My name is Emily Katherine Garvin and I was born and raised in a small town called Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. I am a small town girl. I am 14 years old and the second born of three children. But I am the youngest. My oldest brother Timmy Hendren was adopted before I was born. Timmy and I are six years apart. Next came my other older brother, his name is Patrick Garvin. 16 months later I came.
But my family doesn’t end there because for about 5 years my parents were foster parents. This had a huge impact on my life because accepting children into my family as a 9 year old was very difficult. It was hard learning how to share my family, my room, and most of all my parents. But I overcame all the hardships that came with fostering. And I learned to love every child that stepped over our threshold. At that moment they became a part of my life and my family forever. With fostering I also learned how to cope with frequent changes and loss. I learned that I shouldn’t dwell on those things that I don’t have, rather cherish the things I do have, like a loving and forgiving family.
All of that has made me the person that I am today. I would consider myself well-rounded, open-minded person. I like to take risks and try new things. Recently I tried out for my high school’s junior varsity basketball team. I realized that there would be lots of hard work, time, and commitment if I made the team. And to tell you the truth I really didn’t think I was going to make the team. I had never played basketball in my life. But that didn’t stop me; I tried out for the team anyway.
Currently I am taking all honors courses. My favorite class is geometry. And quite frankly I don’t even like geometry that much but there is just something about math that I have fallen in love with. Outside of school, I usually spend time with my family and friends. I also do volunteer service around the island with my church’s youth group. And I volunteer at the local theatres.
My future is wide open and I look forward to the possibilities that will open up to me. I plan on going to college and getting a nursing and teaching degree. My mother is a teacher and my grandmother was a nurse and they are and were both very successful people. I hope that I can follow in their footsteps and become just as successful at life.
August 26 Journal
After the sweet goodbyes at the Jacksonville airport, I proceeded through security. My first flight was to Washington DC, where I met up with the other Rotary Youth Exchange student from Maine named Allie. In DC I decided that I would show Allie how we live in Florida and I took her to the Red Carpet Club (thanks to Jeanie).
After spending the duration of our layover there we proceeded back to our gate. Allie got the pleasure of accompanying me on the 8 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where we sweet-talked the flight attendant into letting us sit together. In Germany we sat around playing cards with a nice guy from California. He was on his way to visit his family in Saudi Arabia. He showed us this really cool card trick.
After playing cards for a while we went to our gate where we met two other Rotary Youth Exchange students headed for Croatia. The next leg of the trip was probably the best. It was about an hour and 30 minutes. Then we soon arrived in the Zagreb airport where we picked up our bags and walked out of frosted sliding glass doors where my host father Ratko and host sister Josipa were waiting for me, holding up a sign with my name.
The ride home was about 20 minutes, all the while my dad was pointing out the sights that I might need to know. Ratko speaks very nice English as does Josipa. My mother on the other hand is just about as good at English as I am at Croatian. My mother's name is Mislav. They say the female names are always harder to pronounce than the male names.
We arrived at my house, where I met my other host sibling... while Ratko carried my luggage up 3 flights of stairs to my bedroom (spavaća soba). Which I am sharing with my host sister. I began unpacking while creating a sisterly bond with Josipa.
Soon after I began unpacking, I was called down to lunch where my mother had prepared veal with peas, mashed potatoes, rice, salad and tomatoes. This meal was accompanied with a homemade juice of which fruit I am not sure. I soon learned that lunch (ručak) was the main meal of the household. This is the meal that the mother prepares. The other meals, such as breakfast and dinner, are very casual. Usually you are supposed to prepare them yourself.
After lunch I continued unpacking, then my sister and I walked the dog Johnny. Josipa showed her neighborhood to me during the walk. She explained that every neighborhood has a different name and in every neighborhood there are many different houses with a number of flats within each building. There is one flat per family. After the walk we decided to take the dog back home while Josipa and I went to a coffee bar. We sat at the coffee bar for about 30 to 45 minutes as we did some more of that sisterly bonding! We soon found our way home and joined the family for a small dinner. My first Croatian dinner consisted of cottage cheese with salt and a cream sauce. We also had an assortment of ham, bread and tomatoes to accompany our cottage cheese.
The Foreigner (Emily)
September 1 Journal
This weekend my father, mother, and I went to our summer home in a small town called Tučepi. It is near Split (if you want to look at a map). The drive was about four hours, I slept the majority of the way. When we arrived at the house in Tučepi, I got my bathing suit on and headed down to the sea. It is literally 2 seconds away from the house! The water was a beautiful tint of aqua that darkened as it deepened. It was a bit colder than the Atlantic. The beaches were not sand, instead they were small pebbles. It was a change, and I have still not decided whether I like the sand or stones better. I guess I could just love them both.
The summer home is very nice. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. The flat has a nice open kitchen and living area that leads to the porch. The little view that is, is beautiful. Downstairs there is another flat that my parents own. But they rent this one out during the summer because it is a little smaller than the other one. We spent the weekend in Tučepi where I soaked up all the sun and Adriatic that I could take. We left Tučepi Sunday evening. On our way out of town we stopped by this beautiful outdoor church (I would have taken pictures but there was a service going on).
We arrived back in Zagreb later that night. I went to sleep thinking about the next day and how my first day of school might go. I have to admit I was rather nervous to think that I will go to a school where I will know nobody and I know very little of the language. I woke up the next morning and just waited. School did not start until 2 o'clock that day. There was much anticipation. I soon decided that I could start getting ready for school. So I did just that. My mother arrived home from work and we left the house headed for school. I had a meeting with the principal before school. She introduced me to my homeroom teacher. My homeroom teacher is 4 foot nothing with heels and she is also my history teacher. I went to her classroom where I found old-fashioned tables and chairs. I took a seat as other students entered the classroom. All of a sudden it was a mad rush to meet the foreigner. God forbid you be the last one to introduce yourself to me! Of course I remembered not one of my peers' names.
As the teacher tried to settle the class down a girl came and sat down next to me and introduced herself again. Her name was Nina. Nina speaks very good English and she explained to me what my schedule was. She explained that we are in class 2C. Which means we are in the 2nd grade (they count down instead of up.) And the C is just one of the many different classes within my grade. The school over here is very complicated so I will briefly explain. I have about 15 different subjects, all of which I will take in a different classroom with the same group of students. My schedule changes daily, and every week I alternate times that school starts. For example, this week school starts in the afternoon and next week school will start in the morning. So far I love my school, my friends and my family. I will have a meeting with my Rotary very soon and I will let you know how that goes.
September 30 Journal
My first Rotary meeting: I met my host Rotary club, they were all very welcoming. School has been great! I am picking up new phrases left and right. During class it is a little hard to stay awake but what school isn't like that. I listen to the teacher and pick out words and phrases that are frequently used and try to remember them. I also enjoy listening to those words and phrases that I recognize and know what they mean because that gives me a sense of accomplishment. My Croatian classes are great. My teacher is excellent. I will have classes twice a week until mid April. I have two other students in my class. They are also Rotary Youth Exchange Students. Greg is from New York and Gabriella is from Brazil. It is nice to have other students in the class because there is a sense of competition and we can practice on each other. I have had about 3 weeks of classes and I am very pleased with them.
The weather the past few days has been chilly and rainy. Today it is 13 degrees C, about 55 degrees F. Yesterday it was a bit warmer but the rest of the week is supposed to be colder. I have no idea how I am going to survive the winter with all the snow! My friends make fun of me because I find it so cold. But what can I say - I am a Florida girl.
I did my first school assignment! The assignment was to create a Power Point Presentation for my Informatika class (computer) on whatever topic you want. I chose Florida. My class really enjoyed the presentation. They were most interested in the hurricanes. I got a 5, which would be an A.
I went on my first Rotary trip. The 7 inbounds in Croatia gathered in Zagreb for our orientation. During the orientation we went over the Rotary Rules and Expectations. The next day we went to Plizvička Jezera (Lakes). It was absolutely amazing. There were a lot of lakes and waterfalls everywhere. I can not even begin to describe the color of the water. It was breath taking. The following day we went to two castles in Croatia. They were both very different yet beautiful. One of the castles was from the 18th-19th century and the other was from the 15th-16th century. The architectural work was really interesting. It was cool to see how the structures differed from the ages. Soon I am going on another Rotary trip to Vienna. I am also going to Austria with my class. I am very excited about both of these trips.
Just last weekend I cooked Sunday lunch for my host family. They were very impressed. But I found that it is rather hard cooking with foreign ingredients. I made meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, baked eggplant and chocolate chip cookies. The meatloaf was the easiest part. The macaroni and cheese on the other hand was rather difficult. They do not have cheddar cheese over here so I went to the store and tried all of the cheese until I found one that I thought would do. My host brother ate half of the cheese that I had gotten for the dish so I had to use other cheese that we had in the house. When it was finished it was very good, it just was not the same as when it is made with cheddar cheese. The chocolate chip cookies were a little hard to make also. My host mother is convinced that sugar in the raw is the same as brown sugar. And I could not find vanilla extract in the store. But in the end I pulled it off and everything was delicious.
I am not homesick yet (knock on wood). But there are certain things that I miss. For example, the beach being 2 seconds away, macaroni and cheese, and warm weather. The list is endless, but overall I love it here in Croatia!
October 28 Journal
My first and second visit to Austria. The weekend of the 18th I went to Vienna for a multi district Rotary meeting. The meeting consisted of the 6 Croatian exchange students and the 83 Austrian exchange students. Vienna was beautiful, the first day we did a walking tour of a few museums, we saw a huge palace, we saw the main cathedral and we toured the oldest library in the world. That night we went to an Italian Opera. Of course, it was all in German so I didn't understand any of the show. I enjoyed the costumes and the set very much. The next day consisted of a bus tour of the city. But I would have to say that the best part of being in Vienna was that we got to meet many other foreign exchange students. It was a blast talking to them and sharing stories with them. I even ran into a friend from Florida. Gail is in the same outbound group as me in Florida. Because there are so many foreign exchange students in Austria they had half of the group begin their exchange in January and the other half begin their exchange in August like I did.
At first being in Austria it was kind of confusing, because I had no idea what language to speak. I don't know German, so that was out of the question. But I just got caught up on speaking Croatian all the time that I just wanted to speak Croatian. But barely anybody understood Croatian. So I had to fall back on English. Many of the Austrian exchange students were speaking German to each other. And then there was the group of Latinos and they were speaking Spanish and Portuguese. As Croats we decided to speak Croatian to each other. It was fun to have a language that nobody else could understand.
My next trip to Austria was this past weekend. I went on a class trip with my whole grade. We went to Graz, Klagenfurt and Bled Slovenia. Of course, all of these cities were beautiful. But I would have to say that the best part of this trip was learning more about my classmates and becoming closer to them. The first day we did a walking tour of Graz, then we had about two hours of free time to do some shopping in Graz. Just about all of the Croats go to Graz to do their shopping because everything is much cheaper than in Croatia. After we left Graz we headed to Klagenfurt were we stayed the night in a youth hostel. The next day we toured Klagenfurt then headed to Bled Slovenia. On the way to Bled we stopped in a few little town to check out some small tourist attractions. Bled was very pretty but I went to Bled Slovenia last summer and it was much prettier in the summer time. After Bled we headed back to Zagreb.
Croatia is beginning to feel like home. After both of these trips when we arrived back to Zagreb I was so happy just to be in a familiar place. A city where I know what bus and tram to take, a city where I can find my way around and see familiar street corners. Don't get me wrong - I love traveling and seeing new things. But anyone who has ever traveled can tell you that it can get a little exhausting. Not only to be in a familiar place but to also speak my familiar language. My Croatian in coming along slowly but surely. Just last week both my best friend and my host mother said that it is getting much better. I was so excited to hear that.
Last week my cousin from Seattle Washington was visiting my aunt in Slovenia so she decided to take the train over for a visit. It was so great showing her my town. I gave her a tour of Zagreb then went back to my house where she met my host mother and saw the place I call home. After the visit to my house we went back out on the town and just drank coffee and talked like Croats do. It was beautiful.
I am still continuing to take Croatian classes twice a week with Greg and Gabbie, the two other foreign exchange students in Zagreb. School is school but everyday I am understanding more and more. Next Saturday is a rather big holiday here in Croatia. It is All Saints Day. My host father has explained to me that Saturday morning we will go to the cemetery as a family then we will come home and prepare a large meal which will consist of duck. And I think this meal symbolizes the beginning of a new year or something like that. My host father was trying to explain it to me. I didn't catch everything. I will just have to wait and see. But I am looking forward to this Saturday.
January 6 Journal
All Saints day was definitely an experience here in Croatia. As a family, with an exception to my grandmother we all went to the cemetery.. We spent about three hours visiting graves of our deceased family members.. We visited about six different graves, and at everyone of them we would pay our respects by placing flowers and or candles and saying the Our Father.. It was my first time visiting the cemetery here in Croatia. Prior to All Saints day I had driven by the main entrance of this cemetery on a city bus and I drive by what I thought was another cemetery everyday on my way to school. Little did I know that these two cemeteries were really one huge cemetery. In those three hours we walked from one side of the cemetery to the other, and then back home. The main entrance of the cemetery was about two miles from the entrance closest to my house. The whole city of Zagreb was at that cemetery that day. Every grave had beautiful flowers and many candles, it was really amazing to see how big this holiday is here. After the time spent at the cemetery we walked back to the house where my host grandmother had prepared a beautiful lunch consisting of duck, muesli (which is a traditional Croatian food), a beet salad, as well as a green salad. This meal is very similar to our Thanksgiving meals. But of course they don't have Thanksgiving here.
Shortly after that, December came and the cold weather came with it. I would have to say that this weather is way too cold for a Florida girl. The main square is decorated with Christmas lights, a Christmas tree and an Advent wreath. Throughout Advent my host mother would go to church every morning 6 o'clock. I joined her once just to see how it was. Once was enough for me. I was surprised, there was a very good turnout. Mostly little old ladies in their fur coats and hats. As Christmas came closer I was anticipating it more and more. I was waiting for the decorations and the new traditions that I was going to be a part of. It was about a week before Christmas and although we had been baking cookies practically the whole month of December there had been no Christmas decorations. So I finally asked my host father when we are planning on getting our Christmas tree. He said Christmas Eve. I thought to myself that is rather late but I will go with the flow. The 23rd of December came and I finally saw Christmas trees being sold around town. Two days before Christmas, can you believe it? Christmas Eve was finally here and my host father and brother went out to buy our Christmas tree, while my host mother and I finished cleaning the house. She explained to me that the house is supposed to be clean for Christmas because something having to do with the birth of the new baby. So I helped her clean, like the good host daughter that I am. We soon decorated the tree with lights and ornaments just like we do in Florida. Later that night we did the whole Christmas thing. We opened presents. Every member of the family got one present each. I suppose that if we had little ones in the house we would have probably waited until Christmas morning. But everyone knows that once everyone is grown some traditions are just lost. Christmas morning came along with the first snow fall of the season. It was great, I had just got done setting the table for our Christmas lunch when I looked out the window and saw it. I ran downstairs to my host mom yelling ˝pada snijeg, pada snijeg˝ which means ˝falling snow, falling snow.˝ She was so happy for me. This was not my first time seeing snow but it was just as memorable. We at our Christmas meal which was very similar to the meal that we had on All Saints Day.
At this point I was anticipating New Years! On New Years I went with my class and some of their friends from elementary school to a party where we ate baby pig. This is a Croatian tradition on New Years. New Years passed and Three Kings day came. This is the day where we finally say goodbye to Christmas. All of the Christmas decorations came down today. Three Kings Day is a holiday in Croatia so nobody works and no stores are open.
Tomorrow I am moving to my new host family. I have mixed emotions about my move. I have bonded with my current host family for the last 4 months and it will be hard to leave. I plan on continuing going to church with my host mother at our neighborhood church because my next host mother is not a practicing Catholic. I have been invited back to go to the house on the coast in the summer with them. I think it is safe to say that I have one Croatian family that loves me and that will be in my life and heart forever. And I can't wait to make another relationship with my next host family. My next host family has never had a daughter before, so I am excited to be their first. I will also be an only child which will be a BIG change in my life. Honestly that is what I am the most scared of. I have two brothers back in Florida and yes they can be very annoying, but I have always loved the excitement around the house. I had the same sort of excitement with my first host family too. I guess this is just one of those perks of being able to live with other families. I get to find out what it will feel like being an only child.
School will start back on the 12th of this month. In the second semester I will do my best in being graded in Croatian school.
April 23 Journal
I am currently with my second host family. I have been with them for about 3 months now. In the beginning the living situation was a little weird.. For both my host parents and I. Of course, that was not clear through words yet through actions. Like many situations throughout this year. It was apparent that my host parents had never had a daughter before. But eventually my host parents got used to it. My new host family is practically in the same neighborhood as my old host family. It is in a great location, close to the city center. I am still attending the same school. I continue to keep in touch with my first host family. I see my first host mom just about every week at church. Out of all of my host parents/siblings I am closest to her.
Recently my host sister-in-law had a baby. So I am an aunt for the first time in my life. She is a beautiful little girl. The first girl in my family. We are all so happy.
School is going great. To celebrate Lent we had a carnival in school. It would be equivalent to our Halloween. Everyone dressed up and came to school. Following that we had a workshop week where the whole school split up into different workshops all involving money.. My workshop was a volunteering workshop. We went to a local stable where they do therapeutic riding for the handicapped. We helped out with the horses and the patients. At the end of this week the whole school got together and a representative from each workshop does a presentation on what they worked on in their workshop.
Recently I have been doing lots of traveling. I went to the annual Carnival in Venice to celebrate Lent. It was absolutely beautiful. I went with my best friend and my cousin that came to visit. I have been to Venice once before but this trip was different. There was a festive feeling in the air. There were countless beautiful costumes. And a sea of people over taking St. Mark's Square. It was an awesome trip.
I took a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary with other foreign exchange students that are also living in Croatia. I was planning on meeting up with a fellow Rotary Youth exchange student Drake, who is living in Budapest. But his mother was visiting him, so that didn't happen. We visited both Buda and Pest. The river running through the city is a great touch. I would have to say that I like Buda better than Pest. But the view of the Parliament from Pest was stunning. We stayed in probably one of the best hostels I have ever been in. It was rather small but it had a homey feeling to it that made it all the more better. All in all it was a great trip.
Not only have I been traveling internationally but I have also been enjoying my own country. My Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman took some of the inbounds on a day trip and we visited one of the bigger towns in Croatia, called Osijek and we visited another town by the name of Vukovar. Osijek was a very nice city. It is one of the larger cities in Croatia, so my Rotary thought it was important for us kids to visit it. The lifestyle there is different than in Zagreb where I am living. Osijek is near the Eastern side of the country. That part of country is not known for the Adriatic Sea like the majority of the country yet it is known for their abundance of land. There are many farms in the Osijek area. Outside of Osijek, even closer to the border is Vukovar. The town is significant in Croatia's history because this is the town that was invaded by Serbia approximately 18 years ago. Many Croatians lost family in this war and Vukovar is the town that was most destroyed and where the majority of Croatians were killed. My Rotary thought it was a good idea for us kids to visit this town because it has influenced both Croatians and Croatian history.
Rotary also took us inbounds on a trip to the well known Croatian coast. We went to one of the most popular towns on the Croatian coast named Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is located on the South Eastern tip of Croatia's coast. We went on a weekend trip to Dubrovnik. It was in fact beautiful. The city is well known for their high city walls that surround the historic downtown of the old city. We toured the old city, and visited the old port and ate lunch at a delicious seafood restaurant right on the water. The following day we took the hour and a half walk along the city walls. The view from the top of those walls was easily one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We were very fortunate because we had fabulous weather. The sun was shining the entire weekend.
Recently we had Spring Break here in Croatia. I spent the first part of my Spring Break here in Zagreb, spending time with my friends and family. The Easter celebrations were very similar to American celebrations. I woke up on Easter morning and headed off to church with my first host family. My current host family are not practicing Catholics unlike my first host family. So I went to church in my Sunday bests, wished my prior host family a Happy Easter or Sretan Uskrs like us Croatians say it. Then I headed home to continue celebrating Easter. I arrived home and shortly after, the guests started arriving. Some of our closest family and friends came to lunch at our house. Lunch on this day was not only lunch, it is a tradition in Croatia to not eat breakfast but to combine the breakfast and lunch. Like our brunches. So that is what we did. We had a Croatian Brunch to celebrate Easter. The food consisted of cold sliced assortments of meats, fresh veggies, boiled eggs and something similar to our potatoes salad. This salad was used at all celebrations such as Christmas and New Years. As brunch was coming to an end so did the Easter celebrations. As you may have noticed there were no Easter baskets. This may come as a shock to you, but it comes easier to the Croatians. As you may remember me telling you, at Christmas time each child was given one gift. This country is not caught up on the materialistic side of these religious holidays - rather they focus on spending time with the family. In my host family we did not dye eggs due to the fact that there are no little ones in my family. But yes that tradition does take place over here.
After Easter I hung around Zagreb for a few days then made my way to Ljubljana, Slovenia where I visited my aunt and cousins for a few days. As I was returning to Zagreb I got a call from my Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman and he explained to me that he wanted to take the inbounds in my city to the coast for a sailing trip that weekend. So that is exactly what I did. As soon as I arrived in Zagreb I talked to my host parents and began to unpack then repack my bags for sailing. We drove to a town by the name of Šibenik located on the coast. From there we spent the night on the boat and took off the next morning early. We had good weather. The sun was not shining the entire trip but the rain held off until the night. But we did have some awesome wind. So that made the trip great. It was my first time sailing and it was a great experience. My sailing trip ended my Croatian Spring Break on a great note.
Now school has started back up. In a little over a week I will be setting off for my Euro Tour. I am extremely excited for this. My itinerary is as followed: from Zagreb I will head to Linz, Austria with the foreign exchange students in Croatia. There we will meet up with all the foreign exchange students in Austria and some from Hungary. From Linz we will start the tour. Starting off with Prague Czech Rep., Bad Laer Germ., Amsterdam Netherlands, Bruges Belgium, Paris France for 3 days, Toulouse Spain, Barcelona, Montserrat Spain, back to Barcelona for 3 days, from Barcelona we will go to Avignon France, Monaco, Cavi Di Lavagna Italy, Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Jesolo, Venice then we will end in Graz Austria. This trip will start on May 6th-22nd of May. I can't wait for this trip to begin.
After the Euro Tour I do not have anything planned yet. I will finished out the school year then I will spend the summer in both Zagreb and on the coast. I will probably do a little more traveling, then make my way back to Florida. Until then I will keep you updated.
It is sad to see that my exchange is coming to an end. With the Euro Tour coming up, I will miss a month of my Croatian life. I will miss all my friends and family. Once the Euro Tour is over that will be when the last goodbyes will be said. I will make some of my last memories in Croatia, then head to Florida. No offense to you guys back home, but this goodbye is going to be much harder and much more sad then leaving Florida. The relationships and bonds that I have made here will stay with me for the rest of my life. I know it is far-fetched to believe that every person that I have met here will remain in my life ... even for half of them, it is still far-fetched ... but they will all remain in my memories of my exchange year in Croatia.