Leanza, outbound to Czech Republica

Ahoj :)

I really don't know where to begin… So much happens in a month. It's crazy because it feels like I've only been here for one month but enough has happened to fill 6 months worth of time.

I guess I can begin with my new host family. I really love it here. My family speaks only Czech with me unless I really don't understand something, then they will try to tell me in English, so that's very beneficial. I have two younger brothers and a sister my age. My sister went on exchange last year to Ecuador and when she found out I was on exchange here, she asked her parents if I could move in even though I had never met any of them.

Saying that my parents are generous is an understatement. They changed their extra room/office into a room for me, they are constantly caring for me, they have taken me to Prague, and include me in all the family gatherings. I love my extended family as well, my aunts and uncles and cousins. I am especially fond of my grandmothers here. They are very patient and calm, yet eager to talk with me even though they don't speak any English and know we will have a few language problems. My host mom is very big on cleaning, so we all do chores everyday. 

We are also expected to constantly keep our room cleaned, which I actually have managed to do the majority of the time. (My parents in the U.S. won't believe this when they are reading it, hahaha.) I have formed a really close relationship with my four year old brother, Lukáš, even though I hardly ever understand anything he says. He calls me Leo most of the time and it's so cute. I have never been one for nicknames, but I am definitely fond of this one. I don't ever sleep in on the weekends because if my little brother is awake, the whole house is awake, hahaha. My family is insanely loud, always yelling and laughing, and I love it. The atmosphere here is everything I had hoped for. I feel so fortunate to have a big family and especially this family.

As I said, I went to Prague with my family. We went for one night and even though I didn't see it during the day, Prague at night is beautiful! I also went to Dresden, Germany last week with my school. Something really cool about going on exchange to Europe, you most likely will get an opportunity to go to another country with your school. It's totally normal and insanely cheap. I paid a little over 20 USD to go to Dresden for one day. This included the bus fair and museum we went to. It was the most fun trip I have been on. I have made some really good friends, and I really enjoyed the trip and hanging out with them. It was great. This coming weekend I will be in Prague again, this time with Rotary and other exchange students for a district meeting. We will have the opportunity to go to the Christmas markets there. I'm really excited, I love all of the Christmas markets here in Czech Republic.

Christmas here is more of a month long celebration. I love it. Instead of stockings, my family has these bags for every day of December and each morning we open them as a family and there is a piece of candy for each of us. We also have four candles at the dining room table, and you light one for each week of December while you eat. So right now when we eat, we light two of them. There are Christmas markets all through the month of December, they have many handmade things for loved ones, along with delicious traditional Czech food. There is also a special celebration I just experienced last weekend. It is for little kids. Saint Mikuláš (dressed like a Bishop) comes to the house with a Devil and an Angel at his side. It is usually other members of the community dressed up (maybe teenagers or young adults). They question the children on if they have had good behavior during the year. It is common for kids to cry when this happens because they are so scared by the Devil. My brother and little cousin were bawling their eyes out. But in the end they get candy and treats. I thought it was really cool.

My favorite moment since my last entry: November 21st. It was the first snowfall. My family and I had been cleaning and preparing food all day for a family gathering at our house and right after I finished getting ready, I heard my host dad call me. I went to the kitchen and looked out the window and it was the most beautiful snowfall. My dad lives in New York so I have seen snow before, but this was so different for some reason. It felt like Christmas to me. Then as more snow began to fall, my family showed up and the rest of the night I was in the best mood. I'm always really happy with surrounded by my family here, and the snow just made it better. It doesn't snow every day, but when it does, for some reason I am taken back to that day and I am in such a great mood. I was scared of the cold weather, coming from Florida, but oddly enough it puts me in such a happy and content mood.

Something new I've learned about Czech Republic: people here repeat clothes very often. People wear the same shirt two or three days in a row then again a few days later. It's not just some people, both of my host families have done this, as well as everyone I know in school basically. This is perfect for exchange students because we obviously can't bring our whole closet with us. So I never feel uncomfortable or out of place repeating outfits after a few days. It's something about this culture I really enjoy. They buy fewer things that they really enjoy wearing, and can wear them more often.

Advice for future exchange students: making friends is really difficult here. It's the culture, they are more introverted, but don't give up. Always smile, always offer to hangout. Yes, it is awkward at first. I had to hangout with a few different people until I found my best friends here. Plus, I was the one who had to message them first, talk to them first, and ask them to hangout first. I love them though, and waiting to become close with them was totally worth it.

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