Carlos Ojeda
2011-12 Outbound to Italy

Hometown: Palm Harbor, Florida
School: Palm Harbor University High School
Sponsor: Clearwater East Rotary Club, District 6950, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Trieste Nord, District 2060, Italy

Carlos' Bio

Buongiorno amici! My name is Carlos Ojeda, and I was born in Tampa on October 30th, 1994. Since then I have lived in an extended family arrangement with my sister, my parents, my grandparents, and sometimes an uncle. I currently live in Palm Harbor, Florida, and attend Palm Harbor University High School. I like to play soccer, spend time with my friends, watch movies, and engage in other activities such as swimming, running, and playing ping pong.

I take my studies very seriously, and maintain a 4.5 weighted GPA. My areas of interest regarding academics include science, mathematics, and history. My long term goal is to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Florida and to contribute to the field after a long, successful career. While academics are very important to me, I don’t consider myself one-dimensional.

Last year, I, among six freshmen, made my high school’s varsity soccer team. At the end of our soccer season, we got to the State Final game, and ended as runners up. This year I have once again made the team as a sophomore and have been able to participate in many more games than last year.

There are few things that I truly dislike; however, some stand out. For example, I find racist mindsets or close-mindedness intolerable. Other things that I dislike include war and violent or thoughtless behaviors. I believe all people should be open-minded, accepting and considerate of other people and other ways of life.

I am very grateful to Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for giving me the opportunity to participate in another one of my passions: To travel to get to know new cultures and languages. The past two summers, I lived in Costa Rica and enrolled in Spanish language lessons, and soccer academies. One of my favorite experiences in Costa Rica was exploring and discovering cities and towns while traveling by bus or walking. I have also been fortunate enough to visit and explore Japan, Ireland, and Mexico with my family, and Canada with my friends.

The thought of living in Italy has increased my desire to explore that new world and immerse myself in the rich culture there. I intend to fully engage in daily life and the customs of the families with whom I will live, and cities I will visit.

To the Rotary Youth Exchange Organization: Grazie mille! I will strive to be a worthy and responsible ambassador who will be indebted to you and who will find a way to pay you back for this generous and life-changing experience. Finally, I also extend my gratitude to my parents, my grandmother, and particularly my sister, Adriana (outbound student to Taiwan 2009-2010) for inspiring me to take this important step in my life. Buona giornata, Carlos.

Carlos' Journals

It has only been three weeks since my flight landed in Trieste and I met my family for the first time, but after all of the experiences I've already had, and all of the people I've met, and how at-home I feel living with my family here, it may as well have been much longer. Before any of this had happened though, I first had to say goodbye to my family in Florida. I felt anxious in the car ride to the airport, not just because I have never flown by myself before, but because within hours I would be in a new world, living with new people.

En route to the airport, I received a phone call. It was my sister, Adriana, calling from Taiwan to say goodbye. It was unexpected, but very nice to say goodbye to her before I departed. When we arrived in the airport we checked in my luggage, had breakfast, and waited for my time to go. When it was finally time, saying goodbye was difficult. I suddenly felt very alone. The first flight was quick and easy, but I had seven hours of layover time in Washington. In this time I had lunch, said goodbye to my friends via texts and calls, and talked a bit with my parents and grandmother back home. I was excited during the flight to Munich, because soon thereafter I would find my new home. I had no layover in Munich, and I was soon on the airplane to Trieste.

When I stepped off the plane in Italy for the first time, I was very anxious but at the same time overjoyed. After I went through customs I walked through a small room then all of a sudden I saw my new family. I was happily greeted with hugs, smiles, and slow, carefully spoken Italian so I would understand better. We then departed for home. The car ride was wonderful. I took pictures of the scenery and practiced some of my rusty Italian with my new family. We arrived home and I began to get settled in. It was a lot to take in: new family, new language, new life, it was almost mind-blowing! My first meal in Italy was a delicious home cooked lasagna (How cliché!).

The first few days went very smoothly; I met some of my host sister's friends, and got to know some of the city. My family here is absolutely wonderful. They are loving, happy, and cook great food! When it comes to meal time, I help set the table and I sometimes cook the pasta while my mother makes the sauce for it. Afterwards I help clear the table and clean up a bit. We occasionally play the Wii together, which is a lot of fun! I truly enjoy my family life here, as of now I haven't felt any strong homesickness.

When it was finally my first day of school, I was a bit nervous. Some people back home told me that the students might try to bash me with difficult questions about politics or other such topics, so I tried to mentally prepare myself. Before entering the classroom for the first time, I met another exchange student who would also be in Trieste for a year and was in my class: Jenny, from Finland. Contrary to my prior belief, both of us were immediately accepted into the class without interrogation. The students in my high school are truly great. They are fun to talk to and be around. They are also very helpful when it comes to school, and the ones who speak the best English also help Jenny and I when we have trouble understanding something well. During class I try my best to understand everything, but it is still sometimes difficult. However, I believe that within a few weeks the language barrier will be almost nonexistent. On Fridays we all go out into the city as a class and have dinner, chat, take pictures, and just enjoy the nighttime city life.

After school I typically go to my host-sister's grandparents' house to have lunch, as my mother works in the afternoon. Afterwards we have a coffee at a café, then I return home. I greatly appreciate their generosity in inviting me to eat every day, it is truly amazing.

I recently attended my first Rotary meeting here in Trieste, which was held at one of the most expensive hotels in the city, overlooking the water. I met my counselor and many other Rotarians who all greeted me with smiles and conversation. I exchanged my sponsor club's banner, and I was asked to say a few words in Italian. I told them how wonderful everything here in Trieste is, and how thankful I was for this opportunity of a lifetime. I have already sorted out all of my residence documents with help from a Rotarian from my Club who works in the Police Station, and the Secretary at the Rotary Club who is very kind and helpful. Hopefully soon I can find a soccer team to play on to stay in shape, improve my soccer skills, build new friendships, and improve my language skills as well.

As of now I am fairly well acquainted with the city's bus system, and can easily get around town. More importantly though, I feel as if my Italian has improved ten-fold from when I first arrived. I can follow most conversations and can usually respond correctly. These first three weeks have been an amazing start to what I know will be the best year of my life so far.

December 01, 2011

11:03 AM

When I really think about it all, it tends to amaze me. Three months have already passed since I began my adventure. Having greatly enjoyed my stay here as of now, is seems like only a short time has passed, but remembering what I've done in these few months and all the experiences I've had, it might as well have been much longer.

One of the great spectacles I've seen here in Italy was the Barcolana, an annual event held in early October. Over 1200 sailboats from all around the world filled the water near Trieste to compete in a race around the bay. I was awed, not having ever seen anything like this. I visited my host father that day, because his house has an incredible view overlooking the entire bay; I took a lot of photos that day! It was very serene to see hundreds of sailboats racing across the ocean but to hear almost nothing, it seemed almost surreal.

As I get to know my family better and better, I realize how fortunate I have been to be living with such kind, generous and loving people. We all joke, talk and laugh together like any other family. My host grandparents still invite me to a delicious lunch at their home after school, followed by a coffee. I am extremely thankful for their generosity. Of course no family will ever replace my real family, but my Italian host family is the best substitute I could've asked for.

On October 30th my family prepared a special birthday dinner for me, and gave me gifts. After dinner, we called back home with Skype and had a nice chat with my real family. It was a very happy time, and the first birthday I have ever celebrated away from my friends and family from Florida.

As with my family relations, my school friendships are also improving and growing very strong. We still go out for dinner in the city on Friday evenings, and we also occasionally go spend time in the city on Saturday as well. I feel like I have been truly accepted by all of my classmates, and I greatly enjoy their company. School is also going well - I understand almost everything and am starting to fully comprehend the work we do, within a month I think I will be fine. My language skills are very good - I would go so far as to say I am now functionally fluent in Italian.

One of the great places I've seen here is Italy is Venice. It is truly unique, unlike anything I've ever seen. I have now been there twice, and would gladly go again. There are no cars in Venice, simply people walking and boats in the canals. It's a magnificent marvel of history, art and culture.

I have also now met the other RYE students in my district. They are very fun and adventurous, and it's great to spend time with them. We recently partook in a Rotary trip to Cremona, where we got to know other RYE students from other districts. It was very exciting and enjoyable to get to know almost 50 others partaking in similar adventures, but it seemed strange to be speaking English again to everyone - I almost felt like a tourist. It was great fun anyway, as there was the annual Torrone festival. Torrone is a dessert typical to Spain, and I made sure to buy some before I returned to Trieste.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I decided to prepare a dish for my host family. I ended up making North Carolina bar-b-q sauce for pork, following a recipe sent to me by my mother in Florida. It turned out well, and my host family enjoyed having an American dish for an American holiday. Not too many people here even know what Thanksgiving is, so it was nice to include a little bit of history into making the meal.

I have now found a soccer team to play with, and I practice with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After I complete a bit of paperwork, I can also play in the matches with them. They are very nice guys, and I really enjoy the practices. Being here in Italy, I have felt truly accepted into this new life. The people here have become true friends, and I am really having an amazing time here. November has come and gone very quickly, and Christmas is right around the corner. More than one fourth of my adventure is already over, but I know it's only just begun.

January 30, 2012

When you're having fun and just living your life at home, time seems to go by quickly. That is actually how I feel now; at home. I almost feel as if I've always been there in Trieste, it all seems very familiar and very normal. Nearly five months have passed since I have been here and yet it feels like only a short time ago that I arrived in Trieste. Every day my experiences and friendships grow, and in my opinion I'm having the best exchange I could've wished for.

Us exchange students have been told that we will likely have ups and downs in our exchange, that at some points we may feel very out of place or uncomfortable. We have been told that particularly during the holiday season we may feel sad or miss our family. Instead my exchange has and still continues to flow very smoothly, without any downs. In fact in my opinion the holiday season was one of the highlights of my exchange so far.

For the holidays I partook in several festive events. On Christmas Eve, my host grandmother and her husband came to our home for dinner along with my host sister and her fiancée. After a delicious dinner, we handed out and opened the gifts. I really enjoyed partaking in this event, and being away from my home in Florida made it also interesting and fun. After opening gifts and chatting a bit, we played a traditional Italian Christmas game called tombola. The game is similar to bingo, and we used coins to wager; it was great fun! My host sister also gave us a call from Quebec to say hey and happy holidays. The evening was very special. The next say I was invited to a Christmas lunch al my host father's home, to which several of their family members and friends also attended. First I called my family with Skype to wish them all a merry Christmas, and they also got to know my host father. After this we began the feast. The food was very good, but in the end I a te almost too much, and felt very bloated afterwards. Nevertheless it was satisfying and fun. The lunch lasted in total from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.; four hours of eating! That same evening we witnessed a marvelous sunset, one of the most dazzling ones I have ever seen. After the feast we once again played tombola, and had a great time with it. Once most of the guests had left I remained a bit longer to play the Nintendo Wii with my young host brother. It was a grand evening, and it was nice to spend it with my host family.

The next morning I woke up still feeling a bit bloated from the evening before (I hadn't even had dinner that night) and got into my warm winter clothes. My host mother and I were going into Slovenia with several of her friends to soo the snow! As we drove up the mountain roads we began seeing small patches of snow. The small patches eventually became bigger until everything was snow. When we arrived in the scenic area, we first took a long nature walk. It was cold, windy and snowing, but it was nice to see snow again. Being from Florida I don't get to enjoy it very often, so I had planty of fun. After walking I tried on some skis and attempted to ski for the forst time in my life. I ended up falling many times and eventually got tired from the heavy movements required. After tiring myself out, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of bean soup and gnocchi. After a full day in the cold and snow it was nice to return to the wornth of home.

For a few days after this I was mainly at home or with friends in the town relaxing and having fun, waiting New Years. When the 31st finally came, I went to a friend's house where we met in a group for dinner and then walked into the center of town to see th efireworks and music and crowds of people. It was a very joyous event with hundreds of people, and the feeling of a new year dawning in another country awed me. New Years was a bit different without the ball dropping on TV or mt friends from Florida, but nonetheless I had a wonderful time. At several times during the holiday season I contacted my Floridian parents who spent the holidays in North Carolina to meet up with the rest of the family. It was nice to see all of the family that I normally see during Christmas time, even being thousands of miles away. I also sent and received several Christmas cards from my family and friends; it felt good to be part of my Floridian family's holiday events as well.

Soon after New Years, my friends from the Rotary district on exchange visited me in Trieste for a weekend. I showed the around the town and took them to a higher part of the city to see the sunset. In the end we were lucky, because the sunset was truly magnificent, an absolute splendor. We took many pictures and enjoyed each other's company. Once we returned from being out in the town a bit more, we watched "The Green Mile" in Italian before going to bed. The following morning we prepared pancakes for breakfas; an American classic! My host mom also tried tham and she liked them! tIt was nice to show some others my host town, and we thouroughly enjoyed our time together.

A few weeks later, I also partook in a multicultural dinner with my friends from another exchange program, AFS. I prepared Costa Rican black beans and rice, and they ended up being very good! I became close friends with these other exchange students, and we all enjoeyd spending time together. I took them to my favorite café, and I also went to Venice with them. Recently, two of them had to go back home,; they were only on two-month exchanges. It was sad dropping them off at the train station, but I know they truly enjoyed their time here.

My school friendships still remain strong and warm, and it is another true highlight of my exchange. We chat and have fun at school, and we still go out on Friday evenings to have dinner in the city, and we all have great times together; I feel truly accepted into a place that I found not even half a year ago. I have made other friendships ads well, including my soccer team, which I still continue to practice with, the AFS students and their families, and some friends of my host sister. It may be truly one of the best feelings for an exchange student to feel so accepted, and I sincerely love it.

My adventure is nearly halfway over, so I have to cherish every moment of every day and live my life to the fullest. Times are changing and my journey will still continue for over half a year. But the memories kept, and the friends made over this time are something that won't ever end. I don't like to think about it, but I still sometimes do: What will it be like going back home? I won't truly realize the cultural differences until I am reintegrated into my previous life. One of the hardest parts of ending may well be starting again; leaving all that I have gotten to know and love here in Italy. For now I just keep in mind that there is still time to enjoy this wonderful part of my life.

April 1 , 2012

It’s interesting how long periods of time can pass in what seems like an instant right in front of your eyes. It feels like a very short time ago that I was writing my previous journal entry, and yet these past two months have gone by unbelievably fast. It is probably like this because of the amazing and fun experiences I’ve had recently; I’ve been across Italy and into another country, and have taken part in a very unique and amazing festive event. But February was also the month in which I had to brave the bitter winter of Trieste, which was a particular challenge for someone coming from the Sunshine State!

In early February, the Rotary officers for our district had organized a trip to Rome for us exchange students, and we were obviously thrilled! There were only two minor problems: it was only a two day trip, and Rome was covered in several inches of snow. In fact the weekend that we were there just happened to be the coldest weekend Rome had experienced in about 25 years. Either way we were excited out of our minds to visit the Eternal City. We went by train, and the trip took about 6 hours. It wasn’t an unpleasant ride however; we had great views of the Italian countryside as we went, and the excitement was constantly building. We arrived late Friday night, and took the subway to our Hotel, on the way we threw a good number of snowballs! We slept that night wondering what the morning in Rome would bring. When we awoke we went to a brief Rotary meeting, and then we were set loose to wander and explore as we desired. We walked around a bit to see the Coliseum and Piazzas, then met up with other exchange students to visit other places. We also saw the Fountain of Trevi, in which we tossed coins as a guarantee of return to Rome. That night we hung out in the Hotel, excited for another new day. We found out the next day that we were going to the Vatican to see the Pope speak; it was a truly impressive experience. Unfortunately we had to leave very shortly after lunch that same day. We all had a great time; however the cold and the briefness of it were a bit disappointing. Either way it was an unforgettable trip, and I sincerely hope to return someday!

It was in this period that I experienced a winter unlike any other I had ever thought I would see. In the mornings when we were leaving the house to go to school, the temperature was routinely less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a cold that stung my eyes and lungs and hands. It wasn’t however, only the cold that we suffered; Trieste is known for a very significant wind pattern known as the Bora. This occurs when cold wind from the northern countries in Europe reaches Trieste, where it then funnels through a small valley-like structure a few miles from the actual city. This funneling effect creates very high speed winds, which increase the wind chill factor, making it seem colder than it really is. In fact the wind is so strong, that it blows away most of the cloud formations above Trieste, so when there is Bora it doesn’t snow. We got snow one time, but it was so cold that it was like a dry powder, almost like sugar. I was really missing the Floridian weather during this period! On one occasion, I was in the town with my school friends and I needed to return home by bus. In the end I waited about 25 minutes in 20 degree weather with almost 115 mile per hour winds; very unpleasant. My feet were stinging by the time I got home! However luckily at this point spring is coming on strong, and in the daytime the temperature is about 70 degrees.

In early February I went with my host sister and her boyfriend to find a costume for the upcoming Carnevale: a large celebration held every year where people of all ages dress up in costumes and sing and dance and just have a good time. The other RYE students in the district came to Trieste to partake in the events as well. When I started looking for a costume I personally hoped to find something along the lines of the Dragonball Z outfit, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it. Therefore I settled for a nice samurai costume, with hat and sword included. When Carnevale came in mid February, I was very excited; never had I seen anything like it back in Florida. On Saturday we went to Muggia, a small port town nearby where hundreds of people gather to celebrate. Before arriving however, we needed to take the famous Number 20 bus, which during Carnevale is so packed you will most likely be standing, and being pushed. When we arrived in Muggia, it was already packed with peop le dancing and laughing, and it was great fun for all of us exchange students. At one point, one of the entire piazzas was filled with people in costumes, and we were all incorporated in a group dance with a Portuguese song, where we jumped side to side as a large mass; it was truly fantastic! We were out until about 11:00 P.M., at which point we returned home to get at least a little bit of sleep because the next morning we were off to celebrate Carnevale in Venice! We got up early in the morning to quickly catch the train headed towards Venice. It quickly became packed with riders; so much so that many were standing up because there weren’t enough available seats. When we arrived in Venice we were awed by the many beautiful traditional Venetian costumes. In fact there were many shops in which these costumes and masks were bring sold, and we stopped at many of these stored while exploring the streets of Venice. Many people in the streets apparently liked my costume, and asked to take photos with me! When we arrived in the main square of Venice, San Marco, it had begun to rain. Unfortunately, we had very little time to stay in the square because we needed to catch the train going back to Trieste. In fact, we had to run to barely make it onto the train, and of course we didn’t find seats. In the end it was a beautiful experience to see the Venetian costumes, and the thousands of people from all over the world pacing the streets. However it was a different experience than Muggia: less dancing and music, more walking around and exploring. The following day we stayed in Trieste to see a parade complete with floats and music and later we went to get a delicious hot chocolate. Tuesday we returned one last time to Muggia, and once again we had a really fun t ime with more singing and group dancing. I really wish there were some similar celebration back in Florida where we are, but as far as I know there’s nothing like the Italian Carnevale!

After all of the festivities were over, there was some time to relax in Trieste. After all of this commotion some time to rest is good. Of course while Carnevale was taking place, us students had some time off from school, so returning was really a drag, we just wanted to have Carnevale forever at that point! But in the end school is very enjoyable as well. My classmates are as friendly and fun as ever, and I still truly enjoy their company. Having them in class makes the lessons so much better in a comical and chaotic way, where we joke and laugh every day all the time! Recently several of us from the class got together at a friend’s house to see a movie. The T.V. wasn’t working very well, and every few minutes the picture would be almost frozen and the audio wouldn’t work. Either way we all had a great time in each other’s company. They are all truly amazing friends.

My host family is still very close to me, they treat me like true family, so I do the very same. I have been very fortunate to not only have met them, but to have been able to stay with them for all of this year. The fact that I don’t change families for the whole year was an absolute gift. We share great moments together all the time, such as meals, playing the Nintendo Wii, playing board games, watching movies, and so much more. A few weeks ago we celebrated the birthday party of my host sister’s fiancée, so we got together with a few of their friends here at the house with cake and pizza, all the while joking and laughing. I truly enjoy their company and feel not only accepted, but loved, and I love them back! This in my opinion could be the most important thing for an exchange student with their family.

After Rome and Carnevale, I wasn’t sure what would come next. That is until I learned that a few of the RYE students in our district were planning a trip to Paris! I was immediately interested, and started making preparations right away. In order to go, we needed an adult to accompany us, so my host mother came along as well! Now there were six of us: Four exchange students including me (one who spoke French), my host mother and another Italian friend of ours. One week before departure, we got together at my home to organize some sort of plan for our trip, and reading the books and looking at the maps we really got a sense of how immense Paris was, and how much there would be to see and do. When the day came, we quickly made one last check of our luggage, and headed off to the airport. When we boarded, the excitement kept building; soon we would be in the most beautiful city in the world! During the flight, we passed directly over the snow-covered Alps, which were a marvel to see. When we arrived, we weren’t quite in Paris; we needed to take an hour long bus ride, then a taxi to our apartment. It was beautiful, and perfectly made to accommodate the six of us. We got a good sleep that night, but we knew there wouldn’t be a whole lot of rest because we needed to get up early to see Paris! In the morning we had a brief breakfast and then headed off into a new place. We got metro cards, which proved invaluable in the end, and started to explore. The first thing we went to visit was the Eiffel tower (how cliché!). We took many photos, and spent a good while around it; it was truly amazing to see it in person! After this we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe, another great monument of Paris. There we climbed the stairs to the top and got an amazing view of the entire city. The perfect architecture of the buildings and enormous roads leading off into the distance were stunning. After a bit more exploring in museums and bistros , we decided to call it a day. We then headed back to the apartment. We thought we were tired then, but in the course of one week of constant walking, climbing stairs and waking up early, in the end we were literally destroyed. During the week however, we saw some of the most beautiful museums, palaces, and monuments I could’ve imagined. The Louvre, The Mona Lisa, Pompidou, Versailles, and countless other sights made the trip unbelievable. However, maybe the best part of the trip was the fact that we were in a great group. We got along well, joked, laughed and basically just worked great together. In my opinion, Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, nothing I’ve seen comes close to matching it. It was truly unforgettable; the trip of a lifetime, and I would really like to return to Paris sometime soon.

These past two months have been very special and filled with amazing new experiences. I feel more at home here all the time, and the people I meet and the memories I’ve made will be unforgettable. I’ve come to love the people here and Trieste itself so much, I feel like I could call it home. As much as I don’t like to think about it, I sometimes remember that only about three and a half months remain in my exchange. I now need to enjoy my time here as much as I can, cherishing the remaining time. Now that summer is coming very shortly, there will be many more things to do, such as swimming, going with my family to the camping ground and spending time in Barcola, a part of Trieste with large areas dedicated to sunbathing and swimming. Also going out of the house without pounds of extra layers of clothing! In any case I know that the time I’ve spent here has been life-changing, and the same will go for rest of my time.

   June 18, 2012

Two months have once again passed in what seems like mere days, yet my experiences continue to grow and my time spent here becomes more rich with friendships and fun. In these two months I traveled quite a lot; more that I have in any other time in my exchange, and in this way I was able to see many new places that were all like new, different worlds. Soon I will also be finished with school, and will have about a month and a half of summer ahead of me to spend with all of my friends and family members here with me. However with all these experiences and passing time, the final deadline draws nearer - my departure date. I am currently dreading it, knowing how difficult leaving will be. Still however I know that this next month and a half may well be the best so far of my exchange, and that I still have much to enjoy before I go.

Up until the later months of my exchange I had only known and seen the northern and some central parts of Italy. I have always heard that the South of Italy is like another world compared to the North, so it had always been a dream of mine to to someday get to visit these places. When I head we were going to Lecce, a city in the southern region of Puglia I was ecstatic! We would attend the wedding of my host sister's fiancé. When we first arrived I didn't know exactly what to expect. I noticed that the people around me looked and talked slightly differently, and that the mountains that I was used to seeing in Trieste were absent. We rode home in the car, and I was surprised at how different the landscape was - nearly all of the land was made of olive tree orchards, and there were more wide open spaces compared to what I see in the North. When we arrived home we were greeted by warm food and an even warmer welcome; the people in the South of Italy are known to be great hosts, and the family was very glad to host us for the week. I quickly learned how exquisite and rich the cuisine of the South is: an appetizer, a first dish, a second dish, salad, fruit and dessert composed most lunches and dinners, and for breakfast I would often ear two or three pastries. In the days before the wedding, we took time to sight see around Lecce and the surrounding areas. We saw beautiful beaches, cliff faces dropping into the water, a cave system, and walked through downtown Lecce. We also saw old cities surrounded by walls with vendors lining the streets selling goods at very reasonable prices. One day we went to a zoo safari, where you drove with your own car among animals such as bears, giraffes, lions, tigers and monkeys. We had a great time driving around with the animals, and then we saw a dolphin show; It was a very touching performance. It was amazing to see this new place that seemed like a different world. When the day of the wedding ca me we excitedly donned our elegant clothing in preparation for the event. We drove two hours to the location, where we entered a stone church for the wedding. The couple was married, and at the same time their newborn son was baptized; it was a beautiful ceremony. After the wedding we made our way to a restaurant for the reception. Over the course of eight hours we had lunch! All the while we danced and celebrated; it was an amazing event. Overall we had a wonderful time in Puglia, and I would absolutely love to return someday.

After having passed such a spectacular time in Lecce, I wanted to return to the South to see more of these amazing places, but I doubted that it would be possible given the little available time left in my exchange. However I unexpectedly got my wish when one day I was told that there was a Rotary tour being organized to Napoli for a weekend. I was thrilled, and agreed to go right away. I made the trip with two other exchange students in my district by train. We arrived in Napoli in the late afternoon, and were greeted by members of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. We were then told in which host families we would stay. As we drove to the house I once again noticed the different landscape, and was marveled by the wide open sea. As we neared the city, we could see Vesuvius, the massive volcano that looms over Napoli. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time in the weekend to visit it however. We then met our respective host families and got settled in at home. I was pla ced in a family of four: a father and mother, and twin siblings of eighteen years, one a boy and the other a girl. Both of the twins had already partaken in exchanges in the United States, so they spoke English very well. In the evening I went out into Pompei with my host siblings and a friend of theirs. We sat in a bar and talked about Napoli and the United States and just anything we wanted to. I noticed that the people from the South were very happy overall in the way they talked and interacted with one another and with me. For this reason I very quickly befriended my host siblings. The next day we spent the morning in the ruins of ancient Pompei. There I also met the other host siblings of the RYE students. Like my host siblings there were very friendly and easily engaged in conversation. After seeing the ruins we had a gelato and then went home to relax a bit, we were all exhausted! Nevertheless in the evening we drove to the center of Napoli to spend the afternoon. We saw churches, palaces, stores and crazy drivers; It was a beautiful confusion! In the evening we did what I had been wanting to do in Napoli for years; we settled into a nice pizzeria by the water for the best pizza in the world. It was absolutely delicious - everything I expected it to be and more, I can't easily explain how great it was, it is just something one must experience on their own! The next day we packed into cars to drive along the coastline . We saw mountains, cliffs, terraces and a beautiful ocean stretching to the horizon. Before lunch we stopped at a beach for a quick swim. The water was very cold, but the sun shone strongly and we were warmed up quickly. For lunch we all sat at a large table and were served many delicious dishes and desserts . That day we returned home exhausted, but we still went out at night to spend time in the town. On the final day we made our way to the high school which the host siblings attended to talk about the RYE program. O ne by one we shared our experiences over the year to an auditorium full of students. It was very special to see other students learning about this opportunity. In the end it was very difficult to say goodbye to the friends I had made in Napoli, but I'm content in knowing that I may go back to see them again before I leave Italy.

After returning from Napoli, the next significant event I had to look for was the arrival of my father and grandmother from Florida. On the morning of their arrival my host family and I got into the car of my host father and headed off. Once at the airport we waited apprehensively for my family, and after several minutes they came through the customs gate. The next few minutes were filled with greetings, laughs and introductions. We took the scenic route home, talking all the way - my two families getting to know each other. After a quick car ride to see the town we returned home, tired and hungry. We had a nice Italian lunch then relaxed a bit at home. Later that evening we went into the town to sight see a bit and to eat pizza. After a busy first day my family still wanted to see more of Trieste. So the next day my two families and I went to an osmiza, a traditional winery and delicatessen, for lunch. The location was situated overlooking the entire town, and the view wit h the sun shining strongly in the late afternoon was beautiful. After a great meal, we all went to have gelatos by the water side. It was the first time my father and grandmother had tried real Italian gelatos, and they loved them! That evening we returned home once again exhausted, but it was worth it having passed an amazing day on the town. We then packed our bags because the next morning my father, grandmother and I would depart for a week in Austria. The two days in which we were first with my Floridian family were very interesting, because both families got along very well, and it was very nice to see this and to see them interact and communicate even with the language barrier (however my dad speaks some Italian, and they both speak Spanish which is quite similar to Italian). Early the following morning we all packed ourselves and our luggage into my host mom's car, and after a short ride to the train station we were ready to say goodbye to Trieste and my host fam ily for a week. It was strange leaving in this way; that is, going somewhere new without any other Italians or RYE students with us. But it would be nice nonetheless to be with my Floridian family for a while after so many months to talk and share my experiences so far in Italy in person rather than with a computer. Our first train took us to Verona, however we didn't have enough time to really go out to see the town. The next train took us from Verona to Innsbruck, a town in Austria. From there we had only one more connecting train that finished in Bregenz, which is where we would stay for the majority of our trip. When we arrived at the station, my father's friend, Heidi, with whom he had studied French with in Nice, France over twenty years before picked us up to take us to her apartment. She was also accompanies by her nine year old daughter Joey. She lives in Munich, but has another apartment there in Bregenz which she rarely occupies, and this is where we sta yed. The first day we walked around the town a bit and tried a traditional food similar to macaroni and cheese. However after so many hours in train it was nice to return home to relax a bit. The next few days we mostly explored Bregenz and relaxed in the calm atmosphere. Bregenz is located on a lake that also borders Germany and Switzerland, however it in itself is a small town, so wandering around or just staying at home was very relaxing; there wasn't a lot of traffic or noise, but there were many people who walked around, and many young people. After a few days in Bregenz we went with Heidi to visit Munich, where her actual home was. We expected to stay only one night, but in the end we stayed three nights, which let us see more sights and get to know more places. One day we spent in the center of town, another I spent in a beautiful science and technology museum, and another we spent at the Ex-Concentration Camp at Dachau. This experience was very moving and sorrow ful, however it was also very informative and in my opinion important. We were able to better understand a very tragic and significant moment in history. On the last day of our trip we took another train to Zurich in Austria. It was a beautiful town, with many, many young people out and about. We stayed in a nice hotel and got to know another one of my dad's old time friends. We took a long walk around the town to see old churches and shops, and then rode a tram to his home. We then ordered pizzas and sat on the balcony to chat, which by the way had an amazing view of the entire town of Zurich, and the Alps in the background. We spent the entire evening there, talking for hours and enjoying each other's company. Late in the night we returned to our room, tired after a long week of adventure to prepare our luggage for the return trip. We had a great week of travel overall, getting to know new places and people, trying new foods, using our other languages; it was won derful! But like usual after going on a trip here I was glad to be back in Trieste in the end.

Looking back I have seen and gotten to know more places and people than I ever would have imagined I could in one year. The friendships I have made have been permanently placed into my memory, and they will never be forgotten. Soon the other RYE students will begin to leave one be one, and the hardest part of my exchange will begin. I can't even begin to think of what to do when I need to leave, it will feel like leaving home again. Nevertheless soon my best friend from the USA will visit and I can spend time with him in the last month. Even knowing how difficult leaving will be I can rest in knowing that this year had been truly life-changing for me, and that I may return to Italy next year, this way I can see all of my friends and host family again. It may feel like returning home once again after being away in a strange, different place; I'll just have to wait and see.

July 19, 2012

Ten and a half months have passed since I stepped foot for the first time in Trieste, however it is extremely difficult for me to grasp the fact that my time here is almost over. I look back at the pictures of me from the beginning of my stay and see another person, I think of how I was at the start and realize how much I have changed, not so much physically, but mentally. The last two months have been perhaps the most important months of my exchange, and that being said also two of the most significant months of my entire life. They have been filled with some soaring high points, such as seeing my family and my best friend from the United States, enjoying the company of my host family in the final period of my stay, and spending time with my friends here in Italy before I depart. However there have also been some difficult moments: counting down the days, thinking of changing my current lifestyle to a new one, and most of all saying goodbye a lmost each day to people here who I may not see again for years. Nonetheless these past two months have been the perfect end to an unbelievably amazing year.

After returning to Trieste from Austria, I prepared myself for the final week of school. In Italy there is a tradition in which the students partake in the final days of school: The senior class students wait outside before and after school and during breaks with water bottles, water balloons, and water guns. Their goal is to soak anyone and everyone, regardless of age or gender. It is great fun, and we almost always got sprayed with water as soon as we stepped foot outside. Other than this the final week was more or less normal. Each day made us all more anxious for the summer vacation to just start, and for this reason it seemed particularly long. But nonetheless it was enjoyable; we shared food in class, did very little school work, and organized plans for the summer break. During this week my Floridian father came into the class to teach English for a day, and my grandmother also attended. He shared a short story he wrote some years ago, and the students truly enjoyed h is company. He also brought t-shirts and photos as gifts for the classmates. The students were extremely grateful, and some even told me after class that they had never seen such kind offerings. It was interesting to see the interactions between my father and my classmates, because they had already been in contact for months with Facebook, but seeing someone in person is totally different from seeing them through a computer. It was truly a great experience. On the last day of school we brought our own water to spray among ourselves, and I took many pictures!We also took a short walk to a gelateria with our religion teacher. Returning we were once again doused with water, which was actually great given the extreme heat outside that day! We finished the day with gym class, in which we played soccer as usual. The last day of school marked an important transition from getting up and going to bed early to staying out late and enjoying quality time with family and friends much mor e often. However I can say that attending school was among the best and most important parts of the entire year. The school is where I met my first friends in Italy, and where I learned much of the Italian language as well. For this reason, the end of school also marked the beginning of a period where I wouldn't see every one of my classmates every day, and where the year was coming close to an end. However I was happy all the same!

After School ended I was content knowing I would have a great Summer in Trieste before returning to Florida. During this time, my father and grandmother were still here visiting. We spent many afternoons all together exploring the town and spending time with our hosting families (mine and that of my father's bed and breakfast.) Also during this period we had one huge event to look forward to: The Bruce Springsteen concert to be performed right here in Trieste. We arrived at the stadium several hours before the start, but there were already thousands of people trying to get the best spots. We (my host mother, my father and I) were positioned standing up in the courtyard. We waited for two hours patiently for the concert to start, all the while thousands of people pouring constantly into the stadium; in the end the concert had an attendance of about forty thousand people. When the musicians finally began performing the entire crowd roared to life. The concert was amazing, and lasted from 9:15 P.M. Until 12:30 A.M. It was amazing to see the Boss himself in Italy, and us singing along to his songs surrounded by thousands of other fans doing the same. When the concert was over we headed back into town through a sea of people to reach our car to go home. We were exhausted and our voices were almost nonexistent, but it was more than worth it!

In the days after the concert we went back to enjoying the calm Trieste lifestyle for a while. However soon thereafter I went to Venice for the sixth time in my exchange with another exchange friend, Stéphanie, from Quebec. She stayed with us in Trieste for a while, getting to know my Floridian family and enjoying the last few weeks of her exchange year. We also hosted a cook out at my father's bed and breakfast in which my grandmother made some of her traditional Costa Rican cuisine for my exchange friends, a few Italian friends and I. It was nice to finally revisit these flavors that I hadn't tasted for almost my entire stay. Everyone else loved the food as well, and we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the shade and playing cards.

After Stéphanie returned to her host city, Rimini, we spent some more relaxing time in Trieste. But soon there after my father, my grandmother and I went on a weekend trip to Florence and Rome. We saw some of the famous plazas and roads of Florence, mainly just exploring on our own. However on the last day of our Florence stay we met up with a classmate of mine from Trieste who regularly goes on trips there. We spent the evening with him and another friend of his in the city. We spoke all together for hours, enjoying each other's company. Once it got late however we had to return to the hotel to be able to wake up early for our day trip to Rome. By the way Rome is not a day trip kind of city; to see all of Rome you need to spend many years there. We woke up early to get on the train, all excited about getting to visit the eternal city! We arrived and instantly noted the difference to other parts of Italy we had seen. The people spoke differently, the architectur e was different, and there were monuments of all kinds everywhere. We took a guided tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, which lasted about three hours. After this we sat down to have lunch, already exhausted. After lunch we headed towards the Trevi fountain, which my grandmother really wanted to see. We tossed in the coin as tradition holds, and got a gelato because it was incredibly hot that day. After spending some time around the fountain, we made one last stop at the Colosseum, the icon of Rome. We were miserably tired at this point, but it was marvelous nonetheless to be there to see these things in person. We returned home that evening in train, almost falling asleep standing up because of exhaustion.

It was also during this time that my best friend from Florida, Emerson, came to visit Trieste with his parents. After ten months of being away from my Floridian life it was great to see him again for the first time. We spent most of our days exploring town and hanging out at the beach. He also really got to like Trieste, and would have liked to stay longer given the chance. My father's friend from Florida had also come to visit, and one day we all took a trip to see Venice. It was their first time and my seventh time. We arrived in train, and instantly began exploring. We walked down the crowded streets taking pictures and marveling at the sights; typical tourist behavior. After walking for about an hour, we made our way to a canal to fulfill on of my grandmother's dreams: to ride in a gondola in Venice. She was really excited, and made sure we took plenty of photos! After the gondola ride we headed to the main plaza: Piazza San Marco. We spent a good while there l ooking around and buying souvenirs. We then slowly made our way towards the station, but still took our time to see everything we could. We had a great day in Venice, and our friends truly loved the architecture, history, and emotion that Venice carries with it. We took one of the earlier trains home in order to then attend a Rotary dinner held by my host club in Trieste. My father and grandmother also attended, and the club members were very welcoming and glad to get to know them as well. After the ceremony and dinner we were announced and thanked for the company. I give my sincerest thanks to the Rotary club of Trieste Nord for all of their help and support for me during this year. Also to the Rotary district 2060 in which I was in for organizing trips and hosting events to make our exchanges even more enjoyable.

Within the following days we, Emerson and I, had one more main event coming up: A concert by Blink-182 performed in Milano. We took a train there with another exchange friend, Eva, from Australia. We first arrived at the hotel, and took a few hours to explore Milano. Immediately afterwards we rushed back to the hotel to grab our things and then headed off to the stadium. Once again we were very early, but once again there were already so many people. We bought concert t-shirts and food while waiting for it to begin. When it finally began all of Milan seemed to roar. The concert was much shorter than that of Bruce Springsteen, but it was still an amazing concert. We sang along almost the whole time, so when the concert was over we left with very hoarse voices. We went to bed late, and had to be out of bed again within about four and a half hours. We awoke groggy and sleepy eyed, trying to rush to get ready to get our train. Emerson and his family left before us because they h ad to catch their return flight into the U.S.A. Eva and I then packed our remaining belongings and made our way to the train station. We spent most of the six hour train ride sleeping and marveling at how great the concert was. We arrived in Trieste, tired beyond our imagination, at which point we made our way home as quickly as possible to rest.

In the later part of these two months I went with my classmates to the beach to spend the entire night. They dedicated the night to a friend of ours who will move next year, and to me; it's truly amazing to know that I have friends like this. When we arrived we immediately jumped into the water, even though it was quite cold! We figured we wouldn't mind the cold later. After a bit of swimming, we played card games and chatted for a while. After this though, the speakers were brought out and we played music for hours, dancing and singing the whole time. By now it was already quite late, so some friends had to go home. This was another hard part because some of them I wouldn't see again until my next trip to Trieste. Saying bye is tough, but I can rest in knowing that it's more of a “see you later,” than a goodbye. At this point there were six of us left, and we stopped dancing and singing because we were now tired, but the music still played. W e had taken many pictures that night! By now it was about three in the morning, and some of the friends wanted to sleep. So we set up towels on the stone terraces and laid out. I wasn't very sleepy though, and neither were two other friends of mine, so while the other three slept we stayed awake to talk and hang out. It was almost magical to be with great friends under the stars by the water side with the city of Trieste glowing with lights in the distance, and to slowly see the sky lighten up as the new day came. When it was finally bright out we woke the others to get some breakfast because we were extremely hungry. After a short backseat motorcycle ride with my friend we got some breakfast pastries for everyone. We stopped at the home of one of the friends to eat and to rest for a bit. We all sat around to watch TV, and I instantly fell asleep! I was awoken an hour later when we started leaving. Four of us headed out together, while the other two stayed there. When I finally arrived home I fell onto the bed and was immediately asleep. It was 8:30 A.M. when I fell asleep, and I expected to sleep for a few hours, but instead I woke up at 5:00 P.M. We all had a great evening, and I was so glad to spend time with my best Italian friends. It was unforgettable, all of us there having fun and swimming and singing as the sun set, and then being there to see another day start. I'm so glad that I had such wonderful friends this year, without them it would have been a totally different and much more bland experience. They were always there for me, and made my stay more fun than I could've ever imagined. I can't wait to return to Trieste at some point to see them, they were such an important part of my life this year. They were some of the first people I met this year, and they were also some of the last people I spent time with. Saying goodbye to them was very difficult, it was like saying goodbye to brothers and sisters. I really h ope they come sometime to visit us in the U.S.A. I loved spending time with them, and I will keep tham all in my memory forever.

A few days before my return into the States, my younger host sister who had spent a year in Canada returned to Trieste. We went to the airport to pick here up with my host grandparents as well. This gave me a glimpse of what I might experience upon my return. Emotions, laughter, photos, gifts, and happy people. That evening we had a cook out at our home, in which my host step brother and I cooked! There were seven of us, and we spent the night talking about her year and mine, and eating and just having a good time. On the evening of the second to last night, my older host sister, her fiancee and I partook in a cook out dinner at my host father's house. There were other relatives and friends there as well, and we ate until we were full to bursting. There were vegetables, meats, cheeses, corn, desserts, wine, ice cream; a typical Italian special occasion dinner! After the dinner I went into their pool with my host brother and his friend for a midnight swim. It was cold bu t we still had a great time. It was strange knowing that within less than 24 hours I wouldn't see them anymore, and that in less than 48 hours I wouldn't even be in their company anymore. It feels very strange to have this feeling of leaving home again – I don't know which home to call home anymore!

In all these days I have been saying goodbye to so many friends, it's very difficult! Knowing it might be years before I see these people again is difficult to comprehend and accept. They mean such a great deal to me and they are all so important to me. However next year in June I may return to Trieste for some time with my mother, so she can get to know all the people and places I got to know, and so that I can revisit the life I lived in another place.

Out of all the people who have helped and supported and befriended me this year, the ones who I would thank the most are those of my host family. I have only felt this comfortable and at home with people at my home in Florida and among my absolute best friends. They made me laugh, spent time with me, got me gifts occasionally, and basically embraced me into their lives as if I were their own. My host father Sandro, his wife Cinzia, and their son Niccolò, proved to be a family in which I could always feel welcomed, even though I didn't live with them. They took me on trips, invited me to special dinners and lunches, let me spend the night at their house whenever I wanted, showed me what it was like to have a little brother, and just loved me and accepted me as if I had always been there with them. Sandro's parents, Franco and Grazia showed me some of the strongest and most unbelievable hospitality I have ever seen. I was invited every day to lunch and a coffe e after school, even though it was tight on their time schedule. A thousand “thank yous” wouldn't be enough, but I think they know just how thankful I am, family members tend to know these kinds of things. To my maternal grandparents, Giuliano and Diana, I owe a great deal of knowledge, fun, and family time. Whenever the other grandparents weren't in town or were just unavailable, Giuliano and Diana would have me over for lunch. They engaged easily in historic and political conversation, and for that I gained much knowledge of Italy, Trieste itself, and many fine wines! In the end we reach my actual home family: my mother, Fabiana, my older host sister, Francesca, and my step brother, Domenico. They taught me more than I can express, things I wouldn't even know how to express with words, basically life experience. Fabiana proved to be such a great mother: kind, funny, understanding, loving, and a great chef! In her company I felt totally serene, as if I had been living with her already for all of my life. I had never felt more at home away from my Floridian home before, I truly felt deeply held in the family and life here. Francesca and Domenico showed me what a couple is like in a young, loving relationship, and how to always keep your head up and move forward even through tough times. They also showed me how a relationship develops during the span of a pregnancy; their son Oliver will be born in mid December! My love and thanks to all of my host family members can't be expressed here, or written anywhere. The important part though is that the love is there, and it definitely is!

I have lived now ten and a half months in a new place, and now is the time to let it go and return to my previous life. These journals have kept many people informed of the main details of this year, but to recount it all would take hundreds of journals, and in written words I still wouldn't be able to accurately describe all of the experiences, feelings, friends, emotions and life that I have known here. Trieste is world apart from anything I know back in Florida, and I already feel nostalgic of living here. I'm glad that I will eventually return to retouch the life lived here, but for now I need to move ahead, and reenter my life back in Florida. However going forward doesn't mean I can't look back. Time passes, but the memories made over time don't. The people I've met, the friends I've made, and this new world I have will stay forever in my memory. These past two months have been a very appropriate and fulfilling final chapter to my st ory in Italy. As I spend my last evening here I reflect and remember the first few days of my exchange. For some reason, those days seem so vivid, even more so now than many months ago. It seems like a time so long ago that I first entered Trieste, but the year did pass quickly. In a short span, everything changed: my life, the lives of people I met here, and those of the people back in Florida, now I have to realize and accept this new major change from Italian life to Floridian life. Prepare yourselves Floridians, tomorrow I'll be there!