Leelah Greenspan
2010-11 Outbound to Taiwan

Hometown: Loxahatchee, Florida
School: Seminole Ridge High School
Sponsor: Acreage Loxahatchee Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Taipei Castle Rotary Club, District 3480, Taiwan

Leelah's Bio

Ni Hao!

My name is Leelah and I am 16. I live in Loxahatchee, which is a growing town in West Palm Beach. I live with my mom Miri, and my dad Roland. I am an only child. I have two dogs that are full of energy.

I am writing this over winter break. The last day right before the break, I was a junior. When I go back to school in a week, I will be a senior! I go to Seminole Ridge Community High School. I am taking some extra classes online in addition to my classes at school so that I will be graduating a year early with the class of 2010, rather than with the class of 2011.

Words cannot begin to describe just how excited I am to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student! I am going be going to an awesome island far away from Florida. I'm going to Taiwan!

I'm going to be spending the 2010-2011 school year in Taiwan! I'm happy that I get to go to such an interesting place. I first found out about Taiwan at RYLA from a 2008-2009 inbound student named Ivy. She made it so interesting, so I went home and researched more about it. Wow was it amazing!

I cannot wait to be there and experience all the new things. I am also excited to become a new independent young adult that is ready to overcome all my fears. I just can't wait to become the person I've always wanted to be!

My friends and classmates don't really understand why I have decided to go through with this during our senior year. They don't see the big picture and that this beyond doubt is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It made me realize that I need to trust myself and my true feeling before I trust what others tell me. Boy am I glad that I did!

So thank you Rotary for allowing me to embark on this wonderful journey! I appreciate all that is done in allowing me to have this truly amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Leelah's Journals

September 9

Before I begin to babble about the craziness of getting to Taiwan, let me tell who ever is reading this that something's in my bio have changed kind of drastically. To start with I turned 17 and I did end up graduating a year early (the first to ever do so in my school!). I believe the rest is the same at this point, well maybe other then the fact that instead of dreaming of coming to Taiwan I am actually here now.

I would also like to say that this Journal is very late no my arrival to Taiwan. You can read about why it is so late in my next blog that I promise will be sent with in the next week or two. And yet, I had no emotions going through my head or heart of excitement. My body is just still numb. It sort of feels like it is all a dream and I am not really here in Taiwan even though I have been here for 3 weeks.

Judgment Day/Days

Ok so now on to what you all have been waiting for, getting to Taiwan. I am not going to lie, getting to Taipei was beyond hell. It took 30 hours from the moment I left my house to get about 10,000 miles away.

It all began when I left my house at 2am on Thursday August 19th. I didn’t sleep at all that night because I was finishing packing, yeah procrastination! So the last time I slept was Tuesday night and I had to wake up early on Wednesday to go to my last Rotary meeting. So basically I was beyond sleep deprived. So we loaded everything up, I said goodbye to my two amazing dogs, who I miss dearly, and then that was time to go down to Miami.

It took us 2 hours exactly to get down to Miami International Airport. My mom and Takashi were sleeping. My mom stayed up with me that night to keep me company so she was really tired. Once we got to the airport I had to get my bags Saran Warped for safety reasons, checked in, got all 4 of my boarding passes, and then sent my suitcases off to Taipei. After that I had about an hour until my plane left, but I decided to go ahead in through security. I only did this because I figured that the longer I wait with my parents the harder it would be to say goodbye. My mom got really emotional and started to cry. I told myself that I wouldn’t cry but every time I see her cry I can’t help but just cry too, (thanks a lot Emma!). So then I said goodbye to Takashi. Next way my dad, he got really emotional, which made things a lot worse for the try not to cry theory I had. But then once I hugged and kissed them I was off through security all alone only to be accompanied with my thoughts and feelings. I found my gate and then sat there for an hour waiting to board my plane to Chicago.

Once I got on the plane and found my seat the person sitting next to me was this very little Chinese woman (ironic, I know). It took me a while but I finally got a hold of myself and feel asleep for a little while only to be violently awoken but the Chinese woman sitting next to me hitting me and screaming at me. I had no idea what was going on since I had just woken up but apparently she was so loud that the flight attendants, 3 of them, came and were trying to get her to stop hitting me and screaming at me. At that point I realized that she was speaking Chinese and wanted to go to the bathroom. So I simply got up and let her go. The flight attendants were looking at me in amazement. Then came all the questions of how I knew what she was saying. By the time I had explained it all to them we were landing in O’Hara Airport. Since my dad and other exchange students were telling me how big the airport is I was practically running just to get to my gate. Once I got there I sat there waiting for Sammy and Heather to come and meet me there. So I sat there waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for an hour until I realized that something wasn't right so I went up to the counter and asked if they would be on my flight. The man said that they were on a totally different flight to San Francisco. At that point I lost it. I was freaking out because if I missed them or they had a different flight from San Francisco to Tokyo, I would be all alone for another 17 hours.

When I got onto the plane going to San Francisco, I totally lost a hold of myself. I was so mad that travel agency got the second digit wrong in our boarding pass numbers but accidents happen I guess. Once I found my seat, I was sitting next to this very kind and sweet woman that asked me if I was ok. So I told her no and kind of ranted and spilled all my crazy emotions going on at the time. She was so very nice for listening to me. She got me something to drink and helped me a lot to calm down. We talked most of the 4 ½ hours to San Francisco. At this point I think God was trying to tell me something because the row in front of me there were three people speaking, yup you guessed it Chinese. I feel asleep at one point and woke up a bit later and she was eating some snakes and gave some to me. We talked some more and then once we landed she let me use her phone to call my parents to tell them the situation with the flights and to tell them that I was safe. It was really nice hearing their voices. When I got off the plane the lady, who I think name was Penny, but I am not sure, waited for me to go find out where my next gate and terminal would be. I was so appreciative of her kind generosity that I told her thank you so many times. She told me that she wasn't done with me yet because she wanted me to get to my gate safely. We continued to talk while I approached my surprisingly huge group of blue blazers. It was really nice to see them. It made me feel a lot at ease. So I gave the so very kind lady a huge hug and told her thank you like a million times more. She then smiled at me and left. I joined then joined my group. I was the last one to arrive with only 20 minutes to spare until boarding began.

We got on and I was sitting with 3 other exchange students, Danny from New York, Liz from New Hampshire, and Samuel from Nebraska. We talked a lot on our insanely long 11 hour flight. I was sleeping a lot of it on and off because I was just so gosh darn emotionally and physically drained. At some point in the flight I switched seats with Heather so that I could go sit next to Sammy to watch a movie on his laptop. We saw "The Strangers." It was supposed to be a scary movie, but I didn't find it scary at all. In fact I was laughing throughout most of it while Sammy was freaking out, and he has seen it many times too. It ended up being a disturbing yet funny movie, and as weird as it may sound, I liked it. So then we ate a couple times throughout the plane ride and oh my god it was disgusting. We later found out that whatever it was that we were eating made most if not all of us really sick. No one really knows what exactly it was that we were actually eating… But any ways back to traveling. I saw some movies and TV shows on the little personal TVs in front of each seat. I also spent most of the flight just talking with Liz and Danny. They are both pretty cool and it was nice that I got to sit next to interesting and fun people on that crazy long flight. It was and still a very weird and strange concept to me that even though I no that we were following the Sun, it was always light out so it made it very hard for us sitting together to keep any sort of track of time. We only had Danny's iPod to go by. It just felt like we were on that plane for years because it was really uncomfortable and we all just wanted to tae a shower and sleep in a bed rather than a chair.

A lot of time passed until we finally made it to Tokyo Airport. That’s when the real fun began! We all put our bags down and only brought our personal items with us. Just imagine 18 teenagers running around having fun exploring. It was like we were little kids in a candy store! There was so much to see and do. The first thing most f the others did was go and get some Sushi. I didn’t get anything because I was feeling really sick from the flight and the nasty plane food so I went with a couple of the others to go get some food. It was so cool. I was with Tony, Liz, Sammy, and Samuel. It was definitely a really cool experience to go through because it was an open bar of fresh fish! We did a lot more exploring, since we stayed there for 2 hours. It was really cool and definitely the highlight of my day so far!

We then got on the plan and started boarding the plane to Taipei! It was then only about 4 hours until I would be in my new home for the next year. I found my seat and was really excited because I was finally sitting next to a window! It was also really cool that I was sitting next to Tony, from Pennsylvania, and a very sweet Taiwanese woman. Tony and I were talking for about an hour and a half or so until we both fell asleep talking to each other and getting to know each other. When we woke up we were finally landing at Taipei International Airport. I was so happy that I would finally be done flying! All I wanted to do was take a shower and go to sleep. But yeah so we all left and went through customs and immigration which was a lot easier then I thought it would be to get through. So when I found my bags, Tony and I got those cart things to put them on. All the other exchange students were making fun of me because my bags were saran wrapped in blue. So then Tony and I walked out to be greeted by a swarm of people. Behind a special waiting area there must have been maybe 75 Taiwanese people waiting to great all of us. It wasn’t hard to find my host family because they had a bright red sign saying, “Leelah Welcome to Taiwan.” It was really cool. So then we took what seemed to be an endless amount of pictures with my host mom and host dad, along with my counselor. I was so out of it I just wanted sleep at that point of being awake for over 50 hours.

We then made our way to the car and began our 2 hour car ride to the house. I was trying so hard to stay awake during the ride. The only thing that was keeping me awake was the fact that I was in a new place and wanted to see everything that was happening and all the sights around me. On the way my host mom insisted on me eating so we got Burger King to go for me to eat once we got home. It was really cheap which was pretty cool I guess for future references. Once we got to the house we climbed up to the 5th floor, only stairs here, and I was finally able to put my stuff down and take a rest. They wanted me to eat so I did, and then the best thing of all happened, I was able to take a nice cold relaxing shower! Even though the water was ice cold I didn’t care I was just so happy to get clean! So after I went to unpack all my things and put everything away. Then the best thing of all happened, I got to finally go to sleep! It felt so good to just sleep in a bed after being in a plane for about 30 hours!

So this is the end of my first journal. You can read more about everything I have been doing since I had arrived within the next week or two. I hope you enjoyed my crazy trip of getting to Taiwan.

November 21

My first two months in Taiwan were not by any means a dream come true, at first. I definitely got my first real does of reality with in my first month of being here and moving four times. I was in four different families houses, no I am not a bad exchange student by any means. There were just some major cultural and other differences between myself and my original first host family, I was only there for one week. I then moved out and into my counselors house for three days, the district has a rule about staying with a student's counselor. Here it isn't allowed. I then moved into the district emergency family and stayed there for two week until they could find me a new host family to live with for the remaining two or three months. But currently I am living with my new first host family and things are beyond amazing now. Yes I have gone through a lot of bad and annoying things that may not have been relevant, but that's just life throughing curve balls at me. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I think that I am maybe now starting to realize the reasons that I have gone through the things I have in my first month. It helped me to learn a lot of valuable lessons and learn more about myself. I continue to learn more and more about life and myself each day that goes by, which I think is a very good thing because I think that shows independence and maturity. All of that together is helpful to grow from a teenager to an adult.

I don't want to sound like a total dower because I did do some pretty amazing things in my first two months of being in Taiwan.

To start with in August, I went to see a medicine man to get “checked out. ” I have never been more scared in my life to how accurate it really was. Everything he told me was true and I had never said any of it to anyone before! Until this very day the thought of how cool and crazy it is that he knew how I was feeling and how to make me feel better blows my mind away.

Lets see I got to go see Taipei 101! Although I did not get to go up to the top quiet yet it was still amazing! There is a five story mall that I went with the medicine mans wife and their son. I also went to RYLA here which is completely different then in District 6930 back home in Florida. While I was there I actually think I concurred my fear of heights by climbing on a tight rope, what I believe was about 30 feet, 10 meters, above the ground! It was probably one of the most amazing things I have done because now I am really not that afraid of man made heights.

I also got to meet some of the most amazing people I have ever met while at RYLA, including 52 other current exchange students, a whole bunch of Rebounds and Rotexes, as well as a tons of locals! Once RYLA was over I had my first day of Chinese and High School. I go to a special school ever Monday and Thursday morning from 8am-11am that Rotary has arranged for all of us to attend according to ability on a test we took. In my class there are 14 exchange students in all including myself.

I go to my high school here, Xi Song Senior High School, Monday-Friday form 7:30am when school starts until either 4:10pm or 5:10pm depending on the day when school finishes. There is another exchange student that also attends the same school. Her name is Michi and is from Germany. We are not in the same class, but have some special classes together that our school has arranged for us. My school has both Junior and Senior High School combined with it only having about 1,100 students, one of the smallest in Taipei. Because of the family situations I have had since being here, I haven't been able to get to school until about about 9am, because of far distance. I am in an all girls class in the first grade, equivalent to being a freshman or a sophomore in America. I love my classmates so much! We have tons of fun and they teach me a lot as well as I teach them a lot too!

Ok so now on to September. September was so extremely busy for me. I did so many things in what feels and seem to me to be so little time! I went to see some of the famous temples and night markets here in Taipei with friends and families. So far I have been to I believe 4 different night markets. I'm not sure at all the number for the temples but if I had to guess I would say around 10-15 or so just in my two months being here! They are all so different and amazing, and that goes for the night markets as well! In September I also learned how to play badminton. We definitely don't have it in Florida and I'm pretty sure we don't have it in America as well. It is so much harder then it looks I think. It is like a slow version of Tennis, but the difference is Tennis so much easier! But I still had a blast learning and playing it!

At school we have to join a club that meets on Wednesday's from 4:10-5:10ish and the whole school participates, but in many different clubs. I decided that I wanted to the Guitar Club because I have always wanted to learn how to play the guitar but could never find the time in Florida, so here in Taiwan I have the time so I am learning!

I was fortunate enough to take a trip with the district emergency family that I stayed with for 2 weeks to go to the east part of Taiwan for a day. It was amazing! It reminded me so much of Florida because there were fields and it was oh so quiet. I think other then family and friends the thing I miss the most is grass. People think that I am really crazy but I really and truly miss it. There was so much of it! It was the best feeling ever to see it and be able to breath the nice fresh air that was there. The air in Taipei is so bad that I can feel the toxins going into my body when I take a breath. Its ok though because it's just something new to get used to I guess. There was no busy commotion going on. It was just so peaceful compared to the roaring city that I will be living in for one year that is called Taipei. We went to the beach for a couple house which I was so beyond excited for being as I am a true Floridian and a beach bum. I was very disappointed though because we didn't get to go into the water because it was “to dangerous.” It was still fun though because we played in the sand and made a lot of interesting and cool things. It was great being there with the sea water blowing in my face, it was really refreshing. It was a lot of fun!

I also got to go to a guitar competition at another other school. My school didn't perform at this one but in November they will and I will go yet again to cheer them on! So every month Rotary has a Culture day planned for us. Basically its a fun day to go and experience something special to Taiwan and to just have a lot of fun with 52 other exchange students! In this month, we went to The Formosa Water Park. It took about an hour to get there, but it was way worth it! It was so much fun and we were celebrating Mid-Autumn Festive. I went to this really amazing place called “Green Lake” with my host family and it reminded me a lot of Fourth of July celebration back home. We also went to my host dad's Rotary Club party. It was so much fun! I even sang karaoke, which I thought would never ever do, and I actually had a lot of fun doing it too. I also went out to eat BBQ with my classmates for the holiday! I ate things I never thought I would ever eat, let alone in Taiwan. My favorite was Ostrich by far!

I think one of the most amazing things was going hiking for the first time! I have been looking forward to it so much since coming to Taiwan and I finally got to do it and it was beyond amazing! It was the first time that I could actually breath in fresh air since arriving to Taipei and the view was breath taking. Words cannot even begin to describe just how beautiful the sights were! From where I was standing I could see all of Taipei, the place I have learned to call home for the next 9 months that are left. Now it isn't always Plesentville but it makes for an experience that's for sure! One of the best things by far that I got to do in September was that I got to see Ivy! Although it was only for one hour, it was amazing and we made so many plans for the future! It was about a year and a half since we had seen each other back at RYLA in 6930 which is where my whole adventure with Taiwan really started.

You are probably think “Wow, I can't believe that Leelah did all of that in just August and September!” The best part is there is still October for me to tell about!

So I did some pretty amazing things and have made the most amazing friends that had become very clear to me in this month thus far. I had gone to help sew about 24 flags onto a huge banner type thing for the 10-10-2010 Year 100 day parade which was pretty cool even though I don't know how to sew (and still don't). I loved that I got to see some of my friends from the other Taipei District there that I had flown over here with. Later that day I went with 3 other exchange students form my district to C.K.S. Memorial Hall to just check it out and have fun relaxing and talking. When we got there we were really surprised to find that all the groups that would be performing in the parade were practicing there. It was so cool to watch and it made me just really want to see the parade but I couldn't because I was in it! We also went to this really beautiful park located at the grounds as well. There so many beautiful flowers and there was grass! Real grass!!! There is no grass in Taipei unless you go to a park and some of those don't really count most of the time. But yeah so it was just really a fun and nice day.

The weekend after was so crazy! It is actually where the crazy weekends really started. We had our second Culture Class day. This one was as fun or even for fun then the other day in my opinion. First we went for a bike ride around a marina type thing in the north of Taipei. It felt so great to get on a bike again and just ride around with the sea air running through me. I felt as if I were back in Florida for a short time while riding. It was great! After we went to get some lunch and then went over to our next part of the day which was learning how to play the Ocarina and then paint it. For me and a few others that had been experienced with music it was really easy, but for the others it kind of was a hot mess to say the least. The Ocarina is a native instrument of Taiwan and is very beautiful sounding. That day was tiring but the next would be even more. It was the 10-10-2010 Year 100 Parade. The day of Taiwan's Independence and there were 100 exchange students from all over Taiwan that attended with us. It was great and lasted all day long just cheering and screaming that we love Taiwan and go Taiwan. It was just great and oh so much fun.

Something else that I did in October that I thought was pretty funny was I brought my best friend here, Nick from California, to my school for the day since later that day we went on a field trip to a temple with my culture class at school. He didn't have school that day and I didn't have school the day before because our schools were taking their midterms. It is a huge test that is taken ever seven weeks or so. Lets see I also got to go to two more guitar competitions. They were just as great as the others! I love spending days with my friends in Guitar Club! We also had a fun day. We just spent the whole day of about 6 or so hours playing games at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. It was absolutely insane! there were about 50-75 of us running around screaming, and just having genuine fun! I honestly cannot remember if I had done something that was more fun! It was even more memorable that there were 7 travel groups trying to enjoy the Memorial Hall and all its beauty but couldn't because of all the screaming kids in bright yellow shirts running around. You are probably wondering why this is so funny, well all 7 of the groups were from China. They were all elderly and taking pictures of us running around while they were cursing at us in Chinese. I love the fact that I understood what they were saying, even if it was bad words. I got to go see the Taipei Orchestra with my other an other exchange student who is also one of best friends here, Amy from Tennessee, and it was so great to listen to a live and professional orchestra play! Amy and I had a lot of fun!

Okay, so now back to school information. There was a talent show type thing with the second and third graders of senior high. Each class would elect someone in there class as a class leader and then they all did a skit. Then each person would vote on which skit and class leader they thought was the best. Although my grade couldn't be a part of it, we were allowed to watch it. Words cannot begin to describe the thoughts I was having while watching the classes perform. Some were great and very entertaining where as other were just strange. It was a cool experience though to say the least. I had another pretty interesting experience happen at my school, the Japanese came.

Okay, so my school has a sister school in Japan which is very common in Taipei. The took a trip to Taipei to go visit other schools and learn how we learn basically. There was a big celebration to welcome all 100 of them and was set up to “Wow them” and I think worked. The coolest part I think was when they came with us to our club to learn. They were all randomly divided into groups and taken to each club. Since my club is Guitar and none of the 8 Japanese students knew how to play, the leaders of the club decided to just play a little concert for them. It was so cool because they play and since so well. I think the Japanese students really liked it a lot too.

Well enough of that, I also learned some really cool culture things in my Culture Class in school. We learned how to play Mohjong and Chinese Chess. They are pretty interesting games and I really liked learning and playing both of them. We also learned how to make Dumplings. I think they came out pretty good if I do say so myself! In my Housekeeping Class, I learned how to make my absolute favorite dessert/snake here in Taiwan, Pineapple Cakes. Words cannot even begin to descried just how good they are and the fact that I learned how to make them was so insanely cool. I will defiantly try and make them once I get back to Florida for sure! District 3480's ROTEX threw all 53 of us a Halloween party. It was really cool and an interesting experience. I had just come back from a guitar show so I had no time to get dressed up, but I definitely improvised very well! I and another exchange student Tom, from Finland, were told that we can make a very good “stoner” face. I asked what exactly a stoner face was and apparently its looking clueless and saying “huh” a lot when someone asks you something. I never realized that I guess I make “the face” a lot. For everyone reading this I am and never will be in any way a “stoner,” but it was fun to walk around bumping into things and people pretending not to know what the heck was going on.

It was a very fun night, but it was also really very sad. It was everyone's last time to see Sammy, he would be going home the following morning. If you are reading this Sammy, I love you and you better be in Miami to come greet me home in July! With Sammy leaving I had an oppifiany about my purpose for being on exchange, but that will come at a later time not now while I am finishing up October's event. But definitely look forward to reading about my realization in the very near future! So anyway, getting back to the end of October, I got to go on an interesting little mini adventure one early morning with my host grandma, Ama (Taiwanese for Grandma). We went “hiking,” but it wasn't the same type of hiking that I had done in September that I had mentioned above. This was a big huge even that was very well organized with hundreds of people walking around a park and river. We also went up and down a bridge. It was pretty tiring but cool in the end.

That beings me to the end of October, but there were two other things that happened that were really pretty amazing and cool that I just had to save for the end! Ok so it was my mom's birthday and I had Skyped with her before her birthday and she was convinced that I had forgotten her birthday (which was part of the plan) so she I guess was mad at me, but what she later found out is that I gave her the best present I could have possibly thought of. It was even better then me being at home trying to think of what to do or get her. What I did was I got my whole class (39 girls with me included plus a Junior High School girl that I am good friends with) to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese and then English as my Geography teacher was recording it on my camera. I went home to upload it as fast as I could so my dad could take it to show her from his iPhone when he went to go bring her flowers at work. He said that she absolutely loved it and started crying. That made me feel so good and that “Operation-Make-Mommy-Cry-Because-That-Means-She-Loves-It” actually worked!

Ok so the last thing that I saved for absolute last to blabber about is that I got to go see the most amazing show that I have ever seen in my whole life. I got to go see the Batsheva Dance Group perform! Trying to describe just how amazing and incredible it was is so unbelievably hard and I feel so bad that I cannot really express just how great it was. The only thing I can say is watch this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hz6nUMwlSqY, it basically summarizes the whole performance. I was so excited to go to the show when I heard about it while waiting for my MRT (Subway system) to come at Taipei Main Station. I went home and looked up video's and went crazy! I just had to go it would have been so amazing! I showed them to my host mom and she loved it and asked if her, my host dad, and my host brother could come too. It made me feel so great that they were interested in something that I really was. My host mom also said that she loved the way the music sounded. I was so stoked that I was able to get a total of 23 people to come to the show, including Ama who was so happy I was excited and wanted to come as well. Most were other exchange students and some of their local friends and host siblings. As well as a few of my classmates that I am very close with, and my school counselor came with her boyfriends. Almost all the music from the actual show and video are Israeli music since the group is from Israel. It felt so great to just be in an atmosphere that felt like home. Being there watching the show and singing along to the songs (the only person in the whole place too which I felt very accomplished with) and just appreciating the great talent while following along with the stories that the dancers were making. Everyone loved it as much as I did, but what really made me just feel great was that the people that came that cared to spend time with me and are my friends now understand me a lot better. They understand my culture and were able to see the beautiful art that was produced from where I am from and my family is from. They understood the show which helped them understand me. I kept thinking back to that culture assignment we had back in the summer about defining what culture is. I had said that culture is what you make of it and what you believe should be your way of living since every person is different. Culture really is an opinion, but I realized that there are people out there that would like to learn new cultures. You can be in another culture and still learn about others you wouldn't expect to learn about. It help you learn about yourself and life as a whole. You don't have to be in a new culture to realize this but I'm really glad I did. Okay, I'm done with being deep for right now. I hope you enjoyed reading my amazing yet crazy first two months. Until next time...

January 13

This is for the RYE students mostly, past, present, or future. For everyone else that reads this it may not make as much sense unless you were or know of an exchange student. I don't want to sit here and bore anyone who bothers reading this of all that I am doing and have done thus far on my journey. I don't want to get all mushy either because even though this is a great year of a lot of great things for me, I want to make it as normal as possible. It is simply another chapter in my life that I am living. Yes, it just so happens to be a very exciting part of my book thus far, but my book isn't finished yet so I don't think it is fare for me to say that this is the best year of my life. Thus far yes, but forever, no one knows. So, I just want to explain my thoughts and feelings about being an exchange student.

To begin, I am living in a fantasy world here in Taipei. I don't mean that in a way strange way, I mean it in a literal one. I got to go to new country, live with new family, go to a new school, make new friends, everything is new and exciting. But that also doesn't mean that all of those aspects of my life before were dull and boring. I have a great life back home in Loxahatchee, but this is my chance to live in my own fantasy world. In a sense though, it isn't even real. I am not living in reality, because nothing is permanent here. If I want to change something I change it, its that easy. Yes I may be living a real life with real people and in the moment, but this is experience is quite literal what you make of it and how you view things. If you want your new country to be beautiful and amazing or even ugly and disgusting, then it will be. If you want to have the best host parents that they remind you of super mom and super dad or ones that never speak to you and don't know you exist, then they will be. The same applies with school, friends, etc.

It may not seem like it but being an exchange student is a big game, and a very emotional one at that. I don't mean that in a bad or mean way either. You need to know how to play the game to make yourself the winner in the end because we all know that in today's society, everyone loves to win. People enjoy games because they are fun, but they can also be frustrating and full of stress in order to win. But all in all even though you may get annoyed, frustrated, stressed, or even mad over trying to win this game, its okay because that's what makes this game interesting in the end. The game may also be really happy, exciting, or it may bring anxiety for something upcoming that could be great.

Either way at the end of the game you have played, are playing, or will play, will be remembered by you of all of those things whether they are good or bad in your eyes. But really nothing is bad or good in this game. Now there is a big dilemma with this very interesting and tough game. And that is that the strongest will survive. Many people that go up for the challenge of playing this game of being an exchange student fall short of finishing the game. Everyone's reasons are different, but then again not everyone is equip internally to last through out the whole game either. There is nothing wrong with those people that cannot complete the game either, it just simply wasn't for them.

I believe that exchange is what you make of it. At first I was feeling very confused because I didn't feel like Taiwan was the place for me like I didn't really fit in. But then I change my views on how I respond to things and saw things in my life here. That helped me get back into this game. I just always put a smile on my face thinking about how to keep at winning this game. It isn't as tiring as it was in the begging of my exchange to get through some things that really got to me. At that point I was letting the game win, but now its time for THIS game was turned into MY game. I am in control now and am enjoying everything so much more.

This game is not the one that many people play that when you go up to someone and say “Oh you just lost the game,” this is serious. The game is how you view life and things around you. Exchange has made me appreciate everything in its natural beauty in my surroundings. I see everything in a positive view. Which makes me much happier and enjoy the little things so much more. For me, I woke up and am now in control of my own game. It's really a nice feeling to be winning this game that I now call my own. Have you won yours? Are you winning yours? Will you win yours? It's up to you, but I know that I am and will win my game.

 April 27

So as I write this I currently have only 62 days left in Taiwan. I have been here for 8 months as of April 20th, and today as I write this, April 28th, is my 2 months left mark. I'm not really sure how to feel about it all. I have gone though so much being here, not only by myself but also with all the other exchange students here. I have made the best of friends that I have ever made in my whole life. We have cried so much that I thought we would be able to swim back home. I have experience so many things that I never thought I would with the best of people. But because of all of this doesn't make this the best year of my life, on the contrary actually. The days I have spent on my exchange have been some of the hardest times of my life. Taiwan is no where close to being an easy country to go on exchange to. I have spent a lot of time questioning if it really is the right place for me, but actually until recently I had realized that I couldn't be in a more perfect place. Sure I don't think like an Asian or act like one in any way, but I believe that Taiwan is the perfect place for me to learn the most about life and more importantly about myself.

Being on exchange has given me a lot chances to just be able to sit down and think. I reflect on my past and my current present times here by thinking about decisions or choices that I have made or are making and finally coming to live with all the consequences, whether good or bad, that resulted from them. It's been really nice being able to come to terms with many things I have done, whether that has been good things or bad things in my eyes. I used to really hate getting a lot of time to just be able to sit and think, but until recently I absolutely love it! I love that I can literally sit on the bus or MRT on the way to school or anywhere else I’m going and just imagine my future and realize what it is that I want in it.

Before I came to Taiwan, I had a small idea of what I wanted in my future or how I wanted it to be, but because I get so much time to just think that my plans have never felt so right. I can now feel in deep down in my heart that I will really get to achieve my goals and plans and proud of the person I am and will become. I now know that going into the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), or army, is the most perfect decision for me and my future. I also know deep down in my heart that becoming a Criminal Psychologist going to be the absolute perfect job for me. I am just so excited to get started on learning as much as I possibly can to be the best Profiler of our time.

Being this far and long away from my family and friends for this long has taught me a lot of very significant values of relationships and love for one another. I feel so much closer then I already was with my parents by being and I have been given the chance to learn who my true friends are. I have to say, I am so very blessed and happy by both results and could not ask for anything to be better in that respect. I have also gotten very close to my religion while I have been on exchange. I love where I come from and I wouldn’t change it for anything in this world.

Clearly I have changed a lot as a person and learned a lot of very important life values and lessons. Sure I have gone through a lot of really tough times but also many really great times too. I have really gone through many countless troubles with cultural differences and they have been very hard for me to overcome, but I did quite successfully if I may add. I was never put in a position to question my morals or beliefs which to me is a very important ideal. In some ways I have changed so much that I am actually not happy about them. No I haven't done anything wrong or anything to be sorry about, but I have changed in some ways that I wish I hadn't. But in other ways I am so happy that I did change to become a much better person.

I think all in all even though I have done, seen, and been through a lot in these 8 months I wouldn't trade it for the world. This whole year is a test for me to see how I can deal with what ever is thrown at me not only in Taiwan but in my future life. I believe that although I am getting some questions wrong on my test, I am learning what the correct answers are and that helps me not forget why I got them wrong in the first place. All and all, I am very happy that I have come and stayed in Taiwan even though it has been very difficult for me. I know that this is making me such a stronger and better person and to me, its worth all the pain.

I cannot wait to get home to see my family and all my friends. But I will miss everything here. My school, my friends both local and exchange students. I will miss everyone and everything. The slogan for Taiwan I guess turned out really to be true, Taiwan really did touch my heart and continues with each passing minute I continue to spend here.