Outbounds 2008-2009

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Alejandra “Ale” Beck
2008-09 Outbound to France
Hometown: Miami, Florida
School: Immaculata – La Salle High School, Miami, Florida
Sponsor: Doral Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Douai Sud Rotary Club, District 1670, France

Ale - France

Ale’s Bio

 At first I thought it would be difficult to write an autobiography, for there is only so much I can say about myself on paper. I wondered, “What should I say about myself? Should I mention my interests, my hobbies or my background?” I decided to start here.

Alejandra is my name, but I prefer Ale. I’m currently 17, on the brink of 18 years of age. I attend La Salle High School as a senior awaiting graduation. I was born and raised in the Magic City, Miami, Florida. I live with my parents, younger sister and two chocolate Labradors.

Politics, world affairs, daily news, and anything in between are preferred topics of conversation for me. I enjoy promoting awareness about anything I consider important. I love language, fashion, economics, music and especially traveling. I enjoy laughing at my own jokes and hanging out with my friends. Running, cooking and writing are my favorite hobbies. I believe in living life to the fullest, taking chances, and karma. As an end to a beginning and an introduction, I am very excited to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student and anticipate next year’s challenges and adventures.


September 29 Journal

 Pre Departure: 25 August 2008

So I’m basically freaking out internally. I can’t believe it’s TOMORROW. It’s just hours now, not days anymore. It’s so weird because it hasn’t hit me, yet it has. I can’t really explain what I’m feeling but it’s a stew of mixed emotions. I really still can’t believe that I’ll be LIVING in France tomorrow for 10 months! Even, at this point, it’s still completely surreal!! I’m soo nervous, yet so much more excited to go. As of late, I’ve been having the strangest dreams and finishing the most difficult packing I have ever done. And I’m still not sure what to expect. But, at least it has hit me that this is will be so much more than a one week vacation.

En France: 22 Sept 2008

I’ve been here for about three weeks (though it feels like so much longer). If I were to be asked how I feel, I would say I feel as if I am dreaming. I’m floating, it’s as if I don’t really feel I’m here. Despite this, I know that I am truly happy. One way I know that I am really here: I am cold. I now know why everyone’s eyes widen when I say that I’m from Miami. In addition to that, I’ve heard all sorts of “great” things about Miami. For example, everyone believes that Miami is full of big houses, expensive cars, bikinis and celebrities. It’s really funny to see what their impression is of where I come from.

Leaving Miami wasn’t so hard because it really hadn’t hit me what I was doing. Once in DC, after exchanging pins and cards of course with the other students, it started to hit me a little. It began to hit me even more on the flight when we were about one hour away and another exchange student and I were like “we’re almost there!” It finally hit me in the CDG airport when a French woman took the luggage cart I was going to get: I’m going to be in France for a year. When I woke up from THE nap (all exchangers know what I mean) after settling in, I was still almost in disbelief that I was actually here.

Everyone asks about the elections and if I’m going to vote. I get a lot of questions about American high school also: Do proms exist? Do you really wear those hats at graduation? Are there really are pom-pom girls (cheerleaders in French) at football games? I get a lot of questions about Miami: Have ever seen anyone famous? Do you go to the beach everyday? Is Experts Miami (CSI: Miami in French) real? When I say where I am coming from I usually get these standard questions: Why did you come here then?? (Mind you, I don’t think my city is as they would make it seem) Are you cold? (it is only about 60 F here.. and that is cold to me) Is it like on TV where…? Everyone asks me if I live in one of those “big houses by the beach”. People also ask me why I am not tanned.

The third day I was here, we had a small going away party for my host sister who left to university. I met a bunch of people my age and some who were going to my school. I am 18 and in Premiere, which is equivalent to a sophomore/junior class as everyone is 15 or 16 years old. I do feel rather old sometimes, but at least my height makes me blend in :]. Even here, no one believes that I am 18. I met some friends of the girl I am replacing. They helped me out on the first few days of school which was really helpful, if not I would definitely have been really lost and would have a schedule that makes no sense.

School here is completely different. The campus is so much smaller (it’s about one or two buildings). The view!! We made our schedule with the teacher. I end some days at 5h, but I start at 1h on those days. I have 2 hours of school in the morning on Wednesdays, and have 2 hours of school in the morning on Saturdays. Even the students are different (no one asks to go to the bathroom every 10 minutes and there is no one sleeping). I walk to school! The desks are mini tables with unattached chairs. There are about 5 flights of stairs to climb.

I know more or less what is going on in two classes: English and Spanish. Not even math, because in the first place, math is in Chinese to me. I’ve noticed though that every day I can understand the professor better!! Taking notes is still hard though because just when I have finished copying what the person next to me has written, the lecture is almost over.

I’ve learned SO much French, probably even more than I did in my two years of high school French classes. I have learned a lot from my host brothers unintentionally. How? Because they talk A LOT and we watch cartoons together. This has helped so much! Also knowing Spanish has helped a lot, even though I end up mixing up the two and making no sense. I have been going to bed with French phrases and words circling around in my head.

The food is REALLY good. I’ve eaten all sorts of things, but nothing crazy. Lots of cheese and baguettes, mmm. If I could, I would eat one of those baguettes all by myself (I can already see myself rolling off the plane back home months from now). I have tried thé a la menthe which I can’t get enough of and can’t wait to drink everyday when it gets even COLDER. But I do miss black beans and Hispanic food, which do not exist here.

Everything is going extremely well. I absolutely love it here and I’m literally having the time of my life.

Thank you to Rotary, my sponsor club and everyone else who has made this possible!!!!

Bisous!


January 15 Journal

 Sometimes I hear these French words and sentences spill out of my mouth and wonder if it is me who is talking. Then, I hear the very not so French accent, and realize that it is me!

Before, I would translate everything from English-Spanish-French. For a while it was English-French. And now it is usually, if not always, French-French!! My thinking is usually first verb conjugated, second verb not. Remember BAGS (beauty age goodness size) for the adjectives. Make sure to differentiate the “le” and “les”. Do I need to add some liaison here? I don’t remember when or how this started! I do remember on October 5 when someone asked me something and I responded without even thinking. I had to pause for a second think “Where did that come from?” When did the words on advertisements become words and not jumbled letters put together? When did I stop having to say “comment?” after every other thing someone said to me? Songs sound like songs and not just mush put together. Jokes are funny! I’m so surprised when things like “bah” and “non mais…” slip out of my mouth. I normally think to myself in French. When I first start speaking English it feels weird. It’s hard when people in English class ask me to translate something. It hurts when I first start to speak Spanish. I’ve decided to stop directly translating things, because it usually just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been learning by listening.

Before coming, I was asked, many times, why are you going back to high school . There are mornings where I wake up and wonder why I am still going to high school. There are many Sundays where I wonder why I am still in high school. Actually, there are many Fridays and Saturdays, as well where I ask myself this question. What am I doing in a classroom of 16 year olds? Despite all this, I do not mind that I didn’t start university right away. Everyone’s doing the same thing anyway. There is no way that I could regret doing this. I would really regret not doing it.

Anyways, it’s a good thing I spent a week in the Bahamas with Kristina (outbound to Ecuador) (who I also miss!) to do some last minute tanning. J (Tropical storm Fay was hanging around Miami the few days before I left making the skies similar to here) That tan is basically gone. I still get asked why am I not tanned. This was kind of like a pre exchange- I tried new foods (mm conch salad) and heard a new language (Bahamian J)

Ok, so I haven’t written in a long time. SO, I’m going to write a little about a lot..!

In October, I went to Reims. Yes, the French city known for that really big cathedral and champagne. I went with another exchange student and her Rotary club. We visited the Notre Dame de Reims. Then, two champagne caves for champagne sampling. J

Later, in October, I went to Bruxelles with my Spanish class. We went to two museums, Musees Royaux d’Art et d’ Histoire and a museum on music instruments (I don’t remember the name/ have a picture with the name of the museum). Les vacances de la Toussaint took place the last week of October. During this time, I hung out with some people from school and the other exchange students. On the first day I went to Euro Disney in Paris with another exchange student for her birthday. With my host family, we went to Normandy to the D-Day beaches. We visited several museums and other sites, as well. It was a about a two hour drive but it felt like less since we (my little host brothers and I) were playing games on the way there. I really enjoyed this trip because being with my family together for much longer than usual made me realize how much I really like them.

In November, my Rotary club had a rallye des voitures for a fundraiser. What this is is like a slow car race, except not a race. There are a bunch of fabulous cars that follow a trail. Along the trail there are stops, we stopped at a chateau, a restaurant and then it finished at a race course. What I really liked about this was being able to see “la vrai France”: little villages, fields, lots of nature. Though I didn’t really want to go at first, this was something I had never done and would definitely not mind doing again.

Also, in November I went to a Moroccan wedding. Not a Moroccan themed wedding, but a real one. I emphasize this because it was something I had never seen and would probably not see back in the US. It was really like nothing I had ever seen. There were SO many colors. There were only females. The food was communal style. The bride changed dresses about 7 times. It was NOTHING like an American wedding. The groom wasn’t even there. No priest, no rings, no after party. In fact, the whole event was pretty much a party. There was fun music and lots of dancing! Everyone was so happy. I didn’t even know the bride and was still so happy!

My family and I went to the France vs. Australia rugby match in Paris. I had soo much fun even though I wasn’t sure of what was going on. Since I’ve never even seen a rugby match all I could do was cheer when a French player had the ball and yell “Allez les Bleus!” I loved sitting on the French side and I even felt proud. France lost and I still felt proud wearing my French rugby scarf.

The last weekend of November, the other exchange students and I attended a “soiree Bollywood”. This was a fundraiser and included a performance of Indian dances, Indian food (yum) and dancing (to an Indian DJ) after! One of the exchangers in my district comes from India… I’d never seen him so happy! Especially when he said that everything was pretty accurate. We all finished the night off dancing together.. so much fun! I love doing anything with the other exchange students because we always have a good time, no matter what we’re doing.

When I first got here, something that really stuck out to me and made me stick out was the clothing. In France, clothes are dark (black, grey, blacker, etc). It was hard for me to understand how they could manage dressing in dark colors in such dark weather. I thought I would never do it. I somewhat refused. However, without even realizing, I now dress in dark colors and really like it! It might be difficult to go back to dressing in colors, actually. I’ve also adjusted to the dark skies and lack of sun. It no longer even bothers me when people close the curtains in school because of the little bit of sun. I also adjusted to the cold, which I’m so thankful for. I no longer walk everywhere holding myself together. My usual thoughts in the cold are “oh, I can’t feel my fingers but I can still text” “I can’t move my toes, but it’s ok, I can walk ” “where are my ears?” I’ve figured out ways to keep warm. Wearing a hat and scarf over my face works well. I usually look like I’m going to rob a store when I walk in, but oh well. Walking fast works well.. very well in fact. It has snowed about several times for ten minutes. But it stays for as long as it lasted: the snow melts away in 10 minutes. Even though I have seen snow before, it’s still really weird to look out the window in school and see snow falling.

Everything has become soo normal! I feel like a local, no longer a stranger to the city. I even make sure to always have my essentials in my purse: umbrella, gloves, hat, snack. I’ve habituated, adjusted, made myself at home. I am home; walking through my city, this is the best feeling ever.

I still think it’s funny when people ask me if I know Lil Wayne or sing to me “..American girl” in the tune of Kanye West’s song. Or say “Ooo MY-am-ee b-e-ech?!” I love when the French say “dis-donc” and sing songs in English. And pronounce “the” like “zhe”

As for the metric system, I still don’t fully understand it. At least I understand one of the most important ones- the temperature. Even though the weather goes from cold to colder and the usual 0 or -1 already sounds freezing (it’s really ONLY about 30 F). In the car I still get nervous when I first see 100 on the speedometer. Sometimes I hold on but then I realize the car isn’t moving that fast. If someone tells me how many km they live away I just stare at them blankly and whip out my French cell phone to use the conversion tool. The best conversion moment I’ve heard here was when we first arrived, one of the exchange students in my district thought there was something wrong with the scale at her house because it said she weighed 50.

My daily weeks consist of school, Rotary meeting every other Tuesday, Lille on Wednesdays, watching my soap opera and going out on Saturday. My weekly diet consists of baguettes, nutella and cheese. And I hate to say it (just kidding I love to say it) but I think I have lost weight. I’ve been thinking of picking up the girls’ diet around here: always have chocolate or gateaux in your purse. Actually, in France I have started to like coffee and chocolate. Every now and then I go to this café/restaurant called Au Bureau near centre-ville. At first, going after school was really surprising, now it’s so normal and I love it! I love going on weekends and just meeting up with friends and drinking a café. It’s really something I don’t do at home.

My Rotary meetings here are about 2.5 hrs in the evening. They’re so much longer but I really like going to them. My club jokes around, drinks wine and just talks about everything.

Since I’ve been here I’ve been watching this soap opera called Plus Belle La Vie. It’s really very corny and filled with bad acting, but it’s my favorite (well, the only one I watch). My host brother got me addicted and everyday at 20h20 we make sure that we’re watching.

Before coming, I always thought the idea of riding around Europe in a train was really cool. Since I’ve been here, I’ve ridden on the train almost every week to go to Lille on Wednesday afternoons after school (Wednesday afternoons I don’t have school and most students use that time to sleep or do their devoirs) to meet up with the other exchange students. The weirdest part is that we often bump into each other without even making a rendez-vous or knowing that the other was there.

I remember when I first arrived that everything seemed SO FAR. Now that I’ve been here everything is SO CLOSE. The second day I was here and went out with my host sister, all I remember thinking, “why are we going soo far!” Places I went to when I first got here seemed like miles away and they’re really only less than that. I was scared I would get lost going to or coming from school. The walk is like a 5 minute walk… or 3 minutes if I’m late.

For les vacances de noel, my host family went to Marseille in the south of France to celebrate Christmas with their family. We celebrated on the 24 with my host’s mom family and on the 25 with my host dad’s. I had a really special Christmas. I didn’t feel awkward at all at either, I felt part of the family. After my host family went skiing and I went to Paris (in the banlieu actually) with my host mom’s sister. For two days I explored Paris with no real plan. That was really a dream come true.

This Christmas season we had about four galette des rois. This is a pie kind of dessert where there is a fève (a little favor, usually a little statuette of a famous character) inside. Whoever has the piece with la fève becomes the queen or king. My piece had la fève once and I secretly got very excited! It’s funny how something so simple, made me so happy. It’s just like so many things here.

For New Years my host sister had a little soiree with some friends at home. Grapes aren’t in season, so I bought raspberries for the 12 grapes tradition.

The 4 of January was my birthday. The night before I went out with some friends and another Mexican exchange student from the other district (there are two districts that share the city of Lille) who has the same birthday. On the day of, we had a lunch at my house with some of the other exchangers. After eating, we spent the day just talking in my room (it was way too cold to walk around outside). It was simple, but really all that I wanted. My nineteenth birthday will definitely be something that I will always remember.

I switch families soon. At the same time of being really excited, I’m also feeling very weird about it. I’ve gotten so used to and attached to my family here that moving into a new one is going to be so strange. I won’t have my host brother making silly jokes all the time or singing. I won’t have the other one showing me things he finds interesting or…singing. I won’t have my host sister visiting on the weekends. There won’t be host mom yelling at the younger two (which I’ve strangely grown to like and not mind) or my host dad just being calm while she yells. I’m going to really miss all the little things. Four months ago, I found myself saying, “whoa I’ll be living four months with these people”. Now in a few days, I won’t be. I liked them from the beginning and knew that I would miss them, but now that it’s time to switch it’s hard to believe. At the same time, moving makes me feel like this is ending too soon.

This journal doesn’t even express how much I am enjoying and truly loving it here.


May 5 Journal

 At the beginning of January, I switched host families. I was nervous, because though I had met them before, I was not sure what to expect. But I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier! These past (almost) 3 months have gone by so quickly that I really can’t even believe it. I feel like I just moved in a week ago. And now I’m moving out! When I look back, all I can think of is, where did time go? Then again, I was sick half the time I was in this house. In my first or second week I got the flu (from my host mom). A month later I had a virus. A few days later I got Mono. (And I had a cold at the same time.) The weird part might be that my host dad was a doctor. The worst part was thinking “I’m stuck in bed” for a week. The other worst part was that I was supposed to visit Renee in Belgium during my winter vacations, buttt I had mono =(.

Luckily, I recovered and went on a bus trip with Rotary the week after. The bus trip was amazing. It was definitely one of the best times I’ve had here. After this trip, I had made really good friends with people I had known for about 8 days. It was sad having to say goodbye but just a few weeks later there was a Rotary conference in Toulouse with all the exchange students (I saw Veronica and Ashley too!) in France. So we all just said “A Toulouse!” (see you at Toulouse) to each other, which made it not as hard to say good bye.

Toulouse is in the south of France and I am all the way in the north. So we left a few days earlier to do a trip with 3 other districts around me. So off we went, 4 districts in a double-decker bus. It would have been difficult not to have a good time!! We visited lots of chateaux and other places. On the first day, there was a lot of traffic, so were late for our first visit. And then we ended up being late for everything else. But it didn’t matter, it was the people who made the trip what it was. Another three weeks later, I took a Rotary trip around Europe. We visited Munich, Austria, Italy, Monaco, Geneva, and some cities of southern France. Most of the people were from my district or from the previous bus trip, so even though I didn’t get to meet as many new people it was nice to get to know and spend more time with the ones I did know. It still surprises me how close I’ve gotten to people who I met only 8 months ago or even who I’ve known for only a week.

Before switching families, I was a little worried even before moving because the house was a lot further than my first one. My first house was close to everything.. 5 mins walk to school.. 5 mins walk to centre-ville. My new house was about 20 mins to school. After my first week, I really started liking these walks.. they allowed me to eat what I wanted without having to feel guilty. J During the first week, I was walking back from school, looking at the ground not really paying attention to where I was walking and then all off a sudden I realized that I had turned where I was supposed to turn. It may not seem like much, but to me it was a shock! What I really liked about these walks was being able to see my city and its architecture more. It’s no “Paris”, but there are still lovely things to see! I don’t walk as much back home as I do here, so I take advantage and walk whenever I can! I’ve even mastered walking without stepping in droppings haha.

It’s absolutely crazy how normal it feels to be living here. It’s even hard to write journals because nothing seems cool or new anymore!! haha. When people ask me “How’s France?” I just want to tell them, “Why don’t you ask me how’s life instead??”. I hate when people ask me “How’s your trip?”. This isn’t a trip!! It never was and furthermore it’s become my lifee haha.. I feel like I’ve known my classmates for four years, I feel like I’ve been living here for years but I just don’t remember anything before this year, or even the first several months. It isn’t weird to hear or speak French anymore. I don’t feel like that awkward new girl in school anymore. A friend at school told me she was going to really miss me when I leave and the first thing that came to my mind was “but I’m not going anywhere?” I chose my return date. It feels weird. This is the only word I can use to describe it. It’s even weirder to see next year’s outbounds knowing where they’re going. All I can think is, that was me a year ago!!! There are days when I can’t wait to leave, but there are days where I never want to leave. I miss many things, but I will miss so much more. How I really feel about leaving these days is, I’d like to go back just for a little “vacation” and then come right back! It isn’t weird anymore to leave school at 18h and see the moon out already. Luckily, it’s spring now and that has changed.. it gets dark around 21h now!!

I can say that I’ve grown and learned so much here, but if you ask me how and why I can’t explain. Things that used to really bother me now just seem so tiny. When I talk to friends back home, sometimes I really think “Did this actually used to matter to me?” I hardly even bother telling stories about my exchange to friends back home. It isn’t even worth describing how I feel to people back home because the truth is, they don’t understand. I’ve learned that only another exchange student understands what the heck I’m saying or feeling. I’ve learned that it’s only worth saying how you feel to another exchange student because people back home either think you’re crazy or not having a good time (which IS normal though many people may think it’s not!!!). It’s funny how we all notice the same things. For example, when I got on the bus for the first trip, one of the first few things we did was (lovingly) make fun of the French and all their little quirks. Everyone seems to have a love/hate relationship with them and I’m guessing this probably happens in every country. Everyone seems to have gone through similar things and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one!!! J For me, one of the best parts of exchange has been the other exchange students and meeting new ones. I honestly don’t know how else I would’ve gotten this far without them! This is one part of my exchange that I will really miss.

Before coming, I tended to be very defensive towards any comments regarding Americans or the country. I tend to hear these comment daily nowadays. I can definitely say that since I’ve been in France, I have calmed down A LOT. I just laugh now. People are still surprised to find an American that doesn’t like Coke or McDonald’s and eats ketchup with everything. Or that isn’t “obese”. I hear a lot of “I don’t like Americans, except you”.. coming from people who have never met another American. Though this is a somewhat ignorant thing to say, I’ve started to enjoy giving people a different image.

So now I’m in my third and last family and I’m living with an exchange student from Mexico. I had been looking forward to this for most of the year because this girl is one of my closest friends here. But at the same time, it’s a strange feeling thinking “this is the last family”. It almost feels like everything is happening too fast and that I still have so much left to do.. but at the same time, I feel so accomplished.

I have finally gained enough confidence to say that.. I can speak French!!!!!! It’s taken me awhile to grasp this. But I realize that although it’s not perfect and my accent isn’t perfect and I still make little mistakes and forget words sometimes.. it’s ok =) I can speak it and be understood..!

I have three months left. I remember when I was three months into my exchange. I remember when there was three months left before coming. What will my first three months be like after I come back?

Merciii Merciii beaucoup et a bientot =)


 

 

July 30 Journal

 I’m on a tram and I don’t understand any of the conversations around me. All of a sudden I hear a simple, “C’est la prochaine!” And I realize that it’s something that I do understand and it’s… French. It feels like I’ve gone back a few months, but I didn’t; I’m in Lisbon, Portugal!

In the beginning of May I went to Lisbon with my Rotary club. This was completely different from the other bus trips I had done. First off, we took the plane, there were only 12 of us and I was the only person my age. The only word I can describe traveling with a whole group of people from another nationality is… an experience. I got to see one culture’s view on another. It was even scary to see how when someone made a comment, I either agreed or was thinking the same thing. Before coming, we were told that in Portugal, most of the younger generation speaks English and the older, French. My first thought was actually, “Oh, I have to use my English”. My second one was, I get to use my new language!! So as I wanted to speak English as little as possible during this trip, I didn’t and I successfully avoided it… I would even ask for help in French. =)

During this trip, my closest friend (and roommate!) returned home. It was strange having to start saying good bye already. And now little by little I start to have to say my au revoirs. It has yet to hit me that my year is coming to an end. But maybe this is because I’m returning much later than everyone else. I knew that at one point I would leave, but now that it’s here, it’s hard to even believe. I’m really divided over how I feel about it. At the same time I want to stay, but I also feel like it’s also time to go. I feel like I’ve grown and learned so many things that I couldn’t have learned any other way. I’ve changed, but I don’t think I will realize how much until I return. When I look back I don’t feel like my year went by so fast. But then I think twice and realize that it really did zip by. It’s hard to accept! It’s just surreal to look back and see the days blend into months.

The last Friday of May, my district and two others made a trip to Parc Asterix (it can be compared to the French version of Disney). Though this was a very fun day (and sunny!) it was also soo sad. This was the last time that I will see many of the people that I met this year for a while (I don’t like to say it’s the last time!). I don’t like all these “lasts” so I prefer to think about future reunions and visits. I don’t even bother saying “good-bye” to people, I just tell them “see you later” =).

The day after this, I finally went to see RENEE in BELGIUM! (I was supposed to go in February, but didn’t end up going because I got sick). I live only about 30-45 minutes away by car from Belgium, but have only gone about twice. This weekend passed by so fast. What I really remember the most is just laughing.. a lot! And then the yummy Belgian food, beer and chocolates! I asked a lot of questions because I’m so close to Belgium, don’t know much about it. And it’s crazy to see how two countries so close are so similar, yet so different. On the last day, I went to Renee’s high school. It’s totally different from French school as well. Overall, this was one of my favorite weekends of my exchange!

There were times where I hated this place, where I thought “Why did they send me here??? What’s wrong with them??” But now I realize that I truly love this place and I’m going to miss it more than I know. It’s sooo weird to be leaving!! I can’t even imagine being back home. I won’t be speaking Franglais (the only thing I can speak anymore), taking the train, eating too much cheese and nutella, getting confused my name and the word for “to go” (in French aller or allez sounds exactly the way my name does.. and this word is always being said!!) and most importantly being with all the wonderful people I have met this year. I have the impression that everyone that I’ve known for years back home is just going to feel like strangers. Whereas the people that were once strangers 11 months ago, feel like people that I’ve known for years. Even a life that I’ve known for years is going to feel like a new one. I just want to bring everyone back home with me!!! That would make things easier! 

In June, I went to see a France vs USA basketball game in my city. This was a strange feeling, hearing both national anthems consecutively. I do feel a sense of pride towards France and I love it! I can’t explain it. I’ve left my heart in several cities across the world, and I know that a very big part will be left here in France, especially in my own little city.

When I first arrived, I told myself, “I want to know this city”. And now, I do. I know its seasons, its history, its events, best spots, stores, everything. It’s hard to leave it. My city may not be famous, or huge, but it’s my city and I love it for that. Going back is just such a weird thing to even think about. When I think about going back, I really just imagine myself “stepping out” of a box into “the other side”. I feel like I’m going into a whole new world, a feeling I didn’t have when I came to France. I’m not too sure of what to expect, but I am kind of nervous! Leaving Miami wasn’t too hard, but I have a feeling that leaving France will be.

This is such an amazing experience, the way so many cultures are brought together in one country either far in distance from our own or far in culture. Sometimes I look at pictures and notice all the different nationalities. We would have never been brought together any other way if it wasn’t for this exchange. It really is a beautiful thing. I can truly say that I am proud of myself for having completed this year. This has been the best and most beautiful year of my life. I’ll never forget it. I’ve seen a lot of people use this quote a propos to finishing their year: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I find this really to be the perfect way to look at it. It hurts that it’s over, but it’s such a amazing feeling that it happened.

I’d like to finish off my last journal by thanking everyone that made this year possible; especially, the program of RYE Florida. We really do have an amazing program. I’ve talked to other students who didn’t have orientations, or don’t even know what Rotex is. Thank you for all the work you put into this. Thank you for every effort, it really means a lot to all of us students. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU

Quelle belle année, quelle belle expérience. Merci beaucoup beaucoup beaucoup.

Alina Walker
2008-09 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Green Cove Springs, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School, Orange Park, Florida
Sponsor: Green Cove Springs Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Phuket Rotary Club, District 3330, Thailand

Alina - Thailand

Alina’s Bio

 Hi everyone! My name is Alina and I live on the St. Johns River most of the time. I can say “on the river” because I live on a boat. My family and I just go wherever there is a body of water. I live with my mom, step-dad, and the newest addition to our family, Booser, our new puppy. My dad lives in Fayetteville, NC and his family lives in Alabama. I have a lot of fun visiting my dad and my numerous cousins.

My mom is always trying to keep up with my busy schedule. This year, I am proud to be a cheerleader for my school, Fleming Island High. Last year I was on the dance team for Fleming Island. For nine glorious years prior to that, I was a competitive gymnast, making it to level 8, practicing sometimes 5 hours a day and going to almost 100 meets on the weekends. I also enjoy helping to support the Invisible Children Club at my high school. Making chances, taking risks, and discovering my limits, is where I excel the most.

As I sit on the boat which I call my home, I reflect on past experiences and look out over the horizon. I think of the fantastic journey that lies ahead of me. I am so ready for my next journey as a Rotary Exchange Student. I cannot thank Rotary enough for giving me the chance to go overseas and experience a new culture. Thanks Rotary!


August 17 Journal

 Alright so I’ve read mostly everyone else’s journal and they all seem to be so insightful. I thought I’d just give you the plain old facts of Thailand and my experiences. So I guess there is no better place to start than the beginning.

OK. The failure to depart on the first day dampened my spirits a little. But the excitement was still there on the second attempt. So Chris and I left on Saturday and the plane ride was exhausting. When we got to Narita, Japan they told us that our flight on US Airways to Bangkok had been canceled so they transferred us to Thai Airways which was nice, but already I was afraid to eat the food. You would think that if shown a menu that had tuna sandwich on it, it would be, you know, the chicken of the sea. But no this tuna sandwich was two pieces of bread with a raw slab of tuna in the middle. This was on the flight. OK ok so when we finally arrive in Bangkok at who knows what time, Chris and I went out to get our luggage because that was his last flight and I was to spend a night in a hotel because my flight wasn’t until the next morning. So when we get to the baggage claim, it’s so hot and there is no air conditioning. So we wait for our bags and we wait and wait and wait and wait and then there are no more bags. So we find someone to help us and this really nice Thai guy takes us into an office and gets our information to send us our bags. After we settle the whole baggage thing we go to find Chris’s host family and the person who is supposed to be taking me to a hotel. So we go through Customs and we find our way through the Bangkok airport and find where everyone is to be picked up. There is a sign that says Chris Foley but no Alina Walker. So we go to the Chris Foley sign and the family greats us with extremely broken English we both get flowers and then we try to explain that our luggage was lost, but they didn’t understand so they tried to take us through the whole process again. Then finally we got through to them by saying “already…already”. So after that ordeal I didn’t want to hold Chris and his new family in the airport any longer so I said my goodbyes to him and I went on my way to try and figure out what my sleeping situation was going to be.

I had thought about getting a hotel room close to the airport, but my flight was at 7:30 the next morning and it was already almost 1:00am. So I decided to rough it in the airport. I showered in the sinks of the airport along with another lady from who knows where…we didn’t speak the same language. I said hello and she said something weird. So then I tried to get back into the terminals, but they wouldn’t let me without a ticket. And yeah the ticket counters didn’t open until 5:00am. All of the restaurants were also in the terminal except for one, which said it was open 24 hours, but had construction tape all over it. So scratch that. Thank goodness I didn’t listen to my mother about packing so many sweets. So I found a bench to myself and dug in on the sweets that I had brought with me on my carry on. All I have to say is thank God for butterfingers!! By then it was about 2:30am so I decided it was safe to try and catch some Z’s. At about 4:30 I wake up and I am surrounded by sleeping people on benches all around me. So I decided to stay awake and find the line for my plane ticket to Phuket. So it takes me an hour to find the darn line and then they tell me there is another line and that I am in the wrong one. So I tell the person behind the ticket counter to get someone to take me there and he did which I am very thankful for. And I finally got my ticket and all of the panic was lifted…just a little though. I got through the gate and met some Australian guys who were very kind and took me to breakfast. They were also going to Phuket, but on a different airline, but the same time. So we stuck together until 7:15 and then we split telling each other that we would see the other in Phuket. Which we did because, as my luck would have it, I didn’t find my family for about 20 minutes which was a total panic. But they stayed with me until I found them.

Ok so now that I am with my host family, I am started on round one of Alina vs. Thai food! My host family never eats at home. Since I have been here I have been to a different restaurant for every meal every day. I didn’t even know an island could have so many restaurants. Ok so anyway my favorite words in Thai are mai pet pet. Which means no spicy spicy!!! And they all just laugh and keep piling food onto my plate. So I have now learned the words eem lao. Which means full already. And they stop putting food on my plate. My host mother always says “just try little see if you like.” But I always end up with a bowl full of scary looking noodles floating in some kind of liquid. I never know what I am eating EVER!! They tell me the name and I used to ask what’s in it, but I have completely given up on that. So I just eat and eat and eat. And everyone keeps telling me you eat so little. My host mom says she is worried about me. But thank goodness we live next to a spa with a fitness room (with by the way NO AC). My host father loves to walk every where. He owns two guests houses and a gallery which right now is under construction. I love going to the guest house because the staff is so funny, and sometimes there are farang (foreigners) so I can get an English fix and help translate so that they can get the room that they want and accommodations. Today there was an Indian movie that was shooting close to the guest house, but I didn’t go because I was helping my host sister pack because she is going to Ithaca, NY on an exchange, also with Rotary. My home is on a hill so the water pressure in the shower isn’t that great. And when I say isn’t that great, I mean the water kind of dribbles out of the faucet. But that’s the hot water. The cold water pressure is great. So I’ve been adjusting to taking cold showers! 🙂 Instead of using air conditioning, we just open the windows, because there is always a breeze even though its a hot one. My family says that this is one of the colder months and I am dying of heat already! I don’t know what I am going to do in the summer months. I guess I’ll just have to go to the air conditioned mall everyday!

Ok so places I’ve been in the past two weeks.. Patong beach!!! Beautiful. I like it better at night though, I have to say. Kata beach is better in the day time and the views from the mountains are amazing!!! Trang is beautiful with its giant plateaus and crazy caves with bats that are good luck. My school is nothing special. It’s just a school, but the students and teachers are all extremely helpful and kind. When I got here though at first they told me I would have to cut my hair, but because my mom works at the school, she talked to the headmaster and she got me into an M-6 class which is like being a senior, so I didn’t have to cut my hair, even though I was prepared to do it, but not willingly!! Anyways, we are taking my host sister to Bangkok to send her off to America and we are going to stay an extra few days to sight see after she leaves.

So that’s Thailand in two weeks in a nutshell. There is so much more to Thailand and before I left, I didn’t know if I was ready to be faced with such a challenge, but my family has made it so easy and effortless. Opportunities are falling into my lap with every day and I don’t want to miss a thing, so I am going to wrap this up and go eat something with four legs and no head!!!

Love from Phuket,

Ari

(oh by the way they gave me a Thai name because my name with some intonations means “what” so now Alee, but always sounds like Ari means “kindness”)


 

 

November 3 Journal

 First I just want to thank Rotary for giving me this experience. It’s everything that I thought it would be and the people that an exchange student meets are incredible and unforgettable.

Alright so I haven’t really been keeping up with my journals so I have a lot of catching up to do. September was pretty uneventful. I just went to school every day for what seems like forever. School days here are extremely long. I start school at 7:45 and school ends at 4 or 4:30 depending on the day. However, I have extra Thai classes that I attend so I am usually getting home around 7 at night. In the class room, the students don’t change rooms for every class, the teachers do. The students in the classes have been in the same class for their entire school experience so they are all extremely close to each other. This does make it a little difficult to fit in, but they are all so extremely nice and friendly. So that was September.

October was fun because I didn’t have to go to school. The school takes a month long break after midterm exams. So I took a lot of trips with my family to the beach and to different cities around Thailand. The beaches in Phuket are absolutely beautiful. Also the exchange students from my district in Thailand came to Phuket to tour the city. We went to a few of the many islands around Phuket, including Phi Phi and James Bond Island which is one of the settings for the movie The Beach staring Leonardo DiCaprio. If you haven’t seen that movie, you need to! It’s fantastic! J We also went to a butterfly garden, museums, and a tour of the famous Patong Beach on Phuket Island. Which by the way my home is only 10 minutes away from.

Oh and the vegetarian festival is brutal! I helped give water to the people with swords through their faces. Ok so I guess I should explain the vegetarian festival. It’s this Chinese festival that most everyone in Thailand participates in because most of the people have Chinese ancestors. So during this nine day festival you can only wear white, only eat vegetables, cannot have sex, cannot drink, and pray to one or more of the nine gods. This experience was extremely scary. Some people give demonstrations like climbing a ladder of knives, getting into boiling oil, walking over hot coals and the most common demonstration was to parade around the island with swords through their mouths. But it wasn’t just swords, there were bicycles, trees, motors, fruit, really just about anything that they could fit. And it was really weird to see the same people with the things through their mouths at the store the next day and they look totally fine just what looked like a long cat scratch or something down their cheek. One of my friends from school actually did a knife demonstration. He said that one of the gods consumed him, or possessed him, and he could not feel any pain and the next day he was fine, still with no pain but a hole in his mouth.

The last week in October I went to Bangkok with my class to visit all of the universities. I feel like I got so much more close to them and I think that my time here will be even more enjoyable because of this trip. I actually might be interested in going to one of the universities that we visited. After the university stuff, we got to go shopping! So much fun! We went to Siam and then to JJ market and to the floating market!

Well Thanks again to Rotary for giving me this opportunity!

Sawasdee ka!!

Alina อารีน่า


 January 19 Journal

 Ok so I am way behind on the journals. And Rotex told me that writing journals would be extremely hard and they were absolutely correct!! I have been so busy I just haven’t had the time to stop and reflect so I have time now and this is a reflection time.

Ok so December. School exams, what else can you say about school? Ok but other than school exams I went on a Northeastern trip with the YE’s in my district. That was a blast! The 10 hour bus ride from Phuket to Bangkok was not fun at all, but once I saw everyone waiting for me when I got off the bus, it was so worth it!! So we spent Christmas together and did a gift exchange. That was funny because we all gave presents like an electric fly swatter and bug spray (which by the way is hard to come by) some elephant boxers and slippers. The day trips were great too. We went to see cave paintings and to a Thai ranch, we went to see lots of temples and we got to see an ancient Cambodian temple. Very cool.

January hasn’t been that interesting. So I thought I would give you an insight on a typical day in Thailand. Just some things I see around here.

In the morning, after showering and having my breakfast of rice and fish, we leave the house and usually there are a few monks around the town accepting food from shop owners.

When I get to school, I am usually late because my mother goes on Thai time, I have to stand with the late people in the assembly. After singing the national anthem, and praying, and the daily announcements, I stay with the late people and our punishment is to meditate and think about why were late. I don’t understand why we have to think about why we were late, I’m late because my mom doesn’t wake up early enough. Maybe I am translating a word wrong or something. I don’t know.

After the meditation detention which lasts about 20 minutes, we go to our class rooms and stay there until the day ends. The students don’t have to go anywhere, the teachers are the ones who travel from class to class.

Lunch in the school. Any meal for a Thai person is a big deal. Not like a celebration big deal, just like I am so excited to eat and I enjoy eating so much that I want to share my experience AND my food with you, deal. So my friends and I get all kinds of different food from the cafeteria. Most of the food includes rice, different fish, curry, soup, fried eggs, maybe an omelet, vegetables, and maybe some shrimp. In the cafeteria you have to be careful for insects. Not just a few flies, but swarming bees, armies of aunts, cockroaches, dogs, cats, and the occasional monkey. Yes I have only seen one monkey, but it was not a pretty sight. Lunch lasts an entire hour and my class has a free period after lunch so we usually eat lunch and socialize for about 2 hours. Then back to class.

After school gets out, all the students rush out and go across the street to use their cell phones and wait for their parents. Vendors wait for the massive number of hungry students to get out of school, and take their money for more food. Some sell sweets, fruit, fried chicken that is cooked right there on the street and when everything is over they dump the grease into the street.

So my mom is late picking me up and so that means we will be late picking up my three other siblings. First we get my oldest sister, she is usually putting makeup on with her friends and talking about her latest boyfriend, then we pick up my youngest brother and he is always playing with his foreign friends on the soccer field, then last my oldest brother who plays basketball all the time!! And then we finally go home to grandma and the maid, and my sister and I help to make dinner. My dad doesn’t get home most nights until 1 in the morning.

Dinner is served on the floor in front of the television and we watch the Thai soap operas which are absolutely terrible. So unrealistic and the camera work is awful. But the Thai people love them. They especially like the Chinese and Korean soaps but they are translated into Thai which I find hilarious because the Chinese man will stop talking and the Thai goes on for another minute or so.

After dinner, I help my little brother with his English homework and then I am off to bed or listen to some music with my sister in our room. And that is the day in the life of Alina in Thailand.

I just want to thank Rotary again for making this experience possible for me. I am really enjoying my time here.

อารีน่า

Ashley Phelps
2008-09 Outbound to France
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Aurillac Rotary Club, District 1740, France

Ashley - France

Ashley’s Bio

 Hi! I’m Ashley Phelps from Palm Coast, Florida. I’m sixteen years old and a sophomore at Flagler Palm Coast High School, or FPCHS for short. I’m originally from Ohio, I moved to Florida about four years ago. And I must say it was a life changing move.

Most of my hobbies and interests lie in the creative field. I love photography, drawing, writing, music, and acting. I’ve been in plays, taken photography classes, and I plan to pursue a career in journalism after graduating from college. I hope to someday advance to becoming editor-in-chief for a popular magazine. I also would love to travel the world and experience different cultures. Everyone has a story to tell, you just have to be open to listening.

I’m also really interested in politics and current issues facing our world. I think if you want to make a big change, you have to be informed of the issues at hand. It’s killing me that I won’t be able to vote in the 2008 presidential election, laws are laws. But I still think young people can gain a lot from knowing and learning about what’s going on in their own country and others. It’s their future that will face the consequences of what we do today and I think the youth of the world has a responsibility to make sure the future is a place we will all want to live in.

Besides that I’m pretty much a normal teenage girl. I love to spend time with my friends and family. You’ll almost always see me with a smile on my face. I give thanks everyday for three things, no matter how small they are. In a world filled with so much negativity, it’s great to appreciate the positives in your life!


July 17 Journal

 5 Weeks, 6 Days till departure

It’s kind of hard how to describe how it felt to know that the exchange process was truly a done deal, or when I actually felt it. Maybe it was when I got my visa (finally!) or maybe it was when I got my Rotary cards and pins. Maybe it was when I got my flight schedule and found out the tickets had been issued (no turning back after that). But I really think it was when I attended a Rotary meeting at my sponsor club, the Flagler Beach Rotary Club.

It was the day right after a 07-08 inbound, Laura, from Italy left. The mood at the meeting was fun, and energetic, but somber in a way. To make things more interesting, an 06-07 inbound from Brazil was visiting, and I think it made things all the more emotional. At the meeting, it was announced that Laura had left a letter, a message from herself to the Rotary Club who had hosted her. Meeting them, I could only hope my host club will be that wonderful. They were some of the most kind and warm people I’d ever met.

Laura had wanted the visiting 06-07 inbound from Brazil to present the message. But it was clear that it was difficult for her. By the second line, it was too much. The letter was handed off to another member of the club, who read it aloud to us.

Sitting there surrounded by my fellow 08-09 Outbounds, I couldn’t help but feel connected to every word Laura spoke in the letter. She talked of the Rotary meeting, how everything would take place. It gave me chills as the letter was read. She described the proceedings of the club, action for action. This was my first time attending the meeting, and her letter was a play by play. Every person, every word, every motion.

It was obvious how connected the club was to Laura, tears flowed from every eye by the time the letter was done. I could not cry. I didn’t want to. Not then. I felt almost as if I was intruding on something very personal. The connection the club had made with their host child, and the connection she had made with them, wasn’t something I was part of. It was personal, intimate, and obviously, still very raw.

The meeting concluded only a few minutes after, and I rushed to the car. I didn’t know how I felt, I didn’t know what to say. And when my parents asked me how the meeting was, all I had for them was tears. They came from a place I had never tapped into, they were the strangest tears I’d ever shed. I couldn’t explain to them why I was crying, I wasn’t sure myself.

I tried to explain how it felt to see something so amazing. To see how much Laura had grown, from her own eyes and her host club’s. I watched their faces swell with pride as they read the letter she’d written in almost perfect English. I watched them nod, smile, frown as she talked about the good things, the bad things, and the funny things that had made her exchange so special. I could feel, within those moments, about 20 hearts breaking, in two different places, thousands of miles away. Nineteen of those hearts belonged to the club. One to Laura. Her heart was breaking.

Just like my heart would about twelve months from then.

I knew right then and there that this experience is and will continue to be everything everyone has said it will be. I know it will be scary at first. Confusing, frustrating. I know there will be good times, amazing times. And I know in the end I will walk away with a life and love so much richer than the one I began with.

I cry every time I think about that meeting, I cry every time I think about leaving, I’m crying now.

Not because I’m sad, or happy, but because I am so amazed by this program. I cry because I know I can only imagine the relationships I will make, the bonds I will forge. I cry because I know it will not be easy. I cry because I want it so bad, it seems unreal. Like a far away dream that can’t possibly be real. But it is real. It’s so real.

I know we’ve all said it, but I have to say it any time I get the chance. I thank Rotary SO MUCH for this opportunity to experience something so life altering. I thank them with everything I have, heart and soul, for giving me the chance of a lifetime.

I promise you won’t regret it.


October 19 Journal

 After two months in France, it has been exactly what I expected and nothing like I expected. I myself have been exactly like I expected and nothing like I expected. In many ways France has changed my mind, opened me up to a lot of different ideas about what’s important and what is not so important. It has also shown me a new side of myself, not afraid to take risks, or at least, not so afraid that I don’t at least attempt to take risks.

Before I came to France I had a lot of silly fears. I was afraid of the dark sometimes, spiders, heights, being alone in social situation, being alone period. But all those fears went out the window when I came to France (well all except the fear of heights, that one is staying for good!). But when shoved into a situation where you have no choice, you either have to learn to adapt and roll with what life has given you or sit there on an island of fear, unwilling to move. For example, my first or second week in France I was laying on my bed watching a movie in French when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was a fly or moth or something because I had had the window open all day. So I simply shooed it away with my hand and kept watching my movie. But then I noticed I hadn’t seen it fly away or anything, so I looked back down to get a better look. Crawling on my bed, inches away from my hand was a HUGE spider.

Needless to say, I freaked out. I screamed, jumped off my bed, threw off the covers, danced around wiping my hands all over my body in case it had got on me. And then I just stood there, in the half dark, looking around my room, shaking with fear wondering what I was supposed to do. At home I would’ve gotten my dad to kill it if he was awake, if not I would’ve just gotten the can of extra strength Raid and killed it.

But in France there was no dad, and no bug spray. Sure I had my host dad, but it was in the middle of the night and I didn’t want to wake them up. And if they have Raid in France (which I have yet to see) I had no idea where to find it in the house. So I was stuck. What was I supposed to do? I stood there on the small throw rug, my island of fear, for five minutes. Just looking around, hoping for something to save me. And that’s when I realized, there WAS no one to save me from this. I was going to have to take care of myself, for once in my life.

So I stripped the bed and shook out the sheets, checked under the bed and along the floor. The spider had disappeared. Then I remade the bed and went back to sleep. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Trying to sleep knowing it could be anywhere. I was terrified, I did it anyways.

A couple days later I saw the spider. I wanted to kill it, but I couldn’t bring myself to step on it. I was still terrified. I searched the room for something with a flat bottom to smash it with but I saw nothing. Then I saw a three footed bench that my host brother (who’s in Indiana right now) used when he was drumming. It was a perfect tool for killing the spider because I could just tilt the stool back on two legs, position the third leg above the spider, and drop it. I did it, biting my lip to keep from squealing. And the spider was smashed and dead. Or at least it seemed to be. I went to bed and answered an email from a friend, and then I got up to go look at my achievement. The spider was ALIVE and moving. I was horrified. I feel a little bad because that spider got all my aggressions from the first couple of weeks in France that night. I stomped on it, until it was in pieces. I destroyed that spider and felt good. I was proud of myself because I had done something I would previously never do, without thinking, just reacting. Because I had to, I had to move off my island of fear and the only way to do that was to face the fear.

No spider has ever lived long in this room in France since.

I think this analogy applies to my whole time in France though. At first you are really afraid of even simple things, like ordering at a restaurant or taking a bus. But these are things that you have to do if you want to live your life, and even though they are difficult, you have to face them. Sure, I sometimes still make mistakes ordering or forget that the bus doesn’t stop at a certain place on certain days, but that’s life. Even in the US, I was bound to make mistakes sometimes. The difference between the US and here is that in the US I soon forgot my mistake and moved on, but in France I don’t forget a single mistake, I learn from them. The better ability to learn from my mistakes is probably the first and one of the greatest gifts France has given me. Of course there are others, the better appreciation of things and people you took for granted back home, the greater knowledge of a world and a type of a life outside of yours. The better ability to be observant, because when you can’t talk normally to people you begin to notice their actions, expression, body language, and begin to draw conclusions based on these things.

And of course the most important gift France has given me so far, the great admiration and appreciation for a little language I like to call Franglais (that’s Franglish for you English speakers.) Franglais is amazing, and I literally would not be able to get on here without it. Of course when my French develops I won’t need Franglais anymore, but right now it is my knight in shining armor and I think I may miss it a little when it’s gone. I love you Franglais.

As for France, the country itself is absolutely beautiful, picturesque. Sometimes I just look outside my window and ask myself how I got so lucky to be in such a beautiful place. The scenery is amazing, and somehow, distinctly French, even though you could find small mountains and valleys like this in the US. As for my city, Aurillac, it’s small, but equally as beautiful as the country that surrounds it. Walking its streets you can find just about anything. And although it is modernized, its cobblestone and narrow streets leave you with a sense of old worldliness. And in this bustling city and its suburban outskirts, there are these little pockets of beauty too amazing to ignore. For example, one day I had an hour or so to kill by myself, waiting to catch my bus. Since I had been here for about a month and knew my way around the city center pretty well, I decided to take a walk to this church I had been dying to see but had never gotten the chance to. I winded down the streets, using the steeple that rose above the buildings as my guide. When I approached the church I was amazed by not only its beauty but its obvious age, and, how simply the people of the town passed it by, like it was nothing to be too terribly excited about.

I was thrilled, I walked the perimeter of the church, taking in the details. And then there was the garden. You see lots of churches in France have these little gardens behind them, very quiet, serene, and beautiful. But this was the first one I’d ever been in. It was so amazing, I decided immediately that one day, after my year was over, I had to return and show it to someone. I just sat on a bench and sighed. It still to this day is my favorite place in the city, even though I’ve only been there twice.

But there are many great things to see and places to go in the city, so many that sometimes, walking with friends or family, they come up on me by surprise and I’m blown away by how architecturally beautiful France really truly is. And then there are the cafes that stand on about every corner, Le Milk, being a particular favorite, frequented by my friends and me. The atmosphere is super warm and cozy and you just want to settle down with your coffee or cappuccino and read a nice book, or have a nice talk with friends, both of which I have been lucky enough to do at Le Milk.

Oh and the food, of course, is to die for. Very rich and hearty, especially in these mountains, a lot of meat and potatoes. But the desserts, oh those are the best. The desserts and the pastries are my favorite thing about France. And when asked by a Rotary member, I told him just that, and he laughed but agreed with my choice. Even the French themselves know their desserts are magnificent.

So France is obviously much different from being at home, from school, to friends, and of course family. But I have found that while there are many differences, when you really get down to the heart of a country, which I believe is the people, the differences are hardly noticeable. Sure a few social graces, language obviously, but when you really start to look I think you see that people are just people. There are annoying brothers and sisters, strict moms and dads, boyfriend, girlfriends, best friends, and worst enemies. There is everything and every type of person you would find at home and I am starting to think, probably in the whole world.

I am enjoying my time in France a lot and while sometimes I am homesick (it does happen) I know that this is something that I can never repeat, a moment in my life that will never happen again, and I am going to embrace it for what it is – and unforgettable experience. I can’t wait to see what it has in store for me next. Two weeks of vacation is around the corner, and I think we are going to get a little traveling in. Promise to take pictures.

Love/Bisous

Ashley

P.S. Escargot tastes like…..snails.

Angel Jones
2008-09 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: New Smyrna Beach, Florida
School: Spruce Creek High School, Port Orange, Florida
Sponsor: Daytona Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Svendborg Sct. Jørgens Rotary Club, District 1460, Denmark

Angel - Denmark

Angel’s Bio

 Hello there! My name is Angel Jones and I’m going to be an exchange student! My hometown is the quaint beach city of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I am proud to have called it my home for the last seventeen years. I attend Spruce Creek High School (home of the Hawks!) and have aspirations of becoming a doctor one day.

I am most definitely a Florida girl inside and out. I adore the beach and warm sunny days that make you just want to melt. I can most likely be found at the beach surfing and sunning almost any day over the summer. If not there, I am with my friends having endless amounts of fun.

I am the epitome of a “people person.” Laughing and smiling are two of my most favorite hobbies. You can say I am outgoing and a positive attribute to any situation. I encourage others to have a good time with whatever the circumstance may be. I am strongly active in the culinary and visual arts. Cooking and food are a great pastime I partake in regularly. As well as drawing and painting, which have always been passions of mine since I can remember. They are all ways which I can express my self and emphasize my individuality and personal imagination.

For school related hobbies, I enjoy being active and participating in physical enduring sports. In past years, I have been on the cheerleading squad as well as Track & Field. This year, I decided to be adventurous and join the Swim Team. It was a lot of fun and I loved it, even the gallons of water I swallowed everyday in practice. At school, I am a member of about five different clubs. I feel it’s important for the students to be active in their school’s student body and really give voice to problems or changes the kids want to happen. I mean, if you do not put your mind and heart into it, how is anything supposed to get better?

With this opportunity of a lifetime, I plan to have the “time of my life.” I am going to make every day count, with not a moment to waste. Every experience from here on, more so than others, will be cherished as those which can not be replaced or duplicated. The trip for me will not only end once I return home, but instead will continue the moment I step off that plane back home.


October 5 Journal

 Well, hello there everyone =) I must apologize for not updating my journal sooner, but if only you knew how busy and occupied I have been, you would certainly understand. So to compensate, I’m going to do my best to fill you in with everything that I have gone through in the last 8 weeks. We can just call this the “crash course” of an exchange student in Denmark, ja? Okay well to begin, I think I’ll show off my Danish speaking skills and give you my introduction I have memorized quite well…

“Hej alle, Jeg hedder Angel Lee Jones, og jeg kommer fra Florida i USA. Jeg er sytten og min fødselsdag er 27. martz. Jeg kom til Danmark tredje august og jeg elsker det nu. Jeg bor i lille byen af Svendborg på Fyn. Min familie i USA er min far og mor og mig og tre hunder. Jeg savner dem meget men jeg har mange sjovt her. Jeg kan godt lile at stege og at tage billeder og at gøre kunst og at være med venner. Jeg elsker min familie og bedste venner og Danmark! Jeg hader mennesker hvem smiler ikke og edderkopper. Mest af alt jeg elsker min liv!”

Okay, okay, now that I’m done showing off, I will translate all of it for you…

“Hey everyone, my name is Angel Lee Jones, and I come from Florida in USA. I am seventeen years old and my birthday is March 27th. I came to Denmark the third of August and I love it now. I live in the little city of Svendborg on Fyn. My family in the USA is my dad and mom, me and three dogs. I miss them a lot but I am having a lot of fun here. I like to cook, to take pictures and make art, and to be with friends. I love my family and best friends and Denmark! I hate people who don’t smile and spiders. Most of all I love my life!”

And that is me folks, in Danish! So, as you can see, I haven’t just spent the last two months making tons of friends, feasting on wonderful food, and having an amazing time all the time. Although I have done all of that, I think I have learned a lot as well. I have decided to split this journal entry into sections, making it well organized, better to understand, and easier for me to write and remember. So first up, I’ll go over the basics of my exchange so far; including Denmark in general, family life, school, language, fashion, cultural differences, problems I’ve faced, life back home, and highlights of my exchange scattered throughout. Let’s get started shall we?

Denmark in General “Danmark i generelt”

Denmark in general is a glorious, gorgeous, greatly under looked country. It seems that every picture I take of every place I go is postcard perfect. Everyone I meet is friendly and welcoming. I feel that the Danish people in general, are very accepting. Those who I have met are all very interested in me and my exchange.

It is quite easy to get around in Denmark. It being a fairly small country, almost everything is accessible by train or bus. The currency is in kroner, with the exchange rate being about 5 kroner to every 1 US dollar, roughly. The climate has been relatively nice. When I first arrived in August, it was the latter part of summer, so most days were warm and cool in the evenings. With fall now setting in, the days are much cooler, and very windy. In Denmark it does not rain, at least not like back home. It mists; just enough to mess up your hair and your shoes. I have yet to see a thunderstorm. It rains, and winds gust as if in a hurricane, but yet no thunder. I have been told from now on most days will be overcast, cold, windy and rainy. Wonderful I think, but then again it can be wonderful if I’m home and cuddled up with a blanket and hot coffee. I am looking forward to the holidays. Most Danes are relatively modern, not many go to church other than baptisms, confirmations, or Christmas. But those traditions they do have, they adhere strictly to them. With Danes, once you have been accepted, you’re not like family, you are family.

Denmark is composed of a lot of countryside, with scattered cities throughout. My city of Svendborg is one of the largest of the smaller cities. Its population is around 35,000 people. Everything is conveniently close, and available. The downtown is pretty good size, but can still be covered on foot. We have a train station, harbor, library, several schools, tons of cute shops and boutiques, as well as chain brand stores, a McDonalds, handful of bars and clubs, great pizza shops, grocery and department stores, and just about anything else you could need or want. I really enjoy my town. It’s not too big or too small, kind of like the Goldilocks story, “just right.”

Family Life “Familie Liv”

As you may or may not know, I will be living with four different families over the course of my exchange. I think this is to better one’s exchange by giving the chance of adapting, learning, and growing with different kinds of families, who live in different places, have different views, and essentially lead different lives. In essence, this idea is ingenious. It not only benefits the exchange student, but also the families. In the end, more people are touched and experience the wonders of an exchange.

It is my first host family who I am living with now. They are wonderful people who I absolutely adore. There is a father, mother, sixteen year old daughter, and one fat cat whom I have named Mr. Kitty. They also have three older sons, who are in their twenties and live elsewhere in Denmark. We live on a farm with pigs, chickens and two ponies. It’s nice living on a farm, for it has been ages since my own family has had farm animals. However, I could do without the strong stench of swine first thing in the morning when walking to the bus. My host mom, Helle, works in a fabulous purse boutique in the city, while my host dad, Hans, spends most of his time harvesting or with the pigs. My host sister, Signe, is a darling of a host sister. We got along famously right away and now we are the best of friends. She actually spent a year in Canada on exchange last year, so is fluent in English and familiar with all the North American amenities that Denmark doesn’t offer. While living here, I have given her some cooking lessons in exchange for Danish lessons. I make dinner for my host family every Wednesday, which they really love. May I suggest that to any other exchange students, for it is a sure way to win the heart of your host mum!

As far as family life goes, we pretty much go about as a normal Danish family would. It’s as if I’m not an exchange student or stranger at all, but instead I’m a real member of the family. It’s a fantastic feeling, one that I don’t feel will ever end, and one I can only thank my exchange for. At night, we all watch television together, drink tea, and eat cake. It’s is the essence of “hyggelig,” the Danish term which can not be directly translated, but means warm, cozy, good-feeling.

I have already met two of my other host families. Both of which seem great, and I don’t think I will have any problems becoming just as close with. They too, have host siblings who I go to school with. All speak English if necessary, but I encourage them to speak Danish to me. So, in general, my family life is great, and I can only look forward for more to come.

School “Skole”

I must admit, I never expected to enjoy school so much, especially when I don’t understand half of what is being said. However, I really am enjoying school and I absolutely love my class. In Denmark, the school system is quite different. First off, there is no “high school.” There are Gymnasiums, Efter skoles, Business skoles, and Technical skoles. Gymnasiums are the ones most similar to that of a normal high school. It is average curriculum with multi-subject courses offered. It is a three year program and is public. Efter skoles are usually attended before going on to a Gymnasium or further education. It is a type of boarding school where you live on campus with other kids your age in dorm-like residence. It is thought to build life skills and encourage development and maturity. Business skoles are really self explanatory where business skills are built and developed. Most of the student body is male whereas in the Gymnasium there are more females. In technical schools, the subjects of science, art, and mathematics are explored for specialty careers and scholars.

I attend Svendborg Gymnasium. I am in the second year, class 2.a. Although I would be a senior back home, they usually place exchange students in the second year. This is because while the first year “freshmen” are too busy getting adjusted and comfortable to really bother with an exchange student, the third year “seniors” are busy preparing for excruciating exams and applying to universities. I have no complaints being placed in the second year. We actually get a class trip, in the spring, where every class raises money to travel abroad for a week or two. My class is going to Barcelona, Spain. A trip I hope to attend, for it would be an amazing time to bond with my class and travel even more.

Well, in school, I have about ten courses; English, Danish, Spanish, Biology, Mythology, Religion, Ancient History, Social Studies, Physical Education, and Geography. The schedule is also quite different and a bit confusing. It is set up in increments of two weeks. Depending on the day, I may have one to 4 classes. The longest day lasting from 8:00 am to 3:15 pm. Classes are one and a half hours long, with a 30 minute break between each class. When I told you my class was “2.a,” it was because you are with the same people all day. It is only the subject, room, and teacher that changes. You do everything together as a class. You walk to class, you scrape through class, and you have break and lunch as a class, all together. My class has 21 students, with only 5 of them boys. Like I explained, Gymnasiums have more female students than males. It’s okay though, because the guys we do have are more than enough entertainment. Now, you’re probably puzzled on how I get through class, being that all the lessons are in Danish, and I don’t speak Danish. Well, I draw pictures. No, I do attempt to follow. But it can be extremely difficult at times. As frustrating as it can be to not be able to participate, I try anyways. And I really think my classmates respect me for that. They know I must not be able to understand anything, and yet I still act like I’m interested. The teachers understand as well, most of them put no pressure on me at all, while others encourage me to participate, even if I have to respond in English.

I feel as the year goes on, and I learn more Danish, it will of course become easier, and I look forward to that.

Language “Sprog”

Ahh, the wondrous language of Danish… My theory of the evolution of Danish is as follows, “Danish was formed by Vikings whom were constantly drunk and thus slurred their words while making many up.” Surprisingly, most Danish people would agree with my theory. Their alphabet is the same as ours with the addition of three extra letters; æ, å, and ø. Danish is said to be a very confusing and challenging language to learn. I agree. However, I find myself not having as much trouble learning it as I had previously predicted. Currently, I attend Danish lessons every Wednesday from 8 to 1:30. That may not seem like a lot. But trust me; speaking, listening, and comprehending a foreign language, especially one like Danish, for 5 hours straight is no easy task. I also speak Danish when at home. My host family is very helpful and patient when conversing with me. I watch Danish television, and when watching English television, it is with Danish subtitles. They are actually quite beneficial and have really improved my reading skills. So far, my Danish is fair. I read Danish the best, can understand conversations second best, speak it okay, but when it comes to talking directly with someone, forget it. It’s as if I freeze on the spot, and all the hours of Danish lessons, all the children’s books read, everything just flees my brain. Luckily, I have found that Danish people in general are very accepting and patient. They merely chuckle and find my confusion cute and amusing. How happy I am to be of some entertainment.

In school, when asked by my friends if I would like for them to speak in English or Danish, I replied Danish. They asked why, and I told them I would rather have trouble fully understanding, maybe only catching a few words, but build on learning the language, than knowing exactly what they’re saying but not benefiting me at all. They agreed and so far it has not been a problem. If I don’t understand something they are talking about, they simply brief me at the end in English. At least that way, I listened to all they had to say in Danish and may have caught a few words, which in turn is better than none.

Fashion “Mode”

Let me first start of by saying that European fashion in general rocks! Danish fashion in particular is fabulous. Basically, it’s sophisticated meets chic. Every girl wears tights or leggings. That is a daily fashion essential. Second must is a scarf. Scarves are not only for girls either, guys sport them too. But, I’ll explain the guys later. I own seventeen scarves myself; yes it has begun to be an obsession…

Black is also very basic, yet trendy. If someone wore all black in Denmark, it would not be seen as gothic or even emo, but stylish and fashionable. It’s chic and modern. A typical Danish outfit would be a cute dressy top long enough to be worn with just tights. Then it would be paired with heels, boots, or flats. Accessorized with a scarf and a number of different hair styles. Of course in the winter time, fashion changes slightly with the temperature. So a jacket would be accompanied by Ugg boots and legwarmers.

Not all males in Denmark are gay, they are merely well dressed. This can be a common misconception by foreigners, I being one of them. Guys here are simply more stylish than those in the States. They care about their appearance. Sure, sometimes it is too much, but generally just enough. An average look would be fitting jeans, fitting top, possible cardigan, scarf, nice shoes, and styled hair. I find the Danish guys to be quite attractive. This may just be my weakness for blondes with blue eyes, but I’ll also give credit to their fashion sense.

Cultural Differences “Kulturelle Forskelle”

I could probably go on all day about the cultural differences. I must admit, I did not expect there to be that many, because Denmark is European. Well, I was very wrong. I think to make it easier on myself and for your viewing benefit; I’ll just make a short list of those which come to my mind:

• Adolescents are given much more responsibility and freedom.

• There is no drinking age, but the age to purchase alcohol is 16.

• Drinking is a huge part of the Danish culture; it is viewed as casual, family oriented.

• Many young people smoke (about 90% I would say)

• Danish people eat a lot, more than back home. They have about 2 to 3 (full plate) helpings at meals.

• They walk or bike everywhere. This would explain the ability to eat so much, while still being fit.

• Every car is manual, and they are crazy, fast drivers.

• The driving age is 18, and it is very expensive and hard to get a license. Thus, most teenagers bike or bus.

• They treat bikes as cars, and will literally brush the side of a biker on the road. For the person biking, this can be terrifying enough to pee your pants.

• They like to sing. Whether it be at a birthday party, luncheon, Rotary meeting, whenever, they sing.

• They eat a lot of fish, pork, potatoes, bread and licorice. Luckily, I am not a vegetarian nor do I care about carbs, my host sister however is and does, sucks for her.

• They are coffee fiends. I now drink about six cups a day.

• Denmark is very expensive. The only things cheap here are phones and alcohol.

• Light switches to bathrooms are always on the outside of the room, very annoying when you are in a rush to go, and you forgot to turn the light on.

• There are no grocery bags. You bring your own reusable bags, and if you don’t, then you’re carrying everything.

• Almost all Danish beds are twin size, pity for me who had a full back home.

• The furniture, architecture, and general Danish design are very modern and contemporary. Every house is catalog perfect.

• Water is as expensive as soda, beer, and everything else. There is no free water with meals.

• I am convinced there is a Danish gene, which blesses everyone with beautiful looks. Whether you are six or sixty, if you’re Danish, you’re gorgeous.

• Regardless of the fact that it only takes about 6 hours to drive from one side of the country to the other, Danes will complain if they have to travel two hours (as if it was all day).

• Every Danish person will make you say “Rød Grød med Flød,” because you will sound stupid saying it, and they will laugh.

Problems I’ve had “Problemer jeg havde”

Really, I have been a lucky ducky. I have not had many problems so far. I have yet to be homesick, I get along very well with my family, I have made many friends, I love the culture and people in general, so “why do I have this section?” you ask. Well, I want to tell everyone about my encounter with the Danske Edderkop! (Danish Spider) You see, in Denmark, there are many bees, flies, and spiders. There are at least two to three spiders in every room in every Danish home. They are not big spiders, quite tiny actually, and have been known to be completely harmless. That is until I show up.

I had only been here two weeks when I was bitten by one of these spiders. It is something completely unheard of in Denmark. But of course, it happened to me. I suppose it bit me during my slumber because I don’t recall such an event, I merely woke up one morning with a mosquito looking bite under my arm. I brushed it off as no big deal; after all I am from Florida, the capital of millions of mosquitoes. Well, after a couple days it got a little sore, and a bit swollen. I looked at the forgotten bite and found it to be the size of a quarter and inflamed. Puzzled, I showed my host mom, and she thought it might just be a little irritated but instructed me to keep an eye on it and let her know how it goes. Well another few days went by with it getting worse and worse, but with me being the new exchange student I didn’t want to come across as the little baby who can’t take a bug bite. So I hid the infected wound until my host mom noticed me favoring my left arm. She asked to see it, and when I showed it to her she was relatively shocked to see just how bad it had gotten. It had grown five times the size, and formed a knot under the skin. It was extremely sore and red. She decided it would be best to take me to the local doctor to have him check it, for it was clearly infected. He confirmed the suspicion and said it was either an insect bite or spider bite. I freaked, but remained cool, thinking that all I needed was a little Penicillin.

About 4 days went by, and the bite just got worse. The Penicillin was obviously not working, and I was beginning to get worried. We went back to the doctor and he too was surprised at how bad it had gotten. He told me I needed to go to the hospital and have it lanced. At this point I was hysterically crying. I mean, come on, what are the chances that in my third week in a new country I would be bit by something, have it infected, and need to go to the hospital. I think it was really the thought of being in a foreign hospital with doctors speaking in a language I didn’t understand, handling sharp instruments, unknowing if they use anesthetics, all combined that freaked me out. It was all of that, without my mom, my real mom. My host mom was great through the whole thing, completely reassuring and doing her best to comfort me. But, it just wasn’t the same.

So, we went to the hospital, but because Denmark is under universal healthcare the wait to see the doctor would be about five hours. Those five hours were like torture for me, not knowing what they were going to do or how they were going to do it. We returned when they called, and we saw the doctor. Luckily, she spoke English well, and even reminded me of my doctor back home. She examined the bite, and told me it was indeed a spider bite and that it would have to be lanced. Lanced meaning cut open and let the poison drain. I was mortified. But, then she continued to tell me it wasn’t ready yet. I would have to wait another day or so for it to mature, and then do it myself. Goodness gracious, could my luck get any worse? Well, being the hardcore kid that I am, I did it myself, just like she told me to, and sure enough it healed within a few days. Yes, it hurt like hell, but I knew it would be better than having my arm amputated. Haha… so that is my story of the danske edderkop and my awesome exchange student survival skills.

Other than that, Denmark has been wonderful and I love it so.

Life back home “Liv tilbage hjemme”

As I have said, I’ve yet to be homesick. I find myself to be very lucky of this, because many of my exchange student friends I have spoken to are or have been. I however, have had no problems being able to call or email with family and friends without feeling sad or depressed. It merely makes me feel happy to hear how well they are doing, and to tell them how well I am doing. After all, I know that I only have one year here, and then I’m going back home. So, I feel it’s more important to enjoy all I can, and take advantage of my time in Denmark.

I miss my family and friends tons, don’t get me wrong. But I know that the year I have here is precious, so embrace it as much as I can. For everyone reading this, I miss you and love you! “Jeg savner dig og jeg elsker dig!”

Lastly, thank you Rotary for making this exchange possible. Dow “Peace.”


January 10 Journal

Hej venner og familie,

 

Knus fra Danmark! Hope everyone is doing well both back home and on exchange. Let me first give my apologies for not writing in some time. However, I hope the amazing stories and adventures I am about to tell will make up for it. I figure it builds a sense of anticipation and excitement. Plus, it gives me far more to talk about.

Well, I have been quite busy (to put it lightly). Exchange, I must say, is one of the greatest experiences I have had in life so far. I try my best to describe the feelings and thoughts I have to my friends and family, but they never seem to come out right. It’s as if the experience of being an exchange student changes both your mind and soul. It certainly has changed the way I think of many things, and my perception of the world. Thus making only fellow exchange students capable of sharing these changes and experiences with.

I’m already seriously considering writing a book based on my year abroad. My host sister, Silje, and I have already begun making our own cookbook combining both American and Danish into our own delicious creations. I’ll be sure to credit Rotary somewhere in the Dedication. Haha.

So, in the past several months, life in Denmark has only gotten better and more exciting. Denmark as a country is ideal in my eyes. I know in my heart I will one day live here, again. The culture is rich with so much history and tradition. For example, during “Juletid” (Christmas time), there were so many little traditions, I could barely remember them all. The entire month of December is filled with Christmas spirit and anticipation. Just walking through town, you can see the glow on people’s faces; knowing that soon everyone will be together for the holidays. My family, in particular, is very into the spirit of Christmas. Practically every day, the house was filled with the scent of Christmas cookies and spices reminding the nose of how wonderful Christmas is. I’m not afraid to admit I gained more than the normal amount of weight over Christmas break. Instead, I completely embraced the numerous new and diverse delicacies. I also made a copy of every Danish dish recipe that was a must-have for Christmas. So, next Christmas, is going to be awesome; American and Danish!

During December, Danes tend to go the extra mile when it comes to keeping themselves entertained and busy. It’s a way of keeping their minds off the miserable weather (which I will tell about later), so I have been told. Also, instead of one special feast on Christmas night, there are these lunches called “Julefrokosts.” They include many Danes (both friends and family), tons of food, lots of drinks, and sometimes these fun little games where you can win presents. Quite frankly, it is a genius idea, and one which I certainly plan to take back home. I attended several Julefrokosts of my own. One exclusively with my class; everyone had to bring a certain dish which we drew from a hat. Another was with my host dad’s family on Christmas Eve. Then it was only two days later when we had another with my host mom’s family; that included 23 people and continued until the wee hours of the morning. By the time Christmas was over, and the house was reasonably back to normal, I was ready for a vacation from vacation, haha.

Spending Christmas away from home was far easier than I expected. Although I have been lucky enough not to experience homesickness in the time I have been here, I felt maybe as though the time of the season would bring back far too many memories of home for me to avoid depression. I have my host family to thank for this. They have been amazing by far. And instead, a part of me felt as if I was indeed home; home in Denmark.

Here, Christmas is celebrated more on December 24th, rather than the 25th. It is the 24th when you have the great Christmas feast, and also when you open presents. However, “Danes work for their presents,” is what I like to say. After Christmas everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to hold hands and begin dancing (really walking steadily) around the tree whilst singing traditional Christmas songs. I found this task to be a bit challenging. So, I participated by being the backup humming. Then with the last song “Nu er Jul igen,” you begin running (still holding hands) around the house, into each room singing. By the time we returned to tree, everyone was panting and laughing hysterically. Now it was time to open presents. Everyone gathered in the living room, each bursting with happiness and excitement. I adored all of my gifts, all which will be sure to remind me of Denmark in the years ahead. The next morning, I made my mom’s traditional apple doughnuts, which she makes every Christmas morning. My host family loved them and said they would adopt the recipe too. Then they gave me one more present. “A present from Santa,” they said, “he must have come during the night, and knew you were here.” I was thrilled, and felt that little piece of being home resurface again. The remainder of the day was spent watching Mamma Mia with my host sister, singing along to the songs at the top of lungs; wearing our pajamas all day long, haha. Christmas this year will certainly be a special one in my heart, and one which I could never forget.

Friends I have made here will be with me for life. Both Danish and fellow exchange students. My class continues to be a wonderful asset to getting through a day of school. They make it fun and one could even say, enjoyable! Haha. They invite me out to coffee after school, and movie nights with the girls. We speak in both Danish and English, and they assure me I’m doing wonderful in the language.

I have yet to have a full dream in Danish, which I am so greatly looking forward to. But lately, they have become half and half. So, I suppose that must mean that I am making some sort of progression? I can watch “Go’Morgen Danmark” (which is like the Danish equivalence of the Today show) and almost fully understand it. I have recently been purchasing my favorite movies, only with Danish subtitles; for when I come home, I can watch them and revive my Danish!

With it now being winter here, the weather is expectedly quite cold. And with the temperature being measured in Celsius, it has lately been around -4 degrees. This past week, it snowed 3 times, and the ground remained blanketed with a quilt of white until the weekend. My friend Siri, from Australia, and I made a snowman after the first snow. Only, it was no normal snowman, oh no. It was a Viking snowman of King Harold Bluetooth (the Danish king who conquered and ruled Norway in the 500s). It was very impressive, if I do say so myself. We continued to spend the day playing in the snow and then sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace. It was utterly “hyggelig.”

Every day, I feel like I’m growing; growing into a more mature, more social, and far wiser person. Denmark has become a part of me. It is of my being. Regardless of how cliché that may sound, it is completely true. I not only love Denmark, but respect it. I even defend it, as though it is of my own origin. Thanks to Rotary, Denmark is a second home.

Rebecca “Becca” Mack
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: The Bolles School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Catanduva-Norte Rotary Club, District 4480, Brazil

Becca - Brazil

Becca’s Bio

 Who am I?

When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a Power Ranger. Not just any Ranger (although they were all, admittedly, phenomenal), I wanted to be the Pink Ranger. For weeks on end my friends and I would defeat the evil forces on our kindergarten playground, determinately keeping our apple juice and 24 packs of Crayola crayons safe from villains while still having time for snack. Now, at 18 years old, I have retired from my days as a wannabe spandex-clad superhero and progressed (I hope) to much more mature ambitions. I still have a love of all things superhero, and shamefully attempt to hide my overwhelming love for all Marvel comics from my family and friends. However, I do play golf and attempt to lead a relatively normal life.

I am the youngest of 3 kids, and my brother, sister and I are each a year and a half apart. Growing up, I had built-in playmates, and even now that we are all ancient (18, 19, and 21) we still attempt to have a good time together. One of our latest endeavors is learning how to unicycle, and are all nobly withstanding the pain and humiliation that comes along with it. I applied for Rotary exchange because I wanted not only to see the world, but also to experience it. I have always been fascinated with languages and culture, especially the history of language. Although I have traveled throughout the US and Europe, I still haven’t quenched my insatiable thirst for exploring.

So there I am. A failed superhero, unicycling, history-loving explorer who is ready for action and prepared to jump into the world and make her mark, however big or small it may be.


August 9 Journal

 A year ago, I never would have imagined myself on the balcony of an apartment in Catanduva, Brasil, discussing grizzly bears with my host mother in Portuguese and learning that sign language is my new best friend. I never would have imagined that McFly, a lesser known British band, would be the obsession of my sixteen year old host sister, and I know only in my nightmare would I have thought that I would sleep underneath a giant poster of them whose eyes follow me wherever I go, like the paintings in the Haunted Mansion. (I’m just kidding, the drummer is actually quite a fox. I’m sure he’ll be nice to wake up to in the morning.)

My point, other than I have a rather pitiful imagination, is that everything I thought I prepared myself for, all my preconceived notions about Rotary Youth Exchange and Brasil, were wrong. And I think that’s a good thing. No, a great thing. For one, my evil American father had, in an attempt to break my Diet Coke habit, tried to convince me that it didn’t exist in Brasil. Well, Dad, if it doesn’t exist here, what is that six pack in the fridge that my host mom bought just for me with my name on it? Magic Juice?

I’m finding the surprises to be the best part of my journey. I never knew that all I needed to do to bond with my new family was to completely forget the word for lettuce every three seconds. I was in the grocery store with my new mother and sister, and we were playing a game to see if I could name the items in the cart after they told me once. And I obviously won’t be asking for fruit salad anytime soon, because for the life of me, after naming the two items at least twenty times in the grocery store, the car ride back, and every time I have walked into the kitchen, I still can’t remember!

Wait, I got it: abacaxi (pineapple) and alface (lettuce). Okay, so I had a little help from the online dictionary, but I eventually got it. And to think it only took me one time to learn urso (bear). Maybe if I developed a fear of being attacked by pineapples while hiking in Yellowstone. Maybe then I would remember their name!

So a day’s worth of knowledge, a healthy fear of pineapples, bears, and British bands named after Michael J. Fox characters, and I can’t wait to continue my journey!

Boa noite!


August 26 Journal

 Well, two weeks have passed in Brazil, and I keep expecting to wake up tomorrow morning to find the Honeymoon period over and expecting all the wonderful things in Brazil to turn on me. (See, Mr. Kalter? I did read the handbook!) Yet, everyday, I continue to find myself more and more impressed by the culture, the people, and, of course, the delicious food.

I was a person who had never really paid much attention to Portuguese before, except to taunt my Spanish teachers when they said that all the countries in South America speak Spanish, which I still do quite frequently. And why do we always ignore Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana? Don’t they count? Although my host mom loves to make fun of my American accent, I am picking up a lot more of the language than I thought I would, which is nice. An American accent in Portuguese is over pronouncing the letter R, which I find rather hilarious given the fact that, as a child I required extensive speech classes to learn how to pronounce the letter R. My poor parents, having to spend all that money for speech classes when they could have just sent me to Brazil and no one would have been the wiser.

I have been to two Brazilian parties, which were very fun but only helped to validate my already white and nerdy image to myself. The Brazilians don’t even start getting ready to go out until nine, which is the time I am usually tucking me and my teddy bear into bed to watch bad American TV. (I can’t believe how sad that sounded. I do go out occasionally, when I can resist my the urge to hop into my immensely comfy bed.) The other thing I’ve noticed is that while apparently all Brazilians came out of the womb doing the samba, I am dance-impaired. My sprinkler and shopping cart routine were no match for all my Brazilian friends, and served to do nothing but both amuse and frustrate the brave souls who tried to help me learn. I’m amazed I didn’t injure someone with my overenthusiastic hip movements. Nevertheless, the Brazilians seem to appreciate just the effort, which is nice.

I also never knew that my extensive, yet seemingly useless, knowledge of American pop culture would ever come in handy for anything other than beating my dad at Trivial Pursuit. However, it seems that merely knowing that the band McFly was in the Lohan movie Just My Luck gained me some mad street cred in Brazil, and I am not ashamed to say I love it. Heck, I might even get a gangsta chain or something.

Now, my last bit of news from way down south is that I am apparently dreaming in Portuguese. I say apparently because I don’t remember anything, but both my host mom and sister have told me that they heard me talking in my sleep in Portuguese. What was I saying? “I forgot English,” that’s what!

I fear I must say tchau now, because I have very important exchange student things to do. Namely, going to the gym with my host mom to work off all the delish food I have been eating. I do, however, want to take a moment to thank all those people involved in helping me, especially the Rotary Youth Exchange and the Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club. Without you, I would be sitting on my couch eating Ramen and watching Grey’s Anatomy, the only international experience in my life being the occasional trip to Epcot. So thank you for giving me the experience and skills of a lifetime!


October 30 Journal

 I have been in Brasil for almost three months now, and the honeymoon period has yet to wear off. I feel like an impromptu Vegas bride, who after partaking in a quickie Elvis-themed wedding in the wee hours of the morning, discovers that the stranger she married actually has grown on her as a person. Of course, my flight to Brasil was lacking both the flair of the Vegas strip and the presence of the King (although there were some questionable sideburns on one of the flight attendants), but the oh-so-loveable Brasil has grown on me in more ways than I thought was possible. We certainly share way more than just a love of long sunset walks on the beach and poor estimations of our alcohol tolerance.

As any normal teenager, I occasionally have received invitations to social gatherings that might be classified as “parties” by those of a more advanced age than myself. Of course, only after schoolwork and chores are completed would I ever go to one of these events, but they are an entertaining break from scholarly pursuits. However, prior to the 10 hour plane ride, I was entirely clueless of what Brasil had in store for me on the party front. It was definitely not on the Wikipedia page next to the information about population growth and free election. If I were to contribute to the entry I might edit a line or two, solely for the purpose of educating future Rotary youth: “The Brazilian Federation is based on the union of three autonomous political entities: the States, the Municipalities and the PARTY ALL NIGHT LONG.” I’m not complaining or anything, I’m just a bit taken aback.

For those who aren’t as familiar with Brazilian “festas”, an example: I come home from school on a Thursday and tool around my house, napping and drinking Guarana (the nectar of the gods sent from Olympus conveniently canned and sold in the grocery store for us mortals) when my host mom informs me that I will be attending one of the aforementioned “social gatherings.” Of course, we don’t go out until the late hours of the night, so I have plenty more time to curl up with my teddy bear and go back to sleep. My host sister and I don’t even start getting ready until 9:00, when we decide on our outfits and put on our makeup. Then, around 10 or 11, we go out and join the rest of Brasil in the night life. Ah, what a nice “vida” this is.

Other than the parties, Brasil has introduced me to more foods than I thought was possible. I, a stupid American, had actually grown tired of meat in the U.S. I now know it was because I had not truly tasted all the varieties available. Brasil is like a meat carnival, where everyday I am introduced to another delicious way to not be a vegetarian. And of course, to counteract all this meat are the most delicious breads known to man. One, known simply as “pão de queijo” (cheese bread) has captivated my attention since the first day I arrived. Not only is it delicious, but provides a built-in intellectual puzzle. I am also sad to admit that, despite being the recipient of a high school diploma from a well respected establishment, I have spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how they get the cheese inside of the bread. Mom and Dad, I have failed you. At least now I can introduce you to my new friend Brazil. Did I mention we met in Vegas…?


December 25 Journal

 Boas festas, feliz Natal e prospero Ano Novo.

It’s hard to believe I have already been here for almost five months. I feel like just yesterday I was stumbling off the plane and into the welcoming arms of my host family, and scrambling for a dictionary just so I could say hi. More and more I have adapted into the Brazilian culture, and I can already see the changes I have gone through, such as ignoring personal space and talking with as many strangers as possible. Okay, I am lying about the personal space thing (I was born in Connecticut, and we New Englanders are not known for our warm, effusive personalities) but I have gotten better at kissing everyone I see – on the cheek, that is.

Still, during a time in which my sacred Exchange Students Handbook says I should be feeling the most homesick, I am actually having more fun than I could have ever imagined. Christmas in Brazil is a magical time, and not just because I am on summer vacation and don’t have to be back in school until mid-February, even though that does help a lot.

On the 23rd, I walked with my family to the center of Catanduva, my little city in the hills of Sao Paulo. Everyone in the city was there, and in the midst of the chaos I was lucky enough to see a capoeira performance, the church’s choral group (singing some very impressive opera, btw) and a very random, very hilarious dance group performing CATS. There was also a forty-member group of motorcycling Santa Clauses, who all stopped of at a bar to drink beer and watch the fireworks.

On the 24th, my entire family went out to our country house to ring in Christmas. Unlike my family in the US, my host family celebrates Christmas with the whole extended family, so it was a huge group. For my youngest host cousin, a hired Santa Claus came and passed out her gifts at 11:00 (the real one, of course, was probably flying over Iceland at the time). It felt like New Years, because we all waited until exactly 12:00 am to hug and kiss and open presents. Then we ate an entire suckling pig (sans head, thank God) and laughed and hung out until three in the morning.

The 25th was fun, sleeping and eating leftovers and chillaxing by the pool. The best part of this, of course, is that I get to repeat the whole thing in a couple of days to ring in the New Year!

Anyway, that about wraps it up for my very merry Christmas experience. Kissing, hugging, motorcycling Santas, and capoeira. Not just a sentence fragment, but the Brazilian way of life, and one of the best holidays I have ever had. Still, I have to thank Rotary again for giving me this experience and making this year a great one. I raise my Guarana Antarctica to you, district 6970, and toast you a happy New Year.


March 9 Journal

 While it’s been awhile since my last blogging effort while in Brazil, I can’t say that I have been wasting time during my long absence from the net. In fact, the last few months have been a whirlwind of traveling, parties and, of course, the biggest party in Brazil (and the world) Carnaval!

After a wonderful Christmas season with all my extended family here in Catanduva, I was ready to embark upon the trip I had been waiting for since I first found out that I was coming to Brazil. A month long vacation to the northeast of Brazil with a busload of exchange students, starting in Rio de Janeiro and ending in Brasilia, the country’s capital. It was a crazy adventure and a new perspective into the country I have been living in for the past 7 months.

Rio de Janeiro was everything that I thought it would be: beautiful, scenic, and hotter than the center of the sun. While all the lucky European exchangees are bundling up and shivering away, we Brazilian exchange students are experiencing a summer hotter than anything I’ve ever seen in Florida. I bummed out on Copacabana Beach, met a lot of girls from Ipanema, and took thousands of pictures at Christ the Redeemer. And yes, I did almost break a hip attempting a samba.

As the trip continued up the coast, the exchange students got the opportunity to partake in quite a few extreme activities. I almost died in a freak rafting accident (okay, I’m exaggerating, but it sure felt like it at the time), rode horseback on the beach, snorkeled, and got a gigantic wedgie sliding down a huge natural rock waterslide. By the time I got off the bus in my host city, I was sun burnt and exhausted, but never happier.

The greatest part of coming back from my trip was knowing that Carnaval was a few weeks later. One of the biggest celebrations in the world, and there I was, right in the thick of it, experiencing the magic. Five days of parties, street parades and samba, it was everything I could have asked for and more. Leaving for the club at midnight, and coming back at five in the morning, it was any American party on steroids. I danced, I sang, and I partied like a Brazilian. It was an exhilarating culmination of all my hard work in learning the language and culture. Never have I have been gladder to be an exchange student in Brazil.

So that was my past few months: boating adventures, near-death experiences and, sadly, wedgies. And I owe everything (except the wedgie) to my Rotary club in Ponte Vedra for giving me this incredible experience.


April 9 Journal

 As I write this, tears are pouring down my cheeks and covering the keyboard with tiny droplets of sadness. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit, but the sentiment is basically the truth: I am depressed. I have less than two months (two piddling months) left in the country I have called home for the past eight months of my life. It’s been a tough struggle to become a part of this lifestyle, this culture, and this country, but I can honestly say, now that I am….I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME!

I love the United States, of course, more than ever. I miss it too. (Who knew I would miss Kraft Macaroni and Cheese more than my siblings? Weird.) Still, I have never had so much fun (strictly in educational circumstances, of course) in my life. I have done things I never imagined myself doing before, like riding a camel on the dunes in Natal, snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Porto de Galinhas, and oh yeah, speaking Portuguese. In fact, I never would have guessed that checking that little Brasil bubble on the RYE application would lead me to where I am right now. A split second decision in my life and all of a sudden I am rafting down a river in Itacare, scared out of my mind but loving it.

As sad as I am that I am going home soon, I couldn’t be more excited for the months to come. My parents come next week and we are traveling for two weeks around the country. I haven’t decided yet whether I will translate for them or not. Maybe they should see what it feels like, feeling completely lost without a language. Gosh, I’m an awful daughter. Guess they’ll just have to leave me here…. Anyway, after I send them on their merry way, I am going to the Amazon, to stay for 6 days in a boat on the widest and longest river in the world. I am hoping to return with all my limbs, and hopefully without gruesome war stories of piranha attacks. I’ll keep you updated, though.

As I reflect on my time here, I can’t forget how I got here. Without the support and help of the Ponte Vedra Rotary Club, my knowledge of Brazil would be limited to the steakhouse down the street and the episode of The Simpsons when they go to Rio. With the help of Paula Roderick, my delightful counselor, and Al Kalter, the scary but extremely wise leader of the RYE program, I would be nowhere fast. So, as they say in Brazil…OBRIGADA POR TUDO!

Asia Grant
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bishop Snyder High School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: North Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Belo Horizonte Barro Preto Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil

Asia - Brazil

Asia’s Bio

 Hi!! My name is Asia Grant. I am 16 years old and I am a sophomore at Bishop John J. Snyder High School.

My family consists of my mom (Stacia), my 2 brothers (Janard, Trevelle) and my sister (Kierra). Of my mom’s four kids, I am the baby.

At my school I run track. I absolutely love track. I have been running since 7th grade but most of the time it seems like much longer. I didn’t really know how much I loved track until my mom told me I might not be able to run this year. I was devastated. in track I run the 100 meter dash and the 200 meter dash. I also run the 4-2 and long jump. It is such an amazing rush just to know that it is a competition and that you can affect it positively or negatively because it is a team sport. My goal for this year is to get more personal records or at least improve my speed and height without getting hurt like in the last 2 years. I really look forward to it every year.

Family and friends are very important to me. It is a good thing because, as an exchange student, I will meet new people in both categories. Oh yeah, did I neglect to mention I love to eat!!! That is also good because I am open to many new things. I am so looking forward to being an exchange student. The chance to learn a new language and hopefully make a positive effect on many peoples lives. This is definitely a chance of a lifetime and I can’t wait to explore and see what awaits me.


August 25 Journal

 Oi!!! I have been in Belo Horizonte, Brazil for 2 weeks. I love it here so far and I hope it only gets better.

My family is great and I couldn’t have asked for a more loving family!!! My mom is a sweetheart, my dad is awesome and funny. My sister Bruna is soooo cool and she answers any questions I ask her without any problems. Now… for my little brother, he’s kind of shy but is warming up to me a little more everyday.

My school is also cool. I don’t understand the language well enough to know what’s going on in school classes yet but I like it so far. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that I get out at 12:45 either!!

I have been to two Rotary meetings so far and it’s like any Rotary meeting, I guess, for a teenager. The people here are also very people friendly. I just love it. I’m not homesick yet, so that’s also a plus in me liking it here.

Tchau!!!!


September 26 Journal

 Oi!!!

I have been in Belo Horizonte for 7 weeks now and I am still loving it!!! I forgot to write this last time but my first week here I went to Buzios Beach in Rio de Janeiro and it was amazing!! BH (Belo Horizonte) doesn’t have a beach so we had to drive 7 hours to go and we stayed for 5 days!! I have also been to 2 Cruzeiro games (soccer team). They have been great and very….interesting to say the least!! I have been to 6 Rotary meetings and next week I get to read the prayer for the meeting!! I’m very excited and kinda nervous because I’ve seen the prayer and there are some haaaard words to pronounce but I’ll make it…I guess!!

Last weekend I went to my first Brazilian casamento (wedding) and it was very interesting too!! Also very different from the usual American wedding. My boy cousin got married, I had a blast!!

In school last Friday I had to give a presentation on where I’m from (America, Florida, Jacksonville, my school, RYE Florida). Don’t worry, I did an excellent job and I brought in many different things from America to show and the class loved it. There are 3 other exchange students in my class and one other in our school so it’s not really a big big thing that I’m an exchange student, plus I was the last to come. But it’s still kind of new to them having a kid from America here I guess, because they always ask me questions about school, like is everything in the American movies true. They really believed everything was true in the movies!!!

As many exchange students can tell you, I’ve been to a lot of Rotex parties and they are amazing!!! I thought they were going to be boring and…. Boring! !Lol but every time I go to one it surprises me how fun they are. You meet kids from all over the globe and it’s just wonderful to see how everyone interacts. It’s kind of sad that this is the only year I will see these people and I love them all already!!

Now these 7 weeks, even though they have gone past really fast, have not been all fun and games. I have been very stressed at times trying to learn this language as fast as I can and having to deal with being away from my family and friends. Even though my family here is extremely nice, there are times when I feel as if they’re judging me because I don’t know Portuguese too well and I’m not learning it fast enough for them. So I am trying to cram all of it in and to tell you the truth… It’s not too good for me. The Rotary Club has arranged for a Portuguese lesson every other Friday, and I went to one already and it was great, and I feel if I keep taking the class then I should have no problems here. The one for tonight was canceled because of the rain (a totally different story!!!! Not so good day lol!!) The other students in my class are very helpful and they try to teach me Portuguese when ever they can and I love them for it. My teachers are great also and sometimes helpful. The most helpful I would have to say are the other exchange students and the Rotex, because they understand what it feels like to be away from everyone you know and having to switch to a whole new world, and they are also great to talk to. They are trying to learn this language too, so the words you do know you use them all the time with each other and help one another.

This experience is changing my life already and I’m liking the changes so far; it can only get better!!! Oh yeah my little brother….. He opened up!!!!! We play together now and he helps me read his little books (he’s 6) and he also shows me off to his play friends whenever they come over!!! So…. Until next time,

Beijos e abraços

~*asia*


October 18 Journal

 Oiiiiiiii!!!!!!!

OK I’m still loving Brazil now and everything has gotten a lot better since I last expressed my thoughts. I now have 2 Portuguese classes, one I go to every Thursday so that’s better than every other Friday and the other one I go to ends in November so that’s good. The new school I learn Portuguese at is called Luziana Lanna!!! It really is a good school and me and about 7 other exchange student take classes there and during our year as exchange students we will learn Portuguese by offering our services to kids 12-18 who come from good families but can’t afford the school. The school is associated with the program and we talk to them in a little English and they speak to us in Portuguese and at the end we all will receive a document signed by Brazil that says we offered our services and it can help us get into better colleges, and it’s said to be a great honor for our countries. Only Brazil has this, so I’m really lucky!!!!!!! We will record videos of our sessions but for now we are in the classrooms. We only had 2 classes and during the class we can only speak in Portuguese – if we speak in English we have to put money in the container!!!! I talked in English twice my first class!!!!! Come to find out she told us about this little rule earlier in class but I didn’t pay attention!!! Lol.

I’m not stressed at all now and I feel like I am connecting more and more with my family and people at school.

Last Saturday (Oct. 11), I went to the our district orientation. I am in district 4760 and there are about 50-70 students in our district!!!!! At the orientation I met with like 3 or 4 other exchange students I met up with from the airport in Dulles, Washington. So we were happy to see each other again and talked for a while. There were so many kids from the United States and Canada they had to separate us into two groups!!!! It was amazing to see all the other exchange students from all over the world and know that we are all sharing the same experience… And together. After the orientation most of the exchange students and all of the Rotex went to this little place called Afrodick and chilled there most of the night!!! We took up the whole upstairs – it was about 100 or more of us because we invited other students from the other district and friends came and it was just a wonderful time there with all of them!!!

The next big event on my itinerary is the infamous Rotex costume party!!! Next Saturday (Oct. 25). As far as I know everyone knows about it and everyone will be there!!!!! Kids from my school who are not even with Rotary know about it and when I first got here all the exchange students and Rotex were telling me about it!!! I can’t wait and I still have to find my costume, I’m going this week before all the good ones are gone and I’m stuck being a little red rose or something like that!!!!

I change host families in November sometime and I don’t know who I am going with. They told us that we switch after natal (xmas), then 2 weeks ago they said before xmas, then last week my dad told me November!!! I knew both of my next host families but now they are not hosting anymore students so now I don’t know anything, and the inbound coordinator didn’t know anything about it 2 weeks ago and she was not at the meeting last week so I don’t know if she knows now but it’ll be alright!!!

I don’t get to talk to my family back home much because of the long distance but it’s ok. I tried to explain to my mom about msn and skype but….i don’t think she gets it much!!! Still not homesick so that’s a great sign. A couple weeks after I got here, me and another exchange student were talking and I was like “Why don’t I miss my family??? I love them and we were very close why am I not missing them????” Lol. I felt kinda bad about not missing them but I got over it in like 3 minutes!!!

Well I’m having a wonderful time here with my family and school and my host club and other exchange students. Sometimes we all go get açai!!! Its a fruit made into this kinda ice thing. It’s pretty good. So don’t worry about me mom!!!! Lol.

So until next time…… Tchau!!!

P.S. Obrigada Rotary!!!!!!!!!!!

Beijos e abracos,

~*Asia~*


 

December 26 Journal

 Ei!!!!!! OK so last time I wrote I was going to the infamous Rotex Festa A Fantasia! So I went as mulher maravilhosa!!! (Wonderwoman!!) I had an awesome time getting ready with my big sister and my mom couldn’t stop taking pictures of me!!!! That party was one of the greatest times I have had in Brasil so far and I will never forget it. We had everyone from Woody to Mario, from Jasmine to a Plastic Recycle runway model!!! Some of them really got creative.

So I am with my second host family now and I couldn’t be happier! I feel really close to them because every day when my parents get home from work we eat dinner and then watch….NOVELAS (The Soap Operas) lol!!! I know it’s lame but I love doing it!! They are really good and filled with lots of drama!! I even started memorizing the theme songs and randomly burst out into a song and dance!!! Well, without much dancing because we are usually in public and I don’t want to make a fool of myself but once I’m at home or in a friend’s house the battle begins!!

My Host Club hosted a Baile de Debutante beneficente (Sweet 15 ball), they sponsored 5 poor girls who had really good families but couldn’t afford to give them a big party. And it was good because before I went, I thought it was just going to be these 5 girls and their families, but when we arrived, there stood maybe 25 little, very nervous 15 year old girls waiting for their special moment, and since they were all together we didn’t know which ones were sponsored and I think that was very nice of them to not make them stand out. ALL of them were very pretty in their little dresses!!! It was just an awesome night. I and the 2 other exchange students in my club went and we got to be announced like the 15 year old girls, and we walked down with a guy from the military and stood next to a man from our Rotary Club who was supposed to be our fathers (since our fathers didn’t come), and we did the waltz with them for the father and daughter dance!!! NOW let me remind you that I didn’t even know there was going to be 25 girls there, so you can believe how shocked I was when I found out 30 minutes before that I would have to do the waltz!!! All of the girls, well the 3 exchangers were totally freaking out because none of us knew how to waltz!!! So we learned and it was very easy – I love it now!!!! It’s also kind of like a workout because after I was done with the father daughter dance, my thighs were hurting as if I just worked out! I thought maybe I did the dance wrong or maybe I was just out of shape, but I asked the other girls and like me they had sore thighs!

THEN we had to dance the waltz again with a military guy and that was fun. My guy was very professional and a great dancer. The whole time we were dancing he held a straight face then… I accidently stepped on his foot!!! I said sorry and he smiled and held that smile for the rest of the dance. OK, so I was already sore, then we did it again with someone else from our Rotary club, but I didn’t care that I was hurting. I had the time of my life!! There was this one guy from Rotary – I didn’t know him, he wasn’t in my club, but he was a GREAT dancer, he was older and he danced with the youth exchange officer for my club and he danced with all of the 3 exchangers ALL night … it was amazing!!! They played Brazilian funk which is the kind of music you wouldn’t listen to with your parents and the kind of dance you wouldn’t want your dad to see you doing, so Ms. Ivone (YEO) was dancin’ it!!!! I was shocked and very disturbed!!! But I joined along with her and the military guys and the sweet 15 year olds and everyone just had a great time!!! The ball was held in a small city named Passa Tempo and I will never forget that town.

On November 8th I think, I went to my first Brazilian concert!!! POP ROCK BRASIL 08!!! I had THE BEST time!!! Maroon 5 was the big guest and a lot of Brazilian bands were there. Before I went there I was at the zoo for the first time with my friends I didn’t even expect to go to the concert but I’m sooo glad I went. Me and about 11-13 other exchanges took a van and went to the concert. Don’t worry, we didn’t drive ourselves – we paid for the service. I got caught in the rain just before we left to go to the concert because I was hungry like always, so me and my Aussie friend went to get pastels and while we were there this guy told us our van arrived and he said follow him, so once I got our pastels I followed him running through the rain and then all I hear is ASIIIIIIAAAAAAA!!! So I turn and run to where my friend is calling me and guess what happened??? My beloved pastels dropped. I was highly upset cause I was hungry!! AND I got my hair wet for no reason, so by the time I got to the concert, I looked a mess. But me and the Aussie girl, whose pastel I dropped, also argued for about 3 days about whose fault it was that we were hungry and the pastels dropped – we decided it was the guy who told us our van arrived so…everyone’s happy!! Oh my gosh, I was at the concert and Maroon 5 was on and I love them and they played a Stevie Wonder song and this guy was booing them and I hit him and was like don’t boo them!!! And he looked at me very confused obviously because I just hit him and I spoke to him in English. I was hoping he didn’t hit me back so I just said sorry a lot of times and walked to another spot!!

The Rotex wanted to do something with the exchangers so they took some of us to this ecological center where we saw lots of animals and a play and a cachaça store!!! It was awesome!

School is out for the summer (yes, it’s summer here!!!) so for the end of the year test, the kids in my class held a party for everyone in our class and that was a good day too. I talked to people I didn’t really talk to that much in school and it gave me a chance to see how they act outside of school and it was just cool. So Portuguese class is over until the 5th of February and I loved my class – my teacher is really cool and I love her and we joke all the time and I have not spoken anymore English in class since the first class so I’m like extremely proud of myself!!! Sometimes I don’t want to go to class but when I get there and we start talkin’ and workin’ I love it and I can feel myself growing in the language, and I have to tell you, it is the best feeling when you know words and can put them together to communicate and not feel awkward!!!

Christmas has just passed yesterday and it was good but it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. This whole month I didn’t SMELL Christmas … maybe Brasil has its own Christmas smell that I will notice next year when I’m not here. I just didn’t notice it this year. But on the 24th my family went to my aunt’s house and kinda celebrated. The kids just went and watched Harry Potter for the night and ate but it was nice. Yesterday was AWESOME!!! I love my family!!! It wasn’t anything special, it was just a normal cookout at my grandma’s house, but it was special to me just to see how they celebrate. At the end they had like a secret Santa, I guess, and they had to describe the person they picked and the others had to guess who it was!!! I loved it!!

I have many things to look forward to these next couple of months and I’m going to make the best of it!!! I want to thank you, Rotary, for giving me this opportunity to become an exchange student this year. (Feliz Natal, Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo) Merry Christmas And Happy New Year!!!!

Obrigada Rotary

Until next time,

Beijos É abraços,

~*Asia~*


January 29 Journal

 So here we are in a new year and the first entry of ’09!!!!!

I live in the state of Minas Gerais in the South East Region of Brasil and we have gyms all around called Minas Tennis Club. For new years they had a big party for everyone who has a membership so I went there with my family and it was AMAZING!!!! I didn’t really spend it with my family – I met my friend there and we hung out the whole time because she was due to go back to Australia and this was the last time we could be together. So we just had a ball meeting new people and just being crazy with each other for the last time. I still have my band they gave me for my table!! I am still wearin’ it right now as I am writing this. I meant to take it off last night but…

Well, on the First, me and my family went to the farm. my host dad makes cachaça (a sugar cane made liquor used to make Brasil’s national drink caipirinha). The first five days we spent at my grandmother’s house in this really really small city in Minas named Curvelo. I went to the center of the town and it was like soooooo small I actually had to laugh when my mom told me it was the center but I liked it and I loooove my grandma!!! She is so small and sweet!

OK, so I went to this farm once before for about 2 days and I hated it because I got so many bug bites so I wasn’t really too excited about being there until the 25th with no internet or even a cell phone signal to talk to friends. This time the bugs were not that bad and I actually had a blast with my family. My dad makes regular cachaça but he also makes it in different flavors like… banana, cherry, fig, orange, and also flavors in Portuguese that we don’t have because I looked them up and it didn’t have an English word: like jenipapo, jatoba, amora (berry), mangaba, pequi, murici, araticum, cagaita or casaita (I couldn’t read the label) and jabuticaba!!! I think there are more but I don’t know where I put the paper I wrote them all down on.

I also met my aunt and about 45 cousins!!! No not really, but they had a lot of kids, maybe between 6-8 – I lost count. My aunt is an excellent painter, she has a lot of paintings of her work around the house and they are really beautiful. And she taught me how to make doce de leite!!!!! I am so happy now because I can make it all the time now and my mom told me she can teach me to make the cheese you eat with it because I don’t know if the US has it.

I am so happy I went to the farm because I think it made me really close with my mom. I made lunch with her every day we were there and I learned how to cook lots of Brazilian foods so I can make when I return home!!! I also helped with the bottles for cachaça. I put all the wrappers and tops on them and it was very hard work some days. Oh my gosh, one night the movie National Security came on with Martin Lawrence and in one scene it was a shootout in the bottle factory thing and ALL I could think about was that someone took all their precious time to put the stickers in the right place and here they go and shoot up all the bottles and I was mad!!! like really, but after I was thinking am I going crazy? why am I thinking about this? hahaha and I just laughed about it and now when I think about it I burst into laughter!!!

One day my sister took me and all my cousins to this swimming hole thing and it was fun but after we were going to pick up a friend of the family and we were all riding in the back of the truck and she was going like really really fast and there were a lot of bumps so we would pop up and it was crazy. I popped up really high one time and I was sitting on the not so safe edge and I fell in the middle of the truck and it was so funny everyone was like laughing and it was just a wonderful time!!! I actually liked my vacation!!!

And they have all these different kinds of trees in the yard that have cherries and lemons and limes and oranges and goiaba and others. There is this one bush that grows food coloring. I guess that’s what it is. But my mom told me this is what the Indians used to put across their faces and she uses it to cook. I’ve seen her do it a lot of times almost every meal. This one night we were there we saw this huge spider it was so nasty!!! My sister said that it’s a type that only Brasil and Africa have!! It was on the 9th of January because I wrote it down and the next day was the day I made the doce de leite and my dad gave me my first bottle of his cachaça – it’s small like a miniature and it is jabuticaba!!!! I still have it I will never drink it!! lol.

I start school again on Monday and Portuguese class on the 5th and I guess Rotary again because we didn’t have it this whole month. I will be in the 3rd year which is the last year and we won’t go in the morning anymore, we will go after lunch. This year will be great because I speak better Portuguese and they have more school parties. Well not in school but the kids have more parties I heard. This guy from my class told me a couple weeks ago that the kids in third year have an end of the year trip and they take a big boat and go to the beaches but it’s in August I think, so I won’t be there which really sucks for me! But I can not wait for class. I am excited!

That’s all for now folks so until next time…

beijos e abraços(kisses*hugs),

~*Asia~*


March 16 Journal

 Ok so I started the new school year on February 3rd and I am now in the 3rd(last) year!!!!yeeeeaaaaaah!!! but I thought that we were going to have afternoon classes but no it’s the same as last year, which I am glad because I really didn’t want to go after lunch. We have a lot of new people in our class and it’s exciting to meet new students. We had a class Bar-BQ about two weeks ago and it gave me a chance to communicate with some of the kids I never had a chance to talk with in class and to reunite with some students who now go to another school but were in my class last year!!! It was AWESOOOOOOOOME – I love my class!!!!!!!!

NOW…for the event everyone who ever wants to visit Brasil wants to go to, CARNAVAAAAAAAAL!! My mom told me the day of Carnaval that my family was not traveling anywhere, and that I could try to find someone to go with or stay home . I was, to put this in a nice way, extremely upset!!! Being that I am an exchange student for only one year, this was my only chance to go to Carnaval and she didn’t tell me we were not going anywhere I was ready to cry! All my friends were going to beaches and great cities with friends and I was stuck in BH with no Carnaval. Apparently I should have asked if we were traveling but I heard my host mom and sis talking about it when we were at the farm so I thought we had plans. At that point I really really didn’t like my host family at all!!!! But no wait, she told me to ask my friends if they were doing anything!! “YEEEEEES they were all gone already and at Carnaval,” I wanted to scream at her, but I said it calmly. Luckily my friend from school was supposed to go to Ouro Preto but her plans fell through and she invited me to go to Nova Lima. Nova Lima is a city about 30 mins from the center of BH (Belo Horizonte), so we went there. I actually didn’t know we were going until I arrived at our meeting spot. She said meet her at the mall so silly me, I thought we were going shopping or just to chill!!! But it was great and I met some ppl and just hung with them all night.

The next day we went to a city called Sabara, like 15-30 minutes from BH. I had more fun at Sabara but I think they were equally fun!!! I only went for two days because the day we went to Sabara we stayed out kind of late and I didn’t want to like ask my mom if I could stay out late again. I really wanted to go though. Then the last day of Carnaval I wanted to go but my other friend had gotten sick so she couldn’t go again and the one from school didn’t want to go. I knew my mom wouldn’t let me go alone so I didn’t ask. BUT it was all great fun and I’m sooooooo glad I went. I will never forget my first Carnaval even though it wasn’t big!! My friend from school met a friend she knew there and we stayed at their house for a time while it was raining and when we needed to use the rest room or got hungry so it was great.

I started Portuguese class again on February 5th. We had a new teacher the first day then another the next class but the second new one is our teacher forever this year. I don’t know what happened to our other teacher – I liked her. This teacher is really nice too but she treats us like we are just learning Portuguese sometimes. But she finally noticed we didn’t need to be talked to like we were 5!! Next class we are goin to watch a movie so it should be fun!

March 12th we celebrated 104 years of Rotary at our Club!!! We had a kind of big party and it was great. There was a band there, I think it was the same as the band that played in Passa Tempo for the debutante ball but I wasn’t sure.

Last Tuesday I started a dance class!!!!! The president or someone from my friend’s Rotary district invited all the exchangers to this dance class. We danced Forró, a typical Brazilian dance of the North-East!!! It was amazing and I loooooooove our dance teacher. He is so fun and full of energy and makes sure we are having a ball!! We have it again this week and every Tuesday so this is nice!!

So this is all that I have been up to I think. I am still loving Brasil but I’m reminded everyday in some way that my time here is getting shorter. I sit in class and I just look around at my new friends and I think of how much I have grown to love some of them and it’s just weird! But I still have a little time to have a lot of fun and meet more of these nice people!!!!!

So until next time … Beijos é abraços!!!,

~*Asia~*


May 19 Journal

Ei gente!! It has been some time since I last wrote and a couple things have been going on with me. I will start with my Rotary club since I’m here with Rotary. I looooooove my club so much, the people are awesome and they are so funny. I recently (March 16) went to a birthday party of one of the Rotarians in my club – he has been talking about this big party of his since the day I met him and I now know why. I have to say it was a wonderful party, plenty of food and people to go around for days, he even had a band playing and everything. When I walked in the first thing he gave me was a cup with his name and birthday on it, and when I was leaving he gave me a wallet with the same thing. The thing I loved the most was the invite!!! I laughed for minutes with one of the other exchangers in my club. He was turning 60 and his invitations said “I am getting sexier” and it has this picture of him with his whiskey!! I love him so much, really one of my favorite Rotarians! I have been to every Rotary meeting so far. Or I think I missed one or two. But I gave my presentation about the United States about a month ago. The first time was kinda bad because I got really nervous, then the lady forgot her laptop so I couldn’t show pictures or anything. But the second time was great I think. I wasn’t at all nervous and I felt more prepared.

April 30-May 3 was the orientation weekend for my district 4760! It was in a city named Caxambú, which is about 7 hours away from my city of Belo Horizonte. I had a great time there with all the exchangers I met at the first orientation but didn’t really have the opportunity spend much time with. And there was a new exchanger amongst us from South Africa! We didn’t really spend that much time with the Rotarians so that was good (sorry I had to say that). We had a talent show one day and a girl named Misha I met on the plane ride here sang a song. Her voice is really beyond amazing. Our first night we had a dance with all the Rotarians and exchangers and future outbounds that was pretty good too. I had an amazing time, I love dancing with the Rotarians cause they are like old and can dance really well. They played all the great dance songs that everyone knows like YMCA, It’s raining men, and others I can’t really remember. The next night we went to a club that they closed for us. It was pretty packed in there and it was with only the exchangers, Rotex (former exchangers), and future outbounds. I wish they didn’t close it down but we all had fun dancing and just being around everyone, because for most of them it was going to be the last time to see all of us together.

The next day on the 2nd we didn’t have anything to do with the Rotarians so the Rotex took all the exchangers to the park and we did a game tournament!!!!! They set us in groups and we had about 10 minutes to come up with a good name and a kinda routine for the Rotex. Our skit was pretty good but we didn’t win, then the next was a sack race! It was soooo funny to see the people afterwards because the sacks were really cheap and after we all had what looked like flour on our waist and below. I won my turn but the rest of my team didn’t finish first so we came in 2nd. Then we did the race where you hold the person’s feet and they walk on their hands!!! That was my first time ever doing that and I have to say it is a workout!! I was soooo tired when I was done. One person would go, then when you get to the end you switch and then person that was holding your feet will go back. I was laughing so much and I was so tired that I almost dropped my partner. Well I actually did at the end!! We lost that race too.

The last competition was a game where you run through the little forest trees in the park and you had to find a Rotex and they would ask you a question about Brasil and if you got it right they gave you a paint mark. You had to get all 4 colors and then meet back up with all your team members and whatever team had all the colors on everyone won. They asked questions like what is the capital of Brasil, who founded Brasil (I actually said his last name wrong but they let me slide), the year it was founded, end of slavery and stuff like that. The last mark I got was with the question “what is the biggest city in Brasil?” and I yelled out Sao Paulo!!! And he just looked at me because we weren’t suppose to scream. I didn’t even know it was right (and apparently neither did anyone else I asked) it was just the first city I thought of! But he laughed and let me move. I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t find the last tree so I saw my partner and I took some of her paint and she took the ones she didn’t have off of me and we finished! We still didn’t win though! Oh yeah, and you had to be careful because there were about 2 or 3 Rotex running and if they caught you, you were out and had to start over! Thank God I didn’t get caught. I almost did but I hauled tail as fast as I could. Oh and since we did the other race before I had took off my shoes and I forgot to put them back on so I was running around the trees with only socks on!

There was one last game with eggs and the other teams had to find your eggs and break them. I’m not sure who won but it was really fun trying to break the eggs. We would just go around smacking everyone’s pockets and say “do you have the egg!?” We hid ours in the hair of one of our teammates. The fun part was finding out someone held the egg for their team and then everyone just jumping on them to break it. During this the Rotex went around with all the leftover paint and just started putting it on everyone!!! And they got some people really good cause they smashed eggs in their hair! But hey it’s just conditioner!! So we were all a bunch of kids running around Caxambú with paint all over us and some had egg in their hair!! A nice sight to see I’m sure.

Later on we had a little elegant ball thingy and to say the least, I think we all clean up very well. Literally. But after the game some of us went in the pool. Not with all the paint though because I think the hotel manager would have killed us all!! The ball was fun and I danced some more with Rotarians! There was this one lady and she just grabbed me and the girl Megan from S.A. and started talking to us and showing us off to her friends and family. I think she might have known Megan but she couldn’t remember. Then me and about 4 other exchangers went in the front and sang and danced with the others and sang the songs with the band! It was fun, I had an amazing weekend! Most of us plan on meeting up this Saturday for the Festa A Fantasia! Part 2 for most of us! This one will be even better than the first!!

Last month sometime I’m thinking I played paintball for the first time!!!! It was amazingly awesome…and painful!! I got shot in the shoulder and almost died!! I thought it didn’t leave a mark but a couple days later I was looking and I saw a dark ring!! It was small, the size of the ball, but it’s like a dark outline then my regular color!! I laugh every time I look at it but it’s not funny at all. I also got shot in my shin and above my elbow!! The elbow left a huge scar but it was kinda worth it. We played against a family of Brazilians who happened to be there! They were really nice and I liked them!

I am still going to Portuguese class. We changed teachers AGAIN!! This is about the 5th teacher we have had. But I asked her and she said it’s normal to have 4-5 teachers. Since our classes are free we will make up for it by doing a presentation of our country for some of the kids that go there. I have not done mine yet, I was supposed to do it first but on that day something went wrong and no one did theirs. I will do mine this Thursday or the next. We are also starting to film again. Some of us did it already, it is just recording things for like an audio tape for the kids to listen to. I will do mine soon.

I have 10 more weeks here and I intend to make them the best ever!! I am of course still loving Brasil and everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting! Two exchangers have left already and some more are leaving pretty soon so we are going to hopefully be having a lot of going away parties for them!! I am still with my second host family! I will not be changing because something happened with the other but I am happy because my house is pretty close to everything and I walk to school (I can do without the walking part). But it’s time to really start enjoying Brasil!!

 

until next time..

Beijos e Abraços,

*Asia~*


June 29 Journal

 Ei Gente!!! OK so I forgot to talk about the holidays that passed when I wrote my last entry. We celebrated Easter with my family at my grandma’s house, and we ate and talked and watched Ice Age, and then at the end all the grand kids (including me and my sister’s boyfriend) went around looking for these huuuuuge chocolate Easter eggs. I found mine really fast even though my brother had been looking in the same room for about 10 minutes with my sister’s boyfriend. I had lots of fun. I thought I was a little too old to be looking for eggs but my sister is 21 so I didn’t feel bad! Then we celebrated Mothers Day with all of my family again of course. We went to this other little city I don’t remember the name of and went to this restaurant and ate. It was nice too.

Now the time has arrived for all the exchangers to go back home!! It’s been really sad lately with everyone I have known for the past year leaving. I was thinking, “Oh my gosh Rotary is so evil!! Why would they do this to young people! Let them spend a year with the same people then take them away to never be seen again!” But I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet these young adults. I have been able to see some of them mature more in this year and some…well you know. I have not cried yet and it actually hasn’t hit me yet, but I think I will see some of these people again. No I actually cried a little at a party of this exchanger from Germany, we were not that close but he had a slide show and I saw pictures of other exchangers who already left and I started to cry a little. And it didn’t make it any better that this girl was behind me cryin’, she cried almost the whole night.

On the 27th we changed presidents for my Rotary club. They had a little ceremony and a gathering after. They told me it was going to be a dinner and I hadn’t eaten dinner before I came but they only had snacks and I was starving.

I went to this farm in a city called Ferros with another Rotarian from another club a couple of weeks ago. I went with the youth exchange officer of my club and her daughter and her son and there was the family of the man whose farm it was (his son, daughter, and wife, and a friend of the daughter). It was a reeeeallly nice farm and they had a little creek there for us to go to. I didn’t get a chance to ride the horses though. The son had a go-cart and he drove me around a couple of times. I was horrified to drive with him because he was like 10 years old or less and he drove really fast and crazy and I was just scared but he was nice and was actually the only young person I have met in Brasil who was interested in me being an exchanger. Most of the time I spent talking to the daughter and friend they were cool and we talked about everything. The farm was up in the mountains but if you drove about 15 minutes, you would run into the very very small town of Ferros. We took a 2 minute walk on this bridge and went from the start of the city to the end. It was so weird. My youth exchange officer has an aunt that lives there so we went to visit her and she was soooo adorable!!! Someone told me she was 90 but I’m not really sure. She was so sweet and small and she always hugged me. We stayed at the farm for 3 days.

I also went to a festa junina for my Rotary club earlier this month. Festa junina is a party they have only in the month of June (hint its name). They have food there typical to Brasil’s winter, only things made to be eaten hot. Then they have this dance called the quadrilha. I thought it was the same as the square dance but I’m really not sure how the dance goes. It is arranged as a wedding with a bride, groom, parents of both and friends and family. It shows all the craziness that goes on during weddings such as the groom or the groomsmen being drunk at the time of the wedding or someone interrupting the wedding at the time of the I do’s, or the groom or bride running out of the wedding before the actual ceremony. It is very funny I love it. I really can’t tell you how the dance went but it looked very tiring and fun. And they play country music the whole night, it’s a good thing I liked it. Someone told me the dance was from France but no one knew the actual history of the dance or the party.

My school will begin winter break on the 15th of July so I will be out!!yeeeees! My class is having a going away party for me and the two other exchangers in my class on this Friday the 3rd. It will hopefully be lots of fun and for some of them the last time they will see us because they will travel early or the other two exchangers will go home on the 10th so they won’t be coming to school any more so they will say good bye now! It will be sad!

Yesterday, the 28th my family had a going away dinner for me! My dad cooked a big lunch and my whole family came to celebrate with me. They did it early because my dad travels a lot and he is not home every Sunday so this was probably the only time everyone could have been there. My granny gave me a little change purse (you know the kind little old ladies have with change for church or with stale chewing gum). It’s pretty though. and inside has a necklace and she gave me two charms for it. One of a big pretty rock and the other with a cross. It was nice and I didn’t expect it I think she likes me!!! haha. Then after we ate we had dessert and I gave a little speech. and after my aunt said “I wasn’t sure if you really spoke Portuguese but now I am sure, congratulations!” I was happy. Me and my aunt or any of the adults don’t really talk that much because they are always busy talkin to each other or I’m with the other kids so… and then my other aunt said “haha you’re just like Felipe (her 2 year old son), I don’t hear you talk a lot but once you do it’s hard to stop you because you keep going on!” haha I thought that was funny! I didn’t talk that much yesterday!! OH MY GOSH! my aunt has this other little baby I think she is like 5 months now and she is just adorable!!!!! I love her. She is the happiest baby I have seen in a long time. She is always smiling and she’s at the stage where she likes to jump and it’s just so cute! And she doesn’t cry a lot she is just happy. Then after was the big game of Brasil and the U.S.! I tried to watch the whole thing but I fell asleep. Brasil won:-(

Also I went to this place called Ramacrisna last week with my Rotary and the other two exchangers in my club. It was this really cool place that recycles and uses the stuff to make cool things. like they have these really amazing creations with old news papers and magazines, and we went to all the shops. They have one that makes macaroni, and the other uses wool to make toys for the kids who go there. They have toys made from old milk cartons and bottles, its amazing. And the kids help make the things. They have an after school school there and they teach kids different things like there is a game room that teaches them how to think, I guess I really don’t know, and a computer room to help them learn the computer like powerpoint and just the computer and others too. And they have a group of people that makes videos and art, that’s for the older kids. They made a video of us and showed us some of the others they made of like music and stuff. Then we went to the factory of purses!!!!! We were like really in Heaven!! They were so cool and weird. They had purses made of newspaper and belts and wallets and picture frames and it didn’t look like it was until you took a closer look. I brought a belt that is really cool. It was 30 but she let me get it for 20 reais that is, which is like 10 dollars. Cool huh? The other 2 bought something too. We went there from 8 until 4pm.then this guy from our Rotary club picked us up and we went to his vacation house he has in the city because we were not in my city anymore. His house was BEAUTIFUUUUUUUUL, He had a chapel, and trees of banana, mango, plum, and others but none had fruit yet because we were out of the season. Me, the other 2 exchangers and the daughter of our YEO ate 5 kilos of pao de queijo!!! I don’t know if he was just teasing because we ate a lot but it was alooooot of pao de queijo!!!! I think it was 5 kilos though that we ate, sadly! But we were HUNGRY!! We ate like 3 breakfast’s before we went to the center and they ate lunch at 11 so we were not hungry so we only ate a little bit but at 4 we were about to die!!! Then the YEO came to pick us up at around 6 and we stayed there and ate some meat and she asked how the day was and how we rated it, everyone said 4 or 4.5 out of 5, because we were hungry that’s why they didn’t get a 5. haha. And after awhile she started talking to us and saying we were good students and she was proud of us and stuff and how she was glad we had a good time. Earlier after we left the purse factory I saw a guy was carrying a box so I asked the lady who sold us the things what was in it and she said it was a secret but I didn’t think anything of it, then the YEO went to the box and pulled out 3 purses and she gave them to us as a gift from Rotary!! It was so sweet I almost cried, one girl did though it was funny!! haha.

Before this the daughter asked her mom if she could look in the box but her mom told her no but after the daughter was like hey look in the box for me to one of the others and she looked and then the daughter asked what’s in the box and she replied jealousy!! Because we really wanted to buy one of the purses but we didn’t, but it was really nice of her to buy it for us!!

So this is what I have been up to since my last entry. Just getting ready to return home! Saying my goodbyes to the people who are leaving before me.

Until next time,

Abraços

Obrigada Rotary!!

~*Asia~*

Cynthia “Cindy” Harburn
2008-09 Outbound to Finland

Hometown: Oviedo, Florida
School: Oviedo High School, Oviedo, Florida
Sponsor: Orange County East Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Lahti-Joutjärvi Rotary Club, District 1390, Finland

Cindy - Finland

Cindy’s Bio

 Hello,

I am Cindy Harburn from Oviedo, Florida. I’m a sophomore at Oviedo High School and I hope to be going to Italy, but I’m not sure of where I’m going yet. I am originally from San Diego, California. Because my dad was in the military, we’ve moved all over the country back and forth and now we’re planted in Florida. Florida is nice but I just wish it wasn’t so hot all the time.

I have a few pastimes that I enjoy, most of all softball. I have played for well over half my life. I was in a club team for awhile but then had to quit because I broke my arm. I joined a varsity high school team in 7th grade and I love the competition and the necessity of teamwork.

One thing I’m very interested in also is history. I plan to go to a Big Ten college and major in history. In the end of it all I hope to be a teacher either for high school or college, college being the more desirable choice.

I’m excited about leaving and joining another culture. I hope to learn a lot from this experience and I’m sure I will.


August 20 Journal

 The appetizer …

I’m not sure where this path I’ve taken will lead me. But I know that I’ll discover some hidden part of me that I never would have known had I not chosen to do this. The experiences I’ll have here will shape and mold me differently than before and I know it will be for the better. Some know me to be a movie quoter, I do it constantly, and here I’ll do it again. Hakuna Matata! No worries!

The entrée …

This is the story of my greatest adventure to date. My trip to Finland. I think it best I start from the point where we got to the airport. The check-in took no time at all! My mother and I breezed through the lines (my dad and sister were parking the car). While we were waiting I talked on the phone with my brother (he’s in Korea) while my mom went to the restroom. By the time she got back I was off the phone and the rest of my family was there. Then she realized something, “Holy crud! Cindy, where’s my purse?” She knew the answer herself so she ran off so I didn’t have to answer. She had left it in the bathroom, so with the purse found and the first scare over we went to lunch and as I’m sure you read in Jenny’s journal we all ate at the same place.

We (Jenny, Danny, and I) reunited in front of the terminal and said our goodbyes (family: I saw you three tearing up, no denying!) We had no trouble at all until some uptight passenger made Danny go back to his seat. I can’t honestly say what happened on any of the flights, I don’t know if it was exhaustion, or just pure adrenaline muddling my mind! But a 2-hour plane ride later and we were in Detroit, where we 3 had the time of our lives. Through glittering halls to train rides to just sitting and talking to everyone who was embarking on a similar journey. On we went to Amsterdam and again I don’t have much to say about this, all I know is that I sat next to Jenny and across from a guy from Canada and I didn’t even get a wink of sleep! Finally we were in Amsterdam, a day later, and made for the passports lines. There I got jostled a bit. People in those lines are so pushy! There we parted ways with Danny and many others to be united with others at our terminal. And on the plane to Helsinki I actually remember what happened! I slept, the entire 2 hours.

Groggy and uncoordinated I stumbled off the plane and made my way to baggage claim and waited and waited and waited. Until finally, with the last batch, my bags came through which was a great relief! We all went out to where Liisa was waiting for us and was I surprised! My host-mom and sister had come to meet me! My sister was leaving to go into an exchange in Florida. We got on the bus and rode for a couple hours to Karkku (the view was fabulous!) and when we got there we all tried to get settled. And since I don’t feel that this is long enough, I’ll tell you about that experience as well.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about it except a few of the things I enjoyed. First of all, the classes. Mimmu was a great teacher and I shall never forget her and all our tutors who I really bonded with over the week. Second, this was the place where I fell in love with the sauna. The Finns are geniuses. Especially when jumping into a cold lake afterwards. Totally refreshing. Thirdly, Tampere, we all had a great time there, got lost a couple times and yet we found our way back, always laughing. And now that I look back I see that I had been in my shell the entire time… until the last night. Another girl and I rallied a lot of people to jump into the ice cold lake with us and almost everybody came at least to watch. That night I will never forget. So the next morning, after some confusion, I found the people who were transporting me to my new family, my new home, and my new life. The rest is for a different journal.


August 29 Journal

 My first few experiences in Finland…

Confusion. Don’t ever go into a city without the use of your cell phone unless you know your way around! One day I decided I wanted to go to the posti (post office) and I thought I knew pretty much where it was. Apparently I didn’t though. I walked to the city and tried to find the main road and I thought I knew the general direction of where it was; I found it, went to the posti, bought my school books at a book shop and then I tried to find a place to eat. By this time I had already been walking around for a good hour, but then my stomach started to growl so I figured I could find someplace to eat. My first thought: McDonald’s. I walked and I walked and when I thought I found one, it wasn’t, it was a coming soon sign so I walked some more. Needless to say I was pretty miffed, there were advertisements all over the place and I didn’t really feel the need to be the cliché American. I was finally fed up so I went to a random Spanish restaurant. I ended up walking around an extra two hours looking for a McDonald’s. My advice: ask someone where it is before you try to find it!

Anger. The locks are so different here! Apparently you have to nudge it to the left then try it to the right. Complicated! I mean I have a hard time getting into my own house back in the States, and if I can’t get it within the first ten minutes the neighbor comes to help. : )

Aggression and Pain. Salibandy. It’s a really crazy sport, which is kind of like floor ball. My first time ever even holding a hockey stick in my hand, and we had practiced a little, but I was still a little confused, well OK, I was a lot confused, so we start to play, and by the third point I’m totally confident and having fun. This is a game I like to play! But then people were getting really aggressive, some other girls were fighting over the ball, and this gym had steel bars running along the side wall, and a girl fell and hit her head on them. That stopped the game. The ambulance was called, and all the equipment safely put away. The girl is fine but I still want to play some more!

Celebration! My birthday was in the last week and my family and I are going to a Mexican restaurant and I am about to find out how the Finns celebrate.

Craziness. Another word for school. My schedule is so crazy I don’t even know what’s going on most of the time. For a more in depth description of the system, I’m sure Jenny has explained it but here’s my schedule. Monday, Sports, German. Tuesday, Spanish, English 1, English 4, German. Wednesday, Sports, English 4. Thursday, Spanish, English 1, German. Friday, Sports, break, English 4, Spanish. that’s only until October, and speaking of school my break is almost up so Moi, Moi!

Cindy Harburn.


October 23 Journal

 Well, this is my almost-three-months-in-Finland journal and whoaaaaa a lot has happened in that small space of time!!! I think it’s pretty freaky how much I’ve changed, I’m sure if you threw me into a party where all my old friends were, they wouldn’t know me. I don’t mean that I’ve changed in appearance, they would probably recognize me, but I wouldn’t be able to really TALK with them anymore. It’s sad but it happens, I know for a fact that I’m changing for the better, I’ve become less noisy and well teenagerish. But… enough of the sentimental stuff.

Since my coming to Finland I have been on two trips. One to Helsinki (where the most amazing cafe in the world is! Fazer), and another to Stockholm, Sweden. Both were absolutely amazing! Helsinki was beautiful, and well really big. We drove around practically the whole city and walked a bit…I was in awe. But then that trip was ended by me and my sister Pinja getting sick 🙁 The other one to Sweden I just got back from today and it was great! We went on a cruise and there were Finnish guys beatboxing and a dance-fashion show. I wish I could describe it all to you, but I can’t because this journal would be wayyyyyyy too long. Well anyways when we got to Stockholm we had so much fun, I mean first we went to the king’s palace and ahhhh I compliment myself on being the trendsetter in this situation. There was a guard on duty, of course, and I asked Äiti (Mom) if she would ask him if he would take a picture with me. She said ‘oh of course!’ so now we were looking at the other end of the courtyard because there was this loud noise…..Asian tourists coming to take pictures. Anyway she asked, he said ‘yes you MAY’ and we took the picture. The other tourists were heading our way and had obviously seen me take the picture with him and they were all like ‘OHHHH we want a picture!!!!!’ so they lined up to take a picture with the guard hehe. Well when we were back on the boat we were getting ready to do something…I don’t remember what but the three of us girls were getting ready.

Well here I’ll have to take you away from the story a bit by telling you how weird and awkward it is to speak Finglish. Finnish+English. I just feel stupid most of the time, because everyone just sound so GOOD when they talk.

OK back to the story. We were getting ready to leave and Äiti says ‘Shall we go?’ So I say ‘Nonnin’ which is, well, to translate it, it would be soooooooo….. and I was feeling really weird saying it and my host-mom flipped! She was yelling ‘Oh Cindy that was very good! Ahh yay!’ So that made me feel better. 🙂

But days are getting so much shorter here, it’s pretty sad, I mean I do miss the sun. It hardly ever shines here; it’s so cloudy.

I started my second jasko (period) a couple of weeks ago and this week is our break week, so that’s why we went on vacation. Next week though Pinja, her friend, and I are going to a Simple Plan concert in Helsinki. So that will be fun, and we’re getting there super early.

Anywho that’s all that’s really happening in my life that’s exciting for now…moi moi!


December 3 Journal

 I just got back from Lapland and now that I remember my 4-month anniversary! It literally feels like a month since I got on that plane, and most of the oldies (people from Australia and New Zealand) say that the last half of the year goes super fast. Well I suppose I’ll give you an account of my trip.

Ok so there I was, standing in the melting snow with about 7 other exchange students waiting for the bus which was late, it’s always late, and the bus finally drove up 20 minutes later, then when we got all our things on, they said we had half an hour because they had to change the tire, our bus was cursed! We started out when the tire was replaced and were talking the whole 12 hour drive, none of us got a wink of sleep, so we staggered off the bus and started shaking because guess how low the temperature was: -20 degrees Celsius, I’m not sure in Fahrenheit. Anywho we got there at 8 a.m. and had breakfast, un-packed and off we went to a hill which they called a mountain and everyone else went either skiing or snowboarding. About 1/3 didn’t and we just played in the snow :). That night after we had got back to the hotel, we had maybe an hour then we were off again to go eat dinner outside! These people were crazy. We ate reindeer soup :(.

I roomed with Jenny, Stephanie (California), Hope (Oklahoma?), Jocelyn (Washington state) and we had alotttttttttt of good times in that room, I’m pretty sure that none of us expected to like our room arrangement, but after a while we had so many bonding moments that we couldn’t help but have fun! Well the next day, we spent the whole day at the hill, I skied (really hard!!) and snowboarded (pretty easy) and got covered in bruises. I don’t really remember much of that night.

Ummm the next day we went to a reindeer farm and I named almost every reindeer, then we went snow shoe walking and I felt like a cat who has shoes on. After that experiment we went to actually get a sleigh ride from a reindeer and I named all of those, but the really funny thing is that the men who were leading them actually started using my names :). Then we went to the husky place and saw over 400 dogs and there were the cutest puppies! I wanted one so bad. Then that night was a bit dramatic because we locked our keys in our room and reception was closed so they couldn’t open our door so then we had to room with tutors.

Yesterday we went to Rovaniemi, where the real Santa Claus is, and went to see him, but let me just say that if I were 5 I would have been scared out of my mind, because first there was fake snow, then red snow, I felt as if I were in the 7th circle of hell. After we were done there we started the 12 hour bus ride home, and yet again we did not get any sleep. That trip was soo fun I wish it could have lasted another week, but this just makes me even more excited for our euro tour!


January 21 Journal

 Well it’s been a while since I’ve written anything…

So I’ll let you all in on a well know subject between us exchange students…the second half of the year goes SUPER fast…I’ve been here almost 6 months…where did that come from…that means in 4½ months I’ll be home. And just so all you future exchange students know the beginning goes fast until the shock wears off and then everything slows down…then the half way mark comes…when you’re living it doesn’t feel fast but when you look at the calendar….it’s really shocking…

Just to make sure you all understand that is REALLY sad.

Anyways let me address one thing before I really start…Jenny mentioned that she dared me to eat 10 salmiakki….well let me just tell you how amazing THAT was. OK you know how you can smell something and you can faintly taste it in the bad of your mouth? Well if you use that it tastes like the smell of aftershave………No one ever gets what I mean when I say that but it’s true! And let me tell you that experience I will never get over…thank you VERY much Jenny.

On to life as it is to me…I changed families about a month ago and I could not be happier than I am here, every exchange student has at least one family who they LOVE and this is mine.

In Finland they celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December and nothing really happens on the 25th, but since they live in Finland Santa actually comes to every single house and delivers the presents in person…unfortunately my host father was gone for my new experience…from what I hear he misses it every year 😉 anyways there wasn’t much different from ours: they eat and eat and open presents…and eat.

NEW YEARS!!! Now I will never ever forget this new years, I went to a party with my host sister who I had known all of 10 days and we had the funnest time getting to know each other and I got to meet all her friends…it really was a blast.


April 15 Journal

 Hey everyone, it’s been a while since my last journal…and a lot has happened that’s changed everything: my life here in Finland, and back home in Florida.

Wow – thinking all the way back to January is very difficult, I never knew how difficult it could be. I think back in January and February everything was just the way I wanted it to be, my life wasn’t perfect, but I was enjoying my life as much as I could. I can’t remember any significant things, except that I went on a cruise to Tallinn, Estonia, that was a very interesting trip.

The rest is just a blur now, I can’t really remember much past March 17th. The day that changed everything. Forgive me everyone, but this is supposed to be about my life on exchange and this happened on my exchange. Now, all of you up-and-coming outbounds, I’ll give you just a bit of advice if you don’t want anything to happen to you like it did to me – make your parents go get physicals with you, it’s good for them, and it gives you the insurance you need, and that I didn’t have. On March 17th my father died of a heart attack. Period. That’s all the bad news I have. I hope.

Of course I went home to his funeral and to help with some arrangements and family stuff. I won’t get into that. Although……the weather was AMAZING in Florida, I am now back in Finland, with my third and final host family. Life is moving. Fast. I can’t seem to get a handle on it. Getting back into routine is really hard too. Not to mention because I don’t live in the city anymore, I have to take one of those huge buses and I don’t know where I am most of the time…but things are actually OK. Which surprised me. I always planned on coming back, but there was always that little part of me that wondered…’What if…?” What if I should be at home, helping my mom? What if I should be home with a job helping pay for things?

Well, you can’t ask “what if” questions like that. It makes you regret. I DO NOT REGRET, however my coming back to Finland, I regret other things. Exchangers if anything like this happens to you…go back. It really provides a nice place for you, an escape if you will, I’m not saying escape your problems…but it gives you a better grasp on things, a better outlook.

Well, so I came back, and my new host parents are trying to keep me very busy 😀 for the Easter weekend we went to our cousins’ summer cottage (almost every Finn has access to a summer cottage) and then when we got back, a Rotarian family took me to an American car show 🙂 Now, I’m afraid that’s the most up-to-date I can get. Thanks again Rotary for all you’ve done for me and my family.

Christopher “Chris” Foley
2008-09 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Ban Chang Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Chris - Thailand

Chris’ Bio

 Hello! I’m Chris Foley and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I am 16 years old, but I will be graduating a year early from Bartram Trail High School this semester. I was born in a suburb of New York City called Goshen, New York, and moved to Jacksonville in 2005. Although I left behind my dad, my little brother, and many other relatives, Florida has finally become a place that I can truthfully call home.

I live here in Jacksonville with my mom, step-dad, and our dog Finny (the favorite child). My sister, Brianna, lives a few minutes away at the beach. A normal day in my house consists of my mom doing yoga and my step-dad working on a new painting, while Finny chews all of our shoes.

I love to travel, meet new people, play many instruments, and collect records. Among my favorite types of music are jazz, soul, folk, and hip-hop. I am very excited to go overseas and discover new types of music and new cultures. I also enjoy biking, skateboarding, soccer, and anything else outdoors.

After seeing a few friends of mine experience an exchange I am very excited to embark upon my own. Thanks to everyone who worked hard to make this happen!


August 19 Journal

 Today is the two-week point of my life here in Thailand. The last two weeks have been very exciting, eventful, and confusing. I landed in Bangkok, a day later than expected, and I didn’t know what to expect. I went to get my bags and Alina (Outbound to Thailand) came along because her connecting flight to Phuket was not until the next morning. We soon found out that our baggage was still in Tokyo, but we couldn’t be mad because the Thai Airways man we spoke with was just too nice to us. We went to search for my second host family, who had offered to come and pick me up. When we found them, they put a flower necklace around my neck (I don’t know the name of this yet, but I’ve seen so many of them) and gave both Alina and me a rose. It was impossible for us to explain Alina’s situation to them in Thai. Eventually, they understood what the situation was, except for Alina’s problem. I said goodbye to her and left with my second host family, without any bags. On the ride from Bangkok to Ban Chang, we had confusing conversations. We went to eat somewhere (at 1 AM) and then went to their home. As much as I wanted to see everything and chat, I was tired and I went to sleep.

In the morning, we ate rice and meat (breakfast here is usually leftovers from dinner the night before). My first host dad came to pick me up and we went down the road to my new home. Later on, I met my host mom and host brother, Pon. I have another host brother who I haven’t met yet because he is in Canada for summer camp until next week. We went out to eat quite often when I first arrived. I ate some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. My host mom and dad were surprised that a “farang” can like so many Thai foods and fruits. They told me I must have been a Thai person in another lifetime. So on my first day in my new home, my host dad took me sightseeing around Ban Chang and to the beaches nearby. Everything was very beautiful. At night we went out to a restaurant on the beach, literally. After we ate, I was taken back to my second host family because O was leaving for Orlando the next morning. At their house, I met many of O’s friends and we played ping-pong and “poking” (a type of poker that I’ve never played). I made many friends on this night. We stayed up all night because O’s flight didn’t leave until 6 AM. I’m sure this didn’t help my jet lag situation too much, but I got my bags back from the airport! We said goodbye to O, took some pictures, and then left. On the way back, around 7, we all woke up in the van because we stopped to eat some heavy food for breakfast. Soon I was back at my first host house and I slept for a long time.

The next few days were spent adapting to my new life. I got to know my host family and I really like them! Anytime I have a problem, they are always there to help. My host dad speaks English, which is good because I can ask him how to say anything in Thai and he tells me what is in all the food we eat. My host mom and host brother, Pon, are both learning English (they’re pretty good!) so sometimes we speak English and sometimes Thai. In the end, we both get better at the language we are trying to learn. Pon always likes to play games and ride bikes, which is fine with me because that reminds me of my little brother back in the U.S.

Two days after my arrival it was my birthday. My host parents knew this and they planned for us to go to Pattaya for dinner. My family does not make a big deal out of birthdays, which made me feel better because my host mom’s birthday was three days after mine and I was worried about what to do. We ate dinner, saw some sights in Pattaya, then went home. It was a very nice night.

Before I knew it, I was in school. Thai high schools started about 2 or 3 months ago so I had to start right away. I was delighted to find that the same friends I made at O’s house were in my classroom. When I walked in, the room exploded with noise. Everyone was excited and wanted to talk to me. Everyone came up to me and tried to speak English. They told me their names, but I forgot them just as soon as they told me. It was not stressful or overwhelming, just fun. My classroom here is very different from the classes in the U.S.A. There are hardly any dull moments. We joke around, sing and play songs with a guitar, and play football in the back of the class. Of course, these are all when the teachers are not in the room. Teachers switch from classroom to classroom here, rather than the students. Many teachers in my school teach in English because they are foreigners who came here to do so. I talked to all of these teachers, but it makes me bored because I want to be able to speak to the Thai teachers. All in all, I love my school. Now I know almost everyone’s nickname and my friends speak to me in Thai. I play basketball after school, and everyone asks me to dunk. My school is for kids of all ages. Everyday a little boy will come up to me and wave to me or shake my hand, or I will hear someone yell out “Kiss-toh-fer.” Everyone knows me, but I don’t know them, so I just smile and wave.

After my first day, a group of girls asked me if I wanted to go to some temples in Rayong over the weekend. So I got to go to many beautiful temples and we had a great time. My new friends told me that they are happy when I smile and they hoped I had a good time. Many times they would ask me, “Are you boring?” I haven’t been bored since I arrived here!

I’ve been to so many places in the past two weeks. I went to Pattaya one more time (for my host-mom’s birthday), Bang Na on Thai Mother’s Day/ The Queen’s Birthday (a quiet town north of here), the beach near Koh Samet (very beautiful!), and Bangkok (a very fun weekend!). I can’t wait to see more!

 

 


 

November 17 Journal

 Well it’s been almost three months since my last journal. My life has changed so much in those last three months. I wasn’t looking forward to writing this journal, but I want to let everyone know what’s been going on.

First, the bad news. Everything about my exchange seemed to be working out perfectly. My first host family was awesome and I was glad to be in Thailand. On September 17, 2008, my father passed away. The morning that I found out was the worst, weirdest day of my exchange. I felt like I was still asleep and I just needed to wake up for real this time. I realized it was all true and I wanted to instantly transport home. My mom set up a flight for the next day. The day that I had to spend in Thailand before I left felt like an eternity. My host family was very supportive, and whatever they could think of doing for me, they did. I asked to go buy presents for my mom, my brother, and my sister because I didn’t know what else to do. The next night I left for the airport at 2 AM and flew out of Bangkok at 6 AM. Then I was alone. For 30 hours I thought. I tried to make sense of everything, but then it would become overwhelming and I had to stop. I cried so much when I found out in Thailand. The strange thing is, I hardly cried, or felt any emotion, on the way back to the U.S.A. I was numb to everything, and the jetlag made my mind even fuzzier when I arrived in NY. I was met by my sister, my aunt, and her kids. I expected to cry a lot when I saw my sister, but we were excited to see each other, so it was blocked out for the moment.

I am not going to explain how my father died or what happened within the time that I was in NY. All I will say is that there was a wake, a funeral, and all my family came together to support each other. If I didn’t have such a big family, I might have decided to stay in NY to be with my brother. So I decided that I would come back to Thailand. On the same day, my sister flew back down to Florida and I flew out to Thailand. At a time like that, you are never sure what the right thing to do is or how to act. It is the most difficult thing that anyone can ever go through. My dad was my best friend and I will never stop missing him. With that said, know that in every day in Thailand since then, I think of him.

Life here is very busy. When I got back I hung out with some friends in my town and played basketball with my friend Atom at the local park almost every night. In October, I went to Chantaburi for the inbound camp at Jaolao Beach Resort. I went three days early to stay with some of my inbound friends there because my host family was going away that week. At Jaolao, I got to meet everyone. It was instantly a good time, as it mostly is with exchange students. The camp was 5 days long and was a mix of volunteer work (beach clean-up, paint a fence, etc.) and relaxation.

After the camp, I went to Pattaya twice to travel with my friend Adrian from Mexico and his host family. The first time we went to Apmpawah, a place famous for its floating market in the canal. We went to four temples by boat, which would’ve been more fun if it wasn’t raining the whole time. Regardless of the rain, it was good to see this aspect of Thailand. A few days after this trip, I was invited to travel with them again. This time we went to Koh Laan, a nice island off the coast of Pattaya. It was a more relaxing trip; we were either on the beach or eating the whole time. We stayed for two days then took the ferry back to Pattaya and I went home.

I changed host families shortly after I got home from Pattaya. I liked my first host family a lot and they had done so much for me. I was sad to say goodbye to them, although I knew I would see them again. My new family is great. I now live about 5 km from where I used to live. My host father is a doctor and my host mother used to be a nurse, but now she stays home to take care of the boys. I have three younger host brothers here. Their names are Bink (14), Boom (11), and Book (9). My host parents can both speak English, but I asked my host mom to speak to me in Thai. She asked me to speak English with Bink because he wants to practice. My two other brothers don’t understand when I speak English, so I speak Thai. Weekdays with this family are usually filled with school and either tennis (for Bink) or swimming (for Boom and Book). It works out well because I play basketball in the same place where Boom and Book swim, so we can go together. On the weekends, Bink and my host mom always go to Bangkok so Bink can practice tennis. Last weekend I went with them. I got to see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We stayed at my host grandmother’s house. It is always filled with people, so I never really know who is related to my host family and who actually lives there. The next day I went to Jatujak market (a huge market in Bangkok) with my new host cousin, Poom. He was an exchange student in Kentucky two years ago.

This week was a busy one. On Monday and Tuesday I played on the school basketball team for the first time. After school on Monday, the coach taught me all the plays, which is difficult to remember in itself, let alone in Thai. We played at a park in Rayong, which I’d never seen before, called “Suan see muang” (purple garden). They had an announcer and every time I went for a lay-up or took a shot, he would say “Kiss-Toh-Fer!” We lost both games, but I was just happy to play and that I could understand the coach in Thai.

Wednesday was a holiday in Thailand called Loy Gratong. It is a celebration on the full moon day in November where everyone makes a “gratong” out of banana tree, banana leaf, flowers, a candle, and incense. At night, people gather at a body of water, light their candles and incense, and float their “gratong.” Some people fly paper or plastic lamps, by lighting a wick on fire under it. It works like a hot air balloon, just without people in it. It’s a very beautiful celebration, with lots of people, music, lights, and food. During the day on Wednesday I was in a competition at school for Mr. and Mrs. Loy Gratong. I had to dress up in traditional Thai costume and wear make up on my face. The costume was shiny gold and I felt like Prince. In the U.S., I would’ve definitely been laughed at, but at my school a lot of people told me I looked handsome. When me and my partner Janny came out, we got the loudest cheers. Janny and I made it into the final 3, which meant that we would have to show some kind of talent. Janny did a Thai dance routine and I played guitar and sang the Loy Gratong song in Thai. I won the prize for “Kwan Jai,” which means something like popular vote, and “Nai Napamahs,” which meant that Janny and I won the contest! It was a good feeling to win and an even better feeling to change out of that costume (it was too hot!). Before I went home, a few of my friends asked me to play and sing the Loy Gratong song for them one more time. Later I went to a “Ngaan Wat” or festival at the temple, for Loy Gratong. It was held near a temple at the beach. There were lights from hundreds of gratongs in the water and lights from the flying lamps above the water. There was a stage with singers and Thai dancers and many food stands. It was a good time; I even saw a few of my friends there.

I am starting to feel more at home in Thailand and less like a tourist. My Thai is coming along well. Now I can read and write, which makes it easier to study. I speak to most of my friends in Thai now, although a lot of them can speak English. Many Thai people are very surprised that I can speak to them in Thai. I can remember when my friends used to tell other people “poot tai mai dai” or “He can’t speak Thai.” Then it changed to “poot tai nit noy” or “he speaks some Thai.” Recently people have told me “poot tai geng!” or “You speak Thai well!” It’s nice to be reminded that you are making progress. Of course, there are still times when I’m completely lost, but I’m confident that I can fill in those gaps by the end of this year. I have a lot of awesome friends here and that’s the main reason I want to keep learning every day.

I have to say thanks to Rotary, not just for making this experience possible, but also for taking care of me during one of the saddest times of my life. The Rotarians I know back at home and the travel agency made it possible for me to go home and be with my family. I want all exchange students to be sure that if anything happens, that support will be there. This exchange has helped me to live with losing my father; I have no doubt about that.

คริส

Chris

 


 February 14 Journal

 This morning I woke up refreshed because for the first time in a long while I’d gotten a long night of sleep. As the “cool” season comes to an end, the weather shifts back to very hot. Students are happy because after the final exams, summer vacation will begin. The mangoes and berries in our back yard are ready to be picked and eaten for dessert. Everyone I come across seems as happy as I am that this time is here.

As for me, I am happy for many reasons. I’m happy because I have all of my friends here in my city and around Thailand. I’m happy to make many new friends every week. I’m happy because I feel at home every time I walk in the door of my house and because I can talk to my mom about anything. I’m happy because I can go swimming at the beach and play basketball every night. I’m happy for the new experiences that present themselves every day.

Although some things have changed here, I always remain very busy. This is not me complaining. This is the best type of being busy that I’ve ever experienced. I am busy enjoying myself. Traveling with friends, going to temples, shopping at markets… even going to school is really entertaining. After this week, we will have a 2 or 3 month vacation. I am excited, but now it will be more difficult to see a lot of my friends. My school is a private school, so many students come from surrounding cities to study there.

Last night I went with all of my friends from my classroom to eat a pork buffet. This is the best place to go eat with a big group of people. You can take any variation of raw pork from the buffet and bring it back to your table to cook it over hot coals. They even had pork heart and stomach, but I guess I wasn’t… in the mood to eat it (I’m afraid to try it : p). I like everyone from my class so much and I’ve gotten to know all of them really well. I don’t have to say goodbye to them yet… but soon they’ll go off to different universities and I’ll stay here.

In December I went with my exchange friends on the first Rotary trip. We went to the Northeast (Isaan) and North of Thailand. In the Northeast we ate a lot of sticky rice and somtam (a spicy papaya salad). We traveled along the Maeklong River, seeing many views of Laos on the other side. During the days we went to see temples, waterfalls, orchid farms, and other cool places. After going up through the northeast, we reached the Golden Triangle. This is the area along the River where Thailand meets Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. Then, we went to a temple (Wat Rong Kuun) in Chiang Rai, which was the most amazing I have seen in Thailand. The outside is filled with statues of Buddha, dragons, skeletons… all completely white. It sparkles in the sun and looks spectacular. Inside the temple is a shrine to Buddha (as in all temples) and murals on all the walls. The murals are so cool because they’re modern art style. There is even one part that depicts the World Trade Center. After visiting this temple, we went on to Chiang Mai.

Staying in Chiang Mai was definitely the best part of the trip. It’s a very nice city, with the excitement of Bangkok, but a lot cleaner and nicer looking. Many Thai people travel to this city during the cool season because this is where the coldest weather in Thailand can be found. We went to markets, the zoo, a mountaintop, a hill-tribe village, a Mexican restaurant, a disco, and stayed in a massive hotel. We even got to ride elephants. We had a Christmas celebration together… Secret Santa and a foreign-style dinner. The gifts we gave to each other were funny… some were nice but most of them were jokes. The time spent with exchange student friends is always fun, no matter where we go. When I got back home I had no time to settle down because we were off to Bangkok for New Years. I counted down the last sixty seconds of 2008 (or 2551 by the Buddhist calendar) with what felt like the rest of everyone in Bangkok in an area called Siam. I realized how difficult it is to count backwards in Thai! In Thailand, a lot of people give presents on New Years… I got a few from friends and family  I didn’t miss my familiar traditions during the holidays this year, but I thought about my family a lot. After New Years, we went to Hua Hin, where the King lives during the summer.

After the holidays, I got back into the swing of normal life at home. I was happy to go back to school to see my friends and hear what everyone did during the holiday break. Unlike most schools in Thailand, my school had a Christmas break because it’s a Catholic school. I went to Bangkok two different times… each time to say goodbye to a Brazilian. Two of my exchange friends had to go home because they came half a year earlier than the rest of us. However, we all had a lot of fun together in Bangkok both times. Bangkok is so different from any other city I’ve ever been to. It’s colorful, crowded, old and new at the same time, and exciting. There are taxis of all different colors, tuk-tuks everywhere (3-wheeled motorcycle taxis, which can fit a surprising number of people), food stands everywhere, canals, markets on sidewalks, and many nice malls. Also, you can find foreigners from every ethnicity on Kao San road… a place where many backpackers can be found. It’s a cool road to go to because they always have something interesting, like drum circles or elephants walking down the crowded street.

Last weekend I went to Pattaya, where my friend Adrian lives. Two other exchange student friends came too. Adrian’s Rotary club had a bed race and we raced in it! It was so funny because each team decorated their “bed” (most were actually chairs on carts) in a different way. We raced a team of foreigner cross-dressers, a team of proud Irishmen, and so many more. Pattaya has many foreign residents and most of the Rotarians were farang. We didn’t win but it was fun. Afterwards we got to ride go-karts for free! At night, we ate dinner on the deck of a mall, with a nice view of the sea, dotted with the lights from the boats out on the water.

Last Monday, the day of the full moon, there was a Thai Buddhist holiday called Wan Mahka Bucha. I went with Adrian and his host family to a huge temple near Bangkok (I forgot the name but I’m sure it’s the biggest in Thailand). This temple has a stupa made from solid gold. At the bottom of the stupa were hundreds of monks sitting in meditation. Everyone sat next to one of the thousand metal lanterns they had set up on the grounds near the stupa. Many foreigners came to this celebration, even the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka came and made a speech. The monks chanted, and then everyone meditated together for about 15 minutes. Finally the lanterns were lit and fireworks were set off before the Luang Por (Head/ Eldest monk) spoke. A procession of people holding candles walked around the stupa three times. The full moon shone over all of this. It was amazing.

I’ve become used to the things which seemed so foreign and new to me only 5 or 6 months ago. Sometimes I have to stop myself and say like “Wait, there’s an elephant walking past me” or “I’m eating grasshoppers on the beach right now.” I’m still speaking Thai every day and steadily improving. I love to speak to Thai people, I can’t explain it but it’s very different from speaking English. The best thing for me to hear is when people ask me, “How many years have you lived here?”

So, here I am, at the 6 month point in my exchange, and now I know why everyone always says that going home is the curse of this year. I hadn’t thought about it until I had to pick a date to return. In some ways I feel like I’ve just gotten here, and in some ways I feel like I’ve lived here forever. I still have a lot of time left, and there’s still a lot I want to do. So I will continue to make the most of every day, and stay tuned for more. ^ ^

-Somkit สมคิด


 

 April 28 Journal

 Sawatdee Khrap!

Today is a perfect day to write a journal because it is the hottest day of the year in Thailand. Leaving the house doesn’t become appealing until the evening time, in this time of year. As usual, a lot has happened since I last wrote.

At the end of March all of my exchange student friends met again to go on a tour in the south of Thailand. This meant that we would be relaxing on Thailand’s most beautiful beaches, cruising on speedboats to picturesque islands, and snorkeling in the blue waters. However, this also meant that we would have to sit on the bus for hours and hours until we could get to paradise, but the bus rides are always fun when you’re with all of your friends.

Before we knew it, we had arrived in the South. In the South, the food, scenery, accent, and people are quite different from where I live. In Krabi, we went by speedboat to many small islands, where we swam with schools of tropical fish. After going around to about 4 different islands, we were all exhausted and slept on the bus to Pha Nga. In Pha Nga we went on a boat tour in the Bay, where we saw towering limestone cliffs emerging spontaneously out of the water. In some spots, small villages built on stilts were hidden at the base of the formations. We got off the boat at “James Bond Island,” an island where “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed. Here, we had fun taking jumping pictures and James Bond style pictures. From Pha Nga, we got on a ferry boat, for a 4 hour ride to the Similan Islands. This was the best stop on the tour. The water was the clearest and bluest here. When we arrived, we were all pretty tired of sitting on the boat. As soon as the boat anchored, we all started to jump off the boat and swim right away. Most of us swam to the island instead of getting a ride from a smaller boat. None of us wanted to stop swimming, but a storm rolled in so eventually we had to get out.

For two nights we stayed in tents on Similan. Those were two very uncomfortable nights, but I have no complaints because in the mornings, we woke up to paradise. We also got to go explore the other islands in the archipelago (I think there were 8 in all). On one island, we climbed up to the highest point, to a rock formation that resembles a sailboat. Here we took way too many pictures, probably because we weren’t ready to climb back down after the trek to the top. At the bottom we went snorkeling some more and saw so many cool fish and coral. The rest of the day was spent snorkeling around some of the other islands. On that day I found NEMO!! There were 4 Nemo fish swimming around a big chunk of neon pink coral. Even though it hurt my ears, I swam down many times to get a closer look. On Similan, I got to see giant crabs that live on land, not in the sea. I got to watch the sunset while swimming in a lagoon filled with coral and tiny fish. I got to see more stars in the sky than I have ever seen before in my life. I even saw a shooting star. Needless to say, I enjoyed staying on Similan so much and I would love to go back some day. After Similan, we made our way to Phuket (a 4 hour boat ride back to Pha Nga and a 2 hour bus ride from there). We watched the sunset over the beach when we got to Phuket. While staying there, we went to an aquarium, Central (the big mall, which they have in every big city in Thailand), and the Puket FantaSea show. After Phuket, the rest of the tour was spent on the bus going back home. The tour was very amazing and I will never forget it. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to some exchange friends, who I know I won’t likely meet with again. I won’t soon forget them.

So I headed back home, back to real life… kind of. When I arrived at home, I knew I had to switch families very soon. I took a short trip to Bangkok with my second family, and then it was time to move already. I was sad to say goodbye to my second family… I lived with them for 6 months and felt very close to them, but I know I will see them again often. I knew my third family, the Lee family, before I moved in. They were the ones who picked me up from the airport last August. Of course, last August I couldn’t speak with them because they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Thai. Well, now they still can’t speak English, but luckily I can speak Thai . They were happy and relieved to see that we could talk together. Their son, O, is an exchange student in Orlando this year. Since I moved in life has been pretty easy at my new home. It’s still summer break for me, so I can relax. My host father sells pork, and takes me to the farms sometimes. It’s not the most exciting thing to do, but the locations are very beautiful. Sometimes, I forget how beautiful my province of Thailand (Rayong) is until I go to the rural parts.

In my new family, I have 2 younger sisters, Aey and Eye. Right now they are studying the summer term at school, but when they are home we play badminton and basketball, or watch Korean TV shows together (Aey likes everything Korean, as do many Thai people). The Lee family is of Chinese ancestry. My new home is full of Chinese things. We also have a lot of animals… 3 dogs (I think), 2 cats, 3 kittens (just born a week ago!), a GIANT fish, some smaller fish, and a turtle. I’ve learned a lot about Chinese culture since moving here. Although both my host mother and father were born in Thailand, they preserve their Chinese background. My family takes a trip to China every year. My host parents can speak some Chinese too.

Last week was Songkran festival in Thailand. This is a 3-day long festival where everyone throws water and puts powder on each other. I decided to go to Bangkok, to a road called “Tanon Kaosan.” This road is known for having a steady flow of tourists and backpackers. I was afraid that it would be all foreigners there on Songkran, but actually it was mostly Thai people. I think all of the foreigners went to other places because of the problem with the Red Shirts protesting in Bangkok. I won’t go into this issue because it would take a long time to explain and maybe I would explain it incorrectly. To make a long story short, right now there are some differing views about the government in Thailand and the Red Shirts want the government to change. But not to worry, because on Tanon Kaosan there was no problems and I had an amazing time during Songkran. I went with two exchange student friends, Jean-Phillipe from Quebec and Adrian from Mexico. For 3 days we went around throwing water, shooting water, playing with powder. We met some friends and made new friends. For those 3 days everyone on Kaosan seemed to be so happy. I can’t think of a better holiday to have in the hottest month of the year. So, the official Songkran came to an end, but I went back home to play one more day with my family. We got in the back of my host dad’s pick-up truck, equipped with 2 giant barrels of water, buckets, and water guns, then drove down the main road, stopping at every big group of people for a quick water fight. Still, I felt I really wasn’t finished with Songkran, so I went to Pattaya to play one more day with Adrian. Some cities like to throw water on later days than the rest, which means I get to play more 

Rak tuk khon!

-Chris สมคิด


June 25 Journal

 Sawatdee Khrap!

Once again, another 2 months have passed by in the blink of an eye and I find myself struggling to remember all that I did in that time. I can start by saying that I’m very happy with my last host family. We speak only in Thai together and that has definitely helped me to top off my language skills. The time I spend with them is always passed very easily. My host mom and host dad work pretty hard during the day, so by the time all there jobs are finished and they get home, we just eat dinner together and relax. Our favorite TV show to watch together is a Korean game show, called X-Man, dubbed in Thai. Sometimes, during the day, they take me and my two younger sisters along with them to check on the farms and the new house they are building in a town called Baan Kaai. I’m happy because we have all grown closer over the short amount of time spent together.

In the past few months I started to go see a bunch of concerts, mostly in Bangkok. The best part is, most of them are free. I’ve really taken a liking to Thai music, of various types. So far, I’ve seen some Rock, Indie, Jazz, Reggae, and Ska concerts. The best one was a music festival in Hua Hin called Summerfest. A lot of famous Thai bands played on a stage set up on the beach, to a crowd of thousands of people. Eventually the tide rose and everyone was splashing around, trying to dance in the sea.

My mom and my sister came to visit!

I was a little worried about their visit to Thailand because even the day they came, I had only a vague plan of where I would take them. As soon as I met them in the airport (wearing my student uniform of course :p) I realized it didn’t matter because anything we did together would be fun. I took them around Bangkok for a day, showing them the popular temples, Wat Po and Wat Arun. My mom and my sister enjoyed the original Thai massage at Wat Po before taking a ferry across the JaoPraya River to Wat Arun. I was glad that my mom and my sister liked to try all kinds of Thai foods. Thai food is the cheapest food here and, in my opinion, the best.

We headed two hours east, back to my city and my first host father took us to stay in a hotel overlooking the beach. That night we ate at a restaurant on the beach… me, my mom, my sister, and all of my three host families throughout this year. It was nice to see all of my host families meet my real family. My mom (the real one) really liked the fried, whole fish we ate, something you don’t see much in the states. The next day, my second host mom picked us up from the hotel and brought us to the market under a hospital (I think of it as the secret market), “kao chee jan” (the mountain with the golden Buddha image engraved on it), a vineyard, Wihan Xien (a Chinese temple), and a floating market. These were some of the first places my friends took me to see when I first got here. Next we headed to the island off the coast of my city, called Koh Samed, where we stayed for two nights. Here we got to go swimming, eat a lot, and see a fire show on the beach at night time.

After taking the boat back to the mainland, the plans were pretty much up in the air. We headed back to Bangkok, where my friend Adrian joined us. We searched for a hotel for a long time, until we got lucky and found a really nice one. In this hotel, each room has a different theme, a different design and you can choose which one you like from a catalog. In the lobby they like to play American 80’s music which my mom likes to dance to as she walks up the stairs and accidentally hits her head on the ceiling. :p Adrian and I got massages in the hotel while my mom and sister went for pedicures, etc. across the street. Then we enjoyed eating “Thai style” at one of the street vendors. Here you can eat for about a buck each.

Next day was set aside for Jatujak Weekend Market… the biggest market in Southeast Asia (or maybe just in Thailand). At JJ, you can buy pretty much anything, from clothes to pets. It was really crowded and hot as usual, so my mom and sister didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought they would. At the hotel, we saw a brochure for a resort in the South and decided to head South next instead of North… my mom liked the idea because it meant less hours on the bus. So the next day we headed to Lumra Resort in Prachuap province. We got off the bus, after about 5 hours, where the resort worker told us to. She told us to wait, that there would be a “car” coming to pick up. Well, I forgot that in Thai the word “rot” can mean either car or motorcycle. Our ride showed up…. a motorcycle with a side cart type thing, which has a bench seat on it. We buzzed through some very quiet roads near the beach until we reached our resort about 15 minutes later. The resort was very… quiet. In fact, I’m sure we were the only guests there. :p I think this was the point where my mom started to lose trust in my trip planning skills.

In the morning, we did some yoga, took a walk on the beach, then hired a guy to take us to see a temple on top of a hill nearby (very nice view) and then to the train station. We took a train that’s free for Thai people, only a small fee for foreigners (less than $1 each). On this train there’s no air, and just normal seats, nothing special. I enjoyed cruising through the jungle-like landscape, but by the time we reached Chumpon, it was clear my mom didn’t enjoy it much at all. Not to mention I didn’t have a hotel booked or a plan of how to get to the popular island in that area, Koh Tao. When we got off the train, a lady called us over and solved all of our problems, booked a hotel and tickets for a ferry to Koh Tao. The next day we got on a commercial catamaran and clipped through the waters of the Gulf of Thailand to Koh Tao.

The best part of our stay on this island was snorkeling. My sister and I went exploring for a good beach to snorkel at. Finally we found the best one, with neon colored coral and multicolored fish swimming around it. It was my sister’s first time snorkeling and she really liked it, so it was worth the grueling walk back up the side of the mountain. We stayed for two nights on that island then headed back to Bangkok again. Then it was time to say goodbye to my mom and sister… again. We got to sleep a few hours before I sent them to the airport. I hope they go back with a lot of good things to tell their friends about Thailand!

Today is the last day I have to send in this journal because for about the next 11 days, I won’t be able to use a computer. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to stay at Wat Samnakatorn, a local temple. I will study some prayers in Sanksrit and help out around the temple, until I ordain to become a “Nayne” (a novice monk who is under 20). I’ll stay at the temple for 7 or more days and wear the scarlet robes. And yes… that means I’ll shave my head and eyebrows too.

So be sure to check my next journal for pictures!

Sawatdee

-SOMKIT


July 21 Journal

 Hello Friends,

A good chunk of my time here in June was spent in one place: the temple. I had told my family that I was interested in becoming a monk for a week or two, and they were more than happy to help me out. I would ordain as a “Nayne,” or novice monk. Once you are 20 years old or older, you can ordain as an actual monk, or “Pra.” A novice monk has just 10 rules and prohibitions to follow, whereas a monk must follow some 273. So one day, we decided to go see the “Luang Por,” or head monk, at the local temple. My host dad asked Luang Por if it was possible for me to ordain in June. Luang Por agreed and said the day to ordain would be on the 13th. However, he asked that I stay at the temple for a week before that date and wear all white clothes. In this stage I was called “Naak,” or someone who is going to ordain in the near future. As a Naak, you must observe the temple lifestyle, study the books of prayers/ chants (called “Suat Mone”), and help with chores around the temple. Normally, novice monks don’t have to go through this stage, but the Luang Por wanted me to get a full experience at the temple. Also, I was the only one ordaining as a novice monk on the 13th.

So, for the first week, I stayed at the temple, wearing all white, along with about 7 other Naak. I became good friends with all of these guys. We worked together, ate together, and they helped me memorize the part of the “Suat Mone” that I was to recite on ordination day. These guys were all in their twenties, except for one who was older. I learned that it’s tradition for Thai men to ordain as a monk in their twenties. They ordain for their family, but mostly for their mothers. When a mother’s son ordains, it’s believed that she will receive a lot of merit and go to heaven. Most guys ordain for 3 months or longer. To me, this seemed like a long time, especially when you have a job or a family. However, ordaining is a very respectable thing to do in Thailand. Families and bosses alike are glad to make it possible for a young man to ordain.

The first day at the temple, I felt very anxious and had convinced myself by the end of the day that I didn’t want to go through with the ordination. But, I went back the second day and I changed my mind back again. On the second day, I met more people; even found that two of the monks could speak English. I started to see the temple as a different place, a nice place. I realized that no one forces you to do anything while you stay there. My roommate was a 13-year-old novice named Say. He came from Laos about 6 months ago, but already speaks better Thai than I do. He had a head start because Lao is very similar to Thai. Many of the words are the same, but the tones are sometimes different.

I had to memorize about 4 pages in the Suat Mone in about 5 days. The Suat Mone is not in Thai, but in an Indo-Aryan language called Pali (the language of the Buddha), written in Thai characters. The Pali language is one with no written characters, so it must adapt to the language in the region where it’s being studied. Many of the monks were surprised to see that I could read Thai. If I wasn’t able to read it, I don’t think I would’ve been able to memorize it. I knew ordaining would take a lot of language skill and that’s why I waited until the end of my year to do it. So I studied those 4 pages day and night, read the translations in Thai, recited them back to the monks. One monk who helped me the most in memorizing the Suat Mone was nearly blind (he had some peripheral vision) and deaf in one ear. He can recite the entire Suat Mone in order, and knows what material is on which page. He brought out coffee, sugar, and a mug full of hot water every time I came to practice reciting the Suat Mone. It amazed me how well he could maneuver around with just a small amount of vision.

On June 12th, we didn’t have to wake up at 4:30 AM because it was the day for the Naak to get their heads and eyebrows shaved. After eating lunch, the ceremony started. My current host family and my second host mom came to the temple on this day. All of the Naak sat in a row of plastic chairs as people came up and cut off the hair, piece by piece. On this day, anyone is pretty much free to come up and touch your head, something that’s usually frowned upon in Thailand. Of course, they say sorry and “wai” to you after they finish. So, I watched all of my hair pile up in a bowl made from banana leaf, until I sensed I had none left. My host father was the first to cut my hair, then my other host relatives, followed by anyone else who wanted to cut a piece for good luck and merit (a lot of people wanted to cut my hair :p). Then a monk, “Luang Ruung,” came to shave my head first, then my eyebrows. After he finished, they poured water on me and told me to go take a shower. My head burned a little bit… this was the first time I’d ever shaved my head.

But the day didn’t end there. I got dressed in dry, white clothes, covered by a special, fancy shirt, made especially for the Naak. We loaded into the back of pick-up trucks sitting on plastic chairs, holding 3 lotus flowers and 3 incense sticks in our hands. Each truck had somebody holding a large, colorful umbrella to shade the Naak from the hot, afternoon sun. The motorcade was about 6 pick-ups in length. The truck at the front wasn’t full of Naak, but a traditional Thai band, which played loudly as we paraded through the town of Samnakatorn to a temple in Yelah. It wasn’t a far ride, but I felt very special as people stopped what they were doing to get a look at the soon-to-be monks. I heard most people make a comment about the “Pra Farang” (foreign monk)… maybe it’s something they’ve never seen or expected to see.

We arrived at a Chinese temple and proceeded inside. We went through the various rooms of the temple, to “wai” to the shrines inside and pay homage. When we exited the temple, I was surprised to see my best friend, Atom, standing there. He had come home from his university for the weekend, saw the motorcade, and followed it to the temple. We had to get back into the trucks, but Atom said he would follow us back to our temple. So I got back to Wat Samnakatorn and ate my last dinner for 1 week with Atom. That night we had a festival at the temple… people came to dance to their favorite songs like “Jang Si Man Tong Tornnnn!” People like to drink and go have a good time at the temple, which I don’t really understand, but it’s funny anyways. I painted little toy statues for 10 baht each with some fellow novices for most of the night, then went to sleep, to get rested for the long day ahead.

June 13th was the day that I ordained. It started similar to the day before… wake up leisurely, eat breakfast, then get into the pick-up motorcade to ride to Yelah. Only, this time we went to a temple called Wat Suwan Rangsan, nearby the Chinese temple. And, on this day, I got into my host dad’s pick-up truck, not someone else’s. After we parked, I was directed out of the car to follow the other Naak. The others had gotten ahead of me a bit, so this guy who was holding the umbrella was pushing me forward, into the people walking ahead of me. At the same time, two people were holding onto my shirt from the back (it’s a really long, fancy shirt that almost touches the ground). So I was basically being pulled in all directions. I didn’t focus much on that though. I was just trying to take in the whole experience. We were a huge group, parading through the gates of a beautiful temple.

The same band from the lead truck was now leading the parade on foot, followed by a group of people dancing traditional Thai dance in front of the Naak. I was told that if you dance at the front in a ceremony like this, you will be reborn as an angel in your next lifetime. When we reached the temple, we paraded around it 3 times (three is a number that you start to see a lot in Buddhism, but I still don’t know the meaning or reason for that). I noticed my Mexican exchange student friend, Adrian, was there with his host family, walking around the temple with us and snapping photos. I was directed to walk up the stairs to the entrance of the temple, people reaching out to touch me as I went up. At the top, I was handed a bowl of Thai 1 baht coins and was told to throw them to the crowd below. So I tossed them, trying to give everyone some and not hit them in the eyes at the same time, but apparently I was giving it too much thought because a man started rushing me to throw them all and move on.

The second I finished, I was pushed to the entrance of the temple, where I saw another Naak being lifted up and told to slap the molding over the door (a pretty tall door). At the same time, a man yelled, “No need to lift them! It’s very dangerous!” Of course, no one listened to this guy and within a few seconds, I too was being lifted up to slap the top, then lowered down inside the temple. I kneeled down and waited for my fellow Naak to make it through the chaotic entrance process. The monks chanted, we were given robes, presented to us by our families, and then we recited the “Suat Mone.” I sensed that many people were watching me closely to see if I could really recite it or not. Next, we were taken behind the big Buddha statue and changed into the saffron robes. After that, we kneeled, as the monks chanted and we were presented with more things… necessities for the temple life, etc. Then I was officially a “Nayne.” As I exited the temple, many people put money into my bag. I took pictures with my host families and Adrian, then my host family drove me back to my temple. To end the ordination ceremony, we went around to many statues of monks and Buddha at my temple, lit 3 incense at each, recited a prayer, then we were done.

After I became a Nayne, things changed a lot. My host family no longer called me by my name; they called me just “Nayne.” I had to call my family “Yohm,” no matter who I was talking to. At the temple, I started to spend more time with my fellow Nayne because the new monks were very busy memorizing chants and who knows what else. An older monk, “Luang Rung,” the same one who shaved my head, began to take me to meditate every evening. Sometimes it was just the two of us, sometimes my roommate Say would come along too. We started with sitting meditation, then he taught me walking meditation. He also told me the story of Buddha, telling me a new “chapter” each night. This monk taught me so much about Buddhism and about life in general. Each night, after meditation, we would sit on the floor in his room, watch a concert or movie on DVD, drink coffee, and he would teach me about Buddhism, or tell me some stories form his wild past, depending on his mood. He even had a few ghost stories to tell (real ones). Luang Rung can speak English because he had a wife and a son in New Zealand. We spoke half and half, sometimes in English, sometimes in Thai. It was nice to have someone who spoke fluent English because many of the Thai words about Buddhism were difficult for me to understand. Each night I felt that it got easier to meditate for a long time. Basically, the goal of meditation is to clear your mind and have no thoughts, which is very difficult at first! The monks at my temple knew I would only be there for a short time, so they made sure I got the most out of my time… I’m very thankful for that.

In the mornings, we woke up at 4:30, to the sound of someone pounding the giant bell. As I drifted out of that dreamy daze, me and Say helped each other to put our robes on and went to chant and meditate for a short time. Then we had to split up into a few groups and walk around to different areas to collect food from the “Yohm.” As we walked, we would see someone waiting in the front of their house, with rice and food in a bag. They put the rice in a big metal canister that the monks hold, then take off their shoes, kneel down, and receive a blessing from the monks, and we walk on. We walked a really long way in the mornings, about 5 kilometers and back. When we got back to the temple, some people who help out at the temple every day divided up the food and rice and set it out for the monks and novice monks to eat. The food at the temple was very delicious, and we always had a plethora of Thai fruit and desserts to eat after each meal.

Some days, I went to study with the novice monks, but it usually turned out to be pretty boring for me. Other days, we had a job to do, like dig 3 meter deep holes, which are soon to be part of the foundation for a new building at my temple. The temple life is a nice one, but it’s not necessarily easy. As a novice monk, I slept on a mat on the floor, with no air conditioning. There’s no washing machine, you must wash everything by hand. These conditions didn’t really bother me so much, but before I went to live at the temple, friends and family were sure to remind me of them. It’s a life without too many complications and distractions, which I think is really nice. After just a week, I went up to the Luang Por, he chanted something and I repeated it, and then I was finished as a novice monk. I changed back into my white clothes and said my goodbyes around the temple as I waited for my ride back home. I made many true friends in such a short time at the temple. A part of me feels as though I should’ve stayed for a longer time there, but I was feeling the end of my exchange year creeping up quickly. It’s an experience I’ll always remember. I think I came out of it as a better person, with more understanding.

Of course, when I was finished at the temple, I still had no hair and eyebrows. This meant I had to answer many of the same questions over and over again, like “Why did you want to ordain?” or “What did you get out of your time there?” The first time I was asked, I had to think for quite a while about my answer. I’ve concluded that I ordained because I wanted to see Buddhism in its true form and see what it has to offer me. In doing so, I have realized that it’s a very good philosophy that makes a lot of sense to me. I will continue to meditate because it’s a good exercise for the mind. If my mind is clear, then I will make correct and sensible decisions in my life and that will lead to good experiences.

That’s the end of my ordination story… now I’m back to my “normal” life here. I admit I’m happy that my family is calling me by my name again and I can eat dinner at night :p

Raktuk kon!

-สมคิด Somkit

Daniel Spray
2008-09 Outbound to Denmark

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, St. Petersburg, Florida
Sponsor: Wesley Chapel Rotary Club, District 6950, Florida
Host: Haderslev Hertug Hans Rotary Club, District 1460, Denmark

Daniel - Denmark

Daniel’s Bio

Hello everyone,

My name is Daniel Spray and I live in St. Petersburg, Florida. I currently attend St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. I just turned 17 and am excited to have my 18th birthday in a foreign country! I was born in Lewes, Delaware and moved to Florida when I was 7 years old.

I have a few hobbies, some of which include: reading and learning American Sign Language. Other things that I really enjoy doing include spending time with my friends, who mean the world to me, and being very spontaneous! Working is something that really takes up much of my life because I am paying for this exchange with my own money, so I have to do a lot… and I mean a lot… of working!

Although I do not know which country I am going to, I know that whichever one it turns out to be, I will have the time of my life! I have always loved learning foreign languages, so this opportunity has intrigued me very much.

I just want to thank everyone who has made this opportunity possible, namely Rotary and my parents. However, without the support of family and friends, I don’t think I would have the guts to do this. I know that I am about to embark on a journey I will never forget and I can’t wait to share it with each and every one of you!


July 30 Journal

 Hallo alle,

August 2nd, 2008. The day my life will change is looming ever nearer. I have so much I want to do, but with so little time to do it in. I find myself thinking of nothing but leaving for Denmark. There is so much preparing that goes into getting ready for a journey of this nature that sometimes it just seems like too much, but I know that in two days, I will begin to reap the benefits.

I have so many emotions running through my head all at the same time—it’s like a huge tidal wave! First and foremost of these emotions is excitement and anticipation. Ever since I found out my departure date, I have been counting down the days and marking them off on my calendar. 152 days, 151 days…40 days, 39 days… and now today, 2 days! It’s absolutely incomprehensible. I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that this year of preparation has finally come to an end. My dream is no longer a dream—it’s a reality. I’m actually doing this! But this excitement and anticipation leads to stress. “What happens if I miss my flight?” “Will my host family like me?” “What happens when I don’t know how to say something?” I know I just need to calm down and relax, but in the midst of saying my goodbyes to everyone I know, I feel like I am saying goodbye to everything I know, too. And in a way I am.

Everyone keeps telling me to have and great time, enjoy every minute of it, etc…and then they throw in the part about “Oh yeah, by the way, don’t change a bit!” Seriously now! What do they want me to do, just live in a little observatory bubble while I am over there? I guess they are the type of people who would never make it as an exchange student. That’s a reason I want to go on this journey—I want to change; I want to be a better person; I want to become bicultural.

Anyway, enough of my rambling on! =) I look forward to keeping all of you informed about my adventures in the land of Denmark! Also, I want to say TUSIND TAK (a thousand thanks) to Rotary for allowing me to spend my year in Denmark. Because of you, my life will be forever changed.

Hej! Hej!

Daniel =)


August 6 Journal

 Well, this is my first journal for my exchange year. I want to start off by thanking Rotary from the bottom of my heart for making this life-changing dream come true. I am truly enjoying every minute of it!

So far, in my 3 days of living in Denmark, my host family has been amazing! They are the most genuine people I have met. Anything I need, they will help me get it. They involve me in all of their family activities and already, I feel as if I am a part of their family.

On Monday morning at 11:00 (only 8 hours after arriving, mind you!), my host brother, Mathias, knocks on my bedroom door to wake me up to meet his two friends Benjamin and Jeppe. Jeppe will be arriving in Weston for his exchange year on the 10th of August. After we got acquainted, they very nonchalantly told me that we were going to Germany… to go shopping?!? That right there threw me off! All I could think of was “Wouldn’t that be like an American going to Canada to shop, when we have perfectly good stores in the States?” But once they explained to me that we are so close to the German border and everything in Germany is cheaper, it all made more sense. That made for a very interesting day, nonetheless—barely speaking Danish and then being sent to Germany—can you say “Sensory Overload!!” After we got back from Germany, Benjamin and Jeppe stayed to eat dinner with our family. Then there was the fodbald game, or as we say it in English: SOCCER!! Our team, SønderjyskE (and yes, the “E” is supposed to be capitalized) is the lowest paid team in Denmark and they played København FC, they highest paid team in Denmark. I have never seen anything like that before. Now I understand where the term “hooligan” comes from! Luckily for us, they tied 1-1 and nobody got hurt after the match!

After the match, Mathias, Benjamin, Jeppe and I all stayed up until 2AM talking and playing games—they have become my best friends over here!

Tuesday, Jeppe’s family threw a going away party for him and Mathias and I went. That was a lot of fun because I got to see how the Danish teenagers interacted with each other. There was not much difference from the American way, but there were some slight variations. At that party, I was able to make some very good friends that really want to help me with my Danish.

And today, my host father and I went to the Haderslev Kommune to register me for an insurance card that I need to have to go to school. After that, we went to a store to buy our dinner ingredients, but when we walked in, all I saw were aisles of shoes and clothes on the right and electronics on the left hand side. However, in the back, there was the food section. My host father told me that they have two main stores like this that everyone uses. They are both owned, not by big-wig millionaires, but the consumers themselves. And while it caught me off guard that you could buy anything and everything you needed in one store, it also boggled my host fathers mind that we have all different stores in the States! But as everyone over here loves to say: “Americans do everything opposite of the rest of the world!”

So, for now, this concludes my first journal. I have had so much fun these past few days and I am looking forward to having many more exciting adventures!

Vi ses og mojn!

Daniel :]


September 3 Journal

 Ok, now where to start? I know everyone at home is breathing a sigh of relief to finally see my journal is up! Yes, I finally got around to it. There has been so much going on that I have had to start and stop and restart this journal so many times. As a pre-journal note, I would like to say that in the month that I have been here, I have already started to forget some of my English vocabulary and it freaks me out every time I can’t think of such a simple word, and yet it makes me happy too, knowing that I am becoming better in the language! So, I am apologizing now for any stupid mistakes in my grammar!

I believe that the last time I wrote, I was in my first week here! HA—that seems like forever and a day ago. As of today (September 3rd), I have been here for 1 month! I have now started school, which is a big joke! Imagine, if you can, walking into a class of 29 girls and 1 boy not knowing a word of their language! Yeah, well whatever scenario is playing out in your head now, that’s how I felt times 10! I have gotten used to my class now and am actually having a great time. Granted, with 29 girls, there are A LOT of hormones involved! J My schedule is a very good one. I am in the second year (there are 3 years in the high school) with an intensive focus on Spanish and English. My classes change everyday. On Mondays I have Psychology, Danish, Biology and English. Tuesdays, I have English, Gym, Biology, and History. Wednesdays are Religion, History, Ancient Greek History, and Spanish. Thursdays I have Ancient Greek History, Chemistry, and Danish. And on Fridays, I have Religion, English, Spanish and Psychology. Now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get to miss my last 2 classes because I have to go and attend a language school down in the center of town. Those classes are some of the most helpful classes I could possibly take. I have learned so much since I have started there!

Now, my favorite part of the year (so far)! INTROCAMP!! That is our week-long camp in Bjerringbro (northern Denmark) where all 108 exchange students come together to socialize, go on outings, and create lifelong friendships. Oh, and I think we were supposed to learn some Danish while we were there! J And we did! Everyday that week, we had some 5 hours of Danish lessons and then 2 of the days, we went out on excursions of Viborg and Århus. Let me tell you—I had the time of my life just walking around these towns with my new found friends. On the 3rd day and the last day, we all met outside in the soccer field for bonfires. Now, when you typically go to bonfires, the highlight is usually making S’mores or roasting marshmallows, right? PSYCH! In Denmark, we make bread on a stick, which is SOOOO Danish because Danes eat bread with absolutely everything! A meal is not complete if there are not 2 loaves of bread on the table. Half of my body weight is now probably made up of pure dough! After we had to come home I talked to a lot of the other exchange students and we all just wanted to go back for another week of spending time with each other! J

If you would like, I could now give you a brief glimpse into what the near future holds for me in the beautiful country of Denmark. Next weekend, I am going to Copenhagen (the capital) to go to a concert with all of the exchange students! I am so excited to see them again! We are going to go to an amusement park and all that cool stuff! The week after next, my host dad is running a HUGE marathon in Berlin where we also have a vacation house, so we will be there for a long weekend then! I am really looking forward to seeing more of Germany. And, I might even get to go to Poland to see my BEST FRIEND Katie! That would be so exciting! Next month is my birthday (October 15th—my 18th, I can’t believe it!) so my host family is letting me invite some friends over the week before to celebrate because we are going to be back in Berlin at our house to have a week during our autumn holiday! I think for now, that is enough of my boasting! J

I just wanted to take a moment to send out my never-ending thanks to Rotary for allowing me to come on this journey! I have experienced so much already just in my first month and I am ready for all the new challenges that await me in the coming months! Rotary Youth Exchange is the best program and I am so happy that I have embarked on this adventure! I would like to also thank my family and friends—here and back home in the States. I feel as if I already have 2 families and 2 homes! I love Denmark with everything in me, but I know that I always have all of you back home waiting for me to return!


October 5 Journal

 A wise man once said: “Time flies when you are having fun!” And that’s what made him wise—for knowing this! I have been here in Denmark (the most AMAZING country in the world) for two months now, and when I try to sit back and recollect everything I have done and all the people I have met, it is absolutely impossible! There has been so much that’s been happening since I last wrote my journal and I will do my best to get it all down!

I last left off, if I remember correctly with my first few weeks of school. When I first started, I was totally lost and every little bit of Danish I thought I knew, well that went out the window! But now, 2 months into it, I have realized that if I pay really close attention, I can pretty much understand the lecture. Another wise man (or maybe an exchange student said it!) once said: “The Danish language is like taking a very hot potato and sticking it in your mouth and trying to talk like that!” Well I’ll be darned—whoever said that hit the nail right on the head! In Danish, the language is very guttural and to try and tell the difference between the letters, is still proving to be my only challenge! We have 3 extra vowels in our alphabet (æ, ø, and å) and the pronunciation between ø, å, and o is dependent on how far back in your throat your tongue is! So, in our language school, we still spend time going over the basic practice of distinguishing the difference between the 3 letters! At school, all the girls are very helpful in teaching me Danish. They will spend however long it takes teaching me how to say something until I get it correct! And, I learn more Danish from them than I do at our language school; but the school helps, too!

I know in my last journal that I mentioned that I was going to Berlin so my dad could run the big marathon and MAN—was that an amazing experience! My family has an apartment in Berlin and the marathon went right in front of our window, but we were outside cheering my dad on! We met him at every 12 kilometers (7.5 miles for all of you who are confused by the metric system!) and gave him a chocolate bar! But of course we didn’t run to the next station—NO! We took the underground! That was definitely an experience! In the marathon, there were 40,000 runners and just imagine with their family members going to meet them every 12 km too, just how packed the underground was! They don’t wait for everyone to get on before leaving either. If the time for the train to leave is 13:11, you better believe that the doors are closing at 13:10.59! Luckily, they run every 5 minutes, though! While we were there, I got to meet my host sister who is older, married and living in Aalborg. Her husband was running the marathon with my dad. They brought along my host cousin and he actually helped me to learn many Danish phrases that are very useful! We did a lot of talking that weekend and he is a really nice kid! I guess I should mention that he is 2 years old, too!! J

Since I have been in Denmark, the culture of the Danes has been rubbing off onto me and I have noticed changes in my personality. I am becoming a more carefree person. I am not so uptight if things change unexpectedly—I just take it as a new adventure and a new chance to experience something different. I am becoming more open-minded about other people. Like in American high schools, if there is a kid that sticks out and is different from the “average” or the “normal” they are either shunned and never thought of or made fun of constantly. But in Denmark, everyone is accepted—no matter what they believe in, how they act, where they come from, whatever! And that is something that I think everyone in the world could stand to learn.

I have come to the conclusion that making mental notes of things that I want to put in my journals will never work because as soon as I think of something new, the old reminder is gone! So, I am going to have to start carrying around a little notebook so I can jot down any significant things. I have also realized that merely writing my experiences down does not even come close to capturing the full effect of the actual event, which is why if there are any students reading this journal or anyone else’s journal and are intrigued by what you hear, I encourage you to check out the RYE program and maybe you can have the same life-changing experiences as all of us are having each and every day!

So, as always, I want to conclude with thanking Rotary and all the people that make this opportunity happen year after year! Without you, my life would not be changing for the better like it is now and I owe it all to you!

Until next time, I hope all is well in the Sunshine State!

Tusind tak til Rotary! Jeg er kærlig hvert minut jeg er i Danmark og ikke ville have den anden måde!


November 23 Journal

 Ok, so it’s been a long time since I last wrote and I have so much to say! A lot has happened in the last month, so I hope I can get it all down.

When I last left off, my 18th birthday was rapidly approaching. Luckily for me, it fell during Denmark’s efterårsferie (also known as Autumn break). Since mostly everyone in Denmark has off of work during this time, my family and I took a wonderful trip back to Berlin. But, before we left, we had to have a fødselsdag morgenmad (birthday breakfast). It was so good, even after being woken up by my host family barging into my room singing the Danish version of Happy Birthday! It goes something like this:

I dag er det Oles fødselsdag!

Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!

Han sikkert sig en gave får

som han har ønsket sig i år

og dejlig chokolade med kage til.

 

Hvor smiler han, hvor er han glad

Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!

Men denne dag er også rar,

for hjemme venter mor og far

med dejlig chokolade med kage til.

 

Og når han hjem fra skolen går,

Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!

Så skal han hjem og holde fest,

og hvem der kommer med som gæst,

får dejlig chokolade med kage til.

 

Til slut vi råber højt i kor.

Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!

Gid Ole længe leve må

og sine ønsker opfyldt få –

og dejlig chokolade med kage til.

And promptly after this, they moved on to the English version. But, in Denmark, this is tradition. During our fødselsdag morgenmad, I was given presents from my host parents and my host brother along with the cards my family had sent to me. It was such a great start to my birthday! After breakfast, we all took our showers and then packed the car for our 5 hour trip to Berlin. Now, for me as an American, 5 hours really isn’t that much. If my family and I took a 5 hour trip, we’d still be in Florida. HA! Danes really don’t have that same perspective. Since the country is so small, a 1 or 2 hour trip is REALLY long. So we always laugh with each other when we go to Berlin because of our differences in perspectives!

Anyways, we arrived at the apartment in Berlin at around 12:30 and we met our neighbors from Denmark there. They were there for the first part of the efterårsferie. Then we had a very hygge lunch. Hygge doesn’t really have an English translation, but the best I can think of is cozy. It was just my family and our neighbors sitting around the table eating bread and drinking coffee. But, one of the best parts about the day was, of course, the CAKE!! It was a chocolate-cream cake wrapped in Marzipan. It had to have been one of the best cakes ever. That night, we went out into the city for a fødselsdag aftensmad. We ended up going to a very classy Turkish restaurant. Even though it was classy and a little on the expensive side, you still get a lot of food! Afterwards, we were all just so full! When I come back to the States, I don’t think I will ever say Happy Birthday again, because I love the Danish way of saying it! Tilykke med fødselsdagen! It is just so much fun to say! J So, needless to say, during my birthday, I had a great day and a great bonding time with my family.

Also, while in Berlin, we went to a lot of historical places. I won’t go into detail about what we did and all that, but I’ll just mention some of the bigger ones. We went to an old prison used by the Nazis during the War, the Jewish memorial, the remainder of the Berlin Wall now known as the East Side Gallery, the United States Embassy (which is closed to the public and surrounded by armed policemen) and the JFK museum. Berlin is such a spectacular place and I feel very fortunate to be able to travel there with my family and experience where so much of our world’s history has taken place.

School is amazing. For a while there, I thought that I wouldn’t really like it, but all of a sudden, everyone has just opened up so much and we just get along so well. My teachers still don’t make me do much work—mainly my English teacher. She loves having a native speaker in the class. Even though she speaks flawless English with a perfect British accent, she still asks me if what she is saying is right. But, now I have given 3 presentations in school and I am working on my 4th now for Biology this Thursday. It’s kind of sad that I have to miss classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays for language school, but in the end, I know that it will be worth it.

The weather. Hahaha! It is so different from Florida, it’s not even funny! Right now as I’m typing, the temperature outside is 30 degrees. When I woke up this morning, the swimming pool was frozen and my host dad made the comment that soon we will be able to skate on it. And he was serious! It snowed last night and the day before, so hopefully we will have a White Christmas. I can’t wait to get my Rotary money next week so I can go buy a new pair of shoes suitable for the winter weather. Converses really don’t do the trick here! Oh, and in the city, there are two HUGE Christmas trees and there are lights stretching across the streets from building to building! It is picture perfect! I have tried to capture it in a picture, but there are just some things a picture can’t describe.

For Halloween, Rotary put on a Get Together Weekend in Holbæk, a city about an hour away from Copenhagen (the capital). All the exchange students (175 of us) were there—crammed into the gymnasium (the European word for high school). It is always so sad when we have to say good-bye at the end, even though we know we’re going to see each other again soon. I think this weekend was more for the Oldies. They are the ones that are from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and sometimes Brazil. Their exchanges are from February until January. So, they are getting ready to go home and it was like their farewell party. And since I saw them saying goodbye to the people they have made lifelong friendships with, I couldn’t help but feel their pain, too. Because when I start to think about coming home, it just hurts. Denmark has become more than just my host country. It has become my home. I feel like I just fit perfectly—with the people, the culture, everything. Each day I wake up, I realize that I can’t take it for granted. A year only lasts for a year; nothing more, nothing less. I can’t just sit at home and do nothing for a full day because that’s a day I don’t get back. This exchange has already taught me so much and I’m only 4 months into it. It’s amazing to see how many TRUE friends you can make while being on exchange. There is really no one else that can understand you better than another exchange student. We feel so many emotions and sometimes they conflict with each other, and I don’t think anyone else, except an exchange student, can truly understand what we are going through. I never realized how much you can accomplish in a year. A year is such a short amount of time. It’s only 365 days, but if you think positive and live like there’s no tomorrow, those can be the best 365 days of your life. And since I’ve been in Denmark, the days that I’ve had here, I will never want to trade them for anything. And I have Rotary to thank for that. This is the single most best experience of my life. Thank you Rotary, for making this happen. I can’t think of any other way to say it, but I truly mean it!

So, for now, this concludes my journal. I am looking forward to having many more adventures to share next month!

Hej Hej!


January 4 Journal

 Goddag goddag alle sammen!

So, with the holidays just finished, I suppose it’s time for a journal. I can’t even think where to start after so much has happened this past month! But before I get into the material part of the exchange, I think it would be better to describe how I have changed. Each day, each new experience in my life is affecting who I am and what I am becoming. The best part is that probably 98% of my experiences here in Denmark have been wonderful and positive, so that means that (hopefully) I am becoming a better person. I have noticed that I am very protective of Denmark. I can’t stand it when people say they don’t like being here. This has become like a second home to me. This is now part of my life. I don’t think friends have played a more pivotal role than now. I know that I can trust my exchange student friends with absolutely anything. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for them. Like all the others have said countless times, and so have I—the bond between exchange students is nothing like I have experienced before. I know that when I have to say goodbye to them, it will be one of the hardest things to do—probably harder than coming here. We have all gone through this experience together and I know I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.

Now, to the stories from the holidays! First would be Thanksgiving, which was non-existent and trying to explain the concept of this holiday to Danes is almost useless. But, I did my best and I think they get the general concept. I thought that we (‘we’ being the American exchangers in my city) would have a little Thanksgiving dinner, but plans just didn’t work out. So, my dinner consisted of a traditional Danish food called frikadeller, which are just basically meatballs served with red cabbage boiled in vinegar (rødkål). Granted, this is my all-time favorite dish here, it was nowhere near to what I knew my family back in the States was eating. Oh well, life goes on!

Next comes Christmas—probably the biggest holiday in Denmark. It starts on the first of December when all the kids get their julekalender. It is just a box with 24 days marked on it with little doors and behind each door is a piece of chocolate. So, each morning when you wake up, you eat your piece of chocolate. And, I would swear that it is an unforgivable sin if you eat 2 pieces of chocolate in one day. Then we celebrate Advent each Sunday in December and each family has the Advent wreath with the four candles. Throughout the month of December, a lot of friends and families get together for BIG dinners called julefrokosts. You just sit around and eat dinner until you are on the brink of busting a gut. Now I have to get a little sidetracked to explain something about these julefrokosts. If you were to ask any Dane what their biggest pride would be, they would answer with the word hygge. Unfortunately, there is no translation for the word, but the closest would be ‘cozy’. Hygge is basically just sitting around with people you care about and having the candles lit, drinking coffee or tea, and eating some sweets. It is so relaxing and amazing to experience this feeling. So, the main concept of the julefrokosts is to have a hyggeligt time with everyone. However, when we get to Christmas Day (Juleaften), that’s when the real celebration begins! You wake up and just sit around with your family and talk. Around 1 or 2, everyone goes to church for the Christmas Day service. But right before the family leaves for the service, the turkey goes in the oven. When you come home from church, the extended family usually comes over and you eat for literally 3 to 4 hours. Then comes the dancing. Yes, dancing. Everyone holds hands and we dance around the Christmas tree singing different carols. After the dancing, comes the presents—and that takes a good 3 hours to do, too! But all in all, Christmas is a totally different experience here than in the States. I know it sounds almost exactly the same, but it’s something you have to feel, not read.

New Years is pretty much the same as Christmas, except after we had dinner with our family, then we moved onto all the neighbors houses to wish everyone a happy New Year and usually you get some food at each house, too! Now, I will steal Katie’s idea of making a list of “You Know You Are…” things.

You Know You Are An Exchange Student in Denmark If:

 You speak your own made-up language we like to call Danglish.

 You NEVER wear shoes in the house. Always socks or slippers.

 You can’t get over the fact that the letter ‘d’ is sometimes pronounced like an ‘l’, sometimes it’s silent, and sometimes it’s pronounced like a ‘d’.

 You can never wear enough clothes to try and stay warm. It’s just not gonna happen!

 90% of the TV shows are American ones.

 Brightly colored skinny jeans are definitely stylish.

 You run out of your monthly allowance from Rotary in the first week because everything is so expensive!

 Ketchup tastes like curry and mayonnaise tastes like nothing.

 You can’t stop yourself from saying Ja, Nej, Hvad, Undskyld, and Ttak instead of saying Yes, No, What, Sorry, and Thanks—especially when you are talking to other Americans.

 You go to Germany to go shopping because it’s cheaper.

 You will never be able to totally navigate the train system.

And now for a little note to the new RYE Florida class. First off, I want to let you know I am SO jealous of you—especially the ones coming to Denmark. I would give everything to be able to stay another year. When the Rotarians tell you to study, they actually mean it. You can’t study enough. Don’t be happy with what you already know because there is so much more for you to learn. Don’t procrastinate—time creeps up so fast and before you know it, there is no more time. There is no time for second chances when you only have a year. The reality of knowing that you are going to a different country probably hasn’t hit you yet, and it might not hit until you are getting off the plane and you feel like you have just been shaken up, tossed around and hung upside down because you are so confused, but just know that you are 76 of the luckiest teenagers in the world. This experience will change you in so many different ways and you might not even recognize who you have become—a more mature, open minded, caring, and diverse individual. Just know that you can never say thank you enough.

And with that, I would like to say Thank You again to everyone with Rotary. Six months of my exchange are already gone and I only have half left, but without everything you all have done, I wouldn’t be able to say that I am truly living my dream. Thank you Rotary.

Conrad Troha Jr.
2008-09 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Okayama-Korakuen Rotary Club, District 2690, Japan

Conrad - Japan

Conrad’s Bio

 Hello World,

My name is Conrad Troha and I have lived in Florida for my entire life! Moved from Daytona (which is where I was born) when I was about 4 and lived in Palm Coast ever since then. I love it here, but I have always wished that there was a way I could get to see the world…

THAT is why I’m so absolutely excited and honored to have been accepted as a Rotary exchange student! I’m fairly well rounded and very easy to get along with. About 5 times a week I attend jukido jujitsu, it is the thing I enjoy most in my life! It has helped me with friends, grades, and even home life, definitely the most beneficial thing that I have ever done! After my training sessions at the dojo (training hall) I stay to help the youth of Palm Coast gain respect for themselves and others and improve themselves in their daily lives as they train.

When I get back from my exchange I want to be a teacher. But I plan to teach language so I will study Spanish in college and I will study the language of wherever I am going so that maybe I could teach it as well! I have never been more excited to leave home in my life! 🙂


August 26 Journal

 Japan…where do we begin?…

Ah yes! the airport! So it was Friday night and time to say my goodbyes. The truth is that I didn’t think that it would be as hard it was, I would say to myself, it is only a year, I will be back in no time. Haha..yeah right. I said “I love you and goodbye” to my mother at home then my dad at the airport…both times letting out more tears than expected.

Nevertheless I was on the plane to Chicago. 3 hours wasn’t so bad. Met up with an agent from Bokoff-Kaplan in O’Hare and other outbounds going to Japan! We walked around and got to know each other for the three hour lay over and I went ahead and exchanged for about 9000 yen. Before we knew it, it was time to go, we boarded the plane and endured the 13 hour flight to our knew homes. I ended up reading a book and watching a few movies but do you think that I slept? No way! I couldn’t, I was too energized and excited even though I hadn’t slept for a day prior to the flight. Tokyo, Narita…that was my next stop and where I would say goodbye to my fellow outbounds. Truth is though that goodbyes never happened, after we went through customs and immigration we got separated so fast I have no idea where they went! Nevertheless I found my way to the connecting flight that would land me about an hour away in Osaka, Itami Airport.

After getting off the plane this is where I was supposed to meet up with my host family, but coming through Customs I didn’t see any signs or Rotarians at all! I was so confused…so I asked as best as I could where a telephone was and the airport attendant kindly showed me the way. After a lot of struggle in figuring out how to use the phone I called my host father Kobayashi-san. In broken Japanese I told him that I was at the airport and after much confusion he assured me that he was on his way. Two and a half hours later a taxi pulled up containing my host mother and father with a very big greeting! I was so relieved to see them! Come to find out the next day I had arrived at the airport a day earlier than scheduled! We are still figuring that one out…..

It took about 2 hours to get to the hotel in Okayama which my family owned. That is where I would stay the night and after 2 days of no sleep and stress I would have the best night’s sleep of my life. I had a dream that night of a normal day back home and thought that I was still there when I awoke the next morning! Then it hit me that I was in Japan! That first day was hard, I was very homesick, and missed my friends and family more than you know, I figure it was due to the lack of communication with anyone in US. My parents were worried too, I know, seeing how it took me a day or two to figure out how to call internationally from my house. Thankfully though everything worked itself out. I have to say though that the food is very strange here. I had Tako (octopus) for the first time, and we went out to the super market and bought some fresh octopus tentacles for dinner hah, I have to say though it wasn’t bad. It has been 5 days and I have been so many places I don’t even know where to start…..

Korakuen garden – My first day there my host family took me to one of the most famous gardens in Japan. It was absolutely beautiful – the fish, the birds, the trees, and Okayama castle! That is where I had my first cup of traditional Japanese green tea and kibi dango. It is….rather bitter, kind of like drinking mashed up leaves I could swear they made me eat grass too…..anyway! Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera at this point because I left mine at home….took me a day or two to get my host parents to understand that so the next day, me and a Rotarian and my host father went to the electronics store and I bought a Japanese camera, luckily it has English settings or I would be done for!

Joypolis – This is a very very big arcade close to the supermarket in Okayama, my host mother was showing it to me asking me if I knew about anime and about sonic (there is a giant gold sonic statue in there!) and mario hah, it was interesting. So she asked me if I played arcade games and I told her yes so she asked me to show her by playing a gundam game….I lost….very badly….

7/11 – That’s right 7/11! It is a convenient store here…not a gas station and it was sooooo different. That is where my father took me to get lunch the other day, we had Onigiri (rice cakes). The best food of my life….I could eat onigiri allllllll day long. Oh and if you ever go to Japan and are eating rice, do NOT leave rice in your bowl when you are done…you better eat it ALL! I learned that the hard way….

Okayama University – It is a very famous school in Japan, right down the hill from my high school. It is MASSIVE! My high school is uphill so when you look over the side you get a beautiful view of all of Okayama city, it is absolutely amazing! I was introduced to my high school principal and vice principal. And there was a gentleman there that I thought was Japanese until he said “Hi, I’m Zack”. I was shocked, until he told me he was the English teacher there! He is American and extremely helpful. They are going to put me into a language school down the hill from my high school to help me every day and they had to measure me for my seifuku (school uniform). I am bigger than they anticipated. I hit my head on EVERYTHING too! I have hit my head on the light above the dinner table…all the doorways in my house and even a ceiling or two…

According to Zack sensei, jetlag takes a few weeks to wear off and I am still extremely tired. School starts on Monday, I hope that I am prepared, hah I hope I can even find my way there! I have to walk to the train station and then ride a train to the bus stop where I will ride the bus to school….that is not going to go well I already know xD. But I am taking pictures of everything, my family laughs at me when I stop to take pictures of things like like signs and vending machines, but hey it’s all new to me! 🙂

Everything here is sugoi (amazing) I don’t know how else to explain it. The Japanese are interesting people, they don’t need to worry that cigarettes and beer are in vending machines because they know that no one under age will even think of taking them, I haven’t seen one police officer in the time that I have been here. And I have never seen so many bikes either! The sidewalks are lined with bicycles – it is insane, everyone here rides their bike. Needless to say I haven’t seen one fat Japanese person yet 😀

Everyone bows and says thank you, everyone is polite and smiles. It is truly amazing. I have befriended my dictionary as well, I don’t go anywhere without him, and the Rotarians here were kind enough to give me an electronic dictionary to use during my stay even though I can’t read it 🙂 Anyway, my rambling has to end abruptly due to the fact that it is dinner time and I have to go. More entries will come soon and so will some pictures when I figure out how to get them onto the computer! Arigatou Rotary for everything, I already know that this is going to be the best year of my life! Until next time journal….

Ja mata ne

-Conrad


September 20 Journal

 OK everyone…..It’s me again!

All in all it is very hard to organize my thoughts over the period of a month but I will do my best! Where did I leave off last time…….

Oh YEAH! School! Now you might be thinking oh woopdy doo it’s school….but if you are, you are COMPLETELY wrong! School in Japan has more differences than I can imagine, and for the most part, I like school here way better! I have to wake up every morning at about 7 to eat breakfast and put on my uniform and leave the house by about 7:30, 10 minute walk to the train station, train ride to the central station in Okayama city then it’s on a bus to school. Worst experience I have had with the train thus far was a couple of days ago…I was the first one off the train and clumsy me (it was too early…) stepped in between the train and the platform leading to me face planting in front of EVERYONE! My phone flew out of my front pocket and both my bags flew out of my hand….I was alright…but boy I will never be more embarrassed than I was then….

On to a happier memory! =) School starts at about 8:50 and there are 7 classes everyday…..the problem is that every day the schedule is completely different D= I have to keep mine with me and look at it every day between every class! Nonetheless it is a private school but it’s more laid back than Florida public schools! I was amazed when our math teacher just didn’t feel like showing up to class one day…so he didn’t…we just hung out and talked until the class was over.

My absolutely most favorite class is my 書道 (calligraphy) class! Yes I said calligraphy…that means a piece of paper, a brush and some ink! It is amazing. I went as far as to join the Calligraphy club after school every week! Nonetheless, every day is a new challenge, Japanese is difficult and easy at the same time, some things make a lot of sense and others I just don’t understand at all =) Some things I can’t help but laugh at though…my teacher was amazed when I told him that every street in Florida has a name… That’s right…only main streets have names in Japan! (with the exception of Kyoto)

Ah, so a few days ago I was able to officially say that I turned 18 on the other side of the planet! 🙂 My birthday was a blast, the kids made a cool card for me and signed it, my host parents bought me a birthday cake and got me presents – it was a lot of fun!

Every day my Japanese gets just a tiny bit better, but I still have an incredibly long way to go…it’s amazing how one word can mean 4 or 5 different things….somewhat aggravating too -.-; I think everyday that my Japanese gets better my English gets worse though…’tis a funny cycle….

Today is the first day that I am out in Japan by myself as well!!!!! I can simply walk around and just enjoy the sights…check out some cool stores or go to the arcade (which I might do when I am done with this ^^)

My cellphone is my best friend by the way….hahahahah it comes with me everywhere! It’s pretty sweet, I don’t use the internet on it though simply because I am paying for it annnnnd….yeah no thanks, but I like to use it to write messages to mah Japanese buddies….I like to think of it as a study tool. =P

My school was also kind enough to hook me up with some Japanese lessons at a school not far….just a bus ride down the hill! (My school is basically on a mountain, thus I have the most amazing view of all of Okayama city from my classroom!) But yeah those lessons will start first thing next week, hopefully my Japanese will pick up a little faster after that point.

I have now decided that the greatest invention in the history of mankind is Onigiri…I’ll explain: You have your favorite kind of fish – for example my favorite onigiri is tuna and mayo…then that is wrapped in a rice ball…that rice ball is then wrapped in seaweed…even if you don’t like fish or sushi, I guarantee that you will like Onigiri….it’s that amazing….I am going to buy as much onigiri and bring it with me before I have to leave Japan in 10 months!

There are Konbini (convenient stores) literally on every block…if you have a wallet and two feet to get you there you can go and buy anything you want to eat for extremely cheap, it’s rather amusing. I have found myself making quite frequent trips to the local Konbini. (Yes, to get me some Onigiri!!!!) heh

My house!

Right….Japanese homes are extremely compact…it’s rather amusing – there are secret compartments in the floors and ceilings so that they can store stuff, yes…it’s really that small! Hhahahaha

TV

Talk about amusing, they have some of the craziest game shows you will ever see in your life! It’s so funny…I will sit and stare at the TV for hours trying to understand what is going on…But at the moment it is Sumo season so you could say I have been rather attached to television. Sumo is incredibly big in Japan, but the reason I like it so much is that you can see Japan almost embodied within Sumo…the actual sumo match is only one aspect…a real treat….

!!!!!!

I have been here for an entire month! I have no idea where the time is going…it’s insane…It definitely is going to be over before I know it, which is why I have to go out and explore the wonders of Japan! Next I think I will visit a local book store and see if I can’t pick up some (more or less) easy Japanese reads so I can study!

Until next time Everyone!

今良侍 - Conrad (that’s my kanji name) =)

P.S. Still haven’t gotten used to the cockroaches in my house xD (Not a joke…)


October 30 Journal

 Hi everyone!

So it turns out I’m not very good at writing these things…my head goes blank and I cant remember what I did xD not to mention the fact that while I’m typing in English I forget English words and use bad English grammar…..but here goes….

A lot has happened this past month and it has been incredible! I’m slightly worried about the fact that I’m not even the slightest bit homesick….but I have a feeling that the homesickness feeling is going to come in a month when I have to change host families for the first time…I’m absolutely dreading it. At this point, when I am at home I actually feel like I am at home! It’s hard to explain, but you know that feeling you get after a long day – you walk into your house and you’re simply relieved that your finally home and can relax? Well that’s finally how I feel when I am walking up the hill on our incredibly narrow street knowing that I am almost at the house that I have been living at for the past two months and I am almost with the family that has been so incredibly kind to me no matter what the circumstances. I didn’t think that I could develop such an attachment to people I hardly know. My host mom is a blast, me and her make fun of each other almost nonstop….it’s a lot of fun! =)

School has become a lot easier, I like gym class the best….It’s the easiest to understand! We were playing handball the other day and the ball almost went outta bounds so I dove for it and threw it back in, everybody started screaming ‘sugoi sugoi’ and started clapping…I dunno, I just felt like ‘I was part of the team’… sounds corny but it is an incredible feeling to be accepted by my classmates, absolutely incredible! I went and hung out with the girl from my class the other day, we went to the arcade and she ended up forcing me into the purikura….(basically a camera room, and after you take pictures you can draw on them and make them…..unique xD) it was interesting….after that I proceeded to win a giant stuffed stitch doll from one of the grabber machines…took me about 1000 yen….I was determined -.-

AH! So I went to the onsen for the first time about 3 weeks ago! Needless to say it was highly awkward! We went into the little locker room (this onsen wasn’t coed by the way) and found our lockers, then my host father proceeded to strip right then and there! I looked around and their were naked old men everywhere! I hadn’t even noticed it! So….I took my clothes off and had my little hand towel covering what was left of my dignity, then we went on into the shower room. It wasn’t weird to them though, fathers had their children in there and it simply wasn’t anything abnormal. There are little stations in the shower area where you sit on a tiny little stool and there are shampoo and body soap provided, and you wash…..everything, total scrub down. After that you proceed to the actual hot spring itself. At this point the fact that I was naked didn’t bother me anymore…It just was. And in the hot spring, there are various kinds of hot springs – some are outside some are inside, some have massaging bubbles and there are even little personal tubs you can relax in if you want. Come to think of it….I really rather enjoyed myself! And am definitely looking forward to going again! (Bradley when you come to visit next summer I’m taking you to one whether you like it or not! xD)

So I definitely think I’m going to be fat by the time I get back to America…after dinner every night me and my host mother make sure to enjoy some Ice cream! Just for future reference….Japanese Ice cream is 10 times more delicious than American ice cream! I came to find out though that sweet foods are associated with women and bitter foods are associated with men….that made me sad…because I love sweets! There is a kind of chocolate in the conbini (convenience store) that’s actually called ‘men’s bitter chocolate’ ……It’s disgusting! X(………..call me a girl if you want, I like the sweet stuff! Speaking of bitter foods though, I have become rather accustomed to tea without sugar, traditional green tea, and nearly black coffee. As disgusting as that sounds…it’s not half bad once you get used to it! One thing I haven’t gotten used to is the slabs of fish they put in front of you and expect you to eat! It’s not the taste either, I’m actually rather fond of the taste of raw fish…..it’s when they give me cooked slabs of fish and there are little bones in it! I feel like they are trying to kill me, it takes forever for me to eat too because I have to find the little bones and pull em out, I don’t know how they do it….. I haven’t mastered the art of noodle eating either….the Japanese eat their noodles really really fast, I’m pretty sure they don’t chew, they simply inhale…..But I have to say I love my chopsticks! It’s simply more fun eating with them. Hah, when I get back to the US I will continue to use my chopsticks, I refuse to use a fork! >=D

I can’t believe it’s already in the third month though! I am rather disappointed in my Japanese thus far, but I know that it’s just me being picky with myself! There are times when I understand what people are saying without thinking about it and times when I feel like its my first day in Japan again! It’s a funny system…but I love when I can’t remember English words! It’s amazing! I was talking with a couple of other exchange students in English and forgot how to say vending machine…..’uhhh uhhhh…..you know that thing the drinks come out of! x(‘ It was hilarious! Because I would say it in Japanese and they had no clue what I was talking about…..=) Every Monday and Friday I have a special Japanese class down the hill at a language school for exchange students, there are only two other people in that class both from America and their Japanese stinks =) so the class is extremely easy for me, the teacher goes ahead and makes up harder reading and writing assignments for me. And I just found out that apparently they want to throw me in a Japanese class at the university every Thursday to see how I do ;; Not gonna be fun!

I’m getting too used to the walking on the opposite side of the road thing….I have a feeling that when I get back to America it’s not going to be safe for me to drive…..I’ll be driving into oncoming traffic! =) I learned not too long ago that to get your driving license in Japan it cost like 200,000 yen…..that’s like 2000 dollars! I was appalled….but it’s for the driving school, which is apparently really difficult, but it’s a good thing they go to driving school in Japan because the roads are incredibly narrow! And I don’t know how they do it but Japanese people can fit the biggest cars in the littlest places at incredibly high speeds…..it’s scary to say the least….

All of my friends think that I am crazy…I LOVE the fall weather! It is absolutely amazing! nice and chilly, the leaves are absolutely beautiful! It’s an amazing experience. The mountains are covered in forest so it is absolutely amazing, something you definitely can’t see in Florida!

I went to Osaka about a week ago as well. It was with my grandpa’s host club though, so I felt really awkward….luckily I had my host mom there to keep me company and talk too. We went to one of Japan’s most famous aquariums. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful. Seen everything from penguins to otters to sharks and octopus to crabs…..it was neat! But a little strange cuz my host mom (the entire time) kept pointing at things and telling me how badly she wanted to eat it….highly disturbing!

Two days ago, with my host club we went to see an old traditional style play called kyougen. There actors dialects were very strong and were very strange, it’s the oldest style play in Japan so it was very difficult to pick up what they were saying, but even though I couldn’t understand the verbal part of the play I understood the body language and I found myself laughing along with everyone else. Came to find out later that because of the way the actors were speaking it was even hard for the Japanese to understand….I didn’t feel so bad after that =)

And today I discovered the book off! Its basically a store with any comic or video game you can think of at incredibly low prices! Needless to say I was in heaven! ^^ Call me a dork, but I have found that reading comics is an excellent way of studying the Japanese language and picking up kanji and different expressions!

I have to say, though I am not homesick….I do miss my friends and family dearly! I can’t wait to see you all again! But at the same time…I really don’t want to have to leave my new family….

I am torn….

But no worries! I am going to go and study and brush up my Japanese and become fluent! So I will talk to you all again soon! Don’t miss me too much!

Until next time folks!

Jyaaa mata!


February 4 Journal

 Ok folks….it’s been a while…lets do this!!!!

When I last left off in my journal it was mid fall and all of the leaves were absolutely beautiful, the red, yellow, and orange shades covering the vast ranges of mountains as far as the eye can see! Things have definitely changed…it’s now well into winter and it’s cold, the trees look sad and bare, the sign of the end of what was and the start of something new. Something that can’t be seen in Florida. Though I am slightly disappointed in the lack of snow in Okayama….hey I can’t really complain can I? I’m in Japan!

Well before the current winter befell us all, me and an exchangee from California and two English Sensei’s made a trip to Himeji castle! That may not sound all that exciting to you guys but Himeji is the last standing original castle in all of Japan. All the others have been rebuilt, destroyed, or are in the process of being remodeled. Needless to say it was absolutely amazing! The castle’s foundation is huge and is made completely of stone! They actually had to move stones in from different prefectures in the process of building it. The inside has basically been turned into a museum at this point with swords, spears, armor, ancient scrolls, and statues lining its innards. Absolutely breathtaking…. Oh yeah the two English teachers I spoke about, they made me feel really good about my Japanese by the way. They have lived in Japan for nearly two years and understand almost none of the language….I almost wanted to tell them to get out of Japan….I was slightly appalled….but needless to say at this point I can have a conversation in Japanese for a good amount of time, I can read Japanese comics, and I can play my video games in Japanese as well…..and understand it Sure I can’t understand it all but I honestly don’t expect to at this point. If I simply continue my studies the way that I am, I am very confident that my Japanese will exceed anything I ever expected when I first left for Japan.

Dressing for winter…..something I was definitely not used to at first. My host mom would tell me “it’s cold outside! Maybe you should put on a few more layers,” and my response was always, “Thanks but I think I’m alright”…..NOT xD As soon as I walked outside I felt like I was going to turn into an icicle! Hah….and I’m in one of the warmest parts of Japan. It’s the Floridian in me ;; trying to let me freeze…..rather sad really….

Me, my previous host father, and a few Rotarians made a trip down to Shikoku just before winter as well. I have to say it was relaxing. Shikoku is the island just south of Okayama. The drive was about 3 hours there; we first drove to the top of a beautiful mountain range to see the windmills at its peak. When I first stepped out of the car and breathed in that fresh mountain air it was….indescribable….the view was intoxicatingly beautiful, the air was clear, and I just wanted to sit up there and gaze for hours. However, the little old man that came with us was kind of creepy with his camera….hahahah he took way to many pictures of me for comfort xD Anyway! After we descended the mountain we hit up a local fish market! I don’t really know why though…they just walked around pointing and saying how delicious everything looked (we didn’t buy anything…..) needless to say it was interesting. Following that we went to the place that we came to Shikoku for…the ONSEN! (hot spring) I have to say, though the first time was strange, I have really grown to like it. It’s not weird to me anymore to strip and bathe with other men xD We actually ended up staying the night at a nearby hotel, went and ate REALLY expensive food (which was the MOST delicious thing that I have ever eaten) and then hitting the onsen one more time before returning home. Then it was back to school before winter break…..

At this point school had grown redundant and boring. As bad as that may sound, the only part I liked about it was my friends. Now that I could talk to them, lunch and after school were my favorite times. And not to mention the amazing attachment that had grown between me and my first host family in those 3 and a half months. But….it was finally time to change host families! I didn’t want to go….I had a bond with my host family that I didn’t want to share with anyone else in Japan! Sure they weren’t my real parents and they could never replace them! But they were the next best thing….I packed and before I knew it was in a new room and house with strange people I didn’t know again….the worst part of my exchange thus far was that day, though no tears were shed between me and my host family. I felt like they had been torn from me on that day….

But I soon realized the fact that that wouldn’t be the last day I see them and that my new host family was actually very very nice and cared for me just like my previous family did! And so as things went on I adjusted to the different cooking style of my new host mother and learned my way around the new area of Okayama that I had never explored before while eagerly awaiting Christmas in Japan.

Things were fairly normal up until break, not much had happened. And as things drew closer I decided to ask my host mother about what Christmas was like here in Japan! And to my extreme disappointment she basically explained to me that because almost none of Japan’s population has any set religion they don’t make Christmas a very big deal…I’m not religious either but I mean come on!!!!! So I didn’t see any Christmas lights at all this winter, and only an occasional Santa-san here and there. Or we would pass a KFC and the colonel would be dressed up as Santa xDDD. Needless to say I wasn’t going to spend Christmas lounging around at home all day so I decided to go to a friend’s house…and lounge around all day there hahah. I made sure not to impose on anyone, and because no one was celebrating Christmas here it was just like another day off of school. I was actually pretty happy because that was the first time I have gotten to ACTUALLY talk and have a serious conversation with my family. It made me feel better. And so did the fact that new years in Japan was NOT in anyway disappointing!

It started with New Years Eve actually! Me and another exchange went to her host grandma’s house and we made rice cakes!!!!! It is a really old Japanese tradition, and not many people nowadays do it. It’s an interesting process actually…they first bowl a bowl of rice, when its nice and soft they then put it in a big stone bowl thingy and the guys (who wait outside in the cold -.-;) get to take a very heavy mallet and smash the rice until it turns into a goo…then the women (who are inside with the heat -.-;;;;;) roll the goo into little cakes! And then they add flavors and stuff, ’twas fun ^^ We were out there from about 7 in the morning til 1…….but I don’t regret the experience! After that I went home and that night after dinner everyone sat around talking and it was just….nice =) then around 11 o’clock everyone had soba (Japanese noodles) just like everyone else in the country to watch the countdown on TV!

Upon awakening the next morning and going downstairs to greet my family I see the traditional new years breakfast! (Way too hearty of foods to be eating that early xD) and If you would like to know what we ate…..I don’t really know ;; I find that happening to me a lot…. (-.- 😉 sorry….

And I was not expecting the hordes of money given to me on New Years either! It’s called Otoshidama and it’s simply a tradition that on New Years day adults give money to the kids – once you hit 20 it’s your turn to do the giving! Well I knew about it but I was given a LOT more than I was anticipating! I ended up getting different amounts from different relatives and all together collecting about 50,000 yen…..that’s the equivalent to about 500 dollars! (well probably more than that now….thank you exchange rate -.-; ) And after the receiving of the money we made our way to the temple to pray for a good year! A tradition that nearly everyone in Japan keeps so there were way too many people at that lil temple! Hah but needless to say that too was a good experience, and kind of hard to explain the feeling of it all. You simply had to be here!

And from then on, January has simply become amazing! It’s the little things that simply make me smile each and every day! I go to school and understand homeroom, can have conversations with my friends, I can make jokes, and I understand my classes! The classes that are not understandable at this point are classical Japanese….I don’t even know contemporary Japanese yet -.-; and chemistry….but I didn’t understand that in English so I’m not all that worried about Chemistry hahhahah.

Among the closing of January came one of the funnest things that I ever done in my life! SNOW!

That’s right folks! I was allowed to tag along with the younger grades on their trip to Tottori prefecture and visit the mountain Daisen! And the trip was not just to visit this mountain of course – what would be the point in that? So instead we went and the younger kids hit the ski slopes and me and the other high schoolers hit the snowboards! It was AMAZINGLY fun! We stayed on the mountain for three solid days to simply go snowboarding and nothing else! I just remember getting going as fast as I could and trying to stop…..hah…I hit the brakes a lil to hard ^^; Needless to say I made quite a few rotations while rolling down the rest of the slope hahahah and then simply laid there thinking to myself “Wow……”

I am very very confident that I am going to do that again in my life! Don’t know how or when but I WILL see snow again and I WILL go snowboarding again! No doubt =)

And that’s all for my adventures thus far! At least the big ones =D

Will make sure to update more often too. Hope you enjoyed, readers! I’m out.

Conrad


 

 

July 27 Journal

 Hey all its my final journal,

And It has been a LONG time. So there is plenty to tell right.

Well around the end of January I was given the chance to see snow for the first time. To be honest I was nervous about going because I didn’t know the people that I was going with. I went with the sophomore class at my high school, so sure we have met before but I didn’t really KNOW them. So on an early winter morning I dressed snug and grabbed my bag, my host mom took me to the bus station where we met the other students. And off we went, 2 hours north into the snowy top of one of the most beautiful mountains in Japan. From far away it can be mistaken for Mt. Fuji if you’re not looking carefully. The first time I stepped out into that cool mountain air … it was a feeling that I can never forget. I looked at one of the kids next to me then at the ground. And without having to think about it grabbed the biggest handful of snow I could and hit him right between the eyes with it. The beginning of a beautiful friendship I say =). After the relentless snowball fight everyone was herded into the resort that we were staying at and we checked out our rental gear, suited up, and back out into the snow we went. This time a bit more cautiously (thanks to the teachers breathing down out necks) and finally onto the lift. Seeing how I don’t like heights and there was nothing to fasten me in…I didn’t enjoy that part. And not to mention the jerks on the lift behind mine that brought snowballs with them. hah Upon arriving at the top we were introduced to our snowboard instructors. After that we were assigned rental boards and the 3 day snowboard lessons began. It wasn’t very rough but I will say this, the guys on the TV make it look reeeeeallly easy! Around the second day the instructor told me to go as fast as I could down the hill WITHOUT losing control. I said ok, and simply went as fast as I could. Nonetheless lost it and rolled 7 or 8 times, which was extremely fun hah. All in all the experience was amazing and has made me decide that I will have to make a few road trips up north during the winter.

After my snowboard experience I returned home to Okayama and the next day it was back to school like normal. Things were normal for a while, friends, study, school, video games, and comics until my host parents told me that I would be able to go to Tokyo! I had told them how badly I would have liked to have been able to go nonstop and so my host father decided that seeing how they were going to Tokyo to see my host brother it would be a good idea to bring me along! With that I packed a few things and off to the bullet train we went. While riding the train, it took us right past Mt. Fuji (another place I would LOVE to go) and I was able to see how beautiful it really is. After about an hour and a half we were there. Tokyo, the heart of modern day Japan. And the biggest impression I think that I got from it was…there are way too many people in one little city. I lost my host parents a couple times in the crowds (thank god for cell phones) and it’s ridiculous how fast people walk in that city. I was walking at what I would consider faster than a normal pace and this little old lady comes shoving past me with her cane in hand. And though it was crowded and hectic…it was a good experience. The first thing we did was go visit my host brother at his job. He works at Tokyo Dome, which is where the biggest baseball games in all of Japan are held. With that I went and saw my first baseball game AND my favorite team won! ^^; After the baseball game we went and stayed a hotel next to Tokyo station. My host brother came to visit with his fiancée and it was off to bed. After we woke up and checked out, we went on over to the buses and it turns out that my host father had bought us tickets for a tour bus. And so we toured about various sights of Tokyo and eventually came to Tokyo tower. Tokyo tower is 330 meters tall and from that high up…the view is absolutely beautiful. Past the tall buildings it’s nothing but mountains and rice fields as far as the eye can see. From that tower you can even see Mt. Fuji which is quite a few prefectures away. After our tour bus we ended up back at the station, ate Korean, and were back on the shinkansen (bullet train) home.

After Tokyo came our Rotary Orientation. And I was more than looking forward to this one. See in my district here in little Okayama there is only one other exchange student, making things a little bit lonely. And when the orientation came, various districts gathered together allowing me to meet exchanges from all over the world. (Finally!) Through the orientation we had to do a talent and talk about our experiences which wasn’t a big deal, then after that we basically had free time to just hang out and get to know one another. We talked, played games, joked, and simply had a good time. The next day everyone went to Kurashiki (a small but very old city in Okayama) and bought souvenirs for family and friends.

Following the orientation it was time to change host families again. And I don’t know if this is bad or not but I was excited to be going back to my first host family. Don’t get me wrong, Koyama san (second host family) was very kind and we talked and did things together but it simply wasn’t the same bond as the Kobayashis (first and third host family). We simply click, and get along so well that when it comes to host families I don’t believe that there is a better one out there for me. I honest and truly feel like I am at home. Which is why things are going to be a bit tough here in 10 days when I have to go home to America. Backtracking-Not long after moving back in with Kobayashi san we were to take a trip to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. The reason for the trip may sound silly when I tell it … but it was worth it. We went to see flowers, yes that’s right, the cherry blossoms. These are the most beautiful flowers that I have ever seen in my entire life. Seeing them blowing in the breeze with that beautiful pink tint in front of and old Japanese style shiro (castle) is something everyone should come and see at least once their lifetime. No question in my mind. We walked the streets of Kyoto and visited various old houses, temples, and castles. Maiko (geisha in training) were walking the streets in their kimono and kasa (paper umbrella), that together with the old buildings and cherry blossoms is an image that is only able to be seen in Kyoto Japan and nowhere else. hah now that I think about it that was the first day that I ever ate green tea ice cream (which is absolutely amazing! and also cant be found in America ;;).

On my famous places that I wanted to go to in Japan list I had almost been to them all. But not quite, and once again thanks to the efforts of Rotary and their generosity, me and the other exchangee in our district were scheduled for our trip to go to the wondrous and mysterious island of Okinawa. I have to say, I was a bit…confused I suppose is the best way to put it. Seeing how the original culture and language of Okinawa is so different from that of the rest of Japan, it really isn’t the same feel as everywhere else. After getting off of the plane and getting settled into the hotel we went out for our first Okinawan meal. And it was … well … nasty hah. I have to say I loved goya (a food grown only in Okinawa and is extremely bitter) but the rest of it was a bit weird I guess cuz I’m not used to it. When the dishes came out with the food on them and I picked up my chopsticks said itadakimasu and picked up the closest thing to me put a bit in my mouth and tried to chew it up though it was very difficult. I wasn’t going to ask but the Rotarian sitting next to me looks at me and says, “do you know what you’re eating?” Unfortunately I told him no and he was more than happy to tell me I was chomping on pig ear. A bit shocked I looked at him, put my bowl down and said ever so queasily ” we feed that to our dogs”. Needless to say that’s how the entire dinner went but afterwards we enjoyed a traditional Okinawan dance and song which was very entertaining and neat to be able to experience.

The next day we went out to one of the old bunkers used in the war which was now a museum and looked around at how horrible things were. But to brighten up the day a bit we went canoeing and snorkeling which was an absolute blast! Swam through the coral reef which was incredibly beautiful and played with the fishes in the ocean. The instructor we were with picked a puffer fish outta the water and poked the poor guy till he puffed up and rolled off the side of the little floaty he was on and swam away.

After the fun it was time to eat so unfortunately we went to the most disturbing place in all of Japan. The fish market. I swear it is like hell, they have no sympathy for anything in there. Remember the puffer fish I was talking about a second ago, unfortunately his cousin was at the market skinned and waiting to be bought. Alongside every other fish that swims in the ocean. The weirdest thing that I was while I was there though was definitely the pig face. It was the skin from the ears all the way down to the snout and was just hanging in the market, very grotesque. After the hell market it was time to depart Okinawa and return home.

After going back to school the next week my teacher came up to me and was delighted to tell me about the kanji test that I would be taking in two months. The level that I was to take was that of a middle school Japanese student in kanji proficiency. That’s approximately 1009 kanji. When I was told about the test I knew about 650 kanji roughly. This shocked me, scared me, and had me studying my ass off every single day not missing one not even for the weekends. One of the most difficult tests that I have ever taken and wasn’t prepared for it in any way. So for a good two months of my exchange I woke up to go to school and study. When I got home I ate dinner and studied. Took a bath got dressed and studied before going to sleep. There were only a handful of days that I wasn’t studying until my eyes wanted to fall out of my head (these days were usually on the weekend) but I didn’t care, I was not ready to fail this test! During the last week of my studying my brother made it to Japan to visit which left me a bit strapped for time. But nonetheless the day came and I did not feel ready. On top of all the stress I had going for me that day…I was late. Thank goodness for me I got lost somewhere where the people were nice enough to guide me in the right direction. So I’m here. What all the anticipation for the last 2 months was for, stuck in the middle of a bunch of 7th graders. It was a very short test, about an hour long and 100 or some questions. Once It was over I was simply glad to be done with it. All that there was left to do was wait. It would be a month before I knew whether I had passed…or had studied my ass off only to fall face first in the dirt….

Bradley! That’s my brother’s name! It was incredible to finally see him again after 10 months! Like I said he came just before I was to take my test but I didn’t care hahahah. And one of the craziest things is that he was going to be staying for an entire month! I would be able to show him around and teach him about Japan and make fun of him in Japanese with my friends and family and he wouldn’t understand! hahahahah >3 The first night I felt bad for him actually…he had just gotten off of an incredibly long plane flight, hadn’t slept, and we were going out to eat udon (Japanese noodles) and I didn’t even consider the fact that he couldn’t use chopsticks. Things didn’t go horrible, he just ended up eating a lot slower than usual. And I think the reason I felt so bad for him was because I knew exactly how he felt. That first week especially was like looking at myself a year ago. The only difference was that he liked to look at me for translations of things all the time. I didn’t have that. But nonetheless it was amazing to see how clueless he was. And it’s not just him, any of you reading this, if or when you go abroad you will feel the same bit of confusion and hardship. You won’t know why people do the things that they do, sometimes you will regret having made the choice to go but it’s the people that fought through the hard times and became a part of their host country, making a bond like no other, those are Rotary exchange students, and I’m proud to be one of them. Even though you don’t realize you did anything….thanks Bradley you helped me realize how important this place is to me and how I have changed this year.

And as things are wrapping themselves up over here on my exchange, I am preparing to make my way back into my “normal” American life…for now. I’m not sure what the future holds for me or where it will end up taking me but I am positive that this year’s experience will help me to make the choices that will guide the right path to the future I want to create. And I owe it all to Rotary for opening this road up to me that seemed to be in the farthest reaches of my wildest dreams a year ago. All of you, including my fellow exchangees and Rotex. Everyone played a part, and I wish there were some way for me to pay it back to each and every one of you. And I can’t leave out my family. They have supported me through this entire year, mentally and physically (cash). You guyz never let me down, and I love you all so very much. From here I have to get in as much time with my host family as I can. It’s weird to think, but I love them too. They have done so much for me. And it’s coming to its close. This chapter of my life is ending only to open up many many more.

One more time, thank you Rotarians and thank you family.

From yet another certified adventurer,

ー今良侍ー

Elise Walsh
2008-09 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Satellite Beach, Florida
School: Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, Melbourne, Florida
Sponsor: Suntree Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Plombieres-Welkenraedt Rotary Club, District 1630, Belgium

Elise - Belgium

Elise’s Bio

 Hello everyone! I am Elise Walsh and I am so excited to begin my adventures with Rotary. I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, but am currently living in Satellite Beach, Florida. I attend Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, a small private school, where I will be the first to participate in the Rotary exchange program

Along with school, I really like to participate in activities with my friends like my job at Jack Backers Lobster shanty, where I am a seating hostess. I also love being a part of a variety of sports like springboard diving and swimming. I really like all of these activities because of all the people I meet.

I love to be around people and I love to figure out ways of making these people happy and comfortable. I feel that traveling to a new place with this program will help me extend my knowledge of how to truly experience and understand other people’s personalities. People are known to be complicated, but they really aren’t when you pay attention.

Although I realize that many people can not participate in a program such as this, I think it is really necessary to inform those who can because this is a life changing experience. I am so happy that I have this opportunity that will change my life. There is no question about how much I will mature and learn while I am away: there is no other opportunity that will change my life as much as living in another country. I just want to thank absolutely everyone who has given me this opportunity.


October 5 Journal

 So, it has been more than a month since arriving in Belgium and there not much more to say than it is amazing. I’m not going to lie, Al was right; I should have learned more French. But it’s a learning experience right? Now I’m learning the hard (and fun) way. The month began with a lot of pointing and sometimes picture drawing, but now I’ve gotten to a level where I can understand most of what is being said.

School… well it’s school, and it is a lot of work. BUT there are so many people that are willing to help and make sure I don’t run into anymore doors (long story, I got a bloody nose). I really do enjoy school though, simply because we do get to meet a lot of students our age that take us everywhere. There are many soirees which they will invite you to if you just open up and just try to talk to them. The thing is they want to be your friends, but it’s not their job to learn English, it’s mine to learn French and figure out how to fit it (which is half the fun). I was also very lucky to be attending a small private school (Saint Josephs Institute) where the teachers really do care if I am learning and all the students know my name.

Also, if you do ever go to Belgium, tell them you’re from Florida. They LOVE us… Every single person says, “Florida? Ohhh you are from Miami!” Its quite chilly here, about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (in the summer), and when a Belgian hears Florida they automatically assume you’re freezing and give you some layer of clothing. It’s quite funny. It does rain a lot, but I’m figuring when it gets to the point of freezing it will just snow and I can (and will) make an abundant amount of snow men.

I have been very lucky with my Rotary district – they take us everywhere. We have gone to Blegny Mine (which is an old coal mine), and have gone on a couple Rotary retreat weekends as well. My club, Plombiers-Welkenraedt, has also been extremely generous and had a little barbeque for all the exchange students in the club. There are four in my club, one Canadian, an Australian, and another from the United States. So we do have a full club. Whenever we have club meetings it often ends in watching a game of futbol (soccer). The meetings are twice a month, and we normally have to say a few words in order for them to see if our French is improving.

Since I was a rebel and didn’t listen, my French was not good when I got here. I definitely have improved, but there are days when I wished I had listened to Al and conjugated my verbs instead of watching Sponge-Bob, but with my family’s help and school, I will be fine.

My host family, quite honestly… is adorable. I love them. My mom, Dominique, is literally the best cook on the face of the planet. And my father, Christian, is always joking with me, Pascal (my brother) helps me with my French and since right now I’m speaking Franglish what English he does know really helps. Furthermore, I get to play Yahtzee frequently, and I win and if they tell you otherwise they are lying! My family is also really good about finding new things to show me, like the massive outdoor markets and I even attended the Miss Belgium contest. I actually just went to a wedding with them last weekend, which was extremely modern and beautiful (but also a two hour ceremony).

I’m so excited for this year and I can’t believe this much time has already gone by. I have so much I want to do and so little time to do it. I’ll keep you posted!

 


 November 9 Journal

 Question: So what has happened in the past month?

Answer: So much, I am super happy I received Belgium. It truly is the center of everywhere I want to go. I am getting very used to the busses and trains; they are very useful when I want to go to bigger cities like Liege, Vervier, or even Brussels. And I do get to go often because schools are only half-days on Wednesday. There was one day of strike on transportation, but it was planned and most businesses and schools took the day off so not much of a loss.

My family has continued to be amazing, and although I do believe they are teaching me some dirty French words they also make sure I’m following their conversations. When I don’t understand something, they can usually explain it without taking out the dictionary. We recently celebrated my host father’s birthday, and had a few friends over. I was going to attempt to make him an American style birthday cake, but apparently my cooking skills are seen the same internationally.

This past month, I’ve gone to Aachen, Germany with some friends from in Rotary. We just spent the day and walked around eating German sausages. It was really beautiful, the streets were much cleaner than most of the bigger cities in Belgium. We actually took a bus to Germany, it was only about an hour and all three of us returned for under six euro because of a lovely invention called the family pass. Because it is a pretty large and somewhat tourist town everyone spoke English or French and we had no problems getting around.

We had a school break for a week, and I took a Rotary trip to London. I had never been there, and it was a lot more different than anywhere I’ve been so far. Everything still had that old European feel, yet it was much more modern. With Rotary we went to the Tower of London, Madame Toussauds, and a few other places. But they also gave us a good amount a free time to explore London on our own. With some friends we went to the eye of London, Shakespeare’s globe theatre, platform 9¾ (Harry Potter anyone?), Harrods, and took the tube (p.s. there is absolutely no sensor on the doors and they will close on you). We were there only three days but we tried to squeeze in as much as possible.

Belgium has also continued to offer many soiree’s which gives me the opportunity to hang out with some Belgians. They always seem to be boys though, maybe it’s because I’m foreign? But they’re really fun and it’s a good way to keep friends at school and in the area.

Until next time!


December 24 Journal

 It’s been a busy month. Now it’s only a couple days before Christmas. I’m ready for the festivities to begin! I haven’t done anything amazing since the last time I wrote, just enjoying some friends and the end of school.

The winter has been great: I’ve made some awesome snow men as well as snow angels, and even went ice skating outdoors.

Lately I’ve been running around buying Christmas presents for the five billion people in my family. I think I have everything, although my host brother is determined to get a plasma TV from me. I’ve always thought finding presents was hard; this year seemed to be even harder. I know my family pretty well now, but I still want to get them things which they will enjoy and use.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family, which has been really great. I’ve become really close to my host parents in the past four months and I feel so lucky that they were my first host family. They really have a lot of patience with me and my lack of wonderful French. I’m sad to be leaving them, but I know my next family will be amazing as well. It’s nice now that I can translate a little French for them, when they get Christmas cards in English from their daughter’s host parents and even my parents.

I’ve also done a lot of little things, like going to Christmas parades, and the Marche de Noel which is apparently World famous. The Marche de Noel is held in most towns and cities, but the more famed one is held in Aachen, Germany, which I went to a couple of weeks ago. It’s really quite interesting to see all the vendors and their wares. And have good local and, most important for me, cheap foods.

I’ve also been attending a lot of going-away parties for the exchange students who have been here a year already. It is really hard to see such good friends leave. My “oldie” leaves in two weeks, and I know I will cry. I see him a lot, and he is literally like a brother to me.

I however am super excited about Christmas; I get to see my entire host family. ENTIRE! There is literally three days of going to different relative’s homes and eating and drinking, always Coke of course. Tonight my host mother’s family is coming over; they get to view the not so wonderful wreath I made and several ornaments I broke.

Well I’m going to go rummage through their garage and look for wrapping paper. If I can’t find any, they will get presents wrapped in newspaper and be happy as long as it’s not the sports page. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!


 March 15 Journal

 I haven’t updated you in a really long time… I just don’t know where the time is going. Let’s see, well I feel like I officially have the luckiest country ever. Not only is it small and has the easiest transportation system ever, but I pretty much can travel anywhere in Europe. Since the last time I wrote I went to the Costa del Sol in Spain for a week with my family. It was still winter so it was chilly, but I saw the sun and the sea for the first time in months. That’s something I will never get used to about northern Europe, the lack of sun and the surplus of rain/snow/ sometimes hail. It was really beautiful, and really reminded me of what my first few weeks here were like, understanding absolutely nothing. Well, I know how to say ice cream in Spanish, I think that counts for something.

A couple weeks after Spain, I went to Ireland with my school. It was actually probably the best trip I’ve had. My teacher planned everything out, we really only had a few hours of free time for some shopping or having our very first Guinness with some very strange Irish men. It’s not the most attractive accent, but it’s probably one of the most amusing. We were staying in a great hostel (ok, it was not that great and we might have saw a few hookers entering it BUT) it was centered in the middle of Dublin right next to the famous area Temple Bar. We also went to the Jameson Whiskey Factory, SO COOL. If anyone ends up going, you can apparently mix whiskey with some weird stuff like apple juice. We did so much cool stuff, I can’t even list it from 9:00 am till sometimes late at 1:00 am. It’s really weird for me, and probably most other exchange students, to go out at midnight with their teachers.

Honestly, things like drinking a beer with your teachers and or selling alcohol at school parties is just something they do here. It’s really mind blowing to see everyone actually having nothing to hide. Their parents will give them money to go socialize at the bar. From what I’ve seen children and parents get along better, probably because there is nothing to hide from each other.

Anyway, next trip was Holland and I just went there over the Carnival Holiday. We went to Amsterdam and walked a lot. A lot. This was a Rotary trip, and I think I have actually figured out all you Rotarians. You exhaust us during the day with random architectural tours which are literally walking around a massive city for two hours and then put some random museums in between breaks, so by the time night comes and there are really fun things to do all we want to do is sleep. Very tricky.

But it actually was fun, the hostel was actually really cool and we were right next to the trams which take you all over the city (which in case you were wondering do close after a certain hour and you might possibly have to walk an hour and a half because you get lost or someone really smart tells you to go the opposite direction). But our Rotary chaperone actually took us to the red light district at 11ish and we got to see all the hookers and people on drugs. Actually the highlight of the trip.

That’s pretty much all that I did out of the country, but I have been trying to spend a lot of time wandering around Belgium. It’s not a very large country, so I feel like I should at least explore the big cities. Of course there is Brussels, but I’ve also gone to Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. Belgium actually has a lot of really cool history, even in the larger town closest to me, Liege. There are a ridiculous amount of museums, that are actually interesting like The Arms Museum, which has pretty much the history of how Belgium is always in the middle of everyone’s wars and all the information on weapons trade.

It’s nearing the end of Carnival now, there is one more big festival next week and then it is sadly over for me. My favorite day was the “jeudi de femmes” basically it’s an excuse for all the women in my area to drink all day for free and for me to be extremely entertained. Have you ever seen hundreds of women ages 20 or so to 70 drunk while you are completely sober. Everyone is just so happy to be together and sing the same German song over and over again, it makes me smile. It was an awesome parade of women in the most outrageous costumes and of course some men in drag.

I always do little things everyday that just take up time, my host sister and I joined a gym because we both feel like fatties. She was on an exchange to New York, not too long ago. I think she’s crazy because she actually gorgeous, I’m quite jealous. Sometimes I do random things like go to a water park when it’s 5 degrees Celsius because I had no Valentine and Rotary seemed to know that, so they took us all to Aqualibi for a few hours. I really do have a life here though, it’s going to be hard to leave everyone I know and love. Especially when everyone is so genuinely kind.

 

 

 

Drake Starling
2008-09 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Budapest-City Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Drake - Hungary

Drake’s Bio

 “Professing to be wise, they become fools.” – Romans 1:22

Bliss can be found in ignorance like the old saying “Ignorance is Bliss,” but bliss can also be found in wisdom. Therefore, if we are wise, we are blissful, but if we are ignorant we enjoy a close-minded form of bliss which is a transparent form of happiness; in other words we can only be happy with what we see because it’s all that we know.

If we only could step out of our comfort zone and accept that we cannot change some things and use courage to change the things we can, then we become wise, and we remain blissful, but this time without walls and blinders and hindrances we are finally open to the world, then we see that with wisdom we become too blissful, thinking that we know it all, so we attempt to humble ourselves. When we hear people say “Oh, some people just think they know everything,” you think to yourself “That’s how I feel, like I’ve got everything figured out,” so we tell ourselves, or we should tell ourselves that it’s best that we not act like we know it all and that we have everything figured out. However, we tell ourselves this but we do not act upon it, so we continue on believing that we are indeed wiser (and it’s inevitable we all make that mistake) but that’s what makes us fat and happy and eventually those words, thoughts and actions of wisdom become obsolete to us and we fall from our point of nirvana and clarity; and we as livers of life professing to be wise become fools.

I do not want to be a fool, I have no intention of being blissful through ignorance, and as a matter of fact I refuse it. I’m fifteen years old and I’m going to Hungary for an entire year and although you don’t hear that every day I say it just about every day yet it somehow doesn’t lose its zeal. I could tell you all about my hobbies, friends, family and whatever else is usually found in a biography, however I’m telling you this instead because it’s something that will hopefully show you more than “Drake Starling” but his inner thought, so here it goes.

I find myself wanting wisdom, although right now I think I have everything figured out, probably the teenager talking in me, I have enough sense now to know that when I feel that way, it’s just a feeling. I hope – no, I know that this year will make me into something great. For every exchange student I know that he/she will become something great. When we tell people about what we’re doing this year they look at us like we’re crazy and they’re absolutely right, because no normal person would do this, it takes a certain person to do this; and if that’s what qualifies as crazy then so be it, we’re crazy, and I’m proud of it.

I look back at former exchange students and there is something in their eyes that tells us that they are a different type of people, and I see the naivety in our eyes as we embark on this experience and I can’t help but think “Will my eyes tell people that when I get back?” I sure want them too, but I guess that depends on whether or not I want this badly enough, I want this like I’ve never wanted anything before but what’s going to make me blissful is if I step out of my comfort zone and embrace all that this has to offer, even if it is going to be difficult.

No one ever said this was going to be easy, it’s going to be the furthest thing from easy, I have to let go of what I know and love and learn to start all over, a fresh start. That’s an enticing yet scary idea. I’m ready to do this, I’m ready to let go. It will definitely be worth it. Thank you to everyone who has had some role in this; Mom, Rotarians, and all my family for supporting me to do this. I’m ready to let go and begin.


July 30 Journal

 All right, I have 25 days left…. 25! When did that happen? Everyone will tell you something that starts off like “It seems like just yesterday I signed up for the program,” they’ll say something about the past and how they prepared for leaving but I want to forget the past, well, not forget it entirely but more like, press the pause button, take the movie out, put in a new one and restart later where I left off.

I haven’t left yet but I already feel changed by this experience, not in its entirety but I feel much more mature than your average junior. Maybe it’s just nerves, but this doesn’t seem as unreal as I thought it would be. I went to the mall today to get some winter clothes for Budapest (I hear it gets cold there hehe) and when my mother was telling the cashier why we needed the clothes, which she always does even if they don’t need to know why, he was gladdened to hear that I wanted to go study overseas, but he asked that one question that I don’t have the right answer to. “Are you fluent in Hungarian?” “UHH…. well, I… a little?” I mean I have studied a lot of Hungarian, and I can hold a minimal conversation with a native speaker, a two year old perhaps, however I don’t want to be minimally fluent. My goal is and has been to be fluent by the time I get there and if I try to and continue attempting then hey! What’s stopping me?


August 26 Journal

 All right, here we go. It’s day two for me and I haven’t slept properly since I got on the plane, I’m too excited to be here.

This city is nicknamed “The Paris of the East,” and I can see why. I’d like to talk about the flight but I’m trying to repress some horrible memories, and well…I….it…just wasn’t good, but the airplane food is gone now, far away from me.

I have the top floor of the house all to myself, it has two secret passageways, yeah that’s right SECRET passage ways! It’s almost the size of my house and it’s all mine. Plus it has the best view of the city, every morning I wake up to a sunrise over the mountains of Buda and look down the river at Pest. It’s quite a sight.

My Hungarian has improved a lot since I’ve been here. Today I was listening to a conversation my host sister was having and I finally understood how to say “I have.” Hey! I know that you other outbounds are saying that that’s the easiest verb in any language, but guess what, there is no way to say “I have” in Hungarian, so they have to use several other words. There are at least three ways to say I have, and I just learned them, so ha!

Everyone says my Hungarian is AMAZING. I was so happy when I met my rotary club tonight, and they told me that…. Well, they didn’t have to say too much, their mouths were open the whole time. However, I’m still not satisfied with It so I’ll improve it.

OH, by the way the reason I’m so tired is because last night I opened my windows since it’s so cool outside and I fell asleep and woke up at 2am because I heard a buzzing and it was a moth the size of my hand, and I’m not gonna lie I was a little…”Startled.” So guess who had to battle a 5 inch moth monster at 2am….that’s right me. Now… guess who won. Haha, I think the neighbors must have heard it because it was quite a noise I made, and then today we went around town and everyone and their mother wanted to meet me. So I met everyone and I tried to remember all their names but it wasn’t working.

My host family is extremely hospitable, and just about perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better one. So many things to do, such little time to do them in. HAAAA overload. I start school in a week, so I have to be fluent by then or else. This is the best feeling I’ve ever had. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

A viszontlátásra


August 28 Journal

 I know I wrote yesterday but there’s something that I just have to say. Today I read some of the student journals and many of them described the feelings they had before leaving and while they were leaving, and I hate to say names, but Joe…you’re awesome. I liked your journal, it shows more than you let on.

Anyway, when I said goodbye to everyone, it didn’t hurt as much as they said it would, and I just told myself that It was because it hadn’t sunk in yet, but I’m here and I still don’t feel sad, or deeply missing family or friends. I didn’t find myself crying at the airport or when I got off the plane, and I was waiting for the roller coaster of emotions as I reminisced about my memories at home, but still nothing. At this point, I was forcing myself to be sad, but it wasn’t working. I was too excited so I thought I could try it later, and I did but still NOTHING.

OK, that’s a lie. I was a little sad to leave, but not the depression that the Rotex speak of. I think I realize (after 3 short days) that it’s because I know I’ll be back. I know I’ll return, but life back home isn’t going to wait for me. But if I wait for it, then I’ll lose out on life here and there. I can’t hold onto both for now, but I keep on thinking that when I do return home, how great it’s going to be to have both worlds in my hand – such power and knowledge and wisdom I’ll have, and no one will be able to take it away from me.

However if I do fall prey to emotions, which I know I will, then I’ll know it’s because I’m absolutely unique…just like everyone else. Life is good….and it only gets better because we want it to.


September 29 Journal

 All right, it’s been a while since my last journal, I know. I write this in my bed, covered in sheets with tissues and medicine everywhere and as I look out my window I see the city, hustling and bustling. People are going on with their lives. I like days like this because then I can reflect back on what I’ve done, and then I learn what I have to do. I went to Lake Balaton, the Hungarian “SEA.” Even though there are puddles in my backyard that are bigger, it’s still a sea to them, I love it. It was supposed to be a getaway tennis tournament weekend for my host father, which it was, but I was planning to go swimming, ping pong tournament, volleyball, go to the beach, bicycle, and everything under the sun, but plans never really work out how I want them to anymore, I was stuck indoors in the hotel, with a cold, and I am still with the same dreaded cold.

OHH! Almost forgot I went to Vienna, it was the best, beautiful, but Budapest is prettier (Don’t tell the Austrians I said that) and I went into the old Hapsburg royal palace, the national museums, and St. Stephen’s church. I swear everything in Hungary and is named after Stephen. St. Stephen’s square, St. Stephen’s hill, St. Stephen’s buildings, streets, shopping centers, OHH the agony!!!!!And then when I thought I was going to get away from it all, NOOOOOO. Everything in Vienna had to be named after Stephen too, and yet no one can pronounce my name properly, life is funny.

Also, I had my 16th birthday here, it was surprising. At first, I thought nothing of it, I almost forgot my own birthday, then I had dinner with my family and started to fall asleep from the carbs, and I thought maybe I should go rest- and then BOOM! The lights went off, the door opened, candles were lit and I came face to face with the most delicious cherry filled, turo (cheese)-cake in the world. The singing began “Boldog Szuletesnapot, Boldog szuletesnapot, boldog szuletesnapot…” etc. It was a good day.

I think the little things in life are what make us the happiest. I was late leaving the house the other day, and the bus was late, I was pinned to the glass window like silly putty, and then I ran to school, ran like my life depended on it. I had three blocks to go in 50 seconds. I barely made it in before they locked the doors, I ran up to my classroom and saw that that door was closed, so class must have started earlier, and even though you’re not supposed to come in to a class after it begins I had to. I knocked, no one answered, I banged no one answered, I said “this isn’t funny in Hungarian” and then the woman next door, came out and said there are no classes today. Just my luck, then I sat down, thought about what I should do and decided I need some fun, so I went deep into Buda, got lost, on purpose, and somehow ended up without even planning to, at fisherman’s bastion in the old city overlooking all of Budapest. Things were coming my way. I went to the mall, and then I did a double take at the large group of students headed my way, it was my class. They were coming to the dentist. Here, no one goes by themselves to the dentist, only in school groups, strange. Of course, NO ONE told me about it, so I got on the bus, and went to Pest to meet the other exchange students for our weekly meeting, where we try to teach each other Hungarian and told them how my day went, oh and I was hit by an old lady’s purse on the subway, long story it was her fault…….. mostly.

On another note, my host family is nothing short of perfect. I’m starting to grow to love them, I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to leave them, I hope that day never comes. They do everything to make me feel comfortable or happy.

 


 

 

November 15 Journal

 I understand now why babies can’t talk for the first two years of their life, it’s because they’re so tired from learning the language. Everyone says, “You’re such an adult for doing this,” but usually they never finish that conversation with me because I have to go take my daily nap (yes I take a daily nap.) I think it’s the only way I’d survive here.

I’ve decided to start doing my journals a certain way. First, in every journal, I will describe the native culture. Second, I will describe the happenings and on-goings of my life. So lucky for you, you get the best of both worlds. Now I will begin.

I think I’m getting better at school. The language is getting easier everyday, but some days I’m on the ball and other days I can’t even find the ball. The teachers are more than helpful to me in my language learning. The students are nice people. However, they’re not perfect. I try to pick my friends carefully, because I think I have to here (there’s no telling what natives can get an exchange student to do if they’re bad apples.) School is probably the cleanest place in the city. Budapest could use a few renovations. Nonetheless, it’s beautiful.

However, since Budapest is so dirty, my Rotary club here has suggested a project called, “Szeretem Budapestet” Which means, “I love Budapest.” So the other local exchange students and I have decided to get involved in it. What it entails is going around the city, picking up garbage, and trash and painting over graffiti in the city. As exchange students, most of us really don’t think that we can make a change (whether it’s in our host country, community, or even back home.)

Sadly, most of us think that we’re just here to have fun and stay on vacation for a year. I don’t want to vacation here for a year. I want to live here for a year. Become a native, make my own opinions about the political happenings, and understand the history to learn why the present is the way it is, and then predict and hope for what the future may hold for the Hungarian people. I want to feel Hungarian. Just like I feel American. So I think the language is becoming less of a challenge for me. I’m so happy. It feels like I’ve been holding my breath since I’ve arrived, waiting to exhale, and I don’t think I can yet, but the pressure is definitely starting to release. It’s a really good feeling. I’ve been finding myself thinking in Hungarian lately, without even realizing it, I’m understanding so much more. I never thought this period would actually come to pass. It’s like my brain is clicking and the sparks are flying everywhere but then the ohhh so sudden meltdown comes and I feel like a blob of gelatin. I can’t make out a sentence, I lose my senses. All you want to do is sleep and then you wake up more tired than before.

Luckily for me, every morning I wake up to a great host family, good food, warm house and more good food. It’s actually quite funny and I’ve noticed this of many Hungarians. When I come downstairs for dinner and my family tells me, “Please, have something to eat,” and they go through the entire list of items in the fridge or pantry that I could eat, which is the best, who cooked it and for what special occasion. I’m telling you I know that fridge like the back of my hand. I have to stop them somewhere and say “No thank you, I’m not hungry,” then I usually get the reply, “Ok, in that case, you should try the cherry and cottage cheese pancake.” So I usually end up eating the pancake anyway. I can honestly say every day I am stuffed to the rim.

On habits, Hungarians have unique habits, that most of the time make me laugh out loud. First of all, even if there are no cars for miles around and the red “do not walk” sign is lit then they still don’t cross the road. My logic is if there are no vehicles coming then I can cross, but when I do people look at me like I’m crazy, and say things like “You can’t do that.” I usually reply “Is it illegal?” “Well, no but-“ “Is it rude, or low-class?” “No, but-“ “But what?” “We just never thought of it before” “Well, we learn something new every day. Don’t we?” Ok, it didn’t go exactly like that, I’m not rude to the natives Al, I promise.

School. School here is solely an academic place, there are no clubs, no after school activities, or anything of the sort. However, since my school is a special athletic school everyone has a sport to do after school. It could be anything from synchronized swimming to hand ball or soccer to Olympic gymnastics. That’s right I have some Olympians attending my school. As a matter of fact my school was named after a Hungarian Olympian. Csik Ferenc, maybe you’ve heard of him…….or not. Anyway, I’m making friends faster than I thought. Last night I went to a birthday party that everyone invited me to and it was great, I think it was the first time the words were coming out of my mouth without me hesitating or thinking about them beforehand, that’s when I realized I was thinking in Hungarian. However, I’ve never had such a bad headache in my life, I actually had to go home early because my head was hurting so badly, I never thought it was possible to feel that much pain in your head. I’m probably exaggerating but it hurt a lot. Oh! And, since I have no name equivalent in Hungarian, my friends gave me a Hungarian name. Listen to this, since I’m always tired (as all exchange students are) they gave me the name Almos, which means sleepy, but it also is a name of the first chief of the Hungarian tribes from Siberia. So, from now on I am Almos.

Spain. That’s right. I went to Spain. It was amazing. Well, the places were amazing, but the timing was terrible. It rained all the time when we were there and I went to bed at like 1 every night, because that’s the time we usually got back to the hotels and we had to wake up at 5:30 every morning. I was not a happy camper, and I must say we could have had a much better tour guide, she was a little too demanding that we all wake up at 5:30 yet we never left the hotel until 8. Why? I have no idea. Besides that, I had a great time. I went to the Casino in Monte-Carlo, when we were driving through. We also went to Cannes, which reminded me of Miami, ahh home. Then came my favorite city on the entire trip. BARCELONA!!! Beautiful, rich, sunny, always great weather and a sight to see. However, we only stayed in the city for a day, until we drove through Valencia, saw the market, which is a World heritage site, and took off to Sevilla. Wow! I never thought that I would have that much fun. I ate all day, I mean I had 6 meals, then I pedaled a boat on the Guadalquivir, the river in the city, and finally went to the bull fighting rings. I was supposed to go that day to Africa, but my visa wouldn’t allow it. However that didn’t matter, I still had a great time. After that, the next day we went to the last Moorish stronghold in Spain, THE ALHAMBRA!! I’ve never seen something so large and so beautiful. Also, I’ve never been in such cold weather. It’s the South of Spain for Pete’s sake, why is it so cold? Returning back to Hungary was not a pleasant trip. I was on a bus for two days, and I didn’t sleep for Two DAYS! Do you know how crazy I went? I started throwing cheese on the bus at other people while they were sleeping. I lost it. Plus, I didn’t eat for two days, ok I had some snacks on the bus, but I wanted to have an actual meal, not chips and cookies. I want FOOD! Then after the bus ride through hell I arrived home and found myself back in the safety of my host home, which really feels like my own home. I didn’t really realize how much I loved my host family until I was away from them on the trip.

I’m back in Budapest now and the weather is not………Florida. So I had to buy some clothes for winter, somehow I didn’t think that winter would actually come. Everyone tells me that I must live under a rock if I’ve never seen snow. Uh, it’s called Florida, thank you. I wear a sweater, long socks, scarf and sometimes some gloves, and it hasn’t even snowed yet. I’m still waiting for the snow.

On language. Here’s where the cultural part comes in, Hungarian is not even closely related to the languages around it. Now you may be saying, “OK, so it’s evolved a little differently than its neighbors have, other languages do too.” If you’re saying that let me give you a little history lesson. English and Hindi are more closely related than Hungarian and Slovakian, which is right across the river. This is because, if you look at the languages in Europe 1200 years ago, Hungarian was not there. All the ancestors of present Indo-European languages were here, Latin, Old German, Old English, Greek, different forms of the Nordic and Slavic languages, etc. Hungarian was not there because Hungarian is related to few languages on Earth. No one knows for sure where Hungarians came from, but many believe it was somewhere East of the Ural mountains around the Altaic mountains in Western China (However Caucasian). That’s right, in China. Anyway, Hungarians were supposedly driven out of their homeland by other peoples and thus forced to migrate, when they began to they never stopped. So, they moved over 8000 miles (roughly) to the Carpathian basin (Hungary) in the 800’s but before that they split off into different groups around 4000 years ago, from what the very shady timeline says, and this group went into northern Europe and within the last millennium split into two languages; Estonian and Finnish. After several thousand years these languages have almost nothing in common with one another. Not to mention, somehow the tribal Hungarians before I was even born or you for that matter knew that I was coming. Here’s what happened: the 7 Hungarian tribes gathered around a campfire and said “One day, a boy named Drake Starling will try to learn our language we must make it as impossible for him as possible! Quickly! Arpad, start making some irregular verbs! Almos, make every verb have several conjugations in each tense for each person and give no proper order to them, so that even our own people will not be able to tell the difference. YOU THERE! Peasant man, put all prepositions at the end of words and make all nouns have irregular endings if they are one syllable words.” If you knew some Hungarian it would be really funny to you.

So far, I think that’s all about it.

Still waiting for snow…..

-Drake


January 4 Journal

 The seven stood upon the hill top; each was a leader of one of the tribes within the crowd that they were gazing down at, looking at the multitude of people that were gathering closer and tighter to the foot of the hill. Their heads were raised up with every eye on them, no twitches, no faces turned away. Few in the background were occupied setting up the white and brown colored tents. Several of the Horses had bolted from their paddock, made of old twigs and tree trunks. Some of their roots could still be seen on the fences. Occasionally, one of the horses would gnaw at the end of the root and the owners would scream in their native tongue so they would not eat away the fragile fence made from the withering fall trees. Trees were shedding their old leaves, losing their summer glow and being replaced by dark, cracking bark. The wind had come to a dead calm, stopped. Yet there was richness to the air, it wasn’t muggy nor was it damp, but it felt like the old was being replaced by the new.

The 7 tribal leaders braced themselves for the moment that could give birth to so much love, pain, evil, destruction, power, and greatness. The wind was howling louder and louder, the leaders’ uncut hair slapped their faces and helmets. Noises came from the Shaman at the top of the hill, his chanting has progressed into a faster pace, it ran through him like fire in the prairie, he lost control of his words, only the ritual was occurring. He was unaware of his surroundings, his dancing moved quicker, his voice stronger and the tune faster and faster and then……… it stopped. He was ready. His hand lifted parallel to the leaders, a miracle for such an old man, and curled his index finger backwards as if to beckon them, he dropped his hand and waited. The seven held their chests high with courage in their blood and fire in their stare. They walked, yet that doesn’t describe the movement these beings made. They were not of this earth to their people; they were almost God-like, divine among men. A large goblet was placed at the center of the hill in front of the shaman. He was enthralled by its gaze, no emotion, not an eye blinked as he stared at it; yet remained his constant chanting.

The leaders moved around the Goblet accordingly to their places. The nameless elder, a grey bearded man with eyes like a bay with algae in summer came closer to the goblet. He grabbed his sword handle, wrapped his hands around it, and pulled it out into the sky. He ignored the cheers from the crowd. He had lost all sense of time and place. He woke from his trance and lifted up his sleeve, the other 6 were kneeled down about the goblet. The elder gave them one glance each. These men needed few words to convey their thoughts, indeed like Gods. They all held equal standing among the seven of them, none was above the other. The other 6 followed suit and lifted up their sleeves in the same fashion. Their fists were clenched and few had their eyes closed while taking in deep breaths to begin.

The elder was the first; he placed his arm over the goblet adjusting it so that his wrist was at the center. The chanting Shaman raised his voice louder and louder, the chanting pace was much quicker, the crowds threw up their clenched fists and had not anger in their shouts but hope and eagerness. They were ready. To the elder all noise had faded away, the movement of the shaman’s chapped lips, the crowd’s fist throws, and the slight blinks and heavy breaths in the cold air were all that existed to the elder. He turned to his sky-bound sword, pulled it swiftly towards his arm, stopped it and with one quick slice cut open his wrist and his dark blood spilled into the goblet, he passed the sword to the next leader, wrapped up his arm with a large piece of white cloth and stepped aside. The 6 all did this exactly as was done by the first. The shaman stepped up and limped over to the goblet while the seven stood in line on the slope of the hill, each seemingly with more strength than should have remained in their bodies after losing such an amount of blood. The shaman knelt before the eldest leader. The leader did not move his head as the shaman knelt; he only moved his eyes down and looked down his nose at the shaman. The elder took the goblet by both handles on each side and drank from it, from the mixed blood of the seven leaders several large gulps were taken and passed onto the next 6 leaders. The last leader came forward and drank from the goblet, every last drop that was left. He steadied his hand for a minute while holding the goblet in both hands. The crowd quieted, fists were lowered, the shaman abruptly stopped his chanting and the winds had died down. The last leader with the goblet held his head high and with one hand threw up the goblet to show reverence to it and to him.

The crowds began again, hugging, kissing, shouting for their new leader, the shaman stepped back and grinned. The other 6 did not feel regret for giving their own flesh for something they would receive nothing out of, but they were overjoyed. All eyes were on him, whether they were teary ones of future hopes and dreams or dry ones with simple, yet extreme approval. He rose to the top of the hill, his name was Árpád. According to tradition the last of any ritual or even bloodline was to inherit the rewards of it. Thus he became the chief leader of all the 7 Magyar tribes. This is the historic moment of how the Hungarian nation was born. There would be much to follow for the next 1000 years………………………………

That right there, was entirely true except for the parts that I added a little flavor to. Well, every fact was true in that story according to Hungarian legend; I just added several descriptions to spice it up. That is what Hungarian children are taught in schools. To me it seems pretty miraculous, or more like old-pagan, non-modern tradition of self mutilation. But hey, who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

I wish I could really describe how great this feels. I mean the whole thing, doing this whole exchange year. I feel somewhat accomplished, more confident, more humble, and much more aware not only of the world around me, but of the people around me as well. I don’t feel alone here. Not that I felt alone when I was back home, but I already feel attached to so many people here. My host family, whom only God himself could have handpicked for me. I’m not kidding you – I already feel that much for them. I love them, they’re like my family away from home. I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to leave them, but they always say that the best of things come to an end very quickly, I hope that’s not true.

I remember the first day here at school. I woke up, the family told me what special clothes I had to wear and what I had to bring. My host sister took me to school and made sure I was in good hands before she left. I met up with the other exchange students in the principal’s office, where we then were sent into different classrooms, according to our age. I waited outside the doors of my new classroom, my pulse was racing, I was practicing every Hungarian greeting in my head. I walked in and I felt like a sheep among wolves. I introduced myself and they didn’t seem that happy to meet me. Almost like I was anyone else to them, which I was at the time. I then met another exchange student in my class, well she was an exchange student to Portugal last year, and was one of the first kids to approach me. I remember her greeting very well, it went something along the lines of, “HI, I’m Lilli. You must be the new exchange student. I was an exchange student last year to Portugal so I know how scared and nervous you must be, so you can sit next to me until you get to know everyone.” I still haven’t left that seat to this day.

It took time, but not as much time as I thought it would take to make friends here. I’ve been invited to parties, to go kayaking, football games, birthday parties, study sessions and everything in between. I knew at some point I would go from point A to point B but how did I get here? Did it just come to pass with time and effort? Or did they actually come to grow on me? I don’t know what the future holds but I can predict that it will be extremely difficult to say goodbye to them. I wish I could drown into my sleep and let this remain the dream it has been forever. Unfortunately, I don’t get to decide that. We really don’t get to decide too much in our lives, I mean we can choose to go left or right, but not really where we’ll end up, our choices are completely different from what God has in store for us. We just have to let him do what he does and use the tools we’re given to make our life and those around us the best that we can.

I think it’s finally making sense now. This whole thing we’re doing, and the great part is, there is no moment you can really pinpoint and say, “This is when I went from Static to Dynamic.” It’s like a very slow evolutionary process, and we have to wait almost a millennium for it to show some significance, and yet once you reach the 500 year mark, kind of where I’m at right now (half-year mark) then you start to realize that a millennium is not as slow as you thought it was, it actually moves too quickly. Far too quickly. Some say life is too long, and I pity them because If they think that way then they won’t use the tools nor the time they’re given to make it the best, and they eventually will get from point A to point B but the sad part is there will be nothing in between for them. I found my Boston.

-It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years that matters.”

-Unknown

Christmas was… SUPERB. I got a Hungarian jacket from my host parents which is used by the national Olympic team, only special Olympians get them, and I’m not too sure how they got it. I also got a yearly calendar from my host brother, an ancient Hungarian book from Anna, my host sister, plus a slang dictionary. From Kata, I received a great CD for intermediate users of Hungarian, and it’s working wonders for me. Now, it’s my turn. What did I get for my family? You ask. I got my host dad a beautiful tie, host mom a great book with law quotes for every day because she’s a judge. For Anna, my eldest host sibling, I gave her a Chinese incense box, because I know that she loves all things Asian and loves incense. What I first did was I found a really old crappy incense box at the Christmas markets downtown (don’t tell her I said it was crappy), bought it, repaired it, painted it, carved Asian symbols on it and voila! There you have the perfect gift. She really loved it. For Sari, my youngest host sister, I bought a small scarf. My other host siblings said that she would really like one that’s dark brown, just like big girls have. You know how kids can be. They all want to be adults and be grown-ups. Funny, adults always want youth and children always want to be adults. The grass is always greener on the other side isn’t it? So I bought her a small, wavy brown scarf. She really loved it, she even sleeps with it sometimes.

For Andris, my host brother, since he loves poker and I do mean he loves poker. I found one of those hand rests for the computer, and on it I wrote in white-out “MINDENÖRÖKKÉ PÓKER” Which is kind of like the equivalent to our saying “Everything poker.” Translation is difficult when it’s not literal. Last but definitely not least, I gave my Kata three candles, and since she’s very religious like me, I found special candles with the crosses made out of flowers in them, and when the flowers burn in the candle it releases a different aroma for each candle. Those gifts took time and effort to find, buy, and fix. Am I the best gift giver or what? All right, maybe not The best.

What we did here for Christmas was completely different than what I usually do at home. We got all dressed up, as if we were going to a ball or something, but we were only going to the living room. We decorated the Christmas tree not with popcorn but marzipan, which is probably the weirdest tasting chocolate in the world. Dinner was delicious and yet I didn’t stop eating for about 3 days, consecutively. We ate at home, then the next day at Grandma’s, then again at home. The amount of naps, candy, plates of cookies, and Christmas snow fights was something that I may never forget. For the next several days, I was completely in teenage sleep mode, as was the whole house.

Szilvesterkor came along, which is New year’s here, and I went out with my friends and had probably one of the best parties of my life. ANNDDDD!!!!! I had the best feeling. It was one of those moments that every exchange student hopes for. I passed for a native, and not just to one person but to three people. I don’t mean I said a word and I kind of fooled them, and I risk saying this knowing that it may sound like I’m bragging. However, I had a long conversation with 3 different friends of my friends, and 2 of them said that they could tell that I wasn’t from Budapest because it sounded like my accent was different than the Budapest area, but I still sounded Hungarian just from a different region. When I told them that I was American they just laughed and didn’t believe it. The third friend told me “It’s New Year’s not April Fool’s.” So I actually had to show them my American I.D. to them to prove that I was indeed American. I walked away at the end of the night, with the biggest smile on my face. I risk saying this knowing that it may sound like I’m bragging, but to be honest it was a great feeling.


April 25 Journal

 I am surrounded by the former Hapsburg royal palace, the residency which is located on Castle hill, one of the highest points in the city; it was the ruling seat during the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is built over the site of the former ruling castle in Hungary before it was mass bombed out by the Germans. This is less than a mile away from my 17th century school. It is located in Buda which is on the western bank of the Danube. Usually, only the very rich live in this part of the city, it is mountainous with villas that have been handed down for several generations to present day Hungarians. The old city is located on a plateau-like hill, which is encircled by a mighty stone wall, actually more like a fortress. No enemy nor foe has ever been able to break through this fortress, not even the Turks during their 150 year reign here. Across the Danube is the Parliament right on the bank’s shore, it is so close as a matter of fact, that when the river floods, which it usually does in spring, it rises past the grand steps of the parliament and can even cause flooding to nearby areas. It is one of the largest parliaments in the world; although many protest and demonstrate against the decisions that are made within its walls, that still does not underestimate its beauty and magnificence.

The Bazilika, not far from Parliament, is so outstandingly breathtaking that when directors are seeking to film a movie in the Vatican and the Vatican denies them entrance, they come here to the Bazilika. When they want to film a scene on the Champs D’elysees and are not able to… they come to Andrassy ut, where the streets and flats resemble those of the Parisian avenue. The Nyugati Palyaudvar train station was built by Gustave Eiffel, the same man who built the Eiffel tower, you can imagine how beautiful it looks. Hero’s square, which contains all the Hungarian kings, leaders, soldier, captains, etc that have led the nation to where it is today. The archangel Gabriel looks down on the city and blesses all those that pass by. These statues are carved in larger than life replicas that represent the people’s passion for their own history. The freedom statue that stands above Gellert hill on the river’s edge is a symbol of freedom after communism, the woman who holds the wreath of leaves still lives to this day. This city, in its former glory was just as rich as any west European nation and in my opinion just as, if not more beautiful. However, after all the revolutions, system changes, attacks, flips, turns, and falls this country has taken it remains an undiscovered Roman column in the sands. The city has party places, movie centers, parks, rock climbing in the downtown center, cruises, mountain climbing, a full island as the recreation center, buildings of centuries past that you can easily get lost in looking for a friends apartment. I have Matyas templom, janos hegy, parliament, westend, mammut, heroes square, vajdahunyad castle, the world’s 2 largest Jewish synagogue, the yellow villamos, BKV, freedom bridge, Turkish thermal baths, szimpla, morrisons, golgota, Cicero, rozsadomb, vaci utca and more. And the funny thing is…….to me…it all means nothing. Nothing AT ALL!!! Nothing, that is, without the people that I’ve shared these places with. Our underground church would have been an old empty former theatre without Kata there every Sunday. Learning the country’s history and going to college debates that I shouldn’t have been going to would have unbearably boring without Anna there. The first months of learning the language would have been too difficult to overcome without Lili sitting next to me translating. Coffee at Cicero would have been another good-tasting espresso without Gabor and Kati to talk to. The Blue Monkey café could have ended up much worse had Akos not been there to help. Going up to the Stumpf’s house when no one was there would have been creepishly quiet without Sari and her energetic childlike behavior. Playing poker by myself would have been less than pathetic had Andris not been there to teach me. How would I know what to do if Gabor didn’t give me a little suggestion along the way. Spain would have been no fun at all without throwing cheese at Nicole and Aniko. Budakeszi would be another village without my 3rd host family and their children. The Damjanich house would be another flat in the city without the Grafjodis to make noise in it. Csik ferenc would be another 17th century building had I not gone to school there. English class would not have brought tears of laughter to my eyes without laposneni running into the cabinet all the time. Forgacs’s class would have been a snooze had my friends not answered all my questions about their language. It is not the beautiful places we stay at, or visit or learn about those that built them and why. It’s about the people that we spent all those days and hours with – that’s what makes a place special to us. It’s not so much the places I was but the people I was there with that made this year. It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years that matters.

It has been quite a while since I wrote last. Here has what has happened since then: Gabor’s Birthday, I did a presentation in Hungarian in front of the whole school, and my mom and Aunt Kathy came to visit me. Where to start oh boy….

How did I end up there? It fell so softly and quietly, if you were blind you wouldn’t be able to tell it was even falling. On the ground in the middle of a crowded, probably the most crowded square in all of Budapest, lying down in the falling snow in front of the Bazilika at 5 am. Sounds a little suspicious to me I know, but I don’t think I’ve had so many epiphanies nor words of wisdom found in my entire life than I’ve found in this past week. Let me start form where we left off.

It was January fifth when I wrote my last journal, on January 11th I changed host families. To be perfectly honest, I found my little host sister Sari unpacking my bags before I left, and I almost cried when they dropped me off at my new family. No matter how much it hurt to move, I do understand why I must because without change we remain content and don’t learn what lies beyond the wall that encompasses our lives. I once again have the biggest room in the house, I live further from school but still can make it there in time. Time had passed quite quickly in the past weeks with so many school parties activities, and what I thought would take the cake, the Szalagavató, which is the Hungarian prom. However, all the events seemed to have been of the same importance to me. I can’t really say one was more important or impacting than the other. The Szalagavto, was completely unexpected. Everything that occurred that night was unexpected. To begin with, the Szalagavato encompasses all students from the high school grades dancing in their own class dance. The last grade, the 13th graders, are the stars of the night, because they will soon be off to college. They have the honor of dancing the Keringő, or Waltz. That’s right a Waltz in a prom. I told you it was unexpected. They dress up to the nines for this: blazers, ties, prom gowns, the whole shebang. My class, since they are only 12th graders, chose their own dance as the rest did. I want you readers to prepare for the fact that this may be shocking that all Hungarians love Mama Mia, and can’t get enough of it. This is what they decided to dance to. I think the name of the song was “take a chance on me.” Unbelievably hysterical.

As most of us were behind stage watching the dances and getting ready to go on stage next for our performances, I was supposed to take pictures for my friend Akos, which I may or may not have forgotten to do. Then, the moment came our class finale dance. I was pumping with adrenaline, our homeroom teacher was taking deep breaths in and out of a paper bag, and the lights went down she pushed us out onto the floor and said “Don’t mess up.” So basically in one ear and out the other. Our footing could not have been more off, well except falling off the stage which Marci almost did after his shoe slipped off. And all of a sudden we began to dance the szorba I know that we Americans have this dance but I cant recall its name. Sorry. Anyway, we danced the szorba and formed a gigantic circle in the center of the stage and several students were thrown into the center to perform several dances, and somehow I ended up in the middle by myself and I knew I had to do something so for some strange reason unknown even to God I began to dance like the men in Fiddler on the roof, with both arms crossed over my elbows jumping up and down screaming “Hey” and yet they loved it. I expected to be laughed at for quite a while yet they really thought it was hilarious and entertaining. It was a good day. The actual Waltz was probably the most synchronized form of dancing I’ve ever seen. They were all dressed up in blue shining lights and cameras flashing like it was the red carpet. Beautiful, it truly was. Moms and dads crying for their sons and daughters, cameras capturing every moment of the dance, and teachers throwing roses at their students, it made me think that this is what a prom should be like.

January 31st, Friday was my friend Gabor’s 18th birthday party. A very important day for a young man, Lucky for us it was a surprise party, he knew nothing of it. Let me give some background information…Gabor was one of the first people to become a good friend in my class. He heard we had an American in the class and since his life is American football he decided that it would be cool to talk to a real American. To be honest he knows more about the game than most Americans do. Every time I was free Gabor would always try to invite me somewhere. It got to the point that he was being so nice to me that I thought he was trying to play some trick on me so the whole class could have a good laugh at the exchange student or something. I was very mistaken. I usually go running with exchange students or other friends 2 a week, and so I invited Gabor to tag along and now we do it frequently. Through him I’ve become friends with his friends as well. Akos and Dani, his two good friends at school, took me aside on Wednesday and told me all about Gabor’s birthday party and how I should be there. It was in a normal restaurant where we all met up, about 13 of us, including his parents who made sure he didn’t know anything about the party. BUT!!!! And here’s where it gets a little pg-13. Akos had been pretending for weeks to be this girl Noemi online who was interested in Gabor, and Gabor thought he was going on a blind date with her Friday night when in reality we were all hiding under the table waiting to great him, and Noemi was there waiting patiently, because Akos thought it would be funny and he was quite right, if they bought a blow-up doll and called her Noemi, and that is exactly what was done. Beautiful plan. AND!!! Before the dinner Akos passed around the online conversations between him and “Noemi” to get everyone laughing and as a birthday gift to Gabor which was what the PG-13 part was. Then as I was taking tedious photos, which came out great I have to say, I was looking through my camera lens and saw the group of them in the photo and realized that all the people at the party were really close to Gabor (this occurred at the beginning of the party). For the rest of the night I kept on thinking that all his friends that he’s been friends with for years are here then what am I doing here? I almost felt like I shouldn’t be there, like the waitress was going to come over any second and tell me “sorry, your table’s over there sir.” Then it hit me, “I was invited here by them, could that possibly mean that they want me here?” “That must mean I am a good friend, even if it hasn’t been for years.” I do have a feeling that I will make very good friends with them all, as in lifelong friends. I can see the future however and I see that leaving here will definitely hurt.

The week before my mother and Kathy arrived, I was preparing for a presentation that I had to give in front of the school in Hungarian. We had been preparing for weeks, it was a joint effort, all the English classes in the upper level school (high school) had to perform a skit of some sort for the rest of the school. In English!!! So it was a challenge for them. Gabor and I were chosen to be the presenters. HOWEVER, we decided to make things even more difficult than they were, Gabor was to introduce the groups according to the script in English, and I was to do the same in Hungarian. For the first few minutes the audience was fooled into the fact that I was a Hungarian and then when I made some mistakes that no native speaker would make they then realized that I was not what I seemed. I was congratulated and it was an amazing feeling, but I realized the reason why I don’t feel so amazing is because I’m not satisfied with my level of Hungarian, and I don’t think I’ll ever be, and I honestly believe that’s a good thing. I mean the learning never ends, right?

BIG NEWS!! MY mom and Aunt Kathy came. Although they only stayed for a week I still had an amazing time with them. I took them around town, showed them every place that I usually hang out in, showed them my school, my host homes and families of course. My first host family (THE ALL MIGHTY STUMPFS) even invited us for a dinner on them at their home, well my former home. Both the families got along extremely well and I never really thought of it until now, but both my worlds came together when they were here. The home I left back home and this one here which I will be leaving soon. When I reached the middle point of my exchange I felt that it would be extremely difficult to leave, but it won’t because I’ll be back again, many times. Yes, it’s coming, and within two months I will not be in Hungary any longer. Oh boy, I feel it with every passing day. MY mom and Kathy said that I have changed, and it was great to finally sit back and not worry about the complex problems and exchange student faces. The strange thing was once my mom and aunt left, I felt this loneliness. Like I had just started my exchange year all over again. It went away within a few days, but I missed them so much and I didn’t even realize it until they left.

Freedom, Love!

I need these both

For my love I would sacrifice life,

For freedom I would sacrifice my love.

 

Szabadság, szerelem!

E kettő kell nekem.

Szerelmemért föláldozom

Az életet,

Szabadságért föláldozom

Szerelmemet.

Written by Petofi Sandor, a great Hungarian poet

 


May 18 Journal

 Day 50 and counting….

So why do we try to hold on to those whom we love the most? Our friends and family. Is it just so we have someone to turn to when we’re in a time of distress or pain? Most people want all those they love to be around when their end comes. I do not want just an ending, I’m not saying this because I feel like it’s all over or anything along those lines, but I want people to know that I want to laugh until my sides hurt and not be embarrassed about it. I want to live so much that I will actually get physically tired of doing so. I want to dance so fast that no one will be able predict my next move (figuratively). I do not want to say “I love you” to those that I do but I want to show them how much I do. I want to keep my wits about me so that I will know what’s dangerous and stupid or crazy and fun. This year was crazy and fun, I grew as a person and much more. So I finally made it to the end of this chapter’s road and from here I can see Everest, but I still need to get to the top. How do I do that? How do I satisfy this feeling? How do I go to greatness? I think it may just be the hunger I have for everything I can get. I believe most of us on this Earth don’t realize we’re really living until we slowly start to fade away and look back at the years we’ve had and say “OH, the good old days.” I never want those days to end, and people think when someone says “the good old days” they mean the time they had fun the most, or the time when nothing bad happened, but they’re wrong – “the good old days” means the days you did all you could, the days you remember the most vividly, the days when you learned the most, and I don’t mean learning from a book but learning from this thing most of us take for granted called life. So, I boldly say to you all that these are the beginning of my “good old days.”

I have a limited time left here. I will be back home soon, in the comfort of my own bed. This whole year is no longer surreal to me as it was just 11 months ago, it is now another one of my places. It is a part of me, it will not be separated from my soul as long as I live, and something deep within me makes me very proud to say that. It may not be PARIS, nor DISNEY LAND, nor the Vatican, but I like it nonetheless, and I will be here till the very end, and I’ll look back then and say “oh those were the good old days.”

I just recently went on a 2 week trip all around Southern Europe. Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Austria. BEAUTIFUL. I went with other Rotary exchange students, naturally, and our first stop was in Thessaloniki. The ancient Greek harbor city was probably the nicest one we got to visit. I say this even though we went to Athens because we arrived too late to Athens due to traffic and got there very late in the evening instead of early in the afternoon. Basically the only marvel we had the opportunity to see in Athens was our 3 star hotel. No worries, one day I’ll be back there. Here’s the cool part. We traveled from Athens to Bari, Italy by ferry boat over night, in the morning we were in Italy. We drove several hours and made it to Naples where we stopped for the glory of Pompeii. I have already been to Pompeii and remember it just as I left it. It carries some heavy feelings with it of the Empires of old long before our existences were even thought up.

A 3 hour drive to Rome made me feel like a kid again. I remember travelling here with my mother several years ago, and I came this time with memories as if I knew these places before, which I did, just not as well as I would like to know them. I remember standing in front of the Vatican and looking at the beauty of it all, and I turned around to tell someone how beautiful it was and no one was there that I wanted to tell. And with a rush of blood to the head I saw their faces light up in my mind. My parents, family members friends from back home and from Hungary and then it dawned on me that I never want to leave these people as long as I have the right to choose so.

I’ll skip the other cities, because I could tell you how beautiful, and overwhelmingly breathtaking they were but I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. I think I’ll get straight to Switzerland. I had been looking to replace my watch’s wristband, however I found no good offers. So I thought why not in Switzerland, and I did exactly that: for the price of 60 US dollars I found a brand new wristband. After that, and here’s the exciting part, I bought myself a Swiss army knife and as everyone proceeded to get off the bus after driving for 30 minutes to a botanical garden outside the city of Zurich, I did not get off the bus. I, instead cut my apple into pieces for lunch, and somehow accidently cut my finger in a bad location. I walked off the bus and asked if anyone had a bandage, luckily someone did. By that time the blood had dripped to my wrist and looked like I stuck my hand in a dying animal and the blood still kept reproducing itself out of my finger. Everyone looked at me with fear, which shocked me a little bit and then I said I’m fine and remember everything going black and came to with a bus driver holding my head down and a German girl holding my legs up. I felt really light headed the whole day after that. We drove through Innsbruck where we visited the alpine zoo with exotic animals from all around the world, mostly from the North American wilderness, yet still it was a different feeling than I expected.

I am back here writing this from my desk, and I want to be on Everest, somehow, someway, someday I’ll get there, but I’ve gotten here because of those who supported me. I Love you all.


July 7 Journal

 IT WAS A VERY HARD DAY’S NIGHT. I want not memories of old but oh, such a grand time with them. I don’t want photo albums of the times we hung out at the bar, or at the concert hall or even on the bridge. I want to capture the moments when I learned about them.

I want to capture the moments when Ákos told me about when he thinks you should let your political or religious opinions out to people. I want to hear the echo when I heard about the countless times he helped classmates in dangerous situations without hesitating. I want to remember when Bazsa told me about his father and his medical conditions and how I saw that he tried to overcome it. I want to look back on when Gabor said he was amazingly proud of me for growing so much not just as a person but as a Hungarian. I want to recall the moment they all admitted that they to need to grow up as well and let go. I want them to be by my side when I’m waiting for my language exam results and possibly deciding my future. I want to be by their side when they go to their fencing competitions, when they compete in the Hungarian football league, when they travel to L.A. for water polo. I want to be there until we get sick of each other.

I want them to stand up for me when the teachers bully me. I don’t want the framed photo of the entire class, I don’t want the loving cards I got from them. I don’t want the books, video clips of me and them throughout the year. I want them as my friends to be the gifts. When bad happens I want to turn around to them and hold them knowing I can confide in them. When good happens I want them to be the first that I run to to tell. I want to be able to show up at their homes unannounced as if it were any other ordinary day. I want no fake conversations about teenage drama that means nothing. I want the real thing, I want genuine, I want love, I want to fight back and forth with them because then it means it’s a real relationship; it means we’re being honest. I know it can’t be perfect with smiles and hugs and happiness all the time. And I want that so bad. I want the work to finally pay off. Finally, it has.

I don’t want regrets of not going to the aqua park with them when I could have. I refuse to have “acquaintances.” I refuse to let these people slip through my fingers. I don’t want to want to love them, I want to just love them. However I feel somehow selfish for asking for these things. These wishes of mine are realistic but they make me upset, because with all that I’ve done, more importantly with all that I’ve been given, with all that I have, I still want more. I don’t mean I’m not satisfied with what I have or I’ll be upset If I don’t get what I would like. I’m not spoiled and selfish like that. I mean that I want all this to continue as a life not just a year. I don’t want a photo album; I don’t want fake “acquaintances.” I want a lifetime with them. This year was once a dream and then came true, and when one of your dreams comes true, it makes the other ones seem a little more attainable.

Monday. This Monday was a good day. Monday was my going away party that my friends planned for me. We went to our favorite bar, chatted for a good 2 hours, a good quiet place to chat. Paid our bill, and before we left I clanged my glass and made a toast, “You have such a beautiful country, you have buildings from centuries long ago, your monuments are decorated with history of your people, you have everything in this city….but those are objects, those mean very little, it’s the people that occupy them that matter. If I didn’t have people to occupy my time with, more importantly if I didn’t have you all as my friends I would have been lost, this could have turned to be a terrible year, and for that I am truly grateful, I am honored to know you all and call you my friends.” I lifted up my glass, the others followed as I did, lifted up their glasses, looked at me and I said “To my return.” “To your return” and we left to the concert. Just like a normal day. We partied and danced until we just couldn’t for the life of us anymore. Slowly the night died away… they began to leave me. I didn’t think it would happen until it did. So I gave my hugs and kisses and they gave their wishes and greetings and like that …they were gone. The last group said several of them would come to the airport with me when I leave and got in their taxi and went home. I was left alone but only physically. I went home and slept getting ready for the next day. Today was a good day.

The rest of the week consisted of party after party where I had to continuously say goodbye to people. Friday evening I spent the night at my first family’s home and watched movies, had dinner, played games, did everything as if were a normal day. I slept in my old room; they even made the bed for me. I looked out from the 4th floor lookout as they all said “Goodnight Drake.” I had never been on the roof, so I climbed onto the very top to see the beautiful view of the city that I was going to depart from. It was never so beautiful. The towers on the parliament were lit up over the waves of the Danube, the Budavár stood out distinctly with the medieval roads and homes. It would surely be missed. I climbed down and went to bed. We woke up and everyone went to work, school, camp, as they usually do, only today they said goodbye to me. I would no longer be a part of their activities, their lifestyle, their lives, at least for the time being.

Today is Sunday July 5th. I leave tomorrow morning. I went to church today as if it were a normal day. I went with Kata and Sari, my two former host sisters, who really are my two sisters. I said goodbye to them once and for all at the tram stop. Sari wouldn’t let go of my hand. I told her it was ok and we would meet soon. I watched as the tram left the stop I turned around and found Anna, my eldest host sister, and her boyfriend Marion. We had lunch scheduled and discussed basic, everyday, normal day topics over chicken sandwiches and salads. I looked at them both and remembered the very day I shook their hands and how I would never forget it. “Hi. I’m Anna. I’m your host sister.” They held each other’s hands and weren’t looking at each other but they were looking at me. Then they paid the bill, we lifted our glasses and toasted, “To my return.” They hopped on the bus and left me alone, still physically.

I was beginning to write this journal when I was called into the kitchen for dinner. I was surprised when I stepped in. My host family made a delicious going away dinner for me. The food was out of this world. It could have been crud for all I cared – it’s the thought that counts. They gave me their gifts from every one of them. I sat down, they did the same and poured me a glass and we cheered together. “To my return,” I said, “to your return,” they echoed.

I am home, in my room, still in Hungary with complicated mixed feelings going around in my head. All I need to do is take a couple deep breaths and I’ll be fine. So I close this journal like it’s any other ordinary day, at least for the time being. I will lift my glass and toast, “To my return.” I will get my lifetime.

“People so seldom say I love you. And then it’s either too late or love goes. So when I tell you I love you, it doesn’t mean I know you’ll never go, only that I wish you didn’t have to.” – Unknown

P.S. We really are such fools professing to be wise.

Gail Fish
2008-09 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School, Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Vöcklabruck-Attersee Rotary Club, District 1920, Austria

Gail - Austria

Gail’s Bio

 Hello! I’m Gail Fish and a senior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and moved to Ocala, Florida when I was one year old. I have lived in Gainesville, Florida since I was ten with my sister, mother, four cats, and a dog. My father lives in Ocala, Florida and I see him quite frequently as well.

One of my main interests is learning languages. Having studied Spanish, German, and Chinese during my high school career, I am very excited that I have the opportunity to become fully immersed in another language and culture. In regards to language, I have participated in the Florida State Spanish Conference since my freshmen year of high school. It is a statewide competition where students from all around the state give speeches, recite poems, and act in plays in Spanish. Some of my other hobbies and interests include reading, biking, spending time with friends, politics, and history.

I have looked at the Rotary Youth Exchange program for the past two-and-a-half years. Even after reading the exchange journals religiously, talking with other exchange students, and considering this for so long, it still feels like a dream. I don’t think it will hit me what I am getting into until the moment I step off the plane in my host country. Even so, I am extremely excited and grateful to be given such an amazing opportunity.


August 27 Journal

 How to describe my first three weeks in Austria? A formidable task indeed. But I will do my best. Someone wise once said the best place to begin is at the beginning. But even that is a little tricky to pin down. Rotary was right when they said this was a three year program. But talking about the past year would probably make this journal a bit too long…

My last two nights in the United States were not at home in Gainesville- but rather a hotel with both my parents and my sister in Jacksonville. The Welcome Home Dinner was two days before my flight and my flight was quite early in the morning, so we just stayed there. Needless to say, the cramped quarters made me that much more excited to leave.

Early on August 4th, we arrived at the Jacksonville Airport. There was a slight scare when they said that they originally couldn’t find my ticket and then that it was cancelled for non payment. But about 30 minutes later, the situation worked itself out and I was on my way. Aside from that, the flights went fairly smoothly. A major jolt of excitement for me was on the long flight from Chicago to München (Munich). It was about 5am in Europe and I had a window seat. I could see the city lights, for the first time, of Europe. I was actually going to be here. Here for a whole year and I could not wait! I landed in Linz (as the only American on a small plane full of scouts from Hong Kong touring Europe plus a few Germans and Austrians) a bit earlier than expected. So when my host mom and sister came, complete with the ‘Welcome in Austria’ banner, I was able to respond and ask a few questions in understandable German and not be frozen, mouth hanging open, and completely lost.

My first week here I mostly spent time with my host sister, Yvonne. She is sixteen and started her exchange in Washington State on the 19th of August. My city here is Pinsdorf and we live right near Gmunden on the Traunsee (this really pretty lake) so I went there a few times- and even got slightly sunburned. I met some of her friends and my future classmates as well. So now I feel less nervous about school starting and feel like I can make friends here fairly quickly. One of the days, my host brother Andre- who is 28 and lives in another town- took Yvonne and me to this ‘Abenteuerpark’ in Gröbming in Styria. It’s a little bit tough to explain. At this park there’s all these ziplines and obstacle course type things attached to the ziplines and trees. We wore harnesses and got to climb some of these. After doing a few of the easier courses, we tried for the hardest one they offered. Near the end it was too difficult to do the course the correct way, so I basically dragged myself along, being held up only by the harness and climbing clip. While I was up there, I thought about how I was putting so much trust in these little safety devices (made in Europe). However, I was not scared. In fact I was having a great time- even at the tough part of the course. Later, I thought about how it mirrored my exchange. I was putting so much trust in my Austrian host family, Rotary, and the Austrian way of life- but having a wonderful time along the way- wanting to go back for more.

After this first eventful week, I spent two weeks at language camp. That was in Altmünster so only about fifteen minutes away from my host family’s house. There were over 50 other new exchange students at the camp from all over the world. Although, ironically enough, I spoke so much not-German at the German language camp than I did my first week. I had taken Spanish in school, so I was able to talk a lot with the Spanish-speakers as well as the English speakers. At language camp I was in the most advanced class. It was very grammar intensive. All the teachers are very nice and many were exchange students, so they could relate to what we were going through. And they’re very fun and like to joke with us too. On Saturday, our classes went until noon and we got to see the rebounds- Austrians who just got back from their exchanges all around the world. Then on Sunday, the camp went to Hallstatt for the day! For those of you who don’t know Hallstatt, it was a major salt mining village… and it’s the village that’s on nearly every picture one sees of Austria. We toured the salt mines there and got to walk around town. There were mostly tourists in Hallstatt and not much salt mining anymore. But it did not have an overcrowded, and ‘fake’ feel to it at all. I definitely want to go back really badly. During the two weeks we also walked all around Altmünster, getting to know the city and the people. We always stopped at the gas station (which was much cleaner and smaller than most in the United States) to get our chocolate fix. We passed by a bicycle store called ‘Armadillos Bikes and Muffins’ whenever we could (yes, it sometimes did sell muffins- but no armadillos), and we definitely bonded as a group of exchange students.

I’ve only been back at my host family’s house a few days. On one of the days I went into Gmunden and walked down the Traun River. Years and years before, a poet wrote something along the very same river, that poem was posted on a sign for everyone who passes to sit and read. The poem talked about how the river always flows forward and keeps moving. It says that looking into it can help one through being without a loved one or loved ones, and dealing with being without something or someone. I have not felt much homesickness yet, but if or when I do, I’d love to come back to this spot. I find it quite interesting that someone, 160 years before, looking at the same spot on the river, stood where I will stand, thinking the same thoughts about moving onward. Something like that can really make one empathize with others in the world- whether from their home town, a world away, or someone they will never meet.

Perhaps that’s what exchange is all about, being able to empathize with people and communicate across continents. Maybe, in the beginning, the communication is awkward and with lots of acting and pointing. It’s possible that your best ‘friends’ at first are the five and thirteen-year-old neighbors who are eager for a new playmate in a game of tag (translated as ‘catch’ in German). But either way, one always moves forward, eager for whatever comes next. Thank you Rotary for ‘making dreams real’!


September 21 Journal

 It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for almost two months. Sometimes, with the weather like a Florida November, it seems like longer. Other times, it seems like just yesterday I fumbled with the windows my second day here, wondering just how to work them.

It is also difficult to tell which ‘stage’ I am at in exchange. Am I still enjoying a happy honeymoon? Perhaps I am getting used to everything. Maybe those moments of nostalgia and craving food I hardly ate in Florida, and curiosity of what I’d be doing back home or in another country, are signs of homesickness.

I’m still wide eyed and in wonder of some things around Austria – as if I’m experiencing it all for the first time. I still discreetly ‘skate’ and spin across the school floor in slippers since we don’t wear normal shoes inside despite being there for two weeks. I never get tired of the idle babblings of the stream next to my house. Perhaps it’s meant to be peaceful, but instead I grin rather stupidly and lean in closer to hear it better. The aromas of the fresh soups my host mom makes after school are still inviting and welcoming. With so many different soups, most of the time it’s the first time trying the day’s specific recipe. On the street corner one can buy newspapers. Yet unlike in the United States, they are not in a large metal box that won’t open unless one puts in money. Instead, one takes newspapers out of a little flimsy plastic folder, and there’s a little box where one can put in money. I love this feeling of trust here.

Other times, I still feel like such an outsider. I see the strange looks of curiosity and disgust on my classmates’ faces when I describe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When I felt a strong urge to run and look out the window to see the snow that was on the top of the Traunstein (the big mountain near me) the others barely turned their heads. Sometimes I cannot help but almost laugh when I catch the physics teacher say, in a strong Upper Austrian accent, ‘Did everyone understand that?’ and point to a long equation on the board I mindlessly copied down. I know people speak to me in ‘Hochdeutsch’ or High German instead of dialect/ Mundart that they normally use, because I don’t understand enough yet.

Some things hardly seemed to change at all from Florida. Everyday, I hear a stampede of four cats running through the house, chasing each other and real or imaginary creatures. I see the same rude words in English written on the back of a bus seat. I hear classmates grumble about homework. A bottle of Tabasco sauce still sits on the kitchen table at meal times.

Still at other times, I feel like I truly belong, like I am becoming Austrian myself. After hearing my host mom say how the cloudy, dreary weather makes her feel unmotivated to do anything, I start blaming my own mild laziness at times on that same weather. I send text messages back and forth all in German. I understand the ‘Fakt des Tages’ (fact of the day) that students write on the board in our classroom in the morning without consulting my dictionary. My host parents ask me to type up and print something on the computer or feed the cats or do other chores around the house, treating me no longer like a ‘guest’. When I am out on weekends, I see my classmates and remember their names and recognize other people too. I know that on the weekends, we are probably going to my host brother’s and his girlfriend’s house way out in the country where we will chat, drink coffee, wear house shoes, and pass huge cornfields on the way there. Perhaps we’ll see his girlfriend’s parents who live right next door, but most likely not. It is a welcome routine that I’m already so used to.

Perhaps I am just as confused as ever about what ‘stage’ I am at on exchange. Maybe I will never know exactly how I feel about home, here, my ability to speak German, or anything else. I do know one thing though, despite curiosity about what I’d be doing elsewhere, doing exchange is one of the best decisions I ever made. I am guessing that RYE-Florida is talking to schools around the state now – or will very soon. So to all you curious students who may have stumbled across this page, don’t be afraid to go to an informational meeting or secretly stalk more of these journals. You won’t regret it!


November 25 Journal

 I’ve been here over a quarter year already- almost a third of a year. I guess I’ll have to play ‘catch up’ in this journal. A fair warning to the readers: there will almost certainly be a grammatical error or two- or at least strangely constructed sentences.

At the end of September, my host family took a day trip up to the Czech Republic- a two hour drive. We did not stay very long and we were right on the Austrian border. I love how everything seems so close here! My host parents don’t know any Czech and spoke German the whole time- and me too. I never speak in English aloud here, except in English class three times a week. Speaking German in another country just seems much more natural to me now.

In the Czech Republic we were greeted with perhaps the most international sight I could imagine. There were people from Vietnam, speaking in German to Austrians trying to sell clothing (cheaper than in Austria). The clothing was made in China and had words like ‘Los Angeles’ across the front.

In school, the teachers are pretty lenient on me for doing schoolwork since I already graduated in the States. Therefore, most of the school work I do is more translating and picking out words to learn than some of the actual assignments. However, I do help out a lot in English and sometimes I help out in other English classes, pretending that I know absolutely no German. In the last speech I gave about the American School System, I kept almost saying the wrong English word. I wanted to say ‘students become letter grades’ because the German word ‘bekommen’ means ‘to get’!

One of my favorite things about the school week is Friday afternoons. Our classes get out an hour early, and then we have two hours free before gym class. Every Friday, my classmates and I walk over to the mall right near our school and buy nice, healthy, and fairly cheap food right in the supermarket there (yes, supermarkets are often in malls). Then we all get to chat together for much longer than the short breaks between classes.

I was in a dance course here as well on Thursday evenings for ten weeks. Most of the students are in the class below me- except for two rebounds in my class that were in America last year, and my Australian ‘oldie’ who came here in January. I get to learn the Waltz, cha-cha, and lots of other dances. Sometimes we four wear silly costumes or other outfits to the course. It’s pretty fun.

In mid October we had a Rotary weekend in Vienna with over 80 exchange students in Austria AND the exchange students in Croatia- including Emily! Vienna was a bit different than I imagined, but wonderful nonetheless. Some parts just seemed so surreal. When walking through the palace it was so hard to imagine that just a few feet away from me, it was HERE where Franz Josef began his work day, right over there where important people from a bygone era listened to Mozart’s latest and greatest compositions or danced to Strauss’s waltzes. In early December we’re going back to Vienna to meet the president of Rotary- and then later in December we have a Salzburg weekend. I can’t wait!

I thought I would miss Halloween a lot this year- I did not know if people really celebrated it in Austria or where I lived. But, lo and behold, on Halloween so many kids were sporting costumes of all kinds. One of my classmates had a Halloween party as well- and invited the whole class. I really like that concept; I think it makes people feel less left out if everyone in the class goes. However, not a lot of older people dress up for Halloween. There were maybe five or six of us in costumes there. Nevertheless, it was great.

As I sit here writing these last few paragraphs, I’m hit with a different kind of homesickness. Something I call ‘Soest’sick. For ten days I visited a friend in Soest, Germany. She was an exchange student for a semester last year in Florida. I stayed with her family that seems to fit me perfectly and even went to school with my friend- sometimes in her classes, sometimes in her exchange sister’s (from the Faroe Islands) classes. With her family we visited the cities of Paderborn and Münster. It was so amazing seeing all the medieval (and medieval style) buildings- most of the buildings in Austria are more baroque or baroque style. I got to meet so many more great people- many who were former exchange students themselves. I felt re-inspired to REALLY, REALLY learn German by more than just speaking it all the time. I’m proud to say that I finished two German books there that were over 100 pages long each. I don’t deny that I shed a few tears at the train station at having to leave them. (Luckily I met a nice Brazilian expat on the train and she gave me a hug.)

On my last Friday there, I saw snow for the second time in my life. I was sitting in the exchange sister’s history class (discussing the beginning of the ”Cold” War) when there was this bright white stuff floating elegantly, and slightly sideways to the ground below. I honestly could not stay sitting down in the class- I was like a six-year-old all over again. ‘Schneee!!’ I kept saying to myself, and eventually whispering to my new friend. Even though in Austria there’s WAY more snow than there was in Germany, that first moment stands out to me the most.

Things are going to change soon here in Austria (perhaps the half a foot or more of snow is a sign of that) and I’m ready for whatever comes my way. Thank you so much, Rotary, for giving me this opportunity!


 

December 30 Journal

 Servus Liebe Leute!!

I meant to sit down and write this journal a week or two ago (so soon after my last journal) but time kept slipping away- so now I’m right on schedule with the journal writings (hopefully). I must say, so much has changed for me in the last month, I can hardly believe it.

Family: As I sit here writing this in the living room, I see the snow covered Traunstein mountain and lovely lake right outside the window- I’m with another family right now. There were some complications with the last host family; but I hope to have a good relationship with them. So right now I am living with a temporary host family. It’s just one person; she did a lot of work with us at the language camp and Rotary weekends in pervious years. It’s just temporary that I stay here, but I’m getting to know lots of great people here; my nine year old neighbor is like another little sister or cousin to me. I’ve also gotten a chance to do more outdoorsy stuff and see more little places while I’m here. Even though I’m super excited about a future Europe tour, I’ve realized there’s so much more left to explore, even 5 months after my arrival, right in my own (Austrian) backyard.

Rotary Weekends in Vienna and Salzburg: This month as been unusually full of Rotary weekends. Normally there is a Salzburg weekend in December and that’s our only get-together. However, the Rotary President’s Conference was held in Vienna this year from the 5th to the 7th of December. All the exchange students prepared a presentation for the Rotary president and Rotary members all over the world. We sang a Christmasy song in Mundart (Dialect), and a very silly one in English with hand movements, and then a waltz to the Blue Danube from Strauss. The Rotarians were really impressed with us and it was an interesting evening.

The next Rotary weekend was just two weeks later in Salzburg. It was such a beautiful weekend and we saw soo many sights- the fortress, a cemetery, lots of old buildings, Mozart’s birth house. This weekend was our last weekend with our ‘oldies’- those that came in January; so the reunion at Salzburg was definitely a bittersweet one.

School: Well, things are a little different in school now. For English I’m giving lots of presentations about Florida and other topics to the younger classes. It’s a great way to meet new people… and notice how strange my English is becoming. I also am in a German class with 12 and 13 year olds and I absolutely love it. I’m spending more time in school trying to socialize with lots of different students in any class. (Well, actually, I notice I chat WAY more with random people on the bus etc than I ever did in Florida.) I’ve definitely clicked pretty well with my parallel class. When school starts back again, I might actually switch there instead of staying in my current class.

Holidays: Well, holidays in Austria are a bit different from those back in Florida. There’s much more done with the Advent Season in December and the Advent Markets are wonderful here. As December kept creeping closer to its end, it never really felt like Christmas was just around the corner. It was absolutely wonderful but just not Christmas. Most of the Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day. So on Christmas Eve I went into my room here and waited eagerly for the ‘Christkind’. My host mom rung a bell, and there in the living room were all the candles on the tree lit and presents underneath. And on the 25th we drove about 15 minutes from here to see lots of snow – an actual white Christmas!!

2008: Well, this has certainly been an interesting and unforgettable year. I remember at the beginning of it being so optimistic and excited about what was to come – and so clueless about everything. From which country I would be in, how much I would appreciate coffee sent in the mail, the friendships I would make, crazy interesting people I would meet – if only on the bus or train for 5 minutes, the moments where German just ‘clicks’, amusement on how my English is deteriorating, and just so many other things.

Thank-you Rotary, thank you family, thank you Austria, for making this a possibility for me! To the new outbounds: You will have a crazy year ahead of you; I wish you all the best of luck for 2009!!


March 17 Journal

 Wow! It’s definitely been a looong time since I last updated my journal entry. Time just keeps flying- even faster than it did at the beginning of exchange. I just got my return date a few days ago- July 14th (Bastille Day by the way). It seems so weird that I’m now counting the dates on how long I’ll BE here instead of how long I’ve already BEEN here.

So much has changed since the last time I wrote my last journal. Back in mid-January I changed host families. Not just host families- but host cities and host schools. Instead of near Gmunden, I am now in a town about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg.

The new host family is a host mom and 13 year old host brother at home. I have an older host sister with a 2 year old son who lives a few minutes away, a host brother in Germany, and another host sister now on exchange. The host mom is really helpful in helping me find things I want to do in the area. I feel really comfortable here and really feel myself. I started doing a lot more cooking at home (the host mom works longer hours), which is fun for me, and the host family really appreciates it. Something interesting about the family- they’re really big fans of the United States. Both my host mom and host brother are huge fans of an America skier I never heard of- and even have a US flag inside. My older host sister is completely obsessed with Elvis Presley. It was a little strange at first, but I’ve gotten used to it.

School was definitely a little bit different than my old one. Little details I thought were ‘Austria-wide’ in the school system, I’ve come to learn, vary within each school. Generally in Austria, there is a set ‘class’ of students that are always together with just a few variations of courses- choosing between Spanish or Latin, for example.

Within each class there’s a almost a fixed classroom mentality ‘Klassengemeinschaft’. When comparing the other school to this one, this ‘Klassengemeinschaft’ is a lot more open to new people. There were plenty of nice people in the other class, but everything all together just didn’t make it as inviting as here. I finally found my own great little niche in this class and the parallel class and have plenty of people from school to hang out with. It’s nice! My Spanish class is also a little bit less advanced than before. Having forgotten so much Spanish while here, it’s a great course to refresh everything- and lots more people get to ask me for my help.

Friends: Like I said, I’m definitely finding a group of friends at school. Until Faschings Dienstag (Mardi Gras/ Carnival/ day before Lent), it was ‘Ball Season’ here, so I ended up going to lots of Balls- which are really fun. Most of the places have 2 parts- one room with older music- often live- for older people/ parents/ whatnot to dance. And then there’s another room for more ‘normal’ dancing for teenagers- who happen to be wearing formal clothing. I’ve also been sledding, seen movies, and gone into Salzburg on evenings with friends, as well as gone to Salzburg in the evening.

City: I’m currently in Oberalm- a pretty small little village with maybe 8,000 people. It’s pretty nice and cozy and not too far from other places. My school is in Hallein with about 25,000 people. More ‘medium sized’ for Austria and I’m about 20 minutes from Salzburg (about 175,000 people- smaller than most people think!! But still a decent sized city). I’m feeling like I’m getting the best of all worlds in where I’m living, city-wise. It’s really great =). I’m picking up on something much more in Salzburg from being here so long.

It’s a VERY touristy city- and a fair few people from all over the world living there. I can detect right away a major difference between the tourists there for a week or less, and, say, University students studying abroad and there for some months. One can really detect how people have come, over the course of months, to adapt to a new way of life and culture.

New Activities: I’m getting way more involved in different things in this area. Once a week I have a Capoeira course. This is a Brazilian martial arts/ dance course that’s really really interesting. It’s really fun, but we’re doing is supposedly nowhere near as cool as ‘real’ Capoeira done by people who’ve been at it for years. I’m hoping to see that sometime soon. Also while here, I took a 16 hour first aid course. I’m also about to start some babysitting and English tutoring after school. I think it’ll be a great way to meet lots of new people- not just Austrian teenagers, but rather more families. I think I’d get to know more of the country better too.

Ski Week: I just finished my Ski Week with all of the exchange students here from the 7th or March until the 14th. It was absolutely amazing! I haven’t skied before this week, so I was in the complete beginner class- even so I was noticeably the worst the first few days of lesson. But by the end of the week I finally caught up. This was also our first time for us to meet all of our ‘newbies’- the group of exchange students who arrived in January. It was so much fun spending time together, coming up with silly inside jokes, all dancing together after meeting Rotarians at a restaurant, and just being silly. I’m both looking forward and half dreading our next get-together for Eurotour- because it will be our last time together. Hard to fathom, really.

I want to thank EVERYONE and EVERYTHING for this opportunity to spend a year abroad (yes, down to even the pen that wrote down the name of this website some years ago) on youth exchange. I wouldn’t give up this chance for anything =).

Emily Garvin
2008-09 Outbound to Croatia

Hometown: Fernandina Beach, Florida
School: Fernandina Beach High School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: Fernandina Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Zagreb Rotary Club, District 1910, Croatia

Emily - Croatia

Emily’s Bio

 My name is Emily Katherine Garvin and I was born and raised in a small town called Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. I am a small town girl. I am 14 years old and the second born of three children. But I am the youngest. My oldest brother Timmy Hendren was adopted before I was born. Timmy and I are six years apart. Next came my other older brother, his name is Patrick Garvin. 16 months later I came.

But my family doesn’t end there because for about 5 years my parents were foster parents. This had a huge impact on my life because accepting children into my family as a 9 year old was very difficult. It was hard learning how to share my family, my room, and most of all my parents. But I overcame all the hardships that came with fostering. And I learned to love every child that stepped over our threshold. At that moment they became a part of my life and my family forever. With fostering I also learned how to cope with frequent changes and loss. I learned that I shouldn’t dwell on those things that I don’t have, rather cherish the things I do have, like a loving and forgiving family.

All of that has made me the person that I am today. I would consider myself well-rounded, open-minded person. I like to take risks and try new things. Recently I tried out for my high school’s junior varsity basketball team. I realized that there would be lots of hard work, time, and commitment if I made the team. And to tell you the truth I really didn’t think I was going to make the team. I had never played basketball in my life. But that didn’t stop me; I tried out for the team anyway.

Currently I am taking all honors courses. My favorite class is geometry. And quite frankly I don’t even like geometry that much but there is just something about math that I have fallen in love with. Outside of school, I usually spend time with my family and friends. I also do volunteer service around the island with my church’s youth group. And I volunteer at the local theatres.

My future is wide open and I look forward to the possibilities that will open up to me. I plan on going to college and getting a nursing and teaching degree. My mother is a teacher and my grandmother was a nurse and they are and were both very successful people. I hope that I can follow in their footsteps and become just as successful at life.


August 26 Journal

 After the sweet goodbyes at the Jacksonville airport, I proceeded through security. My first flight was to Washington DC, where I met up with the other Rotary Youth Exchange student from Maine named Allie. In DC I decided that I would show Allie how we live in Florida and I took her to the Red Carpet Club (thanks to Jeanie).

After spending the duration of our layover there we proceeded back to our gate. Allie got the pleasure of accompanying me on the 8 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where we sweet-talked the flight attendant into letting us sit together. In Germany we sat around playing cards with a nice guy from California. He was on his way to visit his family in Saudi Arabia. He showed us this really cool card trick.

After playing cards for a while we went to our gate where we met two other Rotary Youth Exchange students headed for Croatia. The next leg of the trip was probably the best. It was about an hour and 30 minutes. Then we soon arrived in the Zagreb airport where we picked up our bags and walked out of frosted sliding glass doors where my host father Ratko and host sister Josipa were waiting for me, holding up a sign with my name.

The ride home was about 20 minutes, all the while my dad was pointing out the sights that I might need to know. Ratko speaks very nice English as does Josipa. My mother on the other hand is just about as good at English as I am at Croatian. My mother’s name is Mislav. They say the female names are always harder to pronounce than the male names.

We arrived at my house, where I met my other host sibling… while Ratko carried my luggage up 3 flights of stairs to my bedroom (spavaća soba). Which I am sharing with my host sister. I began unpacking while creating a sisterly bond with Josipa.

Soon after I began unpacking, I was called down to lunch where my mother had prepared veal with peas, mashed potatoes, rice, salad and tomatoes. This meal was accompanied with a homemade juice of which fruit I am not sure. I soon learned that lunch (ručak) was the main meal of the household. This is the meal that the mother prepares. The other meals, such as breakfast and dinner, are very casual. Usually you are supposed to prepare them yourself.

After lunch I continued unpacking, then my sister and I walked the dog Johnny. Josipa showed her neighborhood to me during the walk. She explained that every neighborhood has a different name and in every neighborhood there are many different houses with a number of flats within each building. There is one flat per family. After the walk we decided to take the dog back home while Josipa and I went to a coffee bar. We sat at the coffee bar for about 30 to 45 minutes as we did some more of that sisterly bonding! We soon found our way home and joined the family for a small dinner. My first Croatian dinner consisted of cottage cheese with salt and a cream sauce. We also had an assortment of ham, bread and tomatoes to accompany our cottage cheese.

Sincerely,

The Foreigner (Emily)


September 1 Journal

 This weekend my father, mother, and I went to our summer home in a small town called Tučepi. It is near Split (if you want to look at a map). The drive was about four hours, I slept the majority of the way. When we arrived at the house in Tučepi, I got my bathing suit on and headed down to the sea. It is literally 2 seconds away from the house! The water was a beautiful tint of aqua that darkened as it deepened. It was a bit colder than the Atlantic. The beaches were not sand, instead they were small pebbles. It was a change, and I have still not decided whether I like the sand or stones better. I guess I could just love them both.

The summer home is very nice. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. The flat has a nice open kitchen and living area that leads to the porch. The little view that is, is beautiful. Downstairs there is another flat that my parents own. But they rent this one out during the summer because it is a little smaller than the other one. We spent the weekend in Tučepi where I soaked up all the sun and Adriatic that I could take. We left Tučepi Sunday evening. On our way out of town we stopped by this beautiful outdoor church (I would have taken pictures but there was a service going on).

We arrived back in Zagreb later that night. I went to sleep thinking about the next day and how my first day of school might go. I have to admit I was rather nervous to think that I will go to a school where I will know nobody and I know very little of the language. I woke up the next morning and just waited. School did not start until 2 o’clock that day. There was much anticipation. I soon decided that I could start getting ready for school. So I did just that. My mother arrived home from work and we left the house headed for school. I had a meeting with the principal before school. She introduced me to my homeroom teacher. My homeroom teacher is 4 foot nothing with heels and she is also my history teacher. I went to her classroom where I found old-fashioned tables and chairs. I took a seat as other students entered the classroom. All of a sudden it was a mad rush to meet the foreigner. God forbid you be the last one to introduce yourself to me! Of course I remembered not one of my peers’ names.

As the teacher tried to settle the class down a girl came and sat down next to me and introduced herself again. Her name was Nina. Nina speaks very good English and she explained to me what my schedule was. She explained that we are in class 2C. Which means we are in the 2nd grade (they count down instead of up.) And the C is just one of the many different classes within my grade. The school over here is very complicated so I will briefly explain. I have about 15 different subjects, all of which I will take in a different classroom with the same group of students. My schedule changes daily, and every week I alternate times that school starts. For example, this week school starts in the afternoon and next week school will start in the morning. So far I love my school, my friends and my family. I will have a meeting with my Rotary very soon and I will let you know how that goes.


September 30 Journal

 My first Rotary meeting: I met my host Rotary club, they were all very welcoming. School has been great! I am picking up new phrases left and right. During class it is a little hard to stay awake but what school isn’t like that. I listen to the teacher and pick out words and phrases that are frequently used and try to remember them. I also enjoy listening to those words and phrases that I recognize and know what they mean because that gives me a sense of accomplishment. My Croatian classes are great. My teacher is excellent. I will have classes twice a week until mid April. I have two other students in my class. They are also Rotary Youth Exchange Students. Greg is from New York and Gabriella is from Brazil. It is nice to have other students in the class because there is a sense of competition and we can practice on each other. I have had about 3 weeks of classes and I am very pleased with them.

The weather the past few days has been chilly and rainy. Today it is 13 degrees C, about 55 degrees F. Yesterday it was a bit warmer but the rest of the week is supposed to be colder. I have no idea how I am going to survive the winter with all the snow! My friends make fun of me because I find it so cold. But what can I say – I am a Florida girl.

I did my first school assignment! The assignment was to create a Power Point Presentation for my Informatika class (computer) on whatever topic you want. I chose Florida. My class really enjoyed the presentation. They were most interested in the hurricanes. I got a 5, which would be an A.

I went on my first Rotary trip. The 7 inbounds in Croatia gathered in Zagreb for our orientation. During the orientation we went over the Rotary Rules and Expectations. The next day we went to Plizvička Jezera (Lakes). It was absolutely amazing. There were a lot of lakes and waterfalls everywhere. I can not even begin to describe the color of the water. It was breath taking. The following day we went to two castles in Croatia. They were both very different yet beautiful. One of the castles was from the 18th-19th century and the other was from the 15th-16th century. The architectural work was really interesting. It was cool to see how the structures differed from the ages. Soon I am going on another Rotary trip to Vienna. I am also going to Austria with my class. I am very excited about both of these trips.

Just last weekend I cooked Sunday lunch for my host family. They were very impressed. But I found that it is rather hard cooking with foreign ingredients. I made meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, baked eggplant and chocolate chip cookies. The meatloaf was the easiest part. The macaroni and cheese on the other hand was rather difficult. They do not have cheddar cheese over here so I went to the store and tried all of the cheese until I found one that I thought would do. My host brother ate half of the cheese that I had gotten for the dish so I had to use other cheese that we had in the house. When it was finished it was very good, it just was not the same as when it is made with cheddar cheese. The chocolate chip cookies were a little hard to make also. My host mother is convinced that sugar in the raw is the same as brown sugar. And I could not find vanilla extract in the store. But in the end I pulled it off and everything was delicious.

I am not homesick yet (knock on wood). But there are certain things that I miss. For example, the beach being 2 seconds away, macaroni and cheese, and warm weather. The list is endless, but overall I love it here in Croatia!

 


 

October 28 Journal

 My first and second visit to Austria. The weekend of the 18th I went to Vienna for a multi district Rotary meeting. The meeting consisted of the 6 Croatian exchange students and the 83 Austrian exchange students. Vienna was beautiful, the first day we did a walking tour of a few museums, we saw a huge palace, we saw the main cathedral and we toured the oldest library in the world. That night we went to an Italian Opera. Of course, it was all in German so I didn’t understand any of the show. I enjoyed the costumes and the set very much. The next day consisted of a bus tour of the city. But I would have to say that the best part of being in Vienna was that we got to meet many other foreign exchange students. It was a blast talking to them and sharing stories with them. I even ran into a friend from Florida. Gail is in the same outbound group as me in Florida. Because there are so many foreign exchange students in Austria they had half of the group begin their exchange in January and the other half begin their exchange in August like I did.

At first being in Austria it was kind of confusing, because I had no idea what language to speak. I don’t know German, so that was out of the question. But I just got caught up on speaking Croatian all the time that I just wanted to speak Croatian. But barely anybody understood Croatian. So I had to fall back on English. Many of the Austrian exchange students were speaking German to each other. And then there was the group of Latinos and they were speaking Spanish and Portuguese. As Croats we decided to speak Croatian to each other. It was fun to have a language that nobody else could understand.

My next trip to Austria was this past weekend. I went on a class trip with my whole grade. We went to Graz, Klagenfurt and Bled Slovenia. Of course, all of these cities were beautiful. But I would have to say that the best part of this trip was learning more about my classmates and becoming closer to them. The first day we did a walking tour of Graz, then we had about two hours of free time to do some shopping in Graz. Just about all of the Croats go to Graz to do their shopping because everything is much cheaper than in Croatia. After we left Graz we headed to Klagenfurt were we stayed the night in a youth hostel. The next day we toured Klagenfurt then headed to Bled Slovenia. On the way to Bled we stopped in a few little town to check out some small tourist attractions. Bled was very pretty but I went to Bled Slovenia last summer and it was much prettier in the summer time. After Bled we headed back to Zagreb.

Croatia is beginning to feel like home. After both of these trips when we arrived back to Zagreb I was so happy just to be in a familiar place. A city where I know what bus and tram to take, a city where I can find my way around and see familiar street corners. Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling and seeing new things. But anyone who has ever traveled can tell you that it can get a little exhausting. Not only to be in a familiar place but to also speak my familiar language. My Croatian in coming along slowly but surely. Just last week both my best friend and my host mother said that it is getting much better. I was so excited to hear that.

Last week my cousin from Seattle Washington was visiting my aunt in Slovenia so she decided to take the train over for a visit. It was so great showing her my town. I gave her a tour of Zagreb then went back to my house where she met my host mother and saw the place I call home. After the visit to my house we went back out on the town and just drank coffee and talked like Croats do. It was beautiful.

I am still continuing to take Croatian classes twice a week with Greg and Gabbie, the two other foreign exchange students in Zagreb. School is school but everyday I am understanding more and more. Next Saturday is a rather big holiday here in Croatia. It is All Saints Day. My host father has explained to me that Saturday morning we will go to the cemetery as a family then we will come home and prepare a large meal which will consist of duck. And I think this meal symbolizes the beginning of a new year or something like that. My host father was trying to explain it to me. I didn’t catch everything. I will just have to wait and see. But I am looking forward to this Saturday.

Sincerely,

The Croat


January 6 Journal

 All Saints day was definitely an experience here in Croatia. As a family, with an exception to my grandmother we all went to the cemetery.. We spent about three hours visiting graves of our deceased family members.. We visited about six different graves, and at everyone of them we would pay our respects by placing flowers and or candles and saying the Our Father.. It was my first time visiting the cemetery here in Croatia. Prior to All Saints day I had driven by the main entrance of this cemetery on a city bus and I drive by what I thought was another cemetery everyday on my way to school. Little did I know that these two cemeteries were really one huge cemetery. In those three hours we walked from one side of the cemetery to the other, and then back home. The main entrance of the cemetery was about two miles from the entrance closest to my house. The whole city of Zagreb was at that cemetery that day. Every grave had beautiful flowers and many candles, it was really amazing to see how big this holiday is here. After the time spent at the cemetery we walked back to the house where my host grandmother had prepared a beautiful lunch consisting of duck, muesli (which is a traditional Croatian food), a beet salad, as well as a green salad. This meal is very similar to our Thanksgiving meals. But of course they don’t have Thanksgiving here.

Shortly after that, December came and the cold weather came with it. I would have to say that this weather is way too cold for a Florida girl. The main square is decorated with Christmas lights, a Christmas tree and an Advent wreath. Throughout Advent my host mother would go to church every morning 6 o’clock. I joined her once just to see how it was. Once was enough for me. I was surprised, there was a very good turnout. Mostly little old ladies in their fur coats and hats. As Christmas came closer I was anticipating it more and more. I was waiting for the decorations and the new traditions that I was going to be a part of. It was about a week before Christmas and although we had been baking cookies practically the whole month of December there had been no Christmas decorations. So I finally asked my host father when we are planning on getting our Christmas tree. He said Christmas Eve. I thought to myself that is rather late but I will go with the flow. The 23rd of December came and I finally saw Christmas trees being sold around town. Two days before Christmas, can you believe it? Christmas Eve was finally here and my host father and brother went out to buy our Christmas tree, while my host mother and I finished cleaning the house. She explained to me that the house is supposed to be clean for Christmas because something having to do with the birth of the new baby. So I helped her clean, like the good host daughter that I am. We soon decorated the tree with lights and ornaments just like we do in Florida. Later that night we did the whole Christmas thing. We opened presents. Every member of the family got one present each. I suppose that if we had little ones in the house we would have probably waited until Christmas morning. But everyone knows that once everyone is grown some traditions are just lost. Christmas morning came along with the first snow fall of the season. It was great, I had just got done setting the table for our Christmas lunch when I looked out the window and saw it. I ran downstairs to my host mom yelling ˝pada snijeg, pada snijeg˝ which means ˝falling snow, falling snow.˝ She was so happy for me. This was not my first time seeing snow but it was just as memorable. We at our Christmas meal which was very similar to the meal that we had on All Saints Day.

At this point I was anticipating New Years! On New Years I went with my class and some of their friends from elementary school to a party where we ate baby pig. This is a Croatian tradition on New Years. New Years passed and Three Kings day came. This is the day where we finally say goodbye to Christmas. All of the Christmas decorations came down today. Three Kings Day is a holiday in Croatia so nobody works and no stores are open.

Tomorrow I am moving to my new host family. I have mixed emotions about my move. I have bonded with my current host family for the last 4 months and it will be hard to leave. I plan on continuing going to church with my host mother at our neighborhood church because my next host mother is not a practicing Catholic. I have been invited back to go to the house on the coast in the summer with them. I think it is safe to say that I have one Croatian family that loves me and that will be in my life and heart forever. And I can’t wait to make another relationship with my next host family. My next host family has never had a daughter before, so I am excited to be their first. I will also be an only child which will be a BIG change in my life. Honestly that is what I am the most scared of. I have two brothers back in Florida and yes they can be very annoying, but I have always loved the excitement around the house. I had the same sort of excitement with my first host family too. I guess this is just one of those perks of being able to live with other families. I get to find out what it will feel like being an only child.

School will start back on the 12th of this month. In the second semester I will do my best in being graded in Croatian school.


April 23 Journal

 I am currently with my second host family. I have been with them for about 3 months now. In the beginning the living situation was a little weird.. For both my host parents and I. Of course, that was not clear through words yet through actions. Like many situations throughout this year. It was apparent that my host parents had never had a daughter before. But eventually my host parents got used to it. My new host family is practically in the same neighborhood as my old host family. It is in a great location, close to the city center. I am still attending the same school. I continue to keep in touch with my first host family. I see my first host mom just about every week at church. Out of all of my host parents/siblings I am closest to her.

Recently my host sister-in-law had a baby. So I am an aunt for the first time in my life. She is a beautiful little girl. The first girl in my family. We are all so happy.

School is going great. To celebrate Lent we had a carnival in school. It would be equivalent to our Halloween. Everyone dressed up and came to school. Following that we had a workshop week where the whole school split up into different workshops all involving money.. My workshop was a volunteering workshop. We went to a local stable where they do therapeutic riding for the handicapped. We helped out with the horses and the patients. At the end of this week the whole school got together and a representative from each workshop does a presentation on what they worked on in their workshop.

Recently I have been doing lots of traveling. I went to the annual Carnival in Venice to celebrate Lent. It was absolutely beautiful. I went with my best friend and my cousin that came to visit. I have been to Venice once before but this trip was different. There was a festive feeling in the air. There were countless beautiful costumes. And a sea of people over taking St. Mark’s Square. It was an awesome trip.

I took a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary with other foreign exchange students that are also living in Croatia. I was planning on meeting up with a fellow Rotary Youth exchange student Drake, who is living in Budapest. But his mother was visiting him, so that didn’t happen. We visited both Buda and Pest. The river running through the city is a great touch. I would have to say that I like Buda better than Pest. But the view of the Parliament from Pest was stunning. We stayed in probably one of the best hostels I have ever been in. It was rather small but it had a homey feeling to it that made it all the more better. All in all it was a great trip.

Not only have I been traveling internationally but I have also been enjoying my own country. My Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman took some of the inbounds on a day trip and we visited one of the bigger towns in Croatia, called Osijek and we visited another town by the name of Vukovar. Osijek was a very nice city. It is one of the larger cities in Croatia, so my Rotary thought it was important for us kids to visit it. The lifestyle there is different than in Zagreb where I am living. Osijek is near the Eastern side of the country. That part of country is not known for the Adriatic Sea like the majority of the country yet it is known for their abundance of land. There are many farms in the Osijek area. Outside of Osijek, even closer to the border is Vukovar. The town is significant in Croatia’s history because this is the town that was invaded by Serbia approximately 18 years ago. Many Croatians lost family in this war and Vukovar is the town that was most destroyed and where the majority of Croatians were killed. My Rotary thought it was a good idea for us kids to visit this town because it has influenced both Croatians and Croatian history.

Rotary also took us inbounds on a trip to the well known Croatian coast. We went to one of the most popular towns on the Croatian coast named Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is located on the South Eastern tip of Croatia’s coast. We went on a weekend trip to Dubrovnik. It was in fact beautiful. The city is well known for their high city walls that surround the historic downtown of the old city. We toured the old city, and visited the old port and ate lunch at a delicious seafood restaurant right on the water. The following day we took the hour and a half walk along the city walls. The view from the top of those walls was easily one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We were very fortunate because we had fabulous weather. The sun was shining the entire weekend.

Recently we had Spring Break here in Croatia. I spent the first part of my Spring Break here in Zagreb, spending time with my friends and family. The Easter celebrations were very similar to American celebrations. I woke up on Easter morning and headed off to church with my first host family. My current host family are not practicing Catholics unlike my first host family. So I went to church in my Sunday bests, wished my prior host family a Happy Easter or Sretan Uskrs like us Croatians say it. Then I headed home to continue celebrating Easter. I arrived home and shortly after, the guests started arriving. Some of our closest family and friends came to lunch at our house. Lunch on this day was not only lunch, it is a tradition in Croatia to not eat breakfast but to combine the breakfast and lunch. Like our brunches. So that is what we did. We had a Croatian Brunch to celebrate Easter. The food consisted of cold sliced assortments of meats, fresh veggies, boiled eggs and something similar to our potatoes salad. This salad was used at all celebrations such as Christmas and New Years. As brunch was coming to an end so did the Easter celebrations. As you may have noticed there were no Easter baskets. This may come as a shock to you, but it comes easier to the Croatians. As you may remember me telling you, at Christmas time each child was given one gift. This country is not caught up on the materialistic side of these religious holidays – rather they focus on spending time with the family. In my host family we did not dye eggs due to the fact that there are no little ones in my family. But yes that tradition does take place over here.

After Easter I hung around Zagreb for a few days then made my way to Ljubljana, Slovenia where I visited my aunt and cousins for a few days. As I was returning to Zagreb I got a call from my Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman and he explained to me that he wanted to take the inbounds in my city to the coast for a sailing trip that weekend. So that is exactly what I did. As soon as I arrived in Zagreb I talked to my host parents and began to unpack then repack my bags for sailing. We drove to a town by the name of Šibenik located on the coast. From there we spent the night on the boat and took off the next morning early. We had good weather. The sun was not shining the entire trip but the rain held off until the night. But we did have some awesome wind. So that made the trip great. It was my first time sailing and it was a great experience. My sailing trip ended my Croatian Spring Break on a great note.

Now school has started back up. In a little over a week I will be setting off for my Euro Tour. I am extremely excited for this. My itinerary is as followed: from Zagreb I will head to Linz, Austria with the foreign exchange students in Croatia. There we will meet up with all the foreign exchange students in Austria and some from Hungary. From Linz we will start the tour. Starting off with Prague Czech Rep., Bad Laer Germ., Amsterdam Netherlands, Bruges Belgium, Paris France for 3 days, Toulouse Spain, Barcelona, Montserrat Spain, back to Barcelona for 3 days, from Barcelona we will go to Avignon France, Monaco, Cavi Di Lavagna Italy, Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Jesolo, Venice then we will end in Graz Austria. This trip will start on May 6th-22nd of May. I can’t wait for this trip to begin.

After the Euro Tour I do not have anything planned yet. I will finished out the school year then I will spend the summer in both Zagreb and on the coast. I will probably do a little more traveling, then make my way back to Florida. Until then I will keep you updated.

It is sad to see that my exchange is coming to an end. With the Euro Tour coming up, I will miss a month of my Croatian life. I will miss all my friends and family. Once the Euro Tour is over that will be when the last goodbyes will be said. I will make some of my last memories in Croatia, then head to Florida. No offense to you guys back home, but this goodbye is going to be much harder and much more sad then leaving Florida. The relationships and bonds that I have made here will stay with me for the rest of my life. I know it is far-fetched to believe that every person that I have met here will remain in my life … even for half of them, it is still far-fetched … but they will all remain in my memories of my exchange year in Croatia.

Heath Smith
2008-09 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lund Rotary Club, District 2390, Sweden

Heath - Sweden

Heath’s Bio

 Hello, my name is Heath Smith, and I am currently 17 years old and a junior at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Florida.

I moved to Florida about 6 years ago from a relatively small town near Kansas City, Missouri. While all of my extended family still lives in the Midwest, I have made Florida my home with my mom and step-dad (and my brother when he comes home from college).

My interests include art, music, technology, and science (or wherever they may coincide). I am involved in National Art Honors Society at my school, which hosts art shows, and has painted murals around the campus.

My travel has been limited thus far so I am very excited to begin my opportunity as a Rotary exchange student!


August 20 Journal

 Well, I have now been here for about three weeks now, and tomorrow is my first real day of school so… time to reflect on my summer here before I forget (and to get Karen, and Nancy off my back :D).

Minus the 7 hour lay over in lovely Memphis International, the traveling was pretty uneventful until Schipol-Amsterdam. After finally finding my gate in the jungle of duty free shops, and Customs, I spoke with the women at the check-in counter about the “seat assigned at gate” text on my boarding pass. They had no clue what it meant and said they would deal with it come boarding time. At final boarding call when I was pretty sure I would not be making it to Copenhagen, and quite nervous. They found that there was in fact an empty seat for me so I was able to board and return my heart to a normal rate.

Copenhagen was my final destination, and I was very relieved to pick up my luggage and head out of the airport to meet my family. My Host Parents and twins brothers, Olle and Johan (who just left on exchange to Oregon), were waiting for me outside baggage claim with a big “Välkommen Heath!” sign, written in pink highlighter. After all the hugs, handshakes, and high-fives we went to the car and drove over the Oresund into Sweden. The drive to Lund, where I am staying was very quiet but surprisingly not awkward. My host parents Lasse and Maria are as kind and welcoming as I could have hoped for and made me feel right at home (they’re also both amazing cooks). They have also been a great help with explaining things, and my Swedish. My brothers are both also very helpful and cool, but quite different from one another. Our home is the top two stories of a three story flat, just outside of downtown Lund. Lund is a charming college town, and the University here is the largest in Scandinavia.

After getting everything unpacked and eating dinner, I went with my brothers in town to get coffee and meet some of their friends. Having siblings my age has been a tremendous help with meeting people, and finding my way around. I got home entirely too late for being as jet lagged as I was, passed out as soon as I laid down, and slept until about noon.

The next day Johan decided that we should take the train into Copenhagen to go shopping, and so I could see the city which was pretty cool. The stores and clothes here are so much better than in the states. Soon after we got back in Lund, we left for the vacation cottage 2 hours north near Varburg. The house is very near the sea, and we spent the next six days there. I went sailing with my host mom and Johan, swam, and ate mostly. It was very relaxing. Olle had to stay home because of his soccer schedule, so Johan and I became pretty good friends, and hung out the whole time.

One day he and I took the train south from Varburg to Laholm, where a friend of his was having a party at his family’s vacation house. It was a really good time, and I met a lot of kids I’ll be going to school with. And learned a lot about Swedish youth. All of them love American TV, and about the only things they said that I understood were: “facebook”, “Family Guy”, and “Gossip Girls”. They also want me to have someone “Send red cups like the American parties in the American Pie films”. They sure love those red cups. They also pirate every season of every show on HBO, and know the name of each episode.

On the 6th Lasse drove me back to Lund so I could make the train to my language camp in Åhus (thats where they make all the Absolut vodka in the world!). The next six days were spent in a hostel with the 19 exchange students staying in Skåne (my province, and the best one). We ate tons of ice cream (the only thing other than Absolut that Åhus is famous for), toured the Absolut factory, and learned some of the more important parts of the Swedish language (such as what curse words you yell when you stub your toe versus when your team is losing in soccer). It was really cool to meet the other exchange students, and we all got along pretty well. I was very glad to get back to Lund however, and see Johan some before he left for Oregon. I was sad to see him leave, but knew exactly what he was going through. I think that may have been part of why we got along so well. It will be cool to share our experiences over the course of this year.

The past week has been spent trying to get better acquainted with Lund, getting to know Olle better, and watching an unhealthy amount of Gossip Girls with his friends. Today was orientation at my school, Katedralskolen, which was founded in like 1085. I’ll be in the third and final year of Swedish secondary school, and was lucky enough to be put in a class with three kids I had been hanging out with. Hadn’t I known anyone beforehand I’m pretty sure I’d still be trying to find my locker. After Orientation I went with my Host-cousins into Malmö for Malmöfestivalen, which is a huge free music festival all over the city. We saw a few pretty good bands, most notably being a Norwegian group whose organ player wore a gas mask, and would periodically jump up and bang on oil drums with a large club or crowbar….

My host-cousin Pontus also insisted that we take advantage of the street food vendors, and put me through a “Swedish right of passage” (Jenny, stop reading here). I may or may not have eaten moose, and reindeer, and it may or may not have been delicious.

So tomorrow I start class, and begin phase two of this whole exchange thing. Which means I need to get to sleep.

Hej då!


September 23 Journal

 So by this point I’m quite settled in and the “Holy crap, I’m in Sweden” moments are becoming less and less frequent. School started about a month ago (good god I’ve already been here two months). I’ve found a nice routine, gotten used to yogurt on cereal… I’d say things are going pretty smooth.

The first day of class went well enough I suppose. David and Johan, friends of my brother that are in my class, made sure I knew where to go and introduced me to some people in the class. Speaking of introductions, the teacher of my first lesson thought it would be good if I stood up and told the class a little about myself… which would have been all well and fine hadn’t my voice cracked as soon as I spoke…. There’s something about the whole “Swedish rhythm” that likes to kick your vocal cords back into their pre-pubescent glory. Luckily no one laughed… until they brought it up like two weeks later….

Swedes in general are pretty shy and aren’t ones to just come up and talk to you. This is okay; I understand since I’m also pretty shy, but there lies the problem. It has been a gradual process, but things on both ends are staring to open up. It’s getting a lot easier to meet people, and make friends. At first they would approach me in groups. You can tell when it’s coming because they’ll be standing like 5 meters away, glancing over and arguing amongst themselves over who has the best English (they assume I don’t understand what they are talking about), and will do the talking. Once a leader is chosen and they begin the approach, I brace myself for the bombarding of the same old questions over again. Pretty much everyone I’ve met has asked me: “Do you like Obama or McCain?”, “Do you have a driver’s license?”, “Do you own a gun?”, “Is that near Miami?”, and “Can you have someone send us red cups?” (okay… that one is a little less frequent, but still). They also seem to think that I look like either Seth Cohen or Frodo Baggins…. I suppose I’ll take the latter as Elijah Wood, and a compliment?

Straying away from the social aspects, Swedish school is really relaxed compared to American schools. No bells, no hall passes, they just expect you to have enough brains to know where to be and go to the bathroom without someone holding your hand. You just get up and go; it’s great! You also have a different number of classes each day, with no real structure period system or standard break length. It’s more like college really. During my lunch gaps I can go to a cafe to eat if I so choose (No crazy lady in a golf cart blockading the gate!… oh, how I hate you Bartram Trail), or enjoy free lunch at school, courtesy of the welfare state.

For the most part I have all my lessons with my homeroom class. I’m in a social science program so my core courses are on politics and history. All of my compulsory courses like religion, psychology, and Swedish are just with my homeroom. I’m also taking Art, Spanish 3, and Swedish for Foreigners (which is just me and three other exchange students). Trying to translate Swedish to English, then into Spanish and back is brutal. And I’ve come to accept that on Mondays and Wednesdays I will have a skull-splitting headache.

Another thing that has stood out to me as a major difference is the absence of “cliques”. Perhaps it’s the separation of team athletics and school? Whatever the reason, you can walk into the school cafeteria and see all different groups talking together and not worrying about who’s watching. People seem to be a lot less judgmental here. You can do your own thing, and it’s accepted.

During free time, I usually hang out with friends in town, one of my favorite things to do is ‘ficka,’ the Swedish ritual coffee break… it must be the reason there are SIX Espresso Houses in Lund, Lund isn’t that big. My host cousin also lent me a bass and amp recently, so I’ve picked that back up as well.

At home things are excellent. I really love my host family, and often have lengthy discussions with Lasse, my host dad. Most Swedes are very interested… well more concerned with US politics, and especially the upcoming election. So he often asks questions about that, and I ask him about Swedish politics, systems, taxes etc. Both my host dad and mom are very social and often entertain which means the same old questions over dinner from middle-aged Swedish couples, something that’s quite entertaining after their second glass of wine (and they start cracking on the Finns).

I could really get used to being able to get wherever I want by bike and/or train. AND hopping on a train and being in another country in half an hour. Since Denmark is so close, I have gone pretty often with friends or family. More and more I can pick out all the little differences between Swedes and Danes that I never would have noticed before. Needless to say it’s always a great comfort when you get over the Oresund and back home to Sweden. Danish sounds like you are speaking Swedish with food in your mouth.

The past week I have been rather busy with actually being assigned work at school and taking care of college applications (which I never would have gotten through without the help of the wonderful Jennifer Panitch).

Overall things are going well. I’m really starting to love Sweden more and more, even the cold cloudy weather. I was never much for tanning anyway…

Georgia Ensminger
2008-09 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Sendai Rotary Club, District 2520, Japan

Georgia - Japan

Georgia’s Bio

Konnichwa Minasan! (Hello Everyone)

My name is Georgia Ensminger and I am currently 15 years old. I attend Flagler Palm Coast High School in sunny Palm Coast, Florida and I’m a sophomore who will be spending the 08-09 year in JAPAN! I was born in Illinois, but we’ve lived in Palm Coast for about three years and we’ve lived in Florida for about 12 years.

After school I attend anime club and FEA club (Future Educators Association) because when I get older I would LOVE to teach English as a second language. I also have Japanese lessons every week with my teacher Ms. Reiko. In my spare time I love to try out new things and over the years I’ve been in soccer, ballet, figure skating, track and field, and most recently I’ve started jukido.

I’m so excited about being able to go to Japan, it was one of my top picks and I can’t even start to express my gratitude to the Rotarians who have made my dream come true. Of course I have all the nervousness pre-exchange students experience before they get to their host country – how will I talk to them, how should I act, what if I can’t find the bathroom?!

I have been dreaming of being an exchange student for about two years now and I would like to thank all of the Rotarians for making this dream come true, my family for encouraging and supporting me, and my friends for cheering me on. Thank you all so much, I couldn’t have done it without you!!

Ja mata ne,

Georgia

Georgia’s Journals

July 31 Journal

Hi everyone!

WOW. “How should I explain Japan?” That’s the question that’s been plaguing me since I arrived here. It’s unique, kind, amusing, sometimes scary, traditional, fun, advanced, and patient but most of all it’s sugoi. That one Japanese word pretty much sums up my visit so far. In Japan you can get by with 4 words- sugoi, kawaii, oishii, and arigatou. Sugoi basically means amazing in everyway. And everything in Japan is amazing. From the tatami mats to the karaoke rooms, from the way you bow to everyone to the food (which is sooooo oishii). I love it and I’m never going to be able to say thank you enough to the Rotarians, friends, and family who have helped me get here.

When I was still in predeparture-mode I noticed something in America. So many people had all these concepts and ideas about MY country that, 90% of the time, weren’t true at all. Most of them were actually rather funny. I just want to put this out there, the Japanese don’t eat cats. At all. It’s kind of amusing the way other cultures think of each other. My host family was really surprised that we have cabbage in Florida. xD

Anyways, I left the US 6 days ago and boarded the first of three flights. I said goodbye to a small group of family members with much hugging and picture taking, and then I was on my own. It didn’t really hit me until after I got through the initial security. I was really on my own. There was no family to guide me. I had to look after myself from here on out. It felt like a huge amount of responsibility had fallen on me, and to be quite honest I was loving every minute of it. The first flight was relatively short now that I look back on it, a mere 3 hours, but at the time it seemed to take forever. I wanted to get to Japan and I wanted to get there fast. The second flight was a little bit longer, a staggering 13 hours. Ugh. Even now I dread the flight back and not just because I know I won’t want to leave. As my plane flew over the first part of Japan that I could actually see (there were a lot of clouds 🙁 ) I kept thinking to myself, “Japan! You’re flying over Japan! That’s a Japanese car! Oh my gosh, a Japanese tree!” I’m still doing that. 6 days later and I’ll say to myself, “A Japanese Wendy’s! So cool!”

My initial feeling of anticipation disappeared for a while after I landed, to one of awe. Then to confusion 🙂

I managed to get through customs and grab my luggage, but then where to next? Carrying 2 giant suitcases, one carry on, and a giant ‘purse’ across an airport and up two flights of escalators is not fun. At all. Especially when you’re supposed to get your e-tickets on the first floor where you just were. Luckily, this nice Japanese attendant pointed where I was to go and another person brought me a cart to carry my luggage (Yes!). After that I didn’t run into any other mishaps. I got on my next plane and sailed away. Oh, and did I mention that the entire flight over the sun was up? I was awake for 23 hours and the sun was up for all of it.

When I got to Sendai I grabbed my luggage and walked out to find a banner held by three other exchangees (Anna-Mexico, Emma-France, and Joe-America), a couple Rotarians, a future Floridian inbound (Chihiro Watanabe), and one of my host families. Relief, excitement, and anticipation at the realization that I was finally in my city where I would spend the rest of my exchange. I had actually made it, all that worrying about missing a flight for nothing. After the first greeting I said goodbye to my host family and Chihiro and took off with the exchangees to go the hotel where we would have a small inbound orientation.

Oh, and all the Japanese cars I’ve been in have had not only GPS, but a GPS and TV in the front next to the steering wheel, so on the way to the hotel our Rotarian was watching baseball. Plus, although I knew the Japanese drove on the other side of the road, I wasn’t expecting every inch of my body to be on edge. It felt wrong and scary. Now I’ve been trying to pay attention to understand the rules of the road. It’s amazing. It’s almost like a dance. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.

When we first got to the hotel there was a mad exchange of pins and candy from the different countries. There was a lot more candy than pins. Mmmmmm, Mexican candy 🙂

I had my first Japanese dinner (oishii) at the hotel that night and met the inbound from Sweden who was leaving soon. After dinner we all went up to the hotel room and talked for hours, until I couldn’t keep myself awake any longer.

The next day I woke at two in the morning….. Needless to say, I was irritated at my internal clock for disturbing my much needed sleep. Throughout that day I-

-Had natto (fermented soybean) for the first and last time.

-Had various relatively easy Japanese classes.

-Went through an overview of the Rotary rules

-Had my first bowl of Japanese ramen. Sooooo much better than ANY ramen I have ever had in my life.

-Visited my first shrine. Amazing. Breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The music and ritual gave me goosebumps and is something I will never forget.

-Went to a yakitori restaurant. Where I ate a baby octopus…. whole. Very interesting D:

-Went to a Japanese karaoke! Soooo much fun. And there was so much beer and sake XD but not for the exchangees 🙂 We were good. Anna sang in Spanish, Emma sang in French, and the Americans sang in English. Very fun.

The next day we had to pack and prepare a short speech to give at the small ceremony that introduced us to our first host family, counselors, and a representative from our school. It went by in a blur of Japanese that I didn’t understand and before I knew it I was being whisked away from the people I had just gotten to know and like to another strange and new environment.

My first host family is amazing and so kind and patient. They include Keke (gramma/host mom), Shu-chan (grandpa/host dad), Junko-chan (mom), Yoshi-kun (dad), and Anna-chan (little sister). They have been sugoi, trying to make my stay as enjoyable as possible

My host family runs a restaurant chain so they’re a little different from a traditional Japanese family. They have three houses right next to each other. Keke and Shu-chan live in one, Junko, Yoshi, and Anna live in the other, and the last one is just sort of a hangout house. I live with Keke and Shu-chan. Every morning we wake up at 6, yes 6, and breakfast is at 6:30. After, Keke and I go outside and wave goodbye as Shu-chan goes to work. Then I vacuum the entire first floor while Keke works in the kitchen. In Japan everyone is so polite. I always smile when I see Keke bowing three, four times in a row to someone to express her gratitude. That coupled with, “Arigatou gozaimasu. Gomen nasi. Arigatou. Shitsureishimasu. Arigatou Gozaimasu.” Is so cute >><<

Everything in Japan is so kawaii (cute). The cars, the cell phones, the people. They’re all so tiny >< And my counselor was nice enough to lend me a cell phone to use, because in Japan EVERYONE has one. Especially teenagers. They’re constantly texting and I hate to admit, but I have grown rather attached to mine too…

Oh! School! I start August 8th and visited it once to get my school uniform (soooo kawaii ><). Miura-sensei, my English teacher showed me around. It’s currently summer break so the only students there were there from club activities so I got to see all those as well ^^

Very cool. I really want to try Kyudo (traditional Japanese archery). When we went into the library I thought this one girl was going to have a heart attack when she saw me. She and her two friends freaked out with whispers of ‘kawaii, kawaii’…. Very amusing XD

I still haven’t decided whether I enjoy being a minority or not. It’s strange to see a sea of Japanese and not any other races. Very different from America.

While I’ve been in Japan I have eaten so much, oh my gosh. . Everyone said don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry, you’re going to Japan. You won’t gain weight. Ha. I’ve eaten WAAAAY more here than I did in the US and it doesn’t help that since they run a restaurant chain all the food is amazingly delicious.

Oh and the other day I got to take a purikura. The best thing in the world, why we don’t have them in America I’ll never know. It’s like you’re own private photo booth, and it’s big, and you get to take a variety of pictures. Afterwards you get to draw on them, add pictures, sparkles, etc etc. Soo much fun.

My Japanese is slowly improving. My grammar is still awful and I can understand more than what I can say, but a word of advise to all future outbounds. Study, study, study. Nothing is more frustrating than having to look in your dictionary every couple of minutes only to find it’s a simple word like freedom. Every minute of studying I did back in America, and I actually did a lot, has helped me. I can have a conversation in Japanese. How cool is that?

I’ve only been here 6 days but I love it and am forever in debt to Rotary for providing me this wonderful, life-changing experience. Thank you, thank you, thank, thank you, thank you. I will never be able to say it enough.

But for now, I can hear the cicadas outside the window. Sendai is calling and I need to go enjoy the wonders of Japan.

Ja, mata ne~

Georgia

August 29 Journal

Hello again everyone!

I change host families next week. Let me retype that. I don’t think you fully grasped it. I change host families next week.

Next week. No way. I’m going to go with the cliché saying- Somebody wake me, because I must be dreaming. There is NO WAY I have been in Japan for a month already. The entire world is playing a practical joke on me and setting all the calendars ahead. Not nice, not nice at all. Half of me is so excited that I’ll be experiencing a whole new family and meeting new people, and the other part just wants to throw a temper tantrum at the fact that I have to leave the people I have just become so close to. At while I must have just gone with the latter a few years ago, I am now supposed to be ‘the responsible exchange student’. So… here I go. One family at a time. (And I’m supposed to have 5!)

There’s so much I want to put in this journal, but it’s impossible to put a whole month’s worth of time into this without making it either excessively long….or excessively boring. Therefore, I shall only put the highlights of this month 🙂

First and foremost-School. Which I mistakenly said started the 8th of August in my last journal. That was a lie. It actually started the 20th of August. My day starts out at 6:30 when I wake up. I have come to the realization that it is tremendously easier to get ready for school when you wear the same thing everyday and you’re not allowed to wear makeup or jewelry. Some may see it as a restriction but I see it as an easy way to be lazy. 🙂 At 6:30 is breakfast, and I head to the bus stop at 7. Did you know that the school bus in Japan costs money to ride? If I understood correctly, about 50 USD a month! I, however, take the public bus…. Then the subway… Then another bus to get to school. It takes me about an hour to get there all together. Yes it’s far, yes it’s early in the morning. And most times I have to stand the entire way because there aren’t any seats available. Very different from my usual nap on the school bus. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, it’s nice to sightsee during that time.

Before school started I have to admit I was missing friends my age a lot and I’ll even go as far to say that I was a little homesick-But alas! Now that school has started up I feel better and love every day once more. (Not to say I still don’t miss you guys :D) It’s fun to walk down the hallway and hear people calling out random things to me in English. My personal favorites are “I love you!” and “Do you like me?”. I’ve also been asked if my hair is a perm more than once. I’ve decided to take that as a compliment from now on.

I have 7 classes a day and the cool thing in Japan is that the teachers come to you, no more do I have to worry about being late or getting lost. That’s the teachers job now! I’ll be taking English, media, AOC (another English class), Gender, health, Math, science, PE, music, dance, and probably some I forgot. The schedule is different every day and I’m nowhere near memorizing it yet. I’m not taking Japanese, history, or geography because to be quite honest I either sleep in those classes or draw because I have NO idea what’s going on. I struggle to understand what’s going on in all my classes (with the marvelous exception of English) but those are special. When I’m not taking those subjects with my fellow classmates I go to the library and study Kanji (Japanese characters)! Yay!

Or sleep. Sleeping seems to be high on my list lately. Actually, that’s what I want to be doing right now. I’m tired… All the time. Except, of course, when I have a chance to sleep in.

Anyways, at school everyone is really nice. My first day Miura-sensei showed me to the classroom before classes had started so everyone was in small groups talking. She then was like, “Well, everyone this is the new exchange student. See you later.” And left me standing there looking back at all the people I definitely did not know. In Japan you can’t be afraid to take the first step in greeting people. I am very happy to say that I went against all things natural to me and stepped up to a small group and hesitantly asked if it was ok to join them. Of course, it was. Later during morning congregation I had to give a short speech in Japanese in front of the whole school. Let me emphasize short. I was not happy finding this out, and to be quite honest I felt a little nauseous. There’s also another foreign exchange student in my class from Germany (Juliya) who’s been there for a couple months already. Lucky for me she rarely speaks English to me (even though hers is perfect) but we converse in Japanese instead. Only when I’m feeling really desperate and my dictionary has failed me do I run to her for help.

Skip ahead to after the awkward hellos and getting to know yous to a more happy time. The school festival. In particular, my class’ exhibit-The Haunted House. Now, I’ve never been part of a haunted house before and I didn’t know how hard to was to pull one of those off. The maze itself was the hardest part-construction board and black plastic garbage bags haphazardly draped over strings running back and forth across the ceiling. Very fun, very time consuming. Everyone helped out and got a part in the ‘scaring the bejeezus out of kids’ role. I was in charge of dropping a head 😀 And I don’t think I’ll ever get the image of 5 Asian girls looking zombified and grudge-like creeping towards me out of my head.

Oops! I got distracted, I think I WAS explaining my average school day at some point…

So after school is over everyone has an assigned cleaning role that changes occasionally. That’s right the students clean the school, not some janitor that’s been hired, the students. That probably explains why there’s no gum under any of the desks 🙂

After THAT, I go to…. KYUDO!!!

Yay! I’ve only gone a couple times, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to continue. It’s a rather small club (maybe 10 people) but it has made a lasting impression on me. I had a chance to shoot my first arrow with Kyudo bow (which is huge by the way, taller than me) and I’m not as bad as I thought I would be. Kyudo ends at 6:30 ish and then it’s back home. I usually get home around 8ish because (oh boy) it’s rush hour 😀 That means no seats and no room to breathe. You better hope you’re not claustrophobic.

So next subject! The onsen – better known as the public bath.

My family and I went to this gorgeous onsen located in the mountains. It was breathtaking and I loved it! This onsen was, lucky for me, a separate bath. Meaning the girls in one-the guys in the other. Still….You go into the changing room and remove all clothing while clutching this towel that’s maybe big enough to be a hand towel. A bunch of people were using it for their hair. There is a washing area with shampoo, soap, etc and then there are the baths. Now these are like no baths we have in America. They’re more like giant shallow pools filled with hot water. At the hotel I was at, there were all different types of baths-some were stone, some were wood, some were rectangles, some were circular but they were all in view of the mountains and they were all hot, hot, hot. Once I got over the initial ‘oh my god there are naked people everywhere’ and self-consciousness I actually really enjoyed it and am looking forward to going again. I can see why they’re so popular over here.

I had the opportunity to join the middle schoolers on their English camp. Good news- They’re adorable and I got a chance to know a bunch of them while having fun at camp too. Can you say bonfire, s’mores, songs, and yakiniku (BBQ! :D)? Bad news-It was an English camp. Juliya and I were specifically told to speak English only. Horrible for my Japanese. Though it was nice to get to know Juliya on a level I could understand. There were a couple English teachers and Rick-sensei is actually from Maine. So it was kinda nice to talk to another American about Japan, especially when he’s lived here for ten years. That lasted two days as it was very fun.

I also attended my first Rotary meeting in the beginning of August. I believe the Rotarians back in America now. The Rotarians in other parts of the world definitely have a bit more money than normal folks. The meeting was at this fancy hotel and I would swear that all the Rotarians were guys. I had to give a short speech in Japanese (again emphasize short) to introduce myself and then the rest was a blur of fast talking Japanese that I didn’t understand. Although I did recognize the Four Way Test in Japanese (mainly because it had the word four in it :)) and felt this overwhelming feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. It was so strange to see something so familiar in a completely different country. In a completely different language. A mixture of pride and awe and I don’t what else.

But it was cool.

I had the chance to go to the Tanabata festival early August. It’s the biggest festival in Sendai bringing about 2 million people each year and weeks before its arrival you could see the Tanabata decorations slowly start to take over the shops, restaurants, and even the airport! The story is basically two lovers in the sky are unable to see each other because a river of stars (The Milky Way) separates them. They can only see each other on the Seventh day of the Seventh month. The festival consist of fireworks, food vendors, games, and the main attraction hundreds upon hundreds of brightly colored and intricately designed streamers from every place imaginable. I even saw one from my phone company and Starbucks. They consist of a large circular shaped top with long streamers hanging down and each one is unique. Very pretty. Plus I got to dress in my first yukata (summer kimono)! My family even bought me my own!!

I got to Japan during its rainy season. A good day is when it only rains at night and is partly cloudy, a bad day is when it rains for two days straight with not a glimpse of blue in sight. The bad days far outnumber the good days (at least weather-wise) and I’m looking forward to the end of this rain. I want to see the stars again!

My Japanese is crawling along at its ever constant snails pace. And I can talk a little faster. Still don’t know what the heck people are saying most of the time though.

Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve carried around a little notebook that I jot down ideas or things that I think I would want to remember or put in this journal. Here’s a couple of them.

– In Japan people wear shirts with English on them all the time. Hmm. Here’s an example- ’Have you had your love tomorrow?’ Now… I’m no English teacher, but something about that seems wrong. And that’s one of the good ones. At least twice a week I’ll come across English that I’ll just break out laughing at. Of course, this earns me weird looks from everyone around me, but oh well.

– Sometime I think to myself, “I wish I could bottle this feeling and bring it back home to America with me.”

– I’ve seen a little girl eat things that would scare most grown men in America.

– I like tea. Now some of you may know of my utter hatred for tea in America…But no more! I’ve actually become quite fond of the traditional Japanese green tea. Who would’ve thought?

– I miss Hugs. Back in Florida, I got hugged a bajillion times in one day. I sorta miss that.

– I’ve apologized to my family for obnoxious and loud Americans in a restaurant. I actually felt kind of embarrassed.

-In Japan they don’t say goodbye to their family on the phone. It’s hello, conversation end. No goodbye. I still can’t get used to that.

And now, I am exhausted and want nothing more than sleep.

So I’m going to end this for now!

Ja mata ne!

Georgia

September 22 Journal

Hello again everyone,

Wow. It’s already time for another journal? The time seems to be flying away and before I even realized it I’ve been here for 60 days. If you would’ve told me this time last year that I would be in Japan I would have laughed at you.

I still might.

So (obvious to me, not so obvious to the readers), I am typing this on a new computer. In a new house. And it’s in the living room 🙂 Yes, that’s right. I am in my new home, and have been for… 3 weeks? Maybe? I’ve seem to have lost all ability to keep track of time. Months have magically transformed themselves into days and the only way I know what day it is is when I look at my phone calendar.

My new host family is superfantabulous and I’m very sad that I’m not going to get much more time with them. There’s my mom, dad, little sister (Yuri), sister my age (Eri), and a big brother (Keichiro). And Momo, of course, the giant white fluffy dog that I’ve been getting my hug fix from 🙂 I have the big brother’s room because he’s in college at the moment. I hope he doesn’t mind all the posters I’ve put up of my favorite Asian boy bands. So, this new family is really different from my last one mainly because I have kids my own age around. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my last family as well, but it’s kind of nice to have siblings. I don’t have my own bathroom anymore, instead it’s the traditional type in which everyone takes turns washing (outside of the tub of course!) and uses the same water for a bath. The o-furo is one of my favorite parts of the day. My new family lives pretty close to the school and I only have to get up at seven, plus I only take one bus to school! No more hour-long rides to school for me! Very happy about that.

In my last journal I said I’d have five families, right? Oops. Another mistake. I actually have….. DUN DUN DUN…. eight. No that’s not a typo. That’s my host district trying to kill me (A joke!). I got to meet all of them at a welcome party a few weeks ago, and I can honestly say all of them seemed very nice and I’m looking forward to all of the different views of Sendai. At the welcome party I was greeted with warmth and friendliness you can only feel when you realize, ‘all these people are opening up their homes, their families, to me.’. HOWEVER – I’m NOT looking forward to packing my steadily growing pile of things every month or so…. I don’t know where all this extra stuff has come from! I know I’ve been doing a little bit of shopping but really! Ok, maybe more than a little…..

Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve been lost maybe five times. Now, yes that sounds bad, but I did change families and have to get used to a completely new bus schedule. The worst time was when I completely took the wrong bus on my way to school and me and my pride thought I could find the subway station by just walking around for a bit. Ha. After an hour of walking around town in the downcast/slightly rainy weather and emailing my friend to tell her to tell the teacher I would be late, I finally gave in and asked for directions at a conbini (convenience store). In Japanese I might add! Very happy to say that after that I managed to find my way back to the subway and arrived safely at school! I didn’t even have to call my parents and ask them to come pick me up like the other times 🙂

Although, the last time I got lost my host father came and picked me up on his motorcycle! All I’ve got to say is being on a motorcycle plus being in Japan equals amazing.

School right now is test time and, if you didn’t know, test time is a big deal in Japan. They have to take really hard tests to get into high school (sometimes even middle school!) and really hard tests to get into college as well, so test time in Japan means you can practically feel the tension in the air. These high schoolers are like super students. In one day some have school from 7 till 4, then club till 6 or 7, then sometimes cram school till 10, and then they have homework! My sisters right now don’t go to sleep till at least 12:30 or 1… It’s amazing! I am exhausted from just club and school, if I had to add cram school and homework to that I’d collapse! So today, since I am but a poor exchange student who cant read or speak Japanese anywhere near well enough to take a high school level test, I went to the library and studied…. and slept till they released us early.

The past couple weekends have been very fun. I went to the depaato (mall) with a couple friends and we did things I would normally have done with my friends back home. Taking pictures, buying weird things, trying on ridiculously expensive hats. It was nice. I also spent time with part of my future host family. Kozue is in my class and invited me to go to see her brother play the electone with her and her mother. Wow! I never would’ve thought that electones could sound like a whole orchestra. It was just groups of people playing the same instrument, but it sounded like I was in Carnegie Hall. And Kozue’s brothers group got second!

My family is really good friends with a soccer player from the Sendai soccer team so this weekend I went to my first Japanese soccer game! First off, Asian soccer teams get two thumbs up! 😉 And second, I was almost just as fascinated with the fans as I was with the game. Every single person was singing the Vegalta Eagles songs in sync and doing these crazy arm movements (in sync) while jumping up and down. They even had this massive banner that sprung out of nowhere and engulfed an entire section of the bleachers. There were even giant flags that HAD to have been coordinated before. We won. 🙂 And the family friend got to do an interview and hold up the giant check that they had won. I’m excited that I get to go to another soccer game again soon.

The day after the game I went shopping. I have no spending money now D: But it was worth it. When I’m in the mall I’ll forget I’m in Japan for a while, but then something distinctly cultural like a kimono shop will pop out and remind me ‘You’re actually in Japan!’.

It doesn’t seem like a dream so much anymore. It’s just a place I really love and can’t (or won’t) imagine leaving anytime soon. Some days I’m still amazed that I’m talking in Japanese and understanding it, other days the fact doesn’t even phase me. It’s just… what they do here.

The customer service here is absolutely amazing. I love it. I wish American customer service was like this. At the McDonalds (MCDONALDS!) drive-thru someone came up and gave us a menu. Woah. And all the gas stations have those people who pump gas for you.

Once in a while, I’ll spot a foreigner and whisper to my friends or family, “Gaijin, gaijin!” (foreigner, foreigner!). Even if their back is turned and they have black hair, for some reason I can still tell. It makes me realize how obvious I must stand out.

Nothing else epic has happened lately. I’m still struggling with the language, still trying to figure out the bus system, still missing hugs (though Momo has been helping with that :)), still trying to make friends, still loving the food (had my first Japanese crepe with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate, and bananas. Yum).

It’s been exactly 60 days.

And there are still so many more to go.

Saa, mata ne.

Jyojia

October 5 Journal

Hi everyone~ I know it hasn’t been long since my last journal but I figured I might as well fill you in on my recent adventures. (And give you some pictures seeing as I didn’t do that last time :))

So this weekend I went on my first outing with some of the Rotarians, some of their wives, two kids from my school’s Interact club, and my English teacher. I’m proud to say at the very beginning I specifically asked my teacher (In Japanese) to not speak in English during the day so I could practice my language skills. 🙂 It was so much fun and I feel a lot more comfortable with some of the members of my club now. We went to eat soba at an onsen in the mountains, and I have to say it was one of THE most beautiful places I have ever seen. We started out with a ten minute ski lift ride up the mountain. Now, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. I was ecstatic at the fact that the leaves were starting to change colors the entire ride to the mountain. But put me in the middle of that and add mountains as well? I was loving it. After the ski lift we saw our REAL obstacle. Climbing to the top. I think it might have taken us (well, at least the other two high school students and I :)) thirty or forty minutes of very vertical climbing to get to the top, and the view was not only breathtaking there but the entire way up and down as well. I was definitely playing the ‘camera-happy’ tourist the entire time. Something I’ve realized is that no mater how beautiful the picture, you can never really show something the way it was. All the pictures I took don’t even come close to how amazing that trip was. Afterwards, as we struggled to catch our breath, we walked back to bus and were whisked away to the onsen to relax in steaming hot water. It was bliss. I am definitely a fan of the onsen, hands down. I’ve only been twice but foresee many more visits in my future. 🙂

Then it was time for a good ol’ fashioned Japanese meal. I was a little put off at the first dish-a lovely fish with head and tail still attached and slightly fried. Even more so when the nice lady next to me told me I should eat the head as well. 🙁 But overall, it was (as usual) a delicious meal. I don’t know how I’m ever going to get used to not having rice with every meal again! American food doesn’t even compare to what I’m eating every day…

As I was enjoying my meal and talking to the other highs school girls…In Japanese!… a Rotarian came over and told me I was to give a small speech on the bus ride back home. Surprise! Boy, I never get tired of these surprise speeches ): After quick consultation with my English teacher on how to say a few nice things (Please invite me on this type of event again, etc.) I, luckily, kind of just swung it. It went alright. I believe they even understood me 🙂 It was a lot easier than my first two surprise speeches. Maybe it had to do with that fact that I had gotten to know them a little over day. Maybe it had to do do with me being able to speak Japanese a little better. Or maybe everyone was slightly affected from the sake that they drank during lunch. Whatever the case, it went well. I even answered questions afterwards (with some help with my English teacher). I’ve been feeling kind of bad because I’m only able to go to one meeting a month. The Rotary meetings happen in be right in the middle of my school day and missing school is a no-no, but I feel a little better now that I was able to share some of my experience with them while on that trip.

Last weekend I went to a baseball game in Japan. Now, you may think baseball is really ‘American’, but you obviously haven’t been to a game in Japan. Baseball is Japan’s top sport, closely followed by football (soccer) and sumo. Is was closely related to my explanation of the soccer game in my previous journal. Lots of synchronization. Lots of singing. Lots of excitement. Lots of fun. There were balloons too 🙂

BUT-My American family is going to disown me :)-I actually enjoyed the soccer game a lot more. I’ve been to both twice but I think it was more exciting, possibly because one of the players is a really good family friend, but still. Go Vegalta Eagles! 🙂

A while ago I was feeling pretty down. I was missing my friends like crazy and felt like my Japanese was horrible in comparison to the two other exchangees at my school. I didn’t feel like I was being a good exchange student, I wasn’t making friends quickly enough, I wasn’t studying enough.

After talking to the other exchangees I feel a lot better now. They were feeling the same way. I realize good friends will come in time and as for the language I just need to keep trying. Plus, the other exchangees studied for about 4 years in school before they came here. THAT little piece of information really made me stop comparing my poor grammar and writing skills to them.

I’m very excited to say that in December I will be taking the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) test. This is so big to me. I’ve always heard about it and wanted to take it, plus I’m not taking the really beginner level (level 4) but one step up (level 3). So I’m taking the test around a 5th grader level. 🙂

It suddenly got cold about a week ago. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It went from kids fanning themselves in the classrooms one day to everyone wearing their sweaters the next, and it’s stayed colder. I’m a little worried I won’t have the proper clothes for winter now… But that’s ok. I’ll just have another excuse to buy more adorable Japanese clothes. <3

Most of my class is going to Australia for a little while, but seeing as me and the girl from Germany aren’t allowed, instead we get to travel Japan. Which is perfectly fine with me since I get to go to Okinawa instead! Okinawa is one of the most southern parts of Japan and is supposed to be very beautiful. Think a Japanese version of Key West…. Only better.

I’m changing host families again in about a week. I’m going to miss this one so much. My host sisters are really nice and the host dad and mom are so fun to talk to. Plus, I love getting rides on papa’s motorcycle. (Yes. They make me call them papa and mama. XD)

It’s a good thing I adapt so quickly or all this family moving business would be very disorienting! Although, every time I figure out one area I have to move to another, so I figure by the time my exchange year ends I will have gotten lost at least 20-30 times. But who’s counting? 🙂

October 26 Journal

It’s that time again, Journal updating. I have a love hate relationship with these things. Half of me really loves doing them and sharing what I’ve been doing for the past month, and the other half is just plain lazy. This month has been full of ups and downs, so much so that I think there should be a new medical diagnosis- ‘Exchange student-itis’. It would involve everything and anything including excitement, depression, happiness, nervousness, nostalgia, sadness, laziness, giddiness, etc., etc. And would help tell people what is wrong with us. (haha)

The hardest thing this month for me was definitely changing host families again…. So soon. It hurt. I mean, it really hurt. I had just gotten to the point where I really felt like part of the family. I loved my host parents like they were my own and me and my host sisters were able to joke around like we were real sisters. I knew where the stupid little things in the house were and could laze about without feeling self-conscious. I didn’t get lost anymore because I finally understood the bus route. I was feeling pretty good. Then I realized I only had one week left with them…. then two days….. then one day. It was awful. I felt like all the effort I had put into this family had been in vain. I now had to start all over again, the self-introductions, the wondering where the dishes are, not knowing what music they liked, not knowing anything.

My last day with them my sister made me takoyaki for breakfast. The best takoyaki I had ever tasted <3 When they dropped me off at my new host family’s house it was just mama, papa, and me. And then this lady, who had barely known me for a month, started to cry as we said our goodbyes. That’s when I really realized I’m NOT just a guest in these peoples houses, I really do become part of the family. It not something that Rotary kept pumping into our brains for fun, it happens. Whether you know it or not. I think this is going to be the hardest part of my exchange. Even more so than the other students. I have 8 host families and am going to have to go through this five more times. I don’t think I’m ever going to like it either.

My new family is so different from what I’m used to back in America where there was 2 people, my mom and me, but here there are 7! Grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, little sister, little brother, and myself. All packed into a Japanese house XD. My siblings are very busy – almost always studying, going to cram school, or at club and they’re only middle-schoolers!! My dad is a doctor though. That’s pretty cool. He and mom really love classical music, in fact I think they all do. And my mom loves chorus music and is going to be a soloist in an upcoming concert. It’s so amazing to be sitting downstairs and hearing her practice while I’m doing my homework. I love it. Grandma and grandpa are very sweet to me, even though they know I can’t really understand them very well (haha). In Japanese the older people have really hard to understand accents that sometimes even native Japanese speakers can’t get what they’re saying. But it’s fun to try.

So this month my school – Shokei – had two exciting things happen. One was that we had our undoukai (Sports festival in English?)!! We got the entire day off from our normal school day and were instead to compete with other classes in various sport-related competitions. There’s tug-of-war, jump roping, relays, a spin off of a three-legged race, the throw the beanbag in the really tall basket game with a bunch of different people game, and others that I probably forgot. About a week before all the classes had to choose specific people to participate in the different activities. I made the mistake of telling people I had been in Track and Field. That sealed my fate. I was put in two relays and a three-legged race but with five people instead. Both of the relays I was very nervous about, whereas the three-legged race I knew we were going to fail miserably HAHA (and we kind of did XD). The first relay I was the last person and had to run 400m instead of 200m like the ten people before me. After that was the really important one where one person from each class was chosen to race with their fellow year against the others (think Sophmores vs Juniors vs Seniors). We didn’t win either but I was told I did really good 🙂 And at the undoukai winning isn’t the important thing, well… ok it’s good to win too but! It’s more important to have fun, it really was a nice friendly atmosphere that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m disappointed I will be back in America next year when they have it again. 🙁

The other exciting thing was that Shokei had 15 German exchange students visit us for a week. And three of them were boys. I could’ve sworn Johnny Depp had just walked into the room a couple of times by the way the girls absolutely, and totally freaked out. It was highly entertaining to me who was unfazed by their western looks 🙂 That week was fun in its own way. Julia (from Germany), Rania (from Romania), and I got to skip almost all of our classes that week and just join whatever the German kids were doing. I got to witness my first tea ceremony (seated in a nice comfortable chair, not seiza hahahaha), try my hand at calligraphy, and had numerous chances to go out shopping on a school day. To help the German kids, you know? They didn’t speak Japanese at all and the Japanese kids were hesitant, as ever, to practice their English. So who was around to be the handy-dandy translator? Why not the girl who has only been in Japan for 3 months and doesn’t feel like her Japanese is anywhere near good enough to be helping two strangers communicate? Oh, okay. It was interesting but it made my confidence in my Japanese rise so much. I was actually able to translate a good 80% of what they said and it helped me realize my Japanese IS improving… Even though I haven’t been feeling like it is.

So yeah, my grammar is highly questionable at times. And yeah, there are still a ton of words I don’t have a clue about. But I can get around. I can order stuff. Heck, I can even figure out those big words if I ask them to break it down into smaller ones so I can understand it. That’s ALMOST good enough for me.

Anyways, the German kids didn’t just get me out of class a lot and help my confidence in my Japanese, but they helped me get to know to classmates a lot better. The kids were actually kind of distant and cold to us so we bonded over talking about them. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a ‘why?’ way.

Now that Autumn has begun I am constantly fascinated with the changing colors of the leaves and the branches that are beginning to grow bare. I’ll pick a red leaf up and show it to my friends all proud and say ‘Look! Isn’t this pretty?’. Of course, they just laugh at me. But I can’t believe that they just all walk around all day without realizing how beautiful some of the little things in their town are. They’re just so used to waking up and seeing changing colors and mountains in the distance, whereas I’m trying to take every picture possible of the whole thing. It makes me realize there might be things about Palm Coast that I don’t see that are beautiful too…… MAYBE.

I had the opportunity to go to my first Kyudo competition. I cant wait until I’m able to look like what they looked like. It really is very beautiful when done properly and if you ever get the chance just try to stop by and see it sometime.

I almost got to see Patty (currently in Taiwan) in Japan. ALMOST. She came to visit Tokyo for a Rotary meeting (THREE HOURS away from me by bullet train!) and we both tried our hardest to try and meet each other, but in the end things just didn’t work out. Maybe it was for the best but I was pretty depressed about it for a long while….

And now to more random thoughts I want to get down-

-I love the people who hand stuff out at every corner. Helps me get my free tissues and lotions 😀

-A Jehovah’s witness came up to me while I was waiting for a friend at Sendai Station.

-They are very wary of me riding a bike. Even to the store. Apparently it’s dangerous…..

-At a festival there were very, very small children dancing like professional ‘hip-hop’ers. I felt a mixture of awe and horror.

-No matter how full you think your suitcase is, you can and will be able to stuff more things into it.

-I feel awkward when I’m on the right side of the sidewalk or street. It just doesn’t feel right.

-When I disagree with something I wave my hand in front of my face like I’m swatting a fly away like the Japanese girls do. And when I tell someone to come closer I beckon them with my hand, palm down.

-In Kyudo I have yet to use the bow. Still taking tests on my form.

-My legs constantly hurt. Walking almost everywhere is starting to take its toll…. But at least it’s a good fighter against all the crepes I’m eating.

-Speaking of crepes I think I’m starting to grow an addiction…..

-Purikura too.

Alright, I apologize to my family for the lack of pictures recently but my new family’s computer really doesn’t like me. I’ll try to send some soon…. but as for now, this journal isn’t going to have any either. Sorry!!! Much love to my family (blood-related, dojo-related, and adopted) and my much missed friends back home <3333

Until next time,

Georgia

November 30 Journal

Hello all-

It feels like I just wrote my last journal the other week. I’ve been in Japan for exactly 129 days and counting (yes, I’m still counting :)) and my exchange is a quarter of the way over. Wow. This just seems to be going faster and faster and there’s nothing I can do but just sit back and enjoy the view of Hello Kitty, host families, and Rotary meetings whizzing past me.

I finally fixed the problem of not feeling like I was participating in my Rotary club enough this month (Way to be proactive, Georgia. It’s only been four months. Haha.). I joined the school Interact club! This club doesn’t really have any meetings, so it doesn’t interfere with my regular Kyudo practice, but it gives me the chance to occasionally volunteer with the other members and once in a while we even volunteer with the actual Rotary club. Or at least semi-volunteer and then eat a lot afterwards, either way it’s fun. Plus I’ve made some really good friends through it as well. At the beginning of this month I did my first volunteer by standing outside for five hours yelling things in Japanese to get people to donate to orphans. It was long and boy it was cold, but I was thoroughly surprised by how giving some of the people were. We had far more than one or two people give us at least 20 or 30 dollars. Made my faith in the human race rise a bit :). Another time we volunteered was at Hirosegawa, the local river, where we did some river cleaning with the Rotary club and various other small groups were there as well. I learned how to FINALLY skip a stone across the water, after watching the one guy do it for an hour and being infinitely jealous that mine completely and utterly sunk. We got him to teach us and nicknamed him Sensei.

So, it definitely got cold. My Floridian is kicking in and as much as I love the cold I think the fact that we have to wear these shorts skirts in freezing weather is slightly ridiculous, however cute the uniforms may be it doesn’t help the fact that you start to lose feeling in your legs. Almost all of money is going towards warmer clothes now, not that I’m complaining about buying clothes 🙂 The vending machines that litter the streets everywhere you go and I have become marvelous friends. They give me cans of hot tea or cocoa that I can use to warm my hands and I give them money. It’s a nice relationship. Oh and apparently, I got really lucky. My mom told me that the fall this year was one of the longest and most colorful that Sendai has had. I was walking through a park with my little sister one day and came across this amazing area where it was like you were literally walking on a field of gold. I also found a small trail/park area within a five minute walk of my home that was next to a lake and surrounded in these giant trees, all of which were changing colors. It was like I was in my own world down there. Now more and more of the trees are becoming bare, but this fall is something I will not forget.

So this was the month were my class went off to Australia for two weeks, leaving me and the other exchangee in my class (Julia) to fend for ourselves. That week I realized something about my class. As much as I didn’t really feel like I was making good friends within my class, I was brought back to reality about how wrong I really was. While they were off on their school trip that week we were put into two different classes. It was fun, but it was like the beginning all over again and I really missed my class where I felt pretty comfortable just jumping into any conversation or talking to anyone. Now, I did really enjoy getting to check out the other classes that week and met some really nice girls, but the day our class came back it was a blur of a bunch of squealing and hugs.

They were gone for two weeks and one of those weeks about 100 other girls from Shokei (Julia and myself included) got to have the pleasure of going to Okinawa! It was simply put- breathtaking. There was an endless view of this perfectly flat ocean with crystal waters on one side and the other had these gorgeous mountains. I was struck with a very strong feeling of deja vu though, once we stepped off the plane I was hit with warm weather, palm trees, tan people in sandals, and floral designs. Sound familiar? We also stepped straight off the plane and, no we didn’t get to relax and go to our hotel right away, but we went to a museum were we sat in front of this giant painting and listened to a speech for a good 40 some minutes. That might not have been so bad but the painting itself gave me the worst goose bumps ever and I felt like crying the entire time because it was a about war and I couldn’t really understand what the guy was saying. All I knew was that he was saying America an awful lot…

This would continue throughout the trip. People talking about America and war and me feeling sort of bad.

Okinawa was really very beautiful, although it did rain a couple times, it almost always ended up clearing up just enough to leave the clouds looking like something out of a dream. We had a schedule every day and were almost always busy. We went to so many different places it’s hard for me to remember. We went to a couple museums and we also went to some of the caves that the Okinawan people had lived in during World War Two. Okinawan history is so different than the rest of the history of Japan. One of the things that really stands out in my memory is when we went to this memorial where we walked around for a while and then went into this building where this little old lady gave this speech. This little old lady was one out of a group of female students that formed a nursing unit during the war times and she gave the most incredible speech I have ever heard. I couldn’t understand all of what she said but what she was saying was not stopped by a mere language barrier alone. The atmosphere in the room was one I have never felt before and in the end as we were leaving almost everyone was crying. We also went to the Himeyuri Peace Museum where it’s dedicated to those students and teachers and has all their pictures and some information as well. Her picture was there as well.

Now our trip wasn’t all serious stuff, we had a lot of fun as well. One day we got to pick a course that we would like to take. you had the choice of cooking, Okinawan art, or outdoors stuff- I choose the outdoors stuff. It was so much fun! We were taken to this beach where we were split into two groups. Half of us went to go look for shells and then make things out of them and the other half went canoeing in the ocean, then we switched later on. It was a perfect opportunity for my tourist nature to come out and I ended up taking a bajillion pictures. It was really cool to see how different all the shells were from Florida’s shells and I got the chance to take a bunch home. The sea canoeing was immensely fun and even though I didn’t get any pictures (I just couldn’t bring myself to carry my precious camera onto an unsturdy craft in the middle of the ocean being steered by two teenage girls.:)) I have my memories. Another place we went was this American base where we were toured around the houses where the family lives, which I found highly amusing, and taken to eat an American meal- A ‘giant’ cheeseburger and french fries. HA! I felt like such a fat American, I was the only one able to eat the whole thing at the table….. But it was yummy. 🙂

Throughout the trip we had a couple different hotels but we always traveled on the same bus and had the same bus lady. I loved that woman. She was so happy-go-lucky and nice. Plus she sang all these traditional Okinawan songs that are still stuck in my head. If it wasn’t for her I might have gone crazy on that bus on which we spent so many hours traveling. Another thing to note- Almost all my classmates bought hundreds of dollars worth of souvenirs! I was expecting a lot, but standing behind them in lines and seeing their baskets filled to the brim with things NOT FOR THEM really brought it in check. I believe in souvenirs as much as the next person, but there’s gotta be a line somewhere! Also all the students were early for everything. Breakfast- getting to the bus- meeting up after shopping. If they said to be back at the bus at 10:40 and I got there at 10:38 it was almost like I was late, everyone would be already on the bus and, of course, I would be the last person to board. The Japanese definitely have a ‘being on time’ complex.

ANYWAYS-

So we get back to Sendai and I am informed I missed the first snow…… WHAT?! I was not happy. So now every day I am on snow patrol and wishing for cold weather and rainy weather which, apparently, makes me crazy. Haha.

So, the day after I get back from Okinawa I go to a town about an hour north of Sendai by bullet train to meet up with the other four exchangees, have a semi-meeting with Rotary, and have the pleasure of listening to the Rotex’s speeches! It was my first time riding the bullet train so I was very excited. I have to say, yes it went very fast, enough to make your ears do the ear-poppy-thingy, but all in all in was like any other train or subway I have ridden. So I met up with one of the exchangees and we traveled to Morioka together then afterwards we met up with the rest of the exchangees. Which, I guess, in comparison with the other gatherings I’ve read about in the other countries would be rather small, seeing as there are only five of us. But that’s ok, it just makes it better. We were all overjoyed to see each other and had an amazing time swapping stories. I did notice that in the beginning we all tried to talk in Japanese with each for the first hour or so, but then it slowly regressed into English as the conversation got faster and more teenage-like. We were all brought into a room where there were three Rotarians at the front, four chairs in the back, and one in the middle. It was QUESTIONING time!-Japanese version. It was really not as bad as it sounds and I was relieved that I understood all their questions and was able to answer them all sufficiently (in Japanese mind you). It also helped that everyone in the room was friends and knew everyone else. Afterwards we got to listen to the Rotex give their speeches which means a bunch of talking and eventual crying. It was surprising to me because I was able to get a lot of what they were saying and see how I would be feeling in about 9 months from now.

It never fails to amaze me at how much the exchange students just get each other. We’re all living completely different lives, different food, different languages, different cultures, different countries, but when I read the others’ journals it’s always so amazing at how much our feelings and our thoughts are almost the same. Of course there are big differences too, but there are so many other things that as soon as I read it I think to myself, “YES! That’s just it!”. I am looking forward to the Welcome Home Dinner so much, not because I’ll be back in my country, but because I’ll be able to talk to all these people who have gone through the exact same thing as me and be able to see how everyone has changed because of that. Being an exchange student has been the best thing of my life. I’m learning so much and seeing so many things that I never could have imagined I’d see.

Plus, I’m now grown accustomed to living with strangers and not understanding things so that’ll help me when I go off to college 🙂

So right…. Where was I?

Ah, yes. Morioka. I get back from Morioka and return to Sendai. You would thing that NOW I would get a chance to rest, right? I mean I WAS just gone for a week traveling around Okinawa and living out of my suitcase. But, no. Now I have to pack everything up again for none other than….. Host Family change! This time wasn’t as bad as the last, I was ready for it. So I said goodbye and my last day or so with the Shigas was half spent playing video games and making origami with my siblings and the other half was me trying to cram a bunch of stuff into my suitcases. Seriously, I don’t know where all this stuff is coming from but I DO know I need to start sending packages home. Fast. Or my return flight is going to be a very expensive one.

My new family is…… Well, to be honest I already completely adore them and I’ve only been here one week. This family is a little different than my others. They’re actually originally from Taiwan (heeeellllooooo Patty! ;D) and came to Japan about 20 some years ago as foreign exchange students. At home I have Mom, Dad, my little sister (12), and my big brother (17). Dad is a doctor and mom counsels little children and teaches Chinese. They all speak Chinese which can cause me to be highly confused at times because sometimes when they talk to each other it’s in Chinese others it’s in Japanese. Most of the time its both XD. And at those times I’m not sure if I’m not understanding the word or the language. Of course when the talk to me its strictly in Japanese but I’m having fun picking up little things in Chinese now as well. It is kind of funny. I can always tell when my little sister is in trouble because my mom will switch to Chinese and her voice completely changes. Haha. My new house is only 20 minutes away from my school- by WALKING. I love it. It’s the closest I’ve been, and will be, plus we are on this hill that has a very nice view of the city and at night when all the buildings are lit up I think it’s amazing.

I have fallen absolutely in love with getting letters from family and friends back in America. Nothing makes my day more than getting to read about what’s going on back home and hear how much people miss me. HAHA. Well not really the second part, but I reaaaaally do enjoy them. It’s kind of funny if you see me when I read them I get all red and teary and have this gigantic dumb grin on my face. It’s like Christmas every time. It’s sort of silly but I’m still surprised when I realize people are living lives without me back home. It’s like, “Oh. You guys went Trick or Treating without me… I see.” I’m not expecting you guys back home to just sit away and pine after me but I can still be surprised!

SPEAKING of holidays! I completely forgot about Halloween, I mean, we had decorations and everything, but since no one was making any plans or anything when my friend said something about it the day before I had to go look at a calendar because I didn’t believe her. And Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all! Hope you enjoyed your turkey and pumpkin cause I sure didn’t -_-…. I did get some chicken though. Thanksgiving was a long day for me that was half down half up. The first half I was sorta down-and hungry- the whole time, but then the second half I got a letter from a friend back home and got to call my family, who were conveniently all together so I got to talk to a good portion of them 🙂

I have to say that for Thanksgiving I am thankful for….

My family

My friends

Every single second I am spending here right now.

The people who have opened their lives, hearts, and homes to me.

And Rotary.

So thank you all. So much. You’ll never know how much you really mean to me.

Until next time,

Georgia

 

January 15 Journal

Hey everyone~

It’s been a while and I’m giving everyone a fair warning now- This one might be a rather long entry. Hope you like reading.

My last journal left off around Thanksgiving so I’ll just continue from there. As Christmas started coming around more and more decorations were popping up in the main street, stores, conbinis, malls, airports, and basically anywhere and everywhere you looked…. Except your house of course. It was almost like they were teasing me. I’d go into town and see a gorgeous tree all lit up and adorned in twinkling ornaments with festive music blasting, but Alas! When I got home there would be nothing but a mere paper snowflake hanging in the window. Although, Sendai sort of made up for that. Here we have something called the ‘Pageant of Starlights’ every year that attracts a LOT of people. I mean, seriously, I have never seen so many non-Asians in my city at once. What happens is our main street, which is lined with gigantic trees that makes it beautiful any time of the year, is covered from top to bottom in lights. The main road is just white but if you go off to the side you can sometimes discover red or blue or green as well, although my favorite was still the white ones. And then you have the food vendors, and the outdoor skating rink, and the giant tree, and the beer tents (?). Not quite sure what to call the last one haha. And everyday around seven at night all the lights go out for about 30 seconds and then flash back on again. It doesn’t sound quite as cool when I type it but it was actually pretty neat.

So, I was still with the Chins at this time and they had a bunch of relatives coming in from not only Taiwan but America as well. So that meant my Christmas was spent tri-lingualy. Very confusing. The relatives from Taiwan only spoke Chinese and the relatives from America obviously only spoke Chinese or English. You would think I would’ve been happy about this but actually, I found myself deliberately going out of my way to ask my host mom questions in Japanese rather than ask the people from my home country in English. And I was pretty anti-social as well. I hung out with my little sister the whole time since she doesn’t like talking in Chinese and we had a lovely time watching TV and playing video games while the rest of the family sat around the dinner table talking in Chinese. Haha. I actually really enjoyed it because I got to spend more time with her. I’ve never had a little sister before (although I have had my little… ‘minions’ whom I love just as much) and it was nice to know that I don’t suffer from ‘only child syndrome’ too much. Although I DID sometimes want to kick her out of my room. A girl needs her sleep! XD But overall I really liked that family so much and I’ve gone back to visit a few times. Of course, I like all my host fams but after having six different ones I’m bound to start playing favorites at one time or another. haha. So we had a small party with the family and then afterwards we got home, and mom and dad gave us all one present. My sister and I were pretty stoked, we both got the video games we had wanted. (Mine was a Kanji study game 😀 Hers was… The Japanese version of animal crossing. lol) My brother got…. gloves. ROFL. Afterwards it was overall a normal night.

So I didn’t get a white Christmas this year. But I got something just as good in my book- a white day AFTER Christmas. It was really like a dream. When I first lazily woke up I didn’t even look out the window. I stumbled out of bed, said morning to the family, and then proceeded to the computer for my video chat with my family back in America. They had some technical problems and I ended up getting up to go change clothes when I looked out the window.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Everything was covered in white!

OGMFGFKGNHKFMGDFKGDFMHDFGJ

I was very happy at that point. I threw my coat on over my pajamas, gloves, a scarf, and boots and proceeded to run around outside like a three-year-old who has had one too many pixie sticks. It was marvelous. I made a mini snowman and a snow angel and splattered the side of the house with snowballs. Mind you, this is all by myself because my sister is still sleeping and my mom and dad are laughing at me from the window safe and warm in the house. But I didn’t care. I had snow. I ended up remembering about my family at some point and came inside to talk with them…. It was alright. :>)

During the holidays I got a flood of emails and pictures from back home and even got not one, not two, but three! packages containing presents and Christmas cookies! I felt so sick after eating those cookies (even though I shared like… half of them with my family!) but they were the most mouth-watering cookies I have had in a very long time. Thank you Aunti!! We all loved them! I also got a couple gifts from some friends back home…. -_- Guys…. You’re in so much trouble! Well, at least one of you is! The best all around had to be the package I got from my mom, though. It had so much stuff that just made me smile and laugh and show off to my host family and there were a bajillion little letters and stuff and it was great.

You know how in America the day after Thanksgiving is a massive shopping frenzy? AKA ‘Black Friday’? In Japan there’s something like that only it’s the day after New Years and all the stores go on massive sales and EVERYONE has all these grab bags everywhere! The malls are crammed! It was very interesting….

On the 28th I changed host families. Yeah, yeah. Nothing new. But this one is different! (>o<)

It was very fun because the Shoji’s daughter just happens to be in my class so I knew her pretty well before I even got there, unlike my other fams where I’ve just been going in with no idea whatsoever or what they’re like. We ended up going to Morioka which is about an hour north of Sendai by bullet train. It was really fun but it would have been even better if it hadn’t been the DAY after I had changed HF. Ah, well. I’ll have plenty of time to breathe when I get back to America right? So we get there and arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Remember when I said we were north of Sendai? Well, that means… Even more snow! There I had my first chance to make a life-size snowman and an igloo! It was so much fun…. Ah, the good times…. when I was still happy about snow…. Today in particular was rather dreadful. Take a Floridian girl. Stick her outside in her Kyudo club’s small practice area. Make it dark and suddenly have snow coming down like crazy with strong wind to boot. Mind you none of the other clubs are outside at this point. Then make sure that the practice area only has one small heater in the corner and basically does nothing but tell you the temperature is below zero. Oh! And don’t forget to make sure that the snow blows directly onto the practice area so her socks get all wet and she starts to lose feeling in her feet. Leave her there for two hours. AFTERWARDS, have her walk 25 minutes in the snow to a new house when she’s taken the path once and hasn’t quite memorized it. She will get lost, I guarantee it.

Oops. Right. SO! I also met some more of the family and 96-year-old great grandma. Who surprised the crap out of me. I didn’t even know she was in the house until two days later when they took me to meet her. At their house there is a shop attached so we spent the four days there cleaning, and when we weren’t cleaning we (meaning me, my sister, my brother, and the cousins) practically lived in small living room and just watched TV the entire time. The day before New Years we had a big dinner with everyone squeezed into great grandma’s room and, of course, sitting on the floor. I remember the room was adorned with all these beautiful paper ornaments and traditional Japanese things. It all felt so….. Japanese. There’s not really a way to put it. There I was eating New Years food in Japan and we bowed while sitting in seiza before eating and kanpai-ing, plus this house was one of the first REAL Japanese houses I’ve been in. Meaning it wasn’t as westernized as the others. Meaning it was really cold. haha. We all ate and then later as the clock was slowly tick-tick-ticking away to the next year we had soba (or Japanese noodles) just like almost every single other person in Japan was at that time. We ended up watching the NHK special that features a bunch of popular artists and playing card games afterwards. Then my sister, brother, and I stayed up and watched the final countdown (that wouldn’t have been complete without the giant amount of Japanese boybands that did it) and then we all went to bed. You know, it’s almost funny. I’ve been in Japan for almost half a year now and the things I remember the best are times I’ve spent with my host families. I remember as we were playing card games my dad was slightly…. tipsy and my sister and I were still getting completely destroyed by him and then I remember laughing so hard I cried. I remember when I went back to visit my second host family and my sisters and I made the craziest origami and had it stalk the cat. I remember attacking my little sister and tickling her until she gave me back the damn ball. I remember how my host mom’s face lit up when I gave her one small present after everyone else went to bed, and then afterwards she just clutched it and walked around for a place to put it.

It’s nice.

I get side-tracked way too easy. haha. Sorry! So, after we did the New Years thing with the gramps we came back to Sendai. After a day or two with nothing to do but relax I had to go off for the weekend to a Rotary camp thing that was, also, up near Morioka. Me and another exchangee were being recruited to help future outbounds with their English conversation. There were about 25 kids and out of them there were only 3 guys (poor things hah). Everyone was either going to Texas or Oklahoma for 2 weeks so it was neat that me and the other exchangee were both from America and could help them with anything they wanted to know. Half of it was games to help them with their English that Alexis and I would participate in, and then the other half was slightly boring Rotary rules and such that…. I may or may not have fallen asleep in. The two of us were rescued from yet another Rotary rule explanation by one of my FAVORITE Rotary members of all time who took us to see the lake and an Oni Museum. This Rotarian is great. When everyone else is wearing suits he is wearing tropical shirts and sweatshirts with smilies on it. When everyone else goes by ‘~~’-san he goes by ‘Six-pack’ and not cause he has a six pack of abs. XD He speaks perfect English and is always really good at just making you feel comfortable and laugh your ass off. Why this man is not on TV I will never know. Too bad I’ve only gotten to see him a couple times though.

SO-I get back. Guess what I do when I get back. I pack. ‘Now, why would you pack Georgia? You’ve only been there for two weeks!’- You might say. Yeah, well. I’m hardcore….

Ok Not really, I just had a two-week homestay for some reason. DONT ASK ME WHY. I just did. I wanted to throw a hissy fit and stomp my feet and cry and complain and refuse to do it but, like any good exchange student, I didn’t. 🙂 I shut up and packed. The next day my host mom, sister, and I drove to the middle of the city and by the time we pulled up to my apartment my mother was officially FREAKING OUT. She kept going, ‘Here?! Really!? Here!?! Look!! It’s a private elevator! Seriously?! Here?!’. My new family is part of Rotary and my father owns a couple apartment buildings and we happen to live on the top floor of one. It has a nice view and it’s super close to the main street with all the shops I could ever want to go broke.

Next week marks my half a year anniversary. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Half of me can’t wait to go home and stick my feet in the warm Floridian sand and see all my friends and family again, and then the other half feels like crying because I now know WHEN my departure date is and….. I don’t want to. Not yet. I’m always thinking about things too much. I mean, I still do have half a year left but I just know that it’s going to go by so fast and before I know it I’ll be back in FL wishing I could go home.

SPEAKING of that! I had to say goodbye to my exchange friends from school. They weren’t Rotary but there was only three of us and I had all my classes with the one from Germany and needless to say we had gotten pretty close over the few months. Both of them helped me so much and I really miss them. The girl from my class had a going away party and everyone got to spend their English class not learning, but talking and having fun. Near the end of the day everyone eventually wandered on home leaving just me, her, and one of our classmates. She was going to leave the next day and see some of the others before she got on the bullet train but I had out of town plans that I couldn’t change, so this would be the last time WE could meet. We sat around and goofed and talked and took pictures until both of us had to get to our club before we got any later. We hugged and by that time Julia was crying and I was feeling horrible, like I was losing a best friend. No, scratch that. I WAS losing a best friend. We parted and I walked off to my club and she to hers and as soon as I split off from her and the other classmate I burst into tears. I cried and cried and knew I would probably never see her again. I got to my club and choked on my words as I explained why I was late. After that I focused and cleared my head. Now, I’m not quite as sad and if I ever get to visit Germany I will be sure to go and see a town called Achen and look her up <3

If I got 100 yen every time I said “We have that in America, too.” I would be so rich by now.

When I first started talking to the exchangees who are home now I always asked when they felt they became fluent. I should have asked when they felt they could get by. I now feel like I can get by. If I had to leave Japan right now, I would be happy with what I know. I still have a long way to go, but….I can get by and it feels great.

FUTURE OUTBOUNDS! Ahhhhhh! YOU MADE IT! How cool is that?!?! You better be practicing your languages! The time is going to go by so quickly and before you know it, you too will be getting lost and not knowing what people are saying! It will be fabulous. I’m not promising you’ll love every minute of it but you won’t regret it. I’m so excited for you guys and hope we will get a chance to meet! If you want my email ask your head Rotarian for it. I’d love to talk to some of you guys and am open to any questions you might have. <3

Until next time~

Georgia

 

March 30 Journal

Hello everyone,

The days are getting less frigid, cherry blossoms are starting to travel their way up the country as they bloom, styles are changing, spring delicacies are popping up on menus, and the snow has said its goodbye to Sendai until next winter. Spring is finally here and with spring marks the beginning of a new school year. Since I last left off I had just moved into a new family and well, I’ve moved again. I am also moving again in about a week. BUT! That’s the LAST time, I swear! I will be done, complete, settled down, however you want to say it. I will be with my next host family for next three months until I get on a plane and head back to America. Right now Im staying with three others because my host dad is working in a different city a couple of hours. I have a mom and two big sisters. One of them is a second year in college and the other just graduated from the school that I’m going to right now. She actually went to France through Rotary last year for an exchange so its really cool to be living with a Rotex right now.

Let’s go back a little bit to February in Japan, more specifically the 14th. Now in Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little different than most countries, instead of the guys and girls just exchanging gifts the girls here seem to go on a crazy chocolate making adventure. A large majority of the girls here hand-make chocolate and give it to not only someone they like, but to people they might feel obligated to give to, like co-workers and friends. There is ‘honmei’ choco (given to a sweetheart), ‘giri’ choco (given to co-workers and such), and ‘tomo’ choco (given to friends). Then the guys don’t have to give anything back until a month later on a day called White Day. Well, I ended up going to one of my previous host families house and made brownies with my little sister and host mom. Usually they don’t use brownies but I made them once and they reaaaaaaaally liked them so my sister wanted to make them instead of chocolate for her friends, and it was fun. When I went to school for the next day or two I got some amazing treats from friends <3. I actually did a speech contest on March 14th on this. Of, course it was in Japanese and it had to be about 5-6 minutes long. You were allowed to choose whatever topic you wanted and since we were giving it on White Day I figured ‘Why not?’. I didn’t win anything but I did get a huge ego-boost when one of the Rotarians came over to me and said my Japanese was the best. Even if he was just trying to make me feel better, it still made my day.

I’ve had two or three Rotary camps since I’ve last written. I have to admit…. They are almost ALWAYS so dull. A lot of speeches and lectures and usually stuff that I’m not prepared for because no one told me about it. The bright side is I always get to meet a lot of Japanese kids who are always SO excited and happy to talk to you and ask you questions and practice their English and just want to be your friend. It’s so cute (>w<)! I had a camp in February where Rotary had us up in the Northern part (where there was SOOOO much snow. Seriously, piles and piles way above my waist) where they were trying to break up the dullness by throwing in ‘curling’ lessons the next day. Hm. It was….. New. For those of you who don’t know, because I sure didn’t, curling is the Olympic sport of sliding a giant rock across the ice and trying to get your rock closer to the center of the bulls-eye than your opponents rock. Veeeeery thrilling sport. We had a mini-competition and my team…. well. We were pretty bad. haha. I was able to go to the camp with two of my friends from school though, because they are part of the ‘Interact club’ at school and, as always, seeing my other exchangee buddies made it ten times better.

This month there was another camp called the ‘Spring Camp’ that was absolutely amazing. It was a camp for the future outbounds (or Japanese kids who will go to other countries soon) to get ‘prepared’. This camp had the most exchange kids out of all the camps I’ve been at. Usually there’s only the five of us but this time there was about 12 plus a bunch of English teachers working in Japan for a year. There was a lot interesting conversation going around and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at an orientation in Japan. I also met a girl who is coming to Florida soon for a year! I promised her we would meet up and I can’t wait to see her back in the states.

I also went to a place called ‘Zao’ with a bunch of my Rotarians in February as well. It has a bunch of what they call ‘snow monsters’ but what they actually are is a bunch of trees that are positioned in the mountains so that snow piles and piles upon them until you can’t even see the tree anymore, just a giant… well….. snow monster. It was sooooooooooo cold up there, and so pretty. It also happens to be the area of a popular ski resort, so I had to stand there with the only group of people not planning on skiing or snowboarding while we were there. I never did get to go skiing or snowboarding while I still could. So, I’m just going to have to come back to Japan just to do that. It is starting to look like I might have to come back to see Mt. Fuji as well. And Hiroshima. And Kyoto. And Hokkaido. I still have so many places I haven’t been yet, and I only have a 3 and half months left. Rotary is absolutely right when they tell you that your exchange starts to speed up after you hit that half a year mark. Everything is finally falling into place, I have a good friends, a good grasp of the language, I love my town and can navigate without getting lost, and I met the ‘new’ exchange student who came to my school the other day. That makes me the ‘old’ exchange student…… How weird is that? The ‘old’ exchange students always seem to leave so soon. They always seem to know so much about the language and way of life about their country. I don’t feel like I’m ready to go yet or that I know enough about Japan.

On the other hand I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going home. It’s not homesickness, I’m not sitting around missing everyone everyday and longing to be back, but I know it’ll be nice to see my family and friends again. I want to see what’s and who’s changed back there. And I miss my dog and cat. aha.

So right now it’s Spring break. Technically, it’s only two weeks long, but since the last week was only for people who didn’t do well enough on their exams I got three. Still one left to go before I go back and become a third year! Which is equal to a senior back in America. I’ve been pretty busy lately though. Almost always something to do or someone to hang out with. I went to another soccer game the other day and had the opportunity to sit in the ‘supporter’ seat. You get to stand for two hours and sing and jump the entire time. It was a LOT of fun even though it surprised everyone by being unnaturally cold AND snowy the entire time. Yep. The end of March and it was snowing…. Hard. Ahhhhh~~~ I love it. After that I haven’t done anything real exciting lately, just the usual. I went and stayed the night for two nights with one of my previous host families who I hadn’t seen in a while. I love going and seeing old host families. They always make you feel so good about your language abilities. haha. Oh! And when I went to spend the night at a friend’s house I got one of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten since I’ve come to Japan. My friend’s big sister went to America through Rotary a couple of years ago but didn’t want to talk to me in English. When I asked her why she said it was because it would be like talking to a Japanese person in English and that it would just be weird.

Apparently I’ve been on TV a bunch of times. I just never know about it! One time there was a problem with the bullet train and I was at the station waiting for someone. The next day my friend told me I had been on TV. I had seen the cameraman but didn’t think he was filming! And then there was a festival where after New Year’s you go and burn old papers at a shrine in a giant fire with other people. I hadn’t even seen a cameraman man that time. I was surprised when the same friend told me I had been on TV again. And then again at the Speech Contest all of the Rotary exchange students were on the News a lot for a while. I got a flood of emails from friends saying they had seen me on TV. I was slightly mortified, especially after I saw for myself. Haha

I was able to go to one of my host sisters graduation ceremony from Elementary school. Wow. Big difference from what I remember in America. At first it was really boring, just everyone getting their name called and going up to the front and taking their certificate of graduation. Then they all sang a bunch of songs and then there was a long time where the ones graduating were talking to the lower years about doing their best, then the younger years were thanking the ones graduating for their guidance and helpfulness. Saying they would not forget them and such. It was sweet, but it felt a little too heavy to me for Elementary school kids.

I can’t wait till May! I have a Tokyo tour for a couple days with four other exchange students. It’s probably going to be one on the best things during this exchange.

I feel bad, not only is this journal overdue, but it’s kind of short as well. There just really hasn’t been that much going on. I’m settled in. Everyday isn’t exciting and full of adventure. I still love it here! But, now it’s just all so normal. It’s really hard to talk in English with people lately. I keep having to stop and correct myself. I guess people don’t always understand what ‘arubaito’ means. haha

Well, until next time-

Georgia

(BTW -it means part-time job J)

May 15 Journal

Well hello again everyone! It’s been a while and I seem to be late with this journal once again. Lately my life has suddenly become incredibly busy and I’ve been able to come up with reasons to put off writing this journal for about a month and a half with ease. Lets see~~

When I last left off it was just turning to April and I was on Spring break for school. Two weeks of relaxation and fun before going back to school as a senior, and in Japan that’s when the studying REALLY starts. As soon as it hit the first of April I switched to my last of 8 families and I have to say that I don’t think I could’ve picked a better family to be my last. I’ve only been here a month but I have grown so fond of not only my two younger brothers, but my mom and dad, and even grandpa. I can’t say exactly why I like this family so much, maybe it’s the fact that we eat dinner sitting on the floor the traditional way, or that I can watch sumo with grandpa, or maybe it’s that I have two younger brothers who seem to provide me with a constant source of entertainment. I also enjoy the variety of Japanese here. My dad speaks fast, my brothers speak slight slang, my grandpa speaks… like a grandpa (haha), and my mom is what I consider pretty normal. It’s a nice way to learn the different varieties of Japanese. I can’t believe a month has already passed here. With my other families I would have been moved on to the next family by now, so I’m so thrilled to have more time to spend with this one. PLUS, their oldest child is now in Florida doing an exchange through Rotary. Chihiro will be coming back to Japan before I leave so I’ll have about two weeks to live with her as well and although I’ve only been able to meet her once (and talk to her a couple of times via computer) she seems like so much fun and I know that once she gets back the house will not only be louder (haha) but even more amazing! <3 The only tough part is that the house is located in such a hilly area of Sendai that walking and riding your bike around is always a work-out. I’m all for exercising, but some days after school I wish I could just fly up the hill instead and jump into bed!

The seventh of April I was headed back to school for the opening ceremony. Usually in Japan the beginning of a new school year means you not only change classrooms and your homeroom teacher but classmates as well and have to get used to a new set of faces for the year, HOWEVER my class is a special international class so everyone is together from the beginning of the first year to the end of the third year. I’m still with the same familiar faces as when I first came here and I’m ecstatic about that. I reaaaaaaaally have grown to love my classmates so much and felt like it was fate that I was put into this class. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. There’s always someone ready and willing to help me or joke with or break out into random dancing. The only thing that really changed was the classroom… It’s become the furthest from the entrance of the school and you have the pleasure of climbing four flights of stairs. haha.

Coming back to school was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had since I’ve come to Japan. It was a little like the first day, a new beginning, but this time I had friends, knew the school, could communicate, and felt this wonderful sense of… Belonging. Another thing they do at the beginning of school is a health check-up.. You know, weight, height, eyesight, that sort of stuff. OH! And recently everyone had to give uh… urine samples as well. Not sure if it’s just my school but I was happy I was exempt and that we definitely don’t do that back at my school in Florida. I’m still in the Interact club and our head teacher switched at the beginning of the new school year. We now have a staggering 40 some people signed up and even if they don’t all show up every week it’s still a fairly big increase from the 12 some members last year. About a week ago everyone wrote their first letter to what is going to be the start of pen-pals to a school in America, and seeing as I had the slight feeling that an American student might be disappointed to get a letter from another American when they were expecting one from a Japanese school-girl, I resigned myself to walking around and helping them write letters. It was fun. We also had a small Easter party at which the Japanese students (and the exchange students from Thailand and France) were able to dye eggs for the first time. Obviously I was considered a pro 😉

My exchange friends are all leaving next month. I’m going to fall apart when we have to say goodbye, seriously. I’m the only one leaving in July and I’ll have to say farewell to them one by one.

I don’t want to.

My American friends will be easier to say goodbye to because I know I’ll have a chance to meet them again, but the two from France and Mexico… I feel like I’ve known them for years and over this exchange we’ve had so many amazing experiences together and so many stupid jokes and so many ‘firsts’ and it’s just going to completely and royally…… Suck. We still have our Tokyo tour together this month (after 1 more week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and we’re determined to not talk about the departure dates and leaving, but just enjoy it to the fullest. It’s so weird. I’ve been looking forward to the tour for the past 10 months and now it’s here and I have less than 2 months left. Lately I been making plans with friends and host families like crazy and realized I don’t have enough time to get together with everyone I want to. ‘There’s not enough time’. 時間が足りない。私の日本にいる時間が足りない。I never thought I would think that. When I first came here, it seemed like I had all the time in world.

So! It’s spring in Japan and that means that in the beginning, all of Japan gradually turns pinkish and smells really good. Yes, it was the season of cherry blossoms, aka ‘sakura’. Sendai finally had its time and it was better than I expected. I was reminded of how I felt when I first came to Japan because I was once again walking throughout town being reminded that I really was in Japan. I was only disappointed by the shortness of the flowers’ stay, a mere week and then the rain and wind was sweeping through the trees and it was raining petals over the city, the only reminder of the blossoms being the pink ground that was littered with them. I was almost worried that I wouldn’t get to go to one of the Japanese’s favorite pastime during the sakura season, a ‘hana-mi’. A ‘hana-mi’ is a mixture of the word ‘hana’-flower and ‘miru’-look. It usually refers to in spring when a large amount of people go out to a place with a lot of blooming sakura trees, sit outside, eat, drink sake, and enjoy the beauty of the sakura around them. I was really busy the week that the trees were blooming and my family didn’t have any plans to go out and do one, so one day after school I finally decided to go by myself if I had to! I asked my friends where one of the bigger parks was and once they discovered what I was planning to do before I knew it there was a group of 6 girls wanting to come with. I was surprised and happy and had a lot more fun than I would have had if I had gone by myself. It was so Japanese-y and the numerous food vendors were peddling their goods to the large amount of people, most including salary men and women who take ‘hana-mi’s as a time to drink until late at night and relax from their busy workdays. My friends and I also ended up making a friend, a 3 or 4 year-old girl who came over and soon had us walking all over the place. Afterwards her mom gave her new big sisters free food, too. It really was very pretty and I will have to come back to do another ‘hana-mi’.

A couple weeks ago my school had their annual ‘school outing’. And all of the classes got to choose where they wanted to go for a day.. My class choose the ‘Koiwai farm’ and we got to spend a day out of school uniform and enjoying a day in the country instead. The place wasn’t quite that exciting but they did have amazing ice cream and we got to make our own butter. It was also just nice to get to walk around with my friends and take pictures of everyone together.

The beginning of May was something in Japan known as Golden Week. It’s basically a week of a bunch of holidays in a row that gives all of Japan an excuse for everyone to take a massive break from the usual. It also happens to contain my birthday, May 3rd, so it made it even better! On the second I ended up going over to my first host family’s house and spending the night for the first time since I moved in September. It was sooooooo neat to be able to talk with them and have a decently in-depth conversation without the use of a dictionary! They were really surprised at my Japanese and it was nice to be able to just catch up with them and that night they even brought out a birthday cake and a couple presents. The next day we went to a nearby town to eat ramen and after a while they returned me to my current host family and while it was fun and amazing to see them again, I got home and was just like….

‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It’s good to be home’. And promptly stretched out on the floor and took a nap. Haha. Then that day later on my mom right now took me out to the mall and let me pick out a watch that I wanted for my birthday present (I turned 17 by the way). We also had a big dinner and cake too so I was feeling pretty spoiled. Not to mention the great flood of emails from family and friends back home and in Japan, I felt like my birthday would never end. On the fifth I went and saw a friend who was in a drama and thoroughly enjoyed it and afterwards went out with a bunch of others to eat (お好み焼き会!笑) and karaoke. Then the next day was spent with Emma from France and we… well… Karaoke, purikura, shopping, and eating.

School started the next day and it was good to see everyone. I was feeling on top of the world the entire day for some reason. It only got better when I was dragged off my by friend to the first floor to look at some English work she needed help with and then when we got back to the classroom the whole world exploded. A bunch of party crackers and cries of ‘Happy Birthday Georgia!’. There was a cake as well~ My third one that week!! After I recovered from the initial shock I was presented with a present and an origami heart. The present was a giant pajama thing in the shape of bear that I had been wanting for a while, but don’t quite remember telling anyone. That would have made my day enough, but the best part was the origami heart that had thirty some other paper hearts with messages from all of my classmates on them. That’s what made me start to cry as I read through them. A bunch of them said things like ‘You only have two months left but…..’, ‘We’ll miss you!’, ‘Love you Georgia!’, and ‘I’m so glad I got to meet you!’. As I was reading through them I was struck with such a big I DON’T WANT TO GO AWAY feeling. I got a taste of what is probably going to start coming after a couple more weeks.

Did you know that in Japan there is Mothers Day as well? It seems to be just as popular as it is in America and I realize with horror that I had not only one mother now… but nine. I ended up only giving flowers and cards to the two I saw almost everyday and then sent a mail to a couple too. I called my mom back in America and talked with her for two hours as well, and that seemed to make up for me being a bad daughter and not sending anything at all. My current host mom ended up taking me and one of my younger brothers out and about that day too. It was nice even if we did go to the planetarium on a cloudy day. Haha.

I have a huge test coming up this Saturday and I have this sinking feeling that I’m not prepared at allllllll. It includes conversation, grammar, listening, explanation, kanji, etc., etc. There are two levels and for some crazy reason another exchange student and I are the only two taking the upper level while the rest of the exchange students take the lower level. Pure insanity I tell you. Insanity.

Okay~~~ So. This is long enough I am ending it!

Ill update, hopefully, soon☆♡

Jya~ mata ne!

Georgia

Jennifer “Jenny” Panitch
2008-09 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Sarasota, Florida
School: Sarasota Military Academy
Sponsor: Sarasota Keys Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Kuopio-Kallavesi Rotary Club, District 1430, Finland

Jenny - Finland

Jenny’s Bio

“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world.

Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before.

Let your soul take you where you long to be…

Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar,

and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.”

-Phantom of the Opera

Hello! I am Jennifer Panitch from sunny Sarasota, Florida. I was born in a small town outside of Chicago, Illinois, Buffalo Grove, where there were inordinate amounts of snow each winter and excruciating heat in the summer. Florida was quite the change, and what a nice one indeed. I suppose I should unpack my old winter clothes to prepare for my journey to Finland’s frigidness.

I live with my mom and dad and our neurotic dog named Winnie. We are very close, the Three Musketeers. I am an only child, unless you count the neighbors, Dan and Jon, and all of the friends that come in and out of our house each day calling my parents “Momma P” and “Captain P”. We should really have a revolving door. Almost every night Dan and Jon, show up at our house at dinnertime no matter what time dinner is being put out. It’s their sixth sense. I guess you could say that my family is somewhat friendly. J

I attend Sarasota Military Academy for high school. It is anything but normal. Currently I am a 16-year-old senior with good grades and a knack for getting myself involved in way too much all at once. Usually I am in over my head in homework, color guards, drill meets, my horse, reading a different book each week, volunteering for American Cancer Society, Interact Club, working as a hostess at a local restaurant, being a teenager, and eating (a lot).

I typically am extremely bubbly and hyper. I am easily amused; it’s the simple things in life! I am always eager to add something else to my plate and Rotary Youth Exchange seems like the perfect main course. This journey I will be embarking on will be one the most challenging experiences of my life, but unquestionably the most worthwhile.

July 29 Journal

With a heavy heart and an open mind I patiently watch the world around me crumble and take new shape into a creature I could never have imagined. Each day my eyes well up with tears. In those tiny droplets I feel excitement, pain, fear, joy, apprehension, bliss…

It’s Tuesday night… Tuesday the 29th. I leave on Saturday (my best friend leaves for Sweden tomorrow {it scares the begeebies out of me}). We have been awaiting this time for months, months that seem like days, days that seemed to flicker by in an instant. Am I ready? There is no good answer to that seeing as I doubt anyone can truly prepare themselves utterly and completely for a journey such as this.

Aside from my indecision over my preparedness and packing abilities, I am doing fairly well. Although yesterday when I received my e-ticket receipt I almost had a nervous breakdown. I know deep in my heart that I will do great. I know that each one of us will succeed in our challenges, but my psyche is fragile at the moment. My conscience hasn’t yet decided whether or not it’s ready. It’s an unexplainable phenomenon, this mixture of feelings. I didn’t know this single emotion I feel was possible, an omnibus of feelings and thoughts all wrapped in one compact present just for me (yippee!).

I know, I know… a slightly dismal blog. But! It’s an interesting time with interesting thoughts. My brain seems to be filled with whale blubber making this week feel completely out of focus and mushy. I desperately wish there were better words to explain it.

Till next time good people… J

Wish me luck on getting all of that stuff… into those suitcases… =/. Meh.

August 9 Journal

Hyy hyy Hyttylassa hyttyslapset laula. YY jyy jypy typy tyy, jylly rylly ryllyy yy jyy jypy typy tyy, jylly rylly ryy.

That would be one stanza from my officially new favorite song entitled Vokaalilalu. It repeats that eight times using every vowel.. or as the Finns say.. wowel. It’s way fun. J

Being one of a methodical mind, I will start at the beginning of the beginning….

Driving from Sarasota, Florida to Tampa takes approximately an hour. During that time I stared out my window at the last of the palm trees I would see again for a year. I also observed a fly buzzing around in the vehicle and named him Leonard.

Once I arrived at the airport, bags in tow, with trustee parents navigating the oversized luggage through the parking garage I felt absolutely nothing other than one repetitive thought… “Can I leave already, golly!” Yes, I say golly. I quickly reached the check-in desk and proceeded to do just that. Well! You know how when you have to check your luggage you place them on the little scale thingymabobber and push some thingys on the totally modern touch screen check-in and you’re on you way? Sounds simple right? Hahahahahahaha. Lucky for me, my lovely (ihana) father decided that, at the precise time I needed dire assistance in maneuvering my bags onto the scale, I was a free bird and could do it on my own.. an independent woman. PFFFTTTTT! That’s what I call ridiculous (I love you Daddy). I managed alright I suppose.

During this whole process, I found Cindy from Orlando who also happened to be accompanying me to Finland, and Danny who was off to Denmark. It was such a relief, especially since Katie (going to Poland) came with Danny to see him off! It was just super seeing her too! A real party. We all parted ways and went off with our families to eat the last supper.. or in our case…. lunch. Oddly enough, we all ended up at the SAME RESTAURANT. Go figure.. out of the… hold on, let me count… one, two, three….. okay.. one restaurant.. we all chose to eat! At lunchtime nonetheless. Okay okay okay.. I’m sure you don’t want to hear all about the food we ate.. or didn’t eat and the portion sizes compared to price and the actual value..

So I’ll jump to… DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!……. The goodbyessss. Now picture this.. three families.. three exchange students.. standing in a semi-crowded airport hugging and hugging and posing for pictures and more hugging and hugging. It was not nearly as difficult as we all had thought… although I’m still not completely sure if my dad had to peel Mommy off the floor once the tram doors closed… or maybe it was the other way around.. Hmmm!?

We managed security and proceeded to strut soopuhfabulously though the terminal to our awaiting gate. All of just happened to be seated… okay try and guess… NOT next to each other.. not near each other at all in fact. very disappointing. We attempted to switch some seats around, but a grumpy flight attendant man was being.. well…. grumpy… I felt like pinching his cheeks and calling him a grumpy gills… then I had the urge to put on my Puss N’ Boots eyes and attempt to sway his mood by make him feel really bad for upsetting a poor little girl traveling across the world. I did neither though, and ended up sitting next to Hannah, a seven year old from Indiana. Her step-mom was towards the back, her dad towards the front… and her sisters all over and about the aircraft. Hannah and I had a great time drawing and playing Find-It (it’s like a modern Ispy game).. We shared Twizzlers and a can of Pepsi, drank our Pepsi with Twizzler straws and talked. I know everything about her and her family and how she doesn’t remember her oldest sister’s middle name, but her middle name is Marie and they missed their flight so that’s why they’re on this plane and how she would very much like me to join her on her next flight to Indiana… when I told her I couldn’t she told me she liked my watch and asked if she could keep it.. I said no, Silly… she said kayy and we continued on. She was very definitely the most wonderful plane buddy I’ve ever had.

Once the hairpane, as I like to call it, hit ground in Detroit… not as gently as I would have liked, but safely, Danny and Cindy and I reunited and proceeded to run/leap/skip down the moving walkways together.. the most fun we could have asked for from floors moving at less that 2 MPH. In Detroit we found nearly twenty other exchange students from all over the United States. We explored a bit, made some friends… mingled. By the way, if you ever get the chance to spend a few hours in the Detroit airport search for the Hall of Many Lights and the red Traintrain. Both are a bundle of fun. The train goes approximately 3000 MPH though the airport… yes, it’s true, and the Hall of Many Lights is like taking very illegal drugs, but legally… and it’s perfectly safe. J. The only downside to Detroit, is that they failed me in the one thing I desire most in this world.. Diet Coke. Yes Folks, I’m addicted. AND! The best part is, that there isn’t Diet Coke in Europe.. It’s Cocacolai’mgrossinabottle Light. So all I wanted was one Diet Coke, a last farewell. NOPE! McDonalds soda fountain just happened to be out of order. Mhmm! I’m still angry.

The flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was long. And it was long. And, uhh, it was long. Guess how long I slept for on this glorious eight hour flight. Ten minutes. Yep! It’s okay though, they served real chicken. I enjoy chicken.

In the Amsterdam airport, we encountered many strange things. The first of which was getting my first stamp in my passport! I was excited.. and kind of scary. I couldn’t see over the counter and had to resort to the one-footed tip-toe method… it gives you at least another two or three inches. We hungry exchange students needed some lunch, so what’s better than Sbarro pizza!!! Heck yes they have Sbarro in Amsterdam. Not just any Sbarro though.. the man working there was a forty something year old nut from somewhere else in Europe… he spoke 500 languages and had four gold teeth. He talked to everyone… a lot…. a lot a lot. When we were up, I ordered and he asked me “Where from?” I said Florida excitedly with my usually smile on my face… he replies.. “NO! You look Russian.. you are from Russia, no?” I proceeded to giggle off his gibberish that slightly resembled English.. sorta.. and then he started getting very excited about pizza and began to shout at me happily in Hungarian. It was definitely an experience.

Once we located the gate to Helsinki, which happened to be down a secret escalator and though an unattended metal detector that beeped every time someone walked though it, everything was a blur. I began to get nervous and anxious, although it was most likely sleep deprivation and mind-tricks.

I slept a tad on the flight and took the cute (söpö) utensils given to us to eat our food with. I didn’t eat the food though. I couldn’t eat a thing.

I met a nice man on the plane though who happened to live in Miami, he moved there from Finland almost ten years ago. He helped me with my luggage in those hard to reach overhead bins and led me and some other exchange students to the baggage claim, explaining signs and things along the way.

Baggage claim was a mess. Literally. There were the boys by the belt throwing the luggage people pointed out was theirs, mostly girls with overstuffed suitcases… like me. Bags were EVERYWHERE. There was no possible way to move through the area we were in. On our flight there had been us, and a lacrosse team, and some other poor souls who were stuck with us. We all picked up little luggage carts and proceeded though those silver doors leading us to freedom, the first fresh air we had been in in hours. We were outside for about 3 minutes, walking to the bus and then loading our bags. We sat on a stationary charter bus for an hour and a half, and then drove for another two and a half hours. Golly it was long. I finally got some sleep though which was desperately needed. By then it was late and we were awed by the fact that the sun was still up at 10pm. When we arrived at our camp we piled off the bus and mulled into the lobby, hoping one of our Finnish tutors would help us with our bags. They gave us good hot coffee and bread and cucumber… there is cucumber with every meal, and showed us to our rooms. Finally I could shower… I smelled awful. Blech.

Language camp went by so fast! My teacher stunk… I learned only a little bit, but it helped I suppose. My tutor, Perttu, was excellent. He is 16 and lives in Helsinki. He is officially one of my top 5 favorite Finns. He was so funny and so helpful and made class a lot more enjoyable. I made tons of wonderful friends… my besties coming from Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Canada, and Belgium! I also had a boy from Mexico, Juan, fall in love with me. Every time he saw me he gave me a hug and told me how cute I was and how I will always be his favorite American. J.

At camp we did sauna for the first time. It was great! Afterwards we jumped into the freezing lake, not what I’d call excellent. I know the question on all of your minds…. did you do it like the Finns? Not at first… but by the third time there were 7 of us girls who decided to bare all, literally, and go nude. It was wonderful. You should try it next time you’re at the local YMCA. J.

The week blew by and before we know it our makeshift family of exchange students slowly disintegrated as our new families came to pick us up. The nerves surging though the room at closing ceremonies was electric. You could feel everyone’s pulse, host parents and exchange students alike. It was a feeling I never could explain, seeing my new family waving a sign with my name on it. I hugged them all and was immediately filled with warmth.

The car ride home was a long four hours, I slept most of the way. By the time we arrived at my beautiful new home, I was overwhelmed with a new set of obscure emotions that I had never felt before and still can’t describe. Today I cried for the first time. I didn’t cry when I left… I didn’t cry on the plane… I didn’t cry at camp. But I sat in my new room and sobbed as I unpacked my belongings. It was sadness and happiness and everything combined. I found a note my dad had buried amongst my things and read it. It was short and sweet, and just at that moment my host mom Anne came in. My eyes welled up and and there were the waterworks, something I didn’t want her to see. She knows what I feel, her son Joonas left today for Florida, and she asked what I was holding. I simply said, “Daddy left me a note.” She hugged me and sat with me for a bit until I regained composure. I realized at that moment in time that no matter how far away I am, and what family I may be living with, Daddy will always be my Daddy, and that the family I have back in Florida is the most valuable thing on this planet, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They support me through this and without them, I don’t know if I would make it out alive. I miss my family more than anything, but I know that they are there and always will be. I know I will be fine, but still I sit here for the first time on my new bed and wonder what will become of me this year. How will I grow, how will I adapt, and how will I keep that smile on my face when I can’t think of a reason to be happy? I know that every second I spend here is the luckiest of my life, no matter how down I feel. I know that out of this experience a new woman will blossom, emerging the true person I am meant to be. Wish me luck, world. I’m here and I’m not exactly sure if I’m ready. I suppose we will just have to wait and see.

Cheers, to my first night at home. Terve Kuopio. On kaunis.

August 17 Journal

And now for my next installment….. =].

I have keen observatory skills… a knack for noticing and thinking deeply about what would normally be considered arbitrary and overlooked (unfortunately)… not even considered. Having this awesome ability I have been recording these observations. In Florida they were very nice, but now they have grown and since all I do at the moment is observe, for learning purposes, I find the most peculiar of things. For example.. I plugged my flash drive thingy into the USB port on the lappy and noticed that although it looks solid white.. it has a light on the inside that flashes!!! It’s quite intriguing if you ask me. Observe as you read. Mostly all my journal is observation. You should try it more often.

I’ll begin with explaining my school’s scheduling…

There are six class periods in a day… but each day is different… You can take a maximum of 8 classes and will essentially have each class 3 times a week. I however, am taking a total of 5 classes.. but only have three a day… I’m taking English 4, English 8, Philosophy, Art, and Math. On Maanantai, figure it out yourself… it’s a day of the week, I take classes 3, 4, and 5.. starting at 9:40am and ending at 2:20pm. On Tiistai I have classes 6, 3, and 2… beginning at 11:05 and ending at 3:50. On Keskiviikko, I’ll give you this one… it’s Wednesday, I have classes 4, 5, and 6…. beginning at 9:40 and ending at 2:20. On Torstai I have 6, 3, and 2 once again… starting at 11:05 and ending at 3:50. Finally on Perjantai, duhh, it’s the only day of the week left, I have classes 2, 4, and 5… beginning at 9:40 and ending at 2:20. Confusing huh? Yeah.. I only have classes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. It’s nice. Once I memorize the schedule I have to switch too! Schedules are changed every two months!!!!

Not only is the schedule ridiculous, but the rules! Hah! What rules?! You can use you phone whenever you want, except during lessons… For example, the other day I was waiting for class to start.. sitting there in my seat minding my own business and there’s a girl in her seat chatting away on the phone! Crazy. They don’t have to worry about PDA either because Finns are not affectionate =[. The most affection I’ve seen between a boy and girl is a kiss on the cheek and a half hug. OOOOOO WEEEE! Hahahaha.

In my first class on Tiistai, which happens to be English 8.. we were reading a passage about the Six Degrees of Separation. It basically explains that everyone is connected to anyone through merely 6 friends. You could be the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend to… let’ say… Heath’s mom Janet. It’s true. One specific excerpt caught my eye. You all must know who Kevin Bacon is, right? Well in this book it explains Kevin Bacon as a relatively unknown actor… but he’s miraculously connected to Irina Björklund though the six degrees of separation. Thank God because if he wasn’t somehow connected to her, he’d practically be a nobody! Yes folks, that my sarcasm for you… Everyone knows Kevin Bacon.. He’s the man!

Onward… Finnish boys are attractive sure.. I mean.. blonde hair, arctic blue eyes, a sultry swagger… but! They seriously need some help in the fashion department. Starting at the top.. shirt, fine, pants, fine, shoes… okay pause right there.. no no no no no.. it does not go directly from pants to shoes like it should. For some reason unbeknownst to me… they tuck the bottoms of their pants into their socks. Why!? Why would you do that? There is no explanation that I can muster up. Also they are super shy… possibly because they realize that no girl would want to be associated with a guy who tucks his pants into his socks. Hmmmm. Notice the picture of some of the boys making fun of my hatred of pant tucking.

It’s also funny to see how segregated everything typically is. In all of my classes girls sat with girls and boys with boys.. in only one class there was a girl and guy sitting together. It was so weird… at least for Finland.

Today is my two week anniversary of being in Finland and gosh, it does not seem like that at all. I feel like I have been here for AGES! I suppose I am slightly specific in my rehashing of experiences, so I’ll give a brief overview of the things you all want to know about, but I’m tired of answering…. =].

The food is good. The people are nice. I’m making friends (miraculously). Shopping is good. Exchange rate is bad. Yes, the Finns want to know about American politics and the economy. They all think Hillary Clinton is still in the race for presidency. The teenagers listen to American music, the same stuff we listen to back home. They have indoor plumbing. There’s cable TV. Precipitation here feels the same. The dirt tastes the same too. Porridge is icky… made with rice, milk, and gross all mixed together for a disgusting combination.

About my home…

My family has a garden, they grow 965 types of berries, along with potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and as my host dad calls it, salad (lettuce). The house is beautiful, see attached photos. My room is nice, cozy, warm. I live in Rytky (pronounced rrrrrrrrr-oooot-kuhooo)… it’s a small village, about 30 kilometers outside of the city. My friends here find it extremely inconvenient, as do I. They laugh when I tell people where I live. My host dad has a bee farm in the backyard, yes folks, a bee farm. He makes his own honey. Even the Finns here think it’s strange.

Yesterday on the radio I heard the song Penny Lane by the Beatles… in Finnish. It was quite possibly the funniest thing I had ever heard.

As I said, I have made friends. Which is quite the relief…. Finns are thuper shy. I even had a jam packed weekend FULL OF PLANS!!!!

Ready for more details???

Mmmk.

Perjantai (if you don’t remember what day this is… look it up.): I only had one class, English. I sat with my friend Salla, she’s really nice. She was an exchange student in Mexico last year. The rest of the day was set aside for first years to have an “initiation” of sorts…. they play silly games and the administration makes them do weird things haha. Salla and I got coffee. It was lovely, she’s so nice to talk to. It’s really helpful having a friend who was an exchange student.. so she knows how I feel. After coffee I got to meet up with Mona (she was an exchange student in Jacksonville last year)!!!!! It was sooo good seeing her again! We got ice cream and talked and hugged!!!! After that I met up with my other friend Anna and we went to a birthday party which was REALLY FUN! It was at the top of a building in the main square… we had to walk up 10 flights of stairs in high heels (we didn’t realize that there was an elevator). Salla met us there later that night. I made so many new friends, it was quite the relief.

Lauantai (Saturday): Saturday was busy as well. Spent the day with Janne, another friend, and met his friends. I‘m meeting so many new people. It was busy and I don’t feel like typing every inch of it, I’m sure you don’t want to read every inch of it either.

As of now I am teaching myself to ride a public bus… to be on time for the bus.. to walk a lot…. to not talk all the time… and I suppose I’ll attempt to learn Finnish too. =].

I have been reading quite a lot lately in school… because the lessons are in Finnish… fast Finnish. And I have found quite a few quotes that I love… and one that suits this experience perfectly…

“… I learned that loss was life. Tears were inexperience. The shock was gradually absorbed, all emotional bodies eventually regained their proper orbit.”

August 27 Journal
A smooth river glistening as it gently cascades down the contours of her face; her nasal cavity, alive with mucus and boogies, dying for their chance at ultimate freedom, only to have their dreams crushed by the plush of a Kleenex tissue (or sleeve). A cough laden with phlegm. A head ache that causes her brain to ooze out of the ears. A common side effect…. Inconceivable sleep deprivation.
The Finnish Flu.

Yes, I am home sick today… Working diligently on a little over 4 hours of sleep. J.

Aside from the fact that I am perpetually spinning into the icky green abyss of flu-dom, Finland knows how to treat a girl right. Not only do I have a solid group of friends, but an active social life, and a warm and loving extended family (consisting of nearly 20 members).

This past week has been remarkably good. The day to day seems to become more normal.. or as normal as it can be, I suppose.

I’m getting exceptionally good at riding the bus. Public transportation has never been my forte, but if I do say so myself, Kuopio’s bus system in the outer realms of the city is simply spectacular. Nice charter buses, clean and smell nice. The bus drivers are kind of scary, but I smile my thousand watt-er and watch them melt. J. I have a cool bus card too.. so I can ride WHENEVER I WANT! Heck yes! The first week I missed the bus two mornings in a row and was terribly embarrassed, but now with my knowledge and expertise, I no longer miss the bus. Also, I had to take the bus home one day, which means that I had to find the bus station… all by myself…. I was scared.. but for some odd reason, my memory did not fail me, and I made it with time to spare… I bought myself a soda. I also haven’t been getting lost on the 2 kilometer walk from school to the downtown Centrum.

This past weekend I was busy busy busy. On Friday night we had a fiesta at my friend Noora’s house. It was supposed to be a girls’ night with dancing and tacos and stuff… but it ended up being a girls’ night… playing cards and eating pizza. Hahah. We did dance a little bit… to the Follow the Leader song. Look it up on youtube and dance with it. It was quite possibly the most fun I’ve had this whole time I’ve been here. My favorite move would have to be the ‘jump and wave’. J.

Saturday was the most intense day everrrrrrr. All of my host families came over for the evening. And whew, let me tell you… it was kind of weird. When everyone first arrived it was the most awkward. My third host family is close with the family I’m with now, so the boys knew each other already, but my second family is new for everyone, so we all sat around the giant couch and didn’t talk. Not a word was said for at least ten minutes. Soon enough though the boys went off to play darts and I spoke with my other ‘parents’ about how I’m doing, if I’m making friends, school, ya know, the usual. It seemed like it took ages for dinner to be ready. I was starving and thought that maybe it would open everyone up a bit sitting together. Dinner went well and the food was delicious, everyone began chatting and I finally had a conversation, a short one, but a conversation nonetheless, with my oldest host brother, Jani, and his girlfriend. They are both very shy, especially when it comes to speaking English, or nowadays, Finglish.

After dinner we played a modified game of Hide-and-Seek. Everyone played, even the adults. It was a lot more fun than I had expected it would be. We played for over an hour. All of my host parents went for sauna, and I played poker with my host brothers and sisters. It was a blast! I kicked their Finnish butts in Texas Hold ‘Em!!!!

Sunday was rather enjoyable as well. My family and I went to a party at another exchange student’s house, Riley from Michigan. We had a really fun time – as it turns out, one of my friends from school is his third host family! AND my little brother, Jere’s, ex-girlfriend’s family is his second host family! Ironic, huh?

Nature is appreciated so much here. I picked berries for the first time!! It was actually quite enjoyable. Very relaxing. Everyone should try it one day. =]. We picked berries as a family, all four of us. My host father is always in the forest picking berries or catching crabs or something… well… the other night he came home with a box FILLED with these weird mushrooms that looked kind of like flowers almost… Some were orange and the others were black. He pointed at the orange ones and said ‘These are good.’ Pointed at the black ones, ‘These might be good… I don’t know if they are poisonous or not though…’ *smiles. Then he puts the box in my face and says ‘Want to TRY?!’ Hahahah. Later that night he was cooking up the black ones with some onions and told me to try some…. We took before and after pictures.

Okay okay okay. For any of you who really know me well.. you’ll appreciate this.

Many years ago, back when I was at the Academy J, one of my professors asked some very important questions. One being… If you were being chased by a flock of angry penguins, what would you do? The response had to do with a giant salmon suit (they have good salmon here). The next question was the most important of all… If you had to get a saddle on a moose, how would you do it? This answer involved sky-diving and super glue. This erupted my fascination with this mysteriously striking mammal. So obviously, the one food I have been wary about trying here is moose. How anyone could slaughter such a majestic creature with their big nose and antlers, loving brown eyes, soft pelt, perfect teeth…. and turn every ounce of its insides into food is beyond me. I told myself I would try it when the time comes… I knew it would take some courage. Well, yesterday I was talking to my friend Janne about the food I’ve tried here. He asked about moose and elk and such.. I said no, not yet… he also knows my feelings about these beloved animals. He chuckled a bit to himself and said…. ‘Actually… you have.’ As it turns out, the night he was over for dinner (last week!!), we had spaghetti and meatballs… not just any meat balls though… MOOSE BALLS. My host mom told him what they were and not to tell me what it was because she wanted me to eat and thought I wouldn’t eat it if I knew what it was. Mhmm! Okay, you have permission to laugh now.

Yes, they were delicious. Heath, you win.

At this stage in the game I’d say the emotions are still very odd. I still think I am absolutely insane for going on exchange. I think all of us exchange students are positively nuts, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It interesting how the vacation has definitely ended, but the shock of being surrounded by an unfamiliar world has too. Of course I get exceptionally nervous when attempting to communicate with strangers in public, or have to navigate on my own… but in another sense, this world that is so new and strange to me is becoming more and more normal. Not understanding people talking on the street, and having to tell the clerk at a store that I have no idea what the heck she’s talking about and listening to my girlfriends go on and on and on about something in Finnish, it turns out they’re usually talking about flatulence and boys. J. All this is becoming so common that it doesn’t really faze me anymore. I suppose I’ve reached the next stage on that goofy little rollercoaster chart, this one is a little easier to explain than the past few.

I still <3 Moose.
SAVE THE MOOSE.


September 3 Journal

The only logical way to begin these journals now seems to be with a ‘Dear Therapist.’
So…

Dear Therapist,

Is it natural for it to be 5˚ Celsius by the end of August? Is it normal for wind whispering through the grain fields to make a girl smile? How many pieces of bread and butter is too much? Is it necessary to shave your legs, if your bottom attire consists only of long pants? Is skin that was once tan and now a ghostly shade of white able to ever tan again? Is a constant caffeine high bad, even if it’s because all your family drinks is coffee?

I need answers people.

I’d also like to know if confusing the common phrase ‘Are you’ with the phrase ‘Do you want’ is a huge problem… ‘Are you’ in Finnish, is ‘oletko’ and ‘Do you want’ is ‘otatko.’ I honestly don’t see the problem in asking my friends ‘Oletko leipää?’ (Are you bread?).. Rather than the ever popular ‘Otatko leipää?’ (Do you want bread?). They sound SO SIMILAR! Silly Finnish.

Language is a very funny thing. Not only do I get laughed at and mocked constantly for my bad Finnish… but my friends say funny things too. J. I’ll let you in on a few of these hilarious blunders…

-My friend has a ‘slap phone’ …. which is really a flip phone.
-His horoscope happens to be ‘bison’ …. He’s a Taurus.
-It was late the other night… the ‘klock was much’ … yes the klock.
-And my favorite… I remind people of the ‘Duracell Rabbit’ …

The Duracell Rabbit led to my new nickname… Pupu.. Yes it’s pronounced Poo Poo… But it means cute bunny. I don’t think it’s fitting. Besides being called Pupu, Yenny, Yessica, Jankki (yankee), and having a robot vacuum cleaner named after me… I’m called ‘Gringo.’ One of my best friends here was a foreign exchange student in Mexico last year… and he insists on calling me Gringo. J. At least he doesn’t shout ‘Americano’ across the school.

One of the most awkward things I’ve done thus far would have to be….. dinner the other night… My host brother was out, so it was just the folks and me… and well…. My host dad was very interested in learning all of the English curse words. J. I didn’t want to teach him them, but he was so interested in learning. My host mom said she knew some and proceeded to say ‘F-ing idiot’ … but she actually dropped the F-bomb. It was great. So now he knows how to say insert your favorite curse word here. You name it.. he knows it. J. You’re welcome, Al, for spreading the joy of the English language from sea to shining sea.

In English class we were assigned to write an essay… In English. Well, needless to say, I’m pretty sure I did well… especially after my friends in class asked me to edit theirs and I saw the level of writing. It’s fun to read because it sounds like fourth graders writing about high school or college level topics. I have become the resident editor, which I don’t mind in the least. I have to say, though, English class is pretty nerve wracking. We do these listening comprehension tests… and typically I get all the answers right, as I should… but there have been a few times where I’ve missed one or two. You have no idea what a low blow that is… getting questions wrong on a basic elementary English exam.

Last Saturday, I had plans of course… pffttttt… super popular girl right here. HAH! But anyways… I had plans to go watch my friends’ soccer game. From what I gathered, his division or whatever it is, is pretty advanced.. and he’s the captain. J. I was excited to go and watch… despite the fact that it was under 5˚ Celsius and precipitating. I don’t even know what to call this type of precipitation.. it’s like… rain.. but mist… but freezing cold.. and wet…. and…. Lets just say, Florida beach bums are not cut out for this type of weather… This game also happened to be outside.. with about ten spectators… 5 of which were affiliated with the team… The opposing team’s uniforms looked like ‘Where’s Waldo,’ so that was rather amusing. Janne, my friend, asked me to take some super sweet pictures since I have amazing photography skills… I managed to capture one of the guys on the other team giving him what looks like a hug from behind.. him pointing at the sky while the guy he’s standing next to has his hand down his shorts… and a few pictures of people right after something exciting happened.

That same day, since they won, I cooked dinner and was laughed at for where I placed the forks and knives. There was also a little miscommunication with my host family and I ended up having to take a taxi home!! The driver didn’t speak any English so when I told him to turn left and he pointed right, I knew I was in trouble. I did make it back home though, my nice cozy bed awaiting my freezing cold, pissed off self.

I had a nice conversation with my host dad the other day… about US Economics. I hate to say it, Col. Brockman, but none of what I learned in your class helped me explain the price of homes in the US and what the taxes there are like to a man who doesn’t always understand English. J. I managed though. You all, every single one of you, should be proud.

You know what the best feeling in the entire world is? Well, you might have your own idea, but you’re wrong, and I’m going to tell you what is. Imagine yourself walking around a town you’ve lived in for a little over three weeks…. not speaking the language… still not completely comfortable.. certainly not home… and you walk into McDonalds, ready to treat yourself to the first French fries you’ve had since you left… mind you, you’re still alone… and hearing from across the room ‘GRINGO! AMERICANO!’ And seeing people you know, friends… just running into them out of the blue. It’s exciting enough running into people back home, but here… it literally is the best and most comforting feeling in the world.

Aside from finally feeling settled, things are going well….

My friend Sampsa tried to teach me some Swedish… I translated the passage… To me, it said ‘The tourist in the Armani suit was doing somersaults with a bucket at the cracker stand.’ I think I was close.. but not close enough. So instead of proceeding on, his friend showed me an embarrassing video of him dancing like a maniac last weekend. J.

I bought some yarn the other day. I recommend taking up knitting…. even you Al. BUT! While I was knitting on the couch, my host dad brought out his hunting rifle to show me.. he’s going to teach me how to shoot soon!!! I thought it was a funny change of topics… knitting to guns. He told me he usually hunts moose….. =/ Anne was behind me making the hand motion across her throat as if to tell him to stop talking about it… she knows how I feel about those moose… and he immediately said that he wasn’t hunting this year, he doesn’t think. J. Slowly but surely… one moose at a time… that’s all it takes… You’re welcome Moose Society…. I love you.

My tutor, Perttu, from language camp lives about six hours away in Helsinki. He was visiting Kuopio, his brother moved here. We met for coffee and had the loveliest talk ever. We must have talked for about two hours. Well, I’ll make this short story long.. At language camp, one of my friends had brought Poptarts with him… and we made Perttu try them. He fell in love with them upon first bite, obviously. AND! He just happened to find one branch of stores in all of Finland that carries Poptarts. We have that store in Kuopio, but they didn’t have the Poptarts.. so when he goes back to the store in Espoo (I think)… I’ll be getting a package filled with delish. I know! You guys are really excited for me.

I think if you have some time and money, you should send me random packages…. another exchange student, Trey from Illinois, is about four hours away from me, but we were talking on the phone last night and he received a package from his father a few days ago. His dad sent him two dozen ears of corn. TWO DOZEN! No note, just corn. His host family thinks he’s nuts. His dad cared SO MUCH about this corn that he paid nearly triple and it got here in two days. It took less time for the corn to get here than for Trey to get here. Any random item will do. I’ll create a list.

If you can’t send a box… email me recipes!!!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME!
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME!
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY DEAR JENNNYYYYYYYYY!
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME!!!!

Yes my darlings, I’ve been here one whole entire month. Crazy I know. So to celebrate… I made pie!!!

Not really.. I wish I made some pie though….

Mmmmm pieeeeee.

September 11 Journal

Tiedä, mitä syöt.
Know what you eat.

The first complete Finnish sentence I’ve read all by myself. It was on the box of Rice Crispies. I was alone… my only witness a cup of coffee and piece of bread… both of which were consumed shortly after the reading. Be proud.

I’d like to take this time to thank Al Kalter for making me the northernmost Florida Rotary Youth Exchange Student. I hold this title with honor and distinction… even though it was 4˚ this morning as I walked to the bus stop… It’s early September and I’m walking around with a thick jacket, gloves, a cute cap, a scarf…. My gosh… I should be wearing shorts and flip-flops.

I am also proud to inform you all that due to the fact that I walk EVERYWHERE… at least 10 kilometers a day… I have calves the size of Jon Ott’s biceps, hammies tighter than my pants on an elephant, permanent leg and foot cramps, and buns of steel… literally. I was walking.. and my butt muscles were sore! I didn’t know it was possible… so I flexed my leg… and sure enough.. my butt muscle is like WHABAYUM. I guess it’s good that I am walking so much because I’m also eating a TON of bread. A ton. And drinking too much coffee and eating too many Digestive cookie things… (no they aren’t for those lacking fiber, they don’t cause constipation, or induce a case of the runs). They’re just delicious.

I made cornbread the other day.

*Finnish Idol is on television right now, it’s worse than American Idol… and that’s saying something.*

There really isn’t much new that’s going on… same old same old..

BUT! Due to the fact that I was doing absolutely NOTHING in my high school here (wow, sounds familiar), I investigated and signed up for some classes at a small business school here taking some college courses. They are taught in English, so I can actually learn a bit, which is super great. I know what you’re thinking though… yes I ALWAYS know… why the heck would you take courses that would only make you think in English even MORE?! Well… the answer is simple…. You’re asking the wrong question first…. I was always taught to get the full story before you jump to conclusions, weren’t you taught that too? WELL! I’m taking a Finnish language course obviously… anddddd…. a course called Intercultural Communication. Basically, Intercultural Communication is Al Kalter’s Cultural Boot Camp (that sounds kind of like an aerobics VHS…. You too can have a six pack of cultural steel in just 60 minutes!!) on steroids. The objective of the class is to increase intercultural awareness and the understanding of cultural influences. The class is primarily made up of exchange students coming here for a year abroad from college. I am the only student under the age of 19 and the only student from outside Europe and Asia. We will focus on the following: concept of culture, intercultural learning, communication and culture, perception, values, stereotyping, culture shock, and time orientation. What is REALLY interesting though, is that there is no final exam, just a semester long project. That project is to keep a journal (yes, like this) and elaborate on our experiences while including references from suggested reading and lectures. J. I can honestly say I’m stoked to write this. I already started… no I am not copying and pasting my Al Kalter journals into a Word document and printing it. I wish I could, but I figured that they needed to be a little more sophisticated and not have vocabulary like ‘thingymabobber’ and my excessive usage of …’s.

It’s due December 18th, and I already have 5 and a half pages.

Today one of the books I ordered came, ‘When Cultures Collide.’ I’ve already begun to read it and found some amazing things! I think Al should let me lecture at the next Cultural Boot Camp… I have some great material…

Here are some of my favorite parts of this book so far…

‘For a German and a Finn, the truth is the truth. In Japan and Britain it is all right if it doesn’t rock the boat. In China there is no absolute truth. In Italy it is negotiable.’

‘Comparisons of national cultures often begin by highlighting differences in social behavior. Japanese do not like shaking hands, bow when greeting each other and do not blow their nose in public. Brazilians form unruly bus queues, prefer brown shoes to black and arrive two hours late at cocktail parties. Greeks stare you in the eye, nod their head when they mean ‘no’, and occasionally smash plates against walls in restaurants. French people wipe their plate clean with a piece of bread, throw pastry into their coffee and offer handshakes to strangers in bistros. Brits tip their soup plate away from them, eat peas with their fork upside down and play golf in the rain.’

-Richard D. Lewis, When Culture’s Collide

I actually put a bracket around that passage in my book and wrote ‘Al would like this’ beside it. J.

I’m such a dork. I’m learning a ton of interesting things in this book and want to share them all…but I’ll spare you and not. I’ll enjoy them all by myself.

This past weekend I met a guy from Pennsylvania and another guy from New Jersey…. they’re here playing hockey. To be completely honest, yes it was a relief being able to speak English like I normally would… BUT! They were kind of annoying… American guys are not nearly as enjoyable to be around as Finnish guys. I thought I missed the forwardness of Americans, once I was around it, I gravitated towards my Finnish friends that were also there… instead of Steve from Pennsylvania who was clinging to me everywhere I went and attempted to grope me when no one was looking… how rude. The Finns are SO much more respectful.

So today.. I was riding home on the bus, and it’s typically quite empty seeing as I live in the middle of nowhere.. and not many people live in the middle of nowhere… SO! I had to actually SIT NEXT TO SOMEONE. (Take this time to gasp in disgust). So I was sitting next to this little girl, I think, it could have been a boy, who was wearing purple corduroy pants and a olive green jacket and a navy baseball hat thing… I was diggin’ the pants… and she smelled curiously like cheesy snacks………………………… on this bus ride I listened to music like usual, but instead of staring out the window, I watched an enormous woman eat a sandwich. It’s not everyday you can witness the obese here in Finland.

My friend Sampsa insists on saying he’s ‘Having a ball time’ when he’s having fun… I think it’s hilarious. A ball time…..

Well… last night my host parents weren’t home… Kari was coming home late from Lapland and Anne was spending the night in Turku… So it was just me and the little bro. We watched Brokeback Mountain together.. a real bonding experience. I cant believe they actually showed some of that stuff… I wanted to cover poor Jere’s eyes . AND! We ate candies. THEN! After the movie Jere put on some American rap music and wanted me to rap in English for him… HAH! So I dressed up like a gangsta and danced around the house… we took sweet pictures… Thugz4Lyfe. He then mixed us fancy drinks… apple juice for me, orange for him… and put them in fancy glasses with a slice of pineapple and neon straws. AND! He received an e-mail from Skype.. thanking him for downloading… well… the email was in English… so in the best Murican accent he could muster he read it… “Hello Jerry Karanen…” His name is really pronounced yair-ay kair-ah(as in cat)-nen. It was hilarious.

SPEAKING OF ANANAS. (pineapple)………… I have come to the realization that the Finns love this tropical fruit. They put pineapple on pizza.. but not with ham… with kebab and onion and garlic and tuna and other weird stuff that for sure DOESN’T go with pineapple. AND! They put it in pasta! Tonight was the second time I’ve had pasta with pineapple in it. They put it in salads and and and and and and… its anananananana overload.

I love this commercial they have on TV…. a woman is sitting on a toilet and puts long strips of toilet paper over her face… until she pushes them back like a wedding veil and ‘Pachabel’s Canon in D’ starts playing… all while she’s peeing. J

I’d like to end with a little cultural funny for you…

Yes, this is also from my book that I love so much…

Journalists around the world organized a competition to write an article about elephants. The titles were as follows….

-English: Hunting elephants in British East Africa
-French: The love life of elephants in French Equatorial Africa
-German: The origin and development of the Indian elephant in the years 1200-1950 (600 pages)
-American: How to breed bigger and better elephants
-Russian: How we sent an elephant to the moon
-Swede: Elephants and the welfare state
-Dane: Elephant-meat smørrebrød
-Spaniard: Techniques of elephant fighting
-Indian: The elephant as a means of transportation before the railway era
-Finn: What elephants think about Finland
-Norwegian: Norway and Norway’s mountains

Get it?!?! If you don’t, then you don’t read enough….

It’s poking fun at ‘various national faiblesses. French lust, German seriousness, American bragging, British colonialism, Finns’ preoccupation with what others think of them…..’

GET IT?!


September 22 Journal

This morning on the bus I sat next to Arnold, dead on the window’s ledge, and Regina, undeniably his mourning lover searching for an escape from a bus that reeked of death in the immense expanse of false hope. Arnold lay dead and Regina flew frantically next to me as that damn silent tear rolled gently down my cheek.
The grain is gone.

The barren scarred land evokes emotions so strong, I barely know what to do with myself.

The tears continued to fall on the long walk from the bus stop to school. Not even the autumn leaves made my smile wake.

I closed my eyes and raised my stained face towards the sun and thought to myself ’Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop.’ I don’t know who I was pleading to, but I was certainly painfully pleading for salvation.

This picture I seem to have painted for you may not be pretty, but it’s the reality of exchange. I have been experiencing amazing highs, but the lows come to match with the same intensity.

I found myself yesterday wallowing in the dark as I was having two online conversations, one with my mommy and one with my boyfriend. I don’t understand these emotions ever. I had an amazing week and a half since I last journaled, absolutely nothing to complain about… but for some reason, Sunday nights, they kill me. This particular Sunday was extremely melancholy and I don’t understand why! It is so frustrating how it feels you are hit with the huge Mercedes bus and thrown thousands of feet into the air, falling falling falling, knowing that the bottom will come soon and then you won’t feel anymore. That bottom never comes though, the numb you get when you know in your mind you’ve come to the absolute end of the road, it never comes… I feel every ounce of pain and sorrow and joy more acutely than I ever could before… I can feel every emotion pricking my skin with millions of tiny needles trying to rip away my outer shell protecting me from harm. That shell is all I have and once it’s gone, it’s nearly impossible to recover.

The biggest problem with being here is not having something that’s mine; Heath and I were discussing this in detail. Him being in Sweden, the emotions are nearly the same…. Everything we have here is borrowed. No matter how loving and warm and kind your host family is, you are NEVER their family… no matter how much fun you have with your friends, you are each in two separate worlds, this is their home, you are visiting for a while and need support, but you get the feeling that if someone asked them who their friends are, your name wouldn’t cross their mind… You may have your own room, but you are not living in your house. This is not your town. You possess nothing except yourself.

I had grain once… that was mine. That was something I could soak in everyday and smile to myself feeling like this grain could never give anyone as much pleasure as it gives me. Now it is gone. And I have to find something else to call my own. There is no way to trace someone if they have nothing. If you cannot trace them… do they really exist? Or do they fade in with the background?

I suppose that’s enough of the inner-dwellings of my mind for this week… I’ll give you the perky day to day stories now that you so desire.

OH! And for those of you who were confused as to who I am referring to when I speak of Al Kalter, I’m talking about the head-honcho of Rotary Youth Exchange… He’s basically the guy responsible for sending me to Finland. =].

Since I last wrote, I suppose quite a few things have gone on….

On Sunday the 14th, I went on a four-hour nature ride on horseback. It was the most breathtaking experience. We went through the tiny mountains and saw the most beautiful views. I can’t even describe it with words.. pictures barely can show what I want to share with you.

That week at school was uneventful and long, except for getting in trouble with my English teacher. I really cannot stand that woman. She starts class 5 minutes early so even when I’m 30 seconds early, I’m late. I got yelled at for not having a pen and paper out when there was nothing to write… none of the other students had it out either, but she decided to yell at me… and then threatened to call my Rotary counselor for skipping my OTHER English class that she was substituting for, when in actuality I had class at my other school which takes precedence over my high school classes and my schedule was already worked out with the counselor and real teacher and she was very upset that no one had notified her about it, when really it had nothing to do with her at all…. She really needs to stop taking her frustration out on poor little exchange students and start perfecting her fake British accent (Sorry I needed to vent).

On Friday, my friend Keegan from language camp came to visit… he’s living about 4 hours away in Oulu… he’s from Colorado… We had such a fun weekend. =].

I’ll start with Friday night…

We decided to go to dinner at a nice little place called Amarillo’s. It very cute and had delicious food, very American though. Well, dinner was great, but after we finished our food we were waiting for the server to bring us our check…. we waited for about 20 minutes until we noticed her in the back with her jacket and purse heading out the door! Our waitress left!!!! So we waited for about 15 more minutes until we finally flagged down some other guy to get our bill. I still am astonished that she just up and left!

After that we went to a friends’ house for a party. There were three Americans there!!! Keegan, Riley from Michigan, and me! It was quite fun, but I’ll be honest… Finnish parties are crazy. Basically… There were a lot of guys running around screaming eating food… then when it got late and sauna was ready they all completely stripped and ran to the sauna… I have never seen so many naked people in my life, ever. It was almost scary. They asked if I wanted to join them in sauna too, but I was NOT about to strip to my skivvies and jump in with a bunch of boys. Talk about a makkara fest.

By the time we got home we were exhausted and passed out rather quickly.

Saturday was fun too! We went to Puijo.. a tower here in Kuopio… Anne thought it would be fun to take the stairs to the top…. 20 flights of stairs later, Anne and I practically dead, Keegan not even out of breath, we were at the top… It was the most amazing view ever. I couldn’t believe that this is my home. We took the lift down, thank god.

Next was to Prisma, the Finnish super Wal-Mart… Keegan and I were in charge of cooking dinner… We actually found everything we were looking for… and my goodness.. that night when we got home and cooked…. THE FOOD WAS AMAZING.. We made a sophisticated version of mac and cheese… with fancy cheese, penne pasta, and chicken… homemade Caesar salad with fresh croutons made by us. =]… and for dessert… a homemade All-American apple pie. Holy crap we can bake. It was soooo delicious.

That evening Anne had bought Keegan and I tickets to see the show Chicago at the local theatre. Chicago is a wonderful show, loved the movie too… but this version… well…. I guess I’d describe it as…. Tim Burton’s Drag Queen Finnish Chicago. Each of the characters was the gothic version of what they were supposed to be complete with bad black hair, black lipstick, sunken eyes…. Keegan and I were laughing hysterically throughout the entire play and would only clap for people who did jazz hands. Even the songs were in Finnish… the sad thing was, the only parts we really understood were when someone had a line with curse words in it. Appalling, I know.

Send me sweaters… send me recipes… send me love.

MOTHER, SHIP MY PACKAGE! (hopefully this will capture her attention)

Please?

And to my friends…
No matter how many times I have to tell myself I don’t miss you to get through each day, it doesn’t change the fact that I do….

I’ll be okay. =]

Eerl <3


September 25 Journal

Hold up,
Wait a minute,
Let us put some funk in it……
Stop laughing SMA-ers…. The cadences stick with you long after graduation…. I found myself with this stuck in my head on my walk to school and had no idea what it was… and then I realized and was like HOLY DONUTS, IT’S A CADENCE.

Now, you may think I’m a dork, a loser, a freak of nature…. because this is my second journal in less than a week…. and you’re so right. BUT! Due to the dreadful mood I was in at the beginning of the week, I left out some things that I wanted to write about… and now that I have no school for the week because of exams, I have ample time to create another entry just for YOU! J

I believe that once upon a journal ago, I mentioned something about my observation skillz (yes with a z). No folk, they haven’t gone anywhere…

Here’s the most recent…

Remember when you were little and after watching Parent Trap you thought that there was two of everyone and that you had a twin that lived halfway across the world? Someone who looked EXACTLY like you? WELL! It’s true. There’s this kid at my school that looks exactly like Jacob Hilliard… except with frosted tips and preppy clothes… it’s odd and scares me. This morning on the bus, I saw the exact double of Ron Zimet. My friend Noora… she looks exactly like Becky. AND! My favorite of all… there’s this guy on the bus who looks precisely like the Geico caveman.

There is one bus driver here who reminds me of a pirate. I swear… he must have been a pirate before he started driving buses around Kuopio. But… he happens to be the friendliest ex-pirate I’ve ever met in my ENTIRE life. No joke. He’s the ONLY bus driver who smiles, the only one who says ‘Moi’ audibly enough for humans to hear, the only one to say ‘Kiitos’ for riding on his bus of joy and joyness and joy…. He also steers that bussi like a ship at sea, so smooth and calm, I don’t even get sea sick…. And even though his thumb nail is super gross and green… the blue captain’s hat he wears makes up for it.

My host grandma, Mumu, knit me socks… two whole pairs of socks. And I love them. I love those socks with every fiber of my being… the only socks I’ve ever received were from Mrs. Natarajan. Now I have THREE pairs of knit socks to keep my feetsies warm through the winterrrrrr.

So today I was buying yarn. And I went up to the register to pay. WELL! The people that work there speak Finnish, crazy I know… and usually they start talking really fast and I have absolutely no clue whatsoever what’s going on… AVAST! Today I had a clue. I KNEW WHAT WAS UP. The lady was asking if I had a store card! And if I wanted a bag. AND YA KNOW WHAT FOLKS…. I gathered this knowledge by UNDERSTANDING WHAT SHE SAID IN FINNISH. I replied too. IN FINNISH.

YEP I KNOW. It’s like I’ve sprouted language seeds from under my skin and they are blossoming into beautiful flowers of language-ness. Sort of. Long way to go… but it’s a start, right? I’ve also began to count in Finnish without even thinking about it… like it’s the only way to count. It’s neat.

AND… if you’re in the mood for a catchy tune.. go onto youtube and look up ‘Heart it Races by Architecture in Helsinki.’ So addicting… so weird… so Finnish.

Now I went to my first Rotary meeting today… the club president just happens to look like Paul McCartney. I showed my slideshow presentation, and they loved it. I talked A LOT… and they loved it. I giggled… and they LOVED it. I picked a good time to go too…. the District Governor was visiting and gave a presentation. It was super cool and he is way nice, he even talked about me in his speech and would make comments in English just for me… like a secret joke or something, even though everyone else understood, I knew he was just talking to me. I honestly can’t remember a time where I’ve been more excited about Rotary.. and more proud to be the daughter of a prominent Rotarian, and have knowledge of Rotary. It was simply amazing.

Rotary is totally neat.

SEND SONNY’S SWEET BARBECUE SAUCE.

October 1 Journal
Seven cups of coffee and one presidential debate later……. My goodness… I need to cut back….
But anywho… my current feelings right now are…. CRAWL UNDER THE COVERS AND DON’T COME OUT TILL WINTER IS OVER. Now today is October 1, 2008… The weather forecast for Sarasota, Florida is what you folks would call a chilly day…. The current weather is 85˚… feels like 88˚… the sun is shining!!!!!

Now here, you ask… 39˚… feels like 36˚….. precipitating……. It’s doing that weird mist rain thing again…. Basically… it’s effing freezing.

OH! And get this…. While your Florida sun is setting at a normal 7:20pm… My sun is down, gone… it leaves at around 6:30 and it’s not gonna come up again until 7:30 the next morning… and ya know like… 2 months ago when I got here… the sun didn’t set until 10:30….

At least I have warm clothes right? NO WAY JOSE… cause if I wear my winter parka, I’ll get stared at cause it’s really not THAT cold, but if I wear my wool jacket, I’m freezing!!!!! I suppose I’ll deal with the stares and wear the big puffy one.. I will NOT turn into a Jenny-sicle… I’ll save that for when winter comes (oh dear god this is only autumn).

Yes, you will receive weather complaints from now until it starts getting warm again… and I’m pretty sure my definition of warm will change drastically by the time this year is over.

On a lighter note… literally… Have you ever seen someone with black hair? I have… it’s like.. a super popular choice of color here… But it’s rarely natural… Now in Florida it’s quite common to see blondes with dark roots growing in… But have you ever witnessed the phenomenon of black hair with PLATINUM BLONDE ROOTS? Not me… not till I got here… It looks funny… like they have a scalp disease.

When I didn’t have school, I thought I was going to go nuts… but now I’m back in school… and I’m pretty sure I’m going to go insane… I mean… I despise school… high school at least…. My college courses are GREAT! I realllllllllyyyyyyyyy love them… But throw me in a geography class with a bunch of 15 year olds and a teacher who is too nervous to talk to me, once he figures out that I’m even in there…. I’m going positively mad!

The whole friend situation… well I suppose that’s coming along… Kind of.. I feel more like I’m rewinding now that the initial ‘cool-she’s-foreign-phase’ has gone.. I have people to spend time with, but really only one friend… well I consider him a friend. The rest of the people I spend time with seen to help me out and take me under their wing, but if you asked them if I was their FRIEND… the answer would probably be no… or not really. It’s hard not having someone close here to talk to… I know it will take time though. =].

At my college classes there’s this ranskalainen (French person) (I learned ‘Ranska’ really well because my family’s favorite salad dressing is French. =]) who talks to me… and a German guy… and a girl from Hungary.. and this Chinese girl who’s fascinated by me… and a Nigerian boy who asks me out on lunch dates at least once a week… Everyone there is so nice, and since they are all from all over the world and this isn’t home for them it’s easy to relate. The only downside is that they are all twenty-somethings and I happen to be a seventeen year old (despite my wishes).

I have my first exam on October 13th… Finnish… gross. BUT! My friend Sampsa (yes, the real friend)… we are meeting 3 to 5 times a week so he can tutor me and teach me Finnish before he packs up to spend a month or two in Florida this winter…. (yes he’s seriously going to Florida for about 2 months) (yes, you can meet him if you drive him places around Florida) (he’ll be 19) (yes, he’s cute).

This past weekend I had a Rotary district camp… I got to see all the exchange students in my district.. most importantly my best friend Hope. When we got to camp and were finally reunited, we hugged… and immediately began talking. Not the slow English we usually speak with the Finns, but excited-teenage-girl-English… for anyone but us, I’m sure it was frightening… we talked at top speeds about anything and everything without stopping to breathe for three straight hours. I’m not even exaggerating. Poor Hope has a bad host family… an 80 year old host father who pays people to come spend time with Hope… and a 60 year old host mother who doesn’t allow Hope to use the microwave because it gives off evil negative energy……

The weekend at camp was pretty lame, despite all of us staying up until four in the morning every night talking around bonfires and coffee…. and seeing Hope. The ONLY thing Rotary had planned for us was a five-hour nature hike through… nature? The guide was an ancient Finnish man who looked like he was about to keel over at any second… and smoked an entire pack of cigarettes… and then a pipe cause he ran out of ciggs… all on this hike…. Now before we went into the thicket he showed us the map… and pointed at where we were… and where we were going… and what path to take… The only problem was… he was shaking SO badly… that when he pointed to one spot… he pointed at half of the paper…. He also got lost in the woods a few times and confused… a lot . It’s not smart to send a dying man with Alzheimer’s who cannot communicate with the people he’s guiding into the woods… it’s just not something you do…….

But I am safe and not lost in the forest which is a good thing…..

I really love the Spice Girls.

WELL! I know I’ve said this before.. but I’ll say it again because I was reminded of it again today… the smallest things trigger emotional instability. Here’s my story… this is what happened. It’s short.. I promise.

This morning I had to wake up at 6:30am… and as I’ve been over before… It’s very dark at this time. Back in Florida when I had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, my daddy would be awake already with his cup o joe…. On the computer or reading the paper… Usually just got out of the shower and smells like his cologne and aftershave…. Then we’d ride to school together and I would sleep and he would listen to Jimmy Buffett and things just worked. Well… this morning there was a daddy reading the paper (not drinking coffee cause if he drinks it in the morning he gets a stomach ache)… and he smelled of cologne and aftershave… But he wasn’t my daddy… And then we drove to school.. and listened to some cheesy Finnish music (which I love).. But it wasn’t the same.. and made me wish my daddy could drive me to school early on Wednesday mornings. But it’s coo it’s coo.

I really like the letter ö. It sounds quite ugly… but it’s just so fun to say…

Friday is my two month anniversary of being here. Whoa nelly.

I need to find the post office.. I walked around for 30 minutes on Tuesday looking for it… then I got cold and gave up and bought coffee instead. =].

JEI KAHVIA.

Here would be proof that I am going insane.. but I love my home here.<3.

A conversation between my mother and I online… a discussion that began by trying to find a good place to talk to myself…….

JENNY: i dont have a car to be alone in
KAREN: you have the bees
JENNY: they sting me
JENNY: ;i prefer the dead ones
KAREN: have you been stung?
JENNY: that why i give the dead ones names
JENNY: no not yet, but i dont want to risk it.
JENNY: ill stick to the deceased
KAREN: ah
KAREN: lol
KAREN: the bee cryptkeeper
KAREN: thats you
JENNY: IT IS!
JENNY: whooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
KAREN: you can have little bee funeral pyres
JENNY: perfect!
JENNY: i should make tiny headstones and make a beegraveyard!
KAREN: um
KAREN: perhaps you have been alone in the countryside a wee bit long?

Tomorrow, I will microwave the mashed potatoes my host mom made tonight. Then, I will eat them.

October 12 Journal

Today would be the Sunday before Monday… and a lovely Sunday it is…. aurinko paistaa (the sun is shining)… it’s kahdeksan (8) degrees… I have to go rake more leaves… I couldn’t picture a better Sunday before Monday.
I’m assuming most of you probably thought that I was admitted to the local mental hospital after my last journal… BUT! Lucky for me I escaped that one.

Not too much exciting has been going on except my excessive coffee drinking and knitting. So far I have knit two scarves and now I’m attempting a pair of socks. Right now it’s just one sock, just the ankle part… and if the heel doesn’t go well these will be very tight legwarmers.

The other morning I woke up to get ready for school… I stumbled out of my room unconsciously to the coffee pot to brew my daily cup or two (my friend Jessica and I miss rhyming).. when my host dad said to me, ‘Wear many cloth, it.. quite… COLD.’ Staggering ever so gracefully to the window where the thermometer is, I took one look and immediately was horrified. It read -4˚ and the outside was completely covered in the thickest frost I had ever seen.

So taking his advice, I put on much cloth and got ready to take on the day. I wore… three pairs of socks, tights, blue jeans, a tank top, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a thicker sweater, a wool coat, a scarf I knit, a pair of boots, a hat, two pairs of gloves… and… I think that’s it. And I was still cold. Winter is going to be very long and very cruel this year.

OH! I am officially a high school drop out… kind of. I DID graduate in the States so I don’t think this is as severe BUT! I am no longer attending the high school in town. I am a student at Savonia-ammattikorkeakoulu… a business school here in town on the big hill. I love it there. I love my classes, I love everything. I’m even learning how to deal with the Nigerian boy who refuses to take no for an answer.

Tomorrow, the Monday after Sunday, I have an exam…. a Finnish exam. Gross. Hopefully I’ll do super well.. I actually had another encounter with a salesperson at the store the other day when I was buying some tape. I understood what she asked. I replied calmly and appropriately and it was neat. BUT! I actually had a COMPLETE conversation with a woman the other night whilst I was schmoozing with the adults at a birthday party. She spoke to me only in Finnish and then I would respond in English… and I understood her!! It was for sure a breakthrough.

So although my comprehension skills are rising, my speaking skills have plateaud at.. well.. nothing. BUT! I do see my English skills to be on the decline. Not only am I completely unable to type ever.. I find myself thinking in the broken English my family and friends use. Such as…. ‘I will pick up you half eight.’ This means… ‘I will pick you up at 7:30.’ Or ‘I throw away you and if friends to coffee I throw away them too.’ This means, ‘I can drop you off and if your friends come over for coffee I can drop them off at home too.’ It’s a terrible way to think. I was talking to my friend online last night and decided to go for sauna.. so I said to her ‘I think I go sauna, but I come to back.’ Meaning… ‘I think I am going to go for sauna, but I’ll be back.’ When I come home I don’t think anyone will be able to understand me… maybe I’ll just stay here……….

I will leave you today with…

*spoken with snotty British accent in big chair in front of fireplace with a pipe* …

The Art of Raking Leaves.

If you want to be a successful leaf raker you must follow these simple rules.

  1. Put on thick socks, sweatpants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, special leaf raking jacket, cotton gloves, special leaf raking gloves, and super sexy rubber boots.

Now you are ready to begin.

  1. Go outside and find the area of the backyard (or front yard) that is covered entirely with leaves.
  2. Pick up rake.
  3. Begin to rake.
  4. Keep raking leaves until you have piles.
  5. Once you have achieved pile status you should find your wheelbarrow.
  6. When wheelbarrow is located, roll it to desired leaf pile.
  7. Begin to pick up as many leaves as you can in your arms and put into wheelbarrow.

Note: To make the least amount of wheelbarrow trips, smush as many leaves in the wheelbarrow as possible… if necessary, sit on the leaves in the wheelbarrow for maximum smushage.

  1. Wheel wheelbarrow to big rock.
  2. Dump leaves behind big rock.
  3. Repeat steps 8 through 10 until all leaves are picked up.
  4. Go inside.
  5. Remove all clothing and dump in laundry room.
  6. Put on clean clothes.
  7. Go to refrigerator.
  8. Remove giant bottle of Fanta.
  9. Pour glass of Fanta.
  10. Enjoy Fanta.

KiitosKiitos.

Next week I will divulge all my deepest secrets about how to keep bees warm in the winter….

It involves tiny bee-sweaters.

October 20 Journal

So this weekend I went to Helsinki for the first time. I realllllllyyyyyyy loved it. I think my exchange year would have been much different if I was in Helsinki. BUT! I’m in Kuopio.. or as Ranjani pronounces it…. Kuopo. Jere and I call it that now… it’s our little inside joke. =].
On Saturday in Helsinki, after we ate breakfast, my host parents let Jere and I roam Helsinki on our own… Helsinki is HUGE!! There was a huge shopping district near our hotel that we explored thoroughly. We went into 876852 stores and he would put on mini fashion shows for me when he would try things on. THEN! We took the underground about 15 minutes outside of where we were into the actual centrum of the city. There was a gigantic shopping mall that we took over. He likes to pretend we’re gangsters and then we walk around saying ‘yo’ and ‘Minä olen niin huppu’ (I’m so hood) a lot. We tried on every super cute hat in every store we went in taking pictures along the way. He even found me a balloon and bought me an ice cream cone. We really are like brother and sister. It’s cute and we just had the best time.

We stopped for coffee in the centrum and talked for a while.. I asked him if it was weird having me live in his home with his family… and he said ‘No. It will be weird when you’re gone.’ Finns aren’t people to really express things like that very often, and it was very touching… I almost cried… but then I didn’t because we bought hats.

I’ve never had a brother before… I’m going to miss little Jere a lot when I switch host families. Like… a lot a lot.

I’ve gotten extremely close with my host mom Anne too. The night we got home from Helsinki I showered and unpacked my bags and then went to go sit on the couch with the rest of the family and watch television. I felt a need for some ‘Mommy comfort’ and sat next to Anne… She wrapped a blanket around me and let me snuggle against her and she put her arm around me. We spent the next hour talking about the relationship a mother has with her daughter and how different girls are from boys.

I am a part of this family here and it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. Anne calls me her daughter and treats me as such. Kari and I have our inside jokes and make each other laugh a lot because of his poor English and my poor Finnish. The two of us are always learning from each other. Jere and I have grown close in a way that only a brother and a sister could, a relationship I cannot explain. Even my older brother Jani, although I don’t see him very often, every time he’s here he asks me to say jäätelö tötterö (ice cream cone) (it sounds kind of like YAA-TELL-UH TUH-TER-UH) (when I try and say it sounds like YAA-TELL-UH DUH-DUH-DUH) because he thinks it’s hilarious and he tries to get me to eat candies that he knows I don’t like at all.

It’s lovely and I will protest moving even though I know I have to.

I started my second Jakso (school session, like a quarter) today. I have the same classes plus a new one that’s like… Organizational somethingorother in Internationalsomething Businessstuff. It will be good, although I don’t know how well I’ll do with the business aspect of things… we shall seeeeee.

AND OMG! My favorite Finnish soap opera is on!!! SALATUT ELÄMÄT!!! I don’t understand most of it.. but it’s funny to watch. It’s actually the only Finnish soap opera… but I can still call it my favorite.

The other night that show where they give people a lie detector test and if they answer the questions truthfully, they get money, was on. It was a beauty queen from… some state… And she was kind of obnoxious. BUT! It was funny.

Today I ran into Jarkko in front of Coffee House… so we got coffee… well he got coffee…. I’m trying to cut back. It was nice bumping into a familiar face.

So I went to check on the bees last week… and well… I don’t think they’re there anymore… I think they might be sleeping. I hope so. I hope they’re not dead. I only name the dead ones. And there are a lot of freaking bees. I don’t have time to name all of them.

Sampsa and I discussed what to do with bees in the winter. I thought that if we knit them tiny bee sweaters with six sleeves and itty bitty buttons they’d be happy. So if I see one buzzing, I’ll be sure to give it a nice cozy sweater.

Now everyone warned me the first few weeks I was here that I was going to get really depressed at the end of autumn and not come out of it until spring. WELL! I laughed it off and didn’t think anything of it. I can handle no sunlight for five or six months. I can handle the sun not beginning to come up until 8 am at the end of October and setting at 6 pm… The days just keep getting shorter and shorter… and it keeps getting colder and colder. I find myself slipping into bouts of this Finnish depression that claims the Finns every winter and it’s not fun!

I suppose they were right, those Finns. I would like to take this time to thank Al for sending me to a place where you can see people change on the streets as the weeks wear on. People walk quicker now and keep their heads down, they smile less, they talk less if at all. This is worse than the Finnish Flu people. And it’s not just hitting me… IT’S ATTACKING EVERYONE!!!! OH NO, MR. BILL!!! (Like Daddy says).

I believe it is now time for some more funny things that makes Finland, well… Finland.

1) Plastic bags cost money at the grocery store

2) You bag your own groceries.

3) If you want a shopping cart, you have to stick a 2€ coin in the handle to unlock it from its chain attaching it to the other carts… and if you want your money back you must return the cart to the front of the store and relock it.

4) When a stranger smiles at you, you assume 3 things
a) He’s drunk
b) He’s American
c) He’s insane

5) We put our dishes in the “wet cupboard” to dry

6) Silence is fun

7) NEVER expect a response from a group you are giving a presentation to…. EVER. They will not smile, they will not laugh, they will not ask questions, they will not participate… This holds true for class in school.

8) No one EVER sits in the first row

9) School lunches are free! Hurrah for Pea Soup (gross)!

10) People don’t buy food in advance and stock up… which I think they should, like squirrels so they don’t have to go out in the winter.

11) Finn’s NEVER walk across the street without the green man showing, even if there are no cars in sight.

12) Nothing is open before 10 am, after 7 pm, or on Sundays.

13) Hugging is reserved for sexual foreplay

14) There is sex on TV

15) They sometimes censor curse words… sometimes.

16) If people are talking on the train / bus, you assume:
a) they are foreign
b) they are drunk
c) they are Swedish-speaking Finns
d) all of the above

17) Sauna is part of your daily routine.

18) People answer the phone by saying their name, not hello

19) When you ask Mitä kuuluu? (how are you) people actually think you want a detailed response

19) When you pass someone on the side walk, you ignore their presence

20) Awkward silence doesn’t exist. It’s just silence.

21) Breaks in the conversation are common… and it’s okay.

22) You NEVER start a conversation with someone you don’t know

23) People are openly racist.

24) Expect to get stared at no matter what you look like.

25) People are not very educated in other cultures of the world.

26) You never command a Finn to do something

27) Prices are deceiving. Something in the states that would be $19 is usually 19€…

I’ll have more later I assure you…

Jere and I are watching a documentary called The Girl with Eight Limbs.

I think that’s enough for this entry.

I’ll be sure to write before I head off to the Canary Islands for a vacation. =].

October 27 Journal

GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE GIRAFFE!
GUESS WHAT I SAW ON SATURDAY?!

Just guess.

If you guessed a giraffe… you’re very wrong.

I SAW A REAL LIVE IN THE NATURE MOOSE. A MOOSE!

OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS HUGE! IT WAS AMAZING. MAJESTIC. PERFECT. I want one. BUT! Right after it crossed the road in front of our car it stood in the ticket of trees and stared at us as we stared at him… Then my host dad says… The moose has to cross lake over there. I inquired about the moose’s swimming abilities… but sure enough, they can swim! I then pondered what you would do if you were taking a nice swim in the lake when all of a sudden a moose swam by? I would of course grab his antlers and have him drag me through the lake… How fun would that be?!

In other news… We were over for dinner at my 3rd host family’s house… they are close friends with the family I’m with now… AND! My 3rd host dad is like… 6’ 8’’. Thuper tall. And reallllyyyy funny. I’m excited to live with them.

I love my host brother Jere. He’s the best brother ever. He’s started finding it fun to speak in Finnish really fast to his friends and throw my name in there randomly so I think he’s talking about me… I’ve started beating him up.<3. JUST KIDDING! He’s perfect. The best little brother I could ever ask for… Of course my horse.

This morning I was standing at the bus stop patiently awaiting my chariot when an elderly woman came up to me… I said ‘Huomenta’ and went back to listening to my iPod. She replied with an excessively cheery ‘HYVÄÄ HUOMENTA!!’ and began jabbering away in Finnish. I freaked out a bit and responded with, ‘…..Uhhhhh… Minä en puhu suomea!’ *shifty sideways glances* This means ‘I don’t speak Finnish.’ It was too early to muster my Finnish vocabulary. But the funny thing here is that… when you tell someone here you don’t speak Finnish… in Finnish…. They continue talking. REALLY fast. Well I tried the best I could… and understood some of what she said. And I tried to reply in my best Finnish. She was very kind. She asked me where I lived… and I told her the family I’m living with and she rambled on about how Anne has three boys or something like that I guess….. THEN she pointed to the school across the street and asked if I went there… and I said ‘Minä opiskelen Savonia-Ammattikorkeakoulu.’ Which directly translates into… I study Savonia University of Applied Sciences. I don’t know how to say ‘at’… there is no word for it… you just add something to the end of the place you study at or live in or go to. It’s confusing… anywho… She understood and asked me what I study… and I forgot the word for internationally business… so I said ‘boo-see-ness’ hoping she’d understand my suomalainen (Finnish) version of the word business… and she did.

When I told my host parents about this just a few minutes ago, they were laughing hysterically and thought it was GREAT! It turns out that the woman I was talking to… here in the village… they call her… ‘Pipity Popity Muumi’ or something like that… maybe ‘Bipity Bopity Muumi.’ She very friendly and very talkative… and I think the next time I see Pipity Popity Muumi I will invite her over for coffee to hone my Finnish skillz.

Today I walked from school to town with a French girl from my class… she’s really nice and we had a really nice chat.

Speaking of people from school…. This past Friday I was invited to the like… 22nd birthday party of this German girl I go to school with… All of us international students in my classes were crammed in a tiny student flat… about 30 of us. I believe we represented about 10 different countries. I think one of the best parts of the night was when it was time to sing happy birthday… it was repeating many times in everyone’s home language which was REALLY fun to hear…. It was sung in: – German – English – French – Lithuanian – Russian – Italian – Spanish – Chinese – Hungarian – Polish – Finnish. Very cool. Very very cool. It was funny because everyone was picking on Saulius (from Lithuania) calling him the ‘baby brother’ because he was born in 1987 when everyone else was born in 1986…. And then when I mentioned to them that I was only 17… They firstly didn’t believe me… and when they finally did… they laughed and hugged me and told me that even though I’m the little one of the group, we’re all a makeshift family so far from home and that it doesn’t matter because they thought I was much older anyways. It was nice to be ‘accepted’ in a way… I’ve been going to school with all of them since August, but since I just started going there full time I haven’t bonded with them until now. It’s a good feeling.

On a different note…. Something VERY interesting happened Saturday night…

Cultural analysts would consider this occurrence a lingual breakthrough… I however would like to argue. We exchange students were told that probably around the three month mark we would dream in our target language… and it would be cool and exciting… WELL FOLKS… I did it; I dreamt in Finnish. Was incredible? I suppose I should answer, ”Yes. YES! Positively stupendous!” But I’m not going to… Yes you said we’d dream in our language… but you didn’t specify if we would understand it or not! I had an entire lengthy dream… or possibly a nightmare… of me in a hospital and a woman and a nurse screaming at me frantically in Finnish like something was terribly terribly wrong… but I couldn’t understand…

Gosh. Way to prepare us for everything. I almost wet the bed.

November 18 Journal

Mark my words Al Kalter, the next time you consider sending some poor unknowing girl to the tippy top of the universe, I will personally destroy the brain cells that think this is a good idea, unless you provide her with a parka the size of Russia, multiple pairs of long underwear, and the sun. Yes the sun.
I have a new favorite song…

Olen omena
Olen omena
Olen pyöreä omenaaaaaaa
Olen omena
Olen omena
Olen punainen omenaaaaaaaaaaa!

It saysssss.

I’m an apple
I’m an apple
I’m a round appleeeeeeeeee.
I’m an apple
I’m an apple
I’m a red appleeeeeeeee.

If you would like to hear this song with your own ears, please visit… http://koti.mbnet.fi/stick/omena.mp3, or if you’d like to listen while watching a beautifully choreographed slideshow of apples, please visit… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyydCyOHJkg.

Did you know that it is 2:11 in the afternoon and it’s already getting dark? I mean, the sun never came out to begin with, it was gross and grey and dead looking from the second I opened my eyes… but honestly, 2 o’clock?!

Since my last journal there have been quite a few things going on…

Tuesday October 28th marks the day we lost my grandmother. She passed away that morning and my mother told me the news via instant message when I got home from school. I can honestly say I had the weirdest feeling when she told me. I was at peace because I knew my grandmother had not been ‘alive’ for years, but of course, any loss is devastating. I also was overwhelmed with the notion that I am thousands and thousands of miles away and my mommy’s mommy just died and I can’t give her a hug and I can’t be there with her and I can’t go to the funeral and I can’t do anything because I’m so goddamn far away. It broke my heart to not be able to just be there. The funeral is next week and it makes me sick thinking that I cannot go.

On a lighter note…

It snowed for the first time on November 1st. The biggest snowflakes I had ever seen in my entire life. Bigger than cars. Bigger than dinosaurs. Bigger than… we have awesome rock formations here. From the ice age. Rock formations and trees. I don’t think the trees are from the ice age though…

Other than that I don’t really recall much of that week… it was far too long ago.

BUT! LAST WEEK…

I was in the Canary Islands… It’s part of Spain, but kind of like… off the coast of Morocco… yes. And I will now take this time to recount every second of my trip.

So we left on Wednesday the 5th to the airport for a long journey…

We boarded the plane and I’m pretty sure somebody planned it so I got the worst seat ever… it was the last row of a middle section with a huge box behind me preventing any reclinage… and I had zero leg room… and those of you who know me know how long (or maybe how short) my legs are… they are practically non-existent… and I had no LEG ROOM! For like… 6 hours? We flew from Kuopio to Madrid and then… we didn’t switch planes in Madrid, we switched pilots, and THEN, we flew to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

Despite my lack of room and uncomfortableness, the plane ride was funny… I honestly have never seen so much alcohol consumed in a single flight… EVER! I swear every adult on the plane ordered at least two beers, a bottle of wine (half size), two liquors, and then a bottle of whatever they were selling on the duty free cart.

(I’d like to explain the word ‘we’ for a moment… We is not my host family and I, we is… My host family, my third host family, and another family that they’re all friends with… 13 of us total. We were very loud… and all of our seats were situated very close to each other… I felt bad for the other people on the plane.)

We finally stumbled into our resort at around 1:30am in Spain, 3:30am in Finland… we had been traveling all day, so I showered and passed out in our little cottage we (my host family, not all 13 of us) rented.

Thursday morning I woke up much too early and went to get breakfast in the dining room with my host family… I actually ate bacon and enjoyed it… and the apple juice was too strong. After that I decided to explore the grounds and take pictures of everything… I was kind of sad because I didn’t think I would have anyone to spend the week with. Later we went to the pool and for naps and to a shopping center…

We went to a pizza place for dinner which was very nice and I talked to some of the people my age that were with us… Oskari (3rd host brother), Vera (his girlfriend), and Pipsa (the daughter of the other family). We decided to hit the nightlife after dinner together, so once we finished our meals we walked around the area we were in looking for a good place to dance. WELL! All there were were gay bars… and me being the only one fluent in English, not only was I recruited to ride shotty in the cab, but I had to talk to one of the servers at a bar to find out where a good place to go was… Well this was not any server. This was a man with diamond stud earrings in a black speedo with a bunny tail, bunny ears, and a bow tie… The first words out of his mouth were “Hello Darling!” I was glad I was talking to him and not the 6’7’’ ‘woman’ working at Dave’s Drag and Comedy Club next door. He told us that nothing would really be open until about 12:30am (it was only 9:30), but the best places to go were upstairs and to the left. Perfect. =]. As we were walking through the center square of this shopping area, a man dressed as a clown was walking around causing mischief and we were his next victims… he snuck up behind us and scared the crap out of us… and then as we kept walking I felt an arm around me and I thought it was Pipsa, but it was the clown… and he proceeded to scoop me up and start carrying me to the other side of the square trying to pass me off to innocent bystanders… very funny, but he passed me to some other guy who ALSO kept walking which was when I politely asked him to put me down and he did and I caught up with the others. So we went back to the hotel to get all dressed up and a few hours later we went back, upstairs and to the left… There were four nightclubs and a shop up here… all proudly waving rainbow flags and complete with drag queens and well… it was uncomfortable… especially for Oskari, and the shop was… a gay sex shop… WELL! We hightailed it out of there just before a drag queen snatched us and tried to find somewhere else to go.

We ended up catching a cab and going to another area of town where we found LOTS of places to dance.

The place we ended up staying at had muscley waiters dressed in black speedos and bowties and all of their skin was painted in gold glitter. Mother would have loved it.

We danced and danced until about 3am. I met a lot of people from all over the world… mostly weird guys who were trying to chat me up as they attempted to dance upon my leg which was a major no-no. This one guy from Canada thought he had me though cause he was from Canada and I’m from the United States, poor guy.

The next day we lounged by the pool and then went to the beach… a very nice beach… Lots of sand… and water… and naked people. I’ve experienced so much nudity since being here… I can’t even being to explain. Anyways… it was a nude beach, well… you didn’t have to wear a bathing suit… There’s nothing like watching an old naked couple go walking hand in hand through the sand dunes… (ew).

That night the four of us went shopping and I bought shoes… we then went back to the cottages and played Uno and Riisi until about midnight when we went to sleep.

I was awoken around 1am to the noise of my little brother dancing back into our room after being out with his two friends… (two 14 year olds and a 16 year old). I of course woke up, he’s not as sneaky as I am… and he was rather talkative… so he kept me up for about 2 more hours telling me everything about his night and asking me questions and we just had good talks.

The next day we went to a shopping mall (haven’t been in a mall since Florida!) and shopped… a lot… Vera and Pipsa were worse than me! And I’m a serial shopper… Oskari hung out with us for the first hour or so, bless his heart he was so patient, but then went off to find the boys.

That evening after showers and naps the four of us went out dancing again, this time we knew where to go and wasted no time. Lucky for me, the Canadian wasn’t there!!! But an old English man found me and shimmied his way over (he must have been at least 35) and whispered in my ear that he had a friend who liked me but was rather shy and would really love to talk to me… he proceeded to pull me over to the bar to this other middle aged English man and introduced us and I said hello and while he was turned to the bartender in search of a drink to buy me, I snuck away with Pipsa… The rest of the night if this man would come dancing in our direction, whoever noticed would shout ‘VANHA MIES’ (old man!) and we’d slide to another part of the dance floor.

Sunday was Fathers’ Day, but in the morning all of us kids went to a water park built into the side of a mountain which was fun! I even got a little sunburned! AND! There were sea lions! They are SO CUTE. I want one. We showered and napped and then went out to a nice Italian dinner all thirteen of us. Dinner was lovely and the man singing at the restaurant serenaded us and brought us sombreros and maracas (way too much fun). Pipsa and Anne ended up on stage singing with him and he left them to sing alone and came to dance with me since Jere wouldn’t dance with me.

Monday each family rented a car and went their separate ways navigating through the mountains on the other side of the island. It was absolutely gorgeous even though I thought I was going to be sick the entire car ride… Kari’s driving plus mountains equates to possibly a space shuttle being steered by an anthropomorphous Macaca fascicularis on amphetamines. =D. We took some fantastic pictures and got lunch at a cute local restaurant perching atop the mountains.

Pipsa and Vera and I had some fun after our daily naps doing each others hair up in pretty curls and being girly until it was time for us to hit the town again. We got food and went to the club… this time no Canadian and no old English man, just a young English man who proclaimed his undying love for me (mind you I’ve never met this man in my life) who kept telling me how much he was in love with me all night and I swear if we didn’t leave when we did he would have proposed right there on the dance floor… But aside from all these men getting in my way, Pipsa and Vera and I had an AMAZING time dancing together while Oskari held all of our purses and bought us bottles of water from the bar when we wanted them (3€ for the smallest water bottle I’ve seen in my life).

Tuesday we relaxed poolside until it got a bit breezy… we then went for more naps! That being our last night, we wanted to go out for a nice dinner so we found a cute little restaurant and had a nice time. The young boys were bored so when they finished eating they went to take pictures of themselves at the resort. Vera and Oskari went off shopping somewhere, and Pipsa and I went with the adults to an underground Finnish karaoke bar. We had a blast, Pipsa and Anne sang a lot and Pipsa’s dad danced with me and tried to teach me how to step one-two something something to the left right backwards crisscross spin thing… which I was horrible at… but Kari taught me to waltz which was so fun and so nice and it was just such a nice evening. Pipsa and I really had bonded this week and laughed all night long.

Wednesday we woke up at three to catch our plane back to Finland (woooo).

The Saturday after we got back we went to the main square to watch them light the big Christmas tree and see a fireworks show. I had a great time, I ending up spending the evening there with like… 12 other exchange students here all through Rotary or ASF.

I’m knitting some amazing socks right now.

Yesterday was my first day back to school after being on vacation… and let me tell you how fantastic it was…

Woo. Yay. Fun. It was -7° and it had snowed the night before and and and… the ground was hard and cold… and the bus was 15 minutes late… and and and I kept slipping cause I wore the wrong boots and and and… I fell once, but no one saw I don’t think, still thoroughly embarrassing… and and and… I could barely stay awake in class and and and… it was crummy.

There was one good part about my day though…

I was asked if I speak fluent Canadian… Instead of explaining that we both speak English and there is just a different accent…

I told him.

I speak fluent Canadian…

December 14 Journal

It’s been a while dear friends… quite a long while… For many twists have etched themselves into the stone of my life… A consuming reality…
This pretty little package of life reminds me of those washcloths Santa sticks in your stocking each year… Ya know, the ones that are the size of a cookie wrapped in plastic and then you put them in a cup of tepid water and in 30 minutes you have a full size washcloth with Winnie the Pooh on it textured like a soft sandpaper…

Look at it like this… you begin in a sheltered armor of childhood, secure from the big bad world… you slowly unwrap the plastic lining of your youth and quest into adolescence… this is short lived as young adulthood submerges you in undulating adventure, each precious second ticking by until you are gasping for air… Always immersed in that pool for entirely too long, strangled by the forces opposing your liberation, you wait as you writhe for freedom… Finally you are released from the watery prison, but twisted and squeezed painfully, just to achieve the full effect… By this time, you are fully grown and left to dry… you do your job and sometimes it turns out that you have fulfilled everyone’s hopes and dreams of you, and sometimes you are a disappointment, not what someone had in mind… sometimes you think you are on one side of this spectrum and sometimes on another, but really… when it comes right down to it…

You’re still a cheap washcloth textured like soft sandpaper…

I however… am the washcloth that everyone anticipates… Softer than expected… with a nice design… I’m the washcloth of your dreams simply because I want to be.

My glass of water is currently called Petonen, the second most dangerous part of Finland. I call it my glass of water because these past four months have been meticulously confusing my washcloth self… I went into this experience submerged, as most of us exchange students have… but have been ripped from my glass many too many times and twisted and wrung viciously only to be placed back in the water… I think it’s just so I have plenty of time to become better in my little viscous cocoon. Being compressed and mangled so many times leaves my muscles sore and my mind exhausted… Afterwards I feel stronger than before, it’s an incredible phenomenon.

Anyways… I do live in the second most dangerous part of Finland… I am proud to say I live in this Finnish ghetto… it’s exhilarating… Much more exhilarating than my tiny village of Rytky, although I do miss that bee farm.

I switched host family’s November 22nd… it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do since being here. I had grown SO close with the Keränens that leaving them was like leaving home all over again, but worse… I don’t know why, but I cried more when I left my first host family than when I left my real parents. I felt kind of bad though… Anne and I stood in the kitchen of my second host family crying and hugging for a very long time……

My new family is very different from my home, very different from my first host family too. I have four host brothers and sisters. Rita (18 female), Reko (15 male), Roni (10 male), Rosa (6 female). Now… I have a very open mind… I also have a terrible disease…. It was diagnosed at a very young age and has hindered my ability to live normally for many many years…

I have OCS, better known as… this is very difficult for me to talk about, a very sensitive subject…

HELLO, I AM JENNIFER, AND I HAVE ‘ONLY CHILD SYNDROME.’

There… now it’s out in the open. Symptoms of OCS: enjoys peace, enjoys quiet, hates yelling, doesn’t understand why children cry a lot, likes to be alone, has own things and does not need others’ things, nor hopes other needs owns things…

This home is never quiet… it was very difficult to get used to, and I don’t think I ever can get used to that for it is something I really just don’t enjoy… but it’s okay… I vow never to have more than two children when I have kids… you can quote me on that, write it down, stamp it, get my signature, I will not have more than two children. One is perfectly sufficient.

The eighteen year old and I get along very well… we’re very different with different friends and different fun-making activities, but we get along… the fifteen year old and I also get along… he’s funny and plays the guitar REALLY well… the ten year old…. I’m sure he’s a very nice child… but we have a bit of a communication barrier… because he doesn’t speak or understand English yet… and he doesn’t speak Finnish to me either……

The six year old… I won’t get into everything… but she likes coming into my room and poking me…. she likes sitting on my bed and saying random words in Finnish and having me repeat her even though I don’t know what the words mean… she likes sitting under my desk and ‘fixing’ it with tools while I work on homework… she likes cuddling with me in bed when I watch Across the Universe… she likes playing myyra (mole) in my bed by crawling underneath the covers from the foot of my bed up to my face… she likes singing and dancing… she goes to a German kindergarten and speaks some German… she’s loud… she’s six. I like her best when she’s quiet and cuddly… other times when she’s loud… and poking me… I have a strong urge to punt her across the foyer… but I don’t… because I’m a lovely washcloth.

It’s warm tonight… 36°F… 2°C… that’s the warmest it’s been in a long time…

The most exciting recent event in my adventure here was a trip to Lapland, which Cindy had talked about a bit. I’ll add. =].

I got on the bus at approximately 11:52pm Friday December 5th. I was reunited with my lovely friend Hope and we had many things to update each other on. The bus ride was ridiculously long, but I slept VERY well… The beauty of being small… I had a pillow and blanket and I fit perfectly on two seats. I’d have to say the best part was being reunited with my two best friend Chris and Trey… 3 of the Rotary busses had ended up stopping at the same time at the same ABC (truck stop kind of place)… and I saw Trey first and attacked with a nice run jump hug and then saw Chris who was out of it like usual… and I was like… HEY! Where the hell have you been?! He had practically fallen off the face of the Earth… We were happy to be back together again, the three of us.

We still had a few hours of bus ride after that and we went to our separate busses (they were together which made me jealous) and headed up to the Arctic Circle. We arrived around 11:45 the next morning… and went and found our rooms and then had lunch and thennnnnn… they took us to the ski slopes for fun in the snow. I went snowboarding… and I didn’t break any bones. None. I was rather proud.

After snowboarding we had much free time at the hotel, which was nice. It was nice being able to relax with my friends. At language camp Chris and Trey and I started a tradition of sorts called Story Time. Chris is an excellent reader and we would hide in one of their rooms during circle games and have Chris read When You Are Engulfed In Flames to us… As soon as we could we tried to hide in Trey’s room and have a bit of Story Time, but we couldn’t find the book… so Chris read interesting discoveries of UrbanDictionary… a crowd formed and Story Time was no longer ours.

Later that evening they had planned a nice dinner for us… In the middle of the woods… in the freezing cold… Outside… In the woods… We ate reindeer soup and had crepes and hot juice… Hot juice is NOT a thirst quencher let me tell you… they were a fan of this hot juice crap all weekend.

We then went back to the hotel and had story time until the grumpy Rotarians made us all go back to our own rooms.

Well, as Cindy said, our room was the best… It was huge and even though we had five girls in there (Jocelyn from Washington State, Stephanie from California, Hope from OHIO [Ohio Cindy], Cindy from Florida, and me)… it was still huge… We also had a sauna in our room… an amenity that only we had. We wanted to begin the second part of our evening with a nice sauna… but we couldn’t figure out how to work the stupid thing… It seemed nearly impossible… Knobs with no descriptions, holes that we thought would light up but don’t! How ever was it possible that we could make these seemingly normal wooden room turn into a hot steamy bath of joy and joyness?!

Stephanie decided to run up to the front desk to ask… we were about 20 feet away from the desk and even though it was 15 minutes after curfew, she thought she could make it…. Well, well, well, as we have learned… old Finnish Rotarian men are veryyyyyy sneaakkkyyyyyyyy. One popped up right around the corner and asked her what she was doing… she started to say she needed to ask a question at the front desk about the sauna because it wasn’t working. He cut her off after two words and told her what she should be doing which was going back to her room and sleeping (he has no compassion, we later learned, in English, only compassion in Finnish). She said ‘Yes, but!’ And before she could get another words out of her mouth he chases her back to her room repeating ‘Yeah, but. Yeah, but. Yeah, but.’ Over and over again… From that point forward, since we don’t know the names of our lovely Rotarian guys, he was given the name ‘Yeah, but’.

That evening continued with some events that probably shouldn’t be addressed, but for the betterment of society as a whole, I will speak of them.

After Yeah, but… we knew we couldn’t leave the room again… Unfortunately we had two smokers in the group who wanted one more… I jokingly suggested that they smoke out the window, not thinking that they actually would…

Well this window, you see, had two glass things with heavy wooden things and heavy and complicated and stuff… and so they propped the window open with their heads and free hand as they leaned as far out the window as possible trying to exhale in sync so they could waft the smoke outside and close one of the windows to prevent it from coming back in…

As you are most likely suspecting, this went horribly wrong… Well, not horribly, but it was pretty much an epic fail… They did smoke their cigarettes, buttttttttt… the entire room smelled. Bad. So we propped open the window of doom with a ski boot and brain stormed…. I showered and left the bathroom door open so the steamy goodness of my shower with good smelling shampoo and conditioner scents permeating through the room… the girls rubbed orange peels together and then all showered with the door open as well… It was quite the fest…

Once the smell seemed to be gone, we began the real fun.

Take one guess at what you think our next activity was…

Consider these factors…

It’s midnight, in the Arctic circle, in a hotel room… with…

5 TEENAGE GIRLS.

TRUTH OR DARE!

Duh!

Of course I was first and me being no pansy, I chose Dare. I was dared to run into the hall and run all the way down and knock on 3 doors and then come back…

WELLLLLL… Me in all of my brilliance, I knocked on the way down the hall not on the way back, which probably wasn’t the smartest… But lucky for me I’m super speedy with my legs of steel, so I made it back to the room safely

Next I dared Cindy to eat 10 pieces of salmiakki candies all at once! It’s a good one I promise… Just ask her how great it was!

After that the girls got tired so we made a circle on the giant bed (three twin beds pushed together) and played… Truth or Truth. Which turned into Ask-Jenny-a-Bunch-of-Weird-Questions-Cause-She-Has-the-Best-Stories.

We then laid in a very Finnish silence till one of us turned off the lights and we went to bed… after 10 more minutes of giggling of course.

The next morning we woke up and got breakfast in our pj’s and got ready for DAY 2 on the slopes.

If I may be so bold as to say that I (quote) Shredded up those sick slopes, man dude. (end-quote). (Quote) I made that snow my b*$#@. (end-quote). Right after I (quote) Ate gnarly sh!t (end-quote).

See, not only did I learn to snowboard, but I also learned some of their neat lingo.

The first time I fell really hard, I was heading down the slope and lost balance or something and ended up sliding about 20 feet face first in the snow… Dave boarded up next to me and yelled “CONGRATULATIONS JEN, You just ate your first shit.” I don’t understand why they refer to snow as fecal matter honestly because it actually tastes rather nice and it feels better than falling on asphalt or hard wood floors or metal spikes.

Growing thoroughly exhausted from falling and riding the impossible ski lift and falling and actually getting the hang of the falling leaf technique… we called it a day and went up to the lodge for hot cocoa and pool. Before we went to the lodge, Chris and Trey had to turn in their skis in the equipment room because they rented theirs… I went with them and even though it didn’t take too long, we ended up sitting in the equipment room arguing over which Pringle flavor is better and why Chris like Jaffa and isn’t a fan of Pepsi and… We took a survey of all the people who came in… Sour Cream and Onion took the cake much to their dismay… damn Original lovers.

There was a boy in the lodge that really got on Chris’ nerves. And it was hilarious. I won’t tell this tale… cause your really just had to be there.

On the bus ride back to the hotel Chris and I discussed blood types and the importance of knowledge of your own blood type and that of your partner’s. It was very interesting… We continued the rest of the weekend by introducing ourselves to people we didn’t know with…

“Hi, I’m (insert name here.) What is your favorite Pringle flavor, red or green, and what’s your blood type?”

Then you can have knowledge.

Anyways… that evening we had dinner and went to a school to use their gym. Each country had to perform something, a song, dance, skit… anything.

WELL! Us Americans were very unprepared… And we all really lacked any sort of real talent…

I told them I knew songs. They said OH! LIKE WHAT?! I said wellllll… I know the Jellyfish Song, the Froggie Song, the Penguin Company Song, the Herman the Worm Song, the Oreo Cookie Song, the……..

So this lead to me singing the Oreo Cookie Song, alone, in front of 130 exchange students and then leading them all in a rousing round of the Hokey Pokey.

The rest of the weekend people kept asking for encores of the Oreo song… It really is a good song.

We all hung out together back at the hotel for a bit until we were sent back to our rooms… where us girls, all exhausted, fell asleep almost right away.

The next morning I thought for real I was dead, or dying. Every muscle in my body was SCREAMING at me. Muscles I never knew existed. I could not move my body. Hope dragged me out of bed and I hobbled to the dining room in tights and sweats and a sweater looking positively ravishing and ate bread. Lots of bread.

This day was Monday. They had a fun filled day of Lappish fun for us to have fun with. We took the bus to an old woman’s house… She wore traditional Sammi clothes and showed us her old house and then showed us a slideshow… on a slide machine… like the huge projector things that go ‘CLA-CHICK’ when you change pictures. I slept through this… But I did catch the part where we learned how to castrate reindeer with our teeth.

Then we fed reindeer moss. Real reindeer, real moss. They were SO cute!

We took the bus to a museum then… and watched a documentary on nature… which I also slept through.

THEN!

WE!

WENT!

TO!

SWEDEN!

We were right near the Swedish border so we went and took pictures for like 10 minutes. It was glorious. I even sent Heath a text message saying ‘GUESS WHAT?! I’M IN SWEDEN!!!! WOOOOO!!!!!” Cause that’s how exciting it was.

We went back to the hotel for lunch and thennnnn.

We had a snowmobile ride… well… it was three snowmobiles with carts attached for like… 8 people to sit in… And… I was late… so I got to ride on the snowmobile! It was exciting. We went up to this teepee thing where they had some reindeer and sleighs. And we went on a reindeer sleigh ride. It was intense… We of course had the fastest reindeer!

After the reindeer we went snowshoeing… it’s not really fun. We played human dominoes though… One girl fell down and took another girl with her and we all just tipped over down the long line of us District 1430-ers.

We went to a husky place… except non-native-English speakers can’t say husky sleds… they say… ‘hushky sledges.’

We saw baby hushky puppies and went on hushky sledge rides and it was soooooo lovely. It felt like Christmas. Really Christmas.

We went back to the hotel after that for quiet time before dinner, which wasn’t very quiet… Story time was nice though.

Dinner was a candle-lit dinner that we were supposed to get dressed up for… there was a delicious chocolately dessert, Thibault from Belgium ate all of mine though… The nerve.

Rotary had recruited a Sammi singer guy to sing for us and it was very nice… and funny… he was a hilarious man. Then the oldies from Australia gave gifts to their newbie’s… but Kuopio doesn’t have oldies… ours got sent home… so we didn’t get anything… And then the tutors did a hilarious dance….

After this assembly the exchange students threw room parties… A dance party up in the Mexicans room, a different party with the Aussies, Story Time in Trey’s room… It was a wild time.

We all got sent back to our room at around 2:30am. Well… for five of us girls, we were silly… and had two room keys… and they were all locked in the room. And reception was closed… So we sat in the hall in a circle of prayer to Santa or something and hummed a bit hoping the master key would work and it didn’t… so we slept in rooms with the tutors… which turned out to be super fun… Hope and I were with Ella and we had the best night ever! She was an exchange student 5 years ago and we ate and talked and listened to music all night.

We woke up early the next morning to pack our things and get ready to leave.

On our last day in Lapland we drove to Rovaniemi to go to the place where the real Santa Claus lives. Santa’s Village was adorable and soooo Christmasy. There was a post office where you could send letter to people at home from the real Santa and and AND! This was the place that if kids mail a card to Santa, it goes to. They sort them right in the post office in the back area and you can see it… and talk to the sorter lady. She said that they receive nearly 800,000 letters each year. They read every single one… If the letter has a return address, Santa will send them a letter back, ALWAYS. (Keep this in mind parents).

We also went into Santa’s real lair… It was creepy so I think it was a lair. And met him… He speaks 15 different languages… We got a nice picture with him too!!! ONLY 7 EUROS!

Chris and Trey and I shared a soda with three straws and then got back on the busses to go to lunch…

Then it was time to say the goodbyes.

It was a very emotional time, because for most of us, we won’t see each other again until May, and this was the last time the Aussies would all be together… They all leave in less than a month now.

As sad as it was to see them all crying and hugging each other, it kind of made you feel a little warmer… realizing that I too will be sad to leave this icy tundra.

I will leave you with this…

I have deciphered the phenomenon of Europeans and their smell…

It’s not that they don’t wear deodorant…
It’s just that it doesn’t work…

Thank you Mommy for sending Secret Powder Fresh for Christmas.

January 9 Journal

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!
In Russia the most extravagant holiday of the year is New Years. Their favorite way to celebrate is to come to Kuopio, Finland to ski. And when they aren’t skiing they pillage the 75% off racks (of which there are many….) (after Christmas sales)… and raid the McDonalds and pizza places and the streets yelling in their language that sounds an awful lot like paska. Don’t get me wrong… I have nothing against the Russians…. I mean… I’m part Russian myself! BUT! For the love of salamanders, I would really appreciate it if the would refrain from cluttering up my small city with their pushy attitudes and fur….

Which leads me to my next point…

You can ALWAYS pick out a Russian by the inordinate amounts of fur that they wear. Fur coats with ridiculous fur hats and fur scarves and fur boots and fur furfur! I wonder how many animals died in the creation of the Russians’ winter wardrobe. Although I think since the Russians are here and wearing their furs it puts the Finns at ease and makes them think it’s okay to whip out their extensive fur collection and parade around town. When they bump into you and you say ‘PerkeleVenajalainen’ and then realize they’re really Finns cleverly disguised as a Russian, it’s a bit embarrassing… All I’m trying to say…. Is it’s time to get rid of the fur and get this town back to normal!

You see… the Finns hatred of the Russians began many a moon ago when the Russians were mean and bossy and controlled Finland… after Sweden controlled Finland of course. Now… Finns still hold a grudge because they find the Russians very annoying… they don’t really mind the Swedes… and the only reason they actually put up with Russians is because they boost our economy and I’m assuming because they allow them free reign to bust out the furs.

ANYWAYS!

Many things have occurred since the last time I wrote.

Recall the family I told you about in my last entry? WHELLLLL…. I moved. I am now living with my Rotarian counselor right in the center of the city and this pleases me. Details are unnecessary… but I will say this… I am now eating cookies in my room at 10:05 at night and in the rest of the house…. do you know what I hear?

Silence.

It’s beautiful.

You know, I was thinking… and it’s really strange because I used to have very interesting stories because everything was new and exciting and story making… BUT NOWWW! It’s all too normal. I find that in the first few months of my exchange each day was an event. I could remember everyday and everything and it was always new and fun and new. Now instead of living each day as an individual experience… I’m just living. Days happen without anything out of the ordinary… each day is just a day and sometimes it’s memorable, but most of the time it’s just a day. A normal day…

And sometimes… realizing that you can just have a normal day is more extraordinary.

How was your Christmas?

Mine was…

…I will post a note of warning to the new bounty of Outbounds preparing themselves* for their exchange year…

Please don’t read this and then get really mad at me for being scary or anything… but… Just don’t blame me if this gives you holiday jitters. Exchange is fabulous, but it’s not a piece of cake (I love cake).

Now, mind you, things with my second host family were a bit rocky (I had only lived with them for about 3 or 4 weeks before Christmas), so I won’t go into details, but this… this was the worst Christmas of my life.

Dinner… for dinner, they make ham (I’m not a ham fan), and three types of latikos. Latikos are three different pureed dishes. I don’t know about you, but I stopped eating purees before I was potty trained. Purees are made by Gerber, not Christmas delights. So dinner, was gross… oh! And to drink with dinner… I had a nice yummy glass of apple juice like my 6-year-old host sister. NOMMI! Juice, ham, purees. Fabulous. After dinner, they set up… microphones and amplifiers in the living room. For what purpose you may ask? Oh, just to sing Christmas carols in Finnish, of which I was not provided with lyrics to join in the festivities. Singing was followed by Santa driving to our house in an old Toyota and passing out gifts and… SINGING MORE SONGS. I was rather bitter by this point. For the record, I’ve never been the jolly Christmassy type. We opened lots of presents… the ones I received were very nice. Then as I sat in my chair as the family mingled with themselves… not exactly bothering to talk to me, except for the cousin who was nice, I politely excused myself and did what any bad exchange student would do.

I cried on my bed until Mommy and Daddy and Grampa and Rose logged on Skype to talk to me. And you know what? That cheered me right up. Relying on home while you’re here to get through the tough shit is typically a major no-no. But sometimes… Christmas just isn’t Christmas without family. Especially when the one you’re residing with doesn’t really meld you in.

Some facts about a Finnish Christmas
– Christmas in Finland is Christmas Eve
– Christmas Day is not celebrated
– Santa comes directly to your living room… ours came at 6:30pm
– When asked what Santa drives… the answer is not a sleigh, but a Toyota circa 1987
– You eat ham and latikos for weeks after Christmas
– Once the latikos are gone, you eat pea and ham soup with the left over ham
– I can sing Christmas carols in Finnish really well when provided with lyrics
– One of the pureed dishes happens to be pureed carrots
– White Christmases are lovely until your host mom decides you should shovel the driveway
– It doesn’t matter if Christmases are white when it’s only light out for 2 hours
– I solemnly swear never again to celebrate Christmas in Finland again

Now that you’ve relished in my delightful Christmas… I’ll move on to a more joyous topic…

FRIENDS!

I have them. It’s neat.

No but for real I do. I have a nice little gaggle and it’s lovely. We spend so much time together that they noticed I have a slight stutter. My friend Stephanie has a lisp… and we were talking about speech impediments because she was telling us about the kid in hew speech thewapy class who couldn’t say his aw’s… which led to us questioning the person who labeled stutters as stutters and lisps as lisps, for they are extremely difficult for those who have the said problem to say.

In Kuopio, Finland there are many fun activities for people my age to do… I will provide you with a list of fun things to do in Kuopio.

– sit in Coffee House
– smoke cigarettes in Kongi
– Go in Sokos to stay warm
– try on perfumes while in Sokos trying to stay warm
– sit in Hesburger
– sit in McDonalds
– stand outside and stare at giant clock/thermometer on top of the bank and curse whenever it switches from the time to the temperature
– repeat

Here’s a dictionary so you know what I’m talking about.

Coffee House: favorite coffee shop in town, also the most expensive

Hesburger: Finnish McDonalds

Kongi: Tunnel area between Sokos and Coffee House where all the gothic kids hang out, also a choice spot to watch drunks get arrested and drug deals

Sit: Sitting in a coffee shop or fast food place typically means, one of more persons purchases something so we don’t get kicked out… then we sit there for hours until were bored of there… then move to next sitting place and repeat.

Sokos: Big department store

Temperature: -4 is a warm day, -8 is comfortable, -20 (the most common reading) makes you want to shoot yourself

As of now, I have no other things to tell… but I will.

Happy January… I can’t believe it’s been almost 6 months!

*Did you know that the word ‘themselves’ does not technically exist? Well, of course it does, but the way in which I used it is completely improper and grammatically incorrect. I should have said ‘preparing himself or herself’ or if that’s not politically correct for feminists across the globe ‘preparing herself or himself.’ But as a writer I find that this disrupts the flow and good writing must have a proper flow, just like a good freestylin’.


February 1 Journal

February of the year 2009 may very well be my favorite month since February 1998, although I would consider February 2009 to be ranked higher because I did not appreciate what February of 1998 truly had to offer. It is the most symmetrically beautiful and aesthetically pleasing month. With a calendar that starts the week on Sunday, February of 2009 has 4 perfect weeks of 7 days all aligned perfectly in succession the way life is supposed to be. While nothing truly exciting is going on this month except for an appointment with my therapist, I’d like to appreciate the simplicity of living in a perfect calendar month.
My life here in Finland is so blisteringly simple, that I can’t help but twist everything into contorted versions of complexity because I don’t know how to do simple. I am unable to focus on anything, no matter how effortless. Blame it on my uncanny ability to seek every possible entity of life that could possibly put stress upon my shoulders, or place the blame on my utter insanity… it really could go either way I think.

I did have something rather exciting occur in my life recently though. Would you like to know what? This really was the highlight of a rather low period…

An exchange student in Ecuador named Anna found me on Facebook and sent me a lengthy message. The contents of this message are really what blew my mind. She’s Finnish and is keeping a blog “openly wondering, complaining and at the same time loving the Latino way of life.” She said she was wondering one day about what exchange students in Finland feel about the culture she is so accustomed to and Google searched it. She found her way to my journal somehow and said she couldn’t stop reading it. She read it from top to bottom and said, and I quote “I can’t really say anything else but that I AM UNCONDITIONALLY AND IRREVOCABLY IN LOVE WITH IT,” she also added ©©© to the end of that. By the time I finished reading her message I swear I just couldn’t stop smiling. It really is miraculous how this huge world we live in can be so small… I won’t lie; it also felt really good to have my writing complimented. I felt so honored that an exchange student in Ecuador, not even through Rotary just randomly found my writing.

It really does mesmerize me though. A Finnish girl in Ecuador who lives in Helsinki but parents grew up in Kuopio reads my writing… Joonas, currently in Florida, whose family I lived with here in Finland knows Vivian, a Taiwanese girl who lived with my family in Florida…. One of my closest Finnish friends’ here in Finland used to live in Clearwater, Florida… Another Finnish friend of mine spends every Christmas vacation in Sarasota, Florida on Longboat Key with his family… It’s just so hard to imagine how small our world really is. When living in an environment like most do, you don’t get the opportunity to see the wonder of internationalization. It shocks me, it really does.

So I’ve begun writing a book in my free time… because I get bored really easily and find writing something fun to do… I want to write about my exchange and base it off my journals that I write… My only problem is that I don’t know whether I should rework the whole thing and use my journals as the basis, or make it a compilation of my journals Sex and the City style. I could really use some solid input.

I suppose it’s a short one for today, but it’s better than nothing huh?

Oh, you know what I find incredibly difficult to type? And it’s kind of a problem sometimes because I have to type it frequently… It’s exchange… and the scary thing is that now that I’m thinking about it I actually typed it right on the first try this time… although I do keep screwing up nearly every other word I type. Goodness.

Exhange.

Exhcnage.

Exchange.

Exhange.

Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t.

Exhcaneg.

Exhanvge.

Exhcanege.

Yes, I really actually tried… no I did not sit here for ten minutes typing out different ways to misspell exchange.

Well… Till next time.

February 17 Journal
A Word on Customs… in the Office of Customs.
I have a premonition that the postal workers of the world believe my family is composed of felons and drug smugglers. Every time my parents send me a package I am told to pick it up from the customs office. My other American friends, they pick their packages up at the post office. So either:

  1. a) Finland’s postal service believes my family is sending me illegal materials

2) Believe I am ultra suspicious therefore I must be surveyed

or the most logical explanation…

III) They want to explore my box of goodies.

Now when I go to pick up my boxes, it’s usually a middle-aged Finnish male who attempts to make jokes and asks what I’m being sent. They always ask if I’m being sent drugs. They also cut open my boxes and go exploring.

Last time, when I ordered new boots, the man opened the box and said, “Oh, you ordered boots.” This is after his initial, what did you order question, of which I replied, “Boots.” Then he asked with fascination, “Are these leather?” I responded with, “They’re suede.” He then proceeded to stroke my boots for five seconds longer than necessary.

This time however, after the initial, “Are there drugs in here?” question, a different man proceeded to open my package. He looked inside, “Ooooh, Skittles” (pronounced: ‘skeet-lays’). Rummaging with his right and holding up a larger object on top with his left, he found things and said out loud what they were with growing interest: hair products, granola bars, candies, diet coke, contacts. Then… he realized that the things he was holding in his left hand were, much to his surprise, bras. He then proceeded to stare at them with awe for five seconds longer than necessary.

I have come to some conclusions about the customs of people who work at the customs office (great play on words, huh?):

  1. a) They find pleasure in looking through other peoples’ goodies.

2) They are all men.

III) They all giggle.

dee) They look scary, but are really giant fluffballs.

finally) They all have a passion for fashion… and undergarments apparently.


March 2 Journal

An exchange year is filled to the brim with being busy. Stress is a natural factor… between moving to new houses constantly, or at least it seems so, making friends, becoming comfortable, learning the way around town… But now, dear people, I am officially past that part of exchange. Yes, it’s over. I have moved into my final host house with my final host family in my final host room. I also have an amazing close-knit group of friends AND I haven’t gotten lost in months. I’d say this is quite the achievement.
It’s becoming more and more strange that I will be leaving my best friends in four short months. I have grown so close to my friends here, it’s hard to describe. I have created bonds with people that typically take years to form, and I’ve made them in a matter of months. The looming reality of leaving home originally seems daunting and slightly depressing, leaving your family and friends behind while you go on an amazing journey that you feel should be shared with those people you care for so deeply… In retrospect, you will come back to them… However those people who you grow to love and are with you every step of your exchange… growing and changing and exploring life… they are the ones that you leave and you don’t know the next time you will see them. They share such an extraordinary part of your soul and your heart and in reality, some you may never see again. Going home seems so close, like a pesty next door neighbor. I won’t lie, going home will be lovely, seeing my friends and family and being warm… It will be happy. But this life I’ve created for myself here is so comfortable and normal, it’s hard to imagine the drastic change that will be made so soon.

When I had been here four months, I thought, WOW, I can’t believe how long I’ve been here… Now I think I have four months left, and I see that I will spend a huge chunk of March in Sweden and then April not much will happen, nor May, just live, and then it’s June and I have Eurotour and then 10 days after Eurotour I will be HOME. Which essentially leaves me two months in Finland which is really scary and I’m actually feeling a panic attack coming on because I just realized this and while it’s the beginning of March, soon it will be the end of March because months go by so quickly which is great because then I get my Rotary allowance, but I also have to buy a new bus card, but I only have to reload it two more times and and and and….

It is so horribly cold here I think I might freeze to death… It’s been cold since October, and freezing since November… and and and…

I find I have nothing to write about because I do nothing exciting really.. It would be like you telling me what you do in a normal day… my life should be more exciting than yours because I’m an exchange student for goodness sake. But it’s not and I appreciate that SO much. Having something exciting to do everyday would spoil life because then nothing would be exciting anymore. Am I right?

I enjoy coffee.. I went a while where I cut WAYYY back, but my new host family drink it a lot. I like it.

I hope Flagler College doesn’t read my journals and decide not to allow me to come in the Autumn because they think I’d be better off in an asylum…

Oh the tribulations of life….

April 5 Journal

At heart, I am a passionate person. The problem I frequently come by is that I am a tough critic on what is allowed to be the recipient of my devotion. I jumped from hobby to hobby throughout my childhood, possibly in search of that one thing I could partake in with unrequited love.
I found horseback riding eventually and this, this I loved. However in the world of horses there is pressure. I am not one who enjoys pressure.

I enjoy knitting and traveling, eating and sleeping, talking and swinging on swings.

This year I knew would be a year of self discovery while I explored the world that lies outside of my safe haven of home. I find this idea rather peculiar… Finding yourself through everything that is not you. It seems like the ultimate challenge, but yet, sometimes, when the world that surrounds you is dissimilar, possibly even a polar opposite, your reflection stares back at you with crystal clarity.

In two months, I will leave Finland with more of myself than I came with.

I found my passion in words. In your words, in our words, in my words. It mystifies me still being able to fill a page with words, words that I have chosen to put together to express myself, and then to have people read them and to have these people enjoy the words that I have chosen to put together to express myself.

Next year when I go to Flagler College, I know what I will study in my educational pursuits. I have a goal in sight for myself. A goal that I know is achievable and a goal that I will enjoy to the fullest.

I will write. For you, for them, and for myself.

On a completely different rambling note, I read something very interesting the other day. Due to scientific and medical advances it is said that people currently under the age of forty have the potential to live for centuries. A geneticist at Cambridge University has stated this. Other scientists, doctors, geneticists, and nanotech experts insist that not only is the idea of postponing or even reversing aging possible, but a goal that is achievable in time to benefit those of us alive today.

Sounds neat right? I mean this one lady says that the first person to live to 1,000 years old is living today. However I read in another place why immortality would really be a terrible terrible idea. As you grow older your perception of time speeds up. This would be fine if everyone was immortal, but let’s say our life-span remains the same as it is on average now. You’ve been through numerous relationships and numerous deaths of relationships and time is still continuing to speed up in your mind. Essentially this makes what would seem a life-long relationship seem like 5 minutes, right? Eventually this would get so bad you’d be completely unable to form relationships and you’d be fast-forwarding until the sun decides to expand and the Earth begins to cook and then what?

Immortality would be really lame.

This journal consisted nearly entirely of my endless frippery… and didn’t have any life in Finland stuff…

I swear there really isn’t anything I haven’t already told you before… Except possibly… yes.

At this kebab and pizza place I discovered the most greatest of discoveries… For 3 euros I can get an entire dinner sized plate piled high with French fries. Besides the 50 cent ice cream cones from Hesburger, I think this might be the best deal in the city.

For those of you wondering what this kebab I speak of is… it’s not shish kebab. No. Shish kebab is for lame-os.

WIKIPEDIA DEFINITION – DÖNER KEBAB

‘Döner kebab, literally “rotating kebab” in Turkish, is sliced lamb, beef or chicken, slowly roasted on a vertical rotating spit. It is similar to gyros and shawarma. Döner kebab is most popularly served in pita bread, as it is best known, with salad, but is also served in a dish with a salad and bread or French fries on the side, or used for Turkish pizzas called pide or “kebabpizza”. Take-out döner kebab or shawarma restaurants are common in many parts of Europe. Döner kebab is said to be the best-selling fast food in Germany and Poland as well as being popular in many other European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In Australia and the UK, kebabs (or döner meat and chips) are most popularly eaten after a night out, representing a large part of nightlife culture. As a result, many kebab shops (and vans) will do their main business in the hours around closing time for local pubs and clubs (usually from 10 pm to 4 am). The same applies for the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Scandinavia. It is therefore not uncommon to find similar late-night kebab vending shops in holiday-clubbing destinations such as Ibiza. Health concerns about döner kebab, including unacceptable salt and fat levels and improper labeling of meat used, are repeatedly reported in UK media. The German-style döner kebab was supposedly invented by a Turkish immigrant in Berlin in the 1970s, and became a popular German take-away food during the 1990s, but is almost exclusively sold by Turks and considered a Turkish specialty in Germany.’


April 22 Journal

Today smelled like happiness.
I woke up and I didn’t know it yet, but today indeed smelled like happiness. It was so perfectly appeasing in everyway.

Today was simply whimsical. There is no better way to describe it.

The sun glittered its gems lightly on my pale skin, the breeze playfully tousling with my hair … I walked down the street with myself without a care in the world and couldn’t help but let my lips curl into a smile. I was flood with the most beautiful happiness… oh sweet Spring.

I can sense my dreams tingling through my spine… I want to take hold of them and make them real and I want to do it now.

I want to do it today, this perfectly whimsical day.


May 5 Journal

So in this here part of the world there’s a little celebration called Vappu… celebrating the beginning of summer.
My Vappu went like this.

In the morning I came to town. The city center was more crowded than I’d ever seen it. Most people were enjoying the sun, some were dressed in funny costumes. My friends and I bought ice cream cones and bottles of bubbles and enjoyed them to the fullest. Later on we moved to my friend Stephanie’s house to put on our costumes!!!! I wore purple leopard print tights, black shorts, a black t-shirt, lots of necklaces, rainbow fake eyelashes, and I curled my hair to the extreme. Then we taught our friend Saniya how to eat a taco. =].

We went down to the lake around 4 pm and it was packed… by 6 there were thousands of people there. It was one giant party… absolute madness. The party had started before we arrived and lasted until a little after midnight… when everyone wandered into town to find some food.

There were a few interesting things I saw that night.

Beginning at about 7pm police officers in groups of three began walking around… observing, not really doing anything… which was fine and dandy. Then around 10:30 there were paramedics walking around in groups of threes, I assume to pump stomachs or rescue drunkards from the frozen lake. I witnessed one of the paramedics in ‘action.’

The three were wandering around looking to see if someone needed help. There was a girl, with her friend, head between her legs, puking probably from the likes of alcohol poisoning… this girl looked REALLY bad. The paramedics walked by… one looked at her, hesitated… looked again… looked slightly disgusted… and then walked away. Didn’t ask if she needed help. Didn’t offer any sort of assistance, didn’t notify a police officer to get her address and drive her home… Just kept walking. They were efficient!

I also witnessed boys pushing other boys in a stolen shopping cart… pushing them into curbs, railings over the lake, innocent bystanders….

My favorite part of the evening however was in the city. My friends and I meandered towards the city around 12:30am in search of nourishment like the rest of the city of Kuopio. We first went to a stand inside the center market trying to find some food that was cheap and fast… Stephanie wanted a cheeseburger so we asked the woman how much it would be… she began to open a package of the microwavable cheeseburgers you buy at the store 2 for 3.49€… and told us… 7€. That’s $9.25 for a microwavable cheeseburger. At Hesburger, our favorite fast food joint… you can get a burger (similar to a Big Mac, but better), fries, and a drink for 7.10€. The audacity of food vendors. ANYWAYS! That wasn’t my favorite part… it’s leading up to my favorite part… I just didn’t realize how much explaining I wanted to do for the prep, so yes. After the whole food vendor ordeal we went to Hesburger. We didn’t go there in the first place because it was packed… but anyways… so we got there, go to the door…. and guess what’s at the door… A bouncer… like at a night club or bar… one of those huge scary guys with the headset wearing all black looking menacing… My friend Milla goes first, he searches her bag, finds empty cans of cider in it and won’t let her in. Stephanie goes… she has no bag… She puts her arms in the air, tells the guy she has nothing, he looks at her suspiciously and lets her in. Next I go. This man fondles my bag for a good 30 seconds… looks me in the eyes and grants me entrance to the fast food restaurant. Our friend Jarkko who Stephanie and I used as our bodyguard was coming in after me, but since there were too many people in the Hesburger at the time they wouldn’t let him in until more people left. It was absolutely ridiculous… and hilarious.

I don’t have much other news. Well, I did laundry yesterday.

You know I cannot wait to have a clothes dryer again. Seriously… I put my clothes up to dry yesterday at like… 5pm… and some of them still aren’t dry today. Clothes dryers and fabric softener.

…Moving on…

If I’m remembering correctly… in one of my prior journals I wrote a bit about the less than efficient deodorant over here… Well…. the weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the people are perspirating…

This warm weather has come upon us Kuopiolainens rather abruptly. I think people here have a bit of a complex about leaving their beloved jackets at home… Everyone seems to be bundled up. IT’S HOT OUT! Not nearly as hot as Florida… but a t-shirt and shorts would be appropriate attire with this weather.

Now they can wear their coats and scarves all year long if they want… but for the love of my organs, please, PLEASE, buy some deodorant that works.

Yetserday I was taking the bus to town, minding my own business, enjoying the nice weather… when all of a sudden the bus stops and more people begin to get on. Not a problem in the least. One particular man though, with dirty blue jeans, a t-shirt and black overcoat, bald on top, full hair on the sides that looked like it had been dyed orange in an attempt to go stylishly blonde… with brown roots an inch thick underneath…. sweaty… and smiling like he was up to something… he chooses the empty seat in front of me… and I knew. I thought to myself… ‘In six seconds I won’t be able to breathe… one… two… three… four… five… six…….’ My nostrils burned, my eyes began to water. This man must have been the smelliest man on the planet.

HOLY SCHMOKES… I wrote the words prior to these earlier today… and I am so glad I waited to send this in!

Something exciting happened today!

I decided to trek into town… I was on a mission. Mission: Glue Stick. I decide to take bus number 20 because the bus stop is closer to my house and I was feeling lazy… I usually take bus 16. As we approach the Shell station two bus stops past mine, midturn, the bus stops. The bus driver makes everyone get off the bus, walk to the next bus stop and wait for another bus (which only took 5 minutes) but still… Everyday is an adventure with public transportation.

Mission: Glue Stick was a success.

OH! ANDDDDDD…. I was watching television and a commercial came on for M&amp;M’s which is ironic because I ate M&amp;M’s just yesterday! But anyways… it was in Finnish of course… Well what happened was the red M&amp;M was standing and the the yellow M&amp;M walked up… but he was red too… and the red M&amp;M asked him what happened and the M&amp;M that’s supposed to be yellow said that he went to sauna and he had a sauna branch with him that you beat yourself (or friends!) with in the sauna for an extra something…. and he had leaves stuck to him… and then the red M&amp;M said… ARE YOU CRAZY! YOU’LL MELT! And then the yellow M&amp;M who is still red shrugs and then changes from red to yellow…. It was so Finnish… the voices sounded like the same male Finnish voices in every other commercial…. even though they were M&amp;M’s….

 

Henry Ford
2008-09 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School, St. Augustine, Florida
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Cremona Po Rotary Club, District 2050, Italy

Henry - Italy

Henry’s Bio

 Hi, my name is Henry Ford, and I’m 16 years old. When I was 5 years old I moved from East Lansing, Michigan to St. Augustine, Florida. I really don’t remember a whole lot about Michigan, but I can remember I was more excited about moving than I was sad. Now I live in St. Augustine Beach, and currently I’m a 10th grader at Pedro Menendez High School. I love playing soccer, learning new things, and going to new places.

My favorite thing to do is play soccer. I have been playing since I was 5 years old, and I have been playing on a select team since I was 10. What I like about soccer is that it takes a lot of endurance, ball skills and good ball control, awareness, strength, and speed. The combination of these makes for a game that is, in my opinion, addicting. In my free time, I also enjoy going to the beach. At the beach my friends and I go surfing a lot during the summer. I also like doing things with my family. We do a lot together, and I enjoy doing things with them like playing golf or riding bikes.

I have many goals in life and right now, aside from having a great time as an exchange student, the biggest goal I have is to go to college at the University of Florida. I really want to achieve this because I feel it will open up opportunities for me for the rest of my life. Although it is a really hard school to get into, I feel if I do my best in high school I can achieve this goal.

I’m very excited about being an exchange student in a different country. Not only will it be great while I’m there, but I’m positive that this will shape me into a different person than I would’ve become without this exchange. I’m interested to see who that person will be. This will be an adventure that will last a lifetime, and I just can’t wait for it to start.


October 5 Journal

 As I drove to the Jacksonville Airport with my family and bags, I thought to myself, why aren’t I crying or at least feeling anything. The truth was I knew exactly what I was doing in leaving my life in Florida behind and venturing to a foreign country thousands of miles away, but I really wasn’t very emotional about it. I was going from a country and town I knew so well to a country that was very different.

As I walked off the plane in the Malpensa (Milan) airport I was relieved. 18 hours of flying and sitting in airports had exhausted me and all I wanted to do was to meet my host family and then go to my new house and sleep. After I grabbed my bags at the baggage claim the other exchange students I had flown with and I walked through the doors that would bring us face to face with our host families. Even though I knew a lot about my first host family due to the fact that my host sister was an exchange student close to where I live, I was pretty nervous about seeing them for the first time. Right when we walked through those doors we walked into an area where there was about 60 people waiting for various people who had also arrived. Right away I recognized my host sister, Laura, and for the first time I saw my host dad, Beppe, and host mom, Luciana. After shaking hands with a few Rotary people we walked to their car and we were on our way to Cremona. As we drove home I was so tired that every now and then my head would tilt back but then jerk forward as I forced myself awake. I had just arrived in Italy and I didn’t want to miss seeing a single thing. We drove into town around 6 o’clock and the sun was starting to set.. My host family gave me a quick tour of the house. That night I went out with my host sister who showed me the centro, which is so close to my house. I met a lot of her friends. I was overwhelmed by everything. Finally around 12 I returned to the house. And fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The next morning I woke up around 1.

I have now been in Italy for almost a month and I’m very happy here. I love my host family as they’re incredibly nice and care about me. I also love where I live. I live about 3 minutes by foot from the centro, downtown. My host brother, Michele, has been so helpful because he always invites me to do things with him with his friends. Because of this most of my friends are his friends also. We also are playing on the same soccer team.

Because there is school 6 days a week including Saturday =(, all of the kids go out on Saturday night. In downtown Cremona there are 4 piazzas, and these piazzas are where I hang out along with a bunch of other kids. I feel that already I’ve made a lot of friends here, and just about everywhere I go there is someone I know. Another thing I really like about Cremona is that unlike cities in the United States you can ride a bike everywhere. My host parents have given me a bike to use and I used it just about every day. I ride to school, a sports club called Baldeiseo, and the centro. The only place I go regularly that I’m not able to ride a bike to is soccer training which is probably 5 miles from where I live.

As for school, currently it’s pretty boring, but I even now I can see there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s close to impossible to understand my teachers right now except for a few sentences because they speak so quickly. So right now I participate as much as is possible and then in the times where it isn’t possible for me to participate I memorize new verbs and their conjugations and vocabulary.

My Italian has improved a huge amount since I arrived. Everyday I learn more and more. I am constantly asking what words I don’t know mean, and how to say new words. When I first arrived I could hardly understand a thing people were saying to me, but now I understand a pretty good amount. I am able to share my thoughts and if I don’t know a word in Italian usually I’m able to say that one word in English and the kids will understand me and tell me it in Italian. If I’m not able to do this I have become good at using various gestures to describe the word.

My biggest challenge is to use Italian when I’m around people who speak good English. For about week I got into a bad habit of talking in English with my host brother because he is close to fluent in English. I think it hindered my progress a little and I had to make a big effort to stop it. Now I speak about 90-95% in Italian during the day. In conclusion, so far I’m having a great time and I’m loving Italy.

 


 

November 7 Journal

 Ciao! Time for another update on my exchange in Italy. So much has happened this month that it’s hard to believe that it has only been a little over a month since I last wrote.

Earlier this month, I went with the other 3 exchange students living in Cremona to a town near Cremona called Pavia. Pavia is bigger than Cremona but is by no means a big city. It has a very old and famous university. Both of my host parents both attended this university along with lots of other people in Cremona. Allesandro Volta, the physicist who developed the first electric cell, taught at the University of Pavia for 25 years. The host mom who took us to Pavia is a physics teacher at the university there and gave us a tour of the university. It was beautiful. The rest of the day we walked around Pavia and explored the town.

About two and a half weeks ago I changed host families temporarily. My host parents went on vacation to Argentina, and I moved for two and a half weeks to a small town called Castelverde outside of Cremona. It was much more different than living with my first host family. Every morning I had to wake up at 6:15 to take the bus to school. Also, living outside of Cremona definitely made it harder to do things with my friends in Cremona. Tonight I’m returning to my family in Cremona’s home, and I’m really excited. I feel I’d become pretty close with the family and I was sad to have to leave them even for just 2 1/2 weeks.

Yesterday, I went to Milano with 2 of the other Cremona exchange students. All of us exchange students here in Cremona have become good friends with each other. We took a train to Milano and then met up with some of the exchange students there. In the morning we went sight-seeing. The duomo (cathedral) was incredible. You can see tons of pictures of it, but when you actually see it in real life it is surreal. It’s enormous. Inside was equally amazing; its ceilings are SO tall and the columns inside are huge. Also, on the top of the church there is a really cool golden Madonna statue. We also saw a cool church where there was a chamber with all these skulls and bones in the walls.

After seeing the duomo and the bone church we walked around lost for a long time while trying to find a store the girls wanted to go to. Even though we were with the exchange students who lived in Milano we still got lost a few times. That day we took the subway almost everywhere, and it’s hard to understand. After going to their store we returned to Piazza duomo. We were talking and sitting on the steps of the duomo when I looked at the huge TV screen in the piazza and noticed we were on MTV’s European TRL. That was really cool. Then after this, we went shopping even more. We went to Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Pucci, and a bunch of other really expensive designer stores. I didn’t buy anything because it was all super expensive, but I went in them all. It probably wasn’t a good idea to go shopping with 6 girls in the fashion capital of the world. I was dead tired that night, from all the walking, waiting, and telling girls, “Yeah, it looks OK.” It was really fun though. It was my first time in Milano even though it’s only an hour away from Cremona, but it was definitely one to remember. Also, I’m going back next Thursday again!

Thank you so much Rotary for giving me this opportunity to have such a great time!

Until next time. Ciao.

Henry


 December 16 Journal

 Hey, I’m writing again to give an update on how my exchange is going. I’ve been here over 3 months now. It’s strange though because at the same time I feel I’ve been here a really long time, I also feel I just got here yesterday.

Since I last wrote I’ve done many cool things, but the one that stands out to me as the most important is the progress I’ve made in learning Italian. I’m so excited because now, I feel that when I have a conversation, it’s very very rarely that I don’t understand what the other person said. I still have a long way to go, but when I look back on how much Italian I knew when I came here and then think about how much I know now, it is simply amazing. The thing that has helped me the most in learning the language has been studying by myself. Every single day I study a lot on my own at home. In addition to this I study at school and at the tutoring class the other exchange students and I have during the week. In the beginning of my exchange I was only studying at tutoring class, but now I study for hours everyday and I can see how much of a difference it’s made.

On December 8th I changed host families and so now I’m living with my second host family. For me, the change came out of nowhere. Although I obviously knew that I would be changing families and when I would be doing so, I didn’t really think about it until I was packing my bags on the day I was leaving. My new host “family” consists of my host mom because she is a single mother and her daughter is on exchange in Wisconsin. Even though I miss my first host family a lot, I’m very content with my new home. My host mom and I talk a ton and I’m glad to keep her company while her daughter is away in America. Not only is this good for her but I’m sure it helps my Italian a lot.

It’s very close to the beginning of winter, and unlike Florida it’s really cold. Every day for the last week it has rained. The weather is pretty horrible. This is one of the things I definitely miss about Florida. Yesterday, I talked to my parents who told me that it was in the 70’s in Florida. Wow, I sure wish it was like that here. Anyways it’s dinner time here so I’ve got to go.

Ciao, Henry


March 3 Journal

 Ciao, I’m writing to give an update on my exchange here in Italy. I haven’t written for a couple of months, and so I’ll try to sum up December, January, and February briefly. Cold and grey. Let me tell you, the climate here made me really appreciate the type of weather we have in Florida. The last 2-3 months were pretty hard for me at sometimes. There would be times when there was tons of snow on the ground and I had to walk about 30-40 minutes through the slush and snow to school. I would think to myself, man I wish I was wearing a hoodie and under the sun. For the first time since I arrived in Italy, I genuinely started to miss my family, friends, and overall lifestyle in Florida. Even though the winter wasn’t a lot of fun for me, now that in the last couple of weeks the sun has come out, my attitude and outlook has done a 180. I need the sun! Now everyday the weather is pretty nice and the temperature has risen quite a bit. It’s so much nicer to go out now!

The winter has ended here and loads of good things are coming from it. Along with the weather improving, I’ve been able to start traveling more, which was one of the things I was really wanting. Up until a few weeks ago I had only been to a handful of cities that are close to my town. In the last two weeks alone I have been to Venice and Milan. Milan I’ve been to 3 times already, but every time that I go it’s a lot of fun. Venice on the other hand was spectacular. It’s my favorite Italian city by a mile. I went there on a trip with Rotary for Carnivale. Carnivale is a huge holiday, and as a result, the city was packed to the limit. This just added to the fun and didn’t take away from Venice’s beauty. It was so cool because so many people there were either wearing a mask or dressed up in costume. Apparently, Venice is the place in Italy to celebrate Carnivale. It definitely was the most fun holiday I’ve celebrated in Italy. Everything from the special type of deserts, the masks and costumes, to the parties. Another thing that added to my fun in Venice, was that Rotary organized the trip for all the exchange students in the northern half of Italy. I even saw Kevin, which was a real surprise. Overall, it was a day packed full of fun. When I returned to Cremona, I looked at my photos on the computer I realized I’d taken over 120 photos. Every single canal, statue, gondola, bridge, building, and church was picturesque. Now after having so much fun on that trip, I’ve been informed that we’ll be going on a similar trip to Florence and Pisa in the near future. Also, in two weeks my parents are coming to visit me and we’re going to go to Rome, Florence, and Tuscany throughout two weeks. I’m so excited!

Everything is really starting to come together now. With a good group of Italian friends, a pretty good grasp on the Italian language, I’m starting to have a lot of fun again. One of the things that’s really bugged me about life in Italy is the fact that Italian students study nonstop during the schooldays. It’s not very often that Italians are able to hang out after school. Because of this, I’ve spent lots of time during the weekdays with the other exchange students in my town. Last week, I mentioned to the teacher at my school if she could find about some volunteering opportunities around town, and now I will more than like be spending some of my time during the week doing volunteer work at an elementary school or something similar to that. One thing that has really helped me throughout these last 6 months has been playing on a soccer team. Soccer is one of my passions in America as well as here, and where better to play than in the home of the World Cup champions. But it’s not just that, being a part of a team with other Italians helped me make lasting friends and helped me spend time with Italians during the week. I would highly recommend joining a team to any future exchange student.

All in all, tutto bene (all is good) here. I’m having a really good time on exchange here and more importantly I’m learning a lot about myself as well as the world around me.

John Mallow
2008-09 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay High School, Weston, Florida
Sponsor: Weston Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Halic Rotary Club, District 2420, Turkey

John - Turkey

John’s Bio

Hey everyone! I am John Mallow, and even though I have not been assigned a country yet for my Rotary student exchange, just knowing that I will even have a country is enough for me! I live in a city in Florida called Weston, which is pretty much Ft. Lauderdale.
For the most part, I’ve been told that I am curious, outgoing, and even a little bit crazy, but I’ve found myself to be hard-working and loyal. I love sports, especially football, and I am a music junky. I’ve played in numerous bands (even as a part time job), playing the bass and the guitar. I have a personal love of the international community, and I am always curious about what is happening in the world. Also, honestly, I love school, and I love taking part in my favorite clubs, which are Model UN (United Nations), Interact, DECA, D.F.Y.I.T (drug free youth in town), S.A.D.D. (students against destructive decisions), Friends of Gilda’s, and the National Science Honor Society.

I love to try new things, and this recent “thing” is almost scary, but I can’t believe that I am able to take part in something so much bigger than myself; to learn and become more mature; become a better leader a role-model; to be a foreign exchange student. I can’t wait to see where the world takes me!!!


October 26 Journal

Hello people of RYE florida and my friends in the various parts of the world! I am here writing in my Turkish house to say (mostly to Al Kalter, Joe Altschul, and Roy) that I am alive and healthy- I promise :D! I have been to various houses throughout my stay in Istanbul, and I have had no internet in some of the houses, and I have also had the basic exchange problems too, so I am sorry that my monthly reports have been… not so monthly… but I promise to keep you updated as much as possible!!
Anyways, Merhaba!!! From Istanbul, Turkey. My stay here in this country is the single most greatest experience I have ever had. I am lucky to still be on this continuous adventure, because I am always afraid that I will wake up. Everyday is like a dream- I am having a problem explaining it more.. but I will describe it by writing about my new life in one of the biggest cities and cultural centers in the world.

The day I arrived in Turkey, I was quite intimidated by the immensity of the traffic, which is now famous to the exchange students, and the crowded population of Istanbul. Everywhere you go there is traffic, and when you think the traffic is getting better, there is always more traffic up ahead. The traffic is the worst in the mornings across the Bosphorus, because most people live on the Asian side of Istanbul, and then go to the European side for work, and then it reverses when everyone is going home… so taking a car to work is usually not the best idea because there are only two bridges for most of the population of Turkey. Also, when you cross the street, cars SPEED UP… which is havoc for everyone, so walking can be bad because of this reason, and the drivers use cars in ways that would otherwise be illegal in the USA…

In Istanbul there are two sides- the Asian and European, as I mentioned before. I live on the European side, which has more religious and old Turkish buildings; for instance, there is an old mosque right outside my school which is a pretty neat thing if you come from the United States (we are not used to mosques, etc). Everything is so close together in Turkey, including the rich and poor, which can be quite odd. I live in a wealthy part of Istanbul, but right next to the flats are slums that are only visible if you look down from the highway. It’s interesting how the poor people literally live lower than the more wealthy.

School is awesome. I can talk on and on about school, but I will keep it short. I love my friends in school. I have many friends, but mostly in the 9th grade because there are only thirty six 12th graders. I am in the school band, like an actual rock band (I play bass), and they are planning on going to a huge Turkey band competition for schools, and I might be playing with them. I am also doing dance in my school, and on the 29th I will be dancing in front of my whole school! When the Model United Nations club starts up, I will be joining that too! Everything is so great in my school, and they are the least strict school in Turkey (and to add, it is a boarding school).

The students in my school are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met, including the people outside of school (the rest of Turkey). The first day of school I met up with another exchange student, and we were given students to show us around the school, and they attempted to go overboard in the whole introduction process for us in the school. I can’t stop making new friends everyday- young and older students, they are all just as curious to where I am from because I stand out in the crowd of the Turks (blonde hair blue eyes), and also, they are quite curious in why I have piercings in my eyebrow and ears (other students have earrings too!). Everywhere I go, when I am meeting new people with my friends, the new person always says “Merhaba” to my first friend (it is a greeting which is equivalent to hello in English), and they kiss each other’s cheeks. The same happens for the next few friends, but when it is my turn for a greeting they always stick out their hand for a handshake and say “HELLO”. In the beginning it was quite alright and understandable, but since now my Turkish has improved dramatically, I am getting quite frustrated because sometimes it halts my Turkification =P. However, when people see me from a distance, I am always proud of myself because when people need directions, they ask me in Turkish, and I always find them the right way… in Turkish!!

Lets go back to the traffic. Traffic is again, the worst I have ever seen. People literally fight for the road. Most people walk or take the otobus or minibus, which are cheap ways of transportation that never exceed two lira (about, with the rising of the dollar, is only one dollar a ride). Taxis can be more expensive, but take much less time because taxi drivers are insane. The minibus can be frustrating because of where I live. I live in the middle of a place called Istinye, which is a great part of Istanbul. However, where I live, there are no minibus stops; there are minibus stops, but I have to walk a nice mile and a half to get to one. I already walk to school everyday because of the awkwardness of where I live- I pass a school that is literally three minutes by walk, compared to the twenty minutes I take every morning (twenty minutes is rushing). The geography of Turkey makes it ever harder to get to school- it’s not so bad in the rest of Turkey, just where I live.. then in most places it gets more flat in other places.

My diet consists of… everything. Nutella, which is my absolute favorite, is my breakfast, which goes along with different cheeses, breads, sometimes meat, olives, jam, honey, sometimes eggs, and Pinar, a Turkish brand of milk- and let’s not forget Turkish tea, which is an if-you-are-Turkish-you-always-must-drink-it type of thing. Lunch consists of the usual doner kebap (meat), toast- which is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with meat and tomato, and sometimes a few other traditional Turkish dishes which I forgot the name to. Dinner is…. amazing. In my family there is always different soups, and in there are also different main dishes you can eat. Domla is a pepper with rice and meat in it, there is also kofte, a kind of meatball, salad, beans, fish, different other meats like chicken; the list goes on. After you are stuffed and can’t eat anything else and you’re about to pass out from all the food you ate, there is of course, dessert. The desserts are truly extravagant, and I have made them my own personal delicacies in Turkey. You’ll have to come to try them out yourselves! Also, even though it seems I eat everything in Turkey, which of course I do, all the food is fresh and usually comes from a Bazaar, an open air market with cheap food sold by the kilo. It is all fresh and more healthy for you, and I have lost about ten kilos since the beginning of my exchange. My host mom (and bless her English because she has problems saying the TH sound, like the and that) always says “John! You are getting too TIN!”

I have been to many places on my stay in Turkey. The first one, is in a place called Sapanca, on the Asian side. It is a beautiful village type place outside of Istanbul, in the mountains. I stayed there with a temporary family while my family had their vacation in the United States. From this stay I realized that Turkey has everything- beautiful people, food, and places. Everything is the same but also everything is so different at the same time. I am truly witnessing the mix of the East and West cultures together. But one thing most Eastern and Western cultured Turks agree on- Turkish pride. The crescent moon and star on the Turkish flag can be found everywhere, as well as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the most important Turk in Turkish history, who founded the republic of Turkey. If you thought Americans were patriotic, think again. There are more Turkish flags waving in Istanbul then there are American flags in the whole United States. It is quite unbelievable.

This is just my introduction of my stay in Turkey. Much more has happened, but I will let you know in three weeks. Stay tuned my friends!!

Hosca Kalin! Gorusuruz!
Kandi ne Iyi Bak!

Joanie Davis
2008-09 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Kaarst Rotary Club, District 1870, Germany

Joanie - Germany

Joanie’s Bio

 Hey everyone! My name is Joanie Davis, I’m 15 years old and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m a Sophomore at Bartram Trail High School, and I enjoy drawing, painting, and writing. I also enjoy tubing on the St. Johns River and surfing in the summer. My favorite classes in school are Math and Fashion Production.

My family and friends are very important to me. It will be hard leaving them for almost a year, but the experience of being an exchange student is totally worth it. I live with my mom, dad, and my younger sister Ashley. She’s 12 and attends Switzerland Point Middle School (No, it’s not in Switzerland). I also have two pets, a Siberian Husky named Bandit, and a Lovebird named Sunshine. I have many friends that I enjoy spending time with. On weekends we go tubing, jet skiing, and sometimes to the movies and mall.

I am so excited, and still in shock that I have the chance to be an exchange student. I am thrilled that I will be spending my junior year in Germany. It was my first choice (lucky me), and I am so excited I don’t want to wait 5 months before I get to go. I will be spending almost a year in Germany, learning the language, culture, and meeting new people. This would probably be the most amazing thing that has ever happened in my life. Thanks Rotary for allowing me to have this amazing opportunity.


July 22 Journal

 Hi everyone! Although I have not yet left on my exchange, I would still like to write a journal about how I’m feeling before I embark on this year long journey. I have only 13 days before I leave and it doesn’t feel real yet. It has not hit me that I will be leaving my friends and family and live in another country for a year. Every time I tell someone that they look at me like I’m crazy. Often people ask me if I’m scared, excited, or nervous. But honestly, I don’t feel any of those emotions. I actually don’t feel any emotion I can possible think of. It’s something new, weird, and I just can’t explain it. This is a strange thing for me because I can usually explain how I feel in any situation but not in this one. Only someone that has or will be an exchange student knows what this odd feeling is like.

On July 11th my friend Anne went back to Denmark. It was a really sad day , and our group was crying so hard. Just like a car accident everyone stared at us as they walked by. Although it was terribly upsetting for everyone, I felt happy at the same time. This wasn’t a “goodbye” it was more of a “see you soon”. This is something I’m going to remember when it comes time for me to come back home. It takes a lot of sadness out of the leaving and makes it a lot more joyous. I think this experience will prepare me for my exchange.

Lucky for me, I’ve been talking to my first host family for a lot longer than most outbounds. I’ve really become attached to them, and I feel like I know them good enough to feel very comfortable in their home. I will have one host sister name Leonie. She is the cutest little girl I’ve ever seen. My host parents are so nice, and completely different from my parents. I am really excited about finally getting to meet them. That’s the only emotion I can find that fits any part of my exchange. I’m excited to meet my new family.

After I finished writing this, I read Katie’s journal and almost screamed when I read the part about the indescribable emotion. I think we’ll need to find a good name for it.


August 25 Journal

 Hallo! I had been homesick before I’d ever left the country. A week before I left it started. I felt like I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. The night before I left was awful. I was terribly depressed, and I was crying a lot. The next morning my mom woke me and asked if I still wanted to do this. I wanted to say no so bad. The last thing I wanted to do was get on the airplane and leave for a year. The first night in Germany I was so homesick I wanted to leave so bad. It lasted 3 days and out of nowhere it stopped. I wanted to stay, I didn’t want to leave. And everyday I am so happy that I decided to go, because I have met so many great people and I would have missed out on a chance of a lifetime.

I’m not going to write about my flight to Germany because it was so uneventful, it’s not even worth writing about. 7 hour layover in Detroit, ancient airplane, and loss of all my knowledge of the German language covers just about everything. So I’ve been in Germany for about three weeks, and it’s everything I imagined it would be. I have already been attending school for two weeks. If you think going to high school in your own country is tough, imagine going to high school in an unfamiliar place, with little knowledge of the language, and not a single friend as far as the eye can see. That was a terrifying experience for me. Never in my life have I been nervous to go to school , but that all changed August 13th. I woke up and I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital. I couldn’t stop freaking out, I was hyperventilating, and my heart was beating so hard I could hear it. It took about an hour before I could even start to get ready to go. Because it was my first day, my host mom drove me to school. As soon as we turned into the parking lot I started freaking out again. I kept asking myself ”What’s wrong with you?” I couldn’t calm down; it was terrible. I had no clue where I was going, and I most definitely couldn’t ask anyone because I wasn’t ready for everyone to know that I was foreign. I finally found my first class and quickly took a seat in the very back, and immediately a girl started talking to me. It was the fastest I have ever heard anyone speak. She must have said every word in German in about 2 minutes. I just stared at her for a really long time. My eyes must have been popping out of my head. She then gasped, grabbed me by the arm and exclaimed ”ARE YOU JOANIE?” My cover was blown and 20 pairs of eyes were staring at me. I quickly nodded my head and she smiled and looked really excited. This was just the start of a very crazy day.

School had ended and I had to take the city bus home. I was by myself, and my German is at the level of a 4 year old. I walked on the bus, swiped my bus card and took a seat. It was about 3 minutes into the ride when I heard the bus driver speaking over the intercom. I didn’t know what he was saying so I just sat there. Soon everyone on the bus was staring at me as the driver continued talking. His voice seamed a bit more irritated so I figured he was talking to me. I turned to the girl next to me and asked ”What is he saying?” Strange enough she answered me in French. I searched around panicking and the girl called out ”English!” Thankfully a very, very nice man on the bus spoke English and told me the driver wanted to see my card. I couldn’t understand why. SO I walked to the front of the bus almost falling over because he was a terrible driver and showed him my card. He thought I hadn’t swiped it , though it made a very loud, distinct ”Beep.” The whole ride home everyone continued to stare at me and whispered.

Since that day, things have been getting better and better. I’ve met so many great people, and seen some amazing things. Like the cathedral in Köln. Whoa. So big I couldn’t fit the entire thing into a picture no matter where I stood. And the only disco in Neuss. About the size of my room and 200 people inside. If you are the least bit claustrophobic I highly suggest that you never go there.

This is a terrible summary of everything that’s happened so far, but I want you to read my journals so I’ll keep all of them short.


September 17 Journal

 Hi everyone!

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been here, although I am aware it hasn’t been long. It’s really strange because it feels like a lifetime already. Since the very first day of my exchange I’ve experienced every emotion a person can experience. Things are really bipolar all the time, and there are times when you think you need a therapist. Like I said in my second journal, in the beginning things were awful. But shortly after everything was so marvelous I didn’t think such a feeling could exist. But out of nowhere another emotion hit me. I wasn’t that excited like I used to be. When I would go to festivals, and to the the disco when I first arrived it was like Christmas morning. Now all those things feel more like Easter. There might be a present waiting for you that morning. but it’s nothing like Christmas. But now I realize I’m in the next step of my exchange, ‘Boredom’. Everything feels so routine, and I’m a little uninterested in my friends, and the plans they make. Now my bus rides are so uneventful, it’s saddening. Thankfully in 2 weeks I will be embarking on a journey around Germany, for a full 2 weeks. I’m so excited for that, because during that time I’ll probably miss my friends so much that when I return, I am excited to see them all again and do whatever it is they have planned. Whether it’s making scary movies in the basement of the apartment, or shopping in Düsseldorf. I know the feeling of boredom passes eventually, so I’m having to be really creative so I can keep myself occupied until things become ‘marvelous’ again.

Neuß Schützenfest

Enough talking about emotions, now I want to tell you about all the fun stuff I’ve been doing these past few weeks. I went to Neuß Schützenfest (the biggest in Germany) it felt so much like the County Fair, the only difference was the significant lack of mullets, funnel cakes, and country music. Last weekend I went to Rotex Weekend (which was quite unorganized I might add). There were 72 of us in a tiny gym, and we had our sleeping bags crammed in any place we could find. All night we fought one another for space and our blankets. We used our clothing as pillows and yoga mats as mattresses. (All you future Outbounds better not complain about those bunks at Lake Yale.)

Fun Facts About Germany:

*Deodorant is optional -The older you are the more ‘optional’ it becomes.

*Unlike the yellow bus you take to school, my 16 wheeled Mercedes will not wait for you. You can chase it down, swear at it, and beat on the door, you will not be getting on that bus.

*There is no such thing as ‘No room’ on the bus.

*There are only 3 flavors of chips here, and no they are not ranch, cheese, or salt and vinegar

*People eat 2-3 sandwiches during the school day

*In the grocery store, there is every jelly flavor you can think of (even strawberry vanilla), too bad Grape is not one of them.

*People will freak out if you drink water from the sink.

*People will stare at you if you are caught using hand sanitizer, but once they smell it they start covering their faces like noxious gas has just entered the room.

*The Fanta here tastes like orange cough syrup. ew

 

November 6 Journal

 Tonight I have decided I will stop procrastinating, and finally do my Germany Tour journal. Everyone has been asking me about it, wondering where it is, but it’s here now. This journal will only be about this incredible two week tour around Germany I went on a month ago. I’ll write another journal later letting you all know what I’ve been up to this past month.

First stop on the tour was Heidelberg. I must say, this was probably the most gorgeous city I’ve ever seen in my life. It could possibly be due to the fact that the sun was shining for once, but the city was pretty nice too. Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany and has a really ugly destroyed castle sitting above the city. It looks really cool until you find out it’s not 2000 years old, the French just decided to do some renovations. Walking up to see that castle was terrible, it was so steep and so early in the morning, it was unbearable. Needless to say my legs hurt bad.

Next was Freiburg. I was also really impressed with this city. It was really similar to Heidelberg, only instead of a castle, there is the church Münster. My new host dad lived in this city. He wanted me to tell you that. Also my legs and everything else on my body hurt from the day before.

Then we went to Füssen and Oberammergau. This day was the worst workout of my life. The day before in Freiburg me and a few others got lost one night and walked around for hours so our legs hurt really really bad. Then the next day we walked up a mountain to see the castle Neuschwanstein. Normal people ride in a wagon pulled by a horse, but the tour decided to be cheap and make us walk up this terrible slope. My legs were already killing me from the past 3 days of climbing and walking. I tried to hitch a ride on the back of a wagon. My plan failed and I ended up walking uphill for another 35 minutes. We finally reached the top and I smiled at the thought that I would be walking downhill on a nice paved road. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of taking the road (I don’t know why we didn’t) we took an even steeper wet, rocky, and dangerous trail back down. I slipped so many times it no longer scared me when it happened, I just expected it. I almost cried when we finally reached the bottom.

We got on the bus and were ready to go to Oberammergau. We were staying in a little house on a small mountain. My legs were practically incapable of moving and I hadn’t slept in 4 days. We finally reach our destination and were about to go up the mountain when suddenly the bus turns around, and stops. Guess what, the bus can’t make it up so we get to carry our gigantic suitcases up a mountain. I’m not kidding, it was raining, cold, my suitcase weighed as much as it did when I left the US (50 lbs exactly) and I have to carry the stupid thing up the mountain. I honestly didn’t think I could carry myself up the mountain.

Two and a half hours later we reached the top and it looked like we were in ”hillbilly town” I was shocked, I saw a small hut and two outhouses and almost screamed. ”Oh my God! We’re staying in that!!!!” Those were my exact words. But there is good news and bad news to this, good news we weren’t staying there. Bad news where were staying is another 45 minutes up the mountain.

When we actually got there I was relieved to see a cute Bavarian house and the smiling faces of the family who owned it. I was very relieved, but my legs were dead. Being the aggressive person I am I raced to the front of the line and called the room with 4 people (I had slept in the room of 16 the night before, one big bed for 16 people). I was very excited because I was going to get to sleep that night. The minute I walked into the room I wanted to walk right back out. I think the owner must have shot and stuffed every animal on the mountain. The room was filled with these scary dead animals. I had a mountain lion looking creature above my head staring at me as I slept all night. Needless to say I didn’t sleep so well.

Then we went to Munich. We went to Oktoberfest, enough said. Next we went to Dachau, 1 hour out of Munich. We went to a concentration camp and was mortified. As I walked through the gates I kept on thinking of all the people that walked through those very same gates that never made it out. We walked through the museum and then saw the gas chambers. Nobody was very cheerful for the rest of the day.

Next we went to Berlin. I absolutely love that city. There is so much history and so many interesting things. I felt so rushed, I don’t feel like I saw it, but what I did see of it I really like. I saw the bare Berlin Wall, I saw Soviet watch towers, and stood on a piece of sidewalk in front of an apartment complex where Hitler’s bunker was buried. It was a little odd thinking that there was a bunker below my feet because it was just a regular sidewalk. I also went to Check Point Charlie. I didn’t have my passport so I couldn’t get the stamps. I was bummed.

I feel that Germany Tour will be very similar to Euro Tour, so I’m going to share a little advice with everyone.

*Pack light, you have to carry your suitcase up and down 6 flights of stares everyday

*Don’t bring an ATM card with you , bring cash. You will spend all of your free time looking for a specific bank.

*Get used to nasty things. The youth hostels are pretty disgusting.

*Your diet will consist of Haribo, chocolate, McDonalds, Dönner, hostel sink water, and beer.

*Don’t forget a towel

*Bring your Ipod, Ipod charger, camera, extra memory card, and camera charger.

*Don’t expect to sleep at all

*Don’t expect to sleep on the bus, the Brazilians never shut up and sing just to make you mad.

*Don’t sleep on the bus, your friends aren’t always your friends.

*Don’t buy the souvenirs next to Checkpoint Charlie, Neuschwanstein etc.; walk two streets down and the exact same things are 2€ cheaper.

Well that’s all for now. I’ll have my next journal up in the next few days.


 

 

December 14 Journal

 ”I’ll have my next journal up in the next few days.” Ok, so it’s been a couple days later (38 to be exact) it looks like I didn’t procrastinate at all and this journal is right on time.

There’s too much to cram into this one journal, so I think I will just talk about current issues. I think I will start this journal talking about how Christmas-obsessed these Germans are. It’s crazy! They remind me a lot of the Whos from ” The Grinch that Stole Christmas”. There’s Christmas lights hanging on absolutely everything you can put lights on, there’s Christmas trees on every corner, the windows in every store are frosted and have snowflakes, lights, and ornaments from top to bottom. I’ve run into people a few times because I was walking and staring at the same time. Every city has a Christmas Market and it’s fantastic, hand-made ornaments, gifts, waffles, and of course the humongous portions of fries. During Christmas they sell a special drink called ” Glühwein”. It’s hot wine with rum and sugar. It tastes amazing, and everywhere you go someone forces you to try it no matter how many times you say ”I’ve had it before” you will end up drinking a huge mug of this stuff.

I’m going to be completely honest. Germans have the worst case of OCD in the world. Clothes must be folded in your closet as if it were in a department store, shoes go from, sandals, to converse, to heels, to boots. The hangers must all be facing the same way, clothes must be evenly spaced apart when hung, your scarves must be folded in half twice then put on hanger. Your bed must be made the way you see it in IKEA’s model bedrooms. In the shower after you’re done using it you must clean the hair out of the drain, spray it down with some nasty spray and wipe it dry with a towel. Next you have to open the window and wipe every last bit of water off of the floor. It’s literally a chore to take a shower.

There are a lot of immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East in Germany. Whenever they ask someone questions about you it’s ”Is she married?” , ”How may kids does she have?” , and ”How old is she?” Or they will randomly walk up to you and ask you those same questions. One day a Syrian woman from my German class walked up to me and asked me the three questions. I said no to the first two and sixteen to the last. She bugged her eyes out at me ”Sixteen and you’re not married!” ”What will your parents do with you?” I couldn’t help but laugh a little, it was hilarious. She then said, “I have a very nice cousin who I can introduce you to. You’re parents will thank me so much for this.” I told her no thanks and that my parents really aren’t worried about me getting married. She looked at me weird and walked to her bike.

The next day I rode my bike to my German lessons and and almost crashed into the bike racks as I saw this woman standing there with a 25 year old man. I pretended like I didn’t see her and walked toward the door of the VHS. She called out ”Johnny, Johnny!” I turned around and she was standing there beaming, I walked over and she told me that this was her cousin and she told me he wanted to marry me. ”WHAT!!” I exclaimed and I ran as fast as I could to the the door, ran up the stairs and sat in my seat 4 minutes early for class. I was so shocked, I thought this kind of stuff only happened in Thailand, but apparently I was very wrong. Needless to say my little Syrian friend has not talked to me since.

My German is not as good as I thought it would be at this point. But I understand 90 % of everything that is said to me. I don’t speak German that well, but I can give directions, order food anywhere, ask people questions, tell people what I’m going to do today and so on. I’ve been here four months, and I’ve thought about how much I’ve accomplished in learning this language and I think I’m doing pretty good so far. If in a matter of four months I have become capable of understanding the German language, imagine how well I will be able to speak German in another four months. When I think about that I’m no longer disappointed, I’m very proud of myself. Some people may know their language a lot better than I do, but as long as I am happy with what I know, that’s all that matters.

Well, that’s all for now. I promise my next journal will be a lot more exciting because there will be a lot going on here for the next couple weeks.

Oh, and by the way, I’m fat now. Thanks Germany.


January 10 Journal

 During the holiday break, exchange students can explore their country without worrying about school, visit with the other exchange students, and find themselves doing the dumbest things possible.

Christmas was a very interesting experience for me. We didn’t get to see the tree until Christmas Eve and everyone just tears open their presents and presents that don’t even belong to them. Maybe it’s just my host family, but that was really strange. It was all over in 10 minutes and then we went to bed. The next day was Christmas, but that has absolutely no significance here other than the fact that ”haha all the stores are closed! Looks like you’re going to walk around with no deodorant!” It was bad, but I stole some from my friend who has about 6 cans. But still the stores were closed so I had to find some way to entertain myself. All my friends were at their Grandparents’ house, so I rode the Regio Bahn (small train that connects with very small cities) aimlessly for a few hours. I know I’m lame, but a lot of exchange students do that, and it really gives you time to just sit and listen to your iPod for a while. I have a schokoticket so I can go anywhere from the Düsseldorf area to Dortmund. It’s pretty nice having that ticket because you can see different cities, and meet up with some people you know.

The next day was the day after Christmas, and for some stupid reason the shops were still closed, but my exchange student friends were free that day and we decided to just walk around Düsseldorf for a couple hours and sit in Starbucks for 2 hours. We are all in the HBF (train station) and we go down the escalator that wasn’t moving, it suddenly turns on and starts going up. Strike one for foreigners. I live in Düsseldorf, so I know the city and which train goes where, but my friend Stefan thought he did too. He was yelling ”This is the right one, this is the right one!” It definitely wasn’t, the ”right” train didn’t come for another minute. But he insisted. It was the end station for this train because it said ”Düsseldorf HBF” on the side. I don’t know why I got on, because no one else was on, I knew it was wrong. I figured they would yell at us so Stefan would know that he’s an idiot and should never lead the way. But instead of anyone stopping us or telling us to get off, the train shuts its doors, and goes flying off into some dark scary tunnel. Then the lights go out. I immediately screamed ”Stefan you ____!!!” I’ll let you use your imagination for that one. So, we’re underground in this train, it’s really really dark, and really really cold. Then suddenly I heard this loud slam noise as the train rocked side to side. I thought another train had hit us, but it was only the wind of another train going by a bit faster than it should have. It scared all 4 of us to the point where…I heard the sound of a bottle top popping off. ”Are you drinking a beer!?” I exclaimed to my friend Alli. She replied with ”Why not?” I couldn’t help but start laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. 15 minutes later we see a man with a flashlight walking along the edge of the train, it was the driver, so we knew we’d be out of here soon, but what on earth do we say to this guy. Luckily my friend Stefan has been studying German since her was 8, and without any trouble explained what happened. The driver rolled his eyes and thought we were the dumbest people on earth. I think that might be strike 2, possibly 3. That was pretty bad.

Sauerkraut. OK that stuff, I cannot eat it. It’s awful. I almost die every time I have to eat it. My host mom bought this industrial sized bag, filled with little bags of sauerkraut. So we’ve been eating sauerkraut everyday since Christmas. This still is really gross. She’s gotten bored with just plain sauerkraut so she’s been using her imagination a lot, and figuring out what she can make with it. Once it was mixed with pineapple, another with time with raisins (Germans don’t like it when you tell them you don’t like something, even when they insist you, don’t). This evening she was making a quick dinner for me and my host brother, before she and my host dad went to a Cabaret. I figured bread and butter. I was ok with that until I got upstairs and smelled the stench of you know what. Sauerkraut. ”Oh please no.” I whispered quietly while walking up the steps. I looked in this bowl, and it was some kind of sauerkraut soup. I was really grossed out. But never showed it. There was a big bottle of Chili-Garlic sauce on the table, and in attempt to mask the flavor, I dumped a huge blob of it right in the center of my soup. Everyone else did so, but my soup was the only one that was red. I knew I had put waaaayy too much in my soup. I was so scared to eat it, but I did anyway. It tasted like sauerkraut and really wasn’t spicy at all. Halfway through eating this stuff and trying not to gag my stomach burned like fire. But I still had half a bowl to go and I almost cried, but I ate it anyway. I had the worst heartburn of my life. Now I know what everyone’s talking about when they say Tums are a must in India.

The other day I was waiting for a friend at a bus stop. I got really tired and lazy so I leaned up against the fence of someone’s yard or something. I didn’t turn around to look. I was in deep thought while staring at the cars on the street. When suddenly something bit my elbow. It scared me and I screamed like a little girl. I had leaned up against a farmer’s house and a DONKEY bit my elbow. I’ve never really seen a donkey before so I’m just going by Shrek here. My host dad thinks it was a pony. but that thing was so ugly . If that was a pony, why on earth would every little girl on earth want one. That thing was a donkey and I will stand by my words.

Well, that’s pretty much all that’s happened since I last wrote. I promise I’ll write again soon.

Bis dann

 


 May 15 Journal

 I can’t believe it was January the last time I wrote a journal. Time just goes by too fast. It’s really sad because I only have 24 days left in Germany. I can easily remember sitting in my room with 9 months to go wishing it would move just a bit faster. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the things around me, it’s just 9 months looks like a long time, too much time. But really, it’s no where near enough time. I never want my exchange to end. I’ve had my ups and downs this year. No matter how terrible it can be sometimes, I will honestly say this has been the best year of my life. I have learned and grown so much, and I have met so many amazing people, and I can speak German. I know Germany now, I can live life here as easy as I could in the US. Coming to Germany, I thought I was going to learn a language and a new culture. I’ve learned that, plus I’m the master of German transportation. The buses, trains, subways, everything. I’ve also learned the more useful measuring system. (Science will be so much easier now.) It’s just a shame that I’ve learned all these things, and I’m now going home in 4 weeks. I now understand what the Rotex meant when they said it wasn’t enough time.

I’ve been extremely busy these past few months, so I’ve been unable to write my journal. Now let’s go back to February. Towards the end of February we celebrate Karneval. Many countries celebrate it, but I’d like to think Germany has the best one in Europe. I live in Düsseldorf so I was in one of the 2 best cities in Germany to celebrate Karneval. I also celebrated in Köln, the city in Germany with the biggest celebration. I went to a Rotex Weekend for 2 of the days and had so much fun. We had to dress up in costumes, it was mandatory. If you didn’t have a costume they made you wear a plastic garbage bag.

Next in March I had my birthday on the 12th. I went out to a really nice restaurant with my host mom, my host sister, and 3 of my friends. It was probably one of the smallest birthdays I’ve had; but I was so happy to see that people I’ve known for less than a year would come to my house in the pouring rain, to deliver a cake and sing me happy birthday. Only a few days after that my parents came. That was a really weird experience. I just kept thinking that they don’t belong here. It was really unusual seeing them in this setting. It’s the same way I’m going to feel when my German friends come and visit me in Florida. It’s a little odd. I associate my parents with beach, sun, my house, Jacksonville. Not Germany, trains, my hangouts. I think it took 3 days to get over the weirdness.

The day my parents left I went on Eurotour with Andee. The tour was 3 weeks long. I have never gone that long without sleep before. I had the time of my life. in 21 days we went to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Padua, Venice, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Monaco, Avignon, Geneva, and Paris. I got to see so many amazing things, and spend every waking moment with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life. It was incredible.

What’s also incredible is the grade I got on my German Exam. I took an exam last week with 14 other foreigners. These exams prepare you for the exam that decides whether you stay in Germany or not. (I’m only 1 exam away from taking that one. But I don’t need to take it.) I took my exam last week, 6 months behind in the book. (I took it early because I won’t be hear in September.) This exam consisted of a reading, hearing, writing, and a speaking section. It was really hard I was so nervous the whole time. I got 94 out 100 points on that exam. It was a very good day.

It’s really scary knowing that your exchange is ending in only a few short weeks. I’m homesick and I haven’t even left yet. I’m really don’t want to leave, the last thing I want to do is go home, I’m not ready yet. I feel the exact same way as I did coming over. I guess it really shows that I’ve become attached to this place. I will miss the friends I’ve made here so much. I’ve become so close to them in just one short year.

Thanks Rotary, none of this would have happened without you.

Juliana Cardona
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay High School, Weston, Florida
Sponsor: Weston Sunset Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Londrina-Shangrilá Rotary Club, District 4710, Brazil

Juliana - Brazil

Juliana’s Bio

“I am a woman who lives her life with intense passion to aspire and inspire in a positive way. I am a Latina who has not lost her language or her culture but has definitely enhanced it with bits and pieces from everyone I have met and everywhere I’ve gone.”

Hi guys! My name is Juliana Cardona. I was born in Medellin, Colombia, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Horse-back riding in the mountains was my favorite thing to do there. If you go out riding in the morning you can feel the dew on your skin, you can smell the freshness of the flowers and see the most beautiful part of the Andes and the Cauca River. I would spend most of my summers in Santa Marta dancing to tambores (drums) on the beach.

When I was 9 we moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, a small university town bordering the Rockies. Then in 2003 we moved to Florida, where I currently live with my family. I enjoy going to the beach with my friends, and going out dancing. I have gone to two high schools; the first one was a music school. Making music has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I love all types of music, especially Rock, Jazz, Classical, House, Salsa, Vallenato, and Merengue.

Right now I go to Cypress Bay High, one of the biggest schools in the U.S. In school I am involved with the debate team, and the model U. N. (United Nations). I have always been very interested in learning about different cultures, and have recently been selected to go to Austria for the 2008-2009 year (Editor’s note: see first journal below for destination change). I am extremely excited and thankful for this amazing opportunity to learn, taste and live different cultures.


August 17 Journal

July 28th

I’m writing this journal at 8 AM Austrian time which means its 3 AM here in Weston. I guess you could say I’ve been preparing for the time change (the truth is I’m completely nocturnal, especially lately). I’ve been so caught up in my daily life this past year that I haven’t thought too much about my exchange, but now that it’s a week away I find it hard to sleep; I’m so anxious. It’s finally hit me, in a week I will move to another country, leaving my home behind. I will be saying bye to the sea but I will be welcoming the Alps. I feel a mix of nervousness and excitement.

I was talking to my German friend the other day and he told me the only thing I could really pronounce perfectly was Ich libe dich. I all of the sudden pictured myself lost in a dark alley in Vienna and only being able to say “I love you” in German. Not being able to communicate scares me!

July 29th

Actually its 30th but its 3 AM Weston time, but for me the day starts when I wake up. I went to the Sawgrass Mall (the local 88 acre shopping center) today to return some shoes, got completely lost and ended up helping a complete stranger find a dress for her first business meeting in N.Y. I spent 4 hours at the mall, bought clothes, and when I finally found the shoe store it was closed. After this odyssey today I realized that I have bigger fears to face than claustrophobia on the plane, I mean I got lost finding a shoe store at my local mall and I KNEW HOW TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS! Oh and I even had a map, which by the way I had no idea how to read. If I were texting I think this would be the time to write LOL in bold letters!! Ahhhhhhh!

July 30th

Making a list of thinks I will definitely miss

1.) snuggling with Tommy ( my doggy)

2.) Taco Bell! Oh and My Mami’s food (Ajiaco, Paella, Empanadas, Picadas…)

3.) My MOM’s kisses and beautiful smile

4.) My Dad’s corny but deep and sage advice.

5.) Maybe my brother

6.) My best Friends Jo Jo Aka Jay, Kelly Ann Marie Antoinette (inside joke), Sarah, and Miloxxx

7.) Latin Parties!!! Salsa, Merengue, Vallenato, Regetton.

8.) American Parties!! Electro-house music, Hip-pop, Guitar-hero

9.) Listening to old music with my family and hearing my dad sing at the top of his lungs.

10.) Church

11.) The Beach; swimming under the fresh water while you feel the warmth of the sun tingle your skin.

12.) My Guitar ( I’m not sure if it’ll fit)

Things I will definitely not miss

1.) My JOB specially one of my managers

2.) Bowling

July 31st

Trying to fit my life in two maletas that are supposed to weigh 50 but currently weigh 53.

Oh and it turns out I’m going to need an adaptor cause my straightener doesn’t work over there. So I have three options A.) Have an Afro all year long B.) Buy a new straightener C.) Pay 100 for an Adaptor kit. I still haven’t decided, but I will soon.

August 1st

My host sister called me we talked for like an hour, it really is too bad I might not see her when I get there. She is leaving the 10th of august for the U.S.

I was hoping my visa would have come by now and although I usually completely positive I’m starting to become a realist like JoJo always insists.

August 2nd

My friend had a going away party for me, but I’m not sure if I’m going away. I was informed that the Austrian Embassy requires me to have a U.S. Visa six months after return. I have Visa I-94, which expires three months after my expected return; however, my green card is expected to arrive anytime now. They are processing July 2007 entries and we are October 2007. The explanation is complex and irrelevant so I won’t get into it, but here are my options: A.) get a six months visa and file an extension once in Austria. B.) Talk to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman so that my green card arrives sooner C.) Go to Brazil, because it doesn’t require a visa from Colombian residents. D.) wait and pray.

The problem with all of these options is that regardless of what is done, I’m afraid I won’t get to Austria in time for the language camp. At the moment I have only made one resolution and that is not to stress, because it is 9 AM Vienna time, and all I can do at the moment is have faith; plus I’m having another Going Away party tomorrow and have to go to bed. I should cancel it but I can’t really remember everyone I invited and calling everyone to cancel would take too long.

3-4th of August

Today was the “going away party”; which because of my visa situation soon turned into a different kinda party. 30 close friends came; we danced so much, talked so much. After they left I couldn’t get much sleep; I tossed and turned in bed. I looked the clock and realized it was 6:30 so I just woke up to see the sunrise and go roller-skating to get some Jumba Juice. When I got home I ate the raisinets my friend brought me for the plane ride ( I promised her I wouldn’t eat them till my fight but I couldn’t resist). I felt so ungrateful, because here I am watching a beautiful sun-rise, eating chocolates, having fun with friends, enjoying my family and I want to leave. It’s 7 AM now and I’m supposed to be on a plane on my way to Austria but I’m not! L

Its 7 P.M. now and I’ve slept a total of 2 hours. I’ve called and emailed everyone who could possibly help me. Starting with Theresa from Bokoff-Kaplan, who is now on my speed dial; but as it turns out she had a little inconvenience; she had gone into labor (congratulations Theresa!). I drafted my options and called Mr. Kalter, terrified that my trip would be canceled; I talked fast, as to avoid getting an “I’m sorry this just didn’t work out”, out of the other side of the phone. Thankfully, neither Mr. Kalter nor Bokoff-Kaplan gave up.

So after eating what was left of the 11 oz of Raisinets, I started to make calls. Since my dad was feeling very ill today I had to step up and do everything by myself. I called Congresswoman Wasserman and sent her a letter in hopes of expediting my immigration process. I called my lawyer and asked him to write a letter explaining my status and providing evidence that my green card is being processed. I called the Embassy and spoke with Mr. Passler (the person who denied my visa) and explained my situation. He was very helpful and after faxing him the I-94, my lawyer’s letter and of a copy of the form I-485 receipt he suggested I go to Washington D.C. this Wednesday for an Interview. So with the help of my dad’s credit card I bought 2 round tickets, reserved a hotel near the Embassy and rented a car.

Incredibly Mr. Al Kalter was able to find a host club and family in Brazil in matter of hours, just in case things don’t work out. The only problem (sarcasm) is that I would have to travel to another country and back to Brazil every 3 months. So I would not only visit Brazil but 4 other countries in the course of the year! Like my Great Aunt says, God writes straight on crooked lines. I have faith that everything will work out for the best. If I end up going to Rumbalicious Samba land I’ll be more than happy, and if it end up being in enchanting Vienna I’ll be happy too. (It’s one of those Win-Win situations Mark Trowbridge lectured us about in the RYLA camp, and I thought this moment would never come.)

August 5th-7th

So where do I start…a lot of things have happened over this past 2 days. We landed in D.C. at 9:30 PM, after being lost for an hour we got to the hotel. My brother, who is the manger at the Hilton, did an amazing job hooking us up with the Alexandria Hilton hotel Penthouse! The room was the same the only differences really was that you needed a special key to put in the elevator to access our floor level; and that right next to our room there was a 2 story observatory-library-living room. My dad went straight to sleep after we ate. I instead wandered around the hotel and ended up finding a beautiful grand piano right next to the unoccupied ball room. I played the piano for a while, and then went to the gym. I also meet this Russian girl, and an Italian guy who I stayed up talking to. The next day we went to the Embassy and we were told that it would take 3 more weeks for my visa to get stamped, and there was still the possibility that it wouldn’t work out. After talking to Mr. Al Kalter, I had to make a very stressful and difficult choice- To wait a year to go to Austria or go to Brazil. Although, I had my hopes up with Austria (I was learning the language, I was excited about the music high school I was attending, and about the horse stable that was going to 2 blocks from my house, I couldn’t wait to see the Austrian alps covered in snow and flowers in the spring time), till the last moment I had faith that everything with my Austrian visa would work out, but I couldn’t wait a year because it would throw off my plans to attend Dillard for the performing arts my senior year, and my plans for college. I am extremely sad I will not get to meet my host family who have been so kind and have taken the time to make sure everything is ready for me. They’ve sent me pictures, letters, and we’ve even talked on the phone. Although I will not get to meet them this year, I hope that someday we will!

We stayed in D.C. for 4 more hours after the Embassy, in which I got lost walking though the embassies, meeting people, and taking pictures, while my dad worked. An hour after this decision Congresswoman Wassermann’s office called me to inform me that they had successfully accelerated the I-131 process so that I could travel care-free. However this does not change anything with Austria.

I’m in the plane back home right now, it is so beautiful you can confuse the sky with the sea and it feels like a dream.

8th of August

So I’m going to Brazil, just when I thought I was starting to learn German they switched the language on me. I had to call my host club and family to let them know I’m not going to Austria, it was heart-breaking once they were able to understand the news. At the same time I have to write my Brazilian host family and club to let them know I’ll be there Monday. There is this Indian mythological queen that represents destruction-hope, when I studied her in school I couldn’t understand how destruction could bring hope to people, but now I do. When one door closes another one opens. Anyways I’ve got less than a week to hang out with friends so got to go.

Departure da

So I’m passing through the Amazon at 3700 meters of elevation. I got on the plane at 11 P M and its now 6 AM. Will, the other exchange student and I didn’t get to sit together, but it’s still nice knowing that am not doing this totally alone. 4 months ago my mom asked me if I would be ok without her; my response was, “Are you?” It all hit me at once when I was doing the check in, that I will not be able to hug her this year anymore. I started crying like a baby and went back twice to hug her, hoping to make up for the year that I won’t.

I’m on my last connection flight right now, and can’t believe I’ve survived so many hours of flying. Our first connection was Sao Paulo. Paradoxically the first thing we hear when we get off the plane is Madonna’s Material Girl song; ahhhh I can’t escape that song even in Samba land (No offense to Madonna fans). Getting my baggage checked in again was beyond frustrating! After about 20 minutes, I finally understood that the lady was charging me for extra baggage 98 dollars. The lady asked me for ID so I gave her my drivers’ license, which she never gave back, but after another 20 minutes of failed attempts at communication I just decided to move on. Then I tried to get a hold of my mom, who hadn’t slept waiting for my call. This was also a challenge and an expensive one to say the least. I ended up paying 4 dollars to talk to her for literately 30 seconds. Afterwards we went outside to take pictures and waited in a store that had massage chairs. Then it was time to say bye to Will and hi to 2 other exchange students, one from Mexico and the other one from Chicago. The one from Mexico had become friends with a group of folk dancers, who gave us a little demo, so cool.

So I’m finally in my new home. First impressions: beautiful, warm, and welcoming people! I thought my host mom was my host sister. When I met them I really only knew one word in Portuguese, which is obrigada, thank you, so I said it over and over and they all laughed with me. I started talking in a mix of Spanish and English and somehow they understood. Their home is gorgeous; it has a pool and a cute puppy. Ah Tommy I miss him so much, I almost couldn’t fall asleep last night. Before I went to bed we had Pizza and it turns out that here they use a fork and knife for that. And yes, you guessed it, like a true American I grabbed with my hands at first.

Eu primer dia de colejio

My first day and my alarm clock doesn’t ring! I start walking toward the house of the person who is taking me to school while buttoning my vest and they are outside waiting (ahh, how embarrassing). When I get to school I’m not sure where to sit so I take the first chair, and then Enrico, last years intercambista from Bahamas comes towards me and saves me. He greets me with a relieving hug that calms me. I sit with the inbounds (there is 1 guy from Denmark, 1 girl form Norway, and 1 American girl). The Norwegian girl and I joke for the first 2 periods… My Biology teacher is crazy! He makes airplane noises, and has Einstein’s hair. After biology we go to break, and I get stuck in the restroom! Yes, you read right; the door to the restroom would not open, and I’m kind of claustrophobic. So I try to jump over the door by stepping on the toilet paper holder, and fall into the trash! Two girls go get help and I finally get out of the restroom. After that I have the pleasure of explaining to my art history teacher and 100 students why I’m so late to class. Talk about breaking records; most possible embarrassing moments in a day! All in all I think that given the situations, I handled it very gracefully.

I went walking this afternoon in my neighborhood and I met this really cool girl who invited me to a churrasco(BBQ) tomorrow.

The churrasco Friday was so much fun! I learned how to dace Sertenegio. It ended at 3 AM but I went home at 10 PM, because I’m just getting to know my host family and I’m not too familiar with their rules yet. My family is composed of my host mom and sister who is 16, the grandpa stays with the family 3 nights a week and the mom’s fiancé stays over the weekends. They are very nice, polite, and sweet, but I sometimes feel like a strange visitor. It’s the feeling you get when you are using something that is not yours. I guess that’s probably the thing I miss the most about my parents; that feeling of unconditional love, knowing that no matter how bad you mess up they will always be there. I miss having that kind of trust, where you talk about everything and people tell you their secrets and you tell them yours.

Sunday there was another other churrasco, with all my host sisters’ friends. They rented the club house, bought drinks meat and played funky. Funky is kind of dirty or so I found out. I was dancing and singing the lyrics with out knowing their meaning; when I found out what I was saying I stopped. There are some other miscommunications between Portuguese and my native languages. Most people understand when I speak in Spanish and I understand what they say in Portuguese 85% of the times. In the churrasco Friday night I asked in Spanish if there was a buseta (bus) that would take me to the mall and they all started laughing hysterically. I found out that buseta (bus) in Portuguese it means vagina. Oh another misunderstanding is that the OK sign with your hands in the U.S. here is an insult. I know now …


November 23 Journal

21st of August

I’ve lost track of the days and time. It feels like a long vacation. The day before yesterday I felt a little bit down, but yesterday made up for it. After school I went home with Enrico (the outbound from Brazil last year in my district) and his host brother, Nicolaj (the intercambista from Denmark). We joked and laughed at every single little thing! We poked fun at my misunderstanding with the hair-dresser a couple days before. (Yea I forgot to write about that; I look like a Cacatu (the Amazonian bird that inspired the Mohawk). I went walking with 2 other exchange students, we got lost and ended up finding a salon that would cut my hair for 3 dollars plus the 2 dollar tip. I told the lady to cut the ends and she cut off 4-5 inches!!!! Talk about misunderstandings.) We were later joined by another exchange student from U.S. (Shiloh) and went to get some ice-cream. I got Avocado (soft and creamy ice-cream flavor) and Maracuya (very sour) the perfect combination. Note to future outbounds to Brazil: try everything at least once. You’ll have to swallow some things you don’t like, but trust me it’s worth it when you find what’s sweet. After the ice-cream I tried to keep up with Nicolij who sprinted to the Portuguese class some of the outbounds and I are taking. I swear, drivers in Brazil are blind! I was so close to becoming one of those starts on the pavement (in Medellin they paint starts on the pavement when someone has been hit by a car). Afterwards we went to get some juice. I always get the weirdest thing I find, and this time it paid off. It’s made form Acerola, a fruit only found in Brazil. At the juice place we meet up with some other people; some who were taking a Capoeira class (martial arts disguised with dance; originated from the slaves in the Brazilian plantations) after; so, I and a couple others joined. OH MY GOD! Those people are like GI Joes! It is so hard! I then took the Bus Home with Eva (the German exchange student who told me she knew how, but had never done it before). Although some of the most important discoveries have been made because of disorientation (such as Columbus’s New “India”), I didn’t want to end up asking home-less/hippie people for directions. In times like those I always ask myself “what’s the worst that can happen” to calm down. But at 8:40 PM in Londrina’s Centro I rather not. We found our way just fine, but when I got home my host mom was a little mad. As soon as I told her about my Capoeria class she couldn’t help but laugh.

Oh this happened a couple days ago but I thought I should write it as prevention for future victims of culture shock. I went out to eat with Eva’s family and I thought it was an all you eat, so I tried to get as many new types of food as I could. It turns out they weigh it! I got 2 lbs while everyone else got .5-1 lbs. I was so embarrassed.

I was invited to talk to some classrooms about my life. I felt like a little rock star! In the breaks I’m surrounded by kids asking me questions. They even follow me to the restroom. It takes a lot of energy and it’s hard to understand when 10 people are talking to you at the same time!

My sociology teacher gave a lesson on Iraq-gas-Bush. To the beat of the Black Eye Peas song “where is the Love” we watched a video which showed in great detail all the atrocities of the war. I kept hearing two words: Americans and killers. After class I asked some friends what the teacher was saying and they told me Americans were killers, so I showed them my guns (arm muscles) and we laughed. Although I made a joke out of it, it really offended me.

We were supposed to feel more independent but I only feel more restricted. I’m tired of making plans that don’t work. Yesterday all the exchange students went out and I couldn’t go because of rides-permission issue. Today there was a BBQ and I couldn’t go because of rides-permission issue. Tonight I had made another plan to go out, but my host-mom modified it. I love my host family, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not used to having someone call the house I’m going to, to verify I’m there. I hope that with time my host mom will trust me more! She doesn’t want me to walk at 9 pm in the condominium. Just in case someone finds a way to cross the forest, cut the electric fence and jump the 5 meter wall!

Sometimes in life you’ve got to take a little risk.

I woke up today feeling as if a truck ran over me. I went to a circus school yesterday with 2 other intercambistas! It was amazing; I couldn’t believe the stuff those people were teaching us to do. The warm-up alone felt like a hardcore work-out. I tried the tissue paper and acrobatic swing. It was so scary, I’m glad my mom wasn’t there. As if that wasn’t enough exercise for one day; Nicolj, Siri (exchange student from Norway)and I ran for at least 1 hour! It was very hard for me to keep up with them. I could feel my heart pumping and my ears started to keep the beat of my heart. They asked me a couple times if I was okay but I lied and told them I was fine, when in actuality I felt like I was going to faint. I really have to get in shape. My goal is to run a marathon before I leave Brazil. When we got to my house around 8 PM I showed them the pool, and Nicolaj throws me into the ice cold pool with clothes and everything! After we swim for a little I walk home soaking wet, a little afraid of what my host mom would say. She was a little upset. I’m very careful of respecting my host mom’s rules, I don’t want to cross the boundaries, but sometimes you’ve got to relax and have a little fun. You only live once.

Today I was invited to a birthday party at the mall. There was a misunderstanding; I understood 2 when it started at 7. I get there, and walk around a little, and I end up meeting this girl who was an exchange student to Australia, she introduces me to her friends who are all studying to be veterinarians and are waiting for their class to start at 4. We joked, talked and eat chocolate for about 2 hours. After they leave I try to take a bus home, but found the wrong one. When I discover I’m on my way to another city I get off and go back to the mall. For the second time in a row Enjico appears out of thin air and helps me. It turns out his dad has a pizzeria at the mall, so I spend the next 3 hours talking with him. By now it is 7 and I meet my friends for the birthday party.

On my way home, I’m standing on a bus holding on to the pole for dear life. Watching spring blossom out of the window. The most beautiful rose pink flower tree fades away as the bus speeds down the hill. Now were passing the lakes, there’s one to the left and right. As the sun starts setting people come out to run around the lakes and drink coconut water and caña juice. The coconut water is cold, smooth, soothing and sweet; I love it! I’m almost home which means it’s time to start running up the hill, because I have a curfew of 7 pm. Once I’m past the forest I’ve arrived at the condo.

Getting there is half the fun.

Oiii,

I’m sitting outside watching the flower trees dancing with the wind, and I’m thinking about all that’s happened this weekend. Friday I went out to Escritorio (night-club), I was there for about 4 hours and for about 6 I was trying to figure out how to get there. After school I asked Carol (host mom) to drop me off at Shiloh’s house, so that from there we could go to Siri’s house and get ready to go out. Planning doesn’t always work out; sometimes you have to improvise. My host mom didn’t know where Shiloh lived, so she didn’t take me. This is okay because Shiloh had left to Nicolij’s- Enjicos house anyways. So I try and take a bus to Nicolijs house, but I don’t know which one to take and I definitely don’t want to end up on my way to another city like last time. I try asking and they all shake their heads signaling me no. I mime to them that I need a bus to Paranagua and they all look at me like I’m crazy, so I just walk and I walk and I walk some more. It was scary but kind of funny at the same time. Here is this girl walking through a barrio completely lost with nothing more than a hot pink bag containing only shoes, a Prada bag, sunglasses even though there’s no sun, flip flops, and a giant purse filled with make up. After I realize where I have to go, I stop, put on some tennis and start jogging. I get there 40 minutes later. From there the planning really starts, I find out I’m not going to be able to spend the night at Siri’s house, so I ask Shiloh but Shiloh is not allowed to go out, so I instead spend the night at Natasha’s (friend from school) house. There the problem really starts; we go to Casa de Cachasa with Shiloh before she has to got home. We then try and take bus to Escritorio, but the bus is not showing up and out of pure luck we find some friends that are going there too. Escritorio is packed with people and finding our friends, who were in the VIP section, is the new problem. Getting there is truly half the fun! I had no idea I could dance! I still think I can’t dance, but I had fun trying! I did not want to go home and I keep singing to Natasha the song “just dance”.

Natasha had to get to school at 6 AM so we sleep for about 2 hours, and then her mom drops me of at Siri’s. I fall asleep and I wake up with the worst cold I’ve ever had. Luckily, in Brazil pharmacies deliver medicine for only 8 extra Reais. That day was my friend’s aniversario (birthday) and he was having a bbq in a Chacara, a “little farm” outside the city. I had been planning to go there for about a week. The medicine didn’t help much but I reluctantly and stubbornly decide to go to the churrasco (bbq). If I had fun at Escritorio this bbq was 3 times as fun. Just like at the Rotary party where I go to every table, I make sure I meet everyone, and that everyone meets me. I use the little Portuguese I know and say “oii tudo bem”, and it takes off from there. I have no idea how I manage to talk so much with out speaking the language! After dancing Sartenegio, Fojo, Zamba and even YMCA I call my host mom, and try to ask her if I can go out with them tonight. My friend had given me a coupon that saved me 35 Reais, but she firmly says no; she also mentions that she wants me home now. Instead of freaking out, Siri and I just lay on the grass and look at the stars for about a minute to figure out what to do and then everyone comes over and we all joke around for about another 5 minutes. Then I really start freaking out but I find ride with in the next 5 minutes. We are supposed to get a ride to Siri’s house but instead we go to Ejico’s-Nico’s house. I tell my mom we’ll be at casa da Siri and that in about 10 minuses she can call me there, but because as I mentioned earlier plans change, when she called I was at Enjicos. So now I’m really freaking out. My number one priority since I got here is making sure my host mom feels comfortable with me in her house. I’m constantly asking her if there’s anything she would like me to do or if there’s anything she would like me not to do. I always tell her where, when, how, and why, even if she doesn’t ask. I have given her the numbers of all my friends! I don’t ask her for rides, but instead try and take the bus or a taxi. I call her when I go out, so that she knows I’m fine. I’m extremely grateful for letting me in her house. I’m thankful for everything, but I’m in Brazil and I’ve been home too much. For a person who back home feels so independent and has so much trust from her parents, it feels really weird having someone doubt you.

September

São Paulo’s Riviera

I’m in heaven I could spend my life watching the waves wash off in the sand. I’m so lucky to be here right now. My host sister’s grandpa invited us to his beach house and NOSSA (OMG) I wish I could stay forever. It started with a bus from Brazilsul (my host family owns this bus company) at 11 PM, the seats leaned back 180 degrees and the bus rocked you to sleep like a babe. The person to my left snored but this was ok because it remained me of my dad and made me feel safe. My sis tells me there was a somnambular walking though the seats but I really didn’t feel a thing. 8 hours later we arrived in Sao Paulo. We first went to my sister’s dad’s apartment where we slept and watched Gilmore girls. Then we took a taxi to the mall. After walking around a little her dad picked us up and we went to Outback. The menu was in English so for the 1st time I didn’t have to order with my eyes closed. We ate onion rigs, cheese fries and ribs. Oh how I missed cheese fries!

Then her grandparents picked us up to go to the beach. We passed though the Sierra Del Mar and in a tunnel. We passed Santos, the native city of Pele. After we passed Cubataõ and the canals we arrived at the Riviera, a huge condominium that even has a shopping mall in it. The view from the apartment is to die for, the sea seems to go on forever. Although we arrived late the first thing we did was go to the beach and sing songs as we attempted to jump the waves. The next day I walked on the beach and tried to practice my Portuguese with random Brazilians. I meet a surfing teacher and the girl form a Brazilian rock band. Then we went to the mall and met up with one of Raissa’s childhood friend. We made Brigadero (a kind of fudge) and played Trouco (card game) with her friends. I was going to go swimming in the morning but I stayed up late and fell asleep on the couch. On the way back to Sao Paulo the bridge collapsed so we were stuck in traffic for a while, I was getting a little claustrophobic so I asked if the could lower the windows, but in turns out the car was bullet prove so you can’t lower the windows in the back. Although knowing this should make one feel safer it made me feel less safe; I mean just the thought that someone might try to fire at your car while you’re on a stop light is scary. It’s really sad to see what drugs, corruption and poverty can do to a city; any city not just Sao Paulo.

My Austrian host family wrote me. It’s nice that we keep in touch. They said they were so sad that I wasn’t going that their Rotary club gave them another exchange student. I wonder if my current host family would do the same, or if they are hosting because they have to. I got just the opposite of what I was thought in culture boot camp. I expected my Austrian host family to be more introverted and less talkative than my Brazilian one. Just another example of how mistaken it is to classify people in groups.

Cayon Guartela

It’s been a while since I wrote in this crazy journal. It is now October and I have a lot to update you on. I just got back from Canyon Guartela. I threw myself over a cliff attached to a one cm in diameter rope and I paid to do it. I galloped on a horse whose estribos I couldn’t reach. I went rappelling with an evil guide who wouldn’t stop throwing below zero water at me. We had a barbecue with some lemon and sugar, and danced to Mexican music by a bon fire. We blasted out singing wonder world over and over on the way back home.

October 5

I’ve noticed how I’ve changed since I’ve been here. When I’d come home from school and eat lunch with my host family I would always want to tell them everything new that happened, I would fill each second with a story. Silence just seemed too awkward for me. My family back home is very expressive (talkative), they show love openly and every time there is a disagreement they feel the need to talk about it. I thought my Brazilian family would be just the same. But they are not, they are very quite and reserved. At first this difference made me feel unwelcome; however, now I realize you don’t need words to communicate love, sadness, or even anger. Now during dinner although I’m thinking a lot of things I don’t feel the urge to say them out loud. Because the table is quiet I think more carefully before I speak, which is something my father back home has been trying to get me to do for a while now.

However some things I think I will never get used to. For example I can’t stop switching hands when I cut something. Brazilians hold the knife with the left side the whole time. I’ve been trying to eat like this but it’s too hard. The other thing is that there is a problem with Brazilian men. They all try to kiss you! In Brazil kissing means absolutely nothing. There’s one intercambista that’s kissed 75 people in 6 months! Unfortunately I don’t think I will ever be able to assimilate to this part of the culture. Not only because I don’t want to get Mono but because I’m way too selective. I’ve tried to be as sincere as possible with my diaries. I’m telling you the good, the bad and the ugly.

October 11

My friends from school are doing a little road trip to the beach and invited me. I’ve been trying to compress my hips and butt to fit into a Brazilian bikini. It’s only for the weekend; I’m so excited! Once we are there we are going to a nearby city to attend an Axe concert and then we come back Monday morning for school. I’ve got permission form my Rotary Club and family in Florida, now I only need permission from Caro (my host mom).

October 13

Tomorrow is teacher’s day so I have no school, which is good because some friends invited me to play pool. I had never played before, but it turns out I’m not so bad at it. Either I have extreme good luck or my friend is a really good teacher.

October 14

Finally it is summer! I invited 4 friends to use the pool and another 4 showed up. With a refreshing pool, glorious sun, and an inflatable mattress that lets just the right amount of water touch you, nothing can go wrong, that is if Nicolaj Johansen Winter is not there to bump you off it just when you are relaxed enough to fall asleep. Just kidding; I mean life is good, it is really good – we tan, dance, watch movies and eat brigadeiro but it is so much better with friends like Shilo, Siri, Nicolij, Enjico, Natasha, Rafa, Eloiza… just when you think life is perfect and nothing can go wrong, gravity pulls you back down. I went out for a ride with my friend. I came back humming and dancing when all of a sudden I find myself laying on the ground, I rolled down 5 stairs, twisted my arm, hit my bunda (buttocks) and chin. When I got up my friends and I couldn’t help but laugh; I mean I’ve been doing leg lifts 24/7 in order to be ready for the beach and now I have a huge ass purple bump on my butt!

Even tough I was still in pain I had to go watch the Colombia vs. Brazil game. I wore a Brazilian bracelet on one arm and a Colombian one on the other. Although I’m very patriotic, I have to admit I was a little doubtful because the definition of football is: a game played by 12 players in which Brazil usually wins. Brazilians go crazy over soccer – my host mom told me people have been killed because of rivalries. I was a little bit afraid going into Escritorio with my Colombian I.D. and my red, yellow, blue bracelet. It’s like sitting on the Dolphin’s side wearing a Yankees shirt. I really didn’t feel like getting jumped so when Colombia came close to winning I took it off. In the end no one won, it was a tie. Something that I found to be kind of symbolic. People are always asking me were do you like it better U.S., Colombia, or Brazil, and I can’t choose. I feel as American as I do Colombian and I can’t choose who to root for when it comes to Colombia vs. Brazil. They are all so different, unique, and beautiful. I wish I could combine them all! Have a little bit of salsa and a Brazilian churrasco in the American Rockies.

October 15

After the a little bit of dancing my friend took me home; my arm had gotten worse, I couldn’t even lift my arm to take off my shirt. When I woke up I called Andre, my Rotarian neighbor, whose husband is a doctor. She took me to the hospital to get radiography and a muscle relaxer. We skipped the whole line at the hospital, although I felt cared for I couldn’t help but feel guilty and spoiled. I only had a little scratch while the people in line where so much worse than me.

My host mom told me she did not feel comfortable with me going to the beach. She said it more like this “nao da”. This literally means “that won’t go down”. This phrase doesn’t give room to respond. If it were my parents back home I could get a chance to explain and possibly persuade them, but because it’s someone with whom proximity is limited, it would be rude to even remotely question her judgment even if my parents and Rotary think it’s fine.

October 16

I went to Vega! It was amazing. At first they played techno-house but than this sertenegio (Brazilian country) band went on stage. I never thought I would like country, and I never thought I would listen to country in Brazil, but Sertenegio is so much fun to dance to. I loved the whole night, besides the fact that I fell down the stairs again. I’m telling you Havaianas (famous Brazilian flip-flops) are dangerous!

October 18

Did absolutely nothing! I called about 10 friends but they were all out of town. I can’t stand being home for more than 3 hours. The house is beautiful and big, but it feels so empty it’s depressing. My sister went to watch a game with her friends and my host mom is sleeping, it’s 5 pm and I think I might have to stay home. My guitar needs strings and I’ve watched all the movies in the house. I’m done with the Half-Blooded Prince, and I’m officially bored. I feel as if time is taunting me telling me “time is running out and you’ve got to enjoy your days in Brazil”. On top of it all my friend called me from the beach just to remind me what I’m missing out on. Supposedly he wanted me to hear the waves through the phone. Isn’t he evil! I guess being so far away from home teaches you that you can’t rely on your parents or friends to make happy, or to make you feel better when you’re down. You have learn to rely on yourself.

22 October 2008

Today Nico and Shilo came over for a movie. I eat so much when I’m around them. We ate this gummy bears you can buy super-sized in the one Reai store. No wonder I’ve gained 5 kilos here!

It’s so weird! I feel so bi-polar! One day you feel so out of place, so bored; next you’re so excited it feels so right. I wrote my first song in Portuguese today! I was walking back home after dropping Nicolij and Shiloh at the condominium door and I started singing in Spanish when all of the sudden I didn’t realize it but I started thinking in Portuguese. I didn’t notice till I listened to the recording I made!

October 23/24

I know that I shouldn’t be hanging out with intercambistas that much but its just that Brazilians are so busy preparing for vestibular (S.A.Ts).

Today we celebrated Eva’s birthday in Casa da Cachasa. Some people forgot to pay. After a loud show trying to remind others what they consumed some of us left for Escritorio. I almost got ran over by a car on the way to catch the bus and screamed and ran like a bimbo. We mostly spoke in English the majority of the time, I hope people think we were all Canadians and not Americans because these 2 incidents I found to be very embarrassing.

The line at Escritorio is insane, but lucky there are these people who we know farther up the line. Once we are almost there the price inflates 5 % for guys and they close the door so 6 of us cram into a car and go to a bunch of places which were either closed or not good. We end up back were we started about a block from Casa da Cachasa at la Silva. My friends didn’t want to leave but at 5 am I finally convince them to go home. I had school at 7 am.

25st of October

I went to a friend’s birthday party and I met up with a friend from Germany who is doing a volunteering project in Rolandia. She invited me to her house till Sunday. Rolandia is having a huge Oktoberfest festival this weekend.

My host mom called her mom to make sure its ok. She tells my friend’s host mom to give me a curfew. My friend’s mom tells me as long as I come home before she wakes up the next day it’s fine. On the bus I made a friend who is 16 and works 12 hours a day plus school! Yea she was telling me that in her work they don’t let her sit down, and I thought I had it bad with my manager. There are always people more fortunate and less fortunate than you. I always tend to look up to aspire but I forget to look down to appreciate. Even she is up in the food chain,if you think about Chinese factory workers at Nike.

Rodandia is small town with some very kind and welcoming people. Because it’s a small town every one knows everyone, and unlike I expected they were very open to new people. They treated me as if I had been their friend for years! I was there for about 25 hours out of which I partied for 5 and slept for 20. The fest had a section where they wore traditional German costumes had traditional music and games. It also had a modern section in an arena where they played Sergenegio, Fojo, Techno, and Funky.

26th of October.

I got home all by myself today! I feel so independent! I always hated asking my parents for rides. Because the time change the sun was still out when I got home at 5 PM so I decided to go to the pool in the condominium! I saw 5 friends there so I sat with them until I saw other people that I knew and switched circles. They thought me how to play poker. I lost everything in the first round, but I still loved it.

October 27

As exchange students at times we are only shown the beautiful and rich side of the country. And when we do see something that doesn’t seem right like an Indian kid in the street asking for food I guess some find it easier to turn the other way. But I can’t seem to do this, I just don’t think it’s right – now that I’m done with school I want to start volunteering. There is this project that teaches art to kids from the street and there is this other one that takes in children. A lot of them are mistreated and hungry. There is one that lives in a whore house with her grandma, who is the owner. There is another one whose entire family is into drugs.

October 28

When I arrived in Brazil I informed my Rotary club that I had a tourist visa; they decided that the best thing would be to got to a Brazilian embassy to obtain a student visa. They told me “wait, we’ll take care of it”. However I can’t wait any longer, according to my dad my tourist visa expires next week. If I let this date pass it will go on my passport for life, and will make it very hard for me to travel again. My dad told me if I didn’t resolve this by Friday he would. Because Tertulino (the youth exchange chairman of my district) was traveling I called the Carlos, a Rotarian who I was told was indicated to call about this issue; he told me to call Tertulino’s son. So I did, they said they would call me back. 2 hours later they called and told me that I would be leaving for Paraguay at 11 pm. My host mom told me this would be very simple and quick but due to my past experiences with embassies and consulates I’m very skeptical that it will be as simple as everyone tells me it’s going to be. I also don’t know what they will say when they find out I’ve been going to school with a tourist visa. Can you believe it I’ve been going to school illegally?

Meu dios, the girl with my documents and ticket arrived at 10:40; she drove like a mad woman so that I would make it on time. Unfortunately all the other cars were driving beyond the usual insane today. Because at 10:30 pm it was announced that Bilinati, the elected candidate for Prefeito would not be allowed to take office due to his conviction in a previous term of having pocketed money from the government. People were honking their horns running in front of cars in the street. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to the last day of school at Cypress.

I got to the terminal and chassed the bus which was leaving at the moment I arrived. I had so much adrenaline running through me that I couldn’t really sleep. I arrived in Foz de Iguaçu at 6 am the next Day.

October 29th

Right now I’m driving to Paraguay with a tourist guide. I passed the Paraná River and saw a gang of dogs on the street. There’s people selling things everywhere. Paraguay is infamous for having no taxes and people come here to shop from all over.

When we arrived at the embassy they told us since this was not a renewal it would have to be done in a country where I have resided for more than one year. I called my host mom and found out that they are waiting for a paper from Brasilia so that they can give me the permission to enter Brazil with a student visa. I feel so lost in translation, I try talking Spanish and Portuguese comes out. I feel like I did once before when we played that card game with no words in culture boot camp.

I can smell the rain and hear the thunder hitting in the ground. Its 5 PM now I’ve been waiting in the consulate since 6 A.M. I hate not knowing what’s going on.

October 30th

So how did I go from being an exchange student to being an illegal prisoner? So maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. I can’t come into Brazil with my student visa until some documents from Brasilia arrive and as I found out a bit ago I can’t come into Brazil as a tourist without permission from my parents because I’m 17 until November 15. This means I’m an illegal alien of Brazil right now. The tourist guide that took me to the consulate in Paraguay convinced the immigration police to let me pass under the condition that I would stay at his house and not leave Foz de Iguaçu under any circumstances… I’m legally becoming an adult in a couple weeks but I’m feeling like a little girl wanting my mom’s hug. I’m still waiting! It’s 7 pm and haven’t eaten anything since 6 am I’m tired of waiting for the phone call!

I was finally dropped off in the hotel. My room smelled cigarettes so I changed. I was told to wait for a phone call but I fell asleep. In the morning when I was at breakfast I was approached by this man asking me if I was alone and my room number so he could visit me. I pretended not to understand Spanish. It was scary, when I went on to the elevator I pressed a different floor and took the stairs from there so he wouldn’t even know what floor I was in. I decide order lunch to the room from then on.

October 31

Finally after a lot of stress and extremely annoyed that I was not informed about the situation with Brasilia beforehand I was able to return to Londrina. I’m very angry at my dad because I had a couple more days before my visa expired! I should have checked, but when I received his very alarming phone call I panicked and called Rotary. Everything happened so fast! Between Carlos’s phone call and the call back which informed me that I was going to Paraguay there were only 2 hours. I only had time to inform my host mom and pack.

Coming back home, my host family was unusually quiet! My host mom barely said hello. I tried talking to her over lunch; her tone of voice let me know just how angry she was, so I didn’t say anything more. After she had cooled down a bit, I pulled her aside at dinner and tried apologizing for all the inconveniences; I thanked her for worrying about me so much. She was still mad and a bunch of other things came out like the time when I was at Ejico’s and she called Siri. She told me she didn’t trust me and I started crying. I have never lied to her! I know it was my fault. I’m not blaming anyone I’m adult enough to know what’s going on and I should have kept myself more informed.

November

I switched host families. My new host family is stricter but definitely feels more like family. I can talk to my host mom and dad hours at a time! I feel cared for and loved! My host brother seems to be a bit jealous because all the attention I’m getting. He makes it hard for me to use the computer. He also keeps reminding me of all the questionable things George W. Bush did. He’s always talking about how Americans think they are the best and how Americans are this and that…I’m sure he does it to annoy me. I’m tired of explaining to him that you can’t classify such a diverse and vast group of people. That Americans tend to be individualistic, patriotic and very independent and that sometimes can be misunderstood.

November 14

I’m turning 18 and I want my party to make up for all the ones I was too young to remember. I invited everyone on my orkut (a type of brazilin facebook) to my Party at Escritorio. I also had a little bbq with a couple friends. The bbq didn’t go exactly as planned. I went to get my nails done and was 1 hour late to my own party. Lucky everyone else was 3 hours late. Only 2 people were on time. The sound box I rented the day before at this other birthday party I went to, didn’t work because I left the cable in Enjicos car. I forgot to buy ice and the cake melted, but that’s ok because of the use it got. It is a tradition that on one’s birthday they throw all the ingredients on a cake at your head – for each year they will throw one egg at you head followed by sugar and flour. Because they didn’t have 18 fresh eggs they decided to throw the mixed version of this tradition my chocolate and bejinio (cooked coconut) cake.

November 15

My first host family lives 3 houses down and forgot. My Austrian host family lives an ocean away and remembered! How sweet!

Today the day of my actual 18th birthday I found myself at home at 11 pm. So I called my friends and got 3 invitations but no ride. Then at 11:30 my friend tells me she can pick me up and take me. I ask for permission and walk down to the front of my condo to wait for my ride. While I’m waiting I meet this environmental law student who has insomnia because he is going to interview Indians the next day. (There is a big problem in Brazil with displaced Indians, who find it very hard to get accustomed to a city life style. They are used to hunting and gathering their food, so working for food seems strange.) I feel embarrassed seeing all the cars come in, I’m hoping they don’t recognize I’m going out but it is my birthday. I have so much fun at Escritorio. I dance and talk to so many people that I lose track of time. At the end something really funny happened. There was this group of about 4 guys that were trying to kiss me and I kept turning down the whole night, and when I was about to leave the parking lot with my friends to go grab a bit to eat they lined up and asked me to choose, so I made them turn, pose and walk for me; it was so funny!

How can I be responsible and a bit wild at the same time? How can I turn my brain off for a while? I’m not sure if I can. This is a time to have fun and take risks and doing thing so that I don’t regret not doing them later but it is also the time where I’m deciding who I want to be. At times I want to be that girl who doesn’t think. I want to have wild adventures where my only goal is having fun. At times I want to be like Sarah, my friend who goes religiously to church every Sunday and is the valedictorian of Dillard High. At times I want to be like Jo Jo who seems to have it all figured out, she always knows what to say and when to say it. Then there’s 007, Kelly who is smooth in every way, and like her sister is an expert at keeping it together in front of other people. I’m so not like that. I wear my feelings on my sleeve … when I’m hurt I cry, and when I’m in love I melt.

Random anecdotes

I’m so tired of people asking me for coffee and coca. Even teachers mention it. I really don’t find it very funny; there are so many beautiful things in Colombia. Pablo se fue hace años! It is true after the political wars in Colombia a violent semi-socialistic organization was formed in my country. These Guerrillas, Farc, and paramilitaries use drug trafficking to finance their war against the government. However, ambition spiraled them down to a point where they’ve got no ideology or dogma whatsoever. This remote minority has terrorized both rich businessmen as well as subsistence peasants. They kidnapped me and my family and they are the reason I left my country 9 years ago. Thanks to our current president and God they are in retreat and have got very little capacity now days. It makes me mad that they are the first thing that comes to the mind of many people when they think of Colombia! Colombia has way more good things than bad and I would like to take the time to point them out. My city Medellin is known as the “city of flowers” because flowers grow out of nowhere and because they blossom all year round. It is where the Andes Mountains take root, this gives Colombia one of the most diversified climates and ecosystems in the planet. In Santa Marta, you can go from snow to a rainforest to a desert beach in less than an hour. Colombia is also the place where Vallenato and Cumbia were born. It is a place where music is deeply entrenched within the culture and where people live by the saying that “there is no looking back, one can only move forward”.


February 11 Journal

I’ve grown to appreciate my computer, washer, dryer and dish washer back home so much! Back home I didn’t have a maid that came in twice a week but I still did less work. It would take a maximum of 10 minutes to get your clothes from the washer to the dryer and out. Here you have to pour the water in to the machine manually, twist and drain the clothes manually, get the water out of the machine with a pot, put up a string to hang the clothes on (hoping that the dog won’t pull them down), then wait until the sun dries them and then press the clothes with Iron. Back home I had a computer that didn’t die every hour and wouldn’t take 30 minutes to send a document; most importantly I could use it when ever I wanted. Here although there is a brand new computer, I’m not allowed to use it because it’s my host brother’s, which means I get stuck using the 1999 model… Sure if you’re going to bring a laptop to talk to your friends back home 24/7 it’s going to handicap you with both the language and culture. But if you’re going to bring a laptop to facilitate writing and sending journal to Mr. Al or to keep track of your pictures (so that your host brother doesn’t delete them), talk to your Brazilian friends (phones are so expensive here), and let your mom know you’re alive, then it can be rather useful.

November 29th

I had five different invitations to go out today, and I found out although you can’t always please everyone, you’ve got to learn to please yourself! I was the first girl to be picked up for the BBQ and still had to wait one hour for the guys to arrive. And if you think Brazilian guys are tardy, wait till you hear about the girls. I waited 1 hour and half with my guy friends for the girls to get ready. I was so mad; I could have gone to the other 2 churrascos and back in that time. I think its karma; in the U.S. people would always tell me things started 2 hours before they really did, so I would make it in time. Never again am I going to be late. I now see how rude and disrespectful it is to have someone waiting for you. After the churrasco I had three options. Go to Vega which was playing Latin music that night. Go to Emporio, (techno) with my neighbor, or go to a dance with my friend. Although I wanted to go to Vega I had promised my friend to go to the dance. After 2 hours I wanted to leave but ended up staying for my friends’ sake. Never again!

November 30th Religion

I’ve gone to 2 different types of churches in Brazil. I‘ve went to a catholic one and an evangelical one. I was baptized and confirmed as a catholic but I really don’t agree 100 percent with the catholic doctrine. I’m catholic more because of tradition than believe. Tell you the truth the catholic churches I’ve gone to in the U.S. seem to lose the sense of celebration with so much ritual ( so much getting up and sitting down makes you think “what I’m I doing at a gym so early in the morning”). My family in the U.S. doesn’t really go to church that often. My Brazilian family goes every Sunday. Brasil is known as the most catholic county in world after the Vatican. For the longest time I didn’t believe in anything, but one day my friend invited me to her youth group and I felt something I had never felt before. It was magical, I can’t really explain it but since then I’ve fully believed in the big three. People tell you faith is something which can not be seen or explained but is believed in anyways. This to me sounded like insanity. To me faith is something which I can see and I can feel. I can see it when the sun rises onto the Brazilian sky and gives you the most wonderful sense of warmth. People who don’t believe in miracles must have never seen baby or a flower grow out of dirt… so in my quest to get a little bit closer to god during my exchange I’ve been reading the bible almost everyday. But unfortunately I don’t get very far before I fall asleep. Man, sleep is my worst enemy when it comes to spiritual stuff. As a matter of fact when I went to the evangelical church I ended up falling asleep a little. It was very different from what I’m used to. It was very energetic to say the least. The thing is that I had gone out till 4 AM that day so it was hard to stay awake. Not that it was boring or anything, I was just really tired. So I closed my eyes and faded away for 5 minutes I was woken up by a woman yelling in tongs (according to my host mom the only language the devil can’t understand, it creped me out a bit). The worst part of it all is that they recorded me sleeping and put me up on the big screen. So embarrassing! Not something I’m proud of, but when sleeps got you, it doesn’t let go. Dec 1st I’m so excited about Christmas! I’ve thought so much about what I’m going to get my friends and family. So far I got Nicolaj a shirt that says run NICO run and my host mom is stating her last year of college next year so I got her some aromatic oils to relax. I wish I could work here, I could buy better gifts.

December 2-14 Oh Brother

My host brother hid my jump drive. He seems to get more jealous everyday. I never thought it would be so hard to become friends with a 14 year old boy! I’ve never felt so hated. He won’t even shake my hand at church. I asked him “what have I done, why are you so mean to me” and he answered “you were born.” I understand that he is a teenager and that he openly dislikes Americans, but I don’t understand how he can be so cruel. I was downloading pictures and he took the cable away in the middle of the process so that all my photos would be deleted. The way he talks to me is the worst part. I told him he needs to respect me even if he doesn’t like me. But he just said “this is my house and I treat you like I want to.” He is so mean that he would be kicked out of hell. On the other hand did I mention how much I love my host mom! We make a perfect duplet! We dance and sing in the kitchen while making lunch, and chat all afternoon. I was traveling form the 15th of December to the 7th of February and had no access to a computer. This means I was forced to put the diaries on hold. I’m very sorry about that Mr. Roy and Mr. Al Kalter. I hand wrote them and then passed them on to the computer when I got back.

Santa Catarina

December 15th my host parents and I drove for 8 hours to reach Jaragua do Sul, Santa Catarina. I spent the time in the car singing ABBA with my host mom, teaching them American jokes (which they didn’t get), learning to pray in Portuguese, playing memory games, eating chocolate, and sleeping. The city is about two thirds of the size of Londrina. It is surrounded by mountains and has the ocean near by. It has a very strong German and Italian influence which is clearly visible in the architecture and people. My Brazilian family originated from this city. They came from very humble beginnings. My host dad’s families were subsistence farmers and my host mom’s dad was a taxi driver. There friends and family treated me like family from the beginning. The comadre (Mariana’s godmother) thought me how to make bread (this is a huge accomplishment from the girl that couldn’t make an egg before Brazil). The only thing that makes me uncomfortable is that they all think I’m rich. Some ask me questions about what car I drive how much money my parents give me…

Culture

Men are not expected to help clean or organize anything. My host brother and host cousins leave the plates behind and go play video games while I stay behind and clean them. They told me that’s what Mariana (my host sister in Mexico) used to do.

Dec 19

So I think I might have learned how to handle my host brother’s jealousy. When we’re in a group of people and I see his face turning green I start complimenting him and move the attention from me to him. If he starts arguing or fighting with me I just start talking about football rivalries.

Dec. 22

I saw the last two games of the futisal championship! I was talking to these guys from Sao Paulo who came to attend the game. They told me that I was very sweet and that they thought Americans were arrogant before they met me. I later found out that the guys I was talking to were very famous football players from Brasil. I was 2 feet away from the best futisal player in the world, Falcon.

We drove from Jaragua to the beach house in Pisarras something which required that I be in the car with Eduardo for about one hour and a half, it was the longest one hour and a half of my life. Eduardo taught me a lot! A lot of anger management! If I didn’t believe in spanking your children I do now!!!

Piçarras

I have just finished drinking two coconut waters. I’m writing directly form Piçarras Beach, where my host family owns a small wooden town-house. There is no Internet, no TV, and I have a gecko as a roommate. The first night I slept under covers terrified it would land on my face but then I just got used the idea of him not being able to get out. It’s not too bad, he helps get rid of the mosquitoes which judging by the fifty bites I counted are aware that the dollar is high. It’s very relaxed around here. I stay up playing Baralio (card game) with my host mom all night, sleep till 12, eat, and go to the beach.

Interior

We went to visit my host dad’s family and friends in the country side. They are so welcoming; always greeting you with a warm hug and a new line of carbohydrates for you to try. I visited a chicken farm and met a 6 year old (who was fascinated with my camera he made me take 20 pictures of him. The kid is destined to be a model). I met my incredible great aunt. Just by looking at her hands you can see the story of the work they’ve done; raising children, taking care of the chickens, the house, the cow, washing the clothes, the cooking with no electricity…

In this area of Brazil it is very rare to find an eighteen year old girl that is single. I met a girl that is nineteen and already has a two year old kid. Every time I mention I don’t have a boyfriend the “who has the best looking son” contest begins.

Back to Jaragua do Sul

I’m staying at my grandmas in a 3 bedroom house with eight other people. It’s hard finding privacy to read or write. I sleep in a room with the Nona (grandma), a 13 year old and a small pincher dog that comes in to wake me up in the morning.

I can’t remember a Christmas with this weather. We prayed the novena and they passed a glass of holy water for everyone to drink out of. Then we went to my uncle’s house for dinner; ate a German potato salad with pickles, Manhoca (a fried root, native to South America), and meat. We than sang regional music until mid-night and went back to Nona’s. I was woken up by what sounded like my aunt and uncle arguing in Italian and a kid telling me what Santa brought him. Still half asleep I watched picante film with my host mom and aunt. It was an action suspense-sexy film to say the least. Talk about new traditions for Christmas day. Just before the end when the protagonist was about to be caught with her lover in the office the film stopped. We then ate lunch in a long wooden table that could fit at least 15 people. My host family’s Italian heritage is easily noticed. So many people, so much food, so much noise, so Italian. Nona kept putting food on my plate something which greatly reminded me of my real grandma who cooks for twenty even if just one person is coming over. These sage older woman use guilt to get you fatter and fatter each day. But seriously I couldn’t swallow anymore food so I secretly gave the Picher dog (vigia, guard dog) a little Christmas present… My clothes smell like churrasco, they cooked the meat right next to where they were drying… I spent the rest of the day watching Chapolin Colorado (an old Mexican comedy series that is tradition to all Latin peoples). It’s really weird watching it in Portuguese. At night we went to a Christmas dance where they played German folk music all night long! I managed to pull my family out to the dance floor where we created a spinning circle and innovated a new genre of dance moves that could compete with The 80s Egyptian Walk anytime.

Camburu

The coolest city for just turned eighteen year olds thus far. It’s about thirty minutes to one hour away from the beach house in Piçarras. So how did I get there? I was walking on the beach and I asked two girls (Talita and her cousin) and a guy where I could rent an umbrella. They invited me to sit with them, and after talking to them for a while I discover that the guy is my host dad’s god son. Despite them being five years older I ended up becoming good friends with them. Talita just got out of a bad relationship and needed to party so I suggested we go out. The lines to get in a night club in Camburu are insane. One night we waited 2 hours for an opening and didn’t go in. It was a fiasco but I met this really cool girl that lives in Piçarras, who would later on be my ride home in New Years.

Dec 30th

Today my host brother had another huge tantrum, and I decided that I can’t take the yelling, lying, aggressive, immature, spoiled, disrespectful fourteen year old boy anymore! He pushing me and throwing something at me is the limit. I will not tolerate it. I was so mad that I ran away to the beach and swam as far and as fast as I could for an hour straight! I pounded the water as if it were a punching bag and I were fighting Muhammed Ali. I used to be so tolerant but now I’m easily irritated just by hearing the way he talks to his parents. His pride and lack of self esteem causes him to be a smart alec. If he doesn’t know he’ll make it up but he must always contradict me. He would argue with the pope. It’s true you can’t have it all. Every rose has its thorn. The perfect host parents had to have one too. My host mom is so sweet, caring, and fun. She’s becoming my best friend. She confides in me like I do in her. We dance, sing, and take silly pictures. My host dad is intelligent, wise, and knows how to fix problems with incredible ease; he is reasonable and I admire his humbleness. I feel like part of the family. I know all the family issues and embarrassing stories, but I don’t want to be involved in the conflicts.

Later that day I went to the comadres (godmother) birthday party at her daughter’s farm. Which aside form all the mosquitoes is beautiful. They have a lake with fish and turtles, a cow named Esmeralda, an extremely tall Mayoca root trees, the most beautiful grey and black cat that resembles a leopard, and three Labradors. I feel such peace there.

Dec 31-1st of Jan

What a night! As if it was planed by god. Having fought with my brother I was not in the mood for family time. Talita invited me to Caburu to spend new years with some of her friends. It was like a dream. I found myself on the beach, drinking champagne, watching the fireworks as I counted down the New Year. I jumped seven waves and asked seven wishes to Mananja (Nossa Sehnora, goddess of the sea in Candomble.). The first hour of the New Year we walked the streets which were filled with young people dressed in white. Out of complete and remote coincidence I found 5 of my good guy friends from Londrina there. What a small world. We went back to Piçarras at 2 AM; which is too early to go home on a New Years, so I asked Talita to drop me off at Vale High (located conveniently on the beach that leads to my house; it is the biggest night club in the city). I was going to try and find the friend I met the nightclub fiasco day. It was 3 and I didn’t find the friends I was looking for till the end of the night but I found my Argentinean friends ( who I also met on the beach when I found out their father is a bolero singer)… At 6 AM I saw a penguin on the beach and started talking to the girl standing next to me about what I was seeing. When I mention I was an exchange student she told me her friend had just met an exchange student a couple days ago (and guess who that was). So I finally met the girl who invited me there. She took me home, where I eat lentelias for good luck and went treasure hunting with my host mom. Graci (my host mom) told me I would find a lot of the things on the beach the 1st day of the year. I found 2 shells and baby spoon. The kids that collect the bottles had already passed.

Jan 6th The Northeast Dream Trip Begins

10 pm

The last 2 days have been chaotic. I got another horrible hair cut and the most painful roll on bikini wax. Once again I managed to fit a million things in one bag. I’m on my way to Sao Paulo to embark in a one month long trip along the coast of Brazil.

11 pm

Nossa (omg)! All men are the same! None of them have clean intentions. Because I’m going to be setting next to this guy for 7 hours I decided to talk to him a little. I just asked his name and where he was from; when all of the sudden this 23 year old playboy starts hitting on me with the most ridiculous line. I just said “it’s so cold” and he responded “do you want me to warm you up” and leans is for a kiss. Because he had told me he was religious, I told him I was thinking about becoming a nun so I could sleep in peace.

6 am

I waited 1 hour for Belo Brasil Tours to finally aparet and then took a taxi to the hotel.

Jan 8th Brasilia, a symbol of modernity

Built by Juscelino Kubitschek 37 years ago, it is the newest capital of any country. 60 thousand men helped make of Oscar Niemeyer’s buildings a reality. It is shaped like an air plane. In between the wings you will find the ministries, the Palacio Dos Arcos, The Underground Cathedral, and The National Theater all with Pao Brasil trees at their sides. We got the chance to visit the awing National Congress and the Templo de Boa Vontade (the Temple of Good Faith), which is shaped as heptagon (to symbolize all the chakras). It contains a 40 centimeter crystal on the top. This temple remained me of my Tio Mario y Maria and their believe of all religions being deferent ways to get to the same place. The Temple has no declared religion but a lot of leaders (Jesus, Buda, Mohammad…).Although I don’t necessarily agree, to me it is a definite sign of the Candangos (Brazilians from the capital) modernity that different religions can worship, meditate together under one roof.

Jan 9th

After a 20 hour bus ride (something which I never thought I would be able to survive), we arrived at this comfy, charming posada which we couldn’t access by bus. We had to take mini vans to get there.

Jan 10th Lençois

We went to a natural scorregador slide on the mineral rocks and fell into a pool created by a waterfall. The water is icy and dark because of the diluted leaves. We hiked till the birth of the water fall, crossed a river and walked thru rock tunnels formed by sharp and vast rocks. It felt as if every stop was the final destination. I saw the most panoramic view of the Paraguaçu River running on the pink rocks until it disappered from sight into the town. We eat lunch in the historic, colorful, and uneven town of 4 thousand people. I and a couple others gave up pizza for what looked like digested, unappetizing, god know what typical food. After I mustered the courage to try it I found out it was good tasting fish with some sort of veggies or potato (still not sure).

Jan 11

Went to a cave! I have to confess I was scared I would have a panic attack. That feeling of being locked away in the dark scares me more than sky diving. I was in there for more than an hour, I felt so glad I forced myself to go in. Nature is truly the best artist. Some of the calcium formations get mixed with iron and make beautiful reddish sculptures.

We then walked to the top of the Pai Inacio Morro. Once on top the guides told us the story of a general’s wife that falls in love with a slave, Inacio. When the general finds out Inacio takes refuge in a Chapada Diamantine. The general looks for him everywhere and finally corners him and asks that he turn him self in. Inacio responds, “I would rather give myself to nature” and jumps off. Our guide jumps off as he says the last words of the story, leaving everyone in shock. It is believed that just as our guide managed to land on the rock platform surrounding the mountain so did Pai Inacio (his body was never found).

We had a Capoeira presentation waiting for us back in the hotel. My roommates accidentally lock me in my room for the first 5 minutes of it. At the end I try taking a picture with this insanely good and Capoeirista dwarf. When all of the sudden I feel his little daring hand trying to grab my ass. Can you believe that!

We stayed up playing murder (card game), and talking. One of the Germans taught me how to jump start.

Jan 12 Salvador

We arrive on Praia do Forte to visit Projecto Tamar- which protects and educates the public on marine turtles. Afterwards we got a chance to walk around and see the artesian.

Jan 13 Historical City of Salvador

We had to take an elevator to reach the older part of the city where the first medical school was founded and where one most beautiful churches in the world is located according to travel channel. It contained 1 ton of gold which along with me threatened to melt with the heat. I got really sick that day. I fell 3 times and vomited.

Jan 14th

Because of having felt sick the day before, I was unfortunately not allowed to go on the boat trip to Ilha dos Frades. I felt more angry than sick. I hate missing out!

Jan 15

I’ve spent 17 hours on bus and swear I could write a manual on all the different sleeping position one can try to sleep in a bus.

Jan 16 Recife, the shark attack capital of Brazil and the capital of Pernambuco

The beach is surrounded by a reef which allows people to swim safely when the tide is low. The city has a strong influence from the Dutch which claimed it as theirs for some years. We visited a prison which has been transformed into a market. The market has a mural depicting the two major revolutions which took place in Brazil; the breaking away from Portugal and the Northeast’s Civil war (they wanted to break away from the rest of Brazil because they were the ones that produced the grand majority of money and felt like they were carrying the rest of the country on their back).

Jan 17 Proto Das Galihns (chicken port) -Recife

In antiquity the port was know as Porto Rico, because of the Pau Brasil (Used by the aristocrats to dye cloths) production. In the XVIII Century after the Princes of Portugal liberated the slaves, the boats trafficked the Africans by hiding them in the lowest level and displaying chickens on top. “The chickens are here” became code and soon the port took it as a name.

The beach was occupied on every inch. When we finally found a place to sit salesmen started trying to sell us jewelry, food, pina coladas… they were willing to get you anything you asked for. We went on this Jangadas (native boats that barely scarp the surface) to access the reefs which were hard to walk on because they were full of stabbing sea urchins. I lost my shoes with the waves and got a little distracted following the fish. When I put my head above water I had lost the group.

The Hotel had a pool on the top floor and a border balcony which I feel in love with. I sat there for hours looking at the ocean. I really wish I would have brought my recorder. I feel so inspired. Music is pouring out of me and I have no way of saving it.

My neighbors in the hotel were supermodels that were competing to win Minina Fantastica. I stayed up singing for them and talking.

Jan 18 Bus (onibus, busseta)

Jan 19 Fortaleza

The city’s economy is greatly based on the export of leather goods and flowers, which are perfect for cultivation in the Sierras. Fortalezians are famous for their sense of humor; some of Brazils best comedians come from this region. They are a mix of Indian, African, and European blood. The beaches are agitated, perfect for surfing. In the Cumbuco Praia we got the chance to horse back ride. Oh how I miss horses. I spent my lunch money on horses. I rode a mule that refused to move. I rode one whose seat fell off as I rode. Then I rode a potranco who had not yet been taught to stop and one whose name was Shakira.

We went to the biggest outside artesan market in Brazil. Knowing that they would try to take advantage of them because of their lack of Portuguese and “gringo face” I tried to help my friends bargain. Antioquenians (the state I was born in Colombia) are famous for bargaining – it is said we could sell ice to a polar bear.

Jan 21 Jericoacoara

I’m sitting on the top of the highest sand dune in sight. Staring into the endless sea makes it worth the trouble it took to get here. It started with a 9 hour bus ride and then another hour and a half in special vehicle that is capable of traveling in the dunes. (Looking out of the vehicle’s minute window one could see from donkeys, to cows and birds). Then we walked for hours in the slippery sand and crossed a bull field to get to the top.

We went to Mama Africa (a local boacha). It was completely empty. The DJ was 3 hours late. I loved it anyways because they played some salsa and even though no one was dancing I couldn’t contain myself.

Jan 22.

I went to the beach and met this Argentinean who insisted that I was a famous singer. Then I saw the Norwegian guy (my friend had introduced me to earlier) in a restaurant with some others. It turns out they came to Brazil on a boat; they just stopped in Canada and the Caribbean on the way. They showed me pictures of the voyage. It is amazing!

Jan 23

We went riding buggies to a lake that would have been my dad’s dream vacation. They had hammocks on the water and fried cheese. Later that night we went to a Forro class. I lost an earring, a necklace, broke my glasses, and was head bumped so hard I fell, and they say dancing is a passive sport. I danced and dance and danced some more! I didn’t seem to get tired of it. I danced until the guys that were teaching us got tired. At the end there were only 5 exchange students left and they stopped playing Forro and witched to Reggae.

Jan 23 One more day on the bus

3 hours on the bus: woke up with pain on my back

7 hours on the bus: watched Forrest Gump

10 hours on the bus: became an expert in card games

14 hours on the bus: made flowers from cloth

15 hours on the bus: my eyes and my bunda (buttocks) have become permanently square.

16 hours: arrival

Jan 24 Natal

We visited the 3 kings fort and go back to the hotel to enjoy the pool, beach, and samba band. At night a copy Beatles group (Argentineans with a bad British accent and decent costumes) were having a concert at the hotel. Although the tickets cost 50 Reais, they let me go in for free.

Jan 25 Aracaju

We travel on the bus all day and stop to sleep…You get so close to the other exchange students. I think you get closer than you would like to. I was alone in the room and felt like sinning “I feel good ” by James Brown in the shower. I had no idea there was a group of guys gathered just to listen to me in the room above. So embarrassing!

Jan 27 Itacare

After traveling all day yesterday we have finally arrived in the small but lively town. It relies heavily on fishing and tourism. It has some really cool stores to walk around.

Jan 28

We visited about 6 different beaches in one day, walked for miles on a mountain trail to get to some of them. Some were deserted and rocky, others were extensive and smooth. By far these are the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

Jan 30

I’m lying on a hammock in the Porto Seguro beach listening to Roberto Carlos. This music reminds me so much of my dad. Papi te amo!

1st of February Porto Seguro

Went kayaking on the beach and visited the place where the Portuguese first arrived 500 years ago. We visited the 1st 3 churches ever built in Brazil. Went to a Barraca that had a dance floor, presentations and sprinklers.

Feb. 3 Rio de Janeiro!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve dreamt about this city since I was eight years old. I remember watching El Clone and falling in love with the pictures. The first thing I looked up when Google earth came out was Rio.

We went to visit the Maracanã one of the biggest football stadiums in the world, and got a tour of the trophies, memorabilia, and locker rooms. I stepped where Pele stepped! Then went to where the Portuguese royal family first arrived when running away form Napoleon. Having arrived bald, the novel woman were not what high society Cariocans (what people from Rio are called, meaning literately house of the white men in the indigenous language) expected. We passed by the tower that Juscelin Kubitschek tied horses around to show he’d taken control. We visited an 18th century café that is perfectly preserved till today.

We went up to Pao de Azucar (Sugarloaf) using the teleferico, a small, air-less, glass box that transports one up the mountain thou a cable. I think I have officially gotten over claustrophobia. I did get kind of anxious but Estefy (Miss. Mexico) helped me keep distracted by playing some Reggeton for me. The view was totally worth it. You could see all the bays and beaches of Rio, and the oval mountains that resemble whole chucks of rock.

We had a samba and funky class in a gym near the Rosita flabela. I swear I got the hang of samba for about 5 minutes and then lost it again.

Feb. 4th

We finally got to see post card of Brasil, the Christ! We took a 30 minute train up the mountain which was covered with north Atlantic vegetation (Açai, Jaca, (which is actually from India and has to be controlled so it doesn’t take over the native plants), Orquidias, Bromélias, Caju, and the most gorgeous grey trees that not only have ants living inside them but are home to the Orzo Peregisa). Once on top the first thing I looked at was the amazing view of the city; what was behind me got me completely by surprise when I turned around. It’s one of the most majestic and magical things I’ve seen. I will never forget that moment!

Later that day we went to the famous beach of Ipanema (Garota de Ipanema), where I didn’t get to take any pictures because I ripped my top. Yes, ripped my top! There was a guy selling bikinis so I tried one on and as I took off mine, one of the sides came out of the string. After 1 hour of failed attempts I decided to buy the one I had on (Which didn’t fit me right and came off with the first wave), just so I could go in the sea. We left 5 minutes later.

At night we got the chance to assist the Flamengo vs. Mosquitas in the Maracanã. The Flamenco fans were painted from head to toe in red and the Mosquita fans where virtually invisible. At the end of the game we walked out of the stadium loudly singing nonsense in German. Some people were pleased and joined us and one insulted us.

Feb 5th

We had the award giving on the bus. I won most unforgettable person and most forgetful person. The trip had finally come to an end. Some cried when the Londrina people got off at the bus station. We waited 8 hours for our bus which left at 9 pm to arrive. I got to Londrina at 5 am the next day and took a taxi home.

Feb 6

On one side it feels great being back home, but it feels really weird at the same time knowing I would wake up at the same place the next day. I was really looking forward to getting in touch with my friends back home and my family who I haven’t talked to for a while, but the computers are getting fixed!

Feb 9

Can’t believe I survived without Internet for almost 2 months!


May 25 Journal

Coming back to school was different from the first time. 7 months have passed by; we are no longer the new puppy. Things are no longer new but familiar; however, I’m still am love with the glittering Igapos, the trees, flowers, the people and the dances!
February 13

In this exchange, I wanted an independence from the people I love and very often depend on. I do not want to depend on friends and family to feel secure or happy but as I found out location does not solve the problem. I still feel like I need them. At first, I thought I had resolved the issue by keeping myself busy, and surrounded by people. But as I’ve come to realize no matter how surrounded by people you are you can still feel lonely. I craved a friend but not just those you see in a nightclub or meet in school. Those who are unconditional, real, loving and fun, my Jo Jo and Kell.

The 150 Reais dance

I went to a nightclub with some friends. I was completely lost in the light, smoke and music. I felt like in a cloud, just feeling the beat, moving with my eyes closed. when all of the sudden I opened my eyes and Gravity brings me down from the cloud I was in and back to reality when I notice my purse, money and the 3 cell phones I was carrying for my friends are gone. I talked to the police and security, which told me a couple had given them a bag and left. I guess they did not like the bag or the M&M jar in the bag because that is the only thing they left in it. Thank god that they did not take the chocolate because that is where I always carry my thick money.

Too much has happened to write it all out! But in summary it can be reduced to one word-Carnaval! I went to Floripa with some exchangers; it was about 8 hours away in a mini bus. We danced in the bus, talked and listened to the Mexicans’ regetton the whole way. The first night we went out and walked around town, and listened to some local bands that were playing. When we get back to the apartment, I find out, I was assigned a baby bed.

Day 2

We go to the beach near the hotel. The water is freezing and I buy the most elaborate piña colada to warm me up. We then go to a fantasy street parade, in which it is tradition for guys to dress like girls. I helped the guys from our group put on thick whorish make up. They looked like body building cracked hookers with short skirts… Afterwards we went to a Carnaval block parade. They had drummers dressed in white, dancers and even tall figurets. I imitated the dancers, jumped, and turned until the end of the parade. It was raining; people were throwing foam everywhere, kissing, and hugging. We danced in front of the cars and were held back. It could not have been anymore chaotically perfect.

Day 3

We went to Joaquin beach. I drake some açai, got sun burned, climbed rocks, and broke my camera. We did some sand boarding in the famous Joaquin dunes. I fell a million times and swallowed too much sand. Later that night we went to Circuit (a hip-pop club) in which Ja-rule was presenting. Back in the hotel one girl tried to jump the fence and cut her foot, which led to Marcela (supervisor) locking the door to prevent any further attempts of escape. I was taking a shower on the room next door and was consequently locked out of my own room. I knocked for a while with no response, and had to I slept outside.

Day 4

One of the guys from the group flashed someone through the window of the van. Back in the U.S. this would have been taken as a joke but the locals took it very severely and wanted to beat them up. I now understand why we had security with us. Our guide told us a week before Carnaval he saw a man shot on the beach. It takes seconds to take away years of a life. Nothing happed to us but it makes you realize how danger is everywhere, and how cultural mistakes can be severely punished. Be careful future exchangers J… we went to another drum parade, and then went swimming in the –3 degree ocean water. We then made a campfire outside and fell asleep.

Day 5

I slept 3 hours last night and woke up just in time for the goodbye bbq. We got to Londrina in the early morning, and the next day went to the Rotary orientation camp in Rolandia. It was amazing! We swam during the day and at night stayed up playing the guitar and singing. We did everything but sleep. This month has been completely sleepless.

Quincianhera!

In Brazil, a girl turning 15 is a big deal! Just think of prom multiplied by 8. I was invited to my friend, Heloise’s 15-birthday party. She looked so beautiful. She performed a samba routine and had the most beautiful dresses. Yes dresses; an opening dress, a waltz dress, and a party dress! Every inch of the room was decorated with purple and white flowers! Everything was meticulously planed out. She even made the waffle station waiters dress like Minnie Mouse.

In the neighborhood

My best friend is my 64-year-old Buddhist neighbor. She was born in Philadelphia but lives part time in Brazil with her son and daughter in law. She tells me stories of her crazy life and I ask her for advice with mine. Every time I visit her, I am bombarded by her three extreme grandkids. Last time I went there the kids wanted to play horse on the trampoline and guess who they want to be the horse, me of course!

Two-week family

I went to koala karaoke with my host brother last night. I sang horribly, but what are karaokes for if not that. I moved families 2 days ago and I love having older siblings. One turns 22 today and is a rock star from head to toe. My older sis is 25; she is so easy to talk to! The one I went to sing the karaoke with is Jr, he is 19 years old and is studying to be a veterinarian. He wears cowboy boots in the middle of the summer and has a unique careless personality that I love about him! My host dad works with bikes and is studying to become a parapenting instructor. My host mom, Donha Rosita is a house-wife, and loves cooking. Although she has a maid she insists in doing most by herself…I love them all!

College churrascos

My brother invited me to a university party with him. Each course hosts a party once a year. They usually have from 500 to 2,000 people, and are held in farms. I lost my brother with all the people. It is so cool how I can just go anywhere and meet people I know, in a city of 500,000 it’s nice being able to do that. At the end I meet up with him at bar. When we were leaving we found out we had to pay cover. My brother had a spat with the doorman about the cover so they called a lawyer and the police. 2 hours later, we left with out paying cover. We went to the police station to place a statement but the computer was broken. This circus night made me realize that some things never change regardless of which country you’re in. People are people no matter where you go; they all have a certain degree of pride that blinds at times and lawyers will always be there in those moments.

Uni

My host sister invited me to go to a University class with her. Here University is free in government schools, which are considered better then private schools. The Law and Medicine department get the majority of the resources; the other buildings don’t even get air conditioning…There are people who go to the school just to listen to the classes. I want to attend the music classes here, so I went to talk to the person in charge. I take a number and decide to go to the bathroom while I am waiting, and once again, I am stuck in it. THE DOOR is stuck and I have to climb over it. I am afraid to jump because the bathroom door is too high so I scream for about 15 minutes when someone finally comes to help me. I missed my number and had a hard time explaining why. What a way to make a first impression.

Party at Pipinelas

I went to Pipinelas (republica) it’s a huge and completely trashed college house. The pool is green and looks like it would give you a disease if you were to go in it. They were rolling barrels down a hill with people inside them. As if I did not already know the people here were crazy, this girl comes up to me wanting to argue against capitalism and telling how horrible American wasteful consumption was. As if she was not enough, everyone I mentioned to that I was born in Colombia would want to talk to me about either drugs or FARC. I got tired of it fast! After playing some pool and losing a couple times, I went home.

Moving families again.

The family I was in was not scheduled by Rotary, they were presented to me by my Rotary family and invited me to stay with them for a couple weeks. Some of the best weeks of this exchange. The new family seems nice but I am anxious and scared! I went to eat lunch with them and was completely intimidated by my host dad, Zamba. He’s a chemistry teacher with the peril of Shaquille O’Neal and huge magnifying glasses that make his eyes look even more critical then they already are. As soon as the topic of going out came up, he started getting irritated. I think my host brother from the second family; Eduardo who is the best friend with my new host brother did me one last favor and told them his perspectives of me.

Expo

Exposition, is an agrarian fair held in Londrina. It is one of the biggest in South America! It’s 2 weeks of concerts, rodeo, and cows! Sertenegio (Brazilian country) is the music exploding out of cars during this time of the year, and cowboy hats are worn even at night when there is no sun. The whole city floods there to walk around, eat, go to the amusement park, and buy all kinds of leather products. I went to almost all the shows and to one rodeo. About the rodeo; let’s just say PETA would be indignated. It’s something I have never seen before. The tying little cows up event seemed pretty cruel; I did however, love seeing the horses jump to a start in the barrel event and the clowns run away form the bulls after the rider falls… I saw the Victor e Leo, Fernando Sarocaba, and Joan Bosco e Vinicious shows; all Sertenegio couples, and all attended by couples only and me of course. The concerts are held in a giant arena and the rule of thumb is let in as many in as can fit. The only concert not attended by in-love couples and country loving people is NXY0; they are infamous for their emotional fans. It was quite the opposite of what I had been seen all week, instead of cowboy boots and big bleats everyone was wearing black! It’s as if they had requested a uniform to attend the concert. Unfortunately I wasn’t warned about this and you could probably be see me from the stage like a white polka-dot. Which I think is the reason one of the artist threw a CD in my direction. I was almost killed for it; I only realized the CD had fallen in my hands when I felt ten big-bodied fanatic women jumping me.

Easter

I have 2 new hobbies this time of the year! Chocolates and sleeping. We came to visit my extended family in Corbelia, a 1,600 inhabitant city. Everyone already knew i was coming and where I was from. I have literately crazy uncles! One of them is deaf and tried to read my hand. The other one is bipolar and gets mad when it doesn’t rain. I find a lot charm in this small town. I love it how everyone knows everyone. I don’t like it how they try and treat me special, when all I want is to be one of them.

People are very religious in this town and attending mass on Sundays is one of their main priories. Because it’s Easter they go every day! The mass lasts from 2-3 hours. I can’t understand a word the priest says because he looks mortally ill and sings every word. It is really hard to stay awake! I have gone to Catholic Church here more than I have in a year worth of time in the U.S. Everyone at church today went up to kiss the Christ figure. That means that the whole town’s saliva was going to be on that Christ. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about doing that but I didn’t want to be disrespectful.

Age levels and sexes have distinct roles and are treated differently. In the U.S. the young sit with the old and vice versa, here the young sit separately in another table or on the other side of the table. Women are expected to be the ones who clean the dishes, cook, and pick up the plates. Something I’m not too enthusiastic about either, but it’s within their interpretation of Christian values.

April 13 terrifying!

I have 3 months left. 3 months to get ready for what awaits me when I come back. 3 months to do all I have ever wanted to do in Brazil. 3 months to say goodbye. Because although I may come back it will never be the same. Right now life is good my only job is having fun and meeting people. This makes me even more anxious about what awaits me. College, SATs, a job… in more then one way this year was an escape for me. An escape from my family problems and a stressful senior year; one more year to think about the present and forget the future; however, eventually I have to go back to face it all.

The kind of days I’ll miss

I went to my friend’s house and got completely lost on the way. Yes I will never know Londrina enough to not get lost. However, with my luck, I not only get lost but it starts thundering as well. I got there soaking wet but it didn’t matter cause we were going swimming anyways. We spent the day eating chocolates from Easter and cheese with crackers. I walk home, and start petting my friends dog that was on the street. I meet her brother who invites me to a birthday party. After the birthday, I go with my friend’s bro to go watch a Sao Paulo game. I learn some Sao Paulo songs and I talk and chill with his friends a while.

April 17

I was going to go to a friend’s birthday but could not find a ride. Rides are probably an exchange student’s biggest problem. My friend’s host parents always take them and sometimes they give me a ride as well but my parents never do. Which leaves me by foot during the day and at night it leaves me to try a variety of alternative cheap methods of transportation, ranging from the motor-taxi to the roof bus… my sister is having a little bbq in the condominium with about 5 of her friends, since I couldn’t find a ride I decide to stay. I leave my purse with them and go look for a jacket, when I come back it is gone. I called my cell but it is turned off. It was basically stolen within the house, inside the condominium, Inside the electrified walls with security guard walking around every 30 minutes!

I was invited to a Wedding.

It wasn’t fancy but it was filled with love. The flowers were made with paper and the cake was fake (just for decoration). However, none of this matters! It was not like one of those fake weddings you see in Bridezilla that take millions to build, and fall apart 2 months later. Like in every weeding there was delicious food, a flying bouquet, and like always a drunken great uncle asking everyone out to dance. There was however, a new tradition I have never seen. They cut up the grooms tie into little pieces and went form table to table making noise with coke bottles and silverware forcing the men from the wedding party to pay for the tie scraps.

2 day District conference

opening dinner

I was on my way out of the house when I get a smiley face with a birthday hat, from my dad on msn. I immediately respond, “dad it’s not my birthday and your birthday is tomorrow.” He responds, “No honey its today. I had planned to write letter telling him how much he means to me and wishing him 50 more years but instead I gave him a quick birthday wish and left for Rotary. This weekend is the annual district conference and I have to sing for them; I’ve been so stressed that I forgot about my dad’s birthday. All the exchange students from the district stayed in a posada to attend the meetings…The opening dinner was beautifully decorated with the most exotic flowers draping from glass bases. There were people from all over the district dressed with their fancy dresses and elaborate suits. Even the exchanges dressed up. I loved seen all the guys who I’m used to seen in shorts and flip-flops with ties on. The food was delicious and so was the white wine. We then went back to the posada to “sleep”.

talent show

Having slept an hour, we wake up to practice for the talent show. Everyone has everything together. The Indian dances and Latin ones are amazing. Two people even wrote a song dedicated to the exchange year! i was singing amazing grace and was still not sure about the music. So after drinking a jar of honey warmed up my voice and went to the Rotary place. We nervously waited 5 hours for it to start. When it came time for the show, I spilled something on my white dress and had to go home to clean it. I made it just in time. When they called my name, I had just gotten there. I rushed to the stage and can’t remember the lyrics; I start trembling and move one leg so it stops shaking but then the other one starts shaking. It has been 7 months since I sang in public and I am terrified. So I just close my eyes and sing it to God. It’s such an inspiring song! Before I notice it’s done everyone stands up to applaud. What a rush. Afterwards we go to the posada again for another sleepless night.


August 20 Journal


June
I’ve been going out a ton! There’s been a party every day and I don’t know how to say no to a party! It’s all been too much! Too many new things to deal with! Too many men! Too many people! Too many parties! Too little time! Too much gossip! I passed my limit! This one night I made a mistake which led to another one and another one and yet one more and before I knew it, it was day time. I woke up at a friend’s couch and got home at 8 am. What happened I don’t clearly remember! What I do vividly remember is the look on my host mom’s face! I decided to change. Take better care of myself. I’ve been putting myself at risk and I haven’t been responsible.

When I got to Brazil I decided to establish couple of rules for myself. Rules that no one but me enforced; not Rotary, not my parents, not my host parents, just me. My first rule was respect! Respect for myself and respect for others. This meant respecting my body enough not to intoxicate it, respecting others enough not to judge them but understand them. I also decided that I would do only things that I would not regret doing or not doing. I broke this rule and there is no going back to undo. From what’s done and said there is no return. The past is history – it may change our present but it’s the way we look at our past that decides who we’ll be and the only future there is, is the one we choose to make for ourselves. I learned, changed and moved on; my current host mom did the same. She didn’t hold it against me; she forgave me and moved on. But of course I couldn’t expect everyone else to do the same. There is so much gossip in Londrina! It’s as if the whole world had nothing better to do than to talk about me. Talk about what I did, what I didn’t do. What they THOUGHT I did. What they wish I would have done. What they thought I should have done. What they think about what I did. What they think that I think. What they think they know….and it’s like the telephone game it has a snow ball effect. Someone heard 4 men, 2 women, after a party, in an after party at an apartment…and they decided to make their perverted and elaborate fantasies of what could have happened but didn’t happen. Eventually the wild fire got to my second host mom who told my current host mom… I was so ashamed, embarrassed, miserable and afraid. I was scared of what could have happened. I was ashamed and embarrassed of what the people I care most about thought of me, but most of all terrified that they would replace all the good memories, respect and trust they had for me with this. With THIS THAT I´M NOT!!!

It’s been two weeks and I haven’t gone out past 11 pm, and I can feel the music of the night clubs in my head while I sleep on Friday nights. I can hear the light calling me to dance. Worst of all I can see my friends having fun! And I want to be there, but I’m not, not because of my current host mom but because my second host mom advised me not to. These are the advantages of having more than one mom! Very few people forgive completely. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a friend’s dad. I was telling him how I forgive but never forget, and I do this to prevent any further damage. I remember him telling me I that I was wrong – that when you forgive you must forget and move on “or else you’re a liar”. I remember feeling offended when he called me a liar, but now more than ever I understand how we are all liars, we are all sinners, and we all make mistakes. The difference is that some make mistakes more discreetly than others. I’ve never been graceful and I’ve always been clumsy. I’m not discreet, I wear my heart on sleeve and anyone can always tell how I feel just by looking at me. And if you look at me I ask you not to judge me because unless you’ve been to another country and have lived what I’ve lived you won’t be able to understand.

What people think of others is rarely accurate but it doesn’t matter if it’s the truth or a lie. To that one person it will be the truth; in that case we could say there are many real truths to many different people. Religion and ethics can be considered one this truths. Buddhism is as truthful and real to the Buddhist as Christianity is to a Christian. Even with ethics, what’s right to you might not be right to me. Is there an international code of ethics? I don’t believe so but John Locke seemed to think so. Now who am I to say he was wrong? What I’m trying to get at is that, it is irrelevant who is right and who’s wrong. Who knows the truth and who believes a lie. My father always told me “no es solo ser si no parecer”. In other words you can’t only be good but you have to look like you’re good. And I always thought this was so diplomatic of him, to put it in polite terms. I hate diplomacy; to me it’s another word for fakeness. My Mom, Dad, Aunt Clara, Uncle Duque and Grandma Maruja are all experts at it. They’ve all tried to teach how to be diplomatic and I’ve never been able to do it. How can you smile at something that you know it’s wrong. Anyways whether I like it or not, like always he was right. When you are an ambassador unfortunately what people think matters, so you don’t only have to be it but you have to look it.

July

I went to a karaoke with Natasha, Mari, Shiloh and Siri. It was so much fun being just girls and acting crazy, and singing bad. I met this girl that just got back from exchange in Turkey…it turns out that she knows John. What a small world.

Presentation

I did my Rotary presentation! It was hard to prepare because I didn’t have a computer to prepare it on. Although I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I made it happen. I first presented at my club and then at the two neighboring ones. The first time around everything went wrong. I was late, the sound system didn’t work, I tripped over the cables, my camera died, my jokes failed miserably, I passed the time limit and I made everyone cry! The second and third time I was told that it was the best exchange student presentation they have ever attended, and both clubs asked me to pass it in writing so that they can publish it. I ´m going to post a part of it up for you guys to see. It’s in Portuguese so future exchange students to Brazil this is the test to see if you’re ready.

Minha filosofia de vida é baseada nos seguintes pensamentos: Vida é sobre escolher como usá-la para tocar alguém de um jeito que nunca poderia ser atingido. Felicidade é uma decisão, e obstáculos são montanhas que prometem uma boa vista no topo. O passado talvez ajude a nos concretizar, mas é uma opção e o jeito que escolhermos olhar a vida, que define verdadeiramente a pessoa que você é, e Você provavelmente deve estar imaginando, “quem é a pessoa que teve a oportunidade de viajar para fora”. Eu sou uma mulher com bastante ambição, eu sou uma artista que aspira estudar música no Julliard, e inspirar pessoas com minha música, eu sou uma futura embaixadora da U.N.

Eu nasci em Medellín, Colômbia, um dos países mais bonitos que eu já vi. Andar a cavalo nas montanhas era minha coisa favorita, se você andar de manhã sentirá o orvalho das flores, e poderá ver a parte mais bonita dos Andes e do rio Cauca. Eu passava a maior parte das minhas férias de verão em Santa Marta, lá você pode ir dos nevados à praia em menos de 100 quilômetros. Era um paraíso para mim, andar na praia e ouvir os tambores por todas as partes. Eu era uma criança muito privilegiava e mimada.

Infelizmente o paraíso não era mais seguro para minha família, chegou num ponto em que minha mãe era perseguida até nossa casa, tínhamos muitas ameaças e cheguei até a ser seqüestrada. Por essa razão nos mudamos para o estado de Colorado nos Estados Unidos. Investimos todo nosso dinheiro num restaurante e depois de 11 de setembro perdemos tudo, mas aprendemos a ser mais humildes. Todas as mudanças tiverem um péssimo efeito sobre meus pais; eles se separaram. Meu pai mudou pra Flórida, e meu irmão e eu ficamos com minha mãe. Nesta época comecei a escrever música como nunca antes. A música era minha fonte de expressão, tirava minha tristeza e fraqueza e me deixava forte e positiva.

Após um tempo meus pais se juntaram novamente e mudamos para Flórida. As coisas começaram a se acalmar, eu comecei a ir para um colégio especializado em música, que requeria que eu acordasse às 5 horas e chegasse em casa às 19 horas. eu tomava 8 aulas curriculares avançadas e 8 de música. Freqüentei essa escola até oito de fevereiro de 2007. Nesta data mudei para Colômbia. A decisão de ficar lá 6 meses me fez amar a cultura, a salsa, o merinque, o vallenato, e a cozinha da minha vó…eu sinto orgulho de dizer que sou uma latina que não perdeu sua língua, mas definitivamente cresci com cada lugar que visitei e agreguei um pedaço ao meu ser de cada pessoa que conheci.

Eu também aprendi a amar os Estados Unidos como meu próprio país, e sinto que sou uma boa embaixadora dos Estados Unidos porque ele é igual a mim, é um mosaico, e os estadunidenses são pessoas de todas a partes do planeta que vieram a procura de liberdade e oportunidade. Desde o meu retorno da Colômbia eu e assisti Cypress Bay, (o colégio da serie “The news Paper” da MTV) e persegui meu sonho de ser uma aluna de intercâmbio. Eu agradeço a vocês por terem me considerado para este programa, de ter a oportunidade de experimentar, aprender e sentir diferentes culturas.

Este ano eu fiz coisas que só tinha sonhado! Fiz rafting, rapeling, tentei dançar samba, fiz aula de capoeira e circo…viajei para mais de 25 cidades entre elas Brasília, Lençóis, Salvador, Itacaré, Recife, Jeriquaquara, Porto Seguro, Rio de Janeiro, Corvélia, Florianópolis, Jaraguá do Sul, Piçarras, Camburiú, Cayon Guartela… foi um ano cheio de sabores e experiências novas. Eu conheci um dos lugares mais bonitos do mundo, e convivi com um dos povos mais alegres e lindos que tem! Amadureci muito! A pessoa que volta não é a mesma que chegou. Quando deci do avião eu era uma minina ansiosa, nervosa, e até insegura. A mulher que volta é uma cheia de confiança em si mesma e uma mulher que conhece suas fraquezas e forças.

Tive a sorte de ter 5 incríveis famílias, cada uma diferente e especial. Uma mãe de Minas, um irmão rockero, uma avó italiana, uns tios doidos, um pai paraquedista, umas outras mães que me fizerem engordar vários quilos… mais de todos absolutamente todos aprendi muito. Minha primeira família não era a típica família brasileira que eu esperava. Vindo de uma família que fala demais, abraça demais, e sempre demonstra sentimentos; para mim era esquisito o silêncio, me sentia incomoda com ele. Mas com este aprendi que não se precisa sempre de palavras para mostrar sentimentos, um só olhar pode falar muito, você pode mostrar amor, raiva ou tristeza. Na minha segunda família eu me sentia em casa. Até hoje, quando vou visitar nem preciso tocar a campainha. Minha mãe (Garcia) não só é minha maior confidente mas uma amiga com quem posso dançar e cantar a tarde toda. E meu pai (Ivo) é uma pessoa que respeito demais, ele é muito sensato e resolve problemas com a maior tranqüilidade, sei que sempre me dará bons conselhos. Minhas últimas 3 famílias abriram as portas de suas casas para mim sem a menor obrigação. Elas me deram a oportunidade de os conhecer e isso era tudo que eu podia pedir.

No Brasil aprendi a diferença entre amigos e companheiros. Aprendi a ser uma boa amiga sem esperar nada em retorno; e o importante que são as qualidades como a lealdade, e sinceridade em uma pessoa. Compartilhei não só com brasileiros mas com gente de todas partes do mudo. Aprendi que apesar de que sermos de diferentes partes do mundo, rirmos de diferentes piadas, comermos diferentes comidas, termos diferentes costumes, no fim somos iguais. Todos rimos, todos choramos, todos amamos, e todos sentimos saudades, saudades que vão me matar no dia 28 de Julho quando eu embarcar nesse avião às 12 horas; meu coração vai ficar fragmentado, por que vou deixar um pedaço com vocês. Quando a saudade for demais, olharei aquelas fotos, escutarei aquelas musicas, ligarei, até poderei voltar mas não será igual. Nunca terei todos vocês reunidos.

Concluindo, eu não me arrependo de nada do que tenha acontecido ou que tenha feito porque tudo o que aconteceu me transformou na pessoa que sou hoje. Sou uma mulher que vive sua vida com paixão de aspirar e inspirar de uma maneira positiva.

Rugby churrasco

I have a friend from Denmark that has been a part of the Londrina Rugby team. The guys from the team were throwing him a goodbye party. This party was in the middle of the ghetto! With people that if I’d seen in an alley at night, I would have probably run. However to my surprise the scariest biggest guys were the nicest! Yes a bit weird. Like one of them liked being hit!… They were making up pump up songs they sing before games, something like a pep-rally songs before football games; so cool.

Surprise from home

My parents are moving back to Colombia! My dad got a new job. He leaves in 3 months!!! I know it’s the best for my parents and I’m supposed to be happy for them, but I just feel worried and scared. I don’t know what to do! I don’t know where I’m going to live, work, or study! Although I love Colombia I can’t do university there! Not only because it would take me too long to catch up with the academic requirements to attend university there but because I’m not sure if I want to live in Colombia the rest of my life. You see a diploma from Colombia is not valid in the U.S. but an American one is valid in Colombia. (However this doesn’t make any sense because it’s the same if not harder to graduate in Colombia.) Being away this year made me realize how much I need my parents! How I’m not ready to be on my own. How much I want them to be there one last time, one last year! I basically get back and have to say goodbye again.

Life what a crazy mess.

So I moved out of my family’s house because they were traveling. I went to a friend’s house for the week, until Rotary found a family for me. They were angels, especially the brother! He let me stay in his room; use his bathroom, his computer and his bed! Not even his sister which is the reason I went there was so special with me. He is so patient and mature for a 13 year old! I guess life is fair. He made up for the other brother. But yea, o brother, I´m probably going to go back to that brother’s house again! Something which I’m so afraid of… Rotary hasn’t found a family for me.

Two weeks later

Frankly I don’t know how else to put it, but this sucks! I have felt like an un-wanted guest enough! I want a family! It’s not okay that I stay with friends or friends of the family.

Volunteering

Throughout this year I’ve been working at the cancer hospital with children that are undergoing chemotherapy. Right up there with saying goodbye it’s probably the hardest and the most important thing I’ve done in Brazil. It’s especially difficult for me; I can’t watch the Lion King or Bambi without a tear. I couldn’t be psychologist, because I cry when I see somebody cry. However this kids, they don’t need sympathy and tears, they need strength, love, and laughter. And those are exactly the 3 things I’ve learned from them. They are so brave! There is this little boy I visited last week. His lips were bloody, he had discoloration spots, not a single hair on his body and yet he was ready to keep on fighting. The nurse simply asked him what side and he calmly responded. Whereas I, an 18 year old “adult” would run way if shown a needle. There’s this other girl, even though she literally receives a dose of poison every day, she still manages to smile every time I come in. I don’t do much, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special. I bring in colored pencils and paper and I let them make fun of my funny accent. And it’s probably more important to me then to them. I have learned more from them then they have learned from me. I’ve learned from their braveness, simplicity, and joy.

The only really disturbing thing I’ve seen working there is this woman I meet. She’s been a volunteer for a long time. I was talking to her in elevator and telling her how difficult it was for me to see children undergoing pain. I asked how she dealt with it and she answered that because she was a Spirtist she believed that it was karma that probably the children had done something really horrible in their past life and that now they were just paying for it! How can someone believe these sweet and innocent children deserve this! I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy!

My last family

Because Rotary has not contacted me with any response, I asked the family friends that I lived with for 3 weeks if they would take me in as their daughter until the end of my exchange.

I went to church with my mom and at the end of the service they showed a video about America’s wasteful and exaggerate consumption! This video explained how our life has become all about obtaining, buying, and consuming. We consume 1/3 of the world’s resources leaving people from other countries to pay the price. Families that for generations have been sustained by their environment are being forced to move to cities to work in factories with low pay and toxic conditions. You see, 99% of the things we buy become trash within a year. Trash that is stored underground polluting the water system or burned polluting the air. You can learn more at http://www.storyofstuff.com … Nossa (omg) I wanted to melt into my chair.

Today the extended family came over for a BBQ. Everything about it was different; from the food to the topics! We eat Antra and Capivara meat! My host mom made this pumpkin filled with a meat; it tasted like heaven! I also had a unusual conversation with my host aunt. The first thing she told me is “you must be getting used to living with little resources; I mean we are a third world county.” I was very confused when she said this. Brazil a, “third world nation” offers things that in U.S. we only dream of: the best Universities are free, health care is provided for everyone…it is a county in which the middle class in growing and life does not revolve around work. In the U.S. the kind of person you are no longer matters. We are not viewed as people but as professionals – you’re no longer John, you’re the John the lawyer or John the nanny.

After lunch the family conversation shifted to men…my host uncle asked me if I had gone out last night and if I had found a “paquerinha to give amasos”. “Amasos” as he explained as touching and “paquera” as a one night stand… they talk about everything so openly! For example I was asked what pumpkin is in Spanish and I told them calabasa. Here calabasa is a woman who is a virgin when she marries. As soon as they heard this, my other host uncle asks me if in my culture we make it an issue to marry a virgin!

Oh and yea I found out my host aunt is a spiritist just like the other woman that worked with me at the cancer hospital. The worst part is that she also believes in Christ. Which is even more confusing than our discussion. The basis of Christianity is forgiveness; believing as true that Christ died for our sins and that because of him we don’t have to suffer. I don’t understand how someone that claims to believe in Jesus Christ can consider the Hammurabi law as fair!!!! Eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind!

By dinner time they moved on to talk about religion! I can’t believe I managed to break my mom’s 3 rules in one day! They were arguing loudly and passionately. I don’t know why I was stupid enough to share my viewpoint. I was asked which I thought was the richest country in the world and I said “the Vatican”. I said they shouldn’t build gold churches while people starve. …and Oh noooo, that’s when they exploded. It was an insult to them!!!!!! They said I was ignorant and went on and on how stupid I was. Oh god I wish I would have listened to my mama! Then out of nowhere my host dad said “oh it’s good you’re out of the U.S. because it’s sinking and….” OK, that’s when it hit me, I was hurt. He has no idea, but it’s pointless to talk to someone who won’t listen. Someone that’s made up his mind.

O fim

One last time I went clubbing in Brasil! One last time I heard samba and Sertenegio at Escritorio. It was great I knew just about everyone in the night club. I hugged the security guards goodbye and traded emails with the ladies that take your money.

My last day was a summation of everything that Brazilian people are.

I ran around Centro in the rain trying to get everything done. I sent some photos to print but because I was getting my nails done I wasn’t going to have time to pick them up. But as soon as I motioned my dilemma to the nail lady I found someone that offered to pick them up from the photo shop for me.

I rode the bus one last time. I had a conversation about Michael Jackson with 10 people in the front of the public bus. This would never happen back home. People here are just so open to foreigners. They treat a stranger like their best friend.

The tchau (goodbye)

John Denver’s song kept replaying in my head. I stayed up all night writing goodbye letters. The emotions and lack of sleep got the best of me. You’ll never be prepared to say goodbye, regardless of how many times you’ve done it. I was the last exchange student to leave! I cried so many times at the airport. Said goodbyes so many times yet still I never seemed to get immune to it! Every time I saw that jet plane leave I knew that as surreal as it felt, it was real … the next day it would be me trying to find the strength to climb those freighting stairs. Time passes by whether you’re ready or not! I choked my way past security and onto my seat. As I looked out of that airplane window it was rainy just like when I first arrived, and I remembered how exciting every rain droplet felt. Melancholy takes over when I think of my Londrina. It felt so mine that it became a part of me. That city changed me! The people changed me.

Rotary, thank you so much! This year I did things that I only dreamed of doing. I rafted, I rappelled, I danced samba, I took Capoeira and Circus classes…I traveled to more than 25 cities among them Brasília, Lençóis, Salvador, Itacaré, Recife, Jeriquaquara, Porto Seguro, Rio de Janeiro, Corvélia, Florianópolis, Jaraguá do Sul, Piçarras, Camburiú, Cayon Guartela…It was a year filled with flavors and adventures. No joke when I got on that plane I was an explorer not knowing what to expect. In fact I had expected to be surrounded by snow just a couple days before I embarked. Brasil was a surprise! A pleasant one to say the least! I got to know one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of the most joyful people that exist. I matured a lot! When I arrived I was an anxious, nervous and insecure girl. The woman that returns is one filled with confidence in herself; one that knows her strengths and weaknesses.

I was lucky enough to live with 5 incredible families, each one different and special. A rocker brother, an Italian grandma, a skydiving dad, some crazy uncles, and some chef moms that made me gain a couple pounds (I will roll back to the U.S.). My families weren’t always easy to get along with; in fact they were the most complex and complicated part of it all. But from each one I learned! I thank them for opening their house to a stranger, who eventually became family. I thank the ones that not only opened their houses but their hearts. I offer my sincerest apology if I ever hurt them or made them worry.

In Brazil I learned to be a good friend without expecting anything in return; and the importance of loyalty and sincerity in a person. That the right thing to do can also be the hardest thing to do and the most important. I met not just Brazilians but people from all over. And I learned that even though we come from different parts of the world. Even though we laugh at different jokes, we eat different foods; we have different costumes, in the end we are all the same. We all laugh, we all cry, we all love, and we all feel saudades (home sick), saudades that are killing me right now. As I leave Brazil my heart will leave fragmented, because I will leave a piece with each person I meet. Brazil became my home and I will forever carry the memory of her on me. When homesickness is too much I will look at those pictures, I will listen to those songs, I will call. I could even come back, but I know it won’t be the same.

To the exchangers:

one by one we left, left our hearts in the same place

will be impossible to forget all the memories we made

Although we may see each other again we all know it won’t be the same

we keep thinking time will never change

we keep thinking things will be the same

time is running out

you better blurt it out

As the captain announced we were landing my anxiety grew. Almost like when I arrived in Brazil. After I picked up my bags I didn’t know what to expect. I ran to the exit and found my mom, dad, Tommy and my brother with a bouquet of flowers and balloons standing there. When I see little Tommy wiggle his tail, I speed up to meet them and all my bags fall off the cart, but it’s ok, I’m finally home… The first thing I say after I hug them is “where should I start, the tattoo or the piercing?”. Their faces immediately dropped, so funny! By the way, Mr. Al Kalter, I was just kidding – it’s a henna tattoo. As we went to the car I felt the Florida air fill me, and the humidity stick to me. I had forgotten what it felt like to swim on air.

I woke up the day after completely disoriented; I realized it wasn’t a nightmare nor a dream. This is my bed, my blanket; I can finally say my parents, my room, my computer…it’s so great having my family and friends back, because I know that no matter what I do they will always be there for me! As unconditional as always! It’s funny how distance can bring people together. I really appreciate what I have so much more now. I feel closer to my parents, and my friends. We have a year’s worth of stories to catch up on. Stories that are hard to explain; it’s kind of like explaining color to a blind person or music to a deaf.

When I left, I was partly running away from everything and putting it away in drawer that I would only open after a year. …Now, it feels like everything is the same but me. I was so surprised how it all went back to what it used to be. Some things are the same. My dad still stays up watching old music videos on Saturdays. My brother and I still fight. My friends still wake me up on Sunday mornings.

What has changed is my nationality. When I try speaking Spanish it turns into Portuguese. I went to La Covacha the other day with some friends, and every time I tried dancing salsa it turned into samba.

Joseph “Joey” Simpson
2008-09 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Titusville, Florida
School: Titusville High School, Titusville, Florida
Sponsor: Titusville Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Dormagen Rotary Club, District 1810, Germany

Joey - Germany

Joey’s Bio

 Hello Everyone,

My name is Joey Simpson. I’m presently a junior at Titusville High School, but am fortunate enough to be able to spend my senior year overseas as a Rotary Youth Exchange student!

I was born in Altamonte Springs, FL, and moved to Titusville, FL when I was six weeks old. I have lived here ever since. Our house is right on the Indian River, and we have a great view of launches from Kennedy Space Center. I live with my parents and my two cats, Tiger and Cocoa. I also have two older brothers who have both moved out for college already, making me a single child of sorts.

Growing up on a river sparked an interest of wildlife and nature in me at a young age. I like just about anything to do with nature now. I also like doing things related to theater. I have been involved in our local theater since elementary school, and now it seems I spend all my time there. When I’m not at school or the theater though, I’m probably hanging out at a friends playing rock band or at the beach.

I am anxiously awaiting my upcoming trip, and plan to make the best of it. I hope to learn as much as I can and make friends with everyone I meet.


October 12 Journal

 So I have been in Germany for quite some time now, and I have gotten the hang of things. The longer I’m here though, the more I love it.

I’m living in a small town called Dormagen, and it’s directly in between two huge cities, Düsseldorf and Köln. This makes for amazing opportunities. In Köln, there is a huge cathedral, called the Dom. In fact, it’s so big, it took over 700 years to build! It’s the most beautiful building I have seen, the only bad part about it, is that it’s impossible to take a good picture of it, but I tried my best. Then in Düsseldorf, there are many beautiful places. On my second weekend here, my host family took me on a bike ride to Düsseldorf, and a village called Zons. Both are along the Rhine River, so we were able to just follow it. As you enter Zons, it feels like you traveled back in time a few hundred years. There are old streets and remains of old city walls. Here, I had some of my first German ice cream, which puts American ice cream to shame. After Zons, we continued on to the city of Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf is amazing! It has an awesome TV tower with a restaurant on the top that spins around, so you can view the entire city while you eat. Everywhere in Düsseldorf is beautiful too. It’s all clean and has trees all over, making it nice.

The school here is also really awesome though. I go to Norbert Gymnasium, and it’s supposedly a really good school for some reason unknown to me. The school schedule here is completely different than schools in America. I have ten classes, and everyday I have different ones than the day before. For example, on Monday I have English, Math, Spanish, and Physics. The next day I have Religion, Sports, and Biology. Then on Wednesday, I have two hours in the middle of the school day where I have absolutely nothing, and can do whatever I want! Well whatever within reason.

Aside from ordinary days, I’ve seen some pretty cool things. My host club, Dormagen Rotary Club, went to see a huge power plant that was being constructed, and invited me along with them. Here too, I had the problem of not being able to fit whole buildings into my small camera. I can’t remember exactly how many mega watts the plant produced, but it was enough to power all of NYC, so it was a lot!

 

 

Then on another weekend, my host family took me down to Karlsruhe, a city in the south of Germany. Here, they showed me the Black Forest, named so because all the trees are so close together it’s black. It was beautiful, and there were many mountains, which for me, coming from Florida, was fascinating. They also took me to see a castle in Karlsruhe! It wasn’t at all like I was expecting, it was a lot more modern style rather than the ones in Monty Python.

Well this doesn’t even begin to cover what all I’ve been up, but it’ll have to do. Already, I’m adjusted to life here in Germany and have some great friends. I now understand why other outbounds have said they can’t thank Rotary enough.


November 16 Journal

 Liebe Leser,

I am now entering my fourth month here in Germany, and I must say, the last six weeks were the most amazing by far. They started with me on a two week vacation in Turkey, and ended with me doing an internship by the local fire department.

Urlaub (Vacation): I am staying in a Bundes (State) called Nord-Rhein Westfalen. In Nord-Rhein Westfalen, all of the students have a two week break from the end of September until the beginning of October. During this time, Germany is said to be cold and rainy, in general not pretty. So my host family always goes on vacation in the South of Europe, where it’s still warm and sunny. This year, they planned for Turkey, and invited me along with them. We stayed at a resort called Magic Life Club in Antalya. The great thing about this resort, was that it was Austrian owned, so everyone there spoke German, and it was all-inclusive. With an all inclusive resort, you can always eat food and join in on sports or activities for free. So during the day, I would play volley ball with a bunch of other people, play tennis with my host brother, or just lounge on the beach. There were also sailing and wind surfing classes for free. So I had to go to Turkey to learn it, but I can now wind surf. After dinner every night, the entertainment team performed a show in a big amphitheater. They were professional level and different every night.

When Germans vacation in Turkey, they always leave extra space in their suitcases, because you can buy clothes for amazing prices there. Apparently it’s legal to make fake copies of name brand, so you can find prices in Turkey for under half of the prices here in Germany. The only problem is that you have to haggle the prices down. Fortunately for me, my host parents happened to be great at this. I only bought two t-shirts, but they were a Lacoste polo and a Ralph Lauren polo, costing only 10 Euros together. I don’t think that’s too bad. However, I have heard cases of people getting polos for only 2 Euros before.

Praktikum (Internship): For the past two weeks, everyone in my grade at school did a Praktikum, or an internship. Everyone else had planned with a teacher last year, where they would like to intern at, and the school arranged it for them. I on the other hand, learned about it two weeks before it started and had to arrange it on my own. Luckily for me, I’m with a Rotary family, and they said I could probably do my Praktikum with someone from Rotary. So after looking through the Rotary book with the names of everyone and their jobs, the choice was narrowed down to two. A man that had a travel agency, and my third host mom, who’s the fire chief in Dormagen. It turned out that the man who owned the travel agency was staying at his vacation house in Orlando, and unable to be contacted by us. My third host mom, Frau Voss, came through though.

So for the past two school weeks, I attended the main fire department in Dormagen, Germany. While there, I learned about most of the equipment used on the fire trucks and how to check to see if some equipment, such as hoses, are still functional. I even got to go to one fire. It was at a factory where they produce colors, I assume in the form of paint but I’m not too sure. Anyways, it was caused by someone mixing together two chemicals that apparently don’t respond well to each other, resulting in a chemical reaction. For insurance purposes, I had to stay by the fire truck, but it was still interesting to see how they go about putting out a fire caused by a chemical reaction. And nobody was injured by the incident.

Then to top everything off, last Tuesday was the start of Carnival in Köln! Though the real thing’s not until February, the official start was on November 11. Carnival in Köln, is a huge thing by the way. We even get six days off in February for the real thing. Anyways, what I saw was a only a glimpse to what the real thing will be, which is crazy, because I thought the first day was crazy. Everyone had strange costumes on and partying to old German music. It was fun though, and now I can’t wait for the whole picture of what Carnival is.

Kathleen “Katie” McCormick
2008-09 Outbound to Poland

Hometown: Pinellas Park, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, St. Petersburg, Florida
Sponsor: Dunedin Rotary Club, District 6950, Florida
Host: Łódź Rotary Club, District 2230, Poland

Katie - Poland

Katie’s Bio

 Greetings! My name is Katie and I am fortunate enough to have been selected as an exchange student this year. I am a junior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, a charter school that provides students with the opportunity to graduate High School with an associate’s degree.

I live with my mom, dad, and a twin brother, Kyle, who was also selected as an exchange student. I love going to hockey and football games with my dad, because he is the only one brave enough to scream obnoxiously with me. My mom is more laid back, but when I get the chance to sit down and talk to her, although I may not always admit it, I really enjoy it.

I have been dancing for most of my life, not competitively, but to stay in shape and just have fun. Currently, I am in a folk dancing group, which I have been a part of for eight years. The other girls in my class are like family. We travel around Florida performing for all kinds of events. I love putting smiles on people’s faces, and getting a good yodel out of the audience every now and then.

I am also very involved with music. I play the piano, violin, and guitar (or at least I try to play the guitar J!) The violin is my favorite instrument, probably because I have played it since I was four. I have taught violin, I play violin for Hospice, I’ve played for numerous musicals, churches, and weddings, and I am in a youth orchestra too. Luckily, my brother plays as well, so I always have a partner to back me up.

Some of my other interests include writing letters, singing, acting, exercising, sports of almost any kind, and eating. I know, I know … you are wondering how I possibly could have forgotten shopping!?! I do enjoy shopping, but only when I am out looking for something specific, or if I am buying gifts for other people.

Well, there you have it folks, a quick summary of my life. Before I go, I would like to express my gratitude and admiration for everyone who has made this experience possible. My mom and dad for always being there to support and encourage me to pursue my dreams, my brother for always being great competition for me, everyone in the Rotary Club for putting so much time and effort into making this experience the best it can be, and last, but certainly not least, to my future host families for having the courage and the hearts to take me into their homes.


July 21 Journal

 Today is July 21st and I am leaving in almost thirty days for Poland. I have began saying goodbye to friends here, I have put in my last hours of work, and I have started the tedious task of packing up my belongings into two suitcases. With each “Good luck!” I receive, the reality of “going away” (I put it in quotes, because it is so much more than just going away) for a year sinks in a little more, and my grin gets a little bigger. To many, my grin shows excitement, to some it shows nerves, but in order to truly understand what is behind my dreamy grin, one must have walked, or be walking in the shoes of an exchange student.

Reading Ashley’s and Veronica’s journals I got goosebumps from the descriptions they so accurately used to express in words just what the feeling is of being on this incredible journey. The whole time I was reading I could feel the exact emotion they were so desperately trying to describe so others could understand, and I was thinking “EXACTLY! That’s how I feel!” However, there is no single emotion. It is every imaginable feeling thrown together. I brainstormed with my friend Danny, another exchange student, on the phone for hours yesterday as we tried to express the emotion, and we went back and forth about how it feels, always trying to think of a new way to convey the emotion, but we failed each and every time. No matter what we said, and no matter how we said it, nothing really described it. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, words will never be sufficient, because no number of them can describe the feeling. It may sound quite unintelligent and goofy, but I can’t help but think “It just is.”

When I first decided to apply to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student, the Rotex all kept telling us how patriotic they are about their host country, and they warned us that when we were informed what country we would be calling home, we too would feel like part of that country. Already, when people ask me “Why Poland? What the heck is there in Poland?” I want to scream at them for being so ignorant, and ask how they could be so stupid, but instead I ask them the question, “Why not Poland?” and when they can’t answer this question, because consistently every time I’ve asked it, they don’t have an answer, I feel quite accomplished, having exposed their lack of knowledge. As an exchange student I feel it is my job to try and inform others of the world and help them expand their horizons. So far, the hardest part of becoming an exchange student for me hasn’t been the thought of leaving home, or leaving my friends, but discovering how many people are so ignorant to what the rest of the world has to offer.

I know this exchange will present challenges more difficult than anything I’ve encountered before, and sure I am nervous, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I haven’t even departed from the place I now call “home” and I can confidently say that this is the best thing that has ever happened to me in all my life. No matter how many tears I shed over goodbyes, homesickness, and total frustration, this experience is worth every drop.

Rotary, I have said it before, I will say it now, and I will be saying it forever, thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this program and know that I will cherish it for all my life.


August 31 Journal

 Dzien dobry! Today will be my third full day in Poland, and I love everything so far, but sleep has taken over most of the days so far! However, I am slowly getting into the swing of things and adjusting to my new life! Enough about my sleep habits! It’s time to get down to all the nitty gritty details that everybody back home has been waiting for so impatiently!! I guess I’ll begin with the goodbyes!

August 27th, I was finally leaving! I was in a state of total shock as I rushed around my house trying to remember all the last minute things I needed to pack! And boy oh boy did I pack, haha. I had my Dad weigh himself on the scale, and alone he weighed…[—–] (no Dad, I’m not really going to broadcast your weight on the internet!), and with my suitcase he weighed about 52 pounds more! I know, go ahead gasp and tell me that I packed too much like my mom did, but then keep in mind I was trying my best to pack for an entire year! My suitcase was only permitted to weigh 50 pounds, so my simple solution was to take my converter out of that suitcase and put it in my other one, which was filled primarily with marshmallows for my host sister, being that alone it weighed a whopping three pounds! Finally, walking out the door, my dogs were whining, because in their minds “suitcase equals very long car ride” and I started to cry, because believe it or not, I am going to miss my dogs very much! I looked at my Dad and said something to the effect of “Geez louise! I’m going to be hysterical at the airport!” We both laughed.

At the airport my Mom and Dad took pictures with me (and yes, just to clarify, I was crying) and off I went… alone. Was I terrified? Was I excited? Was I wondering what in the world I had just done? Was I in shock still? My answer to all of these questions is yes. I was alone, on my journey to a life I knew nothing about. I had plenty of time before my flight started boarding, so I sat at a desk and called people to say goodbye who I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye to yet. Finally it was time to board the plane to Detroit.

I offered some gum to the ladies I was sitting next to, and they accepted. We talked for the entire flight, and they were so excited for me, which made me extremely excited too! I was no longer sad to be leaving, just nervous! I knew there would be no more tears, and there weren’t! These two ladies walked me all the way to my next gate, and I was so thankful they were there, because without them, God only knows where I would have ended up. I had a few hours before my flight to Amsterdam, and I didn’t know what to do. Danny, who is in Denmark right now, called me to wish me luck and reassure me that everything would be fine! Okay, so I could go on forever about my flights and getting here, but I’m here, that’s the bottom line. The man who sat next to me on my flight to Amsterdam was from Norway, and he talked throughout most of the flight, and he too walked me to my next gate (which ended up getting changed, and I had to figure out what my new gate was, but I did what my Dad told me to do and used my brain to find it). Off to Warsaw, finally! Another friend!! He was from Poland, and was telling me so much about it, and asking me what I knew how to say, and helping me with new things! Finally, he too offered to make sure I made it not to my gate, but to my host family! His name was Marcin (Martin in English), and he helped me with everything. First, he got my luggage for me off the belt, then he called my host parents to make sure they were at the airport, and finally he walked with me to find them. When people told me that Polish people were friendly, I never expected such a warm welcome, it was amazing! We exchanged cards, and off I went with my host parents, who couldn’t be more excited!

Day one in my new home was uneventful. I slept, and it rained. At night, we went out to dinner at a friend’s house, and there was a little girl there named Sofie (yes, with an f, she was sure to tell me it wasn’t with a ph) from England. We played darts, watched a TV show, and played “Are you smarter than a 10 year old” which, thankfully, I was :)! At the end of the night, I was thoroughly exhausted, and so full from dinner I could barely walk. We didn’t end up leaving until about midnight, and we had an early start the next morning to get my host sister, Maggie, and her neighbor, Michael, from art camp in a town a few hours away.

Five in the morning, I was up, not because I needed to be, but because my sleep schedule was still off, hard to believe, as it would’ve only been 11PM at home, but I was wide awake. I went downstairs, prepared myself some breakfast, and went back upstairs to get ready to go (at least I knew I wouldn’t be holding anyone up!) When we finally got to the place where the art camp was held, Maggie ran up to hug me, and I too was running to meet her! A group of her friends were gathered, giggling and starring, so I said “Hi” and they all blushed, and chimed “Hi!!!!!” They introduced themselves really quickly to me, and then they had to go. We explored the town, or more like Michael and Maggie took me exploring, up to a Monastery, and to a restaurant, and a few other places, and then we were back in the car driving home. When we got home, I played violin, piano, and guitar for my host family, and Maggie and I sang and played guitar until about midnight, while talking and laughing in her HUGE bedroom! Today, I slept pretty late again, and finished unpacking and cleaning up my room (Yes Mom and Dad, your daughter was actually cleaning her room!) We are having a bar-b-que a little later today, so I am really looking forward to that!

Now for some random facts that my Grandma would want to know :)!

– The toilet paper is thick and crisp like paper towels, and it even has little flower decorations on it!

– The stove in my house is so hi-tech I don’t think I’ll ever be able to help with cooking!

– There is no microwave, so again, heating things will be impossible for me, as I cannot work the stove!

– We have a “jeg” in our backyard (which is a hedgehog!)

– Polish sounds like a mix of jibberish and Chinese when spoken very quickly (but this is totally my opinion!) HAHA.

That is all for now, and next time, I promise I will have some pictures of things up for you to see too :)! I hope all the other exchangees are having as incredible of a time as I am!

Do vidzenia,

Katie


September 5 Journal

 Hey guys! I know it has only been a few days since I last wrote one of these lengthy pieces of literature, but I am quite anxious to tell you about my first few days of school here in Poland. Okay, so on Monday, everybody started school, but mine wasn’t set up yet, so I went to school with my host sister, Maggie. I felt awful, because little did I know that EVERYBODY dresses up for the first day of school very fancy, and there I was… not dressed up, but I didn’t feel too bad, because I had the excuse of being from America…my host sister, however, also forgot to dress up (she was in Maine all last year on exchange) and she didn’t have such a good excuse, so we stood out together! I met her friends, who were all very nice. There was one boy in the class named ummm… Michael… or maybe it was Nick… honestly, names here are thrown at me from every direction at every possible moment, so it is almost impossible for me to remember all of them… anyways, his voice was completely hoarse because of a “back to school party” from the night before, and it was quite funny listening to him try to speak. After school I went with my host sister and a few friends to Manufaktura (the shopping mall), because one of the girls, Kate, was dying for some Subway! At this Subway, I made history folks!!! Yes, that’s right… I asked for my very own SMALL drink in Polish, haha.

Okay, so Tuesday I didn’t do anything all day, because I was home alone, and I didn’t have school because it wasn’t organized yet. However, later in the day on Tuesday, I went to the store (similar to Wal-mart) with my host father and sister, and I must tell you the employees were hands down THE most miserable looking people I have ever seen in my entire life! You know the whole thing about “customer service” that we have in the United States… it was non-existent here! It was just awful.

Wednesday was my big day, I was going to school…at least I thought! Well, I did go to school, but not for classes, just for complete confusion for the most part. I had to stand up in front of the entire choir at the school while the principal rambled on about me in Polish, and I didn’t understand a single word. Anyways, that brief speech seemed to have made me somewhat “popular” at school, which is nice, because now people are always offering their help (they’ll do anything to be late to class and use “I was helping Katie” as their excuse!) Also, I can’t forget to mention Marta, a little girl who sat across from me while eating lunch (the school I attend is for elementary-high school) She was absolutely fascinated with me, and extremely eager for me to learn Polish. Whenever I said something in Polish she would literally jump out of her chair and clap really loud, just to make the entire situation more embarrassing, but she definitely made me laugh

Thursday…school, this time for real. Well, okay… I was only going for half-a-day, but still, I was attending my first classes at a Polish school! I had to get there all by myself via trolley. I was very nervous, but I finally made it, and I actually was early!! I even had to buy trolley tickets from the store, and no not from a machine, I had to converse with a real live Polish person! Maybe my enthusiasm seems rather ridiculous to you guys back home, but you have no idea how accomplished I felt! As for classes, I met a girl named Susan, who is from Poland, but speaks almost perfect English with no accent whatsoever. She has crazy hair, but was really outgoing, so it was nice to meet her on the first day! As for first impressions… I must admit I was appalled at the behavior of the students in my class. They seemed rather disrespectful towards the teacher, drumming on desks to their Mp3 players, laughing and conversing like they were at lunch, and playing games on their cell phones…NOT EVEN TRYING TO HIDE IT!!! The teacher just let them do it, and talked to himself throughout most of the class. I asked why nobody paid attention, and Susan said “What? Today is a good day for this class!” So, as you can imagine, I am fully looking forward to what this class has in store for the future. Honestly, I was the only student listening… or trying… and I didn’t understand a single word!

Now today, Friday, I went for the full day, but I moved from the highest class to elementary school to middle school and so on and so forth. It was very fun. The first class was the highest class, and the kids there were so nice! Actually, what am I saying… everywhere people are extremely nice, I am so thankful! On the way home from school (I had to take the trolley there and back again) a man got onto the trolley I was on and said something in Polish and everybody groaned and got off, so I followed suit. I’m assuming it broke down or was changing routes or something! Anyways, I had just gotten onto the next trolley (#3) when a fight broke out between two men right outside where I was standing. I don’t know what it was about, but I’m pretty sure that one man was getting off the trolley and the other was getting on, and the one getting off got mad because the one getting on didn’t let him off first. Wow, that was confusing! Anyways, it was humorous, and not all at the same time. The fighting part wasn’t funny, of course, and they were yelling at each other in Polish (I’m sure not very friendly things) and then one man took his briefcase and swung it at the man’s head and then he kicked him and boy was it confusing. Finally, they were broken up, and on we went. So, that is all in the life of me and school right now. Of course other little things happened here and there, but the biggest thing to report about right now was school. A few facts really quick and I must be going.

-Kinder Bueno still remains my favorite European candy of all times (it’s chocolate) and Serenity, you know what I mean.

-I said my first sentence which was “The hedgehog made poop.” (Oh come on, it was funny!)

-I miss cereal, a lot.

Until next time,

Katie


September 21 Journal

 September 5th, geez that seems like forever ago. Now, I must try to summarize all that has happened into a journal, so… here goes nothing!

First of all, I must say that I have been sick with some type of viral infection that is going around for the past 11 days. I really haven’t gone out of the house much, but… when I have gone out, it was eventful, so… I’m thankful for that :)! However, because of my sister and I both being at home sick for so many days, we have become addicted…and I mean ADDICTED to Grey’s Anatomy. We call it our “42 minute break”, LOL. But don’t worry, I haven’t been spending all day every day watching Grey’s Anatomy… just… a little. Oh c’mon, cut me some slack, my host parents wouldn’t even let me step foot outside, because it is FREEZING and RAINY and so I was stuck inside for five consecutive days without putting even a single toe outside. Yes, people, go ahead and crack your “Katie you’re so pale” jokes on me now…haha.

Okay, so… last time when we left off, I was saying I missed cereal. Well… now I eat it every morning for breakfast, because I mentioned I missed it to my host mom!!! (she is amazing). She also knows that I absolutely love Kinder Bueno, so she bought me an entire BOX (see picture). Yes, those extra pounds you gain over the course of the year living abroad… I blame mine on Kinder Bueno. Although, I must say… I haven’t gained weight…yet. Okay, let me think of other foods I should mention. Potatoes are at almost every meal, and I love them. Milk here is in cardboard boxes that don’t have to be put in the fridge until after you open them. I ate donkey (you have no idea how proud I am of this). That was what…over a week ago, and I still say to my sister “I can’t believe I ate donkey!” I also ate these little fish things out of the can (see picture), they looked really gross, but they tasted really good! I’ve also eaten Polish pizza, YUMMY! And, hmmm… oh pierogis! Talk about amazing! And let’s see… I’ve eaten enough bread for the entire year. Oh, and I went to a Chinese restaurant too, yay! All the waiters here are attractive. That must be a requirement or something, haha. Also, there is a plum jam that my Grandpa makes… I swear, the food over here is the best in the world. I really need some cooking lessons… it’d be quite a change from my mac n’ cheese making skills. Oh, I also finally had some ice cream (Mint Chocolate Chip!) It was really tasty! Geez, I didn’t realize all the food updates I had, but… I really can’t even begin to explain how much food I have been eating!

Okay, school. I haven’t been to school in forever and a day, because everybody is sick, including me, so I’ve been at home. I did start orchestra though, and it was amazing! I absolutely love it. I don’t understand a single word the conductor says, so sometimes I just stop playing, because I think that’s what he wants, and then he starts laughing, because everybody else is still playing, except for me! I got over the embarrassment, and found that it’s much more fun to just laugh at yourself!

I’ve gone shopping a few times at Manufaktura, and bought some Polish winter essentials… winter boots, scarfs, pants, and I’m still looking for a really good coat :). The mall here is so huge, I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve only seen 1/2 of it… if even that, and I’ve been there 3 times!

Last night, I went to the birthday party of Kuba’s (a former RYE exchange student to Florida) sister at a Latino dance club. I must say, I didn’t do too much dancing, but I did enough. I was able to meet so many new people, who were all SO friendly, just like everybody in Poland that I seem to meet. I also was out shopping on Piotrkowska street, and saw this huge graffiti (see picture). On the way home from Piotrkowska street (in a trolley) I was hit by a flying drunk man. You see, sometimes the trams make sudden movements making it extremely hard to remain on your feet when sober, and this man… was anything but sober, so… he literally came flying at me, and ripped my pants, and hit his head really hard on the front of the tram. I was in shock, and didn’t really know what to do, because his face started bleeding everywhere, and he was much too big for me to help. Some men in the trolley rushed and helped him to his feet, but he refused to sit back down, even though he couldn’t stand. When he went to get off the trolley, he fell down the steps smacking into an old man with tomatoes, and smashing tomatoes all over himself and in the street. It was really sad, and I’m sure his head is really hurting him right about now. I know, maybe this story seems really scary and I shouldn’t be telling it, but it was something that I’ll remember forever. Also, I’d like to add that it really isn’t normal to happen here. See, a once in a lifetime (hopefully) memory, that I needed to document.

Now for some random things:

-My host mom brought me back 8 packs of 5 gum from Chicago (YAY!)

-The fruit here is so much better then back home

-I received my first postcards, and it made me so excited (hint hint)

-I did my first homework for another student (English homework)

-Me coming to Poland has caused my Grandma to get onto the internet!

-I miss American football!!


 

October 14 Journal

 DZIEN DOBRY! Okay, so… I thought I was going to be good at this whole journal thing, but… I’ve started to fall behind. Well, even if I wrote once a week I wouldn’t be able to tell you just everything that has happened in Poland, so my apologies for repeating myself, or leaving out funny things, and of course for blabbing, but it’s hard not to blab.

Okay so right after my last journal I went to a Rotary meeting. It consisted of old men, who ate and left. There were a few who actually talked to me though, and I’m actually going on a trip this weekend with one of them… to South Poland somewhere, I still have no idea where. I just go with the flow, whatever :).

Hmm, I went to my first Polish 18th birthday party. It was jam packed (they rented out a club) and people were going crazy. It was a little intense, the music was so loud, the gift to the birthday girls (there were two of them and one boy) and also to the boy, were strippers! I was shocked at first, but I guess it’s normal, and something I can laugh about now. There was actually a girl from New York at the party…random…and we started talking and were both excited, although… unlike me, she speaks fluent Polish. I am slowly learning the most random things in Polish, and shout them for no reason at all at school other then the fact that my classmates love when I do it, and they get so excited. I still love my classmates, and they are the reason I go to school. I mean, really… it seems to me there is no point in going to school, because all I do is listen to my Ipod and read… and pass notes with people in my class sometimes 🙂 Oh, actually, I was forced to play the piano and sing for my class too, I was so thrilled, let me tell you. For those of you who didn’t know, I’m at a music school, so we have classes like history of music, where you literally sit and listen to classical music for 2 hours, but you can’t fall asleep or draw (well, I can…hahaha).

I went on a field trip with my class to Warsaw. Oh boy, it sure was a blast. We visited this park where the “toilet castle” was… or so I thought? We had a guide, and he was talking all about this palace and kept saying the word toilet, so I finally had to ask what was significant about the toilets, and everyone laughed, because he wasn’t talking about the toilets literally, they just call the palace that for some reason… it’s still unknown to me. We also went to this historical art museum I guess you could call it (in Warsaw). The guide kept talking to me, so it seemed, and I was trying my best to look interested, but it was kind of hard, considering I didn’t understand a single word. Anyways, during the middle of the tour (keep in mind there are THIRTY kids with me) he chooses to ask someone a question. Who does he choose…me! Yea, so of course, I busted out laughing, and the poor guy… my teacher told him I was American, and he was shocked. But excited. He immediately began quizzing me on different Presidents of the United States, but thank goodness I’m a nerd and know some important stuff, so I knew EVERYTHING (phew, at least I didn’t look like a complete idiot!)

Okay, so for any of you who read my last journal, you know that I love food. So, here goes my food section. I had pizza with tuna on it. I had pizza with donkey on it. YUM! Two of my new favorite flavors! However, I did go to Warsaw (as I just mentioned) and had Pizza Hut, and got good ol’ Hawaiian pizza. It was soooo yummy! I’ve had liver, and I actually liked it (I know, my mom back in Florida is disgusted at the thought!). Now, however, I am on a diet. Me, my host mom, and my host sister. I really just need to cut back on portions, I eat way too much.

I went to the movies. It was in English with Polish subtitles, so I was in luck. I ate way too many peanut m&m’s though, and didn’t feel so great afterwards. Also, I gave in and had McDonald’s for the first time since I’ve been here. Let me tell you… cheeseburgers here… I mean, there is no such thing as 49 cent hamburgers on Wednesdays or anything, but… the cheeseburgers are SO MUCH BETTER!!!

I have been described as many things, although my personal favorite had to be a furby. A FURBY? They are surprised I’m almost always happy. Anyways, a furby… geez, I don’t know whether or not to be insulted, they insisted it was a compliment though, so… YAY FURBY!

I went to a Polish reggae concert (The Power Of Trinity). Ha, reggae. It was like hardcore rock reggae, but pretty good. Well, very loud. Not something I’d voluntarily do again. I mean, the club was so small that I had no choice but to fend for my life in this huge mosh where drunk men were flinging their arms and throwing themselves into people. I’m too small for that type of thing, but I’m alive, and now I know… I absolutely HATE moshing, which I always thought that I would, but now I know for sure. You can never say you don’t like something until you try it…right?

I found out just the other day that I can take the SAT right here in Poland (in Warsaw) so I might do that… we’ll have to see! I have made incredible friendships with other outbounds from Florida, especially Joe Hirabayashi (Czech Republic). We love talking to each other and comparing all the cultural differences from back home. Poland and Czech are so similar, and we also compare the languages and everything. Also I would like to add, just for Joe’s sake, that the Polish soccer team BEAT, yea that’s right…BEAT the Czech Republic the other night. I was SO happy 🙂

Yesterday at school, I went to P.E. class, but didn’t participate, because I didn’t have clothes, and I’ve never participated in P.E. because I still haven’t gotten the hang of the schedule, and only about half of my class does P.E. … I still don’t know why. Anyways, I observed, and I was laughing so hard I cried. The girls were doing somersaults. Yea, you’re thinking of the right thing… you know… in the United States two year olds can do them. Well, I don’t know if it’s just the girls in my school, or in all of Poland, but… they honestly cannot do forward rolls. And the greatest part was that they were ACTUALLY trying really hard, and were so determined, and they just couldn’t do it.

– The trees have been losing leaves and are GORGEOUS colors such as red, orange, yellow. Oh it’s just beautiful. (see photograph)

– I miss cheez-its and oreos

– The rain is so awful here, I just want to curl up in a ball and never leave my bed when it is raining outside.

– I still need a winter coat.

– I got some of my classmates to start doing my famous “moose” pose with me. (see photograph)

– The longest street name in Warsaw is really ridiculous (see photograph)

– The “old town” in Warsaw is beautiful (see photograph)

That’s all for this journal. I’m going on a mini “eurotour” at the beginning of November which I am really excited for! And if you’re reading this and thinking about doing Rotary Youth Exchange, please do it. We have our ups and downs, sure. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been homesick, because I have, plenty of times, and actually a lot more than I expected. However, most of the time, I am socked to think that I am really living here. Just the other day on the trolley, packed between two other people like a sardine, I thought to myself, wow, I’m as Polish to these people as they are to me (as long as I don’t open my mouth) and not some tourist in a group. I don’t stand out unless I speak, and it made me think wow, I’m living here. I’m getting used to the swing of things, everyday life, and it’s the coolest feeling in the world. So, just get out there and do something out of the ordinary, I promise it will be the best thing that you’ve ever done. And I mean THE BEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE. What are there 49 of us outbounds, or something… I don’t know the exact number, and every single one of my friends who is now living somewhere abroad loves it. We’re experiencing different culture shocks on a daily basis, and when we get to talk to each other about it on skype or facebook or wherever, we are excited to share new things, and recognize that it’s okay that everything isn’t just perfect as we’d like. We know we’ve taken on this challenge, and although it is still just the beginning of this adventure, we all couldn’t be more happy that we chose to do this.

Wow, I sound like a preacher or something. I LOVE POLAND!!!!!!!!!!


 

October 21 Journal

 Hello, again. I know, so soon, but I had a crazy weekend, and I need to write about it before I get too far ahead. I went on a trip to Bielsko-Biała with Mr. Polski from my host Rotary club. And no, I’m not being a smart (dupa) and calling him “Mr. Polski” that’s really his last name :).

So Saturday morning we left for Bielsko-Biała, a town in South Poland not too far from the Czech Republic. We arrived at his daughter’s house at around 1:30 and had supper. Then, I was informed by his grandson (who was also 17) that we were going hiking. Now, I wasn’t at all prepared to hike. We were in the mountains, it reminded me a lot of North Carolina, except for the fact that the mountains seemed a lot bigger. Or maybe that’s just because we hiked over THREE MOUNTAINS USED AS SKI SLOPES. We got lost. There was a point that we ACTUALLY thought that we were in the Czech Republic. For five hours, five teenagers walking up and down, slipping on loose rocks and fallen leaves, stepping in mud, sliding in mud, we walked. I had to go to the bathroom… tough luck kids. It started to get dark, and cold. Thank the Lord we had chocolate, right? Ha. Somehow, we ended up in the right place. After about the first half hour of our hike, there was no sign of people. Just the five of us. When it got dark, it was not a lit path, ohhh no. Was I scared, of course! Nobody was too happy, but we tried to make a joke about it, because…well… we were however in the middle of nowhere, and so we had to make the best of it. They all kept apologizing to me, saying they felt so terrible, because this was not at all what they had planned. I can honestly say though, as relieved as I was when we made it home, and as sore as I am right now (yes still) it was great. How many kids out there can say that they hiked from Poland to Czech Republic, right?! haha

Before I forget, I must tell you about one of the boys, just because it is so ridiculous, and something I will never forget. He was seventeen, had a beard actually. And he sucked his thumb. Ya know, that thing that we do until we’re 3, and then we start getting yelled at for it. This boy sucked his thumb. It was quite humorous, and he wasn’t embarrassed. The people here are so carefree. It definitely takes some getting used to, but I love it. Not to say that I’ve seen any other guys sucking on their thumbs, I just thought a lot of people would at least smile at that image.

The next day, Sunday, I was in pain. I still am in pain actually. On Sunday night when I got home I actually had numerous dreams that I was getting beaten up (and no I’m not joking) only to wake up finding my back killing me where in my dream I was being kicked, etc. Anyways, back to Sunday, I woke up, ate some breakfast, and off we went. We visited the city center, it was so cute 🙂 Much smaller than Łódż, but just perfect. (See pictures). Then, we went to this Żubr (Bison) zoo, I guess…I don’t really know what to call it. There were also deer there (again, see photos).

Okay, not to jump to food, but that’s what happened next, we ate. Take note of the picture of the tiny cute deers that are white, okay? They play an important role in my dinner. So, we go to this adorable restaurant… well, adorable if you like decorations of wild animal skins and heads covering the wall. Anyways, I was happy to be informed that this week was “wild animal week” at this restaurant. I was overjoyed, let me tell you. I knew this would only lead to an interesting meal. Nevertheless, I plastered a smile on my face. At least the waiter was cute (they all are here!) and he spoke English and remembered my name throughout the course of the entire meal! haha. Okay, but anyways… back to my food. This will only be entertaining for those of you who know my eating habits. I promise I am in no way exaggerating for humor, I’m just telling it how it was, and hoping that you can imagine the thoughts that were going through my head, concealed of course with a smile. The family asked if they could order for me. Considering I couldn’t choose between wild boar or deer, I was happy to let them choose, what the heck, right? So, after they order for me, this big bowl of soup is brought to me. It was fermented rye with meat, hardboiled eggs, and BIG JUICY MUSHROOMS, delicious. Of course they had to emphasize the FERMENTED rye part, but actually it was quite good, and I even ate the mushrooms, I was so proud of myself. Next, came the meal. The main course, although I was already thoroughly stuffed. “What did you order for me?” I asked, now I regret it. Here is where those cute little white deer come into play. Yea, you got it people… that’s what I was eating. However, these “doe” were stuffed with…wild mushrooms, my favorite!!! Throughout the whole meal, I was feeling as though I would puke everywhere. I washed down every bite with beets (actually REALLY good!) and water. When I finished I was so full and felt sick. They then asked me about dessert. This is the best part. I was looking for someone I knew to jump out and start laughing at me. They wanted to order bananas fried in honey. I politely refused and said I was much too full, which was true 🙂

We left after the restaurant back to Łódż. I was exhausted when I got home, but I really had so much fun. Definitely something I’ll never forget 🙂 Hopefully I’ll get to go back to visit them again, especially since they invited me back :)!

Oh, about my diet… I’ve gained a kilo last time I checked. Thought my family would be horrified to hear that! SEND SLIMFAST!!!!!!! My new nickname is “chubbs” given to me by Joe in Czech. No worries, he hasn’t seen me, he just hears all my food stories. However, that home workout plan, I think I need to start putting it into action.

Halloween is soon, and I think my host sister and I are going trick-or-treating. It isn’t celebrated in Poland though, so most people will probably make us food, haha.

If anybody wants to send me a package with oreos and cheez-its and five gum, feel free. I know, I’m dieting, but I still miss stuff from home 🙂

Okay, I’m out now. Hope everybody is enjoying that beautiful fall weather in Florida 🙂


November 19 Journal

 Cześć!!!!

Okay, before I go any farther… IT SNOWED LAST NIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was thrilled, my host mom wasn’t. It is really really cold here. Last night (pre-snow) I was walking around outside… and I couldn’t feel my ears or my chin, but the rest of me was pretty warm :). I need to go buy some cute little ear-muffs or something!

Now, I thought I was going to be good at these journals, but every time I tell myself I need to write one, I’m like “Noooooo! Just one more day!!!!!” Of course, every time I do this, there is only more that needs to be said. So, my apologies for not posting more often. I met my first exchange student right after I posted my last journal on here. His name is Mauricio, and he is living in a small town called Łask about a 45 minute car drive from here. Don’t ask me in Kilometers or miles, because I have absolutely NO IDEA, and Polish roads are… completely different than roads in Florida… practically no highways, so sometimes you’re driving thru neighborhoods, it’s fun. Needless to say, I was excited to meet him…and he was so sweet!! We had that special exchange student bond. We met at his Rotary club’s meeting, because they meet about 5 minutes from my house here in Łódż. We had a nice dinner and then got to walk around Manufaktura for awhile just comparing our exchanges so far!

Then, shortly thereafter, I went on a week long trip to Berlin, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna with most of the other exchange students in Poland. This trip consisted of hardly any sleep, lots of bus rides, and BEAUTIFUL THINGS…Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts. No, no… I’m only kidding… well, there were those things, and I only had one drink from Starbucks. I could go on and on about the sites, but nothing could ever compare to being there and seeing these beautiful cities in person. Words, pictures, videos… they just couldn’t even begin to give justice. I’d have to say that for me, Budapest was the most beautiful capital city. We went on a boat ride at night when we first got there (even though we were thoroughly exhausted), and it was just…like I said, I can’t describe it. I had goosebumps being there, and I’m getting them again (and no people, it’s not because it’s cold). Also, in Budapest… I got to meet up with Drake, who was supposed to give me the BETTER pictures that we took, rather than this typical teenage shot, but… it will have to do. I was happy to be with other exchange students on this trip, I mean… it made me realize I’m not in this by myself. I’m not the only one who misses American gum, taco-bell, oreos, brownie mix. I’m not the only one who is gaining weight. I’m not the only one who’s English is an absolute wreck. I’m not the only one who feels like a rock at school since I don’t speak fluent Polish. I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE. THERE ARE KIDS ALL OVER THE WORLD RIGHT NOW WHO FEEL LIKE THIS…. and you could be one of them if you just dial 1-800… no no, just kidding. Exchange isn’t always a piece of cake. I have days when I just want to go home, and I know I won’t, because things will get better, and always do.

I made really great friendships with the exchange students though. My friend Sami from Colorado and I are practically the same person… it is wonderful 🙂

Just as Jenny wrote, it gets dark here SO EARLY. I’m sooo tired at like 5, I mean… it’s already been dark for some time, and my body is programmed that way… sleep after it’s dark for a few hours.

Last weekend I spent the entire weekend at Kuba (former exchange student to FL) and Karolina’s house. There is no such question as “Are you hungry?” It is “You are hungry!” haha. I was SO FULL all weekend, but thankfully the food here is still amazing.

Anyways, it has been three months… THREE MONTHS? Seriously, it feels like I’ve been here three weeks, and that I’ve known my friends here for so much longer than only THREE MONTHS! Before I know it, I’ll be back in Florida. Some days that sounds so perfect, and other days it hurts to think about.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner…then Christmas…New Years…my 18th birthday…eurotour…parents visiting…and goodbyes. Time is gonna fly. The dog next door just started barking and you can see his breath, haha. I wouldn’t be laughing if I was outside, I suppose.

-Polish people say something that sounds identical to “no” but means “yes” so, I laugh a lot when I hear this, because they’re saying “no” and nodding up and down. It has become a joke for me and my friends.

-I’m still waiting for letters or packages…although I got a package from my Grandparents with a nice winter coat 🙂

-Right when I was comfortable with the trolley route, they switched it up on me.

-I bought my own bus ticket all in Polish and everything from Kielce to Łódż.

-I am no longer going to be speaking English after this month

-When I read “w” out loud now I say “v” without even thinking, and “j” is “y”

-The Mexican exchange students made me sing Frosty the Snowman and a song about Steak a million times.

-My standard of living has gone wayyy down since staying in hostels. 🙂

That’s all for now! papapapapaaa


January 3 Journal

 I guess I will start with the emotional part of my exchange so far, and the changes I have noticed taking place. Rotary promised I would no longer be the same person that I was when I left Florida, when it was time for me to return. Here I am, four months in, and I have changed. I have grown in so many aspects, both physically and emotionally (yes future outbounds, the weigh gain factor is NO JOKE, trust me). My relationship with my parents has grown, and they have truly become two of my best friends. I have grown apart from friends back home, but I was expecting that, and I don’t plan on putting my life on pause to try and recreate a friendship with them. I have made friends here who I have known for just 2 months now (I didn’t meet other exchange students until November) and they are my family. The never-ending support they have given me when times got hard, the love I feel both for and from them in return still has me speechless. The same goes for other outbounds from Florida. The whole “exchange student bond” you are told about is more amazing than you could begin to imagine. I have friends whom I have known for years, but the friends I have made thru Rotary Youth Exchange are so much more. We can talk about things like how awful boxed milk is, and just laugh hysterically, because it is the kind of things that words cannot describe, but only other exchange students really understand what you mean. Like when you’re able to say “Kinder” and everybody starts going on about how great and delicious it is! You’d be surprised how just saying “Cheez Its” turns every American head in the room, and each set of eyes starts to shine, and smiles appear on their faces, and instantly, all your Cheez Its are gone!! Or how great it feels to introduce Mexicans to Cheez Its, haha. Not only are you sharing your culture, but you are CONSTANTLY learning, and everyone, well almost, is excited to share things about their country!

Christmas and New Years (Świąt and Nowu Rok). We had a real Christmas tree, which was painful. It stabbed you every time you got near it. I went to two different school Christmas parties (really fun!) One girl who I met actually started crying, yes that means tears, because she was so excited to meet me. It was cute, but I honestly had no idea what to say or do to that kind of reaction. Flattering, I suppose. Another boy kept following me around with Mistletoe, but it was lucky for me that he was cute!! On Christmas, which is celebrated December 24th here, everything is very traditional. There are twelve traditional dishes, none of which have meat, only fish. Also, you put hay under the table cloth, leave an empty place (set the table for an extra person), and share wafers and wish people good things for the next year.

New Years, was GREAT! I went to Wrocław with a lot of the other exchange students, and of course it was fun! We all celebrated the New Year together, and couldn’t believe it was 2009, of course!! There was a huge concert, with SO many people, and it was the best New Years I’ve had yet! All the girls got dressed up, and we all froze when we were outside, but it was totally worth it!! Jade, who is here from Australia, is leaving back to Australia today actually, so we all said goodbyes to her, because the Australians exchange from January to January. I don’t know how I’m going to manage goodbyes to the other exchange students at the end of this year.

Hmm… there is so much I want to say, it is so hard. Although I am not quite halfway through my exchange, I know when I am going home to the USA, and when other people are going home, and I am already beginning to worry about how in the world I am going to manage to say goodbyes. Exchange has really put into perspective for me the concept of time. It really does fly. This time last year I still didn’t know what country I’d be living in…and here I am.

Okay since I really don’t know what to write, because I could write FOREVER, I am going to make a list… You know you’re an exchange student to Poland if…

– Slippers are ALWAYS on inside.

– Tea has become a mandatory part of your diet. Along with potatoes, and of course beets.

– You now pronounce “j” as “y” and “w” as “v”

– You never trust the weatherman, and are able to predict rain…everyday!

– You have had Vodka… just kidding!

– Boxed milk is now tolerable

– You haven’t seen a swimming pool in months.

– You buy all your clothing from H&M

– You feel sorry about the pathetic Polish dubbing

– You have gotten addicted to at least one TV. sitcom from home (examples: Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Prison Break…)

– You found a ketchup you like.

– You no longer flinch when it looks like you are going to hit another car on the road.

– You consider yourself the world’s luckiest person when you receive a package full of gum, Oreos, and Cheez Its from your Grandma and Uncle!!!!

– Skype has become more important than Myspace, Facebook, etc.

– Disturbia, I’m so lucky, I kissed a Girl, or some other song gets stuck in your head on a daily basis.

– You actually choose to go out unshowered

– You have Nasza-klasa or Gadu-Gadu

– You are always out of phone credit

– You don’t own any clean white coats, because of public transportation

and the list goes on and on and on and on!

That’s all for now!! Pictures next time, I promise!! I just really needed to get a journal up here!!

Bużii :* :* :* Katie


February 11 Journal

 Less than four months. How is that possible? It feels like just yesterday I was fighting the butterflies in my stomach boarding an airplane to enter the unknown. The unknown… the life that has now become so routine, so familiar, just 6 months ago was the unknown. While I was waiting in the airport I wrote in my journal:

“…It really hasn’t hit me that I will be gone for almost a year. I know, it will fly by, and before I know it I will be crying at the thought of having to come back to Florida, to the familiar routine I have grown up with… it is going to be so different, yet the same…”

I cried for the first time thinking about going home a few weeks ago. It just hit me, I do love this country, and I am going to miss it. The thought of returning to Florida isn’t near as great as it was a few months ago. I’ll admit, the first few months here were no piece of cake. I missed home, I missed my friends, my school (shock), I guess I missed a lot of things, and now, I don’t miss those things so much anymore, and the thought of going back to them, isn’t all bad, but it just feels strange.

For all you future outbounds, TIME FLIES, and if you think you know, you really have no earthly clue. Right when life feels normal, you start having to plan your return flight, and begin thinking about life back home.

Anyways, I’ve switched host families, and I really love it here. My host sister is one of my best friends, and my host brother, Kuba, is very helpful teaching me Polish. My new host mom loves to cook, and so… I’m not getting smaller anytime soon.

I went to Radomsko (the biggest hole in the world…. JUST KIDDING!) and it was amazing! I was the first American that most of the kids had ever met, and they were absolutely fascinated by me. They were taking videos with their cell phones, pictures of me, of my Florida Driver’s License, it was wonderful. And whenever I spoke Polish they were all just so excited, it was quite funny. While I was there I went over 36 straight hours with no sleep, so I was exhausted, but it was worth it.

Most recently, I went to Stężyca again, and my Dad from Florida came to visit for a few days. We went to Lublin, and he was able to meet some of my new best friends. We also went to Majdanek, the second largest concentration camp in Poland. It was a very interesting experience, but extremely cold. For some reason, it was the first windy day I have experienced in Poland, and it was unbearably cold…my poor father! Coffee Heaven never tasted better 🙂

I walked on a frozen lake for the first time. I made snow a