Hannah Gundelfinger


Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Spišska Nova Ves

My Bio

Ahoj! Hello! My name is Hannah Gundelfinger. I live in Saint Augustine and am a senior at Ponte Vedra High School. I am so lucky to say that next year I will be living abroad in Slovakia! To give a brief summary of my life: I have lived in three states (Texas, Colorado, and Florida), two countries (U.S and Costa Rica), and have learned four languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, and German) — although I am definitely not an expert in most of them. Because of all of this, I know change is a good thing and I cherish the different possibilities it can create. In my free time, I love to hike, go to the beach, read, explore, and teach. I live with my parents, one younger sister, and the best dog ever. While I will miss them next year, I am super exited to meet all my host families, make new friends, and create lots of memories over in Slovakia. On top of that, I am so ready to be back in the mountains, hiking, skiing, and actually having seasons! I am so thankful to Rotary for giving me this opportunity and am happy to be sharing such a life-changing experience with a wonderful community. Life is about to take me on an incredible journey and I’m ready.

Skiing with Friends!

Skiing with Friends!



Hiking a Summit

Hiking a Summit

My host family and I on Christmas

My host family and I on Christmas

My Class (Septima A)

My Class (Septima A)

Volunteering at Hospital

Volunteering at Hospital

Journals: Hannah-Slovakia Blog 2018-19

  • Hannah, Outbound to Slovakia

    It blows my mind that I’ve been on exchange for five months already. I remember reading posts before my own exchange about how fast the time passes, but couldn’t believe it until now. Now I am begging for it to slow down. I adore my life here. Every week passes faster than the last, as with more time, I continue to gain more experience, knowledge, and freedom, leading me to try so many new things. During the months between August and December, I mainly stayed within my town, focusing on cultivating local friendships. As I am the only exchange student in my school, I quickly realized I would not just blend in. On the first day of school, I remember walking in, with no idea what to expect. What I ended up being met with were smiling faces and whispers of “hi” as I passed by. Everyone knew who I was before I had even walked to my first class.

    The first day of school only lasted about an hour and a half. I met my class and class teacher, who I would spend the majority of the year with, and then had an assembly with the entire school where the director (similar to principal in the US) welcomed everyone and spoke about what to expect of the school year to come. Because her speech was in Slovak, I didn’t really understand what was going on until suddenly I heard my name and was being pushed to the front of the crowd by my class teacher. I had no clue what was going on, but I just went with it, smiling and waving.

    Between then and now, I have developed close friendships with many of my classmates as well as with many of my other school mates. During the first week of school, I was placed in only English speaking lessons, where I was introduced to many students. This gave me a great opportunity to meet lots of different students and made it easier to talk with them outside of class. After the first week of school ended, I expressed my desire to learn Slovak and have less lessons in English and more in the native language. I have six lessons every day, but they change each day. Throughout the week, I have Slovak Language, Math, German language, English language, Chemistry, Biology, History, Physics, Sociology, and Geography —all taught in Slovak. I don’t receive grades in school, therefore I don’t have to do homework or take tests. Really I only attend school to socialize and for the language exposure.

    Two days a week, I have a conversational English class where I help students with their speaking skills at my school. These classes are also a great opportunity for me to share information that goes beyond just stereotypes about America. It also gives them an opportunity to teach me about their country. So far I have learned two traditional dances, how to make Bryndzové halušky (a traditional meal), and have played games to help my understanding of their language.

    On Fridays, instead of attending my school, I go to my host sister’s primary school in our village. I usually stay for four to five lessons. I help with English classes for kids ages six to ten, as well as attend a Slovak Language class. I attend this class solely to help with my progression in learning the local language. Because it’s a class meant for children, the grammar and pronunciation is broken down to a much easier level for me to understand. It really is a hilarious sight. It looks like something from the movies where the big kid was never able to pass the fourth grade and just kept getting held back.

    I really enjoy teaching, so after school on Thursdays I take a bus to the town next door to help with English at a school that specializes in teaching real life skills to those with mental and physical disabilities. I arrive during their free time so I tend to do crafts, play music, or just talk with them for about an hour until study hall where I help them with their schoolwork related to English. Their English and my Slovak are very rudimentary therefore there is a strong language barrier that makes proper communication difficult; but another thing I have learned while living here is that understanding is always possible. These students are so understanding and patient, and I always look forward to spending my Thursdays with them.

    I have also become involved with a new volunteer program that recently started at various hospitals in Slovakia. The program is called Krajši Den (Better Day) and the purpose is to brighten the days of patients in the hospitals by having volunteers come in to play games and speak with them. We are able to be with either long-term patients or the children — and only those who are approved to be with to prevent any spread of illness. I started with this program back in October and since have gone at least once each week. In the beginning, I alternated between the groups of patients but now I tend to stay more with the children because they speak closer to my level of Slovak. While the language barrier continues to be a struggle, I have found ways around it and really enjoy my time here. I had one of the best conversations of my life with one patients — completely in Slovak — who reminded me just how important it is to continue to live, no matter what struggles we face, rather than just survive. I didn’t understand everything she said, but enough that I left the conversation feeling fulfilled and hopefully she felt the same.

    Between these activities, I usually go to coffee with friends everyday after school. One of my goals in the beginning was to try to meet as many people as possible, and in order to achieve this, I began to ask a new friend to coffee each week. This has really led me to make lots of fun, new friendships. We would alternate between Slovak and English, making sure that understanding was met.

    At the beginning of my exchange, I had this idea in my mind that I would be fluent by January. Now I have realized just how unrealistic this expectation was; for a while I was very disappointed in my level of language. I have just learned to keep pushing myself to learn and that hopefully by the end of my exchange, I will achieve fluency. Slovak is a really hard language, but once I learn it, it will make it easier to learn other Slavic language such as Czech, Polish, Russian, Croatian, etc.

    Now I feel like I’ve just given you an overload of information about my exchange so here are just some things I’ve done since my last post summarized up into some bullet points:

    Hiked my first summit

    Ran in the second largest marathon in Europe

    Met 70 students from over 12 different countries

    Traveled throughout Slovakia by train

    Eaten excessive amounts of my new favorite foods: Pirohy and Halušky

    Gone to christmas markets in Vienna, Bratislava, and Košice

    Explored Vienna

    Skied in Slovakia with two of my closest exchange friends

    Made friendships which will a lifetime

    Went to Stuzkova

    Visited lots of castles

    Performed in Imatrikuly at my school

    Made a fool of myself while ice-skating multiple times

    Figured out how to navigate the train system myself!

    Indoor rock climbed a lot

    Experienced the holiday season in Slovakia

    I really am loving it here and am so excited for so many more fun adventures to come this year. I am so thankful for Rotary making all this possible.

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs

  • Hannah, Outbound to Slovakia

    August 25, 2018:

    Ahoj! Volam sa Hannah and welcome to my blog!

    I am not going to lie to you. Exchange is hard — but it is ALL worth it. If you are going to read anything in my blog it is that no matter how difficult the application process, preparation, and adjustments, exchange is the best thing you can do for yourself. Now for what you really came here for:

    I arrived in Slovakia on August 21st at 15:50. For the two weeks prior to my departure, I did everything in my power to be as prepared as possible. I packed away my room, made piles labeled “bringing”, “maybe”, and “heck no”, and soaked up every last minute I had with my family. One week before my departure date, the reality of what I was about to embark on hit. So I did what any sane person would do: drain three cups of coffee at my favorite coffee shop and make list after list of things to-do, words to learn, papers to print, and hugs to give. After feeling satisfied with my preparations, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of my time at home. My family, dogs, and I spent so much time together that I think they were sick of me by the time I departed.

    My journey to Slovakia went about as smoothly as I had expected. Four flights, 28 hours, and one sleep deprived girl resulted in a lot of running from gate to gate and rushing through international security to make it to my flights. But God is real because as I was about to miss my very last flight, it got delayed! And Mallori, another exchange student from district 6970 going to district 2240, was on that flight. We spent our delay and flight together and talked about our arrival in Slovakia. It was so perfect because I was able to share my worries with someone else who really understood.

    Now I have been in Slovakia for a little over a week. My family is so wonderful, although they speak very very limited English. When I first arrived they had a friend come along to work as a translator because their English and my Slovak was so poor. Although it was a little awkward to talk through someone, it made asking all the first night questions a lot easier than if I had to do it on my own. After she left, we began to speak in broken English, Slovak, and through google translate. Our conversations are limited and simple, but I feel like I have learned so much already. We can communicate enough that I am never uncomfortable but are not quite at the point where we can fully get to know each other. But that is okay because have 4 more months together to learn!

    I have two younger host siblings and my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and baby cousin all live right next door. Since school hasn’t started yet, I spend a lot of my time with my younger host siblings. My little sister reads Slovak fairy tales with me and teaches me different words. My little brother is a toddler so we are on the same language level, meaning that we get to learn together! It is so perfect because when he is taught a new word, I get to repeat it over and over again until both he and I understand it.

    Since my siblings are so much younger, we tend to spend most of the day at home and go out in the afternoon once my host dad gets home from work. Since being here, they have taken me to the Low Tatras, the largest underground cave in Slovakia, Spisska Nova Ves, Levoca, and on bike rides through their village. Last weekend was also the 750th anniversary of my town, so there were traditional festivals where they preformed traditional songs and dances. Once school starts, I hope to join a local traditional club where I can learn some of them as a way to become more immersed in the culture.

    School starts on September 3rd and I am a little nervous. I have heard it is very different from the American school system and I am afraid of getting lost or being rejected. I think that’s been the hardest part of being here so far: I haven’t had the opportunity to meet my peers or get to know anyone from my school so I am going in blind. I also don’t understand the public transportation system, which is how I am getting to school. Luckily my host mom is able to drive me for the first week while I adjust, but after that I will have to learn. I know it will all work out in the end and I may be laughing at this post a week after I start school, but we will just have to see.

    Thanks for reading. Dovidenia!

    Click HERE to read more about Hannah and all her blogs

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