Ashley, Outbound to Slovakia

Since I have first arrived in Slovakia I have learned that exchange is so much more than traveling to a different country and staying there for a while. At least for me, I have learned that exchange is about conforming to another culture, being submerged in a different language, tasting new (sometimes weird) foods, becoming friends with people from all over the world, and learning to be comfortable in someone else's home really fast. I have been in Slovakia for almost 5 months, which is already half of my exchange, and I can't imagine leaving. Although Slovakia wasn't my first choice and I wasn't even sure where the country was at first, being placed in this country has taught me to always appreciate your life because no matter where you are, there is ALWAYS going to be good people and extremely good views. Everyone involved in Rotary always say that the holidays are the hardest part on your exchange, which in some cases is true, but honestly the holidays were some of the most beautiful, loving, and exciting parts of my exchange so far. In Europe during Christmas time almost every town sets up Christmas markets that sell traditional foods, drinks, and handmade crafts. My town especially was filled with these markets, it was so comforting to be around a lot of people eating, drinking, and sharing conversation. Slovak Christmases are celebrated on the 24th at night and are very family oriented. Everyone spent all day in the kitchen preparing the dinner and at night we all sat down together and ate and talked about what we were thankful for and how happy we are to be able to be together and then we opened presents and played board games. I'm so grateful to have had a family that was able to include me and make me feel very comfortable and loved during this time because it made it a lot easier to not be home sick and be able to enjoy my time with them. I honestly couldn't thank Rotary enough for this experience, it is going by so fast but it is truly such a blessing to absorb a different culture at a young age in the way rotary has allowed me to. I did not at all expect exchange to be the way it is and have such a powerful effect on the way I see the world and the way I am as a person. Exchange has made me extremely open minded, loving, and positive; not just for traveling to a different country but to actually living in a different country. It has pushed me out of my comfort zone by forcing me to make new friends. Whether it's with other exchange students in my district, or my Slovak friends at school, I have seriously met some of the most all around perfect people that I will never forget and would like to keep in my life forever. Exchange isn't just fun and games, it is hard and challenging but I will never regret spending what would've been my freshman year in college, abroad learning so much that I would have never learned in a classroom.

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