Alyssa Melby
2011-12 Outbound to Iceland

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Paxon School of Advanced Studies
Sponsor: Deerwood Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Iceland

Alyssa's Bio

Hi, My name is Alyssa Melby, I am a junior at Paxon High School, and during the 2011/ 2012 year, I will be traveling all the way to the very northern, very cold island of Iceland. The teenage years, as everyone says in those cliche movies (but also true), are the times when you search for yourself. I am about to turn eighteen, become independent, a legal adult, my childhood will become deceased in 6 months (right before I leave). I really believe that this experience will be the last and most impacting chapter in my life that will tie all the loose ends of who I really am before I go out in the world on my own.

So why did I choose Iceland? I picked Iceland because of the people. Prior to even knowing about the Rotary club I saw a movie. It was called How To Train Your Dragon. During the end credits as I sat in absolute contentment after seeing one of my most favorite movies, they played that feel good song that always plays at the end a movie. I fell in love with it and had to look it up. I found out it was called Sticks and Stones by Jonsi. AND GUESS WHAT!? He's Icelandic!! I listened to more of his songs and found myself entranced in the beautiful, ethereal sounds that is Jonsi! I also bought many CD's of the previous band he was in called Sigur Ros (which means Victory Rose, named after Jonsi's sister). I started researching more about Iceland and what got me the most interested in Iceland is it's people. The people are very tolerant and open minded people. Iceland just seems like a very happy and peaceful place to live.

So now heres the part where I give you information on my personal interests, common-Alyssa-doings, and pretty much the person I am. I would characterize myself as a deep thinker. I like to examine situations in my life and really try to understand why they happened and how they could help me develop as a person. I never really had opportunities to express those deep thoughts until I walked into my speech class. I never knew I had a talent for writing speeches until I met my speech teacher Mr. Mairs. I admire that man like no other. He has inspired me to go out there and express myself. Whenever I went to speech tournaments I felt all those little ideas in my head explode. Not only am I interested in speech, but I also act. I've been in a number of plays but I think my favorite theater thing to do is improvisation. It is a lot of fun because it's unscripted and everything comes off the top of your head on the spot.

To wrap things up before I write a book, This is me Alyssa; unique, philosophical, weird (but who wants to be normal), loving, and free- spirited. Thank you Rotary for changing my life!

Alyssa's Journals

September 23

Before I tell about my experience so far within these first three weeks, I want to say that every exchange student’s experience is different and unique because each exchange student makes it their own. There is no set formula that we’re all supposed to follow because each one of us is unique and our experience goes according to our personality and how we handle things in our host country. I can say that my experience has been very special and I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.

First off, I want to say that I really lucked out with the host family I have and the school I go to. They are both a perfect fit for me and I don’t think I could be any happier with any other host family or school. I feel really comfortable and welcome in both environments because both my host family and the people at my school are warm and welcoming people and willing to go out of their way to help me and make me feel comfortable. Not only that, but I just feel that I can easily bond with them because it is so easy to be myself around them and talk about anything and just be honest.

It was almost instantaneous for my host family to actually feel like a family instead of strangers hosting someone they’ve never met before. It did not take much for me to fall in love with this family. I love it whenever my host father explains things to me about Icelandic culture or tells me facts about the landscape and history of Iceland when we go places. I love to watch how he does things like sailing or cutting up fish that he caught himself. I love it when my host mother talks about Icelandic traditions and the characteristics of Icelandic people. I also feel like I can go to her for anything or talk about anything. I love going out for coffee or going to the movies or the mall with my host sister. I have a lot of fun hanging out with her and talking about music or other things.

There are two words I would use to describe Iceland and that would be relaxed and comfortable. Iceland is a lot less formal than the United States and community is a lot stronger and plays a very important role in society and that is because the country is so much smaller than the United States. The schools are way, way, way less strict compared to the school I went to in America. No silly hall passes, no bells, no I.D.’s, no permission slips, no tardies, everyone is on a first name basis, the teachers actually treat the students with the maturity and intelligence they deserve, and overall it’s just a comfortable and free environment to be in.

One culture shock that I totally did not see coming was how stylish the Icelandic teenagers can be. EVERYONE LOOKS LIKE THEY CAME OUT OF A FASHION MAGAZINE!!! The women are stunningly beautiful and dress with sophistication. The men have these hair styles that you would never see in America. I remember when I was writing my research paper and I had to write about what teenagers wore on a regular basis. The internet said “just plain jeans and a t-shirt with sneakers will do.” That is complete and utter bull. I’d say that is sufficient support for the argument that you should never trust the internet. It also shows that experience is very vital in life and does way more justice for understanding a culture than just researching about it.

I would love to tell you more but I’m afraid you would look at this journal and go “This is way too long for me to sit here and read.” So I think this is enough for now and I will leave the rest for the next journal. The last thing I want to say is really important, especially for the other exchange students; open mindedness and proactivity play a key role in making a good exchange. Until next time, sjáumst!

November 30, 2011

When you are on a speech/debate team you learn one very important lesson. There are two aspects involved in speech. One is writing and the other is presentation. You can be an excellent speech writer but it means nothing if you cannot present in a manner that gets your message across. You can be an excellent presenter, confident, a crowd pleaser, loud and powerful voice, always knowing your way around the speech, but if your writing is shallow and senseless, you come off as arrogant. I was always a good writer but when it came to presenting it in front of judging eyes, I lacked the skills and confidence to get my message across. I always had to put a little more focus on my presentation skills.

Here, on my exchange, I feel like that tenfold. Communication is the basis and most vital part of an exchange and, of course, it has to be the most difficult thing to master. Learning the language of your country is the only way you will truly and wholly become a part of society and culture. It is exceptionally harder for me to do this because:

1. Everyone speaks excellent English, sometimes better than Americans.

2. Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages to learn.

3. Roughly 75% of Iceland’s entertainment is American.

4. Once Icelanders find out you speak English and little Icelandic, it’s going to take them a death threat to get them to speak Icelandic with you instead of English. I’ve asked and asked and got down on my knees and pleaded for them to speak Icelandic with me, but they are so, so stubborn.

By speaking English with me they feel like they are keeping me out of the dark but what they’re really doing is pushing me further into the dark. Whenever I do ask them to speak Icelandic, they do but when they ask me if I understood and I didn’t they’ll say it in English. It’s like you’re offering them vegetables or candy. You tell them the vegetables have many benefits and are better for you than candy but the candy is just so tempting, you’ve got to take it. I don’t really blame them. If I were in their situation I’d get pretty impatient and frustrated too.

But, the important thing is that I keep on trying. I keep pushing. Eventually I’ll get there. “Þetta kemur,” that’s what everyone keeps telling me. It’s an expression meaning, “It will come.” This is the time of year where homesickness starts to hit pretty badly. It’s where we get a little depressed and anxiety overcomes. There are only a few hours of light in the day and the darkness psychologically messes with you. It’s cold and you’re always tired. But the holiday spirit and snow and the love and support of the other exchange students and family keep you pushing through. Þetta kemur.

January 17, 2012

Today on the seventeenth of January all of my classes have been cancelled, so I decided today would be a good day to update my journal. Indeed, today was an excellent day to write, for today, I realized something…

In my days as an exchange student, I like to reflect back on the reasons why I chose to become one. Sometimes I like to think that I decided it on a whim, triggering my mind to dream of adventure at the mention of such an experience. But buried deep beneath such extavagance were desires. Desires which sought its fulfillment in this crazy year.

When I first learned of the student exchange program, I heard stories that it changed the people who went into the program. They became fluent in another language, they adapted habits unknown in their home country, they learned to cook traditional foods of their host country, they changed their style of clothing, they made life long friends with peolple they couldn‘t even communicate with in the beginning of their exchange, they recieved love from an unrelated family, they became more confident, smarter, more knowledgable, more wise and mature. I desired all of that. So I went on this journey to try and make myself become all of that. I wanted to change who I was.

Now I realise that this is the wrong way to go about an exchange.

For a while, I was so focused on achieving the goal of being the perfect exchange student. I was going to become fluent in the language and speak it intelligently and with as less of an accent as possible. I was going to be very outgoing and talk to all of my class mates, so that I would become good friends with them by the end of the exchange. I was going to make my host family proud of my accomplishments in adapting to the culture. I was going to make excellent grades in all of my classes and impress everyone.

It turns out that trying too hard and being disappointed in yourself every time you make a mistake, will make you very depressed. And depressed I got. I wasn‘t any where near perfection.

I told my host my mom that I felt I wasn‘t adapting to the culture well enough. I also told her that I was a perfectionist and that I am always hard myself every time I don‘t do something exactly right. I also told her that none of the other exchange students were feeling as depressed as I was and that I thought maybe there was something wrong with me.

She said there was nothing wrong with me. Everyone handles things differently. The life of a perfectionist is a hard life to live. How it would be nice to live like the people who don‘t have a care in the world. She also said that she was once like me… then she became a mother of four children. =)

All my life I have always fixated on the outcome and I never focused on the journey itself. From now on, I am done trying to become someone different, I am just going to let it be and accept whatever happens. I am not going to think about the person I will be by the end of this exchange, I am just going to enjoy every moment of it, even if it means accepting my failures.