Outbounds 2008-2009

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Christopher “Chris” Foley
2008-09 Outbound to Thailand

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Ban Chang Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Chris - Thailand

Chris’ Bio

 Hello! I’m Chris Foley and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I am 16 years old, but I will be graduating a year early from Bartram Trail High School this semester. I was born in a suburb of New York City called Goshen, New York, and moved to Jacksonville in 2005. Although I left behind my dad, my little brother, and many other relatives, Florida has finally become a place that I can truthfully call home.

I live here in Jacksonville with my mom, step-dad, and our dog Finny (the favorite child). My sister, Brianna, lives a few minutes away at the beach. A normal day in my house consists of my mom doing yoga and my step-dad working on a new painting, while Finny chews all of our shoes.

I love to travel, meet new people, play many instruments, and collect records. Among my favorite types of music are jazz, soul, folk, and hip-hop. I am very excited to go overseas and discover new types of music and new cultures. I also enjoy biking, skateboarding, soccer, and anything else outdoors.

After seeing a few friends of mine experience an exchange I am very excited to embark upon my own. Thanks to everyone who worked hard to make this happen!

August 19 Journal

 Today is the two-week point of my life here in Thailand. The last two weeks have been very exciting, eventful, and confusing. I landed in Bangkok, a day later than expected, and I didn’t know what to expect. I went to get my bags and Alina (Outbound to Thailand) came along because her connecting flight to Phuket was not until the next morning. We soon found out that our baggage was still in Tokyo, but we couldn’t be mad because the Thai Airways man we spoke with was just too nice to us. We went to search for my second host family, who had offered to come and pick me up. When we found them, they put a flower necklace around my neck (I don’t know the name of this yet, but I’ve seen so many of them) and gave both Alina and me a rose. It was impossible for us to explain Alina’s situation to them in Thai. Eventually, they understood what the situation was, except for Alina’s problem. I said goodbye to her and left with my second host family, without any bags. On the ride from Bangkok to Ban Chang, we had confusing conversations. We went to eat somewhere (at 1 AM) and then went to their home. As much as I wanted to see everything and chat, I was tired and I went to sleep.

In the morning, we ate rice and meat (breakfast here is usually leftovers from dinner the night before). My first host dad came to pick me up and we went down the road to my new home. Later on, I met my host mom and host brother, Pon. I have another host brother who I haven’t met yet because he is in Canada for summer camp until next week. We went out to eat quite often when I first arrived. I ate some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. My host mom and dad were surprised that a “farang” can like so many Thai foods and fruits. They told me I must have been a Thai person in another lifetime. So on my first day in my new home, my host dad took me sightseeing around Ban Chang and to the beaches nearby. Everything was very beautiful. At night we went out to a restaurant on the beach, literally. After we ate, I was taken back to my second host family because O was leaving for Orlando the next morning. At their house, I met many of O’s friends and we played ping-pong and “poking” (a type of poker that I’ve never played). I made many friends on this night. We stayed up all night because O’s flight didn’t leave until 6 AM. I’m sure this didn’t help my jet lag situation too much, but I got my bags back from the airport! We said goodbye to O, took some pictures, and then left. On the way back, around 7, we all woke up in the van because we stopped to eat some heavy food for breakfast. Soon I was back at my first host house and I slept for a long time.

The next few days were spent adapting to my new life. I got to know my host family and I really like them! Anytime I have a problem, they are always there to help. My host dad speaks English, which is good because I can ask him how to say anything in Thai and he tells me what is in all the food we eat. My host mom and host brother, Pon, are both learning English (they’re pretty good!) so sometimes we speak English and sometimes Thai. In the end, we both get better at the language we are trying to learn. Pon always likes to play games and ride bikes, which is fine with me because that reminds me of my little brother back in the U.S.

Two days after my arrival it was my birthday. My host parents knew this and they planned for us to go to Pattaya for dinner. My family does not make a big deal out of birthdays, which made me feel better because my host mom’s birthday was three days after mine and I was worried about what to do. We ate dinner, saw some sights in Pattaya, then went home. It was a very nice night.

Before I knew it, I was in school. Thai high schools started about 2 or 3 months ago so I had to start right away. I was delighted to find that the same friends I made at O’s house were in my classroom. When I walked in, the room exploded with noise. Everyone was excited and wanted to talk to me. Everyone came up to me and tried to speak English. They told me their names, but I forgot them just as soon as they told me. It was not stressful or overwhelming, just fun. My classroom here is very different from the classes in the U.S.A. There are hardly any dull moments. We joke around, sing and play songs with a guitar, and play football in the back of the class. Of course, these are all when the teachers are not in the room. Teachers switch from classroom to classroom here, rather than the students. Many teachers in my school teach in English because they are foreigners who came here to do so. I talked to all of these teachers, but it makes me bored because I want to be able to speak to the Thai teachers. All in all, I love my school. Now I know almost everyone’s nickname and my friends speak to me in Thai. I play basketball after school, and everyone asks me to dunk. My school is for kids of all ages. Everyday a little boy will come up to me and wave to me or shake my hand, or I will hear someone yell out “Kiss-toh-fer.” Everyone knows me, but I don’t know them, so I just smile and wave.

After my first day, a group of girls asked me if I wanted to go to some temples in Rayong over the weekend. So I got to go to many beautiful temples and we had a great time. My new friends told me that they are happy when I smile and they hoped I had a good time. Many times they would ask me, “Are you boring?” I haven’t been bored since I arrived here!

I’ve been to so many places in the past two weeks. I went to Pattaya one more time (for my host-mom’s birthday), Bang Na on Thai Mother’s Day/ The Queen’s Birthday (a quiet town north of here), the beach near Koh Samet (very beautiful!), and Bangkok (a very fun weekend!). I can’t wait to see more!




November 17 Journal

 Well it’s been almost three months since my last journal. My life has changed so much in those last three months. I wasn’t looking forward to writing this journal, but I want to let everyone know what’s been going on.

First, the bad news. Everything about my exchange seemed to be working out perfectly. My first host family was awesome and I was glad to be in Thailand. On September 17, 2008, my father passed away. The morning that I found out was the worst, weirdest day of my exchange. I felt like I was still asleep and I just needed to wake up for real this time. I realized it was all true and I wanted to instantly transport home. My mom set up a flight for the next day. The day that I had to spend in Thailand before I left felt like an eternity. My host family was very supportive, and whatever they could think of doing for me, they did. I asked to go buy presents for my mom, my brother, and my sister because I didn’t know what else to do. The next night I left for the airport at 2 AM and flew out of Bangkok at 6 AM. Then I was alone. For 30 hours I thought. I tried to make sense of everything, but then it would become overwhelming and I had to stop. I cried so much when I found out in Thailand. The strange thing is, I hardly cried, or felt any emotion, on the way back to the U.S.A. I was numb to everything, and the jetlag made my mind even fuzzier when I arrived in NY. I was met by my sister, my aunt, and her kids. I expected to cry a lot when I saw my sister, but we were excited to see each other, so it was blocked out for the moment.

I am not going to explain how my father died or what happened within the time that I was in NY. All I will say is that there was a wake, a funeral, and all my family came together to support each other. If I didn’t have such a big family, I might have decided to stay in NY to be with my brother. So I decided that I would come back to Thailand. On the same day, my sister flew back down to Florida and I flew out to Thailand. At a time like that, you are never sure what the right thing to do is or how to act. It is the most difficult thing that anyone can ever go through. My dad was my best friend and I will never stop missing him. With that said, know that in every day in Thailand since then, I think of him.

Life here is very busy. When I got back I hung out with some friends in my town and played basketball with my friend Atom at the local park almost every night. In October, I went to Chantaburi for the inbound camp at Jaolao Beach Resort. I went three days early to stay with some of my inbound friends there because my host family was going away that week. At Jaolao, I got to meet everyone. It was instantly a good time, as it mostly is with exchange students. The camp was 5 days long and was a mix of volunteer work (beach clean-up, paint a fence, etc.) and relaxation.

After the camp, I went to Pattaya twice to travel with my friend Adrian from Mexico and his host family. The first time we went to Apmpawah, a place famous for its floating market in the canal. We went to four temples by boat, which would’ve been more fun if it wasn’t raining the whole time. Regardless of the rain, it was good to see this aspect of Thailand. A few days after this trip, I was invited to travel with them again. This time we went to Koh Laan, a nice island off the coast of Pattaya. It was a more relaxing trip; we were either on the beach or eating the whole time. We stayed for two days then took the ferry back to Pattaya and I went home.

I changed host families shortly after I got home from Pattaya. I liked my first host family a lot and they had done so much for me. I was sad to say goodbye to them, although I knew I would see them again. My new family is great. I now live about 5 km from where I used to live. My host father is a doctor and my host mother used to be a nurse, but now she stays home to take care of the boys. I have three younger host brothers here. Their names are Bink (14), Boom (11), and Book (9). My host parents can both speak English, but I asked my host mom to speak to me in Thai. She asked me to speak English with Bink because he wants to practice. My two other brothers don’t understand when I speak English, so I speak Thai. Weekdays with this family are usually filled with school and either tennis (for Bink) or swimming (for Boom and Book). It works out well because I play basketball in the same place where Boom and Book swim, so we can go together. On the weekends, Bink and my host mom always go to Bangkok so Bink can practice tennis. Last weekend I went with them. I got to see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We stayed at my host grandmother’s house. It is always filled with people, so I never really know who is related to my host family and who actually lives there. The next day I went to Jatujak market (a huge market in Bangkok) with my new host cousin, Poom. He was an exchange student in Kentucky two years ago.

This week was a busy one. On Monday and Tuesday I played on the school basketball team for the first time. After school on Monday, the coach taught me all the plays, which is difficult to remember in itself, let alone in Thai. We played at a park in Rayong, which I’d never seen before, called “Suan see muang” (purple garden). They had an announcer and every time I went for a lay-up or took a shot, he would say “Kiss-Toh-Fer!” We lost both games, but I was just happy to play and that I could understand the coach in Thai.

Wednesday was a holiday in Thailand called Loy Gratong. It is a celebration on the full moon day in November where everyone makes a “gratong” out of banana tree, banana leaf, flowers, a candle, and incense. At night, people gather at a body of water, light their candles and incense, and float their “gratong.” Some people fly paper or plastic lamps, by lighting a wick on fire under it. It works like a hot air balloon, just without people in it. It’s a very beautiful celebration, with lots of people, music, lights, and food. During the day on Wednesday I was in a competition at school for Mr. and Mrs. Loy Gratong. I had to dress up in traditional Thai costume and wear make up on my face. The costume was shiny gold and I felt like Prince. In the U.S., I would’ve definitely been laughed at, but at my school a lot of people told me I looked handsome. When me and my partner Janny came out, we got the loudest cheers. Janny and I made it into the final 3, which meant that we would have to show some kind of talent. Janny did a Thai dance routine and I played guitar and sang the Loy Gratong song in Thai. I won the prize for “Kwan Jai,” which means something like popular vote, and “Nai Napamahs,” which meant that Janny and I won the contest! It was a good feeling to win and an even better feeling to change out of that costume (it was too hot!). Before I went home, a few of my friends asked me to play and sing the Loy Gratong song for them one more time. Later I went to a “Ngaan Wat” or festival at the temple, for Loy Gratong. It was held near a temple at the beach. There were lights from hundreds of gratongs in the water and lights from the flying lamps above the water. There was a stage with singers and Thai dancers and many food stands. It was a good time; I even saw a few of my friends there.

I am starting to feel more at home in Thailand and less like a tourist. My Thai is coming along well. Now I can read and write, which makes it easier to study. I speak to most of my friends in Thai now, although a lot of them can speak English. Many Thai people are very surprised that I can speak to them in Thai. I can remember when my friends used to tell other people “poot tai mai dai” or “He can’t speak Thai.” Then it changed to “poot tai nit noy” or “he speaks some Thai.” Recently people have told me “poot tai geng!” or “You speak Thai well!” It’s nice to be reminded that you are making progress. Of course, there are still times when I’m completely lost, but I’m confident that I can fill in those gaps by the end of this year. I have a lot of awesome friends here and that’s the main reason I want to keep learning every day.

I have to say thanks to Rotary, not just for making this experience possible, but also for taking care of me during one of the saddest times of my life. The Rotarians I know back at home and the travel agency made it possible for me to go home and be with my family. I want all exchange students to be sure that if anything happens, that support will be there. This exchange has helped me to live with losing my father; I have no doubt about that.




 February 14 Journal

 This morning I woke up refreshed because for the first time in a long while I’d gotten a long night of sleep. As the “cool” season comes to an end, the weather shifts back to very hot. Students are happy because after the final exams, summer vacation will begin. The mangoes and berries in our back yard are ready to be picked and eaten for dessert. Everyone I come across seems as happy as I am that this time is here.

As for me, I am happy for many reasons. I’m happy because I have all of my friends here in my city and around Thailand. I’m happy to make many new friends every week. I’m happy because I feel at home every time I walk in the door of my house and because I can talk to my mom about anything. I’m happy because I can go swimming at the beach and play basketball every night. I’m happy for the new experiences that present themselves every day.

Although some things have changed here, I always remain very busy. This is not me complaining. This is the best type of being busy that I’ve ever experienced. I am busy enjoying myself. Traveling with friends, going to temples, shopping at markets… even going to school is really entertaining. After this week, we will have a 2 or 3 month vacation. I am excited, but now it will be more difficult to see a lot of my friends. My school is a private school, so many students come from surrounding cities to study there.

Last night I went with all of my friends from my classroom to eat a pork buffet. This is the best place to go eat with a big group of people. You can take any variation of raw pork from the buffet and bring it back to your table to cook it over hot coals. They even had pork heart and stomach, but I guess I wasn’t… in the mood to eat it (I’m afraid to try it : p). I like everyone from my class so much and I’ve gotten to know all of them really well. I don’t have to say goodbye to them yet… but soon they’ll go off to different universities and I’ll stay here.

In December I went with my exchange friends on the first Rotary trip. We went to the Northeast (Isaan) and North of Thailand. In the Northeast we ate a lot of sticky rice and somtam (a spicy papaya salad). We traveled along the Maeklong River, seeing many views of Laos on the other side. During the days we went to see temples, waterfalls, orchid farms, and other cool places. After going up through the northeast, we reached the Golden Triangle. This is the area along the River where Thailand meets Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. Then, we went to a temple (Wat Rong Kuun) in Chiang Rai, which was the most amazing I have seen in Thailand. The outside is filled with statues of Buddha, dragons, skeletons… all completely white. It sparkles in the sun and looks spectacular. Inside the temple is a shrine to Buddha (as in all temples) and murals on all the walls. The murals are so cool because they’re modern art style. There is even one part that depicts the World Trade Center. After visiting this temple, we went on to Chiang Mai.

Staying in Chiang Mai was definitely the best part of the trip. It’s a very nice city, with the excitement of Bangkok, but a lot cleaner and nicer looking. Many Thai people travel to this city during the cool season because this is where the coldest weather in Thailand can be found. We went to markets, the zoo, a mountaintop, a hill-tribe village, a Mexican restaurant, a disco, and stayed in a massive hotel. We even got to ride elephants. We had a Christmas celebration together… Secret Santa and a foreign-style dinner. The gifts we gave to each other were funny… some were nice but most of them were jokes. The time spent with exchange student friends is always fun, no matter where we go. When I got back home I had no time to settle down because we were off to Bangkok for New Years. I counted down the last sixty seconds of 2008 (or 2551 by the Buddhist calendar) with what felt like the rest of everyone in Bangkok in an area called Siam. I realized how difficult it is to count backwards in Thai! In Thailand, a lot of people give presents on New Years… I got a few from friends and family  I didn’t miss my familiar traditions during the holidays this year, but I thought about my family a lot. After New Years, we went to Hua Hin, where the King lives during the summer.

After the holidays, I got back into the swing of normal life at home. I was happy to go back to school to see my friends and hear what everyone did during the holiday break. Unlike most schools in Thailand, my school had a Christmas break because it’s a Catholic school. I went to Bangkok two different times… each time to say goodbye to a Brazilian. Two of my exchange friends had to go home because they came half a year earlier than the rest of us. However, we all had a lot of fun together in Bangkok both times. Bangkok is so different from any other city I’ve ever been to. It’s colorful, crowded, old and new at the same time, and exciting. There are taxis of all different colors, tuk-tuks everywhere (3-wheeled motorcycle taxis, which can fit a surprising number of people), food stands everywhere, canals, markets on sidewalks, and many nice malls. Also, you can find foreigners from every ethnicity on Kao San road… a place where many backpackers can be found. It’s a cool road to go to because they always have something interesting, like drum circles or elephants walking down the crowded street.

Last weekend I went to Pattaya, where my friend Adrian lives. Two other exchange student friends came too. Adrian’s Rotary club had a bed race and we raced in it! It was so funny because each team decorated their “bed” (most were actually chairs on carts) in a different way. We raced a team of foreigner cross-dressers, a team of proud Irishmen, and so many more. Pattaya has many foreign residents and most of the Rotarians were farang. We didn’t win but it was fun. Afterwards we got to ride go-karts for free! At night, we ate dinner on the deck of a mall, with a nice view of the sea, dotted with the lights from the boats out on the water.

Last Monday, the day of the full moon, there was a Thai Buddhist holiday called Wan Mahka Bucha. I went with Adrian and his host family to a huge temple near Bangkok (I forgot the name but I’m sure it’s the biggest in Thailand). This temple has a stupa made from solid gold. At the bottom of the stupa were hundreds of monks sitting in meditation. Everyone sat next to one of the thousand metal lanterns they had set up on the grounds near the stupa. Many foreigners came to this celebration, even the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka came and made a speech. The monks chanted, and then everyone meditated together for about 15 minutes. Finally the lanterns were lit and fireworks were set off before the Luang Por (Head/ Eldest monk) spoke. A procession of people holding candles walked around the stupa three times. The full moon shone over all of this. It was amazing.

I’ve become used to the things which seemed so foreign and new to me only 5 or 6 months ago. Sometimes I have to stop myself and say like “Wait, there’s an elephant walking past me” or “I’m eating grasshoppers on the beach right now.” I’m still speaking Thai every day and steadily improving. I love to speak to Thai people, I can’t explain it but it’s very different from speaking English. The best thing for me to hear is when people ask me, “How many years have you lived here?”

So, here I am, at the 6 month point in my exchange, and now I know why everyone always says that going home is the curse of this year. I hadn’t thought about it until I had to pick a date to return. In some ways I feel like I’ve just gotten here, and in some ways I feel like I’ve lived here forever. I still have a lot of time left, and there’s still a lot I want to do. So I will continue to make the most of every day, and stay tuned for more. ^ ^

-Somkit สมคิด


 April 28 Journal

 Sawatdee Khrap!

Today is a perfect day to write a journal because it is the hottest day of the year in Thailand. Leaving the house doesn’t become appealing until the evening time, in this time of year. As usual, a lot has happened since I last wrote.

At the end of March all of my exchange student friends met again to go on a tour in the south of Thailand. This meant that we would be relaxing on Thailand’s most beautiful beaches, cruising on speedboats to picturesque islands, and snorkeling in the blue waters. However, this also meant that we would have to sit on the bus for hours and hours until we could get to paradise, but the bus rides are always fun when you’re with all of your friends.

Before we knew it, we had arrived in the South. In the South, the food, scenery, accent, and people are quite different from where I live. In Krabi, we went by speedboat to many small islands, where we swam with schools of tropical fish. After going around to about 4 different islands, we were all exhausted and slept on the bus to Pha Nga. In Pha Nga we went on a boat tour in the Bay, where we saw towering limestone cliffs emerging spontaneously out of the water. In some spots, small villages built on stilts were hidden at the base of the formations. We got off the boat at “James Bond Island,” an island where “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed. Here, we had fun taking jumping pictures and James Bond style pictures. From Pha Nga, we got on a ferry boat, for a 4 hour ride to the Similan Islands. This was the best stop on the tour. The water was the clearest and bluest here. When we arrived, we were all pretty tired of sitting on the boat. As soon as the boat anchored, we all started to jump off the boat and swim right away. Most of us swam to the island instead of getting a ride from a smaller boat. None of us wanted to stop swimming, but a storm rolled in so eventually we had to get out.

For two nights we stayed in tents on Similan. Those were two very uncomfortable nights, but I have no complaints because in the mornings, we woke up to paradise. We also got to go explore the other islands in the archipelago (I think there were 8 in all). On one island, we climbed up to the highest point, to a rock formation that resembles a sailboat. Here we took way too many pictures, probably because we weren’t ready to climb back down after the trek to the top. At the bottom we went snorkeling some more and saw so many cool fish and coral. The rest of the day was spent snorkeling around some of the other islands. On that day I found NEMO!! There were 4 Nemo fish swimming around a big chunk of neon pink coral. Even though it hurt my ears, I swam down many times to get a closer look. On Similan, I got to see giant crabs that live on land, not in the sea. I got to watch the sunset while swimming in a lagoon filled with coral and tiny fish. I got to see more stars in the sky than I have ever seen before in my life. I even saw a shooting star. Needless to say, I enjoyed staying on Similan so much and I would love to go back some day. After Similan, we made our way to Phuket (a 4 hour boat ride back to Pha Nga and a 2 hour bus ride from there). We watched the sunset over the beach when we got to Phuket. While staying there, we went to an aquarium, Central (the big mall, which they have in every big city in Thailand), and the Puket FantaSea show. After Phuket, the rest of the tour was spent on the bus going back home. The tour was very amazing and I will never forget it. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to some exchange friends, who I know I won’t likely meet with again. I won’t soon forget them.

So I headed back home, back to real life… kind of. When I arrived at home, I knew I had to switch families very soon. I took a short trip to Bangkok with my second family, and then it was time to move already. I was sad to say goodbye to my second family… I lived with them for 6 months and felt very close to them, but I know I will see them again often. I knew my third family, the Lee family, before I moved in. They were the ones who picked me up from the airport last August. Of course, last August I couldn’t speak with them because they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Thai. Well, now they still can’t speak English, but luckily I can speak Thai . They were happy and relieved to see that we could talk together. Their son, O, is an exchange student in Orlando this year. Since I moved in life has been pretty easy at my new home. It’s still summer break for me, so I can relax. My host father sells pork, and takes me to the farms sometimes. It’s not the most exciting thing to do, but the locations are very beautiful. Sometimes, I forget how beautiful my province of Thailand (Rayong) is until I go to the rural parts.

In my new family, I have 2 younger sisters, Aey and Eye. Right now they are studying the summer term at school, but when they are home we play badminton and basketball, or watch Korean TV shows together (Aey likes everything Korean, as do many Thai people). The Lee family is of Chinese ancestry. My new home is full of Chinese things. We also have a lot of animals… 3 dogs (I think), 2 cats, 3 kittens (just born a week ago!), a GIANT fish, some smaller fish, and a turtle. I’ve learned a lot about Chinese culture since moving here. Although both my host mother and father were born in Thailand, they preserve their Chinese background. My family takes a trip to China every year. My host parents can speak some Chinese too.

Last week was Songkran festival in Thailand. This is a 3-day long festival where everyone throws water and puts powder on each other. I decided to go to Bangkok, to a road called “Tanon Kaosan.” This road is known for having a steady flow of tourists and backpackers. I was afraid that it would be all foreigners there on Songkran, but actually it was mostly Thai people. I think all of the foreigners went to other places because of the problem with the Red Shirts protesting in Bangkok. I won’t go into this issue because it would take a long time to explain and maybe I would explain it incorrectly. To make a long story short, right now there are some differing views about the government in Thailand and the Red Shirts want the government to change. But not to worry, because on Tanon Kaosan there was no problems and I had an amazing time during Songkran. I went with two exchange student friends, Jean-Phillipe from Quebec and Adrian from Mexico. For 3 days we went around throwing water, shooting water, playing with powder. We met some friends and made new friends. For those 3 days everyone on Kaosan seemed to be so happy. I can’t think of a better holiday to have in the hottest month of the year. So, the official Songkran came to an end, but I went back home to play one more day with my family. We got in the back of my host dad’s pick-up truck, equipped with 2 giant barrels of water, buckets, and water guns, then drove down the main road, stopping at every big group of people for a quick water fight. Still, I felt I really wasn’t finished with Songkran, so I went to Pattaya to play one more day with Adrian. Some cities like to throw water on later days than the rest, which means I get to play more 

Rak tuk khon!

-Chris สมคิด

June 25 Journal

 Sawatdee Khrap!

Once again, another 2 months have passed by in the blink of an eye and I find myself struggling to remember all that I did in that time. I can start by saying that I’m very happy with my last host family. We speak only in Thai together and that has definitely helped me to top off my language skills. The time I spend with them is always passed very easily. My host mom and host dad work pretty hard during the day, so by the time all there jobs are finished and they get home, we just eat dinner together and relax. Our favorite TV show to watch together is a Korean game show, called X-Man, dubbed in Thai. Sometimes, during the day, they take me and my two younger sisters along with them to check on the farms and the new house they are building in a town called Baan Kaai. I’m happy because we have all grown closer over the short amount of time spent together.

In the past few months I started to go see a bunch of concerts, mostly in Bangkok. The best part is, most of them are free. I’ve really taken a liking to Thai music, of various types. So far, I’ve seen some Rock, Indie, Jazz, Reggae, and Ska concerts. The best one was a music festival in Hua Hin called Summerfest. A lot of famous Thai bands played on a stage set up on the beach, to a crowd of thousands of people. Eventually the tide rose and everyone was splashing around, trying to dance in the sea.

My mom and my sister came to visit!

I was a little worried about their visit to Thailand because even the day they came, I had only a vague plan of where I would take them. As soon as I met them in the airport (wearing my student uniform of course :p) I realized it didn’t matter because anything we did together would be fun. I took them around Bangkok for a day, showing them the popular temples, Wat Po and Wat Arun. My mom and my sister enjoyed the original Thai massage at Wat Po before taking a ferry across the JaoPraya River to Wat Arun. I was glad that my mom and my sister liked to try all kinds of Thai foods. Thai food is the cheapest food here and, in my opinion, the best.

We headed two hours east, back to my city and my first host father took us to stay in a hotel overlooking the beach. That night we ate at a restaurant on the beach… me, my mom, my sister, and all of my three host families throughout this year. It was nice to see all of my host families meet my real family. My mom (the real one) really liked the fried, whole fish we ate, something you don’t see much in the states. The next day, my second host mom picked us up from the hotel and brought us to the market under a hospital (I think of it as the secret market), “kao chee jan” (the mountain with the golden Buddha image engraved on it), a vineyard, Wihan Xien (a Chinese temple), and a floating market. These were some of the first places my friends took me to see when I first got here. Next we headed to the island off the coast of my city, called Koh Samed, where we stayed for two nights. Here we got to go swimming, eat a lot, and see a fire show on the beach at night time.

After taking the boat back to the mainland, the plans were pretty much up in the air. We headed back to Bangkok, where my friend Adrian joined us. We searched for a hotel for a long time, until we got lucky and found a really nice one. In this hotel, each room has a different theme, a different design and you can choose which one you like from a catalog. In the lobby they like to play American 80’s music which my mom likes to dance to as she walks up the stairs and accidentally hits her head on the ceiling. :p Adrian and I got massages in the hotel while my mom and sister went for pedicures, etc. across the street. Then we enjoyed eating “Thai style” at one of the street vendors. Here you can eat for about a buck each.

Next day was set aside for Jatujak Weekend Market… the biggest market in District 6970 Asia (or maybe just in Thailand). At JJ, you can buy pretty much anything, from clothes to pets. It was really crowded and hot as usual, so my mom and sister didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought they would. At the hotel, we saw a brochure for a resort in the South and decided to head South next instead of North… my mom liked the idea because it meant less hours on the bus. So the next day we headed to Lumra Resort in Prachuap province. We got off the bus, after about 5 hours, where the resort worker told us to. She told us to wait, that there would be a “car” coming to pick up. Well, I forgot that in Thai the word “rot” can mean either car or motorcycle. Our ride showed up…. a motorcycle with a side cart type thing, which has a bench seat on it. We buzzed through some very quiet roads near the beach until we reached our resort about 15 minutes later. The resort was very… quiet. In fact, I’m sure we were the only guests there. :p I think this was the point where my mom started to lose trust in my trip planning skills.

In the morning, we did some yoga, took a walk on the beach, then hired a guy to take us to see a temple on top of a hill nearby (very nice view) and then to the train station. We took a train that’s free for Thai people, only a small fee for foreigners (less than $1 each). On this train there’s no air, and just normal seats, nothing special. I enjoyed cruising through the jungle-like landscape, but by the time we reached Chumpon, it was clear my mom didn’t enjoy it much at all. Not to mention I didn’t have a hotel booked or a plan of how to get to the popular island in that area, Koh Tao. When we got off the train, a lady called us over and solved all of our problems, booked a hotel and tickets for a ferry to Koh Tao. The next day we got on a commercial catamaran and clipped through the waters of the Gulf of Thailand to Koh Tao.

The best part of our stay on this island was snorkeling. My sister and I went exploring for a good beach to snorkel at. Finally we found the best one, with neon colored coral and multicolored fish swimming around it. It was my sister’s first time snorkeling and she really liked it, so it was worth the grueling walk back up the side of the mountain. We stayed for two nights on that island then headed back to Bangkok again. Then it was time to say goodbye to my mom and sister… again. We got to sleep a few hours before I sent them to the airport. I hope they go back with a lot of good things to tell their friends about Thailand!

Today is the last day I have to send in this journal because for about the next 11 days, I won’t be able to use a computer. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to stay at Wat Samnakatorn, a local temple. I will study some prayers in Sanksrit and help out around the temple, until I ordain to become a “Nayne” (a novice monk who is under 20). I’ll stay at the temple for 7 or more days and wear the scarlet robes. And yes… that means I’ll shave my head and eyebrows too.

So be sure to check my next journal for pictures!



July 21 Journal

 Hello Friends,

A good chunk of my time here in June was spent in one place: the temple. I had told my family that I was interested in becoming a monk for a week or two, and they were more than happy to help me out. I would ordain as a “Nayne,” or novice monk. Once you are 20 years old or older, you can ordain as an actual monk, or “Pra.” A novice monk has just 10 rules and prohibitions to follow, whereas a monk must follow some 273. So one day, we decided to go see the “Luang Por,” or head monk, at the local temple. My host dad asked Luang Por if it was possible for me to ordain in June. Luang Por agreed and said the day to ordain would be on the 13th. However, he asked that I stay at the temple for a week before that date and wear all white clothes. In this stage I was called “Naak,” or someone who is going to ordain in the near future. As a Naak, you must observe the temple lifestyle, study the books of prayers/ chants (called “Suat Mone”), and help with chores around the temple. Normally, novice monks don’t have to go through this stage, but the Luang Por wanted me to get a full experience at the temple. Also, I was the only one ordaining as a novice monk on the 13th.

So, for the first week, I stayed at the temple, wearing all white, along with about 7 other Naak. I became good friends with all of these guys. We worked together, ate together, and they helped me memorize the part of the “Suat Mone” that I was to recite on ordination day. These guys were all in their twenties, except for one who was older. I learned that it’s tradition for Thai men to ordain as a monk in their twenties. They ordain for their family, but mostly for their mothers. When a mother’s son ordains, it’s believed that she will receive a lot of merit and go to heaven. Most guys ordain for 3 months or longer. To me, this seemed like a long time, especially when you have a job or a family. However, ordaining is a very respectable thing to do in Thailand. Families and bosses alike are glad to make it possible for a young man to ordain.

The first day at the temple, I felt very anxious and had convinced myself by the end of the day that I didn’t want to go through with the ordination. But, I went back the second day and I changed my mind back again. On the second day, I met more people; even found that two of the monks could speak English. I started to see the temple as a different place, a nice place. I realized that no one forces you to do anything while you stay there. My roommate was a 13-year-old novice named Say. He came from Laos about 6 months ago, but already speaks better Thai than I do. He had a head start because Lao is very similar to Thai. Many of the words are the same, but the tones are sometimes different.

I had to memorize about 4 pages in the Suat Mone in about 5 days. The Suat Mone is not in Thai, but in an Indo-Aryan language called Pali (the language of the Buddha), written in Thai characters. The Pali language is one with no written characters, so it must adapt to the language in the region where it’s being studied. Many of the monks were surprised to see that I could read Thai. If I wasn’t able to read it, I don’t think I would’ve been able to memorize it. I knew ordaining would take a lot of language skill and that’s why I waited until the end of my year to do it. So I studied those 4 pages day and night, read the translations in Thai, recited them back to the monks. One monk who helped me the most in memorizing the Suat Mone was nearly blind (he had some peripheral vision) and deaf in one ear. He can recite the entire Suat Mone in order, and knows what material is on which page. He brought out coffee, sugar, and a mug full of hot water every time I came to practice reciting the Suat Mone. It amazed me how well he could maneuver around with just a small amount of vision.

On June 12th, we didn’t have to wake up at 4:30 AM because it was the day for the Naak to get their heads and eyebrows shaved. After eating lunch, the ceremony started. My current host family and my second host mom came to the temple on this day. All of the Naak sat in a row of plastic chairs as people came up and cut off the hair, piece by piece. On this day, anyone is pretty much free to come up and touch your head, something that’s usually frowned upon in Thailand. Of course, they say sorry and “wai” to you after they finish. So, I watched all of my hair pile up in a bowl made from banana leaf, until I sensed I had none left. My host father was the first to cut my hair, then my other host relatives, followed by anyone else who wanted to cut a piece for good luck and merit (a lot of people wanted to cut my hair :p). Then a monk, “Luang Ruung,” came to shave my head first, then my eyebrows. After he finished, they poured water on me and told me to go take a shower. My head burned a little bit… this was the first time I’d ever shaved my head.

But the day didn’t end there. I got dressed in dry, white clothes, covered by a special, fancy shirt, made especially for the Naak. We loaded into the back of pick-up trucks sitting on plastic chairs, holding 3 lotus flowers and 3 incense sticks in our hands. Each truck had somebody holding a large, colorful umbrella to shade the Naak from the hot, afternoon sun. The motorcade was about 6 pick-ups in length. The truck at the front wasn’t full of Naak, but a traditional Thai band, which played loudly as we paraded through the town of Samnakatorn to a temple in Yelah. It wasn’t a far ride, but I felt very special as people stopped what they were doing to get a look at the soon-to-be monks. I heard most people make a comment about the “Pra Farang” (foreign monk)… maybe it’s something they’ve never seen or expected to see.

We arrived at a Chinese temple and proceeded inside. We went through the various rooms of the temple, to “wai” to the shrines inside and pay homage. When we exited the temple, I was surprised to see my best friend, Atom, standing there. He had come home from his university for the weekend, saw the motorcade, and followed it to the temple. We had to get back into the trucks, but Atom said he would follow us back to our temple. So I got back to Wat Samnakatorn and ate my last dinner for 1 week with Atom. That night we had a festival at the temple… people came to dance to their favorite songs like “Jang Si Man Tong Tornnnn!” People like to drink and go have a good time at the temple, which I don’t really understand, but it’s funny anyways. I painted little toy statues for 10 baht each with some fellow novices for most of the night, then went to sleep, to get rested for the long day ahead.

June 13th was the day that I ordained. It started similar to the day before… wake up leisurely, eat breakfast, then get into the pick-up motorcade to ride to Yelah. Only, this time we went to a temple called Wat Suwan Rangsan, nearby the Chinese temple. And, on this day, I got into my host dad’s pick-up truck, not someone else’s. After we parked, I was directed out of the car to follow the other Naak. The others had gotten ahead of me a bit, so this guy who was holding the umbrella was pushing me forward, into the people walking ahead of me. At the same time, two people were holding onto my shirt from the back (it’s a really long, fancy shirt that almost touches the ground). So I was basically being pulled in all directions. I didn’t focus much on that though. I was just trying to take in the whole experience. We were a huge group, parading through the gates of a beautiful temple.

The same band from the lead truck was now leading the parade on foot, followed by a group of people dancing traditional Thai dance in front of the Naak. I was told that if you dance at the front in a ceremony like this, you will be reborn as an angel in your next lifetime. When we reached the temple, we paraded around it 3 times (three is a number that you start to see a lot in Buddhism, but I still don’t know the meaning or reason for that). I noticed my Mexican exchange student friend, Adrian, was there with his host family, walking around the temple with us and snapping photos. I was directed to walk up the stairs to the entrance of the temple, people reaching out to touch me as I went up. At the top, I was handed a bowl of Thai 1 baht coins and was told to throw them to the crowd below. So I tossed them, trying to give everyone some and not hit them in the eyes at the same time, but apparently I was giving it too much thought because a man started rushing me to throw them all and move on.

The second I finished, I was pushed to the entrance of the temple, where I saw another Naak being lifted up and told to slap the molding over the door (a pretty tall door). At the same time, a man yelled, “No need to lift them! It’s very dangerous!” Of course, no one listened to this guy and within a few seconds, I too was being lifted up to slap the top, then lowered down inside the temple. I kneeled down and waited for my fellow Naak to make it through the chaotic entrance process. The monks chanted, we were given robes, presented to us by our families, and then we recited the “Suat Mone.” I sensed that many people were watching me closely to see if I could really recite it or not. Next, we were taken behind the big Buddha statue and changed into the saffron robes. After that, we kneeled, as the monks chanted and we were presented with more things… necessities for the temple life, etc. Then I was officially a “Nayne.” As I exited the temple, many people put money into my bag. I took pictures with my host families and Adrian, then my host family drove me back to my temple. To end the ordination ceremony, we went around to many statues of monks and Buddha at my temple, lit 3 incense at each, recited a prayer, then we were done.

After I became a Nayne, things changed a lot. My host family no longer called me by my name; they called me just “Nayne.” I had to call my family “Yohm,” no matter who I was talking to. At the temple, I started to spend more time with my fellow Nayne because the new monks were very busy memorizing chants and who knows what else. An older monk, “Luang Rung,” the same one who shaved my head, began to take me to meditate every evening. Sometimes it was just the two of us, sometimes my roommate Say would come along too. We started with sitting meditation, then he taught me walking meditation. He also told me the story of Buddha, telling me a new “chapter” each night. This monk taught me so much about Buddhism and about life in general. Each night, after meditation, we would sit on the floor in his room, watch a concert or movie on DVD, drink coffee, and he would teach me about Buddhism, or tell me some stories form his wild past, depending on his mood. He even had a few ghost stories to tell (real ones). Luang Rung can speak English because he had a wife and a son in New Zealand. We spoke half and half, sometimes in English, sometimes in Thai. It was nice to have someone who spoke fluent English because many of the Thai words about Buddhism were difficult for me to understand. Each night I felt that it got easier to meditate for a long time. Basically, the goal of meditation is to clear your mind and have no thoughts, which is very difficult at first! The monks at my temple knew I would only be there for a short time, so they made sure I got the most out of my time… I’m very thankful for that.

In the mornings, we woke up at 4:30, to the sound of someone pounding the giant bell. As I drifted out of that dreamy daze, me and Say helped each other to put our robes on and went to chant and meditate for a short time. Then we had to split up into a few groups and walk around to different areas to collect food from the “Yohm.” As we walked, we would see someone waiting in the front of their house, with rice and food in a bag. They put the rice in a big metal canister that the monks hold, then take off their shoes, kneel down, and receive a blessing from the monks, and we walk on. We walked a really long way in the mornings, about 5 kilometers and back. When we got back to the temple, some people who help out at the temple every day divided up the food and rice and set it out for the monks and novice monks to eat. The food at the temple was very delicious, and we always had a plethora of Thai fruit and desserts to eat after each meal.

Some days, I went to study with the novice monks, but it usually turned out to be pretty boring for me. Other days, we had a job to do, like dig 3 meter deep holes, which are soon to be part of the foundation for a new building at my temple. The temple life is a nice one, but it’s not necessarily easy. As a novice monk, I slept on a mat on the floor, with no air conditioning. There’s no washing machine, you must wash everything by hand. These conditions didn’t really bother me so much, but before I went to live at the temple, friends and family were sure to remind me of them. It’s a life without too many complications and distractions, which I think is really nice. After just a week, I went up to the Luang Por, he chanted something and I repeated it, and then I was finished as a novice monk. I changed back into my white clothes and said my goodbyes around the temple as I waited for my ride back home. I made many true friends in such a short time at the temple. A part of me feels as though I should’ve stayed for a longer time there, but I was feeling the end of my exchange year creeping up quickly. It’s an experience I’ll always remember. I think I came out of it as a better person, with more understanding.

Of course, when I was finished at the temple, I still had no hair and eyebrows. This meant I had to answer many of the same questions over and over again, like “Why did you want to ordain?” or “What did you get out of your time there?” The first time I was asked, I had to think for quite a while about my answer. I’ve concluded that I ordained because I wanted to see Buddhism in its true form and see what it has to offer me. In doing so, I have realized that it’s a very good philosophy that makes a lot of sense to me. I will continue to meditate because it’s a good exercise for the mind. If my mind is clear, then I will make correct and sensible decisions in my life and that will lead to good experiences.

That’s the end of my ordination story… now I’m back to my “normal” life here. I admit I’m happy that my family is calling me by my name again and I can eat dinner at night :p

Raktuk kon!

-สมคิด Somkit

Alina Walker
2008-09 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Green Cove Springs, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School, Orange Park, Florida
Sponsor: Green Cove Springs Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Phuket Rotary Club, District 3330, Thailand

Alina - Thailand

Alina’s Bio

 Hi everyone! My name is Alina and I live on the St. Johns River most of the time. I can say “on the river” because I live on a boat. My family and I just go wherever there is a body of water. I live with my mom, step-dad, and the newest addition to our family, Booser, our new puppy. My dad lives in Fayetteville, NC and his family lives in Alabama. I have a lot of fun visiting my dad and my numerous cousins.

My mom is always trying to keep up with my busy schedule. This year, I am proud to be a cheerleader for my school, Fleming Island High. Last year I was on the dance team for Fleming Island. For nine glorious years prior to that, I was a competitive gymnast, making it to level 8, practicing sometimes 5 hours a day and going to almost 100 meets on the weekends. I also enjoy helping to support the Invisible Children Club at my high school. Making chances, taking risks, and discovering my limits, is where I excel the most.

As I sit on the boat which I call my home, I reflect on past experiences and look out over the horizon. I think of the fantastic journey that lies ahead of me. I am so ready for my next journey as a Rotary Exchange Student. I cannot thank Rotary enough for giving me the chance to go overseas and experience a new culture. Thanks Rotary!

August 17 Journal

 Alright so I’ve read mostly everyone else’s journal and they all seem to be so insightful. I thought I’d just give you the plain old facts of Thailand and my experiences. So I guess there is no better place to start than the beginning.

OK. The failure to depart on the first day dampened my spirits a little. But the excitement was still there on the second attempt. So Chris and I left on Saturday and the plane ride was exhausting. When we got to Narita, Japan they told us that our flight on US Airways to Bangkok had been canceled so they transferred us to Thai Airways which was nice, but already I was afraid to eat the food. You would think that if shown a menu that had tuna sandwich on it, it would be, you know, the chicken of the sea. But no this tuna sandwich was two pieces of bread with a raw slab of tuna in the middle. This was on the flight. OK ok so when we finally arrive in Bangkok at who knows what time, Chris and I went out to get our luggage because that was his last flight and I was to spend a night in a hotel because my flight wasn’t until the next morning. So when we get to the baggage claim, it’s so hot and there is no air conditioning. So we wait for our bags and we wait and wait and wait and wait and then there are no more bags. So we find someone to help us and this really nice Thai guy takes us into an office and gets our information to send us our bags. After we settle the whole baggage thing we go to find Chris’s host family and the person who is supposed to be taking me to a hotel. So we go through Customs and we find our way through the Bangkok airport and find where everyone is to be picked up. There is a sign that says Chris Foley but no Alina Walker. So we go to the Chris Foley sign and the family greats us with extremely broken English we both get flowers and then we try to explain that our luggage was lost, but they didn’t understand so they tried to take us through the whole process again. Then finally we got through to them by saying “already…already”. So after that ordeal I didn’t want to hold Chris and his new family in the airport any longer so I said my goodbyes to him and I went on my way to try and figure out what my sleeping situation was going to be.

I had thought about getting a hotel room close to the airport, but my flight was at 7:30 the next morning and it was already almost 1:00am. So I decided to rough it in the airport. I showered in the sinks of the airport along with another lady from who knows where…we didn’t speak the same language. I said hello and she said something weird. So then I tried to get back into the terminals, but they wouldn’t let me without a ticket. And yeah the ticket counters didn’t open until 5:00am. All of the restaurants were also in the terminal except for one, which said it was open 24 hours, but had construction tape all over it. So scratch that. Thank goodness I didn’t listen to my mother about packing so many sweets. So I found a bench to myself and dug in on the sweets that I had brought with me on my carry on. All I have to say is thank God for butterfingers!! By then it was about 2:30am so I decided it was safe to try and catch some Z’s. At about 4:30 I wake up and I am surrounded by sleeping people on benches all around me. So I decided to stay awake and find the line for my plane ticket to Phuket. So it takes me an hour to find the darn line and then they tell me there is another line and that I am in the wrong one. So I tell the person behind the ticket counter to get someone to take me there and he did which I am very thankful for. And I finally got my ticket and all of the panic was lifted…just a little though. I got through the gate and met some Australian guys who were very kind and took me to breakfast. They were also going to Phuket, but on a different airline, but the same time. So we stuck together until 7:15 and then we split telling each other that we would see the other in Phuket. Which we did because, as my luck would have it, I didn’t find my family for about 20 minutes which was a total panic. But they stayed with me until I found them.

Ok so now that I am with my host family, I am started on round one of Alina vs. Thai food! My host family never eats at home. Since I have been here I have been to a different restaurant for every meal every day. I didn’t even know an island could have so many restaurants. Ok so anyway my favorite words in Thai are mai pet pet. Which means no spicy spicy!!! And they all just laugh and keep piling food onto my plate. So I have now learned the words eem lao. Which means full already. And they stop putting food on my plate. My host mother always says “just try little see if you like.” But I always end up with a bowl full of scary looking noodles floating in some kind of liquid. I never know what I am eating EVER!! They tell me the name and I used to ask what’s in it, but I have completely given up on that. So I just eat and eat and eat. And everyone keeps telling me you eat so little. My host mom says she is worried about me. But thank goodness we live next to a spa with a fitness room (with by the way NO AC). My host father loves to walk every where. He owns two guests houses and a gallery which right now is under construction. I love going to the guest house because the staff is so funny, and sometimes there are farang (foreigners) so I can get an English fix and help translate so that they can get the room that they want and accommodations. Today there was an Indian movie that was shooting close to the guest house, but I didn’t go because I was helping my host sister pack because she is going to Ithaca, NY on an exchange, also with Rotary. My home is on a hill so the water pressure in the shower isn’t that great. And when I say isn’t that great, I mean the water kind of dribbles out of the faucet. But that’s the hot water. The cold water pressure is great. So I’ve been adjusting to taking cold showers! 🙂 Instead of using air conditioning, we just open the windows, because there is always a breeze even though its a hot one. My family says that this is one of the colder months and I am dying of heat already! I don’t know what I am going to do in the summer months. I guess I’ll just have to go to the air conditioned mall everyday!

Ok so places I’ve been in the past two weeks.. Patong beach!!! Beautiful. I like it better at night though, I have to say. Kata beach is better in the day time and the views from the mountains are amazing!!! Trang is beautiful with its giant plateaus and crazy caves with bats that are good luck. My school is nothing special. It’s just a school, but the students and teachers are all extremely helpful and kind. When I got here though at first they told me I would have to cut my hair, but because my mom works at the school, she talked to the headmaster and she got me into an M-6 class which is like being a senior, so I didn’t have to cut my hair, even though I was prepared to do it, but not willingly!! Anyways, we are taking my host sister to Bangkok to send her off to America and we are going to stay an extra few days to sight see after she leaves.

So that’s Thailand in two weeks in a nutshell. There is so much more to Thailand and before I left, I didn’t know if I was ready to be faced with such a challenge, but my family has made it so easy and effortless. Opportunities are falling into my lap with every day and I don’t want to miss a thing, so I am going to wrap this up and go eat something with four legs and no head!!!

Love from Phuket,


(oh by the way they gave me a Thai name because my name with some intonations means “what” so now Alee, but always sounds like Ari means “kindness”)



November 3 Journal

 First I just want to thank Rotary for giving me this experience. It’s everything that I thought it would be and the people that an exchange student meets are incredible and unforgettable.

Alright so I haven’t really been keeping up with my journals so I have a lot of catching up to do. September was pretty uneventful. I just went to school every day for what seems like forever. School days here are extremely long. I start school at 7:45 and school ends at 4 or 4:30 depending on the day. However, I have extra Thai classes that I attend so I am usually getting home around 7 at night. In the class room, the students don’t change rooms for every class, the teachers do. The students in the classes have been in the same class for their entire school experience so they are all extremely close to each other. This does make it a little difficult to fit in, but they are all so extremely nice and friendly. So that was September.

October was fun because I didn’t have to go to school. The school takes a month long break after midterm exams. So I took a lot of trips with my family to the beach and to different cities around Thailand. The beaches in Phuket are absolutely beautiful. Also the exchange students from my district in Thailand came to Phuket to tour the city. We went to a few of the many islands around Phuket, including Phi Phi and James Bond Island which is one of the settings for the movie The Beach staring Leonardo DiCaprio. If you haven’t seen that movie, you need to! It’s fantastic! J We also went to a butterfly garden, museums, and a tour of the famous Patong Beach on Phuket Island. Which by the way my home is only 10 minutes away from.

Oh and the vegetarian festival is brutal! I helped give water to the people with swords through their faces. Ok so I guess I should explain the vegetarian festival. It’s this Chinese festival that most everyone in Thailand participates in because most of the people have Chinese ancestors. So during this nine day festival you can only wear white, only eat vegetables, cannot have sex, cannot drink, and pray to one or more of the nine gods. This experience was extremely scary. Some people give demonstrations like climbing a ladder of knives, getting into boiling oil, walking over hot coals and the most common demonstration was to parade around the island with swords through their mouths. But it wasn’t just swords, there were bicycles, trees, motors, fruit, really just about anything that they could fit. And it was really weird to see the same people with the things through their mouths at the store the next day and they look totally fine just what looked like a long cat scratch or something down their cheek. One of my friends from school actually did a knife demonstration. He said that one of the gods consumed him, or possessed him, and he could not feel any pain and the next day he was fine, still with no pain but a hole in his mouth.

The last week in October I went to Bangkok with my class to visit all of the universities. I feel like I got so much more close to them and I think that my time here will be even more enjoyable because of this trip. I actually might be interested in going to one of the universities that we visited. After the university stuff, we got to go shopping! So much fun! We went to Siam and then to JJ market and to the floating market!

Well Thanks again to Rotary for giving me this opportunity!

Sawasdee ka!!

Alina อารีน่า

 January 19 Journal

 Ok so I am way behind on the journals. And Rotex told me that writing journals would be extremely hard and they were absolutely correct!! I have been so busy I just haven’t had the time to stop and reflect so I have time now and this is a reflection time.

Ok so December. School exams, what else can you say about school? Ok but other than school exams I went on a Northeastern trip with the YE’s in my district. That was a blast! The 10 hour bus ride from Phuket to Bangkok was not fun at all, but once I saw everyone waiting for me when I got off the bus, it was so worth it!! So we spent Christmas together and did a gift exchange. That was funny because we all gave presents like an electric fly swatter and bug spray (which by the way is hard to come by) some elephant boxers and slippers. The day trips were great too. We went to see cave paintings and to a Thai ranch, we went to see lots of temples and we got to see an ancient Cambodian temple. Very cool.

January hasn’t been that interesting. So I thought I would give you an insight on a typical day in Thailand. Just some things I see around here.

In the morning, after showering and having my breakfast of rice and fish, we leave the house and usually there are a few monks around the town accepting food from shop owners.

When I get to school, I am usually late because my mother goes on Thai time, I have to stand with the late people in the assembly. After singing the national anthem, and praying, and the daily announcements, I stay with the late people and our punishment is to meditate and think about why were late. I don’t understand why we have to think about why we were late, I’m late because my mom doesn’t wake up early enough. Maybe I am translating a word wrong or something. I don’t know.

After the meditation detention which lasts about 20 minutes, we go to our class rooms and stay there until the day ends. The students don’t have to go anywhere, the teachers are the ones who travel from class to class.

Lunch in the school. Any meal for a Thai person is a big deal. Not like a celebration big deal, just like I am so excited to eat and I enjoy eating so much that I want to share my experience AND my food with you, deal. So my friends and I get all kinds of different food from the cafeteria. Most of the food includes rice, different fish, curry, soup, fried eggs, maybe an omelet, vegetables, and maybe some shrimp. In the cafeteria you have to be careful for insects. Not just a few flies, but swarming bees, armies of aunts, cockroaches, dogs, cats, and the occasional monkey. Yes I have only seen one monkey, but it was not a pretty sight. Lunch lasts an entire hour and my class has a free period after lunch so we usually eat lunch and socialize for about 2 hours. Then back to class.

After school gets out, all the students rush out and go across the street to use their cell phones and wait for their parents. Vendors wait for the massive number of hungry students to get out of school, and take their money for more food. Some sell sweets, fruit, fried chicken that is cooked right there on the street and when everything is over they dump the grease into the street.

So my mom is late picking me up and so that means we will be late picking up my three other siblings. First we get my oldest sister, she is usually putting makeup on with her friends and talking about her latest boyfriend, then we pick up my youngest brother and he is always playing with his foreign friends on the soccer field, then last my oldest brother who plays basketball all the time!! And then we finally go home to grandma and the maid, and my sister and I help to make dinner. My dad doesn’t get home most nights until 1 in the morning.

Dinner is served on the floor in front of the television and we watch the Thai soap operas which are absolutely terrible. So unrealistic and the camera work is awful. But the Thai people love them. They especially like the Chinese and Korean soaps but they are translated into Thai which I find hilarious because the Chinese man will stop talking and the Thai goes on for another minute or so.

After dinner, I help my little brother with his English homework and then I am off to bed or listen to some music with my sister in our room. And that is the day in the life of Alina in Thailand.

I just want to thank Rotary again for making this experience possible for me. I am really enjoying my time here.


Ashley Phelps
2008-09 Outbound to France
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Aurillac Rotary Club, District 1740, France

Ashley - France

Ashley’s Bio

 Hi! I’m Ashley Phelps from Palm Coast, Florida. I’m sixteen years old and a sophomore at Flagler Palm Coast High School, or FPCHS for short. I’m originally from Ohio, I moved to Florida about four years ago. And I must say it was a life changing move.

Most of my hobbies and interests lie in the creative field. I love photography, drawing, writing, music, and acting. I’ve been in plays, taken photography classes, and I plan to pursue a career in journalism after graduating from college. I hope to someday advance to becoming editor-in-chief for a popular magazine. I also would love to travel the world and experience different cultures. Everyone has a story to tell, you just have to be open to listening.

I’m also really interested in politics and current issues facing our world. I think if you want to make a big change, you have to be informed of the issues at hand. It’s killing me that I won’t be able to vote in the 2008 presidential election, laws are laws. But I still think young people can gain a lot from knowing and learning about what’s going on in their own country and others. It’s their future that will face the consequences of what we do today and I think the youth of the world has a responsibility to make sure the future is a place we will all want to live in.

Besides that I’m pretty much a normal teenage girl. I love to spend time with my friends and family. You’ll almost always see me with a smile on my face. I give thanks everyday for three things, no matter how small they are. In a world filled with so much negativity, it’s great to appreciate the positives in your life!

July 17 Journal

 5 Weeks, 6 Days till departure

It’s kind of hard how to describe how it felt to know that the exchange process was truly a done deal, or when I actually felt it. Maybe it was when I got my visa (finally!) or maybe it was when I got my Rotary cards and pins. Maybe it was when I got my flight schedule and found out the tickets had been issued (no turning back after that). But I really think it was when I attended a Rotary meeting at my sponsor club, the Flagler Beach Rotary Club.

It was the day right after a 07-08 inbound, Laura, from Italy left. The mood at the meeting was fun, and energetic, but somber in a way. To make things more interesting, an 06-07 inbound from Brazil was visiting, and I think it made things all the more emotional. At the meeting, it was announced that Laura had left a letter, a message from herself to the Rotary Club who had hosted her. Meeting them, I could only hope my host club will be that wonderful. They were some of the most kind and warm people I’d ever met.

Laura had wanted the visiting 06-07 inbound from Brazil to present the message. But it was clear that it was difficult for her. By the second line, it was too much. The letter was handed off to another member of the club, who read it aloud to us.

Sitting there surrounded by my fellow 08-09 Outbounds, I couldn’t help but feel connected to every word Laura spoke in the letter. She talked of the Rotary meeting, how everything would take place. It gave me chills as the letter was read. She described the proceedings of the club, action for action. This was my first time attending the meeting, and her letter was a play by play. Every person, every word, every motion.

It was obvious how connected the club was to Laura, tears flowed from every eye by the time the letter was done. I could not cry. I didn’t want to. Not then. I felt almost as if I was intruding on something very personal. The connection the club had made with their host child, and the connection she had made with them, wasn’t something I was part of. It was personal, intimate, and obviously, still very raw.

The meeting concluded only a few minutes after, and I rushed to the car. I didn’t know how I felt, I didn’t know what to say. And when my parents asked me how the meeting was, all I had for them was tears. They came from a place I had never tapped into, they were the strangest tears I’d ever shed. I couldn’t explain to them why I was crying, I wasn’t sure myself.

I tried to explain how it felt to see something so amazing. To see how much Laura had grown, from her own eyes and her host club’s. I watched their faces swell with pride as they read the letter she’d written in almost perfect English. I watched them nod, smile, frown as she talked about the good things, the bad things, and the funny things that had made her exchange so special. I could feel, within those moments, about 20 hearts breaking, in two different places, thousands of miles away. Nineteen of those hearts belonged to the club. One to Laura. Her heart was breaking.

Just like my heart would about twelve months from then.

I knew right then and there that this experience is and will continue to be everything everyone has said it will be. I know it will be scary at first. Confusing, frustrating. I know there will be good times, amazing times. And I know in the end I will walk away with a life and love so much richer than the one I began with.

I cry every time I think about that meeting, I cry every time I think about leaving, I’m crying now.

Not because I’m sad, or happy, but because I am so amazed by this program. I cry because I know I can only imagine the relationships I will make, the bonds I will forge. I cry because I know it will not be easy. I cry because I want it so bad, it seems unreal. Like a far away dream that can’t possibly be real. But it is real. It’s so real.

I know we’ve all said it, but I have to say it any time I get the chance. I thank Rotary SO MUCH for this opportunity to experience something so life altering. I thank them with everything I have, heart and soul, for giving me the chance of a lifetime.

I promise you won’t regret it.

October 19 Journal

 After two months in France, it has been exactly what I expected and nothing like I expected. I myself have been exactly like I expected and nothing like I expected. In many ways France has changed my mind, opened me up to a lot of different ideas about what’s important and what is not so important. It has also shown me a new side of myself, not afraid to take risks, or at least, not so afraid that I don’t at least attempt to take risks.

Before I came to France I had a lot of silly fears. I was afraid of the dark sometimes, spiders, heights, being alone in social situation, being alone period. But all those fears went out the window when I came to France (well all except the fear of heights, that one is staying for good!). But when shoved into a situation where you have no choice, you either have to learn to adapt and roll with what life has given you or sit there on an island of fear, unwilling to move. For example, my first or second week in France I was laying on my bed watching a movie in French when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was a fly or moth or something because I had had the window open all day. So I simply shooed it away with my hand and kept watching my movie. But then I noticed I hadn’t seen it fly away or anything, so I looked back down to get a better look. Crawling on my bed, inches away from my hand was a HUGE spider.

Needless to say, I freaked out. I screamed, jumped off my bed, threw off the covers, danced around wiping my hands all over my body in case it had got on me. And then I just stood there, in the half dark, looking around my room, shaking with fear wondering what I was supposed to do. At home I would’ve gotten my dad to kill it if he was awake, if not I would’ve just gotten the can of extra strength Raid and killed it.

But in France there was no dad, and no bug spray. Sure I had my host dad, but it was in the middle of the night and I didn’t want to wake them up. And if they have Raid in France (which I have yet to see) I had no idea where to find it in the house. So I was stuck. What was I supposed to do? I stood there on the small throw rug, my island of fear, for five minutes. Just looking around, hoping for something to save me. And that’s when I realized, there WAS no one to save me from this. I was going to have to take care of myself, for once in my life.

So I stripped the bed and shook out the sheets, checked under the bed and along the floor. The spider had disappeared. Then I remade the bed and went back to sleep. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Trying to sleep knowing it could be anywhere. I was terrified, I did it anyways.

A couple days later I saw the spider. I wanted to kill it, but I couldn’t bring myself to step on it. I was still terrified. I searched the room for something with a flat bottom to smash it with but I saw nothing. Then I saw a three footed bench that my host brother (who’s in Indiana right now) used when he was drumming. It was a perfect tool for killing the spider because I could just tilt the stool back on two legs, position the third leg above the spider, and drop it. I did it, biting my lip to keep from squealing. And the spider was smashed and dead. Or at least it seemed to be. I went to bed and answered an email from a friend, and then I got up to go look at my achievement. The spider was ALIVE and moving. I was horrified. I feel a little bad because that spider got all my aggressions from the first couple of weeks in France that night. I stomped on it, until it was in pieces. I destroyed that spider and felt good. I was proud of myself because I had done something I would previously never do, without thinking, just reacting. Because I had to, I had to move off my island of fear and the only way to do that was to face the fear.

No spider has ever lived long in this room in France since.

I think this analogy applies to my whole time in France though. At first you are really afraid of even simple things, like ordering at a restaurant or taking a bus. But these are things that you have to do if you want to live your life, and even though they are difficult, you have to face them. Sure, I sometimes still make mistakes ordering or forget that the bus doesn’t stop at a certain place on certain days, but that’s life. Even in the US, I was bound to make mistakes sometimes. The difference between the US and here is that in the US I soon forgot my mistake and moved on, but in France I don’t forget a single mistake, I learn from them. The better ability to learn from my mistakes is probably the first and one of the greatest gifts France has given me. Of course there are others, the better appreciation of things and people you took for granted back home, the greater knowledge of a world and a type of a life outside of yours. The better ability to be observant, because when you can’t talk normally to people you begin to notice their actions, expression, body language, and begin to draw conclusions based on these things.

And of course the most important gift France has given me so far, the great admiration and appreciation for a little language I like to call Franglais (that’s Franglish for you English speakers.) Franglais is amazing, and I literally would not be able to get on here without it. Of course when my French develops I won’t need Franglais anymore, but right now it is my knight in shining armor and I think I may miss it a little when it’s gone. I love you Franglais.

As for France, the country itself is absolutely beautiful, picturesque. Sometimes I just look outside my window and ask myself how I got so lucky to be in such a beautiful place. The scenery is amazing, and somehow, distinctly French, even though you could find small mountains and valleys like this in the US. As for my city, Aurillac, it’s small, but equally as beautiful as the country that surrounds it. Walking its streets you can find just about anything. And although it is modernized, its cobblestone and narrow streets leave you with a sense of old worldliness. And in this bustling city and its suburban outskirts, there are these little pockets of beauty too amazing to ignore. For example, one day I had an hour or so to kill by myself, waiting to catch my bus. Since I had been here for about a month and knew my way around the city center pretty well, I decided to take a walk to this church I had been dying to see but had never gotten the chance to. I winded down the streets, using the steeple that rose above the buildings as my guide. When I approached the church I was amazed by not only its beauty but its obvious age, and, how simply the people of the town passed it by, like it was nothing to be too terribly excited about.

I was thrilled, I walked the perimeter of the church, taking in the details. And then there was the garden. You see lots of churches in France have these little gardens behind them, very quiet, serene, and beautiful. But this was the first one I’d ever been in. It was so amazing, I decided immediately that one day, after my year was over, I had to return and show it to someone. I just sat on a bench and sighed. It still to this day is my favorite place in the city, even though I’ve only been there twice.

But there are many great things to see and places to go in the city, so many that sometimes, walking with friends or family, they come up on me by surprise and I’m blown away by how architecturally beautiful France really truly is. And then there are the cafes that stand on about every corner, Le Milk, being a particular favorite, frequented by my friends and me. The atmosphere is super warm and cozy and you just want to settle down with your coffee or cappuccino and read a nice book, or have a nice talk with friends, both of which I have been lucky enough to do at Le Milk.

Oh and the food, of course, is to die for. Very rich and hearty, especially in these mountains, a lot of meat and potatoes. But the desserts, oh those are the best. The desserts and the pastries are my favorite thing about France. And when asked by a Rotary member, I told him just that, and he laughed but agreed with my choice. Even the French themselves know their desserts are magnificent.

So France is obviously much different from being at home, from school, to friends, and of course family. But I have found that while there are many differences, when you really get down to the heart of a country, which I believe is the people, the differences are hardly noticeable. Sure a few social graces, language obviously, but when you really start to look I think you see that people are just people. There are annoying brothers and sisters, strict moms and dads, boyfriend, girlfriends, best friends, and worst enemies. There is everything and every type of person you would find at home and I am starting to think, probably in the whole world.

I am enjoying my time in France a lot and while sometimes I am homesick (it does happen) I know that this is something that I can never repeat, a moment in my life that will never happen again, and I am going to embrace it for what it is – and unforgettable experience. I can’t wait to see what it has in store for me next. Two weeks of vacation is around the corner, and I think we are going to get a little traveling in. Promise to take pictures.



P.S. Escargot tastes like…..snails.

Angel Jones
2008-09 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: New Smyrna Beach, Florida
School: Spruce Creek High School, Port Orange, Florida
Sponsor: Daytona Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Svendborg Sct. Jørgens Rotary Club, District 1460, Denmark

Angel - Denmark

Angel’s Bio

 Hello there! My name is Angel Jones and I’m going to be an exchange student! My hometown is the quaint beach city of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I am proud to have called it my home for the last seventeen years. I attend Spruce Creek High School (home of the Hawks!) and have aspirations of becoming a doctor one day.

I am most definitely a Florida girl inside and out. I adore the beach and warm sunny days that make you just want to melt. I can most likely be found at the beach surfing and sunning almost any day over the summer. If not there, I am with my friends having endless amounts of fun.

I am the epitome of a “people person.” Laughing and smiling are two of my most favorite hobbies. You can say I am outgoing and a positive attribute to any situation. I encourage others to have a good time with whatever the circumstance may be. I am strongly active in the culinary and visual arts. Cooking and food are a great pastime I partake in regularly. As well as drawing and painting, which have always been passions of mine since I can remember. They are all ways which I can express my self and emphasize my individuality and personal imagination.

For school related hobbies, I enjoy being active and participating in physical enduring sports. In past years, I have been on the cheerleading squad as well as Track & Field. This year, I decided to be adventurous and join the Swim Team. It was a lot of fun and I loved it, even the gallons of water I swallowed everyday in practice. At school, I am a member of about five different clubs. I feel it’s important for the students to be active in their school’s student body and really give voice to problems or changes the kids want to happen. I mean, if you do not put your mind and heart into it, how is anything supposed to get better?

With this opportunity of a lifetime, I plan to have the “time of my life.” I am going to make every day count, with not a moment to waste. Every experience from here on, more so than others, will be cherished as those which can not be replaced or duplicated. The trip for me will not only end once I return home, but instead will continue the moment I step off that plane back home.

October 5 Journal

 Well, hello there everyone =) I must apologize for not updating my journal sooner, but if only you knew how busy and occupied I have been, you would certainly understand. So to compensate, I’m going to do my best to fill you in with everything that I have gone through in the last 8 weeks. We can just call this the “crash course” of an exchange student in Denmark, ja? Okay well to begin, I think I’ll show off my Danish speaking skills and give you my introduction I have memorized quite well…

“Hej alle, Jeg hedder Angel Lee Jones, og jeg kommer fra Florida i USA. Jeg er sytten og min fødselsdag er 27. martz. Jeg kom til Danmark tredje august og jeg elsker det nu. Jeg bor i lille byen af Svendborg på Fyn. Min familie i USA er min far og mor og mig og tre hunder. Jeg savner dem meget men jeg har mange sjovt her. Jeg kan godt lile at stege og at tage billeder og at gøre kunst og at være med venner. Jeg elsker min familie og bedste venner og Danmark! Jeg hader mennesker hvem smiler ikke og edderkopper. Mest af alt jeg elsker min liv!”

Okay, okay, now that I’m done showing off, I will translate all of it for you…

“Hey everyone, my name is Angel Lee Jones, and I come from Florida in USA. I am seventeen years old and my birthday is March 27th. I came to Denmark the third of August and I love it now. I live in the little city of Svendborg on Fyn. My family in the USA is my dad and mom, me and three dogs. I miss them a lot but I am having a lot of fun here. I like to cook, to take pictures and make art, and to be with friends. I love my family and best friends and Denmark! I hate people who don’t smile and spiders. Most of all I love my life!”

And that is me folks, in Danish! So, as you can see, I haven’t just spent the last two months making tons of friends, feasting on wonderful food, and having an amazing time all the time. Although I have done all of that, I think I have learned a lot as well. I have decided to split this journal entry into sections, making it well organized, better to understand, and easier for me to write and remember. So first up, I’ll go over the basics of my exchange so far; including Denmark in general, family life, school, language, fashion, cultural differences, problems I’ve faced, life back home, and highlights of my exchange scattered throughout. Let’s get started shall we?

Denmark in General “Danmark i generelt”

Denmark in general is a glorious, gorgeous, greatly under looked country. It seems that every picture I take of every place I go is postcard perfect. Everyone I meet is friendly and welcoming. I feel that the Danish people in general, are very accepting. Those who I have met are all very interested in me and my exchange.

It is quite easy to get around in Denmark. It being a fairly small country, almost everything is accessible by train or bus. The currency is in kroner, with the exchange rate being about 5 kroner to every 1 US dollar, roughly. The climate has been relatively nice. When I first arrived in August, it was the latter part of summer, so most days were warm and cool in the evenings. With fall now setting in, the days are much cooler, and very windy. In Denmark it does not rain, at least not like back home. It mists; just enough to mess up your hair and your shoes. I have yet to see a thunderstorm. It rains, and winds gust as if in a hurricane, but yet no thunder. I have been told from now on most days will be overcast, cold, windy and rainy. Wonderful I think, but then again it can be wonderful if I’m home and cuddled up with a blanket and hot coffee. I am looking forward to the holidays. Most Danes are relatively modern, not many go to church other than baptisms, confirmations, or Christmas. But those traditions they do have, they adhere strictly to them. With Danes, once you have been accepted, you’re not like family, you are family.

Denmark is composed of a lot of countryside, with scattered cities throughout. My city of Svendborg is one of the largest of the smaller cities. Its population is around 35,000 people. Everything is conveniently close, and available. The downtown is pretty good size, but can still be covered on foot. We have a train station, harbor, library, several schools, tons of cute shops and boutiques, as well as chain brand stores, a McDonalds, handful of bars and clubs, great pizza shops, grocery and department stores, and just about anything else you could need or want. I really enjoy my town. It’s not too big or too small, kind of like the Goldilocks story, “just right.”

Family Life “Familie Liv”

As you may or may not know, I will be living with four different families over the course of my exchange. I think this is to better one’s exchange by giving the chance of adapting, learning, and growing with different kinds of families, who live in different places, have different views, and essentially lead different lives. In essence, this idea is ingenious. It not only benefits the exchange student, but also the families. In the end, more people are touched and experience the wonders of an exchange.

It is my first host family who I am living with now. They are wonderful people who I absolutely adore. There is a father, mother, sixteen year old daughter, and one fat cat whom I have named Mr. Kitty. They also have three older sons, who are in their twenties and live elsewhere in Denmark. We live on a farm with pigs, chickens and two ponies. It’s nice living on a farm, for it has been ages since my own family has had farm animals. However, I could do without the strong stench of swine first thing in the morning when walking to the bus. My host mom, Helle, works in a fabulous purse boutique in the city, while my host dad, Hans, spends most of his time harvesting or with the pigs. My host sister, Signe, is a darling of a host sister. We got along famously right away and now we are the best of friends. She actually spent a year in Canada on exchange last year, so is fluent in English and familiar with all the North American amenities that Denmark doesn’t offer. While living here, I have given her some cooking lessons in exchange for Danish lessons. I make dinner for my host family every Wednesday, which they really love. May I suggest that to any other exchange students, for it is a sure way to win the heart of your host mum!

As far as family life goes, we pretty much go about as a normal Danish family would. It’s as if I’m not an exchange student or stranger at all, but instead I’m a real member of the family. It’s a fantastic feeling, one that I don’t feel will ever end, and one I can only thank my exchange for. At night, we all watch television together, drink tea, and eat cake. It’s is the essence of “hyggelig,” the Danish term which can not be directly translated, but means warm, cozy, good-feeling.

I have already met two of my other host families. Both of which seem great, and I don’t think I will have any problems becoming just as close with. They too, have host siblings who I go to school with. All speak English if necessary, but I encourage them to speak Danish to me. So, in general, my family life is great, and I can only look forward for more to come.

School “Skole”

I must admit, I never expected to enjoy school so much, especially when I don’t understand half of what is being said. However, I really am enjoying school and I absolutely love my class. In Denmark, the school system is quite different. First off, there is no “high school.” There are Gymnasiums, Efter skoles, Business skoles, and Technical skoles. Gymnasiums are the ones most similar to that of a normal high school. It is average curriculum with multi-subject courses offered. It is a three year program and is public. Efter skoles are usually attended before going on to a Gymnasium or further education. It is a type of boarding school where you live on campus with other kids your age in dorm-like residence. It is thought to build life skills and encourage development and maturity. Business skoles are really self explanatory where business skills are built and developed. Most of the student body is male whereas in the Gymnasium there are more females. In technical schools, the subjects of science, art, and mathematics are explored for specialty careers and scholars.

I attend Svendborg Gymnasium. I am in the second year, class 2.a. Although I would be a senior back home, they usually place exchange students in the second year. This is because while the first year “freshmen” are too busy getting adjusted and comfortable to really bother with an exchange student, the third year “seniors” are busy preparing for excruciating exams and applying to universities. I have no complaints being placed in the second year. We actually get a class trip, in the spring, where every class raises money to travel abroad for a week or two. My class is going to Barcelona, Spain. A trip I hope to attend, for it would be an amazing time to bond with my class and travel even more.

Well, in school, I have about ten courses; English, Danish, Spanish, Biology, Mythology, Religion, Ancient History, Social Studies, Physical Education, and Geography. The schedule is also quite different and a bit confusing. It is set up in increments of two weeks. Depending on the day, I may have one to 4 classes. The longest day lasting from 8:00 am to 3:15 pm. Classes are one and a half hours long, with a 30 minute break between each class. When I told you my class was “2.a,” it was because you are with the same people all day. It is only the subject, room, and teacher that changes. You do everything together as a class. You walk to class, you scrape through class, and you have break and lunch as a class, all together. My class has 21 students, with only 5 of them boys. Like I explained, Gymnasiums have more female students than males. It’s okay though, because the guys we do have are more than enough entertainment. Now, you’re probably puzzled on how I get through class, being that all the lessons are in Danish, and I don’t speak Danish. Well, I draw pictures. No, I do attempt to follow. But it can be extremely difficult at times. As frustrating as it can be to not be able to participate, I try anyways. And I really think my classmates respect me for that. They know I must not be able to understand anything, and yet I still act like I’m interested. The teachers understand as well, most of them put no pressure on me at all, while others encourage me to participate, even if I have to respond in English.

I feel as the year goes on, and I learn more Danish, it will of course become easier, and I look forward to that.

Language “Sprog”

Ahh, the wondrous language of Danish… My theory of the evolution of Danish is as follows, “Danish was formed by Vikings whom were constantly drunk and thus slurred their words while making many up.” Surprisingly, most Danish people would agree with my theory. Their alphabet is the same as ours with the addition of three extra letters; æ, å, and ø. Danish is said to be a very confusing and challenging language to learn. I agree. However, I find myself not having as much trouble learning it as I had previously predicted. Currently, I attend Danish lessons every Wednesday from 8 to 1:30. That may not seem like a lot. But trust me; speaking, listening, and comprehending a foreign language, especially one like Danish, for 5 hours straight is no easy task. I also speak Danish when at home. My host family is very helpful and patient when conversing with me. I watch Danish television, and when watching English television, it is with Danish subtitles. They are actually quite beneficial and have really improved my reading skills. So far, my Danish is fair. I read Danish the best, can understand conversations second best, speak it okay, but when it comes to talking directly with someone, forget it. It’s as if I freeze on the spot, and all the hours of Danish lessons, all the children’s books read, everything just flees my brain. Luckily, I have found that Danish people in general are very accepting and patient. They merely chuckle and find my confusion cute and amusing. How happy I am to be of some entertainment.

In school, when asked by my friends if I would like for them to speak in English or Danish, I replied Danish. They asked why, and I told them I would rather have trouble fully understanding, maybe only catching a few words, but build on learning the language, than knowing exactly what they’re saying but not benefiting me at all. They agreed and so far it has not been a problem. If I don’t understand something they are talking about, they simply brief me at the end in English. At least that way, I listened to all they had to say in Danish and may have caught a few words, which in turn is better than none.

Fashion “Mode”

Let me first start of by saying that European fashion in general rocks! Danish fashion in particular is fabulous. Basically, it’s sophisticated meets chic. Every girl wears tights or leggings. That is a daily fashion essential. Second must is a scarf. Scarves are not only for girls either, guys sport them too. But, I’ll explain the guys later. I own seventeen scarves myself; yes it has begun to be an obsession…

Black is also very basic, yet trendy. If someone wore all black in Denmark, it would not be seen as gothic or even emo, but stylish and fashionable. It’s chic and modern. A typical Danish outfit would be a cute dressy top long enough to be worn with just tights. Then it would be paired with heels, boots, or flats. Accessorized with a scarf and a number of different hair styles. Of course in the winter time, fashion changes slightly with the temperature. So a jacket would be accompanied by Ugg boots and legwarmers.

Not all males in Denmark are gay, they are merely well dressed. This can be a common misconception by foreigners, I being one of them. Guys here are simply more stylish than those in the States. They care about their appearance. Sure, sometimes it is too much, but generally just enough. An average look would be fitting jeans, fitting top, possible cardigan, scarf, nice shoes, and styled hair. I find the Danish guys to be quite attractive. This may just be my weakness for blondes with blue eyes, but I’ll also give credit to their fashion sense.

Cultural Differences “Kulturelle Forskelle”

I could probably go on all day about the cultural differences. I must admit, I did not expect there to be that many, because Denmark is European. Well, I was very wrong. I think to make it easier on myself and for your viewing benefit; I’ll just make a short list of those which come to my mind:

• Adolescents are given much more responsibility and freedom.

• There is no drinking age, but the age to purchase alcohol is 16.

• Drinking is a huge part of the Danish culture; it is viewed as casual, family oriented.

• Many young people smoke (about 90% I would say)

• Danish people eat a lot, more than back home. They have about 2 to 3 (full plate) helpings at meals.

• They walk or bike everywhere. This would explain the ability to eat so much, while still being fit.

• Every car is manual, and they are crazy, fast drivers.

• The driving age is 18, and it is very expensive and hard to get a license. Thus, most teenagers bike or bus.

• They treat bikes as cars, and will literally brush the side of a biker on the road. For the person biking, this can be terrifying enough to pee your pants.

• They like to sing. Whether it be at a birthday party, luncheon, Rotary meeting, whenever, they sing.

• They eat a lot of fish, pork, potatoes, bread and licorice. Luckily, I am not a vegetarian nor do I care about carbs, my host sister however is and does, sucks for her.

• They are coffee fiends. I now drink about six cups a day.

• Denmark is very expensive. The only things cheap here are phones and alcohol.

• Light switches to bathrooms are always on the outside of the room, very annoying when you are in a rush to go, and you forgot to turn the light on.

• There are no grocery bags. You bring your own reusable bags, and if you don’t, then you’re carrying everything.

• Almost all Danish beds are twin size, pity for me who had a full back home.

• The furniture, architecture, and general Danish design are very modern and contemporary. Every house is catalog perfect.

• Water is as expensive as soda, beer, and everything else. There is no free water with meals.

• I am convinced there is a Danish gene, which blesses everyone with beautiful looks. Whether you are six or sixty, if you’re Danish, you’re gorgeous.

• Regardless of the fact that it only takes about 6 hours to drive from one side of the country to the other, Danes will complain if they have to travel two hours (as if it was all day).

• Every Danish person will make you say “Rød Grød med Flød,” because you will sound stupid saying it, and they will laugh.

Problems I’ve had “Problemer jeg havde”

Really, I have been a lucky ducky. I have not had many problems so far. I have yet to be homesick, I get along very well with my family, I have made many friends, I love the culture and people in general, so “why do I have this section?” you ask. Well, I want to tell everyone about my encounter with the Danske Edderkop! (Danish Spider) You see, in Denmark, there are many bees, flies, and spiders. There are at least two to three spiders in every room in every Danish home. They are not big spiders, quite tiny actually, and have been known to be completely harmless. That is until I show up.

I had only been here two weeks when I was bitten by one of these spiders. It is something completely unheard of in Denmark. But of course, it happened to me. I suppose it bit me during my slumber because I don’t recall such an event, I merely woke up one morning with a mosquito looking bite under my arm. I brushed it off as no big deal; after all I am from Florida, the capital of millions of mosquitoes. Well, after a couple days it got a little sore, and a bit swollen. I looked at the forgotten bite and found it to be the size of a quarter and inflamed. Puzzled, I showed my host mom, and she thought it might just be a little irritated but instructed me to keep an eye on it and let her know how it goes. Well another few days went by with it getting worse and worse, but with me being the new exchange student I didn’t want to come across as the little baby who can’t take a bug bite. So I hid the infected wound until my host mom noticed me favoring my left arm. She asked to see it, and when I showed it to her she was relatively shocked to see just how bad it had gotten. It had grown five times the size, and formed a knot under the skin. It was extremely sore and red. She decided it would be best to take me to the local doctor to have him check it, for it was clearly infected. He confirmed the suspicion and said it was either an insect bite or spider bite. I freaked, but remained cool, thinking that all I needed was a little Penicillin.

About 4 days went by, and the bite just got worse. The Penicillin was obviously not working, and I was beginning to get worried. We went back to the doctor and he too was surprised at how bad it had gotten. He told me I needed to go to the hospital and have it lanced. At this point I was hysterically crying. I mean, come on, what are the chances that in my third week in a new country I would be bit by something, have it infected, and need to go to the hospital. I think it was really the thought of being in a foreign hospital with doctors speaking in a language I didn’t understand, handling sharp instruments, unknowing if they use anesthetics, all combined that freaked me out. It was all of that, without my mom, my real mom. My host mom was great through the whole thing, completely reassuring and doing her best to comfort me. But, it just wasn’t the same.

So, we went to the hospital, but because Denmark is under universal healthcare the wait to see the doctor would be about five hours. Those five hours were like torture for me, not knowing what they were going to do or how they were going to do it. We returned when they called, and we saw the doctor. Luckily, she spoke English well, and even reminded me of my doctor back home. She examined the bite, and told me it was indeed a spider bite and that it would have to be lanced. Lanced meaning cut open and let the poison drain. I was mortified. But, then she continued to tell me it wasn’t ready yet. I would have to wait another day or so for it to mature, and then do it myself. Goodness gracious, could my luck get any worse? Well, being the hardcore kid that I am, I did it myself, just like she told me to, and sure enough it healed within a few days. Yes, it hurt like hell, but I knew it would be better than having my arm amputated. Haha… so that is my story of the danske edderkop and my awesome exchange student survival skills.

Other than that, Denmark has been wonderful and I love it so.

Life back home “Liv tilbage hjemme”

As I have said, I’ve yet to be homesick. I find myself to be very lucky of this, because many of my exchange student friends I have spoken to are or have been. I however, have had no problems being able to call or email with family and friends without feeling sad or depressed. It merely makes me feel happy to hear how well they are doing, and to tell them how well I am doing. After all, I know that I only have one year here, and then I’m going back home. So, I feel it’s more important to enjoy all I can, and take advantage of my time in Denmark.

I miss my family and friends tons, don’t get me wrong. But I know that the year I have here is precious, so embrace it as much as I can. For everyone reading this, I miss you and love you! “Jeg savner dig og jeg elsker dig!”

Lastly, thank you Rotary for making this exchange possible. Dow “Peace.”

January 10 Journal

Hej venner og familie,


Knus fra Danmark! Hope everyone is doing well both back home and on exchange. Let me first give my apologies for not writing in some time. However, I hope the amazing stories and adventures I am about to tell will make up for it. I figure it builds a sense of anticipation and excitement. Plus, it gives me far more to talk about.

Well, I have been quite busy (to put it lightly). Exchange, I must say, is one of the greatest experiences I have had in life so far. I try my best to describe the feelings and thoughts I have to my friends and family, but they never seem to come out right. It’s as if the experience of being an exchange student changes both your mind and soul. It certainly has changed the way I think of many things, and my perception of the world. Thus making only fellow exchange students capable of sharing these changes and experiences with.

I’m already seriously considering writing a book based on my year abroad. My host sister, Silje, and I have already begun making our own cookbook combining both American and Danish into our own delicious creations. I’ll be sure to credit Rotary somewhere in the Dedication. Haha.

So, in the past several months, life in Denmark has only gotten better and more exciting. Denmark as a country is ideal in my eyes. I know in my heart I will one day live here, again. The culture is rich with so much history and tradition. For example, during “Juletid” (Christmas time), there were so many little traditions, I could barely remember them all. The entire month of December is filled with Christmas spirit and anticipation. Just walking through town, you can see the glow on people’s faces; knowing that soon everyone will be together for the holidays. My family, in particular, is very into the spirit of Christmas. Practically every day, the house was filled with the scent of Christmas cookies and spices reminding the nose of how wonderful Christmas is. I’m not afraid to admit I gained more than the normal amount of weight over Christmas break. Instead, I completely embraced the numerous new and diverse delicacies. I also made a copy of every Danish dish recipe that was a must-have for Christmas. So, next Christmas, is going to be awesome; American and Danish!

During December, Danes tend to go the extra mile when it comes to keeping themselves entertained and busy. It’s a way of keeping their minds off the miserable weather (which I will tell about later), so I have been told. Also, instead of one special feast on Christmas night, there are these lunches called “Julefrokosts.” They include many Danes (both friends and family), tons of food, lots of drinks, and sometimes these fun little games where you can win presents. Quite frankly, it is a genius idea, and one which I certainly plan to take back home. I attended several Julefrokosts of my own. One exclusively with my class; everyone had to bring a certain dish which we drew from a hat. Another was with my host dad’s family on Christmas Eve. Then it was only two days later when we had another with my host mom’s family; that included 23 people and continued until the wee hours of the morning. By the time Christmas was over, and the house was reasonably back to normal, I was ready for a vacation from vacation, haha.

Spending Christmas away from home was far easier than I expected. Although I have been lucky enough not to experience homesickness in the time I have been here, I felt maybe as though the time of the season would bring back far too many memories of home for me to avoid depression. I have my host family to thank for this. They have been amazing by far. And instead, a part of me felt as if I was indeed home; home in Denmark.

Here, Christmas is celebrated more on December 24th, rather than the 25th. It is the 24th when you have the great Christmas feast, and also when you open presents. However, “Danes work for their presents,” is what I like to say. After Christmas everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to hold hands and begin dancing (really walking steadily) around the tree whilst singing traditional Christmas songs. I found this task to be a bit challenging. So, I participated by being the backup humming. Then with the last song “Nu er Jul igen,” you begin running (still holding hands) around the house, into each room singing. By the time we returned to tree, everyone was panting and laughing hysterically. Now it was time to open presents. Everyone gathered in the living room, each bursting with happiness and excitement. I adored all of my gifts, all which will be sure to remind me of Denmark in the years ahead. The next morning, I made my mom’s traditional apple doughnuts, which she makes every Christmas morning. My host family loved them and said they would adopt the recipe too. Then they gave me one more present. “A present from Santa,” they said, “he must have come during the night, and knew you were here.” I was thrilled, and felt that little piece of being home resurface again. The remainder of the day was spent watching Mamma Mia with my host sister, singing along to the songs at the top of lungs; wearing our pajamas all day long, haha. Christmas this year will certainly be a special one in my heart, and one which I could never forget.

Friends I have made here will be with me for life. Both Danish and fellow exchange students. My class continues to be a wonderful asset to getting through a day of school. They make it fun and one could even say, enjoyable! Haha. They invite me out to coffee after school, and movie nights with the girls. We speak in both Danish and English, and they assure me I’m doing wonderful in the language.

I have yet to have a full dream in Danish, which I am so greatly looking forward to. But lately, they have become half and half. So, I suppose that must mean that I am making some sort of progression? I can watch “Go’Morgen Danmark” (which is like the Danish equivalence of the Today show) and almost fully understand it. I have recently been purchasing my favorite movies, only with Danish subtitles; for when I come home, I can watch them and revive my Danish!

With it now being winter here, the weather is expectedly quite cold. And with the temperature being measured in Celsius, it has lately been around -4 degrees. This past week, it snowed 3 times, and the ground remained blanketed with a quilt of white until the weekend. My friend Siri, from Australia, and I made a snowman after the first snow. Only, it was no normal snowman, oh no. It was a Viking snowman of King Harold Bluetooth (the Danish king who conquered and ruled Norway in the 500s). It was very impressive, if I do say so myself. We continued to spend the day playing in the snow and then sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace. It was utterly “hyggelig.”

Every day, I feel like I’m growing; growing into a more mature, more social, and far wiser person. Denmark has become a part of me. It is of my being. Regardless of how cliché that may sound, it is completely true. I not only love Denmark, but respect it. I even defend it, as though it is of my own origin. Thanks to Rotary, Denmark is a second home.

Rebecca “Becca” Mack
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: The Bolles School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Catanduva-Norte Rotary Club, District 4480, Brazil

Becca - Brazil

Becca’s Bio

 Who am I?

When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a Power Ranger. Not just any Ranger (although they were all, admittedly, phenomenal), I wanted to be the Pink Ranger. For weeks on end my friends and I would defeat the evil forces on our kindergarten playground, determinately keeping our apple juice and 24 packs of Crayola crayons safe from villains while still having time for snack. Now, at 18 years old, I have retired from my days as a wannabe spandex-clad superhero and progressed (I hope) to much more mature ambitions. I still have a love of all things superhero, and shamefully attempt to hide my overwhelming love for all Marvel comics from my family and friends. However, I do play golf and attempt to lead a relatively normal life.

I am the youngest of 3 kids, and my brother, sister and I are each a year and a half apart. Growing up, I had built-in playmates, and even now that we are all ancient (18, 19, and 21) we still attempt to have a good time together. One of our latest endeavors is learning how to unicycle, and are all nobly withstanding the pain and humiliation that comes along with it. I applied for Rotary exchange because I wanted not only to see the world, but also to experience it. I have always been fascinated with languages and culture, especially the history of language. Although I have traveled throughout the US and Europe, I still haven’t quenched my insatiable thirst for exploring.

So there I am. A failed superhero, unicycling, history-loving explorer who is ready for action and prepared to jump into the world and make her mark, however big or small it may be.

August 9 Journal

 A year ago, I never would have imagined myself on the balcony of an apartment in Catanduva, Brasil, discussing grizzly bears with my host mother in Portuguese and learning that sign language is my new best friend. I never would have imagined that McFly, a lesser known British band, would be the obsession of my sixteen year old host sister, and I know only in my nightmare would I have thought that I would sleep underneath a giant poster of them whose eyes follow me wherever I go, like the paintings in the Haunted Mansion. (I’m just kidding, the drummer is actually quite a fox. I’m sure he’ll be nice to wake up to in the morning.)

My point, other than I have a rather pitiful imagination, is that everything I thought I prepared myself for, all my preconceived notions about Rotary Youth Exchange and Brasil, were wrong. And I think that’s a good thing. No, a great thing. For one, my evil American father had, in an attempt to break my Diet Coke habit, tried to convince me that it didn’t exist in Brasil. Well, Dad, if it doesn’t exist here, what is that six pack in the fridge that my host mom bought just for me with my name on it? Magic Juice?

I’m finding the surprises to be the best part of my journey. I never knew that all I needed to do to bond with my new family was to completely forget the word for lettuce every three seconds. I was in the grocery store with my new mother and sister, and we were playing a game to see if I could name the items in the cart after they told me once. And I obviously won’t be asking for fruit salad anytime soon, because for the life of me, after naming the two items at least twenty times in the grocery store, the car ride back, and every time I have walked into the kitchen, I still can’t remember!

Wait, I got it: abacaxi (pineapple) and alface (lettuce). Okay, so I had a little help from the online dictionary, but I eventually got it. And to think it only took me one time to learn urso (bear). Maybe if I developed a fear of being attacked by pineapples while hiking in Yellowstone. Maybe then I would remember their name!

So a day’s worth of knowledge, a healthy fear of pineapples, bears, and British bands named after Michael J. Fox characters, and I can’t wait to continue my journey!

Boa noite!

August 26 Journal

 Well, two weeks have passed in Brazil, and I keep expecting to wake up tomorrow morning to find the Honeymoon period over and expecting all the wonderful things in Brazil to turn on me. (See, Mr. Kalter? I did read the handbook!) Yet, everyday, I continue to find myself more and more impressed by the culture, the people, and, of course, the delicious food.

I was a person who had never really paid much attention to Portuguese before, except to taunt my Spanish teachers when they said that all the countries in South America speak Spanish, which I still do quite frequently. And why do we always ignore Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana? Don’t they count? Although my host mom loves to make fun of my American accent, I am picking up a lot more of the language than I thought I would, which is nice. An American accent in Portuguese is over pronouncing the letter R, which I find rather hilarious given the fact that, as a child I required extensive speech classes to learn how to pronounce the letter R. My poor parents, having to spend all that money for speech classes when they could have just sent me to Brazil and no one would have been the wiser.

I have been to two Brazilian parties, which were very fun but only helped to validate my already white and nerdy image to myself. The Brazilians don’t even start getting ready to go out until nine, which is the time I am usually tucking me and my teddy bear into bed to watch bad American TV. (I can’t believe how sad that sounded. I do go out occasionally, when I can resist my the urge to hop into my immensely comfy bed.) The other thing I’ve noticed is that while apparently all Brazilians came out of the womb doing the samba, I am dance-impaired. My sprinkler and shopping cart routine were no match for all my Brazilian friends, and served to do nothing but both amuse and frustrate the brave souls who tried to help me learn. I’m amazed I didn’t injure someone with my overenthusiastic hip movements. Nevertheless, the Brazilians seem to appreciate just the effort, which is nice.

I also never knew that my extensive, yet seemingly useless, knowledge of American pop culture would ever come in handy for anything other than beating my dad at Trivial Pursuit. However, it seems that merely knowing that the band McFly was in the Lohan movie Just My Luck gained me some mad street cred in Brazil, and I am not ashamed to say I love it. Heck, I might even get a gangsta chain or something.

Now, my last bit of news from way down south is that I am apparently dreaming in Portuguese. I say apparently because I don’t remember anything, but both my host mom and sister have told me that they heard me talking in my sleep in Portuguese. What was I saying? “I forgot English,” that’s what!

I fear I must say tchau now, because I have very important exchange student things to do. Namely, going to the gym with my host mom to work off all the delish food I have been eating. I do, however, want to take a moment to thank all those people involved in helping me, especially the Rotary Youth Exchange and the Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club. Without you, I would be sitting on my couch eating Ramen and watching Grey’s Anatomy, the only international experience in my life being the occasional trip to Epcot. So thank you for giving me the experience and skills of a lifetime!

October 30 Journal

 I have been in Brasil for almost three months now, and the honeymoon period has yet to wear off. I feel like an impromptu Vegas bride, who after partaking in a quickie Elvis-themed wedding in the wee hours of the morning, discovers that the stranger she married actually has grown on her as a person. Of course, my flight to Brasil was lacking both the flair of the Vegas strip and the presence of the King (although there were some questionable sideburns on one of the flight attendants), but the oh-so-loveable Brasil has grown on me in more ways than I thought was possible. We certainly share way more than just a love of long sunset walks on the beach and poor estimations of our alcohol tolerance.

As any normal teenager, I occasionally have received invitations to social gatherings that might be classified as “parties” by those of a more advanced age than myself. Of course, only after schoolwork and chores are completed would I ever go to one of these events, but they are an entertaining break from scholarly pursuits. However, prior to the 10 hour plane ride, I was entirely clueless of what Brasil had in store for me on the party front. It was definitely not on the Wikipedia page next to the information about population growth and free election. If I were to contribute to the entry I might edit a line or two, solely for the purpose of educating future Rotary youth: “The Brazilian Federation is based on the union of three autonomous political entities: the States, the Municipalities and the PARTY ALL NIGHT LONG.” I’m not complaining or anything, I’m just a bit taken aback.

For those who aren’t as familiar with Brazilian “festas”, an example: I come home from school on a Thursday and tool around my house, napping and drinking Guarana (the nectar of the gods sent from Olympus conveniently canned and sold in the grocery store for us mortals) when my host mom informs me that I will be attending one of the aforementioned “social gatherings.” Of course, we don’t go out until the late hours of the night, so I have plenty more time to curl up with my teddy bear and go back to sleep. My host sister and I don’t even start getting ready until 9:00, when we decide on our outfits and put on our makeup. Then, around 10 or 11, we go out and join the rest of Brasil in the night life. Ah, what a nice “vida” this is.

Other than the parties, Brasil has introduced me to more foods than I thought was possible. I, a stupid American, had actually grown tired of meat in the U.S. I now know it was because I had not truly tasted all the varieties available. Brasil is like a meat carnival, where everyday I am introduced to another delicious way to not be a vegetarian. And of course, to counteract all this meat are the most delicious breads known to man. One, known simply as “pão de queijo” (cheese bread) has captivated my attention since the first day I arrived. Not only is it delicious, but provides a built-in intellectual puzzle. I am also sad to admit that, despite being the recipient of a high school diploma from a well respected establishment, I have spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how they get the cheese inside of the bread. Mom and Dad, I have failed you. At least now I can introduce you to my new friend Brazil. Did I mention we met in Vegas…?

December 25 Journal

 Boas festas, feliz Natal e prospero Ano Novo.

It’s hard to believe I have already been here for almost five months. I feel like just yesterday I was stumbling off the plane and into the welcoming arms of my host family, and scrambling for a dictionary just so I could say hi. More and more I have adapted into the Brazilian culture, and I can already see the changes I have gone through, such as ignoring personal space and talking with as many strangers as possible. Okay, I am lying about the personal space thing (I was born in Connecticut, and we New Englanders are not known for our warm, effusive personalities) but I have gotten better at kissing everyone I see – on the cheek, that is.

Still, during a time in which my sacred Exchange Students Handbook says I should be feeling the most homesick, I am actually having more fun than I could have ever imagined. Christmas in Brazil is a magical time, and not just because I am on summer vacation and don’t have to be back in school until mid-February, even though that does help a lot.

On the 23rd, I walked with my family to the center of Catanduva, my little city in the hills of Sao Paulo. Everyone in the city was there, and in the midst of the chaos I was lucky enough to see a capoeira performance, the church’s choral group (singing some very impressive opera, btw) and a very random, very hilarious dance group performing CATS. There was also a forty-member group of motorcycling Santa Clauses, who all stopped of at a bar to drink beer and watch the fireworks.

On the 24th, my entire family went out to our country house to ring in Christmas. Unlike my family in the US, my host family celebrates Christmas with the whole extended family, so it was a huge group. For my youngest host cousin, a hired Santa Claus came and passed out her gifts at 11:00 (the real one, of course, was probably flying over Iceland at the time). It felt like New Years, because we all waited until exactly 12:00 am to hug and kiss and open presents. Then we ate an entire suckling pig (sans head, thank God) and laughed and hung out until three in the morning.

The 25th was fun, sleeping and eating leftovers and chillaxing by the pool. The best part of this, of course, is that I get to repeat the whole thing in a couple of days to ring in the New Year!

Anyway, that about wraps it up for my very merry Christmas experience. Kissing, hugging, motorcycling Santas, and capoeira. Not just a sentence fragment, but the Brazilian way of life, and one of the best holidays I have ever had. Still, I have to thank Rotary again for giving me this experience and making this year a great one. I raise my Guarana Antarctica to you, district 6970, and toast you a happy New Year.

March 9 Journal

 While it’s been awhile since my last blogging effort while in Brazil, I can’t say that I have been wasting time during my long absence from the net. In fact, the last few months have been a whirlwind of traveling, parties and, of course, the biggest party in Brazil (and the world) Carnaval!

After a wonderful Christmas season with all my extended family here in Catanduva, I was ready to embark upon the trip I had been waiting for since I first found out that I was coming to Brazil. A month long vacation to the northeast of Brazil with a busload of exchange students, starting in Rio de Janeiro and ending in Brasilia, the country’s capital. It was a crazy adventure and a new perspective into the country I have been living in for the past 7 months.

Rio de Janeiro was everything that I thought it would be: beautiful, scenic, and hotter than the center of the sun. While all the lucky European exchangees are bundling up and shivering away, we Brazilian exchange students are experiencing a summer hotter than anything I’ve ever seen in Florida. I bummed out on Copacabana Beach, met a lot of girls from Ipanema, and took thousands of pictures at Christ the Redeemer. And yes, I did almost break a hip attempting a samba.

As the trip continued up the coast, the exchange students got the opportunity to partake in quite a few extreme activities. I almost died in a freak rafting accident (okay, I’m exaggerating, but it sure felt like it at the time), rode horseback on the beach, snorkeled, and got a gigantic wedgie sliding down a huge natural rock waterslide. By the time I got off the bus in my host city, I was sun burnt and exhausted, but never happier.

The greatest part of coming back from my trip was knowing that Carnaval was a few weeks later. One of the biggest celebrations in the world, and there I was, right in the thick of it, experiencing the magic. Five days of parties, street parades and samba, it was everything I could have asked for and more. Leaving for the club at midnight, and coming back at five in the morning, it was any American party on steroids. I danced, I sang, and I partied like a Brazilian. It was an exhilarating culmination of all my hard work in learning the language and culture. Never have I have been gladder to be an exchange student in Brazil.

So that was my past few months: boating adventures, near-death experiences and, sadly, wedgies. And I owe everything (except the wedgie) to my Rotary club in Ponte Vedra for giving me this incredible experience.

April 9 Journal

 As I write this, tears are pouring down my cheeks and covering the keyboard with tiny droplets of sadness. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit, but the sentiment is basically the truth: I am depressed. I have less than two months (two piddling months) left in the country I have called home for the past eight months of my life. It’s been a tough struggle to become a part of this lifestyle, this culture, and this country, but I can honestly say, now that I am….I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME!

I love the United States, of course, more than ever. I miss it too. (Who knew I would miss Kraft Macaroni and Cheese more than my siblings? Weird.) Still, I have never had so much fun (strictly in educational circumstances, of course) in my life. I have done things I never imagined myself doing before, like riding a camel on the dunes in Natal, snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Porto de Galinhas, and oh yeah, speaking Portuguese. In fact, I never would have guessed that checking that little Brasil bubble on the RYE application would lead me to where I am right now. A split second decision in my life and all of a sudden I am rafting down a river in Itacare, scared out of my mind but loving it.

As sad as I am that I am going home soon, I couldn’t be more excited for the months to come. My parents come next week and we are traveling for two weeks around the country. I haven’t decided yet whether I will translate for them or not. Maybe they should see what it feels like, feeling completely lost without a language. Gosh, I’m an awful daughter. Guess they’ll just have to leave me here…. Anyway, after I send them on their merry way, I am going to the Amazon, to stay for 6 days in a boat on the widest and longest river in the world. I am hoping to return with all my limbs, and hopefully without gruesome war stories of piranha attacks. I’ll keep you updated, though.

As I reflect on my time here, I can’t forget how I got here. Without the support and help of the Ponte Vedra Rotary Club, my knowledge of Brazil would be limited to the steakhouse down the street and the episode of The Simpsons when they go to Rio. With the help of Paula Roderick, my delightful counselor, and Al Kalter, the scary but extremely wise leader of the RYE program, I would be nowhere fast. So, as they say in Brazil…OBRIGADA POR TUDO!

Asia Grant
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bishop Snyder High School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: North Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Belo Horizonte Barro Preto Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil

Asia - Brazil

Asia’s Bio

 Hi!! My name is Asia Grant. I am 16 years old and I am a sophomore at Bishop John J. Snyder High School.

My family consists of my mom (Stacia), my 2 brothers (Janard, Trevelle) and my sister (Kierra). Of my mom’s four kids, I am the baby.

At my school I run track. I absolutely love track. I have been running since 7th grade but most of the time it seems like much longer. I didn’t really know how much I loved track until my mom told me I might not be able to run this year. I was devastated. in track I run the 100 meter dash and the 200 meter dash. I also run the 4-2 and long jump. It is such an amazing rush just to know that it is a competition and that you can affect it positively or negatively because it is a team sport. My goal for this year is to get more personal records or at least improve my speed and height without getting hurt like in the last 2 years. I really look forward to it every year.

Family and friends are very important to me. It is a good thing because, as an exchange student, I will meet new people in both categories. Oh yeah, did I neglect to mention I love to eat!!! That is also good because I am open to many new things. I am so looking forward to being an exchange student. The chance to learn a new language and hopefully make a positive effect on many peoples lives. This is definitely a chance of a lifetime and I can’t wait to explore and see what awaits me.

August 25 Journal

 Oi!!! I have been in Belo Horizonte, Brazil for 2 weeks. I love it here so far and I hope it only gets better.

My family is great and I couldn’t have asked for a more loving family!!! My mom is a sweetheart, my dad is awesome and funny. My sister Bruna is soooo cool and she answers any questions I ask her without any problems. Now… for my little brother, he’s kind of shy but is warming up to me a little more everyday.

My school is also cool. I don’t understand the language well enough to know what’s going on in school classes yet but I like it so far. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that I get out at 12:45 either!!

I have been to two Rotary meetings so far and it’s like any Rotary meeting, I guess, for a teenager. The people here are also very people friendly. I just love it. I’m not homesick yet, so that’s also a plus in me liking it here.


September 26 Journal


I have been in Belo Horizonte for 7 weeks now and I am still loving it!!! I forgot to write this last time but my first week here I went to Buzios Beach in Rio de Janeiro and it was amazing!! BH (Belo Horizonte) doesn’t have a beach so we had to drive 7 hours to go and we stayed for 5 days!! I have also been to 2 Cruzeiro games (soccer team). They have been great and very….interesting to say the least!! I have been to 6 Rotary meetings and next week I get to read the prayer for the meeting!! I’m very excited and kinda nervous because I’ve seen the prayer and there are some haaaard words to pronounce but I’ll make it…I guess!!

Last weekend I went to my first Brazilian casamento (wedding) and it was very interesting too!! Also very different from the usual American wedding. My boy cousin got married, I had a blast!!

In school last Friday I had to give a presentation on where I’m from (America, Florida, Jacksonville, my school, RYE Florida). Don’t worry, I did an excellent job and I brought in many different things from America to show and the class loved it. There are 3 other exchange students in my class and one other in our school so it’s not really a big big thing that I’m an exchange student, plus I was the last to come. But it’s still kind of new to them having a kid from America here I guess, because they always ask me questions about school, like is everything in the American movies true. They really believed everything was true in the movies!!!

As many exchange students can tell you, I’ve been to a lot of Rotex parties and they are amazing!!! I thought they were going to be boring and…. Boring! !Lol but every time I go to one it surprises me how fun they are. You meet kids from all over the globe and it’s just wonderful to see how everyone interacts. It’s kind of sad that this is the only year I will see these people and I love them all already!!

Now these 7 weeks, even though they have gone past really fast, have not been all fun and games. I have been very stressed at times trying to learn this language as fast as I can and having to deal with being away from my family and friends. Even though my family here is extremely nice, there are times when I feel as if they’re judging me because I don’t know Portuguese too well and I’m not learning it fast enough for them. So I am trying to cram all of it in and to tell you the truth… It’s not too good for me. The Rotary Club has arranged for a Portuguese lesson every other Friday, and I went to one already and it was great, and I feel if I keep taking the class then I should have no problems here. The one for tonight was canceled because of the rain (a totally different story!!!! Not so good day lol!!) The other students in my class are very helpful and they try to teach me Portuguese when ever they can and I love them for it. My teachers are great also and sometimes helpful. The most helpful I would have to say are the other exchange students and the Rotex, because they understand what it feels like to be away from everyone you know and having to switch to a whole new world, and they are also great to talk to. They are trying to learn this language too, so the words you do know you use them all the time with each other and help one another.

This experience is changing my life already and I’m liking the changes so far; it can only get better!!! Oh yeah my little brother….. He opened up!!!!! We play together now and he helps me read his little books (he’s 6) and he also shows me off to his play friends whenever they come over!!! So…. Until next time,

Beijos e abraços


October 18 Journal


OK I’m still loving Brazil now and everything has gotten a lot better since I last expressed my thoughts. I now have 2 Portuguese classes, one I go to every Thursday so that’s better than every other Friday and the other one I go to ends in November so that’s good. The new school I learn Portuguese at is called Luziana Lanna!!! It really is a good school and me and about 7 other exchange student take classes there and during our year as exchange students we will learn Portuguese by offering our services to kids 12-18 who come from good families but can’t afford the school. The school is associated with the program and we talk to them in a little English and they speak to us in Portuguese and at the end we all will receive a document signed by Brazil that says we offered our services and it can help us get into better colleges, and it’s said to be a great honor for our countries. Only Brazil has this, so I’m really lucky!!!!!!! We will record videos of our sessions but for now we are in the classrooms. We only had 2 classes and during the class we can only speak in Portuguese – if we speak in English we have to put money in the container!!!! I talked in English twice my first class!!!!! Come to find out she told us about this little rule earlier in class but I didn’t pay attention!!! Lol.

I’m not stressed at all now and I feel like I am connecting more and more with my family and people at school.

Last Saturday (Oct. 11), I went to the our district orientation. I am in district 4760 and there are about 50-70 students in our district!!!!! At the orientation I met with like 3 or 4 other exchange students I met up with from the airport in Dulles, Washington. So we were happy to see each other again and talked for a while. There were so many kids from the United States and Canada they had to separate us into two groups!!!! It was amazing to see all the other exchange students from all over the world and know that we are all sharing the same experience… And together. After the orientation most of the exchange students and all of the Rotex went to this little place called Afrodick and chilled there most of the night!!! We took up the whole upstairs – it was about 100 or more of us because we invited other students from the other district and friends came and it was just a wonderful time there with all of them!!!

The next big event on my itinerary is the infamous Rotex costume party!!! Next Saturday (Oct. 25). As far as I know everyone knows about it and everyone will be there!!!!! Kids from my school who are not even with Rotary know about it and when I first got here all the exchange students and Rotex were telling me about it!!! I can’t wait and I still have to find my costume, I’m going this week before all the good ones are gone and I’m stuck being a little red rose or something like that!!!!

I change host families in November sometime and I don’t know who I am going with. They told us that we switch after natal (xmas), then 2 weeks ago they said before xmas, then last week my dad told me November!!! I knew both of my next host families but now they are not hosting anymore students so now I don’t know anything, and the inbound coordinator didn’t know anything about it 2 weeks ago and she was not at the meeting last week so I don’t know if she knows now but it’ll be alright!!!

I don’t get to talk to my family back home much because of the long distance but it’s ok. I tried to explain to my mom about msn and skype but….i don’t think she gets it much!!! Still not homesick so that’s a great sign. A couple weeks after I got here, me and another exchange student were talking and I was like “Why don’t I miss my family??? I love them and we were very close why am I not missing them????” Lol. I felt kinda bad about not missing them but I got over it in like 3 minutes!!!

Well I’m having a wonderful time here with my family and school and my host club and other exchange students. Sometimes we all go get açai!!! Its a fruit made into this kinda ice thing. It’s pretty good. So don’t worry about me mom!!!! Lol.

So until next time…… Tchau!!!

P.S. Obrigada Rotary!!!!!!!!!!!

Beijos e abracos,



December 26 Journal

 Ei!!!!!! OK so last time I wrote I was going to the infamous Rotex Festa A Fantasia! So I went as mulher maravilhosa!!! (Wonderwoman!!) I had an awesome time getting ready with my big sister and my mom couldn’t stop taking pictures of me!!!! That party was one of the greatest times I have had in Brasil so far and I will never forget it. We had everyone from Woody to Mario, from Jasmine to a Plastic Recycle runway model!!! Some of them really got creative.

So I am with my second host family now and I couldn’t be happier! I feel really close to them because every day when my parents get home from work we eat dinner and then watch….NOVELAS (The Soap Operas) lol!!! I know it’s lame but I love doing it!! They are really good and filled with lots of drama!! I even started memorizing the theme songs and randomly burst out into a song and dance!!! Well, without much dancing because we are usually in public and I don’t want to make a fool of myself but once I’m at home or in a friend’s house the battle begins!!

My Host Club hosted a Baile de Debutante beneficente (Sweet 15 ball), they sponsored 5 poor girls who had really good families but couldn’t afford to give them a big party. And it was good because before I went, I thought it was just going to be these 5 girls and their families, but when we arrived, there stood maybe 25 little, very nervous 15 year old girls waiting for their special moment, and since they were all together we didn’t know which ones were sponsored and I think that was very nice of them to not make them stand out. ALL of them were very pretty in their little dresses!!! It was just an awesome night. I and the 2 other exchange students in my club went and we got to be announced like the 15 year old girls, and we walked down with a guy from the military and stood next to a man from our Rotary Club who was supposed to be our fathers (since our fathers didn’t come), and we did the waltz with them for the father and daughter dance!!! NOW let me remind you that I didn’t even know there was going to be 25 girls there, so you can believe how shocked I was when I found out 30 minutes before that I would have to do the waltz!!! All of the girls, well the 3 exchangers were totally freaking out because none of us knew how to waltz!!! So we learned and it was very easy – I love it now!!!! It’s also kind of like a workout because after I was done with the father daughter dance, my thighs were hurting as if I just worked out! I thought maybe I did the dance wrong or maybe I was just out of shape, but I asked the other girls and like me they had sore thighs!

THEN we had to dance the waltz again with a military guy and that was fun. My guy was very professional and a great dancer. The whole time we were dancing he held a straight face then… I accidently stepped on his foot!!! I said sorry and he smiled and held that smile for the rest of the dance. OK, so I was already sore, then we did it again with someone else from our Rotary club, but I didn’t care that I was hurting. I had the time of my life!! There was this one guy from Rotary – I didn’t know him, he wasn’t in my club, but he was a GREAT dancer, he was older and he danced with the youth exchange officer for my club and he danced with all of the 3 exchangers ALL night … it was amazing!!! They played Brazilian funk which is the kind of music you wouldn’t listen to with your parents and the kind of dance you wouldn’t want your dad to see you doing, so Ms. Ivone (YEO) was dancin’ it!!!! I was shocked and very disturbed!!! But I joined along with her and the military guys and the sweet 15 year olds and everyone just had a great time!!! The ball was held in a small city named Passa Tempo and I will never forget that town.

On November 8th I think, I went to my first Brazilian concert!!! POP ROCK BRASIL 08!!! I had THE BEST time!!! Maroon 5 was the big guest and a lot of Brazilian bands were there. Before I went there I was at the zoo for the first time with my friends I didn’t even expect to go to the concert but I’m sooo glad I went. Me and about 11-13 other exchanges took a van and went to the concert. Don’t worry, we didn’t drive ourselves – we paid for the service. I got caught in the rain just before we left to go to the concert because I was hungry like always, so me and my Aussie friend went to get pastels and while we were there this guy told us our van arrived and he said follow him, so once I got our pastels I followed him running through the rain and then all I hear is ASIIIIIIAAAAAAA!!! So I turn and run to where my friend is calling me and guess what happened??? My beloved pastels dropped. I was highly upset cause I was hungry!! AND I got my hair wet for no reason, so by the time I got to the concert, I looked a mess. But me and the Aussie girl, whose pastel I dropped, also argued for about 3 days about whose fault it was that we were hungry and the pastels dropped – we decided it was the guy who told us our van arrived so…everyone’s happy!! Oh my gosh, I was at the concert and Maroon 5 was on and I love them and they played a Stevie Wonder song and this guy was booing them and I hit him and was like don’t boo them!!! And he looked at me very confused obviously because I just hit him and I spoke to him in English. I was hoping he didn’t hit me back so I just said sorry a lot of times and walked to another spot!!

The Rotex wanted to do something with the exchangers so they took some of us to this ecological center where we saw lots of animals and a play and a cachaça store!!! It was awesome!

School is out for the summer (yes, it’s summer here!!!) so for the end of the year test, the kids in my class held a party for everyone in our class and that was a good day too. I talked to people I didn’t really talk to that much in school and it gave me a chance to see how they act outside of school and it was just cool. So Portuguese class is over until the 5th of February and I loved my class – my teacher is really cool and I love her and we joke all the time and I have not spoken anymore English in class since the first class so I’m like extremely proud of myself!!! Sometimes I don’t want to go to class but when I get there and we start talkin’ and workin’ I love it and I can feel myself growing in the language, and I have to tell you, it is the best feeling when you know words and can put them together to communicate and not feel awkward!!!

Christmas has just passed yesterday and it was good but it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. This whole month I didn’t SMELL Christmas … maybe Brasil has its own Christmas smell that I will notice next year when I’m not here. I just didn’t notice it this year. But on the 24th my family went to my aunt’s house and kinda celebrated. The kids just went and watched Harry Potter for the night and ate but it was nice. Yesterday was AWESOME!!! I love my family!!! It wasn’t anything special, it was just a normal cookout at my grandma’s house, but it was special to me just to see how they celebrate. At the end they had like a secret Santa, I guess, and they had to describe the person they picked and the others had to guess who it was!!! I loved it!!

I have many things to look forward to these next couple of months and I’m going to make the best of it!!! I want to thank you, Rotary, for giving me this opportunity to become an exchange student this year. (Feliz Natal, Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo) Merry Christmas And Happy New Year!!!!

Obrigada Rotary

Until next time,

Beijos É abraços,


January 29 Journal

 So here we are in a new year and the first entry of ’09!!!!!

I live in the state of Minas Gerais in the South East Region of Brasil and we have gyms all around called Minas Tennis Club. For new years they had a big party for everyone who has a membership so I went there with my family and it was AMAZING!!!! I didn’t really spend it with my family – I met my friend there and we hung out the whole time because she was due to go back to Australia and this was the last time we could be together. So we just had a ball meeting new people and just being crazy with each other for the last time. I still have my band they gave me for my table!! I am still wearin’ it right now as I am writing this. I meant to take it off last night but…

Well, on the First, me and my family went to the farm. my host dad makes cachaça (a sugar cane made liquor used to make Brasil’s national drink caipirinha). The first five days we spent at my grandmother’s house in this really really small city in Minas named Curvelo. I went to the center of the town and it was like soooooo small I actually had to laugh when my mom told me it was the center but I liked it and I loooove my grandma!!! She is so small and sweet!

OK, so I went to this farm once before for about 2 days and I hated it because I got so many bug bites so I wasn’t really too excited about being there until the 25th with no internet or even a cell phone signal to talk to friends. This time the bugs were not that bad and I actually had a blast with my family. My dad makes regular cachaça but he also makes it in different flavors like… banana, cherry, fig, orange, and also flavors in Portuguese that we don’t have because I looked them up and it didn’t have an English word: like jenipapo, jatoba, amora (berry), mangaba, pequi, murici, araticum, cagaita or casaita (I couldn’t read the label) and jabuticaba!!! I think there are more but I don’t know where I put the paper I wrote them all down on.

I also met my aunt and about 45 cousins!!! No not really, but they had a lot of kids, maybe between 6-8 – I lost count. My aunt is an excellent painter, she has a lot of paintings of her work around the house and they are really beautiful. And she taught me how to make doce de leite!!!!! I am so happy now because I can make it all the time now and my mom told me she can teach me to make the cheese you eat with it because I don’t know if the US has it.

I am so happy I went to the farm because I think it made me really close with my mom. I made lunch with her every day we were there and I learned how to cook lots of Brazilian foods so I can make when I return home!!! I also helped with the bottles for cachaça. I put all the wrappers and tops on them and it was very hard work some days. Oh my gosh, one night the movie National Security came on with Martin Lawrence and in one scene it was a shootout in the bottle factory thing and ALL I could think about was that someone took all their precious time to put the stickers in the right place and here they go and shoot up all the bottles and I was mad!!! like really, but after I was thinking am I going crazy? why am I thinking about this? hahaha and I just laughed about it and now when I think about it I burst into laughter!!!

One day my sister took me and all my cousins to this swimming hole thing and it was fun but after we were going to pick up a friend of the family and we were all riding in the back of the truck and she was going like really really fast and there were a lot of bumps so we would pop up and it was crazy. I popped up really high one time and I was sitting on the not so safe edge and I fell in the middle of the truck and it was so funny everyone was like laughing and it was just a wonderful time!!! I actually liked my vacation!!!

And they have all these different kinds of trees in the yard that have cherries and lemons and limes and oranges and goiaba and others. There is this one bush that grows food coloring. I guess that’s what it is. But my mom told me this is what the Indians used to put across their faces and she uses it to cook. I’ve seen her do it a lot of times almost every meal. This one night we were there we saw this huge spider it was so nasty!!! My sister said that it’s a type that only Brasil and Africa have!! It was on the 9th of January because I wrote it down and the next day was the day I made the doce de leite and my dad gave me my first bottle of his cachaça – it’s small like a miniature and it is jabuticaba!!!! I still have it I will never drink it!! lol.

I start school again on Monday and Portuguese class on the 5th and I guess Rotary again because we didn’t have it this whole month. I will be in the 3rd year which is the last year and we won’t go in the morning anymore, we will go after lunch. This year will be great because I speak better Portuguese and they have more school parties. Well not in school but the kids have more parties I heard. This guy from my class told me a couple weeks ago that the kids in third year have an end of the year trip and they take a big boat and go to the beaches but it’s in August I think, so I won’t be there which really sucks for me! But I can not wait for class. I am excited!

That’s all for now folks so until next time…

beijos e abraços(kisses*hugs),


March 16 Journal

 Ok so I started the new school year on February 3rd and I am now in the 3rd(last) year!!!!yeeeeaaaaaah!!! but I thought that we were going to have afternoon classes but no it’s the same as last year, which I am glad because I really didn’t want to go after lunch. We have a lot of new people in our class and it’s exciting to meet new students. We had a class Bar-BQ about two weeks ago and it gave me a chance to communicate with some of the kids I never had a chance to talk with in class and to reunite with some students who now go to another school but were in my class last year!!! It was AWESOOOOOOOOME – I love my class!!!!!!!!

NOW…for the event everyone who ever wants to visit Brasil wants to go to, CARNAVAAAAAAAAL!! My mom told me the day of Carnaval that my family was not traveling anywhere, and that I could try to find someone to go with or stay home . I was, to put this in a nice way, extremely upset!!! Being that I am an exchange student for only one year, this was my only chance to go to Carnaval and she didn’t tell me we were not going anywhere I was ready to cry! All my friends were going to beaches and great cities with friends and I was stuck in BH with no Carnaval. Apparently I should have asked if we were traveling but I heard my host mom and sis talking about it when we were at the farm so I thought we had plans. At that point I really really didn’t like my host family at all!!!! But no wait, she told me to ask my friends if they were doing anything!! “YEEEEEES they were all gone already and at Carnaval,” I wanted to scream at her, but I said it calmly. Luckily my friend from school was supposed to go to Ouro Preto but her plans fell through and she invited me to go to Nova Lima. Nova Lima is a city about 30 mins from the center of BH (Belo Horizonte), so we went there. I actually didn’t know we were going until I arrived at our meeting spot. She said meet her at the mall so silly me, I thought we were going shopping or just to chill!!! But it was great and I met some ppl and just hung with them all night.

The next day we went to a city called Sabara, like 15-30 minutes from BH. I had more fun at Sabara but I think they were equally fun!!! I only went for two days because the day we went to Sabara we stayed out kind of late and I didn’t want to like ask my mom if I could stay out late again. I really wanted to go though. Then the last day of Carnaval I wanted to go but my other friend had gotten sick so she couldn’t go again and the one from school didn’t want to go. I knew my mom wouldn’t let me go alone so I didn’t ask. BUT it was all great fun and I’m sooooooo glad I went. I will never forget my first Carnaval even though it wasn’t big!! My friend from school met a friend she knew there and we stayed at their house for a time while it was raining and when we needed to use the rest room or got hungry so it was great.

I started Portuguese class again on February 5th. We had a new teacher the first day then another the next class but the second new one is our teacher forever this year. I don’t know what happened to our other teacher – I liked her. This teacher is really nice too but she treats us like we are just learning Portuguese sometimes. But she finally noticed we didn’t need to be talked to like we were 5!! Next class we are goin to watch a movie so it should be fun!

March 12th we celebrated 104 years of Rotary at our Club!!! We had a kind of big party and it was great. There was a band there, I think it was the same as the band that played in Passa Tempo for the debutante ball but I wasn’t sure.

Last Tuesday I started a dance class!!!!! The president or someone from my friend’s Rotary district invited all the exchangers to this dance class. We danced Forró, a typical Brazilian dance of the North-East!!! It was amazing and I loooooooove our dance teacher. He is so fun and full of energy and makes sure we are having a ball!! We have it again this week and every Tuesday so this is nice!!

So this is all that I have been up to I think. I am still loving Brasil but I’m reminded everyday in some way that my time here is getting shorter. I sit in class and I just look around at my new friends and I think of how much I have grown to love some of them and it’s just weird! But I still have a little time to have a lot of fun and meet more of these nice people!!!!!

So until next time … Beijos é abraços!!!,


May 19 Journal

Ei gente!! It has been some time since I last wrote and a couple things have been going on with me. I will start with my Rotary club since I’m here with Rotary. I looooooove my club so much, the people are awesome and they are so funny. I recently (March 16) went to a birthday party of one of the Rotarians in my club – he has been talking about this big party of his since the day I met him and I now know why. I have to say it was a wonderful party, plenty of food and people to go around for days, he even had a band playing and everything. When I walked in the first thing he gave me was a cup with his name and birthday on it, and when I was leaving he gave me a wallet with the same thing. The thing I loved the most was the invite!!! I laughed for minutes with one of the other exchangers in my club. He was turning 60 and his invitations said “I am getting sexier” and it has this picture of him with his whiskey!! I love him so much, really one of my favorite Rotarians! I have been to every Rotary meeting so far. Or I think I missed one or two. But I gave my presentation about the United States about a month ago. The first time was kinda bad because I got really nervous, then the lady forgot her laptop so I couldn’t show pictures or anything. But the second time was great I think. I wasn’t at all nervous and I felt more prepared.

April 30-May 3 was the orientation weekend for my district 4760! It was in a city named Caxambú, which is about 7 hours away from my city of Belo Horizonte. I had a great time there with all the exchangers I met at the first orientation but didn’t really have the opportunity spend much time with. And there was a new exchanger amongst us from South Africa! We didn’t really spend that much time with the Rotarians so that was good (sorry I had to say that). We had a talent show one day and a girl named Misha I met on the plane ride here sang a song. Her voice is really beyond amazing. Our first night we had a dance with all the Rotarians and exchangers and future outbounds that was pretty good too. I had an amazing time, I love dancing with the Rotarians cause they are like old and can dance really well. They played all the great dance songs that everyone knows like YMCA, It’s raining men, and others I can’t really remember. The next night we went to a club that they closed for us. It was pretty packed in there and it was with only the exchangers, Rotex (former exchangers), and future outbounds. I wish they didn’t close it down but we all had fun dancing and just being around everyone, because for most of them it was going to be the last time to see all of us together.

The next day on the 2nd we didn’t have anything to do with the Rotarians so the Rotex took all the exchangers to the park and we did a game tournament!!!!! They set us in groups and we had about 10 minutes to come up with a good name and a kinda routine for the Rotex. Our skit was pretty good but we didn’t win, then the next was a sack race! It was soooo funny to see the people afterwards because the sacks were really cheap and after we all had what looked like flour on our waist and below. I won my turn but the rest of my team didn’t finish first so we came in 2nd. Then we did the race where you hold the person’s feet and they walk on their hands!!! That was my first time ever doing that and I have to say it is a workout!! I was soooo tired when I was done. One person would go, then when you get to the end you switch and then person that was holding your feet will go back. I was laughing so much and I was so tired that I almost dropped my partner. Well I actually did at the end!! We lost that race too.

The last competition was a game where you run through the little forest trees in the park and you had to find a Rotex and they would ask you a question about Brasil and if you got it right they gave you a paint mark. You had to get all 4 colors and then meet back up with all your team members and whatever team had all the colors on everyone won. They asked questions like what is the capital of Brasil, who founded Brasil (I actually said his last name wrong but they let me slide), the year it was founded, end of slavery and stuff like that. The last mark I got was with the question “what is the biggest city in Brasil?” and I yelled out Sao Paulo!!! And he just looked at me because we weren’t suppose to scream. I didn’t even know it was right (and apparently neither did anyone else I asked) it was just the first city I thought of! But he laughed and let me move. I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t find the last tree so I saw my partner and I took some of her paint and she took the ones she didn’t have off of me and we finished! We still didn’t win though! Oh yeah, and you had to be careful because there were about 2 or 3 Rotex running and if they caught you, you were out and had to start over! Thank God I didn’t get caught. I almost did but I hauled tail as fast as I could. Oh and since we did the other race before I had took off my shoes and I forgot to put them back on so I was running around the trees with only socks on!

There was one last game with eggs and the other teams had to find your eggs and break them. I’m not sure who won but it was really fun trying to break the eggs. We would just go around smacking everyone’s pockets and say “do you have the egg!?” We hid ours in the hair of one of our teammates. The fun part was finding out someone held the egg for their team and then everyone just jumping on them to break it. During this the Rotex went around with all the leftover paint and just started putting it on everyone!!! And they got some people really good cause they smashed eggs in their hair! But hey it’s just conditioner!! So we were all a bunch of kids running around Caxambú with paint all over us and some had egg in their hair!! A nice sight to see I’m sure.

Later on we had a little elegant ball thingy and to say the least, I think we all clean up very well. Literally. But after the game some of us went in the pool. Not with all the paint though because I think the hotel manager would have killed us all!! The ball was fun and I danced some more with Rotarians! There was this one lady and she just grabbed me and the girl Megan from S.A. and started talking to us and showing us off to her friends and family. I think she might have known Megan but she couldn’t remember. Then me and about 4 other exchangers went in the front and sang and danced with the others and sang the songs with the band! It was fun, I had an amazing weekend! Most of us plan on meeting up this Saturday for the Festa A Fantasia! Part 2 for most of us! This one will be even better than the first!!

Last month sometime I’m thinking I played paintball for the first time!!!! It was amazingly awesome…and painful!! I got shot in the shoulder and almost died!! I thought it didn’t leave a mark but a couple days later I was looking and I saw a dark ring!! It was small, the size of the ball, but it’s like a dark outline then my regular color!! I laugh every time I look at it but it’s not funny at all. I also got shot in my shin and above my elbow!! The elbow left a huge scar but it was kinda worth it. We played against a family of Brazilians who happened to be there! They were really nice and I liked them!

I am still going to Portuguese class. We changed teachers AGAIN!! This is about the 5th teacher we have had. But I asked her and she said it’s normal to have 4-5 teachers. Since our classes are free we will make up for it by doing a presentation of our country for some of the kids that go there. I have not done mine yet, I was supposed to do it first but on that day something went wrong and no one did theirs. I will do mine this Thursday or the next. We are also starting to film again. Some of us did it already, it is just recording things for like an audio tape for the kids to listen to. I will do mine soon.

I have 10 more weeks here and I intend to make them the best ever!! I am of course still loving Brasil and everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting! Two exchangers have left already and some more are leaving pretty soon so we are going to hopefully be having a lot of going away parties for them!! I am still with my second host family! I will not be changing because something happened with the other but I am happy because my house is pretty close to everything and I walk to school (I can do without the walking part). But it’s time to really start enjoying Brasil!!


until next time..

Beijos e Abraços,


June 29 Journal

 Ei Gente!!! OK so I forgot to talk about the holidays that passed when I wrote my last entry. We celebrated Easter with my family at my grandma’s house, and we ate and talked and watched Ice Age, and then at the end all the grand kids (including me and my sister’s boyfriend) went around looking for these huuuuuge chocolate Easter eggs. I found mine really fast even though my brother had been looking in the same room for about 10 minutes with my sister’s boyfriend. I had lots of fun. I thought I was a little too old to be looking for eggs but my sister is 21 so I didn’t feel bad! Then we celebrated Mothers Day with all of my family again of course. We went to this other little city I don’t remember the name of and went to this restaurant and ate. It was nice too.

Now the time has arrived for all the exchangers to go back home!! It’s been really sad lately with everyone I have known for the past year leaving. I was thinking, “Oh my gosh Rotary is so evil!! Why would they do this to young people! Let them spend a year with the same people then take them away to never be seen again!” But I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet these young adults. I have been able to see some of them mature more in this year and some…well you know. I have not cried yet and it actually hasn’t hit me yet, but I think I will see some of these people again. No I actually cried a little at a party of this exchanger from Germany, we were not that close but he had a slide show and I saw pictures of other exchangers who already left and I started to cry a little. And it didn’t make it any better that this girl was behind me cryin’, she cried almost the whole night.

On the 27th we changed presidents for my Rotary club. They had a little ceremony and a gathering after. They told me it was going to be a dinner and I hadn’t eaten dinner before I came but they only had snacks and I was starving.

I went to this farm in a city called Ferros with another Rotarian from another club a couple of weeks ago. I went with the youth exchange officer of my club and her daughter and her son and there was the family of the man whose farm it was (his son, daughter, and wife, and a friend of the daughter). It was a reeeeallly nice farm and they had a little creek there for us to go to. I didn’t get a chance to ride the horses though. The son had a go-cart and he drove me around a couple of times. I was horrified to drive with him because he was like 10 years old or less and he drove really fast and crazy and I was just scared but he was nice and was actually the only young person I have met in Brasil who was interested in me being an exchanger. Most of the time I spent talking to the daughter and friend they were cool and we talked about everything. The farm was up in the mountains but if you drove about 15 minutes, you would run into the very very small town of Ferros. We took a 2 minute walk on this bridge and went from the start of the city to the end. It was so weird. My youth exchange officer has an aunt that lives there so we went to visit her and she was soooo adorable!!! Someone told me she was 90 but I’m not really sure. She was so sweet and small and she always hugged me. We stayed at the farm for 3 days.

I also went to a festa junina for my Rotary club earlier this month. Festa junina is a party they have only in the month of June (hint its name). They have food there typical to Brasil’s winter, only things made to be eaten hot. Then they have this dance called the quadrilha. I thought it was the same as the square dance but I’m really not sure how the dance goes. It is arranged as a wedding with a bride, groom, parents of both and friends and family. It shows all the craziness that goes on during weddings such as the groom or the groomsmen being drunk at the time of the wedding or someone interrupting the wedding at the time of the I do’s, or the groom or bride running out of the wedding before the actual ceremony. It is very funny I love it. I really can’t tell you how the dance went but it looked very tiring and fun. And they play country music the whole night, it’s a good thing I liked it. Someone told me the dance was from France but no one knew the actual history of the dance or the party.

My school will begin winter break on the 15th of July so I will be out!!yeeeees! My class is having a going away party for me and the two other exchangers in my class on this Friday the 3rd. It will hopefully be lots of fun and for some of them the last time they will see us because they will travel early or the other two exchangers will go home on the 10th so they won’t be coming to school any more so they will say good bye now! It will be sad!

Yesterday, the 28th my family had a going away dinner for me! My dad cooked a big lunch and my whole family came to celebrate with me. They did it early because my dad travels a lot and he is not home every Sunday so this was probably the only time everyone could have been there. My granny gave me a little change purse (you know the kind little old ladies have with change for church or with stale chewing gum). It’s pretty though. and inside has a necklace and she gave me two charms for it. One of a big pretty rock and the other with a cross. It was nice and I didn’t expect it I think she likes me!!! haha. Then after we ate we had dessert and I gave a little speech. and after my aunt said “I wasn’t sure if you really spoke Portuguese but now I am sure, congratulations!” I was happy. Me and my aunt or any of the adults don’t really talk that much because they are always busy talkin to each other or I’m with the other kids so… and then my other aunt said “haha you’re just like Felipe (her 2 year old son), I don’t hear you talk a lot but once you do it’s hard to stop you because you keep going on!” haha I thought that was funny! I didn’t talk that much yesterday!! OH MY GOSH! my aunt has this other little baby I think she is like 5 months now and she is just adorable!!!!! I love her. She is the happiest baby I have seen in a long time. She is always smiling and she’s at the stage where she likes to jump and it’s just so cute! And she doesn’t cry a lot she is just happy. Then after was the big game of Brasil and the U.S.! I tried to watch the whole thing but I fell asleep. Brasil won:-(

Also I went to this place called Ramacrisna last week with my Rotary and the other two exchangers in my club. It was this really cool place that recycles and uses the stuff to make cool things. like they have these really amazing creations with old news papers and magazines, and we went to all the shops. They have one that makes macaroni, and the other uses wool to make toys for the kids who go there. They have toys made from old milk cartons and bottles, its amazing. And the kids help make the things. They have an after school school there and they teach kids different things like there is a game room that teaches them how to think, I guess I really don’t know, and a computer room to help them learn the computer like powerpoint and just the computer and others too. And they have a group of people that makes videos and art, that’s for the older kids. They made a video of us and showed us some of the others they made of like music and stuff. Then we went to the factory of purses!!!!! We were like really in Heaven!! They were so cool and weird. They had purses made of newspaper and belts and wallets and picture frames and it didn’t look like it was until you took a closer look. I brought a belt that is really cool. It was 30 but she let me get it for 20 reais that is, which is like 10 dollars. Cool huh? The other 2 bought something too. We went there from 8 until 4pm.then this guy from our Rotary club picked us up and we went to his vacation house he has in the city because we were not in my city anymore. His house was BEAUTIFUUUUUUUUL, He had a chapel, and trees of banana, mango, plum, and others but none had fruit yet because we were out of the season. Me, the other 2 exchangers and the daughter of our YEO ate 5 kilos of pao de queijo!!! I don’t know if he was just teasing because we ate a lot but it was alooooot of pao de queijo!!!! I think it was 5 kilos though that we ate, sadly! But we were HUNGRY!! We ate like 3 breakfast’s before we went to the center and they ate lunch at 11 so we were not hungry so we only ate a little bit but at 4 we were about to die!!! Then the YEO came to pick us up at around 6 and we stayed there and ate some meat and she asked how the day was and how we rated it, everyone said 4 or 4.5 out of 5, because we were hungry that’s why they didn’t get a 5. haha. And after awhile she started talking to us and saying we were good students and she was proud of us and stuff and how she was glad we had a good time. Earlier after we left the purse factory I saw a guy was carrying a box so I asked the lady who sold us the things what was in it and she said it was a secret but I didn’t think anything of it, then the YEO went to the box and pulled out 3 purses and she gave them to us as a gift from Rotary!! It was so sweet I almost cried, one girl did though it was funny!! haha.

Before this the daughter asked her mom if she could look in the box but her mom told her no but after the daughter was like hey look in the box for me to one of the others and she looked and then the daughter asked what’s in the box and she replied jealousy!! Because we really wanted to buy one of the purses but we didn’t, but it was really nice of her to buy it for us!!

So this is what I have been up to since my last entry. Just getting ready to return home! Saying my goodbyes to the people who are leaving before me.

Until next time,


Obrigada Rotary!!


Conrad Troha Jr.
2008-09 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Okayama-Korakuen Rotary Club, District 2690, Japan

Conrad - Japan

Conrad’s Bio

 Hello World,

My name is Conrad Troha and I have lived in Florida for my entire life! Moved from Daytona (which is where I was born) when I was about 4 and lived in Palm Coast ever since then. I love it here, but I have always wished that there was a way I could get to see the world…

THAT is why I’m so absolutely excited and honored to have been accepted as a Rotary exchange student! I’m fairly well rounded and very easy to get along with. About 5 times a week I attend jukido jujitsu, it is the thing I enjoy most in my life! It has helped me with friends, grades, and even home life, definitely the most beneficial thing that I have ever done! After my training sessions at the dojo (training hall) I stay to help the youth of Palm Coast gain respect for themselves and others and improve themselves in their daily lives as they train.

When I get back from my exchange I want to be a teacher. But I plan to teach language so I will study Spanish in college and I will study the language of wherever I am going so that maybe I could teach it as well! I have never been more excited to leave home in my life! 🙂

August 26 Journal

 Japan…where do we begin?…

Ah yes! the airport! So it was Friday night and time to say my goodbyes. The truth is that I didn’t think that it would be as hard it was, I would say to myself, it is only a year, I will be back in no time. Haha..yeah right. I said “I love you and goodbye” to my mother at home then my dad at the airport…both times letting out more tears than expected.

Nevertheless I was on the plane to Chicago. 3 hours wasn’t so bad. Met up with an agent from Bokoff-Kaplan in O’Hare and other outbounds going to Japan! We walked around and got to know each other for the three hour lay over and I went ahead and exchanged for about 9000 yen. Before we knew it, it was time to go, we boarded the plane and endured the 13 hour flight to our knew homes. I ended up reading a book and watching a few movies but do you think that I slept? No way! I couldn’t, I was too energized and excited even though I hadn’t slept for a day prior to the flight. Tokyo, Narita…that was my next stop and where I would say goodbye to my fellow outbounds. Truth is though that goodbyes never happened, after we went through customs and immigration we got separated so fast I have no idea where they went! Nevertheless I found my way to the connecting flight that would land me about an hour away in Osaka, Itami Airport.

After getting off the plane this is where I was supposed to meet up with my host family, but coming through Customs I didn’t see any signs or Rotarians at all! I was so confused…so I asked as best as I could where a telephone was and the airport attendant kindly showed me the way. After a lot of struggle in figuring out how to use the phone I called my host father Kobayashi-san. In broken Japanese I told him that I was at the airport and after much confusion he assured me that he was on his way. Two and a half hours later a taxi pulled up containing my host mother and father with a very big greeting! I was so relieved to see them! Come to find out the next day I had arrived at the airport a day earlier than scheduled! We are still figuring that one out…..

It took about 2 hours to get to the hotel in Okayama which my family owned. That is where I would stay the night and after 2 days of no sleep and stress I would have the best night’s sleep of my life. I had a dream that night of a normal day back home and thought that I was still there when I awoke the next morning! Then it hit me that I was in Japan! That first day was hard, I was very homesick, and missed my friends and family more than you know, I figure it was due to the lack of communication with anyone in US. My parents were worried too, I know, seeing how it took me a day or two to figure out how to call internationally from my house. Thankfully though everything worked itself out. I have to say though that the food is very strange here. I had Tako (octopus) for the first time, and we went out to the super market and bought some fresh octopus tentacles for dinner hah, I have to say though it wasn’t bad. It has been 5 days and I have been so many places I don’t even know where to start…..

Korakuen garden – My first day there my host family took me to one of the most famous gardens in Japan. It was absolutely beautiful – the fish, the birds, the trees, and Okayama castle! That is where I had my first cup of traditional Japanese green tea and kibi dango. It is….rather bitter, kind of like drinking mashed up leaves I could swear they made me eat grass too…..anyway! Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera at this point because I left mine at home….took me a day or two to get my host parents to understand that so the next day, me and a Rotarian and my host father went to the electronics store and I bought a Japanese camera, luckily it has English settings or I would be done for!

Joypolis – This is a very very big arcade close to the supermarket in Okayama, my host mother was showing it to me asking me if I knew about anime and about sonic (there is a giant gold sonic statue in there!) and mario hah, it was interesting. So she asked me if I played arcade games and I told her yes so she asked me to show her by playing a gundam game….I lost….very badly….

7/11 – That’s right 7/11! It is a convenient store here…not a gas station and it was sooooo different. That is where my father took me to get lunch the other day, we had Onigiri (rice cakes). The best food of my life….I could eat onigiri allllllll day long. Oh and if you ever go to Japan and are eating rice, do NOT leave rice in your bowl when you are done…you better eat it ALL! I learned that the hard way….

Okayama University – It is a very famous school in Japan, right down the hill from my high school. It is MASSIVE! My high school is uphill so when you look over the side you get a beautiful view of all of Okayama city, it is absolutely amazing! I was introduced to my high school principal and vice principal. And there was a gentleman there that I thought was Japanese until he said “Hi, I’m Zack”. I was shocked, until he told me he was the English teacher there! He is American and extremely helpful. They are going to put me into a language school down the hill from my high school to help me every day and they had to measure me for my seifuku (school uniform). I am bigger than they anticipated. I hit my head on EVERYTHING too! I have hit my head on the light above the dinner table…all the doorways in my house and even a ceiling or two…

According to Zack sensei, jetlag takes a few weeks to wear off and I am still extremely tired. School starts on Monday, I hope that I am prepared, hah I hope I can even find my way there! I have to walk to the train station and then ride a train to the bus stop where I will ride the bus to school….that is not going to go well I already know xD. But I am taking pictures of everything, my family laughs at me when I stop to take pictures of things like like signs and vending machines, but hey it’s all new to me! 🙂

Everything here is sugoi (amazing) I don’t know how else to explain it. The Japanese are interesting people, they don’t need to worry that cigarettes and beer are in vending machines because they know that no one under age will even think of taking them, I haven’t seen one police officer in the time that I have been here. And I have never seen so many bikes either! The sidewalks are lined with bicycles – it is insane, everyone here rides their bike. Needless to say I haven’t seen one fat Japanese person yet 😀

Everyone bows and says thank you, everyone is polite and smiles. It is truly amazing. I have befriended my dictionary as well, I don’t go anywhere without him, and the Rotarians here were kind enough to give me an electronic dictionary to use during my stay even though I can’t read it 🙂 Anyway, my rambling has to end abruptly due to the fact that it is dinner time and I have to go. More entries will come soon and so will some pictures when I figure out how to get them onto the computer! Arigatou Rotary for everything, I already know that this is going to be the best year of my life! Until next time journal….

Ja mata ne


September 20 Journal

 OK everyone…..It’s me again!

All in all it is very hard to organize my thoughts over the period of a month but I will do my best! Where did I leave off last time…….

Oh YEAH! School! Now you might be thinking oh woopdy doo it’s school….but if you are, you are COMPLETELY wrong! School in Japan has more differences than I can imagine, and for the most part, I like school here way better! I have to wake up every morning at about 7 to eat breakfast and put on my uniform and leave the house by about 7:30, 10 minute walk to the train station, train ride to the central station in Okayama city then it’s on a bus to school. Worst experience I have had with the train thus far was a couple of days ago…I was the first one off the train and clumsy me (it was too early…) stepped in between the train and the platform leading to me face planting in front of EVERYONE! My phone flew out of my front pocket and both my bags flew out of my hand….I was alright…but boy I will never be more embarrassed than I was then….

On to a happier memory! =) School starts at about 8:50 and there are 7 classes everyday…..the problem is that every day the schedule is completely different D= I have to keep mine with me and look at it every day between every class! Nonetheless it is a private school but it’s more laid back than Florida public schools! I was amazed when our math teacher just didn’t feel like showing up to class one day…so he didn’t…we just hung out and talked until the class was over.

My absolutely most favorite class is my 書道 (calligraphy) class! Yes I said calligraphy…that means a piece of paper, a brush and some ink! It is amazing. I went as far as to join the Calligraphy club after school every week! Nonetheless, every day is a new challenge, Japanese is difficult and easy at the same time, some things make a lot of sense and others I just don’t understand at all =) Some things I can’t help but laugh at though…my teacher was amazed when I told him that every street in Florida has a name… That’s right…only main streets have names in Japan! (with the exception of Kyoto)

Ah, so a few days ago I was able to officially say that I turned 18 on the other side of the planet! 🙂 My birthday was a blast, the kids made a cool card for me and signed it, my host parents bought me a birthday cake and got me presents – it was a lot of fun!

Every day my Japanese gets just a tiny bit better, but I still have an incredibly long way to go…it’s amazing how one word can mean 4 or 5 different things….somewhat aggravating too -.-; I think everyday that my Japanese gets better my English gets worse though…’tis a funny cycle….

Today is the first day that I am out in Japan by myself as well!!!!! I can simply walk around and just enjoy the sights…check out some cool stores or go to the arcade (which I might do when I am done with this ^^)

My cellphone is my best friend by the way….hahahahah it comes with me everywhere! It’s pretty sweet, I don’t use the internet on it though simply because I am paying for it annnnnd….yeah no thanks, but I like to use it to write messages to mah Japanese buddies….I like to think of it as a study tool. =P

My school was also kind enough to hook me up with some Japanese lessons at a school not far….just a bus ride down the hill! (My school is basically on a mountain, thus I have the most amazing view of all of Okayama city from my classroom!) But yeah those lessons will start first thing next week, hopefully my Japanese will pick up a little faster after that point.

I have now decided that the greatest invention in the history of mankind is Onigiri…I’ll explain: You have your favorite kind of fish – for example my favorite onigiri is tuna and mayo…then that is wrapped in a rice ball…that rice ball is then wrapped in seaweed…even if you don’t like fish or sushi, I guarantee that you will like Onigiri….it’s that amazing….I am going to buy as much onigiri and bring it with me before I have to leave Japan in 10 months!

There are Konbini (convenient stores) literally on every block…if you have a wallet and two feet to get you there you can go and buy anything you want to eat for extremely cheap, it’s rather amusing. I have found myself making quite frequent trips to the local Konbini. (Yes, to get me some Onigiri!!!!) heh

My house!

Right….Japanese homes are extremely compact…it’s rather amusing – there are secret compartments in the floors and ceilings so that they can store stuff, yes…it’s really that small! Hhahahaha


Talk about amusing, they have some of the craziest game shows you will ever see in your life! It’s so funny…I will sit and stare at the TV for hours trying to understand what is going on…But at the moment it is Sumo season so you could say I have been rather attached to television. Sumo is incredibly big in Japan, but the reason I like it so much is that you can see Japan almost embodied within Sumo…the actual sumo match is only one aspect…a real treat….


I have been here for an entire month! I have no idea where the time is going…it’s insane…It definitely is going to be over before I know it, which is why I have to go out and explore the wonders of Japan! Next I think I will visit a local book store and see if I can’t pick up some (more or less) easy Japanese reads so I can study!

Until next time Everyone!

今良侍 - Conrad (that’s my kanji name) =)

P.S. Still haven’t gotten used to the cockroaches in my house xD (Not a joke…)

October 30 Journal

 Hi everyone!

So it turns out I’m not very good at writing these things…my head goes blank and I cant remember what I did xD not to mention the fact that while I’m typing in English I forget English words and use bad English grammar…..but here goes….

A lot has happened this past month and it has been incredible! I’m slightly worried about the fact that I’m not even the slightest bit homesick….but I have a feeling that the homesickness feeling is going to come in a month when I have to change host families for the first time…I’m absolutely dreading it. At this point, when I am at home I actually feel like I am at home! It’s hard to explain, but you know that feeling you get after a long day – you walk into your house and you’re simply relieved that your finally home and can relax? Well that’s finally how I feel when I am walking up the hill on our incredibly narrow street knowing that I am almost at the house that I have been living at for the past two months and I am almost with the family that has been so incredibly kind to me no matter what the circumstances. I didn’t think that I could develop such an attachment to people I hardly know. My host mom is a blast, me and her make fun of each other almost nonstop….it’s a lot of fun! =)

School has become a lot easier, I like gym class the best….It’s the easiest to understand! We were playing handball the other day and the ball almost went outta bounds so I dove for it and threw it back in, everybody started screaming ‘sugoi sugoi’ and started clapping…I dunno, I just felt like ‘I was part of the team’… sounds corny but it is an incredible feeling to be accepted by my classmates, absolutely incredible! I went and hung out with the girl from my class the other day, we went to the arcade and she ended up forcing me into the purikura….(basically a camera room, and after you take pictures you can draw on them and make them…..unique xD) it was interesting….after that I proceeded to win a giant stuffed stitch doll from one of the grabber machines…took me about 1000 yen….I was determined -.-

AH! So I went to the onsen for the first time about 3 weeks ago! Needless to say it was highly awkward! We went into the little locker room (this onsen wasn’t coed by the way) and found our lockers, then my host father proceeded to strip right then and there! I looked around and their were naked old men everywhere! I hadn’t even noticed it! So….I took my clothes off and had my little hand towel covering what was left of my dignity, then we went on into the shower room. It wasn’t weird to them though, fathers had their children in there and it simply wasn’t anything abnormal. There are little stations in the shower area where you sit on a tiny little stool and there are shampoo and body soap provided, and you wash…..everything, total scrub down. After that you proceed to the actual hot spring itself. At this point the fact that I was naked didn’t bother me anymore…It just was. And in the hot spring, there are various kinds of hot springs – some are outside some are inside, some have massaging bubbles and there are even little personal tubs you can relax in if you want. Come to think of it….I really rather enjoyed myself! And am definitely looking forward to going again! (Bradley when you come to visit next summer I’m taking you to one whether you like it or not! xD)

So I definitely think I’m going to be fat by the time I get back to America…after dinner every night me and my host mother make sure to enjoy some Ice cream! Just for future reference….Japanese Ice cream is 10 times more delicious than American ice cream! I came to find out though that sweet foods are associated with women and bitter foods are associated with men….that made me sad…because I love sweets! There is a kind of chocolate in the conbini (convenience store) that’s actually called ‘men’s bitter chocolate’ ……It’s disgusting! X(………..call me a girl if you want, I like the sweet stuff! Speaking of bitter foods though, I have become rather accustomed to tea without sugar, traditional green tea, and nearly black coffee. As disgusting as that sounds…it’s not half bad once you get used to it! One thing I haven’t gotten used to is the slabs of fish they put in front of you and expect you to eat! It’s not the taste either, I’m actually rather fond of the taste of raw fish…..it’s when they give me cooked slabs of fish and there are little bones in it! I feel like they are trying to kill me, it takes forever for me to eat too because I have to find the little bones and pull em out, I don’t know how they do it….. I haven’t mastered the art of noodle eating either….the Japanese eat their noodles really really fast, I’m pretty sure they don’t chew, they simply inhale…..But I have to say I love my chopsticks! It’s simply more fun eating with them. Hah, when I get back to the US I will continue to use my chopsticks, I refuse to use a fork! >=D

I can’t believe it’s already in the third month though! I am rather disappointed in my Japanese thus far, but I know that it’s just me being picky with myself! There are times when I understand what people are saying without thinking about it and times when I feel like its my first day in Japan again! It’s a funny system…but I love when I can’t remember English words! It’s amazing! I was talking with a couple of other exchange students in English and forgot how to say vending machine…..’uhhh uhhhh…..you know that thing the drinks come out of! x(‘ It was hilarious! Because I would say it in Japanese and they had no clue what I was talking about…..=) Every Monday and Friday I have a special Japanese class down the hill at a language school for exchange students, there are only two other people in that class both from America and their Japanese stinks =) so the class is extremely easy for me, the teacher goes ahead and makes up harder reading and writing assignments for me. And I just found out that apparently they want to throw me in a Japanese class at the university every Thursday to see how I do ;; Not gonna be fun!

I’m getting too used to the walking on the opposite side of the road thing….I have a feeling that when I get back to America it’s not going to be safe for me to drive…..I’ll be driving into oncoming traffic! =) I learned not too long ago that to get your driving license in Japan it cost like 200,000 yen…..that’s like 2000 dollars! I was appalled….but it’s for the driving school, which is apparently really difficult, but it’s a good thing they go to driving school in Japan because the roads are incredibly narrow! And I don’t know how they do it but Japanese people can fit the biggest cars in the littlest places at incredibly high speeds…..it’s scary to say the least….

All of my friends think that I am crazy…I LOVE the fall weather! It is absolutely amazing! nice and chilly, the leaves are absolutely beautiful! It’s an amazing experience. The mountains are covered in forest so it is absolutely amazing, something you definitely can’t see in Florida!

I went to Osaka about a week ago as well. It was with my grandpa’s host club though, so I felt really awkward….luckily I had my host mom there to keep me company and talk too. We went to one of Japan’s most famous aquariums. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful. Seen everything from penguins to otters to sharks and octopus to crabs…..it was neat! But a little strange cuz my host mom (the entire time) kept pointing at things and telling me how badly she wanted to eat it….highly disturbing!

Two days ago, with my host club we went to see an old traditional style play called kyougen. There actors dialects were very strong and were very strange, it’s the oldest style play in Japan so it was very difficult to pick up what they were saying, but even though I couldn’t understand the verbal part of the play I understood the body language and I found myself laughing along with everyone else. Came to find out later that because of the way the actors were speaking it was even hard for the Japanese to understand….I didn’t feel so bad after that =)

And today I discovered the book off! Its basically a store with any comic or video game you can think of at incredibly low prices! Needless to say I was in heaven! ^^ Call me a dork, but I have found that reading comics is an excellent way of studying the Japanese language and picking up kanji and different expressions!

I have to say, though I am not homesick….I do miss my friends and family dearly! I can’t wait to see you all again! But at the same time…I really don’t want to have to leave my new family….

I am torn….

But no worries! I am going to go and study and brush up my Japanese and become fluent! So I will talk to you all again soon! Don’t miss me too much!

Until next time folks!

Jyaaa mata!

February 4 Journal

 Ok folks….it’s been a while…lets do this!!!!

When I last left off in my journal it was mid fall and all of the leaves were absolutely beautiful, the red, yellow, and orange shades covering the vast ranges of mountains as far as the eye can see! Things have definitely changed…it’s now well into winter and it’s cold, the trees look sad and bare, the sign of the end of what was and the start of something new. Something that can’t be seen in Florida. Though I am slightly disappointed in the lack of snow in Okayama….hey I can’t really complain can I? I’m in Japan!

Well before the current winter befell us all, me and an exchangee from California and two English Sensei’s made a trip to Himeji castle! That may not sound all that exciting to you guys but Himeji is the last standing original castle in all of Japan. All the others have been rebuilt, destroyed, or are in the process of being remodeled. Needless to say it was absolutely amazing! The castle’s foundation is huge and is made completely of stone! They actually had to move stones in from different prefectures in the process of building it. The inside has basically been turned into a museum at this point with swords, spears, armor, ancient scrolls, and statues lining its innards. Absolutely breathtaking…. Oh yeah the two English teachers I spoke about, they made me feel really good about my Japanese by the way. They have lived in Japan for nearly two years and understand almost none of the language….I almost wanted to tell them to get out of Japan….I was slightly appalled….but needless to say at this point I can have a conversation in Japanese for a good amount of time, I can read Japanese comics, and I can play my video games in Japanese as well…..and understand it Sure I can’t understand it all but I honestly don’t expect to at this point. If I simply continue my studies the way that I am, I am very confident that my Japanese will exceed anything I ever expected when I first left for Japan.

Dressing for winter…..something I was definitely not used to at first. My host mom would tell me “it’s cold outside! Maybe you should put on a few more layers,” and my response was always, “Thanks but I think I’m alright”…..NOT xD As soon as I walked outside I felt like I was going to turn into an icicle! Hah….and I’m in one of the warmest parts of Japan. It’s the Floridian in me ;; trying to let me freeze…..rather sad really….

Me, my previous host father, and a few Rotarians made a trip down to Shikoku just before winter as well. I have to say it was relaxing. Shikoku is the island just south of Okayama. The drive was about 3 hours there; we first drove to the top of a beautiful mountain range to see the windmills at its peak. When I first stepped out of the car and breathed in that fresh mountain air it was….indescribable….the view was intoxicatingly beautiful, the air was clear, and I just wanted to sit up there and gaze for hours. However, the little old man that came with us was kind of creepy with his camera….hahahah he took way to many pictures of me for comfort xD Anyway! After we descended the mountain we hit up a local fish market! I don’t really know why though…they just walked around pointing and saying how delicious everything looked (we didn’t buy anything…..) needless to say it was interesting. Following that we went to the place that we came to Shikoku for…the ONSEN! (hot spring) I have to say, though the first time was strange, I have really grown to like it. It’s not weird to me anymore to strip and bathe with other men xD We actually ended up staying the night at a nearby hotel, went and ate REALLY expensive food (which was the MOST delicious thing that I have ever eaten) and then hitting the onsen one more time before returning home. Then it was back to school before winter break…..

At this point school had grown redundant and boring. As bad as that may sound, the only part I liked about it was my friends. Now that I could talk to them, lunch and after school were my favorite times. And not to mention the amazing attachment that had grown between me and my first host family in those 3 and a half months. But….it was finally time to change host families! I didn’t want to go….I had a bond with my host family that I didn’t want to share with anyone else in Japan! Sure they weren’t my real parents and they could never replace them! But they were the next best thing….I packed and before I knew it was in a new room and house with strange people I didn’t know again….the worst part of my exchange thus far was that day, though no tears were shed between me and my host family. I felt like they had been torn from me on that day….

But I soon realized the fact that that wouldn’t be the last day I see them and that my new host family was actually very very nice and cared for me just like my previous family did! And so as things went on I adjusted to the different cooking style of my new host mother and learned my way around the new area of Okayama that I had never explored before while eagerly awaiting Christmas in Japan.

Things were fairly normal up until break, not much had happened. And as things drew closer I decided to ask my host mother about what Christmas was like here in Japan! And to my extreme disappointment she basically explained to me that because almost none of Japan’s population has any set religion they don’t make Christmas a very big deal…I’m not religious either but I mean come on!!!!! So I didn’t see any Christmas lights at all this winter, and only an occasional Santa-san here and there. Or we would pass a KFC and the colonel would be dressed up as Santa xDDD. Needless to say I wasn’t going to spend Christmas lounging around at home all day so I decided to go to a friend’s house…and lounge around all day there hahah. I made sure not to impose on anyone, and because no one was celebrating Christmas here it was just like another day off of school. I was actually pretty happy because that was the first time I have gotten to ACTUALLY talk and have a serious conversation with my family. It made me feel better. And so did the fact that new years in Japan was NOT in anyway disappointing!

It started with New Years Eve actually! Me and another exchange went to her host grandma’s house and we made rice cakes!!!!! It is a really old Japanese tradition, and not many people nowadays do it. It’s an interesting process actually…they first bowl a bowl of rice, when its nice and soft they then put it in a big stone bowl thingy and the guys (who wait outside in the cold -.-;) get to take a very heavy mallet and smash the rice until it turns into a goo…then the women (who are inside with the heat -.-;;;;;) roll the goo into little cakes! And then they add flavors and stuff, ’twas fun ^^ We were out there from about 7 in the morning til 1…….but I don’t regret the experience! After that I went home and that night after dinner everyone sat around talking and it was just….nice =) then around 11 o’clock everyone had soba (Japanese noodles) just like everyone else in the country to watch the countdown on TV!

Upon awakening the next morning and going downstairs to greet my family I see the traditional new years breakfast! (Way too hearty of foods to be eating that early xD) and If you would like to know what we ate…..I don’t really know ;; I find that happening to me a lot…. (-.- 😉 sorry….

And I was not expecting the hordes of money given to me on New Years either! It’s called Otoshidama and it’s simply a tradition that on New Years day adults give money to the kids – once you hit 20 it’s your turn to do the giving! Well I knew about it but I was given a LOT more than I was anticipating! I ended up getting different amounts from different relatives and all together collecting about 50,000 yen…..that’s the equivalent to about 500 dollars! (well probably more than that now….thank you exchange rate -.-; ) And after the receiving of the money we made our way to the temple to pray for a good year! A tradition that nearly everyone in Japan keeps so there were way too many people at that lil temple! Hah but needless to say that too was a good experience, and kind of hard to explain the feeling of it all. You simply had to be here!

And from then on, January has simply become amazing! It’s the little things that simply make me smile each and every day! I go to school and understand homeroom, can have conversations with my friends, I can make jokes, and I understand my classes! The classes that are not understandable at this point are classical Japanese….I don’t even know contemporary Japanese yet -.-; and chemistry….but I didn’t understand that in English so I’m not all that worried about Chemistry hahhahah.

Among the closing of January came one of the funnest things that I ever done in my life! SNOW!

That’s right folks! I was allowed to tag along with the younger grades on their trip to Tottori prefecture and visit the mountain Daisen! And the trip was not just to visit this mountain of course – what would be the point in that? So instead we went and the younger kids hit the ski slopes and me and the other high schoolers hit the snowboards! It was AMAZINGLY fun! We stayed on the mountain for three solid days to simply go snowboarding and nothing else! I just remember getting going as fast as I could and trying to stop…..hah…I hit the brakes a lil to hard ^^; Needless to say I made quite a few rotations while rolling down the rest of the slope hahahah and then simply laid there thinking to myself “Wow……”

I am very very confident that I am going to do that again in my life! Don’t know how or when but I WILL see snow again and I WILL go snowboarding again! No doubt =)

And that’s all for my adventures thus far! At least the big ones =D

Will make sure to update more often too. Hope you enjoyed, readers! I’m out.




July 27 Journal

 Hey all its my final journal,

And It has been a LONG time. So there is plenty to tell right.

Well around the end of January I was given the chance to see snow for the first time. To be honest I was nervous about going because I didn’t know the people that I was going with. I went with the sophomore class at my high school, so sure we have met before but I didn’t really KNOW them. So on an early winter morning I dressed snug and grabbed my bag, my host mom took me to the bus station where we met the other students. And off we went, 2 hours north into the snowy top of one of the most beautiful mountains in Japan. From far away it can be mistaken for Mt. Fuji if you’re not looking carefully. The first time I stepped out into that cool mountain air … it was a feeling that I can never forget. I looked at one of the kids next to me then at the ground. And without having to think about it grabbed the biggest handful of snow I could and hit him right between the eyes with it. The beginning of a beautiful friendship I say =). After the relentless snowball fight everyone was herded into the resort that we were staying at and we checked out our rental gear, suited up, and back out into the snow we went. This time a bit more cautiously (thanks to the teachers breathing down out necks) and finally onto the lift. Seeing how I don’t like heights and there was nothing to fasten me in…I didn’t enjoy that part. And not to mention the jerks on the lift behind mine that brought snowballs with them. hah Upon arriving at the top we were introduced to our snowboard instructors. After that we were assigned rental boards and the 3 day snowboard lessons began. It wasn’t very rough but I will say this, the guys on the TV make it look reeeeeallly easy! Around the second day the instructor told me to go as fast as I could down the hill WITHOUT losing control. I said ok, and simply went as fast as I could. Nonetheless lost it and rolled 7 or 8 times, which was extremely fun hah. All in all the experience was amazing and has made me decide that I will have to make a few road trips up north during the winter.

After my snowboard experience I returned home to Okayama and the next day it was back to school like normal. Things were normal for a while, friends, study, school, video games, and comics until my host parents told me that I would be able to go to Tokyo! I had told them how badly I would have liked to have been able to go nonstop and so my host father decided that seeing how they were going to Tokyo to see my host brother it would be a good idea to bring me along! With that I packed a few things and off to the bullet train we went. While riding the train, it took us right past Mt. Fuji (another place I would LOVE to go) and I was able to see how beautiful it really is. After about an hour and a half we were there. Tokyo, the heart of modern day Japan. And the biggest impression I think that I got from it was…there are way too many people in one little city. I lost my host parents a couple times in the crowds (thank god for cell phones) and it’s ridiculous how fast people walk in that city. I was walking at what I would consider faster than a normal pace and this little old lady comes shoving past me with her cane in hand. And though it was crowded and hectic…it was a good experience. The first thing we did was go visit my host brother at his job. He works at Tokyo Dome, which is where the biggest baseball games in all of Japan are held. With that I went and saw my first baseball game AND my favorite team won! ^^; After the baseball game we went and stayed a hotel next to Tokyo station. My host brother came to visit with his fiancée and it was off to bed. After we woke up and checked out, we went on over to the buses and it turns out that my host father had bought us tickets for a tour bus. And so we toured about various sights of Tokyo and eventually came to Tokyo tower. Tokyo tower is 330 meters tall and from that high up…the view is absolutely beautiful. Past the tall buildings it’s nothing but mountains and rice fields as far as the eye can see. From that tower you can even see Mt. Fuji which is quite a few prefectures away. After our tour bus we ended up back at the station, ate Korean, and were back on the shinkansen (bullet train) home.

After Tokyo came our Rotary Orientation. And I was more than looking forward to this one. See in my district here in little Okayama there is only one other exchange student, making things a little bit lonely. And when the orientation came, various districts gathered together allowing me to meet exchanges from all over the world. (Finally!) Through the orientation we had to do a talent and talk about our experiences which wasn’t a big deal, then after that we basically had free time to just hang out and get to know one another. We talked, played games, joked, and simply had a good time. The next day everyone went to Kurashiki (a small but very old city in Okayama) and bought souvenirs for family and friends.

Following the orientation it was time to change host families again. And I don’t know if this is bad or not but I was excited to be going back to my first host family. Don’t get me wrong, Koyama san (second host family) was very kind and we talked and did things together but it simply wasn’t the same bond as the Kobayashis (first and third host family). We simply click, and get along so well that when it comes to host families I don’t believe that there is a better one out there for me. I honest and truly feel like I am at home. Which is why things are going to be a bit tough here in 10 days when I have to go home to America. Backtracking-Not long after moving back in with Kobayashi san we were to take a trip to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. The reason for the trip may sound silly when I tell it … but it was worth it. We went to see flowers, yes that’s right, the cherry blossoms. These are the most beautiful flowers that I have ever seen in my entire life. Seeing them blowing in the breeze with that beautiful pink tint in front of and old Japanese style shiro (castle) is something everyone should come and see at least once their lifetime. No question in my mind. We walked the streets of Kyoto and visited various old houses, temples, and castles. Maiko (geisha in training) were walking the streets in their kimono and kasa (paper umbrella), that together with the old buildings and cherry blossoms is an image that is only able to be seen in Kyoto Japan and nowhere else. hah now that I think about it that was the first day that I ever ate green tea ice cream (which is absolutely amazing! and also cant be found in America ;;).

On my famous places that I wanted to go to in Japan list I had almost been to them all. But not quite, and once again thanks to the efforts of Rotary and their generosity, me and the other exchangee in our district were scheduled for our trip to go to the wondrous and mysterious island of Okinawa. I have to say, I was a bit…confused I suppose is the best way to put it. Seeing how the original culture and language of Okinawa is so different from that of the rest of Japan, it really isn’t the same feel as everywhere else. After getting off of the plane and getting settled into the hotel we went out for our first Okinawan meal. And it was … well … nasty hah. I have to say I loved goya (a food grown only in Okinawa and is extremely bitter) but the rest of it was a bit weird I guess cuz I’m not used to it. When the dishes came out with the food on them and I picked up my chopsticks said itadakimasu and picked up the closest thing to me put a bit in my mouth and tried to chew it up though it was very difficult. I wasn’t going to ask but the Rotarian sitting next to me looks at me and says, “do you know what you’re eating?” Unfortunately I told him no and he was more than happy to tell me I was chomping on pig ear. A bit shocked I looked at him, put my bowl down and said ever so queasily ” we feed that to our dogs”. Needless to say that’s how the entire dinner went but afterwards we enjoyed a traditional Okinawan dance and song which was very entertaining and neat to be able to experience.

The next day we went out to one of the old bunkers used in the war which was now a museum and looked around at how horrible things were. But to brighten up the day a bit we went canoeing and snorkeling which was an absolute blast! Swam through the coral reef which was incredibly beautiful and played with the fishes in the ocean. The instructor we were with picked a puffer fish outta the water and poked the poor guy till he puffed up and rolled off the side of the little floaty he was on and swam away.

After the fun it was time to eat so unfortunately we went to the most disturbing place in all of Japan. The fish market. I swear it is like hell, they have no sympathy for anything in there. Remember the puffer fish I was talking about a second ago, unfortunately his cousin was at the market skinned and waiting to be bought. Alongside every other fish that swims in the ocean. The weirdest thing that I was while I was there though was definitely the pig face. It was the skin from the ears all the way down to the snout and was just hanging in the market, very grotesque. After the hell market it was time to depart Okinawa and return home.

After going back to school the next week my teacher came up to me and was delighted to tell me about the kanji test that I would be taking in two months. The level that I was to take was that of a middle school Japanese student in kanji proficiency. That’s approximately 1009 kanji. When I was told about the test I knew about 650 kanji roughly. This shocked me, scared me, and had me studying my ass off every single day not missing one not even for the weekends. One of the most difficult tests that I have ever taken and wasn’t prepared for it in any way. So for a good two months of my exchange I woke up to go to school and study. When I got home I ate dinner and studied. Took a bath got dressed and studied before going to sleep. There were only a handful of days that I wasn’t studying until my eyes wanted to fall out of my head (these days were usually on the weekend) but I didn’t care, I was not ready to fail this test! During the last week of my studying my brother made it to Japan to visit which left me a bit strapped for time. But nonetheless the day came and I did not feel ready. On top of all the stress I had going for me that day…I was late. Thank goodness for me I got lost somewhere where the people were nice enough to guide me in the right direction. So I’m here. What all the anticipation for the last 2 months was for, stuck in the middle of a bunch of 7th graders. It was a very short test, about an hour long and 100 or some questions. Once It was over I was simply glad to be done with it. All that there was left to do was wait. It would be a month before I knew whether I had passed…or had studied my ass off only to fall face first in the dirt….

Bradley! That’s my brother’s name! It was incredible to finally see him again after 10 months! Like I said he came just before I was to take my test but I didn’t care hahahah. And one of the craziest things is that he was going to be staying for an entire month! I would be able to show him around and teach him about Japan and make fun of him in Japanese with my friends and family and he wouldn’t understand! hahahahah >3 The first night I felt bad for him actually…he had just gotten off of an incredibly long plane flight, hadn’t slept, and we were going out to eat udon (Japanese noodles) and I didn’t even consider the fact that he couldn’t use chopsticks. Things didn’t go horrible, he just ended up eating a lot slower than usual. And I think the reason I felt so bad for him was because I knew exactly how he felt. That first week especially was like looking at myself a year ago. The only difference was that he liked to look at me for translations of things all the time. I didn’t have that. But nonetheless it was amazing to see how clueless he was. And it’s not just him, any of you reading this, if or when you go abroad you will feel the same bit of confusion and hardship. You won’t know why people do the things that they do, sometimes you will regret having made the choice to go but it’s the people that fought through the hard times and became a part of their host country, making a bond like no other, those are Rotary exchange students, and I’m proud to be one of them. Even though you don’t realize you did anything….thanks Bradley you helped me realize how important this place is to me and how I have changed this year.

And as things are wrapping themselves up over here on my exchange, I am preparing to make my way back into my “normal” American life…for now. I’m not sure what the future holds for me or where it will end up taking me but I am positive that this year’s experience will help me to make the choices that will guide the right path to the future I want to create. And I owe it all to Rotary for opening this road up to me that seemed to be in the farthest reaches of my wildest dreams a year ago. All of you, including my fellow exchangees and Rotex. Everyone played a part, and I wish there were some way for me to pay it back to each and every one of you. And I can’t leave out my family. They have supported me through this entire year, mentally and physically (cash). You guyz never let me down, and I love you all so very much. From here I have to get in as much time with my host family as I can. It’s weird to think, but I love them too. They have done so much for me. And it’s coming to its close. This chapter of my life is ending only to open up many many more.

One more time, thank you Rotarians and thank you family.

From yet another certified adventurer,


Drake Starling
2008-09 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Budapest-City Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Drake - Hungary

Drake’s Bio

 “Professing to be wise, they become fools.” – Romans 1:22

Bliss can be found in ignorance like the old saying “Ignorance is Bliss,” but bliss can also be found in wisdom. Therefore, if we are wise, we are blissful, but if we are ignorant we enjoy a close-minded form of bliss which is a transparent form of happiness; in other words we can only be happy with what we see because it’s all that we know.

If we only could step out of our comfort zone and accept that we cannot change some things and use courage to change the things we can, then we become wise, and we remain blissful, but this time without walls and blinders and hindrances we are finally open to the world, then we see that with wisdom we become too blissful, thinking that we know it all, so we attempt to humble ourselves. When we hear people say “Oh, some people just think they know everything,” you think to yourself “That’s how I feel, like I’ve got everything figured out,” so we tell ourselves, or we should tell ourselves that it’s best that we not act like we know it all and that we have everything figured out. However, we tell ourselves this but we do not act upon it, so we continue on believing that we are indeed wiser (and it’s inevitable we all make that mistake) but that’s what makes us fat and happy and eventually those words, thoughts and actions of wisdom become obsolete to us and we fall from our point of nirvana and clarity; and we as livers of life professing to be wise become fools.

I do not want to be a fool, I have no intention of being blissful through ignorance, and as a matter of fact I refuse it. I’m fifteen years old and I’m going to Hungary for an entire year and although you don’t hear that every day I say it just about every day yet it somehow doesn’t lose its zeal. I could tell you all about my hobbies, friends, family and whatever else is usually found in a biography, however I’m telling you this instead because it’s something that will hopefully show you more than “Drake Starling” but his inner thought, so here it goes.

I find myself wanting wisdom, although right now I think I have everything figured out, probably the teenager talking in me, I have enough sense now to know that when I feel that way, it’s just a feeling. I hope – no, I know that this year will make me into something great. For every exchange student I know that he/she will become something great. When we tell people about what we’re doing this year they look at us like we’re crazy and they’re absolutely right, because no normal person would do this, it takes a certain person to do this; and if that’s what qualifies as crazy then so be it, we’re crazy, and I’m proud of it.

I look back at former exchange students and there is something in their eyes that tells us that they are a different type of people, and I see the naivety in our eyes as we embark on this experience and I can’t help but think “Will my eyes tell people that when I get back?” I sure want them too, but I guess that depends on whether or not I want this badly enough, I want this like I’ve never wanted anything before but what’s going to make me blissful is if I step out of my comfort zone and embrace all that this has to offer, even if it is going to be difficult.

No one ever said this was going to be easy, it’s going to be the furthest thing from easy, I have to let go of what I know and love and learn to start all over, a fresh start. That’s an enticing yet scary idea. I’m ready to do this, I’m ready to let go. It will definitely be worth it. Thank you to everyone who has had some role in this; Mom, Rotarians, and all my family for supporting me to do this. I’m ready to let go and begin.

July 30 Journal

 All right, I have 25 days left…. 25! When did that happen? Everyone will tell you something that starts off like “It seems like just yesterday I signed up for the program,” they’ll say something about the past and how they prepared for leaving but I want to forget the past, well, not forget it entirely but more like, press the pause button, take the movie out, put in a new one and restart later where I left off.

I haven’t left yet but I already feel changed by this experience, not in its entirety but I feel much more mature than your average junior. Maybe it’s just nerves, but this doesn’t seem as unreal as I thought it would be. I went to the mall today to get some winter clothes for Budapest (I hear it gets cold there hehe) and when my mother was telling the cashier why we needed the clothes, which she always does even if they don’t need to know why, he was gladdened to hear that I wanted to go study overseas, but he asked that one question that I don’t have the right answer to. “Are you fluent in Hungarian?” “UHH…. well, I… a little?” I mean I have studied a lot of Hungarian, and I can hold a minimal conversation with a native speaker, a two year old perhaps, however I don’t want to be minimally fluent. My goal is and has been to be fluent by the time I get there and if I try to and continue attempting then hey! What’s stopping me?

August 26 Journal

 All right, here we go. It’s day two for me and I haven’t slept properly since I got on the plane, I’m too excited to be here.

This city is nicknamed “The Paris of the East,” and I can see why. I’d like to talk about the flight but I’m trying to repress some horrible memories, and well…I….it…just wasn’t good, but the airplane food is gone now, far away from me.

I have the top floor of the house all to myself, it has two secret passageways, yeah that’s right SECRET passage ways! It’s almost the size of my house and it’s all mine. Plus it has the best view of the city, every morning I wake up to a sunrise over the mountains of Buda and look down the river at Pest. It’s quite a sight.

My Hungarian has improved a lot since I’ve been here. Today I was listening to a conversation my host sister was having and I finally understood how to say “I have.” Hey! I know that you other outbounds are saying that that’s the easiest verb in any language, but guess what, there is no way to say “I have” in Hungarian, so they have to use several other words. There are at least three ways to say I have, and I just learned them, so ha!

Everyone says my Hungarian is AMAZING. I was so happy when I met my rotary club tonight, and they told me that…. Well, they didn’t have to say too much, their mouths were open the whole time. However, I’m still not satisfied with It so I’ll improve it.

OH, by the way the reason I’m so tired is because last night I opened my windows since it’s so cool outside and I fell asleep and woke up at 2am because I heard a buzzing and it was a moth the size of my hand, and I’m not gonna lie I was a little…”Startled.” So guess who had to battle a 5 inch moth monster at 2am….that’s right me. Now… guess who won. Haha, I think the neighbors must have heard it because it was quite a noise I made, and then today we went around town and everyone and their mother wanted to meet me. So I met everyone and I tried to remember all their names but it wasn’t working.

My host family is extremely hospitable, and just about perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better one. So many things to do, such little time to do them in. HAAAA overload. I start school in a week, so I have to be fluent by then or else. This is the best feeling I’ve ever had. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

A viszontlátásra

August 28 Journal

 I know I wrote yesterday but there’s something that I just have to say. Today I read some of the student journals and many of them described the feelings they had before leaving and while they were leaving, and I hate to say names, but Joe…you’re awesome. I liked your journal, it shows more than you let on.

Anyway, when I said goodbye to everyone, it didn’t hurt as much as they said it would, and I just told myself that It was because it hadn’t sunk in yet, but I’m here and I still don’t feel sad, or deeply missing family or friends. I didn’t find myself crying at the airport or when I got off the plane, and I was waiting for the roller coaster of emotions as I reminisced about my memories at home, but still nothing. At this point, I was forcing myself to be sad, but it wasn’t working. I was too excited so I thought I could try it later, and I did but still NOTHING.

OK, that’s a lie. I was a little sad to leave, but not the depression that the Rotex speak of. I think I realize (after 3 short days) that it’s because I know I’ll be back. I know I’ll return, but life back home isn’t going to wait for me. But if I wait for it, then I’ll lose out on life here and there. I can’t hold onto both for now, but I keep on thinking that when I do return home, how great it’s going to be to have both worlds in my hand – such power and knowledge and wisdom I’ll have, and no one will be able to take it away from me.

However if I do fall prey to emotions, which I know I will, then I’ll know it’s because I’m absolutely unique…just like everyone else. Life is good….and it only gets better because we want it to.

September 29 Journal

 All right, it’s been a while since my last journal, I know. I write this in my bed, covered in sheets with tissues and medicine everywhere and as I look out my window I see the city, hustling and bustling. People are going on with their lives. I like days like this because then I can reflect back on what I’ve done, and then I learn what I have to do. I went to Lake Balaton, the Hungarian “SEA.” Even though there are puddles in my backyard that are bigger, it’s still a sea to them, I love it. It was supposed to be a getaway tennis tournament weekend for my host father, which it was, but I was planning to go swimming, ping pong tournament, volleyball, go to the beach, bicycle, and everything under the sun, but plans never really work out how I want them to anymore, I was stuck indoors in the hotel, with a cold, and I am still with the same dreaded cold.

OHH! Almost forgot I went to Vienna, it was the best, beautiful, but Budapest is prettier (Don’t tell the Austrians I said that) and I went into the old Hapsburg royal palace, the national museums, and St. Stephen’s church. I swear everything in Hungary and is named after Stephen. St. Stephen’s square, St. Stephen’s hill, St. Stephen’s buildings, streets, shopping centers, OHH the agony!!!!!And then when I thought I was going to get away from it all, NOOOOOO. Everything in Vienna had to be named after Stephen too, and yet no one can pronounce my name properly, life is funny.

Also, I had my 16th birthday here, it was surprising. At first, I thought nothing of it, I almost forgot my own birthday, then I had dinner with my family and started to fall asleep from the carbs, and I thought maybe I should go rest- and then BOOM! The lights went off, the door opened, candles were lit and I came face to face with the most delicious cherry filled, turo (cheese)-cake in the world. The singing began “Boldog Szuletesnapot, Boldog szuletesnapot, boldog szuletesnapot…” etc. It was a good day.

I think the little things in life are what make us the happiest. I was late leaving the house the other day, and the bus was late, I was pinned to the glass window like silly putty, and then I ran to school, ran like my life depended on it. I had three blocks to go in 50 seconds. I barely made it in before they locked the doors, I ran up to my classroom and saw that that door was closed, so class must have started earlier, and even though you’re not supposed to come in to a class after it begins I had to. I knocked, no one answered, I banged no one answered, I said “this isn’t funny in Hungarian” and then the woman next door, came out and said there are no classes today. Just my luck, then I sat down, thought about what I should do and decided I need some fun, so I went deep into Buda, got lost, on purpose, and somehow ended up without even planning to, at fisherman’s bastion in the old city overlooking all of Budapest. Things were coming my way. I went to the mall, and then I did a double take at the large group of students headed my way, it was my class. They were coming to the dentist. Here, no one goes by themselves to the dentist, only in school groups, strange. Of course, NO ONE told me about it, so I got on the bus, and went to Pest to meet the other exchange students for our weekly meeting, where we try to teach each other Hungarian and told them how my day went, oh and I was hit by an old lady’s purse on the subway, long story it was her fault…….. mostly.

On another note, my host family is nothing short of perfect. I’m starting to grow to love them, I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to leave them, I hope that day never comes. They do everything to make me feel comfortable or happy.




November 15 Journal

 I understand now why babies can’t talk for the first two years of their life, it’s because they’re so tired from learning the language. Everyone says, “You’re such an adult for doing this,” but usually they never finish that conversation with me because I have to go take my daily nap (yes I take a daily nap.) I think it’s the only way I’d survive here.

I’ve decided to start doing my journals a certain way. First, in every journal, I will describe the native culture. Second, I will describe the happenings and on-goings of my life. So lucky for you, you get the best of both worlds. Now I will begin.

I think I’m getting better at school. The language is getting easier everyday, but some days I’m on the ball and other days I can’t even find the ball. The teachers are more than helpful to me in my language learning. The students are nice people. However, they’re not perfect. I try to pick my friends carefully, because I think I have to here (there’s no telling what natives can get an exchange student to do if they’re bad apples.) School is probably the cleanest place in the city. Budapest could use a few renovations. Nonetheless, it’s beautiful.

However, since Budapest is so dirty, my Rotary club here has suggested a project called, “Szeretem Budapestet” Which means, “I love Budapest.” So the other local exchange students and I have decided to get involved in it. What it entails is going around the city, picking up garbage, and trash and painting over graffiti in the city. As exchange students, most of us really don’t think that we can make a change (whether it’s in our host country, community, or even back home.)

Sadly, most of us think that we’re just here to have fun and stay on vacation for a year. I don’t want to vacation here for a year. I want to live here for a year. Become a native, make my own opinions about the political happenings, and understand the history to learn why the present is the way it is, and then predict and hope for what the future may hold for the Hungarian people. I want to feel Hungarian. Just like I feel American. So I think the language is becoming less of a challenge for me. I’m so happy. It feels like I’ve been holding my breath since I’ve arrived, waiting to exhale, and I don’t think I can yet, but the pressure is definitely starting to release. It’s a really good feeling. I’ve been finding myself thinking in Hungarian lately, without even realizing it, I’m understanding so much more. I never thought this period would actually come to pass. It’s like my brain is clicking and the sparks are flying everywhere but then the ohhh so sudden meltdown comes and I feel like a blob of gelatin. I can’t make out a sentence, I lose my senses. All you want to do is sleep and then you wake up more tired than before.

Luckily for me, every morning I wake up to a great host family, good food, warm house and more good food. It’s actually quite funny and I’ve noticed this of many Hungarians. When I come downstairs for dinner and my family tells me, “Please, have something to eat,” and they go through the entire list of items in the fridge or pantry that I could eat, which is the best, who cooked it and for what special occasion. I’m telling you I know that fridge like the back of my hand. I have to stop them somewhere and say “No thank you, I’m not hungry,” then I usually get the reply, “Ok, in that case, you should try the cherry and cottage cheese pancake.” So I usually end up eating the pancake anyway. I can honestly say every day I am stuffed to the rim.

On habits, Hungarians have unique habits, that most of the time make me laugh out loud. First of all, even if there are no cars for miles around and the red “do not walk” sign is lit then they still don’t cross the road. My logic is if there are no vehicles coming then I can cross, but when I do people look at me like I’m crazy, and say things like “You can’t do that.” I usually reply “Is it illegal?” “Well, no but-“ “Is it rude, or low-class?” “No, but-“ “But what?” “We just never thought of it before” “Well, we learn something new every day. Don’t we?” Ok, it didn’t go exactly like that, I’m not rude to the natives Al, I promise.

School. School here is solely an academic place, there are no clubs, no after school activities, or anything of the sort. However, since my school is a special athletic school everyone has a sport to do after school. It could be anything from synchronized swimming to hand ball or soccer to Olympic gymnastics. That’s right I have some Olympians attending my school. As a matter of fact my school was named after a Hungarian Olympian. Csik Ferenc, maybe you’ve heard of him…….or not. Anyway, I’m making friends faster than I thought. Last night I went to a birthday party that everyone invited me to and it was great, I think it was the first time the words were coming out of my mouth without me hesitating or thinking about them beforehand, that’s when I realized I was thinking in Hungarian. However, I’ve never had such a bad headache in my life, I actually had to go home early because my head was hurting so badly, I never thought it was possible to feel that much pain in your head. I’m probably exaggerating but it hurt a lot. Oh! And, since I have no name equivalent in Hungarian, my friends gave me a Hungarian name. Listen to this, since I’m always tired (as all exchange students are) they gave me the name Almos, which means sleepy, but it also is a name of the first chief of the Hungarian tribes from Siberia. So, from now on I am Almos.

Spain. That’s right. I went to Spain. It was amazing. Well, the places were amazing, but the timing was terrible. It rained all the time when we were there and I went to bed at like 1 every night, because that’s the time we usually got back to the hotels and we had to wake up at 5:30 every morning. I was not a happy camper, and I must say we could have had a much better tour guide, she was a little too demanding that we all wake up at 5:30 yet we never left the hotel until 8. Why? I have no idea. Besides that, I had a great time. I went to the Casino in Monte-Carlo, when we were driving through. We also went to Cannes, which reminded me of Miami, ahh home. Then came my favorite city on the entire trip. BARCELONA!!! Beautiful, rich, sunny, always great weather and a sight to see. However, we only stayed in the city for a day, until we drove through Valencia, saw the market, which is a World heritage site, and took off to Sevilla. Wow! I never thought that I would have that much fun. I ate all day, I mean I had 6 meals, then I pedaled a boat on the Guadalquivir, the river in the city, and finally went to the bull fighting rings. I was supposed to go that day to Africa, but my visa wouldn’t allow it. However that didn’t matter, I still had a great time. After that, the next day we went to the last Moorish stronghold in Spain, THE ALHAMBRA!! I’ve never seen something so large and so beautiful. Also, I’ve never been in such cold weather. It’s the South of Spain for Pete’s sake, why is it so cold? Returning back to Hungary was not a pleasant trip. I was on a bus for two days, and I didn’t sleep for Two DAYS! Do you know how crazy I went? I started throwing cheese on the bus at other people while they were sleeping. I lost it. Plus, I didn’t eat for two days, ok I had some snacks on the bus, but I wanted to have an actual meal, not chips and cookies. I want FOOD! Then after the bus ride through hell I arrived home and found myself back in the safety of my host home, which really feels like my own home. I didn’t really realize how much I loved my host family until I was away from them on the trip.

I’m back in Budapest now and the weather is not………Florida. So I had to buy some clothes for winter, somehow I didn’t think that winter would actually come. Everyone tells me that I must live under a rock if I’ve never seen snow. Uh, it’s called Florida, thank you. I wear a sweater, long socks, scarf and sometimes some gloves, and it hasn’t even snowed yet. I’m still waiting for the snow.

On language. Here’s where the cultural part comes in, Hungarian is not even closely related to the languages around it. Now you may be saying, “OK, so it’s evolved a little differently than its neighbors have, other languages do too.” If you’re saying that let me give you a little history lesson. English and Hindi are more closely related than Hungarian and Slovakian, which is right across the river. This is because, if you look at the languages in Europe 1200 years ago, Hungarian was not there. All the ancestors of present Indo-European languages were here, Latin, Old German, Old English, Greek, different forms of the Nordic and Slavic languages, etc. Hungarian was not there because Hungarian is related to few languages on Earth. No one knows for sure where Hungarians came from, but many believe it was somewhere East of the Ural mountains around the Altaic mountains in Western China (However Caucasian). That’s right, in China. Anyway, Hungarians were supposedly driven out of their homeland by other peoples and thus forced to migrate, when they began to they never stopped. So, they moved over 8000 miles (roughly) to the Carpathian basin (Hungary) in the 800’s but before that they split off into different groups around 4000 years ago, from what the very shady timeline says, and this group went into northern Europe and within the last millennium split into two languages; Estonian and Finnish. After several thousand years these languages have almost nothing in common with one another. Not to mention, somehow the tribal Hungarians before I was even born or you for that matter knew that I was coming. Here’s what happened: the 7 Hungarian tribes gathered around a campfire and said “One day, a boy named Drake Starling will try to learn our language we must make it as impossible for him as possible! Quickly! Arpad, start making some irregular verbs! Almos, make every verb have several conjugations in each tense for each person and give no proper order to them, so that even our own people will not be able to tell the difference. YOU THERE! Peasant man, put all prepositions at the end of words and make all nouns have irregular endings if they are one syllable words.” If you knew some Hungarian it would be really funny to you.

So far, I think that’s all about it.

Still waiting for snow…..


January 4 Journal

 The seven stood upon the hill top; each was a leader of one of the tribes within the crowd that they were gazing down at, looking at the multitude of people that were gathering closer and tighter to the foot of the hill. Their heads were raised up with every eye on them, no twitches, no faces turned away. Few in the background were occupied setting up the white and brown colored tents. Several of the Horses had bolted from their paddock, made of old twigs and tree trunks. Some of their roots could still be seen on the fences. Occasionally, one of the horses would gnaw at the end of the root and the owners would scream in their native tongue so they would not eat away the fragile fence made from the withering fall trees. Trees were shedding their old leaves, losing their summer glow and being replaced by dark, cracking bark. The wind had come to a dead calm, stopped. Yet there was richness to the air, it wasn’t muggy nor was it damp, but it felt like the old was being replaced by the new.

The 7 tribal leaders braced themselves for the moment that could give birth to so much love, pain, evil, destruction, power, and greatness. The wind was howling louder and louder, the leaders’ uncut hair slapped their faces and helmets. Noises came from the Shaman at the top of the hill, his chanting has progressed into a faster pace, it ran through him like fire in the prairie, he lost control of his words, only the ritual was occurring. He was unaware of his surroundings, his dancing moved quicker, his voice stronger and the tune faster and faster and then……… it stopped. He was ready. His hand lifted parallel to the leaders, a miracle for such an old man, and curled his index finger backwards as if to beckon them, he dropped his hand and waited. The seven held their chests high with courage in their blood and fire in their stare. They walked, yet that doesn’t describe the movement these beings made. They were not of this earth to their people; they were almost God-like, divine among men. A large goblet was placed at the center of the hill in front of the shaman. He was enthralled by its gaze, no emotion, not an eye blinked as he stared at it; yet remained his constant chanting.

The leaders moved around the Goblet accordingly to their places. The nameless elder, a grey bearded man with eyes like a bay with algae in summer came closer to the goblet. He grabbed his sword handle, wrapped his hands around it, and pulled it out into the sky. He ignored the cheers from the crowd. He had lost all sense of time and place. He woke from his trance and lifted up his sleeve, the other 6 were kneeled down about the goblet. The elder gave them one glance each. These men needed few words to convey their thoughts, indeed like Gods. They all held equal standing among the seven of them, none was above the other. The other 6 followed suit and lifted up their sleeves in the same fashion. Their fists were clenched and few had their eyes closed while taking in deep breaths to begin.

The elder was the first; he placed his arm over the goblet adjusting it so that his wrist was at the center. The chanting Shaman raised his voice louder and louder, the chanting pace was much quicker, the crowds threw up their clenched fists and had not anger in their shouts but hope and eagerness. They were ready. To the elder all noise had faded away, the movement of the shaman’s chapped lips, the crowd’s fist throws, and the slight blinks and heavy breaths in the cold air were all that existed to the elder. He turned to his sky-bound sword, pulled it swiftly towards his arm, stopped it and with one quick slice cut open his wrist and his dark blood spilled into the goblet, he passed the sword to the next leader, wrapped up his arm with a large piece of white cloth and stepped aside. The 6 all did this exactly as was done by the first. The shaman stepped up and limped over to the goblet while the seven stood in line on the slope of the hill, each seemingly with more strength than should have remained in their bodies after losing such an amount of blood. The shaman knelt before the eldest leader. The leader did not move his head as the shaman knelt; he only moved his eyes down and looked down his nose at the shaman. The elder took the goblet by both handles on each side and drank from it, from the mixed blood of the seven leaders several large gulps were taken and passed onto the next 6 leaders. The last leader came forward and drank from the goblet, every last drop that was left. He steadied his hand for a minute while holding the goblet in both hands. The crowd quieted, fists were lowered, the shaman abruptly stopped his chanting and the winds had died down. The last leader with the goblet held his head high and with one hand threw up the goblet to show reverence to it and to him.

The crowds began again, hugging, kissing, shouting for their new leader, the shaman stepped back and grinned. The other 6 did not feel regret for giving their own flesh for something they would receive nothing out of, but they were overjoyed. All eyes were on him, whether they were teary ones of future hopes and dreams or dry ones with simple, yet extreme approval. He rose to the top of the hill, his name was Árpád. According to tradition the last of any ritual or even bloodline was to inherit the rewards of it. Thus he became the chief leader of all the 7 Magyar tribes. This is the historic moment of how the Hungarian nation was born. There would be much to follow for the next 1000 years………………………………

That right there, was entirely true except for the parts that I added a little flavor to. Well, every fact was true in that story according to Hungarian legend; I just added several descriptions to spice it up. That is what Hungarian children are taught in schools. To me it seems pretty miraculous, or more like old-pagan, non-modern tradition of self mutilation. But hey, who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

I wish I could really describe how great this feels. I mean the whole thing, doing this whole exchange year. I feel somewhat accomplished, more confident, more humble, and much more aware not only of the world around me, but of the people around me as well. I don’t feel alone here. Not that I felt alone when I was back home, but I already feel attached to so many people here. My host family, whom only God himself could have handpicked for me. I’m not kidding you – I already feel that much for them. I love them, they’re like my family away from home. I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to leave them, but they always say that the best of things come to an end very quickly, I hope that’s not true.

I remember the first day here at school. I woke up, the family told me what special clothes I had to wear and what I had to bring. My host sister took me to school and made sure I was in good hands before she left. I met up with the other exchange students in the principal’s office, where we then were sent into different classrooms, according to our age. I waited outside the doors of my new classroom, my pulse was racing, I was practicing every Hungarian greeting in my head. I walked in and I felt like a sheep among wolves. I introduced myself and they didn’t seem that happy to meet me. Almost like I was anyone else to them, which I was at the time. I then met another exchange student in my class, well she was an exchange student to Portugal last year, and was one of the first kids to approach me. I remember her greeting very well, it went something along the lines of, “HI, I’m Lilli. You must be the new exchange student. I was an exchange student last year to Portugal so I know how scared and nervous you must be, so you can sit next to me until you get to know everyone.” I still haven’t left that seat to this day.

It took time, but not as much time as I thought it would take to make friends here. I’ve been invited to parties, to go kayaking, football games, birthday parties, study sessions and everything in between. I knew at some point I would go from point A to point B but how did I get here? Did it just come to pass with time and effort? Or did they actually come to grow on me? I don’t know what the future holds but I can predict that it will be extremely difficult to say goodbye to them. I wish I could drown into my sleep and let this remain the dream it has been forever. Unfortunately, I don’t get to decide that. We really don’t get to decide too much in our lives, I mean we can choose to go left or right, but not really where we’ll end up, our choices are completely different from what God has in store for us. We just have to let him do what he does and use the tools we’re given to make our life and those around us the best that we can.

I think it’s finally making sense now. This whole thing we’re doing, and the great part is, there is no moment you can really pinpoint and say, “This is when I went from Static to Dynamic.” It’s like a very slow evolutionary process, and we have to wait almost a millennium for it to show some significance, and yet once you reach the 500 year mark, kind of where I’m at right now (half-year mark) then you start to realize that a millennium is not as slow as you thought it was, it actually moves too quickly. Far too quickly. Some say life is too long, and I pity them because If they think that way then they won’t use the tools nor the time they’re given to make it the best, and they eventually will get from point A to point B but the sad part is there will be nothing in between for them. I found my Boston.

-It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years that matters.”


Christmas was… SUPERB. I got a Hungarian jacket from my host parents which is used by the national Olympic team, only special Olympians get them, and I’m not too sure how they got it. I also got a yearly calendar from my host brother, an ancient Hungarian book from Anna, my host sister, plus a slang dictionary. From Kata, I received a great CD for intermediate users of Hungarian, and it’s working wonders for me. Now, it’s my turn. What did I get for my family? You ask. I got my host dad a beautiful tie, host mom a great book with law quotes for every day because she’s a judge. For Anna, my eldest host sibling, I gave her a Chinese incense box, because I know that she loves all things Asian and loves incense. What I first did was I found a really old crappy incense box at the Christmas markets downtown (don’t tell her I said it was crappy), bought it, repaired it, painted it, carved Asian symbols on it and voila! There you have the perfect gift. She really loved it. For Sari, my youngest host sister, I bought a small scarf. My other host siblings said that she would really like one that’s dark brown, just like big girls have. You know how kids can be. They all want to be adults and be grown-ups. Funny, adults always want youth and children always want to be adults. The grass is always greener on the other side isn’t it? So I bought her a small, wavy brown scarf. She really loved it, she even sleeps with it sometimes.

For Andris, my host brother, since he loves poker and I do mean he loves poker. I found one of those hand rests for the computer, and on it I wrote in white-out “MINDENÖRÖKKÉ PÓKER” Which is kind of like the equivalent to our saying “Everything poker.” Translation is difficult when it’s not literal. Last but definitely not least, I gave my Kata three candles, and since she’s very religious like me, I found special candles with the crosses made out of flowers in them, and when the flowers burn in the candle it releases a different aroma for each candle. Those gifts took time and effort to find, buy, and fix. Am I the best gift giver or what? All right, maybe not The best.

What we did here for Christmas was completely different than what I usually do at home. We got all dressed up, as if we were going to a ball or something, but we were only going to the living room. We decorated the Christmas tree not with popcorn but marzipan, which is probably the weirdest tasting chocolate in the world. Dinner was delicious and yet I didn’t stop eating for about 3 days, consecutively. We ate at home, then the next day at Grandma’s, then again at home. The amount of naps, candy, plates of cookies, and Christmas snow fights was something that I may never forget. For the next several days, I was completely in teenage sleep mode, as was the whole house.

Szilvesterkor came along, which is New year’s here, and I went out with my friends and had probably one of the best parties of my life. ANNDDDD!!!!! I had the best feeling. It was one of those moments that every exchange student hopes for. I passed for a native, and not just to one person but to three people. I don’t mean I said a word and I kind of fooled them, and I risk saying this knowing that it may sound like I’m bragging. However, I had a long conversation with 3 different friends of my friends, and 2 of them said that they could tell that I wasn’t from Budapest because it sounded like my accent was different than the Budapest area, but I still sounded Hungarian just from a different region. When I told them that I was American they just laughed and didn’t believe it. The third friend told me “It’s New Year’s not April Fool’s.” So I actually had to show them my American I.D. to them to prove that I was indeed American. I walked away at the end of the night, with the biggest smile on my face. I risk saying this knowing that it may sound like I’m bragging, but to be honest it was a great feeling.

April 25 Journal

 I am surrounded by the former Hapsburg royal palace, the residency which is located on Castle hill, one of the highest points in the city; it was the ruling seat during the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is built over the site of the former ruling castle in Hungary before it was mass bombed out by the Germans. This is less than a mile away from my 17th century school. It is located in Buda which is on the western bank of the Danube. Usually, only the very rich live in this part of the city, it is mountainous with villas that have been handed down for several generations to present day Hungarians. The old city is located on a plateau-like hill, which is encircled by a mighty stone wall, actually more like a fortress. No enemy nor foe has ever been able to break through this fortress, not even the Turks during their 150 year reign here. Across the Danube is the Parliament right on the bank’s shore, it is so close as a matter of fact, that when the river floods, which it usually does in spring, it rises past the grand steps of the parliament and can even cause flooding to nearby areas. It is one of the largest parliaments in the world; although many protest and demonstrate against the decisions that are made within its walls, that still does not underestimate its beauty and magnificence.

The Bazilika, not far from Parliament, is so outstandingly breathtaking that when directors are seeking to film a movie in the Vatican and the Vatican denies them entrance, they come here to the Bazilika. When they want to film a scene on the Champs D’elysees and are not able to… they come to Andrassy ut, where the streets and flats resemble those of the Parisian avenue. The Nyugati Palyaudvar train station was built by Gustave Eiffel, the same man who built the Eiffel tower, you can imagine how beautiful it looks. Hero’s square, which contains all the Hungarian kings, leaders, soldier, captains, etc that have led the nation to where it is today. The archangel Gabriel looks down on the city and blesses all those that pass by. These statues are carved in larger than life replicas that represent the people’s passion for their own history. The freedom statue that stands above Gellert hill on the river’s edge is a symbol of freedom after communism, the woman who holds the wreath of leaves still lives to this day. This city, in its former glory was just as rich as any west European nation and in my opinion just as, if not more beautiful. However, after all the revolutions, system changes, attacks, flips, turns, and falls this country has taken it remains an undiscovered Roman column in the sands. The city has party places, movie centers, parks, rock climbing in the downtown center, cruises, mountain climbing, a full island as the recreation center, buildings of centuries past that you can easily get lost in looking for a friends apartment. I have Matyas templom, janos hegy, parliament, westend, mammut, heroes square, vajdahunyad castle, the world’s 2 largest Jewish synagogue, the yellow villamos, BKV, freedom bridge, Turkish thermal baths, szimpla, morrisons, golgota, Cicero, rozsadomb, vaci utca and more. And the funny thing is…….to me…it all means nothing. Nothing AT ALL!!! Nothing, that is, without the people that I’ve shared these places with. Our underground church would have been an old empty former theatre without Kata there every Sunday. Learning the country’s history and going to college debates that I shouldn’t have been going to would have unbearably boring without Anna there. The first months of learning the language would have been too difficult to overcome without Lili sitting next to me translating. Coffee at Cicero would have been another good-tasting espresso without Gabor and Kati to talk to. The Blue Monkey café could have ended up much worse had Akos not been there to help. Going up to the Stumpf’s house when no one was there would have been creepishly quiet without Sari and her energetic childlike behavior. Playing poker by myself would have been less than pathetic had Andris not been there to teach me. How would I know what to do if Gabor didn’t give me a little suggestion along the way. Spain would have been no fun at all without throwing cheese at Nicole and Aniko. Budakeszi would be another village without my 3rd host family and their children. The Damjanich house would be another flat in the city without the Grafjodis to make noise in it. Csik ferenc would be another 17th century building had I not gone to school there. English class would not have brought tears of laughter to my eyes without laposneni running into the cabinet all the time. Forgacs’s class would have been a snooze had my friends not answered all my questions about their language. It is not the beautiful places we stay at, or visit or learn about those that built them and why. It’s about the people that we spent all those days and hours with – that’s what makes a place special to us. It’s not so much the places I was but the people I was there with that made this year. It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years that matters.

It has been quite a while since I wrote last. Here has what has happened since then: Gabor’s Birthday, I did a presentation in Hungarian in front of the whole school, and my mom and Aunt Kathy came to visit me. Where to start oh boy….

How did I end up there? It fell so softly and quietly, if you were blind you wouldn’t be able to tell it was even falling. On the ground in the middle of a crowded, probably the most crowded square in all of Budapest, lying down in the falling snow in front of the Bazilika at 5 am. Sounds a little suspicious to me I know, but I don’t think I’ve had so many epiphanies nor words of wisdom found in my entire life than I’ve found in this past week. Let me start form where we left off.

It was January fifth when I wrote my last journal, on January 11th I changed host families. To be perfectly honest, I found my little host sister Sari unpacking my bags before I left, and I almost cried when they dropped me off at my new family. No matter how much it hurt to move, I do understand why I must because without change we remain content and don’t learn what lies beyond the wall that encompasses our lives. I once again have the biggest room in the house, I live further from school but still can make it there in time. Time had passed quite quickly in the past weeks with so many school parties activities, and what I thought would take the cake, the Szalagavató, which is the Hungarian prom. However, all the events seemed to have been of the same importance to me. I can’t really say one was more important or impacting than the other. The Szalagavto, was completely unexpected. Everything that occurred that night was unexpected. To begin with, the Szalagavato encompasses all students from the high school grades dancing in their own class dance. The last grade, the 13th graders, are the stars of the night, because they will soon be off to college. They have the honor of dancing the Keringő, or Waltz. That’s right a Waltz in a prom. I told you it was unexpected. They dress up to the nines for this: blazers, ties, prom gowns, the whole shebang. My class, since they are only 12th graders, chose their own dance as the rest did. I want you readers to prepare for the fact that this may be shocking that all Hungarians love Mama Mia, and can’t get enough of it. This is what they decided to dance to. I think the name of the song was “take a chance on me.” Unbelievably hysterical.

As most of us were behind stage watching the dances and getting ready to go on stage next for our performances, I was supposed to take pictures for my friend Akos, which I may or may not have forgotten to do. Then, the moment came our class finale dance. I was pumping with adrenaline, our homeroom teacher was taking deep breaths in and out of a paper bag, and the lights went down she pushed us out onto the floor and said “Don’t mess up.” So basically in one ear and out the other. Our footing could not have been more off, well except falling off the stage which Marci almost did after his shoe slipped off. And all of a sudden we began to dance the szorba I know that we Americans have this dance but I cant recall its name. Sorry. Anyway, we danced the szorba and formed a gigantic circle in the center of the stage and several students were thrown into the center to perform several dances, and somehow I ended up in the middle by myself and I knew I had to do something so for some strange reason unknown even to God I began to dance like the men in Fiddler on the roof, with both arms crossed over my elbows jumping up and down screaming “Hey” and yet they loved it. I expected to be laughed at for quite a while yet they really thought it was hilarious and entertaining. It was a good day. The actual Waltz was probably the most synchronized form of dancing I’ve ever seen. They were all dressed up in blue shining lights and cameras flashing like it was the red carpet. Beautiful, it truly was. Moms and dads crying for their sons and daughters, cameras capturing every moment of the dance, and teachers throwing roses at their students, it made me think that this is what a prom should be like.

January 31st, Friday was my friend Gabor’s 18th birthday party. A very important day for a young man, Lucky for us it was a surprise party, he knew nothing of it. Let me give some background information…Gabor was one of the first people to become a good friend in my class. He heard we had an American in the class and since his life is American football he decided that it would be cool to talk to a real American. To be honest he knows more about the game than most Americans do. Every time I was free Gabor would always try to invite me somewhere. It got to the point that he was being so nice to me that I thought he was trying to play some trick on me so the whole class could have a good laugh at the exchange student or something. I was very mistaken. I usually go running with exchange students or other friends 2 a week, and so I invited Gabor to tag along and now we do it frequently. Through him I’ve become friends with his friends as well. Akos and Dani, his two good friends at school, took me aside on Wednesday and told me all about Gabor’s birthday party and how I should be there. It was in a normal restaurant where we all met up, about 13 of us, including his parents who made sure he didn’t know anything about the party. BUT!!!! And here’s where it gets a little pg-13. Akos had been pretending for weeks to be this girl Noemi online who was interested in Gabor, and Gabor thought he was going on a blind date with her Friday night when in reality we were all hiding under the table waiting to great him, and Noemi was there waiting patiently, because Akos thought it would be funny and he was quite right, if they bought a blow-up doll and called her Noemi, and that is exactly what was done. Beautiful plan. AND!!! Before the dinner Akos passed around the online conversations between him and “Noemi” to get everyone laughing and as a birthday gift to Gabor which was what the PG-13 part was. Then as I was taking tedious photos, which came out great I have to say, I was looking through my camera lens and saw the group of them in the photo and realized that all the people at the party were really close to Gabor (this occurred at the beginning of the party). For the rest of the night I kept on thinking that all his friends that he’s been friends with for years are here then what am I doing here? I almost felt like I shouldn’t be there, like the waitress was going to come over any second and tell me “sorry, your table’s over there sir.” Then it hit me, “I was invited here by them, could that possibly mean that they want me here?” “That must mean I am a good friend, even if it hasn’t been for years.” I do have a feeling that I will make very good friends with them all, as in lifelong friends. I can see the future however and I see that leaving here will definitely hurt.

The week before my mother and Kathy arrived, I was preparing for a presentation that I had to give in front of the school in Hungarian. We had been preparing for weeks, it was a joint effort, all the English classes in the upper level school (high school) had to perform a skit of some sort for the rest of the school. In English!!! So it was a challenge for them. Gabor and I were chosen to be the presenters. HOWEVER, we decided to make things even more difficult than they were, Gabor was to introduce the groups according to the script in English, and I was to do the same in Hungarian. For the first few minutes the audience was fooled into the fact that I was a Hungarian and then when I made some mistakes that no native speaker would make they then realized that I was not what I seemed. I was congratulated and it was an amazing feeling, but I realized the reason why I don’t feel so amazing is because I’m not satisfied with my level of Hungarian, and I don’t think I’ll ever be, and I honestly believe that’s a good thing. I mean the learning never ends, right?

BIG NEWS!! MY mom and Aunt Kathy came. Although they only stayed for a week I still had an amazing time with them. I took them around town, showed them every place that I usually hang out in, showed them my school, my host homes and families of course. My first host family (THE ALL MIGHTY STUMPFS) even invited us for a dinner on them at their home, well my former home. Both the families got along extremely well and I never really thought of it until now, but both my worlds came together when they were here. The home I left back home and this one here which I will be leaving soon. When I reached the middle point of my exchange I felt that it would be extremely difficult to leave, but it won’t because I’ll be back again, many times. Yes, it’s coming, and within two months I will not be in Hungary any longer. Oh boy, I feel it with every passing day. MY mom and Kathy said that I have changed, and it was great to finally sit back and not worry about the complex problems and exchange student faces. The strange thing was once my mom and aunt left, I felt this loneliness. Like I had just started my exchange year all over again. It went away within a few days, but I missed them so much and I didn’t even realize it until they left.

Freedom, Love!

I need these both

For my love I would sacrifice life,

For freedom I would sacrifice my love.


Szabadság, szerelem!

E kettő kell nekem.

Szerelmemért föláldozom

Az életet,

Szabadságért föláldozom


Written by Petofi Sandor, a great Hungarian poet


May 18 Journal

 Day 50 and counting….

So why do we try to hold on to those whom we love the most? Our friends and family. Is it just so we have someone to turn to when we’re in a time of distress or pain? Most people want all those they love to be around when their end comes. I do not want just an ending, I’m not saying this because I feel like it’s all over or anything along those lines, but I want people to know that I want to laugh until my sides hurt and not be embarrassed about it. I want to live so much that I will actually get physically tired of doing so. I want to dance so fast that no one will be able predict my next move (figuratively). I do not want to say “I love you” to those that I do but I want to show them how much I do. I want to keep my wits about me so that I will know what’s dangerous and stupid or crazy and fun. This year was crazy and fun, I grew as a person and much more. So I finally made it to the end of this chapter’s road and from here I can see Everest, but I still need to get to the top. How do I do that? How do I satisfy this feeling? How do I go to greatness? I think it may just be the hunger I have for everything I can get. I believe most of us on this Earth don’t realize we’re really living until we slowly start to fade away and look back at the years we’ve had and say “OH, the good old days.” I never want those days to end, and people think when someone says “the good old days” they mean the time they had fun the most, or the time when nothing bad happened, but they’re wrong – “the good old days” means the days you did all you could, the days you remember the most vividly, the days when you learned the most, and I don’t mean learning from a book but learning from this thing most of us take for granted called life. So, I boldly say to you all that these are the beginning of my “good old days.”

I have a limited time left here. I will be back home soon, in the comfort of my own bed. This whole year is no longer surreal to me as it was just 11 months ago, it is now another one of my places. It is a part of me, it will not be separated from my soul as long as I live, and something deep within me makes me very proud to say that. It may not be PARIS, nor DISNEY LAND, nor the Vatican, but I like it nonetheless, and I will be here till the very end, and I’ll look back then and say “oh those were the good old days.”

I just recently went on a 2 week trip all around Southern Europe. Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Austria. BEAUTIFUL. I went with other Rotary exchange students, naturally, and our first stop was in Thessaloniki. The ancient Greek harbor city was probably the nicest one we got to visit. I say this even though we went to Athens because we arrived too late to Athens due to traffic and got there very late in the evening instead of early in the afternoon. Basically the only marvel we had the opportunity to see in Athens was our 3 star hotel. No worries, one day I’ll be back there. Here’s the cool part. We traveled from Athens to Bari, Italy by ferry boat over night, in the morning we were in Italy. We drove several hours and made it to Naples where we stopped for the glory of Pompeii. I have already been to Pompeii and remember it just as I left it. It carries some heavy feelings with it of the Empires of old long before our existences were even thought up.

A 3 hour drive to Rome made me feel like a kid again. I remember travelling here with my mother several years ago, and I came this time with memories as if I knew these places before, which I did, just not as well as I would like to know them. I remember standing in front of the Vatican and looking at the beauty of it all, and I turned around to tell someone how beautiful it was and no one was there that I wanted to tell. And with a rush of blood to the head I saw their faces light up in my mind. My parents, family members friends from back home and from Hungary and then it dawned on me that I never want to leave these people as long as I have the right to choose so.

I’ll skip the other cities, because I could tell you how beautiful, and overwhelmingly breathtaking they were but I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. I think I’ll get straight to Switzerland. I had been looking to replace my watch’s wristband, however I found no good offers. So I thought why not in Switzerland, and I did exactly that: for the price of 60 US dollars I found a brand new wristband. After that, and here’s the exciting part, I bought myself a Swiss army knife and as everyone proceeded to get off the bus after driving for 30 minutes to a botanical garden outside the city of Zurich, I did not get off the bus. I, instead cut my apple into pieces for lunch, and somehow accidently cut my finger in a bad location. I walked off the bus and asked if anyone had a bandage, luckily someone did. By that time the blood had dripped to my wrist and looked like I stuck my hand in a dying animal and the blood still kept reproducing itself out of my finger. Everyone looked at me with fear, which shocked me a little bit and then I said I’m fine and remember everything going black and came to with a bus driver holding my head down and a German girl holding my legs up. I felt really light headed the whole day after that. We drove through Innsbruck where we visited the alpine zoo with exotic animals from all around the world, mostly from the North American wilderness, yet still it was a different feeling than I expected.

I am back here writing this from my desk, and I want to be on Everest, somehow, someway, someday I’ll get there, but I’ve gotten here because of those who supported me. I Love you all.

July 7 Journal

 IT WAS A VERY HARD DAY’S NIGHT. I want not memories of old but oh, such a grand time with them. I don’t want photo albums of the times we hung out at the bar, or at the concert hall or even on the bridge. I want to capture the moments when I learned about them.

I want to capture the moments when Ákos told me about when he thinks you should let your political or religious opinions out to people. I want to hear the echo when I heard about the countless times he helped classmates in dangerous situations without hesitating. I want to remember when Bazsa told me about his father and his medical conditions and how I saw that he tried to overcome it. I want to look back on when Gabor said he was amazingly proud of me for growing so much not just as a person but as a Hungarian. I want to recall the moment they all admitted that they to need to grow up as well and let go. I want them to be by my side when I’m waiting for my language exam results and possibly deciding my future. I want to be by their side when they go to their fencing competitions, when they compete in the Hungarian football league, when they travel to L.A. for water polo. I want to be there until we get sick of each other.

I want them to stand up for me when the teachers bully me. I don’t want the framed photo of the entire class, I don’t want the loving cards I got from them. I don’t want the books, video clips of me and them throughout the year. I want them as my friends to be the gifts. When bad happens I want to turn around to them and hold them knowing I can confide in them. When good happens I want them to be the first that I run to to tell. I want to be able to show up at their homes unannounced as if it were any other ordinary day. I want no fake conversations about teenage drama that means nothing. I want the real thing, I want genuine, I want love, I want to fight back and forth with them because then it means it’s a real relationship; it means we’re being honest. I know it can’t be perfect with smiles and hugs and happiness all the time. And I want that so bad. I want the work to finally pay off. Finally, it has.

I don’t want regrets of not going to the aqua park with them when I could have. I refuse to have “acquaintances.” I refuse to let these people slip through my fingers. I don’t want to want to love them, I want to just love them. However I feel somehow selfish for asking for these things. These wishes of mine are realistic but they make me upset, because with all that I’ve done, more importantly with all that I’ve been given, with all that I have, I still want more. I don’t mean I’m not satisfied with what I have or I’ll be upset If I don’t get what I would like. I’m not spoiled and selfish like that. I mean that I want all this to continue as a life not just a year. I don’t want a photo album; I don’t want fake “acquaintances.” I want a lifetime with them. This year was once a dream and then came true, and when one of your dreams comes true, it makes the other ones seem a little more attainable.

Monday. This Monday was a good day. Monday was my going away party that my friends planned for me. We went to our favorite bar, chatted for a good 2 hours, a good quiet place to chat. Paid our bill, and before we left I clanged my glass and made a toast, “You have such a beautiful country, you have buildings from centuries long ago, your monuments are decorated with history of your people, you have everything in this city….but those are objects, those mean very little, it’s the people that occupy them that matter. If I didn’t have people to occupy my time with, more importantly if I didn’t have you all as my friends I would have been lost, this could have turned to be a terrible year, and for that I am truly grateful, I am honored to know you all and call you my friends.” I lifted up my glass, the others followed as I did, lifted up their glasses, looked at me and I said “To my return.” “To your return” and we left to the concert. Just like a normal day. We partied and danced until we just couldn’t for the life of us anymore. Slowly the night died away… they began to leave me. I didn’t think it would happen until it did. So I gave my hugs and kisses and they gave their wishes and greetings and like that …they were gone. The last group said several of them would come to the airport with me when I leave and got in their taxi and went home. I was left alone but only physically. I went home and slept getting ready for the next day. Today was a good day.

The rest of the week consisted of party after party where I had to continuously say goodbye to people. Friday evening I spent the night at my first family’s home and watched movies, had dinner, played games, did everything as if were a normal day. I slept in my old room; they even made the bed for me. I looked out from the 4th floor lookout as they all said “Goodnight Drake.” I had never been on the roof, so I climbed onto the very top to see the beautiful view of the city that I was going to depart from. It was never so beautiful. The towers on the parliament were lit up over the waves of the Danube, the Budavár stood out distinctly with the medieval roads and homes. It would surely be missed. I climbed down and went to bed. We woke up and everyone went to work, school, camp, as they usually do, only today they said goodbye to me. I would no longer be a part of their activities, their lifestyle, their lives, at least for the time being.

Today is Sunday July 5th. I leave tomorrow morning. I went to church today as if it were a normal day. I went with Kata and Sari, my two former host sisters, who really are my two sisters. I said goodbye to them once and for all at the tram stop. Sari wouldn’t let go of my hand. I told her it was ok and we would meet soon. I watched as the tram left the stop I turned around and found Anna, my eldest host sister, and her boyfriend Marion. We had lunch scheduled and discussed basic, everyday, normal day topics over chicken sandwiches and salads. I looked at them both and remembered the very day I shook their hands and how I would never forget it. “Hi. I’m Anna. I’m your host sister.” They held each other’s hands and weren’t looking at each other but they were looking at me. Then they paid the bill, we lifted our glasses and toasted, “To my return.” They hopped on the bus and left me alone, still physically.

I was beginning to write this journal when I was called into the kitchen for dinner. I was surprised when I stepped in. My host family made a delicious going away dinner for me. The food was out of this world. It could have been crud for all I cared – it’s the thought that counts. They gave me their gifts from every one of them. I sat down, they did the same and poured me a glass and we cheered together. “To my return,” I said, “to your return,” they echoed.

I am home, in my room, still in Hungary with complicated mixed feelings going around in my head. All I need to do is take a couple deep breaths and I’ll be fine. So I close this journal like it’s any other ordinary day, at least for the time being. I will lift my glass and toast, “To my return.” I will get my lifetime.

“People so seldom say I love you. And then it’s either too late or love goes. So when I tell you I love you, it doesn’t mean I know you’ll never go, only that I wish you didn’t have to.” – Unknown

P.S. We really are such fools professing to be wise.

Gail Fish
2008-09 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School, Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Vöcklabruck-Attersee Rotary Club, District 1920, Austria

Gail - Austria

Gail’s Bio

 Hello! I’m Gail Fish and a senior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and moved to Ocala, Florida when I was one year old. I have lived in Gainesville, Florida since I was ten with my sister, mother, four cats, and a dog. My father lives in Ocala, Florida and I see him quite frequently as well.

One of my main interests is learning languages. Having studied Spanish, German, and Chinese during my high school career, I am very excited that I have the opportunity to become fully immersed in another language and culture. In regards to language, I have participated in the Florida State Spanish Conference since my freshmen year of high school. It is a statewide competition where students from all around the state give speeches, recite poems, and act in plays in Spanish. Some of my other hobbies and interests include reading, biking, spending time with friends, politics, and history.

I have looked at the Rotary Youth Exchange program for the past two-and-a-half years. Even after reading the exchange journals religiously, talking with other exchange students, and considering this for so long, it still feels like a dream. I don’t think it will hit me what I am getting into until the moment I step off the plane in my host country. Even so, I am extremely excited and grateful to be given such an amazing opportunity.

August 27 Journal

 How to describe my first three weeks in Austria? A formidable task indeed. But I will do my best. Someone wise once said the best place to begin is at the beginning. But even that is a little tricky to pin down. Rotary was right when they said this was a three year program. But talking about the past year would probably make this journal a bit too long…

My last two nights in the United States were not at home in Gainesville- but rather a hotel with both my parents and my sister in Jacksonville. The Welcome Home Dinner was two days before my flight and my flight was quite early in the morning, so we just stayed there. Needless to say, the cramped quarters made me that much more excited to leave.

Early on August 4th, we arrived at the Jacksonville Airport. There was a slight scare when they said that they originally couldn’t find my ticket and then that it was cancelled for non payment. But about 30 minutes later, the situation worked itself out and I was on my way. Aside from that, the flights went fairly smoothly. A major jolt of excitement for me was on the long flight from Chicago to München (Munich). It was about 5am in Europe and I had a window seat. I could see the city lights, for the first time, of Europe. I was actually going to be here. Here for a whole year and I could not wait! I landed in Linz (as the only American on a small plane full of scouts from Hong Kong touring Europe plus a few Germans and Austrians) a bit earlier than expected. So when my host mom and sister came, complete with the ‘Welcome in Austria’ banner, I was able to respond and ask a few questions in understandable German and not be frozen, mouth hanging open, and completely lost.

My first week here I mostly spent time with my host sister, Yvonne. She is sixteen and started her exchange in Washington State on the 19th of August. My city here is Pinsdorf and we live right near Gmunden on the Traunsee (this really pretty lake) so I went there a few times- and even got slightly sunburned. I met some of her friends and my future classmates as well. So now I feel less nervous about school starting and feel like I can make friends here fairly quickly. One of the days, my host brother Andre- who is 28 and lives in another town- took Yvonne and me to this ‘Abenteuerpark’ in Gröbming in Styria. It’s a little bit tough to explain. At this park there’s all these ziplines and obstacle course type things attached to the ziplines and trees. We wore harnesses and got to climb some of these. After doing a few of the easier courses, we tried for the hardest one they offered. Near the end it was too difficult to do the course the correct way, so I basically dragged myself along, being held up only by the harness and climbing clip. While I was up there, I thought about how I was putting so much trust in these little safety devices (made in Europe). However, I was not scared. In fact I was having a great time- even at the tough part of the course. Later, I thought about how it mirrored my exchange. I was putting so much trust in my Austrian host family, Rotary, and the Austrian way of life- but having a wonderful time along the way- wanting to go back for more.

After this first eventful week, I spent two weeks at language camp. That was in Altmünster so only about fifteen minutes away from my host family’s house. There were over 50 other new exchange students at the camp from all over the world. Although, ironically enough, I spoke so much not-German at the German language camp than I did my first week. I had taken Spanish in school, so I was able to talk a lot with the Spanish-speakers as well as the English speakers. At language camp I was in the most advanced class. It was very grammar intensive. All the teachers are very nice and many were exchange students, so they could relate to what we were going through. And they’re very fun and like to joke with us too. On Saturday, our classes went until noon and we got to see the rebounds- Austrians who just got back from their exchanges all around the world. Then on Sunday, the camp went to Hallstatt for the day! For those of you who don’t know Hallstatt, it was a major salt mining village… and it’s the village that’s on nearly every picture one sees of Austria. We toured the salt mines there and got to walk around town. There were mostly tourists in Hallstatt and not much salt mining anymore. But it did not have an overcrowded, and ‘fake’ feel to it at all. I definitely want to go back really badly. During the two weeks we also walked all around Altmünster, getting to know the city and the people. We always stopped at the gas station (which was much cleaner and smaller than most in the United States) to get our chocolate fix. We passed by a bicycle store called ‘Armadillos Bikes and Muffins’ whenever we could (yes, it sometimes did sell muffins- but no armadillos), and we definitely bonded as a group of exchange students.

I’ve only been back at my host family’s house a few days. On one of the days I went into Gmunden and walked down the Traun River. Years and years before, a poet wrote something along the very same river, that poem was posted on a sign for everyone who passes to sit and read. The poem talked about how the river always flows forward and keeps moving. It says that looking into it can help one through being without a loved one or loved ones, and dealing with being without something or someone. I have not felt much homesickness yet, but if or when I do, I’d love to come back to this spot. I find it quite interesting that someone, 160 years before, looking at the same spot on the river, stood where I will stand, thinking the same thoughts about moving onward. Something like that can really make one empathize with others in the world- whether from their home town, a world away, or someone they will never meet.

Perhaps that’s what exchange is all about, being able to empathize with people and communicate across continents. Maybe, in the beginning, the communication is awkward and with lots of acting and pointing. It’s possible that your best ‘friends’ at first are the five and thirteen-year-old neighbors who are eager for a new playmate in a game of tag (translated as ‘catch’ in German). But either way, one always moves forward, eager for whatever comes next. Thank you Rotary for ‘making dreams real’!

September 21 Journal

 It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for almost two months. Sometimes, with the weather like a Florida November, it seems like longer. Other times, it seems like just yesterday I fumbled with the windows my second day here, wondering just how to work them.

It is also difficult to tell which ‘stage’ I am at in exchange. Am I still enjoying a happy honeymoon? Perhaps I am getting used to everything. Maybe those moments of nostalgia and craving food I hardly ate in Florida, and curiosity of what I’d be doing back home or in another country, are signs of homesickness.

I’m still wide eyed and in wonder of some things around Austria – as if I’m experiencing it all for the first time. I still discreetly ‘skate’ and spin across the school floor in slippers since we don’t wear normal shoes inside despite being there for two weeks. I never get tired of the idle babblings of the stream next to my house. Perhaps it’s meant to be peaceful, but instead I grin rather stupidly and lean in closer to hear it better. The aromas of the fresh soups my host mom makes after school are still inviting and welcoming. With so many different soups, most of the time it’s the first time trying the day’s specific recipe. On the street corner one can buy newspapers. Yet unlike in the United States, they are not in a large metal box that won’t open unless one puts in money. Instead, one takes newspapers out of a little flimsy plastic folder, and there’s a little box where one can put in money. I love this feeling of trust here.

Other times, I still feel like such an outsider. I see the strange looks of curiosity and disgust on my classmates’ faces when I describe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When I felt a strong urge to run and look out the window to see the snow that was on the top of the Traunstein (the big mountain near me) the others barely turned their heads. Sometimes I cannot help but almost laugh when I catch the physics teacher say, in a strong Upper Austrian accent, ‘Did everyone understand that?’ and point to a long equation on the board I mindlessly copied down. I know people speak to me in ‘Hochdeutsch’ or High German instead of dialect/ Mundart that they normally use, because I don’t understand enough yet.

Some things hardly seemed to change at all from Florida. Everyday, I hear a stampede of four cats running through the house, chasing each other and real or imaginary creatures. I see the same rude words in English written on the back of a bus seat. I hear classmates grumble about homework. A bottle of Tabasco sauce still sits on the kitchen table at meal times.

Still at other times, I feel like I truly belong, like I am becoming Austrian myself. After hearing my host mom say how the cloudy, dreary weather makes her feel unmotivated to do anything, I start blaming my own mild laziness at times on that same weather. I send text messages back and forth all in German. I understand the ‘Fakt des Tages’ (fact of the day) that students write on the board in our classroom in the morning without consulting my dictionary. My host parents ask me to type up and print something on the computer or feed the cats or do other chores around the house, treating me no longer like a ‘guest’. When I am out on weekends, I see my classmates and remember their names and recognize other people too. I know that on the weekends, we are probably going to my host brother’s and his girlfriend’s house way out in the country where we will chat, drink coffee, wear house shoes, and pass huge cornfields on the way there. Perhaps we’ll see his girlfriend’s parents who live right next door, but most likely not. It is a welcome routine that I’m already so used to.

Perhaps I am just as confused as ever about what ‘stage’ I am at on exchange. Maybe I will never know exactly how I feel about home, here, my ability to speak German, or anything else. I do know one thing though, despite curiosity about what I’d be doing elsewhere, doing exchange is one of the best decisions I ever made. I am guessing that RYE-Florida is talking to schools around the state now – or will very soon. So to all you curious students who may have stumbled across this page, don’t be afraid to go to an informational meeting or secretly stalk more of these journals. You won’t regret it!

November 25 Journal

 I’ve been here over a quarter year already- almost a third of a year. I guess I’ll have to play ‘catch up’ in this journal. A fair warning to the readers: there will almost certainly be a grammatical error or two- or at least strangely constructed sentences.

At the end of September, my host family took a day trip up to the Czech Republic- a two hour drive. We did not stay very long and we were right on the Austrian border. I love how everything seems so close here! My host parents don’t know any Czech and spoke German the whole time- and me too. I never speak in English aloud here, except in English class three times a week. Speaking German in another country just seems much more natural to me now.

In the Czech Republic we were greeted with perhaps the most international sight I could imagine. There were people from Vietnam, speaking in German to Austrians trying to sell clothing (cheaper than in Austria). The clothing was made in China and had words like ‘Los Angeles’ across the front.

In school, the teachers are pretty lenient on me for doing schoolwork since I already graduated in the States. Therefore, most of the school work I do is more translating and picking out words to learn than some of the actual assignments. However, I do help out a lot in English and sometimes I help out in other English classes, pretending that I know absolutely no German. In the last speech I gave about the American School System, I kept almost saying the wrong English word. I wanted to say ‘students become letter grades’ because the German word ‘bekommen’ means ‘to get’!

One of my favorite things about the school week is Friday afternoons. Our classes get out an hour early, and then we have two hours free before gym class. Every Friday, my classmates and I walk over to the mall right near our school and buy nice, healthy, and fairly cheap food right in the supermarket there (yes, supermarkets are often in malls). Then we all get to chat together for much longer than the short breaks between classes.

I was in a dance course here as well on Thursday evenings for ten weeks. Most of the students are in the class below me- except for two rebounds in my class that were in America last year, and my Australian ‘oldie’ who came here in January. I get to learn the Waltz, cha-cha, and lots of other dances. Sometimes we four wear silly costumes or other outfits to the course. It’s pretty fun.

In mid October we had a Rotary weekend in Vienna with over 80 exchange students in Austria AND the exchange students in Croatia- including Emily! Vienna was a bit different than I imagined, but wonderful nonetheless. Some parts just seemed so surreal. When walking through the palace it was so hard to imagine that just a few feet away from me, it was HERE where Franz Josef began his work day, right over there where important people from a bygone era listened to Mozart’s latest and greatest compositions or danced to Strauss’s waltzes. In early December we’re going back to Vienna to meet the president of Rotary- and then later in December we have a Salzburg weekend. I can’t wait!

I thought I would miss Halloween a lot this year- I did not know if people really celebrated it in Austria or where I lived. But, lo and behold, on Halloween so many kids were sporting costumes of all kinds. One of my classmates had a Halloween party as well- and invited the whole class. I really like that concept; I think it makes people feel less left out if everyone in the class goes. However, not a lot of older people dress up for Halloween. There were maybe five or six of us in costumes there. Nevertheless, it was great.

As I sit here writing these last few paragraphs, I’m hit with a different kind of homesickness. Something I call ‘Soest’sick. For ten days I visited a friend in Soest, Germany. She was an exchange student for a semester last year in Florida. I stayed with her family that seems to fit me perfectly and even went to school with my friend- sometimes in her classes, sometimes in her exchange sister’s (from the Faroe Islands) classes. With her family we visited the cities of Paderborn and Münster. It was so amazing seeing all the medieval (and medieval style) buildings- most of the buildings in Austria are more baroque or baroque style. I got to meet so many more great people- many who were former exchange students themselves. I felt re-inspired to REALLY, REALLY learn German by more than just speaking it all the time. I’m proud to say that I finished two German books there that were over 100 pages long each. I don’t deny that I shed a few tears at the train station at having to leave them. (Luckily I met a nice Brazilian expat on the train and she gave me a hug.)

On my last Friday there, I saw snow for the second time in my life. I was sitting in the exchange sister’s history class (discussing the beginning of the ”Cold” War) when there was this bright white stuff floating elegantly, and slightly sideways to the ground below. I honestly could not stay sitting down in the class- I was like a six-year-old all over again. ‘Schneee!!’ I kept saying to myself, and eventually whispering to my new friend. Even though in Austria there’s WAY more snow than there was in Germany, that first moment stands out to me the most.

Things are going to change soon here in Austria (perhaps the half a foot or more of snow is a sign of that) and I’m ready for whatever comes my way. Thank you so much, Rotary, for giving me this opportunity!


December 30 Journal

 Servus Liebe Leute!!

I meant to sit down and write this journal a week or two ago (so soon after my last journal) but time kept slipping away- so now I’m right on schedule with the journal writings (hopefully). I must say, so much has changed for me in the last month, I can hardly believe it.

Family: As I sit here writing this in the living room, I see the snow covered Traunstein mountain and lovely lake right outside the window- I’m with another family right now. There were some complications with the last host family; but I hope to have a good relationship with them. So right now I am living with a temporary host family. It’s just one person; she did a lot of work with us at the language camp and Rotary weekends in pervious years. It’s just temporary that I stay here, but I’m getting to know lots of great people here; my nine year old neighbor is like another little sister or cousin to me. I’ve also gotten a chance to do more outdoorsy stuff and see more little places while I’m here. Even though I’m super excited about a future Europe tour, I’ve realized there’s so much more left to explore, even 5 months after my arrival, right in my own (Austrian) backyard.

Rotary Weekends in Vienna and Salzburg: This month as been unusually full of Rotary weekends. Normally there is a Salzburg weekend in December and that’s our only get-together. However, the Rotary President’s Conference was held in Vienna this year from the 5th to the 7th of December. All the exchange students prepared a presentation for the Rotary president and Rotary members all over the world. We sang a Christmasy song in Mundart (Dialect), and a very silly one in English with hand movements, and then a waltz to the Blue Danube from Strauss. The Rotarians were really impressed with us and it was an interesting evening.

The next Rotary weekend was just two weeks later in Salzburg. It was such a beautiful weekend and we saw soo many sights- the fortress, a cemetery, lots of old buildings, Mozart’s birth house. This weekend was our last weekend with our ‘oldies’- those that came in January; so the reunion at Salzburg was definitely a bittersweet one.

School: Well, things are a little different in school now. For English I’m giving lots of presentations about Florida and other topics to the younger classes. It’s a great way to meet new people… and notice how strange my English is becoming. I also am in a German class with 12 and 13 year olds and I absolutely love it. I’m spending more time in school trying to socialize with lots of different students in any class. (Well, actually, I notice I chat WAY more with random people on the bus etc than I ever did in Florida.) I’ve definitely clicked pretty well with my parallel class. When school starts back again, I might actually switch there instead of staying in my current class.

Holidays: Well, holidays in Austria are a bit different from those back in Florida. There’s much more done with the Advent Season in December and the Advent Markets are wonderful here. As December kept creeping closer to its end, it never really felt like Christmas was just around the corner. It was absolutely wonderful but just not Christmas. Most of the Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day. So on Christmas Eve I went into my room here and waited eagerly for the ‘Christkind’. My host mom rung a bell, and there in the living room were all the candles on the tree lit and presents underneath. And on the 25th we drove about 15 minutes from here to see lots of snow – an actual white Christmas!!

2008: Well, this has certainly been an interesting and unforgettable year. I remember at the beginning of it being so optimistic and excited about what was to come – and so clueless about everything. From which country I would be in, how much I would appreciate coffee sent in the mail, the friendships I would make, crazy interesting people I would meet – if only on the bus or train for 5 minutes, the moments where German just ‘clicks’, amusement on how my English is deteriorating, and just so many other things.

Thank-you Rotary, thank you family, thank you Austria, for making this a possibility for me! To the new outbounds: You will have a crazy year ahead of you; I wish you all the best of luck for 2009!!

March 17 Journal

 Wow! It’s definitely been a looong time since I last updated my journal entry. Time just keeps flying- even faster than it did at the beginning of exchange. I just got my return date a few days ago- July 14th (Bastille Day by the way). It seems so weird that I’m now counting the dates on how long I’ll BE here instead of how long I’ve already BEEN here.

So much has changed since the last time I wrote my last journal. Back in mid-January I changed host families. Not just host families- but host cities and host schools. Instead of near Gmunden, I am now in a town about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg.

The new host family is a host mom and 13 year old host brother at home. I have an older host sister with a 2 year old son who lives a few minutes away, a host brother in Germany, and another host sister now on exchange. The host mom is really helpful in helping me find things I want to do in the area. I feel really comfortable here and really feel myself. I started doing a lot more cooking at home (the host mom works longer hours), which is fun for me, and the host family really appreciates it. Something interesting about the family- they’re really big fans of the United States. Both my host mom and host brother are huge fans of an America skier I never heard of- and even have a US flag inside. My older host sister is completely obsessed with Elvis Presley. It was a little strange at first, but I’ve gotten used to it.

School was definitely a little bit different than my old one. Little details I thought were ‘Austria-wide’ in the school system, I’ve come to learn, vary within each school. Generally in Austria, there is a set ‘class’ of students that are always together with just a few variations of courses- choosing between Spanish or Latin, for example.

Within each class there’s a almost a fixed classroom mentality ‘Klassengemeinschaft’. When comparing the other school to this one, this ‘Klassengemeinschaft’ is a lot more open to new people. There were plenty of nice people in the other class, but everything all together just didn’t make it as inviting as here. I finally found my own great little niche in this class and the parallel class and have plenty of people from school to hang out with. It’s nice! My Spanish class is also a little bit less advanced than before. Having forgotten so much Spanish while here, it’s a great course to refresh everything- and lots more people get to ask me for my help.

Friends: Like I said, I’m definitely finding a group of friends at school. Until Faschings Dienstag (Mardi Gras/ Carnival/ day before Lent), it was ‘Ball Season’ here, so I ended up going to lots of Balls- which are really fun. Most of the places have 2 parts- one room with older music- often live- for older people/ parents/ whatnot to dance. And then there’s another room for more ‘normal’ dancing for teenagers- who happen to be wearing formal clothing. I’ve also been sledding, seen movies, and gone into Salzburg on evenings with friends, as well as gone to Salzburg in the evening.

City: I’m currently in Oberalm- a pretty small little village with maybe 8,000 people. It’s pretty nice and cozy and not too far from other places. My school is in Hallein with about 25,000 people. More ‘medium sized’ for Austria and I’m about 20 minutes from Salzburg (about 175,000 people- smaller than most people think!! But still a decent sized city). I’m feeling like I’m getting the best of all worlds in where I’m living, city-wise. It’s really great =). I’m picking up on something much more in Salzburg from being here so long.

It’s a VERY touristy city- and a fair few people from all over the world living there. I can detect right away a major difference between the tourists there for a week or less, and, say, University students studying abroad and there for some months. One can really detect how people have come, over the course of months, to adapt to a new way of life and culture.

New Activities: I’m getting way more involved in different things in this area. Once a week I have a Capoeira course. This is a Brazilian martial arts/ dance course that’s really really interesting. It’s really fun, but we’re doing is supposedly nowhere near as cool as ‘real’ Capoeira done by people who’ve been at it for years. I’m hoping to see that sometime soon. Also while here, I took a 16 hour first aid course. I’m also about to start some babysitting and English tutoring after school. I think it’ll be a great way to meet lots of new people- not just Austrian teenagers, but rather more families. I think I’d get to know more of the country better too.

Ski Week: I just finished my Ski Week with all of the exchange students here from the 7th or March until the 14th. It was absolutely amazing! I haven’t skied before this week, so I was in the complete beginner class- even so I was noticeably the worst the first few days of lesson. But by the end of the week I finally caught up. This was also our first time for us to meet all of our ‘newbies’- the group of exchange students who arrived in January. It was so much fun spending time together, coming up with silly inside jokes, all dancing together after meeting Rotarians at a restaurant, and just being silly. I’m both looking forward and half dreading our next get-together for Eurotour- because it will be our last time together. Hard to fathom, really.

I want to thank EVERYONE and EVERYTHING for this opportunity to spend a year abroad (yes, down to even the pen that wrote down the name of this website some years ago) on youth exchange. I wouldn’t give up this chance for anything =).

Emily Garvin
2008-09 Outbound to Croatia

Hometown: Fernandina Beach, Florida
School: Fernandina Beach High School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: Fernandina Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Zagreb Rotary Club, District 1910, Croatia

Emily - Croatia

Emily’s Bio

 My name is Emily Katherine Garvin and I was born and raised in a small town called Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. I am a small town girl. I am 14 years old and the second born of three children. But I am the youngest. My oldest brother Timmy Hendren was adopted before I was born. Timmy and I are six years apart. Next came my other older brother, his name is Patrick Garvin. 16 months later I came.

But my family doesn’t end there because for about 5 years my parents were foster parents. This had a huge impact on my life because accepting children into my family as a 9 year old was very difficult. It was hard learning how to share my family, my room, and most of all my parents. But I overcame all the hardships that came with fostering. And I learned to love every child that stepped over our threshold. At that moment they became a part of my life and my family forever. With fostering I also learned how to cope with frequent changes and loss. I learned that I shouldn’t dwell on those things that I don’t have, rather cherish the things I do have, like a loving and forgiving family.

All of that has made me the person that I am today. I would consider myself well-rounded, open-minded person. I like to take risks and try new things. Recently I tried out for my high school’s junior varsity basketball team. I realized that there would be lots of hard work, time, and commitment if I made the team. And to tell you the truth I really didn’t think I was going to make the team. I had never played basketball in my life. But that didn’t stop me; I tried out for the team anyway.

Currently I am taking all honors courses. My favorite class is geometry. And quite frankly I don’t even like geometry that much but there is just something about math that I have fallen in love with. Outside of school, I usually spend time with my family and friends. I also do volunteer service around the island with my church’s youth group. And I volunteer at the local theatres.

My future is wide open and I look forward to the possibilities that will open up to me. I plan on going to college and getting a nursing and teaching degree. My mother is a teacher and my grandmother was a nurse and they are and were both very successful people. I hope that I can follow in their footsteps and become just as successful at life.

August 26 Journal

 After the sweet goodbyes at the Jacksonville airport, I proceeded through security. My first flight was to Washington DC, where I met up with the other Rotary Youth Exchange student from Maine named Allie. In DC I decided that I would show Allie how we live in Florida and I took her to the Red Carpet Club (thanks to Jeanie).

After spending the duration of our layover there we proceeded back to our gate. Allie got the pleasure of accompanying me on the 8 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where we sweet-talked the flight attendant into letting us sit together. In Germany we sat around playing cards with a nice guy from California. He was on his way to visit his family in Saudi Arabia. He showed us this really cool card trick.

After playing cards for a while we went to our gate where we met two other Rotary Youth Exchange students headed for Croatia. The next leg of the trip was probably the best. It was about an hour and 30 minutes. Then we soon arrived in the Zagreb airport where we picked up our bags and walked out of frosted sliding glass doors where my host father Ratko and host sister Josipa were waiting for me, holding up a sign with my name.

The ride home was about 20 minutes, all the while my dad was pointing out the sights that I might need to know. Ratko speaks very nice English as does Josipa. My mother on the other hand is just about as good at English as I am at Croatian. My mother’s name is Mislav. They say the female names are always harder to pronounce than the male names.

We arrived at my house, where I met my other host sibling… while Ratko carried my luggage up 3 flights of stairs to my bedroom (spavaća soba). Which I am sharing with my host sister. I began unpacking while creating a sisterly bond with Josipa.

Soon after I began unpacking, I was called down to lunch where my mother had prepared veal with peas, mashed potatoes, rice, salad and tomatoes. This meal was accompanied with a homemade juice of which fruit I am not sure. I soon learned that lunch (ručak) was the main meal of the household. This is the meal that the mother prepares. The other meals, such as breakfast and dinner, are very casual. Usually you are supposed to prepare them yourself.

After lunch I continued unpacking, then my sister and I walked the dog Johnny. Josipa showed her neighborhood to me during the walk. She explained that every neighborhood has a different name and in every neighborhood there are many different houses with a number of flats within each building. There is one flat per family. After the walk we decided to take the dog back home while Josipa and I went to a coffee bar. We sat at the coffee bar for about 30 to 45 minutes as we did some more of that sisterly bonding! We soon found our way home and joined the family for a small dinner. My first Croatian dinner consisted of cottage cheese with salt and a cream sauce. We also had an assortment of ham, bread and tomatoes to accompany our cottage cheese.


The Foreigner (Emily)

September 1 Journal

 This weekend my father, mother, and I went to our summer home in a small town called Tučepi. It is near Split (if you want to look at a map). The drive was about four hours, I slept the majority of the way. When we arrived at the house in Tučepi, I got my bathing suit on and headed down to the sea. It is literally 2 seconds away from the house! The water was a beautiful tint of aqua that darkened as it deepened. It was a bit colder than the Atlantic. The beaches were not sand, instead they were small pebbles. It was a change, and I have still not decided whether I like the sand or stones better. I guess I could just love them both.

The summer home is very nice. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. The flat has a nice open kitchen and living area that leads to the porch. The little view that is, is beautiful. Downstairs there is another flat that my parents own. But they rent this one out during the summer because it is a little smaller than the other one. We spent the weekend in Tučepi where I soaked up all the sun and Adriatic that I could take. We left Tučepi Sunday evening. On our way out of town we stopped by this beautiful outdoor church (I would have taken pictures but there was a service going on).

We arrived back in Zagreb later that night. I went to sleep thinking about the next day and how my first day of school might go. I have to admit I was rather nervous to think that I will go to a school where I will know nobody and I know very little of the language. I woke up the next morning and just waited. School did not start until 2 o’clock that day. There was much anticipation. I soon decided that I could start getting ready for school. So I did just that. My mother arrived home from work and we left the house headed for school. I had a meeting with the principal before school. She introduced me to my homeroom teacher. My homeroom teacher is 4 foot nothing with heels and she is also my history teacher. I went to her classroom where I found old-fashioned tables and chairs. I took a seat as other students entered the classroom. All of a sudden it was a mad rush to meet the foreigner. God forbid you be the last one to introduce yourself to me! Of course I remembered not one of my peers’ names.

As the teacher tried to settle the class down a girl came and sat down next to me and introduced herself again. Her name was Nina. Nina speaks very good English and she explained to me what my schedule was. She explained that we are in class 2C. Which means we are in the 2nd grade (they count down instead of up.) And the C is just one of the many different classes within my grade. The school over here is very complicated so I will briefly explain. I have about 15 different subjects, all of which I will take in a different classroom with the same group of students. My schedule changes daily, and every week I alternate times that school starts. For example, this week school starts in the afternoon and next week school will start in the morning. So far I love my school, my friends and my family. I will have a meeting with my Rotary very soon and I will let you know how that goes.

September 30 Journal

 My first Rotary meeting: I met my host Rotary club, they were all very welcoming. School has been great! I am picking up new phrases left and right. During class it is a little hard to stay awake but what school isn’t like that. I listen to the teacher and pick out words and phrases that are frequently used and try to remember them. I also enjoy listening to those words and phrases that I recognize and know what they mean because that gives me a sense of accomplishment. My Croatian classes are great. My teacher is excellent. I will have classes twice a week until mid April. I have two other students in my class. They are also Rotary Youth Exchange Students. Greg is from New York and Gabriella is from Brazil. It is nice to have other students in the class because there is a sense of competition and we can practice on each other. I have had about 3 weeks of classes and I am very pleased with them.

The weather the past few days has been chilly and rainy. Today it is 13 degrees C, about 55 degrees F. Yesterday it was a bit warmer but the rest of the week is supposed to be colder. I have no idea how I am going to survive the winter with all the snow! My friends make fun of me because I find it so cold. But what can I say – I am a Florida girl.

I did my first school assignment! The assignment was to create a Power Point Presentation for my Informatika class (computer) on whatever topic you want. I chose Florida. My class really enjoyed the presentation. They were most interested in the hurricanes. I got a 5, which would be an A.

I went on my first Rotary trip. The 7 inbounds in Croatia gathered in Zagreb for our orientation. During the orientation we went over the Rotary Rules and Expectations. The next day we went to Plizvička Jezera (Lakes). It was absolutely amazing. There were a lot of lakes and waterfalls everywhere. I can not even begin to describe the color of the water. It was breath taking. The following day we went to two castles in Croatia. They were both very different yet beautiful. One of the castles was from the 18th-19th century and the other was from the 15th-16th century. The architectural work was really interesting. It was cool to see how the structures differed from the ages. Soon I am going on another Rotary trip to Vienna. I am also going to Austria with my class. I am very excited about both of these trips.

Just last weekend I cooked Sunday lunch for my host family. They were very impressed. But I found that it is rather hard cooking with foreign ingredients. I made meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, baked eggplant and chocolate chip cookies. The meatloaf was the easiest part. The macaroni and cheese on the other hand was rather difficult. They do not have cheddar cheese over here so I went to the store and tried all of the cheese until I found one that I thought would do. My host brother ate half of the cheese that I had gotten for the dish so I had to use other cheese that we had in the house. When it was finished it was very good, it just was not the same as when it is made with cheddar cheese. The chocolate chip cookies were a little hard to make also. My host mother is convinced that sugar in the raw is the same as brown sugar. And I could not find vanilla extract in the store. But in the end I pulled it off and everything was delicious.

I am not homesick yet (knock on wood). But there are certain things that I miss. For example, the beach being 2 seconds away, macaroni and cheese, and warm weather. The list is endless, but overall I love it here in Croatia!



October 28 Journal

 My first and second visit to Austria. The weekend of the 18th I went to Vienna for a multi district Rotary meeting. The meeting consisted of the 6 Croatian exchange students and the 83 Austrian exchange students. Vienna was beautiful, the first day we did a walking tour of a few museums, we saw a huge palace, we saw the main cathedral and we toured the oldest library in the world. That night we went to an Italian Opera. Of course, it was all in German so I didn’t understand any of the show. I enjoyed the costumes and the set very much. The next day consisted of a bus tour of the city. But I would have to say that the best part of being in Vienna was that we got to meet many other foreign exchange students. It was a blast talking to them and sharing stories with them. I even ran into a friend from Florida. Gail is in the same outbound group as me in Florida. Because there are so many foreign exchange students in Austria they had half of the group begin their exchange in January and the other half begin their exchange in August like I did.

At first being in Austria it was kind of confusing, because I had no idea what language to speak. I don’t know German, so that was out of the question. But I just got caught up on speaking Croatian all the time that I just wanted to speak Croatian. But barely anybody understood Croatian. So I had to fall back on English. Many of the Austrian exchange students were speaking German to each other. And then there was the group of Latinos and they were speaking Spanish and Portuguese. As Croats we decided to speak Croatian to each other. It was fun to have a language that nobody else could understand.

My next trip to Austria was this past weekend. I went on a class trip with my whole grade. We went to Graz, Klagenfurt and Bled Slovenia. Of course, all of these cities were beautiful. But I would have to say that the best part of this trip was learning more about my classmates and becoming closer to them. The first day we did a walking tour of Graz, then we had about two hours of free time to do some shopping in Graz. Just about all of the Croats go to Graz to do their shopping because everything is much cheaper than in Croatia. After we left Graz we headed to Klagenfurt were we stayed the night in a youth hostel. The next day we toured Klagenfurt then headed to Bled Slovenia. On the way to Bled we stopped in a few little town to check out some small tourist attractions. Bled was very pretty but I went to Bled Slovenia last summer and it was much prettier in the summer time. After Bled we headed back to Zagreb.

Croatia is beginning to feel like home. After both of these trips when we arrived back to Zagreb I was so happy just to be in a familiar place. A city where I know what bus and tram to take, a city where I can find my way around and see familiar street corners. Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling and seeing new things. But anyone who has ever traveled can tell you that it can get a little exhausting. Not only to be in a familiar place but to also speak my familiar language. My Croatian in coming along slowly but surely. Just last week both my best friend and my host mother said that it is getting much better. I was so excited to hear that.

Last week my cousin from Seattle Washington was visiting my aunt in Slovenia so she decided to take the train over for a visit. It was so great showing her my town. I gave her a tour of Zagreb then went back to my house where she met my host mother and saw the place I call home. After the visit to my house we went back out on the town and just drank coffee and talked like Croats do. It was beautiful.

I am still continuing to take Croatian classes twice a week with Greg and Gabbie, the two other foreign exchange students in Zagreb. School is school but everyday I am understanding more and more. Next Saturday is a rather big holiday here in Croatia. It is All Saints Day. My host father has explained to me that Saturday morning we will go to the cemetery as a family then we will come home and prepare a large meal which will consist of duck. And I think this meal symbolizes the beginning of a new year or something like that. My host father was trying to explain it to me. I didn’t catch everything. I will just have to wait and see. But I am looking forward to this Saturday.


The Croat

January 6 Journal

 All Saints day was definitely an experience here in Croatia. As a family, with an exception to my grandmother we all went to the cemetery.. We spent about three hours visiting graves of our deceased family members.. We visited about six different graves, and at everyone of them we would pay our respects by placing flowers and or candles and saying the Our Father.. It was my first time visiting the cemetery here in Croatia. Prior to All Saints day I had driven by the main entrance of this cemetery on a city bus and I drive by what I thought was another cemetery everyday on my way to school. Little did I know that these two cemeteries were really one huge cemetery. In those three hours we walked from one side of the cemetery to the other, and then back home. The main entrance of the cemetery was about two miles from the entrance closest to my house. The whole city of Zagreb was at that cemetery that day. Every grave had beautiful flowers and many candles, it was really amazing to see how big this holiday is here. After the time spent at the cemetery we walked back to the house where my host grandmother had prepared a beautiful lunch consisting of duck, muesli (which is a traditional Croatian food), a beet salad, as well as a green salad. This meal is very similar to our Thanksgiving meals. But of course they don’t have Thanksgiving here.

Shortly after that, December came and the cold weather came with it. I would have to say that this weather is way too cold for a Florida girl. The main square is decorated with Christmas lights, a Christmas tree and an Advent wreath. Throughout Advent my host mother would go to church every morning 6 o’clock. I joined her once just to see how it was. Once was enough for me. I was surprised, there was a very good turnout. Mostly little old ladies in their fur coats and hats. As Christmas came closer I was anticipating it more and more. I was waiting for the decorations and the new traditions that I was going to be a part of. It was about a week before Christmas and although we had been baking cookies practically the whole month of December there had been no Christmas decorations. So I finally asked my host father when we are planning on getting our Christmas tree. He said Christmas Eve. I thought to myself that is rather late but I will go with the flow. The 23rd of December came and I finally saw Christmas trees being sold around town. Two days before Christmas, can you believe it? Christmas Eve was finally here and my host father and brother went out to buy our Christmas tree, while my host mother and I finished cleaning the house. She explained to me that the house is supposed to be clean for Christmas because something having to do with the birth of the new baby. So I helped her clean, like the good host daughter that I am. We soon decorated the tree with lights and ornaments just like we do in Florida. Later that night we did the whole Christmas thing. We opened presents. Every member of the family got one present each. I suppose that if we had little ones in the house we would have probably waited until Christmas morning. But everyone knows that once everyone is grown some traditions are just lost. Christmas morning came along with the first snow fall of the season. It was great, I had just got done setting the table for our Christmas lunch when I looked out the window and saw it. I ran downstairs to my host mom yelling ˝pada snijeg, pada snijeg˝ which means ˝falling snow, falling snow.˝ She was so happy for me. This was not my first time seeing snow but it was just as memorable. We at our Christmas meal which was very similar to the meal that we had on All Saints Day.

At this point I was anticipating New Years! On New Years I went with my class and some of their friends from elementary school to a party where we ate baby pig. This is a Croatian tradition on New Years. New Years passed and Three Kings day came. This is the day where we finally say goodbye to Christmas. All of the Christmas decorations came down today. Three Kings Day is a holiday in Croatia so nobody works and no stores are open.

Tomorrow I am moving to my new host family. I have mixed emotions about my move. I have bonded with my current host family for the last 4 months and it will be hard to leave. I plan on continuing going to church with my host mother at our neighborhood church because my next host mother is not a practicing Catholic. I have been invited back to go to the house on the coast in the summer with them. I think it is safe to say that I have one Croatian family that loves me and that will be in my life and heart forever. And I can’t wait to make another relationship with my next host family. My next host family has never had a daughter before, so I am excited to be their first. I will also be an only child which will be a BIG change in my life. Honestly that is what I am the most scared of. I have two brothers back in Florida and yes they can be very annoying, but I have always loved the excitement around the house. I had the same sort of excitement with my first host family too. I guess this is just one of those perks of being able to live with other families. I get to find out what it will feel like being an only child.

School will start back on the 12th of this month. In the second semester I will do my best in being graded in Croatian school.

April 23 Journal

 I am currently with my second host family. I have been with them for about 3 months now. In the beginning the living situation was a little weird.. For both my host parents and I. Of course, that was not clear through words yet through actions. Like many situations throughout this year. It was apparent that my host parents had never had a daughter before. But eventually my host parents got used to it. My new host family is practically in the same neighborhood as my old host family. It is in a great location, close to the city center. I am still attending the same school. I continue to keep in touch with my first host family. I see my first host mom just about every week at church. Out of all of my host parents/siblings I am closest to her.

Recently my host sister-in-law had a baby. So I am an aunt for the first time in my life. She is a beautiful little girl. The first girl in my family. We are all so happy.

School is going great. To celebrate Lent we had a carnival in school. It would be equivalent to our Halloween. Everyone dressed up and came to school. Following that we had a workshop week where the whole school split up into different workshops all involving money.. My workshop was a volunteering workshop. We went to a local stable where they do therapeutic riding for the handicapped. We helped out with the horses and the patients. At the end of this week the whole school got together and a representative from each workshop does a presentation on what they worked on in their workshop.

Recently I have been doing lots of traveling. I went to the annual Carnival in Venice to celebrate Lent. It was absolutely beautiful. I went with my best friend and my cousin that came to visit. I have been to Venice once before but this trip was different. There was a festive feeling in the air. There were countless beautiful costumes. And a sea of people over taking St. Mark’s Square. It was an awesome trip.

I took a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary with other foreign exchange students that are also living in Croatia. I was planning on meeting up with a fellow Rotary Youth exchange student Drake, who is living in Budapest. But his mother was visiting him, so that didn’t happen. We visited both Buda and Pest. The river running through the city is a great touch. I would have to say that I like Buda better than Pest. But the view of the Parliament from Pest was stunning. We stayed in probably one of the best hostels I have ever been in. It was rather small but it had a homey feeling to it that made it all the more better. All in all it was a great trip.

Not only have I been traveling internationally but I have also been enjoying my own country. My Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman took some of the inbounds on a day trip and we visited one of the bigger towns in Croatia, called Osijek and we visited another town by the name of Vukovar. Osijek was a very nice city. It is one of the larger cities in Croatia, so my Rotary thought it was important for us kids to visit it. The lifestyle there is different than in Zagreb where I am living. Osijek is near the Eastern side of the country. That part of country is not known for the Adriatic Sea like the majority of the country yet it is known for their abundance of land. There are many farms in the Osijek area. Outside of Osijek, even closer to the border is Vukovar. The town is significant in Croatia’s history because this is the town that was invaded by Serbia approximately 18 years ago. Many Croatians lost family in this war and Vukovar is the town that was most destroyed and where the majority of Croatians were killed. My Rotary thought it was a good idea for us kids to visit this town because it has influenced both Croatians and Croatian history.

Rotary also took us inbounds on a trip to the well known Croatian coast. We went to one of the most popular towns on the Croatian coast named Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is located on the South Eastern tip of Croatia’s coast. We went on a weekend trip to Dubrovnik. It was in fact beautiful. The city is well known for their high city walls that surround the historic downtown of the old city. We toured the old city, and visited the old port and ate lunch at a delicious seafood restaurant right on the water. The following day we took the hour and a half walk along the city walls. The view from the top of those walls was easily one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We were very fortunate because we had fabulous weather. The sun was shining the entire weekend.

Recently we had Spring Break here in Croatia. I spent the first part of my Spring Break here in Zagreb, spending time with my friends and family. The Easter celebrations were very similar to American celebrations. I woke up on Easter morning and headed off to church with my first host family. My current host family are not practicing Catholics unlike my first host family. So I went to church in my Sunday bests, wished my prior host family a Happy Easter or Sretan Uskrs like us Croatians say it. Then I headed home to continue celebrating Easter. I arrived home and shortly after, the guests started arriving. Some of our closest family and friends came to lunch at our house. Lunch on this day was not only lunch, it is a tradition in Croatia to not eat breakfast but to combine the breakfast and lunch. Like our brunches. So that is what we did. We had a Croatian Brunch to celebrate Easter. The food consisted of cold sliced assortments of meats, fresh veggies, boiled eggs and something similar to our potatoes salad. This salad was used at all celebrations such as Christmas and New Years. As brunch was coming to an end so did the Easter celebrations. As you may have noticed there were no Easter baskets. This may come as a shock to you, but it comes easier to the Croatians. As you may remember me telling you, at Christmas time each child was given one gift. This country is not caught up on the materialistic side of these religious holidays – rather they focus on spending time with the family. In my host family we did not dye eggs due to the fact that there are no little ones in my family. But yes that tradition does take place over here.

After Easter I hung around Zagreb for a few days then made my way to Ljubljana, Slovenia where I visited my aunt and cousins for a few days. As I was returning to Zagreb I got a call from my Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman and he explained to me that he wanted to take the inbounds in my city to the coast for a sailing trip that weekend. So that is exactly what I did. As soon as I arrived in Zagreb I talked to my host parents and began to unpack then repack my bags for sailing. We drove to a town by the name of Šibenik located on the coast. From there we spent the night on the boat and took off the next morning early. We had good weather. The sun was not shining the entire trip but the rain held off until the night. But we did have some awesome wind. So that made the trip great. It was my first time sailing and it was a great experience. My sailing trip ended my Croatian Spring Break on a great note.

Now school has started back up. In a little over a week I will be setting off for my Euro Tour. I am extremely excited for this. My itinerary is as followed: from Zagreb I will head to Linz, Austria with the foreign exchange students in Croatia. There we will meet up with all the foreign exchange students in Austria and some from Hungary. From Linz we will start the tour. Starting off with Prague Czech Rep., Bad Laer Germ., Amsterdam Netherlands, Bruges Belgium, Paris France for 3 days, Toulouse Spain, Barcelona, Montserrat Spain, back to Barcelona for 3 days, from Barcelona we will go to Avignon France, Monaco, Cavi Di Lavagna Italy, Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Jesolo, Venice then we will end in Graz Austria. This trip will start on May 6th-22nd of May. I can’t wait for this trip to begin.

After the Euro Tour I do not have anything planned yet. I will finished out the school year then I will spend the summer in both Zagreb and on the coast. I will probably do a little more traveling, then make my way back to Florida. Until then I will keep you updated.

It is sad to see that my exchange is coming to an end. With the Euro Tour coming up, I will miss a month of my Croatian life. I will miss all my friends and family. Once the Euro Tour is over that will be when the last goodbyes will be said. I will make some of my last memories in Croatia, then head to Florida. No offense to you guys back home, but this goodbye is going to be much harder and much more sad then leaving Florida. The relationships and bonds that I have made here will stay with me for the rest of my life. I know it is far-fetched to believe that every person that I have met here will remain in my life … even for half of them, it is still far-fetched … but they will all remain in my memories of my exchange year in Croatia.

Heath Smith
2008-09 Outbound to Sweden

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lund Rotary Club, District 2390, Sweden

Heath - Sweden

Heath’s Bio

 Hello, my name is Heath Smith, and I am currently 17 years old and a junior at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Florida.

I moved to Florida about 6 years ago from a relatively small town near Kansas City, Missouri. While all of my extended family still lives in the Midwest, I have made Florida my home with my mom and step-dad (and my brother when he comes home from college).

My interests include art, music, technology, and science (or wherever they may coincide). I am involved in National Art Honors Society at my school, which hosts art shows, and has painted murals around the campus.

My travel has been limited thus far so I am very excited to begin my opportunity as a Rotary exchange student!

August 20 Journal

 Well, I have now been here for about three weeks now, and tomorrow is my first real day of school so… time to reflect on my summer here before I forget (and to get Karen, and Nancy off my back :D).

Minus the 7 hour lay over in lovely Memphis International, the traveling was pretty uneventful until Schipol-Amsterdam. After finally finding my gate in the jungle of duty free shops, and Customs, I spoke with the women at the check-in counter about the “seat assigned at gate” text on my boarding pass. They had no clue what it meant and said they would deal with it come boarding time. At final boarding call when I was pretty sure I would not be making it to Copenhagen, and quite nervous. They found that there was in fact an empty seat for me so I was able to board and return my heart to a normal rate.

Copenhagen was my final destination, and I was very relieved to pick up my luggage and head out of the airport to meet my family. My Host Parents and twins brothers, Olle and Johan (who just left on exchange to Oregon), were waiting for me outside baggage claim with a big “Välkommen Heath!” sign, written in pink highlighter. After all the hugs, handshakes, and high-fives we went to the car and drove over the Oresund into Sweden. The drive to Lund, where I am staying was very quiet but surprisingly not awkward. My host parents Lasse and Maria are as kind and welcoming as I could have hoped for and made me feel right at home (they’re also both amazing cooks). They have also been a great help with explaining things, and my Swedish. My brothers are both also very helpful and cool, but quite different from one another. Our home is the top two stories of a three story flat, just outside of downtown Lund. Lund is a charming college town, and the University here is the largest in Scandinavia.

After getting everything unpacked and eating dinner, I went with my brothers in town to get coffee and meet some of their friends. Having siblings my age has been a tremendous help with meeting people, and finding my way around. I got home entirely too late for being as jet lagged as I was, passed out as soon as I laid down, and slept until about noon.

The next day Johan decided that we should take the train into Copenhagen to go shopping, and so I could see the city which was pretty cool. The stores and clothes here are so much better than in the states. Soon after we got back in Lund, we left for the vacation cottage 2 hours north near Varburg. The house is very near the sea, and we spent the next six days there. I went sailing with my host mom and Johan, swam, and ate mostly. It was very relaxing. Olle had to stay home because of his soccer schedule, so Johan and I became pretty good friends, and hung out the whole time.

One day he and I took the train south from Varburg to Laholm, where a friend of his was having a party at his family’s vacation house. It was a really good time, and I met a lot of kids I’ll be going to school with. And learned a lot about Swedish youth. All of them love American TV, and about the only things they said that I understood were: “facebook”, “Family Guy”, and “Gossip Girls”. They also want me to have someone “Send red cups like the American parties in the American Pie films”. They sure love those red cups. They also pirate every season of every show on HBO, and know the name of each episode.

On the 6th Lasse drove me back to Lund so I could make the train to my language camp in Åhus (thats where they make all the Absolut vodka in the world!). The next six days were spent in a hostel with the 19 exchange students staying in Skåne (my province, and the best one). We ate tons of ice cream (the only thing other than Absolut that Åhus is famous for), toured the Absolut factory, and learned some of the more important parts of the Swedish language (such as what curse words you yell when you stub your toe versus when your team is losing in soccer). It was really cool to meet the other exchange students, and we all got along pretty well. I was very glad to get back to Lund however, and see Johan some before he left for Oregon. I was sad to see him leave, but knew exactly what he was going through. I think that may have been part of why we got along so well. It will be cool to share our experiences over the course of this year.

The past week has been spent trying to get better acquainted with Lund, getting to know Olle better, and watching an unhealthy amount of Gossip Girls with his friends. Today was orientation at my school, Katedralskolen, which was founded in like 1085. I’ll be in the third and final year of Swedish secondary school, and was lucky enough to be put in a class with three kids I had been hanging out with. Hadn’t I known anyone beforehand I’m pretty sure I’d still be trying to find my locker. After Orientation I went with my Host-cousins into Malmö for Malmöfestivalen, which is a huge free music festival all over the city. We saw a few pretty good bands, most notably being a Norwegian group whose organ player wore a gas mask, and would periodically jump up and bang on oil drums with a large club or crowbar….

My host-cousin Pontus also insisted that we take advantage of the street food vendors, and put me through a “Swedish right of passage” (Jenny, stop reading here). I may or may not have eaten moose, and reindeer, and it may or may not have been delicious.

So tomorrow I start class, and begin phase two of this whole exchange thing. Which means I need to get to sleep.

Hej då!

September 23 Journal

 So by this point I’m quite settled in and the “Holy crap, I’m in Sweden” moments are becoming less and less frequent. School started about a month ago (good god I’ve already been here two months). I’ve found a nice routine, gotten used to yogurt on cereal… I’d say things are going pretty smooth.

The first day of class went well enough I suppose. David and Johan, friends of my brother that are in my class, made sure I knew where to go and introduced me to some people in the class. Speaking of introductions, the teacher of my first lesson thought it would be good if I stood up and told the class a little about myself… which would have been all well and fine hadn’t my voice cracked as soon as I spoke…. There’s something about the whole “Swedish rhythm” that likes to kick your vocal cords back into their pre-pubescent glory. Luckily no one laughed… until they brought it up like two weeks later….

Swedes in general are pretty shy and aren’t ones to just come up and talk to you. This is okay; I understand since I’m also pretty shy, but there lies the problem. It has been a gradual process, but things on both ends are staring to open up. It’s getting a lot easier to meet people, and make friends. At first they would approach me in groups. You can tell when it’s coming because they’ll be standing like 5 meters away, glancing over and arguing amongst themselves over who has the best English (they assume I don’t understand what they are talking about), and will do the talking. Once a leader is chosen and they begin the approach, I brace myself for the bombarding of the same old questions over again. Pretty much everyone I’ve met has asked me: “Do you like Obama or McCain?”, “Do you have a driver’s license?”, “Do you own a gun?”, “Is that near Miami?”, and “Can you have someone send us red cups?” (okay… that one is a little less frequent, but still). They also seem to think that I look like either Seth Cohen or Frodo Baggins…. I suppose I’ll take the latter as Elijah Wood, and a compliment?

Straying away from the social aspects, Swedish school is really relaxed compared to American schools. No bells, no hall passes, they just expect you to have enough brains to know where to be and go to the bathroom without someone holding your hand. You just get up and go; it’s great! You also have a different number of classes each day, with no real structure period system or standard break length. It’s more like college really. During my lunch gaps I can go to a cafe to eat if I so choose (No crazy lady in a golf cart blockading the gate!… oh, how I hate you Bartram Trail), or enjoy free lunch at school, courtesy of the welfare state.

For the most part I have all my lessons with my homeroom class. I’m in a social science program so my core courses are on politics and history. All of my compulsory courses like religion, psychology, and Swedish are just with my homeroom. I’m also taking Art, Spanish 3, and Swedish for Foreigners (which is just me and three other exchange students). Trying to translate Swedish to English, then into Spanish and back is brutal. And I’ve come to accept that on Mondays and Wednesdays I will have a skull-splitting headache.

Another thing that has stood out to me as a major difference is the absence of “cliques”. Perhaps it’s the separation of team athletics and school? Whatever the reason, you can walk into the school cafeteria and see all different groups talking together and not worrying about who’s watching. People seem to be a lot less judgmental here. You can do your own thing, and it’s accepted.

During free time, I usually hang out with friends in town, one of my favorite things to do is ‘ficka,’ the Swedish ritual coffee break… it must be the reason there are SIX Espresso Houses in Lund, Lund isn’t that big. My host cousin also lent me a bass and amp recently, so I’ve picked that back up as well.

At home things are excellent. I really love my host family, and often have lengthy discussions with Lasse, my host dad. Most Swedes are very interested… well more concerned with US politics, and especially the upcoming election. So he often asks questions about that, and I ask him about Swedish politics, systems, taxes etc. Both my host dad and mom are very social and often entertain which means the same old questions over dinner from middle-aged Swedish couples, something that’s quite entertaining after their second glass of wine (and they start cracking on the Finns).

I could really get used to being able to get wherever I want by bike and/or train. AND hopping on a train and being in another country in half an hour. Since Denmark is so close, I have gone pretty often with friends or family. More and more I can pick out all the little differences between Swedes and Danes that I never would have noticed before. Needless to say it’s always a great comfort when you get over the Oresund and back home to Sweden. Danish sounds like you are speaking Swedish with food in your mouth.

The past week I have been rather busy with actually being assigned work at school and taking care of college applications (which I never would have gotten through without the help of the wonderful Jennifer Panitch).

Overall things are going well. I’m really starting to love Sweden more and more, even the cold cloudy weather. I was never much for tanning anyway…

2008-09 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Sendai Rotary Club, District 2520, Japan

- Japan

’s Bio

Konnichwa Minasan! (Hello Everyone)

My name is Ensminger and I am currently 15 years old. I attend Flagler Palm Coast High School in sunny Palm Coast, Florida and I’m a sophomore who will be spending the 08-09 year in JAPAN! I was born in Illinois, but we’ve lived in Palm Coast for about three years and we’ve lived in Florida for about 12 years.

After school I attend anime club and FEA club (Future Educators Association) because when I get older I would LOVE to teach English as a second language. I also have Japanese lessons every week with my teacher Ms. Reiko. In my spare time I love to try out new things and over the years I’ve been in soccer, ballet, figure skating, track and field, and most recently I’ve started jukido.

I’m so excited about being able to go to Japan, it was one of my top picks and I can’t even start to express my gratitude to the Rotarians who have made my dream come true. Of course I have all the nervousness pre-exchange students experience before they get to their host country – how will I talk to them, how should I act, what if I can’t find the bathroom?!

I have been dreaming of being an exchange student for about two years now and I would like to thank all of the Rotarians for making this dream come true, my family for encouraging and supporting me, and my friends for cheering me on. Thank you all so much, I couldn’t have done it without you!!

Ja mata ne,

’s Journals

July 31 Journal

Hi everyone!

WOW. “How should I explain Japan?” That’s the question that’s been plaguing me since I arrived here. It’s unique, kind, amusing, sometimes scary, traditional, fun, advanced, and patient but most of all it’s sugoi. That one Japanese word pretty much sums up my visit so far. In Japan you can get by with 4 words- sugoi, kawaii, oishii, and arigatou. Sugoi basically means amazing in everyway. And everything in Japan is amazing. From the tatami mats to the karaoke rooms, from the way you bow to everyone to the food (which is sooooo oishii). I love it and I’m never going to be able to say thank you enough to the Rotarians, friends, and family who have helped me get here.

When I was still in predeparture-mode I noticed something in America. So many people had all these concepts and ideas about MY country that, 90% of the time, weren’t true at all. Most of them were actually rather funny. I just want to put this out there, the Japanese don’t eat cats. At all. It’s kind of amusing the way other cultures think of each other. My host family was really surprised that we have cabbage in Florida. xD

Anyways, I left the US 6 days ago and boarded the first of three flights. I said goodbye to a small group of family members with much hugging and picture taking, and then I was on my own. It didn’t really hit me until after I got through the initial security. I was really on my own. There was no family to guide me. I had to look after myself from here on out. It felt like a huge amount of responsibility had fallen on me, and to be quite honest I was loving every minute of it. The first flight was relatively short now that I look back on it, a mere 3 hours, but at the time it seemed to take forever. I wanted to get to Japan and I wanted to get there fast. The second flight was a little bit longer, a staggering 13 hours. Ugh. Even now I dread the flight back and not just because I know I won’t want to leave. As my plane flew over the first part of Japan that I could actually see (there were a lot of clouds 🙁 ) I kept thinking to myself, “Japan! You’re flying over Japan! That’s a Japanese car! Oh my gosh, a Japanese tree!” I’m still doing that. 6 days later and I’ll say to myself, “A Japanese Wendy’s! So cool!”

My initial feeling of anticipation disappeared for a while after I landed, to one of awe. Then to confusion 🙂

I managed to get through customs and grab my luggage, but then where to next? Carrying 2 giant suitcases, one carry on, and a giant ‘purse’ across an airport and up two flights of escalators is not fun. At all. Especially when you’re supposed to get your e-tickets on the first floor where you just were. Luckily, this nice Japanese attendant pointed where I was to go and another person brought me a cart to carry my luggage (Yes!). After that I didn’t run into any other mishaps. I got on my next plane and sailed away. Oh, and did I mention that the entire flight over the sun was up? I was awake for 23 hours and the sun was up for all of it.

When I got to Sendai I grabbed my luggage and walked out to find a banner held by three other exchangees (Anna-Mexico, Emma-France, and Joe-America), a couple Rotarians, a future Floridian inbound (Chihiro Watanabe), and one of my host families. Relief, excitement, and anticipation at the realization that I was finally in my city where I would spend the rest of my exchange. I had actually made it, all that worrying about missing a flight for nothing. After the first greeting I said goodbye to my host family and Chihiro and took off with the exchangees to go the hotel where we would have a small inbound orientation.

Oh, and all the Japanese cars I’ve been in have had not only GPS, but a GPS and TV in the front next to the steering wheel, so on the way to the hotel our Rotarian was watching baseball. Plus, although I knew the Japanese drove on the other side of the road, I wasn’t expecting every inch of my body to be on edge. It felt wrong and scary. Now I’ve been trying to pay attention to understand the rules of the road. It’s amazing. It’s almost like a dance. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.

When we first got to the hotel there was a mad exchange of pins and candy from the different countries. There was a lot more candy than pins. Mmmmmm, Mexican candy 🙂

I had my first Japanese dinner (oishii) at the hotel that night and met the inbound from Sweden who was leaving soon. After dinner we all went up to the hotel room and talked for hours, until I couldn’t keep myself awake any longer.

The next day I woke at two in the morning….. Needless to say, I was irritated at my internal clock for disturbing my much needed sleep. Throughout that day I-

-Had natto (fermented soybean) for the first and last time.

-Had various relatively easy Japanese classes.

-Went through an overview of the Rotary rules

-Had my first bowl of Japanese ramen. Sooooo much better than ANY ramen I have ever had in my life.

-Visited my first shrine. Amazing. Breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The music and ritual gave me goosebumps and is something I will never forget.

-Went to a yakitori restaurant. Where I ate a baby octopus…. whole. Very interesting D:

-Went to a Japanese karaoke! Soooo much fun. And there was so much beer and sake XD but not for the exchangees 🙂 We were good. Anna sang in Spanish, Emma sang in French, and the Americans sang in English. Very fun.

The next day we had to pack and prepare a short speech to give at the small ceremony that introduced us to our first host family, counselors, and a representative from our school. It went by in a blur of Japanese that I didn’t understand and before I knew it I was being whisked away from the people I had just gotten to know and like to another strange and new environment.

My first host family is amazing and so kind and patient. They include Keke (gramma/host mom), Shu-chan (grandpa/host dad), Junko-chan (mom), Yoshi-kun (dad), and Anna-chan (little sister). They have been sugoi, trying to make my stay as enjoyable as possible

My host family runs a restaurant chain so they’re a little different from a traditional Japanese family. They have three houses right next to each other. Keke and Shu-chan live in one, Junko, Yoshi, and Anna live in the other, and the last one is just sort of a hangout house. I live with Keke and Shu-chan. Every morning we wake up at 6, yes 6, and breakfast is at 6:30. After, Keke and I go outside and wave goodbye as Shu-chan goes to work. Then I vacuum the entire first floor while Keke works in the kitchen. In Japan everyone is so polite. I always smile when I see Keke bowing three, four times in a row to someone to express her gratitude. That coupled with, “Arigatou gozaimasu. Gomen nasi. Arigatou. Shitsureishimasu. Arigatou Gozaimasu.” Is so cute >><<

Everything in Japan is so kawaii (cute). The cars, the cell phones, the people. They’re all so tiny >< And my counselor was nice enough to lend me a cell phone to use, because in Japan EVERYONE has one. Especially teenagers. They’re constantly texting and I hate to admit, but I have grown rather attached to mine too…

Oh! School! I start August 8th and visited it once to get my school uniform (soooo kawaii ><). Miura-sensei, my English teacher showed me around. It’s currently summer break so the only students there were there from club activities so I got to see all those as well ^^

Very cool. I really want to try Kyudo (traditional Japanese archery). When we went into the library I thought this one girl was going to have a heart attack when she saw me. She and her two friends freaked out with whispers of ‘kawaii, kawaii’…. Very amusing XD

I still haven’t decided whether I enjoy being a minority or not. It’s strange to see a sea of Japanese and not any other races. Very different from America.

While I’ve been in Japan I have eaten so much, oh my gosh. . Everyone said don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry, you’re going to Japan. You won’t gain weight. Ha. I’ve eaten WAAAAY more here than I did in the US and it doesn’t help that since they run a restaurant chain all the food is amazingly delicious.

Oh and the other day I got to take a purikura. The best thing in the world, why we don’t have them in America I’ll never know. It’s like you’re own private photo booth, and it’s big, and you get to take a variety of pictures. Afterwards you get to draw on them, add pictures, sparkles, etc etc. Soo much fun.

My Japanese is slowly improving. My grammar is still awful and I can understand more than what I can say, but a word of advise to all future outbounds. Study, study, study. Nothing is more frustrating than having to look in your dictionary every couple of minutes only to find it’s a simple word like freedom. Every minute of studying I did back in America, and I actually did a lot, has helped me. I can have a conversation in Japanese. How cool is that?

I’ve only been here 6 days but I love it and am forever in debt to Rotary for providing me this wonderful, life-changing experience. Thank you, thank you, thank, thank you, thank you. I will never be able to say it enough.

But for now, I can hear the cicadas outside the window. Sendai is calling and I need to go enjoy the wonders of Japan.

Ja, mata ne~

August 29 Journal

Hello again everyone!

I change host families next week. Let me retype that. I don’t think you fully grasped it. I change host families next week.

Next week. No way. I’m going to go with the cliché saying- Somebody wake me, because I must be dreaming. There is NO WAY I have been in Japan for a month already. The entire world is playing a practical joke on me and setting all the calendars ahead. Not nice, not nice at all. Half of me is so excited that I’ll be experiencing a whole new family and meeting new people, and the other part just wants to throw a temper tantrum at the fact that I have to leave the people I have just become so close to. At while I must have just gone with the latter a few years ago, I am now supposed to be ‘the responsible exchange student’. So… here I go. One family at a time. (And I’m supposed to have 5!)

There’s so much I want to put in this journal, but it’s impossible to put a whole month’s worth of time into this without making it either excessively long….or excessively boring. Therefore, I shall only put the highlights of this month 🙂

First and foremost-School. Which I mistakenly said started the 8th of August in my last journal. That was a lie. It actually started the 20th of August. My day starts out at 6:30 when I wake up. I have come to the realization that it is tremendously easier to get ready for school when you wear the same thing everyday and you’re not allowed to wear makeup or jewelry. Some may see it as a restriction but I see it as an easy way to be lazy. 🙂 At 6:30 is breakfast, and I head to the bus stop at 7. Did you know that the school bus in Japan costs money to ride? If I understood correctly, about 50 USD a month! I, however, take the public bus…. Then the subway… Then another bus to get to school. It takes me about an hour to get there all together. Yes it’s far, yes it’s early in the morning. And most times I have to stand the entire way because there aren’t any seats available. Very different from my usual nap on the school bus. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, it’s nice to sightsee during that time.

Before school started I have to admit I was missing friends my age a lot and I’ll even go as far to say that I was a little homesick-But alas! Now that school has started up I feel better and love every day once more. (Not to say I still don’t miss you guys :D) It’s fun to walk down the hallway and hear people calling out random things to me in English. My personal favorites are “I love you!” and “Do you like me?”. I’ve also been asked if my hair is a perm more than once. I’ve decided to take that as a compliment from now on.

I have 7 classes a day and the cool thing in Japan is that the teachers come to you, no more do I have to worry about being late or getting lost. That’s the teachers job now! I’ll be taking English, media, AOC (another English class), Gender, health, Math, science, PE, music, dance, and probably some I forgot. The schedule is different every day and I’m nowhere near memorizing it yet. I’m not taking Japanese, history, or geography because to be quite honest I either sleep in those classes or draw because I have NO idea what’s going on. I struggle to understand what’s going on in all my classes (with the marvelous exception of English) but those are special. When I’m not taking those subjects with my fellow classmates I go to the library and study Kanji (Japanese characters)! Yay!

Or sleep. Sleeping seems to be high on my list lately. Actually, that’s what I want to be doing right now. I’m tired… All the time. Except, of course, when I have a chance to sleep in.

Anyways, at school everyone is really nice. My first day Miura-sensei showed me to the classroom before classes had started so everyone was in small groups talking. She then was like, “Well, everyone this is the new exchange student. See you later.” And left me standing there looking back at all the people I definitely did not know. In Japan you can’t be afraid to take the first step in greeting people. I am very happy to say that I went against all things natural to me and stepped up to a small group and hesitantly asked if it was ok to join them. Of course, it was. Later during morning congregation I had to give a short speech in Japanese in front of the whole school. Let me emphasize short. I was not happy finding this out, and to be quite honest I felt a little nauseous. There’s also another foreign exchange student in my class from Germany (Juliya) who’s been there for a couple months already. Lucky for me she rarely speaks English to me (even though hers is perfect) but we converse in Japanese instead. Only when I’m feeling really desperate and my dictionary has failed me do I run to her for help.

Skip ahead to after the awkward hellos and getting to know yous to a more happy time. The school festival. In particular, my class’ exhibit-The Haunted House. Now, I’ve never been part of a haunted house before and I didn’t know how hard to was to pull one of those off. The maze itself was the hardest part-construction board and black plastic garbage bags haphazardly draped over strings running back and forth across the ceiling. Very fun, very time consuming. Everyone helped out and got a part in the ‘scaring the bejeezus out of kids’ role. I was in charge of dropping a head 😀 And I don’t think I’ll ever get the image of 5 Asian girls looking zombified and grudge-like creeping towards me out of my head.

Oops! I got distracted, I think I WAS explaining my average school day at some point…

So after school is over everyone has an assigned cleaning role that changes occasionally. That’s right the students clean the school, not some janitor that’s been hired, the students. That probably explains why there’s no gum under any of the desks 🙂

After THAT, I go to…. KYUDO!!!

Yay! I’ve only gone a couple times, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to continue. It’s a rather small club (maybe 10 people) but it has made a lasting impression on me. I had a chance to shoot my first arrow with Kyudo bow (which is huge by the way, taller than me) and I’m not as bad as I thought I would be. Kyudo ends at 6:30 ish and then it’s back home. I usually get home around 8ish because (oh boy) it’s rush hour 😀 That means no seats and no room to breathe. You better hope you’re not claustrophobic.

So next subject! The onsen – better known as the public bath.

My family and I went to this gorgeous onsen located in the mountains. It was breathtaking and I loved it! This onsen was, lucky for me, a separate bath. Meaning the girls in one-the guys in the other. Still….You go into the changing room and remove all clothing while clutching this towel that’s maybe big enough to be a hand towel. A bunch of people were using it for their hair. There is a washing area with shampoo, soap, etc and then there are the baths. Now these are like no baths we have in America. They’re more like giant shallow pools filled with hot water. At the hotel I was at, there were all different types of baths-some were stone, some were wood, some were rectangles, some were circular but they were all in view of the mountains and they were all hot, hot, hot. Once I got over the initial ‘oh my god there are naked people everywhere’ and self-consciousness I actually really enjoyed it and am looking forward to going again. I can see why they’re so popular over here.

I had the opportunity to join the middle schoolers on their English camp. Good news- They’re adorable and I got a chance to know a bunch of them while having fun at camp too. Can you say bonfire, s’mores, songs, and yakiniku (BBQ! :D)? Bad news-It was an English camp. Juliya and I were specifically told to speak English only. Horrible for my Japanese. Though it was nice to get to know Juliya on a level I could understand. There were a couple English teachers and Rick-sensei is actually from Maine. So it was kinda nice to talk to another American about Japan, especially when he’s lived here for ten years. That lasted two days as it was very fun.

I also attended my first Rotary meeting in the beginning of August. I believe the Rotarians back in America now. The Rotarians in other parts of the world definitely have a bit more money than normal folks. The meeting was at this fancy hotel and I would swear that all the Rotarians were guys. I had to give a short speech in Japanese (again emphasize short) to introduce myself and then the rest was a blur of fast talking Japanese that I didn’t understand. Although I did recognize the Four Way Test in Japanese (mainly because it had the word four in it :)) and felt this overwhelming feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. It was so strange to see something so familiar in a completely different country. In a completely different language. A mixture of pride and awe and I don’t what else.

But it was cool.

I had the chance to go to the Tanabata festival early August. It’s the biggest festival in Sendai bringing about 2 million people each year and weeks before its arrival you could see the Tanabata decorations slowly start to take over the shops, restaurants, and even the airport! The story is basically two lovers in the sky are unable to see each other because a river of stars (The Milky Way) separates them. They can only see each other on the Seventh day of the Seventh month. The festival consist of fireworks, food vendors, games, and the main attraction hundreds upon hundreds of brightly colored and intricately designed streamers from every place imaginable. I even saw one from my phone company and Starbucks. They consist of a large circular shaped top with long streamers hanging down and each one is unique. Very pretty. Plus I got to dress in my first yukata (summer kimono)! My family even bought me my own!!

I got to Japan during its rainy season. A good day is when it only rains at night and is partly cloudy, a bad day is when it rains for two days straight with not a glimpse of blue in sight. The bad days far outnumber the good days (at least weather-wise) and I’m looking forward to the end of this rain. I want to see the stars again!

My Japanese is crawling along at its ever constant snails pace. And I can talk a little faster. Still don’t know what the heck people are saying most of the time though.

Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve carried around a little notebook that I jot down ideas or things that I think I would want to remember or put in this journal. Here’s a couple of them.

– In Japan people wear shirts with English on them all the time. Hmm. Here’s an example- ’Have you had your love tomorrow?’ Now… I’m no English teacher, but something about that seems wrong. And that’s one of the good ones. At least twice a week I’ll come across English that I’ll just break out laughing at. Of course, this earns me weird looks from everyone around me, but oh well.

– Sometime I think to myself, “I wish I could bottle this feeling and bring it back home to America with me.”

– I’ve seen a little girl eat things that would scare most grown men in America.

– I like tea. Now some of you may know of my utter hatred for tea in America…But no more! I’ve actually become quite fond of the traditional Japanese green tea. Who would’ve thought?

– I miss Hugs. Back in Florida, I got hugged a bajillion times in one day. I sorta miss that.

– I’ve apologized to my family for obnoxious and loud Americans in a restaurant. I actually felt kind of embarrassed.

-In Japan they don’t say goodbye to their family on the phone. It’s hello, conversation end. No goodbye. I still can’t get used to that.

And now, I am exhausted and want nothing more than sleep.

So I’m going to end this for now!

Ja mata ne!

September 22 Journal

Hello again everyone,

Wow. It’s already time for another journal? The time seems to be flying away and before I even realized it I’ve been here for 60 days. If you would’ve told me this time last year that I would be in Japan I would have laughed at you.

I still might.

So (obvious to me, not so obvious to the readers), I am typing this on a new computer. In a new house. And it’s in the living room 🙂 Yes, that’s right. I am in my new home, and have been for… 3 weeks? Maybe? I’ve seem to have lost all ability to keep track of time. Months have magically transformed themselves into days and the only way I know what day it is is when I look at my phone calendar.

My new host family is superfantabulous and I’m very sad that I’m not going to get much more time with them. There’s my mom, dad, little sister (Yuri), sister my age (Eri), and a big brother (Keichiro). And Momo, of course, the giant white fluffy dog that I’ve been getting my hug fix from 🙂 I have the big brother’s room because he’s in college at the moment. I hope he doesn’t mind all the posters I’ve put up of my favorite Asian boy bands. So, this new family is really different from my last one mainly because I have kids my own age around. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my last family as well, but it’s kind of nice to have siblings. I don’t have my own bathroom anymore, instead it’s the traditional type in which everyone takes turns washing (outside of the tub of course!) and uses the same water for a bath. The o-furo is one of my favorite parts of the day. My new family lives pretty close to the school and I only have to get up at seven, plus I only take one bus to school! No more hour-long rides to school for me! Very happy about that.

In my last journal I said I’d have five families, right? Oops. Another mistake. I actually have….. DUN DUN DUN…. eight. No that’s not a typo. That’s my host district trying to kill me (A joke!). I got to meet all of them at a welcome party a few weeks ago, and I can honestly say all of them seemed very nice and I’m looking forward to all of the different views of Sendai. At the welcome party I was greeted with warmth and friendliness you can only feel when you realize, ‘all these people are opening up their homes, their families, to me.’. HOWEVER – I’m NOT looking forward to packing my steadily growing pile of things every month or so…. I don’t know where all this extra stuff has come from! I know I’ve been doing a little bit of shopping but really! Ok, maybe more than a little…..

Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve been lost maybe five times. Now, yes that sounds bad, but I did change families and have to get used to a completely new bus schedule. The worst time was when I completely took the wrong bus on my way to school and me and my pride thought I could find the subway station by just walking around for a bit. Ha. After an hour of walking around town in the downcast/slightly rainy weather and emailing my friend to tell her to tell the teacher I would be late, I finally gave in and asked for directions at a conbini (convenience store). In Japanese I might add! Very happy to say that after that I managed to find my way back to the subway and arrived safely at school! I didn’t even have to call my parents and ask them to come pick me up like the other times 🙂

Although, the last time I got lost my host father came and picked me up on his motorcycle! All I’ve got to say is being on a motorcycle plus being in Japan equals amazing.

School right now is test time and, if you didn’t know, test time is a big deal in Japan. They have to take really hard tests to get into high school (sometimes even middle school!) and really hard tests to get into college as well, so test time in Japan means you can practically feel the tension in the air. These high schoolers are like super students. In one day some have school from 7 till 4, then club till 6 or 7, then sometimes cram school till 10, and then they have homework! My sisters right now don’t go to sleep till at least 12:30 or 1… It’s amazing! I am exhausted from just club and school, if I had to add cram school and homework to that I’d collapse! So today, since I am but a poor exchange student who cant read or speak Japanese anywhere near well enough to take a high school level test, I went to the library and studied…. and slept till they released us early.

The past couple weekends have been very fun. I went to the depaato (mall) with a couple friends and we did things I would normally have done with my friends back home. Taking pictures, buying weird things, trying on ridiculously expensive hats. It was nice. I also spent time with part of my future host family. Kozue is in my class and invited me to go to see her brother play the electone with her and her mother. Wow! I never would’ve thought that electones could sound like a whole orchestra. It was just groups of people playing the same instrument, but it sounded like I was in Carnegie Hall. And Kozue’s brothers group got second!

My family is really good friends with a soccer player from the Sendai soccer team so this weekend I went to my first Japanese soccer game! First off, Asian soccer teams get two thumbs up! 😉 And second, I was almost just as fascinated with the fans as I was with the game. Every single person was singing the Vegalta Eagles songs in sync and doing these crazy arm movements (in sync) while jumping up and down. They even had this massive banner that sprung out of nowhere and engulfed an entire section of the bleachers. There were even giant flags that HAD to have been coordinated before. We won. 🙂 And the family friend got to do an interview and hold up the giant check that they had won. I’m excited that I get to go to another soccer game again soon.

The day after the game I went shopping. I have no spending money now D: But it was worth it. When I’m in the mall I’ll forget I’m in Japan for a while, but then something distinctly cultural like a kimono shop will pop out and remind me ‘You’re actually in Japan!’.

It doesn’t seem like a dream so much anymore. It’s just a place I really love and can’t (or won’t) imagine leaving anytime soon. Some days I’m still amazed that I’m talking in Japanese and understanding it, other days the fact doesn’t even phase me. It’s just… what they do here.

The customer service here is absolutely amazing. I love it. I wish American customer service was like this. At the McDonalds (MCDONALDS!) drive-thru someone came up and gave us a menu. Woah. And all the gas stations have those people who pump gas for you.

Once in a while, I’ll spot a foreigner and whisper to my friends or family, “Gaijin, gaijin!” (foreigner, foreigner!). Even if their back is turned and they have black hair, for some reason I can still tell. It makes me realize how obvious I must stand out.

Nothing else epic has happened lately. I’m still struggling with the language, still trying to figure out the bus system, still missing hugs (though Momo has been helping with that :)), still trying to make friends, still loving the food (had my first Japanese crepe with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate, and bananas. Yum).

It’s been exactly 60 days.

And there are still so many more to go.

Saa, mata ne.


October 5 Journal

Hi everyone~ I know it hasn’t been long since my last journal but I figured I might as well fill you in on my recent adventures. (And give you some pictures seeing as I didn’t do that last time :))

So this weekend I went on my first outing with some of the Rotarians, some of their wives, two kids from my school’s Interact club, and my English teacher. I’m proud to say at the very beginning I specifically asked my teacher (In Japanese) to not speak in English during the day so I could practice my language skills. 🙂 It was so much fun and I feel a lot more comfortable with some of the members of my club now. We went to eat soba at an onsen in the mountains, and I have to say it was one of THE most beautiful places I have ever seen. We started out with a ten minute ski lift ride up the mountain. Now, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. I was ecstatic at the fact that the leaves were starting to change colors the entire ride to the mountain. But put me in the middle of that and add mountains as well? I was loving it. After the ski lift we saw our REAL obstacle. Climbing to the top. I think it might have taken us (well, at least the other two high school students and I :)) thirty or forty minutes of very vertical climbing to get to the top, and the view was not only breathtaking there but the entire way up and down as well. I was definitely playing the ‘camera-happy’ tourist the entire time. Something I’ve realized is that no mater how beautiful the picture, you can never really show something the way it was. All the pictures I took don’t even come close to how amazing that trip was. Afterwards, as we struggled to catch our breath, we walked back to bus and were whisked away to the onsen to relax in steaming hot water. It was bliss. I am definitely a fan of the onsen, hands down. I’ve only been twice but foresee many more visits in my future. 🙂

Then it was time for a good ol’ fashioned Japanese meal. I was a little put off at the first dish-a lovely fish with head and tail still attached and slightly fried. Even more so when the nice lady next to me told me I should eat the head as well. 🙁 But overall, it was (as usual) a delicious meal. I don’t know how I’m ever going to get used to not having rice with every meal again! American food doesn’t even compare to what I’m eating every day…

As I was enjoying my meal and talking to the other highs school girls…In Japanese!… a Rotarian came over and told me I was to give a small speech on the bus ride back home. Surprise! Boy, I never get tired of these surprise speeches ): After quick consultation with my English teacher on how to say a few nice things (Please invite me on this type of event again, etc.) I, luckily, kind of just swung it. It went alright. I believe they even understood me 🙂 It was a lot easier than my first two surprise speeches. Maybe it had to do with that fact that I had gotten to know them a little over day. Maybe it had to do do with me being able to speak Japanese a little better. Or maybe everyone was slightly affected from the sake that they drank during lunch. Whatever the case, it went well. I even answered questions afterwards (with some help with my English teacher). I’ve been feeling kind of bad because I’m only able to go to one meeting a month. The Rotary meetings happen in be right in the middle of my school day and missing school is a no-no, but I feel a little better now that I was able to share some of my experience with them while on that trip.

Last weekend I went to a baseball game in Japan. Now, you may think baseball is really ‘American’, but you obviously haven’t been to a game in Japan. Baseball is Japan’s top sport, closely followed by football (soccer) and sumo. Is was closely related to my explanation of the soccer game in my previous journal. Lots of synchronization. Lots of singing. Lots of excitement. Lots of fun. There were balloons too 🙂

BUT-My American family is going to disown me :)-I actually enjoyed the soccer game a lot more. I’ve been to both twice but I think it was more exciting, possibly because one of the players is a really good family friend, but still. Go Vegalta Eagles! 🙂

A while ago I was feeling pretty down. I was missing my friends like crazy and felt like my Japanese was horrible in comparison to the two other exchangees at my school. I didn’t feel like I was being a good exchange student, I wasn’t making friends quickly enough, I wasn’t studying enough.

After talking to the other exchangees I feel a lot better now. They were feeling the same way. I realize good friends will come in time and as for the language I just need to keep trying. Plus, the other exchangees studied for about 4 years in school before they came here. THAT little piece of information really made me stop comparing my poor grammar and writing skills to them.

I’m very excited to say that in December I will be taking the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) test. This is so big to me. I’ve always heard about it and wanted to take it, plus I’m not taking the really beginner level (level 4) but one step up (level 3). So I’m taking the test around a 5th grader level. 🙂

It suddenly got cold about a week ago. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It went from kids fanning themselves in the classrooms one day to everyone wearing their sweaters the next, and it’s stayed colder. I’m a little worried I won’t have the proper clothes for winter now… But that’s ok. I’ll just have another excuse to buy more adorable Japanese clothes. <3

Most of my class is going to Australia for a little while, but seeing as me and the girl from Germany aren’t allowed, instead we get to travel Japan. Which is perfectly fine with me since I get to go to Okinawa instead! Okinawa is one of the most southern parts of Japan and is supposed to be very beautiful. Think a Japanese version of Key West…. Only better.

I’m changing host families again in about a week. I’m going to miss this one so much. My host sisters are really nice and the host dad and mom are so fun to talk to. Plus, I love getting rides on papa’s motorcycle. (Yes. They make me call them papa and mama. XD)

It’s a good thing I adapt so quickly or all this family moving business would be very disorienting! Although, every time I figure out one area I have to move to another, so I figure by the time my exchange year ends I will have gotten lost at least 20-30 times. But who’s counting? 🙂

October 26 Journal

It’s that time again, Journal updating. I have a love hate relationship with these things. Half of me really loves doing them and sharing what I’ve been doing for the past month, and the other half is just plain lazy. This month has been full of ups and downs, so much so that I think there should be a new medical diagnosis- ‘Exchange student-itis’. It would involve everything and anything including excitement, depression, happiness, nervousness, nostalgia, sadness, laziness, giddiness, etc., etc. And would help tell people what is wrong with us. (haha)

The hardest thing this month for me was definitely changing host families again…. So soon. It hurt. I mean, it really hurt. I had just gotten to the point where I really felt like part of the family. I loved my host parents like they were my own and me and my host sisters were able to joke around like we were real sisters. I knew where the stupid little things in the house were and could laze about without feeling self-conscious. I didn’t get lost anymore because I finally understood the bus route. I was feeling pretty good. Then I realized I only had one week left with them…. then two days….. then one day. It was awful. I felt like all the effort I had put into this family had been in vain. I now had to start all over again, the self-introductions, the wondering where the dishes are, not knowing what music they liked, not knowing anything.

My last day with them my sister made me takoyaki for breakfast. The best takoyaki I had ever tasted <3 When they dropped me off at my new host family’s house it was just mama, papa, and me. And then this lady, who had barely known me for a month, started to cry as we said our goodbyes. That’s when I really realized I’m NOT just a guest in these peoples houses, I really do become part of the family. It not something that Rotary kept pumping into our brains for fun, it happens. Whether you know it or not. I think this is going to be the hardest part of my exchange. Even more so than the other students. I have 8 host families and am going to have to go through this five more times. I don’t think I’m ever going to like it either.

My new family is so different from what I’m used to back in America where there was 2 people, my mom and me, but here there are 7! Grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, little sister, little brother, and myself. All packed into a Japanese house XD. My siblings are very busy – almost always studying, going to cram school, or at club and they’re only middle-schoolers!! My dad is a doctor though. That’s pretty cool. He and mom really love classical music, in fact I think they all do. And my mom loves chorus music and is going to be a soloist in an upcoming concert. It’s so amazing to be sitting downstairs and hearing her practice while I’m doing my homework. I love it. Grandma and grandpa are very sweet to me, even though they know I can’t really understand them very well (haha). In Japanese the older people have really hard to understand accents that sometimes even native Japanese speakers can’t get what they’re saying. But it’s fun to try.

So this month my school – Shokei – had two exciting things happen. One was that we had our undoukai (Sports festival in English?)!! We got the entire day off from our normal school day and were instead to compete with other classes in various sport-related competitions. There’s tug-of-war, jump roping, relays, a spin off of a three-legged race, the throw the beanbag in the really tall basket game with a bunch of different people game, and others that I probably forgot. About a week before all the classes had to choose specific people to participate in the different activities. I made the mistake of telling people I had been in Track and Field. That sealed my fate. I was put in two relays and a three-legged race but with five people instead. Both of the relays I was very nervous about, whereas the three-legged race I knew we were going to fail miserably HAHA (and we kind of did XD). The first relay I was the last person and had to run 400m instead of 200m like the ten people before me. After that was the really important one where one person from each class was chosen to race with their fellow year against the others (think Sophmores vs Juniors vs Seniors). We didn’t win either but I was told I did really good 🙂 And at the undoukai winning isn’t the important thing, well… ok it’s good to win too but! It’s more important to have fun, it really was a nice friendly atmosphere that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m disappointed I will be back in America next year when they have it again. 🙁

The other exciting thing was that Shokei had 15 German exchange students visit us for a week. And three of them were boys. I could’ve sworn Johnny Depp had just walked into the room a couple of times by the way the girls absolutely, and totally freaked out. It was highly entertaining to me who was unfazed by their western looks 🙂 That week was fun in its own way. Julia (from Germany), Rania (from Romania), and I got to skip almost all of our classes that week and just join whatever the German kids were doing. I got to witness my first tea ceremony (seated in a nice comfortable chair, not seiza hahahaha), try my hand at calligraphy, and had numerous chances to go out shopping on a school day. To help the German kids, you know? They didn’t speak Japanese at all and the Japanese kids were hesitant, as ever, to practice their English. So who was around to be the handy-dandy translator? Why not the girl who has only been in Japan for 3 months and doesn’t feel like her Japanese is anywhere near good enough to be helping two strangers communicate? Oh, okay. It was interesting but it made my confidence in my Japanese rise so much. I was actually able to translate a good 80% of what they said and it helped me realize my Japanese IS improving… Even though I haven’t been feeling like it is.

So yeah, my grammar is highly questionable at times. And yeah, there are still a ton of words I don’t have a clue about. But I can get around. I can order stuff. Heck, I can even figure out those big words if I ask them to break it down into smaller ones so I can understand it. That’s ALMOST good enough for me.

Anyways, the German kids didn’t just get me out of class a lot and help my confidence in my Japanese, but they helped me get to know to classmates a lot better. The kids were actually kind of distant and cold to us so we bonded over talking about them. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a ‘why?’ way.

Now that Autumn has begun I am constantly fascinated with the changing colors of the leaves and the branches that are beginning to grow bare. I’ll pick a red leaf up and show it to my friends all proud and say ‘Look! Isn’t this pretty?’. Of course, they just laugh at me. But I can’t believe that they just all walk around all day without realizing how beautiful some of the little things in their town are. They’re just so used to waking up and seeing changing colors and mountains in the distance, whereas I’m trying to take every picture possible of the whole thing. It makes me realize there might be things about Palm Coast that I don’t see that are beautiful too…… MAYBE.

I had the opportunity to go to my first Kyudo competition. I cant wait until I’m able to look like what they looked like. It really is very beautiful when done properly and if you ever get the chance just try to stop by and see it sometime.

I almost got to see Patty (currently in Taiwan) in Japan. ALMOST. She came to visit Tokyo for a Rotary meeting (THREE HOURS away from me by bullet train!) and we both tried our hardest to try and meet each other, but in the end things just didn’t work out. Maybe it was for the best but I was pretty depressed about it for a long while….

And now to more random thoughts I want to get down-

-I love the people who hand stuff out at every corner. Helps me get my free tissues and lotions 😀

-A Jehovah’s witness came up to me while I was waiting for a friend at Sendai Station.

-They are very wary of me riding a bike. Even to the store. Apparently it’s dangerous…..

-At a festival there were very, very small children dancing like professional ‘hip-hop’ers. I felt a mixture of awe and horror.

-No matter how full you think your suitcase is, you can and will be able to stuff more things into it.

-I feel awkward when I’m on the right side of the sidewalk or street. It just doesn’t feel right.

-When I disagree with something I wave my hand in front of my face like I’m swatting a fly away like the Japanese girls do. And when I tell someone to come closer I beckon them with my hand, palm down.

-In Kyudo I have yet to use the bow. Still taking tests on my form.

-My legs constantly hurt. Walking almost everywhere is starting to take its toll…. But at least it’s a good fighter against all the crepes I’m eating.

-Speaking of crepes I think I’m starting to grow an addiction…..

-Purikura too.

Alright, I apologize to my family for the lack of pictures recently but my new family’s computer really doesn’t like me. I’ll try to send some soon…. but as for now, this journal isn’t going to have any either. Sorry!!! Much love to my family (blood-related, dojo-related, and adopted) and my much missed friends back home <3333

Until next time,

November 30 Journal

Hello all-

It feels like I just wrote my last journal the other week. I’ve been in Japan for exactly 129 days and counting (yes, I’m still counting :)) and my exchange is a quarter of the way over. Wow. This just seems to be going faster and faster and there’s nothing I can do but just sit back and enjoy the view of Hello Kitty, host families, and Rotary meetings whizzing past me.

I finally fixed the problem of not feeling like I was participating in my Rotary club enough this month (Way to be proactive, . It’s only been four months. Haha.). I joined the school Interact club! This club doesn’t really have any meetings, so it doesn’t interfere with my regular Kyudo practice, but it gives me the chance to occasionally volunteer with the other members and once in a while we even volunteer with the actual Rotary club. Or at least semi-volunteer and then eat a lot afterwards, either way it’s fun. Plus I’ve made some really good friends through it as well. At the beginning of this month I did my first volunteer by standing outside for five hours yelling things in Japanese to get people to donate to orphans. It was long and boy it was cold, but I was thoroughly surprised by how giving some of the people were. We had far more than one or two people give us at least 20 or 30 dollars. Made my faith in the human race rise a bit :). Another time we volunteered was at Hirosegawa, the local river, where we did some river cleaning with the Rotary club and various other small groups were there as well. I learned how to FINALLY skip a stone across the water, after watching the one guy do it for an hour and being infinitely jealous that mine completely and utterly sunk. We got him to teach us and nicknamed him Sensei.

So, it definitely got cold. My Floridian is kicking in and as much as I love the cold I think the fact that we have to wear these shorts skirts in freezing weather is slightly ridiculous, however cute the uniforms may be it doesn’t help the fact that you start to lose feeling in your legs. Almost all of money is going towards warmer clothes now, not that I’m complaining about buying clothes 🙂 The vending machines that litter the streets everywhere you go and I have become marvelous friends. They give me cans of hot tea or cocoa that I can use to warm my hands and I give them money. It’s a nice relationship. Oh and apparently, I got really lucky. My mom told me that the fall this year was one of the longest and most colorful that Sendai has had. I was walking through a park with my little sister one day and came across this amazing area where it was like you were literally walking on a field of gold. I also found a small trail/park area within a five minute walk of my home that was next to a lake and surrounded in these giant trees, all of which were changing colors. It was like I was in my own world down there. Now more and more of the trees are becoming bare, but this fall is something I will not forget.

So this was the month were my class went off to Australia for two weeks, leaving me and the other exchangee in my class (Julia) to fend for ourselves. That week I realized something about my class. As much as I didn’t really feel like I was making good friends within my class, I was brought back to reality about how wrong I really was. While they were off on their school trip that week we were put into two different classes. It was fun, but it was like the beginning all over again and I really missed my class where I felt pretty comfortable just jumping into any conversation or talking to anyone. Now, I did really enjoy getting to check out the other classes that week and met some really nice girls, but the day our class came back it was a blur of a bunch of squealing and hugs.

They were gone for two weeks and one of those weeks about 100 other girls from Shokei (Julia and myself included) got to have the pleasure of going to Okinawa! It was simply put- breathtaking. There was an endless view of this perfectly flat ocean with crystal waters on one side and the other had these gorgeous mountains. I was struck with a very strong feeling of deja vu though, once we stepped off the plane I was hit with warm weather, palm trees, tan people in sandals, and floral designs. Sound familiar? We also stepped straight off the plane and, no we didn’t get to relax and go to our hotel right away, but we went to a museum were we sat in front of this giant painting and listened to a speech for a good 40 some minutes. That might not have been so bad but the painting itself gave me the worst goose bumps ever and I felt like crying the entire time because it was a about war and I couldn’t really understand what the guy was saying. All I knew was that he was saying America an awful lot…

This would continue throughout the trip. People talking about America and war and me feeling sort of bad.

Okinawa was really very beautiful, although it did rain a couple times, it almost always ended up clearing up just enough to leave the clouds looking like something out of a dream. We had a schedule every day and were almost always busy. We went to so many different places it’s hard for me to remember. We went to a couple museums and we also went to some of the caves that the Okinawan people had lived in during World War Two. Okinawan history is so different than the rest of the history of Japan. One of the things that really stands out in my memory is when we went to this memorial where we walked around for a while and then went into this building where this little old lady gave this speech. This little old lady was one out of a group of female students that formed a nursing unit during the war times and she gave the most incredible speech I have ever heard. I couldn’t understand all of what she said but what she was saying was not stopped by a mere language barrier alone. The atmosphere in the room was one I have never felt before and in the end as we were leaving almost everyone was crying. We also went to the Himeyuri Peace Museum where it’s dedicated to those students and teachers and has all their pictures and some information as well. Her picture was there as well.

Now our trip wasn’t all serious stuff, we had a lot of fun as well. One day we got to pick a course that we would like to take. you had the choice of cooking, Okinawan art, or outdoors stuff- I choose the outdoors stuff. It was so much fun! We were taken to this beach where we were split into two groups. Half of us went to go look for shells and then make things out of them and the other half went canoeing in the ocean, then we switched later on. It was a perfect opportunity for my tourist nature to come out and I ended up taking a bajillion pictures. It was really cool to see how different all the shells were from Florida’s shells and I got the chance to take a bunch home. The sea canoeing was immensely fun and even though I didn’t get any pictures (I just couldn’t bring myself to carry my precious camera onto an unsturdy craft in the middle of the ocean being steered by two teenage girls.:)) I have my memories. Another place we went was this American base where we were toured around the houses where the family lives, which I found highly amusing, and taken to eat an American meal- A ‘giant’ cheeseburger and french fries. HA! I felt like such a fat American, I was the only one able to eat the whole thing at the table….. But it was yummy. 🙂

Throughout the trip we had a couple different hotels but we always traveled on the same bus and had the same bus lady. I loved that woman. She was so happy-go-lucky and nice. Plus she sang all these traditional Okinawan songs that are still stuck in my head. If it wasn’t for her I might have gone crazy on that bus on which we spent so many hours traveling. Another thing to note- Almost all my classmates bought hundreds of dollars worth of souvenirs! I was expecting a lot, but standing behind them in lines and seeing their baskets filled to the brim with things NOT FOR THEM really brought it in check. I believe in souvenirs as much as the next person, but there’s gotta be a line somewhere! Also all the students were early for everything. Breakfast- getting to the bus- meeting up after shopping. If they said to be back at the bus at 10:40 and I got there at 10:38 it was almost like I was late, everyone would be already on the bus and, of course, I would be the last person to board. The Japanese definitely have a ‘being on time’ complex.


So we get back to Sendai and I am informed I missed the first snow…… WHAT?! I was not happy. So now every day I am on snow patrol and wishing for cold weather and rainy weather which, apparently, makes me crazy. Haha.

So, the day after I get back from Okinawa I go to a town about an hour north of Sendai by bullet train to meet up with the other four exchangees, have a semi-meeting with Rotary, and have the pleasure of listening to the Rotex’s speeches! It was my first time riding the bullet train so I was very excited. I have to say, yes it went very fast, enough to make your ears do the ear-poppy-thingy, but all in all in was like any other train or subway I have ridden. So I met up with one of the exchangees and we traveled to Morioka together then afterwards we met up with the rest of the exchangees. Which, I guess, in comparison with the other gatherings I’ve read about in the other countries would be rather small, seeing as there are only five of us. But that’s ok, it just makes it better. We were all overjoyed to see each other and had an amazing time swapping stories. I did notice that in the beginning we all tried to talk in Japanese with each for the first hour or so, but then it slowly regressed into English as the conversation got faster and more teenage-like. We were all brought into a room where there were three Rotarians at the front, four chairs in the back, and one in the middle. It was QUESTIONING time!-Japanese version. It was really not as bad as it sounds and I was relieved that I understood all their questions and was able to answer them all sufficiently (in Japanese mind you). It also helped that everyone in the room was friends and knew everyone else. Afterwards we got to listen to the Rotex give their speeches which means a bunch of talking and eventual crying. It was surprising to me because I was able to get a lot of what they were saying and see how I would be feeling in about 9 months from now.

It never fails to amaze me at how much the exchange students just get each other. We’re all living completely different lives, different food, different languages, different cultures, different countries, but when I read the others’ journals it’s always so amazing at how much our feelings and our thoughts are almost the same. Of course there are big differences too, but there are so many other things that as soon as I read it I think to myself, “YES! That’s just it!”. I am looking forward to the Welcome Home Dinner so much, not because I’ll be back in my country, but because I’ll be able to talk to all these people who have gone through the exact same thing as me and be able to see how everyone has changed because of that. Being an exchange student has been the best thing of my life. I’m learning so much and seeing so many things that I never could have imagined I’d see.

Plus, I’m now grown accustomed to living with strangers and not understanding things so that’ll help me when I go off to college 🙂

So right…. Where was I?

Ah, yes. Morioka. I get back from Morioka and return to Sendai. You would thing that NOW I would get a chance to rest, right? I mean I WAS just gone for a week traveling around Okinawa and living out of my suitcase. But, no. Now I have to pack everything up again for none other than….. Host Family change! This time wasn’t as bad as the last, I was ready for it. So I said goodbye and my last day or so with the Shigas was half spent playing video games and making origami with my siblings and the other half was me trying to cram a bunch of stuff into my suitcases. Seriously, I don’t know where all this stuff is coming from but I DO know I need to start sending packages home. Fast. Or my return flight is going to be a very expensive one.

My new family is…… Well, to be honest I already completely adore them and I’ve only been here one week. This family is a little different than my others. They’re actually originally from Taiwan (heeeellllooooo Patty! ;D) and came to Japan about 20 some years ago as foreign exchange students. At home I have Mom, Dad, my little sister (12), and my big brother (17). Dad is a doctor and mom counsels little children and teaches Chinese. They all speak Chinese which can cause me to be highly confused at times because sometimes when they talk to each other it’s in Chinese others it’s in Japanese. Most of the time its both XD. And at those times I’m not sure if I’m not understanding the word or the language. Of course when the talk to me its strictly in Japanese but I’m having fun picking up little things in Chinese now as well. It is kind of funny. I can always tell when my little sister is in trouble because my mom will switch to Chinese and her voice completely changes. Haha. My new house is only 20 minutes away from my school- by WALKING. I love it. It’s the closest I’ve been, and will be, plus we are on this hill that has a very nice view of the city and at night when all the buildings are lit up I think it’s amazing.

I have fallen absolutely in love with getting letters from family and friends back in America. Nothing makes my day more than getting to read about what’s going on back home and hear how much people miss me. HAHA. Well not really the second part, but I reaaaaally do enjoy them. It’s kind of funny if you see me when I read them I get all red and teary and have this gigantic dumb grin on my face. It’s like Christmas every time. It’s sort of silly but I’m still surprised when I realize people are living lives without me back home. It’s like, “Oh. You guys went Trick or Treating without me… I see.” I’m not expecting you guys back home to just sit away and pine after me but I can still be surprised!

SPEAKING of holidays! I completely forgot about Halloween, I mean, we had decorations and everything, but since no one was making any plans or anything when my friend said something about it the day before I had to go look at a calendar because I didn’t believe her. And Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all! Hope you enjoyed your turkey and pumpkin cause I sure didn’t -_-…. I did get some chicken though. Thanksgiving was a long day for me that was half down half up. The first half I was sorta down-and hungry- the whole time, but then the second half I got a letter from a friend back home and got to call my family, who were conveniently all together so I got to talk to a good portion of them 🙂

I have to say that for Thanksgiving I am thankful for….

My family

My friends

Every single second I am spending here right now.

The people who have opened their lives, hearts, and homes to me.

And Rotary.

So thank you all. So much. You’ll never know how much you really mean to me.

Until next time,


January 15 Journal

Hey everyone~

It’s been a while and I’m giving everyone a fair warning now- This one might be a rather long entry. Hope you like reading.

My last journal left off around Thanksgiving so I’ll just continue from there. As Christmas started coming around more and more decorations were popping up in the main street, stores, conbinis, malls, airports, and basically anywhere and everywhere you looked…. Except your house of course. It was almost like they were teasing me. I’d go into town and see a gorgeous tree all lit up and adorned in twinkling ornaments with festive music blasting, but Alas! When I got home there would be nothing but a mere paper snowflake hanging in the window. Although, Sendai sort of made up for that. Here we have something called the ‘Pageant of Starlights’ every year that attracts a LOT of people. I mean, seriously, I have never seen so many non-Asians in my city at once. What happens is our main street, which is lined with gigantic trees that makes it beautiful any time of the year, is covered from top to bottom in lights. The main road is just white but if you go off to the side you can sometimes discover red or blue or green as well, although my favorite was still the white ones. And then you have the food vendors, and the outdoor skating rink, and the giant tree, and the beer tents (?). Not quite sure what to call the last one haha. And everyday around seven at night all the lights go out for about 30 seconds and then flash back on again. It doesn’t sound quite as cool when I type it but it was actually pretty neat.

So, I was still with the Chins at this time and they had a bunch of relatives coming in from not only Taiwan but America as well. So that meant my Christmas was spent tri-lingualy. Very confusing. The relatives from Taiwan only spoke Chinese and the relatives from America obviously only spoke Chinese or English. You would think I would’ve been happy about this but actually, I found myself deliberately going out of my way to ask my host mom questions in Japanese rather than ask the people from my home country in English. And I was pretty anti-social as well. I hung out with my little sister the whole time since she doesn’t like talking in Chinese and we had a lovely time watching TV and playing video games while the rest of the family sat around the dinner table talking in Chinese. Haha. I actually really enjoyed it because I got to spend more time with her. I’ve never had a little sister before (although I have had my little… ‘minions’ whom I love just as much) and it was nice to know that I don’t suffer from ‘only child syndrome’ too much. Although I DID sometimes want to kick her out of my room. A girl needs her sleep! XD But overall I really liked that family so much and I’ve gone back to visit a few times. Of course, I like all my host fams but after having six different ones I’m bound to start playing favorites at one time or another. haha. So we had a small party with the family and then afterwards we got home, and mom and dad gave us all one present. My sister and I were pretty stoked, we both got the video games we had wanted. (Mine was a Kanji study game 😀 Hers was… The Japanese version of animal crossing. lol) My brother got…. gloves. ROFL. Afterwards it was overall a normal night.

So I didn’t get a white Christmas this year. But I got something just as good in my book- a white day AFTER Christmas. It was really like a dream. When I first lazily woke up I didn’t even look out the window. I stumbled out of bed, said morning to the family, and then proceeded to the computer for my video chat with my family back in America. They had some technical problems and I ended up getting up to go change clothes when I looked out the window.


Everything was covered in white!


I was very happy at that point. I threw my coat on over my pajamas, gloves, a scarf, and boots and proceeded to run around outside like a three-year-old who has had one too many pixie sticks. It was marvelous. I made a mini snowman and a snow angel and splattered the side of the house with snowballs. Mind you, this is all by myself because my sister is still sleeping and my mom and dad are laughing at me from the window safe and warm in the house. But I didn’t care. I had snow. I ended up remembering about my family at some point and came inside to talk with them…. It was alright. :>)

During the holidays I got a flood of emails and pictures from back home and even got not one, not two, but three! packages containing presents and Christmas cookies! I felt so sick after eating those cookies (even though I shared like… half of them with my family!) but they were the most mouth-watering cookies I have had in a very long time. Thank you Aunti!! We all loved them! I also got a couple gifts from some friends back home…. -_- Guys…. You’re in so much trouble! Well, at least one of you is! The best all around had to be the package I got from my mom, though. It had so much stuff that just made me smile and laugh and show off to my host family and there were a bajillion little letters and stuff and it was great.

You know how in America the day after Thanksgiving is a massive shopping frenzy? AKA ‘Black Friday’? In Japan there’s something like that only it’s the day after New Years and all the stores go on massive sales and EVERYONE has all these grab bags everywhere! The malls are crammed! It was very interesting….

On the 28th I changed host families. Yeah, yeah. Nothing new. But this one is different! (>o<)

It was very fun because the Shoji’s daughter just happens to be in my class so I knew her pretty well before I even got there, unlike my other fams where I’ve just been going in with no idea whatsoever or what they’re like. We ended up going to Morioka which is about an hour north of Sendai by bullet train. It was really fun but it would have been even better if it hadn’t been the DAY after I had changed HF. Ah, well. I’ll have plenty of time to breathe when I get back to America right? So we get there and arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Remember when I said we were north of Sendai? Well, that means… Even more snow! There I had my first chance to make a life-size snowman and an igloo! It was so much fun…. Ah, the good times…. when I was still happy about snow…. Today in particular was rather dreadful. Take a Floridian girl. Stick her outside in her Kyudo club’s small practice area. Make it dark and suddenly have snow coming down like crazy with strong wind to boot. Mind you none of the other clubs are outside at this point. Then make sure that the practice area only has one small heater in the corner and basically does nothing but tell you the temperature is below zero. Oh! And don’t forget to make sure that the snow blows directly onto the practice area so her socks get all wet and she starts to lose feeling in her feet. Leave her there for two hours. AFTERWARDS, have her walk 25 minutes in the snow to a new house when she’s taken the path once and hasn’t quite memorized it. She will get lost, I guarantee it.

Oops. Right. SO! I also met some more of the family and 96-year-old great grandma. Who surprised the crap out of me. I didn’t even know she was in the house until two days later when they took me to meet her. At their house there is a shop attached so we spent the four days there cleaning, and when we weren’t cleaning we (meaning me, my sister, my brother, and the cousins) practically lived in small living room and just watched TV the entire time. The day before New Years we had a big dinner with everyone squeezed into great grandma’s room and, of course, sitting on the floor. I remember the room was adorned with all these beautiful paper ornaments and traditional Japanese things. It all felt so….. Japanese. There’s not really a way to put it. There I was eating New Years food in Japan and we bowed while sitting in seiza before eating and kanpai-ing, plus this house was one of the first REAL Japanese houses I’ve been in. Meaning it wasn’t as westernized as the others. Meaning it was really cold. haha. We all ate and then later as the clock was slowly tick-tick-ticking away to the next year we had soba (or Japanese noodles) just like almost every single other person in Japan was at that time. We ended up watching the NHK special that features a bunch of popular artists and playing card games afterwards. Then my sister, brother, and I stayed up and watched the final countdown (that wouldn’t have been complete without the giant amount of Japanese boybands that did it) and then we all went to bed. You know, it’s almost funny. I’ve been in Japan for almost half a year now and the things I remember the best are times I’ve spent with my host families. I remember as we were playing card games my dad was slightly…. tipsy and my sister and I were still getting completely destroyed by him and then I remember laughing so hard I cried. I remember when I went back to visit my second host family and my sisters and I made the craziest origami and had it stalk the cat. I remember attacking my little sister and tickling her until she gave me back the damn ball. I remember how my host mom’s face lit up when I gave her one small present after everyone else went to bed, and then afterwards she just clutched it and walked around for a place to put it.

It’s nice.

I get side-tracked way too easy. haha. Sorry! So, after we did the New Years thing with the gramps we came back to Sendai. After a day or two with nothing to do but relax I had to go off for the weekend to a Rotary camp thing that was, also, up near Morioka. Me and another exchangee were being recruited to help future outbounds with their English conversation. There were about 25 kids and out of them there were only 3 guys (poor things hah). Everyone was either going to Texas or Oklahoma for 2 weeks so it was neat that me and the other exchangee were both from America and could help them with anything they wanted to know. Half of it was games to help them with their English that Alexis and I would participate in, and then the other half was slightly boring Rotary rules and such that…. I may or may not have fallen asleep in. The two of us were rescued from yet another Rotary rule explanation by one of my FAVORITE Rotary members of all time who took us to see the lake and an Oni Museum. This Rotarian is great. When everyone else is wearing suits he is wearing tropical shirts and sweatshirts with smilies on it. When everyone else goes by ‘~~’-san he goes by ‘Six-pack’ and not cause he has a six pack of abs. XD He speaks perfect English and is always really good at just making you feel comfortable and laugh your ass off. Why this man is not on TV I will never know. Too bad I’ve only gotten to see him a couple times though.

SO-I get back. Guess what I do when I get back. I pack. ‘Now, why would you pack ? You’ve only been there for two weeks!’- You might say. Yeah, well. I’m hardcore….

Ok Not really, I just had a two-week homestay for some reason. DONT ASK ME WHY. I just did. I wanted to throw a hissy fit and stomp my feet and cry and complain and refuse to do it but, like any good exchange student, I didn’t. 🙂 I shut up and packed. The next day my host mom, sister, and I drove to the middle of the city and by the time we pulled up to my apartment my mother was officially FREAKING OUT. She kept going, ‘Here?! Really!? Here!?! Look!! It’s a private elevator! Seriously?! Here?!’. My new family is part of Rotary and my father owns a couple apartment buildings and we happen to live on the top floor of one. It has a nice view and it’s super close to the main street with all the shops I could ever want to go broke.

Next week marks my half a year anniversary. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Half of me can’t wait to go home and stick my feet in the warm Floridian sand and see all my friends and family again, and then the other half feels like crying because I now know WHEN my departure date is and….. I don’t want to. Not yet. I’m always thinking about things too much. I mean, I still do have half a year left but I just know that it’s going to go by so fast and before I know it I’ll be back in FL wishing I could go home.

SPEAKING of that! I had to say goodbye to my exchange friends from school. They weren’t Rotary but there was only three of us and I had all my classes with the one from Germany and needless to say we had gotten pretty close over the few months. Both of them helped me so much and I really miss them. The girl from my class had a going away party and everyone got to spend their English class not learning, but talking and having fun. Near the end of the day everyone eventually wandered on home leaving just me, her, and one of our classmates. She was going to leave the next day and see some of the others before she got on the bullet train but I had out of town plans that I couldn’t change, so this would be the last time WE could meet. We sat around and goofed and talked and took pictures until both of us had to get to our club before we got any later. We hugged and by that time Julia was crying and I was feeling horrible, like I was losing a best friend. No, scratch that. I WAS losing a best friend. We parted and I walked off to my club and she to hers and as soon as I split off from her and the other classmate I burst into tears. I cried and cried and knew I would probably never see her again. I got to my club and choked on my words as I explained why I was late. After that I focused and cleared my head. Now, I’m not quite as sad and if I ever get to visit Germany I will be sure to go and see a town called Achen and look her up <3

If I got 100 yen every time I said “We have that in America, too.” I would be so rich by now.

When I first started talking to the exchangees who are home now I always asked when they felt they became fluent. I should have asked when they felt they could get by. I now feel like I can get by. If I had to leave Japan right now, I would be happy with what I know. I still have a long way to go, but….I can get by and it feels great.

FUTURE OUTBOUNDS! Ahhhhhh! YOU MADE IT! How cool is that?!?! You better be practicing your languages! The time is going to go by so quickly and before you know it, you too will be getting lost and not knowing what people are saying! It will be fabulous. I’m not promising you’ll love every minute of it but you won’t regret it. I’m so excited for you guys and hope we will get a chance to meet! If you want my email ask your head Rotarian for it. I’d love to talk to some of you guys and am open to any questions you might have. <3

Until next time~


March 30 Journal

Hello everyone,

The days are getting less frigid, cherry blossoms are starting to travel their way up the country as they bloom, styles are changing, spring delicacies are popping up on menus, and the snow has said its goodbye to Sendai until next winter. Spring is finally here and with spring marks the beginning of a new school year. Since I last left off I had just moved into a new family and well, I’ve moved again. I am also moving again in about a week. BUT! That’s the LAST time, I swear! I will be done, complete, settled down, however you want to say it. I will be with my next host family for next three months until I get on a plane and head back to America. Right now Im staying with three others because my host dad is working in a different city a couple of hours. I have a mom and two big sisters. One of them is a second year in college and the other just graduated from the school that I’m going to right now. She actually went to France through Rotary last year for an exchange so its really cool to be living with a Rotex right now.

Let’s go back a little bit to February in Japan, more specifically the 14th. Now in Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little different than most countries, instead of the guys and girls just exchanging gifts the girls here seem to go on a crazy chocolate making adventure. A large majority of the girls here hand-make chocolate and give it to not only someone they like, but to people they might feel obligated to give to, like co-workers and friends. There is ‘honmei’ choco (given to a sweetheart), ‘giri’ choco (given to co-workers and such), and ‘tomo’ choco (given to friends). Then the guys don’t have to give anything back until a month later on a day called White Day. Well, I ended up going to one of my previous host families house and made brownies with my little sister and host mom. Usually they don’t use brownies but I made them once and they reaaaaaaaally liked them so my sister wanted to make them instead of chocolate for her friends, and it was fun. When I went to school for the next day or two I got some amazing treats from friends <3. I actually did a speech contest on March 14th on this. Of, course it was in Japanese and it had to be about 5-6 minutes long. You were allowed to choose whatever topic you wanted and since we were giving it on White Day I figured ‘Why not?’. I didn’t win anything but I did get a huge ego-boost when one of the Rotarians came over to me and said my Japanese was the best. Even if he was just trying to make me feel better, it still made my day.

I’ve had two or three Rotary camps since I’ve last written. I have to admit…. They are almost ALWAYS so dull. A lot of speeches and lectures and usually stuff that I’m not prepared for because no one told me about it. The bright side is I always get to meet a lot of Japanese kids who are always SO excited and happy to talk to you and ask you questions and practice their English and just want to be your friend. It’s so cute (>w<)! I had a camp in February where Rotary had us up in the Northern part (where there was SOOOO much snow. Seriously, piles and piles way above my waist) where they were trying to break up the dullness by throwing in ‘curling’ lessons the next day. Hm. It was….. New. For those of you who don’t know, because I sure didn’t, curling is the Olympic sport of sliding a giant rock across the ice and trying to get your rock closer to the center of the bulls-eye than your opponents rock. Veeeeery thrilling sport. We had a mini-competition and my team…. well. We were pretty bad. haha. I was able to go to the camp with two of my friends from school though, because they are part of the ‘Interact club’ at school and, as always, seeing my other exchangee buddies made it ten times better.

This month there was another camp called the ‘Spring Camp’ that was absolutely amazing. It was a camp for the future outbounds (or Japanese kids who will go to other countries soon) to get ‘prepared’. This camp had the most exchange kids out of all the camps I’ve been at. Usually there’s only the five of us but this time there was about 12 plus a bunch of English teachers working in Japan for a year. There was a lot interesting conversation going around and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at an orientation in Japan. I also met a girl who is coming to Florida soon for a year! I promised her we would meet up and I can’t wait to see her back in the states.

I also went to a place called ‘Zao’ with a bunch of my Rotarians in February as well. It has a bunch of what they call ‘snow monsters’ but what they actually are is a bunch of trees that are positioned in the mountains so that snow piles and piles upon them until you can’t even see the tree anymore, just a giant… well….. snow monster. It was sooooooooooo cold up there, and so pretty. It also happens to be the area of a popular ski resort, so I had to stand there with the only group of people not planning on skiing or snowboarding while we were there. I never did get to go skiing or snowboarding while I still could. So, I’m just going to have to come back to Japan just to do that. It is starting to look like I might have to come back to see Mt. Fuji as well. And Hiroshima. And Kyoto. And Hokkaido. I still have so many places I haven’t been yet, and I only have a 3 and half months left. Rotary is absolutely right when they tell you that your exchange starts to speed up after you hit that half a year mark. Everything is finally falling into place, I have a good friends, a good grasp of the language, I love my town and can navigate without getting lost, and I met the ‘new’ exchange student who came to my school the other day. That makes me the ‘old’ exchange student…… How weird is that? The ‘old’ exchange students always seem to leave so soon. They always seem to know so much about the language and way of life about their country. I don’t feel like I’m ready to go yet or that I know enough about Japan.

On the other hand I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going home. It’s not homesickness, I’m not sitting around missing everyone everyday and longing to be back, but I know it’ll be nice to see my family and friends again. I want to see what’s and who’s changed back there. And I miss my dog and cat. aha.

So right now it’s Spring break. Technically, it’s only two weeks long, but since the last week was only for people who didn’t do well enough on their exams I got three. Still one left to go before I go back and become a third year! Which is equal to a senior back in America. I’ve been pretty busy lately though. Almost always something to do or someone to hang out with. I went to another soccer game the other day and had the opportunity to sit in the ‘supporter’ seat. You get to stand for two hours and sing and jump the entire time. It was a LOT of fun even though it surprised everyone by being unnaturally cold AND snowy the entire time. Yep. The end of March and it was snowing…. Hard. Ahhhhh~~~ I love it. After that I haven’t done anything real exciting lately, just the usual. I went and stayed the night for two nights with one of my previous host families who I hadn’t seen in a while. I love going and seeing old host families. They always make you feel so good about your language abilities. haha. Oh! And when I went to spend the night at a friend’s house I got one of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten since I’ve come to Japan. My friend’s big sister went to America through Rotary a couple of years ago but didn’t want to talk to me in English. When I asked her why she said it was because it would be like talking to a Japanese person in English and that it would just be weird.

Apparently I’ve been on TV a bunch of times. I just never know about it! One time there was a problem with the bullet train and I was at the station waiting for someone. The next day my friend told me I had been on TV. I had seen the cameraman but didn’t think he was filming! And then there was a festival where after New Year’s you go and burn old papers at a shrine in a giant fire with other people. I hadn’t even seen a cameraman man that time. I was surprised when the same friend told me I had been on TV again. And then again at the Speech Contest all of the Rotary exchange students were on the News a lot for a while. I got a flood of emails from friends saying they had seen me on TV. I was slightly mortified, especially after I saw for myself. Haha

I was able to go to one of my host sisters graduation ceremony from Elementary school. Wow. Big difference from what I remember in America. At first it was really boring, just everyone getting their name called and going up to the front and taking their certificate of graduation. Then they all sang a bunch of songs and then there was a long time where the ones graduating were talking to the lower years about doing their best, then the younger years were thanking the ones graduating for their guidance and helpfulness. Saying they would not forget them and such. It was sweet, but it felt a little too heavy to me for Elementary school kids.

I can’t wait till May! I have a Tokyo tour for a couple days with four other exchange students. It’s probably going to be one on the best things during this exchange.

I feel bad, not only is this journal overdue, but it’s kind of short as well. There just really hasn’t been that much going on. I’m settled in. Everyday isn’t exciting and full of adventure. I still love it here! But, now it’s just all so normal. It’s really hard to talk in English with people lately. I keep having to stop and correct myself. I guess people don’t always understand what ‘arubaito’ means. haha

Well, until next time-

(BTW -it means part-time job J)

May 15 Journal

Well hello again everyone! It’s been a while and I seem to be late with this journal once again. Lately my life has suddenly become incredibly busy and I’ve been able to come up with reasons to put off writing this journal for about a month and a half with ease. Lets see~~

When I last left off it was just turning to April and I was on Spring break for school. Two weeks of relaxation and fun before going back to school as a senior, and in Japan that’s when the studying REALLY starts. As soon as it hit the first of April I switched to my last of 8 families and I have to say that I don’t think I could’ve picked a better family to be my last. I’ve only been here a month but I have grown so fond of not only my two younger brothers, but my mom and dad, and even grandpa. I can’t say exactly why I like this family so much, maybe it’s the fact that we eat dinner sitting on the floor the traditional way, or that I can watch sumo with grandpa, or maybe it’s that I have two younger brothers who seem to provide me with a constant source of entertainment. I also enjoy the variety of Japanese here. My dad speaks fast, my brothers speak slight slang, my grandpa speaks… like a grandpa (haha), and my mom is what I consider pretty normal. It’s a nice way to learn the different varieties of Japanese. I can’t believe a month has already passed here. With my other families I would have been moved on to the next family by now, so I’m so thrilled to have more time to spend with this one. PLUS, their oldest child is now in Florida doing an exchange through Rotary. Chihiro will be coming back to Japan before I leave so I’ll have about two weeks to live with her as well and although I’ve only been able to meet her once (and talk to her a couple of times via computer) she seems like so much fun and I know that once she gets back the house will not only be louder (haha) but even more amazing! <3 The only tough part is that the house is located in such a hilly area of Sendai that walking and riding your bike around is always a work-out. I’m all for exercising, but some days after school I wish I could just fly up the hill instead and jump into bed!

The seventh of April I was headed back to school for the opening ceremony. Usually in Japan the beginning of a new school year means you not only change classrooms and your homeroom teacher but classmates as well and have to get used to a new set of faces for the year, HOWEVER my class is a special international class so everyone is together from the beginning of the first year to the end of the third year. I’m still with the same familiar faces as when I first came here and I’m ecstatic about that. I reaaaaaaaally have grown to love my classmates so much and felt like it was fate that I was put into this class. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. There’s always someone ready and willing to help me or joke with or break out into random dancing. The only thing that really changed was the classroom… It’s become the furthest from the entrance of the school and you have the pleasure of climbing four flights of stairs. haha.

Coming back to school was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had since I’ve come to Japan. It was a little like the first day, a new beginning, but this time I had friends, knew the school, could communicate, and felt this wonderful sense of… Belonging. Another thing they do at the beginning of school is a health check-up.. You know, weight, height, eyesight, that sort of stuff. OH! And recently everyone had to give uh… urine samples as well. Not sure if it’s just my school but I was happy I was exempt and that we definitely don’t do that back at my school in Florida. I’m still in the Interact club and our head teacher switched at the beginning of the new school year. We now have a staggering 40 some people signed up and even if they don’t all show up every week it’s still a fairly big increase from the 12 some members last year. About a week ago everyone wrote their first letter to what is going to be the start of pen-pals to a school in America, and seeing as I had the slight feeling that an American student might be disappointed to get a letter from another American when they were expecting one from a Japanese school-girl, I resigned myself to walking around and helping them write letters. It was fun. We also had a small Easter party at which the Japanese students (and the exchange students from Thailand and France) were able to dye eggs for the first time. Obviously I was considered a pro 😉

My exchange friends are all leaving next month. I’m going to fall apart when we have to say goodbye, seriously. I’m the only one leaving in July and I’ll have to say farewell to them one by one.

I don’t want to.

My American friends will be easier to say goodbye to because I know I’ll have a chance to meet them again, but the two from France and Mexico… I feel like I’ve known them for years and over this exchange we’ve had so many amazing experiences together and so many stupid jokes and so many ‘firsts’ and it’s just going to completely and royally…… Suck. We still have our Tokyo tour together this month (after 1 more week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and we’re determined to not talk about the departure dates and leaving, but just enjoy it to the fullest. It’s so weird. I’ve been looking forward to the tour for the past 10 months and now it’s here and I have less than 2 months left. Lately I been making plans with friends and host families like crazy and realized I don’t have enough time to get together with everyone I want to. ‘There’s not enough time’. 時間が足りない。私の日本にいる時間が足りない。I never thought I would think that. When I first came here, it seemed like I had all the time in world.

So! It’s spring in Japan and that means that in the beginning, all of Japan gradually turns pinkish and smells really good. Yes, it was the season of cherry blossoms, aka ‘sakura’. Sendai finally had its time and it was better than I expected. I was reminded of how I felt when I first came to Japan because I was once again walking throughout town being reminded that I really was in Japan. I was only disappointed by the shortness of the flowers’ stay, a mere week and then the rain and wind was sweeping through the trees and it was raining petals over the city, the only reminder of the blossoms being the pink ground that was littered with them. I was almost worried that I wouldn’t get to go to one of the Japanese’s favorite pastime during the sakura season, a ‘hana-mi’. A ‘hana-mi’ is a mixture of the word ‘hana’-flower and ‘miru’-look. It usually refers to in spring when a large amount of people go out to a place with a lot of blooming sakura trees, sit outside, eat, drink sake, and enjoy the beauty of the sakura around them. I was really busy the week that the trees were blooming and my family didn’t have any plans to go out and do one, so one day after school I finally decided to go by myself if I had to! I asked my friends where one of the bigger parks was and once they discovered what I was planning to do before I knew it there was a group of 6 girls wanting to come with. I was surprised and happy and had a lot more fun than I would have had if I had gone by myself. It was so Japanese-y and the numerous food vendors were peddling their goods to the large amount of people, most including salary men and women who take ‘hana-mi’s as a time to drink until late at night and relax from their busy workdays. My friends and I also ended up making a friend, a 3 or 4 year-old girl who came over and soon had us walking all over the place. Afterwards her mom gave her new big sisters free food, too. It really was very pretty and I will have to come back to do another ‘hana-mi’.

A couple weeks ago my school had their annual ‘school outing’. And all of the classes got to choose where they wanted to go for a day.. My class choose the ‘Koiwai farm’ and we got to spend a day out of school uniform and enjoying a day in the country instead. The place wasn’t quite that exciting but they did have amazing ice cream and we got to make our own butter. It was also just nice to get to walk around with my friends and take pictures of everyone together.

The beginning of May was something in Japan known as Golden Week. It’s basically a week of a bunch of holidays in a row that gives all of Japan an excuse for everyone to take a massive break from the usual. It also happens to contain my birthday, May 3rd, so it made it even better! On the second I ended up going over to my first host family’s house and spending the night for the first time since I moved in September. It was sooooooo neat to be able to talk with them and have a decently in-depth conversation without the use of a dictionary! They were really surprised at my Japanese and it was nice to be able to just catch up with them and that night they even brought out a birthday cake and a couple presents. The next day we went to a nearby town to eat ramen and after a while they returned me to my current host family and while it was fun and amazing to see them again, I got home and was just like….

‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It’s good to be home’. And promptly stretched out on the floor and took a nap. Haha. Then that day later on my mom right now took me out to the mall and let me pick out a watch that I wanted for my birthday present (I turned 17 by the way). We also had a big dinner and cake too so I was feeling pretty spoiled. Not to mention the great flood of emails from family and friends back home and in Japan, I felt like my birthday would never end. On the fifth I went and saw a friend who was in a drama and thoroughly enjoyed it and afterwards went out with a bunch of others to eat (お好み焼き会!笑) and karaoke. Then the next day was spent with Emma from France and we… well… Karaoke, purikura, shopping, and eating.

School started the next day and it was good to see everyone. I was feeling on top of the world the entire day for some reason. It only got better when I was dragged off my by friend to the first floor to look at some English work she needed help with and then when we got back to the classroom the whole world exploded. A bunch of party crackers and cries of ‘Happy Birthday !’. There was a cake as well~ My third one that week!! After I recovered from the initial shock I was presented with a present and an origami heart. The present was a giant pajama thing in the shape of bear that I had been wanting for a while, but don’t quite remember telling anyone. That would have made my day enough, but the best part was the origami heart that had thirty some other paper hearts with messages from all of my classmates on them. That’s what made me start to cry as I read through them. A bunch of them said things like ‘You only have two months left but…..’, ‘We’ll miss you!’, ‘Love you !’, and ‘I’m so glad I got to meet you!’. As I was reading through them I was struck with such a big I DON’T WANT TO GO AWAY feeling. I got a taste of what is probably going to start coming after a couple more weeks.

Did you know that in Japan there is Mothers Day as well? It seems to be just as popular as it is in America and I realize with horror that I had not only one mother now… but nine. I ended up only giving flowers and cards to the two I saw almost everyday and then sent a mail to a couple too. I called my mom back in America and talked with her for two hours as well, and that seemed to make up for me being a bad daughter and not sending anything at all. My current host mom ended up taking me and one of my younger brothers out and about that day too. It was nice even if we did go to the planetarium on a cloudy day. Haha.

I have a huge test coming up this Saturday and I have this sinking feeling that I’m not prepared at allllllll. It includes conversation, grammar, listening, explanation, kanji, etc., etc. There are two levels and for some crazy reason another exchange student and I are the only two taking the upper level while the rest of the exchange students take the lower level. Pure insanity I tell you. Insanity.

Okay~~~ So. This is long enough I am ending it!

Ill update, hopefully, soon☆♡

Jya~ mata ne!

Joanie Davis
2008-09 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Kaarst Rotary Club, District 1870, Germany

Joanie - Germany

Joanie’s Bio

 Hey everyone! My name is Joanie Davis, I’m 15 years old and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m a Sophomore at Bartram Trail High School, and I enjoy drawing, painting, and writing. I also enjoy tubing on the St. Johns River and surfing in the summer. My favorite classes in school are Math and Fashion Production.

My family and friends are very important to me. It will be hard leaving them for almost a year, but the experience of being an exchange student is totally worth it. I live with my mom, dad, and my younger sister Ashley. She’s 12 and attends Switzerland Point Middle School (No, it’s not in Switzerland). I also have two pets, a Siberian Husky named Bandit, and a Lovebird named Sunshine. I have many friends that I enjoy spending time with. On weekends we go tubing, jet skiing, and sometimes to the movies and mall.

I am so excited, and still in shock that I have the chance to be an exchange student. I am thrilled that I will be spending my junior year in Germany. It was my first choice (lucky me), and I am so excited I don’t want to wait 5 months before I get to go. I will be spending almost a year in Germany, learning the language, culture, and meeting new people. This would probably be the most amazing thing that has ever happened in my life. Thanks Rotary for allowing me to have this amazing opportunity.

July 22 Journal

 Hi everyone! Although I have not yet left on my exchange, I would still like to write a journal about how I’m feeling before I embark on this year long journey. I have only 13 days before I leave and it doesn’t feel real yet. It has not hit me that I will be leaving my friends and family and live in another country for a year. Every time I tell someone that they look at me like I’m crazy. Often people ask me if I’m scared, excited, or nervous. But honestly, I don’t feel any of those emotions. I actually don’t feel any emotion I can possible think of. It’s something new, weird, and I just can’t explain it. This is a strange thing for me because I can usually explain how I feel in any situation but not in this one. Only someone that has or will be an exchange student knows what this odd feeling is like.

On July 11th my friend Anne went back to Denmark. It was a really sad day , and our group was crying so hard. Just like a car accident everyone stared at us as they walked by. Although it was terribly upsetting for everyone, I felt happy at the same time. This wasn’t a “goodbye” it was more of a “see you soon”. This is something I’m going to remember when it comes time for me to come back home. It takes a lot of sadness out of the leaving and makes it a lot more joyous. I think this experience will prepare me for my exchange.

Lucky for me, I’ve been talking to my first host family for a lot longer than most outbounds. I’ve really become attached to them, and I feel like I know them good enough to feel very comfortable in their home. I will have one host sister name Leonie. She is the cutest little girl I’ve ever seen. My host parents are so nice, and completely different from my parents. I am really excited about finally getting to meet them. That’s the only emotion I can find that fits any part of my exchange. I’m excited to meet my new family.

After I finished writing this, I read Katie’s journal and almost screamed when I read the part about the indescribable emotion. I think we’ll need to find a good name for it.

August 25 Journal

 Hallo! I had been homesick before I’d ever left the country. A week before I left it started. I felt like I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. The night before I left was awful. I was terribly depressed, and I was crying a lot. The next morning my mom woke me and asked if I still wanted to do this. I wanted to say no so bad. The last thing I wanted to do was get on the airplane and leave for a year. The first night in Germany I was so homesick I wanted to leave so bad. It lasted 3 days and out of nowhere it stopped. I wanted to stay, I didn’t want to leave. And everyday I am so happy that I decided to go, because I have met so many great people and I would have missed out on a chance of a lifetime.

I’m not going to write about my flight to Germany because it was so uneventful, it’s not even worth writing about. 7 hour layover in Detroit, ancient airplane, and loss of all my knowledge of the German language covers just about everything. So I’ve been in Germany for about three weeks, and it’s everything I imagined it would be. I have already been attending school for two weeks. If you think going to high school in your own country is tough, imagine going to high school in an unfamiliar place, with little knowledge of the language, and not a single friend as far as the eye can see. That was a terrifying experience for me. Never in my life have I been nervous to go to school , but that all changed August 13th. I woke up and I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital. I couldn’t stop freaking out, I was hyperventilating, and my heart was beating so hard I could hear it. It took about an hour before I could even start to get ready to go. Because it was my first day, my host mom drove me to school. As soon as we turned into the parking lot I started freaking out again. I kept asking myself ”What’s wrong with you?” I couldn’t calm down; it was terrible. I had no clue where I was going, and I most definitely couldn’t ask anyone because I wasn’t ready for everyone to know that I was foreign. I finally found my first class and quickly took a seat in the very back, and immediately a girl started talking to me. It was the fastest I have ever heard anyone speak. She must have said every word in German in about 2 minutes. I just stared at her for a really long time. My eyes must have been popping out of my head. She then gasped, grabbed me by the arm and exclaimed ”ARE YOU JOANIE?” My cover was blown and 20 pairs of eyes were staring at me. I quickly nodded my head and she smiled and looked really excited. This was just the start of a very crazy day.

School had ended and I had to take the city bus home. I was by myself, and my German is at the level of a 4 year old. I walked on the bus, swiped my bus card and took a seat. It was about 3 minutes into the ride when I heard the bus driver speaking over the intercom. I didn’t know what he was saying so I just sat there. Soon everyone on the bus was staring at me as the driver continued talking. His voice seamed a bit more irritated so I figured he was talking to me. I turned to the girl next to me and asked ”What is he saying?” Strange enough she answered me in French. I searched around panicking and the girl called out ”English!” Thankfully a very, very nice man on the bus spoke English and told me the driver wanted to see my card. I couldn’t understand why. SO I walked to the front of the bus almost falling over because he was a terrible driver and showed him my card. He thought I hadn’t swiped it , though it made a very loud, distinct ”Beep.” The whole ride home everyone continued to stare at me and whispered.

Since that day, things have been getting better and better. I’ve met so many great people, and seen some amazing things. Like the cathedral in Köln. Whoa. So big I couldn’t fit the entire thing into a picture no matter where I stood. And the only disco in Neuss. About the size of my room and 200 people inside. If you are the least bit claustrophobic I highly suggest that you never go there.

This is a terrible summary of everything that’s happened so far, but I want you to read my journals so I’ll keep all of them short.

September 17 Journal

 Hi everyone!

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been here, although I am aware it hasn’t been long. It’s really strange because it feels like a lifetime already. Since the very first day of my exchange I’ve experienced every emotion a person can experience. Things are really bipolar all the time, and there are times when you think you need a therapist. Like I said in my second journal, in the beginning things were awful. But shortly after everything was so marvelous I didn’t think such a feeling could exist. But out of nowhere another emotion hit me. I wasn’t that excited like I used to be. When I would go to festivals, and to the the disco when I first arrived it was like Christmas morning. Now all those things feel more like Easter. There might be a present waiting for you that morning. but it’s nothing like Christmas. But now I realize I’m in the next step of my exchange, ‘Boredom’. Everything feels so routine, and I’m a little uninterested in my friends, and the plans they make. Now my bus rides are so uneventful, it’s saddening. Thankfully in 2 weeks I will be embarking on a journey around Germany, for a full 2 weeks. I’m so excited for that, because during that time I’ll probably miss my friends so much that when I return, I am excited to see them all again and do whatever it is they have planned. Whether it’s making scary movies in the basement of the apartment, or shopping in Düsseldorf. I know the feeling of boredom passes eventually, so I’m having to be really creative so I can keep myself occupied until things become ‘marvelous’ again.

Neuß Schützenfest

Enough talking about emotions, now I want to tell you about all the fun stuff I’ve been doing these past few weeks. I went to Neuß Schützenfest (the biggest in Germany) it felt so much like the County Fair, the only difference was the significant lack of mullets, funnel cakes, and country music. Last weekend I went to Rotex Weekend (which was quite unorganized I might add). There were 72 of us in a tiny gym, and we had our sleeping bags crammed in any place we could find. All night we fought one another for space and our blankets. We used our clothing as pillows and yoga mats as mattresses. (All you future Outbounds better not complain about those bunks at Lake Yale.)

Fun Facts About Germany:

*Deodorant is optional -The older you are the more ‘optional’ it becomes.

*Unlike the yellow bus you take to school, my 16 wheeled Mercedes will not wait for you. You can chase it down, swear at it, and beat on the door, you will not be getting on that bus.

*There is no such thing as ‘No room’ on the bus.

*There are only 3 flavors of chips here, and no they are not ranch, cheese, or salt and vinegar

*People eat 2-3 sandwiches during the school day

*In the grocery store, there is every jelly flavor you can think of (even strawberry vanilla), too bad Grape is not one of them.

*People will freak out if you drink water from the sink.

*People will stare at you if you are caught using hand sanitizer, but once they smell it they start covering their faces like noxious gas has just entered the room.

*The Fanta here tastes like orange cough syrup. ew


November 6 Journal

 Tonight I have decided I will stop procrastinating, and finally do my Germany Tour journal. Everyone has been asking me about it, wondering where it is, but it’s here now. This journal will only be about this incredible two week tour around Germany I went on a month ago. I’ll write another journal later letting you all know what I’ve been up to this past month.

First stop on the tour was Heidelberg. I must say, this was probably the most gorgeous city I’ve ever seen in my life. It could possibly be due to the fact that the sun was shining for once, but the city was pretty nice too. Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany and has a really ugly destroyed castle sitting above the city. It looks really cool until you find out it’s not 2000 years old, the French just decided to do some renovations. Walking up to see that castle was terrible, it was so steep and so early in the morning, it was unbearable. Needless to say my legs hurt bad.

Next was Freiburg. I was also really impressed with this city. It was really similar to Heidelberg, only instead of a castle, there is the church Münster. My new host dad lived in this city. He wanted me to tell you that. Also my legs and everything else on my body hurt from the day before.

Then we went to Füssen and Oberammergau. This day was the worst workout of my life. The day before in Freiburg me and a few others got lost one night and walked around for hours so our legs hurt really really bad. Then the next day we walked up a mountain to see the castle Neuschwanstein. Normal people ride in a wagon pulled by a horse, but the tour decided to be cheap and make us walk up this terrible slope. My legs were already killing me from the past 3 days of climbing and walking. I tried to hitch a ride on the back of a wagon. My plan failed and I ended up walking uphill for another 35 minutes. We finally reached the top and I smiled at the thought that I would be walking downhill on a nice paved road. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of taking the road (I don’t know why we didn’t) we took an even steeper wet, rocky, and dangerous trail back down. I slipped so many times it no longer scared me when it happened, I just expected it. I almost cried when we finally reached the bottom.

We got on the bus and were ready to go to Oberammergau. We were staying in a little house on a small mountain. My legs were practically incapable of moving and I hadn’t slept in 4 days. We finally reach our destination and were about to go up the mountain when suddenly the bus turns around, and stops. Guess what, the bus can’t make it up so we get to carry our gigantic suitcases up a mountain. I’m not kidding, it was raining, cold, my suitcase weighed as much as it did when I left the US (50 lbs exactly) and I have to carry the stupid thing up the mountain. I honestly didn’t think I could carry myself up the mountain.

Two and a half hours later we reached the top and it looked like we were in ”hillbilly town” I was shocked, I saw a small hut and two outhouses and almost screamed. ”Oh my God! We’re staying in that!!!!” Those were my exact words. But there is good news and bad news to this, good news we weren’t staying there. Bad news where were staying is another 45 minutes up the mountain.

When we actually got there I was relieved to see a cute Bavarian house and the smiling faces of the family who owned it. I was very relieved, but my legs were dead. Being the aggressive person I am I raced to the front of the line and called the room with 4 people (I had slept in the room of 16 the night before, one big bed for 16 people). I was very excited because I was going to get to sleep that night. The minute I walked into the room I wanted to walk right back out. I think the owner must have shot and stuffed every animal on the mountain. The room was filled with these scary dead animals. I had a mountain lion looking creature above my head staring at me as I slept all night. Needless to say I didn’t sleep so well.

Then we went to Munich. We went to Oktoberfest, enough said. Next we went to Dachau, 1 hour out of Munich. We went to a concentration camp and was mortified. As I walked through the gates I kept on thinking of all the people that walked through those very same gates that never made it out. We walked through the museum and then saw the gas chambers. Nobody was very cheerful for the rest of the day.

Next we went to Berlin. I absolutely love that city. There is so much history and so many interesting things. I felt so rushed, I don’t feel like I saw it, but what I did see of it I really like. I saw the bare Berlin Wall, I saw Soviet watch towers, and stood on a piece of sidewalk in front of an apartment complex where Hitler’s bunker was buried. It was a little odd thinking that there was a bunker below my feet because it was just a regular sidewalk. I also went to Check Point Charlie. I didn’t have my passport so I couldn’t get the stamps. I was bummed.

I feel that Germany Tour will be very similar to Euro Tour, so I’m going to share a little advice with everyone.

*Pack light, you have to carry your suitcase up and down 6 flights of stares everyday

*Don’t bring an ATM card with you , bring cash. You will spend all of your free time looking for a specific bank.

*Get used to nasty things. The youth hostels are pretty disgusting.

*Your diet will consist of Haribo, chocolate, McDonalds, Dönner, hostel sink water, and beer.

*Don’t forget a towel

*Bring your Ipod, Ipod charger, camera, extra memory card, and camera charger.

*Don’t expect to sleep at all

*Don’t expect to sleep on the bus, the Brazilians never shut up and sing just to make you mad.

*Don’t sleep on the bus, your friends aren’t always your friends.

*Don’t buy the souvenirs next to Checkpoint Charlie, Neuschwanstein etc.; walk two streets down and the exact same things are 2€ cheaper.

Well that’s all for now. I’ll have my next journal up in the next few days.



December 14 Journal

 ”I’ll have my next journal up in the next few days.” Ok, so it’s been a couple days later (38 to be exact) it looks like I didn’t procrastinate at all and this journal is right on time.

There’s too much to cram into this one journal, so I think I will just talk about current issues. I think I will start this journal talking about how Christmas-obsessed these Germans are. It’s crazy! They remind me a lot of the Whos from ” The Grinch that Stole Christmas”. There’s Christmas lights hanging on absolutely everything you can put lights on, there’s Christmas trees on every corner, the windows in every store are frosted and have snowflakes, lights, and ornaments from top to bottom. I’ve run into people a few times because I was walking and staring at the same time. Every city has a Christmas Market and it’s fantastic, hand-made ornaments, gifts, waffles, and of course the humongous portions of fries. During Christmas they sell a special drink called ” Glühwein”. It’s hot wine with rum and sugar. It tastes amazing, and everywhere you go someone forces you to try it no matter how many times you say ”I’ve had it before” you will end up drinking a huge mug of this stuff.

I’m going to be completely honest. Germans have the worst case of OCD in the world. Clothes must be folded in your closet as if it were in a department store, shoes go from, sandals, to converse, to heels, to boots. The hangers must all be facing the same way, clothes must be evenly spaced apart when hung, your scarves must be folded in half twice then put on hanger. Your bed must be made the way you see it in IKEA’s model bedrooms. In the shower after you’re done using it you must clean the hair out of the drain, spray it down with some nasty spray and wipe it dry with a towel. Next you have to open the window and wipe every last bit of water off of the floor. It’s literally a chore to take a shower.

There are a lot of immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East in Germany. Whenever they ask someone questions about you it’s ”Is she married?” , ”How may kids does she have?” , and ”How old is she?” Or they will randomly walk up to you and ask you those same questions. One day a Syrian woman from my German class walked up to me and asked me the three questions. I said no to the first two and sixteen to the last. She bugged her eyes out at me ”Sixteen and you’re not married!” ”What will your parents do with you?” I couldn’t help but laugh a little, it was hilarious. She then said, “I have a very nice cousin who I can introduce you to. You’re parents will thank me so much for this.” I told her no thanks and that my parents really aren’t worried about me getting married. She looked at me weird and walked to her bike.

The next day I rode my bike to my German lessons and and almost crashed into the bike racks as I saw this woman standing there with a 25 year old man. I pretended like I didn’t see her and walked toward the door of the VHS. She called out ”Johnny, Johnny!” I turned around and she was standing there beaming, I walked over and she told me that this was her cousin and she told me he wanted to marry me. ”WHAT!!” I exclaimed and I ran as fast as I could to the the door, ran up the stairs and sat in my seat 4 minutes early for class. I was so shocked, I thought this kind of stuff only happened in Thailand, but apparently I was very wrong. Needless to say my little Syrian friend has not talked to me since.

My German is not as good as I thought it would be at this point. But I understand 90 % of everything that is said to me. I don’t speak German that well, but I can give directions, order food anywhere, ask people questions, tell people what I’m going to do today and so on. I’ve been here four months, and I’ve thought about how much I’ve accomplished in learning this language and I think I’m doing pretty good so far. If in a matter of four months I have become capable of understanding the German language, imagine how well I will be able to speak German in another four months. When I think about that I’m no longer disappointed, I’m very proud of myself. Some people may know their language a lot better than I do, but as long as I am happy with what I know, that’s all that matters.

Well, that’s all for now. I promise my next journal will be a lot more exciting because there will be a lot going on here for the next couple weeks.

Oh, and by the way, I’m fat now. Thanks Germany.

January 10 Journal

 During the holiday break, exchange students can explore their country without worrying about school, visit with the other exchange students, and find themselves doing the dumbest things possible.

Christmas was a very interesting experience for me. We didn’t get to see the tree until Christmas Eve and everyone just tears open their presents and presents that don’t even belong to them. Maybe it’s just my host family, but that was really strange. It was all over in 10 minutes and then we went to bed. The next day was Christmas, but that has absolutely no significance here other than the fact that ”haha all the stores are closed! Looks like you’re going to walk around with no deodorant!” It was bad, but I stole some from my friend who has about 6 cans. But still the stores were closed so I had to find some way to entertain myself. All my friends were at their Grandparents’ house, so I rode the Regio Bahn (small train that connects with very small cities) aimlessly for a few hours. I know I’m lame, but a lot of exchange students do that, and it really gives you time to just sit and listen to your iPod for a while. I have a schokoticket so I can go anywhere from the Düsseldorf area to Dortmund. It’s pretty nice having that ticket because you can see different cities, and meet up with some people you know.

The next day was the day after Christmas, and for some stupid reason the shops were still closed, but my exchange student friends were free that day and we decided to just walk around Düsseldorf for a couple hours and sit in Starbucks for 2 hours. We are all in the HBF (train station) and we go down the escalator that wasn’t moving, it suddenly turns on and starts going up. Strike one for foreigners. I live in Düsseldorf, so I know the city and which train goes where, but my friend Stefan thought he did too. He was yelling ”This is the right one, this is the right one!” It definitely wasn’t, the ”right” train didn’t come for another minute. But he insisted. It was the end station for this train because it said ”Düsseldorf HBF” on the side. I don’t know why I got on, because no one else was on, I knew it was wrong. I figured they would yell at us so Stefan would know that he’s an idiot and should never lead the way. But instead of anyone stopping us or telling us to get off, the train shuts its doors, and goes flying off into some dark scary tunnel. Then the lights go out. I immediately screamed ”Stefan you ____!!!” I’ll let you use your imagination for that one. So, we’re underground in this train, it’s really really dark, and really really cold. Then suddenly I heard this loud slam noise as the train rocked side to side. I thought another train had hit us, but it was only the wind of another train going by a bit faster than it should have. It scared all 4 of us to the point where…I heard the sound of a bottle top popping off. ”Are you drinking a beer!?” I exclaimed to my friend Alli. She replied with ”Why not?” I couldn’t help but start laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. 15 minutes later we see a man with a flashlight walking along the edge of the train, it was the driver, so we knew we’d be out of here soon, but what on earth do we say to this guy. Luckily my friend Stefan has been studying German since her was 8, and without any trouble explained what happened. The driver rolled his eyes and thought we were the dumbest people on earth. I think that might be strike 2, possibly 3. That was pretty bad.

Sauerkraut. OK that stuff, I cannot eat it. It’s awful. I almost die every time I have to eat it. My host mom bought this industrial sized bag, filled with little bags of sauerkraut. So we’ve been eating sauerkraut everyday since Christmas. This still is really gross. She’s gotten bored with just plain sauerkraut so she’s been using her imagination a lot, and figuring out what she can make with it. Once it was mixed with pineapple, another with time with raisins (Germans don’t like it when you tell them you don’t like something, even when they insist you, don’t). This evening she was making a quick dinner for me and my host brother, before she and my host dad went to a Cabaret. I figured bread and butter. I was ok with that until I got upstairs and smelled the stench of you know what. Sauerkraut. ”Oh please no.” I whispered quietly while walking up the steps. I looked in this bowl, and it was some kind of sauerkraut soup. I was really grossed out. But never showed it. There was a big bottle of Chili-Garlic sauce on the table, and in attempt to mask the flavor, I dumped a huge blob of it right in the center of my soup. Everyone else did so, but my soup was the only one that was red. I knew I had put waaaayy too much in my soup. I was so scared to eat it, but I did anyway. It tasted like sauerkraut and really wasn’t spicy at all. Halfway through eating this stuff and trying not to gag my stomach burned like fire. But I still had half a bowl to go and I almost cried, but I ate it anyway. I had the worst heartburn of my life. Now I know what everyone’s talking about when they say Tums are a must in India.

The other day I was waiting for a friend at a bus stop. I got really tired and lazy so I leaned up against the fence of someone’s yard or something. I didn’t turn around to look. I was in deep thought while staring at the cars on the street. When suddenly something bit my elbow. It scared me and I screamed like a little girl. I had leaned up against a farmer’s house and a DONKEY bit my elbow. I’ve never really seen a donkey before so I’m just going by Shrek here. My host dad thinks it was a pony. but that thing was so ugly . If that was a pony, why on earth would every little girl on earth want one. That thing was a donkey and I will stand by my words.

Well, that’s pretty much all that’s happened since I last wrote. I promise I’ll write again soon.

Bis dann


 May 15 Journal

 I can’t believe it was January the last time I wrote a journal. Time just goes by too fast. It’s really sad because I only have 24 days left in Germany. I can easily remember sitting in my room with 9 months to go wishing it would move just a bit faster. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the things around me, it’s just 9 months looks like a long time, too much time. But really, it’s no where near enough time. I never want my exchange to end. I’ve had my ups and downs this year. No matter how terrible it can be sometimes, I will honestly say this has been the best year of my life. I have learned and grown so much, and I have met so many amazing people, and I can speak German. I know Germany now, I can live life here as easy as I could in the US. Coming to Germany, I thought I was going to learn a language and a new culture. I’ve learned that, plus I’m the master of German transportation. The buses, trains, subways, everything. I’ve also learned the more useful measuring system. (Science will be so much easier now.) It’s just a shame that I’ve learned all these things, and I’m now going home in 4 weeks. I now understand what the Rotex meant when they said it wasn’t enough time.

I’ve been extremely busy these past few months, so I’ve been unable to write my journal. Now let’s go back to February. Towards the end of February we celebrate Karneval. Many countries celebrate it, but I’d like to think Germany has the best one in Europe. I live in Düsseldorf so I was in one of the 2 best cities in Germany to celebrate Karneval. I also celebrated in Köln, the city in Germany with the biggest celebration. I went to a Rotex Weekend for 2 of the days and had so much fun. We had to dress up in costumes, it was mandatory. If you didn’t have a costume they made you wear a plastic garbage bag.

Next in March I had my birthday on the 12th. I went out to a really nice restaurant with my host mom, my host sister, and 3 of my friends. It was probably one of the smallest birthdays I’ve had; but I was so happy to see that people I’ve known for less than a year would come to my house in the pouring rain, to deliver a cake and sing me happy birthday. Only a few days after that my parents came. That was a really weird experience. I just kept thinking that they don’t belong here. It was really unusual seeing them in this setting. It’s the same way I’m going to feel when my German friends come and visit me in Florida. It’s a little odd. I associate my parents with beach, sun, my house, Jacksonville. Not Germany, trains, my hangouts. I think it took 3 days to get over the weirdness.

The day my parents left I went on Eurotour with Andee. The tour was 3 weeks long. I have never gone that long without sleep before. I had the time of my life. in 21 days we went to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Padua, Venice, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Monaco, Avignon, Geneva, and Paris. I got to see so many amazing things, and spend every waking moment with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life. It was incredible.

What’s also incredible is the grade I got on my German Exam. I took an exam last week with 14 other foreigners. These exams prepare you for the exam that decides whether you stay in Germany or not. (I’m only 1 exam away from taking that one. But I don’t need to take it.) I took my exam last week, 6 months behind in the book. (I took it early because I won’t be hear in September.) This exam consisted of a reading, hearing, writing, and a speaking section. It was really hard I was so nervous the whole time. I got 94 out 100 points on that exam. It was a very good day.

It’s really scary knowing that your exchange is ending in only a few short weeks. I’m homesick and I haven’t even left yet. I’m really don’t want to leave, the last thing I want to do is go home, I’m not ready yet. I feel the exact same way as I did coming over. I guess it really shows that I’ve become attached to this place. I will miss the friends I’ve made here so much. I’ve become so close to them in just one short year.

Thanks Rotary, none of this would have happened without you.

Henry Ford
2008-09 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School, St. Augustine, Florida
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Cremona Po Rotary Club, District 2050, Italy

Henry - Italy

Henry’s Bio

 Hi, my name is Henry Ford, and I’m 16 years old. When I was 5 years old I moved from East Lansing, Michigan to St. Augustine, Florida. I really don’t remember a whole lot about Michigan, but I can remember I was more excited about moving than I was sad. Now I live in St. Augustine Beach, and currently I’m a 10th grader at Pedro Menendez High School. I love playing soccer, learning new things, and going to new places.

My favorite thing to do is play soccer. I have been playing since I was 5 years old, and I have been playing on a select team since I was 10. What I like about soccer is that it takes a lot of endurance, ball skills and good ball control, awareness, strength, and speed. The combination of these makes for a game that is, in my opinion, addicting. In my free time, I also enjoy going to the beach. At the beach my friends and I go surfing a lot during the summer. I also like doing things with my family. We do a lot together, and I enjoy doing things with them like playing golf or riding bikes.

I have many goals in life and right now, aside from having a great time as an exchange student, the biggest goal I have is to go to college at the University of Florida. I really want to achieve this because I feel it will open up opportunities for me for the rest of my life. Although it is a really hard school to get into, I feel if I do my best in high school I can achieve this goal.

I’m very excited about being an exchange student in a different country. Not only will it be great while I’m there, but I’m positive that this will shape me into a different person than I would’ve become without this exchange. I’m interested to see who that person will be. This will be an adventure that will last a lifetime, and I just can’t wait for it to start.

October 5 Journal

 As I drove to the Jacksonville Airport with my family and bags, I thought to myself, why aren’t I crying or at least feeling anything. The truth was I knew exactly what I was doing in leaving my life in Florida behind and venturing to a foreign country thousands of miles away, but I really wasn’t very emotional about it. I was going from a country and town I knew so well to a country that was very different.

As I walked off the plane in the Malpensa (Milan) airport I was relieved. 18 hours of flying and sitting in airports had exhausted me and all I wanted to do was to meet my host family and then go to my new house and sleep. After I grabbed my bags at the baggage claim the other exchange students I had flown with and I walked through the doors that would bring us face to face with our host families. Even though I knew a lot about my first host family due to the fact that my host sister was an exchange student close to where I live, I was pretty nervous about seeing them for the first time. Right when we walked through those doors we walked into an area where there was about 60 people waiting for various people who had also arrived. Right away I recognized my host sister, Laura, and for the first time I saw my host dad, Beppe, and host mom, Luciana. After shaking hands with a few Rotary people we walked to their car and we were on our way to Cremona. As we drove home I was so tired that every now and then my head would tilt back but then jerk forward as I forced myself awake. I had just arrived in Italy and I didn’t want to miss seeing a single thing. We drove into town around 6 o’clock and the sun was starting to set.. My host family gave me a quick tour of the house. That night I went out with my host sister who showed me the centro, which is so close to my house. I met a lot of her friends. I was overwhelmed by everything. Finally around 12 I returned to the house. And fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The next morning I woke up around 1.

I have now been in Italy for almost a month and I’m very happy here. I love my host family as they’re incredibly nice and care about me. I also love where I live. I live about 3 minutes by foot from the centro, downtown. My host brother, Michele, has been so helpful because he always invites me to do things with him with his friends. Because of this most of my friends are his friends also. We also are playing on the same soccer team.

Because there is school 6 days a week including Saturday =(, all of the kids go out on Saturday night. In downtown Cremona there are 4 piazzas, and these piazzas are where I hang out along with a bunch of other kids. I feel that already I’ve made a lot of friends here, and just about everywhere I go there is someone I know. Another thing I really like about Cremona is that unlike cities in the United States you can ride a bike everywhere. My host parents have given me a bike to use and I used it just about every day. I ride to school, a sports club called Baldeiseo, and the centro. The only place I go regularly that I’m not able to ride a bike to is soccer training which is probably 5 miles from where I live.

As for school, currently it’s pretty boring, but I even now I can see there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s close to impossible to understand my teachers right now except for a few sentences because they speak so quickly. So right now I participate as much as is possible and then in the times where it isn’t possible for me to participate I memorize new verbs and their conjugations and vocabulary.

My Italian has improved a huge amount since I arrived. Everyday I learn more and more. I am constantly asking what words I don’t know mean, and how to say new words. When I first arrived I could hardly understand a thing people were saying to me, but now I understand a pretty good amount. I am able to share my thoughts and if I don’t know a word in Italian usually I’m able to say that one word in English and the kids will understand me and tell me it in Italian. If I’m not able to do this I have become good at using various gestures to describe the word.

My biggest challenge is to use Italian when I’m around people who speak good English. For about week I got into a bad habit of talking in English with my host brother because he is close to fluent in English. I think it hindered my progress a little and I had to make a big effort to stop it. Now I speak about 90-95% in Italian during the day. In conclusion, so far I’m having a great time and I’m loving Italy.



November 7 Journal

 Ciao! Time for another update on my exchange in Italy. So much has happened this month that it’s hard to believe that it has only been a little over a month since I last wrote.

Earlier this month, I went with the other 3 exchange students living in Cremona to a town near Cremona called Pavia. Pavia is bigger than Cremona but is by no means a big city. It has a very old and famous university. Both of my host parents both attended this university along with lots of other people in Cremona. Allesandro Volta, the physicist who developed the first electric cell, taught at the University of Pavia for 25 years. The host mom who took us to Pavia is a physics teacher at the university there and gave us a tour of the university. It was beautiful. The rest of the day we walked around Pavia and explored the town.

About two and a half weeks ago I changed host families temporarily. My host parents went on vacation to Argentina, and I moved for two and a half weeks to a small town called Castelverde outside of Cremona. It was much more different than living with my first host family. Every morning I had to wake up at 6:15 to take the bus to school. Also, living outside of Cremona definitely made it harder to do things with my friends in Cremona. Tonight I’m returning to my family in Cremona’s home, and I’m really excited. I feel I’d become pretty close with the family and I was sad to have to leave them even for just 2 1/2 weeks.

Yesterday, I went to Milano with 2 of the other Cremona exchange students. All of us exchange students here in Cremona have become good friends with each other. We took a train to Milano and then met up with some of the exchange students there. In the morning we went sight-seeing. The duomo (cathedral) was incredible. You can see tons of pictures of it, but when you actually see it in real life it is surreal. It’s enormous. Inside was equally amazing; its ceilings are SO tall and the columns inside are huge. Also, on the top of the church there is a really cool golden Madonna statue. We also saw a cool church where there was a chamber with all these skulls and bones in the walls.

After seeing the duomo and the bone church we walked around lost for a long time while trying to find a store the girls wanted to go to. Even though we were with the exchange students who lived in Milano we still got lost a few times. That day we took the subway almost everywhere, and it’s hard to understand. After going to their store we returned to Piazza duomo. We were talking and sitting on the steps of the duomo when I looked at the huge TV screen in the piazza and noticed we were on MTV’s European TRL. That was really cool. Then after this, we went shopping even more. We went to Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Pucci, and a bunch of other really expensive designer stores. I didn’t buy anything because it was all super expensive, but I went in them all. It probably wasn’t a good idea to go shopping with 6 girls in the fashion capital of the world. I was dead tired that night, from all the walking, waiting, and telling girls, “Yeah, it looks OK.” It was really fun though. It was my first time in Milano even though it’s only an hour away from Cremona, but it was definitely one to remember. Also, I’m going back next Thursday again!

Thank you so much Rotary for giving me this opportunity to have such a great time!

Until next time. Ciao.


 December 16 Journal

 Hey, I’m writing again to give an update on how my exchange is going. I’ve been here over 3 months now. It’s strange though because at the same time I feel I’ve been here a really long time, I also feel I just got here yesterday.

Since I last wrote I’ve done many cool things, but the one that stands out to me as the most important is the progress I’ve made in learning Italian. I’m so excited because now, I feel that when I have a conversation, it’s very very rarely that I don’t understand what the other person said. I still have a long way to go, but when I look back on how much Italian I knew when I came here and then think about how much I know now, it is simply amazing. The thing that has helped me the most in learning the language has been studying by myself. Every single day I study a lot on my own at home. In addition to this I study at school and at the tutoring class the other exchange students and I have during the week. In the beginning of my exchange I was only studying at tutoring class, but now I study for hours everyday and I can see how much of a difference it’s made.

On December 8th I changed host families and so now I’m living with my second host family. For me, the change came out of nowhere. Although I obviously knew that I would be changing families and when I would be doing so, I didn’t really think about it until I was packing my bags on the day I was leaving. My new host “family” consists of my host mom because she is a single mother and her daughter is on exchange in Wisconsin. Even though I miss my first host family a lot, I’m very content with my new home. My host mom and I talk a ton and I’m glad to keep her company while her daughter is away in America. Not only is this good for her but I’m sure it helps my Italian a lot.

It’s very close to the beginning of winter, and unlike Florida it’s really cold. Every day for the last week it has rained. The weather is pretty horrible. This is one of the things I definitely miss about Florida. Yesterday, I talked to my parents who told me that it was in the 70’s in Florida. Wow, I sure wish it was like that here. Anyways it’s dinner time here so I’ve got to go.

Ciao, Henry

March 3 Journal

 Ciao, I’m writing to give an update on my exchange here in Italy. I haven’t written for a couple of months, and so I’ll try to sum up December, January, and February briefly. Cold and grey. Let me tell you, the climate here made me really appreciate the type of weather we have in Florida. The last 2-3 months were pretty hard for me at sometimes. There would be times when there was tons of snow on the ground and I had to walk about 30-40 minutes through the slush and snow to school. I would think to myself, man I wish I was wearing a hoodie and under the sun. For the first time since I arrived in Italy, I genuinely started to miss my family, friends, and overall lifestyle in Florida. Even though the winter wasn’t a lot of fun for me, now that in the last couple of weeks the sun has come out, my attitude and outlook has done a 180. I need the sun! Now everyday the weather is pretty nice and the temperature has risen quite a bit. It’s so much nicer to go out now!

The winter has ended here and loads of good things are coming from it. Along with the weather improving, I’ve been able to start traveling more, which was one of the things I was really wanting. Up until a few weeks ago I had only been to a handful of cities that are close to my town. In the last two weeks alone I have been to Venice and Milan. Milan I’ve been to 3 times already, but every time that I go it’s a lot of fun. Venice on the other hand was spectacular. It’s my favorite Italian city by a mile. I went there on a trip with Rotary for Carnivale. Carnivale is a huge holiday, and as a result, the city was packed to the limit. This just added to the fun and didn’t take away from Venice’s beauty. It was so cool because so many people there were either wearing a mask or dressed up in costume. Apparently, Venice is the place in Italy to celebrate Carnivale. It definitely was the most fun holiday I’ve celebrated in Italy. Everything from the special type of deserts, the masks and costumes, to the parties. Another thing that added to my fun in Venice, was that Rotary organized the trip for all the exchange students in the northern half of Italy. I even saw Kevin, which was a real surprise. Overall, it was a day packed full of fun. When I returned to Cremona, I looked at my photos on the computer I realized I’d taken over 120 photos. Every single canal, statue, gondola, bridge, building, and church was picturesque. Now after having so much fun on that trip, I’ve been informed that we’ll be going on a similar trip to Florence and Pisa in the near future. Also, in two weeks my parents are coming to visit me and we’re going to go to Rome, Florence, and Tuscany throughout two weeks. I’m so excited!

Everything is really starting to come together now. With a good group of Italian friends, a pretty good grasp on the Italian language, I’m starting to have a lot of fun again. One of the things that’s really bugged me about life in Italy is the fact that Italian students study nonstop during the schooldays. It’s not very often that Italians are able to hang out after school. Because of this, I’ve spent lots of time during the weekdays with the other exchange students in my town. Last week, I mentioned to the teacher at my school if she could find about some volunteering opportunities around town, and now I will more than like be spending some of my time during the week doing volunteer work at an elementary school or something similar to that. One thing that has really helped me throughout these last 6 months has been playing on a soccer team. Soccer is one of my passions in America as well as here, and where better to play than in the home of the World Cup champions. But it’s not just that, being a part of a team with other Italians helped me make lasting friends and helped me spend time with Italians during the week. I would highly recommend joining a team to any future exchange student.

All in all, tutto bene (all is good) here. I’m having a really good time on exchange here and more importantly I’m learning a lot about myself as well as the world around me.

Linda Rogers
2008-09 Outbound to India

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: Arlington Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Udhana Rotary Club, District 3060, India

Linda - India

Linda’s Bio

 Hello, my name is Linda Rogers and I am a Senior at Paxon SAS in Jacksonville, Florida. After having been a host sister to approximately fifteen foreign exchange students and going to Turkey on a very successful Short-Term Rotary Exchange myself, I finally decided my Junior year that I would become a Long-Term Rotary Exchange Student the year after I graduated. And as those who know me best are already aware, once I decide that I will do something, I do it. So here I am writing a bio for Rotary upon acceptance into the exchange program.

My friends often laugh when I start a statement with “I have five older brothers and…” and that’s because they know that being raised the youngest of eight children, five of which are boys, has had a lot to do with who I am today and the insights that I have on life. I have found that for me being the youngest of so many siblings didn’t mean being spoiled, it meant being brought up much quicker and being held to more mature standards than my peers. But don’t misunderstand me, I am not bitter because of this, I don’t resent the added pressure or the feelings of needing to “measure up.” I embrace it. I am above all thankful for the opportunities that God has given me to grow and learn in the shadow of so many teachers, whether it be by example or non-example. I think that to understand me you must understand where I come from.

That being said I am very much an individual. I do not hide behind the excuses of “upbringing” that are so common today and I want people to know who I am aside from my family, albeit because of them. Simply put I am a nurturer. My goal in life is to make enough money to be able to dedicate myself and my resources to accomplishing something bigger than “me”. I will become a foreign ministries missionary with a monetary ability to compliment my servant’s heart. I hope to be able to positively impact the lives of people, that I know from past missionary experience are yearning for people in their lives to give them a hand up and a boost of faith.

I hope that this bio gives you an introductory glimpse of who Linda is until my journal entries start, and with them come more revelations as to the finer points of “me.”

October 8 Journal

 Finding my place here has been all at once exciting, confusing, frustrating, and invigorating. My host family is very supportive, and dynamic enough to offer me many outlets, but there is no amount of support that can fully pad the blow of being ripped from the womb of childhood and thrown into a life where you don’t know the norms and you don’t understand what is expected of you. I was prepared for differences, I have traveled internationally before, spending as much as a month abroad at one time, so I have felt this sort of thing before and I knew it was coming. That does not change that it is going to happen. It is like the doctor saying, “Get ready, I’m going to give you a shot.” We have all had shots before, and we are “ready” for it when it comes, but that does not mean that the shot does not hurt. It also does not mean that the shot loses its worth. No matter the unpleasantness involved, the growth and respect gained from this experience cannot be outweighed. I have only been here to benefit from this for a fraction of what I will be, yet I am already feeling the reward and I am already able to see the opportunity for continued advancement. It is not easy, it is not a step that would be beneficial for everyone, and it is not the kind of thing that just anyone would feel empowered by, but for some, for the “right” people, there is no substitute for a Rotary Youth Exchange.

Two weeks ago, I started going to a school here in Surat for the deaf and dumb on a daily basis. I began there because I wanted a service project, but at this point, I do not feel like I am serving anyone but myself. Those who have been involved with the school much longer than I have insist that my friendships and conversations are building much needed confidence in a group of people who feel (and generally are) overlooked by society and their own families. Logically I know this to be true but it is hard to see how something that requires no self-sacrifice, which actually gives me some of my happiest moments here, can be serving someone else. This is not an entirely radical idea for me though. I often indicate “service work” when questioned about my plans for the future or my current “extra-curriculars,” but I have rarely felt such deeds to be serving. These activities, rather, are my fun time, my go out and enjoy myself moments. Last Friday night I was talking to my Mom about the next day’s schedule and after telling her that I could not go to “my” school, as I call it, on Saturday because I had to take an exam at the same time at my regular high school she said, “So tomorrow ‘yea, holiday!’” (this is what we always say when there is no work or school one day), but I told her, “No, it’s not ‘yea holiday’ for this, it’s ‘aww man… holiday…’” We both had a good laugh, but it was true. Going to Surat School for the Deaf and Dumb daily has been the most fun I have had here, apart from spending ‘quality time’ with my family.

I have particularly enjoyed picking up the sign language here so that I can actually communicate with the students. One of the students in my class, Mohsin, has taken to teaching me new words every day. Once he got a picture book from one of the primary classes so that he could point at an apple, a monkey, or a jeep, and then demonstrate the sign for me. After two weeks in that school I can officially communicate much better in sign than in Gujarati, I think mainly because most everyone here speaks English on a fairly regular basis except for the students at my school. Even as I am writing this (it’s Saturday afternoon) I cannot wait for Monday so I can go see my friends again.

I hope that all of the exchange students are taking advantage of this aspect of the Rotary Exchange experience. There are many programs available for foreign exchange, but I think that the opportunity for service while abroad is what really sets Rotary apart from the others. Since Rotary is not a for-profit organization that focuses on exchange, but rather an international service club which also offers student exchange as one of its contributions to society, the potential for students to get hands on with service is boundless.

I know that many people considering a Rotary Youth Exchange are reading these journals to get a feel for the program and whether or not it is right for them. If this is you, I challenge you to “dig deep.” Realize that there are obstacles. Understand that moments are going to be painful. See where you are going to be asked to give of yourself. Then, after acknowledging the hardships, accept the call and go for it, forget your own minimal inconveniences and grasp the first big opportunity of your life to do something bigger than yourself, and help Rotary to establish widespread cultural understanding and to realize a vision of service above self.   

Election Reflection – Do we care that he’s black?

 This piece was originally written in response to the “My President is black!” statuses displayed by many on Facebook and the resulting notes and comments that criticized such statuses.

I see the good intentions behind many of your arguments that we should not be at all excited because he is black but only because he is our President. I know that there is a certain amount of ignorance feeding the enthusiastic “My President is black!” assertions, but there is an importance to this characteristic alone. Whether those shouting about the magnitude of having a black President see the genuine value of this attribute or only what they want to see in his skin color is irrelevant. We should all be equal. Our skin should have no bearing on other’s views, especially in a country like America founded by someone else’s minority, partially for the purpose of escaping such discriminations. The truth is, though, that our country does not work that way. Moreover, the world has noticed.

I was surprised, in fact, by the volume of foreigners who dislike America not for Bush or the “War on Terror” (not that there are not many of those as well) but because they feel that the Land of Opportunity has become the Land of Hypocrisy. We shout at the world about human rights and equality for all, but then cringe when we see a black man running for President. Sure, we finally now voted him to the position, but look at what a marvel the race was. How many people stared in wonder (if not horror) at a black man rising so far up the political ladder? Why, after so many decades of American “equality”, do we just now have, not only a non-white President-elect, but before that a serious non-white contender for the spot? Have you any idea the way foreign newspapers laughed at the uproar (both positive and negative) we gave over a non-white candidate? Or any clue how many articles jibed at our pre-election insinuations that Obama was a Muslim? That such a political rebuttal would even come up in our “politically correct” homeland tickled many a foreign fancy.

The reality, as few of us see from the inside, is that we are not as advanced as we think. We are a nation who still struggles with inequalities, discrimination, misconceptions, and ignorance. That is not all bad, though, because we are struggling! Electing a non-white as our Chief Executive is a huge step for us. Maybe doing so should not be. Maybe so long after we told the world that we view all individuals as equals and that each man has the same rights as each other man we should not even blink at this characteristic of our new President. The truth is, however, that we were not as far along as we considered ourselves. The recent hubbub proves that our claims were premature.

Considering that, electing a black man in and of itself is colossal for our country. Yes, in some ways, our vote is an indicator of how far we have come, but the real point is even bigger. Finally putting a non-white at the head of our country is another catalyst to stretch us to where many of us thought we already were and beyond. We now make the ignorant and the sheltered look at a strong, worthy man running our nation who does not fit the mold their minds hold for our leaders. I do not think that Obama is perfect. I do not agree with everything he says and thinks. The same will be true for anyone, though, and I do believe this man capable of guiding not only our country, but also the world’s view of us, even as we strengthen who “us” is.

December 16 Journal

 The mind of an exchange student is a frightening place. Not so much in reference to the thoughts housed there, but more accurately regarding the speed with which those thoughts take shape, multiply, and even disappear. I was a child only a few months ago. Even as a child, adults and other young people regarded me as mature and mindful, but still I was a child. Then I left for India and was thus put on a fast track to adulthood. I am sure that at some unrecognizable instant in the last four months, the universe ceased to acknowledge my youth and instead observed a woman in the place where life had so recently housed a child. Although I can only speculate as to the timing of that instant, I know full well the moment when I recognized that growth for myself.

Caring for two sick girls on a cross-country train last week, I decided that plain crackers would be a crucial medicine and set out to buy a few packs. I got off at the station that I thought was New Delhi, knowing that would give me twenty-five minutes to procure the goods and safely re-board. Seven minutes later, crackers in hand, I turned to see my train pulling out of the station. After chastising myself for breathing a curse at the sight of the caboose, I made my way to the booking office.

“English?” I asked hopefully. A headshake and a curt index fingering aimed towards the office door were the only response the man stationed in the raggedly upholstered swivel chair could afford me.

I found another office and repeated my inquiry.

“Thoda, thoda,” a slightly more heartening answer.

“I’ve missed the train headed for Surat. Do you know of any way that I could re-board?”

The cocked eyebrow that greeted this little monologue had time only to make me question my previous hopes before two men who had witnessed my predicament showed up over my right shoulder. A round of Hindi later (where I was able to make out the words “girl”, “biscuits”, and “train”) the station worker led me out to the platform. We walked about five steps to the right before he seemed to change his mind, stopped, and then turned to take eight steps in the opposite direction before stopping again. The station worker reproduced the indecisive face of just a few moments prior as a small crowd formed around us. A young man wearing a purple turban initiated conversation with my “Follow the Leader” director. This time I understood “problem”, “help”, and “metro” from the short dialogue.

“Follow me. I’ll show you where the metro is and you can catch that to New Delhi Station,” this from the man with the purple turban.

As we walked through the station doors, I considered that this man could be a murderer, a thief, or a rapist. He could also be a really nice guy going out of his way to help you, a little voice censured me. When he asked me where I was from I decided not to lie, as most of the American exchange students had taken to doing since November 26.

“The U.S., Florida.”

“That’s cool, I’ve been to California.” Followed by an amiable, bearded smile.

I remember thinking how glad I was that I gave a straight answer, that smile was definitely worth the risk involved, real or imagined.

When we reached the token counter he asked if I knew how to travel by metro, mentioning that I’d have to switch lines half way through. He was satisfied with my quick affirmation, and I took a last view of my turbaned hero as he rushed off to catch his train.

There were only two men in line ahead of me at the counter but as the first man walked away a third man artfully slid in front of me.

“Oh please, bhai, please,” accompanied by what I hoped was a convincingly pleading look. Surprisingly he stepped aside and I was able to approach the token vendor without further delay.

Rushing through the station a few moments later, I thought about situations I’d previously been in that made this experience so painless for me; being alone and stuck over night in a New York airport due to inclement weather on my way home from Turkey three years ago; learning my way around the D.C. Metro station just two weeks before coming to India, after spending the first eighteen years of my life completely ignorant of any subway system; taking the New Delhi Metro just a few days earlier on a spontaneous trip to KFC with my fellow exchange students, thereby familiarizing myself with the slight differences in this system.

I reached the platform just as a shuttle arrived and gratefully stepped into a near empty compartment. For the next three stops I thanked God for everything that was happening to me; being in India; touring the Golden City, Jaisalmer Desert, the Taj Mahal, and Dharamshala; building friendships with people from around the world; meeting a nice young man in a purple turban; even for getting an extra little opportunity to see Delhi, or at least the Delhi Metro Station. As I gripped the cool metal of the metro handrail in my right hand and twisted the rough chain of my escapulario* up to my lips with my left, I felt- rather than thought- you have become a woman.

On more than one previous occasion, I had thought of myself as a woman. I strove to conduct myself as a woman and I hoped that others looked at me as a woman. If someone had asked me how I considered myself an hour before that moment, sitting on the train I would have told him I was an adult. Still, for all of my rationalizations, logical thoughts, and convincing arguments, I would not have believed myself, no matter how credible the words felt on my lips or how many listeners regarded those words as truth. After that moment, however, I would not have the chance to answer that question truthfully because the question would never again be posed to me. People do not ask an adult who she is because her maturity is apparent. The question of adulthood is reserved for children.

*escapulario- a necklace popular among Catholics in Brazil. There are two icons on the chain, one to rest on the back of the wearer’s neck and one to hang down the front as a pendant. The icons often portray the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, but may also depict one of the Catholic saints. Escapularios are believed to watch over the wearer from all sides, which is why there must be two icons.

Kyle Steed
2008-09 Outbound to Germany

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Stanton College Preparatory School, Jacksonville, Florida
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Oldenburg Graf Anton Günther Rotary Club, District 1850, Germany

Kyle - Germany

Kyle’s Bio

 Hello! I’m Kyle Steed, and I’m seventeen years old. I’ve lived in Jacksonville all of my life so far, with my parents and younger brother, Aaron. I am a senior at Stanton College Preparatory School (’08!) and loving it. And by that I mean “not failing.”

As for things I do with my time– My brother and I are involved in the youth group at our Presbyterian church quite a bit, and I occasionally play music there. I’ve played violin for almost four years now and I’m not too bad. I got into the violin because I took a liking to classical music, and though that’s definitely my favorite kind, I’ll listen to anything as long as it doesn’t hurt to. Literature is something I’ve recently developed a greater appreciation for, and I enjoy reading the old classics. Lastly, I like learning all I can about world cultures and languages, and one of my hobbies would definitely be staying up-to-date on world affairs. I’d like to study as many languages as possible in college.

A foreign exchange was definitely not something I had seriously considered before one of my teachers suggested that I do it, but I’ve since become very excited about it and can’t imagine not doing it now. I’m incredibly thankful for this opportunity, and I plan to make the most I can out of it.

September 16 Journal

 Moin moin!

So I’ve finally gotten around to writing my journal! I apologize for keeping you all in such suspense. I’ll start with my first day here, since I find airport stories so uninteresting:

I arrived in Bremen around 10:30 in the morning and met my host brother, Peter, outside the gate. We didn’t recognize each other at first, because the only pictures my family had seen of me were taken when I had my awesome long hair, and my family (for whatever reason) expected me to be really tall. My host mother said that, before I came, she was afraid I wouldn’t be able to fit in the bed. Anyway, I eventually found Peter, and he immediately started speaking to me in German on fast-forward. I’ve taken four years’ worth of German in school and could only laugh when he spoke to me because, I’ll be honest, I thought I wouldn’t have a very tough time with the language. A minute with him, nodding and smiling as these words flew out of his mouth, made me realize how much work I had ahead of me. Ingrid, my host mother, came from parking the car, and we made our way back to the parking lot with my cart of 120 lbs or so full of stuff. The ride to Oldenburg wasn’t very long, and we had a nice conversation over the German countryside in Denglish, my combination of German and English. When we got home and unloaded my luggage, my host mother realized how much of what I had brought was clothes. She actually looked a little bit frightened, while I thought that I had done a good job of keeping things to a minimum. Relatively. She told me that here, they wear the same shirt two or three times before washing it, and jeans maybe half a month or so (we’ve recently agreed to split the job of ironing the laundry). The rest of the day is a blur, since I hadn’t slept at all on the flights to Deutschland. We ate some salad, and then I went to bed sometime thereafter.

The first week, I went on a couple bicycle tours with the family. We rode to Bad Zwischenahn, a little village situated near a lake, and on a course through the country around Oldenburg with a stop at a German Melkhus (“milk-house”), where I had a fantastic chocolate shake. My host father, Gerd, goes on real bike tours through different countries, so for him these were a breeze. I’m already boring myself with this journal so I think I’ll take a different approach:

My Family

I’m so happy to be with my current host family. Peter’s very patient with me, and always invites me to go out with him and his friends. Still though, after a month of being here, I really need to devote all my attention to understanding him when he speaks. He speaks crazy-fast. I am seriously considering organizing a party the day I can have a flawless conversation with him. My host mother seems just as happy to have me here as I am to be here. She was an exchange student in America some years ago, so of course she knows just how I feel (and can speak great English). And then my host father is awesome. He speaks English perfectly, too, and with a slightly British/Irish accent, and he blurts things out in English in the middle of long strings of German. I always find myself laughing around him. The family has taken to calling me der Keilige, a combination of my name and the German word for “holy,” heilig. And then apparently, I fit in very well with the family! A few people have said to Peter “Oh! You look like you could pass for part of the family!”

The City

Oldenburg is a great place for an exchange. With 160,000 people, it’s large enough to keep you occupied, and small enough where you can see plenty of people you know during a simple walk through downtown. We live just a couple kilometers from farms and the countryside while having all the benefits of a larger city. And at the moment, Oldenburg is having a couple-weeks-long celebration of its 900th anniversary, so on weekends there’s always plenty going on around town.


I’ve been in school for about four weeks now, and things certainly are moving along. My host mother arranged for me to go to Peter’s school shortly after school started, which I’m very grateful for. The first school I went to was pretty depressing, but the one I’m at now is great: it’s smaller and warmer, and now after these few weeks I’m really starting to feel like I’m a part of the school. I’ve joined the school’s choir and symphony, which are the two things the school’s known throughout Oldenburg for, and I can’t wait for our next practice. As for the lessons, I must admit that they’re pretty boring. But hey, that’s school, right? Oh! I love the situation they have here with schedules. There are some days where I’ll have two hours of classes and then two free hours before my next class, during which we’re free to go anywhere and do whatever. The school is so close to our house that I usually just ride my bike home and chill; or if friends have the same hours off, then we walk downtown (right across the street) and grab something to eat. Speaking of eating, people can and do bring their dogs inside restaurants and department stores here, which I found pretty odd. And department stores! I didn’t really believe people when they told me that clothes here are expensive, but they really are. My host mother took me to what she called “one of the cheaper stores” and I seriously thought she was pulling my leg, maybe with her German sense of humor, when I looked at the prices of everything. But she was serious. Maybe I should make a “Miscellaneous” topic for things like this to go under.


I think I like the food here. For breakfast, Frühstück, on weekdays I have this incredible cereal-stuff called Müsli, with little bits of chocolate in it. Breakfast on weekends is bread (German bread is great) with butter and then wurst, cheese, jam or prosciutto-type meat; a soft-boiled egg; freshly-squeezed orange juice; and some tea. The main meal of the day, Mittagessen, is usually in the afternoon, which I really like now. It didn’t take much to get used to coming home from school to a great meal (Gerd cooks fantastically). And then the evening meal, Abendbrot (literally,“evening bread”), is bread with the things I mentioned before. I thought I’d be pigging out here in Germany, but I’ve actually kept my appetite under control. No, really.

The Language

I’m quite proud of the progress I’m making with German. It’s not incredible, to be sure, but it’s clear. I am very happy now to have been placed in Germany, because my four years of German have really made a difference. Of course I’m nowhere near fluent, but I’m at the point now where I don’t plan everything that I’m going to say to someone before I walk up and talk to them (making sure I have grammar and word order right, etc.). And boy does it feel good to carry on a conversation at a “native” speed! It seems like these words are just starting to line up by themselves, coming without thinking. And then I’m starting to think in German now! It’s still little phrases that I think in, but it feels great nonetheless. I love this language. Some words are so literal (Dasein: existence, literally “there being”) and then there are those massive words that German’s known for: I mean how great is it to be able to write words like Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeitor Stoffwechselzwischenprodukte on a regular basis in school?


Germans do have a sense of humor. Sometimes it can be a little odd, though, where you ask yourself “was he serious about that or not?” and no, he wasn’t serious. Germans overall take a little more time to make friends with than is the case with most Americans. French fries are to be eaten swimming in mayonnaise. When eating dinner at the table, I had to train myself to keep my left arm on the tabletop. The first day here, my host mother asked my why I keep my left hand in my lap when I eat and I thought “Well, because I’m not using it!” But now I’ve learned to let it not be used on the table. Our bathroom here at home has a urinal. The windows here are marvels. It took me about fifteen minutes to figure out the windows in my room. And speaking of, the Germans really like to open their windows and let the fresh air in. In school, if the students ever need to draw a straight line at all (to underline a word, draw a graph, double-underline a word), out comes the straight-edge!

I think I’ll bring this journal to a close. Before I do, though, I’d like to say how very, very much I appreciate being given this opportunity by Rotary and my family. I can say I’ve never loved a club up until now, and I thank everyone involved for such an incredible chance. I fully intend to make the most out of this year!





November 21 Journal

 Grüß euch!

After three packed months of life here in Germany, I’m feeling pretty settled and German. I eat like a German, I dress like a German (after finally having bought socks that aren’t white), I commute like a German, and try to talk like a German. As an added bonus, I even looked German to begin with!

I’ve been traveling quite a bit since my last journal. On the Day of German Unity, October 3rd, I went with my future host family to Hamburg for the celebrations, and to visit the city a bit. We stayed for three days and saw the biggest model train exhibit in the world, climbed to the top of a cathedral, and did some shopping. I had fun talking with their seven year-old son, Rasmus, and I can’t wait to have him as my host brother. During the two weeks of Fall Break, I went with my current host family to London for a week, where I thoroughly enjoyed being a German tourist and having little girls look at me funny because I was speaking German with my host-mom – and afterwards I went on a trip through northern Germany with the other inbounds of my district, with a stop in my favorite European city, Berlin. I had been to most of the places we stopped at before because I had come to Germany for a week as a tourist about a year and a half ago, so I knew all the sights to take my inbound friends to in our free time.

Now to Oldenburg- I’ve managed to find my place in a circle of friends, many of whom, coincidentally, have been exchange students. It seems like a fifth of the people in my class have spent a year somewhere; which is different from home, where I knew of no one in my school who had spent a year abroad (outside of Rev). Having such friends has been a blessing. They understand what I’m going through, how hard the process of integration can be, and make it a point to engage me when I’m otherwise clueless as to what’s going on (which is happening markedly less often).

Just a week ago, I went with the upper classes in my school on a Orchester- und Chorfahrt, where the school’s choir and orchestra go to an enormous youth hostel for four days and do nothing but practice. It was intense (I played violin so much that my teeth hurt- go figure), but I managed to get acquainted with students from the 13th grade (I’m in 12th) and had a lot of good conversations- being able to carry on a conversation without saying “nochmal, bitte” (say that again) always feels so rewarding. At any rate, I got to be the first violin for one night (that was an ego boost) and now I’m looking forward to our Advent Concert, held in Oldenburg’s cathedral. It should be fantastic.

Speaking of carrying on conversations, I’m doing very well with German, if I may say so. There are still times when not knowing the simplest word derails my carefully assembled sentences, or rarely when I’m thinking too quickly I do this odd regression into American English pronunciation that happens involuntarily and can be pretty funny. If any of you are acquainted with Mark Twain’s The Awful German Language, then you’ve got something of a view into what it’s like to learn German. I often find myself laughing at how true it can be. I’ve improved very much in thinking in German, though, despite occasional slip up: for example, with the way that German grammar is laid out, I sometimes start this epic sentence and totally forget what I’m talking about because of how many sub-parentheses I’ve made (Like: “The baker, who works at the bakery, which was burned down by a boy earlier, who has a mother named Martha, who knits socks in her free time, which are usually of good quality, is an honest man). The Germans make sentences like those for sport and chuckle at the faces I make as I try to sort it all out in my head.

Lately I’ve started taking tennis lessons with my host brother, and I try to go biking after school regularly around the area. My host parents have a bit of that German Wanderlust inside and we go for strolls in the Ammerland, the flat farmland nearby Oldenburg, or, like one time, in the forests near a little town called Dötlingen, which- interesting fact- was actually chosen by the Third Reich as a model village.

Halloween wasn’t really celebrated here. My host-nieces are among the kids who go around asking for candy on Halloween night, but it’s still a growing trend (that, oddly enough, started in Europe, came to America and is now on its way back to Europe). My host-dad showed his unhappiness with the little German trick-or-treaters by proceeding to drop tomatoes in their bags. It seems like the US election day was the more celebrated holiday, and I can’t say how glad I am that that’s over. My German friends interest themselves particularly in American politics and I don’t know if I could’ve taken anymore of their questioning!

The days here have gotten awfully short, to where it’s dark sometime between 4pm and 5, and just today it’s started to snow, though it’s this awful North German snow that melts when it hits the ground. And its starting to feel more like Christmas. I’ve discovered Pfeffernüsse, these cookie-like things that taste like gingerbread men, and then German Christmas cookies are pretty good too. There’s a big Christmas tree in the square in front of the city and I can’t wait to see everything lit up!

Well this is a shorter journal. I’ll be sure to make the next one longer. Till then! Enjoy the Florida weather for me!

Lauren Keister
2008-09 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School, Gainesville, Florida
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Curitiba Água Verde Rotary Club, District 4730, Brazil

Lauren - Brazil

Lauren’s Bio

 “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” – Francois Rabelais

My name is Lauren and I live in Gainesville, FL – home of the Gators. My involvements and extracurricular activities have changed often because I love to try new and different things (especially food J). I’ve done soccer, belly dancing, piano, capoeira, yoga, and various volunteering services. Reading is a big passion of mine. Two of my favorite books are the Alchemist and the Little Prince, because both are very insightful about life.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” – Albert Einstein

Ever since I first read this quote when I was twelve, it has been a favorite of mine. Having been given this life-changing opportunity to foreign exchange is truly a wonderful miracle to me. I would like to thank the Rotary for selecting me, and my family and friends for their support.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Since I was five years old I have wanted to travel the world. So, after eleven years of waiting I’m more than ready for this new and exciting adventure.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru

My eyes will be open.

December 1 Journal

 Oi, beleza? I arrived in Brazil about 14 weeks ago, yet it seems like I’ve only been here for half the time, but have done 6 months worth of activities.

Flying to Brazil was my first international flight and it was an exciting one with all of the other 30-something exchange students also headed for Brazil. I don’t have any crazy flight delay stories or any conflicts like that, but we exchange students managed to have fun anyways. In D.C. we pretty much took over the money exchange counter, so much so, they had to bring in more reais (the Brazilian currency). Of course people stared as the huge group of navy-blue blazered teenagers walked around the airport.

Even after packing, saying goodbye to my friends and family, and finally meeting the other exchange students it still didn’t hit that this was finally happening- that I was going to be living a year in Brazil. It somewhat hit me around 4 o’clock in the morning when we were flying somewhere over the Amazon. I kept thinking, “I am flying over the Amazon Rainforest right now. THE Amazon Rainforest!”

Once we arrived in São Paulo, the only dilemma was when our chaperone got detained because his passport was left in D.C.. And yes I was one of the people that Sherise mentioned getting too excited over how coffee didn’t come in to-go cups but in actual ceramic teacups with the saucer and everything. When another Rotary exchange student, a Brazilian outbound headed for Slovakia, recognized our blazers and came up to us and started talking in Portuguese, all of the inbounds’ jaws just dropped and forgot any Portuguese they may have known. So when her expression turned into an “uhh…are you guys okay?” look, that’s when I came to everyone’s rescue and piped in, “Não falamos português” which means “We don’t speak Portuguese”. Then she understood that we were now inbounds, not outbounds.

When I arrived at my final destination, another exchange student and I walked out to meet our families. As soon as they saw us and we saw them, they grabbed our arms, pushed us together, and started taking pictures like they were the paparazzi. As soon as we made the rounds with taking pictures with her family and my family and etc., we finally went our separate ways and went to our new homes. After having had 24 hours of flying and layovers, I was so tired and looking forward to sleeping in my new bed. However, when my host sister asked if I wanted to go out that night, of course I said, “Yeah!”

The next day, my second day in Brazil, I went to my first Brazilian soccer game- Curitiba vs. Atletico, the two biggest rival teams in my city. Unfortunately, my family thought that since it was my first game we should sit in the “calm” part and not in the “crazy” part of the stadium. Despite this, it was still an awesome experience and so funny to watch both adults and little kids cursing at the referee and the other team.

Already I have met all of my four host families that I will live with. Everyone is so nice and I can’t wait to know them better! My second host dad and siblings (12 and 9 year old boys and a 7 year old girl) offered to take me around the city to show me some of the sights. This was so much fun and made me even more excited to have little siblings, since I’m the youngest in my real family.

My school…well it’s a Catholic school, with nuns, a church, morning prayer, and pictures of the sacred heart of Jesus in every room. I’m not Catholic so it took some getting used to at first. My classmates are all really friendly and like to joke around with the teachers, who are really helpful. The school has all grades (elementary to high school) and it is still smaller than my high school in the States. On my first day, there was actually a point where all of the kids in my class moved their desks around me and started asking questions all at once. The most common question I get asked is what type of music do I listen to. Even after being here for 2 months, I still had people I don’t know coming up to me and saying “Hi” in the halls. I have to wear a uniform, and I’ll admit I was kind of excited to wear the plaid skirt and be a little Catholic schoolgirl, but uniforms are different in Brazil. My uniform looks more like I’m about to go jogging than to school. I don’t understand what my teachers are saying when they lecture, but if we have to take notes, then I usually understand what’s going on in most of my classes. Physics and chemistry…I have trouble understanding them in English, nonetheless in Portuguese, so I have given up hope of being able to follow along during class. Math and Geography are probably the classes I understand the most in, besides English class. Overall, school is good. At times, however, it is hard not being able to participate because I didn’t understand what was going on. I’m used to doing well on tests and in school, and now I have to adjust to getting really bad grades. I do pride myself, though, on getting the same score as some of the other students on a Portuguese test, despite how bad the grade was, and even getting a much higher grade than some students on a Spanish test.

After having been here for about 2 weeks, I had my first Rotary Inbound Orientation. It was so much fun to finally meet all of the other exchange students. There are about 25, more or less, in my city. During the orientation, each inbound had to get up, introduce themselves, and say where they are from and that kind of thing. Even though everyone said their introduction in English, I was like, “I know how to say this in Portuguese. I had to say more than this in Portuguese at the last Outbound Orientation.” So I said my introduction in Portuguese and impressed the Rotarians with my only having been in Brazil for 2 weeks. Thanks Al for that preparation.

Twice a week, from September to December, all of the inbounds have to go to a Portuguese class. Because of this, us inbounds see each other so much and have become really close friends. Every time it’s someone’s birthday, we always have a little party after class.

Fortunately, where my first host family lives is walking distance or either really near to most of the best clubs and bars in my city. It is extremely funny to watch exchange students try to samba. I’m so-so. I used to belly dance so I can move my hips, but my feet don’t really do what they are supposed to.

One thing I dislike about here is how much American culture there is (music, movies, television, even food). I refuse to eat at a McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, or Subway while I’m here. However, the Pizza Huts here are much nicer and cleaner than they are in the States, ironically.

In September, my city had a holiday weekend, so my family and I spent a few days in a city a couple hours away called Florianopolis (nicknamed Floripa). It can be described as a relaxed, surfer, and fishing town. The seafood there was amazing, and with blue waters and soft sand, I didn’t want to leave. Floripa is one of those places that wherever you look, it could be a picture in National Geographic.

On September 9, I turned 17. It was a school day so I of course had to go to school, but my classmates sang me Happy Birthday. Later that day I had to go to my Portuguese course with the other exchange students. They surprised me with a cake and presents. One of the gifts was this container made from a fruit that is used to drink a certain kind of tea that is traditional in the south of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Afterwards we all hung around in the city. When it was getting dark we finally headed home. Well… I was taking the bus, and it was my first time taking it alone. Even though Curitiba is known for having the best public transportation in Brazil, that didn’t stop me from accidentally getting on the wrong bus and end up further away from where I needed to go. So, I got off the bus and went to a bench to figure out where I was on my map and tried not to panic. Well the place that I was at wasn’t on the map (and I later found out that I had been in the center of the city, which wasn’t exactly the safest place to be alone at night). I finally went back to the bus stop to find someone that could help me. Eventually, I found a woman that spoke some English. I ended up having to go back where I started and then take the bus that I should have take in the first place. As I was getting on the bus platform, the bus I needed arrived, so I quickly paid and rushed for the doors, not thinking that another bus come about 2 minutes later. But as I was going through the doors, they closed on me and my foot got stuck between them. So there I was, standing on one foot, the other one in pain, and praying that the bus didn’t brake or jolt a lot. Eventually, the old men around me realized what had happened. They tried to pull the door open, at least enough for me to pull my foot out, but the doors were not budging and my foot was then in more pain. After this failed attempt, they finally had to call up to the bus driver to stop the bus and open the door. By this time, everyone on the bus was staring at the silly American with her foot stuck in the bus door. But what a relief it was to have my foot back, though.

I had a birthday party. It wasn’t anything extreme, just a nice dinner with all of my friends and host families. It was good to spend time with everyone and have my friends and family meet each other.

Moving on from things I have been doing, Brazil is amazing. My city is very different from stereotypical Brazil of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. I live in the south of the Brazil, which is very different culturally from the north. People here are so generous and are always willing to help. However, compared to other Brazilian cities, Curitiba is supposed to be one of the more unfriendly cities, but I haven’t encountered that. When I arrived it was winter, so it was really cold. Now it is spring, and it is still really cold. Not exactly what people think of when they think of Brazil and it’s definitely not what I expected. The weather here is horrible and unpredictable. In the morning it can be 8 degrees Celsius, then in the afternoon it can be 25 degrees, then back down to 8 that night. Also, one minute it can be hot and sunny and the next be cold and rainy. It’s like wherever you go you have to take a coat and umbrella with you.

Brazilian food is so good. Churrasco, feijoada, brigadeiro, açai, goiabada, and guarana are all things I know I’ll miss when I return. My first host dad let me try caipirinha, which is Brazil’s delicious national drink made from sugar, lime, and cachaça (a Brazilian alcohol made from sugarcane). It was hard at first getting used to eating bread and cheese and rice and beans almost everyday, but now it’s weird if I don’t eat them.

I still can’t believe that I have been here for almost 4 months. The time has flown by, and I feel the end of this exchange year approaching too quickly. Even though Brazil hasn’t given me culture shock, there are some things I don’t think I will ever make sense of, like how even when it’s cold out Brazilians keep the windows open. Despite these differences, Brazil is so easy to adapt to. With the people being so open and friendly, you can’t help feeling comfortable. I love how people greet each other here with a kiss on the cheek and a hug. When people go to shake my hand, it feels awkward. I can’t imagine myself being in any other country right now. It’s so natural and easy for me to be here, trying to be a part of Brazilian culture. There is something magical about Brazil, and I’m so happy I was given this opportunity to witness it. I want to thank Rotary and my family from the bottom of my heart.

Beijos, Lauren

“The trees all dance, and the warm wind blows, and the same old sound; and the water below gives a gift to the sky, and the clouds give back every time they cry; make the grass grow green beneath my toes, and if the sun comes out, I’ll paint a picture all about the colors I’ve been dreaming of, the hours just don’t seem enough to put it all together. Maybe it’s as strange as it seems.” –Jack Johnson

Veronica Winslow
2008-09 Outbound to France

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School, Orange Park, Florida
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: St. Marcellin Rotary Club, District 1780, France

Veronica - France

Veronica’s Bio

 Vagabond is She, jade nature-lover,

Vindicated cerulean waters flow in and around Her, a

Vaudevillian on the stage of life.

Vanished She is from the sight of sea-sick sailors,

Vivacious with only plum water lilies,

Vain and insatiable, to keep Her company.

Vicissitudes of fate have kept the salty water moving about Her—no

Vendetta held. This jade mermaid, lovely,

Verbose, is like no one else; uniquely

Vigilant on the stage of life, dancing

Valorously to Her melancholy Moonlight song.

Violins sing the syrupy music that so

Vexed Her into the electric blue dance which

Vacillates between slow and fast,

Veracity illuminating the cerulean water around Her.

Who knew that this metaphorical vagabond would end up truly wandering all ends of the Earth? My name is Veronica Winslow, I am 17 years old, a junior at Fleming Island High School, and I am inexplicably and completely beyond thrilled to be given such a fantastic opportunity; I cannot thank Rotary enough! I live with my mom and dad and my younger brothers—who are twins—James and Daniel. My family is completely weird and that is why they are mine. And wonderful.

Joy finds me in many different ways; writing (obviously—I hope), singing, dancing, reading, and adventuring. My room is filled with books, notebooks (filled and empty), pictures, zillions of stuffed huskies, plenty of rubber ducks, and many other random trinkets, such as a ukulele and a Batman action figure. Remembering must be my absolute favorite hobby, I do it a lot and I keep everything—even the rolls of toilet paper I carried with me at Warped Tour just in case the Port-A-Potties were extra gross. Without memories, I would be nothing.

Yes, I am quite silly. And yes, that makes me delightful company. Spontaneity defines me. Adventure attracts me like a magnet. My life is a wild, beautiful ride and I love it.

Adventure is calling again, and so begins this vagabond’s next wild, beautiful ride!

July 21 Journal

 I leave for France in thirty some-odd days. Up until now, I felt as though the day would never come. Now I am freaking out a little bit.

Okay, more than a little bit. And I’m not even leaving as early as others.

Nonetheless, already I’ve changed in ways I never thought possible, and I cannot even begin to imagine who I’ll have become by the end of this exchange. All I know is that I am proud of who I am right now, and I am proud of who I am going to be. This is a strange feeling; pride in something you don’t know, something you don’t understand completely. The entire idea of this exchange is still eerily surreal to me. Yet every decision I make leads directly back to it, “Will this be worth it before I leave?” “Do I really need this now?” Even, “I don’t need that skirt—I’ll be living on the side of a mountain pretty soon, here.” Somehow this is all quite nonchalant.

Then there are the times when I sit back and concentrate really hard and the tip of the Youth Exchange iceberg hits me a little: a year is a really long time. I imagine all the school nights this past year when I laid in bed thinking, “I wish this year was over. I want it to be summer. I want this to end. I can’t take another day of this.” I thought I was in pure agony then. That’s about the time I translate it all into French, add a dash of as many horror stories as I can conjure, and picture myself curled in my host-bed, crying and singing the National Anthem. Now that’s what I call agony!

Yet, for some weird reason, I cannot wait for it. I know I will be that much stronger the next morning—that much more determined to dominate the French language, the French culture, to truly become bi-cultural. It is perhaps one of the most difficult things I have done so far, trying to explain how I feel about this exchange. It isn’t one specific emotion, but it’s not really a bunch of conflicting ones, either. It is something only an exchange student can know: an ever-changing mixture of excitement, curiosity, nervousness, hesitation, anxiety, worry, pride, thankfulness, and amazement. I think I even missed a few there.

I don’t think I can thank all of you Rotarians enough for giving me the opportunity to genuinely have a hard time figuring this entire ordeal out. You have presented me with the greatest challenge of my life and I love every minute of it.

See you on the other side!

August 15 Journal

 I know, I know. Maybe I’m a little overzealous with the journals, but what can you expect? I’ve witnessed multiple goodbyes before my own, so I’ve grown a little anxious. Plus I like writing. And I’m so long-winded I have no idea how I’m going to keep all of my journals relatively short.

To be quite frank, I feel incredibly left out. School starts on Monday, so not only will my fellow exchangers be long gone and settling in, I won’t even have the comfort of my permanent-Florida-resident friends to confide in. And even though it’s still utterly unreal to me, there’s nothing I want more right now than to leave. Everything I’m feeling is very strange; a weird mix of polar opposites. I’m a walking contradiction! Part of me wants to crawl into bed and hibernate until August the 26th arrives, while the other part of me wants to go out and do as much as I can before the same date. On the one hand, I’m couldn’t be more jealous of Renee for leaving tomorrow, but on the other, I’m scared motionless of the whole ordeal. I am constantly vacillating between two completely different outlooks, yet no matter what way I look at it, my anxiety never dwindles.

Today I visited my old (YES!) high school. I went to see Mlle. Fitchette, my French teacher from the days of yore, as well as Mr. Merritt, my English teacher, both of whom were quite influential to me in my final high school days. As I sat with Mr. Merritt in that stuffy portable I used to wander into every day for third period, trying to find the goofy things he often hid for us to find—attention to detail!—his future students came and went, introduced themselves, and tried to get a feel for the insanity they would soon be faced with. I leaned quietly on a desk and observed them—those kids whose shoes I was in a mere year ago. They had absolutely no idea how much they are going to grow, just like I didn’t. Even after hearing speech after speech about “Oh, how much you’re going to grow!” I truly never imagined thinking back on the past year in disbelief at how far I’ve come. And I have to say, it’s an astounding feeling.

 I also packed today (photo). Round one. It wasn’t nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be. Unless I’m just not packing enough, but let’s not add to my paranoia.

No matter how left out I feel right now, nothing in the world could make me rescind my utter commitment to this program and all it has to offer. Never in my life would I return to where I was a year ago; I’m so much happier right here and now than I ever have been. Thank you, Rotary, for giving me more than I ever could have asked for!

September 1 Journal

 I have never felt weirder. Everything is in French, as expected, but occasionally I will actually realize that and shortly thereafter I will realize that I actually comprehend most of it and shortly thereafter I go through some bizarre wormhole emotion and it is gone again. It’s fun!

Five days I have been here. And by five days, I mean an eternity. So much has happened and I have kissed so many strangers, I hardly know what to do with myself. Already I understand French so much better than when I first stepped off the airplane. I have even improved my speaking. It’s the vocabulary I need to work on, which my host brother, Stef, and host sister, Ketty, are incredibly enthusiastic about. They got me a white board in the kitchen, where they write the words and phrases I learn. For example: les flics = cops. Apparently it’s funny when I try to say ou (like in you), so they make me say the name of their cat in front of everyone and their brother. It’s Touffue, which does not look hard to pronounce, but let me just tell you. It is. C’est pas grave because Stef cannot for the life of him say “word,” “world,” or “throw.” Now that’s amusing.

My flight was excellent and I got zero sleep, because the 65 of us outbounds sort of took over the plane and made it our own little celebration. We even talked about politics with the flight attendants. Everything went smoothly for me; I made tons of friends, collected business cards and pins, and gave out my own. The only problem I ran into was check-in at the Paris airport. I had to pay the overweight fees because United Airlines failed to tell me the Paris luggage requirements. Yay emergency funds! As for my flight to Lyon, I only remember jolting awake briefly to note we had taken off.

Everyone was restless at baggage claim in Lyon: this was IT. The moment of truth. We stumbled confidently out of baggage claim to lots of French gibberish, kisses, and bienvenues. My host family didn’t recognize me at first because I cut my hair. Oops. Nonetheless, they were incredibly nice and Stef immediately took my bags for me. Such gentlemen Frenchmen are! It was surprisingly hot outside, especially in my Rotary getup, so I got to experience my very first (and very inevitable) embarrassing Rotary moment! As you may know, very few cars (not to mention houses) in Europe have AC, so you have to depend on the windows. My family lives in the mountains, so all the roads are tiny, winding, and constantly moving upward. And they drive fast. So there I was, minding my own business, depending on the windows and continuing to overheat, when all of a sudden it hit me: I was gonna be sick. It was futile to fight it, but I did anyway. To no avail. Lucky for me, they understood and pulled over right away when I put my hand to my mouth and went completely pale. Stef says “spew up” all the time now. Whee.

But let me just say that even French carnival food is delicious. And French bumper cars? Top notch. Nutella is also the best thing ever. They love the song “YMCA,” and anything by Queen, but have no idea what they mean. American TV shows in French are weird, especially the Simpsons and Desperate Housewives (Dez-pear-aught ‘Ousewives). Cheese and fruits are their dessert and they eat bread with everything. They ask me a lot of questions about America and positively freaked out when I told them that anyone under 18 has a curfew. I’ve only seen 3 McDonald’s, which were tiny. Everyone shaves, wears deodorant, and is anything but rude. This winter, it’s going to snow! I absolutely love it here.

I have my own room on the very top floor of their house (which my host dad constructed himself, along with everything in it) along with a second room just below it, which houses my salle de bains (just a shower and a sink) and a desk. However, the only times I’ve been in either room so far are to sleep and shower. I have been to Grenoble twice already and got to experience a Granita, which is like an Icee, only about a trillion times better. Stef plays Rugby, so I got to go to one of his games. I went hiking on the mountain my family’s house is on, where we picked and ate wild mountain blackberries. I’ve been to a French grocery store that was our equivalent to a Wal Mart, only really classy. There was a three day fête in a nearby village, and I went to two of the nights with Ketty and Stef. This is where the carnival was, along with a discotheque, which we danced at until it ended at two in the morning.

Everything is wonderful right now, I can only hope that it stays this way long enough for me to express myself well en français. Thank you, Rotary, for this phenomenal opportunity; I may be completely off my rocker, but this is the most fun I have had in a long time. Merci beaucoup!

À bientôt et bisous!

September 29 Journal

 It has been one month. One month and I’ve come so far in building myself a life here in France. Honestly, I can’t think of what to say next; every day I think of a zillion things I want to put in journal and tell everyone about France, but it’s hard to keep track of everything.

I sat down the other day and tried to write a college application essay in my spare time, but my mind was whirling with too many emotions to express, too many insights to articulate, too many observations to record, and too much general bursting for me to get down one coherent sentence before thousands more came whizzing through. I thought I learned an unexpectedly large amount about myself in my days leading up to departure, but that doesn’t hold a menorah to the even more unexpectedly large amount I’ve learned in the past month. I mean… whoa. That’s all I can really think of to explain it all at this point. My mind is spinning so much that I can only hope it will get at least slightly more lucid as the months roll by.

My French has progressed phenomenally. I can understand almost everything, but articulation isn’t quite my specialty yet, even though I’ve begun to think in franglish and learned most of the slang.

School is really long—I get out at 5pm everyday but Wednesdays and Fridays—and I’m in the class Scientifique, so I have an overload of math and science classes. English class is usually embarrassing because I have to teach them words like totalitarianism and my teacher always asks me random questions about expressions. I suppose I just feel out of place speaking English while the kids in my class have no idea what’s going on.

I have picked up jazz, salsa, and tap dancing classes in a town near my school, as well as theater classes. I’m really glad I decided to because it’s another outlet for me to make friends and see some friends from school (while attempting to work off my soon-to-be Rotary 15). I’m so relieved to have friends at school. One of my biggest fears before arriving was that I wouldn’t make any friends, but I’ve found a few really nice girls in my class who include me in their goings-on at school. It’s a great feeling for me to walk on campus every morning and have a group to look forward to seeing.

My family is absolutely wonderful and I’m so lucky to have had them as my first family. I’m really dreading the day I’ll have to switch because they truly treat me as one of their own and I most definitely feel that first host family bond with them. They take me places and teach me things; they’re always eager to hear about my day at school and they are always concerned about whether or not I need or want anything.

The food. Oh my goodness the food is unreal. The stereotype that the French eat very little is rubbish; I eat more here than I did in the States (and I’m seeing the results), but I have no idea how I’m going to handle going home without all of this delicious cheese. Every day I eat something new and amazing. I swear the French are food geniuses.

This weekend was my Rotary orientation weekend in Annecy. I had a wicked time meeting with all of the other kids in my district and, to make Rob Overly happy, singing Fever at the talent show to represent a portion of the Americans. We got to spend some time in La Veille Ville d’Annecy, being obnoxious, touristic exchange students and taking crazy group pictures every 5 minutes. I think sometimes we scared the locals a little screaming stuff like “Vive le Canada/USA/Chile/Mexico/ [insert various other countries here],” and the word for ‘platypus’ in Spanish, but what else is to be expected of a large group of Rotary exchange students?

I’m really beginning to think of this place as home now and I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else. Except, perhaps, Vegas. I’ve discovered that I’m freakishly good at poker.

As always, I have to thank Rotary profusely for this opportunity—it’s still so unreal to me, but I am so beyond glad it’s all really happening. Merci vraiment très bien, Rotary!

Gros bisous!

November 7 Journal

 It’s a new month and another chapter, I suppose, but it’s still hard for me to believe it’s only been two months.

Most everyone else is saying, “Wow! These past couple months have just whizzed by!” I’m not going to lie and say mine have, too.

Don’t get me wrong—these have been probably the craziest two months of my life, in a good way. My Rotary Rollercoaster had its ups and downs, twists and turns, and loops as well, but it’s beginning to settle into a smooth, well-oiled joy ride into the next eight months. This is why I’m amazed that it’s been only two months. In that short amount of time I’ve become just about fluent in French (aside from my laughable accent), made a group of close friends who truly care about me, established a daily routine, settled into a new family, and integrated myself into another culture. Trust me, that’s a lot to do in just two months.

In addition (yes, I realize my English has digressed so much I must resort to pathetic transitions), I no longer feel as though I should be considered an outbound. This word implies too much that I am headed somewhere, but I’m not anymore. I’m already there. I’m home.

OK. Enough with the gushy.

France is honestly a magnificent place. The ridiculously attractive men here—of which there are many—aren’t big-headed jerks who would just as soon play an average girl like me than pay me any mind at all. In fact, they are painfully (yet genuinely) polite and charming to the point where I sometimes don’t know what to do with myself and get scared that I’m charming enough in return.

I don’t have a clue what miracle method they use on their children, but somehow the sharing lessons are much more effective; absolutely no one—at any moment—eats, drinks, chews gum, or even smokes (yes—many people I know smoke, and no, Al—you don’t need to worry) without first asking if the others around them want some. They are also much more polite to just about everyone than I ever expected and they are incredibly loyal as friends. Friendship takes on a much deeper meaning here that you would have to experience to understand. Sure, it exists in the States, but it is much harder to come by than it is here.

I have read many of the other outbound journals and many have said they get a lot of attention because they clearly stand out as a foreigner. I have not had that kind of luck and must say that made it a tad bit tougher for me at the beginning, because no one can tell I’m not French until they hear me talk. Granted, I can communicate effectively in French, as I said before, but I have to work for my friends, which just makes the experience all the more enriching for me, because I know who my real friends are and who the people who just want to talk to an American girl are.

Living in the countryside is incredibly new to me. I don’t live in walking distance of anything but other houses and cows. As a matter of fact, I once lay awake in bed one night for at least an hour completely terrified of a noise coming from just outside my house before I realized it was just a cow mooing. I have also had the misfortune of hearing a cow belch, which must be one of the most disgusting noises on earth. It just so happen that my next family is farmers who make and sell foie gras and keep live (yet very sick) geese that occasionally honk and make various other sick-geese noises late at night. Yet every morning I wake up to the breath-taking beauty of the mountains outside my window, which are beginning to become snow-capped. Actually, I experienced my first snow (in ten years) here one cold October night recently. I was ecstatic, and although it was late and I was ill-equipped, I ran outside to play in it.

Another fun countryside quality is that everything is extremely laid-back. No one is ever in a stressed, frantic hurry to get things done. The state of mind is very “eh-don’t-worry-we’ll-do-it-eventually” rather than the typical American OMGNOWNOWNOWGO. I rather like former.

I finally had my first Rotary Club meeting and passed on proudly the Orange Park Sunrise flag before eating one of the most delicious meals of my life. However, in the introduction of myself, I managed to say that I love Nutella AND cheese without making the distinction that I like them separately, so even after my ceremonious handing-over-of-the-flag, one of the Rotarians stood up to ask how I cut the cheese to put the Nutella inside. Still, the food was fantastic and if anyone cares to let me know what a guinea fowl is and where/how to find and raise them when I get home, I will be absolutely delighted. It’s my new Thanksgiving and Christmas and any other night I feel like it specialty. Really, try it. It will change your life.

I have to thank Rotary, even though it will never be enough, with all of my heart for giving me this opportunity. I am so far beyond grateful for all the friends, family, and new experiences these two months have brought me and those that the next eight will contain. I have honestly gained and grown so much as a person I cannot believe it.

Donc voilà—merci mille fois, Rotary! C’est vraiment la plus belle année de ma vie et je n’arriverai jamais à vous remercier.

Gros bisous à tout le monde! À la prochaine!



Veronica’s Special Message for 2009-10 Outbounds

 Dear Future Outbounds,

I send you the best of luck, from my heart, for this is surely one of the best experiences you will ever have. However, I do not wish you luck in getting your first choice country; I wish you luck in getting the country which will best fit you, where you will surprise yourself with how you love it and how close to your heart you will hold it and everything about it. Being an exchange student is not about where you go, but what you get out of the experiences you encounter, how you use the knowledge you’ll gain, and who you become as a result. It’s about what you learn about other people, the world around you, and yourself. It’s about the friends, family, memories, and life you make.


Rotary Youth Exchange is the experience, not the country. You all are already lucky enough to be part of RYE-Florida, which is one of the best youth exchange programs out there, and to have Rotarians who dedicate their time and effort to give you this opportunity and who truly care about you, but then you have the exchange itself. I am having the time of my life–through hardships and all, because it’s not all rainbows and flowers all the time–and I am just as excited for you all to begin your own adventures.

You may not get it now, which is to say that you really don’t get it now, but you will. You will in just about a year, actually, just like I did. It’ll hit you really hard, how phenomenal all of this is, and suddenly you’ll want to climb up on a tall structure, yelling and prancing and flailing your arms. Hopefully you won’t actually do so, but it’s a nice thought.

Just remember (as I’m sure the Rotarians will tell you hundreds of times) that you are special, and you have a great lot to live up to; it’s a huge honor to be an exchange student, but I know you all can pull it off because I trust the RYE-Florida Rotarians to only pick those they truly believe in.

In all, I wish you luck and strength and everything you could ask for in the upcoming months. Especially patience, because it’s going to be hard to wait.

Good luck, and let the adventure begin!


P.S. Practice your languages! It really helps. A lot.

January 5 Journal

 It’s been a while since my last journal. Partially this is because I’ve been lazy. No, this is because I’ve been lazy.

A lot has happened since my last update: my 18th birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, and my first host family change. I’ll go in order.


Everyone in France gets very excited about birthdays, and takes it as the utmost importance to wish you a happy one. All day, my friends told my other friends and kissed me and sang to me and a few girls from my class even bought me pins at a local store in my favorite color (which is green, for those of you who don’t know). My host parents bought me coffee mugs and a nice perfume, and my host brother wrote me one of the sweetest letters I have ever received in English (albeit very poor English). This letter is one of the defining moments of my exchange, so I’ll let you read a snippet, mistakes and all:

“I’m glad you was like you are. I’m glad that my “fake sister” was you because you’re really nice, even when you don’t laugh all the time because of me L… I apologize for it. But you’re an easy to bother you know… And I will try my best to stop it, I don’t want to let you [have] bad memories of me! … I’m happy to share times with you, like your first shooting star, and I’m not happy because there weren’t a lot of these times. Because of Rugby, and school… But I’m sure you’ll do more when I’m at your home! … I remember your first days at home. One thing makes me very laugh: Even if you detest James Blunt, you nearly sang a song of him… Just to make me happy… Such a kindness! … I like the relationship we have, it’s like we are good friends and brother and sister too. That’s just what I hoped.”

This letter caught me off guard and made me incredibly happy at the same time; it’s one of those things that I will cherish forever, a true defining moment in my exchange where I really felt it: that I am truly doing well here—that I have entered the hearts of a family as someone who means a great deal to them.


This was definitely not a typical Florida Christmas. There were no palm trees, no Christmas carols, less decorating enthusiasm, no stockings, no heat, and only someone completely off their rocker would wear flip-flops (although I dreamed about wearing them).

Christmas Eve was spent grocery shopping for the tons of food we would be eating over the next couple of days, including driving out to a farm to buy a turkey with everything still attached. That means the head. Then came the preparation: opening up the turkey and pulling out all of its insides to cook and make a sort of stuffing with, plucking out the roots of the feathers, and chopping off the head. I almost decided to be a vegetarian, but French food is too good to give up meat. Around ten o’clock, we sat down to eat, beginning with the turkey, which was delectable, and potatoes. The next course included caviar from Germany, which was not delectable, and Russian vodka, and finally we ate a little dessert of chocolates and dried fruits. Around midnight, we opened gifts, because the next day a large group of extended family would be arriving with even more gifts for those present. I got earrings, a variety of French DVDs, an all chocolate recipe book (which I will be worshipping in the future), and a pile of presents from my friends and family back home, which I won’t go into detail about. I gave my host family a photo album half-filled with pictures from my stay with them, Florida postcards, and a long thank-you letter (in French!). They were very grateful, and I still see it out around the house all the time, which is very special to me.

Christmas day, extended family began to meander in with more gifts and lots of Christmas spirit. We talked and cooked—I baked cookies, which everyone loved!—and drank the traditional aperitif before sitting down to eat around three. There was foie gras (my personal favorite), fondue (also a favorite)—both of which I ate an impressive amount of—cooked peppers, asperges (I don’t know what they’re called in English), smoked salmon, two or three different wines, more caviar, and homemade Yule logs for dessert. We finished with this meal around six thirty, and then opened gifts. I got a box of chocolates (sometimes I think they want to fatten me up), lavender from Provence, candles, and a candle holder from my host extended family. After gifts, we talked and played with our gifts until the crowd began to dwindle out and head home.

My Christmas was different from what I’m used to, but it was not any less enjoyable. To the French, Christmas is not about material things or commercialism—it’s the people we’re with that are important to them, and I could not have been any luckier for the people I had around me this year.

New Year’s:

My New Year’s was also quite a different experience, but I would not have changed it for the world. I went to Megève, France with my host sister and four of her friends for four days to stay in one of the most prestigious ski resorts in France, right near Mont Blanc. The apartment we were in was right on the course and walking distance from the rental and forfeit center. Every night we made a typical (and delicious) French meal, including fondue and foie gras, which I adored as usual. My host sister and I didn’t ski much, except for when we did so in our bathing suits to change things up a bit. It was cold, but I felt like a real Floridian (aside from my missing tan). New Year’s Eve we went into the town to get free hot wine, which is even better than regular wine. The town officials made it in a giant iron pot in the town center over a huge fire. We didn’t stay long because it began to rain a little and it was freezing, so we headed back to the apartment and drank champagne and wine, wished each other good health, and then had a huge snow ball fight. My team was getting clobbered, so we decided to sneak around the barrier (which was a large bush) and ambush the other team. They gave up, so we rolled down the hill in front of the apartment and made snow angels until it was close to midnight, when we went inside, changed, warmed up, got more champagne, and headed back outside to scream our own countdown. The neighbors joined in and even had some fireworks to complete the moment. We gave each other bises (kisses) and individually wished each other a good year and best wishes. Bed wasn’t a question until around four thirty in the morning, after we had danced ourselves into exhaustion.

New Year’s Day was when I legitimately went skiing, although I made the mistake of trying snowboarding without any instruction. My tailbone hurts.

Host Family Switchage:

Changing my host family was hard. I absolutely adored my first family and really did not want to change. I also ended up with three times more baggage than when I arrived here. I already knew my second family, so that helped a little with the awkward level, but a lot is going to change for me over the next three months. For one, it’s a farm with lots of sick geese. Two, they have three kids who live at home all the time, one who goes to school with me and two who are younger, along with another son who no longer lives at home. Three, as expected, their way of life is different and it will take some time to get adjusted to it.

It was incredibly difficult for me to pack up my things and clean out my room in the days leading up to the change. I really began to think of these people as my real family—I am completely comfortable with them and felt truly at home in their house, in their presence. My host mom and I spent a lot of time together because it was often just her and I at home during the week, and we have grown to know each other as in a real mother-daughter relationship. We know each other. With my host dad and brother, we got to a point where we could mess with each other just like I did with my real father and brothers. My host sister and I, we tell each other everything. When she comes home from college to visit, she tells me all the gossip and rumors and everything that happened to her since the last time we talked, and I can do the same. I’ve never had a sister, and my relationship with her is just the way I imagined a sisterly relationship to be.

The night before moving day, my host mom made me my personal favorite of hers: green beans. There is something magical about the way she makes green beans that I just can’t enough of them. Then my host dad and I watched The Simpsons for a few hours while eating chocolate and Petits Suisses, my favorite desserts.

The hardest had to be to watch their next host daughter show up with all of her baggage. It’s not right for me to go into lots of detail, but essentially this next host daughter is not the type to make host families happy, so it hurt me to watch my family take in someone who might cause hurt. At this point, it would absolutely kill me to see my family unhappy or stressed because of someone they make such a sacrifice for.

I know I will go back and see them again soon over the weekends, but what is going to be the hardest during my adjustment period in this second family is not to be able to see my first everyday like I’m used to; it’s almost like leaving on exchange a second time, just less far away.


I was not made for snow. Or cold. For a while, I actually believed that I loved a real, hardy winter time. Boy, am I silly.

One week, I spent three days snowed in the house due to three feet of snow. Two of these days, I spent with no electricity, which meant no hot water. I learned the art of sponge bathing. To pass the time in the dark, my host mom and I made doughnuts by candle light and read when it was still light outside. We also shoveled clean our very steep and long driveway, only to wake up the next day with a fresh blanket of snow in the path we’d cleared.

This happened again (minus the power outage) the week after, during the days of a strike, where the students of my school blocked the high school. This means we put up barriers and staked out the gates so no one could enter; not teachers, not students, not janitors. I missed the first two days because of the snow, but made it for the third and final day—the day before Christmas vacation. We had hot chocolate, cookies, games (one which was exactly like Sharks & Minnows, just on land running around like idiots), and music. The best part is that the reform being protested was actually sensible; it was just that no one wanted to go to class.

My time here in France is growing shorter by the day, and I can hardly believe four months have already gone by. Earlier, some of you might remember, it really felt to me like the time was in slow motion, but it’s picking up the pace each day that passes and I am dreading the day that marks my last four months, because I know they will disappear quickly. My French comes to me naturally now, even some of the hardest conjugations, and I’m incredibly proud of this. I think I’ll have a hard time not slipping into French occasionally upon return.

I’ve developed a life here almost without realizing it and this is a phenomenal feeling.

Thank you Rotary for this wonderful opportunity, and I promise to work on my laziness. Good luck again to all of the future outbounds—I hope to see all of you in August!

À bientôt (vraiment cette fois)..

Gros bisous !

February 24 Journal

 It’s been a good while since my last journal. And I do hate to keep you all in suspense.

However, I have an excuse this time! For one, I wanted to wait a whole month between journals rather than racking them up like J.K. Rowling; and for two, I just got back from two weeks of vacation!

For these wondrous two weeks of vacation, while I’m sure the rest of you were working hard, I got to go on my first Bus Trip and spend a week in Paris. For the trip, I hopped in a bus with 40 other exchange students who are also in France and we went to Dijon (yes, like the mustard), Avignon, Nimes, Narbonne, Barcelona, and Figueres. This was perhaps one of the best weeks of my exchange because I got to see and learn a little bit more of France, act like a tourist and take silly pictures everywhere, and I went to Spain! I even learned a little Spanish. How to sing La Bamba, that is. We saw plenty of sites, of course, like the Pont du Gard, the coliseum in Nimes, the Gaudi houses in Barcelona, and my favorite: the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres. But I won’t bore you with the itinerary details. The most important (and probably the best part) was being surrounded by 40 others going through about the same things as I am. It’s a relief to compare exchange experiences and stories with others who truly understand the importance, no matter how silly the story may seem to someone else. I found life-long friends on this week-long trip and I certainly hope I’ll have enough time in my life to go see them all in their respective countries. It was tougher than one might think to leave each other at the end of the trip. One week may seem like nothing at all, but when a group of people come together who already have a strong link, that link can only be made stronger and more prominent and therefore harder to break. It’s difficult to find such a feeling of togetherness elsewhere in the world.

As for my week in Paris! This I spent with my host grand parents, who know Paris quite well, so they walked around with me to show me what a real Parisian feels like. I also did tourist-y things like walk the Champs-Elysées, take pictures in front of the Arc de Triomphe, get my caricature done on Montmartre, and pick up a coffee from Starbucks (how could I resist? there’re barely any in France). It was a great feeling to be mistaken for a Parisian and be asked directions by visiting Frenchies, and to walk through la Ville des Lumières at night, surrounded by the bustling night life of Parisians and tourists alike. I even saw the Eiffel Tower glitter!

Other than my vacations, there doesn’t seem to be much more I can recount. This is good; it’s really a signal that my life here is officially complete. France is the norm for me now and I truly love it. The only down side is that I leave this place I call home in 4 and a half months, which I know will pass entirely too quickly, because the day I arrived feels like it was just yesterday. I honestly ask myself some days just how I plan on managing when I get back home. No delicious French food, no more traditional French meals, no more kisses when I see my friends, no more mountains, no more countryside, no more small town, no more French, for that matter… Seriously, what will I do? Granted, I’ll be thrilled to see everyone again, but I’m beginning to realize how much I’ll miss this place when I leave. I’ve already left home once, not too long ago, and felt the sickness; I don’t want to do it again.

To finish, as I always do, I want to say thank you to all the Rotarians that made this year possible. It has been a true privilege and I plan on taking full advantage of these remaining months. Thank you so much, Rotary! Merci beaucoup!

A la prochaine!

Gros bisous!

March 27 Journal

 I’m almost exactly on time for my journal this time around! It’s hard to realize that one month has gone by so quickly, knowing there are only 3 and a half left now.

“Time, why do you punish me?”

-Hootie and the Blowfish


This past weekend, the 20-22 of March, I had the opportunity to take part in an immense Rotary conference. The some 350-odd exchangers who are in France as well took a trip to Toulouse. We spent the weekend exchanging pins, stories, and cards, and I even got to see Ashley and Ale again! On Saturday, we went to the Natural Science Museum of Toulouse and spent some time walking around the center of the city before heading to a big dinner/flag ceremony/talent show, which lasted until 2AM. During the flag ceremony, we had a competition between the Canadians, the Mexicans, and the Americans to see who could sing their National Anthem the loudest. We won. I lost my voice. Best weekend ever.

The time for a new and final family switch is approaching and I’m having another hard time with this. Not only does this actualize the last leg of my exchange, but I’ve also become quite close to my host sister, and I’ll miss being in a house that is always full of life, where there’s always someone to talk to and something to talk about, since my next host family has no children. I’ve even come to love living on a farm with no neighbors and no Internet. It’s calm, and the view is beautiful.

I would really enjoy telling everyone about the unique and exciting things I’ve gone out to do during this year, but I just can’t. Not because they’re against the rules, but because I don’t find them as unique and exciting as someone who’s never been to France may find them. My days are like any other days: I wake up, get ready, take the bus for 30 minutes to get to school, go to class, spend the two 10 minute recreation periods outside and any free hours I have at the café next to my school with my friends, take the bus back home, hang out in my room with my host sister watching movies or talking, eat dinner with the family, shower, finish movies/talking with my host sister, sleep, repeat. Weekends, I generally spend at friends’ houses or I go into Grenoble to see the other exchange students in my area. This Saturday, as a matter of fact, I was invited to a costume party and will be going as ‘old school punk.’ There will be pictures.

I would also really enjoy listing the cultural differences between France and the United States, but I think I’ll have to wait to get back to the States before being able to go into great detail.

Lately, in reflecting on the fact that I’m already almost at the end of this experience, I’ve come to realize just how much I’ve changed. I’ve grown stronger, more patient, braver, and independent; I’ve become bilingual, bicultural, ambitious, determined; I’ve lost all tendencies to procrastinate or sit around and do nothing. Some things I can’t explain, but I feel them; and perhaps those who knew me well before I left will be able to feel them, as well.

“I’m someone different now, those days still live in my dreams.”

-Inspection 12

Response to “The Inconvenient Truth”

(These thoughts and remarks are strictly personal and based on experience, as well)

I was inspired to write this section of my journal because of Frederik (from Denmark). After reading his journal from January, I realized than none of us really do get into the truth of it all. So here I go: Exchange, for the first 6 months, is extremely difficult; and although it may not be true, I feel it’s especially difficult in France… especially for an American. Thanks to the media and biased information on the United States that are sent out to foreign countries, an American automatically has a bad image when going abroad. For a two week vacation in France, you wouldn’t notice, but when put into a high school surrounded by Frenchmen who are fed nothing but the mistakes Bush made to Paris Hilton’s latest escapade to the statistics on obesity to the economic crisis, it’s hard to prove all Americans aren’t horrible, selfish people who eat unhealthily and are either filthy rich or dirt poor. From the beginning, I was asked tons of questions on these subjects and more, and had plenty of people tell me they hate America. It’s hurtful, and for a long time I felt like an outcast just because of my nationality, sometimes even among other exchange students. The only way to overcome these prejudices is to prove that Americans are not all that bad by presenting yourself in a way that doesn’t live up to the images foreigners have, by defending your country, by mastering your host language and impressing those around you. You have to be willing to laugh at yourself, and prepared to rebut any given stereotype. As Frederik mentioned, I’ve met plenty of people at school who seemed interested in me and asked me questions, but never gave a second thought to inviting me somewhere or sharing a friendship with me. I agree completely that we are kept in the dark from these tough truths, and we shouldn’t be. With some other outbounds last year, I remember wondering (and, sorry Al, even laughing at), why Al would ever ask us to do bunches of research on our own country before the exchange. I mean, come on! we do live here, after all! Now I know perfectly well, and strongly suggest that this research be done. I even suggest that future outbounds do much less research on their host country and much, much more on America, because we learn what there is to know about the host country once there, but may not know as much as we think about our own country.

“To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first.”


I had the same image of myself as Frederik did before leaving on exchange: that halfway through, I would find myself surrounded by friends who care about me and know me well–real friends who are happy to spend lots of time with me and take me places. While I’ve finally achieved this goal, it was not easy, by any means.

I, too, am incredibly impressed with (and immensely proud of) the bravery of all past, present, and future exchange students, even if we don’t realize beforehand why we are so brave. There are very few people in this world who could handle spending so much time so far away from home, and even fewer who could handle the difficulties that come with it. It is extremely important that all future outbounds understand that I am not trying to turn them away from exchange. There will be ups, downs, lefts, rights, twists, turns, tears, and smiles, but you were chosen because you show the strength it takes to take on one of the hardest challenges anyone could be faced with. An exchange is understanding, strength, change, and bravery. And this is an exceptionally honorable endeavor.

“It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right: I hope you had the time of your life.”

-Green Day

I’ll top this journal off as a normally do: with an enormous THANK YOU to Rotary. Even if this experience is a hard one, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be challenged so. Merci beaucoup! A la prochaine!

Gros Bisous,


May 31 Journal

 Sorry for the delay on this new journal; my time has been so filled and passed so fast, I haven’t quite had enough to sit down and reflect a little. Nor have I wanted to, considering I have just over three weeks left here. The rollercoaster I rode on at the beginning of this exchange has restarted, slowly but surely, these past few weeks; I’ve become so comfortable and happy here that just the thought of leaving pains me, but I’m also ready to return and begin a new chapter.

Writing this journal reminds me that it is quite possibly (if not surely) the last one I’ll write while in France. It reminds me of my last three weeks before my first departure: the frantic urge to say goodbye, the fear of not fitting in, the anxiety, the restlessness, the hesitation covered up by excitement, hiding sadness. I wanted to desperately to get started and discover what this world had in store for me, yet I was secretly petrified to leave my comfort zone for fear of finding myself in a place void of familiarity.

This is, once again, how I feel.

I’m growing increasingly worried about saying goodbye to everyone, about leaving my contact information with those whom I want to keep in touch, about leaving a mark behind with those who knew me. This transitional period is a time filled with joy, underlain by melancholy.

Il ne me reste moins que 3 semaines en France.

This means that the next time I pack my suitcases won’t be to change host families. This means I will soon no longer hear French everywhere around me. This means I’ll soon be faced with the ultimate hardship of exchange: going home.

At this moment, in everything I do, I can’t help but realize it will all soon be gone. I’ll no longer (and will never again) walk the halls of my lycée, saying hello to and kissing each of my friends; nor will I eat lunch or go to the café with these friends during breaks. I will no longer wake up to a view of the mountains, sun streaming through my window, beautiful spring flowers blossoming everywhere, sheep strolling past the house. No longer will I struggle with the ancient door to my host family’s house or jump every time their loud telephone rings. I will no longer sit down every evening to home-made French deliciousness with cheese and yoghurt for dessert. The more I realize how used to these simplicities I am, the more the tiny ache in my heart grows.

I’ll miss this place (“the magical land of cheese and wine,” as a friend once called it) in a way very few people can understand; in a way I never thought I would.

“You never really leave a place or person you love; part of them you take with you, leaving part of yourself behind.” -Anonymous

Since my last journal, my life has been a turmoil of trips, vacations, school, dance repetitions and family changes, which have caused my last months to disappear without a trace.

My spring break—the first two weeks of April—was brilliant. I spent a week and a half on my Rotary Europe Bus Trip, where we visited France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Monaco. Much like the Spain trip in February, I valued this time not only to experience other countries, but to create strong bonds among the other exchangers on the trip, forming lifelong friendships. The other week just after the bus trip, my REAL family came to visit, and I spent three days showing them around Paris (and mildly flaunting my French skills) before heading back down to my mountainous region. We spent the next few days exploring what I’ve been living for the past nine months, going to the city, open-air markets, and eating ridiculous amounts of food with my host families. My mom even insisted on taking home some cheese and wine, assuming she’d have a hard time leaving it even after just a short week.

On a long weekend, I went with my host family to the south of France, la Côte d’Azur, where the sun was shining and the heat was rising and the air buzzed with summer. We stayed with my host brother’s godfather, whom I am extremely happy to have met. He is a joyful man, about the age of my father, and bursting with life. I spent hours talking to him of everything from life to 1800-year-old olive trees. After just a short time in his company—and his mocking of Americans—he already treated me like the daughter he never had, giving me advice such as, “You need to be a tad egotistical in your lifetime. Putting others before yourself is always important, but you need to think of yourself as well, and what makes you happy, because when you’re old like me, you’ll want to have done just as much for yourself as you did for others. You’re young, beautiful, and smart. Take every opportunity you get.”

He and my host father taught me to play pétanque, a game typical to the South of France. This game is played in two teams, made up of anywhere from one person to six; we played as two teams of two. Each team has six metal balls (about the size of a softball) and the game is played in a pit of fine gravel about 15 meters long. The team who starts the game throws a small rubber ball between 6 and 10 meters from where they’re standing. The point of the game is to lance the metal balls as close to the little rubber ball as possible and be the first to reach 13 points. The teams take turns trying to do so, and once one team places a ball closer to the rubber ball than the first, they switch off. Whichever team has one or more of their metal balls closest to the rubber ball after everyone has run out of balls, gets the number of points corresponding to the number of metal balls closest to the rubber one. It is a surprisingly difficult and entertaining game, which the French take very seriously.

I just had my dance recital, of which the theme was West Side Story. I participated in jazz, tap, and salsa with five choreographies in all. We performed Friday and Saturday night, both of which went extremely well. For me, Saturday night was the best because I didn’t mess up at all in salsa, which was my hardest choreography. At the beginning of the year, I started in salsa level I, considering this is the first time I’ve ever done salsa, but my teacher thought I had a high enough level after a month of classes and decided to move me up to salsa II. I did well and learned quickly, but it was still tough because the moves were quicker and slightly more complicated. Still, I had a wonderful time.

Coming up on my schedule for the next three weeks is the DELF, an exam to test my level of French which will earn me a diploma if I pass, l’antimonome, the French version of prom, and my going away party.

I’d like to thank Rotary, as the ending to this last journal, for everything they’ve given me the opportunity to do since I’ve been in France. This is a year I will never forget and will always be thankful for. I appreciate to the full everything Rotary does for us exchange students, it’s truly an amazing experience! THANK YOU SO MUCH ROTARY! MERCI BEAUCOUP!

Patricia “Patty” O’Brien
2008-09 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High, Palm Coast, FL
Sponsor: Flagler Palm Coast Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Tainan Castle Rotary Club, District 3470, Taiwan

Patty - Taiwan

Patty’s Bio

 Let me begin by saying: Sa-wat-dee, Kon-nichiwa, Ni hao, Griass God, and Bonjour! These, of course, are all greetings from (just a few of) the possible counties I’ll be living in next year. And trust me, there is no possible way to describe my emotions; to simply say ‘I’m excited’ would be a complete understatement.

Now to the introduction: My name is Patricia O’Brien, yet I generally go by Patty or Patty Anne. I’m 16 years old and currently a sophomore at Matanzas High School. I participate in the clubs CMPS (Community Problem Solvers), FPS (Future Problem Solves), and Leo’s club (basically just an under branch of the Lions club). I also spend a lot of my free time drawing, painting, and (my personal favorite) sculpting, which, unfortunately, I can only do in my art class. Now, add all that up to my school load and it’s needless to say, “I’m a very busy girl”, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having something to do, anything to do, which has me constantly taking risks and trying new things when the world gets too dull. I guess you could say my life motto is “Life was meant to be lived” and I tend to live up to that at the fullest.

I’m not sure how to describe myself besides saying that I’m a ‘typical Floridian girl’. I love hanging out with friends, going to the beach, and adventuring out of the house to see and do things. I would also consider myself to be a friendly and outgoing person. I love meeting new people and making new friends. I enjoy my alone time too though; I usually spend it reading, journal writing, catching up on schoolwork, or doing my art things.

Now, there is no way I can introduce myself without talking about the important people in my life, my family. I have two wonderful parents, a bright, funny sister, and an amazing best friend (who’s practically another sister). Through out the application and interviewing process my family has stuck by my side to encourage me, share in my excitement, and listen to me ramble for hours on end about how much I want this. I truly believe they want this for me almost as much as I want it for myself, what more could I ask from them?

I’ve already fallen in love with being an exchange student and I can’t wait to meet the other 2008-09 exchangees. It is here I feel I should say: thank you SO much for this amazing opportunity Rotary! I’ll do everything I can to represent this state, our country, and the organization in the best way possible!

Until next time (when the journey really begins),

Patricia O’Brien

August 10 Journal

 I’ve yet to set foot on the island of Taiwan and already I feel like I have morphed into a new, older, and more adventurous person. If I were to go back a year and stand next to the old “me”, applying to be what I am now, you would see two complete strangers.

Of course, the immediate differences would be noted on my appearance. For years I had long locks reaching towards my belly button and braces covering my smile. Not anymore. My braces are due off in a few days and I had my hair chopped off around my shoulder and chin yesterday. I love this new mature and grounded “me”. I feel ready to take on every new adventure and tackle every new hardship thrown my way. And for this, I thank Rotary.

I can hardly imagine the way my life will be in Tainan, Taiwan. My first host family, among everyone else I’ve talked to there, seem like the kindest and most loving people I could have ever hoped for. And, believe it or not, I’m not afraid. All I feel racing through me is an eagerness to explore and a bottomless need for change. But, I guess that’s what makes me an exchange student…

It’s less then eleven days now.

(Soon to be) from the other side of the globe,


August 29 Journal

 I must have started, erased, and restarted this journal entry a hundred times now. It’s impossible to find the perfect opening, a quick intro that sums up the feelings I hold concerning my new surroundings. If at all possible, I feel everything. Every emotion to ever touch me, throughout my whole life, is now regathering in the pit of my stomach. The best way to explain this is to say that I am completely overwhelmed, but in a good way.

I love Taiwan, it’s a mystery I’m dying to further explore.

Although there are many things that take getting used to, I refuse to use the term “dislike”. There are only things I love, things I like, and things that are an “aquired taste”. This open mindset has helped me to try and retry many things.

My arrival to Taiwan was not ideal. I was sick and tired. Upon arriving at my first host family’s house, I vomited. Not the best first impression…

I brushed my teeth and went to sleep in a daze, not taking in any sights for the night. I woke up around 3:00 AM and finally took in my surroundings. My bedroom is on the 23rd floor of a building and I have a wall to wall window over-looking the city. It’s so beautiful. On the stories below me there is a shopping mall, a HUGE book store, and a Starbucks. It’s like heaven. <3

The other day my host family took me to a very nice Japanese restaurant to meet with their friends. We had our own room in the restaurant and after about five minutes, the other family arrived. They had two daughters, eleven and nine, who raced to see who could sit across from me. The oldest won and stared at me for a long moment before saying, “Oh! You’re so BEAUTIFUL!” I nearly fell out of my seat laughing. Once I got myself together I told her she was beautiful too, and I believe that comment made her day. <3

Every where I go people stare, point, and tell me I’m gorgeous. It’s soo… odd. In America I was just another teenage girl, but here I’m a fair-skinned, curly-haired, Beauty. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’m stopped in the street by people pleading to take a picture with me. I feel like a star.

After a full day wandering throughout the city I begin to forget how different I am (believe it or not) and once I return home and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, my face shocks me. It’s as if I expect myself to magically morph into a tan, slanted-eyed girl.

Actually, since I’ve been here I’ve only seen one other white person. It was an older woman and my eyes flew to her the same way everyone here notices me; she stood out like a sore thumb. It was interesting to see the contrast though, to finally understand how I look to the Taiwanese.

Today, eight days since my departure, I took my first trip through the city alone. It was amazing. With every step I took into the unknown, my heart would skip a beat. Since I didn’t have any bread crumbs to mark my way, I developed my own system of traveling; I used the Seven Elevens. You see, Seven Eleven is found on EVERY corner here in Taiwan… So, as I made my way through the streets I made mental notes, for example “Turn right at the brick Seven Eleven, Go straight until I hit the white Seven Eleven… Turn left at the two story Seven Eleven… And when I hit the pink Seven Eleven, I’m almost home.” It’s a very amusing way to get around…

The food of Taiwan is… impossible to describe. It would like trying to describe “American food”… Taiwan is mix of Chinese and Japanese for the primary dishes, yet has influences from Korea, Europe, Thailand…. It’s like all these different cuisines came together to become “Taiwanese”… See?… it’s hard to explain.

Maybe it’s just my girly-ness kicking in, but I have to say one of my favorite aspects of Taiwanese culture is the clothing! The common fashions would be what we consider “Grunge”, “peasant”, “girly”, and “earthy” all rolled into one. Good thing clothes are so cheap here, or I would be completely broke by now. Hehe

So, With much love from my world,


September 3 Journal

 I’m going to Japan . Let me repeat that… I’M GOING TO JAPAN!

That’s right, this October I’m packing up and heading out to spend a week or two in Japan … I’m not sure just where in Japan I’ll be… But that doesn’t even matter, because I’M GOING TO JAPAN! Whoot!

Well, now that I got that bundle of excitement off my chest… I’ll fill you in on my recent adventures. Starting with… the first day of school…

So, let me begin by saying school in Taiwan is the nothing like school back here in the states… For example… here are a just a FEW differences:

Matanzas High School:

+ 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM

+ You can wear anything as long as it’s not showing your booty or too much cleavage, and you can pair it with any type of shoes you want. (Ah, flipflops are heaven <3)

+ The student body is made up of both boys and girls

+ The students switch classes every period.

+ You pretty much get to select the classes you want to take.

+The school has many clubs, sports, and activities for after hours.

Deguang Catholic Girls’ High School:

+ 7:30 AM to 7:00 PM

+ You have to wear a school uniform, sailor style, paired with solid black or white sneakers. (I have Sailor Moon flash-backs daily)

+ As it says in the name, we are all girls.

+ Teachers switch classes every period. (which is good… because there’s no way I’m going up and down 6 stories every hour)

+ After lunch is nap time, which lasts for an hour.

Anyways, my first day of school wasn’t even a real “school day”. In Taiwan, they hold a huge opening ceremony on the first day to celebrate the upcoming semester. Basically, the principal gets up and speaks for hours, and then the middle school students perform some traditional dances…

So, I sat in the auditorium (the very first row), for what felt like an eternity, and listened to the Chinese music and speeches fly over my head. Honestly, I didn’t have the slightest clue what they were saying… so I started to doze off when I finally heard my name being called. They proceed to have me climb onto the stage (Which caused me to trip and fall… like most things in the world), handed me the microphone, turned me to face the THREE THOUSAND students before me (it was like an endless sea of Asian faces), and told me to speak… My heart stopped; I was certain that I was about to make a complete fool of myself.

Yet, the second I opened my mouth to say “Ni Hao”, the whole crowd broke out into a very long “Awwwwwwwwwww”, followed by a jumble of compliments like, “She’s so CUTE!”

After they finally settled down some, I began to tell them little things about myself in Chinese. Mainly just, “I come from America, from Florida …” “I’m learning Chinese, but very slowly…” “I’m happy to be here……” and so forth.

I swear, with every Chinese word I said, they would break into a huge applause and cheer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been a brighter shade of red.

The next day was my first day of classes, if you could even call them that… As an exchange student, I have the easiest possible schedule. I’d type out the whole thing… but I have eight periods a day, that change for each day of the week… and it’s really not that exciting of a list. To sum it up though, I have a lot of Chinese classes and free time. Also, instead of getting out at 7:00, they let me go at 5:00. Whoot!

This is only for the first half of the year though. Next semester, when my Chinese is much better, I have to attend the regular classes with the Taiwanese students.

On to more interesting things now… Sitting in homeroom today, my classmates surrounded me, then began playing rock-paper-scissors to see who had to ask the first question. (Taiwanese girls are so shy!) The loser giggled nervously for a long time, and I thought she was going to run out the door… but then she finally asked me, in very broken English, “Do you haaaaaave…. a… Boyfriend….?” I nearly fell out of seat laughing. EVERYONE asks me this…

I mean, I’m from the other side of the planet… they could ask me ANYTHING about the culture… food… even the pop-culture… but no, they’re all dying to talk about American boys. It’s hilarious.

Well, I have Chinese lessons in a few moments, so I’m going to have to cut this short.

Until next time,


September 23 Journal

 You may, or may not, have been wondering where I’ve been these past few weeks. Honestly, I don’t have much of an excuse for not writing; I do indeed see a computer everyday. However, my mind has been reduced to a similar structure as jelly, and I’m quite sure that I’m possibly the worst or most passionate exchange student here.

My understanding of the culture, although never complete, is vast enough to where I can safely say that Taiwan and I mesh perfectly together. I couldn’t imagine my life without this place; it’s as if I’m no longer that silly girl longing to have a taste of life. Now, I feel as if I have finally become the person I’ve always wanted to be, yet never mustered up the courage TO be, until now.

So why do I feel like the worst possible exchange student? Well, I must admit, I’m struggling with the Chinese language. Big time. Perhaps I’m not being fair to myself, a good portion of the other exchange students come from other Asians countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, and have studied the Chinese language for far longer then I have. Yet, I constantly find myself comparing and feel as if shrinking in their presence.

It’s not that I don’t TRY, honestly I do, but sometimes it’s near impossible to wrap my mind around Mandarin. Lately I’ve actually been considering the reasons WHY I’ve had my difficulties and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m trying too hard. I completely understand how all of you back home will find this comment absurd, but I’ve realized that I’ve been looking at Chinese in a far too literal way. You can’t take two languages as polar opposite as Mandarin and English and expect the direct translation to make sense. It never will. So what is my new approach to all of this you may ask? I’m going to leave my English out of it altogether. The only way to learn this hassle of a language is to relate it to things, thoughts, smells, touch… but never words. By strictly keeping my memory at Chinese-into-picture, I eliminate the translating process and thus, save myself a whole lot of confusion.

Maybe I sound a little full of myself, to consider me among the most passionate exchange students in Taiwan, but I couldn’t imagine anyone loving this island greater. In fact, some exchange students in my city spend a great deal of time crying and longing to poof home. This of which, gets under my skin and makes me want to shake them… the only reason their exchange isn’t as amazing as they had hoped, is because they refuse to adapt to the culture. They’re in their right, I suppose; Taiwan is a very hard place to settle into. Those first two weeks were a constant struggle, fun beyond belief, but a struggle nonetheless. The food is like nothing I’ve ever been faced with. Yet, smells and tastes that had made my stomach turn just a short time ago, now fill me with hunger and desire. I guess my “acquired taste” theory was right, thank-you-very-much. :]

I’m sure you all are far more interested in what I DID over what I THINK, so I’ll begin my recap now… starting with, the week before, and the day of, the 21st.

Now, all my friends and family whom were dreading this exchange can tell you that the 21st marked my one month anniversary of my departure abroad… and ironically enough; it also happened to be my 17th birthday. Go figure.

I’ll tell you now, I dreaded that day like the plague. Just thinking about it made me well up with tears. Actually, just a week before, I had been sitting in my English conversation class when we began the unit on “Holidays and Birthdays”. We all had to answer basic questions and I held myself together until finally the teacher read out loud, “How would you feel if you were alone on your birthday?” My flood gates opened right then and there.

As it turns out, I had plans that night to go to the night market with a group of classmates after school, yet at the last minute they changed the plans and decided instead to spend the evening at one of the house of one of the girls. We played Uno, ate Taiwanese BBQ, her father tried to set me up with her brother, and they brought out a cake. Of course, I’m an oblivious girl and my first thought was, “Oh we’re having cake to celebrate the Moon Festival! Yummy!” That is… until they began to sing “Happy Birthday”. It was such a simple gesture, but it was so touching that I didn’t even mind that it was the funniest tasting cake I’ve ever had. <3

Of course, that was not the end of it. Ah, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… Well, that’s exactly what happened.

The Friday before my birthday (occurring on Sunday) went by like any other Friday. I went to the library, helped out in English class, had nap time… and so forth. Then, last period came. Generally, this time is reserved for clubs, tests, studying… so I didn’t find it out of the normal that the class was taking a test… then Vivian (my closest friend here) came over and said she was done and said she would take me outside to spare me my boredom. Honestly, I was completely tired and would have rather slept, but I gave in and we went down stairs. We walked through the school museum, went to the band room (where a few people played songs just for me), and walked around the track… Being a silly little girl, I didn’t think anything strange of the phone calls Viv kept getting; I just plowed through, talking aimlessly about nothing in particular. Finally, she said we should go upstairs, which is a big task I might add… try going up and down 4 flights of stairs 5 times a day… Not fun. Anyways, we go to the room and Vivian cracked the door open, talked to someone, and then shut it again. Suddenly, she turned to me with a look of horror and said that we were in trouble because the teacher had come back and we had left without permission. I was dreading facing the wrath behind the door; our homeroom teacher can yell like no other… But when the door burst open, all I saw were 54 girls singing “Happy Birthday”, a huge CHOCOLATE cake, the chalk board decorated beautifully, and cards and presents. Tears swelled my eyes as I repeated “xie xie” to everyone. I’ve never been so touched in my life. Finally, I felt ok with my birthday. <3

Of course, I had more plans for the ACTUAL day of my birthday… I had invited Vivian over and she, my mama, Kim, and I went out to a BEAUTIFUL Japanese restaurant, where I received my third cake. Then, Viv and I spent the whole day walking through the city and shopping.

I wasn’t even shy about all the people staring; I’ve gotten used to it a long while ago.

Which I will go ahead and agree with Kyle and say: we are treated like royalty here. Being a fair skinned, big eyed American in Taiwan is just as magnificent as glowing gold and floating in the air. I’m treated like a complete and total princess. I’ve had strangers beg to take a picture with me, shop owners give me free things, random people blow me kisses, and my host family spoils me as if I were their own baby girl.

Recently, I received a pair of sneakers from a family friend (who I though was odd to ask for my shoe size..) valued at $100 US dollars. Apparently he is the owner of a HUGE company (over 80,000 employees) that produces the materials used for major shoe brands, like Nike…

How on earth will I adjust back to my American life?

Anyways, I have plans to go to Sun Moon Lake tomorrow and the following day. It’s BEAUTIFUL. Google it, you’ll see… it’s paradise. <3 I’ll be sure to tell you all about it soon!

From my side of the globe to yours, Patty


December 25 Journal

 I haven’t written since the end of September…? Seriously..?

You know, the funny thing is that, before I came I promised myself that I would be one of those outbounds that updated their journal all the time and documented every little interesting thing to happen in their life. However, that proved to be a lot more challenging than previously thought.

Of course, I can’t make up for the lost time… However, I can offer you two things: 1. This will be the most lengthy entry in the history of Youth Exchange (perhaps not, but I intend to try) 2. You have my promise, full-on vow, that I will try much harder in the future.

First off, I’d love to address the future outbounds of 2009-2010. I haven’t even reached my half-year mark and I’m already jealous of you all. I’d trade my entire Poke’mon card collection (and mind you, I have nearly all of the first editions) to go back to the beginning of my exchange, back to the second I got Taiwan, and re-do everything I didn’t do well enough. I’d start with studying Chinese at least 4 hours a day. Seriously, you lucky kids coming to Taiwan have NO CLUE what you’re in for. We have a lot of exchange students here from Indonesia and Thailand that have been studying Chinese for years, and you’ll come here with your itty-bitty knowledge (probably waaaay off tone) and get your butt handed to you. I’m not trying to scare, just warn you. I might anger a few of our other outbounds with this next comment, but I think language-wise, Taiwan is the one of the hardest; right up there on the scale with India, Thailand, and Japan. Argue all you want, but we have TONES. Plus, Taiwan doesn’t only speak Chinese. A LOT of people speak Taiwanese, which has eight tones compared to Chinese’s four… and then we have the people that speak Japanese… and to top it all off we write in Traditional Chinese, NOT simplified.

I’ll admit, I wish I could hand pick who gets to come to my country. Right now, I feel as if there’s a lot of “dead weight” exchangees here… I get so annoyed when I’m sitting in a room and hear others go on about how they hate Taiwan. Seriously..? I get the urge to shake them and yell, “Then why are you here?!?”

Taiwan is a HARD place, there’s no changing that fact. The culture is tight, social behavior has solid boundaries, and the adults will keep you on a tight leash. Adjusting is the key to cracking this place. You can’t isolate yourself. I began doing that a few months back, as I felt the rising language pressure, food pressure, behavior pressure… and so forth… If you retreat and lower your efforts, no one is going to pick you back up. They have high expectations here, if you fall below them, you might as well go home.

My biggest nightmare is actually getting sent home. I’m trying my hardest, and feel as though I’m among the mid-top of the kids from the Americas… but I still don’t think I’m good enough. I eat what I’m given but I still can’t do certain things… Have you guys tried red sushi before…?

Well, in Taiwan, people like to color their sodas and such, just for kicks, or to please kids… whatever… Well, it’s no secret that I love sushi, so, as a special treat from my Chinese Teacher, for getting a 98% on my Chinese test (Squeeee!), she brought me in some sushi. Well… among the sushi were a few red rolls wrapped around… something or another… and I was like, “Oh pretty, Red sushi!” and I popped one in my mouth and was, right away, overtaken by this strong taste of iron. So, I broke my own rule (the Never Ask What I’m Eating rule) and asked my classmate what it was. Well, it wasn’t food coloring, I can tell you that. Turns out, it’s a famous Tainan dish where they mix the rice in RAW DUCK BLOOD until it’s nice and gooey, then they wrap it around stuff. So, I ended up doing one of the rudest things you could do in Taiwan; I spit it out. My classmate was the only one to bear witness, so I got away with it. There was a moment of silence as I tried to make my insides remain, well, inside. Then, my classmate leans over and asks, “Well… if you don’t want to eat it… can I have it?” Yup, lovely. She gobbled them all down within seconds. GEH

Can you believe these people think that I’M insane for mixing peanut butter and jelly…?

Speaking of sushi though… let’s roll back in time to mid October when I, da-da-da-dun, went to JAPAN. I’ll tell you, as giddy as I was for that trip; I was dreading the plane ride. I honestly think I could go my whole life without ever stepping foot on another plane. You should see my frequent flyer miles… Well, anyways, I get to Japan with the whole Rotary gang and their wives. I’m the only exchange student along; however, one couple brought their two children, a little girl (8) and a little boy (5). I was quickly appointed Keeper of the Children and they became my BFFs.

I’m not sure how, but me and Taiwanese kids get along so perfectly. Like, we can cross the language barrier within seconds and make up our own way to communicate. We talk through motions, games, and sound effects… it’s amazing.

So, as we practically lived on the tour bus all day, and went from site-to-site, I kept the little duo quiet and happy. We pretended to be ninjas, animals, secret agents… everything.

It was a very amazing trip; each night, we stayed in a different hotel. The second was the most gorgeous of them all… it was right IN FRONT of Mt. Fuji and it had a spa and hot springs facing the mountain… you could just relax and take in the scene… Ahhhh… Heaven.

Oh, this was actually my second visit to a public bath (aka getting naked with strangers), and I’ve gotten quite used to it. I guess I should mention my trip to Sun Moon Lake, which actually came before Japan… but my mind is obviously very unorganized… so please bear with me.

Well, although Japan was over-all amazing, there is one memory that sticks out the furthest that was quite less then “amazing”. It was the last day of our trip, we’re riding in the tour bus for a few hours, then stop for a quick visit at this famous temple… we all get out, walk around, I play with the kids, and then we all visit the gift shop. I pick out a couple little things for my friends, then I turn around and everyone is GONE. Not like, they walked back to the tour bus without me and I had to run to catch up… they went back to the tour bus without me and LEFT.

I was alone at the temple for, oh say, over a half hour..? (I might be lowering the time to make my Rotary sound less neglecting…XD ) Finally, I started to get all teary and had my “helpless little girl face on” and people began asking me if I was ok, did I need help… and all I could do was speak Chinese to them.

Oh, I’d like to point at that when you’re a foreigner in Japan, and start speaking Chinese, they think you’re a complete idiot who studied the wrong language before your trip… I obviously don’t LOOK Taiwanese…

Well, it was actually the tour guide that noticed my absence and they came back and he raced down to get me. I was so happy I could have kissed him, but of course I didn’t because that’s COMPLETELY taboo in Asia.

We made our flight and all was well. I even got the most amazing present from the parents of the two kids. It was this stuffed Bunny with these cute dresses… I know, I know, I’m not five; but I love it like a five year old would. XD

I’ll admit, I was extremely happy to return to Taiwan and I now see that Rotary was completely right; Taiwan suits me better then Japan. Uh, not that I ever questioned you guys…. *darts eyes*

Ok, now to the details of my Sun Moon Lake trip. I went right up into the MOUNTAINS of central Taiwan. It was the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life. Ever. More beautiful then Japan..? Of course, but I’m completely biased… so don’t take my word for it.

I went to an AMAZING Buddhist temple, with a gorgeous view of the lake and mountains… I spent late hours at the spa, swimming with strangers in my birthday suit… It was paradise.

Oh, have you ever been the only white girl in a room full of naked people? Everyone STARES. Like, I’m used to that in a normal Taiwanese setting; but this was pretty awkward.

Well, Halloween had me a little bummed out, seeing as it was one of my favorite holidays back in the States. However, my school arranged this HUGE Halloween celebration. Correction: my school decided to have ME arrange this huge Halloween celebration… A TV news crew came (I have a link to the video somewhere…) and I had two newspaper interviews. No lie. For the next few days I had people come up to me and be like, “OH! You’re THAT girl! I read about you!” I also had to give a speech to my WHOLE school (roughly 1000+ girls) about how we celebrate it, why, and so forth. During this all, I had to “dress up” and since I didn’t bring a costume, I made do with wearing everything I owned, doing crazy hair and make up, and then calling myself a “Freak” for Halloween.

Believe it or not, the holiday that really hit the hardest though was Thanksgiving. I fell into a huge slump and craved turkey like crazy. I probably would have killed for a bowl of stuffing and a can of cranberry sauce…

Then, came Christmas; twas very interesting. And, by “interesting” I mean it doesn’t exist here.

They did hold a Christmas Party / mandatory Chinese speech contest; isn’t that a back-handed gesture? I actually did well enough to place and win a little prize, so it was all good.

OH. So we went up to this “farm” in the mountains for the weekend. They had pigs just running around, and roosters and chickens everywhere. Very cute, until they slaughter, gut, and roast a little piggy right in front of you, then try to serve it up as dinner. Lovely.

Well, there’s this nature trail up through the mountains with more stairs then the Eiffel Tower. More stairs then THREE Eiffel towers… Very exhausting.

So, you know those creepy swinging bridges you see in movies? The ones that connect one cliff to another with this huge abyss below, possibly plunging straight to the fiery depths of hell…? Well, THAT kind of bridge would look pretty safe compared to the one I crossed… Our bridges did not have a floor; you had to walk across a metal rope (regular width) with one rope for the right hand, and one for the left… then, every half foot there was a rope that connected the hand ropes to the feet rope. So, it looked as if you were walking across a big “V”. Once you cross to the other side, there is a metal swing on a cable (you manually pull it back via rope) that you can ride to the other side of the cliff. This swing does not have buckle… it has nothing… just you, a tiny chair, flying millions of feet above the world, at top speed. Of course, we all rode it a million times. There was this net (falling apart in most places) below the swing and bridge, and if you fell, and were lucky enough to hit at an intact part of the net, you’d live. So, after everyone rides, no one falls, and we deem it safe, we decide to take it to the next level; we put TWO people in the swing at once.

I’m not sure how, but whenever there’s a stupid idea, I get volunteered… probably because they know I won’t say “no”… Geh. Well, I sit in the LAP of this one girl, and we swing across and safely make it to the other side. Since that went smoothly enough, out next plan is to try it with three people… BAD IDEA. Once again, I’m not only one of the people to go; I’m also the one on TOP. Jenna sat down on the swing, David sat in her lap, and then I sat in David’s lap.

Well, we all got into the swing-contraption, tried to adjust ourselves, then decided this is not going to work, so we’re like, “We’re not doing this” and we’re about to get up when the person holding us back lets go of the rope and sends us flying across. We’re not even to the half way point and my butt is completely off. I’m hanging on by two hands, Jenna tried to wrap her feet around my legs, and David, in attempt to grab my waist, pulls my shirt up. So now, I’m WAY UP, going FAST, about to slip, and flashing everyone on the other side.

The setup of this swing is where as you reach the other side, you go about another ten meters and your feet are at level with the ground. So, picture this, I’m BELOW the swing, hanging on for dear life, and Jenna has my legs penned down, so when we get to the cliff, I CRASH into it, and they were still holding on to me so I get DRAGGED the 10 meters. My foot never hurt so much in my life. It’s actually a very pretty shade of purple-black-blue, with a huge knot.

And, needless to say, that was my last trip on the swing, thank-you-very-much. I had to wobble all the way down the mountain and when I got to the Rotarians to get some ice, my foot was nearly swollen stuck into the shoe. I declined medical attention though, because I was pretty sure it was just bruised and it seems to be healing fine on its own anyways.

So, we get home safely from that trip and I spend Christmas Eve at school. Yup, no winter vacation here. However, I can’t complain because my school was the only one that had Christmas day off… Ah, the perks of a Catholic school finally show up. XD We did a Secret Santa in my class, and on top of that I had made Christmas cards for each of my classmates, all 54 of them. It took me DAYS, I had the homeroom teacher lend me a copy of the student-list and I hand wrote all their names in Chinese. They came out very nice, if I do say so myself.

For Christmas Day, I went to Shin Kong (Sheeen Gwang) Mall with another exchange student. This mall is roughly 10 stories high, with the top three floors dedicated to a movie theater and two floors full of only food. It might actually be heaven on Earth… I have no idea how I’ll ever enjoy Volusia Mall again…

And, that’s a basic sum-up of life. Of course, there are many things I can’t share in this journal. A lot of the experiences you have as an exchange student are just so personal and touching that you don’t know how to put them into words. It’s just those little things someone says to you, the feeling you get when you understand a sentence being said, and the warm hug of a friend when they see your eyes tearing up… The little blessings are the reason I love this place so much.

Oh, I expect every single person that’s lucky enough to get Taiwan to email me as soon as possible. I have so much inside things you’ll need to know. Just ask a member of Rotary, they’ll be more then happy to give you my contact information. I’m serious, e-mail me. And, if I don’t respond right away, I might not have gotten it, so send it again. I won’t think you’re rude if you jump all over me with questions. Promise.

Also, I’d like to thank my parents, the MV (you know who you are), my friends, Rotary, both in Taiwan and in Florida, for all the support they’ve given me these past few months. I swear I won’t let your hard work go to waste.

Best wishes from my side of the globe, 歐派蒂

P.S. I’d also like to thank Al for not sending me a threatening email about my journal-laziness. I’m sure you were cursing my name over there and wondering why I seemingly fell off the face of the earth… I had to muster a lot of courage to open that Christmas email; I was convinced it would hold some sort of ultimatum… You can officially take me off your hit list now.

P.P.S. I’d also like to point out that this entry came to roughly seven pages on MS Word, which is a fairly decent attempt at lengthy.

Brandy “Renee” Viscardi
2008-09 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School, Orange Park, Florida
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Virton Rotary Club, District 1630, Belgium

Renee - Belgium

Renee’s Bio

 My name is Brandy Renee but everyone just calls me Renee. I am a sophomore at Fleming Island High School and I absolutely love it. I am completely stoked about going overseas – this is an opportunity of a lifetime and I have been dreaming of nothing else since I was a little girl. When everyone else wanted to be a princess, I wanted to be an exchange student. I cannot thank Rotary enough for everything they are doing for me and everyone else in this program!

I have been studying French for 4 years and it is amazing. I have come to realize through taking a foreign language that I am fascinated by different cultures and languages. I want to go into public relations after High School and maybe do something on an international level. I haven’t really decided, yet. I view life through a realistic yet slightly optimistic perspective. I am a very lucky girl who has been blessed with far more than she could possibly ever deserve and I am so thankful for that.

At first glance you see: a bubbly, energetic, brown-eyed brunette with a huge smile and a tendency to break into random, yet constant song. I’m more than that. I’m a best friend who is on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I am a passionate performer and I’m a girl who laughs a lot and loves deeply. I am also the only child of two amazing people that I like to call Mom and Dad. I am emotional and I wear my mind and my feelings on my sleeve. I tend to take more pictures than I should but memories are the greatest thing a person can have. I also like to scrapbook with all of my photos and I never know which ones I’m going to use so I figure – take a lot and you can pick whichever one you think is perfect! I like to dance even though I am by no stretch of the imagination graceful. I have very solid opinions about life and who I am; but I know that all of that is about to change and I couldn’t be more excited! I live by 3 philosophies in life: “Without faith, hope and love, you have nothing.” “The love in your heart will conquer all.” And “If you take everything one day at a time and one moment at a time, nothing will conquer you.” I am constantly changing and learning something new. I have a realization about life and its mysterious wonder almost daily and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I cannot possibly tell you who I am in just a couple paragraphs and I wouldn’t even begin to try. No human is as simple as an essay, we are all very complex and different but that’s what makes this world beautiful.

August 10 Journal

 Everything until today has been unreal to me. To a degree, it’s still unreal to me. I feel like I’m on the show punk’d and I’m just waiting for someone to jump out of the bushes and go NOT! you were right, it’s a dream.

The last day at my job, O2b Kids, I had to face the music and do one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do so far during this whole experience: say good-bye to my best friends and my kids at work. That’s one thing that they don’t teach you in school: how to say good-bye. As I walked into the building, I was happy and thinking I was going to make it out without crying – I was still in my delusional state of mind, my alternate-reality so to speak (the same one I’ve been in since January 11th when I found out I was going to Belgium). I ended up bawling my eyes out before I left the building and as I was walking out of my work – it hit me. I’m going. I’m REALLY going. In a little over a week, I’m going to be in Belgium living with a wonderful family that I’ve been talking to since the beginning of the summer and eating waffles all the time.

Over these past months, I’ve been looking for something to make this whole exchange real to me and today I found it: saying good-bye. Nothing is going to be real to you until you have to say good-bye to people who are a part of your daily life. You can tell yourself all day long and you can tell as many people as you want that you are going to be an exchange student but until you look the people in the eye that you care about most and tell them that you love them, you’ll miss them and you’ll see them in a year, nothing is going to really process or make sense.

As someone who is absolutely terrible with good-byes, this was by far one of the most challenging days of my life. It was more challenging than that December 1st interview and definitely more challenging than waiting for my country assignment but every single one of the pep talks that I received made my good-byes a little bit easier. I know that I’m going to look back on them over the course of my year and smile. I was shown by more than one person today that I am surrounded by people who believe in me. They have faith in me in ways that I didn’t understand.

I guess that’s the funny thing about good-byes. You never fully comprehend the immense love that people have for you until you are going to be gone and then all of a sudden it surfaces. It really is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. Thank you SO MUCH to Rotary, My Family and everyone who has believed in me this whole way — without you, none of this would have ever been possible!

August 23 Journal

 Let me start off by saying everything I ever thought about Europe and its inhabitants was wrong. Everything that Hollywood tells you about Europe ultimately is false. EXCEPT that they drive like maniacs. That is true but I think of it like a rollercoaster. Yes, they shower every day and use deodorant. No, they don’t have small breakfasts. Every hotel you’ve ever been to has either lied to you or has seriously never been to the south of Belgium. My breakfasts are massive.

I have been shocked by quite a few discoveries. For example, I didn’t realize there were so many different ways you could flush a toilet until I arrived in Belgium. I guess I didn’t really think about it. Every bathroom is a new puzzle for me to figure out. Keeps things interesting, I guess. I also didn’t realize that chocolate could be SO good. Chocolate and I have a very special and intimate relationship in the United States but now that I’ve arrived in Belgium, I don’t even know what I was eating for the last 16 years but it wasn’t chocolate.

I live in the country side of Belgium which is SOO different from Jacksonville it’s unreal. There aren’t a lot of cars, it isn’t hot or sticky and we have a garden that we grow a lot of different vegetables in! We also line dry our clothes and iron them later if we need to. The streets are really small and squished. I can walk from one end of my city to the other in about 15 minutes—that’s how SMALL it is! J I really am in love with everything in Belgium. The feeling is mutual – my host family is in love with everything American. They want to visit the United States and every single state within its borders. They always ask me if I have something that they have in the United States or if we do the same thing in the US. Also, they don’t speak very much English so when I’m talking in French they’ll ask me: “How do you say that in English?” They like hearing me speak and sing in English. They think my American accent is “so cute”.

I went to the Battle of the Bulge memorial on Thursday and it is absolutely gorgeous. It has all of the states carved into it and it’s in the shape of a star. I like it a lot! As an American, I felt very proud of my country and very thankful for our brave American troops! It’s a different feeling of patriotism when you go to a different country and they have a monument dedicated to your country. It’s really neat! I’m the first American exchange student in my city and the first American that most of these people have ever met. It’s really neat to be the first impression of America and Florida to all of these people. I don’t carry the responsibility lightly, at all.

As far as my French is concerned, it has improved very much since I arrived but my pocket dictionary and charades are still my best friends. I don’t really have to look too much up because normally what I’m talking about is right next to me or I’m talking about something I know all of the random vocabulary for. I’m still having some difficulty conjugating verbs in my head and keeping the tenses straight. Around my second day of living my life in French rather than English, I found that journaling in my personal journal was hard because my instinct was to journal in French. After all, the life I was documenting WAS in French. Also, when I arrived I was quickly reminded of my French teacher, Miss Fitchette because during my freshman year we’d study random vocabulary lists that I’d always say we would never need and I have been thinking back to those vocabulary lists on a daily basis. Every ounce of preparation I did has helped me but I regret not studying more than I did.

Now for stories about getting to Belgium and my arrival here: so I said bye to my dad, step-mom, Veronica, Veronica’s Mommy, Ralph, and Mr. Bill and started walking through security feeling really strong and proud of myself because I didn’t cry in front of my family and friends. I handed the woman my boarding pass and she tells me to step aside because I’ve just been selected for extra screening. Right, I look like a terrorist with my khaki pants, red shirt, rotary blazer and a ribbon in my hair. WRONG. I look like a four year old who is about to go to Toys R Us. Yes, I’m glowing that much. So alright, I take off my Rotary blazer, shoes and my belt and walk through this machine that blows a bunch of air in my face I guess I passed THAT test. Then the woman takes apart my carry on—like takes everything out and makes sure I’m not taking anything that I shouldn’t be taking on the airplane. This is the point where I almost started crying because my carry on took me like 2 hours to pack and this woman ripped it apart in a matter of seconds. She saw the distraught look on my face and reassured me that she was going to pack everything in my bag for me. During all of this, I have my goofy family and their faces pressed against the security glass watching my every move. So I finally get my 36 pound carryon back in one piece and I’m ready to board the plane—I scream my final good-byes through the security hall way thing and I’m off to my terminal.

The rest of my trip was very easy. My baggage arrived in Belgium in once piece and I didn’t lose anything in the melee of all the excitement. I was one of the first off the plane and through security and my bags were the first ones on the line. I grabbed a luggage cart and my luggage and I was off through customs to start my life as a foreign exchange student. I walked through the door and there are SO many people holding signs, anxiously awaiting their exchange students. These people were glowing way more than I was and I was the exchange student. It was then that it hit me how much exchange students DO impact people’s lives and how much love there really is within the Rotary network. So I wandered around like an orphan for a few minutes because I didn’t know exactly where my family was but I finally found them and we said our hellos and introduced ourselves. Even though I hadn’t had a very good sleep in the last week, I was energized and ready to go see Belgium and that’s exactly what we’ve done since the moment I arrived.

I cannot say thank you enough to Rotary, my family, and my friends. You all have helped me through this and helped me arrive here in one piece fully prepared [as much as I can be] and ready for my life as an exchange student. This experience has brought nothing but happiness and insight to me since the day I mailed in my application to Mr. Kalter. Thank you SO much for everything!

October 5 Journal

 Okay so I am finally sitting down and writing this Rotary journal that has been on my mind for the last month, I swear it. I always think of something witty or deeply insightful and want to put it in my Rotary journal but because I am an exchange student who is always on the go, it’s hard to find the time to just sit down at the computer and let everything out into my little word processor. Okay enough of the justifying why I haven’t posted anything in a little over a month. In the last 5 weeks (yes, 5!—it’s pretty crazy to think about) I have experienced bone chilling cold (okay, that’s a tiny exaggeration). BUT! I have not been warm, nor worn short sleeves since my first week in Belgium. Because there is a lot to talk about, I am going to break it down into subjects.

So my first day of school was one of the hardest days I have had so far. I got funny looks and glances. I was introduced to my class much like you would introduce someone in Alcoholics Anonymous. “Hi, this is Renee. She is our new American exchange student. She will be studying with us for the year.” I quickly realized that I need a ruler to fit in and that everyone loved neat, colorful notes. Some boys can write better than I can and the girls seem to be absolutely perfect, here. It’s intimidating to say the least. We get to go out to lunch every Friday, which is super cool. As far as my classes go, they are ridiculously hard. I am in a science class of nothing but boys and it’s hard because apparently girls still have cooties at 16 and 17 years old. Some of my teachers expect me to keep up with the speed of their class but others are understanding and just let me sit with my little dictionary and decode the random worksheets they hand out. My math teacher, however, gives me tests and throws notes at me just like she does with everyone else. I am not even going to pretend that I am anywhere near passing math right now because I am so lost I don’t see me ever finding my way out of that mess. As far as my French goes: I am improving daily and I am becoming more and more confident with conversations. I still have occasional moments where I think I know what the person is talking about and the conversation will be flowing well and then I will realize we are on two separate pages. Yeah, that’s embarrassing. I got yelled at during study hall because I sat next to my host sister and apparently you aren’t supposed to sit next to anyone. The spectator decided that I was downright disobeying her so she yelled at me for like five minutes and I just stood there because I didn’t know what she was saying. The rest of my week was a lot easier than my first day. Every lunch I have had so far I have been swarmed by people who ask me questions. The boys here are much like a lot of the boys at my school– obnoxious, loud and they enjoy being immature. They scream random things that they THINK are English words [but they aren’t] at me and the Canadian exchange student, Erin. It used to bother us but now we just laugh at it– it’s all you can do.

I have had a lot of experiences and moments of epiphany. Starting with—I ate frog… not frog legs. A whole frog- in garlic sauce with a side of mushroom gravy. Bizarre- I know but I am going to say what any American would say- it tasted like chicken. I went to the Fete de Wallonie and saw a bunch of really neat looking people who looked like they came from all over the world to take part in this party. I have been given an unofficial tour of Liege [I love this city]. I have been to several parties and I have slowly opened my heart to techno music. I am having the time of my life dancing with all of my friends and just acting carefree until the early hours of the morning. I have been to Brussels to see the Grand Palace and I went to Liege to the Blegny Mines– I felt like one of Snow White’s 7 Dwarfs except they don’t have one named after being constantly confused. I managed to jump into our tour guides arms because he turned on the pressurized air without me knowing and it scared the daylights out of me. I’m not sure you know what awkward is until you jump into a stranger’s arms and then don’t know the words to explain why you just did that. Moving on, I have changed host families and I have two younger twin sisters and a sister who is a year younger than me. My twin sisters’ favorite past time is screaming at the top of their lungs at each other, I think. It’s what they always seem to be doing.

My emotions are on this AWESOME roller coaster to insanity, I swear. I will start out my day completely happy and ready to translate French all day and I will end my day really homesick but the next day will be amazing and I won’t even think about my home. I’m not going to tell you that everything is rainbows and sunshine because its not. It’s hard and you work your butt off 24/7. No one understands what you are living and everyone expects a lot from you but if you make it as far as I have, you realize that Rotary believes in you and knows you are strong enough to handle this year. You miss your home so much that you randomly start crying and you can’t stop but you learn to just cry until you can’t because once you hit rock bottom, the only place you can go from there is up. No one said it would be easy, they just promised that it would be worth it, and I am living proof that everything you learn and experience is worth every ounce of paperwork and every minute of studying your target language, I swear. There are days where I question myself and where I feel like telling everyone who said I was crazy that they were right but then something happens– like I get a package from home or I get an email and I realize that I am here for a reason and that I am meant to live here and experience this– if I wasn’t, someone else would be here. I have learned quite a few things about myself and life in the month and a half that I have been living in Belgium. I have learned that all of those orientations and all of the speeches we sat through, they actually give you advice that you NEED for a successful year abroad. I find myself thinking to myself “I think Mr. Kalter talked to me about this…” all the time! I will be the first person to admit that I thought Rotary was just telling us the same information over and over for kicks and giggles but it’s not—I promise. I have also come to realize that I can, in fact, live out of two suitcases and a carry on bag [even if I did curse the airlines up and down and around again for their dumb weight restrictions]. I have also been shown that with a pocket dictionary, smile and an open mind, you can conquer anything. I swear to God that it’s true.

A lot of people say change isn’t something you see right away and I have to disagree with them on that. I have changed, I KNOW I have changed. I can sit through a European football game and not be bored to tears, I can eat fish without feeling like the world is going to end and I can navigate my way through any train station in Belgium. I know that I don’t know the extent of the change that Belgium has brought into my life but I do know that I have changed and for the better. I look at these changes within myself and smile for I know that this is just the beginning.

I will end my journal with a very big thank you to Rotary, my friends, family and everyone who believes in me. I can’t begin to say thank you enough because words really can’t express the gratitude that I have towards everyone who has helped and is continuing to help me make it through this year. I love you and look forward to seeing you again!

December 10 Journal

 So, an update from the last journal is going to be rather difficult. Especially because so much has happened and I have been on so many emotional roller coasters it’s hard to decide what I want to write about.

I want to start with the fact that a year ago, I was anxiously awaiting interviews. Preparing for my 3 minute speech and practicing my most convincing and confident smile, planning with my whole being to go to France the following year because there was no doubt in my mind that I would nail my interview. I was born to be an exchange student and I knew French, so France was my destiny, or so I thought. Not only did I not end up going to France, I got sent to Belgium. It’s close to France but it’s everything but France. At first I didn’t know how I felt about this surprising new country that I had just thrown on my preferred list because the sound of never ending chocolate sounded nice but the more I learned about it, the more I started to love it and that love has grown exponentially since that day.

I was sort of disappointed that I wasn’t there for interviews to see the faces of the interviewees after each room. There is so much I wish I could say to them. I wish I could tell them that all the skeptical looks the Rotarians give them is just because they are evaluating if they can handle you as their future child or not and that Jody doesn’t REALLY care if you know all the states from Florida to New York and that it’s not crucial for you to know 67 X 3 in order for you to be a wonderful exchange student. I’m living proof, honest! I wish I could tell them that Rotary won’t disappoint them with their country assignment. If they didn’t get their first choice, it’s because Rotary sees greater potential growth in another country and that no matter where they go, they will have the time of their life. I want them to know that it’s okay to get discouraged and have five million different emotions and outlooks on their future adventure. I would tell them to make sure they paid attention during all of the “make a square” games because it’ll come back to help them in their exchange more than once. I want them to know how important it is to bond as an outbound class; because those people are going to be their lifeline and will eventually become their best friends. But above everything else, I want them to know that Rotary has their heart and soul into making their exchange a worthwhile one and they wouldn’t send you across the world if they thought you were going to fall on your face.

Okay so I’m done with last year. Let’s get back to the last month of my life. I have seen snow for the first time. I now own my first pair of gloves and I now know what hot chocolate feels like in your stomach when it’s legitimately cold outside. It’s my new favorite sensation. I haven’t had my ‘fluency dream’ yet but my French is still improving everyday, I have started talking in class which is a big deal for me! I no longer stress about complete strangers asking me directions to things and I can say numbers out loud without sitting down and counting on my fingers. I went to Paris, France and had the time of my life. Shopping, of course! My feet hurt really badly at the end of the day but it was completely worth it. I saw everything I wanted to see and more. Taking this trip with my host family built closeness between us that I didn’t have before going to Paris. I felt like a part of the family at the end of the day and not just an exchange student who was taking their daughter’s place. It’s a nice feeling to be where I am with my current host family except that I know I’m moving in a matter of two or three weeks.

In Paris I went into a Sephora that was seriously the size of Wal-Mart, or close to it. I also ate at this really small and intimate Italian restaurant and had the BEST dessert of my life. It was called the equivalent of a sampler and it was a mini version of all of their finest desserts. So we got home at 5 AM on Halloween day from Paris and I slept the whole next day to recover from all the shopping I just did. Needless to say, I didn’t go trick-or-treating or anything like that. I sat at home and knitted a scarf and had Halloween cake. It was just as good as getting 5 kilos of candy, honest.

Then that Monday was back to school, full speed ahead. Since then we have been preparing for exams and Christmas break. Christmas in Belgium is quite different than Christmas in the States. We put a shoe by the fireplace starting the week before St. Nicolas comes, which is December 6th and he puts candy in our shoes every night while we are sleeping! Then on December 25th, it’s intimate little gift swapping between family members and is much more family oriented. It’s neat because it’s like two Christmases. I saw snow for the first time which was super cool. My little sister, Lison, ran into my room and jumped on top of my bed and said “RENEE! IT’S SNOWING! LOOK LOOK LOOK LOOK!” It was so beautiful, more beautiful than I had expected. I took pictures, drank hot chocolate and sat by the fire for the rest of the day. For the first time in a long time, I felt the spirit of winter and it was nice. I could go for some snow in Florida, I think people would be a little happier and Christmas would feel more like Christmas.

I only have two weeks until my leisurely Christmas break begins and I couldn’t be more excited about it. After the Christmas break, I am getting 3 Australians at my school! I’m the only English speaking exchange student at my school so that means I have three newies. It’s going to be weird to be an ‘old inbound’ because I still feel so new. I went to a Rotary Christmas party and met the governor of Rotary Belgium. He’s really nice! I’m moving soon which is going to be sad but very exciting at the same time. Bitter-sweet is the word I guess you could use for this situation but it’s not exactly that. Christmas is quickly approaching and it feels like it was just Thanksgiving. Okay, well it really was just Thanksgiving but in the states it seems like a bit longer than it does this year. Time is flying by too fast and I know I say this every time I go to post something for Rotary but it’s so true. I feel like I’m living at the speed of light and it is sorta scary, it feels like it was just last month that I was stepping off of the airplane to a barrage of cameras and host families and now I’m used to Belgium and I’m past all of my culture shock.

Don’t get me wrong, when I think about the sunshine at home and how bad I want to see everyone, my stomach drops a little but not nearly as far as it did a few weeks ago. I went to Germany for the Marché de Noël and had a spiced hot wine, that was good but I would have preferred hot chocolate. Other than that, there really isn’t too much else to report on other than every time I write these journals I feel like we’re playing that game with the cards and King Conrad all over again… it’s fun. In closing, I would like to thank Rotary for everything they have done and continue to do for everyone on exchange and in the world. You have taught me how to unconditionally care for others and you have given me a family that I call my own and would do anything for. You are the best!

Until next time,

Gros Bisous!

Renee Viscardi

January 18 Journal

 I know, it’s been forever. Yes, I’m aware of how ridiculously bad at journals I am. It’s hard, though, I’m not gonna lie. Before I came, I was determined to prove my Rotex friends wrong and write journals religiously. Yeah, let me just say right now that all the things that my Rotex sisters and brothers told me were absolutely true. Things like: time is going to fly by entirely too fast, don’t waste it wishing you were home, and journals will become your nightmare because you are going to do so much and you won’t have enough time to document it. Yeah, it’s so completely true. I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not. I haven’t written in my personal journal in over a month and a half. I have fallen behind on everything besides school it seems like.

Let’s start with “St. Nicolas”; it was the first Saturday in December and it is more geared toward infants but my host family did it for me so I would know what the holiday is all about. My little sister, Lison, woke me up at 8:30 in the morning so we could all go down together. At the table there were four plates with pounds and pounds of candy on them and surrounding the plates, there were gifts for each of us girls. I got perfume and a really pretty shirt and some jewelry from my family and my little sisters got board games and things of that nature. The rest of the day was spent playing the board games and sitting by the fire. It was nice, and it bonded me closer to my host family. The next day, we went to my host grand-father’s house where we got YET ANOTHER plate of food and some little gifts. It was a really fun weekend.

After that weekend, it was 110% back into exams, which sucked, but they were much like the exams in the United States with the exception that some people got so stressed out they got sick right before walking into the exam room. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in the US. After that week ended, we had a normal weekend of eating too much and resting. We had a few days of school left then it was straight into Christmas vacation. 

I did a lot of traveling right as the break started to different places in Belgium and in Germany, which was cool. Before I knew it, it was December 24th, and I had to change host families. I didn’t really think that it would be too hard to change host families, but it was. I cried a lot more than I thought I would and I resisted moving a lot more than I thought I would.

Three days after moving in with my new host family, I had to say bye to my best friend, Erin, she was a semester exchange student and was on her way back to Canada. I know I will see her again but it was still hard to see her go. We went through the hardest months of our exchange together. Then after saying bye to Erin, I went with my host sisters to set up for the New Year’s party. We decorated for hours and it turned out to be a BLAST! After staying out late New Years, I slept until around noon on January 1st. When I woke up, I was greeted by a house full of guests… I guess for a moment I had a lapse of memory and thought I was in the United States where you can go downstairs with reasonable certainty that you won’t have a house full of guests. My parents informed me that we’d be leaving shortly to go add to the number of guests at someone else’s house. So I threw on some clothes and pretended to not be tired. The time flew by with every kiss, drink and chocolate truffle. I looked up at the clock it was 11:30 at night and it certainly didn’t feel like it!

The next day, I had to get up at 5 AM to be in Bruges at 9 AM. I still to this day don’t know who planned that lovely adventure but he/she obviously didn’t factor in recovery time from New Years. In Bruges, I had to say good-bye to my Australian buddies and my Argentinean buddies. It was really sad but they were pumped to go home and hug their friends. I know I will see them soon so saying good-bye wasn’t SO hard but it was still hard. Honestly, being in Belgium and away from my family wasn’t what made Christmas hard – it was saying bye so many times. Also, consuming so much food was hard but it wasn’t something I didn’t want to do… food here is delicious. My bellybutton hurt for a few days after New Years but I didn’t complain. I enjoyed everything I ate thoroughly.

December was a really fast and blurry month for me. I don’t really remember all of the details of it but I know it was a good month. I know that I made memories that I will never forget and I have made bonds with people who will hold a place in my heart for the rest of my life. It is honestly heart warming when I think of the impact that has been made on me and the impact that I have made on people. It makes this year feel like a real exchange of culture and understanding.

Thank you once again to Rotary and everyone who has supported me. I love you guys and can’t wait to hug you again! 

May 7 Journal

 I am two months away from being done with my exchange and I am slowly but surely trying to grab and hold on to all of my remaining days but they keep slipping through my fingers. I wake up one day and it’s Monday and the next time I look up it’s three weeks later and I am looking at the weekend. I feel like I have not done everything that I have wanted to do and I only have a little over two months to fulfill everything that I promised myself I would do. I guess you could say I’m a little freaked out by how fast time has flown by and how hard I foresee it being when it comes time to say good-bye to these amazing people. Let’s start with where I left off.

January- I had two new exchange students join me at my school: Marezaan, from South African and Josh, from Australia. This makes our group of exchange students a group of four from Rotary. They were at our school for two weeks before our class trip to Paris- talk about exciting! Within your first month in Belgium, you already stayed in Paris for three days. 

February- The first week of February was spent preparing and going on our class trip to Paris. It was beyond amazing. We went practically everywhere and I have memories from Paris that I will carry with me for the rest of my life! It was truly a gorgeous experience and it brought me closer to my grade, which was also a wonderful experience. I came home from Paris with best friends that I never knew I’d have. I know that the bonds I’ve made in Europe will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you couldn’t possibly be enough but I will continue to try and pay Rotary back with the wonderful things that they have touched my life with by my completely inadequate Thank You. Around the third week of February it was my birthday and my host mom cooked my favorite meal and the whole family came over. It was nice- we all laughed a lot and ate even more! Then I had a week of vacation which flew by entirely too fast!

March- This month has completely taken me by surprise by how fast it has moved past me. The weeks in school passed so quickly I probably can’t put March into any kind of chronological order… I know that it was a fantastic month for me and that I grow closer to all of my Belgian friends more and more with each passing day but as far as specific details, there are too many to make sense of them.

April- I went to Italy with many other exchange students in Belgium. THIS trip is a trip that I could relive over and over again and honestly not get tired of it. I grew to love people I never thought I would and I formed so many amazing friendships with people that I would have never met had it not been for Italy. I miss it so much—I wish it didn’t end as soon as it did! 

I keep having to pump myself up for coming home and I keep having to remind myself to smile and be happy I am going back to Jacksonville, Florida but every time I start to talk about leaving, I cry. Every time I think about having to hug all of my Belgian friends good-bye and having to hug my family of exchange students—not knowing when I will see them again—I cry and I can’t stop crying once I start. Belgium has a very big piece of my heart that I will never get back. When I leave Belgium, I’ll be leaving that piece with everyone that I have grown to love. It’s so weird to think that all of these people that I love so much now started out as strangers, transformed into friendly faces, grew into friends, and became family to me within the span of a year. To me, that’s what Rotary is. Rotary is more than a service organization. It’s a family organization, it helps you find family you never know you were capable of having. I now have two sisters, one that lives in Brazil and another that lives in South Africa. I also have a brother that lives in Australia. Thank you so much Rotary, Mom, Dad, Mademoiselle Fitchette, Mrs. Flynn, and everyone else that has believed in me. It has made all the difference in the world. I can’t wait to hug you and tell you in detail about my exchange year.


Zhoe Solaun
2008-09 Outbound to Argentina

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High, Gainesville, FL
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Arrecifes Rotary Club, District 4820, Argentina

Zhoe - Argentina

Zhoe’s Bio

 Hola! J

My name is Zhoe Solaun, I am sixteen years old and I am a sophomore attending Buchholz High School. I am proud, thrilled, and grateful to have the opportunity during my junior year to be a candidate for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program! I am excited to go to Argentina to have the opportunity: to learn everything about it and to live there for a year!

My life has been an unexpected journey through changes of moving from one city to another, my parents getting divorced and new additions to my family. I was adopted from China at the age of two and a half years old. I moved to Gainesville, Florida three years ago, after living in Singapore, Canada, and Ponte Vedra Beach for eight years. Moving around brought along new changes; especially moving from the beach to a farm. I live on a 10-acre chestnut farm with cows, pigs, and chickens. I live with my mom and step dad, Sandra and Randy; older sister, Sierra who is 16; younger sister Havana who is 15, and Dakota, my two year old brother.

I am very well-rounded as I am open to different ideas; I have been lucky to have traveled to a lot of places (Japan, Malaysia, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica), which fueled my desire to see more countries. I have played competitive tennis for 5 years. The hobby I enjoy the most is making jewelry. I design macramé bracelets and also work with beads. I stay busy with school work, reading, doing chores, getting together with friends, listening to music and baking.

I thank the Rotary for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime and thank all my family and friends for their support on my new adventure. I am going to miss everything about my life, but I am eager for what lays ahead as I will be able learn, build relationships, grow, create memories and understand more about the world from the journey that I am about to embark upon.


August 9 Journal

 Soon To Be…

I came into this program with the vision of being an exchange student, knowing that I would I embrace a new culture and be fluent in a foreign language. I remember the stress of the application papers, which was the beginning of my independency. The stress of the interview rooms is incomparable to the mixed tides of nerves and excitement of minimal days left until my departure. I get chills when a plane flies overhead, but I feel the thrill of everything that I have learned and all the new things before me!

I have less than a week left and overwhelming emotions of excitement and nervousness are indescribable! Through the journals I have read, I am able to relate and am speechless; as it has already been said and every word is true! The stories are extraordinary of the impact this experience has made on people; as I have already grown as a person. The emotions that students have felt and are feeling of excitement, overwhelming and curiosity have all seeped into my emotions of being confused in how to express to others.

The reiterated idea that this experience would be a minimum of three years, but the growth and memories will last a lifetime, has already become reality to me. I have grown as a person as my seed has been sowed to become more open, independent and cultured throughout this year as it has soared by and through the journey I am about to embark upon.

I am fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity. “One can never be too thankful!” But my gratitude to the support and encouragement of Rotary, family, and friends is sent with love from a young girl; who will embark upon a journey of a lifetime to help make a difference!

A debt of gratitude is owed to Rotary forever and for always!

Thank you for: Making (my) dreams come true!

Muchas besos de una chica!

<3 Zhoe <3

September 25 Journal


I remember just a year ago, I had dreams of living in a different country. Just this past year, I would visualize myself in the memories shared by Rotex. Reading the experiences of the outbound journals have been enlightening. Now it is my turn to share my experience! For me, it has been a month and a half in Argentina, which my dream has become a reality; thanks to Rotary!

Prior to my departure, I was able experience from a point a view of the culture shock an exchange student (Belen) that my family is hosting. I was jealous of my family having a new family member. I had created a friendship with her through the emails and my final days. I asked many questions about everything she was experiencing, that I would soon experience. My biggest worry was how I would be able to cope with the culture shock. Her sharing everything with me relieved much stress, but the difference was I had a language barrier.

August 15th the day of my departure! The packing situation that was thought to be impossible to pack a whole year’s luggage in two suitcases; had been completed the night before. The last days were complicated to describe as they were calm, but stressful in trying to get everything done prior to my departure. I had given my final goodbyes to my sisters prior to my departure date. The car ride to the Jacksonville Airport seemed eternal; as there were outbursts of my brother’s tantrums, music playing in the background and little conversation. My emotions were confused of how to act, as there were feelings of nervousness and excitement that were all so overwhelming.

When it came time for the ultimate goodbyes to my parents, I held on to them as I recollected on the memories we had shared together. At that moment, I embraced them with gratitude and love for everything they had done for me and taught me. Sobs of tears streamed down without a single weep. They were tears that confused my emotions of how I felt. I was worried by the thoughts of change that I would experience and the person that I would become. (Was I ready for this?) I was excited and happy for everything that this year would offer, but overwhelmed as my heart pounded and there were thoughts of everything to worry about and countering memories of Rotex.

On the plane, I was exhausted from everything. I reflected on everything that I had already experienced from this program. (The curiosity I had when going into this program, the stress during the application and interview process, the time wanting to know my acceptance into the program, the year in preparation for the exchange of trying to learn everything about the language, culture and myself; and the excitement for my departure date.) I envisioned of things that I would experience, wiped away my continuous tears and eventually relaxed my emotions with music playing from my earphones.

When I arrived in Miami, it struck me that I was free; but alone. It was my turn to learn, be independent, differentiate the best decision to make and take responsibility for everything. I was able to meet up with Rolly who was departing for Ecuador. He had no worries about this experience, which relieved my worries of this experience. (Rolly, thank you for you insightful excitement!) On my flight, I joined with eleven other exchange students that were from the New England states, Hawaii and Canada. From reuniting with other exchange students that were in the same situation as I was; I was carefree!

All I heard was people speaking Spanish. It felt like I had forgotten all my Spanish as I did not understand anything that was being said. Passing through customs, security and immigration was a breeze. Taking my final steps down the hallway with my rolling suitcases, I saw my host parents with sign (Zohe) on the opposite side of the sliding glass doors at the arrival gate. I turned back to the exchange students, “This is it! Here I go!” I walked through the gates; they embraced me with a warming hugs and smiles. I was able to answer (in Spanish) as they asked me about my trip, but I was exhausted (6:30 a.m.) and did not say much on the two hour drive home. From the backseat window, I watched everything that we drove past and reflected on all the advice that I had been given. I was driven around the town to get familiar with everything and introduced to many people.

The beginning days of my arrival were uneventful. I went through the complications of my wallet being “lost”. My host sister Vicky commented, “Welcome to the jungle,” as she sympathized for the bad luck of my arrival to Argentina. The days were very stressful as I no longer had my wallet with all my documents, money and credit card. I had the emotions of disappointment and shame of my irresponsibility of what had occurred. (Was I responsible enough for this experience?) We filed a report of the stolen wallet, canceled the credit card, and looked into getting new travel documents. Through the stress and worries of having no money, I took from experience to be more aware of my surroundings and think more about decisions that I would make. Three weeks passed and an unexplainable, but fortunate event occurred; my wallet was found with everything that was missing in the glove department of my host father’s car. The situation has been unsolved and inevitable to understand on what happened. We came to the conclusion to put the situation behind us; as no one had an explanation to what had happened. Things settled from the fortune that I had experienced in Argentina.

Aside from the fortune, I was experiencing a new beginning in Argentina! Everything was new and exciting! Everything seemed different, but I was excited for this exchange. (Having a host brother (Rodrigo: 18), has made this adjustment easier). I was introduced to many of Rodrigo’s friends that were gathered in the streets (very common); who were all very welcoming and friendly! On the second day, a party was hosted for me to make friends and meet more people. I ate the authentic Argentine asado for the first that was different, but delicious (there would be many times to come). The night was long, as Argentineans thrive on the nightlife. I was able socialize with many people (in Spanish) and joined in singing renown songs of Bob Marley. The next day, I went to another asado to meet more people. Everyone was very open and social. Some would speak in broken English and others would talk slowly for me to understand their Spanish. An infinite amount of questions were asked of me and of things from the movies, which was my place to breakdown the stereotypes (I loved the attention!). Having met so many people my age within the first days that were all so friendly, made me excited for everything this year.

My first day of school, which I was excited for (a rare occasion) was a Tuesday (Monday was a holiday- San Martin). The school was an agricultural school that would be a whole new experience for me. On my first day of school, I was presented in front of the class that I was exchange student from Florida. I sat in an empty seat (the desks were plastic that were designed for two) next to a boy named Juan Martin. As I sat down, everyone asked me about everything. Everyone introduced their names with a strong Argentinean accent, which I was only able to remember a select few. With the language barrier, I was only able to understand a few questions as they would ask at a rapid rate that I was unable to understand. I later went around the classroom, having the students retell their names and writing them down. Names were difficult to spell as the letters were pronounced differently and some were so hard to understand. I just have to say, I got some good laughs during this process. The class seemed out of control and off task. Everyone was talking, doing anything as they pleased, and no school work. When someone would have a question they would walk over to ask the question or holler over to the teacher to ask the question. It was a normal classroom behavior, but for specific teachers the class would listen and working attentively.

I have become accustomed to school. The school hours are very long (nine hours), so during and at the end of the day I am exhausted, which is when I take a siesta (naps are common). I don’t understand what the students are learning because of the language barrier and all the subjects are related with farming. The classes I enjoy the most are: (another rare occasion) math, chemistry, English, and gym; because the information is easy and I understand what is going on. For the ten other classes I don’t understand, I spend the long hours looking up words in my dictionary (my best friend); copying notes from a neighbor; and who knows what else (as the time passes very slowly). Something new to me are the protests. The governor of the province of Buenos Aires announces a day of no school, trying to promote a raise for the teacher’s salaries. Aside from the protests, when a teacher is missing (common for teachers to have another job) the students socialize and do not have that particular class that day. The school is very small as there a total of three hundred students in all the grades combined of the school. It has been an experience as we take trips to the school farms apart from the school and work in the farm at the school.

As I attend school everyday, I attend all the Rotary meetings every Tuesday. Roughly about twenty-five Rotarians meet for dinner in a Rotary house that is specifically designed for the Arrecifes Rotary Club. The event is very organized and there is much conversation for upcoming events. The first Rotary meeting and the reunion with the Governor were the two occasions that I have had to present a short speech in Spanish. Presenting my speeches were very nerve-wracking as I would hear my heart pounding, voice shaking, and forgetting how to say simple things in Spanish. (Time will come when I will remember everything and be able to say everything smoothly and confidently.) I have attended a Rotary reunion in Pergamino (with Kevin Murphy) to meet the other inbounds, outbounds, and Rotex from my district. The weekend was lots of fun as many activities, games and socializing time were organized.

The friends I have made are always inviting me to join them in whatever they are doing. I have been busy with learning how to dance as I don’t know how and everyone here knows how to dance well. The girls have been very patient and helpful as they have become my dance teachers. The nightlife is going to go dancing, which I have been able to experience. The three nights I have gone have been unbelievable and I look forward to every time I go dancing! Now, I just need to learn how to dance and learn the lyrics to the songs. Popular music is Cumbia and Reggaeton. The music I love, which is a mix of Hip-Hop and Latin music that is amazing!

Apart from everything said, Arrecifes is a very small town that I am able to walk anywhere, as everything is nearby. The town being very small, this means everyone knowing everyone. Argentina is known for its futbol and they are very passionate about the sport. Since I have been here, Argentina won the gold medal in Olympics. Everyone was ecstatic as there was much celebration and pride when winning the gold. It also just so happened, the son (Pablo Zabaleta) of a member from Rotary was on the Olympic team of Argentina. At a Rotary reunion, he presented the son’s jersey, game ball, cleat, and Olympic gold medal; which were incredible! I have been able to join a tennis clinic at nearby club, which has been very convenient. I had the opportunity to partake in a training session with a renowned tennis professional of Argentina (Fernando Agurriez). Hopefully, I will soon partake in some dance classes learning Tango (an important part of the culture of Argentina).

Argentina is known for its beef. I have eaten meat everyday (tasty), which I have started to become accustomed to. I do enjoy the asados and dulce de leche, which are genuine to Argentina. The meals and food are very different. Breakfast does not exist (I am an exception) and dinner usually finishes around at midnight. The people smoking everywhere, especially indoors is still taking some time for me to get accustomed to. With everything being so different, I have started to become accustomed to the beginnings of the culture shock of this exchange. The language barrier has not been too difficult for me, but I am looking into finding a Spanish teacher to help with me with the grammar and conjugation complications.

Every aspect of my dream has magnified as it has become reality. This task indeed of describing everything with words has been a challenge, as this exchange is something that everyone needs to experience! I have already been rewarded with many memories and I am just a month into my exchange. To conclude this entry, Todos son bárbaro!

Until the next time I share my new memories of this experience!!!

Thank you Rotary, family, and friends for all support!

Suerte y muchas besos grandes!

Con cariño Zhoe! <3

P.S. Argentina is the best in the world at fútbol! Fútbol Champions!

October 27 Journal

 ¡Hola Che!

It has been two months!!!

I sit here in silence as my family takes their scheduled siesta. Picking up, where I left off… Short, sweet, and simple; at its best (But words are incomparable as to live & experiencing this venture!)!

The first day of spring: September 21st. Spring; bring on the sunshine and the warm weather! Spring in Argentina is chilly mornings & nights and noontime with its warmth & sunshine, and occasional cold winds & days that remain overcast. October 18, the time has leaped to be one more hour ahead. Spring is celebrated with festivals for three consecutive weekends. The warmer weather has brought out the bright colors everywhere! The nights are even more special… as the attire of bright colors (Purple!) flourish the crowded dance floors. On the disco floors, the flashings of white lights are changed to the flashing of colorful lights. The nights of dancing are even more gorgeous!

Aside from spring celebrations… It was a Wednesday; I wore the Argentinean flag and went for on a family trip for an experience held at San Pedro. It was gathering of farmers, which my family is very active with the rights of the farmers. Throughout the day, I had an adrenaline rush as I was surrounded; I was one of ten thousand people that gathered wanting representation. My heart just kept pounding as so many things seemed to be taking place! Flags of Argentina and signs were raised that represented one’s pride (Names of cities or mottos of the country). Chants derogatorily referred to the President, there were hollers against the government, and words of Argentina’s protest leaders were praised.

Consequently, I was able to visit the capital for the first time, as I stood before the Congreso (House of Congress) with twenty thousand other people that gathered! The people united in protest, but for various reasons opposing the government. My overwhelming emotions magnified as there were more people, more signs, more flags, more noise, more chanting, and more everything! We marched in the avenue as we surrounded & circled the building. Other than the fact of the twenty thousand strangers that were angry with the government and surrounded me, I took note of the beauty of the small area of the capital that I stood at. Aside from the graffiti and weariness of the building, it was beautiful! The design and architecture of the building was amazing! I was anxious and intrigued to discover much of other sites of Buenos Aires!

A trip to the capital with my family and with upbeat & cheery spirits. Buenos Aires is amazing as it resembles Chicago with its skyscrapers, but relates even to more magnificent Europe with its historical architecture! During the day, the European architecture is an aspect of Buenos Aires that is spectacular; as there is such detail of its articulate architecture! Aside from bright lights and shopping, parks are one’s escape for days of sunshine and a picnic. Elaborate statues and fountains are sprinkled all over the city! La Boca (The Mouth; home to the Boca Juniors), is incredible because of the many different colors and its Tango! The music and dancing was unbelievable as there was such passion being portrayed!

School field trip time (A first that I am not the only tourist!)! We were all were on an adventure to city of Lujan, which entailed a grand & historical basilica. The day was beautiful with sunshine and the Basílica Nacional Nuestra Señor de Luján was remarkable with such detail & beauty! The European architecture was amazing. Much of structure remained intact as it had been built late 1800s (undergone some restoration). The colors of the stained glass windows, the polished marble, the elegant tapestries, the Stations of the Cross, sophisticated statues and the enlightening Altar; were amazing as the aroma was holy and comforting. I had found my peace, as I captivated the moment in the serene atmosphere (I knelt at a pew & prayed.)! There was a lot going on in my head, but it was the first time in Argentina that I took the moment to reflect, think, and feel just (So) relaxed! I am so blessed to have this experience… Thank you Rotary for making my dreams come true! Thank you to my family & friends for their ongoing support!

Final destination, I felt like I was part of the movie cast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; as we visited a famous national milk factory, La Serenísma! We gather at the entrance gate (Founders of the golden tickets), watched a presentation, joined by a guide who informed us about the regulations & facts about the factory, we stared with fascination of the process of the milk that it underwent to produce its signature products (Efficiently worked the tedious jobs at an accelerated rate), observed the workers all dressed in white & specialized uniforms (Oompas), and were given souvenirs of the products that it produced.

Homestretch of this entry (Random)! Riding on a machine that sows seeds fertilizes crops, was fun; but riding on a school tractor was even better (Pleasures of going to an agricultural school)! Argentineans love their meat; a traditional food is baked bread with bits of meat! We thought the end of school protest of the capital ended, but for the first time… there was a day that all the public schools (Nationwide) were closed in protest (Teachers wanting a raise in their salaries)! I have been brought into this family as if I was their own… as this has come to be, I do not (sad) want to have to change families (But it is always worthwhile in the end!)!

These past months… Have passed so rapidly and memorably. The venture & time has been a thrill as it has brought forth many new discoveries. I have only experienced a point of sadness when I think of how fast time is passing, but I counter the moment with making every aspect of this experience memorable! I have not felt much homesickness, but the swings pass by so rapid; as I have been able to keep myself active and the realization that I have one year of thrill & venture!

For Rotary! Thank you ever so much: Al Kalter, Brent Williams, Rotary Club of Gainesville, Rotary Club of Arrecifes, all Rotarians and Rotary!

P.S.: My understanding of this experience is to try new things… And in doing so I take pride in having tried the tongue and the small intestines of a cow (Part of Argentineans culture is to eat majority of the meat of a cow). Words to describe the taste…InTeRestIng, CheWy, CrunChy, & CriSpy!

Ciau for now… Teacher planning for me… I am to make a presentation (Minimum an hour) about the United States to my class (In Spanish)!!!

Hasta el proximo vez!

Muchasimas Gracias Rotary!

Mando muchas besos a todos!

<3 Zhoe <3

December 6 Journal


It has been nearly two months since my last entry. Challengingly, I have spent many hours of much contemplation, writing, erasing and revising to describe this experience.

Just after my last entry, I put myself to work of much stress and contemplation that withheld a minor language barrier. The outcome of the task came to be a presentation of the United States history to my class. The presentation went well, but how I was able to make it endure for two hours remains unanswerable. The material did not interest my classmates much, but they remained intrigued and involved as they smiled with my pronunciations and corrected my grammar. The less eye contact towards the teacher, the prepared slideshow of pictures, and the assistance of the class made the spotlight more relaxing. The homemade cookies restored the energy into my classmates and secreted to a grand applause in the finale!

School overall has become part my routine, but with the energy of my classmates it is has been delightful to attend. I received a 10 on my first math test, which is a perfect score! I am told that I am very smart; as I am able to point to identify countries and explain events of history in geography, be a translator in English and do participate in the schoolwork. (I have got the brains! lol!) I have become an entertainer; as they ask for an encore of my singing (I like the people here, as I am told I such a great singer, lol!)! They laugh with me on my accent as I fail to roll my R’s and unable to open my mouth wide enough to pronounce the word correctly! With becoming more of a student and such energy of my classmates the school days have are a enjoyment (once I arrive). I have attended my first auction, which was a fundraiser put on by the school. I was quite calm compared to the movies (not everything is like the Hollywood). I have been able to talk and answer about my typical lifestyle & reality in the U.S. to my classmates; (the shattering the stereotypes with the exchange of the marvels & actuality of the U.S.) as not everything is like movies!

The end of the year celebration, un campamento! I have just recovered from camping overnight with my classmates at school. First things first, a friend and I had spent the afternoon baking chocolate cookies to bring to our camping classmates. We gathered in the afternoon on a Thursday, cookies were handed out and we were divided into three teams (red, yellow, & green) to participate in some games that include much running! I was on the green team; the first event was a scavenger hunt as we had to solve four hidden riddles. I was able to solve a riddle; as it was in English, and we placed second. As the sun had set, the final game was with the use of flashlights and the objective of the game was to get the signature of counselors that were imitating specific animal sounds. We placed first! As the games were finished, we gathered in around in all sorts of directions. A bonfire was lit, we dined on grilled burgers, small skits were put on by the students (mocking our teachers), there was music & dancing, stories were told, and a midnight stroll to give us a good scare! Sleep was a maximum of two hours; as we went we went to sleep early in the morning if the following day, we were freezing cold, one’s who never went to sleep and there were the early birds who had the pleasure in pranks! As for me & I don’t doubt for anyone else, we all had a wonderful & remarkable time!

At this point, school year has pretty much come to an end & summer break is here! With such great friends I have made, I am a little sad for the end! But looking forward to summer is making me confused on how to feel. I will miss my farm school; as I will be changing schools for a broader experience!

Graduation for my brother! The night was spectacular. All the money raised went towards service projects held by service organization, Club Leones (similar to Rotary)! For the beauty of the night, all the graduates from all the high schools were dressed formally with suits and dresses. It was held under the stars on a patio that was away from city noises. Families and friends gathered at tables as they took pride in their child’s graduation. Couples would model down the runway on stage and pose for the camera flashes. In the finale, fireworks were set off, the music volume was raised and everyone gathered to dance.

As for now, the language is coming along; as the key is to think and translate before speaking. My mind is confused, as there are times where I have a hard time thinking of the words in English, times where my grammar diminished at that instance, and times where I have a foreign accent. Lol.

I have my moments where I forget to think… One morning, I was to wake up my sister. In such a hurry as it was late, I gave her a slight shake and said, “It is time to get up no,” she responded with, “¿Que?” We had a good laugh, as she told me she told me she thought she was dreaming.

I found that I could cook for my family, in a way of giving back. I have not had much history in cooking, but with the recipes and the ingredients at hand, and the hours in the kitchen results to edible meals. The second time round was a beef dish, “Liver and onions is it?” I was teased at the sight of my prepared meal, which did end up being tasty. Overall, I am not too bad of a chef as they continue to use my recipes, lol!

This past month, I realized how much I have bonded with my family. There has been a mood swing of sadness that has overpowered the emotions of excitement for the change to move. Within, I was in rebellion of moving, I had truly bonded with my family, I became their youngest daughter and been truly accustomed. I held back the tears with a strong force of restraint of my final goodbyes to my family. I embraced them and thanked them dearly for everything! I miss my family, the home and my routine that kept me occupied and comfortable! My family was incredible; as they took me in as I was a complete stranger, opened their hearts, home & family as I became their daughter and touched, inspired, comforted, influenced & taught me; as they are forever placed in my heart! But don’t get me wrong, my new family is great as they are very open and welcoming! It is just not the same, but time will take its place (as always)!

The move had me thinking about my family a lot also. I began to miss the comfort of my family and the simple things about my life as my lifestyle has changed! (But I felt that it was just a normal phase of this exchange.) As I missed celebrating Thanksgiving, it was nice to hear and socialize with my family on Thanksgiving! As they have been such a great support and comfort through everything!

A few weekends past, a Rotary reunion was held and it was just as amazing as the last. It is always nice to spend time with other exchange students and talk about our experience as we are all in the same boat and to talk about each other’s cultures! It was a group of four other exchange students (a newcomer from Washington State), which they were all really social & nice. Hopefully, there will be a reunion to meet all the exchange students in Argentina, but I will have to just wait and see!

Thank You Rotary… For your support, service, and this dream come true!

For now, I am looking forward to another graduation celebration of my school! As well as, spending my summer break; who knows what I will do?!

P.S. Don’t be left out in the dark or embarrass yourself; make sure you know who Robbie Williams is!

I miss everyone & the simple things! I send my love to everyone! (But I have never had the urge to return nor have the urge to return; as I want to fulfill this experience with the possibilities of everything! Nonetheless, I still have much work with my Spanish. I am yet to dream in Spanish!)

Besos Grandes! Te amo! Te Extrano! Te Keiro! Con Carino!


January 13 Journal

 Time is flying! Another year is gone & another year has begun!

As of now, I have attended a high school graduation. In particular, the graduation for my brother Rodrigo (from the Agrope of Arrecifes)! The night was gorgeous and the celebration was distinct of a short ceremony and formal dinner. Instead of caps and gowns, there were suits and dresses! Individually on center stage, diplomas were received as family pictures taken. Words of gratitude, encouragement and reminiscences were expressed to the graduates. In return, the graduates presented their observations and appreciation of teachers by friendly mocking them (quite entertaining). Indoors in formal scenery… we dined, watched a film in recognition of the alumnus, and ended the night on the dance floor!

The holidays were blissful with a summer heat, my home of such hospitality, my family of sincerity, and holiday spirit of tranquility!

Feliz Navidad! The celebration of Navidad entails the coming of Papá Noel. There was the persistence of the joyful anticipation for 25th to arrive; as there was the traditional gathering of family and exchanging of gifts! The enthusiasms of the holidays were not expressed much from decorations nor sounds of holiday carols, but from one’s emotions that they portrayed. Navidad was very rewarding to me; as I was able to meet new people, travel, discover and experience! I spent Noche Buena and the Navidad in nearby city, Rosario; Santa Fe. The city was gorgeous; as it was as grand as the Capital, but much more tranquil! The family had opened up to me with such emotion and kindness! There was so much energy of such warmth and enthusiasm as it seemed quite overwhelming (too overwhelming, as I had no idea what to say)! The eighteen of us dined at a lengthily decorated table an hour before midnight. All the food was served cold, which was sandwiches, potato salad, and a variety of meat. Everything was overwhelming; as there were conversations of all sorts of directions and all sorts of topics. There was a plentiful amount of food leftover (later for Christmas brunch); as the clock struck midnight we proposed a toast for the special celebration. As it was tradition, we gathered on the rooftop to watch the fireworks glitter the sky! Sparks surrounded us, as the sky was dazzled of colorful sparkles! Bits of chocolate and sweets were served for dessert. Gifts were swapped and unwrapped with much excitement and gratitude! The night was stunning; as everyone reunited and reminisced! It was quite exciting and exhausting as the time passed quickly and the night ended past sunrise!

Prospero Feliz Año Nuevo! Every year seems to be even better, but pass by even faster! The celebration of the New Year was spectacular! It was a celebration of the past year & the start of a new year. In addition, it was the day of my host mother’s birthday! We stayed within the pueblo for celebrative day; but it was divine, quaint and peaceful! We feasted on Asado for the New Year and there was dessert of a birthday cake! We toasted towards the New Year! Not too many fireworks were seen when the clock passed midnight! Reuniting with my friends made the night even more spectacular! We gathered on the patio where their party was set up. A guest singer was presented, the band of my friends entertained and we socialized & reminisced! Argentines are such friendly people who never miss a time to be with friends, times to party nor a night out dancing! The times I spend with my friends are some of the most enjoyable times! They are friends that I will never forget; as we always watch out for one another and have a great time with each other! Dos Mil Nueve!!! Nuestra tiempo disfrutar nuestra adolescentes!

Recently, I was able to go on family camping trip and with some friends to accompany us! There were eleven of us, for one night, but our luggage resembled a week’s worth. The whole experience was enjoyable and laid back. We traveled fifty kilometers to San Pedro, which was a bigger city with a river beach. We camped on the riverside on camping grounds, which was a popular summer location. Despite the summer heat and mosquitoes, we were able to explore, socialize, play cards, play games, cook, relax and have a great time together!

As for me, the school year has ended. Summer has started! I have been spending lots time with my friends; especially swimming! Things are quite relaxed and tranquil. As we just live laid-back and do things when the moment comes! What is taking place in the present, the 10-day Fiesta de Doma y Folkloric in Jesus Maria, Cordoba. It is a festival that portrays the gauchos, folk music and the rodeo (on horses) competitions of Argentina’s culture! Recently, Boca Juniors have won the Opening Champion Tournament of Argentine Soccer (Campeón Torneo Apertura 2008 del Fútbol Argentino), which was as grand (or grander) of a victory of Florida’s Gators NCAA football title (Go Gators!)! I have been able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my Rotary Club! Also through Rotary, I have been a part of the pueblo’s Interact Club. Through Interact, we were able to organize a reunion with Club Leones International (international service program) and put together a Rock Music Concert to raise funds for the community! Everything has gone swell! To mention, how fast time has gone by! I have been here for about five months now and I am just about ready to move to my third family! The adjustment was hard when I moved for the first time, but I am excited for the broader experience!

Thank you Rotary, family, friends and everyone who have supported me! This experience that is actually a reality that I witness has been… overwhelming, thrilling, a blessing, a dream come true, more than one could ever ask for, unforgettable, even greater than I expected, and beyond indescribable & imaginable! An age I do not want to grow older from. A place where I do not want to have to leave! But I will never forget nor leave behind everything that I have experienced!

Te Querio Mucho! Con Cariño! Besos! Deseo Lo Mejor! Espero Que Todo Te Vaya BARBARO!

xoxoxoxox Zhoe xoxoxox  


 May 10 Journal

 One can never be too grateful! Thank you to my dearest family, to overachieving Rotary, and all those thinking of me!

The second family took some time to getting used to. I feel that on both halves: as I the student and for my host family; we had influenced each other for the better. When it became time to change, the realization of such hospitality and warmth I had been given made it difficult to move. Through the mother, the emotions were expressed as the tears came. For me, it was an adjustment that made me realize to always appreciate what you have and one’s attitude matters!

New School. Private Catholic School. I truly do enjoy the school… uniforms, classes, school hours and most of all… MY CLASSMATES! The class is quite entertaining and quite rowdy! WE ARE THE SENIOR CLASS, making it the most memorable and pleasurable and ultimate high school year!

The sound of the whistle blew. It was a penalty call on me. Always learning something new! HAND BALL. Could you imagine someone playing without knowing neither the game nor the rules (there was the thought there is not too much to be explained)? I was in that position, but feeling confident of understanding the game… I learnt from a simple mistake. I was left out on the rule of not being able to enter the white outlined box. The whistle blew, without knowing why I was called on and a sentiment of feeling bad for violating a rule. At that moment I was just guilty but clueless… it was from then on where I truly understand rules of the game!

Celebrate Good Times! The celebration of my birthday will be unforgettable. I was able to realize how much I fitted in and how many memories I have shared. We were a small group celebrating a new year of growth. It was memorable as we reflected on the memories when I was just someone they knew through now; which I have become one of them… LAS CHICHIS!!! I was heartfelt, when I was actually mentioned and told that I had truly become a CHICHI!!!

An evening quite memorable was the visit to Pergamino (Kevin Murphy’s city) with three friends. In size, the city is quite big for Argentina, but quite small for the US. (Similar to the TITLE CITY… Gainesville!). We were let loose to do some shopping, which ended up being window shopping. Next stop… the Bowling Alley! For me, it had been a long time since I had bowled, for one it had been her second time round and for the others it had been their first! We had a some good laughs; as the ball seemed to be quite heavy to give a good toss and there was the continual throws of gutter balls. Final destination… Loco Por Pizza! PIZZA Y PASTA LIBRE, where you are served all the pizza and pasta that you can handle! Never have I consumed so much food. I came in last with a appetizer of Raviolis and four slices of pizza. Pizza was continued to be served to me, as I would give it away. Two friends had a draw with two bowls of raviolis and seven portions of pizza. The champion ended up with two bowls of raviolis and ten portions of pizza! It was intense and memorably quoted, “Argentineans don’t eat to live… they live to eat!”

Third time is the charm! Another time round, where I have become a daughter and sister to a welcoming family and home of such hospitality, which has made this move the hardest!!! Nevertheless, I have found the family, which has become my favorite; one that I truly do not want to have to let go! It has been a full experience with two brothers whose relationships is sweet & sour and a sister who has truly become my best friend (a friendship that is priceless)! I have the parents of a Rotarian who is the owner of CHACRAS DE VINA and a mother, who’s a blood doctor of three hospitals. Adjusting to such a crazy schedule, I have truly enjoyed being part of the family!

Easter Weekend, which meant a break from school! The cabins were fully reserved, which became a stressful time for my father (good for the business). The weekend was quite relaxing and enjoyable as there was the reunion with family.

This exchange year has been memorable as I have had a summer vacation and I have been able to live where people come to vacation! Chacras de Vina (www.chacrasdevinia.com). A lodging area, for those who seek peaceful cabins, fresh air, nature, a spa (under construction) and peaceful pueblo (that is no more than 300 people). One may just have the idea, why one may just not want to move. I have come to enjoy the nature and simple pleasure of the country’s quietness. It is the fresh air and peacefulness that I have taken for granted and will truly miss!

Thank you for granting me this blessed dream come true!

Lots of Love!


Roy “Rolly” Weaver IV
2008-09 Outbound to Ecuador

Hometown: DeLeon Springs, Florida
School: Seabreeze High School, Ormond Beach, Florida
Sponsor: Ormond Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Ibarra Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Rolly - Ecuador

Rolly’s Bio

Hello there! My name is Rolly Weaver. I’m 17 years old and attend Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. In my spare time, I enjoy doing almost any sports and I like anything that forces me push myself. At school, I play basketball, football, and run cross country and track. When I’m not in school I like riding my four wheelers and climbing (in Colorado and NC).

I live with my mom and step dad and have two sisters, one parrot, 3 cats, 1 1/2 dogs (chihuahua) and 3 horses. I am excited about my senior year abroad, not nervous, although I will probably be when I’m boarding the plane.

August 29 Journal

 Wow. I really don’t know what to write. So I’ll start from the beginning. Finished packing the night before, or rather started packing the night before. Then left in the morning, car ride, Awkward. We couldn’t find much things meaningful to say. Then goodbyes to Sister, Joonas (a foreign exchange student staying with my family), and mom who despite her strength during the whole day began to cry. This sounds weird but I wasn’t sad. I was like “let’s do this.” (yes that exact quote lol ) I kinda felt bad that I wasn’t crying or anything. But I was just ready.

In Security they thoroughly searched my belongings to insure that I wasn’t a terrorist. After that delay I was off. From Jacksonville I headed to Miami for a very lengthy wait. I think that people thought I worked for the airport because of my blazer of something. Because I would randomly receive questions from people about what terminal is where, or what time flights were leaving. Out of sheer boredom I wandered the Miami airport for what seemed like hours.

Before I left I met up with Zhoe, leaving from Florida to Argentina, and later I met four other exchange students who were also heading for Ecuador, and two others departing for countries.

Plane ride uneventful. I talked with a very funny kid who is going to stay in Quito named Remy, and we attempted to decipher the customs papers that we had to fill out, in Spanish. It was very humorous.

Plane lands, we all go through customs together. Only to be broken apart by the hugs of our host families. My host family is vacationing at the beach so their grandfather and aunt pick me up. To my surprise they were both fluent in English. So I didn’t have the opportunity to practice my minimal Spanish. Because of my plane’s late arrival, I stayed Quito with my host aunt.

In the morning we left for Ibarra. They had morning Mass, so I decided to join them in the service. Bad idea. Started Mass, everything was perfect, then I began to feel dizzy. I shook it off and ignored it. Later in the service we all stood up to recite some sort of prayer, which I mumbled and acted like I knew the words. At that point I was hit with another spell of dizziness, but this time it was worse, I couldn’t hear the priest talking or the people singing, everything began to turn black until I couldn’t see. I attempted to murmur some sort of “help me,” but the words never came out……… BAM!!!! I hit the floor. Blacked out. A result from the altitude. A couple of minutes later I came to. In the middle of Mass, while the priest was singing there was like twenty people around me spitting words and phrases in Spanish which I couldn’t understand, asking me questions, brushing my wet hair from my sweaty face, and elevating my legs to produce blood flow. It was embarrassing. Very very embarrassing.

After my pride was taken I  was introduced to my host family. I was met at the door with a big smile by Paul my host dad. He has tan skin, and is full of energy, we play chess, or the game I introduced to them, dominoes, almost every night. I have two host sisters and one host brother. Family is very important in Ecuador.

Since my arrival I have busied myself with varying activities. Four days ago we went to 12,000 ft. and went fishing. The lake is in the middle of nowhere. Hidden by the peaks of the northern Andes. To the left I see snow covered peak of Cayambe, to the right limitless jungle filled with mountains. We pulled the boat into shore, cooked the fish, and loaded them with pounds of salt and ate them. After lunch me and my host cousin had the brilliant idea to go swimming. It turned out to be a very stupid idea. As other people were wrapped in winter jackets and long johns, me and my host cousin were frolicking in the water. At twelve thousand feet the air is cold. At twelve thousand feet the water is colder. After we regained feeling in our extremities, we decided to explore the jungle. After much hiking we stumbled into a very marshy section where with every step we would sink up to our knees in muck. We got lost. My white Nike shox are now black Nike shox.

Besides that I’ve been keeping myself busy playing basketball, tennis, and swimming. Or doing other various tasks that need to be completed like obtaining my visa, buying books and registering for school, etc. etc.

I start school this Monday. So that should be an adventure. Wish me luck.

Also wanted to thank Jody for giving me a chance.

Until next time.

-Rolly W.

October 16 Journal

 Hmmm. Wow. There is so much to say……I´m writing this during Physics class. I lost total interest after we found the velocity of an object flying from China to France. I’m trying to figure out what to put in here without making it one of those weird 1.000 page Sci-Fi adventure books always read during class by that weird kid that never talks.

Ok now I know…

This is going to be the “I have a test tomorrow and haven’t read the book,” Spark Note version of Rolly’s trip.

In October we had a bunch of parties here, called the festivals of Ibarra. There was one party with 1,500 people (goodbye personal space bubble). I have also come to the startling discovery that my dancing abilities are lacking….but I make up for it in denial.


I’m learning tons and tons of Spanish every day. I’ve upgraded from retarded to minor stupidity.


Went to Quito and met up with one of my student exchange friends (Remy). We went to the mall and hung out with another foreign exchange student from Ecuador that went to Germany last year. It was fun, however, Quito is much larger and dangerous then Ibarra.


On September 17, I was invited by my host cousin to climb a local mountain. Imbabura. I climbed with a local English teacher, from the United States. We had good conversation for the four hour sludge up the giant hill. We finally reached the summit and rested, chasing the fleeting air of 15,000 ft. After two minutes on the summit it began to snow. How serene! No!! After another five minutes the snow turned into hail/ rain / sleet. Upon that I left my jacket and backpack at a lower section of the trail to scale a difficult vertical section of rock. (I was cold…..this is becoming a habit.)

After half an hour a thunderstorm rolled in. In another 10 minutes lightning was striking all around us. When the bolts struck the ground we would hear the echo screaming from the rocks repeating several times before dying. One struck very very close to the three of us, instantly sending a shock through our bodies. We all had major headaches after the experience.

The descent was supposed to take two hours…..LOL…….The trail was a natural slip’n slide from the rain. Water + Dirt= Mud……….. trail filled with mud and water + Foreign Exchange student = Muddy foreign Exchange Student.

We were greeted by four hours of falling………Hard……….Face plants, head over heals, 180 degree spins, failed attempts to retain our balance and pride.

We finally returned, clothes stained, soaking wet from head to toe , cold and prideless having had the most fun weeks.

Random fact…..the garbage trucks have speakers and play music identical to that of the ice-cream trucks in the U.S.……it causes much confusion.

This section doesn’t need much explaining. I ate Cuy= Guinea pig / evil rat looking thing. …… That’s all moving on.

OK time for the serious stuff. Chuck Norris and your “momma” jokes aren’t funny here, Don’t try…….seriously don’t.

In the morning (4:30….ohh dear Lord) I’m heading to Manabí, for my first Rotary trip.

It’s going to be really cool…..


November 18 Journal

 Hello.. While reading my journal, think about this…it helps:

¨Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because Chuck Norris only recognizes the element of surprise¨

The day after I wrote my last journal all the Rotary kids went to the beach in Ecuador. It was cool to see all the different countries and personalities mixing.

Recently laety (From France) and I went on a train to a small village north of Ibarra. We were able to ride on the roof of the train. It was fun. It seems that in every one of these journals something happens to me, I somehow figure out a way to injure myself……I didn’t disappoint. We were walking to our seats on top of the train and while began to move. I was saying something to laety with my back to the numerous power lines, strategically positioned to take out unsuspecting foreign exchange students. I turned around just in time to be clothes-lined by something like the largest power line you’ve ever seen in your life. The line caught my neck, and I was flung on my back, slammed on the metal floor, and rose thoroughly embarrassed. But wait there’s more. I stood up (with my back to the lines….again) and was greeted by another monstrous reunion with the metal roof. This stuff needs to stop lol.

Also here, two people have attempted to rob me. Lol But they were really crappy robbers. No lie. Truly subpar. I don’t think they expected their “victim” to be a foot taller them. Mauhahahaa…I Won

I went to Quito, mainly to eat a BigMac. I did. I wanted to cry. It was amazing. Also there was a birthday for some girl in Quito. All the student exchange kids went. It was so much fun.

I trying to stay busy here…and not miss an opportunity to do anything. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I go to Boxing……………. and the others day I do my homework…. Haha just kidding, or play basketball. I’m experiencing like recession problems without my bike or riding with my team…hopefully my mom is going to bring it in December…… (Hint Mother)

My English is getting a little bad. I think learning this much Spanish causes memory loss, or something even worse than memory loss.

I won the Chess Championship at my school….yea I know I’m cool lol.

Next weekend I’m going to climb Cotocatchi. It’s over 16,000 ft. So So excited.

 February 9 Journal

 I have so much to say. But I think I’m just going to write random things that have occurred to me in the past couple of months.

AKA … Long. And void of anything useful.

OK my stupid grammar correction thing isn’t working, so brace yourself for horrible English.

A while ago I went to Cayambe to climb. It’s a mountain over 18,000 ft. I went with my family and an English teacher from the U.S. After a couple of hours the Ecuadorians turned around, but Ryan and I went a lil bit further. Two hours later we were … Very high … on a slope … very steep … in snow up to our waists. We got the hint that this was very dangerous and decided to turn back. We were able to ski down the slope using our boots and backpacks …

· Oh!

—-How I found a way to hurt myself again!——–

I went to the BMX track with my host cousin, ( he is the national champion of Ecuador 8 times.) … to make a short story shorter … I fell … lol … Broke the collarbone … second time … When I fell I thought…”Crap … I broke my collarbone again..” … And when my friends came to ask if I was all right I said … “Crap … I broke my collarbone again” in English … They were confused … I got up and started walking, and everything started to get black … until I couldn’t see … But I was conscious and could hear and move and everything … So I sat there on my back … Legs elevated to produce blood flow … Face filled with sweat … collarbone bulging out of my left shoulder … And thinking to my self … “Well, This sucks.”

Ten minutes later I could see again, and went to the hospital … Surprise … My doctor is one of the leaders of Rotary!  … How awkward

About two weeks ago I received a package from Zhoe, In Argentina …

——–Zhoe ——–

———-Seriously——-Thank you so much … That was so nice——————-

Also my family came from the states. It was cool. But my Family from Ecuador … No English … And my family from the States … Negative Spanish = many awkward situations … But overall it was really cool.

Also, we went to climb Cotacachi, a mountain close to my house about 16,000 ft. One Word. LONG TRIP … haha, that was two words … It was over 9 hours of hiking. We left the house of my host uncle at 4 in the morning. And didn’t arrive at my house until 5 in the afternoon …

————————————–New years——————————————-

Different … LOL … I’m going to do my best to explain this but most likely I’m going to fail miserably.

In Ecuador during New Years, there are guys dressed up like girls, that block traffic, and won’t let cars pass unless they give them money … (Why Not? lol) … They dance to “Fairy music” like Firgie … My Humps … And “Girls just want to have fun” … And other fairy Latino music … You Understand … Right … Good …

As I was watching them “Perform” with my family, one of the (we’ll call them “guys” to be politically correct) started to look at me while he was grinding on an old Volkswagen, singing, “Puff the Magic Dragon” … I thought … “Crap … he saw me”  … (the “guy” had an incredibly strange resemblance to Fergie and fellow alien Michael Jackson) … Within minutes, a hoard of Fergie’s friends had surrounded me and attempted to drag me into the street to dance with them … I resisted, but the overall gay-force of five guys was too much.

I looked at the side walk, and was met with the view of over one hundred and fifty non-gay spectators. I was forced to dance … I decided to play along and made a show of it … It was so funny … But somehow I was able to escape Fergie and the love gang, and return to my family un-gayed …


The situation could be compared to watching Broke-Back mountain … while eating CheeeesSsits (don’t forget the slur there) and gummy bears … With Michael Jackson … With a pink night gown … yea … something like that …


After writing that paragraph … I really don’t know what more to say.


After the “episode” we went to a party with my sister from the States that started at two and didn’t end until 9 in the morning. I danced … With Girls … lol … It was really cool.


So I got a bike today … I was so excited … Finally I can start training … So I left my house as fast as possible to start riding … About three minutes into my ride a bus decided to randomly run me off the road … I was forced to go on the sidewalk at full speed … inches from getting hit … But I was able to break my fall with my head … I look down and noticed that my right pedal was broken off from the impact … I rode home pedaling with one foot … My first ride almost reaches the amazing mark of 5 kilometers … What a great start to training. Lol


Recently I found that in Ecuador we have a holiday, where for one week or so, we throw water balloons at people… You can imagine what me and my friends have been doing. From the third story of my friend’s house, in one afternoon me and my 4 friends went through about 200 balloons, and countless buckets of water … I don’t want to sound like a really mean person … I can’t describe the unconditional joy of seeing girls running while being absolutely pummeled by a barrage of water balloons.

Sorry I can’t help myself.

Chuck Norris can clap with one hand

Chuck Norris once ate an entire bottle of sleeping pills. They made him blink.

Chuck Norris invented black. In fact, he invented the entire spectrum of visible light. Except pink. Tom Cruise invented pink.

Until Next time


May 21 Journal

 It’s been awhile.

Honesty I can’t even imagine putting all the things that I’ve done over the last couple of months in the journal. But I’ll hit the important things.

I briefly mentioned the Ecuadorian Carnival in my last post (when we throw water balloons). It was so much fun. 7 angered Ecuadorians pilled into one barely working truck with over 300 water balloons. It’s a formula for utter disaster. We adopted the phrase “No Mercy” … And lived up to it…… We went to the cosmopolitan section of the city, ……… and let loose …… You can guess the result.

I recently competed in a bike race here…I placed second.

Also a couple of months ago we switched families. I’ve had huge luck with my two families.

We went to the Galapagos!! Yes sir….I swam with sea lion looking things. They weren’t scared of us, so they were in the water swimming between our legs, and playing with us. It was awesome…

Surprisingly nothing very bad has happened to me… I fell off my bike a couple of times, and went to the hospital because I had a stomach infection and couldn’t eat food for three days… But now I’m fixed.

Also we went to the Amazon! We went on a ton a walks in the jungle and went floating in a river. While floating in the river two friends from Germany and I found an old abandoned canoe on the shore. We had the marvelous idea to bring her back to her glory days and make it seaworthy again. We attempted to make it float, by putting extra wood in and strapping our life jackets around it. It didn’t work. As it turns out we conveniently ran into a rapid section, and barely made it back to the hotel.

Last Saturday one of my good friends from Quito went home. We would always find stupid yet entertaining things to do, like talking to Ecuadorians that only speak Spanish in our British-Australian-Swahili accents in English…. Or talking about how weird the people from Ecuador can be.

This Friday is our last trip with Rotary. It’s a little sad. The year is ending.

While waiting in the airport we took advantage of the global Flu scare…… For entertainment proposes we decided to ferociously cough on people that walked by. It was so funny. They were really mad and many left running.

– Rolly

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