Outbounds 2014-2015

Read our exchange students’ journals below. Only students submitting two or more journals are included here.

Alexyz - Germany

Hometown: , Florida
School: William R. Boone High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Orlando-Evening, Florida
Host District: District 1940
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Berlin-Lilienthal

My Bio

Halo! My name is Alexyz. I was born and raised in Orlando Florida, and I am currently enjoying my senior year at Boone High School. The fascinating thing is that this is only my third year of high school, and now I am going abroad to enjoy another senior year in Germany. Two senior years? Sounds ideal right? In my high school, I am highly involved in our Sound of the Braves Marching band. Many people do not know that marching band is an American activity and I know I will definitely miss mixing band with a field. In the spring, I play water polo on our Varsity team and I am curious to find out wether or not I will have the chance to play water polo at my high school in Germany. I absolutely cannot wait to have the time of my life in Germany. This opportunity still sounds too good be true, like I will wake up from this wonderful dream of life. But reality will hit me soon. I know being an Outbound student will be one of the most fun and rewarding events in my life, but that does not mean it will be easy. I have my first language camp coming up this weekend, and I am ready to tackle this challenge head on.

Asia - Argentina

Hometown:Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:St. Augustine, Florida
Host District: District 4845
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Puerto Iguazu Cataratas

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Asia Hayes and next year I will be going on exchange to Argentina and I couldn’t be happier! The Big Reveal Ceremony was an assortment of emotions that lasted until my name was called, I then introduced myself in octaves I didn’t know I could produce. When the rebound student reached for the Argentinean flag I was ecstatic, and compelled to do a jig in response to all of the emotion. Argentina was my number one choice. As a sophomore I had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica with my class and fell in love with the language, I’m studying my fourth year of Spanish and can’t wait to put it to use. I am currently a senior at St. Augustine High School in the town of St. Augustine. I moved here 3 years ago from Arizona and it has grown on me, not to mention I have become quite the food connoisseur due to the convenience of downtown being only 10 minutes away from home. I live with my mom, dad and older sister Amaris who is currently on exchange in Brazil, along with my little buddy Max, our 10 year old beagle who is my greatest pal. I am very involved at school, I was elected as a senior class officer, am a part of the Swim and Tennis team as well as the AICE program. I am very easy going and love to laugh and have fun. I am so grateful to be a part of this program and thankful for the opportunity that has been granted to me, along with being placed in my dream country. I cannot wait for my journey to begin, because I know the next few years will be jam packed with oodles of fun and excitement.

 Journals: Asia – Argentina

Asia, outbound to Argentina

Ok so apologizes are officially in order. SORRY, SORYY I have fallen off the grid. With that being said you are about to embark on a 2 month journey of my life in words. For starters, if you are going to South America learn to dance…please it will save you many nights sitting in the room of your new house you-tubing how to do a basic two-step. In all honesty I thought at the bare minimum had rhythm, that notion quickly disappeared when I realized what I was dealing with. Like guys words really cannot express the artistic level they are on. So just try to put some effort I feel it’s less shameful if you practice before you leave. No, but in all honesty if you act like you know how to dance and you are having fun no one will ever know that 7/10 of your dance moves were taken from you tube.

Future Floridians to become culturally Argentine you will inadvertently become a meat connoisseur. Prepare to eat any and all parts of a cow. I say this in all sincerity any…and all parts. I have fully enjoyed this part of my Argentine life because I have learned a new skill that I like to call “meat-jargon” I mean how many people do you know who can describe meat to you other than a butcher. How many of you even know a butcher to explain those things because I know I don’t. But I will say being vegetarian is a strong possibility for my future because I have just felt really carnivorous lately if that even makes sense. But trust me you will see.

Since the end of November I have been on summer vacation and I will say the time has gone by so incredibly fast. Which is so scary, in reality I don’t think I have ever been so scared of time. I don’t want anything here to end and I cannot even start to imagine going back to the United States at this point. This may be one of the most meaningful summers I have had thus far. I thought it would be the one before my exchange year you know, the summer where I knew I was saying bye to my old life and preparing to enter a new one but with this summer coming to a close I realize it’s now in this moment where I have decided that things really aren’t always as they seem and it’s in this phase of my life that I have really just gotten to sit back and live doing things that I normally wouldn’t and just letting go a little bit. Or a lot a bit.

But you know you really cannot describe exactly what it is you feel because it isn’t like you come on exchange and everything is there for you. You leave your troubles of the U.S. behind but you take on a new set of troubles. You’re not living in la-la land on exchange it may seem like it at first but then you actually have to start dealing with life again just like always only this time you have new things to overcome and new things to think about and I think it’s that that makes your exchange you are learning to just deal with life from every possible angle. But you do start to notice it like the changes in yourself, you start to see that you’re getting better, you’re opening up and you’re taking in everything there is to learn.

During this summer I cried for the first time during my exchange. And when I say cry it’s not like my tearing up during New Year’s Eve. This was a full on 12hr cry that began at night and carried into the morning and a much needed one to be honest. Like many have said exchange isn’t easy. I can’t speak for every one currently on exchange right now but I know for me I had just gotten to a point where I needed to just cry. And afterwards I did feel better it was kind of like my reset. Like I started to feel like okay it’s time for me to make some changes and to just get the show on the road I guess you could say. And lucky for me because I have an amazing family here that helps me through it all.

Like words cannot describe the gratitude I have for them and it’s amazing how you can go your whole life not knowing that a group of people exist that you could care so much about. They have a permanent spot in my heart and I could not be happier to end up in this home. Every member has such a different personality and they come together so perfectly and I can honestly say I couldn’t imagine my life without them in it because they are the biggest reason my exchange has been the best time of my life.

This coming Monday I will be back in school. There really isn’t much to say on the subject because well it’s school. But I am so incredibly excited to go back to the primary school to help with English! I have so much fun there and I can’t wait for the next five months with those kiddos. Well I think I have touched on all the monumental thoughts and moments during this summer. So until next time guys. Chau Chau!

Asia Monet Hayes
(P.S. sorry for my lack of photos for I am a wreck and have managed to break every source of uploading photos I will try to fix ASAP)

 Sat, February 28, 2015

Wow okay so four months in “The Tina” and good news guys I’m still happy! It’s weird because I can feel the half way mark creeping up on me and I’m not sure if I’m ready for those emails of returning home. And the thought of Argentine empanadas coming to an end almost puts me into tears. But I haven’t gotten any emails so I still have time to gorge myself on this delicacy.

Every time I think of writing my journal I say okay to mention empanadas or not to mention empanadas but like I just can’t help it they are SO good on a slow week I consume at least 12. Yes, I know. I am ashamed and embarrassed but there are no support groups for this addiction. But it’s not just the empanadas. It’s the ice cream too. I told myself I would not bring bad habits to the Tina but I did! I ate so much so much ice-cream before coming to Argentina and now I do the same here. Like I just wish that the crew at the ice cream shop rotated a little more because now they know my face, every single employee which is equally as embarrassing as my empanada consumption.

I wish I was exaggerating but it’s gotten to the point where my host family makes jokes about the fact that my diet consist of only two foods and my host dad had a conversation with me about maybe eating other Argentine staples besides empanadas and it’s obviously a problem considering that I have dedicated so much of my journal talking about food. My New Year’s Resolution last year was to not have a Resolution but maybe I should and that will be not mentioning empanadas in my journals anymore. But New Year’s Resolutions are meant to be broken right?

So I made it to through the holidays. On a scale of 1 to emotional wreck I was about a 3. They really did not phase me too much to be honest. Thanksgiving was spent in Patagonia and I didn’t even realize Thanksgiving had passed until it was Black Friday, Christmas was like a normal day for me along with the whole month of December there were no Christmas tunes, no Santa, and no tree which was a little different for me because usually during Christmas my mom likes to get really HGTV creative with decorations.

And then there was New Year’s Eve which the whole day I felt a little emotional but I keep saying to myself I’m fine, I’m fine. And then it was midnight and I realized I was not fine and I got a little… a lot teary eyed during fireworks. I’m not sure how much of the tears were from missing home and how much came from being so grateful to be celebrating with my new family.

Exchange is a really special thing you can’t always put everything into words, and sometimes you can’t even figure out for yourself what your feeling. It’s just like okay here I am doing something that I never really thought could happen and I wonder like was this always written for me because even on my bad days it seems like something right falls into place shortly thereafter. and right now I have gotten to a place where walking in my city is starting to feel less like Stairmaster, the language is coming along, and I can honestly say there is no place I would rather be right now in my life.

Wed, January 7, 2015

First and foremost congratulations to the new RYE Florida 2015-2016 Exchange Students! As I have just completed my third month I can honestly say that you will not regret your decision to take on this great challenge and you should be very proud that you have been selected to have this amazing experience. With that being said I want to start this journal with a tid bit of advice based on my experiences thus far:

Be sure to focus on your own exchange. Each and every exchange is different and unique to each exchanger. When you read these journals of the countries that you may be sent to or when you get further into the process and begin coordinating with one of the current outbound students remember these stories and experiences are unique to that person and you have to live your exchange for you. In my first journal I mentioned that I didn’t have expectations for my exchange but I think I was wrong. No, I didn’t have expectations for my country or the culture but I think I had expectations for my life as an exchange student.

Here in Iguazu I am the only exchange student so I don’t have that exchange family network that most of us experience which lead to loneliness in the first month and a half and spending a lot of time eating empanadas alone looking at all of my fellow outbound students and their photos and stories and the friends they all seemed to have wondering why I was so alone and why my life didn’t look like theirs and I honestly was just a little down in the dumps. But then at some point I knew I had to put the empanadas down and look at my exchange for me. Here I was, sad and wallowing in my own sorrows when I am living in the most beautiful country in the world minutes away from one of the Seven Wonders of the World and three different cultures to learn about right at my fingertips! I knew I had to turn things around because this is my exchange and it shouldn’t be compared and it can’t be compared to anyone else because this exchange is for me and only me and loneliness is just a waste of time. Once I realized that I was happier because I knew I was living my exchange though I couldn’t get myself to put the empanadas down I am sure it only contributed to my happiness. So guys I cannot press this enough make sure you live this exchange life for you and only you because it’s your experience to have for the rest of your life.

Now, as for me a mini update
1. I have become more comfortable butchering every other word in Spanish than speaking in English
2. My name pronounced in English sounds like the Spanish word for her “Ella” because the double “L” in Argentina makes a “shhh” sound which causes a lot of confusion when people are speaking.
3. I still love empanadas and facturas
4. I went from have no host siblings to nine
5. Once I was introduced as the cousin of Obama, I am not.
7. Finally saw the Falls
6. I WENT TO PATAGONIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chau Chicos
Asia
Sun, December 14, 2014

One month has passed which seems too soon, but I couldn’t be happier with the way in which my time has been spent.

Today marks one month in Argentina, and it is absolutely beautiful. It is a big change of pace here, everything is just calm. There is a lot of time for me to just breathe. I surprised myself at how quickly I just morphed into a new routine, despite the obvious language barrier everything just seems the way it is supposed to be. I didn’t experience this huge culture shock or anything near it I mean there are subtle differences in culture yes but, I didn’t skip a beat, When in Rome do as the Romans do.

I arrived her on the 7th of September and started school on the 8th, so maybe it is just that I did not have time to think about the fact that I had left my life in the United States and I was starting a new one. But, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation I’d had earlier in the summer about the sense of home. I’ve moved a lot within the States and out of the four I have lived in none of them have truly felt like “home”, and maybe I am just trying to find it here, in Argentina so there really was not much motive for me to have any reservations. I just hit the reset button, and arrived here with a completely open mind.

For the most part I have an established routine. I go to Colegio Argentino Americano where I am in the fifth grade, the equivalent of being a High School Senior. My classmates are all very nice as well as all the students in the school and, I am very glad to be finishing out the school year with them.

There are about 20 students in my class including myself, a big difference from graduating with a class of about 400. It makes for a different school environment because it seems like everyone is happy to be with one another and because they are such a small group it makes for genuine friendships. Not saying that I wasn’t happy with my classmates last year but, there was no way I was friends with all 300 + of them. Not even close, half.

My classes are a bit different because they are all business oriented and my Spanish business vocabulary is nonexistent so I am lost. But, I have a Spanish Literature class which is like a breath of fresh air because some of the words are similar to the English and I can almost always figure out the notes without translating. I’m not very shocked that my favorite class in the U.S. continues to be my favorite class even, in a different langue which leads me to Point B.

Numbers are numbers everywhere and unfortunately that is also a class I understand, on the first day they covered one of the few math topics I actually can comprehend and in excitement I revealed this, I should not have because just as I assumed math is still my least favorite subject.

After school I have lunch with my host family. It is just myself and my host parents, they have three sons two of which are in College in another province and then one who is currently on exchange in Florida! They are very kind and I am very thankful for them welcoming me into their home. Lunch, and food in general is very good. VERY, VERY good. I could live off of Empanadas and Facturas for the rest of my life but aside from eating a good meal the best part of my day happens after lunch.

On weekdays from 2-5 I go to the primary school and help teach in two English classes, and it is so much fun, words cannot describe. I can honestly say that the happiest moments I have had so far in my exchange have been in the 5th and 4th grade class of the primary school. Right now they are practicing for their Spring Art Show that’s coming up in the next few weeks and they are doing a play of the movie “Frozen”. And I don’t know but sometimes emotions just sneak up on me at weird moments and the other day when they were practicing I just started to tear up a little. Not because I was homesick or anything but they were just so happy, which in turn made me very happy. Grant it I am a crier, but these were really tears of happiness. The moment also inspired me to maybe finish the movie and appreciate the song “Let it go” a little bit more. I truly am very happy at the school and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be there.

One month has passed which seems too soon, but I couldn’t be happier with the way in which my time has been spent.
Chau.
Asia

P.S.
To all the Floridians in Brazil: Now, I am obviously not in Brazil but, my town is very near the border and. My joking title as “Honorary Brazilian” has manifested itself into my exchange, Brazil, is close enough for me to see the land of Brazil from my backyard. Literally.

Sun, October 5, 2014

Bailie - Belgium

Hometown:Jacksonville, Florida
School: Sandalwood High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:East Arlington Jacksonville, Florida
Host District: District 1630
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Liege Cite Ardent

My Bio

Bonjour! My name is Bailie Staton and I am going to Belgium! I am 17 years old and will be 18 /19 on my exchange. I am a senior at Sandalwood High School and I cannot wait to start this new chapter in my life! I have one older brother and One older sister. My sister is living in New Zealand and my brother is in college. My parentss and my siblings are all very supportive about this process and wish me the very best. I love to play soccer and I played for my school but due to an injury I had to stop. But now, I focus most of my time on writing. I love to create stories in my head and jot them down whenever I can. This next year of my life will be a big one. I chose Rotary Youth Exchange because they are the best. They put everything they have into it and won’t stop till their students succeed. I am hoping to tackle learning another language, kick homesickness’s butt, and ultimately grow in ways that I never could have if I don’t take this opportunity. I am counting down the days till I land in the beautiful country of Belgium.

 Journals: Bailie – Belgium

May in Belgium

Since Belgium doesn’t have a Eurotour, they split us into two groups. We could either go to Spain for 10 days, or to Italy for 10 days. I went to Spain with all the other gringos, and all the Latinos went to Italy. And those 10 days were probably the best days of my life. We were crowded in this tiny bus driving 20 hours from Belgium to Salamanca, Spain. Sleeping, eating, and annoying each other the whole way. Another kid from Florida, David Newman, brought his bongo drums and didn’t stop playing them till 1am and another time when at 3 in the morning, my friend Zoe from Kansas wouldn’t be quiet and another kid from Canada threatened to throw her out the window if she couldn’t keep her mouth shut while we all were trying to sleep.

But every day of the trip we had something to do like touring castles, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, met the Real Madrid team (well, we saw them from afar) then we got the rest of the day to explore and go tourist shopping if we wanted. Well, in comes these too Aussie newbies that I’ve never met before. Steph and Jessica, I ended up rooming with them the rest of the trip and still today they are my absolute best friends.

I can’t even put into words how amazing that trip was. When we were in Madrid, at night we had some free time till midnight. And our hotel was in the city center across from the Royal Palace, so we were out singing in dancing barefoot in the Royal Park 100 feet in front of the Palace. We almost got in trouble because our game of Duck Duck Goose got a little too noisy. At that hotel there was a group of American high school kids on an EF tour from South Carolina and they had the most southern boondocks accent that I haven’t heard in so long. I got homesick right then. But it was kind of cool explaining to them that we’re here in Spain on spring break and they all said in unison “You live in Europe?!” I guess it would be kind of dull for them to visit Europe just for a week and fall in love with it, then have to go back home to The States.

But the last night of the trip, our hotel was right on the beach in Barcelona. We all sat on the beach and watched the stars. Some of us even jumped in the freezing cold water, and then ran back to the hotel for a hot shower. But that night was one of the best nights of my life. Everyone was so happy and carefree that I was wondering what it would be like without these guys in my life and I just couldn’t picture it. They all have dug their claws deep into my heart and its going to be the worst thing in the world to say goodbye.

But here it is, the time has come to where I have less than a month in this tiny little country. 27 days to be exact. And even though I love it here, I am so ready to come home. The Spain withdrawals are over and now the anxiousness of seeing my friends and family is setting in. I can’t wait for a steady stream of heat waves, sweat stains, and sun tan lines from being at the beach all day. (And real fruit that doesn’t taste like artificial chemicals).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss this place like crazy and there will always be a place in my heart for Belgium. But now my comfort zone is calling me. My family and friends are waiting for me and I think 10 months is an appropriate time to start wanting real southern style Sweet Tea again. Just knowing that I’m going back makes the cravings set in.

Looking back on my exchange, 10 months is a lot longer than I thought it would be. It seems like I’ve been here for years. I wish I had more philosophical things to say about my time here, but I think I’m still in shock that it’s already over. The fall months went by so slow, and now the spring months are going by in a blink of an eye.

I know that soon I will be wearing my blazer, which weighs a whopping 6 lbs will all my pins on it, at Brussels International Airport boarding my flight to come home to the good ‘ole U.S. of A. I’ll hug my host family, and then go cry with all my other exchangers who made the trip out to the airport to say goodbye to me. It’s going to be really hard to walk through those gates and possibly never seeing them again. They are what made my exchange unforgettable. They filled my memories with happy times, comforting times, and the best times of my life.

 Tue, May 19, 2015

So, its been a while since I’ve made one of these journals. Ive been wanting too for a while but whenever I would try to sit down and write it, I could never describe what I was feeling.

I was happy that my dad was coming to visit me, sad because my Aussie friends had finished their exchange and left this country, alone because my new host family isn’t as interactive as my last, and confused whether or not I want to stay here forever with all my new friends or go home to my comfort zone.

But I do know one thing, this experience is ending too quickly.

Its been 7 months and its gone by in a blink of an eye. This truly has been the greatest time of my life so far. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve screamed, I’ve danced to Stromae (famous Belgian singer) with 300 people, I’ve eaten so much Turkish food I couldn’t move, I’ve ran to catch numerous buses, I’ve caught trains at 4 in the morning, I’ve seen the world from another person’s point of view and I can never see it my old simple way again. This world is so much more beautiful than my little corner of this Earth.

I don’t feel homesick as I did in my last journal, I’m finally comfortable calling this place home. I’ve lived in Belgium for for over half a year and this country will always hold a special place in my heart along with everyone in it. I’ve made too many amazing memories to just say it was a year when I was 18.

I am truly proud to call myself American and thankful for everything I have, but I never want to be a part of my culture again. I want to be everything. I want to be a part of this entire world. Being an exchange student is the greatest accomplishment of my life. I go home in 3 months, I don’t know how I’m going to survive.

I had a little taste of home all last week when my dad came to visit me. Reverse culture shock at its finest. I never noticed the little things that were so “American” that he did. The way he dressed, the way he talked, the way he viewed things. I was so shocked that I could see an American man from a European’s point of view. I have actually switched my way of thinking and its kind of awesome.

 Sun, March 15, 2015

Yesterday was my 4 month anniversary in Belgium and I still can’t believe how fast it is going. It seems like yesterday I just stepped off the plane into this magnificent country. These few months have probably been the most influential and rewarding months of my entire life. I have caught countless buses, had many lost in translation conversations in French, taken day trips to different countries with some of my best friends, made a huge Thanksgiving dinner for all of my host families, gotten lost in Christmas Markets, and learned some very valuable lessons that I had to learn the hard way. But as we were warned the holidays is a time in the exchange when many exchange students start going over a bumpy road.

I remember at the June Orientation when Rotary told us, “It’s not ‘if’ you get homesick, its ‘when’.” That phrase has been in the back of my mind since this past Thanksgiving, I knew these next few months were going to be hard, so I tried to put on a brave face.

I am having the time of my life in this frozen wonderland, but the homesickness is starting to sink in. Rotary here tries to keep us busy because they know a lot of us are struggling, but it still hits you like an oncoming train.

I was sitting in Chemistry class a few weeks ago, the teacher was going on about scientific waves to the class when I noticed something. I saw a shine in my eye and when I looked down I saw the that the girl next to me was a wearing a Pandora bracelet. She had a bunch of beautiful charms surrounding it. My mom wore Pandora bracelets and during this time of the year I would be buying her a new charm for Christmas. That was all I needed to start crying in the middle of class.

It’s that easy.

Something so small can bring back so many overwhelming emotions. A smell, the way someone laughs, a dream, seeing someone who looks familiar, even a car honk can set it off. It’s a ticking time bomb. And when it explodes, no one knows how big it’s going to be.

When Rotary said not to dwell on it and to get out and do something to take your mind off of it, they meant it. It has helped me immensely these past few weeks.

And that’s one of the reasons why I love Belgium. There are so many things that can keep your mind busy. Ice skating in the town center, shopping in the Christmas Markets, drinking hot chocolate with another homesick exchange student in a pub that was built 600 years ago, or even hopping on a train to go on a day trip to Paris, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, or England. The options in this small little country are endless.

Fri, December 19, 2014

I picked up Austin Carroll, a filmmaker from RYE Florida, at the train station. She came here to film me, my school, my friends, and all the 300 exchange students in Belgium for her Documentary and to shoot a promotional video for RYE Florida. She accompanied me to school, which was kind of a nightmare from the administrators to let her film, and came to my house where she gave the initial interview. The next day I met her back at the train station, all dressed in my RYE blazer for a Rotary day in Namur. On the train to the event, Austin got to meet two other RYE Florida kids and they got to share their experiences as well.

Overall, her visit made me a little homesick. But when she sent me the promotional video to watch, I almost cried. This experience is so much more than a bad host family. Its about building your own family from all over the world. She got to put our crazy selves onto video to see how students from so many backgrounds and languages come together to make friendships that are lifelong.

And later this week me and all those crazy exchange students are going to London with Rotary and were definitely going to make it the best 4 days of our lives

Sat, October 25, 2014

I’ve gained 5 pounds on waffles and chocolate alone.

I don’t even know how to begin to explain my adventure so far. I have been here for 35 days and it only feels like I’ve been here an hour.

Saying goodbye to my family was probably one of the most bittersweet things I’ve ever had to do. Watching my parents cry made me cry all the way to Atlanta. But, I arrived with another exchange student from Florida, Savannah Stephens, and another girl named Megan from New Jersey. The flight was long and the grown man kicking my chair the whole way was getting on my last way, but the anxiousness was too overwhelming to do anything about it. When we got off the plane, I lost sight of the two girls with me and followed the crowd to the Immigration line. Little did I know that there were two lines, one for EU citizens and one for others. Guess which one I got into and had to backtrack all the way to the back of the right line.

We arrived early in the morning so my host parents decided to show me around Brussels. I saw the Royal Palace, the Royal Art Gallery, we had hot chocolate in a bar built in the 16th century in the Grand Place, saw Mannequin Pis and his “sister statue” that was a little girl peeing. I was amazed at how well the architect recreated the female genitalia to the point where it was a little uncomfortable…

My first few days I was overwhelmingly tired, but within those days, I met the other two families I will be living with and I was welcomed with open arms. They laughed at me when they saw my face after eating a piece of uncooked red meat, which is a “normal” meal here. Thank god this place is known for waffles and chocolate, because I don’t think I will be enjoying the red meat dinners that much.

Since Belgium is such a small country and there are many exchange students here, we all go to festivals and hang out a lot with each other. After school we meet in the city for lunch or spend the night at each others houses. I see the other RYE Florida kids every couple weeks and it’s nice to have someone to go to complaining how cold it is here and they actually understand because they’re just as cold as you are!!!!

In my host family I have two sisters, one in my grade one a few grades younger. After school we all go our separate ways and end up at home at different times. Every Tuesday and Thursday I get home real late because I take a French class in the center of Liege from 6-9pm and then take the bus home. I finally fall into bed around 11 and then wake up 8 hours later for high school.

For school, I wake up at 7am, my host mom drives all three of us kids to school, its about 45 degrees outside, and go until 4:20pm. I have 11 classes in total but the Belgian School system is so unorganized compared to the States that I have to ask my Belgian friend to help me with understanding what forms I am supposed to be constantly filling out.

I have become best friends with the English teacher. She is so witty and sarcastic and has the greatest responses to questions I’ve ever heard. And the funny thing is that the kids don’t understand what she’s saying in the first place and when I am bending over my desk laughing so hard, they just look so sad and confused. Its quite entertaining.

But my classmates have welcomed all six of us exchange students into their school so easily. Were all friends and they are coming to us for help with their English and at lunch we all eat on the steps outside and we all joke around with each other as we give them hard English words to pronounce and then they talk to us really fast in French and me and this exchange student from Finland with AFS just looked at each other like he was trying to communicate but the gibberish words were alien to us. But my favorite time is when they ask me stereotypical questions about America.

  1. Do you know Beyonce?
    2. Do you know any gangsters?
    3. Have you ever seen a terrorist attack?
    4. Did you bring any guns?

My favorite time with references to guns….My host mom was driving to the supermarket and some guy pulled out in front of her and she slammed on the brakes and started honking the horn and cussing in French. She whipped around to me and screamed, “BAILIE! GET YOUR GUN!”

Rotary here is so relaxed compared to the United States. We laugh, make jokes, and have a good time at the meetings. I tell them funny stories and it doesn’t even feel like a meeting. It’s just friends hanging out in a really fancy room with everyone wearing plaid sweater vests and suede shoes, sipping on their wine with their pinkie up.

Everyone here is so graceful but that gracefulness does not transfer over to their driving. I literally say a prayer every time I get in the car here. The cars come within inches of each other and my host sister laughs when she sees me wince at the closeness of impact that had just happened.

And now onto the Language. I have come to realize that French may well be the hardest language in the world. I’m starting to understand what’s being said to me now, and though I’m trying my hardest to speak back in French, the amount of smiling and nodding I’ve done should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. But it’s only my first month, I still have 9 more to go and a lot more to learn.

The first month in Belgium has been a complete success with Culture Shock but I’m having the time of my life here:)

Sun, September 21, 2014

Blaine - Japan

Hometown:Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:Daytona Beach West, Florida
Host District: District 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Yashio

My Bio

Hello! my name is Blaine Kinne and i am from Ormond Beach Florida, and i’m going to Japan. I am currently a senior at Seabreeze High School, and will graduate in the class of 2014. I have wanted to be an exchange student for quite some time, although i can’t believe that i am one now! My sister was an exchange student who went to Brazil, and all she could do for months, even still now, is talk about her year there. I am very involved in my high school campus. I am currently Co-Editor of my high school yearbook. For the past four year I have been the head photographer for the yearbook, and have also contributed to the newspaper. I am lead lights manager for the school auditorium where all school performances are held. I have only been out of the country once when my family went to Italy for the summer. This trip inspired me to want to travel more. I am so excited for the opportunity to travel to Japan! Thank you Rotary for offering this amazing experience to me and I hope to be able to gain knowledge from living in Japan. I can’t express my gratitude to everyone at Rotary!

 Journals: Blaine – Japan

Hello again everyone!(みんなこんにちは) So I have already move host families to my third host family. I really can’t believe how fast the time has gone. I feel like the past three months went by in just a few weeks. I have experienced a lot since I’ve been here, and learned so much. In the journal I’m going to try to focus on the new things I have experienced since I’ve been here.

One of the best I can think was the first time I saw snow! Living in Florida my whole life I never really had a chance to see it. About two months ago, two Rotarians took me to a place called Nikko, which is about two and a half hours away just so I could see snow! On our way there I fell asleep in the car and when I woke up everything was pure white. I stepped out of the car and almost immediately fell. Snow is a little slippery I found out.

We walked around a small town, and then they took me to an outdoor Onsen. For anyone who doesn’t know what an Onsen or (温泉) is, it is a public bath where everyone sits in nice hot water. I was a little shy the first time I ever went to one but I’m not anymore. The outside Onsen was really interesting I thought. I was sitting in really hot water but my head was freezing because it was snowing outside. That was a very fun day full of new experiences.

Another thing I thought was just kind of funny. My second host family and I would commonly go to a sushi restaurant near our house. At this restaurant you order on a screen and the food is brought to you on a small train. It’s very cool. On the menu they have sections and one of them is a side menu with such things like French fries and fried octopus. I noticed last time I was there that they had chicken wings. It has been 6 long, long months without chicken wings, so I mentioned something to my host dad so of course he orders them. When they arrived without even thinking about it, I started eating these chicken wings with my chopsticks… my host dad probably thought I was crazy when I started laughing really hard when I realized what I was doing. He too was eating them with chopsticks so I had to explain that in the U.S. we eat them with our hands. My girlfriend back in the U.S. said before I left that I would come back eating everything with chopsticks and I’m now starting to believe that statement.

The last one I will talk about in this journal was the moment I felt like Japanese for a few seconds. I was sitting at the table with my counselor talking about my upcoming move. I was telling her that the next week my school was having tests. (When my school has tests I don’t have to go). She didn’t know that the next week were tests and thought I was joking and I immediately responded with a very Japanese response. Everyone in the house stopped and went “oooooo” and then started laughing. They all told me I sounded very Japanese and I was so happy. It may not sound like too much but for an exchange student that means almost everything.

 Mon, March 2, 2015

Hello everyone! Sorry for the big gap (Mrs. Cameron). But a lot has happened these last few months. Since I last wrote I have changed host families. Most of my fellow exchange students have also changed host families, and let me tell you… It kind of sucked. Now I have been with my second family for two months now and everything is great! Its just me my mom and my dad and I’m really bonding with them, however those first couple weeks all I wanted to do was go back to my first family. The weird thing was I was kind of excited to move and experience a different view of Japan with a different family, but when I first changed its like I felt a whole new kind of homesick. That was something I didn’t really expect to feel, and I’m sure I will feel it again when I leave this family.
The holidays were not as hard for me as I thought they would be. Christmas Eve I had school which I was not a fan of. On Christmas I woke up and had breakfast just like every other day. I went to my first host families house and spent the majority of they day there. Christmas was actually very nice. I made them my favorite meal that my mom makes in the U.S. and they made some side dishes and it was a real mixture of cultures. Right before I left their house the strap on my backpack broke so for Christmas they gave a new backpack. I was so shocked and so happy. After we all exchanged presents we ate my absolute favorite cake in the world now.
After winter break everything kind of settled down. I really feel like I’m getting used to life here. School is really not too fun but in my club activity after since my Japanese has gotten better we’ve started to talk a pretty decent amount. The same thing at home I feel like I’m now having substantial conversations or at least being able to get enough across that they know what I’m trying to say. Every night I watch Tv with my host dad and we chat about whatever we are watching. His Japanese I find to be the hardest to understand because he doesn’t really enunciate much. Although with him I’m forced to listen very closely, but there are a lot of times where I just kind of smile and agree with whatever he might be saying.
I am moving again pretty soon and being an exchange student has taught me a lot so far and I only just past half way. The language is still really hard but that’s coming with time. I look forward to seeing where the next half of this year takes me, as I finally feel confortable being here.

Mon, March 2, 2015

So writing this I am about to hit my three month mark in being in Japan. Time is truly moving too fast. Just three days a go I received an email from Mr. Jack Murray telling us that we were already 1/3 of the way through our exchange, and seeing that interviews for the next group is only a couple days away. That was weird to think about. However as I look past on these almost three month I can see where I feel I have grown as a person, and where I have learned so much.

I guess I will start with language. When I was first told I was going to Japan, one of my first thoughts was “oh my gosh… I’m going to have to learn Japanese.” It’s cool to see my progression each month because I know I’m learning more and more. Although of course it is very hard, all languages are. In Three month I think now I can somewhat get by but there is still a lot I don’t understand. I have these moments where I feel like I’m getting it and others where I get sad because I’ll sit there just staring at the person because I have no idea what they just said to me. There are up and down moments here but that’s bound to happen on exchange.

When I asked the best Rotex I know, my sister. She said that I am stressed too much and if I just take a step back it would actually come faster. There are days that I’ll feel really guilty because I spoke a lot of English with other exchange students or in school. She also said that it is ok to use English but “just not 5 hours everyday.” Though she went to Brazil and had completely different experiences her advice always makes me feel better when I start to freak out about the language, school, or anything. If it wasn’t for my sister I don’t think I would have it half as together as I do now.

Another thing that has made the most impact is rather than just studying in a book, when I talk with my host family I notice that I feel I learn more that way. When you actually use the language you learn where your weak points are and then you can fix it. There have been countless times I though what I would say in my head would be correct and then find out its pretty much the opposite word order. Languages take time and I still have 2/3 of my exchange left!

School its still really hard. I now have some teachers who try to include me in lessons and I love it, but… they will ask me questions that are probably really basic that I will still not really understand so I just sit there. This of course makes the other students laugh. Exchange has taught me a few things very fast. When you are put on the spot and everyone is looking at you just have a big smile on your face and nod. Works ever time.

I have pretty much gotten over my fear of public speaking. Having to give a speech almost every week you get pretty used to it. The last thing is when people start laughing just laugh with them. My classmates still seem very reserved in talking with me. Really the most I talk is with my host family. P.E. class is probably the best class of the day even though now it is just running 3 miles every day. But after that they will start to play soccer so I’ll walk over and they’ll ask if I want to play.

My classmates I think are 10 times harder to understand, and it doesn’t help that a lot of them also talk so quietly I can’t really hear them. In school my biology teacher is my favorite teacher. He was in the Japanese Maritime Defense Force, and after about the 6th week of school he pulled me out of class and talked for almost 30 minutes in Japanese with some English words scattered around. Teachers will still try to talk to me in English so it was really nice to have a teacher speak Japanese with me.

I move host families in 2 weeks and I am a little nervous but excited. I feel I have become so confortable here but I know that moving will give me another view of Japan. My next family does not speak any English at all so I am very excited and nervous for that. I think my Japanese will improve a lot there but I also think It will be hard to ask questions. Either way I think it will be a good change.

So far I am truly loving Japan. The people are beyond nice and ask me so many questions. I have almost mastered the first time meeting conversation. I think most exchange students will know what I am talking about. Rotary has made me feel so welcome here and have included me in so much. I have attended my district conference and that was the first time I got to meet all the future out-bounds. They were so curious and were asking so many questions about exchange! I thought that was so funny because that was me just 3 months ago. Heck that’s still me now. Although I have had a slightly slower start then some exchange students with really breaking out I feel like I am starting to get it. I would say I understand a really big portion of what people are saying to me (when I can hear them). The first few months here has already had some up and downs, but now I am starting to feel at home here in the country not just the home.

 Mon, November 24, 2014

みなさんこんにちは!As I am writing this it marks the one-month point of Being in Japan. How crazy is that… It’s something that everyone tells you but time really does fly by.

I have been in school now for four weeks and it is going pretty well, however I was having doubts at first about whether I was really having fun. Let me explain what that means. It is true that everyone here is fascinated with the exchange student but that doesn’t mean they actually really talk to you. Even though they may want to, At least in my experience, is that they will most likely stare at you and maybe say hello. So far in school I have had to get very used to being stared at and watching people kind of laugh as I walk by. The girls are all really funny because they will say hello and then run away laughing.

School was my first real wake up call on exchange. I realized that not everyone would come up to you and want to be your friend right off the bat. It takes a lot of effort to try and communicate with them and show that you want to be their friend too. Of course knowing the language would help A LOT but thats coming along as well. I am about to start my fifth week and my classmates have just started to greet me in Japanese and not English. My club activity is where I feel most confortable in school because those are the people who are not afraid to talk to me in Japanese. Even though I don’t understand much of what they are saying now, we still laugh a lot together but that’s probably because I just nod and smile a lot. My club activity is also where I feel confortable trying to speak some Japanese with people outside my host family. When I came here I thought that overall making friends would be a little easier but it just takes time.

In school itself I have all the classes that my classmates do and a couple self-study periods. They do not really expect me to do much of the work because of course I don’t speak enough Japanese yet. In class I just study my verb lists and other material and listen to the lectures and try to pick out the words I know. For being here one month I feel I have already learned more Japanese than I ever did in a year of French in my school.

A TIP TO FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENTS: If you are reading this and have already been accepted, and possibly know your country then I have a couple tips. I think most of these will probably apply to anyone but of course to anyone going to Japan. The first and biggest is do not study material that is obviously to advanced for where you are in the learning process. This comes from me trying to do compound sentence structures when I had been here only a week. I didn’t even know enough words to make one sentence really, much less an advanced compound sentence. Even now at one month I’m still in pretty basic sentences. My next tip would be to just study verbs, Lots and lots of verbs. I noticed even though I wouldn’t get the full sentence, knowing the verbs and being able to pick those up has helped a lot for understanding them.

Japanese is a hard language without a doubt and so is any other language. I never though I would ever be able to understand anything in Japanese and not already I am able to understand the gist of the conversation when we are all eating dinner. I think that is just crazy.

Another thing I noticed when I first got here, or the first couple weeks is that I would get very frustrated when I would study. I felt like I had to learn the whole language in just a couple days. Again going back to not trying to study ahead of where you are. Even now there are sometimes where something just won’t make sense and the more my host mom tries to explain to me its like my brain just overloads. After a few minutes I will go back at it but sometimes you just have to take a few breaths and realize you have time to learn.

I had to get used to feeling like an infant and being like I was being treated like a 10 year old. But when you step foot into a whole new country with a completely different set of ideals and you cant speak the language and you have no idea how to get anywhere except to your school you basically are an infant. Just a few days ago my host mom let me and another exchange friend to go Takao-san by ourselves. That was an amazing experience. I was able to transfer trains 3 times and meet him at another train station to then go and climb a mountain. That day was the first time I had been anywhere by myself. That day was the first time I ever tried to speak to someone in Japanese. That day was also the first time I ever ordered food in Japanese. Granted it helps a lot where there are pictures of the food on the menu but still. It was absolutely gorgeous going up the tree-covered paths with them all starting to turn to a yellow and red tint, and then stopping to overlook Tokyo and Saitama. Had it been a little clearer that day we would have also been able to see Fuji-san. I still find it so hard to believe that every day I wake up and say おはようございます instead of good morning, And that when I look out my school window I can see the Tokyo Sky Tree.

It’s only been one month here and I am already so in love with this beautiful country. I’m in love with the people with how nice and willing to help they are. My host mom is starting to feel like she truly is my mom. When I came home from Takao-san she was waiting outside for me and gave me a hug when I reached the door! I had the biggest smile on my face and I felt so at home and loved! She also showed me her family shrine and showed me pictures of her mom and dad and we had a short payer together and it was so amazing to share that experience.

Most people lose weight when they come to Japan but she showers me with so much candy and ice cream and other delicious food I can just never say no. She has already given me so much and taught me so much. Even though she can’t speak English I love listening to her ramble on and on in Japanese, and I love the fact that one day I will be able to come back and have a full conversation with her. My other host mom who is her daughter living at home is the one who really helps me with the language. She speaks really good English, which sometimes I think is a bad thing because it is just easier to communicate in English, but I always tell her to speak to me in Japanese and she does. She is amazing and very patient because I ask her about 200,000 questions a day.

Rotary tells you before you leave that you should never have any expectations, but of course that is impossible. As so as you start thinking about exchange you start thinking what it will be like. When you get your country forget about it. As soon as I found out I got Japan I started to formulate ideas of what it would be like. It’s simply impossible not to.

The best thing about exchange though, reality is so much better than anything you can imagine. Everyday when I am riding my bike to school and see a bus pass by with an advertisement in Japanese that I can partially read, I can’t help but smile a little. It really is hard to believe. I never in my wildest dreams though I would be able to understand any amount of another language but here I am having small conversations in Japanese.

Rotary has already had such an impact on my life and it has just been one month. To anyone who may be on the fence about exchange they only thing I can say is that you would absolutely regret not taking that opportunity. Of course I would recommend doing it through Rotary. Rotary offers such a large support system, and they prepare you so well. The volunteers for our orientations were so helpful and nice.

Exchange has opened my eyes to so much about how the world is so different and how that is such a good thing. The diversity on our small planet is so fascinating. I’m looking forward to learning all that I can about Japan and applying it to my future. I still do not really know what I want to do with my life; all I do know is that I want to see the world and live in as many different countries as possible and become fluent in their languages and cultures too. Exchange shows how strong you can really be and it shows you how hard life can be. The mix of emotions is something I think only other exchange students can really understand.

Japan so far has been amazing and hard, but all the hard work pays off. I plan to write a journal every month or so to keep anyone who reads mine up to date. So until next time さよなら。

 Fri, November 14, 2014

After we get everything situated that’s when it really hit me. I was going to be spending the next year in Japan… WHAT WAS I THINKING?

こんにちは。So my first days in Japan… what an experience. It all started when I got onto my first flight from Daytona Beach into Atlanta International Airport in Georgia. Saying goodbye to all my close friends and family was so hard. Even knowing going into this whole year that it would be hard, I was still surprised at how difficult that first flight was.But lets move on from the sad parts.

I arrived in Atlanta and asked a Delta flight crewmember where my next gate would be and she told me it was in the next terminal so I would have to take the underground train that connects them. As I was walking to the train I couldn’t help but notice all the weird looks I was getting because of my blazer, which I already have a large amount of pins on. People seemed amazed  that I would walk through the airport in something like that. That blazer also gets very hot when running around an airport I quickly found out.

I made it onto the train and was only one stop away from the international terminal so that made it very easy. I got off the train and went up two different escalators to get to where the gates where. The terminal was so nice and clean, way different than the rest of the airport. When I arrived at my gate I still had about five hours until my flight was scheduled to depart. So naturally I gravitated to a seat with a plug near by and started watching some movies I got for this exact reason. I was also waiting for a fellow exchange student, Parker Hamilton, who was headed to Japan. We are both from the same district D6970, the best district I might add, and are being hosted in the same district in Japan D2770.

When he arrived we chatted about how we were both a little anxious about getting there and how it felt so weird that the day to leave was already upon us. We both laughed at the fact that when the Japanese translator would make announcements over that loud speakers we could only pick out a bout three words. Finally they tell us that its time to get in line to board the plane. I was starting to feel some nerves at this point. After we get everything situated on the plane and take our seats that’s when it really hit me. I was going to be spending the next year in Japan… WHAT WAS I THINKING?

They pushed the plane back from the gate and we sat there for a little… then a little longer… and then a little longer. Finally the captain made an announcement that something was wrong when they were doing their pre-flight checks and that we had to go back to the gate. All I could think was I hope it was nothing too serious and that we would be on our way in no time. I fell asleep after sitting there for about another 30 minutes or so. After about another hour Parker shook me wake as the captain made another announcement. He said the flight had been cancelled for that day and that we could have to deplane. There was an audible moan from all the pas sengers as we all started to gather our things.

We found out that one of the engines on the plane was malfunctioning, so it was a good thing that the flight was cancelled. Luckily Delta provided us with a hotel for the night and put us on the next earliest flight, which was at 8:30 in the morning. That whole day pretty much consisted of just standing in lines. The next morning we got up at five and headed to the airport around six. When we walked down stairs we had just missed the shuttle. When the next one came it was already practically full and the driver said he could only take two or three people. Parker and I hurried to be those two people. When we finally got there we had a little trouble with our tickets but got it all sorted out. Security went by like a breeze, thanks to the fact that we didn’t have to take anything out of our bags. We made it to our gate and when we finally made it on the plane they only thing I could think about was whether it would actually take off this time. Luckily there were no problems this time and Parker and I were now on our way!!!

The flight itself was not too bad, however there was one bit where the turbulence was kind of rough. The meals were all pretty good although Parker slept through the biggest one we had. When we got close we both took out our cameras and phones to take pictures. When we finally landed we collected our things and started to walk off the plane. We were in the very back of the plane so it took a few minutes to get off. We got off the plane and were instantly confused as to where to go. We got situated and started walking to customs. The first stop we made was a desk where we handed them some forms and they took our pictures for a card that we have to keep. Then we headed down to get our bags. Then we walked only fifty feet to another line where we handed another person a different piece of paper, which said where we were living.

Once we got through that we walked through the doo rs and saw our host families with signs that said “Welcome to Japan”. I walked up to my host family and shook all their hands. Then my host dad pushed me towards Parker because and English speaking news channel was there to interview us. I think we were both very caught off guard. We were both just smiling from ear to ear not really knowing what to say. They asked a lot about my blazer and what all the pins meant. They also asked what we planned to study when we got back. Both of us didn’t really have an answer for that.

Then my family took me to eat at a restaurant at the airport and I talked with a Japanese girl who spoke perfect English, and did an exchange in Denmark. After that we headed out to their car and started to drive home. On the way back I saw where Tokyo Disney is and the Tokyo Sky Tree. My home is only about thirty 30 minutes from Tokyo Station, and is pretty big for a home in Japan.

Also, for anyone who doesn’t know my first host dad is past Rotary International President Sakuji Tanaka. He is really nice and also pretty funny. I’m sure he thinks it’s funny when I can’t understand anyone because he will always chuckle a little. My host mom doesn’t speak a word of English but I think that will be a benefit. I’ve already learned some new Japanese words from them, and I really hope that it will come quickly to me, but I know there will be a lot of studying for that.

My host dad heard that I played golf in high school and he also plays golf so today he took me to a driving range. It has been a little while since I last played but I didn’t do terrible. When we got home lunch was there waiting. After lunch my host dad told me to take a shower because we had been in the heat for a couple of hours. I have only been here two days now and I already have so much to talk about! Because I wrote this one kind of early I will write another one soon.

Mon, August 25, 2014

Britton - Spain

Hometown:Winter Park, Florida
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:Winter Park-Breakfast, Florida
Host District: District 2203
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Alicante

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Britton Stacey. I am 16, and a sophomore at Winter Park High School. I live in Orlando with my mom and stepdad. I enjoy being in the school Marching Band, Boy Scouts, and the school Water Polo team. I love school and my favorite subjects are science and history. I also love sports and one day I hope to be a Sports Broadcaster. I am in my church’s youth group and I am in the youth choir. I love to travel and have been traveling by myself since I was seven. When I have free time I like to relax and hangout with my friends. I am so happy to be a part of the Rotary Exchange program for the 2014-2015 year. I love to learn cultures, and I love to travel so I thought this was an awesome opportunity for me. I look forward to my year in Spain to start. I hope to become more diverse culturally, and linguistically while abroad. I am so happy to see how the people in Spain live and I can’t wait to experience it. I hope to be a great ambassador both in Spain and for the USA. I can’t wait to share my experience with others.

Journals: Britton – Spain

So I have now been in Spain for over 8 months and it’s time to write another journal. This journal, however, is going to be a little bit different. It is going to be about the year in general.

This year truly has been the best year of my life. There are a lot of things that I have gained for the rest of my life. I can now say that I have friends from all over the world from the U.S.A to Taiwan. That is something that not very many of my friends can say and something I am very proud of. I have friends that I am going to have for the rest of my life whenever I need them, and that is a great thing to have. When I started the year I never thought I would have so many good friends.

I have now learned a new language and a very profound one. I can now speak and understand Spanish very well. Yes, sometimes I make mistakes, but that happens. I am so happy that I have learned Spanish because it’s one of the languages that is very important in the world. I can now communicate if I am ever in a Spanish-speaking place. I also like Spanish because it will be very useful to help me get a job.

The places I have seen I never in my life imagined seeing. I have gone to Barcelona and Madrid and see some of the most amazing buildings and museums ever. I saw maybe the most beautiful palace the royal palace of Madrid. I have seen the Sagrada Familia one of the most beautiful and interesting places ever. I have been to Benidorm with one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I have been to professional soccer matches of Real Madrid. One of the most amazing experiences ever. I went scuba diving on in a beautiful island that I will never forget.

I have been to castles that are really amazing and that I would not be able to find in the U.S.A. I have been to the mountains a one in a lifetime experience that you can’t find in Florida. I have seen some of the oldest villages in Spain and the history about them. I went to a Spanish military base that used to be an American military base in the mountains. The things I have seen in Spain are breathtaking and life changing.

This final part of my journal I want to say things to the future outbound’s. One of the biggest things I realize now is the difference of countries. I always thought that the U.S.A was the best country but I now know that’s not true. No country is better than the others. All countries are different. They all have their unique cultures and traditions. This experience will be one you never forget.  I promise you don’t take it for granted. I can tell you I don’t have any friends that probably will ever have an experience like this. You need to realize how lucky you are to have this experience and be thankful. Be open to stepping outside of your comfort zone because you will have more fun that way.

Finally thank you Rotary for giving me this one and a lifetime experience of living in a foreign country. This journey will be will something I carry with me for the rest of my life.

Britton

 Sun, May 10, 2015

I have been in Spain for over five months and this is my home forever. The time is moving faster than I imagined, it seems like just a couple weeks ago I arrived.

I have now experience the holidays in Spain. Christmas is a time where everyone gets together and celebrates. They open presents just like in the U.S.A and after families have a lunch together. For dinner you go to a family members house and have a big dinner as a family.

For New Year’s everyone is with his or her family. You have dinner and after you wait until the ball drop. For the whole night there is live music. When the ball drop comes you eat 12 grapes to close out the year.

In 2015 so far I have been to a house in the mountains with my host dad and my friend. I have also been to Madrid for a match and it was awesome, I was row 3 behind the goal and I had a great view.

Overall I am enjoying Spain and progressing in my language. I can’t wait for the final five months of my exchange. Goodbye until next time.

Sincerely,
Britton

Tue, February 10, 2015

I can’t believe I have been in Spain for over three months now. The time is moving to fast and I wish it would slow down. I had some time so I decided to write my third journal.

My time here is now getting easier because I am really getting a grasp on the language. I can now pretty much fully understand what my friends are trying to ask me. The hard part is it is still difficult for me to form responses to questions, as sentence structure is difficult. I usually just try my best to say something so I don’t look foolish. Luckily my friends are very nice and understand the situation and help me a lot.

School is fun by can be very confusing at times. I still am trying to get used to going to different classes every day and the rooms are always changing. The classes are difficult because my teachers talk fast and it can be hard for me to understand what they are saying sometimes. I try my best to copy down everything the teachers write or draw. I am very thankful to have teachers that are very willing to try and help me.

There are many new things I have tried in the last month. I went to the cinema with another exchange student. We saw a movie in English but it had Spanish subtitles, which was good. Unfortunately there were some little kids in the theatre and they would not stop talking so we could not hear the movie. Overall it was a good experience to finally go to a theatre in Spain and see what it was like. Next time we will be seeing the movie in Spanish and will be able to understand it.

I have also experienced scuba diving in a town called Benidorm. That started when one of the exchange students sent a message saying he was going and he invited everyone. What happens is you go to the island and they give you an hour-long safety course. The next part is where you put on the wet suit and they explain about the oxygen tank. You then get on a boat and drive for thirty minutes to the diving spot. Each person falls backwards into the water one at a time. The instructor then takes you down under the water and you start the experience.

It was one of the best things I have ever done in my life and I’m so happy I got to experience the event in Spain. I hope to go again really soon. So for now I’m going to get back to my life in Spain and will keep having an experience of a lifetime so until next time goodbye.

 Fri, December 5, 2014

It has now been two months in Spain and my time keeps getting better. I have been at school for two months now, and I actually understand my teachers. My classes are still a bit hard to comprehend, but luckily I have great friends and teachers to help. I am not doing great on the tests but I know I will that will change.

My basketball experience is also starting to get better. I am better understanding the plays and getting better at the drills. I practice three times a week, and everyday we do different types of drills. We also play a lot of practice games and it helps a lot with communication. I hope it will turn out to be a great year, and become better at basketball.

I have had many more adventures in my second month in Spain. Just last week I went to Barcelona with my host dad. I enjoyed the city bus tour, which took us all over the city of Barcelona. We stopped at many places the first being a building made by Gaudi. It was amazing the colors on the building were like nothing I have ever seen before. I enjoyed the walking tour of the place. The next thing we did on the city bus tour was the Soccer Stadium. I got to experience seeing the field and I went through the museum. The museum had all the trophies the team had ever won. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget.

I have started to find all the new places to shop. There are many stores near my house and they all have clothes that fit me. The problem is that the clothes are all very expensive, and you have to be careful what you buy. Another thing about the stores is they don’t sell basketball clothes or sweatpants. You must always have Identification cards, and when you buy something you have to show it.

I have also tried some new foods and many of them are very good. My new favorite Spanish food is Spanish tortilla or potato omelets. People eat them all the time as it is easy to make and is very filling. I also enjoy eating the Spanish ham, which you get at every meal, when you go to a restaurant. It is special because every restaurant presents it a different way. I think the Spanish cuisine is the best cuisine in the world and it will always be. It is one of my favorite parts of the culture in Spain.

I have been here for two months and it has been some of the best months of my life. I have met some amazing people and friends I will always have. I am thankful to be in a beautiful country with such awesome people. I know this place will always be my home. I hope the rest of my year is great, and I know this will be the best year of my life. Until next time goodbye and I miss you.
Sincerely,
Britton

Wed, November 5, 2014

My first month of a year in Spain.

I have been in Spain for a month and I have absolutely loved every second. I started school about three weeks ago at Cabo De La Huerta and I have learned a lot. I have learned that I do not know as much Spanish as I thought, but I am fixing that problem. The people at my school are so nice, and they love to help me with my classes or questions I may have. My teachers are very patient with me, as I don’t understand what they are saying most of the time. I luckily have friends that can speak some English and can help explain things to me or translate what I am saying to the teacher. I have a lot of classes including 2 English classes, Spanish, Biology, Physics and Chemistry, Gym, and Math. I absolutely enjoy every class, my teachers, and my school in general, and hope it continues to be an amazing experience.

I am on a basketball team near my city and it is really challenging. I thought when I started that I knew basketball, and then I learned when everything is in Spanish it is challenging. The coach will say certain drills and I will do them wrong because I don’t know what we are doing. My team has tried to help as much as they can but they speak very little English. My teammates try and give me examples or say like a word, which actually help a lot. My coach speaks English but for the team he speaks Spanish, which helps me learn certain words, and helps me a bit with the drills. Everyday I know more and more and feel more confortable with the coach, and my teammates. I hope to be ten times better when I finish my year in Spain.

Since I have been in Spain I have done many enjoyable activities. I have been to most of the Spanish beaches, which are absolutely incredible. The beaches were kind of a surprise because it normal for women to go topless and most women do. They also have completely nude beaches, which I saw a glimpse of and I know now where not to go. I also was not expecting to see so many people at the beach at one time it’s incredible. I also enjoy how close the beaches are to each other you can walk to any one you want it’s fantastic. I think the most fascinating thing is the water, it is so clear and the marine life in the water is mind blowing. One of the most beautiful things I have done is been snorkeling. It was life changing.

I have been to many restraunts and have enjoyed the foods of Spain. I enjoy the family style dinners where everyone shares everything. The food they eat is better than anything in Florida and I already know I will miss it when I get home. I think my favorite dish is paella, which surprised me because I honestly thought I would not like it. The way they serve it is for a family and it comes with your choice of meat or with fish. The other really good thing is the massive lunches in Spain, which is followed by a siesta. In Spain lunch is the most important meal so you eat a light breakfast at 7:00, eat a big lunch at 3:00 and then a small dinner at 11:00. It took a while to adapt to the eating schedule and style but I actually think it is better than the U.S.A. I just love learning more foods and hopefully I will try much more.

I am happy with my time in Spain so far this year I can’t wait for what this year has in store for me. I would finally like to thank Rotary for the opportunity to study in Spain for a year. The Rotary International program has turned a dream into a reality and for that I am grateful. I can’t believe it has been a year since this whole journey started. I can’t wait to keep posting more journals as my year continues. So until next time have a great time and know I miss you all.

Sincerely,
Britton

Fri, September 26, 2014

Brooke - Italy

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville Sunrise, Florida
Host District: District 2110
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Syracuse

My Bio

Chio! My name is Brooke Allen and I am 18. I am from Gainesville, Florida and it is home of the University of Florida. I live with my mom and dad in our suburban home. My sister, who is now away at college, also went on an exchange to Taiwan, with Rotary, in 2012-2013. I would like to say that I am first and foremost I am an artist, so my exchange to Italy is perfect. My art is a big part of who I am. I can’t remember not loving art. My class schedule mimics a college schedule, in that I attend classes on alternating days. This makes my schedule very flexible allowing me to focus on my art, creative interests and even taking art classes at Santa Fe College. I have an executive internship at the Hippodrome State Theatre with the costume and makeup department. I love lending a creative hand to the costumers who work there. In my free time, I enjoy drawing, watching movies, or hanging out with my friends. Making friends with interesting people has always been fun for me. For the past six years, my family has hosted five exchange students with Rotary. These girls have become like sisters to me, and I could not imagine my life with out them. This next year, I look forward to making life long memories and learning many new things in Italy! Becoming an exchange student is one of the most exciting things that I have ever done. I would finally like to thank the Gainesville sunrise Rotary club for sponsoring me and making this wonderful year abroad possible!

Journals: Brooke – Italy

I switched houses on March 14. The whole thing happened all at once. For about a week my host mom said she had been talking to my next host mom. One day she asked if I was excited for something on a Saturday that was to do with my next family. I had heard nothing, and I assumed she said we were going to have lunch or something. The rest got lost in translation. It was a long day of drawing at school. I simply thought we were going to talk bout my lessons, or when I would possibly be moving. I can now see the irony there.

On Wednesday the 11th (my sister’s birthday in America, happy birthday, Gentry!) my next host mom came in to my class to talk to me. During our conversation she asked if I was excited to move in with them on Saturday. What? She asked me if I got her what’s-app message. I hadn’t, thanks to the fact I didn’t have money on my phone for data.

Moving? I wasn’t mentally prepared to move in 4 days. I had to pack all my stuff! If you know me you know I like collecting things. I had stored all my belongings into the nooks and crannies of my room. Moving requires you to pack everything up. Which, in turn, you see all that you have. Everything that you own, and all the things you have collected on exchange.

It was weird having to do that the first time. If you have too much, you need to give some of it away, or throw it out. It’s like a small unshelling of your things, and what you have. No one tells exchange students of this weird phenomenon. It’s an event packing up your life. In a way, you have to mentally prepare yourself. I had four days to do everything required to move. Thankfully there was an assembly on the Friday before. I stayed home and used most of that day and night to pack.

The actual move went as smooth as can be. My second host dad pulled the car up to the front of the building; we loaded most of my stuff, and drove over to the new house. That night my new host family and I went to a 40th anniversary party for a friend. There was only time to unload my things, and go. On Sunday, I did all the unpacking and settling into the new house. I share a room with one of my host sisters. I’ve shared a room before, on trips and things like that, but never for an extended period of time. I do have my own space to keep all of my things.

Also there is one full bath for the whole family, but two bathrooms in total. We call them the red and orange bathroom. The orange has the shower, and the red is for the girls. Sharing both a room and bathrooms like this is a new experience for me. Even so, I think I’ve got the hang of it in the few days I’ve been with them. It’s like a dance, with all of us moving around each other to use one room or the other.

So after moving in with my new family, I moved back after two weeks. Don’t worry, nothing happened. My third family had a trip planed, and was unable to take me with them. I asked to stay with my second host family during the 10 days they would be gone. There’s something to be said about moving back with a family you love so much. I felt like I came home. I told my host mom I missed the smell of the house when we were making my bed. The second day there I went out into Ortigia to draw, and shop, as I had done so many times before. I wound up meeting friends, and staying out the whole afternoon. The weather had gotten considerably better, sunny and bright skies.

It was one of the strangest experiences. I had a new home, and I temporarily moved back to an old one. It’s hard to describe. In a strange way my second host family and me went back into our old routine of things. Even though it was a holiday. I guess you could say it’s like picking up a book you’ve already read. You can remember the times reading it before, but still experience it in a new way.

There is something special about being able to say I’m an exchange student. I’ve worked hard for that title. This short year is the only time where I actually get to play out the act of being a Rotary Exchange student. It can only happen once in your life. I take it as a super power. I see these tee shirts all over face book saying “I’m an exchange student/bi-lingual/have an accent, what’s your super power?” I can’t help but giggle. It’s true. Having some, or all of these things make you stick out. It’s like your super power to be a foreign exchange student.
We stop seeing the world from a one-sided view, and start seeing it through two.

Fri, May 8, 2015

You would guess I eat spaghetti and meatballs every day. Yes, some form of pasta is served each day, but it’s not your classic “Nonna’s Italian red sauce, with meatballs, and long stringy pasta” kind of dish. Most of the pastas are actually short or small. The sauces vary from a toping of veggies, pesto, or maybe some simple broth. Yes, I have come across red sauce in my home cooked meals here, but never have there been meatballs in it. I learned recently this is because of the region of Italy I am in. Red sauce with long spaghetti is the classic dish of Rome. The north has polenta and the south has its couscous.

Continuing along with everything is not as it seems, I have been traveling a little. For Carnival, my third host family sent me, and my twin host sisters to Venice, and Verona. We flew up February 13-17 for a very long weekend. My sisters and I stayed with their aunt, uncle, and son. I absolutely loved the family. The aunt is an English teacher. She found me interesting, and apparently, every year, the uncle decides the family will start speaking English at home. He thought I was the perfect launch off point for this year. Dinner became an outlet of practicing English, and Italian for me. I actually learned a lot in the short time I was there. I simply adored the family, and felt extremely welcome and well cared for. Experiences like this; there is no possible way to fully thank someone properly for. I did my best, and gave them a piece of my artwork in the form of a thank you card.

While on this trip, we were to visit Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and Venice, the city of canals. I need to talk about Juliet’s balcony first and foremost. I watched Letters to Juliet a few years ago, and fell in love with the movie. The fact that there were ladies in the quaint little town of Verona replying to letters seemed magical. Love letters would get an answer from Juliet. In the movie, the balcony was nestled mysteriously in a side street. There were only true lovers, or the broken hearted there. You could stick your envelope in between the stones of the wall, where later a lady with a basket would come to collect them.

Everything was a completely different from the movie. The movie fully glorifies the humbleness of the whole place. First off, the real Juliet’s Balcony is not down some cobble-stoned street tucked away from the city. It’s next to a big shopping district, and Juliet’s balcony is a tourist trap. There is gum, and torn notes stuck on the walls. Scraps of paper with written names are the validation of some Italian couple. If you have an actual letter to Juliet, you give it to some lady behind a counter in the gift shop. Her sole purpose is to make sure the Chinese tourists don’t go up to the balcony without buying a ticket. The whole ordeal was a mess of confusion. The crowd of tourists and cluster of over priced gift shops, swindled what could have been an amazing atmosphere. What I expected, from what I saw, were two sides of the moon.

That’s what I get for having expectations from a movie. Verona is still an amazing city. Juliet’s Balcony was really the only surprise I would file under a sad tourist trap. The rest is what you would expect from the City of Love. Quiets streets, high-end shopping, and café (coffee) bars everywhere. I still had the canal city Venice to visit on my vacation. However, Venice was all for the tourists too.

I assumed there would be some people who actually lived on the island. Some local boater, or maybe even the gondola steersmen would. I didn’t see anyone who looked like they lived on the island. As far as the eyes could see were street venders, and tourists being herded around. I’m not kidding when I say herded. Everyone stayed on the same path going to and from St. Mark’s square. Imagine a jam-packed highway, but instead of cars, you have people.

To get to the island you had to take a train. My boxcar was full of people. The boarding flats on the train were full, and it was standing room only available when I got on with my family. This was expected; I went around the time of Carnival. All of these tourists made me really appreciate Siracusa. Carnival in Italy isn’t as big or extravagant as it is in Brazil, but it’s still a pretty big deal in Venice. All of these tourists made me really appreciate Siracusa. It’s celebrated with costumes, festivals, and extravagant parties. Venice is the place to go to if you want a true Italian carnival mask, also. They have amazing hand crafted masks, and specialty mask makers. So of course, I had to buy one for a souvenir. I ended up picking out a Doctor mask, because of its unique shape. It’s currently one of my favorite possessions. The mask is of high quality, and has false gold embellishment. My host sister’s aunt and uncle thought I would have difficulty packing it on the return flight home, but the nose is hollow. I stuffed sox and tee shirts into the thing, and it successfully survived the trip.

Back home, the weather in Sicily has been brutal. I haven’t been doing much outside, because of it. The island of Ortigia somehow has perfect ventilation. The small narrow streets create a flawless funnel for the wind. My second host family’s house is located there. At the beginning of living in Ortigia, I would go running in the mornings and have café’ (coffee) outside in the afternoons. Seeing the historic city in the morning was the most beautiful thing. I really enjoyed my morning jogs, but had to stop because it started raining periodically. Everyday since Christmas, in fact. Besides that the skies are cloudy and gray. I’m hoping this period of wind and clouds will be over soon. The island of Ortigia is the place to be, especially in the sun.

One of the few things to do in the cold is to go to the cinemas. My second host family and I have gotten into the habit of going every Tuesday night. The theater has a special in showing English movies. There are sub titles in Italian for those who don’t understand. I read them, as practice for Italian. Going to see the movies is probably one of my favorite things to do with my family. It’s a whole experience. My host mom picks me up after taking the younger daughter to studies. We eat in the car, usually having a Panini and Coca-Cola. All three of us joke that this way is the true way to eat like an American. Italians don’t eat in their cars. Take away is usually brought home, and I only know of one drive through here.

When we arrive at the theater we sneak in our half eaten sandwiches and drinks. Somehow that’s become a really fun part of the night for me. People in Italy don’t care if you bring some thing in to the theater or not. It’s just not preferred. By this time my older host sister and host dad meet us at the theater. My sisters have their purses to stick their commodities in. I however have a big coat, with large pockets. One pocket gets the sandwich, and the other gets the drink. I have to make sure to keep my hands in my pockets to seem normal. This whole ordeal leaves us girls giggling till the theater goes dark, and we can pull out our delicious smuggled goods.

Everything still seems to mesh together. Even going on trips, and normal days seem to merge together into one memory. My friend back home asked me if it feels crazy to have lived here for over half a year. My response was “Nope, it feels like life”. Her response actually shocked me “That’s a beautiful way to think about it.” A beautiful way to think about it? That’s not what I think about it! That’s what it feels like, that’s what it is!! Living here has become my normal, everyday life. I have a day-to-day, this is what I do, routine. “A normal life”, I’ve been chewing over this fact in my mind for several days. I can’t get over the fact that some people don’t understand what that is. Exchange becomes your life. It becomes your every day. It is my normal to wake up every day and expect to eat pasta and speak Italian. Realizing there is this difference in people, who have and haven’t gone on exchange or experience similar things, shows me how special we “exchangers” are. We stop seeing countries as places to visit, but places to live.

Being 2/3 of the way through with my exchange seems surreal. The thought of moving houses every three months, Italian art school, and traveling in Italy has become my normal life. Walking to and from Italian lessons, seeing a bay out my kitchen window, and going on foot through Ortigia is what I have come to know day-to-day. When I booked my return flight date, the realization hit me. My time here set. There is a day when I will leave this place. If I ever return, it will never be the same. There is no security blanket of Rotary, not like I’ve had it. Of course, I feel I will always be welcome here with open arms and a smile. My experience of being an exchange student will end once I step foot in America. I can’t thank Rotary and all the Rotary volunteers on all the work in providing me with this experience.

 Fri, March 20, 2015

It doesn’t feel like the holidays were just last month. It seems like more time has passed than one, small month. A lot has happened since my last journal.

It’s hard to remember everything that happened in a blur. With out the school day to split up the weeks, the whole holiday season become a mesh. But with it was a fun, cold, food and family filled mesh. At the beginning of December, I switched families. I don’t know how, but all my things doubled. I came with a big suitcase, a small one, and a backpack. Switching houses I had filled my suitcases, two bags, and six boxes. I don’t even want to imagine what my third move will be like. My new house is in Ortigia, the ancient, historical part of the city. Just a few blocks from the Duomo. It is an island, so now I’m living on an island, on an island.

The house is not only new to me, but also the family. They had just moved in a month earlier. There are still lights that need fixtures, and a room with no furniture. When I arrived there was nothing on the walls. My host mom loves art and artists (lucky me!) She invited a group of her three artist friends to set up all of her painting and photos. Now the house looks like a gallery. Even with the new decor, there are still things that need fixing. It took two weeks to finish my bathroom. Don’t worry. I was clean for those two weeks. I shared with my host sister’s bathroom.

New Years was my favorite. All the family from Christmas, and then some came to my host family’s house. There were so any people that there had to be two tables. The kids at one and the adults at another table. I lost count of the dinner courses. After a while my table, the kids and “young adults”, stopped eating. We were absorbed by the New Year’s Eve show. At midnight they had a count down just like in Time Square. We were all so excited. Shouting “auguri” and toasting champagne. After that one of the aunts produced floating lanterns. We tried lighting, and releasing them to the sky. It didn’t exactly work. One got ripped, and it was raining. Lanterns and rain don’t exactly mix. But it was joyous, happy start to the New Year.

The magical part of the whole experience was the snow. Sicily’s weather is just like Florida. It never ever snows. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It snowed on New Years. Just like a Miracle, or a very welcomed omen. The snow was white and floating, softly bringing in the New Year.

No one talks about the mundane everyday part of exchange. All exchange student’s talk about traveling, meeting interesting people, having unique adventures, and learning the host language. However, you do fall into a routine. Your life becomes exactly that, a life. Get up, go to school, return home, afternoon activities, dinner, bed, and repeat. You become accustomed to your surroundings, and what you do every day.

This is the problem. You forget to see the incredible things, because you see them every day. After Skyping with my parents, this was when my mother said, “it can be boring in paradise?” Those words have been raining in my ears ever since. I was able to re-see everything after that. The incredible city I live in, the amazing people I live with, the different culture I have adapted to. Wow. That’s it. I’ve succeeded. I’ve adapted to the differences that exist between the cultures. I’m no longer the new student, the different student. I’m just another student in an Italian High School. It’s like I have to sometimes remember my younger self. The four months younger, wide-eyed and fresh off the plane self. I wish I had those young eyes with me all the time. When you adapt and get used to something, it becomes normal to you. You can forget to see.

It’s hard to remember that this exchange experience is totally unique, exciting, interesting, and different to each exchange student. These past few months have been just a normal life to me. The every day mundane, and that’s because it was. Hopefully I’ll be able to travel more soon. A pause in the everyday routine. I have switched to the art school. I’m drawing, painting and sculpting 24/7 now. My mind becomes numb after drawing, painting, and sculpting for six hours straight. I just want to go home, eat pasta, and curl up for an afternoon nap. Oh, in Sicily it’s perfectly normal to take afternoon naps. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m I love with this laid-back lifestyle.

I don’t want to talk about the language too much. I still feel as though I’m fumbling over what words to say, and it seems most people have no idea what I’m trying to convey. I can understand most things. I’ve come a long way since I first arrived here. Everyone says my pronunciation is very good. Some say my Sicilian is better than my Italian. I probably need to give myself more credit, but I don’t think I study as much as I should. Too many naps after lunch I guess.

My favorite advice, that I want to share, is not to have expectations. This probably prepared me the most. Every exchange is different and you don’t know what your experience will be. Even if it gets hard, an exchange student has to stick with it and continue on through. You may not get to do some of the things you want to do, but you will get to do things you can’t even imagine. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. That’s how to look at it. (I’m talking to you future out bounds).

~ciao
Brooke

 Sun, February 1, 2015

As I continue along my time here in Sicily, things begin to slow down. When I first arrived in Sicily it was like a gun shot went off. Everything was happening at once. There were so many new things. People were taking me places. I was doing new things and tasting different foods, but now it’s slowed down. I’ve fallen in to a pattern. Get up, go to school, come home, eat, wait till you eat next, sleep and then repeat. That basically sums it up. This lulling pattern has become mundane to me. That’s when I realized it’s up to me to make my exchange truly extraordinary.

Yes, Rotary will take you on trips, you will meet new people, and see new things, but it’s the times in between that count. The parts when your home alone to fend for yourself, is where your true exchange colors come out. I could sit home and sleep all day if I wanted. Naps are perfectly acceptable here. I chose a more colorful route. Nearby I found a music shop. Low and behold I found th e most glorious green uakele there. I bought the instrument. Now, besides Italian, have something new and challenging to learn. I’ve always wanted a little tropical instrument, but for some reason, I put it off. Going on exchange is the perfect opportunity to do things you’ve always wanted to, like learn how to play the ukulele.

On the same day I purchased my ukulele, I received my box from my parents. I’ve anticipated this box ever since my mom told me she sent it. I don’t know what it is about getting things in the mail that’s so exciting. It could be the familiarity of the contents inside. To me it was like getting a piece of home in a place that is still new to me. In a way it brought comfort, and reminded me of things back home.

You must know, exchange students are the ultimate snackers. I have to admit I am gulity of the occasional Nutella hoarding. It didn’t help that my mom sent me candy corn, and Nilla-wafers. You wouldn’t believe how sweet Nilla wafers are compared to the typical Italian biscotti. It was like a sugar over load. But Nilla wafers with Nutella, and you have the ultimate exchange student snack. Something old and something new. They kind of came together in a mysterious way that made me miss home.

I’ve realized how sweet American sweets are compared to the rest of the world. Even with my travels to China, Taiwan, and now Italy, I have to say America takes the cake when it comes to sweets. I blame the sugarcane, and corn syrup we use. The closest thing I’ve had to an American sweet here was a cupcake. However, the name of the shop was “The American Bakery”. This bakery uses American recipes which tickled my taste buds. I got an Oreo cupcake. It had an Oreo at the bottom, and in the icing. Besides that, they used cream cheese in their icing. I didn’t know how much I could miss something that tastes familiar. It was very American.

The holidays are approaching and the days are getting colder. I have always liked how this world changes for the holidays. Even the food does, and in Sicily, I’ve said before, food dominates. It’s one of the main differences I’ve realized. I went to a wedding a few weeks ago and even at a wedding, food dominates everything. The event was under the shadow of the volcanic glory that is Mount Etna. The church and afternoon eating was in Catania. A 45 to 50 minute drive from Siracusa. The ceremony was beautiful, despite the fact I had no clue what was going on. It’s ok, having no idea what’s going on half the time. This is part of being an exchange student.

After the ceremony we got into cars to go to what I assumed would be the after party. My car got lost. It was just more confusion to me. Driving around streets having no idea where I was being taken to, or what we were doing, but knowing somehow at some point food would be involved. When the party finally found where we were going, I was right. There was food everywhere.

There is only one way I can describe it: an afternoon eating. We started off with appetizers, or what they call an aperitif—-. It was mini versions of Classic Sicilian food. Next was a buffet. Cuscuses, cheese, pilla, hams, meats, rice and some foods I didn’t recognize, were all served. I thought it was strange that the buffet was being eaten while standing up, but assumed it was some Italian thing people did at weddings. I thought it was the final meal so I filled myself up. I was so wrong to think that. I should have known better. Italians love to eat. To my horror, the whole wedding party moved to the dining room, where there were several more courses served. I was completely full. However, being an exchange student I wanted to try everything. I asked for just a taste, and ate what I could. I had to remember there was still desert to come and I needed room for that. After the sit down dinner, there was dancing. I guess everyone burned off what they ate, because after that deserts were in the garden. It was amazing. A whole pavilion filled with three huge tables of desserts. My desert stomach opened up and I went crazy. Needless to say I slept very well on the car ride home.

I could not be happier now than in Siracusa. I am though, starting to push to go to the art high school. My current school, Corbino, is a scientific high school. They rotate through math, chemistry, physics, philosophy, religion, and art history. It’s a good school, but for me, as an artist, it’s not a perfect fit. I am often bored, thanks to the language barrier. Sometimes I opt for my sketch book, or I write my experiences down. I mainly listen and to try to learn the language, and try not to disrupt the class from learning. However, art is my passion.

My third host mom works at Liceo Artistico A Gagini art high school. It offers painting, sculpture, restoration, drawing, and jewelry. My host mom wants me to come to her school. To go there would be an incredible experience. I’ve dipped my toes into the world of jewelry making before. I would love to try it again. I already draw so much in my sketch book. Why not train that skill a little more? I’ve had art classes all my life. Not having them here in Sicily is a little strange. I really miss it. I miss getting in to the flow of the work and creating. I am in the land of art. I’m surrounded by old architecture, and sculptures. All I want to do here is create. It’s hard to do that going to a scientific school. But I know, whatever the outcome with the schools is, I’m privileged to have this amazing experience with Rotary.

I was once given the advice, “you learn better through something you love.” My language learning needs more practice. I could practice through art, and maybe I would learn quicker. Not to mention, next year I will go to an art college. To get in, I need a well rounded portfolio of art work. At the art school, I could create more pieces. The current work I have is from my high school years. All I can think of is what I would create if I was set loose in this art school. It’s an all around win for me, this art experience in Italian.

The time line of what has happened is starting to blur. Everything that has happened has distilled itself into a blob of memories that is my life here. This adventure is becoming more of a life, and seeming less like a trip. They are right when they say “it’s not a year of your life; it’s a life in a year.” This time here just seems more precious knowing it has a time limit. Experiences and invitations are not to be taken lightly. I’m trying to get as many experiences as I can, see as much as I can see, because all and all, I will have to return. As of now, I’m excited to still leave time to be here. I’m going to live this experience to its full potential, because that’s just what exchange students do. Till my next post.

~Ciao
Brooke

Fri, November 7, 2014

The Start of an Adventure!

Well, my first few weeks have already come full circle. I woke up this morning, stepped outside and said to my self “you’re in an amazing city.” Truthfully, I am. I came to Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily not exactly knowing what to expect. I had done research and looked on the Internet, but how much is that really? Going through the airport, I only had connection with my host family when I had wifi. Concerning my flights, everything was ok, until I got to Amsterdam.

My flight to Rome was delayed, so when I arrived in Rome, my next flight would have left. But that’s ok. I’m an expert in airports, considering it took me 52 hours just to get back home this summer from Taiwan. I have been around the block a few times in airports, so I was comfortable. Stepping off the plane in Amsterdam, I only knew my flight time and destination. There was no kiosk to help me, so I went to the big screens where all the flight times were. There I found my gate number and something called a transit station. Ok, this was new. Probably had something to do with the fact that Amsterdam is a big hub for all of Europe. My Transit Station was ”T2”, so that’s what I went looking for.

“T2” turned out to be something like a customs line and a second baggage check. Going with the flow, I followed the procedures. After that I found the “T2” ticket station. I printed up my ticket and the itinerary for all of my flights. I thought maybe it would come in handy later to have all of my flights. Realizing I had about over an hour to kill, I exchanged my dollars to euros and sat down with my sketchbook. If you have to know one thing about me, it should be that, I’m an artist. I love art and while I’m in Europe, I hope to travel and see as much art as I can!

My trouble started when I landed in Rome. For some reason I had to re-print my Amsterdam and Rome tickets when I arrived in the airport. Well, “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” I had no idea where to go or what I should do in the Rome airport, so I just followed people that were on my flight. We ended up at a luggage claim. I was thinking, “Ok, this is where I get my luggage and go through customs.” I waited for an hour. No bag of mine turned up.

Fed up with waiting, I decided to go look for a check – in counter, as I had done so many a times coming back from Taiwan. I found one, and the clerk solved the very problem I had at the moment. He put me on the next flight to Cantina, told me how to properly pronounce that city’s name, and re – directed my luggage. I went through security and had another hour to wait for my next flight.

I was exhausted. I passed out on the plane. Only to wake up an hour later to realize we had been delayed for an hour, and we were about to take off. Just so you know I was supposed to arrive in Cantina at about 5pm. I arrived at 9pm. But that’s not the best part. My luggage didn’t arrive till four hours later. During that time I waited two hours in the terminal to only find out only half of the planes luggage was there. Yeah, Italy. Apparently this was very typical of Italian airlines.

At this point I was exhausted from traveling. I went to find my host parents who were no doubt waiting for me. Oh, did I mention that I at this point, I could only communicate with wifi, and there was none when I got to Rome. Yep, I had no way to tell the host family what was going on till I met them. But they were there waiting for me. They helped me get all of my luggage and we headed to their house or my new “home”.

It’s been a month now since arriving. Since I got here, I’ve eaten nothing but pizza, pasta, and fish. Italy is truly the land of carbs. Everything I have tried, I have liked. I don’t know what it is about the food that makes it so amazing. Maybe it’s because everything is grown locally on this volcanic island? It’s all so fresh even down to the fish. Which, by the way, I can walk down to the bottom if my apartment building and there is a Pescaria (fish shop).

Food dominates when mealtime comes around. The meal always starts out with some pasta dish, and then comes mozzarella, maybe some bread, and some Italian deli meat. After that is coffee and maybe a cake if you want. At first I thought they were just trying to feed me well. I was new and they wanted me to try all the good Sicilian food. As it turns out the Sicilians just have big meals for lunch and dinner. My host mom explained to me that they don’t really have a breakfast. Maybe a coffee espresso, some fruit, or perhaps bread with Nutella. I really miss biscuits, eggs, gravy, and bacon.

The cars are so small here. I have a VW bug at home, which I thought it was a small car. Here, it’s one of the bigger cars. All the cars are small, because all the roads between the houses are tiny, ancient lanes. I can’t imagine my mom’s big Yukon XL trying to weave its way though the alleys of Siracusa. Besides the cars, almost every teen has a moped. At the age of 14 you can get a moped license. At 18 you can get a car license, but until then every young person rides a moped. It’s easy for mopeds to weave in and out of traffic. It’s kind of scary having to share the roads with mopeds.

The driving laws are a little loose here. That’s one of the main differences I’ve noticed. Most of the regulations for driving are disregarded. Except for stoplights. Its like everyone here expects all drivers not to be stupid and know how to drive. Same with the parking. I’ve seen my host mom park in some pretty impossible places. Mopeds can park practically whereever they want, including in between cars and sometimes on sidewalks.

One thing I really like is the Italian time frame. They have a half hour of leeway to arrive somewhere. For example, if I’m going to meet some of my new friends at 8:30pm, some may not arrive till 9pm. Its part of the relaxed Italian life style. Taking a nap in the afternoon is common as well. It gets really hot here, and the food is lulling in the heat. So, the combination of the two, will sooth you into an after noon nap.

Being an exchange student, yes, you will come across awkward situations. Mainly these situations are caused by cultural differences and miscommunication. I didn’t know that in Italy, even though you don’t have assigned seats, you stay in the same seat. I found this out on the second day of school when I chose a different seat. The guys in my class, to them, their seats are very important. They all want to sit as far away from the teachers as possible.

On the first day I had no choice to sit in the front. On the second day, I sat in the middle of the class. I had unknowingly disrupted the balance of the class. That day I saw the Italian passion come out as the males of the class argued about a new seating arrangement. Of course, it was all in really loud Italian so I had no idea what was going on. I have to admit it was scary. Not knowing a language and having it shouted all around a room and at you can be kind of scary. The girls of the class told me it was ok, that the guys were crazy. They explained to me the dynamics of seating arrangements in Italy. I had learned my lesson. It’s the fourth week of school and I’ve been sitting in my original seat ever since.

I must specifically talk about Italian passion. As I mentioned, Italians can be overly passionate compared to Americans. Everyone knows Italians use body language as much as spoken language. Italians don’t just like things, they love things. Using body language helps get that out. Everyone here is incredibly nice. Everyone wants to help. I was welcomed with open arms, and accepted in like one of the family immediately upon my arrival. You can tell someone’s true feelings by their body language, and actions. It’s one of the reasons why I love Italians. It’s easy to read them, and they make sure you know how they feel.

My current host mom, on Tuesdays, works during lunch. So my third host family invited me to have lunch with them on those days. I didn’t know I could feel a part of two different families. It seems that everyone here is a part of one big loving family. On the topic of loving, the Italians kiss on the cheek here. I wasn’t exactly prepared the first time I kissed a stranger on the cheek. It’s still strange to me, and I don’t know exactly when to or not to give kisses. But, hey, it’s an experience. I think when I return to America I’ll still try to dollop out cheek kisses like they do here.

A month has passed. It doesn’t even seem like it. I can clearly remember exiting the Cantina airport for the first time. I’ve made magnificent friends and eaten more pasta and pizza than I thought possible. I love it here. I can feel myself becoming more and more Italian every day. Learning the language isn’t easy, and some times I miss my friends and family back home really terribly. But when you’re on exchange, you have to take the good and the bad together. Learn something from everything, and as an exchange student you can grow in unimaginable ways. I could preach all about exchange for hours, but the only way to truly know is to experience it for your self. I’m not kidding when I say if you want to do something amazing, go apply. Going on exchange is eye opening to the world.

If you want to have the best year of your like, you also have to accept it will be your worst. Humans instinctively hate the unknown. When you’re on exchange your uncomfortable, and you feel out of place sometimes. Who in their right mind would do that to themselves? An exchange student would, because in the end you become familiar with the unknown. After some time your host country will suddenly become home. “Its not a year in your life, it’s a life in a year.” And if you want to have the most life changing life in a year, become an exchange student. You won’t regret it.

I’m not going to lie, not everything is lollypops and smiles. It’s inevitable you will miss your family and friends. But that’s the price you have to pay for an amazing exchange. I am constantly amazed at the history and artifacts here. It has that same sense of a walled city by the ocean that St. Augustine does. Seriously, Siracusa has the largest amount of catacombs and buried temples than any other city. Its one reason why the people here are so proud of their city, as well as why they can’t have a subway in it. Italians really pride them selves on their local culture and antiquities. Everywhere in my city there are ancient ruins. It’s incredible to see these thousand year old structures, still somehow, standing. My favorite to drive by is, the cave dwellings. It looks like little homes carved out from the rocks. They also have an ancient Greek amphitheater. It is one of the three largest still in use.

Some of what you would expect of Sicily is true. The people are warm and friendly. It’s sunny. Open-air markets are filled with the freshest produce and amazing cheeses. The food is great. And yes, they really do talk with their hands. My first host family has 2 daughters. One studying at the University in Milan and the younger is a Rotary Youth Exchange, just like me. So, I am in her bedroom and actually “filling in” for her at school. I don’t really understand a lot at school, but I now have an Italian tutor 3 times a week. I am the only Rotary Exchange student in Siracusa. It’s just the beginning and I’m excited about all that will come my way. Till next time.

~Cioa
Brooke

Wed, October 15, 2014

Cameron - Taiwan

Hometown:Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:Bartram Trail, Florida
Host District: District 3510
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Fengshan

My Bio

WOW……. I am so thankful to Rotary for giving me the opportunity to study abroad in Taiwan for the 2014-2015 school year! I know it will be an amazing opportunity and I cannot wait to see this beautiful country first hand. Well, my name is Cameron and I live in the gorgeous county of St. Johns, which has been home to me for a long time. I live with my mom and step-dad that have supported me through the emotional roller coaster that I have experienced since I decided to apply to be an exchange student. Also living with me is my sister Meghan who is about 2 years younger than I and with whom I’ve always been close. I currently attend Bartram Trail High School as a freshman and take honors and AP courses. My favorite class is AP Human Geography. This year, in AP Human Geography we have actually talked quite a bit about Taiwan! This was really interesting once I realized that I would be going there next year! Although I like school (Yes, I said it… I like school!) the real fun in my day comes after the bell rings. I participate in Spanish Club (Hola) and I am in Competitive Cheerleading/Tumbling. I practice tumbling (which is most similar to gymnastics) and cheerleading several days every week to become the best in the country. It’s very hard work, but it is also very rewarding when you win competitions! During my exchange, I want to accomplish two things: to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese; and to make as many friendships with people and memories as I can! I can honestly say that this will be a life changing experience. Thank you Rotary!!!

 Journals: Cameron – Taiwan

As I have come to assimilate myself into the daily life of an average Taiwanese, I realize that I love Taiwan, and I never want to leave.

As some of you may know, I have been living in Taiwan for about two months. As I write this, I cringe at the reality that my exchange year is just that, a year. As I have come to assimilate myself into the daily life of an average Taiwanese, I realize that I love Taiwan and I never want to leave. Sure I have good days (today being one of them) and I most certainly have bad ones, however, there is no denying the fact that Taiwan has become a home to me.

I have become close friends with many Taiwanese, and other exchange students, that it’s hard to imagine how life would be without talking and hanging out with them every day. No matter how in depth I describe my amazing life in Taiwan, there will be always be a little part that is, in a word, indescribable. I guess in some cases, you just have to be there.

This past month has most certainly been one that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It was filled with happiness, Taiwanese food, and more, sooooo much more Taiwanese food. The beginning of the month followed the start of the Taiwanese school year, and with that being said, I can honestly tell you that the Taiwanese school system is COMPLETLEY different from the American school system. In America, my school hours were from 9 a.m to 3:50 pm, but in Taiwan it is common for school to begin at 7:30 and end at 4 p.m. You are probably thinking, “Oh, that’s only an hour and a half more, it’s not that bad” However that is just the time for school and is not considering the countless hours students spend studying, attending before and after school classes and night school.

Night school is just what you think, school at night. To prepare for the seemingly never ending tests, many Taiwanese students go to night school after regular school and stay there for a few more hours (and then go home and study.).In Taiwan, tests are a major factor on the rest of your life, they determine what you can be in life (like a doctor, politician, etc.), and your scores determine which college you go to, or even if you go to college. From my perspective, I feel as if the Taiwanese are too involved in school, that school officials are putting way too much pressure on high school students to memorize textbook by textbook of information and then having a bunch of tests on it. (By typing this, I am in no way criticizing the Taiwanese educational system, I am just stating my observations and opinions.)

Either way, Taiwan has a different method on educating its citizens and I find it interesting comparing the two systems. Since Taiwan has such a rigorous educational system, the exchange students and I usually just sit in our classes (We are separated, each exchange student is in a different class) all day while our classmates study and learn subjects ranging from Physics to G.I.S. To pass the time, I just study Chinese and listen to my music, but it’s still really boring.

The worst part about it is sitting in a classroom filled with people who don’t speak English, is sitting in a room that doesn’t have AC. Let me say, that was by far the hardest thing to get used to, now I just bring a fan and never wear long pants of any kind. (Not even the hottest day in Florida could compare to a mild day in Taiwan!) After each 45 minute class, students get a ten minute break to go to the bathroom, drink water and socialize. (Most don’t because they’re to busy cramming for a test)

I have to admit, I really like having ten minutes in between class because you can talk to your friends and just see how everyone is doing, its real fun. On Mondays and Wednesdays the exchange students at my school and a neighboring one attend Chinese class for two hours where we learn everything from tones to characters. Let me say, Chinese is not an easy language to grasp. I`m really struggling right now to learn the language and I`ve talked to other exchange students and they are all in the same boat as me.

The hardest part is the vocabulary as it sounds nothing like English (totally different sounds are used) and when the Taiwanese speak, they speak really fast and it sounds as if they are speaking gibberish (I still think they are…). Although the language is really difficult, who learned CHINESE (arguably the hardest language in the world) right off the bat in the first two months? So I’m studying as hard as ever because I really want to learn Chinese because it is so rewarding when you can have actual conversations with the Taiwanese, I love it!

Even though the language is a little challenging and school is a little boring, I am having a blast! The weekends are what I live for in Taiwan, they are like mini vacations every week! Usually on the weekends, my family takes me all over Taiwan to sight see and have fun! Matter of fact, Just last week my parents took me on a weekend vacation to Taipei for Taiwanese Independence day! (Taiwanese Independence day is similar to the 4th of July).

While in Taipei I spent the day with Juliana (The other RYE Florida outbound, she lives in Taipei) where we shopped, hung out with some of her Taipei exchange student friends (who were unbelievably cool) and ate at Modern Toilet. You probably read that and said “Modern Toilet, what in the world is that?” Well to answer your question, it is a toilet themed restaurant where everything is toilet themed, even the seats which were real toilets! (a must go to place for all future outbounds).

It was beyond awesome meeting up with her and visiting Taipei! The rest of the weekend was spent visiting Shi Fen and Jiu Fen, two cities that are situated in the mountains. It was beyond beautiful; the city was surrounded by mountains and the ocean which made for a very scenic city . We went to these two cities because Shi Fen is famous for lanterns (My family and I bought one, designed it and then released it like a balloon!) and Jiu Fen is famous for being a mining city! I actually went inside mountain through a mine shaft, it was beyond cool and I loved it!

It was such a fun weekend that I wouldn’t trade for the world! Although I don’t travel to Taipei my family always takes me somewhere on the weekend like the night market or a temple which I like because it means I`m always busy! Even when my family doesn’t take me somewhere (which strangely, doesn’t happen very often) I`m always going out and visiting Kaohsiung with all the other exchange students who have become a second family to me.

Even though this journal wasn’t as long as I wanted it to be it still serves its purpose which is to tell you how much I love Taiwan!!! Right now, I’m having the time of my life in Taiwan, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I will post again real soon about the differences of Taiwan and America (There are so many!) but until then, zaijian!

 Mon, October 20, 2014

Let me describe this to you, numerous types of fish, soy sauce, shrimp, and fish sauce all on pizza crust….

I AM FINALLY HERE, well, to be technical, I have been living in Taiwan for about one week (has it really been that long?). Where do I begin? So much has happened in the last five days that if I told you all of the emotions that I have felt, or the experiences that have occurred, your head just might spin. So, I guess the flight to Taiwan is a good place to start.

On the morning of my flight I was, how you say, a hot mess. I was worried that my flight might be rescheduled (Again), frantically checking my carry on (I checked at least ten times) making sure I had my passport and forms but most of all, I was excited. My family, friends, and I have talked about my exchange and me leaving for a year, but it was such a shock when it actually happened. It’s almost indescribable, feelings that only exchange students could possibly know of.

On the morning of truth, my family and I drove to the airport where I checked in my bags and received my flight itinerary (All flights were on time, thank god). After I checked in and everything, my family and I went to security. It was bitter sweet. I know that I will see them again in a year, but it was unimaginably hard saying good bye. For a moment, I wondered if I could fit them all in my bag and take them with me, but I decided against it. After all the farewells, surprisingly no tears (that I know of), I got in line for security and I was off!

My first two flights were very uneventful. They both were long and boring. Once my flight landed in in San Francisco, I had a few hours to burn before my flight to Hong Kong so I just emailed my mom and ate Mentos. (I am OBSSESSED with Mentos, I brought like 3 packs of 5 with me). Once it was time to board my flight, I said my goodbye to America and hello to Taiwan.

My flight to Hong Kong was anything but comfortable. I had no arm/leg space, the girl next to me fell asleep on my arm, and I was sooooo hungry. (If anyone says airplane food is good, they’re lying) Honestly, the only thing that got me through the flight was sleeping(Thank you Tylenol PM) and wondering what my new life it Taiwan might be like.

After what seemed like forever but was only sixteen hours, I landed in Hong Kong! It was beyond beautiful. The skyscrapers of Hong Kong would put any of those in Florida to shame. It was a really cool sight. Once I landed, I had to check in and get my boarding pass. Once I reached the check in counter I was face to face to the employee who could not be older than seventeen. Between his limited English and my even more limited Chinese, we got through it and I got my ticket.

It turned out that my gate changed, so I walked to my new gate and then proceeded to relax. For about ten minutes I sat there shuffling my deck of cards (I do it when I`m bored) until a woman dressed in a woman’s suit approached me in a businesslike manner. She worked for the airport and asked if I wanted to take a survey. Since I was just sitting there I said “Why not.” Even though she basically filled out the survey for me, she was nice company, and I was really glad that we had met. At the end, she gave me Chinese cough drops (now that I think about it, I might try them today). Anyways, my flight started boarding and I thought to myself, “Wow. I really am going to be living in Taiwan for a year. This is insane.” That was the first moment my exchange felt real to me. I knew that there was no going back once I stepped onto the plane so when I did, I felt like a true exchange student.

Once on my flight to Kaohsiung (Taiwan), I was looking for my seat number and somehow missed it. Instead of going through the congested pathways to find my seat, I decided to wait in the back of the plane and let it simmer down before going. It just so happens that I was standing by a girl from Colombia (Viva la colombiaaaaa! Hopefully that means what I think it means) who is from rotary and who will also be spending a year in Taiwan. Once we realized we were both exchange students, we immediately struck up an interesting conversation. The woman sitting next to Alejandra seemed to know that we both could use some company so she asked if I would like to trade seats, and I jumped on the opportunity! And to think it all started with something as simple as me skipping my seat. Fate? I think so.

The plane ride was really pleasant. The girl from Colombia (Alejandra, let’s just pretend I spelled that right) and I talked about our flights (her flight was 33 hours long!), our family, and Taiwan. Her English was really good so it made talking to her very fun and easy. Once I told her that I wanted to learn Spanish after my exchange she, somewhat successfully tried to teach me how to roll my r`s. It was all good fun and all, so I was really glad that we got to meet each other.

Once the plane landed in Kaohsiung we were both beyond excited! Alejandra, another Colombian exchange student (No hablo englais) and I went through customs and to baggage claim. While we waited for our bags we took a lot of pictures, including one of me holding a Colombian flag and wearing a sombrero! It was a blast! Once our luggage arrived we picked them up and, together, and headed to our host families. After the long flights we all had, we were finally in Taiwan. We never felt more ready in our lives.

Once I walked through the doors, all I heard were a group of strangers yelling “Cameron!!” I hurriedly rushed to greet them, as soon as I got there I said a well-rehearsed “Da jia hao” and my host mom immediately said “How cute, he`s speaking Chinese!” We then took A LOT of pictures with people I still don’t know as of today.

Afterwards we went to the car and my host mom said I could sit in the front! She said “You`re big, you sit there.” Unlike many exchange students who`ve had 26 hour long flights, I wasn’t so tired. In fact, once I got home and settled for bed (2am) I slept for a mere 4 hours. I felt relieved because I was really worried about jet lag. The next day my host brother and I went over to his friend Chiyuan (2nd host family’s daughter) house to take me and Johane (French Exchange student, we`re both hosted by the same club so we see each other a lot) to see the city a bit.

We went and saw a Chinese temple and it was stunning. I can honestly say that I have seen nothing like it before. Although it was beautiful I really didn’t enjoy it, you know why? JET LAG, (Yeah, apparently I didn’t beat jet lag) It was the worst. I felt like I was going to throw up (or simply die) at any given moment during the day, it was awful. Since you can never skip a meal in Taiwan, even when you are sick and don’t feel well, (It’s basically the biggest insult you can ever give to a Taiwanese) my host family insisted I eat lunch and dinner. They said that it will make me feel better, even against my feeble attempts at saying it won’t. The worst by far was lunch, Pizza.

You might say, “Pizza? That’s my favorite! You`re an American, why don’t you like pizza?” It’s not that I don’t like pizza, (because obviously I love pizza!) it’s the fact that I don’t like seafood pizza( In theory, it sounds quite good, but in reality it was absolutely terrible). Let me describe this to you, numerous types of fish, soy sauce, shrimp, and fish sauce all on pizza crust. It looked and tasted as if the ocean threw up on pizza crust and some business man sold it as a “Specialty pizza”. Even though it doesn’t sound bad, it was. I almost threw up after the first bite. (Don’t worry, I ate it all. I remember the rotary motto, “Try everything twice even if it looks like the ocean threw up and someone put it on pizza crust and called it pizza”)

All I could think was, I hate the food, I want to sleep for the next trillion years, and I want to be back home. That pretty much was my train of thought all day. Even while we were saying good bye to Wei (Older brother who left for France the day after I arrived) all I wanted to do was hitch a ride on a plane going back to the States.

I progressively felt worse throughout the day so I turned in around 6. Not surprisingly, I fell into a deep slumber and didn’t wake up until about nine am the next day. I felt a lot better, jet lag, in a word…..sucks. Even though I felt physically better, I still missed my family. As I have come to realize, I don’t think that feeling ever leaves you. You can have good days when you hardly think of them, or you can have bad days when all you can do is think about your family. Either or, you always think about them. Even though I missed my family terribly, I was not about to stay and brood in my room for the whole year, so I did what I do best, stayed busy!

The next few days were a blur. I played Badmitten (It’s really popular over here) with my host dad and Johane, by the end we were sweating like dogs. The badmitten gym (I think that’s what you would call it?) has no AC, so by the end of my host father teaching us how to play, we were both drenched. It was fun, different, and a great way to exercise!

The next day Johane and I went to Wenshan and got registered at the school. It was pretty fun; some of the teachers even showed us how to play a Chinese card game! It was a memory game and I completely bombed it and got last place, but it still was tons of fun. Even though I had fun playing Badmitten, Chinese card games, going to temples, eating rice covered in goats blood at Chinese restaurants’, nothing could compare to my day at Kenting. It all started a few days ago when my host father was showing Johane and I pictures of Kenting, a city about two hours from Kaohsiung that the Taiwanese travel to for vacati on. In the pictures the beach looked amazing, we both told my host father they were beautiful. He then asked if we would like to go one day, we both said yes thinking that he was just making conversation.( HELPFUL HINT TO FUTURE TAIWAN OUTBOUNDS: If you so much as ask about a place in Taiwan, even if it’s just out of curiosity you host family will make it their mission for you to travel there and have fun. That is basically all they want you to do, have fun)

Anyways, one night my host father then went up to my room at about 10 pm and told me that I would be going to Kenting in the morning with Kirsten (A girl from Germany) and Johane. I was basically shocked and giddy with excitement all at the same time. Looking back at my day in Kenting, to say the very least, it was perfect. We arrived at Wenshan, my school where Kirsten and Sunny (Taiwanese who went on exchange to Poland) picked us up. For the car ride, we talked and chit chatted. It turns out that Kirsten is really good at English which made for a pretty fun two hours.

About half way through our “road trip” we saw the mountains of Kenting. Let me just say that when I saw Kenting`s mountains, my jaw dropped. It was absolutely breathtaking. Mountains dotted the horizon, and the beaches that were at the bottom of the mountains would put any Floridian beach to shame (Yes, it was that good). After we gawked at the mountains for about another ten minutes, we finally reached the marina! It was so busy, and there were fish everywhere. People were buying and selling some of the most exotic fish I have ever seen, it was spectacular.

We decided that we wanted to eat before we went snorkeling so we decided to eat at the marina! We walked upstairs we sat at a huge round table where the waiter put down about 16 full sized plates of food. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not, the Taiwanese are dead serious about food! After lunch Sunny, Johane and I changed into our wet suit (Kirsten, the girl from Germany didn’t want to go) and then we were off on our not so deep aquatic adventure.

Once we reached the ocean, we jumped in, and fortunately the water cooled us off after the sun pounded us with waves of heat. While we snorkeled, we saw a million different kinds of fish (we saw all of the nemo fish), and so many different colored rocks and coral. After our snorkel tour was over, we went to the dock farther out in the sea to go Tubing! Honestly, if you know me at all, you would know that I hate tubing! However they insisted that I go along with them, so I did. Let me just say, I’m glad I did. It was scary, but so much fun.

After our adventure at the beach was over, we went to Kenting’s night market!! Ahhhhh so amazing, so much food and it was dirt cheap (Like a huge hot dog and a drink would probably only cost you a dollar, maybe). However, it soon rained so we had to get back on the road….. to go home. (I was really sad because I wanted to live in Kenting!) It by far was my most exciting day in Taiwan!! I will post more soon! But until then, Zaijian!!

 Tue, September 9, 2014

With a crushed spirit, I accepted my fate: I would not step on a plane today.

8/23/14
Da jia hao! The first thought that came to mind while writing this was “Am I really going to live in a foreign country, with people I don’t know, and without any form of familiarity, that is my friends and family?” The answer is a big fat YES.

Last December, I received an opportunity to embark on a yearlong exchange to Taiwan, and I jumped on it without any regrets. In preparation for my exchange, RYE Florida held two orientation sessions which informed me of something that many people do not tell you, “Your exchange year will be the both the best and worst year of your life” While I cannot personally vouch for this, I believe it wholeheartedly.

It was during the orientation sessions where I met a great, fun loving (AMAZING) group of individuals that, like me, would embark on exchanges of their own. Together, all the exchange students and I prepared for our exchanges. Months passed and the moment of truth came.

On the morning of my flight to Taiwan (Which was today), I was surprisingly calm. Sure I had a few (Okay, maybe a lot) of butterflies in my stomach, but other than that I was perfectly fine, that was, until I checked in. I was dressed in casual jeans, a semi decorated Rotary blazer and basically half walked/skipped to the airport from the parking garage, I was that excited.

Once in the airport, I walked up to the check-in counter fully prepared to officially become an exchange student, when the check-in employee grimly informed me that due to delayed flights, I wouldn’t be able to make my Hong Kong flight connection. This meant, I couldn’t leave….. A million different emotions surged through me (Anger and Disappointment being some of them). I have heard of people having troubles at the airport, but I was not expecting them to happen to me, but they did.

I tried to remain calm (Which was very hard thing to do) in the hopes that the check-in employee could book me on another flight. After abou t an hour of phone calls, they said that they couldn’t book me on a flight. Once I heard those words, I immediately thought of my host family. Would they be mad? Would they hate me before I even got there? It was a pretty intense few moments (Luckily, they later emailed and told me not to worry and that everything was fine, whew). With a crushed spirit, I accepted my fate: I would not step on a plane today.

Luckily, they booked me on the next closest flight, which would be tomorrow. Even though I was not happy, I tried to make the best of the day by reading, writing this journal, Studying some Chinese, looking over my power point and preparing for tomorrows journey (Fingers crossed everything goes smoothly). Although I know this was not an ideal start, I wouldn’t change it. For good or bad, it was an experience gained. Although, I do hope my flights go well tomorrow!

ALL FUTURE OUTBOUNDS: Don’t lose your cool simply because your flight didn&rsqu o;t go as planned. I’m not going to lie, a million things could go wrong, but a good attitude can make a stressful situation more bearable.

Zaijian

Sat, August 23, 2014

Carley - France

Hometown:Edgewater, Florida
School: New Smyrna Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Host District: District 1520
Host Club: The Rotary Club of St. Pol sur Ternoise

My Bio

Salut! My name is Carley Dolbow. I am 16 years old and a sophomore at New Smyrna Beach High School. Also I am the youngest out of 4 children. Living in New Smyrna Beach, the beach is practically my home, so whenever I’m not at school or doing any sports that is where you can find me! At school I’m currently taking all Honors classes, in SGA (student government association) and will be taking dual enrollment classes in spring and summer. To summarize myself up in a couple words would be I’m very adventurous, a people person, very outgoing and not afraid to be myself. I love to meet new people and stepping outside my comfort zone. Growing up I’ve been around exchange students my whole life! Including watching my older brother Aaron Dolbow’s journey to Japan as a Rotary Exchange Student. Being an Exchange student has been a dream of mine since I was in 4th grade and I am more than grateful for being accepted to be one! I am even more thankful to be going to the beautiful country of France! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me within these next 12 months! À bientôt or see you soon! Xoxo, Carley

Journals: Carley – France

And yet another amazing month in this amazing country. I just recently got back from my first skiing trip with my family in Les Houches and I can’t describe the amazing-ness of it. From the north of France to the South/east it was an 7 hour drive without traffic…And of course there is always traffic. During those 8/9 hours in the car I really didn’t know what to expect. Quiet frankly I was extremely scared. Scared of the possible endless ways that I could break something or end up skiing the wrong direction and going off the tracks and getting lost, or even finding myself on the biggest slope with no way to get down. But it literally turned out the complete opposite.

The first day arriving it was oftly late, so we didn’t ski the first day. So we spent the day renting the skis and trying on the ski boots. NEVER UNDER ESTIMATE SKI BOOTS. The first time trying them on I literally almost broke my foot because I could not get my foot in. And let’s not mention the fact of buckling them either. My host parents got me skiing lessons so every morning at 9-11:30 I was with 9 other French/English beginners all older than me, and just as experienced as me. By experienced I mean no experience what so ever. It was so cool how I was able to talk with the French people in French and the English people in English.

I like to think my skiing a lot like my exchange. At first, it literally seemed impossible to get ahold of. Always making mistakes and falling. So many times feeling like just giving up would be easier. But with each day came massive progression and learning from my mistakes. Everyday watching myself get better and better. Shortly by the end of my week with my family I was skiing like a pro! Not literally a pro, BUT a pro compared to the first day. No doubt I have some pretty gnarly bruises and nearly died 20 times from my falls, but despite it all I really do love skiing!! There was a lot of times I would feel bad because I’m obviously not as advanced as my family so we couldn’t do the big slopes together as a family. But the slopes I could do with them was extremely fun.

The weather wasn’t always the best, but when it was sunny out, you could ski to one of the slopes where you can find a little restaurant, and at the restaurant you can find people bathing themselves in the sun with all of their ski gear on. It literally was one of the funniest things ever. With the sun being out, you already know the Florida girl I am, I took that chance and soaked up some rays too! Being the first time I’ve had a chance since I’ve arrived but minus the bathing suits. But quiet frankly it was extremely warm, and I never quite found myself to be cold. My tanline right now is extremely cool also. I’m nice and brown (with a little bit on sunburn) on my face. BUT I also have a horrible tanline from my sunglasses and the fact the tan ends at my chin, Making it clearly obvious I have been skiing. How weird is that tho? Being able to get just as tan skiing as going to the beach.

When skiing and staying in the mountains, the traditional food is cheese and this kind of “sausage” as google translated it as. (note:I know a lot of food/words in French but not English so it makes it hard to distinguish). So everynight consided of something with cheese. IT WAS AAMAAZZZINNNGGGG and literally the greatest cheese that I’ve ever had in my entire life! The last day of my ski class and before we left was actually a little hard with saying goodbye to my ski teacher and the other people in my ski class. Just thinking that I’ll never see them again, and making a genuine friendship with them in such a short amount of time. I found myself slowly starting to make myself at home in the mountains.

Which is extremely weird to say thus being that I was there for only a week but still. Having such regular routines and people in my life, it started to become a way of life and to leave it was hard. Along with the good-byes on the last day, my family signed us up for this special kind of sledding with 20 other people. It started after the slopes closed, so we had the whole* ski resort to ourselves. The coolest part is we slid from the top of the moutain to the bottom. Taking about 45 mins and a lot of falling, it was definetely something I will never forget. That week is definietly a week I will never forget and will cherish forever. I’m so beyond grateful to of had such a chance!

This past Saturday marked my 200th day in France! To be completely honest it was a really semi emotional day for me and other exchange students. Time is definetly not on our side and going by way faster than any of us want. I love every exchange student I meet, and not one once of me wants to leave them or this beautiful country I now call my home. To celebrate our 200th day, we had at least 40 exchange students from my district and another district meet up for a picnic in Lille. The whole day was spent with eating, laughing, and of course dancing in public.

A day with exchange students is always a day well spent. Slowly I see my English getting worse and worse. Whenever someone talks to me in English or asks me something in English I find myself getting lost and literally searching for the words or what I want to say. It’s extremely weird and I don’t know how to take it! I find myself talking with different accents and not speaking properly. It’s just super super weird, but it’s a cool weird and I really like it.

Not to mention this weekend my parents will be arriving!!! When my parents arrive we will be traveling around Europe visiting our former exchange students. So shortly after my parents leave, I will be leaving for my Europe bus trip where I will be traveling around for 12 days and going to 7 different countries! HOW AMAZINNNNNNNNNNG!

Just one last time, a huge thank you to the Rotary for giving me this beyong amazing oppurtunity and changing my life. This honestly has been the greatest 200 days of my entire life, and I never want it to end.

bisous,
Carley

 Mon, March 16, 2015

It’s a dream. These last 5 months have been nothing but a dream. A dream that I never want to end. I would rather stay awake than go to sleep because reality is so much better than dreams.

It’s slowly starting to sink in that this dream won’t last forever and it kills me. I found my life here in France. I’ve found myself.

I wake up every morning just wishing I could go back to the last day because I hate the fact that waking up means another day passed by, and it’s another day closer to this beautiful dream ending. This month has marked my half way mark and I honestly was just left speechless. Time has gone by so fast it’s not even funny and not fair. In all honesty I don’t want to come home. I feel so at home here. As if this is my real home and my home in Florida is just a stranger now. A little dark of me to say but it’s so true.

Life right now is more than I could ever be greatful for. I have the greatest host families literally in the world (as I’ve said a million times before), I have the best Rotary Club, the greatest district, just everything and everyone here is beyond amazing. Needless to say I love school now. I have an amazing group of friends, my teachers are awesome, and I feel at peace with it.

I currently just changed to my 3rd host family. The night of my change was a little rough for me. I’ve become so accustom to my 2nd host family. My little siblings and my parents. I found myself so home sick from Monchel-sur Conche. But my host family now is so amazing. Within the first night I felt so at home and so welcomed. My host mom showering me with nothing but love.

With my 3rd host family, I would say I’m about 20 min. walk from my high school. So everyday I will be walking (unless my host mom can take me). Which is extremely good for me because I really need the exercise. This family is definetly a fit family. So I know I will be in some good shape. I have 2 younger brothers here and they are the cutest. My mom was the only girl in the house until I came along. So I know we will be spending a lot of time together. In one week it’s winter vacation, and my family has planned a week of skiiing! Yes skiing! How cool is it to be able to say “Yeah, I went skiing in the Alps”?

I’ve learned that exchange is made up of constant changing and goodbyes. I’ve recently had to say good-bye to my newbies (the Australians/New Zealanders of my district). Which was probably one of the hardest things and I think I cried more saying goodbye to them than my family at home when I left. It’s the fact that I won’t know when the next time I will see them again is what makes it so emotional. But I feel that is the best way to describe exchange. One big emotional rollercoaster. As fun as roller coasters are they sure do have some major upside downs, and crazy turns. But thats what makes them so fun, right?

The holidays: I never really found myself to be upset that I’m away from home and my family. My host family had been on a constant move of family dinners. I kid you not, most of my Christmas break was made up of 95% of dinners. Needless to say I haven’t lost any sort of weight. My favorite part about the dinners, is there’s always something bizzare. I’ve tasted snails (my favorite thing in the world), duck liver (not my favorite), duck throat (also not a favorite), and just recenty nose. Yes I said it, nose. I’m pretty sure it was cow nose, I’m not really sure. But needless to say it wasn’t half bad. I’ve learned not to ask what something is. Instead just eat it, and ask questions later. It almost seems like the French eat every part of the animal.

I’ve also went hunting with my host dad and little brother and sister with my Rotary Club. It was very cool and but a little sad for the rabbits and birds. I really would love to get my hunting license here, but not for the hunting of the animal. But so I can wear the cute hunting hat.

Just recently my Rotary District held a soiree exotique. Which is a fundraiser where all of the students make a dish from their home countries and we sell tickets and the money we raise goes to our Rotary trips. I made PB&J which definetly is a dish very American. Whenever I told someone it was peanut-butter and jelly on bread they gave me a face of digust.

The next day after we went to the Candian Vemy Memorial. Which was so breath taking being able to go into the trenches and hearing about everything that happened there with the war. It was beautiful but also so sad. Thinking about how I was standing on a land where over 20,000 people died.

Along with that Rotary week-end I have met all of the “newbies” of my district. I honestly was so scared that they wouldn’t like us. The newbies are so amazing and I love every single one of them. But watching the newbies and how whenever someone talked to them, and they had that look of “what” and having to help them out and translate for them, reminded me so much of when I first got here.

It’s amazing watching people grow into the language, including myself. Of course I still have errors, but I have come such a far way since I have first arrived. From knowing absolutely nothing, to knowing everything that’s being said to me. It’s just crazy to think about.

A big thank you to Rotary. For making all of this happen and for giving me the greatest year of my life. Words can’t described how much this trip has changed me and opened my eyes to the beautiful world we live in. Rotary has given me more people to call my family and friends. They have given me a new home. They’ve given me a whole new life that I will never forget.
BISOUSSSSS,
Carley

 Sat, February 14, 2015

I really don’t know how to sum up all that I’ve done in this past month without going insane and writing 60 pages but I’ll try:

First let me start off by saying I have the greatest host families in the ENTIREEEE WORRLLDDDDDDD!! If you didn’t know my birthday was this month, Nov 7th, which was a Friday. Fridays at school I have 1 hour of history/geography in the morning, 2 hours of gym, and another hour of history/geography. Depending on what week I usually finish at either 3 or 5. Luckily on my birthday I was finished at 3. To start off my birthday I had to take the bus in morning, which really sucked because I couldn’t sleep at all the night before knowing it was my birthday. Had 1 hour of history/geo no gym. Leaving a 4 hour gap til my next class. So my friends and I planned (prior to my birthday) to walk to the city and have a lunch because we had 4 hours. But my luck it was 45° and rainy on my birthday. When it rains here it’s not all humid and sticky like Florida. It’s windy and SUPER cold. So we ended up not going out for lunch and decided to eat at the school. Which isn’t bad because the schools food isn’t half bad. My luck again, I ended up having what looked like something my cat would hack up. So needless to say I didn’t have a big lunch. After my last class at 3 I was finished for the day but still had to take the bus home at 5:30. So the other exchange student Felipe and I decided to walk to the city and hang out at my friend Belen (also an exchange student) house for 2 hours until I had to catch the bus home. That was probably the high light of my whole birthday, at the time.

After taking the bus home I came to a empty house and with a note from my host mom saying she will be home in 2 hours. During those 2 hours, I have had no doubt, I was homesick. I’m perfectly fine by myself and won’t even think about home but I couldn’t stop thinking how much better it would be if I was home with family and friends. All day at school for only 2 hours of class, cats throw up for lunch, and no one home. It was easy to say I was over the day and just wanted to cuddle up in my bed. Finally everyone came home, but I only saw my mom for 15 mins til she left again. While sitting in the living room with my dad and brothers my dad mention something about a prayer for a man who just recently died in our village. My first thought was “dead people is not something I was to be thinking about right now”.

I take any little opportunity I’m given, so obviously I agreed to go to a prayer. When getting ready to leave my dad said we were going to have cake at my host sister(who lives in the same village, 5 seconds away from the house). By this time of night I was looking super “ratchet” and totally not dressed for a party. Parking the car my dad told me to help him come get the cake out of the garage. First thought was “why is the cake in the garage?” Stepping threw the door the lights turned on and I had all my host families and Felipe and Belen cheering “surprise !!!” And started singing happy birthday. I literally was on the brink of tears I was so happy and just so over whelmed. I was literally speechless. My dad asked me to say something but literally no words would come out. Literally speechless! Here I was thinking I’m having the worst birthday, and BAM! Turns to be the greatest birthday I’ve ever had in my life. I spent the night mingling with my host families (who are so excited to have me), and eating the yummiest cake in the world. ‘Twas the perfect birthday.

Now to my host families: I changed to my 2nd host family the 25th of November. I was supposed to change a week earlier but rotary had a cooking weekend (I’ll explain later) so they just decided to push it back a week. Which I wasn’t really that upset about because that means I have another week with my first host family. Packing my bags for the next family was hard. I remember the first night I arrived. Crying because I missed home and family in Florida but now crying because I’m going to miss my Roussel family in Monchy, Breton. It’s crazy how you can go to a complete strangers house, in a completely different environment, to being so at home and apart of the family in such a short amount of time. It’s truely amazing and the heart warming feeling isn’t describable. I have a lot of my mom in me which means I’m so emotional when it comes to saying any kind of goodbyes. It’s such a curse. It’s hard . To be so at home just to move a gain In a matter of 2 months.

Speaking of the first 2 months, I’ve always told myself I wouldn’t weigh myself til the day I leave back for the U.S. but I gave in. WRONG MISTAKE. Got on the scale and wasn’t really as upset about change as much as I thought I would be. I like telling people at home “oh only 6 kilos” because they don’t know kilos…but than I have to break the news..10 POUNDS!!!!! 10 POUNDS IN 2 MONTHS!! As much as it is, I wasn’t that sad about it. Why? Because its 10 pounds from some Amazing food!

During the exchange to my new host family a lot of tears were shed. Now, I am officially the “Big” sister with my new family. I have a little brother and 2 little sisters. So that means I’m very occupied and don’t really have a lot of time to be homesick. Which is extremely good for me. Especially because this is supposed to be the time of homesickness.I have a wonderful view from my window of the fish farm and at night I fall asleep to the river that runs on the side of the house. I’m truly grateful for the families I have. All of them are perfect and I’m just so LUCKY. Especially after hearing a lot of stories of people who have had “not so good” families or families they aren’t able to connect with. There are even times I forget I’m an exchange student and actually apart of my families. Which is when you know your at home.

Adventures: In November I went to Liege, Belgium for the weekend with my former exchange brother Brother who my family hosted when I was in 4th grade. GOSHHHH! It’s so amazing to just cross a boarder like it’s nothing and end up in a completely different country with completely different people, (sometimes language), and different cultures. In Belgium we did a lot of shopping, a lot of chocolate eating, and I visited Disney on ice, which is like the big ICE that we have at the gaylord palms in Florida. I also cut off 5 inches of my hair!!!!! it was so great to see Nathan and Audrey!

The weekend before my switch to a new family, my first host family decided to take me to a farm and milk cows. YES, MILK COWS! It was so nasty, yet so cool. Truly something I will never forget. The sweet smell of cow poop and hay, how could I not??

Rotary: A lot of events are going on with Rotary!! We had a soiree exotique, which was a fundraiser made for our trip to Paris. All of the exchange students had to cook a dish from their home country. So of course I chose mac and cheese. Wasn’t as good as my dad’s but it was a start. Soon after the soiree exotique my rotary club threw a marche de noel (Christmas market) at an old abbey in my town. Where Belen, Felipe, and I made crepes! Which isn’t as nearly easy as it looks! After this, my Rotary club on St. Pol took us on a tour of one of the biggest sugar factories, where all of the sugar in France and a lot of the world is processed. We watched the process of how sugar is made, Quiet smelly but fascinating.

I just recently returned from a weekend in Paris with the exchange students of my district. WHAT A WEEKEND!! Of course with my luck I got sick the day we left and couldn’t even talk for the whole day. Which maybe was a good thing, because I can never stop talking. The first day we went to “Chateau de Chantilly”.Which is an old castle made by the royals of France. After the chateau we went to “Montmartre: basilique du Sacre Coeur superbe panorama de Paris”. Which is basically a hill in the middle of Paris with a church at the very top. Words can’t describe how beautiful the view was. To be able to see all of Paris at night.

The next day we went to “Palais de la Decouverte”. Which is a huge science museum in Paris, but looks like a castle. Because of the weather we couldn’t have a picnic under the eiffel tower like was planned. So we ate in the museum and after took a boat down the Seine River which stopped at the Eiffel Tower. Even in the rain the Eiffel Tower never looked so beautiful. I’m sorry, I say beautiful a lot. But it’s just that is what France is. BEAUTIFUL!!

Soon after the Eiffel Tower we hopped back on the boat and the next stop was “Champs Elysees”. Which is the most expensive road in all of France and the most famous. Here was the Christmas market, where you could buy a xtra small hot chocolate for a wopping 4 euros… But with all the lights.. IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL!! The next day was the “Notre Dame de Paris”. Where we climbed all the way to the top and sat for awhile just taking in the BEAUTIFUL view. Which if you know the Disney movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” this is the place where it takes place!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written by Victor Hugo, who is a very famous French writer. It was really amazing to be able to experience and learn the history behind  Notre Dame and along with the movie. Shortly after we visited the house of Victor Hugo. Just a quick look and then left after. This was the last Rotary weekend with the oldies. Saying good-bye was one of the hardest. To become so close to people in such a short amount of time and to have them leave. It’s really hard.

For Rotary at home: It seems like just yesterday I was nervously waiting outside the doors for my interviews, and getting that call that told me I got accepted while in the middle of a dressing room on black Friday, and just screaming from excitment! If any of the newbies are reading this, how does it feel?? The anticipation? The count down begins, which means you better work your butt off on learning your language! Trust me nothing is more rewarding than people telling you how much you know from such a short about of time. One thing I have to say to the newbies, is do not take ONE day for granted. Time goes by a lot faster than you will ever imagine. I remember “45 weeks til France!” and now I’m almost 4 months in.

“Don’t count the days, make the days count”, is a saying I live by everyday. Trying to explain what exchange does to you is like trying to nail jello to a tree. It’s impossible. You get shaped into a completely different person, for the better obviously. You have a whole new perspective on life. This new itch to see every inch of the world-learn every language. Exchange isn’t a year in your life, it’s a life in a year. A life that is going to stay with you where ever you go. A part of you is imprinted into your host country, as well as the host country leaving an imprint in you. (Not tattoos obviously because that breaks one of the 5 D’s 😉 ) I love exchange and all that it’s doing for me. I really don’t know how I am going to leave this place I know consider to be my home. Wake up thankful for Rotary everyday for this experience.
xoxo,
Carley

 Mon, December 22, 2014

Tighter jeans, fatter face, welcome to my life on exchange

2 months?? Already?? Where do I start for this past month?? I’ve noticed such a big difference in my French. In a good way obviously, I’m understanding a lot more, still butchering my sentences but the point gets across, and still not getting used to this cold weather!!

For my French: It most definetly has come a long long way since my arrivial. I’m currently taking French lessons with a local Rotarian online, which is helping me a lot. My biggest problem with the language is no doubt the translating in my head and speaking it in the proper French grammar. If that makes sense? When I speak French, I have the English sentence my head and end up speaking they way it would be said in English. The sentences are backwards and all over the place compared to the English language. No doubt there is a love/hate relationship between the French language and the English language, in my mind.

I used to be so embarrassed to make mistakes when speaking. But I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I’ve learned to accept the fact I’m still going to make tons of mistakes with the language. Then I remind myself, “hey when I leave I’m going to be fluent”. For myself, I can read French better than I can talk it. Why? Because the word sounds completely different than how they’re spelled! I will be studying for a English test and think I know all of the words, than I will have one of my French friends practice with me and I would end up getting so many words wrong. Again, the French frustration. The amount of times I would listen to a conversation and think “oh my gosh. I understand. I actually understand what their saying,” is probably one of the greatest/ weirdest feelings that could happen to a person, along with the rush of confidence.

There are times where I feel like I’m getting no where and I wonder, why I am here? That’s when I get into these slumps and frustrated with everything. All it takes for me to get out of the slump is to read something in French, and I know what it says,and just to tell myself “you wouldn’t have known what that meant 1 month ago”.
Or when my host mom told me she saw a massive progression in my French, that gave me that little push to tell myself I can actually do this and it will get easier. The pride and joy I have for myself that within 2 months, I’ve come so far!!

Me: I’m doing beyond great! AMAZING! I love it here. I haven’t found myself to be homesick..yet.. but yeah there are times I wish I could just get a hug from someone back home. Especially since hugging really isn’t a thing here. That’s one reason why I love Rotary weekends is because of all the hugs. But I’ll get to that later.

My face is getting a lot fatter and my jeans are slowly getting tighter. Like the little rhyme I made?? “Tighter jeans, fatter face, welcome to my life on exchange”. I still get super duper tired. By 9 at night my brain is completely fried and so difficult for me to understand. I still would be the first one to fall asleep, and be the last one to get up. It’s not as if I don’t sleep well, I’m just soooooo tired! Because I’m on the topic of sleep I have to tell you about my extremely embarrassing sleep stories.

At home I knew when I was younger that I talked in my sleep. But as I got older I haven’t had anyone say anything to me about it so I just assumed I didn’t do it anymore. Nope. The house I’m in echos , especially at night, and you can hear everything. My room is right above my parents to make things worst. My first night in France I guess I was crying in my sleep, and woke up to my host mom freaking out asking me if I was okay..Waking up confused I was wondering why she asked me that and the next morning I found out I was crying in my sleep. About what? I have no clue! Then I’ll have my host dad ask me if I was talking with anyone last night, and I would say no? Then get extremely embarrassed at the fact I’m still actively talking in my sleep. Before I go to bed I’m completely terrified because I don’t want to talk in my sleep and wake up my host parents! I would so rather be a person who snores than a sleep talker. Bringing me to my next subject:

My host family: My host family is so amazing I can’t even describe! I can’t believe I only have 2 weeks left with them:( What’s horrible thinking about is having to start the same awkward process of moving in with a family and as soon as I get comfortable having to leave…3 more times.

My host mom and I spend a lot of time together. We are always out doing something. She’s the definition of a busy bee. With this family, their son (Paul Roussel) is also doing exchange..in Florida! He’s in Tallahassee , that’s still extremely cool to think about. And just recently found out my little host brother is going to do exchange next year to Canada.

Fun fact about my next family: My host dad is a fish breeder. How cool/weird is that???? The house is literally right next to his (I’m not sure how you would call it) but fish breeding office?? Every year tons of people come to fish and what not. It’s actually very interesting! My second host mom is an eye doctor, they live 20 minutes away from the school, and unlike my current family (which I have to say I’m so grateful my mom doesn’t work because she can just take me and pick me up from school whenever I need to go or end. With my next family, I will take the bus to school at 7 a.m. and stay at school til it’s finished. With the bus ride being about an hour long..UGH.

School: School is school. To be bluntly honest I hate French school compared to school back home! It’s long, boring, and way too complicated of a schedule.You really appreciate school events and activities at home like hoco, or pep rallys, or even dress up days more after being here where they don’t even have a mascot or any school sports team! I could say that was one thing I did get homesick about. Seeing my friends and Paul dressing up for hoco week and seeing all the pictures of my friends having a good time at hoco, but then I remind myself, who cares YOU’RE IN FRANCE!

I appreciate school in Florida so much more after leaving. We can’t even drink water or snack in class. At first I really tried to understand what was going on, but it was way to difficult so I kinda just gave up in school. All of my teachers are pretty nice and understand I don’t understand anything. I’m in 1L which is the junior year of the literature route. I have 3 different English classes, lots of French classes, and history/geography. I’m pretty slick with my English teachers. I easily talked my first English teacher (in French) instead of doing work to watch a movie in English on my netflix. Without hesitation he said yes, so the last day before break my 2 hour English class was spent watching American Horror Stories. Needless to say my friends were pretty happy I was with them.

I make sure I’m not the smarty pants in any of my English classes. I listen and take notes just like any of the students. When I see someone struggling I help them out because I mean that’s the least I could do because they do the same for me. If anything my English class is helping me a lot with my French also. For my history and geography class (my teacher is also my Euro English teacher) he understands I don’t understand anything so I got out of a 2 hour test. Speaking of tests. Tests here are 2 hours long…TWO HOURS LONG!!!! It’s so ridiculous. I’m finally starting to get a hold of my completely confusing school schedule (also completely ridiculous).My host brother in Fl. said he also prefers school in Florida compared to France.

For my friends, I have a great group of friends who love helping me with my French. I don’t feel like such an outcast as I felt when I first arrived. Currently I am on fall break which is 2 weeks long. It’s pretty fabulous. The first week of break I went to my first football (soccer) match that I’ve watched live (the game was completely horrible but it was really cool to watch), went to Lille with my fellow exchangies where we had a grand picnic with loads of food, then spent a day in Paris with my host mom where we went to fashion and TV museums which was uber cool! Along with taking my first subway ride. How cool is that to say? “yeah the first time I rode a subway was in Paris..No big deal.”

I love Paris! The atmosphere is so amazing, even if you catch random scents of hobo urine. My 2nd part of break we went to stay with my host mom’s sister in Bretagne for 5 days. On the way there we traveled up and down the coast to see all the different beaches. It truly was magnificent. The water was so blue, and most of it was cliffs. I visited a beach where they had rocks in place of sand..How weird right? I’ve never felt so at home when I was at the beaches.

Along with the houses, ugh French houses are the cutest! Especially in Normandy, which is another place we visited on the travel down. Normandy is known for their spotted cows and adorable houses. In Normandy we visited the Omaha Beach again. Super gorgeous and the feeling was incredible. When arriving at my host mom’s sister’s house I was introduced to 2 more Americans who were also doing exchange here but not with Rotary. They go to an all American school where they have French classes, along with a French class to learn French, an English and a math in English.

In the visit we also visited St. Malo, which is where all of the boats take off for a race across the Atlantic called the “Route du Rhum”. On the last day of our stay we went on this amazing walk through a local woodsy area. It the magnificent to see all of the trees with red, orange, and yellow leaves. Nothing like Florida where fall is just a season that we don’t get to experience. I wish it could stay fall all year here. The weather has been perfect and it’s just a wonderful season.

Rotary: My Rotary district (and I kid you not) is one of the greatest host districts in France. This past month I went to one of the worlds 7 wonders, Mont. St Michel. Let me tell you. One of the greatest weekends of my life. Not only do I love each and every student in my district but I met even more students from 2 other districts.

Could you imagine? A hotel filled with 3 districts of exchange students?It was amazing for us but not so much for the hotel. To think, I’ve been here for 2 months and the exchange students in my district I could honestly say are my bestest friends I have ever had. I love being around other exchange students. We all relate and connect about the same stuff. No one will understand the bond of exchange students unless you are an exchange student. It’s completely indescribable and just amazing.

In Mont St. Michel I also met up with my other Floridian, Mariah. First day of the weekend to Mont. St Michel it was a 6 hour bus ride to the first hotel. Where before getting to the hotel we visited the Normandy Memorial and Ohmaha Beach. The feeling of being there, no words can describe. It was breathtaking and beautiful in every way and I was so proud to be an American. The 2nd day of the Rotary weekend was walking around the outside of Mont. St Michel. It was gooey, clay like mud, with this sort of trampoline sand that you can sink into. Sorta like quick sand. It was extremely awesome.

Later the 2nd day we had a Rotary dinner with all the exchange students (200 exchange students). Here every country had to sing their national anthems. Later that night Rotary threw us an awesome party with a DJ and strobe lights that lasted til 2 in the morning… 2 in the morning!!!!!! The next day having to be up at 7 in the morning, we all looked like sleep deprived zombies. But that’s the fun of Rotary weekends. Having so much fun at night and not even worried about sleep because you would rather talk with everyone. Until the next morning when you wish you hadn’t.

The weather on the 3rd day was horrible. Rainy, windy, and cold! That day we hiked up to Mont St. Michel and went on the inside which was completely breathe taking! After touring it for 2-3 hours we walked around to all the little boutiques and sat in cafes enjoying each others company and the fact were actually at Mont st. Michel.

Saying goodbye to the students in my district is honestly one of the most upsetting times. Now? Now I’m counting down the days til I’m reunited with my best friends at the next Rotary weekend and they’re doing the same. Within an hour of everyone being home everyone was writing on our district’s facebook wall talking about how much we miss each other already. The next Rotary weekend is a Expo dinner where each one of us has to make a food from our country. After that weekend then it’s our Rotary Weekend to Paris! I LOVE DISTRICT 1520!!!

I’m currently in a region that’s considered to have the worst weather in France. But it hasn’t phased me one bit for my love of it. I love France, and Happy 2 months France and 8 more to come.
xoxo,
Carley

 Sun, November 2, 2014

HAPPY ONE MONTH TO FRANCE

WHAT A MONTH! I love love love love loveeeeee France!

The day of my departure I just couldn’t believe it. It seemed like just yesterday I was saying “40 weeks til France!” and now I was saying “we have to leave for the airport in 5 mins.”

Every inch of France is perfect. As soon as I got off my plane at CDG Paris, we went straight to see the Eiffel Tower. I never knew a tall piece of metal could be so gorgeous. Honestly a breath taking site. A couple of times I literally had to pinch myself, I just couldn’t believe it. So many times I’ve had dreams about being there and pinched myself awake. So obviously I had to double check.

Shortly after being picked up from the airport and going to the Eiffel Tower we went home. It was a 2 ½ hour ride, pushing everything I had to keep myself awake, I was running on 4 hours of sleep because the night before my departure I was so stunned that the next day I was leaving, sleeping wasn’t an option. Than on the 8 hour turbulent plane ride I had a group of teens who didn’t seem to notice everyone around them wasn’t trying to sleep. Or the fact my chair didn’t go back.

My first week in France was great. My host family is beyond amazing. To get one thing clear about French stereotypes, I have yet to meet one rude French person. Everyone here is beyond friendly and I love it! The village I am in isn’t what really comes to mind when I think “village”. Its a small town in a town. The culture shock really wasn’t that big for me because the landscape is a lot like the landscape of where I’m from in New Jersey. Lots of farmland. Not to mention every person on my street has cows. Yes, cows and I love it! To come from a beach town to a farm town with more cows than people, it’s honestly so amazing.

Everyone knows everyone here. One thing I won’t get used to is not wearing shorts and a tank top. All jeans and all long sleeves all the time. To compare the weather here, it is the same latitude as Maine ….SUPER COLDDD!! Except the fact this past week has been 75-80. My luck, I have nothing but warm clothing, so you could imagine the sweat dripping off me.

My first morning coming down stairs was super awkward. I felt like a complete stranger (which I was) and felt so weird coming down to breakfast to a different mom. In America, I never really ate breakfast. So coming here was a big change when breakfast was a semi-big thing. Breakfast mainly consists of bread, fruit, nutella, orange juice, and milk. Since I’m already on the subject of food…FRENCH FOOD IS THE BEE’S KNEES. I’ve never tasted anything so amazing in my entire life.  And dad if your reading this don’t get offended… My host mom is one of the greatest cooks. Everything is just amazing and ugh, I love food.

Lunch seems to be as important as dinner. My appetite wasn’t used to all the different times of eating and the proportions. First let me get one thing clear, I can eat. Not a general statement but the amount of food I eat is completely outrageous for the 16 year old girl I am. As my dad says “I have a hollow leg”. So obviously I was always hungry the first 2 weeks but scared to just go into the fridge. Or to even show my host family I actually eat a lot. Within the 3rd week I was eating a lot more…The thing is after we have a meal I’m always still hungry. Since I’m starting to feel a lot at home, I’ve been feeling more comfortable eating. Slowly, I feel the daily bread and yummy pastries going straight to my cheeks and thighs.

Something that has taken a lot to get used to was the bathrooms. The bathroom and the shower are on completely different levels of the house. (Did I mention I have my own shower??)

The first week here,there was a Rotary weekend with all of the other exchange students in my district (1520) at Dunkerque. Which is a town right on the English Channel. Here I was told we were going to the beach, so being from a beach town I was super excited and ready to get my beach on. Then found out I would actually be shrimping, a little hesitant on what I would be expecting I was still excited because I love the beach. When we arrived at the beach it was 50 degrees. 50 degrees and here we are shrimping in cold water, how horrible right? WRONG! Despite how it sounds it honestly was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.

Before going for the weekend, we picked up 2 other exchange students who are in my town and go to the same school as me. Belen who is from Bolivia and Felipe who is from Brazil. This weekend was one of the greatest weekends of my life. Not only are Belen and Felipe my ultimate besties, but at the weekend, I’ve met 50 other exchange students who are now some of my best friends. Everyone at the weekend just clicked and it was honestly such an amazing feeling. To be in 1 place with people who understand what you’re feeling and going through and just being able to connect with each other is honestly the greatest.

At the weekend I also met 12 other exchange students who are considered the “oldies” who are from Australia that arrived in January and will be leaving in January. Basically, the big siblings of all of us “newbies”. The oldies accepted us with open arms and open conversations to talk to them about anything and everything. Who would have thought just a bunch of names on a piece of paper would now become some of your life long friends.

Now, on to the first day of school. Scariest day of my life and no doubt the most confusing. Not only with the fact I have no clue what any of my teachers are saying but also the schedule. Nothing like Florida school days. My first day I was dropped off at my 4th host families house (who lives right down the street from the school) and I walked with my host brother Clement who is also a student there. Clement and I have 2 completely different classes. He is in Science and I am in literature. So when the bell rang to begin class I was beyond lost and wanted to cry. But Clement stayed with me to make sure I got to class.

BUT the school didn’t even have a schedule made for me. After they told Clement to go to class I was on the brink of tears. I had no classes, no friends, and all by myself in a place I felt like I didn’t belong. THEN THE GREATEST THING HAPPENED. I was reunited with Belen and Feilipe. They were just as relieved to see me as I was to see them. As they sent us to our classes (which all had different classes) you could feel the separation anxiety happening between us. (it’s the exchange student bond obviously).

Going into my classroom everyone was just staring at me. Here I am, an outsider in a class of students who have been in the same class with each other for years, I now really felt out of place. I’m in a class of about 30 kids who are separated into groups for different classes. Unlike Florida schools where the schedule is already made, the teacher told you the classes and you had to make your own schedule. I was already overwhelmed with it being the first day of school, but got even more overwhelmed with not being able to understand the teacher when she was telling us what classes.

Clearly with tears in my eyes I asked the person next to me. He knew no English, but he could tell I was struggling. So he made a schedule for me that was very sloppy, but it was a schedule. As I’m in the middle of trying to talk to another student next to me about my schedule the group of girls behind me ask me if I knew French, and I responded “un peu” meaning a little. Than they asked me what language I spoke and I responded “Anglais”. Thankfully god sent me a great gift of a girl behind me who was British and knew English. Now I know I’m not supposed to be speaking English but I was lost beyond my mind and I needed all the help I could get.

After getting things got clearer they asked me if I wanted to eat lunch with them. I accepted, I did not want to be the new girl eating lunch in the bathroom. Bringing me to another subject; lunch. At school people actually eat the lunch. Unlike the school lunches at home which no one ever seemed to touch. (Like I said earlier, lunch is a major meal here) which was a little weird for me. Walking into a cafeteria it was like a buffet. My eyes widened with over joy. The lunch at school is amazing compared to home, but horrible compared to my host mom’s cooking.

Finally starting to make my group of friends, school isn’t becoming such a drag. Since people found out I was American they’ve been more how do I say, welcoming? Not to mention the fact they are completely gullible. People ask me some pretty weird questions, so obviously I’m going to have a little fun with it. “Do you work at Disney??” “Of course! I play the princess of Cinderella!” OH! And dozens of kids wear the American flag. On the subject of dressing for school, oh my. There’s no such thing as a lazy day in French school when it comes to clothing. Everyday you have to be dressed “nicely”. Not like suit nicely, but the French kids judge harshly by the types of clothes you wear. Let me say, its quite exhausting trying to dress as non sloppy as I can for school.

One thing I really wish would go away is my constant sleepiness. I’m always catching myself dozing off in class, or even riding in the car. I’m always the first one to bed but the last one to get up. I could get more than 12 hours of sleep and still be just as tired as if I had 2 hours of sleep.

Before I end this blog I would just like to thank Rotary for this amazing experience and everyone who is helping me and supporting me through this. This has been an awesome month and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for me.

P.S.
Jack Murray was right about those “what the hell am I doing here” moments. I’ve asked myself that question almost every single day. But I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything. Every second here has been amazing to me.

I LOVE FRANCE
Xoxo,
Carley

Sat, September 27, 2014

Carli - Italy

Hometown:Orlando, Florida
School: Edgewater High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:College Park-Orlando, Florida
Host District: District 2060
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Pordenone

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Carli Eurton; I am one of seventeen lucky young Americans in Rotary District 6980 about to embark on the greatest journeys of our lives! I am so excited to be spending 10 months in ITALY! Currently I am a senior at Edgewater High school in Orlando where I will graduate on May 23. I am the Captain of the Girls’ varsity lacrosse team & am looking forward to making my last season on the field the best! I live in a historic district of downtown Orlando in 1920’s home with my Mom, Dad and younger brother Will who is 13. My favorite things include spending time at the beach, hanging out with friends and just being creative (drawing, painting, photography). Living abroad and getting to travel to Europe is something that I’ve always aspired to do! I am looking forward to this opportunity because I want to expand my knowledge of other countries outside of the United States. I know that this opportunity as an exchange student will widen my perspective on the world. I am looking forward to immersing myself in Italian, and hopefully I will pick it up rather quickly. The thought of meeting new people, seeing new things, trying new foods, everything NEW, is so exciting to me! I cannot begin to thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity, and am looking forward to what Italy has in store for me! Stay Tuned! Carli

 Journals: Carli – Italy

October, November, December and now January. The past 3 months and a few days have gone by in a flash, and I can’t believe that I have already been here for 4 months. Four months in my favorite country, with the most amazing people, the most delicious food, and the most breathtaking views. The days seem to go by faster and faster as time goes on….I really wish that they would slow down because theres nothing I want more than to stay here as long as possible.

October seemed fast and full of season changes, new foods and pumpkin carving. It was my first time seeing the leaves change colors and the temperature dropping little by little each day. I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without seeing Fall before.

My first host family always laughed at me for taking pictures of leaves, but to me, it was a big deal since I grew up in Florida. I introduced them to the wonderful American tradition of carving pumpkins for Halloween. My host sister, Chiara and I had so much fun making our own Italian jack-o-lantern and then cooking and eating the seeds afterwards, which is one of my favorite Fall treats.

To celebrate Halloween, I went to Venice to stay with my friend Jennifer (another RYE student from California). We had a blast walking around Venice dressed up as a cat and gypsy until we finally realized that everyone was dressed scary, but us. LOL. It was one of those things that you just don’t get the memo for! The next day we went sailing all around Venice with her host family on her host father’s sailboat. It was a perfect windy and sunny day, which is not so common in Venice, so we we’re lucky. October came to an end very fast and it was time for me to switch host families. I am so thankful for the time that I spent with the Menegazzi family. They taught me so much about the Italian culture and were the first perfect family for me. They will forever remain as family 🙂

November was full of change! I moved to my second host family, The Baldassarre! Gustavo, Barbara, Bianca and Maria Giulia live in a two story home in the center of Pordenone with the perfect view of the mountains behind their home. I absolutely love living in Pordenone because I am so close to the center of the city and also to school. It is so easy to just walk into the center and grab a bite to eat, or the daily cup of coffee, that is now needed (Really… I can’t live without it).

My host sister, Maria Giulia is 19 and studying in Pavia, a small city close to Milan so she comes home for holidays and long weekends and we always have so much fun together when she comes home! I went and stayed with Mari in Pavia for a weekend and we had a blast Christmas shopping, sightseeing and traveling to Milan for the day to see all of the wonderful things that city has to offer, plus she is the greatest travel partner. My other host sister is Bianca, she is 13 and is in the last year of middle school. She is an arithmetic dancer and also a great artist! I love having a little sister around! Barbara and Gustavo are such amazing host parents! They are both so loving and caring and I am so happy to be living with them!

At the beginning of December I changed schools. I was really not happy at the artistic school for many reasons and now I am attending a Linguistic school in Pordenone where my classmates study French, English and German. I am so happy to be at my new school and I love my class so much! My class is all girls and one boy because a Linguistic school is not very popular amongst Italian boys. Everyone is so sweet and has been so welcoming since I arrived!

Soon after I arrived at the new school it was already time for winter break! On the 23rd of December after Bianca’s winter dance recital we drove four hours south to Civitanova, a small town on Adriatic Sea where my host mom’s mother lives. We spent Christmas Eve there, where we ate a huge “Feast of the Seven Fishes” dinner with all of their family members and stayed up until midnight for “Babbo Natale” to arrive and bring presents.

On Christmas morning, we woke up and drove another four hours south to Naples to spend Christmas with my host dad’s side of the family. We had a huge lunch with 50 of their relatives. It as such an amazing experience getting to see how Italians celebrate Christmas compared to my family back home. We stayed in the center of Naples in their aunt’s apartment where we had our own room to ourselves overlooking Mount Vesuvius.

Everyday we woke up late, took our time, casually walked the streets, through markets and shops, truly living like the Napolitans. One night in Naples the temperature reached below thirty and started to snow. It was the first time I had ever seen snow fall from the sky and I was so happy that I almost cried. (Really…there’s a video to prove it!).

For New Years Eve, we shot fireworks out of their grandma’s balcony, bouncing them off the buildings in front of us – it was crazy! I was told to be careful that the New Year’s tradition in Naples is for people to throw things out of their windows; however I didn’t see anyone actually do this. Later in the evening, we walked to the city center to watch a fireworks show being shot from the Castel Dell’Ovo. It was amazing and the fireworks were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s safe to say that I fell in love with Naples and I am so excited to go back in February with Rotary.

One day during our Naples trip, Maria Giulia and I traveled to Rome by train for the day. We started our day early at the Colosseum and made our way to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and many of the other important sights in Rome. We had so much fun wandering around and spending our time popping in and out of shops to keep warm (It was 35 degrees and very windy that day). We ended the day by sitting on the Spanish steps and people watching while eating warm chestnuts made by a street vendor. I can’t think of a better way to spend a chilly winter day in Italy but in Rome!

I can’t believe that it is already 2015!!! I am so happy that I get to start the New Year in Italy, and so incredibly grateful to be here. I am constantly still doing and seeing new things, and I am so happy that I can finally consider Italy my home (my Italian ancestors probably like that too!) .

Yesterday, I went skiing for the first time in Piancavallo, the mountains in Aviano which is about 30 minutes from Pordenone. It was my first time skiing! I was absolutely horrible at skiing, but I had the best time ever with my host family. Lots of laughs and sore muscles for this Florida girl.

The 9th of January was such a sad day for my inbound district because that is the day that my two Rotary Youth Exchange friends Libbi and Tom returned to Australia. I am so sad that they are gone, I have grown so close to the both of them. But now, I have a great reason (in fact, two great reasons) to visit Australia!!! They will both be missed so much by everyone in our district but we will all see them sometime in the future! On the bright side, the new year is sure to be filled with many exciting upcoming events and adventures!

Stay Tuned! Ciao! Bacci!

Carli

 Fri, January 16, 2015

My long yearning for change was finally a reality and there was no way anyone could have wiped the smile off my face.

September 10, 2014 was the day my Italian adventure began! From Orlando to New York to Venice, my travels were smooth and on schedule. As I flew over the Atlantic all I could think about was that my dream was really becoming a reality. As we began to descend upon arrival I was in awe of what I was seeing outside my window – the snow covered Italian Alps and then the amazingly beautiful city of Venice! I knew the second that I stepped off the plane that I made the right decision. The chaotic buzz of Italians moving throughout the airport, the strong aroma of espresso in the air and the excitement of meeting my first host family was so overwhelming, but all in the best ways possible.

My long yearning for change was finally a reality and there was no way anyone could have wiped the BIG smile off my face (I’m still smiling a month and two weeks later). I patiently waited for about 20 minutes for my two bags of luggage to arrive on the carousel and I quickly exited the baggage claim to the meeting area where I was greeted by my host mom, Alessandra, host dad, Rinaldo, my Rotary counselor, Elena and the fantastic Libbi Sham, another Rotary Youth exchange student from Sydney, Australia who has been living in Sacile (and now one of my best of friends) since January. My first meeting of my first host family was everything I had dreamt of and more as they were so welcoming and excited to see me too!

We left the airport and drove to Treviso, a city in Veneto, northern Italy and birthplace of my host Dad, to have lunch and get to know each other. We ate sandwiches called “Toast” which are toasted pieces of bread with prosciutto, melted cheese, and a dipping sauce that is a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, a typical Italian lunch item. Yummy! After lunch we hit the road for Sacile, my new home. I peered out the window from the backseat of the car taking it all in and my excitement swelled for what the future had in store for me.

Sacile is a very small town in the province of Pordenone, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy located approximately 40 minutes north of Venice with a population of about 20,000 people. We live in a three story apartment building on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the view of, well, currently construction because there is a new complex being built. However, if you look out the other windows you can see the beautiful city of Sacile. It is very common to see someone you know everytime you walk out of the house and It didn’t take me very long to settle in and feel like I was at home.

My first weekend, I met all of the other Rotary Youth Exchange students who are on exchange in Italy/ Rotary District 2060. Our first time together was in Cordovado, an even smaller town than Sacile, located to the south of Pordenone and about 45 minutes away by car. We all stayed in a bed and breakfast, ate pizza made my our Rotary Youth Exchange Multi-District Chairman and bonded over the mixed emotions of being an exchange student. I am so thankful to have 17 new friends from all over the world that I can consider as my extended family and share the experience of being an exchange student together. We see each other often and have a lot of adventures planned together ahead of us. Next, we are off to Florence this Friday!

I was so excited to return home on that first Sunday to finally meet my host sister, Chiara who I didn’t meet upon arrival as she was away at a sailing camp. Chiara and I bonded instantly! Last year she spend a year abroad as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Australia so we already had Rotary in common! I am so thankful for our friendship – we do so many things together & she helps me out so much as I continue to learn the language, culture, and more.

Early on Monday morning, I headed off to start my first day of school at Liceo Artistico E. Galvani, it’s an artistic high school in an even SMALLER town than Sacile and Cordovado, called Cordenons, approximately a 45 minute bus ride away. My first day of school was better than I expected it to be as many of the students were very friendly. In fact, several students had previously been on Rotary Youth Exchange in the states. My first class was English, thankfully, where I introduced myself to the class and got to meet my classmates. Most of them don’t speak much English but those that do had lots of funny questions for me such as “What’s homecoming?” and “Are cheerleaders real?”

In Italian high schools students don’t change classes like we do in America; the teachers rotate into the classroom for each subject. It took a bit for me to get use to this. I am the oldest in my class as I was placed in Level 3 of 5 Levels of classes which are mostly 16 and 17 years olds. We go to school Monday – Saturday (yes Saturday!) from 8:15am to 1:15pm & I take English, Math, Physics, Science, Philosophy, Art History, Italian and Gym . Several days a week, my school day extends to 5:00pm as those are the days I take Photography and Graphics. I still don’t understand a lot of Italian just yet, but every day gets a little easier.

Yesterday we had a substitute teacher who asked everyone to introduce themselves for role call. When it was my turn I introduced myself in Italian and in return got a roaring applause from all of my classmates! It was a moment I will never forget as everyone was so proud of my three simple sentences. I’m taking an Italian class every Tuesday and Thursday night from 7:30 to 9:30 to help me with my language skills and to get more comfortable with speaking.

My daily life here has become “normal” and I enjoy every day that I live here experiencing new & interesting things, which I love so much! Here are a few examples:
-Squat toilets are the only kind of toilets in my school
-Almost every Sunday the trains go on strike
-My host grandma thinks my Mom is ½ japanese (I tried to tell her in Italian that my Mom had a Japanese made car…didn’t turn out so well)
– Sometimes we just casually go to Venice after school
– I took the SAT at the United States Air Base, in Aviano, which is home to all American families with military jobs, based in Italy

Pizza, pasta, gelato, espresso, yes it’s true, everyone here eats and drinks them constantly, but there are so many new foods that I have also tried that are to die for! Most interesting but very tasty was beef cheek! My host Mom is a great cook and I enjoy everything that she makes. It is true that gelato becomes part of your everyday food, and I have a guilty daily obsession with Nutella gelato, commonly here called “Cremino”! Thank goodness you walk everywhere here, otherwise I think I would be 400 pounds by now!

I can’t believe how fast the first month went! My life is so welcomingly different now…I am embracing the change, enjoying the new experiences & I have definitely caught the travel bug! I have gone or done something new every weekend since I’ve been here. Just walking around is one of my favorite things to do. And yes, I have gotten lost many times, but it’s fun to get lost because you see many new & unexpected things, and of course you always find your way back. I have so much to look forward to and to be thankful for. Exchange has opened my eyes to the world and I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store for me!

Thank you Rotary for this gift! A doppo! Arrivederci!
Wed, October 15, 2014

Caroline - Belgium

Hometown:Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:Lake Mary, Florida
Host District: District 1620
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Thuin

My Bio

Hey all! My name is Caroline Koenig, I am 18 years old and I am currently a senior at Lake Mary High School (Go Rams!!). At school, I am on the cross country team, and I take part in choir, Music Honors Society and Spanish Honors Society. When I’m not in school I love being active outdoors, going out with friends, singing, playing guitar and listening to all kinds of music. Though I never have trouble staying busy, I always leave time for my crazy, goofy family, whom I love! I have lived in Florida now for almost four years, but before that I lived in a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up with my younger brother Nicholas and my older sister Colleen. When I moved to Florida, I had no idea that it would one day lead me to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program or that I would actually be granted the opportunity to experience life in another country! Ever since I was very little I had always been eager to learn more about people and things that were foreign to me and as a naturally inquisitive person, I always loved making new discoveries about the world around me. Regardless of what new things I want to try I can always count on my family for encouragement and support in my new endeavors and without that, I know that I would have never had the chance to pursue my dreams. I am so excited that I am finally going to have the chance to channel all of my energy and enthusiasm into something completely unfamiliar to me, and in result, come home as a stronger, smarter and more worldly person. Look out Belgium!

Journals: Caroline – Belgium

So, after almost six months in Belgium and more than half of my exchange gone I thought I would give an update on what’s been going on in my life recently 🙂 I switched host families on December 5 and I can honestly say that ever since I crossed the threshold of the Crabbe residence, my life has been a crazy roller coaster hurtling into a million unexpected twists and turns. I never knew that Belgium could be like this or that I could have this much tolerance, strength and flexibility.

Nonetheless, it has been one of the best things that has happened to me on my exchange I’ve realized and I have absolutely loved almost every trying moment of my life with this (not so new anymore) host family. My family is always moving… Always. With them, life is hardly ever boring and having four brothers has definitely brought challenges and made me see things from a different perspective. I just recently got back from a ski trip in Italy with my host dad and two younger brothers who are 11 and 14. I wasn’t sure how things would go because I thought a week alone with the guys might end up being too much family togetherness (and it definitely was at times haha) but I actually had a really good time and I loved getting to know my host dad and brothers a little bit better. I definitely feel like a real member of the family now.

On top of that I finally got to go skiing for the first time, and I can officially say that I am a certified skier from the Pila Ski School (Wooohoo!) How fun of a fun first trip to Italy is that!? It was really cool too being at a ski resort where people from all over Europe took vacations. It was so crazy being able to speak with the Belgians in French and then being able to switch and talk to the people coming from Great Britain in English. I could even pick up some of the Italian because I took Spanish at school back in the US! I can’t even explain how great of a feeling it was to be able to have more options language-wise… That way I understood what was going on when others didn’t and I even had an easier time ordering food at restaurants/etc because some of the Italians working there spoke better English than French and others could only speak French= no problem! 🙂 How incredible is that? I have such a greater appreciation for language in general and also each language individually now. I can’t get over how much smaller the world seems and how much more united we all seem as human beings when you no longer have a language barrier.

I also got to meet so many people who were staying in our hotel (they were all people who had been coming for years from Belgium so everyone knew each other) and it was such a great family atmosphere that gave me a really good idea of how things work between Belgians 🙂 Since it was the week of carnaval (Mardi gras) we had a big Belgian fest in the hotel Tuesday where we all dressed up in Belgian colors and everyone drank and danced together in the dining hall (they even have traditional songs/dances that are typical at parties). I’ve decided Belgians are very special dancers haha.

And coming from Florida, I’ve decided that no tropical paradise or scenic beach with dolphins jumping around in the background could ever compare to the breathtaking winter wonderland that I experienced skiing in the mountains of Italy. Even at night, the mountains created a beautiful black skyline that looked like it was just a painted canvas. And if you were looking down at the little villages below, all you saw were the glowing yellow lights from little lanterns hanging from almost every house. In the dark abyss all you could see were these little streams of light that lined the mountains in tiers all the way down to the villages at the lowest point. I’ve never seen anything more magnificent in my life. Everyone here always talks about wanting to go to Florida or California because of the weather and the atmosphere but honestly nothing trumps the mountains. I felt like I was in a snow globe and a wonderful dream all at the same time

It’s so weird thinking back on everything that I had to do to be accepted into the exchange program and to get ready to leave because in the moment it seemed like a lot of work, but in reality it was nothing. No amount of work would ever be enough to equal the amount of benefits that you get out of being on exchange. I am so thankful for Rotary and all of the work that was put into making my exchange possible because after nearly 6 months here it hurts to even imagine what my life would be like without this experience. I can’t believe that I only have four whole months left and that I have to leave yet another incredible host family very very soon. It’s absolutely killing me inside but that won’t stop me from doing whatever I can to make the most of my remaining time here. I feel myself becoming closer with my friends at school each day and slowly but surely my French is improving. Life in Belgium has its challenges, and ups and downs, but everything is going great and I’m ready to give it my all!

Next on the list, Barcelona!! (And then hopefully Sweden 😉 fingers crossed!!

 Tue, February 24, 2015

So I just celebrated three months and my first 100 days in Belgium not too long ago, Christmas exams are starting right now AND I have to switch host families on Friday (right in the middle of exams). Theres so much happening right now it’s crazy! Nevertheless, lately I’ve been busy just kind of learning and taking things in, making observations if you will, but I haven’t quite figured out what to make of everything yet. I’ll let you in on some things. The other day we talked about tourism (I actually got the chance to give a presentation to my class about tourism in Florida and it was such a wonderful, positive experience [but that’s another story, sorry])in English class and somehow ended up on the topic of stereotypes. I told them about the paper I had to write about Belgium before I left the US and how outdated some of the info I found was. For example the packet that was first given to me by Rotary about my new host country. They talked about practices and mannerisms like always bringing small gifts when invited to a friends or neighbors house (which I guess is kinda true), that it was impolite to talk using your hands or with your hands in your pockets, that people never put their feet up on the table… etc. But like in the US, those are fairly old fashioned/not obligatory practices that vary from person to person. Much of Europe has changed in the same ways that the US has over the years. They all thought it was pretty funny too that I was actually nervous that they all really did those things in Belgium (or rather didn’t do). It also came up that a lot of people in the US (as well as in Peru) believe that European people don’t shower as much as we do. I’m not even sure where that came from either. Maybe it’s because Europeans used to look like their hair was always dirty because the style was messy or something… or maybe its the theory that Europeans think it’s bad to wash the natural oils off of your skin by taking too many showers. Regardless of what the reasoning is, it turns out that, at least in Belgium, most people shower everyday… which is actually sometimes more than I do xD. It was so funny and wonderful because everyone was so shocked that people thought they didn’t shower and it reopened my excitement to participate in class and to teach others about the US (I think it’s the little “aha” moments that you share with other students and people in your host country that really make being an exchange student worth it) And this just goes to show that you truly never know what you will find on exchange besides a myriad of learning experiences. That’s all the fun of it!

Speaking of learning experiences and “aha” moments I have noticed this trend in my school that most students will wear the same outfit two, maybe three days in a row, which is a little strange to me. It’s just that in most cases in the US, people at least try to change like their shirt or something if they’re going to wear the same pants, or vice versa… or even skip a day in-between outfits, but people here (or at least at my school) will just wear the exact same thing day after day. Maybe it’s just me. I’m not sure if I should bring it up though and call anybody out… might not be the best way to make friends haha; even though I am curious and it could possibly make for an interesting conversation. I’ll letcha know if I find an interesting explanation behind that one.

Anyway, I will end my random rambling with some insight on taking English as a foreign language, wooohoo! I really like English class because it makes me see my language from a different perspective and I actually learn quite a bit about my language too. I thought I knew mostly everything about the structure of the English language and the rules but there are so many things that I still do habitually and didn’t know that I couldn’t even explain them. Like, the other day in class I “learned” that in English we pronounce the word ‘the’ as (thEE) when it comes before a word beginning with a vowel and as simply (the) when it is in front of a word beginning with a consonant. I may have learned this when I was young and I could have come up with that answer if I thought about it enough, but it’s strange and difficult for me because I never have to think about it. That’s probably one of the hardest things about learning your language in a foreign language class, because you’re tested on the little minuscule rules that you don’t think about…And everyone looks at you like you have four eyes if you don’t know the rule or an answer to a question that the teacher asks you. Even though its normal… you actually feel kinda stupid.

English used to be my best subject and the easiest for me, and now everything is kind of flipped around in a way. It’s pretty interesting, but annoying and frustrating at the same time haha. Of course. However, the thing is, just because you don’t think about the grammatical rules that foreigners need to pay attention to, or know the ‘textbook’ title for that rule doesn’t mean that you don’t know it. It’s hard for people that have never tried to learn their native language in a foreign language class to understand that you only really need those little rules when you’re learning a foreign language, because when it’s your native language you have already been engraining those little things into your brain since you were first able to speak. I know obviously because I had never had the chance to see language from the point of view of a native speaker before I came on exchange. I had always just sat there in Spanish class wondering what it would be like to be the native speakers in my class who understood the language that we were learning in a way that we would never be able to. Now that I have experienced learning my language in this way, I’ve realized that it can still be a bit challenging (as I explained before), but I also feel like I’ve learned so much about language in general and understand it in a new way that I can’t even put into words. That’s why I think more young people need to go on exchange… it’s an irreplaceably unique language experience.

Yup, so that’s me 🙂

 Wed, December 3, 2014

I’ve been in Belgium for a little over two months now and I have experienced so many things that I feel like it’s been so much longer than two months, but at the same time my exchange is flying by and I can’t believe two months are already gone…This is such a weird feeling!

I just recently had the opportunity to go to Paris with my host family and London with an exchange friend (plus his host family). Paris was just as beautiful as I had imagined it, the food was so good and I even got to see a show at one of the oldest theaters in Paris; which was so amazing even though I couldn’t understand everything that they were saying!

London was also so much fun and so charming (I got to stay just outside of London for four days living in a mobile home! Whaaaat :D), but I have to say that the people are definitely nicer in London than in Paris. They are just so much more open and polite about everything and they have the most amusing personalities, its great. I feel like we have so many stereotypes about British people because of Harry Potter and other movies, and it was so surprising to learn that for the most part (I think) they are so TRUE haha. For example, the British accent and slang is not exaggerated at all in the movies, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring it down a notch so that more people can understand it. And I know I keep referencing Harry Potter (I’m really sorry) but for the last time I promise, I went to church in Canterbury and I swear it looked like Hogwarts. There was even a gold phoenix podium for Dumbledore and the lady sitting across from me had Harry Potter glasses on and the little old man sitting next to her totally looked like a goblin from Gringotts. Ok I’m done xD

In the end I just couldn’t get over the fact that even though everyone was speaking my language it felt as if it may as well have been a completely different language. I think it’s so cool how much variation can exist in one language and how much culture affects those variations. To wrap it up, I’d say that was a vacation well spent and I can’t even begin to explain how thankful I am to Rotary and to two completely AMAZING host families who made these trips such a fun and interesting experience for me. It always makes me so happy meeting and getting to know people who are just so loving and upbeat, are troopers when you make them try “crazy” American food and don’t ask questions when you come home with Coca Cola flavored doughnuts. So, to anyone who is out there thinking of becoming an exchange student but caught up with weighing their options, seriously just DO IT. This is so cool 🙂 (sorry that my journal is late Scott), but hey better late than never right!?

Wed, November 5, 2014

Being on exchange is everything I expected it to be and nothing like I expected it to be all at the same time.

Before I left the states, people constantly asked me “Why Belgium?”, like they couldn’t think of any plausible reason why someone would want to “lose a year” just to study in Belgium. Looking back, I don’t blame them. I feel like Belgium is a very underrated country that you just don’t hear much about growing up in the United States. BUT even though it is small, Belgium makes up for it’s size in AWESOMENESS!! lol.

I am completely blown away by the fact that I have already been here for about one month, when it seems as if yesterday I was still sitting in my room in the U.S. waiting anxiously for my departure day to come. Everything has been happening so quickly here, like my life has been set on fast forward. So much change in so little time like new house, new family, new school, new friends, NEW LANGUAGE… You may be thinking “well duh, thats what being an exchange student means” and thats exactly what I’m thinking too even as I’m writing this but before you leave its so hard to comprehend what it will be like to trade in your daily routine for something completely foreign. I still can’t get over it!

Regardless, I have loved every minute so far, even though it seems like at least 60% of those minutes have been spent not really knowing where I am, what is going on or which train I should take to get back to my house haha. Since I’ve been here, I have learned so much about not only Belgium, but about the US as well. Being here has made me realize how much we isolate ourselves by not paying attention to countries other than our own and made me question so many things that we do in the US. For example, the way we abuse and waste almost everything and how it seems our lives revolve around instant gratification… omg.

Anyway, I love the close, family-like atmosphere in Belgium so much, but also the variety throughout the country. Where I live, it is quiet and simple because I live out in the farm area of an already small town, but then all you have to do is is take the train for an hour or so and bam, you’re in the beautiful city of Liege or Namur or Brussels (the capital!) and the flow of life is so different! You can even go to the beach in Belgium! If you travel to the Flemish region of the country, you have the entire coastline of the North Sea to explore, not to mention the exposure to yet another language(Dutch) and German and Dutch- influenced architecture.

La Mer du Norte is not the same as the beach in Florida and it’s pretty windy and cold most of the year but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the people there. When I visited everyone was wearing board shorts, swimming, long boarding, tanning and dressed like they were in some tropical area… and then there was me in my jeans and coat…so strange. But hey, it felt like home, kinda haha.

One last thing I’d like to add is that not only does my host dad work at a really cool fruit distillery, but he also had some US representatives come to visit him at the distillery not too long ago, to get to know the company and products that they were selling back in the states better. I didn’t realize how much I had already adjusted to life in Belgium until I was surrounded by all of these business people from the US with their overindulgent eating habits and cargo shorts… gosh, I tell you NOTHING says “hey! I’m an American” like cargo shorts haha.

They all looked so out of place, but it was really interesting to see how people from my home country interacted with my host dad and other officials from my host country because I was able to see the situation from such a unique perspective. Sooo, to wrap things up, I have the BEST host parents in the whole wide world, I actually look forward to going to school in the morning (so I can learn Dutch in French and fall off my bike some more in gym class of course lol), I have made great friends, seen amazing things(lots of cows), my French is coming slowly but surely, AND I am living in the CAPITAL OF EUROPE!! Life is so sweet, thank you Rotary Youth Exchange 🙂

 Thu, September 18, 2014

Cat - Czech Republic

Hometown:Seminole, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club:Indian Rocks Beach, Florida
Host District: District 6950
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Český Krumlov

My Bio

Hi, my name is Catherine Sheldon, Cat for short. I’m an outbound student to the Czech Republic. I’m currently 17 years old. I live with my mom, dad, brother, grandma, uncle and aunt. I attend St. Petersburg Collegiate High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. Some school activities I attend are International Club and Multicultural Club in these clubs I learn about different countries and a bit about their culture. I graduate this May (2014) with my high school diploma and my General A.A Degree. My major in college is linguistics so this exchange is perfect for me. I currently know some Spanish and ASL (American Sign Language). I’m taking ASL classes right now and will continue when I come back from this exchange program. I will also continue taking more Spanish classes and maybe Russian. I love learning new languages and about different cultures. That is one reason I want to be an exchange student. Some hobbies that I have are photography, painting, and makeup. I take pictures wherever I go. I love taking pictures of scenario the most. I paint using mostly acrylic and some water colors. I’m now getting into using oil pastels. Also, I love doing makeup I do my girlfriends makeup and I do mine whenever we hang out. I hope to accomplish over the year abroad learning the Czech language and about their culture. Also, make lifelong friends and create memories I will never forget. I’m a really friendly person and cannot wait to meet so many people and be immersed in the Czech culture. I have been told by other previous outbound student that this was the best year of their lives and I can’t wait for it to be my turn.

Journals: Cat – Czech Republic

So I have been here for over 200 days and everyday has been great in some way. In two weeks I will be going on Eurotour which is a trip for the inbound exchange students to Spain (Barcelona), Italy (Rome, Venice, Florence and Pompeii) and France (Paris). In preparation for this I’m learning some basic French, Italian and Spanish. I’ve noticed from visiting other countries that the local people will like it when you speak some of their language even if it’s just a “Thank you” or “Good day”. You might be thinking now why would I say “Good day” to somebody because we don’t say that in the United States well it’s used every day here.  You say it when you enter a store, restaurant and to your teachers at school. In Czech “Good day” is “Dobrý den” and in German it is “Guten tag”. It does translate to good day but to them it’s a very polite hello and probably the first thing you should learn to say in any language. A thing I have noticed about living abroad is no matter what, you will learn a few words in other languages.

Before I moved to the Czech Republic I thought every country had only people of their nationality if that makes any sense. For example I thought the Czech Republic only had Czech people I didn’t realize how diverse it was. I have friends from the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria etc.. I just thought this would be something future exchange students might want to know. Also if you are near a border expect to visit that country a few times because I’ve been to Austria at least 3 times.

So the Czech Republic has some AMAZING FOOD. I love their bread. It has to be my favorite food here and also their juice.  They have so many options for juice. The food here is so fresh, the bread is made every day fresh and it’s also healthier because they don’t put preservatives in it. They do put some in the sliced bread but that’s it as far as I know. There is some food I don’t really like. It sucks because its traditional dishes like Gulaš which is meat with dumpling and a sauce. Also for Christmas they have carp with potato salad. The potato salad is great but I just don’t like seafood so I don’t like the carp. But there are many kinds of food here a lot of Asian people immigrate to here so there are some Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants which are good. Where I live we have a couple burger places which have some of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Probably the last thing about food is don’t be surprised when you see a McDonalds, Burger king, Starbucks and even Subway in Europe. They have them here. There are very few but they are still here. I’ve only had McDonalds a couple times here and Starbucks and they are great. The Starbucks is the same they just have the name in a different language and at McDonalds they have some different menu items.

You are going to walk so much when you are here or pretty much any country in Europe so bring a good pair of shoes. I’ve lost 15 kilograms (33 pounds) since I’ve been here and that is just from eating healthier and walking everywhere. You will enjoy walking because you get more of a chance to see everything and see the beauty of the country. Also, I’m from Florida so I’m use to the ground being flat and well it’s the opposite here there are so many mountains and hills. I’ve hiked up a few and man is so beautiful.

So they celebrate some of the same holidays here but just a little different. Probably one of the most dramatically different holiday is Easter. How they celebrate Easter is the men walk around their neighborhood and they hit women in the butt and sing a short song and basically for the women and girls to stay young and to not get bitter it is quite a funny tradition. They do not hit you hard though, you’re not going to get beaten with a stick. It’s a light tap.

On Christmas Eve the women typically cook all day and nobody eats until dinner. For dinner they have carp with potato salad and after dinner they open presents and how they do it is each person opens one at a time and they go in a circle it typically takes a long time depending on how many presents each person got. The presents I got were very personal. Just my spending time with them and they saw when I posted something on Facebook that I liked. I posted about how I liked wasabi peanuts and a certain kind of chips and they got me it. Also I was with my host mom shopping and I mention I wanted a hat that also covered my ear and she bought me one for Christmas, and they gave me money for my Eurotour and a bracelet the said “Pro Štěstí” which mean “For Luck” which I love and a few more things and each one was personal things they knew I would like. It’s a very personal holiday.

They don’t celebrate Halloween here and obviously Thanksgiving because that is an American (United States) holiday. They have a few festivals throughout the year and right now they have a circus in town. Each town will depend on what you will have. My city is the second most visited city in the Czech Republic so we have some more things than some smaller cities or even villages.

There are so many more things I could talk about and I will in my next journal but for the most part it’s so much better to experience it here. Whoever comes to this country will love it or any other country for that matter. I’ve been to a few countries already and am going to more this month and the ones I’ve already been to the people in them are really nice and eager to help if you need it. Keep studying your language and preparing for your exchange.

 Mon, April 13, 2015

So, I have been here for 153 days so far and just moved to my second host family. So far I have traveled to Germany and Austria. They were great and very beautiful. They are not very different from the Czech Republic, only they use a different currency and the language.

I missed having Thanksgiving with my family but me and my host family made it and had it. Christmas was great it didn’t snow until a couple days after Christmas. But I finally got my snow I’ve been waiting for. I’ve gone hiking a few times and I went snow sledding for the first time yesterday.

Today for New Year’s Eve I will go to a bar/restaurant and just hangout and talk with friends and then at midnight people will set of fireworks and then we will just hangout for a couple more hours and then go home and sleep.

The only tradition they have is to drink a lot and at midnight you kiss somebody.

So far I am having a lot of fun and I’ve experienced so many new things. I’ve tried pheasant, deer, duck and a lot of new vegetables and fruit. I am having a great time here and am glad I picked the Czech Republic as my first choice. It’s amazingly beautiful and as I type this it is snowing and I love it.

Well, I’m going to go have a snowball fight bye.

Tue, January 27, 2015

Colette - Slovakia

Hometown :Longwood, Florida
School: Lyman High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club: Longwood, Florida
Host District: District 2240
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Košice (Country)

My Bio

Hi! My name is Colette, I’m currently a senior at Lyman, and I’m going to Slovakia! Through out my life I’ve always been around other exchange students and now I’m excited to finally be one. As I’m preparing to go to Slovakia, I’m also preparing to leave everything I call home behind. I live with my mother and father along with my three younger siblings. My mom traveled all over when she was younger and she has always strongly encouraged me to go out and explore the world. I’ve always been interested in music; I’ve worked at my church as a percussionist for the past three years and I’m on the Lyman drumline which this past year I was the Bass Drum Captain. I’m hoping to one day be able to make it on a drum corps and continue play bass drum. I’m also in ASL 3 this year and I’ve become very involved with the Deaf community by going to silent dinners and other events. I’ve found so many things I’m passionate about here and as much as I’m going to miss everything, I can’t wait for something new. As this chapter in my life is coming to a close, I’m glad to be starting my new chapter in Slovakia!

Journals: Colette – Slovakia

The begining to an amazing journey

Traveling to Slovakia was terrible. My first flight was from Orlando to Chicago. In Chicago my flight was delayed and it made me miss my following flight. I spent an hour running to different sides of the airport trying to get a new ticket and catch up with my final flight from Vienna to Košice. After that, I had to run to my next three flights. Getting through German security was exhausting, they made me open my carry on (took their time going through it) and almost made me miss yet another flight.

Once I finally got to Slovakia, I found out my bags never made it (and they didn’t arrive for another two weeks). I had a raging headache since Chicago and to top it all off I got sick the very next day. Sounds terrible, right? I think it was a test to see if I was ready for the year ahead of me. If I had been told that all of this was going to happen before I left… I would have done it a million times. From what little I have already seen of Slovakia, It’s absolutely beautiful and it was all worth it!

I feel like my whole life has been turned around. I went from living in the suburbs with a big family and going to a huge school to living in an apartment in the second biggest city in Slovakia, being the only child in the house, and going to a small school with only 400 students. I’ve gone from never leaving the east coast of the US to traveling to three different countries (five if you count airports) within the past month.

The second weekend I was in Slovakia, my host parents took me to Vienna, Austria for the weekend. I got to go to Schönbrunn Palace, walk down the main part of the city, and eat at a restaurant on a mountain overlooking the whole city. On the way back from Vienna, we stopped in Budapest, Hungary and had lunch there. I go to Hungary a lot since the border is only 30 minutes from my city and only a couple feet from the village where my host parents have their second house. As well as visiting Austria and Hungary, this weekend I will be going to the Czech Republic for a Rotary camp. I’m finally getting to see the world.

When I’m not traveling I get to live in this wonderful city. Košice was the 2013 European Capital of Culture. There are about three huge shopping malls, a huge hockey stadium (hockey season just started here), Slovakia’s biggest cathedral (St. Elisabeth Cathedral/Dóm sv. Alžbety), and many historic buildings. There is even a bridge here that has locks on it where couples write their initials on it and dropping the key in a box (similar to Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris, France). The most popular part of Košice is Hlavna Street (the centrum). It is lined with old beautiful buildings where you can find everything from the best ice cream to the best coffee. There’s always something going on there, just this past weekend there was a huge concert and there were thousands of people gathered to watch different Slovak singers preform.

School here is a whole new adventure. I cannot tell you how many times I have walked into the wrong classroom, or walked into an empty room where I thought my class was supposed to be, or going to school when I didn’t have class. I don’t know how a school can be so small yet be so easy to get lost in. The first time I looked at my class schedule, I couldn’t even read it. Luckily for me, everyone at my school is very friendly and they’ve helped me out every time I needed it.

On the first day of school, there was a huge assembly at the end of the day. The five other exchange students and I were introduced to the whole school. Basically, everyone knows us. And everyone is super friendly. From the first day of school, I’ve been invited to do things from going out for coffee to going to a sushi restaurant. Since it’s a smaller city, whenever I go out I run into at least one person I know.

Mon, September 22, 2014

David - Belgium

Hometown: Miami, Florida
School: Miami Killian High School
Sponsor District: District 6990
Sponsor Club: South Miami, Florida
Host District: District 1730
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Spa-Francorchamps-Stavelot

My Bio

My name is David Adam Newman, I am currently a senior in high school at Miami Killian Senior High in the Miami-Dade Public School system. I am the captain of the Lacrosse team I have worked hard as an attack man for all 4 years of my high school time. In florida the environment and the health of the planet is a very crucial part of living, it really interests me therefore I joined the Environmental Club at my school. My classes in my high school now are as follows in this order: Law Comprehension, Advanced topics in Mathematics, AP English Literature, Drama, Marine Sciences, Government/Economics. A few of my favorite non-school related activities to do after school are playing basketball, frisbee, and juggling. I look to study in the field of sport health sciences and physical therapy. My father is a doctor of chiropractic and acupuncturist, his office is within walking distance from our house. My mother works for herself as an accountant. She works with different clients and different locations, and my mom is the best at what she does. We live in the South Miami/Kendall area, I have two dogs, Cairn Terriers named Lucy and Xander (like Alexander just without the Ale). They are a really lovable pair of dogs. My three older brothers have taken this same opportunity to explore a different country. My two eldest brothers went to Japan and the youngest went to Brazil. I look forward for my trip to Belgium in order to enhance my studies in this scientifically notorious country.

Journals: David – Belgium

Bonjour à tout le monde !

I can’t believe 5 months have gone by already.

I would like to start by saying that I’m having the best time of my life. This exchange has been such an eye opening experience for me. This is the first time I have ever been in the beautiful continent of Europe. It took some time getting used to the life here but I think I have the hang of it after 5 months. The language came after 3 months. I go to a French course every Monday and Thursday.

I believe everyone should make time in their life to take this leap of faith and represent your country through Rotary Youth Exchange.

Belgium and her people are just amazing, from the other exchange students to the bus and train directors.

Everyone makes my exchange all the difference. During my exchange I have done quite a lot of activities with and without Rotary. Rotary has taken us exchange students to multiple city tours and even to a coal mine. The Rotex (former Rotary exchange student) also plans special events for us. We had an exotic dinner that everyone had to prepare a dish from their country and present it, after the presentations we got to indulge in the food from around the world. At the beginning of February we will go to a chocolate museum and factory. Yum.

In my time here in Europe I have already visited Paris, France, where I got to go up the Eiffel Tower and get a tour of The Louvre; London, England, is where I got to see Big Ben and the London Eye; Cologne, Germany, I visited Dustin Garner who is on Rotary exchange in Germany from Florida, this year we visited the Grand Dome in the center of Köln; Maastrict, Holland I got the chance to see the country that has more bikes than cars and I did some of my Christmas shopping there with my host family; and there is more to come. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

The thing about Belgium is that I can hop on a train and travel for 2-3 hours and be in a completely new country. As long as I have permission from the host family, Rotary, and my biological family I can practically travel anywhere.

In the past 5 months I have met almost 300 different exchange students from all over the world. I know these will be life long relationships.

This exchange program hasn’t just helped me learn the language and culture of not only Belgium but of cultures from all over the world. It also gave me the opportunity to make friends who are going through the same experiences as I am.

For my 5 month anniversary my host dad took me to a football (soccer) game and the home team, “Eupen”, won 5-1 it was an amazing experience to top off my first 5 months.

There is so much more to come with in the coming months! I will be going to Amsterdam, Spain, and also Italy! I can’t fathom the words for the experience I’m having right now but all I can say is that you really need to experience it first hand.

I want to continue having more “leap of faith “experiences. I want to thank Rotary for this amazing time. There is more to come so keep watching for my next chapter.

Tue, January 27, 2015

Dillon - Japan

Hometown: Spring Hill, Florida
School: Nature Coast Technical High School
Sponsor District: District 6950
Sponsor Club: Spring Hill Central, Florida
Host District: District 2690
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Kurayoshi

My Bio

Hello, my name is Dillon Burns. You can call me Dillon if you prefer. In 2014-2015 I will be abroad, in school, in a part of Japan! I live in the medium sized town of Spring Hill, Florida in the United States. I am 5’10’’ (or 155 cm); I have dark brown hair and brown eyes. My family includes my Mother, Step-Father, little sister, and I. After school I like to enjoy time with friends, work on homework, and on Fridays, do gymnastics. I used to be on my schools swim team and i hope join another when i go to Japan. I feel that my strong characteristics could be that I am a good leader, I defend my friends, I am very compassionate, and I strive to make everyone my friend. My hopes for this foreign exchange is to visit places of the world other people haven’t even thought about going to. I want to indulge myself in another culture and experience something completely different than what I know. We all look for a some what of an adventure in our lives, some more than others, and that adventure for me personally is to connect with people who may have never even met an American before and change their view, as well as mine, on the world forever. Life is a book and this is the next chapter, so lets get reading!

 Journals: Dillon – Japan

First week of Japanese high school!

Today I officially completed my first week of high school in Japan. I will explain how it went in chronological order:

Monday: I was very excited when I awoke at 7am on Monday morning. I had prepared my seifuku (school uniform) the night before so it was layed out and ready for me. I did my normal morning routine which includes going downstairs, taking a shower, putting my contacts in, brushing my teeth,combing my hair, and eating breakfast. I left with my host brother, Daichi, at about 8am. From our house it is about a 10 minute bike ride, which I will soon take a video of, to the school. The reason I will take a video is so that you know I’m not exaggerating when I say I go down the mountain we live on at about 30 mph… ON A BIKE! The first time I went down, I thought for sure that I was going to fall and get injured, but luckily I was ok. Now arriving at the school, I had to run in, give a quick introduction to my class, head upstairs, give another introduction to all of the teachers, and meet the ALT (assistant language teacher) from Minnesota. The ALT’s name is Emma-Sen sei and she also is just starting to learn Japanese so we have made a schedule of when we will practice together. So, because it was testing day, I was in the library for most of Monday. At the end of the day I gave a short speech in Japanese and English to literally the entire school and all of the teachers, so I’m not joking when I say everyone in the school knows my name!

Tuesday: On Tuesday I began taking classes with everyone, or at least, the people of room 1-2. Down below you can see my school schedule and how confusing it is. The first class I had on Tuesday was Math 1, which turned out to be Geometry, The worst math in all of existence. I had no idea what was going on because it was all in Japanese but I did answer the questions that had to do with finding angles and lengths. P.E was actually pretty fun because we played basketball and I did amazingly because they are all short, so I could out run them, and hold the ball out of their reach. Chemistry was one of the classes I understood the most in because its all elements, balancing equations, and other things that I think are universal to chemistry in every country. I was able to answer some questions, unlike every other class where I just sat, stared, got bored, and started doodling some tree with a city under it. About 10 minutes into my next class, traditional Japanese, I realized t here was no way I was getting any work what so ever done. I can’t read regular Japanese let alone traditional Japanese. That’s like asking someone just starting to learn English to read Shakespeare.

Wednesday – I didn’t go into detail on the English class on Tuesday because there is not much to say, the same goes for Wednesday. We start the class, the class reads some English, the class translates the English to Japanese, the students ask me for help, the teacher asks me if the grammar is right, the class ends. For Japanese and Long Home Room, I decided to just study Japanese with Emma-Sensei. I skip Long Home Room because the entire class, the students are writing essays in Japanese, and I can’t do that yet. The excitement of Wednesday happened after school when we went to a Rotary meeting. I was told that I was going to give a short power point presentation and play two songs on a piano. My host brother told me the meeting was at a hotel and that I was playing a beaten down, old piano. So I wasn’t expecting more than 15 people in a small room in a small hotel. The actual scenario was that we showed to a massive hotel where we traveled to the top to a n all white room, bar and bartenders included, where I was greeted by about 40 Rotarians and a solid white grand piano. Boy was I shocked! During the meeting, I handed out my business cards, which I guess literally everyone in Japan has one, and I got to meet my other host families. Fun fact: My next host dad is Buddhist and lives in a temple with his 6 year old daughter and 16 year old son.

Thursday – Yesterday I had health and physical education which is the exact same in Japan as it is in the United States, by that I mean you watch really weird videos on how bad drugs and alcohol are for you the whole class. Next was music class which is by far my favorite class so far. Now be for I tell you about music, I have to inform you how classes work. Unlike in the United States, instead of switching class rooms, the teacher come to your class. So for the majority of the day, you are in the same class with the same people all through out high school. The reason I tell you that in because Music class is one of the only classes that is optional, and obviously I picked it. But because it is optional, we only have about 20 of the 40 students in our class come to music. I don’t yet know where the rest go. The way we started the class was by listening to a classical disk called the “Carnival of Animals”. As we listened to each piece of music, we would write down which animal it sounded like. Later on we sang in Japanese and, because I didn’t know the words, the teacher said I could just say “La La La” to the melody. The next class was information processing and I’m still not sure what that class is about. We went to a computer room, turned on computers but never actually used them, and watched videos on a projector.

Friday – Today I was happy that the weekend is coming because I am exhausted. We had Math A to start off with this time and I’m not convinced its even math; I didn’t see any numbers the entire class, just a bunch of Japanese. We then headed to Home Economics where we leaned something about calories and white Japanese radishes. When we went back to Math A I never in my life thought that I’d be happy to see Geometry. The rest of the day I was just practicing Japanese with Emma-Sensei. After school I was interviewed by the newspaper club. Now I am at home writing this for all of you and coming to the end of another day in Japan, but first I have to go eat Japanese BBQ with my family! 日本語 は 難しい です が, 面白い です. さようなら と おやすみなさい!

Week A =

Monday – Math A, Information processing, Math 1, World History, English communication.

Tuesday – Math 1, English expressions, P.E, Chemistry, Japanese

Wednesday – English communications, English expressions, Japanese, Long Home Room.

Thursday – Health and physical education, Music, Information processing, P.E.

Friday – Math A, Home economics, Math 1, English communications, Japanese

Week B =

Monday – English expressions, Information processing, World History, English communications, Japanese,

Tuesday – Home economics, Biology, P.E, Math 1, Japanese

Wednesday – Math 1, English communications, Chemistry, Long Home Room

Thursday – Health and physical education, Music, Home economics, Biology, P.E

Friday – World History, Japanese, Math 1, Math A, English communications

 Mon, September 1, 2014

Onsens. Hot springs. Japanese bath houses.

So, I went to a Japanese bathhouse yesterday and it was… interesting.

For an American, the thought of stripping down and bathing with other people is not a pleasing one. But once you actually get into the Onsen, the thought kind of just slips your mind as you start to relax. I went to the outside Onsen, which was more like a hot spring, because it was secluded and peaceful. It was about 3 feet deep and was in the shape of a circle with the circumference of about 15 feet. Half of it was covered by a beautiful bamboo roof but the other half was not, and that’s where I sat.

It was raining, just like it has been for the past 4 days, but instead of it being a pesky annoyance, it was tranquil, being about to sit in a hot spring but still being able to feel the cool drops of rain trickle down my face. After leaving the hot spring, we headed to an upstairs room where people could sleep and listen to classical music, which was also VERY peaceful. As I lay there, my host brother was listening to music of his own through headphones and my host father brought us banana flavored milk that I enjoyed very much.

After sleeping for about an hour and feeling completely refreshed, we went to a sweets shop where we each bought a slice of cake and I had the privilege of trying Matcha Mochi, a green tea flavored Japanese sweet. It was one of the best sweets I had ever tasted.

Transport about 4 hours and I am now in the kitchen helping my host parents make Gyozas (pictures included). My host father said that he hid an almond in one and who ever found it would receive 500 yen ($5) but no one ever found it which makes me suspicious. As we were eating, my host parents turned on the radio to a USA rock station and they had all good music and I was singing along to every song; we had a blast! Well that’s what happened yesterday, August 16th, and I am enjoying everyday. I can’t wait to see what the future hold for me!

 Mon, August 18, 2014

… soooo, I went to a beach in Hawaii yesterday! (August 13th) It’s not what you think though, it wasn’t the island Hawaii, rather, the town next to Kurayoshi. It was a nice beach but it was on the smaller side and there were only a few dozen people at the time. We went to an area with a lot of rocks and hunted for oysters, which we later cooked into miso soup.

After coming home from the beach, my host brother and I went to a Karaoke bar for about 2 hours. Obviously, I only sang English songs and he only sang Japanese songs but we still had a great time and I strive to be able to sing in Japanese before I leave! Anyways, school starts August 23rd and I was excited about it until I realized I speak next to no Japanese AND I just found out that they are putting me in the top class, the hardest classes in Japanese high school.

But on a lighter note, the dark picture of the city is where I am staying: Kurayoshi. Today we are going to Tottori to celebrate Obon, a festival were you give remembrance to your deceased ancestors. I guess part of the festival, about 1000 Japanese women walk down the streets dressed in kimonos and dance with colorful umbrellas. I’ll be sure to take many pictures and upload them in a later post! Until next time, Sayonara!

 Thu, August 14, 2014

Dillon, outbound to Japan

I did it, I’m here! Japan better be ready for me!

So this is my first entry documenting my travels. For those of you who don’t know, I am currently doing a year long exchange through the Rotary club to Japan. I left Florida at 8 am on Saturday, August 9th. From Florida, I flew to Chicago, which I left at around 12:45 pm. During the 13 hour flight to Japan, I watched 4 movies, ate 3 meals, and wondered how I was to survive a full year in Japan.

On a side note, the flight was not as bad as people make it out to be. Sure its long, but they offer many services to pass the time and the ride was so smooth, I sometimes forgot that I was on a plane. That is, up until the landing. There was a large amount of turbulence when we landed and the only thing to compare it to would be someone turning on a blender and forgetting to put a lid on it. But it was actually kind of fun.

At about 3:00 pm, after landing in Narita, Tokyo, I went to immigration where I found out that the birthday on my VISA was wrong (it said the birth month was June instead of July) so I have go to some immigration office in the next two weeks or so to get it all sorted out. In the mean time, I was given a residence card to say that my VISA information is incorrect in case anyone asks.

After going down to baggage, I found myself a little worried because I had to switch airports, lucky most of the employees in the airport spoke English. I was directed to an area where I could buy bus tickets, and after buying one for 3,000 Yen ($30) I found out there was a bus that arrived five minutes later that was only 1,400 Yen ($14). After and hour long bus ride from Narita to Handea, I wandered around Terminal 1 for about 30 minutes only to find out that my plane leaves from Terminal 2 (ADVICE TO FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENT: CHECK YOUR TERMINAL XD). Luckily, there was a free bus that took me to Terminal 2, which was actually only a five minute drive.

When wandering around aimlessly in the baggage check in for about 10 minutes, a baggage woman asked me if I needed help so I told her that I was looking for the check-in area for the flight to Tottori. After seeing the intensely long lines, I started to worry that I would miss the flight, but then the lady told me that this is a special flight and there was no one in line at the time. I was so overly filled with happiness that something had finally gone my way, that I almost cried tears of joy (that’s not even an exaggeration). When I got the to waiting area to board the plane, it took every fiber in my body to fight the temptation to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep in fear that I might miss the flight. Once on the plane, however, it took no skill whatsoever to fall asleep. I closed my eyes as the plane took off and opened them as the plane landed.

I arrived in Tottori at about 7:30 pm. The Tottori airport was SO MUCH easier to navigate than the Tokyo airports. I just had to walk downstairs, pick up my luggage, and meet my new family, who had showed up with several other families and a few Rotarians. It was so nice to meet all of these wonderful people even though I was only running on about an hour of sleep.

The first thing we did after leaving the airport was go to a convenient store, which is far more sophisticated and cooler than the convenient stores in the United States. I got an energy drink so that I could stay up and talk to my host parents. My host father, Takashi, and host mother, Junko, seemed like very nice people. My instinct was proven correct when we got home and had dinner. It was a lovely dinner and there was no tension at all at the table, everybody was smiling and even sometimes laughing because my host parents don’t speak much English so we kind of played Charades to communicate. My host brother, who had been an exchange student last year, helped translate though, which was very helpful.

After dinner, I played piano for them and we took tons of Polaroid pictures and had a great time. My host mother even said she had a camera that she doesn’t really use and she knew that I liked photography, so she gave it to me, which I was very thankful for. It is now 8:30 am, August 11th, and I awoke to an awesome view of the entire city of Kurayoshi and some of the surrounding mountains. I’m so glad I decided to become an exchange student!
Wed, August 13, 2014

Dustin - Germany

Hometown: St Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor District: District 6970
Sponsor Club: St. Johns, Florida
Host District: District 1900
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Meinerzhagen

My Bio

Hallo mein Name ist Dustin. I am Dustin, and I am from St. Augustine. I am 17 and a senior at Nease in Ponte Vedra Florida. Later this year I will be going to Germany. I am both excited and nervous. I have never done anything like this before. I am grateful to the Rotary Organization for making it all possible. I don’t know how to express how excited I am to be a part of an exchange. Originally, I was born in Texas. Over the course of my life I have come to call Texas, Virginia, and now Florida my home. I live in-between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, with my mom, dad, and younger brother who is a freshman. I love to learn new things. This will be very helpful to me next year when I will be constantly reminding myself that nothing is strange or weird; it’s just “different”. I love volunteering, swimming, drawing, diving, and traveling. The only time I have ever been out of the country was to visit my family in Canada for two weeks. I am in three clubs at my school: Happenstance (Art magazine President), Interact, and National Honor Society. I like to volunteer anywhere that I can. I have been on the schools swim and dive team for 4 years now. >From the moment I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew it was made for me! I have always wanted to take an adventure on my own, so RYE was the perfect program. I am hoping to become more independent and adventurous while meeting life long friends and experiencing new cultures in ways other than by books or computer screens. I am thrilled to be going to Germany. I can’t wait for the adventures I will have while I am there.

Journals: Dustin – Germany

Deutschland kann ich hier länger bleiben? Ich habe viel Spaß hier in Deutschland und ich weiß, ich weiß nicht mehr verlassen möchte. Aber Worte können alle meine Erfahrungen und Emotionen nicht erklären. Wenn Sie nicht ein paar Dinge zu verstehen, denken wir alle schwierig, aber nach Verständnis, denken wir, ist alles einfach.

I already feel as if I am starting to assimilate into this country that I’ve called home for three months already! I’ve already noticed things about me that have changed. The way I walk, talk, and cope. I have even experienced embarrassing English mistakes. I have seen so much and witnessed so many wonderful things, I even had a dream in German. A week ago I received an email from Mr. Murray and that was a reality shocker. It made me realize my exchange is already one-third of the way finished! It made me realize how short a year really is. I have always told people, “Oh I have seven or eight more months, I have time.” In all reality that isn’t so much time and I really don’t like that.

The month of September I lived in a suitcase. I was gone on trips from the 8-12, and from the 16-26 of September. From the 8-12 of September I was on an English class trip to Munich and Salzburg Austria. From that trip I fell in love with Bavaria. My school puts on Class trips every year for the students and the twelfth grade class happened to go to Bavaria and Austria. I was so thankful that my school allowed me to attend the trip.

While I was on my trip we attended a salt mine. This wasn’t any normal salt mine, it was more of an amusement park. Right from the beginning you sat on a train that was more of a roller coaster and instead of stairs. This mine had slides and ferries over lakes. That was one of the most fun and interesting places I have been too. In Munich we went to a beer museum and walked around the city. I found in Munich people surf on rivers. In the middle of Europe you can still find surfing, be it on rivers or in sewers.

Three days after my class trip I left for my Deutschlandtour from the 16-26. My Deutschlandtour was 10 days on a bus with 50 other inbounds. Since that Deutschlandtour I can say all of the other inbounds and I are one large, melting pot we call a family. I can also say I gained the best walking legs out of all Florida outbounds yet. On average we walked 5-10 miles a day.! I can with absolute pride say I have seen almost every part of Germany.

Our tour began in Dortmund and then moved to Hamburg. We stayed 2 days in Hamburg. From Hamburg we went on to Berlin but made a stop over in Potsdam to see a magnificent palace. We stayed 3 days in Berlin. We walked all over that city and saw so much I can’t even remember. In Berlin I signed the Berlin Wall and one of my friends who went 3 weeks after found it. I thought that was really cool.

Leaving Berlin we spent the night in Dresden. Dresden is one of my favorite cities in Germany. It is not so big but also not too small. It has such a large cultural and artistic side to it. After Dresden we went to Munich. In Munich we got to see what the city was like during Oktoberfest. During this time Munich is so alive and amazing. I cannot understand half of what they are saying when they speak because of the accent but I love it anyways. After Munich we stayed out last night in Nuremberg. Nuremberg was an amazing city as well.
The month of September has been the busiest time of my live. I lived in a suitcase for three weeks yet they were the best moments of my life. Not to many people can say they have toured Germany with other exchange students by bus.

The month of October was amazing as well. When I returned from my Deutschlandtour I immediately had a two-week vacation. I also started to notice my German comprehension and speaking to improve phenomenally. The second half of October Break was spent as a vacation to the Bordensee. In the Bordensee I visited Austria and Switzerland. The Bordensee is a beautiful, large lake in the middle of three countries. I would have liked to swim in the Bordensee but the water temperature was 5 degrees and the air temperature was about 20 degrees. That wasn’t warm enough for me.

We visited a museum there and it stated that people had lived there for 5000 years continuously. Most of the houses standing there are from the year 1200-1300. That is crazy to think of because in the USA we find a house built in the 1700s to be insanely old. It was cool to walk through such old houses. This area is living history.
I am so grateful to my parents, Rotary, and my host parents for allowing me to experience such amazing things already! I’m excited for what’s going to come later on in my exchange if this is just my first three months.

Sat, November 15, 2014

Where to begin with my two weeks here in Germany…?

Well my flights went extremely well from Jacksonville to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Frankfurt. I had to sway my bittersweet goodbyes to my family and close friends in the airport. Luckily I was TSA pre-checked so going through security was painless. The flight from Jacksonville to Atlanta was relatively short.

When I arrived at Atlanta I was completely confused on where to go, and how to get there. I had to ask two different employees to point me towards the train that takes you to the international section of the airport. After what seemed like a mile of walking I finally reached the escalator that took me to the train, and ultimately my gate.

My layover was about 4 hours and I sat at my gate hoping another exchange student would be on their way to Germany along side me. About two hours in I had decided to eat. While I was eating, a button on my blazer popped off. I interpreted that as a sign for things to come. At my gate I met another exchange student from Pennsylvania. She was on her way to Bonn which is about two hours from me.

On the plane, I had the opportunity to meet my first German. She was on her way home from studying abroad in Chile. On the entire flight she talked to me about Germany and I got to practice some German for when I landed. At the Airport I met my host family and they spoke the fastest German I have ever heard. I have picked up German quickly and I can understand it way better than my speaking. I have been complimented on my German and they always ask if I ever took German in school.

My host family lives in Marienheide, a small town with the most breathtaking views. Almost every house except for two are white and it is insanely picturesque. Germany is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. There are many lakes surrounding this town and the hills are fantastic. The only factor I could live with out is walking up these hills at seven in the morning.

I have one brother and one sister. I had the opportunity to live with both of them for one week before my host sister left for her exchange to Argentina. They are both wonderful kids and I got along with all of them extremely well.

After two days of being in Germany my family took me to Holland. The beach was about a mile walk away from the parking lot and it poured on us the entire way. At the time we arrived at the beach my jeans were soaked all the way through. I have never felt such cold water in my life. I have been used to the warm waters of the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. After about two minutes of being in the water my feet went numb.
Holland is breath taking as well. Unfortunately the tulips weren’t in bloom but the windmills exist and a sight to see.

School started for me on the 20th of August and I absolutely love it. There are so many fantastic people in the school and they love to come up to me because I will try and talk to them in German. I think they only like to talk to me because my accent and German is funny but I’m okay with that, I am making such incredible friends already. My school starts at 7:40 am which means I have to catch the bus for 6:45. That is very early for me. There are about 1500 people in my school from grades 6-12. The classes are sort of like college class here. You will not have the same schedule every day with the possibility of “freistunde” which is free time. Every day there is an hour break after the third class. In that break the older students are allowed to go into town and eat. Typical German fast food is a Turkish Döner Kabap. That is the best fast food I have ever had in my life. It is lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie served with salt, tomato, onion, sumac, pickled cucumber, chili, and satsuki sauce.

From the 29th of August to the 31st I have an Inbound weekend with the other inbounds. Then from September 16th to the 26th I have a tour of Germany where we will travel for ten ten days to the major cities of Germany to see them all.

Okay, the differences between USA and Germany. Many people say that Germany and the USA are very similar in ways but I have noticed that that isn’t so true. There are many differences between German cultures and American cultures.

Here in Germany you cannot eat until everyone has food in front of them. I unfortunately forgot that one morning but I can tell you I will never again.

Ice is never served in drinks and they mainly drink carbonated water. I can tell you I have finally found a taste for carbonated water. That is the only water I will drink now. I have found such a love for it that I have never had before.

All stores are closed on Sundays except for bakeries and that is the day I go with my host brother to pick up fresh brötchen. Bötchen is the best bread in the world. You can buy it with just about anything imaginable baked into it.

Here in Germany they only use a bottom sheet on their beds and the blanket isn’t big enough for the entire bed. The blankets are very skinny and long. The pillows here are even different. The pillows are so large that you can wrap it around yourself.

When Germans come to an intersection they will not cross the street until the little green man appears signaling its okay to cross even when there isn’t a car in sight for one mile. That was hard for me to get used too. Some times I will show them how we Americans cross roads and they always find it funny.

Here in Germany people rarely look at each other and smile when walking past one another.

Gas pumps are hard to find here in Germany. You will pull up to a gas station and there will be two types of diesel and three types of medium grade but no standard gasoline. Those pumps are always found in the back of gas stations. The gas pumps have to be screwed on and the smell is very different.

Tax is already included in the price so there are no tricks like in the USA.

When I tell people I am from the USA in Florida they automatically think I live in or near Miami.

Almost every time the second question I am asked is “if I have guns at home?” They are always surprised buy my answer.

They also think its fascinating that I am able to drive at home and ask me if I can here.Which leads me to another point, the Autobahn. I have never seen cars drive so fast in my life. some cars are doing upwards of 130 mph on the autobahn just cruising like there is nothing to it. I still let freaked out sometimes when a car rips past me like those small motor cycles we have in America.

So far I have enjoyed every minute of my time here. I am in a small town which has forced me to make friends and I am glad I have because they have allowed me to learn German and experience Germany for myself. I have not yet run across a German who can speak fluent English and want to speak English with me. They always stare at me if I’m speaking English with another inbound in my school. They tell each other to speak German in Germany if they are trying to help me understand something in English. Which I find amazing because I will learn German here.

I would just love to thank Rotary for this Amazing opportunity I have been given and I have cherished every minute of it.

Until Next Time,
Tschüss
Dustin

Fri, August 29, 2014

Eli - South Korea

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor District: District 6970
Sponsor Club: Coastal St. Johns County, Florida
Host District: District 3661
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Busan 

My Bio

안녕하세요! That is how you say “Hello!” in the amazing country of South Korea! Do you know how much fun it is to write that? Well, my name is Elizabeth, but I go by Eli. It isn’t pronounced the way you probably think it is, either. I am a sixteen year old that attends St Augustine High School—which is an amazing school—and take part of the AICE and SJCCA academies. I enjoy all forms of art, from photography, to drawing, to dancing—all of it. My extreme-fanatic passion is languages though. I am learning Spanish and Korean now, but plan to work on Japanese, Polish, Russian, Italian, and anything I can get my hands on really. Now, about exchange, I am beyond fortunate. I have a supportive mom and dad, a sweet little brother, and fantastic friends. I am so thankful for all of them and for Rotary with their amazing staff! I am so excited to be given this opportunity, and I hope I don’t let anyone down. Do I know this year will be difficult? Yes. There is a lot I will have to push through and little stumbles I will make, but it is what you get out of the struggle that counts. Things are going to change, and hopefully for the better. I am ready to face this phenomenal opportunity with gratitude and tenacity! Thank you all!

Journals: Eli – Korea

We were aware of the location of the subway and bus station the entire time though (don’t worry Mom and Dad!)

The second day turned out much better. We got together with our other friends and all dressed up. Together, we made up a band that consisted of a cat, dead doll, vampire, Korean ghost character, and a Kpop idol. We also put on the actual make up in the middle of a giant department store, because houses in Korea don’t really have the room for five of us girls all trying to get Halloweenified.

The party-event-thing was great! It had food, crafts, things to buy, things to do, a dance competition, magic show, several acts, and a haunted house. The haunted house was actually very impressive. It was made by the students, and they had transformed the school into rooms that were themed by several countries’ takes on a Halloween type holiday. It was done very well, and the entire time I was simply smiling and giving them praise.

The next month consisted of Global Forum and a school field trip! Global Forum was this interesting event my school participated in. Students from schools in China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea (of course), Russia, Sweden, Switzerland (Rotary), and the US (Rotary) participated in discussions about three topics: Ecological Integrity, Cultural Identity/Diversity, and Social Equity. The students that had been selected to participate were assigned a topic and then a role. The roles were the Presenters, those who gave a presentation on their stance for the project, and the Commentators, those who criticized and questioned the Presenters. I was assigned to Cultural Diversity as a Commentator.

It was definitely an experience I won’t forget, and, in the end, I am thankful to have participated in. At the time, I was nervous beyond belief and feeling very unprepared. The entire time, I reminded myself that Rotary had warned me that I would have to participate in more public speaking. I, personally, have a hard time with public speaking. I have improved quite a lot at this point, once I go back and compare myself to my ability before coming here. It might be the fact that I have had to step on that stage several times now. But I’ll explain that later.

Basically, I sat at what looked like a desk from a congress meeting or something and listened to the groups present and Commentators play their parts. Then, my assigned group presented. I had to find my courage, rise from my beloved seat, and grip that microphone with two of my hands, because by this time, my one hand was shaking. I gave my point of view on the matter and my questions, everything going rather smoothly as I had hoped.

That was the scary part. The fun part began afterwards. The students from each country performed in some fashion—dances, games, videos. It was extremely entertaining! Especially because Korean audiences are the most superb audiences someone could ask for. They ooh and ahh, cry, boo, laugh—everything! They are so animated and get into it all so much, that you yourself can’t help but want to become just as enthusiastic. The kids from the other countries seemed to also feel the warmth from this experience and performed well with smiles on their faces. Once all the foreign students performed (besides Rotary), the Korean students performed. Our dance clubs, bands, orchestra, Korean traditional dance/music clubs—they are top notch. Seriously. I recorded their amazingness, and the videos are also on youtube (I just have to find them again…)

The foreign students stayed with us for five-ish days. We got to know them starting Monday, the Global forum was on Wednesday, the field trip began on Thursday, and it ended Friday. Our field trip was actually volunteer work. It was persimmon picking. When I heard we were going to go pick persimmon for two days, I couldn’t think of how that would be truly fun. Yet, I was proven wrong. We picked persimmon for 4 hours each day, but we talked, had fun, adventured, and were allowed to eat the ones that had already become too ripe. Also, we rode in the backs of trucks, experienced the country atmosphere, play games, eat food, and really get to know one another. I spent so much time with my classmates, and that was the beginning of my making friends with more of the foreign kids as well as Korean students in other classes.

At one point, we even had a class competition, where each class competed in some way. My class danced several songs, and we were the second class to compete. I even danced some on stage!

The goodbyes were hard. Not me saying goodbye, but rather the foreign students saying goodbye. They had to all return to their home countries. The amount of tears that had been shed was rather surprising. These students had known one another for four days and yet had still become so attached. It made me think about how it could be once my departure arrived, and I quickly shoved the thought out of my brain. I had so much more time before that date, and I had no need to worry about it then.

Thanksgiving also passed. Of course, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here. It’s an American holiday from the US based off a historical event. Why did I mention that? Because I had one friend ask me if they celebrated it in Korea. She immediately realized what she had asked me and processed her mistake, but I just had to be sure to specify this. And just to make her read this and remember

Anyway, the Rotary students did celebrate a miniature Thanksgiving. We all went to our friend’s house (he moved here from the US because of his parent’s job) where his father had cooked traditional dishes. The non-US Rotary exchangers also came, of course, and had the opportunity to sort-of experience what it is like to participate in this holiday. We also invited the Swedish students from our school! It felt so odd to eat things like stuffing again.

We spent the night eating and singing—some English songs, some Swedish songs, and some Korean songs.

This month was different. The Swedish exchange students had to return back to Sweden after having stayed for 3 months (they were in our high school through a sister-school exchange). Those goodbyes were extremely difficult for everyone, and I have come to discover that it doesn’t have to take time for people to become close.

There was a farewell thingy for the Swedish kids where the Rotary students were asked to speak about our time thus far, and then the goodbye speeches began. We spiced it up and gave, as one teacher put it, ‘the best goodbye presentation so far’. The Rotary crew made a video with pictures and music, including pictures with our friends from Sweden. Then, all of us foreign kids performed three dances for the students, and lastly gave the speeches. Everyone had fun, and the night managed to take place without tears—though it came really close at one point.

Christmas came around as well. Here in Korea, Christmas is seen more as a couple/friend holiday where one goes out around the town and does something fun or relaxing. The family-only idea isn’t extremely common. Even the Korean Christmas music shows the cultural take on the holiday, as many songs that come out during this time of year are about confessed loves or lost loves. One is also reminded this fact when they walk outside and, literally, all you can see are couples. Everywhere. It was actually really cute!

Us Rotary exchange students had a Christmas party! It took place two days before Christmas, after school, and we decorated, cooked, and eventually had our friends come on over! It was splendid. We played Korean games, ate a TON of food, danced a little, goofed off a lot, and had a great time. For many of our friends, it had been their first Christmas party, so I was extra glad that they enjoyed themselves.

At one point in the night, I was focused on getting all the camera-shy peoples’ picture. I spun in circles while randomly stopping and clicking pictures. I got some good ones, some decent ones, and some ridiculous ones. In the end, I think I accomplished my goal and got everyone’s face at least once!

Needless to say, my Christmas was different. I skyped my family, relaxed at home until 3, went out with a friend, and then came home. In a way, it was like any other day. It wasn’t hyped or huge—they actual Christmas day I mean. The season is hyped pretty big, though. In the spirit of Christmas, I gave my host family a gift to show them that I truly appreciated them, even if I couldn’t afford much. They seemed so happy with it, that it basically made my morning~

Now, here I am. I don’t really feel homesick, but I’m also not seeking out anything that is currently taking place in the US. I feel a little sad. I believe it is because this is the last time I’ll be with my classmates. In the United States, school ends in the spring-summer time. Here, it ends within December. I had been so busy with college applications, presentations, rotary things, Korean tests, and other such items that I didn’t get to spend an extreme amount of time with my classmates during class. I felt as if I had so much more time, but I just came upon this realization that I didn’t. My class will be different on February 2nd. I will have new classmates and a new room. This has just today hit me kind of hard. I know it will be okay though. I have come to know many students in my grade, and I will no doubt still be speaking with all of my other classmates! Not to mention, change is a delightful thing. Though there is a sad side to the matter, just around the corner is an entirely new experience coming at us.

Four months. Four months can feel like a few days. Four months can feel like a year. Four months can hold more treasured memories than one thought possible. Four months can be full of so many wishes and hopes, friends and families, and experiences than imagined. Four months is a fragment. Four months is enough time to strip down what one thought to be his or her style, personality, thoughts, ideas, and culture and cause one to take a moment and step back. Four months are easy. Four months are hard.

These last four months are unforgettable and worth the entire journey.

 Sat, January 17, 2015

안녕하세요? 너무 바빴으니까 읽이가 못 썼다. 그런데 읽이 쓰기 정말 힘들다… 교환행으로 다른 나라에 살 때 보통 읽이 쓰기에 대해 생각하지 않다. 그래서 미안합니다

Hello! I have so busy, so I haven’t been able to write a journal. Yet, writing journals in general is difficult. When living in another country on exchange, one usually doesn’t think about writing a journal. Because of this, I am sorry.

It’s interesting. When I was still in the US, after knowing my country, I would look for journals constantly. I always wanted to read the stories of the kids in these other countries living amazing lives (and let me tell you, they are ABSOLUTELY amazing lives). I would always get so frustrated because it could take them so long to update.

Well let me tell you something. I don’t blame them anymore.

From the outside looking in, it seems like this, ‘Oh hey, just get on and write something! Come on!’ but its so much more. Every day, I am living life, and then I have to attempt to remember all these different moments and put them in writing for you, describing it all vividly. The truth is, is that whenever I sit to write a journal, I freeze up. I don’t know what to write about, what is interesting, what you want to hear about—anything. It is as if my brain attempts to sort through everything and then overheats.

I will try to do this though! It’s all for you! (Yeah, you! Sitting there and reading this. You!)

At this point, I have been here for four months. Just hearing that, typing that, seeing that, reading that… ugh it makes me cringe. It sounds so short and so long all at the same time. I feel like I have been here longer, and yet I also feel as if I should have so much more time. I’ve come to accept this feeling as one of the many contradictions that an exchange student discovers about themselves.

I last posted in October (apparently right before Halloween). Well, Halloween was quite interesting, and I guess I never had to opportunity to write about it! Halloween isn’t really celebrated in South Korea. It is acknowledged as this holiday that exists but isn’t quite participated in. Whenever I saw anyone dressed up, they were college kids playing a “Halloween Challenge” where they had to be in costume while on a scavenger hunt.

My school had posters for a Halloween event taking place at another high school. It was Halloween and Día de los Muertos. My friend Bérénice and I attempted to go on Saturday to scope things out and then go again with our other friends on Sunday. What really happened was us two goofballs dressed up in not-quite-Halloween-yet-not-normal attire while getting lost in one of the many sections of Pusan. By lost, I mean not knowing where the school is and being in an area we hadn’t explored before. We were aware of the location of the subway and bus station the entire time though (don’t worry Mom and Dad! 

Sat, December 27, 2014

안녕하세요! 동안 1개월 못 썼어요. 너무 바빴어요. 아직 바빠요. 하지만 지금 쓸 수 있어요.

I think the hardest part about writing these is thinking about what to write about. I have done so much and I have only been here for two months. At the same time, I sit here and I think, ‘There is no way I have been here for two months’. In a weird way, I think all of life sort of feels like this—an endless amazement of existence in time.

I could tell you about all of my trips, but I don’t think it’s what would be preferred. I remember being the soon-to-be-an-outbound, and all I ever wanted to read about was stories or culture differences. So, here is a quick rundown. I went to 보성(Boseong) twice now—learning a lot about culture the first time and learning a lot about people the second time—I have been to Seoul, I have explored this city and certain districts to a degree in which I do not even have to think about where I am walking anymore, I have been to concerts, I have been to festivals, and soon, I will be participating in something called the Global Forum.

Now that you are all caught up, I can move on. WITH SOME STORIES!

This isn’t a long story or an extremely funny story. It isn’t even a story. Let’s just say that the words ‘to be hungry’ and ‘to punch, bash, beat up’ are very similar, and I may have mixed them up on accident once.

Next…. actual….story. I was in 서면 (Seomyeon) and I was going to meet with some of the other exchange students because I was bored and hungry. They were all at dance, but I didn’t think I remembered how to get to the location, so I decided I would search for kimbab, or a macaroon, or some bubble tea—basically something I could consume. I chose a direction and I walked.

Eventually, I reached this bubble tea place and I got excited. So excited, in fact, that I hadn’t noticed the guys in fancy suits in front of me. Fancy suits are pretty common in Korea—the majority of people here are really fashionable, whether you are a boy or a girl. Well, these fancy suit people had flyers, and they were handing them out like many people do, but I was so focused on that bubble tea. One of the men went to hand me a flyer and practice his English and he said, “Hello!”

I was so surprised to have been spoken to in English that my brain couldn’t come up with anything. My mind was trying to make connections: ‘I am in Korea, so I speak Korean, especially to strangers. But, this Korean man just spoke to me in English, so what language do I use? What language do I want to use? How do I speak? How do I say hello?’ and it just kept getting worse. In the end, I replied by making this weird shriek noise and quickly escaped to the bubble tea place with my embarrassment.

What made it worse? I passed by the same guy four more times. And every time, he spoke to me in English, and every time, I panicked. By the last time, I managed to actually say hello back—and I said it in Korean. It was still really embarrassing.

I also truly enjoy spending time with others while I am here. In Boseong, we spent time with other students from the high schools in the area. It was a joy to get to know others our age in the area and make new friends—you learn a lot about culture this way. We spent time playing games, running around, singing, dancing, and enjoying one another’s company.

It was testing time recently. What does that mean? Everyone studies—and only studies. We would even go to lunch and my classmates would bring their textbooks and read. My family and friends had asked, ‘Why are there so many pictures of you with the exchange students?’ Well this was why. They didn’t have time, even on the weekend, to do something other than studying. Now, the tests are over and my friends are beginning to have time!

Culture shock. I feel that I haven’t quite experienced it, as I researched South Korea thoroughly and I have been interested in Asian cultures for a long period of time. There are moments where I am surprised or confused, but I usually accept the concept rather quickly. I think the hardest part is that, as a foreigner, people expect rather little of you. If you can say ‘hello’ in Korean, they are surprised. When I can understand they are pretty shocked. Sometimes they have others try to repeat what they just said to you in English, despite the fact you understood and replied. I think this has been the most frustrating part of my exchange as far as culture goes. I suppose I’ll just keep improving, and keep shocking them.

Also, applying to college while in a foreign country is not fun. At all. But it can be done!

In the end, it’s a pretty cool feeling—looking up and realize that you are in another country. I’ll be on the bus, with my Korean music playing in my ear, and I will just stare out the window thinking, ‘Wow….. I am in Korea right now’. That is pretty amazing.

I’m sorry this journal is so poor. I now understand why the previous outbounds had such irregular updating patterns. 

 Mon, October 27, 2014

What we do isn’t easy. We leave so many people behind at home to come do something that can’t be anything but experienced. I am happy I chose to do it

 안녕하세요? 2주 동안 한국에 있었어요. 이 주는 세번째 주 여기에 있어요! 와! Hello! I basically said that I have been in Korea for two weeks and that I am now working on my third week. Well… the third week is half over. It’s insane to think I have been in South Korea for this long. I mean, it isn’t a very long time in the grand scheme of things, but I just… wow.

So. Do you want to hear about flights? How hectic they are? Well, I can’t tell you anything about that. I had every flight on time (the first time in my entire life that has ever happened). That was nice, but I had two layovers and one was 5 hours and the other was 7. I had a massive amount of time on my hands that I couldn’t do anything without wifi. Once I left the United States to head to Hong Kong, my Internet and cell data were gone and I had a boring and tough flight.

Don’t let anyone tell you that leaving for exchange was ‘easy’. It wasn’t. I had no doubts about leaving, this was all I wanted to do, but still there was this twinge of fear. “What if they don’t like me? What if I get homesick? What if no one talks to me? What if, what if, what if.” Those ‘what-if’s in life will be the things that stop you from accomplishing what you want. I have wanted to be an exchange student and live in another country since kindergarten. Yet, at that moment, my stomach was rolling and churning, and despite telling myself, “I am going no matter what”, I was anxious. What we do isn’t easy. We leave so many people behind at home to come do something that can’t be anything but experienced. I am happy that I reminded myself that I was going to love it here, that there was no way I wouldn’t make ANY friends, and that it was just first-day jitters.

I was right. My host family is wonderful, I have exchange friends and school friends, the food here is beyond belief, and I couldn’t be happier to be experiencing this exchange!

Want to hear about Korea? It’s more than I imagined. I tried to listen to songs and watch shows from Korea before I came, and they gave me certain expectations about Korea. I know that we shouldn’t head to a country with any expectation, but in reality, this is nearly impossible to ask. Every person would admit that they thought things might be this way, or the food that way, or the clothes this way. The difference is that one must be open to see the things they didn’t expect.

For example, the bathrooms here. Back in the United States, many showers are actually tubs or a separate shower, and they nearly always have glass or a shower curtain—something along those lines. Showers are also separated from the rest of the bathroom with the drain inside of the tub or shower floor. Not here. In South Korea, the entire bathroom is made to get soaked. No, not just wet—SOAKED! There is a high shelf I have to put my stuff on beforehand so that they don’t get wet. The sink is wet, the toilet is wet, the floor is wet, the walls are wet. Everything. Many bathrooms also have neither shower curtains nor a separator from floor of the shower to floor of the rest of the bathroom. In fact, the drain isn’t even under the shower; it’s under the sink. My first day, I didn’t understand why there were separate bathroom slippers from the around-the-house slippers. I now understand, and are they oh-so necessary.

Many things are different. Food, eating, habits, and much more. I will write more later. I have school and it is almost the big Korean holiday! I’ll tell you all about it soon enough! Seeya!

Fri, September 5, 2014

Erica - Chile

Hometown: Crystal River, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District: District 6950
Sponsor Club: Crystal River-Kings Bay, Florida
Host District: District 4340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of San Juan Machali

My Bio

Hi my name is Erica Shewbart. I would like to share some facts about me. I am from a small town called Crystal River. I have an older brother named Sam and a younger sister named Hannah. My father is a pilot at Delta Airlines. On occasion I am blessed with the opportunity to fly overseas with him. I have been to Spain, Greece, Italy, and Aruba. I love traveling. Unfortunately, it is only for a few days but I am still excited whenever I get to go. I am in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at school. This is a program where the students use all the same curriculum around the world. I am involved with my schools FFA program. This is an agricultural club that specializes in breeding and showing livestock. I also volunteer at a local wildlife shelter where we take in injured animals indigenous to Florida and nurse them back to health. I love horseback riding and do it whenever I can. I love animals and hope to become a veterinarian someday. I wanted to be a RYE student because I saw it as a once in a lifetime chance that could be an exceptional learning opportunity. I could learn a different language, culture, and become a better and well rounded person.

§  Erica, outbound to Chile

My First Month In Chile 😀

So it has officially been a month since I have arrived in Chile! Time is going by so fast! I have done so many awesome things since I’ve been here. Just the other day, I went with my Rotary club to a place that was kind of like a nursing home. It was for older people that did not have a lot of money. We went and fed them, gave them clothes, blankets, and basic cleaning supplies. One man was so happy he started crying. It made me realize how much we take for granted. These people had little to nothing and it was so awesome to help these people and give back to the community. This experience really helped show me what “Service above self” really meant.

I also made s’mores with my host family today. They loved them. They all had a least four! It was fun to watch them roast marshmallows and accidentally catch them on fire. Also really funny to watch them eat them and get it all over their faces (by the way I couldn’t find graham crackers here so we improvised with some other crackers but they fell apart easily and it was even more messy).

While all of the fun, awesome things are good to do and talk about, exchange changes a person. If I were to come home tomorrow (heaven forbid), I wouldn’t be the same person I was when I left. I feel like on my exchange, I have become happier. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I am not as afraid to approach new people, make mistakes, ask questions, etc. For example, before exchange I would sit in class and the teacher would ask a question and I knew the answer but didn’t want to raise my hand in case I was wrong. I was a perfectionist. Now, I always try to participate in class, answer the question, and try new foods, even though it is in a different language and a different country. I have realized that nobody is perfect and its okay to make mistakes. That is how we learn. Though I have learned so much on this extraordinary adventure, there is always more to learn. Always. I am looking forward to learning more Spanish, more about Chile, and more about the world.

 Sun, October 5, 2014

Fuliece - Finland

Hometown: Freeport, Bahamas
School: Tabernacle Baptist Christian Academy
Sponsor District: District 6990
Sponsor Club: Grand Bahama Sunrise, Bahamas
Host District: District TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Hello! My name is Fuliece and I’m from the island of Grand Bahama. I am 17 years old and later this year I will be moving to Finland!!! This is one of the biggest changes in my life and I’m really excited to go their and learn a new language, meet new people and just have a wonderful experience. I live with my grandmother and my younger brother, they are both funny individuals. Every day after school I always do an activity, such as softball , basketball and/or soccer. Really any sport I am always excited to try. In my free time I like to hang out with friends and listen to all variety of music and just do things to make people smile. A year ago I never thought that I will be moving across the world, having a new family, meeting new friends and living a different life. The feeling is overwhelming and it is just amazing. When I first found out that I was going to Finland I had to sit down and gasp it all in because it still felt all new to me. I know the day that I leave to go to that wonderful country is the day my life will change forever. Can’t wait to go to Finland to learn and experience their culture and a new life.

Grace - Brazil

Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Hillsborough High School
Sponsor District: District 6890
Sponsor Club: Tampa, Florida
Host District: District 4760
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Betim

My Bio

Oi! Meu nome é Grace Montgomery! I am currently a senior in the IB (International Baccalaureate) Program at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida. I will be spending my gap year in the beautiful country of Brazil! Let me introduce myself to you a little bit more: I am 18 years old, a triplet, and I live with my two (triplet) brothers, my younger sister, my mom, dad, dog, and two cats. I am also the Vice President of my school’s Interact Club, Secretary of the National Honor Society, and member of the French Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. In my spare time, I like to hang out with my friends, read, listen to music, and (like many other American teenagers) social network. I have also recently devoted a good amount of time to teaching myself Portuguese in preparation for exchange! I was inspired to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student after reading the blogs of current exchangers and being blown away at what an awesome opportunity they had to be in another country for a year; truly learning the culture and becoming fluent in the language( I’ve always wanted to be fluent in another language!). I’m also looking forward to making lifelong friends from Brazil and around the world! In the future, I hope that I can apply what I learn as a Rotary Youth Exchange student to my career; maybe work for the State Department one day and hopefully work at an embassy in a foreign country! I am so excited to be able to live in Brazil and will try my best, despite the struggles and frustrations that are bound to come, to have a proactive attitude and make next year the best year of my life! As for now, tchau!

Journals: Grace – Brazil

HELLO WORLD! Yes, I am alive. And no, I have not written a journal since December. Sorry about that, but these last few months on exchange have been some of the busiest, and when you’re living in a foreign country honestly it’s just so hard to tell yourself to sit down for a good block of time and try to simplify everything that has been happening in your life. It’s extremely hard to simplify whole days, weeks, and months into just a few sentences. I feel like the experiences are hard to convey, and maybe the reason it is so hard to write journals is that simply writing into sentences experiences that you lived, breathed, and interacted in cheapens the memory in some way. The same statement goes for exchange in general, one cannot understand an exchange year and the experiences an exchange student goes through unless they have gone through a similar experience themselves.

However, for the sake of this journal I will try and recount the highlights that have happened on my exchange so far since my last journal.

January: After the first week of January, I set off on a 21-day journey throughout the Northeast coast of Brazil. It was undoubtedly the best trip of my life. The trip began with a night in Belo Horizonte, where all 37 exchange students that we’re going on the trip got to know each other (most of the people on the trip actually already knew each other, as most of us were from the same BH-based Rotary district, there were only about 10-15 exchange students that weren’t from our district that were on the trip). The first night included a dance party with dance instructors teaching us how to dance funk (brace yourselves future Brazil outbounds) and samba……and if I try to recount every day in detail this journal might be so long I don’t think you would continue on.

* Just too give you somewhat of a reference of how hard it is to write journals, I literally wrote this first part three weeks ago, didn’t finish, and today I sat down and chugged 2 cups of Toddy (an overly-sugary chocolate drink they have here in Brazil) in order to try to get the energy to continue writing.*

Anyways, back to the Northeast trip- we ended up travelling throughout the country in the following order. Lençóis- we went to Chapada Diamantina, snorkelling in caves, hiking and caving in Guta de Lapa Doce, went to a natural waterslide, and there was a live capoeira performance in our hotel. Maceió- everyone went out on boats to natural swimming pools. One of the days included everyone going on a rented boat to a private island- dance party on the boat at the end of the day included.

Natal- perhaps one of my FAVORITE things that I have done in Brazil was ride the dune buggies on the sand dunes in Natal. It was amazing! The dunes were huge, it felt as if we had been dropped in the middle of the Saharan desert. There was also an amazing Luau party that ended with everyone jumping into the pool and continuing the dance party in the pool! It was a night I’ll never forget.

Salvador- The tourgroup visited nearby Praia do Forte first and then arrived in Salvador. During our time in Salvador, we took a tour of the city (which is one of the most famous cities for Carnaval!), went shopping in the Mercado Central, visited the historic areas and some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Brazil (so much gold inside the churches!), and went on the Elevador Lacerda. Fun fact: Salvador was the first capital of Brazil!
Porto Seguro- famous for being one of Brazil´s biggest partying towns. Many Brazilians come here for vacation. We went to a famous party complex called Axé Moi on the beach- one of the many beach days on the Northeast trip!

Sidenote: there was also quite a lot of time spent on the bus travelling between these cities. Although tiring, it was a good time to chat with your bus partner and bond with people- as well as have sing alongs to Brazilian songs.

Rio de Janeiro- A cidade maravilhosa! During our time in Rio, we spent our time on the beach in Copacabana, visiting Cristo Redentor, overlooking Rio from the Pão de Açúcar, and visiting the Sambodromo (where Rio´s Carnaval is televised from!) and Maracanã stadium (World cup games and where the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics will be held!

Angra Dos Reis – Perhaps the most beautiful area of Brazil, where everyone went out on boats to go amongst the areas many islands and swim in the clear water! It was an amazing experience, Angra was breathtaking!
And with our last stop being Angra Dos Reis, we all returned home. For any future Brazil outbounds I highly recommend the Northeast trip- I saw so much of Brazil and had the time of my life traveling around Brazil for three weeks with my best friends! 

In other news about January, I moved to my second host family the day after the Northeast trip, and yes there were tears even though I knew I would still see my first host family a lot. I now share a room with my host sister, have another brother, a mom, dad, and three little adorable dogs.

February:
The most important event in Brazil in February (and arguably most important event of the year in general): CARNAVAL!!! Carnaval is mid February, and depending on where you are, they celebrate it Monday- Wednesday, Friday- Wednesday, or heck, even the whole week! Most of the parades and traditional Carnaval festivities however, happen on the Monday- Wednesday.

I went with my family to a VERY small city, Lima Duarte, a few hours outside of Rio to celebrate Carnaval. It was a small city itself, but a great place to spend Carnaval. People from surrounding towns came and everyone paraded and partied with a live concert in Centro, on the streets, from midnight until 5:30 AM/ 6 AM EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Needless to say, my Carnaval was an experience to remember. But it didn’t end there!

My host family and I went on a vacation to Porto Seguro (where I had just visited a month before on the Northeast trip) for a few days following Carnaval. I absolutely love Porto. If I could take my American friends and family to vacation there one day, I would in a heartbeat. My host sister and I went to a post-Carnaval festival called Carnaporto on the Thursday and Friday night after Carnaval. Each night the concert would start at 1 am and wouldn’t end until 5 (ended at 9 AM on the last day!)! I have a feeling that festivals like that would never happen in America. At Carnaporto, I got to see famous Brazilian artists such as Claudia Leitte and Tomate. (I also met the lead singer of Onze:20, another famous Brazilian band, during my Carnaval in Lima Duarte.) Carnaval is a blast in Brazil and I highly recommend trying to come to Brazil at least once in your life to celebrate it here!

March: In March I finally started school again after a little bit of confusion with Rotary and Carnaval (things don’t really get moving in Brazil until after Carnaval). I am now studying Law in a Brazilian university and I am loving it! Who knew I would love law so much, specifically, Brazilian law? I’m now seriously considering studying law as a career track- another life changing moment I can thank Rotary for! And learning Brazilian law has taught me a lot about the cultural, societal, and legal differences between Brazil and the USA.

I also visited a few small surrounding towns with my host family as well as go to a family friend’s wedding! I’ve been to two wedding in Brazil so far, now. I continued hanging out with my Brazilian friends, and began to establish a ´normal` routine for my day-to-day life.

April: Some of the highlights of April were that I went to another city, Pará de Minas, and went to a concert for the winners of The Voice Brasil 2015 (who are actually from my city- Betim! I´ve actually seen them around town a few times.). Continued to meet every Monday in Belo Horizonte with other exchange students for Açaí. I continued to make new friends with my university peers as well as people outside of university. Made memories, had fun, that’s exchange life.

May: May is the beginning of the end. I can feel it coming. I don’t want it to, but it lurks at the back of my mind that I may be coming home soon. That is why I must make every day count. To any future exchange students : MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT! Because soon enough you will be near the end and you will not want to waste any last precious moment in your country, with your friends and family.

As for events that have happened so far in May, I went to my very first Cavalgada! A cavalgada is where everyone who has a horse goes and meets up in Centro with their horse, and the rest of the town come to party along, and everyone parades around the city until they reach a farm or park or other venue for the rest of the festival. It’s a lot of people, a lot of horses, and a lot of craziness (I honestly don’t know how someone did not die that day). Nonetheless, it was a great day and one of my best memories here in Brazil. (It never gets old that first moment that someone realizes you are gringa and they absolutely freak out and start asking you tons of questions about your country- it makes you feel proud to be a foreigner. The Cavalgada was in the neighboring city of Igarapé, and for the next few weeks there will be more cavalgadas in other cities in the area.

THE END IS NEAR: This last weekend I had my District Conference which was the last time all the exchange students from my district would be reunited together before we all started going our seperate ways. This weekend was amazing. We all arrived in Caxambu, Minas Gerais, where the conference was held, on Thursday. The weekend included a presentation about RYE (accompanied by a dance made by all us exchange students in front of the Rotarians), horse carriage rides, ski lifts up mountains, lots of photos, a beautiful park all the exchange students explored together, lots of bonding time, many laughs, many hugs, and finally, many tears.

This district really has become like a family to me. All of us get along so well, it’s amazing. It’s like we’re all brothers and sisters, internationally. I really do feel as though each and every one of them is a brother or sister that I love dearly. I know that these guys will always stay in my memories, I’ve had the best times of my life with my fellow exchange students. We’ve all grown and seen each other change in this last year, our friendship is incredible.

On Sunday, thinking that I may never see some of these guys ever again EVER IN MY LIFE, was absolutely heartbreaking. But even if we aren’t with each other in person, I will carry them all in my heart, as well as all the memories I’ve made this year. I couldn’t be more grateful for the other exchange students, this year, this country, and this experience that has changed my life.

Obrigada Brasil, eu te amo tanto.

Até mais.

 Wed, May 20, 2015

Every day on exchange is an adventure. Every day something new and memorable happens. Sometimes I have to go out myself and search for something to do, but I at least try to make the most out of every day here.
That being said, I’ve now been here FIVE MONTHS, and I can’t imagine a time in my life better than my past few months here in Brasil! SO much happens every day, which is why I think the best way to update you all is to try to give a list of the highlights of my past few months:

– Introduced the wonders of American food to my host family by teaching them how to make brownies, pancakes, and cheesecake (which truthfully I had never made by hand before but my host cousin had always seen cheesecake in American movies and wanted to know what it tasted like).

– Performed with my classmates at our school’s dance recital, costume and all, it was the first time I had done something like that.

– Spent endless weekends at sítios (little farm houses outside of the city) with family and friends. Sítios are where a lot of Brazilian families go on the weekends to spend time together, relaxing, swimming, playing cards, and generally enjoying life. I also went to a sitio for a weekend with some of my classmates as a end-of-the-year celebration of sorts!

– Speaking of end- of-the-year, I graduated from Brazilian high school! There were two ceremonies, a mass for all the graduates in one of the city’s most beautiful Catholic churches, and then a formal ceremony that took place in an auditorium. Everyone looked their best, wearing very formal dresses or suits.

– I actually made A SPEECH at my graduation(completely in Portuguese of course), thanking my classmates for helping me with my Portuguese, to adjust to life here in Brazil and all the wonderful memories they had given me. At the end of the auditorium everyone stood up and clapped for me, my classmates, my amazing teachers, my principal…..It truly was a special moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget about my exchange, I was moved to tears.

– Went to my cousin’s graduation and graduation party (with was complete with a live Carnival-style band that didn’t stop until 5 AM- they literally served breakfast at the party and my whole family arrived home at 7 AM as the sun was rising).

– Went to a Brazilian wedding! It was gorgeous, and the reception afterwards was a lot of fun- I almost felt like I was back in America with all the English party songs they played (‘YMCA’, Michael Jackson, ‘Party Rock Anthem’, The Black Eyed Peas).

– Had a paint war on the last day of school (traditionally Brazilians paint themselves with the names of the university they will go to and what they will study, on the last day of school).

– Helped out at an English school a few times, talking to the classes about the United States and answering any questions they had about the culture.

– Gotten the hang of taking the buses around the city and into Belo Horizonte.

– My Birthday!!! My host family is absolutely the greatest and planned a party for me, all my family was there and my friends from school came and I couldn’t have asked for a better day!

– Brazilian Christmas! They celebrate Christmas mostly on the 24th here, so that is the day the whole family got together for a dinner and gift exchange.

– I visited the zoo in BH the other day with the other exchange students, but yesterday I went to this amazing animal sanctuary that my host aunt helps out at and I got to see onça- pintadas (leopards) and mountain lions and every type of bird imaginable! I even got to go into the exhibit of a one-armed monkey and play with him face-to-face!

– Among other little things, I’m reading books in Portuguese and trying to work on my pronunciation, as well as writing my handwritten exchange jornal completely in Portuguese. I’ve come to find that sometime I want to use a Portuguese word when I’m talking in English because I feel that it just “fits” better.
Overall, I’m having the time of my life, and there are many adventures yet to come- I have the Nordeste trip in January- a trip all along the coast of Brazil!
Até logo!

 Tue, December 30, 2014

Always put your family first- your host family that is! Fortunately, I have been blessed with an awesome and caring host family here in Brazil –

One of the reasons I have been so delayed in writing this is that I simply cannot find the words to shortly sum up the past three months of my life. I told myself before I went on exchange that I wasn’t going to be one of those kids that never updates their exchange blog, but look where we are now. Goes to show how much changes when you’re on exchange! So much has happened I don’t know where to start! Oh well, here goes:

Always put your family first- your host family that is! Fortunately, I have been blessed with an awesome and caring host family here in Brazil – I couldn’t have asked for anything better! In my Brazilian host family, I have one older brother, one sister (who is currently on exchange in Portland, Oregon), and a host mom and dad- and we’re not counting the endless number of ‘tias’ and cousins I have! As an exchange coming to a new country knowing no one else. you will spend a lot of time with your host family! Almost every weekend I’m at a family barbeque (churrascaria), at a relative’s house, or going out with my host family! There’s always something to do or someone to visit in my family!

I think in general, Brazilian families spend a lot more time together than families in the US- which makes for a closer family that is always looking out for each other and having a good time together. Although there are a lot of people in my family and it took me a bit to learn everyone’s names, I love each and every one of them! My tip to any future exchange students would to be to spend as much time with your host family as you can- they will be the ones to help you whenever you need and will make you feel at home in your new country.

Minha cidade! My city here in Brazil is considered a small city, but it doesn’t feel like that to me because it’s roughly the same population as Tampa and it’s just 30 min – 1 hour outside of Belo Horizonte (the 6th largest city in Brazil). The Betim (my city)-Contagem-Belo Horizonte metropolitan area is the third largest metropolitan area in Brazil- after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Although I am the only exchange student in my city, I have gotten the hang of taking the bus alone to the next city to visit the other exchange students. You haven’t truly adapted until you’ve successfully gotten from point A to point B via your host city’s public transportation. As for entertainment, I also live right next to a mall (literally right next to it- I could jump out the window and land on the roof of the mall) and near Centro, so there’s always somewhere to go!

Escola! My school here is very small, there are only 15 other people in my whole grade, and we’re all in the same class together for the whole day (Oi meus amigos brasileiros, se vocês estão lendo isso! Amo vocês!). This is a huge difference for me, but I love it. We have a lot more subjects of study here, but the classes are shorter and every day the schedule is different. And school ends at 12:30 every day except Tuesdays when it ends at 5:30. This means there’s plenty of time to go out and do something after school each day!

A língua- português! Every day I learn more and more Portuguese and find it easier and easier to understand! The fact that I am constantly surrounded my Portuguese, and that no one in my family and none of my schools friends speak English with me, has helped me grow immensely. To future exchange students, study your butt off before you arrive in your host country, it makes adapting and creating relationships so much easier! Plus, there is literally no greater feeling for an exchange student than for a teacher to randomly compliment you on your language ability just a few days after you arrive in your host country (and tell you that you’re the best exchange student they’ve ever had, no less!). I still have a lot to learn grammatically in Portuguese, but I’m able to get my point across in my day-to-day life. I love this language and I can’t wait to become fully fluent in it!

Other highlights of my exchange- Orientation with the 36 other exchange students in my district was a blast! It was and 11 day orientation, filled with language lessons, day trips, and bonding! Exchange students truly are the craziest bunch of kids you’ll ever meet, I had so much fun at orientation. (Love you all!) All of us exchange students visited the historic and picturesque city of Ouro Preto, a huge museum at Inhotim (that I got to see via a wheelchair because I also sprained my ankle at orientation learning that I really don’t have that much balance on a skateboard as I might have thought), and a city tour of Belo Horizonte. Another awesome highlight of my exchange so far was my trip to Rio de Janeiro with my host family. It was a surreal experience and an amazing trip!

Overall, these past few months here in Brazil have been the best in my life. I have learned so much, and can tell that I’ve changed(for the better) as well. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. So if you are a someone thinking about going on exchange and you are reading this blog, I encourage you to decide to apply because it’ll be the best decision you ever make! Rotary can take you farther than you ever thought you could grow, and I’m so thankful to Rotary for this new life they have given me. After all, “exchange isn’t a year of your life – it’s a life in a year”.

Tchau for now!

Thu, October 2, 2014

Hannah - Brazil

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Sunrise, Florida
Host District: District TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Bom Dia! My name is Hanna Foster, I am 17 years old, and I’m going to be spending my senior year of high school in Brazil. I currently live in the college town of Tallahassee. We’ve got 3 colleges based here; Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and Tallahassee Community College. I’ve lived in the same house for my entire life, with my mom, dad, and younger brother. We’ve also got two dogs, a cat, a snake named Uno, and the occasional chicken from my grandmothers’ farm. I’ve always loved to travel, and was lucky enough to get to go to France for two weeks in June of 2013. That trip was really the tipping point for me to have this amazing opportunity to travel to another country for a year. I’d always wanted to be able to see all of the corners of the earth, and when I heard of Rotary, I knew it was exactly what i was looking for. On the first day of freshman year, in my French 2 class, some of the Rotex spoke to us. I was captivated; I wanted so badly to experience all of the wonderful things they had talked about. However, after many, many discussions with my parents, we decided that it wasn’t the best time for me to go. But this year, after I got a job and proved that I could be serious about school, we decided to go for it! I’m so unbelievably excited to get to experience something so amazing at only such a young age, and I can’t wait to do and see all of the amazing things that Brazil has to offer. Muito obigado, Rotary!

Hayden - Brazil

Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor District: District 6970
Sponsor Club: Orange Park Sunrise, Florida
Host District: District 4650
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Joinville – Cidade das Flores

My Bio

Oi! My name’s Hayden Hurlbut and I’m currently a senior at Fleming Island High School. But next year, I get to spend my gap year in Brazil! First off, I want to thank Rotary again for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. Right now I live with my sister who is only 15 months older than me and my parents. I’m also really close with my brother who is 26 and now lives only about 30 minutes away from us. During school days I’m usually extremely busy. I’m at school at 7 am if not earlier to edit videos for the TV production program I’m in because we have to make the news everyday. Then after school, I usually have soccer practice for about 2 hours and then I go and film whatever I need to for TV production again. When I have free time, my friends and I love to just hang out and play some video games, go eat something, or if we have enough time, head to the beach. The beach is probably one of my favorite places to be, I love surfing or just hanging out there. The main reason I wanted to do an exchange is because one of my best friends went to Thailand for a year and came back absolutely loving it and then we hosted an exchange student for Denmark for a year which just made me want to do an exchange even more. So I can’t wait to see what Brazil has in store for me and I’ll see you guys soon. Tchau!

Journals: Hayden – Brazil

First of all, I’d like to apologize to Rotary and to everyone reading my journals for taking so long to write a second one. However, I will be sure to be much more punctual with my submissions for the rest of my exchange.

I don’t think I can truly express my feelings and how amazing the experiences I’ve had in one simple journal, but I will try. Over the time I’ve been away I’ve made memories and friends that will certainly last me a lifetime.
From the time I’ve been away I’ve changed host families and I’m now living with a couple that has never had kids and only wanted to receive an exchange student. They both work the whole day almost everyday. Therefore, I have the house to myself until about 8 o’clock everday. This has been quite the new experience for me because I’ve always grown up with an older brother and sister being around and also in my first host family I had two host brothers. This led to me being extremely worried about this host family as I thought they wouldn’t really pay any attention to me and that I’d be lonely most of the time. However, I could not have been more wrong. I absolutely love my host family here. They’re both extremeley sweet and funny people and this has turned out to be my favorite host family so far. If I had the choice, I would stay here in a heartbeat. I also am almost never bored due to the fact that one of my best friends from Mexico lives right down the street from me.

Other than my host family changing in the time I’ve been away, I’ve also been on the trip of my lifetime… The Northeast Trip! I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing experience. I spent 30 days traveling the Northeast of Brazil with 35 exchange students. For those of you who don’t know, the Northeast of Brazil is full of beaches and some of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen. The complexity of the landscape is astonishing. In one city you will find mountains covered in deep, green forest and then a city 20 minutes away is right on the beach with crystal blue waters. I made so many friends on this trip and the fact that I probably won’t see many of them again makes me sadder than I can say. It’s a really strange feeling becoming so close to someone and seeing them everyday for 30 days and then just saying bye.It’s almost like doing a mini exchange during your exchange.

Finally, I’d like to talk a little bit about learning Portuguese. I told myself before exchange that I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in Portuguese until I actually dreamed in Portuguese. And what do you know, one week ago I had my first dream in Portuguese. I could have screamed I was so happy. Finally being able to think in another language without having to try, finally reaching the goal you’ve been after your whole exchange year. It’s just a feeling that leaves you smiling and you can’t stop. I could’ve screamed when I woke up from that dream just because I was so excited. So if I can offer any advice to the next outbounds it’s to not give up. Learning another language is not going to be a straight line up where you see yourself getting better every single day. Not everyday you’ll wake up with excitement about having to think in another language. But it’s all worth it in the end. I can promise you that.

 Sun, February 22, 2015

Sing, dance, eat, learn to live like a Brazilian!

Wow… Already a month and a half has past… Time in Brazil slow down! I’ve done so much in Brazil so far and seen so many things that it’ll be hard to put it all into one little journal; but I’ll try.

Arriving in Curitiba, Brazil seems like such a distant memory now. I remember being ridiculously nervous as soon as I landed and all that I was hoping for is that my bags weren’t lost and I would get through customs easily. Well, I waited at the bag terminal for 30 minutes until my bag finally came out because it was the LAST one. That was probably the most stressful 30 minutes I’ve had in Brazil so far to be honest. But after I finally received my bag, I proceeded to customs where I started getting much more excited than nervous and said “Oi, tudo bem?” to the customs officer who was so impressed with my limited knowledge of Portuguese that she practically just let me walk right through. Then finally I walked through the gate, where my family greeted me with hugs and kisses. From that moment, I knew I’d love Brazil.

My first two weeks in Brazil were almost non-stop. My host family wanted to show me as much of Brazil as they could as soon as I arrived. We went home for one night where I pretty much just dropped off my big suitcase, put some clothes into a smaller one and then left again for São Paulo. São Paulo is an absolutely stunning city that sits on top of a mountain overlooking Santos, another city that’s right on the beach. It’s very crowded in the city and a little bit dirty but I was way too amazed by the fact that I was finally in Brazil to care at all. That night my family took me to my first churrascaria, which is restaurant where you pay one price and then waiters just bring you every type of meet in the world and you say yes or no to if you want it or night. Churrascarias are by far my favorite food places in Brazil! We spent about 3 days in São Paulo and then ended up driving back to Curitiba to catch a flight over to Foz do Iguaçu.

Foz do Iguaçu is a little city that sits right on the border between Argentina, Parguay and Brazil. We spent almost a week and a half there and my family even took me to see Iguaçu Falls! Iguaçu Falls is one of the 7 wonders of the world and the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to! I was literally being showered with so much love and gifts from my family that it was practically impossible for me to stop smiling, which my family absolutely loved.
Brazilians are probably the nicest people in the world. They will always want to help you, feed you, and kiss you. All they want to do is have fun, dance, and sing and you can’t help but sing along and dance with them! (Even though I’m very bad at singing and dancing.) The only thing that Brazilians want you to ever do is to enjoy yourself. As long as you smile and have fun, they will love you.

Alright, so I guess I should talk about the language here… It’s fast. When I first arrived in Brazil I did not understand ANYTHING. I actually felt pretty comfortable with my knowledge of kitchen utensils right before I left and everything but that was not the most helpful thing to know in a conversation. My go to phrase was, “Muito legal.” Which means, “Very cool” in Portuguese. This was literally the only thing I would say for the first week I was here because I didn’t understand anything and I felt bad sometimes asking my parents to repeat things 4 times extremely slowly before I understood anything. But all I can say to you future exchange students out there is to stay with it!

My host brother was the only one in my family that spoke English but he left about two weeks after I got there. There is no doubt in my mind that all of the exchange students have been in the same place and because I kept speaking Portuguese and trying I am actually not bad at it now. I understand most of what is being said and can communicate a response much more intelligent than, “muito legal.”

The final thing I want to talk about is my school. Here I was practically a celebrity the first week because everybody wanted to meet the “gringo.” But everybody is very nice and helpful too and when you make a mistake in Portuguese (which happens a lot) they will just help you out. Also, soccer is huge in Brazil and they play it as much as they can in school. I love soccer and play it all the time after school with them and it’s been a great way to make friends here!

I also, really just want to thank Rotary for this once in a lifetime opportunity and for definitely preparing me for exchange, because without them none of this would be possible! Well, that’s all I have to say for now. I can’t wait to see what the coming months in Brazil have in store for me! Tchau!

 Mon, September 8, 2014

Isabella - Italy

Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Florida
School: West Broward High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Miramar-Pines, Florida
Host District: District 2050
Host Club:The Rotary Club of Brescia: Vittoria Alata

 My Bio

Ciao! Il mio nome è Isabella! If you can recognize the language YES I am going to Italy! How’s my Italian? Haha. I super duper excited, and nervous. I can’t wait to live this experience, waking up and living in a beautiful country and living the unexpected. I am going to live in a walking museum! I am so happy that Italian is somewhat similar to Spanish, so I won’t be totally lost. Haha. Anyways! I am 17 years old and I attend West Broward High School as a current Junior. I’m in a program at school called Dual Enrollment, which means I am a part time college student. I am also a youth leader at my church, MCI, and I love it. I love preaching, and I love helping people. My passions are many, however three very important ones are God, dance, and modeling (photography not runway). I dance Ballet, Contemporary, Hip Hop, and am working on adding more. I’m actually studying/taking dance in college right now. I am super friendly and open with meeting new people and experiencing new things (even if it is exotic food (well maybe) haha). In this exchange I want to come back home speaking great Italian! I want to experience a totally different day to day life while learning and growing from it all. I know that this experience is going to change me in a good way, opening my eyes to more. I will probably have a tough time the first week, but I know that waking up to the beauty of Italy will put a daily smile on my face! SO excited, SO nervous, but I can’t wait! Until next time! Or should I say , fino alla prossima volta! (:

 Journals: Isabella – Italy

I think that the western and eastern hemispheres are different universes. Something that blows me away is just how drastically different every country on this side of the world is. Being American you get used to similarity because America is so great and big. You do not get that here. You have so many countries and so many cultures and you just grasp so much from the impact that there is so much difference in everyone. Americans have so much diversity, most of us are all from different countries all over the world but we still have a new nationality that brings us together. You would think America would be the best place to get to know cultures all over the world because America is basically made up of that but in reality you just can’t.

The difference is that here the diversity is so clear but back home we all have that one thing that makes us one. The American culture is beautiful and as we continue to live there it covers up the differences between cultures and makes them one so you can’t get the whole picture of a culture because it is mixed in with the American one. To really get to know a culture you have to live in it. You have to experience it. Once you do this, you start looking at everyone and life in general so differently. You start accepting and loving and your mind never stops exploring.

F O O D. Italian food is a sneak peak of heaven. Seriously, it is good. Every week I try new things. New pasta, new pizza, new wine. Those three things are principles here in Italy, but it’s not all there is. A lot of it is the same food but made in such a different and extraordinary way that it becomes its totally own dish. Rice is different, meat is different, and if I told you how much cheese I’ve encountered…you wouldn’t believe me. At a supermarket you see a lot of cheese. A whole wall full of hundreds of different types. Its absolutely incredible.

In my first host family they grew a lot of veggies themselves. The first day I got here I saw around 50 veggies I’ve never seen before. I’ve seen a lot of different dishes while at the same time seen none of the ones I’m used to. My biggest cultural shock when it comes to meals here is breakfast… its non-existence in my diet. Occasionally I’ll drink coffee but that just about does it. It hit me when I came down to eat breakfast and saw only crackers. Italian breakfast is very light. Its made up of a drink and a simple sweet pastry or cracker. Whereas in America breakfast is a big meal. Seeing no eggs for breakfast… it changes you. Now when I eat eggs or a big breakfast my stomach isn’t used to it.

There is a lot that Italians are missing out on in food. I’m hispanic and I didn’t realize that of course they wouldn’t have any of it here! I gotta open their eyes soon. The food has also been very different by family. There’s two types of Italians in this world: the healthy and the gormandizing. Fortunately I’ve lived through both. In my first host family, my mom was 80% vegan. She incorporated a lot of vegan dishes on the table. She would make us our own dishes as well of course. I found that the kitchen in that family was very simple, healthy, and very good.

In my second host family I got the real deal when it comes to the verb: to gormandize. I got a heavier and realer feel on what Italian food is. I ate new things almost every day and ate a lot of it. It was an extraordinary experience… until you weigh yourself. A problem when you encounter new food is not knowing how to eat it. So I began to train myself to eat smaller portions and to not eat until I was about to explode. It was hard. I was very happy in my second host family and I love going back to meals cause she is such a great cook.

I’m was also happy in my first family because I’ve learned a lot about falling in love with salads and meals that will help me stay fit. However, whenever there is pasta or pizza on that table I purposely forget. Gotta love Italian food! On another note, GELATO. Italian ice cream is super good. I don’t eat a lot of it, mostly because I don’t have a very big sweet tooth to begin with but when I eat it there are no regrets. Its hard having so much good food that you want to dive into and keep fit. I’ve learned that yes, it is about what you eat, but also about how much you eat of it. I’m thankful for my third host family’s way of eating because they are kind of at an in between from my first and second, and the best part is that they only do one course so you don’t ever eat too much. You can enjoy all the wonders of the Italian kitchen without stuffing yourself. I still have yet to learn how to cook a lot of stuff for my family back home. I think I’ll start a recipe book!

Lets talk about pizza. Italian pizza is very good. I feel like the big difference in pizza here and back home isn’t necessarily the taste or quality but the variety and quantity. My first host family took me to a pizzeria one night. It was my first Italian pizza in Italy and I was definitely left amazed. I was confused when they asked me what pizza toppings I wanted on my pizza and they were confused when I told them it was fine whatever they got on the pizza pie they wanted to order. They then explained that you don’t order one big pizza and share it like they do in America, you order one big pizza for yourself! I was amazed when I got served an entire pizza pie in front of me. I thought “this is all for me? impossible!” but my stomach showed me differently cause I ate the entire thing.

Another thing they do here is called an “Aperitivo”, which translates to appetizer. It’s a thing to go out before dinner with your friends for drinks and small appetizers. You go to a bar and you order any drink and they bring it to you with a platter of small portions of sandwiches and pizzas and veggies. It is a very lovely thing.

During my first month I went to a mountain with my host parents and after walking up it we arrived at a restaurant. It was so beautiful. I really love spending time with them, they mean a lot to me and it is never boring. Yesterday, I went hiking for the first time! It was crazy because I’m a city girl and I was dressed in what I thought was appropriate ( a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers ) but to my surprise I was given different socks and shoes and sticks to hike up the mountain. It was an amazing experience. I was out of breathe half the time but it was unforgettable. There were also lots of bugs which a city girl like me had a major issue with.

I was strong that day as I took off caterpillars from my sleeves. We also saw a snake! At the end of the hike there was another restaurant where we sat and ate with a family friend who is an amazing cook. I even got to ride a horse! It was overall a great experience. Every week all the granddaughters eat next door at the grandma’s house. It’s just us and the grandparents and a plate called “Cotolete” with fries and ketchup or lime (I’d like to take credit for integrating the ketchup & lime into the tradition). It’s chicken, but covered in bread crumbs and then fried. Its so good. The menu is always the same, and it’s a small tradition I find so deeply special.

We also have occasional pizza nights at the grandparent’s house. My host grandma has a huge pizza pan she uses for the entire family. Every house cooks a pizza and brings it down to the tavern. There is a very big table down there and we all sit down and eat. I’ve had many adventures with my host family. I’m gonna really miss them.

Something that I also was not expecting is being so distant from my Rotary Club here. I’ve gone to about two dinners they host at a 5-star hotel here in my city but that is about it. The times I’ve gone have all been great! They love having us. It’s fun because it is at a very fancy hotel so we all have to go fancy and I always love dressing up. We also get to eat five course meals and just the entire feel of elegance is pleasing. The second time I went I had to introduce myself. I had written down everything and practiced almost every day. It went pretty well considering my Italian was not so great back then.

My Rotary Club President was very pleased to meet me. His excitement made my happy as he took his phone out of his pocket to show me his phone case which was a Florida License Plate. It’s always a fun time. I’m actually trying to set up a clothes drive with my Rotary Club right now. Hopefully we get to do more together.

I would like to end with saying how much I’ve grown in appreciating small things. Sundays are beautiful. Everyone is outside and all you see are smiles all over. It’s a family day, but there is a beautiful unity you see in every family and I love that. It’s the day where no one works and everyone has a chance to breathe and forget about the week’s stressful aspects. I love seeing my host parents cooking together and always coming up with a fantastic plate.

They have so many different cooking books, although I’d say the inspirational books stay on a shelf most of the time. This family makes me laugh, however after every good moment I can’t help think that it’ll all be gone soon. I try not to think about it, it makes me really sad. I don’t know if they’d say the same about me. As an exchange student you always feel judged, but its not their fault. You’re the expert in accepting the difference in cultures, while the people around you are working on it. They are very different from my real family, but they have found a way to stay in my heart.

I’m very fortunate. I’m living in Italy. I mean who else gets to say that?! (I guess everyone else living here right?)
Isabella.

Wed, May 13, 2015

This exchange has taught me to open my eyes further than I thought possible and I am so thankful for that. I remember asking all the Rotex at my outbound orientation back home before leaving “What was your biggest cultural shock?” I would get a lot of thoughtful looks and one response: “I can’t even think, it’s just so much.” I would get so confused because I thought, “Could a place really be that different?” Like many exchange students, my eyes had yet to be opened and shown the world outside of America and something that this exchange has done for me that I will never be able to thank Rotary enough for is that this exchange has opened my eyes to the world that I was missing.

Unfortunately Americans my age tend to be closed in their American bubble. It’s not entirely their fault. America is so big, its hard to look outside it at an age like mine. We tend to be uninterested and that uninterest takes us to be simply unaware and uneducated about the outside because there is so much we focus on the inside. We become ignorant. Yes, we are a diverse nation but we dont seem to understand the diversity around us. Yes, we care when an earthquake hits another nation. We pray for them, we donate, we spread awareness but that is it. We seem to care only when they need us to. It hit me when all the members of my host family sat down to watch the news, they sat down to inform themselves of the tragedies of this world. There is so much bad going on out there.

Do you know someone my age who watches the news or reads the newspaper? Only the worst of events reaches out to us through social media, and even then, unfortunately, we don’t really get it. Our world, our people, our cultures are falling.. but we don’t know that. We think war and we look back to history class not to the present.

Being an exchange student has taught me to understand a culture, but not just one. Once you are able to accept and understand another culture, you start seeing all of them differently. You accept people, you don’t judge them. You don’t see difference, you see unity. I feel more a part of this world’s community. I feel more connected. Going on exchange and creating friendships from all over the world really shows you how great the world would be if it were at peace. If the cultures of this world saw each other as equals, and understood each other’s ways. I will never look at another culture the same way I used to, because now I get it. We are one.. even if the destruction doesn’t show it. The world is supposed to feel as one, it just needs to learn how.

I love this culture and the people. It has a very unique touch to it. I finally understand the response every Rotex gave me. It’s so different, and it is just as hard to explain it than it is for one who hasn’t experienced it to understand. The difference is so big, but the beauty in it is bigger.

My first cultural shock took place in the exact moment where I left off in my previous blog post. I was about to pass two big white doors that I had no idea walking through would change my life. The doors opened and the first thing I saw was my host family with a sign that read ‘Benvenuta Isabella’. My host dad seemed very happy (and I recently found out he was very happy and very nervous for my arrival which warms up my heart) and came up to me and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek. My thoughts went VERY quickly from “Oh nice, they do that here too. It’s not just in Hispanic cultures” to “Wait, wait, what’s going on? He’s leaning in for my other cheek”. I quickly and awkwardly learned that here in Italy they greet each other with two kisses not just one. This became a simple struggle because I never knew what cheek to kiss first and my biggest fear was kissing an old host uncle or grandma on the lips by accident. Four months later, I got the hang of it. I am also proudly announcing that I have not kissed any lips accidently… or on purpose. Although this mime actor tried tricking me into a kiss when I went on a family trip to Bergamo, Italy. I was very frightened and confused actually but my host family thought it was funny and gave him money. I even have a picture.

On day one after a two-hour ride home from the airport, I arrived at my first host house. It is located on a mountain, which everyone calls a hill, and together with the grandma’s enormous house on one side and the aunt’s on the other side it is a beautiful property. I was perfectly fine until a punch of fear hit me in the stomach as soon as I walked into my new room. The reality started kicking in and I freaked out… inside of course. I was going to live in that room. Reality check.

Already in my first week, I got to go to Lake Garda, the biggest lake in Italy. My first host family has a lake house there in a place called San Felice, which is gorgeous. I got to meet the grandparents (dad’s side) as well as an aunt and her family and they were such phenomenal people. It is funny because in my phone, I have my host grandpa’s number and my host dad’s number and I have confused them several times. Yep, you can imagine that hilarious confusion of me waiting for my host dad to pick me up but never coming because in reality I did not text him… I texted his dad. I got home that day, no worries. Anyways Lake Garda is absolutely a mind-blowing view. I did a lot of stuff that weekend. My host sister took me on what I did not know would be a hiking trail and we ended up inside a forest that ended high up with an incredible view of the lake. It was certainly an adventure.

She also took me to this little side of the lakeshore called ‘Baia De l Vento’ where people can go in. The shore is made up of rocks and rocks and rocks instead of sand. It is absolutely beautiful. Something really interesting is that you find a lot of ‘vetro colorato’ or sea glass. It is basically bits and pieces of broken beer glass bottles that become this smooth marble glass rock with the seawater over time. I filled up a whole jar with rocks that day! On our walk back to the lake house, we found dandelions. We grabbed some and blew on them. I told my host sister to take a picture of me doing it, (I love taking pictures by the way… I have over 2000 and I am only half way. It annoys many because I stop and take pictures everywhere but I happily keep doing it. ). She broke out in a hysterical laugh because apparently I was not blowing right… apparently, my lips were too closed or whatnot. We spent a good ten minutes discussing how lips should look when they are blowing air and laughing at each other.

This moment on my exchange is important because it began an unbreakable bond between two strangers that now call each other sisters and pull each other’s hair out once in a while or maybe more. We spent that night talking until late a lot about my spiritual outlook on life and well I guess I can say I found the older sister I have always wanted. Also on this trip, we went to visit Salo, Italy, which is magnificent. We stopped for ice cream and as I was trying to decide on a flavor, I came across one which made me laugh. It was called ‘orgasm’ and well, I chose it. I was curious and why not? I then clearly saw that Italians name many things after English words that many times they do not know the exact meaning to…

That night we went to a night market in town, which was organized by my host aunt. It was pretty lovely. My host grandma makes handmade decorations and sends them there to be sold. The lake house has two male pets: Romeo and Giulio. I know it is fantastic. They are quite the duo …. best friends considering the fact that one is a dog and the other is a cat. They sleep together and it is the cutest thing. I have also quickly learned that cats and dogs are best friends… at least in this country they are. You will find that almost every household has a cat and a dog. I like this, kind of shows you how beautiful peace is and would be if it were present in this world between different cultures. Unfortunately, very recently, Giulio died and Romeo was left heartbroken but is holding on.

During this trip, I also helped my host grandma make my first Italian pizza. Another place I got to visit on this trip is called ‘Rocca di Manerba’ which is a mind-blowing space of ancient remains where you find a cross standing on the top and where the view is breath taking.

My second cultural shock occurred when I had to use the bathroom while we were collecting that sea glass I was just speaking about. We found the bathrooms, which were, located in a tiny bathroom house not a disgusting portable bathroom like you would think to find. To my surprise, I think I would have preferred that portable bathroom you find at your city fair in America. I opened the stall and saw no toilet… instead, I saw a hole. “um.. how do I… okay” and my adventure of discovering and experimenting different types of bathrooms all over Europe began. Every bathroom is different. I find myself having to ask whoever I am with how the bathroom in a certain place works as well as sinks since to make the water come out you have to usually search a hidden handle or button. Crazy. Either the flush button or handle is different or in a different location or toilet is there or not or you have to use your feet or your hands or a million different types of bathrooms and I’m just asking myself why they can’t all just agree on one.

Speaking of bathrooms, I am going to hit this subject now… the bidet. “Why the hell do I have two toilets in my bathroom? Maybe one is for girls and one is for guys? but why does one have a sink? Ummmm I’ll ignore it.” were my very thoughts when I used our house bathroom for the first time. Here in Italy inside the bathroom you find the regular stuff in addition to a bidet. A bidet is a toilet and a sink put into one looking thing. Italians wash themselves using this after using the toilet. We do not have this. I am not going to lie I think it is a good sanitary system and I agree with them on its importance. However, many Italians use this as an excuse to why taking a shower every day is unnecessary. They also can’t believe how “dirty” we must be because we don’t have one. I have encountered very smelly people here. I don’t get them, they don’t get us. We’ll leave it that way.
Cultural shocks happen everyday, and everyday you realize just how different a place could be and how much beauty there is in that. I don’t even remember what I thought Italy would be like, but I do know that whatever it was… I was wrong. I’m happy I was wrong.
Isabella.

 Mon, May 4, 2015

It’s Feburary 15th 2015 and I don’t know where to even start. I’ve been here since September and I’ve posted just once, and it was just a reflection of what I’ve been through emotionally. So today on a rainy after Valentine’s Day afternoon I have a lot to say.

Nothing felt real until the end of my first month here in Italy. The fact that I was okay leaving my life behind showed me and amazed me on how strong I really am, something I didn’t know about myself. That’s what exchange does, it not only opens your eyes to the world but it also opens your eyes to discover what you’re made of.

It was August 31st and I was hours away from leaving. Hours away from leaving the life I knew behind, my family, my friends, my mistakes, my accomplishments. To start fresh in another country. I had no idea what I had coming for me, I thought I knew what leaving was.. oh, but I didn’t. It makes me laugh because I thought I knew what I was doing, I thought it would be easy and that I had control of my exchange. In fact, it has taken control of me. Teaching me and showing me. Inspiring me and taking my breath away. Breaking me and molding me.

To my surprise a lot of people came to say bye to me. I had had a goodbye party a few weeks before that where about 50 of the people closest to my heart spoke out and gave me words and tears and smiles and most importantly goodbyes. I also had a dinner with my church group, which was made up of laughs and smiles and words that touched my heart… faces that I would not see for a full year. I recieved a lot of presents and kind gestures and it was all happening so quickly I didn’t have time to react.

I had planned my outfit for a week and was standing in line to check in with my airline. I was with my family: my mom, dad, our exchange student (Amanda from Brazil who would be staying at my house for a year), and my two younger sisters. Since we had a good two hours till boarding time, we sat down and waited. Nothing felt real, everything felt normal. I was good, strangely great. To my surprise my two uncles showed up and I was happy.

Someone really special to me also came to say bye, someone who’s been by my side for five years and who to me is more than a bestfriend. He handed me one of his sweaters, a letter, and a dog plush toy. “His name is Willie and he was there with me when I was young and when I felt alone. He kept me company, and he’ll keep you company”. I was really happy and continued to smile because it was a very heartfelt gift. I knew how important it was to him. I handed him a letter and to my even greater surprise he brought with him three of my bestgirlfriends who had told me they wouldn’t make it, who right away tackled me with a hug. I said bye to the people I love, they cried and then I cried. Seeing the tears running down their faces made everything really hard. I quickly became a crying mess as I walked away passing the boarding gate. As I looked back I saw them and took a deep breath. “You can do this Isabella” and wanting so bad to go back I turned away and walked to my airline boarding section.

I ended up sitting on the floor for a three hour delay because something was going on and somehow none of the planes had fuel in them, which in my opinion was very irresponsible on the airport’s part. Three hours later, I finally get on my plane and sit on a window seat. I was very happy to get a window seat because I had heard that you could at a certain point when passing time zones see the sky both dark and bright on different sides. My excitment literally fell to the floor when I opened my window cover to find the wing of the plane completely covering any type of view of outside. “You’ve got to be kidding me” and I laughed. I had a 10 hour flight awaiting me and no view of the sky. “I guess you’ll see it on the return flight” I sighed. Two men sat next to me, and before we knew it the airplane finally flew up into the sky. Goodbye America, goodbye everything and everyone, goodbye to the life I’ve known and hello to the life I’ll meet.

I watched a movie, which I can’t remember the name of, and when it ended I tried to sleep. I find it very hard to sleep on planes, it just isn’t comfortable… but I found a way. I woke up like every twenty minutes but I found a way.

The two men sitting next to me were sound asleep and I really had to go to the bathroom. “Crap, what do I do?” I didn’t want to wake them up. Next thing I knew, the food lady had come to offer us our food options. “Perfect, now I’ll never go to the bathroom”. We ate and it was really good. I had built up courage to tell the men I had to go to the bathroom and that I would need them to get up so could go. I looked at the bathroom and I guess my expression showed my situation because the next thing I heard was “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” …. “yes please”. Thank God.

I came back to sit down, making them get up again. “I’m so stupid” I thought while I laughed at how shy and nervous I had gotten. “Read it when you are on the plane”… I remembered and pulled out the letter I was given. I didn’t cry, I smiled and thanked God for everything he was doing. I also read a bunch of other letters I had recieved and then I took a deep breathe. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. But I was calm. 5 hours remained and I wasn’t going to watch another movie… I felt bored. I turned to the men next to me and started a converstation. I have people next to me for 10 hours, I need to talk to someone. They knew each other, I could tell. After sharing with them what I was doing, they shared with me that they were going on a very exciting trip in the Middle East. They were partners, a gay couple exploring the world.

Since our flight was three hours late, everyone was worried about their connecting flights. I was calm since I now would have to wait two hours to board mine instead of five. I had waited the three already. Finally we arrived in Germany. The airport was all in German and thankfully everything had the English version right under it. “GO ROTARY!” someone yelled… an old exchange student recognizing me by my blazer. We exchanged smiles and kept on with our connecting flight search. 30 minutes later I found my boarding section. ‘Prague’ I looked up and down at the sign and my ticket… what? I thought it was the flight before mine since I had to wait one hour more and facetimed by parents giving them the ‘I made it’ call. It soon came to mind.. Why would it still say ‘Prague’… and not ‘Milan’. I asked the lady and she informed me that my section was changed. “Oh my god, my flight is leaving in an hour” I grabbed all my things and began my search. Thirty minutes later I found it. Whew!

The lady at the desk called my name and the names of all the passengers and led us down some stairs to a bus. I had a very complicated luggage system going on. My carry on, my computer, my purse, and this lovely rotary jacket. Seeing my struggle, a man helped me. We got on the bus and I was a little unsure about what was going on.. Am I in the right place?” I thought. A woman next to me asked me if this was the right place for the Milan flight and I told her I really hoped so. “At least I’m not the only one confused” I thought.

To my surprise, we were in the right place. The bus took us to a plane that we had to climb stairs to get into. I was excited because even though it’s a stupid bucketlist item, I’ve always wanted to climb up stairs into a plane. The excitment fell very quickly.. “perfect” I thought as I had a flashback of the luggage struggle I had just experienced and the luggage trouble I was seeing in my near future. I seriously struggled, it was almost impossible.. but I somehow made it. I hurt myself, but I made it.

Pretending like I wasn’t almost dying I looked for my seat.. it was very embarrassing. I sat in my seat.. a window seat “yes” I thought “finally I’ll get a view” and I felt better. I opened my window cover and I almost cried.. “YOU ARE KIDDING ME RIGHT?” Yup, again.. the wing.. and a viewless view. Instead I laughed and closed the window cover not being able to believe that it had happened to me twice. Two hours later we arrived and I had about three Italian words learned.

After all the immigration, I arrived to the baggage pick up area. It took about thirty minutes to find my bags, and then I realized there was no way I was going to be able to carry two big luggages, my purse, my carry on luggage, and my computer bag on my own. I tried to ask an older couple who were also looking for their luggage where I could find a cart in Italian which didn’t work out at all. They couldn’t understand what the hell I was saying. I didn’t even know what the hell I was saying. Then they asked me “Do you know where we can find a cart?” I was struggling to ask the same thing to them in Italian when the whole time they weren’t understanding whatever it was I was really saying because they spoke English… I laughed and said “I have no idea, I’ll go look for one.” I asked a man who worked for the airport and he signaled me to where they were. They were on the other side of the entire baggage pick up area, tucked away in a corner where no one would find them. “Unbelievable” I thought walking back with two carts. Soon after I saw everyone walking the opposite way to grab one for themselves. The older couple was grateful and I finally got a hand on my stuff. “Finally”

I felt bad because I probably took like an extra hour and my host family had probably been waiting for me on the other side for ages already. Next thing I knew I was standing in front of two white doors. Little did I know, on the other side would be the strangers who would become my second true family forever and a new beginning for my life awaited. Little did I know that walking through those doors would change my life.

“There is no turning back.” I thought. I took a deep breathe as my heart began to pound so fast, and took a step forward..Next thing I know it’s Feburary 15th 2015 on a rainy after Valentine’s Day afternoon and I still have a lot to say.

Isabella

Sun, February 15, 2015

It’s funny how you don’t really believe it when they tell you, “It will fly by”. Those very words don’t describe how fast time is flying by. I’m currently sitting on the balcony of my host grandparent’s house, listening to my favorite song and I can only wish you could see what I’m seeing.

It’s 40 degree weather but this view makes it all worthwhile. It’s moments like these when you are alone that you look out at your panorama and you appreciate every breath you’ve taken. Pictures can grasp so much, but the eye grasps the beauty a picture can’t show. I post a lot of beautiful pictures, or so I’ve been told, but if you agree to that than you can only imagine how more beautiful is it to be in them. I am living on a mountain, something I’m not used to since back home we don’t even have them.

I live in a beautiful Italian home, with a beautiful Italian family. Next to us live the grandparents in a mind-blowing big house, and on the other side live the uncle and aunt along with their daughter. There is also the other side of the family, grandparents and relatives that I can’t keep count of. These people, these strangers have become family. That’s the beauty of it, how a group of people you spend half a year with become a group of people that you’ll carry in your heart forever. Without them I wouldn’t have seen what I’ve seen and learned what I’ve learned. Oh, let me tell you the Italian family culture is quite a handful to integrate with, but let me tell you something else, I love them. At the end of all the differences between cultures you encounter con or pro you learn to accept that every culture is different but so beautiful. One culture isn’t better than the other, it’s just different, and one wouldn’t understand that until one has lived through it.

It’s also funny how when I boarded the plane to begin this crazy adventure, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I’m not going to say it’s been all smiles but then again how can one smile if one has never frowned? How can only truly know the difference if they haven’t experienced both? The first month went by like a honeymoon stage. I was traveling and seeing and meeting and learning and it was all so exciting. However, school started and as I kept arriving to the same house, to the same bedroom it hit me: this isn’t vacation, this is now home.

It was overwhelming and I wasn’t very happy with that. After everything started to become a daily routine, I began to ask myself why I came. The reality of it was that I missed my life in America. I missed my own routine. Those very words I heard at my last orientation before coming from a previous exchange student, “I wished they knew me in English” became so real. It was true, I felt alone. I didn’t really have friends because at the end they all really wanted to know who I was but I failed to show them that because I didn’t know how to express who I was in this new language. I was too afraid to try and fail so I didn’t even try.

The society and the people didn’t appeal to me because they were different than the ones at home, I was too full of my pride for America. I could only think of how many months I had left and how things would be if I were home. As an early graduate, I thought how much more I could have accomplish academically and how much I wouldn’t miss if I had stayed. The transportation was a hassle, being a driver back home every single day, and not being able to drive here was tough. Hobbies I did back home were too expensive to do here. I began to think of it as a mistake, everything was different for me and I didn’t like that.

Who could I speak to? An Italian who’s going to think I’m an ungrateful, spoiled American girl, or someone from home who wouldn’t understand me because they weren’t experiencing it? Another problem was my faith, living in the catholic capital of the world and not being catholic was nothing but difficult. Being someone who is very deep in her faith as a Christian, being so involved in her church back home, and being surrounded by so much of what she doesn’t agree with was hard. People would ask me about my religion and I would openly and happily speak about it, but only to find out it was being laughed at behind my back or taken as “wrong” broke me.

I was upset and thought, “I wish they understood. I wish they knew what I’ve experienced so they could know the truth. I wish that they could see it through my eyes”. Not being able to attend a church, or have anything to help me build my faith further was causing my faith to fall. I kept looking back at my Rotary interview when they asked me, “How is a girl like you, so attached to her family and her faith going to survive in a place where she won’t have either?”. I began thinking, “They were right. What am I doing?” I was ready to jump on a plane and go home.

One day I found a letter that I had written for this year, and two things grabbed my attention. One of them was a goal I wrote: to come back as a new person, a better person, someone with a new outlook on life. I have a saying I learned a while back and it is that everything happens for a reason, and that reason is never bad. The second thing was that, to discover why God had put this trip in my life and for what purpose it would serve my life for the better.

I woke up. I thought about my entire experience so far in those two months and I felt disgusted with myself. . .I thought I came prepared but in fact as every day passed by and as new obstacles hit me in the face it made me weaker. I wasn’t doing my part, I had let go of my strength and forgotten how to fight through the bad. The country, the exchange in whole wasn’t the problem… it was me.

I looked back at that very question I was asked at my Rotary interview and realized I only had been focusing on the question and not the answer I gave them. “I love my family, but I’ve been far from them before for a long period of time, I am very independent here and that independence will help me. I also am very involved in my faith, but my faith isn’t focused on a location it’s focused on a relationship. My faith doesn’t stay behind, it goes with me”. The words that had come out of my mouth, the girl who spoke them, that girl was me so what was the problem? Why wasn’t I living them?

Everything from that point became better. Not because everything changed, but because I changed. I started looking at this exchange with a different perspective. I was going to go home and I was going to have those two things accomplished. I would make sure of it. I opened my eyes to this new culture, and it wasn’t inferior anymore, it was different but beautiful. I let go of home, and a found a new one here. I tried new things, I started talking and trying no matter how many times I’d fail, I pushed myself to make friends, I pushed myself to become a part of this culture. I started taking control of my exchange. I jumped out of my comfort zone, and let me tell you something? It worked. I was happy.

Everything happens for a reason, everything happens for a reason. It all made sense. The problem was that I wasn’t striving to live my exchange to its fullest because of the failure to overcome the obstacles it brought. You have to accept the challenges and keep going, you have to fail and get back up, you have to let it make you into the person you are meant to be, into a better person with an experience that you can say has changed your life. I was failing to do that, but I changed.

I couldn’t drive but I learned to walk, and to bike, and to appreciate it. I was encountered with something driving blocked: the beauty of meeting and seeing what is outside. When you drive you pass by so much, when you walk or bike you encounter it. I couldn’t do the hobbies I did back home, but I found new ones. I started going to the gym a lot, and I started teaching English to a bunch of kids for some pocket cash I could use to travel more. I walked up to people at school, I invited them for coffee and friendships evolved.

I didn’t have a church, but I still had God. I missed it so much, when it was always next to me. I continued to build my faith. I learned that to really build that strong connection and relationship with God I had to be completely away from all the distractions that keep you from a spiritual growth, a lot of which I had at home. It took to being completely alone to realize that I need more of Him. I needed this exchange.

This exchange is doing more than changing me, it’s showing me what I lacked and giving me it. An exchange is when you open yourself to a new world and you take a part of it. It’s when you learn to do things you never thought you would do. It’s when you fall in love with things you never thought you would fall in love with. It’s an experience that changes you, that fills you with a new wisdom and a new happiness. I have learned that for an exchange to be successful you have to do just that, change. It’s in the word itself for a reason. You come in thinking you know who you are, but you leave as the person who you are really meant to be.

It’s been 5 months since I let go of my life in America and began a new one in Italy. The things I’ve been though are countless… The bonds I’ve created here are forever, and at this point I don’t know if I want it to go by too quickly. I’m half way through this experience and I’ve grown so much, as a person. My characteristics are bolder. That’s the reason I came here, to change. To be confronted with my flaws and become a better person. To impact people and for people to impact me. To become prepared for my future. I miss my family, and of course there will never be someplace like home, but it doesn’t feel so far like it used to. I don’t get homesick, I think of home and I smile I don’t cry.

I have so much to say about what I’ve done and who I’ve meet these past five months in this beautiful country, but I wanted this first post to be a personal reflection. I still have a lot to learn and grow and change and I still have so many exciting things to do before I hit that plane to go back home. I am so happy and so excited for all of it. I wasn’t prepared to fight and win obstacles, and I forgot that I have a God who already has.

I can’t expect a life without struggle, but I can expect a life with stories of overcoming them. Without obstacles, there is no growth or change, there is nothing to mold you into the person you are meant to be. Living so far and so differently isn’t easy, but when things aren’t easy they have a purpose of molding you into someone wiser, stronger, better, and with a hell of a story to tell.

If you are planning on being an exchange student, do it. I am not promising it will be easy, it’s not but it will change your life. If it doesn’t, you did it wrong. An exchange is in the hands of the exchange student, and if you don’t take control and get the best out of it, it’s going to get the best out of you and leave you with nothing. I’m a proud witness and testimony of that.

Prepare yourself, because the next post will be rich. Prepare yourself to enter my word, my experiences, my happiness, my exchange.

Kisses,
Isabella.

Tue, January 6, 2015

Jake - Thailand

Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: District 3340
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chum Phae

 My Bio

สวัสดีครับ. (sawatdee khrap). Hello, my name is Jake Mason and those who know what is said can guess that I am going to be spending the next year of my life in Thailand. Words cant describe how excited and nervous i am for this experience. First of all, I only really know a few things about Thailand like where it is located. The language is a whole different story as well. It is nothing like I’ve ever seen or studied. After getting that nervous stuff out of the way, I am very excited for this trip because it is a life changing experience and I have been wanting to be a part of this program for almost 2 years. Now on to some more stuff about me. As I said already, my name is Jake Mason and I am a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. One huge aspect of my life is soccer. I love soccer and have been playing it for all my life. I play center mid and I play for a club called JFC. My favorite subjects is school are AP Chemistry and Chinese. I have been out of the country before, China for 2 and a half weeks, but this is WAY different. I also enjoy hanging out with friends. That is pretty much me in a nutshell. I look forward to writing more for everyone to read but for now goodbye!

 Journals: Jake – Thailand

1 month left in Thailand… now that is something I can’t get my head around.

Well it is official, today marks one month left of my exchange life here in Thailand. The first thing that I want to say is that I can’t thank Rotary enough for this opportunity. This year has been the best year of my life and I wouldn’t change any part of it. All of the support the Rotarians in Florida and in Thailand have given me is amazing and I am forever thankful for that. Usually in the journals I talk about all amazing things I am doing in Thailand, all the trips I am taking and all of the fun I am having, but that isn’t really the case for this one. These past couple months have been both fun and hard.

To start things off was our very last Rotary trip. This was probably my favorite trip out of all 3. I have written about all of them in previous journals. The first one we hiked a mountain and stayed up there for about 5 days. We went on walks and saw beautiful waterfalls, scenery, etc. The second trip was a trip to the tropical south of Thailand. We went swimming, snorkeled on coral reefs, and even were doing flips off of the boat when visiting all of the different islands. The last trip we went on was to a province to the north of Bangkok called Kanchanaburi, and we finished the trip in Bangkok. In Kanchanaburi we did some fun things like a ropes course.

The resort we stayed at had a hot spring and at night all of the exchange students went to the hot spring and just relaxed in there. The coolest part about it was about 10 minutes after we got there all of the lights turned out and we were sitting there in the dark. Then someone shouted “OH MY GOD, LOOK UP!” which we all did and the sky was full of stars. Sitting under the stars in a hot spring with my best friends from around the world, now that was one of my favorite memories of being here so far.

We all had to give goodbye speeches at the resort as well. This proved to be one of the saddest things. While I still had a long time left in Thailand, I probably wasn’t going to see most of the exchange students again before I left. The day after the goodbye speeches we went to Bangkok. That night we had an international buffet on a really big boat going around the city. The food was so good!! All of the exchange students were in heaven. My favorite was probably the Japanese food. The day after that we all had to say goodbye for real, and trust me there were a lot of tears. We all headed off in our own directions, going back to our cities knowing that there was a chance we wouldn’t see our best friends again for a very long time, if not our entire lives.

Other than the trip I haven’t gone on any major vacations. School started again, seeing my friends again has been really nice. I’ve been going to temples some mornings with my family; we actually just went to one yesterday. What really sucks the most though is saying goodbye to more exchange students. I live in a small town called Chum Phae. About an hour away is a city called Khon Kaen. 4 exchange students live there. So the other exchange student in Chum Phae and I go there often to see them and hang out with them. The 6 of us have really gotten to be some of the best friends I have ever had in my life. I love them all so much. As it stands now, 3 of them have already left to go back to their countries.

For a person’s last day, all of us come together and agree that we will do whatever the person wants to do. So for each of them we all let them do whatever they wanted on their last day in Thailand. I won’t really have that considering I am the last one to leave, but I don’t really mind. Spending the last day with all of these people and having to say goodbye to them is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. We all have been there for each other this past year, any problem one of them had we all helped with. They have been my best friends. Every time we had to say goodbye to them, everyone was crying. Tomorrow, the other exchange student in my town and I will go to Khon Kaen to spend the day with Rodrigo. It isn’t his last, but it is one of his last days before he will return home to Mexico. Then they will all be gone.

As you can see, this past month really has been pretty hard. Not with language struggles or homesickness, but with saying goodbye to people you have really grown to love the past year. This is something that I expected, but wasn’t expecting to be as hard as it was. Rotary in the orientations prepared us for the language struggles, problems with your host family, etc. Although it has been hard, it has also been really fun. The other exchange students and I have been spending a lot of time together and doing really fun things. It has been a really bittersweet time.

I come home July 1, then my exchange will be over. Any future outbound or anyone who is thinking about being an exchange student, feel free to contact me if you have questions about anything. This will probably be my last journal, considering I leave in a month. I want to end this journal the same way I started it, by thanking Rotary.

The year I have had here has been the best year in my life. All of the struggles I’ve have gone through and living in another country has really made me a better person, and I have learned a lot about myself. Without Rotary this wouldn’t have been possible and I feel my time here wouldn’t have gone the same. I am forever thankful.

Mon, June 1, 2015

So much to talk about! It has been way too long since I have written a journal; I would like to apologize for that. But I do have a lot to talk about in this journal!

THE SOUTH TRIP!!! In the middle of March all of the amazing exchange students in district 3340 began our trip to the south of Thailand. Before we began the trip we went to our district conference in a city called Pattaya. The conference was in a hotel right on the beach, so that was really nice. It was a great experience to see all of the exchange students before we got explored the tropical south together. The last day of the conference there was a dinner in which people were going to be going on stage and giving performances, singing, dancing, etc. I was one of those people… The other inbound in my city, Dana, and the 4 outbound girls in my city were going to be doing a Thai dance right 4 other inbounds from a nearby city did a Muay Thai performance. Not an actual fight, just a dance. After the dance was finally over, the other exchange students took videos and had an amazing time making fun of all of us. It was all in good fun, though.

The next day we ended up packing all of our stuff up and heading on a very long bus ride to the South. You future exchange students reading, get ready for bus trips. They are probably some of the best and funniest times you will ever have on your exchange. Sitting on a bus with 20+ of your best friends from around the world for hours leads to some of the best times. Just writing this is making me miss being on an 18 hour bus ride.

The first day of the trip we spent hanging out on the beach all day, swimming, lying in the sun, playing Ultimate Frisbee, hacky sacking, and witnessed a beautiful sunset. Rotary gave the whole day to us just to relax after the long bus ride and have a chill day. We even wandered on the beach a little at night and found a fire show!

The next day on the trip was probably my favorite despite what ended up happening to me. We went on a trip out to the 4 islands where we went kayaking, snorkeling at coral reefs, and swimming. Other exchange students and I were doing flips off the boat with our GoPros. It was a really hot day so I remembered to put on sunscreen 3 times that day. Apparently the sunscreen didn’t really help and I ended up the day with the worst sunburn I have ever had in my life. My entire body was so red I can’t even explain. The day was 100% worth it, though.

The coral reefs were beautiful, kayaking around the islands was beautiful, and swimming in clear water is always fun. They would let us take bread into the water to give to all the fish around us, but I didn’t realize how much they wanted the bread. Normally you wouldn’t take that much in or you would get swarmed by so many fish, but my amazing friends didn’t tell me that and gave me a big piece and told me to jump in. I ended up doing a backflip into the water with my GoPro and then got swarmed and attacked by so many fish. I threw the bread and then swam up to the surface of the water to see everyone laughing at me.

After getting back to the hotel after a very long day traveling between the islands and seeing the beauty the south has to offer, we headed back to the hotel. After getting to the hotel we went right to the beach and hung out there some more. At night we all played cards and just hung out in one exchange student’s hotel room. It was a perfect day. After sleeping for probably an hour we got up the next day at 6 am, got on the bus, and traveled to another island to stay there for a couple days. The trip wasn’t long and that day we ended up getting to the hotel very quickly. Later that day we got on boats and went traveling to a place called James Bond Rock. Why it is called that, I don’t know. The trip to the rock was absolutely gorgeous. Picture a typical tropical post card that you would send to someone and that’s what this looked like.

On the way we say drawings on cave walls that were written by native people so long ago and stopped at a Muslim fishing village. At the Muslim fishing village, we walked around and while most of the exchange students went shopping, an exchange student named Andrew and I went to the school and found that they had a Futsal court. We found a ball and went out there and started passing to each other and soon found ourselves getting invited to play with islands futsal team. We played for about 20-30 minutes and we won 2-1, both goals scored by me!

We then headed back to the hotel, ate dinner, and hung out there all night. The rest of the trip flew by with us going to more beaches, getting lost in Phuket and eventually getting on an 18 hour bus ride home. We got home so tired, but the whole trip was one of the most fun times I have had on my entire exchange.

Funny enough, right after we got back from the South trip, 6 exchange students including myself who live in our province got invited to go on a trip to Bangkok and Huahin with my friends host dad. Only 5 of us ended up going, but they are all some of the exchange students I am closest with, because we live near each other. In Bangkok we ended up just hanging out there for a couple days, going to markets and doing some other touristy stuff.

When we went to Huahin, we already knew we were going to a crazy waterpark. I have heard about this waterpark a lot since I got to Thailand so I was really excited to finally go there. It didn’t disappoint me either. When we got there we went all almost all the rides because of all the lines. My favorite ride there was a slide where you get in a little tube standing up, and then the floor opens up from under you and you fall, do a loop, and finally get to the bottom. On the way up we heard people screaming down the slide and everyone laughing at them, so we all had to one up them and we all picked out things to scream.

For example, Eric screamed “TO THE BAT CAVE!!!!” on the way down and everyone was laughing. When it was my turn, I wasn’t very nervous and the ride was over really quickly, but it was still a really fun time. After a really fun day at the waterpark, we headed back to the hotel and hung out there all night. The next day we got up early and drove back to Bangkok to stay the night there. We had a delicious dinner there that night and drove back to Khon Kaen the next morning. The drive from Khon Kaen to Bangkok is about 8 hours. I think with all of the traveling I did in March I was with my host family for about 6 or 7 days. By the end of March I had gotten sick twice and was so tired, but all the traveling was definitely worth it.

The last really major thing that happened during this little period of time was my dad visiting! He actually just left a few days ago. He came up to the rural Issan, Northeast, region of Thailand and we had so much fun during Songkran. If you don’t know what Songkran is be prepared to want to come to Thailand next year. Picture everyone in a city just stops what they are doing and has a major water fight in the streets. A whole street just packed full of people soaking wet and dancing with music blaring, all night. The only thing that makes this better is that it’s for 3 days.

There were people riding in the beds of trucks with buckets of water throwing them all over people. Some people were really mean and bought ice to make their water so cold that it burned when it hit your skin. The whole festival was insane and I was happy that I got to share it with my friends and Dad. One exchange student didn’t get to experience all of Songkran though because on the first night we were walking back to his house and he tripped, fell on broken glass, and severed a tendon in his hand. He was in the hospital for 3 days so for the next nights of Songkran we slept in the hospital with him.

The fun part about my dad coming was messing with him and making him eat crazy food like little shrimp that were still alive and ant eggs. I took him to some beautiful temples we had an amazing time in the Northeast. We then went to Bangkok and I took him to one of the biggest markets in the world, along with the temple of the Emerald Buddha. He had an amazing time in Thailand and we were both so happy he came.

Tomorrow I am going to help out with a language camp for the upcoming outbounds in my district. I am excited because I will get to hang out with my exchange student friends, along with the Thai Rotex and future outbounds. I already know and am friends with a lot of them so it should be a fun 3 days.

When I sit back and think about my Rotary orientations and what Rotary Florida told me, it’s funny to think how right they were about everything. For example, about going through a bunch of different phases, like being homesick, throughout my exchange. I now am enjoying my time in Thailand so much because I am much more confident in my language skills and can communicate fairly easily. The thought of going home right now kills me but I think it is important to realize and face the fact that it is going to happen so right now I am trying to do as much as I can before I go back. I will be sure to write another journal soon to let you know about the stuff I’m doing before I eventually make my return trip to the United States.

 Wed, April 22, 2015

So much to talk about! It has been way too long since I have written a journal; I would like to apologize for that. But I do have a lot to talk about in this journal!

THE SOUTH TRIP!!! In the middle of March all of the amazing exchange students in district 3340 began our trip to the south of Thailand. Before we began the trip we went to our district conference in a city called Pattaya. The conference was in a hotel right on the beach, so that was really nice. It was a great experience to see all of the exchange students before we got explored the tropical south together. The last day of the conference there was a dinner in which people were going to be going on stage and giving performances, singing, dancing, etc. I was one of those people… The other inbound in my city, Dana, and the 4 outbound girls in my city were going to be doing a Thai dance right 4 other inbounds from a nearby city did a Muay Thai performance. Not an actual fight, just a dance. After the dance was finally over, the other exchange students took videos and had an amazing time making fun of all of us. It was all in good fun, though.

The next day we ended up packing all of our stuff up and heading on a very long bus ride to the South. You future exchange students reading, get ready for bus trips. They are probably some of the best and funniest times you will ever have on your exchange. Sitting on a bus with 20+ of your best friends from around the world for hours leads to some of the best times. Just writing this is making me miss being on an 18 hour bus ride.

The first day of the trip we spent hanging out on the beach all day, swimming, lying in the sun, playing Ultimate Frisbee, hacky sacking, and witnessed a beautiful sunset. Rotary gave the whole day to us just to relax after the long bus ride and have a chill day. We even wandered on the beach a little at night and found a fire show!

The next day on the trip was probably my favorite despite what ended up happening to me. We went on a trip out to the 4 islands where we went kayaking, snorkeling at coral reefs, and swimming. Other exchange students and I were doing flips off the boat with our GoPros. It was a really hot day so I remembered to put on sunscreen 3 times that day. Apparently the sunscreen didn’t really help and I ended up the day with the worst sunburn I have ever had in my life. My entire body was so red I can’t even explain. The day was 100% worth it, though.

The coral reefs were beautiful, kayaking around the islands was beautiful, and swimming in clear water is always fun. They would let us take bread into the water to give to all the fish around us, but I didn’t realize how much they wanted the bread. Normally you wouldn’t take that much in or you would get swarmed by so many fish, but my amazing friends didn’t tell me that and gave me a big piece and told me to jump in. I ended up doing a backflip into the water with my GoPro and then got swarmed and attacked by so many fish. I threw the bread and then swam up to the surface of the water to see everyone laughing at me.

After getting back to the hotel after a very long day traveling between the islands and seeing the beauty the south has to offer, we headed back to the hotel. After getting to the hotel we went right to the beach and hung out there some more. At night we all played cards and just hung out in one exchange student’s hotel room. It was a perfect day. After sleeping for probably an hour we got up the next day at 6 am, got on the bus, and traveled to another island to stay there for a couple days. The trip wasn’t long and that day we ended up getting to the hotel very quickly. Later that day we got on boats and went traveling to a place called James Bond Rock. Why it is called that, I don’t know. The trip to the rock was absolutely gorgeous. Picture a typical tropical post card that you would send to someone and that’s what this looked like.

On the way we say drawings on cave walls that were written by native people so long ago and stopped at a Muslim fishing village. At the Muslim fishing village, we walked around and while most of the exchange students went shopping, an exchange student named Andrew and I went to the school and found that they had a Futsal court. We found a ball and went out there and started passing to each other and soon found ourselves getting invited to play with islands futsal team. We played for about 20-30 minutes and we won 2-1, both goals scored by me!

We then headed back to the hotel, ate dinner, and hung out there all night. The rest of the trip flew by with us going to more beaches, getting lost in Phuket and eventually getting on an 18 hour bus ride home. We got home so tired, but the whole trip was one of the most fun times I have had on my entire exchange.

Funny enough, right after we got back from the South trip, 6 exchange students including myself who live in our province got invited to go on a trip to Bangkok and Huahin with my friends host dad. Only 5 of us ended up going, but they are all some of the exchange students I am closest with, because we live near each other. In Bangkok we ended up just hanging out there for a couple days, going to markets and doing some other touristy stuff.

When we went to Huahin, we already knew we were going to a crazy waterpark. I have heard about this waterpark a lot since I got to Thailand so I was really excited to finally go there. It didn’t disappoint me either. When we got there we went all almost all the rides because of all the lines. My favorite ride there was a slide where you get in a little tube standing up, and then the floor opens up from under you and you fall, do a loop, and finally get to the bottom. On the way up we heard people screaming down the slide and everyone laughing at them, so we all had to one up them and we all picked out things to scream.

For example, Eric screamed “TO THE BAT CAVE!!!!” on the way down and everyone was laughing. When it was my turn, I wasn’t very nervous and the ride was over really quickly, but it was still a really fun time. After a really fun day at the waterpark, we headed back to the hotel and hung out there all night. The next day we got up early and drove back to Bangkok to stay the night there. We had a delicious dinner there that night and drove back to Khon Kaen the next morning. The drive from Khon Kaen to Bangkok is about 8 hours. I think with all of the traveling I did in March I was with my host family for about 6 or 7 days. By the end of March I had gotten sick twice and was so tired, but all the traveling was definitely worth it.

The last really major thing that happened during this little period of time was my dad visiting! He actually just left a few days ago. He came up to the rural Issan, Northeast, region of Thailand and we had so much fun during Songkran. If you don’t know what Songkran is be prepared to want to come to Thailand next year. Picture everyone in a city just stops what they are doing and has a major water fight in the streets. A whole street just packed full of people soaking wet and dancing with music blaring, all night. The only thing that makes this better is that it’s for 3 days.

There were people riding in the beds of trucks with buckets of water throwing them all over people. Some people were really mean and bought ice to make their water so cold that it burned when it hit your skin. The whole festival was insane and I was happy that I got to share it with my friends and Dad. One exchange student didn’t get to experience all of Songkran though because on the first night we were walking back to his house and he tripped, fell on broken glass, and severed a tendon in his hand. He was in the hospital for 3 days so for the next nights of Songkran we slept in the hospital with him.

The fun part about my dad coming was messing with him and making him eat crazy food like little shrimp that were still alive and ant eggs. I took him to some beautiful temples we had an amazing time in the Northeast. We then went to Bangkok and I took him to one of the biggest markets in the world, along with the temple of the Emerald Buddha. He had an amazing time in Thailand and we were both so happy he came.

Tomorrow I am going to help out with a language camp for the upcoming outbounds in my district. I am excited because I will get to hang out with my exchange student friends, along with the Thai Rotex and future outbounds. I already know and am friends with a lot of them so it should be a fun 3 days.

When I sit back and think about my Rotary orientations and what Rotary Florida told me, it’s funny to think how right they were about everything. For example, about going through a bunch of different phases, like being homesick, throughout my exchange. I now am enjoying my time in Thailand so much because I am much more confident in my language skills and can communicate fairly easily. The thought of going home right now kills me but I think it is important to realize and face the fact that it is going to happen so right now I am trying to do as much as I can before I go back. I will be sure to write another journal soon to let you know about the stuff I’m doing before I eventually make my return trip to the United States.

Wed, April 22, 2015

Half-way through my exchange already… I don’t really like the sound of that. I can honestly still remember my first day here in Thailand very clearly, stepping off the airplane in Khon Kaen and going to the mall with my family to get some food. At that meal they started calling me a baby because I couldn’t eat spicy food and I was practically dying through the entire meal (no kidding it was so painful haha). That was a different time though and I can definitely say I have grown, matured, and learned so much from that point.

The last time I wrote to you I had so much to talk about. Since then I haven’t been doing as much traveling and life has just kind of gone to normal. However, that doesn’t mean life hasn’t been fun, my life over here is the most fun it has been possibly in my entire life. In this journal I will just talk about what I have been up to for the past couple months.

The first major thing that happened last week is….. SCHOOL ENDED!!!! High school in Thailand starts in May, and ends in March. When I was told that maybe a month before school ended, I was so excited. All my friends in the USA are getting ready for AP Exams and Finals, my friends on exchange also have to get ready for exams and I get to relax and travel for a few months. Speaking of traveling, my second Rotary trip starts on the 15th! School ends and then I get to travel around Thailand with my best friends from around the world, I don’t know if you can guess how excited I actually am.

That actually takes me to my next topic which is the second Rotary Trip! We are going to the tropical South of Thailand. The area we are going to is called กระบี่ or Krabi in English. All the exchange students have really been looking forward to this trip because as much as we love climbing up leech infested mountains while getting HEAVY rain poured on us (see my last journal), we also love to hang out at the beach go explore the tropical areas of Thailand. Whenever I ask my Thai friends about Krabi, they are always so jealous of me and say it is so beautiful and that most of them have never been. The ones that have been though, tell me that there are so many tourists there.

Living in a small town in the Northeast of Thailand, tourists usually don’t come here much. They usually just don’t come to the Northeast because the northeast region is very rural. So when I go to places with a lot of tourists on vacations with my exchange student friends it is always a weird experience. My favorite thing about it is no one looks at me like I am from another planet! It is so nice not to have so many eyes on you at all time.

One of the funniest things that has happened to me here was in Bangkok. I was at the King’s Temple in Bangkok, Home of the Emerald Buddha. I was sitting in the shade and a tourist group came up to me also wanting to sit in the shade. I started overhearing what they were saying and could tell they were speaking Chinese. So one of them saw me and pulled out his phone to say something to me, but had to translate it from Chinese to English first. He typed it in on his phone and before he translated it I saw what he was trying to translate and just said it to him in Chinese. I was shocked at this point because I thought I forgot almost all of the Chinese that I have learned but it’s still there! He, however, was a lot more shocked and did the biggest double take on me I have ever seen, he was just speechless. Then they all started talking to me in rapid Chinese and I did my best to communicate in the little Chinese I remember. Shortly after their tour guide came and started speaking Thai with me which was a lot easier and they just didn’t know what to think of me I guess. At that point my friends came up to me and then we went and explored the temple which is beautiful by the way! It was my second time going and I think I have already written about it in a past journal.

Along with all the crazy stuff I have just talked about, I went on two vacations in the past couple months. One was to จันทบุรี (Chanthaburi) and Bangkok. The story I just told was on this vacation. I went with two other exchange students and one of their host dads. It was for 5 days and was very very fun! Anytime you can travel with another exchange student you always know it is going to be a good time. In Chanthaburi we saw another exchange student, Shayna, who lives there. She showed us around her city and saw one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen in my life. I will add a picture of it to the journal. After that we went on to Bangkok.

The city of Bangkok is one of the craziest and liveliest places I have ever been to in my life. I don’t know if I could ever live in a city like it. The traffic there is always bad and people drive really crazy. In Bangkok we went to see beautiful temples, the house of one of the former Kings, and we also went to some of the biggest malls I have ever been to in my life. There are three malls all connected by a sky walk so you don’t have to worry about crossing the street to get to the other one. There is also a train if you want to pay and are too lazy to walk.

In the mall I met up with Stephanie, one of the other exchange students from Florida to Thailand! I texted her telling her I would be in Bangkok and she said she was too! So we met up at one of the really big malls. Our time in Bangkok flew by and soon enough we were on the 8 hour drive back to my little town. After arriving at like 11pm I went straight to bed because I had to get up at 5 am for my second “vacation” which was the next day. I put “vacation” like this because it was a school field trip with my Thai class to the zoo of a nearby city. I got up really early and met up with my Thai class in front of the school. Everyone was really tired but I was about to fall asleep at any point . As soon as we got on the bus I put my head down and remember waking up at the zoo.

My class had already taken a bunch of pictures of me while I was asleep so that was fun. We walked around the zoo for a few hours and before I knew it we had to go home. It was only a day trip so we couldn’t stay for that long. As we got on the bus I assumed it was going to be like a school bus in the USA where we can talk but we just sit down the whole time. If I only knew how wrong I was. When we started leaving music blared through the speakers on the bus and everyone just got up and started dancing in the isle. It was a huge dance fest the entire way back to School.

If you are asking, yes I danced too! Rotary taught us well at the orientations (outbounds will know what I mean). I keep wanting to write how this was one of the funniest or best moments of my exchange, but I find myself saying it way too much. This is because all of the times I have over here are just amazing and I find them all to be some of the best times of my exchange.

I will write another journal really soon after my trip and another big national holiday coming up, Songkran!!! I recently had to choose a return date home, which makes me realize that my time in Thailand is coming to an end and I need to make every moment and experience here count.

 Sat, March 7, 2015

Almost 5 months in Thailand has gone by so fast!! I am writing my second journal and I can’t even believe I have lived here for that long.

I will talk about some of the major things I have done since I wrote my last journal.

MY FIRST ROTARY TRIP!! Going to a 6 hour climb up a mountain to some of the most beautiful scenery in Thailand?? Count me in! I was so excited going in to the first because I would have a chance to see all of the exchange students again and go explore Thailand with them and Rotary. When you are on exchange, other exchange students become your best friends. They can relate to you and understand what you are going through with homesickness and difficulty adapting or learning the language, because they are going through the same thing too. So getting all exchange students together in one place is always an amazing time.

The mountain we went to was called Phukradeung National Park and let me tell you, it was beautiful. Beautiful isn’t even a good enough word to describe it. The long walk up the mountain was difficult, but over very quickly. I walked up with two other exchange students and we were the first of all the exchange students to make it to the top. When you hit the top there is a big sign in Thai and English, but reading the Thai is cooler, that says “CONGRATS PHUKRADEUNG CONQUEROR!” Then after waiting for all the other exchange students we all headed toward our camp site and went to go get food.

The next few days on the trip consisted of 20km walks around the top of the mountain visiting the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life, getting close with all the exchange students, and getting eaten alive by all of the wildlife on top of the mountain. The worst thing about Phukradeung was the leeches. Leeches were everywhere. EVERYWHERE! We had to constantly be checking our socks and shoes to see if we had leeches on our feet. Thankfully one previous exchange student told an exchange student in our class how to stop the leeches from getting into our rooms, which was by putting salt around all the doors. After perfecting our leech flicking technique, staying up really late playing cards and just talking with the exch ange students, and seeing the most beautiful views, it was time to head back down the mountain and go home. I absolutely loved the trip and I am very excited for the next one where we will go to the beaches and tropical areas in the south of Thailand.

The Loy Krathong festival was another amazing part of the time I have been having. Right before the first trip started Rotary got all the exchange students together at the bottom of the mountain to celebrate the festival. To celebrate the festival people float Krathongs (little boats) in a river and lifting lanterns in the sky. It is so beautiful to see in person. There was also the Loy Krathong beauty pageant and festival part to talk about. The other exchange student in my small town, Dana, was chosen by Rotary to enter the Loy Krathong beauty Pageant on behalf of all the exchange students. She was late to see all the exchange students because she was getting makeup done, but she got to see them after the pageant. When it was her turn to go on stage she did a really funny dance and then all the exchange students jumped up and danced with her. Then after we all went to a festival and ran into a few friends from school. After we went back to the hotel with the exchange students we all just hung around outside of the hotel and talked. Then rotary came out with the lanterns and we floated them up into the sky. All in all, one of the most fun nights of my life.

Probably one of my favorite trips I have ever taken in Thailand was going to Chiang Khan for the second time. The first time we went to Chiang Khan I think I wrote about in my other journal. Chiang Khan is a city on the border between Thailand and Laos. When you go to walking street in Chaing Khan you can look to your left and see the river that divides the two countries, and then Laos on the other side. Chiang Khan has one of the biggest Walking Streets in all of Thailand and one of the most beautiful. However when we went the second time, I got to see a whole new side of Chiang Khan. Dana and I got an offer by a friend of Dana’s host mom to take us to Chiang Khan for his family reunion that he was having. Of course, knowing the Rotary way, we said a huge Yes!

After thanking him a lot, we went to pack our stuff as we were leaving the next day. We would only be there for a few days but these few days ended up being one of the happiest times for me in all of my exchange. The cool part about this time was we weren’t staying in a fancy hotel, we weren’t staying with people who spoke English, we weren’t getting the side of Thailand that most foreigners come to see. We were staying in a very small community, one that everyone knew everyone and we were living in a small house with no air conditioning.

Yes, going to see places and staying in hotels and only seen the wealthy areas are nice, but that’s not the only thing I wanted to see coming to Thailand. I wanted to experience both side of it. The people in this community were so loving and caring (almost all Thai people are though) and they were AMAZING cooks!

I remember one night we were getting ready for bed around 10 and the person who brought us there told us he was going to a friend’s house if we wanted to come. We went and just sat and talked with these people in a foreign language and looked at the stars. This was one of the coolest moments of my exchange. We stayed there for about 4 or 5 hours. The next morning we got up and went to the local temple. I honestly don’t know why but everyone started dancing around the temple so of course I joined in and danced around the temple with everyone.

That happens a lot on exchange and any future outbounds reading this be ready for it. You aren’t going to know why something is happening but if everyone is doing you might as well join in. Not only does this go for dancing but it goes for many cultural things as well. Every day in Thailand the national anthem plays twice. You are supposed to stop what you are doing and stand up to show respect and I have seen foreigners just not do it and it’s considered disrespectful.

The last trip I will tell you about is one that I took very recently. It was to the north of Thailand. Rotary didn’t have a trip planned for us to go up to the north so a host parent in Khon Kaen, the nearest city to me, invited a bunch of exchange students to go to the north with him and his family. I jumped on this opportunity very fast and about a month later I was flying up to the north with 6 other exchange students. During the trip we were going to go to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, two of the biggest cities in the north. While we were there we did all the touristy stuff really. We went to an amazing temple with a view over the city of Chiang Mai. In Chiang Rai we also went to one of the most famous temples in Thailand. The exchange students and I kept forgetting the name so we kept calling it the White temple. You will see why from the picture I attach.

The funniest part about the White temple was on the outside it is a beautiful temple, the detail on it was amazing, and then on the inside you go in and look at the walls and see pictures of batman, harry potter, superman, and all of these random people. It made no sense at all.

We also went on elephant rides, I got to pet a Tiger, and we went to see Pandas, which was my favorite by far! The pandas were so funny because they didn’t do anything, all they did was eat. The only time they moved was to go get more food or to change to a comfier position to eat.

Our last night in Chiang Mai we went to walking street. I had never seen a walking street so big. The funniest thing about the north is all the foreigners. In my small town, Chum Phae, if you see another Farang, Thai word for foreigner, you are surprised because you thought you were the only one. When a Thai person sees you on the street, they will stare at you and you can hear them talking about you as you go by, because they assume you don’t understand any Thai. In Chiang Mai no one looked at us because there are so many foreigners there. This actually felt kind of nice not being looked at and talked about all the time. The trip was an amazing experience and you can expect me to return back to the north.

These are just the big trips I am going on, every day I find out more about my city, I go to more local places just for a day trip. Yesterday I went to a friend from school’s farm and we just explored around there for a few hours. So far on this exchange I have learned so much about myself and grown as a person. I have done things I didn’t think possible for me to do. I am living in a foreign country with a family that I have never met before coming here and loving every minute of it. I am speaking a foreign language I didn’t know a word of before I was told I was going to come to Thailand and I love the language. I have Rotary to thank for this.

For you new outbounds, if you are reading this and you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me. I am positive the other outbounds and I would be happy to answer your questions. I will try to write a journal quicker next time. Until then, Goodbye!!

 Mon, December 29, 2014

My first month and a half in Thailand!! 

A month and half in Thailand?! EXCHANGE SLOW DOWN PLEASE!!!!!!!

In the weeks leading to my departure I was kind of nervous but the excitement was making the nerves not so bad. The whole journey started in the Jacksonville International Airport on August 10th. Saying goodbye to friends and family was really tough and I already miss all of them. Flying over with another outbound to Thailand, Stephanie definitely made it better, though. But with that said the sad parts are over and we can go into the amazing time I am having here.

The first flight to Atlanta was under an hour so it Stephanie and I just talked the whole time. Arriving in Atlanta I thought the airport was huge! Stephanie and I had a plan to find out next gate ASAP so we wouldn’t have to try and find it at the last minute. We were hoping it wasn’t going to be impossible to find. Luckily when we walked out of the plane there were those big boards will all of the connecting flights so we found ours very easily.

After our layover we boarded the flight to Tokyo/Narita airport. That flight was quite terrible just because of the length and airplane food isn’t the best but 14 hours later we arrived in Tokyo. One more flight to go I thought, just one more. Again we found our gate fairly easily and before I knew it we were in the air flying to Bangkok, Thailand. I slept for the whole flight so all I remember is waking up and see us descending into Bangkok at night and the city looked incredibly beautiful.

When we landed we went through customs, found our baggage claim, and headed toward the meeting areas of the airport. I had a connecting flight to Khon Kaen the next morning so my host family wasn’t there to pick me up, but a District 3340 representative was. When we arrived at the meeting area we could see a poster with Stephanie’s picture on it and then the representative was there for me. I said one last goodbye to Stephanie, we hugged, and that was it. Saying goodbye to her wasn’t as hard because of the excitement we both felt to finally be in Thailand. After a night in a hotel and a very short flight in the morning I landed in Khon Kaen, got my bags, and saw my host family with a big “WELCOME!!” sign with my face on it.

After being picked up from the airport we took A LOT of pictures, which would become a very common thing, and then we went to the mall in Khon Kaen to get some food. The Khon Kaen mall is pretty big, 5 stories, with a movie theater, a grocery store, etc. I remember them asking me if I can eat spicy food and me telling them I can eat food that is kind of spicy. They all laughed at me and then called me a baby. The food here is amazing. Let me repeat that… THE FOOD HERE IS AMAZING!! Authentic Thai food is so good I can’t even explain it. After eating our meal and walking around the mall for an hour or two, we headed off to my town, Chum Phae, which was only about a 45 minute drive. I can remember thinking as we were driving about all the people telling me this was going to be the best year of my life. On that car ride, I was beyond excited.

I started school 2 days after I arrived in Thailand. My first day in Chum Phae consisted of me going to get my school uniform and many other things needed for school. The day before school I was actually really nervous, always flooding my head with things that could go wrong. When I got up for my first day of school, I was so excited. My host mom and I met the other exchange student and our Rotary counselor that morning at school. We took about a thousand pictures, met the director of our school, and then met a few of the students I would be taking classes with. After we said goodbye to our parents and counselor, we headed off to our class.

To say I got swarmed at school would be an understatement. Right after leaving my host mom I was surrounded by at least 20 people and they all held hands and did a chant which was welcoming me to their school. That whole day everyone wanted to meet me. Everywhere I went I was being watched. People would walk up to me and say hello and tell me there name and then walk away and expect me to remember it. I am still having trouble with names and I’ve been here for so long.

So far at school I have met many amazing people who I know I will be friends with for a long, long time. In Thai school, you stay with one class the whole time. So far, I love my class. Everyone is so nice and we all joke around the whole time. I try to understand what my teachers are saying, but it is very hard to understand because they talk about a million miles per hour. On top of that, most of my class just talks to each other the whole time and doesn’t pay attention, so that makes paying attention a lot harder.

Since being here I have done so many amazing things. Thailand is one of the most beautiful places in the world. One very memorable experience was going to a temple inside a mountain. When you walk up the mountain you can see on the top of it a huge Buddha sitting on top of the mountain. After walking up you go into a room with the monks and offer them gifts. My host mom brought me to a room behind the monks and when I walked in I was in awe. The room was massive and at the end of the room you could see a huge Buddha. My host mom and I walked through the room and prayed to the Buddha then I just sat back and enjoyed the scenery of the room.

The room was inside a cliff so rocks were on all sides of us. I could see the room went higher, but that area was roped off. There were decorations on the walls that made the room even more beautiful. The same day we drove about 2 hours another temple, but we didn’t pray to Buddha at this one. We walked into a house, and went upstairs to the second floor. When we walked outside I was, again, in awe by the view. The biggest thing you could see was an inactive volcano, and all around it were mountains. Trees and a few rivers let up to the volcano. It was possibly the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen. I will attach a picture to this journal but it will not do it justice at all.

I have already had my inbound orientation, which was very fun meeting all the other exchange students. The orientation didn’t last that long and pretty much just told me everything RYE Florida told us before we left, so that part was kind of boring. After the orientation all the exchange students went to the mall in Khon Kaen and we hung out there for the day. The other exchange student in my town and I learned that there are some exchange students in Khon Kaen, so we will go hang out with them every once in a while now. I find myself going to Khon Kaen a lot because there is so much more to do.

This journal was a quick summary of what I’ve been up to since I’ve been here, and I promise it won’t take me as long to put out my second. I can’t thank Rotary enough for this opportunity, it has already been one of the best months I’ve ever had.

Wed, September 24, 2014

John - Norway

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2250
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Stord

 My Bio

Hallo! Mit navn er John. I am 16 years old, and currently a sophomore at Buchholz high school in Gainesville, Florida. I live with my mom, dad, sister, three dogs, and cat. I also have a brother who lives with his wife in New Port Richie. We moved to Gainesville from Orlando when I was three years old, and this spunky college town has been my home ever since. Soon that will change however, as I will be spending next year abroad in the beautiful country of Norway. My life revolves around music. I play the Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, harmonica, and sing a little. This love for music seeps into my school life as well, as I play guitar for the chorus when needed. Practicing my music consumes most of my free time, but I also enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, Kayaking, and mountain biking, (not like there are any mountains in Florida). My love of American music (styles like folk, blues, and jazz) developed into a fascination with the music of other cultures, which then blossomed into an interest in other cultures in their entirety. Naturally, the urge to travel soon set in. I have always wanted to not only to see the world, but live in the world. When I heard about the Rotary youth exchange, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. I want to experience more than a two week vacation, I want to experience a new lifestyle, learn a new language, and get a new view on the world that can’t be obtained in any other way. Needless to say, I cannot wait for next year.

 Journals: John – Norway

I love my Norwegian life. I have great friends, I get along really well with my host family, and I can just about say that I speak Norwegian. I’m starting to feel like I actually belong in Norway, and that I am no longer a stranger checking things out. In a way, I feel like I’ve “done it.” I’ve managed to carve out a life here that I’m incredibly happy with. In fact, I’m trying to find a way to come back for university. I feel like the hard part is over, and now I get to enjoy this incredible country for a few months before I have to go “home.” I think I understand it all a bit more now, and I am ready to write about what exchange really means to me, and that is what this journal will be about. Surely it means something different to every exchange student, so I don’t want to say that this is the way things are. This is just simply what I’ve been thinking about in the past weeks, in the midst of a really happy time in my life.

The goals of us exchange students include many things. Learning a language, navigating a new culture, making friends, and so on. Ultimately though, I think all of these goals can be summed up into one wish: we want to feel normal. We want to go through our daily activities without being in a constant state of ineptitude. We want to have conversations, go to school, and watch tv without the heavy feeling of being different looming over our heads. When stepping into the world of exchange, it doesn’t take long to realize how weird you actually are in the eyes of the host country. Obviously that weirdness includes things like language and appearance, but it goes much deeper than that. The way you buy groceries, the way you cross the street, and even the way the toilet flushes, everything becomes alien. It’s like entering a strange new universe where everything is tweaked ever so slightly. This abrupt change robs you of your ability to function on a day to day basis, and you suddenly become reduced to a sort of infantile state. You can’t read, write, talk, or even walk in some cases (I am of course referring to the perilous task of walking on ice in the cold Norwegian winter). It’s a fascinating feeling at first, but attending high school whilst feeling as though you possess the competence of a toddler loses it’s charm rather swiftly. Life turns into a quest for normality in a bizarre, foreign world. Becoming “normal” suddenly matters a great deal.

The thing is though, we exchange students aren’t normal at all. That’s exactly why we are capable of this. For us, all of the hardships tied to spending a year abroad do not deter us, but rather motivate us to dive in head first. Every language mishap, every slip on the ice, and all the bad days are just parts of an amazing story. It definitely isn’t easy, but if it was, what would the point? I said before that as exchange students, we really just want to feel normal. But that is a very different thing from actually being normal. We’re about as far from normal as possible, halfway around the world from it, really. Normal high school students don’t willingly say farewell to everything they grew up learning, simply for the purpose of learning it all again in a foreign land. Normal high school students don’t loan their families out to teenagers halfway across the world, while simultaneously borrowing someone else’s. In the way I’ve come to see it, the goal of exchange is to become so used to this incredibly ludicrous situation that you end up fooling yourself into believing that it isn’t strange at all. It’s not about getting rid of that heavy feeling of being different, its about getting so used to it that you stop noticing the weight.

 Fri, January 30, 2015

Well today marks another completion of the earth’s orbit around the sun, and I feel it is a good time to write about my Norwegian holiday experiences. I will begin with Christmas. Christmas is an even bigger occasion here than in the states, much to my surprise. The Christmas spirit really became noticeable in the middle of November. My town put up a large Christmas tree in the middle of the city center where it stands surrounded by shops decorated in lights and streamers. Christmas music could be heard through most of the “downtown” district, adding to the atmosphere.

The decorating of the city was accompanied by the appearance of the delicious soda called “Julebrus” or “Christmas soda.” It tastes very sweet, almost like candy, but it was very good. There are some other special Christmas foods as well, the most shocking example has to be lutefisk. This Christmas dish consists of dried fish that gets soaked in lye for a few days, and then baked. Yes, I ate it, and yes, it was terrible. I got a round of applause from my table when I managed to choke it all down.

The Christmas activities went into overdrive when winter break began. My host family and I spent the first days driving from town to town, visiting friends and family. All this family time culminated to Christmas eve, which is the most important day in the Norwegian holiday season. This is the day on which gifts are opened and salted sheep’s rib is eaten. It was another big day for family, with about 14 of us crowded into my host grandparents’ apartment, opening gifts, playing games, and just having a good time. On Christmas morning we awoke to the most exciting gift of all (for me anyway), snow! We ate a long breakfast, and then took a trip to the mountains for an afternoon of sledding, snowball fights, and snowman building. This was the most special part of it all for me, having never experienced a white Christmas.

Then of course came New Year’s. The time in between Christmas andNew Year’s was spent relaxing and recovering from all the excitement of Christmas. I also made the switch to my next host family. New Year’s was also rather exciting. There are almost no firework regulations here, so things became quite loud and colorful. At midnight, we stepped outside to see the town light up with hundreds of less-than-safe fireworks, and set off a couple of our own.

I could keep going on about how amazing it was to spend the holidays in such an incredible country, but I’ll leave it here. It was a truly magical time. Godt nyttår alle sammen!

 Thu, January 1, 2015

Well I suppose it’s time for a long overdue journal. Time goes by so quickly here, I wrote my first journal in the beginning of October and all of the sudden it’s December. Please excuse my tardiness. In my defence, I did write a journal in the middle of November, but something went wrong when I sent it in. It vanished from the planes of reality. Of course I made the amatuer mistake of not saving, so it’s lost forever.

So much has happened in the past three months, and I think the only way to organize my thoughts is to go month by month, so lets begin.

September:
The most exciting part of this month was, by far, meeting the other exchange students in the beautiful city of Trondheim. Rotary organized a week long language and culture camp for all the Rotary exchange students in the country, a whopping 18 of us. We took some classes, explored the city, and formed bonds that I already know will last a lifetime. So far, that week in Trondheim has been the most incredible part of my exchange. There we were, from 7 very different countries, in breathtakingly beautiful city, creating memories that stepped over the cultural differences we had. Despite coming from places that had vast differences, we were all in the same situation here in Norway, desperately trying to carve out a life in this place that was foreign to all of us. As if this wasn’t great enough, this all took place in the most gorgeous city I’ve ever seen, Trondheim. Granted, it is competing with the likes of Atlanta and Orlando, but still. Every building seemed to be designed by the same divinity that created the fjords and mountains surrounding the city. There are very few places where the Nidaros cathedral is out of view, towering above the rest of the city. It was truly spectacular.

Needless to say, after such a magical week, it was a bit of a challenge to go back to the “normal” routine of things, but after a few days I got back in the swing of things: working on the language, my relationships, and trying to figure out this country.

October:
I’ll go ahead and say that October was not a great month. This was the point at which being in a foreign place, away from everything I know really started to take a toll. I was constantly fatigued from putting all my energy into trying to grasp what people were talking about, I was getting bored at school, and to top it all off there were less than ideal things going on back home.

All that being said, there were definitely some good days. I went on mountain trips, went boating in the fjord, and started getting a grasp on the language towards the end of the month. While I didn’t enjoy the month of October while I was living it, now that I’ve made it past some of the challenges I was facing, I can look at myself with some pride. Obviously, if exchange wasn’t challenging there wouldn’t be much point in participating. It’s all part of the experience.

November:
This is where things started getting good. First off, to kick my boredom I switched from being a music student in school to a film student. Studying film is something I’ve never even considered, but I figured that doing those kinds of things is what this year’s all about. Things in the music track weren’t ideal either. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I couldn’t seem to connect to the class. The people were nice, and the classes were interesting, but something was missing, so I made the switch. That definitely kicked things off. My Norwegian has gotten good enough to where I can actually talk to the other students on a deeper level, and I think that was what I was missing. Now I feel like I’m making more legitimate friends, and the people I talk to aren’t just being nice to the foreign kid, which is how I felt before.

This month I also got the chance to do a lot of cool things. I’ve had trips to Bergen and Stavanger, made a 30 minute presentation (in Norwegian!), played Norwegian and American folk music for Kindergarteners (long story), made a short film, toured one of the national news studios, seen one of the biggest firework shows in the country, visited the Grieg academy, shared twinkies and poptarts with my host family, and so much more. Things are going great!

So, in a nutshell, that was the past three months. I should probably mention that this is a very brief summary, and the experiences I’m having are too weird and complex to write down. As any exchange student will tell you, it’s indescribable.

 Fri, December 5, 2014

Obviously, being used to the system in the US, I did not simply accept the fact that I needed no official approval whatsoever to enter the country.

Well I’ve survived my first month of exchange! I left Florida on August 8th, and after three sleepless flights and a boat ride, I found myself on the incredibly picturesque island of Stord. I have to admit, the first couple weeks were not easy. The island of Stord only has a about 20,000 people, and thus it is a very tight-knit community. Finding my place in that community, especially among the students, was very challenging at first. This is not to say that the locals are not friendly, however, as everyone I’ve met so far has been nothing but kind and welcoming.

I was also lucky enough to be placed in a music program at school which was gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet peers that share a common interest. But nonetheless, the initial “getting to know people phase” was a vast obstacle. But after stumbling through a lot of Norwegian small talk, I finally feel as though I’ve gotten to know the community, and have more or less found my niche among my classmates and the town.

Ever since that happened, my time here has been phenomenal. I feel like I’m doing well with the language, and can hold up simple one on one conversations with people, and I’ve found that there is no better way to bond with my classmates than making attempts at speaking their language. I get the privilege of spending all day learning music in my school, where I’ve made many new friends, and finally every evening I can take a stroll to the coast to admire the fjords and mountains that surround the village. I don’t think the beauty of Norway will ever cease to astound me.

Lastly, I have a vast array of anecdotes at my disposal, and I think the best way to conclude my journal entry would be with one. I had just arrived in the airport and was prepared to face the terrifying task of talking to the customs officers. I followed the signs leading to customs station and there it was. Two hallways, each with a sign over it. The first stating “nothing to declare” and the second stating the opposite. Obviously, I chose the first hallway and proceeded to walk through, my palms sweating from nervousness.

As I took the first steps into the place where I expected to be interrogated by a rude government official, I was startled to find that no one was there! I then proceeded to stroll into the terminal, I didn’t even need to get my passport stamped! The Norwegian customs office is nothing more than a hallway that leads to the country! Obviously, being used to the system in the US, I did not simply accept the fact that I needed no official whatsoever to enter the country, so I walked back through to find an official.

After asking if I needed to answer any questions or even get my passport stamped, he cheerfully responded, “nope! Welcome to Norway!” This relaxed, welcoming attitude really exemplifies Norwegian culture. Everyone trusts each other. Locking doors and bikes is optional, the police don’t have guns and are rarely seen, and my school even gave me a key to the building where I am allowed to use the library or musical equipment when ever I want! It goes without saying that I love it here, and cannot wait to see what the next nine months has in store!

Sun, September 7, 2014

John - Ecuador

Hometown: Sanford, Florida
School: Seminole High School – Sanford
Sponsor District: District 6980
Sponsor Club: Sanford, Florida
Host District: District 4400
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Portoviejo Solidario

My Bio

Hi! My name’s John Tobin, and I’ll be spending the next year of my life in Ecuador! I still can’t believe that I’m going to be in Ecuador this time next year. Just four months ago Scott came into my fourth period and told us about RYE. I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to do. I went home that day and told my parents all about the program and they were completely on board with me. Now, after many emails and a nerve-wracking interview I’m here writing my bio for the RYE page! I was born in Daytona Beach and moved to Sanford when I was thirteen. I’m now seventeen years old and a senior at Seminole High School. I live with my mom, dad, little brother, and two dogs. I also have two older sisters that have graduated college and are out of the house. I currently work at a movie theatre and have been for about a year. I also play the electric guitar and I’m in the jazz band at my school. Music is a big part of my life and has been since I was in the third grade. I can’t go a day without listening to music, and my favorite bands are Sublime, Led-Zeppelin, and The Arctic Monkeys. Spanish is my favorite class in school and I want to become fluent in the language so I was ecstatic when I learned that I’d be going to Ecuador. I’ve been wanting to travel the world since I was very little and South America has always been on top of my list so I could not be more excited to begin this amazing experience. I’d like to take this time to thank The Rotary for presenting me with this once in a lifetime opportunity!

 Journals: John – Ecuador

Hey everyone! I’m back with another journal all about my ventures here in Ecuador!! So in my last journal I mentioned that I’d be taking a trip to the Amazon Rainforest with Rotary. Well I did, and it was amazing!!! It started off bright and early at 4:30 AM when I woke up to get ready for my flight to the capital: Quito. Rotary divided all the kids in Ecuador into 4 groups based on your location in the country and each group went to the Amazon on a different set of dates. In my group there was about 44 kids.

After arriving in Quito we took another plane to a small town called Coca and we took a 2 hour boat ride to get to our lodge in the jungle. Our lodge was amazing it was right in the heart of the jungle and you could see monkeys from your room and walking around the lodge every day! Each day started off very early in the morning with breakfast being between 6 or 7 in the morning. We would then break off into our groups with our designated guide.

We did so many things! We walked through the jungle seeing all forms of wildlife like monkeys, snakes, spiders, huge ants, and birds! We went piranha fishing and we swam in a lake with piranhas and gators! We also went up into a huge treehouse that had an amazing 360 degree view of jungle as far as you could see! There was also a bridge that we walked in and was about 200-300 feet off the ground! Not going to lie, it was pretty scary being that high up on this bridge but at the same time it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done for sure! The view was breathtaking and we went up when the sun was making its way down and the sky was a beautiful orange!

So after my amazing trip in the Amazon I came back to Portoviejo! This was just about the time of Christmas! Christmas here is really different from the U.S. First of all we open presents on the 24th at midnight and not on the morning of the 25th. And right before you open presents you eat a huge dinner. Yah, I had to wait until midnight to eat dinner! Another thing that struck me as very odd was the lack of Christmas trees! Nobody here puts up trees! No one in my family had one up and only one or two of my friends’ families had one up. Here it’s more about the religious aspect of Christmas and they take it very serious. Although my house had no tree, the house became covered in religious Christmas knick knacks literally overnight!

Anyway! The day after Christmas I set off for my 5 day school trip! We left at 10 PM on a bus headed for a city called Baños! About 8 hours later we had arrived! Baños is in the Sierra which is where all the mountains are, the elevation is very high and it was pretty cold. Baños is a city known for extreme sports such as white water rafting, bungee jumping, and paragliding! I got to bungee jump and it was one of the most intense things I have ever done! It was an awesome rush and I’d love to do it again!

Another thing I got to try was Cuy! Cuy is a food eaten in the Sierra in cities such as Quito, Baños, and Cuenca. For those of you who don’t know what Cuy is you might know it by Guinea Pig! Yep, that’s right I ate Guinea Pig and as you might guess it didn’t taste very good! It wasn’t absolutely disgusting but it’s definitely not something I’d pay 20 dollars for again. My friend from Germany split a whole Cuy with me so it was 10 dollars each.

Also on my class trip I got to ride a zip line over a large ravine, not sitting but with my stomach and face, face down so I was forced to stare down at the river 200 feet below me both ways there and back, don’t get me wrong it was a lot of fun and a really nice sight but staring at the ground while being attached to just a cable gets a little scary. Nonetheless it was an awesome trip and I had lots of fun with all the kids in my grade.

After an exhausting bus ride back to Portoviejo we arrived on the 31st just in time to celebrate New Year’s the Ecuadorian way! Here in Ecuador they celebrate New Year’s just a little differently than we do back home.. Here you make life size dolls out paper and stuff them with paper, you paint them and give them a face and everything then at midnight you and all your friends throw them all into a big pile and light them on fire! And also men will dress up like women and beg for money in the streets saying that the doll is their husband and they need money to pay to stop their burning. They’re all over the city and run up to your car at self-made road blocks and at red lights it was really fun!

I’ve had a great 4 months so far here in Ecuador and I’m more than ready to see what this New Year has in store for me! In the next month or so I’ll be going to the Galapagos so I’ll be sure to write a lot and take lots of pictures to share with you guys! Thanks for reading!

 Sat, January 10, 2015

I can’t believe it’s already been over 2 months since I left my entire life in Florida! It feels like I literally just wrote my first journal and here I am writing number 2! I’m currently in school but since I really don’t do anything here I figured it’s time to stop procrastinating and get to writing!

So last time when I finished up I was just a few days away from my trip to Salinas with Rotary. We had our language camp for four days and it was an absolute blast! We stayed at an amazing beach resort with so many things to do! The typical day started with our breakfast buffet from 7-8, after that we had Spanish classes for 4 hours then we had lunch and had a break until about 4 or 5 and we would have 2 more hours of classes. During our breaks we had so many things to do! There was volleyball, soccer, swimming in the pool or ocean, Jacuzzi, kayaking, water polo, tennis, and basketball! My favorite part was the food though, every meal we ate was a buffet with so many different choices ranging from French fries and burgers to Italian food and of course traditional Ecuadorian dishes.

When I returned home it was much like in the U.S after a vacation it’s so bittersweet because you’re finally back home in your own bed but then again you have to go back to school which means no more games and fun but school. When I got back from Salinas it was a Thursday so I had to go to school on Friday and then we had a 2 week vacation so it actually wasn’t too bad going back to school that one day. Plus it was a half day so I was only there for about 3 hours. The next two weeks consisted of sleeping in, going out with friends, and more sleeping. Needless to say it was a great 2 weeks! So after a great 2 week vacation I went back to school but not for long! Rotary had a another trip planned for us in a small city called Bahia so after a 2 weeks break and then about 3 days in school I left for Bahia for a week!

Bahia was awesome! This time it was all 150 kids in Ecuador and not just the kids from the coastal cities. We had the whole hotel to ourselves and it was great! Everyday all of us would walk to the beach with a police escort. I found it pretty funny because a bunch of gringos already stick out like a sore thumb but a bunch of gringos with a police escort.. We were the spectacle of the whole town! Anyway we would all go to the beach and spend hours playing volleyball or swimming or playing soccer it was awesome! One of the longest bridges in Ecuador is in Bahia and it goes from Bahia to San Vincente an even smaller town. Our third day there we all walked across this insanely long bridge when the sun was setting and it was perfect the sky was an amazing purple pink and it was absolutely breathtaking. When I see things like that in this amazing country I can’t help but think, “Wow, I’m here for a whole year!”

Our second to last day in Bahia we participated in a parade about an hour away from Bahia in my home of Portoviejo! When you’re a gringo in South America people stare at you all the time especially when there’s 150 of us. At first I liked everyone looking and noticing my “gringo-ness” but after a while you kind of get tired of it and this parade every eye was on us literally EVERY SINGLE PERSON watched us. It’s a thing you just kind of have to get used to living here.

So finally I came back to Portoviejo and started the cycle again of waking up every day at 6 and going to school. But everyday there’s something different whether it’s something that happens at school or something I do after school and every day I learn more and more about myself and about the language and about my new home. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and making this decision to pack up and leave for a year is already turning out to be the absolute best decision I have ever made by far!

Anyway it’s almost lunch time so I’ve got to wrap it up, next month I’m going to the Amazon for 4 days and I’m so excited we’re taking a raft up river for about 2 hours to our “hotel”. I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures to share in my next journals and on Facebook! Anyway, it’s time for me to go eat some Pan de Almidon (one of the best Ecuadorian baked goods) it’s similar to Pan de Yucca if anyone knows what that is. Well, peace out reader check back in next month!

Mon, November 17, 2014

One month down, eleven to go!

Well I’m finally here in my new home, Portoviejo, Ecuador! It’s been a little over 3 weeks since I got here and it’s really just starting to hit me that I’ll be here for a whole year of my life. I’m absolutely loving everything about this amazing country, the food, the culture, the language, and not to mention the nicest people on the planet!

Anyway, let me back up a bit to my first few days here. On August 23rd I woke up bright and early at around 7 AM (Yes that’s bright and early for me.) I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before because I was up doing last minute packing and I mean who would be able to sleep the night before something like this!? So even though I was only running on 3 hours of sleep I was wide awake and ready to go! We left the house at about 8:30 and on the way to the airport my mom was reading the check in rules for American Airlines when she reads that if a bag is heavier than 70 pounds we’d have to bring in to their cargo department to check it in, this was not a good start to the morning at all considering my 1 duffel bag was easily 90 pounds! We then sped to Walmart and got a new suitcase and continued to the airport I divided all my things into my two bags and they checked in fine, what a relief! We walked to security and I said goodbye to my parents and brother and gave them all one last hug for a year.

My adventure finally had begun, I had been waiting for this day for nearly 11 months and it as finally here! I got through security and boarded my 11:50 AM flight to Miami. An hour later I arrived in Miami and immediately found a map to find my way to my gate. I got to my gate and started watching a TV show on my computer, when I looked up I saw someone I had never seen before but had so much in common with. I saw the blue blazer and immediately had a new friend! I went up to this girl in my blazer and she immediately started talking to me. We were talking for about 30 minutes when another exchange student showed up! About 2 hours later there were 7 of us sitting in a circle.

We boarded the plane to Guayaquil at about 5 PM and 4 and a half hours later I arrived!!! Walking through customs was amazing, I had finally made it! We all got our bags and walked out to crowds of families with signs welcoming their new students. At first I was worried because I didn’t see the familiar faces I had skyped with but I kept walking and I saw them with a sign that read, “Bienvenido A Ecuador Jhon Te Queremos.” I thought they accidentally spelled my name wrong but that’s actually just how Hispanics spell John.

We drove 3 hours northwest and we arrived in Portoviejo at around 1 in the morning. I was so tired due to my night before and not sleeping at all on the planes! I’m not going to lie, my first few days here I was miserable. I couldn’t eat anything without feeling like I was going to puke everywhere! All the food was so good too, I’ve always loved Latin food but I couldn’t stomach anything! When I feel sick I just want to be in my home and in my bed so I really thought I had made one of the worst decisions ever!

After about three days I was finally able to eat without getting sick, my only problem now was eating all my food which was a serious struggle! The meals here are so big! First you have a big bowl of soup, then you get a plate with a big portion of rice, meat, and a vegetable. And depending on what you’re eating you’ll get a fried egg or bread too.

When I first got here my host mom told me I could wait 2 weeks to start school so I could get to know the city and I was all for it! So my first 2 weeks were very relaxed and a bit boring at times. But I got to go to the capital Quito for a day with my brother and his girlfriend so she could get a Visa to go live in France. Quito was amazing! We got on a bus at 10 PM and arrived in Quito at 5 AM. Then we went to hostel and slept for a few hours. After our nap we went to the French embassy and waited about an hour while Veronica got her Visa, then we spent the rest of the day admiring the historic center of Quito!

In the Sierras or the highlands here in Ecuador they eat what the natives call “Cuy” you all reading this back home know Cuy as Guinea Pig. Yah you read that right, Guinea Pig! Ever since I found out they eat Guinea Pig here I’ve wanted to try it. Yah, you read that right too. We looked for Guinea Pig and asked locals where we could find it but unfortunately they were no help. There’s a trip with Rotary around the country and I’ll be able to try it then for sure considering we’ll be going to Cuenca where Cuy is much more popular!

So other than my day trip to Quito I hadn’t been doing too much except playing lots of soccer with my host brother considering I didn’t really know anyone, but then my brothers’ girlfriend introduced me to her friends’ daughter who’s 16. She invited me to a pool party and this is where I got my first taste of what school would be like. This is also where I realized I wasn’t as good at Spanish as I thought I was. These kids realized I was a “Gringo” and within seconds I was surrounded with them all rapidly asking me different questions at once in Spanish.

They all take English class in school but in the equivalent of their senior year they’re still learning basics, I mean like things you learn in a Spanish 1 class. So they couldn’t really translate when I didn’t understand they would just kept saying the word or sentence over and over I guess expecting me to understand eventually. I took 4 years of Spanish in high school and I always did well and I can speak Spanish pretty well but I still have a lot of trouble communicating and I really wish I had done more practicing. They all talk very fast here and at first I could barely understand what was going on, but now if I listen closely to people I can catch the general gist of the conversation.

So after 2 weeks of sleeping till 11 and hanging out I finally started school on September 8th. I go to Miguel Iturralde Colegio Militar. And yes that means it’s a military school. Every morning we stand in formation and listen to the “Inspectors” talk and march when they tell us to march. All the other kids have 4 different uniforms that they wear, I have no idea when they’re supposed to wear each one because I just wear the P.E uniform every day.

My first day I was pretty nervous, I knew there was another kid with Rotary at the school from Germany so that helped and then I got into my class and he was there too! I was so relieved to have a friend in the class! But at my school I would’ve had friends regardless because literally everyone wants to talk to me and give me high fives and everyone is just so nice.  I love going to school so much. Moritz; the other exchange student and I are literally like celebrities and it’s pretty cool! We play a lot of soccer at school too, they have basketball hoops, and volleyball nets but no one ever plays. It’s just soccer, soccer, and more soccer.

I’ve only been at the school for a week and I’ve already made so many friends and it’s just great! It’s also really great practice to hear nothing but Spanish all day. That’s another thing, everyone at school likes to be able to help us learn Spanish. One thing that really gets on my nerves though, is people tell me how to say something and I forget literally 5 minutes later! I’ve talked to other exchange students and that’s pretty common so I’m not alone!

Anyways, overall this is already the best year of my life and I know I’ve made an amazing decision participating in this program. This Sunday I’m going to a 4 day Spanish camp with all the exchange students from the coast so I’ll have lots more to talk about in my next journal complete with pictures. Thanks for reading I hope you enjoyed and I hope it wasn’t too excessive! Stay tuned!

Wed, September 17, 2014

Julia - Croatia

Hometown: Crystal River, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club: Inverness, Florida
Host District: District 1913
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Varaždin

My Bio

Hello! My name is Julia Grady-Weil and I’m extremely excited for this incredible opportunity. Currently I am a sophomore, but I would be in my junior year while on the exchange. Some of my hobbies are reading, listening to music, and kickboxing. I also really love doing activities such as zip-lining, Rock-climbing (though I am not so great at that one), and just things that get my adrenaline pumping. I am not the greatest at sports, but the aforementioned activities I just love. I live with my mom, as my parents are divorced and I have a sister named Kathleen, who is currently in her sophomore year of college. We are fairly close and my entire family, including cousins and aunts and grandparents, have been amazingly supportive and almost as exited as I am. I also have had pets all of my life, my house is currently filled with three dogs and three cats, all (but one) of which we have had for at least eight years. In school I am in the IB, or International Baccalaureate, program. I am on the A/B honor roll and some of my favorite subjects are English and History. in school I am involved in yearbook, and outside of school I take kickboxing a few times a week. This year I hope to get many things accomplished. I’m focused on being as prepared as I can be for the year abroad, which includes going through the Rotary training, making sure my credits are sorted out so that I can graduate with my class when I get back, start learning Croatian, and really just making sure I’m all set. I guess that about it, I can’t wait to really get started with the program, I feel so incredibly lucky for all of this!

§  Julia, outbound to Croatia

Wow, 8 months, it’s extremely hard to believe that it’s been so long since I first arrived to Croatia. This country has felt like home for a while now, and it’s getting pretty soon to my having to realistically consider all the trials of departing. I can easily still recall my arrival, the anxiety, the excitement. That feeling of adrenalin in the pit of my stomach didn’t leave, not when my first flight from Orlando to St. Paul was over, not after the 6 hour flight all the way to Amsterdam. Not even that night as I lay in an unfamiliar bed, an unfamiliar house, contemplating what the next 10 months of my life were going to be like.

Even so far into exchange, when daily life has truly become normal and I go about my life habitually. Of course, there’s still an incredible amount of excitement and interesting events. I actually just returned from the gorgeous coastal city of Dubrovnik, one of the best known and widely visited places in Croatia. It took a 10 hour bus ride and a lot of patience, and even though I only got to spend a few days there, it was incredible and I would love the chance to repeat the experience. The city is beyond beautiful and I could have spent days just looking out at Old Dubrovnik from one of the best viewpoints available, the enormous wall that encases the city.
I live in an average sized town in northern Croatia (it’s a mere 30 minutes away from the Hungarian border!) Called Varaždin. The town is made up of all different styles of buildings – baroque, gothic, rococo – and many beautiful churches. The center is covered in cobblestones and it’s hard to go 20 ft without being able to see at least 3 cafés. I never truly get used to how lovely it is, my walk to school is about 15 minutes long, and sometimes in the mornings I’ll randomly stop and marvel over my little town.

I’m also very, very excited as Eurotour is in about 3 weeks, for outbounds in Austria and Croatia that is. We’re traveling for near 3 weeks to cities in Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and more!

Thu, April 9, 2015

Juliana - Faroe Islands

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Home Schooled
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Mandarin, Florida
Host District: District 1440
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Tórshavn

My Bio

Hej! Mit navn er Juliana! I’m absolutely thrilled to be heading to Faroe Islands next year as a foreign exchange student! I am very grateful toward the Rotary organization and all the people involved who have given me the opportunity to better myself through becoming a part of another culture. My favorite thing to do is learn, and most of my daily activities involve the process of learning; I have a proclivity for reading, though I’m also often found drawing, playing computer games, taking walks, writing, and playing the violin. I teach private violin lessons to a small number of students, and my parents are fully-fledged music teachers. My father teaches full-time, as well as work as a choir director and orchestra conductor, while my mom has some students while also being a consultant for a health and wellness business. My brother is also a violin teacher, though he mostly works as an intern at an architectural firm. My family places great value in hard work and studiousness, which is why I believe I’ll have a fulfilling and successful exchange. Besides being diligent, I’m personable and diplomatic. I can get along with anyone, and I don’t allow conflicting principles or personalities get in the way of what could be, at the very least, a cordial acquaintanceship. I’m ambitious, and I hope to change myself and others while on my exchange, so that global understanding can be achieved. Again, I thank the Rotary for giving me this chance, as well as my parents, my friends, and my adversaries. They have shaped me into a person who can be an ambassador, and they have prepared me for greater change. I am ready to experience Denmark and all it has to offer. Farvel, for nu!

Journals: Juliana – Faroe Islands

“$154 to send a 10 kilogram box. …It’s like twenty pounds, I think? Is that cheap? Cheaper than in the US, right? …Yeah. …Oh, it was just books and other stuff, everything too heavy for the suitcase. …Uh-huh. That’s right. Ah, my bus is here, I gotta go. Talk to you later. …Yes. …Okay. …Yeah. …Okay, yes, later. Bye.”

I hung up the phone and swung my arm down to my side. I felt exhausted, which was weird, since I’d taken advantage of the fact that I had no school by sleeping in until I almost died of dehydration. I yawned and squinted up at the sky; it was gray and turbulent, spitting down waves of mist on the people who had to wait at the bus stop that didn’t have a shelter. Thankfully, the bus was on time — I quickly glanced around to see if a thaumaturge was also waiting with us — and we were quickly spared from the bone-deep chill of the Faroese summer.

“I don’t want to go home yet,” I thought miserably as I flopped my soggy self into a bus seat. I didn’t want to go back to my room and see every possession I owned tossed higgledy-piggledy in piles all over the floor. By the dresser was the “give-away clothes” pile, under the cubbies was the “sentiment-filled but useless” pile, in the middle of the floor was the “most of these I don’t want, but I don’t feel like sorting through them” pile… and there were more. I didn’t want to see them, but I didn’t have the money to go anywhere else. So I stayed on.

I needed a distraction from my thoughts. I opened my phone and went through my text messages.

“Hey Juliana! Sure, I’d love to meet up. How about—“

Next.

“Thanks for contacting me! Yeah, that time sounds good. We’ll be there—“

Next.

“I want to see you too! Let’s get coffee—“

Next.

“Sorry, I’m taking a trip that day. But I’m free on—“

I closed my phone. I was happy that everyone I’d messaged had replied so quickly. Host family members, friends, people who’ve helped me get through my year — I’d sent messages to them all and asked if we could get together one last time before June 24th, the departure day. I felt like a dying woman making plans to see all her loved ones before she inevitably succumbs to disease. Of course it’s not quite the same, as not only will I return to the Faroes some day, but modern technology connects us all; still, what you want and what you don’t want will always be present in equal measure in your mind: “I’ll definitely see them all again some day,” and, “What if this is the last time we’ll ever see each other?” You can’t keep one and toss out the other. Thoughts are ornery things.

The bus ride felt like an eternity. Any amount of time in a vehicle longer than ten minutes is considered a really long time in the Faroe Islands, and it’s changed my perspective. From my home in Florida, it was twenty minutes to my college. Forty minutes to my friend’s house. An hour to the beach. Two and a half hours to Disney World. Even the seven hour car ride to North Carolina my family takes every year never seemed like a big deal, before now.

My perception of the scale of the world has changed without me even noticing. I’ve been in ten foreign countries now. Back before ‘exchange student’ was even in my regular lexicon, when my only pastime was obsessively planning realistic goals for my life, I never even dared to dream that I’d visit more than three countries outside the US. In my mind, it just wasn’t possible for me. But it was, and it is, and I’ve done it. I’ve really done it.

The bus dropped me off at the stop outside my subdivision. I slipped inside my house and immediately went downstairs to my room.

I stepped inside, shut the door softly, and slid the “weird Faroese tchotchkes” pile out of my path with my foot as I paced over to my desk. I sat down heavily, sighing as I looked over the piles, the garbage, and the open, empty suitcase. The room was silent except for the sound of my own breathing and little, imaginary voices whispering in my ear, “You’re leaving soon,” coming from the things strewn all over the floor.

I put my face in my hands. I’m leaving soon.

I hadn’t bothered to turn on the light when I came in. I sat facing my dark room, my head casting a shadow on the wall from the light of my laptop’s screen. This had been my most important space for three months, and soon I would have to leave it behind forever.

I’m leaving soon.

Exhaustion settled over me like a giant pillow. I got up and went over to the bed, laid down, and shut my eyes, listening to the noise of the house. I could hear my host mom washing dishes upstairs, and the excited voices of Danish children meant my little host brother was watching television. My mom. My little brother. I had three moms, three dads, four brothers, and four sisters whom I hadn’t even known this time last year. And yet they were my family. They will always be my family.

I’m leaving soon, but I’m not going home. I’ll never be completely at home ever again.

But if that’s the price I have to pay to have homes all over the world, then that’s fine.

Farvæl, Føroyar. Vit síggjast.

 Sat, June 13, 2015

(**WARNING: This journal is long. This is the end of the warning.**)

(**I LIED: HERE’S ANOTHER WARNING: Some dialogue was fabricated for comedic purposes. …Some.)

—Paris

I hadn’t really thought about going to Paris before; I’m sure there were times when I thought it would be cool to go into the Palace of Versailles — ~I’M IN LOOOOVE WITH ROCOOOCO~ — but for some reason I never really imagined myself in France. And yet, there I was going on this maskinferð with a bunch of Faroese students. Suddenly, we were all exchange students, in a way.

(A little anecdote: Maskinferð literally means “machine trip.” All throughout the trip, we called it maskinferð instead of námsferð — “study trip” — because on the Friday before we left, our teacher gave us a warning that we shouldn’t engage in any funny business because military personnel were patrolling the streets of Paris, and they were carrying machine guns — only instead of saying “machine guns,” she just said “machine” by accident. So the word stuck, and whenever there was a trio of soldiers walking by carrying machine guns, whoever saw them first would shout to the rest of the group, “Maskin!” and we would all repeat it back.)

So on Wednesday, I awoke at 5:00 in the morning (read: rose like a zombie from a coffin) so I could take a taxi to the airport. I checked in my luggage with my similarly groggy-eyed classmates, and within the hour, we got on the plane.

Day 1 — Copenhagen.

The flight to Copenhagen is less than three hours, so we landed pretty early in the morning. Most of us slept on the plane, and there are plenty of pictures on Instagram of us sitting with our heads lolling to the side, our mouths wide open. We grabbed our stuff, hopped on a train, and got off a bit farther away from the hostel than anyone would’ve liked. We walked a good distance, dragging our luggage in tow, and it was at this point that I realized I wasn’t wearing my brace, and my ankle was hurting. Badly.

Foreshadowing!

(Note: No, my ankle isn’t still sprained. I probably have a damaged ligament, and normally it’s completely painless and I don’t need to wear a brace, though sometimes it acts up. This trip was one of those times. Darn you to heck, walking tours!)

We arrived at the hostel, but our rooms weren’t ready yet, so we stuffed our bags into an empty room and set off into Copenhagen. Our main group branched off into several smaller groups as we went searching for food. The group I was with went to a Shawarma restaurant, and then after that, we split into even smaller groups to go wandering around.

Much shopping was accomplished. Because clothes (and food, and pretty much everything else) is so expensive in the Faroes (because one: socialism, and two: import tax), Faroese people in other countries go crazy while shopping. Most of the girls’ luggage bags were packed to be almost empty to prepare for their new purchases. I say “most” because mine wasn’t, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy much; most of the clothing chains I went to only had women’s sizes up to L, very few went up to XL, and even the XL shirts were too small for me. I went into H&M and bought a bunch of men’s XL t-shirts, and while they ended up being long enough to wear as a dress, they still fit snugly around my broad shoulders.

Moral of this boring story: If you’re a girl in Europe and you’re not short and/or a human pipe cleaner, men’s clothes and “plus sizes” are the way to go.

“But Juliana!” you might have said just now, “Aren’t Scandinavians generally very tall?” Yes, you are correct, lovely reader. But the height of the average Scandinavian man is still shorter than, for example, my brother, and the average Scandinavian woman is shorter than me; men average at about 185 cm (about 6’1”) and women at about 171 cm (like 5’7”). Just for reference, my brother is 218 cm (aprox. 7’2”) and I’m 180 cm (5’11”-ish. I tell people I’m 6’ for ease of reference). And I think, due to the exercise and healthy food I’ve been getting here in the Faroes, that I’ve gotten even taller.

Yaaaaay.

All right, sorry for getting off-topic.

We got back to the hostel extremely late. There were six of us in one tiny room, but we all managed to finish our bedtime routines in enough time to get four hours of sleep.

Day 2 — Paris.

Got on the flight, landed in Paris, hooray! When we landed, the sun was just coming up, and the view from the airplane window was fantastic. Bright sunlight illuminated huge acres of vineyards, towering forests, and cute little neighborhoods of white walls and terra-cotta roofs. Even the blue sky was exciting, since it’d been a while since I saw a clear sky. I couldn’t stop asking my classmates, “Ert tú spent!?” (“Are you excited?”), because I was jumping up and down. In my airplane seat. Yes, I’m still an embarrassment to everyone around me, in case you were wondering if that trait ever went away.

We arrived at our hostel, where, again, our rooms weren’t ready, so we stuffed all our bags into an empty room yet again. This time, though, that didn’t turn out so well because these rooms were absolutely miniscule. They were even smaller than the room I have all to myself here in the Faroes, and I was to be sharing a hostel room with two other girls. And the layout was horrible; you opened the door, and immediately to your left was a tiny water closet. Then came the shower, which lead directly into the room, and anyone who was in the room could see you showering because the shower door wasn’t opaque.

THE SHOWER DOOR. WASN’T. OPAQUE.

Has that sunken in yet? Yes? Yes, okay, moving on.

After the shower came two single beds pushed together and a bunk bed crossing over them perpendicularly, and then there was a tiny space for our suitcases next to a small sink. Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time in that room.

After depositing our junk in our genuinely awful rooms, we went shopping.

FRENCH GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE, YOU ARE THE REASON I CAN LOVE. If you’ve never been to Paris and have only seen photographs, I can tell you that the shops, the cafés, the apartments with the little verandas, and all the people on mopeds are a sight that’s infinitely better in person. The atmosphere of a busy shopping district in Paris is so overwhelmingly comfortable, you might feel like curling up on the sidewalk and falling asleep to the sounds of the city. I know I did — well, I mean, I felt like it. I didn’t actually go to sleep on a sidewalk in Paris. You can’t even sit down at a café for ten minutes without being shooed away.

Yes, I got shooed out of a restaurant by a snooty French waiter. Here’s what happened:

While my classmates continued shopping, I felt my ankle acting up again, so I went to go sit outside a nice corner café where they could still find me if they needed to, as my phone didn’t have reception. A waiter materialized next to my table and I ordered a Coke. Drinking it took about two minutes, and I spent another five minutes just relaxing. The café was empty except for me and a Parisian couple on a date. There was a hot sun overhead and a pleasant breeze floating between the tall buildings. Even with the heavy traffic and honking horns, everything felt peaceful.

The waiter materialized with the bill, revealing that my one glass of soda had cost the equivalent of 8 USD. Lamenting the fact that I hadn’t just ducked into the metro to use a vending machine instead, I paid him and left the extra coins as a tip. The waiter disappeared with my empty glass and I continued to sit there, enjoying the sunlight. I closed my eyes for a second, and when I opened them, the waiter was there again. I looked at him questioningly.

“You finished your drink,” he said. As he had already taken my glass and money away, I knew this wasn’t a pre-emptive statement to offering me a refill. I just raised my eyebrows at him and stated the obvious: “Yeah?”

He rocked on the heels of his feet, his expression agitated, staring at me. He didn’t move from his spot and didn’t avert his gaze. Slightly unnerved, I slowly reached for my bag and coat, and at that, he looked relieved and disappeared into the café again.

What, was he afraid he was going to have to use force to remove me from his deserted restaurant? The force of your awkward stare was enough, buddy. Good job.

Anyway, moving on to a more positive restaurant experience, we all headed to a restaurant later that night, where I tried escargot and cuisses de grenouilles for the first time. The snails tasted more like herbs and butter than anything else, and the frog legs really, seriously did just taste like chicken covered in tomato sauce. I liked them. Anyway, after that, nearly everyone else went partying ’til the early hours of the morning, but my ankle assured me that it would be unwise to join them.

Day 3 — Notre Dame de Paris, the Panthéon, and Sacré Cœur

The next morning, we walked to Notre Dame, passing by the Seine and giving me the perfect opportunity to sing “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, much to everyone else’s embarrassment. We got to the cathedral, filed through the one open door, had our bags NOT checked by two security guards who were supposed to be checking bags but decided they were too busy talking to each other, and inhaled the sacred air of Notre Dame.

Have I mentioned how much I love French Gothic architecture? Because I do. I was nearly drooling as I gazed at the high arches, mullioned windows, and detailed stain glass. Along the walls were religious artworks, old tabernacles, banners providing historic information, and other points of interest. Our group split off, and I ended up being disconnected from the main group because I was busy sight-seeing and hadn’t noticed everyone leaving in the gigantic, tourist-packed cathedral. I got a text from one of our teachers (thankfully my phone could still receive texts) telling me they were all in a nearby café. So I regrouped with them and we all headed back to church to attend mass at noon.

I really wish we could have attended mass on a Sunday, because weekday masses, even those in one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, are rather lackluster. The readings were in French, of course, which all except a few of us couldn’t understand, and it was incredibly short with almost no singing. Even so, mass in Notre Dame de Paris! I’m very happy that I could have that experience.

After that, we headed to the Panthéon. We saw lots of fantastic artwork and the graves of Viktor Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire, and other famous people. There’s not much more I can say about it without describing each and every piece of artwork to you, so take my word for it when I say it was amazing. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere within the Panthéon, because there almost wasn’t one; there were very few people around, and the gigantic, echoey hall was quieter than a library. If only it smelled like a library too, because the smell of marble isn’t easy to convey through words, mostly because well-cared-for marble doesn’t have a smell. The whole place smelled like nothing, is what I’m saying.

No smell, no sound, and towering white walls and statues everywhere. It was quite the austere experience. I loved it.

Also, I bought a Little Prince plushy in the gift shop. Yay!

The last stop of the day was Sacré Cœr. By the time we left the Panthéon, my ankle was on fire, so you can imagine my immense despair when I saw all the steps leading up to the cathedral. Still, I climbed, because I knew that if I stopped, a “salesman” would wrap a bracelet around my wrist and try to intimidate me into paying for it. I decided not to risk it for a moment’s respite.

Inside the cathedral, mass was going on. They were having communion, and the sanctum was absolutely packed. Unlike Notre Dame’s mass, this mass had music and a choir, and it was glorious to behold. A woman’s strong, vibrating voice echoed around the giant cathedral, accompanied by a powerful organ. I would have loved to stay and attend that mass, but I thought my feet were going to fall off by then, so we departed.

If you’re reading this, you probably know me. If you don’t know me, that means you’re an exchange student from the future, reading my journals for reference (HAHA, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT), in which case, hello from the past! But anyway, if you know me, then you know I have this habit of getting distracted and becoming separated from whomever I’m with.

But surely I wouldn’t let that happen in a foreign country where I had no cellphone reception, right? Surely I’d be able to get a grip on my focus and make sure I was with the group at all times… right?

By this point in the story, it had already happened twice.

No, I’m not going to tell you what happened.

Exchange student from the future, if you’re still reading this, I implore you to try to remain focused at all times. It’s important to your safety.

Oh, by the way, on an unrelated note, we got done with our tours around three o’clock everyday, so in case you were wondering, you’re safe to presume that everything that occurred after we were done doing what I’ve described in these diary entries was some combination of dining out, shopping, touring the supermarket, napping, and clubbing. For me, it was probably some combination of the first, third, and fourth. Describing that would get repetitive, so just know that that’s what we did between and after being tourists.

Day 4 — Versailles

I can’t remember if it was this day or a different day, but at some point, a gypsy market appeared about ten meters down the road from our hostel. As I’ve already mentioned, our hostel was pretty terrible, which might have had to do with the fact that it was in a shantytown. Gypsies, the homeless, drug dealers, and prostitutes — literally hundreds of them — crowded into the street, promoting their “services” or showing off the salvaged garbage they were selling, or else beating the teeth out of each others’ heads in an attempt to steal said garbage. One of our classmates — hi, Jón — went to check out the market out of curiosity before any of us knew what was going on within it, and he came back visibly disturbed. We were disturbed, too, when he described the horrors he’d seen to us. We already weren’t allowed to go anywhere by ourselves, but this new situation upped the fear ante.

I decided not to tell my mom about this situation happening right outside our living quarters until after the trip was over. A wise decision, I would say.

…So we headed off to Versailles!

Do you know what Rococo architecture is?

Because I’M IN LOOOOVE WITH ROCOOOOCO. I love it even more than French Gothic. Walking through an entire palace full of pastel walls and gold trim made me feel like I was walking in the version of Heaven you see in comic strips: fluffy clouds with golden gates. Maybe that’s an odd comparison, but it was really, truly wonderful. It was my second-favorite location we visited on our trip.

“Second-favorite?” you might have just asked your computer screen, as if it would magically supply answers to you in my own deep, soothing voice. “But Versailles was the first thing you mentioned in this journal! What could your first-favorite be?”

Ha. Aha ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHA. AAAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!

You’ll find out.

Day 5 — Notre Dame de Reims and G. H. Mumm & Cie

Notre Dame de Reims wasn’t actually on the itinerary; we just happened to be near it as we waited for the G. H. Mumm facility to open. Everybody else relaxed at a café or walked around while I ventured into the cathedral by myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the existence of the Smiling Angel until we left Reims, so I didn’t get the chance to look for it. Still, the thousands of awesome carvings of holy people and angels were quite the sight. I was almost neurotically giddy, being on my fourth day of a nonstop, architectural eye-binge.

Now here’s a funny(?) little story. I stepped into the dusty sanctum of the cathedral to find that it was almost empty. A few small groups of tourists wandered here and there, but there was nowhere near the crowd of Notre Dame de Paris. Then again, it was like eight o’clock in the morning, when most tourists are still in their caves.

So, since the cathedral was so empty, I decided it would be okay if I prayed right in front of the altar — well, as close to the altar as I could get, since it was roped off. I knelt down on the stone floor, hunched over, and prayed for about a minute or so. I could hear a few whispers floating in my direction, but I did my best to ignore them. However, the whispers gradually got closer, and I found myself rushing to finish my prayers. When I finally looked up, I found tourists standing on both sides of me, staring down at me.

I turned red as a tomato. They were looking straight at me, some smirking, some outright giggling. I think one of them may have even taken a picture of me, judging by the movement his hands — which were holding a camera aloft— when I looked up at him. Flustered and confused, I hurried to my feet and fast-walked out of the cathedral to rejoin my classmates.

Tourists think praying is just hilarious, I suppose.

Anyway, to the champagne facility!

We arrived in G. H. Mumm & Cie and ventured beneath the facility, deep underground (“DOWN ONCE MOOOORE TO THE DUNGEONS OF MY BLAAACK DEEESSPAIR,” I sang as we descended. Since watching The Phantom of the Opera in English class, I can’t go down a flight of stairs without at least thinking of this song). A tour guide explained how the fermenting process worked and led us through different, cobwebbed chambers that showcased bottles of murky liquid that were in the different stages of becoming champagne. The murky stuff was the yeast, of course, and it looked absolutely disgusting, but when the tour was over and we returned to the surface (thankfully by elevator), a man was waiting for us behind a row of glasses filled with sparkling, bubbly champagne. It was a lovely sight. (I’m talking about the champagne, of course, but I guess the guy turned a good ankle, too.)

I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ALCOHOL SO I CAN’T REALLY DESCRIBE THIS CHAMPAGNE FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T HAD IT, SO ORSAKA SUM EG ERI BÝTT.

But yeah. G. H. Mumm champagne. S’good.

Day 6 — The Louvre and a boat trip in the Seine

Ah, the Louvre. What can I say about the Louvre besides the obvious? It’s big. It’s got some pyramids made of glass. It’s chockfull of old, famous pieces of art. It’s also full of tourists taking pictures of themselves imitating the art, which was arguably more entertaining than the art pieces themselves.

Posing in front of the Mona Lisa were faintly-smiling women crossing their arms loosely in front of their chests — perfect imitations, besides having a few eyebrows too many. In another chamber, posing next to a statue of an Olympic athlete mid-catch, was a petite woman wildly stretching her arms while pretending to catch an invisible discus. More than a few men had pictures taken of themselves pretending to take selfies next to statues of Roman emperors who were holding up edicts, which admittedly would often resemble the standard selfie pose. But probably the funniest tourist I took notice of was a grandmotherly Asian woman standing for a picture in front of a large painting of hell. She obviously was trying to look like she was standing in the midst of hell, but her face was just so utterly calm and composed that I nearly burst into tears of laughter watching her have her picture taken. Her expression wasn’t, “I’m in hell,” but rather, “ Hell is my vacation home.” I will remember this little old Asian lady until the day I die. In fact, she will probably be the last thing I see before I pass on.

SO ANYWAY.

When it comes to paintings, I adore hyper-realism. Paintings of humans mid-action with intense facial expressions are my favorite, and I don’t particularly care for posed pictures of static, dead-eyed, vacantly smiling models. (Sorry, Mona.) Therefore, I was delighted when I discovered what has now become my favorite painting: Atala au Tombeau (“The Entombment of Atala”) by Girodet. The intense expression on Chactas’ face as he held the dead Atala moved me greatly.

AWRIGHT, LET’S NOT GET SAPPY.

After the Louvre, we all went off to do our own thing before regrouping at night to go on a boat ride on the Seine, where we got to see the Eiffel Tower illuminated. Did you know the Eiffel Tower also sparkles sometimes? I sure didn’t. I’m so happy I got to see it at night, when it could look its brightest.

After the boat ride, me and nine of my classmates headed to a nearby restaurant. It was nearly empty, the food relatively cheap (“15 euro for one entrée? What a bargain!”), but at this point I realized I had no money. I had used up all of my cash, and the French payment machines wouldn’t accept American cards.

(For those of you who don’t know, American cards have a magnetic strip that you have to slide, while European cards have a magnetic strip AND a chip on the top that you can just stick into the machine. For reasons unknown, every machine except the ATM would only accept the chip method, and there were rarely ever any ATMs around.)

So I fell into the depths of despair because I had to have my friend pay for my grossly overpriced meal. I know it’s stupid, but this kind of thing is important to me. But enough about that.

Enter the waiter.

This man was amazing. Here we were, ten foreign students sitting in a nearly empty restaurant with pockets full of spending money (sans me), and this man had the awe-inspiring effrontery to roll his eyes and mock us as we ordered our food. Why, you may ask? That’s a very good question. Maybe we pronounced the French foods wrong. Maybe we asked him to repeat himself one too many times so we could understand. Who knows?

And the cherry on top was that he presumed that just because I — yes, me specifically — ordered in English, then that meant NO ONE ELSE at the table spoke French. Well, yes, that’s kind of stupid, but why bring that up?

Because I was having a bad day; I was out of money, I had a headache, my ankle was killing me, I was starving, and I’d had one of those stupid and inconvenient exchange-induced existential crises when I was on the boat. I was a bit out of it. So when he came back with our food and asked, “Who ordered the duck?”, I didn’t reply right away.

“Juliana,” said Katrin, tapping me on the shoulder, “isn’t that yours?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Thank you.”

The waiter looked at me reproachfully and muttered, “Réveillez-vous.”

I had no idea what that meant — plus I was still in a daze — so I just thanked him and took my food. I didn’t notice Ragnhild, who was sitting a ways down the table, and who also speaks fluent French, looking highly affronted. She passed the news down the table to me that apparently, the waiter had ordered me to “wake up.”

Wow, I didn’t realize French waiters hated getting a tip. BECAUSE HE CERTAINLY DIDN’T GET ONE.

A more hilarious situation happened just a moment later. Guðrun had ordered a steak, cooked medium, but when it arrived, it was quite obviously rare. She politely pointed this out to the waiter, who scoffed and told her that what she was looking at WAS medium, even though the steak was plainly swimming in a pool of its own blood. Guðrun told him to take it back and cook it more, which he reluctantly. A couple minutes later, he returns with the steak, drops it in front of her, and leaves. A second-long inspection revealed the steak to still be as cooked as a cow in a hot room.

Fed up, Guðrun picked up her plate and carried it downstairs to where the waiters were all waiting around, chatting. We all listened as we heard her set the plate down on the counter with a clatter and ask shrilly, “DOES THIS LOOK MEDIUM TO YOU??”

Guðrun, tú ert mín fyrimynd.

Day 7 — Choco-Story, the Eiffel Tower, and the Catacombs

We started our last day in Paris at Choco-Story, a small museum showcasing the history of chocolate-making. After we viewed all the old pots and pans and machines for making chocolate since the beginning of its discovery, we shuffled into a small kitchen where we were given a short presentation on making chocolate. Afterward, we all bought some chocolates (sans me; no ATM had been found before that point), and then headed off.

I found an ATM in time to finally eat something before we headed to the Eiffel Tower.

At least to me, the Eiffel Tower looks small until you’re right underneath it. I don’t know what kind of optical illusions are involved, but I honestly felt underwhelmed until I was directly under its steel beams, at which point I became ecstatic. My feelings matched those of a little American boy who was standing with his parents, staring up at the tower, gesticulating widely and shouting, “HOW did HUMANS build SOMETHING like THIS!?”

This day was pretty foggy, so when we reached the very top of the tower, we couldn’t see very far out over Paris. Still, what we could see was breath-taking; we could see Notre Dame de Paris, Opéra Garnier (“THE PHAAAAAANTOM OF THE OPERA IS—“ “JULIANA, PLEASE.”), Invalides, the Seine, an important-looking building with columns and stuff, and other places, I think. Again, it was foggy.

There’s actually a champagne bar at the top level, and it charges twelve euros for a tiny little plastic glass. I know you’re supposed to try to get every experience you can, while you can, when you’re abroad (or in life in general, I guess), but I’m really not meant to live in a tourist hotspot. I’m cheap like that.

We finished taking our selfies — I actually had my Little Prince doll with me, and I took a picture of it in front of the Siene — and went down the elevator, which I thought was one of the best parts: An elevator that goes diagonally? Amazing!

It’s the little things, people.

And now, the final stop. Have you been wondering what my favorite location was and is? Are you at all surprised that it involves dead bodies in some way?

**

“You’re actually kind of creepy,” said a new friend just recently in a pleasantly surprised voice.

“I know,” I said, pleasantly surprised that this person had spent more than ten minutes with me without realizing this until just that moment.

**

The Paris catacombs. A sign stood in the entrance warning that children and people with nervous dispositions should avoid taking the tour. Luckily, as you all know, I am a master of keeping a calm disposition.

HAHAHAHA.

Let’s continue.

So we descended. Down, and down, and down (“Don’t you DARE start singing.” “Ugh, FINE.”) a spiral staircase that seemed like it would never end. Finally, our feet landed on the dusty ground, and we began to walk through the tunnels. Unfortunately, there were no secret passages to crawl through like in As Above, So Below, but still, the set route was creepy enough on its own.

They did a good job building suspense, since we spent quite a few minutes just walking through narrow, low-ceilinged, dimly lit corridors. Shadows creeped at the corners of our vision and strange noises echoed off the walls. (“All right, who’s breathing like Jason Voorhees?” “Well, you TOLD me not to SING.”) Pretty soon, we started getting impatient. Where were the skeletons?

Ah. There they were. Thousands of them. Entire walls made of bones stacked on top of each other lined the entire passage for the rest of the tour. (“I find this tour to be quite HUMERUS.” “PLEASE close your face.”) Thirty minutes of walking through a wide, winding corridor full of smiling skulls, decoratively arranged into crosses or hearts or smiley faces. (That last one isn’t true.) Signs were put up at intervals to remind people not to touch the remains, but they neglected to point out that touching the bones would probably definitely curse you. I tried several times to pose next to the skulls, but the lighting was so horrible that most of the pictures turned out almost completely black. So the only thing I was able to take from the catacombs was corpse dust on my shoes.

Wait, does that count as touching the remains?

I am not long for this world. I leave this journal as a memento of my foolishness. There are some things man was never meant to tamper with— wait, this isn’t Creepypasta. My bad.

So we had one last night of partying and supermarket-touring before settling into our hostel rooms for what was thankfully the last time. We cast offhanded glances at our possessions strewn all over the room, shrugged, and saved the packing for the next day.

Day 8 — Going home

We flew home.

The end.

 Mon, March 23, 2015

(Before we start, I’d like to mention that there was an error in my last journal: I said Runavík was two and a half hours from Tórshavn, when it’s actually only one hour. My host parents had a good laugh when they read it, because apparently driving two and a half hours in the Faroes without turning around would require you to drive into the ocean. Seriously, you can make a tour of the whole country into a day-trip.)

One day, I was unexpectedly called to the school counselor’s office. I sat down in the guest chair, wondering what I could have done wrong, when the counselor in charge of the exchange students, Annie, turned to me and said something that immediately made my brain go numb:

“The principal would like you to do some presentations about yourself and your experiences as an American in the Faroe Islands.”

“… What?”

“It won’t be difficult, as they’ll only be fifteen minutes long and the subject will be one you’re familiar with,” explained Annie. “And you’ve done presentations before, right? This would be a good experience for you.”

“… What?”

“Will you do it?”

“Wh— Uh, I’m not sure,” I said, putting my hands up to my face. Just the thought of having to talk about myself to a group of people as if I was actually someone important was horribly embarrassing.

“Who would my audience be?” I asked. “My classmates, or Rotary, or…?”

“I don’t have the details yet,” said Annie. “I’ll have to ask the principal. But the group could be anyone from your class to the entire school. Maybe both.”

“Both?” I echoed, my mind reeling from hearing the words “entire school.” “How many presentations would I be doing?”

“Hmm. Four to six, maybe?”

“What.”

“Yeah, the principal was thinking maybe you could go to different schools to do the presentation as well.”

“WHAT.”

“You’ll do it, right?”

I could already feel my stomach churning with anxiety. I knew I definitely should say yes, but I was insanely worried. What if I mess up? What if I say something wrong? What if my audience correctly surmises that I’m actually terribly boring under my flashy, exchange-student exterior?

I told Annie I’d think about it and maybe ask some Faroese people what they might like to hear. She took me to talk to my Social Science teacher, who encouraged me to ask my classmates for topics to discuss. So I went back to my classroom and asked for some general ideas, which spontaneously erupted into a brainstorming session that turned the entire Social Science block into a Q&A session. My classmates asked questions ranging from my everyday schedule in the US to how the welfare system works to how to earn a scholarship at an American university. I collected a sizable number of topics to cover and took them home to look over, then decided the presentation was doable and called Annie to tell her I would do it. And then I became sick, forcing all thoughts of the presentations out of my foggy, congested head.

On Monday of the next week, I went back to Annie’s office to ask her for some advice on how to organize the topics I’d accumulated. I met her in the hall, and as we walked to her office, she asked, “Have you finished writing your presentation yet?”

“Well, I was sick, so I didn’t have much time,” I explained, stepping into her office and setting my backpack down. “I’ve got a rough outline. I’ll have it finished soon.”

“You’ve been asked to make your presentation at a middle school tomorrow morning at 10am.”

I dropped down into the chair next to her desk, my face contorted with horror. “Already?”

Annie seemed amused. “Oh my, it seems every time you come in here, you get the shock treatment.”

So I went home and got to work, blearily glaring between my written outline and my computer keyboard for five hours until my brain broke down.

The next morning, I got to the middle school early and was introduced to the teacher who had requested me to present to his class. He led me into the biology room, followed by twenty or thirty of his sixteen-year-old students. They slowly filled up the seats, some even sitting on the counters. After they all had their butts on a surface, they turned to stare at me questioningly.

The teacher told me “go ahead” in Faroese, and so I began.

—I’m not going to include my presentation notes in this journal, since they kind of suck—

It went off without a hitch. I didn’t mess up or have to take a prolonged break to find my place or any of the other things I was worrying I’d do, and the students were a great audience; they all watched and listened intently, laughing and sounding astonished at all the right points, seeming genuinely interested. I was touched by their prolonged control of their attention spans.

There were only two questions, both from the same boy: “Do you like Faroese food?” and “Have you gotten used to using metric yet?” To the former I said yes, most definitely, and to the latter I gave a flat “no.”

I’ve done one more so far; I presented to Annie’s psychology class, which was almost entirely composed of people from my class. Since they were the ones who helped me put the presentation together in the first place, it was kind of awkward, but they politely pretended they hadn’t already heard exactly everything I was saying, so it was fine.

Even though I was able to do these presentations without any problems, the stage fright never went away. I never stopped being scared. Annie congratulated me after my first presentation and told me I had sounded like I’d done public speaking my entire life. But even though I’ve developed this skill thanks to college group presentations and Rotary, that awkward, shy feeling is rooted deep within my gut like a century-old tree. That shyness is probably an integral part of my personality, and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it without uprooting everything else my personality comes from. Still, forcing myself to accept the responsibility of presenting has taught me how to overcome however I’m feeling so I can accomplish what I need to do. I started building that skill up since before I even started with Rotary. It probably started when I had to stand up in front of my ASL class in college and fumble out my name, age, and what kind of act I’d do if I worked in a circus. I’m not kidding; I really was asked to explain that. IN SIGN LANGUAGE. I chose “unicyclist,” by the way, and since I didn’t know the sign for unicycle, I made this really awkward gesture— Wait, I’m getting off topic.

In the end, I’m glad I chose to do the presentations. I haven’t received any more requests for my presentation as of this writing, but I hope that if I do, it will also go smoothly.

Maybe I’m one of few in this, but I’ve always understood foreign phrases better if I could hear them said literally. For example, in sign language, you could say, “I went to the mall,” but literally you would be signing BEFORE MALL ME GO. For me, seeing the literal translation makes it easier for me to remember, rather than just seeing a bunch of hand signals and being told it means, “I went to the mall.”

So that’s why it makes me kind of irritated that Memrise — the website I’m using to learn Faroese — had the phrase, “Eg havi tað illa,” and just put the meaning as, “I’m bad.” Okay, yes, that’s the connotation — you say it when someone asks you how you’re doing and you’re not doing so well — but LITERALLY it means, “I have it bad.” If you had put THAT as the translation instead of just, “I’m bad,” I probably would have been able to remember it when I was quizzed later. Whoever made the Faroese course on Memrise did this numerous times; the Faroese word for “because” is “tí,” and then it has “av tí at” marked as meaning “because” or “if,” while just “if” is “vissi,” and WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY FRAGILE BRAIN.

I don’t know. Is it just me?

Journals are hard to write. They usually stay on my computer for months as I slowly find things to talk about, but I’ve made a vow to write them more often, even if they’re short. So for this journal, I have everything I’ve written above and… what else?

Hm. I didn’t want the journal to be this short. I can’t think of more things to say. I guess this is a good sign, if it means that I’ve become so integrated that everything I do feels like a regular part of my normal, everyday life. …’Cause that’d be pretty cool.

…It’s probably that I’m just scatter-brained. Oh well.

Hmm. I guess I could talk about how I’m now able to go on the class trip to Paris with my classmates, but since that’s happening in March and all my knowledge of France comes exclusively from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ratatouille, I don’t have much to say on that front besides, “I’m excited for it.” I COULD talk — at serious length — about all the trouble my teachers and I are going through to arrange for me to tag along this late in the planning stage, but I really only want to give the advice of, “Make absolutely sure you have your visa info filed with the Danish embassy early on in your exchange, or else you might just transmogrify into an alien of the most illegal variety.” Luckily, I was able to narrowly avoid this happening, since my counselor came to me some months ago and was like, “Yo, Denmark doesn’t even know you’re here.” She didn’t actually say “yo ,” but my brain automatically 90’s-ifies my memories. I need to get that checked out at some point.

Anyway, I thought the info had been filed before I left and it hadn’t been. So, yeah, always double-check that stuff.

Should I talk about Faroese people? Like, should I encourage you to read this journal in Morgan Freeman’s voice as I tell you random facts? That would be educational for all of us, since it’s been scientifically proven that hearing facts in Morgan Freeman’s voice makes you 20% smarter. (Not really, but only because science hasn’t proven it yet. Come on, science!)

~Facts about Faroese people~ (Cue Freeman narration)

  1. If you ask a Faroese person how their day went, they will describe it to you in minute detail. If a Faroese person asks you how your day was and you only say, “Not that good,” they’ll say, “Okay,” and then ask you four hours or more later why your day was bad, because they’ll have been waiting all that time for you to come forth with that information yourself.
  2. Wearing sunglasses indoors in the US makes people think you’re a tool. Wearing sunglasses at all in the Faroe Islands makes people think you’re hungover. Why else would you be wearing shades when the word “sunlight” has long since become only a fond memory?
  3. Faroese people are so mystical and magical, even Danish people don’t know that they exist, let alone that their country technically owns them.
  4. Faroese teens have a “tradition” of taking screenshots of the embarrassing Snapchats you send them and then posting them on your Facebook wall on your birthday. That picture you took of you making a quadruple-chin that you sent to them with the timer set to two seconds? Oh yes, they screencapped it, and you’ll be seeing it again. And so will all your Facebook friends. Happy Birthday, sucker.
  5. Faroese people eat three of what the average American would call a “light snack” a day. I have no idea how these people stay alive.
  6. Faroese children are inherently hardcore. There’s a kindergarten near my house that has a playground built in tiers along the side of a hill next to a ravine filled with sharp rocks. Do you think there’s a fence providing a barrier between the five-year-olds and the sharp rocks? Oh, and what, have those kids grow up to be wimps? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  7. Faroese people don’t use umbrellas, because if they did, the wind would carry them away like Mary Poppins.
  8. You may think you’re being ignored by your Faroese friends, but you’re not. They’re always watching. Listening.

Waiting.

…for you to find out what they were really thinking. This will usually be two months after the fact, and you will find out from their sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s friend’s babysitter.

~These have been true facts about Faroese people~ (End Freeman narration. …Or don’t, I’m not judging. I like this voice too.)

Hm, what else… How about I talk about my feelings? Well, THAT would be fun for 100% of nobody. If I were to stick to the positive, I’d be able to say, “Yeah, I’m happy; my family and friends are nice, the food’s good, there’re pretty mountains and stuff, so life’s pretty grand right now, yeah,” since those things alone are enough to content me. If I were to focus on the negative instead, it’d probably just be something dumb like, “I HAVE A GIANT ‘NOTHING’ IN MY HEART BAAAWWW” or something equally melodramatic and unimportant.

(Yes, I do indeed read my old journal entries and think, “Did I seriously write this twaddle?”)

Huh.

I guess I’ll write more for you guys after the Paris trip. Síggjast!

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I have had the following conversation at least four times since arriving here:

“Hvussu eitur tú?”

“Eg eiti Juliana. Eg eri ein skiftisnæmingur frá Amerika.”

“Oh, it’s nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you, too.”

“How long have you been here?”

“About half a year.”

“Oh, cool! Yeah… So… Do you have a Faroese boyfriend yet?”

“…What?”

I guess the Faroese take their “men outnumbering women” problem very seriously.

Fri, February 13, 2015

I woke up early on the 24th to have my host mom drive me to Argir to pick up a gift. Specifically, I was picking up a gift I left outside someone’s house; due to a convoluted string of events, I presumed that it was a Faroese tradition to leave gifts outside people’s houses. In the Faroe Islands. Where the climate is 99% rain. Where you can literally just walk into people’s houses unannounced, and they’ll even invite you to stay for a cuppa.

Yeah, I know. I feel plenty dumb.

Anyway!

So I went to Argir to pick up the gift, which was completely ruined from sitting outside for two nights.

…Yeah, I feel really dumb, okay.

At six o’clock that evening, my host-aunt (Rannvá’s sister) and her family came. The nine of us sat down to eat roasted duck, caramelized potatoes, boiled potatoes, and gravy. The kids finished first and disappeared from the room, occasionally reappearing to see if we were done eating yet so they could open presents. (In the Faroes, presents are opened on the 24th.) After we finished eating, we danced and sang around the Christmas tree, me awkwardly trying to join in when I recognized the song. Then the kids dove into the present pile, and as we were in the middle of unwrapping, Santa Clause arrived.

A be-Santa-suited man came up to the house carrying a large bag over his shoulder. I didn’t recognize him, but I figured he was a friend of the family since he knew I didn’t speak Faroese well; he wished me a Merry Christmas in English as he handed me my gift. The gift was a beautifully-crafted silver pendant, shaped like the Faroe Islands on a fine silver chain. It was actually a gift from my host parents, and I’ve worn it pretty much every day since.

After unwrapping gifts, we prepared to eat rís a la mand, which is kind of like rice pudding. Rannvá asked me to stick an almond into one of the plates of pudding, shooing the kids out of the room so they couldn’t watch. After I had carefully hidden the almond, the dishes were placed at random at the seats around the table. Then, everyone was invited to sit down, and we sang a song while passing the plates in a circle around the table. Once the song ended, everyone started to eat, carefully chewing their pudding so they wouldn’t accidentally swallow the almond if they got it. Whosoever got the plate with the almond would receive a special Christmas gift. After everyone cleaned their plates, Rannvá announced she had gotten the almond, and she received her gift, which was a beautiful jigsaw puzzle.

At midnight, I went to the Christmas mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church with my host parents. When I entered the sanctum, I could hear a live violin playing. I looked up into the choir loft and saw a small troupe of violinists, a cellist, and a… lutist? I still don’t know what instrument that was, since the player wasn’t playing loud enough to hear.

The musicians were quite skilled, but they seemed woefully uninformed of what songs are appropriate for a church environment. “Oh, what, did they play ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ or something?” you might be thinking. No, they didn’t. They played the theme from Schindler’s List as both prelude music and the song for communion.

…I’m not kidding.

Anyway!

On Christmas Day, my host aunt, uncle, and cousins were still here relaxing and whiling the day away, but I didn’t get to see them because I pretty much slept until the next day.

On the day after Christmas, it’s generally expected that anyone who’s old enough to drink should go out to a club and party. …and instead of doing that, I slept until I almost died, and then we went to my host-grandparents’ (Egon’s parents’) house. The grandma didn’t seem to speak very much English, but the grandpa was fluent, and he regaled me with stories about his time working on a fishing boat in Iceland, proving to me that grandpas are pretty much the same in every country. (“When I was your age, I was hauling a fishing line for sixty fathoms, all day, every day! And for only two measly fish per cast!”)

On the 27th, we travelled to Runavík (about two and a half hours from Tórshavn) to stay at my host-aunt’s house. The night we arrived, there was a Christmas party with pretty much every family member and friend to the family in attendance. Because there wasn’t enough room at the table, all the kids ate first, and they ate what looked like pasta (I was’t eating with them, ‘CUZ I’M AN ADULT NOW), I guess because younger Faroese people aren’t partial toward the taste of traditional Faroese food: dried sheep, dried whale meat, dried whale blubber, and dried fish, served with cold potatoes, boiled eggs, mini meatballs, cucumbers, onions, red bell peppers, and tomatoes.

After dinner, I Skyped my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas. There were shrieking children in every single available room, so I Skyped them from the laundry room, though children would occasionally burst in for absolutely no reason anyway. We stayed overnight, and on the next day, we went to my host-grandparent’s (Rannvá’s parents this time) house where we ate roasted sheep and potatoes yet again. Are you seeing a theme here?

Of course, it was all delicious. I wore the same pants home from Runavík that I had worn TO Runavík, yet somehow they were much tighter.

But the eating doesn’t stop there!

The days passed quietly, as I was mostly sleeping then waking up to get fat on holiday sweets then going back to sleep, until it was finally December 31st. That night, we had roasted fermented sheep, potatoes, and vegetables. Neither Símun nor Eva seemed too keen on the sheep; Eva actually left the room because she couldn’t stand the smell, and I’ll admit, fermented sheep is reeeeaaaally strong. The smell sticks to your hands and clothes and the flavor sticks to your tongue. So she and Símun ate bread with Nutella while Egon, Rannvá, and I ate the sheep. And it was delicious.

At nine o’clock that night, we walked to a gathering place where all the neighbors were preparing the New Year’s torches. The torches were two-meter-tall, lightweight timbers with one end wrapped in gasoline-soaked cloth. A few men took turns dipping huge armfuls of them into a flaming oil drum, then passed them out to the neighbors. I guess fire safety either isn’t a thing here or is extremely lax, because I saw people letting their six-year-old kids hold torches, which they proceeded to wave around while people hurried to get out of the way.

It was incredibly windy that night, so the torches kept going out. Egon received two torches and took them over to the side of the road where he could hold them over the ledge and shield them from the wind until it was time to march. Someone lit a flare so everyone could see better and not accidentally set someone on fire, and shortly after it expired, the march began. Egon handed me a torch and we followed the procession down the road.

Our little parade had to take regular breaks to huddle together and relight the torches. Mine especially couldn’t seem to keep a flame for more than thirty seconds at a time, but I didn’t particularly mind. It was still pretty when it wasn’t ablaze; when the wind blew against it and ignited the embers, they glowed and flickered like fireflies buzzing in a black, crumbling beehive. Several times I got distracted while looking at it and almost walked into someone’s torch-ignition huddle.

After many breaks, we reached the middle school Símun and Eva attend, where the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen in person had been constructed, composed of and fenced by wooden pallets and people’s dead Christmas trees. We stood around with our torches for a while, and then at somebody’s call, everyone tossed their torches onto the heap. People kept walking in front of me, preventing me from tossing mine, so I gently stepped forward and stuck it into a gap where nothing was on fire yet.

Behind us, people started setting off fireworks. It lasted for several minutes, and when it was done, I checked the clock on my phone. It was only just past ten.

After watching the bonfire for a bit longer, we walked to a neighbor’s house, where they were serving soup out of their garage. I stood there and chatted with the neighbors for a while, but after a short time it got seriously cold, so I walked home. My host family came home one by one a short while later, and then, just before midnight, we went back to the neighbors house with our own fireworks in tow.

Right at midnight, all of Tórshavn was illuminated by fireworks. Hoyvík is on a mountain, so you have a pretty good view of the city. It was amazing to see fireworks in the distance that were almost at eye-level. I stared out over Tórshavn for a long time, and with every ear-splitting bang and blinding flash of light, I felt an increasing sense of peace. Last year was a good year. This is going to be a good year too.

 Fri, January 2, 2015

(The following is a series of vignettes illustrating certain events that occurred or thoughts that I’ve had during my stay here, since, as I state in the first essay, I’m bad at connecting my thoughts in a fluid manner. All of these essays were written at different times and in a different order than presented here; in fact, the order is completely random, with stories spanning from early October to now, mid-December. Just don’t think too much about it.)


I’ve been asked to write journals more often, but I feel like if I did, they would be very short. I don’t really have a way of connecting the random things that are funny or interesting into a flowing narrative. I try to upload pictures to Facebook when I can, but it’s really difficult. How is it difficult, I’ve just pretended you’ve asked? Well, have you ever looked up at the sky at night and saw a velvety, inky-black canopy completely awash with silver clouds, glittering stars, and a moon so full and beautiful it’s like God Himself is smiling at you from the heavens? And then, when you try to take a picture of it to treasure for all eternity, you get a completely black photo with a few blurry pinpricks of light here and there? That’s how it’s difficult. The Faroe Islands’ beauty can’t be accurately represented by a photograph. It probably can’t be accurately represented by mere words either, but I’ll try, since there’s one scene that, no matter how many times I see it, is just too beautiful to not at least attempt to share.
Some might think I’m being ridiculous by saying this, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Even if it’s silly and I’m the only one who thinks it’s special, the scene still holds tremendous importance to me. I don’t know why. I really don’t know why. It just does.

In order to witness this scene, there have to be some very specific conditions in place. I’ve witnessed this scene only twice, very briefly, once while I was living in Argir and once more now that I’m living in Hoyvík. I’ll just go ahead and describe it so you can see what I mean.
Tórshavn is on the island of Streymoy, and across the water to the east is the island of Nólsoy. It’s not that big, with a population of less than 300 people, and most of the island is dominated by an incredibly steep mountain called Eggjarklettur. Since we’re approaching winter now, all the grass in the Faroes is yellowing. The sight of a deathly yellow tone all over the ground and people’s roofs was slightly depressing to me at first, until I saw what it could look like on Eggjarklettur.

When I was in Argir, I was walking down the street to buy a drink at the gas station, and that’s when I saw it for the first time. It was cloudy and raining slightly, and I had to keep my eyes carefully shielded by my hood so my mascara wouldn’t get smeared by the drizzle. I was focusing on my feet for most of the walk, but as I was nearing the station, I felt the rain stop and lifted my head. The clouds had parted to reveal the sun, but it wasn’t shining on Streymoy at all. All of the light was pointed at the mountain in Nólsoy.

The first thing I thought of was Mars, the planet: bright orange, streaked like marl, giving off a tremendous impression of distance and mystery. The yellow grass on the mountain was the same color as a pumpkin under the glaring late afternoon sun, and the water beneath the cliff was glittering like it was frothing with diamonds.
The smell of damp earth and fresh ocean air, the wind whistling in my ears, water dripping gently from the sky onto my hair, and the strangest sensation that I was just across the fjord from Mars… that’s what I felt that day. I had to stop walking completely to take it all in. I was wonderfully overwhelmed, but the moment passed before I could properly digest it. Beauty in the Faroe Islands isn’t hard to find, but true moments of perfection like this are frustratingly ephemeral, like the time I was on the mountain in Vestmanna and got to enjoy a view of the cliffs over the sea for about two seconds before being consumed by fog. The sun disappeared behind the clouds again, and all of Nólsoy turned dark and yellow once more. I stood there for a while longer, the orange light of the mountain stuck inside my eyelids as I tried to blink and clear my head. Slowly coming back to reality, I remembered my original goal, and strode off to abate my Red Bull addiction.

I was lucky enough to see Eggjarklettur in that state one more time.
Having moved to Hoyvík, I now take a different route to and from school. The busses that take this route drive along a ridge that gives the passengers a nice view of the fjord (called Nólsoyarfjørður. Don’t ask me to pronounce that) and Nólsoy itself. Since it’s been getting dark around four o’clock lately, the sun is always going down around the usual time I leave school. The clouds have been hanging low and dense, so I haven’t seen the sun at all as of late. But on this particular day, I did.

The bus is always packed with students when leaving school; you’re lucky if you can get on the bus at all. That day, I managed to clamber on and squish myself in amongst the horde of exhausted, chattering students, holding onto the bar by the door for dear life. The doors closed, almost clipping my backpack, and then the bus got us on our merry way. I shifted uncomfortably, trying to turn around while also trying not to hit people with my bag, so I could look out the window. I thoroughly enjoy bus rides when the vehicle isn’t packed, but it’s almost unbearable after school. Wedged tightly between an unwashed third-year and the door, I hugged the pole that kept me balanced and prayed the bus ride will be over soon, but as I gazed out the window, I suddenly felt time stop.
There it was again: Mars. Just as majestic and positively alien as it had been before. The setting sun broke through the clouds and turned the whole sky shades of blue and pink and silver. Nólsoy, with its little village and lofty mountain, looked like it was glowing. The ocean, which was white with sunlight and sea foam, beat itself relentlessly against the craggy rocks at the mountain’s base, sparkling with offending brightness, but I could have stared at it until I went blind — and for a moment, I thought I was going blind. My vision was getting blurry. Was I crying? I touched my face, confused, but my cheeks were dry. And that’s when I realized that I was getting dizzy because I hadn’t been breathing; subconsciously, I had been trying to avoid inhaling the essence of the smelly third-year behind me. I groped around for the edge of my jacket so I could hold it up to my face and hopefully prevent my imminent asphyxiation, and when I glanced up again, the sun was gone, and so was my personal Mars.

—A Nothing

“Juliana,” I’ve just pretended you’ve said, “you always seem so happy about everything that’s happening on your exchange. Aren’t there ANY times when you feel down?” Wow, thanks, you hypothetical personification of my desire to complain. But in all honesty, yes, there are. It’s a difficult feeling to explain, because it’s not as acute as outright sadness, anger, loneliness, or fear, it’s just . . . nothing. It’s not the kind of nothing where it’s just the absence of a something, but the kind of nothing where the nothing IS the something. There are just some days when I feel a nothing stuck in my heart like a splinter. I get up and think nothing, go to school and do nothing, and get home and feel nothing. Sometimes the feeling of the nothing digging into my heart and rubbing the surface of my soul is so chafing that I feel like crying, or else just dropping everything and falling into a coma for a few days. The nothing is hard to get rid of, and it’s exhausting to have. It pulls my heart down and makes it hard to walk with my head held high. Exactly what gets rid of it is unclear, but taking a nap, chatting aimlessly with someone, or even just encountering a random friendly animal chisels away at the nothing, bit by bit, until it crumbles away. I don’t know where it comes from, where it goes, or how it comes back, but when I wake up in the morning and feel it in my chest, I don’t let it stay there. I vow to make my heart full of something by the end of the day.

—The Guts

One of my fondest memories of this year was the first English class we had after Halloween. A few people, including myself, had brought in some pumpkins, and we were planning to carve them after we were done watching the movie we were “studying,” Inglourious Basterds. For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, Inglourious Basterds is a World War II movie that’s idea of subtlety is showing a two-meter-tall Jewish man beat Nazi officers to death with a baseball bat on screen. Other precious moments free of discretion shots are fresh corpses being scalped, swastikas being carved into very-much-alive people’s foreheads, and Hitler being shot in the face repeatedly, amongst other things. You get the idea.

Why did we watch this movie in English class? Because it was set during the time when the Nazis were occupying France, and our class is going to Paris in the spring (sans me, because, unfortunately, money laundering for fun and profit is illegal). That’s the best connection I could make, and I’m like the fourth-best English-speaker in that class.

Anyway, as I’m sitting there trying to pretend I can’t hear the sounds of some poor woman being tortured on screen, I’m looking around at my classmates. They’re sprawled on the floor, or playing Candy Crush on their laptops, or asleep; they’re not even phased by the cinematographic masterpiece of splattered blood and human giblets in front of their eyes. I’m mildly impressed by their grit, wishing I, too, could not squeal in horror as people are blown to smithereens before my very eyes, no detail spared in editing, but alas, I guess I’ve always been more partial to psychological torture.

Aaaaanyway, once the movie was over, class was almost done, and Sharon (the teacher) asked me to demonstrate quickly how to carve a pumpkin for the class. So I took up a carving knife and chunked it into the pumpkin’s flesh, and as I started sawing away, I heard small gasps and groans from the people nearby. When I pried off the pumpkin’s lid, I even heard an, “Eww!” And this is why this is my favorite memory so far.
My classmates — those same boys and girls who were either laughing at the ludicrous violence of the movie, or else sleeping blissfully through it — were pulling faces and telling me how they couldn’t even believe I was TOUCHING the inside of a pumpkin — because pumpkin guts are GROSS.
The Faroe Islands. Home of the grindadráp. Home of the everyone-owns-sheep-and-slaughters-them-every-autumn. Home of seeds-are-gross, apparently.
I love my class. I couldn’t have asked for better people to spend my year with.

—The Movies

A few days after its premiere, Katrin (my classmate) and I went to see the third Hunger Games movie at the movie theatre. It was my first time watching a movie in this theatre, and I was very excited to see what a different culture’s movie-going experience was like. I love going to the theatre, and the prospect of getting to see how other people from across the globe enjoy the same thing as I do made me extremely happy.
Katrin got the tickets ahead of time so we could head in without delay.

First things first: ASSIGNED SEATS. Second thing: INTERMISSION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOVIE SO YOU CAN GO BUY MORE JUNK FOOD. Okay, moving on.
Upon entering the cinema, I already could see the biggest difference between Faroese and American theaters; there were kids everywhere, most of them probably no older than twelve or thirteen, and they weren’t accompanied by adults. They were running around everywhere, talking loudly and screeching randomly. Seeing their unbridled behavior sent a wave of foreboding sweeping over me.

We bought our candy and stood around waiting for the doors to open. I people-watched as we did, spying some young girls huddled in a corner, kicking the door to the shop repeatedly and laughing when it hit someone, apologizing with gleeful expressions on their wicked little faces. I felt my heart sink. What dimension of cosmic horror had I wandered into?

We entered the cinema. All of the seats were taken in a matter of moments. The previews came on, some of them in Faroese, some of them in English with Faroese subtitles. I watched them in rapture. Just as I was forgetting about the little beasts in the snack shop, Katrin whispered to me, “My hair smells like popcorn.”
I turned to her. “What? Why?”
“Someone behind us is throwing popcorn and some landed in my hair.”
I twisted around in my seat. Three rows back and slightly to our left were two young girls, maybe ten or eleven years old, tossing popcorn into the crowd below for no other reason than, I expect, to be annoying. I felt something in the pit of my stomach come to a boil. Where was their etiquette? In an American theater, if a child was throwing popcorn and their supervisor wasn’t doing anything to stop it, you could rest assured that SOMEBODY was going to get up and either chew them out or throw them bodily from the theatre. No one seemed to be filling this role now. I was suddenly depressed.

The cinema was no longer the sacred Hollywood-viewing ground I recalled it to be.
Fine. If that was the way it was going to be, then I’d just have to be the necessary evil. I was too far away to scold them, so I had to come up with some other method to get them to stop. Katrin saw the look in my eye and said warningly, “Juliana, no,” but I ignored her. I was just about to throw a Lion bar at one of the little twerps, not into her face but maybe her jugular or pancreas, when Katrin put her hand on my arm and said, “Juliana, you’re a grown woman. She’s like eleven. Are you really going to stoop to her level?”
In an instant, my head cooled. I immediately understood what she was trying to tell me. The theater-defiler was just a child, and I was a fully-fledged adult. I felt ashamed that I was about to retaliate and be just as bad as her.
So I vowed to bring some Anthon Berg chocolates with me next time, so I could pelt any unholy little brat that crossed my path with chocolate-coated retribution like a proper, sophisticated young lady.

—The Language

My new host dad, Egon, came and picked me up from tutoring one night. My new host parents always speak to me in Faroese unless I ask for a translation, and I always try to speak Faroese in response. I almost always get it completely wrong, and the rest of the time I still get it wrong only slightly less so, but still, I was improving. As we drove home, we passed by SMS (the mall), and I noticed they had their Christmas lights up. I decided to point them out in Faroese.
“Jólaljós!”
Egon looked confused. “Jólaljós?”
“Ja, jólaljós!” I pointed toward SMS, and in a moment he understood. He laughed and said, “Oh, you mean, ‘jólaljós!’” Turns out I was pronouncing it wrong.
(How you’re supposed to pronounce it: Yo-lah-l’yo-ss. How I was pronouncing it: Yule-ay-l’yo-ss.)
“Yes, that’s what I meant,” I said, with great dignity in my voice. Egon laughed again and the car went silent for a moment. Then he said suddenly, “Rannvá ger døgurða,” which means, “Rannvá is making dinner.”
I contemplated his words, then said hesitantly, “Døgurða?”
Egon nodded. “Ja. Døgurða.”
I asked him what that meant: “Hvat merkir hatta?”
Egon stared at me blankly. “Døgurða means ‘dinner’.”
I stared right back. “What? Really?”
“Yes. You knew the word for ‘Christmas lights’ but not for ‘dinner’?” I shrugged, and he continued, “But dinner is every day!”
When I told my host mom a little later, she also said, “But dinner is every day!” This turned out to be prophetic of my future endeavors in Faroese.
Eg havi málkunnleiki!

—The Old Woman

I actually forgot about this woman until Katrin came into class one day and started relating the events of her morning to Guðrun. She spoke Faroese the whole time, but concluded her story by spitting the words, “Crazy elders,” in English with a contemptuous voice.
Interested, I asked her who she was talking about. She told me that there was an old woman who frequently rode the same bus as her in the morning. This old woman had the habit of staring at any person under the age of twenty-five like she was trying to set them on fire with her mind. She wouldn’t even try to hide it, either. On this morning, Katrin and Anja had the distinct displeasure of having to sit next to her — like, literally right next to her — and she still openly glared at them for almost the entire bus ride.

As Katrin was telling me all this, a memory suddenly stirred in the back of my mind. I had the very strong impression that I had also had an encounter with this woman. I asked Katrin what she looked like, and as she described her, the memory returned to me.

It was about a month ago. I got on Bus #1 to go to tutoring as I always did, noticing that the bus was unusually full. The only seat that wouldn’t require sitting next to a complete stranger (an act abhorred by most Faroese people, as well as myself) was in a row that faced the front, with a row that faced the rear right in front of it, so that the people sitting in these seats would have to look at each other. I sat down facing the front, and in the rear-facing seat diagonal from me sat an elderly woman.

I wondered immediately if I had accidentally stepped on her foot or smacked her with my bag or something on the way to my seat, because she wouldn’t stop stealing unsubtle, prolonged glances at me with eyes full of unmasked loathing. She didn’t say a word, but I wished she would; listening to her yell Faroese obscenities at me would have been preferable to the feeling of her eyes attempting to telekinetically bore a hole into my skull. Half of the ride went by with me wondering desperately if I had somehow wronged this old woman in some horrid fashion when I suddenly got a call from my host mom. I picked it up.
“Hey, I’m on the bus. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”

She agreed, and I hung up. I noticed, out of the very corner of my eye, that the old woman had shifted to lean back in her seat, so I decided to take a quick glance at her just in case this meant she had decided to stop having a one-way staring contest with the side of my head.

Oh, no, she wasn’t quite done yet, though the expression on her face had changed dramatically. Judging by the look on her face, the devil himself had just burst from the floor of the bus and taken the seat diagonal to her — a look as if she was totally mortified, but also couldn’t quite believe what she was looking at. I was completely bewildered. What was wrong with this woman? Curious as to what she would do next, I stared right back at her, keeping my face blank. She didn’t look away, but her expression slowly and smoothly changed from some form of abstract horror to something more neutral. Catalepsy, maybe?
The bus shuddered to a halt and opened the doors for the new passengers. The woman briskly gathered up her belongings from the seat next to her, but instead of getting off the bus, she simply moved to another seat, her back to me. I stared at the back of her head in disbelief. Was she really, seriously afraid of me ….. because I was speaking English?
……I had “American Woman” by The Guess Who stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

— Halloween

Halloween isn’t quite a thing in the Faroe Islands, though apparently it’s been becoming more popular amongst the young people over the years. There is no trick-or-treating, but a few bold young adults might put on a costume, or at least some kind of special effect, just for the occasion.
Faroese children actually do something akin to trick-or-treating on Føstulávint, known in English as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of lent. They go door-to-door and ask for candy, though sometimes they get money or fruit, which they condemn. That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, though.

So on Halloween, I dressed the same as I always did (because rain), but I tied up my hair so people could see the design I drew on my face with an eyebrow pencil. It was simple, just some curlicues and little flecks and dots, but it was enough to make people gawk on the bus and in the school hallways. Sure, some Faroese people dress up for Halloween, but apparently they do not do so to go to school.

Only one other person, as far as I could see, put on any sort of effect for Halloween. (Hi, Katrin.) Everyone else asked why I had drawn on my face, and when I told them it was Halloween, they replied, “Was that today?”
I was feeling a little bit put out — Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, even more important to me than Christmas or my own birthday — until Katrin (who was dressed as a goth) told me that the nightclub Rex was letting people who were dressed up into the club for free the next day. Clubbing is a quintessential activity in the lifestyle of a Faroese teen, so I was eager to participate. I told my friend Nadine, an au pair from Germany, about it, and we went shopping for more complex costumes the next morning.

Nadine and I decided to go as a pair with an angel/devil theme. You can probably already guess which one I was, but I’ll tell you anyway that I got some nice, cheap black horns and black wings from a small costume shop hidden away in a back alley. Nadine embellished her own costume a bit by painting her face like a candy skull, and I drew some cracks on my face like a shattered porcelain doll (they turned out looking more like tear tracks, but oh well), and Katrin added some vampire fangs and cat ears to her goth ensemble, so when the three of us showed up at Rex, there was debate on what we were supposed to be, but no one doubted we were in costume. Nadine was worried that we would be the only ones dressed up, but we were pleasantly surprised to come upon a whole club full of people in well-done and clever costumes, from Trojan soldiers to zombies to superheroes to scantily-clad policewomen to some random guy in a Pikachu pajama onesie.

You had to be eighteen years old to get inside. I was quite amused when the security guard stared at the date on my ID for a good three minutes before letting me in. I tried helping him along by saying, “Just a hint, there is no 23rd month,” but he ignored me.
Once inside, we danced for nearly four hours. The DJ played such timeless classics as Anaconda, Talk Dirty to Me, Wiggle, and Blurred Lines while an old (and bad) horror movie I’d never seen before played on the overhead screens. It was a bizarre experience, but it was fun. I’ve never been to a club in the U.S. — I’d had only two weeks of being eighteen before leaving on my exchange, after all — so I can’t compare any experiences, but even so… well, again, it was fun. I don’t have much more to say about it.
After dancing until we almost collapsed, we ate some pizza and went home. It was probably the best Halloween I’ve ever had.

—The Skin

SOMEONE WANNA EXPLAIN TO ME HOW FAROESE PEOPLE CAN EAT THE FLESH OFF A BOILED SHEEP’S FACE BUT REFUSE TO EAT THE SKIN OF A POTATO.

—The Grade

Faroese high-schoolers get a grade report three times a year. Their grading scale goes from 12 to -2, with 12 being “awesome,” 7 being “average,” 4 being, “you put in the minimal effort,” 2 being, “you’re an idiot and you don’t care,” and 00 and -2 being, “I personally hate you.” Getting a 00 or -2 is like getting an F- — a simple F (a 2) would have sufficed, but the negative is there just to make you feel really, REALLY dumb.
Seeing how I rarely do anything pertaining to regular classwork in class, I already had a feeling I wasn’t the model Faroese student. Still, I show up to class, participate in group projects, and write essays, so I expected to get at least a 4 in everything. My expectations were not met.
See, I actually did get at least a 4 in everything — except math. In math, I got a 00. I stared at the mark, puzzled. Since the “minimal effort” required to get a 4 means “at least showing up to class,” I really didn’t understand how I could have gotten less than that unless I had said something immensely dumb that had somehow brought down the class’ collective IQ, which I didn’t think I’d had. I showed the mark to my classmate, who shrugged and said, “I guess the teacher just hates you.”

WELL THAT’S COMFORTING.

Anyway, each subject gets two grades, one for written assignments and one for presentations. I somehow got two 7’s in Faroese, even though my Faroese teacher told me (several times) that my essays written in my new language were mind-numbingly terrible due to non-conjugated verbs and repeatedly referring to female and neuter objects with male adjectives. (Please keep in mind that this was my Faroese teacher, not my Faroese TUTOR, who said this. My tutor is awesome.) Religion and History only had grades for written, and they were 4 and 7, respectively. I got a 4 for written and a 10 for presentation in Political Science, a N/A in Spanish, and two 7’s in art. I was perplexed as to how a teacher could grade someone’s artwork as “average,” but then I supposed she perceived my misunderstanding of the directions as lack of attention or effort.

English. I love English class. Of course, English is the only class I can use to prove that I’m only half as stupid as I look, so I always put in some extra effort when doing English assignments. After I got got my first essay back with a 12 scribbled in the corner, I felt pretty confident that that effort was going to pay off.
I did indeed get a 12 in written English. But I got a 10 in presentation.
I knew it wasn’t because the teacher was being mean — Sharon is one of the nicest people on this planet. Sure, she’s tough, but she’s fair, and she cares a lot about us. Just a few days ago, she noticed that one of her students wasn’t eating lunch, and when he told her he hadn’t brought anything and had no money to buy something, she tried to force her own meal ticket on him. She cares that much.

So I sat there for a few minutes, putting my brain through the wringer to try to figure out what I could have done wrong on a presentation to dock me two whole grades. Katrin, who has perfect English, was sitting next to me, so I asked to see her grades, and she too got a 12 and a 10. It was quite the ponderous situation, but in the end, I forgot to ask Sharon why and it quickly escaped my mind altogether.
And so, on a scale of -2 to 12, my total average was 6.3. I’m lucky my grades here won’t count for anything back home.

— The Homeless Men [Subtitle: In Which I’m Too Polite for My Own Good (Sub-subtitle: I’m Thankful That I Can Say the Worst Experience of My Exchange Was Something Only as Bad as This)]

The downtown bus stop, called Steinatún, is near a homeless shelter of sorts. It provides a place to sleep for the night, and during the day, its inhabitants walk to Steinatún and take a seat on the benches, where they smoke, drink, and chat merrily with the people waiting for their buses. They’re harmless — most of the time, though of the times they’re not, I’ve only heard stories — but they can get rather loud and… intrusive.
One day, some time ago, Katrin and I were standing at the bus stop and speaking in English when a man approached us. His clothes were noticeably clean, if only because his face and hair were exceptionally dirty. He had very long, curly, grizzled hair on his head and face, and his eyes were crinkled with a permanent smile. He looked positively jolly, like some kind of trailer park Santa Claus.
I was examining the bus schedule, remarking to Katrin when I supposed I would be going (at this point, I still couldn’t read the schedule very well), when I turned slightly and noticed this man standing next to me, looking at me. I quickly backed up, and his smile widened in a friendly way. He spoke to us in surprisingly good, if somewhat alcohol-slurred, English.

“Where are you from?” he asked us. Katrin’s English is absolutely flawless, so he definitely thought she was a foreigner as well.
“I’m from the U.S.,” I told him. “She’s from here.”
“I see,” he said, looking very interested. “Why are you here?”
“I’m an exchange student.”
“How long have you been here?”
I told him. If I’m recalling correctly, it was around two months or so, at the time.
“I see!” he said again. “Welcome to the Faroe Islands!” He offered me his hand, which was covered in dry dirt, and I shook it warily.

Then, he began to talk — or, more accurately, ramble. It was hard to follow his train of thought as he jumped from one thing to another: from U.S. politics to American talk shows, from American tourists he’d met to Faroese social issues. He told me a joke about Florida that he’d heard on The Daily Show — which I won’t repeat since it’s kind of inappropriate, but sort of funny — and at this point I realized he was a nice enough guy. He was just… weird. Really weird.

About a month passed. I had just gotten off the bus at Steinatún and was waiting for the one for Argir when I noticed this same man walking nearby, a plastic cup of beer in his hand. I quickly put my head down; while I wasn’t threatened by him, I still didn’t particularly want to listen to him babble for twenty minutes before my bus came. As I was flipping through the apps on my phone with my head still down, my eyes caught a pair of shoes walk near me and then stop. I kept scrolling, pretending to be distracted, but they still stood there, facing my direction. I didn’t want him tapping me on the shoulder — the dirty hand I had to shake last time floated into my mind — so I glanced up for a half-second.

A half-second was all it took; he caught my gaze and widened his smile. I noticed he was wearing the exact same clothes he had been wearing before: a leather jacket over a navy blue t-shirt, plus blue jeans and sandals. His curly hair clung to his face from the rain. I decided to brush him off, but I realized too late that there was space next to me on the bench, which he quickly occupied.
“I recognize you!” he said cheerfully. “You’re from England, yes?”
“No.” I was trying to sound rude so that me might be put off and go away, but he was not deterred.
“So you must be from America, then! Welcome to the Faroe Islands!” By the way he was talking, it was obvious that he didn’t remember me from before — possibly because of the drink in his hand.
“Yeah,” I said. I turned my attention back to my phone, praying he would take a hint, but instead I heard him continue on, saying happily, “You have the most beautiful hair!”
“Oh, thank you,” I said offhandedly, though I was honestly flattered. I quite like my hair, and I like when other people like it too. But what he said next threw that emotion out the window.
“You and I,” he said, gesturing to himself and then me, and then to his own curly hair, “could be father and daughter!”

I felt the smile I was maintaining twitch at the corners. “I already have quite a few fathers now, so I don’t need another one,” I prevented myself from saying. Instead, I just laughed vaguely and said, “Ah.”
“Because of the hair!” he clarified unnecessarily, laughing. My smile shrunk into a grimace. “Right.”
Another drunken man suddenly shuffled over, his clothes spattered with mud, and the first man took to introducing me to him, speaking Faroese as he did. He got up to let the other man sit down, and after he had sat next to me, he turned to me and held out his hand in greeting. His fingers were bleeding.

My mind focusing meditatively on the hand sanitizer in my backpack, I shook his hand. “Hi. Nice to meet you.”
The man mumbled in Faroese. I cocked my head to the side to try to convey my confusion better as I said, “Sorry? I don’t speak Faroese well.”
He mumbled again, looking disappointed. Wondering if it would be socially acceptable to flee from the scene, I looked up at the first man and saw he was already deeply engaged in conversation with another young woman, whose smile was not doing a good job of hiding her uneasiness. I wasn’t sure whether I should feel bad about feeling the same way as her — it wasn’t like these two men had done anything wrong, exactly — but I quickly decided I’d had enough. I got up, said a quick goodbye to the man sitting next to me, and moved to hide behind the wall on the other side of the Steinatún bus stop, where I poured a liberal amount of Purell on my hands.

My last experience was not too long ago, maybe a few weeks or so. I was standing at Steinatún again with Katrin (why are you always there when these things happen, Katrin?) when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, an older man stumbling along the sidewalk. He was quite obviously inebriated, his eyes wandering around, looking over the people standing and waiting for their bus, their pale faces sticking out like moons in the dark of the night. I noticed him pause briefly while looking at me, so I turned my back to him and tried to start up a conversation with Katrin to distract myself. Not a moment later, he was standing next to me, his shoulder pressed against mine, looking into my face. I was just about to back away, but before I could, his hand shot out to shake mine. As it did, it brushed, not quite briefly, against my bosom.

Two strong urges immediately dominated my mind, causing me to freeze. One was to grab Katrin and run. The other was to beat this man, who was easily a foot shorter than me, into a bloody pulp.
I shot a look at Katrin. She hadn’t noticed what his hand did, focusing instead on the face of the swaying, blotto man standing beside me, an exasperated expression on her face. Once again, I found myself marveling at the Faroese’s grit.
He told me his name, which I don’t remember because I was still deciding on whether to let him live. His gloved hand was still stretched awkwardly in front of my body, so I took hold of it briefly while looking into his eyes, my face unsmiling. I decided that getting into an altercation with a homeless man would be unpleasant for everybody in the vicinity, so I ignored what had happened, reasoning it could have just been because he was unsteady from his drunkenness. But I kept my guard up, just in case.
“Hello,” I said quietly, still unsmiling. His eyes immediately narrowed at the sound of my English.
“Where are you from?” he asked, his accent thick.
“The United States,” I replied.
“What’s your name?”
I allowed my suspicion to show on my face. “Juliana.”
I didn’t intend to tell him any more than that, but he didn’t ask for anything more… in English, anyway, because then he started speaking Faroese.
“I’m sorry?” I said, bemused. “What are you saying?”
He repeated himself. I looked to Katrin for help, and she replied to him in Faroese. Then she said to me, “He asked what you were doing here, so I told him you were a student.”
I didn’t see any harm in that, so I just said, “Oh, okay,” and turned back to him. He said something else.
“I’m sorry, are you speaking English?” I asked the man, though I knew he wasn’t. At this question, he became visibly frustrated. He asked me once more, in English, “Where are you from?”
“The United States,” I said again, confused. He then started speaking a different language — Danish, it sounded like.
“I still can’t understand you,” I told him. I felt my own irritation growing. “Please speak English.”
“Yes, English!” he said. Agitation was written all over his face, exuding from his body language. He demanded of me, yet again, “Where are you from!?” His voice was just below a shout.
“The United States,” I reiterated coldly, my voice low.
“Yes, I know that!” he said. His face was blotchy with anger. He stared into my eyes, as if trying to figure out if I was lying. I stared back, keeping my face stony to hide the anxiety bubbling in my stomach. I offered a silent prayer up to God, hoping that this man wasn’t about to punch me, or worse.
He spoke again, this time in neither Faroese or Danish. What was that, German? I raised my eyebrows at him and said blankly, “What?”
“Juliana,” said Katrin suddenly. I turned to look at her. She had evidently formulated our escape. “There’s still time to go to that shop you wanted to visit.”
“Ah, okay,” I said, and as I did, the man left in a huff. Barely sparing a backward glance, I followed after Katrin, the both of us moving as fast as we could without running. We made it to the stop up the hill in enough time to catch our bus.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t think of something to say earlier,” said Katrin, taking me aback with her apology. “I was trying to think of a place we could get away to while also letting us catch the bus.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I said. My anger and anxiety had died down, and I could feel myself shaking from the adrenaline rush. “I’m just glad you were able to get us away. Thanks for saying something.” I told her what he had done before shaking my hand; her reaction was just as horrified as mine.
The bus slowly crested the hill, and as we prepared to board, I asked, “What was he saying when he wasn’t speaking English?”

“Oh.” Katrin frowned a little. “He was asking you different things in Faroese, Danish, and German, like he was testing to see if you could understand him. At least, I think so; it was kind of hard to tell, since his words were so slurred…. But when you didn’t understand him even when he tried German, he said, ‘Then why the HELL are you in the Faroe Islands?’”

…I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t I just brush them off or tell them to get away from me at the very start? Because drunk people can easily become violent people, and I didn’t want myself or anyone around me getting hurt. I feel like I did a good job of handling these situations because everyone involved emerged unscathed, and that’s all I was thinking about. Again, I’ll say that these men were (probably) perfectly harmless — but alcohol changes people. I didn’t want to provoke them into doing something they’d regret.

—The Language (Part Deux)

Lots of people have been asking me how my Faroese has been going.
Today, I was struggling to understand the IPA printed in my copy of ‘An Introduction to Modern Faroese’ until I noticed I was holding the book upside down. Turning it right side up did not improve anything.
Yeah. That’s how it’s been going.

—The End

On some days, searching for happiness just doesn’t work out. No matter where you look, the world isn’t smiling at you. That’s why you have to become your own happiness, so that no matter what you do, you’re making yourself happy by knowing that you’re doing something. Once you learn how to do that, you don’t need happiness from anything else.

 Thu, December 18, 2014

I wrote this when I was supposed to be working on my presentation on U.S. politics.

Well, my good people, it’s been a fantabulous two months here in the Faroe Islands. I don’t even know where to begin, but since my last journal was pretty much just excessive whining about airplane travel, I’ve decided I should at least start with something positive. It’s always easier to talk about the unpleasant. It’s more difficult, and thus more rewarding, to look on the bright side.

Shortly after I arrived in the Faroes, I climbed a mountain in Vestmanna, a nearby village. It was, as described by the veteran hikers, an “easy walk,” which meant I only occasionally had to climb on all fours and there was only a 40% chance of me falling off a cliff and dying. It was one of the greatest moments of my entire life thus far, and what I saw when we stopped for lunch will stay with me forever: We were walking along the edge of the mountain with the open ocean directly below us, though we had to take the guide’s word for it because the fog was so incredibly dense, we couldn’t see the people walking ten feet in front of us. Our group of twenty or so people, mostly elderly people who have more guts than I’ll ever have, sat down on some rocks and ate our lunches facing the thick screen of mist that hid the ocean from view. As I was just digging into my scrumptious convenience store sandwich, the fog lifted completely, and all the breath escaped from my lungs.

We were a thousand feet above the ocean, staring over the turbulent waters in the fjord below. Craggy mountain faces streaked with waterfalls were to our left, and the Atlantic ocean stretched out to our right. This raw, powerful scene hit me like a tsunami, and all I could do was stare at it, speechless, feeling simultaneously small and insignificant yet incredibly empowered. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy this view for very long; after about ten seconds, the fog descended on us again, and the rest of the hike took place within the clouds.

Not long after this, I started school. All the students crowded into the auditorium, where I presume they were sorted into classes, because they all kind of just left in clusters, and I was left standing there awkwardly, not knowing what to do. The principal came up to me and asked me something in Faroese. I told him something I soon got very used to saying: “I’m an exchange student from the U.S., and I have no idea what’s going on.” He then guided me to the counselor’s office, where Allie (an exchange student from Oregon) and I were put in classes. Allie, being 16, was put in year one, and I, being eighteen, was put in year two.

When I arrived in my classroom, I learned that having no idea what was going on wasn’t exclusive to me; literally nobody, not even the teachers, knew that there were two exchange students from the U.S. in their school. I was asked by each of my teachers in turn, “So . . . what exactly are you supposed to be doing, since you can’t understand Faroese?” to which I would always reply, “Good question.”

When it came to the students themselves, I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach them; I was told many, many times by people who had been to the Faroes (and even some who hadn’t, strangely) that Faroese people in general are shy about speaking other languages, even though they’re often very good at them. My host mom even told me that when she went to Denmark for university, all the Faroese people in her class, though they were fluent in Danish, didn’t speak a word for their entire term unless they had to. With this knowledge at my disposal, I had no idea how I could possibly become friends with them, being a rather shy person myself.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried. My classmates, though noticeably softer-spoken than American teens, were very warm and welcoming. They often help me with my Faroese when I ask, and they’re all very good at English, though they won’t admit it. Lately, some of them have taken to speaking to me in Faroese to see if I can understand them, which I’m very grateful for; I’ve learned more Faroese in these past two months than all the Danish I learned in the seven months I thought I would be going to Denmark, and that’s mostly thanks to them. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, I’ve missed all the get-togethers they’ve held for the class so far, but I’m determined to go to the next one.

One I’m particularly interested in is the “bindiklubb,” which means “knitting club,” though it’s more like a house party than a club. When I was invited to one, I anxiously asked my host sister, Maria, if I should learn to knit for the occasion, worrying that I’d be judged since I’d never even touched a knitting needle in my entire life. But Maria just asked me, totally surprised, “You mean they actually KNIT in your class’s knitting club?”

“You mean people DON’T usually knit in knitting clubs?” I asked, equally surprised.

“Not really,” said Maria. “Mostly they just eat cake and gossip.”

So you can see why I’m eager for the next one.

While my classmates and teachers do mostly speak to me in English, I try not to let myself take that for granted. I have tutoring with an eighty-something-year-old guy named Eilif, who’s a polyglot and works as a translator, three times a week, plus I try to do some self-studying when I can, though that has sometimes proven to be counter-productive. From what I’ve seen, the more in-depth a source on Faroese appears to be, the less factual it actually is. Even Sprotin, a Faroese-made online dictionary, often needs to be checked behind. I discovered this just in time when I was using it to complete a translation for my Faroese class; as I was working, I asked a nearby classmate to help with a word Sprotin couldn’t find. After he told me the word I was looking for, he read over the sentence I was working on and pointed out a mistranslation that Sprotin had given me. When I got home that day, I asked Maria and Sanna (the younger host sister) to check what I had translated so far, and they told me that a sentence Sprotin had told me meant, “I’m stressed enough as it is,” actually meant, “I’m very excited for this.”

And that was the moment I stopped trusting Sprotin forever. So now when my teachers tell me to use Sprotin to figure out the handout, I’m just like LOL NOPE NOT UNLESS YOU WANT ME WRITING ABOUT SPINNING WHEELS WHEN IT’S ACTUALLY ASKING ABOUT SCOTTISH PEOPLE.

(Long story.)

Anyway!

Even though Faroese doesn’t have a Rosetta Stone or even an option on Google Translate, it’s much easier to understand than I thought it would be. It’s a Germanic language like English is, so while the grammar rules are still baffling, it was rather simple to read something by picking out the roots of the words, and once I got the rhythm of the language down, listening to conversations became easier, too. I often sit and listen to my host family or my classmate’s conversations in silence, and usually one of them will turn to me and ask, “Do you understand anything we’re saying?” Most of the time I don’t, but I actually understand a lot of the subtext.

Some of you might know that when I was at FSCJ, I took two semesters of American Sign Language. During my second semester, I participated in a day-long work shop led by several Deaf teachers, and during this workshop, no one was allowed to speak OR use sign language; you had to communicate ideas and stories entirely through gesture. I think about this day very often, because it taught me something incredibly important; you don’t need to hear (or see) words in order to understand what’s going on. When I listen to people’s conversations, even if I only know a few words, I can always tell how what they’re talking about makes them feel. Also, people use body language a lot more than they realize; if you sound angry and you suddenly make a gesture like you’re choking someone, it’s not that hard to figure out what you’re saying.

Still with me? Not getting bored yet? All right, let’s keep going.

Let me tell you that it’s really not hard to make me happy, and when you eliminate any stress factors, it’s almost impossible to make me sad. Fortunately for me, the Faroe Islands are a land without stress. Nobody is ever too concerned about anything, and the phrase, “What isn’t done today can be done tomorrow,” is often spoken. The Faroes are called, “The Country of Maybe,” because when something is suggested to a Faroese, they usually won’t say yes or no, just “maybe.” It’s because they really don’t care either way. To be completely honest, this mentality irritated me at first; I’m from a family whose only fuel source is high octane stress. Everything had to be planned and decided either ahead of time or immediately, or else there might not be a chance later. It was hard shifting my thought process to fit this more laid back way of thinking, but I think I’ve mostly gotten the hang of it now. The only thing here that regularly causes me brief stress would probably be the busses.

Before coming to the Faroes, the closest thing to a bus I’d ever been on was the tram at Disney World. I had no idea how to read the schedule, no idea where I should get on or where I should get off, no idea which one was the right bus, and no idea that the bus drivers here are apparently sadists who slam on the gas as soon as your foot is in the vehicle. The first two weeks or so of navigating Tórshavn entirely by bus were absolutely terrifying. I get lost a lot (see the Washington D.C. airport part of my first journal for another example) and trying to figure out the busses by trial and error wasn’t helpful. More than once I had to call my host mom to pick me up because I had no idea how to get home.

Other than that, my exchange here has been nothing but a real life pipe dream of puppies and marshmallows and heavenly Scandinavian chocolate. I was worried that I would cry often, but so far there has only been three instances of waterworks; once in the middle of the supermarket because I had literally forgotten to eat that day, once at the orientation in Gjógv because whoever was in charge of the music played Leaving On a Jet Plane (which makes me cry anyway), and once more on September 11th. Our history teacher showed us a clipshow of various American news sources showing the disaster happening on live television, and one of the clips was of the same channel I had watched with my mom on the actual day of the event. Seeing it again triggered some kind of PTSD-flashback in my brain and I had a complete and utter meltdown. I was horribly embarrassed to go to school the next day, but my classmates, being the wonderful people that they are, made me feel better about it.
I will now briefly cover some troubles I’ve been having. I know there’s a possibility that future exchange students will be looking at my journals for reference, so I feel it’s only fair. I’ll still try to keep it short, though, because often times, things that seem like problems are actually much more insignificant when you view them at a later time.

So there’s this girl who likes to tell me her opinions on American political and social issues. To any exchange students reading this, if you’ve been on your exchange long enough, you’ve probably met someone exactly like her, as if every exchange just needs at least one in order to be complete. Ordinarily, I would love to have a conversation with someone like her because I love to debate. However, a conversation is not an option when talking to her. In fact, you can’t talk to her. You can only have her talk at you. And not only are a majority of her opinions based on incorrect facts, but she also occasionally blames me, personally, for some of America’s problems, as if I’m Barack Obama himself; “Your government makes its people pay off the national debt, but that doesn’t work! Why do you do that?” I dunno, lady, but if I’m ever president, I’ll be sure to look into it, okay?

The second thing is a bit more of a problem than the first. Plenty of American TV commercials for food will mention how their product will “satisfy” or “keep you full” longer, which is basically marketing-speak for, “We crammed a bunch of chemical junk into your food that will make you think you’re eating less but is probably making you fat.” Americans with good metabolisms process these foods without too many side effects, but when they go to other countries that don’t pack their foods with garbage, their bodies take a toll. That is, they’re hungry. Constantly. Now, this is really, really common for American exchange students, but my body takes this a step further because I have always had a very high metabolism. The result? Suffering.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I am in actual, physical agony at least twice a day due to hunger. When I wake up in the morning, having gone at least six hours without eating, I’ll be so hungry that my ribs hurt. Breakfast is always bread and cereal, which I’ll eat twice as much of as everyone else, and then when I go to school, the cafeteria has sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, and candy, which I buy in bulk and eat without showing anyone because I’m embarrassed of how much I can put away. Once school is over, I either go to SMS (the mall) to try and find something cheap to eat (which is impossible, since almost everything here has an import tax) or go straight home to scrounge for something I can put in my stomach without preparation. During dinner, I eat until I feel full enough to be sick, because I know that if I don’t, I’ll be hungry again in about five minutes. After dinner, I try to go to bed as quickly as possible so I can be asleep when my body gets hungry again. And so, almost constantly, I am feeling either pain, weakness, or nausea due to my high metabolism, and I am spending more and more money every month trying to pay my food bills. As of this writing, I’m talking to my counselor and host family about what I can do. I know we’ll find a solution.

Let’s finish this journal on a brighter note. Here are some things people, here and back in the U.S., often ask me!

Q: What’s your favorite part about the Faroe Islands so far?
A: To name one thing as the best would be an insult to everything else.

Q: What classes are you taking in school?
A: Math, religion, politics, history, English, Faroese, Spanish, and art. I’m lucky and don’t have to take Danish.

Q: Do you understand anything in school?
A: HAHA NOPE.

Q: Are there mountains everywhere?
A: Everywhere except within the city itself, where they have very steep hills instead.

Q: How big are the Faroe Islands in comparison to the United States?
A: The eighteen islands’ collective land area is about a third the size of Rhode Island.

Q: What do you miss most about the U.S.?
A: My dog. And maybe tumble driers.

Q: What about the Faroes was unlike what you expected?
A: I honestly thought no one would have cars here. I don’t know why I thought that, but I was wrong anyway.

Q: What was the first new word you learned after arriving?
A: “Útsøla” = “sale”

Q: Have you petted a sheep yet?
A: Not yet. They’re faster than they look.

Q: Have you seen a whale hunt yet? Do you plan to?
A: No and yes.

Q: What do the Faroese think of Sea Shepherd?
A: They’re hoping Paul Watson will come here someday so that they can be the ones to arrest him.

Ah, there are so many more things I want to talk about, like how I’m learning Spanish from a Danish textbook and putting my answers down in Faroese, and how interesting it is to be constantly surrounded by English-speakers whose concept of English word connotations are different, and how some people still call me Yuliana and the people in my Spanish class call me Huliana, and how I’ve fallen victim to fashion trends so I wear leggings as pants now, but alas, this journal is far too long! I’ll see you all in the next one.

And now, I leave you with this analogy:

There once was a man who tied a baby elephant to a tree. Though the little elephant kept tugging at the rope keeping it tied, it just wasn’t strong enough to break itself away. The man kept the elephant there for many years, until the elephant was an adult, bigger than the tree itself. And yet the elephant never tried to break itself free again because it remembered that it couldn’t, all those years ago. The only thing preventing the elephant from escaping was the memory of struggling in vain, even though now, the only thing holding it back was a thin rope and a twig.

So if you feel like you have a problem that you can’t overcome, just think: a year from now, when you look back at that problem, will it still look like a tree? Or will it look like a twig? Believe that you can overcome anything, and you will.

 Sat, September 27, 2014

When I reached the word “flight,” I burst out crying again. I was sick of everything already. I had no idea flying could be so stressful — I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been on a plane, but I’m sure I’d had more than an hour to find my next flight, plus I’d had my family with me to help me. This time, I was alone. My phone had died on the way up the escalators, so I couldn’t even call someone if I missed my flight. I felt sick, and crying made me feel worse, but willing myself to stop wasn’t working….

Well, my adventure began before I even arrived in the Faroes. I said goodbye to everyone in Jacksonville and went through security, feeling pretty optimistic. I bought a water bottle and a chocolate bar to eat on my flight and went to sit down by my gate. Everything was feeling awesome, and I couldn’t wait to just get on that plane and see everything there was to see.

The flight from Jacksonville to Washington DC was fine, if not a bit cramped. I spent an hour and forty-five minutes wondering how much blood was in my torso from not having any in my legs. When I landed in Dulles, I knew I only had an hour to find my flight, so as soon as I got got off the plane, I shook the feeling back into my feet and started looking around for Scandinavian Air.

I went up to an information desk and asked where the flight to Copenhagen was. I had no boarding pass and checking in online didn’t work, so I had to quickly find where I was supposed to go so I could get my stuff together. The woman at the desk stared at me and asked me why on earth I was asking for Scandinavian Air in the terminal for United. She told me I was looking for Gate B and pointed me down the hall, which turned out to be the wrong direction.

I went back down the hall and then down a tunnel that led to an underground area with a train to take me where I was supposed to go. I stared at the maps, but I’ve always been a poor navigator. I had no idea where I was. I gleaned that the train led to Gates A, B, D, H, and Z, so I stood with everyone else and waited.

The train’s first stop was Gate A. I got off for a second and contemplated walking to Gate B, but since I couldn’t even read the map anyway, I got back on and hoped it would be faster. I checked my phone. I had less than thirty minutes to find my gate. I prayed I’d get there soon.

The next stop led to Gates D, H, and Z. I was perplexed. Where was B? Was I supposed to get off at A and walk there? Did I miss my chance? Would I be able to get back? That airport was more foreign to me than the Faroes have been so far. So many things were running through my head, my chest welling with despair, and I simply started crying. I was sore all over from my heavy bags and coats. I had a massive headache and no way to relieve it. I was dehydrated and hungry. I had dropped my water bottle and chocolate bar on the way down the tunnel and couldn’t retrieve them. I felt miserable and anxious and the tears just wouldn’t stop.

I got off at D, H, and Z and planned to just walk to B, but I had no idea how. I was lost. Something in my gut tugged me to get back on the train and wait, but I hesitated. My mind was completely blank. Nothing made sense to me and I couldn’t even understand that B was probably going to be the next stop, since it was the only one that hadn’t been visited yet. As I tried to make sense of things in my brain that was throbbing, I heard the intercom say to stand clear of the doors. I panicked, and ran back inside. It was a good thing I did, because it finally did lead to Gate B. I checked the time again. Twenty minutes until the plane left.

I made the very poor decision to run up the escalator, and I ended up tripping on my coat and hitting my knee, hard. Now I had an aching leg to deal with, and I started crying again. I kept running, all the way up the two flights of escalators, and came out into a very long hallway filled with gates. I pulled myself together and approached another information desk.

“Excuse me, sir, where is the flight to Copenhagen?”

When I reached the word “flight,” I burst out crying again. I was sick of everything already. I had no idea flying could be so stressful — I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been on a plane, but I’m sure I’d had more than an hour to find my next flight, plus I’d had my family with me to help me. This time, I was alone. My phone had died on the way up the escalators, so I couldn’t even call someone if I missed my flight. I felt sick, and crying made me feel worse, but willing myself to stop wasn’t working. The man looked at me in my absolutely pathetic state and smiled sympathetically. He told me I was looking for B40 and pointed me down the hall. I thanked him in an almost-comically high-pitched voice and started running. My backpack thumped against my back and pulled at my shoulders, the handle of my violin case rubbing painfully in my hand, but I kept running, my teeth gritted.

B40 was about fifteen gates down the hall, or at least it felt like it. When I reached it, I didn’t even look for a clock, because I saw what looked like a message from God on a big blue screen: “On time.”

I stood in line and my tears finally stopped. I was going to make it. I was going to be fine. The fear of the unknown had gripped my chest like a vice, but now that I knew I was in the right place, I was so happy I could have collapsed. When it was my turn, I handed over my passport and waited again while the woman prepared a boarding pass for me. By this point, my stank was so bad it could’ve killed a cow. My dehydration was even worse due to sweating while running. No more one hour layovers. Ever. Again.

I got on the plane, pleasantly surprised that I was as close to First Class as one could possibly be without being in it, so I had a lot of leg room. I fumbled around trying to store my stuff in my disorientated state, but the man sitting next to me, a Swede named Arne, helped me out. As soon as the plane was safely up in the sky, I took off my boots and shriveled up in my seat. I was a dry husk of a human being, and I could taste the blood in my mouth from splits in my lips.

I spent the next eight hours talking with Arne. He was very nice, extremely helpful, and slightly drunk, so he was a cool flying companion. He talked on and on about his grandkids, his house in Italy, the trips he’d taken, and lots of other things I only half-remember. He knew a little bit about the Faroe Islands (he at least knew where they were and about the British occupation during WWII, which was refreshing), so we talked about them too. When we arrived in Copenhagen, he even offered to walk me through customs, but it turned out it wasn’t necessary.

I nervously approached the desk and handed the man my passport. Arne had told me not to tell them I was an exchange student or that I’d be staying for a year, or else they’d give me a hard time.

“Where’s your final destination?” the man asked.
“The Faroe Islands.”
“Are you an exchange student?”
I didn’t want to lie. “Yes.”
“And will you be there for a year?”
He directly asked what I was planning not to tell him. I answered truthfully again: “Yes.”

He stared at me for a moment. I stared back, trying not to look scared or frustrated or anything else like I truly felt. I hadn’t slept at all on the plane, and I know that when I haven’t slept, my eyes become red and vainy, so I might have also looked like an insane super villain. The man looked at me for a few more seconds, then opened his mouth to speak. I felt my knees tremble.

“That’s cool.” The stamp hit my passport with a dull thud and he passed it back to me through the glass. Stunned, I took it back, squeaked, “Have a nice day!” and passed through customs into Copenhagen airport.

I met up with Arne again at baggage claim. He explained to me the layout of the airport and how to get where I needed to go. This was his final stop, and his baggage came out before mine, so when he grabbed his bag, he simply gave me a cheery wave and disappeared before I could properly thank him. I regret not having stopped him to say anything.

I grabbed my bag and checked it in. I grabbed a bottle of water from 7-11 and chugged it. Images of etiolated plants danced through my head as I did. More haggard than ever before, I lugged my unkempt, unwashed self up the escalator to security.

On the other side, the Copenhagen airport turned into a mall-sized liquor store. Everywhere I looked, there were large, shining bottles of wines and spirits stacked like bean cans in a supermarket. I accidentally made eye contact with one of the tall, handsome Danish clerks, and he stopped me and told me his pitch.

“Uh… Jeg forstår ikke dansk,” I muttered, looking at my shoes. I was very aware that I had not showered in over thirty hours.

“You don’t understand?” he asked, his accent flawless. “I was simply asking if you were interested in our buy one, get one half off sale on [liquor brand].” I lied and said I wasn’t old enough, then hurried off to find my gate.

This was it. The final leg. In a little over two hours, I would be in the Faroe Islands. My head was fit to burst, my arm muscles were killing me, and a quick inspection of my knee revealed a shiny purple bruise from where I’d tripped, but I honestly didn’t care anymore. My excitement was mounting and I didn’t feel tired anymore. I got on my plane and shoved my airline food meal down my throat. I had no idea what it was, but it was delicious.

Two hours later, I was staring at the glorious mountains and valleys of the Faroe Islands. White waterfalls trickled down the mountain faces like veins keeping the islands alive, and I swear I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight in my entire life. I stepped off the plane right onto the tarmac and walked into the tiny airport.

After collecting my luggage, I left the terminal and ran right into Mirjam, my Youth Exchange Officer. She gave me a hug (which must’ve been unpleasant) and dragged my suitcase for me. We got into her car and drove to Argir, a village that’s merged with the capital, Tórshavn. She explained various things along the way, but honestly, I was half-dead by this point, so I barely remember anything. I arrived at my host family’s house just after noon and settled in.

My host dad Eyðun (pronounced Eh-yuh-n), host mom Katrin, and host sister Sanna (pronounced like sauna) were all there, but host sister Maria was helping out at a wedding, so she was not. We sat around and chatted, then I went to unpack my things while Katrin and Eyðun prepared dinner. We sat down and ate roast beef, fried potatoes, chips, and home-made cheesecake, then went on a ride around Tórshavn to see various places. I fell asleep after seeing my new school.

I got home, took a much needed shower, and collapsed on my bed. I barely had a chance to think about anything before I fell asleep and slept like the dead for the next sixteen hours.

 Mon, August 11, 2014

Juliana - Taiwan

Hometown:St. Petersburg, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club:Central Pinellas, Florida
Host District: District 3480
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Taipei Metro East

My Bio

Hi there, I am Juliana Rico, an adventurous seventeen-year-old girl. My mom and I moved to the United States when I was six years old. We first lived in New York for a couple of years, then we headed to Florida. I LOVE visiting my family in Colombia. They (especially my grandma) also visit me once in a while and we have a blast at the beaches, malls, and parks! That is if I am not at school or studying, of course. In my free time at school, I enjoy spending time with friends and carrying out my duties as treasurer of National Honor Society. Now that I will soon be done with school (I am graduating this spring), I am getting prepared to live in Taiwan. I decided to become a rotary exchange student because I love adventures. The highlights of my life include visiting and living in different places, meeting interesting people, and overcoming challenges. I want to get out of here (even though Florida is great) and explore! Taiwan will be the perfect place to do this because I will live in a culture that is very different from the ones that I am used to (American and Colombian). I also want to learn a new language- Chinese, and take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. Sure, I might get homesick in Taiwan, but overall, the experience will be well worth it! I hope that I can become more independent, responsible, knowledgeable, and appreciative of what I have. When I come back from Taiwan, I plan to share my experiences with others and use what I have learned in as many aspects of my life as possible, whether it be in my personal life, school, or future job.

Journals: Juliana – Taiwan

It has now been almost a full month here living in Taiwan, and I would not have wanted it any other way.

WEEK 1 (August 23 – 31)

My last day in Florida was Friday, August 22. As I said goodbye to my family and sponsor club Rotarians at the airport, I was nervous but very excited. I was about to begin my exchange thanks to God, family, friends, and Rotary.

However, as soon as we had finished saying goodbye and I was alone, I began to feel extremely more nervous. With arms and legs shaking, I was not able to fully believe that for 10 months I would not see my family and friends. I would not see Florida. My future was not clearly known and I did not know what to expect. I had never been to Asia and all the internet and videos about Taiwan would not ever accurately reflect the reality that I would be living in soon. I would also be learning how to write and speak a completely new and different language – Mandarin Chinese.

My nerves calmed down once I was later accompanied by at least 7 other American exchange students at the Detroit airport. They were all also going to Taiwan, and we waited together for about 3 hours to board the plane to Tokyo. We were able to share our feelings about our exchange, family, and interests. Thankfully, the flight wasn’t so boring with them by my side. They were all so cool and interesting that they made me love being an exchange student right off the bat.

Nevertheless, the flight felt incredibly long and it was uncomfortable for me. My neck hurt quite a lot (I should have brought a neck pillow). The airplane food was okay but I am pretty sure it hurt my stomach. I watched at least three movies. It was about a 13 hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo. Once I got there, I immediately boarded the plane to Taipei, so I did not get to see much of Tokyo. It took more than a whole day to finally arrive to Taiwan from Florida, but of course, it was worth it!

Once I arrived in Taiwan, I was welcomed by my host family and club. It was a heartwarming experience, even if I had felt worn out and had a bad stomach at the time. Everyone had smiles on their faces and my host family gave me bear hugs. There were so many people there to welcome me that I instantly felt that Rotary love and bonding. My host sister had created a large yellow welcome banner for me and, of course, we all took photos with it.

First of all, I would like to explain in greater detail my host family. It includes my mom, dad, and older brother. However, I also have two older host sisters and a younger host brother who are actually my host mom’s brother’s children, but I still refer to them as my siblings. My younger host brother is currently an RYE student living in Germany. My parents are both very active Rotarians. They can speak English very well, as well as Taiwanese and Japanese. Taiwanese is a dialect of Chinese that I might also learn during my exchange in Taiwan. It is a language spoken by many Taiwanese at home. Even though my host family’s English is great, I hope I can still learn much Chinese and some Taiwanese from them!

After the welcome photos, I got in the car with my host family so we could go home. I was with my mom, dad, older brother, and older sister. We were finally home at around 11 PM. My host dad and I made sure that all the Rotary first night questions were answered before I went to bed. After all, I had been warned by a fellow exchange student; I would not want to accidentally break my host family’s toilet because I didn’t know how to use it appropriately.

Once the questions were done (they took more than an hour to finish), I slept like a baby and woke up late the next morning. It was a lazy Sunday and my host parents told me to “take it easy”, which is a phrase I have learned to love since I arrived in Taiwan. I wouldn’t start school until the next Monday, so I felt pretty relaxed. I had a delicious breakfast of bread, fruits, and coffee made by the housekeeper who lives with us. She is from Indonesia and I definitely consider her as part of our family now. She does not know much English so I am learning quite a bit of Chinese and charades with her so far.

My host family is really caring and generous to me. My parents are always asking how everything is going and are always making sure that I have everything I need. I have started calling my parents Baba and Mama, which is a very important and respectful thing to do in Taiwan. Respect for age is very important in Taiwanese culture. I also call my oldest sister Jiejie and my older brother Gege. My mother named me 亞卉, which means Asia flower, or Asia beauty. She hopes that I can be a beauty here in Taiwan. I am blessed to have such a great family and I will miss them when I have to change families in three months. However, I will live my last month, which is my tenth month, with them.

That day, I learned to appreciate my new home. I love every room! The place is new, spacious, clean, Ikea-like and well-lit. I am required to wear house slippers at all times, which I like because my feet are always squeaky clean at home. I am also required to wash my hands and change my outside clothes to indoor clothes as soon as I get home. Showers are always taken at night. From my home, I can see the Taipei 101 World Trade Center, which is very beautiful, especially at night. I live in an apartment complex managed by my host dad and my older host brother. The complex is composed of two buildings. I live on the eleventh floor of one of them. The other building is being made into a hotel, which keeps my host dad and brother very busy since it is supposed to be opened by the end of the year.

The location of where I live is ideal because it is in the heart of Taipei. This makes it easy to get to many places and I have now learned that I like the city. I always feel like there is always something to do or somewhere to go and explore. I only have to walk about five minutes to get to the MRT. The MRT is basically a really convenient and clean subway. The nearest bus stop is only about a two minute walk from my house. Something cool about the bus stop is that it has Rotary logos all over it! I also live next to the cutest dog grooming salon EVER. I always see dogs getting extremely fancy grooming done and I even saw a dog get his tail dyed various colors. I need to take photos of this next time. Near me is also the police department. I always see police officers in front of the building and sometimes they greet me which is neat.

I feel like Taipei is safe in general for such a densely populated city. For example, it seems that if you lose something, there is a high chance that someone will find it and return it. Also, at school, nobody (except me) seems to worry about leaving all their stuff in the classroom, including musical instruments and tablets, even if the room is not locked. Besides being honest, Taiwanese people are known to be helpful to foreigners. If I am struggling with something or I am lost, it is not a problem to get help from a Taiwanese, even if he or she does not speak English.

Since I did not have school the first week, I mostly went to various supermarkets, visited some important places with my host sister, attended my first host club meeting, and also attended my first RYE orientation. The two supermarkets I go to are much more larger than the ones in Florida and also offer many more international foods from Asia and Europe. There are also many employees next to the aisles who let you have samples of foods like meat, bread, cheese, ice cream, and juice. My family and I bought many kinds of seafood such as squid, octopus, and scallops. We also bought beef, pork, sweet potatoes, dumplings, soup, noodles, salad, mushrooms, and fungus. My family eats many vegetables and healthy foods. Everyday I try new foods and I think this is a great experience. Some interesting foods I have tried are fried eel, black chicken, and salmon cream cheese.

The first time I went to the supermarket, I felt quite outside my comfort zone. First of all, when you are on the escalator, you must stand on the right side of it because the left is for people who are walking. I accidentally stood on the left side that first time. Another thing was that there were so many people surrounding me and I am not used to this at all. If people needed to get past me, they would push me and not say anything. The carts would sometimes catch me off guard because they are driven all over the place; I even bumped into one and apologized to it. Also, with everyone speaking Chinese and most of the signs being in Chinese, I felt like I did not belong there. It was quite an experience!

Later in the week, my host sister took me to the Presidential Office and Freedom Square which are the equivalent of Washington, D.C. for the USA. Freedom Square is a large plaza where many large events are held. I think I would really enjoy taking a walk there again but when it isn’t too hot.

The weather is so hot and humid right now! This is because of Taiwan’s location. It is situated in the Pacific Ocean and with a latitude of 25 degrees north. The strange thing is that there has not been any typhoons this August, which is really rare. It has also been the hottest it has ever been since more than 100 years ago. To shade themselves from the heat and not get a tan, Taiwanese women use umbrellas. It seems that in Taiwan, women with pale skin are almost always found in the cosmetics and music industries. This is different from Florida where I usually only see umbrellas being used when it rains, even though the weather can get very hot, too. Also, many of my friends in Florida always want to have a tan.

On Thursday, I attended my host club’s meeting and exchanged my sponsor club’s banner with them. I also received my monthly allowance. My host club Taipei Metro East has more than 60 members and they have been the number one Rotary Club in Taipei out of 111 others for many years. They are also hosting another exchange student from France – she is a nice girl named Charlotte. The meeting was about more than two hours long and it included singing Chinese and Taiwanese songs, as well as a whole bunch of food and a long presentation about radioactivity that I did not understand one bit.

I call the Rotarians either Uncle or Aunty as a form of respect. We exchanged many business cards together. Business cards are almost always received by both hands and are not immediately put away. Some Rotarians spoke Chinese to me and I could make out some words they were saying. Sometimes, I thought they were saying something but they were saying another thing. Chinese is a language with five tones. For example, mother is ma in Chinese, but it has to be said in a high tone. If it is said in another tone, such as a falling tone, it means to swear or scold. So, paying attention to tones when listening and speaking is extremely important. I did not get to make my two minute speech in Chinese because there was not enough time. I felt kind of relieved because that meant I had more time to practice it!

One of the things that I found cool at the meeting is that the center of each table rotates and has many different kinds of food, so all you have to do is rotate the center piece of the table to get the food you want. I had to eat with chopsticks and I felt like a mess because I am not very good at using them.

On Saturday, I attended my RYE orientation with the other exchange students and the past exchange students, or ROTEX. Getting to meet the exchange students was really fun and so was exchanging pins and business cards with them. My blazer is getting more and more decorated by the minute! The orientation presentations reminded us about the Rotary rules, taught us the importance of the program, and gave us many kinds of advice, from dealing with culture shock to family and school life. I got to meet very passionate Rotarians and learn what they do in the district. We ate delicious Taiwanese style Pizza Hut pizza which included toppings such as chicken and shrimp. After the orientation, the exchange students, ROTEX, and I went to a nearby Thai restaurant, which was the perfect ending to such a busy day!

The next day, a Sunday, I went to Smoothie House (a very popular shaved ice shop) with my host sisters, Taiwanese friends, ROTEX, and exchange students. I had a giant and mouth watering mango shaved ice which is a Taiwanese specialty. It might be my favorite dessert now.

WEEK 2 (September 1 – 7)

On Monday, I attended my first day of school. I had to introduce myself in Chinese in front of the entire school (more than 1000 students). Another exchange student attends my school and he is from Paris, France. We got a photo taken with our new school friends. I felt so welcomed by all my classmates, teachers, and the principal! My RYE Counselor was also there for me at school.

My high school’s name is Xisong Senior High School but in the building there is also the Junior High School. Senior high school includes first, second, and third grade, which are the equivalent of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. I attend school from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. However, my Taiwanese classmates arrive to school at 7:30 AM to study more. The school’s outer walls are little small pink tiles. Here in Taiwan, many buildings’ architecture includes tiles (my apartment building is covered in tiles).

According to my classmates, our school is very small. They said medium sized schools in Taipei have at least double the amount of students. Instead of water fountains like the ones in the USA, we have drinking water machines that have 3 different temperatures. There is cold, warm, and boiling. At first, the boiling temperature really surprised me, but then a teacher explained that the boiling water can be used for hot tea or noodles, and also for cleaning chopstick s. Another thing that really surprised me was that there were sinks in the hallways. When I asked a student what the purpose for them was, she said that they are used for cleaning the school. Students have a certain time in which they clean the school, such as mopping or window washing. As of now, I have yet to see a janitor in school. Also, the school does not have Western toilets. They are squat toilets. The toilet paper is not located in the stalls, but outside of the restroom. This might take a while to get used to! However, in my home we have Western toilets.

I get to school by bus and it takes about 30 minutes with traffic. The busy bus stops have many seats and a shelter which I really like. What I like the most, however, is that there is a digital sign that tells you when your bus will be coming. Inside the bus, as well as the MRT, it is usually really quiet. Many Taiwanese can be found looking busy with their phones. Portable phone chargers are very popular here since phones are used quite a lot. The buses have highly cushioned seats which are quite comfortable. Both the buses and MRT have a good amount of seats for those with children or pregnant, and the elderly or injured. The Taiwanese seem to be very polite and respect this.

The traffic in Taipei is much heavier and wilder than Florida’s. Something that I have not gotten fully used to is that motorcycles can pass in between cars where there are only two lanes, and they even ride on the sidewalks. Sometimes it scares me a little but I have not seen an accident happen yet. I think drivers and pedestrians here have very fast reflexes.

The first day of school, I went the wrong direction trying to find my bus stop after school. Fortunately, I was immediately helped by two classmates. They not only took me to my bus stop, but also invited me to eat Mos Burger with them next week. Mos Burger is a Japanese fast food restaurant that serves rice burgers. As one of the teachers in my high school said, Mos Burger basically took fast food and made it better.

I did not have any classes this week. I was at the library the whole time, usually listening to music or studying. However, outside of school, I had a blast with my family. I have two host sisters: one of them is 21 and studies in one of Taiwan’s national universities, and the other is 18 and is now a ROTEX who spent her exchange in Germany.

My sisters and I went out to drink the best bubble milk tea in Taipei, located in Gongguan Market, and it was AMAZING. It was made from brown sugar and it was very fresh. For those who don’t know, bubble milk tea is milk tea with chewy tapioca bubbles and it was invented in Taiwan.

We then spent the whole weekend together outside Taipei celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. This festival that falls on a full moon is celebrated with many family outdoor barbecues throughout Taiwan. We visited my host sisters’ parents in Changhua County, along with a German exchange student who goes to the same university as my host sister. It took about 4 hours by bus to get to Changhua County from Taipei.

My host sisters’ parents were so friendly and caring to me and the other exchange student. They took us to see many special places, such as the Baguashan Great Buddha, the beautiful Longshan Temple, a glass museum, and Wangong Wharf. The Great Buddha was very large, detailed, and had five floors with a temple inside. The Longshan Temple, a famous old temple, was breathtaking with its many colors. The ceiling art was spectacular. There were dragons, statues of the gods, and many colors like red and yellow. The glass museum had many different kinds of glass sculptures. My favorite one was the Taipei 101 glass sculpture, which was taller than me with a nice, shiny, teal color.

Wangong Wharf had amazing seafood. The whole seafood market smelled so fresh. The scallops were very tasty and chewy. We also had a barbecue with family and friends at a friend’s front yard. We ate many meats and fruits. I ate chicken hearts and dragon fruit for the first time! My host sisters’ parents also took us to eat at a fancy buffet which was better than any buffet I have ever been to. I loved the sushi and tea ice cream.

WEEK 3 (September 8 – 14)

Unfortunately, my oldest host sister and I had to leave Changhua on Monday (there was no school because of the Mid-Autumn Festival), but this time we took the fast train. So, instead of taking four hours, we took one hour. I loved the fast train! My other host sister had to stay and I was disappointed because of that. Plus, I did not know if I was going to see her again since she would be going back to Germany to study for a year in two weeks.

This week was my second school week and even though I was still spending all my school time at the library, I made some very great friends. I now have two close friends: Ting An and Angel. I am their first foreign friend. I met Ting An at my bus stop and she is in the second grade. She lives really close to me and we sometimes ride the bus together. I did not know what bus was best for me to take to school or home, and she completely had my back. I asked her where I could buy school supplies, and she said she knew and would be happy to take me to go buy the school supplies next week.

I met Angel on the first day of school and she is really friendly. She is in the first grade. She offered to take me to Raohe night market next week. Taiwan is known for the night markets found all over the country. Food and night markets are a large part of Taiwanese culture. It is said that night markets have many kinds of delicious and affordable food. Both of my friends have taught me so much Chinese and about Taiwan already. My RYE counselor was right – I can learn the most from my classmates.

Many Taiwanese students are busy studying or attending cram schools. In Taiwanese culture, education is very important and it can get very competitive when it comes to college entrance exams. Parents send their children to cram school after school so they can continue learning more. Taiwanese people are very hard working and many of my classmates have busy schedules. The students in first grade (10th grade) have more time than those in second or third grade since they have a lot of pressure for college. Therefore, most of my classes will be in the first grade, even though the students will be about two years younger than me. I do not mind at all, though, since I would really enjoy building good friendships with the first grade students.

After school, I participate in Taekwondo and Guitar club. I am just starting out in Taekwondo as a white belt and I find it to be both challenging and interesting. I used to be an orange belt (the third level) when I was in elementary school but I stopped. Now that I am back, I have to practice a lot and hopefully I can get better over time. It is really good exercise and hopefully it will keep me from not gaining too much weight from all the delicious Taiwanese food. Guitar club is really fun and I am learning how to play a Chinese song by Mayday, which is a very popular alternative rock Taiwanese band. I have played guitar before but I did not practice as much as I would have liked to. Now my goal is to practice as much as I can and learn how to play many songs. I think Taiwanese people generally love music and singing, hence the large guitar club and all the singing at my host club’s meeting. Karaoke is also popular here and I really want to go to a KTV one day!

WEEK 4 (September 15 – 21)

This week I got my class schedule, and I really like it. My class schedule is as follows:
Monday – Math in English with the teacher and the other exchange student in my school, Cultural Class, PE Class, and Art
Tuesday – Chinese mandarin at another school from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM, Tai Chi at yet another school from 1:30PM to 4:00PM, and guitar practice at my school
Wednesday – English Picture Book (yes, it is a fun and easy class), Music, Math, Study Hall (I use this to study chinese), and Guitar Club.
Thursday – Chinese mandarin again, Life Counseling with my teacher advisor, Library Time, and Taekwondo
Friday – Study Hall, Music, PE, Life Counseling with the secretary of the school, Class Meeting, and Performing Arts.

I think my favorite class is Cultural Class because this Monday, I learned how to make soap. There were different kinds of molds, colors, and scents I could choose from. I made some pink, jasmine-scented Hello Kitty soaps and also some really beautiful flower ones. I gave one to my host mother and she really seemed to like it. I hope I can make more again.

I also like Mandarin class because I enjoy learning Chinese. It is three hours long. The class is full of other Rotary exchange students, which makes it really fun. The exchange students are from the USA, Thailand, Germany, Russia, France, Spain, and more. After class I sometimes go out to lunch with them. The first restaurant we went to was Sushi Express, which is very popular in Taiwan. There is a conveyor belt full of different dishes of sushi and desserts that you can choose from, and they are very cheap.

At my high school, the students have an assigned classroom and desk in which they keep all their stuff. The teachers will usually come to the classrooms instead of the students switching classes for every period. I do not have an assigned class. Instead, I am in various classes. Some of them are first grade, others are second grade. I really like this because I get to interact with more students and I can compare and contrast how the students are in each class. For example, in art and performing arts, the students are more social and make jokes. In English Picture Book, they seem a bit shy and more quiet. Something that I have observed, however, is that they all love to take photos no matter what class they are in. The boys seem to be very touchy with each other and it is really funny, especially in performing arts class. They might hug or jokingly push each other. On my Facebook news feed, I will always see new photos of my classmates with their friends in school. Facebook seems to be a very popular social media site for Taiwanese high schoolers.

When I don’t eat lunch with the exchange students, I eat lunch with one of my teachers or with my classmates. When I eat lunch with one of my teachers, we usually go out to eat and take about an hour. When I eat lunch with my classmates, we eat for a half hour in the classroom. I buy a typical, hot Taiwanese lunchbox from the school for only 55 New Taiwan dollars, which is about less than 2 US dollars. It is much better than the school food back in Florida. The lunch box I usually eat includes chicken, rice, and vegetables. Most of my classmates bring their own food from home in a metal container and they keep it in a big steamer located in the classroom before lunch. They love to share their food with me and I also share mine with them. Sharing food is part of Taiwanese culture. After lunch, for half an hour there is nap time for all the students, which is a good time to relax after a big lunch and take a break from the long school hours.

Giving gifts is also a big part of Taiwanese culture. On Tuesday after school, my friend Ting An bought me tea, a Japanese chocolate bar, and passion fruit juice. It was incredibly delicious and I will definitely return the favor! On Wednesday, Angel took me to the Raohe Night Market and bought me stinky tofu and a pepper bun. The stinky tofu is very famous in Taiwan since it smells terrible because of the way it is fermented. However, it tasted great! The pepper bun was filled with juicy meat and spicy peppers. It was hand made and baked to perfection. I also had a delicious, sweet bubble milk tea, of course.

On Saturday, I went to Taipei Main Station with Ting An and her friend. We went to the cutest bookstore ever! It had five about five floors and had many adorable school supplies like notebooks, folders, and pencil cases. Here in Taiwan, all things cute and adorable are greatly appreciated by many, especially by girls. After the bookstore, we went to eat curry. Taipei Main Station is huuuugeee. It has many restaurants, and we went to a food court that had five different curry restaurants all next to each other. Curry seems to be very popular in Taiwan. I had a Japanese-style curry with chicken, soup, and orange soda. I had never eaten curry before coming to Taiwan, and I can happily say that I love curry now!

It has now been almost a full month here living in Taiwan, and I would not have wanted it any other way. I have the best host family and club, as well as the most friendly Taiwanese friends. The culture is so rich and different from Florida’s, but I feel so at home here. I have not been homesick to the point that it has affected my daily life. I already feel like I will miss Taiwan so much once I have to leave, because a part of my heart will be left here. I don’t want to think about it now, though, because I still have so much more to do and learn and so many people to meet! Until next time, 再見!

Tue, October 7, 2014

Julianne - Turkey

Hometown:Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: District 2440
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Dokuz Eylul

My Bio

Hello! Merhaba! My name is Julianne Kelly, I am sixteen years old, and I live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Through out my entire life I have loved to travel. I have loved to meet new people and experience new cultures; that is why I am so incredibly excited that Rotary is sending me to Turkey this year. When I have free time I love to spend time with friends and be active by doing things like tennis and horseback riding. I play on my high schools competitive lacrosse team and I am also the president of the Ponte Vedra Chapter of the Environmental Club. At home I live with my Mom who is a Nurse Practitioner, my Dad who is a retired Federal Agent, and my two chocolate labs; Kiley and Ellie. I also have a 19 year old sister named Alexis who is a sophomore at FSU. I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange through a presentation at my school and when they described what it entailed I knew it was for me. Ever since I have been accepted into this program, I have been researching Turkey nonstop and the more I do, the more I fall in love with it. I cannot wait to start one of the greatest adventures of my life in Turkey and I am so incredibly thankful to Rotary Youth Exchange for providing me with this amazing opportunity. Tesekkur ederim! (Thank You!)

Journals: Julianne – Turkey

I realize my writings may not be the most well written or the most interesting, but the one goal I have tried to achieve is realism. I don’t try to embellish and use extreme word choice because just as I am in person, I like to get straight to the point. I want people to know what is happening and the effects of the events on me. I don’t want to give you three paragraphs describing how beautiful the scenery of a lake was or how great a muffin was that I ate for breakfast. I don’t want to write you an essay. I just want to let you know what’s going on in the simplest way possible. I want you to understand and see things through my eyes. As you can see from past writings my eyes tend to see the world in a realistic and logical way. I’m not the type to add embellishment without reason.

I experienced my first nation wide black out this past month. Actually in my life I have never experienced a blackout on such a large scale. People may think of Turkey as being off the map, but truthfully it holds some of the most populated metropolitan cities in the world. Istanbul blacking out is a prime example of this. The fact that not only a city lost power, but an entire nation, is a really huge event that went basically unacknowledged in international media outlets.

The best part is that the cause is unknown; no one really knows what happened. There are a bunch of stories flying around, ranging from this being a terrorist attack, to cats attacking wiring all at once throughout the nation. Obviously some accusations are more ridiculous than others (personally I think the cats theory is hilarious). Due to the amount of government censoring already taking place, I don’t think we will ever know the true cause of this blackout. All I know is that for an entire nation to go dark, for more than 12 hours is something unprecedented in the modern era.

To put this event in perspective for people that can’t create a clear image of Turkey in their mind, it is like if New York City and Washington D.C. were located in Texas and the entire state of Texas went dark. I do not know what caused this and I don’t dare to venture a guess for fear of reprimand for spreading slander from the Turkish government. The power was out until after the sun set so I was able to see my part of the city silent and dark except for the car lights on the streets.

We are now back with power. However at the time, we didn’t know how long the power outage would last and our phones were running out of charge one by one. The most stressful part wasn’t why this happened or if we would have electricity that night, it was the fact that we weren’t able to use our smart phones. This goes to show the true reliance our society has on technology. In apartments like mine we didn’t event have water to flush the toilet because the pump runs on electricity. However compared to not being able to text, no one was focusing on this.

It’s hard to pretend like I have problems when I look around me and see people with real problems. I see people begging just to survive from children to the elderly. My problems are miniscule in comparison with so many others. I can never feel bad for myself ever again. I have seen poverty and suffering before, but being surrounded by it every day is something entirely different. They live right next to me. They sleep in the newspaper I have read the day before. They eat the food I have not finished and carelessly dumped off my plate into the trash. The cast away parts of my life have become the sustenance for theirs. Children here roam the streets selling tissues for unknown figures that are commonly malicious criminals. They are unable to attend school because they must work to survive and even if they have the funds to attend school, most schools won’t even accept them because of their Syrian origin. Education is most definitely not available to all in this country.

Most of April and May was taken up by Rotary trips and endeavors. We traveled over majority of Turkey. Although I enjoy history quite a bit, many of the ruins look remarkably similar. Some are bigger, some taller, but all are white and old. As general as that sounds, after living in Turkey for 10 months, you get used to the fact that everything around you is ancient. The fact that they were built in a time without advanced technology doesn’t even enter your mind. Its odd how numb you can become to something being surrounded with it every day.

Our first trip was to Gocek. This is a beach town on the Mediterranean. While in Gocek I met the outbound student who is actually coming to Florida. He seems to be very open-minded and I think he will do well. His first host family is actually a gay couple. However what disgusted me was the fact that my director was less than thrilled with this placement because she thought being in that “environment” might “confuse” the boy. In Turkey homophobia is a part of the culture, but sometimes it still shocks me how medieval the mindsets can still be. Personally I think that from the sound of this couple they are great people and their sexual orientation has NOTHING to do with how they will be as host parents. I think that at the very least this will be a very good experience for this exchange student to become comfortable with the diversity of the world.

Our next trip was to Bergama, which has quite a few spectacular religious sights including one of the famous eight churches that letters were sent to in the bible. Not many people know this; being that Turkey is a country that is ninety nine percent Islamic, but it is also home to many major Christian landmarks being that it is in the area where Christianity began.

One of my favorite trips this entire year was to Pamukkale. This is the home to one of the most interesting and beautiful natural wonders of Turkey; the crystal travertines. These are also called the “cotton castles” or “ice mountains”.  In reality they are actually huge calcite formations filled with spring water. The calcite formations are huge and white giving the illusion from afar that it is snow or ice. We swam in the pools and felt the warmth of the dissolved minerals in the bottom. Also while in Pamukkale there is a pool that was actually built for Cleopatra to swim in. We paid thirty Turkish lira, which is equivalent to eleven dollars and swam where Cleopatra swam. The water in this pool is also a part of the same hot spring and the pool has tiny bubbles in it, making the water feel like a carbonated drink. It is said that the bubbles that are everywhere have healing properties for your skin. I thought this was incredible and I would have stayed there all day if we had been given the time.

After this my parents came to visit. I met them in Istanbul and showed them all of the famous sights. To see their reactions to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque reminded me of my Orientation in Istanbul, which seemed like it was just yesterday. This year has been like a dream. It went by so fast. Do you know how sometimes you feel like you’ve been only dreaming for five minutes, but you wake up and realize you slept for twelve hours. That’s how my exchange has been, it felt so fast and yet it was actually eleven months out of my life.

My parents then came to Izmir, my home city, and I took them all around. Honestly my parent’s visiting was so hard for me. To go back to feeling dependent on them and having to act like a tourist. I built my life for a year on my own and as awful as it sounds there just didn’t seem like there was a place for my family in it. My exchange was mine and it was just so hard to share it. To have to stop everything I was doing to show them around. To have to answer the same dumb questions I asked when I first arrived. They were a reminder of my old self; the self that I don’t want to go back to being. It reinforced the fact that I was leaving soon and that I had to return to my normal life; the reality that my time is almost up.

After the extreme stress of my parents visiting, we had our five day Greek cruise. As beautiful as Greece was and as cool as it was to go to another country without Rotarians, I realized I’m just not the type of person who takes cruises. I prefer to sleep in the country I’m visiting, to fly in and have the freedom to go where I want to go, when I want to go. On a cruise you spend majority of your time in the boat eating out of sheer boredom. We went to quite a few different Greek islands and the mainland to see Athens.

I enjoyed most of the islands although they were extremely touristy, however I extremely disliked Athens. Honestly it was kind of just a run down cookie cutter city. Also it left a bad taste in my mouth because I asked a man which bus to take to the temple of Zeus and he refused to tell me because I didn’t say “hello” and “how are you?” before I asked. Then he proceeded to lecture me on manners. I then turned and walked away while he was still talking in response to his rude condescending response. Overall though it was an eye opening experience in terms of how Greece was financially doing at the time. The issues with the economy showed in the upkeep of everything and in the faces of many of the citizens.

In our district at the conference it is traditional that the inbound students every year perform a traditional Turkish dance and create a video of their time in Turkey. Obviously to prepare we took dance classes every week for almost 2 months before the conference. Most people when they picture dance classes think that they aren’t difficult and you don’t exert much energy. Well I am here to tell you this isn’t true and that traditional Turkish dances are actually extremely tiring. We danced for almost three hours every class nonstop. After every class we were soaked in sweat.

Our particular dance for the 2014-2015 inbounds was called “Ata Bari”. It is a dance that was created for Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” when he visited the northeastern border of Turkey. The dance has many Russian influences as well as Turkish influences. Therefore there is a lot of difficult jumping and falling to ones knees and hopping up again, especially for the boy dancers. The funny thing about all of this was that because of the fact that in my district we have only two boys and ten girls, two of the girls had to play men in the dance. Lucky for me I am tall and don’t really have a feminine figure, so I was one of the few that got the lovely task of cross dressing for the performance in front of my entire district.

Our District conference this year was held in Marmaris, a lovely beach city farther south than Izmir. We stayed in a beautiful resort right on the water and met a bunch of foreigners there. I met the representative of the Rotary international president who was assigned to attend our conference in 2440. It turned out he was from Alabama and he noticed how I was pretending to be a boy. His wife and him said they knew because I was too pretty to be a boy. I thought they were both very sweet for saying this. At the conference we were a big hit and it really was a great experience. My host mom was also there and received a few awards because she is the president of one of the most successful clubs in our area.

Coming into my last month as an exchange student in Turkey, I am starting to get nervous, but I am still holding it together because no one has left yet and for some reason it still feels like I have time. I know logically it is almost over, but in my heart I can’t imagine how this year will ever end. This place has become my home and I don’t want to leave.

 Thu, July 9, 2015

In past journals I have written, I have not been entirely truthful. Because of how amazing my exchange has been thus far I have been blinded to the negative aspects of Turkey. The truth, I think, is more important than the peace of mind of some Rotarians.

My exchange has been amazing. This is no lie, but I have encountered less pleasant aspects of my country that I think it is time I finally share them. One of the most major issues that rings true throughout the country, in even the most liberal of places, is sexism. Before coming to Turkey I knew I supported women’s rights, but I never knew to what extent. In my life I have been lucky enough to be given the same opportunities as any man around me. I was never told no just because I was a girl. I was judged based on my actions and my character, not on the absence of a male sex organ. I am sad to say that this has changed since I entered Turkey. As much as I love this beautiful country with all the wonderful things it has to offer, there is a major gender gap. I live in the most liberal part of Turkey where women have the most rights and to me this is incredibly disheartening. Officially women have the same rights as men in terms of legal situations (to some extent). However in social situations I have to say this is not the case. Previously I have talked about issues in Turkey with cat calling, but it is so much more than that.

I do not want to paint the entire country with one brush and one color. I have met many people and experienced many events that show the fight for equalization of the sexes is well underway in Turkey. When an atrocity was committed to a girl in a city in the far east of Turkey, women AND men wore mini skirts and marched through the streets to show women have rights. The mini skirt was a symbol that no matter what a woman wears, she is not a sexual object. Ever. Turkey is the place where for the first time in my life I was subjected to real unadulterated sexism. I have been told I couldn’t do things because it “wasn’t what pretty girls do” and that “I wasn’t as good at something as a man”.

The gender gap is not as clear to see here as in many other countries because it is hidden in the shadows of everyday interactions, but its still a prominent part of society. Every so often you will have an event that really gives a moment of clarity to the everyday injustices that previously had been unnoticeable. As an exchange student I am told to assimilate to society and the new culture around me, but there are some things that I do not find right and I don’t care which culture they come from; I will never allow them to become a part of my cultural ideology. The behavior many others and I are subjected to on a daily basis is grotesque and completely inexcusable. I don’t care if you were raised in barn; women are not your property, we aren’t your pets, we are your equals. Accept it. This is the twenty first century and feminism is alive and real.

The point at which I truly realized the extent of the issue was the day I found out about some of the archaic and medieval laws that are still in existence today in my host nation. In Eastern Turkey if a girl gets pregnant before she is married, her father has the right to kill her without consequence. This is called an “Honor Killing”. Personally I couldn’t think of a more ironic and disgusting name for this act. There is absolutely nothing honorable about these killings in even the most twisted and demented universe. The shear fact that this law is still in existence makes me want to vomit. As soon as the cloak of Turkey being a modern country is over your eyes they go and tear it off with news like this. Another aspect of everyday life in this magnificent country is the questioning of your virginity. Since when did it become socially acceptable to scream across a restaurant to a perfect stranger asking if they’ve “lost it yet?” If I had to choose which question I had been asked the most this would probably be it.

Every country has beautiful aspects and the aspects that most wish would just be swept under the rug. Turkey is no different. I could name countless examples of this throughout the world, including in my home country. This essay is not to destroy the image of Turkey that most have. It is to open their eyes to see the good and the bad. It is to enlighten those who do not know about the country they are about to step foot in. This is my way of shedding some light on the shadows of the world.

Wed, April 1, 2015

Sometimes I think about what it would have been like to go to another country for my exchange, but every time I think about it I come to the same conclusion. I would never change my choice of coming to Turkey. It’s like sometimes moments of your life happen that you know will stay with you forever. Every moment of being in Turkey is like that for me. Of course if I had gone to certain other countries my language skills would probably be more advanced at this point because of previous knowledge or similarity to English. My experiences would have been totally different. It’s hard to believe I am almost half way done with my time here. When I think of my exchange this way it makes me a little sad and happy at the same time. It’s hard to explain the mixture of emotions that takes over. I’m proud of all that I have accomplished so far, but I’m sad it has gone by so fast. Time is slipping by at a rate that is almost unimaginable.

I am, however, proud to say that I have not let a moment slip by that I haven’t used in an important way. Every moment since I have arrived in Turkey I have explored new places and met new people. There is a phrase in Turkish my host mom loves to use when describing me; loosely translated it means when I was born my mother threw the umbilical cord out the window, so because of that now I feel the need to go out and explore all the time. My host family and I have a great relationship because they know I am not just going out to meet exchange students, I am going out with Turkish friends, learning about Turkish culture, and discovering the city. In Turkey, I am given a great amount of freedom by my host family because they know I am safe about everything I do and I stay out of trouble. My goal in Turkey is not to see how many rules I can break, but how many firsts I can have. Like my first time exploring Bornova (where I live in Izmir). My first time reading a an article from the newspaper completely in Turkish, my first time walking in hail, and my first time being able to find my way from one end of the city to the other; completely on my own.

Honestly in terms of language in my district I am not the best. I have made a huge amount of progress and I am steadily getting better, but what I have excelled at is cultural immersion. I am one of the few that has true Turkish friends and this I feel is a triumph. Here making friends with a language barrier is extremely difficult and I have succeeded! I have truly adapted to the atmosphere of Turkey and I find myself explaining cultural aspects to other exchange students. I find myself leading and showing them around places in the city they have yet to explore. I wish I could say that my life has reached a steady pace where I can predict what I will be doing in the next few days, but honestly everyday is an adventure. Besides school, which I attend regularly, I never know where I will be or what I will be doing. I always say part of being an exchange student is that you actually have the ability to make your own choices on where you go and who you choose to be with. Be wise in these decisions, but every so often take a risk that you think will pay off in the long run.

To all future outbounds (or any who actually reads this journal) I just want to say, follow your gut; in a country that is still new to you, your gut is the one reliable source that will tell you what is a good decision and a bad one. I want to warn you that by 5 or 6 months into your exchange you will feel cocky. You will feel like you have lived in the country long enough to know how it works and how to get around, but unpredictability will hit you one day and you need to be prepared. By five or six months you are not an expert on where you live. People can live in a country their whole lives and still not know that much about it. I don’t care if you are in a tiny village in France or a huge city in Brazil. Be prepared and be ready for anything.

For anyone coming to Turkey I recommend bringing all the jeans you think you will need for the whole year because its basically all people use here and they are expensive. I would bring a pair of waterproof boots like Timberlands or Hunters because it gets really cold and rains/snows a lot in the winter. Literally everyone also wears leather jackets and dark colors. My wardrobe has become very monochromatic in terms of color scheme. Plunging necklines are semi uncommon, but are still used or at least I use them. For boys going to Turkey, shorts are pretty uncommon no matter how hot it is and sandals for boys and girls are uncommon as well.

I had a trip to Mersin for five days last week and it was extremely interesting. Mersin is a city in southeastern Turkey. It is a few hours from the Syrian border actually, but it is very safe. Right now there is a great deal of problems going on in my area of the world. Everyday I feel I am witnessing history as the Syrian refugees pour into Turkey. Mersin has a different culture and feel than Izmir, but it has changed and become more conservative as the refugees have affected the cultural identity of the city. Mersin was one of the cities that had a huge amount of refugees because of its close vicinity to the Syrian border; much higher than my host city of Izmir.

Just before I went to this city a young girl named Ozgecan was raped, killed, and burned. I visited during the cities period of mourning. The death of this college student caused an uproar throughout the nation. There were protests all over the place to defend women’s rights. Men in Istanbul even put on mini skirts and marched through the streets to show their support. Personally I wished I could have marched with them. I find the whole story disgusting and disgraceful. Turkey in so many ways is incredibly modern, but in others I feel like they haven’t progressed at all. For example in all of Turkey women have the right to vote, but there is also a law that states if a woman cheats on her husband or gets pregnant before she is married, her family has the right to kill her. This is called an “honor killing” and it is completely legal. They consider it a family matter. When I heard of this for the first time I couldn’t believe that such a modern and beautiful country could have such a despicable law still in existence. I did and saw many amazing things in Mersin, but many of these were shrouded in darkness because of the shadow of the terrible event that had recently occurred in this city.

Looking forward on my exchange I feel sad. Whenever I look at the photos I have taken I know that the places I have been will never be the same as the instant I took that photograph. That everything is changing. Enjoy every moment in the moment because once its gone you can never relive that moment again. When you are an exchange student you thrive on change, but once you get to a point where you are incredibly happy you don’t want things to change anymore. You don’t want to continue on because you know the farther you get into your exchange, the closer you are to returning to the life you left at home; that the more friends you make, the more friends you have to leave at the end of the year, and the closer you get to the other exchange students, the harder saying goodbye to them will be.

When I have days that are incredibly amazing it’s hard to let them end because moments like that in life are so rare. For my entire life I have tried to stay emotionally detached from everything and everyone because it makes it so much easier to live for yourself and reach the goals you want; but now everything has changed. Everything about me is different. I have done a complete 180 on who I am as a person and although I am proud of who I have become and how open I am, I have become so much more vulnerable. Everyday I feel a few details of past days slip out of my memory and it makes me so sad. I don’t want to forget any moment of my time in Turkey. This sadness is however derived from the fact that my exchange has been exceptionally successful and incredible in all aspects. It has been far beyond my expectations and I currently have had almost no problems.

Since I have been in Turkey however we have had a tragedy occur and we all have had to deal with the pain of it. One of the students here had a parent murdered in their home country. They will not be returning home and so we have taken it upon ourselves to take care of them during this tragic time. I do not want to share the identity of this person, but I do want to express my deepest condolences to them and all other exchange students, past, present, and future, that have experienced something terrible like this on their exchange.

One of the great things about living abroad is that you get to test your limits and you get to know what is your breaking point. I have never been in a situation where I have actually reached my breaking point, but that doesn’t mean I won’t encounter one of these moments soon especially since I have almost 130 days left. I have had to learn to get along with people that I would never have chosen for myself as friends and I have actually found that I get along better with them than people I would think would be a better match for me. I have come to realize that you can connect to people that are just like you AND people who are complete opposites. I like having some friends that I can relate to and having some friends that I can debate with all the live long day.

I sincerely apologize for my English and how bad the writing of these journals have become, but writing about experiences and feeling I have had that have happened in another language do not always translate correctly and at times may come out awkward. I sometimes find myself putting English words in the Turkish grammar order. I find infinite typos and misspellings. I can’t even remember what half of the punctuation symbols mean. The SAT’s will definitely be fun when I return, especially in the essay section.

So I thought I would give you a briefing on Turkish people and what I have learned about them so far. Turkish teenage girls love drama. They love to gossip and start fights in school. I truthfully don’t know why and I don’t want to stereo type them and put them all in one category, but I have found it to be true. All of the girls here think I am literally in Turkey for one purpose; to steal their boyfriends. Believe me when I say I have no idea where this stems from. Apparently I have the look of a man stealer. Many of the girls here don’t really like me because of this, but they are all usually nice to my face. On the other hand the teenage boys never seem to leave me alone. They always want to talk asking me about everything and anything under the sun. They just can’t seem to get enough time to talk to the foreigners. I have been at my school for five months and I am still crowded at lunch so much that I can hardly find time to eat. The older generations here are pretty similar to the younger generations just a little more conservative and sedentary. They rarely do anything but drink tea and talk once they get past a certain age.

I received what they call a “traditional Turkish bath” the other day. I was very excited to go with my friend Lea to get it, but when we got there it was nothing like I thought it would be. A Turkish bath or a Hamam is basically an underground building that is split into two sides (one for men and one for women) and in these two rooms are two gigantic caves filled with steam and sinks and bowls with a large heated marble slab in the middle. Everyone basically gets naked and they wash in the sinks. Once you have thoroughly cleansed yourself and are soaked with water you go and lay on the marble slab. Women who work at the Hamam then come up to you and do the traditional Turkish scrub, rub, and shine. They take an extremely rough cloth and take off your first three layers of your skin all over your body and when I say everywhere I mean everywhere. Because remember, you are completely naked. Then they scrub you with soap and after this they massage you. They put carbonated water in ground coffee and rub it all over you following the soap. You then have to stand completely naked for 10 minutes so it can dry on you. They pour carbonated water on your face to take off the coffee grounds and the burning sensations it causes is one of the most intense I have ever experienced. After washing all the coffee grounds off you, the Hamam workers take shampoo and wash your hair and face 3 times. You are finished once the last bit of shampoo has been washed from your hair. It is tradition for a bride to turn on all the faucets at the beginning of the Hamam time to have good luck on her wedding day during her bachelorette party. I personally did not enjoy this experience, but only because my skin is not tough enough to take so much all at one time.

The last thing I would like to talk about in this journal is the fact that I have become a diehard tea addict. I have to have at least five cups of tea everyday or I can’t function. Turkey is the country where people drink the most tea in the world. Most people think its China or Japan, but its actually Turkey. The home of the famous two-kettle Turkish teapot. I have to admit at first I did not like Turkish tea at all I thought that it tasted like rotten leaves, but now I can appreciate it and I really have adapted to liking it. It is a true testament to the fact that your taste will change as you assimilate to the culture of your host country.

 Wed, April 1, 2015

It’s hard to believe how much a change in scenery can impact you. How a different lifestyle can set you on a completely different path. I never thought of myself as ignorant or unaware of the world; having traveled it from a young age, but exchange has proven me wrong. In my life I have never truly appreciated what I had. From the opportunities I was given, to the home I grew up in. Never having to worry about money or where my next meal was coming from. I have been introduced to people whose lives make mine look like a fairy tale. People who have endured hardships, that I couldn’t imagine in my wildest nightmares. I used to be a judgmental person. I thought that just because you dressed a certain way or talked a certain way automatically put you with a certain class of people.

Since being in Turkey my views of the world have been completely turned upside-down. I have met people from different countries, cultures, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and age groups. They have all in some way, shape, or form opened my eyes to the pieces of the world I had consciously or unconsciously chosen to ignore or not pay attention to. To each an every one of these people I would like to say thank you. Although my world views are no longer as clean cut, they are much more real and all encompassing. My black and white vision has been mixed into gray and I could not be more happy.

My perspective has changed, my views have broadened, and my mind has been opened. It is actually quite surprising how being in a more closed and conservative country has made me become open to much more. I have tried things here, I would have never tried at home because I would have been too scared. Not only have the people of Turkey impacted me, but the other exchange students have also made a huge impression on my life as well.

I read 5 newspapers a day now and I am more informed than I have ever been in my life. I have learned just because it isn’t in the news doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and isn’t a problem. Just because we have decided to put another issue at the forefront of our minds doesn’t make the other any less important. Everyday something is happening somewhere and the only way to keep up with our world that moves at a faster pace everyday, is to stay aware and stay involved. My entire life I have been working towards becoming a scientist, but now I have had a change of heart. I would like to be someone who is involved in the intercommunication of international groups. I have decided from this point on this is my new passion in life.

In my district in Turkey they say that I am very good at socializing, that I have the ability to walk up to anyone and start a conversation. I have always been a shy girl. I have been taught that just because you talk the most or the loudest in a room doesn’t automatically mean you are right. I have been trying to break out of this mindset because talking is an asset when you are an exchange student, but in truth I’m not outgoing. I just pretend to be outgoing; I am actually terrified to walk up to new people.

Obviously as an exchange student this is not acceptable, so I had to find a way to overcome this flaw. My only strength is that I can make people smile with a joke and as soon as this happens people begin to relax and open up. No matter what your nationality, race, or creed, everyone in the world enjoys a joke even if it isn’t that funny, it is an international ice breaker! Jokes will make getting to know someone a lot easier. In the USA I was always too busy with school to socialize that much, but now that I actually have the time I feel much more open and able to be myself with people.

The truth is I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to return to my old high school. I have changed too much to go back and meet my old friends. They won’t understand what I have become and the transformation I have gone through. I have actually begun to find myself and not just become what other people wanted me to be. I always tried to be what others were looking for so I could please everyone. Of course I hope people like what I have become but it is no longer my main concern. I am finally happy with myself; I have found inner peace at least for the time being.

It’s hard to look back at the US because everything is so different. There are things that I like about the US, but I have never felt as though this is the place I will end up. I have always felt that it is just a step along the way until I find where I need to go. I am a nomad. I have known this about myself my entire life. I know I will never settle in one place for long. My only true bond is to the open road and I plan to uphold it. It’s hard especially on American holidays that I have celebrated my whole life to see how easily they can be forgotten. How you don’t even remember they are coming up until they are passed and gone.

We have since traveled to Cappadocia one of the oldest places I have ever had the privilege to travel to in my life. We went to thousands of years old cave churches that were literally carved into the faces of cliffs, we went hot air ballooning in the wee hours of the morning in dangerous conditions with high wind turbulence just to view the natural beauty of the land created by volcanoes long ago. While it was freezing cold we slept in caves and tried some of the food native to this region.

Next we went on a trip to Konya, which is known as the most conservative cities in Turkey. I have to say that out of all the places I have traveled to in Turkey I felt the most unwelcome in Konya. Majority of the women there were almost completely covered. Even though it was cold and I was almost completely covered as well my skinny jeans and long sleeve sweaters were drastically different from the scene of never ending burkas. We as a group did receive many angry stares and were turned a way from a few restaurants because we were speaking English when we walked up. To this day this is the time I felt most like an outsider. The scenery in Konya is beautiful, but I have to say it was not worth the price of being there.

Because it is now after December, we are now allowed to travel alone around Turkey with permission. I am about to embark on my first adventure alone to Mersin, a city in the South East of Turkey a little west of Syria on the water. I am very excited to go and see an area of Turkey I have not explored yet. This is one of the best things about being in Turkey, I can see places that very few even seasoned travelers would go to. The culture is also so wildly different from all other countries that my experience is truly unique. I am also going on a school trip to Ankara and this will also be another city that I have never been to before. I am very excited for my upcoming months in Turkey and I could not be more happy with my choice of country and the people in Rotary who made this choice a reality!

 Sun, February 8, 2015

I know that literally everyone on exchange uses the lame excuse of not having any time to write journals, but for me it is completely true! I barely have time to check my email. In Turkey I have been so busy and having so much fun that I have not turned on the television once. Why would I when I can go meet friends from school and explore more of the city? My lifestyle has been turned completely upside-down, in the US my life revolved around school and getting good grades, getting homework done, and pleasing teachers. All of my extra curriculars were targeted towards getting into a good university. Here I can just have fun. I can focus on actually having friends and spending time with them. Socialization is my job. I am not expected here to be the valedictorian, or the star athlete. I am not even expected to, just encouraged to make friends and spread the image of America that is true. I am supposed to represent my country, my district, my club, and myself in a way that would make all those involved proud.

In school here I practice Turkish and I feel as though I am actually learning something applicable to my life. I’m not learning what the PH of a stomach is or why giraffes make no noise. I am learning something that is actually useful. There are many differences in school here. Unlike the schools in the US students are treated with respect and trust, not as juvenile delinquents who are likely to burn the place down if left alone for too long. There is such a thing as a student-teacher bond where they take care of us and we take care of them. If a teacher forgets their lunch everyone from class chips in and buys them lunch. We stand when a teacher enters the room to show our respect for them. Our teachers are the ones that switch classes not the students. So we stay in the same room all day with different teachers coming in and out.

We have ten minute breaks in between classes and this is when the real fun happens. Sometimes we have chalk wars where we throw chalk around and get covered in different colors; by the end we look like we celebrated the Indian holiday of Holi. We climb through windows to get to class and people carry each other through the windows. Our uniforms (especially for girls) are extremely ugly, so we shorten the skirts and change the shirts if we want to follow the rules at all. Most people just completely disregard the rules and wear whatever they want because no one enforces dress code. I know this sounds bad, but the more time I spend in the Turkish school system, the more I want to compare it to the US in the 80’s. People smoke in the bathrooms and kiss in the stairwells. There are no real restrictions enforced towards educational establishments.

Schools in this country are still places where free expression is thought of as healthy and good for the learning process. I agree with this thought process immensely. Since being in this Turkish school for three months I feel I have learned more than both years at Ponte Vedra High School. The people at my Turkish school are all immensely gifted. In Turkey you take a high school entrance exam at the end of middle school and how well you score on that determines which high schools you can go to. Izmir Ataturk Lisesi (my school) is the top school to get into in Izmir and top 5 in all of Turkey because it is 127 years old. We have some of the brightest students there from all over Turkey because of this. Turkey has managed to find the solution to getting rid of the time wasters no one wants in class; the kids who just go to school because it is illegal not to. The kids who are actually trying to go far in their lives have their own schools with likeminded peers, who benefits the learning process of others.

Sometimes when you visit foreign countries you have moments when you just know you are somewhere drastically different from where you are from. I am going to list a few of these moments just because there is no way of mentioning them except by just saying them. The first is getting on a bus and having the driver drive with no hands while singing the song “No Hands” in a tiny back street filled with traffic. Another is going to watch a surgery and being 2 feet away from the operating table because your host dad is the surgeon and says its normal to have people view operations. The last is seeing someone eat, smoke, talk on the phone, and parallel park at the same time while coming to the realization that they are still better at it than you. These things just don’t happen where I live in the US.

I went to the Mediterranean sea with my host family during the holiday called Bayram. Bayram is an Islamic sacrificial holiday where they sacrifice animals and give the meat to the poor. Although it sounds a tad barbaric, the thought behind the holiday is actually one of charity and equality. During the holiday of Bayram it is also tradition for young people to go up to elders and take their hand in a fist to their mouth as a sign of respect; in return they are given money. My family and 9 others decided to take a trip during this holiday, so we drove seven hours down to Marmaris and stayed in a beautiful ocean villa that had been rented out specifically for us. The villa was surrounded by orange, pomegranate, and olive trees growing freely and were open for anyone to take from. While there we rented a private beach and used it almost everyday. The water was crystal clear and beautiful! I would come up from swimming underwater and think I was hallucinating because the scenery was so beautiful; sapphire blue water surrounded by powder white sand with mountains and cliffs rising up all around.

Every night we would go out to dinner, which was really interesting because the restaurants we ate in were so extravagant! One of them was in a marina where the water was lit up from underneath and you could see all of the huge fish swimming around. Another was on a cliff over looking the bay with an all you can eat buffet bar of fantastic food (which I can tell you are not that common in Turkey). Always the rides back would be a little spine chilling because Turkey isn’t known to have many street lights, so we were on perilously small roads on huge cliffs in the pitch black taking turns at full speed.

The next weekend I had my second inbound orientation, which was actually a four day excursion to Istanbul. Although there are many geographical similarities to Istanbul and Izmir, I am here to say that they are wildly different. Istanbul is much more conservative than Izmir. There were many more people there with covered heads and prayer beads. Of course while we were in Istanbul we did all the touristic things such as go to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue mosque, the Tokapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and on the Bosphorous tour.

All of these sights were as spectacular as people say they are, especially the Hagia Sophia with its astoundingly detailed architecture, but these were not what impacted me the most while I was there. It was the interactions I had with people and the subtle differences to Izmir that caught my attention. For example when I was in the blue mosque an Arab man came up to me and rudely told me to show my respect by tightening my scarf around my face. (I would like to note that in the blue mosque because it is a tourist attraction you are not even required to cover your head if you are a woman.) Me being the feminist, I am, told him to go find his wife and leave. He then proceeded to march up to the women’s prayer room and leave with a woman who was completely covered except for her eyes.

This is a first rate example of the fact that a majority of Islamic people who I live and go to school with are completely normal and have a moderate view of their religion just as most Christians do, but the vocal Muslims who catch our attention are the crazy fanatics who are a severe minority. Every type of religion has some sort of extremist, but for some reason in the Islamic faith, this has become their stereotype. In the US we do not like being seen as the obnoxious stupid fat tourists in other countries, so why do we continue to give another ridiculous stereotype of being terrorists to Muslims. Where is the logic in this?

Another interaction that truly impacted my view of Istanbul was the true love for one another people have. We were walking and an old woman fell and men jumped out of their cars to go help her and call an ambulance and her family. Istanbul may be the biggest city in Turkey, but the neighborly feel of a small town has not been extinguished. A less flattering detail of Istanbul is the cat calling in the bazaar. Everywhere I turned a man would be giving me some outrageously cheesy pick up line and I kind of just wanted to sprint for the door. Contrary to popular belief pick up lines hardly work with strangers and they do not make me want to enter a shop. You would think they would have caught on to this by now, but apparently not. Also while in Istanbul, I realized how incredibly clumsy I am. I do grant the fact that majority of the streets in Istanbul are very uneven, but for some reason my feet decided to not work at all that trip. Even in the hotel our first night there when I was going down the stairs I fell and got a huge bruise all the way up to my elbow. Since being back in Izmir I have gotten a little better, but not by much.

I have to say that I think driving in Istanbul is actually less crazy than Izmir because a majority of Istanbul is straight traffic. In Izmir it is severe road rage with 3 cars next to each other on a one lane road seeing who can get out in front. Istanbul really is a beautiful city filled with history and I wished I could have stayed longer to see more of it, but I am happy I was placed in Izmir instead because it suits my lifestyle much more in terms of how I am treated and that I can walk down the street without tripping on a hidden ridge in the road.

Later that month we had Turkish Republic day, which is the day that Mustafa Kemal made Turkey a Republic form of government. In my city of Turkey, because it is very liberal, Ataturk is seen almost as a god. I agree with the supporters of him when I say that he did great things for this country that were ground breaking and that he was way ahead of his time in terms of ideas. During Republic day as exchange students, we were features in the cities republic day parade. We wore our Rotary blazers and did our best to look graceful while walking through the uneven streets of Izmir. At the end when the leader of Izmir gave his speech we were even mentioned as fine representatives of Rotary International. All the Inbounds of Turkey bought matching red ribbons to put on our blazers to commemorate this event and show our support for this great past leader of Turkey! I have become incredibly close with these people, they are like a second family to me and for all future exchange stude nts I can tell you that your fellow exchange students are your support system that will get you through anything. They can make or break your exchange and mine have helped me have the best three months of my life thus far!

 Thu, December 11, 2014

My First Two Weeks in Turkey! 

So it turns out I actually avoided jetlag, but not for the reason you would think. Since the day I landed in Turkey I have been so busy that I have not had the chance to feel awake at night. Sleep is so precious to me now that I sometimes don’t shower, just so I can catch an extra half hour of shuteye. For my entire first week here I have not gone to sleep before 11 at night.

So starting with my first day after the plane landed I had my first traditional Turkish breakfast, which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, toast, different cheeses, and olives. It was really good because I was starving from the lack of edible food on the airlines. After eating breakfast I decided to iron some of my clothes that had gotten wrinkled on my way over here from Florida; only to discover that they all had been ironed, folded, and put away by my host family’s maid, Ayshe. Ayshe is one of the sweetest people I have ever met! She makes me breakfast every morning and cleans the whole house every day. She doesn’t speak any English at all, which is great because I practice Turkish with her all the time (most of the time though we have no idea what one another is saying). Then Idil (the daughter of my host mom’s friend) took me around Alsancak (the center of the city).

Izmir is beautiful and I can’t put that any other way. It has a beautiful ocean and coastlie. We have beautiful mountains rising up all around the edges of the city and if you look out over the bay, you can see more mountains that are actually in Greece. Idil and I got our hair done at this Turkish salon and it was definitely an experience I will never forget! Many people kept coming over to me and petting my hair, asking if it was real; there reaction when I said yes was one of shock and awe. I have not seen a single other person with natural red hair here, so this is probably why I am seen as such an exotic visitor.

Here in Turkey I obviously don’t blend in, but being different here, unlike the USA, is seen as a positive thing. Women in Turkey want to show that they are strong and independent; many do this through hair dye, high fashion, and color contacts. They keep telling me how beautiful I am, which is really embarrassing for me because I am not used to all the attention I am getting. When I walk down a street people do not glance, they fully stop and stare; cars slow down just to get a better look at the foreigener in their neighborhood. I do not know if I will ever be fully comfortable with this attention.

I went to my first Rotary meeting that night, which was basically a big welcoming party for me. I met many Rotarians, Interacters, and Roteracters. My host mom is the President of our Rotary club; Dokuz Eylul Rotary Club. She is so sweet and she takes care of me like I am her own daughter. The Rotary meeting was on a rooftop over looking Izmir. The view was breathtakingly beautiful. The Roteract president gave me a huge gift of Turkish traditional items and things to put on my blazer. My blazer is very full now and probably weighs about 10 pounds, which will make walking through the airport on the trip home much more interesting!

I am proud to say I have tried every type of food I was given so far and although some of the things I did not like, I smiled and thanked everyone for giving me the food. I have discovered that no matter how many times I try it, I do not like yogurt. In fact I find it extremely repulsive. Just the thought of eating yogurt makes me want to gag. I am sure that many people back home are thinking that I am crazy and that yogurt is delicious, but I am here to let you know that yogurt here is very different than the yogurt in the USA. Yogurt in the US is usually sweet and flavored. Here it is none of the above. In my opinion it is salty and plain and sour. It has the consistency of an egg yolk and tastes like spoiled milk. There is a specialty drink called “Ayran” here made with this yogurt mixed with seltzer water and salt that literally everyone drinks. If I am made to try it one more time I may scream. And to top it all off (no pun intended) they put yogurt on everything.

On a more positive note I have had some food that is amazing. Most of this was some form of lamb because the lamb in Turkey is incredibly tasty.

For those of you who are wondering, my family here is very liberal, I dress the same way I do in the United States and do not attend a Mosque. My host mom does not cover her head. Actually, a majority of people where I live do not cover their heads. When they say that Izmir is a liberal city they are not kidding. Many people here are striving to be as western as possible. They love the United States and Europe. I have not met any fanatics of Islam so far on my trip here and I have been warned if I do to just walk away and don’t look back.

I met the two other exchange students the next day who will be going to my school Izmir Ataturk Lisesi with me; Barbara and Maya. They are amazing friends and I am so glad I met them. They are supportive and totally understand everything that I am going through because they are going through it too. We are already very close and they are a nice contrast to the Turkish friends I have made. We all went uniform shopping together and ended up looking like we worked on airlines with our outfits. I have had my skirt brought up to regular length and it fits well. My host mom also found me a skirt that her friend’s daughter used to wear, but it is very short.

I went to see Konak and the famous clock tower that was built by the same man who designed the Eiffel tower! It was beautiful! When we got there, a protest was taking place. Since I have arrived I have seen 6 protests. All of which were rather large and had police there in riot gear. Apparently protests are very common, but the fact that I have seen so many is highly unusual. I am starting to think I attract them.

I have attended a traditional Turkish wedding since I have been here and truthfully I would have to say it was somewhat similar to weddings in the USA. I have also been involved in a 27 km bike race, which was very fun! I really like bike riding and I wish I could do more of it here. The bike pros that assisted with the race were very interested in me and why I was participating. I have been to 5 different Rotary clubs and exchanged banners so I only have a few left to trade, but I am proud to say that many different clubs in Turkey have heard of the Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club!

I had my first two weeks of school and they were great. I have had no problems making friends here. People want to meet me and get to know me. I have a solid friend group now that I hang out with on a regular basis. They are like my second family! We all look out for each other and they try to keep me safe in the city. I have had an easier time than most of the other exchange students in Turkey. I think it is a mixture of the fact that I look so different and sheer luck. I stick out so people know that I am not from their country and automatically look out for me a bit more, however I was also put in one of the most welcoming classes in my school which is mostly luck. My host mom also being very outgoing has introduced me to many people. All of these factors has made my adjustment here very seamless and easy.

I take the subway to school everyday, but it takes me 15 minutes to walk to the subway and 15 minutes to walk from the subway to school. Overall it takes me around 45 minutes to get to school in the morning which isn’t that bad because I get to listen to music on the way to school. I don’t really understand anything that is going on in school except in chemistry and biology.

My English teacher is actually incredibly bad, he has broken English and a very thick accent so usually I end up teaching the class. Apparently his Turkish is very bad as well, but I can’t tell because mine is worse. I have 15 classes here including history, literature, math, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, counseling, music, PE, Grammar, religion, philosophy, English, and French. Because all of these are taught in Turkish I understand nothing, but the only class I am truly useless in is French. I don’t know how many of you have tried learning advanced French taught in a language you don’t know, but it is literally impossible. Starting out I did not know a lick of French, now after 2 weeks of class I have learned 3 words.

Luckily most of my teachers don’t care if I try in their classes. During most classes I just write down Turkish words and study. Many boys in my class have offered to give me Turkish lessons, which is helpful. None of them are very good teachers, but its fun to have someone to converse with during lunch and after school.

Everyday after school I go somewhere. I do not think I have ever gone home right after school before. My school is right in the center of Alsancak, which is great because there are many places to go and meet. I can find my way around Alsancak all on my own now which is a very big deal to me because it is so complex. I have found a great little English bookstore and I have already bought 4 books. Most exchange students spend their money on food, I spend mine on books. Speaking of which, while I have been here I have lost 2 kg. This is equal to about 4 pounds. I have started to walk a lot more and I am one of the few exchange students that actually looses weight on exchange. I truthfully thought I would gain weight, but I guess everyone is different.

We had our first orientation where we met all the inbounds and went to a traditional market place. When I arrived at the orientation I received a 15 minute lecture on how I should not have worn shorts when I “knew” that we were going to a traditional market place. They lectured me on how I get yelled at on the streets because I dress provocatively. I would like to say for the record that I in fact do not dress inappropriately in any way, shape, or form. I dressed more conservatively than many at the market place. I am very conservative in dress here because I know I do not want to attract any more attention than I already do. I attract attention because I have red hair, blue eyes, and white skin, not because of my clothes. Also my host mom speaks very little English and did not tell me where the orientation was going. However she did tell me to wear shorts because it was hot outside. When we got to this market, I realized I had already been there with my host family, and guess what? I wore shorts and absolutely nothing happened.

I would just like to say that a woman’s choices in what she wears should not constitute the wrongful behavior of others. Just because I wear shorts does not mean it is my fault that a man catcalls at me down the road. There is a line where, yes, I do believe you can dress inappropriately for a given situation and attract negative attention, but I was in shorts and a t-shirt not shorts and fishnets. This is not directed at the people who gave me this lecture; it was just their way of looking out for me. However, I feel very strongly about this issue in a global context and when it was applied to me I felt that I needed to address how truly insulted I was to have been told that my clothes and the clothes of women around the world constitute a reason to be treated in a lower manner.

Out of the inbounds in our district I tend to be the trailblazer in terms of making decisions and being out spoken. When we stopped for lunch we had to line up and choose a traditional Turkish food. The problem was that we had no idea what anything said on the menu. I ordered something that sounded like beef and everyone else decided to play it safe and get the same thing. It turns out that because of me everyone ended up ordering liver. I had never tasted liver in my life up until that moment and I have to say I don’t care for it. No one really ate their lunch that day, but its just a word to the wise that people really should not follow my lead!

There are many things in Turkey that are drastically different than in the US. For example, no one wears seatbelts. When I get into a car and put on my seatbelt people laugh at me, which is insane because the driving here is INSANE! I have almost been hit by cars multiple times and a car has crashed 5 feet in front of me on the way to the subway.

Another thing is that they don’t have dryers here! It takes literally a week for a pair of socks to dry, let alone anything else! Also the police carry machine guns, they really don’t mess around and won’t hesitate if there is an issue. Also we have chalkboards in our classrooms at school. I have never had a chalkboard in school ever. Even my parents had white boards for most of their schooling, so it’s like going back in time here.

Light switches go up to turn off and down to turn on which is weird and confusing especially when you are leaving a room. Also when you want to answer no for a question you click your tongue instead of saying no. Talking about politics is also very common in every situation. In the US we don’t do this too often for fear of conflict, but Turks love to debate so it is very open forum.

My exchange overall has been basically amazing. I can’t imagine ever having gone somewhere else. Turkey was a perfect fit for me. I have found my place in this culture and sometimes it is surreal how easily it happened. I hope my exchange continues on this high note!

Mon, September 29, 2014

My Journey and Arrival in Turkey!

My departure was supposed to take place on the 8th of September from Jacksonville Airport, but due to the classic Florida weather of thunderstorms, my flight to Dulles was extremely delayed. It was so delayed that I would not have been able to make my international connection. On the other hand, the flight plan I was given by my travel agency only gave me an hour to get from one plane to the other in time for departure, so thanks to both of these factors I ended up departing on the 9th. I realize things happen that are beyond my control, but the main reason I was upset was because I wanted to fly with the other Turkish inbounds from Munich to Izmir. However in comparison today’s flying hasn’t been that much better.

Actually my experience flying has been so full of bad luck that by the end I was laughing at how incredibly bad the journey had been. My flight to Dulles boarded promptly, but we were delayed because there was a backup in takeoff times. When we finally did try to go take off, we got about 5 feet off the ground and something malfunctioned, so we had to make a quick landing. As we were going to try takeoff again, a woman had a panic attack and demanded to be taken back to the gate. Once again we had to turn around. When we took her back she realized that she had checked bags on the plane and she didn’t want them flying without her. We had to have them open the cargo hold and look through all the bags to find hers. By this time we had been there so long that we didn’t have enough gas to make the trip to Dulles. We then had to refuel for the second time. Finally we took off, but many people missed their planes because unlike me they didn’t have a seven hour layover waiting for them in Dulles.

Once I arrived I found out that the gate that held my flight to Munich for later that night was at the literal other end of the terminal. For those of you that have never been to the Dulles airport each terminal is huge. Walking from one end to the other will take you 20 minutes. It will take you more if you have 2 heavy bags and a five pound blazer on. On the ceiling, in the international terminal of this airport are the flags to the world and I thought it was a tad peculiar that right outside the gate my flight would fly out of was the Turkish flag. My flight to Munich was also delayed, but nowhere near as long as the first flight. Other than that, the flight to Munich was pretty uneventful. My next flight was to Izmir and it was also delayed due to weather problems in our flight path. We waited for an hour and finally they planned a new flight pattern that went around the rain and through Croatia. I have also failed to mention that I can’t sleep on planes so by the end of my flights I had been awake for around thirty hours.

Finally I made it to Izmir! I used euros for the first time to rent a cart to use to carry my plethora of bags. I waited at baggage claim for quite a long time and all the other bags came out of the carousel before mine. I am not exaggerating. My two bags were the last ones out of baggage claim. The entire time I had been in the Turkish airport I had been stared at; I have never felt more visible in my life! Ever since I arrived in this country I have felt eyes on me all the time. After my bags came, I walked out and so many people were waiting for me I couldn’t even spot my host family! The group of people had signs and flowers and balloons, they had even made shirts to wear that said “Welcome Julianne”! We took a bunch of pictures and then got Turkish tea at the airport. Just the idea of drinking Turkish tea in 90 degree weather makes me start to sweat, but I’m sure I will get used to it soon enough!

We then went home and had a huge traditional Turkish meal. The dinner was amazing! I still have to get used to the idea of eating things immersed in lukewarm yogurt, but other than that I loved it! During dinner I learned that my host mom has her own home furnishing business, that my host dad is the most famous doctor in all of Turkey (the Turkish equivalent to Dr. Oz apparently), and that they have a summer home in Cesme. My school is right near where they work and so I can come visit them when I want!

The Turkish people are so nice! Every single one of them wants to get to know you and be friends! We exchanged gifts and they gave me a furry panda diary from Claire’s. After I showered and came back to say goodnight, they gave me Turkish coffee and baklava for the first time. It turns out Turkish coffee is like 5 times as strong as an espresso, but is thick and almost muddy. After trying it and having both my socks knocked off from the sheer amount of caffeine, I was told I would have to finish the entire cup to have my fortune read by my host mom. I then went back to my room and started to unpack around midnight. Eventually I collapsed into my bed and fell asleep around 1 am. Hopefully I will avoid jet lag!

 Fri, September 12, 2014

My final week in the Florida for this year!

It is less than a week until my departure date! I have actually had quite a few new experiences while still being in the US. I have gotten my first credit and debit card in the mail, which is very exciting, but also terrifying because I’ve never used one before! Both of the cards have chips in them, which I was told will be different than using a regular credit card. Because of the fact that I don’t know how to use a “Signature” credit card either, I actually might be at an advantage to use this new version called “Chip and Pin”.

I have been taught to iron, which after almost my shirts in the learning curve, I think I have gotten pretty good at. I have had my first ever going away party, which I would like to say should not be under the category of “party” because it was actually pretty depressing. I also had to say (a long) goodbye to my sister for the next eleven months because she couldn’t make it home from FSU on my actual departure date. To make matters worse the day we had to say goodbye, turned out to be her birthday; September 2nd. Although it was sad I know that exchange goes by fast so it won’t feel like as long as it is.

A rather unexpected and difficult part of pre-departure is finding gifts for your host parents. The actual shopping part is fun, but trying to think of ideas of what they would like is where it gets tricky. The whole point is to give your host parents things that represent your country and where you live, but also be something that they will keep and treasure as a memory of you. It is supposed to last; not be used and discarded like a candle. Finding a gift like this would seem easy, but in my case I do not want to give my host parents some tacky tourist junk that says Florida on it. So to find something genuinely Floridian and nice, takes time. Luckily for me, I waited until the last week to find great gifts, so I was running around everywhere I could think of and still coming up empty handed. Eventually I stumbled into a boutique in Sawgrass Village with my mom and found the perfect gifts! I ended up purchasing a starfish plate, a turtle plate set, and a coffee mug that are all beautiful and undeniably Floridian. After finding these gifts I am glad I maintained my high standards throughout my shopping ventures because I found exactly what I was searching for.

Packing on the other hand has been a nightmare. I have been traveling the world since I was three; packing a suitcase should be a snap for me, right? It turns out I was dead wrong. I can’t pack for my life. First of all, I am terrible at folding, so trying to save space by being very precise in the placement of each item is basically impossible for me. And second of all, I’m a girl and this entails the fact that I have options in my wardrobe. Now I don’t mean to sound like I am trying to pack everything I own, but you cannot imagine the frustration that comes with having to pack your life up in one teeny box. How can I pack necessities when I have 40 pounds of room, not only for clothes, but shoes, gifts, makeup, and pins (which weigh like 5 pounds on there own)?

The other problem is that although Izmir is less conservative than most of Turkey, I still have to have appropriate clothing for when/if I travel to a more conservative area of the country. I also have to pack for multiple contingencies in terms of weather because it fluctuates from 100 degrees to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I understand you don’t need to pack your entire wardrobe (which believe me I’m not even packing half), but how do you decide what stays and what goes! The same not only goes for clothes, but shoes as well! Do I need flip-flops, boots, sandals, flats, heels, sneakers, running shoes, and rain boots?

No guidebook ever really explains what is appropriate, all they give is some watered down generic response of “ be conservative if you feel you need to be” and “dress for the weather”. Both of these responses are also just a way of saying that the situation in Turkey varies so much we cannot give you a direct answer for fear of being wrong. Finally after packing and taking things out and repacking and taking more things out, I have fit everything into one bag. However upon further inspection the bag weighed almost 70 pounds. After all the drama of packing eventually I have just decided to take two suitcases; one of which holds mostly gifts and pins and the other holds my regular items. This will also come in handy when I am coming home and have all the extra room for things I buy while over in Turkey.

I attended my last Rotary meeting in Ponte Vedra this Thursday, September 4th and although it was a tad bitter sweet, they gave me such a great send off, that I know they have confidence in me and my ability to succeed in Turkey. I feel like I have been attending meetings at the Ponte Vedra Sunrise club for such a long time! I really am going to miss some of the amazing Rotarians I have met that have encouraged me throughout this entire process to try my best and to live up to Rotary standards. To my entire club and the entire Rotary organization in Florida and the world, I would like to say thank you.

I know it is a tad unorthodox to post journals before one actually departs for exchange, but I feel the exchange starts the day you find out you are accepted into the program. You do not start to change when you step on your plane; you start to change during the preparation for your journey, when you truly understand you are a part of something more and are making an impact. None of the changes you develop would be possible without Rotary and this is why I am so grateful to be given this wonderful opportunity.

 Fri, September 5, 2014

As an Exchange student with Rotary Youth Exchange in Florida I have been through many difficult processes including, but not limited to: the application, the two interviews, stays at Lake Yale, language camp, visa applications, and dreaded public speaking. However all of these pale in comparison to the pain and anxiety that comes with those few months before departure. In my case I will be the last to leave, out of everyone, to go on exchange. I truthfully do think it is well worth the wait to go to the country of my choice, Turkey, but I am going to explain the emotional context of what comes along with this seemingly endless wait.

First of all, watching some of my fellow outbounds leave more than a month before me is pretty excruciating, just in the fact that I have so far to go before I even step foot on a plane that will begin my own journey. Not to mention that a lot of them are my good friends and watching them leave, knowing I will not see them for at least eleven months is harder than I thought it could ever be. I try to keep busy with learning Turkish, sports, reading, and hanging out with friends from school, but it is getting harder to ignore the gap that was filled with my missing rotary friends. On the other hand I do have the privilege to meet some of the new inbounds who are wonderful people and we are so lucky to have them. School friends are hard to connect to because we both know that we won’t see each other at school or any where else for that matter until next summer.

One of the major benefits of leaving so late (if you are hosting) is that you get to actually spend time getting to know the person you are hosting. This year our family has gotten the privilege to host an amazing girl from Germany and if I had not had such a late departure I would never have had the chance to gain a second sister. She has taught me so many important rules of etiquette that I have forgotten to use in my own home and taught me valuable lessons that I can use with my own host family on exchange. Hosting has actually been a very good test drive of cultural immersion; getting me ready for the real thing I will experience in Turkey. Being an exchange student myself has also helped me realize how I would want to be treated in her situation and act accordingly.

Overall I am not scared to go on exchange. Actually I am so calm about the idea of departure that it is scaring me. I am so excited and ready to go, however I don’t dare be open about my excitement for fear that my exchange won’t happen. Not until the last minute will I share my true elation about this opportunity. I do however want to express now how happy I am to be a part of this program, to have gotten the country of my choice, and to have made such great friends along the way. Even though the process of actually going on exchange can be difficult at times, I can say with certainty that it is all worth it in the end and I haven’t even gone on exchange yet!

Mon, August 11, 2014

Keely - South Korea

Hometown:Homosassa, Florida
School: Lecanto High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club:Homosassa Springs, Florida
Host District: District 3680
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Seocheon

My Bio

안녕하세요, 저는 Keely Rice 입니다! Hi, my name is Keely Rice and I am one of the 2014-2015 outbounds for South Korea. I am currently a sophomore at Lecanto High School and am part of the Lecanto School of Art. I live with my parents and younger sister. My family has always moved around the U.S. We’ve gone from the top of a mountain in northern Montana all the way to where we are now, in the small town of Homosassa. Having only lived in relatively small or rural places all my life, this exchange is going to be quite the experience. I have always been interested in traveling and learning new things so I am beyond excited for this. On top of that, South Korea was my first choice! I am extremely grateful that I was able to be chosen for the country amongst the many that applied. I remember meeting one of my best friends last year. Her name was Wenny Li, the exchange student from Taiwan. She has helped me become the person I am today and opened me up to the world around me. We brought out the best in each other. She showed me that this exchange will not only affect me, but everyone I meet along the way. Of course I will miss my friends and family when I am gone, but that is the price I have to pay for something this amazing. When you hear, “The experience of a lifetime” I think of this exchange. This is truly something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Journals: Keely – South Korea

Wow, okay so five months went by faster than I expected. In these past five months I have spent three amazing days on Jeju Island, tried live octopus(sannakji), preformed with my school in a Korean traditional instrument performance, switched families, and have given a speech in Korean to my school. When they say that you live a life in a year, they aren’t exaggerating. You are going all the time but it’s the most amazing thing and feeling ever.

So first thing’s first. Jeju Island. Jeju is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. But that could also be due to the fact that it reminded me of Florida. The beach was gorgeous (even though it was raining when we went) and the country side was like something out of a movie. Seriously, dozens of Korean dramas were filmed where I was.

We also hiked up an inactive volcano. It was the most memorable and beautiful part of the trip for me. Besides doing something I never would have dreamed of doing, I got to witness one of the most incredible view ever and meet so many nice people. Once we reached the top of the volcano, we naturally wanted to take our district picture. Me, with my backwards flag, the Canadian Jessa, the Taiwanese girl Julie, and the German Leonie all stood ready until we heard a group of people yelling at us in Chinese. We had no idea what was going on until Julie translated that they wanted a picture with us. That led another group of people wanting to take pictures with us, which led to another group of wanting to take pictures with us. I honestly have no idea why they would want a picture with a random group of foreigners besides the fact that I looked super cute that day but still…

Another memorable moment is when we went around asking people to take a photo of us in Korean only to find out they didn’t speak any Korean at all. It was so confusing when asking something to only have them stare at you like you’re crazy before speaking English. Also, because my nickname is Pig here, I can’t fail to mention the amazing chocolate the island has. They make the chocolate and add a flavor to it like the island orange, or the pink cactus on the island (my favorite), or green tea. 

Speaking of food, Korean food is amazing. From the live octopus I mentioned to the best barbeque you will ever have, Korea has it all. Before I came to Korea the only thing I was really told about was kimchi. It’s the food Korea is known for, right? It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but why is this country not known for its meat? They have meat in almost every dish for almost every meal and it is just amazing. Korea knows what it’s doing when it comes to BBQ.

There are some other foods though that some people would consider strange though, like the live octopus and larvae. The live octopus is surprisingly delicious. Looking at the wriggling tentacles, you’re not sure what it’s going to taste like. Salt water, slime, or your worst nightmare? Try none of the above. It doesn’t really have a taste until the waiter puts the sesame oil on it and you dip it into the chili paste. It’s actually amazing and I would recommend that everyone who doesn’t have a seafood allergy try it.

The larvae however, is more of an acquired taste. They soak the larvae in boiling water and I’m not quite sure what they use to season, if they do. My first host family loved the stuff so I thought it was safe to assume it was pretty good. Everything else they ate was good so how was this going to be any different? Boy was I wrong. But you’re not going to like EVERYTHING you try, right? Again, please try it if you come, but just know that this one may not be the best thing you try so don’t be surprised if you don’t enjoy it.

One thing you have the opportunity to do if you are in my school is the traditional music class. It’s an afterschool class that you take with the other students in the club and, if I remember correctly, you have around three months until your first performance. You pick your instrument (the janggo, buk, gwanggari, and the jing) and then you practice every day after lunch and then Thursdays after school. I played the janggo and I needed the practice, it was difficult. Our first performance was for a talent show hosted by Rotary and our nerves were through the roof. In the end though it felt so rewarding and the feeling only increased as we did more performances and improved. Definitely a rewarding experience I hope all exchange students here get to experience. 

I also was given the chance to go to Taiwan for two weeks where I visited my friend Wenny. Travel rules in my district are very strict so I have honestly no idea how I was able to convince my teacher to let me go. Whatever magical spirit possessed her and had her say yes was what allowed me to visit my best friend and experience another culture along with my amazing grandparents.

The strangest thing for me had to be almost panicking after I couldn’t find the trashcan to throw the toilet paper in, only to realize that I could actually flush it down the toilet. It was like I went back to my first month of exchange: barely understanding anything and having no idea how to get around. I think that’s what made me realize how far I had come.

Unfortunately I couldn’t visit my friends in Taiwan but that didn’t stop me from having an amazing time. I visited night markets, went to an exhibition for Kobitos (I guess they’re a Japanese character but I’m not 100% sure due to it being my first time ever seeing them), went to a Taiwanese high school where they have nap time like all high schools should have, lit a lantern, went to a theme park that I said I wanted to go to at the beginning of my exchange before I found out that it was in Taiwan, went to a beautiful aquarium, and met amazing new friends that I will never forget. The food is amazing, the people are nice, the country is beautiful, and some words in Korean are the same in Chinese so I could understand some things. It also comes in handy when you’re watching Ellen and she asks what the Chinese word for ‘king’ is and you’re able to respond because it’s the same. It will make it a whole lot easier when I start to study Chinese next. 

Overall my exchange has been amazing. I can definitely tell how much my language skills have improved too. I’m nowhere close to being fluent, but I’m able to converse with my host parents now and ask questions with little difficulty now whereas in the beginning I could barely ask where the bathroom was. I can watch TV without subtitles, understand jokes, tell jokes, and hang out with my friends and keep them entertained with barely any awkward silences as I try to translate some things in my head.

I wish I could go into more detail with these journals but how can you begin to describe every experience and all the feelings that you have during this time, no matter how small and insignificant they seem? It’s something you have to truly experience yourself and I can’t thank RYE and the Rotary club of Homosassa Springs and everyone else involved enough for this opportunity. This exchange has taught me so much about myself and has shown me what I’m capable of doing and I can’t wait to see what the next 5 months has in store.

Thu, February 12, 2015

Protip, never flush your toilet paper in Korea without asking if you can unless you want to be responsible for a broken toilet. 

I’m going to skip the story of how my flights were because everything went pretty much according to plan. I left with a smile on my face, ready to leave, and I landed with an even bigger smile, ready to start my exchange. Now, I gave you that wonderful advice about the toilets because I, on my first day, broke my host family’s toilet. I woke up at around 6 AM extremely jetlagged, mind you, and on my way to the bathroom. At first I couldn’t find the button used to flush the toilet. That wasn’t a big deal. I just had the girl my family back home is hosting, Seulji, text me and tell me where the button was. The button wasn’t the problem though. I did something that I swore I would never do after researching Korea. Yes, I flushed the toilet paper. No amount of research was staying with me, being that tired and that included the little bit about Korean toilets. So there I sat crying in the bathroom while asking my fellow outbound friends for help. Seulji, once again, came to my rescue and texted my host sister who came and helped me with the mess. After trying to flush the toilet again (don’t ask me why we thought this was a good idea) we went and got my host mom. Thank goodness she wasn’t mad. I like to think the crying helped. Instead of yelling at me, she called someone to come and fix the toilet and made me beef. Nicest. Host mom. Ever.

With all that happening on day one I was more than nervous when the first day of school came around. As if I didn’t stand out enough, I didn’t have a uniform yet either (And won’t until about the end of September). But… it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Everyone is extremely nice and by the end of the day it was like I belonged there. I had friends and the teachers liked me. Nothing embarrassing just any other school day if you take you take out the fact that I barely understood anything. School is pretty nice though. Not as hard and strict as everyone says it is but I am in a middle school right now. I’m sure it will be different when I move into the high school because that’s when the students have to start preparing for college. School here is from 8:00-5:00 (not too much of a difference), there are eight classes that are 45 minutes each except on Friday when there is only seven classes, and the students only switch classes for English, social studies, gym, and Thursday meeting in the auditorium. I did follow the normal class schedule until the rest of the exchange students arrived and started school. Once they were settled in, we started our Korean classes.

This is where I want to give a BIG “thank you” to the training Florida puts us through before we leave. When I got here I was the student who knew the most because of the assignments we had to do and it has gained me so much respect. I just simply said, “Sorry,” to my host dad and he looked at me like I had 50 arms and was purple. I guess most exchange students that come here know 0% of the language so they were so taken aback that I even knew that. This came in handy when we started our Korean classes because guess who was given the advanced work because she could read the language and understand some of it. That’s right, this girl. Most people would probably be like, “Ew, extra work,” but it has helped me out so much. It also kinda makes me the teacher’s pet which is an added bonus because the Monday and Tuesday Korean teacher uses the “tiger teacher” method and because I’m the favorite (I know it sounds like I’m bragging but she has told my host family multiple times that I am the favorite), she goes easier on me. The same goes for the Wednesday and Thursday teacher we have. It’s pretty awesome. So advice to any future outbounds to this lovely country, STUDY THE LANGUAGE LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW. It will gain you so much respect here, you’ll make friends faster, and it will give you opportunities the other exchange students won’t get.

So cultural differences are next. Another big thank you to Rotary on this one with that 12 page culture essay we had to write. Yeah I don’t really need to know everything on that outline but the little things that I found out like what is acceptable to wear, how kids interact with each other, and how you treat your elders, even if it’s only by a year, differently really helped out. I’m telling you right now that if you’re coming to Korea with tank tops and V-necks that you need to go repack right away. Here it’s pretty much the opposite of the U.S. on what is appropriate to wear out. In the U.S. you can show your shoulders or your back or your chest and it’s all cool until you wear short shorts. Here it’s the exact opposite. You could probably wear your underwear out and it would still be alright but as soon as you expose your shoulders or chest it’s a big no-no. It’s also really nice to know what is in style at the moment because you will feel under dressed about 95% of the time compared to most people here. It’s like every day is fashion week.

Now onto how kids interact with each other. Now, I heard a lot of “it’s frowned upon for guys and girls to have contact here” back in the U.S., so when I saw most of the playing around and contact between the opposite sexes I was a little surprised. They act just like me and my guy friends back in my school. One major difference is not how the girls interact with each other, but how the guys do. Now, I wasn’t the least bit fazed by the way they interact with each other, but someone with different views from myself would probably be completely shocked. Guys here act just as close as the girls do. Unlike back in my school where the girls would cling to their friends and hold hands and the guys would maybe hug once in a while, here it’s the same for everybody. You see those girls walking to the bathroom while hugging? You’re going to see guys doing the same thing.

They also punch each other. A lot. Everyone here does. I said something funny so my friend punched me in the arm, you say something really cheesy and they punch you, you lost at a game so as a punishment they punch you. They will hit you for anything but it is important to label this as a big cultural difference. If you don’t recognize this as a cultural difference there’s a chance that you may get offended or take it personally and blow the situation way out of proportion.

Also with the students, even if you are one year older you get treated differently. Here in South Korea respecting your elders is extremely important. You use formal language, you bow like crazy, you always watch what you say and do. It’s completely to that extent with the students to each other but instead of saying 안녕 (casual greeting) they’ll say 안녕하세요 (more formal greeting) which isn’t that much of a different but it’s still there.

One more thing I want to address is making friends here. The one thing I was afraid of, and a lot of exchange students are too, is if I’ll have friends here or not. Especially being in Asia where I was told it was going to be hard making friends because the kids were so shy, I was worried. But worry not, at least where I am, the students want to be your friend. As long as you’re nice, friendly, and approachable. You smile at one person and say hi, it’s like the whole school wants to know you. It’s amazing how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to help out with the language. I’ve learned more hanging out with the students than I ever would have just studying by myself. They want to be your friend, as long as you’re willing to let them. I know that sounds odd because who wouldn’t want the students to be friends with them, but I’ve already seen it where someone is a bit closed off and unwilling and the students notice. Trust me. Be happy and bubbly your first days at school and have your bad days after that. It’s for the best that they like you. If they don’t, you won’t ever know because they don’t want to upset to foreigner, but everyone else will.

So that pretty much wraps my first journal entry up with it being almost midnight on a school day.  I couldn’t have asked to be in a better country. Sure the language is a bit difficult but if that’s what I have to struggle with a little bit to be able to experience this amazing life in a year, I’ll do everything I can to work through it.

Wed, September 10, 2014

Kerlandy - Poland

Hometown:Jensen Beach, Florida
School: Jensen Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6930
Sponsor Club:Stuart-Sunrise, Florida
Host District: District TBA
Host Club: TBA

My Bio

Czesc! jestem Kerlandy. Hello! I’m Kerlandy I live in Jensen Beach, Florida with my mom and dad. I am fifteen and a freshman at Jensen Beach High. I am fluent in English, Creole and learning Spanish and Polish. I’m Haitian and Irish, I was born in Haiti and moved to Florida in 2006. I first became interested in exchanging to other countries my seventh grade year. I found Rotary Youth Exchange my eighth grade year after a year of researching. After gathering all my research I showed my parents hoping they would say yes,my dad said yes while my mom had a different reaction, she disagreed completely. My dad convinced her to let me apply for the short term program. In September I got in contact with Mr. Mills my Rotary officer, we had a meeting at my house and he somehow convinced my mom to let me sign up for the long-term program and to let me go if I got accepted. The night I got that email congratulating me on being accepted to be an outbound student I cried because I was so happy. On December 8 I got a call saying that I was going to Poland, I was so Happy. I can’t even describe to you how happy I am to be a part of Rotary Youth Exchange, I’ve dreamed of this for three years. In those three years I have learned how to make my dreams come true and how to be independent and I haven’t even left for Poland yet. One of my favorite quotes says “ The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I am overjoyed to know that RYE is bringing me one step closer to reading that whole book.

Krystle - Brazil

Hometown:Longwood, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:Altamonte Springs, Florida
Host District: 4420
Host Club: The Rotary Club of São Vicente

My Bio

Hi! My name is Krystle Matos and I’m 16 years old living in Longwood Fl. I’m a part time student, taking two classes at Lake Brantley and the rest at home in the hopes of finishing high school a little bit earlier. Next year, I’ll be living in Brazil! I’ve moved a few times in my life, the first when I was 7 from Fort Lauderdale until my fathers job told him he needed to transfer to St. Augustine. My family and I moved and we started a life there. I was homeschooled and played on an elite soccer team that my community offered to anyone willing to commit to the demanding schedule and intensity of practices. Soccer has been a big deal to me and I still practice the sport in my spare time which is why I can’t wait to go to a country that loves it as much as I do. In 8th grade, I moved again to Pennsylvania! This move was a drastic one because this time around, I would be attending school full time and that was something I had never experienced before. However, I adjusted extremely well and made friends quickly and the two years I spent there have been the best years of my life. The summer before junior year I moved to Longwood, Florida where I am right now, spending this year learning as much Portuguese as I can and getting used to the idea of leaving home! Words cannot describe how ECSTATIC I am to be given this opportunity to be living in another country,speaking another language, and getting to know another culture that is far more different than my own. I still cannot believe it and I’m smiling right now just thinking about it!

Journale:Krystle – Brazil

Hello Again!
Greetings from Santos. Time to write my feelings out and give an update on my life. The last time I wrote here was exactly four months ago in September (sorry Rotary). Today is my 173rd day and my 25th week here in Brazil in two days.

Numbers, numbers, numbers. I haven’t gone a day since arriving without taking the time out to think about how long I’ve been here, how much time I have left before leaving and making sure that I’m doing everything I can do to make this year count. The biggest stress here is not the adaption to the country or making new friends or getting along with my family…those things have been the easiest.

My biggest stress is always thinking about when I go back home and how hard it will be to leave this amazing place. How can I start my life here and then leave it? How will I be able to concentrate and start a new one when I return? It’s usual for exchange students to miss home and sometimes question why they decided to do their year abroad in the first place. Not for me. My family back in the States is there and doing fine, my bed is still where I left it, my things packed in boxes. Those things won’t go anywhere. But the questions that keep trembling with fear is: ‘How will I be able to go home and try to resume my life again without the friends I’ve made here, my Brazilian family, the beautifully lively people of this country, and the different energy this culture has?’ if I’ll be able to. My family will be there waiting for me in Florida, I’ll see them again. But to think about going months or years without seeing my family here or my friends who will be back in their countries after I leave is what keeps me up at night.

A lot has happened since late September when I wrote last: like Rotary events, visiting different cities, new friendships, switching families, and so on. I have a different feeling, perspective of how I see the world and a new theme of life with every month that passes.

September along with August was still the stage in my exchange where I was still getting to know the streets of the city that was still new to me and also about everything that was around me. September, or the second month for most exchange students, was nice because you were still new and clueless to everything so everybody was still overly helpful with anything you needed and your still in the honeymoon stage where everything that’s happening feels 10x better than what it really is. But at the same time you’re pretty settled into your new family and school and your new life doesn’t feel as scary and/or crazy as it did in August, or the first month.

I spent basically the whole month of August at home with my new family getting really close to them and letting them take me places and just really getting to know them. I only went out to meet the other exchange students a couple of times because I still wanted to stay home with my new family and deepen the bond that we had when I first talked to them. I really clicked with them and was eager to get to know them more.

When September came in, I felt comfortable enough to start going out more with the kids from school and I was also starting to get a lot closer to the other exchange students in my city, especially after orientation. By the end of September, I finally found this great balance of being close with my host family, spending time with them but also being out of the house a lot, going to the beach and hanging out with my friends as well. It’s so important to create that bond with your host parents because it made asking to go out or spend the day with friends instead of staying at home a lot easier. Instead of giving me trouble or saying that I should stay home with them, they always encouraged me to go because they were happy that I had found people to be with who made me happy.

I still always put time for them as well like getting cappuccinos with my host dad after school and staying a couple of hours talking with him or going with my mom to do errands. After orientation in the beginning of September, and really getting close with the kids in my district and especially in my city, the rest of the month was spent hanging out with them every day after school, talking and getting to know each other more. Once we realized how close we lived to each other, it made seeing one another that much easier.

I had found an amazing group of best friends and had plans with them every day. We also shared and introduced the friends we made from our different schools making our group even bigger. The Rotex that are here in my city are very involved and have also become close with us, one of them being one of my closest friends here. By the end of the month, I had developed a daily routine of things to do and also wanted to start doing things myself like getting from place to place. It was great having a host father who never minded taking me anywhere by car at any time (he worked from home), but me being the independent person, I am didn’t want to depend on him for transportation.

I spent the last couple of weeks of September using paper maps (the Google Maps app would have been more helpful but I don’t like taking my smart phone out on the street for safety reasons) and the Portuguese instructions from my host parents that I still didn’t completely understand was helped me to learn how to get everywhere. By the end of the month, I feel like I finally settled in and adapted to almost everything. I knew how to get from place to place, I had found a great group of friends, I had and still have a great relationship with my Rotary club, school was fine, and my relationship with my family was perfect.

October: I always say when people ask how my exchange is going so far that I’m still in the honeymoon stage because even 5 ¾ months in, I’m still head over heels in love with this country and I absolutely love my life here. I don’t miss my life back in the States or my family because my family is there and will be there when I get back and the friends who are important to me the most since arriving here are the friends I’ve made from RYE Florida and my friends here.

Even though that’s how it felt the first two months and also the months following, the actual month of October wasn’t as easy. For the first time, my emotions were all over the place. Nothing from the exchange specifically is what triggered how I was feeling so I still don’t think what was going on with me had to do with my exchange but I definitely was going through a depression in that month but still being extremely happy and grateful for my life here.

I was more adjusted into my life in Brazil, closer to my friends and family and was understanding the way of life in Brazil. The kids in my school loved me and treated me nicely, sending messages saying they missed me that day if I had stayed home sick. I was content with everything that was going on and even at the time refused to say that I missed home or wanted to go home. There was nothing that I wanted to change. But at the same time, in a matter of minutes, I would feel so depressed and lonely for no reason in particular. I was having anxiety attacks at least once a day, I would be with my friends and leave because a wave of sadness would come over me all of sudden and there had been a couple of nights I stayed up crying.

My body was starting to ache and I then started to get tired all the time, always finding an excuse to take naps. My host parents were ready to take me to the doctors because I had even managed to take a nap that lasted for 20 hours a couple of times. It got to a point where my host mother became worried and messaged my mother on Facebook asking what she could do to help.

My mother back home was helpless but said she too noticed that I didn’t look okay during a Skype call. During that call she asked if I was okay and I then started crying not even understanding myself what was going on. A huge part of me feeling depressed was also me feeling guilty for feeling the way I did. My life was perfect and there was nothing that I wanted to change. I had no idea why I was depressed or what to do to fix it.

Even with these emotions going on, I didn’t stop living my exchange life, I didn’t want to go home remembering spending October depressed and in my room and so I continued saying yes to any opportunity that was given to me to make my exchange as great as it can be. Even with all that motivation I tried giving myself, it was getting harder and harder.

I was Skyping my older sister more frequently just to try to figure out what was going on, because she too had been on exchange in Italy and was the only family member I felt comfortable with talking about how I was really feeling. She helped me to not feel guilty and reminded me that it was normal and okay to feel the way that I was feeling. It helped a lot to hear the reassurance and helped me get through what I was going through. What also helped was opening up to my closest friends here (who were also on their exchange) about how I was feeling because they are able to understand what I’m going through on a level that no one else really can. Even though I did Skype my sister from back home more than usual during that time (something Rotary doesn’t encourage) it did help a lot.

I think what ultimately made me get through the month was opening up to my closest friends here and knowing what to do if things got bad again. It was a strange and conflicting month of feelings because I had never been that low before but I also had never been happier with my life. It was hard to understand my contradicting feelings but I managed to deal with them and by the beginning of November, things finally felt better and I resumed the honeymoon stage.

November/December – Summer: With my emotions and sleeping schedule back to normal, I started the first day of the month of November with a positive attitude spending the day with my friends. November was a smooth one. My anxiety was starting to go away, I wasn’t needing to Skype my sister anymore, and overall I was feeling happier. With each day that passed, I was becoming closer to the people around me and continuing to do everything I could to have the best exchange.

My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving was coming up and I was becoming a little nervous. The Rotex who helped prepare us for our year and the Rotex in my city now who are here to guide us usually say that Christmas time is extremely hard because it brings back family memories and you start to feel homesick. I’ve never been a Christmas type of person but have instead always looked forward to Thanksgiving Day and dinner because it’s the time of year that I love the most and it has always been a big deal to my family.

My family back home always cooked all day together and watched family movies after, an emotional day full of love and it would be my first year away from them. Thankfully I was distracted up until the big Turkey Day, preparing for my wonderful country coordinator (and one of the people to thank for all the awesomeness he’s done for me, he’s the best) Rob Overly to arrive here with his wife and spend a few days going around the city with me and my Brazilian counselor.

I was able to go visit beaches and attend a couple Rotary meetings with him and his wife. It was great showing him my life here and how happy I am in Santos, how Rotary has changed my life for the better and it was really awesome introducing him to the other students here who are my best friends. Seeing a familiar face from home was actually what I needed to help me not miss home as much during Thanksgiving week. I loved being able to tell him and his wife about how incredible my experience is so far in my favorite city that I now call home.

Thanksgiving Day came and I definitely was craving some time with my family back home with some of my homemade stuffing and my mom’s cranberry sauce as well. But wishing my mother and sister Happy Thanksgiving before they left for their cruise to the Barbados and hearing how my father was having a good time in New York visiting family actually made me feel better. It’s reassuring to hear that my family is continuing their lives without me and encouraged me to go back to mine.

I went along with my day having a cappuccino with a good friend in the morning and going to the beach with a group of people in the afternoon. It’s only in the U.S. that Thanksgiving is a big thing but of course here in Brazil the day isn’t even recognized as being significant so the only reminder I had of Thanksgiving were the Facebook messages friends and family were sending. Overall, November was a good month. School here in Brazil finished for me on the 25th and summer was in!

Another end to a good month and December was here. The beginnings of months have always been my favorite. It’s a fresh chapter to add to the grand book of life with as many new experiences, thoughts, and events as the month before. December I knew was going to be another busy month. Summer had just started days before and the other students and I were excited to go to the pool or beach and spend the whole day in the sun or just going to the mall chilling. Most of the time we would all just meet up on the tables at the beach and talk, those were the best to me. The first three weeks of December were spent doing just that, being out with friends all day and spending time with the family when I returned in the early evening. It was extremely relaxing and care free.

Christmas/New Years: During the month of December, I kept remembering what the Rotex had told us about Christmas time being the hardest time of the exchange and I was waiting for the hard part to hit. But I’m very thankful that nothing happened and I remained happy and not homesick. I didn’t really miss my family that much, I was too busy with my new family to spend time thinking about home.

Honestly when it’s an average of 105 degrees every day and the first thing you grab in the morning is your bikini, the fact that it’s supposed to be cold in December doesn’t even cross your mind. It wasn’t until the 23rd that I was reminded Christmas was around the corner and that in Brazil it would be celebrated the next day on the 24th.

That night, I went with my first family to my second family’s family gathering/dinner at my host grandfather’s home to celebrate. It was an emotional night full of love and tears and talking about how much we love each other. I was hugged and told by my two families how much love they loved me and how I was a part of their family. Hugging and hearing both my host parents say that was the best moment of my exchange.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve, I spent the day sleeping waking up at around 4ish in the afternoon. My host mother had already been awake, cooking for the dinner we would have all together before going out to be with my second family. After getting ready, putting on all white because that’s what you wear on New Year’s in Brazil, we met with my second family and went to the beach to watch the fireworks go off. Santos goes all out with the fireworks, spending weeks before preparing for the big celebration. At 12 on the dot, the fireworks began. It was magical. My host brother and I walked to the shore to watch from there and it was beautiful to watch the light from the fireworks reflect off the water. There were over 500,000 people on beach that night and together we all watched the fireworks in complete awe.

2014 has been a year of great accomplishments and experiences. Since I found out I was accepted into the program in November 2013, finding out my host country a month later in December and attending the first orientation weeks later in January, my life has been dominated by Rotary and it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It was a lot of work and commitment, a lot of anxiety and nerves in the months leading up to the day that I would leave. Even so, I would do it all over again because the past 5 months have been the best in my life. I’ve met people here that I call my family because ‘best friends’ doesn’t even accurately describe how close I am to them. I feel grateful every day for the amazing two families that I have been given. This exchange has changed me for the better and is making me stronger person each day. The amount that I have learned in the past 5 months makes me excited for the next 7. How much more can I gain? What else will I learn?

I can’t wait to find out.

 Wed, January 21, 2015

I am always doing something new, telling myself to say YES TO EVERYTHING even if I am tired or not in the mood. 

I’m a little late on this because I am struggling with words to explain accurately what I have been feeling being here in Brazil, how I have changed, and what I have done so far. How can I explain correctly how much I have fallen in love with Brazil without sounding too cheesy? How can I explain the beautiful differences Brazil has without making this brief entry too long? I can write pages about how amazing this country is but I’ll try my best not to drag on.

On the first afternoon of August, I stepped onto the plane that would take me to Miami with tears in my eyes but excitement in my veins. Seeing my mother cry before I left was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to see and almost made me feel guilty about leaving even though I knew that she was just as excited and happy for me as I was. But as soon as I arrived at the Miami airport, I knew that I was getting even closer to the start of my exchange. Even with a 12 hour delay waiting for me when I arrived in Miami and a sleepless night alone in the airport, I was still just as ready to arrive in Brazil.

My flight to the Sao Paulo airport was a short one (at least to me) and as the plane started landing, I looked over the city lights with such wonder and amazement that the man sitting next me had to ask if I was okay! I rushed out of the plane going straight to baggage claim because my first priority was to make sure that my belongings were safe with me.

The wait for my bags was almost 45 minutes but once I had them both in my hands and was now on my way to see my future parents, the real panic started settling in. What if they don’t like me? What if they aren’t nice? All of that worry went away as soon as I recognized my host sister and the smiles from my host parents face when I found them waiting for me. We hugged and hugged and I felt relieved that I managed to find them and have all of my luggage safe with me.

The drive to my new home was about an hour and half and I somehow managed to use all the energy I had left to talk and get to know my new family. After eating a hamburger on the beach and arriving home at 2 in the morning, I dropped my bags in my room and went to sleep! I ended up sleeping until 4 o clock the next morning! But it was for the best because by 6 o’clock, I was being greeted by my aunt and uncle with their kids who also happen to be my second host family. The house was filled with family who I got to call mine and I felt so welcomed and loved right away.

I spent the remainder of that week doing errands and getting settled into my city while also meeting more extended family and building the strong relationship that I have with them now. We visited the school that I would be going to, took a tour and I even said hi to my future classmates before my first day. My first weekend here, I learned the tradition my family has which is that my aunts and uncles and their kids from ages 12 to 27 come to our home and play cards until sometimes 2 in the morning! The house is always filled with conversations and laughter Saturday night which honestly is so nice to see and is so different than what I am used to. To see how close and connected my family is here is so beautiful and to be a part of it with open arms warms my heart.

My host family here is amazing. My host parents and I get along so well and the bond that we have has been there since we met at the airport. My host mother is a teacher and even teaches beginners English to younger and older students every day. She speaks good English which can be helpful sometimes but also a bad thing because it is easy to talk to her in English when I should be in Portuguese.

My host father on the other hand speaks no English at all and is honestly the best teacher because he knows how to teach me Portuguese and is very patient with me. Even with the language barrier, we have a pretty good relationship. I’ve learned a lot from him and our car rides to school in the morning are always with great conversation and friendly debates.

My host brother is my best friend and we have already spent hours and hours talking about anything and everything with each other when he visits on the weekend. I talk to him the most about how I am doing and what I am feeling and he is honestly like the brother that I’ve never had. You can usually find us laughing or giggling about something!

School here in Brazil is great but so different! The schools in Brazil are not as strict as they are back home. It is totally normal here for kids to be on their phones or talking while the teacher is giving their lecture. On some days, the teacher doesn’t even give a lecture and lets us do whatever we want like move the desks to the side of the room and use the computer to play music and dance for the rest of the class. The kids do not leave to go to a different classroom every period but instead the teacher picks up their books and lessons and moves to the next class they will teach. The classroom is almost never quiet but is always loud with different voices talking over each other which actually is better for me because I’m never bored and it can get very amusing sometimes.

On my first day, I felt like a celebrity because as soon as I sat down at my desk, all of the kids moved their desks to form a close circle around me so they can ask me tons of questions and get to know me. It was so nice feeling so special and wanted and I was just as excited to talk to them as they were to talk to me. My class here is small compared to the other schools because I only have about 20 kids in my class while most of the other schools have 40 or even 60 kids. I don’t mind it however because I get along really well with all of the other kids and I have classmates who I call my best friends. It’s honestly incredible how close you can get to a group of kids who don’t even speak the same language as you.

These short but long 7 weeks have been great, AMAZING, the best 7 weeks ever. I have been spending my time here hanging out with friends every day and also spending a lot of time with my host family. On one Sunday night here, I spent it going through my host family’s old family photos and talking to them until 3 in the morning! On another weekend, I spent the day trying to take as many photos as I can to capture Brazil and its wonderful spirit to show my family and friends back home.

I am always doing something new, telling myself to say YES TO EVERYTHING even if I am tired or not in the mood. Doing that is what is making my exchange as exciting and busy as it has been. Never has my life been this eye opening. I have learned so many things in the short time that I have been here, I have made so many friends already, I love my host family like they are my own, and I don’t want to go back home. Sure I have days where I’m not as happy but never would I even consider going back home. Being in another country really makes you think things you’ve never thought about before. It makes you go to places in your mind you never thought you would go to.

As an exchange student, you learn so much about yourself because you are always being asked questions that you’ve never really had to answer before like what you like most about the U.S., what you don’t like, your opinion about political issues today, and so on. Your emotions are always being tested and you realize how capable you are, how much you can tolerate but also when you’ve reached your breaking point. But those weak moments when all you think you need is to talk to your friends and family back home only happen sometimes. I have experienced and learned so much already and I’m excited for what is next in the months to come.

Sun, September 21, 2014

Kylie - Finland

Hometown:Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:Gainesville Sunrise, Florida
Host District: District 1410
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Raisio

My Bio

Tere! I’m Kylie and I could not be more excited to say that I will spend the next year in Estonia. Currently, I am 16 years old and a sophomore in Cambridge at Gainesville High School. I played volleyball and golf for my school’s team but I also played soccer in middle school. Other than sports, I like to hang out with friends and read. I have lived in Gainesville my entire life, and although I love it, the thought of making a new home for myself in a whole new place is exciting. Rotary has given me the opportunity to add a lot of spontaneity to my life, and break routines that I have been accustomed to for the last 15 years. As far as my amazing family, I have three older siblings: Makena (25), Liam (23), and Conor (20). Each of my wonderful siblings had the opportunity of bettering themselves with the help of Rotary Youth Exchange. My family seems almost as excited as I am about my year in Estonia and has shown me unbelievable support. My parents are very happy for me to have this experience, and I am very happy to have my parents because without them, none of this would be possible. Seeing my siblings transform into the independent, multi-lingual, and mature people they are today through Rotary made the decision of whether or not to apply really easy. (Along with a strong wanderlust…) I want to become a better person with those qualities, I want to become a person who is not only sure of who they are, but also proud of it. I know that Rotary will make all of this possible for me, so thank you!

Journals: Kylie – Finland

Minä olen ollut Suomessa kahdeksan kuukautta! Jag har varit i finland i åtta månader! Guys I’ve been here 8 months, and I just wanted to say that I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity I have to live here in Finland. I feel like I cannot stress that enough. I have friends that I feel will have an impact on my life for years to come, and I have had the opportunity to become a part of two different families that I love. I honestly feel like I couldn’t have possibly ended up in better homes and consider myself really lucky. I have learned a lot from them and know that I can speak to them about anything. I am definitely in love with Finland, no matter how cold. Something that really astonishes me is that a lot of the people who are so important in my life in Florida, will have no idea about what life here is actually like. Something that is so important to me in everyday life, they have almost no concept of.

Anyway reader, I could ponder in my thoughts or tell you about how grateful I am to be here but what you’re really wondering probably is what I have actually been doing here the past few months.
Well, this is when it gets difficult for me to write. The thing about it is that the things that seem important to me are sometimes really small details, but anyway I’ll give you the big parts. So, I left you last time at the Wanhat. It was a really stressful week. I had an issue that apparently I am between sizes in high heels and waited until the week before to shop for them. So my amazingly patient host mom took me around the mall and several other stores to try on shoes. I actually ended up not buying any and borrowing from a kind teacher at school. Another issue was that my dress was flowy and quite long. So there was a large possibility that my clumsy self could have stepped on my dress and 1. fallen 2. ripped my dress or the last, and my personal favorite 3.been torn down from my chest in all its strapless glory.

My host mom and grandmother were angels and took up the hem of the dress and it turned out that none of those horrible things mentioned above happened! We danced 3 times that Friday. Once in a middle school with only 4 couples, the next in front of our school, and the last for the families in a large gymnasium. All went well and my host sister got a lot of pictures that I will keep (hopefully) forever.

A few weeks later, I had the sporting holiday from school so I got a week off. At this point in time I was missing the sun and warmth more than you can imagine and my sisters took me to this hotel where they have cool water slides, heated pools, a small lazy river and saunas. It felt so humid and warm just like Florida. Being there was just what I needed. That weekend, I went skiing with my Rotary district. The first time I went skiing I had the flu, so this was pretty much my first actual attempt at it. Honestly, it was terrifying but my friends helped me a lot and the Rotarians were really good about helping me get down slopes that were too difficult for me. By the end it was actually enjoyable as opposed to just straight up terrifying so I’m glad I went.

In the beginning of March, I went to Helsinki with Iris, my close friend, and something magical happened. As we were walking I spotted from a distance a place called “Southern Fried Chicken” and I got incredibly excited. I had been wanting fried chicken since the day I stepped off of the plane and finally I got it after 7 whole months.
Then, I guess you could say I was inspired by my fried chicken experience and decided to cook some more southern comfort food for my family. I made them chicken and dumplings, it was good I think but also not the same. I guess with the different brands and such it’s hard to make it exactly the same.

March 16th was one of the coolest days of my life. In the afternoon, I went to walk the dogs with my parents since it was very nice weather. They took me to the place where people lived in the Bronze Age, a short walk from my house. We walked through the woods and along the river in my city. I found it odd that even though I had been living here for 7 months already, I had never seen that area of Raisio before. Later that night, I found out that the northern lights were supposed to be visible in all parts of Finland. I walked outside with my dad and he showed me them. They were really faint, so my mom offered to drive me to a place where I would be able to see them better. We drove to the middle of nowhere and it was so much more clear, the way the lights moved and changed color made it seem like my eyes were playing tricks on me. The northern lights are a little like magic. They seemed to make everyone who saw them remarkably thankful for life, and for Finland.

One thing that I am really excited about is that I have been planning the trip my Finnish friend will take to stay with me in Florida in 2016.

Another kind of interesting thing I have been able to do recently is to go see a Finnish play called “SIG: the musical” with my Rotary club. It is a play that takes place in my city. It was also the first time I got to see my first host mom since I moved. It was really nice to see her after seeing her almost every day and then not seeing her at all for almost two months.

A few weeks ago, my host sister Isabella took me to her friend’s party with her. Her friends are really friendly, nice, and welcoming. I had an awesome time, I’m glad she invited me. It made me realize the slight cultural difference between the Swedish speaking Finns and Finnish speaking Finns. In general, the Swedish speaking Finns are more outgoing and welcoming to new people.

At the end of March, I had a lot of free time because I had exam week, and no exams. I went to Helsinki to say goodbye to one of my closest exchange friends, and to celebrate another friend’s birthday. Going to Helsinki is always a good time. It’s so exciting and different, at least for me. I think Helsinki in a lot of ways is different from the rest of Finland. One obvious reason is the population, and the fact that it’s a capital but also I feel like there is a lot more diversity there. There’s also more art, a different dialect, much more public transportation, a slightly different style, and a lot more to do…and it’s only 2 hours away from me.

Since it has been warmer lately, for example this week it was 15 celsius (I almost cried tears of joy) my family took me to the summer cottage on Easter. We drove the car to a motor boat which we then took to the island. It was astonishingly beautiful and I can’t wait for summer and to live there. Even if it means I won’t have plumbing. Later that day, I got to try a very typical Finnish Easter desert called mämmi. It looks very undesirable but to me, with vanilla cream and sugar it was actually good. When I told my friends that I actually liked it they were all very surprised. Mämmi is rarely liked. The week of Easyer, my host mom hid eggs in the morning and left clues on the table so we could find them. It was a cool spin on Easter egg hunts. Traditionally, on Easter children are supposed to dress like kind witches and go around to their neighbors singing a song to receive candy, much like Halloween. Although, I don’t think that we had any come this year. Probably because it is a long and tiring walk up the hill to our house. On Easter Monday we were able to go to my mother’s mom’s house for a meal with my aunt’s family.

Recently, my family went to see my first host brother’s floorball game and then went to my first host family’s house. Since I had been here, I have really started to like floorball and I’m a little sad that it doesn’t really exist in Florida, or the United States. It was fun to spend time with both of my families together. It’s kind of hilarious when they get together. Both of my dads have an interesting sense of humor so it’s always a lot of laughing.
This week I caught some type of stomach bug, and I was really worried that I would not be able to come to my Rotary district conference in Pori, but luckily I was able to. All the inbounds and gave presentations to the Rotarians of cultural differences, which ended up to be quite hilarious. My group did a presentation shedding light on the differences in meeting someone for the first time between Australians, Americans, and Finns.

The Americans met by one complimenting the other and then skipping off together. The Australians introduced themselves and decided to get together for a barbecue and the Finns met and just said hello and walked away. Obviously, these are very stereotypical, but I think everyone got a good laugh out of them because they still hold a lot of truth. We stayed in a nice dorm type place and we all went to the sauna and hung out at night. Sunday, we went to the mall in Pori and several groups of outbound gave presentations in Finnish, and we sang a song for the audience. All of us were dead from lack of sleep and sad to say goodbye!

One last thing I have to mention is my language progress. With Finnish, I think my confidence is going up but my skill level is not changing very much. In Swedish, I am understanding more each day and it clicks in my brain much easier than Finnish does. I’m very lucky because my host family has been doing a lot to try to help me improve my Swedish. Even if it means saying the same story twice in two languages.

Sun, April 12, 2015

This week, I reached six months in Finland. When  I think about that, it really astounds me and I am not sure how to feel. In the Florida orientations we spent many hours reviewing the exchange cycle: all of the stages you supposedly  go through on exchange. Basically it says that exchange has its ups and downs, well that’s definitely one thing they nailed right on the head.

In these past six months I think I have felt more than ever. I’ve had plenty of time to think, to cry, to laugh until my stomach hurts, I’ve been sick, I’ve been sad, and I have suffered through my share of embarrassing moments. I remember talking to my sister in the first month saying, “it’s so weird, I feel the happiest I have ever been and still sad at the same time.” and she said to me, “well that’s the exchange student feeling.” Sometimes it can be really hard to be a minor living without anything familiar. Leaving everything you know can open your eyes to a lot of the things that were happening in your home country, both good and bad.

For me, I’ve definitely started to realize how important family truly is, but I have also begun to realize faults in American culture and even in myself. It has also been a time for me to look at my friendships and see clearly who my true friends are and always have been. Then again me saying this is sort of funny because I still have a whole other six months to grow and figure things out and my opinions could change completely from what they are now.

With my half way point, came my new family. I’ll be honest I was a bit nervous to move. After six months with my first family, you can say I got pretty attached. Not only that, but also once you get comfortable it’s kind of hard to uproot and move, and to make yourself adjust once again. However, so far, I can say that I was worried for nothing.

My family has been very welcoming and I already feel very comfortable, but the thing is that I’m switching my focus language. In my first family, they speak both Finnish and Swedish but I go to a Finnish speaking school so I focused on Finnish. However, now I am beginning to study Swedish because it is the predominate language of my new family. This does create some complications since my school and my friends are still Finnish speaking but I will try hard and hopefully everything will work out. It does get a bit confusing though, even after one week because I go to school and I hear Finnish all day. That is, until I go to Spanish class. In Finnish. Oh, and Swedish class. In Finnish. When I’m thinking in English and listening in Finnish and translating to Spanish or Swedish. I anticipate that when I come back, my English will not be so good.

Next week, Friday the thirteenth (what a convenient date for something important), I have the Finnish prom. Before you get the wrong idea, I need to explain. So, the second year students in Lukio have been going to practices to learn traditional dances for several months now and next Friday we will present them to secondary schools in our town, our own school, and then in the evening for the families. Needless to say, I’m a bit nervous. The dances are not really difficult, but they are a lot to remember. Wish me luck!

Thu, February 5, 2015

I realized that in my journals I have not yet written the thing I think about every single day, so I would like to start off by saying: Thank You!! Rotary.  Seriously, I cannot imagine how different my life, or the lives of students all over the world would have been without Rotary Youth Exchange.

This past month has consisted of a lot of emotions, mostly good. Christmas was perfect. The weather was great too, a few days before Christmas it started snowing and did not stop until at least a week after. In the last few days of December it was very cold (-20 Celsius!) The day before Christmas (the 23rd here) I spent with my family watching movies, eating my father’s oven baked nuts, and drinking glögi. Glögi, for those unfortunate enough to not know, is a hot juice that is generally served with raisins and nuts (you just dump them in). It is basically the Nordic equivalent to egg nog.

The next morning, we all woke up and got dressed up. My father’s grandparents came and we watched the reading of the Christmas peace. It is a document that is read in Turku every year on Christmas, a tradition that has been upheld since the middle ages. Then, for breakfast we ate Christmas porridge, another Finnish tradition. The porridge usually has an almond hidden in it and the person that gets it gets to make a wish. This year, my mom actually put two. I got an almond in my first bite! In the evening we ate more than we should have and opened presents. Overall, Christmas was more than I could have asked for. I felt happier than ever and very much at home. In the days that followed, we ate and ate and ate. After all of the eating, I did not feel hungry for about two days.

A few days after Christmas, I tried avantouinti (ice swimming).  I went with my friend Mila and her mom. We first went into the sauna for about twenty minutes and drank a lot of water, then we walked across the icy dock and brought everything but our heads into the freezing water. Then we did it again. It actually was not as bad as I expected and was super interesting to experience. When I just stood outside, even though it was negative seven, I felt warm. The only drawback from it was the dizziness caused by drastic change in blood pressure.

On New Year’s Eve, I went with Mila to her boyfriend’s house. There I had basically the most Finnish New Year possible. We went in the sauna where we sang “Maamme” while standing and water was constantly being poured on the kiuas until we finnish the whole verse. After, we went into this thing called a palju, which is basically  a wooden hot tub without bubbles. We walked to an empty field by the water and set off fireworks.

The weekend after school resumed was my birthday, so two of my best friends from Helsinki area came to visit. We had a girl’s night in Turku that Friday and that Saturday was my actual birthday. My family woke me up singing the Finnish birthday song and gave me a nice card but unfortunately my brother had a floorball game and I had a friend’s going away party so we did not get to celebrate much on my actually birthday. However, we did celebrate on Sunday with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins and of course, delicious food made by my grandma.

Our oldies left last week. For those who do not know, oldies are the exchange students who started their exchanges six months earlier. It was really devastating to have to face the fact that we will not be able to see these people on a regular basis, and that we will not just see them at Rotary events. Last week was hard for all of the exchange students. It’s not only that we won’t be about to see them, it’s also that we realize that we will (sooner than any of us want to believe) also have to step on that plane and go “home”.

The good thing that comes out of our oldies leaving is that we get newbies! I will no longer be the only exchange student in my school because I am one of the lucky ones to get a newbie.

This past weekend was a lot of fun for me. On Friday, I went to my friend Hilma’s birthday party. I love parties in Finland because it’s a really good way to make new friends and practice Finnish. Then on Sunday I got to go ice skating with my brother, aunt, and cousin. My aunt used to be a figure skater so she taught me a few tricks and the proper way to skate.

In conclusion, I would just like to send out a PSA as a  warning to all of those Floridians who are traveling somewhere cold soon: Be careful of the ice, you probably will slip and it will hurt. I’m saying this from experience.

Tue, January 20, 2015

So I’m writing my second journal. This is a joke right? I’m already in month five and time has honestly never gone faster. I can count the number of days until my oldies leave in my fingers and toes and it’s just, well…sort of terrifying.
Before I give you a recap of everything that’s been happening in my life, I’ll start by answering some questions I’ve been asked recently. “How’s your Finnish? Isn’t Finnish the 3rd hardest language for English speakers?” Well to answer your question, yes. It is. I feel like the reason it is so difficult for English speakers is because it is extremely different. For those of you who don’t know anything about the language, here is a quick overview:
-Finnish (comparatively) has very few cognates to English
-No articles
– 6 verb types, and 4 tenses (no future)
– Free word order (to a certain extent)
-About 16 possible forms of every word.
– There is no such thing as prepositions, and endings to words preform their purpose.
– Spoken Finnish is very different from written.
So to answer your first question, no I am not by any means fluent, but what is important that I am trying and I am getting better each day. It can get extremely frustrating but I guess I look at it as the catch for getting to live in such a great country.

“How is your host family? Have you switched yet?”
I’m still in my first host family until sometime in January. I loveeee love love my host family. I feel like we get along very well and they help me out whenever I need it. They put up with me eating probably a little more than I should. They aren’t afraid to mess with me, surprisingly enough this makes me feel even more at home.

“Isn’t it always freezing an covered in snow where you live?”
No. It’s not actually. Until recently the weather has been afraid to creep below -2 c. It has snowed a few times but usually it only lasts 2 days. Luckily though, the snow is supposed to stick after it snows on the 26th of December.

“How much light is there?”
It’s been a rough fall. Every day was shorter than the last and it noticeably takes effect on people. It’s exhausting to go to school and it’s dark and come home and it’s dark. It’s good to have distractions and the snow helps to brighten things up. Now, since today is the winter solstice, the days will become longer! To be completely honest I think I miss the sun more than any person.

Now for the recap. The first Sunday of November was Finnish Father’s Day. My brother and I made cards for our Dad and on that morning we went and woke him up by singing a Father’s Day song (I did not know this song so I just kind of smiled and stood there) and then gave him some gifts.

The following weekend was the Martinex outlet. Martinex is the company that my host mom manages. They usually just sell products online, but once a year they have a weekend outlet so it gets really busy. It was nice because I got to meet her coworkers and help package boxes for costumes.

Later in November, I got invited to go volunteer again, but this time with my friend Mila. It was for a Christian rock festival. We worked and made sure that there was enough food placed on the buffet tables so that every person there could eat. After we finished, we got to go in and watch the performances. Mila was nice enough to let one of my best exchange friends, Pilo, join us too, even though she didn’t know him. I’ll be honest, it started off boring. As it got later, the music got better, and by the end it was more of electronic and everyone went to the dance floor.

The following weekend was the Christmas party for my district. We all met and went to a building where we prepared gingerbread cookies and Christmas tarts. After it was all devoured, all of us left in groups and went off to do whatever we wanted. I went to eat pizza and walk through the snowy streets and then met up with a bunch of people at Burger King, these sort of nights are amazing.

That next week I caught the flu. I felt really terrible and I was worried that I would be feeling horrible during Lapland which began that Friday. It turned out to be okay; I did still have the flu, but I felt immensely better. It was a longggggggggggg trip. Long. Around 16 hours. In order for almost all of the exchange students to go (somewhere around 140) we had to take 4 charter buses.

On Saturday, we arrived in Muonio in the morning and ate lunch after that we mostly just got to hang out, go sledding, go to our rooms, and went to the ski resort to make sure everything fit. Sunday was the skiing day. We left in the morning and went to the resort. I figured out something that day…that everyone has their thing and that skiing is most definitely not mine. It was a lot of fun though. After that, we got to cook sausages by the fire. Later that night we got to go eat soup in a huge tent and hang out and have fun that night.

Then Monday started off for me by going to a small museum specializing in the animals of the region, after that we went to a reindeer farm where we learned about the indigenous people of Lapland and about the life of a reindeer. It was crazy to get to see a bunch of reindeer right in front of my eyes and we even got to feed them!! After the farm we got to go explore an unfinished ice hotel. It was amazing, it was entirely made out of ice and actually pretty warm inside. After that, we got to go on a husky sleigh ride. This is something I have wanted to do ever since I was 9, when a friend told me that she went on one. Then later we got to go on a sleigh pulled by reindeer!

We walked back to the hotel in snowshoes and ate reindeer and mashed potatoes. To be completely honest, reindeer is not my favorite. However, it’s definitely a unique flavor and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to try. After dinner came the sadness. It was our last night in Lapland and we had a party where the fact that our oldies (people who came in January and will leave in January) are actually going to leave soon.

Everyone, semi-unsuccessfully, tried to hold back tears. Then, as always, it turned into a huge dance party. Tuesday it was time to leave so we headed off to Rovaniemi to Santa’s village. Forget what you’ve heard, Santa lives in Finland. It was funny to see how excited some of my friends were to meet Santa because they are from countries that don’t have Santa Claus. After the time in Rovaniemi, we went to eat and said our goodbyes again. It was really hard, knowing that we may never see some of those people again but we tried to smile through it.
Coming home was weird. It was the longest I had been away from home and thinking about coming back was sort of a reality check, like I realized what I was coming back to.

The next Friday was one of my best friends here in Finland’s birthday parties. I spent the night at her house and we had a lot of fun. That Saturday it was Finnish Independence Day so we went over to a family friend’s house and watched the president and his wife shake hands of people invited to his dinner for about 3 hours. It sounds boring, but it’s kind of fun to comment on all of the dresses and stuff while indulging in great food and, of course, with good company. The day before, at school, we had a program where students went up and sang or danced in honor of both Independence Day, and of some students graduating.

Last weekend, I got the honor of visiting Finland’s capital city for the first time. I went to Helsinki to visit my good friend Kat for her 19th birthday. Helsinki is different from everywhere else I have been here. Most places in Finland are pretty spaced out and even large cities are relatively quiet (until nightfall when people get drunk.) The amount of foreigners was noticeable because I heard a lot of English, and also a lot of noise in general. It was so nice to spend time with some of my favorite people there, but I almost think my favorite part of Helsinki was the food. It was actually pretty cheap and there was a better variety of restaurants.

The Tuesday after Helsinki, something crazy happened. Kylie was in a Finnish play. I had been in a drama course for about 2 months after being, well quite frankly, forced into it. Generally, I get nervous in front of crowds. My role in the play was a circus director/ light man. My character was sort of insane, and I got to wear a golden hat and jacket. The play was in front of around 400 of my fellow classmates and I started out terrified but actually when I went out in front of the curtains, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, but that doesn’t mean I would willingly do it again. Now I’m on winter break and I get to celebrate Christmas the Finnish way. Today my family went to my mom’s parents’ house and had dinner and decorated their Christmas tree. It feels a little odd not having my family with me, but I guess you could say that I do. These people are my family now, just not by blood. I plan to make my family a pumpkin pie, which they have never had before! Here, we open presents on the 24th in the evening and it might actually be white. Merry Christmas/ hyvää joulua!

 Sun, December 21, 2014

This week, the cold came with the autumn solstice and brought snow to all over Finland.

Honestly, I’ve been putting off writing this journal. Writing a journal about everything that is happening in your life when you’re on exchange is hard work, your life never stops moving! Even if you’re just sitting on the couch watching TV it’s still so new to you because you are sitting on your new couch in a new house, with a new family, listening to a new language. So I guess I should start from the beginning…

I left from Orlando on August 1st and little did I know how mentally and physically exhausting the journey to Helsinki would be. I traveled a lot over the summer, so I thought that getting around the airports wouldn’t be a problem. I was so incredibly wrong, but I won’t get into how awful the process was but I will say that just because getting somewhere is a hard process, it doesn’t mean that when you finally arrive it won’t be worth it- I guess that applies to life too.

After I arrived I was placed in a hotel just outside of Helsinki for a night before all of the students went to the language camp in a place called Karkku. I was a little nervous for language camp, I thought that there would be tests and if I didn’t pass they would send me home. Again, I was wrong. The camp actually was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. It was over a hundred students from all over the world and nights filled with talking to amazing people, the sauna, swimming in the lake, and traditional Finnish foods (and of course I learned a lot of Finnish too). After camp, all of us students became a family.

Immediately after camp, my amazing host mom took me to Tallinn, Estonia! This was interesting because if you read my bio, you probably noticed that originally I was placed in Estonia. Although Estonia was beautiful, I could not be happier that I was ultimately placed in Finland. I never thought that I would feel so much at home here, but I do. Almost every single Finn I have spoken to has asked me why I would ever want to leave Florida and come here, and it’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s because every plate of food I eat here is amazing, maybe it’s because it’s so peaceful, maybe it’s the gorgeous nature or the modern houses or the school or the fact that when I told one of my friends that I was feeling a little sad, she brought me 3 pieces of pulla, or maybe just the fact that I ended up in an amaz ing family. I don’t know really. All I know is that I love it here.

Immediately after I returned from Tallinn, my school started. On the first day I was really nervous, but it turned out better than I expected and I officially like Lukio better than High School. My gym class has actually been a lot of fun. With them I have played floorball, Finnish baseball, and went canoeing! There are a lot of differences between Lukio and High School: people here seem to take school more seriously because they go by choice. You can use tablets/ computers/ cell phones during class. The schedule is rotating and you usually have each class 3 times a week and they last 75 minutes with 10 minutes in between and most people have about 4 classes every day. School has no official start and end, and no bell system, and if the teacher has nothing else to say, you can just leave. Another huge difference are the school lunches, they are completely free for students, and buffet style, and they are not allowed to bring lunch to school. Oh, I almost forgot! My school has a candy bar machine which is heaven on Earth. It’s not surprising because Finns love candy you can tell if you walk into practically any store and see the aisles upon aisles of it.

A few weekends ago my mom took me to our summer cottage which is on an island off of Turku. This was a huge cultural experience because almost every family in this part of Finland owns a summer cottage. Our summer cottage had no plumbing so I got to use an outhouse for the first time! It actually was not that bad. The weekend that I went to the summer cottage, was a special weekend because everyone creates huge bonfires because they need to get rid of the waste because the summer is ending and also because in the old times, boats were guided by fires to signal where the shore was.

They also took me mushroom picking in the forest, here there is something called everyman’s right which allows anyone to go onto another person’s property and pick and berries or mushrooms as long as they do not damage or disrupt the property. I went with my mom, aunt, and two cousins. One of my little cousins kept saying in Finnish “Kylie knows the path!” and he was not a typical Finn, he kept talking and kept talking to me about everything even though I could barely understand anything he said. Most of the time, I just stared blankly at him but he still told my mom “Kylie is a nice girl.”

I think I learn more Finnish when I am with them than any other time because even if I do not understand, they just keep repeating it slowly to me until I get the gist or they give up. That night we went in the sauna. Yes, it’s true, Finns go completely naked, but it’s not true that men and women go together, at least in public places. When I first came here, I did not like the sauna. I thought that it was too uncomfortable, and felt like I was breathing in water! However, I kept trying and soon enough I started to love it. It really is a huge part of Finnish culture and it’s something so different than anything I can explain. It’s like when you are there, you are closer to someone, and your conversations get more in depth. Of course, afterward my mom jumped in the lake while my aunt and I went straight into the hot tub. We talked about Finnish culture while looking out at the still ocean and surrounding islands.

The following Friday there was a celebration for the 3rd years (basically the seniors but they are called abi) because they only had 100 days of school left. They went to all of the younger kids and wrote and drew on their faces. My cheek had “insert coin” written with lipstick, andd then a slot to put the coin in. They also decorated the main hall of the school and dressed up in crazy costumes that were jungle themed. One guy came as a gorilla, another girl came as a smurf and was completely painted blue, and one of my friends painted his whole body brown. Music blasted through the halls and everyone was smiling and laughing.

I think that I got very lucky with my placement too. Since I live in Raisio I have the best of both worlds. I am living in a peaceful small town, but if I get in a car for 15 minutes I’m in Turku, the 5th largest city in Finland. This past weekend, it was Turku day so there was a Rotary dinner which ended with a firework show. Everyone gathered on the streets near the river and watched the show, it reminded a little bit of the fourth of July in The States.

This week, the cold came with the autumn solstice and brought snow to all over Finland. My region did not get snow but it’s sure to come soon. I also started taking Vitamin D pills to prevent depression caused by the darkness.. Oh Finland. So far I am loving my life here, although people are much more shy here, they say that once you make a friend they will always be there for you. I can see myself changing and I feel like I am getting to know myself. My style is changing, the way I eat is changing, my taste in food, and the way I look at people.

When you’re on exchange you have to be ready to handle any type of situation: uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing, or different but you are so incredibly honored to handle these situations because you love your host country and know that the good will come, and when it’s good, it’s really good.\

Note to Kylie: Your photos didn’t get uploaded. Maybe try sending two at a time. I tried to send to your email but it came back. Candy 

Photo description:This is pulla, a traditional Finnish dessert

Photo description:The view from the island our summer cottage is on

Photo description:A crawfish party which is very typical for summer, and so much fun!

Photo description:This is a typical Southwest Finland terrain, there are walking paths and trees everywhere.

Wed, September 24, 2014

Laura - Brazil

Hometown: Coconut Creek, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Pompano Beach, Florida
Host District: District 4500
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Joao Pessoa

My Bio

Oi! My name is Laura Henschel and I’m going to Brazil for my junior year of high school. To be honest, this experience scares me just as much as it excites me. The thought of learning to samba, going to Carnival, eating with new friends, and exploring an entirely new world makes me want to jump on the plane right now, but the thought of starting over in a bustling, unpredictable country makes me apprehensive. Brazil was my wildcard choice when deciding what country I wanted to explore. My main goal is to become fluent in a language that will prove proactive internationally, whether it be in business rooms in South America or on the streets of South Florida with locals and portuguese is ideal. I couldn’t be more eager to sink my teeth into this new language. Currently, I live in Coconut Creek with my beautiful mother and Fort Lauderdale with my father. My brother frequently visits from his home at FSU. At my school, Pompano Beach High, I’m Sophomore Class secretary, and an active participant in Interact Club. When I’m not at school, I’m working as a barista at a health food store; my job has gotten me addicted to a good coffee which I hope I can find in Brazil! At this moment, I’m still in America, waiting to get on that plane to my new life in the unknown. I know these next few months will fly by and although it’s terrifying, it will be the best thing I’ve been through thus far. A big ‘thank you’ to my supportive loved ones for helping me reach this point in my journey and a huge ‘Olá’ to all the new ones I’m soon about to meet.

Journals: Laura – Brazil

Ave Maria.. Nossa Senhora… Puxa…. Eitaaa… Oxeee.. Meu Deus! Where has the time gone?! 225 days have slipped through my fingers and now only a mere 133 remain. It’s unreal that my days are limited here. I fell in love with such an extraordinary place…

My good friend Mackenzie Teek, who also did her exchange from Florida to Joao Pessoa, said to me once, “My city [our city] is my little piece of the universe.” I couldn’t agree more. Like each place, my city has its downsides and annoying quirks.. but they’ve become MY quirks. The people, music, food, love, language, way of life: it’s all become a part of me.

In the past few months of my exchange much has gone on. Chronologically…

December: I spent my summer break in my city, and being the biggest city in my state, we had a lot of exchange students visit me and my friends. Exchangers from Mexico, US, Taiwan, Finland, Poland, England, Scotland… it’s safe to say I have a couch to crash on in any country in the world practically! I enjoyed many shows and music festivals here, mostly electronic music.

By the time Christmas rolled around, I spent it with my first host family in Boa Viagem, Recife. I got to know the ENTIRE city with them, including Olinda, Recife Antigo, Casa Amarela, and Mercado de Sao Jose, which has everything imaginable for dirt cheap. There I also enjoyed the company of more exchange students! On Christmas Eve, we had a dinner party with very traditional Brazilian food and music. For New Year’s, we returned back to Joao Pessoa and my host brother and I celebrated on the beach for a free show with some of the Northeast’s most well-known artists. There must of been millions of people, all dressed in white, counting down with us! It was magical.

January: Shortly after New Year’s, I traveled to Aracaju and Salvador to visit yet MORE exchangers! We went down to Bahia and got to see David Guetta at a rave, and we had a goodbye party for our only ‘oldie’ (the exchange students from Germany, Australia, etc who arrive in January instead of August). A week there, and I was back to my city to enjoy the rest of my vacation with my friends. At the end of January I started school again, this time in the same class with my best friend from Denmark. I am really enjoying this new class as opposed to my previous year!

February: Ah the best month so far because of the famous Carnaval! The entire month it seems has been block party after festival after party after show! The entire country stops what they’re doing to celebrate before and during the 4 day Carnaval. Joao Pessoa has amazing block parties where we shut down the biggest street in the city and have themed parties for days on end! My absolute favorite was ‘Dia Das Virgens’ where men of all gender and sexual orientations dress up as women and parade down the streets! It was the best thing I’ve seen in my life. My friends in makeup, heels, and dresses…. I will never forget.

For actual Carnaval, my American friend and I went to Olinda, in Recife for one of the most famous parties in all of Brasil. At Quatro Cantos, an intersection in the historic downtown center, there are literally MILLIONS of people in costumes and with music parading around the city. Out of amazing luck, we found our two friends who live in Natal, from France and Hungary. From sun up to sun down we stayed and partied with the most hilarious Brazilians in the most creative costumes. My friend and I wore our American flags and that got us an amazing amount of acceptance from the locals. Each one would quickly think of an English word to yell at us to impress us.. most of them were entirely random, like ‘XBOX!’ ‘Beverly Hills!’ ‘Freezer!’ etc.

Beside Carnaval, I had the amazing opportunity to do a photoshoot with my amazing, talented friend, and we appeared on a TV interview because of it! I also switched families, to my wonderful mommy and my beautiful sister. We get along really well. I continue to spend my free time on the beach, practicing my Português, singing Wesley Safadão, and loving my friends.

That’s just about up to date with today. In the upcoming months I have plenty of more travels planned (Buenos Aires? Sao Paulo? Rio? Amazon?), plenty of more festivities and shows, and plenty of more to learn from my incredible Brazilian friends. Stay tuned for more excitement from the best year ever.

  1. 4500 may have to be the second best Rotary district in the world (after 6990 of course) because of my chairman and club here. I am thankful to be able to travel so much, and to have the opportunities that they’ve given me. Amo vocês demais!

 Mon, February 23, 2015

Opa! Where have I left off? Almost 2 months ago is the last time I wrote and my life have changed immensely since then. On the surface, I look almost the same. Sure, a hair color change, some new clothes, 300 new Instagram followers (Instagram is big in Brazil, guys)… but more than the superficial things, the stuff visible from the surface, I myself have changed deeply in the core.

They say a person always has the same core, the same soul, with the same principle ‘self’ always there…. I beg to differ. I could not be more different under the skin from when I first arrived. Instead of listing everything that’s changed, one stanza of a poem has really summed up my exchange and how I’m feeling about life in general now:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

It’s so important now to me to fight against the end, the death as Dylan Thomas was describing in his famous poem. I struggle everyday to make my exchange count, to do something new and scary and exciting, to have a memorable day with great people, to appreciate every second I was granted here in Brazil. Each day comes closer to the dying of my day, my exchange, and I refuse to accept it and go lightly.

My days have become ‘normal’ around this time. No more field trips to the grocery store, now I go alone sometimes. I have my own bus pass which I use a lot to get around my city, instead of being clueless on which way is which. Some stores and restaurants recognize me now, knowing my order even before I ask. I’ve become somewhat of a local. School was great, but thanks to being south of the equator I’m on summer break now and I have lots of free time to go to the beach, travel, and see my friends.

I talk about it every journal, but my language was the main reason why I wanted to go on exchange, and now to comfortably say that I am bilingual is something I never thought possible… I have a LONG way to go before I can have the large vocabulary I want, with the Northeastern accent that I want, etc. The little things make me so excited, when I open my text messages and have conversations in TWO languages.. or when people ask me if I’m from Portugal or from the South, because my Portuguese is good, but the accent is unrecognizable (the gringa still hasn’t worn completely off). The most exciting thing is thinking something in Portuguese before I do in English, and knowing there isn’t quite the perfect translation I want…

I’ll finish off my journal with some tips for future exchange students:

Bring a journal. Mine on the website may seem a little bland, but when you don’t have pressure to write them, or when you need to pass time during the boring classes in school, it’s a great tool to remember your exchange and your feelings. My number one most important item I have on my exchange is my diary.
Bring two of the important stuff. Two pairs of headphones, two retainers, two pairs of sunglasses. It’s nice when your exchange friends steal one pair or you lose them, because you will lose them… and bring four times as many pins as you think you need. I just brought around 50 and of course I’m over here buying supplies to make more. Some kids really have kick ass pins here, be warned….
Leave your english books at home. If you’re really dedicated at learning your host language, you’ll never want to look at them and if you’re not that motivated it will only tempt you to use English instead of learning.
Try to meet every new person you can, whether they’re from Rotary, your friend’s friends, your extended family, whomever. People love the exchange students, and if you put yourself out there, people love to do things for the exchange students ex. (free windsurfing, free food, free concert tickets, free trips to big cities, etc.)

That’s all I’ve got for now. Laura Henschel signing out from Brazil.

 Thu, December 11, 2014

I never imagined being able to express myself in a completely new way, the Portuguese way.

 Just like my last entry, I sat at my computer for about an hour trying to think about a way to start this, how to talk about my thoughts, my new life- how to put it all on paper. I can’t. I can’t discredit my experiences by summing them up into a few concise sentences.

My life here in Joao Pessoa is NOTHING as I expected it to be. Before I arrived I anticipated a raw place, full of uncertainty. I’m glad I did, because now the reality is that much sweeter. It’s a dream I couldn’t have even thought of myself.

I live in the Northeast of Brazil, considered the poorest and least populated part of Brazil along side the Amazon region. However my city is the perfect fit for me. It’s a little less than 1 million people, so it’s comparably small to the giants down south. It makes up for that in the unique gastronomy, rich culture, extraordinary people, and jaw-dropping landscapes.

Food:

On a daily basis with my family, we have pretty cultural non-specific food like many other Brazilians: Rice and beans (every day), chicken, steak, salad (always), bread, vegetables, etc. However restaurants here have amazing menus full of very traditional foods, and when having a party or churrasco, the food is very particular to Brazil and the Northeast. I encourage you to look up the following delicacies that you can’t find in the US, and for a good reason! There the best when made by Brazilians: Feijoada, cartola, cuscuz com leite e ovos, coração da galinha, carne do sol, brigadeiro, tapioca, coxinha, queijo coalho, açai, and salgados.

Another awesome thing here is the great bakeries. There are tons with so many different types of breads and desserts that are all DELICIOUS.

You’d think these foods would be attacking my waistline, but I actually lost weight being here because I eat so healthy and walk a lot.

Language:

Portuguese is such a beautiful and intriguing language that I have had the privilege to learn in the best environment possible.

I did a considerable amount of worrying about learning Portuguese before I arrived, and to be honest it was all in vain. When I arrived knowing close to nothing, my family helped me incredibly with learning. However, I did have initiative. I wanted to learn, I asked thousands of questions, and firmly begged everyone to talk to me in Portuguese. Without drive, it wouldn’t have happened. But it did happen for me! Not that I am fluent by any means, but I can communicate anything I want to and understand every conversation already, which is the coolest feeling in the world. I can do everything in another language, which I didn’t have the ability to do before exchange.

It has brought tears to my eyes to be able to share moments with my family and friends here that I otherwise couldn’t without the language being there. I never imagined being able to express myself in a completely new way, the Portuguese way. I find it cool that in Portuguese I have a different personality than in English!

Just a few cool things different in Brazil compared to Florida:

. People here use the ‘thumbs up’ gesture for EVERYTHING- saying thank you, being sarcastic, saying hello, crossing the street, approving of food, making purchases, literally everything. I use it like 50 times a day.

. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to ‘Brazilian time’ and the Brazilian way of making plans, which usually consists of not making any plans at all/ arriving to a destination 3 hours late. I don’t exactly like being late on purpose, so it’s been a huge transition.

. People have different accents from city to city, not region to region, so its super easy for people to know where you’re from. I love hearing someone from Sao Paulo for example, because their accent is hilarious to people from the Nordeste!

. Nightlife here as far as festivals and parties and shows are usually all ages, which is strange compared to everything in the US being 21+. Here, even in the coolest concerts or parties you’ll find teens as well as adults.

. Busses here are abundant, but not as abundant as the people who need to ride them. Whenever I use a bus, there is usually 40 people crammed next to me.

. There are jobs here for very peculiar things. Some malls or buildings hire people to sit in the elevator and push the buttons for you. Busses have a man who sits there to give you change instead of using a card/automated. People pump gas into your car for you. Some stores hire a person to sit in the front and tally customers asking simply “Did you enjoy your experience?”. There are hundreds of city cleaners who mostly just sweep up leaves, on sidewalks. Homeless people/gang members ‘watch’ your car as you park it in a destination and you have to pay them before you leave. At stop lights, people will offer to wash your windows while you wait, or will sell things like random fruit or candy. When it rains, people will walk you to your destination using their umbrella for money in return. Men by the beach make flowers out of palm leaves and sell them to random people. Some people are walking stores and will try to sell their sunglasses/CDs/desserts inside other stores, bars, restaurants, etc.

In short, my time here has been life-changing. I can’t believe it’s already been 3 months. I feel like I belong here in Brazil. I tried to keep this brief because 1) I could go on forever 2) writing in English has been getting hard for me so I will stop while I’m ahead, with minimal mistakes 3) I’m too busy living the life over here!

Until next time,
Beijos

 Sun, September 28, 2014

Here, Portuguese dominates my life. It’s good because I’ve been learning so much! Everyday I improve; however I’m still not comfortable hearing it all the time. I have no friends near me because school hasn’t stared yet. I am unable to go places alone because I don’t know my way around or how to stay safe. My parents aren’t here to hold my hand anymore. It is all very frustrating. 

I spent a few minutes figuring out how to start this journal, how to sum up everything that’s been going on for the past two weeks; while 12 days sounds like nothing on the exchange spectrum, it’s been an eternity of learning, excitement, confusion, chaos, and emotion for me. I’d sum it up like this: “What is a comfort zone?!”

As soon as I left my parents in the Fort Lauderdale airport to wait in my terminal, I was launched off my pedestal of comfort right there. I got lost in the airport and went through security twice… all in my hometown! I thought I was such an established and independent person, but I couldn’t navigate in my own language or city. How could I do this in a new country, in a new language, with nobody!?

I was mollified at the airport in Recife when my host family came to meet me.. They were extremely nice and helpful in my first moments. From then on, I’ve had a great relationship with my host parents, three host brothers, and host puppy.

(I’d like to add that I arrived the day of the final.. so I was technically here for the World Cup! Right!?)

So far, I have noticed a few things that really struck me as different than the US. That’s right, not good, not bad, but different, exchangers!

-The first thing that is incredibly charming to me about my city is the pay phones. It sounds strange, but they’re all shaped like little eggs! I’ve also seen some in other cities that look like umbrellas, and even trash cans shaped like coconuts!

-It gets dark here at 5:30 pm which is very early compared to my 8:30 sunset in Florida.

-Things that are made here in Brazil are super cheap, like coconut water which is the USD equivalent of 50 cents! Also, hand-made things like jewelry and art is very inexpensive. However, anything not from here is heavily taxed and costs a fortune! Things like clothes and phones are incredibly overpriced in comparison to US prices.

-The fruit here is so delicious, ripe, and abundant. I’ve tried several new fruits that I didn’t know existed. I feel like I’ve discovered a new color or a new number each time I try a new one – something essential and great that I had no knowledge of!

-I’ve gained the reputation of Miley Cyrus here. Apparently being a blonde, short-haired American makes me her twin. I don’t see the resemblance!

-Besides the news and novelas, all the shows are American with Portuguese voice-overs or captions. I find a lot of the shows hilarious because the actors have completely different voices; however, I don’t know how I’ll get over Will Smith with a carioca accent…

-It might just be my family, but coffee is a big thing here. Sometimes we/they have coffee four or five times a day!

I’d like to talk about the difficulties as well, because although Rotary says the first few months are a honeymoon, I didn’t have this experience so far. I didn’t expect to feel so frustrated, confused, and lonely here already. I thought my maturity would equate into loving every second I’ve been in Brazil, but that’s far from the truth.

As I said before, I’ve been kicked out of my comfort zone of English, friends, security, and family. Here, Portuguese dominates my life. It’s good because I’ve been learning so much! Everyday I improve; however I’m still not comfortable hearing it all the time. I have no friends near me because school hasn’t stared yet. I am unable to go places alone because I don’t know my way around or how to stay safe. My parents aren’t here to hold my hand anymore. It is all very frustrating.

However more so than the difficulties, stepping outside my comfort zone has trusted me into incredible experiences, new friendships, and unforgettable memories. I’ve had so many ‘first times’ here in Brazil already.. my first taste of good sushi, my first horseback ride (on the side of a mountain!), my first luau, my first açai, my first Rotex friends.. I can go on.

Through the tears, doubts, and bashful moments, it’s been well worth it. For all you students teetering between doing exchange and backing out, it’s worth it. Finally, to myself later on, when it becomes even harder for me here in Brazil, it’s been worth it.

Fri, July 25, 2014

Lizzie - Lithuania

Hometown:Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
School: Pine Crest School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club:Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Host District: District 1462
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Vilnius

My Bio

Sveiki! My name is Lizzie, I’m seventeen and after my senior year at Pine Crest, I’ll be moving to Lithuania for a year of learning the difficult language and immersing myself in their culture. I am excited because my ancestors are from Lithuania, so, I’ll be connecting with my roots! I can’t imagine how different my life will be – I was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, and live with my family whom I’m sad to leave, but I know that this will be the experience of a lifetime. Throughout my years in school, I’ve come to love Biology and Chemistry. I find it interesting how teamwork is necessary in the molecular world. If all of the small atoms and molecules didn’t fit together perfectly, all of the complex things that create our world wouldn’t exist. Outside of school, I love running, going to the gym, working on my community service, traveling with my family, and hanging out with my friends. Even though leaving my amazing friends will be tough, I look forward to making new friends in Lithuania! This summer when I finally met Nomatter, the high school girl I sponsor in Zimbabwe, I realized that it isn’t difficult to connect with people from different cultures. Once moving past the language barrier, it’s easy to get along with anyone. This experience gave me the desire to broaden my horizons and get to know the world and all of the unique cultures in it. Although I’m nervous about learning the language and moving to a completely new place, I’m thrilled to have this amazing opportunity and look forward to all of the new and different experiences in my future. I’m so thankful to have the support of my family and to be sponsored by Rotary for this amazing adventure.

Journals: Lizzie – Lithuania

Right now, I’m looking at my final five days in Lithuania… I’m embarrassed I haven’t written in so long, but the past few months have flown by – it’s as if I blinked and the seasons changed from winter to spring to summer. At the moment, going back to the United States doesn’t seem real… even though I’ll be back in less than a week, I feel as though I have months left in Vilnius.

Remembering the past 10 months, I’ve learned, grown, and changed a great deal….
I’ve learned that life can be difficult, but without the challenges and bumps in the road, life wouldn’t be interesting.
I’ve learned that some of my best friends come from the most unexpected places.
I’ve learned to be open to anyone, anything, and anyplace, and to say yes to everything (within reason).
I’ve learned that while there are lows in life, those are temporary, and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve learned that technology (i.e. phones, computers, internet, television, etc.) isn’t a necessity.
I’ve learned that sadness is self-inflicted and happiness is a choice.
I’ve learned to always stand up for myself and that my own problems are mine. I’m the only person who can work through them and face them.
I’ve learned I’m from the ‘United States’, ‘The US’, ‘The States’, ‘The USA’, or ‘The United States of America’, but not from ‘America.’
I’ve learned to eat with the spoon or fork in my left hand and not switch hands during the meal.
I’ve learned a new language and culture, and fallen in love with my new home.

It’s strange. My emotions lately have been a bizarre melange of sorrow when thinking about leaving, happiness when looking back on my experiences here, excitement to go back to the USA after such a long time, but also apprehensiveness to return to Florida. Over the past ten (almost eleven) months, I’ve made a home for myself in Vilnius, Lithuania, and a bit of my heart will always be here. It upsets me to realize that I won’t be able to walk along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town every day or go for runs in the green, green parks sprinkled throughout the city. I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to one of the most beautiful cities in the world…. I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to my new family members. That’s yet another thing I’ve learned here – you don’t have to be related genetically to be family, all you need is love for one another!!

Lithuania has given me more than I could’ve imagined, a lot more than I had expected, and I’m tremendously grateful for this experience. Thank you Lithuania and Rotary Youth Exchange for giving me this gift and opening my eyes to the world.

 Sun, July 5, 2015

A few days ago, I celebrated (with astonishment) my 6 month anniversary in Lithuania. It’s a weird feeling, realizing that everything in my current life revolves around this small country in the corner of Europe…

Now, when I say, “home,” I’m referring to my host family’s apartment in Baltupiai. Hear me mention my mom or sisters, and I’m talking about my Lithuanian family. Ask me where to get coffee and I’ll point out the coziest cafes, those which serve drinks in actual mugs rather than paper cups, those with the tastiest coffee, and where to find free wifi. Craving a vegan or vegetarian meal? I’ve made a point to visit every healthy restaurant in Vilnius, so I’ll gladly direct you to my favorites.

It’s bizarre. I never would have imagined knowing this city so well, but that’s what happens when you make a home for yourself in a new place. Remembering my first day in Vilnius, it seems as if it were yesterday, but also feels like a lifetime ago. Arriving as a tan (how I miss my sun-kissed skin), scared-for-the-winter, yet eager-to-learn Floridian girl, I had absolutely no clue what to expect in the mysterious but enticing year lying ahead of me. I didn’t anticipate my Lithuanian host families to treat me as their real daughter. I couldn’t predict becoming so accustomed to public transportation that I now eat, drink, and sleep bus schedules. In no way did I expect to adjust to the cold, sticking to the Lithuanian mantra, “when in doubt, wear animals.” Especially, I never thought I’d love my new siblings so much that the thought of leaving them makes me tear up.

I’ve learned and grown so much over the past few months, and honestly, that’s due to the amount of time I’ve had to myself – one huge difference between my life in the USA versus Lithuania. Back home, I was constantly surrounded by loved ones and close friends. I definitely didn’t understand what “alone” meant until moving here, and while so much me-time can drive one insane, it provides the precious time to think a lot and write a lot. Looking at my bookshelf overflowing with journals, I’m both impressed and slightly disturbed by my strange need to record all of the random thoughts and ideas racing through my head at 100 kilometers per hour. And what you may not know is that this behavior is strange for me – in the USA, I was the student who would get a pit in her stomach upon receiving any writing assignment, completely dreading it and putting it off until the last minute. Surprisingly, my life in Lithuania has been the trigger for the swift metamorphosis from hatred to passion for writing. Now, I excitedly await picking up a blue-ink pen (the only thing I’ll write in journals with) and jotting down anything and everything I’d like. That’s the beauty in writing, the immense freedom at your fingertips.

In all, yes, being away from home is difficult, leaving loved ones to venture off alone to a rather unusual country is scary, and the thought that I’m currently 8,617 km away from everything that I’ve known is shocking. However, it’s easily been the adventure of a lifetime and has given me the unique opportunity to discover what I genuinely love to do. So, next time I tell someone I’m spending a year in Vilnius, Lithuania, I hope they don’t reply with, “….but why?!?!” and instead ask about my new home… I’ve got lots of great things to say.

Mon, March 23, 2015

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last wrote… Time flies while on exchange! Thinking about the past few months, I’ve celebrated several big holidays here (Halloween, Thanksgiving-a big celebration for a girl from the States- and Christmas). I’ve switched to my second host family and experienced living with snow (let me specify that this is quite different than going on a vacation to snow).

In the States, I’ve grown up almost viewing Halloween as a routine because the same thing happens every year… There are always little trick-or-treaters knocking at our door, always a few costumes to make, and always enough candy to last a lifetime. Thinking about it now, after spending this holiday in Lithuania, I’m sadly aware that I took all of the ghouls, goblins, tricks, and treats for granted. The fake cobwebs, carved pumpkins, and over-the-top costumes are a beautiful part of the American culture, making us awesomely unique. So, while I was a bit nostalgic on this day, I embraced the Lithuanian Halloween, after all, when on exchange, do as the Lithuanians do.

Different from the one day celebration in the States, Halloween here includes October 31st (Helovinas), November 1st (Visų Šventujų diena – All Soul’s Day), and November 2nd (Vėlinės – The Day of the Dead). October 31st isn’t really observed, but November 1st and 2nd are big family days, celebrated by going to ancestors’ graves, cleaning them and lighting candles, then standing in silence for a bit to remember them. Initially, I found this to be incredibly gloomy – it was tough for me to adjust from my American Halloween expectations to accepting that these days are full of remembrance and mourning. Kind of similar to the Lithuanian culture, the holidays are very introspective and peaceful.

Now that I’ve experienced the traditions of Visų Šventujų diena and Vėlinės, I actually think that they’re some of the most beautiful customs I’ve witnessed. I like how Lithuanians remember their ancestors, visiting their graves at least once a year. People often fear being forgotten after death, and I feel like these holidays ease that worry. I was reminded that family is the most important thing, which is always good to remember.

Then there was Thanksgiving (Padėkos Diena), which unsurprisingly is not a holiday here, but I always enjoy the tradition of writing what I’m grateful for. So, this year I’m thankful for the fact that I’m in Vilnius, Lithuania, learning a new language (one of the coolest languages), and making new friends in a fantastic corner of the world. I have the BEST host families, who make me feel as if I’m their real daughter every second of every day. I’m very grateful that I am not withering away in the cold and that I’ve experienced my first snow here!

Walking home from school on November 20th, my face was pelted with tiny chunks of ice. Pushing through the wind and falling snow, I was probably the happiest person on the street. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, tilted my face towards the sky, and stuck my tongue out to taste my very first Lithuanian snow. I’m also thankful for travel, new experiences abroad, and opening my eyes to the world. I never could’ve imagined living in Lithuania at 18, and I often pinch myself to realize that I’m not living a dream, but that my reality is even better than anything I could imagine. I’m just thankful for everything in my life right now, so it was a great Thanksgiving!

Then, Christmas quickly took over Vilnius… It seemed like it happened overnight, big trees were put up, lights were strung everywhere, and several Christmas markets popped up throughout town. This along with the chilly weather and Christmas music in every shop made me feel like I was living in a little winter wonderland!

As Christmas Eve (Kūčios) grew nearer and nearer, my excitement grew to see the special traditions and magic of the night. After spending all day cooking, decorating the tree (eglė), and setting the table with small fir tree branches and candles, my host family and I gathered around our feast. Prior to the meal, we each broke off a piece from a Christmas wafer, and the longer piece means the longer your life will be… Nobody informed me of that until afterwards, so I broke off the smallest piece possible to try to be respectful… oops.

We said a prayer, then began our meal, which traditionally doesn’t include meat, milk products, or eggs, but ours included some milk and egg products-a slightly modernized version of the traditional one. It consists of twelve dishes, one for each month or for each Apostle (depending on your source), and you must taste each dish in order to guarantee that each month in the next year will be prosperous.

As I’ve mentioned, I find it special how the Lithuanians always remember their ancestors during their holidays. During Kūčios, the table is set with an extra plate for each family member who either couldn’t make it or who had passed away in the previous year (we had one extra setting at the head of the table for my host mother’s father). After the meal, the uneaten food is left on the table because it’s believed that the souls of the departed ancestors would visit during the night, the food making them feel welcome.

Then following dinner is when the Christmas magic comes to life. Lithuanians have many Christmas Eve traditions (Kūčių Burtai – translates to ‘Christmas Eve Magic’), and my host sister and I did a few of the following:

Straws of various lengths are placed on a table beneath a cloth. Each person draws a piece, and the longer the piece means the longer life. (similar to the Christmas wafer tradition)

Write down ten names of boys in your life (friends, boys you find attractive or like, anyone!), crinkle up the slips of paper and put them under your pillow, sleeping with them there until the next morning. Immediately after waking up, choose one name randomly, and that person will be your boyfriend/husband.

Put a candy, coin, key, and eraser each under their own teacups, then mix all the teacups up and choose one. If the coin is chosen, you’ll have a rich year; the key means you’ll stay in your parents’ home a long time; the eraser means you’ll have a year full of studying; and the candy means you’ll have a sweet year.

Reach into a container full of kūčiukų (these are little cookie-type things in the shape of a small ball; a typical Lithuanian Christmas sweet) and pull out a big handful. After counting them, if you have an even number, you’ll be in a relationship this year, but if you pull out an odd number, you’ll be single.

“Taip,” “ne,” arba “nežinau” (Yes, no, or I don’t know) is a game where each of these words are written on a slip of paper. Fill a pot with water, place a candle in the middle, then place the pieces of paper floating in the water around the flame. Ask a question and stir the water, then the one which swims is your answer.

Of course, waiting for Santa Claus (Kalėdų Senelis) to make his way to our home. We all said Merry Christmas (Linksmų Kalėdų) to one another, and headed to bed.

While the holidays here have been some of the most fun times, my favorite moments are when I’m mistaken for a Lithuanian girl. Comfortably asking a random person for directions, ordering coffee with ease, and getting a surprised gasp when I tell someone I’m from the States make me tingle with excitement. The quote, “to speak another language is to possess a second soul,” couldn’t be more accurate. I sometimes feel as if I have two identities, an American and Lithuanian one, which are both so incredibly different but so unique.

So, Rotary, thank you for absolutely everything. While Lithuania isn’t a typical destination, it’s one of the most beautiful corners of the world in all aspects-the country itself, the people, the culture, the language, the history, the food, everything here is extraordinary. I’m often asked the question, “Why would you choose Lithuania of all places?,” but it really should be, “Why would you consider anywhere else but Lithuania?”

Lietuva, aš tave myliu.

 Mon, January 5, 2015

I’ve been in Lithuania for a little over six weeks now, and I can’t believe how quickly this time has flown by… I left my comfortable and cozy life in South Florida for an unpredictable and unknown future. Honestly, I was kind of terrified upon leaving home. I’m not the type to get home sick, but I am the type that likes to know exactly what will happen tomorrow and next week and next month – you could say that I’m a big planner. However, I couldn’t be happier to be living in Lithuania for the next year. So far, I’ve celebrated my eighteenth birthday, run in a Color Run, started school, traveled all around the country (keep in mind it takes only 3 hours to travel from one side to the other), helped welcome the National Basketball Team home, and had some of the most phenomenal cultural experiences.

Before leaving the States, I often got the reaction, “….but why Lithuania of all places?!” or “okay, funny joke Lizzie. Seriously where are you going?” To tell you the truth, originally I didn’t really have a reason – mostly, I just thought it would be cool (literally, it’s freezing here). But once I discovered how many of my relatives are/were Lithuanian, I began to feel a weird bond to the country. Now that I’m actually living here, that bond has strengthened and I’m definitely attached to the people, culture, and beautiful city of Vilnius. Everything is different than my Florida life, but that’s what makes me fall in love more and more each day.

As I wander around the old town, I can’t help but think that I’m living a dream – I casually stroll down cobblestone streets, passing churches and buildings which are hundreds of years old. Then on my way home from school, I meander through Užupis – the art district with it’s own constitution – and maybe stop to get a coffee with friends. Also, yes, I walk everywhere, which is a refreshing change from the confining reliance upon cars that I’ve become so accustomed to in the States. It’s interesting how something as simple as taking a little extra time to walk can really give you an appreciation of the city and world around you. That’s one thing that I already love about how Lithuania is changing me – it’s making me really appreciate the little things.

Now I have a newfound gratitude for forests, mushrooms, fresh produce (my host mother has one of the best gardens ever), clean air, basketball, the ocean, warmth, and so many other things…. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something as delicious as raspberries off the bush, smelled such crisp air as in the Lithuanian forests, or seen anything that compares to the otherworldly beauty of the Baltic Sea (and that’s saying something coming from South Florida, where I go to the beach weekly). This has already been such a life changing experience, and a lot of that is due to the remarkable people who I’ve been lucky enough to get to know.

On the first day of school, I sat there, understanding nothing, praying that someone would talk to me and tell me that everything will be okay. Well, I was kind of ignored! Prior to coming to Lithuania, I was warned that the people wouldn’t go out of their way to speak to me because they’re shyer than Americans. However, once I stood up and said in my best Lithuanian accent, “Labas, mano vardas Lizzie ir aš iš Amerikos,” (Hi, my name is Lizzie and I’m from America), almost every single person in my class went out of their way to talk to me. Indeed, Lithuanians are shy, but they’re some of the most welcoming, helpful, patient, and genuine people I’ve ever met. I’m constantly surprised at how willing my new friends are to teach me the language… Seriously, the way to make a Lithuanian smile is to try to speak the language, even if you 100% sound like a foreigner, they LOVE when people try.

Upon meeting new people, I often receive the response, “wait, you’re not Lithuanian?” I find that to be a huge compliment because it means that I do sort of fit in here – I look Lithuanian! Woo! Although, while my appearance may help me fit in, my proficiency in the language makes me stick out. This language is extremely difficult, and that’s an understatement. It’s ranked as one of the top three most difficult in the world… yikes… But I’m learning more and more each day. Some of my favorite moments are when I successfully have a conversation in Lithuanian, reply in the language without thinking, and when I can actually read the homework assignments my teachers give me. While the language is tough, frustrating, and sometimes discouraging, it’s so fun, rewarding, and exciting to learn.

So, what have some of my incredible cultural experiences been?! To name a few, I’ve been to Trakai Castle, gone mushroom picking, and participated in basketball celebrations. Trakai Pilies is one of the coolest castles I’ve seen (well it’s a castle, so of course my inner princess thinks it’s awesome) – it was built in the middle of a lake and therefore has natural protection due to it’s island location. Throughout history, it’s been used as a fortress, palace, prison, and now a museum. I was surprised with how well the medieval feel has been maintained… as I was wandering around the beautiful grounds, surrounded by high brick walls, I couldn’t help but wonder if a knight in armor would suddenly appear.

Then there’s mushroom picking. I ventured into the forest, bundled up in my warmest clothes with my knife in hand, ready to hunt and chop down some mushrooms! My host mom tried to explain the difference between poisonous and edible ones, and honestly the two look almost identical… if I were alone, I would definitely accidentally eat the poisonous ones, oops. So as we were quietly walking around the forest, I breathed in the delicious air and realized that I’ve never been in any place like this before – I can’t even describe how peaceful, crisp, silent, and shockingly stunning it is.

And lastly, I’ve been to several basketball celebrations, including a few games from the FIBA Basketball World Cup shown in stadiums and welcoming the team home. Before moving here, I was a basketball fan, but I wasn’t obsessed with the sport. However, Lithuanians are more than obsessed with basketball.. It’s practically a religion. During the World Cup, one of my friends said that if you don’t like basketball, you’re not Lithuanian, end of story. And as I’ve been here, I’ve grown to love the sport. The excitement spreads like the plague, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, anxiously watching the scoreboard flick back and forth and back and forth during many games.

As I’m looking back on these past six weeks, I’m realizing that my time here is moving far too quickly. To be completely realistic, not every day is a perfect happy wonderland in Europe. Yeah, some days are really hard and frustrating, but that’s life… without those challenging days, what would make those amazing days extra special?! I’m so grateful to be spending a year here, and I couldn’t thank Rotary enough for this phenomenal opportunity. So many people told me that this would be a life-changing experience, and now that I’m in Lithuania, I recognize how life-changing this is 🙂

Also, here are a few things which I find interesting:
1. Women here are gorgeous and have some of the best eyebrows I’ve ever seen.
2. In school, guys wait outside while the girls enter the classroom first, we stand until the teacher says we can sit down, and keys are used for lockers (not locks).
3. Early in the morning, some channels on TV only have a clock or a “beeeeeeep” sound, unlike the constant television programs in the States.
4. Often, girls who are really good friends greet each other by kissing on the lips.
5. So many people smoke cigarettes here… I heard that smoking was big in Europe, but didn’t realize how true that was until now.

Tue, October 7, 2014

Margaret Kay - France

Hometown:Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club:Tallahassee, Florida
Host District: District 1710
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Chatillon sur Chalaronne Vonnas

My Bio

Hi! I’m Margaret-Kay Ard. I’m from Tallahassee, Fl and I’m doing my exchange in France. I live with my mom, dad and older brother who is a senior in high school this year. I also have an older sister who goes to FSU. I am a junior at Leon High School but I also dual enroll at the local community college, TCC. Before I leave off to France, I hope that I have all my credits taken care of so on top of my six classes I am taking two online classes and I am going to do summer classes at TCC. I play tennis so I hope to be able to carry that over to France. I have played tennis for only three years but it has occupied my school years and summers for those years. I now teach tennis to children at the summer camp where I got into tennis. I am very close to my coach and his family. I believe that it is better to have a few good friends that help you grow as a person than a million okay friends that cause drama in your life. I am grateful to have such a strong friendship in a family that loves to see me succeed and vise versa. I have taken three years of French but I know I need to bump up my French studies, not only in the language but in the culture. Both my family and I are truly excited about this next year and to see how I grow and mature as a person through the Rotary experience. I am very grateful for this opportunity that I am sure will change my life.

Journals: Margaret-Kay – France

So I’m very late with submitting my second journal so I figured I’ll submit a bunch of journals this week catching y’all up on what I’ve been up to in the past three-ish months.

The Month of October:
On October 11th I went to the Circus with my host district. The host district likes for exchange students to have at least one organized event together each month so for the month of October it was the circus. I’ve never been to a circus with animals before and if I’m truly being honest it was sad. The other exchange students agreed with me on that so I don’t feel too bad about saying that. The elephants had discoloration due to stress and the tigers would get whipped even if they did the trick correctly. It wasn’t just animals though. There were acrobats and dancers and those parts were really cool.

October 18th was the first day of the school vacation for the fall. Every 7 weeks there is a school vacation for 2 weeks. The first weekend I went with my host parents to meet my host dad’s family near Nancy. I got to see the Château de Lunéville AKA le petit Versailles. I also got to visit Nancy, which is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. I learned a new culture with my host-dad’s family. It made me greatful for my family at home and their table manners consisting of not smacking food when eating. Though I recognize that neither is right or wrong, I’ve also realized it is okay to have a preference of one culture to another whether your preference is the new culture or the old. At first I didn’t realize this and I felt guilty for not wanting the culture that I was being exposed to, to be my culture but now I understand that it’s okay not to like every little thing about everything. The day we headed home, we stopped at a city made out of gorgeous stone. It was raining the day we visited but it made everything even more beautiful. The day before that we had visited a fort that had a zoo, aquarium, and other cool stuff including heights, which my host-dad couldn’t handle and had to be walked down by a nice family we met at the very top (my host-mom couldn’t stop laughing and after he found it funny as well).

I got back from the northernish area of France on Monday/Tuesday-ish then left for the south of France Thursday afternoon. I went with my step-host parents to St. Maxime where we stayed with my step-host mom’s parents. It was so wonderful. I got to visit St. Tropez, play tennis over looking the sea in St. Maxime, eat the biggest/best hamburger of my life and just relax. The house has an infinity pool that looks over the sea so I took several naps in that general location. The family was so nice. We talked in a mixture of French and English because literally everyone in France wants to talk with me in English even when I beg them to talk to me in French. It worked out though because like in most situations I talked in French and they talked in English and if I wanted to know how to say a phrase they used, I would just ask. We got back Saturday evening but my step-host mom took a train 30 minutes later to Paris so it was just me and my step-host dad at the house. We had the best time together though.

We helped my step-host mom’s sister clean out her storage area for about an hour then went home where I showered and napped while my step-host dad worked in the garden: After, we had the most chill dinner: microwaved chicken and carrots while watching the news then the last Harry Potter movie (in French with French subtitles), followed up by home made apple sauce for dessert.

The rest of the vacation was bleh. I slept in a lot and hung out with some exchange student friends in Lyon. I went to an aweful Halloween party (if the term party could even be used for it) with some kids from school where we watched 2 people play Just Dance, tried to explain s’mores, and ended up just wishing I had stayed at home. My step-host family picked me up the next day though and we got to spend the weekend together. We played ping pong, went on a 2 hour bike ride (in which I fell 2x and got stuck in a barbed wire fence), and got to spend family time together.

That was the month of October. It was filled with lots of traveling, lots of eating, lots of sleeping, and lots of learning. I’d like to say an overwhelming thanks to Rotary in Florida and in France for giving me such amazing memories and experiences that I can carry with me for the rest of my life. I have honestly been able to do so much and see so much and I can’t express my gratitude enough.

 Mon, December 15, 2014

My 1st month Leon –> Lyon 

I’ve been in France for little over a month now and I can honestly say it has been the most life changing month of my life. I’ve made new friends, received a new family, began learning a beautiful yet complex language, eaten too much cheese, baguettes and pain au chocolat, tasted different wines, seen many different places just in my district of France and so much more.

My family:
Parents- Florence and Alain (not married just living together) are my host parents and they are really nice. Alain likes photography and Florence is into scrapbooking.

Siblings- (all Florence’s children):

David is the oldest, he is around 25 years old and lives at the house with his girlfriend Julia though they are currently apartment/house hunting 🙁 David works out everyday in the garage with his best friend, Clem, and sometimes Julia as well. They play really loud music, sometimes the playlist from American Pie, and do weight training for about an hour.

Corentin (Coco) is the middle child, he is around 20 years old and did an exchange to Mexico 2 years ago. He swaps houses between Florence’s house and his dad’s just depending on the day because of University. On the weekends his girlfriend, Victoire, will often stay at the house as well. Coco is really funny and just by talking he makes me laugh. He is also the most wine obsessed out of the whole family though David is a close second.

Violaine is the youngest, about 16 years old, and she is currently on exchange in Chili. There’s also a cat at the house who likes to sleep in my room.

Grandparents- Mami and Papi are my grandparents here and are really nice. Papi harvests his own honey and gives me jars of it whenever I come over. They also have a huge fig tree in their back yard and a nice sized garden. They have a dog named Maya who’s really sweet and a bit old.

The family as a whole is a very stereotypical French family. They love escargo, and will sometimes just eat it casually for lunch as if it’s no big deal. They also really love grenouille-frog legs- which is a specialty in the region of France that I’m in. They eat a lot of cheese and the smellier it is the more they like it, at least for Alain. A lot of the times they eat the cheese past the expiration date and because it smells so bad they keep it all in an air tight box in the fridge and if you open it ever so slightly the whole kitchen will smell like cheese.

They really love wine, again Coco loves it the most but the whole family really loves it. Coco and David read the wine catalogue for about an hour and a half the other day just trying to decide which wine to get and they also use coupons for their wine because they buy so much of it.

The whole family is friendly with whoever they meet and take about an hour to say goodbye even if they just had a 5 minut e conversation. They also smoke… a lot… When they wake up, before and after meals, any break during the day, before and after they work out (because that’s really healthy), and before they go to bed. They don’t try to hide the fact they smoke and it’s more of a social period of time when are smoking. They invite the whole house to come out if anyone else wants to smoke as well and then they just chill out and talk for a bit and then go back to whatever they were doing.

School:
I understand nothing. The first week I tried to understand but now I just go with it. The people are overall really nice. I’m in 1L if that means anything to you and if not I’m basically in France’s junior year for the Literature route. Because I’m in literature I have a lot of French, a lot of English, a bit of Geography, very little Science and no Math.

At first it was okay to have so much English but after a while it just got boring so I asked the teachers if I could do the assignments the other students were doing in English, in French. It’s helped me a lot with the language and trying to learn the grammar and mechanics more. I also have a Latin class which I understand less than nothing in. The only goal I have for Latin class is to listen and try to comprehend the French being spoken.

School goes from 8am-5/6pm depending on your schedule and on Wednesdays you finish at noon. You have an hour for lunch at noon but if you get out early you can go in at 11:30am. Though school seems like it would be really long, it’s not terribly bad because you have 1-2hour, sometimes 4 hour, gaps in your schedule where you don’t have class. Depending on how long your break is you can go to the park right by the school (usually for the 1 or 2 hour breaks) or you can go into the town near by and get food or just walk around (for the 3-4 hour breaks). Usually people will either socialize or do their homework during the breaks. I’ve been taking advantage of my personal French tutors aka my entire class and having them correct the work that I do in French.

To get to school I take the bus and it’s not like the typical American yellow school bus. It’s more of a charter bus and the seats are pretty comfortable. In the mornings it’s really easy because I just wait at the bus stop with Alain and the bus comes and I go to school. In the afternoons it’s a bit more tricky because I have to ask the bus driver to stop for my stop and if I don’t I will end up in the wrong town. I know from experience. I’m glad that I have to do that though because it forces me to use a little bit of practical French every single day that I otherwise would most likely not use.

Food:
Breakfast- school days I usually just drink coffee because I’m in a rush but sometimes I’ll grab a banana or apple if I’m really hungry. If I don’t have school and I have more time in the morning, I have more options. I can have pain au chocolat (a croissant with chocolate inside aka heaven on earth), cereal (also has chocolate infused in the middle) or yogurt. Usually I just make oatmeal though because that’s what I eat at home and I’m more likely to just eat one serving than the other options.

My family was surprised I don’t eat a big breakfast because they figured Americans eat huge breakfasts all the time. I don’t know for other Americans but for me the only time I really binge out on the Waffle House All Star breakfast is for brunch on Sundays or for an actual dinner. The main difference here is people want a quick grab and go breakfast and don’t want to take the time to make eggs and bacon in the morning.

Lunch is an important meal of the day for the French. Unlike my highschool in the United States, almost everyone eats in the cafeteria. The food really isn’t bad though somedays I don’t know what exactly I’m eating. For about four euros you get bread (obviously it’s France you get bread with everything), fruit or dessert, yogurt or cheese, a salad or grapefruit or a really gross option that I would stay away from, meat or fish and vegetables or rice. It’s a lot of food for me for lunch honestly. Mainly because I’m not used to eating lunch as the biggest meal of the day so somedays I’ll just bring several pieces of fruit and some nuts if I’m really not hungry or I just won’t finish everything on the tray. It is a lot healthier than American lunches though as there isn’t any fast food involved and often times the dessert option is just more fruit.

Dinner in my family is a big meal of the day as well. There’s either salad or vegetables, some type of meat (usually sausage), pasta and a baguette for the whole table. Once you’re done with that you get wine (on the weekends usually) and cheese to go with the rest of your bread and then if you’re still hungry, yogurt or a dessert that comes in a yogurt like container.

Rotary:
My Rotary club here is really nice though really small. They meet on Thursday nights at a really quaint restaurant. It’s not extremely formal as there are about 10 members at most (at least that I know of). They are very welcoming though and I enjoyed talking to all of them and I can’t wait for my next meeting.

Outside of my Rotary club I did a service project with a group of larger clubs where we picked grapes for wine. The money from the wine will go to helping out people in need in another country from what I understood. We picked grapes from really early in the morning till about 2pm and it was exhausting both physically and mentally because the whole time I talked to a Rotarian as he helped me with my French.

Language:
Everyday is a new challenge with the language. I can hold up decent conversation and I understand more than I can speak though somedays my brain is so fried that people have to repeat what they said about 5 times for me to realize they’re even speaking to me. I watch movies in French and if it has the option for subtitles I’ll watch with French subtitles and I understand everything that is going on.

Right now I’m working on learning past and future tense more especially when speaking and after I want to learn the imperfect tense and after that all the other tenses that this language has. For only being here a month I feel like I understand a lot of the language though and that probably has to do with studying it for 3 years in high school and my host family just talking in French to me and asking people to talk in French with me instead of English if they try to talk to me in English. Because of all of this my listening comprehension skills for the language have gone up drastically and I’m able to formulate sentences that almost kind of make since.

I’d like to just thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I’m learning so much every single day and without Rotary I wouldn’t have met my family and friends here and I really wouldn’t trade them for the world so thank you so much. I’m eternally grateful for all of this even though this is just my first month I understand why people say it is the best year of their life.

Tue, September 30, 2014

Mariah - France

Hometown:Apopka, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:Apopka, Florida
Host District: District 1740
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Gannat

My Bio

Bonjour tout le monde! My name is Mariah Meikle and I currently reside in Apopka, Florida. I attend Lake Brantley high school and I am in the 10th grade. I am fifteen years old and the youngest of three. I have one brother and one sister and I live with my Mom. I first found about Rotary when Scott came into my English honors classroom to give a presentation on it. That night I went home ready to convince my Mom to let me apply, not much convincing was needed and soon I was done filling out my application and excited for my interview. I was very confident after my interview and extremely hopeful to get in, later that week or so I was given a call with rejection. Honestly, I cried and was heart broken over it but even then I decided one way or another I intended to be an exchange student but before I could even research I was given another call with the best news I could’ve got, I suddenly had a place in Rotary exchange so I am beyond grateful. The beautiful country I will be spending my exchange in is France! I am absolutely ecstatic to go. I will have taken two years of French by the time I leave for my exchange and I’m excited but also very nervous to have the chance to be completely immersed in another culture and language. I have read sooo much about the French school systems and culture in the past few weeks since I learned of my destination. Knowing I am going to France is almost like a dream and yes of course I’ll miss Florida but there’s nothing more exciting than leaving to go somewhere new and different.

Journals: Mariah – France

There’s been quite a few times where I said to myself “I need to write my Rotary journal TODAY.” I remember as a future outbound, I loved reading journals and I always wished the outbounds wrote more. Now I understand why some people don’t have many journals. It’s hard to sit yourself in front of a screen and essentially sum up your life in your host country.

In my exchange I have had some of the most difficult moments of my life and of course some of the best, I wish I could sum up everything I’ve done and seen and how’s it all made me feel. Exchange has pushed me so much as a person and I feel like I’ve grown so much thanks to it. I’ve also changed host families… Well actually I changed in January and it’s been two and a half months, I’ll switch to my third and final host family in April. Changing host families was really hard for me, I had never really gotten close to my second host family beforehand so there was a few days of awkwardness and getting to know each other before we fell into a comfortable routine. The first few days in their home I had a really bad case of homesickness it wasn’t for home in Florida but for my first host family (Sorry Florida family I still love you) I had gotten so close to them during the time I spent at their home and it was hard to leave them after so long.

My first host family consisted of my host sister Aude, who was 16 and turned 17 in January, little brother Guilhem, 12 who turned 13 recently, Diva the dog, the two guinea pigs and finally our parents who were 49/50 . Whereas my second host family was just my host mom and dad who are 72 and 75 and no pets. It was a big change going from a household with siblings and pets but my current host family has been very kind, I think it was a little difficult for them as well since they aren’t used to having a teenager in the house anymore. Anyways it’s been going well.

Now, on to my French progress. I caught on to French rather quickly. My only issue is that I have an accent when I speak. Everyone understands what I’m saying so it’s not a problem but people can quickly tell them I’m a foreigner. This depends on the phrase that I’m saying, apparently what gives me away in the way I say my r’s. For those of you who will be learning French one day, the only advice I can give you about r’s in French is to not worry too much about how you say them, as long as you’re making an effort to speak the language people will appreciate it even if you don’t always say things correctly.

Other than that my Rotarian’s just had a chance to really speak with me for the first time in a few months and all of them were so proud of how much progress I’ve made and so quickly. It was nice to receive some compliments on my language and some of them even said I didn’t have a strong accent (Although I think that may have just been flattery)

I’ve changed classes at school and also now have a bit of a different schedule. Before I was with the 2ende (equivalent of Sophomores) and now I’m with the 1ere (equivalent of Juniors) which is a bit of a larger class so I get to meet a few more kids my age. I also give English lessons to the kids in middle school and now whenever they see me they all say “Hello!” occasionally they mix up the languages and say “Hola!” instead which is always cute.

 Sun, March 15, 2015

It’s impossible to sum up a my life in France without writing the equivalent of a short book. I can never summarize all the ups and downs I’ve felt being here and all the different emotions.

Exchange is something I will cherish for the rest of my life and I feel so blessed to have this experience. I don’t know how I can possibly explain everything I’ve done in the time since my last journal without rambling.

It’s not easy to be an exchange student. Anyone who makes the decision to leave their home for a year to live with strangers who don’t speak your language is brave. Even though it can be nerve wrecking, exchange will be one of the best years of your life. I’ve only been in France for two and a half months and everyday I wonder how I will be able to leave this country that I now call home.

There certainly will be days where it’s very difficult but there are many more days that will be amazing. It’s strange to realize how quickly you can adapt to things that you’ve never done before.

I must say to all future outbounds, even though it has been said to you a million times… STUDY YOUR HOST COUNTRY’S LANGUAGE. Nothing will be more satisfying than having Rotarian’s or your host family telling you how well you speak in your target language. When I came to France I had two years prior of learning French in school and it is not even close to the same as actually speaking it in France. So try to spend as much time as possible studying and getting used to constantly speaking in your target language.

Since I’ve been in France I feel like I have grown so much as a person in such a short amount of time. Being here has honestly been life changing and I will be forever grateful to Rotary for this opportunity.

Sat, November 15, 2014

This is my life so far and I love it. Can I stay forever?

I’m going to try to keep this in chronological order but more than likely I’ll stray from the point. I had a pretty nerve-wracking flight to Paris that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but the moment I reached the Clearmont-Ferrand airport I was at peace. I and a few other exchange students were greeted by our host families and some Rotarians.

We were all told to go to the international baggage pickup section but it took a while for everyone to notice. Thankfully I spotted the sign that said so and we made our way to grab our things. I’ve never gotten my luggage so quickly before, needless to say I was very content. Then the most interesting part came, greeting my host family and the other Rotarians…. In French. Thankfully, I had no problems at all with that and took many pictures then my host family and I made our way to the car.

My host dad had to go back to work so it was just me, my brother, sister, and mom. Since I’m so tall they insisted I sit in the front. (Also one of first things I was greeted with was “Wow you’re so tall!” Although I can’t remember who said it first) At this point I was exhausted but wanted to talk with my host family, it was so exciting to finally meet them! Everything felt so surreal. I was actually IN France and it was even more beautiful that I expected.

We had about an hour drive home and although my brain was barely functioning we managed to have a pretty nice conversation and I learned a lot of interesting things about the area. We also talked about how French men are very polite and them grabbing you two giant and heavy suitcases is normal and I should always let them, this was a bit odd for me but I loved it because at home I’m usually the one carrying the heavy suitcases and bags.

I was constantly saying “What is that?” “So pretty!” “ Wow, France is incredible!” By the end of the trip my host mom said how it was amusing that I said that about everything. I really did and still do find everything to be so beautiful, from the mountains to the small towns. When I finally arrived home all I wanted to do was sleep my host mom advised against it because it would ruin my sleeping schedule and boy was I happy my family kept me up.

My brother and sister showed me this card game that I still don’t exactly understand no matter how much I play it. My host brother never loses though, I thought my sister was joking when she said it but he’s really never lost in all the times we’ve played. I didn’t have too much jet lag and quickly got on the same sleeping schedule as everyone else. The first day my sister helped me unpack and I gave my host brother all the candy I had packed for everyone (He was very happy, he LOVES candy.)

We had dinner and honestly I have no idea how to explain it without butchering the idea of the dish. It was potatoes and ham/bacon with cream kind of made into a pastry pie crust. It was absolutely amazing and at that moment I realized I was going to love all French food. This has proven true so far. In France, families eat just about every meal together if we can and there are no cell phones at the table. I really love this because it helps me with my language skills and made bonding with my family a lot easier. We also eat a lot of potatoes here which I didn’t expect but I love how they always differ in flavor and texture.

Over the course of the next few days I visited some beautiful small towns and really got to know my host family better. My little brother loves candy and burgers and doesn’t enjoy vegetables so we often joke that he’s a little American, much to his dismay. He’s also a good sport about it though. My host sister is the same age as me and super funny and sweet! My entire family is perfect honestly. I feel like I couldn’t have been placed in a better first host family. It hasn’t been long but I love them all so much.

Now, on to my French skills! The first few days I was a bit lost, I would hear and recognize words but they just didn’t seem to process into sentences. So I would repeat whatever confused me and that usually results in a fun game of charades. My favorite time was when my family was explaining that the cheese I liked so much was goat cheese and everyone baa’ed at me. I said sheep but my brother thankfully came in and he said goat.

After being here a few weeks, I now understand most of the things being said and if I don’t, I’ll ask my host family to explain. I was shocked that I knew so much of the language after only about three weeks but I’m not complaining! The only difficulty I have language wise is expressing what I mean. Even though I understand so well, actually using the words I know to form a complete sentence is a whole other challenge. It gets very frus- trating from time to time when I’m at school or have something to say during a conversation but I just can’t find the words. I know this will get better in the coming months but for now I’ll just continue studying my pronunciation and vocabulary.

The weather has been perfect since I’ve been here, not too cold, not too hot. It’s rained once or twice but it was more of a drizzle. We had a Rotary camp for the entire district the very first weekend I was here and it was super fun! The night before I went to the camp I slept at my counselor’s house but we went to a rock and roll concert, French style. The band and crowd was pretty small but it was really an interesting atmosphere. Lots of people were smoking, as usual and at one point I ended up playing some sort of limbo with strangers who were carrying stage equipment and turned it into a game. It was a really great experience overall.

That same night before the concert I went to what I think was a Rotary meeting but I’m pretty sure it was a last minute thing and honestly I’m still trying to figure it out. I met my club president though and he was super nice! He immediately recognized my name because of the email I sent him (Thanks Scott!) Anyways at the camp for inbounds we played a bunch of different games and spent a lot of time just hanging out in general.

We went to visit a very old and huge castle the last day of the weekend and it was amazing. The fact that things exist and can look like that after hundreds of years is incredible. I’ll attach a photo of it if I can find one. I was really sad when it was finally time to leave but also relived! I actually really missed my host family and was much relieved to get some sleep.

The following Wednesday I started school. I was super nervous my first day and felt a little awkward walking into the school grounds with my host mom but I was quickly directed by students to a girl who spoke English which was a bit disappointing. She was very nice and ended up being in the same class as me but it often hinders my French learning.

In my class there are only six students who attend including me. There’s another girl but she’s very sick and never comes to school because of that. I think that was my biggest culture shock, I’ve never been in such a small class before. The other years of high school have a lot more students, for some reason the first year is just a really tiny class.

During the first week I sat beside Jasmin (The girl who speaks English) and whenever teachers couldn’t understand what I was saying or I didn’t understand them we all looked to Jasmin. Soon enough we were put on opposite sides of the class so I could progress in my French instead of having Jasmin helping me with everything. We now speak together in French rather than English so I’m happy for that. I can’t honestly say I love school but I certainly don’t hate it. The teachers either treat me like a baby or expect the same quality of work as everyone else so it gets a bit confusing at times.

Everyone in my class is very shy and it’s difficult to get them talking sometimes but it’s gotten a lot better and we’ve all bonded quite a bit. Lots of kids smoke often and I don’t think I’ll even get used to all the second hand smoke but it’s normal now. School lunch is surprisingly good here! I was very shocked, it’s like a whole meal and very healthy. I like it a LOT more than the typical American school lunches.

School hours are also very long here so it’s a bit difficult to adjust to the class times and also the different class schedules every day but I’m getting the hang of it. Here, whenever a teacher enters the room we stand until they tell us to sit and that was very confusing my first day. I was dumbfounded and wondering why everyone was standing but after it was explained it’s become normal for me.

Every weekend I do something different with my family; we’ve climbed up to the center of an inactive volcano, searched for mushrooms, and ate a bunch of wild raspberries all in the span of one day. Another weekend we went to Vichy and walked around the shops. We also went to this super cool market that my town had. It was sort of like a huge flea market. They had everything from wine to live animals. My host sister bought a pair of jeans there but nothing really caught my eye. I had a lot of fun petting the horses and my host mom joked that I should buy a small goat to take home for my mom. I also met up with my third host mom and her husband; we talked for a bit then were on our way.

Every Wednesday I go to the library with my host mom and brother while my sister is at music lessons and pick up a few children’s books. It’s getting easier to read them and soon I think I’ll move on to more difficult reads. Overall I’ve never been happier and really enjoy everything about the culture (except the smoking!) I’ve never felt so indebted and grateful for something before. Without Rotary I would not be on exchange right now having the time of my life.

I managed to get lost already. I’ve never taken the bus in Florida so on the first day I was supposed to take the bus. I missed it and had to call my host mom. The second day was even better though, on Fridays I get out one hour early and didn’t realize. Of course I followed what I was told and took the first bus. I ended up about 20 kilometers away from home and had to ask a strange teenage boy to help explain to my host mom where the bus I was on was going. Thankfully, my host mom found this hilarious and we still make jokes about it all the time.

Now I’m a professional at taking the bus home and haven’t gotten lost since. I’m hoping I’ll manage to keep it that way and not get lost again! (Not likely.) Tomorrow I have my first real Rotary meeting with my club, I was rehearsing with my host family and my host mom said I sound like a commercial and proceeds to present the refrigerator just like they would in the commercials. I still can’t take my speech seriously but I got a good laugh from it. This is my life so far and I love it. Can I stay forever ?

Thu, September 18, 2014

Meagan - Italy

Hometown:Tierra Verde, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor District : District 6950
Sponsor Club:St. Petersburg, Florida
Host District: 2080
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sud-Est Roma

My Bio

Ciao! My name is Meagan Sellards. I’m so thrilled to say that I get to spend the next year in the beautiful country of Italy! I’m currently a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, and I’ll be eighteen years old when I leave. I’ve lived in St. Petersburg all my life, so I’m so excited to get the chance to experience the culture of a new county halfway across the world. At home, I live with my parents and my older sister. We have a dog, a cat, and a pet hedgehog. I enjoy spending time with them, as well as my friends, when I’m not busy with schoolwork. At school, I’m involved in the Interact Club, and also the National Honor Society. My major is Psychology, and I hope to become a psychiatrist when I am older. Outside of school, I love camping, reading, photography, and volunteering. Right now, I currently volunteer in the children’s section at my local library several times a week. I’ve always loved to travel, so when I learned about this program in eleventh grade, I immediately knew I wanted to do it. My family and I decided that it would be best for me to wait until after I graduated high school to do this exchange, so I had to wait a year before I could apply. When I got the email telling me that I had been accepted, it was a dream come true. Finding out I get to go to Italy, my top choice, was even more amazing. I feel so lucky to have this life-changing opportunity, and I want to thank Rotary for giving me the chance to have this amazing adventure!

Journals: Meagan – Italy

So, to any future outbounds reading this, I want to start my journal off by giving you advice: Don’t wait to write a journal. Even if you’ve only been in your country for few weeks, write something. Before you know it, it’s going to be March and you’ll have so much to say that you won’t even know where to start.

Well, I guess the beginning would be the best place. Before I came to Italy, I had never had a bad flight, so I figured that it wouldn’t be too awful. I knew how airports worked and I was familiar with JFK (where my layover was) so I thought it’d be a breeze. Wrong. So wrong. Delays, missed flights, lost luggage, dead phone; I had it all. But the moment that really punched me in the gut was when I boarded the airplane and couldn’t understand a word.

Since I had missed my original flight, I had been switched to fly with a company called Alitalia. Believe it or not, it was an Italian airplane. Native Italians were onboard this flight, while the tourist Americans were on my missed Delta flight. I was terrified. How was I going to live in a country where I couldn’t understand anything? A note to future outbounds: Grammar won’t help you understand people, vocabulary will. I made that mistake. I could conjugate a verb, but that’s useless if I didn’t know what the verb meant. After trying and failing to fall asleep for eight hours, I finally arrived in Italy.

I’m not really sure what I expected, but being in a foreign country is so surreal to me. Everything here is different, even if it’s only slightly. For lack of a better word, everything is just so…Italian. Even all of the animals here look different. It’s difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it, but I think Pocahontas put it best when she said “you learn things you never knew you never knew.”

From my personal experience, many Italian stereotypes are actually true. They are very loud, especially when mad. When I first arrived in Italy, I thought something was very wrong in my family. My host dad and my younger host brother would yell at each other on a daily basis. After a while, I realized this was just normal. Even the neighbors would wake me up with their shouts! Italians are just a very expressive people. They are still extremely welcoming and friendly, however. In fact, Italians are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. No matter who it is, whether it be family, friends, family friends, or a friend’s family, they will all welcome you like one of their own and try to feed you too much food.

Speaking of food, the whole “Italians eat pasta everyday” stereotype is absolutely, positively true. I can’t remember a day I went without having some kind of pasta as part of a meal. They don’t typically have just pasta as the entire meal, though. Italians know how to eat. They usually have a two course meal at home, and the first one, more often than not, is pasta. It never gets old because there are just so many different types of pasta. You could have pasta every day for two weeks (which I have done) and still not have the same type twice.

Italian food is much higher quality than American food, in my opinion. In Italy, food is produced for the taste, rather than for how it looks. I try everything here, even things I’ve had in the States and didn’t like. For example, in the States I hated tomatoes and coffee, but here, I love them. I’m a “coffee every afternoon” kind of person now, and sliced tomatoes with salt and mozzarella is one of my favorite snacks.

I haven’t had any really strange food here (although I have been promised sheep brain); the weirdest food was either raw baby squid in a salad on Christmas Eve or a cow intestine soup. But because the food here is more tasty than pretty, some foods do look very “interesting”, as us exchange students have been trained to say. Regardless, I still try it. “Don’t ask, just eat!” is the motto. The most different thing I’ve had here after not knowing what it was was liver, but even that isn’t too bad. It just had a bad aftertaste. Before I ate the cow intestines, another exchange student told me what it was. I almost tried it, thinking it was a kind of chicken. After she had told me, I still tried it, but all the appeal was gone and I had to chase it with a lot of water. The flavor wasn’t actually too bad, but it was more of the idea of what it was that grossed me out.

School in Italy is very different than school in the United States. I’ve written over 1000 words speaking about my experience in school here, but I’ll try to keep it simple. I’m in the fourth year of Italian high school, but there are actually five years total. During the day, the students stay in the same classroom while the teachers move from class to class. There’s no lunch during the day, but there are two ten minute breaks where people can bring food from home or buy a snack from the snack bar.

In most of Italy, the school week is six days long, Monday through Saturday. However, I lucked out with a five day school week. Italian high schools are specialized, meaning that teenagers choose their school based on their interests and what they want to do with their life. There are many different types of schools, including, scientific, linguistic, and artistic. No matter what school you go to, you’ll still have the same basic classes as another school, but the time spent in those classes fluctuates.

I attend a linguistic school, and the classes I have each week are math, philosophy, English, chemistry, Italian, art history, physical education, Spanish, French, physics, history, and religion. I have six classes a day, and every day of the week has a different order and selection of classes. I have more language classes than someone at a different type of school would, with half of the day taken up by those classes, while I have only a few math/science classes a week.

Unfortunately, the Italian government doesn’t give a lot of money to the schools here. As a result, the school buildings look very different than they do in the States. My school is covered in graffiti, both inside and out. Students stay in the same classroom all year, so typically they tend to leave their mark at some point. The walls are devoid of any kind of poster, and the only supplies in the room are a chalkboard and an old computer for taking attendance. Occasionally, a teacher will bring in her own laptop and projector for a lesson. In addition to being in the same classroom all year, Italians stay with their classmates for all of high school. This means that they’ll be in the same class for five years, and, as a result, they become incredibly close.

One of the aspects of Italians culture that I admire and appreciate the most is the value that they place on their friends. My first host family was in their late forties, and they still met up with their high school friends almost every weekend. People also tend to live close to their family, so it’s easier to keep in touch with everyone from your past. It could be because of how much smaller Italy is than the United States that people stay closer to home, but I think it’s also a part of the culture. It’s perfectly common and accepted for people to live with their parents until they are married, so it could be well into their twenties before they move out.

Now, to get more specific about my exchange, I’m living in Rome! Rome is an absolutely amazing city. Some people say that all big cities are the same, and that you miss out on the culture of that country, but it’s not true. Sure, it may be different from the countryside, but there’s still a culture that is unique to Rome and to Italy. Walking around the center of the city just fills me with a sense of awe. Being surrounded by buildings and statues that are thousands of years old is just incredible. I’ve always been interested in Italian history, so seeing what I’ve learned about in school right in front of me is pretty much indescribable.

I’ve fallen in love with this city, and my favorite activity is just walking around the city center, casually viewing monuments (like the Coliseum and the Pantheon) whenever I want, and discovering all that this city has to offer. That’s the great thing about Europe; the public transportation system is much more reliable. The buses in Rome aren’t that great, and I’m late almost everywhere because of it, but a person can still get to anywhere they want by using public transit. I can do things like attend mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, just because I want to. It’s an incredible feeling of independence that I was never able to obtain in the United States.

Time flies faster than you think it does. In less than fifty days, I’ll be on a plane to go back to Florida. This year has been the most difficult, frustrating, trying year that I’ve ever experienced, but it has also been the most rewarding. I know that I’ve changed, I feel it, but I don’t know how. My surroundings have evolved, and so I have too. I think I’ll only really comprehend my difference when I go back to where I was before this year, when I go back into the box that I no longer believe I fit in.

Wed, May 20, 2015

Meghan - Peru

Hometown:Longwood, Florida
School: Lake Brantley High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:Longwood, Florida
Host District: District 4455
Host Club: The Rotary Club of San Borja

My Bio

¡Hola! My name is Meghan and I will be spending my 11th grade year in the beautiful country of Peru. I am from Longwood, Florida and attend Lake Brantley High School. I have 2 sisters and lots of other supportive friends and family. I grew up around many cultures in army and air force bases around the state of Georgia, and there my lust for foreign soil was born and continues to grow as I learn of the beautiful planet we all inhabit [especially Peru ;)]. I am very active and after school I enjoy activities such as wake boarding, traveling, writing, reading, and long boarding. I am involved in clubs at school such as newspaper staff, photography club, TV production, and national honor society. I want to spread the experience of America to people who have only read about it and in turn learn about their culture and country. I want to show others what America is, from how to cook a hotdog, or southern foods, to our seasonal celebrations. When I come back I want to do the same with another culture. I want to take a country many of my friends and family haven’t been to, and show them what their life is like through my actions, words, photographs, and language.I am extremely ecstatic to be studying abroad in Peru and am glad I found as great a program as Rotary Youth Exchange is. Hasta luego mis amigos. 🙂

Journals: Meghan – Peru

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone and everything that I have come in contact with this year. With only weeks left in my second home, I am realizing just how much I truly love this place. Every day as I go about my activities, I am taking all the little moments in as priceless memories. From overcrowded, almost broken buses, to chicharron sandwiches, to the Peruvians all around me with their unique mannerisms, I’m taking mental note of it all as how my year here is.

Recently, I have been attending a local university studying psychology and Spanish, and have really enjoyed this experience to further my learning of the language and to learn a bit of psychology which has always interested me. The university is very big which gives me the opportunity to know more people, to attend reunions, and even practice some sports.

Since I last wrote, I also visited the Amazon jungle and the city of Iquitos. I really fell in love with the atmosphere and general energy of the place and promptly tried to convince the Rotarians to leave me. Though I did have to return, I am very happy to have had the experience.

While there we also did a service project bringing school supplies, clothing, and food items to people of a small village there. It was really great to meet and interact with the local people who live in such an isolated place, where 3 hours in a boat is needed to reach the nearest city. Many had never been far from their homes, but their general interest in the world was really cool. While talking with the natives, we were also led around by some of the best tour guides (6 and 7 year old children). They showed a friend and me all around the town and even took us to their home by boat. While on the trip, we also took some hikes through the jungles where we could see tons of animals such as monkeys and tarantulas, and boat rides to spot the river’s pink dolphins and countless bird species.

Many people from this region refer to the river as ‘the lungs of the world’ and I really can’t describe how amazing it is to be in a place like that, that is so pure and untouched. You can really feel new and nourished in such a place. My Rotary club also sponsored 2 students from villages in the Amazon to go on exchange next year in Canada and Brazil, and getting to know them and learn about their lives is vey interesting. When returning we all-starred and cheered for them on their first flight ever, and in Lima, they always make me laugh with their awe at things like the internet and big cars.

As my year draws to a close, I take joy in knowing I will carry this experience with me forever. If I could give some advice to all the future outbounds out there, it’s to take each minute as it comes and to be present enjoying those days because once you have 300 days and 10 minutes later you’ll only have 10. Now as I return, I will bring back with me another home, perspective on life, another culture, new foods, new dances, and memories shared with new families and friends. All of who I once was is different now. I am forever grateful for this year and these experiences that have amounted to the memories that will always hold a special place in my heart. Lastly, thank you to everyone who made this possible. Until we meet again, te amo Peru.

 Sun, May 17, 2015

I am at a point in my exchange when thinking of home both scares, excites, and confuses me. When I think about home and family it’s now hard to differentiate which home and which family is being implied. I now have 4 homes. I now have 4 families. This point and the emotions going along with it really snuck up on me. In early February I booked my return ticket and while that felt like a good stab to my Peruvian heart, I knew it was coming. But then one morning over a casual breakfast conversation my host mom asked how our eating habits where “over there” and I began to explain how my family in Lima eats together for breakfast and lunch but we don’t for dinner and sometimes we don’t have much of dinner, etc. and she looked at me and kind of laughed saying she meant in the US. When I tell friends family stories there is always a string of “which mom?” , “which little sister?” , and “which city?”.

For the month of February I moved to another province about 17 hours south of Lima (where I have been living). I got to know a new city named Ilo. Ilo is a charming fisherman’s town in the south of Peru. It is surrounded by beaches, it’s always hot, and the people are kind and all know each other. I really had a great experience there not to mention my killer tan. The experiences I’m able to have in Peru I think are very unique and make my exchange so much different from the other students abroad. Since I live below the equator the seasons are switched and my lucky self has got to enjoy another summer and vacation from school.

I started this time with a trip to the north of Peru and Ecuador with the rest of the exchange students experiencing new cities and renewing our visas. This trip took us through the northern cities which are mostly made up of beaches on the coast. I was especially excited for this trip because of my love for the sun and beach, as any Floridian would probably have, and because of the AWESOME food of the northern region. The northern region is known for its ceviche, a peruvian seafood dish made of raw fish, lemon, onion, spices, and served with sweet potato, corn, and lettuce. It might sound a bit odd but I cannot get enough of it! The cities we visited included Trujillo, Puira, Zorritos, Mancora, Tumbes, and Quito and Guayaquil (Ecuador) they where all very beautiful and interesting to see.

I am now back in my home city of Lima and am super excited for the things I have in store for my last 100 days. I received an email a few weeks ago entitled “la ultima parte de tu intercambio” or “the last part of your exchange” from our director here in Peru explaining our remaining events and I still find it crazy to think that all this time has gone so fast.

My adventures here continue with lots of fun things coming soon and the start of university as my summer draws to an end. Every day I fall more and more in love with Peru. I know everyone says that and it’s quite the cliche, but every day I find myself naming the things I’ll miss. Things I found so odd just 7 months ago I now couldn’t see life without. From the crazy public transportation to the sound of Peruvian Spanish to the fresh fruit markets, my life will never be the same having known such a wonderful country. I can truly say I will leave my heart behind, but that is only if they make me leave.

 Mon, March 9, 2015

5 Months. I’ve been in this amazing country for 5 months and each time I think it, hear it, or say it, it gets harder to believe. Life here is different, slower at times and incredibly fast at others, but after 5 months it doesn’t seem like a foreign country anymore. Peru is my home.

Since I last wrote many things have happened. The holidays have passed, I have traveled to many of the cities in southern Peru including Machu Picchu, I have switched families, I have graduated Peruvian high school, I have learned more Spanish than I thought I would ever know, and overall Peru has become my normal.

I guess I will start with holidays; I have passed quite a few holidays since my last journal including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Halloween here was not a very big deal in my area and was much more for the younger children. My host parents explained that many people believe Halloween to be against their religion and that the whole candy deal was relatively new to Peru either way. Not wanting to miss out I threw my American flag around me and trick tricked (what the Peruvians say instead of trick or treat). It was quite cute really.

The next holiday that passed was Thanksgiving and unfortunately our exchange students weren’t able to get together for the American day and because of being busy, I forgot it was even Thanksgiving until my family back home asked to Skype me. Its funny how insignificant things like Thanksgiving are in reality and even though I thought I would miss it I was surprised at how content I was with just making a salad I usually make in the US to share with my family.

Next came Christmas and man do Peruvians know how to celebrate Christmas! Instead of getting to sleep early to wake up to Santa’s gifts, in Peru you wait up until midnight surrounded by family, excited children, and food. They have a feast set up much like Thanksgiving for Christmas including turkey and stuffing and everyone eats as they wait for midnight to come like we would on New Year’s. When the clock stroked 12 we all yelled with joy, set off fireworks, hugged, said our Feliz Navidad’s, and dove into the presents. Here Christmas is much more about family than the gifts and consumerism that I think we sometimes focus on in the states. Santa is not a widely used tradition here and gifts are kept to maybe 5 or 6 smaller things per person. Instead you are surrounded by all your living family with promise of visits from more in the coming days.

Lastly came New Year’s. Tradition here is similar to the United States except everyone wears new yellow underwear to bring in the new year. At midnight they also eat grapes as they hug and greet company for a year of friendships.

In these 5 months I’ve also ad a few other big changes. I recently graduated Peruvian high school and attended their Prom and ceremonies. Because I lived in a small town, my school was also very small. My graduating class consisted of one classroom of about 30 students. With such a small amount of kids we all were very close and graduating, going to prom, and celebrating other events were things I could only imagine doing with them. My class was incredibly welcoming and I owe a lot of the good memories and friendships to Colegio Nuevo Mundo.

We graduated the 27th of December with a party and a ceremony, as is custom in Peru. We all walked down the isle in our caps and gowns and were given a yearbook and a medal from the director and owner of the school. Many people gave speeches and as I walked up to receive my yearbook as the very last student, my entire class yelled “OBAMA!” in unison as part of an ongoing joke we had. We then had a dance with our dates, followed by a dance with our fathers which I thought was such a cute intimate thing to do that would never be possible in my school in Florida with its graduating class of over 900 students. We passed the rest of the night dancing and enjoying our final time together.

Another big change I very recently experienced was changing families. I changed my family after New Year’s and while I am happy for the new adventure, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do during my exchange. My host family really became a huge part of my life and I saw them all as real family. The small town I lived in was just an extension of that familiar feeling and as I said goodbye I knew it could only be a see you later because I will have to return before I finish my time in Peru. Things are going great with my new family though, they are very kind, and I now live close to the city and am in slight shock at getting anywhere in under an hour.

I should also throw in experience, and before I tell you about the amazing places I’ve been, I’ll tell you about my Spanish, my sense of direction in this huge city, and my general knowledge of Peru. My Spanish is coming along great and I no longer struggle to form sentences and use the right verb tenses in casual conversation. I no longer find myself translating back and fourth in my head and catch myself using Spanish words when I am speaking in English because they just work better, or we don’t have an equal. Becoming fluent in another language is a prize itself, without all the other benefits of exchange, to take back with me.

I’m also very comfortable with Lima now and many of my Peruvian friends will ask me for directions around the city. I am confident using the crazy bus system to go anywhere I may need to be and can even get around new places just fine. Even in my new home I know how to get everywhere. This is probably one of the coolest things for me because I was never directional at all in the States and couldn’t get anywhere without a GPS. I’ve also gained mountains of knowledge about Peru in general. I have gotten to participate in events to help the poor children and this really has become a passion of mine so much that another exchange student and I organized and raised money by ourselves to have a Christmas event for poor children close to the small town where I used to live. A lot of work was put in and when the day finally came around and we were ready, seeing the smiles of the children was the only gift I needed.

Finally you have to know about all the places I’ve visited. I find this the most trivial part, not because the places aren’t absolutely amazing, but because you have to go to really know them. In Spanish the verb to know (conocer) is actually used as the equal to mean that you have visited a place and I think that is really interesting look on travelling. So here is a little list accompanied by some things I wrote in my journal while in these places.

  • Ica
    • Pisco
    • Arica, Chile
    • Tortugas
    • Casma
    • Machu Picchu
    • Colca Canyon
    • Lago Titicaca
    • Puno
    • Arequipa
    • Tacna
    • Cuzco
    • Auguascalientes

Here is a little something I wrote in my favorite destination of these Colca:
“I am currently in an absolutely amazing and indescribably beautiful 5star hotel in Colca. This is lucky for me, and not so much for you because photos and words could never do this place justice. I am surrounded by the largest and most plentiful mountains I have ever seen, a rocky-river bed that I am currently resting over, farmland fields, a canyon, and plateaus. I will tell you it’s beautiful, but that’s not the word. I’d settle with majestic, but I’ve used that word before and this place is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

While here I’ve felt so connected yet disconnected at the same time. Seeing the incredible landscapes and scooting across riverbeds to end in a rock formed hot tub is the incredibly intimate experience between yourself, nature, and God. You begin to wonder what other corners of the world you’ve missed, how lucky you were to be placed in this moment, and how your insignificant self plays a role in a world of billions and places like this. Now, I want to know how cities were before they were touched. I want to know every star, planet, and comet I am viewing. I want to speak so many more languages to be able to question and discuss things with the natives. I want to live the basic lives of these people to reverse my societal-taken values. I want to then my home so they know for sure there is so much more.

Being here I feel infinite, like I can change the world. This is the connected part. I look around here and my mind skip to thoughts of my fellow exchange students, travelers, and wanderers alike. The hopeful and the hopeless that are exploring the world and discovering places like this for themselves in other countries as well as Peru. And we are connected. We are changing, with the wind and with the tides, and there are others like me who long to have their breath taken away, and somehow through many miles and many languages, we are connected. …

But then there’s the disconnect. The tragically beautiful realization that no one has the same thoughts as you. That you will never be able to truly describe the places you go, and that you have another life far-far away that is continuing on as normal right now like nothing has changed. You can feel almost empty sometimes, and so full simultaneously. To have these experienced in your heart and mind, it fills the soul immensely. Colca will forever be in my heart. The land, the natives, Colca Lodge… It’s all more than I’ve ever dreamed of and tops all I could have ever dreamed up.”

All in all, I am living an amazing life here. If one word described my exchange it would be opportunity because I just have so much of it! It is currently summer vacation here and I have many adventures in store. So far I have reached my highest heights (literally and figuratively) and I can’t wait to discover what may b