Ireland gave me some coconut chocolate, which wasn’t actually Irish, but oh well. All of us spoke French to each other. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget. I get to see them all again on Christmas Eve!

On the twentieth birthday of my Rotary club here we had activities for the whole day. We went hiking in the French countryside where the air was pure and the trail was lined with blackberries and hazelnuts. I spoke about my school and American politics while picking blackberries for the Rotary so I guess you could kind of call that a speech. They were very impressed. That night there was a big party at one of the Rotary member’s house and the room was decked out in tons of Rotary flags from all over the world. The guests that night were me, two men from Italy, one from Serbia, and singers from Russia. I exchanged flags and kisses and it all ended well.

My school was incredibly hard and confusing at first, but they cut off a couple of classes for me so it’s running a lot smoother now. Right now I have French Literature, History, Geography, P.E., Art, Philosophy, English, and Social Studies. I got rid of Spanish because it was on a level four and I had never taken it before and I couldn’t take it at another time or level so I have an hour of study instead. I also got rid of American History and Culture in English for the French and English for Beginners for obvious reasons. On Wednesdays I only have class for two hours and every other Friday my school doesn’t start until eleven.

The biggest difference so far is my P.E. class (aka EPS). I had the choice of which type of EPS class I wanted. One was for running, rugby, and football. Another had swimming, badminton, and basketball, while the last was circus arts. I chose a class that had course orientation (which I had no idea what it was at the time), judo, and volleyball. Right now we are doing course orientation. It’s this thing where you get on a bus (which becomes everyone’s locker room) and they take you to a park or a mountain. Then they give you a map and a compass and you have to locate your way around the different points on the map. The first time it was hard because it was all mountainous, but now my muscles are a little more adapted. The first time I only found 5 of the points, but the next time I found 12! Next week: a volcano!

My school, like I said before, is international so it’s like going to a district meeting every day except we can all speak French. I love it! I’m learning so much! I love my philosophy and French class. Right now in my French class we’re psychoanalyzing the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. He invented the fairy tale and wrote things like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Puss and Boots. I love learning the French perspective on things and in turn my teacher is just as interested in my opinion as well. I actually answer questions in class! Yes! Yesterday I gave the definition of McCarthyism in my History class! Hooray!

My family and I get along perfectly. We’re always laughing. There are always good times. My first and third host family is related and they have a really big family so there are relatives constantly coming over. I’m meeting many people this way. It’s wonderful! My host brother’s girlfriend and I take Jazz every Monday. My instructor is a fairy, I swear. I love her.

Plans for the future: go to Paris, go to Lyon for Art field trip, go to the South of France, art exhibitions, concerts, French Harry Potter premier, etc., etc.

Until then! À Bientôt!


December 9 Journal

 Here I am, at the beginning of month four, finding it difficult to write this next journal. The other day it took me 15 minutes to find the word for ‘child’ in English, so let’s see how this goes!

My childhood dream finally came true this past month; I got to see the Eiffel Tower! I was fortunate to see many things during my stay. Over the holidays of Toussaint my host family and I went to Paris for two days and Versailles for one! I couldn’t believe it! I felt the same way I felt before I left. The same feeling I got when people asked me what am I doing next week and I replied, “Going to France!” I repeated it over and over again in my head, “I’m going to Paris! I’m going to Paris! I can’t believe I’m going to Paris and Versailles too! Incredible!”

So what did I do in Paris? What did I NOT do? The latter would probably be a better question. Just to give you an idea: I don’t think I’ve ever had feet that sore in my entire life. Of course it was easy to ease the pain with all the majestic sights I was seeing with my eyes, but you could say that I received The Tour! I would like to add, however, that I’m very proud of doing the Louvre by myself because my host parents saw it last year. I didn’t get to see everything, of course, but I made sure I stopped by all the major works. And also I visited Victor Hugo’s house and touched Alexandre Dumas’s ink pen. I know, I’m a nerd, but it’s something I didn’t expect to do in Paris.

The weather was perfect, The Strike hadn’t started yet, and the accordion players were swaying in the metro. I couldn’t have asked for a better set up. I took 655 pictures for the trip of Paris/Versailles. Yeah, I can’t believe me either. Note: You are NOT allowed to take photos of the American Embassy.

Versailles…is just so…so…HUGE! I understand now why there was a revolution. My favorite part would have to be the farm. It looked as if it came right out of a fairy tale. You can see what I’m talking about in the photos. The light was that nice golden tint to make it extra special. The honey-colored sunset dripped all around me. I don’t think I can find words in French or English to describe how happy I felt at that moment. I visited the farm alone too because my host parents didn’t want to walk that far. It was the last thing for my tour of the weekend and I tried to soak up every second of it, a very peaceful way to end the vacation.

Before I went to Paris I also got to visit Lyon (3rd biggest city in France) with my art class for a field trip. It was my first train trip. We went to cathedral, the contemporary museum of art and a worldwide exposition that Lyon is holding this year. I saw pieces that spanned the spectrum of art. For one of them you had to put on headphones and each time you entered a room the music would instantly change.

That’s another thing; I’ve delved into the art scene over here. Art: canvas, music, movies, dance,…anything and everything. These things that share feeling, meaning, expression – I’m all for it. I went to exposition of travel notebooks and I’ve decided to start my own. You put anything you want in it, draw anything, write anything, whatever. You get to see my exchange from all points of view, not just by word, and real parts that went with it like ticket stubs or sugar packets. Everything’s up for thought.

I love the fact that France has art from all over the world. Even when I go into the bookstore you can see translated books everywhere. It’s really opened my eyes to how endless the possibilities really are and how small the world is. My recent art project was based on that. Part of the project I had painted a coca cola bottle to look like a globe. That was fun to carry around on the bus….

My take on public transportation that I wrote one day:

“Their eyes shift with the sway of the bus, not daring to make contact with the others. The punishment of such a transgression results in reddened cheeks and a furrowed brow, but the sway continues. Looking out the windows, it seems as if they do not acknowledge they’re on a bus, merely watching a film or some documentary on urban civilization. The swaying continues, you can hear the soft whisper of mp3 players and the swishing of the bag of a woman’s new purchase at some arbitrary clothing store. The movie is put into slow motion as the stop light is illuminated and two cosmopolitans stand next to the exit doors. The hiss, the disembarkment, and an industrial sigh is made by the bus as it continues its route. I turn back to the film and wonder why I bought the ticket.”

Last weekend I stayed in Vichy with a member of the Rotary and his wife. I drank the mineral water. I toured the city, soaked in its history. I saw another art exposition and luckily there was an artist there that I’d seen before that I liked. Patrick (the Rotary member) also took me out in his forest where there were hunters. They actually blew on a cow horn to summon their hunting dogs back. It was nice to have some fresh air and escape the city for a change. I also got to see the Olympic canoe and kayak course there. Hopefully I might take it for a spin one day. I ate so much food that weekend. I ended up in a chocolatrie at one point: Heaven on Earth! Patrick bought me a bag of assorted chocolates and my favorite one ended up being this mixture of dark chocolate and earl grey tea, a combination of two things that make me very happy. (Don’t worry I’m still in shape. I live across from a track stadium now after all.)

The last night with my host family just happened to be my 18th birthday so I spent a cozy evening with them and my French Rotary host counselor. They were wonderful and I’ll never forget all they’ve done for me. Again, turning eighteen emphasized the fact that I can do anything (all that corresponds with the Rotary rules of course, but you know what I mean). I was surprised with many gifts and cards from people at school and friends and even neighbors here. The cards from home made me smile. Thanks!

I didn’t even think about changing host families until the morning of said exchange when I was talking to my host mother about it (which is probably the best way to go about the affair now that I look back at it). She told me that her niece, whom had foreign exchanged in Ohio, found it really hard and emotional to change families. I thought about that over another sip of coffee and looked around the dinning room, the kitchen. I thought about the time I didn’t really understand how to use the oven and I burned the quiche Lorraine. I thought about all the drawers, the spices, even light switches and how I had to discover them and other countless things around the house.*gulp*

That weekend I went out on the town with my host brother and his friends and we went to a concert. I had a good time. My new family is constantly helping me with my French and handing me history magazines, all sorts of literature. They even explain the political jokes on the TV for me. My host father puts French lyrics in my hands to translate. I’m getting the full cultural spin of things in this house. I’m liking the change. I find myself very lucky.

I have to admit though that I did have my bad moments. It wasn’t homesickness. Of course you have your language frustration, but that’s all better now. I don’t know why but learning new words just comes faster now. I don’t have to repeat the word a million times, use it in a sentence, and etc.. It just clicks now. I followed the advice of Michelle Williams before I left and bought a French workbook before I left. A big wink and elbow nudge out to all future outbounds on that subject. Also, I made lots of friends with the Bublicious Bubblegum I brought over with me and my amazing bubble-blowing skills. Thanks Michelle! Anyways, the only other problem was that after I changed families I basically had three weeks straight with no weekends so I was utterly tired in all senses, but you can take a day off to recuperate and all is well afterwards. You’ll have those days. It’s part of the experience.

My classes of Course Orientation are over. I felt so alive while doing that. It was in the wild! It always looked like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. It was like a hobbit would pop out of the bushes at any moment. What made it even more ironic was that my partner was named Sam. Every Friday afternoon I would come home with new battle scars from falling into blackberry bushes or slipping on some rocks. I love my P.E. class. Now I’m doing Judo…with the kimono and everything! It’s not something I expected to learn in France so it’s even more incredible.

Another project that I’ve been doing on the side is accompanying my friends to see the things they do after school. I went to watch the volleyball game of my first host brother’s girlfriend and I ended up being the referee! Apparently you’re allowed to kick the ball while playing, but only with one foot. I went to drama practice with another friend and I was a conductor to a human organ (musical, not the kind in your body). I went to a handball match. Of course I keep visiting art expositions. The next weekend I think I’ll watch a game of tennis. Doing this I get to meet lots of people and it’s another way to learn about the culture.

Today I went with my Rotary counselor and we ran with his sportive club for the Téléthon. The Téléthon is a weekend in France where everyone tries to do something for the greater good and then they reflect about it. Our cause was specifically to raise money for the handicapped. I ran 5 kilometers. It wasn’t the Tour de France, but at least I did something. This nation-wide effort is one of the many ideas I would like to share the U.S..

Also now I help my school every Tuesday and I help teach English to ten and eleven-year-olds. One day we were working with verbs and the students had to choose a verb for what they could do with a bus. One of them shouted “burn”! I said, “No, I don’t think you should do that, sorry.” Then the English teacher said, “No, we’re burn busses in France. It’s fine.” Just little things like that make my day. It keeps me smiling.

Well I know this blog has become a lot longer than I expected. I should probably submit it sooner next time. Tomorrow I’m going to Thiers and the only journeys that are officially planned are with the Rotary so my future plans are very vague right now. The end “fluent month four” is coming to a close soon and it used to scare me, but I’m feeling confident now.

On verra…


 

 

February 10 Journal

 I have seen twenty-one movies in the past six days. They were short films, of course, and I saw so many because the world-wide short film festival is held in the city where I live. This year is its 30th anniversary. This past week has been something amazing which I know I will come back to do again. It’s unforgettable. The festival is organized by genre, theaters, and séances. There’s usually about 5 films per séance (a viewing) and the five you watch are in the same category (International, France, Regional, Contemporary, etc.). All the viewings are spread across town in over 10 theaters, I think, and they all have different schedules every day. Each séance is shown one time per day. The organization sounds crazy, but it makes it all the merrier. Sometimes you’ll see a large group of people running from one theater to the next to see the next séance in time. I love this spirit.

The atmosphere downtown is incredible. People from around the world have gathered here. It’s like a major Rotex for film junkies. The base of it is at La Maison de Le Culture where they have tons of stuff to buy and it’s where all the film crews and directors hang out. I even got to talk to an actor in a film I saw! Everyone is here for the love of movies and I don’t think I’ve been so happy to live where I live. I’m so lucky!

I changed host families last weekend. I live about 30 minutes away from my school so I have to take a coach bus every morning. That makes 3 different types of transportation that I take now: coach bus, train, and bus. It’s definitely a big change from having my own car, but I think I can say now that I’ve adapted to it and I know my way around the city (except for last Monday when I took the bus in the wrong direction so I missed my dance class, but otherwise I’m doing pretty well). I also hang out a lot more downtown since my coach bus only comes downtown 2 times a day. I discovered so much from this, taken all the roads I haven’t taken. There’s too many to list! It’s a long leap away from the life I had in Keystone where you either go to Gainesville or Starke to find something to do…and that’s only if you have money to spare!

I was thinking about adaptation while I was taking the bus to school the other day. I was gazing out the window at the bejeweled dormant volcanoes and thought how pretty it was to start my day this way and then I looked around the bus and everyone’s faces were blank and staring absently at the chair ahead of them. I thought to myself I’ll probably be doing the same thing in the next two weeks. Then I thought about how sad the process of adaptation can be and I’ve decided that I don’t think I want to be adapted to anything except having food, water, and sleep everyday because this life is too short for us to treat things as normal and daily. We need to cherish every second of it. I know I’ve thought about that before I’ve done this exchange, but I’ve never taken it seriously until now. I don’t think I would have taken this approach to life without this exchange. This whole event has done wonders for me and I know that the rest of the exchange students feel the same. Rotary will turn your world upside-down, sometimes literally (haha), and why not? I’d think we’d all be better off that way.

I finally got to have a second Rotex the other weekend and one could truly see that everyone has changed. I saw Lauren and Hélène there and it was really cool to talk to people that understand that there IS a difference between alligators and crocodiles and it’s never really hot here. In fact Hélène invited me to go with her to one of her university classes so that should be interesting. Anyways the Rotex went really well. We even had a little dance party one night and it was really amusing to see a group of people all dancing differently to the same song. That’s Rotex for ya.

In school I can actually take notes in class that I can understand when I look back at them to study. When I look at the beginning of my notebook all I see are broken phrases that I took down just for the sake of looking like I was doing something. At that time I just wrote all the words down I knew how to write, which was nothing compared to now. I bought a couple of books in French to read on the bus and that helps a lot. Repetition, repetition, repetition!

I’d also like to tell everyone that I voted for the first time! I voted by mail! The elections are a big topic here and it’s strange because the French media never really shows the Republican candidates. This exchange year has been really interesting politically so far with the French president’s divorce, marriage to a pop singer, and the US presidential elections. I saw a report that they did on the elections in Florida and everyone on the screen was wearing a t-shirt. I was wearing two sweaters at the time. Talk about a slap in the face (haha)! Right now I’m actually wearing a t-shirt because it’s warming up and I’m told that that’s bizarre for this time of year, but I’m not complaining. ; )

I did get to go play in the snow for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lately I’ve been staying near where I live to visit small, medieval villages, museums, festivals, and odd things like that. I think in the next two weeks my host family and I will be going to the south of France to do Carnival (yes they have that here too apparently). In fact before then I might even get to see Bristol because she’ll be visiting a city near me and I’ve already talked to my host counselor about it and it’s looking very possible right about now. I can’t waaaaiiiittt!!!

And so I leave you all again to live another month in this place that is no longer “France” to me. No, it’s nothing to what it was when I first arrived here so I don’t think I consider it “France” anymore. I think the number one rule for foreign exchange should be to drop any pre-conceived notions or ideas because, as we outbounds well know, they will all turn out to be too general or false. In fact I don’t really know what to call this place anymore. I do know though that I am very happy and that’s enough for me. I hope everyone is feeling the same.

Le bonheur existe seulement quand il est partagé, et le Rotary est une super façon de le partager.

Love et Bisous!


June 11 Journal

 Late is better than never…right? I hope that everyone will understand when I say that these past couple of months have been a whirlwind. Every exchange student can understand this phase. You’re scared that you’re not living out your precious time in your oh so wonderful host country. I’m going to go ahead and submit what will probably be my last entry on this website. It’s a sad and scary fact, but it shows you that I actually made it through this year and WOW! Did I have a year! There’s that and the fact that a little journal entry is the least I could do for my district back in the US of A. I could never repay Rotary back for everything that has happened to me, but it’s a tiny step in the years ahead of this relationship that WE have created together. I know that the stack of those exchange student cards wasn’t meant to collect dust. There’s no way I could cut contact with everyone that I’ve met. It’s going to mean a heck of a lot of Christmas cards, but (again) it’s the least that I could do.:)

Sooo since it indeed has been awhile that means that I’ve actually been receiving decent grades in school. Even in my French class!! This came a very nice surprise to me because normally my French teacher just squints her eyes which makes me nervous and consequently I end up forgetting what I was talking about. When my class (all seven of us) was told that we were going to be doing projects I was more than happy to finally be covering something that I was familiar with. Then she looked at me and ask me if I could do mine on the Sonnets of Shakespeare. I have probably read only one of his Sonnets before, so that was a sort of let down. After having done my research I found out that the subject was actually very interesting. I never thought about the translations of poetry before, but now I know that it’s something that was more complex than you would think it would be. Even more so with Shakespeare because you have the Old English in there as well. I received an average grade for a French person (11/20). I have never been so proud in my life! It was the tangible proof that I HAVE actually learned something. . .but that’s only in reference to a language.

Responsibly speaking I don’t think that I could have arrived at the way I am now without this experience. You have the fact that your host family’s (no matter how open and loving) capacity to forgive is smaller than your own family’s. Mind, you don’t want anyone to have a bad image of you or what you represent so there’s that to consider as well. With these two forces that have governed my entire stay I am surer of myself and I’m not as nervous as I used to be when it comes to entering “the real world”. I was rewarded for my efforts the other evening when I saw that my host family had put up my picture next to their own children’s on the dining room table. It’s a small act, but I was very touched. This whole leaving France thing would be so much easier if I could just bring all my friends and family with me…

Friends: after having established histories, inside jokes, and the fact that I can actually hug people without receiving the deer-in-the-headlights look is another reason why my Skype credit will probably need to be refilled frequently in the US of A. After growing up in a small town where everyone knows the history of everyone and social circles change slowly over time I am happily surprised of all the relationships that I have started in this giant (keep in mind I’m from Keystone) city of mine in the heart of France. These relationships have led me on many adventures that I’ll never forget along with the people I shared them with. There’s always a place next to me on a Florida beach whenever they want.

Looking back at my travels you could say that I’ve been around. Most of my travels are thanks to the Rotary Euro bus trip. This was the first time that I had no clue at all on how to speak the languages in half of the countries we visited besides a basic phrases sheet. I picked up some expressions in not only German and Italian but in the languages of the other students on the bus trip as well. The adults in charge told us they had never had such a good group of inbounds on the bus trip. There were 47 of us, 11 nationalities. Everyone got along with everyone. None of us left one person out. Our hotel room line up was different every night. Not because we were forced to, but because we all wanted it. When we had to say goodbye to each other in Paris there wasn’t a dry eye on the bus. How cool that a group of people completely different are able to do that? It makes you realize that, despite differences, people can get along.

Some of my favorite moments:

Dancing to 90s music with complete strangers (Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears.) I never imagined my 18 year-old body moving to such things.

Singing “ohh Champs Elysee!” on the Champs Elysee.

Taking the boat tour of Strasbourg and taking pictures with the Alsacian ladies with their crazy hats.

The festive atmosphere in the brasserie in Munich (complete with traditional costumes and music).

Being in a cozy inn nestled between the mountains in Germany with the smell of goat in the morning (yay being in the country).

Singing with the locals around a piano.

The postcard landscapes everywhere to be found.

Strudel!!!

Two nights in Italy with another group of Italian students. Ciao!

Gelato EVERY night.

Watching the orange moon rise on the Adriatic Sea.

Building a Russian/American/Japanese castle in the sand.

Trying to explain the concept of the game “red rover” to the other students while trying not to sound completely ridiculous.

Dodging the millions of pigeons in Venice.

Walking on ready-made walkways because Venice IS sinking and it was raining a lot.

Exchange student masquerade (with the masks we bought in Venice)!

The smallest country I’ve ever visited: Monaco (Grace Kelly).

Seeing the fort from The Count of Monte Cristo!!!! In Marseille.

Last night party and I did a little bit of American flag twirling for everyone.

Everyone in tears and hugging at the end of the night to the Backstreet Boys song “As long as you love me”.