Outbounds 2013-2014

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Alana Russell
2013-14 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Freeport, Great Bahamas
School: Bishop Michael Eldon School
Sponsor District :6990,
Florida

Alana - Germany

Alana’s Bio

Hallo, mein Name ist Alana! I’m Alana, and I’m from the Bahamas. I’m 16 years old and I’m a senior at Bishop Michael Eldon School in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Later this year I’ll be moving to Germany – one of the biggest changes of my life. I’m both excited and, admittedly, pretty nervous. Coming from a fairly small island, I can only imagine how different Germany will be, surely in the culture and undoubtedly in the climate! I come from a large family, with three older sisters and a younger brother and sister. I live with my mom, dad, and my two younger siblings. One of my sisters, Rachael, is currently on an exchange in Denmark, and she’s absolutely loving it. I’m always seeing new pictures of the country and how much she’s enjoying herself. I’m a pretty active person, and I like going to the gym and I’ve recently started playing soccer at my school. I also really enjoy art, reading and writing, and I love history. Seeing as Germany is a country rich in history, I look forward to seeing a new side of its history that I wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to see. My friends and I are always spending time together, going to the beach, at the gym, going out at night, or at each other’s houses. It’s going to be hard being in Germany so far away from everyone, but I’m also really excited for the change! Though I’m definitely nervous about learning the language (before I found out my country assignment was Germany I couldn’t even say ‘hello’ in the language), I’m ecstatic about the opportunity and look forward to all the experiences waiting for me. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and I’m counting down the days until this wonderful journey begins!

Alex Lee
2013-14 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Highland Beach, Florida
School: Boca Raton Community High School
Sponsor: District 6930, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Brescia Nord

Alex - Italy

Alex’s Bio

Hi, my name is Alex Lee and I am currently 15. I was born in Pennsylvania, but lived most of my life in Indiana and some of it in California. I have been living in Highland Beach, Florida for the past two years and I love it. I live here with my younger brother, my mom and dad, and my sister when she is not at college. In my free time I like to spend time at the beach, with my brother, and with my friends. Since I’ve moved here I have picked up longboard skateboarding, surfing, and skimboarding. Additionally, I play lots of tennis and have even been an instructor. My school life keeps me pretty busy. I enjoy being on the debate team. It has greatly improved my public speaking and is an excellent way to keep up with current events. In total I am taking six college level classes (3 AICE and 3 AP), and one honors. I also love music. In addition to playing violin since I five, I have recently picked up some guitar. I wanted to become an exchange student because I wanted to become a global student and be immersed in a culture other than my own. During the exchange I want to be an Italian while still being a positive ambassador for the US. I want to openly accept their culture. I want to see the world through different eyes. After this year I plan on using all the information I’ve gathered and applying it to the rest of my life. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am eager to take.

Alex’s Journals
September 30, 2013
August 30: Today I embarked on my yearlong journey. I had been waiting for this day for over half a year. After saying all my goodbyes to my family and taking pictures, I departed Fort Lauderdale airport for my two hour journey to JFK airport in New York. While going through security and arriving in my terminal, I swarm of different emotions buzzed around in my head. However, the prevailing emotion was excitement. In the plane, I slept the first hour due to my lack of sleep due to last minute packing the night before. The second hour, I began to feel guilty so I began to study some Italian. When I took out my workbook and notes the woman next to me excitedly told me how she was Italian. It turned out that we actually would be on the same flight to Milano. The woman, Ana, was able to help me with my grammar and the meaning of some verbs and nouns. After what seemed like ten minutes, the plane touched down in JFK. I hurriedly gathered and stuffe d my papers and workbook in my backpack, found my boarding pass for the next flight, and stuffed that into my pocket for easy access. I stood up and my legs were shaking with energy. I felt like I had to run a few laps due to being crammed in my seat with very limited legroom. It took quite a while to finally get off the plane. I stepped in to the airport rolling my carry on behind me. I scanned the crowd for Ana or a screen with the departure and arrival terminals. Luckily, I found both of these at the same place. Ana had already found where our plane was so I decided to just follow her. I had to board a shuttle to get to the right section of the massive airport. Eventually I was successfully aboard the plane and took the eight hours to eat, watch movies, listen to music, and try to study Italian. In no time, the plane touched down and I realized I had gotten about three min of sleep. With my half functioning body, I stumbled off the plane and quickly passed through customs . I easily found my way to baggage claim and made my way to the exit where I found my older host brother and host mother waiting. We greeted each other and made our way to the car. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the airport was how much colder the temperature was compared to Florida. Additionally, I felt just about no humidity. I was already in love. As me and my host family walked to the car, my heart started to race when I saw the small Fiat parked in front. I didn’t think my suitcases were fit. Rotary had told me enough horror stories of people over packing and not being able to fit all their luggage into the car. However, everything ended up fitting with the help of the open back seat. On the two-hour car ride from Milan to the city of Brescia, I talked mostly to the host brother, who spoke excellent English due to his exchange in Florida, and went over the first night questions. I then tried to accept the fact that I was in Italy, and this would b e my home for the rest of the year.

WEEK TWO

As of today, Saturday the 14th of September, I have been in Italy for exactly two weeks. Time has flown by faster by the day. Throughout the past fourteen days I have experienced many new places and things. The first was jetlag. After a smooth, yet tiresome journey, I was welcomed to Italy by my host mother and brother. I have a twenty-one year old host brother, Fillipo, currently in Scotland, and a fourteen year old host brother, Davide. There is also a sister, but she is currently studying abroad in FL for a year. Therefore, I have been spending most of my time with my Davide. During this time we have gone to the church for about a week volunteering. The church hosts a book buying and selling opportunity for old books, so students are able to buy books for half the price. This gave me opportunities to meet other Italian teenagers also volunteering there. It also gave me the opportunities to have extremely awkward semi-conversations with people. I used a combination of my li ttle Italian knowledge/Spanish/English/my translator. I would literally give me translator to people during my most desperate moments. I spent most time helping people carry their books, but throughout the weeks, the amount of people slowly dwindled down. This gave me the opportunity to play soccer and basketball on the field and court within the facility. So far, from everything I’ve witnessed, every single Italian is amazing at soccer. Additionally, in Brescia, I have done much sightseeing. This includes the Castle of Brescia, and the many beautiful squares. From the castle I was able to look out over all of the city of Brescia. The scenery seemed unreal with the mountains and mist in the background with terraces on the sides of hills. Additionally I have visited the beautiful town of Salò on Lake Garda about 45 min from my house. I experienced the freezing lake water and rocky beach, experiencing multiple small cuts on my toes. I’m sure the others on th e shore, who all had water shoes, were entertained watching my hobble along into the water. And the gelato there was amazing. Gelato pretty much everywhere here is amazing. This transitions into my next topic. Food. The food here is amazing. I want more of everything I try. Additionally, the food here seems so much healthier! Less greasy and more tasty than American Italian food. The pizzas are perfect. Unlike the US, people here usually eat a whole mini pizza for themselves. This is also possible due to how thin the pizza actually is. But actually, I’ve mostly have eaten pasta here; numerous different kinds of pasta, sauce, and meat. I’ve actually also recently ordered Chinese food here. It was an interesting experience. Even the Chinese food felt healthier! I was also able to experience two three-course meals at two different rotary club meetings. Here I was able to meet other Rotarians and meet new people. Me and the other two exchange students were luckily pl aced at tables with younger people who knew a good amount of English. So awkward silence and smiling were thankfully avoided. I have also had a Rotary Youth Exchange meeting. I got to meet the other exchange students from around the world that are staying here in Northern Italy. In total it was probably a group of a little less than thirty students. From what I remember, most were from the US, two from Canada, one from Finland, one from Germany, one form Mexico, one from Thailand, and one from Argentina. We were all able to relate to each others problems and challenges and finally speak in coherent English sentences. It was a fun and relieving being able to spend a day speaking without having too look up a word every three seconds. With the group we explored the city center (the third time for me) and went to a nearby city for an amazing four course meal. Unfortunately, almost all of them were living in Cremona (about an hour south of me), but I was able to discover the othe r four students who also lived in the city of Brescia. We actually have all hung out already once at the mall where I bought some warmer clothes for the upcoming winter. It was entertaining watching each other purchase food and clothes due to the fact that none of our Italian was up to par.

Now vacation was over and school was finally starting. It was September 12 when I first started my school year. This year I am attending a private Italian high school with about 200 students total for five grades of liceo (high school). I also get my own tutor, Steven, for three hours a week. I am attending a scientific school with emphasis on sports. Instead of a normal two hours a week of sports like other schools, I have to attend six hours of sports a week. The sport varies throughout the year from rugby, swimming, volleyball, and basketball. So far school has been interesting and I have experienced many differences. First of all, you stay in one classroom the whole day and the teachers switch rooms. Secondly, You don’t eat lunch at school. You are able to buy snacks but most kids go home for lunch. Also, teachers here don’t threaten students with detentions and referrals, but usually just end up yelling really loudly. Most of the students here have been nice to me so far and try to talk to me. Its been a challenge learning all the names but I think I’ve gotten it down. Many of the students have the same first names so many students are called by their last name instead. As of now, talking to my classmates is extremely difficult due to the fact that almost all of them speak just about no English. However, I have been able to find a couple friends that I’m able to talk to or hang around during breaks and other talking opportunities. In class I’m not able to understand most of what the teacher is saying so I study Italian in all but three of my classes; math, Spanish, and biology. There is no possible way, currently, that I could comprehend and keep up with the other students in history, economics, Italian, Physics, etc.

Additionally, another major different thing that I’m experiencing here is the public transportation. I use the buses and trains to go everywhere, including school. Due to my inability to speak Italian, the first day of school I ended up boarding the wrong bus and sprinting 4.5 km with my backpack full of books on my shoulder. I ended up only being 5 min late for class. The teacher didn’t even ask where I was or acknowledge the fact that I was late.

Observations

1)The driving laws here are much more relaxed and people drive very sporadically. Cars pass when they want and scooters pretty much go wherever the want.

2)The shopping carts here have swivel wheels on all four wheels.

3)In the supermarket you have to put on a glove before grabbing the fruit.

4)Cars are all small.

5)You can start driving scooters when you are fourteen.

6)Almost every dinner is accompanied with bread and cheese on the side.

7)Phone numbers are really long!

8)Many Speedos

9)When Italians talk, their hands move more than their mouth.

10)Most of the songs on the radio are American. #murica

11) Some bathrooms cost money.

12)Some bathrooms are holes in the ground.

13) You answer the phone with “Pronto” which means “ready”.

14) When the teacher walks in everyone stands up.

15)Everything American is extremely expensive.

16)No BBQ sauce.

17)No Skittles.

18)No Peanut butter

19) Lots of pasta and not a lot of steak.

20)Italians (at least here) all drink bottled water.

21) Not much online shopping really available to you.

22)When eating keep both hands on the table.

WEEK 4 (9/28/13)

So I have finished my third week of school and I now have established a normal rhythm. I wake up at 6:30, take the bus at 7:20, arrive at school at 7:55, and begin school at 8:10. On three days of the week I end school at 3 and two days of the week I finish at 2. On Thursday I Stay until 4 for a sport with my class. Things are slowly moving forward and I’m putting in more effort to talk with my classmates. Additionally I have gone out with some other rotary exchange students here. We’ve gone to some small places to eat or shopping. It’s a relief to just speak some English with others. Additionally there has been a Rotary meeting in Fognano where all rotary students in Italy met, with the exception from some in Sardinia. During this weekend I got to meet some amazing people and fill my Rotary jacket up with pins. We went over basic things just like before I departed the US. At one point everyone was singing Queen in the auditorium. My Italian vocabulary conti nues to increase and things are looking positive.

1/15/14

So I’ve now spent a good amount of time in Italy. I’m about halfway, and right now the exchange is probably the hardest. After all the holidays without my family and friends its impossible not to feel a bit of homesickness. However, my time with my host family here has been great and I got to meet the whole family for Christmas. During New Years I spent it with exchange students in the city right next to mine. It was a good time with much energy in the piazzas.

Also, I have moved on to my second host family. Again I have the familiar feeling of not being comfortable. I have to get used to everything again and get familiar with the ways of my new family. However, I am excited to get different taste of Italy. I also mean that literally because the new family gives me plenty of delicious food every day. Finding my way to school was much easier than my first time due to the fact I can function with the Italian language now; enough to survive on the street. This leads me to my next topic.

Italian. Over the course of the past two weeks my Italian has been increasing at a rapid rate due to the fact I never speak English in this family. The downside to this is that now I have to participate fully in school. This means studying for tests and interrogations as well as homework. Lucky for me all this takes 10x longer for me than Italians due to the fact I have to mentally translate, then memorize the material in English mentally, then translate my English memory to Italian so I can spew it out on my tests correctly.

Another thing that’s happened since my last journal, is traveling. I’ve gone to Verona, Como, Milano, and skiing in the alps. I’ve taken many pictures and enjoyed being a tourist. These are tourist places, so many of the stores and such speak English. But I am happy to say I can smugly respond to them in Italian when they approach me speaking English (or when they try saying hi in Japanese or Chinese (for obvious reasons)).

All in all, my experience has been pretty great and extremely accurate to what Rotary told me in terms of emotions. My time in the beginning was amazing, and it still felt like a dream, but now it feels like I actually live here. During the holidays I was a bit down, but now as time progresses everyday keeps getting better and better. I’m extremely eager for what the next months hold in store for me.

Alex Mead
2013-14 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Hernando, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor: District 6950,
Florida

Alex - Japan

Alex’s Bio

Alex Mead 16 years of age DOB: June 17th 1996 Lecanto High School; International Baccalaureate program Sports: Baseball, Golf, Basketball Hello my name is Alexander. I do prefer to be called Alex but I have met many people in my life who prefer using ones full name and I am accepting to either name. I am a junior at Lecanto High school and I am involved in my schools IB program, which stands for International Baccalaureate which is a program dedicated to the outward learning of students as well as the use of a foreign language to accelerate in academics. I am also a part of my schools baseball team that in which I am a varsity pitcher and third baseman. In my free time I enjoy reading and learning what I can about the workings of computers. I of course, like many other teenagers, love to play video games of just about any kind. I love to interact with other people and learn more about them. I will not say that anyone is perfect especially not myself. I am an extrovert in every way and very outgoing. One of my worst tendencies is that I am very impatient but I have slowly begun to work on that (waiting on the acceptance was a very good test) and striving to become better. I also love to play golf as well as basketball both of which I am ok but no Jack Nicklaus or Larry Bird. My expectations for my rotary exchange experience are that I hope to gain a new language and cultural acceptance of the world around me. I am very open to any food of course and am willing to try any new food course items you could throw at me. I also am very open to any religion for I do not have a true religion of my own or that I deem prudent to study and learn more about.
Alex’s Journals
October 15, 2013
Japan, japan, japan, where to begin? Well i will start off by saying study that Hirgana. One of the few things that if studied more would improve greatly your first few months here. I haven’t had any significant problems as of late (although the other day I did get on the wrong bus and ended up in another town an hour away but that’s not important), the life here is easy and I’m loving every second of it. I will say I feel like death is breathing on my should when riding my bike to school because the Japanese people are terrible drivers and it scares me to even cross the street. Everybody I’ve met so far has been wonderfully kind to me and ready to help with anything I need so don’t be afraid to ask them anything. But other than those few i haven’t much to write about. A few typhoons have hit so there’s that, i experienced two separate earthquakes which were neat. All in all this just the beginning of my experience and the next one you will get will be much more exciting. I think.

Alexandra Schelle
2013-14 Outbound to Paraguay
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: William R. Boone High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Encarnacion

Alexandra - Paraguay

Alexandra’s Bio

Greetings! My name is Alex, and I’m 17 years old. Like most 17-year-olds, I can’t wait until I turn 18. Unlike most 17-year-olds, the reason I can’t wait is because I’ll celebrate the day in Argentina!!! I’ve lived in Orlando all my life, so I’m most definitely excited for the change of scenery. I’ll have to say “see you later” to my beloved parents, grandparents, stepmom & little bro, as well as my 2 lifelong best friends. I know this adventure will be worth it all! My favorite subjects in school include Statistics, English, Spanish, Social Studies, and Art. I even like a little Physics here and there 🙂 I serve as President of Social Justice Club, where, as our motto states, “We Help People.” After school, I can be found playing lacrosse, spending time with friends, doing homework, or toiling over college applications. I wanted to be an exchange student so I could widen my perspective. I know you can’t fully appreciate an idea until you look at it from all angles. Here, the idea is life, and the angles are world cultures. What better way to appreciate life than to live in a way totally new to you??? During the year I spend in South America, I hope to 1) become fluent in Spanish, 2) learn to tango, and 3) grow as a person. I don’t know what the last one will look like exactly, but here’s to hoping. In a nutshell, I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!!!
Alexandra’s Journals
September 3, 2013
First off: I am in Paraguay, not Argentina. And I am so happy to say that! Nothing against Argentina, but because I know approximately zero people who have been to Paraguay, this experience will now be completely my own.

I arrived here two weeks ago, and I feel like I’ve been here forever (in the best way possible). Here are some rules I have picked up so far:

1. Always say yes. To everything. Even if that means joining some family members to go to the “campo” (countryside) randomly, when your Spanish is too poor to understand how long you’ll be gone and for what reason you’re going. Doesn’t matter. Say yes to experiences.

2. When finished eating, place the fork and knife vertically next to each other in the center of your plate, with the ridges of the knife faced inward. This is your greatest weapon against more (delicious) food being forced upon you when your stomach is already about to burst.

3. Kiss both cheeks when greeting. Though I learned the awkward way that this doesn’t apply to the guard. Go figure.

4. Keep your high heels on at dances (oh the pain!!!)

5. When you go on exchange, bring decks of cards. Yes, future exchange student reading this, WHEN you go.

6. Get ready to translate English songs on the radio for your host siblings.

7. Keep up with your home country’s news, even if you have to seek it out. I found out we might be going to war with Syria via a German exchange student…embarrassing.

8. Traffic lights here are sparse. Most intersections obey the rule that he with more cajones may proceed. It’s scary. Plus seatbelts are discouraged for some reason. BRING ON THE DANGER (Sorry, Mom)

That’s all for now. Chao!
March 25, 2014
Hola,

So I just experienced for the first time in my life all my work getting deleted. It was awful. I created this beautiful blog entry for you all and BAM—deleted. Here I go again:

Most of what I have learned here aren’t the basic cultural differences the encyclopedia set in my living room back home told me about. Sure, I’ve learned that when drinking tereré, you have to put the bombilla on the side of the vaso with the threading. I’ve learned that when a party says it starts at 12:00 AM, don’t get there until 1:30 AM. I’ve learned not to rush people. Rushing is never, ever worth it.

I’ve learned a lot bigger things though, too.

I’ve learned that people teach you things without telling you. Sometimes they teach you how to be careful because they’re sensitive, or they teach how to be patient because they’re annoying. Oh, I think I’ve also learned to be Paraguayan honest…aka brutally honest. I know this is something to tone down when I get back to the States, as we are a sensitive bunch, but it’s the culture here.

I’ve learned not to be embarrassed. By anything. (Although I’m sure there are still a couple of things my biological dad can do to get me.) But at the end of the day—heck, in the moment itself—no one really cares. ESPECIALLY if you don’t.

I have learned people don’t remember you—they WON’T remember you—and it’s okay. The present is the most important. Yes, plan for the future, because one day that will BE the present, but be HERE NOW. How you impact people while interacting with them will affect their future, aka their future present, and that’s more important than making a lasting connection. So make people feel good. And forget about “you” for the time being.

I have learned that listening is a lot cooler than talking.

I learned not to feel bad about myself when people get offended. Instead, make it better. Do something. For example, I had lived the horrifying reality of losing my host mom’s high heels. I felt bad about it for a long time. But then one day, as I was walking around outside, I found myself in a shoe store, and I bought her another pair. She ended up using them to dance in Carnaval. I always worried about the fact that I couldn’t find them, but when I opened my eyes, I realized it was in my control…which brings me to my next point.

A lot of things aren’t in your control. And that’s okay, too. Going with it and trusting the environment you’re in, the people who have lived in it, and the philosophies they abide by WORKS. Never abandon your own thoughts and experiences, because those are a valuable part of you. But learn to trust. They’ve been doing this for a while.

I have learned to strive for humility.

Oh, and I’ve learned to save my work.

Alexis DeGregory
2013-14 Outbound to France
Hometown: Freeport, Great Bahamas
School: Bishop Michael Eldon School
Sponsor: District 6990,
Florida

Alexis - France

Alexis’ Bio

Bonjour! My name is Alexis deGregory and I’m 16 years old. I was born and grew up in The Bahamas on the beautiful island of Grand Bahama. I’m so excited to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student going to France! I can’t wait to go to France and experience a whole other culture so different from mine. I’m also really interested in becoming fluent in French and taking full advantage of this amazing opportunity. I will definitely miss the beaches and warm weather at home but I can’t wait to see what France has in store for me. I live with my mom, dad, and my two sisters. I love my family; they’re all sarcastic and funny. I only wish that they could experience this exchange with me. I’m in the 12th grade at Bishop Michael Eldon School; I am also a prefect and house captain. In my spare time I like to go to the beach, hang out with friends, dance or play soccer. I’ve taken ballet for 11 years now and soccer for 9 years. Both of these activities have become a huge part of my life and make me happy. I’m passionate about becoming a pastry chef in the future and this is one of the reasons that I’m so excited to go to France and get a taste of what pastry is all about.

Alysa Malespina
2013-14 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Ängelholm

Alysa - Sweden

Alysa’s Bio

Hej! The name’s Alysa Malespina. Pleased to meet you. I, along with twenty-something other students, have been both persevering and lucky enough to make it into the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. We have battled the application, catr fought through the interviews, and now we’re really going. I’m really going. My country? you may ask. Sweden.

The first question most of my friends and family ask when I tell them whaere I’m going is “Why didn’t you choose someplace warmer?” To which I reply “Have you ever seen a picture of the place?”

At this point, I will find the nearest smartphone, show the offender a picture, and they will then remain silent on the matter. However, Sweden has more going for it than natural nbeauty (though I might be hard-oressed to find somme aspect I enjoy more). Sweden has an incredibly rich and interesting history, a political system vastly different from the one I was reaised in , and apparently, some really fun festivals. Speaking of, if anyone tries to send me back to the US before midsummer, they will not be able to find me before June 20th.

Now a little anout me: I love reading. I love reading and learning and riding horses— for fourteen years, in case anyone was curious– and talking to people who know lots about lots. I especially love doing anything that could be considered “awesome”– that’s why I went after Rotary Youth Exchange. It seemed like the absolute coolest thing to do at the time. (And still does!) To anyone reading my journal, I hope you like cool things, too, because I’ll be doing and writing about as many as possible. I really hope all of you enjoy reading my journal. And to everyone at Rotary Youth Exchange: thank you. All of you have a dedication to love of learning and new experiences that I find astounding– in fact, more astounding than your ability to work with paperwork, which is saying something. Thank you again for what I’m sure will be an adventure of a lifetime. And so we go.
Alysa’s Journals
August 5, 2013
I wrote this on June 16th, but late’s better than never:

I’m a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Last October, I heard a talk about some program in which I could live abroad for a year, make new friends, become bi-cultural, and all that sort of thing. It sounded cool, so I just kinda filled out the application, turned it in, and hoped my parents would get more on board with the idea as time went on. I was accepted by Rotary after a series of interviews, I got my country (Lithuania) and I went to my first weekend at a place called Lake Yale. It’s a summer campey place with a playground and a lake; all the trimmings, it’s pretty nice.

All 80ish of the outbound students (those leaving the US) come together for a weekend of talks and lectures about all the basics of being an exchange student: don’t die, do anything stupid, or come home early. Over the next six or so months, I got my country changed to Sweden, did some essays, rode in a few horse shows, finished my IB testing, decided which college I would attend, and ate lots of popsicles at the Hyppo, a popsicle store near my house.

That’s all you need to know about my life before this weekend for this blog to make sense. So, that is what you shall get. I didn’t write in much more detail because I don’t remember most of it. (Well, I’ll remember the horses and popsicles until my memory decays, but the school-related stuff already seems to have lost its grip on me.)

Fast-forward to this weekend. We went to Lake Yale again for a “Cultural Boot Camp” and I think I speak for all the Outbounds when I say I had an outstanding time. We played quite a few games and we had quite a few conversations about said games. That were fun, but those weren’t the things that affected me most this weekend. What did? My peers. I have never had a group of people I enjoy more than out RYE Florida Outbounds.

That’s why I feel so confused.

I have never met a group of people I love more. It is both one of the most and least diverse group I have met. Diverse in the usual ways, but similar in that they all value experience, understanding, adventure, and in that they desire to make themselves lost just for the sake of being found again on a map of their own creation.

But I won’t see them again for a year. And in about six weeks I’m going to meet a group just as fantastic.

Another outbound said to me a few weeks ago that he’s no longer in Florida, he’s in Peru (the country where he’s going, in case you, dear reader, are a little slow). I can’t say the same thing. In general, I pride myself on being very present, in the present, wherever I presently am. I can live with people and things moving in and out of my life, and I’m almost always fine with it.

However, after this weekend, I find myself really, really angry. Not at me, or my parents, or Rotary; I’m angry at time. I want it to move fast and slow at the same time because I can’t wait for the next thing that’s going to happen, but I don’t want what’s happening now to end. I want to meet and spend forever with my future friends in Sweden, and a I want to do the same with my friends that I met just last January. Unfortunately, I don’t even have one forever to fill, let alone the endless ones I need.

I haven’t even left yet, and I already understand why the Doctor hates endings.

August 8, 2013

I have been in Ängelholm for a little over 24 hours now, and I could certainly not think of many places I would rather be (pretty much only Rivendell and Gallifrey). The weather is what I would say is like a crisp autumn day, close to the beach, adorable town that I can take the bus to in a period of ten minutes, and there are quite a few horses around. I’m going to try to find a barn where I could muck stalls on weekends or something for a ride or two, but they’re nice to look at regardless. My host family is pretty darn cool, if I do say so myself. I’m their fourth exchange student, so they’re quite helpful in guiding me through and tolerating my cluelessness.

A quick narrative breakdown of yesterday before I get to my new cultural insights and all that jazz: I got on a plane at Jacksonville, had a six hour layover at Dulles in Washington, DC (with almost zero internet access) and got on an 8-hour flight to Copenhagen— a business class 8-hour flight! I got upgraded for free because someone had to move to economy to sit with someone or something. I got off the plane and was met by my host dad, mom, and sister (in the house, we also have my host brother, his girlfriend, and another exchange student form NZ), we drove into Sweden and an hour north. My day consisted of a trip to the grocery store, a trip downtown for an international food festival and some shopping, and my hose sister Linnea’s going away party. She’s leaving for Boise, Idaho early next week.

Now, what all my readers are probably waiting for: things that confuse/amaze me about Sweden!:

*there is no humidity, so the air feels super crisp

*the bowls look like plates and it is confusing

*the water in bottles doesn’t really look carbonated, but it is.

really, really carbonated

*there is bacon-cheese in toothpaste tubes

*everyone is like four feet taller than me

*also at the party last night 80% of people were blonde. People

will say, “Oh, only 40% of Swedes are blonde.” don’t

believe anyone who tells you this. They are liars.

*you can leave windows and doors open without fear of a

horde of insects taking over your house

*I have the opportunity to live here for a year.

September 11, 2013

Hej! I’ve been in Sweden about a month now, and I’ve failed to be a very good blogger.

In fact, since my last update I have

• Started school

• Switched programs twice

• Went to Liseberg

• Started SFI

• Visited Hamlets house

• Gone to a crayfish party, a gong away party, and another dinner party

• Canoed 26 kilometers on a Rotary trip

• And generally lived the life of an exchange student

I feel bad about my lack of blogging, but as you can see, I’ve been busy.

School… is nice. My school is six buildings, with three stories. It has a dining hall and a separate café, and all the classes take place in different classrooms and at different times of day each day. Some days I have one class, some I have five. Its more like university than American high school. I’m doing the humanistika program which is languages and the like. I take French, English, Swedish, math, philosophy, history, and Swedish for immigrants.

I have several Swedish friends, plus 4 exchange students, which is pretty good for an exchange student in Sweden for a month—this is not one o those countries where being this exotic American will gain you legions of friends, which is nice in a way, because it makes you feel very normal. Some people find me interesting, some don’t, some put up with me speaking like a three year old, some don’t.

That’s the thing—exchange is normal. Like the rest of life, if you make it wonderful and exciting, it will be, and if you don’t, it won’t. I was talking to my host dad last week and he said that one of their previous exchange students, who went home, by the way, went on exchange to `find herself´, which O don’t think is what you can do on exchange. Exchange is something you do when you’ve found yourself (whatever that means), are very confident in the person you are, and are ready to meet some new people. You have to be confident in yourself already, because exchange is not easy. You will not be instantly happy and have friends. Exchange life has been a series of moments, in some of them I am surrounded by a huge number of people, and that can be stifling, but it can also be fun, and you have to make it fun. The next day, you could be walking through school, alone, not understanding what people around you are saying, and feel more alone than anyone in that world. But you have to take those moments as they come, too. But coming into exchange, you have to be able to deal with taking control of your view every moment, and that’s not something everyone is disciplined enough to do, so before you go, make sure you are.

Anyway, enough of that. Now I think I’ll talk a bit about cool, fun Swedish stuff.

It is already cold here. Me and my host family went out to get pizza on August 31, and I was wearing two cashmere sweaters and a blazer. This winter, if I stop updating, it’s probably because I’ve died of frostbite.

I went to Hamlet’s house! On a field trip to Denmark—Horatio gave us a tour, and I was fangirling so, so hard. I got to see where the epic duel happened, and also I met my current class, of about 5 girls, and they are wonderful and I’m grateful they’ve taken me in. I love Lauren and Juanje, but I’d rather not spend my whole year with other exchange students.

We have had some very nice dinner parties. I mean, I always love dinner parties, I could survive for weeks feasting only on others merriment, but the food here is usually pretty good, so Im glad I don’t have too. My first was a crayfish party to say goodbye to Vilhelm and Ebba, my host brother and his girlfriend, who are moving to New Zealand. It involved crayfish, schnapps, and a horde of Swedish twenty year olds. They were all very nice, and by Swedish standards I am a much better dancer than I am in the US.

Ebba’s parents had another goodbye dinner, and they are amazing, amazing cooks. I think I ate an entire zucchini pizza, tons of these brilliant Swedish mushrooms, they’re small, yellow-orange, and made of happiness, and a quarter of this blackberry pie thing. The food was so, so good.

We also had another party at our house with my host parent’s friends. I won a corn on the cob eating contest, and we had a lovely time over dessert. I think most of my favorite moments in Sweden have involved doing things over coffee.

Speaking of, Swedish coffee is better than American coffee. It’s not as bitter. Also, they don’t really have Starbucks over here. They have Espresso House, which is crazy expensive, but very good. We went to Starbucks after our trip to Liseberg, the amusement part in Göteborg, and it was even more expensive. We’re talking seven dollar tall coffees, here. Also, Liseberg, though not as nice as our parks in Orlando, has this drop ride, where you get to sit over Göteborg for like 20 seconds before being dropped, and it was one of the best views I’ve ever seen, and one of my favorite moments thus far in Sweden.

Lastly, this weekend I had a camping/canoeing trip with Rotary. We went for 26 kilometers over two days, and I got to be with my partner Emmy both days, and there was a campfire (which may or may not have made me a tad homesick) and I got to sleep under the stars and it was, all in all, a very lovely weekend. In fact, it was so lovely, I was inspired to ask my friend Sofi if I could join her scout group, and I have been granted permission. We’re going hiking soon, so prepare to read about that in a future update.

November 2, 2013

As I write this, on November 2, 2013, I have been in on exchange for 90 days; and my god, what a 90 days it has been. Exchange is in full swing, and everything I was told would happen, has happened. The projected highs and lows have been spot on. Rotary has been right about everything, and in only three months, my exchange has changed me more than I thought it could in a year.

First, I give you a summary of my adventures since my last journal. I’ve canoed 20-plus kilometers. I’ve seen a production of Hamlet in Swedish. I’ve had fika for hours in Stockholm. I’ve learned how to drink strong espresso without any milk or sugar. I’ve picked mushrooms with my host family and had them for dinner.  I’ve ridden a horse for the first time since I left the US. I’ve navigated the Paris metro system. I’ve been homesick for my home in Sweden; and for approximately 100% of these events, I’ve had mini mental breakdown while trying to understand both how lucky I am to be here (seriously, thank you mom, dad, and rotary for helping me make this happen) and how proud of myself I am for making this happen (thank you mom, dad, rotary, friends, and Haddenloch for making me the kind of person who can do this.)

That being said, exchange has not been a three month long vacation. I still feel guilty that I’m not fluent, or even conversationally fluent, at this point, and I imagine I won’t stop feeling guilty until I am. I still have to deal with living day-to-day with a culture that is much less organized and type-A than I’m used to (Though if I need to vent about that, there’s a German exchange student in my town who understands my pain). And I still need to deal with homesickness, which honestly didn’t hit me until I saw pictures of my stable’s Halloween horse show, which to me is the beginning of the ‘’holiday season’’. To top it off, at this point in Sweden, it’s pitch black by 5 pm. To deal with all of this, my usual plan of ‘’be busy all the time’’ hasn’t been quite enough, so I’ve taken up baking, in an apparent effort to make my host family obese. Both my host family and my exchange student family, both in Sweden and from Florida have been so much help. I’m also super lucky to have an amazing group of Swedish friends who tolerate me speaking Swedish like a small child (ironically, my best Swedish friend, Sofi, is half-Lithuanian, so I feel super cool when I know things about Lithuania and she’s impressed by my knowledge).

Perhaps the most important part of my exchange, however, is repeating the message to myself, loud and clear, that an experience doesn’t have to have immediate results, add to the bottom line, or make you more prepared of some career, to be important and worthwhile. This is a belief that I’ve held my whole life as a longtime fan of obscure science, fantasy novels, and other purely ‘’intellectual’’ pursuits. However, as I moved closer to University, adulthood, and all that jazz, it because more difficult to take time and do something which only was meant to delight and teach me. In Sweden, I’m not learning Spanish or Chinese for a job, I’m not doing a study abroad program or internship at university (though I’m sure that people who do these things do have some wonderful experiences). I am here enjoying a people and a culture. I’m also here learning that hobbits and wizards and orphans on the run from pirates aren ’t the only things in the world that can be enchanting. And growing up in the rather puritanical culture of the US, I started to feel my doubts about doing things merely for the pleasure of doing them, because that is what ‘’adults do’’. Travel, like novels, films, and other various arts, is form of ‘’escapism’’—not like the escape of the deserter in the military, but the escape of a one of those heroes and heroines in a dystopian novel. It frees you to see the values of the culture you were born to and the culture you now live in, and it allows you to take the best of both, and leave the worst.

These 90 days have been so, so amazing, and I can’t wait for the next 8 months (!) of buying an infinite number of wool socks, having fika, traveling, and making flower crowns.

December 6, 2013

So, at this point writing blogs is getting a little difficult—exchange no longer feels like a cool trip, it just feels like life, and when you’re just living day-to-day, it gets hard to remember that you’re doing something really cool that’s worth reading about. Then I thought of what I wanted to read about when I found out my country, and this blog will be mainly related to that.

School: School in Sweden is very, very different than it is in the US. It’s about a million times more relaxed, which I think is great for exchange purposes, but I’m not too sure what I think of it as a system. Each of my classes I have twice a week, and each of those classes I will have between one and two hours of class time. Most of the time we spend in class is just working on assignments on the Macbooks the school gives all the students (except for me, I use my Lenovo, and we’re very happy together.) You call your teachers by their first names, and you can go to the bathroom without asking. Sometimes I have an hour or two between classes, and this is spent either going on tumblr or having fika in the school café with my friends. My school has a café and a cafeteria—the cafeteria serves a pretty good (10,000x better than in the US) lunch, and it’s free, and the café has chokoladbollar, coffee, kanelbollar, and other delicious, sugary things, but you have to pay. If the teacher is not there, you don’t have class. Also, one of the most interesting things, to me, is that both the teachers and students move classrooms. For example, I have French on Mondays and Thursdays, but each class has a different time and a different room. This is resulted in me still not having my schedule memorized. As far as grades go, as long as I participate, all is well.

Swedish Rotary: Swedish Rotary is hard to get used to after US Rotary. My US Rotary club was very involved in the local community, and they had some volunteer opportunities. Thanks to the Swedish government, not quite as much volunteer work in needed in Sweden. The first meeting I went to I asked what opportunities I could have to help out, and my president told me that they mainly send money to Doctors Without Borders, and there wasn’t too much I could do to help with that. I also thought it was really interesting that my club of about 30 people only had two women, which seemed strange to me, as Sweden is famed for its gender equality (though I have heard that other clubs have a better gender distribution). Rotary is also pretty relaxed in Sweden. I don’t mean that in a ‘’exchange students break the Ds all the time and everything is okay’’ kind of way, though we do have some risqué, Rotary-sponsored, snowmobile driving. I mean that, at least in southern Sweden, travel rules are very relaxed. As long as you’re responsible and reasonable, Rotary will say yes to most of your travel requests, even out of Sweden. Though if you take advantage of the freedom they give you, I have heard stories of Rotary coming down pretty hard on exchange students. Be smart. There aren’t too many rules, so follow the ones that exist.

Weather: It is cold. You will be cold. Expect to spend a lot of money on winter clothes and accessories when you get here. It’s an unavoidable evil, and if you don’t plan, you will be poor after the first cold day when you have to leave school and buy some clothes so you don’t die of frostbite. You do not make good financial decisions when you just really want something warm on your body.

Language: Yes, most people speak English. Yes, it is hard to get people to always speak Swedish to you. Do note, that even though you can’t control what language people speak to you, you can control what language you speak to them. My speaking is better than my listening because of this, as many Swedes get annoyed when they have to talk slowly and repeat things. Try to insist, but don’t be rude about it. If you find someone who will help you learn and speak Swedish to you, be friends with them, and try to surround yourself with people that are patient with your language learning. Another note: if you travel to other parts of Sweden and don’t understand what people are saying at first, don’t beat yourself up about it, as regional accents are quite distinct. For example, my host family is from Stockholm, and they tell me I can’t speak a word of Swedish, only Skånska, which is the name of my regional dialect.

Fika: fika is a Swedish tradition of coffee and pastries with friends. It can be done as many times as you want per day, and the time is never wrong for a fika. This tradition, combined with the Swedish love of mushrooms, has made me 90% sure that all Swedes are giant hobbits. Why the entire world has not adopted fika, we may never know, because it is the best.

Public Bathrooms: Speaking of things that are the best, the entire world should model their public bathrooms off of Swedish ones. Individual rooms, individual sinks, and you know when the doors are locked, because the area above the lock is red. Swedish design at its finest.

Food and exchange weight: Most main courses in Sweden is pretty bland, with lots of potatoes, and many raw vegetables and salads. Also they eat a lot of meat. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, you will be in heaven. I’m not a huge fan of Swedish food, as it’s not terribly interesting or vegetarian-friendly, but it’s rarely bad. Most of the food I cook for my host family gets complaints fro being ‘’too’’: too spicy, to heavy, too much flavor. Where Swedish cuisine shines, though, is in the desserts. Pies, cakes, cinnamon and chocolate buns, all really good, and all the leading causes of exchange weight in Sweden. On exchange weight: if you aren’t terribly healthy and active in the US, you will probably lose weight if you only fika once or twice per day. If you play sports and eat really well in the US, you will gain a few kilos, but you will survive.

Fashion: anything warm. Bring lots of warm clothes, don’t bother with sandals, maybe bring one pair of shorts. Girls usually dress in a 90’s grunge style; boys have more of a classic American look. They are all well dressed; abut not super fashion-y. In the winter, all Swedes look the same. Dark pants, dark jacket, dark scarf, dark hat, dark gloves. I recommend you follow suit.

Culture shock: this caught me pretty unawares. ‘’Oh, western civilization,’’ I said. ‘’We’re all pretty much the same,’’ I said. I was wrong, and knowing that the culture was going to be super different would have made the first few months a bit easier. All my time as a student in the US was very much based on the idea of ‘’achieve the most and be the best.’’ And now more than ever I realize that competition is one of the core values of US society. In Sweden, this is not the case. Few students are ‘’overacheivers,’’ as Sweden has more of a culture of collaboration than of competition. That attitude was hard for me to adjust to, especially since I came from a school environment that was more competitive than most. Interestingly, Swedish classes are not separated by level, like standard, honors, AP, and IB, but by subject, like science or language. There’s also this idea of ‘’lagom’’ in the culture, which is an idea of everything in moderation. This is another thing that takes some getting used to, coming from the idea of ‘’work hard, play hard,’’ ‘’more is better’’ culture of the US. Most of this I’ve come to understand and have gotten used to, though I still find the need for Swedes to plan everything approximately three years in advance to be odd, as well as the fact that they label weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to casually tell someone that I’ll be busy the weekend of week 33.

So, future exchange students to Sweden, I hope that answers some of the questions you have. And to everyone else, there’s a peak at my everyday life in Sweden.

Amanda Vorce
2013-14 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6930, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of West Masuda

Amanda - Japan

Amanda’s Bio

Hi! My name is Amanda, and next year I will be living life in JAPAN! I am sixteen years old and will be spending my junior year abroad. When I first found out I would be going to Japan, I couldn’t believe my ears. I mouthed out the news to my sister, who then called her friend who had gone to Austria the year previous. As soon as the call ended, I ran to tell my mom. I was crying and laughing at the same time. See, Japan was my first choice, so naturally I was super excited. I have been wanting to visit Japan for nearly four years, but now I get to live there! In my free time I enjoy finding new ways to release my artistic muse. My favorite ways so far are drawing, sewing, painting, and rearranging and decorating my bedroom. I also play violin and ride my bike a lot. I love bright colors, culture-themed objects, and great music. Some would say I’m a bit of a nerd what with my love for Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Merlin, and the Avengers. One of my favorite quotes, which seems very relevant at this point in time, was said by Gandalf the Gray in the movie The Hobbit: “Home is now behind you; the world is ahead.” Home really is behind me with the beginning of this new and exciting adventure, and I could not be more thrilled to see the world ahead of me and what’s waiting for me in Japan.
Amanda’s Journals
October 2, 2013
So I’ve just passed a month of being in Japan. Crazy, I know.

I love every day here. School is so much fun even though I just copy kanji i cant even read into notebooks or work in my Japanese textbooks. From day one, everyone at my school has been so nice. After about a week I found my place in a group of friends, and now were best friends! Japanese high school is so much better than American high school. Everyone stays in the same class with the same people all day, so classes are always really close. Also teachers change classrooms, and we have ten minutes between classes. Sometimes well stay in the class, sometimes well sit in the hall under a big window when the weathers nice, sometimes well hang out outside, sometimes well go to the teachers room.

People in school here are also really different. Guys are much more physical with their friends, and girls are friends with everyone. There are no cliques or set group of friends here either, which is really common in America. Of course, some people you are closer to, but sometimes you’ll change it up and hang out with other people as well. Also everyone eats together for lunch, which is a great bonding experience.

The first week I was in school it was festival season, so there were no classes. We were decorating the classroom as well as making signs for around the school and practicing events and dances for the sports festival, which because of a typhoon that went through Japan, got put of till about two weeks after it was supposed to happen. It was still so much fun though. The school festival was pretty much just classes selling food and stuff like that. I ate ice cream, cream soda, and a crepe, as well as the lunch I brought with me. It was all really good.

The sports festival was outside all day, and it was really hot. And when its hot, people love to say “its hot” all the time. I had gotten pretty sick about a week before the sports festival, so all my teachers were all worried about my health, haha. I was fine though. I took part in the tug of war, but we lost, even though we won at the practices… A lot of the events were really strange things I wouldn’t have been able to come up with even in my dreams. Once, there was a relay, and the first people to run were tied together, so I thought it was just going to be a three legged race, but the next people to run were a group of three, then four, then five, then eight, and so on. It got to the point where groups were taking ten tiny baby steps, falling, taking another ten steps, and falling again. It was really entertaining.

Last weekend I went to my friend’s house on a day off, and we made and ate takoyaki, which is some kind of batter, cabbage, octopus, chip things, cheese, and pretty much whatever you want, all cooked together and formed into a ball. It’s a difficult process to explain. Then we went down the street and pet some goats, and there were some boys from our school there, so we hung out for a bit.

Another thing that’s incredibly different about schools here that surprised me is that its an open campus. I go to a private school, so I was especially surprised. When we were preparing for the festival we needed some supplies so me and two girls and two guys just walked down the street to a store and picked up the stuff then went back. All the doors are always unlocked, the windows don’t have screens on them, and we could pretty much walk out whenever if we wanted to. And coming from a school in Florida that locks doors from the outside and has guards by the parking lot to make sure you don’t leave, this is a lot of freedom given to students. But its like they don’t even see whats right in front of them because its always been there.

With my host parents I spent my first couple of days in Tokyo and Saitama. It was so much fun! I slept on a futon in the tatami room in my host grandparents house. We went shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku, then went on a tour on a boat of Tokyo bay. after that we saw the Sky Tree and the view at night was incredible. I got lots of pictures. We had to take a lot of trains to get back to Saitama, and I fell asleep on all of them… I was so tired.

Speaking of sleeping, I think Japanese people are the most efficient sleepers I’ve ever seen. They sleep on trains, and it’s like they have selective hearing. When their stop is called they just get up and leave like they weren’t just asleep. Its the same way in school. Teachers don’t care if you fall asleep in class, because your grades are your own responsibility. people also sleep on their desks in the short ten minute break between classes, and miraculously wake up right before the teacher walks in.

the food here is incredible! i feel and look as if i have gained weight, but ive actually already lost about ten pounds. whenever people in florida would hear i was going to japan theyd always say “i hope you like sushi!” and so far ive only had two times when ive eaten sushi. its actually a lot different than in the states. in florida when you hear sushi you think fancy and expensive japanese restaurants selling fancy and expensive sushi rolls. here you can pick up food in a convenience store, go to a casual restaurant, or go to a fancy restaurant. and its not just rolls, either. they have grilled fish, raw fish, egg, shellfish, mayonaise sauce, shrimp, pretty much anything.

mayonaise is really popular here for some reason. people will eat it with everything if given the opportunity. my friends ate mayo on takoyaki, and my parents put it on fish and meat and curry.

a hard thing for me was being able to communicate with my host grandmother, who doesnt speak any english. we spend a lot of time together, so weve gotten better, but its still a challenge. I like to think of my grandmas speaking like the way she drives. She uses back roads and side streets, words that are not taught in language programs, so that i never know where I am in the city, or the conversation. Besides that, I love spending time with her. I may have no idea what shes saying but we still have a great time together.

I’m really enjoying this. Its the best experience of my life, and I love this country with all my heart. I’m learning the language to the best of my ability, and I am starting to make big progress after getting past the hump in the beginning of not knowing how to learn. I am so thankful to everyone who has made this possible.

And sorry if this doesn’t sound enthusiastic, I am so tired. (that’s one thing every exchange student has in common… tiredness.)

I will try to update again next month! Until then, sayonara!

Excerpt * I like to think of my grandmas speaking like her driving. She uses back roads, side streets, and rare words, so that I never know where I am in the city, or in the conversation.

Amaris Hayes
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: S. Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Porto Seguro

Amaris - Brazil

Amaris’ Bio

Hello! I’m Amaris Hayes; I’m 17 from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. I am so excited to say that I will be spending the next year in Brazil. I can’t wait to experience life in another part of the world, because even though I have travelled and moved throughout my whole life, I know nothing will compare to the journey that I am about embark on. Here at I home I literally live across the street from the beach. I don’t go much but I’m sure I will appreciate it a lot more once I leave. I live with my mom, dad and younger sister, who plans on applying to Rotary next year. In school I’m a part of the AICE program as well as a member as SJCCA (St. Johns County Center of the Arts). I’ve been acting since I was five and it is very important to me. My second love is movies, I even have a mini collection here at home, and I hope to have a future in film one day whether it’s acting or directing it’s something that I’m very passionate about. In my free time I like to bake, and I find any excuse to practice my decorating skills whether it’s a friends’ birthday or cast parties for the plays and musicals at school. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take anything for granted and want to make the most out of life. And what better way to do that then to experience a whole new part of the world and do something that most kid my age would never dare of doing. You hear a lot of teenagers say “You only live once, so make the most of it!” and as cheesy as it seems I feel like I’m actually doing it!

Amaris’s Journals

December 12, 2013

It’s been a little over three months in Brazil and I can honestly say I can’t believe it. I’ve already done so many things and meet so many people from all around the world. I’ve been whale watching, hiked in the mountains and seen some amazing views, swam in caves, and live in one of the most beautiful cities right on the beach, that people travel from all over to see. Now I’m on ‘summer’ break now, so my schedule is a little relaxed. I get up in the morning have breakfast and then go into the city to meet up with the other exchange student sometimes, or stay at home with my host sister and watch a movie. My family own a restaurant on the beach so at lunch time we usually walk there and have lunch before walking around the main square. During school however my schedule was very exhausting. I would wake up at 6 am to travel to school that started at 7:30. I took two buses (often in the mornings however I would need to take a taxi van because the first bus would be to slow and I wouldn’t make it to class on time) , a ferry boat, and then about a half mile walking to get to school, all together about an hour and a half. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays school would let out at 1pm, and on those days I would have my Portuguese lesson from 4pm to 5pm. But on Wednesdays and Fridays I would be let out at 1pm for lunch and then return at 3pm for afternoon classes until 6pm and take the commute back home, usually a little longer than it would take in the mornings. I take Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Sociology, Geography, Portuguese (two glasses one is more of a writing, the other is Literature/Grammar), History, Math (which is more college algebra) and English. It sounds like a lot, but every day you have a different set of them, so it’s not so bad. When I go back, I’ll be with the same group of kids and teachers, just in a different room which is nice.

The food here is so amazing I honestly don’t think I can explain it. But these are a couple of my favorite things.

– Guaraná

– The fruit juices

– Brigadeiro

– Feijoada

– The fruit here is like anything you’ve ever tasted believe me!

When I would read these I really liked the culture differences/things they know about America so here we go…

– Lunch is the big meal here, while dinner is more of a snack; a soup, sandwich, or a small pizza.

– Most restaurants are self-service/buffet style

– Sodas aren’t as popular as the natural juices (My favorite thing!)

– You will hear every Brazilian Rotex/Rebound/Inbound say that the fruit here is better. They are right.

– Everyone is obsessed with red solo cups.

– The first thing my host sister asked me was “What is twerking?”

– I arrived tail end of the VMA’s/ the Wrecking ball video, so I got a lot of Miley questions.

– McDonalds

– Michael Jackson

– Obama vs. Romney

– I got asked about Syria quite a bit.

– Guns (not just the Brazilians, the other exchange students as well)

– Shopping (everything here is expensive, so when I mention $20 jeans, at the store I use to work at, everyone is amazed.)

– Always eat with a knife and fork. I’ve hardly ever used a spoon.

– Trayvon Martin (There was an exercise in my book for my English class based on politely cartoons and small article about it in which it changed the place from Florida to Oregon.)

– One Direction

– Beyoncé

My exchange started a bit strange, having to fly immediately to my orientation before meeting my host family, and from then on it’s been pretty much out of the ordinary. By now I’m sure you’ve read about all of the other journals expressing how much they love their country and how fast the time has gone by and most popularly “I can’t imagine leaving!” and I envy those kids. Not to say that I don’t love Brazil because I do the people are generally friendly, I’m only a walk away from the beach and the food is phenomenal. However I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about home every day or that the hours don’t seem longer here. Nothing about my exchange has been ‘normal’ thus far. Sure I’ve had the typical exchange mishaps. Made some cultural mistakes, said some things I didn’t mean to say, or translated something wrong. The usual good old stories that always seem to get a laugh, but I never had an ‘ease’ into the culture, or a proper introduction to friends. I was alone. A lot, nearly every night, I was left home alone most of the time without internet (which is why I don’t have other journals like most of the other students.) And for a month with no phone, and about a mile walk away from any stores, with little money, because although we do receive allowance, you will quickly learn the value of money. So from very early on I’ve felt abandoned. I wanted my friends, and the comfort of my life in Florida. I was stuck in this foreign country, with very little language skills, or resources. I wish I could say that I’m a lot better now, but then I want to be honest, and I’m not going to sugar coat this. Sure, my situation and living arrangements have changed but my feelings remain the same. And the fact is. I’m miserable. I’m not having the time that I was told I would have, not entirely anyway. Not saying that you won’t, but what I’ve learned, don’t expect to have the same stories that you’ve read form Rotex/Rebounds or what’s on this website, because there is only so much you can say in a three page word document.

They express to you how hard it is and you spend two weekends at Lake Yale or maybe a few meetings with your district discussing how troublesome this year would be but nothing could possibly prepare you for this. It could be my personal experience, or maybe not. I don’t want to scare you, but for the new kids, just know that last year I was in your shoes. I was sitting at my computer spending a lot of time going through journals, and getting so excited about the things they experienced and the places they traveled with the trips through rotary. But I don’t remember reading about the harder times. And honestly, there are no words to explain to you how it feels. I could sit here at my computer and write a novel about how difficult it is, and how I’m feeling but you will never truly know until you’re here. It’s not just missing home, that’s the wrong word. It’s more than just missing your family or your friends. It’s more of a loneliness than anything. It happens at night when you’re about to go to sleep, after all the excitement has died down, and your just lying in your bed, looking up at the ceiling and realizing that your thousands of miles away from home, in a country that you may still be struggling for language, and discovering new things about the cutler. You’ll feel it when you’d have to defend yourself, against stereotypes, or explain yourself or your strange behavior to your host family and friends, realizing that you’re the only person that eats that way, or that you’ve forgotten you’re shoes to where around the house in your room by your bed, because you still haven’t gotten use to the idea. That’s ‘homesickness’. It’ missing the feeling of belonging somewhere, its feeling like you’re alone with no one to speak to or no one understanding you. And sure you have you counselor, but they’re not going through what you are. You maybe with other exchange students, and they are great! Or you could be in my situation with one other exchange student, where it’s difficult/expensive to get to them, and you might not be able to see them like you would want to, or they could be form another as well and still won’t understand your view.

I remembered on one of the last days of our last orientation at Lake Yale. They sat all of the outbound in a room with the Rotex, no adults just future and past exchange students, and someone asked about homesickness. And one of the Rotex said “Yes it will happen to you. It happens to everyone.” And I didn’t believe her. I thought sure, I’ll miss home but I’ll be so preoccupied living my own life I won’t be bothered! I’ve moved around a lot as a kid so I understand missing old friends. But I couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t want to scare you but I want you to know that it will happen to you. And you’re reading this and they might just seem like letters on a screen to you and I could be just spending my time writing for my own good, but if, just if, on your exchange you’re feeling the way I am, you’ll be able to think back to this and think that you’re not crazy. That this is what happens on exchange, because believe, from this day on everything will be moving so fast. One minute you’re in a room in Florida, listening to Al Kalter about the D’s and the next thing you know you’re taking your daily bus route to school on the other side of the world.

This hasn’t been the time that I was expecting or hoping for, but I’m hoping that at the end of the day, I’ll be able to look at this and say that this was the best days of my life. I’ll be fluent in another language and have friends from all over the world and eventually it’ll all be worth it, no matter how much it may not seem like it right now.

Andrew Comiskey
2013-14 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950,
Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Praha

Andrew-Czech Republic

Andrew’s Bio

I’m a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High on the Gibbs campus of S.P.C., so I’ll be an old dog when I get to take my trip to the Czech Republic. I’m originally from St. Petersburg; born and raised. I live with my two parents, a younger sister, my grandmother, and a kitten. I’m kind of nerdy because my favorite subjects in school are math and science. I’m in calculus III and Physics II, but I guess being good at math has its perks. During my free time, I don’t always do a whole lot, but when I do, it’s usually just playing video games on the Wii, reading, or hanging out with friends. I originally wanted to be an exchange student because I thought I wanted to travel Japan. After further consideration, I realized that what I really wanted was to travel. Japan was, undoubtedly my first choice. My second, third, fourth, and fifth choices didn’t really matter, though. I was originally considered as an alternate, which understandably disappointed me at first. In retrospect, there were good students that were completely eliminated. Once I got the call that I had an opportunity to go to the Czech Republic, I was so stoked that I hurriedly accepted; I didn’t understand how someone could drop the opportunity I collected from them. And so, this year I hope to meet some new people, travel to new places, learn a really cool language, and do things I’ve never done before.

Andrew’s Journals

October 21, 2013

I’m not the journaling type, so it has taken me a while to build the motivation to write this journal. I have a lot to say, and I have been saying it, but much of it has not been written or typed. That’s partly because after I stepped off that plane, Florida didn’t exist anymore. The last time I took a vacation by myself was never, so not talking to, or having to worry about the people in my life back in Florida was relieving. Anyway, on the flight, I sat next to absolutely no one that spoke English, (although the man in front of me looked like Daniel Craig’s stunt double). Rotary really is recognized everywhere, though, because on my connection flight to N.Y.’s JFK airport, I sat next to a Venezuelan man whose daughter went to Canada a few years prior. With RYE? No. With some other program that was for profit, and cost a considerable amount more. This man was outraged when he learned that my parents were not, in fact, “doctors or lawyers” (#QuotesfromDougLobel), and yet I sat on the plane with both classy dress and demeanor (bonus point: RYE blazer!).

My first encounter with a Czech person was during my incredible six-hour layover in New York. The woman that I sat across from probably spent a good five minutes staring at my passport before introducing herself. Customarily, I picked up here burgundy passport and flipped through it, also. Honestly, even with a small amount of practice, I couldn’t understand much of what she said outside of her name and where she was from. Hearing your host country’s language from a live person for the first time is really shocking; you thought you knew how something was pronounced, but are dumbfounded when you realize the truth: that you are an exchange student, and you are not ready for this. In reality, though, nobody is, and they don’t need to be.

That’s because your host parents aren’t going to expect you to speak their language fresh off the plane. I felt motivated when I had finally arrived on Saturday morning, because I frantically searched for an American face in Prague airport to guide me through customs. It was obvious he didn’t know what he was doing either, but this was strangely comforting, because at least we could both look stupid together. I’m slightly jealous that other students going to different countries got an epic welcoming with their entire host club, but truly, there is nothing initially exciting about meeting your parents or club president after a 17+ hour journey.

Now to summarize what I’ve been doing for the past two months. The first day, it was still early in Czech time, so I took a three hour nap, drank a energy drink, and hit the road skating. No, not running, because that’s too American. Most people here either rollerblade or cycle. It was interesting to skate net to a river and mountains, albeit a slightly uncoordinated adventure given my inexperience with rollerblading. The first time I fell was when I saw the sign for the refreshments stand; five different types of beer, three types of wine, and a litany of hard liquors. Oh, and of course there were malinou limonáda (raspberry soda) and water. Despite being ten crowns more expensive, my host brother and I drank the soda. I didn’t taste any lemonade, though; he laughed at my ignorance; it wasn’t until the next day that I understood why: all sodas are called limonáda, but this is also the word for lemonade, so I am still confused on whether or not lemonade soda would be limonádou limonáda.

Probably the first three days that I was here it rained. The brother was going back to university in Germany soon, so he was trying to quickly show me important parts of the city. He failed epically, but I was satisfied with the fluffy cinnamon delight of trdelník. Really, it was fluffier on the inside, but there was no inside, because it was like a wristband of cinnamon. Whatever, you can look it up; I think it’s harder to describe.

If my memory serves me correctly (in retrospect, I really should’ve vlogged, because excitement and memory retention don’t mix) the second weekend I was here, we stayed at a cottage in the middle of…somewhere. Oddly enough, I’m writing this journal from that same cottage more than a month later, and I still have no idea where it is, except that it is very close to Česky Krumlov and Český Budějovice (shout out to Emily Weiss and Sᴓren Jacobson! :D). I met up with Emily on my way home last time to look around Česky Krumlov’s very old building and talk about life in general.

The following Monday, I walked into a post-communist (understandably still styled similarly) high school, better known as gymnasium, in full Florida attire: khakis, boat shoes, and a mint green polo. It was risky, but proved to be a good choice, because I met every girl in the class that day, and now can call almost all of them by name. I like the kids in my class; most of them are controlled balls of chaos. They get into trouble after school, but never actually get into trouble. Of course, it would be foolish to deny myself this important social connection, so I do hang out with them.

And so, during the subsequent few weeks, I have been on a week-long school cycling trip (tip: cycling pants!!), to a fee museum night in Prague, to two or three Rotary meetings, a district orientation in Strečno, Slovakia (6 hour train), and three or so Czech lessons at a Rotarian’s house. I don’t have much to say about Strečno, as this was the first really intimately boring experience I had had outside of school. We saw a castle, and took some killer pictures with the exchange students, but it was disappointing because we expected a little more freedom. As for my language progress henceforth, it has improved better than most I’ve talked to, but it is nothing to clap at. I still smile awkwardly at policemen and girls when they ask me things. I think this is some sort of natural defense mechanism I use to let people know I can’t understand them, and instead of offending them with my atrocious accent, let them bask in American charm (stupidity).

Although there have been a few tradeoffs and limitations, they have been more than worth it for what I’ve received. I’ve been having quite a splendid time here, and both I and Bob White, my country coordinator, are sorry that you received a lessor country (almost as bad as utter rejection).

Anyway, I’m on Facebook, but I’d prefer posts to my wall or something, because I have limited time to talk (that exchange life is busy!).

Lastly, and truly, děkujeme, Rotary. Tohle rok bude krásný protože z vy.

Angela McTigue
2013-14 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Clermont, Florida
School: East Ridge High School
Sponsor: District 6980,
Florida

Angela - Thailand

Angela’s Bio

สวัสดี (Sa-wat-dee Kah) Hello my name is Angela McTigue and I am going live in Thailand next year! I currently live in Clermont, Florida with my Mom, Dad, and 14-year-old sister. I am a 10th grader at East Ridge High School and I’m on the YCF aquatics swim team as well as my high school swim team. I love the ocean and just water in general. I am a certified advanced SCUBA diver. I lived in the US Virgin Islands on St. Croix until I was 7 years old. This is most likely the reason for my passion for water. A year ago, I would have never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be spending my junior year of high school in another country. My goals were different a year ago. I wanted to do well in swimming and schooling. I wanted to be accepted in high school, to make friends and reach a certain popularity level. I was taking Spanish 1 and 2 for the sole purpose of qualifying for collage scholarships. I was not really interested in learning the language, because I never really thought I would use a language other than English in my life. My life was simply school, swim, and friends. I was just a 15-year-old freshman trying to find my place in life. Now, a year later, I have come to realize that maybe my place in life is on the other side of the world in the country of Thailand! I am now a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. I am now in the progress of learning how to speak and write in THAI! I am about to go on what might be the best year of my life, or the starting year of a life full of adventurous travel. A year ago, I didn’t know anything about Thailand at all! What a difference a single year can make. Only one year from now and I will be with a new family and a new group of friends, a completely new set of people that, at this moment, I don’t even know exist. I will be speaking to them in Thai and living life in their culture, something that wasn’t even on my mind last year. I can’t help the unbelievable excitement that overwhelms me. I am go grateful for every occurrence and event that has lead me to where I am today, and where I’ll be next year. I think this is most definitely the best decision I have ever made.

Angela’s Journals

September 20, 2013

Imagine knowing that you are going to leave everything you know to go live in another country for a year. You know this for about 9 months. You tell all of your friends and family. Some of them are impressed, while others are worried, and others don’t take much notice in the significance of it. You plan and try not to have expectations about the year to come because that is what everyone tells you to do. You try to study your language, but can never find the patience or time. Then finally, the month of your departure comes and you run around like a mad man trying to get everything in order and say goodbye to everyone you know. And then you’re off, off to a new country with new people and a new beginning. And the entire time you’re thinking, “ What in the world am I doing?”

It’s crazy how normal it all feels to be living here. As soon as I stepped away from my family at the Orlando airport, it felt normal. The entire 24 hours of my travel felt natural. When I finally arrived to Thailand and saw the men from my Rotary club waiting to welcome me, everything seemed as if I hadn’t just spent the last day flying through time zones further and further away from my friends and my family and my country.

I have been here in Lopburi Thailand for a little over a month now. When I first got here it was a mass of confusion and unknowing all of the time. Now it is a mass of confusion and unknowing all of the time, but I’m use to it. Lopburi Thailand is the city of monkeys. There are monkeys everywhere. It sounds cool to live in a city that has monkeys walking around, and climbing the buildings, but they’re awful. They steal your food and take anything that you have in your hand out of it. They climb on the cars and into shops and on to you. They will stare you down and stalk you for your possessions. On multiple occasions I’ve just given them my food or drink because it just wasn’t worth the trouble of the monkeys jumping on me. It’s like living in a city with a bunch of tiny little criminals. It keeps things interesting… I suppose.

I go to school from Monday to Friday. School starts at 8:00am and ends at 4:00pm, except for the fact that it doesn’t really. I usually don’t get to school till 8:30 at the earliest because for one: I’m an exchange student, and two: the school system is extremely unorganized and not enforced. For instance, right now as I’m typing this up on my computer, I’m sitting in a classroom with my classmates. There is no teacher. Kids are on the floor eating lunch, there are is a guy playing a guitar to a famous Thai song and everyone is up loudly screaming the lyrics and jumping around, some people are sleeping on the pillows that they brought, and I’m sitting next to the other exchange student in this school who is playing Skyrim on the school’s computer. Are they supposed to be in a class? Probably. Do the teachers care? No, because they wouldn’t show up anyway. All of this chaos is entirely normal at school here. It’s not bad; i t’s just different from the American schooling system.

Not studying Thai extensively before I came was probably the worst decision that I’ve made. If you’re reading this and are going on exchange, STUDY YOUR LANGUAGE. Just stop reading this right now and go study your language. Not being able to communicate to people even the simplest of things is extraordinarily difficult beyond belief. Everyday is a struggle and mentally exhausting. Sometimes I turn down invitations to go places because I’m just so tired and don’t want to have to try to have a good time. It’s hard to have a genuinely good time when you can hardly communicate, never know what’s going on, and all you really want to do is lay on your bed in air conditioning and take a nap. It’s lame, but true.

Living here in Thailand doesn’t feel surreal or magical like people said it would. The fact that being here doesn’t feel surreal really upset me for a while. I felt like a failure for not imminently loving my country. But, as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to love it here. Life isn’t a fairy tale, no matter where you are. Being an exchange student is not to love another country, it’s to experience another culture. That’s what I went on exchange for. I don’t have to love it, and honestly it’s more of an experience to not love it, because then that means that you are going through culture shock, which is part of your goal. Not everyone has a honeymoon phase. Going on exchange is not a picnic in the park. It’s more like a hike up a mountain to get to a restaurant that everyone says is worth the climb. I’m not sure if that metaphor makes sense to you, but it makes sense to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I am extremely thankful for this experience that Rotary, my family, and everyone else involved has made possible for me. I know I will learn great lessons from living here. I already have. One lesson I’ve really, truly have learned is to not take what you have for granted. Living in a 3rd world country opens your eyes to how well off the United States is. I will not take this year for granted. That’s a guarantee.

No, I do not love Thailand. I do, however, appreciate the little things in the day, like the coconut ice cream served by the kind lady at school, or when my host dad randomly breaks into song. When my host sister jokes around with me, or when I order food from a food cart and the vendor helps me pronounce what I’m trying to order. When there’s toilet paper and soap in a public bathroom. The kind smiles I get when I ‘wai’ to people, and the astonished look on people’s faces when I speak to them in Thai. People say it all the time, but I have learned that it truly is the little things in life that count.

I had a difficult time putting this together because it’s hard to organize my thoughts and feelings about this experience since they aren’t organized in my head. Most of them contradict each other. It feels weird, but normal. I think it’s boring, but wonderful. The people here annoy me beyond belief, but I love them. The town is grimy, but beautiful. It’s terrible, yet marvelous. I don’t understand anything, but it all makes perfect sense.

It’s absolutely ridiculous, but worth it.

Anna Briggs
2013-14 Outbound to Croatia
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6930, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Rijeka

Anna - Croatia

Anna’s Bio

Hello, my name is Anna Briggs, I am fifteen years old and I live in Vero Beach, Florida. When I have free time I enjoy spending time with my friends and doing things like surfing or going to the beach. I also love to travel and to make jewelry with beads from places I visit. I am on my high school’s competitive swim team, I have been a student government representative for Vero Beach High School, and I am also the President of the Vero Beach Chapter of Glamour Gals. It’s an organization where we go to retirement communities and do the women’s nails and make up. My house is walking distance from the beach and I go there all the time, the beach is my favorite place to spend my time. My mom is a pharmaceutical sales representative and my dad is an airline pilot, my little brother is 9 years old and is in 4th grade, I also have a Maltese dog named Chloe. Getting to live the way other people do for a while has been something I really enjoy about traveling and something I am looking forward to. My God-Mother Lisa was a Rotary President in Savannah, GA and I have heard about Rotary since I was a little girl, my Mom was also an exchange student when she was in high school so I am so proud to be a Rotary Exchange student representing Florida. I hope to become more independent and I am looking forward to new foods and new traditions in Croatia. I am excited to see the ancient cities in Croatia and the amazing sea side towns I have seen in pictures and learn about Croatia’s rich history. I can’t wait for all of the new experiences I will be having and I hope to share my experiences and teach other people about life in Croatia when I get home.

October 19, 2013

As I walk down a street in Opatija, Croatia the sights and smells are overwhelming. I look to my left and next to a coffee shop I see a bakery with different breads, croissants, and pastries. The smell of fresh baked goods drifts through the air and when I glance to the right the crystal clear water of the Adriatic sea catches my eye. The sea is truly breathtaking here. Being a Florida girl who loves the water, the sea here has become a sanctuary for me. When I need time to think, or to take a breath of fresh air I find myself taking a walk to the Croatian coastline. Croatia has been such an adventure so far, from my first day of school, my first time on a public bus, traveling to Italy and spending time on the island of Pag, to meeting so many new people, making new friends, to missing my family, and discovering how wonderful my host family is. I cant believe I’ve only been here for around a month, and can’t imagine what is going to happen over the course of a whole year!

The first word that comes to my mind when I think about school here is, “different”. My school is in a beautiful old building in the city of Rijeka. It’s four stories high, but so much smaller than what I’m used to in Florida. Even though I don’t understand most subjects yet, I like to go to school because I get to see my friends, and all the students are so interested in America and they haven’t run out of questions yet! I’ve become very close to several people in my class and have made so many memories so far. Its amazing to me how my friends and host family have accepted and learned to trust me so quickly. I am the first American exchange student in this school, so I give presentations daily. I am really grateful for this opportunity because I have become very comfortable talking to large groups of people and I love it. I think this is a skill that I will use a lot in the future

Last weekend my host parents took me to Venice, Italy. It was stunning. The water, the gondolas, the architecture. It was truly beautiful. I was able to enjoy lunch on the water and learn about Venetian history. But my favorite part was being lost in the streets of Venice, and finding myself. I know it sounds cliché but as I was wandering through the streets, a couple steps behind my host parents my mind was clear. I started to think about myself, my life, and how its up to me to determine my future. I started thinking about all the choices I have made, good and bad, and how I’m proud of myself and my choices for getting to this point. I am so grateful for Rotary and the amazing opportunities I have been given.  I also realize how grateful I am for everything in my life back home in Florida and at my new home in Croatia.

Ari Glaze
2013-14 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Dr. Phillips High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Sorø

Ari - Denmark

Ari’s Bio

Hej! My name is Ari Glaze and I’m currently a junior in high school. I was born in Ohio, but moved to sunny Florida seven years later. I live in Orlando with my mom and stepfather, Jim. My brother, Eric, is studying at Florida State University. My family is extremely important to me. I also have two dogs named Charley and George (after the Weasley brothers of course). Tap dancing is my passion. Ever since kindergarten, I’ve been dancing. I took lessons in ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, hip-hop, everything, but recently I’ve quit everything else and only continued with tap. I can tap for hours on end; the syncopation and cool rhythms never get boring. This year, I’ve even begun training to become a tap dance teacher. I also enjoy singing and reading. Nothing is more exhilarating than a good book. I own around two hundred of them. In ninth grade, I joined the Center for International Studies (CIS) magnet program at my school. With the focus on social studies and language, my love of different cultures grew exponentially. The CIS program has given me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and delve into language and culture with great interest and resources. So when Scott came into my Art History class a few months ago, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to be an exchange student my senior year. When I first told my Mom about it, she was absolutely mortified. “But you’re my baby! What will I do?! I’m supposed to have you for one more year!” Eventually, and with the help of my step-dad, I convinced her to let me go and we filled out the gargantuan monster of an application. And now I am proud to say: I am absolutely thrilled to be going to Denmark next year. I can’t imagine any other way I would want to spend my senior year. I can’t thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity. I’ll probably still be talking about it on my deathbed. Next year can’t come soon enough.

Ari’s Journals

September 1, 2013

Three weeks in Denmark and I love it already.

I arrived in the small town of Sorø on Sunday, August 11 and immediately went to my school the next day. I swear it must be a record. School is amazing. I attend Sorø Akademi Skole, the second oldest school in Denmark. It was originally established as a monastery in the twelfth century and it is absolutely gorgeous. Coming from a place where thirty years is old for a building, passing the school church that is older than my country is just astounding. School is good so far. In Denmark, students are grouped according to line of study, and then they have all of their classes together, with the teachers coming in and out. I am in the second grade (equivalent of eleventh) and in the language line. My class is super nice. Since my first day they’ve been very welcoming and friendly. They call teachers by their first names, which is different. Danish kids are allowed to have their laptops and cell phones and other electronics in class and that surprised me. Of course they text and go on Facebook all the time (they’re teenagers, what do you expect), but they actually pay attention and contribute to class conversations. If American kids were allowed computers in school, no one would get any work done.

The town I live in is extremely small coming from Orlando: only 5,000 people. (The school is even smaller with 500 kids. Coming from Dr. Phillips High School with around 4,000 students, I was a bit shocked.) I am currently living on a farm with my first host family. The family consists of a mom and dad and two brothers: Gustav who’s sixteen and Christoffer who just turned fourteen. The entire family is really nice. They also have two dogs, which is especially nice when I’m missing my puppies at home. I am pretty sure they didn’t take me too seriously when I said I was short. (I am five feet even.) My counselor bought me a bike to ride to school and it was way too tall, even with the seat as low as it could go. My family thought it was funny. So now I’m using Gustav’s old bike from when he was about eight or so. And I get short jokes every now and then. Every day we have teatime around three and we sit down to family dinner at seven. I was not expecting the whole utensil thing; they keep their fork in the left hand and their knife in the right hand and they don’t ever switch. I might be ambidextrous by the end of this year. They also use a fork and knife for everything! I have eaten spaghetti and rice and bread with a knife. Weird.

My Danish isn’t going too well. Everyone here speaks English so it is really easy to just lean back on that crutch. I just went to Intro camp where we had tons of Danish lessons so it’s getting a little better. Danish is a fairly easy language when it comes to grammar, but trying to pronounce everything is so difficult. It sounds like Danes are just mumbling with food in their mouths all the time. When you learn Danish you feel so stupid because it just sounds like you’re just making a bunch of puking noises that all sound the same. Oh, and if you do go to Denmark, be prepared. Everyone will try to get you to say rød grød med fløde. But just get back at them by making them say refrigerator or squirrel or parenthesis.

I have been in this country for three weeks now and I still can’t believe I’m here. It’s so weird to think that I’m currently in a different country, a different continent, even a different hemisphere. Thank you so much, Rotary, for this awesome opportunity. It has been the experience of a lifetime, and it’s only the beginning.

December 4, 2013

I think it’s been a little over three months now. Maybe four. I’m not quite sure. Time goes so fast and the last thing I want to do is keep track of it.

I have changed host families since my last update. Now, I am an elf in a family of giants. I live with my host mom, Helle, my host dad, Peter, their two kids, Frederikke (17) and Kristian (14), and their little terrier Jack. I’ve been with them about a month and I love them. Frederikke and I get along very well; we like the same books, the same tv shows, even the same youtubers. She is in the same grade as I am, but in the science and math line, so I never see her. Kristian is very nice too. And Jack is very friendly. I will be living with them until the end of January. I feel so comfortable with this family because they’ve accepted me as one of their own. They call me their “daughter” and their “sister” and it feels so good.

School is so boring because I’m still not that great at Danish, but I’m getting better. I understand a lot more. I have Danish class twice a week at the youth center and lessons in school twice a week. My family also helps me with the language, but we still speak English fairly often. Helle is forcing me to read little kids’ books.

The next part will be a list. Because it’s easier just to list things.

– When people say ¨how are you¨ or ¨how was your day, they actually want to know. It doesn’t cut it to just say fine and move on.

– Rugbrød and ladkrids are absolutely disgusting.

– But most of the food is delicious. Like pålægschocolade, remoulade, frikadeller, flødeboller, æblekage, risengrød, and so on and so forth.

– They never mash their potatoes! Never! Well… rarely.

– All Rotary meetings open with a song.

– There is no word for please. Translated directly, Danes sound really demanding.

– They have inside shoes and outside shoes, a concept that, for some reason, took me a while to grasp.

– Public transport is expensive, but extremely reliable.

– But most people bike everywhere. They LIVE on their bikes. For example, Kristian could ride when he was three, no training wheels or anything. I’m still really clumsy on my bike compared to the Danes.

– Danes are very family-oriented. Families have dinner together every night, sometimes even breakfast and lunch too, and love spending time with each other.

– Nothing is more pleasant for the Danes than taking a walk in the forest, even though it’s freezing outside.

– Everything is super expensive here. If you see a piece of clothing for twenty dollars, buy it. It’s dirt cheap.

– Although everything is expensive, they get paid quite a bit. The minimum wage is like twenty dollars an hour.

– Then again, Denmark has some of the highest taxes ever. The state takes fifty to sixty percent of everything you make.

– But you get most of it back in free health care and stuff like that.

– Most boys actually care about how they look. When I went to Edinburgh with my class, the boys spent way more on clothes and shoes than the girls did.

It is getting so cold outside. It has yet to snow, but it won’t be long now. With the holidays and my birthday coming up, I’m surprisingly not as homesick as I thought I’d be. I made Thanksgiving dinner for my family and they loved it. Turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, corn bread, and pecan pie. How much more American can you get? We invited Helle’s parents over. Everyone was very excited to experience an American tradition. And I’m excited to experience all of the Danish Christmas traditions.

I have learned things already. Not just stupid, little things like how to set a table properly and how to cook some things. I’ve learned that some people just don’t click, no matter how nice they are. I’ve learned that school and careers aren’t the most important things in life (still important Mom, just not the MOST important). It is much more important to try make others feel good and happy, to make yourself feel good and happy. Try to make the world a better place in whatever little way you can. Do what you love. And I am lucky enough to be doing just that: learning a new language and a new culture, meeting new and interesting people, trying new things. I am so lucky.

Ashley Fuentes
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Miami, Florida
School: New World School of the Arts
Sponsor: District 6990, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Boqueirao District 4420

Ashley - Brazil

Ashley’s Bio

“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!-Dr.Suess

Oi! My name is Ashley Anne Fuentes and I was born and raised in Miami Florida. I believe in positive thinking and the energy of others and I’m sure that if you have faith nothing is impossible. I have amazing Cuban parents who are very excited for my journey but like anyones parents, they don’t want to let go. The irony of having to let go of someone you love is that it takes a lot of love to be able let go of someone and allow thier journey in life to begin. I also have an older sister Nicole, 20 years of age who I love to the end of this world and back.

I am currently a senior at a conservatory style art high school, New World in downtown Miami studying music theater. Unlike most high schools we do not have a football team or cheerleaders sports or homecoming but we have the advantage of having amazing teachers to teach us their knowledge of the craft they love so much. I am also a part of a traveling performance group called Connection, in which we perform rock musical numbers for charities and hospitals to spread around the love for musicals that my members and I share. Acting has impacted and altered me and my personality in ways unimaginable and for that I am forever grateful to the art of theater. I also work in a children’s museum on miami beach that inspires children to learn about themselves and the culturally diverse community they live in, and to enrich the lives of kids by helping them reach their highest potential and I simply get to be apart of their learning roller coaster.

My friends and family are an extraordinarily large aspect of my life. My good friends consist of a theater class of 16 students of whom I have been with for 7 years and have gown ridiculously close to. And my family is a large cuban family that loves food music and simply getting together.

During my year in Brazil I want to find myself lost in their culture, their world so much that returning home will be an exchange in itself. I want to learn and teach and really enjoy my year to its fullest potential.

I’m simply just a Miami student living life, trying to figure out where I’m going, what I’m supposed to be doing and just taking advantage of every opportunity that appears. I crave adventure and discovery and that is essentially how I came across rotary. I saw the chance, the opportunity to change my life and I grabbed a hold of it! Know one says it better that Dr. Suess,

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

I am so ready for the adventures, challenges, culture and fun that brazil has to offer me! Até mais tarde!

Ashley’s Journals

November 29, 2013

Exchange, its scary I’m not going to lie, but have you ever been scared of riding a roller coaster and then you finally build the courage to ride despite your fear and when the ride is over you want nothing more then to get back in line? I’ve come to the conclusion that student exchange is Shiekra, my favorite roller coaster!

Exchange starts with lots of excitement and anxiety. I’ve been here one month and I’ve learned experienced and felt an assortment of things. I have learned that that there are things you will love, like, and dislike. What changes your experience with your own exchange is the way you deal with the situations.

Brazil has been pretty amazing so far! There are so many things that have happened to me in such a short time. So many amazing experiences and cultural awakenings.

To start simple, the food is absolutely amazing and though I have most definitely gained weight I have use this as a motive to further get involved with the culture and started Brazilian dance lessons that include learning how to dance an assortment of Latin dance.  

People! In my opinion Brazilians are warmer, more approachable than Americans, in that they are more eager and quicker to befriend you. They also have a huge curiosity about Americans and love to ask questions about the United States and seem to truly be interested in learning about my culture as I am about theirs.

Family! My first host family has been amazing with me, they’ve truly allowed me to become part of their family and have been the best tour guides in showing me their beautiful city. We get along remarkably and in such a short time I feel right at home.

Time seems to be flying by here and every day I learn something new about the culture, the people, and even myself! This is just one month of Brazil I can’t even imagine what the next months have in store for me.

Ashlyn Hicks
2013-14 Outbound to Faroe Islands
Hometown: Groveland, Florida
School: Foundation Academy (Winter Garden)
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Klaksvik

Ashlyn - Faroe Islands

Ashlyn’s Bio

My parents named me Ashlyn because my dad wanted to name me Jenniferlynn and my mom wanted to name me Ashley but my grandma had the final say and decided on Ashlyn. Every morning I get out of bed to see the loving faces of my pets and family. I have 3 dogs who are all rescues, a pitbull named Nikita, a golden retriever named Lady, and a dingo named Tinkerbell. I have trouble sleeping without my dog and I will miss them dearly but I’m sure I can fight the monster in the closet by myself. About 2 years ago we adopted a horse who is a pintabian and his name is Ace, when I get free time I ride him at Silver Winds barn where I board him. After I ride there is nothing better then the delicious taste of coca cola. I am a coca cola addict and proud. I’m also super proud who is a retired paramedic that now drives the monorails at Disney. My parents were both in the medical department. My dad worked as a paramedic for 20 years and my mom is still a nurse who worked at Johns Hopkins when we lived in Maryland. I was born and raised till I was 11 in Baltimore, Maryland where I spent most of my days. I moved with my mom in Miami for 2 years, my dad wanted to work at Disney so he came down to live with us until he found a house in Groveland. I moved to Groveland when I was 13 and love the weather. When it’s nice and sunny outside I like to go for walks with my iPod. I like to listen to all kinds of music but i prefer rock. My favorite bands consist of, Chevelle, Breaking Benjamin, and Anberlin. I recently found out that Anberlin is a Christian band which is interesting because I’m a Christian and I go to a Christian school. I like Christianity because I feel privileged that God put me in a diverse world where I can make my own choices and experience different cultures. I am looking forward to studying in the Faroe Islands. I really enjoy studying Chemistry and World History and look forward to these and anything new I will encounter in the future. I really love learning and experiencing new things which is why I wanted to be an exchange student. I hope to bring my enthusiasm to the Faroe Islands and give to them as much knowledge as I can about the country I live in, and simultaneously absorb a new culture. I am excited and cant wait. I wish everyone the best of luck.

Ashlyn’s Journals

September 9, 2013

Góðan morgun,

Here I am in the Faroe Islands, a beautiful paradise hidden from the rest of the world. It seems as if I’m starting a new life; making new friends, learning a language, and even a new family, but it’s also a mission. What is life outside of home? I’ve never known and now I’m putting myself outside of my comfort zone and finally realizing that in order to live you need to explore. I’m so happy that the Faroe Islands is my new country, it’s completely different from everything I’m used to and that’s what I wanted. The Faroe Islands is completely covered in luscious green mountains that you can see from anywhere in the country. Everything is so clean and pure here, from the water in the ground that you can drink, to the air which carries no pollution.

My host family is very nice, I have 5 siblings but my host sister that is my age is currently in Australia for exchange!

So far, I have visited the capitol city, Torshavn, and ran a 5k! It’s such a beautiful city and surrounded by the ocean. I’ve been to some birthday parties where they have great traditional food, including cakes, which are very delicious! I’ve met tons of friends whom i’ve already had a sleepover with and watched tons of movies.

I love just walking around my city and looking at such a beautiful place, I really am honored to be here for a year!

Austen Britt
2013-14 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Bryceville, Florida
School: West Nassau High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Kadikoy

Austen - Turkey

Austen’s Bio

Hello! Merhaba! I am Austen Britt and this year I am going to Turkey! I am 17 years old and currently live in Bryceville, Florida and attend school at West Nassau High in Callahan. I live at home with my mother and father and our 2 dogs – Chewie (a German Shephard) and Bear (a Schipperke). I have an older sister who is married and now has 3 beautiful kids. I am a very proud uncle. My brother-in-law is a Youth Pastor near Tampa and is one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. Growing up I lived all around Jacksonville until finally settling down in the Arlington area. I went to a public school for elementary then made a transition to a private, Christian school for Junior High. I went to University Christian High School for my freshman and half my sophomore year. There I played football and truly began my relationship with Christ. My father decided to move us out to the country and that’s how we ended up in Bryceville. It took some getting used to, but now I love it here. I finished my sophomore year at West Nassau and have been there since. Now I’m in my senior year. I joined ROTC at school and have made many close friends that are more like family to me now. I heard about Rotary from a friend of mine who I rode the school bus with. He got accepted and spent a year in Germany. I was so jealous of him! One day he came back with people from Rotary and gave us a presentation. From then on, I knew this is what I wanted to do! A few months later, I’ve been accepted and now I’m getting ready to go to Turkey! I’m so excited for Turkey! It’s such a beautiful country with a beautiful culture and a long, rich history. I know in my heart that this will be the most amazing adventure and experience in my life. I hope to learn so much from it. Thank you so much Rotary International! En iyi dileklerimle! (Best Wishes!)

Austen’s Journals

My journey here to Turkey was an adventure all in itself. I was very stressed, but happy and excited all at the same. As I stopped at each airport I felt a wave of relief, followed by more worries. I was able to relax during a two-hour layover in Atlanta, but I wasn’t so lucky in New York. I only had minutes to spare between getting off the plane at JFK and boarding my one-way flight to Istanbul.

The flight to Istanbul is one I’ll never forget. For my first time flying over seas it sure left an impression on me. I’ve never experienced turbulence so rough before. I was able to calm down by distracting myself with the in-flight movies (‘Silver Linings Playbook’, and ‘The Great Gatsby’) and sleeping. I also caught myself staring at the computer screen of one passenger’s laptop that happened to be watching Breaking Bad. But little did I know about the wave of stress that was to hit me after landing in Istanbul.

I was so excited! I was finally going to have access to Wi-Fi so I can contact my family and counselors of my arrival, and maybe get some breakfast too. I ate very little while traveling. Oh how foolish I was to assume it would be that easy.

After having my passport and visa checked I went to pick up my luggage. I was so happy to see my suitcase had safely arrived. However some of my luggage was missing. Before boarding the flight from Atlanta to New York I was told I couldn’t carry on my small suitcase, even though I had no problem carrying it with me from Jacksonville.

I didn’t worry myself, though I had good reason too. I took care of it later, at the time I needed to find my family. Getting through customs was surprisingly easy. An officer looked at my passport, asked for my reason being there, I answered Rotary Exchange, and he sent me on through. No one checked my bags or anything. Some people assumed I was in the military. A security guard asked if I was in the Navy. I thought it was funny.

I was officially in Turkey! Now to get some Wi-Fi and…oh wait! That’s right! And look at me without any passwords, 3G, cell service, or a clue.

Using what little Turkish I knew, I asked for directions to the nearest customer service booth. Once there I spoke to an employee in English about the Wi-Fi and she informed me there was one area in the airport that offered free Wi-Fi, but I would have to go upstairs and across to the other side of the airport. Now I wasn’t about to do that because I was where I needed to be and plus I knew I’d get lost.

I went looking for my host family or someone from the Rotary. I saw so many people in a crowd waiting with welcome signs. Some were written in English, Turkish, Arabic, and even in Korean. But none were for me. I looked at the time and realized my flight was two hours early! I knew my family wouldn’t be there for a while so I did the only thing I could think of. I found the nearest Starbuck’s.

Lucky for me there was one near by. It was getting hot wearing my Rotary blazer and walking around everywhere with my backpack and luggage. At Starbuck’s I ordered a bottle of water and sat vigorously scrolling my phone trying to find Wi-Fi. I asked the barista lady about the Wi-Fi and she said it wasn’t free. The room felt warmer.

I went back to the crowd of people looking to see if my host family was amongst them. I didn’t recognize anyone so I went back to the service desk to see if they could help in any way. While on my way a man who was only a few years older than me approached me. He spoke English. He was a Rotex and he recognized me by my blazer.

He called my counselor who gave him my host mom’s phone number. He was on the phone for less than a minute when he said “they’re over there!” I looked to my far right by the exit door and immediately recognized my host mom and brother. They smiled and greeted me. I was finally going to leave the airport!

Driving through Istanbul was interesting. Traffic here is very different from what I’m use to in Jacksonville. Apparently seat belts and speed limits are optional. My warning to any American interested in visiting Turkey; don’t drive! Just take a taxi, bus, or dolmush.

We met with my Rotary counselor Mert, and then they took me out to eat. My stomach was still trying to settle from all the excitement so I didn’t eat much. However the food was delicious. We had spicy Adana Kebabs, tomatoes with cucumbers and rice. I tried a popular Turkish drink called Ayran, it’s a salty liquid yogurt drink that Turks love. Mert warned me I would be craving Ayran before the end of the year.

My family took me home so I could get settled in. We live in a huge apartment with an amazing view of the sea. We sat on the balcony eating fruit and talking, really getting to know each other. My host family is so great to me! And I’m very excited about what’s in store for the rest of the year!

October 31, 2013

Getting accustomed to my new home life has been great so far! We eat most of our meals out on the balcony, unless it gets too cold. I have an amazing view of the Marmara Sea, the Princes’ Islands and the city’s coastline. It almost feels like I’m on vacation.

Breakfast is very different from what I’m use to back home. Turkish breakfast usually consists of tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, nuts, cheese and toast. Sometimes my host mother will cook eggs or an omelet to go with breakfast. Since pork is rare to find in these parts I have to substitute my usual sausage and bacon with sucuk. Sucuk (sujuk) is a spicy red sausage made from goat. Regular dairy products in America usually made from cow milk, but here in Turkey dairy products are actually made from goat milk. Most cheese (penar) and ice cream (dondurma) are made from goat milk.

Lunch is usually a smaller meal, more like a snack really. I usually have a sandwich with some fruit for lunch. Dinner is a big meal, and isn’t much different from American dinners. I’ve had Turkish pizza, BBQ chicken, shredded beef with rice, kebabs and kofte (which is like a Turkish mini burger).

The first two weeks with my family was very relaxing. I usually got to sleep in wake up and have breakfast and chill out with my host brother. My host parents would go to work, they own their own business. My host brother would sometimes take me to the tennis club my family is members of and we would relax by the pool for a few hours. Every night my brother and I would either be on the Internet or playing video games. Sometimes we would sit on the balcony with a movie projector and watch a movie.

As mentioned in my previous journal my luggage went missing back in New York. Both my mother and my host mother were on the case calling the airlines and making sure it was on its way. It’s funny that my luggage actually traveled around more than I did. Somehow it found its way to Amsterdam.

Eventually I got my luggage back. My host brother and I had to go all the way to the airport to retrieve it. We took a ferry down Marmara and I was able to see almost the entire coast of Istanbul. The day I got my luggage back was actually the day my family and I were going on holiday to an old city by the Aegean Sea called Ayvalik.

Ayvalik was once a Greek city but was later occupied by the Turks. You can actually see remnants of the old Greek culture that once thrived there. Most Greeks from Ayvalik actually moved and settles on the Island of Lesbos, which is still part of modern day Greece. You could see the island from the beach. We were going to visit the island one day but it turned out to be too expensive, there were other things to do though.

Everyday I woke up to breakfast ready to be served then the family got together and we went to the beach for several hours, we would head back to my family’s villa around noon or so and have lunch prepared for us by the grandmother. After lunch we would all take naps until evening and then we would spend the evening in downtown Ayvalik. We would usually have this delicious toast sandwich for dinner, made with sucuk, salami and cheese between two toasted buns. For desert some nights we would have lokma, which is this ball of fried dough spiced with cinnamon. The surface is crunchy but the insides would melt as you bit into it!

We stayed there for over a week then sadly we had to return home. School was starting soon and I really needed to work on my Turkish. I’m feeling confident though; I know I can do this! The future looks bright and I can’t wait for the rest of the year to unfold!

December 2, 2013

 On the Sunday, the day before the start of the school year the Rotary Club of Istanbul got together for a picnic/charity event. All the inbounds and Rotex were required to come of course. I was so excited to see other exchange students! It was refreshing to know that I wasn’t alone here in Turkey.

There are exchange students here from all over the globe! Together we’re representing the United States, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, France, Germany, and Taiwan. I love everyone; there is a strong bond between all of us. We’re like one big multicultural family! And of course we all took time to exchange pins, business cards, phone numbers and Facebook accounts.

The Rotex here in Istanbul are great! Most are either 18 or in their early 20’s. I’m able to relate to my counselors very easily because of this. Which helps my situation better if I ever need help. And to be honest in the past several weeks my counselors have been very helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost trying to go somewhere! It happens though, and Istanbul (home to 17 million people) is obviously a big place!

We’ve done a lot together as group so far with the Rotex and Inbounds. Other than the picnic we’ve also gone on a safari up in the mountains in an area outside of Istanbul called Sapanca. There was actually a nasty storm that blew in across the sea from Russia a few days before, so by the time we were up in the mountains the whole place was covered in snow! Now to a home grown Florida kid that was exciting! Other than that we usually get together for everyone’s birthday and celebrate.

I guess I’ll talk about my school a little. I go to a private high school; most exchange students are assigned to private schools. This year however we have our first students assigned to public schools. I guess the Rotary is experimenting to see how it goes. So maybe the next student from Florida to Turkey might go to a public high school! We’ll see. Now as stated before, I attend a private school. Marmara Private High School, also known here in Turkey as Marmara Koleji.

My school, as well as most schools here in Turkey, is a mixed campus from grade school all the way up to university. So I see middle school, high school, and college students all day. We’re separated of course throughout the campus. Unfortunately my high school wing is right next to the younger grades so I do get to see little monsters running around every day. Meh, it’s not so bad.

The service bus system here is quite impressive though! There is no designated stop you have to walk to. The school bus stops right in front of my apartment. The service bus driver is required to have information about me of course and that includes my host parents’ number. So whenever I’m running late for the bus or taking too long to get ready, he’ll call and wake up my host parents and that’s really embarrassing. That’s only happened one time of course. Oh also whenever I’ve had to miss school because of being sick or I had to do something with the Rotary I’ve needed to either bring the service driver a note a day before or I’ve had my host mother call him to let him know. So this a pre warning in case any future students thinks about skipping school. The service driver will have your parents’ number and they will call. And no I’ve never skipped school; I’m a good student!

December 3, 2013

I’ll go ahead and apologize if there is any confusion. The last journal I posted, including this one, were actually meant for several weeks ago. I’ve just been very busy this past month (November) that I completely let it slip my mind to update. I promise to continue updating more frequently now. Once again I do apologize.

Anyhow, so my lifestyle has been completely changed since I’ve come to Turkey. Everywhere I turn there’s something else I need to do, or I have the option of doing. Why back in October I was invited by my classmates to join them to a Model United Nations conference on the European side of Istanbul. It was very fun and exciting, and I had no idea what I was doing (that happens a lot by the way). Luckily for me the rules of the MUN are that all conferences are to be held in English, so that was an exciting surprise. I didn’t know that was the rule; neither did I know that I had to be in a suit and tie, plus dress pants and shoes. I just wore my Rotary blazer with jeans and my boots. Its safe to say I got fussed at, but once I explained myself everyone understood. So I wasn’t kicked out! And that’s good! One girl actually recognized my Rotary blazer (side note: Rotary blazer will save your life! It’s always helpful!), her brother was an exchan ge student a few years ago and she was interested in doing an exchange as well. So I got to talk to her plus a few other students while I was there, so hopefully I was able to recruit a few more future exchangers.

I mentioned how me and the other inbounds went up to the mountains and played in the snow. That was cool! We were with the Jeep safari group that drove up the side of the mountains and took us on the back roads, and if you would look out of the window all you would see is everything plus down, because there weren’t any safety rails on the sides of these narrow roads we drove on. But all the drivers knew what they were doing; they’ve done this many times. Or at least that’s what they told us. They were pretty much the equivalent of Turkish rednecks. Plus when we got to the campsite they built us a campfire and made hot sandwiches with sucuk (soojook), spicy Turkish sausage. And we had hot tea, so yeah we had a great time that day.

There was a big holiday in October as well (and no I don’t mean Halloween, there’s more on that later), known as Kurban Bayram or the Muslim Feasting Holiday. It’s kind of like a Muslim Thanksgiving. Unfortunately I was not able to spend it with my host family, they went on a trip to Paris for the week. So I stayed with another host family (I like to call them my back-up host family). All week long my host mother made food, and I’m pretty sure I gained a lot of weight just in that one-week cause there is a lot of eating involved. Thankfully Turkish food is the best!

I had a host sister, so a little switch up from a brother. Her name is Aicha, and she’s awesome! We have a lot in common, and we actually continue to hang out sometimes. She was an exchange student to the United States with Rotary. She spent her exchange in Michigan; I kept telling her she missed out by not going to Florida because RYE Florida is the best!

I’m not sucking up too much am I?

Anyway, so we spent a lot of time together that week. Her family took me to some really cool places. We went out to eat; we went to Taksim, which is the epicenter of Istanbul, and on the day of Bayram I got to meet the rest of the family. Which is really cool! There’s a tradition on Bayram where kids/teens/young adults must kiss the hand of their mother/father/oldest person in the room. You basically kiss the top of the hand then place it on your forehead to show your respect to them. Plus! Usually the oldest person will sometimes give you candy or some money, not like 5TL or something, maybe just a little pocket change is all. In the case for me I got nothing. Oh well they fed me so I was happy anyway.

So Bayram finishes and my actual host family came back from Paris and brought me a souvenir, which was really cool! Apparently my host brother was depressed and missed me the whole time, which made me feel great, plus I missed them too!

Now Halloween was right around the corner but for some reason it didn’t feel like it. Want to know why? Cause they do NOT celebrate Halloween in Turkey. Yeah I know, it kind of stinks but that’s how it is. It’s not for any religious reasons; Halloween just isn’t that popular here. On the contrary thanks to modern Westernization, American media, and the Internet most of the hipsters here in Turkey love Halloween! It has an underground popularity.

Back in the states I love Halloween! I go all out for it every year! So it’s only natural that I felt kind of bad because I couldn’t celebrate it this year (price we pay for being exchange students. It’s worth it though!). But thankfully my host family is the best in the world! We had a little Halloween celebration, nothing much, just a big dinner plus cake, candy and a scary movie. My host family doesn’t even like scary movies so that was really cool of them to do that for me. I love my host family here. Some of the other exchange student’s families did the same thing for them. Plus the Rotary club threw us a late Halloween party too. But I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post. Thanks again!

December 4, 2013

 Okay so in this post I’ll pretty much get caught up so my next journal will be more up to date. Once again I apologize and I’ll try not to forget again. Which will be somewhat difficult because Turkey is awesome and I’m always busy. But I’m now doing this not only for my RYE Florida audience but also for the next lucky student who will be in my shoes next year. I’m already excited for you, whoever you are!

Anyway so last I left off I was all sad and bummed about no Halloween, but my family is the coolest ever so we had a little Halloween thingy and it was cool. So the Rotary club here in Istanbul actually threw the rest of us exchangers a Halloween party too! It wasn’t a really big deal; there was music, food, lights, some few decorations and dancing. Oh! And we also got to dress up in costumes, which was kind of hard because not too many people celebrate Halloween here in Turkey. But luckily while me and a group of exchangers were lost in some alley way looking for a restaurant that serves Mexican food for some odd reason, we stumbled upon a smorgasbord of all these cool hipster shops with Halloween masks, music t-shirts, and stuff! It was kind of like Hot Topic, but Turkish. Obviously.

So some kids found dresses and make up, I found an alien mask that was pretty cool, so that’s what I wore to the party. Not really much of a costume but it were better than nothing I guess. However I did find a really cool scarf with flames on it. So now I wear that all the time because it’s freezing here! I’ll get more into that in the next journal. So the Halloween party was cool! We ate food and danced and took lots of pictures. But like they say, “its all fun and games till someone has a seizure and faints due to the strobe lights”, which is what happened to my friend Venice. She’s okay now! Apparently this happens quite a lot for her, I’ll tell you what happened on Thanksgiving in a minute. If she knew I was writing this she’d probably be mad at me. So shhh….

Anyway after Venice was all right she went home and most of us felt badly because she was really embarrassed. I felt bad because she had been trying to get me to dance with her all night and I never did. I don’t dance so lets just get this clear. She’s a sweet girl too so of course I felt bad, we’re good friends now and she’s not mad at me for not dancing, though she’s still always trying to get me to dance and I don’t know what else to tell her, it isn’t happening. But when I told that to my Rotex they told me otherwise because apparently there is going to be a ball in the spring and we all have to dance, so the Rotary is going to pay for us to have lessons. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, and hopefully burn it as well.

After the party was over a few of us went to Taksim to meet up with these exchange students from Izmir (a city down the Aegean coast of Turkey) that happened to be in town. What was really cool was the Izmir kids got permission from their families and Rotex to go to Istanbul by themselves! We’re lucky to even go around town by ourselves! But I’m not complaining. Plus it’s a six-hour bus ride from Izmir to Istanbul. And I couldn’t stand the 5-hour ride from Istanbul to Ayvalik, and that’s not including the 1-hour ferry ride across the Marmara Sea.

So once we got permission we took the metro (subway) to Taksim, the only problem we forgot was that it’s a Saturday night. Believe me when I say that the most popular area in town is never an easy place to walk around on a Saturday night! Especially a Saturday night! It was already late and we were starving and miserable and by the time we actually found the Izmir kids we had to turn around and go home or we’d be late, which is quite common when living in Istanbul because everyone is late! Traffic here is terrible, because no one really obeys traffic laws; they just sort of do what they want when they want, and when there is a car accident its like the end of the world almost cause everybody stops! Its crazy when you first arrive in Istanbul and witness it, then it gets annoying when you have to deal with it so many times, then you just sort of get use to it. It is very different from Florida indeed my friends. So I left that night cold and hungry and kind of gru mpy, also I had a nice two-hour trip home and went straight to bed because we had Turkish class the next day. Life in Istanbul! Its actually not as bad as it sounds, these are only a few minor consequences, trust me there’s so much more about Istanbul that I can’t even put into words, you’ll just have to come here and experience it for yourself.

So other than the Halloween party we had a Thanksgiving party as well. But before the Thanksgiving party let’s talk about Thanksgiving Day. We’re not usually able to have a holiday party on the actual holiday, especially if it’s not an official holiday here. For example we’re planning a Christmas party for December 28th, because the 25th is a school day, which will kind of stink. But my family is thinking of letting me miss school that day because I’m actually planning to go to Church that day with some Christian friends of mine and really celebrate the meaning of Christmas. And yes they do have Churches here but we’ll talk more about that later around Christmas.

So Thanksgiving Day! I actually got to miss school that day because the exchange students needed to meet up together with the Rotex so we could all go to the police station and get our residence permits. We were actually passed our legal 90 days but what were they going to do? Arrest us? Anyway so we on the Asian side needed to meet up at the Autobus station at 2:30, so I figured it was in the middle of a week day so traffic shouldn’t be too terrible, I left around 1:15. I got on the first minibus to Kadikoy, I didn’t need to go all the way to Kadikoy mind you, and the autobus station was on the way there just 5 minutes down the road. So I’m standing on the bus, there were a lot of people on the bus that day so sometimes you’ll have to stand; I’m finally able to grab a seat on the back of the bus after 15 minutes or so. As we’re going down the road I see this HUGE mosque that I always see when I’m going to Kadikoy, now usually we kee p going straight, but this time we took a right. And I’m thinking to myself why did we just go right? We continued going and stopped a few times to pick up more passengers, so now the bus was over crowded. I could turn around and still see the minarets of the mosque from a distance. It had been almost 10 minutes now and I knew I was going to be late, plus I wasn’t going to stop anywhere near where I needed to go.

I did my best not to panic, plus this man next to me told me to calm down we were going to Kadikoy. I was too worried and frustrated at the time to even think of what to say in Turkish, cause this had never happened to me before. Plus with the overcrowded bus I think my claustrophobia was starting to kick in as well so I knew I had to get off before I had a meltdown! So I quickly yelled “Inmek Istiyorum!” “I want to get off!” in Turkish. As soon as I heard the doors open on the bus I got up and pushed everyone out of my way, I jumped off and looked behind me and could still see the minarets of the mosque and began running.

I knew people were staring at me and wondering why I was running but I was in a hurry to really stop and notice, I just kept running. I felt like Forrest Gump but I knew I looked like an idiot, well more of an idiot. I love Forrest Gump okay! Anyway I just kept running until I got close to the mosque, and from a distance I could see another minibus that was headed in the correct direction I needed to go. I guess the driver noticed me because he opened the doors and honked at me till I hopped on. After I paid and sat down I took a look at my watch and saw that I had actually ran for 5 minutes straight! No wonder I was exhausted! And remember when I said since it was the middle of weekday traffic shouldn’t be as terrible? Well I was wrong.

Anyway so I was maybe half an hour late at the least, and my rotex kept reminding me all night. We picked up the students on the European side in front of some mall and I needed to run inside and get cash from an ATM because I had spent the change I was going to use to get home on the 2nd minibus, my rotex said I had 5 minutes. But since everywhere is crowded in Istanbul it took me like 15 minutes so I got yelled at again, my Thanksgiving Day wasn’t going as good as I hopped and/or wished it would. Once we got to the police station we all sat in a room and got yelled at by both our rotex and the police for being too loud. So remember to be very quiet in police stations! We were there for half an hour or so and it was already starting to get late so everyone was hungry, but no we didn’t have time to stop for food, we all needed to get home said our rotex, who was also in a bad mood that day. So traffic of course is very bad and in the middle of it our dear friend Venice decides that being conscious is boring so she throws up, has another seizer and faints again. Poor girl, she’s okay though! No worries. We were able to take her to a nearby hospital from there and her host family was coming to get her. Unfortunately for the rest of us that was the end of the line with the bus, so we had to walk several miles to the nearest metro bus station and hop on another one. From there us Asian side kids took the bus going to Kadikoy, we were still in Europe at the time mind you. So that was a fun 40-minute ride across the Bosporus.

Once we arrived to Kadikoy I hopped on the first minibus to Kartal (that’s where I live) and enjoyed another 40-minute bus ride to myself. When I got home my host family had already eaten but left me half a pot of spaghetti noodles, needless to say I ate all of it. My host mom was happy; she even left the burner on a little so it would stay warm for me. Once again, I love my family so much! It’s the small things they do, like feed me noodles that makes a difference. Anyway once I told this to my parents back home, my father said that this had been a character-building day for me. Trust me future Turkish outbound, you will have days like this too! I hope it’s not as bad as I had it, maybe worse. Just kidding, no I’m not.

So I would love to tell you about our actual Thanksgiving dinner party we had and my amazing experience that night but I have to go eat dinner now. So we’ll save it for tomorrows post! Thanks again!

December 5, 2013

 Okay to start of today’s journal let’s continue where we left off, so Thanksgiving Day was interesting, and by interesting I mean it was a complete headache. Or as my father back in the states likes to say, “it was a character building day”, trust me you future Turkish exchangers you will have plenty of those waiting for you here! I’m so excited for you! Now as I mentioned the Rotary was kind enough to throw us exchangers our own Thanksgiving dinner party. We were all suppose to prepare a meal from our home countries, so of course you had the Americans arguing who was going to make Turkey or Apple pie. Well we all took time to figure out who was going to prepare what, and I got mashed potatoes! Lucky for me that mashed potatoes is also a common dish served in Turkey, so it was easy for me to explain to my family what I was cooking and I also received help from my host mother. Yeah my family is many types of awesom e!

So there’s this somewhat embarrassing story about potatoes, I’ll try to sum it up real quick. Since I’m so busy I forgot to ask my mother to pick up potatoes from the store. So one day after our Turkish lessons I looked across the street and saw a Migros. Migros is a popular super market here in Turkey, you’ll see them all over the place, it’s basically the Publix of Turkey, and in some places you go it’s more like Winn-Dixie if you know what I mean. So I went into the store and bought an entire sack of potatoes. Hooray for doing things at the last minute! Oh and I was hanging out with some friends after class too, so I spent the whole walking around with a sack of potatoes stuffed in my backpack.

So anyway, this dinner party was provided by the Rotary, but planned by exchange students. So it became a headache as well, since no one knew till the day of when we were all suppose to arrive. Most of the exchange students like to like to meet up ahead of time someplace so we can all go together in groups, it makes things easier I guess. However I was in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove making the worlds greatest mashed potatoes ever! So I by the time I looked at my Facebook notifications and saw that we needed to be at the restaurant by 5:30 and a group of my friends were going to meet around 3:30 in Kadikoy, it was already 1:30, so initially I knew I was going to be late…again.

My potatoes still needed an hour to cook, cause I had to make enough for 40 people. Some of the exchange students host family’s came to the dinner, my family unfortunately couldn’t make it because they already had made plans for that evening. So they’re not perfect, but it’s okay. I had to get there by myself though so that was frustrating. I messaged my friends that I would probably make it around 4:00 and if I wasn’t there then just go ahead without me. Well I walked out the door by 3:00 and Istanbul traffic decided I could get to Kadikoy by 4:30, so of course no one was there. I had to take a ferry because the restaurant was in Levent, the area where our Turkish classes are, and it’s all the way on the European side.

I needed to put some money on my Istanbul card, an Istanbul card is a special card you need to purchase when visiting or living in Istanbul. The card itself cost only 6TL (TL=Turkish Lira), which in the exchange rate 6TL is only $3. You put money on the card and use it to pay for using the Ferry, Metrobus, Train, or Metro.

So now that I’ve explained what that is I can continue the story without you getting confused. I needed to put some money on my Istanbul Card, luckily I had 20TL cash in my pocket, which would be enough to last me 3 weeks. So I go to the machine that is used to put money on the card, I wish I actually knew the name; I inserted the money and put my card on the scanner, as I looked over I saw that my ferry was about to leave so I quickly removed my card and ran to gate. As I put my card on the payment scanner, the screen said I had no money left and I was confused then I remembered that when I took up my card the screen never turned green to signify that the money was put onto the card, the nice gentlemen behind me in line was happy to accept my generous donation of 20TL.

I asked someone when the next ferry would arrive; the next wasn’t until 5:00. I would have called my counselor to inform him I was going to be late, but since I was late on my phone payment I could only make emergency calls, which I still don’t even know how to make those yet. So I went to the ATM get some more cash, then PROPERLY put money on my Istanbul Card, I double-checked this time. Then I paid at the gate and waited for another hour. Eventually the ferry came and I had a long ride over to Europe, took the Metro to Levent and arrived in time to actually be one of the first few students to make it. So everyone was a little late, but dinner was delicious and my mashed potatoes were awesome!

January 25, 2014

Hello all! It’s been a while. So I pretty much left off in mid December so we have a lot to cover. I’ve had some snow days, a school field trip, Christmas and New Years. All exciting stuff and very different from what I’m us to back in Florida.

So to start off I woke up on a really cloudy morning one day, looking outside my window thinking it was raining and getting all bummed out because rain in Istanbul can be depressing at times, till I took a closer look and realized IT’S SNOW! And from the look of it, it had been snowing all night. It was like a blanket almost covered everything. It was kind of scary watching the cars on the roads; cause Turkish drivers are crazy so you don’t want to combine all that with icy snowy roads. Not a good combination. Anyway my host brother and I watched the news with intent waiting to here the announcement that schools were closed, but to our surprise no they weren’t. In fact they were all open that day. But thankfully I have the best host parents in the world, they let us stay home that day, but we had to go to school the next. So my brother and I played in the snow all day and had a good time. The next day at school, a lot of kids stayed home that day as well, b ut the rest all played in the snow during the 15-minute breaks between classes. For a Florida kid this was a magical week.

Speaking of school, I forgot to mention my classmates little habit of deciding not to show up for school on random days thus leaving me alone to my own devices for 8 and a half hours in a classroom of boringness. Well on Christmas Eve they decided to do just this. So I made myself comfortable ‘till a friend of mine popped in and told me that she and her class were going on a field trip to Istanbul University and since I was 18 I really didn’t need permission to go, so I went. It was an interesting day; I don’t really think they planned out what to do that day. We didn’t even have a tour scheduled, we just walked around one building at the university for about half and hour then everyone decided to split up and go shopping. Lucky for us Istanbul University is in a really old touristy area of the city. So I went shopping and bought a few souvenirs for myself, and ate at a café with my friend. It wasn’t the most productive day but at least i t wasn’t a wasted day.

Now Christmas Day I woke up a little earlier than usual, after getting permission from my host parent for skipping school that day. You see Christmas isn’t as big a holiday here in Turkey as it is in most Christian majority countries. So yes there was school that day, but not for me and other exchange students who all had permission from family and Rotary to skip school that day, and most of us really did it for religious reasons. We all met up in Taksim on the European side and walked together to a very old Church called “St. Anthony of Padua” or “San Antoine” as its called here by the locals. We went to an early Christmas Service held in English. After church we went to an American café down the road called “Amy’s” or “Missy’s”, it was something like that. Anyway the owner was a nice American lady and she made us so many pancakes. Trust me when I say pancakes are hard to come by here in Turkey, so tha t was probably one of my favorites Christmas presents this year. And later that night I got to video chat with my family back home. It was weird not being back home but it was still a very memorable Christmas.

New Years! Happy New Year by the way! New Years eve was family time. Here in Turkey most of our western Christmas traditions have been incorporated into the new years celebration. So there was gift exchanging, lights, and decorations, new Years trees, and even Santa Claus or Baba Noel (his Turkish name). My family went and visited my host grandmother and aunt’s apartment. There we had snacks, music, lots of food and right after the clock had stroke midnight we all exchanged gifts. I got some cool t-shirts and my own slippers. I love my gifts. I bought a game of “Jenga Boom” for my family to play together. And speaking of gifts about mid January I received my care package from my family back home with some late Christmas gifts and classic snacks you can’t get here in Turkey.

They said the holiday season was to be the hardest part of our exchange and they did not lie. It wasn’t easy and I battle many negative feelings to just go home. But I learned that no matter what home will always be there, its waiting and I will be home quicker than I think, so I might as well live it up here in Istanbul while I have this chance. Time flies too fast my friends. Make the most of every moment you’re all given. That’s all I got for now, tomorrow is the first day of my big tour here in Turkey with all the exchange students. I’ll post all about that next month when we get back, till then thanks for reading! See you soon! Cheers!

May 7, 2014

Greetings once more! It’s been a while since I’ve last updated my journal because the past few months I’ve been busy like never before. I’ve been busy living because despite the projects you’ll have to do with Rotary or with school, living a new life in a different country is what being an exchange student is all about!

I last left off right before I was about to depart on my first tour! The Western Anatolia tour! Where all the Istanbul exchange students and I had the privilege to tour the entire western half of Turkey. Seeing cultural small towns and villages, to huge touristic cities, as well as amazing ancient artifacts and sights along the way.

Our tour started from Istanbul stopping in the small town of Pamukkale, where we visited the ruins an ancient Greek/Anatolian settlement and natural springs, which was nice because it was kind of chilly that day and the warm water felt great!

The next stop was the city of Antalya. Before our trip I’ve heard much about this popular holiday getaway and how many Turks and Europeans own homes there. Which didn’t surprise me because it was very beautiful there as well as modern. However I will advise anyone who would like to visit here to wait till the summer months when it isn’t freezing cold and raining every day. We just had to go in January! But I digress; it was still very nice to visit. We stayed in Antalya for two days because there were several sites around the area we needed to visit. Day one of Antalya we stopped at the coast and saw a natural waterfall flowing into the Mediterranean Sea, which was the first time I’ve ever seen the Mediterranean. We were also able to visit the ruins of an ancient Roman/Anatolian settlement, which included ancient Roman bathhouses and the remains of an ancient amphitheater, which is still in use today!

The next day we left Antalya early in the morning and headed up the coast to a town called Demre, home to the final resting place of St. Nicholas. That’s right kids Santa Clause was Turkish…well actually not Turkish. He was really an Anatolian Greek and a Roman citizen. So I guess you can say he was Greco Roman. Either way his final resting place is in modern Turkey, well what’s left of him because Italian sailors stole a lot of his bones a long time ago. But his tomb remains in the ruins of the ancient church he founded in the town he grew up in. Fun fact! A lot of Russians live and visit Demre quite often after the Russian federation offered to purchase the town from Turkey but the Turkish government turned down the offer.

Later that day we visited ancient Greek temple mounds carved into the side of a mountain! We took a nice boat ride down an old creek and stopped on a small island right off the coast. The coolest thing ever was standing on that beach in the warm sun watching the waves wash ashore then turning around to see a snow topped mountain standing off in the distance. That is something you will never experience back in Florida.

We spent the night in Bodrum, another popular vacation destination for many Turks and Europeans. The next day we toured the city and visited a historical castle that was established by Medieval Greek knights during the Crusades. There was a collection of unimaginable treasures and artifacts; there were even the skeletal remains of a princess there! I saw a dead princess! And her room was huge! And I still think its weird they have her skeleton on display and not in the tomb, but still pretty cool! The castle was seriously like something out of ‘Game Of Thrones’! And this was also the first time I’ve ever been in a real castle before. I’m not counting Topkapi Palace in Istanbul because it wasn’t anything like a castle and it had been restored and modernized so much over the years. This castle was genuine!

That same day we travelled out to see the Acropolis, the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. At one point there was another temple beside the Apollo temple in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis, but ancient Christians destroyed that a long time ago. It still amazes me how those people of ancient times could build such structures.

The next day was a day I have been waiting for a long time. The day we visited Mother Mary’s house. Yes Mary the mother of Jesus Christ lived out the remains of her life in Anatolia with the apostle John, whom Jesus gave Mary to as his mother while He was on the cross. As a Christian seeing the final resting place of Mary was a very amazing and spiritual experience. People from all over the world come to visit Mary’s house. The new Pope was there not too long before. Even Muslims come to make a pilgrimage to Mary’s house, because Mother Mary is considered sacred in the Muslim religion as well. We visited the wishing wall by Mary’s house as well and got to drink holy water from the fountains of Mary.

Later that day we visited another Biblically historical sight, the ancient city of Ephesus. Where the Apostle Paul had gone and preached the gospel and even wrote letters to the Church of Ephesus in the book of Ephesians which we have in the Bible today.

Ruins, ruins and more ruins! We ended off our trip the last day by stopping in Canakkale, which has several historical war stories. First, Canakkale was where the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand took place, which set off the First World War. Secondly, Canakkale is where the invasion of foreign troops landed when seizing hold of the Ottoman Empire during WW1, specifically British and Australian troops. To this day Australians have an official holiday and even visit this location in memory of the many troops that lost their lives. Last but not least we finished off our final leg of the tour with visiting the ancient city of Troy, where the historical battle of Troy took place between the Spartans and Trojans, as Homer mentioned in the Iliad. To sum it up there was a lot of old ancient ruins and a giant wooden horse. At this point we were all so tired and ready to go home to Istanbul.

So that was our Western Anatolian Tour. A truly a memorable experience I will never forget! I’ll include some pictures from my tour in the next journal update I submit. Thanks again for reading and tune in for next time! Cheers!

 

Hello again, here’s another update on what’s been going on for me over here! So the Western Anatolian Tour started on the last week of January and ended around the first week in February, which means only one thing to me…my birthday!

Yes, since I came to Turkey I’ve aged. One year to be exact. I left the states when I was eighteen and now I will be returning as a nineteen year old. Now it’s weird celebrating your birthday away from home. Being away from all your friends and family. Unless you’ve actually experienced it you wouldn’t understand, but I think we all go through this at some point in our lives. It was a tough day for me, at least at first.

In the morning everything was the same as usual; I showered, ate breakfast, talked with my host brother and set off for school. I’m so use to my mom back home waking me up and telling me “happy birthday” and doing other embarrassing mom things she does, but not this year though. At school everything was normal, teachers came and went, students talking loud and goofing off, and I watched YouTube videos most of the day to try and cheer myself up. When I returned home my host mother was there earlier than usual. When I asked her she said she came home early because she had to cook, clean and get things ready for my birthday. Apparently they planned to have a big meal prepared and invite some family to come over. I was pleasantly surprised.

That night it was just my host family and I, along with the aunt and grandmother who make delicious food! We had a nice big dinner with some of my favorite Turkish food and some traditional birthday treats. After dinner we had cake and they even surprised me with presents, just some really nice shirts that I wear when I go to Rotary events. We had Turkish birthday cake, which was a chocolate/vanilla mixed with strawberries, bananas and raspberries stuffed inside, and topped with sparklers. Here in Turkey cakes have to be extravagantly decorated but the one thing that all Turkish cakes must have are sparklers, which make it look even cooler! We had cake and tea, sat around and talked then ended the night with Turkish coffee. My host mother and aunt look at the coffee grounds left over in the bottom of the cup and read our fortunes. I would tell you mind but then it wouldn’t come true.

So to some up everything, it wasn’t exactly the best birthday party I’ve ever had but it certainly was the most memorable one I will ever have. Plus at the end of the day I logged onto Facebook and saw all the “happy birthday” messages my friends and family back home and around the world left for me, which fulfilled my happy birthday.

Another thing that has been going on lately with us over here in Istanbul is dance! In just two weeks from now is an annual weekend Rotary event for all the districts here in Turkey that is being hosted in Antalya and as exchange students we are all required to go. My district however has thought of a great idea and volunteered all Istanbul exchange students to perform a traditional Turkish folk dance on one of the days of the event. So for the past few months we have been going to dance class every Sunday morning since the beginning of March. At first we weren’t excited (except for some of the Brazilian students) and actually some were really upset that we’re being made to dance. There’s a huge argument right now about whether or not its fare, but technically we’re still required to, so we have. To be honest it’s actually kind of fun and its one interesting way about learning another culture by learning a traditional dance. We have been learning Trakya Dans or Thracian Dance. The traditional dance of Thrace, which is the area of Turkey, that’s located in Europe next to Bulgaria. I was disappointed though that we didn’t learn Black Sea Dance, which is much faster, more aggressive and a lot of fun! I love Black Sea music and in Istanbul it is very popular.

So the Rotary event is coming soon and I think that will be a great way to end my year in Turkey by performing in front of my host club. Hopefully my Rotex counselor will film it and I’ll see what I can do to post it on the sight. In my next update I’ll include pictures from the tour and my birthday. Thank you again for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Cheers!

Austin Cook
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970,
Florida

Austin - Brazil

Austin’s Bio

Oi! My name is Austin Leigh Cook, but most people know me as Austin Leigh Grant. I am so ecstatic and so grateful to be spending next year studying abroad in Brazil!

My road to becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange Student all started back in September 2009 when I went to the RYE Assembly during first period with my Spanish class. I remember being so drawn in by the presentation that the whole rest of the school day my mind was stuck on preparing a “pitch” to my parents on why I need to apply. That evening my parents and I stood around the island in our kitchen discussing the exchange program but we decided it was not the best time for me.

That year three of my friends applied and were accepted. As each year passed I learned more about and grew closer to this amazing program. I got to know the many wonderful inbounds that came to not only my high school but to the district of 6970 as a whole. I also got to see many of my friends go off as outbounds and witness, when they returned, how they had changed in such a positive way.

The pivotal point in my decision to apply occurred in July of 2012 when one of my friends, who had just come back from her exchange year, posted a desperate message on Facebook asking for someone to host one of the three inbounds in our area for the first semester of the following school year. With only a few weeks before school would start, none of them had a host family to come live with yet and without a host family their exchanges could not have happened. Knowing how devastated I would be if after months of hard work and preparations, I was told that I could not go on my exchange because no host family could be found for me, I knew I had to help.

My family ended up being blessed with hosting Dasha from Russia for the first semester, we really became close. (Unfortunately in a couple of weeks I will have to see my sister move on to another host family, which I know will be a difficult day for the both of us.) The experience of hosting (even though it is not always flowers and sunshine) made me realize just how badly I wanted to be able to experience another culture first hand though exchange, like all the wonderful students I had meet did. That time when I brought up applying for the exchange program, it took no convincing of my parents, they knew too that this program was for me and that it was my time. After two interviews and a long application, I received an email of acceptance! I had been yearning to have the opportunity to be an outbound since that September day when I first learned of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.

After over four years it is now finally my time to embrace a year studying abroad. I look forward to immersing myself in the Brazilian culture (playing some Futebol!) and learning Portuguese no matter how difficult it may be at times, as well as sharing the customs of the United States of America with the people I met in Brazil. Overall I look forward to the lifelong friends I will make and the self-change that will happen within me while I am there.

I am currently a senior at Ponte Vedra High School, GO SHARKS! In school, I really enjoy math, economics, and theatre. I plan on becoming a doctor or engineer, but whatever my profession is I look forward to giving back to the community as much as I can. I like to volunteer and raise money for various charities, such as The American Cancer Society. I spend almost all my free time on music: listening to it, searching for new songs, and of course dancing and singing alone to it! I also love animals, nature, and architecture; which I take a lot of photos of. (I foresee thousands and thousands of pictures being taken while I am in Brazil.)

I am originally from New Jersey but I moved to Florida when I was ten years old. Now, I live in sunny Ponte Vedra Beach with my amazing Mom, Sharon, the only true father I’ve ever known, my wonderful Step-Dad Scott, and my very adorable little six year old brother, Xander. We have two dogs, Luke (named after Luke Wilson, Luke Skywalker, and Cool Hand Luke) and Fleur (named after the French word for flower). Luke is a big sweetie, he is a Gordon Setter, Golden Retriever mix who we rescued and Fleur is a tiny three and a half pound Chihuahua who is just as sweet and loves to give kisses. I know I will miss my family and dogs while I am away but I cannot wait to live in Brazil…is it August yet!?!

Becca Clendinen
2013-14 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: District 6940,
Florida

Becca - Italy

Becca’s Bio

Ciao! My name is Rebecca Clendinen; I am sixteen years old and currently a sophomore at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida. I live with my mom and dad and have a brother who’s twenty-one and has already flown the coop to college. We currently share our home with a dog and two cats, which is a lot less than we usually have running around the house. I grew up in north Florida, but I think of myself as more of a very south Georgian. I have many interests, but mainly I love art, food, soccer (or futbol), books, and meeting new and exciting people! I love music though I can’t make it to save my life–I played piano for seven years but couldn’t stand it so I quit. I play soccer on two teams, club and high school, and have been playing since I was six. At the time, my brother was playing soccer, and since I was fed up with gymnastics, I tried it out and haven’t stopped playing since. As I said, I love art–it fascinates me, and I think it’s beautiful. My mom has always been big into art, and since a young age she has encouraged my artistic tendencies. Many times when I have a few minutes to myself, I will start drawing or doodling something. My favorite book genres are mystery and fantasy. I love food—there is no food that I won’t at least try, and I only have a few foods that I prefer not to eat. Since I was little I have always wanted to travel, though I have never been outside of the country, and this is a huge leap to go to the other side of the world for most of a year! Right now I’m feeling a jumbled mix of emotions including fear and confusion but mostly excitement. I am so grateful to Rotary for giving me this opportunity, and I intend to make the most of every moment!

Brandon Francis
2013-14 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beacb, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Khok Sa Med Chun

Brandon - Thailand

Brandon’s Bio

สวัสดีครับผมชื่อแบรนดอนฟรานซิสครับ (sawadee krap phom chue Brandon Francis krap) That was a lot of work putting that sentence together! Anyways as you probably guessed my name is Brandon Francis and those with smart inference skills by me writing in ไทย know that I am going to Thailand next year for foreign exchange. Let me first start off and say that I am extremely nervous about this trip. First of all Thai is nothing close to Japanese, Korean Chinese, Spanish, or Latin, or any languages I have a familiar background. Second I know absolutely nothing about Thailand or its customs. I guess the statement that “we aren’t afraid of the dark but what’s lurking in It.” is true. However this makes me more excited for this trip because it is something new that has not been experienced. Now for a little information about me… (What to say????)! I guess I’ll start with my name which is Brandon Nicholas Astor Francis, I am 17 years old, go to Ponte Vedra High School, I’m in 11th grade, live in Ponte Vedra Beach grew up in Montclair New Jersey and have a family of four: my mother, and two dogs, Yuki and Kisaki, and I. Another interesting tidbit is I am Jamerican (Jamaican + American). I haven’t travelled outside the country recently but I have travelled to Jamaica Mexico, Barbados, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, so travel isn’t really that new to me. I don’t really have a favorite hobby these days, I’d like to say I’m a jack-of-all trades, I dabble into a bit of everything; even though I suck at some things and am better in others. However, I really enjoying drawing, listening to music (K-pop), doing martial arts and SPONTANEOUS DANCING. My favorite classes I am currently enrolled in are Chinese, Art, and Calculus. My aspirations in the future consist of going to Cornell University and majoring in Architecture, becoming a polyglot and residing in a foreign country. Now this isn’t all of me but a brief compilation of information I find interesting about myself. I am looking forward to writing again in the near future in Thailand, but for know…. พบกันใหม (phob gan mai) See You Later

Brandon’s Journals

September 2, 2013

Well, let me just say that my first week in Thailand has been very hectic and fattening (food galore!) I left last Monday morning to board on a flight to take me to the other side of the world and arrived there after 2 days’ worth of travel. That was an experience alone. From my baggage getting lost, to me not being able to meet up and contact anyone, made my travels a little frightening and scary but it all worked out. For the past couple of days I have been eating lots of food because when Thai people have a get-together, the meals are HUGE. Not only are the meals are HUGE but my family loves to give me more food every time I finish my plate. (I’m getting fatter just by talking about it.) But so far I am totally enjoying my experience in Thailand. (Although, I’m not looking forward to the homesick stage of my journey, I hope it comes quick because I don’t want it to be near the end of my exchange.) For more frequent updates you can follow my vlogs on YouTube.com

November 28, 2013

สวัสดีครับทุกคน. เขาใจไหม? I bet you didn’t understand that.  Well Howdy folks! So here marks the end of my third month in Thailand and the beginning of the Holiday season and the home sickness is beginning to kick in. (Oh boy!) On the topic of holidays, it’s the most difficult thing to do to try and think of the things you need to do in both countries like making my packages early because it takes about two weeks for packages from Had Yai, Thailand to go all the way to Jacksonville, Florida. (Currently wrapping presents and making cards.

So I guess I’ll start from the beginning of the month. (It’s so hard to remember everything I’ve done so I have to look into my picture and video folders. 5555+) After just looking through my picture the first major thing that happened this month was my really good exchange student friend from Belgium, recently just moved host families and I was helping her getting used, the change. JUST KIDDING! It was more like my friend totally adapting the situation like a good exchange student should. BTW I don’t know if I mentioned this but her house is HUGE complete with a pool and everything! (See picture.) Personal pools are very rare in Thailand, the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.

My second adventure was traveling to Pattani and Yala to visit a temple for an offering service and to visit a waterfall. I remember at first I was a bit confused why we were going to a temple, (welcome to the life of an exchange student) and why so many people were dressed really nicely standing in front of the temple, holding these flower sculpture made out of money, and not moving anywhere. Then unexpectedly music started playing and then I spotted through the crowd some ladies begin to dance, doing intricate motions with their hands and moving their feet to the beat. The crowed began moving forward following the dancers and the musicians into the temple. I was very confused, and as I turned to ask my host parents what was going on but they had disappeared into the crowd. So like usual, the exchange student ends up following the crowd and doesn’t have a freaking clue if the crowd is going to end up doing something ridiculous. So I managed to find my parents after ent ering this hall like building carpeted and chair lined up in rows, I managed to get from them that this was a ceremony to give offerings to the temple, and they raised a whopping 2 million baht (HOLY COW!) Anywho after the ceremony at the temple, my family tavelled to the next province over so we could go PLAY IN WATERFALL WHICH WAS TREMENDOUS AMOUNTS OF FUN; even though we couldn’t go the way to the top of it. (My host mom didn’t want to go all the way to the top.)

Loy….Loy…Kratong, Loy…Loy….Kratong. An annual holiday the Thais celebrate on the 12th month of the Buddhist calendar on the day of the full moon, Usually in November. I have a love-hate relationship with this particular holiday because when making the Kratong it kept falling apart, and my kratong’s fire blew out…well everyone’s did. It was windy (Talk about patience being tested.) But one aspect I love about this holiday brings the family together.

Well that’s all for now. It’s 1:30 in the morning and I really need to go to sleep so บ้ายๆ. Also i have a youtube channel which I try to update daily. if you want to keep up with me that’s the best way.

Brennan Coker
2013-14 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:

Brennan - Germany

Brennan’s Bio

Guten tag! My name is Brennan, and I come from the sunny shores of St. Augustine, Florida. I’m thrilled to take part in the incredible opportunity of being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for welcoming me to the lovely country of Germany! All my life, I’ve loved to travel, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing parents that share my passion for world travel. Throughout my lifetime, we’ve traveled as a family to several countries all across Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, etc. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to take interest in and appreciate culture more than ever before. As an exchange student, I will be able to truly experience a culture and I’ll learn to better understand both myself, and the world in general. I could not ask for a better opportunity to do what I love most. I live with my mother, my father, and our cats in the historic district of St. Augustine. My home is central enough that I can ride my bike almost anywhere, which is really nice. I think I’m very lucky to live in St. Augustine, which is both the oldest city in the United States and definitely one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. I’m currently a senior at St. Augustine High School, where I’m enrolled in the arts program. In my free time, I enjoy making art, going on bike rides, baking, photography, listening to music, and spending time with friends. I love to be outdoors, and I love all things related to art (mostly ceramics and photography). I’m also passionate about the environment and nature. I have always considered education important and in the future, I plan to attend college and seek a degree in something involving social sciences, sustainable design methods, anthropology, or historical preservation. I would also be interested in attending college to study a foreign language if the opportunity presents itself. Whatever career I choose, I would love for it to involve travel, culture, and spontaneity. When I first found out about Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew it was very unique. The idea of living in a foreign country for a year appealed to me so much that I was completely sold. I became completely immersed in the world of Rotary, becoming close friends with the inbounds to our district, as well as hosting Sharvari, an inbound from India. When it cae time for me to apply for the program, I felt that going abroad during my gap year would be the best option for me, and I was thrilled to find that I had been accepted in November 2012! When I discovered I was going to Germany, I was even more excited. When I chose my countries, Germany was one I put at the last minute, due to Austria, one my original five, being taken off of the list. Looking back now, I can’t believe Germany wasn’t one of my original top five! I’m so honored to have been accepted to this incredible country and to have the opportunity to explore Germany -and Eastern Europe- to my fullest ability. I am completely enthralled at the prospect of being an exchange student and working to broaden my somewhat limited perspective. Through this program, I know I will be granted with the adventure of a lifetime and an experience well worth waiting for. Of course, I could never go without giving a big thanks to my parents for being so supportive, and of course to Rotary for putting faith in me and blessing me with what I know will be an incredible year. Das abenteuer kann beginnen, Let the adventure begin!

Brennan’s Journals

December 3, 2013

Moin! Well, it’s been awhile. In fact, more than awhile. I apologize in advance for my disappointing lack of news here, and for not being as diligent as I promised a few months back. It’s been said time and time again by outbounds turning in journals late, but I really just couldn’t find the words or the right place to start. The truth is (and I am speaking to future outbounds here) these past four months have been a complete and utter whirlwind. Yes, four months. It sounds crazy, right? The idea of leaving my family, friends, and home four months ago sounds so insane, in fact, that I can’t even put it into words. Life has a funny way or working when you’re on exchange. You start to lose track of time, and four months can seem as long as a lifetime and, at the same time, as short as the blink of an eye. In just two short weeks, it will have been exactly a year since I found out the country I would be spending the next year of my life in (which happens to be the beautiful country of Germany, if you somehow didn’t know) and so I figured I would try to write a short (most likely incredibly long) passage for you future inbounds to describe some things you might want to know about how your life could be very soon.

I left home on July 25, 2013. I was the first in my district to leave, and one of the first in the whole state of Florida. I must say, while exchange is something I have planned on doing and looked forward to for my entire high school career, I didn’t hold myself together very well when the time came to go. It was emotional, to say the least. Since I left so early, all of my friends still had their lives going on as normal, and most of them, understandably, had no idea what I was going through or even what I had exactly signed up for. I had lived in the same home with my parents for my entire life, so even though this program was a great adventure that I been so, so excited about for such a long time, pulling up those roots and finally leaving was not without hardship.

Outbounds: leaving will most likely be tough. Packing will be tough, preparation will be tough, goodbyes will be tough, your flight will be tough. You will have rushes of anxiety and sadness and excitement and constantly feel like you have forgotten something (this sounds ridiculous but it is so true) and maybe even have second thoughts, but trust me… it gets better.

When I got off my plane in Hamburg, Germany, I was at the wrong arrival gate and spent nearly 45 minutes ambling aimlessly across an airport with no idea where I was or what to do. My luggage had been lost and I had no way to get in touch with my host family. It was perhaps not the best introduction to my new home. Eventually, I found them waiting for me at the next gate, and I received such a lovely welcome that nearly all my worries went away. I was met by my host mother and sister, and I immediately felt comfortable. I guess what I am trying to say is that on exchange, you will learn to appreciate the little things, like simply knowing there are people there for you that care about your well-being…. like small kind gestures, people saying hi to you on the street, and people remembering your name. I think learning to see these things and not take them for granted helps to make you a better person.

I live in a tiny village called Neufeld, with only about 400 people living here. I am convinced that I have the best host family I could have asked for. My host brother lives in Hamburg and my host sister is on exchange in Brazil, so it is just me and my host parents at home most of the time. I really love home life here. I live in a beautiful house right on the water. The fields surrounding my home (and most of my village) are filled with sheep and geese. Just 5 km away from my village is the much bigger town of Marne, where I go to school. I am in the 12th grade in Gymnasium, the German equivalent of a higher-level US high school. I spend a lot of time in Marne, because while I do love Neufeld, it is very small and very quiet. Pretty frequently, my friends and I will take a train to Hamburg, where we can stay with either my host brother or my host mother’s brother and spend the weekend in the city. I could not be more thankful for this. I have completely fallen in love with Hamburg, one of the most incredible cities ever, which is luckily just an hour’s train ride away from my town. Hamburg has a certain energy that just couldn’t be replicated in the States, and I have come to absolutely adore it.

Since being here I have experienced things I never thought I would. I have spent time in some of the most beautiful places I could dream of, met some of the most genuine people from all across the world, eaten amazing food, and tried my best at getting comfortable speaking what I believe to be a pretty challenging language. I encourage all of the outbounds…. try things! If you only listen to one piece of advice Rotary gives you during your exchange, let it be this one: never say no to an opportunity. Thinking about how much I would have missed out on if I had said declined opportunities makes me feel really glad that I kept an open mind and didn’t turn things down, even when they may have sounded strange. Because of that open mind policy I’ve kept, I’ve walked 7 km through knee-deep mud to an amazing island in the middle of the north sea, gone to the biggest heavy metal festival in the world with a VIP ticket, seen some of my favorite musicians at an awesome Hamburg music festival, taken a train alone to Denmark to visit one of my best friends (with only somewhat disastrous results), gone to famous Hamburg football team games, visited the south of Germany, modeled in a fashion show, and formed the most incredibly day-brightening friendships with the best people I have ever met. I also will be going to the Canary Islands in Spain with my host family in January, and will be spending a month touring all of Europe in May. This is a Rotary Youth Exchange journal so you can expect cheesiness without a doubt, but here is some MAJOR cheese for you all: Keep an open heart and mind, and beautiful experiences will come your way. (Wow…. okay, it’s over now.)

In the last four months, I’ve learned a lot about what it really means to be an exchange student. There are some major challenges, and so I thought I would go ahead and offer my own findings here in case a future outbound with some curiosity happens to read this.

I’ve made a list of all the things that I’ve learned since being here that I wish I had known before I left. Hopefully this will be helpful for someone….

-You are human. You will make mistakes, whether you incorrectly translate something into your language and embarrass yourself or unknowingly bring up a huge taboo subject. It’s natural, and people will understand. Don’t have the world’s highest expectations for yourself.

-If you want to hang out with other exchange students, go ahead. Don’t feel bad for not only hanging out with your classmates from your host country. Exchange students make amazing friends and they know exactly what you’re going through. Not to mention you get to learn more about other countries besides just your host country. My best friends here in Germany are Brazilian and Mexican and I learn new things from them every day, plus we provide each other with an incredible support system.

-Trying to speak your host language is very, very important, but English is also one of the world’s major languages. A lot of people you meet will speak it, and if it helps you to connect with people, share amazing moments, or even form friendships, I say go ahead, use it. Leave the guilt of speaking your native language behind for a few minutes. It’s fine.

-Don’t expect everyone to want to be your friend. In Florida, I feel we are really overly welcoming to our inbounds, but that may not be the case in your host country. This isn’t because your peers are unfriendly; they merely see you as an equal and sometimes friendship is earned rather than automatically granted.

-If you are going to Europe, be ready for changes in your environment. For example, if you are coming to North Germany, where I am, you will have to get used to the sun setting at 4pm. This is hard, but you will find ways to deal with it and soon it will seem normal.

-You are bound to come across those who have deep-set negative opinions about Americans. Prove them wrong, be open-minded, caring, peaceful, and classy. Since being in Germany, I’ve really been tested by European standards on what it means to be an American. It has been really difficult and challenging and I can seriously say that I have grown and changed as a person (both in my way of thinking and in my opinion of my home country) so much just in these four months since my arrival. It’s really special to be able to go into a conversation and surprise others who seem to think all Americans are the same. I love to see how the idea of Americans practicing open-mindedness and tolerance shifts their opinion of the US. A friend recently told me she was talking to a guy I had spoken with earlier, and he told her he didn’t usually like Americans, but when he talked to me he actually felt differently, and he thought I was “really cool for an American.” That r eally made me happy.

-Try to speak your host language. You will sound ridiculous. People will laugh. Laugh with them. They are also probably really happy and impressed that you’re trying what may seem impossibly difficult to you. And eventually, all of that stuff that sounded like nonsense when you first got there will start to click in your brain. It may be something really small, like understanding a word in the middle of a complicated overheard conversation, but that’s still a step forward.

And finally, most importantly, this is a year of your life. It is amazing and beautiful and full of moments that will take your breath away, but it is also just a year of your life. Don’t expect every moment to be filled with parties and adventures and never-ending fun. Yes, there will be adventures to tell amazing stories about when you get home, more than we can ever dream of having had back in Florida. But there will be days when it’s very hard for you, and also days that are just that– normal days. You will learn to find joy and inspiration in simple moments like biking around town with your friends, making pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving with your host family, or jumping on a trampoline in the rain. It sounds cliche, but it’s the little things that really make your year.

So, all in all, it’s been a whirlwind of a time here…. but alles gute!

Liebe aus Deutschland (love from Germany)!

Camille Martinez
2013-14 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Southwest Ranches, Florida
School: West Broward High School
Sponsor: District 6990, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Kanazawa District 2610

Camille - Japan

Camille’s Bio

こんにちは! I’m Camille Martinez with the outbound students of 2013-2014! So far my next greatest adventure will be in Japan next year. I was raised in the suburban and rural town of Southwest Ranches; don’t let the name fool you we are still as close to any gas station, highway, big shopping mall, and beach as anyone else. I live with my mom, dad, and grandmother. I am 15 years old and attend West Broward High as a sophomore. By the time I’m off to Japan I’ll already be 16 and spend my junior year halfway across the world! This might seem a bit scary to others but I can’t help to feel excited for what is in store for me. I’ve always been naturally independent and feel comfortable even just being by myself despite what my friends say. I’m usually the idea maker and planner of the group. I told them they’ll just have to do without me for the following year but instead of trying to make me stay, they’ve only supported me even more. Both my family and friends understand what this means to me and I’m appreciative of them all. I’ve been on a mission for several months looking at different student exchange programs trying to study in Japan for a year. To me, Japan is not only my dream but it’s my future as well. When we heard of the rotary student exchange program, everything just came together. I’m so grateful to be given this amazing opportunity to first hand be with the wonderful and exquisite culture and people of Japan. Next time you hear from me I’ll just be getting off from a 13 hour plane trip, wish me luck!

Camille’s Journals

September 11, 2013

To be honest, I don’t even know where to start. I have been here for two weeks now and it just seems so unreal. In order to get here I had to take a flight to New York then from New York to Tokyo then a domestic flight to Komatsu. I was beyond frantic because once I arrived in Tokyo I only had two hours to get on board my domestic flight. Those two hours worried me more then anything; I didn’t know if it would be enough time to go through immigration and customs, get my luggage, check in, and find my way to the gate. It doesn’t help that whenever I thought of Narita Airport, I pictured the typical crowded and confusing airport. Thank god to my surprise, it was very simple and easy and I actually ended up having more then enough time waiting at the gate to get on board. The last plane trip wasn’t that long and arriving at Komatsu I had a welcome sign and host club head officials as well as all of my future host families there. It was a great chance to meet everyone and finally get the opportunity to practice that Japanese I’ve been learning for the past few months!

Despite the hectic first day, the ones to come along beyond that have been truly amazing. Each day I feel like I’ve learned a new fun fact on Japanese culture. Since I live in Kanazawa, it still takes grand part in the traditional life, but as all great cities go the modern tune has joined in as well. From having my host family show me all the shrines and temples or just driving somewhere and pointing stuff along the way. It simply amazes me how beautiful of a city Kanazawa is and that Rotary did a good job picking it out for me!

Starting high school in Japan… makes me wish I wasn’t staying here for just a year. The teachers are beyond helpful and all have gone out of there way to introduce themselves individually. For some reason I keep getting assigned to draw their face and write their name in order for me to make sure I don’t forget them. I guess they planned that out between each other. The students are super friendly I was not expecting that. I always read and heard how Japanese are timid but kind. Well maybe my high school was an exception because the kids are always trying to talk to me or coming up randomly to say Hello or Kawaii! It didn’t take me long to learn that kawaii was a compliment and I didn’t have something wrong with me. The girls and boys always try to include me in things and show me my way around as well as introduce me to more students in the school. Since you never actually switch classes like America, it’s actually the teachers that switch room; yo ur classmates never change. I began to realize that the class acts like a family, everyone picks on each other or is comfortable with one another. My class, my new friends, have been more then accepting and welcoming to their foreign newcomer.

Another new group of friends are the inbound students from other parts of the US, Canada, and Australia. There was an inbound orientation and finally I got to meet everyone. It was fun to mention things that shocked us coming to Japan and several small experiences that went on that we could all relate. The rotex took us to hang out after our inbound orientation and we went to go do karaoke. May I just mention, that I have always wanted to go with a group of friends and do karaoke ever since I’ve seen it in anime. As we waited for our room, we took our time in the game center just a floor below. As any group of teenagers that just came to Japan, we went first to their photo booths. Something I realized right away, depending on the photo booth it kind of edits the photo itself. The one we went in had some sort of model with pink lipstick so once the photo was taking everyone had pretty pink lips… even the boys. Also our eyes suddenly stand out and our skin looks lighter and perfect. To go even further there is a green screen as the background and once you’re done you can continue to write on the photos add eye lashes and stickers to it before you print it. It made more some very hysterical pictures but even more great memories. It was these sort of little things and great enjoyments that remind me how blessed I am to become part of a new culture, whether traditional or modern, and how many fun and learning things I have ahead for me.

 

February 4, 2014

みんなさんこんにちは! 久しぶり! That means hello everyone, long time no see in Japanese. I’m incredibly sorry that I have taken such a long hiatus in between writing my journals. Japan never lets me have a break. A lot has changed since I first came here, I can honestly say I have adjusted to the lifestyle very quickly. I have definitely tried a lot of food that I would never imagine getting even an inch close to my mouth, but that’s the fun part of exchange, always try new things. I’ll have to admit I was never a big fan of seafood before coming to Japan, but since it is a large part of the culture I have been willing to change my mind. Certain foods have surprisingly won me over but others seem to stay in the ‘do not touch’ section. That’s okay though to any future outbound, it’s more the fact that you tried it out and gave it a chance.

Right now I am living with my second family, the Nakamuras, following my previous family, the Dois. Both are very understanding and have helped me come a long way. Japanese culture is a complex culture as well as very traditional. Many don’t seem to realize this and only think of the high tech gadgets and colorful anime-looking girls they see on TV. That is by far the worst expression you can get from Japan. Japan is modernizing itself day by day but it remains true to it’s values and continues to teach the following generation respect and modesty.

Going into school life, the beginning of each period when the teacher walks in we must bow all at once. The same thing goes along at the end of the period when the teacher walks out. When you pass any teacher in the hallway, you greet them in polite Japanese rather then casual Japanese that you use with your friends (even if they aren’t any of your teachers). The teachers, especially your homeroom, are much more involved with your life and will constantly keep in contact with your family or send things home. My homeroom teacher has created a strong bond with all of the students in my class and unites us all. We eat lunch in the classrooms rather than in a large cafeteria. I use to eat lunch with some girls in my class but by the third month I started eating lunch with the girls in class 2-3. I feel like that change was actually a good thing, it expanded my horizons beyond just my homeroom class.

I joined the girl basketball team here in Japan. When people hear of Japanese students, they solely think about studious and hardworking teenagers. I think you’d be pretty surprise how serious they take sports. The girl’s basketball team practices everyday after school, varying upon which day of the week makes it longer or shorter time period. We practice 5 hours in the morning on Saturday and Sunday and only have a selected amount of days off from time to time. Luckily my coach is very understanding and allows for me to take some days off when I’m going on a trip or have rotary meeting to go to. It sounds really hard and time consuming, believe me it is, but with this I have grown into another family. The girls in the basketball team are like sisters to me, we get on each others nerves and also cheer each other on. They are the ones that gave me a court name ( a single kanji in which will be easier to call out during practice and games) Bibi. The kanji for my name Bibi is only Bi 美 and means beautiful. I’m more than flattered that I was given that kanji and actually have it on all of my school uniform and practice wear.

Somehow my court name Bibi and kanji writing has been spread around the school, suddenly everyone calls me Bibi anywhere I go. I’m so grateful for all the friends I have made in all of the classes and can’t help but smile when someone calls out Bibi and says hello. I have had my share of pictures being taken and ‘i love you’ haha. Some of the best ones was when we had an indoor sports tournament in my school and when I was playing dodge ball for my class, the boy soccer team of my school kept cheering Bibi. I have really grown to love all of them and really hurts that I’m almost halfway into my exchange.

In contrast to many of the students in my district, my school gave me a unique schedule where I have Japanese tutors every day of the week and also a free computer time in order to study. Recently they also added me into art classes. Women basketball is taken very seriously and it is difficult to attend both club meetings. We all luckily reached a compromise and I attend art classes now during the day with sanenseis (3rd years). In Japanese culture, it is rare to be in more than one club. Mainly because once you are apart of a club, you dedicate yourself, your time, and your effort to the club. As I continue to repeat the word, club, as they call everything by rather than sports being called teams. A club has meetings and practices all year long rather than seasons. Something that definitely surprised me. Luckily for me, practicing basketball everyday also means losing all the extra weight I put on from eating so much Japanese food haha.

Just with the past couple of months, I have had my fair share of traveling. I have been able to visit so many cities near and far and the famous Kyoto has finally been crossed off the list. I’ve ventured upon ancient villages still kept intact, golden temples, one of the largest shrines, one of the largest buddha statues, one of the largest mountains, and it goes on and on.

I’m actually preparing for my trip to Hiroshima, Osaka, and more. Not long after that is my school trip to Tokyo that I get to spend with my group of friends non stop! I’m excited for whats in store. I’m simply blessed and thankful for being given this opportunity and get reminded that every day that passes in this outstanding country. I’ll keep you posted soon, I got more adventures to take on!

Carley Jordana
2013-14 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Quevedo

Carley - Ecuador

Carley’s Bio

¡Hola! Me llamo Carley Jordana! Hi my name is Carley Jordana! I am 15 years old and currently attend Pedro Menendez High School. And I will be spending my junior year in ECUADOR!! I was born in St. Augustine, Florida, and have lived in the same house my whole life. I am the youngest of 7, and I have a niece and a nephew. My family is big, loud and loving, and I will definitely miss them while I’m abroad. I also have 2 dogs, Rocksea and Jazzmine, and a cat Amelia. I live about 5 minutes from the beach, and my favorite thing to do is read on the beach. I enjoy English class, and am completely confused by chemistry. I play soccer and run track and cross country, but also enjoy relaxing and watching movies. I am a Christian, and my ultimate goal in life it to bring God glory by spreading His love. I aspire to be part of the global community (which I hope to do next year on my exchange), and possibly become a doctor for the program Doctors Without Borders, or a similar organization. I have traveled to more than half the states in the USA, but besides a little cruise, I am yet to leave the country. I always enjoy learning the different values and customs of the places my family and I travel. For instance, some places revolve around architecture or a national park. This is a large reason for why I chose South America; the people have such rich culture that is very different from the culture I grew up with. I also enjoy learning Spanish and believe it is a beautiful language to speak and hear. I can’t wait to gain many lifelong relationships, and experiences. Ecuador is going to be an epic adventure I will never forget! Special thanks to Rotary for making this experience possible, and all those who helped and encouraged me throughout the process of becoming an exchange student.

Carley’s Journals

September 5, 2013
Hola USA!
So I have been here in Quevedo for about a week and a half and it has been by far the most interesting couple of days of my life. I arrived on a Saturday night in the Guayaquil airport. I made it through customs and then experienced my first culture shock: Baggage claim. I like to call it baggage claim hunger games style. The room was very large and there were piles of bags everywhere and people everywhere and I had to fight for a spot next to the luggage belt. As I watched it seemed like people were just aggressively grabbing bags off the belt every few seconds. It was wild. I also notice that every person had about 2 or 3 bags each. No one packed light! A family of 5 had 3 luggage carts that were all loaded full with bags. 

I finally made it through baggage claim and walked out to meet my family. I saw a sign with my name in the hands of a woman I did not recognize. I went and kissed her on the cheek and then walked around the isle to meet her. She was a Rotarian from my host club as well as my neighbor who lives across the street. I then met my host mom, Jorge Herrera the Rotary exchange program chairman of Ecuador and some other very nice Rotarians. I quickly called my parents and then we got in the car and headed to KFC for dinner. I laugh when I think about how I had my first American KFC in Ecuador. It took me about an hour to really pick up an ear for understanding all of the Spanish.
The car ride home was my second culture shock. The driving laws here are more like guidelines and are not very important. I figured this out when we passes a speed limit sign that said 21 Km/(I forget the measurement) and I look at the speedometer and we were going about 100, and at the same time we passed a police car who was clearly speeding as well. I have learned that people here are all about efficiently traveling. The taxi drivers have a mission to get people places quickly, so they do, but they are still good drivers, just like everything they are dif ferent kinds of drivers. When we got home I met my host father Gerardo and my host sisters: Irina (26), Nataly (22), and Ivann (21). They are all very sweet and helpful to me. They showed me the apartment where I live and I have my own room and bathroom! 

The apartment is very pretty and all of the furniture is very nice. That night I gave them all gifts and thanked them for allowing me to live here with them. The routine since then has been that we wake up at 9 every morning (until this coming Monday when I start school and will have to wake up at 6 every morning) and eat the breakfast the maid Luisa has prepared: (always) coffee, freshly made juice, a type of bread with jelly or ham and sometimes eggs. I really like breakfast here in Ecuador. Then my host parents go to work.
My host parents are both doctors. Us girls either just hangout or go out to the tennis club or mall or something. In the mornings when we are home I try to do more Spanish learning with my books or computer. Around about two o’clock my host mom and sometimes host dad come home for lunch, which is the most important meal of the day in South America. We normally have a soup (my favorite is cauliflower soup), salad (lots of unions and corn and rarely lettuce) and a plate of rice and meat or fish. After lunch my host parents go back to work and again the host sisters and I either go out or hangout here. Sometimes I go out with my new friends then. 

I have gone to the mall with my friends, theater, to their church to play basketball and to their house where I helped them with English projects. The people here in Ecuador are so sweet, and everyone in my school wants to meet me. The other night at the theater with my friends there was a teenage boy who was one of the main acts in the show that new friends and goes to the school that I am going to go to. In Ecuador if you know anybody you kiss on the cheek and everyone they are with, so he came over and said hello to my friend first that he knew and then came to me and said “hola Carley” and gave me a kiss. I was stunned, how did he know my name? After he left I asked my friend and she said that everyone in the school knows my name and that I am pretty much famous.
To finish the schedule: at night we hang out together and watch tv shows or movies, the other night I watched Hangover part 3 with my host sisters. There are a couple of shows that I am addicted to now that the family watches together. All of the people on TV here are always gorgeous and very dramatic. The only thing that is unfortunate is that the majority of the movies on TV are American and for most people here these actors in the movies and some shows are their impression of Americans. Hangover is a good example of why this is unfortunate. We also eat a light dinner around 8 or 9.
Another shock to me was when I went to the Rotary meeting the day after I got here. I asked if I should wear a dress and my family quickly said no, so I wore jeans and a blouse. We took a taxi there and took the dogs (I have two host dogs: Luna and Michita). One of the pictures that I attacked is of the Rotary building. When I got there I noticed that there is no air conditioning, which is like most places here in Quevedo. When I walked in my host mom introduced me to about 40 people and then I was served lunch. The meeting lasted for about four hours and it was much less formal that my Rotary back in St. Augustine. Throughout the meeting there was a stray dog running through the building. The Rotary here only meets once a month in that building. They had a cake and they sang happy birthday to all of the people who had birthdays in August and after they sang the people had their faces shoved in the cake which is a cultural tradition here. It was like a small food fight for a few minutes. Then after speeches were given I went up and exchanged banners with the Rotary president and I gave a small thanks and sat back down. It was a very fun day. 

The other night my host mom came home from work early and asked if I wanted to see the delivery of a baby (she is a pediatrician) and since I would love to be a doctor, I gladly went. We went to the Rotary hospital where my host mom works occasionally. We put on medical outfits and put our hair in nets and mouth coverers. We then went into the surgery room where the C-section was being performed. I stood to the side and watched. It was fascinating. Once the other doctors pulled the baby out they gave it to Gina (my host mom) and I went with her to take care of the baby. She measured, weighed, cleaned, and examined it and explained every step to me. The baby was a boy and he was adorable. It was a very interesting night and since then I told my host mom that I want to help out at the hospital if I can. I can’t wait, who knows what I will see next!
Overall this has been an incredible experience so far and it’s only been a couple of days. I have learned so much Spanish and culture and I have really learned that the people are the same here, but their lifestyles are just different, not worse like so many Americans may think, just different. Like Ms. Daphne Cameron always says, everyone laughs and cries in the same language. I have become a more accepting person and since I never know what the schedule is I have become very flexible to do whatever the plan might be. I have enjoyed my adventure so far and owe all of my thanks to my host family, host Rotary, family and friends back in the USA and Rotary in Florida. Thank you.
Tonight I am off to Guayaquil for a couple of days! So many adventures await me!

Chao,
Carley

September 28, 2013

1 MONTH:

I have now been living in this incredible country for an entire month. It has been by far the most interesting month of my life. I have tried things I never could have done in the United States and seen things that literally don’t exist back in the states. I am now an addict of fresh juice every day twice a day and I have witnessed Gui, which is a very large Guiney pig that is strewed on a metal bar and roasted. I am yet to try it but it is on my list.

First of all I would like to apologize for my poor English that I use throughout this document, I am honestly doing my best but the more Spanish I learn the worse my English gets. Anyway, a lot has happened between my last blog and now. I will just tell you the 4 most exciting and important events that took place:

1. On the weekend of my second week my host mom, 2 sisters (Nataly and Ivanna) and I went to Machala, Ecuador, which is about 15 miles from Peru. We stayed in Hilary Nature Resort. The resort was in such a beautiful location. You had to go up the hill to get to it and then you looked out in every direction at the rolling hills of Ecuador. There were 4 pools and slides and free food everywhere and we stayed in a beautiful room with a very nice shower. While there, my host mom attended a medical conference since she is a pediatrician. My sisters and I went to all of the pools, took loads of pictures, ate at buffets every meal, went to the zoo, rode a zip line, went to a show every night (with my host mom) and afterwards took a bus down the hill to the disco tec where we danced. The entire weekend was very fun. On Sunday we rode back 7 hours to Quevedo.

2. The next day I woke up bright and early, 6:00AM for my first day of school in el Colegio de Genisis. I put on my uniform which is a collared shirt and jeans and my host dad drove me for my first day. When I got to school I waited a little while before being walked to my class. When I did get to my class (which is on the 2nd floor and has only 3 walls and the 4th one is open to the outdoors) the woman I was with introduced me to the class and told them all about me, then she asked me if I wanted to say something and since I was so nervous all I could get out was “Hola” which made the class laugh. Once I was given a seat in the very back of the class, the class president stood up and gave a very nice welcoming speech that I didn’t really understand but knew that it was a friendly salutation. My classes: biology, chemistry, physics, functions (math), English, Spanish, literature, a current events class, PE, and others that I don’t even remember. I only have about 5 or 6 of them a day and the others rotate throughout the week. The kids here have a lot of presentations so I did a lot of sitting and listening to other students talk for the first week. Anyway, on the first day kids were generally very fast to introduce themselves and all of them are very kind. If I would ever try to have a conversation with any one of the kids, about 5 or 6 other kids would quickly crowd around me to hear the American speak. The young kids here were even more excited to see me and I felt like Taylor Swift on the first day as they all crowded around me to hear what my name was and if I like Justin Bieber or One direction.

Cultural differences that I noticed in school were things like the way that they are always touching each other when they talk, girls and girls, guys and guys and guys and girls. At first I thought that every girl I saw talking to a guy was dating them because they were really touchy but then I noticed everyone did it and when they touch each other, like a hand on the others shoulder or stomach or face, they are very rough especially when they are joking around. I have found this to be true with adults as well. Please don’t think that I am complaining, just describing what I have seen. All of the kids here (off all ages) have so much energy. I am a person who requires quite a bit of sleep and when I would get to school at 7 in the morning and see all of these fully energized kids, I was confused as to how they were so awake. The kids here also have very different relationships with their teachers. For one, they call some of them by their first names and also they talk b ack to their teachers like friends do when arguing and are also playful with their teachers. This was very different for me since the majority of teachers in my school in Florida are fairly professional and highly respected.

After school for the first 3 days I was very tired and overwhelmed from all of the energy of the school and the day of thinking in Spanish and I had to take a nap every day. I have only gone to one week of school since I have been here and have the next 2 weeks off due to the school schedule.

3. That Sunday after my week of school my parents drove me 2 hours to go to Santo Domingo where I was picked up by a bus with other exchange students and taken to Mompiche, Ecuador. We were in a resort there for language camp for 5 days. Ecuador takes in a large amount of exchange students considering the size of the country. This is because the youth exchange program was started many years earlier than the majority of other countries. In my language camp there were around 75 students and that was just half of the students in the country. I roomed with Kiia from Finland. I learned a lot about Finland throughout the week from her. Our room was beautiful and it overlooked the Pacific Ocean which made me beyond happy! I also made friends with people from: Belgium, France, Switzerland, Brazil, USA, Japan, Denmark and Canada. Our daily schedule was: wake up at 7 for breakfast (buffet style), go to language classes at 8, classes are from 8-10:30 and from 11-2, then go to lunch (buffet) and to the pools or beach and then classes again from 5-7 and the rest of the knight was fun. At the beginning of language camp they gave us a test to see how well we knew Spanish and divided us up into 4 groups. Much to my surprise I was in the 4 group which was the highest level. I had a great time all week at the beautiful beaches, one day I got an impressive jellyfish sting that wrapped all the way around my arm. The jellyfish here are very cool, the one that stung me had a body about the size of a very small lime and one stinger that was about 2 and a half feet long. Also while at camp we went to many shows at night which were very impressive and entertaining. Overall I had a very fun, relaxing week in paradise.

4. The final event I will tell you about took place the day after I got back. My host mom woke me up and told me that the Governor of Rotary in all of Ecuador was in Quevedo and she wanted me to come meet him. I was incredibly tired after my busy week on the beach but I quickly got ready and put on my newly decorated Rotary blazer. We first rode to the Rotary Park in central Quevedo that was built back in 1980 and has a large monument right in the middle of it. I met the governor and his wife along with a large group of other Rotarians there in the park. The governor’s job is to go to every club in all of Ecuador and check up on their progress from year to year. After many pictures were taken we then went to the Maternal Rotary Hospital in Quevedo and were given a tour of the hospital (the same hospital where I saw the C-section). We then went to the Rotary building for a long meeting led by the governor about the Rotary of Quevedo. After that, we headed to a local Chin ese restaurant and had lunch together. Muyrico! I was then dropped off at home were I slept all afternoon till my host dad woke me up for a Rotary meeting/party. I again dressed and went to the Rotary building with my family. One thing that surprised me is that I got to see really how unpunctual Ecuadorians are. The meeting was said to start at 8, so it started at 9:30. I was considered an important person at the meeting so I got to sit up front at the special table with the governor and his wife, the president of my club and his wife, the future president, the president of Roteract and a couple other important people. I also had to give pins to all of these important people and come up with something to say on the spot because I never really understand what is going on before it happens so I didn’t prepare something to say. After many speeches were given and the meeting part of the evening concluded we ate dinner and a member of Rotary started singing. Within an hour of eating everyone was dancing and they were all drinking. We partied and danced for quite a few hours and the party did not conclude until 2 in the morning. It was a very fun evening and overall a real pleasure to meet the governor and his wife.

Those are all of the main events that have taken place and characterized my last 3 weeks. Every day is an adventure and I am always enjoying the feeling of not knowing what my plans are or where I am going, it’s great, I never have to worry!

I would like to give a shout out to Mr. Rob Overly, I can’t think of an important quote of his but I would just like to thank him for all that he has done to get me here and thank him for pushing me and never allowing anything to be too easy, causing me to work even harder and helping me in the long run.

And a special note to any students thinking about doing this program: I’d say that if you can look at yourself and believe that this is your kind of adventure, go for it! Don’t think for a second that any of the process is easy, but since last October I feel that I am a very different, more mature, and abled person and I get to see the results of all of my hard work this last year here and now in my new home. I am so glad that I get the honor of doing this, and I’m sure you will love it too.

Well I have to go make more memories, bye for now!

Chao,

November 19, 2013

 11 Weeks:

Hello! So I have now been here for almost 3 months and it’s still an adventure, but it is more like my new home now. A lot has happened since my last blog and it is so hard to decide what to write about. I will always try and write about my trips that I go on, so I can share my experiences with you all. With that said, I finally got to go to Quito! It was the week after I got back from Mompiche because I had a 2 week break from school. It was a 5 hour drive up, and I say up because I live at about 10 feet above sea level and Quito is about 10,000 feet above sea level. Once in Quito we stayed in our apartment that my parents own since they are originally from Quito and all of their family is there. My host sisters all live and go to school in Quito, it was nice to visit with them. My host parents, sisters and I went the day after I arrived to introduce me to all of my extended family. I first went to my host dad’s side of the family and met my host: grandfather, gr and mother and uncle. They cooked us lunch and gave me gifts and were incredibly loving towards me as if I had been part of the family forever. After we headed to meet my host mom’s side of the family who all live in one large building with different apartment complexes. I was also welcomed there with open arms and served famous Quito bread and coffee as a late night snack.

I enjoyed getting to meet my host: grandfather, grandmother, 2 uncles, aunt, 2 cousins and family dog. What is really cool is that both sides of my family are related! My host mom (I will now just refer to her as Gina and same with host dad who is Gerardo) married Gerardo and her sister married the cousin of Gerardo. So it’s really just one really big family! While in Quito I got to go shopping in some malls, but unfortunately all of the clothing was very expensive as it is in all of Ecuador. I also got to go shopping in a local (very large) market. I spent $100 and didn’t feel any guilt! I had to resist from buying everything. I purchased: alpaca blanket as well as sweater, head band, scarf, pants (they are super colorful and definitely a fashion statement), bracelets, and 2 purses. I have never had so much fun shopping. I also was able to learn how to bargain. At first I was willing to pay any price, but luckily I had my host sister (Ivanna) with me and she lowered all of the prices till I learned how to do it myself. I got to see many old churches, including a tour of the church where Gina and Gerardo were married. I have never seen a more beautiful building in my life. Gold everywhere and paintings dating back to the 1600s. Incredible! I touched and took pictures with the president’s house. I ate a lot all of the time.

I walked down a historical street that was super cute and fun, for those of you from St. Augustine- it reminded me a lot of St. George Street. I also ate an empanada that was larger than my head, stuffed with cheese and covered in sugar! And one of my favorite things I got to do was go to Panecillo (small mound of bread). This place was at the top of this very round, tall hill that a large statue was built at the top of. It is comparable to the statue in Rio but of smaller size. Since like 95% of the population is Catholic there are many saints and virgins. The saints are all different men with different purposes, but the virgins are all Mary mother of Jesus with a slightly different look and meaning. For instance, you could have Laura the virgin of travel. The statue at the top of the hill was of a virgin who represents good with a halo on her head and bad with a snake wrapped around her feet. It is a beautiful statue and we went to see it at night which made it even more beautiful. Since it was night, we also got to look in both directions to see lights covering the valley and hillsides/mountainsides of all of Quito. It was so beautiful.

I had a great trip to Quito and was able to return the next week end with my host parents. The following Wednesday I packed and headed to Manabi, Ecuador for a 5 day trip with 140 other exchange students. Manabi is on the coast, so we spent a lot of time every day at the beach. We stayed in the city of Crusita, but we also visited Portoviejo, Manta, and Montecristi. We were in a parade and we marched through the streets each singing our national anthem with the other kids from our countries. We went shopping in a local market and visited a multitude of beaches were we played games and sports and got sunburned because we forgot our sunblock! I really enjoyed getting to know students from all over the world and here about their similar situation and the incredible experiences they have had. It can be really relieving to here from another person in the same shoes that they are having the same struggles and that you are not alone. I may feel like the only student in my situation since I am the only student in my town, but in reality there are 2 thousands other students around the world facing the same difficulties and joys.

After the exchange student trip I have been here in Quevedo in school. I have been in school for over 4 weeks in a row and everything has been very relaxed and routine like. I am doing my best to stay in shape after school, using YouTube workout videos and our elliptical machine. My ultimate goal is to somehow get a bike and ride it after school on the sidewalk that follows the Quevedo River.

I am willing to argue that I have one of the most unique exchange experiences of any exchange student this year. For one, I am the only exchange student in my entire city, which is rare, but of course this is not the only reason. I am the first exchange student EVER in my city, and one of the few if not only American who lives here. I am the first American that most of these people have ever seen in their city. I have dreams of being a doctor someday, and I was coincidently placed in a home with 2 doctors as host parents as well as in a city with a Rotary hospital, which are not very common. I am given the opportunity to go to the hospital and witness surgeries from only feet away, and I have learned so much from my experience in the hospital already. The anesthesiologist has explained to me where he places the 6 inch long needle and how he knows where to put it, what he injects, how he injects the anesthesia and of course I get to watch the entire event and question him the whole way through. The most incredible C-section experience I have had yet is when one of the doctors let me help with the surgery. He first started with what you would think was simple: washing your hands. There are 4 sides of your hands and arms and you have to scrub them a specific way with a specific brush and you should always keep your hands up higher, so nothing drips down on your hands. That alone took enough talent to humble me. He then helped me put on the special apron like robe over my scrubs, gloves and then he had me stand across from him between the tray of tools and the other doctor. He told me all of the names of the tools and then began the surgery. He explained as he went and it was all incredibly interesting. Eventually he asked for a tool and for the most part I remembered the names and was able to hand them to him. They removed the baby and handed him over to my host mom (the pediatrician) and then began the repairing. They had about 4 layers to sew tog ether, and they allowed me to be the one to cut the string after sewing, in other words I got blood on my hands! I was ecstatic, also incredibly nervous, but super excited! So that is what I would say is my fist surgery.

I am incredibly thankful to my host family and club for what they help me to experience here in Ecuador and I am always thankful to Rotary back home for granting me this opportunity! Well I just found out today that I am going to the Amazon on the 22 of November which makes me so excited! Time to buy some serious bug spray! I will be sure to write and give you all of the details when I get back!

Chao!

January 11 2014

Ali punch! (Good morning in the native Amazonian language, cichua)

So what have I been up to for the last month and a half? Let me tell you:

Like I left off in the last blog, I went to the Amazon. My host family and I drove to Quito and dropped me off at the airport on Friday morning with the other exchange students. From there the group of about 25 students and I took a flight to Coca in the Amazon. From there we took a 2 hour boat ride on the Napa River to a beach, from there we walked 30 minutes through the woods and from there we took a 15 minute canoe ride to the Sacha Lodge, where we stayed. It goes without saying that we were in a very remote location very far from the nearest city. I roomed with 2 other girls: Freir from Denmark and Olive from Switzerland. We were also divided into 5 groups, my group: Olive, Freir, Cristina from Czech and Caroline from Germany. All of us from different countries. We were also assigned to a native man named Luis who was our guide for the trip. He taught us some cichua and also showed us all of the different plants that could be used as medicines. I have grown up going on va cations out west where I go hiking in mountains, forests and beaches, therefore I am fairly comfortable with nature, but the Amazon is a whole other world and I felt like I had never stepped foot outdoors in comparison to the local guides who had grown up in the Amazon.

Our late night activity on the first day was to go canoeing on the lake and in the side streams. It was a bit of an adrenalin rush since we really couldn’t see much, but could hear the animals all around you. We encountered a Chameleon lizard that was about 2 feet long and had blended into the branch right above our heads, a fish jumped in our boat and one of the girls screamed, and when we were on the main lake I flashed my light across to the other side and saw to yellow eyes reflecting back at me. It turned out to be a crocodile sitting in the water. I really enjoyed that night.

The next day we arose at 5, ate breakfast, and were hiking by 6 in the morning. They had us up really early because the Amazon gets incredibly hot by midday. We hiked to a tower which we went up, and at the top we were above the tree line. There were 3 towers, each connected by a long bridge. From the towers we saw all sorts of exotic birds that were beautiful. We took photos, talked, laughed and most of all we enjoyed the sunrise in the Amazon. We continued hiking after the towers for an hour or so and saw many different bugs, plants, owls and my personal favorite, trees. Like I said, I have been in many different forest and have seen the thickest trees in the world as well as the tallest, but I have never seen a tree that compared to the trees in the Amazon. I don’t even know how to describe them, so I am just going to post a photo of one of them. Point being that Amazon trees are incredible! After the hike we went in the butterfly house and saw and ore of beautiful b utterflies. After lunch we did another very cool hike through the woods were Luis taught us how to make bracelets out of a special leaf, I am still wearing mine today over a month later. We returned to the lodge in a canoe. During our free time my roommates and I had a dance party before heading to dinner. After dinner we went for a night walk and saw some birds, and millions of bugs. The coolest thing we saw was a black tarantula from about 3 feet away.

The following day we arose early and went to a local indigenous town. The women there explained to us their way of life and showed us many techniques they use for cooking. 2 bowls were passed around and everyone took sips out of them. They were both types of teas, the first was fine, and the second almost made the kid sitting next to me vomit. The women also played some music and performed dances. Before we left we bought handmade items in the gift shop. Later that afternoon we took a canoe down a thin stream to a dock, and from there we took a hike to a zip line. We each took turns doing the zip line and when we had all finished we hiked to an incredibly tall tree. There were stairs wrapped around the tree, and at the top there was a deck. We watched the sunset from the top. It was incredible.

The final day we got up early, ate and backtracked all the way back to Quito like we came. It was really hard for me to say goodbye to the other students and go back to my city where I am the only one, especially when they all at least have one other student in their cities.

After the trip I continued on with school as normal. I had a small revolution in school that I didn’t think would happen. Ever since I started school I have always liked it okay, but never been excited to go or really enjoyed my time that much. I simply went and was there and then left. Up until November it was like this. Then all of the sudden, the way the kids started treating me changed as I became more like one of them, and I began changing myself. Little jokes or conversations would connect me with another student in a way that I would have never realized. A distinct day I remember was when I finally was “let in on” the class prank. It is a habit of the kids in my class to slap the backs of other kids’ necks when they walk by their desk or are near each other. And finally another student slapped my neck. I know that this sounds ridiculous, but the littlest things can make the biggest difference. From then on I could slap the necks of the other kids and it would be acceptable. There were other jokes too that made a difference. I say that I didn’t think that my loving of school would ever happen because I couldn’t figure out what would have to change to make me like it. Turns out, I was the part that had to change. So future exchange students, don’t assume that just because you don’t like something in the beginning (3 months) it doesn’t mean it won’t change. Hang in there!

On my final day before Christmas break we had a celebration at my school. We first played the championship soccer game, which my class won. Both the girls teams and guys teams for my class we the champions of all of the sports at my school, I have a pretty awesome class! I then quickly changed into my Mrs. Clause outfit and was then in a Mrs. Clause and Santa Clause competition with another boy from my class in front of the entire school. We got second place! We then ate lunch and danced to a live band that they brought in. They later had a viuda competition. Viudas are a large part of the tradition of New Year’s here in Ecuador. Viuda translates to widow in English and the tradition started as a metaphor of the old year (2013 for instance) dying like a man and the widow has to move on with her life. Well the only thing strange about this tradition is that the people who dress up as viudas are always men. The men play the role of the women widows and walk around the str eets wearing dresses, wigs, high heels and makeup on New Year’s Eve. It is a very interesting thing to see. Anyway, in my school they chose 2 boys from each class to dress up as women and strut around in the middle of all of us students like women. It was hilarious! And again the boys from my class got second place. It was a really fun day at school and afterwards we went to the house of one of the students and hung out. It was a great way to start of Christmas break.

Jumping back a little, starting about 12 days or so before Christmas my family and I began going to the Novena. About 85% of the population of Ecuador are Catholic, I personally am not Catholic, and therefore I got to enjoy many different traditions this year. The Novena is a Catholic 9 night celebration of the story of Christmas. Here in Quevedo I do not have any extended family so now my family celebrates the Novena with a close group of about 15 friends. Every night we went to a different house and also hosted the Novena here in our apartment 2 times. It starts with everyone arriving about an hour late, but that is expected, and then they read out of a special book written for the Novena. The book analyzed a different part of the story of Jesus every day. After reading the adults went around in a circle discussing their opinion of the lesion to be learned from this nights reading. After we handed out gifts using the secret Santa system. We then proceeded by eating dinner t ogether and then heading home at about 12:00PM. We did this for 7 nights, the 8th night we went to a Mass and the 9th night had a party instead. At the party we talked, ate, ate, took pictures, ate, and exchanged the final gifts revealing who had who in the gift exchange. We didn’t return home until 3:00AM that night.

During Christmas break my sisters returned home from Quito and stayed here in the house with us. (Little review: I have 3 sisters, Irina (27), Nataly (23) and Ivanna (22)) We hung out around the house and rested during the week and would take occasional family trips to the mall at night. My sisters are always very fun to be around and I always enjoy their company.

On Christmas Eve the real festivities began. Here in Ecuador Christmas Eve is more important than the actual Christmas day. On Christmas day we were in the house spending time together listening the Christmas music and cooking. I took pictures of all of the steps to remember how to cook the foods for when I return home. They cooked and cooked and cooked. We all changed our outfits and were ready to eat at about 11 at night. First we took lots of photos and then we sat down to eat. My host parents each gave a small speech as a thanks to God and to the families. We then began the feast: Turkey, Christmas rice, a special potato salad, appetizers and we washed it all down with a glass of wine. Note to future exchange students: You are not allowed to drink alcohol, unless your host parents or host Rotary allow you. I drank the glass of wine because it was a part of the tradition and it would have been rude to refuse it.

After dinner they said a special Christmas Catholic prayer and then we opened presents. They do not make a big deal about gifts like we do in the states, but I gave them each a gift and they all gave me one large gift together. I received: flats shoes, a dress, earrings and perfume, all made by indigenous people from the city of Otavalo. We finished off the night with some ice cream. It was a very interesting Christmas I will never forget. On Christmas day I Skyped my parents in the morning and then watched Christmas movies all day with my host family.

We left the following Monday for a few day trip to Quito. My host parents wanted me to see more of the country while I had vacation time, as did I. We left in the early afternoon and headed for the Andes. We first stopped around 4 o’clock at Quilotoa Lake. I was unaware as to where we were heading and was just following my family as we were walking up to a viewing point, and was completely surprised to see the most beautiful lake I had ever seen in my life right in front of me. The lake is in the center of a very old volcano and is the most beautiful color blue. It took me a minute to realize I was looking at the lake that I have seen in a handful of guidebooks and magazines. My host family kept asking me if I liked it, all I could think was “What a ridiculous question. Who wouldn’t like this lake?” We all took bunches of pictures at the lake. We were walking around the viewing center, when we happened to run in to Gerardo’s cousin. It’s a small world. We then went and ate choclo (Ecuadorian corn) with cheese and some other beans form the locals. We stopped for dinner in Latacunga. We then continued on driving and drove to Ambato. We stayed the night in Ambato and then continued on the next morning. We were stopped on the roads about every 10 meters by the viudas since it was New Year’s Eve. The viudas were all dressed in women’s clothing, with wigs and big personalities. They would stop the cars with rope or logs and beg for money for their baby (baby doll). Some would touch my host dad’s face, others blew kisses, made inappropriate comments to my host dad (hilarious) and one even told my host dad that he loved him. We finally made it to Banos were we bought Pepito, our Viejo doll. Viejo dolls are also a part of New Year’s tradition here in Ecuador. The word Viejo means old and originally they were all men dolls, this tradition goes along with the viudas. The viejos represent the old y ear all well and at 12:00 AM the people throw all of the viejos that they bought into piles and burn them. Also representing the end of the other year. We named our doll Pepito. We tied him to the front of our car for the day and later burned him in the night.

We walked the streets of Banos during the early afternoon and then drove to “casa del arbol” = tree house. It was a small building in a tree right next to a volcano with an incredible view over Banos and all of the other mountains. I also really enjoyed the swing there. The swing was connected to the same tree and when you swung forward you swung over the edge of a cliff. It was super cool.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in Banos that night. We walked the streets and ate and had a really good time watching the fireworks, viudas and burning of the viejos.

I am now back in school and everything is going good. My Spanish has gotten very good and my friend in school called me fluent. I was more than flattered.

The mental journey of this exchange has not gotten any easier, I go through days not having a clue who I really am and others where I feel I have never known myself better.

Thats all for now, until next month.

Chao,

Carley

January 25, 2014

Today is my 5th month anniversary of living in Ecuador. I’m pretty positive that I just hit the “bottom” and now things are headed upward until I have to leave. Not to scare you, the bottom is just the hardest part of the exchange. I had what I think was a normal exchange student Christmas season, with a little bit of homesickness, and at the same time I was super excited to celebrate the holidays in a different culture. Now I am just living, learning and laughing more than ever before in my life. I saw a quote the other day that I think is adorable and incredibly true.

“Laughing is when you’re so full of happiness that it bursts”

I have learned to laugh with and at the same things as the people here that I may have never thought was funny before. Now, I can hardly control my laughter, and I laugh every day. The other day we were playing Ninja (google it) in class and I accidently slapped a girl right across the face. She was fine, but we all must have laughed for a good 5 minutes. You may not think that it sounds like a funny story, but like I said you learn their sense of humor.

I think I have decided that my favorite difference between Ecuador and the United States, is the kids’ attitude about school. From what I have experienced from my previous 2 years of high school in Florida is that it is a depressing place (jail) that kids are forced to go to. Very few people really enjoy it. Students (including myself) complain about every homework, teacher and anything slightly unpleasant and we counted down the days until summer. Here though, it’s different. For the first time in my life, I was sad yesterday was Friday and that I had a weekend break. Kids go to school, yes because they have to, but they also want to go. They don’t like homework or teachers any more than we Americans do, but they just have fun at school. Not 5 minutes goes by without someone making a joke. We all laugh and have fun all day, and I am disappointed that we have to go home at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, we still have boring or down days, but w e almost always have fun at school. Just wanted to share this because it’s awesome!

This is part of one of my personal journal entries from my 11 weeks here in Ecuador:

“New things: food (MEAT), culture (everything), family (I meet a new cousin every time I go to Quito), language (hard), sense of style (jeans without back pockets), housing decorations/furniture (sharp corners and white), ethnicity (brown or black hair, skin stains, flatter faces and the most charming smiles in the world), children (by far the cutest I have ever seen), Futbol/soccer (not a sport, a way of life), music (every song has the word Corazon/heart in it), city (Quevedo- my little NYC), and the same thing that keeps the world going round LOVE (done differently with the same meaning).”

I also want to share an incredible poem my best friend wrote for me when I left for my exchange:

“CJ”

She walked into the plane with sorrow on her lips but hopefulness in her heart.

An unseen tear in her eye; her courage a work of art.

She would be leaving so much behind but gaining even more.

Her eyes no longer blind, her life an open door.

The adventures she’d have would compare to none.

The memories and friends are sure to last long after she’s done.

I can’t imagine all the places she’ll go or the things she’ll see…

But I do know that that girl has inspired me.

The kindness she possesses is unlike any other.

She is amazingly herself, there will never be another.

She makes me want to be the absolute best that I can

Her example is what I follow, what I take is her hand.

It is hard to watch her go, but I know it’s for the best.

I’ll be missing her dearly; these times put my heart to the test.

But the love she earned at home will always be waiting.

She has nothing to fear, the last bits of doubt began fading.

And so, with everything to gain, we watched as she turned and walked onto the plane.

-Summer

*Shout out to my awesome friend Summer back home along with all of my other wonderful friends!

So since today is a special day I just decided to do a special blog. In general everything is going really good, I’m just going to school and living a normal life. I have vacation break starting February 21 through mid to late April.

That’s all for now!

-Carley

March 7, 2014

Hola Amigos de Los Estados Unidos!

Hope all is well back with you all in the states. I am doing really well, I still face “hard times”, but generally I feel that I have been able to enjoy the second half of my exchange more. They told us it would be like this, the first half is about adjusting, learning the language, meeting everyone and some occasional sadness, while the second half is about really living like a local. I live a normal life here in Ecuador, I go to school, take classes, laugh with my friends, ride the bus home, eat lunch, take a lot of naps, go play soccer, or do a school project at a friend’s house, hangout with my host parents, sometimes I eat dinner, and I go to sleep. I have a simple life here, don’t mistake simple for easy, my life is not easy as I am living in a foreign country with a foreign language and culture that still give me plenty of challenges. I have faced the most challenges internally, figuring out who I am now as I am changing. I’m not positive as of why, but my emotions are like a rollercoaster. My mood can change so quickly and sometimes for no reason. I like to compare the exchange experience to what they say pregnancy is like: Its roughly 9/10 months, your emotions are all over the place and you get fat. Don’t let that scare you though, the exchange experience is incredible! I feel sick to my stomach when I think about it ending in 4 months, saying goodbye to the amazing people I have met, so I don’t think about it and I live it up while I still can!

So I wanted to share about my birthday celebration. My birthday was on the 5th of February. The kids in my class threw a surprise party for another classmate (his birthday was on the first of February) and I. It was so much fun! I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the kids that I care so much about, the kids that have made this exchange for me. The kids that make me laugh when I’m homesick, the kids that have pretty much taught me all of the Spanish I have learned, and the kids that have changed the way that I see this world. I truly care about each and every one of the 32 kids in my class and I am so overjoyed that our paths crossed this year. Anyway, they had 2 cakes for us, one that they shoved our faces in and the other for eating. It is a tradition here in Ecuador to shove the face of the birthday girl or boy in the cake, it is probably one of my favorite cultural traditions here in Ecuador that I intend to bring back to the United States (watch out friends and family). They bought hamburgers and pizza for everyone and we hung out laughing, dancing, taking pictures and finished the night by watching a scary movie together. I loved my party. Later on my actual birthday Rotary threw me a party with dancing, cake and games. I also enjoyed that party a lot. I am overall very happy with how my birthday turned out.

This last weekend I traveled with my host dad to Quito (the capital) where my family is from. We went and visited my grandparents from both sides and had a good time with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. I meet a new family member every time I go to Quito. I enjoyed hanging out with 2 of my host sisters (my other sister and host mother are in Miami). I got back on Tuesday night. Wednesday and Thursday I went to school and finished the year off. I am now on a 2 month vacation break, which makes me more sad than happy because I already miss my classmates. Yesterday after school got out, we all went to the next city over, Valencia, where a few of the kids in my class live and we had a Carnaval party. Carnaval is a holiday here that is celebrated like a food/water fight. People throw water balloons at each other, powders of all different colors, foams and eggs. I got an egg cracked on my head by a friend, it smelled! After we were completely messy we showered off and jumped i n the pool and played some games. We finished the night off by eating a pile of chicken fingers and French fries. It was a blast.

This vacation break I will be traveling all over the country: Salinas (beach), Quito (mountains) and the Galapagos (islands). I am super excited and I plan on writing about it for you all.

That’s it for now.

-Carley

 

May 5, 2014

“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” – Thomas Szasz

Hello again USA,

I posted the quote above because I believe that it has such an incredible truth to it. Discovering Carley has been a humbling journey as it feels like I had to lose myself completely in my first 5 months and then find/create myself in the second half. It is nothing you can prepare for; Rotary warned me but I did not understand the concept till I was in the situation. I hit a point in January where I felt completely empty on the inside. I had no opinion, no personality, no idea what I wanted and nothing to say to anyone. It was hard and frustrating, but it didn’t last forever. I began to find myself again and I was surprised to see the girl I was creating. I do and say things sometimes that make me wonder where the old Carley went. Sometimes I see myself creating a quality that I don’t like so I have to do my best to change that and replace it with a better quality. I still have days where I don’t know who I am, and those days aren’t fun, but then I&rsq uo;ll have a day where I’ve never been more confident in who I am as a person, and it makes every hard moment worth it.

I have had the last 2 months off of school for vacation break (just like summer break). The school year on the coast is from May to the end of February, while in the Sierra (mountains) the school year is the same as in Florida. I have probably been to Quito (the capital of the country) about 6 or 7 times. In total that’s about 60 hours of driving. I got to go to the Mitad Del Mondo or Middle of the World where I got to stand with one foot in the western hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere. I also got to go to a museum, see a show and eat a very typical dish all while in the middle of the world. I spent Semana Santa or Easter week in Quito with my family. We ate fanesca, a typical soup eaten only during semana santa. Fanesca is made up of over 10 different kinds of grains and is a dense, flavorful dish. On Easter Sunday my host family took me to a mass in one of the most famous churches in all of Ecuador. The Basilica is a huge church that is absolutely in credible! The ceilings are super high, all of the windows are with colored glass, they have the bodies of some of the most important political and religious people stored there, and everything is made of stone so it was very cold inside. We listened to mass (it was so cold during the entire service!). Afterwards we enjoyed a pizza as a family.

In March I took a family trip to the beach with a group of family friends. There were about 40 of us who went to a resort in Salinas, Ecuador. We stayed there for 4 days. I went with my two host parents and my two sisters: Nataly and Ivanna. I had loved soaking up the Ecuadorian sun, but warning to all: THE SUN IS VERY DANGEROUS ON THE EQUATOR! I will admit I got a little bit burnt that week. Every meal was buffet style and there was an all the time snack bar with hamburgers and hotdogs. We all put on a few pounds. I personally enjoyed not having to eat meat, so I ate pasta at almost every meal. During the day we went to the beach or pool and at night after dinner we went to a show and then went dancing in the disco teck until late at night. My sisters have taught me the basics to dancing throughout the year. Overall, it was an awesome family week at the beach!

I also had the pleasure of going to the Galapagos Islands for 5 days. Last summer I got a job; I saved up all of my work money to be able to pay for the extra trips on my exchange. I was happy that I was able to pay for my own adventure 800 miles off the coast of Ecuador! I went with a group of about 40 other exchange students from the coast. I did not know the kids very well, but I made some really good friends throughout the week. We flew from Guayaquil to the island of Santa Cruz where they drove us to our hotel. We stayed in a very cute city with a port and little shops. Our hotel was very nice too, with a pool, plenty of food and organized tour guides. I roomed with a friend from Belgium named Ines. The guides then split us into 2 groups. My group was of 19 girls. The first day we all went to Tortuga Bay where we went swimming in the crystal clear water. It was the first time I had been in the ocean since my family trip to the beach in March. I almost cried tears of joy as I entered the water. The ocean will always be my home. That evening they took us out to walk around the city. We were surprised to find a sea lion sleeping on one of the benches in the middle of the pier. The sea lions from the Galapagos are different from any other kind of sea lion and can only be found in the Galapagos. The next day we woke up at 5:30, ate breakfast, and we were off at 6. My group got on a boat and rode for 2 hours to a place called the sleeping loin. The sleeping lion is an island that rises straight out of the middle of the ocean and looks remotely similar to a sleeping lion. There are canals carved through the sides of the island. We went snorkeling in these canals. The water was very cold! It was incredible to look down and not be able to see the bottom. The sides of the rocks were covered in sea plants and fish swam alongside them. All of the fish were incredibly unique with bright colors and different sizes. A sea lion swam under my legs less than a meter away from me; it was awesome! I also got to swim directly over top of a sea turtle. Sea turtles are now one of my favorite animals. After snorkeling we ate lunch on our boat and then went to a private cove beach. We swam with stingrays there and explored hidden beaches. By the end of the day I was quite tired, but that didn’t stop me. The Rotarians said we could go out in the city on our own, so we went out shopping. I spent way too much money! I bought all sorts of souvenirs.

The next day was my favorite. We woke up and got in a bus that took us to the other side of the island. From there we got on a big yacht where they served us breakfast as they took us to another island. When we arrived at island Bartolome, I went on the beach and took pictures of the unique lava formations. I then went snorkeling. The fish were gorgeous; so many colors. I was hanging out in the reef when out of nowhere a sea penguin swims right by me. I tried to follow him, but he was much faster than me. I then wandered around the corner to another cove where I found a huge school of small bait fish hanging out and 6 penguins feeding on them. I was blown away! The coolest part is that penguins are not at all scared of people, so they would swim by me and bump me. I laughed to myself as I had 6 penguins to myself while the other 18 girls were all chasing 1 penguin around in the other cove. A few minutes later I was just swimming along when I looked to my left and saw an iguan a swimming about 5 feet away from me. It was such a cool moment! Later I went to the other side of the bay and saw a huge puffer fish as well as a 5 foot white tipped shark that was about 20 feet away from me! Pretty incredible! After snorkeling we went on a hike up the side of a very small volcano and at the top we got to see Pinnacle Point. One of the most famous views from all of the Galapagos. It was incredible as it looked down on volcanoes surrounded by a bay of super blue water. When we got back on the boat they fed us lunch. As we were riding along to another beach we encountered a school of dolphins that began to swim along with the boat. I sat on the very tip of the boat with my feet dangling over the water and dolphins jumping about a meter away from my feet! It was unreal! We snorkeled at the next beach and saw some huge star fish. My friend and I were just wandering around when a sea lion jumped in the water about 15 feet from us. He appeared to be very angry an d made direct eye contact with us for a good 10 seconds before swimming off. We went back to the beach as quickly as we could. We napped on the front of the boat on the ride home. It was an even more tiring day than the previous one! We went out on the town that night too, but returned back early to get some good rest.

The next morning we took a boat ride to Isla Isabella- Isabell Island. It was about a 2 hour ride. When we got there the guide took us on a little hike through a lava field. It was crazy to see all the different forms of lava. We then arrived at a lava canal with water in the middle. On the sides we saw families of iguanas and in the water there were bunches of sharks. After that they took us snorkeling again. It was cool, we got to touch a sea turtle. I approached an iguana on the rocks and found out that they spit when they feel threatened! Once back on the main land they drove us to take pictures at a lake with flamingos. They then took us to visit the famous Galapagos turtles! They are huge and wrinkly, but they crawl much faster than you would think, not fast, but not too slow. After lunch we went back to the dock and went swimming by the rocks, where we found a few more iguanas. On the beach by the dock there were about 15 sea lions piled up in the shade, growling rando mly. I took a few pictures of them. On the way back to Santa Cruz our yacht ran out of gasoline so we hung out on the front of the boat for 20 minutes and enjoyed the open ocean. It was so incredibly peaceful. That night, our final night, we went out and enjoyed ourselves to the full. We walked all over the city and laughed a ridiculous amount.

The next day we visited a small turtle zoo and then back to the airport. Once back in mainland Ecuador I said a few very sad goodbyes before I hopped a bus to my city. I had an incredible trip to the Galapagos and it couldn’t have gone any better! I fully recommend that everyone should go there in their lives!

I just started classes again today. I was very excited to getting back to class where I could be with my classmates every day.

I have less than 50 days till I return to Florida and one more Rotary trip left.

See you soon Florida,

Carley

Coleman Cocalis
2013-14 Outbound to Russia
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6990, Florida
Host: District 2220
The Rotary Club of Cherepovets-Sheksna

Coleman - Russia

Coleman’s Bio

Здравствуйте во все из тех, кто читал эту, меня зовут Coleman Cocalis. That means: “Hello to all who read this, my name is Coleman Cocalis.” Almost one month ago I was informed by Mr. Todd Lary, my Rotary District Chair, that I would be going to be spending my junior year of high school in Russia. I had a gut feeling that I would get that news. I knew this because during my interview, Mr. Lary and the other Rotarians were questioning me quite a few times about Russia, how I’d react to not getting my other choices, and how they never sent anyone to Russia but really wanted to send someone there. The truth is, at the time Russia wasn’t my first choice. But, after some time to think, a flame in me was rekindled which was a passionate interest in Russia I previously felt.

I am currently taking two college level or Advanced Placement (AP) courses and 5 honors classes at Pompano Beach High School, I’m the class treasurer, Interact Club treasurer, and Green Team (school garden care-takers) Project Manager. I’ve always wanted to travel and explore the world to learn as much as I can because the output is only as good as the input and I crave input. My interests include history, science (especially biology and human anatomy), and technology. I’ve played soccer for 10 years and I’m in the process of preparing for tryouts for the track team. For my career as an adult I’d love to improve the lives of the people of the world through science. My thoughts include finding new medicines such as neuro chemicals to prevent tumor growth or finding a way to control fusion through advanced means of plasma manipulation.

I’ve always been and always will be a history buff and to top that off, I’ve always been proud of the fact of my diverse background. My father’s family comes from England, Wales, Greece and Russia. When I was in Elementary School I learned all that I could about Greece and its history, and then in Middle School I did the same except with Russia. I read as many books, watched as many documentaries, and searched for information on the internet as I am very proud of my Russian heritage. To show the fruit of that labor, this year in my AP European History class my teacher was explaining to the class about how the Russians first used the “scorched earth policy” against Napoleon. To his surprise, I told him in great detail how Peter the Great successfully used Scorched Earth Policy against Charles XII of Sweden. Through the study of history I have learned much about the world and its various cultures but there is no experience like firsthand experience.

Physically I am tall and slightly skinny. I’m an outgoing, talkative, and curious young man who is dying to leave his familiar and even warm setting for a new, exciting and even cold setting. I’ve been hoping since 7th grade to go to Russia and this is my dream come true. I am extremely grateful to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and the gracious host families who have given me this wonderful opportunity.

Coleman’s Journals

October 15, 2013

As much as I anticipated and wondered about the year I would spend in Russia before I left, I would’ve never thought that time would fly by me so fast. After being in Russia for 7 or so weeks I can say without a doubt in my mind that when Bob White and Todd Lary asked me if I actually wanted to go to Russia, that I gave them the correct answer. Looking back, it was rather obvious that they would select me to go to Russia and I couldn’t thank them enough for doing so.

From the very start, when I first stepped out of my airplane and into the St. Petersburg international airport, that my exchange experience was going to be very different from what most of the other exchange students will or have experienced. I went immediately to my 3 day long orientation, and meeting the other handful of exchange students in Russia. As I was the last student to depart from the orientation, I took a rather long train ride to my new and current home city, Cherepovets. Soon after arriving, I met my host family and host club. It took me a day to fully evaluate and truly realize that I’m here. For a year. “Well, I better start writing down names before I forget them” I thought to myself. And once again, my exchange is unique because, unlike the average exchange experience, all of the other exchange students in Russia, we are all at least 300 kilometers apart from each other. So I realized that I’m going to, for the most part, only be with an d communicate with the Russian people.

The first 2 days were ones of difficulty for me, but after that it’s been smooth sailing, except for the expected bumps in the road. After the past week I realized that the “honeymoon” phase is over. Frankly speaking, I’m glad it is. For now I can experience and ride out the the hard times, which in my opinion, change the exchange student the most. Not only that but I also get to see the contrast between the two phases first hand. I love being in Russia, I love Russia, but most of all I love the Russian people.

And lastly, Rotary. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

March 26, 2014

I do know it has been a while since I did my last report but that is because I have been so busy. There’s always something going on, like the many trips around Russia, doing many different activities with new people every week, hearing news that my host country is annexing land of another country, or going places with my host family. I have moved three times since my last journal and will move at least one more time. I have also switched classes, become a part of 3 different clubs, and gone on 4 trips with Rotary.

I have gone to Kirov, Yaroslavl, Rybinsk, and St. Petersburg (again). In Kirov, Rotary sent us, all the exchange students, to a camp which allowed us to get together and catch up, which is hard since everyone lives far apart from each other. It was a TV styled camp which no one actually wanted to go to, but everyone loved it because we got to be together. In Yaroslavl, my host family showed me the sites and I got to take in the beautiful landscape and culture. In Rybinsk, I stayed with the Rotary student there and he showed me his host city. And in St. Petersburg, another exchange student and I stayed in a hostel for a few days while we saw the many great cultural sites of the city, along with having a grand time. Rotary had a trip to my city and I got to be the guide to my friends, showing them Cherepovets. In a few days I will be going on another trip and a few days after I get back I shall go onto another. There will be many more trips and a lot more experiences along with them and I’m quite anxious until those days get close.

It came as a shock to hear that my country had annexed Crimea, and the resulting consequences that ensued due to this. I, as a diplomat, have not and shall not express my opinion on the matter. Nor have I said anything about the anti-homosexual laws. It’s difficult to be an exchange student in a country when that country does such things but it has been worth it. Only through being a diplomat between cultures have I truly gained the understanding of both American and Russian outlooks. I’ve grown to be more understanding, mature, and balanced; able to see two sides to every argument.

The experiences I’ve gained on my exchange are invaluable to me and I thank Rotary for blessing me with this once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity. I can now say that it truly was once-in-a-lifetime and that it was the best thing to ever happen in my life, second only to being born. I just want to thank my friends and family for supporting me, Rotary for allowing me to go, but mostly my parents who’ve always been looking out for me, constantly trying to help and aid me in the quest of having the best life possible.

Connor Bradley
2013-14 Outbound to Peru
Hometown: St Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: District 4450, Peru
The Rotary Club of San Borja Sur

Connor - Peru

Connor’s Bio

Life is an adventure, it’s not easy and it’s not fair, but it’s an adventure nonetheless! For as long as I can remember this has been how I’ve described my life and what I’ve always tried to do. My name is Connor Bradley and I am from the small town of Elkhart Indiana. When I was three years old my parents, my brother, and I all moved to Jacksonville where we have been ever since. My family has always been my biggest supporters and we’ve been through everything together. I am a competitive soccer player and I coach flag football at a local recreational league. School for me is always exciting because I get to learn something new every single day, not just about my classes but also about my classmates and myself. I always appreciate being able to go because I know how much work it takes for that type of opportunity. Outside of my classes I participate in several extracurricular activities. Clubs like Political action and Model U.N. along with Spanish and Science national honor societies take up most of my free time. When they don’t you’ll almost always find me on a field playing or coaching. This opportunity to me represents a chance not only to change my life but to change others lives as well, whether they be here at home or abroad in my new home country. I am a fun loving person but I care enough to be serious at the right times and I can handle stress when it comes my way. This whole experience from right now to the day I return and beyond will change my life and take me in a completely new direction. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come but I’m here now and I could never be more excited. I think its time to throw caution into the wind and live in the real world the way we were always meant to: out of our comfort zones testing ourselves to all of the different cultures and people all over the world!

Connor’s Journals

July 30, 2013

How can one begin to explain the feeling of being in another country, completely separated from everything they know? Language, customs, food, weather, the world becomes reinvented and every detail becomes not only important but also captivating. Last night around 11:00 P.M. local time I arrived in the beautiful country of Perú and got my first taste of what it means to be an exchange student.

Full of anxiety and excitement I found my way through customs, baggage claim and finally to finding my host family. My first moments in Perú were filled with “Welcome Home” balloons and enough hugs to fill a lifetime. It was the moment I had waited for, 10 months in the making I was standing in front of my host family, speaking the language and realizing that in this new world I was completely at the mercy of my wit and curiosity. All of my new lessons to be learned couldn’t be helped by my past experience because my new home is very different then the one I left. There was one thing however that I discovered will always be the same no matter what country I am in: people care for each other, they look out for one another and although I was full of nerves and anxiety my family knew that and helped me feel right at home. Today was Peruvian Independence Day and I could not think of a better way to start becoming Peruvian then watching La parada militar with my host dad and brother. I wish I had the words to describe what it feels like to become a part of another culture, but I guess that’s why it is such an incredible experience to be an exchange student, especially in a country as special as Perú.

I can’t explain waking up and having un cafe con leche with my family and chatting about what the day will bring. Or having lunch en La bistecca, a famous restaurant here in San Borja Sur. Tonight I met my first Peruvian friends and its funny how much we already get along, they remind me of so many of my friends back home and yet in new ways they are completely different. The food, sights, and sounds of Peru are incredible and I couldn’t be more thankful for what Rotary has done. If you are a student reading this please take it form me: this experience is well worth it in every way… I know this is only my first full day but I promise you that all of the activities and assignments are well worth it! I remember my first informational meetings, my first interview with my home club, cherish the entire process because it will make memories for you that you will never forget.

Every time I turn around there is something new. A new sight, sound, friend, memory, it is hard to believe that after one day I could be filled with so much emotion. It truly is the little things in life that make all the difference and I am very certain that this adventure is just beginning; the real fun is just starting. Now that I am here it will probably be a little while before I send another blog. There is much to do for me to become Peruvian and I think its time I got started! Tomorrow my friends and I are going to a movie, and it is hard to explain how something I am so used to could now be a life long memory. Thank you Rotary for this opportunity, thank you mom, dad, and Samuelito for everything you have helped me with I know we are always going to be family and I love you guys incredibly. And finally thank you to all of the Rotarians here in Perú… without your help and dedication I would not be sitting where I am right now. Its time for me to go and begin this adventure with all of the love and support that my life has blessed me with! ¡Viva Perú!

 August 22, 2013

Hard to believe really that it was more than three weeks ago that I stepped off my flight to Lima Peru and walked out into a new world. Now it almost seems like a dream coming here, as if it wasn’t even real. Then again after more than three weeks with a new family, school, city, and country I guess that feeling can almost be expected by any voyager who has left there home in search of something truly important: adventure. Much has happened since my last entry so I won’t drag on the sentimental peace for all of you readers who are busy at work or school! The last note on my thought process here would be that Peru is growing more like home to me and the quaint differences between my lives in Florida and here in Lima are becoming just a part of my existence here. I can’t change them so I adapt and smile knowing that at the end of this year my customs in Florida will be the ones who seem different to me! Anyway on to business matte rs!

First and foremost my biggest change since my first week journal has been that I am now in School here in Lima! A very good private school named San Ignacio de Recalde. With a Green and cream colored uniform, school song (which happens to be slightly catchy), and rotating teachers instead of students it was very easy to see the changes I would be making between my new school and Creekside Highschool, the one I left back home. I have over 10 different classes including different Maths, Sciences, Language and literature classes (Spanish obviously), Dance, Gym, Civics, and of course History! *A short side note on the dance class, the guys in this class learn traditional Latin Dances and a fellow inbound and I are learning a dance from the traditional ranchers of Peru, some of the most fun I have ever had! I find my classmates to be great people and the teachers are all extremely caring for all of the students making sure that everyone (including the exchange students in my class ) know what we are doing everyday. The first day of school the Director announced us as Cultural Ambassadors from different countries here in Peru to learn what there is to learn and live what there is to live. Its very hard to describe the significance of what he said on all of us who heard it, it reminded us just what it is were doing here.

Outside of school my life has expanded here in Lima and everyday it seems that life is taking me off into some new adventure with friends or family! The food, music, people, and atmosphere of Peru as a whole is incredible and I am positive that there is not a better country for me to do exchange with (yeah maybe a little biased ;)). My host family is incredible and my host sister and brothers have been so nice in showing me the ropes about moving around the city so that now I am doing it by myself, a feeling that seems insignificant but I promise you is very important for an exchange student! We have taken trips to Los Alamos, Barranco, La Molina, Chosica, Chincha and many more wonderful places all around Lima. The food and music here is to die for and whether it be Chicha Morada, Chifa, Bembo’s or La Bistecca I found myself with great cuisine. My life here is a Peruvian one and after that I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The language for me improves everyday and each time I speak I find myself with new vocabulary, new conversations, and new ways to branch out to the people with whom I am sharing this new world. I am becoming a part of the country not as a tourist or a foreigner, but rather as a Peruvian, perhaps that is the feeling that I will always carry with me. The Rotary camps, school, social events, are all fun don’t get me wrong and I love them. But what makes them all worth while is that I am taking part in them in a culture different then my own, I am finding new customs, new connections with where I am, and I am writing a new story that one day I will be able to tell in full to all of the wonderful people who have supported me.

Thank you to my family, friends back home, Rotarians hear in Peru and back home in Florida, my fellow inbounds, and now my fellow Peruvians. Through all of you and through the help of the Lord I am here living the adventure I have always dreamed. I have been blessed with so much during my life, may I never forget the love that has been shown to me both here and at home. Until our next meeting my friends!

September 4, 2013

Vivir es dar cuenta a las experiencias de la vida, recordar los momentos increíbles, y compartir su aventura con el resto del mundo. Si se hace eso entonces es imposible no disfrutar las cosas básicas que existen en cada oportunidad… especialmente las oportunidades de un año de intercambio. Eso fue mi meta para este año acá en Perú y hasta este momento todo ha pasado con energía, amistad, y el amor entre personas de países diferentes. Les he dicho las cosas de mi mente pero ahora es el tiempo para compartir las cosas “raras” que existen en esta cultura… en mi nueva casa aquí en Lima.

So you think you know Perú? Well that’s what I used to think to so if you find yourself thinking this then please sit back, keep all hands and feet in the chair, and enjoy the ride!

Peruvians I must say are some of the most loving people I have encountered and if you ever decide to come down to this incredible country you will learn pretty quick that personal space is a thing of the past and everyone starts becoming your best friend rather quickly. When you first meet someone in public it is courtesy to kiss them on the cheek granted the two people are both women, or one of them is a women, normally two guys give a firm hand shake and a warm “¡Hola!” to start the conversation. This is true even at formal meetings like Rotary Reunions where its respectful to meet and greet every person before the meeting starts and somewhat disrespectful to leave someone out!! And I do mean EVERY person! 😀 Here in Perú its best you forget embarrassment because people don´t really judge you for the little mistakes you make, they understand we’re all human and they are really quick to forgive! One of the really comforting things I have found out about my new home! In school the story is roughly the same, the people are incredibly nice, sarcastic, and love great humor, they really love enjoying life and for me that’s really refreshing! We make jokes, work on assignments, have some hilarious conversations with the teachers and at the end of the day it really feels like I am a part of that class, and they´re some of my really good friends here in Lima which is why I will never forget some of the little ins and outs of Peru that they’ve taught me!

In my house if you enjoy your good health then you better greet my host mom when you get to the house and always say goodbye when you leave with a kiss on the cheek and a quick ¨¡Chao!! That’s just a rule of thumb for my house and if you don´t…. well you can expect to hear about it later! ☺ My house is one of the warmest places I think I have been and I don´t mean temperature-wise obviously (although we are in the middle of winter here in Lima so some warmth would be nice!) but rather just in spirit, my host mom, brothers and Dad always ask me how my day at school was and it seems like it hasn´t taken them long at all to really “get” me. It seems like even now they understand my personality and what type of Intercambista I am, which goes a long way and I don´t really feel like a foreigner in our house anymore, I feel like a brother, and a son to them which is exactly what they told me I was! “Ahora hijo, no er es gringo, eres Nuevo Peruano con nosotros!” those were the words that my friends and family told me a few weeks into my exchange, welcoming me into “being Peruvian” with them! My older brother Julio is a soccer playing star who´s always looking to help someone out and I really couldn´t ask for a better older brother! He started taking me out my first week and because of that I´ve got the confidence and the know how to do some exploring, make some memories, and really become a part of Peru and the city life here in Lima!

Well the weather here is something to behold I tell you and it changes as quickly as some people change their minds when you start driving into different regions of Lima! As of right now its Winter and that means cold, windy, and not a whole lot of sun with the exception of a few days here and there when we´ve seen it peek through the clouds over the mountains! I wear a lot of undershirts, sweatshirts, and of course my Peruvian “Chullo” a traditional hat here in Peru with its colorful Alpaca and Llama designs, a real trademark here in my country! In about 2 months we should be getting into summer and I´m already excited! Although winter really hasn’t been too bad, coming from the blistering heat of the sunshine state a little cold air and some mist has been something different and fun for me!

Well if you ever wanted to live life on the edge you should come down and see the traffic in Lima, its probably one of the biggest differences between my country back home and my new found love here in Peru. We have over 8 million people and it definitely shows, living here in metropolis is slightly different then my little suburbia of Saint Johns country and watching the cars drive bumper to bumper with no rhyme or reason at first made me scratch my head but now is something I have really come to enjoy! Every car ride seems like a roller coaster and traffic laws are not exactly the norm so when you are riding in a car, hold on to your hat! What I love most about being in Peru is that the mindset of our culture is to really make your own way, live your own life, and enjoy what you find important everyday! Friends, family and memories are the true “measuring sticks” so to speak of the happiness down here and Peruvians enjoy a very rich cultural history, something that they take great pride in. Here in our country “being Peruvian” is a great honor and something to be very proud of! Life here is dominated by public transportation and it really is the lifeline of the city, if you want to go somewhere its time for a bus, combi (my personal preference) or a taxi! I think what you really need here, not only to duck and dive in between morning traffic but also just to exist here in Lima is some real grit, you need to have some confidence in what you’re doing and who you are because being in the big city there are some times where you need to keep things under control and make the best of a situation. As long as you do that, you live with energy and passion, and respect the language and historical culture of this country then you will not only like Peru, you´ll fall in love with it like I have. It really becomes a part of you and you realize that you’re changing even if you can’t see the immediate effect s yet!

I couldn’t be more happy or feel more at home than here in Peru, of all the countries in the world I could have been sent to it brings me the greatest joy to sing our anthem, wave the red and white of our flag, and remember that this place will always be a second home to me. The adventure has one month under its belt and already I’ve got enough memories to keep me busy for a year! It will be awhile before I write again and perhaps the most important thing to remember is that life doesn’t exist in a camera’s photo or the page of a book, its in the everyday differences you make and the wonderful things that you see. As they say in Perú: Chao! And of course

¡Viva Perú!

October 5, 2013

Perú… ¿Cómo puedo describirte en más palabras de que ya he dicho? Cada día yo paso acá en este maravilloso país se encuentra más fácil ver tu cultura, sentir el ritmo de tu corazón, y entender más de que significa ser Peruano. No quiero salir de ti y cuando imagino estar en otro país me da pena. Cuando una persona dice Perú yo sonrío porque yo sé bien que estoy acá en el país más bonito del mundo. Gracias a ti por todo, mas de dos meses y ya me siento parte de la patria, parte de ti.

¡Hola a todos! Obviamente este es mi blog y sé que hace mucho tiempo que publiqué algo pero por fin estoy listo para contarles como pasa acá en Lima, y en general, en el Perú. Por favor quédense en sus asientos porque tengo mucho para decirles ☺ ¡Empecemos!

Hi everyone!!! It’s been awhile huh? (I apologize if my English is bad… its starting to decline pretty quickly these days which for my Spanish is a great sign!) Well I promise you all that it has been a great part of the plan and now that I have held the suspense for about a month now I think its time to inform everyone how the trip is going, how this incredible country is changing everything me and at the same time reminding me deep down the person I am! Everyday is something completely new and I love it so much I could not be happier to be in this beautiful country with these amazing people and this vivid, colorful, loving culture! Well a lot of crazy and wonderful things have happened since I last wrote to you so I think its time I got started!

First thing first, my language learning has hit hit a huge learning curve and started to floor through the roof. Now switching between English and Spanish is becoming harder and harder, hearing instructions in Spanish is by far easier then English and I am definitely seeing fluency development at a very very exciting pace! Through a lot of hard work at home before this trip and during my time here in Peru my Spanish has increased nearly ten-fold and at every turn I see new benefits come from that, whether it be simply talking to strangers, Rotarians, my classmates, or my host family I am just loving being able to communicate so much and it is mostly for that I am feeling so at home here in Peru, I don’t feel like a stranger because the people aren’t seeing me as a stranger, (If you are excited about joining Rotary then this should definitely be something that gets you excited!) Of course I have had my translation mishaps like everyone else! Which have been some of my favorite memories here in Peru! Everyday is new vocab, new grammar, street slang or Jerga as we call it down here! The tempo has become 10,000 times easier just being down here and when I speak I realize that I am speaking very very quickly even if it doesn’t feel that way! I am so excited about everything going on with the Spanish here and it is such a beautiful language I know I will be bringing it back with me to my home in the U.S. and I know it will always be a part of my life, I will never forget it because it represents such a crucial part of my “Peruvianness”!

Okay so now we start getting into the last couple of weeks since my last posting! Well I don’t know about other countries and what they are able to do through Rotary in their countries but I do know that here in Peru we have incredible opportunities to do amazing things that other students might not be fortunate enough to take part in. Nearly two weeks ago we were able to visit the National Congress of the Republic and meet representatives from one of the most powerful bodies in the entire country as well as meet the vice president of the Congress himself! When we entered the Congressional offices I hardly knew what to think, I was inside one of the most historically important buildings in the entire history of my new country, it gave me chills just to realize the history wrapped up in such a place. I really don’t know how to describe the feeling of taking part in an event like that which we did in the congress, we were presented to the congressional members by co untry, we were able to take pictures with them and we even received pins for our blazers and copies of the Peruvian constitution from the Vice President of the Congress! That day in the congress I did something that I don’t believe I will ever forget. On behalf of my country, my family, my state, and myself I presented the Vice President with a gift on National television in Peru. I gave to him a book of American Statesmen that had been printed in 1942 and when I handed him that small but humble sign of respect between my country and his he told me that as a student, person, and as an ambassador I was representing my country well and he finished be telling me that with people like me the future peace of our generations will be met. How could I begin to describe to anyone the feelings I had. With all of the emotions that were running through me I thanked him, told him that I would accept such a challenge with all the heart I could, smiled, and returned to my seat. I gue ss you could call that a “Rotary Moment” one of those special times where you remember just how much you mean to the name of your country and what your actions really say about where you come from. I will never be able to forget such an experience and I know it is something that will always remind me of just how big and connected the world is!

Well it wasn’t long after that trip to the congress that I began my first trip as an Exchange student inside of the beautiful country of Peru! Our first destination was to the South where we would visit several key beautiful places in such an amazing country! Arequipa, Colca, Tacna, and Arica (Chile) all made the list of our first Viaje and it was in these places that we really gained a feel for what being Peruvian really was. We left last Thursday, which feels like a year ago now, and I think it was worth every hour of lost sleep that we left the house at 3:30 A.M. to be at the Airport in Callao. When we all arrived at the check-in I don’t think our feelings could have been more excited! I was so anxious to see the world outside of the Middle Western Coast, which I had become so fond of, and go visit some of the most historical and cultural sites in the whole country!

Our first day was our trip to El Cañón de Colca a huge canyon that runs down the south of Peru in the Sierra. We flew first to Arequipa, which is the second largest and most important city in the entire country. From Arequipa we took a several hour bus ride to Colca, which in reality is a series of towns that is scattered at different sites along the canyon. The elevation of the canyon was about 16,000 ft so altitude sickness at first for a lot of our group was very common, the air was thin, and water was an absolute necessity as was chewing the traditional Coca leaf. Since the Pre-Incan period of the highlands Coca leaves have been chewed because of their help in respiration. When we stopped at one of the small stores in Colca we were recommended to buy several small bags. Not exactly the tastiest item but they definitely did the trick. Usually you place three or four small leaves in a small bunch, and then you fold them together and place them in one side of y our jaw kind of like gum. When you chew you don’t swallow the leaves, just the natural liquid inside and it’s this liquid that helps you breathe at much higher elevations. Everything in Colca was made from Coca: tea, candies, the leaves themselves, everything. It had been and is currently used by the people of that area to battle altitude sickness. In Colca we found several incredible examples of Peruvian wildlife, which truly represent so much of the history and culture here. Llamas are obviously very well known here In Peru and around the world it seems to be a very common fact that they can be found in numerous places here in Peru where they used to be used as beasts of burden. However several other animals maybe less known to the world exist in this great country. Alpacas (perhaps the more traditional and cultural form of the Llama) the Andean Condor (one of the largest birds flying birds found in the world), and the Vicuña (the oldest descendent of bo th the Llama and Alpaca) all roam the Sierra and great highlands of the country.

The first day we drove from Arequipa to Colca we saw a lot, numerous Vicuñas and Llamas in the wild stretches of the highlands and as I watched the great mountains and deserts of the Cordillera pass by us I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic, the place by which we were passing was incredibly old and far more ancient then we could ever have imagined. People had been connecting to the those hills as a source of life for thousands of years and numerous families and communities were following the same traditions there ancestors did so long ago. That night we ended up in our hotel/paradise. Built in to the side of the canyon our lodging was situated near the bottom of a deep valley and laid right next to a runoff of the River Colca. With naturally fed thermal pools found next to the river it was one of the beautiful places I have seen. We enjoyed singing some songs as a huge group that night around the huge fire pit that had been made in the center of all of the rooms.

We had over 6 languages spoken between us and yet we all sang and that night is going to be a memory I will always have as an exchange student! After the fire that night we all got on the bus to go to a small restaurant in the center of town where not only did we taste traditional food of the canyon (I personally got to try an Alpaca Steak which was amazing!!) but we also got to witness traditional dances performed by several traditional Andean dancers. It was incredible and I could hardly believe my eyes when they pulled me out of the crowd to go dance with them! I heard a great cheer from my Rotary Group and there I was dancing traditional Peruvian dances in the middle of the Andean Highlands… How could I describe it more?

The next day we went to the Cruz del Condor, a viewing point for Andean Condors in the area. What an experience! Situated at one of the higher points of the canyon we were able to hike around the cliffs and we actually did get to see one of the condors. What a beautiful creature! With great contrasts of black and white in its plumage the Andean Condor is one of the most amazing birds I have seen! The Condor was once seen as a God amongst the Andean peoples before the arrival of the Spaniards and rain was believed to be one of the gifts it was thought to bring which gave life in the form of crops and grasses for grazing animals. In some parts the Condor, Mountains, and Rivers are believed to be Gods and especially in the area of Colca there are numerous traditional beliefs that still maintain great popularity!

After our time in Colca and the Canyon of the Condor we soon packed up our things and traveled to Arequipa the second largest and most important city in all of Peru. Known for its great agriculture and historical importance, Arequipa represents the largest influence of politics and culture outside of Lima. It was here that we got to visit several historical sites like the Plaza de Armas, Monasterio de Santa Catalina, La Catedral de Arequipa, la casa del Fundador, and so much more. Also it was in Arequipa that we were given free time, a couple of hours were given to us over several days of the trip to go out by ourselves to experience Arequipa and with my group we had an amazing time visiting several historical sites, tasting the local cuisine, and really getting a feel for the city!!! Each site brought something new and it was such an amazing time just to be able to spend sometime with some of my best friends in the world here in Peru, they are like my family and I will neve r be able to forget any of them! We all have so much in common and just being able to spend time with other world travelers who are ready for anything is just incredible, I couldn’t ask for anything more and I couldn’t help but smile when I was with them during the entire trip. They are always going to be there and that is something truly exciting and special about Rotary Youth Exchange.

Arequipa is settled between the Volcanic Mountains of Misti, Chanchani, and Pichu Pichu (or the sleeping Indian)! In these mountains several years ago was found a mummy so well known here in Peru and throughout the world that it has been described as one of the best preserved specimens of mummies in the world! Nicknamed “Juanita” we were able to visit her museum in Arequipa! The city was not only an anthropological symbol but represented also one of the turning points of the Pacific war between Chile and Peru. Arequipa was one of the final advances of the Chilean Army before they were turned back towards the south. All in all Arequipa is a mix of traditional cultural ideas and modern concepts; it was really an amazing place to visit!

Proceeding from Arequipa we travelled about 6 hours by bus to the south to the desert town of Tacna, which lies very very close to the Peruvian-Chilean border! The sun was always out, and the city was definitely in the desert environment, outside of the city were giant sand dunes as far as the eye could see and I realized just how harsh the Cordillera could be to someone that was trying to survive it without being in a city like Tacna. In Tacna we visited numerous cultural cites like El teatro municipal, El ferrocarril, and so much more also traveling to the Plaza de Armas de Tacna and the Catedral which had been partially rebuilt since an earthquake struck the city some years ago. The night we arrived in the city we were welcomed by Rotary club of Tacna to a dinner that everyone enjoyed, it was a great blessing to be brought in by the different clubs who were willing to help provide food for nearly 40 Exchange students!

The next morning we had to be up very early because we crossed the border into Chile (a process which took nearly 2 and half hours)! Now you see there has always been this great Rivalry between Chile and Peru since the War of the Pacific in which Chile took territory from Peru and then Bolivia. When we entered the border no more than 100 yards from the border control offices we began to sing the Peruvian National Anthem together as a whole. The sound of it gave me chills! There we were, mixed group of students from over 7 different countries all-residing in Peru and we were singing our new home’s Anthem in the borders of her rival! We were all filled with a tremendous Patriotism in that moment for Peru and it was such a gift to be a part of. We realized then how much we loved Peru and how it had become our home. When we went into Chile we visited the city of Arica, which was a historical battleground between the two countries in the 19th century. Chile was a beautiful c ountry with a great climate and a beautiful coast but I don’t think it can compare to the beauty of Peru <3 ☺ .We visited several museums and we were able to pass through several artesanía shops in the city in order to buy some souvenirs.

Finally after one more day in Tacna after our day in Chile we returned home to Lima last night. After so much travel, tours, dinners, official Rotary events, and in overall just fun I cam back to Lima as happy as I could possibly be because after a trip like the one I have just taken I can’t help but feel closer to my fellow exchange students and my new home.

Everything in Peru is just going as well as it possibly could and for that I must be so thankful. The language, like I told you all earlier, is running so smoothly and everything is falling into place just like I thought it would at this stage of the game! The weather is getting nicer as we turn into summer here and I actually have a week of vacations after this weekend because last week were exams! My friends in my Colegio are amazing, friendly, and funny, and I couldn’t think of not being in San Ignacio de Recalde. This coming week I have no idea what my plans are and yet I am very okay with that, really my mindset (and the mindset in general here) is to let your worries go, try your best and enjoy yourself, which has been something I have really held on to. Just being here in Lima and in Peru in general has me so excited and I could never thank Rotary enough for what they have done as well as all of the people back home which have made this possible for me, whether t hey be teachers, friends, family, anyone who I can thank I am going to because this is a life changing experience in everyway and I couldn’t be more blessed to be here! I have so much to tell you guys about everything that is going on here but I suppose I will stop there and let you take a breather! Next time I will give you another “Cultural Update”! Until then I hope that everyone has a wonderful time! As for me I’m going to keep living this Peruvian life, learning what it truly means to be a part of my new culture, and loving every second of it. Until we talk again everyone! ¡Chao, y Viva Perú! <3

October 28, 2013

Perú… tan bonito es su bandera, el pendón bicolor de rojo y blanco. Los Andes se quedan en su tierra tan bonita, maravillosa, llena de historia y tradición. Espero recordar este país tan importante y su belleza para siempre. De la selva, la Cordillera, la sierra, dentro de todo se encentra nuestro orgullo de ser Peruanos… ¡Viva Perú!

(Spanish in Progress…Please excuse the English Mistakes!)

Well today is a very very special day for my journey here in the beautiful country of Perú. Today is my official third month mark for being here and I really didn´t know where to start trying to describe it. So much has happened, so much has changed in three short months and it is so hard for me to try and explain everything and anything that has happened here! There´s simply too much Perú for a blog like this!

Lima, and what I really love about this place is that in every street and corner you can find more of the amazing Peruvian culture we enjoy here. After the trip last month I returned to my colegio to reintegrate myself with being back here in Lima instead of out and about in the countrysides of this great country. Unfortunately things here are still a little cold and damp as we are just starting to move into spring! However we have had our first few days of sun here in Lima and when it comes out everything definitely changes! We are extremely close to the equator so obvious the sun is much stronger here than it was even in the Sunshine State of Florida! As we get to see more and more of Summer weather we all begin wishing more and more that it was December so we could swim, surf, and enjoy the beautiful climate here in Peru.

School life has been very very very entertaining and a great experience for me! My classmates are awesome and hilarious which makes every class funny and a new experience for all of us. The teachers here joke around a lot too which is a lot of fun because they really do a good job of being friendly with the students and that is one particular difference that I think there is between the United States school system and our program here in Perú. The schools are slightly smaller here in Lima because they are private, so the student’s don’t have as many in each class and everyone gets to know each other a lot more! That part of school I am really enjoying! Kids in the same grade level all know each other and yeah I am sure you´re probably saying ¨well that’s easy if they only have 10 kids! ¨ But actually our grade has over 100 students and yet everyone seems to be good friends! Likewise we don´t have nearly as many problems with the &u ml;norms of highschool: Drama, fights, people really disliking each other, we really don´t see as much of that here in my School of San Ignacio de Recalde and so it is really a friendly place to be! I also have a few Rotary Youth Exchange students that I have gotten to know really well and that has been a lot of fun to kind of discover all of this together with them! My best friends in school are absolutely incredible people and they are what I would like to call the “Traviesos” because they are snappy, sarcastic, funny, and I would miss them in a heartbeat! We always have a lot of fun no matter what class we are in and I always talk to them when there is something on my mind. Great people and some of my best memories have been from my School!

Speaking of a great times I got to have one of the most important days of my life celebrated here in Peru, and let me tell you, what a day! My 18th birthday was this past Friday and I wish I was lying when I write that the party started at 12:01 that morning and ended at 8 the next night! 😀 Peruvians pretty much are allowed to do everything at 18 which is why that it is such a big age to celebrate here, and I really got to see that in full form this past weekend! It all started at midnight that Friday morning! I woke up to someone tapping me on the shoulder and before I even know what was happening my entire family was in my bedroom singing me happy birthday in Spanish and very broken English! They brought me a chocolate cake and at 12:30 we were all eating as a family celebrating my “coming of age” in Peruvian culture, it was so much fun just to be there, just to realize what extent my family had gone through to remind me that even in a different continent then my home, I was still in a house where I was loved and that feeling can’t have a price tag, absolutely unforgettable. There is something about that situation, that no matter what language you hear the song in, you remember the most important things in life and that was what was so impressive about that moment, just how much love, and caring I saw from my family, even if I wasn’t their son by blood, it didn’t matter at all, they loved me all the same and for that I thank Rotary for showing me that moment because it is on that short list which will always be remembered.

After about an hour of eating cake, making jokes, and simply having a good time we all got back into bed at about 1:30 and that morning I had school so I had to get up at 6! The party continued at school the next day and I was really able to see what “friends” really mean here. In the United States usually the person who is celebrating brings some food, drinks, enough for us to have a party, relax and enjoy. Here in Peru, the person having the party is not expected to bring anything, its their day being celebrated and that’s why its not there job to bring food, or drinks for the others, its their day to enjoy! Now here too I got to see something extremely heartwarming, my best friends at school all prepared for that day and during our Recreo we had a birthday party with a chocolate cake, Inka Cola, Chips, cookies, the works and I was honestly surprised at how much they were really willing to spend for someone else. Back home that is one thing that I have alw ays wished for, just a little bit more of an open mind in our culture to spend money for other people sometimes, and that’s why that party having a good time with my friends really showed me something culturally significant about my new home! When I was making my birthday wish we moved on to our next tradition regarding birthdays! When a person is celebrating they have to take a bite of the cake as a whole, when they do this everyone has to push their whole face into the cake! After having my head smashed into a delicious chocolate cake I brought my face up with a complete chocolate mask just in time for a photo with all of my friends!

Up to this point it had been a fantastic day and it just got better! That night my host family asked me what I wanted for dinner and we had a huge feast with Polla a La Brasa (a famous chicken dish) with Rice, French fries, a salad, and a nice glass of red wine! It was incredible to be able to share such memories with my family and the stories we told and laughed about will always stay with me. Simply a great birthday and with me I had my best friend here in Peru Emilie from Denmark whom my parents encouraged me to invite. With a great friend, a tremendous family, and incredible food it was one of the best ways I could possibly think of ending my Cumpleaños.

The following day however the real party started! At 10 A.M. I met all of my good friends at a local spot here in Lima and we all went to play soccer with our Rotarians for a few hours before heading to lunch. It was great to get everyone together and to see our Rotary Members again, who are always ready to get back in touch with us students and see how life is going! After that and a nice lunch made by our Rotary members my counselor gave me a few gifts and they too proceeded to sing Feliz Cumpleaños! I was so happy to be with all of my good friends that I couldn´t have prepared a better afternoon! Finishing our lunch we all decided to go to the Miralfores District for some great markets and great spots to hang out and enjoy some great company as a group. After passing a few hours in Parque Kennedy we finally finished up and went our separate ways home, I got home about 8 and after two days of partying I was happier than I could possibly try to put down on paper !

Well now we have what I would like to call LAS NOTICIAS IMPORTANTÍSIMAS!!! Ok so here´s the deal, in January I will be able to travel to the very far North of Peru for a month and a half to stay with a host family in the city of Piura! 😀 A coastal city with plenty of sun, great food, and cool sites to see I am extremely excited about this rare opportunity! As my Rotary organization here in Lima has connections with other clubs throughout Peru, we were able to make the transfer and I am extremely excited to be able to travel to a city with only about 200,000 people compared to the ten million we have in Lima! The history, culture, food, will all have a much smaller influence from international powers and companies and that I am excited to see, how do the people there live differently then they do here? Are any of the perspectives different? This opportunity is truly important and very special to the kids who are here in Lima because only a few of us are going to be able to take these trips! To know another part of Lima culturally will be a tremendous time and I will be making the trip with a good friend of mine Colin from Belgium! Being able to make such a journey to the far extremes of Northwest Peru will be another once in a lifetime trip!

Well everyone that’s it for this edition of the blog! I can’t tell you all how happy I am to be here, simply to be a part of it and there isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t think of thanking Rotary, my family, my friends, and everyone back home and here in Peru who has helped me and supported me over the last 18 years! I am the luckiest guy in the world for all the great lessons and memories you’ve given me and to repay you I am going to do everything I can to live this opportunity like the life changing venture it is! I love this country, its people, and I will always be proud to be a part of it! Thank you Rotary! ¡Viva Perú! <3

November 30, 2013

 ¡Buenas Tardes a Todos de la Ciudad bonita de Lima en el Perú! Les escribo esta vez para compartir una aventura importantísima de mi vida y también para contarles cómo pasa la vida acá en Perú. ¡Ojalá que leas esta publicación y la disfrutes completamente, saludos de Lima! ☺

Well everyone long time no see huh? I think the last time I posted was in early October so perhaps it would be a great time to play a little bit of catch up and let everyone back home know how things are going here in the beautiful city of Lima! First off this post will be a little bit of a longer writing because of the fact that our last trip to the south of this beautiful country was very long with lots of historical sites, amazing memories, and numerous cultural points that I am anxious to share with you guys! SO I promise that if you read through this, even if it is long, you will hopefully not get bored because we are going to have plenty to talk about! Alright well enough chitchat I think it’s about time I got on with it!

Well it all started the 7th of November and ended the 15th of the same month, although it might not seem like a long time you are going to learn just how much a Rotary group can do in 8 days! We kicked off our tour to the South by beginning in the ancient Capital of the Incans: Cuzco, a beautiful city with a very large amount of historical tradition and significance for the once great Incan Empire, which dominated life in in the Andes region for several centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century! Our first stop was to the beautiful temple of Curicancha, which used to act as a traditional center of the city before it was partially destroyed by Spanish troops and renamed Santo Domingo. Here we found a very important spiritual center dedicated to the Incan gods of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, astronomical phenomena that the Incans believed guided and watched over their civilization! We saw several different types of important building styles and were taught how and why many of the structures of this great Empire appear the way they do. Continuing on our trip we visited such sites as Q’engo, Tambomachay and Saqsayhuamán, all of which held particular functions in the days of old for the bustling city of Cuzco, some acted as important agricultural sites, some as guard sites, others as the earliest forms of center for transferring information in the form of male runners who would carry goods such as seafood from the coast or information regarding other parts of the empire! It was said that a runner could run 25 Kilometers in one day and that the Incan Leader could enjoy fresh seafood brought all the way from the coast!

Our following day of adventuring was by no means less exciting than the first and as we traveled further and further into the interior of the Valle Sagrado. It became much more clear to me how the Incans believed that the world around them, the water, mountains, sun, how all of those things could be Gods for a civilization. Some of the most beautiful sites I’ve been to and simply the view was enough to take your breath away, I make no joke when you could feel just how ancient that world really was, and maybe it was just me but I tried to imagine Incan families scattered throughout those high terraced walls, living life like they had been for centuries. One of my favorite aspects of this trip as a whole was that the feeling we received from being in these sites were important for many reasons and to many people, not just people with Incan heritage, or Peruvians, but in general just as a human being it was impressive to be standing in one of our father societies, one of the largest in the two Americas, for me that feeling at times simply robbed me of words and a new sense of Peruvian patriotism swept over me, and again I realized just how much this country has become a part of me. Its not a vacation, or a simple tour, it’s a life changing experience that has changed me in some ways I can see and some ways I will never guess at. I could never be more thankful for such an opportunity, not just for this life changing trip but for receiving Peru in general because I couldn’t dream of being in another country, it is as if I was always meant to come here! Well now that I have successfully gotten off on an emotional hallmark moment let me bring it all back with the actually tour!

Alright so where was I? Oh that’s right! The Valle Sagrado was the home of some of the more famous Peruvian animals and plants including the Llama, Alpaca, Condor, Vicuña, Parrots, and Guanaco! We had the pleasure of visiting a wildlife reservation in this valley to become face to face with these beautiful creatures and learn a little bit about how conservationists are working with the government to stop illegal trading of materials like Toucan feathers, and illegally sold furs from animals such as the Guanaco and Vicuña. In the reservation we also were able to view Pumas, and get a “bird’s eye view” of some Condors! 😉 I had to try a cheesy joke at least once throughout this blog, if I didn’t how would I know you were actually reading? Well off we go again back to the straight facts! Jaja! Alright after the Valle Sagrado we went to two very important sites of Pisaq and Ollantaytambo! Pisaq was a very rich agricultural sector of the valley where the people would normally grow Corn and potatoes to keep their nutrition well balanced and healthy in the high mountain altitude. Great terraces had been built into the side of the mountains and it was said that the storehouses of Pisac were so efficient using only the sun and high mountain climate that it was calculated they could keep some vegetables fresh for up to 5 years!! That kind of makes our refrigerator look like a tin can if you ask me! Pisaq was extremely impressive and the work it took to get the terraces etched into the side of the mountains must have been incredible work, really something to appreciate because the Incans were an advanced civilization but they were still working with basic tools made of stone and wood.

Well our next city was just as important and perhaps even more so politically then Pisaq was, the next city on our Great Peruvian adventure was Ollantaytambo! Ollantaytambo served as a temporary capital for the Incan Leader Manco Inca when Pizzarro arrived and conquered the original capital of the Cuzco. For several years Manco Inca was able to defend this great city valiantly but the force of the Spaniards was too much and eventually he retreated to the final capital of the Incan Empire to Vilcabamba where he was finally defeated and the Incan empire brought to an end under Spanish domination. The city was extremely impressive and the great look it had over the mountains was nothing short of jaw dropping, it was quite clear how the incans chose it to be a capital city, it over looked a very low set valley which would have allowed Manco Inca to notice any Spanish assault ahead of time and plan accordingly! After a long day of touring, many names in Quechua, and a great Incan history lesson we were finally ready to hit the “Mack Daddy” ultimate tourist spot in Peru…. Machu Picchu!

It was a very very foggy morning from what I can remember when we left for Machu Picchu, a site that no doubt has gone a long way in changing not only my time here in Peru but life in general for me, how I look at the perspective we all find ourselves in. We were stationed in a small tourist town just at the base of the site and I remember the night before I was trying to prepare myself for the moment I had waited so long for…. What would I be able to say? Would I be able to say anything at all? The second question as you will see later on was a much fairer question, but that’s later in the story. So leaving from the small town of Machu Picchu we mounted our bus and before we could believe it we were ascending up the steep sleeps of the mountain ranges and because of the fog that was so heavy around us it felt as if we were diving right into the heavens themselves. About 20 minutes of our serpentine road and finally the bus pulls to a halt. We all got off, got our tickets punched and passport checked, and continued into the site. At first we saw almost nothing because of the density of the mist circling around us, and after several minutes of hiking the guide finally stopped us near a small ledge that overlooked the valley.

Out of the corner of our eyes a small ray of sunlight poked through the clouds and slowly as if the mists were blankets over a slumbering giant they peeled away until finally we were left with a view that at least for me will represent one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The city of Machu Picchu, jewel of the Incan empire, sitting in the morning sun, there were no words to describe it, just a still peace and tranquility flowed through that place and there was no force I didn’t think that was going to stop it. We had the pleasure of visiting all of the temples, living quarters, and other import facilities including two very well known sites: the Incan bridge, y La Puerta Del Sol. These two sites were extremely important in maintaining the city and La Puerta del Sol acted as the only means of entrance. It was truly a tremendous city to visit and the history I truly believed was living in those walls, you could feel it when you were hiking through the variou s sections of the city, it was simply there. Now as for someone who loves history as much as I do Machu Picchu was like a kid in a candy store, the techniques they used, the equipment, the beliefs all of it was something I could and did appreciate and more than that, it was a culture I could still see continued today in some respects here in Lima and other places around Peru. Here are the truly important phenomena that this culture of the Incas is not completely gone and it helps influence all of us living here in Peru, no matter what city you are from.

Finally after a long day of touring, numerous hikes, and countless panoramic photos we returned to camp and got to take a short rest before eating and returning by train to Cuzco. After a day that started off at 5:30 in the morning I had finally seen Machu Picchu, jewel of the Incan Empire, from what I could tell it was a day very well spent and one (in my opinion) that I will never forget! The day after we were able to take a free time in the city of Cuzco and a small group of friends I find myself traveling with decided to go to the Plaza de Armas in order to really appreciate some of the beauty of the city. It was not a disappointment, the city center was stunning and of course La Catedral was situated right next to the Central building sets! Our touring in cuzco would not be over quite yet however! The following day we visited to more historic sites of Moray and Chinchero. Alright Moray first! Moray was actually a beginning laboratory for the Incas who were trying to dis cover at which temperatures and altitudes best grew the crops that they were using to sustain themselves. In order to test these variables the Incas used a system of large agricultural rings set between several medium sized valleys. By encircling each ring with in another ring in ascending order until they were at the same level with the base of the valley the Incas were able to use the temperature changes in each depression to determine at what setting best grew there needed crops. At first glance the site struck me as a religious center of some sort so it greatly surprised me and filled me with some awe when I realized how their system had worked, truly an impressive thing to see. Chinchero was not as much as a city known for any deeply made ruins, or tourist spot, it however was significant because was the city that has been found to adhere most to the traditional beliefs, languages, and religion of the Incas. In essence it is one of the closes places you are going to fin d still living as their ancestors did so many years ago. We had the pleasure of visiting a fabric-making center where 6 or 7 families lived together and they showed us some of the traditional customs of their culture deeply rooted in the Andean fashion. A very respectable sight for sure and something that I really appreciated, seeing this ancient culture in action is a moving experience I would believe for anyone who saw could see it.

Finishing our tour in Machu Picchu and thereafter in Cuzco we made our final push during our trip, this time to the city of Puno located on one of the highest lakes in the world: Lake Titicaca! About 6 hours by bus from Cuzco to Puno the trip was well worth it and the adventures that would follow the next two days would always be remembered. The first stop was the island of Taquile a very high rocky Isla that reminded me of being on the Greek isles, very beautiful! We were able to hike to the top, take plenty of beautiful pictures and then make a nice peaceful descent back down! Our second visit, which was incredibly memorable, was to the Island of Amantani. On this island we got to try something slightly different, instead of staying in a hotel that night we actually got to live with traditional families on the islands and most of them had been living in the ways of their ancestors for years. Some, like my family for example had limited electricity and only used it for a lit tle lighting, not for cooking, washing, or anything of the sort! It was truly a humbling experience to get to live with a family like that and share a historic culture with them! That night they brought all of us to the center of the Island and gave us traditional clothing because that night we were actually able to have a huge “Welcome” party that was centered on traditional dancing! I don’t know if I have ever had so much fun and I know it was a memory that I am always going to keep!

After our fun-filled dance night we made our final push on the tour, our trip to the Los Uros or better known as the “Floating Islands”. It was hard to believe but if you can try to picture a huge raft big enough for 6 families with houses, a kitchen, and everything on nothing but floating reeds situated out in the center of the Lake. That is what we saw when we first arrived and I think it had every one of our jaws dropped! It was an incredible process on how they made the islands and the was really a work of human engineering, everything was made out of this reed material that had been growing on the lake I am sure for centuries. Much of their food, boats, houses, all came from this reed and it was incredible to see how a people could actively sustain themselves with one major product, very very impressive! We were able to have lunch on the islands and enjoy the beautiful sun settled on the water. Finally after 7 or 8 days of intense travel, touring, and numerou s hotels we ended our viaje.

As a whole this entire trip really helped me understand more about this beautiful country and I was really able to see and realize the ancient routes of this culture and how customs started centuries ago can still influence our lives here. I loved it and the connection between Peru and me has never felt stronger than when what it is now after that trip and nearly four months in this incredible nation. I love it, I learn it, and I live it everyday and that for me is a complete dream to live here, speak the language and be a part of what has become my culture. I must say that I could never have asked for a better country for this program and everyday I stay here my life becomes more and more changed in the best way possible. In two days I will be here for four months…. My how time flies when you’re changing your life… ¡Viva Perú! ¡La nación de mi corazón! Te amo Perú <3

January 5, 2014

Its wonderful and yet dreadful how time flies isn’t it? It certainly doesn’t seem like a little over five months since that cold Peruvian winter night in which I landed in Lima, Perú. It’s nearly impossible to believe that I have been through so much here, in so many ways I have changed and I would like to think that those changes are all for the better. Perú has been the biggest self “remapping” project in my lifetime and I must say that even though there have been ups and downs, in the end I see the life I led returning stronger than it could have ever been without this year abroad. One thing I notice is just how different our exchanges are as exchange students and yet at the same time how similar. We all face different challenges that take on different forms, and yet in the end we solve those problems in the same way using: determination, optimism, reflection, and a drive to change where we are a nd what we are doing for the better. Exchange students can be some of the most inspiring friends and family you can have because there comes a moment when you realize that you have surrounded yourself with people who believe that they can make a difference in the world and more importantly they have STARTED DOING IT!

Things have been incredible while I have been here in Perú and I could never be more thankful for that, it has become my home and I cannot imagine leaving (which is why I have distanced myself from thinking of June and July!), it has become the country I know and my “home away from home” has been found and I have never been happier than I am right now. During one of those most important family times of the year I am away from my own, away from my country, and yet I am having the time of my life. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my parents, grandparents, brother, aunts, uncles, and the whole gang! What it does mean is simply that I know that I am going to be here for one year and instead of wishing I was home (which some people do quite often) I am going to leave my eyes open, take it all in and in one year’s time be 100% Peruvian American! That was the mission I set out on back in the end of June and I am very happy and proud to say tha t goal is being reached. And more importantly, I am making family and friendship ties that will last a lifetime, I have shared my life with them and they have all become inseparable parts of my story, my world that will always stand out when I look back on life.

There has been a lot going on recently and I have a lot to tell about this beautiful and amazing country that I have been able to call my home. First of all is the fact that while I was here I was able to graduate from San Ignacio de Recalde, my colegio here in Lima, and getting the opportunity to see my friends walk and receive their diplomas was simply incredible, one of the more reflective moments of my exchange, watching a group of students achieve what they had worked a long time for resonated well with me and reminded me just how fast life really does pass us by and why everyday we should try to run out and grab as much of it as we can! ☺ I think I will backtrack just a tad however because I forget to tell you that I was included in a very large traditional dance show in the beginning of December before the graduation! My friends and I danced a dance named Tucumanos as well as accompany another group by playing the Cajón! As I was saying we too were given our diplomas and to become a part of the school was an incredible rewarding experience, even though the system was very different from ours and what I had been used to, Colegio is where I met all of my very good Peruvian friends and for that I am thankful to have been not only included but truly given a very graciously accepted courtesy of the school when we as exchange students needed it.

A few days after the official ceremony we had our unofficial ending to the Promoción of 2013…. Prom. Now before you go off guessing at what Prom was like here let me tell you one thing, it is NOT like the prom in the United States and I say that meaning it is much much better… If a prom starts at 8 at night and ends at 6 the next morning and people are dancing the entire time then you know you have a very good party going and going to Peruvian Proms (I was actually luckily enough to be invited to two!) were two of the most entertaining and memorable nights of my entire life and I mean that with absolute seriousness because it was a night that will always be remembered by those that were able to take part. I spent it with my friends, bestfriends, and very good people and of course that just puts the cherry on top of it all! Thank you Promotion 2013 for making my time at San Ignacio de Recalde the best I could ever have imagined!

Outside of our party going mentality the Exchange students and myself have been visiting some very important sites here in Peru and we have had the pleasure of recently visiting the Palacio Del Gobierno very near the center of Lima! A beautifully constructed and decorated modern palace it was a spectacle and certainly contained a number of Peruvian historical items and accounts which play a major role obviously in the Peruvian national identity!

Of course recently we have had the major holidays of December and January and those of course come with their own stories! Christmas was spent very very well with my host family and it came with its own Peruvian customs of course! First we went to mass at 6 P.M. and got back close back to 7:30, afterward we had our own time of Prayer and we sang Spanish worship songs to show just how thankful we were for the blessing of another Christmas remembering that Jesus christ was born for us! Truly moving and it was fantastic to take part of! After chatting and greeting the entire host of uncles, aunts, and cousins, we all sat down for a large christmas dinner at 11 complete with the traditional “fixins” simply added with some Peruvian Spice! Turkey, Ham, Camote, Rice, fruits, numerous other foods, and a tall glass of Red wine! At midnight we sat round the christmas tree and everyone opened up their presents! The kids were so excited and the smiles people had will be a memory I will always keep with me! Finally we walked outside and watched the Christmas Fireworks because fireowrks here in Peru are incredibly common and for about three more hours we kept the party going into the christmas morning, finally getting home at about 3:30 A.M.! Certainly impossible to forget!

The last week of mine has been filled with mixed emotions really, as it commonly is with the New Year’s celebration my year of 2014 has its ups and downs. When I say “down” I don’t mean that it is sad or upsetting, simply a change… this week I am saying goodbye to my first host family. I could never be more thankful for all that they have done for me in these first five months here in this country and I know I could never forget them as my host family, they took me in when I knew nothing about this new world and they taught me everything I needed, they are my family and I love them very very much. As excited as I am to be traveling to Sullana a small city in the northern reaches of the country, I know that I already miss my life here in Lima a little and miss my host family a lot. I know that I was lucky enough to live with an amazing family and we have moments, memories, jokes, and stories that will never leave me… Mamá, Pap&aac ute; , Jorge, Julio, y Johanna, los quiero un montón y nunca no podré decirles a ustedes el amor que he sentido estos cinco meses pasados, me aceptaron como hijo, hermano y amigo, gracias por todo y sé que algún día los voy a visitar y nosotros nos vamos a acordar todo de lo que ha pasado. Tenemos nuestros chistes, cuentas, memorias, y momentos inolvidables, gracias por todo que han hecho por mi y los quiero como familia.

Everything in Peru is going so so well right now and I couldn’t be happier with what I am doing and who I am becoming, so many things have changed and I still have over half of my Exchange ahead of me which is a very very exciting thought to me! I have so much more I want to change and I know things will happen in the next months that I could never dream of! Thank you to all of my friends and family everywhere out their in the big world who have made this entire year such a blessing, my special thanks go out to all of you, I wish the best this holiday season and may your days be blessed with good times with the people you care about! Chau de Lima, Peru! 😀 ¡Los quiero un montón! ¡Viva el Perú!

March 31, 2014

We have all imagined the scene right? The traveler throwing their belongings in a bag and leaving at a moments notice for the first chance of adventure even if he is unsure of the path in front of him, where it may lead, and where it will end. We have all imagined the scene… but the last two months I feel I have actually gotten to live it. The last time I wrote in this blog I believe it was the beginning of January and change was certainly easy to find, a new year, new family, a new half of the exchange, the journey was at a turning point and even if I didn’t know it then the months to follow would be some of the most memorable in my life.

It all started one hectic day at the bus stop in Lima, as I was awaiting my bus to Sullana; a small northern city that I believe I had mentioned in this blog before hand, I received a call from my chairman here in Lima saying that for some unknown reason the Rotarians that were going to take me in were not available and so in the blink of an eye I was forced to cancel my ticket pick up my bags and go back home… my trip had been lost and it appeared that the rest of my summer was going to be spent here in the capital. However, being lucky as I have been during my exchange that is not the end of the story, about an hour later I received a call from the same chairman offering me not one but two separate trip opportunities one to the Highland city of Huaraz, and the other to the more tropical city of Pucallpa situated in the Amazon. I am sure an onlooker would have said that my racing around to leave that same day for Huaraz was quite in the fashion of Mr. Baggins. Hoppin g in a car with a Rotary family and four other exchange students I began my first day of what would be a chain of trips. And how did I finish it? Sleeping peacefully at the doorstep of the Peruvian highlands. That, my good friends, is where my adventure would start.

Huaraz was a very small peaceful town with the traditional culture of the Sierra, it was based on tourism because the local mountain ranges of the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca offered a number of tours and foreigners were abundant. The culture in that city is incredibly close to the traditional way of life practiced by the Incas for centuries. The idea of a cyclic relationship with earth and its products like the Potato, corn, and fish are symbolic of how the customs of that empire have been passed down and conserved in the highlands of this beautiful country. Quechua is spoken regularly and most know Spanish as a second language. Seeing the history of its people in the social norms of the city Huaraz was a great cultural stop for us to get to know and understand more of life in the Andes. In total we were there for 6 days, however everyone of those six days was used incredibly and we were able to book tours to several large hiking spots such as Lake 69, a beautiful crystal blue lake at nearly 15,000 reached only by a three hour intense mountain path! We were able to bungee jump from a bridge about 120ft high over a rocky canyon with a small river at its base and we were able to climb down canyons in and through waterfalls. We were able to eat huge amounts of fresh trout, which was the primary dish of the town as well as corn, and potatoes, which here in Peru are absolute staples for almost all meals. All in all it was a fantastic trip and I could not imagine not being able to make a stop in the region of Ancash. Unfortunately my stay couldn’t have been longer, and after six short days I was already leaving back to Lima.

However my stay in the capital was not to be drawn out. I was only able to just shake of a short-term traveler’s rest before heading to the airport. This time my destination was going to be a little bit farther and (if possible) even more exotic because I was going to the tropical Jungle city of Pucallpa. Arriving it reminded me much like home, the warm humid jungle air, the mosquitos already swarming as you stepped off of the plane, it was a much more familiar site to me and from the first minute I stepped out of the airport I know that Pucallpa was going to be special, and by the end it flew higher than my most built expectations could have imagined. I was staying with my friend Colin a Belgian, and our host family, Chelita, Hernan, Erika, and Pia in a beautiful house nearly six kilometers away from the center of the city. It was much more distant and that reminded me or of the peaceful lifestyle I had seen and become apart of back home and in Costa Rica. Truly loving, warm, and radiant people, Colin and I know knew that the hospitality of the Selva was going to be very different than we were thinking previously. We begin eating a lot more meats and fish and several incredibly delicious plates such as river trout, Piranha, fried sweet bananas and so much more. We were in the region of Yarinacocha, which has a beautiful, and captivating range of rivers and lakes situated at its banks. There we were able to spot river dolphins and fish for the famous Piranha. When we were not out venturing in the Amazon we were back at home with the family enjoying a very warm, kind, loving culture where parties and family cookouts were incredibly common. Everybody brought their favorite food or drink and the whole family enjoyed and danced for hours and hours. The warm climate of the Jungle was only matched by the emotional friendliness and warmth of its people.

From the Coast of Lima to the rainy highlands of Ancash, to the tropical sunny shores of the lakes of Yarinacocha and Ucayali, the journey just didn’t stop for me and in every place I had the pleasure of traveling to the last few weeks it reminded me even more just how special this country is, each region has its own customs and traditions but all of the different zones of this country recognize their pride in being Peruvian and for me that is an inspiring idea. The food was incredible, the tours spectacular and the adventuring endless. This is the experience I had always wished for in an exchange year and now as I said earlier I have the pleasure to live it! I could not be happier or more content with all of my surroundings. This country with its foods, dances, histories, and tales is made purely from culture and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be sent to. It is home for me and I am proud to say that! All in all my January and February were full of nonstop travel and the adventure of the last few months doesn’t stop there… two days after my return to Lima from Pucallpa I left for a two week trip to the Northern Coasts of Peru where I would get to spend my days on some of the most beautiful beaches of South America, but to hear that story you are all going to have to wait for my next blog! (I have to somehow keep some interest flowing don’t I? ;)) Take care all of you, and remember, seize everyday, there are beautiful moments simply waiting to be enjoyed! Cuídense mucho y abrazos para todos! Nos vemos pronto! Chau! Y por supuesto Viva el Perú! 😀

May 2, 2014

Well I think I have had you all waiting long enough… some of you have been patient enough to wait for my next entry, other seem to be a little pushy! I will take that as a sign that perhaps my writing is at least a little enjoyable for you all! ☺ This time I have news of another Rotary Trip, our trip to the Northern coast of Peru as well as some short stops in our neighbor Ecuador! It was an incredible trip all around and it helped us round off our visiting experience to the four corners of the country that we have been so lucky to call home! So here it is: Our trip to the North!

Our excursion would start in the beautiful city of Trujillo one of the most distinct and important cities in the country well known for its incredible seafood and Marinera Norteña (a traditional dance found along the coast which represents a significant portion of the Peruvian culture). We were situated in a small district just outside of the city named Huanchaco and while we were there we were able to visit and enjoy the Pacific beaches that the coasts offered as well as excellent dishes such as Chicharrón de Mariscos, Ceviche, and many others. The first major archeological site on our tour was to the site of Chan Chan, the large set of ruins on the coast constructed by the Pre-Incan civilization of the Chimú. This site acted as one of many capitals owned by this culture and it was one of the most significant trading posts for the region. Its architecture is constructed to resemble many of the most important aspects of the civilizations everyday life. This can explain why symbols such as waves, pelicans, fish, and sea otters can all be found in abundance. The Chimú were a very successful entity and like many other cultures of their day they worshipped the natural bodies around them such as the sea, the sun, and the moon. Chan Chan offered tremendous sites and was crucial for getting to know the northern culture that inhabited the north of my country before the Incan Empire came into power.

After our trip to Chan Chan we were able to continue our tour with a visit to the capital of another Pre-Incan power, the Mochica culture that flourished in the North and held a political and religious capital at the site of the Huaca del sol y de la Luna. This beautiful site gave us the chance to see beautiful and detailed Pre-Incan architecture and witness the advanced society of the Moche. We saw sites used for human sacrifice as well as the wonders of a city situated at the base of el Cerro blanco which is the mountain jutting up from behind the Huaca. Perhaps a little clarification is needed. “Huaca” is a word in Quechua, which means sacred place and the Moche held this zone in high accord not only politically but as well religiously and it was crucial in the governing of this society. Crime was incredibly low, the people only took what they needed, respected laws, and an army was raised to protect the civilization from its local neighbors. Ending our first day amongst the ruins of the North we finished off the day with a trip to La Plaza de Armas in Trujillo, which actually has the largest square footage of all of the major plazas in the country!

From Trujillo we traveled a few hours North to the next major city found along the coast: Chiclayo. In one of the largest fishing capitals in the country we were able to enjoy not only a beautiful city and busy beaches but also a tremendous jumping off point to visit one of the most well known men of the ancient world… El Señor De Sipán! The Lord of Sipan is a famous leader of the Moche culture who was discovered in 1987; one of the most significant attributes of his remains is that he is one of the most completed sets of remains that have been found in South America. Little to no action of robbers had been witnessed to the site in which he was found and because of his intact remains scientists have been able to determine physical features such as hair color, skin color and other basic physical components. He was wrapped in numerous gold ornaments in the tradition of the Moche and was buried with his wife and several of his favorite aids. A unique tradit ion performed by this culture was the wearing of a small piece of gold worn right over the mouth. When one first looks at this very odd facial jewelry it doesn´t seem to have much purpose. However it served tremendously for leaders both religious and political, the sound waves that they spoke would resonate off of the gold allowing them to hear their own words more clearly and therefore better enhance their pronunciation and dictation to their people.

Being the busy and travel loving exchange students we are however we were not going to stop there! After our trip to see the Lord of Sipan we took the long bus ride to our final stop in Peru: Tumbes. Tumbes is also a fishing community and is significantly more tropical than its counterparts to the south. While in this beautiful city we were able to enjoy several trips to natural aviaries, crocodile and caiman sanctuaries, and an incredibly active and friendly northern culture. Situated much closer to the equator, Tumbes was much warmer and at the same time it gave us the perfect opportunity to swim in its warm tropical beaches after tours through its canals which we took by boat!

Following our ever-winding path up the northern coast of Peru we eventually went so far that we crossed into Ecuador stopping in the beautiful city of Guayaquil! A beautiful modern city, Guayaquil offered a breathtaking fusion of Spanish Architecture and modern innovation, our touring through the bustling city included trips to see Tortoises from the Galapagos, The Park of the Iguanas where iguanas are permitted to roam freely, as well as a viewing tour provided by a double decker viewing bus. Our adventure into Ecuador however would not end there, after two days in Guayaquil we pressed onward to the beautiful beaches of Las Salinas known in Ecuador as one of the most beautiful area of beaches in the region. We were able to soak up some sun after several long days of touring, and experiencing a culture that was different to our home in Peru.

Finally as our trip started coming to an end we crossed back into our beautiful Peru and traveled to the last stop on our busy escapade: Zorritos. Zorritos is a well-known area full of beautiful beaches and great food. With a tropical setting all around us the Exchange Student group was able to relax, strengthen even more so those bonds between us and really take the final steps into making all of us one big happy family. With beach bonfires, seafood, and hours spent among the surf I would say the last few nights of our visit to the North were not only successful but some of the best times I have ever had! Thank you Rotary for all of the opportunities you give us and to all of you I can only say: until next time! ☺ ¡Que disfruten cada día! ¡Y que viva el Perú!

 

May 6, 2014

I suppose I have never felt more confusion about who I am or what I do then the last few weeks that I have been here in my new home of Perú. For all the future exchange students that will be taking on this incredible journey you should know that this once in a lifetime experience is incredibly rewarding, but at the same time you must also realize that what almost every Rotarian who knows this program will tell you is true: You will not come back the same person that left the United States the year before. For me that realization has never been clearer.

The last few months for me have been hard simply because now the reality of having to go back home has finally hit. With all the trips, friends, and Rotary family I started to realize just how much of a home Perú has meant to me and how hard it is going to be to leave. I can remember my first days of school, my first day in my host family’s house and how scared, nervous, and excited I was to take on my new world and discover everything it had to offer. Its been nearly 9 and half months since I left my home in Florida and now I feel as if going back home will be not only the closing to one chapter in my life, but also the beginning of another.

Its a confuisng feeling, we are prepared to gain a new world, language, customs, and culture and yet we can never be prepared enough for the return journey that at one moment or another hits us all. For me the most important idea that I have found is that Perú will never truly leave me as long as I remember all of the incredible things that it has taught me. And when I return with every song I teach to my family and friends, every dance I enjoy, every traditional dish of food I make, and every word of Spanish I speak will always keep me close to the country that has been in my heart since day one.

I have come to appreciate so many different things while I have been here, a new appreciation for my home in the United States and Florida, a huge appreciation and love for my family whom without I would never have been able to take my adventure the way I have, my values as an American and the simple pride of being able to see my country from a view point that maybe I would never have had had I not gone on Rotary Youth Exchange. For me this experience has opened my eyes to so many things, and although I have faced hardships culturally, linguistically, and socially, every one of the challenging moments that I have experienced I know have made me a better person and that is the heart of this Exchange for me, falling in love with a new home, discovering a new world, and at the same time discovering the sides of me that perhaps I never really knew.

So the expedition is finally coming to a close… as the months count down and the day of my return draws nearer I will not stop living this dream of mine, everyday brings a new oppurtunity for me to enjoy, reflect, and remember all of the great moments that have come to define my Exchange. I can remember the day I recieived the application, the day I was told I would be an Exchange student, and the day I left Jacksonville Airport and said goodbye to my family. For me it always seemed that a year would be so much longer and now my journey has come full circle. Thank you Rotary International for everything you have done for me, thank you for a new world to discover, a new country to call home, and a new sense of pride for the person that I am. For those things and so much more I will always be grateful. Thank you

Corey Yeung
2013-14 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Safety Harbor, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950,
Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Koshigaya-South

Corey - Japan

Corey’s Bio

こんにちは (Konichiwa)! Hello! My name is Corey Yeung, and I am 17 years old. I will be graduating from St. Petersburg Collegiate High School in May, simultaneously earning my High School Diploma and Associate’s in Arts Degree. I am eagerly excited for this year long exchange to Japan to be enlightened by their culture. I live in Safety Harbor with my mom, dad, older sister, and lazy-but-loving dog. I take my academics seriously with utmost fervor, trying to gain knowledge whenever an opportunity is given. In school I would consider my forte to be math although I have interests in other subjects as well, such as English and speech. Additionally, I try to learn any unfamiliar vocabulary words I come across as it can be very supplemental to my communication skills. Aside from academics, I have hobbies that allow me to stay active as well as to lay back and relax. Foremost, my prominent hobby is soccer. Soccer not only keeps me fit, but it gives me a chance to ease any stress I had from that day. I have been playing soccer for over a decade and I’ve enjoyed every part of it, from the heated competitive moments to the bonding that teamwork and sportsmanship brings. Soccer has kept my mind sharp and astute, critically evaluating which actions to perform even when the ball is on the other side of the field. Other hobbies I partake in is watching movies and television shows, going out with friends, playing the piano, and traveling. Particularly, exploring new areas and venturing out to new locations seems to open up a spirit of discovery within myself; traveling has enriched my awareness in adapting to new environments. I have traveled occasionally to different states and have also studied abroad to Italy, which was truly remarkable. The immense effect of international relations today has tremendous correlation with my future-planned occupation. In the near future, I aspire to be a successful business entrepreneur, hoping to make a significant impact in our world. Rotary International is an enabler for me to have a fundamental understanding in communication skills and cultural awareness. To have the opportunity to be given this unique, amazing experience makes me extremely appreciative. I want to specifically thank Rotary International for choosing me as an exchange student to be immersed into a new culture and way of living. I would also like to give my appreciation to my mom, dad, and two older sisters for supporting me to take part in this educational and life-changing experience. Gaining novel perspectives from this exchange will give me a new outlook that will benefit me later on. I will uphold this honor with utmost potential and vigor. The lessons from this exchange will be unparalleled, helping cultivate me into a cultural ambassador.

Corey’s Journals

August 26, 2013

こんにちわ、コーリーです!What an experience this is. I’ve only been here for ten days and it feels like I already had a year’s worth of experience. My arrival in Japan was not as I expected. I thought I would either be vivacious or extremely anxious, but instead I didn’t know what I really felt. The initial feelings of excitement for an exchange student did not come to me immediately. While I was at the airport, I was just thinking, “Alright…okay, I’m in Japan.” My perception that the Tokyo airport would be frenetic and completely confusing was the complete opposite. It was quite calm and the steps I needed to take through customs were pretty explicit. It was not hard to follow and I was able to get through the airport smoothly. My preconceived assumptions of how things would go were already different from how it actually was.

After going through customs, my host family and fellow Rotarians were already there. They greeted me as I bowed and pictures were taken. I thought that only my host family would be there, but I was welcomed with several Rotarians. The thought that the car ride from the airport would be silent wasn’t the same for me. Even though I did not speak much, the car ride was comfortable. I rested a little from my jet lag and was getting ready for the meal ahead, as it was dinner time. The meal was excellent and everyone was having a good time. The people in Japan are really easy-going with friends; the conversation was lively (even though I did not understand it) and many laughs were going around. Albeit all this being said, the first few days were very difficult for me.

Adapting to the culture and getting use to the host family’s routine was not the difficulty, it was the language barrier was hitting me hard and I was feeling overwhelmed with the task ahead. I was feeling lost and wondering what in the world I was doing here. Am I really capable of doing this? How am I able to push on? These were the kinds of questions I was contemplating over. However, after that rough patch, I was finally introduced with the excitement of learning about a new culture and having new perspectives. The support I have is incredible (my family, friends, and Rotarians from the US and Japan) and that was what motivated me to push on.

Taking small steps at a time was the solution. You can’t expect to learn everything overnight, it takes time. Aside from events here and there, I am studying all day, every day. I just organized a steady study regiment which is relieving.

The Japanese culture is one to admire and I am very appreciative to be given this opportunity. What is in store for me in the near future is unpredictable and that is what makes this so exciting, as independence and growth are attributes that I will inevitably encounter. I can now look forward to this exciting adventure.

私はとてもつかれたですだよ!学校は忙しいです、でも楽しいです!Hey everyone, it has now been almost a month in this amazing country and it has passed so quickly. I’ve started school and even though it has been tiring and busy, it’s great to finally get to hang out with friends. The people in Japan are so kind and they are always willing to help me.

So since my first blog, so much has happened; I met the other exchange students in my district and also started school. Meeting the other exchange students was definitely exciting as I was given the chance to start making friends and get to know how their experience in Japan is going too. The orientation was for two days and we all got to stay overnight at a traditional Japanese hotel which was a great experience to further step into the Japanese culture. We also got to go to the Hikawa Jinja (Japanese Shrine) and learned how to properly give our respects. We then proceeded to learn about the tea ceremony and its specific technicalities. This day was full of the rich tradition of Japanese culture and I was able to spend it with my fellow exchange students.

Aside from meeting the other exchange students, starting school was something I was really looking forward to. It is definitely mentally (and physically) tiring but all of this is part of the experience. However, the first week and a half wasn’t the normal school schedule. The school was preparing for the school festival and so much preparation was made. It was surprising how all the students prepared for the festival. They went to the supermarket nearby and got a bunch of recyclable boxes, flattened it out, brought it back to school, and made art out of it. And when people looked at the final result, they could see the amount of effort the students did to make this festival possible. Most rooms were different from each other and there were plenty of activities to do. My classroom was a relaxing area where you could sit and talk with friends. The other classrooms ranged from scary houses and snack shops, to quiz games and art galleries. And it wasn’t just the students or teachers who enjoyed the festival, many people from outside the school came too.

The starting day of the festival, all the students and teachers went to a theater room nearby the school called Sun City. That is where performances were done to represent the start of the festival. It was colorful, comedic, and entertaining. There were several dance performances by the students, and music played by the school band. There were also awards given out at the beginning of the ceremony as well as short introductory speeches. Including myself, there are three exchange students, the other two are from France and Germany. We were told to give a short speech about ourselves in front of all the students and teachers that day (about 1,000 people) and surprisingly it wasn’t extremely nerve-racking. I was a little nervous but I was also excited to introduce myself to everyone. I do have to admit that the words almost escaped me during my speech but I was able to say everything that I wanted to.

After the festival was when I began the normal school schedule. So this is a general schedule of a standard school day for me:

7:00- I wake up and wash up.

7:30-8:00- I eat breakfast.

8:00-8:15- I ride my bike to school and remember to park my bike on the upper (second) level (third year students park their bike on the first level).

8:15-8:35- Study and talk in my classroom until “Short Homeroom” starts.

8:35-3:15- Classes; though on Monday, the classes are until

4:15. Lunch is at 12:40.

3:15-6:00 (end time varies) – My club activity: Track and Field. On Friday’s I go to the Interact Club.

Around 6:30- Get settled in at home.

Around 8:00- I eat dinner and we talk/watch television.

10:30- I go upstairs and go to bed.

So this is the general schedule of my school day at Koshigaya-Minami High School. The club I wanted to join was soccer, but I was unable to. However I was able to join Track and Field which I am just as satisfied with. And anyways, I get to play soccer after club activities on Friday’s with the guys in the Interact Club and so I still get to play soccer for fun. What is really different for me is how much exercising there is. Aside from Track and Field practice, I have PE three days of the week where all the students basically run long distance. Though for some reason, I don’t feel as tired all the time (probably due to the fact that I exercise a lot now) and so when I get home, I can still study.

And the idea that Japanese people eat small portions is not how it is in my case. Each meal is very filling and sometimes I can’t even finish it all because there is so much food! Still, the meals are delicious! Right now, a pretty noticeable problem for me is remembering all these new names. I’m already not that good at remembering names, but when I have to know over 50 names (my class/teachers, and club members) in Japanese, that task becomes difficult. Nevertheless, the school is an exciting place to be and is something I enjoy. So until next time, でわまた!

November 3, 2013

The time on this exchange really is flying by. It’s been about two and a half months since I arrived in Japan and it has definitely been a step into a whole new world. The Japanese culture is definitely one to admire and this experience is like no other.

Sleep escapes me most of the time but it oddly makes this experience all the more better! There is so much to do in Japan and so many places I still have yet to venture out to. I went to Mount Fuji and also went to a famous Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Mount Fuji was absolutely a great sight to see, but we were unable to climb it because the path was closed for the season. Nevertheless, the trip was worth it because, well, it was Mount Fuji. The Buddhist Temple, Sensouji, was incredible. We were only there for a short time but the beauty of it was mesmerizing. What I only saw in pictures I saw standing right in front of me. My host father was very kind to take me and another exchange student to this site as it was quite far by train.

So now to the more nitty-gritty, there are several obvious differences between America and Japan. First off is school. Yes school is definitely a lot longer than I’m use to but I have now grown used to it. The club activities make this so, but it is also the part of the day I look forward to because it is also a time when students get to hang out with each other. It is definitely still a struggle to communicate with them but I try. In America where you don’t have to join any club activities and just spend time with friends outside of school; students in Japan make the most out of their time during the club activities to talk with friends. The formalities are also an obvious distinction between Japanese and American high schools. Before and after every class all the students stand up and bow, saying “おねがいします”, for the beginning of class, and “ありがとうございました”, for the end of the class.

Track is also the same way. All the students line up together and bow to the coach and to the field before and after practice. And what you will almost undoubtedly here at sports club activities is, “ファイト” and “おつかれさまでした.”

The tests in high school are also done a different way in Japan. Remember how in America when students would always say, “Why do my classes always have the tests the same week?” Well in Japan, there are select days for tests and so the all the students in the school would take tests for those select, consecutive days. The Japanese school system is rigorous but students still have an enjoyable time, especially during lunch time.

My class only has eight guys, including me, and so we would eat together in the classroom and talk with each other. And the majority of the time, students would bring bento boxes to eat lunch. Like I said, it is tough to talk with the other students but I try. They never mind helping me whenever I ask them and they take their time to explain it to me.

On another note, it should be taken notice that all of this does not mean Japanese people are very serious people. Yes there are specific formalities done but when they spend time with friends it is very relaxed and easygoing. It goes the same with adults too. When they hang out with each other on their spare time, they would get some drinks and have a good time, sometimes getting pretty loud.

Even driving is a bit different than America, and I’m not just talking about driving on the other side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side; the roads are a lot more narrow, at least for the city I live in. The cars are always bound to drive over the line in middle of the roads, whether it is because of a person riding their bike on the side of the road or because the turn is so tight, but it is completely normal to do so.

There are so many cultural differences between America and Japan that I can’t name all of them right now, but one more I want to mention is the train system. Many people know that Japan’s train system is highly efficient and it most certainly is. Trains come within 10 minutes and are actually a comfortable way to get around. The seats are cushioned most of the time and the inside of the train is clean, it makes riding the train feel like riding in your own car; that is if your car is clean. Even though I don’t take the train much right now, as my school is only 10 minutes by bike, their train system is one that exemplifies efficiency and top quality.

Just the other day, I was helping my host mother with a complicated flower puzzle she was working on. There were 1000 pieces and the puzzle wasn’t even close to being finished. That is exactly how I feel learning Japanese is right now. There are so many pieces scattered in a disorganized manner and is up to me to work on it piece by piece. It will take a long time and does get discouraging at one point or another, but it is always a work in progress. Sometimes it gets so complicated I have no clue what to do, but I just have to keep pushing forward. So why would I do something that is so difficult and mentally taxing; because we all want to see the picture that intrigued us to open the box to the pieces of the puzzle.The time on this exchange really is flying by. It’s been about two and a half months since I arrived in Japan and it has definitely been a step into a whole new world. The Japanese culture is definitely one to admire and this experience is like no other.

Sleep escapes me most of the time but it oddly makes this experience all the more better! There is so much to do in Japan and so many places I still have yet to venture out to. I went to Mount Fuji and also went to a famous Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Mount Fuji was absolutely a great sight to see, but we were unable to climb it because the path was closed for the season. Nevertheless, the trip was worth it because, well, it was Mount Fuji. The Buddhist Temple, Sensouji, was incredible. We were only there for a short time but the beauty of it was mesmerizing. What I only saw in pictures I saw standing right in front of me. My host father was very kind to take me and another exchange student to this site as it was quite far by train.

So now to the more nitty-gritty, there are several obvious differences between America and Japan. First off is school. Yes school is definitely a lot longer than I’m use to but I have now grown used to it. The club activities make this so, but it is also the part of the day I look forward to because it is also a time when students get to hang out with each other. It is definitely still a struggle to communicate with them but I try. In America where you don’t have to join any club activities and just spend time with friends outside of school; students in Japan make the most out of their time during the club activities to talk with friends. The formalities are also an obvious distinction between Japanese and American high schools. Before and after every class all the students stand up and bow, saying “おねがいします”, for the beginning of class, and “ありがとうございました”, for the end of the class.

Track is also the same way. All the students line up together and bow to the coach and to the field before and after practice. And what you will almost undoubtedly here at sports club activities is, “ファイト” and “おつかれさまでした.”

The tests in high school are also done a different way in Japan. Remember how in America when students would always say, “Why do my classes always have the tests the same week?” Well in Japan, there are select days for tests and so the all the students in the school would take tests for those select, consecutive days. The Japanese school system is rigorous but students still have an enjoyable time, especially during lunch time.

My class only has eight guys, including me, and so we would eat together in the classroom and talk with each other. And the majority of the time, students would bring bento boxes to eat lunch. Like I said, it is tough to talk with the other students but I try. They never mind helping me whenever I ask them and they take their time to explain it to me.

On another note, it should be taken notice that all of this does not mean Japanese people are very serious people. Yes there are specific formalities done but when they spend time with friends it is very relaxed and easygoing. It goes the same with adults too. When they hang out with each other on their spare time, they would get some drinks and have a good time, sometimes getting pretty loud.

Even driving is a bit different than America, and I’m not just talking about driving on the other side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side; the roads are a lot more narrow, at least for the city I live in. The cars are always bound to drive over the line in middle of the roads, whether it is because of a person riding their bike on the side of the road or because the turn is so tight, but it is completely normal to do so.

There are so many cultural differences between America and Japan that I can’t name all of them right now, but one more I want to mention is the train system. Many people know that Japan’s train system is highly efficient and it most certainly is. Trains come within 10 minutes and are actually a comfortable way to get around. The seats are cushioned most of the time and the inside of the train is clean, it makes riding the train feel like riding in your own car; that is if your car is clean. Even though I don’t take the train much right now, as my school is only 10 minutes by bike, their train system is one that exemplifies efficiency and top quality.

Just the other day, I was helping my host mother with a complicated flower puzzle she was working on. There were 1000 pieces and the puzzle wasn’t even close to being finished. That is exactly how I feel learning Japanese is right now. There are so many pieces scattered in a disorganized manner and is up to me to work on it piece by piece. It will take a long time and does get discouraging at one point or another, but it is always a work in progress. Sometimes it gets so complicated I have no clue what to do, but I just have to keep pushing forward. So why would I do something that is so difficult and mentally taxing; because we all want to see the picture that intrigued us to open the box to the pieces of the puzzle.

November 17, 2013

The time on this exchange really is flying by. It’s been about three months since I arrived in Japan and it has definitely been a step into a whole new world. The Japanese culture is definitely one to admire and this experience is like no other.

Sleep escapes me most of the time but it oddly makes this experience all the more better! There is so much to do in Japan and so many places I still have yet to venture out to. I went to Mount Fuji and also went to a famous Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Mount Fuji was absolutely a great sight to see, but we were unable to climb it because the path was closed for the season. Nevertheless, the trip was worth it because, well, it was Mount Fuji. The Buddhist Temple, Sensouji, was incredible. We were only there for a short time but the beauty of it was mesmerizing. What I only saw in pictures I saw standing right in front of me. My host father was very kind to take me and another exchange student to this site as it was quite far by train.

So now to the more nitty-gritty, there are several obvious differences between America and Japan. First off is school. Yes school is definitely a lot longer than I’m use to but I have now grown used to it. The club activities make this so, but it is also the part of the day I look forward to because it is also a time when students get to hang out with each other. It is definitely still a struggle to communicate with them but I try. In America where you don’t have to join any club activities and just spend time with friends outside of school; students in Japan make the most out of their time during the club activities to talk with friends. The formalities are also an obvious distinction between Japanese and American high schools. Before and after every class all the students stand up and bow, saying “おねがいします”, for the beginning of class, and “ありがとうございました”, for the end of the class. Track is also the same way. All the students line up together and bow to the coach and to the field before and after practice. And what you will almost undoubtedly here at sports club activities is, “ファイト” and “おつかれさまでした.”

The tests in high school are also done a different way in Japan. Remember how in America when students would always say, “Why do my classes always have the tests the same week?” Well in Japan, there are select days for tests and so the all the students in the school would take tests for those select, consecutive days. The Japanese school system is rigorous but students still have an enjoyable time, especially during lunch time.

My class only has eight guys, including me, and so we would eat together in the classroom and talk with each other. And the majority of the time, students would bring bento boxes to eat lunch. Like I said, it is tough to talk with the other students but I try. They never mind helping me whenever I ask them and they take their time to explain it to me.

On another note, it should be taken notice that all of this does not mean Japanese people are very serious people. Yes there are specific formalities done but when they spend time with friends it is very relaxed and easygoing. It goes the same with adults too. When they hang out with each other on their spare time, they would get some drinks and have a good time, sometimes getting pretty loud.

Even driving is a bit different than America, and I’m not just talking about driving on the other side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side; the roads are a lot more narrow, at least for the city I live in. The cars are always bound to drive over the line in middle of the roads, whether it is because of a person riding their bike on the side of the road or because the turn is so tight, but it is completely normal to do so.

There are so many cultural differences between America and Japan that I can’t name all of them right now, but one more I want to mention is the train system. Many people know that Japan’s train system is highly efficient and it most certainly is. Trains come within 10 minutes and are actually a comfortable way to get around. The seats are cushioned most of the time and the inside of the train is clean, it makes riding the train feel like riding in your own car; that is if your car is clean. Even though I don’t take the train much right now, as my school is only 10 minutes by bike, their train system is one that exemplifies efficiency and top quality.

Just the other day, I was helping my host mother with a complicated flower puzzle she was working on. There were 1000 pieces and the puzzle wasn’t even close to being finished. That is exactly how I feel learning Japanese is right now. There are so many pieces scattered in a disorganized manner and is up to me to work on it piece by piece. It will take a long time and does get discouraging at one point or another, but it is always a work in progress. Sometimes it gets so complicated I have no clue what to do, but I just have to keep pushing forward. So why would I do something that is so difficult and mentally taxing; because we all want to see the picture that intrigued us to open the box to the pieces of the puzzle.

May 6, 2014

So it has definitely been a long time since my last blog. I’ve changed three host families, have had Christmas and New Year’s in Japan, survived a track training camp, went on the Hiroshima and Kyoto trip, and have continued to learn more about the Japanese culture and language. I’ve noticed that my last blogs have lacked any real substance, only meriting what has been good during this exchange. So for a change, in this blog, I will talk a bit more bluntly. As we all know, an exchange is life-changing. I knew that before the exchange and I said it repeatedly to people when they asked, “Are you excited?!” But I honestly had no clue what the meaning of life-changing was. I didn’t give it much thought of what it entailed or in what way it would change my life, but I definitely understand now. Even now, life-changing is indefinable. Its definition differs for each individual, and is more of an experience than a word. As hard as it is to define life-changing for everyone by generalizing our experiences, it can only stretch so far to explain an exchange.

This exchange has been quite an adventure and no matter how many days past, it continues to surprise me; the stresses, joys, and all the emotions I could imagine. I’ve experienced several emotions for the first time and even though I was aware of some of them beforehand, it is a completely different ballpark when I actually went through it myself. No doubt, it has been tough. I’ve been knocked down and have had my self-confidence dwindled to what I could barely call a pea. I’ve stayed down there and have had to fight my way back up. I am still doing so now and mustering past the ignorance that once stood before me. But for all the hardship I have been through so far and as many mistakes as I have made, I am grateful for it. Without any of it, I wouldn’t be able to call this exchange life-changing. I’ve learned more about myself and my personality, particularly my flaws. I can be as little as waking up on my own in the morning to putting aside any pride I may have and fear not the embarrassment of making mistakes in Japanese. I kind of knew this beforehand but had not taken it as far as I should have when I was starting out with the language. When you are not afraid of making mistakes, and tons of them, not only will there be unnoticed improvement in your language ability, but the more capable you are of showing the great personality within yourself. Embrace mistakes and ask questions because that is how you learn; not by choosing reclusiveness and waiting for the language to come to you. I continue to challenge myself and not let my fears hold me back by focusing on the progress I make and not the fear of judgment others may give. Because of this exchange I have been able to let go of the chains that restricted me to pass certain limits. All of this is tightly fitted into one experience, one year, one opportunity.

So now onto what is on everyone’s mind, the language. With Japanese I have reached a degree of conversational fluency. What do I mean by that? I can talk all day and all night if I want in Japanese. I still make grammatical mistakes and may lack a word here and there, but for basic conversations I am able to effectively communicate. The struggle is still with classes and joining in on conversations. During classes there is still plenty of vocabulary out of my range, especially with classical literature and earth science. Regarding conversations, I can have one-on-one easily and talk with my classmates, but once the conversation deviates into talking about games or shows they watch and play, I struggle to keep up with those conversations. If anything, the most important aspect I learned about language studying is that it is a continuous process. No matter how good someone gets or what degree of fluency they reach, there will always be room for improvement. And certainly when I return to Florida, I want to continue my studies in Japanese, whether that is at college or on my own. Of course with my previous ignorance before this exchange, the way I expected my exchange to go and actually how it is now, are completely different sides of the book. Not bad, but also not the ideal one I had in mind. The incredible learning experience I have had in personal growth has taken more of a priority on this exchange and because of that it took a toll on my studies. But again, I don’t regret the progress I have made. If anything, the struggles and stresses I have been through has made me more resilient to the weaknesses that once stood before me.

Regarding Japan and its culture in general, I can describe it in two short words. I saw a poster in an airport when I was headed for Hiroshima and Kyoto and it has stuck with me as it has always held true before that trip and well after. The poster read: Endless Discovery; and that is the best way I think Japan can be described as. Its rich culture, formal customs, and incomparable landscape make Japan undoubtedly a country of Endless Discovery. I have been able to explore and learn the culture every day and I couldn’t have asked for a better country to learn from. Everything is different from the American culture, from the obvious food choices to the school system and family values. Talking about this culture could fill books (and there are probably many of them) so it is difficult for me to decide where to start. There are a number of things I could talk about so the ones that have stuck out the most for me, I will write about.

I guess first off is the graduation at a Japanese High School. The way school is done in Japan could be considered opposite of the American school system because numerous things are different, from the teaching method to the classes students take. At graduation in Japan it is just as so. There are no blue gowns or square-shaped hats and there isn’t screams and cheers from proud family members and friends. Compared to an American graduation, the Japanese graduation may come off as very serious and formal. The audience remains silent the whole time, and when the students are told to stand, it is done in a very formal manner with a quick reaction and correct posture. The students wear the school uniforms as usual and the third-year students who are graduating would add a flower decoration to their uniform (that takes place of the blue gowns and hats). When the student receives the high school diploma, it is taken a certain way from the principal. This process is done by t he student firmly and has been practiced beforehand. These differences in graduation may come off as very melancholy and strict, but it is just a difference in culture. Although the Japanese graduation was more formal than expected, I enjoyed it very much, getting to see how it is done in a different country. In no way am I trying to deface how graduation is done in Japan as it was very interesting and enjoyable to me. There is also a graduation song for all Japanese high schools which I did not know of before, but its meaningful lyrics and calming tune suits the emotions students go through during graduation. This link is the song they use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbgKWloZ8Yw.

When going out with friends, there is a similar pattern amongst the guys, regarding fashion. The clothes people where is very important in Japan and it shows. The clothes look good and they each show their own style. In general, the guys like wearing layers; they would where a shirt or two on top, and put on a jacket or light long sleeve, along with a pair of jeans or khakis. With girls, there seems to be a wider range of fashion choices but what many of them do is wear short skirts to show their legs and wear heels instead of flat shoes. As much as fashion is an important part of teen culture, I remain with my simplicity, or what others may say with no harm, unfashionable. When I wear a one-layer long sleeve shirt and a pair of sports pants, yeah, it’s is definitely understandable. The good thing is that the majority of the time we wear our school uniforms so I don’t have to think of what to wear that day, not like I give much thought to it though.

Regarding Japanese television shows (and I am a fan of American shows), I think it is far better. The dramas and movies were a bit cheesy at first to me, but once I watched it enough, it grew on me. The shows are interesting and I enjoy listening to them in Japanese. In particular, the variety shows are, by far, the best part of it all. They do so many hilarious segments and have recurring television personalities that make the shows so entertaining. My favorite part of the variety shows is when they talk about a story with in-depth detail. The way do it is something you can’t get from American television. They not only look for interesting stories, but they put so much research and time into it and it shows. Whether they go around different countries and explore their culture, or talk about a story in the past, they go into so much detail it grasps my attention every time.

And because Japan is such a compact country, aside from the outskirts and rural areas, the shopping areas are very centralized. Because the trains are used so much in Japan, at many stations, there would be a huge mall or shopping building write next to it. It would have stores like a supermarket, clothing shops, a movie theater, or other brand name stores. These buildings would usually be next to stations that have several train passengers. So not only is the train system very organized and efficient, these shopping buildings make the train stations even more convenient. And don’t get me started with convenience stores in Japan. There is plenty of information online about those stores if you want to delve into that so what I’ll leave to say about that is: Pure Awesomeness.

There are many formalities in Japan, but it is also a very light environment, like I said before, with friends. We enjoy our time, and make jokes with each other. The teenagers are expected to have a very timely manner, which they do, and they take being on time, and not being fashionably late, seriously. But when we are just hanging out with each other, it gets loud and lively.

I guess the last thing I’ll touch upon is the “American Image” Japanese people have. The obvious and expected one was that everyone is obese and the only regular food America consists of is steaks and hamburgers. This is constantly brought up when there is discussion of how America is viewed, and so I am constantly saying it is different and explaining myself. The next image that many Japanese people have of America is guns. They think we all have guns and that it is a very dangerous place. I, again, explain to them it is very different, and not necessarily everything they see on television holds true in reality. Many of them also think America looks like New York everywhere with bright lights and city lights. They are also familiar with the American Dream. I’m sure this definition has changed over time but I just gave an explanation of what it essentially means. I described it to a friend of mine that it is an individualistic dream that differs from e very person and that it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone wants to be a movie star or popular singer. America is simply the platform for opportunity that enables people to reach that dream.

I have two months left on this exchange and I plan to make the most out of it. Plans change, and they do so quite unexpectedly, but I came to realize, no matter how much plans change, I will change as well. If something is different than I thought it would be, there would still be learning opportunities and it would be my job to seek them out. As I am becoming more independent for the first time and continuously working to break through the language barrier that stood before me, it becomes clearer and clearer. Through any experience we go through, whether it be at home in one country or in another, the learning opportunities will always be there. As obvious as this may sound, my eyes have truly opened to the innumerous possibilities to do so. I will take what I learned from this exchange and continue to incorporate it into my daily life. I will work diligently, not only with my academic studies, but to also improve who I am and what I do. I will embrace the challenges and continue to grow. Because as we all know, the world is full of “Endless Discovery.”

 

August 22, 2014

It has officially been over a year since I took off to the opposite side of the world and began a journey that has changed my life. I lived with five different host families, visited the Tokyo area a number of times, have met people from over ten countries, and made unforgettable memories and life-long relationships. The feeling of being back in Florida was nothing but odd. However, now that I have been back for over a month now, I am getting back into rhythm with the American lifestyle. The strangest feeling had struck me when I finally stepped off the long plane ride, and knew that I was back in America. Aside from my aching muscles and terrible lack of sleep, all I could think of was the fact that it felt I hadn’t even left America at all. Where did my year go? How did it pass so quickly? Stepping off the plane, getting my luggage, and quickly trying to get by security to reach my transfer flight; those thoughts were running around my mind. After stumbling a bit with my English, trying to answer simple questions, I simply just wanted to get on the next flight back to Japan. No doubt was it one of the most stressful years I had gone through; without question did I struggle to rebuild a solid and vibrant confidence within myself; not a second goes by when I think of the mistakes and regrets I had made. But there were things far greater than all of that. I made lifelong relationships; I can take this newfound confidence and work even harder toward my future goals; I’ve made lasting memories with a beautiful culture; I’ve grown. I knew that going abroad that I would be refreshed with new outlooks and views, but I didn’t expect to this extent. I see everything with an even wider perspective and seek further opportunities that allow me to excel and explore the world. I look forward to growing and learning so much more.

I’ve learned to integrate the Japanese culture within my original, preset lifestyle. I am no longer part of just one culture, but two. To say this exchange was unforgettable or an invaluable experience does no justice to what it truly amounts to. Before this exchange, I knew it would be life-changing and was a recurring thought as the start of the exchange got closer. Only can someone truly understand this exchange if they themselves experienced it as well. As simple as it sounds, I was able to find more of who I am and what I believe in. I’ve come to appreciate even more of what is around me, and don’t let the status quo or expectation of others define who I am. To learn the language and culture is amazing and does indeed open yourself to new perspectives, but the personal growth is just as invaluable. Expect the unexpected because there is not much more you can predict. Before an exchange, all one can do is look forward to the exciting experiences ahead. T hat and actually study the language beforehand (really guys it’s a good idea).

I still distinctly remember my last day in Japan. It was around three in the morning, but sleep escaped me. I decided to take my last bike ride around my small neighborhood area and get some cool air. The only expression that I was able to make was a smile; a simple smile. Through all the ups and downs, the struggles and laughs, the hundreds of introductions and farewells, all I could do was smile. As much as I wanted to stay in Japan, I knew I would be able to see them again. The experience was temporary but the friendships are life-long. I took my last trip to a convenience store and enjoyed the stillness of the night and quietness of the streets. Oh will I miss those 7-Eleven’s in Japan. The ones here just don’t compare. By the time I reached the airport the next day; that was honestly when I couldn’t believe it. My exchange was over and I was heading back to Florida. Time does indeed pass by quickly.

It was odd getting accustomed back to the American lifestyle. It became second nature to head out the door, put my key into my bike, and head off to wherever I needed to go. It was normal for me to get on the crowded train in the morning and get to school. It was uncommon for me to hop into the car and drive. Almost every day I rode my bike, whether it be to school, to the station, or to a nearby store. Especially with my last host family, having to ride my bike for 30 minutes every day to get to school. Whenever I needed to take the train, I became accustomed to having my train card at hand to enter the station, and check the time monitor for the next train. These types of transportation are hard to come by now, and forget about taking the train, they’re nonexistent in Florida. Going to school, listening in each class, cleaning after classes are finished, and participating in the club activities were all part of a schedule that I have been doing for a whole year. Seein g every single student carry a pencil case, and whip out their favorite pens and pencils with numerous kinds of designs, from Disney to popular mascots, was nothing out of the ordinary. Being time-conscious and not having to worry about others being late because there is no such thing as being “fashionably late”, because really, that is just called being rude. The respects and traditions Japan holds close to its culture is admirable and it was my privilege being able to learn about it every single day.

The only sense of America in Japan was the excess amounts of McDonald’s and Starbuck’s. The countries were on the opposite sides of the world and the culture was just as so. It is because of that, I was able to grow so much. I had learned to embrace values and customs completely different from my own and meet people who looked at everything in a new, invigorating way. However, that does not go without saying I had many challenges as well. The struggles to really connect with the Japanese people or pushing past people who only judge was difficult. But out of all of that, I was able to find people who enjoyed being hanging out with me and didn’t mind the communication difficulties in the beginning. As I was able to grasp the language better and better as the days past, I was able to really strengthen those relationships and feel more a part of the culture than I was before. Yes it was difficult, but I changed. I grew.

As odd as it may sound the biggest struggle was trying to find the best way to learn the language. No matter how well Rotary prepares every exchange student and tries to go through every detail that is important to an exchange, I still had to figure out how to learn the language. Of course the way someone learns a language is strongly guided by personal preferences and what methods they like to use, but one fundamental key that is a necessity when learning a language is to use it. It’s as simple as that. Go out and talk to as much people as you can, listen to content in that language as much as you can, and simply practice as much as you can. To learn a language, sticking to the books is simply not how to do it. That obvious mistake was something I had done ignorantly. Those are good references, but do not help you progress as much as you could if you actually use it. And this goes for any language, not just Japanese. Just because it is a different language doesn’ t mean you have to try and learn it a different way. Do methods that work for you. This does not take away from the fact that there is no easy shortcut to learning it. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Embrace the mistakes you make and don’t let that stand in the way of talking to others. Mistakes is how you learn, it is what motivates you to do it better next time. Sometimes it will definitely feel like a letdown, but that is when you are tested the most to just push on and trying hard. Going up to people and talking without that fear, truly opens you up to so much more.

Another tip for language learning is making associations. Association is such a powerful tool that has helped me. Making associations helped me retain words a lot more quickly compared to rote memorization by a list of words. Basically what I mean for that, particularly in Japanese, is when you learn a new word, trying to make a picture out of it or make a fun little pun out of it goes a long way. What I have done that has helped me with my Japanese is to make as much associations that stuck to me for that one word. Whether it be knowing its kanji, having an image of it in my head, and/or remembering the situation I learned it in, helps me identify what that word was. So the next time I would want to say it, I would try and remember some or all of the associations I made, to dig up and recall what that word was. And if I am not able to, I don’t sweat it. I could either ask someone if they know what word I am trying to figure out, or just let it be. If it is a common eno ugh word, I would hear it again. When there comes a time where I would really need to know the word, I would try and remember it then. One of the best associations I was able to make, for myself in particular, was mistakes (like I said earlier). When I make a mistake in Japanese, I don’t just laugh it off, for some reason I instinctively and quite vividly, remember making that mistake. Whether it be pronouncing a word wrong, or trying to say one word but came out with another; these mistakes helped me retain the words better. Having that slight embarrassed feeling helped me retain even more words. That is another reason why I advocate going out and making those mistakes, because practice makes progress. I am no language expert, but these are the tips I recommend. I’m not sure if I was able to convey this concept completely, but hopefully I was able to get the whole picture of what I meant.

One of the best memories I was able to have toward the end of my exchange, was going to my second host brother’s wedding. I mean that just doesn’t exist on an exchange. What exchange student can say they have been to a wedding during their exchange; very few. That was an incredible experience and really enjoyed it, especially since it was the first wedding I had ever been to. This wedding was based on the Western style. Before the wedding the family met at the host brother’s house for a small gathering among the relatives. There were specific, beautifully-designed envelopes that several people put money in to give as a wedding gift. The bride had the same white dress during the wedding reception, and then during the dinner, the bride and groom wore traditional Japanese clothing, followed by a modern suit and dress. It was also customary for the family members of the bride and groom to go around every table, pour drinks for them, and thank them for taking tim e out of their busy schedule to come to the wedding. Also part of the Japanese tradition, at the wedding, the bride and groom used a mallet to break open a barrel of sake, called kagami-biraki, and serve to everyone. The kagami is a symbol of harmony and represents the opening to harmony, good health, and good fortune. Of course the dinner was delicious, though the only part that was a bit of a downside was when I went to the place where the bride and groom sat. They were so busy taking pictures and talking to the people in attendance that they didn’t get to eat any of the food. When I looked at their table, all their food was there, untouched. I guess that is how a wedding goes. I have a picture at the end of the blog of my host family and me at the wedding.

As this is my last blog, all I can do is reflect on my whole exchange and appreciate this amazing opportunity that I was able to partake in. I was torn apart during this exchange, but the end result paid off tenfold; having a clearer view of who I am and finding a stronger, more independent confidence within myself. The beauty of it all is that I get to continue this journey of growth. I have so much more to learn and look forward to. There are so many opportunities for me to embark upon, I just have to find them. No success comes without struggle, so I look forward to the challenges ahead of me and will work hard in my future endeavors.

Rotary has touched my heart and I am indebted to them for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope to continue my relationship with Rotary and touch the hearts of others around the world. I want to thank the Safety Harbor Rotary Club for sponsoring me and the Koshigaya-South Rotary Club for hosting me. And of course I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout this whole experience. Without the help and support from everyone, this exchange wouldn’t have happened and I am incredibly appreciative for all of that.

Explore and Discover; the world is limitless. Thank you.

Dan Nascimento
2013-14 Outbound to Netherlands
Hometown: Boca Raton, Florida
School: Boca Raton Community High School
Sponsor: District 6930, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Utrecht-Noord – District 1570

Dan - Netherlands

Dan’s Bio

Daniel’s a cool dude. He loves travelling, learning new cultures and customs, and most importantly, meeting new people. Which is why when Daniel heard about Rotary Youth Exchange in RYLA his Sophomore Year, he wanted nothing more than to take advantage of the opportunity. Now as a Senior at Boca Raton Community High School, Dan will graduate and then travel abroad to The Netherlands, the fairy-tale country of the world, as a gap year before attending college. He will be leaving behind his Mother, Iris, and his two older siblings, Lucas and Kelany. Dan plans to take every opportunity offered during his stay in The Netherlands, and his Dutch will be fluent by the end of his exchange ;)! A little about Daniel and his history: Born in São Paulo, Brasil, but moved to South Florida at the age of seven. He speaks English, Portuguese and Spanish. Daniel is an active member and Junior Staff Leader of District 6930’s RYLA, and also an involved student at his school. He is currently President of Boca High’s DECA Club. Dan loves music, the beach, family, and SOCCER! Some call me Daniel; Others call me Dan the MAN! Cannot wait until my trip to The Netherlands. Afscheid!

Dan’s Journals

November 13, 2013

Ahhhhhh The NETHERLANDS!!! The land of majestic castles, beautiful tulips, delicious cheese, and wooden shoes. Holland to the world represents liberalism, equality, organization, environmental-friendliness, and peace. These last few months living in such a country have been unimaginable. I have already seen, learned, and experienced so much. I arrived to the Amsterdam Schipol Airport early morning on August 6th, only to be greeted so warmly by my first and third host mothers and Rotarians from my club. Immediately I realized how well-organized everything is. The immense electronic wind turbines took me by surprise. And the picturesque green pastries and farmlands had me in awe.

My impression of the people here were that they were “aardig mensen” (nice people in Dutch) and extremely smart as well. Everyone is involved with several activities (school, work, always a sport, music lessons, etc.). It is quite impressive how they manage everything….. And always on time too!

My first week here was spend in the north of the country in a city called Harlingen. Beautiful city. Here I learned my first few Dutch words, met incredibly funny Dutch people, and had the opportunity to get close to all the other exchange students. The following months were all filled with non-stop activities and adventures. I had a month free before my school started, in which I used to get to know my city, Utrecht, practice Dutch, travel a bit in the country with exchange students, get to know my host families and rotary club, and attend some incredible events. Most notably, the ShelterBox Amsterdam Challenge, where I had the chance to meet over 100 Rotex students from all across Europe and participate in an immense ‘scavenger hunt’ all throughout Amsterdam, raising awareness for the incredible non-profit rotary-sponsored organization: ShelterBox. I had a super time, and made invaluable connections with students from Poland, Norway, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.

I began school here attending a low-level post-high school “vocational” institution. After a while, I realized the school was not the best culturally for an exchange student and requested to change to a high school, like the other exchange students. After a month that school had started, my counselor here was able to switch me! It was a great change. My new high school is awesome, and the students there are great. I’m actually happy it happened in the way that it did, because I was able to see both the lower institution and the higher institution of the Netherlands. Having experienced both was actually quite a cultural experience itself.

This exchange has ultimately been a blast so far! I’ve travelled all throughout Holland, visited Frankfurt, Germany, Antwerpen, Belgium, spend a week in the south of France, and stood on the “Drielandenpunt” where Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands share a border and you can stand on all three countries at once!!

I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me. And now that the holiday season is approaching, I am excited about all the activities, events, and travel opportunities that are in store.

I’ll keep you posted! Ik houd van Nederland!!!

Devon Ford
2013-14 Outbound to Slovakia
Hometown: Largo, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: District 6950, The Rotary Club of Banska Bystrica

Devon - Slovakia

Devon’s Bio

Hello, my name is Devon Ford and I’m currently a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. I’m very much looking forward to my graduation in May because that makes me one step closer to embarking for my yearlong exchange trip with RYE! I feel so privileged to be accepted to this program and I know that it’s going to change my life forever. In my bio I am going to talk about four things: my school, what I do in my free time, and why I chose to apply to this program. To start it off, I’m very blessed to be a part of SPCHS, which is a charter school on St. Petersburg College, hence the name, St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. The school is made up of about 180 students and is a three-year high school that you apply to during your freshman year and attend your sophomore through senior year. The campus is located directly on the college campus, which gets the collegiate students feet wet when driving and preparing them for attending a higher university. During your sophomore year at this school, you take classes only on the high school campus with high school teachers. Your following junior and senior years are full time, minimum of 15 credit hour semesters right at SPC. This program is completely free and paid for and allows me to graduate with a high school diploma and an AA degree by the end of my four high school years. It may sound as if my school is extremely hard and takes up most of my time, but that is not the case all the time. Almost every day I have some down time and free time to do my own hobbies. My biggest hobby is personal fitness. I spend about 1-2 hours in the school gym everyday, excluding the days that I partake in Crossfit classes. I love to be fit and live a healthy lifestyle. In addition to personal fitness I like to hang out with friends when possible. I often have small “parties” where we play twister, air hockey, arcade games, have bon fires, and other fun things. These “parties” usually consist of me and 4 or 5 of my closest friends. We usually call them our “Thursday Night Parties” because we have no classes on Friday so they will all come over after school on Thursday to hang out. Furthermore, my family plays an important role in my life, mainly through encouragement. Maintaining elite grades and accomplishing various tasks educationally comes much easier when you have someone telling you that they are proud of you. My mother and father, who have been separated since I was a baby, do their very best to support me and drive me to do the best in life. They encourage me to take every opportunity that comes my way. Any opportunity that will benefit me, of course. My parents or grandparents have never attended or graduated from any college or university. Knowing this, it drives me to be an inspiration and complete my goals of graduating from college to be a positive role model for my elder, and future family. Lastly, I want to explain the choices I made that lead me to wanting to take part in RYE. Ever since I was a young boy, I always wanted to be in the military, specifically the Army. After spending several years in the Army I wanted to obtain a government job working with international relations. So I chose that major for college. I know I needed to study abroad in some way to have a great start to my major and have experience in another country. After having several RYE representatives come to my school and present the program, there was no way I could turn it down. I’m hoping to gain the experience of living abroad, other viewpoints of the world, and a great start to a career in international relations.

Devon’s Journals

October 8, 2013

Dobry den! Good day from Slovakia. My name is Devon Ford, and this is my first journal! I’ve been thinking for the past day or two what to write in this. Do I explain my day? Do I explain what I’ve done? What I’ve seen? Or maybe how I feel? I’ve decided to talk about my first impressions, something about my language, and some great experiences.

I remember being nervous on the plane ride across the Atlantic ocean and thinking, “Why the heck did I decide to go to Slovakia??”. It’s a very small country, (about 1/3 size of Florida, land mass), the language is difficult to learn (at first), and many people don’t even know where it is. As soon as my four-hour car ride from the Slovak airport to my host family’s home started, I instantly erased the small thought of regret that I had on the plane ride. I can’t explain the feeling when you look out the car window and see the High Tatras mountain range a couple kilometers away, and thinking that you never knew something could be so massive. Being from Florida, mountains are a whole new world for me. On the drive to my family’s home, I would look right and see mountains, and look left to see a large city, and look right again to see remains of a castle built hundreds of years ago. Everything was so beautiful and amazing that I could hardly ta ke it in at one time. My first four hours in Slovakia were amazing.

The city I live in is Banksá Bystrica. It is a beautiful city, to say the least. I encourage everyone to look at the images of my city on Google. The city square is very old, and very beautiful. Surrounding the center are shopping centers, coffee shops, restaurants, and much more. Just like it would be in a downtown city in your area. Personally, I am in love with the city square. Almost every day after school, I walk (about 10 minutes) to the city and go to the same coffee shop, order a cappuccino, and do my homework at the tables outdoors. Any excuse I have to go walking in the city, I use it. Also, the waitress there thinks its hilarious when I try to order my coffee in Slovak language, and she doesn’t speak English, so we just joke about each other’s failures to pronounce words.

When I arrived in Slovakia, my language skills were not the best. This is because I didn’t spend enough time studying the language, and learning a language on your own could be quite difficult. I knew the basics. Such as “How are you?”, “I am hungry”, “Hello, goodbye, good day, good night, etc.”, “where is the bathroom?”, and several other important phrases. I also knew knew about 100 or more important words. I had two weeks of summer left until school started, and I remember thinking, “I’ll just do some hardcore language learning for two weeks and I’ll know most of what I need to know”….Haha was I wrong about that one! The Slovak language is very complex when you are beginning to learn. Lucky for me my host sister and father are very good at broken English, so they helped teach and translate for me. Also, over half of my classmates can speak some English, and probably a quarter of them can understand English and speak well. BUT DON’T MAKE THAT AN EXCUSE NOT TO LEARN YOUR LANGUAGE. Not understanding what people around you are saying can be very frustrating. Today for example, at lunch, my classmates were chatting and started laughing hysterically, and I’m just sitting there, clueless as to what is so funny. It’s funny how you learn to communicate with your friends and family, when you can’t use words to do it.

Hmm…what to talk about next. I guess some experiences I have had. My host family is dedicated to taking me to see a different part of Slovakia every weekend. Whether it be a castle, a water park, hiking, etc. The first two weeks I was here, we were doing something almost every day. I have been thee castles, countless monuments, went on a crazy cave tour, visited other cities, rode in the car from one side of the country to another in one day, gone to a celebratory festival in a neighboring city, and much more. All of these things could be quite boring to talk about in text. But there is one event I want to go into detail with. This is event is the most majestic bike ride that I have every been on. One morning, at 8:00, I set off on a bike ride with my “Host Uncle” and his buddies. I thought it was going to be an hour or two ride around the city. Well, before I knew it, we made a turn up a hill on a paved road. The hill quickly turned into a mountain, and the paved road quickly turned into dirt. After 5km of peddling first gear on steep incline, with my quads muscles about to fall off my legs, we reach the peak, and that’s where the fun starts. I can now say I’ve been 58km/hr (according to my speedometer) downhill on a mountain bike. The best part of it is, that hill/mountain, was one of many. We rode through small mountaintop villages, crossed streams, rode through valleys, got stuck in the mud, went from pavement to, to dirt roads, to mountain sides, to hills, to open planes, and back again. This “hour” bike ride turned into a 4 hour, 50km ride through the most beautiful parts of the country surrounding Banská Bystrica. The most vivid memory I have of that day was stopping for a water break, and about 20 meters away was a shepherd walking his heard of sheep across a plane. It was something I have never seen but in photos. It is also something I will never forget.

Maybe some of you are wondering how I am handling the culture shock or home sickness. Well the truth about that is, I have been so happy and relaxed since I’ve been in Slovakia that I have had little or no homesickness. Don’t take that as I don’t miss my family and friends, because I definitely do. But I have been so wrapped up in meeting new people, making friends, and falling in love with my country, that I don’t have the time of day to be homesick. When you finally start meeting new friends in school your life just completely opens up, and you can always find something to do.

I’m going to end my first journal by saying that every experience I’ve had in Slovakia, thus far, has been a wonderful experience. Everything from when I was temporarily lost when walking to the city, to exploring my first castle. I am so thankful to be in this beautiful country, and I can’t wait to take in more and more every day.

 

November 20, 2013

Dear Readers,

I have finally hit my three month mark in Slovakia! I missed out on writing my second month journal entry, I was so caught up in other things that when I actually remembered to start writing my second month entry, I was already two weeks into the third month (For those of you who have yet to go on exchange, you will know exactly what I am talking about when your time comes). That being said, I decided to wait. So, let my third month’s journal begin!

My feelings have changed so much since my last journal entry. Not necessarily in a bad way, but they have just changed. My first month of my exchange honestly felt like one long vacation. I had no school, no real responsibilities, and all the time on my hands to enjoy whatever I wanted. On top of that I was going on family trips and vacations every weekend to visit castles, sightsee around the country, and other things like that. So really and truly it was exactly what a vacation would be. Well soon enough, that whole feeling of one big vacation wore off. After school started, the idea of vacation went away very quickly. I now have a nice school and family routine, just like back in USA.

One of the reasons that my feelings have changed is because of how people have changed the way they act towards me. The first month that I was in my host family, it felt as if I was glorious new visitor. Of course they treated me like a son, but for a while they would go above and beyond to make my stay comfortable. It is not that they don’t make me comfortable now, but I’m treated just like every other member of the family, which is perfect for me. Lets just say my parents don’t mind telling me to cook my own meals and my father has gotten comfortable with asking (telling) me to mow the yard. My point is that after I got settled in with my new family, it felt the same as living with my family back in USA.

During the first month of my exchange, I was filled with excitement every day, as every day was a new adventure. For example, finding a new ways to walk through and around the city, getting lost from time to time, trying new foods, meetings new people, and seeing new things. Every day was filled with one of these adventures, I could count on it. Now past the three month mark, I know the city like the back of my hand, I’ve meet what seems like almost everyone at my school, I’ve tried most of the traditional Slovak foods, and I have seen so many of the things there are to see in my city. Don’t take this as I’m bored or tired of being here, but everything just feels like……home.

I guess now is a good time to speak of homesickness. The first month of my exchange, the word “homesickness” wasn’t in my vocabulary. It seems like every “exchanger” experiences homesickness at a different time in their exchange. Well I have finally felt some of this dreaded homesickness. I unfortunately had my first trip to the hospital for several days (stomach infection), and during those several days it hit me pretty hard. I was without internet in the hospital, which is my only connection to the motherland, and that is what made me miss my parents. Other than that, everything is just fine and dandy 🙂

I am still just as happy to be here as the first day I came, that has not changed. But I have really figured out the reason that I, and all of us, are on exchange. The sightseeing is nice and the new foods are incredible, but the real reason that people come on exchange as said my Matthew Lezzi, current exchange student in Czech Republic:

“We are here to be ambassadors, learn a new culture, and to help establish life-long relationships with a country that will be useful in our futures, as well as discover who we are as people in the process.”

It becomes truly humbling and eye opening when you focus your exchange on just that.

Donnella Aldrich
2013-14 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6930,
Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Czestochowa

Donnella - Poland

Donnella’s Bio

Czesc! My name is Donnella Aldrich and I live in Vero Beach. It is a small town with a big personality and I go to Vero Beach High School where I am in the AP program. I am currently a junior but will be spending my senior year abroad in Poland. I will miss my mom, dad, and pug, but I believe the experience will be well worth it and I cannot wait to go off on my exchange. At school I’m involved with many things, but I love them all dearly. I play violin in my school orchestra, am an editor for the yearbook and a representative on student government. Music and writing are two very big passions of mine that take up most of my time. At home I love cooking with my parents, and as a big meat lover, I can’t wait to try the Polish cuisine. As I can imagine everyone else is, I am nervous, anxious and excited for my exchange. It will be a big leap leaving home and taking up such a challenge but everyday I don’t regret it a bit and can only thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity.

Donnella’s Journals

September 7, 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a lone student in possession of a year abroad, must be in want of an experience of a lifetime.

I’m here. I’m actually here in Poland. After so much preparation it’s so hard to believe I’ve made it, even after being here nearly a month.

The trip here was long, but went quite smoothly, as were my first few days here. My family took me to see old castles in my area, as well as Jasna Gora, which is the most sanctimonious place in Poland, and is what makes my city, Czestochowa, the religious capital in Poland. The first two weeks were busy and filled mostly with eating and preparing my host brother, who is now on exchange in Pennsylvania.

On the 22nd of August, all the exchange students in Poland met together for our orientation and Polish classes, which lasted 10 days. Those were probably some of the most fun days of my life, and there is definitely a unique aura to exchange students that automatically binds us together. In Poland, our 52 exchange students represent USA, Canada, Australia, France, Mexico, Taiwan, and Brazil.

Once I came back I survived my first week of Polish lyceum (high school). It was difficult and nearly everyday I had to come back home and head straight for a nap due to how mentally exhausted I was.

Tomorrow is my one month in this amazing country. I know it’s similar to a relationship, and I’m still in the ‘honeymoon’ phase, but I must admit how ardently I admire and love you, Poland.

A quote for all exchange students –

“Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia. But don’t go trying to use the same route twice… And don’t mention it to anyone else unless you find that they’ve had adventures of the same sort themselves.

What’s that? How will you know? Oh, you’ll know all right.

Odd things, they say – even their looks – will let the secret out. Keep your eyes open. Bless me, what do they teach them at the schools?”

– The Professor, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And finally, thank you Rotary, for this amazing experience.

Elissa Shue
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The RC of Jaraguá Do Sul Vale Do Itapocu

Elissa - Brazil

Elissa’s Bio

My name is Elissa Shue and I have been selected to go to Brazil for the Rotary Youth Exchange year of 2013-2014. I am 17 years old and am a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. I will (finally) graduate in May 2013 with my high school diploma and AA degree. I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina but I now live in St. Petersburg, Florida with my amazing mother, father, little brother Nicholas, and my dog Charlie. I also have two older brothers, Justin (USCG) and Andrew (college). Without the support of my family I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, so my first round of thanks goes to you- thank you! I love fine arts and hope to major in drawing and mathematics. I have attempted to play soccer for about 9 years and have loved every minute of it. I also really enjoy traveling, going to new places, and trying new things- as every exchange student should, right? Throughout my exchange year I hope to become more outgoing and to allow myself to fully indulge in the language, lifestyle, and culture. I am beyond excited to start this new chapter in my life and would like to give my final thanks to Rotary for giving me this awesome opportunity. “A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places. One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.” – Katharine Butler Hathaway

Elissa’s Journals

October 25, 2013

It has been 78 days since I have left all that is familiar to me. I now stand 4,368 miles away from the concrete walls marked with the numbers 1317 at the corner of Robin road and Cardinal drive. The place that I called home for the majority of my life- in the city that has been marked by the tracks of my training wheels as well as the four wheels of my car. But here in the beautiful country of Brazil, I am now sheltered by new walls labeled 50- in a new city where I have already begun to leave new tracks.

So far adapting hasn’t been too much of a struggle. I have found it easy to spot the differences and just roll with them. However, after my first two weeks here I realized that when I would pick up on things that weren’t quite what I was use to, I would think “Oh, that’s strange” or “That’s kinda weird.” I then remembered that just because its different or something I am unfamiliar with doesn’t make it strange or weird. I have made it a goal of mine now to try to look at everything with an open mind. To push what I know to the side and just allow myself to absorb everything with no predetermined expectations or judgment, and allow everything that I encounter- new or familiar- be an opportunity for me to learn. And honestly, it’s a lot more challenging then you’d think. But it’s the differences and challenges that make this exchange worth while- I mean if I expected everything to be the same, why wouldn’t I have just stayed in the States? What would be the purpose of this year? Its been nearly 3 months since I began my exchange here in Santa Catarina, Brazil. My new routine has been put into place (and by routine I mean the consistency of never having a sanely scheduled week and understanding that I probably never will have one while I am here.)

Encountering the new culture and language all kinda started in the airport when I landed in Brasilia. I am pretty familiar with flying and airports so I wasn’t really overwhelmed with getting lost, not knowing what to do, or where to go. But in Brasilia is where I first heard people conversing in Portuguese and it was bizarre and exciting. I was able to get through customs and check-in fairly smoothly with pure luck and the simple airport terms I knew in Portuguese. But then I arrived in Curitiba where my family was waiting to pick me up. To be honest, I don’t remember that much about the very beginning of my exchange, but I do know that I exchanged a very awkward greeting with my family. (No surprise their Elissa…you’ve always had a knack for those awkward human interactions.) Then once we got past the “welcome to Brazil”’s, “how was you flight?”- “good”, “how is your Portuguese?”- “I only speak a little,” part of our greeting- the rest of the evening was filled with a whole lot of smiling, nodding, and mental coaching that went a little something like: “Well it’s too late to turn back now.” “Remember, when they look at you while they are talking it probably means they are talking about you. So smile.” “You know what, this is fun. It’ s like an extreme game of Charades.” “Maybe if you nod your head you wont look as confused as you really are. Play it cool.” Now, while it was strange getting in a car and going home with complete strangers (you know, something we were told our whole lives growing up not to do) my family made me feel very welcome and relaxed. In fact, my host mother literally tucked me into bed the first night. What a perfect way to end the most confusing and overwhelming day of my life. Coming into this whole experience, the thing that I was most afraid of was walking into the already settled and routine lives of my soon to be family- I didn’t want to be seen as a hassle. But to my relief I am living in a house full of the most caring and kindhearted people. I honestly think I might have used up all my luck in getting this family because I couldn’t imagine feeling any more at home in this (now somewhat foreign) country then with these folks.

And Rotary. I walked into a club full of open arms- literally. In my first meeting I was greeted with a long line of warm hugs and those side cheeky kiss greeting things. My club is an all women’s club and are hosting 3 of the 9 exchange students in my city. Rotary here in Jaraguá is very well known and well supported. My club in particular is very active in my city and with us exchange students. I have done numerous activities with my club thus far like with fundraisers at my cities shopping fair, attended Rotary dinners, and walked around the city in a breast cancer awareness walk. I also attend my clubs Rotary meetings every Monday night where I speak for 2 minutes at the start of each meeting. The people of Rotary are so supportive and so willing to help- they have definitely helped to make my adjustment very smooth and I am grateful for that.

Now a couple months in, I understand a great deal of what is being said to me and around me. But speaking (and speaking grammatically correct) is much more challenging then I expected. Everyday I am picking up new things and experimenting with new phrases. The language is something I struggle with everyday, but it’s the most difficult things that always turn out to be the most rewarding. About two weeks ago I was even able to help translate while I spent one week with a group of thirty students from Frankfurt, Germany, who came to my city to play in an orchestra. (They all spoke English.) Before that I wasn’t confident in my Portuguese progress but being able to translate for other people helped me to realize just how much I have learned.

I have already done so much during my time here. I am always going out somewhere with my family, exchange friends, school friends, or Rotary. Every weekday and weekend has been packed with some sort of activity, always something new. But my favorite day so far was when my family took me to a mountain in Corupá. We hiked for two hours up this mountain that had 14 different waterfalls. At the top, we had a picnic lunch right near the bottom of the highest waterfall. It was the most perfect day- one I am sure I will never forget.

Ella Smith
2013-14 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: District 6940, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Liege chaudfontaine

Ella - Belgium

Ella’s Bio

Salut! My name is Ella Smith, I am about to turn 16 years old, and I am from Tallahassee, Florida. I live here with my mom, dad, older brother and my cat. I am currently a sophomore at Leon High School, but next year I will be a junior in Belgium! I simply cannot wait to begin my adventure abroad and am so excited to experience Belgian life! Here in Tallahassee, I spend a majority of my time drawing and playing the Steel Drums. I like to think that I am a creative person and Leon High School is the perfect place to develop my creative spirit! The Steel Drums are an instrument unlike any other. “Steel Pan” is a fairly new creation. They were developed in Trinidad and Tobago and are basically old steel oil drums that have been beat in with a hammer and finely tuned to make a variety of lovely melodic sounds. I am in “Jouvert”, the intermediate band, and I know I will miss the program while I’m gone. However, what I will be leaving behind doesn’t even compare to all the things I know that I will gain in Belgium. One of the main reasons I was attracted to Rotary is my love of different cultures. Something about how others live their lives truly interests me. When I heard about this program from my Uncle, it sounded like something I would love to be a part of! Because of this, I began the process and now here I am, preparing myself to live in a completely different country next year! I simply cannot wait to begin my exchange. I know that it will change me for the better! This whole experience is exciting, and a little terrifying. I still haven’t completely wrapped my brain around the fact that I am leaving, however, with time I know I will come to fully understand. I am so thrilled to be able to call myself a member of District 6940! Thank you all for your support! I am ready to begin my adventure!

Ella’s Journals

September 3, 2013

When I hear the words “Culture Shock” I picture this old lady who keeps fainting when she walks into a room and sees that everything is different. Things here arent so shockingly different. Sure, there are a FEW things that I cant get over. For example:

How big groups of thug boys still greet one another with a kiss (I love this so much).

How there is no soap in the bathrooms.

“Ninja” the turtle, a machine that drives around their lawn and mows it automatically.

How everyone drives with reckless abandon. Like, forreal. My host mother drove in the MIDDLE of the two lanes yesterday. And they dont pull over. they literally just park on the sidewalk. Its so scary.

And finally, how even though im thousands of miles away people still live in patterns. I am able to understand as much as I do because I know the outlines to these mundane everyday conversations. When we went to the bank the woman behind the counter asked my host mother about Valentine, her daugher who is on exchange in Belfast Maine. When Astrid (HM) told her how much she missed her the woman answered with the EXACT same spiel about “what a great opportunity it is and how brave she is” that my mother has received hundreds of times. I was shocked. And then I realized. Just the language and location are different. People will always be people. Thats what shocked me the most.

January 11, 2014

While its been awhile since i’ve arrived in Belgium (almost 5 months.. gulp) I feel like I truly arrived last week. Already my oldies have departed and a fresh group of Aussies and Kiwis have arrived to replace us as newies. Its been quite awhile since my last journal and Im truly sorry about that, but I’ve not had a down moment since then. Ive changed host families and visited 5 countries (Monaco, France. Italy, Germany, The Netherlands), learned French (thats right, i’m almost fluent!!!!), made friends, passed my exams (miraculously) gotten homesick then once again happy. Ive had time to think about also how lucky I am to be a part of this program. Its changed me already for the better.

This vacation I went to Monaco and Carcassonne for Christmas and New Years, two of the most beautiful places i’ve ever been in my life. I’ll admit, it was one of the hardest things i’ve ever done emotionally though. No presents, no christmas tree, no family fights and cookies and hokey music. One thing that was the same was that we went to a midnight mass. The second I walked into that church I was blasted out of my funk. I felt closer to my real family than I have in a long time. The dim lights, the crosses, the one old woman who sings louder than anyone else, and the smell. I was hit with all these memories of being a small child in New Hampshire where I used to spend christmas with my very catholic grandparents. I was hit with a feeling of “Oh wow, it’s truly a small and relatable world.” Its weird to say, but It was so comforting sitting there in a small church with strangers halfway across the world from all my family and friends and realizi ng it was going to be ok. It was going to be ok. Even though our lives and languages and traditions and cultures may be different, and sometimes we feel completely alone in the world, be comforted in the fact that at least all churches smell the same.

Elli Phillips
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Winter Springs, Florida
School: Winter Springs High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Liberdade

Elli - Brazil

Elli’s Bio

Oi! Tudo bem? Hey! How’s it going? I’m Elli and I’m going to Brazil. I live in Winter Springs, Florida. I’m 18 in two weeks and graduating from Winter Springs High School in a few months. I’m very excited to spend my leap year in Brazil. My family is pretty large. I have my mother and father, my brother William, my sister Amanda and my current exchange student Eddie from Finland and although I only have one permanent exchange student at the moment, my house is ALWAYS full of them. I’ve had and met exchange students from Argentina to Iceland and most places in-between. I’ve been in the Rotary family for quite a few years now. My father is a Rotarian and I’m the President of the Winter Springs Interact Club and a member of the University of Central Florida’s Rotaract Club. I did a short term to Italy and then spent two months with my first exchange student ever in Argentina and now it’s finally my turn to leave for those mysterious 11 months of exchange life. I go to Winter Springs High School but only for three classes because I’m also a student at the University of Central Florida. In college, I’m planning to dual major in International and Global Studies and Business/Commerce. In my free time I enjoy soccer and vocal jazz. I’m thankful to be going to a place that appreciates my favorite sport and is also the home to Bossa Nova Jazz. I wanted to become an exchange student to learn, to meet new people and most of all, to adventure. One of my major goal is the language, I truly believe Brazil is an up and coming economic superpower and I’d love to be able to intertwine the language into my future career. Let’s just say, I’m counting down the days already 🙂

Elli’s Journals

It’s been a month since I stepped off the plane at the Confins Airport in Belo Horizonte and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. My host mother and father have been a wonderful help in my adjustment here. Even though it’s their first time hosting, they have taken me in with open arms. Their daughter, Carolina, was here for a week before she left for Denmark and she was great. She showed me around a bit and helped me with the language. My host family has a large family and they meet up every Sunday for lunch. I love how involved the families are here.

I started school the first Tuesday I got here and it was interesting. I have been attending a university unlike other exchange students with Rotary. I love PUC (Pontifica Catolica Universidade). The university structure differs from the ones in the U.S. Students can choose from morning, afternoon, or evening classes. I am in afternoon classes where I go from 1pm to 7pm. I have 3 classes a day lasting an hour and 40 minutes each with two breaks. My favorite parts are the breaks because then I can talk with people. I am taking freshman level classes under the International Relations major. I even have past Rotary exchange students in my class! My friend Silvia was a Rotary exchange student to Taiwan and another girl was a Rotary exchange student to Oregon. I have also met exchange students at the university, a few from France and one from Italy so I’m meeting even more exchange students! I try to understand the classes but it’s difficult, the only class I truly un derstand is Macroeconomics because I already took it but everyone really tries to help me out and honestly I couldn’t have asked for better classmates. For example, this one girl came running up to me squealing “ELLI! ELLI!” had I ever met her before, no, but okay sure I’ll take another friend.

School takes up most of my day but the weekends have been great. In the beginning, I was afraid I would have difficulties making friends but that has not been the case at all. I have met an incredible amount of new people and have already started to build friendships. I went out with some Rotary Rebounds from last year one weekend. Then, another weekend I went to a soccer game (VAI CRUZIERO!) and then had lunch with some Australian exchange students that have been here 6 months already. My friends here love taking me to get acai, pao de queijo, coffee or bubble tea and we go to the mall and this part of the city called Savassi often to walk around. This weekend I am going to a family wedding and then a university social with some classmates. I’ve been trying to speak Portuguese with all my friends but it’s difficult so I’m trying to start some Portuguese classes.

My host club of Liberdade has meetings every Saturday morning at 10am and all the Rotarians have been so kind. My club President Carolina was even an exchange student to Canada. There are three exchange students in my club at the moment including myself; the others are Julia-Australia and Christin-Slovakia. They are great. ☺ Our exchange student orientation is a weeklong and it starts on September 29th and I can’t wait to meet everyone else!

Brazil has been amazing so far and I have just been adapting to it as quickly as I can. Today at school, honestly, was the first time I felt like this was my home too and that this year could truly be the best year of my life. Thank you Rotary. Until next time!

December 10, 2013

 NOSSA GENTE! I’ve been here 130 days. 130 days in a new country. 130 days with new families. 130 days with new friends. 130 days of building a new life. In 130 days, I made Belo Horizonte, Brasil my Home and I feel as if I’ve been living here for years.

I started October off by having a weeklong Inbound Orientation and it was incredible. My district 4760 has 56 exchange students so it was huge! We went adventuring to Ouro Preto, a famous historical city in Minas Gerais and Inhotim, a contemporary art museum. Within a week, I had another new family, my exchange student family! We had Portuguese lessons and took Forro and Samba (Brazilian dances) classes. There were so many exchangers to meet; it’s hard to explain. We would just jump from one person to the next, “HI! Where are you from???” “Oi! Você da onde???” It was an experience like no other that is for sure.

In the middle of October, I changed families. I was so sad to leave my amazing, first host mom and dad but I was super excited for a new experience! My second family is a mother and father and two daughters Bia (18) and Marina (20). It’s perfect because I’m about to turn 19, so my sisters and I are 18, 19, 20! I’m so thankful that both of my families have been so welcoming and warm.

My Rotary club and I have become closer now that we are getting to know each other! They are the sweetest group of people and I’m so glad to be part of their club. I go to the meetings every Saturday morning without complaint and we are having a holiday party at a Rotarian’s country house. (The last time I was there the Rotarian that owned the house literally handed Kristian (the exchanger from Slovakia) and I a horse and walked away! It was so funny.) Anyways, the Australian girl and the Slovak boy did their presentations about their countries within the past few weeks and I’ll be doing mine soon! Yes, the presentations must be made in Portuguese. Yes, it will be interesting but hopefully I won’t trip on too many of my words. It’s nerve-racking enough to make presentations in English in front of a bunch of people much less in Portuguese but we will see!

I truly believe my Portuguese is improving. I’m definitely not perfect but it’s getting decent. I can see the difference in my speaking and understanding between month 1 and month 4 and I am really happy about that! Everyday conversation and basic actions such as asking for directions, taking a taxi, going to the grocery store, shopping, eating out have become natural. I will be completely honest I’m still having difficulties telling stories and jumping in on conversations at a normal, Brazilian speed but I’m working on it and doing my best. I give myself an “A” for effort. It’s a bit difficult here though because in my city of 2.5 million, a lot of people, especially people my age and at the University, speak English. Even when I go up to people speaking Portuguese as soon as they notice my accent they try and change to English. Also, at some restaurants, when I go to order the waiters hear my accent and they ask, “Would y ou like an English menu?” and I’m just like “…………………………nāo, mas obrigada.”

I can’t believe this year is going by so quickly. I wish it would freeze or at least slow down and let me enjoy every moment a bit more. I’m extremely content with my life here and there are only a few things from home that I miss. I miss my family of course but I Skype with them on Sunday nights for a little bit to check in. I miss my car and my friends! But what surprised me the most was how much I miss my job, more like the paychecks! Other than those things, life in Brazil is quite amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing. What I am looking forward to the most right now is the Northeast Trip in January!!! It’s a 26-day trip through the Northeast of Brazil with my district! We are starting in Natal and ending in Rio!!!! I am so excited and cannot wait!!!!

Thank you so much Rotary! Until next time! Tchau! Beijos!

Emily Weiss
2013-14 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Mainland High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:

Emily - Czech Republic

Emily’s Bio

“You’ll never leave where you are until you decide where you’d rather be.” Ahoj! My name is Emily Weiss and I am a 17 year old girl living in the small, oceanside town of Ormond Beach, Florida. My home family consists of my mother and father, my not-so-little brother, Brian, and our four-legged family members, Buddy and Artemis. They are the most loving and supportive family anyone could ask for, and I am so thankful that they’re mine! I am a senior at Mainland High School, and additionally I attend classes at the local community college. Here at home I love to be involved and doing things with friends or in the community. Among my favorite things to do are cheerleading, dance, going to football games, and working. But what sets me apart from your average high school student is that in just a few short months I will be traveling to the beautiful Czech Republic where I will be spending my gap year on exchange! Earlier on in the application process my dad was always talking about how cool it would be to see Prague, so with this placement I’m sure I’m not the only one thrilled! I have always wanted to see more of the globe and become a citizen of the world, not just another country; what better way than to become an exchange student? Even though Czech seems like a really difficult language, I’m excited to jump in and get started on, what I’m sure will be, a challenging road to fluency. Not to mention how eager I am to meet the people I will meet and see the places I will see. I’d like to thank everyone along the way who provided so much assistance and support, without you none of this would be possible. It means so much to me to have this opportunity and know I have such a wonderful group of people standing beside me and all of us, exchange students, to help us the whole way through. So thank you!!!!! And I cannot wait to begin this journey!(:

Erica Clements
2013-14 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Apopka, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Raisio, District 6980

Erica - Finland

Erica’s Bio

Hei, I’m Erica and this summer I will be traveling to the home of Santa Claus- otherwise known as Finland! I live with my mother, father and younger brother while my older brother is in college. In school I am involved in my Interact club, Latin club and chorus. I really love my chorus class-the group is like a family and I really enjoy their company. It also doesn’t hurt that I really love to sing as well. Some of my other interests include tennis, volunteering, reading, and anything that has to do with animals. In my free time I like to go out with friends, have fun and be what is considered your typical teenager albeit a bit more adventurous( I’m going to Finland!!!)Moving from such a hot and humid state to a country that is in the Arctic Circle is a bit daunting, but I’ve always loved cold weather as opposed to hot and while it will be an adjustment, life is full of those! You have to learn to embrace them. Quite a few people ask me about the program and when I say I’ll be gone for almost an entire year I get responses such as “Oh wow, that sounds really cool. I don’t think I could do that though. I’d miss my friends! /not knowing the language would be tough.” And then when I tell them I’m going to Finland I get a lot of “Wow… That’ll be cold.” And it will, but honestly, if you don’t expand your horizons and step out of your comfort zone, it will always stay the same size. You will miss out on so many amazing things because you let fear or a sense of routine stand in the way of a better and much more interesting future. Last year I wanted to be an exchange student because it really sounded rewarding and I’ve always loved to travel. I was assigned to Estonia and was thrilled at the opportunity. Unfortunately I got very sick and had to withdraw, but the experience has opened my eyes and driven me to want this more and I am so thankful for a second chance. I want to thank Rotary so much, without you this wouldn’t be possible for me and I really appreciate it more than I can explain. To anyone reading this and contemplating going to an informational meeting or submitting an application- just imagine the literal world of opportunities that would open up to you. Life is what you make of it, so why not make it exciting?

Erica’s Journals

January 9, 2014

I think that the question I am asked most frequently here is, “Why did you want to come here on exchange?” This question, although it seems quite simple, is really difficult to explain. There are so many great reasons to go on exchange, and every country has qualities that would make it an exciting and eye-opening experience for a student who wants to see the world. I could go on forever about why exchange is something everyone should do, and how utterly amazing it really is…but it’s really something that you have to decide for yourself. It’s challenging… any Rotarian will tell you this, any rotex, rebound, outbound will tell you the same thing. But you shouldn’t let that deter you, because you have to work hard for anything that is worth having. And exchange is definitely worth it, I’ve been here for about 4 months now, and despite any hardships I’ve had, it’s such a rewarding experience. You live a life that is exciting and new, you change and grow up, and it’s pretty amazing. You meet all of these wonderful people, and they become family. You get more than just your new host families, your fellow exchange students from your host and home countries, the new friends native to your host country, you become a part of so much more, these people are so special. Okay, I’m getting emotional, let’s carry on.

As for my own personal little voyage to Finland –

I’ll just give a little information about the flights: They were long… long… really, excruciatingly long. Those flights I mentioned? Yeah, they were pretty long. It could have been worse, but as much as I like flying, I was pretty tired by the time I got to Finland. To summarize my feelings ; JFK airport is very difficult to navigate because it is gigantic and confusing, flying over Iceland is cold, and French guys falling asleep on your shoulder does not make for a restful flight. But I made it, probably shaking like a leaf, not because of the cold (it wasn’t that bad) but because I was so nervous. I eventually got my bags, found my host parents, and had some embarrassing moments on the way home- yes we’ll just skip over those! I made it, that’s what matters.

Some random things I have noticed about Finland:

The nature~ everything is beautiful, really breath-takingly beautiful.

The coffee is amazing, and Finns drink a lot of it

Chocolate-flavored things are 1000 times better here than in America.

White cheese… I haven’t eaten a yellow cheese since I got here The bus system, I would say is one of the best and worst things. It’s great to have, and for the most part really great, but it is also not fun at all, and I have spent a lottt of time on them. On the down side, they aren’t completely reliable and they are ridiculously expensive.

Finland is also just in general, an incredibly expensive country. I save a lot of my money, but when I do spend it, my wallet cries a little. I try not to buy anything, because (for example) fast food restaurants are at least double the cost of American ones. Probably more, just to give you an idea of the price differences.

Everyone drinks tap water I haven’t seen anyone actually buy water unless it is carbonated.

That list could go on forever. There are so many differences between Finland and the USA. The weather really influences people here. It is so dark and cold here in the winter, and so warm and bright here in the summer, you really can feel the difference in how people act. Finnish people constantly surprise me, and I really never know what to expect when it comes to how social interactions will go. I guess because Finns can come across as a bit reserved, when they are bright and friendly with you, it makes it even more pleasant and you appreciate it more. Finnish people may not come up to you and start a conversation, but if you make the effort to get to know them, you won’t regret it.

The language:

Finnish is… one of the most difficult languages to learn, top 10 on most lists I’ve come across, but I work at it, and take Finnish lessons once a week. I understand a fair amount of what people say, much more than I can speak. In most cases, if I have something I want to say, I can say it using base Finnish words. It’s frustrating that I don’t have all of the endings mastered, but there are 13 cases, and hundreds of possible endings for one word… I try not to focus on how difficult it can be, but instead on how much progress I’ve made. I’ve heard that my pronunciation is good, and I’ve also taken Russian, French and I’m starting Swedish classes. Add that to the Spanish and Italian I’ve been picking up from my exchange student friends, when I open my mouth to speak, I fight the urge to speak in some strange mangled FinnSpanFrancglish language. I haven’t had any dream in Finnish or anything like that, but when I th ink in Finnish, or accidentally type to my American friends in Finnish, it makes me happy, and I know that if I keep working at it, it will keep getting better.

It’s important when you are on exchange to try to take things one step at a time, because when everything is outside of your comfort zone it can be stressful, and it really helps to just look at things piece by piece, to avoid worrying about useless things. At least, that’s how it is for me.

My time here… It has been the slowest and fastest 4 months of my life. I’ve done so many amazing things so far, and the saying time flies when you’re having fun really does apply. I went to Lapland at the beginning of December, and being in the Arctic Circle was incredible. We went on a reindeer sleigh ride, a husky sled ride, I made a snow sculpture (it didn’t quite turn out as planned but was still lovely) we went snowshoeing (although mine fell off) and I have to admit, I tried reindeer, and it was pretty good. I got to meet nearly all of the exchange students in Finland at the moment, and I love that you can meet people and only know them for a few days, but feel like you’ve been friends with them forever. Everyone was so nice and it really was one of the best weeks of my life.

Christmas was really nice, there wasn’t any snow, and it was pretty dark and rainy, but I spent time with my host family and they were really nice to me, especially my host grandparents, who despite not speaking any English, have already done a lot for me and made me feel welcome. Thank you, grandpa, for saving me multiple times from getting lost and very confused by waiting for the wrong bus. I still don’t know how you knew to come help me, but it was much appreciated. I digress, we celebrate Christmas here on Christmas Eve Day, we ate a giant dinner at my host grand parents’ house, and my host sister Emilia and I sang for them, it was properly embarrassing. I also sang at the Christmas celebration in English and Finnish. I was thinking about posting the video here, but I didn’t know if there would be any interest so I refrained. The whole winter break was really, so much fun. New Year’s Eve was the best I’ve ever had, I spent it in the ci ty and we watched the fireworks by a river, and even though it was really cold, and I was definitely not wearing the proper clothing (Erica, don’t wear dresses when you’re spending the whole night outside) it was still one of the best nights.

I think that’s all for now, thank you so much to Rotary, and my parents of course, for this opportunity, it’s definitely a challenge, but one that I have absolutely no regrets about taking. I wouldn’t be here without you, so thank you. Until next time, moikka!

July 10, 2014

I’ve been trying to find the words this whole year that would adequately describe this experience. I’m in my final days of exchange here in Finland, and I still can’t quite figure out how to put what I want to say into words. This year has been challenging. Talking to people, learning this language, adapting to the culture has been a tough thing to do. It was scary, getting off that plane, not knowing what to expect from one day to the next, from one house to another. And yet somehow, it all worked out so perfectly, and I know that the journey took me where I needed to go.

There are some things that have happened to me here, things I’ve done that I know would not and probably could not have happened to me anywhere else. I don’t think any other country has a night club called Club Sauna Caliente (way to go on being multi lingual Finland!). There are so many quirky things that Finns do, and that happen in Finland that I have grown to love, and I know I’m going to miss them going home. Finland has become my home, and while of course I love my family and friends in Florida, I love my family and friends here too, and they mean the world to me.

I’m going to miss my 4 p.m. dark winter nights, and endless summer days, giant celebrations where tons of Finnish people come to the city centers, then later in those evenings when drunk people who ask you for ‘tupakkaa’ (cigarettes) actually leave you alone after you tell them no. Rooting for the best hockey team (TPS!!!) even if they might not.. be so.. good.. Even if they’re the worst and you love them anyways! I will miss my times waiting at the bus stop, and just enjoying being alive, in such a beautiful place, however corny that might seem. It’s good to appreciate the little things, and this experience has taught me to appreciate everything, and try not to take anything for granted.

It’s easy to be sad about leaving, because truth be told, I really am. Speaking broken English and broken Finnish with people I care about, going on long drives, playing games together, going to festivals together, laying in the middle of the road at midnight (I’m not recommending this to anyone- be safe kids!). I love it all. I even love the tough times I had in the beginning because they made me stronger. I feel like I can take on anything and I think exchange is supposed to do that. Test your limits, and help you figure out what kind of person you are, and see how you hold up to the challenge. So- yes, it is sad to be leaving all this, but it has prepared me for whatever happens next, and I have to focus on appreciating that it happened, and not being sad that it’s over.

I want to thank my host and sponsor Rotary clubs, I couldn’t have done this without you, also just RYE Florida in general, you sent us out into the world with the right guides, and trusted that we would make you proud and represent you well. Thank you to my host families, for putting up with me. You all hold special places in my heart, and I can’t thank you enough for taking me into your homes, and helping me through everything. To my friends, I love you crazy kids. I wish I had more time to spend with everyone, this year has been the longest and shortest of my life. I’ll be sure to come back though, and see you all again.

Kiitos kaikille, kaikesta. Mä rakastan Suomea, ja mun tulee ikävä mutta, tuun pian takaisin.

Erica Burns
2013-14 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Bak Hai

Erica - Taiwan

Erica’s Bio

Ni Hao! My name is Erica, and I’m going to Taiwan! This is such an amazing opportunity. When I first found out I was accepted, I was in shock. I sat there for a second thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ Then when I found out I’m going to Taiwan, emotions flooded inside me! I am very thankful for everything that has happened. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and I have moved 8 times, in 5 different states. I just moved to Florida during the Christmas of 2011. I have been to many Spanish speaking countries, but I have never been to an Asian country. I am excited for everything from language to people to architecture to culture, but I think I am most excited about the food! I love food so much, I cannot wait to see the differences (as I’m sure there are plenty!) I have been told I am a very fun, energetic person. I spend most of my time either doing color guard, or hanging out with my friends. For those of you who do not know, color guard is the part of the marching band that spins flags, rifles, sabres, etc. Right now, we are working on our winter guard routine, where we perform in the gymnasium without the band. I am currently on the flag and rifle line, and I love my rifle more than anything (just kidding.) As I said, when I am not in guard, I love to hang out with my friends. I have made so many friends through Rotary, and this adventure has just begun! So thank you Rotary for everything you have given me!

Erica’s Journals

August 31, 2013

The day has come! I leave for Taiwan tomorrow at 10:15 am! All of my nerves are in a tight knot. I feel like I don’t have enough time to hang out with all of my friends or family before I leave. I have talked to all three of my host families already (I feel so lucky!) I have been hanging out with my friends, and my mom has been taking off work to spend more time with me. I have gone through my luggage multiple times, making sure I have everything. I hope I have enough gifts, shirts, shorts, hats… anything I could need! And I know I do, but I’m getting very anxious and I need things to distract me.

And don’t get me wrong, I am so excited and thankful to be an exchange student! I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world!…wait…maybe I would…haha. But in all seriousness, this opportunity has already changed my life forever, and it’s only just the beginning. It’s the beginning of the beginning. It’s the start!..of something new!… now that song is stuck in my head.

Through this process, I have grown apart from a lot of friends, which is really hard. But I’ve made more friends than I’ve lost. And I know this is just a part of being an exchange student, but it truly does show who your true friends are. And I’m going to make so many friends over in Taiwan, and it is going to be great! I’m so excited for the ups and the downs this next year has in store for me. It is going to be the hardest thing I’ve had to handle in my life, but I know it will pay off in the end and turn out to be the best year of my life. Now all I can do is wait for the morning to arrive and take me on my journey into the unknown!

September 11, 2013

Okay… So… Wow. I’ve been here for about two and a half weeks, and I cannot explain how much life has changed for me. First, let me summarize my travels.

In Atlanta, I met up with a guy from New York. His name is Justin, and he has become one of my best friends here. On the plane to Tokyo, I had a very interesting set of emotions. First of all, this plane was the biggest piece of machinery I have seen in my whole life. The wing alone was larger than the plane I took to Atlanta. But I wasn’t sad. At all. I was bouncing off the wall excited and happy. I was talking so fast that Justin couldn’t get a word in for about the first two-three hours. Exhaustion took over and I got very… Emotionally tired. In Tokyo, we met up with a bunch more exchange students. Before we boarded to go to Taipei, I looked at everyone and said “so, are you guys ready to question everything you think you know about yourself?” And the thing is, to be an exchange student, you must be ready to forget what you think you know. Because in your new life, you don’t know anything. You don’t know anything about where you’re goin g, what to do, and (worst of all) you don’t know who you are.

So as soon as I landed, I was confused. I didn’t know where we were or where to go of what to do. There was so much I had to go through to get to my host family. But once I tackled that battle, I got my luggage and went out into the unknown. As soon as I walked through a large doorway, I heard “EEEYYYYIIIICCCCAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!” (Not Erica. Eyica). I found my entourage, and wow. Just wow. They took my bags and did pictures before I could say hello! I had no idea who these people were! Only two people were introduced to me. My counselors. If I remember correctly, there were 8 people that came to get me, and I didn’t know which couple was my family. So awkwardly, I waited until everyone left, and figured out who my family was.

And we left. And got in the car. And I almost died. The driving here…scared the crap out of me. My host dad was going so fast and honking and swerving… And I didn’t realize until the next day that everyone drives like that. But anyway. I got home and took a shower and went to bed.

The next day, I went to orientation where I met a lot of other exchange students. Honestly, orientation was uneventful. It was short and the Rotarians just talked. Nothing like the orientations we have back home. But I met people, which was good! After that, I went to lunch with my first and second families, counselor, and another exchange student. (Her name is Levy. She and I share the same host families.)

During lunch, Levy and I got to learn how to use chop sticks! The correct way, that is. And the food was amazing. Let me repeat that. The. Food. Was. AMAZING! I love the food here. No, I don’t eat puppies or kittens. I eat the same ingredients as I had in the USA, but it’s prepared A LOT differently. So to try to sum up how meals here work, you don’t have your own meal. You have a bowl, smaller than the size of my fist, and you order a bunch of plates of food. You put what you want in your bowl, and you eat it. All of it. If you’re unsure if you’ll like it, only put a little in your bowl. And flavors mix because you put everything in that bowl, but it’s okay. It’s good. And you will have so many dishes. And they come out one at a time, so I never know how many plates are coming. It’s a gamble on how much to eat. Like I’ve told other people, I’m pretty certain my stomach has doubled in size because I eat so much here.

After I was here for maybe 2 days, my family took me on a 22 km bike ride. Wow. I was in pain for a week afterwards, it was so difficult. There were a couple points where we had to go up very large hills. I tried so hard to bike up it, and I couldn’t. So I would just start laughing and say nope! And I got off my bike and walked it up the hill

As for school, I love it. I don’t like how I go from 8-5, but I enjoy it. This is my schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday- Mandarin Chinese classes at a college 8-12 and high school 12-5; Tuesday, Thursday- high school 8-5. Also, there is also another exchange student in my school. She’s from Brazil, and I love her so much. We’ve become such good friends.

The other kids at school are so wonderful. And of course they aren’t their stereotypes. Yes, they do a crap ton of studying, but they are the friendliest people I have ever met. I’ll walk around campus, and I’ll find people staring at me. I’ll smile, wave, and say hello. I have made so many friends at school. But something I’m noticing about other exchange students is they soak up all of the attention, and then wonder why people stopped paying attention to them. The thing is, they are people. They’ll love to talk to the foreigner, but the exchange students don’t give them attention back. They don’t ask the Taiwanese people questions too. They just answer questions given to them. And I’m so happy to have Taiwanese friends. They’re wonderful.

Now here is a lovely adventure I went on after school. I don’t understand the geography of New Taipei City. One day, I had to go home after school but I missed the bus. So I decided to take the MRT home. I understand the MRT (train) more anyway. Buuuuut, I didn’t know how to get from the MRT station to my apartment. So what did I do? I walked around the city for an hour and a half until I found a familiar road. I was really struggling not to cry. But finally, I got home and was so proud of myself. I kept using the Chinese skills I had to ask where to go. Basically, I kept saying “dehe rou?” And pointing in the direction I thought it was. Most of the time I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever been that emotionally strained in my life, but I got through it and now, I know how to get home, and I will never forget it.

And just to let everyone (aka parents) know, I was safe. Taiwan has to be one of the safest places on Earth. I have never felt more comfortable to ask strangers for help. And out of learned behavior, I still be smart about everything. I’m still careful. But I know I am not in danger.

As for right now, I’m on a bus. The inbounds in my district took a two day trip to Tainan and Kaohsiung for a big rotary meeting, and we’re on our way home. This whole trip, I cannot help but notice the beauty of Taiwan. I say it so much, but I can’t get over it. The cities, the mountains, the middle of nowhere… It’s all just so beautiful. On the bus trip, we have managed to watch a lot of movies (the avengers is playing right now), and sang karaoke. The karaoke was so much fun, hahaha!

And it’s so interesting the names I respond to here. I respond to Erica, of course. And 雯雯 (my Chinese name), Florida, USA, bear, panda, Burns, white girl, and (my personal favorite) That-one-girl-from-the-south-eastern-part-of-America. Yes, an exchange student calls me that, and yes, I respond.

I have a lot more adventures I could talk about, but I think that’s enough for this journal haha. I’ll write again soon!!!

再見! bye bye!

October 2, 2013

So it’s been a full month guys. And just thinking about that is crazy!

Rotary teaches us about an “exchange cycle” which is basically how our emotions will go throughout the year. I can feel the emotions changing already to the next stage. Things here are starting to get routine, so not much is ever new and exciting anymore. I’ve had my holy crap moment, and I can tell you that’s it’s a difficult feeling to describe. It’s exciting and scary and depressing all at the same time. Not depressing because I’m in Taiwan, but because I know that I’m going to miss out on a lot of stuff back home with my family. Exciting because, Well I’m in Taiwan! And scary because… I have no idea what I’m doing haha. It’s very difficult to describe for me

There are some things the Taiwanese people say and do that make me think “wow.. They’re so rude” but I really have to remind myself that I’m the one in a different culture. They aren’t being rude to me. And I hear Al’s voice ringing in my head, “nothing is ever better or worse; just different.” And when I think about that, I feel a lot better

Now, despite what Al says, the best and worst of Taiwan!

The worst:

-the city. Yes, this is also in the best. But it’s in the worst for the same reason. It’s always alive. I can’t ever have a quiet moment to myself!

-the rain. As an American girl, I LOVE to dance in the rain. It’s so much fun. But here, there are so many chemicals and pollution from China in the air that sometimes we get acid rain (which will make your hair fall out). So no dancing in the rain for me. I like my hair right where it is

-the bus system. I cannot express how much I dislike the buses here. Not because of the actual bus, but because for whatever reason, I can’t figure it out. Still. I’ve been here for a month and I still get off at the wrong stop, or get on the wrong bus, or go to the wrong bus stop. Taking the bus frustrates me more than reading and writing and speaking in Chinese all combined into one. Everyone else understands it, it’s just me.

-studying. all of my classes are electives (an art class, two music classes, etc) so I’m not the one who studies. The Taiwanese kids can never hang out because they’re studying. I’ve made lots of Taiwanese friends, but I can’t spend time with them outside of school.

Best:

-the food. It’s so tasteful and wholesome and it’s so amazing. My stomach has doubled in size. I eat sooo much here! My favorite food is dumplings. Hands down

-the people. They’re so nice and helpful, no matter what. Even if we can’t understand each other, they’ll do whatever they can’t to help. One guy couldn’t explain to me how to get to school once (because I got REALLY lost. I do that a lot) so he literally walked me all the way to school.

-the city. Again, it’s always SO alive! I feel like I have so much energy because of how much is going on ALL OF THE TIME!

-the temples. Please understand that I’m not kidding when I say anytime I walk past, or ride past a temple, I lean over and take a deep breath in, savoring the smell. They burn a lot of incents, and it smells like the best thing on earth

-the MRT. I love taking the metro. I completely understand it. Even if I get on the wrong MRT for say.. Half an hour before I notice because I’m talking to another exchange student (not that it’s ever happened before cough cough), it’s an easy fix. I walk a few feet to the MRT across from the one I took and BAM! I’m on the right path again. And the MRT is fast. I like fast

-balance. I’m going to have amazing balance when I get back because of the busses and MRT’s. I’m not sure how to describe how many times I’ve almost fallen on the MRT or bus because of the constant stoping and going or because we’re turning

-mangos, pineapple cakes, lemon tea. Need I say more? Those three things I have become addicted to. All of the fruit is amazing, but I cannot get enough of mangos and pineapples. And the pineapple cakes are to die for. They aren’t actually cakes, more like pastries, but they’re amazing. And I’ve always loved lemon tea, but I only drink that and water here. I can’t get enough of any of it

-mango shaved ice. Again, need I say more? Obviously it’s shaved ice with the most heavenly mangos on earth topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Holy amazing

-bowling. My friends, exchange students and Taiwanese, go bowling here. But it is not the same as in the USA. For the bowling part, the main difference is everyone gets two lanes, which is difficult to get used to, but I love it because if one person is gone, you can keep playing without skipping them. But, what I love about this bowling a ally is they have a three story arcade that is free. Yes, FREE! It’s awesome. End of story

November 18, 2013

I’ve come to the conclusion that being an exchange student is indescribable. My classmates are concerned sometimes about how fast my emotions can change. But how can you describe the joy feel when you begin to understand something your teacher says? Of course other people think “hey that’s awesome! You’re doing good!” But for exchange students, it’s so much more than that. And the flood of emotions you get when in the MRT, your brain goes to read the Chinese before the English. The joy isn’t because of the fact that I can read the Chinese, but the fact that I read the Chinese first. But how do you explain that to someone else? How could I explain the feeling I get when I come to my best friend’s home- I consider them my true Taiwanese family- to a hug from my best friend’s host mother? It seems so simple, but hugging is not in the Taiwanese culture. So why does she hug me every day? Because she know s I need one. She knows if I’ve had a good day I want to hug someone. She knows if I’ve had a bad day, I need to hug someone. She knows if I am homesick, a hug could make all the difference. But how could I explain the emotions felt because if that? On the flip side, how could I explain the frustration that comes from people telling me my Chinese isn’t good enough? How do I explain coming to my own host family and being told that I’m not doing good enough? To explain the feeling of not being wanted. Just being someone in a persons house because they had to take someone in because they sent their daughter on exchange? People know the feeling must suck. But add in emotions from everything else, and I feel like a ticking time bomb. I just keep waiting to have a moment where the only thing I can do is cry. I won’t be able to explain why, I won’t be able to even look at the person in front of me. And I will cry for everything going on. I will cry for the laughter, for the joy, for the pain, for the love. And I know that it’s okay. I know this exchange will forever be something in my heart and I’m not willing to give it up because my life has turned around. That’s why I joined this program. I joined for the full experience. I knew I wouldn’t be easy.. But no one could have explain how intense this would get.

January 5 2014

So I haven’t posted for awhile, so here are a few large things that happened

I had my first earthquake. It was a 6.3 magnitude in Taipei but there wasn’t any damage. I had locked myself out of the apartment and no one seemed to be home. My parents weren’t answering my phone calls, so I ended up in my neighbors apartment.

My neighbors are a three generation family, and I was watching SpongeBob SquarePants in Chinese with the grandson and granddaughter. I was also sitting next to their dad on the couch.

Everything started to shake. Originally I thought it was the grand daughter wiggling on the couch because she was hanging on the arm. Then it started to get worse and I realize it wasn’t her. Now, I’ve never been I an earthquake before, so I didn’t exactly know what was happening. Then the dad said “huh. An earthquake” like he was saying “huh. SpongeBob is on” and I started freaking out inside. To him I said-very fast- “what!? Earthquake? What do we need to do? Do we need to get to safety? Why are we just sitting here?” And everyone just laughed at me and said it was fine. Seriously. We didn’t even get off the couch. I started to really get nervous when I saw the glass chandelier swinging back and forth…..

Later, the news was reporting that it lasted a whole minute. For those of you who don’t know, that’s super long.

But everything was fine in the end. In fact, I was thinking about my day and realized that I should have been home alone when that happened- which would have been.. Not a good memory. and the days events leaded up to me being at their apartment.. So I guess it wasn’t too terrible haha. but I will always look back and smile

Another thing I never posted about is a memory I will cherish forever.

We went on another trip with Rotary. Everyone was moaning and groaning because it was so hot, and we went to another place that no one had any care in the world about. It was another Buddhist temple. I kept trying to keep everyone’s spirits up, but I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t interested either.

We walked around as a monk gave us a tour which only 1/3 of the exchange students were listening to. Then we went to a place that our guide said wasn’t open to the public.

Everyone just kept talking until we came to the first room.

The room was completely made of dark wood with green mats in perfect formation on the floor. At the front of the room was a Buddha made of pure white marble. That’s when our guide told us this was where the monks came to pray every day. Her voice echoed off the walls to such a degree, no one dared make a sound. All you could hear was our steady breathing as we took all of this in.

Conversation began again as we moved to the next room. There were tens of thousands of hand carved Buddhas on the wall. So many and so small that it took us awhile to even notice them. In the center of the room was a 15 foot handmade “house” for Buddha. No one was allowed to go in but we could pay our respects, which we did.

Then came the room. Even before we walked in, we could tell it was going to be bright. When we did, it wasn’t what we expected at all. The room was completely made of white marble. The floors, the walls, the ceiling, all of it. But there were no windows, nor were there lights. I still don’t know how the room was so bright, other than the marble.

In the center of the room, was a very large Buddha made of completely white marble with gold Buddhas on the “clothing.” The best description I can think of is heaven. When people go to heaven in movies, it’s always a completely white room, which there seems to be no end. That was the room we were in. Our guide didn’t even say anything about the room.

This time, between the lack of sound and the scene in front of us, no one dared even breathe. If you looked around at our faces, I’m sure they were the same. In awe and some crying.

And that was it. The end of our tour. I don’t know how long we were in there because the feeling of every emotion, every sense, was just gone. We felt calm, all of our stresses were none existent, peaceful. It’s an experience I’ll never forget

February 18, 2014

The holidays. We are all warned about how homesick we will feel around the holiday season. Not having a thanksgiving. Spending Christmas with another family, learning their customs. Not seeing the ball drop at a party with your friends. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. But when you make the best out of it, it can be amazing.

Let’s start with thanksgiving. For me, thanksgiving is going around all of Indiana to see my entire family- and my family is huge (love you mom and dad!). So this year I didn’t. I got to Skype a couple groups, but it wasn’t the same. All of the Americans were upset because we weren’t having a thanksgiving- so we decided to have our own. All of the Americans in my district (and an Aussie and a Brazilian) went to the most American restaurant (that was in our price range) we could find. We drew a turkey and put it in the center of the table (turkey is not common in Taiwan and is expensive if you can find one). We got burgers with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans. None of it tasted all that great. Then, we all of course wanted pie but they didn’t have any. So we bought some kind of an apple desert. We sat around the table and shared stories from past thanksgivings and it made us feel a little more at home. And we all got a little closer.

Christmas was easily the hardest holiday to get through. In Asia, they obviously don’t have Christian beliefs, so Christmas wasn’t supposed to happen. But in Taipei, the government likes to advertise Christmas as a time of gifts and spending to make more money. So Christmas was everywhere. A lot of exchange students were getting really upset and frustrated because Christmas was put in their face but they couldn’t celebrate it. And the meaning of Christmas was gone. However, just like thanksgiving, we threw ourselves a party- with the help of Rotex (kids who went on exchange before). We had a secret Santa, a dance, magic tricks, and so much more. We were able to forget that we weren’t with our families back home, and had a Christmas party with our rotary family.

New Years honestly was so much fun. Exchange students from all over Taiwan came up to see the fireworks at Taipei 101! I saw Jess and Will and together we counted down to the new year of 2014! The fireworks lasted about 5 minutes and the smoke stayed in front of 101 so it got hard to see at some points. After the fireworks, I had to go straight home (curfew is really early here). Taxis were all rented out so that wasn’t an option. So I had to take the MRT. I stood in line OUTSIDE the station for a little over an hour. Then in the station for about half an hour. I called my family to tell them I was safe but late (make sure you do that. Trust me).

But the holiday that made being in Taiwan all worth it was Chinese New Year! This year is the year of the Horse (馬) and my host uncle is a horse. For all of Chinese New Year, we went around Taiwan (including Taichung). I saw extended family and basically, it was like Christmas. It was a time to be with family and celebrate everything you have. We even had the people playing games in the corner (here it was mahjong), the people cooking, and the people watching tv (everyone else). Then we got red envelopes with money in them. Each one will more than likely have 600NT in it (6 is the lucky number) and we get a lot. And of course, we ate, and ate, and ate until we couldn’t move.

If I can give exchange students advise, no matter what country you’re going to, don’t make the holiday season an excuse to have pity. It will be hard, but keep spirits high and make the best of everything- no matter how hard it may get.

 

April 22, 2014

Wow, I haven’t written in awhile. Okay, so here’s what’s happened recently In Taiwan!

I’ve changed host families, and they’re wonderful!

I have gone to Japan with my school which was so much fun! I got to go skiing for the first time in my life and I can’t wait to try again

I have realized how little time I have left in Taiwan which makes me excited and sad. I want to go back to Florida, but I don’t want to leave Taiwan!

I thought of some advise I’d like to give future exchange students.

1) be aware you’re in a completely different culture, and don’t think only from your perspective. In Taiwan, a very lucky number is 6. There is a bus number 666 in Taipei, which to Christian’s, is a very bad number. But to Taiwanese, it must be the luckiest bus ever!

2) never say no. And I mean to everything. No matter how full you are, try just one more food item your host family gives you. Try foods you don’t like. Try them more than once. You’d be surprised. Go on trips, even of you think it’ll be boring. I got up at 5 am on a Saturday morning with my host family to go do something that sounded so boring, and it’s one of the best memories I have now

3) become a family member. Especially in Asia, family is number one. I come home almost everyday to be with my family- rarely with exchange students. And they tell me all the time how nice it is to have an exchange student that cares about more than partying. I have exchange friends, and we hang out too, but family is very important. Don’t forget that

4) never give yourself pity. Every exchange student has a hard time, just with different things. Some people have a really hard time with homesickness, some people don’t get along with their families, some people have a really hard time learning the language. Don’t think you’re the only one with problems.

5) when learning the language- especially tonal languages- learn the hardest part first. Even if the hardest thing is grammar. For my total language people- TONES ARE IMPORTANT! They’re the difference between coming home and saying “hi mom I’m home!” And “you’re a horse! I’m home!” And pronunciation is important for the difference between saying “there’s a dead mouse in the road” and “there’s a dead teacher in the road” so PAY ATTENTION! Haha

6) learn how to make your favorite food. Even if you can’t make it back in the USA, learn how to make it. And learn to make a food you can make in the USA too. Trust me

7) see things from your culture’s point of view, not your own. For example, if rotary tells you to learn Chinese faster and better, understand it’s because you’re in a culture where studying is what they’re about. Or if your family says your curfew is 9 pm and you can only hang out a few days a week, it’s because the culture. Kids in Taiwan don’t hang out hardly at all. That goes for people in every country, but I only have Taiwanese examples

8) people will say things to you that will make you mad. They will say things about America that aren’t true, they will say things because they don’t understand. Learn to explain with a smile, and walk away. Or just walk away.

I know you may be wondering what to do about host family gifts too!! This is what I’ve found effective: women like Bath and Body Works. It’s very rare if they have it at all. And they love the smell; fathers tend to like Florida license plates. In other countries, they’re plain with not much decoration, so they like America’s license plates. All of my host dads hung them up in the main areas of the house very proud. Kids like Disney. No matter what their age. Trinkets, stuffed animals, etc, people love it

I hope that makes up for a long absence and helps you guys!

Erin Hensel
2013-14 Outbound to Norway
Hometown: Dunedin, Florida
School: Dunedin High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Røa, District 2310

Erin - Norway

Erin’s Bio

God dag, Jag heter Erin! That is Norwegian for Hello, My name is Erin! I am a sophomore at Dunedin High School and will be in Norway for my junior year. At Dunedin High I am in over five clubs (including interact) and I am very involved with my friends and other activities. While I am on my exchange I will be turning 17 years old! I live in the quaint town of Dunedin, FL with my mother, step-dad, two younger sisters and three dogs. They all are excited and supportive of my exchange and can’t wait to see how it goes. When I found out that Norway would be the country that I am spending a year in, I was and still am ecstatic since it was one of my top choices! When I broke the news to all of my friends they were shocked and thought I was crazy for wanting to live in another country for a whole year, but I just say ‘why not?’. There are no limitations to life so why not enjoy it. I can’t wait to immerse my self in the Norwegian culture, language, style, and their way of life. While on my exchange I hope to fluently speak Norwegian and to see the Aurora Borealis. Norway’s climate is almost the exact opposite of Florida’s hot sunny weather, even so I can’t wait to play in the snow and go skiing! When I learned about Rotary Foreign Exchange I was glued. Since I have a burning passion to travel and explore new lands I think that my Rotary Exchange will be mind boggling. Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to go somewhere, meet new people, and explore the world. I took my first flight by myself at the age of five! One of my major traveling experiences was when I was nine, my father took me with him to France for two weeks! That is when I decided to learn some different languages. So far I have taken two years of French and two years of Spanish. Norwegian though is my all time favorite! Also I absolutely love sports such as volleyball, basketball, flag football, and track. I play each one of these sports at my school and thoroughly enjoy it! While on my exchange I want to play some type of sport in my school so I can meet more people and make life long friends. My parents have always traveled and have been to over fifteen different countries. Norway is different though only my uncle has been there and he loved it. I know I will to! I couldn’t have made it this far without the support and love from my friends, family and Rotary. Thank you so much for giving me this life changing experience and opportunity.

Erin’s Journals

October 17, 2013

Well I been living in Norway for about 2 months now..but who’s counting right? About a year ago I never thought I was actually going to become an Exchange student. When I told my friends and everyone, they thought it was a joke and even I didn’t think I was going to go through with it but I just kept telling myself that I can take this opportunity and run as fast as I can with it, and well here I am! 🙂

I left Florida at 11am on August 10th and arrived in Norway on the 11th of August at 8:20 am! The people in the airport were so nice and I even was given a free dinner at the airport since I was an exchange student! When I first arrived I was greeted at the airport by my second host family and my host sister who was leaving for the US the next day. Since it was early morning my host mom decided she should take me everywhere in town and that we should go hike up a mountain to see the famous Olympic ski jump Holmenkollen. It was great but I don’t really remember much since I was SO TIRED and I had forgotten my camera in my luggage. For that week I traveled around the city, Oslo. I learned how to get around with the metro, tog (train), busses and walking! I live about 10 minuets away from the center of Oslo! It is so beautiful here, the old buildings, castle, opera house, fjord and all of the parks! I have gone hiking or what norwegians call a tour and have been out boatin g in Oslo fjord. I went ot Frongenparken the other day and it is just so beautiful! Frongenparken is a park with hundreds of sculptures of naked people. We literally drink coffee everyday or tea! I moved to my first family’s home after spending the week with my second family.

My second week was crazy! I had just switched homes on Lørdag (Saturday) and then had to start skole (school) on Mandag (Monday). The fist day of skole was actually quite nice but hard since I couldn’t really understand the teacher or Norsk (Norwegian) for that matter. You can’t tell one word from the next in a sentence or who is yelling at who in class but it’s much better now. We ended up doing yoga in class and it was more like you spend time with your classmates and get to know who is in it with you.  I have made some amazing friends and just being gone from them for one week was hard. Since I went to a week long language class out of town and meet 23 exchange students there. Harry Mehri was there and I WAS SO HAPPY TO SEE HIM! It’s nice to see a familiar face every now and then We both tried to speak to each other in Norsk but we live so far apart that he has a different dialekt than me. We use different words for the same meaning. My friends here are Norwegian and we meet in English class when my teacher sat me with them since they didn’t want to speak english, so when I was put with them they had to. They talked to me everyday even when I was with the Exchange students. I have made deals with some of them that if they teach me Norsk then I can help them with their English. I now can comprehend most of what people are saying but i just don’t have a large enough vocabulary to respond completely. I AM GETTING BETTER THOUGH! I have a good base layer for norsk. Jeg er flink. 🙂

It is SO easy to get around here. I just get off school hop on the mero and I can be in Majorstuen ( the main shopping veien (road)) in 8 min. I go everywhere with my friends and It is starting to get cold and I am freezing my tush off. I have to wear my ugg boots with wool socks on and I bundle up in everything I have but you know everyone just keeps telling me it’s going to get worse. Make sure I you co to any cold country to bring wool clothes not cotton or nylon.. the cold just goes right through it. Now it has just turned into fall and you can surely tell! The trees are so beautiful! I can’t wait for the snow!!!! I should be used to the cold by then!

A few weekends ago I worked at the Golf club for a tournament and met Suzann Pettersen. She is 3rd in the world. It was such a great experience! I have also started to play some football (soccer) here! I love my team and they really like me 🙂 i have grown fond of football.

I just had a week of holiday! I went to Hamar and met all the exchange students from all over Norway! The Australians are so much fun, and are really nice. I spent 3 days there it is about 2 hours north of Oslo. There was a circus going on and DJ Broiler was having a concert there! It was awesome!! He is one of the best Norwegian djs. Hanging out with all of the exchange students was so much fun and I would love to see them again. Then on Mandag (monday) I went to Lillehamar and stayed with my host family (staubo) at their grandparent’s home where my host mom grew up. I climbed to the top of a mountain there and went to one of the largest collection of old homes in the world. Lillehamar is where the 1993 Olympics was held. It is so beautiful it is located right on a large river. I went to the norsk theatre (norwegian thearter) and there was an event going on in the streets for the theatre. I was standing on the sidewalk and suddenly all these police show up. I asked him who the man was that they were standing around was.. It was the King of Norway! I was so shocked! Then after that I went to Holmenkollen the olympic ski jump for the second time 🙂 it ceases to amaze me even though I can see it everyday from the window at my school. My first day back after a week of break was really fun. I’m so happy to see my friends again! I missed them but later this week i’m going to see the Edward Munch Art Museum with my second host family. There is an expedition going on and can’t wait to go see it. Oh and there was a race in Oslo a few weeks ago and that was fun so nice. The food here is SO DELICIOUS! Vaffles are my favorite! They are like waffles but thinner and sweeter <3 you normally put jam and yogurt on them it taste so good! Eple kake (apple cake) is also really yummy since you use fresh apples to make it. It is true though that you eat fisk (fish) and potatoes every week at least once a week.

I am going to switch families at the end of this month and I cannot wait to see what the future holds! What else is possible? I haven’t talked to my family as much as I thought I would but that keeps me from being homesick! I haven’t gotten homesick yet but it’s the little things that make you remember people back ‘home’. I saw a bag of Oreos and thought of my mom. Since the day before I left we took my host sister from Switzerland to Walmart. Where we opened and ate the box of Oreos in the store. It was so hilarious to see Celine’s face. (it wasn’t normal!) We gave the cashier the empty box and my host sister was so shocked that we had just bought a empty box! That was just some small things here and there that reminds you of someone or something back in the USA or where ever you come from. So far I am EXTREMELY thankful to Rotary, my family, friends and everyone who helped me to get to where I am now! Tusen takk alle! ~ Erin Hensel 2013/14 Norway RYE

 

January 25, 2014

Well these past few month have been extremely exciting and hectic! I have switched families, the Holidays have come I have been on winter break had an amazing New years in Norway and I LOVE IT HERE! Where do I start, okay so Christmas! I spent Christmas with my host family, my two host parents and me. It was really calm and quiet, we opened presents and had a special Norwegian meal of Ribe ( It is a sheep rib that has been salted and dried for a few months.) The first time i had it i was really excited but it had a certain taste to it that I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed it or not. Then the next day we had the leftovers and it tasted SO much better the next time I had it. For Norwegian holidays it is all about what food you eat! For the days during Winter break each day had a specific food for each day. We drank Gløgg it is like a spiced sweet tea type thing you add almonds and raisins to it. It is really good. Then for lunch we eat a type porridge which had one almond in it. Who ever found the almond got this pig that had marchipan in it. Marchipan is like this creamy almond dough type stuff that is amazing! When it is covered in skjolade(chocolate)it is to die for!

Okay enough with the food. It has recently snowed and hasn’t stopped for two weeks now there is three feet of snow and it continues to deepen! The coldest day here so far was -19C That day I had decided it would be a good idea not to dry my hair and as soon as i had walked 5 minutes to the bus stop my hair was frozen like popsicle sticks. I could not feel my face hands feet or just in general my entire body. when i had finally arrived at school everyone look at me and were shocked. I was so white and the school nurse had to give me a blanket and dry socks. That is one thing I have noticed with Norwegians it there little sayings or knowledge of things. The most i hear is if your feet are cold then you will get a cold. or if your gloves are wet then you will freeze. I first thought you can’t get sick if your feet are cold! Colds come from bacteria and poor Immune systems. Well you know I got sick. They were right. SO what ever you do do not go outside with anything wet on, have thick socks and a scarf to cover your neck OR you will get sick and have to lay in bed and feel terrible for a while.

School is very different as well at first since I didn’t really know what was going on i just kind of sat in class and just sat there until the teacher handed me a paper or something but well that did nothing to help my grades so I tried to ask what was going on and took some effort that helped some but then there are the teachers who don’t know how to grade you well that’s tough but you just have to let them know that you are trying to do your best. If not then you are just as the desk in the room, empty space. TO EVERYONE OUT THERE READING THIS: Do not give up, yes, okay things do get tough maybe even scary or you are hurt and don’t know what to do. Just cry a bit lift your head your and keep moving forward. There is nothing that can stop you from what makes you happy. Give others strength too. Try to please the people who expect from you, but honestly when you look back on life what do you want to see? It is your choice. Man I have really gone throu gh a lot here but it is just a rock in my pocket now. I just have to keep working and not stop. I rather enjoy being busy even with Norwegian physics or German.

I have yet to go skiing in Norway and I have gone sledding (aking) recently, I love all of my friends here and just want to take them all home with me! I am at my half way point on my Exchange here in Norway and it has come to me as such a shock. Where has all the time gone? It just slips right through your fingers. I don’t ever want to leave Norway and yes I am torn. My heart already belongs to Norway, the culture and the people. Oslo my heart will always be yours! I am moving to my third family in March and I am so excited! I Know I will really miss my second family. They are so kind, but new experiences are coming my way! I can not wait to see how everyone has changed over their exchange but i can wait forever to come back to Florida, not because i don’t miss it but i have found a new me and new love here in Norway. My eyes are open to everyones point of view and not just my own anymore. Well there is not much going on now besides school, food, friends, family and sleep. I rather enjoy the regular days. Thank you to everyone who supports me and a special tusen takk to Doug and Cindy! Love you all! Thank you so much Rotary for everything!

Eva Geygan
2013-14 Outbound to India
Hometown: Sarasota, Florida
School: Sarasota High School
Sponsor: District 6960, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Baroda

Eva - India

Eva’s Bio

Namaste! Greetings! My name is Eva Geygan and I’m 16 years old. I was born and raised in Sarasota, FL and I’m a junior at Sarasota High School. I’m in a club called RUSH which is a club to raise spirit at my high school and promote pride. I live with my mother, step-father, and younger brother,who is 9 years old, and without their support I wouldn’t have done this exchange! I’m over thrilled to be spending a year abroad in India! Outside of school, I like to play guitar, soccer, spend time with friends and family, and dance. Music is a big factor in my life. I enjoy playing the guitar and I’ve been playing for about two years. Every since I was young, I have always traveled and it has been my interest to visit different countries and experience various cultures and societies. I’m fortunate to have my dreams come true and become an exchange student. Honestly when I was told I was going to India, I was surprised. I didn’t know much of the country, but I was enthusiastic about going. I realize that being far away from where you grew up can be challenging, but it is also very exciting and interesting as it opens up a whole new world. As you learn about the new culture you are experiencing, you also learn a lot about yourself and your own country. All in all, I’d like to thank Rotary and my family for making such an experience possible, and also the support from my loved ones. This is an adventure I know I’ll looking forward too! Thank you all!

Eva’s Journals

Written 10/14/2013

Kem cho? Kaise ho? It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve been in India, and honestly I’ve been enjoying it almost every single day. Every day is different and I rarely get bored. I admit when I first arrived I was quite overwhelmed by everything, and when I arrived in my home I was having a bit of self-doubt because I was out of my comfort zone. But presently, I feel so fortunate to be able to go on exchange and to experience such an amazing culture and country.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plane trip and such, but I think it’s important that you know so you’ll know what to do when the time comes (this is to future exchangers because just the trip itself was overwhelming and tiring for me). Of course it may be different depending on where you’re flying into, but I’m just telling you my experience. So first I left from my hometown to Atlanta, then to Amsterdam, then to Mumbai, and then to Baroda (Vadodara) and it took about over 30 hours to get there if you’re curious to know. When I was checking in my luggage in my hometown, the desk lady told me that I won’t have to pick up my bag at Mumbai, but you will (if you are arriving in Mumbai). Luckily when I was on the plane to Mumbai, a university student who was sitting next to me helped me through the process and also a Rotarian offered to come and help me, but I insisted that I would be ok since I would be arriving in the middle of t he night, and I didn’t want to disturb his night’s sleep. Anyways, once you get off the plane in Mumbai, you go to the area of domestic flights and you have to go through the visa processing. Then you pick up your luggage and they will have to go through security check. Afterwards keep going in the direction of the domestic flights, and you and your bag will go through security again. Then you will take a bus to the domestic flights building and show the bus driver your ticket so he can tell you which stop to get off at. Now this part is a bit confusing, but for where I was I had to pass the boarding area/security and go to check in, but do not be afraid to ask where it is, anyone is willing to help you. Once you have it checked in go to security and wait until it is time to board the plane and soon you will arrive in your destination. Many people helped me so I am thankful for their kindness. 

There are animals on the street, and you’ll see all different kinds. There are: cows, stray dogs, monkeys, and many more. It’s quite interesting because most of them aren’t bothered by you or any of the moving vehicles. There are these monkeys that come around my house every other day and our dogs will bark at them because they get so scared..haha it’s so cute! When I see cows on the street I’m so tempted to pet them, but I know I should leave the cows alone because they are considered holy and they’re actually quite scary if you make it angry. It’s difficult seeing all the stray dogs here especially ones that are injured or are starving..you will see all the stray animals eating garbage…

You will see beggars here and in any age. I dislike how they will pull on your heartstrings. Sometimes you will see people who are disabled, young children, elderly, and women carrying babies. I know that it’s best to give them food instead of money especially the children; I try to give them something where they have to eat it at that moment like ice cream.

There is a lot of garbage and trash on the sides of the roads, but I think the main reason for that is the lack of a good garbage disposal system. There are no public garbage cans and the people who don’t live in proper homes have no place to throw it away so they just throw it wherever they want.

Sometimes the smells are strange here. Sometimes the air smells nice, other times not so much.. When you’re on a bike these smells are very apparent.

You don’t know how much I love my host family; I feel so welcomed and I’ve already become a part of their family. They usually involve me with whatever they’re doing, and we “siesta” naps together. They keep me occupied.

As expected school in India is very different, but I actually like it except for the heat ;P Depending on what your school offers there are three choices: Commerce, Science, and Arts (but not all schools provide Arts). I am taking Arts, but it’s mostly majoring in psychology which is great because it gives an outlook on Indian society and culture, and it’s different from American psychology. You know in America we can choose our classes and friends in different classes, but here you only stay in one classroom. Although I like it, when I’m with my schoolmates because we create a close bond, and I spend a lot of time with them. I really enjoy my schoolmates; they are so caring and always watch out for me. They encourage and help me learn the language which is a great motivator. Other exchange students complain that their schoolmates aren’t so mature, but I am fortunate that my schoolmates are quite understanding and mature about things (or at least most things ha-ha). My school is quite small, but it supports pre-primary and up and I enjoy seeing the little kids every day. I go to school on a cycle (bicycle) every morning and afternoon. It was a bit scary at first because driving in India is crazy, but now it doesn’t bother me so much. We have school uniforms so I’m still waiting for mine to come, but I’m hoping it comes soon because it’s soo cute!!

So if you didn’t know in India we speak Hindi and where I live we also speak the local language Gujarati. I’m trying to learn both, but it’s a bit difficult learning two different languages so right now Hindi is my main goal because almost everyone in India can speak Hindi. Also English is an official speaking language here so many of my schoolmates can speak it, but they speak in British English (but with an Indian accent).

Oh gosh I cannot tell you how different the food is here. There is so much spice and flavor that it takes only a little amount of food to fill me up. With my family we usually have some type of Dal and curd (it’s like yogurt without any extra flavoring, but my family gives me strawberry crush because I don’t like it alone) and of course other types of Gujarati food. Other exchange students say that their families make them eat a lot, but mine are quite understand since they’ve had other exchange students in the past so I don’t feel sick as often. The names of food are very different too so I have trouble remembering names sometimes. They have western food here too, but it tastes different from home. There is more spice added to the western food if they make it, and you’ll find many popular American chain restaurants/fast foods. There is: MacDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Papa Johns, and even KFC. And yes they do have non-veg foods here, and not everyone is Veg. My family is vegetarian and I normally remain vegetarian unless I’m really craving some chicken or shrimp then I go out to eat because I feel it would be inconsiderate for me to have meat in the house.

I love indian clothes, they’re so bold and colourful. Navratri just ended and I got to wear a Chaniya Choli :); Although Sarees are still my favorite. Kurtas are commonly worn, and also western clothes are common among the young in my city. I would advise not to wear shorts or anything that’s too revealing because they dress more conservatively.

I still have so much to do while I’m here, and I’m saying yes to everything even if it’s something I’m not good at. I wish I could write everything that I see here, but it would be too much to say. I will update you soon! Ta ta!

Gabriella  DiSanza
2013-14 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Inveness, Florida
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Tørring – Uldum

Gabriella - Denmark

Gabriella’s Bio

Hi, my name is Gabriella and I am from a small town called Inverness. I have been living here my whole life and I am so thrilled to explore a bigger place next year. I learned about this program through a girl named Jessica who was an inbound last year. She expressed the greatness of the experience and really convinced me to go for it. After tons of thought, I mentioned it to my parents and they were filled with excitement and support. I, myself, have never thought of turning down this opportunity. I think it is an amazing thing that people my age get to do. To explore a new culture, learn a new language, and be able to say you did all of this, is a major accomplishment. Denmark was my first choice and I am more than grateful for being able to go to this country. Although I am very nervous, I know this is going to be one of the greatest years of my life. I am giving up my senior year of high school for this and I know I will not regret it. Being an exchange student has become the top priority in my life and I cannot wait to start my year in Denmark. I thank my parents and friends for being so supportive and Matilda, and inbound from Denmark, for helping me through this.

Gabriella’s Journals

October 3, 2013

The last two months in Denmark have been absolutely amazing. After all the excitement calmed down, I started feeling like I was living here; I knew this wasn’t a vacation anymore. This was actually my life. I started school two days after I arrived and I have been loving it. Making friends was extremely easy and people really loved getting to meet the American girl. School is very different compared to in America but I enjoy it. Even though I don’t understand what is always going on. Classes in Danish are tough but it definitely helps with learning words that you will actually use in every day language. I started Danish lessons after a couple weeks in school with the other exchange student, Julia from Brazil. Its nice to have another exchange student in your school who you can work with. After two weeks of being in Denmark, I went to intro camp. All the exchange students in Denmark met up in one place to get to know each other and get the basics in Danish. In a group of about 150 students, 80 of them were Brazilian. Which really helps to keep the party going. During intro camp, the Queen on Denmark came to visit. The city, Bjerringbro was having its 150th anniversary. There was a parade for the Queen and everything. I was 10 feet away from her! I couldn’t really believe that she was just walking in the streets out in the open. If Obama were to be in public, you wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near him. In the beginning I wasn’t very excited to go to intro camp. I was really starting to settle in with my family and friends, I didn’t want to have to leave that. Once intro camp was over I was extremely happy that I went. Being with exchange students is like being with your own kind, and that really makes you feel better when you need it. The following weeks after intro camp were just really getting into the routine of school and becoming apart of the family. On the weekends, I would hang out with the students in my class and try to get to know some of them better. I would also spend time with my family like going grocery shopping and playing board games. Just trying to do little things that families would normally do. My Rotary club has been very welcoming and helpful with all the firsts. At the second meeting a pharmacist in my club gave a power point presentation about his business partially in English to help me understand better and would translate after he said things in Danish. In the beginning of September my district had a get together for all the inbounds, which is about 25 students. During the weekend we went to a place called Sky Mountain and took canoes across the lake to get to there. Sky Mountain is the tallest point in Denmark, which is about as flat as Florida is. The Mountain was just a minor hill but still such an interesting thing to see. The hike up the hill was very tiring but the view from the top made the hike worth the while. Denmark is such an amazing place and all the n ew things Ive experienced have been astonishing. Learning a new culture is thrilling and knowing this is only the beginning makes me so excited to see what the year has to offer. I love being an exchange student and I love doing new things. Just the beginning of this experience has taught me a lot about myself and other people. and I love every part of it.

January 15, 2014

The last few months have been very different from the first few months. I didnt think I could get any more settled in but I did. A lot can happen in a few months. Ive changed families, gotten more involved with my school and have made many more friends. Important events have changed my life and changed the way I see danish people; all in a good way. In October, my first host parents had their 12 1/2 year anniversary known as the silver wedding in Denmark. There are 3 anniversaries that are celebrated; copper (5 years), silver (12 1/2 years) and gold (25 years). My host parents invited about 60 guests so they had rented out a hall to throw their party. Now 60 guests is a lot, so in preperation they went to Germany to get food and drinks a lot cheeper then the whole week before we were cooking and spending most of our afternoons at the hall, setting up tables and what not. The party starts with a very big dinner and about 4 different courses; an appetizer, first meal, second meal, and dessert. The rest of the afternoon is spent on silly anniversary traditions like friends telling stories about the couples and singing embarassing songs that the parents make up. There was dancing and karaoke and so many fun things. We didnt go home until 5 in the morning, but I know that everyone had a great time. For Halloween, I went to a couples house who used to live in the State of Georgia. The husband, Chris, is American and his wife, Birgit, is Danish. They have a daughter who is also 17 and just moved back from her junior year in high school. Chris and Birgit made a haunter house for the whole town to come and see. It was only about 3 dollars to get in and you could walk through the house they made in their backyard and see a lot of gruesome things. They had me dress up as a bloody girl who had her leg taken off by zombies. A lot of people who came through the house really enjoyed all the weird things we had all set up. It was such a fun night to spend with some American people and celebrating an American tradition. In November, I changed host families. My first family had two younger kids, 9 and 11. My second host family has 3 children; twins who are grown and moved out and a girl who is 17. I didnt know what it would be like to live with somebody my age. Ive never had siblings before so this was a little nervewrecking. My first couple of weeks with my new host family were very different from my first weeks with my first host family. I think because I had understood danish people by now, so I sort of understood how things would work around the house and with my parents. We did a lot of things like shopping, meeting their friends and family, and just bonding. We get along really great and its not bad to have a sister who is my age. We have bonded over silly things and become like real sisters. I used to hate the thought of moving host families but it really isnt a bad thing. I still visit my old host family every 2 weeks. At the end of November my school had the annual Galla Fest. Its similar to prom but its not as big. My school is divided into 3 different grades and the grades mean the type of dress the girls are allowed to wear. First graders have to wear dresses below the knees but above the anckles, second graders wear dresses right above the knees, and third graders get to wear traditional floor length prom dresses. Everyone has to learn a french dance called Lancier. This dance is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be and even on the night of Galla, I still wasnt sure how to dance the whole entire thing. The night starts with Lancier and a very long dinner afterwards. Danish dinners almost always consist of a couple courses and this one had 3; an appetizer, the maincourse and dessert. Afterwards, the students are free to dance and have fun and do whatever they like. In December all the Christmas things started exactly on the first. My family and I spent the whole day decorating the house and getting into the Christmas spirit. Every weekend we were at Christmas dinners with friends and family and during the weekdays after school we were baking Christmas food and Christmas cookies. I’d say in my host family, the cookies were more important than the actual Christmas dinner itself. Throughout the month, Christmas shows played every single day. There is one show in Denmark that almost everyone follows and its called Julekalender (christmas calendar). It has a family and is just showing the nice things they do for eachother in the Christmas time. As it started getting closer to Christmas, my older siblings stayed in the house with us and my host mom’s brother from Sweden came down to visit. On Christmas day, December 24th for Denmark, we waited until after dinner to open presents. We started the day with a big breakfast and the rest of the day we decorated the Christmas tree for all the guests to come over later that night. Around 3, the whole town met in the town’s church for the Christmas service. With about 100 people, we sang many different Christmas songs and listened to what the priest had to say about Christmas and why we celebrate it. Once church was over, we all went home and the rest of my host family’s extended family came over to help get dinner started. With 15 people around the table and more food than we knew how to eat, I would say we all had a fantastic time together. Dinner had ended and now it was time for the presents. Opening presents was so much more different than it is in America. Most of the gifts were thoughtful things, people stuffed wanted and cared about and they had a genuine smile on their face when they opened the gifts. The spirit filling the house was more magical than any Christmas miracle. After we open presents, it is a tradition to sing around the Christmas tree and sing in every room of the house. This looks about as silly as it sound ed; through the bathroom, and over the beds, and into the kitchen around the table. But so much fun nonetheless. The day wasnt over until around 2 a.m.. The spirit hadnt died down for a very long time. The next morning, on American Christmas, my host parents had saved one gift for me to open. I felt so special to be living in a family like this. We had had our danish Christmas and I thought that was it. When they had given me my last present, I couldnt have been more thankful and I truly felt the Christmas spirit. For New Years Eve, my host family and I had spent the afternoon at a friend’s house who lived in the same neighborhood as us. Most of the couples and their kids had come and all together there were about 20 people. Of course we started with a large dinner. The rest of the night is spent with as many fireworks as you can buy and enjoying eachothers company. When the clock was changing to 12 am, my host sister and I jumped off of chairs and jumped into the New Y ear. It was a very weird tradition but a lot of the guests had joined us. New Years goes on for 12 hours, it started at 6 and ended at 6. So of course, the whole town was sleeping the first day of the year away. The last first two weeks of January have made me realize many things. The Australians who come in January were returning home and many of us who had come in August developed great friendships with them. It was so sad to see most of them go but even more sad to realize that I was halfway through my exchange. I feel the same way I did in the beginning; I never want to go home. This experience is something that changes a person. It makes you see things in a new light and teaches you how to have fun. All good things come to an end but I wish this never had to end.

Hannah Baker
2013-14 Outbound to Korea
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Seocheon

Hannah- South Korea

Hannah’s Bio

(안녕하세요, 제 이름은 한나입니다)  Hello, my name is Hannah, I live in Ponte Vedra, Florida and I am fifteen years old. I am a freshman at Allen D. Nease High School. I am a member of the Spanish Club, which is hosted by my Spanish Teacher. In my spare time, when I’m not doing anything school related, I enjoy pleasure reading. I’m absolutely ecstatic to be one of the many Outbounds for the 2013-2014 school year to South Korea; Nonetheless, I know  I will have many difficulties that I will need to face, even before I go and when I go. As the eldest of two little sisters, I know that there will be a lot of responsibility put on my shoulders but I am up for the challenge. I know that not many people get an opportunity like this, and few are chosen; However, I’m up to meet this life changing experience head on. When I get back I know I will return a new person. My only question to you is are you ready to face a challenge head on knowing that it could change you and make you a greater person for the better?

Hannah’s Journals

August 23, 2013

It’s been a little over a week since I’ve arrived in South Korea. Today and yesterday, make the begging of many school days to come. An other than me, there are four other exchange students; one from Michigan state and her name is Sarah; one from Germany and her name is Vera; one from Mexico and her name is Olga; and the best for last, Allen who is from Taiwan. Not only that, yesterday had we gotten to meet our district chair, as well as going to the Korean Educational Office.

We even got to go to our Rotary Club, which was sponsored by all men. Afterwards we went to Lottaria which is equivalent to an American McDonald’s. Did you know another name for Sprite products in Korea is cider? They even have flavored packets for your fries. Which I did not know until my host sister Ji-Won, a former exchange student, told me.

Did you know that Korean pizza is way sweeter than American pizza? Or that the high schools are split up to either all boys or girls? How about if you’re under the driving age, then the only way to get around is by taxi or bus?

October 3, 2013

It’s been a little over two months since I’ve been here, in Korea. I have enjoyed korean thanksgiving, to national holidays, as well as exciting outings, and even having the opportunity to wear and own a traditional korean dress (hanbok). All the while, learning how to make tea and serve it.

October 14, 2013

Today was my school’s English Festival. We got to do a scavenger hunt. And some of the questions included; how old I was (me)? Write down the address of the Mexican exchange student (Olga), what’s the full name of the German exchange student (Vera)? What’s the name of Sarah’s high school (Michigan)?

Afterwards we had diner and then continued the festival with a speed quiz, which we exchange students couldn’t take part of because we knew English. Then we did a dance. Then we finally left to allow the thirds years and our host parent (s) talked about high schools. My school is a middle school, because high school wouldn’t be able to give us the help we would need. This weekend I was able to meet former exchange students that went Korea, they were from Indiana and Mexico, and I met another one from Germany.

Mondays and Fridays I have a Korean class; Tuesdays I have hanbok class; where we are hand sewing a vest. Tuesday evenings I have a salmunori (drum) class. Wednesday evenings tutoring the Korean Students, and Thursday evenings we have cooking class. Which have been unfortunately cancelled the last three weeks.

December 18, 2013

 This past Monday I switched to my second host family; they are amazing. Although I still miss my previous host family a lot. I’m glad I can still see them. It’s almost Christmas, and where I am Christmas is not much celebrated; mostly in the big city like Seoul. Despite that, there are a few who do go to church that day.

As of this Friday I will be going to Seoul to see a musical, with the whole school of course. YAY! And for those on winter break already you are so lucky. My break isn’t until sometime next week.

February 6, 2014

Who knew going to a museum could be so much. Other than that they all were pretty much the same. Though I do believe they each had something to make them uniquely different. But it is difficult to tell if anyone else noticed.

For example, how many people can tell the difference between money and an object worth more than any given amount of money? Besides, only a select number can define, understand; and to an extent explain the past experiences of those who came before us. All the while putting those experiences on display and into simple words; for those who are to lazy to try, better yet, wanted to understand.

However, each person different from the simplest of likes like old articles. Each having their own story, from the time it was made, to the many experiences it endured, to it’s ending and then finally to its final resting place.

Then again, it would me boring if everything were they same, now wouldn’t it.

Just like a snowflake no two are exactly alike; for opposites attract, likes reply; every writer has their own pen; a painting never tells the same story twice. The list could go on and on.

Like ends of time every begging has an end and when one ends another begins.

On the other hand, museums do give us the chance to allow us to see what others could only image what might or could happened. Without getting the option of seeing what has only just been opened. And who is to say evolution truly ever stops. For I believe nothing truly has ever stopped. Although I do not think it ever well. Because there is always change, no matter how acute it is.

February 26, 2014

would’ve thought! Defiantly not me but oh well.

First we had to take a train which was three hours long, and did you know that was my first real train ride ever?! Anyway when we got there the train station was humungous and I mean huge. So we got lunch, then went to where were staying. This was a guest house, with traditional rooms and all, even futons no beds.

After settling in we went to our first destination a famous tourist street; we had to take a metro (subway) and then a connecting line. Once we got there we walked a bit then started shopping, I got an “I love Korea” t-shirt and Starbucks socks.

A little later we went to get dinner and boy let me tell you, I never had Pizza Hut like we did that night. When we were done we went to see a Nanta (drum) performance and I mean it was the bomb; literally!

The following morning, we did our morning routine, and then we went to a famous market that Korean grandmothers and other older women like to shop. After that we went to this famous palace located in Seoul. For lunch we had fried pork cutlet and it was to die for, oh my goodness!

That night we went Namsan Tower, as for dinner we had Taco Bell. Too bad Olga (Mexican exchange student) felt that it wasn’t a taco.

The final day we packed and went to a museum before we left and then had to rush to take a metro back to the train station, have lunch and then take the next train back to Seocheon.

April 28, 2014

It’s been a while and I apologize. However, my time in my host country is coming to an end; and I’m trying to do as much as I can. For example, my fellow 교환 학생 (exchange students) made flower pancakes (my self not included). Despite that, I was able to go shopping with my host 엄마 (mom); I bought a nice denim blouse, school shoes, and everyday shoes as well. Afterward we went to the 서천 시장 (Seocheon market); she got 오렌지, 더마도, 백, 물고기도 (oranges, tomato, pear, and fish too). Then home again.

If I think about it, I get sad when I realize that I’ll miss everyone that I’ve come to know so well and got to spend time with. Such as 엄마, 언니, 어빠, 아빠, 할머니도. (Mom, older brother, older sister, dad, grandmother too). Even though I don’t fully know or understand Korean, but with what I do understand I try to talk to 엄마 about my day like I would my own mom. Or, when 힐머니 try’s talking to me even if I don’t fully understand we still are able to make each other laugh. As for 아빠, we may not be as close I still try to have a conversation every now and then but I do hold a lot of respect towards him. On the other hand, 언니는 어빠랑 (older sis and older bro) are AWESOME, though it does help that they were both exchange students to the U.S. 언니는 플리다 갈게요. 어빠랑 미지겐 갈게요. (older sis went to Florida 2012-2013 and older bro went to Michigan 2011-2012). So they both speak English, but I try not to use English as much, unless I absolutely do not understand.

Therefore, knowing all that I know and if I truly wish to see everyone again I’m going to have to do my part to maintain my connections. Connections that not everyone gets to see, know, and have. And with these connections something wonderful is born; a friendship and kinship that transcends far from skin, race, country, age, or other means.

What makes it better is that in my host district a girl will be going to Florida district 6950. And if anyone from that district happens to read this please email me if you wish to know more about the knew student from South Korea. P.S. If you don’t mind please help her out. 만니감사합니다 하나 (many thanks Hannah).

Also if there are any other questions pertaining to my experience in 대한민국 (Republic of South Korea).

Holly Bishop
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Clermont, Florida
School: Lake Minneola High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Indaiatuba-Voltura

Holly - Brazil

Holly’s Bio

Hello! I’m Holly Bishop, from Clermont, Florida, and I’ll be spending my Junior Year in Brazil. I would like to start by saying it is doubtful that I have had a larger abundance of excitement, anxiety, hopefulness, and curiousity swelling in me ever before. I currently attend Lake Minneola High, and live with my two sisters, two parents, two dogs, and a snake. My older sister, Nicole, was an exchange student in Spain last year, and really inspired me to follow in her world-traveling footsteps. At her going-away party, everyone asked me “Is this something you’d like to do?”, and the answer was always “I don’t know… Maybe..” but when she left, and she started taking pictures, telling about her friends, and could rant in Spanish, I thought “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and now I can’t even rationalize or remember why I or someone else wouldn’t want to do it. It is amazing to me the opportunity, I and all the other exchange students, have to be able to leave everything we love and dislike about our home country behind, and put ourselves in the shoes of someone across the globe, for an entire year. Sure, I’ll miss swimming for my school’s swim team, being class president, being in my school’s Interact, being in my mom’s Girl Scout troop, babysitting for my neighbors, spending time with my sisters and parents, hanging out with my American friends, worrying about American boys, and playing on my school’s soccer team, but to think, in a couple months, I’ll be able to do some of those things and many others in BRAZIL sounds extraordinary. I know that some days won’t be as great as others, but I also know that the people I meet, and plans I make are going to positively shape me, and I can hardly wait to be molded. I want to learn to dance, and speak fluent Portuguese, and absorb Brazilian culture, and find out what I’m missing, and so my phrase going into this, and for ever challenge here on out is “Deixe A Aventura Começar” Let the Adventure Begin.

Holly’s Journals

September 11, 2013

And this is how it starts, one day you have an insane idea to leave everything you know behind to go to a place you’ve never been where people speak a language you don’t know and stay there for one year. And you fill out an application, and you nerve your way through an interview, and you meet other people with the same crazy idea and you spend two weekends with them, and you learn what you can, and study the language, and contact your new families, and say goodbye to your current one, and then it happens… you board a plane, you try to sleep but you can’t, your palms sweat for hours, and you step off, and with that first breath you think it might not be that different but then the second one, when the voices of scrambling people speaking rapidly in gibberish starts to enter your ears and you think what the heck am I doing, you realize how different it is, how insane you are, and how exciting and freeing and freaking aw esome and essential this is, and then you realize the person behind you actually wants to get off the plane too so you have to take your first step and then your third and fourth and then you better run to find space on the shuttle to check in to customs and find your bags. For a while, it is really scary. All the signs spelled with English letters in the wrong order aren’t taking you where you want to, and you can’t find your bag because you don’t know where to look and God knows you can’t carry them so you have to find a cart and then try to navigate around and try remember the words for “excuse me”, “sorry”, and “thank you” even though you studied them and showed off to your friends a million times and felt really cool, but now you think everything is wrong and you just want to find your family. And so you go through customs, and people smile at you, and then when you realize a whole group of people are saying yo ur name in a really cute accent while holding a banner that has your flag and your new country’s flag and your name and you know, you just know, from all of that combined that it’s going to be worth it.

I have been in Brasil for 16 full days now but it totally does not feel like that. It feels like I have lived here before and just woke up again. There are so many things you can say to describe what being on exchange is like or what going to a new country is like and each of these descriptions are in their own way pretty accurate but they never can sum it up completely. It is essentially impossible to describe the life of an exchange student in words to make it 4D for all you who are not experiencing it but like all exchange students write in their blogs, I will try (Mostly because RYE Florida would kill me if I didn’t and also because I know it will be worth it later and also being I am sick and can’t really do anything this week so I might as well). However, if you know me at all you, you know that I talk a lot and don’t write short messages so if you are running out of time or patience, I included a few key points via a bulleted list at the bottom and al so pictures.

Anyway, one of the best ways I have heard the life of an exchange student described as was being born again. Being born again and being an exchange student are similar because in both situations, you learn how to speak again, you relearn the alphabet, what words to say, how to be polite, how to walk right, how to dress, you meet your family and all its members, you have your first day of school, etc. It is totally accurate to describe those things and a lot of the time it feels that way especially when you can only speak a few words and point and make noises like “ahhh!” to get your point across, and also people tell you and your parents how cute you are when you speak and that they are impressed with how well you do so. Another way that similarly captures these things is to say being an exchange student is like being in a coma, and when you wake up you only remember some things (the things that are the same in your host country as they were in your home country). You just have to go off what you know so you can relearn the things you don’t. Also people give you a break if you do something wrong because you kind of have an excuse even though you still get mad at yourself when you mess up or don’t know something. Despite all this not-knowing and re-learning, being an exchange student is basically THECOOLESTTHINGYOUWILLEVEREXPERIENCEOHMYGOSHWHYWOULDANYONENOTLIKEITOREVENTRYTHISIDONOTUNDERSTAND.

When I arrived in Brasil, I was greeted by all three of my host families, and after getting everything settled at the airport, we drove over to a restaurant where I had my first Brazilian food and I ate a lot even though I was not hungry which I later realized would happen often. I had coxinha and Guarana and at a popular restaurant/grocery store called Frango Assado. I also sampled everyone else’s food and some candy. One of my host dad’s offered me this brown “banana” candy that my host sister warned I wouldn’t like but I tried it anyway since I like bananas but she was right and it was awful. My first host family really likes that candy though and they had bought a bag, and now every day they pull out the bag and jokingly offer me one. I have come to find that no matter how bad a moment is, better moments will soon follow. So as bad as the candy was, it was worth it because now it is an inside joke with my families and it is nice to have insid e jokes, it is something that can bring us closer and that we can bond over, even if it is nasty candy.

The next day, I mostly slept through and did not wake up until lunch which is eaten around 1:30pm with my host brothers Felipe (13) and Renan (8), and prepared by my mother, Susana. Here in Brazil, school starts at 7 or 7:30am for every grade, depending on which school you go to and ends around 1 so that the students can go home to eat lunch with their families but there is also an option to stay at school to eat which I have not done yet. My mom, Susana, makes the most delicious meals so I try not to miss them. Usually, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and always includes rice and beans. Having rice and beans on the table is like having salt and pepper on the table, it is always there and it goes with anything. In addition to rice in beans, there will usually be a meat, most likely chicken, and perhaps another dish or leftovers from previous nights. For example, today for lunch we had rice, beans, chicken, and a reheated sausage bake dish from the night before. Typically , one will put rice in the center of their plate, cover it with beans and bean sauce (juice?) and then cut up chicken or the leftovers or whatever else is on the table and eat a little bit of everything in each bite. The knife is always held in the left hand and the fork in the right, and the knife is not only used to cut but to push food onto the fork as well which is way more polite than using your fingers. I still have not perfected my cutting-with-the-knife-in-my-left-hand-method but I am trying at every meal and there has definitely been an improvement since the first time I tried it where I looked up to see all of my host family looking at me and having my host father say, “having troubles, Holly?”. After lunch, I help my host mother clear the table and then I catch up with my host brothers. On my first day, I played FIFA with Felipe (and lost terribly) but I still enjoyed it. Later, I was in my room and my youngest host brother Renan came in with his arms full of Legos, put them on the floor and asked me to play. It was probably the cutest thing he’s done and we played for about an hour with these little spinning tops that you put in a bowl-shaped thing and whichever one spins the longest win. Renan comes in my room pretty much anytime the door is open, hops on my bed, and immediately reaches for my phone or camera to take pictures of himself and also anything else such as the corner of my bed, his sock, or the inside of his mouth. Renan has helped me a lot with my Portuguese because he never stops talking and he likes to point to things and slowly, syllable-by-syllable say what the word for it is in Portuguese. On my first day, I learned the words for things like lunch, bad, flag, win, hiccups, and beard. I know because I keep a little notebook that I take everywhere and each day I write translations for the words I have been taught that day and date the page at the top. It is a great conversation starter and a great w ay for me to prove that I am trying really hard to learn the language. Also it is an object that is guaranteed to get someone to call you adorable when you pull it out to write down words. I only write down words for translations though because I have found that anything I put out in the open is automatically everyone else’s too. Like even my hair. At school, people will pick up my book, or lean over to see what I am writing and then show their friends. Also at school, on my first day, the girl behind me gently tugged my hair from where it was stuck between my back and the chair, then pulled a brush out of her bag and just started brushing it. Then, when she was done brushing it, she put it in a nice braid down my back without me even having to ask her (or give permission). But I have never really minded when people play with my hair, so I smiled at her, laughed to myself, and decided that she and I are going to be good friends.

I arrived to Brazil on Sunday, the 25th of August, but did not start school until Friday, the 30th of August. During the day while my host brothers were at school, I would run errands with my mom and help her around the house or upload pictures, and then when they came home we would eat lunch together. After lunch, I would play with my host brothers, and then about an hour after lunch my mother would call us down to eat a snack which is usually the same selections as breakfast- breads, spreads, and cookies. Then, my host brothers usually can hangout (watch TV or play a game or skateboard or learning new phrases via Google Translate) for a little bit until they have to study and I can sleep or go on my computer. Some days after lunch, we go out. Such as on my third day, when my host mother and brothers and I went on my first trip to the mall and they bought me my first pair of Havaianas, a Brazilian flip flop that literally everyone here has a pair of or 7 pairs. Like even gra ndparents and boys. It is a phenomenon. I love it.

On my second and fourth day, I actually got to watch Brenda, my host sister from my third family, dance. She is just a year younger than me and even though I have only been here for about 2 weeks, she is already my best friend. I went to watch her dance class to see if it is something I might want to do and even though I have never done a competitive dance class like that before, I think I might try it. Brenda is one of the most graceful, beautiful, artistic, humble dancers I have ever seen and I am not biased or anything but I think she is the best in the class. I am glad I will have her as my host sister when I join the class because I will be learning from the best! Brenda speaks practically perfect English but she only uses it when necessary which I love. She has also definitely helped me learn a lot and meet a lot of people. At her dance class, I met two of her best friends, and her friend who is my class at school. Everyone that I have met has been super nice, told me a t least 4 times that they are there for me if I need anything and also I have beautiful hair and eyes. However, I cannot give all the credit to Brenda because a lot of things have been made possible by her super excitable, slightly crazy, incredibly caring mother who claims that she is my real mother. God bless that woman, I love her so much. She messages me about 10 times a day when I am not with her and stops by to take me to dance class with Brenda or to bring me a brigadeiro. In case you don’t know what a brigadeiro is, allow me to describe it in one word for you: HEAVEN. No matter if it is brigadeiro balls, cake, pudding, or even if it was covering asparagus it is still one of the most delicious things I have ever encountered. Basically, it is a chocolate fudgy-caramel type substance that is super common here in Brasil and something that I have eaten in various forms at least once a day since I have been here. Another delicious food that I have had here that we do n’t have in America is Açai. Açai is a yummy berry that is found here in Brasil and also has its own smoothie-type drink named after it. This smoothie-type drink is personalized by order and my first one consisted of bananas in a little bit of banana pudding on top, some dry powder mix that tasted like vanilla cake mix, a layer of slushy açai berry, more banana slices in pudding, another layer of the cake mix powder, another layer of the açai slushy, and then bananas in pudding at the bottom. Now, I’m not exactly sure this is what it consisted of but that’s what it tasted like and it was scrumptious. You can get different flavors and layers but I think every Açai has 2 layers of the açai berry slushy. I had my first one with Brenda and a few of her best friends and the experience was really scary at first because they all talk so fast and about things I haven’t talked about in Portuguese before because the con versations of a group of 3 teenage girls is completely different than the conversations of 8 year old boys or the ones you have with your parents. However, it was a lot less scary when I actually listened to the words that they were saying and realized that I could pick up on a lot of what they were saying and if I didn’t understand the words, body language can tell you a lot about what a person is talking about and also Brenda could translate the things I didn’t understand. But seriously, like I could probably make a pretty good guess about the conversation between people who speak a language I don’t know just based off of body language and tone, it does most of the talking. After the acai, I watched Brenda and her friends dance, and then I went home and got ready for my first day of school the next day. I was not really all that nervous, and I did not have a reason to be. Brenda and I arrived at school at the same time, so she took me to where my class wa s and introduced me to her friend that was in my grade and who I have sat next to every day since. The moment I walked into school, it literally felt like everyone’s eyes were on me and somehow everyone knew who I was. When I sat down in my desk, it was not long before flocks of curious Brazilians teenagers swarmed my desk and kissed me on the cheek, said hello, and attempted some English but spoke Portuguese and tried to translate if I did not understand. I think I became friends with everyone that first day but I can only tell you about 5 names because they are a lot different than American names besides the common ones. Most boys are named Marco or Leonardo, and most girls are named Isabela or Julia, but then everyone else is named long, interestingly spelled names with little lines over the a’s and other accent marks and I cannot even remember one or say one write to give you an example but I have been working on it! As a matter of fact, every day when I sit down at dinner, my family asks me about my day, quizzes me on some words, and then asks for the name of one friend that I remember from the day. My friends at school are all really nice, and totally make going to school worth it. I assumed that learning in another language would be a challenge but it has proved to be both easier and harder than I imagined. Brazilian school is a lot different, and in a lot of ways better, than American school. Every grade starts and ends at the same time, and each grade has its own classroom filled with about 30 students who stay in the same classroom all day and the teacher and subject change around every 45 minutes. The teacher and subject depend on the day and time but I have included a picture of my schedule and also a brief summary of the classes.

Here are the translations and descriptions of my classes:

Geografia = Geography: essentially the same thing as history, and all information I have already learned thanks to AP World History last year and my incredible teacher Mrs. Kovascev. I am so glad I paid attention because for once it is actually paying off.

Fisica= Physics: Don’t even ask me about this one because I thought it was math but he also talks about Voltages and other things and I’m not even sure.

Inglês = English: ENTENDO! ENTENDO! I actually know the majority of what goes on in the class and the teacher is super nice and I feel like a genius. One of my favorite moments so far was when the teacher asked each student to read a sentence of the passage we were looking at in our books and when it got to me I happened to get the longest sentence and I read it at normal speed but when I finished everyone gasped and was so amazed because I read it so fast to them and it was perfect. Like people even started clapping, it was hilarious, and I look forward to Mondays and reading aloud because it is so much fun and really boost my self-esteem.

Filo / Socio = Philosophy and Sociology: The teacher is really animated and I think I would find the class interesting except she talks so fast about things I haven’t learned that I don’t really understand much of what is going on. Except one class she was talking about anarchy but that’s all I know.

Química = Chemistry: Yeah, good luck trying to teach me chemistry in another language and I don’t have a clue what the heck all those number and words mean, and probably wouldn’t in English either.

História = History: I love this class because it is exactly like the AP World History class I took last year, like even the same video clips like of the Chinese guy who stood in front of a tank that was trying to go through the streets. Most of the words I have written in my notebook of translations come from this class since I know the material in English I can translate it into Portuguese. Also, in the class is also when I realized that other languages have different names for countries which really confuses me because if brand names are the same in all language why can’t country names be the names that the country gave them in their country’s language? I don’t know. But that’s the way I think it should be, please tell me you all agree.

Biologia = Biology: Also another class that I have taken before and am grateful to have had a wonderful teacher (shout out to Mr. Jones for being awesome) so that I know all that they are talking about like mitosis and meiosis. Even though I have two different teachers for this class, I have learned the material for both and I am really grateful for that.

Gram. / Red. = Grammar and Reading: Since I am at like 1st grade level of Portuguese, I really have no clue what is going on in this class but the teacher seems interesting.

Matemática = Math: Some days I think I know what is going on, and I have always been pretty good at math so this has been the easiest to pick up but it is really hard to ask questions and see the explanation sometimes because I am not yet fluent in Portuguese. But I think if I took a test, I would score second best in this subject, with both teachers and areas of math.

Espanhol = Spanish: hahhahahahahahaha. No.

Literatura= Literature: I have a really theatrical, beautiful young male teacher who I know for a fact I will love once I figure out what he is talking about but I don’t yet so he’s just really fun to watch. On my first day I had his class and he read a poem and used gestures and it was really entertaining but I only understood some lines about a man being angry and something about the sun on the horizon.

Ed. Física= P.E: I love the way that my school does this. On Thursdays, you go home at 1 to eat lunch with your family and then change into leggings and a t-shirt, and then come back to school at 3:30 and play a sport with just the members of your gender in high school. I have only been once and we played basketball and I actually did really well and was pleased with myself and it was nice to see my classmates in a different atmosphere so I can try to figure them out a little more. Since I don’t understand most of the conversations, I have been relying on body language, tone, clothing, and friends to try to categorize the people at school but not in the least in a judgmental way. I have come to find that in a lot of ways, people act the same and will always have groups no matter where you go, there will always be the reckless popular kids with the cool clothes, cool speech, and cool friends. There will also be the crazed teenage girls who scream over One Directio n and Justin Bieber and swear on their lives they will marry at least one of them one day. And of course, you have the quieter, slightly gothic/punk kids, the nerdy kids, and the ones that just float around between the groups. And then there is me, who is the cute, foreign exchange student who can fit in any group she wants to be in and is automatically accepted, it is super awesome.

Intervalo = Intermission?: Basically it is 20 minutes of free time where you can wonder around campus, eat snacks you brought or buy from the school, talk, listen to music, do whatever, and you just have to be back when your teacher gets to the classroom, although most classes don’t start until 10-20 minutes in because the teachers socialize with the students and also the teachers have to write down the beginning of their lesson on the board and whatever teachers normally do before students arrive but they can’t hear because they share the class with about 15 other teachers. And on the subject of the school food, they have this concession stand where they sell all types of delicious, typical Brazilian foods like cheese bread pocket things, and little mini samples of Nutella and other treats made by Nutella people like chocolate bars with yummy stuff inside. Previously I mentioned that anything you have is also shared by everyone around you and that is true especia lly when it comes to food. Most people bring a package of cookies to school to enjoy themselves and also share with everyone else and it is 100% normal, like why do people not do that more often in America because I totally love being offered 9 different kinds of cookies per break and also bites of various chocolate bars. I should also mention that when you share your food with someone, you don’t break off a piece for them, they just bite right off of it, even if you are a complete stranger. The same goes for drinks, there is no such thing as water falling. I think that is really great except if there were a disease going around, Brasil is not the place to be because I am sure germs spread more quickly here than most places. But Brasil is definitely not dirty because it is like a requirement to take like 2 showers a day, one at night and one before you go anywhere.

So I realized that I kind of went off on a tangent or 6 so I think I should move on…

Afterschool! Afterschool is my favorite time of the day because it is amazing the amount of things you can pack into one day. Also the weekends are awesome because I am always invited to do interesting things. After my first day of school, I came home, ate lunch, and napped a little bit because it is really exhausting even though only about 4/6 hours you are actually learning because a lot of it is the teacher stopping to look at the class and realize 18 of the 30 students are completely passed out and then waking them up, or the schedule saying the class starts at 7:45 but your teacher doesn’t come in until 7:55 and then talks to a few students, writes stuff on the board, pulls up a PowerPoint on the Smart Board and then begins. And I am not exaggerating about the 15/30 students sleeping like even the really excellent students fall asleep and it takes everything in me to not fall asleep when my teacher is talking endlessly in a quiet voice in a language I don’t y et understand, with all the lights out and blinds closed and everyone around me passed out. I won’t lie and say I have not dozed off a few times, but my classmates are kind enough to wake me up if I do and I started bring crayons and Portuguese workbooks to school to keep me busy and awake. Oh look tangent number 302, but it’s just really nice to talk this long without trying to think of the translation for the words I want to say. Anyway, afterschool on my first day, after eating and napping, Brenda invited me to walk with her friends to another friend’s house to hangout. Brenda walks home from school, and so she just walked to my house after school with her best friend, Clara who I cannot wait to be really good friends with because she seems really funny, carefree, and looks like an Egyptian/Brazilian princess and is super beautiful but also doesn’t act super flamboyant about it and I love it. Another one of her friends was with them but his name ha s slipped my mind… Sorry kid, don’t take it personally because I don’t remember most people’s names. We walked to their friend, Thias(I think that is how you spell it)’s house, which was only 5 minutes away where there were about 9 other of their friends, and we talked and shared music and played FIFA (yay! But again I lost terribly), and a few of their friends tried to speak English to me but it was really not worth the trouble but really hilarious for me. Being in Brazil and not having perfected my Portuguese yet has really made me appreciate things like music and video games because even if you don’t speak the same language, you can still bond over them. A great way that I have been able to talk to people and share about myself is to ask to see their iPod and tell them which songs I like and laugh at some of the songs they have but not in a criticizing way because I hate when people criticize other people’s music choices. I also love to hear how they pronounce artists’ names liked the way they say Avril Lavigne or 3oh3 and Skrillex. I also have come to the conclusion that America makes really good music and that’s something we can take pride in. Even people who have no clue what the song is talking about, they can appreciate still. It makes me feel really proud of my country when most of the music on the radio was made in America by American artists and I used to think that America just borrowed from other countries mostly because everything has a “Made in China” sticker but it has been really cool to see what other people borrow from us.

After I came home from hanging out with Brenda, I ate dinner and talked about my day and went on Facebook and Skype a little bit and then went to bed. The next day was one of the best days I have had which is not really fair to say because pretty much every day has been the best day ever.

My biological dad used to respond to the question “How was your day?” with “Best day ever!” slightly sarcastically but mostly to be funny because he’s a pretty funny guy and the responses he gets are pretty great and now it’s part of his legacy, but anyway, I can usually honestly respond that way because I have had the opportunity to do some pretty spectacular things since I have arrived. I am not saying that every moment is great because a lot of moments are really tough and frustrating when you don’t know what is going on or how to respond or if you are doing something right, and sometimes you do things just to try it because you want to be open minded and not miss anything even though you are really, really tired and you miss your family and YOUJUSTWANTTOBEFLUENTALREADY. However, those moments are spread between hours of laughing and learning and meeting incredible people who all just want to be your friend and so overall, life is wonderful. Really, really, really wonderful and I will endlessly thank my biological family, Rotary, my host families and everyone else for making this possible because being here is like living a dream with a few drops of reality now and then but mostly lovely sunsets, smiling faces, and as much chocolate as I want and I adore it.

As I was saying, on one of the best days ever, I went on a walk with my mom on a beautiful bike trail that is 10x more interesting and lovely than any bike trail I have been on before. While walking on it for approximately 1-2 miles I passed:

-3 public fields filled with beautiful trees sprouting various colors of trees and scattered in between were families laughing and eating a picnic together, couples sitting together looking out onto calm water reflecting the gracious sky above, and fathers flying kites with their children

-an area with a dirt path filled with mini hills created for the free use by the public for remote controlled cars

-a more life-size version of the dirt path with larger hills for the free use by the public for dirt bikes

-a couple bridges that cross the calm water that the couples stare captivatingly at

-a skate park where anyone from ages 3-32 (guessing) come to show off their cool tricks on roller skates and skateboards and again, this is free

-about 5 soccer fields with goals without nets that I was hoping to find in Brasil. In America, at places like Waterfront in Clermont and beaches, usually there are volleyball nets set up, but here, those are replaced by soccer goals, and some are grass fields and other are sand fields but either way they are everywhere and I CANNOT wait to play on one of them

-a group of people holding up signs that translated to “Jesus loves you, free hugs!” that covered the width of the bike trail but it was only on the walking section. There are two different paths that run parallel and one is for bikes and the other is for walking and there is also a part of the road that is for bikes (like in America) but I don’t see a lot of people using it. I have been surprised to find the number of people who use bikes and motorcycles as a mode of transport to go to places like work, and the store but I have found that it is not just leather-jacket-wearing, Harley-Davidson-loving men with beards and their tough wives who ride motorcycles but really anyone, like 20 year old women with light blue tank-tops and pink helmets going to the mall. Which brings me to my next observation that I have not seen a single person wearing a helmet while riding a bike but everyone who drives a motorcycle wears a helmet.

Anyway, the point of the walk was to end at the skate park where my host brothers showed off on their skateboards and I got to meet Felix, another exchange student in my area from Germany. He was super nice and we bonded instantly over the people falling on their butts while trying to skateboard and the number of pictures our host parents wanted with every possible combination of people with the two of us in every one. After the skate park, we went to McDonalds (pronounced MAC-donalds here) because at the mall they were having an event (like a spirit night) to benefit cancer patients and there was also a DJ and a couple dance schools. We ate and then afterwards, a samba school preformed and then asked couples to come up to learn a dance. Of course, Felix and I were pushed up their by our host families, but I kind of wanted to go anyway. It should have been super awkward because Felix and I met like 4 hours prior but it was still fun. When we got up there, his club counselor t old the instructor/DJ that we were exchange students, and that we didn’t speak that much Portuguese, so the instructor got a partner to demonstrate the moves for us. It was a little embarrassing because we already stood out enough as the only naturally blonde people as far as I could see, and when we started dancing, we were awful. I mean, I was pretty good, and he was alright, but together was a train wreck but it was nice nonetheless because we laughed the whole time, and actually got it together for about 30 seconds. After the dance lesson, the instructor came up to us and offered for us to come to a class once a week to get better and a few other people came up to meet us and offered to hangout and it was really nice like going to the mall as a celebrity and being asked for your autograph and pictures. About 20 minutes later, we stopped at a churro stand inside the mall (YES A CHURRO STAND IN THE MALL, AKA HEAVEN) where you can buy a churro and then pick either cho colate, caramel, or another sugary substance to go inside and ontop of the churro and then a topping like sprinkles or coconut. I ordered a churro with chocolate and coconut and it was one of the most pleasant-tasting foods I have ever eaten (Florida Mall and Mall of Millennia: PLEASE HAVE ONE OF THESE WHEN I COME BACK, THANK YOU).

On Sunday, September 1st, was my first week anniversary in Brasil and I spent it by doing several more firsts as well as messaging my friends saying “OHMYGOSH ITS BEEN ONE WEEK AND IT FEELS LIKE FOREVER AND I MISS YOU A LOT BUT ALSO I LOVE IT HERE.” To start the day, my family and I went to catholic church, which we were accidently late too so we didn’t get a chair but ended up standing next to the fountain of Holy Water which was really interesting because a little boy kept putting his hands in it as well as my host brother and playing around which was funny because I am not Catholic but I know that you aren’t really supposed to do that. Catholic Church was definitely not the most fun experience I have had since I do not fully understand the religion or the language that it was taught in but it was not that long and everything else that day was super fun. (I am Christian by the way, nondenominational, and used to attend Mosaic Church with the most ene rgetic, relatable pastor, Pastor Renaut, who I miss very much). After church, we went to a super market where Felipe talked from the end of church until we got to the grocery store, the whole time in the grocery store and the majority of the ride home, and I could not imagine what he had to talk about that was so long until my host dad explained that he was describing a movie to my host mother and I was really impressed with her patience because I don’t know many people who would let me ramble on for that long about a movie, yet again I am on nine pages and you are still reading, so thank you for that. I really appreciate it.  I do not really remember much of what I did that afternoon, but at 6pm I went to my first Interact meeting which I did not really enjoy much at first because it was a lot of fast Portuguese about things I did not know about, but then it got better. The Interact Club here has a rule that if it is your first time at a meeting, you have to stand up on a table in the middle of the room and answer questions that your audience has for you, and then to get down, you have to do something special like sing a song or dance. I did not get very many questions since I could only answer the ones I understood or that people could translate but it was really fun and I got down by being taught to samba (which I suck at) and in return, I promised to teach the wobble at the next meeting. After the meeting ended, almost every member of the club wanted to talk to me, and I wanted to talk to them because they were all really friendly people who wanted to be my friend and take me places and I love those kind of people.

At the meeting I also meet Nia, an exchange student who lives very close to me here, from Germany as well. She has offered to go a lot of places with me and I was begged to come back to the Interact meetings but I have not been able to do any of those things due to other obligations like family trips and being sick but I am hoping to go to Portuguese class with Nia, Felix, and Juan (an exchange student from Mexico) next week and also get ice cream, and go to Interact next Sunday.

However the night did not end there because Brazilians party until the sun comes up, not until it goes down, so after the meeting, I went to the cinema to see my first movie in Brazil which was The Internship spoken in English with Portuguese subtitles with my incredibly awesome second family, Marcelo, Tiane, Amanda (20) and Leo (14). Amanda and I instantly bonded over Lana Del Ray (which her mom is going to pay for my ticket to see in concert with them I LOVE HER SO MUCH FOR THAT) and the hotness that is Channing Tatum. Tiane and Amanda are also some of the most fashionable people that I have meet and I am hoping they will take me shopping one day because I want to dress as stylish as they dress.

The next day, after only getting a couple hours of sleep, I had school with my first English class that I fell in love with, and then I got to meet Juan, who I mentioned earlier is an exchange student from Mexico. Juan had just arrived so my host dad who is also the coordinator of exchange students for our district went over to explain some basic rules and to greet him, and then the next night he came over and along with all his host parents to go over all the rules and regulations for his stay in Brazil. I had a similar meeting on my second night with all of my host families, and even though I had heard it all before in Florida, I still enjoyed spending more time with everyone. The last few weeks have consisted of a lot of firsts and the meeting of a lot of different people and the trend holds true for Wednesday where I meet my first host mothers’ parents and had lunch at their house. Every Wednesday, my host mom and brothers eat there and I look forward to Wednesday b ecause her parents were lovely people who called be “linda” = beautiful a lot and also they made scrumptious food, and after lunch my host brothers sat on the couch and I scratched their heads and they both feel asleep. It was super adorable and I loved that day because I really felt like part of the family. Out of all the times spent laughing or smiling or hugging or greeting, my favorite moments are the ones that I feel this way, that no matter how short of a time I have been here or how short of a time I have known these wonderful people, we are all still a family and though in the future we might forget names or faces or places we have been, the feeling of being united will live on forever. In one of the books RYE Florida gave us, The Exchange Student Survival Guide, there is a passage that reads:

“In an old story of a long-running war between two kingdoms, the kings agreed to a peaceful exchange. Each agreed to send his son to live with the family of his enemy, to be cared for in the other kingdom as if he were the son of that family. Each put his faith in the other to care for his son, and committed I return to care for the other’s son as if he were his own. These sons also came to understand and became attached to the new kingdom, making it impossible from then on for either of them to raise war against the other.”

I love this passage so much that I have not forgotten it since I read it and I think about how true it is constantly, especially in those moments when I feel a part of this new kingdom of Brasil. I truly believe that through exchange programs, the impossible and the incredible can occur, from simply learning new languages and to preventing wars and creating peace.

Which speaking of incredible happenings, last weekend, I spent Friday night at my first Brazilian club where I felt like the hottest thing since sliced toast and also really independent and proud of myself because it was the first time I had really been around alcohol but I did not even have a sip let alone get drunk. (Thank you D.A.R.E, role-model parents, fellow students who I have witnessed go from sweet to sorrow because of silly decisions, and Rotary for warning me so much that I wouldn’t even dare because I do not want to go back early!) Larissa, Juan’s host sister, took Juan and me, and we came back to their house around 4 am and then woke back up at 7 am to drive to a bee farm about 2 hours away. You’re probably reading this like, that’s not so bad, when I was a kid I only had two hours of sleep and then walked up hill both ways to school, or whatever story you will subconsciously one-up mine with but we only had 3 hours of sleep, and the car r ide was not one you could sleep in because Brazilians all drive stick shift and fast and are aggressive drivers, also there are a lot of speed bumps on every road. Also, to get to the house where we were staying at for the weekend, you have to drive basically on a dirt road trail that is just wide enough for the car that has enormous hills and lots of roots and natural speed bumps and that did not mean we drove slower, but rather drove faster and I cannot believe I am still alive after being driven on it about 6 times that weekend but I am somehow and I am so grateful. I think the house we stayed at was a family house owned by Larissa’s family and relatives, and it was definitely simple living but nothing that I had not experienced in Girl Scouts. Juan slept most of the day but Larissa and I really bonded after spending hours walking around the area, getting water from a pipe that was pumped by a water wheel (super cool) and then bring the water back in a bucket, and t hen Larissa’s uncle and her father cooked the most impeccable meat I have ever had the pleasure of eating. OHMYGOSH. Here, it is called Churrasco, but I like to refer to it as THE-BEST-MEAT-EVER. Brazilians have special wooden/brick oven/grill things made specifically for churrasco where they make several varieties of meat (carne) and cut up and put on a platter, perhaps sprinkle with lemon juice (with lemons that are actually orange) and every eats for a couple hours and drinks Guarana and Coca-Cola. It’s a beautiful thing. Since I have been here, I have eaten a lot of fresh, non-processed food that is heavenly. Saturday night, Larissa’s mother peeled and cut and fried potatoes to make French fries, somebody made chicken nuggets, somebody else made a yummy omelet thing, another relative made fried sunny side up eggs, somebody else made rice, a different relative made beans, and then we sat down to dinner and ate even more food even though I do not know how any of us were hungry. Oh and then later they pulled out some sort of luscious, milky pudding that you top with fresh syrup and some kind of fruit that resembles a prune. In between meals, we drove around the trail in a jeep without a hood or roof or back that was crafted by Larissa’s dad, it was magical. While standing in the back of it with Larissa and Juan, with their parents in the front, I finally really understood the line in Perks of Being a Wallflower when Charlie says while riding in a pickup truck, ‘In that moment, I swear we were infinite.”, because I felt infinite, also like I was getting a lot of dirt in my hair and mouth, but mostly infinite. Later that evening, I had another infinite moment when Larissa and I put on old records like Elton John and we were theatrically dancing and laughing, following the lead of each other for about an hour, no matter how many strange looks and giggles we received from the members of her family. Unfortunately the next day I woke up pretty sick and the ride home through the rough terrains also known as roads were not super enjoyable. But I did actually get to put on a white suit like the ones you see on discovery channel to watch bees up close and get honey from them and it was a terrifying as it looks and I didn’t last long but it was worth it because fresh honey straight from the comb is magical. Anyway, I went to school on Monday but afterwards my host mother took me to the doctor where I spent all of this month’s allowance on a doctor’s appointment where I found out that I have some sort of tonsil infection and I am not allowed to leave my house or bed until Monday. So that’s why I have time to write this extensive journal entry, also I have never really been good at talking for short amounts of time or writing short essays or even short text messages, you all probably know that already but I will remind you anyway.

However, below I have included a short, bulleted summary of my experiences in Brazil and I am terrific and I love Brazil and I hope you are loving wherever you are too.

-Leggings are a fashion staple for girls and women here. If you don’t have them, it’s basically like not owning a pair of jeans, like what are you doing?

-I am pretty sure I belong here because my family eats ribs with a fork and knife and if I did that with my family they would laugh at me until I picked it up at and bit it.

-The fork is always held in the right hand and the knife in the left and the knife is used to scrape food onto the fork.

-When you are done eating or setting your fork down, place them horizontally across your plate, the fork starting on one side and the knife starting on the other.

-If you don’t like Guarana or own Havaianas, you are not Brazilian.

-Always share your snacks. Always.

-Also the same goes with everything else. What’s mine is yours. What’s yours is mine.

-There is no rule that you cannot snack on something because it is almost dinnertime. Eat whenever you want, as much as you want.

-Teenagers who can’t drive actually enjoy and do walk most places, I love this. (you get your license at 18 and can also legally drink at 18)

-Going clubbing is common teenage/young adult activity and is not regarded as a slutty thing as long as you don’t make it that way.

-When you leave or arrive from/to a group, kiss everyone on the cheek, even if you don’t know them.

-As an exchange student in Brasil, some of the hardest situations you will face will occur at 7 in the morning, in the middle of a class called Química with a teacher at the front making noises that sound similar to words but that you cannot interpret while writing numbers that look familiar in unfamiliar patterns while warning you not to fall asleep. Good luck.

-Also as an exchange student, avoid Tumblr and songs that remind you of people you love and miss unless you want to break down and scare your 8 year old host brother and not be able to explain it unless you type through your tears into google translate and then he will still be freaked out.

-Maids are common among higher class families but are not slaves, basically they are friends who help your mom clean your house and smile at you a lot. I love Rosa, our made, she is always smiling, even when she isn’t you can see it in her eyes and I love those kind of people.

-Brazilians like to talk, learn how to listen and also talk back but in a polite way.

-Carrying around a Portuguese dictionary and notebook for writing down translations automatically makes you adorable and also respectable. End of story.

-Learning a popular song in your host countries language can go a long way. Find one and learn it. For future Brazilians see: Ai Se Te Pego by Michael Telo (Pronounced like Michelle Telo)

-Sometimes being on exchange is really hard, like when you watch Despicable Me 2 in your host language and you don’t know if the minions are speaking that language or gibberish, but it’s okay because other moments are great like when your host father is explaining rules in Portuguese and then turns to translate to you but you say you don’t need it because you understood what he said and the look of admiration and pride spreads across everyone’s face makes all those bad moments okay again.

-The same goes for that jerk class clown the comes to you on your first day and slowly, syllable by syllable, tells you what his name is, and you respond with wow, congratulations in your host language, that expression of shock and realization of ignorance and then retreat is so worth the breath you had to spend on him.

-If you do not like to eat or have people touch your arm or your hair or hug you or kiss you on the cheek, you will not survive in Brasil.

-As an exchange student, say yes to everything that is not going to get you sent home. You will not regret it… most of the time.

New adventures occur every day so until next entry, deixe a aventura começar!

 

January 15, 2014

 Woah. Hold up. They’re already putting the future outbounds for 2014-2015 up on this site? I feel like my exchange is just beginning.

Today marks 144 days/almost 5 months in Brazil, and some days, it feels like I’ve been gone for forever and a year is a lifetime, although other times I feel like I left yesterday and a year is a breath. I would start for apologizing for not blogging in a while, but I’m not that sorry because I’ve been doing things to blog about rather than writing about it. Instead, I’ll start with a “Readers disgression is advised” warning. A. This gets pretty corny and cliché, try not to laugh. B. I wanted to tell Future Exchange Students and well, everyone, who are reading through current exchange students’ blogs (or just my blog) that what we/I have experienced on exchange is not what everyone who goes on exchange, visits, or lives in that country experiences, so take what we/I are/am saying with a grain of salt, and happy reading! We really appreciate you reading our blogs. C. I apologize for my grammar, Microsoft Word keeps reminding me of all my conjunctions, run-on sentences, and the overuse of the words “really cool”.

A Story: Differences. I’ve never really felt like humans are all that different. We all have basic wants and needs, and we’re all just trying to fulfil them. Every country has the moon/sun and night/day, just some more than others and they’re called different things. And I’ve always liked that we have these things that can connect us. However, I’ve also realized that there are a lot of things that make us individually different, and I’m finding that equally as cool. Sure, no matter where you are, you can see the stars at night, but to each of us, that means a different thing. I was watching this really cool video the other day called HitRecord TV (with the beautiful Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and there was a segment of the show that talked about the first time this girl ever saw the stars. She had some eye problem that did not allow her to see at night, so for the first years of her life, she had people describe the stars to her. One of the thin gs she said, that I thought was really interesting, was that everyone described the stars differently to her. I recently returned from a 10 day beach trip with my family where I saw literally the most beautiful places I have seen in my life, and one of them was a place I’ve seen my whole life- the sky. I had been asking to go to the beach at night because we were pretty far away from bright city lights, and the sky was clear and the moon was bright, so the stars looked incredible. We finally went, and I wish I could send the amount of serenity that completely washed over me as I laid down in the wet sand even though I’d already taken a shower, which made my Brazilian family call me louca/crazy, which you have to be OUT OF YOUR MIND if a Brazilian thinks you’re crazy because they’re pretty insane, and thinking back on it- I kind of was. But not because I was laying in the sand, but because of what dawned on me. Stars are an incredible thing. The sky is an incredible thing. The moon is an incredible thing. No matter what language, what country, how many hours ahead/behind other people you are- it’s still true. How cool is it that we all get to see the same thing but also that even if you stand in the same spot, at the same time as someone else, it can mean completely different things. You see, looking at the stars can remind you of all sorts of stories, or phrases, or people, or places and those memories or thoughts that come to mind are different for everyone. For me, it reminded me of all the marvelous people I’ve met in my life(also The Lion King but that’s unrelated), and how I’m so lucky to have my natural set of parents, who are both still alive, and both love me endlessly and both love life and have taught me to do the same. And for my sisters, and for my families here, and for Rotary for getting me here, and for all the friends/family I’ve left behind for a while and all the ones I&rsq uo;ve got to meet here. I just felt (and feel) so immensely blessed and that’s such a great moment to be in.

What I thought about before I came here, but what never really sunk in is that exchange is freaking hard, man. My life was really excellent before I left and then I just left it all behind and came here alone, and a lot of times I feel alone and I am alone and alone gets sometimes lonely even if I’m alone in a crowded room. People don’t always understand me, even in English, and it’s frustrating. I don’t always agree with my friends, or my families, or the rules, or even my previous judgements, and it’s frustrating. I don’t always like the food, and eating peanut butter/ chocolate all the times is not only unhealthy but it gets boring and that’s frustrating. Sometimes I feel so sad, or so sick, or so fat, or so full that I don’t feel like eating or moving or doing anything but crying and that’s frustrating. I don’t always have the right clothes on for the occasion, or know how to paint my nails or do my make-up real pretty like other girls or drag queens or whoever, and my hair is out of whack and that’s frustrating. I don’t always know where I’m going, or what I should be doing, or what I’m doing wrong, or how to do more right and that’s frustrating. I don’t always have motivation and that’s frustrating. Sometimes, I feel like a bad friend for not sending letters or packages even though I think about these people all the time, and they mean so much to me and I can’t express it in words or trinkets and that’s frustrating. I don’t always know if my faith is real, or what I should believe, or if I should do something, or if I shouldn’t, and why this had to happen, and why that couldn’t, and what I like, and what I feel, or who I am, and gosh darnnet, life is so, so frustrating! Yeah, I am surrounded by loving people in a lovely place, and I’ve had the greatest of luck, and I have a smile on my face, but that do esn’t mean I’m always happy. Just because you aren’t living in poverty doesn’t mean you don’t get hungry. I get really sad sometimes, and I just want to burst into tears and I just want to be held by my parents and smiled at by my sisters, and laugh with my friends, for everyone to just be happy.

I also want to scream.

Really loudly.

But then, there’s moments, like the one when I was lying down at the beach, looking at the stars, where everything just seems to make sense; that all these hardships, and breakdowns, and sleepless nights, and absences of an appetite, and lonely moments, and misunderstandings, and feelings of inadequacy are going to end and it’s going to get better, and you had to experience all of those things to be where you are now because you wouldn’t be the same if you hadn’t and My God, life is grand and you are beautiful.

I knew going on an exchange would teach me a new language, a new way of life, tons of cool pictures, and hundreds of new friends, but never did I realize that it would give me the stars.

I am not taking full credit for that line though because I got the idea from the HitRecord TV video.

A Story: Part 2- As we were walking back from the beach, I was kind of walking backwards, still looking at the stars, as we were going through this kind of creepy little path that leads from the beach back to our beach house, and my host brother jokingly dared me to go back alone, and so I did. I did like a cute, little skip walk through the path, and I heard my host family call me crazy, yet again, but I went and sat down in the sand and looked up at the stars. A few minutes later, I realized my host brother, host dad, and host grandpa had come back to make sure I was okay and protect me, I like to think because “this isn’t the United States, those other flashlights of the beach could be thieves and murderers!” They sat there, waiting until I was done, and then I walked over to them and we talked a little then went back, but I just felt like that was one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me and I’ll never forget it. It was so simple, and maybe they were “obligated” or whatever, but it really meant a lot and I wish that feeling of safety and protection on everyone because it was just so nice.

Anyway, a lot more has happened besides this since my last post so I have decided to make a list of other interesting things that I have happened upon or realized. Excuse my generalizations.

-Food: Brazilians think Americans are totally weird for eating eggs with bacon or sausage and that being breakfast and peanut butter on bread with eggs is just unimaginable. Breakfast is usually a bread roll with cheese and ham. When I am at my house here, I usually have cookies and a fruit. Cookies and cake are totally acceptable breakfast items. Parents put them on the table with a bunch of other choices for breakfast. Most of the cookies are like different versions of Oreos/sandwich cookies.

– Food: Açai is an excellent berry, (kind of like a blueberry I think), that grows in the North of Brazil, and is commonly used to make a thick icy/slushy and it is really great, especially with Leite Condensado and Leite em Po (condensed milk and powdered milk?). Just do not eat too much. It does not taste as good coming up as it does going down. Trust me.

 

– And More Food: 99% of the time, you can bet on having one of the following choices for lunch/dinner, and you can almost guarantee it will come with rice & beans and bread: beef stroganoff, boiled/fried chicken with French fries, lasagna, a ratatouille-looking (rolled like a cinnamon bun) pasta with cheese and spaghetti sauce, pão de queijo(delicious, usually warm, bread spheres with cheese inside), a type of seafood, something that has onion on it-a common vegetable choice is raw broccoli that tastes like it has onion on it, pizza, or esfiha( an Arab dish, kind of like a personal pizza but a slightly different taste).

-Beauty Care: Almost every Brazilian girl knows how to take care of their nails, and they have their own kits. I am talking dental looking tools for your cuticles, different lotions for removing/softening them, base gloss-color coat-finishing coat, the whole shebang. If you know me at all, you know that usually my fingernails are short, with chipped, smudged pink paint like 24/7, even if I painted them that day. Also, I am not sure if I am just starting to notice them more or what, but Brazilian woman have super perfect eyebrows. Most of them anyway.

-Brazilian beaches: are freaking beautiful. The ones I have been to have large mountains surrounding them, and were not backed up with city buildings. It is incredible. Also, the water was clear and there were not a lot of jellyfish or stingray.

-Prices: EVERYTHING is expensive here and I am trying to accept it. Even McDonald’s. A Big Mac is around $9 and there is no dollar/super value menu. If you send clothes from the United States to Brazil, the person receiving them in Brazil will have to pay a large amount of money. Either do not tell the mail carriers that you are sending clothes, or just send money. Actually, send money either way. We need money. Plz.

-Gifts: If you are going on exchange, a great idea is to bring brownie/cake/pancake/waffle mix. Your host family/friends will enjoy it (hopefully) and so will you.

-My Birthday in Brazil: I had a SUPERLOVELYEXCELLENTTOTALLYCOOL birthday. So all day, I was sitting in my room, just kind of hanging out. A few of my friends from the USA and Brazil, and my family wished me a happy birthday but I was feeling kind of down because I did not even see a birthday cake in the refrigerator, and not only was it my birthday, but my 3rd month anniversary in Brazil. BUT THEN, my host family asked if I wanted to go out for a birthday dinner, which I was like YES CELEBRATION, so we went to an Arabian restaurant (ironically and I had a cake from a Swedish store, so international I can’t even deal) and we went to a backroom and ALL of my host families, a BUNCH of friends from school and other friends I had met, a few Rotarians were there and I just felt SO loved that I wanted to cry. I am also super grateful for that because it made my birthday super, totally, really fantastic. So thanks.

-Christmas: Brazilians (at least the ones I met) do not open one present Christmas Eve and then wake up early on Christmas to open all their presents, such as the ones from Santa. And I did not see a Portuguese version of T’was the Night Before Christmas but my mom sent it to me in English and an ornament, which was a really good host family gift, they thought it was really cool.

-New Year’s: Brazilian New Year celebrations are 10 times cooler than American New Year celebrations. A. Almost everyone wears white clothes to bring “luck in peace”, and then colored underwear to bring luck in other things, such as red for luck in love, or yellow for luck in wealth/success. (I wore all white because I feel like peace covers everything and I do not like fighting, and also you could see other color underwear under my shorts so I kinda had to wear white underwear. B. In my host family at least, all the married couples had to pay the single people around 2-20 Reais (about $1=2 Reais), and by the end of the night I got 58 Reais. C. We all stood on our right foot from 11:58-12:02 to make sure we were starting the New Year on the “right foot” and I love puns so that was awesome. D. They do not have the kiss at 12:00 thing, so not everyone is posting on Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter on how they wish they had someone to kiss.

 

-Host families: Host families are a HUGE part of your exchange. Be nice, be respectful, be clean, and be home on time- you will thank yourself later. Exchange is so much easier when you feel a part of your host family’s family and you can do this by sharing things with them and having a personality. I am so eternally grateful for my wonderful families so far who have made me feel like a part of their families.

-There are four things that come to mind when I hear the phrase “Most annoying thing in the world”:

1. Clapping your hands really loudly for the sole reason of pestering me, especially at early hours in the morning. 2. Telling me how I have “changed” since I came to Brazil- WELL DUH. That is what humans do. 3. Saying that my Portuguese is excellent “for the amount of time I have been here”. Just cut off the last part and tell me it is excellent. Also feel free to bring up how my accent is really good and that I do the “ão” and say “todo/tudo” correctly, and that my hair is nice. 4. And probably the number one, most annoying thing is translating for me before I have a chance to translate myself or answer the question, assuming I do not understand and asking the person next to me a question intended for me, or saying, “Oh, she doesn’t understand. How cute and dumb is that.” I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR ALMOST FIVE MONTHS I KNOW WHAT “HOW OLD ARE YOU” MEANS, AS A MATTER OF FACT I CAN WRITE AN ESSAY ON THE SUBJECT AND ASK YOU HOW OLD YOU ARE AND TELL YOU ABOUT MY DAY AT SCHOOL AND NAME PARTS OF THE HUMAN BODY AND SEVERAL RANDOM ANIMALS, NEED I SAY MORE?

-Another annoying thing: You would not believe the number of times that I have had to explain that American high school is not like High School Musical. Yes, some people are better known then others, have nicer clothes, and make reckless decisions. Yes, some kids study more than others study and happen to wear glasses and be in band. But no, that does not mean they are going to be shoved in a locker or tossed in a trashcan. As long as you are nice, you can be friends with anyone and it is not a big deal.

-My Nicknames: Brazilians like nicknames and I have a lot. My favorites are Rapunzel and Luna Lovegood because they are my two favorite characters of all time and to resemble them is an honor, but I am also called: Hollywood, Hollister, Gringa, Americana, and a series of jokes have been made about the fact that “Holly” so closely resembles “holy” and my last name is “Bishop” which is like a pope, and also there are certain expressions that contain vulgar words that begin with “holy”.

-Brazilian Teenagers: When Brazilian friends hangout, they sometimes have a “churrasco” which is like a BBQ where they cook delicious strips of meat, and cubed cheese in brick ovens outside and it is always a lot of fun and super yummy. We also go to the mall a lot. With my friend, Nia, I get ice cream almost every week.

-Music: I used to say that I liked all types of music, because I may not prefer a particular song, but I like that that song could mean something really special to someone and make someone feel exactly how they want to feel, like comforted or something. Although this is still true, I have decided to change that to “I believe every type of music in existence should continue to exist, however, I do not particularly like scream-O or bands similar to System of a Down.” I am really glad that someone yelling at you to “F” the world and everything sucks is music to your ears and makes you feel good, but it scares me. A lot. That is only okay for me when Lilly Allen sings it.

-Movies: Something I did not realize before I came was that other countries watch the same movies and TV shows, but normally have them voiced-over in their language or have subtitles. I am FINALLY at the point where I can watch a movie in Portuguese and understand 92% of what is being said. IT’S AWESOME. However, I prefer originally made English movies in English with subtitles, because Jim Carrey lines are sooo much funnier in his voice. However, it is super cool to watch like Disney animated movies in Portuguese because the songs are different. I have a goal to learn all of Tangled, Frozen, and Lion King songs in Portuguese by the end of the year, although it would probably help if I started.

-Portuguese Update: I’M READING A BOOK IN PORUTUGUESE AND I’M UNDERSTANDING. HALLELUJAH. It’s called One Day/Um Dia, it’s also a movie that I enjoy greatly with Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway so that may be why I’m understanding it, but I think it’s best to read your first book in another language that you already know the story because it’s hard.

-Gaining Weight: I have eaten an absurd amount of chocolate and peanut butter because it makes me happy and I read somewhere that you should do more of what makes you happy and that does so I do it. Surprisingly, I have not really gained or lost weight, as of last month, although I have yet to check it recently, but I’m trying not to care if I do. There’s actually a group on Facebook called “I’m Not Fat, I’m An Exchange Student”.

-Mental Bedroom: Before I came to Brazil, my family had just moved to another house in Clermont, and when I came here, after three months, I switched host families, so I’ve only had my “own” bedroom for short stretches of time and they haven’t really become places where at the end of a long day I can just come to and lie down in my bed and take a nap or cry into my pillow and feel better and feel safe because they haven’t and won’t be mine for long enough, well I can do those things but it’s not the same, you know? And, a couple months ago, my real family moved from Florida to South Carolina, so when I go back, I won’t go to a familiar bedroom, we don’t even know what room I’ll be sleeping in so I don’t have a room that I can picture. Instead, I’ve created what I call my “mental bedroom”, and it’s at night, when I see the stars, during rainstorms, and during a really good session of yoga . For some reason, maybe because they are the same wherever, when I look at/do those things, I feel completely rested, and safe, and like everything is okay, like mini sessions of how I felt that night at the beach- it now happens every time I see the stars. I’m actually really proud of myself for creating this because I think everyone needs a bedroom, whether it is physical or mental, everyone needs a safe, comforting place.

-Lovely Things: And because I complained earlier, and believe for every bad thing, there are five times more good things in the world- here are 20 other things that are my favorite (in no particular order although the first is my favorite): 1. My real family. 2. Sunflowers. 3. My best friends: Megan Kimis, Angela McTigue, and Alex Dequevedo. 4. Sunrises/sunsets. 5. Rotary (Specifically, other exchange students, Rotary Club of South Lake, Rotary Club of Indaiatuba-Votura, Rob Overly, and Scott Krogmann) 6. Really nice hugs. 7. Little kids. 8. Letters. 9. Random snapchats/messages/comments of pictures from my friends to tell me they miss me and ask me how I am doing. AKA: Anthony Scott, Tim Senesi, Tyler Duffy, Bailey McTigue, Timmy Russell, Tiffany Astacio, Sana Khalid, Nicolos Disano, Kaitlyn Young, Julie Moore, Aunt Marty, Uncle Scott, and Aunt Debi. I love you guys and I miss you tons. 11. Hammocks. 12. My host families. 13. Chocolate. 13a. Chocolate cake. 13b. Chocolate ch ip cookies. 13c. Double chocolate fudge brownies. 13d. Brigadeiro (A Brazilian chocolate treat) 14. Peanut butter. 15. Paçoca (A Brazilian peanut butter treat) 16. My best friend here: Nia Carstensen. 17. Air conditioning. (most Brazilian houses don’t have it because it’s so expensive and I think that is ridiculous) 18. My Brazilians: Gabi Silveria, Michelle Freitas, Yan Vinicius, Gi Herrera, Lucas Colleoni, Lucas Zolini, Mari Shida, Gimmo Morais, Nicholas Theunissen, Rebecca Soria, Guilia Nicoletti, Larissa Salla, Duda Romero, and Clara Ribeiro. 19. Facebook/Skype/Whatsapp/Megashare.com/Youtube/Tumblr 20. Tangled (Rapunzel), don’t pretend like you didn’t know that was coming.

Until next time- Let the adventure continue/ Deixe a aventura continua.

Hunter Whann
2013-14 Outbound to France
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Amiens

Hunter - France

Hunter’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Hunter Whann. I am currently 15 year old, and I live in Saint Augustine. I’ve moved a lot in my lifetime, from Gainesville to Tampa, Fort Myers to Jacksonville, and now I’m in Saint Augustine. At my current high school, Bartram Trail, I’m a sophomore. I participate in the National Honor Society and I take few AP/Honors classes. However, I’ll be spending my junior year in the incredible country of France!

At school, I have some of the best friends I think I’ve ever had, so I am sad that I’ll be leaving them so soon. I have never been outside of the country, but I’ve seen a lot of the south-eastern United States. I’ve always wanted to travel internationally, so I am excited that my first time will be in a place like France, and for nearly a year. My older sister recently left for college, and my younger brother just started middle school. My parents are sad that 2 of their 3 children will be gone from home, but they are excited about the experience, and have supported me the entire time. Personally, I am thrilled to be going on exchange to France. I have French family, I’m taking French in school, and France will be a terrific cultural experience. Again, I am tremendously excited to be going to France, and I know that I am going to make it the greatest year of my life.

Hunter’s Journals

Bonjour! Ah, so this is my first blog update for exchange. Oh my goodness, I don’t even know where to start! I can’t believe I’ve only been here for just over a month, yet I’ve already done so much. I’ve been all around my host city, Amiens, but I’ve also visited Lille, Arras, Boulogne, Le Touquet, and, of course, Paris. I’ve met some incredible people too! I have a bunch of French friends at my school, and a lot of them speak English well (but I try not to take advantage of that [anymore]). Oh my gosh, the other Rotary exchange students in my district though! Students from all over the world: Canada, fellow ‘Muricans, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Croatia, Turkey, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. I love hanging out with all of them; there is nothing like being with fellow exchange students, it’s so fun! My host fam ily is great too! My host mom, dad, brother, sister, they’re all incredible! So hard to put into words, my exchange so far has been incredible. Best decision of my life, no joke, and I am so grateful to Rotary for choosing me for this adventure!

Now I’ll get into some details. Oh my goodness, I love France! The way the cities are build, everything is closer together. I can leave my house and it’s only about a 10 minute walk to get to the center of town, which is where all the shops and restaurants are. If I don’t feel like walking, I can hop onto a bus and proceed to my destination. I like to hang out in the city with friends, namely other exchange students. There’s another American, from Texas, and a Brazilian in Amiens with me. Admittedly, we speak English a lot when we’re together, however(!), we help each other out a lot with the French language. Of us 3, I am the best with it. I studied for a year at school and had a private tutor 8 months before I left, so yeah, I’m pretty good with French already. I’ve translated to my friends’ host parents, and am one of the guys who get looked at when it’s time to speak French when it’s just us “noob ies”. I don’t know, I’ll go into more details about France in later updates, but I absolutely love it here! In my opinion, it’s really something that needs to be experienced first-hand, on exchange.

The French culture isn’t incredibly different as it would be in, say, India, but there are some things that would seem strange to an American. Goodness, I miss hugs. The French barely (if ever) hug! Guys do there little handshakes, “checks”, with their guy friends and do this cheek-kissy thing with their friends that are girls. If you go to hug them, they get super freaked-out. A lot of French teens smoke too, A LOT. And it’s perfectly fine with adults for 14/15-year-olds to smoke right in front of them. French teens can also just go to a bar, sit down, and order a beer. It’s weird seeing it for the first time as an American, but I’ve gotten used to it. And Homesickness? Yup, every exchange student has been there. It’s pretty intense for a while; you have to find something to snap out of it. I got lucky though, I hit my low right before an exchange student party in Arras, and I was cured of my homesickness and was even giv en a new appreciation of my exchange in France.

So yeah, that’s just a peek into my exchange year so far. I’ll have much more to blog about later in my journey for ya’ll back across the pond! This is the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life, and I suggest it to anyone and everyone. The application process may be a pain, but it is so worth it! About a year ago now, Rotary came to my school and gave a presentation on RYE, and I thought it’d be worth a shot, and oh my goodness, was I right! I can’t imagine what I’d be doing right now if I hadn’t gone for it. Until my next update, salut!

November 1, 2013

Salut, here’s another (short) update from yours truly over in Amiens, France. Things are still going well for me, but I’ve been a little tired lately. I’ve been off from school for the past 2 weeks, and I’ve seen all my friends, become more familiar with my city (and a few others), partied a little, etc. It’s now Friday, I have 2 days of vacation left, but no plans, nothing to look forward to.

Regardless, I’m still psyched that I’m in France. One of the things I like here is that I can take a train to anywhere in my district on incredibly short notice. In the U.S., you’d have to get a ride from a parent or something, but here I just take a 10 minute walk to the train station and choose somewhere to go.

I’m still missing my homeland though. It’s been difficult lately with the language. Without school, I don’t have a steady schedule to practice French. And whenever I’m with other exchange students, we all just speak English. It’s been difficult to communicate in French to my host family more recently. It feels weird to say that I have a reason to look forward to school restarting; it’ll get my French back on-track.

For any future exchange students who may be reading this, be prepared. This isn’t a year in your life, this is a life in a year. It’s too much to put into words, let alone written words, but you’ll find out.

December 20, 2013

Hello again! Just re-reading some earlier entries in my RYE blog, I realized it has been a good while since I’ve updated it, which is going to make this hard because SO much has happened (in a good way)!

I’ve just started my Christmas vacations here, and it feels so great, I have such a great 2 weeks planned. This weekend, I’m going to Paris with my new host family (who are great, by the way). I’ll be visiting my host grandparents who live there, and, weather-allowing, be taking a bicycle tour through the city! I’ll be with them for Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day I’ll be with my first host family. Then I’ll have some free time before a New Year’s Party and a going away party for one of my “oldies” (Australian/New Zealanders who’ve exchange from January to January). All that will be great, but I know I’ll be back in school before I know it.

Speaking of school, things are going better there, I’d say. I’m starting to participate more in my classes, and I think my teachers like it. When I get back in 2014, I’ll be (finally) stopping with English classed and starting with classes that focus on the French language, which will be incredibly helpful. I’ve progressed so much already, but I know when I start studying more intensely (and learning to write in French better), I’ll really take off.

Like most (or rather, all) other exchange students, I’ve had spouts of homesickness. Things were hard on Thanksgiving, but I got to skype and talk to my family, which was great. I also got to see all the American food I’m missing here in France. It’s funny, for Thanksgiving lunch, me and Zach (the other American in Amiens) went to McDonald’s, which was the closest thing we could find here to American food. Mais, ça va, I can’t really complain about the French cuisine, it’s just not the same as good ol’ American food.

I have some of the best friends here too. I have plenty of French friends at my school and they’re really fun to hang out with. Every 2 classes there’s a 10 minute break, and my school has an “MDL” (Maison des Lycéens) and we just go there to chill. There’s a TV, a pool table, plenty of seats, board games, cards, and vending machines. Aside from my French friends though, the other exchange students are always incredibly fun to hang out with. Last weekend was a gathering in Arras for a Rotary-sponsored Christmas market where we all sold trinkets from our home countries. It was also the last Rotary weekend for the oldies though, sadly. Knowing I’m about to become an oldie makes me excited and sad at the same, because it marks the near mid-point of my exchange.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. This Christmas will be an especially difficult one, the first one I’m spending away from family. This exchange has already molded and changed me so much; I know that when I get home, I’ll be such a different person than when I left, but a stronger, more independent, smarter person, and better prepared for any challenges that await me later in life. But with that, I bid everyone Merry Christmas, Happy New Year’s, and à la prochaine!

March 23, 2014

Wow, it’s truly been awhile since I’ve updated my RYE blog (sorry about that). Regardless, I have plenty of news to share!

Since my last update, I’ve changed my host family (on my 3rd now), and they’re great! I have 2 host brothers, Viktor and Roman, and 1 host sister, Lucy, and they’re super nice. I really like this host family, and I’m set to change to my 4th (and last) host family in a few weeks. All my host families have been great so far, I can’t see the next one being any less than that. I’ll be living in a little village outside of my host city, Canaples, which may be a bit of change, but I’ll get to see another side of France.

But anyways, I’ve been keeping myself busy over here. I just got back from a week in the south of France with my host family. It was incredible! I saw some larger cities, like Lyon and Avignon, but I also visited many smaller French villages, which was cool. It was interesting to see all the Roman ruins; we definitely don’t have that in Florida. I also saw a few châteaux, French mansions, which are few in number in the north where I live.

I hit a big step in my exchange at the beginning of February though; I met the new exchange students from the land down under. Australian, New Zealander, and South African exchange students arrive and leave in January, while the rest of the world comes and goes in the summer. But yeah, they’re all super cool, and I feel like it will be way too soon that I’ll be saying goodbye them.

When I get on the plane to go back to Florida, I will definitely be happy to be going home. I’ll be going to see my family, my friends, and everything else I’ve been missing for 7 months. But I will be sad to be leaving France at the same time. The culture, the way of life, the language, the people I’ve met; they’ve all had a big impact on me over my exchange. And now I feel torn, part of me wants to stay and live in France and the other wants to go back to Florida, but I wouldn’t ever regret going on exchange, this was the best thing to ever happen to me.

But I’m not alone in this. I always have the other exchange students to talk to, because they’re going through the same thing. All the wonderful people I’ve met and friends I’ve made through Rotary Youth Exchange, it’s unimaginable. I hope that any interested students who may be reading this blog feel encouraged to sign up for RYE, and that any outbounds reading are excited to be doing such an amazing program.

May 4, 2014

Today marks the last day of my 2-week Easter vacation. It’s also my last vacation before the end of school at La Providence. When I go back tomorrow, I’ll only have 19 more days left of class. It’s the strangest feeling knowing my year is coming to an end here in France. In the US, the years come and go, you move up a grade, everyone knows the drill; but it’s so much more than that on exchange. The language I’ve learned, the culture I’ve absorbed, the friends I’ve made, and the things I’ve done here have made this year extraordinary.

I recently moved back in with my first host family, which has been spectacular. It’s a shame though that I never got to meet my fourth host family. The host dad became very sick and they couldn’t take me in. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be back with my first host family. They all make me feel like part of the family, which I really enjoy. And they’ve been kind in allowing me to invite friends over, which has made this vacation a lot better.

If I had to choose the one thing about RYE that I love the most, hands-down, it would be the people I’ve met. Going off of that, the friends I’ve made. Whether they’re French, American, Canadian, Mexican, Brazilian, Australian, Indian, or Turkish, this is one of the greatest sets of friends I’ve ever had. It’s hard for me to describe, I just feel like there aren’t any students like exchange students, and I’m blessed to be one.

The French Rotary is really nice too. They organize Rotary weekends nearly every month, and the destinations are spread out well within the district: Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Amiens, Hazebrouck, Arras, and even one weekend in Paris. That was actually an awesome weekend in Paris because all of the RYE students in France got to together for a few days (650+ exchange students from around the world). My district was in 1 youth hostel with about 5 other districts. So as you can imagine lots of students, lots of languages, lots of cultures.

I really wish I had better writing skills, but this is about all I have in me right now. What I can’t wait for is getting back to the US and telling all my friends and family in person my experiences on exchange. But I mean, this isn’t my last entry, so until next time: bonne continuation!

June 7, 2014

As I’m writing this journal entry, I have a little under a week left here in France, and it (for lack of a better work) sucks. I can remember getting off the plane and finding my way through Charles de Gaulle airport as if it was yesterday. I remember finding my first host family after getting my big suitcase and beginning the 1 and a half car ride to my city of Amiens. When I really stop and think about my exchange, it seems like a lifetime. But just briefly reflecting over it, it passed in the blink of an eye.

I cannot complain though, I know that I have accomplished so much in my year abroad. I’m fluent in another language, I have friends all over the world, and I have grown into cultured, more mature person. My experiences here in France will be invaluable when I go out into the world and start another chapter in my life. When I go back to the United States this Saturday, it’ll be a new beginning for me.

But as for what I’ve been doing lately, I just got back from my bus trip of Europe. With 40-or-so other exchange students, I visited Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Milan, Mont Blanc, and Geneva in a matter of 12 days. It was quite simply the greatest trip of my life (so far), after exchange, of course. Seeing all the different cultures and languages and lifestyles was absolutely incredible. Having never left France beforehand, it was great to finally see more of Europe. And of all the cities I went to, Geneva was my favorite. We took a guided tour of the United Nations office there and then had free time to roam the city. I went down to the lake and it was absolutely beautiful. Seeing the Swiss architecture with the Alps in the background and all the boats on the lake was breathtaking.

That’s all I can think of to say right now, I’ll post some more journals this week when it gets closer to my departure. Maybe then more things will come to my mind about the end of exchange. Until then, à bientôt.

Ian Stark
2013-14 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Büdingen

Ian - Germany

Ian’s Bio

Hello! My name is Ian Stark, and I will be spending the next year in Germany. I am very excited to have this opportunity and I am grateful to the Rotary Organization for making it all possible. I have an older sister who also did a rotary exchange spending a year in Hungary who has told me it was one of the most memorable times of her life. Although this will be my first time to travel to Europe, I have been a host brother to four different people from European countries over the past four years. I am confident that this will be a great experience. I am currently a senior at St. Augustine High School and am involved in several activities, groups, and organizations. I am in an accelerated AICE (Advanced International Certificate Education) program that is affiliated with Cambridge University in the UK. I also serve as president of the AICE advisory board. I am very involved in my high school’s chorus program and have participated in chorus for the last four years. Currently I sing in the Advanced Chamber Choral group, a Show Choir group and have been selected to participate in the Florida all state choral program. Finally, I have participated in a number of musical comedy show productions in various rolls. I serve as president of the choral program as well as president of our high school National Honor Society – in which we organize and participate in community service projects to help others. Athletically, I have participated on our cross-country team for the past four years, and I hope to continue running while overseas – perhaps even do a marathon. With all of my academic obligations and my extracurricular activities I don’t have too much free time. When I do find some, I enjoy hanging out with my friends. I also love to watch movies and listen to music. Right now, I only know of two German movies, and one German band, but I am sure that will change by the time I come back! My father was a physician in the Navy and now he works in private practice. During my early years I lived in a number of states but I am happy to say the last 6 years have been spent here in Florida. From my past exchange brothers and sisters, I have heard how fantastic how fantastic the exchange experience can be and amazing it is to live in another country. Ich freue mich auf diesen Austausch so viel und ich bin sicher, es wird das beste Jahr meines Lebens sein!

Ian’s Journals

September 9, 2013

I have now been in Germany almost exactly a month. Despite this, I still feel like I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing new things each day. While I hope this unique feeling of new discovery continues through my year, I’m hoping my ensuing confusion to new situations will gradually fade. There are such simple aspects of life here that no one ever explains to you.

It’s hard to describe my impression of Germany. Although I’ve been here a month, the middle 2 weeks were spent at our district’s mandatory language camp. It was phenomenal to be able to meet all the other students here from around the world, however I couldn’t exactly use it to decide what I thought of the German culture.

People in Germany seem to be much less open to strangers. After spending 2 weeks with other exchange students (almost all of whom were from South America), it was a very different experience and takes some getting used to. School is extremely hard some days if people don’t want to talk to you, but other days may be really enjoyable. I’ve found the teachers are extremely varied as well. Some have been extremely nice and inviting, while others I think didn’t even notice a new student was in the class. Right now it’s extremely confusing as I don’t have a schedule, so I never know what class I will go to next. It also doesn’t help that each class can be in all different classrooms through the week. What’s more, teachers can simply decide not to show up, in which case, class is canceled. Altogether it’s a truly unique experience.

I imagine the quality of an exchange frequently depends on the quality of your relationship with people you meet. Even though I’ve been in school for a week, it seems to take much longer to feel like you belong here. I’m hoping as time goes on, I’ll meet more people and be able to feel involved in the student life here.

My time here has definitely been hard, but it has also had its moments of real enjoyment. Of course, this is precisely what Rotary said it would be during the first few months. Therefore I can only surmise that over time the hard parts will become easier and the fun parts will be even more common.

October 18, 2013

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here two months already. It’s much easier now that I actually know people and understand how the school works and everything. School is still quite an experience as I can’t understand everything, however my German is slowly improving and I’m sure eventually I’ll be able to join in the discussions and be even more involved.

It’s funny, everyone said that I’m going to miss so many things about Florida, be it the weather, my family, the beach, or the people. However, for the most part, I’m getting along fine and haven’t had the huge homesickness for those things everyone said to expect. No one said anything about the food though. Others may feel sad because they haven’t seen their parents. I feel sad because my family can’t send fried chicken through the mail (yet). I have literally found myself fantasizing about all the things I’ll eat when I come back. As it turns out, explaining fried butter to Germans is quite difficult. Not even McDonald’s can satisfy me. Just an example, the small drink size here is 300 ml. The small in America is 700 ml. That’s bigger than the large here. Plus America gives you free refills. I have yet to find a restaurant that even gives free refills for water.

That’s not to say the food here is bad by any means. Actually I must say I’ve developed an affinity for Turkish food. I can’t pronounce half the things on the menu, but that certainly doesn’t diminish the taste. In addition to that, the German food itself is delicious. Obviously Schnitzel is becoming a favorite of mine, though it is rare I get to have it because my family doesn’t eat meat very often. I suppose I should be thankful as it’s probably kept me from gaining 15 pounds, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming of fried food. Also, just an observation of eating habits, in my family the main meal is lunch. As in, that’s when the whole family sits down together and talks and whatnot. Dinner is actually quite unorganized, and often simply involves just each person getting something to eat on his or her own. I don’t know if that’s a German thing or a European thing or just a my-family thing, but I thought it was interesting.

My entire stay here has been full of little observations such as that. It’s like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, “The funniest thing about Europe is the little differences.” I’ve never left my country before, so every day I see little differences that everyone here sees as normal. Before coming here, I had never seen a small, standalone butcher shop or bakery. All I’d seen was Publix or Panera and such. Certainly those places exist in America, but here, you don’t even have to try to find them. Those little differences all add up and really are what make up an exchange.

I have no idea what the rest of this year will bring, however I know that I will do my best to make sure I have the greatest time possible. Obviously priority number one is learning German, but I know in another month or two, I’ll be able to speak easily with people. I won’t be fluent, but enough to have a full conversation. My biggest goal for this year is to eat a massive meal at Waldgeist. My second biggest goal is to be near fluent in three languages when I return. “Three languages?” you ask. Yes, as it so happens, more than two-thirds of the exchange students on my district are from South America, and seeing as I had four years of Spanish, it would seem a waste to not better it. Obviously German takes priority, however in the latter half of my year, I hope to learn some Spanish as well. I know it will be difficult, but hey, why not? As long as I stay positive here and try everything Germany has to offer, I know I will have a good time with anything I do.

Isaiah Beaton
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Bradenton, Florida
School: Manatee High School
Sponsor: District 6960, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Brasilia Norte

Isaiah - Brazil

Isaiah’s Bio

Olá! I’m Isaiah and I’m can’t wait to spend the next year in Brazil! Im 17 now but I’ll be 18 when I leave. I go to school in a town in Florida on the east coast and is a typical tourist destination. I spend most my time with friends or at school. I also try to be active at my school: I’m part of the Ballroom Dance Club, am active in a social justice service and learning club (PeaceJam) and the Technology Students Association (TSA), am a member of the National Honor Society and an associate member of National Science Honor Society. PeaceJam was founded by me and a couple friends. Last year we picked 1000lbs. of local organic produce for the local Food Bank and helped raise awareness of human trafficking issues. In TSA, I’m currently the State Vice-President for Florida and have held multiple Chapter positions at school. In 2010, I competed at the National TSA Conference and won 2nd place in Problem Solving – a competition in which you have to solve a problem with limited supplies and time. As part of the Ballroom Dance Club, I’ve competed and performed for my school and community. With both my parents I have traveled to many places. My mom has taken me to Cuba and we try to go once a year. We’ve also traveled to Spain, visiting Madrid and Barcelona. With my Dad I’ve visited the family cabin in Canada and taken trips to radio conferences in places like Portland, Oregon and Urbana, Illinois. I’ve been to our nation’s Capitol and have camped in many parts of Florida. Most trips have been a week to 10 days but I love to travel and experience new things. An important part of my life is participating in a local community-run radio station started by my dad. I often help out at the radio stations after school. I see my Dad on every other weekend and Wednesdays. He also runs a venue where music, movies and speakers are featured. From this exchange I hope to gain a new language and a new perspective. I’ve always loved the idea of immersion in a new culture. I also hope to grow personally and develop who I am more. I know going won’t be easy but I hope to become more flexible and diversify my understanding of the world. I want to experience a new way of thinking or behaving. During this trip I hope to gain some idea of what I want to do in my life. Possibly study foreign relations or languages. I also want to build friendships with people I can write to and stay in contact with or even come visit. Até logo! Isaiah Beaton

Isaiah’s Journals

I’ve been here in Brasil for a little over a month. I can tell you for sure this is an experience every single student should have. I don’t mean study abroad in college. I mean living with a completely different family in a completely different language in a completely different country. It’s something I will never regret doing. Not only is it a lot of fun but its also very eye opening and you start to see yourself immersing more and more into the culture.

I’m living with a family with four host sister and sometimes the can get a little crazy, but it’s good. I’m always busy doing something with someone. I have a weekly routine:

Monday is surprisingly just school

Tuesday I have school then bad with my younger sisters (we’re learning to play the trumpet)

Wednesday I have school then football (soccer) then church at night.

Thursday school then band

Friday just school but at night we go to the chakara( which is land my host dad owns in the mountains. He built a cabin on it and has chickens and sugar cane)

Saturday we have spiritist church, which is very interesting. This is defiantly one of my new perspectives I’ve gained. My family is very religious and are part of the founding of the church we go to. They don’t call it a church it’s a center. I’m starting to be able to know the beliefs and participate in activities. At home I’m a Unitarian Universalist and honestly it’s as if you took that and people who really believed in Jesus as a person and his teaching, plus the book by Allan kardec. They don’t have a central minister, the talks are done by different people. They seem to be less about god and more about how to raise your child or who was Jesus as a person and how can we follow his teaching. ( they believe he was the ideal human who came to earth to show us what we should be in order to reincarnate to a higher world.) Every Saturday in the morning is church work day as well as workshops. Young mothers come in for classes while they’ ;re kids are in daycare, books are given out, the kids are learning to grow plants, older kids study Allan kardec, we go into the community asking for donations to the poor and we all eat soup together. Then at night they have a small prayer session and everyone breaks into groups. One interesting thing we do is take in peace. It’s 10 min of meditating and we do it once on wed. And twice on Saturday. We think about our week and relax while people stand in front of us and cleanse us by moving their arms in front of us from top to bottom. It’s very relaxing.

Then on Sunday we have family day, we usually go swimming or go downtown to the park. Brasilia does this awesome thing were they close down a Main Street in half the city. It’s closed all day and it’s so that people can ride bikes, longboard and walk. It’s really amazing to have a city of 2 million people do that every week.

I’ll send more updates soon. I love it here in Brasilia!

January 21, 2014

The house cleaner is cleaning my room so im sitting in the living room typing away on my laptop. We don’t have a couch, just 4 tan recliners in front of the TV, two in front for me and my host sister and two behind us for my host parents. Brings an individualistic feeling into the living room that I don’t really like.

Since were at the highest point in Brasilia, which is actually just outside Brasilia, its relatively cold here and the wood floor isn’t helping any. I’m in shorts but I’m wearing socks and I’m sneezing into a hanky. I might get another one and tie it around my neck.

>From being alone, away from your parents and in the hands of other parents, you realize how much your parents have taught you. Its like the practical application of everything they ever said that you’ve been hearing for the last 18 years. Thanks guys.

I’m going out for crepes for my host sisters birthday tonight and I can hear her singing in the shower. She sings a lot of different stuff but its mostly American popular music. I was in an interesting conversation about Cuba with a host uncle, I guess that’s what I call him. It ended up with me being in an awkward place because I said Cuba was probably one of the only places in the world that had really never been Americanized. Brazilians have a lot of pride about Brasil, as they should, and he asked me if I thought Brasil had been Americanized. To an extent it has although brazil has its own huge culture you can see, especially with music American culture has begun to seep in.

I’m not saying them listening to our music is bad, but I do think us not listening to there music is. And by that I mean more than the literal listening to the music. I mean Americans as a whole are much more shut off from the rest of the world. And were also not doing a good job of presenting ourselves to the world either.

Typical American food: My answer “I’m really not sure… Americans have so much food diversity”

Brazilians think “McDonalds”

The biggest ambassador to the world for the united states is McDonalds. That’s an issue. In the U.S were not too fond of our largest corporations, but those are the entities that represent us overseas. I think it would be interesting to see what McDonalds pays employees here.

Anyways,

I miss home, the beach, friends, family. I basically got through the holidays pretending it wasn’t the holidays. And it didn’t really feel like it, my family had a house party but there was not clown, Santa Claus, elf, or pie. It’s obvious that stores are trying to make it more consumer driven, however the gift giving seemed like a very small part of Christmas. It was a very non eventful gift exchange. I was coming out of my room to get something to eat and while we were all standing we exchanged one gift to each person, and that was it. It was the middle of the day and we all just went about our own business. Made me miss home but I’m not sure a non consumerized Christmas was such a bad thing.

Minas Gerias is a huge state about 5 hours away and we spent a week in Divinopolis about 10 hours away. We drove. It took forever, but I slept most the way. Brasil is a beautifully green country. With beautiful landscape that goes on forever. Our highways here shield you from the country. 6 lanes of cars with trees tall on either side and a fence. The largest highway that went through that part of the country was two lanes going over hills, rivers, country side. It was all what we would call in the states backroads. Here the backroads are all dirt roads.

Divinopolis was extremely hot, over 100 F or 40 C. We ate a lot of Acai, which we don’t have in the states. It’s like acai ice cream, but its made of just the berry so more like a smoothie that has the consistency of ice cream and is placed in a bowl. The men just played cards and the women went shopping because the city is a main manufacturer of clothes and the prices are very inexpensive.

The next 3 days after that week were the best. we went to a small city called Santa fe de Minas. No cell phone signal and no internet.

A very small city with just dirt and brick roads. Surrounding the city is a coal factory, eucalyptus trees (burned to make the coal) and soybean fields. Brazil being one of if not the largest producers of soybeans in the world.

Jan. 21

We were in the city for the wedding of one of the sisters in the family. The wedding was very catholic with lots of praying and blessing the couple. It was in the center of the town at one of the two churches.

The city had a river that ran through it.

Before we went to santa fe we spent new years eve/day at a small farm. Its the second time ive been able to ride a horse (both in Brasil) but this time I went on a long ride with my host mom. We went on down the main road until we came to the bottom of a hill with a cross on top. not an unusual sight in Brasil. With my old host dad we scaled one of these hills in Vale de almanecer. Which is a religious community that grew into its own city.

With my host cousins in Santa Fe I made friends fast. It turns out everyone young that I was with was from outside santa Fe. It was just a small town where they had family and they spent there summers there.

It was a small town with one main street, one gas station, and one pizza place.

We spent the first night at the pizzaria playing cards.

Truco, which is probably the most popular card game here, is played with just about half the deck. Although there are many variations. Paulista, Bahiano, Normal, Santa Fe.

Everyone is delt 3 cards and you play in a team of two against another team of two. Some cards are worth more than others. After you go around three times that round is over and you play another. Each player plays a card and the one with the highest card wins the match, and if you win 2 of the three matches in the round you win the round.

Its a fun game and for the first night we spent almost the entire night playing truco and eating pizza.

The next day we spent in the river eating mangos and talking about a chicken that some of my cousins friends and stolen. It later turned out that there were three chickens, the last of which I helped cook on our last night.

The wedding was that night and we danced Foho and ate plenty of food. foho is danced to foho or to sertanejo. Its danced fast or slow and is pretty fun. similar steps as salsa. I picked it up pretty fast and im going out this friday with friends of my host sister and her to dance.

After the wedding we went to a party, which was at a farm within walking distance of the city. It was a roped off area with the back of a car parked off to one side and a dj next to the car. This car had two huge speakers, that had to be held up by posts, sticking out of the tail gate.

It was way two loud but we had a fun time.

The next day we woke up really late and went over the the family churrasco. We ate all the left overs from the wedding.

And that night we went to a friends house, Alexis (boys name in brazil) we played truco, learned how to dance/fight/play capoeira. (just a little) and we cooked the last stolen chicken. It was really late by the time we finished doing all that and we went down to the river to look at the stars.

Its the only time in my life (minus Canada maybe) I’ve ever seen the stars like that. I saw shooting stars and constellations. We could make out some of what we thought might be planets. It was really humbling. we don’t even compare to the stars. We watched the sunrise that morning from the stadium of the city. There was a small little door that we crawled through to get in. It would have been much easier to walk through the gaping hole in the wall on the other side.

I’m back in Brasilia and I start school again tomorrow. It looks like i might not be going though because my host grandma passed away tonight.

I’ve since made good friends with my sisters friends and we’ve had two churrascos in one weekend. We’ve played truco, danced foho and gone out to .50 cent pizza places. The chicken on the pizza comes with cartilage.

Today I spent the day at a massive flea market. Feira de paraguay.

Ive come to think of Brasilia as my home. Not of this house or my old host house as my home but the city as a whole. Because I live a little ways outside the city Ive become accustomed to sleeping at my old house, or at my next host families house. Im used to the bus system, the metro, just walking. I recognize good places to eat. I pass as Brazilian, I usually come across as not brasilia after a decent conversation. The passing Portuguese I have no accent.

I’m really happy with being here and It’s halfway over. I have to decide my return date soon. I have the World Cup to think about. It looks like I may be able to get tickets. To some random game but still…

I miss home, but I love it here. I know this won’t be the last time I take an extended stay in a foreign country. It’s not so foreign anymore. I gave directions the other day and I was spot on.

Izzy Schwartz
2013-14 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Eastside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Kanthaluk

Izzy - Thailand

Izzy’s Bio

Hello all! My name is Jeremy Schwartz, but you can call me Izzy. I am currently a fifteen year-old living in Gainesville, Florida. I attend the I.B. program at Eastside High School — 17th in academics in all of the United States of America. Rock climbing and playing in band are my main extracurricular activities, but I also enjoy writing poetry, exercise of any kind, and listening to lots of music (latin, jazz, funk, hip-hop, and some alternative). I am very personable, as in I have always done well with other people, and my social and conversational skills have always been my strongest assets. The idea of going somewhere else to experience a brave new world has always been a dream of mine. Being around college students who study abroad through UF, I have always heard about how great the international experience can be. Discovering the Florida RYE program has been a life changing event for me. Slipping into my everyday thoughts, my every action seems to be inclined to this program. I am so grateful to have made it this far, for I can already see the effects. The interviews were very stressful, but even in just those interviews I feel I grew as a person, and that’s one thing Florida RYE is guaranteed to do. Being an alternate, I don’t really know what to expect, though that unknown factor has been great for keeping me on my toes. I have researched most, if not all, of the possible countries and their cultures. My primary hope is for a Spanish speaking country, because I feel it would be the most helpful language to know in the U.S.A, and I find Spanish culture to be very intriguing and I looooooooove Latin music of all types. Though I am not keeping my head in the sand and sticking with just Spanish, I must keep an open mind, especially as an alternate. No matter where I go, I’m sure it will be the time of my life. Until then, ¡Adios!

Izzy’s Journals

August 13, 2013

Hi, so I believe this to be my first journal, so hello there. I have now been in Thailand for about 2 and a half days. And I have learned so much already. If I were to characterize what defined my first day in Thailand, it would be doorways. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense, I really mean doorways. Naturally, Thai people aren’t that tall, and naturally– I am 6 feet and 1 inch. This combination leads to banging my head into many doorways. Despite having low ceilings and doorways, Thai people are extremely welcoming and very nice, which makes up for my resentment of their entryways. Although Thai people are very nice, they really enjoy their cultural customs, so be careful not to cross certain lines (especially with the older generations) or conversations may become silently awkward. To avoid such awkward silences, remember to: not touch anyone’s head, don’t step over people, don’t point your feet at people when you cross your legs, and always bow first to the older person. Also, the people that I have met detest pacing, which is something I habitually do whenever I need to think. So just hold in all that potential energy for another time, and sit your butt down. Another thing that I feel is in need of discussion; Thai bathrooms. Most toilets are not flush toilets, but they look very similar (in Thai peoples houses, not at public areas such as gas stations, those look like large holes in a concrete slab). No toilet paper, just a bucket of water, and a spray hose, which is really not that bad. One last thing, remember to speak slowly at first, or Thai people will think your fluent and then begin to speak very rapidly, and if your like most exchange students, you probably can’t understand rapid dialects of Thai.

This was Izzy Schwartz, keep it real, rotarians.

September 29, 2013

Hello all! I have been in Thailand now for…. I think about 45 days. So yes, I apologize how far spaced apart my journal entries are… but it’s quite hard to build one’s energy up. Not that I am sad, or lazy; I just always feel tired. And from what I have been told by my fellow FL exchange students– this is a universal effect. But never mind about that such and so! I am in another country, and that fact still occasionally blows my mind.

Rotary will tell you many times that you will stick out– but you never wholly understand that fact until you arrive in your country, and especially once you go to school. You become aware of your every action as a “FOREIGNER”, and everyone knows you as a “FOREIGNER”, and people say that you must be a certain way because you are a “FOREIGNER”, and everything that you say is amazing to them; such as the fact that you listen to “FOREIGNER”. As an extrovert; I generally enjoy the company of people, and their attention. This may affect ones confidence, as it has done mine. Which is great, because I was not the most self-confident young man in FL that I am today. Although do not let it control your brain– it does not make you a superhero, and it does not give you the ability to say whatever you want. Meter your words, and take care in what you do and how you do it. You are in a different country, and that means you may have to act a little differently to conform.

More about my personal experiences! I am going to Trad for RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), where me and many other exchange students in Thailand will go to listen to lectures we mostly won’t understand. But it should be lots of fun, because there are many activities as well! So yeah, that should be a fun one, indeed. Also I have made many great Thai friends– I will actually be going to a friend of mines birthday party tomorrow.

Hope you all enjoyed,

Sincerely, อิทธิ

October 29, 2013

Dear world, this is Jeremy “Izzy” Schwartz– with another recounting of my life as an exchange student.

This last month (my second month) has been peculiar for me– I never noticed myself changing until I remembered that rotary drilled it into our heads we will not be the same person when we come back– for the better. I haven’t been sad– actually I haven’t cried yet, but I have felt sluggish and tired. Friends of mine here have reacted different ways in a few months. The two other exchange students in my town were simply sad– they cried, they didn’t do much, and they didn’t participate in the culture as much as they should have. Which I’m fairly certain is very common; it’s part of what makes the first three or so months so hard. I haven’t reacted quite the same, I guess.

The first month I was bouncing off the walls with happiness– everything seemed amazing to me, the food tasted great, the people were nice, and my Thai was coming along very well. Actually faster than the other exchange students in my entire district; all and all the first month was a breeze. Now I am 15 days away from being in Thailand for three months. Sometimes it feels very surreal– I’ll look about my classroom and find myself being taught about Buddhism by a teacher who shows up 30 minutes late to class everyday. I sometimes think about the words I’m saying and realize their in a different language. Sometimes I think in Thai, sometimes the non-acclimated part of my brain tries to fight it, but I am well on my way to being Thai. But something has been odd lately, it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just odd. I feel slow, my energy is depleted, I’m thinking about things from a different perspective, and the enormity of this exchange is beginning to press upon my temple, threatening to give into complete recognition. Is this maturing? Don’t get me wrong, I feel great. It’s just that I feel different; the knowledge that I will come back as an advanced variation of Izzy is peculiar to me. Great, but peculiar.

But enough about my life changing experiences, let’s talk about the experiences that are changing my life. Last week I went to a beautiful mountain resort by the name of Wang Naam Kiew. It was my host mother’s birthday, so her and all her friends from high school took a one day vacation. I also went to a coffee shop/sheep farm, and had amazing coffee and saw sheep, and also hid in a well– currently my facebook profile picture. I then went to Thailand’s 2nd largest city, Nakhon Ratchasima, and went to an awesome but very confounding market; acting more as a maze.

One note about Thai people; to all those future exchange students going to Thailand. If I Thai person does not an answer something, they will either mumble about nothing in particular, or not answer. This has infuriated me up till this point; when I came to the epiphany that this is their culture, and that I need to adapt– not them. You will always think: “Oh but in America we do that this way” or, “In the States that’s not good, or that is good”. Stop referencing to what you know is normal, come to Thailand with no expectations about culture, and merely absorb what you see. That is the best way to be an exchange student; soak in the culture that surrounds you, instead of trying to change it.

December 5, 2013

 It is the 12th of December, and I have not written a rotary journal in what seems to be far too long.

So let us begin. I just came back from a father day celebration– which is a much bigger deal in Thailand than it is in the United States– not that people in Thailand love their fathers more, but because the main thing that is celebrated on fathers day (wan pa) is the big “daddy”; the king.

The celebration began with a bunch of very cute school children singing traditional Thai folk songs, and occasionally a single child would step out and sing TREMENDOUSLY. I don’t know if this is just because the Thai style of singing is easier expressed by younger people, or just that my little city has 10 child prodigy singers. Either way… the beginning of the celebration was wonderful. Then different groups of young Thai dancers from cities around my district (municipal, not rotary) performed to traditional “Ram Thai” music. This went on for about an hour and a half, which was interesting but not extremely exciting. But what happens next! We all stood up with these candle holders shaped like flowers, lit candles inside them, and then stood up and sang songs praising the king of Thailand. One thing people should know about Thailand– the king is extremely important to them and for Thai people; represents everything that makes Thailand the country it is. Disrespecting the king is actually a felony in Thailand, as in you can serve jail time for simply saying you dislike him. After singing songs to the beloved king (we actually sang the songs toward a massive portrait of the king) we then went out lakeside (man-made lake) and set our candles along the railing. While I was setting my candle down into the railing a massive firework went over my head that shook the ground– not that the firework was actually that great in size, but it was about 200 feet away from the celebration. This proceeded with a great spectacle of fireworks that lasted about 40 minutes, and which was beautiful and reminded me of the Magic Kingdom…

I am coming out of a lazy period of my exchange; where getting the energy to do much more than eat, sleep, run, and play badminton took more energy than was worth it. Now, I was not depressed, sad, frustrated, or anything of the sort. I was just in a weird mood, but I am happy to say I fully moved out of that and I’m now trying to express my creative strokes wherever they might go. As of today I composed music, practiced my trumpet, played badminton, went to festival, and studied some German… just because I can.

Note to all exchange students– the rotarians and rotex members will give you a general idea of what will happen to you whilst abroad, and while you should listen intently to every word they say; do know that being abroad affects every person differently. I have not been homesick; although I do love my family, my friends, my pets, and most everything else in Florida. I do not miss any of those things. It may make me sound like some horrible person, but I feel so well integrated in Thai culture. And although I do have my complaints– I have felt quite at home for the most part. This helps that I have a fabulous host family who are quick to fit needs unsuitable to their own. They have gone out of their way to help me on many occasions, and for that I can’t thank them enough.

Another story to demonstrate the ways and sways of Thai people: Today I ate 4 plates of food, and immediately afterward my mother called me fat…. I am completely used to this, because this is simply what Thai people do. They think that fat is a good word, because fat means well-fed and rich. I am 6’1 and 154 pounds, so fat isn’t really the best word to fit me, as I’m actually trying to gain some weight right now. As I lost 6 pounds since coming to Thailand… So no, the idea that you will always gain weight on exchange is not always true; especially in Southeast Asia.

April 7, 2014

Dear World,

I, Jeremy Isadore Schwartz, am nearing the end of my rotary exchange. In about 2 months I will be leaving my pleasant little town of Kantharalak. Just thought I had to get that out of the way.

These last few months have been most interesting and jovial, a mixture of seeing my sister and family friend in Thailand for a week, my Thai improving, and going on my last big rotary trip with my fellow exchange students. Although it has been a sobering experience, as I’m beginning to realize that soon I will have to actually leave Thailand. In the beginning of my exchange I didn’t think I would have any trouble with the return process of my exchange, but now that it nears, I fear my hands are more tightly wrapped around Thailand than I had imagined. A note to all future exchange students, never underestimate how much you will fall in love with your area, no matter how dirty, impoverished, or just outright peculiar it is. Kantharalak will always be my second home, and now I realize that more than ever.

I returned home from the southern trip just 2 days ago, and all I can say is that I am amazed at the diversity that Thailand has to offer. We spent about 2 weeks traveling around the southern part of Thailand, most of the time was spent island hopping, but we also had several stops in the ocean, directly located over coral reefs. Not only the islands were interesting, but also the people. The dialect and general features of Southern Thai peoples is completely different, with a more Malaysian influence in look and form of speech. The only part that I did not enjoy about the trip was being in Phuket, which was originally very hyped by the Rotarians in my district. Not that Phuket is necessarily a bad city, but it’s kind of the Las Vegas of Thailand, and I don’t think more needs to be said, not that it deducted anything from my experience in the South– I will still remember beautiful beaches and lingering sunburns.

One last thing; don’t underestimate how attached you will be to your fellow exchange students. Exchange students all come together with one thing in common, being a foreigner, and from that commonality you all draw together as family quite quickly. As much as I have fallen in love with Thailand, I think the hardest part of my exchange will be leaving my foreign friends; although I will miss my Thai friends as well, there is something special about the relationship between a bunch of kids who all went through the same experience, at the same time, in the same general area of a country.

Sincerely,

Izzy/Ihteet(Thai for power)/KowPoad(Thai for corn)

Jay Rhoden
2013-14 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Wroclaw

Jay - Poland

Jay’s Bio

Cześć! My name is Jay Rhoden I am 17 years old, and I am going to Poland for a year! I come from a large family of six kids; I have three brothers and two sisters. My family is very close I see each of my siblings just about every day. I am a senior at Pedro Menendez High School. I spend a lot of time doing school work and working my job. I work at a restaurant called Salt Water Cowboys; it’s a little restaurant on the Matanzas River. I love my job and the people I work with. My favorite thing to do is to travel. I have been on over six cruises, traveled up the coast countless times and down to the Florida Keys many times. The past three years Mrs. Daphne has come to my school to do the Rotary Presentation and I was always been so intrigued by it. But I wanted to wait until my senior to take the chance and fill out my application. I began my application the day that Mrs. Daphne came to my school. I was expecting to have to do some convincing with my parents, but, to my surprise, they were both very supportive and they knew it was something that I really wanted to do. I am beyond excited for the changes that are going to happen through my year abroad. I am so thankful to District 6970 for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Also, thanks to Costal Rotary for choosing me among others to sponsor and help me throughout my year. I cannot wait to get to Poland! Do wiedzenia!

Jay’s Journals

August 9. 2013

7/09/13- For those of you who are considering exchange… DO IT! I haven’t even left yet, but I know that this will be the most amazing experience of my life. I mean what’s better than hanging out with 79 other crazy kids who are as fearless and goal driven as you? Don’t get me wrong, it is no cake walk, it is a lot of hard work. You first must fill out that long application that just seems to get longer as you fill it out. Then after those great applications you get to prepare for the most intense interviews of your life. Yes, I said interviews, there are more than one. The first interview decides if anyone even wishes to sponsor you for district interviews. This is referred to as the home interview, this is as challenging as the district interview, but still be ready for a lot of questions.

Once interviews are complete, it’s a waiting game. You have about two months before you find out which country Rotary has decided to send you to. But, as soon as you find out that city, be prepared to buy all of the books you possibly can, because you will need them. You will go through your awesome Orientations at the great Lake Yale where you will make the greatest friends you could imagine.

Let me side step into the last few days I have had at home. When you finally receive a departure date you will be the most excited person in your town, but then once it does settle in, you realize “Wow, this is actually happening”. My emotions have been on the longest most energy draining rollercoaster you could possibly imagine. I have gone from “YES! I’m leaving” to “Holy Crap I’m leaving”. I brought myself out of the fear that was holding me back, by constantly reminding myself why I chose this path less traveled, why I wanted to be culturally diverse. I remember that those that I’m leaving will still be there when I return. So as I anxiously await my 14 hour flight to the wonderful city of Wroclaw, Silesia, Poland… I write this to tell you to make the decision I did, stand out from the crowd and become your own unique person.

08/13/13- I have arrived in Poland after a grueling 14 hours of flying, jet lagged doesn’t even begin to explain the feeling I am currently enduring. I started out in wonderful Orlando to fly my way to Charlotte for a connecting flight. The sun was shining and it all looked great, until takeoff. The clouds decided to gather over the airport, bringing nice winds and heavy turbulence. Luckily for me the person I was seated next to, continued to crack jokes throughout the flight, putting me at some sort of ease. Landing was about as great as takeoff was, a shift in the wind almost caused us to do a go-around and have to do that horrible approach all over again. I had a short time once I reached Charlotte to take break from the hustle of airline transportation. My next flight was from Charlotte into Munich, Germany. The plane was much larger so taking off in mild weather did nothing to the plane. The flight was a smooth 8 hours and 50 minutes. My first step onto European ground was amazing, I really enjoyed my short time in Germany until I had to get on the last leg of my journey. Once again the weather was not in my favor and caused a lot of turbulence on my short flight to Wroclaw.

I have finally arrived to the amazing country of Poland, and let’s just say I wouldn’t trade this for anything. I write this as I lounge in my bed with the window open and the cool Polish breeze sweeping over the garden in the back yard. My family is amazing, they are the nicest people, and have already done so much for me. Next week we will say farewell to my host sister Paulina as she makes her journey to the US. I am very excited to be going to Bydgoszcz next week to meet all of the other exchange students for a 10 day long language camp, but for now, Do Widzenia!

September 5th, 2013

Words cannot describe how happy I am with my life at the moment. I am in the beautiful country of Poland and I love it more each day. I’ve been here almost a month now and I have done so many things in such little time. My first week here I toured around the awesome city of Wroclaw and was able to see old town (Known as Rynek). The city is much bigger than I was expecting. But it is very easy to navigate around the city with the public transportation. Later in my first week, my host family took me too a beautiful castle just south of my city. The castle was very large and contained a lot of history due to its age and location in Poland.

My last ten days were spent in Bydgoszcz where my language camp was. It was probably the most fun that I have had in a long time. Let’s just say exchange students are the best people you will ever meet in your life. The people 55 people that I have met are much like my exchange friends from Florida, everyone has a goal to accomplish and they are very ambitious, which I guess you must be to go away from home for a year. We spent the quick ten days, with 4 ½ hours of Polish lessons, followed by an hour and a half of sports. Even with the strenuous schedules, it was amazing. I can now say that I have lifelong friends from Brazil, Mexico, France, USA, Taiwan and Australia!

September 29th, 2013

I just arrived home from the BEST 10 days of my LIFE! On the 20th I left Poland to go on vacation to Spain for a week. We stayed in a city in the South of Spain called Malaga. It was beyond anything you could ever imagine and pictures just won’t do it justice. Everywhere you looked there was crystal blue water. Mountains covered the horizon and the sky was a shade of blue you could only get in Spain. I traveled all over the coast even going to the Island, Gibraltar, which is owned by England, so everything was in English. Which was a very nice break from all of the other languages I had been hearing over the first few days.

When I arrived back in Poland from Spain, a lot of emotions hit, the last time I flew into Wroclaw Airport was almost two months ago. It was my first day in Poland. I recalled all of the emotions, happy and sad, but, very excited. It was my friend Megan’s birthday, so my friend Caroline and I took a train right after I got off of the plain, to go to Bydgoszcz, which, was about an 8 hour train ride, right after my 4 hour plane ride. Needless to say, I was exhausted. The time I spent there was great though. It had been about two weeks since I had seen the exchange students from Bydgoszcz, so I was excited to see my friends again. We went out to a nice dinner on the city and had friends over later on in the night. The next day we went to a diner that sold authentic American food. It actually tasted American too. Everything I’ve I had in Poland that claims to be American, ends up just being fried Polish food.

October 14th, 2013

Well, I just got back from an amazing weekend in Prague. The city is far more beautiful than words can describe. Because the Nazi rule never took much affect over Czechoslovakia, what is now separated, contains a lot of history because it was not destroyed during the war. The old city of Prague stretches far and wide. It is one of the biggest of any Cities historical area. It was very beautiful there and I hope to go back very soon. I think the best part of the trip, was at the point when my host father found out we were lost two hours after leaving Prague. We had been driving in the wrong direction the entire time. So we stopped continuously, only to get more lost than what we already were. We finally talked to a person at a gas station and bought a map. They said “The best way to get back to Poland, is going back to Prague and trying again.” This made me laugh a lot, we had to drive 3 hours back to Prague and then another 4 hours to get to Wroclaw. Although it was frustrating to be lost at 10 pm. I was with my host dad and other exchange students, so we made the best of it. We also got to visit more of the Czech Republic than what we had bargained for!

December 5, 2013

 November is only the beginning of the trying months for an exchange student. With birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s slowly creeping around the corner. I cannot say that November was an easy month for me because that would be a lie. While I may not have shown it on the outside, on the inside I was struggling. But, rather than staying home and consoling myself I made plans to have a thanksgiving party and to go travel for a few days. If I can give a piece of advice to the new exchange students, when you feel homesick or down for any reason, DO NOT STAY AT HOME. Especially do not Skype your family or friends when you feel down, while you may think it will help, all it will do is make you feel worse.

My solution to get over my thoughts about home for thanksgiving, was to make one of my own. All my host parents said is “Whatever you need, we will get it.” So I started planning things out, mind you I almost never cook in Poland or back home, so this was going to be a huge challenge for me. I had to email my mom and get advice because I had no idea that I had to baste the turkey or pluck off the remaining feathers around the legs. Regardless of how unprepared I was, I made one of the best tasting dinners that I have ever had, don’t tell my mom that because she will start making me cook! I fed about ten people and didn’t have any complaints. The turkey was juicy, the mashed potatoes were buttery and the yams were sugary. I invited over the other exchange students in my city and some of our friends from school. It was difficult not being home for this day, thanksgiving is a big holiday for my family. Having a family of eight people that all live in the same city, means everyone comes to my house for thanksgiving, and we are all one big family. Not to mention all of my siblings are married or dating someone and almost all of them have at least two kids, which means my house is regularly full of people for hours on end. While I may be thousands of miles away it felt like I was at home, but not home in the US, home in Poland. Being surrounded by awesome people, I really feel like I belong here.

In November, I also took a trip to a city called Czestochowa, to visit my friend Donnella, who is also an exchange student from Florida. I had some preconceived ideas about the city because of my friends from Poland. Apparently Czestochowa is only known for having the largest church in Poland and that the city has nothing else. Well, I still went with my head held high hoping to make the best out of my time, I mean I had 5 days to spend with one of my best friends. I arrived in the city and was pleasantly surprised. There was much more to the city than what I expected. It’s not nearly as big as Wroclaw, but it has its perks that Wroclaw doesn’t have. It reminds me a lot of my city from back in the US. It’s smaller, but there are a lot of people in the city. While I was there Donnella was planning a Thanksgiving dinner for us and her friends from school. We were up by 7 am that Thursday, even though we didn’t even start cooking until 11. Everything tur ned out perfect, and it wasn’t a problem that the turkey was still cooking when everyone was supposed to be there. Mainly because her friends were a little late. She introduced me to her friends and within an hour we were all pretty good friends and were talking like we had known each other for a while. One of her friends, Basia, was having a start of Hanukkah party with her family and friends, and she decided to invite us to it so that we could experience it. It definitely different from any other religious event I have ever been too. It was very relaxed and inviting. There was a short lecture of current Jewish events with in Poland and Europe. After that we made traditional, and some non-traditional, dradles with our friends. They also made these pancakes made out of shredded carrots, they compared them to potato pancakes. They were very good once you sprinkled a little brown sugar on them! The next day Donnella went with our friend to go get her haircut and I met he r friend Adam in the city to go for a tour. He stressed to me that the main attraction to Czestochowa was the large church called “Jasna Gora”. We went and walked around the church, which could be better described as a fort or a castle. We went to the very top of one of the churches towers, which looked over the entire city. We also went inside of the very crowded church to see what is known as the “Black Madonna”. To enter the room that the Black Madonna is in, you must start out side and walk in on your knees, as a sign of respect and honor. It’s very hard to describe how beautiful the inside of the church really is. It is something that must be seen to truly admire.

The day after I arrived back in Wroclaw, we had our first snow day. I went to school when it was snowing a very small amount. I only knew it was snowing because I saw a few flakes on cars while walking to my tram stop. But, once history class started, I looked out the window to find it was snowing very heavily and the snowflakes were huge. After history was over, me, Guilherme and Lymari (the other exchange students in my city) went outside to see it. None of us are from parts of the world that get to enjoy the beauty of snow. We had to rush back inside for our special Polish class and singing class. Luckily for us we convinced the singing teacher to take us outside for a snowball fight. Within an hour of the snow beginning to fall, everything was covered in snow. It was very exciting and beautiful seeing the city covered in glistening snow. It made me appreciate my cities beauty much more. We went around the city for two hours walking through parks and over bridges to see h ow everything looked in the snow. The only downside to a snowball fight, is when you don’t have gloves and after about five minutes, it feels like your hands are going to fall off, but you continue to play anyways!

It has been almost four months since I started this amazing journey, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I have met so many friends over these past months that I know I will have for the rest of my life. This is a journey that I know I will never forget for the rest of my life and I am eternally grateful to Rotary for allowing me to participate in this amazing life. It truly is a life-time in a year. It hasn’t been a smooth trip the whole way, but, I count my blessings for it not being as difficult as it could have been. Polish is one of the most difficult languages for foreigners to learn, but I am happy with my progress thus far. But don’t take that as me saying I am fluent or near it. I still have a long journey left ahead of me and I am looking to learn as much as possible from this experience. It is very hard to believe that I am almost half way through these 10 months in Europe. Small words of wisdom to the upcoming exchange students, don’t take any of your days of exchange for granted, cherish each one, because it’s only a year and you’ll be sitting in your room trying to sum up just one month of exchange and realize that it is going by much faster than what you ever expected it would.

January 13, 2014

Well a lot has happened in the past few weeks. A mixture of emotions, doesn’t even begin to describe how I have felt this past month. I’ll start with the amazing Rotary weekend I had in my city! All of the exchange students within Poland met in my city, to enjoy an amazing Christmas meeting and celebration.

We began our meeting on Thursday, where the other exchange students in Wroclaw and myself, along with Rotaract, welcomed the inbound students to our beautiful city. It took around four hours to gather all 51 exchange students into a single building. Once gathered we had an amazing opening with pizza and refreshments. We were given most of that day and night to reunite and share stories and amazing experiences that we had while we were apart. To say the least, it was a reunion of epic proportions! We started off Friday with a trip to an old Nazi Cole Mine in the mountains near Wroclaw. It was ran by Nazi soldiers, where they put prisoners to work. It was not known why the Nazis opened this mine, because it didn’t actually produce any products that would be used by the army. After visiting the mines, we took a trip to the castle Ksiaz, which I have written about in my previous journal. Once we left the castle we went for a nice lunch in the village and had a traditional Polish lunch. Rotaract decided to keep us out and take us to a party at a bowling alley. Rotaract paid for all of us to go bowling for 2 hours and then to go back to the Hostel for some more pizza! Saturday morning we were required to be ready by 7:30 am and to report downstairs outside of the Hostel. We were taken on a tour of the city to see the most popular sights around Wroclaw. Our first and most important stop was at Panorama. Panorama is a building in a circular shape that features a live painting, where part of the art piece is painted on a wall and the other part is a real object protruding from the wall. The meeting came to an end on Sunday morning, where many goodbyes were once again due.

The next biggest obstacle for us exchange students to overcome, Christmas. For most cultures, Christmas is a very big family event, if not the biggest. For me, it is especially a large gathering. Coming from a family of six kids, I typically have almost 30 people at my house on Christmas morning. My family in Poland consists of two host parents and one host sister, so it is a big change for me to live with such a small family. In Poland, the Christmas festivities begin Christmas Eve, which is the most celebrated day, unlike in the US. Christmas Eve is the night that people open gifts and have a big dinner together. Poles only eat fish on Christmas Eve, due to it being a heavy Catholic influenced country. Christmas day is for religion and realizing the true meaning of Christmas. I will say that Christmas was not an easy time for me. Being away from home has not affected me much, until this time. Things are just very different and it can be difficult to adjust to some traditions. But from the beginning we were told that it wouldn’t be easy, I just never realized how true that was until now. Still, at this time it was not the worst thing, because I knew to remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a few holidays away from home is nothing to cry over.

I will tell each and every one of you exchange students that the goodbyes do not stop once you leave Florida. Goodbyes will haunt you your entire exchange. I thought I would be done with tear filled goodbyes after I left my family in friends, but I realized it’s just the beginning of many. January 12th I had to tell my best friend that I have had in Poland, goodbye. Because for those of you who don’t know, when you get to your country, you may have an Australian that has been living there for 7 or 8 months. I had to say my hardest goodbye to my Australian friend, and I can tell you for sure, it is worse than saying bye to your family. I knew when I left Florida that I would be back in 10 short months, but I don’t know when I will see my Aussie. Going to the airport at 7 am almost killed me, because I knew what was coming. But luckily for me, it was tear filled laughs, because if there is one thing that me and my Aussie did, it was always laugh in heart wren ching situations.

I am half way through my exchange, and I wish I could go back to my first day here, just to live it all over again. I would never change my decision to be an exchange student. Rotary is the best Organization in the world and words cannot describe how appreciative I am to them. Rotary really is built of the most amazing people you can ever meet!

January 21, 2014

The most difficult times for and exchange students take place at an airport. All of the goodbyes and hellos and getting lost in the Charlotte airport and the Munich airport. The stress and anxiety of being at an airport is indescribable. Whether you’re leaving everything you know, returning to everything you knew or saying goodbye to the amazing people you have encountered on your life changing journey, and airport is where it all begins.

Last week I had to say one of the hardest goodbyes for me, an oldie (Australian exchange students come in January and leave when you are half through your exchange) of mine took her long journey back to Melbourne, Australia. This girl was my best exchange friend and helped me through in difficult situation that I encountered in my first few months in Poland. From learning to by a tram ticket, to ordering my food at Pizza Hut, she helped me every step of the way. Others looked at us like we were crazy and some even were scared to talk to us, because everywhere we went it was like a party! I’ll admit, the first time that I met her I was very intimidated by her. This girl was already speaking fluent Polish and making her way through the city like she had lived there her whole life. I just don’t know where I would be now in Poland without all of her help.

Saying goodbye at the airport made me think of how in 5 short months, I will be making the same journey back home and leaving everything that I grew to know. The wonderful language, culture and amazing food. I couldn’t help but become slightly depressed, but realize that I really need to cherish the next months because they will go by very quickly.

I have had my biggest break through with Polish finally! I have been dreaming and Polish and speaking it on a regular basis with friends and my host family, but it is truly amazing to really realize that you can speak conversationally in another language. The new Australian arrived and her first day at school really tested my language skills. I had to translate things that friends were asking and her responses. But the real test was in my Polish class. My teacher of Polish does not know any English and I was asked to translate her Polish to English for the new student. Without thinking, I was able to translate her polish to the new Aussie and to translate the Aussie’s English into Polish. Since you don’t know my Polish teacher, I will tell you that she speaks very fast and complicated Polish, much like other teachers in Poland. It was a small accomplishment, but it was very fulfilling. Sometimes on exchange you it is just assumed that you know Polish, so you spea k it. But at times you don’t really think about how far you have come until you see exactly how you were in the beginning and compare it to how you are now.

I really feel like I belong in this culture. I don’t forget about my American citizenship, but I feel like a Pole now and let me tell you, to an exchange student, that is the most valuable feeling. Everything feels so natural now and it is so amazing that in 5 months that a person can feel like that. I know now that I am truly an international student and that I now have more than one home!

Once again I must thank Rotary for all of their hard work! These people devote their time and take out time from their friends, family and work, to make sure that we are all comfortable and happy with where we are. I get emails at least once a month by a Rotary member, making sure that everything is still going great and I’m glad that I can make them proud and that they chose ME of all of the applicants to represent our country and to grow as an individual. I mean 5 months after leaving home I have gained all of the confidence in the world and I have finally became the adult that I always wanted to be! Don’t ever take Rotary for granted, because without them you wouldn’t be going on this amazing journey in to the unknown. I mean what other organization takes a bunch of crazy kids and sends them all over the world and in 10 short months, receive the most grown up, respectable adults you could imagine. You are truly amazing Rotary and I thank you so much for choosing me and believing in me!

February 12, 2014

Well it has only been about 2 weeks since my last journal, but so many things have happened in those two weeks, that I think I should really tell my readers about! Well to start it off this past week I spent my time in the Northern region of Italy in a small village called Folgaria. Rotary set up an amazing trip for us exchange students to go skiing in the Italian Alps! To say the least it was my favorite trip that I have taken on exchange so far.

I left my beautiful city of Wroclaw to travel to a friends’ town called Poznan, about three hours away. I stayed at one of my best friends’ house, from Mexico, for two nights, where all we did was feed off each others excitement about a week of skiing in Italy. I mean how many people get to say they have done that! We spent the nights going around and exploring the awesome city of Poznan. To reflect back, I made the decision to get my ski equipment from Wroclaw instead of renting in Italy, now I don’t understand why I made that decision, because that meant I had to carry these huge skis and ski boots, along with my already heavy luggage. Let’s just say I looked like a crazy person getting on and off of the small train doors.

On Friday morning we began our journey to Gorzow Wielkopolski in the North-West part of Poland, where we would meet the participating exchange students to begin our second journey to Italy. Friday morning was a bit of a mess because there were eight of us getting ready to go to the bus station with all of our luggage and ski/ snowboarding equipment. Needless to say we missed the first two buses that we wanted to take. The buses was nice and cozy with every seat filled and people not enjoying the excited group of exchange students headed to Italy. I don’t think we made it better by singing “We are the World” and “Danza Kuduro” for the three hour bus ride, but some did love us and even began to sing along.

We arrived in Gorzow to find a group of Rotarians waiting to take us to their homes for dinner and snacks before our long bus ride. We arrived at about 3 pm and had 5 hours to kill before the overnight journey. My friend Liberato, from Brazil, and I were taken to the same house to relax until meet up time.

To be honest finally getting to Gorzow was the biggest relief of my life! Before the trip there were many problems with bank transfers, contacts and travel. I spent the last month stressing non-stop, because this was a trip I had been preparing for and been excited for since October. It took until three days before my departure for everything to finally go through and my spot on the bus to be secured.

Liberato and I left the Rotarians house at about 7 pm to drive to the travel agency where we would me the other participants. Only 16 exchange students were able to go on the trip, so the travel agency filled the other 24 spots with friends and family. That part made us exchange students nervous because if you have ever been on a trip with us, you know we don’t sleep no matter what time it may be. We are filled with way too much energy and excitement to keep it all in. Luckily for us, the other people were just as crazy as us and we spent most of the ride singing Disco Polo songs. We did however finally tier out around 3 am and all of us fell asleep.

We woke up at our third break of the journey somewhere in Austria. That was our first view of the Alps. Let me tell you it was the most unreal thing I have seen in my entire life. The view was the most amazing thing any of us have ever laid our eyes on. I have seen mountains before, but the Alps are just something that something that you can’t compare anything else to. We continued driving and just kept getting further into the jaw-dropping mountains.

We arrived in Italy after 16 hours of driving and torturous roads that winded up the side of one of the biggest mountains I have ever seen. Normally I’m fine with things like that, but we were in a big tour bus, filled to capacity and not even a foot of road left for any errors in driving.

We all got off the bus and took some time to take in our amazing surroundings. Everywhere that you looked, you could see mountains pushing their way up into the sky. Folgaria is a quiet ski village placed right on the edge of a steep mountain. It is exactly what you would picture a mountain town to be. People walking dogs and children, small restaurants, a million pizza places and small shops on every corner.

The hotel we stayed at was “Hotel Irma” which is situated directly in the middle of the village. It is a very nice hotel with big rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. The first day there, was set aside for people to explore and to obtain their ski equipment. We spent the whole day and night walking around looking at all of the sites and stores around the place. At 6 pm we had to be back at the hotel for our first real Italian dinner! When we walked in to the restaurant, there was a buffet set up for us to start eating. Little did we all know, that was just for an appetizer and we were going to receive three other courses of food. By the end of dinner I felt like someone was going to have to roll me out of the restaurant. But, that didn’t keep us from doing the same thing every night, even when we were aware of the other courses, we continued to pig out on all of the pasta and pizza that our stomachs could possibly hold!

The second day would be our first day of skiing in the Alps. Mind you I have been skiing before (once and only for about 30 minutes). We were asked at the beginning if we had ever been skiing before, even my 30 minutes counted as experience. Little did I know, by saying yes to this, they were going to take me to the advanced slopes and trails. Luckily, I was able to push all of my inhibitions aside and ski down every slope they brought us to. Except for one…. It was the steepest slope at the resort. It started at the top of the mountain and went all the way to the bottom. I made it half way down and then just couldn’t handle it anymore and slid down the rest of the slope on my butt. Even the experienced skiers said that is was very rough for them and they took their time going down it.

The third day of skiing was much better for me. I finally learned how to control my turning and stopping and was able to go down the slopes with no problems and without even take time to think about my imminent death. Saying that, I will tell you there were a few falls, but nothing bad at all, mainly just sliding on my side, but being able to get right up and continue down the mountain. We spent six hours every day on the mountains, taking only a one hour break for lunch and then going and doing it all over again.

I continued to improve throughout the week, even calling on the attention of the pro skiers to comment on how much better I was doing in such a short time. I have never really been the athletic type, but apparently skiing was something I could really do! By the last day, I was able to keep up with all of the people that had been skiing for most of their lives. It was a very proud moment for me when all of my fear left and I just attacked the mountains with all of the confidence in the world.

It was another breathtaking moment for me, arriving in a beautiful country and spending six days skiing in the Italian Alps. I get moments like these where all I can do is just think how lucky I really am to be in this amazing place. I have so many people to thank for making this year possible for me, but so little time left in this place. I knew as soon as January arrived, that exchange would go by in the blink of an eye. In one short month I will be leaving for a three week journey around Europe, then I will be in London for a week, and after that my family will be in Poland to visit me. After all of that I will only have a week left in Poland and the hard goodbyes to all of my amazing friends and family will be here. I look back and see all of the things that I have experienced and just can’t believe that this is all real. In three and a half months I will be flying back home and all of this will be just a memory. I continue to say this, but future exchange students ; don’t take a single day for granted because it will be over all too soon. This will be the best time of your life, I can promise you that! You will become a native of whatever country it is that you may be going to. Never forget who got you here though. Make sure to thank Rotary and your parents, because they are your biggest supporters and they only want the best for you!

Jennifer Roberts
2013-14 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Wesley Chapel, Florida
School: Winegrass Ranch High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Zaragoza

Jennifer - Spain

Jennifer’s Bio

¡Hola! My name is Jennifer and i’m from the sunshine state born and raised here. I currently go to Wiregrass Ranch High School (its not actually a ranch) in a some what small town called Wesley Chapel. Wesley Chapel is just outside of Tampa and I have lived in the area for most of my life. During the exchange I will be entering my 11th grade in school. I have a family of six with my mom, dad, older sister, and two dogs. I’ve been playing soccer since the age of 2 and it has played a major part in my life. I’ve played on my schools soccer team and my club team. Between both teams I played a lot of one person at a time! Soccer is my favorite sport, but Baseball is a close second. I love watching my favorite baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays. They are located about a hour from my house, so I go to as many games as possible or watch them on T.V. In my free time participate in Relay For Life as a team captain which is the American Cancer Society’s main fundraiser, hang out with my friends, go to our local mall, etc. One of the benefits of living in Florida is theres a ton of theme parks and beaches! Disney World and Universal Studios is about a hour from my house, so I can go to them on weekends! Bush gardens though is my favorite theme park to go to with my friends, plus its only about 30 minutes from my house! Most beaches are roughly a hour from my house and its warm enough to go to them at least 9 months out of the years and some times more! In school I’m in its iPad program, student council, and a whole bunch of other clubs. I’m currently taking advance placement classes and honor classes making most of my free time focuses on homework. History is my favorite subject in school, because you learn about what went on in the pasted and what other countries are like. It’s interesting to find out what people my age are like from the other side of the world and what’s happening over there. Next year through the exchange program I can find out just that in Spain! I absolutely love to travel and a few summers ago I was able to travel to eight different countries and Spain was one of them. I was only in Spain for two days and fell in love with it. When I applied for the exchange program I automatically selected Spain as my first choice and I actually got it! Words can’t describe how excited I am to go back to Spain and experience more of it! I’m counting down the days till I get to go back! I heard about the rotary club’s exchange program from my mom’s friend who was hosting a girl from South Korea. I looked more into it and found out that I really wanted to do it. What the Rotary Club does and believes in inspires me. I did everything possible to apply and waited to see if I was going to be picked. It turned out I was one of the lucky students selected for this wonderful opportunity! So as of now I will be sent to the beautiful country of Spain for my exchange! This will by far be the best year of my life learning a new culture, seeing new places, exploring Spain, and making friendship that will last a life time. During my exchange I hope to do all of that plus help my Rotary Club that will be taking me in. I’m so grateful of this wonderful opportunity I’ve been blessed with to go on this exchange. I give all the thanks in the world to the Rotary club for letting me do this. Also, I thank the Rotary club of Wesley Chapel for sponsoring me! Lastly, I thank my friends and family for supporting me on this and letting me go. Overall, I thank all of you! Until then, hasta pronto. (See you soon)

Jennifer’s Journals

October 20, 2013

Day 42:

I wish there was words to completely explain what exchange life is exactly like. Its a mix of emotions from being extremely confused from not knowing the language to being so happy you can’t help, but to smile 24/7 and just stop what you’re doing in the day to look around and go “Holy crap i’m in Spain living my dream.” This has been pretty much my life for the past month I’ve been living in Spain.

I landed in Madrid, Spain on September 9th, which was probably the most confusing day of my life. I had no idea what was happening, because A. it was 7 a.m. and I had been flying for the past 9 hours & B. I had no idea what was being said to me since they were speaking in such rapid Spanish. At this point I realized how difficult this was going to be in the beginning, but it made me excited for the day when I can actually understand what they are saying and have a conversation. The first week in Spain though, was a complete blur with everything going on around you…….aka culture shock. Spain has a lot of things similar to America, but still very different. I’m lucky that I have such a wonderful host family that has helped me a lot and got me through my culture shock. Before you go on exchange Rotary tells you about different things that will happen like culture shock, but you really don’t know what it is until it hits you full force. Other then all the culture shock, my first week was so much fun! Getting to explore my town of Zaragoza, meeting my new family, tasting new foods, and experiencing a new culture its all so exciting! In that first week when I first got to see my city of Zaragoza I fell in love with it almost instantly. It has so much history in it and it is so beautiful. It is home to old streets, many churches, bull fighting arena, tons of wind, a professional soccer team (Real Zaragoza), and a ancient Cathedral that is beautiful! Zaragoza is the perfect mix of ancient architecture and modern architecture. Some of the buildings are so wonderful that I catch myself starring at them when I’m on my way to school every day.

I live outside of Zaragoza in a small town called Garrapinillos that is about 20 minutes by car to Zaragoza. Its along the country side of Zaragoza, so I get to see lots of wide open fields and smaller town life. In Garrapinillos they have a few shops, bakeries, a old church, and fields. The best part of the bakeries is that the bread is super cheap here since they eat so much of it, so you can get two fresh baked loafs of bread for one Euro! It will in the long run make me gain a few pounds, but what do I care I’m in Spain! In February I will be switching host families to a family that lives in the city of Zaragoza, so it will be nice to see the difference of living in a big city compared to the outskirts of it.

The school I go to is a public school in the middle of downtown Zaragoza for kids that range from about 6 years old to 18 years old. Its a very old building with no AC or a heater and let me tell you this Florida girl has been very chilly here, since in October- March it get very cold here. Heres a tip for anyone planning on going on exchange: bring lots of sweaters, skip the short sleeve shirts! My host family and friends thinks its very funny how cold I am and all they say is “wait for December when it gets even colder!” Anyways, I love going to school in the city, since after school or during the break in school I can walk around the city look in shops or bakeries (there is a lot of bakeries that have amazing smells coming from them). I’ve gotten pretty use to riding the bus everywhere so its very convenient to take the bus when you want to go somewhere.

So far in my first month I have been lucky enough to do the following: Go to Barcelona for a long weekend, go to a famous theme park, go to a Barcelona beach, visit Madrid, go hiking up a mountain, try amazing new food, gain a few pounds, meet lots of people, go shopping at the biggest mall in all of Europe, go to a week long Fiesta called Fiestas del Pilar in Zaragoza (very famous), go to my first bull fight, and best of all be apart of my new family here in Spain. My host family is amazing and treat me as their long lost daughter. My host brother, who is 12, treats me as if I’m his actual sister and not some guest living in the same house. Its awesome! The people I have met, teens and adults, have been the nicest people I have ever met! They are incredibly nice to me and trying to make me feel at homeEverything I have experienced has been amazing! My favorite thing to do here is tell Spaniards that there is two alligators that live in the pond behind my house and getting to see their face in complete shock and ask me “how are you not dead?! Don’t they attack and kill people?!” Its great!!! Barcelona by far has the prettiest beaches I have ever seen! Thats a big thing coming from a Florida girl who has seen a lot of beaches! Furthermore, Fiesta del Pilars is a huge celebration that celebrates the Virgin Mary and the cathedral that is located in Zaragoza. For a week straight they have huge concerts, ceremonies, and different activities. In that week span Zaragoza does not sleep. People are constantly dancing, eating, and having fun! During that week I went to so many concerts, including very famous Spanish singers! The concerts happen outside the cathedral in the Plaza de Pilar and a few thousand people come to every concert. When I wasn’t at a concert I was exploring different food booths/ craft stand looking at everything! It was so much fun getting to see all the different Spanish stuff. During Pilars one of the d ays my host dad took me to my first ever bull fight! Its a big thing in Spain and its more of like a ceremony. During the fight they have special things that they do and wear special clothes. It was so cool to see, but I felt bad for the bulls! On the Saturday of Pilars they have a huge ceremony that starts at 7 a.m. and goes to 8 p.m. that night. They build a huge statue made completely out of flowers and everyone dresses up in clothes from the past and takes flowers to the statue to help build it. The statue must be at least 200 feet tall full of flowers! My family got up super early that morning and dressed me up in this old beautiful dress and we went to go walk in the parade that delivers the flowers to the statue. It was so much fun to experience this! By the end of the night I went back to Zaragoza with some of my friends and saw this breath taking statue! It was so beautiful as it was all lighten up! Moments like this make me so glad I made the decision to apply for this wonderful program! This was by far the best decision I have ever made in my life.

I can’t wait for what Spain has in store for me in the future and I’ve never been so excited for it all to happen. I’m so blessed to been able to come to Spain and I don’t have the words to be able to thank Rotary and my family. If you are looking to go on exchange just stop what you are doing and go apply! Its by far the best decision anyone could ever make. The way it changes you for the better and the things you experience just make it worth it. The things i’ve learned in a month are things I would probably never learn or it would take me till i’m 20+ to learn it. Being a exchange student it really that awesome.

March 30, 2014

I can’t believe it’s already been 6 months since I left Florida! The time has past so quickly! I’ve been so busy that I keep on forgetting to update! I’m sorry!!!!!!

However, to keep you in the loop since I last posted, I will start with November! November was a very fun month, because my American friends and I planned a Spanish Thanksgiving feast! Even though it wasn’t on thanksgiving, but the day after (because we had school), it was so much fun! We all made a ton of American styled food for everyone! My host family and their friends all came, my Spanish friends, my fellow American friends, my friends from Australia, and my friend from Finland! The non-Americans got to enjoy their very first Thanksgiving, even with a turkey!!

In December was a ton of fun! I got to experience my very first Spanish Christmas! Christmas eve and day were different from the way I usually celebrate back in America. It was still really cool though. For Christmas Eve we went to my host grandmas house for dinner. She cooked like a 6 course meal with amazing food! We stayed at her house till 3 a.m. then went home to open our Christmas presents! However, my host brother and I fell asleep in the car so we just decided to open our presents in the morning (In Spain most people open their presents on Christmas Eve). Then the next morning we opened up our presents and my host parents got me a Real Madrid Jersey which I almost died, because I love Real Madrid!! After, our entire family came over for a gigantic lunch. It was nice enjoying every ones company and having the feeling of Christmas!

Before our winter break ended, my host family took me on a trip to the Basque Country. We went to the main cities in that region, so I could see how different each part of Spain is! Where I live in Spain is very dry and it looks almost like a desert, but the Basque Country region is very green and has grass! I seriously didn’t see any grass for like 4 months. In Zaragoza there’s lots of trees, but no grass. We went to a ton of different cities and did things like: Went into caves, went to this awesome zoo, went to museums, ate a lot, played in Snow, went to different beaches, etc. The cities we went to were: Cantabria, Santander, Bilbao, and lots of little cities in between! It was amazing and I had so much fun! We got back from Vacation on New Years Eve so we got to celebrate it the normal Spanish way. For people in Spain on New Years Eve everyone must wear red underwear and the color red. For dinner Spanish people have all their family over for dinner and have a huge feast! Then at midnight they turn on the tv for the countdown to midnight. Instead of doing the count down to midnight like in America, in Spain they start at 12 and at every second the clock makes a loud BANG sound and you have to eat a grape. So at the end you have eaten a total of 12 grapes. It’s a very hard task to do! Then after you go out and have fun with your friends!

In February, I switched host families for the very first time! I’ve been very lucky and got two great host families! My new host family is wonderful! In this family I have a Host mom, dad, sister, and brother. My host sister went on exchange to New Jersey and my host brother lives in London to study English. They live directly next door to the Real Zaragoza soccer stadium, so its super cool to live next door to a professional soccer stadium! My family is huge soccer fans, so we go to almost every Real Zaragoza games and watch every FC Barcelona game or Real Madrid game on tv. I love it! All of the trashcans by the stadium are shaped like giant soccer balls, only in Spain Hahaha!! My new house is also super close to my school, so it very easy to get there every day!

Now March! March has been a pretty chill month hanging out with my Spanish friends and with my host family. On a long weekend my first host family took me and the other exchange student in Zaragoza with them to go skiing in France! I’ve previously gone on day trips to France, because I live only 3 ish hours from the border. This time though we went for the whole weekend! On our way to France we stopped at a Village called Alquezar. It was one of the prettiest villages I’ve seen! It was very old, so there was a lot to look at. Then we made our way to France and went Skiing for the day and ate crepes! Let me say you have not lived until you have had a French Crepe! Preferably a nutella crepe! Through out the weekend we stopped in villages and castle to look around, which they were all very pretty!

This is everything I have been up to so far in my amazing experience so far! It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, but its so worth it in the end. I would not trade this experience for the world! From all the people I’ve met and being able to experience Europe makes me never want to leave! It’s going to be hard to get on that plane in July to have to come back to America! At this point I’m trying not to think about July and I’m just looking forward to my last few months her

Until my next post, ¡Hasta Luego!

Jessica Shumway
2013-14 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Crystal River, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The RC of Liège-Sud

Jessica - Taiwan

Jessica’s Bio

Hello! 你好! I’m Jessica Shumway and I’ll be a 2013-2014 outbound exchange student to Taiwan! I’m 16, and live with my parents and younger brother in Crystal River. I love music and art, and meeting new people. Here in Florida, I’m an art student at Lecanto High School and a member of the Drama Club. I’m really outgoing and passionate, and I try to be friendly to everyone I meet. When I got the phone call from Mr. Lobel with my country assignment, I could hardly believe it. Going to Taiwan wasn’t my first choice, but I’m so grateful to be given this opportunity by Rotary. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to learn about the world and experience the things other people have only read about or seen in movies. This exchange seems almost too good to believe; a real a dream come true. Being submersed in a new culture won’t be easy, but it will be unforgettable. I want to give a big thanks to my mom and dad for supporting me no matter what and riding with me on this emotional rollercoaster. I know it’s hard to let me go now, but I’ll be home before you know it! I also can’t thank Rotary enough for helping me down paths I didn’t know I could take, and for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Take care! 慢走!

Jessica’s Journals

Taiwan is…perfect. I’ve been here for about 2 weeks now, and I love it more than anything. My host district, 3460, had a week-long orientation for all 50 of the exchange students here, and it was incredible. Since we were together for so long, we all got to be really close. I’ve made some amazing friends already, maybe even best friends, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store.

It hasn’t all been good and happy though. I had some trouble with my bank account, and I’ve spent the last couple weeks with no money. Hopefully we’ll be fixing that soon, and I won’t have to worry anymore. And I’m starting to catch a bit of a cold. But I’m glad to say that that’s the worst thing that’s happened to far.

The place where I’m staying is a “small” city called Fengyuan, which is actually a part of Taichung, the 3rd biggest city of Taiwan. I haven’t started school yet, but I’m excited to. I’m the only exchange student there this year, so it should be interesting. Hopefully my Chinese improves quickly.

Since I haven’t been here long, I don’t really have much else to say except 我愛台灣!!!

January 13, 2014

Hello again! So, I’m definitely running behind on what were supposed to be “monthly updates” to this journal, so this time you can expect a long one, but things have just been so busy! I’ve been in Taiwan for over 4 months, and by now I feel completely at home here. I’m still struggling a little to learn Chinese–it’s not exactly the easiest language in the world to learn–but I’m able to hold small conversations and get help when I need it. I’m starting to look into colleges and universities here and their scholarship programs. Once I graduate from my high school in America, my plan is to come back here to get my teaching degree and eventually a job as an English teacher. Honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else and being as happy as I’ve been here.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course; there are some hard times, especially during the holiday season that just passed. It was my first year not being with my family for them. It’s really strange to not have celebrated with the traditions I’m used to. In Taiwan, Christmas isn’t really celebrated. Many shops and businesses put up small decorations (lights, poinsettias, and tiny fake trees, mostly), but they’re only there to attract customers. Only a small percentage of the population here are Christian. I had to go to school through the holidays, but at least there are a few weeks of vacation starting next week for the Chinese New Year.

Luckily, too, because that’s when I’ll be switching families for the first time and I’m nervous. I’m really happy with my family now. I feel like I fit in well and I’m getting to know them and really care about them. My mom and dad have been nothing but kind and helpful, even though communicating is hard because they don’t speak English. My grandmother and I share a floor of the house, with both of our bedrooms and a bathroom, and she’s always trying to take care of me and make sure I’m okay. It’s really sweet. My youngest host sister, Albee, is a few years older than me and went on exchange to America awhile back. She’s helped me so much and I’m so grateful for that, because if it wasn’t for her things would have been a lot harder for me. My oldest host sister doesn’t live with the family (she’s married and has kids of her own), but I see her a lot and she’s always really nice as well, even with the l anguage barrier between us. Her kids are still toddlers, but they’re really cute. They call me “Meiguo Aiee” which basically translates to America Auntie. I think it’s really great to live in a family with young kids because, as they learn new words in Chinese, so do I. Also, it gives me an excuse to watch the learning programs on TV that are directed towards 2 year olds but help me a lot (I used to have dignity, but then I became an exchange student).

I’ve only met my second host parents a handful of times, at Rotary meetings, but they seem nice. They speak English too, which will be helpful but I’ll have to try really hard to use Chinese with them and not rely on English. I hear that they have three sons, but I don’t really know them. So yeah, I’m a little nervous about moving families, but it’s all a part of the adventure, right?

When I first started going to school here, I was a little lonely. I didn’t know my classmates or my schoolmates very well and they were all too shy to talk to me. The only friends I had in Taiwan were the exchange students, who I could only see on the weekends, and as much as I love them, I really wanted to get closer to my Taiwanese schoolmates. But now, after attending school for just over three months (the school year for me started about a month into my exchange) for just over three months, my classmates have opened up to me more and I’ve met many students from other classes. Everyone is always so nice and helpful, even if their English isn’t good and my Chinese is still poor. I’ve made some good friends here already, and I know I’ll make more once my language gets better. I find myself looking forward to going to school and seeing them (once I get past the whole “waking up at 6am to bike to school in the cold” thing). A few weeks ago, w e actually took a trip to Taipei. We left, Friday December 20th, and got back that Saturday around 5pm. We saw different art museums (the National Palace Museum and the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art were fascinating) and art colleges (including the best art school in Taiwan) that I was really pumped about getting to see. I was an art student in Florida, and was lucky enough to be placed in the art class at Fengyuan Senior High. We’ve taken class trips to colleges before, but this was the first time going overnight and going as far as Taipei. I feel like the trip brought me a little closer to my classmates and I’m really glad for that.

When Christmas finally rolled around, I got a package from my family in Florida that had everything from homemade fudge from my mom to a shirt my grandmother bought me from France. I even picked out gifts for my host family that my mom sent from Florida. On Christmas day, I brought my laptop to school and Skyped with my family from the school library. It was pretty much the closest I came to celebrating Christmas. I’m not going to lie, I felt more homesick than I ever thought I would during Christmas week. It really hit me then how much I miss my parents, my siblings, my friends, my pets, and parts of America’s culture that I don’t get in Taiwan. Never once though, did I think about going home early. Nor did I reconsider my future plans to come back. If anything, once the week passed and the festivities in the US ended, it just made me want to share my new home with my friends and family even more.

Part of what I want to share so much is the FOOD! It’s easily the most common question I get asked about living here: “How do you like the food?” Honestly? I love it. A lot of the other exchange students here complain about missing their country’s food, but I’m always finding new and strange things to eat here and I can’t find the time to miss American food too much. Sometimes (most of the time) I have absolutely no idea what I’m eating. And the best advice I can give to future Taiwan inbounds is, don’t ask unless you’re really not afraid of the answer. And chances are, even if you ask what something is you won’t understand the answer haha. Just a few weeks ago, my Ba (dad) came in and gave me something that was spicy and unidentifiable. Once I finished eating it and decided that it was good enough for me to not be too freaked out by the possible answer, I asked what it was. My sister told me it was chicken butt and Ba made cl icking noises then waved his hand behind him like a tail. So I’m not actually sure what part of the rear end of a chicken I ate. And that happens A LOT.

When it comes to what you do with your time during your exchange, don’t be afraid to ask for something. Chances are, someone will be willing to give it to you. Just last week, I was talking to the principal of my school. I mentioned to him that I was planning to come back and teach English in Taiwan, and he surprised me by offering to help me. He said that, after the winter break, he would set up a time for me to teach a class at the school. I never thought doing that would even be a possibility, and it’s equal parts terrifying and exciting. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, either. For the most part, people want you to be happy in their country as much as you want to be happy. So even if nothing comes of it, it can’t hurt to ask.

For any future students coming specifically to Taiwan, one thing you should definitely try to do is go to Taipei for New Year’s, to see the firework show at the 101. Depending on your district, it may be difficult to go, but if you can it’s definitely worth it. So, so many RYE students from all over Taiwan meet in a park near the 101 in the afternoon and stay until a couple hours past midnight. I was able to meet a ton of new people and several people who I met on facebook months before exchange started but hadn’t had the chance to see yet. I got to catch up with the people I flew here with, and even saw Erica and Will, two of the other Florida kids here this year. It was easily one of the best nights of my entire exchange. After I got back to my home in Taichung (at 4am), I messaged my mom in Florida and she told me that she found a channel on youtube that live-streamed the Taipei 101 firework show. It was really cool to think that, while we were on opposite s ides of world and celebrating the New Year in very different ways, we were watching the same thing.

When I talk to people in the States about things I’ll do when I get back, it feels a lot like how I felt before my exchange when I talked about Taiwan to people. It feels like it’s so far away and like I have all the time in the world before it happens. But I’m almost halfway through my exchange now, and if that wasn’t weird enough, I’m officially an OLDIE. The time is literally just zooming by and before I know it, I’ll have to say goodbye to this country that I love so much. So, to all of you future outbounds, no matter where you’re going, don’t put off the things you want to or have to do. That goes for before your exchange, during your exchange, and even after your exchange really. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably ignore that because really, August is so far away, right? It’s not like you’re leaving tomorrow, you still have time. Heck, I put off writing my report about Taiwan for Rotary for as long as actually possible (shh, don’t tell Al that). But every day, I wish that I had just spent that little bit of extra time I had doing this or that, because now that I’m here, I can’t do it anymore or change anything. Sorry to be getting all serious here, but this is something that I feel I needed to get out there. Rotary really wasn’t kidding when they said that you’ll have so much more responsibility than you’re used to. Things will go wrong, you won’t plan for some things to happen, and you’ll have to do some quick-thinking and problem solving every day. It’ll be hard, but remember that you were accepted to RYE for a reason. Even if you don’t know that reason, Rotary saw something in you and they believe in you. You can do it. 🙂

April 8, 2014

 好久不見!! Out of the 7 months that I’ve been here, this is my third “monthly” post. As always, I’m super busy but I’m loving almost every second of it! Taiwan has well and truly become my home, and as I navigate my way through the busy streets as well as any local, it’s starting to hit me that I have less than 100 days left before I return to America.

When I thought about going home a month or two ago, all I could think was “No! I’m not ready to leave yet!” And while I still don’t want to have to say goodbye to the people here who have become my life, it’s becoming easier to think of going back to America. I’m going to miss my new friends and family and my life here more than anything, but I feel ready to go back to the friends and family and life that I left behind. As I get closer to my return date, I feel simultaneously excited, relieved, stressed, and sad. I can’t wait to see my family and my friends who have waited for me all this time, but it’s impossible to escape the knowledge that I may never again get to see my friends and family who have been here with me all this time. Every Rebound and Rotex I talked to before I started my exchange told me that this would by far be the hardest part of my year, but nothing they said could have prepared me and nothing I can say will prepare the future students for how it feels to lose one life while going back to an old one that’s completely different than it was when you left it.

I remember thinking that there’s no way that things can change too much in just the 10 months that I’ll be away, but they can, and they will. So far, while I’ve been gone two of my cousins have had babies, one cousin has moved to New York and gotten engaged, one of my oldest friends found out she’s pregnant, my little brother grew up, and my best friend is officially being adopted by my parents. That’s not even including all of the people who I used to be close to who have changed too much or who have stopped talking to me (it sucks, but for some people the saying “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies to you while you’re gone). Many of my friends have also graduated and gone to college this year, or will soon after I get back. Not only do things change, but you miss things too. I missed two births, luckily I’ll be back before my friend’s due date, but I’ll have missed almost her whole pregnancy. My younger brother has gone through puberty; he’ll be all grown up when I get back! My best friend, now sister, has had really hard times and I wasn’t able to be there to help her through it. My grandmother came to America from France for the first time in years, and all I could do was Skype with her. My great-grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s, and won’t remember who I am when I go to visit her anymore. Even my bedroom back home has changed, redecorated by my parents so that my sister and I can comfortably share it now that there are two of us.

I know that all of this sounds pretty bad, right? But never once have I regretted my decision to go abroad this year, and no matter how hard it might be some days, no matter how much I miss Florida or how much I miss, it will always be worth it for the things I have been able to experience. I’m going to go back to America as a much better person than I was before I left. Before I started my exchange, I was shy and I had pretty bad social anxiety. I couldn’t order food or even answer the phone without my heart racing or feeling dizzy, much less do it in Chinese! A part of me thought I would never be able to survive away from my parents and the help I relied so much on from them. But honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go on exchange. By the end of my first month, it was pretty clear that if I don’t learn to start doing things for myself, then I’m going to have a pretty lame year. It’s easy as anything now, to meet someone new a nd have a conversation with them.

One thing that I and I think every exchange student, at least a little, found during our time abroad, was my confidence. I can’t speak for other students in other countries, but for me, after living in a country where my race was the minority, I quickly got pretty used to being the center of attention. In Taiwan, having a different skin color is a perfectly valid reason for someone to blatantly stare at you, and even take pictures of you (it’s rude for them to take pictures without asking you, but they’ll do it anyways. When I catch them trying, I try to turn it into a game and make faces or strike a pose). Also what I’ve noticed here is that their idea of “beauty” is very, very heavily influenced by Western culture and Western media. For me personally, with extra-pale skin, big blue eyes, and blonde hair, there literally has not been one day in the last 7 months where I haven’t been stared at, asked for pictures, complimented by strangers, or even yelled to (I do want to make it clear that the yelling isn’t like in America, where men tend to yell rude, sexist, obscene, or just plain inappropriate things to women. Mostly it’s just people, still typically men, who are walking or driving past when they notice a foreigner and shout “Hello!” to get our attention. It’s harmless enough, though it gets annoying after a few months). I can’t tell you how many pictures there are of me awkwardly standing next to strangers probably floating around online. Anyway, the point I was trying to make here is that it would be really hard not to be more confident after all of this. I hate to admit it, but I think I’m going to miss being the cool foreigner.

As of right now, I have 80 days left, and while I’m ready to see my family again, I’m going to get as much out of my last months here as I can. The way things have gone so far, I’ll probably post one more time here, and probably as I’m preparing to leave. So goodbye for now, or as they say here in Taiwan, 拜拜! 😉

Jessica Walters
2013-14 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Lutz, Florida
School: Steinbrenner High School
Sponsor: District 6890, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Liege-Sud

Jessica - Belgium

Jessica’s Bio

Bonjour! Hallo! My name is Jessica Walters and I am 17 years-old. I’m going to be living abroad next year… in Belgium! I am so incredibly excited to actually be writing this bio in this journal right now! I’ve been dreaming about being a Rotary Youth Exchange student since my sophomore year, and after much work convincing my parents, and filling out that incredibly long application, I can officially declare myself as a RYE Florida 2013-2014 Outbound! I live in Lutz, Florida (right outside of Tampa) with my dad and step-mom. My step-sister just recently moved out. I currently attend Steinbrenner High School, and will be graduating early this year. I’m a big lover of theatre, and the arts in general and I hope to pursue musical theatre in college. My biggest dream is to be able to work with Disney and travel to the different parks around the world, working in the entertainment department and helping guests in different languages. I don’t remember exactly how I found out about exchange. All I know was that something clicked and I started researching programs and such, and found Rotary Youth Exchange, which I automatically knew was perfect for me. I got a “no” from my parents for spending my junior year abroad, so I waited a year, and here we are now! Being an exchange student is honestly the biggest dream I never knew I had. During my year in Belgium, I am really excited about becoming fluent in a new language, as well as teaching others about American culture, and learning about other cultures too. Rotary said that we were supposed to act as “ambassadors” to our country, and representatives of our Rotary clubs and Districts. I plan to focus my exchange around this idea and really show others what it is we Americans are like in reality, not just what the stereotypes may say we are. This adventure won’t be easy, but I know it will be the most rewarding experience of my life thus far. I want to thank everybody who has gotten me here. My parents, Mrs. Michelle Schaefer, Mr. Peter Vaka, EVERYONE with Rotary, Katie and Carolin (the coolest Swiss and German exchange students you’ll ever meet), and all of the people who have put up with me talking about this for over a year. I owe you guys everything and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to be able to travel to Belgium and become a foreign exchange student. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney

Jessica’s Journals

August 18 2013

Pre-exchange post: 8 days left (August 13th, 2013)

Waiting is probably the hardest part. Back in January, I thought the next 8 months of my life would take forever to get through. But now that I’m here, 8 days from my exchange, I realize how short a time that really was. It’s the waiting now that is difficult. Knowing that I have just days left, not months, is mind boggling. It’s these last days, though, that seem to last the longest.

I think of nothing but my exchange. Things I still need to buy for my host families, what shirts I’ll bring with me, how I’ll say goodbye to my family for a year. It’s in these instances that I understand why I wanted to go on exchange in the first place. It’s now that I realize I’m not scared to leave all the I have known behind, and trade it for something new and, well, foreign. I’m not scared of the unknown, I’m ready to live it. I’ve been waiting years for this, and now is not the time to worry about something I know little of. Now is the time to take in all I have learned, and set it not to pages, but to life itself.

I am supposed to leave on August 22nd, next Thursday (it’s August 13th today) with Ella and Savannah, who are also going to Belgium. As of the current moment, none of us have our visas. So you could say we are a bit worried about that. If everything goes as planned, we’ll be flying over to Belgium, Brussels to be exact, together, most likely meeting up in Atlanta.

I haven’t started packing, though I probably should have. Right now I’m cleaning out my room and putting the things I’m not taking to Belgium in boxes, since after my exchange, I’ll be moving out to college. It’s weird sitting in my room now, knowing I literally have days of this left, and once I leave, nothing will be the same. I’ve designed my pins, though I still haven’t made them. I’ll be making about 200 of them, so I really should probably start on that as well.

In these last days here, I’ll be spending my time with friends and family, and in the sun and Florida heat. Everything will be different in Belgium, and though I’m not packed, have my visa, or have my French where I would like it, I’m ready to embark on this journey and start on the adventure of a lifetime.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

September 9, 2013

Well, I made it! I’m finally in Belgium! Well, I’ve actually been in Belgium for over two weeks, but honestly things have been pretty crazy since I arrived, so finding time to write is difficult.

I left August 22nd at 1:15pm from the Tampa International airport and met up with Ella (from Florida) and Jessie (from Ohio). Riding over with them made everything better, even though we weren’t sitting next to each other. The three movies I watched seemed to make the time fly quicker. We arrived on August 23rd in the morning and then had the whole day to get to know our host families and unpack. That was probably the longest, most exciting day of my life. We went into Liege for the first time, and that’s when I fell in love with my city. It’s so beautiful and historical and perfect in everyway. In my short time here, I’ve found the best waffle store in all of Liege, and believe when I tell you, they are fantastic. And speaking of waffles, they are such a Belgian stereotype, that Belgians eat them all day everyday. But the thing is, it’s kind of true. Here, you can get them in little bags and bring them to school as a snack. Waffles are everywhere her e. They even have them in our vending machines at school! The other Belgian stereotypes like their love of fries (frites), beer, and chocolate are also extremely true.

Everything here is amazing and I honestly can’t put it into words how much I love it here. The weather is so cool and nice, and it really feels like fall. Now, being from Florida, the weather now is my winter and I’m freezing a lot of the time, but I really do love it. The past week had a couple of really hot days, like Florida hot, but I think we’re back to regular cool weather as it progressively gets colder towards winter.

School: I actually really like school here. I mean, I don’t understand most of what is going on, but I bring things to entertain myself during the lessons. I try getting the teachers to like me by attempting to translate the worksheets with my dictionary. At least by doing that, I understand at least a little of what we’re doing. The kids here are so nice, too! I was put into 5th grade here, which is like 11th grade back home. My school being an English immersion school turned out to actually be a good thing instead of bad, like I was thinking at first. I wasn’t put in the immersion program of course, since I can already speak English, but most of the students in my class know at least enough to be able to communicate with me. I try to only respond in French, but sometimes in these early stages of learning, it’s hard, so it’s nice to be able to get the point across.

My host family here is so nice and so loving and I couldn’t have been placed with a better first family. There is the mother, Francoise, the father, Richard, and my 13 year-old host brother, Romain. And I can’t forget my host cat, Biscotte. They are all so welcoming and really try helping me learn French as fast as I can. They don’t speak much English themselves, but I think my French has improved so much in so little time mostly because of that. I’m able to understand a lot more than when I first arrived. When I came, I could usually only pick out one word that I knew from each sentence. Now I can usually pick out three or four words that I know, and get the gist of the conversation through that. I cannot wait to see how far my French gets here! I’ll also be taking French courses every Monday and Thursday starting next week with the other exchange students at my school and I’m really excited for how my French will improve!

The exchange students here are the best in world! (besides Florida, of course!) Everyone is so great and so nice and so friendly, and we all try to make sure everyone else is comfortable in their new homes and that everything is going alright. There are almost 300 exchange students in all of Belgium, so it’s honestly hard NOT to run into someone in the city.

Belgium is also so great. It’s so small, so it’s very easy to get to a different city through the trains or buses. I now have my very own bus pass, but I still need to get a pass for the train.

I have gotten homesick. I never thought I would get homesick, or cry while leaving Florida, but it happened and I did. You don’t know how much you’ll miss your family until you’re 5,000 miles away from them. I’ve tried to keep myself busy and go out to do things so it isn’t as hard, and believe me, it has helped! Rotary was right. You’ve got to keep your mind off of Florida and on your host country. Listening to English music has helped too, when my brain’s needed a break from the constant French.

I absolutely love it here and I cannot wait to share more stories with you all!

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him. ~Abraham Lincoln

-Jess

P.S. – If you are a prospective exchange student reading this, please stop, look to the left of your screen, find ‘forms’, click on it, find your district, click on it, and fill it out. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

January 19, 2014

My 5 month anniversary is the 23rd of January. That’s in about 4 days from when I’m writing this. Thinking of how much time has passed, and how much I have done and learned and experienced… It’s honestly probably easier to comprehend astrophysics. I think back on my first days, my first weeks, and see the person who I was. I look in the mirror, and to me, I do see the same person. I’m the same person I was when I came here. I like the same things, I have the same hair color, I speak in the same energetic, Floridian way. Now, though, I see even more of myself. Exchange, to me, doesn’t change who you are. You’ll always be you, no matter what you endure and what life throws your way. To me, exchange is more about bringing you, the REAL you, forward. It’s about helping you understand yourself, and about teaching you who you were all along. It doesn’t give you “new eyes” as some may say. It just gives you a new lense to see thing s through.

Before I left Florida, I’ll be honest. I hated Florida. I hated the sun, the constant heat and humidity, how it took so long to get to the places you wanted to go. I hated the cars and the sun-bleached buildings, and the old town I lived in that probably housed more cows than people. Being here though, and being able to use my new lense, I’ve realized how much I actually love it. I love the sun on my skin. Climbing inside my car and not being able to touch even the steering wheel because it’s so hot. The neighbors singing karaoke and the splashes of kids jumping in the pool. The constant feeling of familiarity, and being able to know how people are thinking, how people are feeling.

When you go on exchange, you lose the things you didn’t know you loved. You lose them, but only for a year. And when you come back, you love them, in turn, through your experiences abroad. You learn to live each day, and understand that not all of them will be filled with sunshine. Some will be cloudy, and some will be dark, and rainy, with thunder and lightning. But the thing is, when those sunny days do arise, when the storm finally ends, and the buildings are bleached-pale and you can’t touch your steering wheel anymore, you realize that these are the days you do everything for. These are the days that remind you what you’ve come here to do and what you’ve come here to accomplish. The beginning of exchange is filled with both kinds of days. The middle, near Christmas, has more than enough of the rainy ones. But once you emerge from the Skype calls back home and the non-eaten Turkey, and the pile of pine needles left on the ground, you come out into sun again. When you switch families, you see a new light. When you start to understand the language more and more, the sun just keeps getting hotter and brighter, and by the time you realize that happiness you’ve lead in this life, it’s time to hop on that plane and fly back to a home that seems more like a dream that a life lived for 17 years.

I have grown up here. I know I have. I see it in the way I handle situations. The way I don’t feel afraid anymore to ask people for directions. For help. I see it in the way I speak to my family back home. In the way I miss my friends. In all these ways, I see myself just as I was. But stronger, and more able to take what life throws at me.

I’m excited to go home. I am. I’m excited to get back to what I know and to share the me I’ve come to know with the people I left behind. But for now, living in this country of too much chocolate and one-cheek kisses, I’ll spend my time well. Enjoying my sunny days, and realizing that the sun will come out, even on those days that are darkest. I’m facing the sun now, and the moon and it’s evenings are fading behind me.

“And if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.”

May 18, 2014

Some people like to refer to an exchange year as “A life in year.” I get it now, I really do. I tried to imagine every single aspect of my time here, to the first time I met my host families, to even saying goodbye. I understand now, that obviously that was totally and completely impossible. Nothing prepares you for what you experience here. What you get out of life. Sure, there’s the language. You know that going in that you’ll most likely be speaking pretty fluently by the time you leave. What we’re unaware of though, is what it really feels like to finally be able to speak in a language other than your own. For those of you bi-lingual by birth speakers, it’s going to be a little harder to understand what I’m saying here. But really, for me, I’ve only ever spoken English. I dabbled in some Latin in high school (big mistake, let me tell you), but that’s about it. With French though, I&rsqu o;ve flown past scraping the surface and have, in some ways, unintentionally dived in head first. I’ll explain it like a frozen lake, because obviously any good blog post needs deep (and punny) metaphors. When you first get here, you’re scraping the ice. And honestly, you’ll be scraping and Kristoff ice-harvesting it for a good 4-7 months. But after you finally break through the surface, well, you’ll be treading cold water for a while. But after that, when you’re body adjusts to the freazingly cold water (because let’s hope it does), you’re good. You may not be fluent, but is that what matters? For me, French didn’t come easily. I came with nothing but I’ll be leaving with enough knowledge of the language to say that I can speak it. And read it. And understand everything. I watched Mammia Mia! (the best movie to watch when you’re living in the country of rain and not musical Greek islands) and it was in French. Sure , I knew the movie before (and pretty well, let’s be honest), but being able to watch a movie in a different language is like rediscovering it all over again. Let’s just say my love of Disney movies has intensified to two languages. Libérée deliver, my people.

Anyways, I guess that’s my schpeal (we’ll pretend I spelled that correctly) on the language aspect. I guess I just really felt the need to write about it because it means so much to me. Having a gym coach come up to you while your sweately pedaling on your bike machine in the middle of a workout and asking you questions about how long you’ve been here, then hearing that you came with no French and can speak like this in 9 months… Well, I’ll just say that I think my bebe de francais has been born and is extremely healthy.

The other thing I’ll touch on is the friends. And frankly, the absolute most important part of exchange. Belgium, if you know anything of its exchange program, is KNOWN for how awesome a country for exchange it is. You want French? Okay, lots of options. You want friends from India, and Thailand, and Brazil, and Peru, and Canada, Finland, and hey, let’s face it, AMERICA? Well, then you want Belgium. Saying that I have friends all over the country is both true now and later. Right now, I’ve got my Florida amigos. All 82 of us, even those who have for some reason or another left their country early, well, we’re close. Thank you, Facebook. For now, anyways, my friends are there, all over the world. But when all us inbounds to Belgium return to our countries, well, I’ll have yet again friends around the world. And that is honestly such a beautiful, magical thing, that words cannot do justice. It’s magic in every sense of the word. Also, it make s vacations sooo much cheaper. 😉

In past blog posts (and I regret to say that there hasn’t been as many as I had hoped), I never really got into the things I had done. But now with my year in this magical country of chocolate and fries and waffles and rain, I think it’s alright to mention just a few of the things that I’ve gotten to experience. We’ll keep it to titles (aka Trip to Paris) to make things shorter, but just know, every one of the things on this list was the experience of a lifetime.

Maastricht and Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Paris, France

DISNEYLAND PARIS

Aachen, Germany

Luxembourg

The Czech Republic (THANKS YOU FOREVER MS. EMILY WEISS)

Antwerp, Bruges, Namur, Brussels, Bastogne, Knokke, LIEGE name it and I’ve been there BELGIUM.

And as I’m writing this list, I realize I cannot ever finish it for it is too vast, and I for one frankly, am too lazy. But yes, I’ve done a lot, and I’ve seen more here than in 17 years of my life back home. I have friends, Belgian, American, and everything in between. I have families that have given me memories that will last a lifetime. And I have the love for a country that just a year ago seemed like a dream I’d never realize. In the months leading up to your departure, and this goes to everyone, but mostly those who will be leaving and taking our spots next year, well, it really does seem like it will never come. But it will. And you’ll be there. And you’ll live like you’ve never lived before with your heart split between the places you can now call home. It’s a crazy ride, my friends, and it isn’t all sunny and rainbows (especially if you’re in a country known for its rain), but it will be, and I can promise, one of the most memorable and unforgettable times of your life.

Jojo Woolbright
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Apucarana

Jojo - Brazil

Jojo’s Bio

Hello! My name is Jocelyn Woolbright and I am so excited to start my year abroad in Brazil! When I found out I was going to be living in Brazil I was overcome with joy because it was my first choice. I never imagined I would have this great opportunity presented to me and am so thankful to be going to my dream country. I am seventeen years old and am a senior at St. Augustine High school. My year abroad will be my gap year after high school and before college. My city is the oldest city in the United States, filled with history and adventure! Though small, I could not picture growing up anywhere else! I live with my mom, retired greyhound dog Sheba (named after Queen Sheba “The Destroyer” which does not fit her at all), and 20 year old brother who comes home on the weekends from college. My brother really sparked my interest in studying abroad because he was a Rotary Exchange student in 2010 living in Paraguay. I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to travel, spending a month in Thailand visiting an exchange student that lived with me, and visiting my brother in South America. I’m very active in school participating in many clubs, playing on the tennis team and being a member of the AICE program. Since soccer is so popular in Brazil I am excited to learn and show off my skills when I return home. I have been told that I was a beast at soccer when I was little but would always quit in the middle of the game, but that won’t happen in Brazil! I’m loud, outgoing and eager to learn anything new. Almost anything will make me laugh! I am looking forward to the challenges of leaving home and living in another country! I would like to say thank you to my family who always supported me with any decisions I’ve made, friends who supported my leaving (though sad on both parts) and Rotary for this great opportunity! I cannot wait to start this great chapter in my life, meeting new friends, having three more wonderful families and learning a new interesting culture! Who knows who I will be this time next year?! Tchau!

Jojo’s Journals

September 4, 2013

Being a Rotary Exchange student is hard. It is not for the weak, you have to be very strong and independent to leave everything you know to start a new life which may be better or worse then your previous one. I will be very honest in my journals with all of my experiences. When I lived in Florida I had a very easy life, going to the beach most days, sleeping until noon, hanging out with my friends everyday, here in Brazil I live very differently. When I signed up for Rotary I thought I knew everything about exchange because I had hosted 3 exchange students in my home and my brother studied abroad in 2010 in Paraguay. But I never knew this is what it would feel like.

I left my small town of St. Augustine for Apucarana Brazil on August 22. I was not nervous or afraid, it was a numbing feeling. I was in a sort of limbo because I was leaving my family and simple life, to start a unknown life which I had no certainty about! Of course I had talked to my host families through Facebook but how do you really get to know someone’s way of life through a social website?! I said very quick goodbyes to my mom and brother because I knew my mom would cry and when she cries everyone cries! I am very lucky I did not have any problems on my way to Brazil, though I did get lost in the São Paulo airport which was kind of scary but I made it! I arrived in the Londrina airport at 10:17 Friday morning with my first host family welcoming me! They immediately hugged me and kissed my cheek and in that moment I knew I did the right thing deciding to become an exchange student. Though I had never met them they treated me like family and I felt safe! My c ity is an hour away from Londrina which is the largest city in my state of Paraná. Everyone in the car was speaking Portuguese and I was jet lagged because I did not sleep a wink on the plane so my mind was going crazy from sleep deprivation and shock! I arrived at my house, which is a small apartment in Apucarana. It is very different from my house in Florida but I love my families apartment in Brazil! It is small and cozy and I think it makes the family closer living in a small place. My next couple days were busy meeting my first host families family, they have a huge family!! Everyone is so kind and love to ask me questions about America and my life.

I love my city in Brazil! Everything is very close and everywhere you look you see hills with many houses and building which is different to me because in Florida all you see is trees! My first week in Brazil was amazing. I went started school which is extremely boring, and very different. Also I am a little older than most of my classmates, but I can’t speak Portuguese very well so I might as well be a 5 year old! School starts at 7:15 and goes to 12. I do not understand a word the teacher say because they speak very fast, so I usually read or study Portuguese. It is not very difficult to make friends here because people at my school love to talk in English and are so interested about my life in the US. I try very hard to talk in Portuguese because I really want to show everyone that I am trying to learn which they admire! Although my first week was amazing, with delicious food (did I mention brigadeiro, OMG!) and loving people I did not expect to get emotional whatsoev er. My host mom is so kind she is probably the nicest woman in the planet and we always talk in google translate at night about my day and how I am enjoying Brazil. The first couple days of this I would let out a couple tears, not because I miss my home but because everything is so different and new to me. I am used to being very independent and here it is hard because I cannot get my opinions and feeling across because I do not know how to say it! People think I am shy here but I am the exact opposite, it is difficult to show your personality when you can only say very little.

I love Brazil so much and my first couple days I dreamt that I was being sent back to the US and I woke up so happy because it was only a dream! I have a very busy life in Brazil, I play tennis twice a week, dance classes twice a week with my host mom and sister which is so fun and Portuguese classes twice a week! I am a busy girl! I love it though because it allows me to meet more people and create a stronger bond between my host family. I am so thankful for Rotary for giving me this wonderful opportunity, my Rotary club is very welcoming and I seriously could not have asked for a better experience here in Brazil. I would not change one thing about my new life, actually maybe starting school a little bit later. I get excited when I learn new world and phrases in Portuguese because I know it is one step closer to being fluent! I feel like the luckiest girl in the world for being placed in a great family, having awesome friends and making so many great memories. I have only be en here a week and a half and it has already gone by so fast!

December 4, 2013

 So much has happened since the last time I have written! Many things have changed in good and bad ways. I have been in Brazil for about 3 months, I have so much to say about my experience here. I will start with school. I recently changed school which has been the best decision I have made here. The previous school I went attended was not the best, most of the exchange students in my city went to that school so it was hard to branch out and meet new people. I spoke English all the time with them, so learning Portuguese was harder. The people in my school were nice but it was hard to communicate with them. After about a month or so, I asked my host family if I could change schools. It was a hard decision for me because I was having an internal debate on whether to change my daily routine and comforts of my exchange student friends, for something I did not know. I did not know if I would have friends at my new school or what people would think a bout me. But a huge part of me liked the excitement of meeting new people outside of my group of exchange friends. My first day at my new school was one of the best days ever. I went to every single class room and talked to all the students, and everyone was so excited to be my friend and ask me questions about my life! People in my school call me the “famous Jocelyn” which is so strange! I can say I am 100% happier at my new school and that is because I made a change. My Portuguese has improved tremendously! I understand so much more! It is crazy how your brain starts to adapt to a new language! Before my exchange year, it was so difficult to study the language because no one in my city spoke Portuguese! I thought I would be very slow at learning. But now that I am here it is crazy how much you pick up by hearing it all the time. I think it is so fascinating how much your brain can adapt!

My host family is amazing. I have had no problems with them. They treat me as their daughter and I am so thankful to have such an amazing family! It will be so hard to leave them, it makes me sad just thinking about it! I only have two host families here which is nice because I will have more time to create relationships with them. I will move back to my first host family in May, which is better for me because I want to be able to thank them for everything when I can talk Portuguese very well! I go to Rotary meetings every Wednesday night, which are dull but I look at it as something I have to do because I am here because of them! I make a huge effort to talk to everyone at my Rotary club because I want them to remember the amazing American girl they hosted 🙂 My Rotary club came up with the best idea for me and the other exchange student in my club to do during the day every Wednesday! Before every Rotary meeting, I go to a different Rotarians house for lunch and follow them around the whole day! I see where they work and how they live their life. I have been to three house holds so far and I have learned so much! I works in auto shop one week, a rice farm the next and a plastic factory after! I love seeing the different jobs of the people in my Rotary club, and asking them questions about work and their personal lives!

It is now summer now for me, which is nice but I miss my friends from school! Now that is is summer, I have time to travel with my family which is going to be amazing! Last month I went to Isla do Mel which is a beach about 7 hours from my house! The water was so cold, and very different from the beaches in Florida. But it was nice to be with my family on vacation! My family works so much, I am home alone a lot so it is nice to bond with them when they are not so busy! Though I am home alone a lot, I am very busy! I always am out eating with friends, going to see movies or walking around town! I make a big effort to hang out with my friend from school because I do not just want exchange friends, I want Brazilian friends too!

May 12, 2014

 I have been in the best country in the world for about 6 and a half months! I can’t believe how fast it has gone. When I first arrived here I was happy to be in a new country but it was not easy. Trying to learn a foreign language and make friends when you can barely understand the language. But now everything is easy. I have friends and don’t need to speak any english at all. Its fulfilling knowing that I did it! I understand so much and can actually have good conversations with Brazilians easily. It is hard understanding people talk in large groups but I am getting there! I recently started school again, Brazilian summer starts in December and ends in February. So it has been a change, waking up at 6:30 and going to a new class with new classmates. I switched host families February 1st which was hard. I love my first host family so much, they helped me with everything when I first arrived here. My first host mom is unlike anyone I have met in the world. She is friendly with EVERYONE! She has this warm essence about her, there is no way you cannot love her! All of my exchange friends always talk about how jealous they are that my first host family is so family-like. I call them Mãe and Pai! So yes it was very hard to move, but I was excited to have a new surrounding! My second host family is very nice too! I am so lucky I have two amazing Brazilian families! I have a host sister who is 15 and is going on exchange next year. We get along so well! My house is a lot bigger than in my previous host family. I lived in an apartment and now I live in a two story house. Also I have air conditioning in my room! Everyone who has been to Brazil will tell you I am a lucky girl! It is incredible hot here and most houses in my city do not have air conditioning so I feel so blessed!

Although my exchange has been the best year of my life so far, I have had some problems. I was sick for about a month which was scary and frustrating. I went to the hospital for 3 days and then had to visit many doctors for a month straight. Back in Florida I never had any problems with my health, but here all hell broke loose!! For a while I was told I might have to return to the states which was so devastating. When I first arrived here in Brazil, I was home sick and a couple times I wished my exchange would go faster. But now, my whole outlook on life has changed! Of course I miss my family and friends, but I have made so many friends here and I feel so comfortable here!

I have been able to travel a lot with my families and Rotary! My favorite trip was with Rotary to Florianopolis which is in the state of Santa Catarina which is just below my state of Paranà. It was a very small group of exchange students, only 10 of us. I have always dreamed about Carnival and have seen the celebration in movies but the real things exceeded my expectations! The other exchange students and I danced all night! It was the best vacation I have even been on in my life! We went to two different street Carnivals, which were basically a street marked off so cars couldn’t pass with food and music. Everyone was dancing in the streets and spraying foam everywhere. On this trip I also went to many different beaches, which were so beautiful! But the water was very cold! I went sand boarding, which is a lot harder than it looks. I was happy to meet new exchange students from my state and make amazing memories with them. I am now back to the real world of scho ol, gym and studying Portuguese. I am going to start taking Portuguese classes twice a week. When I first arrived here I did them and they helped tremendously. I want to do them again to be able to talk like a Brazilian! I have so many amazing things planned for the next couple months, the first half of my exchange was great but I know the last half will so much better. I am so excited to see what the future holds 🙂

Josh Wermerskirchen
2013-14 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Longwood, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Akishima

Josh - Japan

Josh’s Bio

Hello, my name is Joshua Wermerskirchen, but my friends just call me Josh, and I am 15 years old and a sophomore in high school right now. I live with my mother and father and I have two siblings. My brother Will is currently in college and so is my sister Victoria. I have two dogs, one named Ozzy and the other named Shayna. Before I moved to Florida I use to live in a town named Grayslake in Illinois. Now I live in Longwood, Florida. I had a hard time with the move but I did as my mom told me and made the best out of a bad situation. Three years later and here I am now! The main hobbies that take up most of my time are reading and soccer. I am happily enjoying my time at school with soccer and the theatre department, not to mention all my classes. I have already traveled outside the country but this is the first time I’m going alone and so far away. About twice a year I get to go camping with my dad and his friend from work, my dad always says it’s a way for HIM to get a load off but it still feels nice to relax for a weekend outside. My dad and I always like to go hiking as well, just next week were going to a place in Georgia called Red Top Mountain. For my favorite restaurant out there it’s Denny’s, I’m not sure why I love going there, but it’s always first on the list. Going to Japan is still unreal and I know learning the language is going to be ten times harder than English, but I know that on top of all of the hardships I will have fun throughout the training and learning. I know that I like to learn period, but I feel that going to Japan I will have a chance to do so much more than learn, I will get to see new things and experience new opportunities. I know that being a part of this program means that I get to journey to a different country, but I know that I also have the hopes and expectations of the older Rotarians and officers on my shoulders. So I’ll give it my best! Until next time, Ja mata!

Josh’s Journals

August 22, 2013

It is 2:11 am, August 17, 2013, and I am going to be boarding a plane to Narita airport in Japan. Right now the only thing I’m worried about is if the 53 pound suitcase that I’m bringing will be taken and I won’t get charged extra for it being overweight. But otherwise I’m pretty relaxed I can’t sleep but it’s pretty fun knowing that you’re ready for the exchange. That you have been practicing 9 months just for this moment! I know that Rotary has given everything they have to get me ready, and I have worked hard to get where I am today with my little knowledge of Japanese culture and language. I will continue this post later today for when I get on the airplane, bet I will be feeling way worse after seeing my mom cry, because I am leaving her.

Okay it is 1:53 pm, and the airport has been terrible. I ended up with my suitcase being 5 pounds over so I had to take some clothes out and put it into my carry-on. Then the lady told me that my carry-on was too big. Not to mention that my flight was delayed by 2 hours. I am currently sitting at gate F6 of Hartsfield Airport. My plane is a behemoth 747 with two floors in one plane. I have gotten through everything else easily and I am doing okay. I said goodbye to my sister and grandpa before security, and my mom and dad came through security with me.

I honestly don’t really feel anything right now but I know that It was the right choice to do this. George Carlin said “And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.” I think this is the best way to live life always enjoy the time you spend with someone whether family, friend or someone you just met. Learn as much as you can and never forget the memories you make. I’m sure that going to Japan will be hard and painful but I’ll never wish I hadn’t done it!

Now I am 30,000 feet, almost 10,000 meters up in the sky and just woke up from a crappy sleep on the plane. They served lunch/dinner of sorts I really couldn’t eat any of it so I didn’t. I’m getting close to the boarder of Alaska right now and I think I have been flying for 5 hours, still got like 8 left.

October 5, 2013

So it is October and I have been in Japan for a month and a half now. This journal is a recap of September. Now Sorry mom. Even though I want to ignore this fact I know it’s true. And this goes for the other exchange students too. In our very short time in our countries, we have in fact changed. We are not the same as we were when we left America. yes we still may speak the same way or act the same or even have the same physical features. But we as teenagers, as humans growing have gained a knowledge that just can’t be gained from a book or a movie. We are here experiencing the true life of a native, we are literally in their shoes. So any of you out there reading this, I guarantee you will change.

Now onto my activities for the past month, hmmmm a lot happened. lets see. so on September 8th I climbed to the top of Mt.Fuji and bought a charm. Then There was a huge Typhoon that flooded Kyoto and a bunch of people evacuated the cities. Then there was a festival in my town for a tree goddess called Sasaki. no joke a bunch of guys carried the freaking 16 foot tree all around town shouting EY-EY-EY! After that was the Bunkasai for my school which was so much fun but too freaking boring. I made and sold churros for the soccer club, then helped out with my homeroom. After that I had the English debate which we won first place in. But it was incredibly fun seeing everyone elses classes and getting to eat food that the students made themselves, the best was yakisoba. Then I got to go zip lining. and after that, which is tomorrow, the high schools Undokai, or sports festival. They have a bunch of competitions like races, weird stick walking, and even judo.

My host family is awesome. my host mom is too nice, I told her not to make me a lunch because I would make it myself and she got up before me just to make it. My host sister has been gone for a week she went to Thailand with her friend. But everyone is really nice and I am having the time of my life. Unfortunately school is sucking a lot, but I know once I get use to the language and kanji I will do just as good as I did in America.

 November 28, 2013

So its November now, actually it’s Thanksgiving right now and I had McDonald’s for dinner. But yea Japan has been great, I have continued to get myself hurt again and again but stuff happens. I am still in the same host family as before, and it’s nice because my family has gotten use to my Japanese so whenever its wrong they correct me. I went to a bunch of places and a bunch of Rotary orientations.

I did a presentation on America to which it went pretty well, made everyone laugh alot, they mistook a picture of pizza for pie but I explained that Chicago style pizza was really good and big. Also I went to a place called Taco-san where another festival was going on. To any Foes that come to Japan beware the ridiculous amount of festivals Japan can hold. I went to Ueda and Matsumoto jyou(castel), and the Tokyo Sky Tree. School is super hard, I can understand what their saying now but don’t have a single clue what the papers the y give me say. So just imagine at school they give you a paper with gibberish written on it and then tell you to study what’s on it, even math ladies and gentlemen even math is confusing in Japanese. But I have a lot of teachers that after their done teaching the lesson and everyone is doing the class work they come over to me and help me understand it a bit more. and when I still don’t understand it they totally understand and are like well it’s alright. Unfortunately this week I fell asleep in many classes due to the fact that I am always tired despite the fact that I do get sleep, way more than I normally do, but no one yells at me. They’re like oh the exchange student is sleeping again whatever. But that is not an excuse, I know mom and dad, don’t worry today I didn’t fall asleep.

Oh and tomorrow morning I get to talk to my family on skype so that will be fun. And least but not least, advice for the exchange students going to Japan, yes an exchan ge is only as fun as you make it, but in some countries cultures are very different. many of my friends in Brazil and Europe have had many fun parties… yes I hove gone to none Japanese high schoolers do not hold parties they study together and then hang out. So yes there are no crazy shebangs happening in Japan, but I have figured out a way to have a crazy amount of fun with my friends, and no I won’t tell you you guys will have to figure out the way of the Japanese exchange yourself. But other than this Japan has been fun cant wait for the browines my mom will send in December and I hope Scott Krogmann is doing fantastically fancy as always. And love you Mom, Dad, Tor, Will, Zad, Ozzy, Shayna, Grandma, Yo-Yo, Henry, Dori, Grandma Barbra, Grandpa Frank, Aunt Debbie, Uncle Steve, JR, Tyler, Aunt Dawn, Uncle Steve, Kim, Cynthia. And yes I did get homesick a little bit. so you win MOM!!!

January 12, 2014

 Today is January, 12th, 2014. During the month of December I did quite a bit of things. First of all i got ready for the end of semester exams. I ended up studying for Math the most. My friends were studying like crazy I was surprised at how much they study here. Everyday they went home and studied for 6 hours, even club practices were cancelled. I ended up injuring my wrist during Soccer practice. So my coach told me to go get an X-ray on it and turned out nothing was wrong. But it has finally just started feeling better. After exams were over Winter break started and I got to teach my host family how to make butter cookies. I ended up making too much so i shared them with my friends from school and they loved it, a hundred cookies were eaten within an hours. I also got a box from my mom full of winter clothes and food from america, trust me you guys will start craving brownies once you get to Japan. I also got hot chocolate from my mom so n ow i drink hot chocolate whenever i want. And during Christmas my family did a bingo game and we got to pick our presents from under the tree after we got a bingo. I ended up winning women’s socks. My host mom bought me a jacket from Uniqlo the clothes store of Japan. But surprisingly Japanese eat quite a bit of chicken during X-mas. The KFC was so crowded that you had to wait thirty minuets for some chicken. After Christmas you end up just doing nothing until New Years which is one of the biggest holidays of the year. But i’ll talk about that with the next blog. So far as an exchange student my life is going extremely well. My Rotary club is always helpful and if there’s a problem with communication then my host family will help out. The District Rotary is even better and all of the Rotarians are always helpful and are always patient when you don’t know what to say. I am proud to say my Japanese has gotten so good that i can perfectly converse with just about anyone. Not to mention I can understand any Japanese even if i don’t know the meaning of the word i can understand the meaning of the sentence. I’m still struggling with the writing part and I only learned about a hundred Kanji but my teacher said that I am ahead of what most exchange student are learning. So I can only hope that in the remaining five months here, i will be able to read and speak perfect Japanese to anyone I wish to speak to. And for Christmas I got to check out the cities light illuminations. Last but not least for all the FOs please understand that you want to start learning and listening to ask much of your language as you can. even if it’s five minutes a day it will help so much. Well then after January is over you’ll get to hear about New Years and my adventures in school and what not. Also Scott Krogmann, I’m bringing you a present from Japan so be prepared alright! And sorry mom and dad for not Skyping you enough. Love you!

Kaela Rider
2013-14 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, Florida
School: Fletcher High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Zell am See

Kaela - Austria

Kaela’s Bio

Hello! My name is Kaela Rider. I’m 15 years old. Currently a sophomore at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, FL. I am looking forward to spending my junior year abroad! I live with my mom, dad, twin sister, Alix and our dog, Yuppy in Atlantic Beach, FL. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and lived there for eight years until I moved to the Sunshine State. I love to read, write and swim. I also enjoy photography. My education is important to me and some of my favorite subjects in school are World History and Chemistry. I have always been interested in traveling the world and living in a different place and culture. I’m thankful for Rotary sponsoring me to do just that. Applying for this exchange program was such an easy decision. It was a automatic YES in my book and also in my parents. I have been lucky enough to have parents who have traveled extensively and inbound friends that have supported my choice in becoming a youth exchange student. My life will be different as soon as this exchange starts no more practicing the language and talking in English. Now its talking and practicing my new language all in one. I feel like I am prepared to take on this adventure, this new life but we will see as soon as the planes wheels lift up and take off. Hopefully this exchange broadens my horizons and I come home a changed person for the better. I could not have done this without Rotary, my family and friends and I just want to say thank you for supporting me and helping me get this one in a lifetime opportunity. Life is full of twists and turns and exciting adventures and I can not wait to start out on one of my own exciting adventures.

Kaela’s Journals

September 3, 2013

I arrived in Austria on August 8, which is my birthday. What an amazing birthday gift Rotary gave me! On August 11 I left for language camp where I stayed for two weeks and got an intro into the German language. School does not start until September 9 so I still had summer vacation after I got back. My host family and I went to Vienna for a few days were we went sight seeing and shopping.

The town that I live in is called Zell am See. The population is about 9,368 which isn’t that much different than Atlantic Beach which has around 12,000 people. My first host family is truly amazing. They are so nice and funny. I have my host parents and 2 host siblings. A brother who is 13 and a sister who is 16. We have to change shoes as soon as we get into a house or school. You either have house slippers or wear socks. Every morning we have fruit, bread and homemade jam for breakfast. The bread here is delicious. Nothing can compare to it back in Florida. Lunch is usually the big meal of the day with spaghetti, meat or potato dishes and salad. Dinner is cold cuts and bread or soup. In Austria you keep your fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand as well as both arms on the table at all times. You use your fork to cut most foods and only the knife when needed. The ice cream here is delicious! Its so creamy and there is ice cream shops on almost every corner. The toilet was so confusing at first. I was not sure what button to press at first since there are two to the flush the toilet but after the first couple times I learned.

German language is hard to learn. But thankfully it is coming along. It can be so frustrating sometimes when everything is being said in German and you can pick out words here and there but it still does not make any sense to you. But I always remember that soon I will understand these conversations and I will be able to reply in longer sentences and have a larger input because soon I will also be speaking German.

I am reaching my one month mark here in Austria and I have already fallen in love with Austria so much. It feels like I have just arrived here while at the same time it feels like I have been here so much longer. Its crazy thinking that just a year ago I was applying to become an exchange student and now I am here in Austria as an exchange student!

October 16, 2013

Grüß Gott!

It has been two months here in Austria. The days are flying by and I find myself wishing that the days could be longer and for time to go slower.

I have already had so many amazing opportunists that I would never have been able to do in the U.S. I have stayed a weekend in Vienna, got lost in Salzburg, spent the night in a hostel, seen the first snow of the season, seen an opera in Vienna, went hiking in the freezing cold, ridden a train across the country, visited a castle in Kaprun, seen a bone house and so much more.

It’s funny how being in a new country all by yourself makes you realize what kind of person you really are. There is no way to describe the feeling you get when you realize how independent and confident you are coming. How you have this take on the world attitude because you know you can. Little moments of accomplishments make exchange worth it! The first time I ordered a coffee for myself and then food at a restaurant, switching trains successfully, having a small conversation with a friend and giving directions to a tourist because it made me realize that no longer am I tourist myself but I am at my second home.

Just one year ago I was a normal teenager going through the everyday routine of life in Florida. Today I am an exchange student not knowing what tomorrow will bring but knowing that whatever it brings I will be ready for it. One year ago I sent in my application to Rotary Youth Exchange and began preparing for an interview in front of Rotarian’s who would decide if I was ready for a year abroad. One year ago I thought I was accepting of other cultures and today I realized just how closed minded I really was. While I accepted parts of cultures I did not accept the culture as a whole. Today I can truly say that I can now accept the culture as a whole. Their beliefs and customs, the food they eat and the way they dress. While I will not always see eye to eye on their customs, eat the same food they eat or even dress the way they dress I am willing to give it all a try and to accept it even if it is not the same as my culture.

In just a two weeks I leave on a trip to see Prague, Berlin and Dresden. I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to these places! And right now I need to begin packing for my weekend in Vienna. So good luck to all you future Rotary Youth Exchangers on the interviews. Exchange is real and it is the most amazing opportunity in your life so go for it.

Kaely Banks
2013-14 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Inverness, Florida
School: Citrus High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Sobieski

Kaely - Poland

Kaely’s Bio

Cześć!! My name is Kaely Banks! I live in Inverness, Florida with my Mom and Dad. I have 4 pets, 3 chickens and my dog Nikita! But I recently have been begging my parents to get me a miniature piglet! I go to Citrus High School as a sophomore! My favorite subject in school is Science because one day I plan on becoming a Marine Biologist! In January I transfer from Citrus High School to the Marine Science Station here in Citrus County before I leave for Exchange and I am stoked! I am an extremely outgoing person and I love being around new people. I am nowhere near shy! I have been a cheerleader for 5 years and I currently cheer for Balcony Starz competitive team! Besides cheer leading, a minimum of 6 hours a week and school I love hanging out with my friends and tanning! How I became interested in Rotary Youth Exchange is through the current exchange students at my school! I became friends with both of them and they were always talking about the opportunities they were being handed and how they love learning about all the new things and they are so blessed to be here in Florida! I am so excited to get to try new things and learn Polish and there culture along with meeting a whole bunch of new people! During my year in Poland I want to gain a new perspective of the world and not be just limited to “American” views and ways. I want to become a better person, and be more independent in knowing that I can handle difficult times and the fun times that come with it! I want to gain new friendships and relationships with the people I meet in Poland. Learning the language, Gaining new experiences and relationships and being more open minded about the world is what I am most excited for! It’s amazing to know that this is reality and I am leaving in less than a year to go experience a once in a lifetime opportunity in a country so far away from my normal daily life! In 2013-14 Poland is where I will be!

Kaely’s Journals

Czesc!!

When I first arrived in Poland it was breathtaking. I walked out of baggage claim and my family was staying there along with other Rotarian’s, and In-bounds that were currently here and they welcomed Luis and I (the guy from Mexico that I traveled with) with open arms! You truly feel like your on a red carpet with how many pictures they wanna take! Your like .2 seconds of fame is heavenly by the way haha! Even though I was exhausted my parents took me around town, and to pizza my first night which is absolutely amazing because its all fresh, unlike pizza hut or Domino’s which is what I am used to! The next day I slept and then they took me to Old Town in Warsaw which is gorgeous, its like what you see in fairy tales all of the old super tall buildings! On August 22 I had language camp that consisted of all the kids in Poland, and boy was it fun and exhausting. 6 hours of classes a day and then we went on trips like to the theater or shopping. When I got back home fr om a very long ten days I started school which at first I was so nervous about. But when I got there all of the kids are so friendly, they want to know all about you. The most popular question I get is “Why did you choose Poland”. I answer simply “I love snow, and I didn’t mind what country I got as long as I got one, but I am so happy it ended up being Poland”! School has been going good, and thankfully I have made a lot of friends! I go to a bilingual school, so all the kids want to speak English with me so they can better there English but I need to learn polish! I’m starting to, I can pick up the basics of what people are saying. Everything that people have taught us about body language, seriously is your life here when you don’t understand!! The transportation is a lot different from the small town I come from. There are metros, and buses, and subways, and railways, taxis, cars, everything! It’s awesome to be in this huge city o f Warsaw!

Currently while writing this I am laying in a hospital bed at a polish hospital with appendicitis, which is unfortunate. The doctors and one nurse speaks English. I ate breakfast this morning and that’s all, so I’m starving! But they won’t feed me, just in case of possible surgery. I’m in here for two or three nights & if they do surgery I will be staying longer then that. You have to pay for the t.v in your room, literally you put coins in it and it turns on, I haven’t figured out for how long it stays on yet though. The little girl across from me in bed 2 keeps turning It on! There’s 4 beds in a room, and you can tell the difference between American and polish hospitals. This has taught me a few things, there’s no other way to miss your family more, then to be stuck in a hospital without them. It also has taught me that I can be an extremely strong person, stronger then I thought I could ever be, and if I made it through these last few days in this bed I can do ANYTHING else life throws at me in the next year.

Now submitting it, I am now home and I just got released, surgery-less (thank goodness). Hopefully I will make a full recovery! I got to eat, that’s good news!

Do zobaczenia!

Kristina Victor
2013-14 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Indian River Charter High School
Sponsor: District 6930, Florida
Host: Rotary club of Orchid Island

Kristina - Germany

Kristina’s Bio

Guten tag! My name is Kristina. I am 17 Years old and live in a small city called Vero Beach. I have lived here for 12 years with my Parents. Just a few weeks ago I found out that I was going to be living in Germany next year, by then I will be 18 years old. In order to prepare for my visit to Germany I have been listening to German songs, talking to German Foreign exchange students, and learning the basic German language. It will be a very exciting adventure to live in Germany next year. I attend Indian River charter high school and I am graduating this year. This was to be my 11th year but in order to do the exchange next year, I am considered a senior. I take high school and college courses (Dual Enrollment). I study History AP, Government AP (next semester), economics, Pre Calculus, college Algebra (next semester) and chemistry. I have studied 3 years of Spanish my favorite class. I enjoy many languages and hope to continue to learn Spanish along with German while abroad. In addition, I have studied Ballet and several college electives. One day I hope to attend a military academy (Naval academy) for college then join the navy and hope to hold a high ranking position so that I can travel the world. I know that this experience abroad will allow me to grow physically and mentally, preparing me for the future. After school I stay very active to avoid boredom. I love playing sports; Karate, dancing, sailing, Kayaking, and running. I am also involved in scouting groups and volunteering clubs. Besides staying active and studying for school and enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I am excited to meet my new family in Germany. I look forward to next year it will be a life changing journey and a great experience. My greatest challenge will be the language and culture.Again I am very exited. Thank you rotary for giving me the opportunity to experience life in Germany for a Year.

Kristina’s Journals

September 11, 2013

August 3rd 2013, I stepped on the plain opened minded and ready as I can be; saying goodbye to my old life for a year and opening up a new chapter of my life.

I had been waiting for this moment for over a year and it had finally became a reality .The excitement had been building up after a long trip on the plane, as I greeted my Host Family (my father, and two sisters; my host mother arrived later that night) that held up a sign that said,” Herzlich willkommen Kristina” (worm welcome Kristina). My Journey had begun. Within the first few days I had started to feel like part of the family. The first week they taught me their way of life for example; their different eating styles, the different rules and daily life. To start learning the language they had labeled everything in German. Every day I was learning something. It is a new experience having siblings, being in a different country, and learning a different language.

Within the first week of being here I had started school; not knowing what I was in for. In class I had to spend my time studying, as I could not understand any of my lessons except English, Spanish, and sports. For the first week a friend of my host sister whom was going to school with me showed me around and helped with my classes. One of my host sisters whom were 16 was not going to school because in a few weeks she would be leaving for her exchange to Argentina; therefore she could not show me around the school. Entering a new country and a new school I felt like a toddler discovering the world; as I learned how different the schools can actually be. Most of the students traveled to school with bike or a public bus, school dress code did not matter, during the brakes there were 10 and 11 year old playing in the court yard, and classes schedules changed every day of the week. If the teachers do not show up to class in the high level grades like 11th and 12th the students do not either. Also another thing my school Gymnasium Carolinum is over 1,200 years old being one the oldest schools in Germany pretty cool. You would never see that in the United States.

Ich bin heir ziet funf wolchen (I have been here now for 5 weeks), as it is hard to believe. What I have learned and done in 5 weeks it is hard to be summarized. I have made new friends, met the family, went to my first fussball game, met the exchange students form my district, discover the city, tried new foods, started school, celebrated my 18th birthday here, met one of my host sisters and watched her leave for her exchange, and have tried to adapt to a new way of living. It is starting to feel like home and I know it is going to be hard for me to go back home when the time comes, but for now I will make the best out of, as I still have a long Journey ahead.

Within the last 5 months some of my hardest challenges I have come a crossed is the language, and becoming more independent. Although, many people speak English in Germany I met some people that new no English. My German is finally coming along as I can start to understand more and more German every day when people speak slowly. I try to speak it although; I can understand more than I can speak. The lessons in classes are still very hard and next week I start my beginners German course .Even though German is hard it only takes hard work to learn the language. Also another thing that I faced was learning to expand my independence; as I have learned to find my way around the city, meeting new people. And taking the initiative to do new things for example sports.

Every day I am learning something new. This is truly a life change experience as I feel this is my second home. Thank you Rotary and parents for giving me this opportunity.

October 4, 2013

It’s hard to believe that it has already October and two months have gone by.My German is finally starting to improve, where I am able to form basic sentences,I am making many new friends, traveling a lot , and experiencing life as a teenager in Europe. One of the biggest questions I get asked is ” aren’t you homesick?” well, I have only been homesick once since I have been here, but no I am not homesick; I am use to being away from home. Don’t get me wrong I miss my family and friends very much but here I get the chance to discover the world, grow, and learn , and see things that I would never see back at home.

When life gives you lemons I say make lemonade. The reason I say that is that is because just a few days ago on our 3 and half week vacation, I got the chance to spend almost a week in Italy with my school and It was an experience of a life time.Not only that but I had the opportunity to really get to know my classmate and make new friends. I kinda wished we stayed longer though. The whole school drove by bus for one day and we stayed in a camp ground in Rome in mobile homes. We got to go visit many church’s including the Popes church,St. Peter’s Basilica, we got to go to Pompeii where there was a volcano that erupted almost 3000 years ago, not only that we got to see the current Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio give a speech in front of everyone. Nothing beats the experience of actually being there in person. In the End I even enjoyed the bus ride as we passed many mountains and extravagant sights to see. My Journey has only Just begone as tomorrow I leave for my trip around Germany with the other Rotary youth Exchange students and will have more to tell when I get back. 🙂

October 16, 2013

I just came back from my 6-day Deutsch trip on October 11th with the other exchange students from Rotary. We went to Erfurt for over a day. We got to visit the border that used to be there between the East and the West that many people tried to cross. It is amazing how many people risked their lives trying to get from the East to the West and what they did. The thought that it was less than 25 years ago is hard to believe. Now the life between both sides seems so normal. Also we visited the City of Erfurt, which was pretty old and picturesque, and there were many interesting sights to see. Then, by the third day, we headed off to Berlin, where we went to both sides–East and West–of Berlin. We visited the Wall that used to be there. We went past the building where the burning of the books took place in 1933 and pasted many famous churches and buildings. For example, the German Government building in Berlin called the Reichstag Building, where Angela Merkel (chancellor of Germany), works; and we went into the Building and were taken on a tour, and even got to go on top of it a few days later. Also, on one of the days, we got to visit all of the Castles of Frederick the Great, which was almost 300 years old. We spent three days in Berlin. Then on our last day, on the way back home we went to Wolfsburg, where the famous cars were built. We got a tour and got to see many spectacular cars. I enjoyed the Germany trip, as I saw many places and things I had never seen before, and had the chance to get to know the other foreign exchange students. Also the bus drive was not too long. When I finally got back in Oldenburg, an hour away from Osnabrück, my second host family picked me up. I spent a day with them because my first host family was still on their trip. In my second host family, I will have three brothers, and they greeted me with a warm welcome. I will be moving in with them in January and I am very grateful to be blessed with loving host families. The next day they left for a family trip, so I spent the day with a family friend, which was nice. On Saturday night, my host family got back home where we shared pictures and all that I did and they did. Now I have a little less than a week left of vacation until school starts again. Our next vacation is in December.

December 5, 2013

As I walk outside in early in the morning there lays ice on the seat of my bike and smoke comes out of my mouth. The leaves are no longer on the trees, which means winter is right around the corner. I am used to the warm air and the lack of seasons. I say to myself, “I hope it snows for Christmas”, because coming from Florida I have never had a white Christmas. The Christmas market is located right next to my school that will take place from now to Christmas. Many of the decorations depict many of the stereotypical decorations (use another word), like the gingerbread houses in Germany, but still many things customs and/or traditions are very different. My host family and I have already started to put up decorations in November and we are planning on going skiing for the New Year. December is going to be a busy month between Christmas parties, my German test, the Rotary sleep-over, and the Holidays.

It is hard to believe it has been four months since I arrived here. My journey is more than 1/3 of the way over. I am finally starting to be able to make some conversations in German, but of course I don’t understand everything or 70 percent in school. Sometimes I try to keep up with my other subjects; as sometimes I will try the math, but other times I just sit back and listen, but don’t understand. Like I had mentioned I can participate in sports and Spanish. I don’t want to lose what I have learned in school the last few years.

For a week or two there will be exchange students going from France with the school and One of the teachers in the school has organized it so we( the 3 long term exchange student at my school and I) can participate in the program with them. We will be able to go on class trips with them during the school day; for example go ice skating and the zoo and more.Also a group of exchange student from England will be coming for two weeks also and we will be able participate with them, which is cool.

After school I do sports, go out with the exchange students, hang out with my friends from school, spend time with my family, and travel. About three weeks ago we spent the weekend with some of the other exchange students in Amsterdam, and we got to see the hiding place of Anne Frank and learned a little bit about the culture, which was interesting and very cool. For being so close to Germany, the Netherlands can be very different surprisingly: for example: the landscape, and the rules .

As you might be thinking, do I get homesick sometimes? The answer is yes. To deal with our (the exchange students from America) homesickness during Thanksgiving, all of the Americans in my district decided to get together and celebrate Thanksgiving that following Sunday at one’s house, which was a great bonding moment. To be honest with you, it has been a great challenge for me at times, being away from home for this long, as I have stepped out of my comfort zone and have done things that I was not familiar with; as these are my first Holidays away from home. But, I am not always homesick — only sometimes. I am very grateful for this experience and this opportunity. It has given me time to relax, to see the world from a different perspective and to interact with many different people.

December 17, 2017

It is hard to believe it is January, 2014. It has been a year since the first Rotary exchange orientation in Florida and now my time in Germany is halfway over. In two weeks, I will be changing families and I look forward to the change.Don’t get me wrong I love my host family now and I am grateful for everything, but change is good right.

I spent Christmas with my host family in Osnabrück at my host Grandparents’ house. It was pretty small, but relaxing; and I received many gifts, for which I am grateful.

Shortly After Christmas, we packed our stuff and on the 27th (which is my host mother’s birthday), we headed to Austria, where we would be staying until January 3rd. It was 10 hours in the car until we reached our destination. When we got there, it was an amazing sight to see.

It was so beautiful in the mountains. The snow covered the trees and the bare branches were white and sparkled like you would see on a post card.

We stayed in a place called Krimml on a mountain about 6,000 ft high or more. There was high and low Krimml. I stayed in high Krimml with my host sister, my host Aunt, Uncle, and their children. My host parents stayed in a small place in low Krimml not far from my host Grandparent[s?].

The first day after we arrived it was too late to do very much, so we unpacked and the next day (Saturday), we got our supplies and started skiing.

It was not as cold as I thought it would be, although the first day was the warmest, around 3C(36F or so) a little too warm for snow, but there it was. After that it got colder and colder. The coldest day was -20C(4F) , but on average it ranged between -7C and 0 degrees, which is somewhere between 20F and 32F. With the right type of clothes I stayed warm, sometimes very warm. On Saturday (the day after we arrived), the whole day there was no ski school, so my host parents decided to get me started because they have been snow skiing almost their whole life . They started out with the basics, of course, and they even explained it in English so I would understand all of it. By the end of the day, I was able to go on one of the small lifts.

Sunday was the first day of my Ski course. I started out with the basics again as it was a beginner’s course. The course was taught in German because most everyone was a native German speaker. I got to meet many new and interesting people in the class including: a girl that was born in the USA and lives close to Osnabrück in Germany, and another girl from Canada that is also with the Rotary in Germany not far from me. The first day I understood most of it; as for the rest of the week if I had any questions he (the instructor?) could explain it in English, but most of the time it was not needed. From Monday to Tuesday, I got better everyday and learned new techniques. Tuesday was the last day of the year and New Year’s night is called “Heiligernacht” in German. Although I was enjoying the year and having a great time on New Year’s night, I got homesick as it was my first time being away from home on the holidays for me. On Heiligernacht nigh t, the whole family (grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, host parents and I) went out to a restraint (restaurant?) and stayed there until midnight, and ate the whole night. At 10 p.m., before the New Year, we followed and old Austrian tradition. The tradition is to walk a trail in snow with torches to a small church as a way of looking back on the year. When we came back to the restaurant, after the walk we watched fireworks for the New Year. By the time we got back to the house, I was exhausted– it was almost 2 a.m. The next day we had no Ski course, so my highlight of the day was hanging out (having dinner and dancing) with my friend Meyler and her family, that I had met at the ski course, whose company (or: and that) helped with my New Year’s homesickness. Thursday and Friday my ski course (class?) and I went up on the higher lift with the more extreme slopes, but after 3 or 4 days we were ready for it. The sight up that high in the mountains was so very beautiful words cannot describe it. The last day I was good enough that I asked my instructor to take a video of me. I definitely had a great time, and I will definitely stay in contact with some people. The worst part of the last day was saying goodbye. Friday night we had everything packed in the car and Saturday morning we were on the road again. Unlike the north part of the USA and the mountains in Austria there was no snow here in Osnabrück, Germany when we returned and there still is none. Many people here actually say it unusually warm for this time of the year at about 5 to 10C ( 39- 50F). The warm seems to follow me.

Well, anyway, school has started back and vacation is over for everyone here. All in all I had a great vacation.

I think to myself now it is a New Year and a New Beginning . It is time to make some new goals for the New Year. So Happy New Year to all my friends and family back at home!!

March 9, 2014

I am now left with a little over 100 days until I fly back to Florida. I have been living with my second host family for a little over a month. I only have one more month with them until I switch, which is hard for me because that is not long enough. Within the last month I have met new people and got involved in new activities. My host family has treated me like part of the family and has helped me with my homesickness. They are very interesting to talk to as my host father travels a lot and my host mom owns here own company and was also an exchange student for a short period of time in the USA. My host brothers are very active and are open to listen if I need someone to talk to. Sometimes my host brother Clements takes me shooting with him with his bee gun. Also my younger brother Max and I work on English together; as it helps me with my German too. In the last month I got involved in a scouting group helping out and started attending church on the weekend. The Church is like my Church at home except with different people and it is in Germany. It is a lot easier to understand then a Catholic church. The songs they play on Sunday morning are more modern some with English under titles.

About a month ago the old exchange students left that had arrived in January 2013,and this month new exchange students arrived. Just two weekends ago the district had a great big sleep over in the near from Bremen with all the New exchangies, The outbound, Inbounds, and Rebounds. There was over 200 of us I would say. It was Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. It was Just a big sleep over the whole weekend and we say one museum. There was about 10 new exchange students mainly from Australia or south America. They felt the same way we did when we first arrived and did not know vary much German. Every time the exchange students get together it is like a big reunion again. Well, anyways spring brake is almost here ( 3 weeks more) and I am looking forward to that vary much because my mom comes at the end of the month with friends of hers and mine for 10 days. We go to Paris and she spends 4 days in Germany. I know that when spring brake start things are going to fly by faster because after 2 and half weeks of spring brake I have 2 to 3 weeks till my Europe trip. Then after my Europe trip I have a month left in Germany and a few holiday brakes and I will be traveling a lot during the breaks.

Laurel Porter
2013-14 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Englewood, Florida
School: Lemon Bay High School
Sponsor: District 6960, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Pompei Oplonti Vesuvio Est

Laurel - Italy

Laurel’s Bio

Ciao! My name is Laurel Mae Porter and I cannot begin to explain how happy I am. I can tell you, however, that any happiness that I am feeling is probably thanks to the fact that I will be spending my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Italy! All of my life I have dreamed of traveling around the world and now it is finally happening! I was raised in the small town of Englewood, FL and it is time for me to wave good-bye to my friends and family and say hello to the first step of the rest of my life. My (soon to be) former high school just has not been cutting it anymore and it is time to move past it. Sure, I have great friends that support me, classes that I love (genetics and Spanish), and activities that I enjoy (marching band and color guard), but there is no way that I could ever pass this opportunity up. I am really looking forward to this entire experience as it helps me to grow into the Laurel that I envision.

Laurel’s Journals

October 1, 2013

No. of Days – 30

I’m not sure how it happened, but I have found myself in the most wonderful and welcoming country.

I left on August 31 from the Sarasota airport. After a quick flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, I embarked on my transatlantic journey. I reached Frankfurt, Germany the next morning and managed to get lost twice. Luckily, a nice customs officer pointed me in the right direction. My flight to Naples was, by far, the most exciting — I was going to be in my new home so soon! I arrived safely and was greeted by my host mother, sister, uncle, and cousin as well as the president of the Pompei Oplonti Vesuvio Est Club and his wife. The ride to the building where I live was full of smiles and hand gestures and I could already tell that I was going to be happy in this first family.

I swear that I felt right at home from the moment I stepped into my new home. My host sister, Serena, and her friend, Bianca (who I now consider to be my friend too!!), helped me to unpack and did all they could to make sure I knew how everything worked in the apartment. I showed them pictures of my friends and my former school and we Skyped my mother together. After I finished unpacking, it was time to eat!!

Now, I’m sure most everyone knows the stereotypical Italian mother figure that says “mangia!!” and heaps more and more food onto your plate. Well, guess what. That’s my host mother. Carla, my host mom, is always making sure that I get enough to eat and won’t listen when I say “sono piena!” or “non posso mangiare più.” Somehow, I have found that the food here is much more filling (and delicious) than it is in the United States and I can barely finish what is on my plate.

I cannot begin to wrap my head around everything I’ve done here. Only a few days after I arrived, I got the chance to go to the Pompeii ruins! My Rotary club here was sponsoring some sort of convention where Rotarians from all different countries came together and spent time learning about Italian culture. It was wonderful to meet so many awesome Rotarians (plus, I got a lot of pins for my blazer!). I have decided that Rotarians are the most humorous and the most dedicated people in the entire world. No matter where they are from, they are all so kind and generous.

I have been here for a month and, honestly, it feels like just a few days. I’m amazed that I already have a routine and friends and that I feel like I actually fit in. None of this would be possible without the support and help of my friends, family, and -of course- the wonderful organization that is Rotary.

Leandra Pino
2013-14 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: District 2203,
The Rotary Club of Denia

Leandra - Spain

Leandra’s Bio

¡Hola! My name is Leandra Pino, I am 15 years old and a sophomore at Fleming Island Highschool. I have two older brothers and I live at home with both of my parents. When I’ am not busy with school work I’m usually playing sports like Softball and dance. I have been playing softball for 8 years and I have danced since I was 5 years old. I also like to spend time with my family and friends. It is my honor to represent my country and rotary club In Spain! I have been inspired to be an exchange student for about two years now. In the summer of 2011 I spent almost a month in Europe through the People to People program. Throughout my stay in Italy, France, Switzerland and Austria I spent 3 nights with an Austrian family and that has encouraged me to study abroad in another country and learn a new aspect of life and other cultures. It is my hope to soak up as much of the Spanish culture as I can and come back fluent in the Spanish language. I cannot explain in words how thrilled I am to be able to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. I would like to thank God, Rotary, and my family and friends for all their support and encouragement to make my dream come true! I would also like to say a special thank you to my grandmother for her tireless efforts in helping me through the acceptance process and being my number one fan!

Leandra’s Journals

October 13, 2013

Picture this: Living in the unknown; living where you don’t know anything; living where you know no one; living where all you hear is a language that you only studied 2 years of; living where you struggle talking to the native speakers; living where your family is an ocean away… only at the age of 16. Well that’s me. I have made Denia, Spain my new home in a little over a month. I live in a small beach community called Les Rotas, which is minutes away from Denia, a city that lies right on the Mediterranean coast. My house is seconds away from the beach where I enjoy riding my bike along almost every day. I live with just my host mom and I couldn’t have asked for a better first host family. Her only son Yanko is a Rotary Exchange student to Taiwan. Mi mama has no daughters, so I’m privileged to fill in for even this short period of time.

A few days after I arrived in my beautiful new home town, I went to my first Rotary orientation weekend in Madrid where I took my first train ride. We stayed on the very top of a gigantic mountain. To get up this giant mountain that we took a huge charter bus! We must have had a really talented bus driver, because to this day I still have not a clue of how we made it up this mountain with narrow roads and sharp turns. Finally when we get up this mountain I see small blue tents in an open pasture… needless to say there is NOTHING else BUT these small blue tents. Let’s just say it looked much different than our Rotary orientations in Florida. Anyways… we all struggle rolling our suitcases through the dry pasture that looks like it hasn’t received a drop of rain in years. While doing this we have to dodge large piles of cow poo going to our assigned tents. We had to fit 5 to a tent & it was extremely cold on top of this mountain at night so we all became VERY close that night.. Literally. This was honestly the best weekend of my life, I met so many incredible people that I bonded so easily with.

My first day of school was absolutely a mess. First I had to find my name on a list to know which room to go to and what time, I was to report to room 201 at 10:30. I get to room 201 and it’s a room full of only boys and they all just stared at me – wondering why I’m there. I introduce myself to the teacher and she said something really fast and I had not even a clue what she said, but thank God for hand gestures. I walked to the building where the teacher had pointed; they brought in my counselor who speaks perfect English. I explained to her what happened and she took me up to the class to see what the problem was. Well… come to find out I was in mechanics class; much confusion on this class placement! After a forty five minutes wait, they simply needed to change the room number! The next day I was able to finally meet my teacher and classmates. They were all very welcoming with open arms and they helped translate what the teacher was saying. School is a little challenging because some of my classes are taught in Spanish, and others are taught in Valencian. Valencian is language spoken by the community of Valencia, which is a Province in Spain. Being here just a month, I am learning and catching on very fast; good thing.

Here in Spain I am very active. I ride my bike into the city, which is 3 miles from my house, almost every day. While riding my bike I also set a new fashion statement, my host mom insists that I have to wear a helmet and a neon crossing guard vest. I know she is only looking out for me though, driving here isn’t nearly the same as it is in the U.S. I also just started dance at a competitive dance academy, where I do Pointe and regular ballet. In addition to dance, I also swim at the club pool Monday -Thursday, because Friday I dance. Recently I went kayaking on the Mediterranean, yes in the middle of the ocean, with my two exchange friends Joliann who is from Quebec, Canada and April who is from Chicago, Illinois. That was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I have never been kayaking before and I was so scared I was going to flip my kayak and become a sharks lunch, but survived a new experience and am here writing my journal. I have met lots of interesting people and in all honesty, they are the best people I have ever met.

Not even a month into my exchange I was already taking a trip to Munich, Germany for a week with my host mom, to visit some old friends of hers, who she had when she lived there. We drove and it took us a total of 26 hours to get there. The landscape, the trees and just everything was so pretty on our journey to Germany. We made a few stops along the way; our first stop was in Carcassonne, France where we stayed the night and visited a giant castle, with the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen. We also visited the Museum of the French Revolution, which was filled with amazing history. Our second stop was at a friend of my host mom’s house. She lived on the border of Germany, Austria and France. We visited another castle that was on the very top of a mountain that we hiked up to get to. The view on top of the castle was absolutely worth the hike up the mountain. The view was unexplainable. Peaceful would be an understatement. We finally made it to Munich , Germany where we stayed at another friend of my host mom´s. We went to the center of Munich, which was astounding. I try comparing it to Times Square in New York, but it was better than that. It was better than any city I have ever been too. While in Munich I went to Oktoberfest, which is where Oktoberfest originated from. In two weeks approximately 6 million people where to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, it is known to be one of the biggest fiestas in Europe. Being in Germany is when I realized how grateful and honored I am to be blessed with this wonderful opportunity. I am so excited to see what the next 9 months have in store for me, I remember when this was only a dream and now it’s reality…

January 14, 2014

A lot has happened since I posted my last journal, I have found so much about myself and went through some of the happiest times of the year, not with the same faces I spend those days with every other year. In November, on Thanksgiving day since here in the Spain they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, my Rotary Club had a Thanksgiving dinner for all the exchange students in my city, with my host parents, and all the Rotarians. In fact, it had the normal thanksgiving menu like, turkey, mashed potatoes etc. Although the food was great, I knew something was missing. I felt kind of empty or lost, spending thanksgiving without my family was definitely really hard, but I couldn’t have been more blessed to spend it with such amazing people. Then, came the busiest time of the year and also the hardest part of my exchange, December. You probably are wondering how I spent my holidays here in Spain. Well on Christmas Eve or “Noche Buena” , my host family and I had dinner together which was a fish, a whole fish with eyeballs and everything. I watched my host mom prepare this fish and she literally poured 7 bags of salt on it, then put it in the oven. I could feel my blood pressure rising. No I’m only kidding, it was actually good. Also I had shrimp, and my city, Denia, is known for their shrimp. They’re also really expensive, usually 80 euros a kilo. Then after dinner we waited until midnight to open our gifts. On, Christmas day, I ate lunch with my family and their friends. Christmas Eve is the more the festive day, more then Christmas day is here. On New Years Eve, I learned something I never heard of before, you have to wear red underwear, to bring good luck in the new year, as well as eating 12 grapes at midnight. On the night of January 5, when the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Parade) takes place in every town and city, with hundreds upon hundreds of people crowding the main roads in order to get a glimpse of the reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings into town. Typically, in Spain, it is not the Baby Jesus, Santa Claus or St. Nicholas who brings gifts on Christmas Day, but rather the Three Kings, whose generosity is put to the test on January 6, the day of the Epiphany. Children, families, and entire cities throughout the country celebrate this Spanish tradition. Although the holidays were really hard for me to spend away from home, I am so happy to be learning so much and living the life you would see in movies.

Liam Lewis
2013-14 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida
School: Vero Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6930,
Florida
Host:

Liam - Switzerland

Liam’s Bio

Hello! I’m Liam. I live in Vero Beach, a small town on the east coast of Florida. I am very blessed to live on a long, narrow island that separates the ocean from a lagoon on the opposite side. Due to where I live, i spend alot of time around the water either diving, fishing, wakeboarding, or kayaking. My family gives me alot of freedom to enjoy what the island has to offer. For that, I am very grateful. As for school, I am in the 10th grade. I play soccer on the school team and my favorite subjects are history and social studies. Being from the young nation that America is, I have always been fascinated at the immense history that came before this nation was discovered and the cultures that have developed elsewhere. This was one of the main reasons why I jumped at the oppurtunity to spend a year abroad. Over my exchange year in Switzerland, It has become a goal of mine to understand and speak Swiss and High German. I also would like to gain a new perspective of the world as a whole, and take that perspective with me for the rest of my life. I’m so glad to have the oppurtunity to spend a year in Switzerland and learn from the completely foreign environment that will be my home during my exchange year.

Mark Mimms
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Recife

Mark - Brazil

Mark’s Bio

Oi! My name is Mark Mimms, and I am headed to Brazil! If you were to ask me how I feel about my upcoming trip, it would take me well over an hour to explain how happy and excited I am to be an exchange student with Rotary! I am 18 years old, and I live with my Mom and Dad in St. Augustine, Florida. I have a sister named Katy who graduated from the University of Florida and is living on her own in nearby Jacksonville, working on her career. I love to play sports, golf and basketball in particular, and being with my friends is always time well spent in my eyes. I’m currently a senior at Bartram Trail High School, and in my four years at Bartram I have done so many different things, from playing varsity golf to participating in clubs and focusing on my rather difficult studies, you would think I would have had more than my fair share of high school! However, once I decided to pursue being an exchange student, I knew that the once in a lifetime experiences I would gain by spending a gap year overseas would far outweigh the benefits of going straight to college. I am so excited to learn more about the world outside of the U.S. and I can’t wait to learn not just another language, but another way of life. From all of the past journals I’ve read about exchange to Brazil, I realize that it will not all be fun and games, but nevertheless their stories have only caused me to want to go more, because of all of the unique experiences and fun times they have had. In all, I am ecstatic to be able to embark on a new chapter of life, one that I am sure will be filled with some ups and downs, special memories, and life-long friends. All I know for sure is that it will be a period of my life that I can look back on and be proud of.

Mark’s Journals

August 31, 2013

When it’s the dead of night and you’re the only passenger awake on a plane that is surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see, that’s when you know that it’s real. When you see the first few tall buildings you snap a few pictures thinking it’s the downtown area only to realize that there are hundreds more on the horizon, that’s when you can see that it’s real. When you land and try to get through customs and immigration and baggage claim, well that’s when you hear it’s real, because it seems the whole word is talking at you and you don’t understand. Nothing could have prepared you for the amount of times that you had to say “Desculpe, eu não falo Português” and other phrases you wrote on a little notecard back in March, asking people to please speak slower and if they would not mind repeating themselves. Brasil, I am here. Let’s get started.

Food is a big part of the culture here in Brazil, and man is it good. It seems like every meal here I am being force fed more beef or chicken with potatoes and rice and oh my god there is just so much good food it’s hard to describe. On Wednesday my Rotary counselor took me out to dinner at a real Brazilian steakhouse, a churascaria called Ponteio. It’s a buffet style place that is really upscale, and waiters bring different cuts of meat to your seat and let you choose which ones you want. In all I tried six or seven different types of meat, from filets and roasted chicken to thick steaks and ribs. It was absolutely delicious, I had never felt so full in my life. In my home here, portion sizes are much smaller, cups and plates are probably half the size of the ones in the US, and another thing completely different is that my family has two maids, who do all the work around the house. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, chores that kids in America have don ’t exist here. It’s very weird for me to not at least help clean up after I eat, but here we just leave our plates on the kitchen counter and go about our business. However, that’s how it is done here, and you know what they, just do as the locals do, just because you do it a different way does not mean that your way is better than theirs. Plus, the added perk of never doing dishes or having yardwork is really nice, I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy it! My family here is very nice, both of my parents are cardiologists who work in different hospitals in the city, and my three host siblings are near my age and very cool. Two of them, my sisters Juliana and Carol, are former exchange students, and my host brother Pedro leaves for Germany in January. My host dad does surgery, and he said I might have a chance to be able to observe one someday, which would be very cool! My siblings go to the American School here in Recife, so they speak English very well, and my host parents speak enough to get by alright. However, we try to speak in Portuguese as much as possible so I can learn as quickly as possible. Portuguese is a very difficult language to learn. Not so much the grammar and written parts, but speaking the language and understanding what is said is the hard part. People speak so fast and with an accent that makes it very hard to comprehend what they are talking about, but when spoken slowly I can understand and hold a decent conversation. Hopefully in the upcoming weeks and months I will slowly gain proficiency in the language. Until then, I could always use more practice on my charades.

Brasil is a completely different world. I have been here now one week, and the differences range from the major car companies (VW & Fiat if you were wondering) to the taste of the milk. I’m not kidding about the milk either, it legitimately is different and cereal in the morning just isn’t the same. My first week was started off by what might possibly be the best first day in exchange student history. After I met my host family at the airport and was shown what is now my home, a second floor unit in beautiful Bahía Blanca on Avenida Boa Viagem, I showered quickly, ate a tapioca com queijo (which might have been from heaven) and then caught a ride with the governors of Rotary in my area to Maragogi, a city two hours south of Recife. There was the inbound conference for the Rotary exchange students in my district, which includes several surrounding states. In total, there were close to 55 or 60 exchange students there from all over the world, and even though I arrived a day late everybody welcomed me and we had an amazing time that day. From playing volleyball to swimming in the ocean where it’s warm water even in the depths of winter to attending a meeting about Brazil and eating a Brazilian dinner with my new friends, it was extraordinary. We went to bed about two or three in the morning, capping off an all-time best first day, ever.

In the days after Maragogi, my Portuguese progressed rapidly as I spent time acclimating myself to the way of life here in Brazil. I visited the beach, ate a lot of Brazilian food, and worked on my Portuguese the first three days of the week, and on Thursday I started school. School here is completely different than back home. First off, most of the teachers have almost no control of the classroom, students talk all through the class and have their phones out and are generally not paying attention. However, the teachers don’t seem to mind. They only care that the kids pay attention when they need to, and the rest of the time they don’t care what the students do. Walking into school the first day I was a little nervous and a little excited to get my exchange underway at full speed. I didn’t understand much of anything said to me and of the hundred people I met I remember maybe ten names. I know that sounds bad, but I’ve never been the best with nam es and many are satanically hard to pronounce. I was very much the center of attention those first two days, but hopefully everybody will get used to me and I can just be a part of the school, not some stranger who walks in their midst. A few students speak a little English so if necessary I can get help, but for the most part I speak and am spoken to only in Portuguese. No amount of bookwork can prepare you for the accent and the speed of the language, but over the past few days I’ve been able to have decent conversations with some of the guys in my class about soccer, the city, and just everything in general. I’m sure that I speak with the grammatical correctness of a snot-dribbling toddler, but for the first week it’s better than I had hoped.

As I’m finishing up this journal, my mind wanders to what I will do next. Maybe I’ll go to the beach later, or on a run. I might continue doing more work on my Portuguese, or ask my host brother if there is a pickup soccer game sometime today we could go play in. A week into Brazil, I realize that the directions my exchange can go in are infinite, and the saying that your exchange is what you make it is most definitely true. Hopefully by the next journal I will have experienced more culture shock, more ups and more downs, and most definitely more Brazilian food. Tchau!

October 8, 2013

Sitting here an hour after lunch, during the sixth week of my exchange listening to the music float in from the kitchen where Maria is simoultaneously cooking, cleaning, and gossiping with Patricia, I can’t stop thinking about how everything is going back home. Everybody gets homesick, it’s not a disease that’s cured with a shot or medicine, but with embracing the fact that when leaving behind one life to embrace another there will be tough times involved. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.. to the pantry to search for more chocolate. Not kidding, I am very fortunate to be in a family that keeps chocolate around the house. Call me a bloodhound, but when that stuff appears, I find it quickly and it doesn’t last long. Mercifully, I am not the typical exchange student who stuffs their face and gains a lot of weight; having to walk nearly everywhere counteracts that. What I would give to be able to drive again.. . Since I last wrote, much has happened, my language skills have increased greatly, not close to where I want to be, but part of staying positive about the situation is recognizing improvement when it happens.

It’s funny how as my Portuguese moves forward, my English begins to fall apart. During the times we spent at Lake Yale, the Rotex all said that over time you’d lose some of your English skills. I didn’t believe them until it started happening, and my grammar freak friends back home started becoming upset because I don’t use their, they’re, and there correctly. Me no English good. It’s great news for being able to talk in Portuguese, awful news for the college essays I’m writing. By far the most difficult part of the language so far has been understanding the accent and different sounds used, which quite honestly is a complete surprise to me. I thought coming in it would be hard to grasp the grammar and subtleties of the language, but I realized quickly that without understanding what’s said to you it’s very hard to respond in kind. Go ahead and say out loud the word

abacaxí. I’ll let you know later how wrong you are with the pronunciation. Overall I am satisfied with how I am coming along, with my studies and with more time I have no doubt that fluency will come, and quickly. Until then, I will keep on making mistakes and laughing about them, because what else can you really do when you think you said “lived” but you really said “died” and the shocked look on the faces of the people tell you nothing except that you really screwed up this one. One positive side effect of learning Portuguese is that my comprehension of Spanish is growing as well. After taking four years of Spanish in high school, I knew a little bit, but the similarities between the two languages helps a lot. It has gotten to the point where sometimes in my Spanish class I’m not sure if the teacher is speaking in Spanish or Portuguese, I’m too busy translating it and trying to understand. Whatever works, right? Rotary talks about a daptability to situations, while I’m sure that’s not quite what they meant, however it fits my definition for the term and so that’s what I’m rolling with. Learning a new language is like a stone rolling down a hill, it starts slowly but over time gains momentum until suddenly the understanding comes in great leaps and bounds compared to before. Time is still my friend, and with many more months left in my exchange, I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible.

While I realize that talking about the difficulties with the language is not the most glamorous stuff, I’ll go ahead and get to the juicy part, the info that everyone wants to know. What have I done with all my time in Brazil these past six weeks? Did I go to the beach every day filled with beautiful women in bikinis and to the club every night with my friends until four in the morning? Sadly, the answer is no. I know, you’re aghast. How could I not be partaking in such wonderful activities? Brazil is all about partying, playing soccer, and that big river in that jungle somewhere. Truth is, my life here is normal. Nothing for the front page of the tabloids, unless the exchange student trying to stay awake in his Portuguese class is front page news these days. I walk around the areas that I know and I don’t marvel at the buildings or spare attention for the stray dogs in the streets, nor does the waves crashing less than 100 yards away capture my attention li ke they did when I arrived. Normality is setting in. My weekdays are filled with school, and peppered with sports after. I play soccer with my friends after school some days, and just recently I began playing basketball on Wednesdays and Fridays. I don’t go out to parties every Friday and Saturday; I’m more apt to spend that time with my friends or family. Many days after school I come home and have nothing to do, these days are the hardest for me. I’m a very active person by nature, so to be cooped up at home refreshing my Twitter and Facebook feeds is not my number one choice. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, normally I’ll go for a run down by the beach or be out with my friends rather than be at home, but when I am home that’s when the feelings are the most felt. Missing family, friends, the comforts of home, it’s all to be expected and I knew it would happen during exchange. It’s one of those things I’m determined to grind and get through, because I know it’s a temporary phase. Knowledge is power, and knowing that it will pass makes it easier to get through the lows. Knowledge, and chocolate. Seriously can’t emphasize enough the importance of chocolate. Nutella is the symbol of most exchange students, but for me, it’s chocolate. Chocolate cakes, chocolate bars, chocolate milk.. you get the point. Truth be told I just took a break from writing this to go get some. Is there a 12 step program for addiction to chocolate? I might need it. All nonsense aside, my life here is just that, a life. It’s so ordinary that to me, it is extraordinary. I too thought that my time here would be like a vacation, and the first week, it basically was. After that however, I have started to settle down and enjoy getting into the groove and a routine. I found a gym, am eating regular meals, going to school and generally just living the life of a normal Brazilian, except that here I’m taller t han most and have blond hair and blue eyes. So yeah, except for that and the language skills of a six year old, I’m basically Brazilian. One occasion that really surprised me was the week long Olympics that were held at my school last week. It’s actually a common thing in Brazil. There was a whole Opening Ceremony with all of the teams from each class and performances with speeches and everything. Then, we competed in volleyball, basketball, soccer, and handball over the week. I am sad to say that no, my team in basketball did not win 1st place in basketball. I let down the Dream Team. We came in second though, in both basketball and soccer. The soccer was on a field the size of a basketball court, so it wasn’t quite the real deal, but it’s all we play as there is not enough room in the city for full sized fields. Quick story here, I saved a penalty in the semi-finals of soccer to advance to the finals. Kind of a big deal, what can I say. In all, it was a ctually a great week with a lot of fun and the biggest event that has happened since I last wrote.

One of the stereotypes about Brazil that is actually true is that they play soccer all day. The national religion is soccer. Every day, they talk about soccer. If the conversation is at a lull, just bring up the last game and you’ve got fodder for another hour of talk. I’ve had the privilege to go to a couple games of one of the teams here in Recife, Santa Cruz. Don’t let the fact that of the three teams in Recife, they’re in the lowest division. They’re still the best. My host family is Santa Cruz supporters, so naturally so am I. We got great seats both games I went to, and in those two games Santa Cruz hasn’t lost, so I’m basically their lucky charm. Not that I’m saying they should invite me to every game, but it could be a wise idea if they want to continue their run of success. Playing soccer with the Brazilians here is quite the humiliating experience, I’ve stuck to playing goalie because I’m marginally better at that then being out on the field and I can get lucky sometimes and fool people into thinking I’m decent in goal. Soccer here is just as important as I thought it would be, and a definite part of fitting in and embracing the culture for me, is playing soccer. It’s the main social activity with my friends, the time to relax and have fun. I suck now, but when I return to the States, watch out.

Quite honestly, there are a thousand other topics I could go into about Brazil and my life here. I could give the play-by-play of every day, the good the bad and the ugly. However, it’d be about as fun to read as a Jaguars game is to watch these days. Trying to sum up the moments that stick out is all I can try and do to give a sense of what it’s like here, though no amount of words crafted in the most clever of ways can describe what a person sees and feels on a day to day basis. I try to make up for it with a bunch of pictures, but the only way to truly understand it is to experience it. When I think of it like that, I truly realize how lucky I am to be here, at this point in time. A year ago I had never thought about spending time abroad, but this experience is everything I had hoped it would be through my first six weeks or so here. The good, the bad, the ugly, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

January 6, 2014

I’ll start off with an apology, for it has been quite some time since I have last written a journal. However, I decided to wait until after the holidays so I could share the events and happenings of that important time period, as well as the events that happened before. This leaves me with a long time period to cover, a space of three or so months in which I spent my days doing a wide variety of activities, such as playing soccer, speaking portuguese, dancing samba, and singing Brazilian music, with varying degrees of failure.

When I last wrote, I was in the middle of the school year and just finally getting acclimated to a normal life here in Brazil. Not much changed until the summer holidays arrived, in the first week of the December. I spent my last week of school guessing in a semi-educated manner the correct answers on my finals, and then after that I was free to do as I pleased. As I’m sure you imagine, much madness ensued, including another Rotary-sponsored event, this time an early Christmas party at Maragogi, the same place where I spent my first day here in Brazil. I met all of my friends from all over the multidistrict again, and spent most of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday doing anything but sleeping. We went to the beach, on a long hike through the surrounding countryside and forests, played soccer and volleyball, ping-pong and pool. We stayed up late, woke up early, and to top it all off the last night we spent there we had an early Christmas dinner followed by a legit party, complete with DJ and flashing lights. It was a weekend where memories were made, from trekking through the forests and encountering trees hundreds of years old, to staying up all throughout the night partying with other exchange students until the sun rose over the beach, one of the best sights I have seen here in Brazil. Once the busses rolled around and we were all on the way back to reality, the mood was somber but promises were made to see each other again, promises that will hopefully be able to be fulfilled by all. After that exhausting weekend, there was not much time to rest and relax, as nearly two weeks after I set off for another beach, where I spent my birthday, Christmas, and New Years with my family. In all we spent a little over two weeks in paradise there, with the only worries being which type of cake would be for desert tonight. If you asked anybody how much I ate during that time, they would say as much as fits an American. As much as it pains me to say, m y will to eat is many times greater than my will to disprove that particular stereotype. America, you have my apologies. While I might be eating enough for three, I’ve also been keeping active, and there is the real accomplishment. I’ve gained about 8-10 pounds since I got here, and I like to joke that it’s all muscle, from being at the gym and playing soccer and basketball with my friends. Nobody I know anymore thinks that all Americans are couch-potatoes, that much I have been able to disprove. You’re wondering why I’m talking about food and what I did during Christmas, and why I’m focusing on all things external and not about how I feel inside and how emotionally wrecked and homesick I was. In truth, during a time traditionally hard for exchange students I did not have a terribly rough time. I was able to skype my parents on Christmas, but besides that I really didn’t have much contact because of the terrible wifi at the beach. I spent my time in the moment, laying in a hammock with a book while listening to the waves crash on the white sand or spending time playing strange card games or dominos with my family, largely unplugged from the outside world. Nearly all of the extended family was there, occupying the house and one next door that was rented for the holidays. It was a relaxing, peaceful time, punctuated with laughs and jokes and bookended day after day by the sun rising over the Atlantic in the morning and huge family dinners after it set. I cannot emphasize enough just how much food an extended family numbering nearly two dozen people can eat. Name an animal, and it was probably roasted, grilled, fried, or otherwise cooked and displayed on the grand table as the main course. Of course I don’t mean anything out of a menagerie, however we most likely ate out the local farm. Chicken, pork, lamb, steak, bread with every meal, fresh fruits and desserts on desserts on desserts – it&rsq uo;s a wonder I didn’t gain more weight than I did.

At the moment, it’s nearly one in the morning on a Tuesday. With no school tomorrow or the next day or even this month, I have more freedom to create my daily schedule. Today there was a party for my cousin here in Brazil, he turned 21. My host brother just turned 16 Sunday, and he’s in the middle of preparing for his own exchange, a year in Germany. He’ll leave the first day of February, a couple days after my family returns from their nearly three week vacation back home in Florida. Yeah, you read that right. My host family is going to spend nearly three weeks IN MY STATE. I of course am extremely jealous, however I will be able to capitalize on the situation; my mom will be sending another care package back with them. WOOHOO. Helllllo chocolate and peanut butter. How I’ve missed you. As for me during these three weeks, well I’ve become the main subject in the ongoing novella ‘Who wants to keep a foreigner in their house’ in whi ch this really good-looking American guy gets shuttled around between the houses of the extended family of his host family. I may or may not be exaggerating about the really good-looking part, and the drama surrounding my living arrangements as well. Actually, my host parents have already organized for me to spend most of the time in the house of my uncle here, who has three sons 18, 19, and 21. They’re all really cool and I spent the holidays with them, so we’re fairly close. It’ll be a great time I’m sure, and I’ll be able to use this time to experience a little more Brazilian culture. May the video game beatdowns re-commence, and forever end with me victorious. Looking back at my old journals, I realized that I spoke as if I had already learned all there is to know regarding the language, and that is absolutely false. I only recently dreamt in Portuguese, and while that is considered a milestone moment in exchange, in reality for me it has on ly forced me to re-dedicate myself to my Portuguese. It’s nowhere close to where I want it to be, though over the last two weeks I have switched my methodology and benefitted from it greatly. I now focus only on Brazilian media, Brazilian music and tv shows and movies. I’ve taken to re-watching shows I like in Portuguese on Netflix, such as Breaking Bad, and I spent a lot of time finding Brazilian music that I actually enjoy, so that I can move away from the music I like back home. I have built up a sizable library of Brazilian music that I listen to in place of my English-speaking music, and I credit this new strategy for the majority of my recent improvement in the language. I cannot emphasize enough for any future exchange student who might stumble across this account of my exchange that the earlier you start the better. I catch myself thinking in Portuguese now, and that is scarier than you might think it would be. A part of me asks, in English, just what in the world I’m doing, and the other half replies indignantly in Portuguese to shut up and go away, this is what I need. Nowadays when I get home from the gym, my headphones are blaring a Brazilian rap song, which probably draws more looks than it really should. I’m finally used to the looks that follow when I walk down the street, and if I was in their shoes I would gawk as well. Imagine a tall, blonde haired and blue eyed American, walking down the street with the sound of Brazilian rap spilling out over the street. A comical moment for onlookers, I have no doubt.

I’ve spent four and a half months in another country, living another life. I’ve spent four and a half months speaking another tongue. I’ve spent four and a half months of my life away from my family. I have yet to spend one second regretting my decision to take on this challenge. I have yet to spend one second lamenting the fate I chose, because I have spent every moment here in Brazil with the mindset that this is one of the best experiences I will ever have in my lifetime, and that I have no time to waste it being sad. Even in the moments where the skies are grey and my feelings blue, logic kicks in reminds me that I live on a beach in Brazil, while my friends are currently stressing over exams and oh, did I mention it’s summertime? That I’ll be spending two weeks in the Amazon? That the US will play a World Cup game in my city? With all of these wonderful experiences on the horizon, the future can only be better for the things that make me the man I am. Whenever you’re upset about work, or school, try to visualize me, walking down the street getting evil eyes from the natives. If that doesn’t cheer you up, hopefully you’ll be in a better place by the time my next journal rolls around! Also, if anyone coming to Brazil on exchange would like to talk, please find me on Facebook. I remember wishing at this time last year that more people had updated their journals more often, so by all means if you wish to learn more, contact me! Tchau minha gente, até mais!

March 30

 It’s been some time since the last journal, and I can’t lie, writing these journals have become more laborious as my exchange progresses. It’s as if a mixture of my declining English skills and trying to put off any thoughts of returning have combined to take the flair out of sharing my experiences, even though it brings me great joy to do so. Regardless, the show must go on, and on it shall go, albeit with slightly less grammatical correctness than in the past. Some major events have happened here in the past few months. Carnaval, changing families, adapting to new and changing circumstances, all the while continuing the routines I’ve built here that make me think my life is almost normal. Summer has come and gone, and while it’s true that’s more a change of mindset than of changing temperatures, there has been a subtle change in my mannerisms and habits here. My steps are quicker, my speech faster, as if I ’m rushing to complete everything I can with the time I have left. It’s an odd and troubling feeling when you lay down at night waiting for the day to see your family while a different notion roars through the swirling thoughts of your mind, urging you to never leave. Just like anything else though, the key is to block out what you can’t control and focus on what you can, which is enjoying the moment with the fierceness and drive that you would hardly expect to find in some average teenager who bags your groceries at Publix. However, we all know that exchange students aren’t your average teenagers.

To start off, I must say that yes, I’m aware that the sordid details of Carnaval interest all of you greatly, however that’ll come later. I assure you I will quench your thirst for insider knowledge on the biggest party in the world, but changing host families is an event with a much bigger impact on every single aspect of exchange, and in truth is much bigger story than Carnaval. I changed host families after spending around five months with my first host family, and like nearly all exchange students, I was loathe to leave. I had become accustomed to my not-so-new-anymore life in Brazil, with the daily routine I had established, and to the people in my life, such as my host family and all my friends. My school, my neighborhood, my family, all of those things had become so natural that when the call came that I would be moving it knocked me out of my sense of security and told me that everything was going to change, again. Not only was I leaving my host family , I would be leaving my school as well to move across town. Changing schools is not normal during exchange, and my mood was less than great as I went to my school one last time to say goodbye to all of my friends and explain that I was being moved away to another part of the city. Many promises were made to connect during the holidays and on weekends, and I still hope to fulfill every single one of those promises. Leaving my friends when I originally left for exchange was difficult, but the knowledge that I would without a doubt see them again in less than a year comforted me. This time, I was changing neighborhoods, not continents and yet I felt as if the distance was even more insurmountable than the miles and seas that separate Recife and my home in Florida. Thankfully I can say that I have met up with several of my friends from my first school in the past two months since I changed families. Saying goodbye to my family was equally difficult, however I have been able to s ee my host siblings and other members of the extended family here and there, and I have kept in touch with them. As much as it sucks to experience the end of an era, it is equally exiting to begin a new one. While I thought I was extremely lucky by having an amazing first host family, lighting must have struck twice because my second host family is just as, if not more, amazing than my first. I have a host brother who is 18 and two host sisters who are 15 and 13, while my host dad is a lawyer and my host mom works at a local school. I can’t say enough good things about them all, and in my new apartment I’m able to have my own room, which is wonderful after spending the previous five months sharing a room with my host brother in my first family. My host dad is extremely nice and loves to joke around, sometimes to the point where you can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. My host mom is always very nice and all of my siblings here are great, my host b rother and I hang out often and get along well because we are of a similar age. Meanwhile, I have started at a new school, and with that came the whole process of being the new kid on the block. At least this time I was more prepared for the hilarity that ensues, and my Portuguese was good enough to be able to respond to the thousands of questions I received in my first week. Among some of the more notable ones were questions like, “Do you hate Obama?” and “How much McDonald’s do you eat a week” as well as some other interesting inquiries. I have made new friends in my new school and now that I’m a couple months into my new surroundings, I’m feeling very comfortable and continuing on with a normal life, at least as normal a life that you can have when you’re an exchange student in Brazil. I can happily say that I am enjoying every moment here in this crazy country.

When the subject is enjoying life, then the next logical step is euphoric, unbridled, and utterly chaotic revelry, right? Okay maybe that’s closer to like the fourth or fifth step, however it’s true to say that nothing is more synonymous with those than Carnaval. Four day long block party? Check. Shops and streets closed while street vendors sell beer and water at the same price? Check. Carnaval is everything I thought it would be, and so much more I had never thought it could be. Fights in the streets, couples crowding every corner or even just stopping in the middle of the street to say their intimate hellos, not to mention crowds so large the front page of the paper doesn’t appear to be showcasing a party it looks like it’s displaying a tsunami of people. Without a doubt I was able to live in the moment, however knowing the significance of my first and possibly last Carnaval gave a differentiated perspective that I came to appreciate. I enjoyed mys elf during the greatest four days of the year, but I also strove to remember every single minute of it, because these are the parts that I’ll be talking about for years afterwards. What exactly did I do during Carnaval? Well, I was a part of the world’s largest block party, on the street with some other exchange students, 15 semi-trucks outfitted to hold bands and famous singers on top, and two million of our new best friends. Two million is not even an exaggeration; it was definitely not a festival for the faint of heart, or the claustrophobic. I spent time in Olinda, which is recognized as being one of the best cities in which you can experience Carnaval. Olinda is set on a hill, so once you climb to the top you can look down on the entire city and not find a street brimming with people and small bands walking around playing frevo, the type of music Carnaval is known for here, and is a huge part of the culture in the Northeast. Finally, I closed out the festivi ties in Recife Antigo, the most ancient part of the city. Where on a normal day street vendors would reside hustling tourists were large stages for the various concerts happening, from techo music to traditional samba to rock, and everything in between. I spent most of Carnaval hanging out with some other exchange students from my city, one advantage of my change in host families is that I’m much more centrally located, and it’s much easier for us to hang out together than it was when I lived with my first host family. In all, Carnaval was absolutely amazing, and I hope that this was not my last one. It’s something so big that it needs to be experienced more than once just to pick up all of the little pieces that you missed the first time through. I guess you could say the same about exchange itself, that it’s such a big part of your life that your desire to return is always there, just so you can remember the good times and pick up new things that yo u might’ve missed on the first time through.

As far as my Portuguese goes, there is one thing that doesn’t get enough credit; the advancement of your language skills and the resulting gains in overall happiness that you experience on exchange. As a fully fluent conversationalist in Portuguese with only an obviously American accent holding me back from progressing further, I can tell you that the last two months have been much more enjoyable than the first two, despite the fact that this part should be more “boring” because it isn’t all new and exciting anymore. I challenge the statement that is commonly made, that after three months you will be fully settled in and happy, because that doesn’t happen until you truly have control over the language. Confidence in your ability is a factor, as well as how much of the language you actually know, and being able to replicate the native sounds well enough to be understood and understand others without mishap. Once all of this is under your grasp, then I believe that you are fully acclimated. I felt pressured at the beginning of my exchange to hit that three month fluency mark, and then when I didn’t it was the whole “you’ll be dreaming in your host language by Christmas” mark that I aimed for. Except, here’s the thing. I was dreaming in Portuguese by Christmas, yet I still didn’t feel comfortable in the language. Everybody said my Portuguese was really great and that I was progressing well, everyone believed I spoke well, except me. Only when I finally believed that I spoke well was I comfortable enough to start truly settling into my exchange. It is truly a process, and it can be a long process for some. My process was not as long as my friends, and not as short as others. It depends on the person; the cookie-cutter idea of a timeline for fluency is not the end-all be-all of language acquisition. You only become fluent in a language when you yourself believe that you are fluent, not before and not after.

While I realize my time here is coming to close with less than three months left here in Brazil, I still have ample time to continue to live my life here as I want it to be lived, with every opportunity that is offered to me taken with gratitude and every moment made into a memory that can be cherished long after I have returned to the real world of work and stress and college. This will not be my last journal, for much has yet to happen. The World Cup and my quest for tickets are still ahead, along with my trip to the Amazons with 50-something other exchange students. Many days of struggling to wake up for school lie in my future, as well as many lunches with my families and parties with my friends. Even though the end nears, nobody said that I can’t make the end of my exchange better than the beginning and the middle, and with that thought fixated in my head, I march onward to the local McDonald’s for a snack because all of this writing has made me really hun gry. Yes, I realize that ending with that comment leaves you with the mental image of me sitting in McDonald’s gorging on Big Macs, but it’s exactly what I was shooting for because sometimes in a foreign setting all you need is a little taste of home.

May 23, 2014

37 days. 888 hours. I could keep going but mental math hurts my brain, and it’s a sad subject matter. While it isn’t my most original opening, I guarantee I won’t be the last to open with the number of days left in my host country. It’s something so shocking, so mind-numbing, that when any exchange student goes to write the last journal from their host country, it feels like it’s the only thought running through your brain as you sit and type. 37 days. 37 days. Tomorrow it’ll be 36. After this weekend it’ll be 35. By the end of next week I’ll have less than a month. Where did the time go? What am I doing with this time, the one thing in life that you can spend all you want, but the only change you get back is the change that you make. There goes another minute there, and another one here, though I consider the time used on a pantry-raid for sweets time used wisely. Your number ticks in your head day in and day out, when you wake up groggy and sullen in the morning to get ready for school and when you lay in your bed at night wishing that sleep would wash over you and smooth out your troubled mind like waves crashing on the sand, it follows you around like the monkey on your back or the Grim Reaper. It’s the motivation, if you even needed more, to make every moment count, to forge friendships while you can, to enjoy your life as if it’s going to end soon, and in a way that last part is true. My life here in Brazil is ending, but don’t look for any hysterics coming from me about the subject. Making a fit over reality is time wasted, and wasting time is the one activity that I definitely don’t have time for.

One thing I will always have time for however is sharing my experiences and stories about my exchange, and man is there a lot to catch up on! My trip to the Amazon jungle is by far the single most important event of the last couple months, followed by the Rotary conference that happened just last week. Those two, along with my plans to use my last month here as well as possible, are more than enough for me to discuss without driving everybody crazy with a super long journal. To start off, here is a big shout out to JACARÉ!! Without a doubt the best boat on our Amazon trip, with the best people and friends that I may have only known for ten days but friends that I’ll remember for a lot more than ten years. During the trip, which lasted roughly 10 days, we spent about 7 days on the river, 70 exchange students spilt into three different boats. In case you couldn’t tell, I chose the best boat, along with all my friends, new and old. Our boat transformed from a bunch of strangers to a true family in such a short period of time that it is truly incredible. From the crazy Aussie who arrived in January to my friends that I knew from my district, Norbrex, to the Frenchies and the Asians and the Mexicans, we all formed one crazy, international family. Of course when everybody thinks of the Amazon, they want to know about all of the cool things to see and do there, but as my exchange has proven to me once again, events are made memorable by the people you share them with, not by the event itself. It makes sense, I am sure everybody would agree they’d rather see a concert and have the best night of their life with 50 of their friends instead of experiencing it all alone. Bonding is made easy when you’re young with a wild heart and a strong ambition to be free of all constraints, even more so once the realization that you will most likely never see these people again sets in. Some would think that this fact would make coming to gether harder, not easier. After all, if you’re never going to see them again, then why put in the effort to make significant connections with these total strangers? Of course that’s flawed logic, because if you want to have the best time of your life you better get off your butt and get to know the people around you, you’ll be paid back ten-fold in companionship and laughter, and who knows you might even learn a thing or two about others and about yourself too. Friendships made on that boat will not be forgotten, that is one thing I can assure you of. As for the actual Amazon jungle itself, well it was something to behold, majestic trees soaring over the river with wildlife howling from seemingly every bush and branch, rivers so wide you couldn’t see the other side, river water meandering slowly downstream trying to carry it with you, it is truly a place that deserves to be preserved for years and years to come. From fishing for piranhas to crocodile hunting, sleuthing for sloths and swimming with pink dolphins, the activities we did in the Amazon were varied and spectacular. There was a little down time every day, where we would sit on the exposed part of the boat and relax, catch a tan and talk about anything, watch movies, play cards or chess, always with the music blaring of course, thanks to a handy AUX cable and some speakers set up in the boat. We swam in the river and slept in the jungle, rode in canoes to see indigenous tribes and walked through paths experiencing the jungle in all its glory. We visited schools in rural communities, and played an extremely muddy and wet game of soccer, errr football, against the locals, which I’m proud to say the Gringo Dream Team won, 4-2 in penalties. Yours truly played goalie for part of the first and all of the second half, allowing no goals and saved two penalty shots in the shootout. Sliding through the muddy feeling with my teammates after securing the game winning save was without a doubt a moment I will never forget, and was definitely worth throwing myself around like a poorly controlled hand puppet for most of the afternoon. Sadly we didn’t see any jaguars or other big animals while in the jungle, it appears that a three groups of roughly 25 exchange students each make too much noise in a jungle normally occupied by the whispers of the wind and the songs of birds and insects. As powerful as words may be, there is a reason they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that saying is perfect to describe my time in the Amazon. Needless to say, the Amazon will stay close to my heart for a long, long time and when I look back on my exchange, this trip will have a prominent place in that picture.

About three weeks or so after I had to experience the pain of saying goodbye to friends I’ll probably never see again but definitely never forget, there was a huge Rotary conference for District 4500 over the weekend, which includes the majority of three states in the Northeast of Brazil, in the city of Gravatá, about 40 minutes away from Recife. Most of the exchange students went on the same bus, one that started from the northernmost state in the district and meandered it’s way south in a rather leisurely fashion until it reached Recife, roughly two and a half hours late. Brazilian time, it’s a scary phenomenon, and it’s real. Once we all finally managed to get to the hotel Friday night, we had just enough time to eat pizza and practice the various routines and dances that we would be performing in front of hundreds of Rotarians the next morning. Rather, everybody else got to practice their various routines and dances for the presentation the next morning, while I spent that time sitting in a corner practicing the pronunciation of every word in the speech that I was to give after the presentations. A couple of weeks before, I had been approached and asked to give a speech at the end, and I naturally jumped at the chance to get out of the ridiculous dance routine the North American contingent had concocted for the conference. I’m only partially kidding about that, I was happy to do it and to speak in front of the Rotarians, but I can’t lie either, I was really happy to get out of that dance. After the presentations from all of the exchange students had finished, I was introduced and slowly walked up onto the stage. I was honestly worried that my speech would not be enough to put the cherry on top of the performances, they all were very well done, even the North American one. As the room grew quiet and the crowd settled in to hear me speak, I looked out over the room and realized that this point is the climax of my time as an ambassador for my country and for Rotary Youth Exchange. This was the time to not just break, but demolish any stereotypes that existed about foreigners, or Americans in general. To be known as the timid American, or the one that sped through his speech faster than a racecar coming around Turn 3, or the one who’s Portuguese was laughably bad, was not something I wanted to be known as. I took a deep breath, steadied my hands, and began. By the fifth line, I knew I would knock it out of the park, because my pace was good, my pronunciation on point, and most importantly, I didn’t mess up the first four lines which definitely aided in the confidence department. After I had finished, I exhaled deeply and looked at one last time as the people in the crowd, from the little boy sitting in one of the first couple rows to my fellow exchange students all the way to the district governor applauded, I knew that the last seven minutes of speaking had impacted the lives of many, many people in that room. Afterwards, I took countless pictures with my friends, my host family, and the people from Rotary that I knew, but also took many more with people I had never met before, and spoke to many kids who all of a sudden were talking about how they wanted to become exchange students when they were older too, and the looks on their parents faces was all I needed to see to know that taking the time and effort to write and give that speech was more than worth it. After the elation of absolutely nailing the speech all of the presentations, all of the exchange students had the rest of the day free, and we spent the time joking, laughing, swimming, and generally enjoying each other’s company, because the next morning we would all be going our separate ways again, and that this goodbye might be the last for some of us. Sunday morning was filled with tears and promises of reconnecting, whether via travel here in Brazil or once every body was back home, and I hope that all of us can keep our promises to see each other again, because we share a bond as exchange students that few, if any, people outside of exchange students will understand.

For me, the next month lays ahead of me as something to be conquered, to wake up every day and seize the day through force, to bleed out every single second of that day so that I might enjoy it more. I will travel throughout the Northeast, to cities like Natal, Caruaru, and Campina Grande. I will experience the summer festival that is São João. I will witness the nation stop as Brazil kicks of the World Cup on the 12th of June, and I will witness in person the US play against Germany in Recife in their final group match game, a game that will feature myself wrapped in an American flag screaming obscenities in Portuguese like a native, cheering on my team while at the same time talking trash to my German friend, who will be sitting right next to me wrapped in her German flag screaming obscenities in Portuguese, cheering on her team. It will be the crowning moment of my final month here in Brazil, and three short days after that, I will be right back to where I started, over the Caribbean, wondering just what in the world happened to all that time I had when I landed here. Before I wrote this journal, I read every single one of my previous journals and laughed at my silly jokes, remembered with fondness the memories that my stories evoked in my mind, and I realized that while I have shared so much here, I have so much more to share. This is not my last journal; I will write one more after my exchange is over, as a way to review my year abroad and a way to bring to a complete close my time abroad. As I finish this journal, a new day is born, and a new number starts to tick in my head like an old grandfather clock. 36 days. 864 hours. My promise? To make every single one count.

July 13, 2014

I cannot lie, I have been putting off this promised final journal entry for some time. It is not something that I want to do, but it is something I feel I have to do, not only to keep my word and bring about an end to my journals, but to bring about a sort of closure for myself. These last two weeks back home have had their ups and their downs, although I am luckier than most in that my transition back to what I now refer to as “real life” has been free of strife. I do not call this life of mine in Florida my “real life” in a way to devalue my time in Brazil, instead I use that phrase to clarify even more how much my life in Brazil meant to me. It was truly a different life, a life that now seems surreal to me. Did I really spend 10 months in Brazil, with people I’d never met before, speaking a language I hadn’t known beforehand, experiencing a whole range of emotions from jubilance to melancholy, or was i t all a dream? Did I really turn strangers into my closest friends, take mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and turn them into my family? It can’t be. However these memories are much too clear to come from a dream, and besides if it was a dream then I wouldn’t have been able to feel the pain I felt as I said goodbye to these people who had become so dear to me, for what quite possibly could be the last time in my life.

My exchange was punctuated by story-worthy events, from the World Cup game I attended between the United States and Germany, the time I spent in the Amazon rainforest, making it through Carnaval with my head attached and liver intact, those memories will last me for a lifetime. It is the little things that stick with me though; the smaller, seemly insignificant moments that remind me of what I learned and loved on my exchange. Day trips to the beach in Boa Viagem with my friends from Denmark, Poland, and Germany. Going to school and joking around with my friends during class, or early in my exchange ducking my teacher’s eye when it scanned over the classroom looking for someone to answer the question because I was unconfident in my Portuguese. My walks home from school, passing the same stores and people day in and day out and thinking about how this image must be seared into my brain, so that I may never forget. It truly is the little things in life that bring happiness into your life, and it is the small moments of my exchange that I will treasure the most.

As I settle back into life in Florida, working full time at a factory in downtown Jacksonville and preparing to start at the University of Florida in the fall, I think back often on my year abroad. Pushing buttons on a machine at work isn’t the most mentally taxing task that I perform on a daily basis, it’s actually on the same level as brushing my teeth or drinking my coffee, but it does give me ample time to reflect as I wash the machine cut and polish lengths of pipe for eight hours a day. It allows me to think about all the moments of my exchange, and what I really took away from it. Sure there is the obvious, the ones we all talk about when first starting to describe our exchange, we talk about the new language we speak and the new culture we lived in and how it affected our lives, but only afterwards can you think upon how much you really changed, and that how things back home that you might’ve found worrisome or difficult before become simple matte rs, and you wonder why you ever feared that silly scholarship interview or that application you had to do. After all, how does any of that compare to the apprehension and bewilderment you feel on your first day of school in a new country as you get attacked by swarms of people you’ve never met chattering at you in a language you don’t know wanting to know all about your life. Going through that experience, and many others like it, prepare you in subtle ways for many things that you wouldn’t think would be affected by your time abroad. You learn how to budget not only your (very limited) supply of money but also you’re even more limited supply of time. Throughout my year abroad, as I watched my bank accounts slowly dwindle from four digits to two, I learned how to make my money stretch to fit my needs. As my countdown started with 10 months on it, then half a year, then three, then two, and finally less than one, I learned how to use my time to maximiz e every opportunity I had to experience more of the world around me. These skills aren’t the ones you think of when you speak on your exchange, but they are only a few of the many attributes you bring back from a year abroad, besides your newfound worldliness and a more skilled tongue.

My time in Brazil is not something that can be classified in absolutes. I cannot declare in black and white statements the ways my year abroad has changed me. In many different aspects of my being, I changed in varying degrees. There are fifty shades of gray that cover the changes I’ve undergone, from the nearly unnoticeable to the blatantly obvious. Brazil will forever be in my heart and in my thoughts, and for that I am thankful to have had this opportunity. Through it all however, the thick and the thin, the good and the bad, the happiness and the sadness, there is one thing I can say with certainty… I regret nothing.

Mary Stevens
2013-14 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Altamonte Springs, Florida
School: Lyman High School
Sponsor: District 6980, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Kozarmisleny

Mary - Hungary

Mary’s Bio

Hi! My name is Mary Stevens. I’m currently a junior at Lyman High School, but was lucky enough to be chosen to go to Hungary for my senior year. All of my friends keep asking me why I would want to go for my senior year and miss prom and everything. I want to know why they would give up a chance to spend a year in another country for prom. My family is pretty awesome. When I was eight my parents got divorced and my dad got back together with his high school sweetheart, her name is Mary too. She has three kids of her own, and added to my three brothers, I grew up with a huge family. I’m so involved in school and other activities I barely have time to relax. In school I play lacrosse, I’m secretary in a club called Best Buddies for kids with physical and intellectual disabilities, I play saxophone in our marching band, I’m also a member of Young Democrats, and I’m in Tri-M Music Honors Society. Outside of school, I’m a mentor from two different Girl Scout troops, I ride horses, and I babysit one or two times a week. And I sleep on occasion depending on how much homework I have. I’ve wanted to be an exchange student since my freshman year, the first time I met Scott when he came to give a presentation at my school. I wanted it then, but even more the next year when I became good friends with two exchange students who came to my school. We talked all the time about exchange and I decided that I was going to do it one way or another. Also, when I get older I want to study International Relations in college, and what’s a better way to relate to another country than to have experienced what it’s like to have lived in a completely different one. I’m thrilled to be able to see Europe. But, I have to say, I’ve never been more excited for anything in my entire life than going to Hungary. Plus, I hear the food is fantastic!

Mary’s Journals

Sziasztok! I have been in Hungary for almost three weeks now and they have been the most amazing three weeks EVER! My first two weeks here consisted of language camp which, I didn’t realize at the time, was very helpful. But no matter how helpful it was it was also slightly comedic… There were 45 of us including our teachers and we were at a little camp type thing where we slept ~8 girls to a room and there was NO air conditioning! Of course you probably think “wow that sucks I don’t want to go to Hungary if there isn’t a/c” but we made it work! One night we went and got plastic lawn chairs and our blankets and we slept outside. It was so nice! But of course the next morning people had taken pictures of all of us passed out and put them on Facebook. I don’t care though, it was completely worth it! At the camp there was also a huge swimming pool so whenever we weren’t in classes, eating, or sleeping we were in that pool! Especially at night, that was where all of us would come together! It really was amazing! I learned how to dance and some Portuguese and had a blast! In Hungary we have 8 countries represented: Finland, Brazil, Mexico, USA, Argentina, Australia, Taiwan, and Canada. It’s the funniest mix of people and we all get along so well. However, the amount of Portuguese and Spanish flying around sometimes made it difficult to tell what language was which! I’ve learned that Latin Americans are great friends and can also be very pushy (shout out to Sol Mendez I love you girl) but they will always try and help you if they can!

But anyway back to Hungary… I got to my host family on Saturday the 17th, the same day they dropped their daughter at the airport for her exchange to Mexico. I love my family here and they are amazing people and so nice you couldn’t imagine! They speak some English and have helped me with my Hungarian. It took me four days to figure out that my host dad was asking me every morning if I slept well… Learning a new language like Hungarian is such a daunting task especially if you’ve tried in school and you didn’t meet success. I have always loved learning things in different languages and Spanish was fun for me. But now I only use it for snapchats and confusing languages. You have no idea how many times I’ll try and say something in Hungarian and end up starting in Hungarian and ending in Spanish or the other way around. It gets so confusing but I know it will come in time especially once school starts because then I will be able to make Hungarian fr iends and hear Hungarian all day rather than English.

Hungarians are ridiculously nice people and always want to know if you’re hungry. My host dad loves to ask me “are you hungry?” and I’ll say no and he will say, “Yes but you are in Hungary” it’s funny. Tele vagyok (I am full) has become like one of the main things I’m glad I learned as well as nagyon finom (Very delicious). Nagyon finom has like become my catch phrase because everything here truly is! The sandwiches are so much better here. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go back home and there isn’t zsemle (rolls only they’re better here). Soup is like a real thing here. I have yet to go a day without it. And it’s Summer!

Pécs is the name of the city where I am living now and where I will go to school which starts with September. Actually that’s a lie my first host family lives outside of Pécs in a kinda suburb called Kozármisleny. But whatever… Pécs is gorgeous! I think it might even be prettier than Budapest! But I’m sure that’s debatable to some people… The architecture here is amazing! The stone work on every building is just incredible! I was staring up at it yesterday and actually walked right into someone… it was kinda embarrassing…. oh well. The hills in the city and like everywhere around here are kinda crazy though! I walked uphill to go downhill while walking to my friends house.

My host family is amazing my host mom decorated my room with my favorite color and put my name on the door and everything! My host dad is even taking me to start riding lessons. And everyone here is like… not health conscious… but they really don’t like when you’re sick. My cold is like a horror to my host mom and she hates that I’m not over it after a week. It’s very sweet. We also went on vacation two days after I got home and it was to this place where they had like a petting zoo and stuff like that. I was the bunny queen. It was fantastic!

Hungary definitely plays by a different set of rules though. There are so many things you should do or shouldn’t do that sometimes I find myself being a little more awkward than normal. The thing that struck we the most about the social order is the muggles (gypsies). You CANNOT say the word gypsy in front of a muggle unless you want to like die. Maybe that was a wee bit extreme but really don’t do it. Hungarians also don’t smile at strangers, especially if you’re a girl and it’s a 35 year old guy because he will take it as you want to… anyway… Also they drive like bats out of Hell here! It’s crazy! I have feared for my life a few times… Seriously though you can’t like walk out into the street unless it’s at a cross walk and it says to walk. Also, there is a real fear for your personal belongings when like you’re out shopping or just walking around and especially on the tram because people will steal your things. Like do n’t put your phone in your back pocket if you plan on keeping it…

I have written a lot. Some good stuff and some not so good but I can also say the same for when I’m back in Florida. If you are reading this and you are considering becoming an exchange student DO IT. Apply. It was the best decision I have made because I would never have experienced this kind of beauty and encountered so many new things if I hadn’t. It’s crazy to think that the rest of my friends back home are going to school and having their senior year while I’m sitting in another country speaking (I use that term loosely because I only know some words) another language and playing basketball with people from three other countries and three whom went on exchange to two other countries.

Never could I say that if I was back home.

Never could I have bridged a language barrier through a third language.

Never could I have met such amazing people.

Never could I feel so grateful to an organization like Rotary who I hadn’t heard of until I found out about this program.

But…

Always will I love Hungary.

Always will I thank Rotary for the best experience of my life.

Always will I remember this year.

Always will I keep these memories in my heart.

Magyarorszag szeretlek!

November 2, 2013

Okay so this one may not be up to par because unfortunately I accidently exited out of my first try just as soon as I finished writing…

Akkor… Sziasztok mindenkinek.

From the beginning of exchange with the application being handed over you are told that exchange is hard. You go through the first two orientations thinking “I’m not going to get homesick” and you think that all those things they warn about are like craziness: homesickness, gaining weight, losing friendships, growing up too fast. But everything they say is true. And you don’t know half when you think it will be hard. Everyday for me is a day I learn new words and forget them and relearn them and forget them and write them down and surprise myself when I use them. Everyday is different than the last and everyday after holds another unknown adventure waiting to happen. Sometimes that adventure is spending a couple hours with your host grandmother who speaks absolutely no English. Sometimes it’s exploring Budapest with a good friend eating gelato, hopping trams, and eating Kürtőskalács on the metro.

I know I mentioned eating a couple of times. It’s because exchangers eat A LOT. Everyone feeds me. My hostfamily doesn’t think I eat enough and I die a little because I think I eat too much. But hey, I can always go on a diet when I get back. There’s so many things I eat here that I’m going to miss terribly when I get home: Kürtőskalács, Langos, Gulyas leves, and so many more. But there’s also things I won’t particularly miss like the organ soup that one of my host grandmothers made. It was good, if you didn’t eat the organs. Those were disgusting, but I didn’t let my disdain show because that’s another thing everyone gets to remember, manners. I don’t remember who said it but the whole time I was eating those livers and what not I kept thinking the words “Eat it now and you can always throw up later.” But I didn’t throw up :).

School. School is widely despised by millions of kids across America. But if you think it’s boring when you understand imagine what it’s like when the teacher is speaking a completely different language and no I don’t mean math. The best part about school is that it’s a good place to make friends. School is really different between America and Hungary. In America, we all have our own schedules and move rooms whereas our teachers stay in one place. this isn’t the way they do things in Hungary. Instead. the class pretty much stays as a group and both teachers and students and teachers move rooms, and no two days are the same.

One of the funniest times I’ve had in a while was when I went to Budapest for a few hours with my host family and I met up with one of my friends and we climbed on statues in Heroes Square, got cheap gelato, ate Kürtőskalács on the metro, got lost, and spent way too much money in a candy store. The next time I go back to Budapest I want to go to the Terror museum which is a museum dedicated to the times when Hungary was occupied and all the terrible acts against humans. I took some really cool pictures of the roof of the building because it comes out over the sidewalk and says TERROR across it. You will also find that no matter where you go in the world on exchange you make friends so fast and they are friendships that are stronger than ones you spent years on back in the states. I made fast friends with other exchangers at the language camp we had when we first got here. But since then I have made a few Hungarian friends as well. It has been kind of hard fo r me to make friends in school because I have two other exchange students in my class and I don’t want us to only have the same friends.

I have also found myself picking up the language progressively faster in the last week or so, which let me tell you is quite a relief! Hungarian presents so many challenges for me but learning it to fluency would be so amazing because not even Google Translate can really explain what anything means to a completely correct sentence. I will include a picture of what happened when I tried to Google translate what a Hungarian guy had posted on Facebook. And it’s truly hilarious because I actually knew what it was trying to tell me and… I don’t know you would have had to have been there… It’s sad when you are actually able to translate what Google translated into making sense… Does that make sense? My English does soooo not make sense anymore and I find myself talking to people and then stopping myself because I realize that what I said makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Sometimes I will stare at a word questioning it’s existence. I can’t speak H ungarian, English, or Spanish anymore. I can’t language. Oh well… I’m understood as far as I can tell.

I started a little homesick for football and seeing all of my friends back home going to senior night and Homecoming week was really hard for me. But then I realized that I am here, in Hungary, and I won’t be here forever. A sad truth, as this has become my home. When I think of home when I’m out of my city visiting friends or whatever I see my three story house with a big red roof and a drive way so steep it’s disastrously hard to walk down in heels. But I also think of my parents houses back in Florida. It’s hard not having one definition of home anymore, but I wouldn’t have it another way. It’s going to be even weirder when I go to change host families in January. … I just realized I’m going to have to move houses in the snow and cold… There’s a really steep hill going up to my next house… I will make sure I tell everyone how that goes, thankfully it isn’t for another two months. Time is passing so fast. I feel like j ust the other day I got off the plane in Budapest’s airport.

So earlier in this journal I talked about food. I’m going there again. McDonald’s is like 1) really expensive here and 2) I feel like a total failure every time I eat it. I used to go there with my friends for a cheap meal on occasions like after school; I only go for their free bathrooms pretty much anymore. But seriously, McDonald’s is like the only place with free bathrooms.

Halloween was sort of uneventful for me but I got to carve pumpkins when I went to visit my friends in Szeged a few days before. Very few people here do trick-or-treating here because many people think it’s too American and they don’t want to take part in it because they want to keep their traditions. I went with my family to the cemetery for All Soul’s Day and it was really beautiful. I wish we had a tradition like this because it’s truly beautiful. Everybody goes to their dead relatives graves and light candles and leave flowers or wreaths. All throughout the cemetery there were candles on almost every grave lighting up what would normally have been a slightly spooky place. There were also statues of Jesus and a WWI memorial that were lit up by hundreds of candles and decorated with flowers.

Everyone from home always asks: “what’s the weather like there?” Well it’s really kind of bipolar weather. Last night was really cold and this morning was warm. It’s strange but I don’t want to wish too much for the cold because I know it’s going to be a huge shocker. Snow. I have seen snow but I have never had to deal with it for more than 5 days at a time. It should be interesting.

Hungary is a landlocked country but we have a gigantic lake a little Northwest of where I live called Balaton. My family took me there for a few days and it was absolutely beautiful. There were mountains right up to the water in some places and sailboats everywhere. I wish my camera hadn’t died because I only got to take a few pictures. But no matter how good the quality no picture could do it justice.

December 15, 2013

Sziasztok mindenki! Hogy vagy? Jól vagyok de itt Magyarországon nagyon hideg volt! A hétvéget nagyon vicces volt! Győrbe Rotary cserediákok gyűlés volt Mikulástnak. Annnnd

That’s all the Hungarian I got right about now… Like I know more but it surely isn’t coming to me. Rotary weekends are so amazing. It makes you look at all the amazingness that is your life now. And one of the best things I experience is those moments where you’re living your life and then all of a sudden you look up or order food or eat gelato in the middle of winter or you sit and have a glass of forrált bor with your friends who are chattering next to you and you only catch words here and there because you’re too bust staring up at the Christmas lights and the markets and you think “woah, I’m in Hungary.” Like, yeah, OBVIOUSLY I’m in Hungary but those moments are when you realize how great this whole exchange is. To think that I have not seen my parents, home, animals, and friends and family in four months is sad, but to think I only have 6 and a half months left is just depressing. Leaving here will be so much harder than leaving home I think. Because sure, I lived in Florida in basically the same area my whole life, but I love it here and Pécs is home. Itthon vagyok. Coming back from this weekend all I could think was how nice it will be to come home to my bed and my family and that family wasn’t the one I’m related to.

So much has changed over the last four months. I feel like I have changed so much from the person I was when I left and man does exchange do that to you. I feel like I have developed parts of myself that I never even knew were there. The song “Wake Me Up” is such an exchange song and I feel like I can’t help but relate. My favorite part that I can identify with the most is “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.” I feel like I have found myself in this country and most definitely I have changed. Exchange has brought out confidence that I could only have wished for and man do I make friends. I go out sometimes and if I am waiting for my friends to get there I talk to people. Sometimes it’s intimidating because my Hungarian is trash but my friend Emily says she’s jealous about how easy it is for me to make friends. I have met so many people that I run into random people I know on the street and say szia to and what not. I think my friends think I’m kinda weird and have the time the only excuse I can think of for my weirdness is “Cserediák vagyok” I’m an exchange student.

I change host families on the 5th of January and I am both looking forward to it and not. I like my family now and I have really settled into my room here. Like so much that I have absolutely no idea how in the world I’m going to be cleaning out my desk because there’s so many bus tickets, papers, notebooks, postcards, and nonsense piling up in it. I think that I have more random slips of paper with random words on them than it is possible for me to ever remember. But I’m very excited because all of the exchange students in my city switch our families so I have met my next host family several times and I absolutely adore my future host mom and the rest of my family. It will be very different from this family because here I have little siblings and there it will be just me and a host brother who goes to University in Budapest and is only in town every few weekends. But my next host mom said she’s going to teach me how to make pogacsa and other foods and you have no idea how excited I am for that. They also don’t speak a lot of English, except Bence my host brother, so I will probably pick Hungarian up a lot faster. It’s so hard to think in another language but it feels really good to be able to communicate in Hungarian. When they say Hungarian is one of the hardest languages in the world they are sooo not even kidding. I still don’t even understand if there’s like a present progressive tense or like I don’t even know… But I feel like if I can get the point across then I’m good. I’m going to squirrel back to Christmas for a second. And if you don’t understand the squirrel reference please watch the movie “Up”.

Christmas here is different from home as far as I have seen so far. There’s Christmas markets here that are so nice and beautiful and I wish we had them in the States. It’s kinda like a farmer’s market but all day and instead of fruits and veggies it’s more like trinkets and nick-knacks. They also don’t put up Christmas trees until the day before Christmas, which is weird. My Christmas tree was probably up on like Thanksgiving, or at least I know my sister’s was. Prom is also much more of a big deal here. Each class does a class dance that they come up with themselves and there is also a waltz that each class has representatives that dance. Proms have also been going on for about a month now and I know my prom is in January. It’s weird that my first prom will be Hungarian. But I’m also incredibly excited for it! I feel bad I can’t write much more but I undoubtedly will journal again after prom so that’s all of a month away 🙂 Akkor jó éjszakát!

February 10, 2014

So two days ago was my birthday and the ending of our second language camp here in Hungary. But before that we had the Rotary ball. Me and the other kids in my city missed out on a few days of camp because of the ball. It was so icy I almost couldn’t get to the ball. I had to slide down my street on a cardboard box. It was easily the most hilarious thing that has happened this year, as in 2014. The ball was good. I had to sell raffle tickets and a lot of the Rotarians and host dads made me go dance with them. I’m pretty sure about 5 overall made me dance. We ended up getting iced in until Monday when we left for camp. I have to say the it was a really good day up until the very end. Language camp in general was nice because we all got to see each other. Having all the exchange students in one place is so many things: fun, annoying, loud, crazy, and always slightly unorganized. But it’s so great to see everyone mixing together with people from completely different countries. I shared a room with two Brazilians and a Mexican. It was never quiet! Friday after dinner some of my really good friends brought out a cake for me and a card signed by everyone. It was the sweetest thing ever and I got happy birthday sang to me in six different languages. On Saturday, my birthday, we had our final test and then a party that night. It was so funny to see all the Brazilians doing their dances and everything. It was a really good night. My nephew was also born while I was at camp too which was super exciting! I should him to EVERYONE at camp… I absolutely love my new host family! They are super nice and since I was at language camp for my birthday they said I could have people over for a birthday party here. I just got to say February is turning out to be an interesting month. 🙂

April 4, 2014

Things are so strange. You think in the beginning that you have all the time in the world to figure out your language and see your country and so you don’t think about going out with friends and doing stuff you think about home and about what you could be doing and what your friends are doing right now. But then you get to a point when you go Annyira hülye vagyok!! Basszameg, nem tudtam milyen gyorsan megy az idő. MIÉRT? MIÉRT? MIÉRT? Nem akarok haza menni. Nagyon szeretem a magyarországot és amikor otthon haha otthon az a baj… DE Amikor otthon vagyok kell menni az új iskolába és nem fogok tudni tanulni… Mert meg egyszer hülye vagyok… Hát! Mi az otthon? Az az a kérdés, mi? Augusztusban szerintetem Florida volt az otthon. De most nem tudom… Azt hiszem hogy én nem egyedül vagyok hanem többiek is így érzi mag&aacut e;t. Most ma volt a családi csere és nem akartam cserélni mert nagyon nagyon szeretem a Juhász család. De most vagyok a Heindl családnél. Ez az nagyon furcs