Juli Duque 
2012-13 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: Miramar, FL
School: Everglades High School
Sponsor: District 6990, FL
Host: District 2240, Czech Republic
Club TBA


October 28, 2012

I have had such an amazing time in the last two months that I don't really know how to describe and summarize it into one Blog.

I have laugh, cried, done things I would have never done, met people I will forever remember, and gone places I only ever imagined.

When I first found out I was coming to the Czech Republic I cried, I was so upset and I felt like Rotary sent me here because they hated me. I originally wanted to go to Italy, France, or Germany. You know… the popular places. Little did I know I would love Rotarians for the rest of my life for sending me here.
The Czech Republic is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I feel like I am a princess living in a fairytale land. There are so many castles. I often find myself thinking this is not real. The culture is so different, and even though many people say Czechs are very closed people, I must disagree. I find them to be friendly and caring.

I live in a town called Písek. It is so small; I think it has a population of about 20,000 people. The architecture is stunning. The buildings are so old and gorgeous. Písek also has the second oldest bridge in Europe, and I walk through it every day. I go to a school that is in the center of town, and it is connected to the castle. The school itself is very old and has about 300 kids. But I love it so much. My classmates are awesome! I have the best host family in the world. They are so sweet and caring. I feel like I am actually part of the family since day one. I feel very lucky.

I have visited so many places inside Czech Republic, and each place is beautiful in its own way. I think my favorite place has been Prague. It is SO LOVELY. When I told people I was coming to Czech Republic, the first thing they said was” WOW Prague is beautiful” I always thought they were exaggerating a bit. But I can tell you, it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It doesn’t even look real. I have also been to Germany, Slovakia, and Poland. And I will go to Austria next month for the Christmas markets.

It. Is. So. COLD! Like all the time. It’s October. IT SNOWED TODAY! It was the first time I have ever seen snow. And it was magical. Tuesday night I saw that it would snow in my weather forecast and I told EVERYONE, my friends and family told me it wouldn’t snow because it was only October. But I knew it would. So I woke up early and it wasn’t snowing. During lunch I looked out the window and saw it. I freaked out! I just ran outside and all my family started laughing. It was GREAT!

I have been here for 52 days but I can already see the changes in me. It might sound a bit crazy but it's the truth. I am growing up, and it's not as scary as I thought. It's beautiful actually. I find myself volunteering to do dishes, Or to vacuum, I started volunteering at the local hospital even though I don’t speak Czech yet. I also have so much independence here. I can go out alone whenever I want. If I want to meet my friends for coffee or tea I can just go. I don’t have to wait for a ride; I can just walk 5 minutes! I also know that the decisions I make will affect me and only me. I don’t have my mommy anymore to tell me yes or no. I have learned to be confident with myself and to trust myself.

I have done things I would never do back home! I learned how to ride a bike! And a week after I learned I went on a cycling trip with my school… I fell and I will now have a scar on my left leg for the rest of my life, but it’s okay... I got it in the Czech Republic. I don’t enjoy sports. And it seems like Czechs LOVE sports. I have gone hiking, rafting, canoeing, biking, horseback riding... you name it, and I have done it. But at the end of the day no matter how tired and frustrated I am I have loved each experience.

I never thought I would be so happy in a place I had no idea existed one year ago. Much less that I would fall in love with it. I have yet to feel homesick, and to be honest I don’t think it will happen. The only thing that makes me sad is knowing that I have been here two months already, and that I only have 8 months left. Right now, I would not rather be ANYWHERE else in the world. I am in the perfect place for me. And I will continue to live in this fairytale where I am the princess. 

March 25, 2013

I have been dreading to write this blog for weeks. Not because I don't have anything to say, but because I have so much to share I am I afraid I will write a book, not a blog. The past few months have been nothing less than wonderful. They have taught me so much. About life, about faith, about myself. I’ve learned things that in your eyes might seem normal, but in my eyes are shocking and unique. Before this exchange I thought I knew exactly what would happen. I would travel, learn a new language and make new friends. What I didn’t expect was that just one year would change the person I was before leaving. What I didn't expect was to be happy with the new me. I am no longer afraid to make mistakes, feel embarrassed or feel alone. I know who I am, and I am happy with the new me. I have learned to do what makes me happy and not what pleases everyone else.

My exchange is still as wonderful as it was 4 months ago. Learning Czech is not really going as I planned, it is so difficult. It's a beautiful language and every day I wish I would speak more. I understand a lot and I can hold a small conversation, but I do not speak it fluently. I am so happy in my town. I am no longer scared of walking alone, or being stared at by strangers because I look foreign, or even getting lost. I even learned how to ride the bus, well I get lost every once in a while, like a couple of days ago I took the wrong bus because I was too lazy to walk 20 minutes, and then the bus too me all the way to the other side of town, which by the way is extremely isolated! There was nothing but a couple houses and a bench, I sat there for an hour under the freezing snow until the next bus came... but I survived!.

Winter is almost over. One side of me is very glad because I need some sun in my life, but the other side is really sad. I don’t know when I will experience a real winter again. When I will see the tree branches covered in snow, or when the sky will be so gray that I can’t tell if its snow or rain that will come down. or when my feet will be so cold that they actually burn. I don't know when I will ski again, or when I will be able to wear a nice scarf, along with matching gloves and a pretty cap that I have to hold when I walk outside because it’s too windy. Or even a pair of nice warm boots. Once I arrive in Florida it will be nothing but Summer all year long.

Soon I will start traveling all over Europe. Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Monaco, Slovakia, England... All by the end of May! All my life I have read, watched movies, and heard so many things about these places. I am a dreamer, because I am living my dream. Traveling is a like being in school 24/7. It forces you to meet strangers and to lose sight of all the familiar people and makes you step out of your comfort zone. Everything you see is new, all you want to do is learn more and more. Your brain becomes a sponge. You’re learning even when you are not aware you are learning. Europe is so beautiful. Each country is like different world. New adventures, Rich with history and completely different lifestyles. I am eager to continue this expedition that started the day I realized there was a world outside of Florida. I was made to travel and explore.

I have always been afraid to grow up. My childhood and my teenage years have been simply wonderful, and I was often afraid that things would never feel as beautiful and magical as they do when you are young. At least that is what I always heard. From TV, books, parents, and teachers. "Enjoy life now, before you have to face the real world". So as I am writing this blog, I turn back and think all I have I have done in my 19 years of life.

I have traveled the world, I have not allowed my fears to get in between me and my dreams, I have learned to love not only who I was, but I have learned to accept who I am now, I have friends from all over the world, I no longer have one family... I have 3. I have wonderful and embarrassing stories to tell my grandchildren someday.

I have made magic in the past few years. I have swam with sharks and dolphins, I have thrown a boomerang with an actual Australian, I have visited many castles, I went skiing in Germany, I tried snowboarding in Slovakia, I have walked the Christmas markets in Vienna, I pet a koala, I fell off my bike in Czech republic and have a scar on my right leg, I fed a kangaroo, I learned how to surf, I sang in front of a crowd in a different language than the one I speak, I was on TV, I visited lady liberty in New York, I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, I learned to accept those that are different from me and my lifestyle, I have been on many road trips. And those are just a few things...funny thing is, that for each of these things i was scared out of my mind. I couldn't believe u was doing that. One Part of me wanted to give up because i thought i wasn't strong enough. The other side of me didn't give up. And that is the side i finally realized is in me. I am not one to give up. I will try new things that are way out of my confort zone because at the end of the day each of this things helped me become who i am. Each adventure brings a wave of joy that i can't discribe because i feel so proud of myself. I did all of these things for me, and not to please anyone else.

I’m sure that many people back in Florida are waiting to see the old Juli. And I am no longer that person, I have grown up. I have faced the real world. And to be honest I think the people that once told to get ready for the real world have never experienced the real world. Because the real world is a beautiful thing. You just have to see the beauty in everything. To travel the world, to meet strangers and to see the world from a new point of view, to understand what you once secretly judged, to love, to know that no matter what happens God is there… He's everywhere.

I am no longer afraid of what life will bring, if I have accomplished such astonishing things in the past 19 years of my life I am eager to see what the future holds for me. I'm sure they'll be many struggles, but I'm ready to overcome them and make the best memories along the way.