August 31, 2012
Guten Tag! So I've been in Austria for a little more than three weeks now and I'm loving it! It's so crazy to think that it's already been so long sense I left Florida. Time flies when you're having fun I guess. I've met so many amazing people and experienced so much! I already feel like I've learned more than I ever could if I hadn't left the U.S. It's crazy how much confidence and independence I've gained.
Almost everything here is so different: the cars, the food, the language, etc... But I think that's the fun part. Some things I've had to learn the hard way but, for the most part, everyone's been pretty understanding. I was so nervous getting off the plane in Munich, but once I met my host family for the first time I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. I feel like my German is getting much better too! All I really knew before I landed was "Where is the bathroom" and "I'm hungry" which seemed to get me through the first day or so. But now I can carry on conversations and I don't have to answer "yes" to everything I hear just because I don't understand it.
It's not always fun and games though... It can be really frustrating and challenging when everything is new to you. Whenever I get upset about something I have to remind myself that I've only been here for three weeks. I don't expect myself to have perfect German or understand every aspect of the culture. I still don't understand why we have to change shoes when we walk into school. Even the toilet confused me at first (which, thank gosh, only took me a few minutes to figure out). But I know, in time, with a little hard work, I'll get everything worked out.
So here's to Rotary! Without you, I would have never had this amazing opportunity to learn so much and taste the best chocolate I've ever had in my entire life! Thank you!
December 28, 2012
Servus! In my last journal, I wrote I can’t believe it had already been three weeks since I had arrived in Austria. Now I’m coming up on month 5! It’s been over a year since I made the best decision of my life and filled out the application to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student. In December of 2011, I got a phone call congratulating me that I had been chosen to give Austria a little taste of Florida. I didn’t realize how much Austria could change me when I got on that plane in August. It gets harder every day to think that out of all the places I could be and all the people I could know, I was lucky enough to land here. I’ve learned and grown so much over the last five months and I’m excited to see what the next six will bring.
If you want a look into the typical life of an exchange student, we basically eat chocolate, sleep, and chat on the computer all day. If you want a look into my exchange life, reread the previous sentence. So one thing I’ve realized is if you look at exchange as a whole, it’s not too different than the life of any teenager. What makes it so special is the detail. My typical everyday routine consists of an annoying alarm at 6:00 giving myself just enough time to sprint down to the bus stop at 6:45. I go to school and talk with my friends. I come home and sleep before volleyball practice. I eat dinner and then check my Facebook before I go to bed. But here’s what makes this so different than a typical day back in Florida. When I wake up in the morning, I see hills and snow out my window. When I walk into the kitchen I don’t say “morning!” but instead “Morgen” I ask the bus driver for a ticket “nach Ried, bitte” and ha ve to stand when there is no more space to sit. I get to school and change my shoes and when the Professor walks into the classroom we all stand until he says we can sit. When I go and get a cup of coffee with my friend between classes, we talk about making a daytrip to Vienna. Most of this may not sound too exciting, but it’s a lot different living it than hearing about it. All of the things the people here have grown up doing is completely new to me. And figuring the easy stuff is the hard part. Every day is a new surprise. Depending on how you take that surprise can make or break your exchange.
I was excited to see how the people celebrated Christmas here. Almost everyone in Austria is Roman Catholic so I wasn’t expecting it to be too different than my Christmas back home. I’m not catholic but I think, for the most part, it would be the same. I couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, we got the tree about three days before Christmas and didn’t decorate it until Christmas day. I woke up at 12:00 on the 24th thinking it was Christmas Eve. Surprise! Christmas comes a day early in Austria. We decorated the tree with bright pink ornaments because my hostmom wanted to have an American Christmas tree this year. But we also put real candles and sparklers on it too! I’m surprised I didn’t set the entire house on fire. That would have made a good story… We had a big dinner and then had to wait for the “Christkind.” In Austria, there is no Santa Clause. The Christkind is said to be Jesus in the form of a child. On Christmas, He leaves gifts under the tree and rings a bell to let you know He was there. But before we could open the presents we sat in a circle to sing Christmas songs in German and tell a Christmas story. When we finished, we joined the rest of the town in the church where we had a Christmas service. We all then enjoyed some warm Glühwein or Punsch outside. The next two days are also considered part of Christmas and are dedicated to spending time with family. Even though we did so much for the holidays, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Maybe that’s a good thing and I’m glad I got to see how another part of the world celebrates the birth of Christ.
The break has been a little long for me though. I think I am the only exchange student who can say I love going to school. Three days out of school and I was already missing my friends. I’m not sure how I’m going to live through the next week or so. At this point, it’s hard to think that in just 6 short months I’ll be on a flight back to the sunshine state. I’ve heard from so many exchange students in the past but never really understood that the feelings exchange students experience can be so confusing sometimes. When I think about leaving, I think about all the amazing friends I’ve made here that I have to leave behind. But then I think of all my amazing friends I get to see again back home. It’s crazy how much sorrow and excitement I can feel all at once. No matter how hard it has been or will be, I’m so glad I made this decision. I’ve learned and changed so much. Some things that seemed impossible a year ago are nothin g to me now. That doesn’t mean that everything is easy, but nothing is impossible.
So with that I want to thank Rotary 100 times! It’s hard to understand how thankful I am to be able to do something like this and Rotary got me here. Vielen Dank!
April 12, 2013
So this is the last stretch of my exchange. In a little over three months I will get to see my friends and family again, sunbathe on the beach, eat at my favorite frozen yogurt restaurant, shop at target!! But I always get super confused thinking about it. On one hand I am so excited to see my beloved Florida again, but that also means I have to give up the second home I made here in Austria. I know as soon as I get on the airplane in Munich, I will never be able to come back to the way things were during my exchange year. And that kills me. But thinking more and more about it, only makes me realize how much I’ve learned this year and once I go back, I can take everything I’ve learned with me. Not only to better myself, but everything around me too. I can’t exactly explain what I have learned, but I can tell you what I’ve been up to for the past few months…
A group of people I don’t think I can survive without I like to call my fellow exchange students. It’s really crazy how many are in my town. 7 of us for a town my size is unbelievable. But when all of us from all over the country get together... imagine you have 100 best friends, up for anything, and they are all confined in one area. I feel bad for our supervision. But then you strap skis to their feet and give them a mountain. Ski week!!! one of the most action packed weeks of my exchange. For the 70 or 80 crazy exchange students there, only 5 had to be sent to the hospital. I would say that’s pretty good. The week started out a little uneasy. They separated us into 6 groups. 2 were for the snowboarders and the other 4 for skiers: absolute beginner, intermediate beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I signed up for intermediate knowing I wasn’t a total beginner but c’mon...the "mountain" in North Carolina I’m used to skiing is n othing compared to the Alps. I stared to get a little down on myself when I was always the last one down the mountain thinking I wasn’t good enough to be in the intermediate group. Second day in and I find out they actually placed me in the advanced group! I immediately asked to switch out but thankfully I had a great instructor who reassured me I was doing fine and already improving so much since the first day. The others in my group were understanding and told me they had no problem waiting a few seconds at the bottom of the slope for me to catch up. To make it even better, some if the students in the group bellow us moved up. Then I felt about at speed. And I’m so proud of myself for sticking it out in the advanced group. Granted I was the slowest but that’s not really important... And I learned so much too. We had ski class the mornings of the first four days and free time afterwards. Free time was great because I could meet up with my besties and caref ully go completely crazy. In this time I ran into two other exchange students, almost skied of a cliff, wiped out multiple times on the last jump of the "fun slope," attempted suicide on the moguls, and even took a run in only a tank top. Altogether, I think it’s safe to say it was a successful week.
Right after ski week, my family came to visit and see a little bit of Austria. It was great to finally see them again and it felt like nothing had changed. They were still the crazy family I had left on the other side of the airport security 8 months before. It actually felt like I had never left. Six days was definitely not enough time to see everything we wanted to, but it was just enough time to catch up and get a break from the exchange life. I got to show them Ried, Linz, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich before we had to say goodbye again. This time wasn’t so hard for me though. I know my mom will disagree but three months feels like nothing.
I think it will be very hard to leave. I’ve made some of my best friends here and living on the other side of the world from them will not be easy. But being so far will only make it so much better to see them again. So even though I know I have a rough few months coming, I’m so glad I’ve been giving the time that I have to make those friendships. Learning a new culture, language, land, climate, and completely different way of life was and is so much more than I could have ever expected. I know it sounds cheesy but there is no other way I can describe it and still there is no way to put these feelings into words.
So with that, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my exchange. Something I wouldn’t be able to do without Rotary. I couldn’t be more thankful. Bis zum nächsten Mal!