Nikki Aarts

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hometown: Lawrenceville, Georgia
School: Brookwood
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: North Atlanta, Georgia
Host District: 1910
Host Club: The Rotary Club Bosnia

My Bio

Hola! Me llamo Nikki! I'm 15 years old and currently a sophomore attending Brookwood High School. I live in Lawrenceville, Georgia with my mom, stepdad, and two sisters. In my free time I enjoy engaging in extracurricular activities like swim, dance, martial arts, piano, and most prevalently: art. I love all types of art, though I favor the new school style above all else. I was a candidate in the Governor's Honors Program (a competition where only 9 art students from our student body of 3500 were selected) this past year, and the process opened my eyes to all the possibilities of a future in the world of art. I am very passionate about art and intend to pursue an art path after high school and college, which is one of the many reasons the exchange experience will positively impact my future. Fully immersing myself in a new culture will give me a new perspective not only in art, but in all the psychographic aspects as well. During the exchange process, I’m hoping to be given the opportunity to share my culture and learn about new cultures. I'd love to live in a Spanish speaking country. I’ve spent a couple of months in Spain with my family and the experience was enlightening. I am currently studying Spanish, and becoming fluent would be majorly beneficial throughout my life because the ability to speak Spanish and English enables me to communicate with 2/3 of the world! Though a Spanish speaking country is ideal for me, should I be sent somewhere else I'm confident that I would adapt and embrace the opportunity. I know that you get out of an experience what you put into it and that's why, regardless of where I'm sent, I will give it my all!

Journals: Nikki-Bosnia and Herzegovina Blog 2017-18

  • Nikki, Outbound to Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Finally finding time to journal! (I may be speaking too soon and this may just be a burst of inspiration that results in me writing more than necessary then going MIA for a few months, but I hope that's not the case).

    I'm going to start telling some stories--small, awkward moments or quotes I've experienced and heard while on my exchange up to this point.

    Goats and Corn
    As you may know, the public transportation system in America is lacking (to say the least), so riding the bus took some getting used to. My first host family lived about 20 minutes away from the city center, which is considered to be a "village" because in general, my city is pretty small and compact. I'd ride the bus to school every morning, and back home in the afternoon. Nearly a month had passed since school had begun, and I finally thought I was getting the hang of the bus system. I had the schedule, stops, and tickets memorized for the whole week, and apparently that made me a bit cocky. Me, being the directionally challenged individual that I am, let my newly found navigational skills get to my head. One day after school I routinely boarded the 12:45 bus, and started playing games on my phone. Like I said earlier, the bus ride from the center to my house lasts around 20 minutes, so I didn't see the need to be constantly aware of my surroundings--Mistake one. After about 15 minutes, something didn't feel right, or rather, didn't SMELL right. I may have lived in a "village" but my neighborhood was urban as Tokyo in comparison to where this bus had taken me. I look up from my phone to only see goats and corn on all sides of me. "Don't panic, the city isn't that big. These buses can't go THAT far, right?" I saw it best fit to stay seated and wait for the bus to complete its route and take me back to the center where I could call my host family or board another bus. 10 minutes....20 minutes....30 minutes passed before the bus came to a stop behind a field of wheat. The driver, a chubby man with much more than a 5 o'clock shadow trailing from under his nose down to the collar of his unbuttoned dress shirt, with patchy chest hair peeking out. He was something you'd see in a cartoon, and his thick, Slavic accent only added to the stereotype. He began humming to himself as he wriggled out of the drivers seat, shocked to see a passenger still on board. He boomed something in his deep voice, scratchy from at least 10 years of smoking; something I didn't understand, considering I wasn't even speaking the language at a caveman's level at that point. I stuttered, with my thick American accent "Ja sam ne govorim Srpski" (I am American. I don't speak Serbian), one of the only things I actually knew how to say. Instead of slowing down or even thinking for a moment, the man repeated the same sentence, ONLY LOUDER in hopes that I would understand. Obviously it didn't work, and we were both equally frustrated. He then gestured with two fingers for me to sit back down and wait, as he went into a small building for a few minutes. I sat, shaken, trying to come up with a plan. Considering my phone was almost dead and I was yet to purchase a sim card or data, I was a bit stuck. About 10 minutes later, I saw the man waddle out of the building, crush the beer can he was drinking from, and approach the bus. He looked at me again and loudly asked "Centar?" "Yes! I mean... Da!" I eagerly responded, thankful that he was able to guess my end goal. My relief was short lived as he rambling and waving his arms at me, confusing and flustering my newfound composure. I sat with my bag in my lap and he reached for it--Maybe I was just too shaken to react, or too scared of what would happen had I pulled my bag away from this man who towered over me and had the ability to snap me like a kit-kat at his will. He shuffled through my bag and pulled out my wallet and aggressively pointed to it. MONEY! He wanted money! How could I have been so stupid and not realized I hadn't paid for a ticket back. I quickly provided the driver with the money for a ticket; grumbling, he retook his seat and we were on our way back to the center. It was around 2:30 when we arrived back to the center, and my initial plan was to connect to wifi and call my host mom to come pick me up, but at this point my phone had died and I was almost out of money. I decided to get on the next bus 13 that passed through the center and hope for the best. Not exactly my brightest idea, but everything went smoothly. I boarded the 2:45 bus and was home by 3:00. My host brother answered the door normally and didn't even question where I had been for the last 2 hours. That afternoon at lunch I retold my bus mishap and after a solid 15 minutes of laughter, my host mom managed to explain my mistake "There's 13a, 13b, 13d, and 13. WE ride 13. Today you rode 13d into another city."

    I slept the best I had since my arrival given the adrenaline rush and the amount and speed of the thoughts that raced through my head that day.

    Click HERE to read more about Nikki and all her blogs

  • Nikki, Outbound to Bosnia and Herzegovina

    It has been just over two months since I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I'm still starstruck. I would say that I've come down from the high of the "honeymoon phase", but the country itself still leaves me speechless. I'm living in Banja Luka, a small city with just under 200,000 residents. The biggest positive to living in such a small city is that everyone pretty much knows each other, and that makes my stay all the more welcoming. It feels more like a community than a city.

    Let's start from the beginning:

    My flight was a challenge. I flew from Atlanta to Paris, and from Paris to Zagreb, where I was picked up by my host mom and brother. I had a 2 hour layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, but we were held on the plane for about an hour. Once we were let into the airport, me, being the directionally challenged individual that I am (thanks, mom), got lost. I managed to get onto the plane to Zagreb less than 10 minutes before our departure. It was an unnecessary adrenaline rush that I hope to never experience again. After getting lost in the airport in Zagreb as well, I found my 19 year old host brother, Nikola, and my host mom, Gordana, waiting for me. Nikola was a Rotary youth exchange student in Florida 2015-2016, so he is fluent in English and has gone through what I was and currently am going through mentally. The first thing i noticed when the plane landed, was the air. It tasted crisp and fresh. It was very hot in Zagreb, hotter than in Georgia, but thankfully less humid. I credit the clean air to all the greenery and low usage of cars (because of public transportation). It was about a 3 hour drive from the airport to Banja Luka, of which I mostly spent sleeping. While I was awake, I got to see the beautiful nature that Croatia has to offer. I'm looking forward to a trip I'll be taking to Zagreb next month.

    The biggest positive change for me in living in Europe (I know it seems minimal), is probably the public transportation. As I mentioned earlier, it's so convenient and effective, and has improved my options for social interaction tenfold. It really is so convenient and I'm baffled as to why it isn't used everywhere in the U.S. Also, freedom of speech is highly respected here, unlike how it is from my experience in the U.S. People aren't easily offended and all opinions are heard and respected, and I find that to be a beautiful thing. Another BEAUTIFUL thing about this country is the food. It's absolutely amazing. In the U.S., I would NEVER eat vegetables. It was a huge problem to the point where my mom would have to sit with me, a 16 year old, at the table and watch me finish them. Insane, I know. But here the produce and agricultural goods are not only bearable, I sometimes enjoy them. Everything tastes fresher and cleaner. Sadly, it's impossible for any amount of healthy food here to cancel out my sweet intake. Every day after school, I walk to Manja, a cafe in the center, and order some gelato. One of my favorite things about Europe is the sweets, and it's becoming a problem. Not one I'm willing to fix, of course. I don't have that kind of self control. It's more of one of those issues that I complain about with no drive to change my ways. The cake is just too rich and I'm not strong enough. I'm currently embracing the weight, if I'll be honest. I should be starting training at the dance academy where my host sister, Kristina (22), trained.

    the biggest "negative" change in living here? It's hard to say. There is somewhat of a bias against Americans due to the conflict between our countries in the past, but nothing major at all. I still feel welcome and cared for, so there really is no threat. I guess for me the cultural quirk that I dislike the most is the lemonade. They drink it lukewarm... That's new for me. I'm sure I'll get used to it. Eventually...

    So much has happened, It's hard to put it all into words. I'll span out my ventures in these journal entries over the next few journal entries. Hopefully I'll the time to write monthly, but life is super busy between school, social life, dance starting, and bonding with my host family.

    Click HERE to read more about Nikki and all her blogs

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