Leah Hawes


Hometown: Newberry, Florida
School: Newberry High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2230

Host Club: Rotary club of Kielce


My Bio

Cześć! My name is Leah Hawes, I’m a sophomore at Newberry High school and I’ll be spending a year abroad in the country of Poland and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m from a small town named Newberry and live with my mother, father, and my sister who is currently attending college and my family has supported all of my adventures, including this new and most important one.

At the Big Reveal, where I learned my exchange destination, I didn’t have an ounce of nerves, just complete and utter excitement. But once I learned that Poland is my future home, it all began to feel real, possible, and nevertheless, scary. Once it all started to sink in, and the more I researched Poland, the nerves withered away leaving glowing gratitude and excitement for my future year.

Poland’s art, history, and music come to mind and inspire me; I count myself very fortunate to have received the country that I did. I learned of Rotary Youth Exchange at a spring Interact meeting, late in my freshman year. It was an informational meeting and the topic of RYE was brought up, the sponsor asked if anyone had an interest and I was the only one with a hand raised. Almost a year later, I’m here about to embark on an experience of a lifetime.

My mother has always appreciated and embraced traveling; luckily she’s taken me along for the ride. I’ve been all around the globe but I’ve just had a taste of what the world has to offer and I want to learn and experience more through this opportunity. My life is about to change for the better so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one at Greater Gainesville Rotary for making this possible.

Jess, Luiza, and I

Jess, Luiza, and I

niebieski group

niebieski group

I can't read my name tag

I can't read my name tag

Jess, Luiza, and I

Jess, Luiza, and I

my walk home

my walk home

Jess and I went to the Russian Ballet

Jess and I went to the Russian Ballet

Polish Inbounds

Polish Inbounds

Journals: Leah - Poland 2015-2016

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

    Sometimes you don’t realize how happy you are. You have to remind yourself to take a step back and look at the whole picture. And the whole picture is nothing less than a blessing. I have a family whom I love. A family in another country. One I met only months ago. And, I love my family, every aspect of them and the household we’ve created. I have a host mom who took me in, knowing I didn’t speak Polish and she spoke only some English and she has made me a daughter. I have a host dad, who makes me laugh effortlessly and treats me with such kindness and he seems to do so effortlessly. And I have a host Grandma who loves me like a granddaughter. I don’t even know her name because I’ve called her “grandmother” since day one. I have a sister, who is on exchange right now but even a county away, has made me feel so loved and so cared for. I have a host brother who is hilarious and everything a brother shoul d be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hit the jackpot when it comes to host families.

    I have friends that give me nicknames and smile at me in the halls and lend me their shoes for school dances. They are kind and generous and even though they miss my host sister they make sure to make me feel not only welcomed, but their friend too.

    I have a class at school that feels like such a family, asking to be moved up into their grade was one of the best decision I have made so far. They have come to understand Jess and I and learn our personalities without having to speak fluently in either English or Polish. I have lost the ability to be nervous or uncomfortable or embarrassed around them. I tend to be clumsy and they have learned that about me, so when I drop all my bus change on the floor or trip on the stairs or drop my phone they are always there to help me back on my feet. I don’t feel like a guest in the classroom, I feel like a classmate. It’s selfish, but I hope next year, when Jess and I are gone, the class feels as if it’s missing a person or two. These 20 odd group of Polish teenagers are some of the funniest, kindest, and most overwhelming group of people I have ever met.

    People often say they pity me. My teachers, my friends, and any person passing by that wants to share their input. For being in Poland, being put in the city that I am, the cards I was dealt. I don’t pity me. Maybe for a second or two but, absoultly not. I have too much to lose if I wasn’t placed here. My family? My friends? My class? What would be the point of pitying myself when I am so happy where I am? It’s not the ideal location, I won’t lie to you and say it is but that’s not the point of exchange, my friend. The goal is to be happy no matter the circumstances, the difficulties, or the undeniable problems. I know exchangers with, on the outside, a perfect exchange. Perfect location, perfect view, perfect situation but they are scared, overwhelmed, and on a flight home. I know kids who have come home from that perfect looking exchange. It has so so little to do with your exchange and your personal happiness, stop looking at things for face value.

    Yes I miss my family, yes I miss my school, yes I miss my town, and YES I miss my dog but that’s not important right now. I will be back in a matter of months, but I will never have this again. Never again will I have a November 25th in Poland. My first and last. Now how the hell and I supposed to mourn my old life when I will never see this one again. Easy days don’t exsit. Fun days do, good days, easy moments, good months. But everyday is hard. I think that’s what I will tell future exchanger when they come begging for advice at Lake Yale, same as I did when I was there.

    It gives you thicker skin, more resilient, confidant. I find myself doing things I never would have done before, with zero thought. I think its because you’re so uncomfortable/nervous/excited 100% of the time that you become almost immune to the sensation. If everything scares you, then nothing does. I find myself thinking that I ‘ve lived through everything that’s happe ned so far, I most likely survive this too. School is still a mystery to me, I miss it when I am not there but I’m frustrated when I am because I understand so little. I’ve picked up the habit of going to a local elementary school and sitting in on the second graders lessons. Considering I have the vocabulary of a Polish toddler, this is a good fit for me. I understand more and the children are so fearless. It is so much easier to befriend a six year old rather a sixteen year old. The school sees so much potential with me, I feel the longer I am there the more interactive I will become within the school. They say having a native speaker is an opportunity for them but it works both ways, having someone willing and excited to talk to me makes life a lot more fun for me.

    My host family and I celebrated Thanksgiving together and it might have been the best Thanksgiving yet. There were no traditions to uphold and no awkward mentions of Christopher Columbus. It was the opposite of tradition, which is why I think I liked it so much. We ate at random times and the meals spread out over hours. It was relaxed and calm, effortlessly happy. I cannot cook for the life of me; I am a firm believer that if I can’t get it delivered to my door, than I don’t want it. But we did try.

    We all went to my Host Aunt's house (who is the most wonderful women in Poland) and we cooked an adorably small turkey and tried to make Mac and Cheese. It came out a bit more Italian than red-blooded American but maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Nonetheless, it was edible. While the turkey cooked, my host cousins and I made snowmen out of socks, which reminded me of Thanksgiving at home. Mom cooks and after the meal my sister and I decorated for Christmas. It was the exact same feeling in the exact opposite of what I know. It was such a peaceful day full of eating and laughing and such a family atmosphere. My host aunt and Uncle are some of the kindest, warmest people I have ever met. After I got off the plane, we drove directly to them. They are the first people I ever met in this country, besides my family, and I can’t explain how fortunate I am to have people like them. They have three sons and I can’t help but smile every time I see them. I have never had brothers but this is the closest I will ever feel to having baby brothers.

    Polish is hard. I almost want to leave it at that. Now I know that when I heard “You’ll pick it up in three months” “Soon, you’ll start dreaming in the language” they were not talking to the ones leaving for Poland. For other counties that is a very true statement, very plausible. But I would never put the word “Poland” and “Plausible” in the same sentence. I will get there, I am sure. But I have a very realistic fear that as soon as I start to grasp it completely, it’ll slip right through my fingers because I’ll be on a plane because my exchange will have came to an end.

    I am surprised with how far I’ve come in the language but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that I’m not fluent. I just have to remind myself that Polish is not a one-year kind of language. Do you ever flip the pages of a book really quickly one by one? It makes like a “sh” sound. That is exactly how Polish sounds. What I didn’t see coming was how quickly and completely I have lost my English. Having fluent English conversations is a struggle for me, I get questions wrong in English class. I don’t speak English or Polish, but I can speak a few choice words in Spanish (thanks Jess)

    All the challenges and struggles of the last few months were rewarded in Wroclaw. This last four days, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the other exchange students for our Christmas eve meeting in Wroclaw. And I’m sure that every group says this and all exchange students feel this way but the exchange students in Poland are a family. We are so incredibly close that not being with them feels unbearable. Days before the meeting, we all were counting down the days. On social media, the group chat we have, it was like counting down to Christmas. “Three more days, guys!!” “Almost there” “TODAY EVERYONE” “#wewanttobealltogether” “On the train”.

    Being together was something we all needed, a welcomed “pick me up”. The morning of, Jess and I got on a train for the 5-hour ride to Wroclaw. We had problems with our tickets but that gave us an opportunity to practice our Polish, which went surprisingly wel l. Once we arrived I made a beeline to the Starbucks because I don’t have one in my city and I’ve been craving an iced latte since I arrived four months ago. We all meet at the center of the train station and that is where all hell broke loose. There was crying and hugging and falling to the floor with excitement. Tears and laughs and all the promises we made months ago rekindled. I’m looking for the words; it was like seeing both your family and best friends after months of separation. We had all changed and grew but we were still the same.

    We had this mental and emotional breakdown in the middle of the train station, which was extremely inconvenient for literally everyone else but amazing for us. Maybe all exchangers feel like this, like family with almost 70 strangers? How am I going to return home without them? Taylor lives in New York, Emma Missouri, Low Brazil, Louise France, Jess Mexico. When are we going to be together again once this year is over? I can’t think of it, I don’t want to. People ask me “How I liked Wroclaw” and I honestly don’t remember anything about the city. I remember drinking coffee and being 20 minutes late. I remember trying to learn Polish Christmas carols and laughing so hard with Taylor that I fell off the couch. I remember eating a whole gingerbread loaf with the girls in my room. I remember doing my make up with all the girls in my hostel which was the definition of girl bonding. I remember dancing until I couldn’t stand but never wanting to stop. But above all, I remember being so at peace and so happy with my exchange family. Wroclaw is beautiful, I’m sure. But my friendship are just a bit more beautiful.

    Christmas is around the corner and I don’t fear it at all. This month is prime time for homesickness but I already went through my rough patch. I did my suffering early so this month is nothing but smiles and holiday cheer. My mom hears my happiness in my voice and the thought of going home repels me. I know that the hard parts over which only means that the rest of exchange is going to move much too quickly for my taste. I have skiing in January, then a trip to London, then my mom is visiting, Europe tour, and goodbye meeting, trip to Prague, and then I’m home. That’s it. The end is in sight and I want to turn around. I say home but I have to explain which home, I say family but I have to explain which family, I say life but I have to explain which one.

    To see my home page and some photos click HERE

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

    Exchange is about growing up. Making decisions and sacrifices that age you well beyond your years. You can’t afford to be a child anymore, to think and act like you don’t know yourself. Before I left, I tended to act older than my age but now when I tell people I’m sixteen, they do a double take or don’t believe me. I’ve stopped telling people my age because I don’t feel my age. You aren’t a teenager anymore because you make the choice to be happy now, to dive into new experiences and a new life with a smile. You don’t wait around anymore; you make the active choice to make this exchange your own instead of letting life’s surprises dictate that for you.

    You matured the second you landed, no, you matured the second you really left your family at the airport. Really got on that plane. Yes, you knew that’s what you’d do when you signed up, but you never really thought you’d go through with it. But you did, and every day since you become more middle aged and less of the nervous teenager that you were. I don’t remember much of my flight; most of it was a blur of panic, hunger, and stomach illness. I remember small things, like watching “Brave” and crying because I already missed my mom, and the man next to me dropping his water on everyone in my row and carrying around my carry-on full of my favorite books because I couldn’t bare live without them (was that choice unrealistic? Yes. Do I regret it? No.)

    People say, “It’s only one year” to sooth themselves about the fact that you are leaving. That “it's not that long of a time”, and they’re right. One year is one year. But it’s not the time I mourn, it’s the fact that I’m already a different person. I like who I’ve become but it’s not the person who said goodbye to my family at the airport, or someone my 1st period geometry class would recognize. So yes, it’s only a year, but it’s also a lifetime.

    I can’t begin to break down all that has happened in this last month. But without a doubt the most important thing about exchange, the thing I will remember in 50 years, the most important thing that I never saw coming are the friendships. My native Polish friends, my exchange friends, Jess. These relationships are so complete and absolute. These people mean the world to me and I can’t begin to explain how much of my heart belongs to them. I know that I won’t leave Poland without leaving an impression on these peoples lives.

    Now that the two month marker has hit, the initial spark and excited of exchange has worn of. And yes, I was prepared for this moment. But in a way, I’m relived that exchange is showing some of its flaws. That not every thing is shiny and perfect. A life is not perfect, even on exchange. I’m no longing living in anticipation of the slope of exchange.

    Real talk, homesickness is a real thing. No matter how strong you think you are, how independent, how confident in your ability to be away from home. It’s going to happen one way or another. God, If I could go back in time, I’d tell one year ago me to stop being so damned arrogate and really listen when they talk about homesickness.

    Homesickness is sneaky, it come in small packages. Your mom’s perfume, a dish similar to what your dad makes, a purse you’d know your sister would like, your friends favorite song, When the dog does something bad so you scold him using your real dogs name by accident. All these things alone don’t hurt too much, small pains. But one day you’ll just get hit. Sometimes with forewarning, sometimes it’s a semi truck you didn’t see coming. One day, something will happen and you’ll just snap. All the small wounds are inflicted in one punch, all the tears you refused to cry at the airport, all the times you turned to make an inside joke and you realized the only person who understands it is across the globe. The meals you craved but couldn’t eat, the words you regret not saying before you left, the conversations to thought were best to save for another day. It all just rains on you, leaving you breathless and sobbing and empty. These days don’t happen often, it takes time for these feelings to build up. But it’s important to know that these are going to happen to you on exchange, that’s for YOU to remember. I need to remember that this is going to happen again and it won't be easier the second time around, but you have to look up, get up in the morning even if you still feel sad, smile like you didn’t just cry on your host mom shoulder, and face the day with optimism and faith that you did this for a reason.

    For every high, there has to be a low. And there are a lot of amazing days so by default, you can’t expect to never have a bad. But we were told about these days during orientation, we were prepared. So I know I’m not a bad exchange student, I know that I am not failing or doing anything wrong because this was foreseen. This is just to be expected. So you call over your friends, you call other exchangers, you watch old movies and eat chocolate, and you do what you need to, to feel better. That’s why you never judge another’s exchange, you have no idea what they went through, what they dealt with, what expectations they couldn’t meet. You don’t know.

    Exchange is so complex; there are so many parts to it and layers. Exchange is important for a developing person, forget “fun” and “exciting” exchange is so important for your development. You learn about yourself, you learn about your old life. You romanticize your old life, appreciate more. You become an adult in all the ways that matter. Your pride and selfishness is shoved aside so that you can survive and thrive into this new environment.
    There’s no secret to Exchange, no foolproof way to make it amazing, each person has to find his or her own way. I understand why it was so hard for the Rotects back home to explain it. It’s more of a “you just have to go” thing. The overwhelming adjustments, and difficulties that have such satisfying solutions. Exchange is neither good nor bad, it’s a lifetime. Some people expect a whirlwind of adventures 24/7, and some days it is like that. But they forget about the small adventures. The trips to the grocery store, the late night TV, the bus ride to school, the boredom of class. These things are just as much if not more important during exchange. They are what develop a life and not a vacation.

    Polish is not easy. It’s not a language you can pick up in a week or two. It takes hard studying, listening to the bus driver speak, lessons and lessons and lessons. It takes frustrated tears and a will to learn this language. I don’t blame year ago me for not trying harder. Some things you really need to learn from experience and not one hour lessons twice a week. I know so much more than I did before, I can follow basic conversations and reply well enough sometimes. That doesn’t sound like much but I’m very proud of it. The nice part is that Poles are aware that parseltongue is easier to grasp than Polish so when you do speak or show minimal effort, they are proud of you. They smile because you are trying to adapt to them and not the other way around. The not so nice part is that living in the rural area that I do, fluent English is not easy to come by. Semi fluent is hard to come by. While challenging right now, in the end I’m going to be so proud when I can carry a conversation with the people I wish I could approach right now.

    School is better than a month ago, people know Jess and I and those who know us take us under their Polish wing. They laugh when we can all sing “Single Ladies” because there isn’t a teenage soul in this world who doesn’t know that song. Our teachers are kind and forgiving. Try to incorporate us when they can but teach without distraction. Our head teacher, who has the most impressive outfits I’ve ever seen, assigned a presentation for Jess and I to do about us. It was terrifying but they all were so interested by my project, it made my heart warm that they even bothered to pay attention or laugh at my lame jokes. But right after I felt so comfortable and happy I proceeded to fall down the stairs in front of them all.

    Like I said, with every up there is a down. We had class pictures recently and it was the cutest thing I ever witnessed. In my school in the U.S., we had individual photos and that’s it, silly of me to expect that’s how it would work in Poland too. No, we all gathered in neat rows and one person held up a sign stating our class name “2D” (I think that’s my class but I’m still not sure) and we all smiled together for the flash. Never had I felt so a part of that class until then.

    While I live in a small area, with some limitations. I do love my family, my friends, and Jess. But I’m ready and waiting for the next adventure. So whether you are contemplating exchange, or are about to go on your exchange, or you finished your exchange years ago and are just reading these for kicks. Exchange is crazy, and dramatic, heartfelt, sincere, hopeful, eye opening, but it’s also what makes you a certain type of person. A better person than you were before.

    To see my home page and some photos click HERE

  • Leah, outbound to Poland

    Before I start, I would like to say that Poland is one of the most underrated countries in the world and two, Poland is not for every exchange student. Poland is not a destination wedding; Poland is not the averge study abroad location. Poland is not flashy or shiny or new. Poland is a home and it’s my home.

    I don’t understand the system of matching kids with their counties, that process is Rotary top secret, but Poland is humble and subtly beautiful and honest and satisfied with themselves as a country. Traits that I value and understand myself. I never really fit in with America’s traits of flash and new and “The Best”, but I feel like I understand Poland. I feel a sense of home here that I never really felt in the USA.

    Poland wasn’t my first choice; Poland is not many peoples first choice due to misconceptions and preconceived notions. Poland is like stumbling into a puzzle that you didn’t realize you fit perfectly in. I didn’t know what I wanted. I mean I had an idea but I’m big on “gut feelings” and Gut feelings aren’t exactly reliable. I wanted The Netherlands, I wanted a big city, and I wanted more English speakers. I didn’t get one of those things and I thank God everyday that I didn’t.

    It astonishes me how easily this place feels like a home to me. I’ve been here less than a month, 26 days, and I feel so at peace and so happy. When I’m at school I think,” I want to go home..” and I mean my home 20 minutes way, a bus ride away, my Polish home. I don’t mean the United States. I’m not nervous around my host family, there’s no nervous laughter or pained conversations there’s only warm smiles and tight hugs and honest laughs, my host dad can make me burst out laughing even though he only knows four English words.

    I make Polish meals with my host mom and she leaves me breakfast before school. My host dad smiles so huge when I speak minimal Polish. My grandma hugged me when I finally understood what she was saying to me. My aunt comments on all my Facebook posts and her sons play Wii bowling with me. I go for walks in the woods with my parents and dog (Fido). Blood has so little to do with family, I realized that here. I realized that the second day I was here.

    I learned how little some things matter. Homecoming, volleyball tryouts, Garden Clubs meetings, all these things that are happening in my home town that just don’t interest me anymore, I have so many plans, so much to do. How can I care about who’s running for homecoming court when I have a complete new life here? I’ve traveled in my life but there was always something about being a tourist that I hated. Hated only seeing one layer of a country. Not the truth, the tourist traps and smoke screens that block what the country really is. What I cherish about exchange is that while I get to enjoy the touristy souvenir shops and ice cream parlors but I can also go back to my 800-person village and actually feel like a real Pole. Do things that a native born pole does. Walk to the bus stop, explore the woods behind my house, go to school, and bike to the market. I love walking into a store and they think I’m Polish. How easily I blend in, well until I open my mouth. It's crazy how little I miss my old life, its crazy how instantly comfortable I am, It's crazy how much I care about my host family, Its crazy that I’ve only known some of my friends for a few weeks but I can’t imagine life without them. Exchange is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

    I live in a small village in southern Poland, Gadka. Under 1,000 people. Every building looks vaguely haunted (so cool) and thrift shopping is a big hobby here. It’s farmland and cows and bread factories making the air smell vaguely like cooking bread. When I got off the plane I immediately had my host mother, father, and sister greet me with more warmth than I could have dared hoped for. My host mom, who wears blue eyeliner and star earrings, hugged me along with the rest of the family and while they don’t speak much English, they seemed so happy and loving and accepting.

    I was sick to my stomach the first four days I was in Poland, couldn’t eat a single thing without feeling like discharging everything in my stomach. This was extremely disappointing, considering I wanted I eat all the perogies in the world but could barely stomach hot tea. My second (or first? Third?) Night there, my host mom hosted a bonfire for all the local teens to meet me. That night I met my host sister’s four best friends who have completely adopted me into their close knit circle of friends and them doing that for me is the kindest thing that they’ve could have done for me.

    The way these four girls welcomed me into there lives without a thought, I don’t know If I could ever be as kind as they are to me. Anyway, I met them that night along with so other neighborhood kids which was just as awkward and scary as it sounds but I also was able to meet my counselor and second host family and the other exchange student in my city (village) Jess. Jess and I have turned into very close friends in the month that we’ve known each other. Her host family is going to be my second host family so we spend a lot of time together during school, taking trips together. We’re exchange sisters in the closest sense.

    The next day, I left for a two-week language course in Bydgoszcz with Jess and my wonderful host sister, Kamila, left for the USA . The night before she left I spent with my second host family so that my first host family could have the night to themselves. And my second host family drove Jess and I to Bydgoszcz. My second host family (Jess’s first) is a wonderful wonderful family. Gorgeous generous mother and sweet father with two daughters, one on exchange in Mexico right now. Luiza, the younger sister, is the sweetest girl I’ve ever met; every time I see her I can’t help but smile. Jess, Luiza, and I are adorable group of girls, we play Uno and go on road trips and have sleepovers and we have a certain sisterly bond even though we’ve known each other one month, even though we’re all from different countries. I feel connected to these girls.

    Now lets talk about language camp. Those two weeks were the most fun and most exciting and comforting thing that’s happened on exchange so far. I was able to meet so many life long friends that I doubt I could ever forget. As I ’m typing this I’m thinking of all my friends I miss from camp and the text messages I need to send to them, the plans we need to make. Exchange friends are the easiest friends you could ever meet. It takes a three sentences conversation and it’s an immediate connection. Speaking with them about your problems is such a comfort because they perfectly understand what you’re going through and having someone who understands something you can’t even explain to yourself is such a weight of your shoulders. When I want to call my mom I call my friends first.

    All day you speak to people that only understand 35% of what you’re saying and then you understand about 5% of what’s actually going on and you voice these concerns to another exchanger and they just nod along like “I know, I know and I understand. This is what I did to fix it…” And to think I would have never met these people if one factor was different. If I didn't get to go to Poland, if I asked for a different country, didn’t apply at all. I wound have never meet Low from Brazil, or Roselle from France, Maggie from Michigan, Sydney from North Caroline, Alex from California, Alfonzo from Mexico, Jenny from Canada. All these people I would never have met without exchange and they enrich my life so much. They leave me with memories that I’ll always treasure. They are my allies and closest friends in Poland and It’s strange to feel such a bond with these people and I own sweaters longer than the time of our relationship.

    I miss our nightly walks to the local store “Lidy” were I bought sweaters and chocolate until my roommates had to cut me off because I “had enough” and “spending all my money on black leggings”. The food that we complained about everyday and the bees that attacked whenever you went outside. Our crowded rooms where I spent two weeks with my three other roommates Jess, Haley, and Sara. The nights we spent laughing and talking out the window to the other exchangers and candy we’d eat for breakfast. Once we took our Polish test and passed we moved on to Tourn, Poland and toured around for two days.

    I won’t break down every aspect of those two days, because I doubt you care but I will tell you what comes to mind when I think of that amazing weekend. When I think of those two days I think of Gingerbread, frogs, light shows, club dancing in the kitchen, pizza every night, amazing tomato soup, banana cherry ice-cream. FO Fions group, noise complaints, talent shows, boat rides, “Ona to jest”, singing, pins, pins and more pins, teary goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch. Language camp brought us together to make a Rotary family.

    Once we returned from camp it was about time to start school. Now, school is school. Being in Poland doesn’t make it glamorous, school isn’t magically fun but I’m grateful that I have it. School brings a nice routine to life. The first day, my friends drove me and everyone looked very nice and I looked very underdressed but hey, I’m the exchange student no one really cares about my mistakes. I say that a lot these days, being an exchange student allows a certain freedom because it’s impossible to NOT make mistakes, so might as well have fun. Being confused 100% of the time has its advantages.

    The principal stood in front of the whole student body, made Jess and I stand in front of the whole student body and introduced us to everyone at once. It was so awkward but it was a necessary evil. Jess and I were put into separate classes, which was sad and hard on me for a few days. The class they put me into was much younger than I am and they were very scared of me and didn’t speak much English. I spoke to Jess and we mutually decided that it would be easier on the teachers, the students, and us if we were placed together. So that following week I was placed in the same class as Jess and it has completely change school for me. I’m slowly making friends and the class is feeling much more comfortable around Jess and I.

    I found sharing snap chat and instagram usernames are a wonderful icebreaker. (BTW for future exchange students, Polish boys are super cute) I enjoy classes, I do. It was difficult at first because the classes change every single day so I was (am) lost every second of every day and I’m late to most (all) classes because I insist on wandering around the three story building until I find someone looking vaguely familiar and I follow them into a random classroom. It’s easier since I joined Jess because being lost is more fun when you’re lost with someone.

    I’m confused in class all of the time, but I mange to occupy my time with journaling or writing notes or conjugating Polish verbs or (when its deemed socially appropriate) reading a book. I find things to do because staring blankly at a wall is just not my cup of tea. But I excel in English class! The most frustrating class is math because I feel so close to understanding but I still don’t. I know that if it was taught in English I’d understand perfectly but that’s not how exchange works. You bear with it until life starts to make sense.

    My favorite part is the bus ride to and from school. There is nothing more relaxing than that 20 minute ride though the countryside of Poland vaguely listening to the Polish grandmothers gossiping. There is no “ yellow school bus” there’s a city bus (more like van) that transports all types of people to and from the closest city. All my friends live within a block of each other, two minute walk. I help them with their English homework and we have sleepovers and bike rides. I love the friends I’ve made but I worry about being more trouble than I’m worth. But that is for me to ponder another day.

    These past few days I’ve found my favorite spot in all of Poland and it’s a path through the woods behind my family’s house. My host mom says it’s magic and I believe her. I take the dog around sunset and go for my walk, no matter how cold or windy the weather is, the trail is always short sleeve weather. You walk beside the wheat crops and the dog, Fido, always scares the deer away before I can come within reaching distance. I walk until I come across the pond where Fido scares the ducks away before I can come within reaching distance, and there’s a swing and wooden deck next to the family’s little lake house by the pond where I can relax and read a book and behind the house there’s a fire pit and a swing above some flowers. The deeper in you go, the woodsier it becomes. More wildlife and tall plants if you turn left there’s harvest ground for some crops and if you turn right… I’m not sure yet. I’ll find out tomorrow.

    It’s gorgeous and breathtaking and almost spiritual. Exchange is neither good nor bad. Exchange is a lifetime where you feel every emotion every single day. You feel both younger and older than you did before you left. You understand how important it is to be humble and tolerant because you need people to be patient with you at all times. You’re a child reborn in a different country, its exhausting, scary, amazing, life changing, extraordinary, saddening, but most importantly, it’s worth it. I promise.

    To see my page and some photos click HERE

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