Sierra Stein
2009-10 Outbound to Croatia

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine HS
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Zagreb Rotary Club, District 1910, Croatia

Sierra's Bio

Zdravo! That is Hello in the language of the country I will be going to next year. The beautiful country of, drum roll please, Croatia.

Well people call me funny, weird, loud, nice, pretty, crazy, smart, and everything in between. I like to take their compliments and pick what I like and use them to my advantage. I live my life for what I can. I don't try to be everything all at once. I like to take things slowly and look at all angles. Scoping out and picking the nice route. I wear what I like and modify what I don't. My mind is always working on some new idea that I think should be made by someone else. I don't really know how I am or how I act; I just know that I am Sierra. Born and raised in St. Augustine, with a sister, a mom and dad, and a dog. Later added to the addition were the family cats and a fish. Though my cat seems to be the princess I make sure to keep her off her pedestal as best I can. I love to laugh and I don't mind being laughed at. Embarrassment is only embarrassing to those who let it get to them. My music is never far at hand. Large vocabulary words are always something fun to splash into a conversation to brighten it up. Color is always important to me. Books attract me as well as shiny toys. I do not think I have grown up too fast or too slow. I love the way my family and I are and I love the love they give me.

I am a sophomore at St. Augustine High School; I love to sing in my school chorus with all of my friends in the St. Johns Center for the Arts.

My mom and dad couldn't be more different but they get along so well. I take after both of them equally I think. Singing and running around and acting like a happy kid I get from my mom. Being able to stay calm and not get worked up over a small situation and enjoying cooking I get from my dad. But I know from both sides I get a nice big helping of creativity. My grandpa has bestowed upon me in my genes the best hair color I have ever heard of, strawberry blonde. Though I like to change my hair color more than I like to see it natural doesn't mean that I do not appreciate such a lovely color to have growing out of my scalp. I also know that it doesn't grey easily so I have a good thing to look forward to in future years. My sister and I get a long like old friends. We share our friends and our stuff. We also share the hilarious moments of complete boredom when silliness takes over and we explode in laughter for no reason.

I think my life is very fortunate compared to many around me and every year I thank whomever I can for that. My family and I have traveled to many a distant land to see the sights and the relatives, and the not so relatives. Long car rides have become more than bearable and I think that is where my patience has been acquired form. Camping and bugs do not bother me, nor does the darkness or the fire wood smell. Good conversation and good people are how I've been raised. Spontaneous experiences have the best stories to tell people. If I could remember every funny story I've experienced, I am sure I could write many books, they just wouldn't make as much sense or mean as much as they do to me.

Honesty is something I like to use as much as possible. Lairs don't make friends and I have more friends than I know. Being nice also helps with the honesty, I believe. I do judge books by their covers but I do not judge people on how they dress or appear on the outside. Many people have surprised me on how they are as to how they look.

I have played the piano for nine years now or around there. I started when I was about seven. My piano teacher is the nicest woman I have ever met. She teaches my mom and me. Though piano sometimes looses its pizzazz I still love the sound of a well played piano. Classical piano music always has a place in my heart.

The love of arts and crafts of the younger years has transformed into a love of Photoshop. I think I have run up quite a large bill of photo paper on my parents tab but they love what I make for them. My Girl Scouting days have been going on since I was at the sweet age of four. My mom has made sure that my sister and I are always signed in for the next year. She is our leader so it does make it a little easier, and we all find her the best leader around.

My family is the second family for many of our friends and they always love to have kids coming in and out. There are rules of course but as long as you follow them they will love you like their own. Their rules are not hard and they love meeting new people as much as I do. The only way to make friends is to talk to different people.

Well that is my life as I see it so far, in a piece of a nutshell. I hope this experience will put more outlooks on my life. Though I know it will. There is no greater chance that I have seen than to be able to go away for a year in a foreign land. Being excited doesn't even cover it. My mom and dad and everyone in between have all of my love for this. The Rotary group for showing the fine little presentation at my school also gets some claps from me. And I am excited to know that three of my friends will be experiencing the same thing as me in this great journey. The families that I will meet and the places I will go will never leave my mind.

Sierra's Journals

August 30 Journal

Well, it is my third day here officially and boy am I surprised. I am so in love with my host family. They already feel like my own. It’s crazy. They are so similar to my own home back in the states that it was very easy to just slip in comfortably. Now I don't know if that is how they feel about me but that’s just my take on them.

I have just spent the day about an hour and a half away on the Hungarian border with their very close friends. We had a wonderful time. I loved it there. They grew and smashed their own grapes for wine that they make themselves and they have a big garden and a whole lot of things are home grown. Their home was filled with tables for all of the people who were there. And surprisingly enough they pretty much all spoke English. Good for me at least.

I’ve been eating so much I think I will explode sooner rather than later. And it isn’t like I want to eat it, darn if Renata isn’t a very persuasive woman. I’ve eaten things on my first night that I have never eaten at home because I didn’t like them. I’ve come to figure that it is because here everything is fresh. And I mean everything. The tomatoes which I really didn’t like are sweeter and crisper and I’ve had them more than once. And even cucumbers and vinegar! Now the vinegar I am still repulsed by but it was manageable on the salads.

What a strange time I think I am having. Not exactly what most would call strange but I think it is. There are times when it feels like home, then moments where I feel like a guest. I’ve had to refuse food which gets a little awkward but I really couldn’t eat another bite. I feel bad but I know it is for the better. My second day was much easier. Both my parents went to work and Luka slept till eleven or so and we chatted about school, then he made lunch and we ate, then they came home and we had dinner, and then I went to sleep. It was very not stressful or anything likes that.

I have gone around the town some. The first night I had to go to the police station to proclaim my residence in Zagreb with the Kušpilić family so then we took a short walk around the square. Man did I feel like the biggest outcast. I don’t know what it was but I felt as if I had a huge sign on my forehead proclaiming that "here I am, I am a big dumb American." Now I don’t know if that is exactly what it said because from time to time the sign would change while it was up there on my forehead saying something like "you can tell I’m not from around here so no need to question it." But I just put those thoughts behind me and kept walking around with Renata. Then, yesterday Vihor, which I found out directly translates into hurricane, coincidence or not, we walked all around town. I saw the fifteen story church and the historic theater and the college and the statues and the street history. It was very informative, unfortunately so much information that I couldn’t remember it all, but I have it in the back of my mind. I really love this city, it is just big enough to be huge to me but nothing too big that it swallows me up and I am scared to go outside.

The television has like three English channels which I am very happy for, seeing as how I have woken up at five thirty in the morning and at six forty and at nine for that last few days. Soon I hope to get out or this erratic sleep pattern, but as for right now I am stuck up with the morning birds. I’ve already made crepes for my host family; Renata taught me - it was so much fun. I really do love cooking and I think they liked the help.

I’m really scared to start school but also really excited which I guess would be the right idea. This flat we live in is so spacious. I was amazed when I walked in. I have like a big ole room, then a big ole living room and smallish kitchen, but hey that doesn’t matter. And it’s just a lot of nice things. And I am learning a lot about the Yugoslavia history from my host dad. He explains thing very well.

I think I have written all I can write for one night and I will be writing again soon.

November 16 Journal

So second journal, this seems to take a little longer than I thought. I have now acquired enough for a good long journal. I'll try and keep them more up to date. So it is November. Halloween has come and gone. It has snowed for only a half hour but it was still really beautiful. I was so excited because it was my first time seeing the first of the snowfall. I was like OH MY GOD LOOK SNOW. Then I ran outside and stood for like ten minutes before I was like ok well I’m freezing going back inside. Since then it was kind of cold but this past week (16-11-09) it has been pretty warm. They say that it is warmer than it should be. And that last year it was colder than it should have been. Oh I have gotten lost. That was super exciting, but it only happened once so I feel better for finding my way home.

We have Croatian classes every Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is really nice because we all get to get together for the class. All of us except for Sarah and this one girl from Germany, Isabel. Sarah is like a billion miles a way in Đorđivec. I think that’s how you spell. But all of us are trying to bring her into town to spend the weekend with us so that she can be part of the group. Ljiljana is just as scary as Al and Daphne. Which is a relief because I know how to handle her scary-ness?

I’ve been to the circus and the zoo, also to the main lake Jarun and to a protest at the circus. Recently I went ice-skating with the exchange kids here and a few girls form one of their schools. It was really fun and I’m excited to go the outdoor rink when it gets colder.

I found out that I am a true Floridian because just the littlest bit of cold, I’m all bundled up and chattering my teeth off. The food here is AMAZING. Oh goodness everyday, I’m like, oh god no more, oh well maybe a little more. I feel like my host family and I are getting closer and it's good to know that I have a family here and home. Soon, well in January, I will be changing host families. I’m kind of scared because my school and my home right now are very close. And this flat is very close to the center and everything. It seems like everyone else’s houses or homes are super far away from everything I need. But I’m all right with changing - it seems like a brand new adventure. My classes are so strange to me, logics and ethics, I have never heard of before. Also trigonometry and physics, so much fun. My classmates are the best cheaters I have ever seen. Seriously I will come home with such great tactics.

Coffee and I have become very good friends. Since it is what everyone has here I have learned to love it. It wasn’t so hard though. I’m sad about having to go home and know that there isn’t going to be a little coffee shop with just drinks around the corners. Blair and I have been thinking of the hunt we will have to do to find something similar to the places here. But we know it won’t happen. The leaves are falling off trees and when I’m walking around all I can think to me is «wow this is so pretty». I also think I have been asked what I think of Croatia about a hundred times at least. Of course it’s always the same answer and always a little awkward. Some of the biggest things I’m not used to is being questioned about everyday stuff. For example when I come home I have «how was your day, how was school, what did you learn, do you have homework, how is Blair, what classes did you have, did you have lunch, when did you wake up, are you hungry, are you sure you're not hungry, you must be hungry so why don’t you eat something, what do you want to eat, etc. » It's so strange the offering of food at like every moment. Of course it is very hard to refuse this everyday and of course I don’t but sometimes I have to. I just can’t eat another bite.

We are learning to work with me not being able to eat as much as they do. My host mom who is super tiny is able to eat like three plates full. I guess us Americans just don’t eat as much. But everything is super healthy which I love. I am in love with tomatoes which I hated back home. And even weird stuff I have never heard of before I try, just because I know I'll probably like it in the end.

I love the atmosphere here in Zagreb; it is like a big little city. Everything is tall, like all of the buildings are shops on the bottom and then homes above for six stories on either side. I love it, I feel like since everything is within walking distance or tram distance that I can go where ever I want. But then it is small enough for me to not feel scared about getting lost because eventually if I walk far enough I'll find somewhere where I know where I am. Also I have never felt unsafe walking around by myself. It’s just like walking around my town back home. Even more safe feeling than that.

A fun thing my host mom told me was that during winter, people go a little I guess you would say «stir crazy». With the sun not showing for a long time apparently people drink more and drive more so she told me to watch out walking around because depressed drunks shall be driving around. Whoopee. To which I replied, well without sun, people should get a little sad. Then I figured out «oh wait I’m from the Sunshine State» - wonder what this nice winter will do to me. But I haven’t really gotten sad except once.

This whole thing seems to me to be something to make kids love their parents more. I know when I go home I won’t stop calling my mom and dad «momma and poppa». I feel like I appreciate them more since I don’t get to be around them.

On All Saints day, which was the first of November, I went with my entire family to three cemeteries. First to Renata's Fathers and Uncles. To place flowers and light candles. Then to Renata's Brothers, then to Vihor's parents. It was all very beautiful because there were so many people around these three cemeteries. There were flowers everywhere and candles being lit left and right. In fact at night there was a gigantic cross made out of candles on the ground and people just kept adding and adding more to the line. It felt like a bon fire. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people at a cemetery. I also learned that people here cherish their family alive or dead for much longer than we do back at home. When I was questioned as to how many times I’ve been to the cemetery all I could say was «oh about three times». I felt so bad because it was like I didn’t care about my family that died. But I know that I want to bring this little tradition back home with me because it does make a better bond. Walking around with beautiful graves all decked out in flowers and candles.

So many new customs and foods and styles and everything here in Croatia and it’s only just the beginning. I’m really excited and scared of this upcoming month. The big Christmas season. Along with my birthday and Thanksgiving. My two favorite holidays of they year. Hopefully it will start feeling a bit like Christmas soon; I’m ready to feel this frosty wonderland.

Dobra Verće to you all and Laku Noć

(Good evening and good night)

March 16 Journal

Well it has been a really, really, really long time I can see, so I guess I can just start where I left off. In November I celebrated my birthday.

After that in the beginning of December the exchange students all went to Salzburg Austria to see the exchange students there. They actually didn’t know that we were coming but we spent three days there it was a lot of fun. We met a lot of kids and hopefully we’ll get to seem most of them again on Euro tour which is coming up in May. They have so many more people than us but I hope we left a good impression on them.

Christmas went off nicely - we had a nice pork dinner and grandma came over for dinner. At twelve o’clock Vihor and I went to the church near our house to see Christmas mass. It was very crowded we then walked to the main Cathedral. We only stayed for a few minutes before going home. The next day on Christmas I woke up and opened my presents from my host family. I got a very nice hat and a book and a book light. We spent the day just lounging around the house.

On new years I went with another exchange student Blair and with our class to a town near Zagreb, Zaprićić. We were with them till the next day before going home; it was a lot of fun.

Before school started again I went with them skiing in Austria along with family friends and it was amazing. I learned how to correctly ski. We stayed only for three days but it was really beautiful. By the end I was able to go all the way down the mountain by myself. To get to the beginning of the slope we rode a lift a kilometer up the mountain and then the peak was another kilometer up. On my first day, I accidentally went on the wrong lift and ended up all the way up at the top. All I was thinking to myself was: do not ski off the mountain, go slow, don’t die. I made it out alive thankfully.

Once we got back I moved to my new host family, the Ivković’s. They have a son who is in Chicago right now and here they have a two and a half year old daughter. Also my host mom is pregnant. She is due this week in fact, so we are just sitting around waiting for her to have him. They are thinking of naming him Pavlo. Their daughters name is Lara; she and I play together every day. My host fathers name is Predrag and I still have the hardest time pronouncing it. My host mother, Viktorija, is so sweet. She and I sit and talk almost every day about each of your pasts and the weather and everything. I am very scared and excited for her to have a baby. I have actually never been around a toddler or a pregnant woman for so long before which is pretty amazing.

In school the classes are all alright. We’ve changed a few classes so now I am taking geography which is really hard but it’s manageable. We also celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday. They had a huge tent with at least a hundred people. They had Authentic Irish dancers and music. A lot of drunken people dancing. It was scary but the dancers were amazing.

The weather is finally getting better so now everyone is able to go outside and run around. There is this really nice place called Jarun (Yaryun) which is at the end of the river and it has a lot of cafes and a pebble beach and when it gets warmer we can go swimming. Also there are a lot of playgrounds and a huge track around the whole lake part. Hopefully I can work on getting this extra weight off hah.

In a few weeks the exchange students are all going on a trip to Dubrovnik for four days. We are all really excited to finally see it because some of us haven’t seen the coast yet.

All of us, the exchange students, have a really good time when we go out together. Our classes are all going well and everyone seems to be really happy with their new host families. The year is just flying by and I don’t think anyone wants to leave. Definitely not me. I will write sooner next time.