Carleigh McFarlane
2010-11 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Budapest-Sasad Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Carleigh's Bio

Jó napot!

I’m Carleigh, a typical 15-year-old sophomore, who happens to be heading to Hungary for a year. That’s right HUNGARY! Of all the countries available, I knew that I wanted a challenge, and to learn a language that not many people knew of. After all, my main goal is to inform people about the world, our mind-boggling world. That includes the places (aka - Hungary) that aren’t as commercialized, or “popular” as others.

I would describe myself as a spunky, bubbly, 10th grader looking for an adventure. I’m determined, responsible, and I have big dreams. I know that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything.

Right now, I attend Pompano Beach High School. I’m a member of the Key Club, Interact Club, Sophomore Class (Student Government) and Debate club. I’m the secretary of both the Culinary Arts club, and Drama club. In the time that’s left, I’m a varsity cheerleader. Along with the massive amount of homework I’m given, it’s safe to say I’m a busy girl. To be completely honest, when I first heard of the exchange, I saw it as a vacation, an excuse to get out of my hectic study schedule, and have some fun. Through my research, and already strenuous efforts, I’ve realized it’s not a vacation, but an opportunity that has been presented to me, better than any escape. The more I learned about the Rotary program, the country I’ll be going to, and the language I’ll be speaking, the more excited I get. I realize that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I plan to experience it, to its greatest extent.

As I said before I’m 15, and will be 16 at the end of July. I live in Coral Springs, FL with my mom, dad, brother and sister. We’re a pretty athletic family, and my siblings and I love jump on our trampoline, and go in the pool together. My brother and sister are 12 year-old twins. Most of the time, they’re the average annoying kids, either stealing my clothes or making revolting noises in public. Despite the fact, I don’t know how I’m going to live without them. My family and I are really close, so homesickness is one of the most scary parts of this exchange for me. I guess that’s just another thing to conquer while on my exchange.

I’ve lived in Coral Springs practically my whole life. Don’t get me wrong, I love this place, but I’m always looking for a new adventure. As a matter of fact, I wear a bracelet everyday that has the word ADVENTURE inscribed in it. I’m always up to trying something new, and I know this exchange has a lot of that in store for me.

I haven’t attended orientation yet, and I’ve never been outside of the US. I don’t know what to expect, and the idea of leaving for a year, makes my heart beat faster in both a thrilled and intimidating way. Through all my doubts, I know hat I’m determined, and ready for whatever is thrown at me. I’m beyond eager for this trip, and I’m starting to grasp the concept, and see the reasons to how it will change me forever.

As my journey begins, I want to start by saying thank-you. My friends and family are the greatest support system, and as I said before, I don’t know what I’m going to do with out them. Also, I’d like to thank Rotary for this trip of a lifetime, and opportunity like no other.

Carleigh's Journals

August 24

Szia from Hungary!

 So I’ve only been here for 3 days and I’ve already done so much! I figured if there was any time to write my first journal, it would be now.

 I left from Ft. Lauderdale airport Saturday morning, and headed to JFK in New York. My layover wasn’t long, and my first flight came in early so I was in good shape. I then took the Air-tram, (little did I know, that would only be the very beginning of my public transport adventure) and made my way to the International terminal. I have to say, I was utterly amazed. It was the first time that I truly felt like an exchange student. All around me people stood waiting in the security line speaking everything for French to Chinese, and checking into their flights with Korean Air and Japan Airways. It was one of the most memorable and exciting parts of my exchange so far.  I made it to my gate and quickly boarded my first ever, overnight flight to Frankfurt. I luckily got a window seat, and a neighbor that spoke both English and German. The flight attendants couldn’t understand me very well, but she was able to help translate everything. When I arrived in Frankfurt is was 1:00 am for me, but I still wasn’t tired, plus it was sunny outside which must have confused my body into thinking it was morning. The flight from Frankfurt to Budapest was very short, and I learned a lot from the elderly woman who sat beside me. She gave me a lot of confidence, and told me exactly what I had to say to my family when I met them, in order to be polite and proper.

 As soon as I landed in Budapest, I went directly to baggage claim. By that point, I was beyond excited, and couldn’t wait to meet my family. One of my suitcases got lost so I had to fill out papers, and then go through customs. As soon at I stepped into the waiting area, I saw a beautifully colorful sign that had my name on it, being held by three people. My host mom ran up and gave me a huge hug, and then my younger host sister did the same. My host dad gave me a kiss on each cheek, before my older host sister, Lilla, who was on exchange last year in Florida, came running out of nowhere and gave me the largest hug of all.

We all got into the car, and headed home. The airport is pretty close to our house so it only took 15 minutes. As we pulled into the drive way, I looked up at the home in awe. It looked like a miniature version of a European castle to me, possibly because it was surrounded by a tall stone wall and a gate with dazzling purple flowers. Once we got inside my host sisters gave me a tour of the house which is beautiful! My room is yellow, and I even have a skylight! Like most Hungarian homes, there is only one full bathroom… and it’s enormous! It even has its own sauna, which I’m told comes in handy in the winter.

 Here, lunch is the family’s big meal, similar to dinner in America. For my arrival, my host mom made bableves (bob-lay-vash), or bean soup, then a delicious noodle casserole. After we finished with that, they surprised me with a yogurt cake, which may sound gross, but it was awesome! It almost tasted like cheese cake from home. The food here is plentiful and very good. Needless to say, my first word learned here was “Finom”, or “yummy.” Now my host mom makes fun of me for saying it so much, haha.

 After lunch, we got on our bathing suits to go in the pool. I felt the water with my hand, and realized just how warm my pool at home truly was. My biological clock was starting to catch up with me, so I decided to just put my feet in, and then head upstairs for a nap. About 4 hours later, I woke up, and was invited to go to the barn to watch my younger host sister, Viràg, go horseback riding. We biked there, which was beautiful, physically tiring and insanely bumpy all at the same time. Never the less, we made it on time without fail. When we arrived, I was asked if I would like to have a lesson. Of course I said “IGEN!” Everyone at the barn knew different words in English and they all worked together to help me understand what the instructor was telling me. After my lesson Virag gave me a tour of the barn. They have chickens, roosters, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, a goat, a pony, and a cute little dog named Cici. All of which Viràg helps to take care of every afternoon.

 We went home, and I got to Skype with my parents. I already missed them so much, and had to tell them all about my day. Without a doubt, homesickness hit me dead on after I hung up with my mom, and it took me awhile to fall to asleep.

 The next day I woke up late due to jetlag, and my host family completely understood.  Lilla and I decided to go into the city to buy a converter for me, and some postcards as well. We walked down to the bus stop and got on, luckily seats were available and we were able to sit. The ride took about 20 minutes, but it felt like 20 seconds, while I was admiring all of the little shops on our way. When we arrived in the city, we got off and went strait into the mall, which it HUGE! We bought my converter, and then stopped to have gelato… FINOM!

 From the mall, we took the metro to the center of Budapest, where I would be able to find postcards. When we arrived, I didn’t know what to expect, but it exceeded all of the thoughts, pictures and a dreams I had had of the city. The architecture was just picturesque, and all the people were so kind and happy. Other then some nasty blisters, from my shoes our walk around that part of Budapest was one of the happiest times of my life. My host sister surprised me by taking me to see the Danube, which cuts Budapest in half (into Buda and Pest.) We saw the first bridge of Hungary, the Parliament building, and the Buda castle, all of which were remarkable!

 The day had flown by so fast, that we didn’t realize that it was late, and we should head home. When we got home Virag had already left for the barn again, so I started to write some postcards, and study a bit of Hungarian.

Lilla and I had left-over soup for dinner and we Skyped with a few of the other inbounds to Florida that we both knew from last year.

Homesickness seems to hit me at night when I don’t get to say “good night” to my parents and my brother and sister, but I know that that awful feeling should soon pass, or I’m hoping at least.

 This morning Lilla and I awoke early to go into our school, to set up my schedule. Everyone was very nice, and I learned just how important the formal way of speaking is, when Hungarians attend school.

 Well, we’re home now and are going to have lunch soon. Yes, there have been some downs, but the ups of this exchange have already fulfilled me with a loads of memories, experience, and love for this remarkable country.

October 17

It’s hard to fathom it, but I’ve been here for almost two entire months! I remember reading everyone’s second journal and getting annoyed because everyone kept repeating, “I’ve done so much!” and well, I can’t believe I’m saying this… I’ve done so freaking much!

So… the first two weeks I was here, was our last two weeks of summer vacation. It was basically a time for me to get comfortable and anticipate all the things to come. My host family took me to a bunch of the famous sites in Budapest, and they had fun seeing all of my foreign reactions to things like the metro and European gelato. Some of the sites that I enjoyed the most were the tourist district, the parliament building, the chain bridge, and the highest point in Budapest.

Those first two weeks weren’t all fun and games though. I tried with all of my might not to contact my parents, but the whole “no talking to you parents for a month”-thing, wasn’t for me. The language also stunned me. I consider myself a fast learner, and I expected to start picking up the language immediately. I was surprised at how much effort was needed to pay attention and try to decipher every word you hear. Hungarian, is obviously not a very common language and the words are very different from ours and, well… things seemed to go in one ear and come out the other.

Next was school. My first day was, well, weird. In Hungary, the first day of school in called “Opening day.” My host sister and I arrived around 9:00 after an hour long commute along the train, metro, and bus system. When we arrived, everyone was in uniform (of which I didn’t have) and looked very fashionable. Almost every girl was wearing high-heels! I though back to my school in Florida where it was cool to show up in sweat-pants and a t-shirt. My host sister walked me to my classroom where I was introduced to one of my classmates who spoke English. Her name is Kriszti and she was born in the US, so her English is great. We became fast friends and she helped me to translate my schedule. Opening day was on a Wednesday, so we only had two days of the week left before the weekend once again. Thursday and Friday were interesting, because I realized that in Hungarian schools, your schedule changes everyday. I had fun following everyone around, and trying to explain to the teachers who I was and why I was here.

It wasn’t until the second week of school that I really started to love it. It was explained to me that my class took 16 English classes per week during their freshman year, and most of them could speak it fluently. When I asked why they didn’t tell me that earlier, they said that they were embarrassed because they didn’t want to mess up or not understand me. In the end, their English is great, plus I think they know more English slang then me, haha. It works out well, because I can help them with English and they can help me with Hungarian. My classmates are all really interesting, cool, and fun. All in all I love school here, well everything except for our English teacher, ironically. She teaches British English and we don’t seem to agree on a lot of things, haha…

That following weekend, was our first Inbound Orientation. There are 35 inbounds to Hungary this year. Everyone is really awesome, and we all became close friends immediately. Our weekend consisted of lectures, excursions, and insane continental breakfasts. We got to exchange pins, which was super exciting, and talk about all of our excursions to come. The Hungarian Rotary Youth Exchange program is known for its trips. We’ve already been to Venice and are planning on going to Vienna, Poland, and on two separate Euro tours, which is insanely exciting!

At orientation, I got meet the other kids living in Budapest. They seemed really cool, and we got along great together. To make a long story short, we see each other almost everyday. We have our real families at home in America, our host families living here in Budapest, and our third family, each other. We help each other through hard times, laugh together until we cry, and have been able to explore this magical city as a family. There’s Collin from Alaska, Sofia from New York State, and Samantha from New York as well. Collin and I like to go running around the Buda Castle, and along the nature routes on Margret Island. Sofia, Sam and I are great shopping Buddies and love the laugh at Collin… good times.

A few weeks into my exchange I began to have some problems with my host family. It was anything super serious, but I obviously wasn’t happy. Thank goodness Rotary Youth Exchange was smart enough to set us up with a counselor and a YEO. I told my counselor about the issues I’d been having and he got right to work. I emailed him on a Thursday evening, and he invited me to stay with his family that following weekend. He has a gorgeous wife and two kids, Kriszti who is 12, and Mate who is 10. They live in a flat in the center of Budapest, literally a 5 minute walk from the chain bridge. That weekend, we went to the zoo, played games, and I basically had one of the best weekends since I had arrived. Again to make a long story short, I now live with them. I love coming home every night to such a warm and friendly place. I have fun playing games with my host siblings, who by the way are the BEST Hungarian teachers. They always make sure that I have everything that I need, and this family has only made me love this place even more.

I love how independent I am here. I am fully capable of working the Budapest public transportation system. I know where everything is, and decide what I want to do with my time everyday. Being here has made me appreciate so much. I am utterly thankful for the amazing support system that I have at home, and the growing one I have here. I’ve discovered how truly universal the English language is, and I now realize how much it has put me ahead in life. Our ability to learn and grow closer to the people around us has made me realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful people. This amazing opportunity and fact that Rotary International has fostered such a truly inspirational program still has me in awe. Thanks Rotary… I don’t know what I would have done without you!

November 23

Seriously, where has the time gone? It feels like I just got here when actually I’ve been here, residing in the historical capital of Hungary for just over three months. Still, at times it feels like I’ve been here forever, like when I give tourists directions, and pick up my host siblings from school.

Now that things are starting to become more “normal”, if I dare to call it that, the weeks seem to pass by even more quickly. As my host parents would say, I’m involved with many “programs” or in other terms, I’ve become very busy. On Mondays I have swimming, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I have Hungarian lessons, on Thursdays I also have piano, on Wednesdays and Fridays I go to Capoeira ( a Brazilian Martial-arts dance class… ironic, I know) and on Fridays I also have Art class. Keeping busy has really helped me to get through the hard times and I’m really enjoying all of the activities. I’ve made tons of friends and I’m learning a lot of new things.

The Language. Hungarian. My mission. Learn it.

Let’s just say, that’s A LOT easier said then done. Now that I have lessons, the awful Month 2 language plateau is over. I’m back on my way up the mountain, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems to get brighter everyday. I understand a lot now, which excites me. When my friends talk, it’s a little harder because they have a lot slang words, but I’m beginning to understand my teachers and many adults as well. My host family is really eager to learn English, so I constantly have to ask them to speak to me in Hungarian. I can understand them for the most part and its fun the surprise my host dad with, “Igen, értem ! ... you don’t have to repeat yourself in English, I CAN understand you! haha” They are often impressed, always give me a lot of encouragement and constantly tell me how clever I am.

I also feel like I’m becoming closer with my host family. I’ve been with them for about two months now, and I’ve grown quite fond of them. My host siblings are crazy, adorable, annoying, and cute… just as any siblings are. They are both super excited for Christmas which is a huge deal here. Most Hungarian holidays celebrate the remembrance of sad historical events and are normally times of grief instead of celebration. But Christmas, is truly their one holiday to be excited about. There is an enormous Christmas bizarre that we will be visiting this weekend, and my host sister is putting together a show for us to perform on Christmas Eve. I have to read a poem in Hungarian and play a role in the skit, hehe.

My host mom is always happy and constantly coming up with “programs” for the family to partake in. My host dad can be very strict and highly critical but is also one of the most caring, responsible men I’ve ever met. I know that they are only watching out for my safety and health (They could, of course, put their judgments in less aggressive terms) but I have to remember all that they’ve done for me. This family took me in after two days of consideration. They didn’t have room, but made more then enough for me. They weren’t supposed to be a host family, but they took me in when I was in need. They call me their child, and introduce me as their daughter. I couldn’t be more grateful.

That reminds me! This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving! At home, it is my absolute favorite holiday. I was surprised to find out that it was in fact this week. Without Turkeys and American footballs all over the stores, it had skipped my mind. At first when I thought about not spending Thanksgiving with my family, I got really sad and homesick, but instead of focusing on how I wouldn’t spend it with them, I began to focus on the amazing family I would be celebrating it with. We’ve planned for all of the Budapest exchange students to come over Thursday morning to start the cooking, not that I think we’ll find a Turkey, but chicken is close enough. The Macy’s Day Parade starts at 3:00 pm our time, and I found a website that broadcasts it live. The feast will begin when my host family gets home, and we’ve planned a short skit to explain the meaning of thanksgiving. One of my close friends from school will also be coming over. All in all, I will have all of the people I care about most, and am most thankful for to celebrate with.

When Rotary said that culture shock would be hard, I thought of it as “Oh, yea… I can do it. It’s not going to be hard, I’m just going to study Hungarian when I get bored, or homesick. And if I get frustrated I won’t just sit on my computer, I’ll go and talk with Hungarian people.”… Can you say naïve, confident, oblivious! Culture shock is a lot more personal then I expected. It messes with your head, your emotions, and has even affected me physically. I’ve had to question my beliefs, my morals and have had to stand up for them and my country on more then one occasion. Honestly when Rotary said that this experience is like a roller coaster, that couldn’t be more on point. The new name for the The Hulk should be Culture Shock (it even sounds intimidating) Everyday alone, is a rollercoaster. I’ve made a small diagram to explain.

Yea, that’s pretty much how it works, haha.

Riding public transportation is great. It’s as if the government gave every teenager their own car here, with limitations and curfews of course. My friends and I are able to go anywhere we like, at any time. I never have to ask for a ride, and have become really independent. The city is absolutely beautiful, and we discover new cafes, short cuts and hang-out places everyday. There’s so much to do, and we always have a good time. I also think my sense of direction is improving because of it.

Another personal change that I wasn’t expecting was weight gain. I mean, I know Rotary warned us about it, and I knew it was bound to happen to me, but I guess I didn’t actually think of it “on” me. A few weeks into the exchange, when things were still so new, any form of physical exercise seemed out of reach, and my host dad asked how much I weighed… I had a major slump in my self confidence, which was a whole new feeling for me. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, so how was I supposed to be comfortable in a new place, with new people, and how would they ever be comfortable around me. I’ve come to realize that it’s all about how I see myself. I’m still the same Carleigh, and people don’t like me for the way I look, they like me for who I am. It comes with the territory. That’s what this year is about, isn’t it? Trying new things, having no regrets, learning about yourself and what makes you, you. In the long run, I think it’s benefited me 100 times over. I see myself as the smart, brave, wonderful girl who is on the trip of a lifetime, doing things a lot of other girls her age, couldn’t put up with. Finally, now that life is becoming normal, I’ve been able to exercise more and have become more of myself again.

Speaking of bikini bodies, my host family took me to a magical place pronounced “Hi-doo-soo-boz-lo”, near a larger town called Debrecen. We stayed in a resort that had several thermal baths. The fall had definitely settled in by that time and the weather was darn chilly. My favorite bath was the one outside. The air was freezing but your body was submersed under the hot water. An interesting thing about some of the baths was that they were a brown-yellow kind of color. It grossed me out at first, but supposedly they were enriched with minerals and nutrients that were supposed to help your skin and muscles. The whole experience was really fun, and I even got a massage! They have also taken me to Kalocsa, which is my host mom’s home town. I met my host grandparents who were absolutely adorable, and we got to relax for a few days in the clean country air. I really enjoyed that trip, but that was when the worst of homesickness stuck me. Their house reminded me of my grandparents, and the fact that they had their family all around them while mine was over 7000 miles away really got to me. In the end, my host grandma, although she didn’t speak a word of English, really made me feel like part of the family, and I only have fond memories of that weekend.

Imagine spending an entire year at Islands of Adventure, just riding the roller coasters over and over again, but without feeling dizzy… scratch that, Hungarian makes me dizzy sometimes. Well that’s what this year is. Ups and downs, Loop-d-loops, and backward flips, 90* drops, splashes at the bottom, screaming tourists, eager little kids, your parents waiting in the gift shop for you to return, scary moments leading up to the thrill of your lifetime, pictures on your crazy face while on the ride, and friends to hold you hand along the way.

January 15

Some interesting things I’ve noticed while here in Hungary :

· When Hungarians eat cereal, they always put the milk in the bowl first.

· The condition of one’s finger nails is very important.

· A Floridian girl like myself would think winter was a magically fun time of year, but unfortunately it can often lose its sparkle after having to see nothing but gray clouds for over a month..

· Fanny packs are accepted as fashionable purses here.

· All of the light switches are opposite (Up = off etc…)

· The toilets have two flushers. I’m still not sure what the difference is, but I’m beginning to think it’s a #1 and #2 kind of thing, gross, right? But hey, I’m down with conserving energy and water.

· Boys, no matter what age, will hold the door for a lady ( I really like this one, and encourage the American culture to try it out).

· The majority of tourists who come to visit Budapest are from China.

· Exchange students are the best people in the entire world!

· And Budapest is definitely the most magical place I have ever been to… and I’m proud to call it my home

That’s right, I’m finally at the stage when I can call this place my home. Honestly I can’t imagine myself anywhere else, not another country, not even at home in Florida . I really feel like I belong here. Although my language skills are developing on the slower side, I feel as if the Hungarian culture and I were made for one another.

My host family has no doubt been a huge factor in immersing me into the culture and making me feel apart of it. My host parents are great. They are very interested in me, and love to incorporate our two very different cultures into one. My host siblings treat me as if I’ve been there all along. My host brother and I play, fight, and laugh together, while my host sister asks me the “girl questions” that only an older sister could answer.

As I’ve said before, Christmas is the most anticipated holiday in Hungary . Long before December even started, the streets of Budapest began to align themselves with magnificent lights and decorations. There were “Boldog Karàcsonyt!” or “Merry Christmas” signs everywhere, and friendly holiday street vendors along with them. The Christmas festivities in my family began two days before Christmas Eve. Almost all of the major companies rearrange the workers schedules to work on two Saturdays in November so that the workers can have the two days before Christmas Eve free. Thanks to the genius system, my entire host family was able to spend that special time together. We began cooking, all sorts of yummy cakes including Begli, Gyerbo, and Honey Cookies. They were delicious and I had great time preparing everything with my host mom and sister. I forgot to mention that my host Grandpa also came to stay with us for the holidays. We didn’t speak much to each other but that was only because he would often speak to me in Russian. I, not being completely fluent in Hungarian or being able to recognize different dialects yet, was utterly confused. I laughed it off, and everyone else found it highly entertaining.

Anyways, the major celebration takes place on Christmas Eve here. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, all of the kids were told to stay in my room for about and hour and not to come out. I set up my laptop and we ended up watching “The Grinch”, which my host siblings had never since before. At around five, the door opened and we were allowed into the living room, where the angles had brought our tree, and baby Jesus had laid our presents. I found it odd how they didn’t wrap the presents, but again I’m all for recycling.

After we got a good look at all of our gifts, mine including two new shirts, thee books, perfume, and a Rubik’s cube (which by the way, was invented in Hungary , and everyone knows how to complete… I’m determined to master it by the time I leave!) , we all sat down to eat dinner. We began with the traditional Hungarian Fish Soup. To be honest I wasn’t a big fan of it, just because I’m used to salty ocean fish, whereas this was a fresh-water fish straight for the Danube . After that, my host mom being the sweet and caring person she is, made a sort of turkey casserole as one of the main course choices. She had asked me few weeks earlier what I would normally eat for Christmas dinner, and the fact that she went through all of the trouble just to make me feel at home meant the world to me. We spent the night talking, eating, laughing, eating, playing, and eating more.

I went to asleep and full and happy girl that night. We slept late the next day, and as always I was woken up with a warm glass of “Early-morning Tea” I found it weird not falling asleep with a great amount of anticipation for the morning, but I did have quite an extraordinary program to look forward to. It’s a tradition in my host family to go to the world famous Budapest Opera house on Christmas day, and as if that wasn’t enough we got to see the “Nutcracker Ballet”. It was absolutely beautiful, and it had me in awe for the rest of the holiday.

Truthfully I didn’t get homesick at all during Christmas. Everything was just so different, that it didn’t feel like Christmas at all, and I was so comfortable with everything that I didn’t feel out of place. There were a few moments when I wish I could have hugged my dad or gave my grandma a kiss but all in all, I’ll look back on it as one of my best Christmases ever!

The next major celebration was New Years, and boy was it a celebration indeed! Weirdly enough, most of the Budapest exchangers, including myself decided to leave the capital and travel to Debrecen , the second largest town in Hungary , to welcome in the New Year. Another great group of exchangers lives their, and it would also be a lot safer and less expensive to celebrate there. Plus it would give us the chance to see a new place and meet new people. We had and amazing time dancing, setting off fireworks, and feasting on the tons of food that had been prepared. There was no ball drop, which almost made it seem unofficial, but I can’t think of any other way I would have wanted to spend New Years Eve. I mean, being with a group of people who completely understand what you are going through and love you for who you are, what else could you wish for? That’s what this is all about. No matter where you are from, no matter where you are going, your group of inbounds will be your best friends. At home everyone has their own problems, on exchange, everyone is going through the same ones, its just an environment that you will find nowhere else, at no other time in your entire life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

(For you future exchangers: I used to read these blogs like they were my bible. I couldn’t wait to actually write one of my own and inspire others to embark on this journey of a life time. Let me just say that these written recollections of occurrences doesn’t even compare to experiencing them in real life. They don’t do justice to the actual amount of love, fun, and wisdom you receive from being an exchange student.)

For now, my biggest challenge is the language. Hungarian is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It’s beautiful and smooth, yet utterly complicated making it supremely difficult to pick up. Grammatically, Hungarian is most closely related to Japanese, I’m not lying! It’s frustrating having so much love for this place and these people and not being able to openly communicate with them yet. I know once I’ve got it down, nothing and no one will make me want to leave.

Thankfully the people around me are more willing to help me learn. Hungarians are honored knowing someone from a western nation would want to come and learn about their relatively unknown history, culture and language. I must say that the history of Hungary is one of the richest chronicles of all time. Being located in the literal center of Europe they’ve been through it all. They’ve had their ups and their downs, they’ve been conquered then freed, and yet they always seem to stand right back up and continue to flight towards what they believe it. It’s truly inspiring. I could write an entire journal on my love for the Hungarian culture, but let’s just say it is the friendliest, the modest, the most magical way of living that I’ve ever encountered, never the less, been blessed to experience first hand.

Considering the language is essentially the prime aspect of this remarkable culture, learning to speak it fluently would only make this exchange that much more amazing. My host family is constantly testing me, and although I have to often remind them to speak to me in Hungarian, they always comply. My classmates are definitely the next best Hungarian tutors, although most of them don’t know it. My best friend at school is named Kata. Her English is amazing, although she doesn’t see it that way. She’s taught me so much, and is constantly pushing me to speak more Hungarian. She makes tests and grades them for me and we write notes during our English lessons in both languages.

Speaking of school, I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that teenagers around the world are the same. I know it’s unbelievable, and until I could understand what was going on in my classmate’s conversations I saw them as a different breed entirely. That could be because I was so utterly jealous of their inborn language skills, but they really are just like my friends at home. It its startling how alike two classes can be having grown up in such different places.

Okay, so I’ve been wanting to express this for some time now, I just didn’t know how to put it in words. Up until recently, I haven’t even been able to explain it to myself.

Well here it is:

It doesn’t take a special person to think about being an exchange student.

It doesn’t take anyone adventurous to apply for exchange.

It doesn’t take someone extraordinary to attend orientations and complete assignments.

It doesn’t even take anyone brave to pack up, leave their family, and travel to a different country.

Honestly, it doesn’t take a worldly person to learn the language of their host country, to make friends, to “survive” their exchange year (which is a term I admittedly used quite often in the beginning).

The truth is, it takes a great, adventurous, bold, worldly, respectable person to not only incorporate themselves into their host culture and country, but to see themselves as a member.

March 5

Well I have officially celebrated my first half-birthday here in Hungary. That’s right a full 6 months!

I must admit as a Florida born native, the winter has definitely been my biggest obstacle to cope with. Never in my entire life have I been without sun. Here I haven’t felt the crisp rays, the unmistakable warmth or seen that bright shinning star in over 5 months! It will tease me by coming out for a day or two while I’m at school during the week, or it’ll pop out on a Saturday afternoon, making me run outside in excitement, just to find that all the shadows of the city, block any of my access to its warmth. The month of February really had me down in the slumps, because of it. I had managed all winter, but didn’t think that I could handle the grey skies and coat racks much longer. Writing anything then would have had left a bad taste, hence the absent journal. Finally winter seems to be coming to a close and I could not be more excited!

I have so many things to look forward to! Just in the next few weeks we’ll be traveling to Poland, where I’ll visit a series of museums and Auschwitz, the concentration camp (I’m a little nervous about that actually, but look forward to the experience.) What I’m most excited about it none other then… EURO TOUR! We’ll be traveling everywhere! I’ve learned so much about this amazing continent and various countries, I can’t wait to see and really take them all in! (Or as my genius British English teacher would say; “Drink in the sites!”)

We also have our language competition to look forward to, or shall I say study for. I have improved and feel pretty confident about my Hungarian skills but I still want to prove to everyone how far I’ve come without sounding like an idiot. Hungarian isn’t a language most pick up quickly or are ever able to understand, but I feel honored knowing I know enough to express myself, and understand what people are saying to me. When picking a country I could have chosen one with a language on the same leaf, twig, branch, or even trunk as English, but I wanted a challenge and boy, did I get one. I get frustrated at times knowing other outbounds are fluent in their languages but thinking back on everything that has happened, everything I’ve been blessed with, and all of the amazing opportunities that I’ve had, I don’t regret putting a check in that ½ centimeter wide “Hungary” box, what so ever. Seriously, who would have thought anything that small, or an action taking less then a millisecond could decide a fate such as this!

Since my last journal, I’ve done quite a bit, learned a lot, and been a part of multiple celebrations. Hungarians don’t have many, so when they do it’s a big deal. Just recently, here in Hungary we’ve celebrated the annual holiday of “Farsang.” It most resembles our Halloween holiday. Everyone dresses in costume, in order to “scare away” the winter. Needless to say, this was my favorite Hungarian holidays yet! The Rotary Club of Szolnok, another city about two hours on train from Budapest, invited all of us exchangers to celebrate the holiday with them. We had a blast, dancing and laughing the night away. As an extension of our fun-filled weekend, we spent to following night in Gyor, another city about an hour and a half away from Budapest in the opposite direction. There we were welcomed by one of the host families and had a great time eating, drinking and sharing stories about all of our various issues, fears, successes, and adventures. Oh, the life of an exchange student, never could I write that sentence openly at home without sounding phony. The next day heading back to our various cities, it hit me that my exchange was in the later half. I mean, we aren’t leaving tomorrow, and we still have loads of fun things planned, its just that thinking of how quickly these 7 months have gone by, made me realize how the saying “time flies” has never been closer to me heart.

Also, I’ve had visitors since last writing. My mom and Art, one of our close family friends, got to spend five wonderful days here in Budapest. We, of course, did all of the touristy things. It felt great having the upper hand and being able to act as the tour guide, instinctively knowing the location and history behind most of the famous sites here. Showing them my city and my life here was great, and no doubt getting to hug my mom after 6 months was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

They say you grow on exchange. They say you change into a completely different person. They say that the “you” that’s leaving will never return home, but to a new place as a new “you”. As an outbound these ideas are scary, but all the more exhilarating. I must say though, that once you’re away and actually put in this situation it gets to be quite scary again. Now I’m not saying fear should ever be a factor holding you back from something you want, but to you outbounds be ready for a part of your life you’re never going to want to leave, and I mean that in both figurative and literal sense.

Now, is about the time when everyone starts reporting their “I had a dream in my host language!” shenanigans. Well Father Night, Sand Man, or Monsters-under-my-bed, I think its about time you all get together and come up with my Hungarian dream, seeing as how I haven’t had one yet. Although this fact disappoints me, sometimes I think about this year, how quickly it has gone by and how amazing this experience has been and think to myself maybe I have had the dream, but wait… that would mean I’m living it too!

April 29, 2011

As of today I have 55 days left here in Hungary.

That can be worded in various ways:

•    1 month and 23 days

•    7 weeks (5 weeks if you count the time I will be traveling on Euro Tour)

•    Less then two months (my personal favorite, because it makes it sound longer)

•    A little over one month

They all mean the same thing… I will leave my home here in Budapest, Hungary on June 22, 2011.

These past two months have flown by! Seriously, where did March and April go? It’s true what they say, your exchange year is going to be over before you know it.  Anyways, our language competition was in the beginning of March. I had no idea of what to expect and was pretty stressed about it. We traveled to a small city about 4 hours by train from Budapest called Sátoraljaújhely, which directly translated means “new-tent-floor-space.” (Weird, I know.) They had a great program set up for us and it was great getting to spend time with my beloved exchangers. There are only 30 exchange students in the whole country of Hungary. We’ve all gotten so close from our various trips and excursions together. I consider them my best friends and saying goodbye to them is going to be even harder then stepping on that plane.

We also had our trip to Poland since my last journal entry. We left early in the morning on a Friday and arrived in Krakow, Poland around 8 pm, it was a LONG bus ride. Krakow was absolutely beautiful and while we were there, there was an enormous Easter market in the main square.. The next morning, we got on the bus yet again to go to Auschwitz. I was really nervous and didn’t talk for much of the ride there. It’s not that I’m sick or crazy but I’ve always had a fascination in the Holocaust and have read countless books on the subject. I personally know survivors and felt really attached to the trip. When we got there I thought I was going to burst out bawling, scream, and throw-up all at the same time. Our tour guide was great about answering our questions and laying the facts out cold. He did however have a very strange habit of ending every sentence in a whisper, that’s wasn’t too enjoyable. I restrained from crying but had to step away from the group more then once.  It was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Easter or Húsvét has to be my favorite holiday that I’ve celebrated here in Hungary. That’s right… it trumps Christmas! On Easter Sunday we went to Kalocsa the town my host mom grew up in. There, we were welcomed by my host grandparents, my host aunt and uncles, along with four energetic cousins. I hadn’t seen any of the extended family since before the winter holidays and it was great getting to see them and show off how much I had learned. It felt great talking with my host grandma in her native tongue, completely confident and independent of any translators. We ate an amazing lunch and went for a long bike ride as a family. I impressed my boy cousins with my soccer skills and the girl cousins and I had fun sharing “secrets” (haha!) The funny thing was that I didn’t feel the need to skype with my parents. I wasn’t homesick in the slightness way, and I honestly felt as if I had spent the holiday with my family, right where I belonged.

If you are like me and didn’t know that Easter is celebrated for two days here in Hungary, then study up future Hungarian inbounds! It was actually quite funny in the way I was bombarded as I walked into the house around 9am after a morning run. Suddenly I was being videotaped and sprayed with different perfumes. Its tradition in Hungary to have the boys recite a poem to the girls and spray perfume on there head. It has to do with spring basically comparing the girls to growing flowers. In exchange the girls give the boys chocolate eggs. We again had another amazing meal. The traditional Easter meal is Ham, and Boiled Eggs. It was strange but delicious as always and definitely not the weirdest thing I’ve had since arriving.

So I guess that’s where I’m at now. Living in the moment but looking forward to Euro Tour. Recently I have spent a lot of time looking back on our exchange, reminiscing, and thankfully not regretting. It’s unbelievable that this year is almost at its end!

Every time we talk about it, my host mom and sister start to tear up. The fact of my leaving hasn’t really hit any of us. Just last weekend I went on a school trip for two nights and the minute I got home my host dad confessed that our flat had felt empty without me. Our flat is quite small; never would I have thought living here would actually become my idea of normal, never the less comfortable, acceptable, or perfect. I share a room with my host sister, and one bathroom with the entire family, our kitchen is the size of my closet at home and through-out the winter we had to dinner in the living room just so that we all had enough room to sit. Thinking of my now seemingly enormous house at home makes it sound so foreign. The minimalist ways of Hungarians has really spoken to me. If only everyone could understand that a lot of house doesn’t mean a lot of happiness. That’s definitely one of the most important things I’ve learned this year.

Just one more thing that I’d like to add:

It had always been hardest for me at night. I never realized how simply being in my own bed made me feel at home. I never missed my room, my bathroom, my house, or even my pool, but it was my bed that really got me. The awful feeling of being out of place or within some else’s personal space finally went away around month 6. It may have taken me a lot longer then some of the other students to feel comfortable in their host country but now that I’ve assimilated so well, having to leave is going to be even harder then my original departure. Just a few days ago I asked my mom to take the computer we were skyping on, into my bedroom. I hadn’t forgotten what it looked like; I guess some of the details had just gotten hazy. The last thing she showed me was my bed, except that it wasn’t my bed anymore. The one I was sitting on at that very second, the one that’s 4 centimeters thick, less then 4 feet wide and is positioned at the bottom of the bunk bed I share with my host sister, is mine. Now I can’t imagine it any other way.