McKenzie Bolin
2011-12 Outbound to Denmark

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nørre Snede Rotary Club in District1450 Denmark

McKenzie's Bio

Hej, Jeg Hedder McKenzie Bolin! (For those of you who don’t speak Danish, I said, “Hi, my name is McKenzie Bolin!”) In case you don’t know why I’m speaking Danish, it’s because next year I will be living in Denmark! I am 15 years old, although I will be 16 for my entire exchange year. I am currently a Sophomore at Nease High School where I’m in the International Baccalaureate program.

International Baccalaureate, or “I.B.” as most people call it, is an amazing program that I am very thankful to be a part of. It has taught me to always try my best and instilled in me how important work ethic is. The most important thing it has given me, though, is my love of learning new things and embracing other people’s opinions. This will be very helpful to me next year, when I will be constantly reminding myself that nothing is strange or weird, it’s just “different”.

I have lived in Florida my whole life, and I haven’t even lived outside of the Jacksonville area. I live at home, in Ponte Vedra, with my mom, my younger brother who is in 8th grade, and my maternal grandparents. My parents are divorced, but luckily for me, my dad lives close by, so I get to visit him on the weekends. I also have 4 dogs and 1 cat, which I count as a part of my family.

Some of my interests include volunteering, church, traveling, animals, lacrosse, and acting. I am in 3 clubs at my school: Best Buddies Club, Conservation Club, and Cultural Diversity Club. I also volunteer at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and at my church as a pre-school teacher on Sundays. This year, I started playing on my schools girls lacrosse team. I love it, because not only to I get to spend my time having fun with some friends doing something good for ourselves, but I also get to show off my school spirit. I have been acting for a few years now, and since I started, I have had small roles on T.V., a movie, and in multiple plays. I hope to someday become a zoo veterinarian as my career.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to do foreign exchange. No, I am not saying that as an expression, because my mom tells me that in first or second grade I asked if I could live in another country. From the moment I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew it was made for me! I am a very independent person and have always wanted to take an adventure on my own, so RYE was the perfect program. I am very excited to try many new things, foods, and cultural activities in Denmark.

I could not be more excited about going to Denmark! It still seems unbelievable that a year from now I will be living in Denmark, speaking Danish, and living like a Dane. I am sure it will be one of the best years of my life, and a great opportunity to experience another culture first-hand.

So many thoughts have been rushing through my head since I got the phone call about going having Denmark as my future host country…. I keep asking myself things like what my family and friends will be like, what my new home will look like, what I will do each day, and many more random thoughts and questions! It is so amazing to know that in a few short months, I will have all these questions answered!

I will never be able to thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity that will certainly be one of the best years of my life.

McKenzie's Journals

July 19

As I sit here and write this, I know that my time in Florida is limited. I have a small 18 days left in “my world”. Florida is the world I have spent the past 15 years building. I have built a home, filled with family, friends, and comfort. That comfort I have built is the comfort of always feeling that I belong. I always know what is going on and I don’t feel out of place. One would like to think that the thought of leaving my entire world that I’ve spent so long building is insane and I would have a lot of anxiety about leaving it…. Well the truth is: I have never been more excited about anything in my entire life!

I have spent the past year of my life preparing for this and I know that I am ready! Just a few months ago I got an email that I had dreamed of getting for my entire life: telling me I was going to be an exchange student. Then, just 2 weeks after that, I got a phone call that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams: Jody Davis called to tell me I would be going to Denmark. Honestly, I never expected that. I knew I would be going on exchange, but I never expected Denmark. At the time, I had no knowledge about Denmark. I was in shock. It was a very excited shock, but shock nonetheless. Since then, I have spent every second learning about my future home and dreaming about my new life in my new world.

Since I was accepted into RYE FL, and chosen to go to Denmark, I have changed so much! I have already learned so much about myself and the world. Rotary always told us that after our exchange we would be more confident and responsible and independent, well honestly… I already feel like that (but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to how it will be after next year)! In the past year, I have learned to handle my own problems and I’ve learned so much about myself. I never imagined that I would be able to do everything I have done. Never could I have known that I was capable of handling visa issues and jumping through all the hoops I’ve had to jump through (and believe me, I had to jump through A LOT of hoops to make my exchange possible).

But, I don’t want to write these journals only to boast about all of my upcoming adventures. I want to allow everyone to know what it feels like to be an exchange student. There are ups and downs, and I’ve already had some. I had many downs whenever I would experience difficulties attempting to learn Danish (which I am now convinced is the hardest language to pronounce, but I do know it’s possible…. Somehow it has to be possible) or whenever I had an issue getting my visa (so stressful!). But, the one thing I want to make very clear, is that the ups have always been worth the downs. How do I know that? Well, any exchange student will tell you everything you do in your preparation year is worth the feeling you have when you read your first email from your host families and club counselor.  Now, I know my exchange is real, this isn’t just a dream I will wake up from (or so I continuously hope). I have skyped my host sisters and emailed my host moms. Nothing in the world can top that feeling of knowing that you belong in your new home and they are excited to see you!

I know next year will be hard. I know I will miss Florida and the comforts of the life I have built. But I also know that I must leave this life and go off on my own before I will ever be able to fully appreciate this life I’ve built and myself. So thank you Rotary, for making me the happiest teenager in the world. You have given me opportunities I could have only dreamed of so far.

September 6

I have been in Denmark for one month now and the only word I can possibly say is “Wow”! This past month has been amazing! I never imagined my new life would be this great! So, let me fill you in on everything that has happened so far!

My last week in Florida: I left on August 5th from the Jacksonville International Airport. The last week before I left was full of my “last times” of hanging out with my friends and seeing family members for a whole year. As I said my goodbyes, I honestly couldn’t bring myself to feel sad (not because I’m heartless, but partially due to my excitement and partially because I continuously felt as if I would see them again in a week). I officially got nervous when I went to the airport to greet Belen from Ecuador at the airport the day before I left. Then, the next day, it was my turn to leave. After hearing from all of my fellow outbounds who had already left and greeting an inbound, I finally had my chance. I didn’t cry as I had expected… I knew that I would be back in a year! The only time I really cried was when I looked down at Florida after my first plane took off (I still don’t know if they were tears of joy or of sadness).

Arriving in Denmark: I arrived in Denmark almost a full 24 hours later. I was completely exhausted (I had probably only gotten a good 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before I left and was so excited and nervous that I didn’t sleep at all on the way here). I was greeted by my club president, his wife, and their 2 granddaughters. That day I spent some time at their house, then went to my new home, unpacked, had dinner, and then went to a surprise party for my host sister in my 4th family (she had just returned from her exchange to Australia and her 17th birthday was that next week). I finally got to go to bed that night after 40 hours without sleep!

School: My school started one week after I arrived. The first day was crazy! I am in the first of 3 grades and on the first day, all of the upperclassmen decided to tease the 1st years. We were greeted at school by people waiting to paint our faces and spray our hair green- surprisingly, though, all of my class found it funny and we had a great day! The Friday of my first week was my birthday, which was amazing… but I’ll get to that later! School is surprisingly fun and easy here. I had thought that school would be much harder, but in the classes I understand (like math), I find them easier than in Florida, and all of the students get much less homework!

My Birthday: On my 2 week mark, I also celebrated my birthday! It was the Friday of the first week of school. My class sang to me (in Danish and English, because they use both songs here). My host families, host club, a few friends, and one Rotarian in my club all gave me gifts- which really surprised me since I had been here for such a short time! That night, my host mom invited some of my friends over for coffee and cake! And not just any cake… kage mand! It is cake shaped like a person, covered in candy- best cake on Earth (and when you cut it, you slit the throat and the birthday person screams!)

Intro camp: For my 4th week here, I went to intro camp. I was able to spend a week with 120 other exchange students. We had Danish classes and also did many other things, such as: private concert with the Danish band “Striving Vines”, spending a day in Aarhus (shopping and at the museum ARoS), watching a Danish film, along with plenty of other fun things! After spending a week with all of the other students, I can’t wait until our next get-together!

Fun things: I have already had some amazing experiences! I got to fly in a glider plane! I have been to the west coast of Jylland where I saw giant sand sculptures. A Rotarian in my club took me to a medieval festival, which was amazing!

This past month has been hard at times, but absolutely amazing! I am so happy with my decision to become an exchange student with Rotary! I have already had so many experiences that wouldn’t be possible back in Florida. I have grown as a person and have learned something new every day. My Danish is slowly but steadily improving, which makes me very proud!

Tak til Rotary og min familie og venner i Florida (Thanks to Rotary and my family and friends back in Florida!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just over 2 weeks ago, I celebrated my 3 month mark of being in Denmark, which I suppose means I should write a journal again!

My life has been crazy since I got here. So much has happened since I wrote last. Not only have I done so many different things, but I’ve experienced so many different emotions, met so many amazing people, learned more than I ever imagined (not just Danish, but about myself and the world as well), and changed as a person.

I have had an amazing time here, but that goes without saying I have also had some hard times. I knew that this year would be hard and would test me, but I will admit I was surprised at how hard it was and in what ways. I honestly didn’t expect to get homesick (which luckily I wasn’t ever too homesick and I never wished to go home, but I have had some days where I’ve missed my mom and dad), and I think I also didn’t realize how exhausting this exchange process can be! I think only exchange students understand what I mean when I say that I never knew it was possible to experience so many different emotions at once (sadness, joy, excitement, pride, disappointment, frustration, and pure happiness, along with other emotions I couldn’t even describe).

One really fun thing I experienced was visiting Copenhagen! My first host family took me to Copenhagen and Roskilde for 3 days and it was a great trip. During my fall holiday, they decided to take me to visit the country capitol (which is something I can’t say I’ve even done in the USA, my home country). The trip was really nice and it was great to see things I have only seen pictures before now. While there we toured castles, saw the harbor, saw churches older than the USA (well actually almost everything we saw was older than the USA which I found fascinating), and of course, visited the little mermaid statue. We also saw the changing of the guard at the Queens castle, where I had an interesting moment with a guard. After the changing of the guard, I decided to take a picture with one of the guards like many other people. I waited my turn, handed my camera to my host dad, and then stood the respectable distance from the guard… my host dad motioned for me to get closer to the guard. Once I tried to inch closer, the guard gave me a very angry look and then shooed me away. Normally I find it easy to make friends, but I guess for some reason he didn’t like me!

My favorite part about visiting Copenhagen was when I realized that I feel partly Danish. While there I felt the same way that I would expect to feel if I visited DC. I felt like a tourist since I don’t live in Copenhagen, but I didn’t feel like a foreigner. It is very hard to explain, but it was a feeling I really liked having!

Another fun thing I’ve done here was go to a national get together for the inbounds! I loved being able to catch up with some of my really good friends. I got to see the 2 other students from Florida, my oldies (the students who come in January- mostly from Australia and New Zealand), and all of the other exchange students! We spent the entire weekend catching up and bonding. We also had a crazy costume party which was a blast! I guess anytime you put a ton of excited exchange students together, blast Danish, American, Spanish, and Brazilian music, you’re bound to have a good time! That night no one slept, because we partied all night long.

I have already switched host families for the first time! I will have 4 families this year, so I will spend about 3 months with each family. I had met with my new family before I moved and I already loved them. My host parents are so sweet and so is my host brother (19) and they’re adorable dog! Even before I moved in, I knew they would be a great family for me, but for some reason, I was so nervous when the time came to move. I guess at that time, I had already put so much hope into them and was afraid that maybe after I moved in something would change and I wouldn’t feel the same way. I was also afraid of having to re-adjust to a new family, especially since I was just beginning to become comfortable here. Luckily, once my new host parents came to pick me up, all of my nerves calmed and within hours of living with them I already felt like a member of the family! I love my new host family and am so happy and thankful they are hosting me!

My Danish is improving step by step. It is hard, but I get better every day. I can understand most of what people say (given that they are willing to not say it at the speed of light!), but responding is still hard. I guess the best way to describe how I feel when I speak Danish is by comparing it to when a puppy barks. Anyone who has ever had a new puppy knows the reaction they have the first time they bark. At first, the puppy doesn’t know barking is possible, and then it hears other dogs bark and is curious. Then one day, the puppy will bark. Not knowing what just happened and given it’s their first time it feels strange, but over time, barking becomes less and less strange to them… I know this may seem confusing, but that is the best way I can explain how I feel speaking Danish. It is weird at first, but it is becoming more and more natural. My Danish has actually improved so much that I have already started dreaming and thinking in Danish. I had one very short dream in Danish a few weeks ago, as well as frequent moments of realization that my thoughts are occasionally in Danish.

Although my Danish is improving, it definitely isn’t perfect yet, as I have been reminded through some moments of misunderstanding! One day, my first host mom and I went to an outdoor market our town has every year. At the market they sell everything from animals to toys and books. That evening, my host dad asked my host mom what we saw that day. My host mom listed many different things, one of which being “kattekillinger” (which means kittens). I recognized “katte” as cats, but didn’t recognize “killinger” and thought that my host mom just said that we saw cats being killed! I guess my face showed my shock because my host parents asked what was wrong. I then explained that I had no idea people were killing cats, so they had to explain that it was kittens, not cats being killed.

Just 2 weeks ago while watching TV with my new host family I had another misunderstanding that lead to a funny store and a little embarrassment. While watching TV, the words “Sneen falder i 4 dage” (The snow falls in 4 days). I immediately got excited as my host family just watched and laughed! It turns out that the phrase was talking about the Juleøl (Christmas beer), not real snow… And by the way I have yet to see any snow here, but I’m hoping it will come soon! I guess one thing I have learned this year is to laugh at myself. I have realized that I am bound to mess up the language and with the culture and the best way to get through it is with a big smile and a laugh.

Although I may have some moments of confusion or misunderstanding, I am very proud of how much my Danish has improved. Before I came here, my understanding of Danish was horrible and I am now able to express myself and understand quite a lot. My accent and pronunciation is still horrible, but it is getting better. I even gave a full (20 minutes long) presentation to my Rotary club in Danish just 2 weeks ago. I was very nervous before (which is something that normally doesn’t happen but I guess the pressure of speaking that much Danish scared me), but it wound up going great! I loved being able to show off my new language skills and thank my host club for all they’ve done!

While I was presenting in Danish, I realized that just a year ago I was being told by Mrs. Roderick and Mrs. Cameron that I could be presenting in another language! At the time I honestly thought they were crazy to think I’d be able to speak another language in such a short amount of time, but (as always), they were right! I still can’t believe that just a year ago I was contemplating the possibilities of becoming an exchange student. Going to the Rotary presentation was the most life changing thing imaginable and I am so fortunate to have this opportunity!

Some other things I’ve done:

•Toured a cookie factory! In my future town, there is the Royal Dansk butter cookies factory, where a Rotarian in my club just happens to work! Knowing how much I love their cookies, she offered to take me on a tour. It was really interesting and a great experience.

•Gone to a district get together in Ry, a nearby town. We canoed 5km and hiked about 6-7 km (mostly uphill). Although they made us sweat all of our Rotary weight off (which by the way- Rotary weight is real, much to my dismay), we all had a great time getting to know each other. We also got a good laugh when we learned how to dance a Danish folk dance.

•Seen the “bogman” of Denmark in a museum in Silkeborg.

•Visited tons of museums!

•Gone with my club president, his wife, and my friend/ my clubs future outbound to my club president’s Somerhus (summerhouse) for a weekend.

•Gone to a Wafande concert with my French class where we won a rapping competition.

•Visited Kolding with my new host parents. Just last weekend we went into the town which is only an hour away from where we live. First we went to the GIANT mall there (as we drove up my host mom and I both got excited as we saw it!). After a few hours of shopping, we went to “Kolding huset” (The Kolding house- it is a Castle originally built in the 1200’s that has been burnt down and rebuilt since). It was nice because it was my first real outing with my new family and it was good to just spend a day with them (plus touring a castle is always fun!).

•Gone to a handball game! I can now call myself a handball fan!

The past 3 months have been crazy and I have been on an emotional roller coaster, but it has been the most rewarding experience of my life! I never imagined my life would be like this, but I love it! I love feeling like a Dane and speaking Danish. Rotary has given me an amazing experience and although my time here is limited, I will not waste it. I have already done and learned so much, and I know that will continue.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity and for all of your ongoing support! Thanks to my family and friends in Florida and here in Denmark, because without you I never would survive this year or had this chance. Much love from Denmark!

Walking down the streets, I no longer have the feeling of being forever amazed by everything I see. Instead of everything being special and new, now it’s normal. I no longer question things, and just do them without thinking about it. Danish comes to me much more naturally now and I struggle for words much less often. At first I thought that having everything seem much more normal to me would mean that I don’t appreciate them as much, but now that it has happened, I realized that isn’t true. Although I look at things differently, I still appreciate them as much. I no longer appreciate driving past cow farms everyday on the way to school because it’s new, I appreciate it because it’s become my life and my life in Denmark has become normal to me, which is what I always hoped for!

Since my last journal, things have been both crazy busy but also uneventful. I guess the reason for this isn’t because I haven’t done anything lately (because I have definitely done plenty) but more because of the fact that things that seem normal to me now (like going to my language class two times a week) aren’t as big of a deal to me as they used to be. I have been able to go out and see plenty of fun things lately, but I have also been able to see how my life would be if I was raised in Denmark. I have now experienced the Danish holiday season and been able to have an amazing time.

One fun thing I did recently was visit Copenhagen with my Rotary club president and his wife. It was great for me to get to spend some time with them and we had such a great weekend. One of the best things from that weekend was visiting Tivoli. Tivoli is an amusement park right in the middle of the city. It is completely magical and I will never forget the view I had when on the roller coasters looking over the walls of Tivoli into the city, being able to view both the new and old parts of the city.

I also recently had the opportunity of sharing an American classic with my host family. I made them a mini Thanksgiving dinner. Because it was just the 4 of us it was a small meal and unfortunately given that I made the meal in December in Denmark (which, by the way doesn’t have canned pumpkin or sweet potatoes). My host family loved the meal and I was happy being able to share Thanksgiving with them here (although my host parents practically had a heart attack just seeing how much butter I put into the meal).

My favorite thing I got to experience so far was a Danish Christmas! I have always been a sucker for Christmas and so celebrating Christmas here was amazing. First off, Christmas was celebrated all December long. I watched the countdown shows on TV, had one of the chocolate calendars that I used to have as a kid, listened to Christmas songs in Danish, and what has now become a tradition I will bring to America- we burned a “kalendarlys” which is a countdown candle that burns down each day! Although the Danes celebrate Christmas all December long, it really became Christmas about 2-3 days before Christmas when we decorated the tree (a real tree!) and the house got fully decorated with Christmas decorations!

Here, everyone celebrates Christmas on the 24th which seemed a tad off, but then I got over it because it meant I could open gifts a day early! My host family had a full house for Christmas (my host brother who lives at home, my host parents, their 2 daughters and their husbands, my host aunt, uncle, and grandma, and of course, me!). We had a special lunch, then went to church together, then came home and watched a Disney Christmas special that every Dane watches every year, and then the real celebration began! We all got dressed up, had a large delicious dinner, and then practiced the weird Danish tradition that I completely fell in love with- we danced and sang around the Christmas tree which had candles on it! After we finished that, we started opening presents which lasted a few hours! It was my best Christmas ever and I will forever be thankful to my host family and Rotary for allowing me to have had such a great experience.

Another major holiday in Denmark is New Years and I would say it’s celebrated even better than in America. On New Year’s eve, I stayed at home with my host family where we had many guests who came and celebrated with us! We watched Denmark’s Queen make a speech on TV about the past and future year. After that we had a huge meal and then celebrated the new year by watching the clock ring on TV in Copenhagen and then celebrated with great fireworks!

Just a few weeks ago I got to spend some time with my next host parents. They took me to Århus to visit “Den Gamle By”, which is a town where they have houses from older times. It was a great day, because not only did I get to learn about older times in Denmark, but I also got to spend some time with my future host parents.

One thing I’ve learned here is that my family back home isn’t my only family and that family is what you make of it. My family and friends have become very important to me this year. Not only do I have my biological family in Florida, I have my host families, my close friends, and my fellow exchange students (both from Florida and staying in Denmark). One of the hardest things I have gotten quite good at through this exchange is saying goodbye to family. First I said goodbye to my RYE FL family, then my friends and family in Florida, then my first host family, and now, my oldies (exchangers who come from January to January). Just this weekend I had to say goodbye to the oldie I was closest to. It was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to her was hard, knowing I probably won’t ever see her again, but I will never forget the memories we have together and her leaving also means that there will soon be new exchange students coming to take her place! It was also a lit tle strange because her going away party marked my 5 month mark, which also meant that I have 6 months left. It was a nice little reminder that my time here is limited, and so it should always be treated special because I only get one shot at my exchange.

My time here in Denmark has been great so far! I think a large part of that is because I have such a great host family and Rotary club here. I was very afraid I would get homesick around the holidays, but because of my great host family and how they have made me feel so at home with them, I wasn’t homesick at all! I will be moving in early February which is something I have mixed feelings about. I know my next host family is amazing, but I am so happy with this host family! I tell them all the time that I couldn’t have asked for a better host family!

Before I sign off I just want to say congratulations to the future outbounds (and to you lucky ones going to Denmark- tillykke!) Whether you realize it or not, you have just begun the best adventure of your lives! Enjoy your pre-exchange year and don’t wish it away because you will make it to your host country, but first you must experience the pre-year! I wish you all the best on your exchanges next year!

Thank you again to everyone back in Florida! Without all of the Rotarians and Rotex’s help last year, I am sure I wouldn’t be here right now!

April 7, 2012

“Exchange isn’t a year of your life; it’s your life in a year”.

8 months of my exchange have come and gone and with them I’ve changed and experienced things. I’ve had good and bad experiences, but they have all been important. Through everything I’ve experienced, I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and I’ve become the person that I am right now. I have accomplished things I’ve never thought possible, I’ve seen and done things I’ve always dreamed of, and I’ve learned- about myself and the world.

Whenever I would tell people I was going to Denmark for a year, one of the most common things said was “but a year is such a long time”. I have come to realize these people were never exchange students. With each passing day, I come to realize just how short a year is. It has gotten to the point that whenever someone brings up my “return home”, I have to tell them to not talk about it- my close friends in Denmark and I honestly can’t stand the thought of it, and talking about it makes it worse. I hate hearing people talk about things coming up that will be happening after I am back in Florida. I remember always hearing Rotary tell us that coming “home” will be the hardest part of our exchange, and I’m now starting to realize how true that is.

One of the many reminders about how quickly time passes was moving from my 2nd to 3rd host family. Moving day was one of the hardest days on my exchange. In the 3 months I lived with my 2nd family, I found complete happiness. I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with them. They helped me through things when I needed help (even when I didn’t want to admit it, but my host mom was way too good at realizing when I was having a hard day). I felt so at home in their house and with them, I never had to work at our relationship, they just automatically became like family. With them I was able to not worry about being a tourist and just live my life in Denmark. They were patient with my Danish (God bless their poor souls for all the hours they spent helping me learn this language).

Moving families was hard. I cried. A lot. I had to accept the fact that a part of my exchange was over. But, after the tears were shed and the bags were unpacked in their new home, I realized that my 3rd host parents are really great! I have come to feel at home in this house as well and I’ve had some great times with them as well. After I realized that my 3rd host family will never be the same as my 2nd, but can be just as good (just in a different way), I was able to have lots of fun with my new host parents. I have come to the conclusion that my 2nd and 3rd host parents can’t be better or worse than each other, they’re both great host families, but in 2 different ways.

Since moving, I have been able to travel around Denmark a bit and see some things (actually, A LOT of things). I’ve been to different cities (Århus, Ribe, Odense, and Silkeborg), seen more museums than I imagined Denmark had, and learned a lot about Danish history. Aside from seeing different things, I’ve also been able to spend some time with my new host parents (alright I guess since I’ve lived with them for 2 months now, I should stop calling them my “new” host parents). I’ve gotten to meet their family and have reached the same level of comfort around them that I had with my 2nd family and even with my family back in Florida.

I have been really busy spending time with my friends here. I find I am constantly going out to the city, shopping, sleepovers, small parties, or just to watch a movie with a friend or two. One of the most important decisions I made this year was to be certain that I always say yes to every opportunity and for now, I can proudly say I’ve done just that! Although at times I may have felt unsure or out of my comfort zone, I find I’m always happy I tried it.

Recently, I was able to celebrate a very Danish tradition, festelavn. It is basically the Danish version of Halloween and is in February. My school even had a big party and everyone dressed up! It was lots of fun and a cute tradition.

One of the most exciting things I was able to do lately was visit Paris! I went for a week to stay with my great aunt and uncle and was able to get in all the famous sightseeing. I was able to see so many things that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of seeing. It was an amazing trip and it was great seeing family that I haven’t seen in years. It was also a nice break, I got to think some things through and leave some of the rush of Denmark. As much fun as I had in Paris, though, I was happier than I thought I would be to come back home. It was great hearing Danish again and seeing my friends and family here! I realized by leaving, that Denmark has truly become my home and is the place I love.

Aside from the above mentioned things…. My life is fairly normal still. I go to school, spend lots of time out with all of my friends here (I really couldn’t have asked for better friends than the ones I’ve made here in Denmark), spend time with my host families, and live the life I’ve come to love.

Words can’t explain how thankful I am to Rotary. With the help of Rotary and my exchange, my entire life has changed. I’ve grown so much as a person in the past months and have been able to make my own decisions about my beliefs. My views have been tested through this exchange, and because of that I’ve realized how I truly feel about things. I’ve been forced to grow and mature past my age which is something I couldn’t comprehend happening from an exchange. This exchange has changed my outlook on life and has helped me grow into who I am. Without Rotary I wouldn’t be able to say any of these things and I also wouldn’t have met any of the people I have, I wouldn’t have seen the things I have, and wouldn’t have done the things I have. Tusind tak Rotary!

June 22, 2012

I suppose it’s safe to say time goes fast because I had no idea it has actually been so long since my last journal! As always, there has been so much that has gone on since my last update. I have moved host families, gone on plenty of trips with host families, spent 18 days in a bus on the most amazing trip of my life, and even started the countdown to coming “home”.

I can’t possibly list all of the small trips I’ve gone on since my last update, but I’ll just tell you the best. I think my favorite was going to Copenhagen for the Queens birthday. In Denmark, the Queen’s birthday is a national holiday and many people celebrate it by going to her castle in Copenhagen and waving to her at noon, and since my host mom loves the queen and I definitely needed to experience this, we did just that.

In the middle of May I left for the ultimate trip- Eurotour. I left for an 18 day bus trip spanning over 5,000km into 8 countries. I was able to bond with 49 other exchange students and experience many places that I otherwise may not have seen. Together, we sailed along the canals of Venice, walked the streets of Paris, stood on both sides of the old Berlin wall, and sat and watched the Monaco Grand Prix race trials.

Eurotour was definitely a highlight of my exchange and I will always have great memories of it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was excited about coming back home to Denmark. After spending 18 days without Danish I was overly-excited to hear the language again and couldn’t wait to start the last 6 weeks of my exchange. Once I got back in Denmark I moved back in with my 2nd host family instead of my 3rd (my 3rd host mom needed knee surgery making it better for everyone if I moved back to my 2nd family). My 2nd host parents were slightly afraid that since I now have summer, I may end up being bored, but I’m far from that.

The past 3 weeks of “post-eurotour” have been insanely busy. I started out with catching up with my friends since I missed them like crazy. Then I took a day trip to Northern Jutland in a town called Skagen (a beautiful place where you can see two sea’s meet and stand as far north in Denmark as possible) with my 2nd host family. I have also been on a day trip to the west coast with a Rotarian in my club, where I was able to try surfing for the first time (of course I would be the weird Floridian that learns to surf in Denmark of all places). I also spent an entire weekend with one of my best friends where we went to an amusement park and threw an American bbq/party for our friends.

Just this week I had an evening with my club president and his wife as well as all of my host families together. It was great seeing them all together and seeing my host moms come together to chat about stories they all had of me. I am currently preparing for my last Rotary meeting in Denmark where I will give a presentation (in Danish of course) for my club about my year. It’s crazy to see how different it is for me now, compared to back in November when I gave my first long full Danish presentation; I no longer feel nervous or have to struggle to write a 30 minute speech in a foreign language.

The next 3 weeks will probably be even more hectic than the last. I will eventually need to say the hardest goodbyes of my life (to my host families, classmates, and closest friends) as well as accomplish the other things I have on my calendar (like an American grill party for my 3rd family, legoland, and my school’s last party of the year). I know that leaving will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I suppose that’s how I know I’ve had such a great exchange.

My year has been full of struggles, whether they be in the form of Danish, school, making friends, or coming to feel at home with a family I just met. In the end, I couldn’t be happier about my decision. Exchange has been amazing in ways that I know only other exchange students will understand. Thank you to Rotary for allowing me this wonderful, life changing opportunity that I’d never have otherwise had. Through this exchange I’ve learned so much- I’ve become fluent in Danish, come to know so many amazing people, and learned the worst lesson for exchange students- that I can’t control time so I better have fun and make the most of it while I still can.

November 3, 2012

I’ve been back in Florida for over 3 months now and I still cannot accept the sad truth- my exchange is over. I’ve definitely experienced an entire roller coaster of emotions since returning home, and yes, I do still miss Denmark.

It’s hard for me to think that 3 and a half months ago I was standing in the Billund airport crying my eyes out, dragging my 5 pound blazer around, and hugging the people that I love most dearly goodbye. That whole day is a complete blur in my mind, and yet I continuously go over that day, second by second. I remember hugging each person goodbye, promising my best friend in the entire world that this would not be the end of our friendship. I remember the way the sun hit my tear filled face as the plane took off from Denmark. I can’t get the stream of images out of my head.

Oh… and maybe I should mention the crazy “we can’t find your plane ticket” drama…. Basically, my plane tickets weren’t issued properly (to no fault of anybody, but basically due to the airline merger drama). Then I was sent on a plane to Frankfurt and told to “figure it out there”, after much fighting and stress and long layovers (gotta love those Texas rainstorms that cause 6 hour flight delays!), I finally made it to Jacksonville.

Once I got home, I realized something. That day was both the worst and best day of my life. In that day, I of course had to say goodbye to everyone I love, but I also got to come back to everyone else that I love. That is the one day of my life (albeit the one 30 hour day of my life) where I was able to see everyone I love in one day, I was able to be in both of my homes in one day, and I was able to hug all 4 of my moms in one day.

As I said earlier, coming home hasn’t been easy. I still have random emotional outbursts of joy and pain when thinking about Denmark. I cry from happiness and sadness, sadness because I miss those moments with those people, but happy because I am just so happy that I was able to experience those things and meet those people.

It’s been hard adjusting back into a culture that used to seem so normal. I question everything now. I still have language lapses. Although my Danish is slowly slipping away, it will randomly pop up in unexpected moments, an occurrence my friends and family have started getting used to. I will admit that Americans confuse me. After experiencing something so different and amazing, I can’t help but wonder how some of my classmates are so content in their bland lives, not even curious about the world around them.

School was probably the biggest shock in general. I couldn’t get over the fact that I must now call my teachers by their last name and ask to go to the bathroom. And…. Well high school is tough in general, but once you’ve seen the world and matured, high school is next to impossible. But, I’m finding a way to survive.

During the summer, district 6970 hosted the welcome home dinner. When I received the email telling me to write a 3-4 minute speech about my exchange I thought Paula had lost her mind. There was no way I could do that. So, I decided to write about the best part of my exchange, the people. The love I saw last year was incomprehensible. My host families will always be a part of my life, as well as my amazing group of friends.

Somehow, I made it through my entire speech without crying. I came surprisingly close to surviving the entire night without crying, until Paula called everyone up to the stage. I immediately knew what we were receiving. In our preparation year, everyone in D6970 was asked to write a letter to their future selves explaining what we hoped we accomplished during our exchange. In the second I walked up to that stage I couldn’t stop myself anymore; because I knew what that letter meant. It meant I had accomplished everything I wanted. I had a successful exchange. And then I noticed something, I had written “Do not open this until you speak fluent Danish” on the outside of the envelope. That night I gladly tore open my letter and realized just how much I’d grown.

After last year, I know that I will never finish having an adventure. I will just move from one adventure to another. Some might call me crazy, but I know that I will be the happy person who can die knowing I gave life everything and I will refuse to live with regret.

Now I get to spend time helping others find their journey, since I’ve been staying as involved as possible in helping Rotary find possible new outbound student. It’s weird knowing that at the high school presentations I helped present, I was one of the audience members just a couple of years ago. It’s crazy thinking about how it only takes a moment to change your life forever.

This journey has been crazy. It has been the best thing that ever happened to me. It has been life changing. I now know who I am as a person. I know what I want in life. And I know that I am capable of accomplishing my dreams. Thank you Rotary, you have given me a gift that I will never be able to pay back, although I will spend my life trying.