Michael Criswell 
2004-05 Outbound to Poland 
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club,
Host: Łódź Rotary Club, District 2230, Poland

August 18 Journal

Coming into this adventure, you think you know what to expect. But in reality.... you have no idea.

So it's been about two weeks since I've arrived in Cozumel. There's only one way to describe how I feel..... I love it!!!!! There's so many different things that I've come to love in my two weeks on this Island, and so many things I've already done. I'll try to explain the best I can.

My flight was not eventful. Before I left, my family and three friends came to see me off. I didn't cry. I flew from J'ville to Miami and from Miami to Cancún. Nothing exciting. The woman sitting next to me was a real witch. She called me "Rotary Boy", disdainfully, which made me smile. At least she recognized Rotary!!! OH!!! How could I've forgotten. Waiting to get my tickets, I was approached by a woman in Jax. She said, "Hi, I'm (I've forgotten her name!!), and I'm a Rotarian. Where are you going?" And of course I replied, "Mexico", and she said good luck, and was just so impressed with what Rotary is doing here with the international exchange. Back to my flight!!! I get so off track sometimes. So I sat in Cancún for about 2 hours. They had cancelled our flight without telling us, and we were to go on the next flight. None of us new that, but we found our plane easy enough. As soon as we were in the air, my face pressed up against the window. It was gorgeous! The cerulean water was so clear. I could even see the coral as we approached the airport at Cozumel. I was in awe.

I got off the plane, and walked into the airport. There waiting with a sign that read, "¡Bienvenido Daniel!" was my host family. I went up to them, and they gave me hugs, and said welcome, in Spanish of course!!!! And then we went looking for my bags. They were still in Miami, to make a long story short, we drove to the house, I was still in awe, and my bags arrived two days later.

My host family is really cool. Esperanza (which means Hope in spanish) is my mamá. Javier is my dad. They are really cool. Javier owns a Jewelry shop and Esperanza works in a beach club. Horacio is my little brother, he's 15. Jimena is my younger sister and she's 12. I have met some cousins and uncles, and they all treat me like family. It's really nice. And I have a dog!!!!! A boxer. His name is Froy. But he's really cool. Sometimes, when I'm really not feeling good, I talk to him. It helps a lot!

We go out a lot. My host brother, Horacio, has been really helpful. He speaks English, and helps learn new words. I already have a group of friends. Some will be leaving to go on their own Rotary adventures, but most will stay. I even went snorkeling last weekend. We saw fish, rays, and even a baby sea snake. It was SO COOL!!!! There are 2 other exchange students here. Jill, from Houston, and Giovana from Brazil. We speak in Portuñolés. It's like spanglish, but with a lot of Portuguese. I love them!!! They're a lot of fun!!! We're expecting 3 more students. 1 from Belgium, Germany, and another from Brazil. I can't wait to meet them. Oh, and last night, I had my first Rotary meeting. It's so different! They all smoke and drink during the meetings. You leave and smell like you just spent 6 hours in a smokey bar. But it's nice to talk with them! Our Counselors are called Padrinos, or Godfathers!!!! It's like the mafia......just kidding!!

Yesterday was a hard day. I cried a lot. Thinking about my mom, and my dogs (y'all know me), and my friends back home. But I got over it quick. I remind myself that I only have a year here. So, I went and turned on the TV. They love the Warner Channel. But I decided to watch a Novela. It is really funny, because they tend to over act. and it's mostly two people going back and forth....."Miguel", "Rosa", "Miguel", "Rrrrrrrosa", and so on. It's really fun!!!

I started school on Monday. It's really different. I had a rough first day. I cried while we met with the secretary. I hadn't slept the night before, and I was thinking about home a lot. But my second day was a lot better. But there is no AC in the classroom. It gets really hot, and we have to wear pants. So my friends Said, Isabel and I go to the library where there is Air Conditioning!!! Oh, sometimes the teachers don't show up, so we usually only have 3 out of 7 classes a day. It's a lot different than the US!!!

All in all, I love it here. The Cozumeleños are such sweet people. Very polite, and very religious. They cook..... A LOT! I thought I was going to hate the food, but I love it!!!! And the drinks!!!!! Piña juice, and Mango juice, and my favorite, Piña Colada (of course virgin). They're sold in little corner stores, and are made fresh about every hour. But whenever I am downtown, all the vendors try to get me to buy things. They call me Gringo, which is a term of endearment (or so I am told). So now I look at them and say "Alemán", or "Français", and they leave me alone. Here, you have to hide your American-ness. I was reading the journals of Megan and Jacob. Megan is lucky because she blends right in. Jacob.....I can sympathize. But they've all been very welcoming. And our housekeeper makes the best latkas!!!! There not really latkas, more like fried potato pancakes. So, yeah, Mexilatkas. I love them!!!!! But for some reason, she puts my things in really weird places and I can't find anything, but Horacio always knows where my things are!!

Well, that's all for now. I'll be writing more as time progresses. Probably 2 a month, since I want y'all to know what's happening!!!! I just want to send a quick shout out to my family, I love you guys!!! And to my friends, Jennifer, Wesley, LaRay Ray (Peaches Loves you), JeezObeel, And to my Rotary gang!!!!! I hope y'all are enjoying life in all those other countries!!!! LOL!!! I love you all, and can't wait to see you in a year!!!! To keep our tradition alive......Beijos!!!!!! Or here, we say "Besos".

OH.....Makena, Kira, and Elizabeth; learn Beijo em la boca by Axé Bahía. We'll have a sing-a-long when we get back. CON MUCHO AMOR.....

Hasta la proxima vez

Daní

September 15 Journal

As time goes by, you tend to forget a little more. The sound of your best friends voice. The smell of your kitchen. And then you start to try to remember... and it's depressing.

Acclimation is hard to do, but I'm trying. At times I feel very alone and scared. Especially now with hurricane season. I can only hope that everyone in the US is ok. I don't think any of us exchange students realized how rocky the road is. And that's exactly what this exchange is. A long winding road of emotions. Happiness, sadness, depression, and everything in between.

When I first arrived here in México, I barely slept. But now, as I settle into my routine, I find myself sleeping a lot. Not to mention when you have a bad day, sleep is your best friend. Dreams are so vivid here. I can remember all of them. I don't know if it's the heat, or the boredom I feel when I'm alone. But on the bright side, my social life has improved. I have many friends in school. They don't look at me as if I am the devil any more. I think that second head on my shoulders is getting smaller and smaller everyday. Us exchange students are really close. We just met Ana Paula from Brasil, and Medhi (I think that's how it's spelled) from Belgium. They're really cool people. Ana and Gi are in the process of teaching me Samba. I tried it the other night, and cut my toe pretty badly. It still hurts like no one's business, but I think I'll live.

I had my first Rotary conference. There are 6 Americans all together in my district. I'm in contact with a few of them. It's nice to be able to relate to compatriots once and a while. It helps to talk to other exchange students from other countries, but at times, we don't always understand each other. The conference was in Villahermosa, a large, busy metropolis. I prefer the more tranquil Cozumel to the hectic ways of Villahermosa. There are about 15 Brasileños in my district. They are so much fun! I've made about 6 Brazilian friends in the past few weeks. Oh! It was really funny. For some reason, there are a ton of transvestites here in Mexico. We were on the bus and this petite little creature stood in front of us at the stop and began dancing. Obviously she wanted money. She was very amusing!!! And then on the bus, the driver started talking..."Isn't she pretty. And what a good dancer.......it's a man." I couldn't help but chuckle at that. And then !in the station on the way home, another one walked past me and Giovana. And in her best attempt to speak English she said, "It man". I nearly gave myself a hernia. I laughed for about 20 minutes. As did she.

The other exchange students are some of my best friends. Gi is always making me smile. She always attempts to speak English. The phrases she knows are......"What is this? "Where are you going?" and "Are you OK?" And imagine, in a cute little Brazilian accent. And it's not an accent I'm used to. She pronounces her "R's" very strongly. Instead of using her throat or tongue, it's somewhat an English way to pronounce the "R". She tells us it is because she is from the InteRioR of Sao Paulo. She's so funny. Kathrin is from Germany. very sweet, but very assertive. She and I talk a lot and are very good friends. Jill is my best ally here in Mexico. We mesh so well. We totally understand when one of us is down, and help each other rise again. Ana is very amicable. Very Pretty. I've only known her a short time but I can tell we will be close. Midhi is quiet. But that's normal. He speaks very little Spanish, so it's hard !to communicate. But I really like them a lot.

School is getting better. There's no AC, as I've stated before, but my friends make school worth going. We get in trouble a lot for talking in class. But it's no big deal. No detention or anything. But it saddens me because they don't do yearbooks at this school. The public schools don't have a ton of money, so they spend very little on extra things like that. But it's fine. I have a camera.

Well, I'm not going to lie. These past few weeks have been the hardest of my life. But I am growing so much. I'm learning to catch myself when I fall, instead of relying on others to catch me. I am learning that you can't trust everyone you meet. Some will be nice to your face, and stab you in the back 3 seconds later. I'm developing my own persona. Trying to mold myself into a better Mexican. Mimicking everything, from the accent to the body language. Oh! One quick note...I was recently asked if I was from Spain. I told the man, "No I'm from the US." He said he thought I was Spanish because I speak so well and fluidly, but I don't look like I'd be from Mexico, Central or South America. That made me feel proud. By the way, the language thing is improving very well. : )

Chao for now.

Que tengan un BUEN BUEN año sin mí. Jeje!!! Quiero Uds. mucho y no puedo esperar para ver uds. ¡Adiós!

Daní

October 5 Journal

I have officially been in México now for 2 months. There are many aspects I love about México, or as some write, Méjico, but there are also things that I don't like too much.

Adapting to another culture is one of the hardest things you can do. And some of the customs have been harder to adapt to than others. For example, motorists NEVER yield to pedestrians. It's crazy!!!! Una locura!!!!! The people just drive by and come within inches of me if I am not far enough over on the street, seeing as how sidewalks are virtually non-existent here. This ties into another point of Mexican living that I find hard to accept. Many of the people are incredibly rude. Not everyone, mind you, but most. I was in a local supermarket and an old lady ran over my foot with her shopping cart. She just gave me a dirty look and kept going. Now I was raised to have manners, so I think I look like a fool every time I walk in front of anyone and say excuse me. They tend to raise their eyebrows at me. One thing, however, which amuses me to the extreme, is how short the people are here. Since there is a large Mayan influence on the population, many people are far below eye! level. I'm 5'11". There was a woman, she was not a dwarf, nor was she ill, but she only reached my waist!!!!!!!!! I was amazed. I couldn't believe how short she was!!!!!

One thing I'd like to discuss is my host family. my host Mom and Dad work a lot. so I don't see them very often. My host siblings are complete opposites. My sister, although only 12, is very mature, but she also laughs at silly little things. She is very nice to me, and we get along well. My host brother is very different. He tends to treat me like a child, even though I'm 2 years his senior. But I'm coping as best I can.......

I have found somewhat of a second family. The family of my friends Ivan, who is currently in Germany, and his cousin Iram, who is studying in Brazil. The Gonzales family has welcomed me into their arms. They have been hosting students for about 8 years, and they treat me like I am part of the family. This is the Host family of my friends Giovana and Kathrin. They are just such a wonderful family. Juanita hugs me everyday, and Miguel always asks me how I am doing. I watch TV with their daughter Junio, who is a riot. Their elder daughter Michele, who is studying in Puebla, very close to México, D.F., and I have gone roller skating when she was on break. They are a wonderful family. And they make me feel incredibly welcomed. I refer to them as "Mis Tíos" and they refer to me as their "Sobrino"........Uncle, aunt, nephew.......sorry, I forgot that not everyone speaks Spanish.

My Spanish is vastly improving. It's surprising how much you can remember when you are immersed in a language. My vocabulary is so much greater than it was before I came. I'd say it has doubled, and I'd been studying Spanish for 2 years prior to arrival. We have been enrolled in a Spanish class at a local primary school. It's fun to see the little kids stare at us and say, "The white people are here to learn Spanish!!!! Are they stupid???". They know we live here, but they're amazed that we don't speak Spanish. And they all want to know about our homelands. It's very fun. We play scrabble in Spanish, which can be tricky. The Brazilians always win. Half the time they use a Portuguese word, and it just happens to be the same in Spanish.

My friends and I are always doing something together. We love the beach. Now, coming from Boston originally, I thought the water in Florida was warm!! HAHA!!!!! Yeah, OK! The water here is like bath water. And it's so clear. We love to snorkel. It's just like the National Geographic Magazine. The reefs here are second in popularity and diversity, only to The Great Barrier Reef of Australia!!!!! Oh, by the way, I found Nemo the other day!!!!!!!

We don't much like school. The teachers really don't help us. We had one assignment to help us with our Spanish. The other teachers just don't pay attention to us. One day, Jill was asking me a question, and the math teacher nearly threw us out of class for talking (he's a jerk anyway). And we weren't allowed to take the exams.....which you have to pay for. We have to pay for books, paperwork, etc. It gets annoying, because by the time lunch comes you've already spent your money on homework!!!! And also, a lot of people pay their teachers for passing grades. I really don't like the public school system in México. I've even started to miss my school in the states!!!!!

I have to talk about the animals in my life. There's Froy......my family's dog. He's a Boxer. He is such a fun dog. He's 7, but still has that puppy energy that I think they never lose. When I'm feeling bad, I go outside and sit with him. And I just talk.....because I know he won't tell anyone!!!! And then there's Lukas.....pinche Lukas!!! He's the Gonzales' dog. He's an eight-month-old MinPin. He bites everyone......except me. I think because I take the time to play with him. He's really fun, but he always rolls in his own business and smells like he just emerged from the sewers. But I love them so much. Whenever I miss my girls (Molly J, Cocoa, and DiDi whom I love more than anything!!) I play with these guys and I feel better.

Other than this, nothing new has happened lately. I have a tan, I lost 11 lbs., and I got my hair cut the other day.........by a transvestite. It was so funny. Kathrin happened to have her camera, and casually took photos, which I will send very shortly. She/He got the job done though!!!! I really like my hair now.

OK!!! That's it!!!! Until next time!!!!

SHOUTOUTS: All my friends at FBHS, My Rotary gang, especially those in Latin America......Jenn y Jackie, si quieren escribirme en español, PORFAVOR, escribanme en nuestro idioma...OK??? Monika, Wie ghets dir, Sam you too. Brasileras....Tudo bem???? And everyone else, I hope you are living it up in all those other countries. Write ME!!!!!!! And of course, Rotary. This has so far been the most difficult, yet rewarding period of my life. I can't begin to thank you for this opportunity. OH!!! By the way, I have lost 10 lbs. Don't ask me how, I don't know!!! But I'm sure the weight will come with time!!!!!!! And how can I forget...my family, who supports me so very much. MUMM, I love you more than anyone (except the dogs......Just kidding!!), Dad, Sue, Mark, Cindy, Judie, Susie, George, Carolann, Donnie, Moe, Mike, Cio Cia, John, Jackie, Mikey, Brendan, Conor!!!!!! I LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!

And a special shout out to Bri and Katie; I know we fight a lot, but being here has made me realize how much I love you guys and that I wouldn't trade you for any other brother or sister in the world.......even though we've told each other that many times!!!!!!!! I love you guys and can't wait to see you!!!!!!

Adiós!!!!!! Que disfuten todo de la vida......AL MAXIMO!!!!!

Daní

November 13 Journal

Hola Mi Gente! Que Onda?? Estoy super bien aqui en Mexico. Voy a explicar todo, pero creo que es mejor si escribo en ingles, no??? Ok, so it's been over 3 months since I got on that plane, and crossed......the Caribbean.....to begin my journey here in Mexico. Much has happened since my last entry, I'm not sure where to begin.

I made a new friend. Her name is Sarah and she's from New York STATE, not the city (she gets pissed if you say NYC). She lives in Playa del Carmen which is a hop, skip and a 30 minute ferry ride away. We hang out occasionally, and it's nice for us to be able to speak English together. Keep in mind, the Spanish is rapidly progressing, but it's always nice to be able to fall back into English......every so often. She was here a few weekends ago, and actually will be returning soon, so I'm looking forward to that.

We made a Rotaract trip to a place called Xel-Ha'. That was amazing. It's this beautiful national park here in Mexico. We went tubing in the crystal clear water, and baked in the sun as well. If ya'll can believe it, I'M TANNING!!! It started as a series of sunburns, which gradually darkened, and now I'm the tannest I've been in my life, which is still pretty white. But back to Xel-Ha': One thing that was probably one of the craziest things I've ever done in my life (besides this exchange JaJa) was jumping off a small, two-story cliff. It was a total adrenaline rush. I plan on setting my sights "higher" next time, if you get the gist.

We also celebrated the day of the dead. This is right around Halloween, and it's a holiday to commemorate those who have passed away. They make altars with special foods, drinks, and presents. We helped build una ofrenda in a local primary school, and some of the contents surprised me. A bottle of tequila and a pack of cigarettes. Right in the middle of the playground. It was a little strange. But that's how things are here. A little strange, scary, exciting, and all around amazing.

I just want to add that the other American exchange student is leaving tomorrow. So now, I'm "the only" American here. Which is, of course, not true. But in the world of Rotary, I am the last American. But back to the Fun Stuff.

A note to Jackie; I have watched the Simpsons in Spanish, and it is hilarious. The voices are actually very close, if not exact Spanish clones of the originals. It's very funny. I also started watching Novelas. I usually don't understand what's going on, because it's a lot of crying, eyebrow raising, and love triangles times ten. But I think I have a few figured out.

We're going to go on a 3 day trip to Merida in the state of Yucatan. We have a district conference where I will meet the 4 other Americans from the district, and the 30 some odd Brazilians!!!!! But from Merida, we will be traveling to Chichen-Itza, one of the most well preserved Mayan ruin sites in Mexico. I've seen Pictures and it's enormous!!!!!! I can't wait.

I'm still working on the pictures. You'll see some soon. This computer has me enloquecido, in other words, I have no idea what I'm doing!!! HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN? The biggest event in the last month and a half was my move. Things didn't work out with certain members of my first host family, so Rotary decided it would be best if I moved. I lived with my first new Papa' for a week........ON THE BEACH! And then, since my evil step mother came back from Switzerland (that's just a joke we have), I had to move again, because the house had no doors....just on the bathroom. It was like a 3 story apartment, very cool. But it was all open. So, with reason, I moved to this new apartment with the club president. He's awesome, and my Host Brother Ben, is really cool too. He gave me a cell phone, because it's really the only form of communication on the island, and I just buy the credit. It's really nice living here.

So, I'm off. I broke my glasses last night and now I'm going to get them fixed. I'll write again as soon as I get a chance!!!!! See ya'll later!! Lots of love.......

Danny

December 6 Journal

Que onda???? Saludos a todo mi gente!!!!!

I hope everyone is enjoying their exchange as much as I am. Mexico is really amazing. Everything is happening so fast that I don't know where to begin!!!!!!

I guess it would be good to start where I left off last time. I went to Chichén-Itzá on a Rotary trip to Mérida. This is a wonderfully preserved park, filled with Mayan ruins. We climbed a step pyramid, and played the "clapping game". OK. Let me explain the clapping game. Way back when the Mayans inhabited this part of Mexico, they used to hold tournaments. 2 teams of captives would have to face each other in a game. This game consisted of a ball, and stone hoops, maybe 25 feet off the ground. The first team who got the ball through the hoop won. The losing team was.....well.....sacrificed to the gods. The way the teams would communicate with each other, from one end of the football field and a quarter sized field, was with claps. In different areas of the field, you can clap, and it will echo on the other side. In different areas, it echoes a different number of times. In one spot, one clap echoes 14 times. It was so cool. We had so much fun with that!!! I was with two other Americans, an Australian, a Canadian, and a few Brazilians (Spanglish was spoken I must admit), and all the tourists were like, "what is up with these stupid kids". We really got into it!!!! And Mérida was a lot of fun too. It's a really nice, colonial town with a lot of history, and historical sites.

Then last weekend we went to Cancún. Now, none of us were really excited to go, isn't that strange. High school students not excited about Cancún. We're just so used to it. Cancún is full of restaurants, hotels, and night clubs. It's an amazing city, but my friend Kevin from Canada said it the best..."the US should just make Cancún a US state". I think he's right, because I think there are more Americans than Mexicans at any given time. And English is the predominant language. Well, in Cancún we met a bunch of other exchanges from another district here in México. They were all really nice, but didn't speak Spanish that well. They all speak in English, from what they told me. WHY?????? Even when I meet the other English speakers, we speak Spanglish!!!!!!!!! Their Spanish skills were not that great. And they were all very snooty. I don't know why, but they appeared to think they were better than us. That might not be the case, but it sure seemed like that. OH! And one girl from France I think it was, went up to my friend Tundé (that's the phonetic spelling) from Hungary, and started speaking English. Tundé was like.....QUE????????? NO HABLO INGLËS, because she doesn't. So that just shows you what a disadvantage some Americans\English speakers sometimes have learning another language. The other country kids usually speak English, and they always want to practice with us!!!!!! That's bad. But no worries........The Cozumeleño kids are speakin' the Spanish everyday......ONLY SPANISH!!!!!! Te lo juro AL!!!!! (that means, I swear Al!)

Also, the last happenings I'd like to talk about are the changes I've been experiencing. I moved yet again. That makes 4 families in 4 months. I sometimes feel that I am causing inconveniences, but until January I am just a temporary house guest. Then in January, I switch families for the fifth time. Then in April for the sixth and final time. And also in January we are being transferred to a private school. Rotary is very upset with our school because the teachers nor administration attempt to help us. It really is bad. We presented exams and the teachers didn't even put our grades up with the other students' grades. But we heard that this next school isn't any better. But we will be given the chance to take classes in the university, So I am thinking about taking some language classes. I already have classes for Spanish, with the other exchanges, but I would like to take Portuguese classes if available. If not, Ana Paula is teaching me anyway. I will take German or French classes if Portuguese is unavailable.

Well that's all for now. OK! I know I've been promising pictures for months now.....But with all my moving it's hard. They will come within the next few weeks. I will send as many as I can!!!!! My next host family has a very fast computer, with an easy photo download system. OK!!!!!!!!! Que se cuiden mucho, y los quiero muchisimo!!!!!

Chao Chao

December 18 Journal

Hey everyone!!!! How are all my people?

Well, everything is great here!!!!! TODO ESTA BIEN!!! Well, many things have happened since my last journal. My life is changing before my eyes. I am speaking Spanish 99% of the time now, and learning a bit more each day. It really helped me to have a good grasp on the language before I arrived here. My vocabulary has grown, and I can speak almost as fast as the natives do!!!!! JaJa!!! And I'm on vacation right now, so I am being somewhat lazy.... But let me tell YA,LL (that's right Dad!!) about what I've been doing.

Last weekend I went to Playa Del Carmen....PDC on the streets....to visit Sarah. We had a good time. Whenever we're together, we always have a fun time and go crazy. (In a good kid way AL!) We walk around through downtown PDC all the while being harassed by the sellers (is there a better word for this?). I have a shirt with the word "Vaquero" which means Cow Boy, so every one calls me "Cow boy" when we walk by. One guy came up to us and said, "Hey Nice shirt......wanna get high?" Sarah and I were laughing so hard because that was just so random. "Hello! Nice to meet you! Would you like to get high?" Seriously, who says that? So we kept walking. "Hey HONEE MOONERS!! Now its my turn!" We keep walking. Then I hear...."Piggy Back!!!!!" And Sarah jumps on my back. And in the middle of hundreds of tourists....we fell. Right on our pompas. I think Sarah almost peed herself laughing. As did I (almost). So that was our Downtown PDC Adventure. Oh....then the next night I was walking with my Brasil Shirt that Giovana made for me for Secret Santa. A woman approached me and said IN PORTUGUESE.. (excuse the spelling) "Voce e brasilero?" Which means Are you Brazilian. I said "Nao, soh americano e entendo um portugues mais eu nao possou falar bem". Which means No, I'm American and I understand Portuguese but I can't speak it well". (Maquena, Kira, and Elizabeth are probably laughing at my pathetic Portuguese spelling) So Now I've been asked if I'm from Spain and Brasil. Que Chido! (cool)

On Saturday we went with Sarah's classmates to a small pueblito (village...well literally translated, "small town" but you get the gist) near Cancun. I got off the bus and I could feel tears welling up. Have you ever seen those commercials for The Save The Children Fund, or however it's called. That's what this was like. This people were Dirt Poor. But Bless their hearts, the were so welcoming and so cheerful. We brought candy and Piñatas for the kids. Which was fun. But all of Sarah's classmates were trying to take the candy. I got so pissed! I said...calmly..."You know, you guys can buy candy any day, but these kids can't. Leave it for them". Some gave me dirty looks and others looked ashamed. But I hope they realized, as I did, that these children can't just go to the one store in town everyday and buy food. It's such a treat for them if they even get a cookie. So anyway, after that, we were invited to eat in their homes. Mind you, they were little shacks made of wood, stone, and palm, but you could see they all felt at home. This experience made me realize how well I live in the US. And how lucky I am to be American. My fellow exchange students can't even imagine the poverty that I have seen.....with the exception of those in South America and Asia. Imagine, no shoes, no clean clothes, no snickers bars, cable TV, running water, toilets, TOILET PAPER, I mean....WOW. I was so, just, WOW!!! It was incredible. OH! And the interesting thing about these people was that their first language is not Spanish, it's Maya. Now the children are taught Spanish at the same time, but the old folks still speak Maya. One old lady wanted a lollypop from Sarah, and asked for it in Maya. Sarah had no idea what she said, but figured it out with the body language. By the way, the school there is smaller than a standard 2 car garage. But it's in ruins. When we left, the kids asked us for bikes and dolls when we come back. I don't know if I'll ever be back. But I hope to God I get the opportunity to give these children the dolls, and toy trucks they asked for....excuse me, I am crying!

OK! Happy Stuff!!! We had a Posada on Thursday night. This is a Christmas Party Traditional of the Latin countries. They reenact Joseph and Mary coming to the Inn and asking for a room. There is a Song, and 2 groups of people sing … I sang the Joseph and Mary part. It was easy once you get used to the Castellano "Os" and "Vosotros"… pinche castellano!!! Just Kidding!!! And then after I did Karaoke. I sang … well who do you think … SHAKIRA! Estoy Aqui, or I am Here. They said I did pretty good. So the Posada was excellent. We talked, had some cheap sparkling wine stuff that tasted like, I don't know what but it was gross, sang, and danced! VIVA MEXICO!

I am really happy in my new house. My parents are great and bought me a present. My host mom told me that one day my dad had a bit too much to drink, and said, "I'm going to buy Danny a … bird". So they bought me a Quetzalcoatl. Those birds with the really long pretty tails. I haven't named it yet, I'm thinking about just calling it "Bird". But it's so pretty, yellow, green, and blue (Brasil). And this week we are all going to start teaching each other a little bit of our own languages. I already know a little Portuguese, and Kat is teaching me German… Monika, Sam and Jeremy have to learn 99 Luftballons. I am. And it's great… We'll have an international sing along, along with Beijo na boca.

OK! Well that's about it! I wish everyone a Merry, Merry Navidad, and a Happy and Prosperous Nuevo Año!!! I love all my friends an Family and I will be thinking about all of you on Christmas. Especially the Rotary Gang. Because they are in the same boat as I am. I love you guys!!!! OK!!!!! CUIDENSE!!!!!!!!! Take Care!!!!!

Danny

January 5 Journal

Feliz Año Nuevo!!!!! I can't believe that the New Year is already here!!!!! The holiday season has been very exciting for me. I've been kept busy and have had little time to think about home. Let's start with Christmas……

Christmas 2004: Here in México Christmas is celebrated on the 24th rather than the 25th. La Noche Buena or Christmas Eve is a big event here. Everyone goes to church around 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Then everyone returns to their homes for dinner. At Midnight, The Baby Jesus is put in the manger, which is a vital accessory for every household in México. My family exchanged presents after the meal. I received two pins for my blazer from my mom and $300 pesos to spend however I wanted. $300 pesos is almost equivalent to $30 US. My dad bought me a perfume from one of the many perfume shops here in Cozumel. I also received a Tommy Hilfiger shirt from my PRIMO, or, cousin. Then, Giovana, Kathrin, and Ana Paula came over. We exchanged small gifts among each other. Then after they left at about 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning, my family and I set out on what seemed to be an endless meet and greet of family members around the island. I was out until about 5:30 or 6 with my family, but my parents returned home at 10:00 that morning!!!!! I was a bit shocked at this custom of staying out until all hours!!!!! But I have to say I really enjoyed myself. At this moment I realized how happy I am to be here right now. My Host family is so cool! And I am always talking with them, I have found that my vocabulary and grammar skills are improving even more than before!!!

Trip to Mérida: A few days after Christmas, my family and I took a road trip to Mérida in the state of Yucatan. This was really fun, except my little brother started to get on my nerves after 5 hours in the car together. We stayed at a nice hotel where I slept the best I have since arriving. The beds were incredibly comfortable. One thing I noticed was that this hotel did not have a copy of The Bible like hotels in the States. That struck me as odd seeing as how México is a predominantly Catholic nation. I also had the chance to visit Trevor from Pennsylvania and Kevin from Canada, or as we like to say, America Junior. We tease him so much, because all the Mexicans think that he is an American. We walked around the Historic city of Mérida for a few hours, which was lots of fun. We were only there for 2 days, but I enjoyed myself.

New Years 2005: This was probably the most fun day of the holidays. I ate with my family at 11. At 12 we all ate 12 uvas, or grapes, and had to make 12 wishes. Then at 2ish I went to Kathrin and Ana Paula´s house (they are now sisters). We sat and conversed a bit with her family. Her Mom, Betty, a very sweet woman, talks FAST! But I understand every word. Then at around 3:30 we went to the beach, and observed a typical Brazilian tradition. We jumped over 12 waves for good luck in the New Year. We looked to our left and there was a man swimming……naked. It was pretty gross. But before we went to the beach, we went to the beach of one of my Rotarian fathers, Isaac. He served us champagne as a toast. I don't like champagne too much. Maybe it was just cheap. My pallet is too refined for cheap champagne, I need the $900 US bottles! Just Kidding! Chinga! No way would I pay that much for champagne. I got home to the house at about 7 in the morning. But I had permission to be out that late. It was great!!!!!

There are a few other points that I'd like to cover. I don't know if I'll be in this house until later this month or until April. Nor do we have any idea if we will be transferring schools. I hope so, because this school we are in is terrible. ALSO!!!!! We have a new exchange student, her name is Alev. She is from Turkey. She's a sweet girl. She transferred from the state of Tabasco to Cozumel. But she is part of the club of Cancún. It's a long complicated story, so all I'm saying is that we have a new exchange student!!!! But she was here for 2 weeks before we got to see here. That's one thing I don't care for is that we are kept in the dark about a lot of things. And, that we don't travel. I'm halfway through my year and I haven't been to half the places I'd like to go. But that will change fairly soon! I hope. One quick note, Bird passed away on the 23rd. It was a shame. I hate when animals die. I don't think he was ever meant to be caged. But he's in Birdy Heaven now!

With the new year approaching, and my time here growing shorter and shorter, I just want to take the chance to wish everyone a wonderful new year. Many thanks to my Family and friends who support me….I'll be home in 5 months!!!! To Rotary, District 6970, as well as 4200 here in México. A special thanks to Ken Weiss, your email really made me feel good. And to my friends at FBHS c/o 2005, GOOD LUCK!!!!! And ya'll better not forget about me!!!! Feliz Año Nuevo a todos!!!!!!!!

Chao,

Danny

January 25 Journal

Hey ya'll!!! I've been here for 5 and a half months now, and I have come to love México and all IT has to offer. The Second of February marks my 6 month anniversary here in México. I have to say, that Rotary hit the nail on the head saying that this would be an "emotional rollercoaster".

I haven't been up to much. I went to Cancún again a few weeks ago. It was ok. We are expecting 2 new exchanges in February in the state. A boy from Australia who will live in Cancún, and a girl from Argentina who will live in Playa Del Carmen. We have a conference planned for the 12th of Feb. Every District in the Republic will be in Cancún for this conference. We, as the exchange students of Quintana Roo (pronounced Row), have to make a short presentation for the others. That should be fun!!!!!! A bit nerve wracking, but fun. Other than that, nothing much has been going on.

I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in my host district. We have not traveled as much as they had promised in the beginning, and it gets kind of boring! I have been reading the journals of the other exchange students, and I have to say I am somewhat jealous of all the traveling opportunities that the others have. I am very happy here, don't get me wrong, just disappointed. But I don't think I am disappointed in my exchange. At times, yes. I sometimes wish México had not been chosen for me. But then I realize, that I am the only one here in México....and the first long term student from our district to come. Also, that I have learned so much and I also feel as though I have changed.

I have learned much about myself and my personality has modified quite a bit. I've learned to hold my tongue in certain situations. (Although at the beginning I didn't have the vocabulary to always speak my mind.) I also have learned that you can't always expect help from everyone, and you have to get out there and do things for yourself. My Spanish has improved, of course. I have come to appreciate what I have in the States. I took so many things for granted before that now I crave. I look at my family differently now. I will be on my own in a few years, and I am STARTING to accept the fact that I can't expect my mom to be there to hold my hand all the time......but I'll always be a mama's boy!!! Honestly, I miss the US so much. But I want to finish my year here. No doubt about that, but I would never live here long term again.

I have had a great half year here. But it has not been the best year of my life! This exchange has been more of a challenge, and my own personal journey to discover myself. I hope that the prospective outbounds read these journals because I have some advice. For some of you, your exchange year will be the best year of your life!!!! For others not the best. And yet for some, the fastest, most winding, dizzying, disorientating, "emotional roller coaster ride" that you will ever take!!!!! Take it from me! It's not a stroll through America!!!!!! It will be difficult. For some more than others. Don't ever doubt yourself, always say, "I can", or "Sí se puede". Don't ever have regrets and always go for your goals. That's what I did. I wanted this so bad! Al knows! I wouldn't change much (just some of the ways my host district functions). But other than that, nothing. I have met some of the greatest people I know here! It's been amazing.

I leave ya'll now, hoping I didn't scare anyone off!!!!! OK! I love all ya'll in the states!!!!!! take care, and until next time!!!

Nos Vemos!!!!!!

Paz para mi, Paz para tí, paz para todo lo que estamos aquí!

Danny

February 18 Journal

It has been a while since the last time I wrote. I hope everyone is well. Things are going great here!!!!!! I am really loving it!!!! There are still the times where I am bored out of my mind. But I have started enjoying my boredom. Whether I am watching Animal Planet en Español, or just going for walks around my colony. It's great.

We had our first conference on a national level last weekend in Cancún. It was really fun. On Friday we went to a place called Xcaret (ish-karèt). It's this big park with animals, shows, and just a lot of culture. I actually saw my first manatee ever here. Every one was like, "you live in Florida and you have never seen a manatee before?????" And the truth is, no. So that was pretty cool for me!!!! Then at the end of everything, we went to a show. It was a history of Mexico. It started with the Mayas, then the Spanish conquest, and then all the way through each era and region of Mexico. At the end, they sang "Mèxico en la Piel" which is one of the most gorgeous, and patriotic songs about Mexico by Luìs Miguel. They brought out flags from almost every country in the world while they were singing. It was very special for us exchange students, and I even started to cry. It was by far one of the best things I have done here in Mexico.

The next day, we went to a local university with all the exchange students from Mexico, minus 2 districts from Veracruz (whom we have already met) and Chihuahua. There weren't that many Americans like I had expected! But that's all good!!!!!!! We had fun any way. I am the only Floridian here in Mexico that we know of. So that's pretty cool! And the Aussies have just arrived. We have 2 new Brazilians, 3 Aussies, and an Argentinian. There is a really funny story about me and Sarah Lines from Australia that I just have to tell ya'll!!!!!

Sarah had a friend that was looking for information about Rotary exchanges in Mexico about 6 months ago. And her friend happened to find my journal on this website. So, Sarah knew me even before I knew her. And apparently a toast was made to me before she left at her going away party. Isn't that awesome!!!! I am a celebrity in Australia!!!!!!! How cool is that!!!! I would like to take this opportunity to say hi to Sarah Lines and her mom, who wanted to email me, but was unable to!!!! HI!!!!

OK! So after the day in the conference, we went to a water park in Cancún, which was fun!!!!! I got the crap burnt out of my skin!!!!! It was horrible!!!!! But I had fun!!!!!!!! Then we went to COCOBONGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We had rented this night club for 3 hours, and had so much fun!!!!! We danced on the bar, the tables, all over the place, all under the watchful eye of Rotary! They even presented a few shows that night. Spiderman vs. The Green Goblin, Shania Twain, Michael Jackson, and Britney Spears! It was great!!!!

OK!!!!! I HAVE GOTTEN BETTER WITH THE WHOLE PICTURE THING, THE ONLY PROBLEM IS THAT I DON'T HAVE A PHOTO SHOP PROGRAM AVAILABLE TO ME. SO AS SOON AS I FIND ONE, PICS WILL COME!!!!! MANY!!!!

After we got back, I found myself tired out of my mind. We didn't have school Monday or Tuesday, because CARNAVAL was in town!!! Sunday and Tuesday nights we had "pasayos" or parades! Kat danced again. And we had BRASILEIROS!!!!! I got my Picture taken with 3 dancers, scantily clad, and it was so fun!!!! (Pics of this will DEFINITIVELY be sent!!!) That was amazing.

On Thursday I think I did the best deed of my life. We went to a Royal Caribbean sponsored mission for the Starkey Hearing Foundation as translators for the doctors. We helped explain how to use the hearing aids to the locals, and they were all so grateful. Some of the children who came were hearing for the first time in their lives. I will always remember this one boy, Gustavo Angel, he was about 2 or 3 years old. When they turned the hearing aids, his eyes watered, and he started getting dizzy, but he had the biggest smile on his face. His mother was crying, the doctors were crying, I was crying. He was trying to mimic the words with his mouth but he made no sound. Someone had told me if you put their hand on your neck so they can feel the vibration, that that will work. So I did that and said mamá, he repeated me. It was amazing and so much fun. I will never forget that day. I will have pictures of that too. Thank you Starkey Hearing Foundation for a wonderful day and an eye opening experience. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Well, I have to go. I will search for a computer with the photo shop program so that I can send a bunch!!!!!!

Los dejo aqui.

Hasta la proxicma vez,

Daní

March 24 Journal

As the time has flown by, I can hardly believe that I have less than 3 months left in Mexico... THREE!!!!! I still remember the first day, when I stepped on that plane, and arrived to the unknown. Spanish has invaded my brain. I find it difficult to speak English lately. But I manage!

OK Sue!!!! Here's your "honorable mention"! My Aunt and Uncle just left last Saturday, after being here in Cozumel for a week. I loved having visitors, although it was a bit strange sharing my new way of life with people who really don't know me here in Mexico. I don't know if I have changed, you'd have to ask Sue or Mark! We did lots of cool things; we went to playa to visit Sarah and shop, we visited the ruins on Cozumel, and we were just lazy at the resort as well. We bought a day pass, but it ended up "being good" for the week. No one ever questioned me. At the hotel, I got to ride a jet ski, which was really fun!!!!! We went to Chankanaab State Park as well, which was so cool because there seemed to be more fish than ever before. The day they had to leave I felt like crap. It was so sad for me! But I will be home soon, and we will be on the phone twice a week like always (they live in the great state of Rhode Island). So I have spent the past few days pigging out on the food they brought me!!!!! Spaghettios, Peanut Butter, Marshmallow Fluff, and Goldfish Crackers!!! I've been in heaven!!!!!! I miss that now.

Kat and Ana, my two best friends, have left on a Mission with the Church. Neither one of them is religious, but they decided to go and see what it is like. So I am here with out my support group, and it has been very depressing, but I am coping. I met a Romanian woman, named Olivia, who works with teenagers here in Cozumel. She has lived in the states previously so she speaks English, as well as Romanian, Italian, Spanish, and a handful of other languages. She works also at Chankanaab with the SNUBA program. This is basically a high-breed mix of scuba and snorkel. You have the mask, weights, and a regulator, but you are hooked up to a flotation device containing the air tank. It was so cool! I saw so many different things at the bottom of the sea that I have never seen from the top. Crazy looking fish were swimming all around me, and I even almost collided with a flounder. It was so much fun!

We had a trip planned to view the equinox at Chichen Itza last Saturday, but it got cancelled the day before!!! These things happen to us all the time. There was even talk about us not having the Rotary end of the year tour. If that were to happen, they would have to deal with about 65 unhappy foreign teenagers.....not fun!!!! But rumor has it that the trip will happen. But you never know about things. Things can change at the drop of a dime!! Te lo juro (that means "I swear"!!!!) They told us that they had trouble organizing the trip to Chichen. It's just not fair to build us up, and then let us down. But anywho, after the big trip, I only have a month left here; scary but exciting at the same time.

Unfortunately, I am losing a good friend and ally here in Mexico, Sarah. She has been very depressed lately and just decided that it is time to go home. She won't go on the Big Trip with us, because she would rather spend the money on college, which is totally reasonable. But when does she go home???? MY BIRTHDAY!!!!! April 18th!!!! I am so sad!! But we can always visit each other in the states!!!!!!

To all the future exchangers, as I have totally forgotten to mention, FELICIDADES!!!!! If any of you would like any information at all, please email me, especially those of you going to Spanish speaking countries. Although, Jackie and Jen can give you two better info about the countries themselves, you can feel free to practice your Spanish with me. I FEEL LEFT OUT!!! Mike, it's not fair, we don't get to "tutor" anyone about Mexico and Poland!!!!! To any Future exchangers (after this next year), COME TO MEXICO AND GO TO POLAND! They are great countries and they rock!

That's about it for now. I will keep you all updated on any further developments in the Big Trip.

Until Next time!!!!!!

Danny

May 10 Journal

Wow! I can’t believe that it is all coming to an end. In one week I will be back in the Florida. Back to the normal routine, back to my family and friends; I guess, back to reality.

I just arrived from the end of the year trip to central México. It was great. Although all the tours we had were not all that interesting, it was marvelous to be with all the other exchangers! We really did bond in the 3 weeks we had together! I got to know each of the 64 other exchange students by name and also a bit about each one! But let me tell you guys a bit about the tour.

We left Cancún for Villahermosa on the 18th of April (my birthday). On the way there, everyone surprised me with cake. We ate about 3. One of which was a brigadeiro cake made by minha menina do Brasil Ana Paula. I had so many wishes to vomit by the end of the trip. From Villahermosa we set off to Veracruz. The city smelt horrible and it was not very pretty. From there, we went to Puebla (gorgeous), Mexico, and The Federal District. We were actually allowed to leave the hotel at night in Mexico city! It was crazy! We were all scared of muggers and such, but we all did alright. Then it was off to Querétaro, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Morelia, and many other cities I can’t remember the names of. Honestly, Mexico is beautiful!!! Although the bus broke down twice (once in the middle of nowhere!), it was all good! Although, the bus drivers were weren’t the smartest people in the world!!! They took us up north then down through Mexico City and Puebla to get top the Rotary Conference in Puerto Escondido instead of going the costal route, which would have cut the 25 hour ride in half!!!! Then we arrived to the conference!!!

The conference was held in Puerto Escondido, a wonderful Pacific side beach town of about 15 thousand inhabitants! SMALL!!!! It was my first time ever in the pacific, and it kicked my but. I still have sand in the underwear I wore that night! I think I’ll through them away! Or I could just put them on my blazer and write “My first time in the Pacific!” Just kidding!!! I left Puerto on the 8th at 3:30 am. I got to Cozumel the following day at 7:00 am and passed right out. But the hardest thing about the conference was saying goodbye! It hit me that night that I wouldn’t be seeing many of these people again in my life! I had made some good friends, and as I said goodbye, the tears flowed down my face as though I was experiencing a monsoon. I made close friendships with people from Australia, Germany, Japan, Thailand, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Hungary, The States and Canada. My favourite would have to be Chart Chai from Thailand. He insisted on speaking English with me and was a good friend. When I left that morning at 3:30 he balled his eyes out and almost passed out! He told me in his adorable broken English, “Yu my best friend Danny, I love you so much, don’t go now. I take you to Thailand in suitcase!!!” They literally had to sit him down and hold him back from chasing the bus when I left. It was so bittersweet. A special shout out to Chart Chai who will always be in my heart. You so awesome Chart Chai!!!! “Rosemary”….His favorite song Evil, by who knows who. He can dance like the puppet!!!

All in all, looking back on my exchange I don’t think I would change much! I have learned Spanish…… Mastered the tenses and there are few words that leave me dumbfound; Made incredible friendships, and given a piece of me to so many people from all over the world. I am ready to come home. But I don’t want to!!!!! I have been told that many exchangers find the most difficult part of their year is returning home! And I know that this will be the case with me! To all my exchange friends who were with me in this district…….. “gracias x ser mis amigos, y los llevaré en mi corazón para siempre. No los voy a olvidar! Uds. Me han dado risa, sus corazones, y mucho mas. Uds. Son mi vida. Que nunca me olviden, porque nunca los olvidare! Muchos besos y abrazos para uds. Y si algún día están en EUA, avísame y vamos a festejar!!!!! Sale?? Besos!”

Cozumel will always be in my heart. Everyone I have encountered along this journey will be there as well. I will never forget the faces nor the words of everyone I have met. It is strange knowing someone in another language. But I know all my friends perfectly…in Spanish!

So I leave you now. My time is almost over! So much is running through my head that it makes me sick….literally! (osh) I will write my final journal in the states. To my Rotary gang, enjoy the time you have, because it will leave you behind if you allow it! And all the future exchangers, live your life in whichever country to the fullest. The time Flies!!!!!!!! I have changed so much and learned even more. It just doesn’t seem real that it is ending!

Mucho amor, besos y abrazos; Latino en corazón,

Daní