Outbounds 2010-2011

Adaline Carlile
2010-11 Outbound to Croatia
Hometown: Port St. Lucie, Florida
School: Marine Oceanographic Academy, Fort Pierce, Florida
Sponsor: Fort Pierce RC, District 6930, FL
Host: Varazdin 1181 Rotary Club, District 1910, Croatia

Adaline - Croatia

Adaline’s Bio

“Dobar dan! Kako ste? Ja sam Adaline Carlile!” That’s Croatian for, “Good day! How are you? I’m Adaline Carlile!” That’s right, folks! Croatia: The “Horseshoe” Country, is my grand destination for the RYE 2010-11! Emotions I never knew existed flow through me each time I think those sweet words; they’re like music to my ears! But enough about that, let’s get down to the nitty gritty!

Let’s just start by saying that I’m not your average cup of coffee. I’m more like a “Limited Edition: Santa’s White Christmas” from Barnie’s Coffee. As mentioned before, my name’s Adaline. I’m fifteen, but I’ll be sixteen April 6, 2010! I’m from a town called Port St. Lucie. It’s only a few miles away from the Atlantic shore and a couple hours south of Disney World! I’m a sophomore at a small, unique school known as the Marine Oceanographic Academy (MOA) located right next to the world renowned Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute! I have two unbelievably awesome parents (Sandra and Dana Carlile) and the most amazing big sister (Mica Carlile) EVER! In addition, I have two dogs (Bambi and Zoe), two cats (Nala and Sidney), and three guinea pigs (Harold, Pumpkin, and Weebee)!

My number one priority in my life is God and He always will be! Without Him, none of this would be possible for me! I attend this incredible church, Highpoint Community Church, and I hope to partake in their mission trips (like AFRICA) when I return from my exchange! Being a missionary and interpreter is one of my main life goals, so this program is pretty much the cheese to my mac! ;D I do some jammin’ of my own: mainly the piano, and a bit of guitar. Sports aren’t my top priority, but I’ve been playing on this SICK competitive soccer team for almost 7 years, and we’re state champions! Go U16 Lady Mako!

Although this bio could go on and on, I’ll try and keep it as short and sweet as possible. I’d like to give a huge THANK YOU to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program for making one of my life dreams possible. Hvala! 😉 (“Thank you” in Croatian, of course)

 Adaline’s Journals

September 3

Bok, kako si? Ja sam jako dobro! 🙂 Hrvatska je jako jako jako jako lijepo! 🙂

 Yes, I did just say the generic few phrases that are first learned when learning a new language, “Hi, how are you? I am very good! Croatia is very very very very beautiful!” And yes, in Croatia, they DO speak Croatian. And if you don’t know where Croatia is, please, just use google… It is, in fact, in southeastern Europe….not Asia or the Middle East… Now, if we want to get specific, I live in a lovely city named Varaždin (pronounced vah-RAH-zzhh-deen, the zzhh sounds like the “g” in corsage), which is about an hour away from Zagreb, the capital, and it’s just outside of Slovenia and Hungary. I’ve been here since Saturday, August 28, 2010, which means tomorrow will be one whole week! Oh, and I’m not the only exchange student here; there are two other girls from the U.S., Lizzy and Emily, that live here as well! The rest live in Zagreb. Now, you might be thinking, “Oh man, that stinks that she doesn’t live in the capital with the rest of them. That’s so lame!” But if you aren’t thinking that, I will proudly say that I side with you! Varaždin is the perfect city to live in for exchange if you ask me! It’s not too big, but it’s not too small. There aren’t people everywhere like in Zagreb, it’s not as diverse (which is good, because you want to live somewhere where people are actually native, and they aren’t all foreigners!) but it’s just the way you’d imagine the perfect little European city to be, with it’s main square, brick pathways, cafes & bakeries, and old buildings. It has a delightful park with benches, flowers, tall trees, and pebble pathways. One of the best parts about it; they have DANDELIONS! 😀 So, that’s a little bit about my city. 🙂

 ***NEWS FLASH: I just left my apartment to go…by myself…for the first time ever….to the bakery on my street….and I got something!! WOOOHOOOOOO!!! Independence!***  

Now, let me begin by telling you a little bit about my visa and departure. The process for my visa was extremely involved; all in all, the process began in March and I didn’t get my visa until the day before I left. I was even required to go to New York City for a personal appearance at the Croatian Consulate…..darn. 😉 Finally, after much confusion, and threats of me not being able to go, I finally got my visa application approved, and we were able to buy my ticket to go, a few days before I actually left. Word of advice: if you’re going to be a future exchanger, please talk with you travel agent (and be nice!) and tell them when you would prefer to leave and such…if you don’t voice your opinion, you may end up leaving later than you’d like. Okay?? Okay!! On Friday, the 27th of August, my friend, Samantha, my mom, and my dad all drove me to the Orlando airport. We had some delicious Mexican food as my final meal in the U.S! Then, after lots of goofing around in the airport, it was time to say my final goodbye’s and head off through security to catch my 8:05 PM flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I flew Lufthansa…which is a German airline. All I heard around me was German…even the flight attendants and passengers started speaking to me in German. I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not…I guess that meant I didn’t stick out TOO much as an American! On the nine hour nighttime flight, I watched “How to Train Your Dragon” (awesome movie) and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (another awesome movie). The flight attendants served dinner…it was quite interesting! Then…it was sleepy time for me. When I woke up, the sunlight was streaming through the cracks of the closed windows, and they were serving breakfast! Two meals?! It was unheard of! When I opened up my hot little tray of food, I saw some spinach, an omelet, and some scary circular vegetable type things. The German girl next to me looked at me, slightly intimidated by the interesting plate of food in front of her. I decided that I would sniff the scary vegetable things…once I did, it came to my realization that they were potatoes! 😀 So, we both ate them, because they were actually pretty good! 🙂

When we finally landed, I packed my huge carry-on bags and marched off that plane, determined to find my way to my next flight. Supposedly it was supposed to be in the same terminal….HA! I walked and talked with a girl who was sitting in front of me on my previous flight because her gate was next to mine. We went up and down fifty escalators, climbed stairs, rode a little train, and had to go through security AGAIN! That’s when I lost her…because the guy manning the X-ray machine thought that my ukulele had a knife in it… After much more interesting endeavors in the Frankfurt airport, I said my goodbyes to the German soil and flew to my next destination: Zagreb. I slept that entire flight…it was only an hour, but that made things go VERY quickly. I landed, went through customs, then a man noticed my Rotary blazer, and shared with me that he was once an exchange student 20 years ago in some obscure U.S. state. 😀 He helped me with my huge bags, and then we parted ways! As I walked out of the baggage claim area, I suddenly hear “ADALINE!!!!!!” followed by some squealing and shouting. I looked over my shoulder and I see my huge welcome party consisting of my host parents (Josip and Andelka), host sister Estera, nine-years-old), host cousin, some family friends, and some of Donata’s (my host sister who is currently living in Florida for her exchange!) friends! 😀 It was so nice to finally meet everyone in person. My host mom was so excited, she was about to cry! And my host dad had my mom on Facebook IM, giving her the play by play of what was happening. XD

Although, I could keep droning on about the next week, and trust me, each day would be at least three long long paragraphs long, I won’t bore you with that. Instead, I’ll just give you some key points of a few different things! Ready, set, GO!

 Favorite things to do (so far):

Walk around aimlessly with Petra and friends

Go to the bakery and get something yummy

Ask countless questions on how to say different things in Croatian

Organize my desk and look at all my beautiful pictures of my family and friends back home

Open my windows and breathe the fresh Croatian air while enjoying the wonderful view

Eating Zdenka on my bread

Some fun facts:

They are obsessed with cold feet – always where socks or slippers or they’ll think you’ll get sick

The food here is really good, and fresh, and delicious.

They say “Viđenja” to people leaving an elevator (It’s their goodbye)

People in Varaždin love to ride bikes

They have coffee everyday – it’s merely a social event, they get together, order something from a cafe, and just sit and talk – it’s a daily ritual

Everyone uses an umbrella when it rains (obviously). Everyone. They don’t share either. So, if it’s really busy, you are constantly hitting other peoples umbrellas.

The hot chocolate here is like pudding!

It seems to me that everyone wears those little “jegging” things or whatever they are called…

Everyone seems to smoke.

They are very very concerned about your health. I got kind of sick, not deathly or anything, and they started talking about taking me to a doctor, and they even mentioned the emergency room at one point!

Things are a lot more cheap here – 1 U.S. dollar is about 5 Croatian kunas – it’s really freaky to see prices for gas as high as 8.95 kn, but then you realize that it’s less than two American dollars!

They don’t drink a lot here – especially with their meals. When they serve drinks at places, there’s usually no ice, and they give you the drink in the regular bottle and a glass to pour it in – the glasses are really small compared to the U.S. glasses!

The McDonalds here (only one in my city) is much more fresh, but the menu is much more limited.

I saw the most amazing graffiti of my life – it was a picture of a man and woman about to kiss, but the lady had a mustache and beard. I had to do a double-take. XD

Although the music over the radio is mainly American, it’s old American songs…like…old songs. I haven’t heard much music from the past few years, which I think is a good thing in my opinion…XD

As for the language, I learn more and more everyday. Although it’s not as much as I thought I’d learn, it still is my first week, so I can’t get too hard on myself yet. One plus is that I can actually differentiate words, rather than it sounding like a big flow of nothingness…although I don’t understand the words, I’m beginning to notice the pattern. XD Here are a few words and phrases! (Roughly translated, you can’t really literally transla”te anything in this language.)

“Idemo na kavu.” – “We’re going to get some coffee.” You really just say that if you’re about to go and hang out and drink whatever at a cafe or something.

“Moram jako prdnuti.” – “I have to fart really bad.”

“Ovo je jako ukusno/ukusan.” – “This is very delicious!”

“Mogu li (molim vas) dobiti _______?” – “May I (please) have _______?”

“Kako se kaže “_____” na hrvatskom?” – “How do you say _____ in Croatian?”

“Oprosti. Moj hrvatski je jako loš. Govorim i razumijem malo! Ali učim jezik!!” – “Sorry. My Croatian is very bad. I speak and understand only a little. But I’m studying!!” (Just don’t say this to your little host sister who doesn’t speak any English, because if you say this, she just might reply with “Jako!”, and walk away…)

Luckily I haven’t become homesick yet. And hopefully I won’t have too. God has really been giving me a lot of strength and courage when I should have been crying and pulling my hair out! Oh man, He’s awesome. 🙂 Not only that, but hearing Croatian has become normal to me; if I heard English being spoken, I’d be a little taken aback and freaked out! I just want to learn it as fast as I can. It’s really awkward when you see a group of people, and guys especially do this, just sit and openly stare and point at you, then speak in Croatian and laugh….It’s a good thing Petra speaks Croatian because she had to fill me in every single time; they’ve said things like, “Oh, they won’t understand you! Hahaha!” or “I want to talk to the girls over here!” or “Oh, you think you can just come in here and blah blah blah!” Each of these quotes have their own unique story, but I won’t bore you with those. I just can’t wait for the day when I’ll be able to turn to them and say, “Oprostite. Govorim i razumijem hrvatski jako dobro. Hvala.” Then walk away…>:D

All in all, I’m having a wonderful time, and I truly wish I could convey to you the amazing things that God has let me encounter! I’ve had so many cool opportunities happen to me already, one being laying hands on a new friend and praying for a healing from her brain tumor. 😀 😀 😀 I’ve felt so many emotions, emotions and feelings I’ve never felt, but that just comes with being an exchange student. It’s something you truly have to experience yourself. 🙂 Oh, I’m going to try and have some videos posted in my next journal, and here’s a link to my Flickr account, where I’m going to attempt to post my pretty pictures of my adventure! —> http://www.flickr.com/photos/adasorous/sets/72157624863470304/ I hope this journal wasn’t TOO long and confusing, I just really had no idea where to begin and what to write about! I hope to give you more clarity in future journals. I start school this Monday, so that’ll be something to write about. XD Well, until then!!

 Doviđenja!

Adaline

October 18

Bok, moji prijatelji! Kako ste? 😀

I’ll start with school, seeing how that’s been the most prominent part of my life since I last wrote to you faithful and committed readers out there.

Oh, something important: I’m part of the bilingual class here at the Prva gimnazija Varaždin, which means that half the classes are in English and half are in Croatian. The first thing that I thoroughly enjoyed about school here in Croatia is the wonderful fact that every year on the first day, it starts later than normal days, you sit in your homeroom class, get a weekly schedule, and then you can go home. So, that’s what I did! My host dad drove me to school, in which I awkwardly waited outside the front doors for Petra and Lizzy for about fifteen minutes. That didn’t help the nerves at all. When they finally met up with me, Petra. Niko, and Lizzy all walked me to my class. then, they left me. Oh my GOSH. That was a painful separation. I was about to pee myself I was so nervous! So, as I leaning against the wall, pretending not to care about life, I watched the young people walk by to see if they would stop in front of the same door as well. Finally, the group began to grow and grow, and after countless (and awkward) glances and stares from curious classmates-to-be, our homeroom professor let us into the room. I made haste towards an open desk and made myself comfortable, being careful not to make eye contact with anyone. I slouched down and observed. The people around me were already talking, laughing, and bonding with each other, which was a bit intimidating because everyone already knew each other so well. A few times I caught a group of kids turn their heads towards me and start speaking in Croatian. That made me extremely paranoid. All I kept thinking was, “Is my hair messed up or something?! Do I have a booger in my nose?! Do I have pants on?!?!?” After a couple minutes of torment inside of my mind, my homeroom teacher, who also happens to be our chemistry (kemija) teacher, walked into the classroom with the other exchanger, Emily. I didn’t remember him leaving, but that’s besides the point. The point is, Emily and I were BOTH new, which eased my nerves because I knew that I wouldn’t be the center of everyone’s attention. After the professor talked to the class, he had Emily and I introduce ourselves and state where we were from. After some more talking, he shared our weekly schedule with the class. Finally, after what seemed like another few hours, which happened to only be forty five minutes, he asked for volunteers to show Emily and I around the school. From what I could tell, only one girl raised her hand. That was…..really encouraging. Ha. Then the class hurried out the door where only three girls stayed behind for us; Paula (now one of my really good friends), Dora, and Petra (another Petra, not the one who I’ve previously been hanging out with.) They showed us around the school; our school is really really different compared to the school I have back in Florida. It has an old part and a new part – the new part has like five stories or something like that…I don’t even know. But, anyway, the girls themselves got lost at one point. It was awesome. After the small tour, in which I had already had twice before, the five of us left to walk around the main part of town. After walking and talking, I was a bit relieved that I would have familiar faces and names to call upon for the next day of school. Although I didn’t talk to anyone else in my class, I had about 18 friend requests on Facebook when I got home that day, all from kids in my class.

Now, it’s been a while in school and I really really love my entire class! They are all so wonderful and nice. I mean, yes, some of them might find enjoyment in being a bit mocking and sarcastic, but, YOU know, you just need to laugh at it and move on with life, because they really don’t mean anything from it…at least I think.  Nah, they are all really awesome.  Here are some fun facts about school so far:

The bathrooms in the old part of the school are unisex. It freaks me out every time I see a dude walk out of a stall or walk in when my friends are going pee. Catches me off guard every time.

We have a “nothing” period where we can go out for coffee, or go get something to eat, or even go home! I do something different every time: coffee with Vana and a few others, or Mlinar with Paula and Emily to get pizza, etc etc!

My class has like, 17 or 18 classes or something ridiculous. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about them all. I just have to worry about the half that is in English, which is Art, Chemistry, Physics, English, Biology, History, Ethics/Religion, Geography, and Gym. Woohoo! And, some of the classes they only have once a week. So, it’s not as bad as you’d think it would be. But still.

 My school cafeteria thing has the best klipić in the world. Klipić are these wonderful breadstick type things that are a Varaždin specialty!

I can’t do math taught in English, so to be taught math in Croatian is ten times more difficult. Stupid trigonometry.

Kids like to sit outside the front doors and smoke during the breaks in between classes. So, whenever you walk outside, there is just a layer of smoke that clouds the air. It’s really stinky.

I enjoy wearing flip flops. But people seem to have a problem with that here, telling me that I will get sick. So, walking through the halls in my awesome sweat pants and flip flops tends to have the walking passersby stare at me some more. Oh well! I’m comfortable when my feet can breathe!! but, I do suppose that just screams, “AMERICAN.” Way to immerse myself in the culture! …

We kind of sort of celebrated International Mustache Day. That was the coolest. I mean, all there was was a poster with some mustaches and stuff in the front of the school, but that was enough to make me happily hop back and forth on my feet while making funny noises and smiling really big. My friends back at home like to call it “The Addey Dance”.

Some other really awesome things that I’ve done is go to Istria for a weekend, where Emily, Lizzy, my host parents and I all went to Istria and visited Motovun, Rovinj, Umag, Poreć, and some other places. We even got to go to VENICE for a day! Let me write a little about that…just a little.  Okay, so, We rode a three hour boat ride, on the “Prince of Venice”, and finally got to a port in Venice. From there we walked into the main square and enjoyed the lovely scenery and everything. It’s such a beautiful place! It was also the first time in forty-three days that I got to see/talk to people from the United States that had nothing to do with exchange. Yay! That was exciting. Well, Lizzy, Emily, and I were all having fun touring through the small streets of Venice when we see something that was quite….quite surprising. It was a kid from my class and his family. That was really stinkin’ awesome. I mean…first off, we’re not even in Croatia, and second off, out of ALL of Venice, and just at that same time and place, we see him there. It was sweet. Then, on the boat ride home, it was extremely…EXTREMELY rough, the waves were huge! Well, needless to say, everyone was really seasick, but I was thoroughly enjoying the cold wind blowing in my hair and the jolt in my stomach every time we would go on a big wave! It was AWESOME. But I felt so much sympathy for those who had bags full of puke in their hands…Yum yum. The rest of the weekend was touring Istria, one of the six regions in Croatia. One of the cities we got to visit was Pula! they have the second best preserved Roman Coliseum! THAT WAS AWESOME. Just to stand where so much history and amazing events occurred thousands of years ago was quite fascinating!

Oh, FUN FACT. At birthday’s, they throw the birthday person in the air really high. Yes… I was at a birthday celebration, and a big group of boys thought it would be funny if they threw me in the air as well, you know, me being the girl from the U.S. and all, experience new culture, YEAH. It. Was. Terrifying.

The language is extremely tough. I’m sorry, but I don’t know of many languages that would be any harder than Croatian. Spanish is a breeze compared to Croatian! I wish I would have known this when I was complaining about Spanish class last year and the year before…… I learn something new everyday, but I feel as though I’m not learning fast enough! Everyone is always talking in English, so it’s so hard because I’m never forced to speak Croatian. But, I constantly have to keep asking the people around me to talk in Croatian instead of English, and I always want them to ask me things and say little things in Croatian. Baby steps at the very least! One thing that really gets to me is when people tell me, “I’m so sorry for my English. It’s so bad, I know.” I’m like, “You don’t need to apologize for ANYTHING. I’m the one who should be sorry that I don’t know Croatian, and I am!” Yah, they all tell me that it will come along, but it really just feels like a hopeless cause. Oh, and everyone here hates German and thinks that English was the easiest thing they’ve had to learn. What the heck?! Why can’t it be this easy for me!  They all know like, 308475 languages too. Lucky duckys. But, I think once you know Croatian, you could speak any language, because they would all be easy! Although they say German is hard…I think German is easier than Croatian!  But, yes, that’s all I have for language.

As for being homesick, I’ve had my moments where I’ve really just wanted to go home, just so I could hug my loved ones. I mean, now that I’m gone, I’m able to appreciate everything I have back in the United States so much more. I was so anxious to leave and begin my adventure, but I never realized that I would be leaving so much that I hold dear. My family and friends, my church and church family, food (I love Croatian food, but I miss American food. People really need to understand that American food isn’t ALL THAT BAD. Stupid stereotypes.), and a few other things. I’ve never liked junk food or McDonalds before I came here, but now that I’m here, I love McDonalds (the one here is tasty!) and I love junk food. I didn’t eat much of it in the U.S., but when it doesn’t even exist over here, it makes me sad when I realize that I can’t have that once-in-a-while bowl of Reese’s Puffs or Oreo cookie. People here really analyze what they eat and where it came from and stuff. I mean, it’s a good thing to be aware of what you put into your body, but a slice of processed cheese between two pieces of white bread every few weeks isn’t going to kill you! It will give you a party in your tummy! But, those things I can deal with. I don’t have a problem with food (except perhaps too much bread….), school, and all of those other typical things. No, the thing that I miss the most is being able to give someone a goodnight kiss and say, “Goodnight. I love you!” Just having that closeness with someone, it’s something that I really do miss. Ali nema veze! I have friendships that grow each day, like Paula, and a few new ones. I have people here who really do care for me and love me, and most importantly, I have the Lord carrying me through each day and night. 🙂 So, I’m doing amazing!

Speaking of doing amazing, this past week has probably been my best week ever here on exchange! I’ve gotten close with friends, I got to experience Croatian Thanksgiving type things, I’ve watched lots of amazing movies with Croatian subtitles, had a sleepover, made stir fry, had some of the best times with my host family, got to Skype with my family who went to Montana for my cousin’s wedding (in which their computer died when they were saying their wedding vows. Nice. But, I got to be in the family pictures; yay for being in wedding pictures while on a little net book!), and lots of other things. Today, I got to hang out with Paula for her birthday; we watched movies and had delicious lunch and I got to meet her little brother. Oh. My. Gosh. I LOVE LITTLE THREE-YEAR-OLDS WHO SPEAK CROATIAN. It’s the cutest thing in the world. Oh, and I also get to take cello lessons here at a pretty famous music school, I’M SO EXCITED. I’ve always wanted to learn! AND, my professor lets me play his piano, which is good because I don’t want to forget everything that I know.| AND, I’m going to be apart of a drama class thing at our big theater. It wasn’t just your average goof around and make silly faces drama club, it was an intense round of improvisations and analyzations. I’m really nervous as to how I’m going to be because I’ve never done any type of drama, but I strongly believe that it will help with my Croatian and it will also help me to build some charisma and meeting people skills.

Well, I wish I could write about each event and every detail, but that would just take forever, and I still have to record the past few days in my journal, like, the one that I physically write in. But if you’re interested in Croatia and exchange and such, I’ll give you the links to some other RYE inbounds to Croatia. They are all living in Zagreb, but that’s okay. If you happen to go to Croatia for exchange, you’ll have the biggest chance of living there.

It’s so unfortunate, I reread this journal about a thousand times, every time a disappointment. I really wish I could convey to you the feelings of being in a whole new world. Perhaps I’ll dedicate my next journal to being heartfelt and descriptive, instead of droning on about events and silly things. Hmm… Yes. Yes, that’s a good idea. Stay tuned, and prepare for me to be sentimental next entry.

November 22

Hello, to whoever may be reading this. This is yet another journal entry from me, Adaline Carlile, outbound in Croatia. But, I’m going to announce something now. This journal won’t be about me. It will be for all you exchangers out there now and exchangers to come. Fortunately, I’m writing my regular talk-about-life-and-stuff entry and that will be sent later on when it’s finished, but I just felt the need to write a quick one about exchange and some extremely important advice.

I’ve been here for almost three months. Yes, that time has flown by. I mean, it seems like just yesterday when I was at my interviews, getting calls from Rotary about my country, going to the orientations, and impatiently waiting for the day when I could finally embark on my journey. But, then again, it’s hard to imagine that it has ONLY been three months. I mean, so much has happened – relationships have grown, I’ve learned more of the language, and I’ve discovered a lot about life outside of my little box. Honestly, it seems like I’ve grown up here, and that my life back in Florida is only a dream.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned so far that I really feel the need to share with everyone, it’s what I’m about to say.  If you go on exchange looking to experience all the tales and stories you’ve read and heard about from people involved with it, then I have news for you. You WILL be disappointed. What is exchange? Is every exchange the same? No! If every exchange were the same, everyone would eventually get bored. Where is the fun in doing something everyone else has already done? Where is the benefit from experiencing all of the good times of exchange but never going through the hard parts? Exchange is so much more than learning a language, it’s so much more than going to cool new places… Exchange is breaking out of your comfort zone and going out into the world, learning things about life, reality, the world, and yourself, whether it be the best year of your life or not.

One of the worst things you can do while on exchange is constantly compare your exchange to others. Whenever I went through a hard time, I began to think, “Why is this happening to me? I bet the others are having a better time with this than I am…” I began to get so down on myself because I felt as though my situation wasn’t as fortunate as the others spread across the world. Luckily, I began to realize that life is life – it’s not a fairy tale, it has it’s ups and downs, that’s something I can’t control. But what I CAN control is how I react to them. I eventually came to my senses and realized that my exchange is going to be how I make it. No one can write it for me, no one can experience it for me either. If I want to make the best of things, I need to live in the moment and enjoy the good times and endure the hard. I’ve accepted the fact that my exchange is mine, only I can ever have it, therefore I want it to be different from the rest. I like it better that way. I’m glad things didn’t turn the cookie-cutter way I imagined them to be. I’m glad that things didn’t turn out the way I fantasized them to be, because if they HAD been that way, how boring and ordinary my exchange story will be when I’m home.

Expectations are a killer. They have been my greatest disappointment and problem while I’ve been here. And I think that the majority of exchangers would agree. When thinking about exchange, people tend to start fantasizing about what it’s going to be like for them. They gather a whole bunch of advice and cool stories from other exchange students, they go through the RYE training, they hear speeches of how it will be the best year of their lives, this and that, exchange will be like this, you will do that, you’ll accomplish this! All this talk of what will happen really intrigues people. I made expectations. They told me that I’ll be fluent around New Years? Okay. I’ll be really good at Croatian soon! This girl got to go skiing and start a soccer team at her school? Cool! I’ll do that too! Dream after dream, fantasy after fantasy, I was so anxious to finally live it. But, when I got here, to be honest, I didn’t have that “honeymoon” stage Rotary talks about. I got here, almost disappointed, because life here is, well, normal. Sure it’s not the life you had back at home, but it’s not some heavenly realm that’s beyond your wildest imagination! It’s life! It’s real! Many exchangers have already become disappointed because they aren’t having that “typical exchange”. Of course not. You’re in a completely different country than 95% of the people you talked to beforehand. What did you expect to do? For all my fellow outbounds having a difficult time, and for those that will face this same problem, it’s okay. This is all part of exchange, the good AND the bad. They are what give exchange character and balance! Besides, we still have so much time to pick things up and make the best of everything! 🙂 <3

So, before I end this little spiel, I’m going to wrap this journal up in a few sentences. When you go on exchange, don’t come with expectations. As hard as that may be, be prepared to be thrown off-guard, be prepared to be disappointed, be prepared to have your hopes let down. It’s going to happen. No matter how wonderful things may seem at first. But THAT’S OKAY. That’s part of life! Part of exchange! I’m glad I learned this lesson, to stop comparing myself to others and to stop trying to live by my expectations because it’s freed me and allowed me to enjoy everything that I’ve been blessed with here, and I live each day in the moment rather than constantly looking towards what I expect will happen. Setting goals is okay, and in fact, it’s a good idea! It gives you something to work for! But expectations? Like I just previously mentioned. Bad… I’ve now realized that I’m not here simply to learn a language and live in a new place for ten months, I’m here to experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, create ever-lasting bonds with people, learn about the world and myself, and take each challenge with a strong heart. Life here for me now is better than ever, and I know another hardship is on it’s way soon. But, I’m excited to take it on, because everything that I’ve learned to accept and love here is completely worth it. Don’t give it all up because it’s tough. 🙂

That’s all. 🙂 Until I write again! I have loads to tell you all! With pictures and a video! Oooooh, it’s going to be very nice. >:)

Adaline (or “Eddey”, or “Edeline” said in a Croatian accent. XD )

 January 4

Bok, prijatelji! Kako ste? Sretan Božić i Nova Godina! Darn! I can’t believe I missed the month of December! I just might have to send in TWO journals this month to make up for the missed adventures. Dobro? Dobro! The last time I sent my journal entry, I didn’t really elaborate on my own adventure, but I instead wrote about revelations I had had and what I feel is a true part of exchange. I also remember remarking on how I felt as though life is really too good to be true, too good that I knew something difficult was bound to happen soon. Well, let me tell you… This past month has been one of the hardest months of my life. Rotary, and everyone else who says this, is NOT kidding when they say it’s going to be difficult. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I had always thought to myself that I’ve been in plenty of hard times, awkward times, and everything in between, and that these “hard times” they speak of will only be another obstacle that life throws in your direction. I mean, what could make them SO SPECIAL? Well. Ha. I’ve been put in situations where I would have rather DIED than face it. I never would have had to face those problems and learn those lessons had I not come on this journey. Or maybe I would have, but later on in my life in different ways, and I find it’s better to learn while you’re young anyhow. 🙂 I mean, really. It’s something I can’t explain, a lot of it things I choose not to discuss, and other things are only understood through first-hand experience.

This past month was obviously the holiday month, December. We had New Years’, Christmas, and a new holiday, St. Nicholas Day. And all of them were the first time I had spent them away from home. St. Nicholas Day is held on December 6 of every year, and actually, he’s the “protector saint” or something like that of Varaždin! Well, anyway, on the night of December 6, St. Nicholas comes, along with Krampus, the evil devil guy, and puts goodies into your boot on your windowsill. Krampus will put sticks in your boot: silver if your moderately bad and golden if you’re really bad. I, of course, got golden… No, but seriously. I did. It was nice! Then a couple of weeks down the road, there was Christmas! I woke up really early that morning to the sound of my little host sister opening her gifts that BABY JESUS left. That’s right, kids. Baby Jesus leaves your presents, not Santa. Anyway, so, I groggily went out and joined the party. I opened my gifts: I got three awesome books (I’ve become a book worm) and a really pretty homemade bag that has cute buttons! Thanks, baby Jesus! Wink wink… I also got some packages from home and some other presents from other host family members. 🙂 Then we went to mass, and that was really awkward because it was so full of people that they were standing. So, I had to sit in the front…where everyone could see me. And I had no idea what was going on when it came to hand motions, prayers, singing, etc. Talk about awkward when you just stare blankly at the floor. But, it was still fun. We then went home and prepared the apartment for our guests! My host aunt and uncle and four cousins came to our place for Christmas lunch. Lunch consisted of delicious items, like turkey, the must-have soup, salad, vegetables, and this delicious stuffing sort of thing that I can’t remember the name of. After a lot of spending time with family, when it became late evening, I packed my things and went to my best friend Paula’s house. It was like a second Christmas! The only sad part was that her little brother, Toni, looked like the Grinch because the night before he had fallen and busted his lip. A tooth even fell out… Good thing he only has baby teeth!

Unfortunately, the postal service on my end has been a pain in the butt. First, I’m unable to send packages over 450 grams to the USA. Thank you, terrorism. I was so excited to mail gifts home to my family and friends, I had packed them and everything. When my host mom and I got to the post office, they tell us that they are too heavy and that we can only send package 450 or smaller. I thought, WHAT?! And my host mom also thought, WHAT?! She had such a huge package for her daughter, Donata, back in Florida. We were both thoroughly disappointed. And to be quite frank, it killed my mood, man. But, we improvised and downsized our packages. I sent four little packages total to the U.S. Two have gotten there, and the other two are still lost in space. Great. When it comes to receiving packages, the one from my grandma Bonnie still hasn’t come and it’s been a month. And they like to tax you. My mom had sent an iPod for Christmas (she feels the need to spoil me because I’m not home anymore…). Well, we had to go to customs like three different times to sort out the mess, just so I could get the package, and they ended up making me pay 400 kunas, about $60, because Croatia want their tax money. … I hate taxes. But, other than that, everything has been great with the postal service!

When it comes to daily life, there isn’t really much to be said. It’s been my Christmas break, so everyday has been different. I went to Salzburg for a Rotary orientation with the Austrian inbounds and that was really amazing! I met a lot of really awesome people and I can’t wait to see them again. The only sad part was that I had had an allergic reaction to a facial cream…and I had a swollen rash around my mouth. So, the majority of the time I looked like a terrorist because I had a scarf covering my mouth. And I’m sure you might be wondering about the weather. It’s really bipolar here. We have times where there is a lot…A LOT…of snow, and then other times where it suddenly gets warm and it all melts. I hate when it melts. Either give me snow everyday or none at all! Geez! I also got to spend some time in Zagreb and hang out with the other Croatia inbounds. That was good fun! Actually, speaking of Zagreb, that was an adventure. We got lost numerous times and on my final day there, we missed about three train rides. THAT was frustrating, but a funny story nonetheless.

School is about to start soon, so I suppose I’ll give an account of what my life will be like again. I’ll wake up and get ready for school and walk about twenty minutes. I’ll go to my first class, then the rest of the day depends on my schedule. Some days I have to stay for numerous class periods and others days I only have one class. Thank you to Rotary, we only have to choose six classes to get marks in. So, the other eleven subjects I’m not taking, I don’t have to attend. But, I do anyway, because school is more of a social gathering of friends for me. I love my entire class. I couldn’t have asked for a better one! I take pride in my 3.E. Whoop whoop! Then on Tuesday and Friday evenings, I have cello lessons at the music school, and on Wednesday nights I have drama class. In my free time I enjoy walking five minutes down the road to hang out with Paula. When we hang out I feel so carefree and I don’t worry about much. She’s definitely going to be the person that I’m going to miss the most when I leave. On the bright side, she’s going to be living with me in Florida for a month this summer! Yippee!

Well, I’ll close this journal up now. Like I said in my previous journal, I would have a video. And I actually do! But, it’s not really worth showing. Ha, so, I’ll make a better one and post it. 😉 Oh, and as for the language… Croatian is the hardest language ever. Okay, not the hardest, but one of the hardest. While people in German or Spanish speaking countries learn fairly quick, people learning Slavic languages, or Hungarian, or any of those languages, really struggle because they are  completely opposite from English. The number one thing you have to do is to try not to compare yourself with the languages skills of kids in other countries. It’s a different story for everyone.

 Doviđenja!   Adaline C.

February 24

”Moj mali je opasan! Kad je mjesec mlad! Moj mali je opasan! Kada krene u grad!” Well, those are lyrics to an amazing Croatian song that is currently stuck in my head. Ha! Anyway… Bok! Kako ste? Odlično sam! … Ja bih rekla više, ali ne znam kaj pričati! I prijatelji, nemojte se smijati! Mi znamo da moj hrvatski je….dobar. Ahem. Yah. Moving along now! I’ve been here in Croatia for six months, and it’s hard to believe that I leave in four months. Could it really be only four months? Yes, I suppose it is true, now that I have my departure date and all. June 20th is the day my life here in Croatia has to come to an end. Lame. But, let’s talk about this past month rather than dreading what’s to come, shall we?

I suppose the biggest news would be my switch to a new family! Now I’m living with my friend Tena Novak, who’s now moja sestra. And even bigger than that, I don’t reside in Varaždin anymore! I live in a small small town about twenty minutes outside of the city called Prelog. So how do I get to school? I ride a bus, then a train, then I use my two feet. I’m waking up at five twenty every morning, in which I then have to ride a small bus to a neighboring village in order to get to the train station. From there I ride a twenty-five minute to thirty minute train to Varaždin. With thirty minutes to spare before school begins, my host sister, a few classmates, and I all go to the Rock Art Café and drink ourselves some coffee or tea. Actually, I usually get some delicious hot chocolate or iced coffee. (Yes, I understand the fact that its freezing outside and there is the occasional morning snowfall, but a vanilla Nescaffe shake totally hits the spot!) It’s definitely a new experience to use this system of transportation, something I never dreamed I’d get to do in fact. I mean, who knew I’d ride trains to school for my junior year!? I love it! Of course mistakes and scary incidents are in order when first starting out the new system… Like riding at night after a cello lesson and getting off at what you thought was the wrong stop because it was dark and lifeless and looked like you were going to get murdered, so you ran back on and ended up going all the way to the last station before the Hungarian border, while later finding out that the first station you got off of was the right station, it just happens to be more obscure than you thought. But, you know, not like that happened to me or anything. Ha. Pfffft. No way. …

It’s been a month at my new place and it’s hard to believe that I haven’t been living with the family that took me in for my first five months of exchange, the ones that gave me a place to stay, food to eat, and a rack full of life-lessons and fun memories. The Rihtarić family will always be with me and I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for me, for the times they dealt with me when I was difficult and going through hard times in my life. I really owe a lot to them, and I’ll be forever grateful for their accepting me as one of their own. They’ve provided me with so many opportunities, so many experiences; their enthusiasm for bringing me into their home and helping me adapt was more than I could have ever asked for! I’m going to miss them dearly, and I look forward to staying in touch with them and having them remain a part of my life, even after I’m home in Florida! Volim vas!

Some really exciting things that are going to take place during my four remaining months are as follows: SKI CAMP! The Croatian inbounds were invited to the Austrian inbounds ski camp for a week in March! It was actually pretty last minute decision, so unfortunately not many of us can go. Actually, out of the eleven of us, there are only two going, one of those people being me! I’m really excited though because I’ve never been skiing before and it will DEFINITELY be an experience to remember forever! The only downside to my story is, I’m not going on the Eurotour. After much deciding and debate, I decided that there are other things that I want to partake in that have more benefits for me. Like the ski camp, and also when my family comes, I’m going to be traveling with them around Europe to visit some other family that I have here. That’s going to be really amazing! And also, I decided to go with my church to Africa next November… So, although I won’t tour all of Europe, I’m going to be doing some other pretty amazing things that I’m even more excited about! 🙂 Oh yes, speaking of my family, they come two days after my birthday, April 8th! I can’t believe it! I’m so stoked to have them meet all of my family here, my friends, see my home, how I have been living my life, and sharing with them everything I love about Croatia! And I’m also REALLY excited to speak Croatian while they’re here! I’ve been getting much much better! I strongly believe that by the time I leave, my Croatian will be off the heezy! Yippee!

On a more serious note, the questions that always come to my mind are, “How have I grown, how have I changed, who am I now?” I mean, it’s hard for me to see my differences. I know they are there, but I can’t tell you in what ways. But, I feel like I haven’t changed, but more so I’ve matured. I remember Paula Roderick talking to a group of students at the orientation before we all departed. She said that we don’t really change, it’s just like we push the fast forward button on our lives and grow at a much quicker pace. And the way I look at things, that’s exactly how I feel in my situation. Yet, I still couldn’t tell you the ways that I’ve grown. These changes I probably won’t be able to recognize until I return to the states, maybe even a couple years afterwards! This exchange has shaped me in many different ways, and I know that it doesn’t end when I leave, but it continues on throughout the rest of my life! One thing I know for sure is that it has opened my eyes. It’s helped me decide where I want to go in my life, it’s inspired me to succeed and do so many things I never would have thought of if I hadn’t come on this exchange. I’ve realized that life has so much to offer! It’s a story, and it doesn’t end when I leave Croatia, but rather opens to a new chapter, a new adventure, full of new opportunities and hardships, lessons, and blessings. I know I have four months left of my exchange, but I sometimes can’t help but imagine what my life will be like in the future. I’m ready and excited to take on whatever it brings me!

Goodness, writing these journals is always so hard, at least for me. Mainly because so much happens each day, it’s hard to choose what to write about. So, I either write to much or not enough… Hopefully this was an okay journal, but I will open this invitation to you. If you are curious about Croatia, thinking of coming here for vacation or exchange, or anything, anything at all, and you want to ask someone, FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME. I won’t find it creepy. I promise! I LOVE talking to people about this kind of stuff! But seriously, just add me on the Face and just let me know who you are and that you read this journal entry or something like that! I’M SO EAGER TO SHARE EVERYTHING WITH YOU. So do it, if you dare! Especially you 2011-2012 RYE Florida outbound class! 🙂

Well, I can’t think of anything else to write about, or rather, I’m thinking of everything to write about but I doubt it will hold much of any importance to you. 😉

Tvoja prijateljica,

Adaline C.

April 30

 So I’m sitting here jamming to artists like The Tempest Trap, Foster the People, and Two Theatre Cinema Club while reminiscing about my past two months that I haven’t covered in my journal. I suppose I could write about everything I’ve done, and I’m sure a lot of you would be really curious as to what that is, but I think I should focus on the more important things I’ve come to learn about myself. … Okay, I’ll sacrifice a paragraph or two quickly listing the adventures I went on, because believe me, these past two (or three… I’ve lost count) have been some of the most adventurous yet!

In March, I dressed up as a gypsy at school, along with the rest of the girls in my class, for Maškare. (It’s a pretty international holiday, by the way.) I didn’t know how to react to this, but this group of seniors came to school dressed as four terrorists, an airplane, and the Twin Towers. Then they flew around chasing the Towers… Also in March, from the 19th to the 26th, I spent a week in Schladming , Austria skiing with the Rotary Austria inbounds. That was one of the BEST weeks of my life! Let’s see… What else? April 6th was my 17th birthday! And on April 8th my mom and sister flew into Zagreb! The next day, on April 9th, my host family threw a surprise party for me. It. Was. AWESOME. Probably the best birthday ever so far! You know how they got me out of the house? My host family knows a cosmetologist and they told me that she wanted to test her makeup on skin with a lot of freckles because the following weekend she had a bride with a lot of freckles. I just thought I was going to be a guinea pig, suffer through a makeover (if you know me, I NEVER wear makeup…), and then come home to be a lazy bum! But no, I come home to a large group of people attacking me with the word “SURPRISE!” and throwing kisses at me in every direction. I didn’t suspect a THING. One great thing about Croatia (as there are VERY many), they make you feel so loved on your birthday! They come shake your hand, say “Sretan rođendan!”, and then they give you two kisses on each cheek. I’m totally bringing that custom back with me to the States.

For two weeks in April, my family and I traveled around a small part of Europe for a little bit, meeting people we knew in almost every city! First we went to Budapest, where we met Carleigh McFarlane (read her journal!) , then drove to Salzburg where I met my buddy from Texas. We stayed the night in Innsbruck, then drove to Bern, Switzerland and stayed with a friend for a few days. (My favorite place in Europe so far, besides Croatia!) That’s where my dad met us! After Bern, we went to Venice. It’s so easy to get claustrophobic in there… Then we stayed the night in a small city on the coast in Poreč, Croatia. The following day we went to Kruševo and stayed with my best friend Paula and her family in their vacation home on the coast! While staying there we climbed an awesome mountain thing, visited Split, Zadar, and Šibenik, and witnessed my dads (Paula’s dad and my dad) drink a little too much “apple juice”, as they liked to call it. It was quite a sight. But I’ll admit, I enjoyed watching them two get along so well! Just watching them sit together and boisterously laugh together at the smallest things was memorable. J From there we visited Plitvice Lakes, then drove back home and spent Easter weekend with my host family. All in all, it was an incredible trip. I was so happy to share my Croatian home with my family. For spring break, Rotary took us to Dubrovnik for four days. It’s one of the most well-known cities that is situated at the southern-most point of Croatia. It was beautiful! The Adriatic Sea is incredible (and extremely chilly in April, I might add). I didn’t mind so much the city, I just wanted to sit on my favorite spot on our (us exchangers) special beach all day and appreciate the cliffs, the mysterious cave carved into the rock wall, and the crystal clear water lightly splashing over the edges my favorite sitting stone. Dreamy, eh?

So, now that I’ve given a (very) brief overview of my adventures I’ve had, it’s really time to get to the more important and meaningful affairs of my life. Where do I even begin? I guess I’m going to sound like a broken record at this next part, but where has the time gone? It just continues to slip from my grasp and before I know it, a month has flown by in a blink of an eye. My day count is roughly fifty days now, and I’ve become stressed with the amount I want to do, to accomplish, to see, and I realize that I have so little time to do it. Every weekend I have left here is booked; my life is scheduled until the day I depart from this place. What a strange feeling… It seemed like just yesterday when I was still sitting at home because I didn’t know enough people, or places, to occupy myself. But now, I’ll probably never get the chance to hang out with people I had planned on hanging out with, I won’t be able to go to this place or that place, all because my time is scarce. Why does everything have to happen at the end? It leaves the exchange year very imbalanced! Ha! I don’t know, I just can’t fathom what it’s going to be like when I’m home. My exchange life over, never to be obtained again. Never to know when you’ll be back, never to know when you’ll see these people again, or IF you’ll ever see them again. So many unknowns, but isn’t that what it’s like when you begin your exchange? So many questions you have and so many unknowns. But that’s what makes exchange students unique. We go ahead and dive into the unknown, eager to explore it and learn new things, to make those unknown things become known. That’s what it’s all about! So, even though it’s the end of living my life in Croatia, it’s not the end of my adventure, of my life story. It’s the beginning of a new chapter, and I’m going to bring so much this chapter into the next. And when I finally do leave this place, I count on the fact that it won’t be “Goodbye”, but “Bok, vidimo se uskoro.” (Bye, we’ll see each other soon.)

Another revelation I’ve come to realize is this; I want to do a lot in my life, I want to travel, to see places, but there’s one key ingredient that I want most. I want it to have a deeper, insightful meaning. I’ve traveled a lot while living here, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing things, but I’ve learned that places are places and things are things. I’ve never truly enjoyed something unless it carried meaning to my life. Spending time on the coast? Great! Spending time on the coast with my best friends and family? Amazing! But even then, I want it to go farther. I’ve been doing a lot of research, planning my future, you know, what I’ve recently found I like to do, and I’ve come across some pretty amazing opportunities. As of now, I plan on spending a summer in Cambodia volunteering at an orphanage, and after I graduate I plan on spending at least a few months in Kenya volunteering with kids in a music program. This upcoming November I’m actually going to Kenya for a mission trip with my church. Now, THOSE are the places I want to go to, the places I want to see, that’s just the thing I want to do. I don’t really care if I was stationed in the most luxurious city or the crappiest tribal village, being there making a difference, helping people, sharing Christ’s light, doing something with a deeper meaning, THAT’S my goal in life. And I’m excited to embark on all of those journeys! I don’t really know how to explain it into words, only those who’ve experienced it can understand, but exchange just opens your eyes and helps you realize what more there is to life, that it doesn’t have to be the cookie-cutter lifestyle most people tend to pursue just because they don’t know anything else.

I’ll close this journal now with a thought I just had today. When others go on exchange, they feel like their host country is the place they should have been born in, that they feel they truly belong there instead of where they actually are from. In my case, I beg to differ. The United States is my country, but so is Croatia. But I feel like I don’t fully belong in either. Rather, I feel like I’m a citizen of the globe, like I still have yet to belong in numerous other places throughout my life. Because I know for a fact I don’t belong in just one place.

Anyway, I hope to write more soon! As for now, I give you all a bok bok and a pusa.

 

Maria (Alejandra) Garcia Narvaez
2010-11 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Bom Despacho-Arraial Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil

Alejandra - Brazil

Alejandra’s Bio

Hello, my name is Maria Alejandra Garcia and I’m setting sail to Brazil come the end of summer. The town I live in is quaint but I love it! It’s the little things that make it charming, like the fort wall overlooking the water, the Lightner Museum’s water fountains and balcony, and the much appreciated beach.

I live with my madre, my dog Brownie and my cat named Cat. My father lives in Naples with his wife and two daughters Carolina and Daniella, whom I see occasionally. My other brother lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Nancy and two kids, Cesar and Gaby. I grew up with my sister Sandra so we’re really close and I miss her now that she’s living in Tallahassee. She started traveling when she was 16 and I believe that sparked my curiosity to explore the world. I decided to do the exchange because I strongly believe that you have to live your life in the moment and set out to try new things without putting them off otherwise you’ll never go through with it.

I’m really active at school where I’m a member of the AICE program, the swim team and quite a few clubs. I’m a dedicated dancer and have been since I was 4. I go to The Dance Company and let’s just call it my home away from home since I practically live there. I don’t play any contact sports but I wish I did. Therefore, I’m determined to learn soccer in Brazil and COMPLETELY convinced that I’ll come back a pro. The smallest things make me laugh…we’re talking knock-knock jokes and the silliest riddles here. In a nut shell: I’m short, goofy, and outgoing.

I want to say “thank you” to my family for supporting me on this journey, the friend who gave me pep talks when I had doubts, and those who have stood by me every step of the way (you know who you are). I’m looking forward to the challenge of living in another country for a year and would like to thank Rotary Youth Exchange for this opportunity. I’m not gonna lie, I’m kind of scared. However, most importantly, I’m excited, leaving open minded, and ready to face the adventure that awaits.

Adeus!

 Alejandra’s Journals

August 20

Day 13: I’ll admit, I was quite upset upon departure from the states but now that I’ve been in Brazil for over a week I don’t see what I was so worried about. As soon as I saw my family at the airport with a “welcome” sign I knew I’d be okay. Every moment spent in this beautiful country makes me realize I’m exactly where I need to be. I fit in with my 1st host family immediately. My dad, Elano, is always looking out for me. He always brings home a different kind of food for me to try and every time I’m done eating he makes me eat more. Needless to say I quickly learned the phrase “I’m full”. My mom, Tereza, treats me like a daughter. We walk down the street arm and arm and already she talks about how she’ll miss me when I switch houses. My eldest younger brother Elano Jr. has been my salvation. He’s the only one who speaks English so y 1st couple of days I would just stare at him and he’d translate. The youngest is Vitor and he’s 11. Alas I have someone to give a knuckle sandwich to and just have fun with. The other day we went to the little kids park (there’s a sign saying 10 and under only) and cracked ourselves up on the sea-saw. Him and I sing and dance in the car together…Justin Bieber is a big deal over here so naturally my rapping abilities in “Baby” were much appreciated.

My 1st night in Bom Despacho we went to the birthday party for one of my uncles. I was paraded around and introduced. Everyone was so warm and a fun activity was trying to get me to call different uncles “gay”. Unfortunately the word stays the same in Portuguese so they didn’t have any luck. We visited Divinopolis the next weekend. It’s the nearest town with a movie theater and bowling alley. The movies were all in Portuguese and without subtitles so we settled for bowling and ate acai which is a fruit and they serve it like ice cream. All the food is scrumptious. I have rice and beans literally every single day but it’s always accompanied with something else. Usually it’s a meat but other times it’s pasta or something of that nature. I’ve noticed a great use of corn as well. I’ve had one pasta dish where I didn’t spot corn Lasagna, bow tie, spaghetti and more all held the little yellow veggie. There’s an official snack time in between meals. It took a little getting used to but now I’ve adapted and enjoy it.

I started school my 1st Monday here and I can officially say I somewhat know what it feels like to be a celebrity. That whole week I had kids looking at me through the window. Some more forward peeps stood in the doorway between classes and made eye contact before running away giggling. Even at home I have family friends coming over just to meet me. The students here stay in one classroom all day with breaks in between classes to go outside and mingle. I’ve gone from giving complete blank stares to laughing at the jokes I catch and occasionally throwing out a comment or two. The teachers here rotate instead of the students and everyone takes classes ranging from Physics to Sociology to Grammar to English to Math and on and on. I go to a small school so my class is the whole grade and we have 15 students including myself. Classes start at 7:10 and end at 12:40 at which point I go home to have lunch with the family.

The rest of the day I hang out until my brothers are done with homework and some days we go to the athletic club or hang out with friends. Everyone here takes English class at school but a lot go to a company outside of school to get the speaking part down. The “d’s” here are pronounced as the ‘g’ in ‘gentle’. I noticed they transferred this to apply in English as well when I kept getting asked if I liked Gisney Worlg. At times I feel childish pointing to things and asking for the name in Portuguese but it pays off when I can finally use it in a sentence, even if’ it’s a fragment…eventually the point gets across and it’s rewarding.

Other times though, I find myself in a pickle.

For example, let’s explore my 1st day home alone. Everyone emphasized how I should not let anyone that wasn’t family which I thought was easy enough. Five minutes after the last person left there was a ring at the gate. I had just watched Edge Of Darkness (w/ Portuguese subtitles) and was feeling a bit paranoid so I proceeded with care downstairs hiding behind walls and peeping around corners to see who was there. Low and behold who should be waiting but an attractive guy. Still suspicious (darn you Mel Gibson!) I went up to the window and saw what he needed. I caught something about a printer and he must have thought I was mentally challenged since looks-wise I fit in and I just stared at him. No one said anything about a printer before leaving! I explained I was foreign to the best of my ability and so I made him wait downstairs as I messaged Elano’s cousin asking him to call him for help because I had forgotten to get the family’s numbers. I then went downstairs and the guy explained he needed to come inside to see the printer. The only problem was I didn’t know enough Portuguese to explain I wasn’t supposed to let anyone in. So you can see my dilemma I’m sure. Part of me was saying “stranger danger” and the other said “just look at him!” Oh I meant to say “let the man do his job”. I decided Elano must have just forgotten to tell me about the man and let him in. I went back upstairs to see a message instructing to not let the man in until someone else got there. Hmmmm…. whoops. In the end it turned out the man was legitimate and merely early so I got a pat on the back. Later my friend Leah told me in some movie a girl is in a foreign country and sold into slavery by a good looker so luckily I missed that film or Elano would be without his Rotary application.

Next week I’m starting guitar lessons and also am going to take up samba/zumba classes at the athletic club. I have multiple offers on a soccer coach so I’ve started with Vitor and will take lessons as I go on from the rest. This weekend we’re traveling to the most visited town in the state and there happens to be a food festival which I look forward to. My birthday is next week and all the kids are talking about bringing cake to class.

Even with all the amazing people surrounding me, at times it gets lonely. As the brilliant Dr. Seuss put it, “Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.” And it’s OK to feel like that. I got in a funk for a couple of hours and then I was fine. Sometimes you can’t help but feel alone in the experience. All you have to do is breath. A look around shows you all the smiling faces eager to help you and when you remember all the familiar ones at home cheering you on that feeing of loneliness goes away. To all you future exchange students, homesickness is just one paragraph in a book of adventures….and I’ve only been here for two weeks.

I’m so blessed to be here and want to thank God and everyone in Florida who made this possible. My family, Jody Davis, Daphne Cameron, Al Kalter, the St.Augustine Sunrise Rotary club and all of district 6970: I offer my infinite gratitude. By the way Daphne, I plan to out-write your Switzerland kids. Just saying.

Tchau!

September 8

Day 31: Hello there beautiful people! I’ll go ahead and start where I last left off. I went to Tiradentes for a weekend and made a pit stop in São João del Rei.Tiradentes is the most visited city by tourist in the state of Minas Gerais. For starters, our hotel was splendid. It was so colorful, there was a hammock right outside my door. and random dogs to play ‘catch’ with.

The town itself was very historical and beautiful as well. We got a guide in this horse carriage. Minus the excitingly decorated buggy, I thought it would be similar to St.Augustine horse tours: slow and somewhat boring. My oh my was I wrong, that hello-kitty decked out ride galloped full speed down those narrow stone roads! The sights we visited were all facinating. The slave and rich folk’s churches had real gold ranging from 8 to 460 kilos (respectively). You just walked in and were left in awe at the hand work people did thousands of years ago. Other sight-seeing included a fountain with an interesting legend. There were 3 statues that spewed water out. The 1st story claimed that if you drank from the statue #1’s water you’d be happily married, take a sip from #2’s and you’d be left a widow and get ready for a nasty divorce if you dare swallow the H2O from #3. Eventually someone must have realized that 2/3 of the tale was negative because currently the statues spew out love, health, and riches.

On our last day we stopped at São João del Rei. We had lunch and saw an old school train station then saw two more churches. One of them was of São Francisco and actually held the tomb of an ex-president. The church took around 40 years to build and held giant wooden structures all around which were built by one man, alone!! Next to the alter there was a unique chandelier. There’s only two in the world and it’s twin is currently residing in the Louvre. Afterwards we went to another church that had all these paintings on the ceiling whose eyes followed you everywhere you went.

My birthday was on a Thursday this year so I went to school and at lunch time all the kids in the 2nd and 3rd year surprised me with a surprise party. They all pitched in money to buy sodas and snacks and then my classmate made a cake. I have to say it was one of the sweetest things ever done for me. Now, let me describe to you a painful yet entertaining birthday tradition in Brazil. I have no idea how this came into existence but on the day of your birth, you get egged. I knew it was coming because I was warned by some and the kids repeatedly told me how good eggs and coffee are for your hair. I was thinking maybe 5 eggs total, no big deal right? Then I see Kyara walking towards me with 30 eggs and all the kids start swarming her to get some. This was when I started running away. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite sure where I was so they caught me pretty quickly. Since the eggs were bought directly after school they were very cold and hard from the fridge. Ergo, the first time with my skull or upper body it wouldn’t break. Logical solution? Hit harder. I  imagine I have a clue as to what it felt like to be stoned in the Jesus days. At the end I was given the last uncracked egg to break over my own head for a picture. Really guys? You didn’t stop to think for 1 second that I’d just hit the person right next to me. And gee golly you can bet your dollar I hugged everyone I could catch! That night we had a party at my house with friends and family. My guests attempted to teach me how to dance “funky” and my grandma made this gigantic sandwich. It was a fun night and after everyone left I had the chance to phone my gorgeous sister Sandra and Skype the special woman who gave me birth 🙂 Looks like 18 is my new lucky number.

This Saturday I got to go to my 1st wedding. The bride was my dad’s cousin and since we have a nice car, he drove her to the church. The after party was different than I expected. The music ranged from Portuguese to some good ole’ English classics: my favorites were “I Will Survive”, “Another Brick In The Wall”, “Dancing Queen” and let’s not leave out Akon’s “Dangerous”! In case you are wondering, Gloria Gaynor stirred things up a little bit and did a duet…with me.

Today is Brazil’s independence day and there was a parade early in the morning. Tonight everyone is going to the Praça Mall to eat ice-cream and probably dance in the street. Now it’s time for the update on my ordinary life. I go to dance class and the gym 4 times a week at my athletic club and you’ll be proud to know that I can walk all by lonesome without getting lost. I take guitar twice a week and so far I’ve been taught a Portuguese song and “I’m Yours”. I say taught because I haven’t quite grasped the learning part (yet). Rotary here has community service projects every week for the exchange students. So far I’ve visited a rehab center and helped out at the special Olympics.

I explained in my last journal how d’s are pronounced like the ‘g’ in gentle but since it makes more sense I’ll now refer to it as a ‘j’. You should also know that r’s are pronounced like h’s. So for this journal my favorite Portuguese pronunciation of an English word is “Red Bull”. Example: No, I don’t personally drink HEJ BULL but my sister and her boyfriend are quite fond of the drink when undertaking a long road trip. HEJ BULL.

So there you have it folks, the bigger events in my life up until today. Ate mais!

October 1

Day 54: Time is starting to become a blur. I’ve been here for almost 2 months but it seems like only a couple of weeks .

I finally went to a sweet 15 birthday party. It’s the 2nd most important day of your life right next to your wedding. The planning takes place years before the event and there’s an entire hour ceremony full of rituals and traditions welcoming the girl into womanhood. I was told it wasn’t that great of a party but to me it seemed like quite the event. That same weekend I went to a club. Since I just recently turned 18 it was my 1st time ever and I had the most splendid time. There were neon lights everywhere, English techno music playing , and creepy guys hitting on you everywhere. I guess some things don’t change no matter what country you’re in.

I visited Rio the week after and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I traveled with Elano and my mom by plane (a 45 flight compared to an 8 hour drive). We arrived at night so we met up with an uncle and had dinner then proceeded to our hotel in Copacabana to get a good nights rest for the next day’s events. My brother, the founder of PECA, was filming a documentary about his organization so there were cameramen filming us walk out of the hotel as we made our way to the lecture. It was held at the local high school of actress Bia Arantes. It was my 1st time attending a PECA event and I found it really interesting. Afterwards we went out to a shopping mall for lunch with the actress and her mother. This mall had about 8 floors and was bigger than any mall I’d seen in Florida and obviously put Bom Despacho’s little praça to shame. For the 1st time in Brazil I was able to eat Japanese food (sushi!!!) and frozen yogurt. Afterwards we went to Brazil’s equivalent of Hollywood: Globo. We were given a tour of the environmental area, a couple sets and met the director of Globo’s environmental policies. While we were there, the filming of a show was taken place literally the floor right below us and a popular Brazilian band, Fiuk was playing. The next day was supposed to be beach day except it was raining so instead we met up with Bia again at another mall (only 4 stories but considered the “highclass” mall). I had frozen yogurt again and then we parted ways to go to another mall where we were to meet another one of Elano’s actress friends. This one was called “New York Mall” and was complete with the statue of Liberty at the entrance. There were a lot of American stores here, it was 3 stories tall but so wide I think it was bigger than the other 2.

On our last day it was a little cloudy but I was determined to go to the infamous beaches so we walked to all the major beaches, saw the winner of Big Brother casually walking on the street, and of course ate frozen yogurt again. Every single one of the beaches was absolutely beautiful. The water was a deep (and mind you, clean) aqua that despite the temperature lured me in for about 5 seconds until I realized I had to walk back to the hotel in the wind with no towel. Another interesting site was the sand castles. I can’t even really call them sand castles because it was more of a piece of art. There were men all down the beach sculpting these intricate masterpieces complete with people, houses, windows, roadways…everything! I was reluctant to leave but I look forward to returning with all the other exchange students on the Northeast trip.

When I got back to Bom Despacho everyone wanted to know if I’d rather live there and I could truthfully answer that I was perfectly content where I was. I have a family, friends and a life in Bom Despacho that I wouldn’t trade for all the frozen yogurt and clear beaches in the world. The next weekend our family rented a house in Betim along with the other 2 aunts in Bom Despacho and their families. We spent the weekend lounging in the pool, playing pool, and eating lots of meat. I also learned how to make brigadero which is condensed milk mixed with chocolate…I think I may have just found my downfall.

On another note, elections are taking place this Sunday to elect a new president into office. According to the polls a woman is in the lead and should she win, she would be the 1st woman president in Brazil’s history. Paying attention to the advertisement campaigns I must say I’m a little disappointed in the US’s candidates habit of bashing one another. I have not seen or heard a single advertisement for one opponent critizing the other. There are hired cars that cruise down the street with giant boom boxes blasting catchy tunes, which I admit can get annoying, and the TV commercials are all positive and based on themselves. I mean it, not a single negative jab at an opponent to get ahead of the game. I think that’s something to be admired.

As far as my Portuguese is concerned, I’ve been getting better with practice. I was in street the other day and all of a sudden realized I could understand what the people on the street were saying to one another. I’ve also come to the conclusion that the hardest words to pronounce are the American ones used here. I’ve spent my whole life saying “milkshake”, “internet”, “notebook” (which means laptop here) one way and now I’m expected to say it completely differently. You might as well call me Clouseau (“hamburger” has also given me great grief). The other day a girl at school told me I was starting to look Brazilian. She couldn’t explain it but she said that something in me changed since I’d gotten here. Before I was clearly American and now I was capable of passing as a native. I called her crazy and laughed but it made me proud. Now all I need is to start dreaming in Portuguese and we can call it a done deal.

November 16

Day 100: Hey there peeps, this now time to be updated on my Brazilian life. November was pretty routine. My life here is starting to feel more grounded, thus the sensation of curiosity has shifted. I now know where all the best spots in town are to eat, get ice cream, as well as the places I should stay away from. The reality that I live here has settled in and I can’t label it as a good or bad thing because truth is, it’s my life which as we all know has it’s ups and downs. Every time I leave town I come back to “home” not, “my host city”. I feel comfortable but in the beginning of the shift life was confusing because it was such a huge step and at times felt boring because nothing was new anymore. Then I focused on the high lights and realized what an amazing occurrence was taking place. For instance, I have my own friends who call me to go out, I can go to the plaza on the weekend and have an ice-cream alone if I wish because it no longer feels like I need a tour guide. Of course right when you find your ground, things are switched up. In other words, I switch host families this week.

Rewinding to the past: I attended my 1st inbound orientation in Belo Horizonte and it was funny to see us all get along within the 1st five minutes together. My district apparently hosts the most students, so the weekend was never boring since there were always people to talk and get to know. All those things Rotary says about finding life-long friends through the program are actually true. I can say with self assurance that even after I’m back in the states, I will still have the friendships with the amazing inbounds I’ve met. The day after the orientation I went to an Interact event in Moema (Bom Despacho’s neighbor town) which was fun and eventful however combining the previous weekend of no sleep with my newly made friends led to exhaustion.

There was a concert scheduled for Gusttavo Lima that I was looking forward to that unfortunately got canceled the day of because the fire department declared the location unsafe. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why they would wait until minutes before the show to inspect it but on the bright side it got moved to later this month. My friends Kaylee (from Holland) and Liisa (from Finland) had come to visit me that weekend and attend the show so naturally we were bummed but then my mom called the hotel and found out what restaurant the singer was at so we shimmied on over and got to sit down and eat with the guy which we all agreed was more fun anyways. After they left my other friend Doris (from Austria) came to visit and she actually exclaimed that my city was “big!” leaving me shocked but it turns out her town doesn’t even have a plaza so I’m counting my ducks…or however that expression goes.

I also visited Juiz de Fora for a cousin’s confirmation and went to the movie theaters for the time in Brazil. It’s the 3rd largest city in Minas Gerais which means it has a lot of American influence therefore the movie was in English with Portuguese subtitles and the shopping mall was complete with McDonalds, Burger King…you name it. Now let’s talk community service! I went to a school in the poorer part of town for “children’s weekend” (we should really put this holiday into effect back in the states by the way) and served lunch. The kids were really eager to meet Ball (Thailand exchange student) and me and hear anything in our native languages. My club also had their annual fundraiser which was…wait for it…Italian night! If you know me very well, you know my love for Italian food and this will all make a lot more sense. On this very night I was also required to dress up as an Italian which is hard to explain so I’ll enclose a picture. We also went to a church in the poorer part of town to put on a festival of sorts for the people of the community and made more hotdogs than I ever care to see again.

Speaking of hot dogs I would like to discuss the size of simple food items. Hot dogs for instance, come with tomato sauce, cheese, ham, corn, and crunchy French fry looking things on top of it all. This is all ON the hot dog and you’re always offered ketchup and mayonnaise as well. Hamburgers are pretty much the same except you can get an egg in there too. Everyone seems to be perfectly alright with it except me who can’t take a bit with the whole thing falling apart but I like to believe I’m getting the hang of it.

On a historical note, Brazil elected the 1st female president: Dilma. The 1st run around she didn’t have over 50% of the populations vote so the 2 contestants with the highest numbers proceeded the round 2 which were of course, Dilma and Serra. Much to my sadness, round 2 consisted of a great amount of bashing opponent’s campaigns but at least it was clean for a while…

Now, on to my everyday life. I had a dance performance not too long ago at an event for the community which was nice and I got all nervous before going on stage just like back in the states. Guitar classes unfortunately have slowed down because I won’t be able to take them once I switch host families cause it’s too far away from where I’ll live. Daphne Cameron will be glad to hear that I began to dream in Portuguese. I’m not sure when it started but I just realized that for a while I’ve been talking in Portuguese in my sub-conscience. I don’t magically lose my accent though which was upsetting considering people dream about flying and being invisible so why am I still a foreigner when I’m snoozing? Progress is hard to measure by myself since I’m fully immersed (kinda like how you don’t notice aging since you look in a mirror everyday) so I’ll take people’s word when they say I learned very quickly and am doing well. Something to keep you to look forward to. I’m going to be modeling for my mom’s store soon. She makes dresses for weddings and 15 year old birthday parties so I will be dressed up as a bride. It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m clumsy and needless to say, the dress is long so I think you can see where I’m going with this… Should I survive the runway I’ll be sure to let you all know…Ate mais!

January 16

Day 193

Alright, so I left my readers off with the suspense of me walking down a runway. I made it alive although I was freaking out the whole time and I’m pretty sure my face was redder than the carpet because I was so embarrassed that everyone was looking at me. The month of November also held my switch to my second host family. I am now living with an elderly couple in the middle of the city. It’s nice because everything is a lot closer to where I live however changing families was a harder transition than that from the USA to Brazil. I got so attached to every member of the family and then to move to another with completely different dynamics was difficult. Luckily I live in a small town so remaining in contact was easy, making the move a whole lot easier. I took my first trip with the new host family to Conganhas. It’s a historical city in my state well known for its basilica: the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos. It is home to the world renowned sculptor, Aleijadinho’s soapstone sculptures. Thanksgiving was shortly after I moved and since it isn’t celebrated in Brazil (and I don’t know how to cook), my friends Rafaela and Matheus came over and we made a delicious pasta dish…well, they cooked and I supervised. It wasn’t the traditional meal in any way shape or form but just having people who cared about me made it special on its own.

December didn’t hold much activity except “secret Santa” at school and the obvious holidays. It was fun at school because it reminded me of all the times I did the same things with my friends and swim team. Christmas was spent with my first host family because my current one for big traditions. We went to my grandmother’s house and had secret Santa all over again. My first family also bought me a pair of earrings which was nice. In Brazil Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. You gather the entire family and have a big feast with lively games and such. It goes into the next morning and I must say there wasn’t a dull moment. Everyone was always making jokes and goofing around so there was always someone laughing. After leaving grandma’s house my friend’s family picked me up to go to her grandmother’s house. Her family had more teenagers so their secret Santa involved pranks and after every person went they had to dance a funky number which was especially entertaining when the drunken adults went. Christmas day was spent at the Rotary president’s farm where we had lunch and the festivities were officially over. For New Years I went to a local country club with the host parents. Here everyone wears white on New Years because it’s believed to bring good luck. Call me crazy but I feel like on New Years the most popular color is black… The party was chic, complete with live music, flashing lights and fireworks.

Now January….January was the best month of my life. Yep, I spent the entire month of January traveling along the Northeast coast of Brazil and ended it with a stay in Rio de Janeiro. I won’t go in to the details of every city but instead talk a bit about what a marvelous experience I had. The beaches come first. They were downright gorgeous. The water, sand, dunes, and trees: everything blew me away. In Natal we stayed at a charming hotel in the praia de Pipa. It was within walking distance of the beach and we had a group that would wake up early to see the sunrise. I would just marvel at the fact that here I was, in Brazil watching the most beautiful sunrise ever and in that moment I felt complete awe. Never had I felt so blessed to be where I was at that very moment. For the record, beach also had the most delicious mango smoothies. In Chapada Diamantina we climbed a rock of sorts and witnessed the most incredible view of the mountains that once again left me breathless. In Rio we were exposed to the tiniest bikinis mankind can imagine and saw the infamous Christ statue and Sugarloaf. To be completely honest the Sugarloaf was my favorite because it gave you a view of the entire city and we got to experience it at sunset. Every single city we visited was magical. I am aware of how cheesy that sounds but its true. To travel with 35 exchange students was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I made friendships in one month that are stronger than others I’ve had in a lifetime. Rotary tells you that lifetime bonds are formed and they’re not messing around, it really happens. Saying goodbye to everyone at the end of the trip was heartbreaking. Despite the fact that we’ll see each other again before we leave we all cried and procrastinated leaving the bus station until the last possible moment. We understand eachother better than anyone else, and after this year that only applies more.

When I returned to Bom Despacho my friend threw me a surprise “welcome home” party which just melted my heart. I have reached the realization that leaving in four months will be unbearable. Future exchange students this is for you: you don’t get this opportunity again. You can’t get this year back and even when you come back to visit it’s not the same place you left. There have been times when I’ve wanted to go home more than anything and there have been obstacles thrown my way that have tested my balance but at the end of the day I’m standing tall (figuratively of course since I’m only 5’ 1”) and I’m happy to be where I am. In 6 months I have formed a life just as important as the one I spent making for 17 years in the states. I’ve learned more about myself than I thought possible and I’ve grown (figuratively since the doctor said I’m destined to remain this height forever). Rotary is incredibly smart for having us all sign that contract promising to return to our countries of origin. I never thought it was possible to feel so at ease this far away from everything I knew. Thank you Rotary once again for believing in us and giving us the opportunity to claim somewhere else home. Future outbounds you’re in for an indescribable experience. I remember crying at the airport saying bye to family and friends. The current me would go back, slap that Alejandra and say “calm yourself woman! There’s nothing sad about embarking on an adventure.” Where’s a time machine when you need one?

May 27

Day 324. This journal right here has been the victim of my procrastination for some time now. Every time I sat down to start documenting my experiences I was reminded of the fact that by writing what I had gone through, I was admitting that those memories were gone. Every journal I write brings me closer to the last one.  Not to mention the fact that words can’t describe the emotions I feel in regards to leaving Brazil. To say I love this place is an understatement.

The months of February, March and April were different that the first half of my exchange. Before, every experience felt like a lesson. The latter half of my exchange was less a course and more of a full emersion. Obviously when you land in your host country you’re fully involved but it’s different once you settle.  The glorious tourist days come to a halt and I became another resident.  I it was like being a newborn baby all over again. The act of being brought into the world was a celebration, the first step was applauded, my first words were cherished and even the mistakes were smiled upon. The beginning was easy because I was the center of attention and everything I did was labeled cute. I could say something wrong but people would still “aw” because the fact that I said anything at all was precious. With time, I was expected to correct my errors and even if I can still get away with small slip-ups there was always this hard critic that wouldn’t get off my case: me.

The hard work was worth it when people started to lose their curiosity about me. It proved that I was no longer a sore thumb, that I was accepted. I realized who my true friends were, and I now have the true sense of what it feels like to live here. Whereas before I felt I stood out, now I blend in and there’s this feeling of belonging that just wasn’t as snug a fit before. I love the feeling of having inside jokes with everyone, going to my best friend’s house every day after lunch to watch an old soap opera, waving to people around town, going to dance class and being just another student. Only recently was I reminded of the fact that my place here is, sad as it is, temporary. I’m constantly flooded with questions regarding the date of my departure which are immediately followed with a sad face and plea to stay longer. I was told I’d be sad to leave but I didn’t know I would feel this strongly nor did I understand why. So one day I went for a walk with the company of my iPod, put on depressing music to awaken my sensitive side and thought about it.

It dawned on me that my entire life up to August of last year was of equivalent importance to the 10 months spent in Brazil. Bottle up every single feeling I’ve had to this day and then put that into one year. That’s what this exchange was. Confusion, betrayal, happiness, victory, love… you name it. I’ve practically already felt all these emotions but the difference is that the second time around I didn’t have the support group I spent 17 years building. So what’s the big deal? If I already felt everything it should be easier the second time around. Not so much. Everything I felt here was at least twice if not thrice as intense the second time around. I think that the whole time, underneath everything I was scared. Realizing I had such strong feelings for people and a place I had known for such a short time frightened me because in the back of my head I knew I’d eventually have to say goodbye. Yet I couldn’t stop myself from getting attached.

I came to love everything about my host country in less than a year with as much passion as I do the States. I saw sunrises and sunsets that I could have sworn were a mere creation of Photoshop. I formed friendships that I thought were only so compatible in movies. I felt deeper. I had a pleasant run in With Al Kalter in Manaus. We stayed up talking late one night with my friend Kelly from Texas and he said something that I hadn’t thought of before. All along I thought this was such a milestone because I was embarking on this journey alone. I called it my first act of independence. But as wise Al pointed out, I’ve been more dependent than ever. It was all those pillars, in the end, that lead me to become the self assured person I am today.  Through dependence I learned to be independent but it had to be a leap of faith. It couldn’t have been with my biological family or life long friends. The people and places that helped me had to be ones that I had a set time to rely on, and a marked day to say good-bye. New experiences and surroundings will lead to more changes but it’s not as abrupt and dramatic. Leaving the states was scary because I was leaving everything behind for the first time but I knew I was going back. What about now? I have a family, friends, and a community that I got attached to and in two weeks I’m saying my farewells without knowing when I’ll return. I don’t want to forget a single detail of what I’ve experienced. I don’t want to be forgotten here. My heart is split in two pieces. I can’t favorite one over the other and yet I’m getting on a plane and choosing to leave one behind. All I can do is promise to never forget what I lived here, what I’ve learned and most importantly: who I’ve become. So far going on exchange has been the best decision I’ve made in my life. I made choices, I made mistakes, I made repairs and I really looked at myself for the first time.  Gnōthi seauton: know thyself.

 

Alexandra (Alex) Mire
2010-11 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Hallandale-Aventura Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Helsinki International Rotary Club, District 1420, Finland

Alex - Finland

Alex’s Bio

Hei, nimeni on Alex (Hello, my name is Alex). I am going to be 16 years old when I leave for Finland. I’m excited to go to Finland because it was one of my first choices.

I live in Pompano Beach, and attend Pompano Beach High School. My house is walking distance from the beach, so I go there frequently. Our beach has a lighthouse, and sea turtles can often be seen as well as: sharks, manatees and other marine life. A couple years ago I tried to pick up surfing, but I stopped due to lack of waves.

I have lived here my whole life. I currently live with my dad, little sister, and my older sister, who comes home from college for holidays, and my pets. I have a dog, Calypso, two cats, Gabby and Night, a turtle, Mr. Speedy II, and a hermit crab, Zombie. Zombie got its name, because we thought he died but he just shed his skin. I have only left the country to go to Jamaica, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama on vacation.

My hobbies include going to concerts, playing drums, xylophone, guitar, and I am trying to pick up the bass and banjo. Other than music I like to unicycle, juggle, and I gave up soccer for band. At school the only activities I am in are band and drum line, because it requires so much time during marching season. I played soccer since I was 4. I was really torn between band and soccer when I found out soccer season and marching season overlapped. I don’t know what made me choose band, but I’m glad I did.

I come from the sunshine state, and I am excited to go freeze in Finland!

Näkemiin (goodbye)

Alex’s Journals

September 9

I cannot believe that a month ago I said goodbye to my dad and little sister and left for Finland. I feels like I have been here for a little over a week.

Getting to Finland was an adventure. I had 29 hours of flights and layovers and went through 4 airports. Besides getting lost numerous times and realizing that I had someone else’s plane ticket who’s last name is Mirea not Mire, getting here wasn’t that bad.

Once I arrived In Finland, I was put on a very full bus filled with other exchange students, who were all going to the same orientation course. The bus was very difficult to stay awake on, and I don’t remember much of this so called 3 hour bus ride.

Soon we arrived in Karkku, where our orientation course was. This week long orientation course consisted of language lesions, lectures on the Finnish culture, saunas, free time, a trip to Tampere, and Finnish food. My language class was taught by a teacher named Mimmu, and she also gave lectures on The Finnish Way of Life. We played games to help us learn signs, clothes, the days of the week, and more.

The food in Finland is different from what I am used to. Common food is salad, potatoes, rye bread, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Cucumbers and tomatoes are served with many meals and are unavoidable. Other than the cucumbers and tomatoes, the food here is really good. My favorite food here is the dessert that is served with coffee.

On the final day of our orientation camp we got to finally meet our families. When I met my family, it hit me that I am here for a year, and it all started to became real. My new family took me to get my bags, and we headed off for home.

Three days later I was given a bus card and driven to school. I met one of the other exchange students from Canada, and assigned a student to follow around for the day. My first class was English, and the substitute teacher was interesting to say the least. He had dreads, a tattoo, quite a few piercings, and gauges. Every one assured me that he was just a substitute, but I didn’t care. I was happy.

I didn’t understand much of the classes, but the first day of school went by quickly. After school, the student that I was following around found someone, who lived near me, to help me get on the correct bus home and find my house. She soon became one of my friends here. I have discovered that a good way to make friends is to just sit down with random people at lunch. They normally figure out that you are an exchange student within a minute or two.

November 25

I have been in Finland for three and a half months now, and it still doesn’t feel like I have been here nearly that long.

Homesickness hasn’t hit me yet. I do miss my family back in Florida, but not nearly enough to say that I am homesick. It’s really hard to feel homesick when there is ankle deep snow outside. Building snowmen and having almost daily snowball fights with my younger host brother definitely is helping fight homesickness. Late December seems to be the time when homesickness will hit, because of the holidays and and really short days (the Sun will set just after 3 p.m. here).

I am now living with my second host family. Changing host families was easier than I was expecting. Within a week I have felt completely comfortable with both of my families. Sometimes it scares me how quickly I have adjusted to new people, places, and food. I don’t have to think about taking my shoes off when I enter a house anymore. I just do it.

The biggest difference that I wasn’t expecting was the weather. It has been cloudy and overcast for almost the whole time that I have been here. There have been a few clear nights when I have spent close to an hour looking at the stars, which are so much easier to see. I don’t know what my first host family thought about me going outside without a jacket, and coming back inside every few minutes to warm up.

People here are a bit shy, which definitely makes meeting new people a little harder. The other thing that gets slightly annoying is how well everyone speaks English. Close to everyone at my school is fluent in English. I am not even completely sure what some of the vocabulary words that they are learning in English class mean. More than half of the television shows are in English with Finnish subtitles and a few seasons behind. The only shows that get dubbed into Finnish are little kid shows.

School seems almost more relaxed. Students call their teachers by their first name. There are also fifteen minute breaks between all the classes, no bells, and if someone is a few minutes late they just say sorry and take their seat. One of the first things I noticed at school is that wearing shoes is completely optional. It is perfectly fine to leave your shoes in your locker and walk around school in socks, which I do frequently. It might sound kind of disgusting, but the floors are very clean. Instead of cleaning the floors after school there are two or three people, who clean the hallways almost every hour.

Next week myself and all the other exchange students in Finland and Estonia will be visiting Lapland, which is northern Finland, and going to see Joulupukki, Finland’s Santa Clause. I cannot wait!

January 14

My time here has flown by. I have been in Finland for over five months now, and it hasn’t felt anywhere near that long. I am starting to wonder where the time went, and if the rest of the year will go by this fast. Weeks are starting to feel like days, and I have heard people say that time goes by even faster after New Years.

The Lapland trip was amazing! The bus ride took way too long though (18 hours up and 23 hours back). We got to go snowboarding/skiing, feed reindeer, go on a dogsled ride, and a lot more. It was the one and only time when all the exchange students in Finland will be all together.

There already is more than knee deep snow in Helsinki. I didn’t think it was possible to have too much snow to go sledding, but it is. I might not be able to go sledding anymore, but I have spent quite a bit of time snowboarding. There is a decent sized ski slope about 10 minutes from my house, and one of my friends and I go there a few times a week. I have invested in a snowboard, boots, and a season pass.

Christmas was definitely a little different from what I used to. A few days before Christmas my host family and I went into the forest behind our house and chopped down our Christmas tree. The tree then had to thaw in the shed for a couple days. I wasn’t expecting the Christmas tree and decorations to be put up so late in December.

This has been my third Christmas in a row that I haven’t been at home for, so it didn’t feel that weird being away from home during the holidays. Finland celebrates Christmas Dec. 24th instead Dec. 25th. It felt strange opening presents at night and felt kind of wrong like Christmas Day lost all of its fun. Santa Claus, or Joulupukki, came to our house on Christmas Eve. He talked with us and handed us our presents. I got mostly candy, gift certificates, and clothes from Joulupukki.

My family back at home went to Peru for about ten days over Christmas without me, and I wanted them to wait until I got back to go. They were kind of mean to me on Christmas too. They sent me a box for Christmas and inside it was 4 SAT and ACT books, which were each 900+ pages long and wrapped in wrapping paper. I am more annoyed that I now have to find a place in my room for the books then I was opening them. The next day another box came, and had presents other than books inside (it was a remote controlled helicopter).

Less than one week ago I changed families…again. I am starting to hate moving host families. Just when I start feeling completely comfortable in a house and with a host family I have to move. Moving houses also makes me realize just how much stuff I have accumulated. It is amazing how much junk you can have, and how quickly winter clothes can fill a suitcase.

I am amazed at how different all of my host families locations are even though they are within ten kilometers of each other. My first family was living in a neighborhood in a small town. My second was a few kilometers out of a small town and in the countryside. My third and current host family lives in an apartment, which is in the center of a slightly larger town. It is hard to decide which family I like best. Each family has things that I love and things that I don’t like so much.

I have had amazing days in Finland and days that haven’t been completely perfect (like the day I took the wrong bus), but since I arrived here there has not been one moment where I wished I had stayed in Florida. I have been having an absolutely amazing time here, and none of this would have been possible without Rotary! Thank you for everything.

 April 25

So it has been 3 months since my last journal and is about time I write my next one. The last 9 months in Finland have been amazing! Time is still flying by faster than I want to believe. I only have about two months left in Finland, and then it will be the next group of outbounds’ turn to have their fun.

So far, I have done almost everything I really wanted to do while in Finland. Some of the things I did were: I saw and touched a reindeer, built many snowmen, built a fort made out of snow, learned how to downhill and cross country ski, and built an igloo. The igloo turned into an out house, but that is a different story. The only thing that I didn’t get a chance to do was go swimming in a frozen lake.

Sadly, spring has started to come. Most of the snow is gone, and the weather now reminds me of “winter” in south Florida. I am already missing winter here, and I will be begging my Dad to go snowboarding somewhere in the U.S. when I get back. The good news is, the Sun is out again! Each day is about six minutes longer than the last, instead of the other way around. Now the Sun rises before 6 a.m. and sets around 9 p.m.

I have moved host families again. This is my fourth and final family. Now I am living in a neighborhood, which is about a 20 minute bike ride away from school. I have three younger host siblings, two girls and one boy. The youngest doesn’t speak any English, and it is really helping me to learn Finnish. I don’t think she has realized, that I can’t understand everything she is saying, which can be really funny sometimes.  

Three weeks ago, I was in St. Petersburg, Russia with most of the other exchange students in Finland and Estonia. It was awesome, but so much different from Finland or the U.S. We saw the Hermitage, the ballet Swan Lake, traditional Russian singing and dancing, and the part of Russia that was once a part of Finland.

In February, my school had their dances. They were interesting to watch. They were completely different from the school dances at home. These dances were rehearsed and preformed in front of parents and younger students. The dress styles are different from prom dresses. They are puffy and look similar to Disney princess dresses.

A week before Palm Sunday, my youngest host sister asked me to help her with something, and I agreed. So she showed me how to make flowers out of paper, and how to tape them onto a stick. We then were doing this for the next two and a half hours, but I didn’t question what we were doing for some reason. The next day when she asked if I wanted to help her make more, I finally asked what we were doing, and my host parents told me it was an Easter tradition.

The tradition is that little kids make these decorated sticks, or in Finnish “vitsa.” Then on Palm Sunday, they dress up like witches or something witch related, and go trick or treating. I am not really sure what I was dressed as. Instead of going at night they go in the morning and when they are at the door they wave the decorated sticks and say the following: “Virvon, varvon tuoreeks, terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks, vitsa sulle, palkka mulle.” It translates to “Health happiness and a multitude of blessings on your house this new planting season.” Then they trade the vitsa for candy, and move on to the next house.

Ever year for Easter my real family has an Easter egg hunt inside our living room for my sisters and I. So, yesterday I hid chocolate eggs around my host families living room, and we had an Easter egg hunt in the morning. My host family also hid some eggs for me to find in the Easter egg hunt. It was really fun and I think my host family enjoyed it.

One of the traditional Finnish foods for this time of year is mämmi. Mämmi looks like and has the same consistency as chocolate pudding, but doesn’t taste anything like it. Mämmi is made from rye, and the taste is indescribable. It tastes rather bad, but with cream and sugar it is edible.

The more time I have spent in Finland the more I have grown to love it here. Things that were strange at the beginning are starting to feel quite normal now, and I am going to miss living here. I definitely want to come back to visit in the future. I am so happy that I chose to come here and be a Rotary exchange student.

 

Ariana Stark
2010-11 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Szolnok Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Ariana - Hungary

Ariana’s Bio

“Let me fall, let me climb. There’s a moment when fear and dreams must collide.

Someone I am is waiting for courage. The one I want, the one I will become will catch me

So let me fall, if I must fall. I won’t heed your warnings. I won’t hear them.”

Szervusz!

My name is Ariana Stark. I am a senior at Saint Augustine High School (SAHS), and a student in St. John’s County Center for the Arts (SJCCA). I live in Saint Augustine, Florida, the Oldest City in the United States. I have a younger brother, 2 caring and supportive parents, and two cats. Currently, my family is hosting a Rotary Exchange student from Italy. And, most importantly, I will be spending my next school year in Hungary!

“All I ask, all I need. Let me open whichever door I might open.

Let me fall, if I fall. Though the phoenix may or may not rise”

I am an artist at heart. I draw, write, sing, compose and play both the flute and piano. I sing with the Chamber Singers and Concert Chorus as well as playing the flute in the Wind Ensemble and other musical groups. I have been studying the flute for eight years, and am planning to pursue music professionally. To me, art and music provide a way to communicate without words. I enjoy all types of music, everything and anything. From little known bands, to jazz, to Liszt’s Consolation No.3, to the Beatles, I listen to it all. I chose Hungary because of its rich history and look forward to a great experience for me.

 “I will dance so freely, holding on to no one. You can hold me only

if you too will fall away from all these useless fears and chains”

I love to travel. So far, I have been to England, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. I have also had the opportunity to host several exchange students, from South Korea, Spain, France, Ecuador, Brazil, Japan, and Italy. I am hoping to travel to many more places throughout the world.

 “Someone I am is waiting for my courage.

The one I want, the one I will become will catch me

So let me fall, if I must fall. I won’t heed your warning. I won’t hear.”

I am open-minded and eager for change and new experiences. I long to step out of my comfort zone and enter to realm of the unknown. I want to soar on the wings of change, facing obstacles and overcoming them. I believe my adventure is not waiting to begin . . .

. . . It has already begun . . .                                                              . . . Ez birtokol már megkezdett . . .

“Let me fall, if I fall. There’s no reason to miss this one chance.

This perfect moment. Just let me fall.”

Lyrics from Cirque du Soleil’s “Let Me Fall” from the show Quidam

 

Ariana’s Journals

August 17

 Little train to the heart

Little light in the dark

Little hope that you just might find your way up out of here

Cause you’ve been hiding for days

Wasted and wasting away

But I’ve got a little hope today you’ll face your fears

Yeah I know it’s not easy, I know that it’s hard

Follow the lights to this city

It’s only a couple of days until I step on a plane and leave for the greatest year of my life. Emotionally speaking, I would say that I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. I wouldn’t really say that I’m scared. True, it’s definitely slightly nerve-wracking. It might be safe to say that my parents are more worried than I am.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don’t look back just go Take a breath move along

Or you could spend tour whole life holding on

On the plus side, I have heard from my first host family in Szolnok. My host parents’ names are László and Anikó Kispál. László is a businessman and Anikó is a kindergarten teacher. I will have two host siblings. Ansci likes to dance and ride horses (and there is a horse ranch right on their street). Laci, her brother, plays the guitar and tennis. They have two turtles, three cats, and a dog. I cannot wait to meet them on August 22!!

Believe the tunnel can end.

Believe your body can mend.

Yeah I know you can make it though cause I believe in you

So let’s go put up a fight

Let’s go make everything alright

Go on and take a shot go give it all you got

Yeah I know it’s not easy I know that it’s hard

And it’s not always pretty

Packing is definitely one of the hardest parts that people seem to leave out of their journal. The sight of one empty suitcase sitting in the middle of the room is one of the most concrete signs that I’m leaving. Yes, I can only have one free suitcase, which makes things so much harder. I never realized how little space a suitcases can hold until I began packing for this journey.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don’t look back just go, Take a breath move along

Or you could spend tour whole life holding on

When I step on that plane on August 21, I will be letting go of everything I have known in my 17 short years of life. I don’t want to look back and regret not doing something. I want to cherish every possible moment of this experience because I know there is nothing like it. My goal this year is to take each moment and live it as though tomorrow may not come. I know this sounds like a cliché, but I know the time will fly by so fast and before I know it, I’ll be coming back home with a whole new set of experiences and language that has become a part of me. I don’t want to be trapped by a routine that I have known forever. I can’t wait to experience something new and different from what I have known.

Don’t wanna wake up to the telephone ring

Are you sitting down I need to tell you something

Enough is enough you can stop waiting to breathe

And don’t wait up for me

Still, it’s all so strange to think I will be leaving so soon. It seems like just the other day I was going through the interview process and the first outbound orientation. It’s hard to believe that this day is finally here. If everything that I have done so far has gone by so fast, this year will seem over way to soon.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don’t look back just go Take a breath move along

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

I am a getting ready to leave for the most memorable year of my life. When I return, I want to be a citizen of the world, not of one country. I look forward to being someone who is sure of themselves in any situation. I want to be flexible and adaptive for whatever life decides to throw my way. I believe that Rotary has done all they could to prepare me for everything (roughly) and will be there if I need anything whether it be advice or help with something in my school. I can’t thank Rotary enough for allowing me to depart on this experience to Hungary. They have worked so hard for all us “outbounds”. I for one am not going to let them down.

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don’t look back just go Take a breath move along

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don’t spend your whole life holding on

–>Lyrics from “Go” by Boys Like Girls album ‘Heart Heart Heartbreak'<–

September 14

A new world calls across the ocean

A new world calls across the sky

A new world whispers in the shadows

Time to fly, time to fly

My flight over went as smoothly as possible, and I didn’t end up trying to fly to Bucharest instead of Budapest (as my host family was worried about). Jet lag didn’t catch up with me for a few days. As it turns out, my host family lives in a “suburb” of Szolnok. However, they have a huge backyard, with apple, pear, and plum trees. Everyone here has dogs, so they are barking all night, and some actually howl at the moon. Also, whoever said that roosters crow at the break of dawn lied. They crow any time they want to, even if it’s one in the morning.

Possibly one of the most memorable events within my first few weeks in Hungary would be my eighteenth birthday. With it being the day after I arrived, I didn’t expect my family to make a big deal out of it. Yet, that morning, all of them crowded in the room I share with Ancsi, to wake me up by singing “Happy Birthday” in Hungarian. It turns out that they had woken up early that morning to bake a cake for me. I feel like part of the family already. My host mother takes pictures of everything. They call her “Papperazzi Kispál” for a reason.

It’s about one moment, the moment before it all becomes clear

And in that one moment, you start to believe there’s nothing to fear

It’s about one second, and just when you’re on the verge of success

The sky starts to change, and the wind starts to blow

And you’re suddenly a stranger. There’s no explaining where you stand

And you didn’t know that you sometimes have to go

‘Round an unexpected bend and the road will end

In a new world

Starting school was interesting to say the least. Before the start of every school year, there is a ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of the previous year and the hope for a good year. It was a great opportunity for me to meet some of the students in my class. They are all really nice, and always want to help me. In every class, students want me to sit by them (especially in the English class). The best part is that they are always helpful when I get that confused look on my face, because I have little to no idea on what is going on. Because of my age, I am in the 12th class, or one of the graduating classes. Every year, at the school ball in December, the graduating class does a special dance routine. So, every day, there is some form of discussion about the dance that our class will do. One day, it’s the colors of the dresses and the guys’ shirts. The next, it’s who wants to dance the Vienesse waltz (a traditional part of the dance). Another day it’s what music we are dancing to.

A new world calls for me to follow

A new world waits for my reply

A new world holds me to a promise

Standing by, standing by

Food, glorious food, magical food, wonderful food. (To quote Oliver). They eat so much here. Also, they don’t just cover everything with paprika. In my experience of food here, they also collectively love salt, garlic and ketchup. Every day we tend to eat five meals: breakfast, “elevenses” (a sort of brunch), lunch, late lunch (around 4) and then dinner. Also every meal, has at least two courses, one soup, and then a sort of meat dish. Between these, everyone drinks coffee. There is even a snack area in the school that sells coffee, and other drinks and snacks between classes.

School lunch is actually pretty good here, much better then school lunch back in Florida. My school is right by the Tisza Hotel, so the food is better than I would have ever thought. Each day, we have a sort of soup, followed by the main dish. Even at school, there is so much food. Students eat so much every day. Between each class, most of them pull out another sandwich to eat or go to buy a snack at the school canteen.

It’s about one moment, that moment you think you know where you stand

And in that one moment, the things that you’re sure of slip from your hand

And you’ve got one second, to try to be clear, to try to stand tall

But nothing’s the same, tnd the wind starts to blow

And you’re suddenly a stranger in some completely different land

And you thought you knew but you didn’t have a clue

That the surface sometimes cracks to reveal the tracks

To a new world

There are three other exchange students at my school. The first one I met was Tiago, a student from Brazil. His host brother, Martszi (I think that’s how it’s spelled), is in the same class as me. At the school’s ceremony, I met Alonzo, a student from Mexico. He wants to be a singer, and is a social butterfly. The third student is a girl from Italy, Lavinia, who is here with the AFS exchange program.

Homesickness, what seems to be the bane of exchange students, hasn’t struck yet. I’m grateful for that, but I am expecting it to arrive any day now. Culture shock didn’t really seem to be as much of an issue as I expected either. True, there are definite differences, like standing up when a teacher enters the room, or eating pizza by cutting it up with a knife and fork. I’ve learned to observe what others around me are doing and quickly follow suit when necessary.

You have a house in the hills

You have a job on the coast

You find a lover you’re sure you believe in

You’ve got a pool in the back

You get to the part of your life

You hold the ring in your hand

But then the earthquake hits

And the bank closes in

Then you realize you didn’t know anything

Nobody told you the best way to steer

When the wind starts to blow

Public transportation is something worth getting used to. Because my schedule for school is different from the other student’s schedules in my class, I take the bus to school and home from school almost every day. School here starts at 7:30, but because I live in Szandaszólós (which is farther away) my host siblings and I have to get up at 6 in the morning.

My first time taking the bus home by myself could possibly be considered comedic. I off at the right stop, which was what I was worried about. I didn’t think that I should have asked for directions on how to get home from the bus stop. After all, I should be able to remember it when I went with Ancsi once, right? Um…not really. I ended up wandering around the neighborhood for about two hours. On the Brightside, I had two bottles of tea in my backpack, and enough food to feed an army (because my mother thinks I eat so much). Eventually, I had the smart idea to go look at the map at the bus stop, and still made it home before everyone else, but not by much.

And you’re suddenly a stranger all of a sudden

You life is different than you planned

And you’ll have to stay ‘til you somehow find a way

To be sure of what will be

Then you might be free

In the card for my birthday, Ancsi wrote a quote from Ben Stein “The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.” I’ve decided that I want to make this year extraordinary. So far, I’ve worked to embrace what may seem strange, solve possible communication problems, and have begun making those connections that make this very large world seem so much smaller. I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s the one that’s most worth the taking.

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most by others is “Why I chose to come to Hungary?” Every day I spend here, I find myself discovering the answer to this in a small town in Hungary’s great plain and its residents with large hearts. My first two weeks here have been bizarre, confusing, and curious, yet I love every minute of it.

A new world crashes down like thunder

A new world charging through the air

A new world just beyond the mountain

Waiting there, waiting there

A new world shattering the silence

There’s a new world I’m afraid to see

A new world louder every moment

Come to me, come to me

Song Lyrics from “Opening of a New World” from Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World

September 29

She’s a good girl, loves her mama

Loves Jesus and America too

She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis

Loves horses and her boyfriend too

It’s been a month, and it still hasn’t really sunk in yet that I am actually here. Every day I’m like ‘I’m really in Hungary. This is really happening.’ It feels like I’m living in a dream. Maybe it’s because I sleep so much here. Now, I was never really a nap person, but some days when I come home from school, all I want to do is sleep. I don’t know if it’s just me, but are all exchange students always this tired? Also, homesickness hasn’t really paid a visit yet. I keep expecting it though, waiting for it to strike when I least expect it.

On another note, all the Rotary students on exchange in Hungary had our orientation on September 10 and 11. There are 35 brave souls who are in Hungary this year. Of course, there are a lot from Brazil and the USA, so it can get pretty loud when we are all together.  You know you’re an exchange student when you can make friends with other exchange students in less than 24 hours and (semi) peacefully debate religious and political issues with them.

It’s a long day living in Reseda

There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard

And I’m a bad boy ‘cause I don’t even miss her

I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

So, being in the 12th class means that I am taking part in the dance that we do at the Szalagavató (the school dance in December.) I have practice two days a week for this. Now, the practice is entirely in Hungarian, although the teacher speaks fluent English. I think he enjoys watching me try to figure out what’s going on. Most of the other students find it completely hilarious, and I spend plenty of time laughing at myself. One of our moves involves two groups of people rotating in an X formation. Well, as a band geek, the actual dancing part while staying in a line is easy. As we are practicing this, my inner band geek wants to start saying things along the lines of “Dress the form! Check the diag! Stay on step!” (If you don’t know marching terminology, I’m sorry that you won’t find this really funny). Yet, I realize if I say any of this, everyone will look at me like ‘Huh?’

The first actual assignment I had to do for school was for my English class. I had to do a presentation on a “typical” American high school and afterschool activities. Most of the students were surprised that marching band isn’t considered a sport after I showed them a video of our show from last year. They kept asking me questions about football, cheerleaders, schedules, and surfing. They seemed surprised when I told them that my high school isn’t like the ones pictured in American movies and TV with the mean football players and such.

And I’m free, free fallin’

Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

Last time, I kind of glossed over the language. Well, not many people think of learning Hungarian, maybe because it only has 35 different noun cases, and isn’t close to any other language (well, other than Finnish, but even then).  Myself and the other exchange students in Szolnok have one language lesson a week, which is not enough. It doesn’t really help that our Hungarian teacher starts teaching is past tense conjugation, when we barely know the present tense conjugation. Yet, I’m learning more and more each day, mostly a lot of words. My host parents don’t speak any English, so they enjoy pointing at things and saying the Hungarian word for it until I repeat it after them perfectly. So, my pronunciation has become pretty good. Still, the 14 different vowels are really confusing.

All the vampires walkin’ through the valley

Move west down Ventura Boulevard

And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows

All the good girls are home with broken hearts  

Whenever everyone else isn’t around, Apa (my host father) loves to try to feed me large amounts of food, especially for breakfast. Now, I’ve never really been much of a breakfast person, so this is way different than what I’m used to. His normal breakfast is about a third of loaf of bread with some sort of cream cheese spread with sliced sausage (at least I think its sausage). And the loaves of bread here are huge. I could get a loaf of bread and it would feed me for about a week. That’s how big they are, or I just don’t eat a lot.

Apa also makes this amazing spread that Ancsi, Láci and I eat almost every day. When watching him make it, I was a little unsure, but it is indescribably good. To make it takes a bag of feta cheese, half a container of sour cream, cumin, onion, and paprika (no real surprise there). It may sound nasty, but it’s so tasty.

I have been asked if a lot of people in America are overweight. Yes, in other countries, they really think that Americans eat fast food all the time. What I haven’t figured out is how Hungarians eat so much (and everything is fried) yet still stay so skinny? Then again, it might be because they actually exercise in their gym class. No one comes out of that class without sweating about two pounds of their body weight.

And I’m free, free fallin’

Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

Free fallin’, now I’m a, free fallin’,

now I’m a Free fallin’, now I’m a, free fallin’,

Each day here is slightly different, as I start school at a different time each day. On the plus side, I can successfully navigate the city bus system, and I’m getting really good at drawing maps. But I haven’t gotten lost again, well yet.  This coming weekend, the other exchange students in Szolnok and I get to discover how to work the train system in Hungary. That will be very entertaining. Much calamity will ensue.

I know I left this out last time, but I am taking flute lessons while in Hungary. I’m taking from the Bartok Béla Zeneiskola, or for those who don’t know Hungarian, Béla Bartok Music School. Now this isn’t the university in Budapest, but it’s pretty good. I have two lessons a week, and my teacher does expect me to practice (with a metronome).

I wanna glide down over Mulholland

I wanna write her name in the sky

Gonna free fall out into nothin’

Gonna leave this world for a while

Something different that I have noticed is the maps that are used here. It’s something that I hadn’t ever noticed before, but maps in the United States always depict North America in the center of the map. Here, Europe is normally in the center of the map. It’s the little things that really catch my attention. Things like differences in something as simple as a world map that make me think how big the world really is. I keep learning more and more about the world around me. The more I learn, the more I want to know. Looking back on the past four weeks, it seems that time has already gone by so fast. I just want to take every moment and live in it for all it’s worth.

And I’m free, free fallin’

Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

Lyrics from “Free Fallin’” as covered by The Almost, originally by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

October 25

I have, I have you breathing down my neck

Breathing down my neck

I don’t, don’t know what you could

Possibly expect under this condition

So I’ll wait, I’ll wait

For the ambulance to come, ambulance to come

Pick us up off the floor

What did you possibly expect

Under this condition, so slow down

This night’s a perfect shade of

I’ve been really busy these past weeks, so this is later than I expected it to be. Adaption is hard, but it’s coming each and every day. School has gotten harder. It’s not that the teachers now expect me to learn in class, it’s that now I’m not the new person that every one wants to talk with. The other students are understanding of my very poor attempts at hungarian, but communication is difficult. I am trying so hard not to fall into the english trap.

 I still haven’t faced homesickness, and haven’t called home or skyped with my parents once. Although it hasn’t affected me, the other Rotary students at my school, have been having a hard time with homesickness. As the one that hasn’t faced it yet, they often come and talk to me about it.

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning

‘Til there’s nothing but dark blue

Just dark blue

At the beginning of this month, all the exchange students in Hungary took a trip to West Hungary and Venice. We had a ten hour bus ride, overnight, with about thirty exchange studnets, meaning that most people won’t get any sleep. We also learned that no coherent conversations occur at two in the moring.

 Once we arrived in Venice, Béla, the district chairman for Hungary, gave us the entire day to wander the city. I set out with two students from California, Frank and Katie. With Frank being the direction ninja he is, we wandered around the city for a good five hours, but were always able to make it back to St. Mark’s (our meeting place). Though it may sound boring, we found all of these amazing churches, and saw such amazing craftmanship and art in these buildings. We saw artwork that had been created well before the United States was even thought to exist. Me, being the music nut that I am, was really excited to find Vivaldi’s church in a little corner of Venice.

 Of course, we couldn’t go to Venice without having real italian food. We found this little pizza place, and each tried a different type of pizza. Now, when ordering pizza, it’s important to remeber that these pizzas are about ten inches in diameter, for one person. Katie decided to be adventurous and try the seafood pizza. It was a normal pizza, with crust and cheese, but topped with about three inches of shrimp and mussels.  We kept waiting for Sebastian to appear and start singing ”Under the Sea.”

 And this flood, this flood

Is slowly rising up, swallowing the ground

Beneath my feet, tell me

How anybody thinks under this condition

So, I’ll swim, I’ll swim

As the water rises up, sun is sinking down

And now all I can see are the planets in a row

Suggesting it’s best that I slow down

This night’s a perfect shade of

Ancsi is helping me learn so much when it comes to language. I can now conjugate some verbs, which means I can make coherent sentances, not just random strings of words. Still, most of my sentances don’t fully make sense because the sentance structure here is so different. Now, I always had trouble with the technicalities of English grammer, so trying to explain english grammer to someone learning english, as well as trying to learn Hungarian grammer just makes it that much harder. Still, we always make it fun.

 Possibly the funnest part of learning the languge is listening to cds of Disney songs, that have been dubbed in Hungarian. Almost every day, I watch a movie in Hungarian with English subtitles (if they are available, if not, I get to guess what’s going on). I am almost always listening to a Hungarian radio station, just to hear the language. Still, it is weird to be listening to the radio and hear songs from the Backstreet Boys come on.

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue, dark blue

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning dark blue

Someone, somewhere once said “The trouble with foreign languages is, you have to think before your speak.” This is definitly true as any exchange student will know by now. The hardest part about learning an increasingly complex language is having to think through everything I say, and figure out where the prepositions add on and what to change in the verb. A majority of the time, it’s far from perfect and my pronunciation can be downright horrendous (seeing as I am completely and utterly unable from rolling my r’s), but speaking the language is the only way I will get better.

I am beginning to slowly understand what’s going on around me. Well, most of the time. A majority of the hungarian I hear can be explained by “word I know, hungarian, hungarin, hungarian, word I know, more hungarian” Still, being able to understand to sentances on the bus home from school excited me.

 We were boxing, we were boxing the stars

We were boxing, you were swinging from Mars

And then the water reached the west coast

And took the power lines, the power lines

And it was me and you, and the whole town underwater

There was nothing we could do it was dark blue

 I finally tried the infamous palinka that Hungary is famous for. It’s hard to describe, but it might be something along the lines of firewhiskey (excuse my Harry Potter reference but it’s the closest comparason I can think of). The first taste is somewhat hard to get past, but after that it’s not too bad. It all depends on the flavor of the palinka. It’s a little strong for me though.Although, the burning sensation that follows the initial taste, is quite useful on a cold day in Hungary.

 I first tried palinka at a tradition called “disznovagyas” which literally translates to ’cutting the pig.’ For this tradition, my entire host family gathered at my host grandmother’s house in Jászkisér (look up spelling). Once there, the men of the family proceeded to cut and cook the pig and other such details. I stayed inside the house with my host mother and her sister, while the actual pig cutting part was going on. Láci and I also biked around the small village where they lived.

 After cutting the pig, part of the meat is cooked right away, while another part is used to make sausages, called hurka. Now, watching the sausage being made can be either fascinating or completely disgusting, possibly a mix of both.

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning

Now there’s nothing but dark blue

If you’ve ever been alone

You’ll know dark blue

If you’ve ever been alone

You’ll know, you’ll know

 Lyrics from “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin

November 19

Well, there’s a time for feelin’ as good as we can

The time is now and there’s no stoppin’ us

There’s a time for livin’ as high as we can

Behind us you will only see our dust

So we just keep smilin’, move onward every day

Try to keep our thoughts away from home

We’re trav’lin’ all around, no time to settle down

And satisfy our wanderlust to roam

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three months since I arrived here. It feels like time has flown by. With the leaves changing colors, it almost seems that the world has come alive with colors. Yes I’ve seen trees with leaves that change colors in the fall, but it seems more vibrant, and more full of life here.

I cannot say how much I love my host family. I feel like such a part of my family. It’s almost impossible to explain how much I fit in here. Every week my host mother and I watch Megasztar and X-Faktor, which are kind of like American Idol, only much better. Even though she doesn’t speak any English, and I am still only speaking very basic level Hungarian, we manage to understand each other (it normally involves charades and pictures). My host father is currently having very much fun teaching me how to play ping-pong.  We play almost every week. Slowly, I’m getting better at aiming the ball, so it doesn’t go into the plants, but personally I’m convinced that the ball likes landing in the plants. It’s just my darn left-handedness, and terrible hand-eye coordination.

 You know we’re havin’ good days

And we hope they’re gonna last

Our future still looks brighter than our past

We feel no need to worry, no reason to be sad

Our mem’ries remind us

Maybe road life’s not so bad

 A few weekends ago, my host family and I went to Lake Balaton. When we got to their house, we proceeded to take a boat ride over to the other side of the very large lake. There, we walked to a fish festival where we ate, well, fish. It was kind of like a cultural festival. There were all of these people selling handmade goods out of booths. Possibly the coolest thing there was a display of traditional archery and sword fighting. How often is there an actual archery competition in a festival like that? It was completely amazing.

Well, it’s getting very cold here. I’m expecting it to snow soon. My host family says it’s going to be the coldest winter that they’ve had in a few years. My classmates are always surprised that I’m already cold and it’s only November.  Some mornings, I look out of the window of the room I share with Ancsi and see the frost over their backyard. I can’t help but think that my 15 walk to the bus stop won’t be fun in December and January.

Well, from sea to shining sea and a hundred points between

Still we go on digging every show

The cities in the land all extend a welcome hand

Till the morning when it’s time for us to go

 The other day, my host brother asked a question in Hungarian, and was completely surprised when I answered him. The funny thing was, I didn’t even have to think about what he asked, his question just made sense. It wasn’t like he was speaking another language at all. There are times where I’ll forget something about English that should seem natural. I’m getting so used to hearing something other than English. Still, my pronunciation and actual speaking can be downright terrible at times. I am completely incapable of rolling my r’s, and differentiating because the pronunciation of vowels (because they have 14 here). I just have to remind myself that the secret of accomplishing anything is baby steps. There are very few things that have accomplished overnight.

 Well, you know we’re having good days

And we hope they’re going to last

Our future still looks brighter than our past

Feel no need to worry, no reason to be sad

Our mem’ries remind us

Maybe road life’s not so bad

To the students who are waiting for a response from Rotary, my one piece of advice is that Rotary knows what they are doing. For those of you that are accepted, prepare for the next three years of your life to be one long adventure. Expect the work and don’t wait until the last minute to do anything. If Rotary says to do something, just do it. It will help. And for those of you who don’t get what you believe is your ‘dream’ country, keep your mind open. Honestly, when I first learned that I would be going to Hungary, I was happy, but apprehensive. Yet, after learning more about the country, and especially after being here, I have fallen in love with this country, with the people, and with the language. I feel like there’s not really another place that I would rather be, than right here, in Szolnok Hungary. True it’s a little town, with no more than 70,000 people, but for me, it’s truly become home. Köszönöm szepen Rotary!

Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Maybe road life’s not so bad

Road life’s not so bad, oh yeah, yeah

Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Lyrics from “Making Memories” by Rush

December 29

Slow down you crazy child

You’re so ambitious for a juvenile

If you’re so smart, then tell me why you’re still so afraid?

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

 It’s so hard to believe that it’s been three months since I came to Hungary. The time seems to go by so quickly. It’s snowing here now. Still, everyone tells me that it’s a warmer year than usual. Despite this affirmation, I still attest that it’s really cold. This constant statement always seems to make my host family laugh. Anya and Ancsi refuse to let me leave the house until they are sure I am wearing at least two sweaters underneath my coat, gloves, a hat and scarf, and my boots.

On December 6th is a celebration in schools and families all across Hungary. All the students bring packages of chocolates to school and exchange them with other students in the class. Sometimes, like in my class, one student dresses up as St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, and hands out the packages of chocolate. All in all, it was so much fun. I felt like my class accepted me as one of them, instead of simply an exchange student only there for the year.

 And you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 My host family in Szolnok insisted that we celebrate Thanksgiving. Ansci and Laci were quite excited about Anya not making them go to school that day. So, on November 25, Anya, Nagymama (Anya’s mother) and I were shoved into the small kitchen cooking for the day. It was entertaining, difficult, and really fun. Somehow, Apa even managed to find a turkey, which are really hard to find in Eastern Europe.

There was some improvising on the recipes, as cream of mushroom soup, boxed stuffing, pecans, and sweet potatoes are virtually impossible to find in a Szolnok grocery store. Still, everything came out edible, despite partially making up the pumpkin pie as I went. My host family said that they wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving every year.

Slow down, you’re doin’ fine

You can be everything you want to be before you time

Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

Too bad but it’s the life you lead

You’re so ahead of yourself that you’ve forgot what you need

Though you can see when you’re wrong, you can’t always see when you’re right

 Earlier this month, all of the Rotary students in Hungary took a trip to Vienna, also known as Bécs in Magyarorság. It was so much fun. Myself and one of the other students wandered through the museum district and the Christmas market. We found a really interesting museum, with free admission, that had exhibits on ancient musical instruments, medieval arms and armor, and Ephesians architecture.

One of the highlights of the trip was finding Milka Land. See, Milka is the brand for this completely amazing chocolate that is found in Europe.  They were giving away large amounts free chocolate and everything. It was so much fun. To say the least, almost all of the exchange students made a stop there. It was right by the Christmas Market, so it was relatively easy to find.  The Christmas Market in Vienna is in one word, chaotic. There were so many people there; all fighting to reach their destination, which were normally the food vendors. It was, in short, completely amazing.

 You got your passion, you got your pride

But don’t you only know that fools are satisfied

Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 On December 18, my school had the Szálágáváto for the students of the 12th class. Each class performs two dances, one of which is a waltz; the other is usually Latin or rock. Taking part in this occasion was an experience I will always remember. For the waltz, the girls wear these large white dresses that we literally had to be tied into. There is nothing else like this experience. For all of the members of the 12th class and their families, it is the moment that they have been waiting for.

Slow down you crazy child,

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while

It’s alright; you can afford to lose a day or two

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 I no longer seem to think of my host family as my ‘host’ family. They have really become my family here. Any time I think of them, I don’t think of them as simply a family I am staying with. I think of Ansci and Láci as a brother and sister, and Anya and Apa as a mother and father to me. It’s these relationships that are formed that RYE is all about. It’s one of those things that is extremely hard to explain, like that feeling of having a whole conversation in your new language with a stranger. I think that any other exchange student might understand easily. It’s that feeling that you’ve accomplished something so difficult, something so extraordinary. I’m thankful for each and every day here. It’s hard to say that there’s a place that I would rather be.  

 And you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through

Why don’t you realize, Vienna waits for you

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 Lyrics from “Vienna” by Billy Joel

February 8

I’m a suspect, I’m a traitor,

I’m only here in body visiting

Yellow faces, in the distance scream

The beauty is in what isn’t said

I’m rising to my feet

Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me!

 Christmas and New Year’s weren’t as hard as I thought that they would be. Christmas here is a small family celebration on the 24th, then a large family gathering on the 25th. For Christmas day, we went to Jaskisher, and spent the day at my host grandparents’ house. We spent the whole day talking, playing games, and eating (of course).

 Our New Year’s Celebration was fairly small, mainly because Apa was sick. We spent New Year’s Eve and day at Lake Balaton. Although I didn’t go to any big parties, we still had plenty of fun. The coolest thing that we did was walk on the surface of the lake. It was completely frozen over. People were out skating on it, sledding, and other fun wintery activities.

 The language is getting easier as time progresses. I’m still not where I would like to be, but am progressing every day. As of now, I can understand and write fairly well, it’s the speaking that is the hardest. I try to hear the language as much as possible, whether it’s music, movies, the news, or just people speaking on the street.

 My just so, my last call

My life is yours, in your gifted hands

Confetti rainfall, in the quiet street

These things I’ve found are special now

The knot is in my reach

Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me!

 I think I’m beginning to think of myself as Hungarian. I no longer consider it cold when it’s above 3 degrees Celsius (about 37 F.) I am now accustomed to eating soup at every meal and slurping it with pride. Possibly one of the most interesting changes was when asked a question about New Year’s Eve in the States by Ancsi. In my answer, instead of saying “we”, I said “they”. The funny thing was that I didn’t even realize I had done that until she pointed it out.

 People here are very proud of their country. It’s a type of pride that stretches beyond the current boarders, to where the boarders of the country used to be. There are so many people who consider themselves Hungarians who do not actually live in the country, but in areas that used to be part of the country before the First World War. The longer I am here, the more I understand, and the more I realize I have so much still to learn.

 Movie Screens, Photographs

Through another’s eyes I can see

I’ve seen the best of love, the best of hate

The best reward is earned and I’ve paid

For every single word, I’ve ever said

 Change is inevitable. Winter to spring, day to night, year to year. With each passing tick of the second hand, things change, ideas change, people change. I’ve come to realize that change is one of the few inflexible constants in this world. That may sound contradictory of the word’s meaning, saying that change is constant, but it’s something I’ve learned in this experience. Nothing is ever the same. Everything changes over time. It is something inevitable and unalterable, a fact of nature. Nothing ever stays the same, not even the things that we believe to be the most constant.

 I’ve realized this over the course of this experience that change is not something that we can fight. Rather, it is something that we must learn to accept and embrace willingly. It’s about adapting to the bumps along the road, not gripe about the perfect trip we could have had. After all, it’s those bumps that become the adventures that make everything all worth it.

 Confetti rainfall, in the quiet street

The beauty is in what you make it

So get up on your feet

 Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

 Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me.

 Lyrics from “Chase this Light” by Jimmy Eat World

March 7

From today all the days are only half as long

Nothing left to love about

Yesterday’s one million years ago

The day before already went down

Time’s been replaced by a countdown

The sun is shining in the night

So here are the words, just think twice

Wake me up cause time is running out

It’s running out

 On this side of the new year, everything seems to move much faster. Having had to decide the date for the return flight finally made me realize that the end is coming. I never realized how much I consider this place home. I can’t even think of driving again now that I’ve gotten used to taking busses everywhere. I can’t really imagine how I can go back to living in Florida without comparing to something here. It’s the little things that never cease to amaze me, like the fact that it’s almost March and it’s still snowing. Still, I find that I miss the constant sunshine of Florida.  

Live every Second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Before it’s too late

On the 4th we had a presentation in front of the new outbounds from Hungary in Budapest. Like typical exchange students, we waited until the last minute to prepare anything. Still, it somehow managed to all come together in time. Us Americans were up in front of the new outbounds talking in Hungarian with our faces painted, and then dancing the Cha-Cha Slide with them. Well, they watched us dance the Cha-Cha Slide.  

Ancsi will be an exchange student in Ecuador next year. It’s so different seeing another going through the process now that I’ve been through it myself. I feel I’ve grown so much through this experience. I feel so much older and mature. I feel like I’ve become more confident of myself and my abilities.

 From today your life is just a TV show

You can even get a planet for free

The whole galaxy is chilling out

And time is all you can see

Don’t thank us now is all that counts

Remember that before you forget

So here are the words, just think twice

Wake me up because time is running out

It’s running out

In the last week of February, Ancsi and I went to the Táncház at the cultural center in our part of the city. This is a whole night of traditional Hungarian dancing and music. It’s a celebration that lasts well into the morning. Ancsi spent years learning Hungarian folk dance, so she is really good. She taught me some of the easier steps. The thing about folk dance in Hungary is that the music starts out at a reasonable pace, and then gradually speeds up until it becomes impossible to dance. It was still so much fun for everyone.

 At the end of the winter is a celebration called Farsang, where everyone dresses up in costumes to celebrate the end of the winter. My Rotary club had a Farsang party in Szolnok for its members and the exchange students. It was great seeing everyone again after not being able to see each other for over two months. The one thing about exchange students is that no matter how long it is before we see each other again, it only seems like it’s been a few days. Ancsi and I went to the party in traditional Hungarian clothing, which is completely different from anything I am used to.

 Live every Second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Wake up, wake up, wake up

It’s over now

Wake up

 There are highs and lows in any experience, and that’s to be expected. Yet nothing can ever really prepare for when the hard times come, not even everything Rotary tells us. No, I’m still not homesick, but I’ve helped the other students in Szolnok through their homesickness periods. Nonetheless, after six months, things have started to fall into a routine here.

 Because of this routine, I want to challenge myself and the other outbounds to change things up. Go out of your way to do something you normally wouldn’t do. This could be as simple as sitting in a different spot at lunch, talking to someone new, or going home a different way.

 As for the new outbounds, I suggest that you start learning your languages now. Yes, I know, I procrastinated, just as you are likely doing now. Yet the best part of the exchange comes only when you’ve gained some degree of fluency in the language. I still have some trouble speaking, but am able to understand pretty much anything that is said. The other day I actually had a dream in Hungarian and was able to remember what happened. Time is short. I only have four months left in this amazing country called Hungary. I’ve learned so much in such a short time, and don’t want this adventure to end. So far, this has been the best seven months of my life. Thank you Rotary!

 Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Before it’s too late

Before it’s too late

Stop it now

 Lyrics from “Live Every Second” by Tokio Hotel

 April 30

“Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up”

Well it’s been eight months. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed. It seems like just the other day I was meeting my host family for the first time. I still remember my first Rotary meeting and the first day at my school. So much has happened since then. All of the Rotex said how fast the year would go, and now I know what they mean.

Living in Hungary for a year has changed my life. I know that sounds so cliché, but it’s completely true. I easily remember when I was choosing my preferred countries as part of the application. Not once did I ever think that making a little check mark in the box next to Hungary would make such a difference. I’ve never regretted my decision to come here.

“Here we lay again, on two separate beds

Riding phone lines to be that familiar voice

And pictures drawn from memories

We reflect on miscommunications and misunderstandings

And missing each other too; much too much to let this go

We turn our music down and we whisper

Say what you’re thinking right now”

From the 15th to the 17th, all of the Rotary students took a trip to Poland. There is nothing like a bus trip with Rotary students. Possibly the most important lesson I have learned on these trips is how to fully function for an entire weekend on only about 6 hours of sleep. The other is how to sleep comfortably on a bus, but that’s beside the point.

Krakow is an amazing city. We reached Krakow late Friday night and left mid-morning on Sunday. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was visiting Auschwitz. It’s one thing to simply read about the Holocaust or to learn about it in history class. It’s another thing to actually be where everything took place. There are things that happened there that are impossible for time to erase. Its experiences like this that can really change a person. If everyone in the world takes the time to visit places like this, then there is definitely a possibility that there will be no more wars.

“Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up”

It’s weird when I dream at night. I swear that this tangent actually has a point so stick with me. Before I left, I used to never dream, or I would never remember my dreams. So, when I actually remember my dreams here it seems really weird. It gets even weirder when I realize that sometimes these dreams are in Hungarian.

I remember the first time I realized I was dreaming in Hungarian. It was one of those epiphanies that only happen every so often. It was one of those moments that is like “Holy crap, I’m dreaming in another language.” It made me feel like I finally know the language, not just phrases and words.

“Jumping to conclusion made me fall away from you

I’m so glad that the truth has brought together me and you

We’re sitting on the ground and we whisper

Say what you’re thinking out loud”

I feel like I’m running from time. Just this month, I’ve already given my presentation to my Rotary Club about Florida and have ‘graduated’ with my class at the end of this month. Time seems to be speeding by. I can’t believe there’s only two months left. I feel like I’ve been here so long, but also that I haven’t been here long enough. I know for certain that I want to come back here.

I’ve fallen in love with Hungary. I love everything about this country. I love the rich cultural traditions and the uniqueness of the language. For me, there can be no place quite like this. The small city of Szolnok has truly become my home. Although it’s small and may seem boring, for me, there’s no place quite like it in the world.

“Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up”

I think that everyone, at some point in their life wants to be a hero. One of the defining moment of any hero, be it fictional or real, is the moment of leaving. It’s that moment where the hero steps out of everything that he or she has known and leaves everything behind. Every single one of us outbounds has done that, and every new outbound is preparing to take that step.

In our own right, I think that every one of us is a hero. For facing everything we have, new families, new languages, new friends, new schools, we’ve come out successful. That step is the hardest one to take, to make that decision that will change your entire life in a moment. I know that taking that step changed my life. I’ve become more confident and more aware of the world as a whole. I’ve learned to carry myself differently, as a person of the world and not just an American or a Hungarian.

“Tell me what you thought about when you were gone and so alone

The worst is over; you can have the best of me

We got older, but we’re still young

We never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up

We’re not ready to give up”

Lyrics from “The Best of Me” from The Starting Line

May 30

I  am born. I am me. I am new. I am free

Look at me, I am young. Sight unseen, life unsung

My eyes have just been opened and they’re opened very wide

Images around me don’t identify inside

Just one blur I recognize, the one that soothes and feeds

My way of life is easy and as simple as my needs

Ten months sounds like a long time before you leave. Now it seems not to be long enough. In just one more month, I will be leaving everything here behind me and heading off on another adventure.  It feels like I’ve been so long since I stepped on a plane and left for the greatest year of my life. Now, it seems strange that I only have 19 days left in the place I now call home. It’s hard to grasp that I’ll actually be leaving so soon. I’m not sure if I should be excited, nervous, worried, or anxious. Part of me is looking forward to moving on with my life, but another part of me will miss the person I became in Hungary and the people I met.

And yet my eyes are drawn toward the mountain in the east

It fascinates and captivates and gives my heart no peace

The mountain holds a sunrise in the prison of the night

Till’ bursting forth from rocky chains, the valley floods with light

Living one long sunrise for to me to all things are new

I never watched the sky grow pale or strolled through fields of dew

I do not live from dust to dust; I live from breath to breath

I live to climb that mountain to the fountain of Lamneth

I’ve just gotten back from the first Eurotour that the Hungarian exchange students go on. Yes, we have two different Eurotours. Anyone who’s been on Eurotour knows that 16 exchange students on a long bus trip across Southern Europe will be chaotic at the least. Not everyone went on the first Eurotour. There were only 16 out of the 30 students in Hungary on the trip. Over half of those were Brazilians, which meant that the trip was anything but boring.

This was the trip around Southern Europe. We traveled to ten cities in six different countries. These were Postojna, Slovenia; Trieste, Florence, Rome, and Pisa, Italy; Nice and Cannes, France; Luzern, Switzerland; Innsruck and Graz, Austria; and Zagreb, Croatia. The two most memorable moments for the whole trip were visiting the Vatican City in Rome and sailing on the Mediterranean on the first day of the Cannes Film Festival.

Whiteness of confusion is unfolding from my mind

I stare around in wonder. Have I left my life behind?

I catch a scent of ambergris and turn my head surprised

My gaze is caught and held and I am helpless, mesmerized

Panacea, liquid grace, Let me touch your fragile face.

Enchantment falls around me and I know I cannot leave.

Before I left, I thought that the hardest part would be surviving the first four months and adaption. I thought that homesickness would be the worst thing I could possibly escape. (Just for the record, I still haven’t been homesick. Crazy, right?) Now I know that I was wrong. Leaving to live in another country for 10 months seems almost easy compared to the thought of leaving the place I now call home. I love Hungary and I cannot think life in another place.  I’ve become someone else here. I’ve transformed into someone more confident and mature.

Another endless day, silhouettes of grey

Another glass of wine, drink with eyes that shine

To days without that chill at morning, long nights, time out of mind

Another foggy dawn, the mountain almost gone

Another doubtful fear, the road is not so clear

My soul is ever weary, and the end is ever near

Draw another goblet from the cask of 43

Here’s a misty memory, hazy glimpse of me

Give me back my wonder; I’ve something more to give

I guess it doesn’t matter, there’s not much more to live

Everything has a moment. I’ve learned that a key part of happiness on exchange is living in that moment. It’s not about dwelling in the past or thinking about what might have been. It’s about taking a single moment and seizing it before it slips away. None of us live forever. Each day is simply another gift that we need to make the most of. Each moment in time is unique. We can never be at the same place again. Sure, we can physically be in the same place, but not emotionally or even with the same people, but it will never be the same. There are no do-over’s in life, just one shot to make something last as long as it can.

Look the mist is rising and the sun is peeking through

See the steps grow lighter as I reach the final few

Hear the dancing waters, I must be drawing near

Feel my heart is pounding, with embattled doubt and fear

Now at last I fall before the fountain of Lamneth

I thought that I’d be singing, but I’m tired, out of breath

Many journeys end here, but in the end it’s all the same

Life is just a candle, and the dream must give it flame

I’ve learned that I don’t need to protect myself quite so much. I’ve learned that there may not be a thing like tomorrow. I’ve learned that every beginning is an end and that every end is a beginning. I’ve learned that to gain something valuable, we must be prepared to lose everything we value. I’ve learned that life isn’t easy, but if it was, it wouldn’t be half the enjoyable challenge that it is.  But most of all, I’ve learned that I’m not always right. I’ve learned that I’m only human, and that I’m allowed to make mistakes. After all, that’s what being human is.

The key, the end, the answer trapped in their disguise

Still it’s all confusion and tears spring to my eyes

Though I‘ve reached the signpost, it’s really not the end

Life goes on beyond the mountain; I’ll be coming up again

I’m in motion, I am still. I am crying. I am still

I’m together, I’m apart. I’m forever, at the start.

Still I am.

Selected lyrics from “The Fountain of Lamneth” by Rush

 

Brooke Colon
2010-11 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Pompano Beach RC, District 6990, FL
Host: Nongkhaem RC, District 3350, Thailand

Brooke - Thailand

Brooke’s Bio

Hello my name is Brooke Colon and I am a 15 year old sophomore at Pompano Beach High School. I will be a junior though when I am off on the journey of a lifetime, and I will be most fluent in the language and know the culture of my outbound country. This happens to be Thailand! I don’t even think that it has sunk in yet that I’m going to travel almost across half the world to live and learn for about 10 months!

Well I’m the baby on my mom’s side of the family and the middle child on my dad’s side, but all together I have three sisters and one brother. One thing I like to do is hang out with family and have a good time even if it’s just sitting and talking about different topics whilst forgetting that a movie is still on in the living room, lol. When the opportunity arose that I could travel somewhere and learn a language, culture, and create even more ties with others I said to myself that it wasn’t something I could just let pass me by. Of course I thought about what they said about the homesickness and leaving behind your friends, but I knew that I’d be okay. I will miss them and some of the moments we have, but I know that there are more to be had later on.

One thing I know that I am is an open person. I don’t go against people’s personal preferences or beliefs. To me I like to keep one rule. Do what makes you happy as long as it does not harm others (physically or mentally). I believe that life is too short to not live, so I don’t try to limit myself by saying I can’t do this or that, I strive for what I want and try as hard as I possibly can. Some of the things I like to do are drawing, dancing, singing, exercising, and sports. I like to try a bit of everything so I don’t miss out I guess, lol. Oh! One thing as well, I like to collect manga (Japanese comics). It’s a hobby of mine and I love the mangaka’s art.

Well that is my spiel on the overview of my life. Rotary really opened up a part of me that is usually quiet and kept to myself, but I felt it was time to get out of the box and experience something that could expand my knowledge and views on different kinds of peoples. Plus experiencing it first hand and not in a text book or from another person is another matter entirely. I thank my parents for all that they put in and for letting me head out on this journey. I also thank my family and friends for being supportive and helping me along the way. And not to forget the RYE that accepted me to begin with. Thanks everyone.

 Brooke’s Journal

September 27

Hey!!!! This is my first post OMG! So much to tell! Wow, yea now I understand the importance of writing these things as soon as you can. Alright, well, my flight to Thailand consisted of 3 separate flights from Florida to Chicago, Chicago to Japan, and Japan to Bangkok. Getting up early and going to the Miami airport wasn’t really a problem, but when it came time to go through security and leave my mom and Rick I guess I could say I felt a little uneasy, especially when my mom started crying. Of course Rick didn’t because he’s a MACHO MAN! But anyway, I hugged them and walked through security to my gate.

On the flight to Chicago I think I might have been the only one not sleeping. Usually, dark, quiet areas are a good environment for sleeping, but when you wake up at about 3 or 4 in the morning and you’re heading out on an adventure of a lifetime, you don’t really feel compelled to sleep. So the flight in itself was very boring. When I arrived in Chicago, I called my mom and sister just to let them know that I was fine, and I checked which gate I was supposed to depart from. Once I knew, I got something from Quiznos and took a seat. Little did I know that Emily, also from Florida and heading to Thailand was sitting right behind meJ. After talking for a little bit I spotted some kids in blazers walking around that looked like they had no clue where to go. I hurried and grabbed them and brought them to where Emily and I had been sitting. We talked about our schools and our Rotary orientations as well as some things that were on the TV at the time. About a half hour before our flight a girl sitting across from me asked if I was going to Thailand. Before she asked, in my head I was like this girl must know something because she keeps looking at us lol. We then found out that she was an inbound in Florida from Thailand and her name was Yin. We also found 2 other inbounds from Japan.

The flight to Japan was surprisingly alright for a 12-13 hr flight. Unfortunately we couldn’t sit together because we had assigned seats, but I got to set next to 2 Koreans going on a trip around Asia. I don’t know if its just Asians but almost all of them were sleeping on that flight lol. I slept for maybe an hour, but they slept almost the entire time. A couple movies were showing so they kept me from being completely bored out of my mind. In Japan everything was really cool, and CLEAN!!! That airport had sections to it that you’d probably find in a homeowners magazine. I wanted to lay down on the couches, but I was too busy trying to find a way to call back home. OMG, using a Japanese payphone is so ridiculous its funny. Zane and I had to exchange our American money for yen and then spent the next hour trying to figure out how to use the thing, a when we asked the people at the help desk, they couldn’t really help us either lol, lack of language. But we eventually figured it out and made our calls. Oh and they have free wifi!!!

The flight to Bangkok was ok, and again, had an Asian sitting next to me and they slept for most of the flight. When we arrived in Bangkok, I realized that we actually had to fill out those immigration cards and had to get another one lol. I know your rolling your eyes, but whatever. We arrived in one of Bangkok’s largest airports and man was it huge. If we didn’t have Yin with us we wouldn’t have known where to go. We went through immigration and looked for our bags. One of the YE’s bags was missing so we had to wait. Abeth and I were messing around with the carts trying to figure out how they work. Apparently you don’t just push them around. You have to push down on the lever to release the clutch on the wheels so that they can move.

After everything was settled we headed out to meet our host families. There was a crowd of people with so many signs and I didn’t know where or whom to go to. I was so nervous. As I was walking through a man next to me said my name and asked me if I was Brooke, and when I said yes he went ecstatic and called over some people. That was when I met my host family and some other people whom I still don’t know who they are. At that time my mind was kind of dazed and I didn’t really know what to do. They took pictures of everyone and I just went with it. Then my host brother came up to me and we started talking and I was like OMG HE CAN SPEAK ENGLISH!!! He was an exchange student to Australia a couple years back so that’s how he learned.

When everything had calmed down a bit we started to make our way towards the car. My host sister and host mom don’t speak as much English as my host brother and dad but I could still get the jist of what they were saying, and I totally don’t believe that my host sister is 17. She literally looks like a 12 year old! In the car we talked about random things between school, what time to be home by, and anime. They drive on the left hand side and the steering wheel of the car is on the right hand side. Also, people drive insanely fast here. I mean between 80 and 120 mph. I was a little worried so I made sure I put my seatbelt on lol. Apparently there is a law here that says people in the front seat must wear a seatbelt but people in the back don’t have to. I wasn’t taking any chances lol. Oh, and we stopped at a gas station called Jiffy (hehe) to pick up some cornflakes and milk for me to eat that next day. Yay!

By the time we got home it was late Aug.9 and everyone was pretty tired. Kunmee (host mom), Tarn (host sis), and Thon (host bro) showed me my room, which was Tarn’s room, and the bathroom. It’s pretty big and it’s on the second floor. It has 2 beds, a book shelf, a computer desk, 2 fans (because the air conditioning isn’t working), 2 windows, and a small night stand in the corner. When things got settled I called my mom on the Magic Jack and told her everything was fine. Finally after all the days and 1/2’s events I finally got some sleep.

The next day was just new. Thon had to go to school and Tarn stayed home because she is also an outbound from Thailand going to California. So she wasn’t going to school of course. Kunpaa and Kunmee were working as usual that day and so Tarn and her friend Mai decided to take me to the Crocodile Farm. Kunmee dropped us off and we were on our own. It was so cool. Elephants kind of just walk around of their own accord. Nothing is really in a cage, except for the monkeys, which I understand why because one little monkey splashed water on Mai and Tarn lol. We saw the Crocodile show, which had two guys messing around with crocodiles dragging them wherever by their tails and sticking their heads in their mouths. Then Mai and I went in a small boat around the river that winds through the park and fed the enormously large cat fish. After that we saw the Elephant show, which was too funny. They had elephants playing games and soccer as well as a little play about the history of elephants in Thailand. By that time we had to head back home but apparently Kunmee wasn’t picking us up so I was like ooooooook. Then Tarn, Mai, and I walked out to the main street and took a songteo. This is like a pickup truck with a benches and a cover on the back. It is about 6 baht. Very new for me lol. Once we got off we crossed over to the other side of the street and stopped by the motorcycle taxis. Never did I think I would travel by this, but Tarn told the guy where to go and he dropped me back home. Luckily Kunpaa was there so he paid the guy because I had no clue what he was saying. Tarn and Mai showed up a minute later the same way.

Later that day Kunmee made dinner and we had Patthai. It is one of the dishes of Thailand and it is so good. Kunpaa was a little shocked by how little rice I took. I don’t normally eat a lot of rice, but he filled over half his plate with it. Then because it was Tuesday there was a Rotary meeting, so I had to go to that. And that is where I met Susan, another YE from Canada although you would never think it because she is Vietnamese. She’s awesome and we were just talking the whole time we were there. We also had to introduce ourselves to the other rotary members of the club. We got Buddha pins from the club and took pictures.

For that whole week things were kind of random. I went to Tesco Lotus with Kunpaa, Kunmee, and Tarn to pick up some food one day. It has a small food court with a Swensens (an ice cream restaurant), and small shops on the 1st floor and a shopping center on the 2nd. I was amazed by the escalators lol. They aren’t like stairs, but they are flat and slanted and when you put a shopping cart on it it magnetizes to the escalator so that it doesn’t roll down. Also a couple more of Tarn’s friends came to the house to see her. Om and Mine are really funny and can speak some English. They took some pictures and gave Tarn some presents for her trip. And later, Tarn, Thon and I did karaoke. Although most of the songs are pretty old and the spelling of the words is not all that correct lol.

Not long after my arrival, Tarn had to leave to go to California. I went with them to see her off. I didn’t get many pictures of the airport on my way out so I got more on the way in hehe. Afterwards it was just me and Thon at the house because it was mother’s day weekend and he was off from school. I gave Kunmee one of the necklaces I brought from Florida for Mother’s day. And I had given Tarn one as well before she left. That weekend I didn’t really do much. I went with Kunmee to her mushroom factory and she showed how they grew the mushrooms. The only thing I could say was that I have never seen anyone grow mushrooms before!

The next week I went to go see my school and my administrator. Mai showed me around and introduced me to some of her friends and teachers. There is one girl who almost has the same Thai name as me, which by the way is Buachompoo. It means Pink Lotus. For those who are reading this and know me very well this is kind of ironic. But anyway, Kunmee, Mai and I went around making mushroom deliveries. When we stopped to get something to eat was when I tried Somtam for the first time. A spicy papaya salad with peanuts. It is good once your tongue has gotten used to the feeling of nearly burning to a crisp.

I started school on Tuesday and it was a day filled with so many new experiences. When I got to my class they were in Math at the time and they just stopped what they were doing to talk with me. I was so nervous, and somehow by the grace of whatever power I was put smack dab in the middle of the class. They speak English pretty well and they were all trying to see if I understood them. Oh, and not even 5 minutes into my first day in my new class they asked me to sing the lyrics they had for Telephone by Lady Gaga. OMG, they went hysterical. It was so funny. When we went to computer class I was surprised to find that people had their cell phones and music players in full view and were using them as well as going on to  Face book and email. Normally all that stuff is either taken once seen or blocked on the internet, but here they are like, you can use them as long as you pay attention. I was like, awesome. Lunch was a little daunting because I have never seen so many lunch lines, let alone almost over 1000 people staring at me as I went from line to line. Thank God I had friends with me so I didn’t look completely lost. Unfortunately at school they don’t use chop sticks; only in outside restaurants. Here they just use a fork and a spoon. Oh and no one uses a knife; not even to cut with. They use the fork and spoon to do everything, and my friends tried to show me how to use them when we were eating. You use the fork to put the food in the spoon and the spoon to eat. Of course my American mind was thinking “Why not just eat with the fork,” but after you eat for a while you start to realize that their way is faster.  Try it and you’ll see.

There are a lot of foreign teachers at school, but whether Thai, Philippine, American, Japanese, or Chinese, they all speak a little English. My physics teacher (Ajan Desha) is too funny. Even though he can’t speak much English he is still hilarious. He kind of just goes crazy and plays around with the students and their games. I have him speak English to me because his reaction is funny. Whenever he can’t figure out a word he speaks in Thai really fast, goes aaaaah, messes up his hair and then goes on google for the translator, lol. I have to admit that when I first met him I thought he was a student because he looks so young. But turns out he’s the most recent teacher there; only been there a couple years.  Thai people look insanely young. People my age look like 10 year olds.

Anyway, my schedule is a little spread out. I have English, Thai, Japanese, math, physics, chemistry, social science, Thai music, music, cooking, handicraft, muay thai, and Buddhism. My favorite class is cooking. A little while ago we made galli bpub, which is their pronunciation of curry puff, lol. It was so delicious. It is cooked chicken, potato, and onion inside dough we make from flour, water, and sugar. Simple and delicious, exactly how I like itJ. Buddhism is okay after the first time you are in the class. I don’t think there is any other religion in the world with prayers as long as theirs. I thought I didn’t have legs anymore when it was time to get up. Girls have to sit sideways when we pray. But it is kind of funny; most of the kids in the back aren’t really paying attention. They are listening to music, talking, or sleeping, lol. I guess some things don’t change no matter how far from home you go, lol.

School ends at about 3:20, but if you have another class you end at 4:10 and all the buses whether you have another class or not leave after 4, but for my first day Kunmee picked me up. Now I take a van to school at 6:10 am and take it back home and take a motorcycle taxi for the rest of the way. The van is so tripped out. It has karaoke, an awesome base, lay back chairs, a video screen, and it’s clean! Sorry people, I like things that are clean.

Well since I have been here school has been steady. I’ve been adjusting to everyone and everything. Some days are the same and some days are completely out of my imagination. Like one day the school set up at stage to have some kids from grade 12 in a band play and sing. It was a mini concert and I got a video on my camera. Of course the girls were crazy and screaming lol. And another day, I was wondering why my class wasn’t going to our normal classes. It turns out they were preparing something for the monks where we had to get small trees planted in a bucket of rice. Then we had to glue colored paper on the branches and hang little ornaments on them. I have to say that my group’s looked the prettiest hehe. Oh and some days I am a little confused when the teachers don’t come to class. I’m like are we learning today and then they tell me “Oh, teacher not teach this period.” When that happened at P.E. we all just got a ball and start playing volleyball. I just stick with my philosophy: go with the flow.

Well, this is only some of things that have happened since have been here in this wonderful country. I will have to post more and shorter messages or my family, friends and future outbounds to get the full picture. Sorry about how long the message is. I just can’t leave anything out. Everything is amazing here. I will talk to you again soon. I send my love to my family and friends and I thank them for supporting me and helping me. And thanks Rotary for granting me this opportunity.

October 17

Hi again. Okay, there is no possible way to get everything so I will try to get the main points without going overboard. So from what I can see, in my last journal I told you mainly about what was going on in school. I will only step on that subject a little bit to finish off. There is something called “Sports Day” and its where the whole student body is divided into 4 colors and they compete against each other in sports of course. So far we have had little get togethers, or I shouldn’t say little, where all the colors cheer and dance. It’s really funny when some people do the crazy dance; literally a crazy dance, hehe.

Okay, away from school, two of my Thai friends were really nice and decided to take me on a little trip to Wa Pra Kaeo, in English, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is huge and beautiful. In all seriousness though, people rave about the Sistine Chapel, which has nothing on the inside of an old temple in Thailand. Unfortunately we can’t take pictures inside, but it is worth seeing. To get there we had to travel across the Jao Paya River, the largest river in Thailand, on a boat which we accidentally got off too early and decided to walk to rest of the way, lol. We also went to a little side alley market where I bought an “I love Thailand” t-shirt. It was really fun.

Okay, this is for the exchange students, I’m not gonna lie there are going to be times where you get extremely bored because you can’t go anywhere either because you don’t know where or how to go, Thai students are studying or doing exams, or other people have stuff to do. This is how it was on some weekends for me and for the week of exams in Thailand. You live through it. There is so much fun to be had later on. The week after exams I had to start Thai lessons in Bangkok. Ok, now before I even go into that let’s talk about my traveling experiences.

Of course my host brother had to show me how to get to both the lesson sites and that was the first 2 days because they switch areas. My family lives the farthest from everyone and so it takes a little longer to get to Bangkok. I have to walk to the main road and catch a bus that takes about an hour and a half to get to the BTS sky train, and take that to the site. Sometimes I might have to take the MRT (subway) as well. And of course, a lot of walking is involved, but I don’t mind, I like it. So that is how I get to Bangkok and back. Now mind you, I have gotten lost about 2 times, lol. One time was because I was given the wrong bus number so I was riding in the wrong direction for over an hour and he second was because I got on the right number but the wrong color. There are two 84s and I got on the red one because it’s cheaper. The blue one has air conditioning, but at the speeds they’re traveling it’s like you have air conditioning on the red one anyway. My host brother failed to mention to me that the red on stops short of my destination a few kilometers and so I thought I could walk the rest of the way. Yea… not likely. When it started getting dark I was like “How far am I?” Eventually when I bought a phone card and could call my brother he told me what the problem was and I took a song teo back home. Could have been home nearly 2 hours earlier if I just got on the blue one.

Anyway, besides that, I’ve been going back and forth between Bangkok and home for Thai lessons, and those are pretty funny. Some Thai kids from the university help out and make games for us. After we are done, sometimes the exchange students will go to Peragon to watch a movie, shop, or walk around. I tag along sometimes either because I want to or because I figure that I spend a lot of time coming here so I might as well do something. Shopping is fun, but it’s better to go to Central World than Peragon, less expensive and more of a selection, and Peragon is already huge. Movies here are in both English and Thai. If it is a Thai movie it will have English subtitles, yay. On one weekend in Peragon they were having an Anime Fest, and my host brother was participating in the video game competition. He managed to get second and got 3,000 baht. And another day at the university where we have Thai lessons they were having a cosplay competition, so I got to see a lot of Thai people dress up as my favorite anime characters.

Oh, recently it was my birthday and I have to admit, it was a very surprising day. When I went to my Thai lessons, 2 of my friends started dragging me and singing happy birthday letting everyone know it was my birthday, yea. When I came back a couple other friends got me a small cake from around the corner with a number 8 candle on it, lol. No I am not 8 years old for those of you going huh. I was turning 16 but they couldn’t afford both the 1 and the 6, lol. Everyone sang happy birthday and took pictures. Afterwards, me and a couple friends walked around Peragon and went into a large booth where you can take pictures and make them into stickers. Then, we went to a Pizza place and Swensens to eat. My friends go an ice cream cake for me and sang happy birthday to me again lol. And a guy took a picture of us as a Swensens b-day gift. When I got home, I didn’t even know that they knew it was my birthday. Kunmee made all my favorite Thai foods and she and Tony got me another ice cream cake from Swensens as well as a small gift. It was a really good day. Also, I saw for the first time the miracle of dry ice. Yea, for most of you you are saying what, but whatever it was soooooo cool. When you put it in water it starts bubbling and smoking like a cool effect from a movie; awesome.

The Rotary program had a trip for us recently and it was to 2 temples, a clay pottery factory, and the floating market. On the boat we had karaoke and we learned Thai dancing, a quick version, and we were dancing around a table, lol. I didn’t really know there were female monks, but there are, and they don’t dress in orange, they dress in white. Also, I was a little surprised at the leniency with monks. A couple times I’ve seen monks smoke, have a tattoo, or ride a motorcycle taxi. I still wonder about that, but I keep forgetting to ask lol. But, besides that, the floating market is really cool. Food is sold on small boats and clothes in small shops nearby raised from the water. The pottery factory was just, wow. Rows and rows of pots and giant bowls. We saw how they were made and the guy literally makes them in about 2 to 3 minutes. You wonder why it takes you a whole class period to make a messed up misshapen pot or bowl in class when he does it perfectly and easily in less than 30 seconds, ouch. It was a day filled with laughter and a lot of pictures. Oh and we all bought little key chains from the pottery factory to put on our jackets, hehe.

Yea, so as you can see everything is going really well here, and there is a lot of fun to be had. Future exchange students just have to wait it out, it doesn’t last that long. It only seems like a long time because at the time you’re not doing anything. But anyway, again thanks Rotary for giving me a chance to experience all this. And to my family I love you guys and miss your craziness. Thai people are crazy, but not as crazy as you P.S. I just can’t get over the whole shrimp thing here. They don’t take off the head or the legs. I just can’t do it.

December 25

I know it’s been a while since my last, but that only shows how much fun I’m having here. But anyway, down to business. Lots of stuff has happened. I think I’ll try and start from where I left off.

After Thai lessons, which were okay in my opinion, school started back up again, but it was a new semester. Some classes were kept and others were changed. But everyone was still in the same group. Its like you choose your major and that’s it. Everyone who chooses that major gets the same classes that come with it. But of course because I can’t understand it I get my own special schedule, but that took a while because of the scheduling for all the other classes and teachers. The teachers as well as the students move around so its more complicated. But its alright. But when we got back people weren’t really focused on school. Sure they went to their classes but each day was preparation for Giraci- Sports Day. For about all of November there were matches between the different colors. There are green, blue, pink and yellow and there’s volleyball, basketball, some sport similar to volleyball but you play with your feet, and others that we play on actual sports day. Every day we practiced our cheers at the stands with the drums and dancers. The screams echoed off the sides of the school which was pretty far away from where we were. T-shirts were bought, decorations were made, and there were so many costumes. When sports day came and went into the room where my color was, which by the way was green, they looked so cool and I was so surprised that no adults help them. Its completely run by the 11th graders. After everything was set we went to the stands and got everything together. The parade was great and it was fascinating to see what the each color put together.

The first day was mainly volleyball, basketball and a couple soccer matches as well as a couple of other games. They have a game similar to a 3-legged race, but instead of 2 people there are 10, and they all have to walk together. It was really funny because the string kept breaking. The second day we had the cheerleaders do their dances. That’s was really cool. And no, cheerleaders in Thailand aren’t the same as cheerleaders in America. If they ask you if you want to be one and you have a little skill say yes! But be aware you might have to do the crazy dance. It means what it says. But they were so pretty. Of course the guys are gay but they look and dance better than the girls most of the time. After each color went we had races. I ran one round and surprisingly won even though I was wearing white and everyone’s like “who’s that?” But because it was a 4 people run we lost as a team, but it was alright. And at the end of the day we had all the English teachers play soccer with some famous people from channel 3. I don’t know who they were but everyone rushed from the stand for a picture. And that’s a lot of people.

All in all Sports Day was a success, except for when Green cried because they got 2nd in the cheerleaders competition. This was the first time they lost. But they were fine the next week. After that everything settled and went back to normal in school. Oh I almost forgot. My class went to Wat Pra Keo, a zoo, and Parliament for a fieldtrip one day. That was pretty good. We had the most fun in the zoo, when we rode around the river in the little boats. Two of my friends were so afraid of these things that looked like Minnie crocodiles in the river that are about over a meter long. There was a good amount of them in the water. They kept screaming. I couldn’t stop laughing. I drove me and my friend under the fountain and we got soaked. Need I mention we were in our school uniforms? But that was fun. So school is going okay.

With the Rotary program we’ve celebrated Loy Kratong where they send boats of flowers and candles down Jao Praya River, float candles in the sky, and have fireworks. That was cool to see. And recently the Rotex had a Christmas party for us, although, not many people got the memo that it was supposed to be a black and white party. We had to buy gifts to exchange, so naturally I got something that represented Thailand, the Elephant. In return I got a model of a Tuk Tuk. A cool looking taxi that’s half carriage half motorcycle. That went pretty well. Also the King’s Birthday was December 5th and a lot of people went to Jao Praya River to celebrate it. There were large boats shooting fireworks and lights along the river. And we, my host family and I lit candles in our house because if we went we probably wouldn’t have gotten home till after 1 because of the traffic. It was fun. And because of was the month of the King’s Birthday, Rotary had us go to the hospital where the king is staying to sign a book that thousands of people sign from day to day. Just to mention, the hospital is actually not that far from places I normally go in Bangkok, so I can just take a bus there if I wanted. But yea to sum up everything, things are going pretty well here and learning the culture and language proves to be fun although difficult at times. Well that’s all for this report. There are some pictures for you to see some of the things I was talking about. For those who are coming it’ll be fun for you, and for family and friends, I miss and love you and for Rotary thanks for the opportunity. Ja.

P.S. One weekend I and a couple friends wet ice skating in Central World. That was really funny.  They have a small rink out in the open in the mall. That’s probably the closest we are going to get to cold weather.

February 1

This is my journal for January, there wasn’t much going on so thought ide wait a bit

Hi guys, I figured I would send this after January was finished since my last one was a little late and nothing much happened since. Well things are slowing down now that my exchange is half over. Unfortunately some people have gone home already for various reasons and it sucks to see them go, but nothing you can do about it, just gotta keep going.

Well since last time this is what’s been going on. New Years was alright, it honestly could have been better but as no one was really available because it was New Years I had to spend it with my rotary club. Now mind you I never really stay up for New Years but because I wasn’t anywhere near home I couldn’t really do anything but stay up and listen to then sing karaoke all night. One thing is for sure, if you are ever celebrating in Thailand, karaoke is everywhere, in every home and facility, and they don’t just stop after 5 or 10 songs.

Since then I have just been going to school and hanging out with a couple friends now and again. This is the time when you have a lot of time to yourself and you start to wonder about a lot of different things, both pragmatic and ideological. But it’s a time when you start to think about yourself, where you were, where you are, and where you are going. Sometimes you’ll be like, what did I do today? I cant even remember what I did yesterday. Sometimes the days just mesh together and then your going to be like what, January 1st was a month ago? Yea.

At my school we had open house. It was a 2-day thing where certain groups set up booths or areas where the kids that come in could play games and stuff. Our theme was rubber and so we made our area look like an army training area. The day before I helped paint a green tarp with black and brown paint. It took longer to get the paint off our hands than to put the paint on the tarp. And the cool thing was that what was supposed to look like lines that army men crawl under when training was made out of rubber bangs tied together. We also had tires staggered around and a balloon shooting game. You know how at carnivals you take the dart and throw them at the balloons, yea that one. It was good. And for entertainment we had another school’s band and singers come in and perform. All I can say is that they were awesome. A lot of the gay guys were having a good time dancing and acting crazy, but it’s all good; funny too.

But besides that. I recently went to another province with my rotary club and it was pretty cool. We went to a house blessing for this military guy and he invited a lot of people to dinner and shopping the next day. Oh, just thought I would point this out since there is no one American here. In the hotel room I saw Inception on tv, in Thai of course, but I’m wondering, I saw that 5 months ago, like right before I left, why is it out on television??? Anyway, aside from my meandering, the market we went to the next day is AWESOME. Everything is so cheap and its huge, I got a pair of jeans for 130 baht. That is a steal and I had to ask the lady twice if she said 130. I am definitely planning to go back there before I leave, hehe. Also we went to a historical temple that is apparently over 1,000 years old and still standing. It is literally on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. When I saw a guy all the way up ahead through the trees I thought he was part of the group and started wondering why he was so far away. Then one of the members told me that he was one of the Cambodian soldiers standing guard at the border. Whooo, danger zone hehe. Right now there is a little spat going on between Thailand and Cambodia so things were a little shaky for us, but my counselor said not to worry because I am American and Cambodia wouldn’t take me as a hostage because they are afraid of America….. yea.

But that’s all that has really happened in January. February should be a little more exciting since we have Thai dance lessons and cooking coming up. I will let you guys in on all the drama later, but for now ta-ta and I will chat with you later. Again, thanks everyone for your support and love, miss ya.

 May 16

Hey guys. I know it has certainly been a while. I would like to apologize for the severe lateness, but what is done is done and I’m here to share some of the things that have happened here with you. For one thing I would like to point out to everyone, not just exchangers but anyone, is that change will inevitably happen. What kind of change will happen is based around the actions taken and how you view it all; what is happening around you and within you as well; what you will take home with you every day and leave behind somewhere else.

Well I will get back to the mushy stuff later. For now since the last I have talked I have been on 2 trips with Rotary. The South and the North Trips. The South Trip was originally supposed to be 7 days but it got shortened because of how expensive the South is, but we got compensated by spending more time on the North trip so it was all okay. On the South trip we mainly went to a Province called Phuket. It is supposed to be one of the cleanest and beautiful beaches in Thailand. But unfortunately we had the worst of luck with the weather being kind of crappy at the time. Can’t do anything about Mother Nature can we?

Among the main things that we did we went snorkeling near some humungous rocks that looked like they were carved from caves but are just standing up in the middle of the ocean like a sky scraper in the middle of a cornfield. Of course we didn’t get too close because that would mean getting slammed on them by the waves, so obvious no no. But the fish were awesome. Not too big not too small. The Thai people with us thought it would be funny to see us screaming and flailing in the water as they threw bread into the water near where we were swimming so that the fish could get something to eat. Which i have to admit was funny since I did the watching and not the screaming, lol. At the top it looked fine seeing fish swarm around them trying to get at the bread but underneath…. man that looks kind of scary. Looks like your body became a planet for the fish. Besides the snorkeling we went to an island that had a little side cave with a shrine built in for a goddess; very nice. Along that thought, we also swam to this cliff opposite the island and did our signature dives. Of course mine was a cannonball, completely original.

We also saw a seashell graveyard, went to James Bond Island, and went to a school to participate in activities with the kids there. My group read stories in English and Thai and played something close to freeze tag while smearing each other’s faces with powder. It was really fun. On our last night we had a party, did karaoke, and played volleyball on the beach. We wished we could have stayed longer but it was for the best that we left when we did, because two days later the whole area was flooded and no one could really get around. Talk about karma. But this was not long after the tsunami in Japan, so i guess the flood wasn’t too far off. But we pray for those in Japan as well for the exchangers there and for the families of the Japanese exchangers here with us now.

After the South Trip there was just a week or so before we left on the North Trip. This trip included not just the inbounds but also the future outbounds that were going to America. The two buses were split half and half. Half Thai and half foreigners in each bus. Just pointing this out to any exchangers coming to Thailand. I’m pretty sure that I have talked about 7-11 being the Starbucks of Thailand. They’re everywhere. Well, when you go on trips with Thai’s no matter how far the place is, be prepared to stop at nearly every 7-11 on the way.

On the North Trip we mainly went to a lot of Temples. At least one or two temples a day I’m pretty sure, but some of them are pretty cool. For example, there is a completely white temple that looks like something in between Narnia’s Wicked Witch’s castle and the elephant graveyard of Lion King. But it was awesome. The entrance is a walkway in between skulls, desperate hands, and bodies. Ok, yea i sound like something out of one of my fantasy books but it’s seriously what it looks like. If I remember correctly the guy that designed it was trying to let everyone know what hell looked like, and on the inside he showed exactly who was in hell. And get this, guess who’s in there. Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Starwars…. Yea. I don’t remember the reasons why but I wished I could have taken a picture. I guess you’re just going to have to go see it for yourself. Also on the outside in the front is the Predator from AVP & Predator. I seriously wish I could discuss ideologies with the designer because that temple was sick. LOL.

Another temple that we went to was the Queen’s and King’s temples. They are both on top of a mountain and you have to walk up a long walkway to get to them. The Queen’s temple is purple!! That scored major points with me. But they were both nice and because they are so high, there is a fog that wraps around the whole area that looks awesome. We also went to the highest point in Thailand, an enormous flower garden (I mean HUGE), a waterfall, and a geyser. Those were all really fun. A lot of firsts for me J. Oh, and we went to an Opium Museum. It was a major trade and lifestyle here before the Queen started a project for it. Thailand is not to keen on drugs.

Now onto the major event during the North Trip, Songkran Day. It is the water festival in Thailand that lasts for about 3 days. Everyone just goes around spraying people with water. People don’t care what you’re wearing. If you’re within range you’re going to get wet. Because I didn’t want to have to bring a huge water gun back home with me I just bought a bucket. Easier to fill and use. Along the roads there a fill up stations where of course, you can fill up your bucket or water gun with the available water. Along the roads there are people with trucks driving by with large barrels of water that they throw onto you. Beware; sometimes the water is not warm or even mildly cold. Sometimes people make it ice cold. And of course if you have a bucket (i.e. me) you have the availability of using water from the canal since they tie a plastic string around the handle for you to throw and pull up. The best part of all this was when i managed to fall in to the canal trying to get my shoe back that fell in. It was so hard to get out and a random Thai guy had to help me get out. I actually went in a second time because someone’s bucket fell in. I mean hey, I fell in once it’s not like I couldn’t go in again. Plus it was raining, so i was going to take a shower later for sure. But it was a lot of fun. Sometimes i felt bad for the people on motorcycles but come on its Songkran.

So in summary both the North and South trips were fun and I would like to go back someday. But after all the hype had cooled down from both and I was back home, it was time to change host families. My new home is nice. I’m not going to lie that I’m happy that it has air conditioning. If I didn’t mention before, my previous house did not have air conditioning and was one of the only houses that didn’t. I didn’t mind, but sometimes, I thought i was going to die from the heat. The family is nice and another one of the exchange students lives at my Uncle’s house one house over. So every now and then I walk over and hang out. My host cousins and brother are nice and are exchange students. There is a mall near my house that we hang out sometimes and go watch movies. One day I went with a couple of friends to another Province to meet a couple more friends and go to a waterfall. When we arrived in the Lotburi, I was so surprised to see monkeys running around everywhere. Honestly I couldn’t help laughing when my friend had some food and threw it down at a dead run to get away from the stalker monkey. They get fed from the locals and tourists and so they will go up and steal food from the people. Just a warning. I nearly fell to the ground laughing. So right now, things are pretty nice.

I’m going home in less than a month and I know I will miss Thailand and it’s people but I know that I am also glad to go home and see my family and get back to the life I left there. There are things I realized here and I’m going to try and take what I’ve learned and do what I can with it. I will not try and tell you that I’ve changed immensely since I have been here like some other exchange students because that isn’t what happened. Some people will change and some people won’t. That’s how things work. I’m not glad or mad about it, it’s just what ended up happening. I learned many things about myself and will go on with life as I have: using what I have learned and forging my own path whatever may come of it. That’s all we can do. Nevertheless I love Thailand and I thank Rotary and my parents for granting me this opportunity, and all of my friends and family who supported me. Thank you everyone!

 

Carleigh McFarlane
2010-11 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Budapest-Sasad Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Carleigh - Hungary

Carleigh’s Bio

Jó napot!

I’m Carleigh, a typical 15-year-old sophomore, who happens to be heading to Hungary for a year. That’s right HUNGARY! Of all the countries available, I knew that I wanted a challenge, and to learn a language that not many people knew of. After all, my main goal is to inform people about the world, our mind-boggling world. That includes the places (aka – Hungary) that aren’t as commercialized, or “popular” as others.

I would describe myself as a spunky, bubbly, 10th grader looking for an adventure. I’m determined, responsible, and I have big dreams. I know that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything.

Right now, I attend Pompano Beach High School. I’m a member of the Key Club, Interact Club, Sophomore Class (Student Government) and Debate club. I’m the secretary of both the Culinary Arts club, and Drama club. In the time that’s left, I’m a varsity cheerleader. Along with the massive amount of homework I’m given, it’s safe to say I’m a busy girl. To be completely honest, when I first heard of the exchange, I saw it as a vacation, an excuse to get out of my hectic study schedule, and have some fun. Through my research, and already strenuous efforts, I’ve realized it’s not a vacation, but an opportunity that has been presented to me, better than any escape. The more I learned about the Rotary program, the country I’ll be going to, and the language I’ll be speaking, the more excited I get. I realize that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I plan to experience it, to its greatest extent.

As I said before I’m 15, and will be 16 at the end of July. I live in Coral Springs, FL with my mom, dad, brother and sister. We’re a pretty athletic family, and my siblings and I love jump on our trampoline, and go in the pool together. My brother and sister are 12 year-old twins. Most of the time, they’re the average annoying kids, either stealing my clothes or making revolting noises in public. Despite the fact, I don’t know how I’m going to live without them. My family and I are really close, so homesickness is one of the most scary parts of this exchange for me. I guess that’s just another thing to conquer while on my exchange.

I’ve lived in Coral Springs practically my whole life. Don’t get me wrong, I love this place, but I’m always looking for a new adventure. As a matter of fact, I wear a bracelet everyday that has the word ADVENTURE inscribed in it. I’m always up to trying something new, and I know this exchange has a lot of that in store for me.

I haven’t attended orientation yet, and I’ve never been outside of the US. I don’t know what to expect, and the idea of leaving for a year, makes my heart beat faster in both a thrilled and intimidating way. Through all my doubts, I know hat I’m determined, and ready for whatever is thrown at me. I’m beyond eager for this trip, and I’m starting to grasp the concept, and see the reasons to how it will change me forever.

As my journey begins, I want to start by saying thank-you. My friends and family are the greatest support system, and as I said before, I don’t know what I’m going to do with out them. Also, I’d like to thank Rotary for this trip of a lifetime, and opportunity like no other.

 Carleigh’s Journals

August 24

Szia from Hungary!

 So I’ve only been here for 3 days and I’ve already done so much! I figured if there was any time to write my first journal, it would be now.

 I left from Ft. Lauderdale airport Saturday morning, and headed to JFK in New York. My layover wasn’t long, and my first flight came in early so I was in good shape. I then took the Air-tram, (little did I know, that would only be the very beginning of my public transport adventure) and made my way to the International terminal. I have to say, I was utterly amazed. It was the first time that I truly felt like an exchange student. All around me people stood waiting in the security line speaking everything for French to Chinese, and checking into their flights with Korean Air and Japan Airways. It was one of the most memorable and exciting parts of my exchange so far.  I made it to my gate and quickly boarded my first ever, overnight flight to Frankfurt. I luckily got a window seat, and a neighbor that spoke both English and German. The flight attendants couldn’t understand me very well, but she was able to help translate everything. When I arrived in Frankfurt is was 1:00 am for me, but I still wasn’t tired, plus it was sunny outside which must have confused my body into thinking it was morning. The flight from Frankfurt to Budapest was very short, and I learned a lot from the elderly woman who sat beside me. She gave me a lot of confidence, and told me exactly what I had to say to my family when I met them, in order to be polite and proper.

 As soon as I landed in Budapest, I went directly to baggage claim. By that point, I was beyond excited, and couldn’t wait to meet my family. One of my suitcases got lost so I had to fill out papers, and then go through customs. As soon at I stepped into the waiting area, I saw a beautifully colorful sign that had my name on it, being held by three people. My host mom ran up and gave me a huge hug, and then my younger host sister did the same. My host dad gave me a kiss on each cheek, before my older host sister, Lilla, who was on exchange last year in Florida, came running out of nowhere and gave me the largest hug of all.

We all got into the car, and headed home. The airport is pretty close to our house so it only took 15 minutes. As we pulled into the drive way, I looked up at the home in awe. It looked like a miniature version of a European castle to me, possibly because it was surrounded by a tall stone wall and a gate with dazzling purple flowers. Once we got inside my host sisters gave me a tour of the house which is beautiful! My room is yellow, and I even have a skylight! Like most Hungarian homes, there is only one full bathroom… and it’s enormous! It even has its own sauna, which I’m told comes in handy in the winter.

 Here, lunch is the family’s big meal, similar to dinner in America. For my arrival, my host mom made bableves (bob-lay-vash), or bean soup, then a delicious noodle casserole. After we finished with that, they surprised me with a yogurt cake, which may sound gross, but it was awesome! It almost tasted like cheese cake from home. The food here is plentiful and very good. Needless to say, my first word learned here was “Finom”, or “yummy.” Now my host mom makes fun of me for saying it so much, haha.

 After lunch, we got on our bathing suits to go in the pool. I felt the water with my hand, and realized just how warm my pool at home truly was. My biological clock was starting to catch up with me, so I decided to just put my feet in, and then head upstairs for a nap. About 4 hours later, I woke up, and was invited to go to the barn to watch my younger host sister, Viràg, go horseback riding. We biked there, which was beautiful, physically tiring and insanely bumpy all at the same time. Never the less, we made it on time without fail. When we arrived, I was asked if I would like to have a lesson. Of course I said “IGEN!” Everyone at the barn knew different words in English and they all worked together to help me understand what the instructor was telling me. After my lesson Virag gave me a tour of the barn. They have chickens, roosters, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, a goat, a pony, and a cute little dog named Cici. All of which Viràg helps to take care of every afternoon.

 We went home, and I got to Skype with my parents. I already missed them so much, and had to tell them all about my day. Without a doubt, homesickness hit me dead on after I hung up with my mom, and it took me awhile to fall to asleep.

 The next day I woke up late due to jetlag, and my host family completely understood.  Lilla and I decided to go into the city to buy a converter for me, and some postcards as well. We walked down to the bus stop and got on, luckily seats were available and we were able to sit. The ride took about 20 minutes, but it felt like 20 seconds, while I was admiring all of the little shops on our way. When we arrived in the city, we got off and went strait into the mall, which it HUGE! We bought my converter, and then stopped to have gelato… FINOM!

 From the mall, we took the metro to the center of Budapest, where I would be able to find postcards. When we arrived, I didn’t know what to expect, but it exceeded all of the thoughts, pictures and a dreams I had had of the city. The architecture was just picturesque, and all the people were so kind and happy. Other then some nasty blisters, from my shoes our walk around that part of Budapest was one of the happiest times of my life. My host sister surprised me by taking me to see the Danube, which cuts Budapest in half (into Buda and Pest.) We saw the first bridge of Hungary, the Parliament building, and the Buda castle, all of which were remarkable!

 The day had flown by so fast, that we didn’t realize that it was late, and we should head home. When we got home Virag had already left for the barn again, so I started to write some postcards, and study a bit of Hungarian.

Lilla and I had left-over soup for dinner and we Skyped with a few of the other inbounds to Florida that we both knew from last year.

Homesickness seems to hit me at night when I don’t get to say “good night” to my parents and my brother and sister, but I know that that awful feeling should soon pass, or I’m hoping at least.

 This morning Lilla and I awoke early to go into our school, to set up my schedule. Everyone was very nice, and I learned just how important the formal way of speaking is, when Hungarians attend school.

 Well, we’re home now and are going to have lunch soon. Yes, there have been some downs, but the ups of this exchange have already fulfilled me with a loads of memories, experience, and love for this remarkable country.

October 17

It’s hard to fathom it, but I’ve been here for almost two entire months! I remember reading everyone’s second journal and getting annoyed because everyone kept repeating, “I’ve done so much!” and well, I can’t believe I’m saying this… I’ve done so freaking much!

So… the first two weeks I was here, was our last two weeks of summer vacation. It was basically a time for me to get comfortable and anticipate all the things to come. My host family took me to a bunch of the famous sites in Budapest, and they had fun seeing all of my foreign reactions to things like the metro and European gelato. Some of the sites that I enjoyed the most were the tourist district, the parliament building, the chain bridge, and the highest point in Budapest.

Those first two weeks weren’t all fun and games though. I tried with all of my might not to contact my parents, but the whole “no talking to you parents for a month”-thing, wasn’t for me. The language also stunned me. I consider myself a fast learner, and I expected to start picking up the language immediately. I was surprised at how much effort was needed to pay attention and try to decipher every word you hear. Hungarian, is obviously not a very common language and the words are very different from ours and, well… things seemed to go in one ear and come out the other.

Next was school. My first day was, well, weird. In Hungary, the first day of school in called “Opening day.” My host sister and I arrived around 9:00 after an hour long commute along the train, metro, and bus system. When we arrived, everyone was in uniform (of which I didn’t have) and looked very fashionable. Almost every girl was wearing high-heels! I though back to my school in Florida where it was cool to show up in sweat-pants and a t-shirt. My host sister walked me to my classroom where I was introduced to one of my classmates who spoke English. Her name is Kriszti and she was born in the US, so her English is great. We became fast friends and she helped me to translate my schedule. Opening day was on a Wednesday, so we only had two days of the week left before the weekend once again. Thursday and Friday were interesting, because I realized that in Hungarian schools, your schedule changes everyday. I had fun following everyone around, and trying to explain to the teachers who I was and why I was here.

It wasn’t until the second week of school that I really started to love it. It was explained to me that my class took 16 English classes per week during their freshman year, and most of them could speak it fluently. When I asked why they didn’t tell me that earlier, they said that they were embarrassed because they didn’t want to mess up or not understand me. In the end, their English is great, plus I think they know more English slang then me, haha. It works out well, because I can help them with English and they can help me with Hungarian. My classmates are all really interesting, cool, and fun. All in all I love school here, well everything except for our English teacher, ironically. She teaches British English and we don’t seem to agree on a lot of things, haha…

That following weekend, was our first Inbound Orientation. There are 35 inbounds to Hungary this year. Everyone is really awesome, and we all became close friends immediately. Our weekend consisted of lectures, excursions, and insane continental breakfasts. We got to exchange pins, which was super exciting, and talk about all of our excursions to come. The Hungarian Rotary Youth Exchange program is known for its trips. We’ve already been to Venice and are planning on going to Vienna, Poland, and on two separate Euro tours, which is insanely exciting!

At orientation, I got meet the other kids living in Budapest. They seemed really cool, and we got along great together. To make a long story short, we see each other almost everyday. We have our real families at home in America, our host families living here in Budapest, and our third family, each other. We help each other through hard times, laugh together until we cry, and have been able to explore this magical city as a family. There’s Collin from Alaska, Sofia from New York State, and Samantha from New York as well. Collin and I like to go running around the Buda Castle, and along the nature routes on Margret Island. Sofia, Sam and I are great shopping Buddies and love the laugh at Collin… good times.

A few weeks into my exchange I began to have some problems with my host family. It was anything super serious, but I obviously wasn’t happy. Thank goodness Rotary Youth Exchange was smart enough to set us up with a counselor and a YEO. I told my counselor about the issues I’d been having and he got right to work. I emailed him on a Thursday evening, and he invited me to stay with his family that following weekend. He has a gorgeous wife and two kids, Kriszti who is 12, and Mate who is 10. They live in a flat in the center of Budapest, literally a 5 minute walk from the chain bridge. That weekend, we went to the zoo, played games, and I basically had one of the best weekends since I had arrived. Again to make a long story short, I now live with them. I love coming home every night to such a warm and friendly place. I have fun playing games with my host siblings, who by the way are the BEST Hungarian teachers. They always make sure that I have everything that I need, and this family has only made me love this place even more.

I love how independent I am here. I am fully capable of working the Budapest public transportation system. I know where everything is, and decide what I want to do with my time everyday. Being here has made me appreciate so much. I am utterly thankful for the amazing support system that I have at home, and the growing one I have here. I’ve discovered how truly universal the English language is, and I now realize how much it has put me ahead in life. Our ability to learn and grow closer to the people around us has made me realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful people. This amazing opportunity and fact that Rotary International has fostered such a truly inspirational program still has me in awe. Thanks Rotary… I don’t know what I would have done without you!

November 23

Seriously, where has the time gone? It feels like I just got here when actually I’ve been here, residing in the historical capital of Hungary for just over three months. Still, at times it feels like I’ve been here forever, like when I give tourists directions, and pick up my host siblings from school.

Now that things are starting to become more “normal”, if I dare to call it that, the weeks seem to pass by even more quickly. As my host parents would say, I’m involved with many “programs” or in other terms, I’ve become very busy. On Mondays I have swimming, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I have Hungarian lessons, on Thursdays I also have piano, on Wednesdays and Fridays I go to Capoeira ( a Brazilian Martial-arts dance class… ironic, I know) and on Fridays I also have Art class. Keeping busy has really helped me to get through the hard times and I’m really enjoying all of the activities. I’ve made tons of friends and I’m learning a lot of new things.

The Language. Hungarian. My mission. Learn it.

Let’s just say, that’s A LOT easier said then done. Now that I have lessons, the awful Month 2 language plateau is over. I’m back on my way up the mountain, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems to get brighter everyday. I understand a lot now, which excites me. When my friends talk, it’s a little harder because they have a lot slang words, but I’m beginning to understand my teachers and many adults as well. My host family is really eager to learn English, so I constantly have to ask them to speak to me in Hungarian. I can understand them for the most part and its fun the surprise my host dad with, “Igen, értem ! … you don’t have to repeat yourself in English, I CAN understand you! haha” They are often impressed, always give me a lot of encouragement and constantly tell me how clever I am.

I also feel like I’m becoming closer with my host family. I’ve been with them for about two months now, and I’ve grown quite fond of them. My host siblings are crazy, adorable, annoying, and cute… just as any siblings are. They are both super excited for Christmas which is a huge deal here. Most Hungarian holidays celebrate the remembrance of sad historical events and are normally times of grief instead of celebration. But Christmas, is truly their one holiday to be excited about. There is an enormous Christmas bizarre that we will be visiting this weekend, and my host sister is putting together a show for us to perform on Christmas Eve. I have to read a poem in Hungarian and play a role in the skit, hehe.

My host mom is always happy and constantly coming up with “programs” for the family to partake in. My host dad can be very strict and highly critical but is also one of the most caring, responsible men I’ve ever met. I know that they are only watching out for my safety and health (They could, of course, put their judgments in less aggressive terms) but I have to remember all that they’ve done for me. This family took me in after two days of consideration. They didn’t have room, but made more then enough for me. They weren’t supposed to be a host family, but they took me in when I was in need. They call me their child, and introduce me as their daughter. I couldn’t be more grateful.

That reminds me! This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving! At home, it is my absolute favorite holiday. I was surprised to find out that it was in fact this week. Without Turkeys and American footballs all over the stores, it had skipped my mind. At first when I thought about not spending Thanksgiving with my family, I got really sad and homesick, but instead of focusing on how I wouldn’t spend it with them, I began to focus on the amazing family I would be celebrating it with. We’ve planned for all of the Budapest exchange students to come over Thursday morning to start the cooking, not that I think we’ll find a Turkey, but chicken is close enough. The Macy’s Day Parade starts at 3:00 pm our time, and I found a website that broadcasts it live. The feast will begin when my host family gets home, and we’ve planned a short skit to explain the meaning of thanksgiving. One of my close friends from school will also be coming over. All in all, I will have all of the people I care about most, and am most thankful for to celebrate with.

When Rotary said that culture shock would be hard, I thought of it as “Oh, yea… I can do it. It’s not going to be hard, I’m just going to study Hungarian when I get bored, or homesick. And if I get frustrated I won’t just sit on my computer, I’ll go and talk with Hungarian people.”… Can you say naïve, confident, oblivious! Culture shock is a lot more personal then I expected. It messes with your head, your emotions, and has even affected me physically. I’ve had to question my beliefs, my morals and have had to stand up for them and my country on more then one occasion. Honestly when Rotary said that this experience is like a roller coaster, that couldn’t be more on point. The new name for the The Hulk should be Culture Shock (it even sounds intimidating) Everyday alone, is a rollercoaster. I’ve made a small diagram to explain.

Yea, that’s pretty much how it works, haha.

Riding public transportation is great. It’s as if the government gave every teenager their own car here, with limitations and curfews of course. My friends and I are able to go anywhere we like, at any time. I never have to ask for a ride, and have become really independent. The city is absolutely beautiful, and we discover new cafes, short cuts and hang-out places everyday. There’s so much to do, and we always have a good time. I also think my sense of direction is improving because of it.

Another personal change that I wasn’t expecting was weight gain. I mean, I know Rotary warned us about it, and I knew it was bound to happen to me, but I guess I didn’t actually think of it “on” me. A few weeks into the exchange, when things were still so new, any form of physical exercise seemed out of reach, and my host dad asked how much I weighed… I had a major slump in my self confidence, which was a whole new feeling for me. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, so how was I supposed to be comfortable in a new place, with new people, and how would they ever be comfortable around me. I’ve come to realize that it’s all about how I see myself. I’m still the same Carleigh, and people don’t like me for the way I look, they like me for who I am. It comes with the territory. That’s what this year is about, isn’t it? Trying new things, having no regrets, learning about yourself and what makes you, you. In the long run, I think it’s benefited me 100 times over. I see myself as the smart, brave, wonderful girl who is on the trip of a lifetime, doing things a lot of other girls her age, couldn’t put up with. Finally, now that life is becoming normal, I’ve been able to exercise more and have become more of myself again.

Speaking of bikini bodies, my host family took me to a magical place pronounced “Hi-doo-soo-boz-lo”, near a larger town called Debrecen. We stayed in a resort that had several thermal baths. The fall had definitely settled in by that time and the weather was darn chilly. My favorite bath was the one outside. The air was freezing but your body was submersed under the hot water. An interesting thing about some of the baths was that they were a brown-yellow kind of color. It grossed me out at first, but supposedly they were enriched with minerals and nutrients that were supposed to help your skin and muscles. The whole experience was really fun, and I even got a massage! They have also taken me to Kalocsa, which is my host mom’s home town. I met my host grandparents who were absolutely adorable, and we got to relax for a few days in the clean country air. I really enjoyed that trip, but that was when the worst of homesickness stuck me. Their house reminded me of my grandparents, and the fact that they had their family all around them while mine was over 7000 miles away really got to me. In the end, my host grandma, although she didn’t speak a word of English, really made me feel like part of the family, and I only have fond memories of that weekend.

Imagine spending an entire year at Islands of Adventure, just riding the roller coasters over and over again, but without feeling dizzy… scratch that, Hungarian makes me dizzy sometimes. Well that’s what this year is. Ups and downs, Loop-d-loops, and backward flips, 90* drops, splashes at the bottom, screaming tourists, eager little kids, your parents waiting in the gift shop for you to return, scary moments leading up to the thrill of your lifetime, pictures on your crazy face while on the ride, and friends to hold you hand along the way.

January 15

Some interesting things I’ve noticed while here in Hungary :

  • When Hungarians eat cereal, they always put the milk in the bowl first.
  • The condition of one’s finger nails is very important.
  • A Floridian girl like myself would think winter was a magically fun time of year, but unfortunately it can often lose its sparkle after having to see nothing but gray clouds for over a month..
  • Fanny packs are accepted as fashionable purses here.
  • All of the light switches are opposite (Up = off etc…)
  • The toilets have two flushers. I’m still not sure what the difference is, but I’m beginning to think it’s a #1 and #2 kind of thing, gross, right? But hey, I’m down with conserving energy and water.
  • Boys, no matter what age, will hold the door for a lady ( I really like this one, and encourage the American culture to try it out).
  • The majority of tourists who come to visit Budapest are from China.
  • Exchange students are the best people in the entire world!
  • And Budapest is definitely the most magical place I have ever been to… and I’m proud to call it my home

That’s right, I’m finally at the stage when I can call this place my home. Honestly I can’t imagine myself anywhere else, not another country, not even at home in Florida . I really feel like I belong here. Although my language skills are developing on the slower side, I feel as if the Hungarian culture and I were made for one another.

My host family has no doubt been a huge factor in immersing me into the culture and making me feel apart of it. My host parents are great. They are very interested in me, and love to incorporate our two very different cultures into one. My host siblings treat me as if I’ve been there all along. My host brother and I play, fight, and laugh together, while my host sister asks me the “girl questions” that only an older sister could answer.

As I’ve said before, Christmas is the most anticipated holiday in Hungary . Long before December even started, the streets of Budapest began to align themselves with magnificent lights and decorations. There were “Boldog Karàcsonyt!” or “Merry Christmas” signs everywhere, and friendly holiday street vendors along with them. The Christmas festivities in my family began two days before Christmas Eve. Almost all of the major companies rearrange the workers schedules to work on two Saturdays in November so that the workers can have the two days before Christmas Eve free. Thanks to the genius system, my entire host family was able to spend that special time together. We began cooking, all sorts of yummy cakes including Begli, Gyerbo, and Honey Cookies. They were delicious and I had great time preparing everything with my host mom and sister. I forgot to mention that my host Grandpa also came to stay with us for the holidays. We didn’t speak much to each other but that was only because he would often speak to me in Russian. I, not being completely fluent in Hungarian or being able to recognize different dialects yet, was utterly confused. I laughed it off, and everyone else found it highly entertaining.

Anyways, the major celebration takes place on Christmas Eve here. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, all of the kids were told to stay in my room for about and hour and not to come out. I set up my laptop and we ended up watching “The Grinch”, which my host siblings had never since before. At around five, the door opened and we were allowed into the living room, where the angles had brought our tree, and baby Jesus had laid our presents. I found it odd how they didn’t wrap the presents, but again I’m all for recycling.

After we got a good look at all of our gifts, mine including two new shirts, thee books, perfume, and a Rubik’s cube (which by the way, was invented in Hungary , and everyone knows how to complete… I’m determined to master it by the time I leave!) , we all sat down to eat dinner. We began with the traditional Hungarian Fish Soup. To be honest I wasn’t a big fan of it, just because I’m used to salty ocean fish, whereas this was a fresh-water fish straight for the Danube . After that, my host mom being the sweet and caring person she is, made a sort of turkey casserole as one of the main course choices. She had asked me few weeks earlier what I would normally eat for Christmas dinner, and the fact that she went through all of the trouble just to make me feel at home meant the world to me. We spent the night talking, eating, laughing, eating, playing, and eating more.

I went to asleep and full and happy girl that night. We slept late the next day, and as always I was woken up with a warm glass of “Early-morning Tea” I found it weird not falling asleep with a great amount of anticipation for the morning, but I did have quite an extraordinary program to look forward to. It’s a tradition in my host family to go to the world famous Budapest Opera house on Christmas day, and as if that wasn’t enough we got to see the “Nutcracker Ballet”. It was absolutely beautiful, and it had me in awe for the rest of the holiday.

Truthfully I didn’t get homesick at all during Christmas. Everything was just so different, that it didn’t feel like Christmas at all, and I was so comfortable with everything that I didn’t feel out of place. There were a few moments when I wish I could have hugged my dad or gave my grandma a kiss but all in all, I’ll look back on it as one of my best Christmases ever!

The next major celebration was New Years, and boy was it a celebration indeed! Weirdly enough, most of the Budapest exchangers, including myself decided to leave the capital and travel to Debrecen , the second largest town in Hungary , to welcome in the New Year. Another great group of exchangers lives their, and it would also be a lot safer and less expensive to celebrate there. Plus it would give us the chance to see a new place and meet new people. We had and amazing time dancing, setting off fireworks, and feasting on the tons of food that had been prepared. There was no ball drop, which almost made it seem unofficial, but I can’t think of any other way I would have wanted to spend New Years Eve. I mean, being with a group of people who completely understand what you are going through and love you for who you are, what else could you wish for? That’s what this is all about. No matter where you are from, no matter where you are going, your group of inbounds will be your best friends. At home everyone has their own problems, on exchange, everyone is going through the same ones, its just an environment that you will find nowhere else, at no other time in your entire life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

(For you future exchangers: I used to read these blogs like they were my bible. I couldn’t wait to actually write one of my own and inspire others to embark on this journey of a life time. Let me just say that these written recollections of occurrences doesn’t even compare to experiencing them in real life. They don’t do justice to the actual amount of love, fun, and wisdom you receive from being an exchange student.)

For now, my biggest challenge is the language. Hungarian is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It’s beautiful and smooth, yet utterly complicated making it supremely difficult to pick up. Grammatically, Hungarian is most closely related to Japanese, I’m not lying! It’s frustrating having so much love for this place and these people and not being able to openly communicate with them yet. I know once I’ve got it down, nothing and no one will make me want to leave.

Thankfully the people around me are more willing to help me learn. Hungarians are honored knowing someone from a western nation would want to come and learn about their relatively unknown history, culture and language. I must say that the history of Hungary is one of the richest chronicles of all time. Being located in the literal center of Europe they’ve been through it all. They’ve had their ups and their downs, they’ve been conquered then freed, and yet they always seem to stand right back up and continue to flight towards what they believe it. It’s truly inspiring. I could write an entire journal on my love for the Hungarian culture, but let’s just say it is the friendliest, the modest, the most magical way of living that I’ve ever encountered, never the less, been blessed to experience first hand.

Considering the language is essentially the prime aspect of this remarkable culture, learning to speak it fluently would only make this exchange that much more amazing. My host family is constantly testing me, and although I have to often remind them to speak to me in Hungarian, they always comply. My classmates are definitely the next best Hungarian tutors, although most of them don’t know it. My best friend at school is named Kata. Her English is amazing, although she doesn’t see it that way. She’s taught me so much, and is constantly pushing me to speak more Hungarian. She makes tests and grades them for me and we write notes during our English lessons in both languages.

Speaking of school, I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that teenagers around the world are the same. I know it’s unbelievable, and until I could understand what was going on in my classmate’s conversations I saw them as a different breed entirely. That could be because I was so utterly jealous of their inborn language skills, but they really are just like my friends at home. It its startling how alike two classes can be having grown up in such different places.

Okay, so I’ve been wanting to express this for some time now, I just didn’t know how to put it in words. Up until recently, I haven’t even been able to explain it to myself.

Well here it is:

It doesn’t take a special person to think about being an exchange student.

It doesn’t take anyone adventurous to apply for exchange.

It doesn’t take someone extraordinary to attend orientations and complete assignments.

It doesn’t even take anyone brave to pack up, leave their family, and travel to a different country.

Honestly, it doesn’t take a worldly person to learn the language of their host country, to make friends, to “survive” their exchange year (which is a term I admittedly used quite often in the beginning).

The truth is, it takes a great, adventurous, bold, worldly, respectable person to not only incorporate themselves into their host culture and country, but to see themselves as a member.

March 5

Well I have officially celebrated my first half-birthday here in Hungary. That’s right a full 6 months!

I must admit as a Florida born native, the winter has definitely been my biggest obstacle to cope with. Never in my entire life have I been without sun. Here I haven’t felt the crisp rays, the unmistakable warmth or seen that bright shinning star in over 5 months! It will tease me by coming out for a day or two while I’m at school during the week, or it’ll pop out on a Saturday afternoon, making me run outside in excitement, just to find that all the shadows of the city, block any of my access to its warmth. The month of February really had me down in the slumps, because of it. I had managed all winter, but didn’t think that I could handle the grey skies and coat racks much longer. Writing anything then would have had left a bad taste, hence the absent journal. Finally winter seems to be coming to a close and I could not be more excited!

I have so many things to look forward to! Just in the next few weeks we’ll be traveling to Poland, where I’ll visit a series of museums and Auschwitz, the concentration camp (I’m a little nervous about that actually, but look forward to the experience.) What I’m most excited about it none other then… EURO TOUR! We’ll be traveling everywhere! I’ve learned so much about this amazing continent and various countries, I can’t wait to see and really take them all in! (Or as my genius British English teacher would say; “Drink in the sites!”)

We also have our language competition to look forward to, or shall I say study for. I have improved and feel pretty confident about my Hungarian skills but I still want to prove to everyone how far I’ve come without sounding like an idiot. Hungarian isn’t a language most pick up quickly or are ever able to understand, but I feel honored knowing I know enough to express myself, and understand what people are saying to me. When picking a country I could have chosen one with a language on the same leaf, twig, branch, or even trunk as English, but I wanted a challenge and boy, did I get one. I get frustrated at times knowing other outbounds are fluent in their languages but thinking back on everything that has happened, everything I’ve been blessed with, and all of the amazing opportunities that I’ve had, I don’t regret putting a check in that ½ centimeter wide “Hungary” box, what so ever. Seriously, who would have thought anything that small, or an action taking less then a millisecond could decide a fate such as this!

Since my last journal, I’ve done quite a bit, learned a lot, and been a part of multiple celebrations. Hungarians don’t have many, so when they do it’s a big deal. Just recently, here in Hungary we’ve celebrated the annual holiday of “Farsang.” It most resembles our Halloween holiday. Everyone dresses in costume, in order to “scare away” the winter. Needless to say, this was my favorite Hungarian holidays yet! The Rotary Club of Szolnok, another city about two hours on train from Budapest, invited all of us exchangers to celebrate the holiday with them. We had a blast, dancing and laughing the night away. As an extension of our fun-filled weekend, we spent to following night in Gyor, another city about an hour and a half away from Budapest in the opposite direction. There we were welcomed by one of the host families and had a great time eating, drinking and sharing stories about all of our various issues, fears, successes, and adventures. Oh, the life of an exchange student, never could I write that sentence openly at home without sounding phony. The next day heading back to our various cities, it hit me that my exchange was in the later half. I mean, we aren’t leaving tomorrow, and we still have loads of fun things planned, its just that thinking of how quickly these 7 months have gone by, made me realize how the saying “time flies” has never been closer to me heart.

Also, I’ve had visitors since last writing. My mom and Art, one of our close family friends, got to spend five wonderful days here in Budapest. We, of course, did all of the touristy things. It felt great having the upper hand and being able to act as the tour guide, instinctively knowing the location and history behind most of the famous sites here. Showing them my city and my life here was great, and no doubt getting to hug my mom after 6 months was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

They say you grow on exchange. They say you change into a completely different person. They say that the “you” that’s leaving will never return home, but to a new place as a new “you”. As an outbound these ideas are scary, but all the more exhilarating. I must say though, that once you’re away and actually put in this situation it gets to be quite scary again. Now I’m not saying fear should ever be a factor holding you back from something you want, but to you outbounds be ready for a part of your life you’re never going to want to leave, and I mean that in both figurative and literal sense.

Now, is about the time when everyone starts reporting their “I had a dream in my host language!” shenanigans. Well Father Night, Sand Man, or Monsters-under-my-bed, I think its about time you all get together and come up with my Hungarian dream, seeing as how I haven’t had one yet. Although this fact disappoints me, sometimes I think about this year, how quickly it has gone by and how amazing this experience has been and think to myself maybe I have had the dream, but wait… that would mean I’m living it too!

April 29, 2011

As of today I have 55 days left here in Hungary.

That can be worded in various ways:

  •    1 month and 23 days
  •    7 weeks (5 weeks if you count the time I will be traveling on Euro Tour)
  •    Less then two months (my personal favorite, because it makes it sound longer)
  •    A little over one month

They all mean the same thing… I will leave my home here in Budapest, Hungary on June 22, 2011.

These past two months have flown by! Seriously, where did March and April go? It’s true what they say, your exchange year is going to be over before you know it.  Anyways, our language competition was in the beginning of March. I had no idea of what to expect and was pretty stressed about it. We traveled to a small city about 4 hours by train from Budapest called Sátoraljaújhely, which directly translated means “new-tent-floor-space.” (Weird, I know.) They had a great program set up for us and it was great getting to spend time with my beloved exchangers. There are only 30 exchange students in the whole country of Hungary. We’ve all gotten so close from our various trips and excursions together. I consider them my best friends and saying goodbye to them is going to be even harder then stepping on that plane.

We also had our trip to Poland since my last journal entry. We left early in the morning on a Friday and arrived in Krakow, Poland around 8 pm, it was a LONG bus ride. Krakow was absolutely beautiful and while we were there, there was an enormous Easter market in the main square.. The next morning, we got on the bus yet again to go to Auschwitz. I was really nervous and didn’t talk for much of the ride there. It’s not that I’m sick or crazy but I’ve always had a fascination in the Holocaust and have read countless books on the subject. I personally know survivors and felt really attached to the trip. When we got there I thought I was going to burst out bawling, scream, and throw-up all at the same time. Our tour guide was great about answering our questions and laying the facts out cold. He did however have a very strange habit of ending every sentence in a whisper, that’s wasn’t too enjoyable. I restrained from crying but had to step away from the group more then once.  It was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Easter or Húsvét has to be my favorite holiday that I’ve celebrated here in Hungary. That’s right… it trumps Christmas! On Easter Sunday we went to Kalocsa the town my host mom grew up in. There, we were welcomed by my host grandparents, my host aunt and uncles, along with four energetic cousins. I hadn’t seen any of the extended family since before the winter holidays and it was great getting to see them and show off how much I had learned. It felt great talking with my host grandma in her native tongue, completely confident and independent of any translators. We ate an amazing lunch and went for a long bike ride as a family. I impressed my boy cousins with my soccer skills and the girl cousins and I had fun sharing “secrets” (haha!) The funny thing was that I didn’t feel the need to skype with my parents. I wasn’t homesick in the slightness way, and I honestly felt as if I had spent the holiday with my family, right where I belonged.

If you are like me and didn’t know that Easter is celebrated for two days here in Hungary, then study up future Hungarian inbounds! It was actually quite funny in the way I was bombarded as I walked into the house around 9am after a morning run. Suddenly I was being videotaped and sprayed with different perfumes. Its tradition in Hungary to have the boys recite a poem to the girls and spray perfume on there head. It has to do with spring basically comparing the girls to growing flowers. In exchange the girls give the boys chocolate eggs. We again had another amazing meal. The traditional Easter meal is Ham, and Boiled Eggs. It was strange but delicious as always and definitely not the weirdest thing I’ve had since arriving.

So I guess that’s where I’m at now. Living in the moment but looking forward to Euro Tour. Recently I have spent a lot of time looking back on our exchange, reminiscing, and thankfully not regretting. It’s unbelievable that this year is almost at its end!

Every time we talk about it, my host mom and sister start to tear up. The fact of my leaving hasn’t really hit any of us. Just last weekend I went on a school trip for two nights and the minute I got home my host dad confessed that our flat had felt empty without me. Our flat is quite small; never would I have thought living here would actually become my idea of normal, never the less comfortable, acceptable, or perfect. I share a room with my host sister, and one bathroom with the entire family, our kitchen is the size of my closet at home and through-out the winter we had to dinner in the living room just so that we all had enough room to sit. Thinking of my now seemingly enormous house at home makes it sound so foreign. The minimalist ways of Hungarians has really spoken to me. If only everyone could understand that a lot of house doesn’t mean a lot of happiness. That’s definitely one of the most important things I’ve learned this year.

Just one more thing that I’d like to add:

It had always been hardest for me at night. I never realized how simply being in my own bed made me feel at home. I never missed my room, my bathroom, my house, or even my pool, but it was my bed that really got me. The awful feeling of being out of place or within some else’s personal space finally went away around month 6. It may have taken me a lot longer then some of the other students to feel comfortable in their host country but now that I’ve assimilated so well, having to leave is going to be even harder then my original departure. Just a few days ago I asked my mom to take the computer we were skyping on, into my bedroom. I hadn’t forgotten what it looked like; I guess some of the details had just gotten hazy. The last thing she showed me was my bed, except that it wasn’t my bed anymore. The one I was sitting on at that very second, the one that’s 4 centimeters thick, less then 4 feet wide and is positioned at the bottom of the bunk bed I share with my host sister, is mine. Now I can’t imagine it any other way.

 

Caroline Abel
2010-11 Outbound to Argentina
Hometown: Pompano Beach, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Coral Springs Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Carapachay Rotary Club, District 4825, Argentina

Caroline - Argentina

Caroline’s Bio

¡Hola!

My name is Caroline I’m 16 years old and I attend Pompano Beach High School and I’m going to Argentina next year! I was born in Ft. Lauderdale and have stayed in the Ft. Lauderdale- Pompano area my whole life. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, but I want to experience something new! I think this foreign exchange will really help me and make me more culturally diverse. I’m so excited to go! I want to thank Mr. Bankowski, the magnet coordinator at my school, he got me interested in this program.

In school I’m taking an AP course, I’m in the Make a wave club, and I run in Track and Cross Country. My family has always been athletic and kept a healthy diet within my household. I have a sister, Kelsey, who is a sophomore at the University of Florida. She did many sports in school too and I’ve missed her since she left for college. I have a close family, so this experience will be bittersweet, leaving my family will be hard, but this experience will be indescribable. I cannot explain how excited I am to be going to Argentina!

I have traveled to Prague, Sweden, and France twice. Those were the best summers, ever. I love to travel; I think everywhere else has so much more to offer. France was my favorite though, the people and the food were soo different and I loved it. I wanted to stay. I would’ve purposely missed my plane to stay if I could’ve. My parents want me to get to travel as much as I possibly can. The education and the culture diversity is amazing to what I’ve heard and I want to experience it all (or at least as much as I can). I’ll never forget this experience and the people that made it happen. I’ll keep it with me for as long as I live, and I’ll probably tell everyone about it innumerable times. Thank you again.

 Caroline’s Journals

August 29

Hola from Argentina!

As I got off my plane and paid my fee at international affairs/customs I walked though baggage claim and through the sliding glass doors and looked around in excitement and anxious and I saw my host sister, Manuela jumped a little with the sign that had my name on it with her mom, dad, and Rotary member, Julia next to her. As i hugged my host family for the first time, I knew the experience I had been waiting sooo long for was finally in the palm of my hands. We walked out towards the car and drove home. The cars here are different, some are the same, but I liked the difference and was beyond excited to see my new home.

My house is nice and yellow and looks like it’s from France, my host parents built it and they’re building the one next door too. They have a real estate business and work together. I have 2 cats, Mili and Comahue, and one kitten, Lenon. My other host sister, Augustina is 24 and is a teacher for little kids. My other host sister, Lucia, is 28 and works in a Petroleum Enterprise in communications. My family is very nice and made me think of the family I left at home, hopefully this home sickness wears away soon.

The day I got here, Manuela took me to the Recolta, or town square. It has a famous cemetery for political, wealthy, historical, or peoples rights leaders. Some of them are so old that the glass doors are broken and you can touch the coffin in which their bodies. Some are still in pretty good shape. I got to see where the woman who fought for (and won) woman’s voting rights was buried. I also got to see the Law school and the Engineering school, which looks like a old chapel. We take the bus everywhere, I didn’t realize how many people take the bus, from business men to school kids it’s always packed, but I like it. People are really polite to each other. On Wednesdays, the day I arrived, was family night in the Lasry household. I got to meet Manuela’s uncle, grandfather, and cousins and one of their wives. All of them are extremely nice and said that they are happy to have me and I’m equally happy to be here.  

The second day, I met some of Manuela’s friends at their house as the practices dances for a fundraiser for a party they are going to throw around December. They are all nice and taught me some slang in Spanish, people here are very nice and all say that they are happy to have me.

On Friday, Manuela went to school and I got to go to my 3rd family’s home, who is now hosting Mats from Sweden and Madeline from Canada. Madeline will be attending La Salle with me for school. Belu, Fernanda (My 3rd hosts’ daughter) took the 3 of us to the mall, it seems like the malls in the United States, but different stores, I like the style here and we had tea there. People here drink tea all the time with every meal and in between meals. I also go to meet her friend Sati and visit La Salle. My school looks like Hogwarts, Madeline and I are very excited to be attending school there. That night we had a dinner party with our counselors from Rotary, my 3rd host family and the Lasry’s, and Mats and Madeline. The 3 of us will be rotated between the Lasry’s, the Scalionie’s and the Breglia’s. The party ended at 2 am and it’s completely normal for them, I love it. During the party we Skyped with Victoria, the Breglia’s daughter, who is now in Satellite Beach, Florida. Homesickness first hit me very hard when we skyped with her and her mom got teary for seeing her, I thought about home and how my family felt without me.

Today, I went to The Dot, a bigger mall with Mrs. Lasry, Manuela, and Augustina. The stores are soo nice and people are up to date on the latest fashions. Parking is a little different there. You get a free ticket going in, and you have to show the ticket to the guards to get out. In parking there are red lights indicating that the space is taken, green being vacant. It’s pretty reliable and easy to park, except the parking garage is beyond huge. Oh and the mall is 4 stories, no big deal.

 It is extremely cold here compared to Florida, it’s about 15 degrees Celsius, which is about 60-50 ish Fahrenheit, I miss the beach.

 October 20

My first day of school was unexpected, I mean, I knew I was going too school, but not what was going to happen. I met my principle or the “head mister” in the morning and he only has one eye, so it made me even more nervous than I already was, but he was nicer than I could imagine. He showed me into my Economics classroom, the field I chose to study in, and all the kids stared at me. After he left they all sat around me and just asked every question that you could imagine and they were extremely nice. The United States is amazing to the people here, being that I lived only 1 hour from Miami and 3 from Disney; they were so excited to ask me questions about things they knew. The whole day I found people starring at me from other classes asking each other if I was the new American student. I finally after 3 weeks got around to meet everyone who wanted to meet me and I know most of everyone’s names. My name is a little long to say, so they all call me Caro.

 At my first Rotary orientation, we went to the middle of nowhere kinda hahahah, they’re were horses walking around freely and smaller houses with, it was somewhere between a city and the country side. I met people from Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, France, and Texas! Brianna, the girl from Texas, and I got along immediately being that we could speak English to each other and relate to things that were in the United States and here. Since it was only 2 days long, we didn’t do much but meetings and welcoming ceremonies.

I’ve noticed people here dress a lot nicer than people in the United States, there are not as nearly as many overweight people, and we greet with a kiss to each cheek to everyone. Here, the also have 5 o clock tea and the siesta. The siesta is a late afternoon nap after you have tea, when I found out we had time for napping in the day, I was sooo excited. People here are so welcoming to United States citizens, but everyone, even the bus drivers, notice that I’m foreign. I didn’t think it was that obvious. Also, Argentina is known for it’s steak, take it from me, add to your bucket list to try Argentinean steak, it’s completely worth it and to have at least 1 alfajor in your life. Argentina is more European that I could’ve ever thought.

 People still stare form time to time, but everyone’s more relaxed around me here and try to do their best in English to talk to me and I do my best in Spanish to answer them.

My family took me to country side because their cousins own a pig farm; it also had chickens, lambs, and geese, but mostly pigs. I’ve learned farm animals don’t like me. We had an asado (a Bar B Q) there and it was sooo nice, I have never, in my life, seen so many stars in my life. I also haven’t held a 10 day old baby chicken either, that made my day. I’ve had to chance to try duck, cow intestine, and blood sausage, three things I’ve never had until I got here. I favor the duck over all 3. I felt guilty about eating it though. My family also took me to Puerto Maedro, or downtown, it sits right on the river. It has the Catholic University, the craziest avenue I have ever seen, restaurants, the Women’s Brigde, and this sailboat that has been in the water since the 1800’s. The pink House (the equivalent to our Whit House) is there too and many other monuments. Surrounding downtown are parks, skate parks, art parks, or just plain parks. My host sister also took me to The Recolta. It has a cemetery for historically influential people and the wealthy, old churches, The Law School, fancy hotels, beyond expensive stores that you can only stare at, a park, and on weekends festivals of shops come.

 I also attended a Rotex camp at one of the Rotex’s country houses. It was 3 days and most of the inbounds, Rotex and outbounds attended. It was a lot of fun also. We played games, had fires, (you can get burned like a sunburn by a fire, I learned this the hard way, it’s not fun) played rugby, soccer, and the Rotex gave us advice and things to helps us get by with the exchange. We had a mud/water fight too… there was no washer or dryer at this house, never take the sun for granted, it was my best friend that weekend.

 Rotary here is great too, it’s not too fancy, but you have to dress nice and my counselor is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, her husband as well. Both are in the Rotary. I also got to meet the Governor of Rotary here over the weekend and he’s extremely pleased with me and my progress with Spanish and hopes to see me again soon. Madeline, she is from Canada, invited me to her Rotary meeting and we had an asado. Her Rotary has a whole house for Rotary! Mine meets in a recreational center, but it’s nice and I like it. At her meeting, they honored a disabled firefighter, who was put in a wheelchair while on duty, he’s only in his 20’s and he still is a firefighter to this day. Madeline and I have become very close, you weren’t lying when you said Rotary kids would become the closest people to you.

 I’m now part of a group called the Lyt’s (pronounced whities) at school and we’ll be getting jackets in a few months. It’s a group of 23 girls and there’s an equivalent group of guys called Bordolaga Soccer Club. Some of the Lyt’s are in my class, hence how I became one, they befriended me on the very first day. All the people here are so nice and I’m soo happy about where and who I ended up with. There are no “popular” groups, people are just in groups; however, that doesn’t exclude you from hanging out with kids form other groups, you just happen to belong to one, not 3. If I could write a big enough thank you card in the sky for how nice these people have been to me, I would.

December 28

I’m officially on summer break since December 3, 2010. I have been hanging out with friends and my host family. My host sister, Manuela will be going to Germany on January 18, for her exchange and she’s so excited. It was weird to have a hot Christmas, it’s about 90 degrees here everyday in summer, at night it becomes a little cooler. It was also different not to have a real full sized grown Christmas tree, but the decorations my host family did were cute, especially our little tree. Here, we had a Christmas dinner on the 24th and opened presents after at midnight. It wasn’t like sitting around the tree and opening presents wither, we all got one or two gifts form the family and passed them around the table. I got a pretty shirt, bag and lotion. I was so happy it was Christmas, but I missed my family in Florida a lot, but I knew that they were having a great Christmas too. They also put off fireworks on Christmas and set off these lit balloons that float across the sky saying it’s Papa Noel for the kids The next day on the 25th, I went to my host mom family’s house, she had a beautiful house, closer to downtown. We had lunch and went in her pool. (by the way, it only takes 10 days here to put a pool in!) For New Year’s I’ll be spending it with my third host family and a few inbounds. I move families on the 2nd of January and I’m excited to live in a new house and get to experience new things. I will actually get to be moving into Vicky’s house, she’s currently an inbound in Florida! In February I’ll be going on the North Trip to the northwesy and northeast of Argentina and get to see the Iguazu Falls!

On January 7th kids will lay out they’re shoes and put gifts, food, and food for the animals for the three wise men and their animals as they pass through searching for baby Jesus. Here, they put so much effort for kids to believe in the spirit of Christmas and being happy for what you have. I have become so much more grateful for my family at home and for having them there for me all the time.

Around end of February early March we will start school again and my school will be the graduating class, and the group, Lyt’s will be getting jackets! I know I won’t be with them when they graduate, but I know that they will have a great time.

I knew homesickness was bound to happened and I knew I was ready for it, but it recently really hit hard on me. I’ve never wanted to hug my mom and dad as much as I want to do now. I will continue on my exchange and make my parents proud, the feeling of them knowing I accomplished such a rewarding task makes me so happy and I know that I will succeed. Sometimes I really just want to eat American food again and speak in English again, but I know all the work I’m doing to improve my Spanish and eating culturally diverse foods will educate me in ways that you cannot receive from a text book. This exchange has made me so grateful for what I have and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

I had a dream in Spanish the other day and it was different I woke up thinking in Spanish and I couldn’t think of anything in English to save my life, it took me like twenty minutes to think of something besides hello. It was a weird; indescribable feeling, but I liked it. I am finally getting Spanish. I just passed my 4 month anniversary here and I couldn’t be happier here, thank you Rotary

March 12

I just started school again this past week and it went well. Being that it is the first week, we didn’t do much work, just sign papers and meet new teachers. I’m in what would be senior year for the states. Also, many people from the states call it America, well, people here are from America too and make it a point whenever you say, but they do have a point, I am in South America.

Over my summer I went on one of my Rotary trips to the North of Argentina. It was absolutely beautiful! I went to Salta, Juy Juy, and Tucuman.  I saw the mountains where the Incan Empires stand and went to a Museum where they have an Incan girl, as she was buried in the mountain as a sacrifice in prayer of good rains. The girl was preserved and I was able to see her hair and teeth. The altitude of the mountain and the cooler climate inside the mountain kept her, a maiden, and a young boy preserved all sacrifices.  We also visited Las Salinas, or natural Salt fields, Montanas en los nubes, the mountains in the clouds, and the seven colored mountains. It was amazing! On our way through all the cities, we stopped in Pueblos, Museums, and Vineyards, ate empanadas, and bought all hand made products from the people living there. We drove through and up mountains, I got to pet a wild llama. When we were in Slata, we went out to a famous restaurant where the gauchos dance their traditional dance, and later pick people to dance… yes, I was chosen. I got to see many old churches where you’re not allowed to take pictures in because of the paint in the church. We also took a Gondola up a mountain and got to see the entire city of Salta. In the Slainas, we stopped, it just on the side of the road, there are endless fields of salt and slat pools, it actually kinda looks like snow. I will be going on my next trip to the Cataratas, or Iguazu Falls on the 17th of March and I’m so excited!

 Right before my trip I changed families and my new family is great! My host mom is a personal trainer and my host dad works at the Gas Station that my host mom’s brother owns. I also have one host brother. My host mom took me Chinatown here! We took the train and ate sushi in a plaza bear Chinatown. A few weeks later, there was a Chinese Festival there and we went to that too. It was traditional dragon show and told many delicacies of China. I also went to Tigre, which is a town that is on the River (Rio de la Plata) and parts of it are in the Delta. It’s cooler in Tigre than in San Isidro, where I live now. I also live 15 minutes from Unicentre, the biggest mall in South America. It has a movie theater, grocery store, post office, bowling alley, multiple food courts, and 3 floors of stores.

 Also over summer I hung out with friends and went out with my family, but it was really relaxed and I liked it. It also gets extremely hot here over summer, I was surprised. I’ve been getting used to my home and city. I have come to also realize that my exchange is coming to an end and in about 3 and half months I’ll be leaving here, but I don’t like tot think about it, but I know I must face it soon enough and I couldn’t be happy with what Rotary has given me, Thank you so much Rotary and Rotary club of Coral Springs!

May 19

The trip was amazing!!! It was like a 25 hour bus ride, but completely worth it! We

finally reached the Iguazu we checked in to out hotel and slept till the next day. On our

second day, we went to the waterfalls and we had to take a small train through out the

Iguazu to get to them, but when you get there (to the first visible one) you think it’s the

biggest… it’s not. It does however, come up to standard and looks amazing and like

death at the same time. We moved on to the bigger ones, he ones that border Brazil and

where you can take a boat excursion through them. After walking through the manmade bridged tail, where parts of it go over smaller waterfalls we found

the indigenous turtles of the Iguazu, some rare birds, this raccoon type thing, and there

are SO many butterflies. We finally arrived to the first sight of the bigger waterfalls,

there are about 20 some stops to see them and take pictures or you can just take pictures

as you walk to each stop. I never really seen anything like this in my life and I didn’t

know what to think about, I was shocked that these things exist. We were right above

the excursions and you could see a few taking place, but there had been an accident. An

excursion went too fast into the falls; hit a rock, capsized, and 2 people died. If you zoom

in my pictures, you will see the capsized boat and people waiting along side the mountain

waiting for other. I also saw where the discovered one body, but at the time, they didn’t

report him dead. This excursion was the one right before ours, but after this happened,

the excursions were suspended. This had never happened in the Iguazu history before, so

there were helicopters from all news station, even one from BBC! Police were everyone

and it was sad, but we moved on with the tour. We walk throughout, over and under, the

other falls leading to the ground where you get the view of the falls looking up at them,

where as before you looking directly at them. We took pictures there and got a little

closer to the accident, but it had been all settled out and there just the capsized boat in the

water. Later we went back to the Center of Reservation Park for the Iguazu, ate and went

back to our hotel. The next day we go to go to the border of Brazil, in between Brazil

and Argentina is a space that’s not really Argentina or Brazil, and we went to Duty Free

Shop. I’ve never been so happy to have a Kit Kat in my life, being that I haven’t had one

since I left the States. Through out our week in the Iguazu, we went and saw the city, but

it’s really quite a small city. On Friday, we returned home and I was sad it was over, but

so happy I got experience it.

 

When I got to school, all my friends had asked if I knew what happened while I was

at Iguazu and I told them and they felt bad because of 3 United States citizens dying. I

didn’t realize how big the news was throughout Argentine, and then someone told me

that it never happens. Everyone was calling me and asking if I was alright (they all knew

I went the day the accident happened). I wasn’t expecting what to happen, to happen, but

I’m praying for the families that lost their loved ones.

 

Before changing to my third and final family my host parents took me a city about 2

hours away form my house called Lujan. Lujan is famous for its zoo and Cathedral. I

went to both! The zoo is one of the last remaining old fashion zoos where you can go in

and hold, pet and feed every one of the animals. I held baby tigers, parrots, pumas, hares,

bunnies, and lions! I was able to pet and feet the elephants, adult tigers, adult pumas, and

adult lions. Along with them, I pet some rare species of goats, miniature ponies, donkeys,

calves, and a seal. I rode a camel and horse. My life is almost complete. Later, after the

zoo we went to the cathedral, which is one of the biggest and oldest in Argentina. Being

that it was a Saturday, it was crowded with people and tourists, but it was also under

construction. It was gorgeous and sort of creepy, but it was great to see it.

 

About a week after that, I had to change families and now I’m with my third and final

family. In my third family, I have a mom, Maria Fernanda, a dad, Miguel, and their

daughter, Belen, is in Germany now on Exchange. My second weekend here, after

getting used to the adjustment, we went to La Boca. La Boca is a city near downtown

Buenos Aires. It also contains the La Boca stadium for the soccer team CABJ (Club

Atletica Boca Juniors) where Diego Maradona, if you don’t know who he is, he was the

best soccer player before Messi, played before he played for the Argentine team. Boca

and River are two soccer clubs, here in Argentina, that are famous through out South

America, I’m a fan of River. However, it was interesting to visit Boca, being that many

players on the Argentine team are recruited from the Boca team, River as well. With my

new family, we took a tour of the Boca stadium, which actually smaller than it seems. I

was able to see the locker rooms, go through the halls that the players run through before

entering the stadium, walk through where people sit, and walk onto the field. I may not

be a very supportive fan of this team, but it was still awesome to do all this! Later, we

went to Caminito, also located in La Boca, where all the houses are different colors

and back in the days of Maradona where everyone would go to watch games. There are

statues of him and other revolutionists of Argentina there too. It has an art museum too.

Caminito is along the river and has tango shows everyday.

 

It coming close to the date that I must return to the states, so now I’m just going to school

and trying to spend as much time as I can with friends. There’s a Conference meeting in

San Nicholas on June 4th where all the exchange students in my district will say good bye

to one another, and I’m not really looking forward to it. Looking back on my exchange,

I’m happy with what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished and I hope to end it well.

Thank you, once again, Rotary.

 

Claude Galette
2010-11 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Eagle Lake, Florida
School: All Saints’ Academy
Sponsor: College Park Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Skovshoved Rotary Club, District 1470, Denmark

Claude - Denmark

Claude’s Bio

My name is Claude Denise Galette. I am 15 and I currently attend All Saints’ Academy, as a sophomore. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I have a Haitian background. I lived in New York when I was 5. I then moved to Florida when I turned 6. I live with my mom and little sister, Andie. Andie is 9, and strange. She is lots fun to be around when she is not bugging me.

I hardly ever go out with my friends. I stay home most of the time. At home I listen to music, write stories, take pictures, and hang with my family. At school, I have fun with my friends, before, during, and after school. I am also active in various clubs. I am part of Operation Smile, Cultural Diversity Club, the Recycle Club, the Book Club, National Honor Society, National French Honor Society, Photography Club, and Youth and Government. I put as much of my time as I can into all of the clubs that I am in. I also do volunteer work at my local animal shelter, when I am off from school.

After school, everyday, I practice tennis at school. I enjoy playing tennis a lot. I have tried playing other sports, but they don’t draw me in as much as tennis does. I also enjoy playing soccer, as a recreational activity with my friends. I also swim during the summer, everyday. I don’t like to play tennis during the summer, because it gets so hot. I was on the swim team this year, but I’m not very fast. I hope to be on the tennis team by the end of January.

I also play piano. I used to play the guitar, but didn’t love it as much as I do the piano. My mother is very music oriented. She has various CD’s from every part of the world. We have to play one instrument. My sister also plays, and so do some of my friends. My friends and I play at school, during our free time, when we find a piano. There are various ones at school, so sometimes we will go into the music room and play. I really enjoy hanging with my friends.

I have lived out of the country twice before, but I only remember the recent one. The summer of ’09, I spent July in Haiti. I went with my little sister, to spent time with my family. It was fun, but, as the youngest in the family, Andie and I didn’t have much to do. We spent some time at the beach, but most of it in my uncle’s office, eating mangos.

I can’t wait to go to Denmark. I must admit, my first choice was Japan, but I don’t mind. I don’t really know much about Denmark, and that’s why I chose it. I am so ready to be out of this humid Florida weather. As a Haitian, I speak French, naturally. English is my second language. The French language is soft and flows, so I am having a difficult time learning Danish. The language is so rough and I instinctively want to make the letters flow together, but then I would be saying it wrong. It so complicated, I feel like I’m going against my nature. Ohh well. My mom speaks a few languages. She speaks, French, Spanish, Creole, English, and a little Portuguese. Note that they are all romance languages. She wants to learn Danish with me; she’s having the same problems I have.

I can tell that, this year, and next year are going to be the best so far, and I can’t wait.

Claude’s Journals

September 5

In the beginning…..this will be an epic tale if you didn’t realize……In the beginning there was a flight. A flight that did not feel like departing from Orlando, no matter how much the pilot wanted it to. So, in the late future after the beginning, there was another flight on the next day. This flight took me from Washington DC, to Copenhagen.  I arrived in Denmark. Stayed with a random family for 2 days, and then went with my host family at their summer. It was awkward. I didn’t talk to them unless they asked me something. I tried to stay out of the way, but still be as helpful as I could.

You will adjust to your family, but it will take time. I didn’t say in my room, I was with my family, but I just didn’t talk. After about a week with them I was pretty comfy. I am really lucky because my host family is not that different from my actual family. I love my host siblings. They are the best, and we just sit in my host brother’s room and listen to music most nights.

Heads up, everyone smokes in Denmark. Even the people you wouldn’t expect to smoke. My school has, no joke, a smoking pavilion. It seems whenever there is the slightest opportunity to smoke, Danish teens will take it. Even through the rain. Danish kids drink too. Although the law says 16 is the drinking age, most Danish teens have been drinking since 14. On the first day of school, no joke, the entire school, that’s around 700 kids made a procession to a store, and bought out the beer isle. By this time it’s around 1pm. Then we headed to the beach to drink, and party. I left after about 5 minutes. It was just too much for the first day.

The next week was better. School was really boring. The only classes I honestly paid attention in were English, French, and Math. Danish class is like pulling teeth. Every couple of minutes I ask one of my friends what’s going on, they answer, and I go back to reading my book.

The majority of teens in Denmark won’t go out of their way to meet you. In America we flock around foreigners, and try our best to make them feel awesome. It’s not that they won’t talk to you, but as an exchange student, you have to put a lot of effort to get to know people. That includes going up to random people and introducing yourself as the exchange student that doesn’t speak Danish. Very awkward. When I tell kids I’m an exchange student, the 3rd question they ask me is why I chose Denmark. The kids here know it’s a small country, and many of them want to move to America because it’s so big. Yes, they do think that all Americans eat hamburgers and fries every day that all Americans are fat, and everyone has a gun. No amount of debate will put those stereotypes to rest.

Oh, the most popular shows here are Friends, (yes that show from the 90’s), and the old Beverly Hills 90210. In Denmark they listen to American music, but they are about a month behind. That includes music, movies, and any type of American media. That’s my first moth. Haj Haj!

December 6

So, hi to all you exchange students reading this:

Danes, epically the youth, love to party. And party hard. They drink and smoke a lot. It’s part of their Viking blood. So bring comfortable shoes, and make sure there warm. Parties happen often, and you’ll go out with the exchange students also.  

Be careful when you go shopping in Denmark. Things are extremely expensive. 100 kroner is the equivalent of 20 dollars. 100kr is a sale in Denmark.  That’s about as cheap as clothes get. So don’t buy a hat for 300kr. That’s way overly priced, no matter how pretty the hat is.

In school, your classes won’t really have any order. Let me give you my school for example. I go to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasum in Hellerup. It’s a big old school that has been around since the beginning of the last century. The first graduating class was in 1904. My classes vary all the time. Today, I have 2 classes. I was going to have 3 but one of them was canceled. Classes are canceled on a weekly basis. And when there canceled you just don’t go. Like right now I’m in the underground lounge in my school waiting for my last class, I’ve already had one class. Tomorrow I don’t have school until 10, and it ends at 1:30. That’s 2 classes. But sometimes school starts at 8 and ends at 3:30. Those long days make me long for my bed.

When you start school, make sure you have an English class. Make your life easier, and just make sure you have one. This is important. When you get to school focus on English for the first 2 months. Slack off or whatever in your other class but makes sure you pay attention in English. Do all the English homework, and participate in class. As your Danish gets better, add one more class. Like if you have another foreign language that you understand well, French for me, focus on that, and English. Don’t try to take it all on at once. That’s a bad idea. You’ll be overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. As the months go by and more classes. Then by the end you’ll be doing work in most of your classes.

I also can’t guarantee that your teachers will be helpful. In most schools teachers don’t have their own class rooms. They move around like students do. I still don’t know where to find my teachers outside of class.

If you have the chance to be in the Second year, GO TO SECOND YEAR!!!! First year isn’t bad, but second year is much better, and easier. Trust me. I was given the choice and I was talked into going into first year, and I regret it a lot. I love my class, but still.

As far as school supplies goes, don’t bring paper, or folders. There paper is different, and so the folders are different. Bring a few pens and pencils if you want.

What have I been doing lately?

I switched families last week. I’m farther away from the station, so it takes me longer to get to school, which is a pain. I have a 3 year old host brother. My host dad travels a lot for his work, but he’s home every few days. We have a “nanny” to take care of Johannes, my host brother, her name is Jessa. She’s fun to be around.

I went to a party on Friday. It was a Christmas party at my school. It was crazy. But I have found a new hate for techno music. Danes don’t really dance, they jump. I don’t have the stamina for that, and I just don’t like techno.

It’s been snowing for the past 3 weeks. I need to buy new boots. When you get here, and you’re living in Copenhagen, the shopping street is next to Nørreport Station. The capital city station doesn’t have a lot of shopping areas around it.

I feel like I’m becoming more Danish by the day. I’m able to have full conversations in Danish. I can handle myself when I’m forced to speak Danish.

April 11

The last few months have been the greatest of my life.

January was when all of the oldies left us. It was so sad to watch them go. It made the idea of leaving more real, and more present… not the best few days of my life. Half of my year is almost up…and I’m wondering if I have done enough in that time. I moved to Farum in December. This is the farthest I have lived from school, but I don’t mind. I really like my host family. My host mom is so amazing. A little eccentric, but that’s what makes her great. It was also my friend, Juan’s birthday. All of the South American exchange students came and we partied. Emily and I were the only Americans there which were really funny. We stuck out, but blended in at the same time. In the middle of the month Emily (American), Jimmy (Italian), Gabriella (Brazilian), Alex (Brazilian), and I were invited to Williams (Brazilian) Galla. It was a lot of fun. Lots of people were there. We mostly danced and talked, and danced. I met a lot of people from Wills school.

On the 29th, Else (host mom) and I moved from an apartment to a house. That was a huge operation. She has so much stuff. The boxes never stopped flowing from out of the apartment. We didn’t move far. It took forever for the movers to transport all the boxes. By the end, it looked more like an over sized storage room rather than a house.

February

I’m finally going to start swimming, with Emily. Found a hemp shop with Juan and Emily on a parallel street. It was hidden pretty well, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a bog…it was really funny. The guys in there were really nice. I bought a jacket. We made jokes about that place for the rest of the day.

My Rotary meeting was in a chocolate factory one day. That was cool. One of the Rotary members owns it…so we ate chocolate for the entire meeting. In the afternoon after school, I saw Wicked in Danish. I had never seen it before. It was amazing.

February was just a lot of hanging out. Going to cafes, parks. Just places to meet up and walking and talking. Nothing major.

One day the trains in Holte weren’t working. That’s how I get to school. I take the bus from Farum to Hotle and the train from Holte to Hellerup. There are no buses that go to Hellerup from Holte…so I decided to take the bus back to Farum. I get on the bus that says 334 and sit. I’m there for a while when I look out the window and I have no idea where I am. I look back at the bus number and it says 845. So I text Frederic (a friend in my class) in a panic for help. I can’t get off the bus at any random stop. So I wait. He tells me to get off in Allerød. A station WAY out there. So were texting back and forth, and he tells me to get on the train and ride it down to Hellerup. But the train only goes as far as Biklerød, about 3 stops from Hellerup. So he tells me to ride it down to Biklerød anyway. So I do. There are a bunch of people there getting on these huge tourist busses. I ask a hand full of people were the bus is taking them. They all say Norreport. I get on the bus, end up in Norreport and ride the train to Hellerup. I am 4 hours late to school. I got so much crap from my friends. Now every time I am late for school they ask if I ended up in Allerød again.

March.

More of the general hanging out with exchange students and Danish friends. I went to a rave/ glow stick party that my school was hosting. We had the warm up party at Jonas’s house. Were I was covered in glow sticks. And the actual party was kind of annoying…I can’t get into the techno music Danes like so much.

My friend that lived in Syd Jutland, Thomas came to København for the weekend. I showed him around. He met my friends and we all went to the harbor. It was a great weekend.

I also found out that one of my best friends…William was going home. That really ripped my heart out of my chest.

April

We have our last get together. Times were all of the exchange students meet for a weekend. And it was saddening. It was fun, but so so so SO depressing. We had a Galla. But in the middle of it we watched a bunch of videos of pictures of this year, and that’s when all of the oldies broke. The newbie’s had no idea what was going on, and I feel like they should have been there. Not because I didn’t want them there but because it was so awkward for them, and they didn’t get it.

Being here has been so great. The oldies have made a little joke. Now that the newbie’s are here, it is like were the red headed step child that no one really cares about, because they are replacing us with new fresh meat. We don’t mean it, but it’s a good analogy. In every oldie there is an underlying hate for the newbie’s. Not because we don’t like them, but because they are going to replace us in a few months.

I remember when I used to say that I had a whole year for my exchange, but now I can only say I have 4. 3. Months left. It’s not a feeling I like. Knowing that the people I see today won’t be the people I see next year. My class always talks about me leaving. Like next year we have a class trip and they come over to be and start talking about it and how much fun it will be to be together. Then I tell them for the 100th time that I have to go back to the states. It kind of kills the fun.

Being here with such great awesome friends makes me realize that the “friends” I have back home, may not be as great as I thought they were.

I can’t wait for Euro Trip. A bus full of exchange students driving around Europe. It can only end well.

 

Emilia Duque
2010-11 Outbound to the Netherlands
Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay High School
Sponsor: Miramar-Pines Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Enkhuizen Rotary Club, District 1580, Netherlands

Emilia - The Netherlands

Emilia’s Bio

Welcome, I’m a fifteen year old girl who’s going to spend her sophomore year in the Netherlands. Six months ago, I would have never pictured myself with the opportunity to share the exotic news of me spending a year in the Netherlands. My name is Emilia Duque; I live in Weston, Florida and have a Colombian background. I came to live to the United States in the year 2000. Adapting to the new country wasn’t very hard for me because I attended an English speaking school in Colombia. I’m fluent in both English and Spanish. And soon hope to be fluent in Dutch as well.

I have no idea what to expect from this trip but as I have said to many, “I will surely come back with plenty of stories to tell.” I love quotes, during rough situations I spend my time searching through them because they help comfort me. It’s similar to having personal advice. I believe people who give you advice from situations they have been in, help you, in a way, expand your experiences. I not only look for quotes during bad times, but I consider it one of my hobbies. I have never been away from my parents for more than a month, but this is a risk and challenge I am willing to take. There actually happens to be a quote I have been living by and helped me realize that I needed to take this chance in experiencing new ventures that will enrich my life. “If you’re not living life on the edge, then you’re taking up too much room.”

I have such a spontaneous personality, always looking for an adventure (if life was easy, where would all the adventures be?). The nature of life is what mostly excites me. Boredom is never in my vocabulary because I easily enjoy even the simplest activities. I consider myself a good student. I am very active in school. I belong to the P.R.I.D.E. club (promoting relations in diversity through education) and the Spanish club. The PRIDE club hosts many popular events throughout the year. For example, the fashion show, the talent show, and the international fest. I am also a member of the volleyball varsity team. I have come a long way since I first started that happens to be 2 years ago. During my middle school years I participated in the soccer team, track team, and volleyball team. Sports makes up an immense part of my life..

I thank the ROTARY club for choosing me as a participant in the 2010-11 exchange. I hope to come back with a bigger picture on life.

Tot zeins !

 Emilia’s Journals

August 17

After my first full day in Enkhuizen I become aware how grateful I am to be here. I am also realizing how much I admire Gert Jan and Marianne, my current host parents. They have let a complete stranger come into their home and become part of their daily lives. They are very sweet and loving people. I arrived yesterday around 8:15am local time. This happened to be around 2 o’clock in the morning for me. In the arrivals hall they greeted me with a sign made by their youngest daughter Marit.  “Welkome Emilia” it read. As they took pictures of me while I walked to them.. Off course my luggage had to get stuck on the door. Great first impression! -__- I was also greeted by members of the Enkhuizen Rotary. We made our way to the car and headed to my new home.

While driving from Amsterdam to Enkhuizen many farms crossed my eyes. So I started making questions about farm life style; if they enjoyed it, or disliked it. Maybe for a second they thought I was a Weston farm girl. Good for them I wasn’t. That day I learned that Dutch mostly eat bread for lunch, where they place either sweet or salty things on top. We didn’t do much. My “aunt”, “uncle”, “cousins” “grandma” and “grandpa” came over for a drink. They very kindly greeted me with a gift; typical Dutch coffee mug and tulips, which brought a warm smile to my face. After they left, my host family and I went for a walk in the park with woody, their black lab. Everything is completely different from back home. I felt as if I was in a movie walking next to the lake. Soon after my host brother Derek and I went into town for some water bottles. I rode my own Dutch bicycle. It’s like my living a dream, a dream of a lifetime. Everything I see or touch feels unreal but instead it’s filled with life and culture.

Holland is a country that is 4 meters under sea level. The only way possible for that is because of so many canals. While Derek was at work, we went for a ride in our family YACHT, its wonderful long canoe J I saw the many of its breath taking flower gardens in the outside parts of Enkhuizen. I’m still recuperating from this awful jetlag so it’s my time to head to bed. Good bye for now.

September 26

So this is my second journal and so much has happened since I last wrote. In school I don’t feel so much like an “outsider”. Every day I blend in more and more. Learning the language as soon as I can but trying not to cram my brain in the process. Dutch is very difficult I have to admit. But as my water polo coach once said, “Can’t never did nothing” So during my classes I work on a packet I was given by Rotary. I come home some days wanting to take my brain out, because my head hurts a lot from trying to understand Dutch. I try to speak it when I can. Many kids offer me help; it is very nice of them. Also were many exchange students now, so I have people around me who know how I feel; the current frustration of not understanding. Every day I learn some Dutch. I always know more than I did the day before. So sooner or later I will speak Dutch. The exchange students who have been here since January speak fluent Dutch. I always tell myself that that will never be me. But one side of my brain says it will.

I have been playing volleyball with a team in my town, very nice group of girls. But it isn’t very challenging for me so sometimes it becomes quiet boring. I decided to try another sport that I like water polo. My host father accompanied me to the practice there were just adults with three or four girls. The girls happened to be moms because throughout the practice they kept talking about their children. I felt very awkward and out of place but it was quite an experience. I also got to miss a day from school because of a festival in my town called Harddraverij with some friends, yes I have FRIENDS J I know I’m also happy. I came home one day with a girls phone number and told my host parents I made a friend in school. It is the beginning of an endless friendship. I can just tell.

I get the question a lot in school. “Don’t you miss your family? Your friends?” The truth is I don’t enjoy talking to my parents a lot through Skype because it makes me miss them even more, so I try to avoid it most of the time. A lot of times I cry, I cry to let my feelings escape because I can’t let them bottled up inside. And I remind myself that it is very normal to cry. It’s just sometimes really hard to see my host mom cuddling with her youngest daughter and me having mine so far away.. But I knew this was coming and I thought I was prepared for it. But I’m not.. I have made a very special friend, Britt Beemster. I met her though Skype before I came to Holland and now I’m actually here. She is the one whom I smile for; she is going to be my host sister in my third family.  And she is also my best friend.

Ok I don’t want this to be a depressing journal. So now about the fun stuff; every day I grow closer with my host family. They treat me as their own daughter. I had a soccer game and I wasn’t Emilia Duque anymore I became Emilia Tool. My host dad saw my game and emailed me some pictures Quoted,” from a proud father” it’s good to feel like part of the family. Today I had to do the dishes for the first time in a month, never knew dirty work could be so fun. In the beginning I felt like such an outsider. But slowly but surely I’m fitting in.

November 9

So I have reached past my three months. Slowly everything is starting to feel a lot like home, when I look back at my memories I have memories here, I don’t think about my memories at home. It helps me a lot to “fit” in. I still find it quite hard to make Dutch friends, because of my language problem, but also because where I live it’s flooded with exchange students. Not only from Rotary but also from different organizations. I can understand a lot of the conversations I hear, which brings a smile upon my face. But in school the lessons are taught in a higher level of Dutch, I suppose, so in school I am still having trouble understanding.

I look back and I can’t believe everything that has already happened. Time does fly, and life waits for no one, so you just have to cherish every moment possible. In a couple of weeks is a good bye party for the Inbounds who came in January. I can’t picture myself in their shoes, I don’t want to picture myself in their shoes. I don’t want to go home, and my exchange is still in the beginning stages.

With some exchange students, we decided to visit Amsterdam. It is such a beautiful city. Amsterdam is very touristic. With many people always walking around, never letting go of their luggage.  Walking through the town, a huge group of Asians passed by us with their luggage, looked like they were getting ready to build something more in Amsterdam. Also, now that all the lights are up because its Christmas time, it makes it like a free Disney world. In Amsterdam all your dreams can also come true.  I have been there a few times now. After getting lost a couple of times I can say I know my way around Amsterdam. We had lunch at a Sushi Bar in Amsterdam. Best sushi of my life! I don’t even think Japan has sushi as good as here! To finish the day, there was a Kermis in town. Went on this huge carnival ride, which was worth 6 Euros. Those were the best spent 6 Euros ever!

I had to baby sit my “cousins” one Friday night. My friend Jessica, exchange student from Canada, accompanied me. We spend a good amount of, bonding time; I would like to call it. It was very nice. Until she received a phone call and as the good baby sitters that we are, we took the phone call outside to not wake up the children. By the time I had closed the door, I realized there was no handle to get back inside! In other words, we were locked outside. We tried every door possible from the back yard to the front, but everything was locked. We stood outside for a good 10 minutes in the cold rain until we had the brilliant idea of climbing the fence. When we reached the front side of the house we ran the door bell, until one of the kids woke up to let us in the house. Who would of thought that the back porch door doesn’t have a handle from outside to inside. These things of things only happen when you let foreigners into your home. It was quite the adventure. I had myself a good laugh.

Everyone is always telling me how you should try to fit in with the clothing, the way they act, ect. But, I don’t like very much the way the “European” look is. It is a little too vintage for my taste. I want to fit in, but I don’t want to lose my personality. Keeping up with both of them is quite of a challenge. I now think in such a different way, it’s unexplainable.  For example, who would thought that I would have had the idea of going to church. I saw the church opened one day went inside and light a candle, gave thanks for the opportunity I am experiencing, for the good will of the people here, and for the health of my family at home. I try to go to Rotary as much as I can, because I am very thankful for everything I have. Going to my Rotary dinner shows that I appreciate everything they do for me and gives me a warm feeling about myself.

December 28

It has been a couple days after Christmas and I do have to say I miss my family. Talking to them through Skype during Christmas was almost as hard as walking away from them at the airport to catch my plane to Holland. But yesterday I received an e-mail which comforted me a lot, and made me realize that this Christmas is going to be a Christmas I will remember for a very long time. It was my first white Christmas. After going through this rough time it feels like now I can conquer the world by myself. Through this experienced I’ve gained a lot of independence and found who I really am. Every time I’m confronted by a hard situation I know how to control it without freaking out. I’m no longer the little girl I saw myself to be. But I’ve slowly grown into this young adult. I thank my parents a lot for pushing me to participate in a year abroad. Its something you will never forget and will value until the day you die. I am very thankful for where I am and how I got here. I think here they don’t give Christmas the importunateness it deserves. But then again, I’m in a whole different world now. Where the people grew up a different way I did. I got to sit on Sinterklaas’s (Holland’s Santa) lap and feel like a kid again, got a poem read about me, just like someone from the family. For once I didn’t feel like the exchange student in the house, but more like family. But then I had to switch families.

I have been living now for two weeks in my new host family. Leaving my other family felt like a replay from whenever I left home. Packing my bags brought tears in my eyes, but then I reminded myself that my exchange isn’t fully over. It is just another step. Sometimes I think this whole thing about switching families isn’t a very good idea. Once you feel comfortable with a group of people, you have to leave. But it also has its upside of learning to do things in a different way, meeting new people, and everything is a completely new environment. All those little things help build who you are, and who you’ve become during this year.

A lot of the exchange students from the group of January have already left. It’s unbelievable for them and also for others that their time has come to leave. Some don’t know if to be happy their leaving or if to be sad. I wouldn’t know the feeling myself because my time to leave has not yet came. Many of them had created a scrap book filled of memories I know they will treasure forever. I will soon start one myself.

During these winter vacations I have done things a couple months ago I would have never thought I would be able to do. I skated on real ice. The canals through my town have frozen and now people skate on them. Two months ago I went through these exact canals on a boat and now I’m skating on them! Unbelievable, but believe it cause it’s true. Skating on that ice makes you feel like you’re flying, like you’re on top of the world.

My language has improved a lot. I only speak in Dutch now with the family I’m with. But my language still needs a lot of work. When I try and same something but doesn’t come out how I thought about it in my head, I get embarrassed and laughed at. But I just laugh it out, and continue trying. I would have never thought I would be able to speak 3 words of Dutch and look at me now! Being able to speak more has helped a lot with the friend making process. I have made very special friends here, now it’s time to add some unforgettable memories with them.

Doeiii 🙂 Tot the volgende keer!

March 25

Today, I packed my bags to move to my last family. Everything is happening so fast. You look back to everything you did in so little time, or at least it feels that way. I always try to thank people that do things for me and especially my host family by giving them presents and stuff, but sometimes I feel like everything they do for you can´t be given back as a present. They gave you so much, their love, their home, etc. and you give them back a present? Sounds funny. Right?

So Right before Christmas I moved into my second family, they celebrate 2 Christmas days here in Holland. So I decided to spend one Christmas day with my first host family and the next one with my second family. It was really nice. It was a really hard time, being without your actual family on so special as Christmas. But, life goes on. For new years I went to a club in my town with friends from school and I started my year right J it was an unforgettable night, fireworks started in the morning and went on until the next day. It was weird having to start everything from the beginning, you could be a completely different person if you wanted, but once you have your personally you usually don´t change a lot. I always find it really difficult getting all my thoughts on paper, But after hours of thinking, I think I got some words to say. I am looking forward to moving in with my next family. I have slept a couple of times at their house already because their daughter is my bestfriend ! I can´t imagine how fun it will be living with them. They remind me a lot of my own family back home.

An exchange student friend helped me cook some sushi for my host family as a nice thing before I moved. I really appreciate everything they did for me. I got to go skiing in Austria, something that a couple of months ago, would of never crossed my mind. Getting up and going to school on my bike is really normal now. I speak Dutch with everyone. My English has been worsening and worsening. If it wasn´t for the spelling check on this word program I would have miss spelled 50 words, and some being so simple as writing because. I don’t even want to talk about how hard it is to speak Spanish. I have learned Dutch from English, so my second language Spanish, is somewhere in the back of my head. I have to dig it from my brain when I speak to my parents at home. They are coming to visit me in July, which is in 4 months ! I can´t believe how fast time went by. When I got here, I already wanted to go home, and now that I’m here I don’t want to leave.

I like walking through school seeing familiar faces and people that are your friends and you hang out with. I also like not being the `weird exchange student` anymore. Everyone knows who you are, and instead of them being people at school, they have become your friends. These are friendships that you will keep forever. Maybe sometime in the near future these people could be your coworkers or business partners. I´m scared of going home. I have no idea how everything is going to be. It obviously won´t be the same as I left it. So many things have changed already, that part of me considers her life here, in Holland. I can´t imagine home hard it will be going home. “Back to reality” as my mother would say. I don’t want to go back to reality, I like living in this endless dream. Everything here since the start has felt so unreal part of me still doesn’t accept the fact that I am in Holland and it has been 7 months ! I have taken the opportunity to stay here as long as I was able to which is a few days always from a complete year. I came in Aug 15th 2010 and am leaving Aug 2nd 2011.

One thing that I find very difficult to do. Is do the same for people as they have done for you. People here have done such incredible things for me. I would like to do the same for them. It is so hard to, being an exchange student, not being able to work, so you’re a little short on money. I thank everyone, all the time. And give them little things, but sometimes I feel like it is not enough. Will it ever be enough. How can you thank someone for letting you live with them in their own home? I way I thank rotary for all they have done for me is by also being a host family for someone who would like to live in Florida. That is what my family and I have done. When I get back we will be hosting an exchange student from Hungry. I will personally make sure her year, is one to remember just like the people here have made mine completely unforgettable.

 

Emily Richards
2010-11 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nakhon Phanom Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Emily - Thailand

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

 mily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

 

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

 

Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

 

Erin Harty
2010-11 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: St. Johns , Florida
School: Creekside High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Aalborg Stigsborg Rotary Club, District 1440,Denmark

Erin - Denmark

Erin’s Bio

Hello, my name is Erin Harty. I am a 16 year old attending Creekside High School in St Johns, Florida.  I live in Florida with my two parents, Leland and Louise, my younger brother, Ryan, and our dog, Spot.  Ryan is 14 years old and also attends Creekside High School.  My older brother, Jordan, is a freshmen at Penn State University.  

Until this summer my family lived outside of Philadelphia in a small place called Doylestown.  Regardless of the move, I have still managed to continue doing everything that I love.  I am a dedicated Venture Crew and CISV member.  Venture Crew is the co-ed division of the Boy Scouts. CISV is an international peace organization focused on building global friendships and achieving peace through understanding.

A large part of my life is devoted to art, literature, and music. I love to draw and paint. I am almost always sketching or doodling and hope to one day become an art teacher.

English class has always been my favorite academic subject. I love all the books we read and I especially enjoy learning about what they mean. Writing has always been a great way for me to express myself. I love writing essays more than any other assignment in school. I’m not the best speller in the world but I tend to get my point across well anyway.

Listening to music and singing are my favorite pastimes. I have the lyrics to so many songs stuck in my head that it is hard not to just break out in song. My friends and I tend to bond over music, even if we don’t like the same bands or songs, which is unusual because I listen to so much music it is hard to find a person who doesn’t like at least one band that I do.

I love to travel and try new things just like my parents. Ever since I was young my parents took me and my brothers to do just about everything they could think of. Camping, fishing, snowboarding, rock climbing; you name it I’ve probably done it or wanted to try it. My family has a big influence on my life but I don’t just consider blood relatives family. My family is made up of everyone I love and care about, especially my friends. Most of them I have known since I was young so they understand how crazy and adventurous I am. Ever since I was young I would go away all summer long to all kinds of camps and international excursions so when I told them I will be living in Denmark most of them weren’t shocked at all. When they heard me say “I’m gonna be a foreign exchange student!!” they just laughed and said “Well it’s about time.”

Living in Denmark is going to be a wonderful experience and I am very thankful to Rotary for choosing to send me to Denmark for a year.

 Erin’s Journals

August 17

I have only been in Denmark for a few weeks but I feel like I’ve been here for months. My trip began with me saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. It continued on to Chicago where I made some last minute goodbye phone calls. The next piece of my adventure was in the Frankfurt airport, where Nova (another exchange student) and I got quite lost and confused… I thought I lost my passport! I realized it was on the plane in my old seat because I had switched spots. The hostess were very nice and helped me find my passport before the plane was closed. When I went back into the airport only Nova was there with my bags. All the other students we had met up with in Chicago were gone. We were left to make the trek through the airport by ourselves. Finally, we reached to proper line to get our tickets for our next flights. There were problems with our reservations however; something about the tickets being reserved for the day before. We showed the attendants our itineraries and assured them that were were on all the proper flights all the way to Frankfurt. After a long while the attendants gave us our tickets and we were on our way.

The airport was very different for anything we had been in before. The hall to security for our gate was long and white and littered with shops on both sides. Shops that we wouldn’t expect to see in an airport. There were expensive stores and widely recognized brands everywhere. It was more of a mall than an airport. Once we got to security we paid close attention to what everyone else was doing. Nobody removed their shoes or their liquids baggie. And you put your things on the belt one by one, rather than the massive mob that swarms around the metal tables in the US airports. It was so organized! It was rather amazing. Nova unfortunately had some trouble here and there because she had dislocated her arm a few days before but, none the less, we got through security quite speedily. We also found this really net dispenser in the bathroom! It looked like a gumball machine and it gave out mini finger tip toothbrushes!! It was quite exciting. Eventually, we got to our gate and in a few minutes we were joined by the rest of our group. How we beat them exactly, we are not sure but we boarded the airplane and were sad to see that one of our friends got left behind. Luckily he was paid for his wait (about 300 euros) and received a voucher for a new flight later in the day. So off we went to Copenhagen!

We landed on time and were amazed to see that this airport was very similar to the Frankfurt one in that all the halls were white and covered in shops! After going to the transfer station we hiked out to our gate. I say hiked because we had to have gone down the longest terminal hallway in all of creation. It took us an hour to reach our gate! I was so tired that I fell asleep before the plane to Aalborg was fully boarded.

When I woke up we were in Aalborg! FINALLY! I was expecting lines of people at a customs stop, mass confusion, even a few stern voiced security guards but what I saw was probably the most shocking thing I had witnessed all day. It was my families (well at least two of them) and my counselor gathered to come greet me. I received hugs and handshakes and exchanged many hello’s and how are you’s. It hadn’t hit me that this would be my family but I did feel something: the absolute NEED for sleep! We put my stuff in the car and talked about things that every Dane converses about: the weather, how the trip was, and more weather. I told them about what I was feeling and all my reactions made them laugh. They were shocked when I thought their house was small because, for Denmark, their home is quite large. We spent the afternoon touring the house, eating, and talking. I finally got to take a long need shower. The best part of my shower is that I got time to think about everything. Everything that had happen in the past two days didn’t seem real. As I scrubbed my hair and skin to remove the layers of public airplane gunk, it was as though I was also scrubbing away the dream state I had been stuck in for hours. It helped make everything feel more real at least long enough for me to comprehend that I had finally made it to Denmark.

After my shower I had dinner with my family but I honestly couldn’t tell you what we talked about or ate because I was so tired I can’t even really picture it. I remember that my new little host brother, Oskar, didn’t speak any English. I also know that I didn’t speak Danish. My mind just couldn’t wrap itself around the words I had worked so hard to prepare. As soon as dinner was done I excused myself and went to my room. The white walls and plain, uncluttered tables were soothing and for the first time in days I closed my eyes and immediately felt that deep pull of sleep engulf me entirely. And everything that had happened just slipped away into black…

The next morning I woke up suddenly! I looked outside my window and who was there but my host mother! She told me that it was 6 in the morning. Even at six in the morning my host mother looks adorable. She has the most beautiful eyes and the sweetest smile. She reminds me a lot of my mom. Both of them are tiny and sweet. The only difference is that my mother would never be up at six in the morning doing laundry. NEVER! I didn’t want to wake up anyone else so I decided to quietly unpack my room. I figured that if I didn’t do it soon I would never feel like part of the family because I would be living out of a suitcase (well… suitcases). After struggling with the closet for some time I finally figured out how it opens! It has two sliding doors, in case you were wondering. The first was not the problem. It was figuring out the second that gave me some issues. But rest assured! I got everything all put away in the closet and in these little locking cabinets (they look similar to little metal lockers that are short and wide, set on wheels). After unpacking I found myself tired once again so back off to sleep I went.

When I woke up I ate breakfast with my host sisters Ida and Mia, my host sister’s boyfriend, Morten, and my little host brother, Oskar. After breakfast Oskar showed us his unicycling videos. It turns out that Oskar is actually a unicycling champion! He has tons of medals and can do all these amazing tricks! He tells me I will have to learn to ride while I’m here. Personally, I’m excited too but I’m just afraid of the injury I know will result because of my attempts to balance on one wheel. It will be fun though, and any resulting bloodshed will make for a great blog.

After breakfast we cleaned up and decided to go back to bed for a little while. Unfortunately, Ida tried to wake me up multiple times and I had no idea. Eventually, I did wake up and we left the house and went to my second host family’s/ Ida’s best friends house. Signe is the name of my second host sister. She lives in the city of Aalborg which is right across the bridge from Norresundby (the city I’m living in). When you walk into her house all you see is stairs! There are LOTS AND LOTS of stairs in her home. I then realized what my family ment when they said they had a big house for Denmark. Although there were lots of stairs in Signe’s house, the rooms were pretty small. Her kitchen was the size of my bedroom here in Denmark. I was very tired though so I really wasn’t thinking about anything. The only thing I had enough energy to worry about was what we were about to eat. Mia told me we were headed to the market to buy stuff for lunch. On the way I talked with Mia’s boyfriend. It turns out he has excellent English and he told me lots about the city. When we got to the store I was amazed to see that it lacked all the random unimportant stuff our grocery stores are filled with! It was all food. Well, food and wine. It was very interesting. We bought some of what we needed then we walked to what would be equal to a Walmart in the US to buy some fresh (and I’m probably not spelling it right) Levepastie. It’s essentially meat paste. We got home and loaded the porch table with food and sat down to eat. I tried Levepastia on rye bread (a Danish favorite). Although it looks and smells similar to canned dog food it actually isn’t that bad! I actually kind of enjoyed it! The boiled eggs on rye bread were gross though. But hey, I at least found one Danish food I liked. Once I was pretty sure I would not starve here in Denmark we cleaned up and headed to the car.

The cars here are tiny by the way. Much smaller than my families big red suburban. The car my family has seats five and they only have one. Mia, Morten, Ida, Signe, and I then drove to a place called Blokhus. It is a beach on the west coast of Denmark. We stopped and had ice cream from this little shop. It was magnificent! I had chocolate and coconut with this strange pink marshmallow type cream. Needless to say, I loved it!

We walked along the beach and I was surprised to find that this beach was nothing like I had ever seen before. I have been to the west coast, all along the east coast, the gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, St. Kitts, and never had I seen a beach quite like this. The sand itself continued from the water back to the dunes in a perfectly flat slate. The dunes were far away from the water too. Cars were able to pull right up onto the beach. It was sunny and beautiful but the wind wiped all the heat from the air and your body so that you wished you had a sweatshirt. The waves were constant and gorgeous. It was impressive to see! And the water was soo cold. I only placed a hand in it but that was enough.

We drove to the summer house and dropped off Ida and Signe and began the journey home. Mia, Morten, and I talked about lots of things on the way back. We talked about music, people, Danish speaking, English sayings; lots of stuff. It was hard to explain but I felt so comfortable with these two. It felt like I had known them from much longer than a day. When we got to the house we had tacos for dinner. I helped cut vegetables and Mia and Marianne (my host mom) spoke danish. After dinner I saw my first movie with Danish subtitles. It was an altogether wonderful day. After the movie I laid down in my bed once again and didn’t feel longing to be home or even the smallest twang of homesickness but instead contentment. I was confident in my ability to live here as a Dane and to adjust to the way of life here. I feel asleep that night and dreamed of nothing except unicycles.

The next big step for me was meeting my host Rotary club. Honestly, I was extremely nervous. My host sister Ida is their outbound student this year. It made me so happy that I wouldn’t have to go alone. Ida got ready in jeans and a nice shirt and I figured that I wouldn’t look out of place if we matched. I was wrong. Although, jeans and a nice shirt would have defiantly blend in at my sponsor club they didn’t at my host club. I guess I should have taken a hint from where they meet that they are a much more fancy Rotary club. They meet on Monday afternoons at the Hotel Hvid Hus (which means white house). They are a dinner club and so the men come right from work still dressed in their suits. It was very interesting to see that many of them had tie clips and little rotary symbols on their business attire. They were all very sweet to me even if we couldn’t understand each other entirely. The meeting was so official and orderly. It was as though they had done it a hundred times: greet everyone, sit down, eat, make small talk, sing danish songs, listen to announcements, listen to guest speakers (Ida and I), then continue to the meeting. Everyone knew what was supposed to happen when, except me. I couldn’t understand the small talk, I didn’t get to greet everyone in the room, I kept forgetting to use my fork in my left and my knife in my right, and I was all together very awkward and out of place. But I imagine even if I knew what was going on I would have still felt strange because I don’t know these men quite yet. I know my sponsor club and I love going to their meetings and hearing them joke with each other. I can’t wait to get to know these men however, because I know that I will really enjoy going to meetings once I do. I have already been invited to my next meeting and I am eager to go.

The biggest event that has happened to me since I have been here just took place last Wednesday. It was bigger than being lost in Frankfurt, meeting my family, and going to my Rotary meeting all put together. It was my first day of school! My host family was dropping my sister Ida off at the airport so I had to go to stay with my second host family. I was very thankful for that though because Signe goes to my school and I got to know here very well. She went to Chile last year on exchange so she was incredibly helpful and was able to soothe many of my nerves about the first day of school. I asked her to pick out my outfit for my first day of school because I didn’t want to stand out to much. As we walked to school the next morning I felt a little strange in a skirt and leggings but they were both things I had bought myself so I was glad to finally have a reason to wear them. But I felt really stupid when I got to the school and saw what all the other first class students were wearing. Jeans, T-shirts, Converse, distressed knees, neon bracelets, funky unmatching socks. I had walked into a sea of Erin Harty type people and I was the only one who didn’t quite fit. WAY TO GO! For day kids I had met had responded to me telling them that I was going to the Katedral Skole with remarks about it being the “hippie school”. I saw why they said it. I wouldn’t call the kids hippies though. Free spirited is a much better word to describe them. They were artists, musicians, and down right strange teens and I was so happy to see that I would fit in. Even if I was the only one in a floral skirt! The first day was a shortened day so that all the first classers could leave by eleven before the older kids could come to school and harass us for not being as old as them. I supposed even in Denmark there is such a thing as the freshmen hunt. It was good for me though because two hours of non-stop danish was enough to make my head spin. One of the tutors in the class served as an interpreter to me so that I didn’t miss anything important. I felt like I missed everything! I’ve never felt so totally helpless before. Every time we had to do anything I had to be specifically instructed like some kind of child. It wasn’t embarrassing exactly, it was just, well, defeating. I felt like it would be forever before I could do anything without being told. There were a few things I did notice about the school that is very different than school in the United States. Kids raise their pointer finger instead of their hand. You call the teachers by their first names. It is okay for teachers to come in with un-ironed shirts and pants, and sandals. Your homeroom is where you spend most of your classes. Not only do you room from room to room but your teachers do too. Classes can get canceled, like at college. You can leave campus to get food. You can smoke on school property. Kids rush outside to smoke a cigarette at every break of every class. And last but not least, teachers are not very good at danish, so don’t ask them where the restroom is because not only will you be confused, they will be confused and when you walk away you will still have to pee.

All in all Denmark has been wonderful. The weather is an adventure in itself and every place I have been in Denmark is different and unique. The city is beautiful and even though I ride my bike 7 Kilometers to school in the morning I secretly enjoy it even if I don’t tell my host mom that. I’m eager to see what else Denmark has in store for me.

Thank you again Rotary for this wonderful opportunity. It is one I will always treasure.

September 21

So today my school guardian (guardian angel is definitely more fitting) ask me to submit a few lines to her about why I am here.  When I sat down at the computer I had no idea what I was gonna say.  As soon as I started typing it took me all of five seconds to figure out what I had to say.  I was shocked by the answer but only because it took me just now to realize that this is why I wanted to be here.

So here it is, here is what I wrote to her. The reason I am here:

I am here because being an exchange student is the trip of a lifetime.  How many chances do you get to go and experience a whole new way of life?  How many people can say they had the strength to live among strangers and adapt to a new situation?  It’s an experience that allows me to be myself and find out who I really am.  It’s a chance for me to challenge myself to do amazing and difficult things.  I knew it would be hard.  I know it will get harder.  I also know that in the end it will be worth it.  I will know a knew language.  I will have met so many wonderful people.  I will have thousands of new stories.  And I will have three new families and houses to call home.  Being an exchange student never sounded scary to me.  It still doesn’t.  All my friends tell me how brave I am to go through with this.  I don’t think of being an exchange student as a test of bravery or strength.  I think of it as a test of your mind and confidence.  You have to be head strong and confident enough in yourself to look like a total fool trying to do everything the Danish way but still love doing it.  Most of all, I am here because I know that one day, I will be faced with some sort of challenge, it will be something that will be absolutely terrifying but I will have the courage to face that challenge.  Because if I can make it through this year and survive as an honorary Dane then I can succeed at just about anything.

November 16

My brother came to visit me. It was so weird to have him in my host house but it was so nice to see him!! It was amazing. I told him about everything I had done and he told me about everything I had missed. He said mom tried to make pancakes the way I do and it didn’t really work. He also said my paintings were still sitting unfinished in my room but the hallway never smelled like paint anymore. He said he was unicycling a lot and missed helping me learn. He told me about school and his troubles with English and Math.

The whole time we had tea and just hung out. Then we watched a movie. I was so sad to see him leave. And the whole time this was happening not once had it occurred to me this was my host brother from my first house, not my real brother. At twelve years old, he has already seen so much of the world and knows who he truly is. He has so much figured out just because he does what he wants and doesn’t let anyone get in his way. He is my best friend here and I miss him, even though we live 13 kilometers from each other. He knows my favorite movies and I know his favorite songs. We wrestle, fight, and hug daily and I can’t help feel as though he is family.

What amazes me more is that I know if Oskar hadn’t been my first host brother I wouldn’t be the exchange student or even person that I am now. Every time I wanted to stay home he would tell me to get out of the house. He pushed me to learn to unicycle and to try new things. He wasn’t afraid to speak Danish with me. And he always knows when I need a hug. In a way, leaving my first host house felt so much like leaving my actual home. Oskar and I didn’t want to say “goodbye” because we will see each other again but, at the same time we knew it wouldn’t be the same, just like me and my real brother did three months ago.

As he left that day I really understood how real these relationships we are having are. These aren’t just people you stay with, or just friends in passing like at summer camp. These people are going to leave a mark forever. How much of a mark will all depend on how close we let them get.

January 2

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  Well, it’s almost Christmas Day now, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I have been living in this house for 42 days.  In these 42 days I have done more than I ever could have imagined I could accomplished in such a short time.  I can’t even begin to tell you everything I’ve done.  I won’t even try!  It would take far to long and I honestly, don’t have the patience to tell all of it, because I know that nobody will ever appreciate the experiences the way I do.  But, I will tell you about how, in these short 42 days, I have celebrated multiple holidays, BIG HOLIDAYS!  I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, my 17th birthday, and, just a few hours ago, Christmas.

As you all can guess, Thanksgiving is only celebrated in America.  That doesn’t take a genius to figure out.  But, until this year, I never truly appreciated Thanksgiving the way I should have.  The whole idea to celebrate it actually was my friend Natasha’s.  She is another Rotary Exchange Student in my city from California.  One day she walked into Danish class and told me that we should make Thanksgiving dinner.  We took up the entire class listing the foods we wanted, who would come, where it would be, all the little details.  I can assure you my Danish teacher was not happy when we were sitting in the back of the class talking about sweet potatoes and turkey while he was trying to teach us something about numbers, which we had already learned.  Still, we decided to get together again and finalize recipes and shop.  So, the shopping date was set for the next Thursday.

On Thursday, we quickly made a list of ingredients.  Thank God for Allrecipes.com!  Then we were off to the store.  Until this year I had never seen cranberry sauce that did not come out of a can, nor had I ever seen the filling for a pumpkin pie that was not pre-made and AGAIN canned.  We had to make everything from scratch.  EVERYTHING!

The entire trip went like this: Natasha and I “We need____.”  Natasha’s mom:”Oh, here it is! (picks up some sort of fruit or vegetable)”  Natasha and I: “Uhh… doesn’t it come in a can?!?”  Natasha’s mom: *looks at us like we are absolutely crazy and disgusting for wanting canned food*

Once the shopping trip was over I took on the task of making two apple pies and one pumpkin from scratch so they would be ready the next day.  This took a long time, and I ended up sitting on my kitchen floor till about 2 just playing solitare alone.  But, I learned a very very very important lesson that night so all future outbounds to Denmark listen up!  DO NOT!  REPEAT!  DO NOT EAT ANYTHING WITH RAW EGG EVER!   The eggs here are not safe raw!  Exchange students have some real horror stories about the raw eggs here.  So be very very careful!  My host sister freaked out when I tasted batter with raw egg in it.  I was fine!  Don’t worry, but I was lucky.  SO, PAS PÅ!

So finally it was Friday (yes, we celebrated late, we know), it was time almost time to eat.  After I got lost walking to Natasha’s, in the snow, with no gloves, carrying 3 really really heavy pies, I found myself standing in the worlds MESSIEST kitchen.  I’m talking, bread crumbs all over the counter, dishes everywhere, a pot of some brown bubbling goo that tasted amazing and smelled like Terryake (Natasha’s attempt at gravy), and random spices covering the table.  Sweet little Natasha was giving her best attempt at making Thanksgiving dinner alone.  It took us a while but we finally got everything done or cooking.  When all my friends arrived we felt kind of silly though.  In Denmark, when people come over you are supposed to be ready to eat but I have never been to a Thanksgiving where the food was DONE when I got there.  It’s just how it is.  So after explaining, we waited.  After about an hour everyone was there and the food was ready.  Our Danish friends looked a little worried about the food but in the end they LOVED it all.

The most amazing part though, wasn’t the food, or the fact that they liked our weird American sweet potatoes with marshmellows and butter.  It was when we went around the table one by one and said what we were thankful for and my friend Sasha actually began to cry.  She said how thankful she was that we were here, and that we would do all this for them, and that we could all be together.  She understood everything that Thanksgiving was about from one meal, one.  She understood it without football, or her family, without struggling in the kitchen, without seeing it year after year after year.  She embraced our tradition so fully and instantly.  It was the most touching experience I have ever had and it didn’t even matter that I had burned the marshmellows, that the gravy had lumps, and that half the food was cold.

A week after Thanksgiving was my 17th birthday.  My family at home doesn’t do anything big for birthdays.  Of course, when we were little we always had these big themed birthdays but now that we are all older we normally just sing and have a dinner that the birthday person chooses and we watch them open gifts.  So, we do celebrate, just not in a big way.  Birthday’s are big in Denmark.  They are huge family and friend events.  And it literally begins the moment you wake up.  My host family came into my room and woke me up singing and gave me a present to open.  Then we all went upstairs for breakfast and I had even more gifts.  I got a scarf, hat, and mittens.  All things I REALLY REALLY needed.  Then in school, we sang to me and everyone gave me hugs and told me “Tillykke!!”  Which is congratulations, kinda… its odd but I love it.  After school some of my best friends came to my house for cocoa and cake.  It was so amazing when we got home to see that my host mom had cleaned and decorated the kitchen.  There were Danish flags EVERYWHERE!  I love that they celebrate with their flag.  My guests all arrived which included to Danes (my best friends), two AFS exchange students (who attend my school), and one Rotary Exchange student from California (she lives right near me and we are super close).  They gave me the sweetest gifts, and I loved each of them so much because they got me such meaningful things!  My two Danish friends are gonna paint me a picture to take home with me.  Natasha (from California) gave me handmade earrings.  Angie and Isabela got me an elephant stuffed animal and a picture frame full of pictures of all the people I really love here in Denmark.  I was so happy to see how much they cared and how much they knew about me.  Once all my friends left we cleaned the kitchen again and MORE guests came over.  This time it was my first host family and my counselor, Irene.  We had dinner, which was amazing because my host mom Helle is a beast in the kitchen.  Then we had birthday cake!

Personally, I think the birthday cake is the best tradition of all.  Their birthday cake is kinda flat and tastes like a cinnamon roll.  Its covered in candy and has a big piece of marcipan across it with your name on it.  The cake is shaped like a boy or girl depending on what the birthday person is.  The best part, by far, is when the birthday person cuts they cake, they cut its head off first and everybody SCREAMS!  When I first witnessed this it was my host sisters birthday and I freaked out!  I had no idea what had happened.  I thought my host sister had cut herself or something!  I was so pumped to cut the head off my cake this year, yes I know that sounds weird.  It was a little odd to see all my brothers and sisters and parents in the same room.  It was especially weird to think about how I still have more brothers, sisters, and parents in Denmark.  I was so happy to see everyone especially Irene.  She’s probably the sweetest woman ever and she is so helpful as a counselor and it ment a lot to me that she was there.  It just made me feel like Rotary was truly interested in my experience.

The funniest part of the whole day was that it wasn’t actually my birthday!  We were celebrating early because we didn’t know if I was gonna be in town on my birthday!  On my real birthday I was at a Rotary event for all the exchange students in our district.  It was a Hygge weekend where we all just got together to talk and do, well, nothing.  It was the best birthday I’ve ever had.  I spent the entire day running around with my friends and talking about everything with them.  It brought us a lot closer.  When dinner came around I stood on a chair and heard happy birthday songs in 4 different languages.  I also got to pick my desert first, exciting, I know.  But honestly, it was just the most Hyggeligt birthday I’ve ever had.  When we found a cake in the middle of the night we turned it into birthday cake and everyone sang AGAIN.  Over and over I just kept thinking about how amazing my birthday had been just because I spent it with all these amazing exchangers who I didn’t know super well but still was close to them because we share this experience.

After my birthday came a rush of shopping, wrapping, and preparing for Christmas.  I had a little trouble with what to buy my family at first, but it all came together eventually.  Leading up to Christmas I had lots of mixed feelings.  I would be shopping and suddenly remember how when we were little and my parents would give us a list and we would run around Target for an hour buying presents for each other and avoiding the others so they wouldn’t know.  I also felt kinda sad every time I would realize that I didn’t have any presents to wrap on Christmas Eve, that’s when I used to wrap all my Dad’s last minute gifts.  But at the same time I was so excited to spend Christmas in Denmark.  I was so glad that it snowed all the way up till Christmas.  I was ecstatic when we put up the Christmas tree.

Constantly leading up to Christmas people would ask me about my Christmas traditions.  In the US, my family does a different thing for Christmas almost every year.  Our family is far away and most years we go see them and visit but some years we don’t.   Every year changes just a bit, but the things that don’t are that we always sign this table clothe that my grandma has then she stitches over the words so they dont wash out and my mom ALWAYS marks my and my brothers gifts with ornaments that represent us.  We get new ones every year.  This year, for some reason, I realized how important that tradition is to me.  Sure it’s silly but it’s true, I love that tradition because it shows who we were every year of our lives.

So on the morning of the 24th, everyone was excited.  In Denmark, you celebrate Christmas on the 24th. The best part that night after we ate dinner, we all got together and went around the tree and held hands and began circling the tree and singing.  I felt like I was in Whoville or something.  It was so silly to just stand around the tree and sing about how pretty it looked.  Then it got sillier.  We broke the circle in one place and my little host brother ran us around the house into EVERY room.  We just kept singing and running and laughing all through the house.  My host mom said it was so that we could bring Christmas to every room.  I felt just like a little kid in a way, because I was so excited and everything seemed to important and magical.  The whole afternoon of opening presents was fun and cozy and I was so happy.  I did think about my family that day but not a lot.  I guess it was because I was with my family, it just wasn’t my blood relatives.  I was positive I wasn’t gonna cry, that was until I opened a gift from my host mom.  It was an ornament, a danish design.  It’s a single silver star.  I didn’t even speak at first.  It was so unexpected.  My real mom had sent me an elephant one from home and that meant so much to me but then, when I saw that my host mom had realized how important that the ornaments my mother gave me were, I just, I was in shock.  Even now I can’t help but tear up a bit, I can’t believe how much this ornament means to me because I know my host mom bought it just so I could feel at home.  I do, I really do.

Christmas morning I woke up at nine, and got on my computer.  My family from the states called.  They had just got back from church.  We have a tradition of opening one present before bed every year.  So, after they got back from Midnight mass, we opened our gifts, all of us, together.  I even had one.  Yeah, it was a little weird looking at my family all together doing something so familiar on a computer screen.  It was even weirder to think that they were just talking to me through speakers and still pretended it was as if I was there.

Later on Christmas I watched my brother open up these boxes that have the peom “Twas the Night Before Christmas” on them.  It tied everything up.  Every holiday I have celebrated is about tradition.  Every holiday was different here than it is in the states.  Every holiday was a mixture of emotions.  And every holiday turned out more perfect than I could imagine.  As I counted down the New Years, standing on a couch holding hands with Danish friends I couldn’t help but feel completely at home.  Denmark has truly become my home, I don’t feel like an exchange student anymore.  I just feel like, I’m a girl with lots of families, living my life here in Denmark.  So, as the last seconds ticked by, our hands squeezed tighter and tighter, then the bell rang in Copenhagn and we all jumped into the New Year, a year I’m sure I will never forget.

January 28

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

On the corner of Vestebro and Hassiresgade there’s a cemetery on both sides. If you walk past it, toward the train tracks, tucked away behind other buildings you will find the Katedral School.

At first glance, the area doesn’t look too nice. It’s back behind buildings, there are old cars scattering the street, and there’s graffiti on all the surrounding surfaces. The school is old an brick, and resembles a hospital from a horror movie. But, if you go inside, you will be amazed.

When you walk into Katten you see color and creativity everywhere. Every wall is covered in students’ art. Every surface has been used for self expression. It’s big, old and makes you feel like you are in a mansion. The library is filled to the brim with books both, ancient and new and you can find just about anything in there.

The best part of the school is found on the second floor of the main building. If you manage to find your way up there you will notice room 201. That’s mine. This room isn’t especially different from the rest. White walls, cream floors, a few tables, some chairs; nothing fancy. The thing that makes this room amazing is the people. On an average day there will be at least two students on World of Warcraft, at least four on Facebook, a bunch drawing, and at least two sneaking food. You will see all types of clothes, some of these outfits are things you could never even imagine. Neon, black, fashionable, t-shirts, heels, and Doc Martens all mixed together. Each person is original, each is unique, and they are all joined by this one love that we share: art.

If you look to the back row, you’ll see four girls. One with long blonde hair and green headphones most likely laughing away at something. She’s got a loud laugh, big smile, and is the funniest person I’ve ever known, this is Katrine. Another girl has red dreads, cheek piercings, and gauges. If she isn’t leaning back in her chair staring off into space she’s got her paint pens out and is drawing out her latest piece. If you ever get a chance to talk to her, you’ll never forget it. She has the sweetest voice and is truly the nicest person I have ever met, this is Nanna. The next girl is more intimidating. High cheek bones, strong chin, dark red hair pulled into a high teased ponytail, and jet black stilettos set her apart. She looks like a model that would beat you up for saying bad things about her. If you look past it, you will soon see that’s not true. She’s gorgeous but not scary. She cries the most in our class and has the biggest heart. She loves everyone, especially me. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind but she feels just as bad as everyone else if people reject her, this is Sasha. The last girl you will see looks similar to the rest, dark hair, pale skin, pierced ears, leggings, and Doc Martens. Often you will see her writing, drawing, or sleeping. She always wears a smile, always manages to make people laugh. She is almost always hugging someone and the class says she the sweetest person they have ever met. I can only find two differences between her and the rest of the class, she has extremely dark brown eyes and has English as her first language. The last girl is me.

My class is special. They except me as one of them, they don’t think of me as the awkward exchange student. Sure, they sometimes call me a stupid American, but it’s true, I am. They never for a second let that stand in the way of us being close. I have heard about other exchange students’ challenges with school and their classes. I have heard that some classes don’t even talk to the exchange students. My heart breaks for these students. My Danish friends are some of the best I have ever had, here and in the United States. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully express how glad I am that in that first week when Sasha asked me if I wanted to go to the city with them after school that I said yes. Even though she intimidated me, A LOT, she is now one of my absolute best friends.

Like I said before, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, you never know what person is underneath the make-up and combat boots.

When you are on exchange your miss the most random things.  You come to realize a bunch of the silly little things you would do at home.  Things that just felt natural and right.  For example, when my friends used to come over we would always end up in the kitchen.  We would bake, talk, eat, and just sit around in there for hours.  I remember tons of times when a group of my friends had been invited over and we spent the night sitting on the floor laughing and listening to music.  It never seemed to matter what time it was.  We would just spend time there.  In Denmark, that doesn’t really happen.  You hang out with your friends in their room.  Other exchange students and I have actually noticed this more and more, and we have come to miss our kitchen hang outs.

One day, I was at another exchange students house and we ended up in the kitchen, just sitting around with her host sister for hours.  It was amazing!  We just talked, drank saft (which is like liquid koolaid mix and you just add water to it) and took pictures.  It was by far one of the best nights I’ve spent with another exchange student.  It was so comfortable and it was so nice to be taken back to an old “tradition” but in a new language.  It was just kind of a reminder how people are not so different after all.

Sure, everyone reading this may think I’m absurd.  Yes, it is a little silly to think that spending a couple hours talking in a kitchen meant so much to me, but it’s only because you learn to appreciate the everything.  You finally see how all the little things add up to make a truly amazing time.  You stop taking things for granted.  You especially learn to cherish each moment, especially those spent with people you love.

So, thank you to my friend Esther from Nebraska and her sister Isabella, for an absolutely memorable evening.  It’s one I will surely remember.

April 14

 

This whole year has been full of adventures!  Whether it was school things, rotary events, shopping days, bike rides, visiting friends, or traveling to various cities and countries, I had a great time.  There are four really amazing adventures I have just taken recently that I know I will cherish for a long time.

The first is my class trip to Aros.  Aros is an art museum in Århus.  They recently brought in this new exhibit that was said to be absolutely mind-blowing.  Since we are the art class at my school our teacher was eager to take us.  We met nice and early on a Thursday morning and gathered onto buses and prepared for the drive.  I grabbed a seat next to my friend Katrine and quickly fell asleep.  When we woke up we were parked outside the museum and kids were all rushing out of the bus, through the snow, and up to the giant glass doors.  After hanging our coats and bags we were ushered downstairs to their featured exhibit room and there they were:  a dozen or so perfectly made marble sculptures.  They were beautiful and inspiring.  They were crazy, controversial, and so gorgeous that I still can’t get them out of my head.  For hours I just walked around and stared in silence at the marble.  The rest of the exhibits seemed almost bland in comparison.  At the end of the day we all loaded back on the bus and either fell asleep or took pictures until we arrived back at the school and head home.

In the last year I have become very close with this one group of girls in particular.  They are Katrine, Sasha, and Nanna.  We all started out in the same class but by Christmas it was just me and Katrine.  Sasha and Nanna have both dropped out and now I don’t get to see them as often, but every once in a while we all meet up at Katrine and Sasha’s art studio and spend the afternoon drinking tea and listening to music.  The only way to describe the experience is with a very special Danish word, hyggeligt.  It’s more than cozy, its perfect, even if it is only an hour or two sitting with my best friends drinking amazing tea and just laughing is priceless to me.

I got an amazing opportunity last month to go on a trip of a lifetime: a ski vacation in Norway!  Nanna’s family invited me to spend ten days with them skiing and snowboarding at a place called Gaustatoppen.  It is beautiful and well work all the work of getting permission.  I must have spent hours writing and talking with my parents, my host parents, Nanna’s dad, Nanna, my counselors, and multiple Rotary district members.  It was handfuls of emails, calls, and texts but in the end, I was given the the privilege of leaving the country with my friends family, something our district has denied multiple times this year to many exchange students.  Maybe I was just lucky, maybe I just said the right thing, maybe it was the fact that every email, text, and call I made was in Danish.  No matter what the reason they agreed was, on March 11th I arrived in Norway with one of my best friends.  The week was spectacular!  I stayed in a house with about 20 members of Nanna’s family.  There were 8 kids, three teenagers, and many adults.  We were stocked up on boxes full of food and enough movies to keep us in the house for weeks.  Every morning we woke up and ate breakfast, packed lunches, and hit the slopes.  If you ever went snowboarding in the states you know how the slopes are just crawling with snowboarders, well on average, I only saw about 5 each day.  It was weird and I felt bad when my strapping in and out slowed down the group.  They never seemed to care.  The best part was that everyone was a great skier so we could just go one run after another and go almost anywhere we wanted on the mountain.  Nanna’s family really took to me and I fell in love with them.  There were sometimes her Norwegian aunts and cousins were hard to understand but, for the most part, I understood everything, even when her aunt would call me EARR INNN instead of Erin.  Overall, it was the most unforgettable ski vacation I have ever taken!

The last adventure I have to share wasn’t with a Dane but rather, another exchange student, Natasha, from California.  Natasha lives maybe three minutes by bike from my house.  She is also here with Rotary.  Even though she doesn’t go to my school we have still become exceptionally close friends.  One Saturday, I went to Natasha’s house, woke her up, and made her get ready.  She isn’t much of a morning person but we had plans to go shopping.   We got ready and got on our bikes, we started heading towards town when we realized I had forgotten stuff at my house.  In the three minutes between my house and hers we decided that instead of the city, we wanted to bike to the Ikea near us.  We looked up the address and filled a post-it with various lefts, rights, and strange city and street names.  We made it to the shopping center that we knew was near Ikea, and decided to get the things we were going to go to town for first.  As we walked in we encountered some non-Danes.  We followed them inside trying to figure out where they were from, we decided Sweden, because they sang when they talked.  The shopping center we went to is very American.  I know that may be weird for you guys to understand but there are lots of Danes that find indoor, huge shopping centers, with food places, a Wal-Mart style store, and bunches of clothing stores, all in the center of one big parking lot, scary and uncomfortable.  It’s not ‘’cozy’’ to go to.  For us, it was like home, even more so when we saw that it was American Week and there were red, white, and blue flags covering everything.  We made some purchases then set out to find Ikea.  After a misread in directions, a missed turn, and a short trip out into the countryside of the Jutland Peninsula, we got our butts turned around and to the Ikea.  It was a legendary moment for the both of us.  Neither of us had been to Ikea before!  We started off with food, marveling at how cheap the lunches were, and then we went downstairs to go through the store.  We couldn’t help but laugh when we realized that between all of our host families we owned pretty much the entire Ikea.  It was fun to be in a store that sold things at a large scale again, we hadn’t been since we left the states.  We biked back to Natasha’s house where we spent the next hour laughing on her bathroom floor and eating vegetarian lasagna with her host parents.  When I look back, most of my most memorable days here in Denmark have included Natasha.   The things we do many not seem all that special, but it’s the company that matters, and Natasha has proven to be the perfect person to adventure with.

You know that feeling when spring starts and all you think about is finishing school and having the summer to kick it with your friends?  You know that feeling when you are so tired and all you want to do is go home and curl up in your bed?  You know how when something upsetting happens and all you want to do is hug your sister and hear her say it’s alright?  How about that moment when you walk into a room and immediately your best friend knows something is wrong?  Now think about all those people, the ones you just put into those scenarios.  How long have you known these people?  Your siblings, your friends; you’ve probably known them for years, maybe even your whole life.  Now, listen up, and listen good, every person I just thought of, I’ve known for less than 8 months.  That’s right, my sister, my best friend, my class, my families; I have only known them for 8 months.  When, I think about my friends, it isn’t like they are people I just met or casual acquaintances, these people know me, truly know me.  I almost can’t believe that Katrine and I only met the 1st week of this school year.  Every time I think of going home, I soon panic.  I’m dreading ‘’goodbye’’ most of all.

I’ve learned so much about myself and about the world.  My views on my country and my lifestyle have changed.  I have made changes and acquired habits that I refuse to lose when I return home.  I have found a stronger more confident me that I’m proud to be.  I’ve truly found my strengths and admitted my weaknesses.

At 17, I’ve experienced more of life and more of the world than most people.  I’ve seen things some will only see on the Discovery and Travel channels.  I’ve met so many people, each has shared something with me, whether it’s a story, a joke, a good time, or unquestionably great advice, I’ve grown from them.  Every moment, word, person, and place, has added to my life, to my story.  They have shaped my development, my character, and my actions.

So, you know that feeling when a movie ends, in a way you are happy because everything ended well but the whole rest of the week you can’t stop talking about it and the only thing you want to do is see it again?

That’s what it is like to go home, that’s what is coming for me.  Although it has to end, I won’t fight it.  The best part of the movie is always the climax and the only way to know it was a great movie is if it leaves you craving for more.

April 14

”Adapt yourself to the life you have been given; and truly love the people with whom destiny has surrounded you.” -Marcus Auretius

With only a few months left until all of this comes to an end, I realize how important what I have learned this year is.

When I arrived here I looked at everything as though it was coated in gold. Every meal, ever house, ever person, everything new, was exciting. I took pictures of everything and anything. I saved ever slip of paper, ever scrap of evidence. When I first got here I was obsessed with figuring out all the nitty gritty bits of being ”the perfect Dane”. To put it simply, when I first arrived here, I was an exchange student.

Now some of you will probably laugh, some of you will make faces, but I guarantee ever outbound and inbound understands exactly what I am talking about. They went through the same thing. There is nothing Rotary can do to prepare you for this year. There is nothing you can do to make you 100% ready to face this year. It’s impossible. You can learn your language and talk to yourr families, this will make it so much easier, but at the end of the day you won’t be prepared.

This information may scare some of you. Don’t let it. Of course you won’t be prepared, no two exchanges are the same. Even if a student comes from my club, goes to my school, has my families, they still won’t have the same experience. They won’t have my friends, my classes, or my teachers. Most importantly, they won’t be me. I am a unique individual. I´m artist, a singer, a writer, a dancer, a cyclist, a Dane, an American. I love dogs and sunny days. I sing and give hugs to all my friends. I doodle through Spanish and eat more than any teenage boy. All of these things make me who I am. They make me different and the same.

Before I arrived I could have never imagined my life here. I’m sure I have said this before, but it’s true. Everything I have learned and gained here is because of me. I took the opportunities. I set the wheels in motion. I am responsible for how great my experience has been. I am the reason I have three amazing and loving families. I am the reason I have learned to unicycle, speak Danish, and write. I choose to be myself and find the friends that fell in love with me, just because I am me.

So, to all of you that are about to leave on your exchange, all of you who are studying your flashcards and reading these journals, to all of you who are texting your friends asking if they believe in you and your ability to handle the upcoming you; I have one thing to say. You can do it. You can, and you will. Believe in yourself. Find that sense of adventure that encouraged you to sign up and hold on to it. Don’t let it go. This year will be more challenging than any survival hand book can even begin to explain, but that’s what makes it worth it.

Yes, you will have to change, but not into something you are not. You will evolve into a more true you. You will become the person you have had deep inside you all along. You will find a strong confident side that you never knew existed.

Trust me, it will all be worth it. After all that will happen you will reach the day when you are walking along with your friends and you are talking about how weird it is to go ”home”, and all they will have to say is ”I can’t believe it, you aren’t American, you’re Danish”.

Be smart. Be safe. Be open-minded. Be happy.

May 27

It’s amazing the smallest comments can change your whole outlook on things.

Over week 8 (the winter vacation), I went back with my first family.  It was an amazing week, it was weird to be there again.  To them, it felt like nothing had changed.  To me, everything was different.  They have a new couch, new TV, my room was full of my sister’s clothes again, both my sisters were in the United States, the bathrooms were all finished, and the part that weirded me out the most, they moved all the furniture around.  Nothing was how I left it.  It was a slightly rude awakening, but soon things were back to normal; Oskar and I would wrestle, talk, watch movies, and eat far to much cake.  One day, we decided that we really wanted to go unicycling.  So, we called around looking for rides.  When every single person turn us down, we decided to shove the unicycles in trash bags and try the bus, praying the would let us on.  We grabbed some money and started walking to the closest bus stop.  Oskar was acting very worried and I really didn’t understand until he said something that made me laugh.  “I don’t know how to take the bus, I’ve taken it maybe ten times, and never alone.”  I take the bus a handful of times a week, they are all over the city.  It was so funny to me that I got to teach HIM how to take the bus.  The whole time he kept asking if I was sure about the bus, which only made me laugh more.  For once, I felt like the older sibling.  And I realized, I am.  When I got here I didn’t know anything about the city so I leaned on Oskar, but now that I know my city, HE leans on ME.

As we got closer towards the city center, I saw some girls from my school walking by the bus.  I mentioned casually to Oskar that I knew them, I didn’t think anything of it.  We reached our stop and started to walk to the warehouse that the unicycle club owns.  In the matter of feet between the stop and the warehouse who should I see but one of my really great friends Kaymi.  She’s and exchange student from Venezuela and she just happened to be in the city waiting for a ride.  We both exchanged excited hellos and rushed through a quick conversation before parting ways.  After we were out of ear shot Oskar turned to me and said “I can’t believe it, I’ve lived here all my life, 12 years, and YOU are the one who knows all these people in town!!”  I can’t even explain how overjoyed I was.  Months ago, I literally knew nobody in the city, not a soul.  And now, I walk around and see familiar faces daily.  I three great brothers, five amazing sisters, six loving parents, tons of exchange student friends, and even more danish friends.

I spent the rest of the day treasuring the fact that this is my city.  Aalborg is my city.  My home, my friends, my families, my life is here.  Of course, yes I have a life back in Florida and Philadelphia too, but they aren’t my home, not now.  I can walk this city alone and know exactly where I am going.  I can give directions, navigate buses, work the train by my self.  I can talk with shop keepers without them trying to switch to English.  I can order food, get haircuts, and return clothes without the help of somebody else, like my mom, which if you know me, is a big deal!  It could be that I’m growing up, or that I’m just comfortable here, maybe it’s a bit of both.

For all of you getting ready to go, don’t stress.  Don’t lose sleep about what to pack, about perfecting your language, about making friends, about host family gifts.  After a few months, it won’t matter, it will all be a silly memory.  After a few months, it’s real, all of it.  After a few months, you will know your city, your friends, you families.  After a few months, you will have a whole new life, one that you love, and your only regret will by similar to mine: bringing so many pairs of shoes.

June 5

Every year since I was in fifth grade, I’ve read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. Every year I find that this book has helped me.  (Now, please, nobody get offended.  I don’t want anyone to write off what I’m saying because of the title.  I respect all religious and I respect those who choose not to practice any. I promise this is not a religious entry.)  For those of you that have never read this book it’s about a pre-teen girl who moves from New York City to New Jersey, and goes through the challenge of figuring out who she is, where she fits in, and throughout her school year she finds herself pressured by herself and everyone around her to make a choice for herself.  It’s a Judy Blume book so, it is a bit silly, but this book means a lot to me.  In many ways, it mirrors my life.  I have moved around a lot in my life, I’ve been faced with the same problems and similar choices.

For those of you about to go on exchange I suggest you read it.  It will take a few hours tops.  It’s short, simple, and a quick read.  Most of you will probably just roll your eyes at this and say, “yeah, right! I just finished that crazy essay about my country AND I’m learning my language AND I’m finishing school.  I don’t have time.”  I say, shut it.  I know you have time.  I was you last year.  I did everything you did and still had time to sit in my pj’s every Saturday morning and watch Avatar the last airbender while eating pizza rolls.

I think this book would be beneficial to you all of you will be a lot like Margret.   You will be in a new place so different from home.  You will all have the parents you are living with very different opinions from your parents at home (represented by Margret’s Grandmother).  You will all experience confliction and separation from the others but you will also experience true friendship.  The thing I want you to pay most attention to, if you do end up reading this book, is her year long school project.  It is the question that is in the back of her mind all year long.  It is the question that lies under almost every decision she makes in the year.  It’s what she strives to figure out.  Whether you know it now or not, you all have one of these questions.  Some of you may have many.  I have three.  They will go with you throughout the year.  They will be the questions you think about over and over in the dead of night.  They will be what you journal about in class.  They will be hidden in the topics you choose to discuss with your new friends and families.  You will spend you year racking your brain trying to answer these questions.  Almost all students have told me at least one of their questions was “Who am I?”  These questions can be about anything important to you, sexuality, beliefs, future, what you really want, who you really care about, whether or not you are making good decisions, if the things you are doing are worthwhile.  Every person that leaves for exchange goes to learn something.  You all have your reasons for traveling.  You all have questions that are waiting to be answered; you just don’t know it yet.               

So, take my advice.  Take the time.  Turn off your TV for a few hours, and read the book. You’ll understand why in about 12 months.

June 22

This is it, this is the end.  I’ve felt it coming for a long time, but it’s finally here.  It’s the first day of my last week, and my life couldn’t be crazier.  It’s currently 2 in the morning but I have no time for sleep.  I have a laundry list of things I need to do before I leave, and somehow I’m finding the time to write this journal.  Some would say my priorities are shot. Exchange students would say “You can sleep when you’re home!”.

 Today, I’m writing for all you parents out there that are just like my mother.  Every week she would go through, read the journals, and tell me what was going on in the world.  She knew exchange students by their first names and countries.  Reading these journals was her way of preparing for what was to come.  So, today, this journal is dedicated to all you parents that are reading this now, hoping that I give you some good news, some hope, some piece of information to pass on to your child to prepare them.

What I have to say, you may not believe.  But I figure you all need to get a proper warning before it creeps up on you.

WARNING:  Your child WILL grow up!  Your child WILL become an independent adult!  Your child WILL NOT need your help! If something goes wrong YOU CAN’T help them!  Your child WILL change!  Your child WILL NOT be the same person when they get home!

And somehow, that’s all part of the beauty of exchange.  No, this is not bashing you parents.  My parents know I love them very much.  But they also have come to realize, they are no longer in my loop.  Things happen that they don’t know about until long after.  When I have a bad day, I don’t call my mom.  I hug my host mom.  When I need advice, I talk to my host dad.  Not my real dad.  When I need a haircut, I make the appointment, ride my bike there, pay with my rotary credit card, and track how much money is left in my account.  I make my appointments.  I do my homework.  I choose my curfew.  I’m a big girl now.  I can take care of myself.

All you parents out there, don’t expect to get the same person back.

Get excited about the future, because the adult that comes home will be more remarkable than you could ever imagine!

I have watched my friends and myself over the course of the year and I can honestly say, I’m proud of everyone of us.  We have all made huge steps in our lives.  We have all taken that leap out into the world.  Instead of talking about spring break and weekend parties, I discuss religion, politics, college, and what jobs I could go into with my career.  When we plan day trips we think about things like the weather, transportation, costs, and our schedule before we think about which rides, movies, or people will be there.  Lots of this, I will admit, does have to do with the fact that Danes are probably the most practical people in the world.  But in all honesty, exchange students are old souls.

You should also be ready for the unexpected.

The things we discover out here in the world can be quit unexpected and sometimes, quite shocking for those at home.  It’s unfortunate that you can’t watch us through all the stages of our changes, it would probably make things like, changes in religion, sexuality, politics, and personality, so much easier to take.  Do your best to be understanding.  You have to understand, the things we decided out here aren’t peer pressure, brain washing, or insanity.  Our water is fine.  We aren’t crazy.  We have had the time to think about this.  The decisions we make out here, we make souly for ourselves, and nobody else.  We are given the chance to see multiple points of view and choose what we truly believe.  To tell us that we are wrong and that we will understand when we are home is close-minded, and foolish of you.

My very best of friends here comes from Nebraska.  When she got here, she was extremely religious.  She would cry herself to sleep almost every night because according to her religion every single one of her new Danish friends would be going to hell.  And it didn’t make sense to her.  Throughout the course of the year, she has pulled a complete 360.  She is a totally new person.  She is a proud and out lesbian.  She has different religious views.  And she is more confident and happier than she has ever been.  All these things are good.  They are great things.  These are all tremendous progresses, but guess who didn’t get any warning of these things until AFTER they happened.  I’ll give you one guess.  Her parents.

Parents, what I’m trying to say is, don’t think of this as a year you are giving up.  Don’t think of this as a vacation, a missions trip, or a social experiment.  This is not summer camp. This is life.  This is the world.  This is change in the making.  It’s time to embrace that.  So, get ready to say goodbye to the child who stands before you today.  Get ready to say hello to the young adult that has had the chance to find themselves in the world.  Get ready to support them.  Get ready to love them.  And get ready to sacrifice some of your money, your beliefs, and your time with them so that they can find out who they truly are.  Do it for them.

It will be worth it.

And if you ever think to yourself, you can’t do it, you’re not ready, or you’re not strong enough, just think of my mom.  She has served her time.  She watched me grow up via Facebook and these journals.  And she couldn’t be more proud.

Mor og Far, tusind tusind tak!  I er den beste forælder i hele verden!  Jeg elsker jer.  Og altid jeg skal husk mit år her i Danmark.  Nu, jeg er stalt af hvem jeg er.  Nu, jeg er klar til gå ud og hav en virklige godt liv.  Nu, jeg er glad.

 Take a deep breath, cause it’s almost time.

 

Gregory “Greg” Collins
2010-11 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Benahavis-Costa del Sol Rotary Club, District 2203, Spain

Greg - Spain

Greg’s Bio

I’m so excited to be writing this bio because this means it’s official — I’m going to Spain! Since I found out this dream come true, it’s been one Wikipedia search after another to learn everything I can about anything Spanish. Jeez, Wikipedia is super addictive! I just can’t help myself because I’ve found Spain to be incredibly diverse with an overwhelming sense of fun and festivity. I CAN NOT WAIT to get started on my journey! I am so grateful for this tremendous opportunity that Rotary has given me. I plan to take advantage of every minute of it; be it running and screaming down the cobblestone streets of Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls, or merely sitting here, today, dreaming about it.

I live in the quiet suburbs of Jacksonville in a place called Fleming Island, tennis courts and pool access included. I have a mom, dad, and sister. I usually spend my time living the Florida lifestyle with lots of beach trips, sports (in the water and out of it), and no White Christmases. My father is an airline pilot so we travel a lot, but only for short trips (2 to 5 days tops), making it impossible to fully immerse myself in the culture of the foreign city and country. We stay just long enough to speed over to the city’s famous art museums and important buildings and then take off for someplace else. Of all the countries to explore I have always been the most interested in Spain and Spanish culture, and now I have the time and opportunity to fulfill that dream. With my enthusiasm and confidence I am sure I can make this dream into a workable, livable reality.

Spain has an immense amount of influence on the world and even my home state here in Florida. To see the Spanish influence on Florida you needn’t look any farther than its name. Florida actually means “land of flowers” in Spanish. They were the first explorers and conquerors of the Indian masses, taking over large parts of the Americas which (gasp!) included Florida. The many Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans who populate the state are Spanish in origin and language. Spain is the seed which all Latin American culture has sprouted from. As much as I love Latin culture, I love its mother culture even more.

Learning to speak Spanish fluently will also help me help my community. When I get back I plan to work as a translator for The Way free clinic in Green Cove. It is a great charity organization which fills basic medical needs for lower income families including many Hispanics. They need translators to make sure they clearly understand their symptoms and give them the proper medical help.

Rotary, thank you so much for choosing me to work as an ambassador of the US in Spain. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole eight months to get started on my journey.

Greg’s Journals

August 19

Y´know I think foreign exchange is kind of like skydiving. You can either start flailing and shriek´, ´´NO NO NO IM GONNA DIEEE!´´…. or you can really go for it and have the time of your life. Here I was, on a plane from Brussels to Malaga attempting to communicate with a guy that spoke neither english nor spanish and I suddenly realize….. I´m in the air.

 I LOVE YOU MOMMY!! Because my mom is probably my most avid reader, I just wanted to tell her that. Well Brussels airport was an adventure. From the urinals that are shaped like those ultra-modern egg-shaped chairs and all of extremely beautiful shops to how they liked to spontaneously change my gate to the other side of airport they liked to make things exciting. I frantically ran to the other side of the airport while Justin Bieber played over the loudspeakers.

I got to Malaga in one piece on August 14th and met my family. They´re all really great people and I´m really excited. Tatiana is 16 just like me but she´s leaving for Minnesota August 20th (sad face). La Feria del Malaga is going on now so I get to hang out with Tatiana and her friends and dance the night ,and part of the day, away. I owe you one Tati! We get home at like 6 o´clock in the morning which is just perfect for me because I´m still on US time. After so many hours every day of dancing I´ve learned how to dance! Now I know what your thinking….´´ Greg, you know how to dance now? with that plus your devilish good looks you must get all the girls!´´ The thing is actually I learned how to ¨´´dance´´, not ´´dance well´´. As any self-respecting Spaniard will tell you, there is a difference. haha

 La Feria Del Malaga is a weeklong holiday. We need more weeklong holidays in the US por favor. This holiday is made up of two parts… During the day there are festivities in the center of town. There are live performances, bull fights every day, and lots to see and do. However, that is not La Feria Del Malaga. La Feria Del Malaga is the one at night at the edge of the city. Half of the fleet of buses in the city are running to La Feria and the other half are running back to the homes. La Feria is all lights and huzzahs. It obviously has an ENORMOUS fair-like section which is definitely the biggest fair I´ve ever seen with its got four small rollar coasters and countless rides and attractions. The side we went to mostly though was even more interesting… They had set up makeshift clubs in the middle of nowhere complete with bouncers and dance floors! And I´m not just saying one or two. There are rows upon rows of these things. Each have their own unique style. The only difference between these and regular clubs is these don’t actually have ceilings…. or stable walls. ´

 So I have to admit even though I feel like a girl saying, it was really hard for me to decide what clothes to bring. I´m sorry but I just couldn’t leave without my t-shirts. wouldn’t have been right. I believe in ´´No T-shirt left behind´´ so I ended up bringing like my entire closet of them. Funny thing is, people don´t wear t-shirts outside of their homes here. No matter how classy and high-end my tuxedo t-shirt is, it just doesn´t make the cut here in Spain. One time when me and Tatiana were going out I tried to wear a very nice Ralph Lauren T-shirt. She said (in translation) ´´Get dressed´´ and I said (also translated),´´ I am dressed´´. She started freaking out like I just shot somebody and before I knew it, I was in a button down.

 Now its 5:12 in the morning here and Tatiana (plus another Spaniard going to Minnesota and the family) are heading to the airport. I was ready to go with them but either the car was too small or I was too big. Either way its time to go back to sleep. Here´s Greg signing out.

…  Here´s Greg signing on. In the last two hours I went for a run and ate a bocadillo (glorified version of a sandwich). I thought of some extra memories to tell you all about and even though I´m delusionally tired I´m writing them down. Only for you Rotary!

My next topic is an extremely serious one. I´ve come to find that Malaga is being controlled from behind the scenes by a group with potential mafia connections. Only at night can you see whos truly in power. That´s right. Cats. If your out at night in Malaga you have a right to be afraid. Not of robbers….. of rabies. Everywhere you go there are packs of these little sirens ready to strike. There are the super cute lil´ kitten ones and the semi-scary miniature pumas. All look like they just want someone to pick them up and start petting them… that is until you get in their paw zone. Then they scratch the hell out of your hand until you need serious medical attention. Do all European cities have kitty problems? Because there is definitely too many homeless cats here. If you want a new cat or two (or a dozen) don´t go to the pet store. Come to Malaga, Spain.

 So yesterday was Tatiana´s last day in Malaga, so I decided to make her a Florida style Key Lime Pie! Turns out they don´t have pie crusts in Spain (or half of the ingredients in the recipe) so everything had to be done from scratch. Pilar showed me how to make the pie crust and I figured out how to make Key Lime Pie with only half of the ingredients. We threw some extra stuff in there hoping that they would make good substitutes, and guess what? they did! Only problem was the crust was really buttery like a croissant. Butter and Lime isn´t actually the best combo so instead of eating it as a pie, we had key lime pudding. delish.

August 28

Hello America. (Or small group of friends and family. whatever.)

I´m here to explain in excruciating detail the second leg of my adventure in Spain. Because of the rave reviews (mostly from my Mom and Grandma) I have decided to write so much that upon reading it you will stand up and suddenly understand exactly how to flamenco dance… PS please don´t ask me how to flamenco dance. I have no idea.  

I didn´t know this but to dance the Flamenco you need one of those little Japanese fans. The women here not only use them when they´re flamenco dancing (which they do surprisingly seldom) but also when they do anything else. These fans have a lot of holes all over them so I´m pretty sure you don´t get much airflow from waving them around. Maybe they´re just for waving. Which is cool too.

Pictures just don’t do Ronda justice……

Yesterday, with many fan-waving women in tow, we made our way to Ronda which is the best pueblo blanco ever. A “pueblo blanco” is a town with all white buildings and they dot the andalucian countryside. Andalucia is a hot region so the people made white buildings with thick walls to insulate the buildings and keep them cool. They´re pretty much man-made caves.  Ronda is the best of the bunch with an unforgettable history and it´s own exacting culture. (I should write travel books). Looking past that it has a history going back to the Phoenicians in 900 BC and the fact that it was the birth place of bullfighting, It also looks like it´s from freakin´ Lord of the Rings. The city is built on a plateau split in two by a massive 30 story gorge with an epic bridge connecting the two. The cathedrals, a bull fighting ring with mystique, horse ride, and fantastic, unreal views. Everything was perfect. Everything minus one. Yep, tourists.

Dang tourists who aren´t me! The population of Ronda doubles in the summer because of the huge amount of day-trippers coming from the surrounding area. At least, unlike in Venice, the people like you. They are extremely happy to take your money.

The food of Spain are actually super different than I expected. Where are my burritos? Where are my jalipiño peppers? The actual food of Ronda of Andalucia and of Spain have a less obnoxious and more finessed nature to them. Less flames and more wine. I´m proud to say that I successfully tried rabo de toro (bull tail) and let me tell ya… it is delicious! It was so juicy that in the instant it glanced my tongue, it turned into a stew. (Maybe that´s because it´s like 100% fat or something) either way, its like chocolate and bacon had a baby in my mouth. I also learned how seriously the Spanish take their jamon (ham). It looks like bacon and when I said that at the restaurant, the family said if I keep talking like that I´m going to have to sit at my own table. They treat ham similar to how we treat good wine. The pigs are taken excellent care of and then they are slaughtered and mixed with salt and spices. This is then stored for several years until it is ready to eat. Unlike bacon, jamon is extremely soft like a pillow and (like the robo de toro) easily breaks down to juicy goodness. I guess the Spanish really like meat that you don´t even need to chew because this is the second one of the day.

For all you Ernest Hemingway fans (if you aren´t one you should be) Ronda is one of his favorite town and he some of his best stories were written about here. Other such notables who used Ronda as a place of inspiration for their works include Alexandre Dumas, David Wilkie, Orson Welles (buried in Ronda), and Rainer Maria Rilke. I would like to recommend you read A Dangerous Summer by Ernest Hemingway which immortalizes one of Ronda´s greatest matadors, shows you the inner struggles experienced by bull-fighters, and will make you cry while doing it. Three for the price of one.

Many of the writers look to the bull ring of Ronda for inspiration. As any true bull fighting enthusiast will tell you, the greatness of the sport is in the way the matadors gracefully dance with their powerful partners. They don´t think it is a sport at all because there is no winning or losing but is more alike to art. The Rondan bull ring is a true marvel and has been there for over 400 years.

Many people (especially in Barcelona) take a totally different view of bull fighting. Strangely, they think bulls actually have feelings like pain and that they don´t like being repeatedly stabbed with swords and spears. The response is that the bull doesn´t actually HAVE to go after the picadors and matadors, but even after getting stabbed they keep coming back for more. Also the bulls have much better lives than say…. steaks. Cows have to live in super close proximity and are killed in 9 months. Bulls get to roam the fields for several years before the fight. Also if they are exceptionally brave or don´t fight at all (whatever extreme you want) they will be allowed to go back to the fields for the rest of their life. So I dunno…. maybe I need to watch a bull fight to know which is right.

Barcelona must´ve seen a bull fight they didn´t like because they´re making bull fights illegal in Catalonia right now. Catalonian politicians are attempting to separate themselves more and more from the larger Spanish community. I´m not exactly sure what they want and I´m pretty sure they don´t know what they want either.

Systematically, all electronic devices are turning against me. When I arrived here my host family gave me a phone. I don´t have a phone anymore. Did I lose it? Did it get stolen? Did it break? No. No. And sort of. Actually my Spanish cell phone has lost it´s soul. It now wants a PIN number and it refuses to work until I get it. Problem is… I have no clue what the PIN number is. Rafael (my host dad) said he had it on a piece of red cardboard under the phone when I arrived. Ok. But we have a cleaning lady here which means that piece of cardboard didn´t have a chance. Yesterday, my camera also decided to stop working for no reason. Next was all the electricity in the house (at a time when its 104 degrees here.) I was ecstatically happy to accompany my second family on a trip to Marbella primarily because their car has air-conditioning.

I have two tourist books about Spain and both just cannot stand Marbella. One says,” Marbella, once a humble fishing village, is an eyesore filled with tacky resorts.” Good thing I´m a fan of tacky (I will take a trip to Las Vegas any day of the week). My second family is really cool and we had a great time barbaque-ing on the grill, swimming in the pool and ocean, and playing a very interesting hybrid of tennis and wall ball.

On a note of language frustration the people of Malaga have lost their S´s. Here it´s “Buena Noche” instead of “Buenas Noches. ¿Como eta? instead of ¿Como estas?. This is very confusing to me and i wish they would speak Español instead of Epañol. Thank you.

While traveling around and being with my host family I learn sooo much Spanish. but I want to learn much much more Spanish. Faster. That´s why I´m taking a two week Spanish course at the Insituto Malaca starting this Monday. Wish me luck!

November 25

I’ve started school and I´m proud to say I have mastered the English language better than anyone at my school! I can say that with confidence because 1) I can count in English higher than 20 and 2) I know all of my colors. What I´m trying to say is no one speaks any English here. Even my English teacher cannot speak English. It’s like the blind trying to teach the blind over there. I´m helping them out a lot and I´m sure I’ll have a lot more Spanish masters (by the requirements I specified above) in the next week or so.

So, I’ve been waiting with such anticipation for my first dream in Spanish but It hasn’t happened yet. Yesterday however, my whole family overheard my sleep-talking/yelling , ¨AHHHH! MISQUITOS GIGANTES!¨ and sleep-talking/not yelling ,¨uno más cuatro son cinco.¨. (how these connect im not exactly sure.) Alright asleep Greg. I say that’s close enough. Check in the box! whooo!

I´m going to make an exemption to my new ¨your not allowed to talk about things that would make people jealous¨ rule for Gibraltar. I´m sorry but that was just too amazing to leave out. They have wild monkeys! That’s right Thailand, you are not the only one. The other Pillar of Hercules in Tangier looks close enough to touch and the people there speak a sweet and sour Spanish and English mix which is my new favorite language. Who knew there are actually people who speak Spanglish as a first language? They can start the sentence in English and end it in Spanish. They are like language DJ´s….. Awesome.

PS you know that Tacky Eyesore town named Marbella that I talked about in the last segment? I live there now! I actually really like it here with it here ( I’ve seen Antonio Banderes)

The Spanish really need to fail in some sports pretty soon because this is getting ridiculous. Top in Fútbol, top in Formula 1, winner of this year’s tour de France, winners of motor racing, top of Europe in Basketball, Top in tennis….. I like sports but I can’t watch this stuff all day! I don’t why but I don’t really like being number 1 because then you’re supposed to win. It’s no fun saying,¨ Yeah, beat those underdogs! Woof woof woof! Wooow who expected the team that was expected to win, to win? INCREDIBLE!¨ Good news is I know my soccer now. No not exactly the playing part but im a great spectator. I know all the teams in Europe. Who’s good, who’s bad, and who the heck is Zlaten Ibrahimouvic. I’ll get to the ¨exactly knowing how to play¨ part of the game later. Right now there’s some Champion’s league to watch.

I´m always singing. Even when I´m not singing aloud, a song’s bouncing around in my head or at the least some kind of commercial jingle. The problem is most of my backtrack of songs are in the English language. To combat this, I have learned a complete arsenal of Spanish songs. Yes, they are mostly Disney and world cup songs….. to be fair they’re ALL Disney and world cup songs. Still worth it. They’re just so easy to learn now! =)

According to Wikipedia, only 35 percent of Spain’s citizens complete college. It has one of the worst educational programs in Europe. After reading this I was thinking, ¨ whooo hoo! eaaaasy A! (or 10. whatever.) So turns out the reason there is such a low success rate is because Bachalauriate is SO HARD. Like seriously everyone here knows how to study. 3 hours a day. every single day. I´m proud of myself if I look it over for 15 min the day of the exam.

The Spanish people are slowly but surely sabutaging my Spanish. Here they speak a dialect called Andaluz which is still considered Spanish….. just really really difficult to understand Spanish with loads of slang. Its Slanglish. As a greeting they say ¨Que paja io?¨ or ¨Que pa pisha?¨. Lets break these down for ya. The regular Spanish phrase is ¨Que pasa (nombre aqui)?¨ What happened to that? Well, the s turned into a j on the first one because the adalusion people really like j´s and ¨io¨ is from ¨tio¨ which means only uncle in Spanish,however in andaluz it means pretty much everything. ¨oye tio!¨ ¨Tioo!¨ ¨ Tioo, no deberías haber comido eso, solo era decoración tio¨. And the other one makes even less sense. Im pretty sure ¨pisha¨ means the same thing as ¨polla¨ but nothing is certain. This is Spain. Plus they really like to cuss here but its in Spanish which for some reason makes it seem totally normal to me.

Y hay algo mas? Well I’m living in San Pedro now, (a barrio of Marbella) and I´m with a really great family (they do not replace my real family but they do a nice job trying). We have Puerto Banus nearby which is a place with a great beach, six 5 star hotels, and pretty much a car show every single day along the water. I´m playing a lot of padle with my host brother at the local club. Padle has all the same rules as tennis except it is played on a smaller court and you can hit it off the walls makes it about twice as fun. Life is good. Hard and complicated but all-around good. Toda esta bien pero nada esta perfecto. I will be hearing from me by next month I promise 😉 Don’t sweat the small stuff cuz thats not what counts. You gotta keep going to what lifes all about.

March 1

I lied. You did not hear me by the next month. Sorry! I didn´t think that the journals would be so hard to keep track of when I first got here (hence two were written in the first month) but after a bit of time, it was getting much harder to separate my emotions in an easily understandable, logical manner.

Life gets really complicated really fast on exchange. I´m going to have to take AT LEAST a billion years of psychology to understand what I feel sometimes while I´m here separated from my parents and my American friends because it´s a rollar coaster. Seriously, yesterday I was crying about something and the next minute I was laughing until I cried (no, someone did not come cheer me up. yes, I am weird like that now.) I just thought of something that happened that day and it totally destroyed that great depressed feeling I had going on. I really felt good about it after I was done because I hadn’t cried since the ¨YOUR ALL ROTARY EXCHANGE STUDENTS!¨ day and the Rotex speech. After the crying and the laugh/crying it was over I looked in the mirror (Don´t tell me you don´t do that. Your face gets all red and splotchy and for some really it wills you to look at it) and felt calm about what I needed to do and how I wanted to finish the rest of my exchange year and live my life.

My family and I went to Ponferrada for two weeks during the Christmas holiday and I had the best trip and new years of my life while still having time to have the worst Christmas Eve. Life is fickle that way. We got there on Christmas Eve and I went to dinner my host parents´ parents and their friends. Now just for that to settle in my host parents are 60 and 55. Their parents and their friends are in their late 80s early 90s. It was a very strange night between getting yelled at for being American and being told how ignorant and stupid Americans are. Then I went to bed. The end. haha it´s not exactly my ideal white Christmas fantasy. The next day was much much smoother. I met the other younger half of the family and they were all extremely hilarious and distinct. There were the ones that were pro-Franco, Monarchists, anarchists, socialists, and communists (my host parents). The pro-Francos wanted me to kiss their portrait of Franco and the anarchists wanted me to burn it. I said I´d give him a handshake but we didn´t know him well enough for first base yet. This joke satisfied almost everyone so I sat there in the middle awkwardly pleased. The food was as rich and diversified as the entertainment

That night I went out with my newly met host cousin and her friends. They were really fun but I´m starting to feel doubt in Spain’s wildly inconsistent taste in music. They love techno and house music, but somehow balance that with a love for glam and hair heavy metal. The disco we went didn´t play any songs less heavy or more modern than ¨killing in the name of¨ by Rage Against the Machine. They had the Christmas Day NBA games on so, I watched Orlando Magic beat the Lakers and did victory dances to Moterhead and Metalica for the rest of the night.

The next day we went up into the mountains and on top of a giant dam. you could see of hundreds of miles around because other than the small mountain range there, Castille-Leon is as flat as Florida but without viewing obstacles such as houses or trees or life. It was actually one of the most incredible views that I had ever seen…. until I went on my daytripping tour of northeast Spain. After that the view from the dam seemed like an everyday occurrence like going to school or getting your hair cut (they just never do my hair exactly how I want it so I keep going back. I think they have a pretty good business model)

I´m just amazed how nice the people are here! They are like Canadians or something. If I ask a random person on the street where a good restaurant or tourist site is they don’t just tell me. they show me, even when the place is like 6 blocks away. It´s like ¨hey can I take 30 min out of your day so you can bring me on a mini-tour of your town?¨ ¨Why sure random American who speaks Spanish!¨ They are that cool. Things are going well and I´m looking forward to the rest of the ride.

July 6

So finally it´s here! Summer. All the Spanish have been telling me that the Costa del Sol is the place to be during the summer with David Guetta at the discos and the beaches fill up with foreigners in bikinis.

Also finally all my friends in university get back from Salamanca, Madrid, Granada, and Barcelona. I was super excited. I´m pretty sure this was one of the first things they told me. “Heeyy so were you here for summer?” “Uh no.” “Wow, man you missed out big.” Summer fun is taken very seriously here. I couldn’t wait for all the excitement to start. Too bad when they say ¨summer¨ they really mean ¨July and August¨. See, the thing is the majority of the universities in Europe don’t let out all of their students until mid- July which for me is like a year without a Santa Claus or 4th of July (read: things not really celebrated in Spain). I

I´m leaving my home here on the 5th of July so times running out for me in la Costa del Sol but I like to think that I´m making space for another person to experience this great country.

July 26

As a truly profound philosopher once noted, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know which one you’re gonna get”. Life is full of choices and results but sometimes these two do not correlate. Making a decision that seems to lead to happiness or enlightenment sometimes ends up leading somewhere unexpected. You may reach for that nice heart-shaped chocolate, which you are sure is caramel filled, only to find it to have all the charm of eating straight toothpaste.

 Foreign Exchange is like picking up that nice heart-shaped chocolate, which you are sure is caramel filled, only to find out….. it is not. At first bite you are thinking, “Hey this isn’t what I bargained for! I’m a caramel kind of guy” but then you get to the second stage of it’s sensation and it’s much sweeter than it’s initial state. It then wistfully dissolves with a bittersweet aftertaste left like a lump in the back of the throat. It’s a much more complex flavor than that mere caramel you had beseeched the chocolate gods for. You then are forced to ponder…. what if I had chosen the caramel-filled one I had so wanted? As said by the great American poet Robert Frost,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

One symptom of reverse culture shock is a newfound struggle with the English language. To my immediate frustration and my friends infinite amusement, common English words that I’ve spent my whole life speaking now oafishly stumble along like my father after the magic tea cups ride. They vomit out but never in the order nor context that I desire. I can’t even figure out a good style of writing to use for this journal. I want to play the role of the deep thinker in here but my own feelings and doubts are damaging the script!

I guess I’m going to have to get used to mixed feelings for a while. Can I seriously be pathetically overjoyed? Or happily depressed? Excited to be home but sad to have left all my friends in Spain ? There is a moment of reflection at the end of any trip but this year in Spain will probably keep me contemplative for years to come. This poem by Elizabeth Coatsworth helps put into perspective the feelings I have for Spain and the hope I feel to come back to it someday…

What is once loved

You will find

Is always yours

From that day.

Take it home

In your mind

and nothing ever

Can take it away.

With pride I can report that I am now a much greater help at the Way Clinic in Green Cove Springs. I volunteer as a translator for the medical staff and check the patients in for treatment. Without this year abroad It wouldn’t have been possible to help as much as I am now. Thankfully, with the help of the RYE Florida program I have this opportunity to volunteer at a great organization and be a benefit to our community.

THANK YOU ROTARY FLORIDA !!

 

Garrett Nickell
2010-11 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Fort Pierce, Florida
School: Lincoln Park Academy
Sponsor: Fort Pierce Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Oyama Rotary Club, District 2550,
Japan

Garrett - Japan

Garrett’s Bio

“Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.”

Hello / Hola / Konnichiwa / Aloha / Hi! My name is Garrett Nickell, and I’m 16 years young. I was born and raised right here in South Florida, and I currently attend Lincoln Park Academy High as a sophomore. However, as a junior in High School, I will be living in Japan! But before I get ahead of myself, here’s a little more about me.

I am very outspoken. If I don’t believe in something, then believe me you’ll know about it. However, I think there is a line between sharing your opinion and just being plain obnoxious. I’m not one of the ones that really blend; I have curly curly hair and I’m a huge part of my school’s drama club. I play soccer, too. Family and friends are also both such huge parts of my life. I know I’m going to miss everybody insanely, but then again you can’t live your whole life in the same place.

I have a huge range in my music taste, from metal to mellow (also I have huge crushes on Hayley Williams and Lady Gaga). I even enjoy some good movies, specifically The Uninvited and Across the Universe. I’m often caught munchin’ on some PB&J crackers (YES, AND JELLY). I am a firm believer that your appearance should never be stoic and always should be changing, and just have fun with everything that you come across, and have an open heart with all types of people and ways of life.

I know this upcoming year in Japan will be something that nothing else will compare to. The experiences I will have and the knowledge I will obtain is just mind-blowing. Right now it’s hard to comprehend where I will be in 7 months, but I’m completely up for the challenge. Rotary, thank you SO MUCH for this opportunity!

~Garrett Nickell

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” – Napoleon Hill

Garrett’s Journals

August 29

So it seems I have survived my first week of Japan without a scratch (other than that little knick I got from my Grandmother`s cat). Before I go into more detail about the present, lets go back 7 days (or I guess 8; time changes do wonders to your internal clock).

August 20th, Washington DC Dulles Airport

-My plane is about to take off. I`m sitting next to a small elderly Japanese woman who speaks no english. Zack, the other Florida Rotary Exchange Student going to Japan is in the seat behind me. He`s sitting next to a young Japanese woman who is nearly fluent in English. Figures. In 13 and a half hours, I`ll be in Tokyo, Japan. Lets just hope my family will be there to pick me up haha. I wonder if I`ll be able to sleep on this flight. I realized yesterday that my hair is getting longish, so I just learned how to say `I need a haircut, please` in Japanese and I plan on whipping that phrase out in a week or so. I`m still wearing my khakis and button down from earlier this morning, I decided to leave my uncomfortable clothes on during the 2 hour flight from Orlando to Washington DC. I took off my blazer, but I`m waiting until the flight takes off and then I`ll throw on my soccer shorts and t-shirt. Right now our plane is creeping down the runway so I suppose doing a quick-change in the funsized airplane bathroom wouldn`t be a super safe choice. Now the airplane is currently flying down the runway, making it incredibly difficult for me to write in this journal, so maybe I`ll take some time saying goodbye to the lovely landmass that is America. Until soon, Adieu.

August 20th, Some where Over Canada

-We have been in the air for 2 hours, 33 minutes and we are 34,000 feet in the air, all according to the small television set inside the back of the seat in front of me. We were just served our first hot meal. A tip for anyone planning on flying to Japan anytime soon: Always choose the pasta. We were given a choice of either chicken or pasta. I, being adventurous, chose the delicious smelling ginger chicken. Sadly, the smell was decieving and it ended up being incredibly chewy and inevitably inedible. Even the Japanese woman beside me refused to touch hers. However, they gave us a delicious oatmeal raisin cookie with the chicken so there was that small bit of heaven. Speaking of the Asian woman, she is now asleep. Normally I think sleeping seniors are cute, but my bladder is wanting to burst and she is blocking my path to the restroom and I`m too nice to wake her up. I wonder if after we have been flying for a while they would play a workout video to wake us up, maybe even Richard Simmons. There is a pimple on my face that must be popped. The plane just hit some turbulence in the sky and I looked very hopingly to the sleeping woman on my left to see if she had woken up but apparently she chugged a bottle of Benedryl and is in a semi-coma. I cannot find the Japanese word for coma in my dictionary. Maybe those do not exist in Japan. Being a very busy country, it is possible they simply don`t have time for a comatose state. If this woman does not wake up soon I might find comfort in my throw-up bag.

August 20th, still somewhere over Canada

-We have been flying for about 4 hours now. The woman beside me is still sleeping, even after I very nimbly climbed over her in my rush to the bathroom. I have a strong urge to check for a pulse. This is a very long flight. I have yet to find a workout video, let along Richard Simmons. However, Iron Man 2 is on. I have been wanting to see this for quite a long time now and I love me some Scarlett Johansson.

August 20th (or is it the 21st now?), somewhere over Alaska

-ALASKA, THE FINAL FRONTIER. Surprisingly beautiful and not completely covered in snow. I understand why Sarah Palin would want to govern there. According to my cell phone, it’s 9 PM in Florida. We have been following the sun, so outside the window it’s still the 1PM that we left during. Airplanes by B.O.B & Hayley Williams has been playing on my iPod and I just now realized the relevance. I desperately hope nobody pretends my airplane is a shooting star. Whoooooa halfway there, WHOOOOAAAA LIVIN ON A PRAAAYER.

August 20/21, over the Bering Sea

-We have been flying for almost 9 hours now. I’m trying to sleep but I can’t. I feel like death.

August 21, Pacific Ocean

-I can’t believe I have written so much on this flight. I feel like Al or whomever will be posting this will have a heart attack when they see my hourly journal entries. However to make it easier on them I will try very hard to type with good grammar/spelling. I just chowed down on a delicious turkey sandwhich, my last airplane meal. I can see the outline of mountains in the distance through the fog (or is it smog?). So it has finally hit me. I am an exchange student, and I will live in Japan for a year. All these months of preparation will finally be put to use in about 30 minutes. Who knows what will happen after that? Well, other than Rotary. They know everything.

August 21, Mama’s house

– It was about 3:37 PM. After going through Customs and baggage claim completely shell (or culture) shocked and bleary eyed, I was greeted by 5 smiling Japanese people. The exceptionally short one, a girl that looked to be a little older than my little sister, was holding a sign that said, “GARRETT NICKELL”. The woman who looked to be about my mother’s age grabbed my hand and told me to call her ‘Mama’, and then told me she speaks very little english. Also in the group was Mama’s father, and two rotary members. She told me that it takes about 2 hours via car to get from Tokyo to our home, in Oyama. There isn’t much I remember from that car ride. I found out that my host little sister’s name is Kaho. She’s 12. I also have a brother named Hiro who is 13, and another sister named Chi who is 17. I was taken to my first restaurant in Japan, and ironically my first meal was beef and potatos. I’m surprised I didn’t fall asleep. When we got home they showed me my room, and I met Chi and her boyfriend, Tatsuki. Both very stylish looking and nice. I have a feeling they`ll be my friends. I called my mom for a little bit, then took a shower (which was very very confusing). Japanese word of the day: Oyasuminasai – Goodnight.

August 22nd, Mama`s house

Japanese word of the day: Atsui – Hot

-I love my house. It has a piano, which Mama, Kaho, Chi, and Omama (grandmother) all know how to play. Today I started learning Kanon by J. Pachelbel, which is one of my favorite piano pieces. I’m starting to pick up little japanese words here and there. Of course, dictionaries and translators are VERY handy. This morning, Mama, Chi, and I went to church. Last night Mama asked me if I was Jewish. She said she knew a man from Florida who was Jewish and therefore assumed all floridians were Jewish. I told her no, I go to a Christian church. Mama’s family is Protestant. Imagine my surprise, going to Japan and being placed with a Protestant family. The church we went to was more like a room in an apartment building. Apparently Catholic churches in Japan are bigger. It is very hot outside, and the Japanese love to say so. Whenever outside, they constantly say, “ATSUI ATSUI ATSUI”. However, once inside, they don’t always turn on the air conditioner. Odd. At church I was introduced to everyone and was given an English bible. There was a lot of singing and many words I didn’t understand. However, courtesy of the priest, I was given the day’s message in English: God Leads Us. Church got out at 12 and we walked to a Temple. They were setting up for a festival which is happening tomorrow night. Candles everywhere and many decorations. Everything was very beautiful. After we went to the temple I met my younger brother, Hiro. Tonight Tatsuki came over for dinner and all of us kids hung out in my room and I showed them all my stuff. We took a lot of pictures together with my macbook haha. Chi and Tatsuki want to take me all over and go shopping a lot, which is fine by me. Tomorrow shall be busy busy. Oyasuminasai!

August 23rd,  (home)

-Today I woke up early to the sound of fireworks. When there is nobody around to distract her, Mama likes to feed me large amounts of food. Today I went shopping with Mama, Chi, Tatsuki, and Kaho. Tatsuki and I broke off and he showed me his favorite stores. We took pictures in the Japanese photobooth thing where everything is super kawaii (cute) and bright and your skin looks like butter. Each day I learn more Japanese, thanks to Mama and Chi and Tatsuki all knowing a little Englis