October 8, 2013
Dobry den! Good day from Slovakia. My name is Devon Ford, and this is my first journal! I've been thinking for the past day or two what to write in this. Do I explain my day? Do I explain what I've done? What I've seen? Or maybe how I feel? I've decided to talk about my first impressions, something about my language, and some great experiences.
I remember being nervous on the plane ride across the Atlantic ocean and thinking, "Why the heck did I decide to go to Slovakia??". It's a very small country, (about 1/3 size of Florida, land mass), the language is difficult to learn (at first), and many people don't even know where it is. As soon as my four-hour car ride from the Slovak airport to my host family's home started, I instantly erased the small thought of regret that I had on the plane ride. I can't explain the feeling when you look out the car window and see the High Tatras mountain range a couple kilometers away, and thinking that you never knew something could be so massive. Being from Florida, mountains are a whole new world for me. On the drive to my family's home, I would look right and see mountains, and look left to see a large city, and look right again to see remains of a castle built hundreds of years ago. Everything was so beautiful and amazing that I could hardly ta ke it in at one time. My first four hours in Slovakia were amazing.
The city I live in is Banksá Bystrica. It is a beautiful city, to say the least. I encourage everyone to look at the images of my city on Google. The city square is very old, and very beautiful. Surrounding the center are shopping centers, coffee shops, restaurants, and much more. Just like it would be in a downtown city in your area. Personally, I am in love with the city square. Almost every day after school, I walk (about 10 minutes) to the city and go to the same coffee shop, order a cappuccino, and do my homework at the tables outdoors. Any excuse I have to go walking in the city, I use it. Also, the waitress there thinks its hilarious when I try to order my coffee in Slovak language, and she doesn't speak English, so we just joke about each other's failures to pronounce words.
When I arrived in Slovakia, my language skills were not the best. This is because I didn't spend enough time studying the language, and learning a language on your own could be quite difficult. I knew the basics. Such as "How are you?", "I am hungry", "Hello, goodbye, good day, good night, etc.", "where is the bathroom?", and several other important phrases. I also knew knew about 100 or more important words. I had two weeks of summer left until school started, and I remember thinking, "I'll just do some hardcore language learning for two weeks and I'll know most of what I need to know"....Haha was I wrong about that one! The Slovak language is very complex when you are beginning to learn. Lucky for me my host sister and father are very good at broken English, so they helped teach and translate for me. Also, over half of my classmates can speak some English, and probably a quarter of them can understand English and speak well. BUT DON'T MAKE THAT AN EXCUSE NOT TO LEARN YOUR LANGUAGE. Not understanding what people around you are saying can be very frustrating. Today for example, at lunch, my classmates were chatting and started laughing hysterically, and I'm just sitting there, clueless as to what is so funny. It's funny how you learn to communicate with your friends and family, when you can't use words to do it.
Hmm...what to talk about next. I guess some experiences I have had. My host family is dedicated to taking me to see a different part of Slovakia every weekend. Whether it be a castle, a water park, hiking, etc. The first two weeks I was here, we were doing something almost every day. I have been thee castles, countless monuments, went on a crazy cave tour, visited other cities, rode in the car from one side of the country to another in one day, gone to a celebratory festival in a neighboring city, and much more. All of these things could be quite boring to talk about in text. But there is one event I want to go into detail with. This is event is the most majestic bike ride that I have every been on. One morning, at 8:00, I set off on a bike ride with my "Host Uncle" and his buddies. I thought it was going to be an hour or two ride around the city. Well, before I knew it, we made a turn up a hill on a paved road. The hill quickly turned into a mountain, and the paved road quickly turned into dirt. After 5km of peddling first gear on steep incline, with my quads muscles about to fall off my legs, we reach the peak, and that's where the fun starts. I can now say I've been 58km/hr (according to my speedometer) downhill on a mountain bike. The best part of it is, that hill/mountain, was one of many. We rode through small mountaintop villages, crossed streams, rode through valleys, got stuck in the mud, went from pavement to, to dirt roads, to mountain sides, to hills, to open planes, and back again. This "hour" bike ride turned into a 4 hour, 50km ride through the most beautiful parts of the country surrounding Banská Bystrica. The most vivid memory I have of that day was stopping for a water break, and about 20 meters away was a shepherd walking his heard of sheep across a plane. It was something I have never seen but in photos. It is also something I will never forget.
Maybe some of you are wondering how I am handling the culture shock or home sickness. Well the truth about that is, I have been so happy and relaxed since I've been in Slovakia that I have had little or no homesickness. Don't take that as I don't miss my family and friends, because I definitely do. But I have been so wrapped up in meeting new people, making friends, and falling in love with my country, that I don't have the time of day to be homesick. When you finally start meeting new friends in school your life just completely opens up, and you can always find something to do.
I'm going to end my first journal by saying that every experience I've had in Slovakia, thus far, has been a wonderful experience. Everything from when I was temporarily lost when walking to the city, to exploring my first castle. I am so thankful to be in this beautiful country, and I can't wait to take in more and more every day.
November 20, 2013
I have finally hit my three month mark in Slovakia! I missed out on writing my second month journal entry, I was so caught up in other things that when I actually remembered to start writing my second month entry, I was already two weeks into the third month (For those of you who have yet to go on exchange, you will know exactly what I am talking about when your time comes). That being said, I decided to wait. So, let my third month's journal begin!
My feelings have changed so much since my last journal entry. Not necessarily in a bad way, but they have just changed. My first month of my exchange honestly felt like one long vacation. I had no school, no real responsibilities, and all the time on my hands to enjoy whatever I wanted. On top of that I was going on family trips and vacations every weekend to visit castles, sightsee around the country, and other things like that. So really and truly it was exactly what a vacation would be. Well soon enough, that whole feeling of one big vacation wore off. After school started, the idea of vacation went away very quickly. I now have a nice school and family routine, just like back in USA.
One of the reasons that my feelings have changed is because of how people have changed the way they act towards me. The first month that I was in my host family, it felt as if I was glorious new visitor. Of course they treated me like a son, but for a while they would go above and beyond to make my stay comfortable. It is not that they don't make me comfortable now, but I'm treated just like every other member of the family, which is perfect for me. Lets just say my parents don't mind telling me to cook my own meals and my father has gotten comfortable with asking (telling) me to mow the yard. My point is that after I got settled in with my new family, it felt the same as living with my family back in USA.
During the first month of my exchange, I was filled with excitement every day, as every day was a new adventure. For example, finding a new ways to walk through and around the city, getting lost from time to time, trying new foods, meetings new people, and seeing new things. Every day was filled with one of these adventures, I could count on it. Now past the three month mark, I know the city like the back of my hand, I've meet what seems like almost everyone at my school, I've tried most of the traditional Slovak foods, and I have seen so many of the things there are to see in my city. Don't take this as I'm bored or tired of being here, but everything just feels like……home.
I guess now is a good time to speak of homesickness. The first month of my exchange, the word "homesickness" wasn't in my vocabulary. It seems like every "exchanger" experiences homesickness at a different time in their exchange. Well I have finally felt some of this dreaded homesickness. I unfortunately had my first trip to the hospital for several days (stomach infection), and during those several days it hit me pretty hard. I was without internet in the hospital, which is my only connection to the motherland, and that is what made me miss my parents. Other than that, everything is just fine and dandy :)
I am still just as happy to be here as the first day I came, that has not changed. But I have really figured out the reason that I, and all of us, are on exchange. The sightseeing is nice and the new foods are incredible, but the real reason that people come on exchange as said my Matthew Lezzi, current exchange student in Czech Republic:
"We are here to be ambassadors, learn a new culture, and to help establish life-long relationships with a country that will be useful in our futures, as well as discover who we are as people in the process."
It becomes truly humbling and eye opening when you focus your exchange on just that.