Annie Thomas
2012-13 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Sanford, FL
School: Seminole High School - Sanford
Sponsor: District 6980, FL
Host: District 2100, Italy  
The Rotary Club of Pompeii Oplonti Vesuvius East

Annie's Journals

September 21, 2012

This is my first official journal so be prepared for a LONG analysis in the daily life of Annie Thomas. I have been here in Scafati, Italy for about 2 ½ weeks now and I can honestly say I LOVE my life. The whole process of coming here and doing all the steps to get to this point were totally worth it.

The minute I stepped out of the Naples Airport, I have been given so much love. I cannot even describe the feeling of being this loved by people who have not known me that long. When I was completely out of it the 2nd day I was here because of jetlag, 10 girls from my class sprung into my room and hugged and kissed me like they’ve known me since they were 2 years old. My host family has officially become my second family because they treat me like their own daughter and it’s unbelievable how close I am with them. I can talk about anything with my host family and they understand me and are so comforting to me, living here is like a dream.

My friends here are always with me and are always a phone call away so I never feel alone which I am SO thankful for because that was my biggest fear. Thanks to my host family for inviting all the girls over to my house, the first day of school was not as scary as I had pictured it. Everyone was so kind to me and were always there if I was confused about something. Even though I had NO idea what the teachers were saying, humor got the best of me and I did not freak out like I had thought I would. The classes I have taken so far are Latin, Greek, Math, Philosophy, and Italian. I go to a Classic School, so all the classes are harder than normal. Even though it is difficult to understand in class, my classmates make my day a lot easier by helping me and always comforting me.

The culture here is so different from America because everyone is so passionate! You greet your friends with a kiss on each check and it’s amazing because you feel loved as soon as you see your friends. Everyone is very animated when they talk and are so funny and delightful to be around. I am amused 24/7 because everyone is happy and are always joking about something. My personality honestly came to life, here in Italy, because I am a very outgoing person and the people here just made me become myself. I am always full of energy and am always happy here I can honestly not imagine my life anywhere else but here in Scafati.

Let’s not forget the FOOD! OH MY GOD, the food is amazing. Everything I eat is fresh. My host grandmother has a big garden where she lives, which is two blocks away, and everything we eat is from her garden. The grapes, peaches, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, basil, figs, plums, EVERYTHING is from her garden. The mozzarella is fresh, the provolone is fresh, the meat is fresh… Everything is mouthwatering! I decided to start running and doing Zumba classes because of all the food I have been eating! We eat fresh bread, pasta, and veggies everyday and I cannot get over how amazing the food is. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner always end with the amazing coffee. In the States, I never even touched coffee but here I have grown to LOVE it. I cannot live without it now.

Here, where I live, it is very close to Pompei as well as Napoli. There are three significant BEAUTIFUL coastal regions where I live as well. There is the Almalfi Coast, Sorrento Coast, and the Cilento Coast and amazingly I have already visited ALL THREE OF THEM. I cannot even describe how beautiful it is here. The people, culture, food, and atmosphere are indescribable and have made me the happiest (and fattest) person ever! I have also been to the Pompei Ruins, which were amazing! It was breathtaking to see so much history and beauty in one place. After realizing I was in a place that has been preserved for so long, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to experience all this at such a young age.

My favorite place so far has been the Almalfi Coast. For the first time in my life, on September 15th 2012, I cried of happiness. Not like the happiness of meeting a boy band you were in love with, or getting the exact toy you wanted for Christmas at age 7, but that indescribable sensation of contentment. The feeling in your chest, goosebumps on your skin, and that BIG CHEESY grin on your face while you are giggling up a storm because the view you see coming from your eyes and into your brain is the exact definition of pure pure PURE exhilaration. I don’t think I have ever laughed and grinned as much as I have EVER on that day. I felt like I was untouchable, like I was invincible. God I’m tearing up as we speak because of how amazing that feeling was! If you are a potential exchange student reading this, I don’t care what anyone else says… you have to do it. I am telling you this feeling of being completely and utterly high on life is better than anyt hing you can think of. All the money in the world could not compare to this feeling; and you can only experience this when you go on your exchange. This changed my life and I feel bad for the people who were too scared to do this because it is something that not everyone has done and it impacts your life so much, I would never go back and change anything. This feeling is something I will cherish forever and I am JUST getting started with my year! I am so excited for the experiences to come, my life is amazing and I love Rotary!

October 5th, 2012

Today marks my one-month in Italy everyone! I cannot believe it has already been a month…. time flies so fast when you are having the time of your life. I cannot get over how amazing the people are around me. My family, friends, and Rotary have been so kind to me and have made me feel like the luckiest girl alive. Even though there is the language barrier between most of my friends, they still somehow ALWAYS find a way to make me feel at home. I have never been loved this much in my life. I am starting to realize what real friends are and what it takes to be a good person. From being around so much positive energy here in Scafati, it has shown me who I am as well as who I want to be around. 

People cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like to be sitting in a classroom and having no idea what everyone around you is saying. It’s like you’re dreaming and you’re going to wake up any second. Lucky for me, there is no need to wake up because I am living my dream! Yes, I do not know what anyone is saying half the time but that’s the point of this exchange! Being lost and confused is the start of something wonderful because in the end you find yourself. Being around so many things that are different from your old lifestyle is exhilarating. I have never felt so alive. I have always been a curious person, but this exchange has taken that obsession to a new level. I never know what’s happening next and for the first time in my life, I have accepted it. Not knowing where I’ll end up if I take the sketchy train with my friends, or whom I’m going to meet in the lovely cool bustling streets of Salerno; has made me the most ecstat ic person alive. If you knew me before the exchange, I think you would agree with me that I was not always the loud and obnoxious person… well.. okay, maybe not ALL the time. Ever since I have been here in Italy, my personality has blossomed and has made me such a positive person! I am amazed at how I handle situations with such calm and ease. I do not even recognize myself half the time. What I have realized the most is that whatever I do in life, wherever I go, whatever I do, whoever I am with, I will be happy. I will make the best of everything because at the end of the day, you have no control of what cards you are dealt with BUT you do have control on how you react to them. I have never been so content with myself in my entire life. It’s not that I have found the meaning of life- it’s that I found the meaning of MINE. 

It has only been one month here and I have figured out so much about myself! I can’t describe how I got to this point in realizing who I am- all I can say is that I owe my life to Rotary as well as my parents because this would not have been possible without them. Before my exchange, I was scared of the future but now… I’m ready to face it head on! I will write more as soon as I can, describing the daily life of Annie Thomas, so stay tuned.

January 7, 2013

WOW. Have my past few months here flown by. It seemed like only yesterday that I arrived here in Italy. On December 3rd, I changed to my 2nd family. It was hard to leave the first because I have bonded so well with them but it was an experience in itself. It taught me to not regret anything and every day do my best because my time here is limited. I have learned to not dwell on the little things and to move on in life because life doesn't stop for anybody. I have learned to not be so home sick because I have realized that I am only in Italy for a year while I have the rest of my life to be in America! My 2nd host family is amazing and I could not be any more thankful for my luckiness with having two amazing host families. I have such great friends here in Italy and I cannot believe I am here! STILL. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I feel like I'm dreaming.

Christmas here was AMAZING. Decorating the house with my host family was the best, and so comforting because I knew it was going to be hard not being with my family. Thankfully, this family was so friendly and warm that I hardly had time to miss my family back home. We decorated cookies, sang songs, and even made a trip to Nortnern Italy to ski for a week! How amazing that experience was. We were there for New Years and it has been the best New Years of my entire life. Being around people who have opened their home for me without knowing me beforehand, and who have treated me with the upmost kindness and treated me as their own daughter, made me realize that the only thing you need in life is kindness and the rest will turn itself out. When you are in a country you do not know, and you are so-so with the language, all you need is a smile on your face and a warm, kind persona. I have learned to be a positive person always, because when you are happy, people want to be around y ou more.

I will write about my skiing adventure as soon as I can, I would like to thank Rotary at this time for making this experience possible for me. It is an experience so few people get to do and I am SO glad I am one of them. It is an experience that will forever change my life in the most beautiful way possible. 

February 12, 2013

During the Christmas Holiday I went to Dobbiaco, a town in Northern Italy 20 minutes from Austria. It was absolutely beautiful. Being from Florida, it is plain to guess that I’ve never been skiing before in my life, as well as living around snow. And, as you could imagine, Dobbiaco was more than how I pictured a winter wonderland would be. It was absolutely breathtaking with the mountains and trees all around me; all expectations vanished. My host family had a home in Dobbiaco and it was situated under the most spectacular mountains. Every time I had the chance to look up, I was speechless. We got there on a Sunday and left on the following Sunday. From Monday-Friday I skied my little butt off. Since my family has had this house for around 12 years (and they go to Dobbiaco every winter), my siblings were PRO-skiers. I was the only one with an instructor. I had a two-hour lesson every day and it was so much fun! I don’t think I have ever laughed that much in my ent ire life to be honest. I am really thankful that I have a naturally easy-going, confident, funny personality because it just added to all the fun I had. The first two days were very difficult because I just couldn’t get over how my shins hurt! I still can’t wrap my head around how these instructors have gotten used to that feeling! Man it was painful. But I am naturally a fast learner so I got the hang of it by the second day. Where my lessons were- I was on the kiddy slope. There’s a more mature word for it but honestly, I was on the kiddy slope. There are two other types of mountain slopes where people ski- they are called “Red” and “Black”. The “Red” slopes were considered for people who have skied for at least two years and can manage the kiddy slope with their eyes closed. Of course, my host brother tells me I’m ready for the “Red” slope and tells me I’m going to do fine… we take a ski lift to the top of this monstrous mountain and I’m sweating bullets. I’m not going to go into detail of how much I failed the slope, but let’s just say it was probably the funniest day of my entire life. New Years with this family was utterly perfection. Being around people who care about each other and love one another is such a warm feeling to get when you are in a foreign country. It truly was hard to miss my family with all this family love around me.

BEFORE I went to Dobbiaco, in December I also went to Rome with this family. I went for 4 days and it was completely surreal. It made me a different person. Now I understand why people say that you should travel when you are young. So many people in life lay off their dreams just so they can get ahead in the “read world” when in the end they never get the chance to do what they love. What is the point to do something you hate, and hope that in the future you will be happy? Being young has its advantages. You as a young person get to do what you want and soak up as much as you can because you are still figuring out who you are. So many people have given me negative feedback about how I am losing a part of my “future and myself” by not going to college straight after high school; that I somehow actually LOSE something by doing this experience in Italy. To all the people who have told me that, or who have secretly thought it and never said it, all I have to say is look at me now and see what apparently I have LOST in this experience. I have never felt so alive in my entire life. I have figured out who I am as a person, made so many wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime, and have had so many experiences that sometimes I have to just lie down and soak it all in… I actually have to LIE down because so many wonderful things are going on at once! How beautiful! I’ve also realized that I’m an adventurer. My entire life has been about doing something with meaning and now I have come to terms with it. I might not be like everyone else who wants to fit in and be too scared to do something worth everything you have ever dreamed of, but I don’t care anymore. I have officially broken the seams to this wonderful life. Being able to say that I’ve stared up at the ceiling of the “Last Judgment” in the Vatican, fell in love with the coliseum at sun dusk, hugged the biggest Redwood tree I& rsquo;ve ever witnessed in California, rode a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, skydived at age 18, skied for the first time in Italy, ice skated in Central Park, threw a coin over my shoulder at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and many many more wonderful things, makes me the person I am to this day and I don’t ever want to change that. To be able to say I have done all these astonishing things and I’m only 18 is something bigger than any one of you can begin to imagine. This life isn’t about how much money you will make in 20 years, it’s about how many times life took your breath away. To be chained to the normal life is a prison I am not ready to face and I don’t think I ever will. This year has done something to me, and I thank my parents every single day for making me the person I am today, and to let me do this experience. It’s safe to say that I truly know who I am and I won’t let anyone get in the way of that.

If you are a future exchange student reading this- get ready for something bigger than you ever imagined, because it’s going to be the best year of your life.

April 8, 2013

Oh my god!!! It is already April 8th and I have changed families and have been with them for almost a month now! WOW has time flown by! I can’t believe I have less than three months left in the most beautiful place I have ever lived in. I have to mentally stop thinking about June 30th because my heart literally starts to break when I think about leaving… The best year of my entire life is about to end and I might just have to actually return to reality… nooooo!

In the last few months, I have done some pretty amazing things. I went to Florence with my second host family and it was absolutely utterly oh-my-god amazing. Florence is by far my favorite city in Italy. It is a city I could see myself living in one day. A city where I would be the happiest girl alive if I could tell people I actually LIVE there. The streets are calm and clean, the history is absolutely beautiful, and the fashion and style of Florence is absolutely breath taking. We went for 4 days and we stayed in an apartment in the center of the city. When I was walking the streets at night, I felt like I was on a cloud. Complete and utter bliss. Yes, all the other cities I went to during my exchange year have been top-of-the-world amazing, but I could never see myself actually living in those places. My reality finally met my dreams and I know for a FACT I will be living in Florence one day, it’s the city of my happiness.

I changed families a few weeks ago and it was one of the saddest parts of this exchange. My second family was absolutely wonderful to me and acted like a host family should act. I feel like they should get a medal or something because they were absolutely the best host family I could have ever asked for. They did not treat me like an alien and acted as if I was one of their daughters. I experienced so many great things with them and I will never ever forget how utterly wonderful they all were to me. Being able to say that I went to so many wonderful places with them still gives me goose bumps because I honestly feel like the luckiest girl in the world! I am fortunate though, because I have a good friendship with their son and they live close to my third host family so I will be able to visit them all I’d like to!

My third host family is wonderful! I am honestly so lucky to have such great host families during my exchange because this family is way too kind to me. They are understanding and sweet, and are so considerate. They have two daughters and it would be impossible for them to be any less sweet to me than they are right now. When I moved in, our home has three stories and they decorated the third story JUST for me! They painted little plaques saying “Annie’s Room” and decorated my room American style… just for me! Absolutely wonderful! One of the daughter’s is around my age and we get along very well. Whenever I want to go out, she is always there to go with me. We all have the same friends and it just worked out perfectly. We recently visited Naples, because it is so close to us and I just had to see all the beautiful churches and eat all this amazing food. Naples is different from Florence because it is not as rich and clean as Northern Italy, BUT it has some of the kindest people I have ever met. The stereotype of Southern Italians is 100 PERCENT TRUE PEOPLE! The people are way more open and friendly, and know how to have a good time! In Naples, I had the BEST coffee and pizza of my ENTIRE life. I honestly don’t know what I will do when I go back home to American coffee… EW!

In the next coming months, I will be going to so many wonderful places! I will be going to Sicily and Amsterdam in May and will be going on a wonderful 15-day Rotary Euro Tour in June! During my Euro Tour I will be visiting Milan, Verona, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Strasbourg, and other cites in between! I am very sad that I will not be spending time with my Italian friends during my last month here in Italy, but I just had to take this opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful cities in this world with all these amazing exchange students. I can’t wait to visit all these astonishing cities and experience so many breathtaking things along the way.

Honestly saying that this year will be the best year of my existence is truthfully a COMPLETE UNDERSTATEMENT. I can see so much change in myself and my entire outlook on EVERYTHING has changed wholly. I have to ask myself, ‘what was I actually doing before this? How could I have actually been LIVING before this year? How is that even possible?’ I feel like everything before this year had no significance. I have learned to not be afraid of who I really am, I have learned to not care about what people think of me, and I have honestly learned how to be happy all the time.
You see, I have learned quite a few things about life in the last 6 months.
I have learned that strength is everything, no matter what happens in this life, strength always surprises you behind your shoulder to help you, even when you thought it left long ago.
You MUST be happy at all costs because only YOU are in control of your feelings and emotions.
You may not be able to change the situation at hand, but you can control the way you react to it.
At the end of the day, when you are lying in bed, you need to be happy because what is there to life if you are not happy? What’s the point in it all if you are not completely content with your life?
There is absolutely no point in chasing a job that gives you a great living standard, but secretly you’re dying inside because you are not truly content. The moment you leave behind the orthodox of living life, and you at last find your true raw bliss; is when you stop dying and start living. I plan to not regret anything in life, because in the end, it was either something well worth doing, or a life lesson in the making.

Future exchange students, like I said before, get ready for the most inspirational, life-changing, amazing year of your entire life! You only get this chance once, make it count!