Ahojte! Oh, I have no idea where to start, this has truly been a life changing experience and it has only been a little more than a month of me living here. Time really does fly. I started my exchange with a “30-day challenge”- I didn’t talk to anyone I was close to back home, friends and family, for 30 days. I did post some on Facebook and Instagram so everyone (my mom) knew I was alive and doing well. This really helped me to integrate myself into life here and I would highly recommend to future exchange students. I feel like it also really helped me avoid homesickness my first couple of weeks. Anyway, here’s a bit about my exchange so far.
Leaving Florida, I had a long journey ahead of me, one that I wasn’t entirely prepared to handle or, at the very least, expecting. I’ve heard stories of flight problems, delays and such but I just never really thought that would be me- guess who was wrong. I said my final goodbyes, and I remember walking through that security line thinking “wow, I’m really about to do this” it was an insane feeling. So, my flight out of Jacksonville on the 20th of August ended up getting delayed so I missed my connecting flight in Washington DC, which was not fun. I had to talk to a million people to change my flights and everything but I did it. Instead of flying straight from DC to Vienna I had to be rerouted to Munich then Vienna, which added another 8 hours of traveling to my itinerary. I ended up landing in Vienna on August 21st after 4 airports. I was exhausted, my back hurt because my backpack was so heavy, my blazer was annoying me, but the feeling of relief when I was greeted by my host family is something I’ll never forget. Eliŝka, my host sister, sprinted towards me and gave me the biggest hug and everything after that was a blur. I found out on the car ride to my new home that it was Eliŝka’s 10th birthday so when we got home, we celebrated with a chocolate cake (my first “meal” in Slovakia). I was beyond exhausted and slept for like 15 hours that night.
Where I live:
I live in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The population is roughly 433,000 making it a smaller European capital. Bratislava borders Austria and Hungary, Vienna is only 55 km away from the city! The Danube river goes through the city, and the little Carpathian mountain range isn’t very far. It’s crazy living so close to everything, I get to experience city life, and at the same time all the natural beauties aren’t far from me at all. My first full day here my host cousin showed me around the city, we saw the Bratislava castle and some other touristy places. And it was my first time riding public transportation. Let me tell you it took me a long time to understand the bus schedules and even now I still miss the bus or end up taking the wrong trams. But it has been really nice because I can get pretty much everywhere here by the buses and trams, and I’ve been given a lot of freedom to explore the city. I live in a cute little neighborhood 25 min by car outside the city, there’s a lake here that everyone goes swimming at in the summer and just down the street from my house there’s a bakery in someone’s garage and at night the street smells amazing. Everyone is so into exercise here, in the evening there’s a bike road all the way to the city behind my neighborhood and so many people either bike, scooter, run, or rollerblade. My host dad has invited me out to bike with him a few times and the first time I went we biked 20 km, fast…my legs hurt so bad after but it was such a good feeling. I’ve also started running a bit with a girl I met in the neighborhood. It’s helped me to clear my mind and it gives me something to do when I’m bored.
I go to Bilingválne gymnázium C. S. Lewisa, a bilingual high school for English here in Bratislava. School here is so different than it was back in the US, and I’ve been told that my school isn’t even a typical Slovak high school because it’s bilingual. There are about 450 kids here in grades from freshman to super seniors (everyone has 5 years of high school in bilingual schools). I really really like this school but I was kind of disappointed to hear that most of my classes would be in English because I’m missing out on a lot of language immersion-but my school allowed me to drop some of them so it turned out alright. I stay with the same class of 12 people all day, except for when I have Slovak lessons. My schedule changes every day (about 4-6 classes a day) and most of the classes we take only have lessons twice a week. I am usually done with my lessons by 2, then I eat a big lunch usually with soup, some kind of salad, and the main meal. And everyone eats a snack (usually a sandwich and fruit) at about 10. Biology, geography, and civics are all taught in English and physics, PE, religionðics, math, art, and Spanish are all taught in Slovak. And my classmates take even more classes than that because I dropped out of some! I’m very thankful that my school put me and the 3 other exchange students here into 5 Slovak lessons a week, it’s helping with my language skills a ton.
We have 10-15 minutes between every class and when there are even longer breaks in my schedule, I can leave school to take a walk or go to a little grocery store for a pastry or something before my next class. It’s super nice having all of this freedom at school. Or sometimes I just stay in the school and hang around till my next lesson. I’m writing this journal from my school’s café, and in what we call the gallery (it’s probably closest to what we call an auditorium in the US- but it’s open and in the middle of the school) there are beanbags and couches to hang out on. Also, another new thing about school here is that starting in October we have to change into indoor shoes because the weather gets really rainy and they don’t want us stomping mud all over the floors. Catch me freezing pretty soon, everyone tells me the school gets really cold in the winter because there’s no heating.
What I’ve done:
My third day here my host family took me on an amazing trip to the Low Tatras, a mountain range in Slovakia. It was an incredible start to this exchange and a great way for all of us to get to know each other. We went to a waterpark, saw a horseback riding competition, I caught a fish, we went to the top of a mountain on a ski lift, we hiked 15 km up a mountain and through valleys, and so much more. The nature here is breathtaking, I’m so happy to be living in this beautiful country.
Me and 3 other exchange students living in Bratislava went to a city called Martin for a medical check that’s required to get our residency permits to stay in Slovakia. That was interesting to say the least.
I met 72 other people from at least 10 different countries spending their exchange year in Slovakia or Czech Republic. I’ve definitely made friendships that will last a lifetime. It was an amazing weekend with little sleep. And me and a girl from Brazil tied for best score on our Slovak language test!
I’ve seen at least 6 castles.
I rode my first train.
I went on a 5-hour hike in the rain with my schools hiking club to the Pajŝtun castle ruins.
I joined my schools dance club, even though I’ve never danced a day in my life. And I’m so bad, but it’s fun.
I’ve seen traditional Slovak dance performed multiple times.
I’ve tried so many interesting and delicious new foods. Everything is so good and homemade.
Trying to learn a new language is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes I’m sitting at my desk trying to grasp this language and I think “why did I do this to myself.” Hearing people speak a different language 24/7 is definitely something that has taken getting used to. At times it is extremely frustrating to not understand what is going on around me, but it just makes me work that much harder to learn this language. I feel so accomplished when I can pick up words or phrases, or read a menu or billboard. It is definitely a work in progress, and a very slow one at that. But my desire to learn this language is indescribable, I want nothing more than to be able to communicate with these people in their language. A lot of people I meet are very surprised I even want to learn Slovak, if I’m going to be here for 10 months of course I want to try, even if only 5 million people speak it. I’ve surprised a few kids at school by saying a few simple phrases in Slovak, they just assume I know nothing. And because everyone knows English it makes it very hard to practice my Slovak, they either speak to me in English or too fast for me to understand.
A few things I’ve learned since being here: I really can’t “roll” my r’s at all. And that’s a problem considering that’s how every r is pronounced. And almost every TV show here is in Czech, except for the news in Slovak, because the languages are so similar everyone here speaks both with no problem.
I urge anyone considering going on exchange, do it, it’s totally worth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, like really hard. I’ve only been here a month and I’ve already grown as a person. I’ve learned to see things from a different perspective, I’ve discovered a new culture, met so many new people. But you have to remember exchange is real life. There’s not always something fun and exciting to do all the time. Some days I wake up, go to school, then go home-nothing special. But overall, I’m building a life for myself in a new country and so far, it has been incredible. There are no words to describe how incredibly thankful I am to Rotary for giving me this opportunity, and for providing me with an amazing support system both here and in the US.
I know this journal is long, and I rambled a lot, but hopefully this gave you an insight into my life here in Slovakia! Honestly, I think more people should know about this beautiful country. Thanks for reading :)
Click HERE to read more about Marley and all her blogs