Haley Hughen


Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2230

Host Club: The Rotary Klub of Olsztyn


My Bio

Cześć! My name is Haley Hughen, I’m 17 years old, and I’m going to be spending ten months in Poland! I’m a senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, where I live with my mom, my younger brother, and our cat. You can usually find me running around school, trying to manage club meetings and getting all my homework done – I try to stay very involved at school, and I’m also taking 5 AP classes this year. It’s a bit stressful but I really believe that it will help me in the long run. In my free time I love to read and watch movies, and I’m trying to become a better runner.

I’ve been interested in exchange for about two years – I was reading over all the forms last year, and had plans to apply for the 2014-2015 school year, but I was afraid of missing senior year. Now I’m taking a gap year between high school and college to do this exchange. I’m so excited – to learn the language, to experience a new culture, to make new friends – I’m excited about it all. I can’t wait for this year to unfold. Bardzo Dziękuję, Rotary!


Wisla river sunset

Wisla river sunset

Brazil takes on Bydgoszcz

Brazil takes on Bydgoszcz

The view from my window in Olsztyn

The view from my window in Olsztyn

Rosalie, my french friend

Rosalie, my french friend

At a light show in torun

At a light show in torun

1/3 of the Polish exchangers

1/3 of the Polish exchangers

Wroclaw, all lit up for christmas time

Wroclaw, all lit up for christmas time

Florida picked some pretty cool cats to send to Poland

Florida picked some pretty cool cats to send to Poland

Everyone in front of the castle Kszoiz. This was actualy taken so quickly it was practically a candid

Everyone in front of the castle Kszoiz. This was actualy taken so quickly it was practically a candid

this was the night of the christmas event in Wroclaw, with my friends Sylvia and Jess. I forgot my blazer

this was the night of the christmas event in Wroclaw, with my friends Sylvia and Jess. I forgot my blazer

Journal: Haley - Poland 2015-2016

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

    I’m drinking coffee in bed at nine PM on a Friday and nothing makes sense.
    I’m staring at the glow of my laptop that, for some reason, has a broken webcam, which makes skype sessions difficult, and when you’re an exchange student skype sessions become very important and honestly I have no clue why the webcam is broken because I left my laptop at home and home is Poland now and I left my laptop at home when I went to Germany for a week and when I came back it didn’t work and nothing makes sense.
    I only have two months left on exchange, fifty-two days exactly according to the counter on my phone, and in fifty-two days I go home to Florida from my home in Poland.

    I must admit, I’m not entirely sure who I am anymore.
    In the past eight months I’ve been to eight countries, gained six kilos, lost my tan, lost my way, gotten on the wrong bus and the wrong tram, been on the right tram without a ticket, begged my way out of a ticket and had it work, tried to beg my way out of a ticket and failed (bye bye, sixty euro), I’ve made friends at my school who I missed when I was with my friends from Rotary, I’ve met people from countries I’ve never been to. I’ve had political discussions with people who speak very broken English, I’ve made horrific grammatical mistakes in English myself. I’ve seen places I never thought I would see, I’ve seen wonders I never knew existed. I’ve learned a language, poorly and incorrectly and not fluently, I’ve made a family.

    I made a life.

    I made a life, and then, I saw the ocean in Italy, and I sobbed, because I felt like I was home. Rotary forbid us from going in the water past our knees, and maybe I broke that rule just a little bit, but I couldn’t help it, and swimming in the ocean was the only reason I’ve ever been in trouble on my exchange. I saw the ocean in Italy, and memory hit me like a punch to the gut, and in that moment I realized that Florida was, is, and will probably always be a bigger part of me then I can comprehend. The beach makes me think of my uncle’s house and the fourth of July, it makes me think of road trips with friends crammed in the car, it makes me think of the conversations that led me to start this crazy exchange year in the first place. The beach makes me think of family vacations, of sand burning my feet and overripe watermelon, fiery sunsets and falling off surfboards. All these things are Florida things, my family and my loved ones, they’re boldly and undeniably Florida. The beach is really where I’m happiest, and I never even knew how much I had missed it until I saw the shore from our little hotel window.

    When I interviewed for this program I was asked where I wanted to go. “Send me anywhere”, I said, and this is part of the reason I believe I was chosen – because of my supposed openness and desire to see the world. Here’s the thing though, it wasn’t that I wanted to see the world so much as I felt trapped. I wanted more than anything to GO, to get out of Tallahassee. 

    Obviously, I was successful. I left.
    I won’t be returning the same.

    I’m a calmer, happier person now, I’m more confident in my own skin and my own abilities. I have a deeper respect for where I grew up and the people who raised me – and I love them more, now that I can step back and see everything from a more objective vantage point. Life was never supposed to be as hard as I made it. I’m less dramatic now, I’m braver. I’ve shed prejudices I didn’t realize I had and learned to be a better friend. I genuinely want to see the world – there are whole continents I’ve never been too, languages I’ve never heard spoken in person. From Thailand to Brazil, Australia to Argentina to Antarctica and back again, in my soul I want to see it all.

    A few days ago, I felt my old self creep back into my new skin, when some financial aid paperwork went astray. I slipped back into my old panic, my brain going a million miles an hour, I thought “This is all my fault I was too stupid I can’t believe I made that mistake I can’t believe my mom made that mistake I’m not going to get any aid I’m going to have to drop out I’m going to have to go to community college and I can’t handle this why is everything so awful what do I do they’re gonna take my scholarship away and I need that scholarship it’s huge without it I’m going to have to drop out ”, in circles for an hour and a half before I managed to call a friend and ask for help. “Calm down”, he said, reminding me to breathe. “Just try to have a little more faith in humans”. Later, the problem was resolved quickly and easily.

    Thank you, JP. You were right, always are.
    Just try to have a little more faith in humans. Next time I’m stressed, next time I feel the panic of life get to me again, I’m going to remember all the happy memories I’ve had, and breathe, and have faith. I think we should all try to do something similar.

    Breathe. Have faith. Smile.

    Some rules are worth breaking, so go run into the ocean while you still have time.

    To see my home page click here

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

    Have you ever been happily walking downtown with friends, or perhaps sitting on the bus, or just quietly eating you lunch when your brain hits you with a thought along the lines of “Wow. I am literally so lucky. I might be the luckiest person in the world.”?

    Yeah. Me too.

    In fact, it can get a little troubling trying to lead my day to day life when every time I stop to think I get hit by waves of gratitude, followed quickly by disbelief that this is really happening, and often accompanied by shock that, yes, I am living in a country thousands and thousands of miles from where I was born and not only am I getting happier each day, I’m thriving here (if I do say so myself).

    Then I usually remember with horror that I only have six months left here, not even, and that at some point I’m going to have to go home. But what even makes a place your home?

    Family? I’ve got family here. My host family is my family. They are my mom and my brothers and sisters, because I have moms and brothers and sisters now, plural. I have a mom here who calls me her daughter and who tells me jokes and talks non-stop when we share meals, I have a sister who knows what I’m going through because she’s done the exact same thing in Brazil and brothers who protect me and look at my photo albums and tell me which dishes I should do my very best to avoid on Christmas eve dinner. I have more family then I’d ever had before.

    Friends? Don’t get me started. I’ve never had so many friends in my life. You know what I think is the best measure of if you’re close to your friends? Gossip. My Polish friends talk to me about their boyfriends, about how that one girl got a cold sore from kissing a gay guy, they tell me what’s happening in their houses and how their little sister has chicken pox and they trust me with their secrets. They’re sweet and lovely and sarcastic and they never stop complaining, because this is Poland, and if you don’t complain you probably haven’t been here very long.

    Community? Because that’s the best way I can think of to describe the exchange students here. We are all friends, yes, we are each other’s family, but there’s a painful simplicity in saying that. We are connected through a bond that I know will last far beyond our remaining months here (we are also connected quite closely through WhatsApp, Facebook, and snapchat. Sorry rotary, but I never followed your advice to take a social media hiatus). These people, these amazing, funny, brilliant, talented people, understand exactly what my biggest struggles here are, without me having to say a word. I could write an essay about each and every one of them. These people, I will sob when I have to leave them.

    Just before Christmas, there was a meeting in Wroclaw (which is, side note, beautiful and you should all visit it. I think I’ve said this before but everyone needs to visit Poland at least once in their lifetime. The old town is huge and colorful and the lights shine and there’s history in every cobblestone. ), where because of either a booking error, a timing error, something, the exchange students were split into two groups and put in different hostels. This was a big deal. For most of us, it was the first time we had seen each other in months, and it was the first time we were all together since the very beginning of exchange back in Bydgoszcz. Nobody was happy about it (we might have tried to stage a protest on Facebook. Didn’t work).

    Anyway, we saw a really interesting World War 2 memorial/museum, the old town, a castle, and even a greenhouse – nobody really explained to us why we were at the greenhouse, but it was super cool nonetheless. Fast forward to the last night, where we went to a Rotary Christmas event – some of the exchange students put on short skits, there was traditional dancing, a lot of speeches in Polish, some music – a lot of performance is the best way to describe it. The last act was one of the American exchange students, Emma, singing ‘Hallelujah’, a fantastic song best known for its appearance in ‘Shrek’. All of the exchange students joined in the singing, unplanned by anyone, and we swayed to the rhythm with our arms around each other. The Rotarians joined in, and the room was filled with the coming together of people from twelve different countries, to listen to the beauty of Emma’s voice while we stood with her.
    Afterward, when I went to congratulate Emma on her performance, she told me ‘no, it wasn’t me. It was the moment, and it was all of us, it was everybody’.

    Later that night, we danced and cheered for while a student from Taiwan, Kevin did the most incredible beatbox I’ve ever heard in my life. We sang together and crowded into a tight ball, though there was plenty of space in the ballroom, and we stayed in that formation while the Rotarians called to us to end it, to go to dinner, the food would be cold if we waited this long.

    They didn’t understand that simply being together would always be the trump card. Because Emma was right, the magic is in all of us, hearts beating as one with our stolen moments of solidarity.

    So what I think I’m trying to say is that yeah, my home is in Florida, but it’s also in Poland. How those two things can coexist, I have no idea. I’m still trying to work it out. And no, I don’t want to go ‘home’, because I already am. I don’t want to go back to Florida, not at all. Sorry, mom.

    Exchange has taken my heart, and beaten it raw, stretched it a whole lot bigger, opened it more than I thought possible, and then stomped on it about a thousand times in a row. And it’ll do more, and I’ll take it, without question.

    In fact, I can’t wait to see what the next six months will bring.

    To see my homepage and some photos click HERE

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

    When I was first applying for my exchange year, I must have read hundreds of journals. I dug through all the years Rotary Florida has been sending students out, and poured over their entries like they were sacred religious texts – and I always got annoyed at the students. It seemed to me that 80-90% of the outbounds had gaps of months between their first and second entries, and many didn’t write more than one or two entries the whole year, if that.

    I mention this now because I am a hypocrite. And I mention this now because I understand why they did it. It’s been almost three months since I last wrote a journal entry – and I think the reason why is because it’s so hard to start writing.

    There’s so much that’s happened in the last three months that trying to put it into words would be impossible, but at the same time, what’s happening here is just life now. There’s not much interesting about my daily ride to school anymore. But if I look at my last entry, school hadn’t even started. So I’m going to try to fill in that gap now.

    I go to Liceum 11, in the middle of the city of Olsztyn. I’m the only exchange student there, but a lot of the students speak English, and many have patience beyond belief for letting me practice my Polish. (Side note to anyone reading this who’s going to Poland next year – wear black pants or a black skirt, and a white shirt on the first day of school. Trust me.) My class schedule varies every day, much like a college schedule, and all students have from 8 to 15 classes – but some are only once or twice a week. The classes, for me, are pretty boring, because I don’t understand enough to fully participate, so I usually read novels or study my Polish notes. Making friends was really hard at first – but now that I can speak more, it’s gotten much easier. I think my language skills have also benefited a lot since I don’t have other Rotary students in my city to rely on.

    Twice a week, I also attend a Polish course for foreigners at the university in my city, and there are a dozen or so college exchange students there, mostly from Europe with the exception of one boy from Egypt. I love that class, because it’s just so helpful. There’s only so much you can learn through Rosetta Stone.

    I’ve also seen snow for the first time, gone ice skating, spent a week in Germany, traveled to Warsaw, I’ve gone to a volleyball match with my Polish friend Anna, I’ve gone to class parties, and generally gotten a lot closer to my classmates. I’ve done so much. In three days I’m traveling to Wroclaw to meet with all the other exchange students for a Christmas event, and I’m excited beyond belief. The family I’ve made here with the other exchange students is incredible – everyone is beyond kind, brave, and supportive.

    I’ve also spent a lot of time in my room, wrapped in a blanket and wondering why the sun sets at 3:00 now. I’ve spent more time baking bread, I’ve spent hours in cafes by myself, reading and writing and studying. This exchange has taught me a lot about relying on myself – because I’m not going to lie, I spend a lot of my time alone. I’ve probably been lonelier here then I’d ever been before. But now I know how to fill up time productively, I know how to challenge myself, and I know how to be happy enjoying my own company. I don’t know if that particularly makes much sense, but I know the feeling is both wonderful and mildly soul-crushing.

    Poland is beautiful. The people are amazing and kind and friendly and proud when you try to speak their language, the chocolate is fantastic (and it’s were all my money goes to. Mom, if you’re reading this, send money. I’m going broke).

    Poland was also my 5th choice country and I cried the night I found out I was coming here. But I truly couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. If you’re an exchange student in the process of applying, I highly encourage you to put Poland on your list. If you’re an adult, make it a point to visit this country in your life. It doesn’t have the glamor of Italy, I’ll admit that, but this country has a soul. Just come to Poland. Take my word for it.

    I’ll try to write again soon, but because I’m a hypocritical monster made of procrastination, no promises.

    To see my home page click HERE

  • Haley, outbound to Poland

    I've been in Poland for about three weeks now, and it's pretty much impossible to describe everything that's happened, and all the changes, the people I've met and this damn language, so this is going to be super unorganized (but at least it exists?). Here I go!

    - I have never eaten so much bread in my life, and I can count on one hand the number of meals I've had that have not included sliced tomatoes
    - Polish people are way more into ice cream then Amerians, and the ice cream is better
    - 3.7 zloty to a dollar means I'm rich
    - I've visited Bydgoszcz for language camp, which I thought was the most amazing city I've ever seen, and then I visited Torun, which is too pretty to be real
    - The other exchange students and I visited a castle that's twice as old as the United States

    - Speaking Polish is a real challange and I wish I had studied more before coming here

    - I truly believe that if everyone did exchange, there would be no more wars
    - There are bees everywhere
    - I have an apple tree in my backyard
    - I can curse in five languages
    - There are no clothing dryers and no window screens

    At the language camp, I was able to meet all the other exchange students in Poland, there are about 50 of us total - and now I can say I have friends not only from the United States, but from Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, France, Italy, Taiwan and Australia. The friends I made at language camp amazed me constantly - I've never felt comfortable with a large group of people, and I've never felt more loved, accepted, or supported. I think the biggest thing that surprised me was how at home I felt. In the middle of a crowded Polish city, unable to do more then form basic sentences, surrounded by people I'd known for five days, thousands of miles away from my family, I felt truly at peace.

    Poland is amazing, completely amazing. And since I've been here, I've had some of the best moments of my life and some of the worst, I've felt brutal homesickness and utter joy. There aren't words to describe how it feels when your host mother calls you her daughter, or you realize you can't see your host sister again because she's in Canada, I can't explain how the countryside makes me happy and the exhilaration of swimming in a freezing lake in the middle of the woods. At a hostel in Torun, about thirty five of the other exchange students and I crammed ourselves into a tiny kitchen on the last night, and danced to songs in Portuguese, using our phones as strobe lights, and I think it was the happiest I've been in years. Everything here is amplified - the highs are higher and the lows are lower.

    I start school in a few days, so I'll see how that goes - I have to learn to ride the busses, and make friends in my town (I'm the only exchange student in Olsztyn). But I can't wait.

    Anyway, I'm not entirely sure how to end this, so i think I'll just upload some photos and leave it like that.


    To visit my page for photos and more click HERE

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