Greetings! My name is Katie and I am fortunate enough to have been selected as an exchange student this year. I am a junior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, a charter school that provides students with the opportunity to graduate High School with an associate’s degree.
I live with my mom, dad, and a twin brother, Kyle, who was also selected as an exchange student. I love going to hockey and football games with my dad, because he is the only one brave enough to scream obnoxiously with me. My mom is more laid back, but when I get the chance to sit down and talk to her, although I may not always admit it, I really enjoy it.
I have been dancing for most of my life, not competitively, but to stay in shape and just have fun. Currently, I am in a folk dancing group, which I have been a part of for eight years. The other girls in my class are like family. We travel around Florida performing for all kinds of events. I love putting smiles on people’s faces, and getting a good yodel out of the audience every now and then.
I am also very involved with music. I play the piano, violin, and guitar (or at least I try to play the guitar J!) The violin is my favorite instrument, probably because I have played it since I was four. I have taught violin, I play violin for Hospice, I’ve played for numerous musicals, churches, and weddings, and I am in a youth orchestra too. Luckily, my brother plays as well, so I always have a partner to back me up.
Some of my other interests include writing letters, singing, acting, exercising, sports of almost any kind, and eating. I know, I know … you are wondering how I possibly could have forgotten shopping!?! I do enjoy shopping, but only when I am out looking for something specific, or if I am buying gifts for other people.
Well, there you have it folks, a quick summary of my life. Before I go, I would like to express my gratitude and admiration for everyone who has made this experience possible. My mom and dad for always being there to support and encourage me to pursue my dreams, my brother for always being great competition for me, everyone in the Rotary Club for putting so much time and effort into making this experience the best it can be, and last, but certainly not least, to my future host families for having the courage and the hearts to take me into their homes.
July 21 Journal
Today is July 21st and I am leaving in almost thirty days for Poland. I have began saying goodbye to friends here, I have put in my last hours of work, and I have started the tedious task of packing up my belongings into two suitcases. With each "Good luck!" I receive, the reality of "going away" (I put it in quotes, because it is so much more than just going away) for a year sinks in a little more, and my grin gets a little bigger. To many, my grin shows excitement, to some it shows nerves, but in order to truly understand what is behind my dreamy grin, one must have walked, or be walking in the shoes of an exchange student.
Reading Ashley's and Veronica's journals I got goosebumps from the descriptions they so accurately used to express in words just what the feeling is of being on this incredible journey. The whole time I was reading I could feel the exact emotion they were so desperately trying to describe so others could understand, and I was thinking "EXACTLY! That's how I feel!" However, there is no single emotion. It is every imaginable feeling thrown together. I brainstormed with my friend Danny, another exchange student, on the phone for hours yesterday as we tried to express the emotion, and we went back and forth about how it feels, always trying to think of a new way to convey the emotion, but we failed each and every time. No matter what we said, and no matter how we said it, nothing really described it. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, words will never be sufficient, because no number of them can describe the feeling. It may sound quite unintelligent and goofy, but I can't help but think "It just is."
When I first decided to apply to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student, the Rotex all kept telling us how patriotic they are about their host country, and they warned us that when we were informed what country we would be calling home, we too would feel like part of that country. Already, when people ask me "Why Poland? What the heck is there in Poland?" I want to scream at them for being so ignorant, and ask how they could be so stupid, but instead I ask them the question, "Why not Poland?" and when they can't answer this question, because consistently every time I've asked it, they don't have an answer, I feel quite accomplished, having exposed their lack of knowledge. As an exchange student I feel it is my job to try and inform others of the world and help them expand their horizons. So far, the hardest part of becoming an exchange student for me hasn't been the thought of leaving home, or leaving my friends, but discovering how many people are so ignorant to what the rest of the world has to offer.
I know this exchange will present challenges more difficult than anything I've encountered before, and sure I am nervous, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I haven't even departed from the place I now call "home" and I can confidently say that this is the best thing that has ever happened to me in all my life. No matter how many tears I shed over goodbyes, homesickness, and total frustration, this experience is worth every drop.
Rotary, I have said it before, I will say it now, and I will be saying it forever, thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this program and know that I will cherish it for all my life.
August 31 Journal
Dzien dobry! Today will be my third full day in Poland, and I love everything so far, but sleep has taken over most of the days so far! However, I am slowly getting into the swing of things and adjusting to my new life! Enough about my sleep habits! It's time to get down to all the nitty gritty details that everybody back home has been waiting for so impatiently!! I guess I'll begin with the goodbyes!
August 27th, I was finally leaving! I was in a state of total shock as I rushed around my house trying to remember all the last minute things I needed to pack! And boy oh boy did I pack, haha. I had my Dad weigh himself on the scale, and alone he weighed...[-----] (no Dad, I'm not really going to broadcast your weight on the internet!), and with my suitcase he weighed about 52 pounds more! I know, go ahead gasp and tell me that I packed too much like my mom did, but then keep in mind I was trying my best to pack for an entire year! My suitcase was only permitted to weigh 50 pounds, so my simple solution was to take my converter out of that suitcase and put it in my other one, which was filled primarily with marshmallows for my host sister, being that alone it weighed a whopping three pounds! Finally, walking out the door, my dogs were whining, because in their minds "suitcase equals very long car ride" and I started to cry, because believe it or not, I am going to miss my dogs very much! I looked at my Dad and said something to the effect of "Geez louise! I'm going to be hysterical at the airport!" We both laughed.
At the airport my Mom and Dad took pictures with me (and yes, just to clarify, I was crying) and off I went... alone. Was I terrified? Was I excited? Was I wondering what in the world I had just done? Was I in shock still? My answer to all of these questions is yes. I was alone, on my journey to a life I knew nothing about. I had plenty of time before my flight started boarding, so I sat at a desk and called people to say goodbye who I hadn't had the chance to say goodbye to yet. Finally it was time to board the plane to Detroit.
I offered some gum to the ladies I was sitting next to, and they accepted. We talked for the entire flight, and they were so excited for me, which made me extremely excited too! I was no longer sad to be leaving, just nervous! I knew there would be no more tears, and there weren't! These two ladies walked me all the way to my next gate, and I was so thankful they were there, because without them, God only knows where I would have ended up. I had a few hours before my flight to Amsterdam, and I didn't know what to do. Danny, who is in Denmark right now, called me to wish me luck and reassure me that everything would be fine! Okay, so I could go on forever about my flights and getting here, but I'm here, that's the bottom line. The man who sat next to me on my flight to Amsterdam was from Norway, and he talked throughout most of the flight, and he too walked me to my next gate (which ended up getting changed, and I had to figure out what my new gate was, but I did what my Dad told me to do and used my brain to find it). Off to Warsaw, finally! Another friend!! He was from Poland, and was telling me so much about it, and asking me what I knew how to say, and helping me with new things! Finally, he too offered to make sure I made it not to my gate, but to my host family! His name was Marcin (Martin in English), and he helped me with everything. First, he got my luggage for me off the belt, then he called my host parents to make sure they were at the airport, and finally he walked with me to find them. When people told me that Polish people were friendly, I never expected such a warm welcome, it was amazing! We exchanged cards, and off I went with my host parents, who couldn't be more excited!
Day one in my new home was uneventful. I slept, and it rained. At night, we went out to dinner at a friend's house, and there was a little girl there named Sofie (yes, with an f, she was sure to tell me it wasn't with a ph) from England. We played darts, watched a TV show, and played "Are you smarter than a 10 year old" which, thankfully, I was :)! At the end of the night, I was thoroughly exhausted, and so full from dinner I could barely walk. We didn't end up leaving until about midnight, and we had an early start the next morning to get my host sister, Maggie, and her neighbor, Michael, from art camp in a town a few hours away.
Five in the morning, I was up, not because I needed to be, but because my sleep schedule was still off, hard to believe, as it would've only been 11PM at home, but I was wide awake. I went downstairs, prepared myself some breakfast, and went back upstairs to get ready to go (at least I knew I wouldn't be holding anyone up!) When we finally got to the place where the art camp was held, Maggie ran up to hug me, and I too was running to meet her! A group of her friends were gathered, giggling and starring, so I said "Hi" and they all blushed, and chimed "Hi!!!!!" They introduced themselves really quickly to me, and then they had to go. We explored the town, or more like Michael and Maggie took me exploring, up to a Monastery, and to a restaurant, and a few other places, and then we were back in the car driving home. When we got home, I played violin, piano, and guitar for my host family, and Maggie and I sang and played guitar until about midnight, while talking and laughing in her HUGE bedroom! Today, I slept pretty late again, and finished unpacking and cleaning up my room (Yes Mom and Dad, your daughter was actually cleaning her room!) We are having a bar-b-que a little later today, so I am really looking forward to that!
Now for some random facts that my Grandma would want to know :)!
- The toilet paper is thick and crisp like paper towels, and it even has little flower decorations on it!
- The stove in my house is so hi-tech I don't think I'll ever be able to help with cooking!
- There is no microwave, so again, heating things will be impossible for me, as I cannot work the stove!
- We have a "jeg" in our backyard (which is a hedgehog!)
- Polish sounds like a mix of jibberish and Chinese when spoken very quickly (but this is totally my opinion!) HAHA.
That is all for now, and next time, I promise I will have some pictures of things up for you to see too :)! I hope all the other exchangees are having as incredible of a time as I am!
September 5 Journal
Hey guys! I know it has only been a few days since I last wrote one of these lengthy pieces of literature, but I am quite anxious to tell you about my first few days of school here in Poland. Okay, so on Monday, everybody started school, but mine wasn't set up yet, so I went to school with my host sister, Maggie. I felt awful, because little did I know that EVERYBODY dresses up for the first day of school very fancy, and there I was... not dressed up, but I didn't feel too bad, because I had the excuse of being from America...my host sister, however, also forgot to dress up (she was in Maine all last year on exchange) and she didn't have such a good excuse, so we stood out together! I met her friends, who were all very nice. There was one boy in the class named ummm... Michael... or maybe it was Nick... honestly, names here are thrown at me from every direction at every possible moment, so it is almost impossible for me to remember all of them... anyways, his voice was completely hoarse because of a "back to school party" from the night before, and it was quite funny listening to him try to speak. After school I went with my host sister and a few friends to Manufaktura (the shopping mall), because one of the girls, Kate, was dying for some Subway! At this Subway, I made history folks!!! Yes, that's right... I asked for my very own SMALL drink in Polish, haha.
Okay, so Tuesday I didn't do anything all day, because I was home alone, and I didn't have school because it wasn't organized yet. However, later in the day on Tuesday, I went to the store (similar to Wal-mart) with my host father and sister, and I must tell you the employees were hands down THE most miserable looking people I have ever seen in my entire life! You know the whole thing about "customer service" that we have in the United States... it was non-existent here! It was just awful.
Wednesday was my big day, I was going to school...at least I thought! Well, I did go to school, but not for classes, just for complete confusion for the most part. I had to stand up in front of the entire choir at the school while the principal rambled on about me in Polish, and I didn't understand a single word. Anyways, that brief speech seemed to have made me somewhat "popular" at school, which is nice, because now people are always offering their help (they'll do anything to be late to class and use "I was helping Katie" as their excuse!) Also, I can't forget to mention Marta, a little girl who sat across from me while eating lunch (the school I attend is for elementary-high school) She was absolutely fascinated with me, and extremely eager for me to learn Polish. Whenever I said something in Polish she would literally jump out of her chair and clap really loud, just to make the entire situation more embarrassing, but she definitely made me laugh
Thursday...school, this time for real. Well, okay... I was only going for half-a-day, but still, I was attending my first classes at a Polish school! I had to get there all by myself via trolley. I was very nervous, but I finally made it, and I actually was early!! I even had to buy trolley tickets from the store, and no not from a machine, I had to converse with a real live Polish person! Maybe my enthusiasm seems rather ridiculous to you guys back home, but you have no idea how accomplished I felt! As for classes, I met a girl named Susan, who is from Poland, but speaks almost perfect English with no accent whatsoever. She has crazy hair, but was really outgoing, so it was nice to meet her on the first day! As for first impressions... I must admit I was appalled at the behavior of the students in my class. They seemed rather disrespectful towards the teacher, drumming on desks to their Mp3 players, laughing and conversing like they were at lunch, and playing games on their cell phones...NOT EVEN TRYING TO HIDE IT!!! The teacher just let them do it, and talked to himself throughout most of the class. I asked why nobody paid attention, and Susan said "What? Today is a good day for this class!" So, as you can imagine, I am fully looking forward to what this class has in store for the future. Honestly, I was the only student listening... or trying... and I didn't understand a single word!
Now today, Friday, I went for the full day, but I moved from the highest class to elementary school to middle school and so on and so forth. It was very fun. The first class was the highest class, and the kids there were so nice! Actually, what am I saying... everywhere people are extremely nice, I am so thankful! On the way home from school (I had to take the trolley there and back again) a man got onto the trolley I was on and said something in Polish and everybody groaned and got off, so I followed suit. I'm assuming it broke down or was changing routes or something! Anyways, I had just gotten onto the next trolley (#3) when a fight broke out between two men right outside where I was standing. I don't know what it was about, but I'm pretty sure that one man was getting off the trolley and the other was getting on, and the one getting off got mad because the one getting on didn't let him off first. Wow, that was confusing! Anyways, it was humorous, and not all at the same time. The fighting part wasn't funny, of course, and they were yelling at each other in Polish (I'm sure not very friendly things) and then one man took his briefcase and swung it at the man's head and then he kicked him and boy was it confusing. Finally, they were broken up, and on we went. So, that is all in the life of me and school right now. Of course other little things happened here and there, but the biggest thing to report about right now was school. A few facts really quick and I must be going.
-Kinder Bueno still remains my favorite European candy of all times (it's chocolate) and Serenity, you know what I mean.
-I said my first sentence which was "The hedgehog made poop." (Oh come on, it was funny!)
-I miss cereal, a lot.
Until next time,
September 21 Journal
September 5th, geez that seems like forever ago. Now, I must try to summarize all that has happened into a journal, so... here goes nothing!
First of all, I must say that I have been sick with some type of viral infection that is going around for the past 11 days. I really haven't gone out of the house much, but... when I have gone out, it was eventful, so... I'm thankful for that :)! However, because of my sister and I both being at home sick for so many days, we have become addicted...and I mean ADDICTED to Grey's Anatomy. We call it our "42 minute break", LOL. But don't worry, I haven't been spending all day every day watching Grey's Anatomy... just... a little. Oh c'mon, cut me some slack, my host parents wouldn't even let me step foot outside, because it is FREEZING and RAINY and so I was stuck inside for five consecutive days without putting even a single toe outside. Yes, people, go ahead and crack your "Katie you're so pale" jokes on me now...haha.
Okay, so... last time when we left off, I was saying I missed cereal. Well... now I eat it every morning for breakfast, because I mentioned I missed it to my host mom!!! (she is amazing). She also knows that I absolutely love Kinder Bueno, so she bought me an entire BOX (see picture). Yes, those extra pounds you gain over the course of the year living abroad... I blame mine on Kinder Bueno. Although, I must say... I haven't gained weight...yet. Okay, let me think of other foods I should mention. Potatoes are at almost every meal, and I love them. Milk here is in cardboard boxes that don't have to be put in the fridge until after you open them. I ate donkey (you have no idea how proud I am of this). That was what...over a week ago, and I still say to my sister "I can't believe I ate donkey!" I also ate these little fish things out of the can (see picture), they looked really gross, but they tasted really good! I've also eaten Polish pizza, YUMMY! And, hmmm... oh pierogis! Talk about amazing! And let's see... I've eaten enough bread for the entire year. Oh, and I went to a Chinese restaurant too, yay! All the waiters here are attractive. That must be a requirement or something, haha. Also, there is a plum jam that my Grandpa makes... I swear, the food over here is the best in the world. I really need some cooking lessons... it'd be quite a change from my mac n' cheese making skills. Oh, I also finally had some ice cream (Mint Chocolate Chip!) It was really tasty! Geez, I didn't realize all the food updates I had, but... I really can't even begin to explain how much food I have been eating!
Okay, school. I haven't been to school in forever and a day, because everybody is sick, including me, so I've been at home. I did start orchestra though, and it was amazing! I absolutely love it. I don't understand a single word the conductor says, so sometimes I just stop playing, because I think that's what he wants, and then he starts laughing, because everybody else is still playing, except for me! I got over the embarrassment, and found that it's much more fun to just laugh at yourself!
I've gone shopping a few times at Manufaktura, and bought some Polish winter essentials... winter boots, scarfs, pants, and I'm still looking for a really good coat :). The mall here is so huge, I can't even begin to describe it. I've only seen 1/2 of it... if even that, and I've been there 3 times!
Last night, I went to the birthday party of Kuba's (a former RYE exchange student to Florida) sister at a Latino dance club. I must say, I didn't do too much dancing, but I did enough. I was able to meet so many new people, who were all SO friendly, just like everybody in Poland that I seem to meet. I also was out shopping on Piotrkowska street, and saw this huge graffiti (see picture). On the way home from Piotrkowska street (in a trolley) I was hit by a flying drunk man. You see, sometimes the trams make sudden movements making it extremely hard to remain on your feet when sober, and this man... was anything but sober, so... he literally came flying at me, and ripped my pants, and hit his head really hard on the front of the tram. I was in shock, and didn't really know what to do, because his face started bleeding everywhere, and he was much too big for me to help. Some men in the trolley rushed and helped him to his feet, but he refused to sit back down, even though he couldn't stand. When he went to get off the trolley, he fell down the steps smacking into an old man with tomatoes, and smashing tomatoes all over himself and in the street. It was really sad, and I'm sure his head is really hurting him right about now. I know, maybe this story seems really scary and I shouldn't be telling it, but it was something that I'll remember forever. Also, I'd like to add that it really isn't normal to happen here. See, a once in a lifetime (hopefully) memory, that I needed to document.
Now for some random things:
-My host mom brought me back 8 packs of 5 gum from Chicago (YAY!)
-The fruit here is so much better then back home
-I received my first postcards, and it made me so excited (hint hint)
-I did my first homework for another student (English homework)
-Me coming to Poland has caused my Grandma to get onto the internet!
-I miss American football!!
October 14 Journal
DZIEN DOBRY! Okay, so… I thought I was going to be good at this whole journal thing, but… I’ve started to fall behind. Well, even if I wrote once a week I wouldn’t be able to tell you just everything that has happened in Poland, so my apologies for repeating myself, or leaving out funny things, and of course for blabbing, but it's hard not to blab.
Okay so right after my last journal I went to a Rotary meeting. It consisted of old men, who ate and left. There were a few who actually talked to me though, and I'm actually going on a trip this weekend with one of them... to South Poland somewhere, I still have no idea where. I just go with the flow, whatever :).
Hmm, I went to my first Polish 18th birthday party. It was jam packed (they rented out a club) and people were going crazy. It was a little intense, the music was so loud, the gift to the birthday girls (there were two of them and one boy) and also to the boy, were strippers! I was shocked at first, but I guess it's normal, and something I can laugh about now. There was actually a girl from New York at the party...random...and we started talking and were both excited, although... unlike me, she speaks fluent Polish. I am slowly learning the most random things in Polish, and shout them for no reason at all at school other then the fact that my classmates love when I do it, and they get so excited. I still love my classmates, and they are the reason I go to school. I mean, really... it seems to me there is no point in going to school, because all I do is listen to my Ipod and read... and pass notes with people in my class sometimes :) Oh, actually, I was forced to play the piano and sing for my class too, I was so thrilled, let me tell you. For those of you who didn't know, I'm at a music school, so we have classes like history of music, where you literally sit and listen to classical music for 2 hours, but you can't fall asleep or draw (well, I can...hahaha).
I went on a field trip with my class to Warsaw. Oh boy, it sure was a blast. We visited this park where the "toilet castle" was... or so I thought? We had a guide, and he was talking all about this palace and kept saying the word toilet, so I finally had to ask what was significant about the toilets, and everyone laughed, because he wasn't talking about the toilets literally, they just call the palace that for some reason... it's still unknown to me. We also went to this historical art museum I guess you could call it (in Warsaw). The guide kept talking to me, so it seemed, and I was trying my best to look interested, but it was kind of hard, considering I didn't understand a single word. Anyways, during the middle of the tour (keep in mind there are THIRTY kids with me) he chooses to ask someone a question. Who does he choose...me! Yea, so of course, I busted out laughing, and the poor guy... my teacher told him I was American, and he was shocked. But excited. He immediately began quizzing me on different Presidents of the United States, but thank goodness I'm a nerd and know some important stuff, so I knew EVERYTHING (phew, at least I didn't look like a complete idiot!)
Okay, so for any of you who read my last journal, you know that I love food. So, here goes my food section. I had pizza with tuna on it. I had pizza with donkey on it. YUM! Two of my new favorite flavors! However, I did go to Warsaw (as I just mentioned) and had Pizza Hut, and got good ol' Hawaiian pizza. It was soooo yummy! I've had liver, and I actually liked it (I know, my mom back in Florida is disgusted at the thought!). Now, however, I am on a diet. Me, my host mom, and my host sister. I really just need to cut back on portions, I eat way too much.
I went to the movies. It was in English with Polish subtitles, so I was in luck. I ate way too many peanut m&m's though, and didn't feel so great afterwards. Also, I gave in and had McDonald's for the first time since I've been here. Let me tell you... cheeseburgers here... I mean, there is no such thing as 49 cent hamburgers on Wednesdays or anything, but... the cheeseburgers are SO MUCH BETTER!!!
I have been described as many things, although my personal favorite had to be a furby. A FURBY? They are surprised I'm almost always happy. Anyways, a furby... geez, I don't know whether or not to be insulted, they insisted it was a compliment though, so... YAY FURBY!
I went to a Polish reggae concert (The Power Of Trinity). Ha, reggae. It was like hardcore rock reggae, but pretty good. Well, very loud. Not something I'd voluntarily do again. I mean, the club was so small that I had no choice but to fend for my life in this huge mosh where drunk men were flinging their arms and throwing themselves into people. I'm too small for that type of thing, but I'm alive, and now I know... I absolutely HATE moshing, which I always thought that I would, but now I know for sure. You can never say you don't like something until you try it...right?
I found out just the other day that I can take the SAT right here in Poland (in Warsaw) so I might do that... we'll have to see! I have made incredible friendships with other outbounds from Florida, especially Joe Hirabayashi (Czech Republic). We love talking to each other and comparing all the cultural differences from back home. Poland and Czech are so similar, and we also compare the languages and everything. Also I would like to add, just for Joe's sake, that the Polish soccer team BEAT, yea that's right...BEAT the Czech Republic the other night. I was SO happy :)
Yesterday at school, I went to P.E. class, but didn't participate, because I didn't have clothes, and I've never participated in P.E. because I still haven't gotten the hang of the schedule, and only about half of my class does P.E. ... I still don't know why. Anyways, I observed, and I was laughing so hard I cried. The girls were doing somersaults. Yea, you're thinking of the right thing... you know... in the United States two year olds can do them. Well, I don't know if it's just the girls in my school, or in all of Poland, but... they honestly cannot do forward rolls. And the greatest part was that they were ACTUALLY trying really hard, and were so determined, and they just couldn't do it.
- The trees have been losing leaves and are GORGEOUS colors such as red, orange, yellow. Oh it's just beautiful. (see photograph)
- I miss cheez-its and oreos
- The rain is so awful here, I just want to curl up in a ball and never leave my bed when it is raining outside.
- I still need a winter coat.
- I got some of my classmates to start doing my famous "moose" pose with me. (see photograph)
- The longest street name in Warsaw is really ridiculous (see photograph)
- The "old town" in Warsaw is beautiful (see photograph)
That's all for this journal. I'm going on a mini "eurotour" at the beginning of November which I am really excited for! And if you're reading this and thinking about doing Rotary Youth Exchange, please do it. We have our ups and downs, sure. I'm not going to lie and say I haven't been homesick, because I have, plenty of times, and actually a lot more than I expected. However, most of the time, I am socked to think that I am really living here. Just the other day on the trolley, packed between two other people like a sardine, I thought to myself, wow, I'm as Polish to these people as they are to me (as long as I don't open my mouth) and not some tourist in a group. I don't stand out unless I speak, and it made me think wow, I'm living here. I'm getting used to the swing of things, everyday life, and it's the coolest feeling in the world. So, just get out there and do something out of the ordinary, I promise it will be the best thing that you've ever done. And I mean THE BEST THING YOU'VE EVER DONE. What are there 49 of us outbounds, or something... I don't know the exact number, and every single one of my friends who is now living somewhere abroad loves it. We're experiencing different culture shocks on a daily basis, and when we get to talk to each other about it on skype or facebook or wherever, we are excited to share new things, and recognize that it's okay that everything isn't just perfect as we'd like. We know we've taken on this challenge, and although it is still just the beginning of this adventure, we all couldn't be more happy that we chose to do this.
Wow, I sound like a preacher or something. I LOVE POLAND!!!!!!!!!!
October 21 Journal
Hello, again. I know, so soon, but I had a crazy weekend, and I need to write about it before I get too far ahead. I went on a trip to Bielsko-Biała with Mr. Polski from my host Rotary club. And no, I'm not being a smart (dupa) and calling him "Mr. Polski" that's really his last name :).
So Saturday morning we left for Bielsko-Biała, a town in South Poland not too far from the Czech Republic. We arrived at his daughter's house at around 1:30 and had supper. Then, I was informed by his grandson (who was also 17) that we were going hiking. Now, I wasn't at all prepared to hike. We were in the mountains, it reminded me a lot of North Carolina, except for the fact that the mountains seemed a lot bigger. Or maybe that's just because we hiked over THREE MOUNTAINS USED AS SKI SLOPES. We got lost. There was a point that we ACTUALLY thought that we were in the Czech Republic. For five hours, five teenagers walking up and down, slipping on loose rocks and fallen leaves, stepping in mud, sliding in mud, we walked. I had to go to the bathroom... tough luck kids. It started to get dark, and cold. Thank the Lord we had chocolate, right? Ha. Somehow, we ended up in the right place. After about the first half hour of our hike, there was no sign of people. Just the five of us. When it got dark, it was not a lit path, ohhh no. Was I scared, of course! Nobody was too happy, but we tried to make a joke about it, because...well... we were however in the middle of nowhere, and so we had to make the best of it. They all kept apologizing to me, saying they felt so terrible, because this was not at all what they had planned. I can honestly say though, as relieved as I was when we made it home, and as sore as I am right now (yes still) it was great. How many kids out there can say that they hiked from Poland to Czech Republic, right?! haha
Before I forget, I must tell you about one of the boys, just because it is so ridiculous, and something I will never forget. He was seventeen, had a beard actually. And he sucked his thumb. Ya know, that thing that we do until we're 3, and then we start getting yelled at for it. This boy sucked his thumb. It was quite humorous, and he wasn't embarrassed. The people here are so carefree. It definitely takes some getting used to, but I love it. Not to say that I've seen any other guys sucking on their thumbs, I just thought a lot of people would at least smile at that image.
The next day, Sunday, I was in pain. I still am in pain actually. On Sunday night when I got home I actually had numerous dreams that I was getting beaten up (and no I'm not joking) only to wake up finding my back killing me where in my dream I was being kicked, etc. Anyways, back to Sunday, I woke up, ate some breakfast, and off we went. We visited the city center, it was so cute :) Much smaller than Łódż, but just perfect. (See pictures). Then, we went to this Żubr (Bison) zoo, I guess...I don't really know what to call it. There were also deer there (again, see photos).
Okay, not to jump to food, but that's what happened next, we ate. Take note of the picture of the tiny cute deers that are white, okay? They play an important role in my dinner. So, we go to this adorable restaurant... well, adorable if you like decorations of wild animal skins and heads covering the wall. Anyways, I was happy to be informed that this week was "wild animal week" at this restaurant. I was overjoyed, let me tell you. I knew this would only lead to an interesting meal. Nevertheless, I plastered a smile on my face. At least the waiter was cute (they all are here!) and he spoke English and remembered my name throughout the course of the entire meal! haha. Okay, but anyways... back to my food. This will only be entertaining for those of you who know my eating habits. I promise I am in no way exaggerating for humor, I'm just telling it how it was, and hoping that you can imagine the thoughts that were going through my head, concealed of course with a smile. The family asked if they could order for me. Considering I couldn't choose between wild boar or deer, I was happy to let them choose, what the heck, right? So, after they order for me, this big bowl of soup is brought to me. It was fermented rye with meat, hardboiled eggs, and BIG JUICY MUSHROOMS, delicious. Of course they had to emphasize the FERMENTED rye part, but actually it was quite good, and I even ate the mushrooms, I was so proud of myself. Next, came the meal. The main course, although I was already thoroughly stuffed. "What did you order for me?" I asked, now I regret it. Here is where those cute little white deer come into play. Yea, you got it people... that's what I was eating. However, these "doe" were stuffed with...wild mushrooms, my favorite!!! Throughout the whole meal, I was feeling as though I would puke everywhere. I washed down every bite with beets (actually REALLY good!) and water. When I finished I was so full and felt sick. They then asked me about dessert. This is the best part. I was looking for someone I knew to jump out and start laughing at me. They wanted to order bananas fried in honey. I politely refused and said I was much too full, which was true :)
We left after the restaurant back to Łódż. I was exhausted when I got home, but I really had so much fun. Definitely something I'll never forget :) Hopefully I'll get to go back to visit them again, especially since they invited me back :)!
Oh, about my diet... I've gained a kilo last time I checked. Thought my family would be horrified to hear that! SEND SLIMFAST!!!!!!! My new nickname is "chubbs" given to me by Joe in Czech. No worries, he hasn't seen me, he just hears all my food stories. However, that home workout plan, I think I need to start putting it into action.
Halloween is soon, and I think my host sister and I are going trick-or-treating. It isn't celebrated in Poland though, so most people will probably make us food, haha.
If anybody wants to send me a package with oreos and cheez-its and five gum, feel free. I know, I'm dieting, but I still miss stuff from home :)
Okay, I'm out now. Hope everybody is enjoying that beautiful fall weather in Florida :)
November 19 Journal
Okay, before I go any farther... IT SNOWED LAST NIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was thrilled, my host mom wasn't. It is really really cold here. Last night (pre-snow) I was walking around outside... and I couldn't feel my ears or my chin, but the rest of me was pretty warm :). I need to go buy some cute little ear-muffs or something!
Now, I thought I was going to be good at these journals, but every time I tell myself I need to write one, I'm like "Noooooo! Just one more day!!!!!" Of course, every time I do this, there is only more that needs to be said. So, my apologies for not posting more often. I met my first exchange student right after I posted my last journal on here. His name is Mauricio, and he is living in a small town called Łask about a 45 minute car drive from here. Don't ask me in Kilometers or miles, because I have absolutely NO IDEA, and Polish roads are... completely different than roads in Florida... practically no highways, so sometimes you're driving thru neighborhoods, it's fun. Needless to say, I was excited to meet him...and he was so sweet!! We had that special exchange student bond. We met at his Rotary club's meeting, because they meet about 5 minutes from my house here in Łódż. We had a nice dinner and then got to walk around Manufaktura for awhile just comparing our exchanges so far!
Then, shortly thereafter, I went on a week long trip to Berlin, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna with most of the other exchange students in Poland. This trip consisted of hardly any sleep, lots of bus rides, and BEAUTIFUL THINGS...Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts. No, no... I'm only kidding... well, there were those things, and I only had one drink from Starbucks. I could go on and on about the sites, but nothing could ever compare to being there and seeing these beautiful cities in person. Words, pictures, videos... they just couldn't even begin to give justice. I'd have to say that for me, Budapest was the most beautiful capital city. We went on a boat ride at night when we first got there (even though we were thoroughly exhausted), and it was just...like I said, I can't describe it. I had goosebumps being there, and I'm getting them again (and no people, it's not because it's cold). Also, in Budapest... I got to meet up with Drake, who was supposed to give me the BETTER pictures that we took, rather than this typical teenage shot, but... it will have to do. I was happy to be with other exchange students on this trip, I mean... it made me realize I'm not in this by myself. I'm not the only one who misses American gum, taco-bell, oreos, brownie mix. I'm not the only one who is gaining weight. I'm not the only one who's English is an absolute wreck. I'm not the only one who feels like a rock at school since I don't speak fluent Polish. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE. THERE ARE KIDS ALL OVER THE WORLD RIGHT NOW WHO FEEL LIKE THIS.... and you could be one of them if you just dial 1-800... no no, just kidding. Exchange isn't always a piece of cake. I have days when I just want to go home, and I know I won't, because things will get better, and always do.
I made really great friendships with the exchange students though. My friend Sami from Colorado and I are practically the same person... it is wonderful :)
Just as Jenny wrote, it gets dark here SO EARLY. I'm sooo tired at like 5, I mean... it's already been dark for some time, and my body is programmed that way... sleep after it's dark for a few hours.
Last weekend I spent the entire weekend at Kuba (former exchange student to FL) and Karolina's house. There is no such question as "Are you hungry?" It is "You are hungry!" haha. I was SO FULL all weekend, but thankfully the food here is still amazing.
Anyways, it has been three months... THREE MONTHS? Seriously, it feels like I've been here three weeks, and that I've known my friends here for so much longer than only THREE MONTHS! Before I know it, I'll be back in Florida. Some days that sounds so perfect, and other days it hurts to think about.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner...then Christmas...New Years...my 18th birthday...eurotour...parents visiting...and goodbyes. Time is gonna fly. The dog next door just started barking and you can see his breath, haha. I wouldn't be laughing if I was outside, I suppose.
-Polish people say something that sounds identical to "no" but means "yes" so, I laugh a lot when I hear this, because they're saying "no" and nodding up and down. It has become a joke for me and my friends.
-I'm still waiting for letters or packages...although I got a package from my Grandparents with a nice winter coat :)
-Right when I was comfortable with the trolley route, they switched it up on me.
-I bought my own bus ticket all in Polish and everything from Kielce to Łódż.
-I am no longer going to be speaking English after this month
-When I read "w" out loud now I say "v" without even thinking, and "j" is "y"
-The Mexican exchange students made me sing Frosty the Snowman and a song about Steak a million times.
-My standard of living has gone wayyy down since staying in hostels. :)
That's all for now! papapapapaaa
January 3 Journal
I guess I will start with the emotional part of my exchange so far, and the changes I have noticed taking place. Rotary promised I would no longer be the same person that I was when I left Florida, when it was time for me to return. Here I am, four months in, and I have changed. I have grown in so many aspects, both physically and emotionally (yes future outbounds, the weigh gain factor is NO JOKE, trust me). My relationship with my parents has grown, and they have truly become two of my best friends. I have grown apart from friends back home, but I was expecting that, and I don't plan on putting my life on pause to try and recreate a friendship with them. I have made friends here who I have known for just 2 months now (I didn't meet other exchange students until November) and they are my family. The never-ending support they have given me when times got hard, the love I feel both for and from them in return still has me speechless. The same goes for other outbounds from Florida. The whole "exchange student bond" you are told about is more amazing than you could begin to imagine. I have friends whom I have known for years, but the friends I have made thru Rotary Youth Exchange are so much more. We can talk about things like how awful boxed milk is, and just laugh hysterically, because it is the kind of things that words cannot describe, but only other exchange students really understand what you mean. Like when you're able to say "Kinder" and everybody starts going on about how great and delicious it is! You'd be surprised how just saying "Cheez Its" turns every American head in the room, and each set of eyes starts to shine, and smiles appear on their faces, and instantly, all your Cheez Its are gone!! Or how great it feels to introduce Mexicans to Cheez Its, haha. Not only are you sharing your culture, but you are CONSTANTLY learning, and everyone, well almost, is excited to share things about their country!
Christmas and New Years (Świąt and Nowu Rok). We had a real Christmas tree, which was painful. It stabbed you every time you got near it. I went to two different school Christmas parties (really fun!) One girl who I met actually started crying, yes that means tears, because she was so excited to meet me. It was cute, but I honestly had no idea what to say or do to that kind of reaction. Flattering, I suppose. Another boy kept following me around with Mistletoe, but it was lucky for me that he was cute!! On Christmas, which is celebrated December 24th here, everything is very traditional. There are twelve traditional dishes, none of which have meat, only fish. Also, you put hay under the table cloth, leave an empty place (set the table for an extra person), and share wafers and wish people good things for the next year.
New Years, was GREAT! I went to Wrocław with a lot of the other exchange students, and of course it was fun! We all celebrated the New Year together, and couldn't believe it was 2009, of course!! There was a huge concert, with SO many people, and it was the best New Years I've had yet! All the girls got dressed up, and we all froze when we were outside, but it was totally worth it!! Jade, who is here from Australia, is leaving back to Australia today actually, so we all said goodbyes to her, because the Australians exchange from January to January. I don't know how I'm going to manage goodbyes to the other exchange students at the end of this year.
Hmm... there is so much I want to say, it is so hard. Although I am not quite halfway through my exchange, I know when I am going home to the USA, and when other people are going home, and I am already beginning to worry about how in the world I am going to manage to say goodbyes. Exchange has really put into perspective for me the concept of time. It really does fly. This time last year I still didn't know what country I'd be living in...and here I am.
Okay since I really don't know what to write, because I could write FOREVER, I am going to make a list... You know you're an exchange student to Poland if...
- Slippers are ALWAYS on inside.
- Tea has become a mandatory part of your diet. Along with potatoes, and of course beets.
- You now pronounce "j" as "y" and "w" as "v"
- You never trust the weatherman, and are able to predict rain...everyday!
- You have had Vodka... just kidding!
- Boxed milk is now tolerable
- You haven't seen a swimming pool in months.
- You buy all your clothing from H&M
- You feel sorry about the pathetic Polish dubbing
- You have gotten addicted to at least one TV. sitcom from home (examples: Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Prison Break...)
- You found a ketchup you like.
- You no longer flinch when it looks like you are going to hit another car on the road.
- You consider yourself the world's luckiest person when you receive a package full of gum, Oreos, and Cheez Its from your Grandma and Uncle!!!!
- Skype has become more important than Myspace, Facebook, etc.
- Disturbia, I'm so lucky, I kissed a Girl, or some other song gets stuck in your head on a daily basis.
- You actually choose to go out unshowered
- You have Nasza-klasa or Gadu-Gadu
- You are always out of phone credit
- You don't own any clean white coats, because of public transportation
and the list goes on and on and on and on!
That's all for now!! Pictures next time, I promise!! I just really needed to get a journal up here!!
Bużii :* :* :* Katie
February 11 Journal
Less than four months. How is that possible? It feels like just yesterday I was fighting the butterflies in my stomach boarding an airplane to enter the unknown. The unknown... the life that has now become so routine, so familiar, just 6 months ago was the unknown. While I was waiting in the airport I wrote in my journal:
"...It really hasn't hit me that I will be gone for almost a year. I know, it will fly by, and before I know it I will be crying at the thought of having to come back to Florida, to the familiar routine I have grown up with... it is going to be so different, yet the same..."
I cried for the first time thinking about going home a few weeks ago. It just hit me, I do love this country, and I am going to miss it. The thought of returning to Florida isn't near as great as it was a few months ago. I'll admit, the first few months here were no piece of cake. I missed home, I missed my friends, my school (shock), I guess I missed a lot of things, and now, I don't miss those things so much anymore, and the thought of going back to them, isn't all bad, but it just feels strange.
For all you future outbounds, TIME FLIES, and if you think you know, you really have no earthly clue. Right when life feels normal, you start having to plan your return flight, and begin thinking about life back home.
Anyways, I've switched host families, and I really love it here. My host sister is one of my best friends, and my host brother, Kuba, is very helpful teaching me Polish. My new host mom loves to cook, and so... I'm not getting smaller anytime soon.
I went to Radomsko (the biggest hole in the world.... JUST KIDDING!) and it was amazing! I was the first American that most of the kids had ever met, and they were absolutely fascinated by me. They were taking videos with their cell phones, pictures of me, of my Florida Driver's License, it was wonderful. And whenever I spoke Polish they were all just so excited, it was quite funny. While I was there I went over 36 straight hours with no sleep, so I was exhausted, but it was worth it.
Most recently, I went to Stężyca again, and my Dad from Florida came to visit for a few days. We went to Lublin, and he was able to meet some of my new best friends. We also went to Majdanek, the second largest concentration camp in Poland. It was a very interesting experience, but extremely cold. For some reason, it was the first windy day I have experienced in Poland, and it was unbearably cold...my poor father! Coffee Heaven never tasted better :)
I walked on a frozen lake for the first time. I made snow angels. And I even went to a Polish "beach" (there were ice mountains).
I am going to Zakopane this weekend to snowboard, so pray that I don't break anything!!
My 18th birthday is soon... I can't believe it. It will be my first birthday away from my twin, Kyle, and I'm not sure how strange it will feel. Actually, I think it won't feel like my birthday, but that's okay, I'm excited anyways!!
I really can't wait until the weather starts getting warmer here!!!!
I will upload some photos next time, I promise!! Hopefully I will get around to writing before my Eurotour!!!
June 3 Journal
One week. 7 days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes.
I have exactly one week until I board the plane in Warsaw to return back to Florida. It is like I am living in a dream... or a nightmare. The thought of returning to the life I lived a year ago is scary, but exciting. The thought of leaving the life that I have established here, the routine, the friends, the family, is anything but thrilling, or exciting.
A year ago, I had nerves thinking about moving to Poland for a year, not knowing what to expect...wondering what the unknown had in store for me. I was excited, scared, every emotion possible. Now, it is time for me to move across the world once again, only this time... I know what to expect. What I don't know is how it is going to make me feel to return "home".
I am as prepared as I can be to leave Poland. This Saturday I am having a going away party with all my Polish friends. I refuse to call it a goodbye party, because I know I will be back, so it is just a see you in a while party. I have already spent my last weekend with the other exchange students in Poland. It was everything wonderful. We were in a small town called Mielno by the seaside. For most, it was a 10 hour train ride or more, but it was worth every second spent on the train. How many people do you know can say they have over 60 brothers and sisters, and three sets of parents, from all around the world. Brasil, USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Poland. Thru the hardest of times, and the best year of my life, these people were there supporting me thru, and experiencing with me, a year full of joy, sadness, adaptation, excitement, travels, bonding, weight gain, etc... you name it, we experienced it, and that will remain with me throughout the rest of my life. I will share these memories, with whomever is willing to listen, because I am so proud of this year.
To the outbounds who are counting down how many weeks they have until they leave for their year abroad, I have been in your shoes, and I am so jealous that you are getting ready to experience the life (in your own way, of course) that I have had the privilege of living this past year. It can be confusing, thinking about home, after living somewhere for a year, because at this point in time, I don't know where home is.
Life in Poland and Florida remain complete strangers to one another, but somehow, through the good times and the bad, I have conquered the goal of being able to call both home. I am no longer a stranger here who might be forgotten after a few months as a visitor might. Lately, when it has rained (which it does every day now), my Polish friends make a point to always remind me that "Poland is crying for you, Katie." I can't help but smile.
In one week, I will be back in Florida. Tampa International Airport...air conditioning, 2 exhausted but excited parents, humidity, heat, thunderstorms, and one exhausted girl with a heart that is halfway around the world, but somehow still beating inside her.
This sure wasn't easy, but it wasn't supposed to be, and it was more fulfilling than I could ever comprehend if I hadn't been the one experiencing it.