Marley McCauley

Slovakia

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bratislava International



My Bio


Ahoj! My name is Marley McCauley. I am beyond excited to spend my year abroad in Slovakia! I am thrilled to learn a new language, immerse myself in new cultures, meet new people, and finally experience seasons. I am 17 years old and live at home with my two younger sisters, my mom, her boyfriend, our cat, two dogs and chickens. I will miss my family next year, but I can’t wait to make new friends and meet my host families. Before my family moved to Ponte Vedra we moved around, living in Colorado, Virginia, and Costa Rica before we settled down in Florida so I could attend preschool here. I am currently a junior at PVHS and am very involved in our school’s music program. Music is a huge part of my life, I play the trumpet, piano, and just recently learned the mellophone. In my free time I love to hang out with my friends, go to the beach, hike, listen to music, bike, read, and my favorite: explore. Just six months ago I would have never thought that I would be given the opportunity to live in a country 5,000 miles away from home, but I’ve learned life is full of unknowns and cannot wait to see what my future holds. Just recently my friend introduced me to a quote by MLK Jr,“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase” and I feel like this truly represents the experiences I have gone through thus far with Rotary, and they will only continue with this exchange. Overall, I cannot thank my grandma enough for sharing her love of traveling and the world with me, my family for always supporting me, and lastly, Rotary for allowing me to experience this life-changing adventure. Dovidenia!

My host family!

My host family!

All of the exchange students living in Bratislava

All of the exchange students living in Bratislava

My host sister in her traditional Slovak dance outfit

My host sister in her traditional Slovak dance outfit

Hiking in the Low Tatras

Hiking in the Low Tatras

Learning how to snowboard with my new host brother!

Learning how to snowboard with my new host brother!

On top of the UFO tower overlooking my beautiful city

On top of the UFO tower overlooking my beautiful city

Exploring Prauge over spring break

Exploring Prauge over spring break

My first snow!

My first snow!

Spooky midnight hikes with the hiking club I'm a part of

Spooky midnight hikes with the hiking club I'm a part of

Ice-skating at the Christmas markets in Bratislava

Ice-skating at the Christmas markets in Bratislava

A winter wonderland with my host sister

A winter wonderland with my host sister

Saying goodbye to a good friend :(

Saying goodbye to a good friend :(

Daily quarantine walks with my dog!

Daily quarantine walks with my dog!

Journals: Marley-Slovakia Blog 2019-20

  • Marley, Outbound to Slovakia

    Hello again everyone! Here’s a little update on my life, how I'm handling everything surrounding the COVID-19 situation:

    The most frustrating thing that's happened on my exchange so far is all of the unknown going on surrounding the corona virus. I left my host family on Sunday (March 8th) to go snowboarding with Rotary and everything was completely normal, two days before the first case had been diagnosed here in Bratislava. That following Wednesday, Rotary had to cancel our trip to the waterpark because it closed, then the slopes that we had been snowboarding on all week closed on Friday so we had to leave to go home a day early (which was a whole ordeal in itself). Within the matter of a few days everything changed. I was having the most amazing time learning to snowboard with all the exchange students here, I was in a little bubble for 4 days. Paying no attention to what was going on in the outside world, spending 24/7 with friends having a great time. Then that Thursday afternoon my instructor told us there was a 95% chance we wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow and we were all like “what???” …The government had just shut down all ski resorts in the country. That’s when things started to get real.

    I was riding the train home, no clue what I was about to walk into. All of us exchange students had no idea what was going to happen when we go home, we knew our schools were closed for the next two weeks, but had no idea how much freedom would be taken away from us. The train was almost empty, and the few people we encountered all had masks. I then got in the car with my host mom and she basically told me I was going to be quarantined in my house with my host brother for at least 14 days. Within the next hours/days the government had announced:

    • all three international airports will be closed down

    • People with a permanent or temporary domicile in the Slovak Republic who return to Slovakia from abroad will be obliged to remain in quarantine for 14 days

    • All schools and educational establishments will be shut

    • Temporary border control with all neighboring states will be imposed, except for the Republic of Poland, where the situation will be continuously monitored

    • International and domestic train and bus transport will be limited, except for imports and supplies

    • Bars, leisure facilities and premises (ski centers, wellness centers, fitness centers, amusement parks and aquaparks) will be closed

    • Social and cultural establishments will be shut down

    • Shopping centers will have limited operation – on the weekend, only food, medications and drugstore items may be bought

    • The opening hours of customer centers will be limited

    • Visits of the hospital patients will continue to be prohibited

    • The organization of sporting, cultural, social and other mass events is prohibited

    • Hotels and restaurants will be open.

    I can leave the house for a walk or skate around the lake, but I can't use public transportation because it’s too risky, which means I'm going from seeing my friends every day at school to not for a while. Everyone is wearing masks, keeping distance from each other, it’s crazy to me how in the matter of a week this could happen. I went away for a Ski week with rotary and now I come back and everything’s going to be online for a while. I plan on lots of skype calls, and school will be over the computer. That will be a very new experience, group “zooming” my classmates and teachers to have classes, which means my classes in Slovak will be difficult with no one able to translate ideas for me. I wonder when the next time I’ll have the opportunity to be in the city center again…. I know that during this time I need to keep myself busy and everything will be okay.

    This first week in quarantine really did mentally take a toll on me, I was doing good at first then everything snuck up on me and now it’s Friday morning and I’m crying my eyes out because one of my best friends has to leave to go home. We’re all stuck at home and I don’t know if I’ll get the chance for a proper goodbye :( Every day this week I’ve gotten a notification about kids from my home district going home, kids in my district at the airport here saying bye- it’s all too much. Who would’ve thought a pandemic would hit 2020. Definitely not me.

    On a happier note I have learned a lot about myself spending these past few days alone. I have all of the time in the world and I'm trying to use it to my advantage, to better myself. I go on long walks everyday in the fields behind my house with my dog, sometimes put some skates on and do a few laps around the lake. Funny story about that actually. The first time I ever put skates on my feet was a couple days ago and I decided it would be a good idea to go all the way from my house to the lake. Which is a solid 2-3km just to get there and then 6 km around the lake. So, turns out I have no clue how to stop and you have to go down a hill from my house, that was one of the scariest moments in my life, I completely lost control and was just praying there wouldn’t be any cars. I got lucky, and the rest of the way was hilarious, trying not to die on sidewalk cracks and everything. I told my host mom about it and she was like “how did you get down the hill???? Are you crazy?”. So, I learned from my mistake and the next day rode my bike with skates in a backpack to the lake. Still don’t know how to stop though, I just grab onto trees. When I do go outside, I make sure to avoid people and my host mom says I have to wear a mask (which is annoying when you’re doing some kind of physical activity but I know it’s for the best).

    Other things I’ve been doing in my quarantine:

    Listening to lots of music and podcasts

    Lots of watching the news at night with my host mom, following the situation around the world

    Spending a lot of time on Slovak, and picking up some Portuguese

    Finally trying to learn how to ollie

    Lots of zoom calls with my class for school

    Some schoolwork

    Skype calls with friends

    Cooking with my host brother

    Reading books

    Working out

    Here’s a little update from my now 3rd week in quarantine/self-isolation. I am doing a lot better mentally; I’ve learned to except the situation I'm in and know there isn’t much I can do about it. I have noticed myself losing motivation to do work, but I'm trying and know it’s better to keep busy. The weather has been crazy, some days it’s 17C outside and I can sit out in the sun and others it’s been -2C, back to being stuck inside. I’m in a much better mood the more time I spend outside. I mentioned before that my friend had to suddenly leave Slovakia and go back home to the US, that was hard to get over. But I made an agreement with my host mom and she was nice enough to drive me to say bye to her. I am so glad that I had that chance for a somewhat proper “goodbye for now”. It still hasn’t really hit me that she left, we can still talk on facetime like we were doing before, so it’s like nothing has changed- but she’s actually in a completely different country than me now. When I can leave the house and go to school that’s when it’ll actually hit me.

    Slovakia has introduced a few more laws surrounding the virus; it’s now required to wear masks outside, all shops are open 9-12 for the elderly and immunocompromised only, and everything should be closed on Sunday’s. Just like the rest of the world we don’t know when we’ll go back to school, if we do. Who knew I’d miss school this much…?

    I just got news I’ll be switching families after Easter; I'm excited for a change in environment, but I also really do not want to leave this family now, I love them so much. At that point I’ll have been in the house for over 4 weeks so it will be good for a change, also really give me a chance to know them under lockdown haha.

    Anyways, I’ve been documenting my whole “quarantine experience” in journal entries in Slovak so that will be interesting to look back at in a few years when all of this is well over. I’m hanging in there for this crazy experience, living through a worldwide pandemic in Slovakia. I have been given an interesting opportunity to see first hand how a country other than the US is dealing with the virus. I hope everyone is taking the necessary precautions, please self-isolate as much as possible (I know its annoying but in the long run it’s for the best). Stay healthy and we’ll all get through this together!!! I want to thank everyone in my life for constantly checking up on me, Rotary making sure I'm okay and I want to stay, my host family for taking care of me, I wouldn’t be able to do it without all the amazing people in my life  I know this will end and am keeping a positive energy about everything.

    Click HERE to read more about Marley and all her blogs

  • Marley, Outbound to Slovakia

    Ahojte! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these, life has been crazy, it always is. It’s still hard for me to believe I’ve already been here for over 5 months…my exchange is already halfway over :( It feels like I haven’t been home in Florida for such a long time, but at the same time time’s flying as I try and take everything in over here. I’ll try and catch you up on everything that has been going on for the past couple months. Sit down, maybe make some tea if you actually want to read this-I’m sorry it’s so long.

    October:

    Lots of new experiences for me packed into this month. The first weekend of October I took a train with fellow exchange students across the country to a city called Košice. There we ran in the oldest marathon in Europe called the Košice Peace Marathon, the weather wasn’t ideal in the slightest-cold and rainy. It was my first experience in the “cold” here, at least at that time what I thought was pretty much unbearable (like 8 degrees Celsius). Despite the weather I had a great weekend exploring the city with friends, making lots of memories. This month consisted a lot of me exploring my own city before it got too cold. Many afternoons exploring the nooks and crannies of Bratislava, lots of cafes, I found my favorite little Vietnamese restaurant in a cute outdoor market, many visits to the castle, just lots of walking in general. Before the weather got all rainy my skateboard was my best friend, helped me catch a lot of buses on time, even though the streets here are 100% not made for skating on-caused me to fall quite a few times. My host mom took me to see my first ballet of the Swan Lake, it was beautiful, but who knew ballets were almost 3 hours? Not me. As I’ve learned Halloween is pretty much only celebrated in the US, even though stores here do sell Halloween decorations and my host sister and I carved a pumpkin together, but there’s no trick-or-treating. I got asked countless times if we actually did that in the US, and everyone was always so surprised when I said yes. My school has a couple American teachers and one of them organized a spooky night hike as sort of a way to celebrate Halloween and to be able to show Slovaks some of our American traditions. It was a chilly night and about 8 of us met at around 11PM and hiked up to a place called Koliba in a small mountain range in Bratislava. We sat around a fire all night, singing songs, telling ghost stories, and showing the Slovaks how to make smores. I had a really good time and ended up getting home at around 8AM. We had a fall holiday at the end of the month and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Prague with my host family. My 10-year-old host sister and I got really close, spending 24/7 with each other and I was at the point I could understand at least some of what she was saying.

    November:

    I’m realizing this is taking too long to write so I’ll just highlight my experiences. It got cold this month; way too cold for this Florida girl. I’ve never had to wear this many layers in my life, having to consciously dress to stay warm every day is a lot for me. My host mom warned me that this was her least favorite month and now I see why, there’s barely ever sun and it’s cold and rainy. Anyways, I turned 18!!! It was tough to be away from family, but my friends here made it special for me. We walked up to the castle after school and watched the sunset, one of my favorite things ever. My rotary club got together at an all-male rehabilitation center to make traditional Slovak Christmas treats called oblátky and trubičky, not easy to make at all. At the end of the month was Thanksgiving, which at first, I was not looking forward to at all, because it is an American holiday so it’s not celebrated here. But it turns out my school had a very special event for all of the Americans (because I go to a bilingual English-Slovak school they have native speakers here teaching students English.) They invited me to a huge thanksgiving feast, it was so cool to be able to share this holiday with a few Americans in Slovakia, and teach some classmates what the holiday means to me. Made me extremely thankful for the community around me and this life changing experience I am currently living.

    December:

    I was ecstatic to wake up on December 1st to snow flurries falling from the sky. My host family didn’t understand why I was so excited for the tiniest amount of snow, but I felt like I was in a winter wonderland- as we all know snow isn’t a thing in Florida. Sitting in my religion class I didn’t catch a single word I was too busy looking out the window. My friends and I ran outside during our break and danced and played in the snow like we were 3 years old, honestly didn’t even feel the cold I was having such an amazing time. Of course, it didn’t last- by the time my next class was over at 11 all the snow was melted and the sun was out. After school I went ice skating outside at the Christmas markets in the city. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget that day. We had our second orientation meeting for all the inbounds in Slovakia here in Bratislava, and we all took a bus together to Vienna for the day. I was super stressed because we had to take a Slovak language test, but it turned out fine and the rest of the weekend was fun. The Christmas markets in both Bratislava and Vienna are beautiful, very crowded, but I would recommend going. Living in Bratislava I found myself walking through the markets almost every day, by the time Christmas came I knew what every little shop had to offer. I also went to my first ever hockey game with fellow exchange students, go Slovan! And the last day of school before winter break, we did a secret Santa in my class and then a few Christmas related workshops throughout the day.

    Christmas here was full of a lot of new experiences for me. It is celebrated on the 24th, I spent the whole day with my family hanging around the house, preparing for dinner. Unfortunately, the days leading up to Christmas I was extremely sick so I missed out on making the million types of cookies with my host sister (but it’s okay I still got to eat them). On Christmas there’s a tradition to put fish scales on the dinner table for good luck, but we didn’t have any so we replaced them with coins instead. We started dinner eating oblátky with honey and a clove of garlic. Then kapustnica (sour cabbage soup) and carp with potato salad for the main meal. My host sister could barely sit still waiting for us to finish dinner because then came with the ring of a bell Ježiško (baby Jesus), delivering presents under the Christmas tree when we went outside to look for him. It was really nice to be able to celebrate the holiday with a different culture’s perspective.

    After Christmas I drove 5 hours with my host family across Slovakia to Prešov to visit my host mom’s family for a few days. We visited the high Tatras and it was honestly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Hiking in the mountains with everything covered with snow was breathtaking, and it was a beautiful day outside-the sun was shining, making everything prettier (and less cold, the -10 C was enough!) I had a fun time with my host uncle, he learned how to say “yellow snow no” in English for me and probably repeated it 100 times that day.

    Though I did have plenty of good days in November and December, those were probably the toughest months I’ve had so far on exchange. Physically I was drained, the weather was gloomy, the sun was barely ever out, and I was constantly exhausted. Mentally my brain was overstimulated constantly trying to translate everything around me, which caused a lot of frustration because I still couldn’t understand a lot. Seasonal depression is a thing y’all.

    January:

    I went into the new year with my friends sitting on the bank of the Danube river watching a beautiful firework show. Never, in a million years, did I think that’s how I would go into 2020. As soon as January hit everything has started going by so fast. I am completely comfortable living in a not-so-foreign (anymore) country. I love my life here, and before I came, I didn’t know I could grow this much as a person. My whole perspective on the world has changed and I’m beyond grateful for that.

    This month I had a lot of changes again. My host family wanted to make the most of my last couple of days with them (and the last couple days of winter break). We visited a fairytale looking castle and a Caravaggio & Bernini art exhibit in Vienna. Both beautiful experiences. Then came time to say čau to my first family and that was rough. I spent almost five months with them, I’ve grown so much since my first day here. They had to teach me everything about the culture here, from little things like different table manners to big things like language and transportation. Everything was new to me and I’m thankful they had the patience to immerse me into their culture and welcome me into their home. It was hard to pack all of my things; I didn’t realize how much stuff I’d accumulated until I tried to fit it into my bags and it just didn’t work. I got super emotional saying bye to my little sister, she latched onto me and would only let me leave when I promised I would come visit soon.

    Walking out that door I started a new chapter of my exchange. I moved to a completely different part of Bratislava, called Senec. Before I was living 5 min from Hungary and now, I’m definitely not. To get to the city center I now have to take a short train ride, which is pretty inconvenient only because the trains to my little town don’t go very often. I thought I woke up early before, but now my train leaves for school at 6:30, and it takes about an hour and a half, with all the transportation I take, to get there. But my host family is amazing so that inconvenience doesn’t even matter. They welcomed me into their family immediately, and are some of the sweetest, kindest people I have met since I’ve been here.

    I understand now why we switch families. My new family eats different foods, has different mannerisms, etc.- I’m experiencing a different “interpretation” of Slovak culture. I now have cute little dog and 16-year old host brother. When I moved in with this family, I wasn’t the little baby I was when I first flew into Slovakia, I already have my routine, friends, klubs. I know how everything works, I can get around the city alone, so I don’t need to rely on them for every little thing like I did with my first family. With our busy schedules it was a different way of getting to know each other. Little bits at a time- at dinner after school, occasionally not staying out with my friends and going home just to exercise with my host mom, spending a Saturday at home and spending time together-just making these little efforts from both sides in the matter of less than 2 months I feel like a part of the family.

    The biggest question I get from people back in Florida is “how’s the language? Are you fluent yet?”. It didn’t take me long to realize how hard Slovak was, it just took me a long time to accept that my Slovak would never be perfect and by the end of these 10 months I still probably won’t know most of the grammar, won’t be able to have long complicated conversations. Part of this may be due to the fact that almost everyone around me speaks English, I go to a bilingual English school, I live in the capital city. BUT I’ve seen an exponential increase in my Slovak when I moved into my new family because they don’t know English. This is the push I’ve needed- to be forced to speak Slovak in order to communicate. I was so embarrassed at first because my pronunciation isn’t the best but now, I realize that’s stupid. They are the most amazing people being patient with me, I learn so much every day with them constantly correcting me. Now I can have a conversation with my host mom on the phone with no problem. And at this point I’ve accepted that any accomplishment, no matter how small, is a win with Slovak. The other day I was able to have a conversation with the barista at a café, and a lady on the street asked me for directions and I was able to respond in my broken sentences and horrible grammar. So, when I get that question “are you fluent yet?” I can confidently say I am trying my hardest and am almost conversational.

    So far since I’ve moved in with my new family a lot has happened. I had another rotary orientation weekend for all the inbounds in Slovakia, this time in Poprad. We spent all day hiking in the mountains, on literal ice, so we all took multiple falls. It was really nice to be able to hang out with all of the exchange students again, we all got very close over that weekend. I also sled for the first time ever with a fellow Floridian and that was the most fun I’ve had in long time, lots of crashing. My host family took me snowboarding for the first time, only for a few hours, but it was so fun. They said I did really good for my first time and I'm looking forward to being able try again. It also snowed for the second time in Bratislava (it’s been a warm winter for Slovakia)!!

    Then another exchange student from Australia arrived in Bratislava and it’s been exciting getting to know her. She’s in my class at school and I love being able to learn about Australian culture and it’s funny how different their English is than ours. It’s also crazy to see that I was in her situation 5 months ago, I’ve learned so much and hopefully can help her out some. I love how since I’ve been on exchange, I’ve not only learned a lot about Slovak culture but also Brazilian, Canadian, Australian and Colombian cultures. RYE is really an amazing way to connect the world.

    And last but not least, February:

    The sun finally came out!!!! I was ESTATIC when the weather slowly switched from being constantly foggy and cloudy to the sun occasionally shining (at least 3-4 times a week now). This month Riko, the Australian, has taught me how to make sushi, and if you know me you know how much I love sushi. I’ve visited 4 more castles with my host family, walked to Austria (don’t worry it was only like 4 km), went to another hockey game, and done a lot more exploring of the city. My goal now is to find the perfect café. Bratislava has the infamous UFO tower on the “new bridge” that overlooks the whole city and after 6 months of crossing the bridge every day I finally went up, and that view was amazing.

    Then I had my spring holiday, and that was an amazing week. I visited Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, then spent two days in Prague with my close friends. We had such a great time exploring the city all day, it was so weird to hear so many people speaking English, it’s almost all tourists in the center. It was pretty cool that we could go to a café there and speak Slovak to the barista and they would respond in Czech and there wasn’t much of a problem understanding each other. I was not ready for the holiday to end I was having such a good time, but now I'm back in school, back to my normal schedule. The next thing I have to look forward to is a Ski Week organized by rotary in March!

    Okay, as we would say here ďakujem vám za pozornosť (thank you for your attention)! I’m sorry if I bored you but I’m glad I can share. Thank you to everyone for continuing to support me through my exchange, especially all the Rotary members who have had my back since the beginning. I’m looking forward to my next couple months in Slovakia and I can’t wait to see what the future has in hold for me :)

    Click HERE to read more about Marley and all her blogs

  • Marley, Outbound to Slovakia

    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.

    Airport “adventure”:

    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.

    School:

    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.

    Etc.

    Slovak language

    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

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