Zachary "Zach" Clauss
2009-10 Outbound to Austria

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Gainesville Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Bregenz Rotary Club, District 1920, Austria

Zach's Bio

Before being accepted to this program, I told my friends that I wanted to do foreign exchange. They couldn’t believe I wanted to do this! Whenever I told people, I was shot the questions “Why would you want to go somewhere unknown and live with people you don’t know for an entire year!?” I still haven’t found an exact answer to that question but the closest I’ve come up with is that, it looks like a life-changing experience and seems like it would be a lot of fun.

Anyways! I’m Zach and I’m a sophomore attending Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. I have been lucky enough to be chosen as a Youth Exchange Student headed for Austria! I live with my mom, dad and younger sister. I have four more siblings that I don’t live with: two half brothers and two half sisters. I enjoy making new friends and expanding my social network. I like to play guitar a lot and hang out with my friends on weekends. I’ve always been the oldest child in the household. It seems that being the oldest comes with the most responsibilities and the youngest always gets the benefits of being “young and uninformed”.

Last year, my freshman year, I ran cross country and ended up being the top freshman, at one point I landed myself in the top ten of the boy runners on the team. Unfortunately, I injured my foot during the season and was unable to run the last race and my foot still hasn’t healed. If I didn’t hurt myself I would expect to be running still. At school I’m part of a lot of clubs such as Tie Dye for the Homeless and Spanish Club.

I first became interested in this program when I found out about Julie and Laura Hundersmarck doing it the past years through their brother Justin, who I’m friends with. Last year when a representative came from Rotary to speak to all of the foreign language classes about Rotary’s Youth Exchange Program, I was reminded of the program and thought about doing it. I didn’t feel I would want to go away my sophomore year so I held off on applying until this year and here I am! I can’t wait until I leave for this experience!

Zach's Journals

August 11 Journal

This is my third day here so far and I’ve experience so much already! My host family consists of Manfred, my host dad, Manuela, my host mom, Julius and Jakob, my host brothers. They don’t have a TV which isn’t so bad because I don’t watch that much TV as it is. When I first was picked up from Zurich by my host family, I was surprisingly not tired at all. So they made that day FULL of new things. After a tour of the house, a cute little townhouse in the city of Bregenz, Jakob, my host brother, and I took a short tour of the city.

Bregenz was founded 2000 years ago during the Roman Empire’s time and the house is about 100 yards from the original city wall, the entire downtown area is located inside these ancient city walls. The buildings in Bregenz are also a lot older than the norm in Gainesville. After we passed the city walls we came to a giant yellow building. Jakob told me it was an old Nazi prison with a fountain in front of it; I guess they have painted it since those times, haha, there were a few Bregenzer’s out there with their dogs as well.

After that came my first test with my German; we ran into a family friend of the Hellrigl’s (my host family’s surname). I guess she did not know at first that I was American and started using Bregenz’s far-from High German dialect and I had no idea what she was saying (not that I would have if it WAS High German), so Jakob explained to her that I was from Florida and she awed in astonishment. She told her toddler daughter next to her as if Florida was a mysterious and unknown land; it as well could be with Austrians, the same way Austria was with me before I arrived, like a dream. So I did understand her introduction to me, her name was Mimi. I replied with a “Ich heisse Zach” (I am Zach). I told her I thought Austria was beautiful and we were on our way down the cobblestones. The road is in fact actual cobblestones, I’m not sure if they are original from the first city there but they sure look like it.

After the tour, my younger host brother, Julius, who seems much attached to me but is very distressed because we cannot yet communicate and is also the most inquisitive and energetic 7 year old I have met or maybe I haven’t met too many 7 year olds, indicated he wanted to show me the swing out in the woods. The house is a townhouse as I said before and it is the second to last one on the end; after they end, woods replace the road and that’s where this swing is. We put on our boots, I used Jakob’s old ones, and we ventured off. The path towards the swing was on the embankment of a small mountain, we had to hike parallel to the mountain’s side to get to it. My host mother, Manuela, came also. When we got to the swing, I saw it consisted of a rope dangling down from an overhanging tree tied to a stick which we were to sit on. Julius went first and he loved it, seemed like a pro. You were supposed to climb up a little on the mountain, put the stick under your butt and pull away from the mountain to swing into the open space below, where there was a creek flowing. When it was my turn to go, I had some difficulty climbing up the mountain, like I said it was muddy. I got up a little and swung out a couple times, by the end my hands were very dirty.

When we all had our share of swinging, we decided to follow the creek upstream. Jakob said he and his friends have done it for hours on end so he wanted to show me. Manuela had turned back by this time and Julius followed us. We continued up the stream while continuing to take pictures like the rest of the afternoon. There was a lot of brush but Julius seemed to be the best at the climbing and hiking because he was always in front. We eventually came to a tunnel on top of a small waterfall. It looked to be part of the old sewage system. We got up and walked through it, it was big enough for us all to stand up in. Then again we came to a very small tunnel, about three feet in diameter. We managed to get through this one as well. After that tunnel, there was a bridge that crossed over the river so we scaled the embankment up to the bridge. The road followed up the mountain side. We walked down the road up the mountain some but when Jakob found the path that led off of the road we went on it. We continued to walk up the mountain. The point on the mountain that we reached was probably about 100-150 yards higher than the riverbed. We took some more pictures there; it was much cooler than in the city, it felt nice. Then we started our way back to the house.

When we got back, Manuela was preparing Wiener Snitzel for lunch, an authentic Austrian food. I loved it, the easiest way to explain it is breaded turkey. It’s pretty simple actually. Later we went to Lake Konstance. This lake is pretty big, it shares coasts with Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Manfred’s sister owns a yacht club diner off of the lake and apparently Jakob’s cousin, Lisa, works there so she came with us all to go swimming. There were a lot of people at the beach, instead of Floridian sand on the shores, there were small pebbles. We all sunscreened-up and headed into the water. It was SOOOO cold. Colder than any of the springs in Florida that I have been to. Probably 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. After I got used to it, it was fine actually, quite refreshing. We saw a lot of sailboats and yachts pass by while we were swimming which were heading into the boat yard. After we finished swimming we went to the yacht club again because Manfred’s sister invited us to lunch. I had chicken wings and they were better than most I had ever gotten in the States; so tender. In the car ride back to the house I started falling asleep, my adrenaline had apparently run out and was replaced by melatonin. We made a surprise trip to the ice cream shop and I ordered my ice cream without the server saying “Was??” (what).

So the next day after I woke up from my 16 hour slumber, Lisa, Jakob and I went into town to buy some things and set up a bank account for myself. Jakob went to the tourist place to pick up a lot of pamphlets for pins to make; I forgot to mention he is going to Washington State in 10 days with RYE. I bought some deodorant and chapstick because I ran out of both during the flight over here. I actually found my some chapstick in my jacket pocket when I went to bed that night. After we had everything we needed, we met Bridget, another inbound in Bregenz from the States, and her host mom Martina. Anna is Martina’s daughter and she is going to the States for exchange as well. Martina took us to their house up a mountain some and it was a very nice house, very modern. Jakob and Anna made pins while Lisa, Bridget and I watched MTV in German and the Simpsons in German. Anna’s parents had us for dinner too. We had pizza. They used a fork and knife to eat their pizza, Bridget and I assumed that all Austrians ate like this but Lisa seemed to be having problems too. As soon as Martina said we could eat with our hands, Lisa took advantage of this new privilege. After dinner, Martina took Lisa, Jakob and I back to our bikes which we rode into the city and we went home for the day.

That night, Jakob, Manfred, Manuela and I watched Lost in Translation in English with German subtitles. It was good, I thought the ending was too mysterious, I didn’t know what happened. After the movie Jakob and I stayed up and listened to music and facebooked for a while.

Today, I woke up and ate the Austrian version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast then headed to the store with Julius, Manfred, and Manuela to do some shopping for Manuela’s birthday party tomorrow. The party is down by Lake Konstance. In the store, Julius kept putting things in the cart and about half the time he would get away with it and the things ended up at home. The supermarkets are different than the ones in America, you have to pay for parking, the parking is underground and you have to put up collateral for the shopping cart.

Right now, lunch is being prepared, I’m not sure what it is yet but I’m sure its something traditional in Austria. Later, Bridget, Anna, Jakob, and I are supposed to see the Hangover, I have already seen it in English so I am okay, Bridget hasn’t though. I must go now, lunch is almost ready. Tschuss!


October 7 Journal

Well, it’s been about two months since I’ve written last. I’ve been up to a lot of new things and have been around a bit but I guess the culture shock is past me now and I’m starting to settle into town and starting to feel more like a local, rather than a foreigner. I’ve been making friends with Austrians from the start. My host brother, Jakob, introduced me and took me out in the town twice before he left for Washington State so I was able to make a couple of friends then. Since then, I’ve been meeting people left and right. I think I know the most Austrians out of all the exchange students in Austria.

The biggest and most eventful thing I’ve done since my last journal was language camp in Altmünster. It’s a little southeast of Salzburg. It was from August 16-30th. The town itself has about 10,000 people and the landscape is amazing. The town sits on a lake called Traunsee and opposite the town sits a 1600 meter mountain. The main road in the town is only about 100 meters from the lake, it runs adjacent to the lake and heads towards the neighboring towns. If you head away from the lake, the town goes up hill and the houses just keep going up the mountain which the town is located on. The classes and our dorms were at a boarding school in the town, high up the mountain separated from the main hustle and bustle in the town.

Right next to the school there’s a yellow castle. It’s not a king's castle or anything but it was impressive to say the least. I think it was built in the 1800s but nobody knew much about it. The castle was closer to the lake than the boarding school so one way down there was to walk passed the castle and down the hill. The first evening after dinner Rotary let us go out on the town to explore and such, I found a couple of kids, Aiyana and Nolan, to partner up with and we headed out via the castle route. Once we passed the castle we saw the sun setting on top of the mountain across from the town with pink, blue and orange clouds as a halo. The rest of the night we walked down to the lake and around the town.

The rest of language camp was filled with 6 hours of class 5 days a week and 4 hours on Saturdays. The nights we went into the town and by the lake. There was a playground down by the lake and many times we found ourselves playing on the zip line or the merry-go-round. Somehow we came up with the idea a couple of times to spin around for 90 seconds and then race and watch each other fall over each other or over ourselves. We found a Döner shop in the city so a couple of afternoons the Swedish guy, Tommy, and I would get Döners. Oh I should probably tell you what a Döner is. I had no idea either when the kids here mentioned them to me. I thought they were saying doughnut or something. Well it’s like a pita bread with beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, and a white garlic sauce. It’s Turkish and the best thing since fried rice! They eat them here like we eat McDonalds or any other fast food restaurant in the States.

At language camp there were all the “newbies” in Austria, the August group of inbounds. They are from South America, North America and we have 5 from Europe. Our “oldies” are from South America, New Zealand and Australia. They came in January and a new group of them will come next January as well. The oldies have their language camp in January so they didn’t attend.

After language camp I started to meet more Austrians and go out more because right when I got back one of my host brother's best friends wanted to take me out so I met more people that night and kept getting more and more connections so that almost every night during the two weeks between language camp and the start of school, I went out.

Since school has started it’s cut my nights with friends down to just the weekends. In school I don’t do much, I have a German grammar book and I use it like a Bible during class. I’m in the class below the one with all the kids my age. At first I was kind of bummed out because I knew the kids my age already and all but it’s actually turned out for the better. I don’t have school in the afternoons as much as the kids my age, I’ve met more kids (I had plans last weekend because I met the kids in this class), and the class is smaller. Oh yeah, the school days here are different each weekday, Monday you could have class until 12:30 but on Tuesday you may have to stay until 5. But every Monday is the same and every Tuesday is the same. I’m just getting my own schedule this Friday; I will have more German classes and no Latin and French considering I’ve never taken any before.

The first weekend after the first week of school I went to a town called Tauplitz for a hiking weekend. It was an eight hour train with the other 4 kids from my town, one being an oldie and other kids we picked up in towns on the way. It was the first time the oldies and newbies got to meet each other. Friday I got there at about 4 or 5 down at the bottom of the mountain, our Gasthaus (like an Inn) was at the top of the mountain. All the other exchangers arrived there and we greeted each other and met some of the oldies. The first night we just hung around the Gasthaus after dinner and exchanged phone numbers for the few of us who didn’t have phones at language camp (I’m included within this group). We stayed up pretty late talking with oldies and each other; it was an all around good night.

The next day we had to wake up at 7 or 8 and get breakfast, shower, and get ready for the hike. They told us it was a three hour hike. Apparently they left out the phrase “up the mountain”. The top of the mountain was insane. It was probably about 40 degrees F and none of us came prepared. If you looked in the opposite direction from which we came, there were bare stone white mountains continuously. It was like one of those cheesy fake postcards but it was real. We stayed on the top for about an hour because everyone was so tired. About ten of us all laid down together nice and snug to avoid the wind and keep warm. I managed to mooch a hat and a jacket off people and yet I was still freezing. After we got back I was dead tired. After dinner they gave us all torches (about 70) and we headed down an unknown road to an unknown destination. Turns out it was a dance party. It was all right, again there was a play ground there and I think we had more fun on that than the party (not that the party was so bad, just our interests in play ground is very high.) ;-) The next morning I was on the first group to leave because we live in one of the west-most cities in Austria and none of the events are by us so we always have the longest train rides.

Two weeks ago, I think the weekend after the Tauplitz trip, Sebastian, the oldie in my town, and I went shopping for Lederhosen, the traditional Germanic dress for men. We each got one, we wore them to our Rotary meeting last night and we’re going to wear them in Vienna not this weekend but next weekend because we are going there with Rotary. We are touring the city and going to a theater. I’ll write about that in my next journal. This weekend I was invited to my friend's 18th birthday party so I’m looking forward to that. For everyone back home, that’s it for now! Take it easy y’all.


January 22 Journal

Well it hurts me to say it but this journal is more than overdue. I think the last one was in early October. The last three months have been going by extremely fast. January 9th was my five-month anniversary here and I couldn’t believe that I’ve been living in a country 4500 miles away, a completely differently culture and most blatantly a different language.

In October, Rotary took us to Vienna for the weekend. This time it was about a 7 and a half hour train ride. Because Bregenz is so far west, all our train rides are really long to Rotary events. On Friday, we arrived in Vienna and walked to the hostel. We all ate dinner there got dressed for the play at the famous Volksoper. About four or five of us wore Lederhosen to the theater. After the theater, which was in German and at the time I didn’t understand enough to understand the play, they took us to an “Asia Restaurant”. Asia. Not Asian. Then we all walked back together to the hostel and got to bed around 11 or 12. The next day they had us touring Vienna the whole morning, back to the hostel for lunch, then back out again in the afternoon to tour some more. A really cool thing I got out of the tour was when we were in the House of Parliament was that you could see the scorch marks on the marble pillars from World War II. At night we got to go out until 12 and then we all came back and went to bed. On Sunday, they had us tour some of Vienna in a double-decker tour bus. Afterwards, we all packed our things and said our good-byes and headed I headed on my train back to Bregenz.

At the end of October, my counselor here, soon to be my host family, took me to England for a long weekend. She is actually English and we ended up staying with her brother and his family. We toured three whole days in England. Two days we went to London and in those short two days we saw all the big London sites on account of she knows where everything is. The other day we went to Norwich and saw the Castle there and wandered around the city for a while. I bought new earphones for my iPod because they were cheaper than here in Austria.

My school’s ball here took place in November and I went to that with some friends. A ball in Austria is similar to a school’s prom in America, but people don’t have dates and everybody goes to everybody else’s balls. I guess you could say that the classiness of the American balls is spread out between all the balls in Austria. One big different is that there are TONS of parents at the balls because the matura class (the equivalent of the senior class in America) puts on a couple skits and dances. I have already attended two balls and there are two more next month. But back to my school’s ball! Before the ball, I went to my friend’s house and her friend was there as well. We hung out and I waited around on their usual “girl” preparations before an event like this. We got to the ball around 9 and after about an hour I left them because I saw some other friends I knew from the skate park that I go to a lot. At one point during the night I lost my wallet, for about an hour I was frantically looking for it and told the security guards, luckily I didn’t have any cash in it and somebody turned it into the place where you put your coat. Realizing that everything was all right, I continued to hang out with my friends. I got home at 2 o’clock on account of that’s my curfew.

Also in November, those two girls invited me to go to their friend’s house because she was having a party. So I met them at the bus stop on the weekend and we went to her friend’s house. It must have been the nicest house I’ve been to in all of Austria! There was a pool at the house and even at the really big houses here, there aren’t pools. There were actually two palm trees in the back yard that reminded me of Florida. There were only about 10 or 15 people there but I met the guys that are in this popular local band here in Bregenz. They invited me to go with them to see them play a couple weekends later in a bar. I went there with the same girls and I found them to be pretty good. I also saw them again in December. There’s a ball at the end of January and they are playing there as well, but unfortunately they ran out of tickets and I didn’t get one it time.

On the weekend before Christmas, Rotary took us again on a trip but this time to Salzburg. This time the train ride was a bit shorter, only 4.5 hours. Before dinner that night they had us all take a German test which we got the results back the next day and I got a 92% on it. We had dinner at the hostel and then they briefed us about what the weekend had in store and then let us go in the city until 11. On Saturday, we walked to Mozart’s house and all around the Altstadt (old city) of Salzburg. We got back in time for lunch and then they gave us the afternoon free to do what we want until dinner again at the Stiegl brewery. They let us go out afterwards but it was a really long dinner because the oldies gave out awards to the other oldies and there were a couple of presentations so we only had enough time to hang out in the city for 30 minutes or so on the way back to the hostel to make curfew. We had to leave early Sunday because we had a group ticket and my oldie in my town had to be back for a dance performance that he was in. He ended up taking 3rd place with his partner.

Christmas and New Year’s abroad are definitely two completely new things. I’m Jewish and my dad was raised Catholic so we’ve never had a proper Christmas in our family. On Christmas day, the 24th (they celebrate it on the 24th here), we woke up and the morning was just like a normal day except that the Christmas tree was only just set up the day before. Apparently most people get them last minute and keep them into January. In the afternoon we went to a bar owned by my host dad’s family and we all laughed and joked for a couple hours. I met a guy from Ireland who had been living there for 8 years in the midst of it. At night, my host cousin came with us back to our house for fondue. My host parents made us wait outside while they were doing something “secret”. When they called our names my host brother jolted upstairs followed by his cousin and me in the back. They had sparklers lit all over the Christmas tree! This was something I had never even heard of! Then we all sat down and had meat fondue for over an hour. And then we opened presents. I got some good Lederhosen socks (I didn’t have any before), a legit Swiss army knife, good gloves (I’ve been using my host parents mittens all winter so far), and some candy which I didn’t know but was REALLY good. On New Year’s we didn’t do anything special during the day but at night we had cheese fondue for dinner and then they set off these firework things at the dinner table. You light the fuse and then the top shoots off and a bunch of little toys come out like whistles and hats and decorations to help celebrate the New Year. After the celebrating with the family had finished, I went to my oldies’ house and we hung with his host family and then we went into a nearby city’s center where there was a HUGE celebration going on and we counted down until midnight and then continued celebrating.

Since New Years, I went to another school’s ball which was fun. Just about the same as the last one. There was a live band that played covers the whole night and I met some new people and saw a bunch of my already-friends there. One of the balls coming up is a ball where you dress in costumes so I’m going to wear my Lederhosen. I switch host families in about two days for the first time. I won’t switch again. Hopefully, the next journal won’t be so far stretched out! Take care all!


June 7 Journal

Wow! Simply, wow! This year has flown by like none other. Please excuse the tardiness of journal. Ever since the New Year came around, I’ve been doing things left and right and going places and having people visit me here in Bregenz, it’s been a blast. Well, I’ll catch you guys up on some of things I’ve been up to since I last wrote:

In the end of January and some of February I attended three more Balls like I mentioned before. Two of them were other school’s balls and the other one is called Schiball. It literally means Ski ball, but it is the ball for Faschingsfest here. Fasching is a holiday here and the easiest way to put it is that it is similar to Halloween, not in the aspect that kids get so much candy and go door to door getting it, but that everybody dresses up. In all the towns here, there were parades with people dressed up, if you were dressed up you got in free to the parade but if you weren’t, then you had to pay a few Euros. Unfortunately, that weekend I was sick and didn’t get to go. At the Schiball, everybody dresses up as well. I got a chance to wear my Lederhosen to that Ball and all the Austrians loved seeing an American wearing Lederhosen. I’m planning on wearing it as well to the Welcome Home Dinner in August.

On the first day of February, I switched host families for the first and last time. The switch was nice because this way I got to see more than just how one Austrian family operated at home and how their daily life is and my new role in a different family. My new family here is actually an English/Austrian family. My host mom moved here in her twenties from England. But I still speak German with her! She’s been learning it for over 20 years and people mistake her for an Austrian when she speaks! Here I also have a host brother that is just a year older than me and he made an exchange to Colorado a few years ago. My other host brother is in Brazil and is actually coming home next week. I didn’t get a chance to meet him before because he left before I came, so I’m looking forward to getting to know him.

In March every year, Rotary Austrian holds a Skiweek in Schladming for the exchange students here in Austria. I had never snowboarded or skied before and that week I was a bit nervous to see how it would go. Here in Austria and back in America, I skateboard regularly with friends so I was hoping my skateboarding skills would help me pick up snowboarding quickly. After the first day of Skiweek, my legs killed me and I had a massive bruise developing on my backside. I couldn’t fathom how I would feel after an entire week of this. But as the week went on, I got better and the bruises had time to heal themselves and by the end of the week, I think it’s safe to say that I can snowboard now. I even did the small jumps at the funpark a couple of times. Aside from the snowboarding, being with the other exchange students is always a blast! At the end of the month, one of the exchange students had a birthday so everybody went to Linz, the city she lives in, and threw her a big party. Earlier in the year she got her purse stolen and she lost her iPod, phone, camera and wallet. So because of that, the exchange students all pitched in to buy her a new iPod. So there I spent the night with a friend and then I headed to Vienna with another exchange student from Sweden. I stayed at his house a few nights and went out there. It was the first time I had been to Vienna other than with Rotary.

In April, an exchange student from Ohio, who lives in Leoben here in Austria, came to visit me for a few days in Bregenz. While she was here, she came to school with me and I got to show her all around Bregenz. I took her to the Altstadt (old city), all in the city center, took her to meet a bunch of my friends down at the skate park and we went out with them one night as well, and we even got a chance to go to Germany because Germany is just a 10 minute train ride away. Across the lake you can see Germany. So that was really nice.

May was the best month so far because we had our Eurotour then. It consisted of 17 days around Europe then 2 more days in Austria. We went from Czech, to Denmark, to Belgium, to France, to Andorra, to Spain, back to France and then to Italy. We spent at least 5 days in Italy. To say the least, the tour was legendary. Seeing all those amazing sites with all the insane exchange students, you couldn’t ask for a better combination. We also had Croatian exchange students on the tour so Sierra, also from Florida, was there. My favorite city was Barcelona, maybe because the beach scene reminded me of Florida. After the Eurotour was over, the next day my Mom from Florida came to visit me for a few days. We went to Innsbruck and Salzburg. It was my first time to Innsbruck; we didn’t get to have a Rotary Weekend there.

As of now, I have barely over a month left of my exchange. The good times are getting better and the worst is far behind me. I could go on and on about the things I’ve learned during this year, or about all the little things that I’ve started to do or stopped doing due to this year abroad. To say the least, I thank all of Rotary for making this exchange possible and making it the best year of my life so far.