On a beautiful day of August 11th, I woke up around 5, after maybe 2
hours of sleeping that night, and 2 hours of sleeping the night before (my
excuse is that I was trying to spend some quality time during the night with
my friends, dad and brother!). Iím a last-moment person, so I packed my
chlotes, presents for families and Rotarians, and made my pins about 10
hours before my flight. I was too excited at the airport (and also too
afraid of getting lost at the airports!) to realize that I wonít see the
people I usually see every single day, for more than 10 months.
So after my first flight to Amsterdam; 6 hours of waiting for my next
flight in one of the biggest European airport; a 10-hour flight to Atlanta,
where they told me that my flight is overbooked, and that there is a big
possibility that Iíll fly the next day, instead in two hours, when I
couldnít call anyone, Ďcause I left my emergency phone numbers in the plane
(yupÖ thatís me!), and my flight being delayed anyway, you can only imagine
the happiness I felt when I saw the bright lights of Tallahassee shining in
the dark below me, stepped on American ground for the first time in my life,
and saw, what I now call my family, my friends and Rotarians waving with big
baloons and big posters saying: Welcome Lori! on my native language. It was
the biggest mixture of emotions I have ever had- I felt so reliefed and
happy that I am finally here, only 20 minutes late (after all those
things!); worried, knowing that my mom is probably awake with a phone in her
hands, waiting for my message; tired from the trip, but also not tired at
all, because I had my first Starbucks coffee ever in Atlanta; confused,
trying to match the faces with names I only knew from e-mails, and being
surrounded with all those people, seeing how happy they were for me made me
realize something. There were so many questions, everyone wanted to take
photos, and in all that chaos, even though my heart was beating so fast, I
remember how calm I was inside, thinking: ďThis is my life, now.Ē
My host dad was working on the night I came, so we went to his work, just
so I can meet him. We finally got home at around 1 a.m., and I couldnít wait
to fall asleep. But, Starbuck coffee did itís job- I slept for only one
hour, and then tried every single method to fall asleep again. I actually
counted sheep and came close to 400 when I gave up and started reading old
texts from my friends in Croatia, until I heard my host mom was awake. So,
having nothing to do, since it was 7 a.m., I came outside where my host dad
was cleaning fish, and I started helping him. Cleaning fish! I am not even
kidding, that was my first American experience (plus, in the end, he
actually made me take the organs outÖ cute, huh?). It was definitely a
learning experience, and I had time to bond with my host dad a little bit,
but would I do it again if I could choose? No, thanx.
Okay, so here are some funny (or not funny) facts:
- people here CANNOT pronounce my last name (Jelusic), but they really want
to learn, so they make me repeat it over and over again, until they realize
that they can't say it right, and just give up. So, to avoid these kinds of
situations, I just started saying my last name they way Americans do. I got
so used to their pronounciation of it, that when someone asks me what's the
proper way to say it, I have to stop for a second to switch to Croatian.
- ĺ of the people you meet donít know where your home country is
- Half of them have some reallyÖ weird questions like: Do you guys have
McDonaldís there; Do you know who Justin Timberlake is? and so on.
- some people really want to talk Spanish with me, so I could see how good
they are, and when I tell them that in Croatia we speak Croatian, they say:
ď I thought Croatia was in Europe.Ē (it is!!!!)
- people ask you to talk on your native language all the time, and whatever
you say, they think it is awesome.
- Also, everyone wants to know how to curse on your native language. Nobody
asks you how to say Thank you, though.
- whenever somebody takes you out, you beg them to go to a Mexican or
Italian restaurant, Ďcause youíre already tired of fast food.
- I havenít experienced a real homesickness yet
There are 2 more exchange students in Tallahasse- Abbie from India, and
Val from Belgium. Val and I go to same school, we live close, and our host
families are friends, so we hang out pretty often. Abbie goes to a different
school, but we still hang out on weekends. We also hang out with Laiz from
Brazil, who lives about 30 minutes away from Tallahassee.
A week after I came, Rotary had organized Orientations for all the Florida
inbounds on Lake Yale, where we learned about American sports, school and
heard experiences from Florida Rebounds (who returned from their exchanges
all around the world). I was lucky to have Addey (a rebound from Croatia),
who I met in Croatia in May, and who has the cutest Croatian accent in this
world! I met a lot of people from all around the world, made new friends and
had a great time. Two weeks ago, our District Chairman organized a little
gathering for our District, so we experienced a real football game, we went
bowling, and we went to Wakulla Springs, where we saw a lot of animals,
including A LOT of aligators and manatees.
Here, I go to Leon High School and I love it! My teachers are so nice, I
especially enjoy my AP Psychology class. I am also in chorus, and I
audittioned for The Mane Event- a small professional acapella chorus- and I
Also, I audittioned for The Thesbians (a drama group), and I got in, so in
January Iím going to the District competition with two groups. I signed up 2
hours before the audittion started, not even being sure what am I
audittioning for. I didnít even know that the Thesbians and Mane Event were
such a big thing in my school, but I kinda realized when people I never saw
before started saying Hi in the hallway the next day, and when I literally
heard people whispering: ďIs that the girl that everyoneís talking about,
but no one knows her name?Ē
So, through the drama audittion and especially Mane Event, I found some new
friends. People are so nice, they help you when you need help, they explain
you the words you donít understand and they help you fit in with the rest of
the school, trying to provide you the best experience as a American
What I love here:
- I love the pool parties our District Youth Exchange Chair makes for us
- I love playing ďOthelioĒ, a game that is totally new to me, with my host
- My school
- My room- especially my big, cosy bed with A LOT of pillows.
- My host family AND my dog Raleigh- the best dog ever!
- I love Rotary meetings!
- I loooooove my blazer and wherever I go, Iím looking for new pins
- I LOVE Reseeís ice-cream (and Reseeís in general) and Starbucks food and
Also, there are times when I catch myself having ďmovie momentsĒ.
This might sound stupid to people that go to my school, but Leon sometimes
really is like High School Musical. Cheerleaders really do wear their
dresses on a game day. People actually put things in their lockers. People
really do meet each other by someone's locker. When the bell rings, a
completely empty hallway is immediately crowded with students. And we really
do carry our books in our hands. The school bus looks exactly like the ones
in movies. Football players are well-known in school. And there is
These are the things my friends ask me. But, since this is my life now, this
is so normal for me. I donít even see those kinds of things anymore, but my
friends who I talk to, they do. Iíll come back to the movie-moments again.
I know this is not a short journal, but, believe it or not, I made it as
short as possible. There are so many things I could talk about, but some of
them are even hard to put in words!
If thereís anyone whoís thinking about applying for the Rotary exchange
program, I encourage them to do so, because it is a beautiful experience, no
matter where you go (also, I highly recommend Croatia, haha!). But enjoy
your life wherever you are, Ďcause one thing this exchange has made me
realize is that time goes by so fast- Iíve been here for more than six weeks
already! I am enjoying my exchange year so much, I live every single moment
and Iím having the time of my life.
Now, back to where we were. I talk to my friends about the situations I
am, or I was, in, and they say: ďWow, Lori, remember 7th grade when we
talked about our dreams and wishes? Remember what yours were?Ē
I do. I do remember. And Iíll just tell you this- I am living my dreams.
I am enjoying my exchange year so much, I live every single moment and
Iím having the time of my life!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Wow. Wow, wow, WOW. Itís been 3 months since I came here. THREE MONTHS!
I remember the day I came like it was yesterday (corny, but true!). But on
the other hand, I feel like Iíve been here my whole life. If I wasnít sure I
could call this place home before, I definitely am now.
Last week I had a dream where I was going back to Croatia. I remember the
feeling I had in that dream, feeling of missing Tallahassee, and I woke up
in tears (literally). My face was wet from tears, and so was my pillow. That
concerned me a little bit, because, if I feel that way after 3 months,
whatís it going to be like in July, when that dream will be the reality?
Everything is going so well. In school, I switched a few of my classes.
Iím taking Advanced algebra instead of Algebra 2, AP Lang instead of
American Literature, and Piano instead of Chemistry (that oneís my favorite,
haha!). I talked to my principal from Croatia and found out that I donít
need to take Chemistry, so I decided to take Piano instead. Iíve played
piano in Croatia, but I havenít played in 3 years. Words canít describe how
good I feel now that Iím playing again. I have my own little piano room, all
to myself for 55 minutes and itís awesome.
My Thespians rehearsals for the District have started a little more than
a month ago. First we had singing rehearsals for the ďMasqueradeĒ, and now
we have dancing rehearsals for it. Tomorrow, which is a holiday here, and
thereís no school I have 3.5 hours of rehearsing. It can be tiring, but it
is so much fun! I also have singing and dancing rehearsals for ďDoctorís
ordersĒ (a song from musical ďCatch me if you canĒ), so I do have stuff to
Mane Event has become one of the favorite activities of mine. I
absolutely love everything in it. Thursday (the day of our rehearsals) is my
favorite day and I love our Sectionals during lunch on Tuesdayís. We have
our first performances on Monday and Tuesday (November 11th and 12th), and
today we performed and sang around the lion (I was so excited, that I was
shaking on our way there!).
Also, Iíve experienced my first homecoming, Halloween and pumpkin carving
recently. Okay let me explain it all to you a little bit. Homecoming game is
the last home game of the season, and the day after is the Homecoming dance.
The whole week (The Homecoming week) is a lot of fun, as we have different
themes for different days. On Monday, we had no school (it was a Teacher
Planning Day), but that was the day when different clubs in school decorated
the halls. On Tuesday, we had a Cowboy and Indians day (that day Leon
suddenly transformed into a Western movie), Wednesday was a Heritage day (I
wore my flag. I didnít bring any traditional Croatian clothes with meÖ not
that I have any, anyway), and we had a Throwback Thursday, when we dressed
up as 70ís and 80ís. On Friday we had a huge Pep Rally and the game. I went
to Leon Homecoming game with my friends, and it was really good. The other
team, Ridgeview was winning, but we scored in the last few minutes, and won.
The homecoming dance was fun. I went with Val and Rebecca and we had a
pretty good time. A day after Homecoming, Summer (Rotex who was in France,
and lives in Tallahassee) brought Val, Laiz and me to her house and we
carved pumpkins, ate pizza and had a great time together. Of course, my
pumpkin, except for the typical face, had CRO<3 written on it, while Val's
had Stella Artois, and Laiz carved a Brazilian flag. For Halloween (which we
donít celebrate in Croatia, but we have our own version of it in February),
I dressed up as a pumpkin. My host mom made that costume when she was in
High school, and I even had a little pumpkin hat! I did go trick or
treating, but it didnít last really long.
The person that also helps me a lot is Sarah, who is also a Rotex that spent
her year away in Croatia, and now lives in Tallahassee. Itís really good to
have her around, as she understands both cultures, and, because of that, is
able to help me a lot.
Even though Iím in the coldest part of Florida, the weather is still
pretty warm (at least, comparing to Croatia). What I like is that thereís no
rain. Well, there is some, but not really often. Florida weather is so
unpredictable. The other day I was wearing long sleeves and jeans, today we
all walk around in shorts and t-shirts, even though itís November.
Literally, thatís Florida. Weíll probably wear long sleeves again sometime
this week. But it is getting cooler. Iím looking forward to Thanksgiving, as
I know itís a big holiday here. While in Croatia, itís just a day when we
donít go to work, here they have a week off, big family reunion and tons of
different Thanksgiving cards.
I still havenít experienced homesickness, and while my mom is sad that I
didnít, because she feels like I donít miss her at all, while she is missing
me, Iím happy, because I donít think itís pleasant. My friends are the same
way. They say ďI miss you!Ē and I automatically reply that I miss them too,
but I donít really sit in my bedroom and cry. The thing is, I do love my
family and friends. I love them more than anything. But as I told them,
there are so many things to be happy about, so why should I be sad? I only
have one year, and even less than that. And three months have already passed
(which I still canít believe!). And there are so many things going on, and
so many things for me to be happy and grateful for, that I just canít allow
myself to be sad.
The thing I do miss is not being able to go ANYWHERE (without
exaggeration) without a car. Which really sucks, because I canít drive. In
Zagreb, I take tram or bus wherever I go, and I can be on the other side of
the city in half an hour, just like that. Iím legally not allowed to drive
(age for driving in Croatia is 18), but even if I were, ďNo drivingĒ is one
of my Rotary rules. But, I feel kind of weird, because all my friends here
drive and have their cars and I get a I-canít-wait-to-get-my-licence feeling
pretty often, even though I know I wonít need it when I come back home.
The place Iím really enjoying myself here is Church. Evangel Assembly of
God, the Church my host family goes to, is just about the best place to be
on a Sunday morning. Two days after I first came to Florida, I went to the
beach with the Church Youth group, and the next day, to my first service in
Evangel. Now, I donít know if I said this already, but on the first service
I ever attended here, I started crying. And I have absolutely no explanation
why. The things Pastor was saying were just so nice and made me feel so
grateful, and I just started crying. I felt so stupid, sitting next to my
ďnew momĒ, after knowing her for only 3 days, trying to hide my tears,
crying and laughing at myself at the same time. That is how Church here
makes me feel. It is a beautiful place, full of people wanting to get to
know you and help you with anything you need, which is one of the reasons I
joined the Church chorus, and I am so glad I did.
Exchange students really have a special bonding here, even if we donít
maybe notice it yet. Val and I hang out pretty often. We talk every day, and
hang out on weekends. We also started a band. Weíll probably have our first
rehearsal next week, and weíre both pretty excited about it. Tomorrow, Val,
Abbie, Steven and I are going to Crawfordville to Laizís birthday, and I
just canít wait.
The feeling of being an exchange student is great, but as days go by, I
feel like I belong here more and more. Sometimes I even forget Iím an
exchange student. Take language, for instance. English feels so natural now,
that my Google translate is now set to go from English to Croatian, and not
the other way around. But then people ask me how do we say something (they
ask the most random stuff- like powder sugar) on my language, and remind me
of my function here, but it is SO HARD for me to switch from English to
Croatian just like that. As I said, English just feels so much more natural
now. Also, talking about my little reminders, the questions people here ask
me- wow! At first I felt weird about them, but I sooo got used to it. The
most common one, of course is ďWhere is Croatia?Ē, so what I usually do is,
just say ď(Ö)From Croatia, and that is right across the sea from ItalyĒ.
Other really common questions include: Do yaíll speak English in Croatia?;
Is it very different here?; What do yaíll eat there, like what is the
typical thing your mom would make for dinner?; Did you know English before
you came here?; Do you have any black people in Croatia?, and a really
common one- Whatís the drinking age in Croatia? And when they hear the
answer, which is 18, suddenly everyone wants to go to Croatia.
Okay, to talk more about school probably seems geeky, but I just have to.
I can now so honestly tell you that Leon is the best High school in the
whole world! My school day passes by so quickly, that Iíd have no problem
making our classes twice as long (and our lunch period, too! :D). There are
so many different people, so many different personalities, backgrounds, life
stories and other beautiful things that I am yet to discover. All the
teachers here play a big supporting role to me, and you can tell that they
care how you feel in their class, and that is a really neat thing to know.
The school spirit is the best thing ever, and if any school has it, Leon
does. But, I talked to my friend Tori yesterday, and the conclusion we both
agreed on is that Leon has something that not all the schools do- heart.
Cheesy metaphor, youíre thinking, I know, I knowÖ but itís not even a
metaphor here. Leon has a huge tradition, and it definitely has heart, and
thatís probably the main reason why I feel about it this way.
Iím trying to get people here to do the exchange, and there are some that
are really interested into doing it. But a lot of people from Croatia are
sending me messages, too, and asking me how to apply and what to do. I
really, really hope Iíll get someone to do it, because itís such a big
experience and a beautiful journey.
I just got the e-mail with all the information about our Disneyworld trip in
December. Iíd like to use the opportunity to thank my Rotary Club
Tallahassee Capital for making this trip possible for me. The description
sounds awesome (except the part with the Pool partyÖ not now when we all
gained weight!! :D) and I canít wait for it. So thank you Rotary, Rotarians
and Mr. Bob, my YEO.
People here just canít get over the fact that I donít have a middle name.
At one point, I had about 15 people trying to figure out what my middle name
should be. But my host dad called me Lori Louise, even before all of them
started giving me middle names, because both of his daughters middle names
is Louise, so he said his third daughter has to be Louise, too. So, he calls
me Lori Lou. When I have to do something, he calls me by my ďfull nameĒ,
Lorena Louise. SoÖ I guess I have a middle name now.
Also, smores. I had no idea what that was, until Rebecca made me eat it.
My English teacher also doesnít let anyone graduate without having them
first. Itís what you eat when you go camping. This is how you do it: You
take a marshmallow (the grossest thing Iíve ever tried, by the way), hold it
on fire, than you take two graham crackers, put one on the bottom and one on
the top of the marshmallow, and chocolate in the middle. And there you go,
you got smores.
Smores lead me into another thing, and Iíll close with that. Keeping your
weight normal while on exchange=mission impossible. I do try, though. I
really, really do. And somehow, I still managed to gain weight (I had enough
courage to step on the scale and find out that, despite what I try to tell
my mom, she is right. I did gain weight.) I blame Reseeís ice cream and I
admit the addiction I have for it- but I gave it up, and decided to be
really careful with food and exercising for a while and see what happens,
Ďcause, to be quite honest, I donít think anyone wants to come home any
bigger than when they first arrived. When I come back, I want my mom to cry
because sheís happy to see me, and not because I turned into an elephant.
So they say now that I have a middle name, Iíve eaten smores, and I
gained some weight, I became a real American. And to be honest, I started
feeling like one, too.
Itís been a while since I last wrote. A long while. So letís try to
At the beginning of December, RYE Florida took us to Disneyworld for 4 days.
It was amazing. It was like a little escape from reality, and we all felt
free to act like children again, with no one judging us.
We visited all 4 parks, and I have to say that my favorite one was Magic
Kingdom (I still want to live in that castle, so I took about only 3847
pictures of myself in front of it).
Then came Christmas. I went to Central Florida for Christmas, where my
host grandmother lives, and it didnít feel like Christmas at all. It was 80
degrees, the fan was on all the time, it was very sunny, and it smelled like
fresh mowed grass. Definitely not Christmas that Iím used to. Also, I have
to mention that I have never in my life, and I do mean EVER, seen so many
presents under the Christmas tree. I have to admit, I got some pretty good
presents. My favorite one came from home- those boxes are the biggest joy of
an exchange student. My mom sent me a blanket that a bunch of people that I
care about signed and wrote little messages and inner jokes on it. Mom also
sent a bunch of Croatian chocolate, that I gave away (she said proudly).
With my host-parents, Laiz and I went to North Carolina to celebrate the
New Year. We had a really good time. Let me just say that on New Yearís Eve,
around 11.45 pm, we were enjoying ourselves in a hot tub outside (where the
temperatures were around freezing), in the middle of nowhere. Laiz saw snow
for the first time in her life, and she was all cute touching it and feeling
it and being amazed by it.
Christmastime also meant switching families.
I now live in a family in which Iím an only child. My host parents have 3
daughters, but theyíre all grown up and donít live at home. I canít really
say I mind being an only child. Itís definitely a new experience, since I
have 2 brothers, and I had two host -siblings in my first host-family. I
really like living here (letís hope itís mutual). Just when I came back from
NC, and moved in with a new family, I went to Niceville to District
competition with Thespians. We qualified for State competition, to which Iím
going in 3 days.
I also went to Tampa to perform with Mane Event, and it was really cool! I
canít wait for our upcoming gigs! I also got invited to a choir in my
school, Melos, which I was (still am) so happy about! We practice 4 times a
week, and I absolutely love it!
At the end of January, Rotary took us to Florida Keys, which wasÖ amazing.
Florida Keys, let me tell you, are beautiful. We went to Key West, the
southernmost point of the United States, the first day, and the rest of the
time we stayed at a Seacamp in Big Pine Key. We learned about global
warming, ocean, quality of waterÖ it was a lot of fun. We also went
snorkeling, and saw a lot of interesting things, corals and man-a-wars (some
exchangers discovered that snorkeling is not as much fun when you get stung
by one of those), we also had a party one night, and when we were leaving, a
bunch of people were crying, knowing that that was the last time weíd all be
... Which brings us to my personal thoughts. I donít even want to think
about leaving. I feel like this is my home, this is my comfort zone, and
right now, I canít imagine not being here. Iím afraid of going home, which
is a feeling really hard to describe, that no one other than an exchange
student, can understand.
Thatís why we are all so bonded, weíre going through same things and when
they say that no one can understand an exchange student better than another
exchange student, theyíre not mistaking. Thatís why, even when we go home,
we will still be friends, because we share this connection that we cannot
share with anyone else.
I know I have to go home. Iím just trying to postpone it in my mind, because
I realized how time can fool us. Because of how quickly it goes by. Because
Iím afraid of all of THIS becoming just another memory.
But, you know, at least it will be a great one.