Outbounds 2001-2002

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Shelby Denmeade
Destination: Switzerland
Sponsor Club: Mandarin Rotary Club
School: Mandarin High School.

Shelby - Switzerland

September 6, 2001

On Saturday it will be 5 weeks. I can’t believe it. It feels like I have been away from my family for 5 weeks but not like I have been in Switzerland for that long. Did that make any sense? Right now I am just wrapping up language school. I went for 3 weeks and it helped some. I know enough to get my point across. I can understand if someone talks to me in real simple sentences. Monday I will start regular school. I went for 2 weeks when I first got here, then 3 weeks in language school. Now I get to go back..

Since I am in class with my host brother it was a lot easier to make friends because they were all expecting me. I go out and do things with them on the weekend and stuff. I don’t have Saturday school and I come home for lunch. Most days I have more than an hour for lunch. It takes me about 10 minutes to get to school. And guess what? I get to walk uphill to school both ways and in a couple months it will be in the snow.

Now food is another story. Most of it is great but it is definitely not American. I have eaten at Mickey D’s 3 times since I have been here. I just got a box from my parents with peanut butter and mac and cheese, gum, rice crispy treats, cookies, crackers and all kinds of stuff. I have already eaten about half of the peanut butter and I just got it today. Right now I am watching the TV show 7th heaven. It is really funny because it is in German and the lips move and nothing comes out. I think that is great.

Philip (a Swiss boy who was an exchange student in the USA last year) called me about the 3rd day I was here and told me all about Switzerland and school and everything I needed. He found out that we went to the same school and found me (he said that it wasn’t that hard, he just asked where the American girl was). Philip is real nice – he takes me out sometimes and introduces me to his friends and everything. He took me to see my first German movie which was even better then watching TV in German. I thought it was sooo funny I laughed the first 10 minutes. He is real cool and he treats me like a little sister. He pulls my hair and pushes me around and tells me to go back inside before I catch a cold. It is real funny to hear because people think we are siblings.

We just had our first Rotary weekend. They got together all of the exchange students and we stayed together all weekend. It was a lot of fun. We got to meet all of the others and make new friends and stuff. They took us to a cheese factory and taught us how to make cheese (fun fun). Then they took us to a school and had us eat and sleep in an auditorium . It was all wood floors and had a ton of chairs. They weren’t like movie theater chairs. The chairs moved. But we all had a good time. We have another one on November 3 or 4thI think. I don’t know where they are taking us. The one after that is in December and we are going to the Matterhorn and Zermont. They are taking us skiing for the weekend. I am sure it will be a lot of fun except for one thing. I don’t know how to ski. Oops.

The family here is pretty good. We all get along and have a good time. There are the three kids. Georg (17), Anna (12), and Philipp (10).I get along really well with all of them. I can’t talk to Philipp because I can’t form sentences in German and he can’t speak English. We spend a lot of time making faces at each other.

I think a month is enough time to have an idea of how the year might turn out. I have done pretty much everything to get started. I have been to school, language school, I have been out with all of the kids in my class so I know what the kids like to do.I have been with the other exchange students. And most importantly I know how to use the buses and trains. Ta-da!

October 21

So much has happened since the last time that I wrote. The topic of conversation at school for about 3 weeks was “I can’t believe about the attacks in the U.S.” I still kinda don’t believe it. I saw it happen on the news at school. It was about 2:24 in the afternoon here when it all happened. Our teacher wasn’t at school that day so we had a free period. (It is definitely not like in the states where if the teacher isn’t there then you have a sub. Here you just don’t have class.) My class was in the student lounge listening to the radio and heard about it 2 seconds after it started. We all ran to the library (where students can watch TV on their own little television) and watched it on TV. I went home and called my family and made sure everything was ok.

The next day at school a woman from the newspaper came and interviewed me. I was in the newspaper the 6th week I was here. How cool is that? Not the reason for being in the newspaper but just the fact that I was in the newspaper. I have also been on Swiss TV but I will tell about that later. But while all of this was going on everyone felt that they were obligated to talk to the “American Girl” and see how I was feeling about the whole situation. Everyone at school was really interested in the attacks, so I have told everyone in my school practically about my thoughts on this.

Anyway, back to happier thoughts. When I went back to school there was only 2 more weeks, then we had autumn vacation. School was pretty good because mostly in every class we were discussing America. In my History class we are studying American history, in English class it is American Literature. Not to mention that my history class and my math class are taught in English. It is so the students can learn English better. So I go to these classes and understand everything. The teachers always have me read aloud because they want the kids to hear “real English”. I do very well in these classes. The rest of my classes I just sit and look like I am following the lecture. These classes consist of pretty much all of them. Chemistry, Biology, Geography, French, Physics, and anything else that I left out. I still don’t know all of the classes that I take because I have so many. I have p.e. class. I taught them how to play “Sting”. They liked it a lot. Then I went on 4 weeks vacation and yesterday I went back to school. I think Switzerland needs to adopt the holiday of Thanksgiving because we have 9 weeks until we get out of school for Christmas vacation. I think they should have a holiday in the middle.

All of the pictures from the bottom are of my 4 week vacation. I spent the 4 weeks with 2 different families. One family had 2 little kids. Two boys. One was 3 and the other 1. They were real cute. This family took me to Germany and I saw the volcanoes. There are 3 pictures from there. One is of a volcano, one is of a castle on a volcano and the other is of the city right at the bottom of all of the volcanoes. The city is called Singen. Then the took me to Luzerne. There are 2 pictures from there. One is of the lake, and the other is from my hotel room of part of the city. It is a very pretty city with a lot of history.

While we were there we went to a museum. It is called the chaos house. (but in German of course) It is about all of the different modes of transportation. It was really cool. Then I moved to another family. They have 2 kids also. One boy and one girl. The girl is 9 and the boy 7. With this family they took me to their house in the mountains. There are 7 pictures from there. Some are of me in the snow for the first time that I can remember. If you look real hard at the one of me crouching there is a little snow man. My first. The rest are just of the surrounding mountains. 2 of the pictures with me in them with the scenic background were taken while we were hiking. I had a lot of fun while we were there. We stayed for a week and then we went back to the regular house. There I played with the kids a lot and we went and did things. We went ice skating and to the pool. (Indoor pool, thank God)

Two days while I was with them I went out with some of my friends that are also exchange students. Brooke is from New York, (the state, nichts da city) and Abbie is from Texas. Once we went to Basel. We went shopping and sight seeing. We all had a good time. The another time Brooke and I went to St. Gallen. We went to a Swiss fair. It is called the “Olma”. It is supposedly the most well known fair in Switzerland. We also went shopping. We do a lot of that. While I was shopping in Basel in bought a “handy”. For you Americans that don’t know what a handy is, it is a cell phone. It took me a while what everyone was talking about when they asked me ifI had a handy. I would say, “Well I have 2 handies. And I would hold up my hands and shake them” Then they explained to me what it was and I felt real stupid and said no I didn’t have one.

The biggest and most exciting trip of all was going to Wal-mart. Yes Wal-mart. Me and one of my friends Brooke have been wanting to go to Wal-mart so bad. Everything here closes at 6:30 at night. We want something that is open 24 hours a day. No such thing in Switzerland. Well I was talking to one of the families that I stayed with and she said that she shops at a place called Wal-mart. I just about cried I was so happy. The next day I told Brooke about it. She was so excited. She came back to the house with me and spent the night. The following day guess where we went. WAL-MART!!!!! Wal-mart is in Germany (which is 5 minutes from where I live) so we went and it was wonderful. There was Herbal Essences (which I bought) and Brooke bought marshmallows and goldfish. We had so much fun. We even took a picture of us in front of the Wal-mart. Definitely the highlight of my vacation!

This weekend me, Brooke, and Abbie are all throwing a Halloween party for all of the exchange students that are missing them back home. We are all going to take a friend from school with us so we can show them how Halloween is supposed to be. Next weekend I have a Rotary weekend. It is a weekend where all the exchange students get together. We are going to Geneva and somewhere else, I just don’t remember where. The weekend after that I am going to see the play Grease. Yes it will be in German but I have seen it so many times that it won’t matter. I will be sure to write again soon and let you know how everything went and tell you everything new that has happened. Talk to you later.

February 5

Wow! I can not believe things have gone by so fast. It is already the beginning of Feb. and I haven’t written since October. Sorry. Yes, we did throw a Halloween party. We all had a good time. Some exchange students and some Swiss were there. Everyone had a good time. Or so I think.

The following weekend after the Halloween party, was supposed to be a Rotary weekend. All of the exchange students get together and go places. We were supposed to go to Geneve. Guess who got the flu and couldn’t go. That’s right. Me. Let me tell you that the flu is not something you want to get when you are in a different country. When you want Advil or something similar, you can’t have it, because they don’t have those things here. Just pray that your host mom knows what she is doing. Because of the flu I didn’t get to go to Geneve with the rest of the exchange students. Instead I spent the whole weekend in bed. Sounds like fun huh.

The following weekend I changed host families. It was an early but welcomed change. I love my new host family. Love, love ,love them. My host mom is wonderful. She is from Italy so she speaks Italian. Not only does she speak Italian but she also speaks French and Spanish. What is probably the only language she doesn’t speak. Exactly. English. It is a good thing though right? It makes me learn German. She stays at home . My host dad works for a bank. I think it is some thing to do with stocks. I also have a 23 year old host sister. She still lives at home. We get along great. She also works for a bank. Also in the family are 2 dogs, 2 cats, 3 rabbits, and 5 or 6 guinea pigs. The house is a zoo. Literally. The rabbits run around the house free. No cage. I have my own room. It is pretty big, but the highlight of my room is the sink. I have a sink in my room. I thought it was weird at first but everything is a lot easier in the morning.

When I changed host families I also changed schools. I also love my new school everyone there is really nice. One set back though is that there are only girls at my school. Yes you can read, ONLY GIRLS. It is not as bad as it sounds. We all still see plenty of boys. My new schedule makes it so I don’t have school on Wednesday afternoon. It is so nice . We go until 12 and then we are out for the day. We don’t have school on Saturday which is a relief.

Thanksgiving was OK. We had chicken for dinner. I had my traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I made cheese and salsa. It was so good. We didn’t get out for Christmas until the Friday before. And the tree didn’t go up until the Sunday before. On Christmas eve the family came over and we all had dinner together. Then we opened our presents. It was like a free for all. Everyone just ran up to the tree and grabbed a present and opened it. There was no organization what so ever. I was shocked.

In December we had another Rotary weekend. It was held in Zermatt at the Matterhorn. For those of you who don’t know what the Matterhorn is, if you have ever seen a Paramount movie, it is the mountain at the beginning that has the stars go around it. Yea, I have been there. We all attempted what should have looked like skiing or snowboarding. Half way down I took off my snowboard and sat on it like a sled and went down.

For New Year’s Eve I went to Abbey’s house. We were planning to go to Zurich to watch fireworks, but we missed the train. So we took the next one and spent New Year’s on the train. It was so funny though that we didn’t mind.

We went back to school the first Thursday in January. The following Monday I didn’t go to school. My cousin came to visit me. It was so nice to see someone I know. He is going to school in Italy and stopped on his way there to see me. Once he got here I took him all over Switzerland. We went to Zurich, Bern (the capital of Switzerland), Lausanne, Geneve, Bellinzona, Locarno, and to a mountain range called the Säntis. I am pretty sure he had a good time. He left on that Friday. On Sunday I went ice skating on a lake. I have never been on a lake before when it is completely frozen. It was so cool. On the day I went there were 40,000 people there. It is a really big lake. Last time the lake was frozen was was about 15 years ago. I went back to school on Monday and only had to go for 2 more weeks. Then we had vacation. Guess why they had it. For skiing. The name of the vacation is skiing vacation. I think it sounds a little crazy, but if it gets me out of school all the better. I think Florida should start a beach vacation.

During the first week of vacation I went to visit my cousin in Italy. I took the train to Florence. It took about 8 hours. I would not suggest that you go by yourself for that long a period of time. Once I got there we never stopped doing things. I met all of his roommates. They are all very nice. He lives with 4 others. The first day we went to Siena. We saw the Plazzo Pubblico (a very big plaza), Il Duomo ( a huge church, very elaborately decorated), S. Domenico (a church with a beautiful view across a valley), and Torre Del Mangia (a big tower). Siena is a gorgeous city. We spent the entire day just walking around looking at things. The next day we stayed in Florence and went to Fiesole. In Florence I saw S. Maria Del Fiore (it is a huge church with a very big dome on it. it is the major attraction in Florence), S. Croce (a cathedral), Ponte Veecchio (a bridge, but when you stand on you don’t know you are on a bridge – it has houses on it), Fortezza Da Basso (a fortress), S. Lorenzo (another church with an unfinished façade), Piazzale Michelangelo (it is on a hill top with a panoramic view of Florence). In Fiesole we was old Roman ruins. There was an old theater and baths.

The third day I was there we went to the Rome vs. Florence soccer game. It was crazy. The Rome fans were in their own section of the stadium. The area that marked the end of their section were marked with hundreds of police officers. They all had their riot gear and everything. Along with the police officers were firemen. They were all in their fire gear and had the hoses and everything. There were even fire hydrants on the field. The final precaution was glass walls between the Rome fans and the Florence ones. You might think this is a little extreme but when the Rome fans started lighting fires and throwing them on the field it is useful to have the police, firemen, and the walls separating them and me. It was a really good game. They tied which I think was a good thing because I don’t know what would have happened had Rome won or lost. Either way I think the stadium would have been burned down.

When I was 2 and 3 I lived in Italy. Me and my sister were the only people in Italy with blonde hair. Not to mention that I had the biggest cheeks known to man. All of the old women loved to pinch my cheeks. I am proud to say I haven’t lost my touch. 13 years later I still get my cheeks pinched. There is a shoemaker that lives under my cousin and when I met him he pinched my cheeks and called me his little beauty. I was so shocked that he pinched my cheeks. Considering they aren’t as big as they used to be. I have lost all of the baby fat.

If you are a blonde girl I suggest that when you are in Italy you take a very big guy with you. Everyone stares and points and guys are not afraid to say what they think. It was really funny but a little scary at the same time. All in all Italy was a blast. I am glad that I got a chance to go. I will be going again in a few months. But I am not ashamed to say that I was a little happy to come back to Switzerland and all of its cleanliness. Italy is not the cleanest country in the world and Switzerland is spotless. When I took the train I could tell exactly when I left Switzerland and crossed the border into Italy.

The traveling isn’t over for me just yet. I should be going to school next week but I am leaving on Friday to take another trip. Me, Abbey, and Brooke are all going to Sweden. I am so excited. We are staying for a week in Stockholm. It is going to be a blast. I will write as soon as I get back to tell you all about it. I don’t have any of my pictures yet, but as soon as I get them I will be sure to send them.

June 10

It has been such a long time since the last time I have written.  The time has gone by so fast and it is almost over.  Since the last one I have done so much.  I went to Stockholm Sweden.  Brooke, Abbey, and I went for one week.  We had a blast.  We flew up there and as soon as we got there we were doing things.  We saw the entire city.  Just walking around and using the subway.  We saw where they do the Nobel prize for literature. We of course saw the night life.  For three days a Rotarian from the club took us around to all of the museums. We saw everything there is to see in a museum.  We saw the Vasa, which is a ship that sunk in the harbor before it even left.  It was too heavy on top so it just went over.  He also took us on a boat ride through the archipelago near Stockholm.  We got off and explored one of the islands.  It was soo pretty.  He also took us the the opera.  I had never been before and it was great.  We saw Carmen.  It was in French and translated to Swedish.  A lot of good that did me.  It was good just the same.  We  saw everything there was to see in Sweden.

The following weekend we had a Rotary weekend.  All the exchange students went to Engelberg.  It is a mountain.  We all went skiing.  Well, most of us went.  Me and a few others went ice skating.  The weekend was so much fun.  We went out in the town at night and there was a skI jump party going on.  This was right after Simone (dude from Switzerland) had just won 2 gold medals for jumping at the Olympics.  After the weekend was over we all went to a Rotex’s house and stayed there.  The next morning at 3 o’clock, we all left the house to go to a carnival/parade.  I don’t know how to explain it.  People get dressed up and there is music and stuff. It was a lot of fun.  After that I went home and slept for about 36 hours.

Then a few weeks later I went to my host family’s house in the mountains to go skiing.  We didn’t get to far because we got snowed-in. There was so much snow and it was snowing so hard there was no way we could go outside.  So we had to stay in the entire weekend.

Then in March, my parents came.  It was really good to see my parents.  My friend, Brooke came with me to get them.  The first day they were here, I took them to the city where I live.  The following day we went skiing.  Well, my dad and I skied, my mom watched, and my sister flew down the mountain.  Then for a few day I took them to Zürich, Basel, Bern, and Luzern.  Another day we went to Jungfraujoch.  It is the highest point in Europe.  The train ride up took us so long.  But once we were up, it was beautiful.  I had never seen anything like it.  It was great.  We spent the day and then went home.  My parents only stayed for a week so it was time to go home.  I took them to the airport and said good-bye.  Not that long of a good-bye.  I know I will see them in a few months again.

I saw my first Swiss circus.  Not only was it my first Swiss circus but it was my first circus at all.  I had never been to one before, and this was a good one to start with.  I had a great time.  There was what I suppose is the normal circus stuff.  Animals and clowns and tight rope and all that.  It was a lot of fun.  Then, at the middle of March, there was a big festival.  It was in Zurich and they have it every year.  It is to signify the beginning of summer.  They have parades all day and then at 6 in the afternoon they light a stack of wood on fire.  On top of the wood is a snowman (fake of course) and inside his head, is full of explosives.  The faster he explodes, the better the summer.  The festival is called Sechse Laüten.  It means six rings.  Which is why it starts at 6, because that is when the bells ring 6 times.  It was a lot of fun to watch.  The snowman burned in about 15 minutes which is said to be very fast.

At the end of March, the exchange students started a Jodeling class. It was so much fun. You think Jodeling is easy, but it is anything but easy. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. We had 2 classes in 2 weeks. We got together on Saturdays for about 5 hours and jodel’d. By the time we were done, none of us had any voice what so ever left. It didn’t matter though, because we had so much fun.

In the middle of April, my aunt and uncle came to Switzerland. They came on a Saturday and I couldn’t pick them up from the airport, because I had a rotary weekend that weekend. My cousin had come up from Italy so he picked them up. For the Rotary weekend we went to Germany. We went to a museum and got to explore the city on our own. We also took a boat ride to another city. I left the weekend Saturday night so I could go and see my aunt and uncle. It was nice to see them because they live in Ohio and I only get to see them once a year. I took them to Schaffhausen and to Stein am Rhein. After they saw me, they left on Monday. They went to tour around Italy.

Then I had 2 weeks of vacation from school. I think it was spring vacation but I am not sure since they have vacation for anything here. I didn’t do much. Just relaxed and did my thing. I did go to Locarno for a few days with Brooke and Matthew (friends of mine) and we went camping. Locarno is in the Italian part of Switzerland. It was so nice and hot. We had a great time just bumming around. Then that following weekend we started our Euro-tour!!!

I have no more time to write so I will finish some time soon. I have to go back to class.

Jackie Longo  
Destination: France 
Sponsor Club: Orange Park Rotary Club 
School: St. Johns Country Day School

Jackie - France

September 17, 2001

My year in Chambéry, France has gotten off to a great start. My host family could not be nicer. I feel completely at home with them. They have kept me very busy since the day that I arrived. I have been to Mont Blanc, one of the biggest mountains in all of Europe, and Chamonix, a French city that is just minutes away form Italy. My host family has taken me hiking a few times, and I went rock climbing with friends of the family. This past Sunday, my host family took me to Geneva, Switzerland for the day. In French it is called Genève. It is a very beautiful city that filled with history!

I have met many people my age through school, my host family, and Rotary Youth Exchange. On September 22nd and 23rd I am going to an orientation in Annecywith the 35 other Rotary Exchange students of district 1780. I know that will be a great weekend! While I miss my friends and family very much, I am having a great time here. I am really glad that I came! It is so beautiful here; sometimes I think that I am in a movie.

November 14

Well I have been in France for almost three months now. The time has gone by so fast! I have made so much progress with French. I still have a lot to learn, but it gets easier day by day.

I had a week off from school at the end of October, and I was lucky enough to travel to Paris with my host mom! We stayed at her sister’s apartment in the middle of Paris. I had the best time! Everything was great: the food, the people, the shops, and most of all the scenery. We visited all of the important sites, (The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles, Notre Dame, etc.)

School is going well. I have made many friends, and the classes are getting easier because I can pretty much understand what the teachers are saying now. The teachers are very nice to me too. Some of them don’t make me take the tests, and some of them don’t grade me if the test is too hard. I am in the Volleyball and Theater clubs at school which also helps to meet people.

I turned 17 on November 6th, and my host family surprised me and invited about 10 of my friends from both school and the Rotary to the house for dinner. We ate raclette, which is a very typical meal of the French Alps. It’s kind of like fondue, but with potatoes. I also received many birthday packages in the mail from both my family and friends at home so all in all I had a really great birthday!

There are 3 other girl exchange students in my town who I have come to be good friends with. They don’t go to my school, but we often get together on the weekends or see each other at Rotary meetings. I love to hang out with them, and it’s funny because we speak half in French and half in English! That’s about it!

January 11

So much has happened, I don’t know where to begin! I guess I will begin where I left off- Obviously they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in France because it is an American holiday. So Thanksgiving was just another Thursday at school for me. I only realized that it was Thanksgiving day when I was eating French Fries in the school cafeteria for lunch! However, the following Friday night all of the exchange students in my District as well as their host families and host Rotarians got together for a big dinner with the theme of Thanksgiving. Each exchange student brought a dessert ( I made an apple pie).

December went by very quickly. On the 8th of December I went to Lyon, (a big city that is about an hour away) for the festival of lights. There were thousands of people walking through the tiny  streets, and all of the people put candles in their windows. It was really beautiful.  It was a great start to the Christmas season. I got out of school for Christmas vacation on the 20th, and you’re not going to believe this… on the 21st I flew to Portugal with my host family! My oldest host sister, Julie, is engaged to be married to Luis, who is from Portugal. So, the whole family went to Portugal to celebrate Christmas with Luis and his family. Luckily for us, Luis and his family speak very good French so the language was not a problem. We stayed in Portugal from the 21st to the 26th. I think that we spent most of the vacation at the dinner table! One thing that I can say about the Portuguese is that they really like to eat! However, we did manage to get a little site seeing in as well. We visited some really old, beautiful churches. We also drove to the beach one afternoon just in time to see the sunset. It was amazing!! A little cold, but still great. We had a good laugh because about 99% of the buildings and houses in Portugal are white with red/orange tile roofs.

Before I came to France, I thought that Christmas away from home was going to be the most difficult part of my year. It really wasn’t bad at all. For me, Christmas is my family so this year being that I was away from my family it didn’t really feel like Christmas. But that didn’t bother me because while it didn’t feel like Christmas it was still really interesting to see how they celebrate Christmas in Portugal. On Christmas Eve we had a really nice (4 hour) dinner, and then at about 11 pm we all exchanged our presents. Then we got in the car and went to midnight Mass. I was exhausted and I didn’t understand a word that the priest was saying, but the church was really pretty so that was enough for me! After the Mass, we went to a friends house and had tea. By the time that we got home and went to bed it was 3:30 in the morning. So on Christmas day we all slept in late and had a nice brunch together. It was kind of weird to have a Christmas morning without opening presents but it made me realize that Christmas is about more than the presents.

I was very happy because when we got back to France on the 26th there was snow waiting here for us!! It made everything look about 100 times more pretty! So we took advantage of the snow, and  went cross country skiing a couple of times. Now, I am from Florida and have never skied in my life so I was really excited to try it out. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t fall that much and managed not to break any bones! Then on New Year’s Eve I went to a party with a bunch of friends. We spent most of the night dancing, and didn’t get to sleep until 6:30 in the morning. It was really fun, but a little exhausting. Then on Jan 2nd I went to Valmeinier with my host family because they have a “chalet” right by the ski station there. I spent three days snowboarding. The first day was a little rough, but after that it was lots of fun. The weather was beautiful and there were lots of cute Italian guys because Valmeinier is very close to Italy. But I didn’t talk to any of them because, well, I don’t speak Italian!

Then on the 5th I came back home to Chambéry and changed host families. Here it is required that we live with at least 3 different host families. Had it not been for this rule, I am sure that I would have stayed the whole year with my first host family. I am so glad that they have this rule because my new host family is so nice . I haven’t even been with them for a week, but I have already learned a big lesson: just like American families, not all French families have the same traditions and ways of life. With my new host family, I have 2 host brothers who are 12 and 15. There names are Vincent and Thomas. They are normal teenage boys: love the TV, video games, and sports. My new home is really cool. We kind of are out in the country (I can see cows from my bedroom window). The house actually used to be a farm. My room is huge- I have my own bathroom, telephone, CD player, and 2 extra beds.  So far I have really enjoyed my new family. Of course I miss my first host family, but the whole point of me coming to France was to see French culture and make new friends. So the more families that I have, the more friends that I will make!

My time is flying by in France. I can’t believe that it is already 2002! We have changed over to the Euro- the new European currency. I love it because it is very close to the American dollar which makes life easier for me!

Oh yeah I almost forgot… I have a good friend who is probably going to spend next year in the US with the Rotary Youth Exchange. I am hoping that he will be in Florida!!!

Au Revoir,

Jackie

Liz Taft  
Destination: Italy 
Sponsor Club: Daytona Beach Rotary Club 
School: Taylor Middle-High School

Liz - Italy

September 13, 2001

I’ve safely arrived and things are great.  My family is very caring and enthusiastic.  I get along well with my host brother and sister.  They areLiz & her Host-brother Paolo both older.  Paolo, my host brother, is 22 and Giulia, my host sister, is 24.  I have a place that I can go ride horses.  The stable is at an old villa.  They also own an apartment on the beach, which I went to with Giulia and two of her friends.  They have a private airplane and my host father Oddone and Paolo have their private pilot’s licenses.  I go roller-blading and bike riding with Paolo and his friend Gino almost everyday.  Gino owns a vineyard so I am learning a lot about the wine making process.

I visited a castle  The castle in Trieste overlooking the sea in the town of Trieste with my host mother and father on Saturday.  My family has taken me to many cafes in order to taste the Italian coffee.  We have three meals a day.  Breakfast is light such as coffee and a piece of toast.  Lunch is always at one and is a two course meal.  One course being meat.  I help my host mother set the table some nights and I have helped her cook a couple of meals.  I helped cook a spinach dish in a pastry crust one evening.  After lunch we sit and have a cup of coffee.  My host father comes home from work from 1:00 to 3:00.  As many other workers do because this is time that you use to spend with your family.  He goes back to work and comes home at about 8:00 when we eat dinner.  Gelato (ice cream) is a popular dessert.  A popular cake of this region is made with dried grapes as the filling.

I visited Venice with Paolo.  We went on a ferryboat tour of the city.  It was breathtaking.  I took many pictures which I will e-mail when I get them developed (they’re here – see below).  The square of Saint Mark was wonderful.  There was beautiful statuary and columns.  A lion with wings is a common statue found throughout the northern region in Italy.  This symbol was featured in this square as well.  To complete the square there is a giant cathedral with beautiful mosaic design and gold trimming.  Paolo and I spent hours going through the rooms of the castle in the square.  We then journeyed around the city and I got to see the streets become flooded from high tide.  This is a normal occurrence.  We traveled to and from this city by train.

I start my school on Tuesday.  I am gradually learning the language and when I can’t understand, I have my host brother and sister to help interpret things for me because they both know a little bit of English.

Ciao, Liz

October 13

Hello,

People are still talking about the terrorist attacks here. Every channel talks about it, people are always commenting on it, newspapers always have articles about the attacks, and I’m even learning about it in four of my classes. For example, in my religion class we are learning about the Muslim culture and their beliefs in comparison to ours. It’s very interesting. Some people are afraid to talk about the attacks in front of me because they know I am American, and they aren’t sure how I will react to hearing people speak of the events. Others ask me my opinion on the subject and if I am okay emotionally. People say things like, “We are with you in your time of need,” or “Is there anything that we can do for you?” It’s very touching. My host family has been supportive also. I cried when I heard of the events because it was our country that was attacked, and so many people were hurt. My host family was so caring and worried, and every day after they would watch CNN with me to hear news on the events. I thought this was very nice since they couldn’t understand the program, and they could have easily watched something else, but they didn’t. People take the attacks very personally, as if Italy had been directly terrorized instead of indirectly.

I started school on September 17. I have thirteen subjects. It amazes me the things that are being taught here. They are learning art history, philosophy, astronomy, math, chemistry, religion, English, Latin, and German, just to name a few. I will be starting German lessons in a couple of months when I get more of my Italian down. There is a class that I can take that starts with the basics of German so I will be able to learn and catch up to the level that my class is at. Right now I go to school from 8:00 to 12:00 for four days a week. And for the other two days I go from 8:00 to 1:00 because I have an hour of physical education at the end of both of those days. My classmates are very helpful, and I even ride to school by bike with some of them every day. They always invite me places with them on the weekends, and just last weekend it was my friend Manuela’s birthday. The whole class pitched in to buy her a modem for her computer, and we all went out for pizza at a pizzeria (very different from our pizza in America).

The class is very close; they are all friends because they have been together in the same class for all of their high school years. It’s not like in America where you switch classes and have different classmates every year. Here, when you start the school you are put in a class, then remain in that class for five years. The teachers change classrooms instead of the students changing classes, much like the setup of our elementary schools in America. There are different types of high schools, though. Some are geared toward art, others geared toward science, and others geared toward aviation, etc. Right now my class is in Germany, so I’m staying home for 12 days. This gives me time to study my Italian. The German students came to Italy last year and stayed with my classmates. So this year my classmates are going to stay in Germany. They each have a host family set up for them. I didn’t have one so I couldn’t go.

I have been attending Rotaract meetings. This is Rotary for the youths of the region. Every time I attend a Rotaract meeting, I must talk about something new that I like or have learned about Italy. Right now I can talk about it in English, but soon I will have to talk about it in Italian. I’ve been to about three of these meetings so far. I have also been to a Rotary meeting. I gave a speech on Florida, what I’ve been experiencing in Italy, and how thankful I am for the opportunity to be here. We exchanged our banners. I am giving another banner to Rotaract. I was in the local newspaper for the speech that I gave at the Rotary meeting. Hope all is well in Florida.

Ciao, Liz

 November 19

Well, since my last installment so much has happened. I don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll start with the 50th anniversary of my Rotary counselor. My host family and I were invited, and the the actual renewal of vows took place in a very quaint little church. Afterward there was an all day feast in a huge villa located in the town of Gorizzo. The food was excellent and extravagant.

Recently, I have started Italian lessons with a teacher at my school. It is really helping me with my grammar. Also, since the teacher doesn’t know much English, it helps me learn more because he explains a lot in Italian. I’m also going to German class four times a week. I’m learning German in Italian which can be difficult, but this also helps me learn more Italian. I hear beginning German words explained with Italian words so it’s like beginning Italian too. I have also joined a gym. I’m starting Latin dance lessons in December, and I’m thinking about joining theater to help with the costumes and lighting.

In the beginning of October my class went on an exchange to Germany, and I couldn’t go because I wasn’t involved in the other exchange that took place last year. So I had 12 days off from school. It gave me time to bike ride around this town and other towns so I could explore this area. I also got more time off from school after we went back because the students held a strike. The students are allowed to strike here. They were striking in favor of peace and to show support for the U.S. in the Afghanistan attacks. We had the choice to go to class or to go home. There have been three instances of strikes like these. It’s kind of like the huge march that took place in Rome on November 10 for the same cause, but the school strikes are on a much smaller scale.

My host family takes me to a new place in this region every weekend. I’ve gone to Grado, Aquileia, Cividale, and Gorizia. The towns are all different and beautiful in their own ways. Gorizia has a beautiful castle. Cividale has so many rolling hills and beautiful vineyards. Aquileia and Grado are based a lot on shipping and boating. I have also visited Venice again with my class for a modern arts show that is displayed every two years. It featured 143 artists from 69 countries. It was very interesting.

I have recently gone to Lake Grado and the towns around it. The people who frequent these areas are mostly tourists, so it’s very clean and beautiful in these areas. There are so many quaint shops with so many neat things to buy. I went to Padova which has one of the oldest universities in the world. I also saw actual bronze statues that were sculpted by Donatello. I was in awe. I then had hot chocolate in a cafe that is 200 years old. The hot chocolate is so excellent here. It is so thick and rich. Mmmm….

The holidays. Well, I had Halloween even though it isn’t usually celebrated here. My class decorated our classroom with all kinds of Halloween stuff. I carved a pumpkin and handed out little candygrams that I made for my class. For my birthday my class brought lots of food and cake and stuff so we could have a mini party at school for me. My host family took me out to dinner and my host mom made me tiramisu. She knew it is my favorite because I’ve been asking to learn how to make it. It was excellent. Next week is Thanksgiving, and I’m traveling to Gorizia to celebrate it with two other exchange students. The three of us are cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for her host family since they are ordering a turkey for us to cook. It should be a lot of fun.

To start the cold weather season some friends and I roasted chestnuts in the fireplace because it is a common thing to do when it’s cold.  Since it is 28 degrees here already, and I can see snow on the mountains, it was the thing to do to open the winter season. I had never had them before. They were very good. I’ve also survived my first bout with the flu. I’m better now. It was the sudden change in the weather and I wasn’t used to it. I was only sick for a couple of days.

I attended another Rotaract meeting yesterday and got to talk more with the members now that my Italian is improving. I’m traveling to Mantova tomorrow. So bye until next time. Happy Thanksgiving!

December 23

I recently went with the Rotary here and all of the other exchange students here in northern Italy to Venice for a meeting.  This is my fourth time in Venice.  If you can’t tell, it is my favorite city that I’ve visited so far.  There’s no other city like it. I don’t know of any other city that doesn’t allow driving.  The streets are too small; therefore, travel is by foot or boat.  In the winter when it snows, this can be a very difficult task as I have found out firsthand.  Yep for all of you Floridians out there who haven’t seen snow, I can tell you two things about it: it’s very beautiful and very, very cold. Yes, this was my first time seeing snow ever.  It’s a real winter here, not a warm, imitation one like in Florida.  I get a white Christmas, but I’ll tell you one thing I do miss–that warm Florida weather when I’m out riding my bike to school in the cold.  You should see how many layers of clothing I put on.  Everyone laughs at how wimpy I am in the cold.  I’m always sitting by the heaters in the house and at school.

At school my Italian classes are going very well.  My teacher is really nice and has even given me some work for this holiday vacation which I will do and then e-mail to him for corrections.  He’s very dedicated to helping me learn Italian.  This is very helpful.  I have already mentioned that I am taking German.  That is going extremely well for me. Amazingly, I have one of the highest grades in the class.  I have also joined the school newspaper and am writing articles for each issue.  I have joined theater here in Italy.  It is very interesting.  It is like yoga, singing, and acting all mixed together.  I am also going to the gym two to three days a week to work off all the wonderful food I’ve been eating, especially now at Christmas time.  And lastly, I recently started taking a class in Latin American dancing.  I have a lot of fun.  I go every Friday.  I also attend a couple of RotarAct and Rotary meetings a couple of times a month.  I just went to the Rotary Christmas dinner last Tuesday.

For the real Christmas dinner with my host family I have been nominated to cook the turkey American style.  So of course this means stuffing also.  It’s a must.  Luckily I have cooked a turkey before, actually it was one month ago with the other exchange students for Thanksgiving.  That was a lot of fun.  We also made pumpkin pie from scratch, too. That’s a task, let me tell you.  There isn’t any canned pumpkin here so you must first cook a whole pumpkin in the oven for two hours and then cut it open and puree the insides.  Then you have what is close to canned pumpkin.  It turned out yummy despite how my description may sound.  I have also made pancakes and apple pie for my host family.  For Christmas I have made rumballs so far and am going to make chocolate-dipped almond cookies, a recipe from Martha Stewart.  And of course eggnog will be made to drink. It’s a must in the holiday season.  I helped pick out our Christmas tree for the house, and I helped my host mom decorate it.

I also went to Spinea recently.  It’s a city near Venice.  I went because I have a friend in America named Clinton who has had a penpal in Italy for five years.  When I left for my exchange, he asked me to try and get in touch with her and see if I could meet her.  Well, I wrote her a letter and she wrote me back and a couple of weeks later, there I was in Spinea with her and her family for the weekend.  We had a lot of fun.  I went on a Saturday morning and we spent the day strolling around Venice.  Of course we drank hot chocolate–my new favorite drink here.  It’s so thick and creamy, it’s almost like pudding.  You can drink it or scoop it with a spoon.  I even got to ride a gondola!!!!!!!!!  I was so excited.  It was kind of strange that I got to meet Linda before my friend who has known her for five years.  She also showed me all these pictures that my friend had sent her, and it was all of my hometown and school and friends.  It was so neat.  This person I didn’t even know knew so much about me and my friends.  It was so weird yet interesting at the same time.  But now I have met her and her friends so now we’re even in the information department.

I think that my most favorite thing that I’ve done these past couple of weeks was to go to Treviso. Treviso was exciting because I got to go to an art exhibit of Monet.  I saw so many paintings by a man that I had only read about.  It was so amazing to see his paintings in real life.  It was also neat to be able to compare his most famous creations to ones that aren’t so well-known.  Actually, one of my new favorites that I hadn’t seen before was of one of his houses.  It was of a child and a woman inside the house, and we are viewing them from the perspective as if we’re outside on a balcony looking inside.  It is really colorful, too, so that just adds to its brilliance.  Monet is one of my favorite artists so this was a dream come true for me to see his works with my own eyes, not the eyes of a camera.

I am going to Milan for a week the day after Christmas because my host family has a house there.  We will stay for about a week.  Milan is the fashion city here in Italy.  While I’m in Milan, I will go to see an art exhibit of Picasso.  I can’t wait to see that exhibit, too.   I’ll tell you about that one in my next entry.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Ciao a tutti, Liz

February 11

My first bit of news is that I have changed schools. There were so many differences between this school and my other one that I couldn’t resist experiencing this form of Italian schooling, too.  I switched to the Istituto D’arte.  As the name implies, I learn a lot about art, which is great because now I am learning in great detail about the very things that I am seeing firsthand in Italy.  I have so many design and photography (one of my passions) classes.  This school is located in Udine so I get the feel of a larger Italian city also.  I take a pullman (bus) to school most mornings with my friend Annelisa, who lives in Codroipo, too, but sometimes I go with her and one of our friends in his car so that we can have breakfast in a cafe before school.  Of course, I get a cappuccino, my favorite drink here.  I also have two days where there is school in the afternoon, and so we get two hours for lunch.  We usually go shopping before the stores close and then go to a cafe for a sandwich.

I have also started English lessons.  Yes, I said English lessons.  The students in this class are learning advanced English, and when the teacher teaches something such as gato means cat, I learn the Italian word, and for me it’s cat means gato.  I also help him teach the class because he is from England, and even our English varies.  Therefore, we are learning from each other in that way, too.  Not a single person in my class speaks English, which is great because I constantly get to practice my new language.

I went to Venice this past weekend for Carnevale. It is like Mardi Gras and Halloween mixed. I went with the girl who lives in Italy who has been the pen pal of one of my friends in Florida now for six years.  I have visited her twice now.  Carnevale lasts from January 7th until 40 days before Easter.  Her dad painted our faces, and we went and took pictures of all the wonderful costumes, both creative and traditional. There were games for the children, too.  There was one in which it was a giant pillow fight.  Of course, we joined in, too.  There were bands and street performances.  There were also little markets with unique objects to buy.  I bought the traditional papier-mache mask as a souvenir.  A lot of the activity was centered in St. Mark’s Square, so the backdrop of the festivities was beautiful, too.  The people were so happy, and the confetti was everywhere.  I’m still finding it in my jacket pockets.  There are some traditional sweets for Carnevale called crostali which I have learned the recipe for so that I can reproduce them when I get back to Florida.  On Sunday afternoon, my host mom, host brother, host sister, and I spent the afternoon making hundreds of the crostali.  It was a lot of fun.

Next week I will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain, for 6 days.  I am going with my class, and we are also stopping in France for two nights.  I’m very excited. One of the things that I get to see is the Picasso exhibit that I missed when I went to Milan.  So in my next installment I will be sure to tell all about my experiences in Spain.  Until next time, take care.

Mandi, Liz

March 28

I have so much exciting news this time.  I’ve been on two wonderful trips since I last wrote.  The first one was to Barcelona, Spain, as I mentioned going to before.  It was wonderful.  We went to so many art museums, mostly contemporary art. We even saw the museum of Picasso which I was thrilled about because I hadn’t gotten to go to the exhibit of Picasso when I was in Milan.  It was a 19-hour ride in a bus up and back, but the time was broken up by the stops that we made in France.  We stopped in Aix en Provence, Avignon, and Arles.  Spain was more colorful and exciting, but I think France was more beautiful.  I liked the houses by Gaudi that I saw in Barcelona, too.

School is continuing to go well.  I’m taking part in many design projects and learning more of the language every day.  My classmates are so good at helping me understand everything.  I recently met another exchange student at my school named Martin. He’s from Australia and is taking part in a 6-month exchange, so he just got here about a month ago.  He doesn’t speak much Italian but is picking it up quickly.  He is also in a class where the students at least speak some English.  I know that helped me a lot when I first got here at my other school.

Right now I’m on spring break and busy planning a little trip with my host brother and sister to their beach house in Lignano.  We might go there to celebrate a festival that they have here before Easter.  It should be lots of fun.  Everyone is exchanging these huge eggs made of pure chocolate as gifts.  We have three that we’ve received.  That’s a lot of chocolate.

The second trip I took was with my parents all around Italy.  We had little time, but made the most of it.  We even managed to see Austria, too.  Our biggest tour was the one we took to central Italy. Our first stop was in Florence where I was so amazed to see Michelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”  In Pisa I was in awe of the fact that the tower is the only one of its kind and is still standing tall after all these years.  Next we went to Siena, a quaint, hilly city with a huge piazza.  In this piazza there is a horse race held twice a year.  In Rome we attempted driving, but it took the three of us to maneuver around the city so we decided to leave it up to the experts and used their public transportation.  The fountain of Trevi was breathtaking, and we all did the traditional throwing the coins in hopes that we’ll return some day.  It worked for my dad because he did it once 30 years ago as a teenager with his Dad and brothers, and there he was with me and my Mom in 2002.  The architecture alone in Rome is wonderful to see, especially the ancient center with the Coliseum.  Then there is the Vatican and St. Peter’s.  St. Peter’s is so ornately decorated that you can’t even take it all in no matter how long you stay in there.  The Sistine Chapel I think was my favorite sight of all.  You always hear people talk about it, but when you actually see all the beauty and colors and hard work that went into it, you just can’t believe it.  I bought a picture of the ceiling so I’d be able to remember it clearly.  After Rome we managed to also see Assisi and San Marino.  All in all this trip was a wonderful experience.

May 24

Well, as usual I have a lot to write about.  I’ve done two trips since I last wrote.  Two amazing trips.  The first stop was to Paris for about a week with a friend of the family.  We saw as much as can be seen in that week as possible.  We managed about four museums.  The Louvre was of course one of them since it’s a must when visiting Paris.  And of course we nowhere near saw everything inside there since it’s so enormous.  We were sure to see the Mona Lisa though.  I wasn’t a big fan of it when I’d seen it in pictures and in books, but it really was a beautiful painting when seen up close.  The Chateau of Versailles was probably my favorite thing of all.  It was immense, and the decorations inside are so ornate, it’s really something else.  Our hotel was right near the Eiffel Tower in a more suburban part of town, so we experienced more of the local instead of touristic flavor of Paris.  The baguettes were yummy.  They were served with everything and at every time of day.  The Eiffel Tower was another must-see, but the line was so long that we didn’t get to go to the top.  We could’ve waited, but we were satisfied with seeing it at the base.  We had the whole rest of the city to do.  And we did.

The second trip was 8 days spent in London and Edinburgh.  I went with my host sister.  We spent 3 days in London, 2 in Edinburgh, and then back again to London for another three.  We did one of those trip deals and included in it were guided tours of each city.  Those tours are worth doing.  We learned so many little inside facts about the cities that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.  I went to a musical while in London.  It was great.  It was My Fair Lady.  It was very well done.  The Crown Jewels in The Tower of London were unlike any I’d ever seen before.  The jewels had names.  You know they’re big and important when they have names.  The ceremonial changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was interesting also.  It took about an hour and is neat because it’s a tradition that is still done today after so many years.  They played all the songs from My Fair Lady which was coincidental since I’d seen the musical just a few nights before.  The boat cruise down the Thames River allowed a different perspective of the city also.  I was excited when I got to hear the bells of Big Ben chime.  The train ride to Edinburgh was long, but the scenery outside the window on the way more than made up for it.  There were many sheep farms, and the hills were so green.  The views of the seacoast were incredible.  Edinburgh isn’t a really large city.  The big things to do are mostly the museums and of course the castle.  There are other things to see and do, but just taking in the city is what I found most enjoyable of all.  It’s so green there.  I really enjoyed Scotland and plan on returning.  The people were very friendly in both London and Edinburgh which is always nice.  The castle was beautiful.  I also spent many hours exploring the huge 70-acre botanical gardens that Edinburgh has.  They are open to the public for anything–taking a walk, running, studying the plant life, etc.  There is an 11-room greenhouse with climates from around the world.  You can see so many varieties of plants.  As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed myself on these two trips.

Now that I’m back in Italy, I’m as busy as ever.  I’ve been taking the usual Sunday day trips with my host parents in order to see the last cities of Italy that I haven’t yet been to.  Also now that it is finally hot, we’ve been spending time at their beach house and at the thermal spa that is near-by.  I’ve been a packing fool, deciding what’s going to stay in Italy and what’s going to come back with me.  The suitcases will be filled to the brim, but I’ll manage.  It will be hard saying my final goodbyes to my schoolmates and teachers, but I am making the most of every weekend that I have left, filling them with activities with all of the new friends I have made here.  We are exchanging addresses so that we can keep in touch.  A few of them have already planned trips in the fall to come and visit me in Florida.  I’m excited about that.

This weekend I’m going on an organized biking trip that will take me, my friends, and some other citizens of Codroipo around Codroipo and to the other little towns nearby.  Hopefully we can keep up.  I’m also attending a Rotary dinner on Friday night that will unite the Rotary here and the one from Austria for an evening of good eating.  Each meeting like this, they switch countries.  Last time the Rotary here went to Kittsburg, Austria.

My year will be coming to an end soon, but I have so many wonderful memories and plans of returning again to visit that it eases the farewell.  And with that I finish my final installment of my exchange experiences and year abroad in Italy.  I’ll be seeing you all soon in sunny Florida.

Mandi, Liz