Grace, Outbound to Croatia

Long time no blog…oops!

6 months and 7 days in…

How’s life?

Things have certainly slowed down on exchange. Winter, currently wrapping up, left the Old City oddly quiet, and lacking many tourists. School remains painfully boring, but I continue to numb the pain via coffee after coffee with friends. I grow closer and closer with my classmates every day and the thought of leaving them looms on the horizon threatening to send me into a bout of tears daily. I joined a swim club afterschool as a way to stay in shape, and kill some time. On Fridays instead of swimming we go to the GYM…a true first for me.

And now the highlights of past 4ish months…

Austria, Christmas, & New Years

10ish days before Christmas the other exchange students and I traveled to Salzburg, Austria for a snowy, wonderful weekend with the Austrian exchange students. My countdown for the trip began ages ago. Expectations of border crossing, exchange student reunions, and true cold weather grew in my head. The weekend proved everything I dreamed of and more. I reunited with 2 Floridians, but came back with at least 10 more wonderful friends (Austria’s’ large Inbound group contrasted wonderfully with our tight knit, lovable 12 in Croatia). Given copious free time, I made many great connections, walked many streets, and bought (one too) many souvenirs. The most wonderful part, however, came in the form of a heavy snowfall just 2 or so hours before we left…although I see snow almost every year, standing in Europe with a view of the mountains, surrounded by people I shared a fantastic weekend with gave the weather an especially magical touch. The trip, forever treasured in my memory, ended far too soon, and I admit, a few tears were shed on the scenic train ride home.

Following a tough first act…Christmas proved somewhat difficult. I come from a family of many loud, crazy cousins…this year, I shared a large Christmas lunch with only adults. Without stockings on the mantle or presents underneath the tree, loneliness can only begin to describe my holiday, and in all honesty I felt quite relieved as it passed. The experience surely did not fulfill imagination, but I came out of it with a lesson in making your own happiness. I baked extra sweet Christmas cookies for the class, leaving them amped up on sugar and nursing aching stomachs, and spent Christmas Eve and the second half of Christmas Day with friends (Christmas here felt a lot more social than Christmas back home…this I enjoyed…sorry mom (; ).

Winter break for my school lasted forever and a day. At home, nearly 25 days off of school existed only in my dreams, however the real deal here felt like torture! Ideas for daily entertainment escaped me, and I saw my friends every few days or so, but mostly spent the time alone. The unproductive, solo winter break did not prove completely useless however. After not seeing most of my friends since the end of school, coming together for New Years Eve made for a fantastic night. The Old City sported large, glowing “2018” signs for nearly a month, and when the big day finally arrived we kicked it off with a midnight fireworks display (hopefully setting a precedent for a bright new year).

New Host Family

The biggest change since my last blog came in the form of a new host family. While most students change families one or two times, I originally had no plans to. Luckily and surprisingly for me, circumstances changed. My first host family had no children aside from myself, now I have two younger sisters…just like home! The three of us all go to different schools, but see each other for meals and spend the evenings working our way through the entirety of Netflix. Not only did I switch families, I also switched locations and routines. I now live in a suburb call Zupa, located about 15 or so minutes from the Old Town. This means longer bus rides, which I don’t mind, and earlier mornings, which I ESPECIALLY mind. I have reached the conclusion that no human should need to wake up before at least 7:30…or at least I shouldn’t.

February Fun

Every month on exchange brings new experiences, but January felt like torture. However, the long dreary month finally ended and gave way to a fantastic February. I spent every weekend either busy with friends, or traveling and could not have enjoyed it more.

The first weekend took place at home, where I celebrated one of my best friend’s birthdays. We talked up the big day for weeks, and when it finally arrived we could not have asked for more. Almost all of my friends came together and we spent the evening laughing, dancing, and eating cheesecake.

The next weekend I traveled to Zagreb, where I spent Saturday hanging out around town with some exchange students, and on Sunday our entire group traveled to Rijeka, another city, for Maskare. Maskare, a big parade / carnival to mark the end of winter (although it is still cold!!), happens throughout the country and reminds me a great deal of Halloween meets Gasparilla (celebrated in Tampa, FL). We choose Rijeka as our destination to celebrate, because it houses the biggest festivities in all of the country! The weather turned out for us, and we spent the sunny but chilly day eating classic carnival food and watching a long but entertaining parade.

The third and best weekend of the month I traveled to Amsterdam for a reunion with my dad. Getting there took many hours and a great deal of energy, but it all payed off as I stepped through baggage claim and saw him for the first time in nearly 5 months. We walked everywhere there was to walk, saw everything there was to see…and ate enough as well. I loved the look and atmosphere of the city so much, and already have hopes to return. I especially enjoyed seeing everyone on bikes, although it made me a big nostalgic for my beach cruiser back home. I tried new things, visited countless museums, and spent time with family…but the best part of all was, of course, the hotel bed (on our Rotary trips we stay in hostels..which always treat us very nicely, but could never compare to the Hilton).

Two other awesome things happened this month. For one week or so the Game of Thrones cast came to Dubrovnik and filmed their final season in Kings Landing!! Despite many hours spent sitting outside designated filming areas…no famous people crossed my path, oh well at least the security guards can’t ever forget me! A happy ending to the month fell from the sky for the last few days, snow! Although none stuck to the ground or caused any snow days, it still proved a rare, wonderful sight!

The Hard Stuff

Homesickness hit me pretty soon after arriving in Croatia. I spoke briefly about it in my past blog, and not much changed. I expected some relief, or at least a break, sooner or later, but have had no such thing. My wealth of free time often leaves my mind wandering and wondering…what is my family up to? Do my friends miss me like I miss them? When oh when will I have Chick Fil A nuggets again? Of course each exchange gifts us with unique ups and downs, surely others have it worse or better. However I never expected to feel the way I do about my exchange. The truth (in my case) about homesickness unfortunately seems that it plans to impact me the whole 10 months, somedays in the worst ways and others only minimally. As negative as it all sounds I don’t let these feelings hold me back. I don’t wallow in my sad feelings and memories, no matter how badly I want to, I force myself out of the house to see friends or watch a sunset. It works for me from time to time, but certainly not always. The important thing to remember remains that I don’t want to look back on my exchange and see I spent all of my time missing home AND in my room, I have to make memories while I still have the chance. I get by with the help of all my wonderful friends here, and my supportive parents and best friends at home. It has made me a much stronger person and I know one day it will all pay off.

Cats also help

Until Next Time

Although based on my track record thus far you probably think I will never blog again, I hope to add at least 2 more posts before this crazy ride ends. Sending many thanks to all those who deserve it and a late Happy Holidays to anyone who reads this.

Catch ya on the flip side


Click HERE to read more about Grace and all her blogs