Ariana Stark
2010-11 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Szolnok Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Ariana's Bio


“Let me fall, let me climb. There's a moment when fear and dreams must collide.

Someone I am is waiting for courage. The one I want, the one I will become will catch me

So let me fall, if I must fall. I won't heed your warnings. I won't hear them.”



My name is Ariana Stark. I am a senior at Saint Augustine High School (SAHS), and a student in St. John’s County Center for the Arts (SJCCA). I live in Saint Augustine, Florida, the Oldest City in the United States. I have a younger brother, 2 caring and supportive parents, and two cats. Currently, my family is hosting a Rotary Exchange student from Italy. And, most importantly, I will be spending my next school year in Hungary!


“All I ask, all I need. Let me open whichever door I might open.

Let me fall, if I fall. Though the phoenix may or may not rise”


I am an artist at heart. I draw, write, sing, compose and play both the flute and piano. I sing with the Chamber Singers and Concert Chorus as well as playing the flute in the Wind Ensemble and other musical groups. I have been studying the flute for eight years, and am planning to pursue music professionally. To me, art and music provide a way to communicate without words. I enjoy all types of music, everything and anything. From little known bands, to jazz, to Liszt’s Consolation No.3, to the Beatles, I listen to it all. I chose Hungary because of its rich history and look forward to a great experience for me.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “I will dance so freely, holding on to no one. You can hold me only

if you too will fall away from all these useless fears and chains”


I love to travel. So far, I have been to England, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. I have also had the opportunity to host several exchange students, from South Korea, Spain, France, Ecuador, Brazil, Japan, and Italy. I am hoping to travel to many more places throughout the world.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Someone I am is waiting for my courage.

The one I want, the one I will become will catch me

So let me fall, if I must fall. I won't heed your warning. I won't hear.”


I am open-minded and eager for change and new experiences. I long to step out of my comfort zone and enter to realm of the unknown. I want to soar on the wings of change, facing obstacles and overcoming them. I believe my adventure is not waiting to begin . . .

. . . It has already begun . . .                                                              . . . Ez birtokol már megkezdett . . .

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Let me fall, if I fall. There's no reason to miss this one chance.

This perfect moment. Just let me fall.”


Lyrics from Cirque du Soleil’s “Let Me Fall” from the show Quidam

Ariana's Journals

August 17

 Little train to the heart

Little light in the dark

Little hope that you just might find your way up out of here

Cause you've been hiding for days

Wasted and wasting away

But I've got a little hope today you'll face your fears

Yeah I know it's not easy, I know that it's hard

Follow the lights to this city

It's only a couple of days until I step on a plane and leave for the greatest year of my life. Emotionally speaking, I would say that I'm excited and nervous all at the same time. I wouldn't really say that I'm scared. True, it's definitely slightly nerve-wracking. It might be safe to say that my parents are more worried than I am.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don't look back just go Take a breath move along

Or you could spend tour whole life holding on

On the plus side, I have heard from my first host family in Szolnok. My host parents’ names are László and Anikó Kispál. László is a businessman and Anikó is a kindergarten teacher. I will have two host siblings. Ansci likes to dance and ride horses (and there is a horse ranch right on their street). Laci, her brother, plays the guitar and tennis. They have two turtles, three cats, and a dog. I cannot wait to meet them on August 22!!

Believe the tunnel can end.

Believe your body can mend.

Yeah I know you can make it though cause I believe in you

So let's go put up a fight

Let's go make everything alright

Go on and take a shot go give it all you got

Yeah I know it's not easy I know that it's hard

And it's not always pretty

Packing is definitely one of the hardest parts that people seem to leave out of their journal. The sight of one empty suitcase sitting in the middle of the room is one of the most concrete signs that I'm leaving. Yes, I can only have one free suitcase, which makes things so much harder. I never realized how little space a suitcases can hold until I began packing for this journey.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don't look back just go, Take a breath move along

Or you could spend tour whole life holding on

When I step on that plane on August 21, I will be letting go of everything I have known in my 17 short years of life. I don't want to look back and regret not doing something. I want to cherish every possible moment of this experience because I know there is nothing like it. My goal this year is to take each moment and live it as though tomorrow may not come. I know this sounds like a cliché, but I know the time will fly by so fast and before I know it, I'll be coming back home with a whole new set of experiences and language that has become a part of me. I don't want to be trapped by a routine that I have known forever. I can't wait to experience something new and different from what I have known.

Don't wanna wake up to the telephone ring

Are you sitting down I need to tell you something

Enough is enough you can stop waiting to breathe

And don't wait up for me

Still, it's all so strange to think I will be leaving so soon. It seems like just the other day I was going through the interview process and the first outbound orientation. It's hard to believe that this day is finally here. If everything that I have done so far has gone by so fast, this year will seem over way to soon.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don't look back just go Take a breath move along

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

I am a getting ready to leave for the most memorable year of my life. When I return, I want to be a citizen of the world, not of one country. I look forward to being someone who is sure of themselves in any situation. I want to be flexible and adaptive for whatever life decides to throw my way. I believe that Rotary has done all they could to prepare me for everything (roughly) and will be there if I need anything whether it be advice or help with something in my school. I can't thank Rotary enough for allowing me to depart on this experience to Hungary. They have worked so hard for all us “outbounds”. I for one am not going to let them down.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don't look back just go Take a breath move along

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don't spend your whole life holding on

-->Lyrics from "Go" by Boys Like Girls album 'Heart Heart Heartbreak'<--

September 14

A new world calls across the ocean

A new world calls across the sky

A new world whispers in the shadows

Time to fly, time to fly

My flight over went as smoothly as possible, and I didn’t end up trying to fly to Bucharest instead of Budapest (as my host family was worried about). Jet lag didn’t catch up with me for a few days. As it turns out, my host family lives in a “suburb” of Szolnok. However, they have a huge backyard, with apple, pear, and plum trees. Everyone here has dogs, so they are barking all night, and some actually howl at the moon. Also, whoever said that roosters crow at the break of dawn lied. They crow any time they want to, even if it’s one in the morning.

Possibly one of the most memorable events within my first few weeks in Hungary would be my eighteenth birthday. With it being the day after I arrived, I didn’t expect my family to make a big deal out of it. Yet, that morning, all of them crowded in the room I share with Ancsi, to wake me up by singing “Happy Birthday” in Hungarian. It turns out that they had woken up early that morning to bake a cake for me. I feel like part of the family already. My host mother takes pictures of everything. They call her “Papperazzi Kispál” for a reason.

It's about one moment, the moment before it all becomes clear

And in that one moment, you start to believe there's nothing to fear

It's about one second, and just when you're on the verge of success

The sky starts to change, and the wind starts to blow

And you're suddenly a stranger. There's no explaining where you stand

And you didn't know that you sometimes have to go

‘Round an unexpected bend and the road will end

In a new world

Starting school was interesting to say the least. Before the start of every school year, there is a ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of the previous year and the hope for a good year. It was a great opportunity for me to meet some of the students in my class. They are all really nice, and always want to help me. In every class, students want me to sit by them (especially in the English class). The best part is that they are always helpful when I get that confused look on my face, because I have little to no idea on what is going on. Because of my age, I am in the 12th class, or one of the graduating classes. Every year, at the school ball in December, the graduating class does a special dance routine. So, every day, there is some form of discussion about the dance that our class will do. One day, it’s the colors of the dresses and the guys’ shirts. The next, it’s who wants to dance the Vienesse waltz (a traditional part of the dance). Another day it’s what music we are dancing to.

A new world calls for me to follow

A new world waits for my reply

A new world holds me to a promise

Standing by, standing by

Food, glorious food, magical food, wonderful food. (To quote Oliver). They eat so much here. Also, they don’t just cover everything with paprika. In my experience of food here, they also collectively love salt, garlic and ketchup. Every day we tend to eat five meals: breakfast, “elevenses” (a sort of brunch), lunch, late lunch (around 4) and then dinner. Also every meal, has at least two courses, one soup, and then a sort of meat dish. Between these, everyone drinks coffee. There is even a snack area in the school that sells coffee, and other drinks and snacks between classes.

School lunch is actually pretty good here, much better then school lunch back in Florida. My school is right by the Tisza Hotel, so the food is better than I would have ever thought. Each day, we have a sort of soup, followed by the main dish. Even at school, there is so much food. Students eat so much every day. Between each class, most of them pull out another sandwich to eat or go to buy a snack at the school canteen.

It's about one moment, that moment you think you know where you stand

And in that one moment, the things that you're sure of slip from your hand

And you've got one second, to try to be clear, to try to stand tall

But nothing's the same, tnd the wind starts to blow

And you're suddenly a stranger in some completely different land

And you thought you knew but you didn't have a clue

That the surface sometimes cracks to reveal the tracks

To a new world

There are three other exchange students at my school. The first one I met was Tiago, a student from Brazil. His host brother, Martszi (I think that’s how it’s spelled), is in the same class as me. At the school’s ceremony, I met Alonzo, a student from Mexico. He wants to be a singer, and is a social butterfly. The third student is a girl from Italy, Lavinia, who is here with the AFS exchange program.

Homesickness, what seems to be the bane of exchange students, hasn’t struck yet. I’m grateful for that, but I am expecting it to arrive any day now. Culture shock didn’t really seem to be as much of an issue as I expected either. True, there are definite differences, like standing up when a teacher enters the room, or eating pizza by cutting it up with a knife and fork. I’ve learned to observe what others around me are doing and quickly follow suit when necessary.

You have a house in the hills

You have a job on the coast

You find a lover you're sure you believe in

You've got a pool in the back

You get to the part of your life

You hold the ring in your hand

But then the earthquake hits

And the bank closes in

Then you realize you didn't know anything

Nobody told you the best way to steer

When the wind starts to blow

Public transportation is something worth getting used to. Because my schedule for school is different from the other student’s schedules in my class, I take the bus to school and home from school almost every day. School here starts at 7:30, but because I live in Szandaszólós (which is farther away) my host siblings and I have to get up at 6 in the morning.

My first time taking the bus home by myself could possibly be considered comedic. I off at the right stop, which was what I was worried about. I didn’t think that I should have asked for directions on how to get home from the bus stop. After all, I should be able to remember it when I went with Ancsi once, right? Um…not really. I ended up wandering around the neighborhood for about two hours. On the Brightside, I had two bottles of tea in my backpack, and enough food to feed an army (because my mother thinks I eat so much). Eventually, I had the smart idea to go look at the map at the bus stop, and still made it home before everyone else, but not by much.

And you're suddenly a stranger all of a sudden

You life is different than you planned

And you'll have to stay ‘til you somehow find a way

To be sure of what will be

Then you might be free

In the card for my birthday, Ancsi wrote a quote from Ben Stein “The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.” I’ve decided that I want to make this year extraordinary. So far, I’ve worked to embrace what may seem strange, solve possible communication problems, and have begun making those connections that make this very large world seem so much smaller. I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s the one that’s most worth the taking.

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most by others is “Why I chose to come to Hungary?” Every day I spend here, I find myself discovering the answer to this in a small town in Hungary’s great plain and its residents with large hearts. My first two weeks here have been bizarre, confusing, and curious, yet I love every minute of it.

A new world crashes down like thunder

A new world charging through the air

A new world just beyond the mountain

Waiting there, waiting there

A new world shattering the silence

There's a new world I'm afraid to see

A new world louder every moment

Come to me, come to me

Song Lyrics from “Opening of a New World” from Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World

September 29

She's a good girl, loves her mama

Loves Jesus and America too

She's a good girl, crazy 'bout Elvis

Loves horses and her boyfriend too

It’s been a month, and it still hasn’t really sunk in yet that I am actually here. Every day I’m like ‘I’m really in Hungary. This is really happening.’ It feels like I’m living in a dream. Maybe it’s because I sleep so much here. Now, I was never really a nap person, but some days when I come home from school, all I want to do is sleep. I don’t know if it’s just me, but are all exchange students always this tired? Also, homesickness hasn’t really paid a visit yet. I keep expecting it though, waiting for it to strike when I least expect it.

On another note, all the Rotary students on exchange in Hungary had our orientation on September 10 and 11. There are 35 brave souls who are in Hungary this year. Of course, there are a lot from Brazil and the USA, so it can get pretty loud when we are all together.  You know you’re an exchange student when you can make friends with other exchange students in less than 24 hours and (semi) peacefully debate religious and political issues with them.

It's a long day living in Reseda

There's a freeway runnin' through the yard

And I'm a bad boy ‘cause I don't even miss her

I'm a bad boy for breakin' her heart

So, being in the 12th class means that I am taking part in the dance that we do at the Szalagavató (the school dance in December.) I have practice two days a week for this. Now, the practice is entirely in Hungarian, although the teacher speaks fluent English. I think he enjoys watching me try to figure out what’s going on. Most of the other students find it completely hilarious, and I spend plenty of time laughing at myself. One of our moves involves two groups of people rotating in an X formation. Well, as a band geek, the actual dancing part while staying in a line is easy. As we are practicing this, my inner band geek wants to start saying things along the lines of “Dress the form! Check the diag! Stay on step!” (If you don’t know marching terminology, I’m sorry that you won’t find this really funny). Yet, I realize if I say any of this, everyone will look at me like ‘Huh?’

The first actual assignment I had to do for school was for my English class. I had to do a presentation on a “typical” American high school and afterschool activities. Most of the students were surprised that marching band isn’t considered a sport after I showed them a video of our show from last year. They kept asking me questions about football, cheerleaders, schedules, and surfing. They seemed surprised when I told them that my high school isn’t like the ones pictured in American movies and TV with the mean football players and such.

And I'm free, free fallin'

Yeah I'm free, free fallin'

Last time, I kind of glossed over the language. Well, not many people think of learning Hungarian, maybe because it only has 35 different noun cases, and isn’t close to any other language (well, other than Finnish, but even then).  Myself and the other exchange students in Szolnok have one language lesson a week, which is not enough. It doesn’t really help that our Hungarian teacher starts teaching is past tense conjugation, when we barely know the present tense conjugation. Yet, I’m learning more and more each day, mostly a lot of words. My host parents don’t speak any English, so they enjoy pointing at things and saying the Hungarian word for it until I repeat it after them perfectly. So, my pronunciation has become pretty good. Still, the 14 different vowels are really confusing.

All the vampires walkin' through the valley

Move west down Ventura Boulevard

And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows

All the good girls are home with broken hearts  

Whenever everyone else isn’t around, Apa (my host father) loves to try to feed me large amounts of food, especially for breakfast. Now, I’ve never really been much of a breakfast person, so this is way different than what I’m used to. His normal breakfast is about a third of loaf of bread with some sort of cream cheese spread with sliced sausage (at least I think its sausage). And the loaves of bread here are huge. I could get a loaf of bread and it would feed me for about a week. That’s how big they are, or I just don’t eat a lot.

Apa also makes this amazing spread that Ancsi, Láci and I eat almost every day. When watching him make it, I was a little unsure, but it is indescribably good. To make it takes a bag of feta cheese, half a container of sour cream, cumin, onion, and paprika (no real surprise there). It may sound nasty, but it’s so tasty.

I have been asked if a lot of people in America are overweight. Yes, in other countries, they really think that Americans eat fast food all the time. What I haven’t figured out is how Hungarians eat so much (and everything is fried) yet still stay so skinny? Then again, it might be because they actually exercise in their gym class. No one comes out of that class without sweating about two pounds of their body weight.

And I'm free, free fallin'

Yeah I'm free, free fallin'

Free fallin', now I'm a, free fallin',

now I'm a Free fallin', now I'm a, free fallin',

Each day here is slightly different, as I start school at a different time each day. On the plus side, I can successfully navigate the city bus system, and I’m getting really good at drawing maps. But I haven’t gotten lost again, well yet.  This coming weekend, the other exchange students in Szolnok and I get to discover how to work the train system in Hungary. That will be very entertaining. Much calamity will ensue.

I know I left this out last time, but I am taking flute lessons while in Hungary. I’m taking from the Bartok Béla Zeneiskola, or for those who don’t know Hungarian, Béla Bartok Music School. Now this isn’t the university in Budapest, but it’s pretty good. I have two lessons a week, and my teacher does expect me to practice (with a metronome).

I wanna glide down over Mulholland

I wanna write her name in the sky

Gonna free fall out into nothin'

Gonna leave this world for a while

Something different that I have noticed is the maps that are used here. It’s something that I hadn’t ever noticed before, but maps in the United States always depict North America in the center of the map. Here, Europe is normally in the center of the map. It’s the little things that really catch my attention. Things like differences in something as simple as a world map that make me think how big the world really is. I keep learning more and more about the world around me. The more I learn, the more I want to know. Looking back on the past four weeks, it seems that time has already gone by so fast. I just want to take every moment and live in it for all it’s worth.

And I'm free, free fallin'

Yeah I'm free, free fallin'

Lyrics from “Free Fallin’” as covered by The Almost, originally by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

October 25

I have, I have you breathing down my neck

Breathing down my neck

I don't, don't know what you could

Possibly expect under this condition

So I'll wait, I'll wait

For the ambulance to come, ambulance to come

Pick us up off the floor

What did you possibly expect

Under this condition, so slow down

This night's a perfect shade of

I’ve been really busy these past weeks, so this is later than I expected it to be. Adaption is hard, but it’s coming each and every day. School has gotten harder. It’s not that the teachers now expect me to learn in class, it’s that now I’m not the new person that every one wants to talk with. The other students are understanding of my very poor attempts at hungarian, but communication is difficult. I am trying so hard not to fall into the english trap.

 I still haven’t faced homesickness, and haven’t called home or skyped with my parents once. Although it hasn’t affected me, the other Rotary students at my school, have been having a hard time with homesickness. As the one that hasn’t faced it yet, they often come and talk to me about it.

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I'm here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I'm here with you, I said

The world could be burning

'Til there's nothing but dark blue

Just dark blue

At the beginning of this month, all the exchange students in Hungary took a trip to West Hungary and Venice. We had a ten hour bus ride, overnight, with about thirty exchange studnets, meaning that most people won’t get any sleep. We also learned that no coherent conversations occur at two in the moring.

 Once we arrived in Venice, Béla, the district chairman for Hungary, gave us the entire day to wander the city. I set out with two students from California, Frank and Katie. With Frank being the direction ninja he is, we wandered around the city for a good five hours, but were always able to make it back to St. Mark’s (our meeting place). Though it may sound boring, we found all of these amazing churches, and saw such amazing craftmanship and art in these buildings. We saw artwork that had been created well before the United States was even thought to exist. Me, being the music nut that I am, was really excited to find Vivaldi’s church in a little corner of Venice.

 Of course, we couldn’t go to Venice without having real italian food. We found this little pizza place, and each tried a different type of pizza. Now, when ordering pizza, it’s important to remeber that these pizzas are about ten inches in diameter, for one person. Katie decided to be adventurous and try the seafood pizza. It was a normal pizza, with crust and cheese, but topped with about three inches of shrimp and mussels.  We kept waiting for Sebastian to appear and start singing ”Under the Sea.”

 And this flood, this flood

Is slowly rising up, swallowing the ground

Beneath my feet, tell me

How anybody thinks under this condition

So, I'll swim, I'll swim

As the water rises up, sun is sinking down

And now all I can see are the planets in a row

Suggesting it's best that I slow down

This night's a perfect shade of

Ancsi is helping me learn so much when it comes to language. I can now conjugate some verbs, which means I can make coherent sentances, not just random strings of words. Still, most of my sentances don’t fully make sense because the sentance structure here is so different. Now, I always had trouble with the technicalities of English grammer, so trying to explain english grammer to someone learning english, as well as trying to learn Hungarian grammer just makes it that much harder. Still, we always make it fun.

 Possibly the funnest part of learning the languge is listening to cds of Disney songs, that have been dubbed in Hungarian. Almost every day, I watch a movie in Hungarian with English subtitles (if they are available, if not, I get to guess what’s going on). I am almost always listening to a Hungarian radio station, just to hear the language. Still, it is weird to be listening to the radio and hear songs from the Backstreet Boys come on.

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I'm here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue, dark blue

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I'm here with you, I said

The world could be burning dark blue

Someone, somewhere once said “The trouble with foreign languages is, you have to think before your speak.” This is definitly true as any exchange student will know by now. The hardest part about learning an increasingly complex language is having to think through everything I say, and figure out where the prepositions add on and what to change in the verb. A majority of the time, it’s far from perfect and my pronunciation can be downright horrendous (seeing as I am completely and utterly unable from rolling my r’s), but speaking the language is the only way I will get better.

I am beginning to slowly understand what’s going on around me. Well, most of the time. A majority of the hungarian I hear can be explained by “word I know, hungarian, hungarin, hungarian, word I know, more hungarian” Still, being able to understand to sentances on the bus home from school excited me.

 We were boxing, we were boxing the stars

We were boxing, you were swinging from Mars

And then the water reached the west coast

And took the power lines, the power lines

And it was me and you, and the whole town underwater

There was nothing we could do it was dark blue

 I finally tried the infamous palinka that Hungary is famous for. It’s hard to describe, but it might be something along the lines of firewhiskey (excuse my Harry Potter reference but it’s the closest comparason I can think of). The first taste is somewhat hard to get past, but after that it’s not too bad. It all depends on the flavor of the palinka. It’s a little strong for me though.Although, the burning sensation that follows the initial taste, is quite useful on a cold day in Hungary.

 I first tried palinka at a tradition called “disznovagyas” which literally translates to ’cutting the pig.’ For this tradition, my entire host family gathered at my host grandmother’s house in Jászkisér (look up spelling). Once there, the men of the family proceeded to cut and cook the pig and other such details. I stayed inside the house with my host mother and her sister, while the actual pig cutting part was going on. Láci and I also biked around the small village where they lived.

 After cutting the pig, part of the meat is cooked right away, while another part is used to make sausages, called hurka. Now, watching the sausage being made can be either fascinating or completely disgusting, possibly a mix of both.

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I'm here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I'm here with you, I said

The world could be burning

Now there's nothing but dark blue

If you've ever been alone

You'll know dark blue

If you've ever been alone

You'll know, you'll know

 Lyrics from "Dark Blue" by Jack’s Mannequin

November 19

Well, there's a time for feelin' as good as we can

The time is now and there's no stoppin' us

There's a time for livin' as high as we can

Behind us you will only see our dust

So we just keep smilin', move onward every day

Try to keep our thoughts away from home

We're trav'lin' all around, no time to settle down

And satisfy our wanderlust to roam

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three months since I arrived here. It feels like time has flown by. With the leaves changing colors, it almost seems that the world has come alive with colors. Yes I’ve seen trees with leaves that change colors in the fall, but it seems more vibrant, and more full of life here.

I cannot say how much I love my host family. I feel like such a part of my family. It’s almost impossible to explain how much I fit in here. Every week my host mother and I watch Megasztar and X-Faktor, which are kind of like American Idol, only much better. Even though she doesn’t speak any English, and I am still only speaking very basic level Hungarian, we manage to understand each other (it normally involves charades and pictures). My host father is currently having very much fun teaching me how to play ping-pong.  We play almost every week. Slowly, I’m getting better at aiming the ball, so it doesn’t go into the plants, but personally I’m convinced that the ball likes landing in the plants. It’s just my darn left-handedness, and terrible hand-eye coordination.

 You know we're havin' good days

And we hope they're gonna last

Our future still looks brighter than our past

We feel no need to worry, no reason to be sad

Our mem'ries remind us

Maybe road life's not so bad

 A few weekends ago, my host family and I went to Lake Balaton. When we got to their house, we proceeded to take a boat ride over to the other side of the very large lake. There, we walked to a fish festival where we ate, well, fish. It was kind of like a cultural festival. There were all of these people selling handmade goods out of booths. Possibly the coolest thing there was a display of traditional archery and sword fighting. How often is there an actual archery competition in a festival like that? It was completely amazing.

Well, it’s getting very cold here. I’m expecting it to snow soon. My host family says it’s going to be the coldest winter that they’ve had in a few years. My classmates are always surprised that I’m already cold and it’s only November.  Some mornings, I look out of the window of the room I share with Ancsi and see the frost over their backyard. I can’t help but think that my 15 walk to the bus stop won’t be fun in December and January.

Well, from sea to shining sea and a hundred points between

Still we go on digging every show

The cities in the land all extend a welcome hand

Till the morning when it's time for us to go

 The other day, my host brother asked a question in Hungarian, and was completely surprised when I answered him. The funny thing was, I didn’t even have to think about what he asked, his question just made sense. It wasn’t like he was speaking another language at all. There are times where I’ll forget something about English that should seem natural. I’m getting so used to hearing something other than English. Still, my pronunciation and actual speaking can be downright terrible at times. I am completely incapable of rolling my r’s, and differentiating because the pronunciation of vowels (because they have 14 here). I just have to remind myself that the secret of accomplishing anything is baby steps. There are very few things that have accomplished overnight.

 Well, you know we're having good days

And we hope they're going to last

Our future still looks brighter than our past

Feel no need to worry, no reason to be sad

Our mem'ries remind us

Maybe road life's not so bad

To the students who are waiting for a response from Rotary, my one piece of advice is that Rotary knows what they are doing. For those of you that are accepted, prepare for the next three years of your life to be one long adventure. Expect the work and don’t wait until the last minute to do anything. If Rotary says to do something, just do it. It will help. And for those of you who don’t get what you believe is your ‘dream’ country, keep your mind open. Honestly, when I first learned that I would be going to Hungary, I was happy, but apprehensive. Yet, after learning more about the country, and especially after being here, I have fallen in love with this country, with the people, and with the language. I feel like there’s not really another place that I would rather be, than right here, in Szolnok Hungary. True it’s a little town, with no more than 70,000 people, but for me, it’s truly become home. Köszönöm szepen Rotary!

Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Maybe road life's not so bad

Road life's not so bad, oh yeah, yeah

Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Lyrics from “Making Memories” by Rush

December 29

Slow down you crazy child

You’re so ambitious for a juvenile

If you’re so smart, then tell me why you’re still so afraid?

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

 It’s so hard to believe that it’s been three months since I came to Hungary. The time seems to go by so quickly. It’s snowing here now. Still, everyone tells me that it’s a warmer year than usual. Despite this affirmation, I still attest that it’s really cold. This constant statement always seems to make my host family laugh. Anya and Ancsi refuse to let me leave the house until they are sure I am wearing at least two sweaters underneath my coat, gloves, a hat and scarf, and my boots.

On December 6th is a celebration in schools and families all across Hungary. All the students bring packages of chocolates to school and exchange them with other students in the class. Sometimes, like in my class, one student dresses up as St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, and hands out the packages of chocolate. All in all, it was so much fun. I felt like my class accepted me as one of them, instead of simply an exchange student only there for the year.

 And you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 My host family in Szolnok insisted that we celebrate Thanksgiving. Ansci and Laci were quite excited about Anya not making them go to school that day. So, on November 25, Anya, Nagymama (Anya’s mother) and I were shoved into the small kitchen cooking for the day. It was entertaining, difficult, and really fun. Somehow, Apa even managed to find a turkey, which are really hard to find in Eastern Europe.

There was some improvising on the recipes, as cream of mushroom soup, boxed stuffing, pecans, and sweet potatoes are virtually impossible to find in a Szolnok grocery store. Still, everything came out edible, despite partially making up the pumpkin pie as I went. My host family said that they wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving every year.

Slow down, you’re doin’ fine

You can be everything you want to be before you time

Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

Too bad but it’s the life you lead

You’re so ahead of yourself that you’ve forgot what you need

Though you can see when you’re wrong, you can’t always see when you’re right

 Earlier this month, all of the Rotary students in Hungary took a trip to Vienna, also known as Bécs in Magyarorság. It was so much fun. Myself and one of the other students wandered through the museum district and the Christmas market. We found a really interesting museum, with free admission, that had exhibits on ancient musical instruments, medieval arms and armor, and Ephesians architecture.

One of the highlights of the trip was finding Milka Land. See, Milka is the brand for this completely amazing chocolate that is found in Europe.  They were giving away large amounts free chocolate and everything. It was so much fun. To say the least, almost all of the exchange students made a stop there. It was right by the Christmas Market, so it was relatively easy to find.  The Christmas Market in Vienna is in one word, chaotic. There were so many people there; all fighting to reach their destination, which were normally the food vendors. It was, in short, completely amazing.

 You got your passion, you got your pride

But don’t you only know that fools are satisfied

Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 On December 18, my school had the Szálágáváto for the students of the 12th class. Each class performs two dances, one of which is a waltz; the other is usually Latin or rock. Taking part in this occasion was an experience I will always remember. For the waltz, the girls wear these large white dresses that we literally had to be tied into. There is nothing else like this experience. For all of the members of the 12th class and their families, it is the moment that they have been waiting for.

Slow down you crazy child,

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while

It’s alright; you can afford to lose a day or two

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 I no longer seem to think of my host family as my ‘host’ family. They have really become my family here. Any time I think of them, I don’t think of them as simply a family I am staying with. I think of Ansci and Láci as a brother and sister, and Anya and Apa as a mother and father to me. It’s these relationships that are formed that RYE is all about. It’s one of those things that is extremely hard to explain, like that feeling of having a whole conversation in your new language with a stranger. I think that any other exchange student might understand easily. It’s that feeling that you’ve accomplished something so difficult, something so extraordinary. I’m thankful for each and every day here. It’s hard to say that there’s a place that I would rather be.  

 And you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through

Why don’t you realize, Vienna waits for you

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 Lyrics from “Vienna” by Billy Joel

February 8

I’m a suspect, I’m a traitor,

I’m only here in body visiting

Yellow faces, in the distance scream

The beauty is in what isn’t said

I’m rising to my feet

Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me!

 Christmas and New Year’s weren’t as hard as I thought that they would be. Christmas here is a small family celebration on the 24th, then a large family gathering on the 25th. For Christmas day, we went to Jaskisher, and spent the day at my host grandparents’ house. We spent the whole day talking, playing games, and eating (of course).

 Our New Year’s Celebration was fairly small, mainly because Apa was sick. We spent New Year’s Eve and day at Lake Balaton. Although I didn’t go to any big parties, we still had plenty of fun. The coolest thing that we did was walk on the surface of the lake. It was completely frozen over. People were out skating on it, sledding, and other fun wintery activities.

 The language is getting easier as time progresses. I’m still not where I would like to be, but am progressing every day. As of now, I can understand and write fairly well, it’s the speaking that is the hardest. I try to hear the language as much as possible, whether it’s music, movies, the news, or just people speaking on the street.

 My just so, my last call

My life is yours, in your gifted hands

Confetti rainfall, in the quiet street

These things I’ve found are special now

The knot is in my reach

Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me!

 I think I’m beginning to think of myself as Hungarian. I no longer consider it cold when it’s above 3 degrees Celsius (about 37 F.) I am now accustomed to eating soup at every meal and slurping it with pride. Possibly one of the most interesting changes was when asked a question about New Year’s Eve in the States by Ancsi. In my answer, instead of saying “we”, I said “they”. The funny thing was that I didn’t even realize I had done that until she pointed it out.

 People here are very proud of their country. It’s a type of pride that stretches beyond the current boarders, to where the boarders of the country used to be. There are so many people who consider themselves Hungarians who do not actually live in the country, but in areas that used to be part of the country before the First World War. The longer I am here, the more I understand, and the more I realize I have so much still to learn.

 Movie Screens, Photographs

Through another’s eyes I can see

I’ve seen the best of love, the best of hate

The best reward is earned and I’ve paid

For every single word, I’ve ever said

 Change is inevitable. Winter to spring, day to night, year to year. With each passing tick of the second hand, things change, ideas change, people change. I’ve come to realize that change is one of the few inflexible constants in this world. That may sound contradictory of the word’s meaning, saying that change is constant, but it’s something I’ve learned in this experience. Nothing is ever the same. Everything changes over time. It is something inevitable and unalterable, a fact of nature. Nothing ever stays the same, not even the things that we believe to be the most constant.

 I’ve realized this over the course of this experience that change is not something that we can fight. Rather, it is something that we must learn to accept and embrace willingly. It’s about adapting to the bumps along the road, not gripe about the perfect trip we could have had. After all, it’s those bumps that become the adventures that make everything all worth it.

 Confetti rainfall, in the quiet street

The beauty is in what you make it

So get up on your feet

 Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

 Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me.

 Lyrics from “Chase this Light” by Jimmy Eat World

March 7

From today all the days are only half as long

Nothing left to love about

Yesterday’s one million years ago

The day before already went down

Time’s been replaced by a countdown

The sun is shining in the night

So here are the words, just think twice

Wake me up cause time is running out

It’s running out

 On this side of the new year, everything seems to move much faster. Having had to decide the date for the return flight finally made me realize that the end is coming. I never realized how much I consider this place home. I can’t even think of driving again now that I’ve gotten used to taking busses everywhere. I can’t really imagine how I can go back to living in Florida without comparing to something here. It’s the little things that never cease to amaze me, like the fact that it’s almost March and it’s still snowing. Still, I find that I miss the constant sunshine of Florida.  

Live every Second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Before it’s too late

On the 4th we had a presentation in front of the new outbounds from Hungary in Budapest. Like typical exchange students, we waited until the last minute to prepare anything. Still, it somehow managed to all come together in time. Us Americans were up in front of the new outbounds talking in Hungarian with our faces painted, and then dancing the Cha-Cha Slide with them. Well, they watched us dance the Cha-Cha Slide.  

Ancsi will be an exchange student in Ecuador next year. It’s so different seeing another going through the process now that I’ve been through it myself. I feel I’ve grown so much through this experience. I feel so much older and mature. I feel like I’ve become more confident of myself and my abilities.

 From today your life is just a TV show

You can even get a planet for free

The whole galaxy is chilling out

And time is all you can see

Don’t thank us now is all that counts

Remember that before you forget

So here are the words, just think twice

Wake me up because time is running out

It’s running out

In the last week of February, Ancsi and I went to the Táncház at the cultural center in our part of the city. This is a whole night of traditional Hungarian dancing and music. It’s a celebration that lasts well into the morning. Ancsi spent years learning Hungarian folk dance, so she is really good. She taught me some of the easier steps. The thing about folk dance in Hungary is that the music starts out at a reasonable pace, and then gradually speeds up until it becomes impossible to dance. It was still so much fun for everyone.

 At the end of the winter is a celebration called Farsang, where everyone dresses up in costumes to celebrate the end of the winter. My Rotary club had a Farsang party in Szolnok for its members and the exchange students. It was great seeing everyone again after not being able to see each other for over two months. The one thing about exchange students is that no matter how long it is before we see each other again, it only seems like it’s been a few days. Ancsi and I went to the party in traditional Hungarian clothing, which is completely different from anything I am used to.

 Live every Second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Wake up, wake up, wake up

It’s over now

Wake up

 There are highs and lows in any experience, and that’s to be expected. Yet nothing can ever really prepare for when the hard times come, not even everything Rotary tells us. No, I’m still not homesick, but I’ve helped the other students in Szolnok through their homesickness periods. Nonetheless, after six months, things have started to fall into a routine here.

 Because of this routine, I want to challenge myself and the other outbounds to change things up. Go out of your way to do something you normally wouldn’t do. This could be as simple as sitting in a different spot at lunch, talking to someone new, or going home a different way.

 As for the new outbounds, I suggest that you start learning your languages now. Yes, I know, I procrastinated, just as you are likely doing now. Yet the best part of the exchange comes only when you’ve gained some degree of fluency in the language. I still have some trouble speaking, but am able to understand pretty much anything that is said. The other day I actually had a dream in Hungarian and was able to remember what happened. Time is short. I only have four months left in this amazing country called Hungary. I’ve learned so much in such a short time, and don’t want this adventure to end. So far, this has been the best seven months of my life. Thank you Rotary!

 Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Before it’s too late

Before it’s too late

Stop it now

 Lyrics from “Live Every Second” by Tokio Hotel

 April 30

"Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up"

Well it’s been eight months. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed. It seems like just the other day I was meeting my host family for the first time. I still remember my first Rotary meeting and the first day at my school. So much has happened since then. All of the Rotex said how fast the year would go, and now I know what they mean.

Living in Hungary for a year has changed my life. I know that sounds so cliché, but it’s completely true. I easily remember when I was choosing my preferred countries as part of the application. Not once did I ever think that making a little check mark in the box next to Hungary would make such a difference. I’ve never regretted my decision to come here.

"Here we lay again, on two separate beds

Riding phone lines to be that familiar voice

And pictures drawn from memories

We reflect on miscommunications and misunderstandings

And missing each other too; much too much to let this go

We turn our music down and we whisper

Say what you’re thinking right now"

From the 15th to the 17th, all of the Rotary students took a trip to Poland. There is nothing like a bus trip with Rotary students. Possibly the most important lesson I have learned on these trips is how to fully function for an entire weekend on only about 6 hours of sleep. The other is how to sleep comfortably on a bus, but that’s beside the point.

Krakow is an amazing city. We reached Krakow late Friday night and left mid-morning on Sunday. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was visiting Auschwitz. It’s one thing to simply read about the Holocaust or to learn about it in history class. It’s another thing to actually be where everything took place. There are things that happened there that are impossible for time to erase. Its experiences like this that can really change a person. If everyone in the world takes the time to visit places like this, then there is definitely a possibility that there will be no more wars.

"Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up"

It’s weird when I dream at night. I swear that this tangent actually has a point so stick with me. Before I left, I used to never dream, or I would never remember my dreams. So, when I actually remember my dreams here it seems really weird. It gets even weirder when I realize that sometimes these dreams are in Hungarian.

I remember the first time I realized I was dreaming in Hungarian. It was one of those epiphanies that only happen every so often. It was one of those moments that is like “Holy crap, I’m dreaming in another language.” It made me feel like I finally know the language, not just phrases and words.

"Jumping to conclusion made me fall away from you

I’m so glad that the truth has brought together me and you

We’re sitting on the ground and we whisper

Say what you’re thinking out loud"

I feel like I’m running from time. Just this month, I’ve already given my presentation to my Rotary Club about Florida and have ‘graduated’ with my class at the end of this month. Time seems to be speeding by. I can’t believe there’s only two months left. I feel like I’ve been here so long, but also that I haven’t been here long enough. I know for certain that I want to come back here.

I’ve fallen in love with Hungary. I love everything about this country. I love the rich cultural traditions and the uniqueness of the language. For me, there can be no place quite like this. The small city of Szolnok has truly become my home. Although it’s small and may seem boring, for me, there’s no place quite like it in the world.

"Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up"

I think that everyone, at some point in their life wants to be a hero. One of the defining moment of any hero, be it fictional or real, is the moment of leaving. It’s that moment where the hero steps out of everything that he or she has known and leaves everything behind. Every single one of us outbounds has done that, and every new outbound is preparing to take that step.

In our own right, I think that every one of us is a hero. For facing everything we have, new families, new languages, new friends, new schools, we’ve come out successful. That step is the hardest one to take, to make that decision that will change your entire life in a moment. I know that taking that step changed my life. I’ve become more confident and more aware of the world as a whole. I’ve learned to carry myself differently, as a person of the world and not just an American or a Hungarian.

"Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up

We’re not ready to give up"

Lyrics from “The Best of Me” from The Starting Line

May 30

I  am born. I am me. I am new. I am free

Look at me, I am young. Sight unseen, life unsung

My eyes have just been opened and they’re opened very wide

Images around me don’t identify inside

Just one blur I recognize, the one that soothes and feeds

My way of life is easy and as simple as my needs

Ten months sounds like a long time before you leave. Now it seems not to be long enough. In just one more month, I will be leaving everything here behind me and heading off on another adventure.  It feels like I’ve been so long since I stepped on a plane and left for the greatest year of my life. Now, it seems strange that I only have 19 days left in the place I now call home. It’s hard to grasp that I’ll actually be leaving so soon. I’m not sure if I should be excited, nervous, worried, or anxious. Part of me is looking forward to moving on with my life, but another part of me will miss the person I became in Hungary and the people I met.

And yet my eyes are drawn toward the mountain in the east

It fascinates and captivates and gives my heart no peace

The mountain holds a sunrise in the prison of the night

Till’ bursting forth from rocky chains, the valley floods with light

Living one long sunrise for to me to all things are new

I never watched the sky grow pale or strolled through fields of dew

I do not live from dust to dust; I live from breath to breath

I live to climb that mountain to the fountain of Lamneth

I’ve just gotten back from the first Eurotour that the Hungarian exchange students go on. Yes, we have two different Eurotours. Anyone who’s been on Eurotour knows that 16 exchange students on a long bus trip across Southern Europe will be chaotic at the least. Not everyone went on the first Eurotour. There were only 16 out of the 30 students in Hungary on the trip. Over half of those were Brazilians, which meant that the trip was anything but boring.

This was the trip around Southern Europe. We traveled to ten cities in six different countries. These were Postojna, Slovenia; Trieste, Florence, Rome, and Pisa, Italy; Nice and Cannes, France; Luzern, Switzerland; Innsruck and Graz, Austria; and Zagreb, Croatia. The two most memorable moments for the whole trip were visiting the Vatican City in Rome and sailing on the Mediterranean on the first day of the Cannes Film Festival.

Whiteness of confusion is unfolding from my mind

I stare around in wonder. Have I left my life behind?

I catch a scent of ambergris and turn my head surprised

My gaze is caught and held and I am helpless, mesmerized

Panacea, liquid grace, Let me touch your fragile face.

Enchantment falls around me and I know I cannot leave.

Before I left, I thought that the hardest part would be surviving the first four months and adaption. I thought that homesickness would be the worst thing I could possibly escape. (Just for the record, I still haven’t been homesick. Crazy, right?) Now I know that I was wrong. Leaving to live in another country for 10 months seems almost easy compared to the thought of leaving the place I now call home. I love Hungary and I cannot think life in another place.  I’ve become someone else here. I’ve transformed into someone more confident and mature.

Another endless day, silhouettes of grey

Another glass of wine, drink with eyes that shine

To days without that chill at morning, long nights, time out of mind

Another foggy dawn, the mountain almost gone

Another doubtful fear, the road is not so clear

My soul is ever weary, and the end is ever near

Draw another goblet from the cask of 43

Here’s a misty memory, hazy glimpse of me

Give me back my wonder; I’ve something more to give

I guess it doesn’t matter, there’s not much more to live

Everything has a moment. I’ve learned that a key part of happiness on exchange is living in that moment. It’s not about dwelling in the past or thinking about what might have been. It’s about taking a single moment and seizing it before it slips away. None of us live forever. Each day is simply another gift that we need to make the most of. Each moment in time is unique. We can never be at the same place again. Sure, we can physically be in the same place, but not emotionally or even with the same people, but it will never be the same. There are no do-over’s in life, just one shot to make something last as long as it can.

Look the mist is rising and the sun is peeking through

See the steps grow lighter as I reach the final few

Hear the dancing waters, I must be drawing near

Feel my heart is pounding, with embattled doubt and fear

Now at last I fall before the fountain of Lamneth

I thought that I’d be singing, but I’m tired, out of breath

Many journeys end here, but in the end it’s all the same

Life is just a candle, and the dream must give it flame

I’ve learned that I don’t need to protect myself quite so much. I’ve learned that there may not be a thing like tomorrow. I’ve learned that every beginning is an end and that every end is a beginning. I’ve learned that to gain something valuable, we must be prepared to lose everything we value. I’ve learned that life isn’t easy, but if it was, it wouldn’t be half the enjoyable challenge that it is.  But most of all, I’ve learned that I’m not always right. I’ve learned that I’m only human, and that I’m allowed to make mistakes. After all, that’s what being human is.

The key, the end, the answer trapped in their disguise

Still it’s all confusion and tears spring to my eyes

Though I‘ve reached the signpost, it’s really not the end

Life goes on beyond the mountain; I’ll be coming up again

I’m in motion, I am still. I am crying. I am still

I’m together, I’m apart. I’m forever, at the start.

Still I am.

Selected lyrics from “The Fountain of Lamneth” by Rush