Erika Gutierrez


Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: William R. Boone High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Orlando, Florida
Host District: 1920
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bad Ischl


My Bio

Guten Tag! My name is Erika Gutierrez and thanks to Rotary I will be spending my year abroad in the beautiful country of Austria. Florida has been my home since I was born. I have enjoyed living on Lake Conway in Orlando with my dad, mom and a sister who attends the University of Florida. Currently I am a senior in the Law Magnet at Boone High School and more than halfway through an AA Degree thanks to the dual enrollment program provided by Valencia Community College.

At Boone I compete in the varsity swim team and partake in our school’s photography club. Growing up on Lake Conway made me develop a love for all water and board sports. In my free time you can usually find me wakeboarding at Orlando Watersports Complex, where I have gotten the chance to meet people from different parts of the world. Other things I like to do are surf, longboard, skateboard, and hang out with friends. I also have a part-time job at Quicksilver/Roxy in the Florida Mall.

I have been fortunate to travel significantly with my family and these trips have instilled in me a passion for adventure and learning. Having experienced other cultures has augmented my wanderlust, love for the world, and yearning to expand my global awareness. I am looking forward to meeting my host family and making new friends. Being an exchange student has been a dream of mine since middle school and the opportunity has finally arrived! I am very excited to immerse myself in a new culture, language, and environment. Thank you so much Rotary Youth Exchange! Österreich hier komme ich!

Rome with my classmates

Rome with my classmates

Hallstatt excursion at language camp

Hallstatt excursion at language camp

Bad Ischl

Bad Ischl

Hiking near my house

Hiking near my house



Journals: Erika - Austria 2015-2016

  • Erika, outbound to Austria

    When I last wrote, I was still new to Austria. The language was a mystery, winter was coming, and the culture was still not clear. My amazing adventure had just begun. Now the winter has come and gone and I am writing again between two trips. This last weekend, the Rotary Youth Exchange Program hosted a weekend in Budapest and next weekend we leave for the infamous Eurotour.

    Now, I think the best way to sum up the last 7 months for you future exchangers is to write down the main areas of exchange and the progression of them since I last wrote.


    Of course one of the biggest, if not the biggest point is the language. I remember at the beginning of the exchange I was lost and confused language wise. Every exchange student will feel this and it is okay to get frustrated. However, without effort comes no fruit. If you work hard, the language will come. I remember there was a turning point for me on exchange concerning the language acquisition. Some time in January the light bulb just switched on in my head and I was able to understand most of everything (even some of the dialect) and sufficiently express myself in the language. After this point, the language just got easier and easier until it became natural, like now. Read, write, buy a grammar book, do the exercises, make flashcards, practice with your host parents, practice with yourself in the mirror, watch shows with subtitles. Just think of how awesome it would be to be able to speak two (or more) languages! If you are low on language learning stamina, I found these videos really helpful:

    Host families:

    At the beginning of January I switched host families with one of the other exchange students in my city. It came as sort of a surprise because we were both under the impression that we would be staying with our families until the end of our exchange. I really did not want to switch because I really liked the house and location in the city that I was in and I knew the other family lived much farther out from the center. At the house of my old host family, my best friend from school was my neighbor and my school and the train station were a short walk away. Nonetheless we switched and I think it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It is good to see different perspectives of living in your host city. I get along with my new host family much better than my other one. Although the house is a bit far, the bike ride to and from the city is extremely gorgeous and it really helps with keeping the exchange weight gain in check! So future outbound, my advice to yo u would be not to be afraid of change, you never know what great things could be waiting for you, and if you don’t like it you can always try to switch back!


    School will be different for everyone depending on what school you go to, how your host parents are, and if you are done with High School in America. In my case since I did not need credits to transfer, so I just used school as a platform to meet people and study German. Now that I have a really good grip on the language I spend my time working on stuff for university, reading books, and sometimes actually participating in the class. I have made many acquaintances in school, a couple friends and one best friend. I am in the 7th grade here (equivalent junior year in America) so my schoolmates have a lot to study all the time. This means during the week I usually spend time with my exchange friends and on the weekend I make plans with my Austrian friends if they don’t have any big tests the following week. Exchange, especially with Rotary, is like a game of cards and you must deal with what you are dealt. Do what you can to make the best out of your hand of cards. My clas s has been very welcoming and we have done many fun things together!


    With the Austrian Youth Exchange Program you will have many travel opportunities. Also, usually every student in an Austrian school receives 2 cards, one that gives you free access to all public transportation in your state in Austria and one that give you half off on all train tickets. This is convenient for day trips without Rotary. I have been to almost every major city more than once including Vienna, Salzburg, Linz, Hallstatt, and Innsbruck and in the coming months I will go to Bregenz and Graz. Some cities outside of Austria that I have been to with Rotary include: Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Budapest. Next weekend I will be leaving for Eurotour, which will add about 17 more!


    I am just going to put it out there…I absolutely love wearing a dirndl! A dirndl is the traditional clothing for women in Austria and for men it’s lederhosen. I think Austrians will find any excuse to put on their traditional clothing, especially in the part of Austria where I live. Which is great. There are so many traditions here that are just so unique and without explanation and that I just find beautiful. During Christmas time look out for Kristkind, Krampus, and Glöckler! Fasching, the equivalent of Carnaval in Austria is also tons of fun. Austrians are very musical and like to dance. Many times have I stood on tables with my school friends dressed in the traditional clothing singing and dancing.

    Integration into the way of life and culture of Austrians was relatively easy; I did not experience much cultural shock. They do go about things very differently but not to the extent were it is extremely conspicuous. I am to the point of my exchange that I am so used to living like an Austrian that I have forgotten what it is like to live in America!

    I think that about covers most of the important points. Writing this (a bit overdue) journal entry has allowed me to reflect on how this year has gone. A year abroad is something very unique. At times it is hard, at times you are the happiest you’ve ever been in your life, but the fact that you as a young adult came to a foreign country to learn about it and to share your culture is something to be very proud of. Exchange changes you as a person. Your horizons are broadened, your wills become clearer, and you become more confident. Coming into exchange it is normal to have expectations. However you will notice that what you experience, you would have never been able to expect. Yet, that is the best thing about it. This year has been full of so many beautiful memories, people, and places. As an exchange student every day is a new adventure. Being here I have really learned to make the most of every day since I know my time here was always limited since the beginning. I fall in love with every day and I am very grateful to Rotary for the amazing opportunity. I am excited for the following last months!

    For photos and more journals, click here

  • Erika, outbound to Austria

    If you are an awaiting outbound to Austria, get ready. I would have never imagined to have done so much and learned so much in only two short months. Great ready for the best year of your life.

    For all exchange students in Austria it begins with language camp. About 3 days after I arrived in Austria I packed up again and left for Altmünster to attend two weeks of “Sprachkurs.” Here we learned the basics of German with 65 other students from the whole world. We had class every day but also lots of freetime, which we would spend enjoying the sun and swimming in the Traunsee, or walking to the next town over, Gmunden. In our first weekend there we even had an excursion to Hallstatt! It was at this camp where I obtained not only a great starting base for my German acquisition but also met my awesome new family of other exchange students staying all over Austria.

    Unfortunately my short Austrian summer came to an end and fall quickly approached as I spent the next two weeks after camp getting to know my city, host family, and preparing for school. I have to say right now, I love where I live. Coming from a big city like Orlando, to the small resort-like town of Bad Ischl is just what I needed. Bad Ischl is a pretty popular town in Austria. It is only 30 minutes away from Hallstatt and is a city many tourists visit since it used to be the summer home to the emperor of Austria. Also the surrounding area is the most beautiful land I have ever seen. I live in the area of Austria referenced as the Salzkammergut. I couldn’t be placed in a place more opposite than Florida. There are many lakes where I live and they are all enclosed by mountains. Well they are probably not “mountains” (to me they are), but nonetheless I think a part of me will always be at peace, even after I’ve left this country, just knowing this part of the earth always exists and lives on. Yes it’s that great.

    But as I was saying…completely different from Florida. With that I mean the weather. It’s so cold!! Okay probably not that cold, but a beach girl like me is rapidly learning how to dress for the cold weather and not die. It’s only October but recently a teacher pointed out to me snow on top of one of the big hills (mountain) you can see out of the window in my classroom.

    Naturally, this opportunity in Austria is a learning experience for me on all aspects of my life. Living in cold weather, becoming more independent, getting to know more about myself, what I want for my future, how I get along with others, learning about the history and life in Europe, and of course, learning a new language. Which brings me to German. Please fellow future outbound reading this, start learning your language! As soon as you can. As you’ve probably already been told, it will really help with everything! You’ll make friends faster, learn more about where you live faster, makes it easier to speak with Rotarians, and just helps you to integrate a lot faster than you would coming with zero language skills.

    I didn’t come to Austria with much German. It was hard to fit studying in between trying to graduate, working two jobs, and getting ready to leave your family, friends, and beloved state (I only realized how much I liked it right before I left). However I am happy to say now at the month 2 mark I can understand almost everything people say to me, and I speak only German with my host family and school friends.

    Now this didn’t come with just living in Austria for 2 months alone. It comes with hard practice and studying and just not being afraid to make mistakes. You should see me at school. Since I don’t understand my teachers that well yet I am always knee-deep in flash cards, my German to English dictionary, and my notebook reserved only for learning German that is on the brink of breaking. If you wish to be fluent, like I hope to at the end of the year, just remember it’s not easy but it is possible. Also if you are coming to Austria, be aware that many parts of Austria (like the Salzkammergut) speak dialect and not High German. Like seriously it will take me 30 solid minutes to try to figure out what my class is saying in our Whatsapp group chat, and even after reading it over and over I cannot understand at all.

    Another thing to look out for…travelling! The exchange students to Austria have the opportunity to do many awesome trips with the RYE program here. So far I have been to: Hallstatt, Altmünster (not well known but I love this city so much), Klosteneurberg with my host family, Linz, Salzburg, Gmunden, Hiking in Tauplitz, Rome with my school, Pilzen in the Czech Republic with the Rotary Club of Bad Ischl, this weekend RYE Austria is having a Vienna weekend, and next weekend we are going to Prauge, Dresden, and Berlin!

    I can’t believe I was allowed this amazing opportunity to grow, see and do. I am eternally grateful to Rotary and Rotary Youth Exchange for this chance of a lifetime. Sometimes as I walk around my city I find myself smiling randomly, or singing, or just straight out dancing because my heart is so happy. I can’t believe I’m living out the dream I’ve had for so long.

    To see my home page and some photos click HERE

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