My name is Daniel Spray and I live in St. Petersburg, Florida. I currently attend St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. I just turned 17 and am excited to have my 18th birthday in a foreign country! I was born in Lewes, Delaware and moved to Florida when I was 7 years old.
I have a few hobbies, some of which include: reading and learning American Sign Language. Other things that I really enjoy doing include spending time with my friends, who mean the world to me, and being very spontaneous! Working is something that really takes up much of my life because I am paying for this exchange with my own money, so I have to do a lot… and I mean a lot… of working!
Although I do not know which country I am going to, I know that whichever one it turns out to be, I will have the time of my life! I have always loved learning foreign languages, so this opportunity has intrigued me very much.
I just want to thank everyone who has made this opportunity possible, namely Rotary and my parents. However, without the support of family and friends, I don’t think I would have the guts to do this. I know that I am about to embark on a journey I will never forget and I can’t wait to share it with each and every one of you!
July 30 Journal
August 2nd, 2008. The day my life will change is looming ever nearer. I have so much I want to do, but with so little time to do it in. I find myself thinking of nothing but leaving for Denmark. There is so much preparing that goes into getting ready for a journey of this nature that sometimes it just seems like too much, but I know that in two days, I will begin to reap the benefits.
I have so many emotions running through my head all at the same time—it’s like a huge tidal wave! First and foremost of these emotions is excitement and anticipation. Ever since I found out my departure date, I have been counting down the days and marking them off on my calendar. 152 days, 151 days…40 days, 39 days… and now today, 2 days! It’s absolutely incomprehensible. I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that this year of preparation has finally come to an end. My dream is no longer a dream—it’s a reality. I’m actually doing this! But this excitement and anticipation leads to stress. “What happens if I miss my flight?” “Will my host family like me?” “What happens when I don’t know how to say something?” I know I just need to calm down and relax, but in the midst of saying my goodbyes to everyone I know, I feel like I am saying goodbye to everything I know, too. And in a way I am.
Everyone keeps telling me to have and great time, enjoy every minute of it, etc…and then they throw in the part about “Oh yeah, by the way, don’t change a bit!” Seriously now! What do they want me to do, just live in a little observatory bubble while I am over there? I guess they are the type of people who would never make it as an exchange student. That’s a reason I want to go on this journey—I want to change; I want to be a better person; I want to become bicultural.
Anyway, enough of my rambling on! =) I look forward to keeping all of you informed about my adventures in the land of Denmark! Also, I want to say TUSIND TAK (a thousand thanks) to Rotary for allowing me to spend my year in Denmark. Because of you, my life will be forever changed.
August 6 Journal
Well, this is my first journal for my exchange year. I want to start off by thanking Rotary from the bottom of my heart for making this life-changing dream come true. I am truly enjoying every minute of it!
So far, in my 3 days of living in Denmark, my host family has been amazing! They are the most genuine people I have met. Anything I need, they will help me get it. They involve me in all of their family activities and already, I feel as if I am a part of their family.
On Monday morning at 11:00 (only 8 hours after arriving, mind you!), my host brother, Mathias, knocks on my bedroom door to wake me up to meet his two friends Benjamin and Jeppe. Jeppe will be arriving in Weston for his exchange year on the 10th of August. After we got acquainted, they very nonchalantly told me that we were going to Germany… to go shopping?!? That right there threw me off! All I could think of was “Wouldn’t that be like an American going to Canada to shop, when we have perfectly good stores in the States?” But once they explained to me that we are so close to the German border and everything in Germany is cheaper, it all made more sense. That made for a very interesting day, nonetheless—barely speaking Danish and then being sent to Germany—can you say “Sensory Overload!!” After we got back from Germany, Benjamin and Jeppe stayed to eat dinner with our family. Then there was the fodbald game, or as we say it in English: SOCCER!! Our team, SønderjyskE (and yes, the “E” is supposed to be capitalized) is the lowest paid team in Denmark and they played København FC, they highest paid team in Denmark. I have never seen anything like that before. Now I understand where the term “hooligan” comes from! Luckily for us, they tied 1-1 and nobody got hurt after the match!
After the match, Mathias, Benjamin, Jeppe and I all stayed up until 2AM talking and playing games—they have become my best friends over here!
Tuesday, Jeppe’s family threw a going away party for him and Mathias and I went. That was a lot of fun because I got to see how the Danish teenagers interacted with each other. There was not much difference from the American way, but there were some slight variations. At that party, I was able to make some very good friends that really want to help me with my Danish.
And today, my host father and I went to the Haderslev Kommune to register me for an insurance card that I need to have to go to school. After that, we went to a store to buy our dinner ingredients, but when we walked in, all I saw were aisles of shoes and clothes on the right and electronics on the left hand side. However, in the back, there was the food section. My host father told me that they have two main stores like this that everyone uses. They are both owned, not by big-wig millionaires, but the consumers themselves. And while it caught me off guard that you could buy anything and everything you needed in one store, it also boggled my host fathers mind that we have all different stores in the States! But as everyone over here loves to say: “Americans do everything opposite of the rest of the world!”
So, for now, this concludes my first journal. I have had so much fun these past few days and I am looking forward to having many more exciting adventures!
Vi ses og mojn!
September 3 Journal
Ok, now where to start? I know everyone at home is breathing a sigh of relief to finally see my journal is up! Yes, I finally got around to it. There has been so much going on that I have had to start and stop and restart this journal so many times. As a pre-journal note, I would like to say that in the month that I have been here, I have already started to forget some of my English vocabulary and it freaks me out every time I can’t think of such a simple word, and yet it makes me happy too, knowing that I am becoming better in the language! So, I am apologizing now for any stupid mistakes in my grammar!
I believe that the last time I wrote, I was in my first week here! HA—that seems like forever and a day ago. As of today (September 3rd), I have been here for 1 month! I have now started school, which is a big joke! Imagine, if you can, walking into a class of 29 girls and 1 boy not knowing a word of their language! Yeah, well whatever scenario is playing out in your head now, that’s how I felt times 10! I have gotten used to my class now and am actually having a great time. Granted, with 29 girls, there are A LOT of hormones involved! J My schedule is a very good one. I am in the second year (there are 3 years in the high school) with an intensive focus on Spanish and English. My classes change everyday. On Mondays I have Psychology, Danish, Biology and English. Tuesdays, I have English, Gym, Biology, and History. Wednesdays are Religion, History, Ancient Greek History, and Spanish. Thursdays I have Ancient Greek History, Chemistry, and Danish. And on Fridays, I have Religion, English, Spanish and Psychology. Now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get to miss my last 2 classes because I have to go and attend a language school down in the center of town. Those classes are some of the most helpful classes I could possibly take. I have learned so much since I have started there!
Now, my favorite part of the year (so far)! INTROCAMP!! That is our week-long camp in Bjerringbro (northern Denmark) where all 108 exchange students come together to socialize, go on outings, and create lifelong friendships. Oh, and I think we were supposed to learn some Danish while we were there! J And we did! Everyday that week, we had some 5 hours of Danish lessons and then 2 of the days, we went out on excursions of Viborg and Århus. Let me tell you—I had the time of my life just walking around these towns with my new found friends. On the 3rd day and the last day, we all met outside in the soccer field for bonfires. Now, when you typically go to bonfires, the highlight is usually making S’mores or roasting marshmallows, right? PSYCH! In Denmark, we make bread on a stick, which is SOOOO Danish because Danes eat bread with absolutely everything! A meal is not complete if there are not 2 loaves of bread on the table. Half of my body weight is now probably made up of pure dough! After we had to come home I talked to a lot of the other exchange students and we all just wanted to go back for another week of spending time with each other! J
If you would like, I could now give you a brief glimpse into what the near future holds for me in the beautiful country of Denmark. Next weekend, I am going to Copenhagen (the capital) to go to a concert with all of the exchange students! I am so excited to see them again! We are going to go to an amusement park and all that cool stuff! The week after next, my host dad is running a HUGE marathon in Berlin where we also have a vacation house, so we will be there for a long weekend then! I am really looking forward to seeing more of Germany. And, I might even get to go to Poland to see my BEST FRIEND Katie! That would be so exciting! Next month is my birthday (October 15th—my 18th, I can’t believe it!) so my host family is letting me invite some friends over the week before to celebrate because we are going to be back in Berlin at our house to have a week during our autumn holiday! I think for now, that is enough of my boasting! J
I just wanted to take a moment to send out my never-ending thanks to Rotary for allowing me to come on this journey! I have experienced so much already just in my first month and I am ready for all the new challenges that await me in the coming months! Rotary Youth Exchange is the best program and I am so happy that I have embarked on this adventure! I would like to also thank my family and friends—here and back home in the States. I feel as if I already have 2 families and 2 homes! I love Denmark with everything in me, but I know that I always have all of you back home waiting for me to return!
October 5 Journal
A wise man once said: “Time flies when you are having fun!” And that’s what made him wise—for knowing this! I have been here in Denmark (the most AMAZING country in the world) for two months now, and when I try to sit back and recollect everything I have done and all the people I have met, it is absolutely impossible! There has been so much that’s been happening since I last wrote my journal and I will do my best to get it all down!
I last left off, if I remember correctly with my first few weeks of school. When I first started, I was totally lost and every little bit of Danish I thought I knew, well that went out the window! But now, 2 months into it, I have realized that if I pay really close attention, I can pretty much understand the lecture. Another wise man (or maybe an exchange student said it!) once said: “The Danish language is like taking a very hot potato and sticking it in your mouth and trying to talk like that!” Well I’ll be darned—whoever said that hit the nail right on the head! In Danish, the language is very guttural and to try and tell the difference between the letters, is still proving to be my only challenge! We have 3 extra vowels in our alphabet (æ, ø, and å) and the pronunciation between ø, å, and o is dependent on how far back in your throat your tongue is! So, in our language school, we still spend time going over the basic practice of distinguishing the difference between the 3 letters! At school, all the girls are very helpful in teaching me Danish. They will spend however long it takes teaching me how to say something until I get it correct! And, I learn more Danish from them than I do at our language school; but the school helps, too!
I know in my last journal that I mentioned that I was going to Berlin so my dad could run the big marathon and MAN—was that an amazing experience! My family has an apartment in Berlin and the marathon went right in front of our window, but we were outside cheering my dad on! We met him at every 12 kilometers (7.5 miles for all of you who are confused by the metric system!) and gave him a chocolate bar! But of course we didn’t run to the next station—NO! We took the underground! That was definitely an experience! In the marathon, there were 40,000 runners and just imagine with their family members going to meet them every 12 km too, just how packed the underground was! They don’t wait for everyone to get on before leaving either. If the time for the train to leave is 13:11, you better believe that the doors are closing at 13:10.59! Luckily, they run every 5 minutes, though! While we were there, I got to meet my host sister who is older, married and living in Aalborg. Her husband was running the marathon with my dad. They brought along my host cousin and he actually helped me to learn many Danish phrases that are very useful! We did a lot of talking that weekend and he is a really nice kid! I guess I should mention that he is 2 years old, too!! J
Since I have been in Denmark, the culture of the Danes has been rubbing off onto me and I have noticed changes in my personality. I am becoming a more carefree person. I am not so uptight if things change unexpectedly—I just take it as a new adventure and a new chance to experience something different. I am becoming more open-minded about other people. Like in American high schools, if there is a kid that sticks out and is different from the “average” or the “normal” they are either shunned and never thought of or made fun of constantly. But in Denmark, everyone is accepted—no matter what they believe in, how they act, where they come from, whatever! And that is something that I think everyone in the world could stand to learn.
I have come to the conclusion that making mental notes of things that I want to put in my journals will never work because as soon as I think of something new, the old reminder is gone! So, I am going to have to start carrying around a little notebook so I can jot down any significant things. I have also realized that merely writing my experiences down does not even come close to capturing the full effect of the actual event, which is why if there are any students reading this journal or anyone else’s journal and are intrigued by what you hear, I encourage you to check out the RYE program and maybe you can have the same life-changing experiences as all of us are having each and every day!
So, as always, I want to conclude with thanking Rotary and all the people that make this opportunity happen year after year! Without you, my life would not be changing for the better like it is now and I owe it all to you!
Until next time, I hope all is well in the Sunshine State!
Tusind tak til Rotary! Jeg er kærlig hvert minut jeg er i Danmark og ikke ville have den anden måde!
November 23 Journal
Ok, so it’s been a long time since I last wrote and I have so much to say! A lot has happened in the last month, so I hope I can get it all down.
When I last left off, my 18th birthday was rapidly approaching. Luckily for me, it fell during Denmark’s efterårsferie (also known as Autumn break). Since mostly everyone in Denmark has off of work during this time, my family and I took a wonderful trip back to Berlin. But, before we left, we had to have a fødselsdag morgenmad (birthday breakfast). It was so good, even after being woken up by my host family barging into my room singing the Danish version of Happy Birthday! It goes something like this:
I dag er det Oles fødselsdag!
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
Han sikkert sig en gave får
som han har ønsket sig i år
og dejlig chokolade med kage til.
Hvor smiler han, hvor er han glad
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
Men denne dag er også rar,
for hjemme venter mor og far
med dejlig chokolade med kage til.
Og når han hjem fra skolen går,
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
Så skal han hjem og holde fest,
og hvem der kommer med som gæst,
får dejlig chokolade med kage til.
Til slut vi råber højt i kor.
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
Gid Ole længe leve må
og sine ønsker opfyldt få -
og dejlig chokolade med kage til.
And promptly after this, they moved on to the English version. But, in Denmark, this is tradition. During our fødselsdag morgenmad, I was given presents from my host parents and my host brother along with the cards my family had sent to me. It was such a great start to my birthday! After breakfast, we all took our showers and then packed the car for our 5 hour trip to Berlin. Now, for me as an American, 5 hours really isn’t that much. If my family and I took a 5 hour trip, we’d still be in Florida. HA! Danes really don’t have that same perspective. Since the country is so small, a 1 or 2 hour trip is REALLY long. So we always laugh with each other when we go to Berlin because of our differences in perspectives!
Anyways, we arrived at the apartment in Berlin at around 12:30 and we met our neighbors from Denmark there. They were there for the first part of the efterårsferie. Then we had a very hygge lunch. Hygge doesn’t really have an English translation, but the best I can think of is cozy. It was just my family and our neighbors sitting around the table eating bread and drinking coffee. But, one of the best parts about the day was, of course, the CAKE!! It was a chocolate-cream cake wrapped in Marzipan. It had to have been one of the best cakes ever. That night, we went out into the city for a fødselsdag aftensmad. We ended up going to a very classy Turkish restaurant. Even though it was classy and a little on the expensive side, you still get a lot of food! Afterwards, we were all just so full! When I come back to the States, I don’t think I will ever say Happy Birthday again, because I love the Danish way of saying it! Tilykke med fødselsdagen! It is just so much fun to say! J So, needless to say, during my birthday, I had a great day and a great bonding time with my family.
Also, while in Berlin, we went to a lot of historical places. I won’t go into detail about what we did and all that, but I’ll just mention some of the bigger ones. We went to an old prison used by the Nazis during the War, the Jewish memorial, the remainder of the Berlin Wall now known as the East Side Gallery, the United States Embassy (which is closed to the public and surrounded by armed policemen) and the JFK museum. Berlin is such a spectacular place and I feel very fortunate to be able to travel there with my family and experience where so much of our world’s history has taken place.
School is amazing. For a while there, I thought that I wouldn’t really like it, but all of a sudden, everyone has just opened up so much and we just get along so well. My teachers still don’t make me do much work—mainly my English teacher. She loves having a native speaker in the class. Even though she speaks flawless English with a perfect British accent, she still asks me if what she is saying is right. But, now I have given 3 presentations in school and I am working on my 4th now for Biology this Thursday. It’s kind of sad that I have to miss classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays for language school, but in the end, I know that it will be worth it.
The weather. Hahaha! It is so different from Florida, it’s not even funny! Right now as I’m typing, the temperature outside is 30 degrees. When I woke up this morning, the swimming pool was frozen and my host dad made the comment that soon we will be able to skate on it. And he was serious! It snowed last night and the day before, so hopefully we will have a White Christmas. I can’t wait to get my Rotary money next week so I can go buy a new pair of shoes suitable for the winter weather. Converses really don’t do the trick here! Oh, and in the city, there are two HUGE Christmas trees and there are lights stretching across the streets from building to building! It is picture perfect! I have tried to capture it in a picture, but there are just some things a picture can’t describe.
For Halloween, Rotary put on a Get Together Weekend in Holbæk, a city about an hour away from Copenhagen (the capital). All the exchange students (175 of us) were there—crammed into the gymnasium (the European word for high school). It is always so sad when we have to say good-bye at the end, even though we know we’re going to see each other again soon. I think this weekend was more for the Oldies. They are the ones that are from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and sometimes Brazil. Their exchanges are from February until January. So, they are getting ready to go home and it was like their farewell party. And since I saw them saying goodbye to the people they have made lifelong friendships with, I couldn’t help but feel their pain, too. Because when I start to think about coming home, it just hurts. Denmark has become more than just my host country. It has become my home. I feel like I just fit perfectly—with the people, the culture, everything. Each day I wake up, I realize that I can’t take it for granted. A year only lasts for a year; nothing more, nothing less. I can’t just sit at home and do nothing for a full day because that’s a day I don’t get back. This exchange has already taught me so much and I’m only 4 months into it. It’s amazing to see how many TRUE friends you can make while being on exchange. There is really no one else that can understand you better than another exchange student. We feel so many emotions and sometimes they conflict with each other, and I don’t think anyone else, except an exchange student, can truly understand what we are going through. I never realized how much you can accomplish in a year. A year is such a short amount of time. It’s only 365 days, but if you think positive and live like there’s no tomorrow, those can be the best 365 days of your life. And since I’ve been in Denmark, the days that I’ve had here, I will never want to trade them for anything. And I have Rotary to thank for that. This is the single most best experience of my life. Thank you Rotary, for making this happen. I can’t think of any other way to say it, but I truly mean it!
So, for now, this concludes my journal. I am looking forward to having many more adventures to share next month!
January 4 Journal
Goddag goddag alle sammen!
So, with the holidays just finished, I suppose it’s time for a journal. I can’t even think where to start after so much has happened this past month! But before I get into the material part of the exchange, I think it would be better to describe how I have changed. Each day, each new experience in my life is affecting who I am and what I am becoming. The best part is that probably 98% of my experiences here in Denmark have been wonderful and positive, so that means that (hopefully) I am becoming a better person. I have noticed that I am very protective of Denmark. I can’t stand it when people say they don’t like being here. This has become like a second home to me. This is now part of my life. I don’t think friends have played a more pivotal role than now. I know that I can trust my exchange student friends with absolutely anything. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for them. Like all the others have said countless times, and so have I—the bond between exchange students is nothing like I have experienced before. I know that when I have to say goodbye to them, it will be one of the hardest things to do—probably harder than coming here. We have all gone through this experience together and I know I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.
Now, to the stories from the holidays! First would be Thanksgiving, which was non-existent and trying to explain the concept of this holiday to Danes is almost useless. But, I did my best and I think they get the general concept. I thought that we (‘we’ being the American exchangers in my city) would have a little Thanksgiving dinner, but plans just didn’t work out. So, my dinner consisted of a traditional Danish food called frikadeller, which are just basically meatballs served with red cabbage boiled in vinegar (rødkål). Granted, this is my all-time favorite dish here, it was nowhere near to what I knew my family back in the States was eating. Oh well, life goes on!
Next comes Christmas—probably the biggest holiday in Denmark. It starts on the first of December when all the kids get their julekalender. It is just a box with 24 days marked on it with little doors and behind each door is a piece of chocolate. So, each morning when you wake up, you eat your piece of chocolate. And, I would swear that it is an unforgivable sin if you eat 2 pieces of chocolate in one day. Then we celebrate Advent each Sunday in December and each family has the Advent wreath with the four candles. Throughout the month of December, a lot of friends and families get together for BIG dinners called julefrokosts. You just sit around and eat dinner until you are on the brink of busting a gut. Now I have to get a little sidetracked to explain something about these julefrokosts. If you were to ask any Dane what their biggest pride would be, they would answer with the word hygge. Unfortunately, there is no translation for the word, but the closest would be ‘cozy’. Hygge is basically just sitting around with people you care about and having the candles lit, drinking coffee or tea, and eating some sweets. It is so relaxing and amazing to experience this feeling. So, the main concept of the julefrokosts is to have a hyggeligt time with everyone. However, when we get to Christmas Day (Juleaften), that’s when the real celebration begins! You wake up and just sit around with your family and talk. Around 1 or 2, everyone goes to church for the Christmas Day service. But right before the family leaves for the service, the turkey goes in the oven. When you come home from church, the extended family usually comes over and you eat for literally 3 to 4 hours. Then comes the dancing. Yes, dancing. Everyone holds hands and we dance around the Christmas tree singing different carols. After the dancing, comes the presents—and that takes a good 3 hours to do, too! But all in all, Christmas is a totally different experience here than in the States. I know it sounds almost exactly the same, but it’s something you have to feel, not read.
New Years is pretty much the same as Christmas, except after we had dinner with our family, then we moved onto all the neighbors houses to wish everyone a happy New Year and usually you get some food at each house, too! Now, I will steal Katie’s idea of making a list of “You Know You Are…” things.
You Know You Are An Exchange Student in Denmark If:
You speak your own made-up language we like to call Danglish.
You NEVER wear shoes in the house. Always socks or slippers.
You can’t get over the fact that the letter ‘d’ is sometimes pronounced like an ‘l’, sometimes it’s silent, and sometimes it’s pronounced like a ‘d’.
You can never wear enough clothes to try and stay warm. It’s just not gonna happen!
90% of the TV shows are American ones.
Brightly colored skinny jeans are definitely stylish.
You run out of your monthly allowance from Rotary in the first week because everything is so expensive!
Ketchup tastes like curry and mayonnaise tastes like nothing.
You can’t stop yourself from saying Ja, Nej, Hvad, Undskyld, and Ttak instead of saying Yes, No, What, Sorry, and Thanks—especially when you are talking to other Americans.
You go to Germany to go shopping because it’s cheaper.
You will never be able to totally navigate the train system.
And now for a little note to the new RYE Florida class. First off, I want to let you know I am SO jealous of you—especially the ones coming to Denmark. I would give everything to be able to stay another year. When the Rotarians tell you to study, they actually mean it. You can’t study enough. Don’t be happy with what you already know because there is so much more for you to learn. Don’t procrastinate—time creeps up so fast and before you know it, there is no more time. There is no time for second chances when you only have a year. The reality of knowing that you are going to a different country probably hasn’t hit you yet, and it might not hit until you are getting off the plane and you feel like you have just been shaken up, tossed around and hung upside down because you are so confused, but just know that you are 76 of the luckiest teenagers in the world. This experience will change you in so many different ways and you might not even recognize who you have become—a more mature, open minded, caring, and diverse individual. Just know that you can never say thank you enough.
And with that, I would like to say Thank You again to everyone with Rotary. Six months of my exchange are already gone and I only have half left, but without everything you all have done, I wouldn’t be able to say that I am truly living my dream. Thank you Rotary.