August 9. 2013
7/09/13- For those of you who are considering exchange… DO IT! I haven’t even left yet, but I know that this will be the most amazing experience of my life. I mean what’s better than hanging out with 79 other crazy kids who are as fearless and goal driven as you? Don’t get me wrong, it is no cake walk, it is a lot of hard work. You first must fill out that long application that just seems to get longer as you fill it out. Then after those great applications you get to prepare for the most intense interviews of your life. Yes, I said interviews, there are more than one. The first interview decides if anyone even wishes to sponsor you for district interviews. This is referred to as the home interview, this is as challenging as the district interview, but still be ready for a lot of questions.
Once interviews are complete, it’s a waiting game. You have about two months before you find out which country Rotary has decided to send you to. But, as soon as you find out that city, be prepared to buy all of the books you possibly can, because you will need them. You will go through your awesome Orientations at the great Lake Yale where you will make the greatest friends you could imagine.
Let me side step into the last few days I have had at home. When you finally receive a departure date you will be the most excited person in your town, but then once it does settle in, you realize “Wow, this is actually happening”. My emotions have been on the longest most energy draining rollercoaster you could possibly imagine. I have gone from “YES! I’m leaving” to “Holy Crap I’m leaving”. I brought myself out of the fear that was holding me back, by constantly reminding myself why I chose this path less traveled, why I wanted to be culturally diverse. I remember that those that I’m leaving will still be there when I return. So as I anxiously await my 14 hour flight to the wonderful city of Wroclaw, Silesia, Poland… I write this to tell you to make the decision I did, stand out from the crowd and become your own unique person.
08/13/13- I have arrived in Poland after a grueling 14 hours of flying, jet lagged doesn’t even begin to explain the feeling I am currently enduring. I started out in wonderful Orlando to fly my way to Charlotte for a connecting flight. The sun was shining and it all looked great, until takeoff. The clouds decided to gather over the airport, bringing nice winds and heavy turbulence. Luckily for me the person I was seated next to, continued to crack jokes throughout the flight, putting me at some sort of ease. Landing was about as great as takeoff was, a shift in the wind almost caused us to do a go-around and have to do that horrible approach all over again. I had a short time once I reached Charlotte to take break from the hustle of airline transportation. My next flight was from Charlotte into Munich, Germany. The plane was much larger so taking off in mild weather did nothing to the plane. The flight was a smooth 8 hours and 50 minutes. My first step onto European ground was amazing, I really enjoyed my short time in Germany until I had to get on the last leg of my journey. Once again the weather was not in my favor and caused a lot of turbulence on my short flight to Wroclaw.
I have finally arrived to the amazing country of Poland, and let’s just say I wouldn’t trade this for anything. I write this as I lounge in my bed with the window open and the cool Polish breeze sweeping over the garden in the back yard. My family is amazing, they are the nicest people, and have already done so much for me. Next week we will say farewell to my host sister Paulina as she makes her journey to the US. I am very excited to be going to Bydgoszcz next week to meet all of the other exchange students for a 10 day long language camp, but for now, Do Widzenia!
September 5th, 2013
Words cannot describe how happy I am with my life at the moment. I am in the beautiful country of Poland and I love it more each day. I’ve been here almost a month now and I have done so many things in such little time. My first week here I toured around the awesome city of Wroclaw and was able to see old town (Known as Rynek). The city is much bigger than I was expecting. But it is very easy to navigate around the city with the public transportation. Later in my first week, my host family took me too a beautiful castle just south of my city. The castle was very large and contained a lot of history due to its age and location in Poland.
My last ten days were spent in Bydgoszcz where my language camp was. It was probably the most fun that I have had in a long time. Let’s just say exchange students are the best people you will ever meet in your life. The people 55 people that I have met are much like my exchange friends from Florida, everyone has a goal to accomplish and they are very ambitious, which I guess you must be to go away from home for a year. We spent the quick ten days, with 4 ½ hours of Polish lessons, followed by an hour and a half of sports. Even with the strenuous schedules, it was amazing. I can now say that I have lifelong friends from Brazil, Mexico, France, USA, Taiwan and Australia!
September 29th, 2013
I just arrived home from the BEST 10 days of my LIFE! On the 20th I left Poland to go on vacation to Spain for a week. We stayed in a city in the South of Spain called Malaga. It was beyond anything you could ever imagine and pictures just won’t do it justice. Everywhere you looked there was crystal blue water. Mountains covered the horizon and the sky was a shade of blue you could only get in Spain. I traveled all over the coast even going to the Island, Gibraltar, which is owned by England, so everything was in English. Which was a very nice break from all of the other languages I had been hearing over the first few days.
When I arrived back in Poland from Spain, a lot of emotions hit, the last time I flew into Wroclaw Airport was almost two months ago. It was my first day in Poland. I recalled all of the emotions, happy and sad, but, very excited. It was my friend Megan’s birthday, so my friend Caroline and I took a train right after I got off of the plain, to go to Bydgoszcz, which, was about an 8 hour train ride, right after my 4 hour plane ride. Needless to say, I was exhausted. The time I spent there was great though. It had been about two weeks since I had seen the exchange students from Bydgoszcz, so I was excited to see my friends again. We went out to a nice dinner on the city and had friends over later on in the night. The next day we went to a diner that sold authentic American food. It actually tasted American too. Everything I’ve I had in Poland that claims to be American, ends up just being fried Polish food.
October 14th, 2013
Well, I just got back from an amazing weekend in Prague. The city is far more beautiful than words can describe. Because the Nazi rule never took much affect over Czechoslovakia, what is now separated, contains a lot of history because it was not destroyed during the war. The old city of Prague stretches far and wide. It is one of the biggest of any Cities historical area. It was very beautiful there and I hope to go back very soon. I think the best part of the trip, was at the point when my host father found out we were lost two hours after leaving Prague. We had been driving in the wrong direction the entire time. So we stopped continuously, only to get more lost than what we already were. We finally talked to a person at a gas station and bought a map. They said “The best way to get back to Poland, is going back to Prague and trying again.” This made me laugh a lot, we had to drive 3 hours back to Prague and then another 4 hours to get to Wroclaw. Although it was frustrating to be lost at 10 pm. I was with my host dad and other exchange students, so we made the best of it. We also got to visit more of the Czech Republic than what we had bargained for!
December 5, 2013
November is only the beginning of the trying months for an exchange student. With birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s slowly creeping around the corner. I cannot say that November was an easy month for me because that would be a lie. While I may not have shown it on the outside, on the inside I was struggling. But, rather than staying home and consoling myself I made plans to have a thanksgiving party and to go travel for a few days. If I can give a piece of advice to the new exchange students, when you feel homesick or down for any reason, DO NOT STAY AT HOME. Especially do not Skype your family or friends when you feel down, while you may think it will help, all it will do is make you feel worse.
My solution to get over my thoughts about home for thanksgiving, was to make one of my own. All my host parents said is “Whatever you need, we will get it.” So I started planning things out, mind you I almost never cook in Poland or back home, so this was going to be a huge challenge for me. I had to email my mom and get advice because I had no idea that I had to baste the turkey or pluck off the remaining feathers around the legs. Regardless of how unprepared I was, I made one of the best tasting dinners that I have ever had, don’t tell my mom that because she will start making me cook! I fed about ten people and didn’t have any complaints. The turkey was juicy, the mashed potatoes were buttery and the yams were sugary. I invited over the other exchange students in my city and some of our friends from school. It was difficult not being home for this day, thanksgiving is a big holiday for my family. Having a family of eight people that all live in the same city, means everyone comes to my house for thanksgiving, and we are all one big family. Not to mention all of my siblings are married or dating someone and almost all of them have at least two kids, which means my house is regularly full of people for hours on end. While I may be thousands of miles away it felt like I was at home, but not home in the US, home in Poland. Being surrounded by awesome people, I really feel like I belong here.
In November, I also took a trip to a city called Czestochowa, to visit my friend Donnella, who is also an exchange student from Florida. I had some preconceived ideas about the city because of my friends from Poland. Apparently Czestochowa is only known for having the largest church in Poland and that the city has nothing else. Well, I still went with my head held high hoping to make the best out of my time, I mean I had 5 days to spend with one of my best friends. I arrived in the city and was pleasantly surprised. There was much more to the city than what I expected. It’s not nearly as big as Wroclaw, but it has its perks that Wroclaw doesn’t have. It reminds me a lot of my city from back in the US. It’s smaller, but there are a lot of people in the city. While I was there Donnella was planning a Thanksgiving dinner for us and her friends from school. We were up by 7 am that Thursday, even though we didn’t even start cooking until 11. Everything tur ned out perfect, and it wasn’t a problem that the turkey was still cooking when everyone was supposed to be there. Mainly because her friends were a little late. She introduced me to her friends and within an hour we were all pretty good friends and were talking like we had known each other for a while. One of her friends, Basia, was having a start of Hanukkah party with her family and friends, and she decided to invite us to it so that we could experience it. It definitely different from any other religious event I have ever been too. It was very relaxed and inviting. There was a short lecture of current Jewish events with in Poland and Europe. After that we made traditional, and some non-traditional, dradles with our friends. They also made these pancakes made out of shredded carrots, they compared them to potato pancakes. They were very good once you sprinkled a little brown sugar on them! The next day Donnella went with our friend to go get her haircut and I met he r friend Adam in the city to go for a tour. He stressed to me that the main attraction to Czestochowa was the large church called “Jasna Gora”. We went and walked around the church, which could be better described as a fort or a castle. We went to the very top of one of the churches towers, which looked over the entire city. We also went inside of the very crowded church to see what is known as the “Black Madonna”. To enter the room that the Black Madonna is in, you must start out side and walk in on your knees, as a sign of respect and honor. It’s very hard to describe how beautiful the inside of the church really is. It is something that must be seen to truly admire.
The day after I arrived back in Wroclaw, we had our first snow day. I went to school when it was snowing a very small amount. I only knew it was snowing because I saw a few flakes on cars while walking to my tram stop. But, once history class started, I looked out the window to find it was snowing very heavily and the snowflakes were huge. After history was over, me, Guilherme and Lymari (the other exchange students in my city) went outside to see it. None of us are from parts of the world that get to enjoy the beauty of snow. We had to rush back inside for our special Polish class and singing class. Luckily for us we convinced the singing teacher to take us outside for a snowball fight. Within an hour of the snow beginning to fall, everything was covered in snow. It was very exciting and beautiful seeing the city covered in glistening snow. It made me appreciate my cities beauty much more. We went around the city for two hours walking through parks and over bridges to see h ow everything looked in the snow. The only downside to a snowball fight, is when you don’t have gloves and after about five minutes, it feels like your hands are going to fall off, but you continue to play anyways!
It has been almost four months since I started this amazing journey, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I have met so many friends over these past months that I know I will have for the rest of my life. This is a journey that I know I will never forget for the rest of my life and I am eternally grateful to Rotary for allowing me to participate in this amazing life. It truly is a life-time in a year. It hasn’t been a smooth trip the whole way, but, I count my blessings for it not being as difficult as it could have been. Polish is one of the most difficult languages for foreigners to learn, but I am happy with my progress thus far. But don’t take that as me saying I am fluent or near it. I still have a long journey left ahead of me and I am looking to learn as much as possible from this experience. It is very hard to believe that I am almost half way through these 10 months in Europe. Small words of wisdom to the upcoming exchange students, don’t take any of your days of exchange for granted, cherish each one, because it’s only a year and you’ll be sitting in your room trying to sum up just one month of exchange and realize that it is going by much faster than what you ever expected it would.
January 13, 2014
Well a lot has happened in the past few weeks. A mixture of emotions, doesn’t even begin to describe how I have felt this past month. I’ll start with the amazing Rotary weekend I had in my city! All of the exchange students within Poland met in my city, to enjoy an amazing Christmas meeting and celebration.
We began our meeting on Thursday, where the other exchange students in Wroclaw and myself, along with Rotaract, welcomed the inbound students to our beautiful city. It took around four hours to gather all 51 exchange students into a single building. Once gathered we had an amazing opening with pizza and refreshments. We were given most of that day and night to reunite and share stories and amazing experiences that we had while we were apart. To say the least, it was a reunion of epic proportions! We started off Friday with a trip to an old Nazi Cole Mine in the mountains near Wroclaw. It was ran by Nazi soldiers, where they put prisoners to work. It was not known why the Nazis opened this mine, because it didn’t actually produce any products that would be used by the army. After visiting the mines, we took a trip to the castle Ksiaz, which I have written about in my previous journal. Once we left the castle we went for a nice lunch in the village and had a traditional Polish lunch. Rotaract decided to keep us out and take us to a party at a bowling alley. Rotaract paid for all of us to go bowling for 2 hours and then to go back to the Hostel for some more pizza! Saturday morning we were required to be ready by 7:30 am and to report downstairs outside of the Hostel. We were taken on a tour of the city to see the most popular sights around Wroclaw. Our first and most important stop was at Panorama. Panorama is a building in a circular shape that features a live painting, where part of the art piece is painted on a wall and the other part is a real object protruding from the wall. The meeting came to an end on Sunday morning, where many goodbyes were once again due.
The next biggest obstacle for us exchange students to overcome, Christmas. For most cultures, Christmas is a very big family event, if not the biggest. For me, it is especially a large gathering. Coming from a family of six kids, I typically have almost 30 people at my house on Christmas morning. My family in Poland consists of two host parents and one host sister, so it is a big change for me to live with such a small family. In Poland, the Christmas festivities begin Christmas Eve, which is the most celebrated day, unlike in the US. Christmas Eve is the night that people open gifts and have a big dinner together. Poles only eat fish on Christmas Eve, due to it being a heavy Catholic influenced country. Christmas day is for religion and realizing the true meaning of Christmas. I will say that Christmas was not an easy time for me. Being away from home has not affected me much, until this time. Things are just very different and it can be difficult to adjust to some traditions. But from the beginning we were told that it wouldn’t be easy, I just never realized how true that was until now. Still, at this time it was not the worst thing, because I knew to remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a few holidays away from home is nothing to cry over.
I will tell each and every one of you exchange students that the goodbyes do not stop once you leave Florida. Goodbyes will haunt you your entire exchange. I thought I would be done with tear filled goodbyes after I left my family in friends, but I realized it’s just the beginning of many. January 12th I had to tell my best friend that I have had in Poland, goodbye. Because for those of you who don’t know, when you get to your country, you may have an Australian that has been living there for 7 or 8 months. I had to say my hardest goodbye to my Australian friend, and I can tell you for sure, it is worse than saying bye to your family. I knew when I left Florida that I would be back in 10 short months, but I don’t know when I will see my Aussie. Going to the airport at 7 am almost killed me, because I knew what was coming. But luckily for me, it was tear filled laughs, because if there is one thing that me and my Aussie did, it was always laugh in heart wren ching situations.
I am half way through my exchange, and I wish I could go back to my first day here, just to live it all over again. I would never change my decision to be an exchange student. Rotary is the best Organization in the world and words cannot describe how appreciative I am to them. Rotary really is built of the most amazing people you can ever meet!
January 21, 2014
The most difficult times for and exchange students take place at an airport. All of the goodbyes and hellos and getting lost in the Charlotte airport and the Munich airport. The stress and anxiety of being at an airport is indescribable. Whether you’re leaving everything you know, returning to everything you knew or saying goodbye to the amazing people you have encountered on your life changing journey, and airport is where it all begins.
Last week I had to say one of the hardest goodbyes for me, an oldie (Australian exchange students come in January and leave when you are half through your exchange) of mine took her long journey back to Melbourne, Australia. This girl was my best exchange friend and helped me through in difficult situation that I encountered in my first few months in Poland. From learning to by a tram ticket, to ordering my food at Pizza Hut, she helped me every step of the way. Others looked at us like we were crazy and some even were scared to talk to us, because everywhere we went it was like a party! I’ll admit, the first time that I met her I was very intimidated by her. This girl was already speaking fluent Polish and making her way through the city like she had lived there her whole life. I just don’t know where I would be now in Poland without all of her help.
Saying goodbye at the airport made me think of how in 5 short months, I will be making the same journey back home and leaving everything that I grew to know. The wonderful language, culture and amazing food. I couldn’t help but become slightly depressed, but realize that I really need to cherish the next months because they will go by very quickly.
I have had my biggest break through with Polish finally! I have been dreaming and Polish and speaking it on a regular basis with friends and my host family, but it is truly amazing to really realize that you can speak conversationally in another language. The new Australian arrived and her first day at school really tested my language skills. I had to translate things that friends were asking and her responses. But the real test was in my Polish class. My teacher of Polish does not know any English and I was asked to translate her Polish to English for the new student. Without thinking, I was able to translate her polish to the new Aussie and to translate the Aussie’s English into Polish. Since you don’t know my Polish teacher, I will tell you that she speaks very fast and complicated Polish, much like other teachers in Poland. It was a small accomplishment, but it was very fulfilling. Sometimes on exchange you it is just assumed that you know Polish, so you spea k it. But at times you don’t really think about how far you have come until you see exactly how you were in the beginning and compare it to how you are now.
I really feel like I belong in this culture. I don’t forget about my American citizenship, but I feel like a Pole now and let me tell you, to an exchange student, that is the most valuable feeling. Everything feels so natural now and it is so amazing that in 5 months that a person can feel like that. I know now that I am truly an international student and that I now have more than one home!
Once again I must thank Rotary for all of their hard work! These people devote their time and take out time from their friends, family and work, to make sure that we are all comfortable and happy with where we are. I get emails at least once a month by a Rotary member, making sure that everything is still going great and I’m glad that I can make them proud and that they chose ME of all of the applicants to represent our country and to grow as an individual. I mean 5 months after leaving home I have gained all of the confidence in the world and I have finally became the adult that I always wanted to be! Don’t ever take Rotary for granted, because without them you wouldn’t be going on this amazing journey in to the unknown. I mean what other organization takes a bunch of crazy kids and sends them all over the world and in 10 short months, receive the most grown up, respectable adults you could imagine. You are truly amazing Rotary and I thank you so much for choosing me and believing in me!
February 12, 2014
Well it has only been about 2 weeks since my last journal, but so many things have happened in those two weeks, that I think I should really tell my readers about! Well to start it off this past week I spent my time in the Northern region of Italy in a small village called Folgaria. Rotary set up an amazing trip for us exchange students to go skiing in the Italian Alps! To say the least it was my favorite trip that I have taken on exchange so far.
I left my beautiful city of Wroclaw to travel to a friends’ town called Poznan, about three hours away. I stayed at one of my best friends’ house, from Mexico, for two nights, where all we did was feed off each others excitement about a week of skiing in Italy. I mean how many people get to say they have done that! We spent the nights going around and exploring the awesome city of Poznan. To reflect back, I made the decision to get my ski equipment from Wroclaw instead of renting in Italy, now I don’t understand why I made that decision, because that meant I had to carry these huge skis and ski boots, along with my already heavy luggage. Let’s just say I looked like a crazy person getting on and off of the small train doors.
On Friday morning we began our journey to Gorzow Wielkopolski in the North-West part of Poland, where we would meet the participating exchange students to begin our second journey to Italy. Friday morning was a bit of a mess because there were eight of us getting ready to go to the bus station with all of our luggage and ski/ snowboarding equipment. Needless to say we missed the first two buses that we wanted to take. The buses was nice and cozy with every seat filled and people not enjoying the excited group of exchange students headed to Italy. I don’t think we made it better by singing “We are the World” and “Danza Kuduro” for the three hour bus ride, but some did love us and even began to sing along.
We arrived in Gorzow to find a group of Rotarians waiting to take us to their homes for dinner and snacks before our long bus ride. We arrived at about 3 pm and had 5 hours to kill before the overnight journey. My friend Liberato, from Brazil, and I were taken to the same house to relax until meet up time.
To be honest finally getting to Gorzow was the biggest relief of my life! Before the trip there were many problems with bank transfers, contacts and travel. I spent the last month stressing non-stop, because this was a trip I had been preparing for and been excited for since October. It took until three days before my departure for everything to finally go through and my spot on the bus to be secured.
Liberato and I left the Rotarians house at about 7 pm to drive to the travel agency where we would me the other participants. Only 16 exchange students were able to go on the trip, so the travel agency filled the other 24 spots with friends and family. That part made us exchange students nervous because if you have ever been on a trip with us, you know we don’t sleep no matter what time it may be. We are filled with way too much energy and excitement to keep it all in. Luckily for us, the other people were just as crazy as us and we spent most of the ride singing Disco Polo songs. We did however finally tier out around 3 am and all of us fell asleep.
We woke up at our third break of the journey somewhere in Austria. That was our first view of the Alps. Let me tell you it was the most unreal thing I have seen in my entire life. The view was the most amazing thing any of us have ever laid our eyes on. I have seen mountains before, but the Alps are just something that something that you can’t compare anything else to. We continued driving and just kept getting further into the jaw-dropping mountains.
We arrived in Italy after 16 hours of driving and torturous roads that winded up the side of one of the biggest mountains I have ever seen. Normally I’m fine with things like that, but we were in a big tour bus, filled to capacity and not even a foot of road left for any errors in driving.
We all got off the bus and took some time to take in our amazing surroundings. Everywhere that you looked, you could see mountains pushing their way up into the sky. Folgaria is a quiet ski village placed right on the edge of a steep mountain. It is exactly what you would picture a mountain town to be. People walking dogs and children, small restaurants, a million pizza places and small shops on every corner.
The hotel we stayed at was “Hotel Irma” which is situated directly in the middle of the village. It is a very nice hotel with big rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. The first day there, was set aside for people to explore and to obtain their ski equipment. We spent the whole day and night walking around looking at all of the sites and stores around the place. At 6 pm we had to be back at the hotel for our first real Italian dinner! When we walked in to the restaurant, there was a buffet set up for us to start eating. Little did we all know, that was just for an appetizer and we were going to receive three other courses of food. By the end of dinner I felt like someone was going to have to roll me out of the restaurant. But, that didn’t keep us from doing the same thing every night, even when we were aware of the other courses, we continued to pig out on all of the pasta and pizza that our stomachs could possibly hold!
The second day would be our first day of skiing in the Alps. Mind you I have been skiing before (once and only for about 30 minutes). We were asked at the beginning if we had ever been skiing before, even my 30 minutes counted as experience. Little did I know, by saying yes to this, they were going to take me to the advanced slopes and trails. Luckily, I was able to push all of my inhibitions aside and ski down every slope they brought us to. Except for one…. It was the steepest slope at the resort. It started at the top of the mountain and went all the way to the bottom. I made it half way down and then just couldn’t handle it anymore and slid down the rest of the slope on my butt. Even the experienced skiers said that is was very rough for them and they took their time going down it.
The third day of skiing was much better for me. I finally learned how to control my turning and stopping and was able to go down the slopes with no problems and without even take time to think about my imminent death. Saying that, I will tell you there were a few falls, but nothing bad at all, mainly just sliding on my side, but being able to get right up and continue down the mountain. We spent six hours every day on the mountains, taking only a one hour break for lunch and then going and doing it all over again.
I continued to improve throughout the week, even calling on the attention of the pro skiers to comment on how much better I was doing in such a short time. I have never really been the athletic type, but apparently skiing was something I could really do! By the last day, I was able to keep up with all of the people that had been skiing for most of their lives. It was a very proud moment for me when all of my fear left and I just attacked the mountains with all of the confidence in the world.
It was another breathtaking moment for me, arriving in a beautiful country and spending six days skiing in the Italian Alps. I get moments like these where all I can do is just think how lucky I really am to be in this amazing place. I have so many people to thank for making this year possible for me, but so little time left in this place. I knew as soon as January arrived, that exchange would go by in the blink of an eye. In one short month I will be leaving for a three week journey around Europe, then I will be in London for a week, and after that my family will be in Poland to visit me. After all of that I will only have a week left in Poland and the hard goodbyes to all of my amazing friends and family will be here. I look back and see all of the things that I have experienced and just can’t believe that this is all real. In three and a half months I will be flying back home and all of this will be just a memory. I continue to say this, but future exchange students ; don’t take a single day for granted because it will be over all too soon. This will be the best time of your life, I can promise you that! You will become a native of whatever country it is that you may be going to. Never forget who got you here though. Make sure to thank Rotary and your parents, because they are your biggest supporters and they only want the best for you!