2012-13 Outbound to
Winter Park, FL
Winter Park High School
District 6980, FL
District TBA, Germany
Getting accepted into Rotary Youth Exchange had me doing cart wheels of joy. Finding out that I am going to live in GERMANY next year is what it might have felt like to have my childhood dream of a pet unicorn actualized. “I want to go somewhere new, be confused and have to figure it out for myself.” I wrote this eleven days before Scott Krogmann enlightened my future with Rotary Youth Exchange. I was in the midst of writing my senior autobiography, college essays, and waging internal sparring matches about my future. When Scott began his presentation, I imagined it was a scam. Hand over $20,000 and please, all the Nancy Normal Teenagers with straight A’s step forward. When he expressed that applicants were selected based upon character it was like a blaring neon sign screaming THIS WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR!
As a senior, it’s natural that I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my life; old friendships, memories and connections to my hometown. Most of my life has been lived in Winter Park, Florida a small town about forty five miles from the beach. In high school, I’ve spent much of my free time with my friends. We can be content for hours singing ourselves hoarse, passing the guitar back and forth and making up lyrics. Some of my favorite artists include Simon and Garfunkel, The Shins, Mumford and Sons, Bob Dylan and Maroon 5. Junior year I took guitar in school and mastered many chords, but not how to harmonize. As a result, my playing sounds hesitant and a little off, but I still have fun. My hope is to improve my strumming technique and master the dreaded F chord.
While some people have a poverty of love I have a wealth. At my mom’s house I live with my mom, step dad, and sometimes my stepbrother. This summer, dad is finally getting married to his girl friend of fourteen years. I'm ecstatic that she is finally going to be step mom and to inherit three step siblings. I am grateful to my tribe of a family for being so enthusiastically supportive of my Rotary Adventure and know that no matter how big a body of water separates us they will stick by me.
The experience that has prepared me most for Rotary are the six years I have volunteered at Pennsylvania Vent Camp, a one-week experience for children on ventilators to be carefree kids. Before I went to Vent Camp I thought a disability was a person’s defining characteristic, but I quickly learned otherwise. Every summer, boundaries were pushed and limits defied. Zip lines, water guns, and rock climbing brought adventure to confined lives. Now I know the human spirit can soar beyond the tethers of a wheel chair and confidence is always earned by taking the next step beyond comfort. This was true for me as well as the campers. Early on, I doubted my ability to bathe them and help them navigate the bathroom. However, after assisting them from sunrise to sunset, I realized that camaraderie and compassion are the nature of our being. They provide a connection that touches the soul. “I wish you were my sister,” one camper confided. This was the reward that I earned. Before Vent Camp I never realized that wisdom could be gained through such a simple experience as befriending a child less fortunate than me.
I am enthralled at the prospect of being an exchange student because I may broaden my limited perspective of foreign countries and achieve an intimate understanding of a culture that is influenced by interaction and not the media. The world is bent on categorizing each other. However, we are human beings, not products to be labeled and stuck on a shelf. We are constantly growing and evolving. No one can be pinned down or defined by a media-driven stereotype. If we embraced our differences rather than fear them, we would find that we have much to learn from one another. Undoubtedly, being a foreign exchange student is one of the most difficult challenges I will ever face, but through struggle, determination, and transformation I hope to gain insight into the generosity of the human spirit and a connection that reaches beyond borders.
Sarah- Outbound to Germany
August 29, 2012
know these streets by heart; they are like lines on the palm of my hand. I
know every twist in the road, every tree and blade of grass. This year, I am
leaving it behind; which has always been the plan. For years, living here
has felt like purgatory. I’ve been revving up, longing for my fantastic lift
off to somewhere. However, I never anticipated that my magnificent somewhere
would be Germany.
So much of Rotary Youth Exchange is putting together a puzzle. You’re
accepted. You have a country, a district, a town, a host family and finally
a departure date. With every piece of information you develop an expectation
of what is to come. However, every Rotex will tell you “Don’t have any
The first time I spoke to my host sister she sent me a picture of the home I
will soon live in. I joked with my friends that it looked like the American
Dream; big, beautiful and complete with a golden retriever bounding in the
front. Nearly two months later, she sent me a link to her house on Google
Maps. In place of the neighborhood I had imagined there were fields of
farmland as far as I could scroll for 7 kilometers. For a moment, my mind
was scattered as it readjusted to the reality of a place that existed beyond
the expectations of my imagination. People will tell you not to have any
expectations but whether you realize it or not you already have them.
Growing up in Winter Park has given me expectations of what the rest of the
world is like. When your host sister tells you about her “neighbors,” that
doesn’t necessarily mean they live ten feet over. However, half the fun is
realizing those expectations exist and the comfort of the familiar as it is
knocked out from under you and then as total chaos descends, you readjust to
a life you never expected. Isn’t that the beauty of exchange?
When I met with Scott to go over my application he asked, “What makes you
the most nervous about going on exchange?” My mind was blank. Home sickness?
Please, I’ve been stuck here 18 years! Being apart from family? 18 years!
Culture shock? ADVENTURE! The only answer that felt honest was, “getting
accepted.” I could conquer anything as long as I was accepted.
Now that my great adventure draws nearer exchange has become more real to
me. What if my host family hates me? What if I offend someone and don’t even
know it? What if I break a rule I didn’t know existed? What if I burn the
house down, kill the family dog, get kicked out of school and banned from an
entire continent?! Has that happened?!
The truth is, at some point I will probably offend someone. I will do
something completely humiliating, miss a train, not understand and feel like
an Ignorant American. It is easy to accept this fate in the comfort of a
place I have known my whole life, where I understand what people say and the
culture is just the way things are. However in the wise words of Hagrid,
“What’s coming will come and I’ll meet it when it does.”
I have prepared myself. I have written an 18 page research paper,
conjugated, translated, and recited. I have learned that Germans eat
shnitzel, drink beer and can be standoffish when you first meet them.
However, not all Floridians ride roller coasters all day then return to
their beach houses and guzzle orange juice. So I shouldn’t expect that my
German friends will talk about BMW's all day eating pretzels in their
lederhosen and dirndls. Alas, these facts and words of mouth are much of
what I have to go on. But who knows? Maybe I’ll meet a German who doesn’t
like beer, who is messy or has something against mustard.
These last weeks at home I have tried to soak up as much of the Florida
experience as possible. My friends and I went on a day trip through Florida
where we visited the ever cheesy Presidents Hall of Fame where I actually
touched Lincoln's beard!! Took about a hundred wrong turns, visited Samford
and raced Michael Phelps style across Alexander Springs. (totally kicked
Emily's butt ) I went to my last Knotty Knitters and Book Club at the Winter
Park Public Library, last Taco Tuesday and hung out at my last Open Mike
Night at Austin's Coffee Shop. I hugged my best friend goodbye at the
airport as she set off for her grand adventure in Japan knowing that we
would both be very different people when we are together again.
What will I see when I come home? Will everything I believe in now seem
ignorant? What will I learn? Who will I be? What will the people who matter
to me now mean to me then? As more of my friends leave and more of my room
is packed away I am finally beginning to understand what it means to leave
everything behind. Winter Park is my roots; I am sewn up in the soil just
like the trees. It will always be where I am from and I love it for that.
Now that I am leaving, I finally appreciate the importance of where I am
from and how it has shaped me.