Leanza, outbound to Czech Republic

Dobrý den,

Today it has been exactly one month since I left from the United States to the Czech Republic.

I can't really find proper words to write what I have felt in this one month. I could give you 33 adjectives and it wouldn't be enough.

Before I left, I thought I was well prepared mentally for this journey. I am so thankful for the orientations RYE Florida provided, because being here I have noticed not everyone from around the world is prepared as well before they leave. That being said, there are still not enough workshops or lectures or stories from Rotex that will prepare you fully. I did not realize the intensity of this exchange until I was here. This is because no one has ever been in your exact same position, no one can prepare you for YOUR exchange. Every single one is different and unique in their own way.

Rotary has always said this is not a vacation, and I knew this fully, but I want anyone considering exchange to not take that statement lightly. Would I ever reconsider knowing how truly challenging it would be now? Absolutely not. Today I am still struggling, but I feel the potential this year holds for me and I couldn't be more excited. Plus, it's not like this month has been terrible or anything. It's been amazing. I just wanted to break through the sugar coat trend many people post, I want you to know the truth. Everyone struggles on exchange. It is normal. It is worth it.

So that was pretty general to every exchange. This is about all the great things unique to my exchange:
- I live in Trutnov, Czech Republic. Technically right now I live with my host family 30 minutes north of that in Velká Úpa. My school, Rotary club, and main square are located in Trutnov. I live in the mountains of Czech Republic and it honestly feels like I'm in a movie. The scenery here is breathtaking. The pictures don't even do it justice, I am so fortunate to see it in person everyday.

- I am the only exchange student in my school and my entire city. Most people would think that's a negative point, as I did before I came (I was actually pretty upset about it) but there's so many good things to being the only exchange student. One, I am forced to not cling to the other exchange students. I am more approachable this way and will be integrated into the culture quicker because of this, I think. Two, I cannot be compared to anyone else. Since there is no one else, there is no better or worse, it's just me. Three, I really have to push myself if I want someone to talk to. Four, I am learning so much about myself. Being on my own, I am given so much time to think. I am learning my strengths, but also learning to acknowledge my weaknesses. And finally, I have learned that being alone does not mean I have to be lonely.

Before I came here I never went anywhere without being with someone, I didn't even go get a smoothie by myself. There is no way I would ever go eat a meal somewhere by myself, and now I am learning that it is not something to be ashamed of or scared of. If another exchange student were in my city I think we would always be going out together, and I think this of all the lessons was most important for me to learn. I could have never done this in Florida before now and this was only made possible for me because of the exchange I was given.

- The language is hard (who won't say that about learning a new language, haha). It's been a month and that scares me because I still am constantly frustrated with myself for not communicating better. But, I am starting to be able to hold basic conversations with people and that's exciting. Czech will be a really cool language to be fluent in.

- I joined a "Rugby" team they call it here, but it's American football. I'm on an all girl's team. It's really fun, and it's so much easier to make friends when you're not just sitting in the classroom.

- THE FOOD. Being completely honest, with the research I did on the country, I did not think I would like the food much. I love the food. There's a lot of similarities to food in the US, they have potatoes, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit but the meals are just prepared better. Everything here tastes so good. Of course they have traditional Czech foods too that are not common in the U.S. It's normal to have a garden, or if not you generally buy your fruit and vegetables locally. I can write a whole journal entry about the food and the culture that goes with it.

- Getting lost, I heard it happens on exchange... It didn't happen to me until this past weekend... On my 19th birthday :) I got on the wrong bus and had to search for someone who spoke English that could help me. I don't have a Czech number or anything so it was silly. I don't know, it's exchange and it was just another adventure.

Okay so my favorite moment since I've been here was: definitely the day I rode on the back of a motorcycle through the mountains of Czech Republic. It was beautiful weather, sunny and mid 70s. We drove through small villages and all through the winding roads of the mountains. I remember looking around and I couldn't stop smiling. I think it was an hour maybe (around two hours total if you count the ride back), and I know I was smiling the whole time. It was the first time it really hit me, wow I'm in Europe. I'm in the most beautiful place, on a motorcycle under the sun, breathtaking nature surrounding me. It sounds cheesy but it was so surreal for me.

Something new I learned about the Czech Republic since I've been here is: they have "house shoes." In every house you take off your shoes when you enter and are given a new pair of shoes to borrow for while you are in the person's home. You even have to bring house shoes to school, the majority of teenagers wear crocs in school, haha it was a surprise for me to see.

Advice for future exchange students: Force yourself to do things you're not comfortable with. I was so nervous for my first day at Rugby practice and I'm so thankful I did it. It's nerve racking to be the first to talk to students your age when you don't know anyone, and even if only one out of ten students become your friend that day, it's one more than you had. Maybe a goal could be for you to push yourself out of your comfort level everyday, or at least twice a week. Talk to someone new, join something new, ask to sit with people at lunch instead of sitting alone first, there's so many things you can do to push yourself. Trying new things is what exchange is all about :)

Okay I think this journal is long enough, sorry I wrote a novel.

I would like to end with thanking my parents and Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I really can't imagine being in college right now instead of finding myself here.

To see my home page and some photos click HERE