Destination: Minas Gerais, Brazil Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach School: Nease High School Read Courtney's Journal - 4/19/04
August 27, 2003
Well, I’m finally in Brazil. After months of waiting and preparing I’m here. I have to say nothing is as I expected. Rotary tried to prepare all of the students for their year abroad and I thought I was ready and had everything under control. Well that’s until I experienced for my first time “Culture Shock.” Culture shock really bites the big one. Culture shock is arriving somewhere foreign like Brazil and not knowing what the heck is going on and everything is so very different. Like here there is no air conditioning, no unlimited internet access, and there are maids. On top of all the differences though, the most difficult part is the language. Not knowing a word of what people are saying, and half the time not knowing if the person in front of you is talking to you or someone else.I would have to say this is by far the most mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging experience of my life thus far. You know I thought I would get here and everything would be great for the first few weeks and I would feel like I was on vacation. Well if that first week was supposed to be vacation it would have been the vacation from hell, and I mean hell.I was absolutely convinced I wanted to go home back to normality. I missed my family, my house, air conditioning, my unlimited internet access, and my bed, and oh did I miss my boyfriend. I started crying the second I left the ground in Jacksonville and didn’t finish until the end of the next week. But the worst homesickness hit when I was alone in the Sao Paulo airport. I was hysterical - I cried and cried and was completely oblivious to everyone watching. So once I dried it up some, I went to the bathroom to find I no longer had my makeup on my face. It was on my nice, clean shirt. So, on top of all the sadness, stress and confusion I had to find a way to clean up. It was an absolute nightmare. The whole first week was one big cry fest too. I thought a lot over the first week---but not good things. I was thinking, “Wow I’m a complete idiot. What kind of 15 year old wacko would do this.” But by the end of the week I sort of came to my senses because my dad in the US said to stop calling all the time and suck it up—you’re the one that wanted to do this. So, out of fury, I sucked it up and stopped calling all the time.Things started to get a lot better once a lot of friends started coming over everyday and we started going out every night and weekend. Everyone is so nice here. They are so warm and inviting. I am so lucky to be put into a culture that is SO GREAT. I swear these people would give their right arm for you. Anything they can do to help they do—but meanwhile they are trying to make you eat something. They eat so much here. All of the exchange students were right—you eat a lot. Well instead of gaining weight though I’ve lost weight. I think about 6 pounds. It’s really cool. So something good did come out of this.My first week of school was something else. I have never experienced anything like this. Now I know why celebrities are reluctant about going in public without protection. Ha-ha. Well my first day I walked into class and everyone stood up, clapped and yelled for me. Rotary introduced me into every other class in the school and each class copied my first class in the cheering. I was so shocked at that. But through the whole week I was treated like nothing less than a celebrity. People would stop in the hallways to let me walk through, clap as I walked by, and had me sign autographs. Yeah autographs. I think people in the US so under appreciate me!!!Being an exchange student you get asked many questions all the time. But the question I seem to get asked most is “do you like the food here?” Oh do I like the food. It is great. I’m already a food fan but the food here is awesome. Especially Pão de Qeijo. Oh my God—I thought I died and went to heaven when I first tried it. It is this warm ball of bread with warm, moist cheese inside of it. If you have had Red Lobster’s cheese bread you will have an IDEA of how good it is. Brazilians really know how to cook.Well you are probably wondering about my town, or maybe not but I will tell you anyway. I live in a town called Curvelo. Curvelo has about 70,000 people living in it and everything is so close. You can get anywhere in town with no more than a 10 minute walk. It’s pretty cool except when you don’t want to walk. But everyone here walks everywhere. Curvelo is really good because everyone knows everyone. When you go out you are never alone and you never have to worry about not being invited to any party because around here they are non-stop and everyone goes.Even though Curvelo may be small, man when you go out you have to be dressed the right way. Your shirt has to go with your jeans. Your jeans have to match some color in your shoes. Your shoes have to match your purse and everything has to go with your earrings. I have definitely had to do some major shopping. But, I’m not complaining. But, the one thing I have not bought yet is a Brazilian bikini. I was looking at one the other day and I couldn’t tell the front from the back on the bottoms. There is no way. I mean, it might fly for these dark, petite Brazilians but I am anything but that. I am white, very much so NOT petite and I’m not willing to show everyone my butt.Well, I think I’m just about out of things to say about my month here except that, I know other exchange students had said their first month in their country is the worst month of their lives due to homesickness and other adjustments. Well, yeah homesickness sucks. But I would not have traded this month for anything. This month was hard but it was the best developmental month. If I didn’t have this month I would be friendless and homesick. But I have so many friends and I am so happy. My feelings now totally contradict my feelings I had my first week. I am thoroughly convinced, absolutely without a doubt, that I am doing the best thing for me and my future and I am so excited about this year. You know I could think of a million other worse things I could be doing but I think that the worst thing I could have done was wimped out and not come to Brazil. This has made me stronger and challenged every aspect of my being and I am absolutely thankful for everyone that encouraged me to do this and was behind me. You know my friend Tierney said, “Your year is what you make it!” and she is right. I am going to have the best year of my life. I’m going to live every day to its fullest.Well that’s all I have to say this month but I will write more next month.Tchau,CourtneyOctober 6
Two months have come and gone and I can’t believe it! Time has just flown by, and again this month has been great. I’m speaking the language, I have so many new friends and I’m staying busy. This month I have done so many unforgettable things. My family took me to Minerão, the second largest soccer stadium in the world, to see Belo Horizonte’s home soccer team Cruziero play against Santos. I was absolutely amazing. There were so many excited people, happy and full of life. When I entered the stadium it was like seeing a sea of blue and while jerseys with heads attached to them. I have never seen this many people in the Alltel Stadium at a Jags game. People sitting butt-to-butt and elbow-to-elbow. People sitting in the aisles and standing on railing but no one cared how crowded it was. They just made sure they weren’t sitting by anyone rooting for the other team. Imagine an entire stadium with people waving banners in the air, playing drums, chanting, singing and doing the wave. It was awesome!!Also this month I went to another town near here with my friends and their families for the birthday party of the mayor of Augusto de Lima. At the party there were something like 600 people there. It was so much fun. We danced Forro, ate barbeque and didn’t go home until like eight in the morning. I did not sleep a wink.Although this month has been really great and everything, you gotta take the good with the bad. Yeah that sucked big time. The car door cut through my fingernail and left a trail of blood throughout the car. Oh my God, it hurt so bad but being the “tough” person I am I didn’t say a word until my friend looked at my pants and saw all the blood on them so she looked for the source and found my finger. It looked like a knife had just sliced through my nail and it bled like it too. About 30 minutes later I was going to get out of the car and I about fainted because I was losing so much blood. My friend put my finger in salt water (which will never ever happen again) and then wrapped it in a rag. Within 15 minutes the rag was soaked. It was soooo disgusting.As I said, I have made so many new friends and the weird thing is they are mostly girls. In the US all my friends are guys and here I only have a few guy friends. I love all my friends here. They help me so much and they are really great.Finally, my schedule has picked up. I’m staying really busy now. I am doing swimming, hydro gym, and walking 3 days a week. Two days a week I have physical education with my school and Saturday and Sunday I do nothing. Those are the days I do stuff with my friends, sleep and talk to Jonathan (my boyfriend).Oh, Al, my mom told me you said I would buy a Brazilian bikini. Well----you were right. It didn’t take much time but I bought one. I haven't exactly built up the confidence to wear it yet and plus I haven’t convinced my boyfriend it isn’t that small yet—Haha.Ya know I just got here and I already don’t want to go back to the US. I want to stay here in this great country with these awesome people. Now this is where I call home. I am so lucky to have two families, two homes and two wonderful countries and cultures I am a part of. This is the best experience anyone could ever have and everyone should.Well that’s all I gotta say this month folks, but I’ll keep ya updated---until next month. Tchau.Beijos e abracos,CourtneyDecember 12
It's been about five months since I arrived in Brazil. These past months seem like one. Everything here is good. It's getting harder and harder to think of things to write because now not a lot happens. I'm just living life. One good thing is I don't have anymore school. Thank God we are out for summer. School isn't bad it just really sucks getting up early and going to school and listening to teachers you only half way understand because they are talking so fast. But now I don't have to do anything but hang out.So, yeah, I realize that I am late sending in my journal, so I guess I'll write about everything now. Last month was good. I didn't do a lot but I did get to travel. I took a 10 hour bus ride to Rio de Janeiro. It was so cool. I went to see my friend Ale. If you don't know her she was an exchange student in Mandarin. She called me and invited me to come see her, so I did.It was so awesome. Pictures do not justify the beauty of Rio. It is breathtaking. You have city living on the beach. When you go to the beach there are about 100 vendors going around yelling what they are selling and taking advantage of the tourists--ha ha. Well, I spent five days in Rio and they were absolutely great. I didn't want to leave. The first day I was there I went to the beach and got so sunburned I was so red. Ale kept calling me her pink American. We had so much fun. We went everywhere and saw everything... flea markets, shopping malls, the Christ, Sugar Loaf and course all the beaches. The last day I was there I did not want to go home but then I got on the bus for the 10 hour ride and all I wanted was to be home.So that's all that really happened last month and it sure is more than this month. This month I only really hung out with my family and went to a bunch of fashion shows, bar-b-q's and birthday parties. That's one thing that hasn't changed is the amount of parties. Party after party after party. But hey, I'm not complaining. Last week I went to a huge party for 15 girls for their 15th birthdays. I had to buy an evening gown and dress up and everything. It was really fun. I love to play dress up.Well, Christmas is coming up. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it is both. I mean I get to experience Christmas in a different culture with my family, but it is bringing the end of the year so close. In the beginning I wanted it to be the end of the year or the end of my exchange, but now when I leave I'm leaving another family and I will have to go through all the crappy, emotional stuff again--Yuk!! I hope this Christmas goes good. It's my first without my family in the U.S... Well, my family just decided they are coming to visit Brazil in March. I'm so excited they get to meet my family and see where I live and I get to see them but the really cool part is they are bringing my boyfriend with them. I miss all of them so much. Well, while I'm talking about my family and boyfriend and everything I wanted to say hey to Jonathan and my family and that I love you.Well, I hope that this upcoming month brings all sorts of new and adventurous things. Until next month--Bye.CourtneyApril 19Hey, sorry it’s taken me so long to write this journal but it’s been absolutely hectic around here. In January I went on a month long trip to the Northeast of Brazil and got back to Curvelo in February and right after I got back my parents arrived and were here until the end of February and when they left, CARNAVAL started, so, as you can see it’s been really hectic.Well, my year is coming to an end but I’ve had an absolutely awesome year. As I said, I went on a month long trip to the Northeast, it was absolutely amazing we went so many places - we went from Brasilia (Brazil’s capital) to Angra dos Reis (outside of Rio). In between we went to about to other cities. All the places we went were really great. Around 45 exchange students went. We were all on the same double decker bus, (you can only imagine the confusion)!!But we all had the time of our lives! About 3 days after I got back from the trip my parents arrived and stayed for a while, I was so happy to see them we went to Diamantina, Ouro Preto (had lunch) dinner in the house of about everyone here in Curvelo; They got to know my Rotary club, my family, my friends, school etc…Everything went really nice but it made me miss them more. But soon after they left my sadness was put aside for a while because of CARNAVAL!! My GOD, it was the most amazing Party I’ve ever been to in my entire life, I went to Diamantina, which is a historic city near Curvelo. I’ve never seen that many people in one small town. But imagine 5 days going out at 5:00 in the afternoon and getting home at 11:00 the next day, eat lunch and go to sleep until 5:00 and go out again! It’s great but it’s absolutely the most tiring thing I’ve ever done.Well, that’s about all of the excitement since then it’s been normal. Just going out, with my friends and stuff like that. So, now I don't have anything else to write about. But I’ll be home soon. I’m leaving here May. Thank GOD ! I’m ready to come home! Well, that’s all for this month and this year. Bye yawl.COURTNEY
Hayley Derryberry Destination: Erfurt, Germany Sponsor Club: Mandarin School: Bartram Trail High School Read Hayley's Journal - 7/07/04
September 22, 2003
Wow I can’t believe I am actually one month into my year. Germany is exactly what I expected and at the same time totally different. My host parents are great. They couldn’t be any nicer. It was really strange because when they met me at the airport my host mom was crying. I was thinking, "Wait a second, aren’t the moms supposed to cry when you leave not when you arrive?" My first week was so long. I never thought I’d make it through. It was just about the worst week of my life. I figured out that Germans are not like Brazilians or even most Americans. They are not warm and friendly. I had to make the effort to make friends. I have never been any good at that, and at first I wondered why on earth I thought I could be an exchange student.
Exactly one week after I arrived things began to pick up. My History teacher threw a welcoming party for me and Omar another American from New York. That’s when I had my first case of culture shock. The kids were all drinking alcohol on school property. Like right outside and even inside the building with teachers standing around. It was darn crazy. But that night is when I really began to make friends and get invited to do things.
I’ve really learned to appreciate Al and my Rotary in Florida. Here my Rotary hasn’t really done anything with me and the other exchange students. I wish I could be an exchange student in district 6970. But it’s ok because I’ve had to make friends at school rather than just other foreign kids. By the way it's really weird to be the foreign kid.
There is also a Canadian student named Nick. He always gives me a bad time about my southern accent, and a few weeks after I arrived we got another exchange student from Hungary. Her name is Dori. It’s been really great having a girl around.
It’s been difficult to force myself to learn the language because everyone speaks English. But I am picking up new things and I have promised myself that I am only going to speak German after October 1st. Wish me luck - it will be hard.
I am really beginning to love the German culture and the people here. I love how everything is so much slower paced than in the US. And all of the food tastes so much better. I think it is because of the time they put into it. I don’t even want to know how many kilos I’ve gained. And my city is great. Even though I don’t have my car I can still go anywhere I want by Trem or just walking. The trem is a street train kind of like a trolley and they go everywhere through the city. I never have a day where I’m bored. I can always go out and do things. My favorite thing to do is go to the Disco. I love to dance and it's great that you only have to be 16 to get in. I had thought that all of the clothes would be so expensive, but they're really not. I go shopping all the time. I love all the sweaters even if I won’t be able to wear them back home. But I’ve already began to feel at home here. I don’t even want to think about leaving. Right now all that matters is right now, and that’s a great realization to come to! And P.S. I want everyone to email me and tell me how they're doing (especially you kids in Brazil, you know who you are). My email is still and will always be email@example.com.
I was thinking of a way to sum up all of my feelings here in Germany in a way that you Floridians can understand. OK, so here’s what I’ve come up with. I Feel... COLD!!! It is freezing cold here and only October. I am already wearing as many layers of clothes that will fit under my jacket and people are telling me that it’s only going to get colder. During the culture boot camp, we should have had something to prepare us for the difference in climate. But at least it gives me an excuse to do more shopping.
I didn’t get to go to Bavaria for Octoberfest, but there was a smaller Erfurter Octoberfest here in my town. I really liked it because it reminded me of state fairs that I used to go to in Tennessee. There were a lot of rides and games. I tried to find funnel cakes, but they didn’t have them. I settled for something similar to a candied apple instead.
I’ve tried speaking only German but that doesn’t always happen. My host family won’t speak any English with me anymore, which is really sweet, and when I go out I try to keep the conversations in German. I am learning a whole lot though. Right now I am just trying to pick up more nouns and things to extend my vocabulary.
I have to tell you about a DDR party that a friend of mine from school had. Well if you don’t know DDR is the name for the former East Germany the Deutchland Demokratic Republik where I live now. And my friends from school had a party to sort of remember what it was like to live in the DDR. When we arrived, if you weren’t born in the DDR you had to be sworn in as a citizen. And then everyone stood up and sang the DDR national anthem. One of the boys gave a short lecture about what the DDR was and about the last president and what it was like to live there. It was very educational. Then we watched an old cartoon from the DDR with no sound, on an old film projector. Then with an equal number of boys and girls, we drew names and had to get married. Once we were married, we played games to earn money for our family. For example, for one game two couples had to leave the room and then come back in with their legs tied to each other and search around the room for a hidden banana. The first couple to find the banana won 5 marks which could be used to buy food and stuff. This game was significant because the DDR was only allowed to import and export with other communist countries so the only fruit came from mostly Cuba, and bananas were very rare. We were also given stuffed animals that were our children, and then we had to sew clothes for them and had a contest for the best dressed baby. It was so much fun and an experience I will never forget.
I am beginning to feel very comfortable here and sometimes even like a native. Until, someone on the street stops me to ask something I don’t understand. But the other day a woman asked me how to get to Centrum. And I completely understood her, only I didn’t know how to get to where she wanted to go. But still it was quite an accomplishment just to understand.
My host parents know how much I like country music, and as an early birthday present they bought me tickets to a Gunter Gabriel featuring John Carter Cash concert that was in town. It wasn’t exactly the kind of country music I listen to. The first guy Gunter Gabriel is this German country singer. He only sang Johnny Cash songs, but ones that had been translated into German. It was really funny to hear “A boy named Sue” in German. I went with Dori the girl from Hungary and we were like the only young people there. And because we were in the front row, the Gunter Gabriel guy decided to keep talking to us and saying something about how young we were, but I couldn’t understand anything so I just kind of sat there with a goofy/embarrassed smile on my face. But when John Carter came on it was really good. He is Johnny Cash’s son and he does some more contemporary-old-time country music, if that exists. I really loved it. They played some songs that I knew, and it reminded me of home. My host parents were so sweet for doing that for me.
Well I guess that’s enough to give y’all a taste of what this past month has been for me. And if you ever want to really put yourself in my shoes just go stand in front of the refrigerator with the freezer door open wearing nothing but your skimpies. So long for now. Until next month. Tchüss! Viel Späss!
I’m gonna sum this month up as, ”Settling in”. I’ve got a steady group of friends and my usual places to go. I’m becoming very comfortable and more relaxed. I’m learning a lot of things about myself and growing up in a lot of ways. For example: Back home I hated going anywhere by myself, but here its becoming quite the norm. I walk or take the trem into town on my own and its no big deal. I’m also reading a lot more. I guess that’s what you do when you’ve already seen every episode of Seventh Heaven and now in two different languages.
This month has been a lot of fun. When I last left off, it was just before Halloween. Halloween is just sort of starting to get big over here. I went to a party with some of my friends that have been to the U.S. Then later I found out that it and the DDR party were both experiments by two of my friends, Claudia and Steffi, for a thesis paper they had to write. We were all just guinea pigs for observation of social interaction among teenagers. But I don’t think anyone minded because we had a lot of fun in the process.
Then we had a Halloween-type party at school. It was tons of fun. We had games, and bake sales, and costumes. The highlight of the day for me was when we auctioned off dates with some of our fellow classmates. It was really funny. Nick the Canadian was a big hit. I think he went for €10 to two of our teachers. I really liked being able to help plan and decorate. It made me feel useful.
I haven’t done anything really big this month. Its mostly just daily stuff like hangin out with my friends. We go to the movies a lot, and to the disco. I really love to dance. Some of our common hang-outs include, Club 1, The Dubliner, McDonalds, Cinestar, and Anger 1. What’s really cruel is that just as I’m getting ”Settled in” I have to uproot and move to another family. But I met them yesterday and I think I’m really going to enjoy it there. I guess I’ll have to tell you all about that in my next journal. And I haven’t been sending y’all any pictures so I’ll include those this time. Enjoy.
Hayley and Canadian
Sorry I’m a little late, but as I’m sure you can guess I’ve been very busy with the holidays. When last we left off I was just ready to move into my new family. Well I’ve been here a little over a month now and I LOVE IT! My family is so great. I don’t think I could get a better one. I have now five brothers and sisters and I can hardly call them my host siblings. They are like my real brothers and sisters. The oldest Raphael is 20 then there are Tabea 18, Benjamin 15, David 13, and Miriam 9. My host dad is a doctor here in Erfurt and my host mom is just about the best cook I’ve ever known. I love her food, as the scales will tell. And what’s really cute is that everyone in the family can play an instrument. The house is always filled with music. Oh and I think before I mentioned that I wouldn’t have a television. Well I don’t even notice. Now I fill my time with like reading and stuff. Crazy, huh?
This month I had my birthday. I’m 18 years old now and lovin’ it. My hosts were nice enough to allow me to use their house to have a party. I was feeling a little homesick so I decided to do something tropical and ended up having a Hawaiian themed dinner. I cooked, yes COOKED, a 3 course meal for all my friends. It was really good, especially the coconut shrimp, MmMm… But because my birthday is on the 23rd, I had the party a little earlier on the 19th. I didn’t think anything of it, but here that is considered bad luck, and everyone made sure to tell me. But so far it’s been only good for me (knock on wood). I also got to celebrate on my real birthday with my family. They were really great about making me feel at ho! me.
For the first time, I got to experience Advent. We had a little thing in the kitchen where you light a candle every Sunday leading up to Christmas and when you do, the hot air rises and makes a little windmill-type thing with angels on it spin around and then the angels ding a little bell and the more candles you light the faster it goes and the quicker it dings. It was at times kind of annoying but now I miss it. It made the Christmas season last longer. And on the sixth of December here is Nicholaustag. It is a day when someone kind of like Santa fills the children’s shoes with candy or something. But for us Nicholaus came to our house and gave all us kids boots filled with sweets. It was a lot of fun. And I made a really cute Gingerbread house with my family. It tasted good too, and I didn’t even use glue. For Christmas, the house was very full and very loud. My host dad’s mother and brother came to stay with us. They were both a lot of fun. Without school we all had a lot of free time on our hands. I can’t even count the number of times I played “Uno”. And our tree was so cool. It had real candles on it instead of just Christmas lights. I thought it was really pretty but I was sad that we didn’t put it up until the 23rd. But we did get to open our presents a day early. That was cool. And we got our first snow. So far there hasn’t been much, but at least we had a white Christmas.
We just finished celebrating New Years. I had a lot of fun. A friend of mine had a party at her house outside of town. A bunch of us stayed there, and we danced-in the new year at a very small disco, something like the German form of a Honky Tonk. It was tons of fun. And here the tradition is to have a lot of fireworks. And they give gifts like four leaf clovers to wish luck for the new year. And yesterday I went ice skating for the first time since I was really small. But I didn’t fall down once. I was very proud of myself. We’ll have to go again sometime.
And now for something that I don’t really include often; that is, that what I’m learning from this year, or as some might call it, meaningless ramblings. You know the term, “No man is an island”. I believe that is true for everyone. We all grow up with a certain view point of the rest of the world, and we all carry with us a bias that affects the way we see things. Our bias affects the way we encounter situations and how we react to them. It affects the decisions that we will and are now making. Last year I read a book called “The Things They Carry” by Tim O’Brian. It was a book about the Vietnam War but more importantly about the men involved. What I learned from this book is that while all of the soldiers ended up in often the exact same situations, whether it be combat or just surviving in a totally new environment, they never turned out one the same as another. What made the difference for each man were the things he carried with him, not tangibly but figuratively. I’m learning that as well. These past months I’ve learned how to, in a manner of saying, lighten the load that I carry. I’ve had to strip away all of the unnecessary baggage in my life. I’ve stripped it down to only the bare essentials. Now as I walk through the city streets nearly nude, my view is no longer so largely obstructed. I see (and when I say see, I mean really see, not only that what is limited to the vision of our eyes) things now that I never knew man had the ability to behold. But those few things that I do still carry with me, those are the things that have become even more precious to me. For example, my family is still with me. I hear their voices now much stronger than ever when we were in the same room. God is still with me. Now not because I learned in Sunday School that He should be, but because I choose Him to be. And my pride in my country is still with me. I only hope that I present a good reputation of the American people. When I first came to Erfurt, there were five of us, five “Foreign Kids”. We all started on the same path. We came to many of the same hurdles and challenges, but we all made our own choices based on our own separate biases. And now, our paths are proving to be much different, but we are all learning one common lesson and that is ourselves. I am learning who I really am and always was, and that is making a huge impact on who I want to become.
I can’t believe I’m already “over the hill” so to say of my exchange student year. Everything is exactly what everyone said it would be, but with its own little flare of me mixed in. My German is really good. I hardly even speak English anymore. Which is really hard ‘cause everyone here speaks English and I’ve learned to use that as a crutch for my inabilities in German, but not so much now. A couple weeks ago I went sledding with a big group of my friends. It wasn’t the little down hill sledding that we used to do in Tennessee. Oh no, since I’m in Germany, we had to climb a whole mountain to go sledding. But I can’t complain. It was gorgeous. I’ve never seen so much snow in my entire life. The 9th was my little sister’s birthday. I played “Happy Birthday to You” on the piano. I’m proud. And the 10th was my middle brother’s birthday. We had Sushi and it was really good. I even helped make it a little. Last week I went to BERLIN. Pretty cool, huh? It was actually awesome. We saw so much stuff. My favorite thing was the Jewish Museum and of course Starbucks. That was for three days. Then the day after I got back I went to Weimar. It’s a little tourist town right next to Erfurt. Goethe lived and wrote there evidently. It was really pretty, but really cold. But then again its cold everywhere. Then the next day we went to Dresden. This city was gorgeous. And they tell me it was even more beautiful before the Americans bombed the bageezes out of it. Now I’m back in school and back in my old routines.
I have a theory. You know the saying that you can never step in the same river twice. (If not just watch “Pocahontas”) Well it’s the same for exchange students. You can never meet the same exchange student twice because we change everyday. Not just every day, but sometimes in a couple hours or just one moment. That’s why I’m a little reluctant to write in the journal that I keep. ‘Cause I’ll go back and read it and I think, “Who wrote this?” Sometimes I feel like the me in Florida and the me now are total strangers. Like what did those two people ever have to do with each other. And then one day I’ll surprise myself and I’ll feel like I never left home, or one day I’ll go all the way back to being the me in Tennessee. No matter how much I keep writing I know I won’t fully explain it. But I think the other exchange students know what I’m talking about. Sorry that I took so long to send in this journal. The me that prefers sleeping procrastinated a bit.
Hello again. I take yet another break out of my fast paced German lifestyle to give y’all an insight into what I’m up to. Well let’s see…
When we last left our valiant heroine she was returning from many a travels abroad. Well lately I’ve stayed put. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced anything here at home. As a matter of fact, I went to the Ega here in Erfurt where I got to see the Minimundus. They’re models of famous places around the world all like 1/25th of the size or something. That was fun. And the Ega itself was very pretty. There were a lot of gardens and a butterfly room.
For another experience I went to the new theatre here in Erfurt with my family. We saw, “Das Traumfrescherchen”. Translated it means the dream-eater. It was an opera about a little princes who had bad dreams and her father the king went in search of a cure so that she could sleep again. In his journey he found das Traumfrescherchen and the little girl had to say a poem to get him to come to her and then he ate all her bad dreams and everyone lived happily ever after. I also went with my friends to see another play but it wasn’t nearly as entertaining and I didn’t understand it and not just because of the language.
Also just this past week and for the next I’m on holiday. I guess it would be Spring Break. But it doesn’t feel like it because it still isn’t quite warm. But I got to experience how Germans celebrate Easter. And ya know it's about exactly the same way we do. My host sister did make a couple cakes in the form of a lamb and an Easter bunny. I’ve never seen that before. And on Saturday there was a duck run on the river. The little kids from our city bought rubber duckies and then launched them simultaneously down the river. The one that reached the end first won something. I don’t know what.
And I’ll be changing host families this week. I’m very sad as I’ve been with this same family for four and a half months now. Its kind of frustrating so late in my exchange to have to start all over again. But as every Rotary experience I’m sure it will be a good one.
This is the point in my e-mail where I should give some insightful words of wisdom. Well I don’t have any. I’ve been reading up on the new outbound class. All I can say is that I’m totally jealous. I wish I could go back to the beginning. Of course even if I could I wouldn’t dare change one thing. Even the smallest experiences are making the biggest impacts on my life! If you new outbounds are smart, y’all have probably been reading the journals from us current outbounds. So in mine I want to include my e-mail address for anyone who has questions… wait I already did that a few months ago. Well I’ll do it again anyway: firstname.lastname@example.org
My year with Rotary has come to an end. This will be my final entry to close out this chapter of my life. I know I’m quite behind so I’m just going to skip the month of May, nothing too exciting happened then anyway, and I’m going to go straight to all that happened this past month.
In the first week of June I finally had my first event with Rotary. It was a camp in Northern Bavaria, one they’ve been holding for twenty some odd years. There I got to meet about fifty other exchange students from all around the world that were staying in different cities across Germany. We toured different cities in Bavaria including Nurnberg and Bamberg and learned about everything from the rise of Nazism to studying in a German University. But of course none of these things are what I think of when I recall this week of my life. During this week at Berg Feuerstein, surrounded by nature and sharing three showers among thirty girls, I met some of the most amazing people and made some of the strongest friendships that I know will last for years to come. I befriended some very special Americans, a couple Canadians to throw in a little spice, and some wild characters from Australia, all of which I have high hopes to see again. We were all amazed at how close we came in this one short week. I guess I can only say that there must have been something in the water.
Our friendships didn’t die up there on that mountain though. We all saw each other again in the weeks to come. The following weekend I was supposed to go to a campout with a neighboring district, but there was a bit of a problem with the trains, to say the least. To make a long story short, I didn’t make it to that weekend.
But then my dad came to visit me. It was so much fun to introduce him to my new family and my new home. We did a lot of sight seeing and I always found a chance to show off my German skills. But then Dad left and life went back to normal… yeah right.
The next weekend I joined District 1870 for their “Adventure Weekend”. And with the crazy cold weather and never ending rain, it turned out to be quite the adventure indeed. But what’s great is that I got to see many of my new friends again. We all painted t-shirts and went canoeing. It was great fun.
Then in the next week my friend Sarah from Australia came and visited me in my city. That was great fun. We watched Germany lose their final match and went out dancing. Then the following weekend I had two going away parties. The first was by my Canadian friend Nick whom I’ve known all year. We had a traditional Bratwurst dinner and just hung out at his house. The second was by a friend of mine from Indiana in a small town in Saxony. It was a very emotional evening. We stayed up all night watching the Goonies and enjoying every last moment together. The next day at the train station was all tears and goodbyes.
Then on Monday night I had my Abiball, which is the German equivalent of graduation and prom rolled into one. First they have a dinner with all of the parents where they say thanks to the teachers and play some games, then all the kids meet up at the disco for the dancing portion. Then Tuesday I visited Sarah again for her birthday, said my goodbyes there, and that night said my goodbyes to Nick and Omar. And Wednesday I had a luncheon with some friends from school and then dinner with my host family, and the next morning I was on a plane headed to Dallas Ft. Worth.
It’s amazing to recap now what all happened. I made enough friends and had enough experiences to fill an entire lifetime. And in a way I feel I did. The people in my life here will never understand exactly what I’ve been through, how I’ve changed. But am I sad that it’s over? No, just happy that I got to experience it.
Destination: Phang-nga, Thailand Sponsor Club: East Arlington School: Douglas Anderson School of Arts Read Joy's Journal - 04/17/04
August 22, 2003
I have been in Thailand a little over a month now, and aside from a little bit of a rough time in the beginning I have settled in pretty well. I have made friends at school and they, along with my host family and teachers, are really helpful. I have fallen in love with the Thai people, yet again. I have also had a bunch of opportunities to meet people, and travel. I have been to Phuket twice, and Bangkok once with my family, to drop my host sister Keaw off at the airport , and once on a school field trip, this past weekend. I also got the chance to dance in the "Thai Day" festival at my school, which was really neat.
I find that things are not as different here as I thought they would be. My best example of that is the day that I walked into my classroom and saw a guy sitting there playing a guitar... something that is very common in America but I never expected to see here in Thailand. It's also not uncommon to see people in the class scrambling to finish their homework in the morning, even copying it. heh. One thing that is different in my school are the classes. Well, the people in them. My class moves around together all day long, they spend their free times together and just hang out together. Though there are "cliques" they aren't closed off to every one else. I love the way they are so friendly with each other not excluding anyone.
Well I would say that's about it, but it's really not. There is no way I could possibly sum up this month. I have had so many great experiences, I can't even count them all. I can't wait to see what else will come up while I am here. Well Sawasdeekha for now.
Sorry that this took me so long to write. I am not very good at this and it just seems that every time I would try to write it, would get interrupted by some thing else. I just went from one big thing to the next, and that kept me pretty busy. Well, since I wrote last I have gotten to do a lot of really amazing things. I have gotten closer to my exchange student friends and all of my Thai friends. I have gotten to participate in a few Rotary things. RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) in Phuket, a northern tour for all of the exchange students, and with my Rotary club to teach an aids prevention class. I have also gotten to visit some of my exchange student friends in other provinces, which is very neat. I have participated in two English camps one at my school and one for Rotary in Phang-nga town.I have been doing very well. I got to go and spend the holidays with a friend and eat a very yummy Christmas dinner. I also found out that I will be changing host families this month, and though sad to leave this family I am very excited. I will be living in Phang-nga town, which is a big change from Tapput. I am also excited about language, I am getting much better and now my favorite thing to do is just talk to all the people I found out that I have to go to the other classes because they speak Thai to me. But it’s been such an exciting year I can’t believe that it’s half over already. I am definitely not ready to go home yet. Kit Tueng Tur, (Thinking of you) JoyApril 17 I was reading Al's email today and he is definitely right, I have been in Bragade Thai for 9 months now and it is really weird to think that I will be leaving in a little over a month....It is even harder to believe that I have already said good-bye to some of my friends for the last time. It's still not real that some have already gone home....Home seems to be the topic dwelt on almost constantly as we get closer and closer to it. Having thought about it a lot lately, I think I am ready to go home, though I still have a lot planned for here before I leave....Since last I wrote (a very long time ago) a lot has happened. In January I switched host families, towns and schools. It was really hard for me to switch schools, especially because Thai people are somewhat hard to get close to and there were only two more months left in the school year....But it was also exciting because it was a bigger town (there was even a 7-11), and since I already spoke Thai, that is what they spoke to me...the family is also really different and that made it harder too. Where in my old host family I had two host sisters, who were close to my age, my new host siblings are much younger and my host mother more protective (she hasn't had teenagers yet). But even though I have changed host families my first host sister P'Mai and I have gotten even closer. In fact I think she is definitely the Thai person that I will miss the most when I leave.Well, aside from all of that things have gotten to be a lot more interesting, since school got out in March (and even a little before) I have traveled a lot, which has really been nice....I have traveled with Rotary, my host family and other YE's and having a great time. It's really nice to be in a place where you can just hop a bus and go anywhere you want....even if it is just for a day or two. I also have more things planned before I leave. I have to keep busy so I don't think about home (heh).... I think the most exciting thing that I will be doing is taking a 10 day meditation course, to learn more about Buddhism....During this course I will be starving myself, trying my hardest not to talk to the other YE's, and trying to harness my mind (hehehe).... I am definitely going to try to make the best out of the rest of my year, even if there isn't too much left....I might try to write again but looking at my track record I don't know if that will happen....Kit Tueng Tur,(thinking of you)Joy
Danielle Popp Destination: Kanazawa, Japan Sponsor Club: Gainesville School: Gainesville East Read Danielle's Journal - 04/29/04
September 30, 2003
I'm having a wonderful time here in Japan! Seems I fell into perfection. I'm the only student here who isn't full of complaints! I'm sure I'll have my rough moments too, though I've only made a few cultural blunders thus far ... most having to do with when and when not to take my shoes off.
So far, I've walked in a parade, taken part in the school festival, toured some of Kanazawa (went to the garden on this post card!), and made many friends. Will write my monthly report as soon as our computer is fixed.
This is the fourth time I've tried to begin this entry. Got to be the most difficult introduction I've ever written, so I think I'll just skip it at this point and just go. ^^;Japan. Wow. What can I say about Japan that would even come near to describing truthfully the experiences and feelings I've had over the past few months? Amazing to me, really, that I've been here for months…time must move differently here, because months have never flown by in such a rush before. When I think back, Japan has been this mass of excitement and people and neon lights and intricate characters all balled up and thrown right in my face…a whirlpool of overwhelming colors and feelings that's swallowed me whole. I swear I haven't even done that much, yet thinking back all I get are visions of festival lanterns and chanting monks and again, SO many people, as if all the swirls of memory are something from some busy movie rather than experiences I've actually gone though.My first night here I was already out with my host sister, who's my age, and a group of Japanese teenagers, weaving through the crowds on the endless (or so it then seemed) Katamachi, the main street in my city. It was like I had tripped and fallen into the Discovery Channel; all the neon sighs and half-English half-Japanese advertisements everywhere, seas of black-haired people and so many boutiques and restaurants and little stands, and everywhere venders calling out "IRASHAIMASE!!" right in your ear. That means welcome. ^_^ Never going to seem quite right to walk into a store in America and not have at least five people screaming welcome at me. Hee.I entered school right at the time of the school festival. What a time to get there…school festival means students everywhere, projects and costumes and food and havoc. Everyone is everywhere all the time. I really felt the size of my school then. The first sight of my school included a huge model of Atstro Boy (famous Japanese cartoon character) towering over me made completely out of soda cans. There were boys in dresses all over the place. o.O The festival would last for three days, and the opening day I was wrapped into a traditional yukata (like a kimono only cooler, because there are less layers) by one of the teachers and paraded around town…no really, I walked with my school in a parade right through the heart of the city to open our festival.The excitement did eventually die down, and the students turned into the regular uniformed, intellectual kids who live and breathe school, as I had first expected. I'm still having trouble understanding classes, but hey, YOU try reading the board when the writing system consists of over 3000 pictograms. And this from someone who's really good at reading Japanese too. It's tough. Not to mention the fact that the teachers have horrendous handwriting. ^^;;;Let me explain a bit about the Japanese writing system. There are three writing systems: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Kanji is the scary one that everyone recognizes…the complex pictograms that number 3000+. There are easier systems though. Hiragana and katakana are more like what we would think of as "alphabets". They have 46 characters each, each character representing a syllable (ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, like that). Japanese can be written completely using the easy texts, though usually what we see is a mix of all three. Kanji is used for the words, hiragana is used to change word endings and such, or for words that don't have kanji. Katakana is for foreign words (which there are a lot of in Japanese) and sound effects.I've become obsessed with kanji. I love reading and writing, and I'm far better in those areas at this point than I am at speech. That doesn't, however, mean I know much kanji at all…kanji is impossible to just sit down and memorize, because not only are there so many characters, but there are more than one reading for most of the characters, and many ways to use the character. @_@ You just have to learn kanji as you learn Japanese, and this is why I still can't follow certain classes at all. Classes like history and old Japanese are nothing but kanji. Math is easier to follow, and actually helps me to learn kanji, and then there are classes like PE and calligraphy which are easily my favorites because I can fully participate.Moving off the writing tangent…I'm now with my second host family, which consists of host father, really cool host mother, and three older brothers.I am having the time of my life.My brothers are so great. Especially over the holidays there's been no lack of brothers. Only one lives at home year-round. He's the middle brother, at 24. The oldest (25), is in town, but we don't see much of him. He and his fiancé were around quite a lot lately though. The youngest brother (20) is back from college in Tokyo for the time being. There've been movies and outings and even a trip to Kyoto with everyone. With all the brothers around there's been sports on TV 24/7, and already I'm learning the names of wrestlers and actually coming to appreciate the difficulty of golf. I even watched a football game the other night of my own free will. Craziness. On top of warming to sports, since it's all guys all the time, I've developed quite the "otoko Kanazawa-ben", or boys' form of the Kanazawa dialect. So apparently I'm going to go back to school talking slang like a boy. XD Plenty of video games and boys comics too, which are my favorite anyway, so I'm set.We've had fun. ^^So school starts tomorrow and it's back to the old routine. I'll be sad when it's just my host mom and I around for the most part, once everyone's back at work/school. I certainly will miss having my huge family around. I wouldn't mind staying in this family for the rest of my stay.I see the other exchange students now and then, mostly my friend from Canada and a guy who's in my Japanese class with me. (Yes, I even go to cram school at night for Japanese, just like in anime! XD) Hopefully I'll have more time to write some entries now that I've gained computer access.Minna-sama, Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! (Happy New Years, everyone!)
Happy Valentines Day, everyone! ^^ Yes, it is celebrated here. Only slightly different. Valentines is more a day to say thank you. It's the day when girls make chocolates and give them to the boys. There's a parallel day, March 14th, called White Day, on which the boys HAVE to give chocolate back to any girl that gave them something on Valentines Day.Thus I am making brownies for all the boys in my class. *grin*The last month has been...eventful. But more in the Danielle-thinking-too-much or the Danielle-converses-inside- her-own-head-too-much way than true EVENTS. I guess I'll start off with the fact that I had a bout of severe displeasure for a few weeks. I was upset with myself for not being better at Japanese. I was upset with my family and my school for not letting me be better at Japanese. I was upset at Japan for not being what I wanted it to be, and upset again at myself for wanting it to be more than it already was. I was restless, rather bored, majorly negative, and just all around wanted to go home for awhile there.All in my head. It was only natural. I was fine at Japanese. I kept telling myself that, but just couldn't accept it. Until. One day, no special day in particular, I went to school and WOAMYGOSH! I'm suddenly a Japanese high school student. I could understand my classes. Not all, by far, but I could copy kanji off the board, thanks to the disgusting amount of time I put into practicing kanji before. Then I could go home and slowly, painstakingly translate it. Thus more insane hours focusing on kanji. I studied all day until midnight every day for a week or so (just like the other kids), and whatdoyouknow, I can now open my math book and read it.Practically killing myself in school perked me up so much. XD I felt like I belonged. Finally. I could communicate. Really. Not just sit there and pretend I could figure out what the conversations were about. ...But now there's this other sort of sadness. I wrote a journal entry on it a few days ago that I think proper to quote from:"...it's become my life now. Somewhere along the line, between my elation from being in Japan and my disappointment with Japan at the same time...somewhere in there a life began. And all of a sudden, I'm in this pattern. This fabulous pattern that feels so natural. It's like I've never lived anywhere else. Traces of the American culture keep slipping away, and gradually the parts of America I used to long for seem a turn-off. And the Japanese lifestyle that once seemed so simple to me has become anything but. After a short spell of depression and general upset feelings geared toward everything around me, I fell into this perfect, wonderful existence.Existence. But there's so much more than that now. Now, instead of just existing while Japan went on around me, I'm now living Japan. I can communicate. I can understand. I study in school and joke with my friends and go through piles of manga (Japanese comic books) in a few hours rather than the one a day I MIGHT have been able to pull off around Christmas. My old American habits baffle me...what I used to do, how I used to think. And not that it's all gone, I mean I'm still completely me...just a bit more Japanese.""And you know, I forget so often that I'm foreign. I forget that I don't look like everyone else and that I won't always be in this place I feel like I've lived in forever.Then I catch someone staring and the truth comes crashing down around me. It's like in a manga, when the background around me seems to melt into darkness and leaves me in the spotlight there...the gaijin in the schoolgirl costume clinging to her bento (lunch) and bag of Japanese-learning textbooks. And I bow my head and let my Japanese-style hair fall across my face so that maybe no one else will notice my eyes. I could be just a schoolgirl with dyed hair, right?Right?...Four and a half months."*"How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?"- LotRApril 29
Well now. I must insist that it has definitely not been over a month since I last wrote. Valentine's Day was last week, it's the rest of you who are displaced in time and can't quite see that. ........... Wow. May already?So busy comes not even close to describing how the past few months have been. I swear to you that time moves differently here. Japan is this big routine of school and club and work and if you're lucky a little sleep, then school and club and work and work and school and work and club. And once you get stuck in this pattern, there's no emerging unless you happen to get a week of holidays, like I'm on now. *whew* Honestly, I haven't had a moment to breathe or sleep, let alone think of anything other than school in...well a few months.It all started on spring break. The business started anyway, not the school. That ended. Heh. Spring break was me running all over Japan to everyplace I've ever wanted to go. There were towns and temples and Universal Studios, ATM machines and t-shirts and a general spending of too much money. Then on to more towns and meetings and Rabid Rotary Kids running all over town doing exchange-y things. Plus Tokyo and restaurants and brother (but not really).Did you get all of that? That's ok, I'm not sure I did either, frankly.What's lame about being so busy is that while you're trying to keep up with everything, you end up missing a lot. School's rather like that too.School, which started again, and suddenly I'm in second year and I'm able to keep up with classes. Well, keep up with classes, that is, if I study every waking moment, and most of the moments which should normally be spent sleeping. That's what I did, alright. Let me tell you, translating textbooks takes FOREVER. But I'm doing it. It's fun, in a way. I get to learn lots of stuff, and I never get tired of working on cracking Japanese. Actually, I can't keep up with all my classes. There just is no possible way. Takes me all my time and energy to keep up with Japanese history, world history, chemistry, and vocabulary tests. Now add that to club (cheer club and helping with English club) which goes till about six-thirty every day, Japanese cram school which goes later twice a week, and all the stuff I have to do outside of school on top of that...well, you can see why this entry is such a hectic mess. Because that's what my life looks like. My mind's programmed into my pattern now, and to break from it is just...woah. (o.o) Ok...slowing down now. Let's see...I'm currently addicted to green tea. I can't get enough of it. I think this is because I haven't had it in so long. For some reasons, families tend to stock wheat tea....*makes a face* I can drink it, since I have to every single day, but I really hate wheat tea.There's so much good cooking I'll miss when I'm gone...wish I had time to learn to make some of it. Maybe I'm taking this whole Japanese student thing a bit too seriously...but when everyone around me is busy working to the point of being ridiculous, one tends to want to be busy too. I recently sent home a bunch of stuff (mostly comics, of which I've acquired quite the collection, but hey, that's why I can read so well now.), and I'm going to do my best to NOT let a lot more stuff build up. Moving to my last house on....a day that keeps changing that should be sometime next week. *laugh* Everyone's too busy. Always, always. Break the pattern for moving? What?Sometimes I love this pattern. Sometimes I hate it. I don't think I could live it forever. I really, honestly don't. I couldn't deal with doing the same thing day after day after day for the rest of my life, without varying. It's enough for now though, because it feels right, because that's how everyone here lives. And that's where I am. I'm here. (^^) Until the next, then.
Destination: Cremona Po, Italy Sponsor Club: Southpoint School: Douglas Anderson School of Arts Read Philip's Journal - 05/24/04
October 13, 2003
The world according to Philip Ramsey.
My last time speaking with you, I was confident about the endeavor I was about to undertake. a friend once told me that confidence finds its roots in ignorance. he was probably right. as you may already know, I am in Italy.
The past month, has been comprised of me accepting the existence of a different reality, or rather, accepting my existence in a reality standing far off from the one that I was born into. when I first got here, I marveled at the beautiful marble walls and the insufficiently narrow streets, the cobblestone, the churches, the seven year olds with a smokers cough worse than my addicted uncle's... every insignificant detail was a masterpiece painted with centuries of delicate preservation for me.
Now, I am comfortable and at home here. it grows harder and more hard for me to logically imagine just how exactly I used to function in a world so different from this one. with my slow and progressive knowledge of the language growing, I become more and more a member of this society. with open arms I am accepted as an authority on the mind of America and they gladly receive my perspective on the world.
Of course. certain issues must be avoided.
The war that America is involved in, for example. just walking down the streets of Italy, you can see that most people here are against this war. from windows everywhere there are colorful flags hanging, saying "PACE," meaning peace. an expression of their pleasant and quiet protest.
it is hard to restrain myself from getting involved in these sort of talks, but what I say will be taken as the ideals of an entire nation, and therefore, cannot be said.
And on. the world according to philip is a world of routine.
My life: after settling into my new life, a certain euphoria establishes itself in my mind. sitting quietly in the back of my head is the knowledge that my current reality is what a dream consists of. and the awareness that I will not wake from this dream stems a plethora of emotions. it makes me nervous. this is for the simple reason that I still do not fully speak the language here and every step I take must be taken cautiously and with reservation because there is no way for me to explain to anyone my inhibitions. I also feel a tinge of regret. regret at my having left all that I know and love. I love Jacksonville. and miss it and all the people that I have come to form strong relationships with. however there is an established excitement and anticipation for all the experiences I am stumbling upon. I am learning an entirely new way of life. it is slowly becoming my life.
My day: in Italy, there are three types of schools; the school of the classical literature, school of the arts, and school of mathematics. I attend the school of mathematics. we have school Monday thru Saturday and the times of school vary from six hours a day to four. after school, I tend to go home and have lunch with my host mother (who is a fantastic cook). then I usually take a bike ride through the countryside. go to the Oglio River and sit by it while updating my journal. the land is beautiful here. everywhere you go there is open country and fresh air. on Tuesdays I play soccer with the local soccer team and twice a week my host brother and I go to the gym in the city. days run together here. because they are so similar in their routine, everyday seems like the continuation of a blissful rest from the anxieties of America (for there is no room for anxiety in our schedules). as a dream lacks the essence of time, so these days lack necessity for numbers.
Me: I am happy here. my classmates are more than kind (they recently took me on a trip to a festival in Modena). although I do not quite feel as if I have found my place amongst the people here, give it time, philip. much of my free time is spent worrying about how things are being kept up in Jacksonville. I am somewhat concerned that when I return, the world will have gone upside down in my absence. I know this will not be the case. it is simply the nature of fear to distort truth in such a manner.
Well. as of now, that is all. you will hear from me again. shortly.
In the past month i have written thirty-seven emails pertaining to this topic.
Emails consisting of 'i went here' and 'i did this' type of language.
Forgive me if i leave those lines out in this conversation-style entry.
In sixth grade i read a book by Gary Paulsen called "The Hatchet."
It is a fiction about a young boy who was on his way from some city in america where he lives with his mother to canada.
His father lives in canada and he was going to go visit for a while.
The pilot had a heart attack in flight and they ended up crashing into a forest somewhere in the middle of northern america.
The boy survived the crash and learned to survive in the forest for a long amount of time before being discovered and rescued.
The thing that struck me that i still remember was towards the end of the book.
When the boy was back home. He was trying to explain what it was like living out there in the wild.
And all that he could come up with was the hunger. How there was always only one goal in mind and one thing to work for. The next meal.
Here. I begin to feel a similar sensation. However for me it is not in the pangs of my stomach. It is the language. It is in words. My independence and self-sustaining attributes lie in wait for me to be able to sustain a conversation. I crave the language and all of its intricacies as he must have craved the simplicity of drive thru service. To be fluent. Oh to speak as the wind moves. That is what my mind pursues.
It is the morning fogs that get to me. Something that florida is deprived of. Fogs that descend while we lay dreaming. And when we wake, they present our minds with that almost believable idea that we are still dreaming. If it weren't for the frosty air, we may find ourselves believing.
On the bus to school there is always somewhat of a quarrel between the older kids to get to sit in the back. Well. I try to get as close to the windshield as possible on these trips. Because there is mystery in only seeing the next ten meters of road. And often i will turn my head to watch the fields that have been beyond harvest for two months now. This nebulous gives them all the glamour and glory that they must feel they lack in these colder times. It is the type of beauty that the poets call sorrow. And i love it.
Imagine a sawmill. Right on a river somewhere out west. Logs always floating in from upstream where the loggers send them from. These are the schools. the loggers being the teachers. And well. After two months, i am still a bump on one of those logs. the teachers here speak much faster than anyone else. And as a consequence, i cannot follow the lessons. I don't mind too much. My italian professor has an expansive english library so i spend most of my time in school either studying the language, or reading some new book that i snatched on my way out of lesson.
Things are not better nor worse. Just different.
A philosophy that us exchange students must never let go of. The most efficient cure for homesickness i have found is the 'Save as draft' portion of my email account. Centuries from now when archeologists stumble upon the thousand upon thousand of words in rant and rave that exist in this file, they will probably assume me to be some sort of strange adventurer that did nothing all his time in the land beyond but write about the land he came from. Which in a sense i am. And i do. But the world turns and it has been gracious enough to take me along.
Gracious. A better way of putting it would be that i am now on one of those experiences that we have in our lives where we spend too much of our time making the observation that this completely breaks through the realm of what we ever could have hoped to have expected and extends into the sphere of a gift given by really amazing people who just want to change lives. They have.
I feel like a metaphor right now. As if some day someone will use me and my life as an analogy to some bigger picture that they are trying to draw. The bigger picture being ... the humanitarian heart? The vocational beginning of adaptation? The taste of a good merlot? I have no idea. I think that is why i still feel it. Like the fog, i hold on to it's appeal because it incites me with that romantic flare of mystery.
I see Freudian slips come about with nearly every sentence i try to produce. Of course, they are merely mistakes of my unlearned tongue. But i am very suspicious that it knows better what i am really wanting to say, and thus when the lady rings me up at the counter for my panini and caffe and i say 'congratulations!' instead of 'see you later!' well. I wonder if it was a mistake. Or if deep within all of us there is the smallest bit of a cynical humor.
I am going to wrap it up now.
End it with a french adieu and a farewell to friends.
Well, i'll see you in a month right?
Same time as always.
And as a friend once put it:
This is philip signing off from the front lines.
And of the now. Moments. Like. Escaping nothing. Remember when. Wait. That was. Now. Is. Moments. Superlative. Like.
This is my third time telling you stuff. Before starting this sentence, and after ending the one before, I went back and read every other stuff I told to you. This world is different from those described to you previously.
it is December now. December in Cremona is the color of fog. Without the lack of vision. You can see miles of blank stares. Blank grasses. Blank statues. Blank streetlights. Blank trees. Blank leafless limbs. Blank cobblestone. Blank churches. Blank. Blank. Everyday I work with words (I work on their combination for meaning, rubbing them together until my mind becomes blistered by their friction) to fill in the blank with an imagination of centuries of color being worked off and battered down on by rain and years and the. Unending amount of gravity that keeps bringing us back to earth. I watch this world slowly cover itself with an oneiric haze.
I feel a new and unsteady amount of gravity being placed on me as I begin to speak. As I begin to speak Italian, the unattached and floating sense of "this is just a moment. let us watch it as it passes," moves away. I become grounded on this land. I become a member of something. Something similar to action. To the general beauty of action. I do not move through the motions of those leading me. I now make my own motions. Move my hands through the water. Create my own waves.
And I watch days pass. Watch them like the day before. The beautiful day before. Becomes the beautiful tomorrow. And I wonder which day is going to bring the regret of not inscribing each second. Into words. Into mind's eye. But promenading through my routine is more cogent than losing these times to wondering how many moments are left. And so. The world becomes one again with the dexterity of grandfather time pulling strings to help me fall into place. All it takes is time. The world becomes one.
I have a performance the eighteenth of this month. My first performance. It is with an actor here, a guitarist, a singer, and a violinist. It is for the Rotary Christmas party. We have been practicing for it and I think it will go alright. But my host mother said that I should get a haircut and shave for the performance (it's been a while since I really looked in a mirror). This actor said that in the spring he will be asking me to work with him on some other projects. We'll see how that turns out I guess. But, the performance is the eighteenth, admission is free so long as you are on the invite list. Hope to see you there.
This line represents the lapse of seven hours. Seven hours ago from when I am writing this, I told you more stuff. In between those seven hours, I learned a fair amount of stuff. For instance, I now know my next three families. In January I go to a family with two boys and a dog. One boy is my age. I've met him. He smiles a lot and likes to play chess. After this family, I go stay with the principal of my school. He is a jolly old fellow who always wears a nice suit. And then I return back to the family I am in for the end of the year. The year. The year. For the rest of my life, whenever I say "the year," there will be a specific year that I will be talking about. (this one).
And the rest of my life is very much up in the air after these past three months. Where does one go after decidedly changing their life? Back to the "good ole industrial pathway on which ye hath begun"? But how laughably unutterable those words become. Lives don't change just for the sake of stockpiling memories. Do they? I wonder if I will ever be settled in America after this. In Jacksonville. A (originally A was a mistype, but then I decided that A could stand for: me) received a book in the mail from a friend. It was a beautiful book sent for the purpose of lightening the load of loneliness that A bore. It was a gift from a wizard, A assumes. For it worked like magic. But it also produced other effects inside of A. it was a story of a traveler in her first journey, a journey that has led her to a life of searching. And A wonders what she is finding. I wonder if I will find the same.
This is my December update on the situation in Italia. Me being the situation. This week I have to plan my return trip home. It seems a bit too early to decide. I guess it probably should be before September. But that seems so little time. My father says "usually in July." I guess we'll see, right?
It is December now. A blank December. A December filled to the brim with: Alacrity. Edification. You know. Stuff.
I am going now. Got stuff to do.
"i am destined to travel down
the secondary roads
of the american dream."
Let's start with a quote. We'll begin with arthur miller and his perspective of middle class america and what it is that they hope (beyond hope) to get out of life. The american dream. With this quote, we'll start from end and move backwards.
Next step after the great playwright: the secondary roads. We will not follow suit. We will instead take your directions and sort of kind of maybe get sidetracked by something more relevant to our misunderstanding of the way the world should be. We will wander from the director's cut, revised edition, abridged and unforwarded story of a path that robert frost did not take, to the last (or was it first?) addition to our understanding of this quote.
Destiny. Virgil says that Aeneas got his told to him more than once by mother, lover, god of earth, god of sea, god of everything you can imagine, even enemy and still was found unsure of his next steps at times. I wonder which road signs are mine. I wonder if this quote that we sit dissecting now was built for me. But. These are things irrelevant.
I found peace in milan. It was waiting in the form of rest for my late night weary eyes. It sat anticipating my arrival on a modern-style red sofa in a college girls room. The sheets already made for a fellow traveler to kick shoes off and smile. We spent our time (our being us being myself, avia (rotex from cremona who studies in milan), and jordan (texan just vacationing on rotary's time)) walking San Babila and solving all the mysteries of those strange gaming gambling hustlers with their one-eyed jacks and their papercups. But there was more. There were shakespearean arguments on the value of time, there were ballroom dances, there were trees, there were icy needly winds, there were metro rides at midnight, there were grocery stores, there were
But we will move on.
I came back from milan with an air of inevitable change. The night of my return. The telephone taught me to recognize the voice of an american comrade of mine that i had not thought of in long. The night of my return we spoke of art. and of the growth that has been the essence of my personal movements of form. We spoke. And talked. And whispered about dead adventures. And shouted about tomorrow's. and something that had been laying dormant inside of me since my arrival was awakened. He told me he may find his roads crossing the milestone that is Paris. In march. I hope our roads may cross in this city. In this time. In this time.
Tomorrow. I change families for the first time. I have been living and learning with the Bertoglio family for five months. But Rumor jumped the gun last week and came into my quiet sleep and softly cleared my mind to paint pictures of tomorrow. I am ready. But i leave the village of Scandolara. Become another city child. We will see what effects may come. What affects may grow.
In Italy, i am philip ramsey. The scruffy, ruffled, scraggly writer that smiles a lot and happened his way here from america. Now, having opened the doors and watched the peaceful solitude blow in the wind to be replaced with joyful conversation and the 'slapontheback' friendships that seem to come in surplus in this nation, i am philip ramsey. One and the same as when i left. Except. Well. The exception not coming to my mind in clear cut simple format. Let me turn to the words of someone i trust. Dickens said,
"it was now too late and too far to go back, and i went on. And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me."
If a rose does not bloom than it is not a rose. It is simply a weed with thorns.
A week ago, i saw a beggar, leaning on his wooden crutch. He cried to the passerbyers stories of the birth of italy. In times where children were the rose and the great empire that they were birthed under, the sun and rain. I want to be that rose. Blooming under the influence of thousands of years of sacred solemn radiant serenity and fruitbearing ethereal jovial triumphant
When the sun shines i notice the last word of the unended sentence caught echoing off of the brick and marble walls. A word that i reach for. Grasping, tearing at the nothing that seperates us. I hear it on the lips of mothers chiding their children to wear their scarves tighter around their necks. In the accordian chords of the city block wanderers who sing songs for quarters as we go about our way. A word that maybe possibly probably will not come to me today. But it is the most important portion of this journal. It is why i came to italy.
You will here from me again.
p.s. the quote was not of arthur miller. It comes from a north carolina poet named fitzgerald. I was introduced to her words by my mother. By my mother that i love so dearly.
I did not realize that at a certain point in the year the complications would stop being cultural and start being the same type of stuff we worry about in America. well. hello.
i want to write you-
[(i want) to watch
the clouds sway
the lacing fingers of the weeping willow
(the one that stretches out into the calm river)
(i want) to watch
first in my perspective;
ruffling the calm blank
-et of water
Id call it romance. But it would be false to find first love in the warm wind passing winter from us. The sun set itself at four thirty yesterday. Me. My beingness. Stretched on an extended ended tree. I was thinking and thinging things inside a mind that watched four walls(balance) become and lose and manipulate innocence (youth) into personal growth (life). Balance was lost when youth became life.
There was a borrowed bicycle, an american boy, an ancient myth of a flowing Po river, music. E.E. Cummings' orange winds passing. I found a secret place in the woods surrounding the southern tip of my city. Seven kilometers outside of the town and nearing the province, through mud and bush and trees stands Peace; Beauty. I watched myself in dreams emerge onto the field of psyche as she picked the golden fleece from the grazing rams. The colors. Sunsets and. The silence of flocks of birds returning. And. Colors are music.
But I do not think that is true. It must be inverted, rather. The undying goal of music must be a visual and superlative splash of surging of spectral reflective light on canvas. it is not the single drops of water that hit the canvas roof of the market fruitstand that catch the eye, it is the unbearable weight of all, the encumbering mass of millions of molecules of water that break through the sheeted covering and it is the universally recognized beautiful bombous BOOM as it splashes against the cobblestone road. BEAUTY. BOOM BELLEzza.
(bathe in ethereal wind).
i was sitting on a bench. it was not a park bench and i am not just speaking in first person as a narration for a universal understanding of setting a fictional scene for a fictional her. i was sitting on a bench. and the sun broke a line through the clouds. and there were birds singing. and the wind picked up a newspaper that had been left on the sidewalk. and a man was holding a briefcase and walking fast and there were cars in the world making things noisy.
and i realized that this was happiness.
and it began to rain and i fell in love with days like today. walking home. the rain kept me from being dry. from drying out. and i was in one of those states. Who was it? Big Bird. He said. be happy.
pingat the thekeys right now. this is one of the only times of the week that i get to read/think in english. so humor me.
Oh, I haven't said a single thing about italy. But I think there is purpose in that. Because obvious variations have occurred in the past little while. These were anticipated and their arrival was unnoticed. But I realized after the sending and response of emails from a friend that. The complications and problems of the rest of this year have become only of a domestic nature. That cultural and lingual and blah blah blah no longer present obstacles. Home is where (I'll say it again) home is where we are probably maybe it is comfort. Home is comfortable and gives us the opportunity to be anxious and sit on sofas and lounge and make midnight snacks and invite friends for tea and borrow socks from brothers and home is where is where is where I and probably is possibly the thing that allows me! to grow close is comfort. Bringing this nonsensible enigmatic update to a close, home is where I am.
two months ago i realized something about italy that fascinated me. it started with a phrase that i said in italian that we use in english. 'I grow older' so i said 'cresco piy vecchio'. but i was told that they do not say it like that. they say 'divento piy grande'. which translates to 'i become bigger.'
it set me on a train of thought about the mindset of this nation and how they have similar modes and phrases that vary from america only in the respect that it separates the man from mortality. the speech used to speak about the natural progression of man (although unconsciously) is very much a discussion of evolution and the progression of soul above self. man does not grow. he becomes. not 'how old are you', but 'how many years do you have'. Maybe there is nothing there to learn and it is just the common mode of speech. Or maybe this is all the difference separating worlds from worlds, realities from realities.
memories of places that you have left slowly walk away from you until you turn around to watch them and realize that they have disappeared into the silent echo of dreams. right now america and family and friends and home has taken the image of something that is not actually real. just a dream i had last night that will be forgotten soon. i know that when i return home, italy will become that dream. and i fear that for the rest of my life i will be left to chase dying dreams. one place to the next. unending.
I went to rome for a week. On rome: this is the sound of rome at early one morning.
statued_byron sat in villa borghese and i passed him and he stood grave and strong with marble eyes and i thought that this must be a day undeserving of less than history made in certainty.
i played a game of hackysack in the coliseum with a friend and then he accidentally kicked it over the fence and near the ledge and i jumped the fence and stood on the ledge knowing something was in the in that i was there.
i refuse to speak english wherever i go. they hear my accent and insist on assuming that it would be easier for me to speak in english but i walked out of seven stores and one bar today and this evening because when i asked for 'due panini' he replied 'two sandwiches?' and so this world comes to a place where sitting across from my friend i tried to make my complaint against it but before speaking i tried to name the countries of the world without their english speaking capitols.
rome is rome. it does not die. i saw a man with an accordion hanging across his back and he had a cup in his hand and i chuckled and said that 'you're not getting much money without making the song' and he began to play and he played with soul and eternity and a blue wind poured down upon us from marble stones broken by earlier winds blown upon them.
i watched him play and i watched his eyes because his eyes watched mine and every intended solo in the single man band was presented with a wink from an eye that knows more than this world has taught it.
in vatican city i climbed sixhundred and something steps and saw you, rome. i saw you as you slept through yawning morning sun and your life was motionless in grey light and i sat with you perched next to sanpietro and benedicto.
I spent two mardi gras days in Venice. On venice:
I lose my
Self and my
Belonging desire to long night
O Venice. (you
Will always be my sadness that was gifted
So dear ago
To me from that stolen silhouetted
Memory of dream)
Your night stretched from
Bridge spot to bridge
I love you and you steal me.
venice. i smelled the sea in venice as i taxied across the bay to the city. i fell in love with that city. tomorrow i think i'll go buy a gondola and just head out there to make my money as a tourist trap.
lines in stores do not exist. we just all use our memory about who was first. you walk in and memorize every face already in there and you do not walk up to pay until every face is checked off either by paying or indicating with a nod of the head or a tip of the hat or some other gesture that you are to go before them. that's how i do it anyway. some people just walk in and pay and skip all the others but i like it my way.
don't ever leave or change or grow.
i have been the background to thousands of strangers foto albums.
The improbable happens when we close our eyes. The mind is its own cycle and our thoughts run in patterns as our body rests. Images, sounds, textures, fragrances all can be created and recreated through the medium of an ever expanding memory. wherefore, the proposition stands that there is, in its own right and entirety, another world, another reality, something else that consumes the void, that in itself enraptures us, while we lay our heads to sleep. But I am not here to discuss the nature of dreams, instead I would like to share with you the essence of actualities.
At night, While sleeping, with my head thrown against the cotton covering of my well indented pillow, the identities of my family, the entities of my comrades, my friends, my loves spread out across this earth, are with me. Strangely, you do not hear my voice when I speak out to you. When I call for you to draw near so that we might embrace as only loved ones do, you do not heed my cry. Instead I watch good Time and black Night dance together through the thick and thorn-covered fields of Fear.
Italy, you are the closest that I have found to Silence. and I thank you for it. Tho' at times my Voice and my Sad and my Rage and my Worry have pelted your stars with unjustified questioning, your wisdom, your strength to teach the world through patience and quiet, has given me everything.
Well, Jacksonville, How're ya doin'? here i live in a routine that is broken every week or two weeks by my insistence on not falling down in a pit of redundancy which is when i hop a train on over to Milan or Parma or somewhere and stay with a friend for a night or two and open all the windows and sing old folk songs while drinking warm tea and watching cab drivers zip on by on the roads beneath our window.
I'm goin' to Greece in a lil' while. My friend went to Barcelona. He bought me the Biggest Sombrero he could find in all of Spain.
Through pathos and fog, sitting in a blue metal chair (stand, sit, stand, sit; movement influenced by the motions of the heart), searched and found was the word.
Tho' Night has stolen these solemn lofty flights through radiant skies, I steal back Moment's hand and drag her through Daedalus' sky-lined path from Minos' kingdom to the rising Mountaintop of Chalcis. we chase the zigzagging line of Rumor through rumbling countrysides. Moment and I. Her hair flows behind her and her green eyes shine within their holy hollowed dome.
i try to speak but she and I both know that there is no word without paradox. no perfection with description. I want to shout I want to dream I want to fly. (you stand next to me, glorious Moment, and I cannot hide from your eternity. You are stoicism's strength defined by nothing; Epicurus' sip of water. I want to tell you about how I will not wear this world and all its burdens. That I will stand on Perseus' clouds and learn from moving light. That I will escape this thick, heavy, mantle of mortality. I will escape like a cat in a hat that got out. or better yet. like a box of dynamite that turned out to be just another dud.)
I will shout I will dream I will Fly
It is a dangerous thing that you all have given me. Dangerous in the sense that no matter which steps i choose or are chosen for me, the path has been given new colors; new tones, new ambients, new shades and darks and lights have presented themselves in the waking moment of my life. I learned on the top of a desolate mountainside peak that there will never be any change in the cyclical fall of time from our shoulders; no matter the relevance of its passing state, it will always pass; nothing returns. And that is how i sat in sunlit days in rome, in venice, in florence, milan, cremona, with my mother, sighing softly with the brilliant painted city on her mind, next to me. My mother is a rose with velvet petals, as she brushes through this world, she leaves her perfumed memory for the rest of us.
Poetry is a beautiful way to describe how i forgot to notice the sound of bells tolling in each hour of my day. My mother reminded me of everything that separates 'us' from 'them'. Us. Them. When and where do the rest of 'those' fall, which i have become? Soon i will be flying across the atlantic sea and will no longer be 'us' but on my way to worry about re-becoming 'them'. Poetry. It must be one of those contradictions of heart that allows me to be so faithful to such a chivalrous thought as that thought which prevents me from staying here. Paradox. Maybe that is all that poetry brings us. The realizations that, yes, i will write for you a heart that does not die and hopes to never change or leave, but, no, i will not remain in my physical state in your presence because this poetry that i have written is in fact just a mathematical formula comprised of strategically placed words. Language. It seeps from our pores reeking of misunderstanding. The dumb man eats just as well as the bureaucrat and yet we continue to proscribe a false necessity to its existence. Is there a necessity for this sensation that i receive as i walk from marble sidewalk to cobblestone street? I earnestly hope so. But i fear that if there is, than every day that i will be separated from these ancient fields i will fall further into that pit of regret.
I took my mother to the canals of venice, the fashions of milan, the eternity of rome, the art of florence, the nature of sirmione, the serenity of mantova, and the humanity of cremona. I heard music in her breathless awe- as she had never seen anything as truly different from the world in which she comes from as my home.
I guess this is my time for reflections. This is my final month and these are my last moments to stay attentive to this world that i love. Blink. Turn your head. Lose concentration on the unchanging rhythm of this life and it is gone. No more. Soon i return to america. America. Amerigo Vespucci would not recognize the title as his own. You are your own constellation. Separate from that which steals my evening gaze.
The nights keep passing and the morning neglects to speak to my silent waiting/watching anticipation. I awake to hear the rooster as he calls to light the worker's eyes. I step through moment to minute as minute realizations are lost to the force of thought produced by the arrival of ends and beginnings.
Reflection. Let's see. You have taught me to love a nation of hearts which before last autumn's harvest, i had never known. Your silence has shown me the wisdom of laughter. The rains that pass through your never changing body have washed away my memory of life without; replacing my ignorance with necessity to taste the exhales and sighs that you heave upon the universal heart. Italy, i wonder if you know what you have given me.
The wheels turn. And of course i go where i am taken.
You will hear from me soon.
Destination: Freckenhorst, Germany Sponsor Club: Mandarin School: Bartram Trail Read Michael's Journal - 08/01/04
September 30, 2003
I've now been here in Germany for just under one month, I am absolutely loving it. While it isn't always easy, the rewarding aspects easily compensate for the bad. I'm sure that this will be the most affecting year of my life.
I live in a small town of 20,000, called Freckenhorst, but it is in the most heavily populated state of Germany. There is another small town just about every 5km, and a larger city every 30km. It's really interesting because you can actually go from city to city by bicycle trail. I live in the area called Münsterland, which is almost as flat as Florida, therefore people love riding bikes here. That also means that I ride my bike here, a lot. I actually rode by bike to Münster (60km there and back) with my host family, which was exhausting, but quite enjoyable. Anywhere I go, I go by bike, to school, to shop, or to get my bike repaired. It is also quite funny because cars always yield to me as if I belong on the road more than they do, while in America I would think "What is this yoyo doing on the street?" It makes sense though, everything is closer, and gas costs roughly three times more than in America.
A really nice aspect of Germany, especially for exchange students, is that there are youth clubs. Here n Freckenhorst there is Mittwochstreff, which is a building with a lot of couches, a yard with a soccer goal, and it's next to a small castle =) Most people in Freckenhorst from ages 16-22 are members of Mittwochstreff, you can go there most anytime and there are people there to hangout with. They are all really friendly and I was quickly able to make a lot of friends there.
Luckily for me, my host family's English was worse than my German when I first arrived, therefore we always speak German. I can already feel quite an improvement, and my friends have said so, which is quite rewarding. While German quite resembles English in many ways, the word order can be a pain. When I actually say a sentence such as, "She had to me said, that if I to Münster going would like to, then should I her call." It is quite rewarding, but it is rare that I can pull off such a sentence without screwing up a few times.
School here is quite fun, I have different courses every day, with breaks as long as two hours randomly thrown in. On Mondays I have a two hour break after first period, I usually take a nap and listen to headphones. Then on Wednesday I don't have any classes until 10:20, I get to sleep in :D
The classes are interesting, in the German school system most of a class is discussion, 50% of your grade is speaking up in class. Most classes only have two tests per year. I have yet to receive a worksheet, or any "busy work". Although for me classes can be quite difficult to understand, especially when we read 17th century German in philosophy, I understood just about none of it. Although usually philosophy isn't too hard to understand, biology is really difficult to understand. My teacher mumbles a lot, and he usually doesn't even talk about biology. One time he spent 20 minutes drawing a map of bicycles crossing a street, I'm still not quite sure what that had to do with microscopes.
I LOVE the weather here. The Florida weather and I never really got along, something about breaking a sweat while going from the front door to the mailbox just rubbed me the wrong way. But on the other end of the spectrum, I think I'm embracing the cold a little too much. The other night at a Rotary orientation I went outside and listened to a CD in jeans and a T-shirt (I had forgotten to bring my jacket to the orientation) it was really fun and atmospheric, but now I'm sick. I think it was 5°C... oops. The days here are getting shorter already as well, at the height of winter dawn will be around 9:30am, and it will get dark around 4pm, while in summer it will be light until 11pm.
I'm getting quite used to the German culture. I can almost eat fries with a fork (yes, a fork) without thinking to myself "this is really goofy..." I am also getting used to almost never eating hamburgers. I really do miss $4.99 Large pizza at Little Caesar's, with crazy bread for an additional 99 cents. The German food is great though, bratwurst rules.
The Germans are always quite interested in American culture, and ask me often about America. They still can't believe that you can get your driver's license at 16, and pay only $15. They have to pay about $2,000, and wait until they are 18. Germans always like to practice their English with me, which is often funny, "I think that Germany is better because you can see sex in the TV."
One thing I find vastly better about America is Rotary meetings. In America there is a breakfast buffet and everyone jokes around a lot. Here I got the pleasure of sitting through a 2-hour presentation about the economic development in Münsterland. After the thrilling PowerPoint presentation, questions were asked, each one sentence question received a 20 minute answer, yay. I was sure to use my "Rotary Smile" when asked what I thought of the meeting. It was nice though because everyone was really friendly and glad to have me there.
I'll be sure to update again in a month, so far I'm so happy to be here. I often forget I'm actually here when I wake up, it's nice when I remember that I am. I hope all you other 8 inbounds are having fun, and also all the 20-something inbounds in Florida, tschüs!
I'm here almost two months here now, I'm feeling a lot more German now. I know my way around everywhere without having to think about it, which is much better than in the beginning when someone had to show me how to get everywhere. I now have a new favorite food, which I didn't know existed previously. It's a Turkish food called Döner, it's really popular in Germany, for good reason. I now understand just about everything, even when I'm not directly being spoken to. I've also had to go through some of the most stressful and difficult conversations of my life in German.
I don't have a whole lot to say about school in this entry, It's been two weeks since I last went to school. We have fall vacation here, and it's a nice two weeks long. When we get back we have a big English test, I'm not all too stressed out about that. During the first week of vacation I went to a "Gruppenleitersgrundkurs", which is avechta2.jpg (260651 bytes) course with 22 other people from ages 16-22 (see picture - click to enlarge), we learn how to have a group of kids, and play games with them, etc. There isn't anything like this in America, so it's rather hard to explain. Essentially though, it was a week where I stayed in a Youth Hostel with a bunch of people my age, and we had a great time. Every night we hung out late into the night, every day after lunch we played volleyball, we once went into the city and played really bad music and sung really poorly in front of a grocery store. We stayed there and made no money, and then the grocery store manager told us to leave.
It was a whole lot of fun though, it also snowed the first time there. We were in another city that has a higher elevation than Warendorf, so it snowed a lot more. We then played games in the snow (we played a lot of games while there). I had a whole lot of fun and met some great people, we are planning to all meet up again later, as we all live within 30km of each other.
I'm loving the weather as well, the cold makes me happy. It also is strangely calming when it starts getting dark at 5pm. Sometimes though it can be a hassle, especially when I am really tired and have to ride my bike through the wet cold. Most of the time I really love it though, I'm going to either melt or drown in my own sweat when I get back to Jacksonville next summer.
Before I came here, we were required to read the, "Exchange Student's Handbook", it said that usually on the first month everything is great, and everything seems like it can't go bad. It then said in the next three months things can really be crappy and that it won't exactly be peachy. It also said homesickness will be the worst in this time. I read that and thought, "Yeah, whatever. A book can't pigeon-hole me so easily, I won't get homesick" Here I am in the second month though, and things aren't so great, and I often wish I could sleep in my own bed and wake up to my real family. I think I've taken the necessary measures to make things better, and I think that soon things will get better.
A little advice for any current or future exchange students, if you have a problem with your host family, tell them. If you are feeling like something isn't working out, tell your counselor, he is actually there just to help you. For some reason I had doubted this fact, and thought that if I talked to him he would get mad at me for bothering him, or that he wouldn't do anything to help me. It's actually quite the opposite, he was glad that I talked to him, he was completely understanding, and he and his family were ever so helpful. I was feeling really, really bad, and he talked to me for a while, then he let me eat lunch with his family, and they were all really nice and I felt so much better.
I've had to be rather confrontational in the past few days. I am a person who hates arguing, and would rather just remain quiet and see how things turn out. That unfortunately doesn't always work out so well. I waited two months, and saw that things weren't going to turn out favorably unless I did something. So I had to say and do something, it was extremely hard for me. I'm glad I did it though because I think things will get better now, and I think that it was a good experience to have to do something that I usually would never do. Even if the experience was nerve-wracking and fear-invoking.
I'll avoid the clichés of saying "Time goes o so fast!", and just say that a year is a year, we all know how long that is. I'm about 1/6 of the way through, and hoping that from here things get better. If not, then a year is a year, and I can just hold out and take the experience, bad or good, and in the future be able to tolerate more.
I last left off with something along the lines of, “-Ugh-, this is hard –ugh- I hate being confrontational -ugh- I hope things get better, fortunately, being that it was hard, and being that that I was confrontational paid off. Without getting into any messy details, I switched host families about a week ago. Immediately my unhappiness, my acute stress and anxiety, my complaining, were gone. I haven’t felt at home in three months, now I do.
Not only do I feel at home, I feel pretty German as well. I came into this family speaking fluent German, and already being comfortable in German culture. There was no friction, no orienting me, or training me to bend to a breaking point. I simply came into the family, and it worked. This was an unbelievable occurrence for me, I had begun to think that only my family in America could work for me, and that they were an exception. I thought that I was incapable of living with a family other than my own. I now realize that that isn’t really true at all, as I feel quite at home with this family.
They have a dog, not only do they have a dog, they have the same kind of dog that I have at home, a Cairn Terrier (like Toto from the Wizard of Oz) They tell me, “Excuse the dog, she smells bad”, I reply, “Yea! My dog smells bad too!” Not that I wanted to put down their dog, but I thought to myself “He has mangy hair, as does mine!” They also have a snake, and two mice. They told me “You have two rooms, but I wouldn’t sleep in the larger room, because there are mice there, there were two, but one is dead” I thought that they meant the room was infested with mice, and they were waiting out until the mice died. I didn’t want to sleep knowing a mouse could be leaving presents on my bed, biting my face off, or infesting me with rabies. I said “O that’s fine, I can live with mice”. Then I saw that my host brother had a snake, and I said, “You should feed the mouse to the snake”, and my host sister let out a nervous laugh, I wasn’t sure why it was a nervous laugh though. They then show me the “Mice infested room”, and there was a pet mouse in a cage, oops!
My host sister was last year in Argentina, so she knows what I’m going through, which is nice. My host dad is the president of this rotary district, and my host mom is also in rotary. They also have a daughter who is doing a half-year exchange in Canada. I get along with all of them, and my host mom even proofread my philosophy essay with me, and corrected my grammar mistakes :p
Now that everything is going so smoothly and nicely, I can be more perky and positive, rather than saying, “Getting through this as an experience will make me stronger”, I can say “I’m having such nice a time, and I want to keep learning German, and learning about myself, but have a great time as well” Speaking of things going well, I started getting some of my grades J Germans have a different grading scale, but I’ll “translate” them. I got, believe it or not, an A in English, the highest grade in the class even! Taking English as a foreign language is a blast. I also managed to get a C+ in Philosophy, and a B in Art. I was really proud of my philosophy grade though, because I know I actually earned it rather than an “exchange student mercy grade”, I wrote essays and such, I like that class. Unfortunately I can’t do any of the math, I console myself by saying, “If there’s anything I’ll need in life less than Philosophy, it’s math” It’s fun though, I enjoy school, I participate in enough classes that I don’t feel like a bum, and then there are a few classes where I just kind of idly zone out ... I mean, subconsciously absorb the German language.
Every few months or so, we have “Rotex Weekends” here, which are where all the exchange students, inbounds, former outbounds, and Rotex all sleep in a gym in a random city for a weekend. We do activities and such, but a large majority of the time is just talking to and getting to know the other exchange students. There was one guy, who came from Russia, but not just Russia, from Siberia. He had never had English in school, and he spoke not a word of German. The people who couldn’t speak German speak English at the Rotex weekends, everyone there speaks English to at least a semi-fluent degree. Then there was the single guy from Siberia, who couldn’t speak either English or German, I felt really bad for him, and he couldn’t communicate with anyone. This was in the first two weeks. I have Russian as a foreign language, having had two weeks of Russian, I knew how to say “Hello” and “My name is”, I said it to him, and then he said “Hi” back, and then I gave him a blank stare and said in German “Umm.. that’s all the Russian I know… sorry” I probably spoke it so bad that he didn’t even understand me anyway :D
We then had another Rotary meeting two months later, and I asked him how he was doing, and lo and behold, he spoke fluent German! I found that really cool, someone who previously simply couldn’t communicate with me, and now he could. I talked to him quite a bit during the weekend, it’s interesting speaking a foreign language with someone, when it’s to both people a foreign language. It makes me realize that, knowing another language, I am able to communicate with a lot more people than I previously could.
Now that I’m in a new family I have a new bike, a girl’s bike J It even has a horn! A horn is cool to have when I want to annoy my friends and honk obnoxiously, but when I, for example, am behind two old people who won’t move out of the way, I don’t want to give them a heart attack by honking at them, so I have to say “Entschuldigung…” This paragraph had no point, nor punch-line.
I’ve really adapted to the subtle differences of Germany. When I on the first day, was in the Frankfurt airport, I saw a trashcan with four compartments; Biological trash, glass, paper, and various. I thought to myself, “If that trashcan were in America, no-one would follow the trashcan rules” Now I don’t even have to think, when I’m about to throw an apple core away “Ok.. which kind of trash is this classified as.. and where is the appropriate trash container for this?” I’ll probably be shocked in America to see people throwing GLASS BOTTLES away. In Germany when you buy a drink, you have to pay about 50% the price of the drink extra, and then if you bring the bottle back, you receive that 50% back. If not, then you just paid a lot of money for an empty glass bottle.
I can completely understand movies now in German, which in my case is a bad thing, being that the only two movies I’ve seen here are Dumb and Dumberer, and The Matrix Revolutions. This has nothing to do with being an exchange student, but who would have thought the Matrix Revolutions would actually end up being WORSE than The Matrix Reloaded, even WITHOUT a 20 minute techno-cave-rave scene. I guess the Power-rangeresque fight at the end made up for that. I thought that I might have trouble understanding the dialogue, fortunately they were too busy having swarms of stupid robots pointlessly flying around to have any time for dialogue.
I would like to say that, during the exchange year, if everything is completely horrible and unbearable, it will get better. If you have a problem, talk to your counselor, the year is supposed to be your year, and if it’s not working out as it should, your counselor will see to it that it does. While you should please your host family, and while you should give your time and energy to others, you aren’t there simply to do that in spite of yourself. Don’t blame yourself if things don’t work out with your host family, you’re likely doing all you can, and when that isn’t enough, there’s simply a problem that needs resolved. That is the advice that took me three months to learn, while it should be kept it mind, and is good to read, it probably can’t sink in until you experience it yourself,
I'm a bit late, but I wanted to include all the New Year and Christmas references. Everything is going excellently now, I feel so at home in my new host family. Christmas with them was really nice, and I even get along well with the extended family; cousins, grandmas, grandpas, etc. My host grandparents even gave me a book about Warendorf for Christmas, and my other host grandma gave me "Jamaican Rum Balls", they have alcohol in them though, so I'm not going to eat them J
When I first got my driver's license I wanted to buy one of those old, rusted, piece of crap, VW buses. I just thought it would so great to be able to drive my friends around in it, and be able to sleep in it when needed. Looking back on that though, it was a pretty stupid idea. I still like them though. My host mom tells me at breakfast, "We're selling the old car, and Friedhelm (host dad) is buying a new VW bus" I said, "O, that's the car I always had wanted", then Friedhelm says, "Really?", my host mom says, "You've instantly made friends with Friedhelm if you like VW buses." She then told me how he always had had one, and he loves them. So we drove to the VW factory and took a tour, getting to see all the parts being molded on the assembly-line and so forth. We then get the van, and it took the guy 30 minutes to show us all the features of it, including remote control side doors.
Christmas was really nice, in Germany Christmas is celebrated mostly on Christmas Eve. We start at about 9pm Christmas Eve, including dinner, presents, and so forth. It felt really Christmassy, even though I wasn't at home.
On actual Christmas Day a bunch of extended family came over. I had really good conversation with my host cousins and host sister. With my host mom and host grandma as well. I talked to her about Herman Hesse, I never in a million years could have had a discussion about literature with my last host grandma, it made me realize how glad I am to be in this host family.
I get along so well with my host sister, I got along well enough with my last host brother, but I never really felt comfortable with him. I can hang out with my host sister and we can actually have conversation beyond "When are we eating lunch today?" I'm on the same wave as this family, it's nice to see people lazily laying on the couch reading a book, rather than watching a football game while frantically talking on the phone about what will be done on the weekend. I'm sure some people would like that atmosphere, but I feel really at home when I know I can lay on the couch and read a book, or just take a nap in the middle of the day. It's nice to see my host brother licking ice cream off the spoon, or playing with the dog, it makes me feel really at home.
For New Year's we first went to the cabin that my host aunt owns, I went with my host family, and all the extended family was there. My host aunt kept asking me, "Hey! Speak English!" I refuse to speak English, every time someone meets me and hears that I'm from America, they immediately assume I can't speak a word of German, and immediately say something like, "O, my English isn't very good" Said either in English to me, or said in German to the person standing next to me, as if I'm not there. I therefore never want to speak English, and spread the stereotype of "Americans are lazy and expect everyone to speak their language". I finally said "Happy New Year" to her though, as I left :p
I then went with my host sister and cousins to a party. We all went to the marketplace in Warendorf as there were ten minutes left of the year. It was like a battlefield, fireworks going off everywhere, if you were to stand in the middle of the market place you would probably lose a limb. At one point an empty shell actually fell on my head. It was really pretty, as I saw the marketplace covered with smoke and fireworks, I remembered the first time I entered the marketplace, on my first day in Germany. I remember it seemed brand new to me, as if it had just came into existence that day, I had no memories associated with it. Standing there on New Year's, I realized that I'll never see it again like that. I have so many memories attached to this spot. I look through the smoke at the bench in front of the Rathaus, remembering when I was sitting with two friends on that bench at midnight. We were waiting on some other friends, who ended up never arriving. As we're sitting there, I see a bum riding his bike aimlessly around in the center of the marketplace. I think "Don't come and talk to us." He then looks at us, but continues riding his bike out of the marketplace, I let out a sigh of relief. About two minutes later he pops out from around the corner of the Rathaus, he is wearing a clown hat. He gets off his bike, and I think "O no, he's going to talk to us". He then opens with, "Silence. In this dark and cold night, of this small German town, silence. Do you hear that? The stillness of this night? You three sitting there, wordless, in the marketplace, what are you waiting on? Must we always have something planned? Can we not just take in the silence and the stillness of this night, of this empty marketplace?" He then proceeded to recite philosophy and poetry to us, he was essentially talking to himself though. Every ounce of my concentration was exerted toward holding in my laughter. I broke out in laughter a few times though, when his poetry and philosophic ramblings became especially "deep". He eventually rides off after standing there wordless for about five minutes. I then look at my friends, as if to wordlessly ask "what the hell?" My friend looks at his watch and then says "Whoa… he was talking to us for 45 minutes" I then wondered if he did that every night. And now every time I see that bench I'll remember that "Still and Silent night" :p
Every location has memories associated to it now, which is one of the biggest differences between living somewhere and visiting somewhere. Almost nothing seems "new" anymore, and that makes me really feel like I live here. Some places even have so much memory attached to them that I become on the verge of panic when passing them. Going down a road on my bike, I'll think something like "Here is where I rode from the street to the sidewalk, not realizing there was a curb, and fell off my bike like an idiot", or "Here is where I turned too sharp on the ice, and fell off my bike like an idiot, while my toe twitched in pain. Why my toe though?" In my first month here, riding down the street, it was always something such as, "I've been here once before, I think. Where am I supposed to turn?" Now everything is old, I've been everywhere, and I really feel like I live here.
Here I am with my host brother, sister, and father, at the VW factory.On Christmas Eve, with host mom, father, brother, grandma, etc.Here I am with red eyes, next to my host sister on Christmas day.With my host brother at the VW factory, we had just got done playing with the really cool coffee machine.
I remember the first few months or so, when I many times a day thought, “Wow, I’m in Germany”, or something along those lines. It was basically just a case of being excited to be here, I had after all been waiting to come here for over a year, and I even filled out that god-awful 40 page Rotary application. So the fruits of my labor were finally yielded, and I was just ‘o so excited at every moment to be here. To hear German being spoken on the street, the language that I formerly only heard in a classroom, or in World War II movies, that was exciting to me. It was also at all times exciting to be able to communicate in a new language, that all my thoughts could now be expressed in totally different words.
A lot of that excitement has worn off by now, I usually don’t give much thought to speaking German anymore, except when I screw up, at which point I just get annoyed. It’s not my fault though, because the German language has way too much grammar. It’s also not so exciting to hear German on the street. I actually get more excited when I hear English on the street. I heard some people speaking English at the marketplace outside the bookstore; I’m always tempted to ask these people where they are from, and ask how they like Germany.
An interesting experience that showed how accustomed I had become to the language was when I went skiing in Austria. I had never been skiing before, only sledding on a cheap plastic sled before I moved to Florida. Now I was going to Austria to learn how to ski. I went to the store to buy some pretzels and gummy bears (how cliché…), and I get to the cash register, and was greeted by an abomination of the German Language, Austrian German. “Servos!” “Abend..” “Dreee Erooo Dree und Verzigg!” *Looks at cash register display, as I couldn’t understand at all what she was saying, gives her the money* It is really surprising how different dialects can sound. I was on the ski-lift with a bunch of Austrians at one point, and I could only understand about half of what they were saying.
I had a really nice time however, I did learn how to ski. There was also another “Foreigner” there, a lady from Slovenia. I always find it rewarding to be able to speak to someone, with whom I wouldn’t be able to communicate with had I not been able to speak German. I found the Alps absolutely beautiful as well, going up the gondola I could see so many incredible mountains, bathed in fog and covered in snow. I also heard enough Austrians speaking that I now can make fun of their accent.
I still have a problem talking to little kids in German, it just seems weird. I’m not very good at talking to little kids in English either. I had to go to the bathroom while in Münster, I went into a McDonald’s and found the Men’s Room. There is some 2 or 3 year old kid leaning into the door, hands pressed against it, head facing straight down into the floor. He’s not moving or at all paying attention, just holding the door shut. I’m very non-intrusive, and just decided to stand there until he noticed I was standing there. He eventually looks up at me, and then looks back down at the floor, and continues holding the door. I finally say “Umm.. excuse me..” Eventually the door is knocked open from the inside. He was holding the door shut so his brother couldn’t get out of the bathroom. I seize the opportunity and go into the bathroom. The kid follows me in. Urinals in Germany never have walls. I am standing in front of the urinal, and the kid is about two steps behind me, staring at me. I give him a weird look, at which point he goes into the only stall. I then look away, and look back, he is peeking around the corner of the stall, still looking at me. I said “..What are you doing?” And he just kept staring at me, I left the bathroom without a word.
I'm getting another Host Sister on Friday, she has been in Canada the whole time I’ve been here, and she’s coming home now. I will find it interesting, before I left Florida, I got to see what it was like to arrive in the host country before-hand, via my host sister Rebecca arriving from Taiwan. I now will get to see five months ahead of time what it will be like to arrive home. It seems like I’ve been here forever, my parents have sent me pictures, and it seemed weird to see inside my house. I’m sure it will be adequately disorienting to arrive home, maybe even more disorienting than it was to arrive here.
I’m rather late, forgive me. For some reason no particularly interesting things that I could right down have entered my mind. Hopefully a stream-of-rambling-consciousness style of writing will unleash them. If that doesn’t work, and I write a horrendously boring and un-insightful excuse for an entry, I have pictures. (Although they are unfortunately less than spectacular)
I guess the most significant thing that has been happening is realising that I surpassed the half-way point. That is boring and cliché to talk about, so I will skip it.
I made a realisation, and said to myself, “I’m at a point where my German won’t get any better, it’s reached its peak and if it does get much better it will be an insignificant difference.” I then made a better realisation that that is stupid. Perhaps my automatic language-acquisition had reached its peak, perhaps I knew all the words I needed to get through a day, or to carry on conversation, but I realised I only had one year to try to catch up to what my friends here have had seventeen years to acquire, including the natural jump of the first eleven years of life. I also know I won’t be able to reach that equivalent in a year, truly learning a language takes years, or a lifetime, my English isn’t exactly spectacular either; I notice this as I see the grammar checker removing various commas and capitalising various words that I didn’t bother to. With all this in mind, I decided to use a lot of time to really force myself to learn more German, the German that can’t be learned from day-to-day living. I’ve been going through German novels, making flash-cards, looking up all the words I don’t know, and then attempting to use them when I talk. Words like “To suspect”, that isn’t really learned or needed in everyday life, “To think”, or “To believe”, can in any case be used in its place, but “To suspect” is simply a better word in some cases. I’ve been giving that a go, and I suspect it has really helped me.
I realised how much I like living in Germany when I went to Karneval in Düsseldorf. Karneval is like Mardi Gras, but I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, so I actually have no idea. I also liked Halloween as a kid, and I like costumes and things like that. I went to Karneval dressed as a bum, including an “I work for bread” sign made of cardboard, hanging with a string made of floss around my neck. That turned out to not be the greatest idea, as there were a lot of real bums on the street, begging for money. I had a really great time though, as Düsseldorf is probably the coolest city I have ever seen, maybe that was just because I only saw it during Karneval though. There were bands playing German drinking songs all over the street, costumed, singing people all over the place, and a general happy and energetic mood. I was there at a Rotex meeting, so all the other exchange students and Rotex were there, we had a really great time running through the city in stupid costumes, and looking at everyone else’s stupid costumes.
Speaking of all the other exchange students, we’ve now had so many Rotex meetings and all have got to know each other so well. That is a really great aspect of Rotary Exchange, you are able to meet like-minded people (anyone who is an exchange student is like-minded on at least a certain level) from all over the world. I have talked to people from other organisations and they say their organisation offers nothing like this, if anything they have one or two times per year where they meet up with all the other exchange students. Five or so times we have already met up with all the 40 or so inbounds, and 30 or so Rotex members are usually there as well. These people I have gotten to know so well, and I always look forward to the next time I will be able to see them, see how their lives have changed, see how their German has improved, and to see how they themselves have changed. I’ll be going on a tour all over Europe with 50 of these people, starting on 26 March, I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures and tell all about that.
There’s not a whole lot else to say, I’m at a point where nothing seems all that spectacular, nothing strikes me as weird, and where nothing is more than regular life. It’s hard to pick out all the interesting facts of “regular life”, there aren’t many things that I feel as distinguishing factors between my regular life and my life in Germany, I guess they have become the same thing, which is the point.
The park in Warendorf
Warendorf during Christmas time
The first real slope I skied on,
from my ski-trip in Austria
Extremely blurred and crappy photo of some of the other exchange students, with whom I went to the modern art museum in Münster
This last month has been a stream of endless vacations (poor me), and I have had no more than an hour at a time to get online, usually spent checking and replying to e-mails from my rotary club, registering myself for more vacations.
That’s what the last three months consist of though, a hectic rush to go on as many vacations as possible. I can’t remember the last weekend I had where I stayed home. I went for a three week Europe Tour, we went all over Europe, with fifty other exchange students, it was easily the greatest time of my life. I just got back from a trip to Weimar that I made with my two best friends, I went through the park where Goethe lived, I saw the balcony where Hitler gave various speeches, and I went through the gates of the third largest concentration camp in Germany. I also went to Berlin, and stood where the wall used to stand.
I could give endless narrarative, but it would just lead to everyone skimming through my entry until the eyes caught upon something relevant. I’ll just explain how the end of the exchange year feels. It feels beautiful, and disgusting at the same time. On one hand I just want to be in my real family again, relax, speak english, be a slob again. I know though that while I came here knowing I’d go back home, I will leave here knowing that I’m leaving this home forever. It really does become to feel more and more like home everyday, even with the ever-approaching departure date. Visiting my friend in his host family (Luise’s family actually), I realised that I don’t feel this distinction of being a foreigner. It is just like someone’s family. His eight year old host brother asked my friend and I while speaking in English, "You guys know Cameron’s language too?", which was really cute, but also great because he didn’t even think of us as foreigners.
Walking even through cities that I don’t live in, but frequent often, Münster for example, people will ask me directions and I always know the way. It makes me feel like I’ve lived here longer than I have, and like I belong here in a way. The sun sets now at around 10pm, and there are endless dandylion fields all across the country, the whole train-ride back from Weimar I saw only endless dandylion fields on rolling hills. It’s something that I know I’ll think back on all next year and miss dearly, even though these dandylions are giving me a really stuffy nose. I’m going to look back on and miss so many things about Germany, I’m sure I’ll miss Germany more than I’m missing the United States right now. Knowing I’ll never live here like this again will make it so much harder, I’ll never be an exchange student again. I won’t be able to relax to this degree probably ever again. I realise I said earlier, "I just want to get home so I can relax", but here as an exchange student I actually am experiencing a huge sense of relaxation. Europe is less uptight than America for one thing, my grades don’t count here, every weekend I either meet friends in Münster, go canoeing/sailing/etc., the Rotary Club here is excellent, Rotex always offers us "Rotex Weekends" which are always a blast and have made this year so much greater. It’s sad though in a way, some of the inbounds here have already started going home, I’m just about the last to leave, I’m still here for just under three months, so I’ll have to sit here and watch everyone leave. That’s a position I prefer though, better than being the first one out, I was also of the last to leave from the nine outbounds.
A little advice for the newly chosen outbounds about the language. Rotary tells you everywhere, "You will be fluent by Christmas", I feel bad about undermining Rotary’s authority on Rotary’s own website, but this statement is a lie. Everyone says, "I will be fluent by Christmas whether I work at the language or not." This is also a lie. Your skill at the language is a complete reflection of how much work you put into it. If you wait until you arrive to start learning, you’ve wasted two/four months. Having to speak English the first two months of your year will completely ruin your chances. At the nine month point the difference is painfully obvious in who spoke English in the first two months and who didn’t. Do yourself the favour and start learning it NOW, don’t make it an obligation, make it a favour to yourself so you can get off the plane and speak your host family’s language to them. Not only will your host family appreciate it, but you’ll start learning the language from the very first day. On the Europe tour we had to keep a journal, everyone took a turn to write about a day. A guy saw me writing and said, "Woah, you can WRITE in German? Damn, you’ve got it down!" Start learning it now, do not end up like this. Even after eight months of speaking German every day, some of the subtle nuances of the grammar and the language are just becoming known to me. I’m finally at a point where I’m just polishing everything up, but it just becomes exponentially harder. Whereas in the first month my german probably doubled, I would need another five years to get 25% bettter now. The degree of fluency you obtain is varying, I’ve only met probably three exchange students who after eight months ARE NOT fluent (not being able to have even an easy conversation with another exchange student in German), I’ve met a lot who have a really weak degree of fluency. They can understand most everything conversation, and reply, but not much else.
I just need to make the most of my remaining time, and start wrapping things up here. I wouldn’t take this year back for anything, I learned more during this year than I would have in three years in America, I mean that honestly. I probably won’t even realise the full effect of this year until I get back to the US. Look forward to your exchange year, it is hard a lot of times, and you’ll often wish you could just be at home, but the majority of my best memories took place during this year, and it has shaped me into what I am now, nothing can take that away.
I’m writing this entry the day after the last “Rotex Weekend”, Rotex Weekends are the weekends in which we meet up with all the other exchange students for the whole weekend and do something fun. Rotex in this district is easily the best in the country, they have around thirty-five members, and organize by themselves many weekends for us throughout the year. We have had around six or seven this year, and Rotex organized our Europe Tour as well. I am really happy to have been in this Rotary District, it wouldn’t have been the same without these great weekends.
All of these weekends have unfortunately came to an end, however. On this last weekend we went camping, we canoed, had a bonfire, grilled, all the camping specifics, basically. I saw a lot of people for the last time this weekend, which was quite hard. I’ve came to be such good friends with many of the exchange students here, and this was the last time we were all together. I realized how German we had all became, I always am making fun of the Germans for eating and loving bread rolls, and on the second day of the weekend at breakfast the bread rolls came rather late, could see how antsy even all the non-Germans were getting, myself included. When they did come the box of them was rushed instantly, I was one of the first there. My best friends among the exchange students are Finnish and Japanese, we always speak German with each other, it’s become our international language. My friend had two of her friends visit from America, they didn’t speak a word of German, while they were there the Japanese and Finns had to speak English, it felt so incredibly weird to speak English with them, it felt wrong somehow.
This last Rotex Weekend included fifty or so Outbounds (Germans going on exchange) as well as the fifty of our Inbounds. It was really cool to meet fifty Germans who were at the same point I was a year ago. I met one guy who is going to Florida, with whom I got along really well, he’ll not be in my district, but maybe we’ll see each other again in Florida. I also got to talk to a lot of people who were going to the US and answer questions they had and give them various advice.
I still have a month and a half left, with ten months behind me. I feel as if I’m really a part of some aspects of Germany. Getting asked “Where’s the train station” while in Münster, I automatically replied without even having to think about it, I know the city in and out. In Philosophy (one of my better classes), the teacher treats me like a regular student, and I am one of the more talkative people in the class, a class where we mostly just discuss various topics and do very little writing. That’s not to say I’m so well integrated in all classes, some advice I’ll give is to do as much work in school as you can from the beginning, having something to do (even work) is better than having absolutely nothing to do, which is my case in some classes.
I’ve been here a really long time, I don’t remember what the doorknobs or the knobs on the drawers in my house look like anymore, for example. I have adapted and fallen in love with the colder climate. We have had about two days where it has actually exceeded 80°F, and I was ready to either faint or kill myself, I couldn’t handle it. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Florida 100° and 100% humidity again. I have fallen in love with German literature and bookstores, I have read more this year than any other year, and am glad for it. I am going to miss being able to buy German books, I have learned most of my later German by reading a lot.
While I felt little to no homesickness toward the beginning and middle of the year, in the last few months I’ve had more homesickness. It’s true that everyone gets homesick, I’ve never talked to an exchange student who hasn’t. Knowing the year is about to end makes me more antsy, I can see the imminent end from here, and waiting to hit it makes me impatient and to want it just to be over. Once it is finished though, I know I’ll miss it more than I would have thought, and look back on it as the best time of my life. I still do have a lot to look forward to in this short time, I’m going to Munich with the Finns in a few weeks, and shortly after my parents are visiting, then I have only fifteen days remaining. The time keeps going faster and faster and the reality of “Over” won’t hit me until I’m gone.
I realized that I should probably get my last journal entry done with, now that the new outbounds are already posting their first entries. As I write this I have two and a half days left in Germany. I have all of the cliché feelings at once, "Time went so fast!" and "I am excited to go home but also will hate to leave.", etc. etc. I realize at this point to how incredibly large a degree Germany has become home to me, and with it how the German language has become what seems like more than just "a second language." Sitting on the train on the way to Düsseldorf, which is where I spent my last weekend here, I have my headphones on and am sitting with four other strangers. I pull out the .5L cola I had bought at the train station, open my bag of gummibears, and while not paying attention at all open the cola up really fast. It of course explodes and sprays all over my pants, shirt, and the floor. Luckily it didn't hit any of the people near me. The first thing out of my mouth was a reflexive, "Scheiße!"
Germany really feels like this beautiful home to me that I've not yet fully explored. A country that is roughly the size of Georgia, with an unbelievable amount of things to see and do crammed into that tiny space. If you draw a 50km radius around Oberhausen, there are over 6 million people in it, in over five very large cities. Berlin has also 6 million, Munich has a good chunk, and it goes on and on like that. There isn't any empty space, there is always a village, city, or large city, with pretty nature in between of course, but you'll never find yourself far from civilization in Germany.
I took a trip with two other exchange students from Finland to Munich a few weeks ago, it was a budget vacation because by the end of the year no exchange student has any money left. We slept in a tent, cooked cheap pasta in a gasoline cooker, and kept refilling a water bottle in public bathrooms. Typical of Bavaria is that you can order a one liter glass of beer at a restaurant, it costs about 6€, so we didn't even bother, and to buy a glass like that is about 12€. We decided to rent for thirty minutes one of those peddle boats, and peddle around the lake in the "English Garden" in Munich, we are peddling around the water next to the Biergarten, and I look into the water and see six or so of these 1-liter, 6€ beer glasses all over the seafloor. We then manuevered the boat to them while I kept sweeping the glasses up one by one. We gathered six of them and then cleaned the algae and sea moss off with toilet paper. Even after cleaning they still look rather green and dirty, but souvenirs are more fun when you work for them.
We spent a whole day in the "Deutsches Museum", which is a gigantic, excellent museum that covers a giant array of topics. Particularly interesting was a glass blowing demonstration, I had always seen that on TV, but seeing it in real life was quite impressive. We then spent another entire day in the concentration camp in Dachau, that was the first time I really visited a concentration camp. We got one of those audio guides and went all over the various places and listened to the information on the audioguide. You see a big open area, and then the audio guide tells you "This is where the prisoners where brought to roll-call everyday, the gate to the west is where the new admittees were brought in, stripped, tattooed and assigned work." It was a really overwhelming feeling to be standing in the spot where this all took place. We hadn't really planned to stay in Dachau more than a few hours, but after arriving we ended up staying there most of the day. We took a trip for another whole day to Neuschwanstein, which is arguably the most beautiful castle in Europe (http://www.bauernhofurlaub-ostallgaeu.de/images/neuschwanstein.jpg).
I feel really at home here now, and at the same time I finally have a real insight into what being a foreigner is like. Although in Germany I can't be noticed as a foreigner on sight, but I still have this great experience of living as a one. Germany has an incredible amount of immigrants and foreign people in general, especially in large cities it seems like every fifth person is from Asia, Italy, east Europe, Africa, just from everywhere. Speaking German with people from Africa or Japan, it gives me a real sense of Germany as a melting pot and place where cultures really integrate. America lays the claim at being "THE melting pot", but I feel it holds much more true to Germany. I feel like I have more in common with all the other people who aren't German here, and when I'm back in America I'll have that same thing in common with anyone who isn't originally from the U.S., as I know what it is like. Basically it just forms this connection with everyone, because anyone can be a foreigner if he finds himself in another country.
I want to come back to Germany, I really would like to go to University here and live here on my own. After eleven months here I've come to feel German in part, after around eleven months I've really started to feel like I belong here. I can barely think in English anymore without German words slipping in left and right, and reading German books isn't much harder than English anymore. Aside from that, I couldn't even imagine going a whole day without eating bread, at least one meal is usually just bread here. I can also hardly imagine using the car to go half a mile, in Germany no-one does that. There are just all kinds of things that I've become so accustomed to and come to think of as "That's how it is", that when I come home will be completely different. Some of these things will probably be a huge relief, such as German cleanliness, but other things I will miss dearly.
So it ends, I need to accept that it will end here, and remember it for what it was. I need to let the things I learned from here help me in my life in the US, rather than just jump back into the exact same life I had before leaving. The point of spending a year outside of my usual life was to be able to take as much as I could back from that and create a new way of life between the two, rather than living differently for a year, and simply regressing back to exactly how I was before, there would be no point in that.
Destination: Brioude, France Sponsor Club: South Jacksonville School: Douglas Anderson School of Arts Read Rochelle's Journal - 02/26/04
September 26, 2003
I can’t believe it! I’ve been in France for an entire month! It’s impossible to describe all that I’ve experienced and learned in the past month, but I’ll try anyway.
I arrived at the Clermont-Ferrand airport on August 26th after an hour-long flight from Paris and was immediately greeted by my host mom, Sylvie, and her 11-year-old daughter, Victoria. Soon after I was given a 45-minute car ride to admire the French countryside and wonder if I hadn’t made the biggest mistake of my life.
My first week in Brioude was one of the most difficult weeks I’ve ever suffered through. It was so strange to be without anything familiar to me - except for those few items that ended up in my two suitcases. And in the back of my mind the entire time was the dreaded fact that I’d be starting school in just a few days. I’d imagined the worst and didn’t see how school could be anything less than awful seeing as my French was nearly non-existent.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about attending Saint Julien College. I somehow managed to fit right in with the other students in my class (Premiere). For me that was a comforting and simply amazing thing. I’ve made so many friends (and had better luck with guys than I ever did in the United States). Classes are pretty boring because I don’t understand enough French to actually do the work, but it’s great to be around people my own age and they’ve helped me so much with my French, as has my 15-year-old host brother Xavier.
Xavier was in Canada on a fishing trip with my host dad, Jacques, when I arrived in France, so I didn’t meet him until the day before school started. He speaks English extremely well and is determined for me to learn French, which is great for me because he’s constantly teaching me more French words. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting used to the Estic’s four-story home. I share the top floor with Xavier. He’s as passionate about music as I am, plays the drums, and adores reggae music. That’s actually really big here, along with hard rock.
Brioude has taken some getting used to. The town has 8,000 people and two schools, that I know of. That’s just a tad bit different from Jacksonville. It is true that the French bring their dogs everywhere and it’s not uncommon to see them sitting at the owner’s feet in a restaurant (the food here is divine!!!). Often during the bus ride home from school I’ll see cows just wandering the streets. I still find that very amusing. French teenagers have to be 18 to drive a car, but only 14 to drive a “scooter”. They’re extremely loud and even now I cringe every time a 15-year-old zooms by on one.
The weather here drives me insane. In the morning I’ll wake up for school and it’ll be freezing, so of course I dress warmly. Well, by noon the sun is out and it’s really hot. I’ve also never seen such unpredictable weather. There won’t be a cloud in the sky one minute and the next it’s pouring down rain.
That extremely cliché statement that the French kiss a lot…is very true! Every morning when I arrive at school I’m expected to kiss all my friends, and even a few people I don’t know, on the cheek. At least at school it’s only one time. The adults tend to kiss more. A few nights ago Sylvie had six or so of her friends over for dinner. I had to kiss each one three times on alternating cheeks. That was actually physically exhausting! The interesting thing, though, is that the French kiss an insane amount, but they don’t hug. I’ve noticed that only really close friends will hug each other.
This past month has been quite an experience. I’ve visited several places in France already including Vichy (a more modern city that I absolutely loved!) and Le Puy. I’ve gotten to know my first host family, and I must say I’ve become very attached to them. I hate the thought of having to leave them after Christmas. They are beautiful people; one of those rare, perfect families. I had my 17th birthday here and the entire Rotary Club in Brioude sang me “bon anniversaire” (Happy Birthday) and surprised me with a cake. I’ve made many friends and have settled in quite nicely in little Brioude - as cold as it may be at times.
It’s only been one month since I left Jacksonville, and I already feel that if I came back now I wouldn’t be the same person. In many ways I’ve obtained more independence here, but in others I’m more in need of assistance than ever. It hasn’t all been fun, and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t give up the past month of my life for anything.
I hope all is well in Jacksonville, and in the US. Kisses on BOTH cheeks! Until next month - Au revoir.
“It’s a bitter-sweet thing knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.”
I had a life in Jacksonville. I had friends that I’d known for years. We went to school together, spent the weekends together. I had my family and a house I’d helped decorate. I knew what I liked and didn’t like. Everything was familiar. I suppose that familiarity is part of what makes a place “home”. Somewhere along the way I must’ve gotten tired of the familiar because when I look around now everyone’s speaking French. I’m going to a new school. I’ve had to meet new people, make new friends, and adapt to a new environment. But for some reason this fits too.
Not including people, I’ve become especially attached to two things: Star Academy and French Cafés. Star Academy is the equivalent of the television show “American Idol” (a show I never watched.) It gives me something to look forward to on Saturday nights. I’ve even seen artists such as Elton John, Seal, and Beyonce Knowles on the show. Elton John was trying out his French, which wasn’t too good, but I give him credit for at least trying. It takes guts to stand up in front of millions on live TV and try to speak their language.
Several times a week I find myself in one of the many cafés in Brioude. The French cafés fit nicely into my schedule because they’re almost always open. The nice thing about the cafés is that you can pay 2 € for a drink and then spend hours in there talking to your friends or playing video games. Thus, I’ve become addicted to hot chocolates.
Rochelle with her class in Venice, ItalyI recently went to Venice, Italy with my art class on a five day fieldtrip. We went with students from another school in the nearby town of Issoire, which was great because I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. It’s strange being a foreigner, but in Italy we were all foreigners. Suddenly none of us spoke the language and it sort of made us all equal. Turns out that in Venice it was a good thing that I spoke English. We visited the Biennale of Venezia and everything was written in either Italian or English. Not French.
One evening while I was in the hotel room with my roommates getting ready to go dancing, a few of the guys who were rooming next door started knocking frantically on the door urging me to come into the hallway. I soon found out why.
A group of about 20 English-speaking girls were also staying in the hotel and the guys wanted me to translate for them. I hadn’t realized just how much my French had improved until I was standing there, at the foot of the stairs in the hotel- the 20 giggling English girls, who all seemed to be named Emma, in front of me, and my French speaking friends behind me; the guys asking me to ask the girls their names, ages, etc. And there I was, in the middle of it all- the only one able to understand both languages and it was bliss!
“It was as though, in trying to express myself in another language, I’d suddenly plunged 50 IQ points.”
Not being able to express myself verbally can be extremely frustrating at times. My French has greatly improved, but I’ve still got so much more to learn. I look at the French language as a huge puzzle. A puzzle I’m decoding piece by piece- word by word. French and English are said to be the two most difficult languages to learn. English, I imagine, because of all the slang. And French, because of all the words. It’s really just memorizing verbs and using them. If you don’t use a word you’ll forget it- it’s as simple as that.
There is a wonderful vacation from school in France that begins in mid-October and doesn’t end until the first days of November. During this vacation I went to the French Riviera (Nice and Monaco-Monte Carlo) with Joanna and her host family. (Her host father is the president of Brioude’s Rotary Club). Monaco was absolutely beautiful! We saw the world famous “Casino Monte-Carlo” and the Palace of Monaco.
After returning from Monaco, I spent the next few days at Jo’s house. We would wake up in the morning, hop on a train, and spend the day in another city. We did this twice. The first day we went to Vichy, and the second day was spent in Clermont-Ferrand. At around 5 or 6pm we’d get back on a train and go home.
Halloween has only been celebrated in Brioude for the past three years. Only the really little kids went trick-or-treating, although they say something other than “trick or treat”. I tried to explain that in America we carve up pumpkins, put candles in them, and put them on our doorstep, but I found myself looking at several confused faces, so I went no further with my explanation.
Halloween night I went to a dance with my friend Claire in the nearby village of Vergongheon (where my boyfriend Nicolas also lives). It was so much fun! Over half the songs played were American and we were all dancing to “I Love Rock and Roll” and “YMCA” (they do the hand motions too for that song). I love dancing here. It requires no talking, and that’s a beautiful thing. After the dance ended, at an insanely late (or early) hour, I stayed the night at Claire’s. We’ve become really good friends, despite the language barrier.
The amazing thing, to me, is how someone can leave everything they know behind and show up in another country, unable to speak, knowing no one, and still manage to fit into their new environment. I’ve made friends, I’m memorizing the streets of Brioude one by one, I’m taking dance classes, everything is falling into place, and I couldn’t be happier. Au revoir and kisses on both cheeks!
*The quotes are from Sarah Turnbull’s autobiography “Almost French.”
I wrote this in my journal on December 15th, and although I wasn’t expecting it to become this month’s journal entry at the time, I think it clearly sums up my thoughts, feelings, and experiences for this month:
“It’s almost time to write my 3rd Rotary journal entry- so I suppose I need to think of things to write about; brainstorm a little bit. Let’s see…what have I done since I last wrote? Well I just looked in my agenda and I haven’t done much this month. Ok, that’s not true, but most of my time has been spent with my friends, with the family, or at school. That doesn’t make for an interesting journal. I’ve gone to the movies several times and I’ve been to Clermont-Ferrand quite a bit.
I guess that there are more important things than what I do in a month. My French improves everyday and my relationships with my friends and the family have deepened. I’m realizing now how fast the time is going by and that my time here is a 3rd of the way over already. I’ve learned the different ways to wear a scarf (and now am never without one) and spent many hours in various French cafes and restaurants. I’ve eaten snails twice and found them to be quite good, although I still avoid most of the cheese and raw meat. I’ve attended several French plays and am especially looking forward to seeing Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” next April. I’ve gone on a few fieldtrips with my art class, which I’ve become very fond of, and am helping to choreograph a dance for my jazz class which is now one of the highlights of my week.
I’ve become very close to Joanna, an exchange student from Australia, but unfortunately she’s almost finished her year and will be returning home on January 7th. Home. What a strange concept. Where exactly is my home? Right now I call Frugiere’s home, where I live with the Estics. But home is also family and although I am very close to the Estics, they can never replace the family I’ve left behind in the United States. My family lives in Jacksonville, Florida (with the exception of my mother), so you would think that I’d call Jacksonville home. Strangely enough, I do not. I have found that it is indeed a curse to know two cultures, as I find myself extremely attached to both of them. My family and all I have ever known are in the U.S., but it was in France that I discovered who I am and who I want to become.”
The first of the three “Lord of the Rings” film was released into theatres when I was in the 9th grade. I went with my little group of friends to a theatre we’d all been to a million times. I often wondered what my life would be like when the 3rd and final film was released, certain I’d have a car and possibly an after school job. I can assure you that I didn’t expect to be watching it in a two-room movie theatre in the middle of France, and moreover- in French!
So much has happened this past month that it seems like ages since I last wrote to you, instead of only four weeks. I celebrated my first Christmas in France, which was also my first white Christmas, with the entire Estic family (there were 17 of us total). We had a wonderful Christmas eve, and went to bed only after putting our shoes underneath the tree. The next morning, as in the US, all the children were gathered around the tree once more. Turns out I’m going to see Star Academy in concert with the family (except Xavier of course who claims it’s just for girls).
Two days after Christmas, the Estics and I piled into their Mercedes and drove the 5 or so hours to the Alps. I spent the next week learning how to snowboard (another first), going sledding, and having some serious snowball fights with the other kids. I have never been so cold in my entire life! (Today it’s the equivalent of –10 degrees Fahrenheit). After one of the most exhausting weeks of my life (the Estics are very sportive), including celebrating New Years and the existence of the Val Thorens ski resort for 30 years, we went back to Brioude where school started just two days later.
As if it isn’t difficult enough being the first week back at school, I also saw Jo, the foreign exchange student from Australia, for the last time before she went back home on a Thursday morning. I cried for the first time in a long time. Three days after Jo’s departure I switched host families after 4 and a half months with the Estics. I got the chance to cry again.
I’m now with my 2nd host family and have been for a week and a half. It didn’t take me long to discover that Gilbert and Catherine are two very kind people. They have three children: Maxime (13), Lauriane (12), and little Antoine who’s 6 years old. They also have two cats (which makes me very happy), and live in the actual town of Brioude, so my school is within walking distance.
This past month has brought about a lot of changes for me, as well as my constantly changing knowledge of the French language, which improves everyday. One thing that’s stayed the same through all this is my school, St. Julien, and my friends, whom I’ve become very close to. My time in France is almost half over already and there’s still so much I want to do here. I do miss my family, but I’m learning so much. Before coming to France I thought one year was an awfully long time to be away from home, but now I’m wondering if it’s long enough. Well that's all for this month.
Gros Bisous!!! (Big Kisses)
It was six months ago that my dad dropped me off at the airport. It’s been six months since I couldn’t help crying as I walked away from him. Five and a half months have passed since I last wondered if I was insane for leaving my home for such a long time. Two months have passed since I first started thinking that my time here is going by much too fast. It’s been one month and a few days since I last updated this journal. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
One of the great things about France is that there are four vacations during the school year, each one lasting a full two weeks. I spent last week in the indescribably beautiful Swiss Alps. I survived my 2nd week of life with a snowboard attached to my feet. And it was a lot of fun. I spent one week in Switzerland and now that I know how long it takes to really understand a culture, I left feeling a little uneducated. I did learn, however, that Switzerland has very pretty money which I’ve now added to my collection of Euros.
I’ve continued taking my dance and art classes and have made quite a career out of translating American and English songs for my friends at school. I’ve begun going with my host mom to the movies on Tuesday nights for her “Cinema Club” meetings. I’ve seen some fascinating French films (and even a Chinese one). My French continues to improve, but now I almost effortlessly understand the language (most of the time).
My 2nd Rotary weekend took place a few weeks ago. It was great seeing all my airplane buddies again. We had a good time swapping stories about our adventures in France and admiring how much our French had improved. It was a fun weekend, and makes me look forward to the bus trip even more!
My life at Brioude is nothing overly exciting to hear about. I’ve been living. Living very happily, and I suppose that’s the most important thing. There’s still so much I’ve yet to learn, and the time is going by so fast. I’ve been in France for six months already!! I have to keep telling myself that. It still hasn’t sunk in. Until next month when my stay in France will be 7 months (oh la la!)- Gros Bisous!