Jennings Brower
2011-12 Outbound to Czech Republic

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club
Host: Rotary Club of Brno, District 2240, Czech Republic

Jennings's Bio

Wow... what can I say other than all the hard work is paying off! I've been accepted and I will be going to the Czech Republic!! My name is Jennings brower, I'm eighteen years old and I live in beautiful Ponte Vedra, Florida. I have a mom Nd dad, a sixteen year old brother and a 14 year old sister. I have the best family ever and I love them all very much. We also have a 12 year old German Shepherd names Scout and a small yellow dog who is 14 named Samba. Steel is our (more or less) 5 year old cat who is grey, big, and goofy. I play lacrosse currently for my high school, Ponte Vedra High-school.

Anyways I am so excited to kick off this journey right and show Czech what southern hospitality is all about! My dad has been a huge help with getting my application done on time (well, mostly) and getting me through this. It is a beautiful country with plenty of forest and many historical buildings in places such as the capital, Prague. There are also many different castles that have survived until today that I hope to see during my experience over there. Czech is a quite difficult language to learn that I started off knowing none of but even before I leave I will make it my responsibility to learn as much of it as I can so I can impress my first host family with how much I know!

Czech is going to be incredible and I am thoroughly excited to take off and meet new people on this quest. This will be a huge life changing experience and I look forward to it and highly appreciate this opportunity Rotary is giving me!

Jennings's Journals

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dobry Den!

Since about a month before our June orientation, I have experienced the “Up” part of emotions towards leaving for my year abroad in Czech Republic. I don’t think we covered it, but I have realized since signing up for Rotary exchange, we go through I guess a mini series of roller-coasters. Each consisting of its own bumps, jumps, rolls, and chutes. When I first signed up and found out I made it through interviews and had been picked, I was excited of the possibility of a new and “foreign” journey that could literally and metaphorically take me places in life that many others may never have the chance to see or experience. That was the initial “climb” of the roller coaster, the first drop, however, came not so long after. One day I received a call that I was looking so forward to hearing. The call to announce host country placement. My call came from Paula Roderick and a few of the inbounds.

(since I have read some of the other journals from current Outbounds and inbounds alike, I know honesty and emotions are a big part of telling our personal stories so here’s my first possibly shocking roller coaster drop.)

When I had filled out my application I had put

1.Sweden

2.Denmark

3.Norway

4.Czech Republic

5.Estonia

When Ms. Paula and the girls announced the first time where I was going I couldn’t understand what they said because of the inbounds different accents all intermixing all at once. So I politely asked again (a little worried that the first thing I heard didn’t sound a lot like “Sweden”) and when the words Czech Republic came through my phones earpiece, (honesty 101) my heart sank and I tried to give my best “thank you I’m so excited” through my disappointment so that the girls wouldn’t think they upset me with the news. My dad was an exchange student to Sweden in his gap year before college and I had really been hoping to follow in his footsteps and share a life experience with him since I had already (and still do) plan on  attending Florida State University (Go Noles!!)  at some point in my life to follow one of my mom’s life experiences. Even though I was bummed that I didn’t get my first choice, I realize now that even though I didn’t want to hear it at the time, this experience is my own and not my parents.

This leads me to my most recent and quite large up. Since about a month before our June orientation, I have experienced the “Up” part of emotions towards leaving for my year abroad in Czech Republic. Through talking to THE BEST (sorry other Rotex but I got to represent) Rotex ever, Liz Kane, and to others about how awesome the Czech Republic is, by looking at pictures, how cool her experience was, and yes (OMG!!!) even through that AWFUL research assignment that helped me learn so much about the country, I really have become excited about this trip and the destination I was chosen.  The climax, I guess you could call it, occurred three days ago when I Skyped my first family host sisters for the first time ever. I mean… wow.. Just wow. When Rotex say to get connected with your host families now because that will only inspire you more to study more and strive for success before you even depart, they know what they are talking about. My 18 year old host sister, Leona, is sadly going to have already left for her exchange trip to Japan before I arrive in the Czech Republic so I will not be able to meet her face to face, but my nine year old sister, Nikol, will still be there and will be my little sister while I am with my first host family. She is absolutely adorable and doesn’t speak any English. Leona was able to translate back and forth between Nikol and I talking and one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard is her response to my question, “are you ready to have a Big Brother around?” and she said something along the lines of “ I am very excited to have a big brother that will walk me to the bus stop, ride with me to school, walk me over to school, and at the end of the day take the same route back home because our schools are right across the street from each other. My heart instantly flew somewhere around a bagillion stories in the air. I was so excited and happy all at the same time. Someone over there was EXCITED to have ME come live with THEM in their country for a few months. Words can not explain it.

Long story short (too late for that) ((oh well J )) just talking to my sisters on Skype has motivated me enough to ask Liz for an assignment while I am off in Maine for three weeks so that I can have a larger vocabulary in order to better communicate with my little host sister Nikol when I arrive at the airport and see all of my first host family for the first time. Liz has made 18 sets of note cards for me to memorize over the three weeks away.

This is as far as I am right now and I can not explain how motivated I am to work towards this trip of a lifetime.

August 29

Dobry den!

Well its my first night in the Czech Republic and it has been nothing but awesome so far! That is other than the tear jerking goodbyes to my family at about 10:30 AM yesterday morning Florida time L. don’t worry mom and dad I’m doing just fine and moje host otec Ales and host matka Michaela are wonderful and especially little Nicole, my 9 year old host sister who doesn’t speak any English. Today at lunch after being picked up from the airport Nicole and I played tic-tac-toe on the back of a coloring sheet she received.  Even though we kept tying we both had wordless fun and we also shared some dance moves we both knew J and yes, right in front of the rest of the restaurant ha-ha. I love my new room and bathroom, ha-ha sorry Darby but its a lot easier to keep stuff organized when its one person in a room. Even as it is I would never take it over sharing rooms with you buddy. Messy or not. I thought I was going to be able to be strong and not cry on my morning of leaving but there was no way. It started after I had gotten dressed in my rotary travel garb ( I literally have never used that word before) and was waking up Darby and Kendall my sister and brother in the USA. Thinking this could be the last time I see them hit me hard. Then came the airport goodbyes after a not too shabby airport breakfast of French toast and eggs with my family. I survived my mom’s embrace without tears and then started sprouting them like a leak as I hugged my dad. Kendall was next and this opened the leak to a steady flow. But when my best friend, my partner in crime, my brother Darby came up I couldn’t help but completely each strong beam that had been holding my emotions from falling. So many memories flooded my mind of good times with him and I could not hold it back.

Enough about the sadness, but to be honest I believe that may be the hardest part of this whole trip.

The flying went smoothly except for a minor speed bump when I missed my connecting flight from Amsterdam to Prague because of a late arrival but it turned out completely fine. I’m here safe and that’s all that matters.

On the way home from the airport I caught glimpses of beauty from both Prague and Brno’s historic awesomeness. I look forward to exploring more.

But my family lives on the edge of Brno, in a quaint (another never used word) place called Old Lisen. Pictures will be up on face book soon.

Anyways I’m signing out and tomorrow I’m spending the day in Prague with my new friend Kuba Mach. Its going to be great and I promise to upload tons of pictures.

Dobrou noc a mluvim s yall later.

September 1

Well, well, well…

So everything continues to be awesome with a side of perfect on a hot golden platter. Nothing less : )

I have (fortunately) yet to be home sick which for me is a good thing. My parents know I used to have a problem with that just at two week summer camps ha-ha(not fun…).

The 2nd day I was here I met a new friend Kuba Mach who is my exchange sister’s(currently in Japan for her exchange) boyfriend and he is very cool. We became friends quickly and effortlessly. He , my host Dad, and I went to Prague (our ((Czech Republic)) Capitol City) because Aleš had some meetings. Kuba toured me around Prague by Bus, Metro, and trolley-buses, for about 8 and ½ hours. It was really awesome the architecture is absolutely breathtaking and I cant get enough of the cobblestone sidewalks and Prague Castle and just all of it. To think that I only live two hours from this beautiful city is exhilarating.

Yesterday Kuba toured me around our city Brno for about 6 hours and we saw all the important buildings and also free-toured the dungeons of the biggest castle in Brno. It was very cool but made me happy I didn’t have to live in one of those cells for more than a day. Ha-ha.

Today was the first day of school. This will sound very weird. I enjoyed it. I know. My Floridian parents are shaking their heads saying he’s lying. Ha-ha. Totally true though, I love my classmates(we stay with the same group of people all day so everyone becomes good friends throughout the year), my teacher, the way the school works, oh, and school today was only 2 hours ; ) which made it better too : ). There’s a guy in my class who’s name is Martin and he lived in Colorado for a year(I don’t know how long ago) a mluvite anglitcky moc dobře!(he speaks English very well.) He showed me the school and its very simple. Ponte Vedra High school is a 2 level, U-shaped school with many, many, many class rooms on each level. My school here is L-shaped with 3 classrooms on each level and a big field tucked next to the school for gym.

Mom and Dad, everything’s great, I’m safe and beyond happy : ) nothing to worry about.

Kendall, my little sister is just like you, she has a body made of noodles and her gymnastics tricks are crazy. From knots to balls, she can form to almost everything. She’s like a Czech Skylar.

Darby…. Stay lax, Bro. Protect our sister. Don’t mess with her too much while I’m gone.

Anyway tomorrow’s another day. Peace out Floridian and American friends, family, Rotarians, and Rotex.

September 8

Dobry den!!

Jsem moc dobře a ja mamarad moje rodina, moje kamarady, moje doma a everything else : )

Today was very interesting. I had Spanish class for the first time since I have been here. And I thought learning Czech in English was tough…. But no worries, I am now officially (I think) trilingual! I speak perfect, czec-lish, spang-lish, and span-ech!!!! : ) It surprised me though how I perfectly understood 95% of what the teacher said in Spanish but as soon as it was my turn to say my name, where I was from, and what I like to do in my spare time, I couldn’t think of any Spanish words but only Czech words. Even though I had studied 3 years of Spanish, the past three months of Czech have completely taken over. It was like I was speaking to a friend in my Czech school in Czec-lish but to the teacher in Span-ech. Filling unknown Spanish words with Czech : ). Good times.

Ha-ha anyways I still love life here and here’s another interesting story from today, I tried out for volleyball. It was actually more like a showing a coach how I play so he can help find me the right volleyball club in the city. I was only practicing with the team for maybe 45 minutes. And lets just say that afterwards I felt like I played the worse I ever have. My spirits were finally lifted when my dad Aleš told me that I had just practiced with THE BEST TEAM IN BRNO of my age. They had been professionals. Some of them even paid to play. And I had wondered why I played badly. He told me I actually played well but the fact that every one on that team had played all their lives and were planning to play volleyball the rest of their lives. That explained why all their players had been at least 6’3 and could jump like my one of my best friends Nate Cole (very good basketball player). So I felt better about myself. : )

I have decided to still look for a volleyball team with the coach that watched me today, but also keep enhancing my talent on the slack line. (tight rope). I can always get really good in an uncommon sport : ).

So just about 20 minutes my dad was telling me about a little kids movie that he took his daughter and my little sister Nikol to that he thought was actually a pretty good movie. He said it was a musical and one of the actresses is also one of the judges on “Czech Republic and Slovakia has Talent” (just as awesome a show ((talent wise)) as America’s Got Talent ((( for those of you possibly doubting))) :P ) and she is a incredibly talented singer. He was telling me about how she has a great vocal range and showed me one of her music videos and after I showed him Josh Turner (country singer) who I think has one of the best ranges of all the singers I know and I showed him the song “Would You Go With Me” and he loved it.

After that I decided to show him my favorite country song of all time. My Floridian Dad and I’s song. Yes, my real dad and I have a song that we dedicate to our father son relationship : ). The song is “I’ve Been Watching You” by Rodney Atkins. Halfway through the song I felt a pang of sadness as I thought of saying goodbye to my dad in the airport. In the music video it has clips of the dad and his four year old son doing activities. (to my Father Darby Brower) when I said goodbye to you at the airport I had flashbacks of watching baby videos of you and I doing things together and you always had so much joy and love in your eyes. At my birthday parties, when you would help me in those indoor playground places, when you and I would spend time together listening to “Morning Wood” with Casey on the fishing trip, and when you would help me in my biggest time of need when my back was in bad shape.  Dad you have always been so strong and you barely ever cry. Listening and watching our song with my host dad made me miss you more than anything.

I am so thankful for you and for supporting me to do this exchange because so far it is the best year of my life and I know it can only get better : ). You are the reason I am enjoying this part of my life so much and I can’t thank you enough.

So I officially dedicate this extremely deep journal to my father Barrington Darby Brower because he has always been my Rock to lean on : )

Czech Republic is wonderful, I have made many friends, I have tried so many new foods (fried cheese is awesome ((its like a giant mozzarella stick))) and my host family is nothing but great.

Tomorrow I leave for my first Inbound Orientation and I cannot wait to meet the other kids lucky enough to come to these wonderful countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia : )

Until next time,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dobry den! Cau! Ahoj! Jak se mate?

Good day! Hey! Hi! How are you?

These are only a fragment of the words and phrases that I have come to use and know in the past (ehhh almost) three months I have lived in the Czech Republic. Since my first few journals so much has happened and I will do my best to compact it so I don’t write a book, which with all my experiences right now, I promise would be a lengthy read, but surely a good one.

My first orientation in Strecno Slovakia was wonderful. I have always really liked being one of the first people to arrive at any Rotary weekend, in Florida or here in District 2240 Slovak and Czech Republic. I enjoy being able to play meet and greet with everyone that trickles in so that hopefully I will know and have talked to everyone and I can break the ice with teaching people how to slack line, throwing the American football, or by playing Ninja, the best non-prop-large group game ever invented. It was really interesting to see how people’s progress (or not) with the Czech language were going. On Saturday of the Rotary weekend we all toured Strecno Castle which was the first castle in Europe I had been to so it was a really cool experience to hang out in something other than the Spanish fort in St. Augustine . That night we had a very fun dance party and let me tell you, Spanish people are the absolute best. My best friend from the Czech inbounds is a guy named Alejandro Acosta and he is awesome. He and the other Latinos basically ran the whole night playing DJ with YouTube and teaching everyone to dance to each song. Being a goofy guy I of course donned the medium (towel sized) Czech flag as a cape during the dance night as to distract everyone from my ehh…dancing :D. Sunday (I think) we had a language test after breakfast which I did averagely on. Because of that I have boosted my Czech studies which you will read about in a little bit.

Fast forward to two weeks later where the strangest thing I’ve ever seen occurred. There I was, sitting on my bus, listening to my Czech Rap half asleep, normal morning right? Well, I decide to look out my window. I don’t know why but I just did. One stop from the main bus station, Stara Osada, the stop is Gajdosova and there is a big nice church and a subway station. Well this particular chilly morning a man with a strange ponytail and goatee decided to dance around some poor old ladies, on benches, and on the church steps…without any clothes on… yes ladies and gentlemen, I saw my first streaker… on my exchange. Was it a highlight? No, but definitely one of those moments you won’t (unfortunately) forget. So I looked around the bus and did what everyone else was doing. I turned forward and looked out the windshield with a blank face like nothing happened. Normal morning right?

My other trips have included another to Slovakia with Katrina Platkova (Slovak Rotex) and her husband to Spis Slovakia, where we stayed with her mom and dad (who is a Rotarian) and we went to Spis Castle, the second largest castle in central Europe. It was absolutely breath taking. We also went to Slovak Paradise; a mountain where we hiked and has at the top a giant slab of rock that juts out over empty space for hundreds of feet and you can lie down and look over the edge. It was beautiful and had great views. Lastly we hiked in High Tatras, and THERE WAS SNOW!!!! No big deal or anything to us Floridians right? . It’s the biggest mountain range in Slovakia and I can’t explain how wonderful it was but I have an album on Facebook with only pictures from that hike. Gorgeous. My latest trip was to Warsaw, Poland with my family and the Czech Republic Bartenders Association because my dad is the president. It was the 60th annual International Bartenders Association world championship for flair tending (flipping and juggling the bottles while making the special cocktail) and classic bartending (just making the special cocktail. Warsaw was very pretty but too modern for me because I like more historical buildings and so on but still very nice. My second Inbound Orientation was held in a city called Trebic, where I and the other 14 exchange students visted an old Jewish town, a beautiful old Jewish synagogue, and had a badminton tournament which my second host brother and i won! We also had a Speaking language test the first night after dinner as well as a three page written language test after dinner. I was very excited to get the results back(98 out of 100 on the written test) and find out that i currently have the best knowledge and use of the Czech language in all the exchange students living here .

In my spare time I have begun to go to a Gymnastics hall with my friends Petr Zilev and Michael Bejcek, to follow my childhood dream of becoming …. Spiderman. We learn and practice flips, spins, jumps, and vaults, which is what I’ve always wanted to learn to do but not had a place in Florida to try it. Other sports include Floorball, a game much like hockey on a basketball court, where you use a waffle ball instead of a puck, and sneakers instead of skates. Unfortunately I use a golf swing which is not allowed but I am learning fast. Slack line of course is still a favorite of mine (and now my gymnastics friends) but indoor spinning has become another favorite. Not only because one of my friends is the trainer, but it’s an awesome workout for one hour. It has proven to me that it is not only for girls (it kicked my butt the first time!). I have been to a hockey match(Kometa Brno((team name))) and I have found the fans are exactly like ours at a high school or college American football game, loud, obnoxious, and somehow singing or chanting in tune, all at once, so that the bleachers shake. I have also attended my first official Floorball game (Brno Bulldogs) and women’s basketball game (the team name escapes me but our mascot is a Frog.

In school I am in class 3.X which has three subjects (history, geography, PE) in English to see if learning in English helps learn the language faster. Because of its effectiveness my friends only spoke to me in English which (after I asked nicely) has stopped and we only speak Czech, but also I now have three only Czech language subjects with class 3.A, an all Czech class, when 3.X has English subjects. So everything is fixed so that I receive optimal Czech language!

OH MY GOSH THE FOOD!!!! I guess where I could begin with this mystical edible substance is when I was traveling with Katrina Platkova (Slovak Rotex((Lives in Brno))) and another Rotex to my first Rotary weekend in Slovakia. We stopped along the way at what is now my favorite restaurant in the 2240 Czech and Slovak Rotary District, “Koliba Drietomica” where I had one of my favorite Slovak dishes, “Halusky” which is potato dumplings with cabbage(like warm sauerkraut), sheep cheese (like fried macaroni and cheese), and pieces of sausage(delicious bite sized pieces of heaven). My favorite desert is Knedliky s ovoce which are hot baseball sized desert dumplings with a whole plum or nectarine cooked inside. Normally it’s served with shredded cheese, melted butter, and powdered sugar. It’s truly one of those meals where you have to think the whole time, “Pretend its Thanksgiving so it’s ok to eat all of this delicious food and don’t feel bad about it later…pretend its thanksgiving…” The list goes on and on of the foods I love but now for the foods that are waiting to be tried but are sometimes feared by foreigners in new countries. The first “interesting” concoction I tested my insides with was in one of my Rotary club meetings. I couldn’t read what the only thing on the menu was for dinner but the dinners at Rotary had yet to be anything but silver platter worthy so I figured it was going to be great. (WARNING- what I’m about to explain is not for the weak of heart or stomach) What was on the plate was normal white boiled rice with what looked like clear jell-o with pieces of meat floating around inside of it. As I took the first forkful to my mouth my second host brother and Rotex leaned over and asked, “So u like pig tongue huh? Good!”…..As I forced my way through the tongue jell-o, the only thing in my mind was a picture of me kissing a pig…. Nuff’ said. It didn’t taste good either unfortunately… The next food that is not a normal thing to splash down into my stomach acid was goose hearts. Yup. Goose hearts and w

So enough about the heavenly food here. Here’s a cool short story. A few weeks ago I had a Skype call with my Moms dad, Sherman Bryan Jennings, or for me and my siblings, “Peeps”. He had something very important to show me. He contributed a certain amount of money to Rotary in my name and explained some of my past “good deeds” to his Rotary Club of Orange Park and how I was going exchange and I have received the Paul Harris Fellow award. I told him how greatly honored I was to receive it and thanked him for doing it for me. That really touched my heart because he is 90 years old now, still a lively young man in my eyes as I always tell him . But he didn’t have to do that and he went out of his way to do something wonderful for another and isn’t that what Rotary is all about?

Anyways, about my current standing with learning Czech. My Czech lessons in school are not very effective for me. I only have one lesson a week after school on Tuesday and it’s only for 30-45 minutes. I have talked to the teacher myself but because of his schedule he could not make more time for us. So now I have two awesome Rotex friends who are helping me out. My good friend Katrina Platkova teaches English in a school and she is my major Czech Grammar teacher now. She gives me lessons for free whenever I have time that works with her schedule and she has made me a HUGE grammar workbook and everything. We normally meet Mondays before my rotary meeting for about an hour, Wednesday after school for about two and a half hours, the same on Friday and on the weekend Saturday or Sunday. She is a great help and I think it’s really speeding up my Czech learning. On my own I do homework from the grammar workbook and I learn words. When I left Florida I knew 218 words from flashcards made from Liz Kane, a Rotex who lived in Czech Republic two years ago. I am really proud of myself because I have taken her general flash card idea and blown the number up from 218 to around 950 words in almost three months. My personal goal is to be the first exchange student in Czech Republic to be functionally fluent a little earlier than halfway through the year. I can already have conversations with adults and teenagers most of the time understanding enough know what they want to say and being able to respond with not so perfect grammar but I know that will come with time and more practice.

So to those of you who took the time to read this, Dekuji moc, Thank you so much and I hoped you enjoyed it. I have also decided to take a different approach to blogs and I’ve started making video blogs on my YouTube channel (Theredsurfer268) about my marvelous stay in the Czech Republic.

Again thank you to Rotary for this incredible opportunity that not too many people can say they have and I promise to use it to the best of my ability. As you can see from this lengthy journal I am making memories for a lifetime here . Thank you for your attention!

Until next time,

Jennings Brower