Kate Sprehn
2011-12 Outbound to Croatia

Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
School: Bishop Verot High School
Sponsor: Fort Myers Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Zagreb, District 1910, Croatia

Kate's Bio

Reading through many of the blogs on “RYE Florida”, I can’t help but be intimidated, but also inspired to make my path in CROATIA next year. My name is Kathryn Sprehn, but I go by Kate because “Kathryn” implies a sense of antiquity whereas “Kate” is short, bold, unique, and opinionated, much like myself. As “Kate” I live with my wonderful and fantastic parents, Sue and George, as well as my 3 sisters (yes, that’s right, no brothers  ): Kelly (24), Sara (22), and Nancy (18). I will be 15 until September 21, 2011. This is exciting because one of the birthdays I celebrate with my new friends and family will be mine!

I attend a small Catholic school by the name of Bishop Verot High School. I have made wonderful and inspiring friends through lunches, school functions, projects, and dances. Next year I will surely and deeply miss all of them, but I’m sure our friendship will stick no matter what because our love for each other has grown unconditionally over the past 2 years. Although I am not a sporty person, I participate in Cross Country (running); it keeps me focused and is a great stress reliever. Besides running, I take interest in dance, drama, and music. I am addicted to all and aspire to keep all these desires in my heart throughout life. In the music department I am starting to pick up piano again while my sisters and dad play the guitar. I love acting and I participate in many a family skit as well as summer programs. In middle school, I danced competitively, but now I dance just for fun with my goofy sisters and friends.

I am very thankful for this opportunity to make my own shadows under the Mediterranean sun. I am incredibly excited to be going to Croatia; too, because my grandfather was a second generation American from CROATIA…family roots, here I come! THANK YOU Rotary Youth Exchange!

Kate's Journals

September 5

Today was my first day of school. Like I always do, on our way into school and while my teacher was introducing me I was thinking the worst. The kids won’t like me, we’ll have a whole day of school and I’ll probably puke at the end, you know the stuff everyone thinks on the first day of school. But the fact of the matter is, is that I made 5 potential friends today without doing anything. The people here are really nice and learned that even in a completely foreign situation, most teenagers act the same. We talk loud and dread school, but we do have undersides, which are funny, inviting, hungry, sleepy, and emotional. Now I have to tell the truth, it is 12:30 in Croatia and I have been asleep for the last 8 hours. Why? Because I suffered a continuous headache over the weekend and today and I did not want to be here this afternoon. My host family is incredible, the people are incredible, but I got lost today and started thinking how nice it would be to run away and just start backpacking Europe. I’d have a year, stay back in school, but I wouldn’t have to deal with not knowing the language and not having to deal with the frustration of not knowing the language and not having this growing jealousy because they can speak in English and carry on a conversation like no tomorrow. In Croatian, I translate sentences in my head, but my courage fails so I end up saying Da or Ne, or Ne znam. I’m working on it, but it still is slow going. Another thought wave begins with, is this real or a dream? It has registered in me that I am in Croatia without my friends, family, teachers, etc. I have realized the different cultural aspects and accepted them. I am getting used to the dreaded inclines that plague the country and I am forming a new life here. But, I don’t feel any different. I am not awed by the dream of it, and I am not depressed by the reality of it. I feel like the same old timid person that over analyzes the most innocent Bok!We shall see how it is at the end of the year, but I wouldn’t like to bore you with all m

 Now on to the good stuff. In the last week I have gone to the Maximir zoo and gawked at my favorite animals, the wolf, Griffons (yes they are real ☺), and snowy owls (which I thought was a pathetic afterlife for Hedwig). My first Rotary weekend has just past and that was amazing!!! If I ever here the work idemo again in context to walking fast to the ferry at 6:20 AM, I will lie down and sleep out of rebellion. But it was good I made 4 amazing friends and am nice to everyone. Three of the four live in Verazdin and Ryssa and I live in Zagreb. Zagreb is a huge city compared to the good ol’ Fort, but I can walk it, get lost without crying, and wonder how backwards my hometown really is….That is my cynical brain, but I won’t be typing that…ever. Anyways we beached it up not for the last time and the water looked like a swimming pool with nothing to be afraid of (if Delia is reading this). The sand has transformed into rocks that bruise me feet, but other than that, the beach is the place to be. Before Bol, the island/beach weekend, I went out with my host sister’s best friends Marina and Petra. They showed me the old part of the downtown area and really want to explore more when I find time. Sorry for skipping around, but I don’t think when I write, I just write.

My host family is marvelous, they keep feeding me and feeding me, so I have to keep up a strong exercising regiment so I don’t come back fat! But besides eating, Sandra is incredible and cooks, cleans, works and picks me up when I am lost. Dario is awesome and I now get to proofread a new book that’s coming out soon about the war and concentration camps in Croatia. I know I declared I would never read a book like this again, but I hope to be writing this stuff to expose corruption in our world later one so I better get over the disgust, and emotional part of just reading about it. He also has A LOT of other projects including managing his son’s, D

ino’s, singing career. Dino is a really good singer, but still trying to make the big break. He is really nice and makes sure that I am doing all right, which is saying something to the general male population of 16-20. Dino is 19, if you were wondering. Bruno, my little brother, is the person I speak most Croatian with because he doesn’t speak a lot of English and I don’t feel embarrassed around him. He is just as hyper as any 7 year old ☺. So this was the introduction course to my year abroad. I hope you keep reading and don’t mind a teacher that is scatter brained. I promise the next one will be more organized. So long, farewell, Bok, Chao, Vidimo!!!

Okie Dokes, ovo je drug mjesec. This is the second month! I can’t believe it’s already October. My tests start next week in Croatian school! I’m don’t know what to do, but whenever I am unsure of something in Zagreb, it always works out. I have a major support system here starting with my Host Family, which is amazing. We fit together like puzzle pieces and my friends here are great as well. I spend most of my time with my classmates at school and they’ve helped me a lot along the way. Last month, they helped me out with starting conversations and this month I don’t know what is going to happen, but it is going to be amazing!

The dream has finally hit me that I am in Croatia, with friends, and learning a new language! I feel that the possibilities for adventure will never stop and my weekends are filling up. My two best friends here are Rotary exchangers, but they live in Verazdin, about an hour away from here, so I don’t see them too often. This is good, because now I have managed to hang out with every person in my class 3E whether it is in a big group or a walk down the hall during our 5-minute breaks between classes.

I have also hiked a mountain twice, ran a race, and I’m running another race on Sunday, and I have joined European Youth Parliament. These accomplishments have made me so much happier. Before, I was lost and felt misfit for the country Rotary picked for me, but now I see their reasoning and totally agree that I should be in Croatia. The people are almost exactly like me and we are all not afraid to voice our opinions.

The Rotary club here is excellent as well. They have taken us to Bol, Plitvice, their pre-historic museum, and a castle! They emotions are running high here, and I believe I’m changing for the better. I now keep my room tidy out of choice, not chore, I make sure I tell people what’s going on with me, and I’m becoming more independent. I now do not wait for people to tell me what to do or where to go, but ask them, which has been my biggest obstacle yet. In September, I don’t know if I was just too shocked or what, but I became an observer of life, which is very hypocritical of my philosophies. I believe in doing stuff and having a schedule that doesn’t fit in the day because it means you’re alive and social. In September, I was this lost lamb or sheep trying to find my way, but I think the turning point was my birthday. My friends from here threw a surprise party for my Sweet 16 and it made me realize that they accepted me and that I actually could “disrupt” their lives for a year. This month I feel that I am becoming part of their life, not disrupting it and it feels really good. They accepted me before I accepted them, so I wondered if they were nice out of pity or reality. It was really tough for me to get over that my friends nor my family were here with me, but now I miss them, but I feel better knowing that I’ve made a new family and new friends that will support me to their best abilities.

A culture shock point is that they have a higher sense of duty to another person. Whenever I ask what something is or where something is they will either come back the next day with a whole list of details or explain something until I understand it, which takes a while at 8 o’clock in the morning. Now, I know my family and friends over there will be wondering why I am not awake at 8 when I’m used to school starting at 730, but I wake up at the same time as if I was in the states, because I take a bus and a tram to school….by myself.

The transportation here is incredible. There are a lot of cars, but these trams are overflowing in the mornings and afternoons because people actually use them to go places. They have an awesome set up for public transportation, but the government is lacking money to fund all the routes. It is still going strong though. There are also a lot of bikes, not as many as in Verazdin (named the biking city of Croatia), but Zagreb has convenient bike racks for those biking to work, or anywhere, and they have very wide sidewalks so bikes—and motorcycles—ride along while others walk. It’s a bit scary at first, but you get used to it after a while.

In school, I take 17 classes, but most classes are from last year so I know what they are talking about, a little. Last week I just started making out words coming from the teachers mouths, because in September I thought they were all mumbling and it frustrated me a lot. Anyways, I can decipher words, but I’m not up to translating yet. I’m ok with it though because 1) It’s a super hard language with a bunch of nuances and 2) I know the language will come with time. At the moment my desk mate, Petra, lends me her notebook so I can write the Croatian down, and now I have to translate them for next week. Hopefully by the end of the year, I will have 9 months worth of bi-lingual notes! I know it’s dorky of me, but I think it’s pretty cool.

My 2 most interesting classes are Sociology and Psychology. They are part of my top 3 classes, but my favorite this year is Spanish. I know it sounds weird that I didn’t pick one of the easier classes, like Logic, but I feel in my own world there. I’ve loved the Spanish language since I started learning it in high school and my sisters have learned it and are mostly fluent, so it’s kind of like a bond holding us together through my exchange. It’s a little unnerving though, because everyone in the class is from 3c not 3e, so I’m intimidated to talk to people, but I hope in time I can go up to one of them and have a decent conversation.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone, but I don’t get to say all this in my skype conversations, which don’t happen very often.

6 months down, 4 months to go. This year has been still unbelievable and there are still 4 months to go! What else can possibly happen? Everything. This weekend after a winter much like Florida, well like Florida as in no snow, we now get 2 or 3 inches of snow per day. At first I thought I wouldn’t want to go out since it would be so cold, but I can’t stop wishing to be out in the elements and have my hands numb because of my insufficient gloves. This past weekend, I threw my first snowball (which is kind of pathetic and funny at the same time) and I walked on water! Now I live by a canal, so after church my little sister, her friend, and I walked home and climbed down into the ditch to slide on the ice. It was a little scary when the first layer of ice broke under my feet, but the second layer caught us and it was fun trying to not fall in. It was thrilling and I’ve always wanted to walk on water, so I took the opportunity.

Another opportunity has arisen with the 2012 EuroTour hosted by the Austrians. I know I want to go, but I am still thinking of resourceful ways to pay my parents back for helping me pay for the trip. We start in Austria and spend 17 days in May circling Europe, hitting Prague, Bruxelles, Paris, Andorra, Barcelona, and other cities I can’t think of at the moment. We travel by bus and we travel with 100 or so other Austrian students. Then, after May I have a month of school left and then I leave to return to America, June 20th. Writing all this down makes me want to slow down time because it seems all too dream like.

My parents come in April for Easter ☺. I cannot wait to show them MY life in MY country. I haven’t had the easiest time here, but it is supposed to be the hardest year of one’s life. I want to show them how I can navigate the city, speak Croatian in a café and just everything. I want to show them where I hang out with friends, my two wonderful host families, the area of Zagreb, and the mountain I live under, Slijeme. It means “The Summit” and is part of the mountain range “Medvjed” which means “bear”. If you take the roots of “Medvjed” it translates to “Honey eater”. That is your language lesson for the time being.

The Masquerade is coming up. I think it’s next week, but I have no idea. It’s a typical feeling as an exchange student, not knowing what’s going on, but you jump in and learn as you go. I like it best that way so I don’t dread or regret anything, I just live. It’s really nice living in the present because anything could happen. I think this is the one skill that has developed from nothing during my experience. While in America, I was always planning something whether it happened or not, planning what I would do if I didn’t have homework, planning what I would do with my friends, and planning time with my parents. Here I just am. I plan an outline of something, but they usually don’t work out. I wake up anticipating the day, but since I don’t know what adventures will find me and where they will take me, I don’t dread or regret anything. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m happy that I have found how to just be. Gran ted, I do have restless days where I’m asking a bazillion questions and can’t focus on anything, but they have become less frequent and it’s a good feeling.

For new exchange students:

What advice can I give you before you leave in 4 or 5 months? Practice your language, practice your communication skills, and practice your patience. When you find something taking an extremely long time from a Tram not working or slamming into a car, or the kitchen being so completely different, you burn or ruin food a couple times, or if you have a rift with your host family, slow down. Take a deep breath and remember where you are. Going on an exchange is stepping into the twilight zone and if you don’t get comfortable with the weird, thrilling, and sometimes horrifying aspects of it, the martians playing with human dolls, or the robots that seem to interrupt your dreams at night will ruin your whole experience. I don’t want this to be a life or death tone, but it’s turning into one, and it kind of is in reality. You have to feel comfortable enough to seek out your own friends, seek out relationships with your family and possibly teachers and treck on you r own path. This year is not easy, but it can be made manageable with the right attitude and the comfort in knowning that practically everyone on exchange will feel super awkward, unfit, or uncomfortable at some given point. You aren’t alone on exchange and you have virtually the whole world wanting you to succeed…literally the whole world wanting you to succeed. Does anyone know exactly how many people exchange on a yearly basis? If there is around 70 going OUT of Florida and 100 only in Austria, think how many other people are out there risking their sanity for this once in a life time experience.

 April 20, 2012

Today will be a flash picture through my life at the moment. Next week I am going to Dubrovnik and Medigourca (Bosnia and Hercegovina). In 2 weeks I take the SAT for scholarships for college and in 3 short weeks I go on EuroTour. I return from EuroTour on June 1 (EuroTour is a 17 day frenzy around Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy). Then I have about 2 weeks to write my final tests and then 5 days or 2 days after school ends, I return home. There is a debate in the realm of exchange students here on when school ends (June 15 or 18th). So that's what I'm up to, scary eh? And in there my friend and I are planning to go see another exchange student in Sibenik (on the coast) the last weekend before school ends. How dandy when time doesn't alot you enough time to do everything you want to do...Back before I went on this exchange I told my father that someone should invent a 36 hour day. I still hold by that because think of how much we could get done in 36 hours, we would have 24 hours of working time and then we would have 12 hours to sleep. It would be perfect, but let's jump back to the present :)

So, I just had spring break here and I was proud of myself because I spent half with my Croatian friends and half with my fellow exchange students. After my real spring break, my parents came to see Croatia. They both really liked it and we went to a few places around town and Plitvice Lakes. Plitvice is this awesome National Park here with magnificent waterfalls and breath taking lakes. In town, I gave them a tour of my neighborhood, around my school, and around the old city with really gorgeous churches and quaint museums. When my parents were here they could see the change in me, but I still don't know what's changed about me. I guess I'll figure that out when I return to the states :0. What I did notice though is that I STARTED a conversation at The Lakes (Vernacular term). My mother, father, and I were on a tour with 2 strangers. I knew they traveled the world and I wanted to know more about them so my curiosity motivated me to just start asking questions. It was momentous because before the exchange I could care less about being social. I guess you could say I was scared of rejection...at least psychologically I think that's what you would say. On this exchange though, I was the one who had to be super social to make friends, so in the beginning I would just walk over to a group and stand there...that's way more social than staring at the ground right? In the middle, I actually said Bok (hi) and Kak si? (how are you) and then I would let the conversation run along in English for a little bit and then talk a little Croatian and then listen to the others talk around me as I didn't want to restart the flow of conversation. Now, I go up to my friends say bok, kak si, and a whole lot more in Croatian because I'm confident about my story and my language skills. You could compare it to my blogs because this one's is going to be long......I can guarentee it. :)

While my parents were here, we saw my Rotary council, my recent host family, my current host family, my Rotary club, and my future sponsored sister! When I was planning all of these meetings I learned a cultural nuiance. So, I don't know the reason behind this, and maybe someone older than me could enlighten me, but the first plan was to see my prior host family first and then my current host family later on. To me this fit in more with each family's life style as my prior mother liked to cook a REALLY BIG meal for her guests and my current family didn't mind seeing people late at night during the week. I told my current host mom that we would see the Jelusic family first (prior) because I thought my current host family would be away for Easter and the Jelusic family didn't have a lot of extra time. She said it was fine then, but the next morning she told me, very upset, that I had to see her family first. I didn't know the reason and I still don' t, but when we went to see my Rotary counselor and I told her what we were doing for the week, she seemed a bit shocked that I wouldn't see my current host family first either. So, I went back to my current house and my host parents took it upon themselves to invite my parents Sunday night, the night before we would see the Jelusic family. They were determined to be seen first and I still feel it was kind of petty. I'm asking around to figure out why this occurs, but whoever reads these blogs of mine and has an idea of why it is more polite to see my current host family first, please let me know. I don't know why it's not ok to be chronological. That's my psychological question and this is just food for thought, I'm not letting this cultural mistake ruin any relationships I have here...it was just something I learned.

Other happy memories....well, my school is going really well, I joined a gym, and my friendships keep growing every day. It will be really hard to leave this place and I'm not excited for the morning of June 20. But these are my last 2 months and while most people consider themselves done, I am still working hard at most things. I hope this isn't too long for anyone ;) :) :)