Titi, Outbound to Austria

Okay, so it's been about 5 months since I wrote my last journal and only because I've been so busy. Through the last couple months, I have been through such an emotional roller-coaster.. Here are some of the things I experienced and think you, as a future exchange student, should know.

Before I start, I would like to say that all of these feelings are normal and don't take away from all the incredible experiences and people I've been exposed to. These cons don't even compare to all the positives of being an exchange student. I'm just putting this out there so that if you are an exchange student sometime in the future, you can know that you are not the only one who has gone or is going through these feelings and you will get through this.

No one tells you the difficulties of being abroad.

No one tells you about the times where you just feel like giving up because you feel lonely.

No one tells you about how much you'll miss your family.

You really won't understand what being an exchange student is like UNTIL you experience it for yourself.

Unexpectedly, I wasn't very homesick during the holidays.. I'm not sure why and I wasn't expecting it but I really did my best to embrace the new Christmas traditions that were very VERY interesting..

**TIP #1: Sit down and ask one of your Host PARENTS about the traditions. This will show them that you're actually interested.

I participated in a Christmas caroling charity and we went around Ried (where I live) for around 4 hours and sang a song in German and then people would donate. It was so amazing seeing how generous people are here! In the U.S., when I've raised money for charities, I would usually get a couple dollars from whoever would buy whatever I was selling. Here in Ried, the average a person would give was 20-80 Euros. It was seriously one of the most impacting things I've been able to experience here!

After Christmas came New Years and I spent it in Berlin, Germany! The fireworks were beautiful and I met a lot of people and was introduced to new traditions.

On the 6th of January I changed host families. I went from a 5 person family to a 3 person family. And instead of having older host siblings, I am now the older sister. My little host sister is exactly 10 years and 2 months younger than me and her name is Valentina as well. As different and challenging as it may be, I feel like being 6 months into my exchange, I have already gained so much more confidence and face my problems head on.

Even though it's different and at times challenging to have a little sister, it's also very rewarding. For example: one of the first nights I was here (with my new family), my (host) mom asked me if I could read to my little sister and honestly I felt like this wasn't going to end well. I thought they were treating me like a nanny but now I try to read read to her as much as possible.. It's so awesome to read a book and understand it or actually be able to read it to where SHE can understand it. And it's also very helpful to have a little sister around because she's going to teach you a lot of words and they look up to you. She copies almost everything I do. It's sweet and it's amazing seeing the impact that you have on someone!

As far as activities, I go to the gym about 5 days a week. For me, one of the things that scarred me the most was the whole GAINING WEIGHT part of exchange and it will happen. When I start realizing that i'm not eating the best foods or not feeling too good about myself, I start to change things up. I eat salads and meats.. Sometimes pasta because it's my favorite food and I go to the gym and work out hard. It's not a that big a deal for some people but I just like to keep it under control.

I've also started ballet. We just did a show on Saturday and Sunday and I played an OberOsterreiche Puppe which is an Upper Austrian Doll. I've gotten to know a lot of people and made more friends!

-Every Monday, I have Cello in the music school that I conveniently live right next door to. Then I go to the gym.

-Every Tuesday, I go to the gym before school, I have 2 hours of singing classes at school where I am learning to sing classical music and then go to Rotary meetings which I LOVE going to!

-Every Wednesday I have ballet.

-Every Thursday I go to the gym and end up doing some sort of activity with my host family.

-Every Friday I have 2 hourse of choir in school and usually go to the gym afterwards.

Moving on to the more fun parts of exchange, FERIEN!!!!!

Ferien are your vacations from school or your days off. Today, I just came back from a week of skiing in Gastein. It was so much fun and at first a little stressful but I survived. I took two days of skiing classes with a teacher and payed for four days worth of skiing tickets. My host parents graciously payed for the hotel and the food and all things of that nature. PLEASE REMEMBER TO SAY THANK YOU. Honestly, after spending their money on you and hoping that you had a good time, the least you can do is put on a smile, be helpful in every way possible and show them how grateful you are by also saying thank you. It's something a lot of exchange students forget to do.

So, just a quick back track, for Christmas, I went on a Rotary trip to Salzburg so I got to see the beautiful Christmas Market. I also visited my home city's Christmas Market and my host family took me to the market in Linz before going to watch a Christmas orchestra concert. I later went to visit my host sister in Vienna so I also got to see the Christmas market there.

I think before coming on exchange, the part I was most scared of (emotionally) was how I would feel not being with my family during the holidays. I missed my family but I focused more on what gifts to get my host family and asked loads of questions on what the traditions were like. And the Austrian Christmas traditions are SO interesting and fun. I will definitely be implementing them into my Christmas next year.

New Years I actually spent in Berlin. One thing I was told is that in Austria, on New Years Eve, when the clock strikes twelve, everywhere around Austria, on the radio or live, Austrians will dance the Walz into the New Year.

Also, early in February, I ended up doing my introduction presentation to my Rotary club. It was only photos and a video and I spoke and explained all the pictures. I opened my presentation by introducing myself and saying how happy I was to be in Ried and how thankful I was to Rotary because of how welcomed I felt. I've been told all the Rotarians loved it and were very happy that I was spending my year with them.

On another note, one of the Rotarians in my club recently became a widower and it just so happens that he is my next door neighbor. I was just getting home from a school choir trip and my family had gone to one of our neighbors house as a play date for my little host sister. Before getting home, I decided to go back into town and buy some flowers and ring this Rotarians doorbell. He answered the door and I gave him my condolences and told him that I just wanted to see how he was doing. He invited me into his home and we sat and talked for about an hour. He told me of his childhood and about his kids and it was just so refreshing to have a conversation and listen to someone of another generation and see him smiling and laughing. It was really beautiful. I only say this because at first, I was debating whether I should actually go up to him or not; whether it was an invasion of privacy; whether he was going to be cold or not; whether it was going to be awkward or not... In the end, it really paid off. Everytime we see each other whether he's going on his daily walk through town or I'm getting home from school, we greet each other and have a nice conversation. All in all, it's nice to be nice.

I think that concludes most of what I've been up to for these first two months of 2018..

Till next time,

Bis später alligator:)

Valentina

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