Outbounds 2009-2010

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Adam Grimes
2009-10 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Sátoraljaújhely Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

Adam - Hungary

Adam’s Bio

Hello, or for those hailing from Magyarország, Szia! My name is Adam Grimes. I am proud to say that very soon I will begin a journey to a mysterious and foreign country, known as Hungary. Preparing for such a journey is going to be challenging, and leaving will be hard as well. I am confident in my abilities to adapt. Foreign exchange isn’t for everyone, but I am not everyone. I am myself. I plan on using this opportunity to learn more about myself, and in the process becoming a worldlier individual. I also plan to have a little fun along the way.

I currently live in Jacksonville, or St. Johns Florida. I have lived here my entire life, and I have never left the country before. My family consists of my father William, my mother Lynnell, my sister Andrea and our pets (3 cats and a dog). My interests include movies, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, and pretty much every other stereotypical activity that Florida teens partake in.

I want to thank Rotary and everyone in district 6970 for making my exchange possible. I look forward to writing journals about my future experiences!

Adam’s Journals

August 23 Journal

 First off, let me just say that typing on a Hungarian keyboard is gonna take some getting used to, much like the country. Before I begin about Hungary, I should mention some things about traveling to this place. The night before my departure, I had an episode of insomnia. I got around 2 hours of sleep before I had to wake up. The drive to the airport was sad but exciting. I thought I knew what I had in store, but I underestimated the toll 24 hours of traveling can take on one’s body. I felt sluggish by the time I made it to Amsterdam, which is probably why I nearly missed my flight. After getting off the plane from Detroit to Amsterdam, I checked my connecting flight to Budapest on the giant plasmas littering the walls. Unfortunately for my tired eyes, I saw the gate for Bucharest, which is Romania’s capital city, not Hungary’s. So I sat at the wrong gate for 5 hours eating Chex mix and Snickers, but when I went to board the plane, and my ticket was denied, I almost died right there. Not only was I in the wrong part of the airport (which is gargantuan if you haven’t been there) but my plane was leaving in 10 minutes. I ran faster than I had ever run in my short 18 years of life. And by the time I got to my gate, tired and sweaty, turns out my flight was delayed 20 minutes anyway. It was just one of those moments where I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. The flight to Budapest was short and uneventful, but I knew the adventure has yet to begin.

Stepping off the plane I was instantly immersed. No one was speaking English, and I loved it. I found my bags, and walked towards the exit sign. Beyond that swinging door was my host family, ready to pounce on me like a pack of wolves. I greeted them in my best Hungarian, and then proceeded to stumble over something else to say. We proceeded to the car, where Soma, my host brother informed me that we would be spending 1 week at Lake Balaton. We spent the rest of the 5 minute car ride attempting to communicate. Turns out my host dad knows a bit of Spanish, so this lessened the language barrier a bit. My host mom Beata is very nice to me, even though I can barely understand what she is ever saying to me, I just know it’s nice because she is always smiling.

This first day has been incredible! I spent most of it just listening, but they sure do know how to have a good time! First we went to lunch in Budapest, and boy was I starving. I had a veal soup which was delicious, and then a giant plate of flattened fried chicken, topped off with a cappuccino for dessert. Then we drove off to Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Hungary. I spent some of the afternoon walking around with Soma talking and translating. This works out perfectly for the both of us, I only speak in Hungarian and he only speaks in English, except to his parents.

This year has promise to be incredible. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of change my life has experienced within the last 30 hours. But I’m overwhelmed with feelings of happiness and curiosity, as well as the desire to learn. Hungarians all seem like very nice people, but I would like to understand what they are saying just to be sure. Sticky-notes are my best friend right now, it was my host mother’s idea to put them on every piece of furniture and object in their lake-apartment, and I am taking full advantage of that fact.

 

November 8 Journal

 Wow. I’ve almost been here 3 months. To some, it may seem like such a short time, but to me it feels like a lifetime. I considered writing a journal every day since I have been here, because every day I have some new experience to write about. Unfortunately, I have neglected to write a journal until now. (Sorry) Today I changed host families for the first time, and today I also ate McDonalds for the first time in months, so I decided this was a good day to write a journal. haha.

So here goes…

I’ll start someplace simple, my setting. My home. My city. When I first saw the name Sátoraljaúhely I tried to say it and every time I attempted so, it felt as if I was coughing out a hairball. But now the name rolls of my tongue as easily as Szia or Köszönöm (Hello and Thank you). The city itself is rather small, with only about 17,000 inhabitants. There are plenty of places for youth like myself to hang out, such as the skatepark, the movie theatre, various bars/restaurants, the sportpark, or one of the ice cream joints dotting the city. I have found my favorite ice cream place, it’s affordable and they also sell Waffles or Gofri. These Gofrik (the plural of Gofri) can come with an array of special toppings. I like strawberries but Nutella is a close second. There are also many different pizza places around my city, and so far after sampling 2 locations, I have come to the conclusion about Hungarian pizza. It’s delicious. They don’t stick to the normal American toppings, they branch out quite a bit. Sometimes I long for my simple pepperoni and cheese, but after trying pizza with ham, pineapple, corn, chunks of tomato, shrimp, garlic, bacon and cheese…I fear there’s no going back.

Speaking of food, I have become what my mother always wanted me to be, a food taster. I accept anything and everything offered to me. That is obviously just part of exchange, trying new foods. I haven’t found a favorite dish yet, but I am a big fan of all Hungarian cuisine. Of course, Hungary is known for its Goulash, and for good reason. I have never tasted a better soup/stew in my life than homemade Gulyas (pronounced Gew-jash for English speakers). Another favorite food of mine here is call “Strapatchka” which is basically pureed potatoes, eggs, turo (curds), and fried bacon, mixed together with sour cream (tejföl) on top. For breakfast, it’s rather common in Hungary to just eat a sandwich, but I like to eat a special type of sandwich. In America, it’s similar to a grilled cheese, but prepared a different way. The Hungarian name is “melegszendvics” which literally means “hot sandwich.” To make this, you have to have 2 things. A sandwich, with all your preferred toppings, and a hot sandwich maker. Being a teenager and feeding yourself is not always an easy task. This 2 step procedure can be accomplished by even the most hazardous cookers. Step 1. Make Sandwich. Step 2. Put in the sandwich maker, and remove when you think it’s done. That second step can be tricky for those easily distracted. If you got lost reading those steps, stop reading this, go back to high school and/or enroll in Home Economics.

So enough about food, what about the reason I am here? What about fulfilling my title as an exchange student? I’ll let you in on how things are going with being a successful and happy exchange student. Before I got here, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been told, it’s the best experience you can ever have, that you will remember it for the rest of your life, and that you will change as a person in a good way. So far, I can attest to all but one of those things. I have been having the most incredible and insanely different experience than anything I have ever done, ever. As far as personal traits and issues, I think I have become slightly more well rounded in the last few months. I was always a social person, but now I don’t spend all my time doing social things. I have become obsessed with learning this language! I study every day, for 1-2 hours with my first host families grandmother (nagymama). I also have two Hungarian lessons a week in school, each of which are 2 hours. I recently googled the Hungarian language, and one of the results read that Hungarian is the third hardest language in the world, behind Chinese and Japanese. A website states “Hungarian is one of the hardest as it has masculine, feminine and neuter genders as well as about 7 different verb conjugations. It is also one of a handful of ‘independent’ languages, meaning no one really knows their origins and they are not linked to any base language set like Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) One of the easiest is supposedly Polynesian.” Anyway, as far as remembering this exchange for the rest of my life, I am sure I will, but I cannot yet attest to that statement, as I have not yet lived past this experience.

So. School? Exchange Student? I love the concept, but at first I didn’t love the atmosphere. My first real experience with my school/classmates was not a great one. About one week after I arrived in Hungary, it was already time for school! The first day of school, I didn’t have to go! But that afternoon, I was told to don my Rotary clothing, and head to the school. Slapped on some fancy pants, a nice white button-down and my nearly empty blazer, and I was off! Before I made it to the school though, I had the opportunity to meet with the other exchange students in my city! I had been told the countries from which these fellow exchangers hailed from, but I didn’t know their names, or faces. I’ll give a little Bio of each now. Mauricio Moreno Reyes from Mexico. He’s a really funny guy who speaks great English. That kid never stops smiling. He has become one of my best friends here. Ludyevina Tominaga from Brazil. She’s very smart, and speaks amazing Hungarian. I always go to her when I need help with a concept. Her English is moderate, but I cant complain, it’s better than my Portuguese. Lastly, Penny Chen (Yi-Ping Chen) from Taiwan. She’s the youngest exchange student in the country! She is very shy, polite, but funny. Her English is decent, sometimes she has to consult her Chinese/English talking dictionary, which has Tetris. Overall, these people have accepted me as I accept them, we are all crazy enough to do exchange and we all love this place called Hungary. …

After meeting each other, we made our way to school where we were required to give a speech…in Hungarian. This would have been great if we spoke well enough to accomplish such a thing. The speeches went better than expected, with only one mishap. Penny froze up halfway through the speech and never finished. Just walked off stage. I’ve never felt more sorry for anyone in my life. I was so afraid to speak after her, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and stepped on stage to read my 3 line speech crumpled in my hands, wet with nervous-hand-sweat. I read my speech, with no faults, and there was clapping. But I didn’t care, I was just glad it was over. Next I headed off to meet my teacher and my classmates. My teacher is a red haired lady name Eva Miszack. My classmates, all have typical Hungarian names such as Akos, Gabor, Istvan, Gyuri, Máté and Dani. At first, my classmates approached me slowly, asking questions like where was I from, do I like Hungary, and how come I’m not fat? I think in the past 3 months I have changed most people’s minds about Americans. I have shown them we are not lazy, we are not fat, and we don’t eat McDonalds 3 square meals a day.

School here in Hungary is very different from Bartram Trail High School. For one, there is a sort of “homeroom” procedure where the students stay in the same room for the majority of the day. Each room has a number and a letter, according to the grade. My class is 12B. The school is small, it only houses about 1000 students. The school was founded in 1786, it’s mad old! A lot of renovation has been done to the school, but many parts are very old and antique. The school is famous in the area for their basketball team, but I have yet to see them play any serious games. My classes consist of Math, Ethics, History, Art, Sport, Physics, German, Technology and Grammar class. My level of understanding of my subjects is slowly but surely rising, but I still can’t do much during class. Most of my teachers ignore me, others try to involve me in class, whether that’s letting me take the tests, or yelling at me for not doing my math homework. Not much has changed in that department…

Overall, I believe my exchange is going fairly well. I get homesick, but not as often as I used to in the first month. I have adapted to the culture around me, but sometimes I still have little moments where I think “Hey, I’m walking down the street surrounded by people who don’t speak my native tongue, and I have to learn theirs if I plan to survive, wow.” Little things that I could have never pictured myself doing, I enjoy taking part in because everything is new and fun. I played squash, a game I had never heard of and now I play every weekend. I scored a goal in soccer, for the first time since I was 5. I speak one of the hardest languages all day every day without many problems. I have visited 3 countries besides Hungary since I’ve been here (Slovakia, Poland, and Ukraine). I am happy, positive, and I love my life here. Minden Rendben (Everything is in order). Unfortunately, my hair has almost grown back to its old length before I cut it and then left the USA. But do not fear! The forces of good have willed me to cut my hair once again, but for now enjoy the pictures of me from the last 3 months.

I plan to experience a lot more in the months to come, and I will be sure to chronicle my events along the way. I assure you, it won’t be 2 months before I write another one of these.

To everyone bac in the USA, I miss and love you all. To my fellow exchange students around the world, I miss you all and enjoy reading your journals. To my family/friends here in Magyarország, köszönet mindenért, szeretlek titeket mind!

January 6 Journal

 These journals get harder and harder to write the longer I wait in between each one. I feel like it has been ages since I wrote my last journal but it has only been like 7-8 weeks. Lots of things have happened since way back then, and I am rather compelled to chronicle everything for you, the reader. So let’s start from now, and go back in time!

It is now 2010, January 6, 2010 to be exact. To reflect upon the year of 2009, I would say it was a pretty amazing year. Over a year ago I decided I wanted to be involved in Rotary Youth Exchange, and now I am writing my third journal in 4 months of living a new life in a new place. So much has changed in the past 4 months it’s rather ridiculous. I realized in my past life I have not appreciated anything as much as I appreciate things now. I owe a great debt to Rotary, my parents, and people who influenced me to become an exchange student. I took everything I had for granted including the people that loved me; I will never do that again.

Exchange has changed me in so many ways I cannot explain through a journal. But the ones I can explain I will illustrate for you now. First off, I have gained weight, which may seem like a miracle to some, and a curse to others. I have never heard any statistic for guys gaining weight but it is rumored that most girls on exchange gain some weight whether they want it or not. But honestly I really expect to gain more, what with the amount of amazing new food I consume on a daily basis! Not to lie, some food I try and stay away from, such as csirke máj (chicken liver). The first time I tried it, I realized what it was and gagged a little. The next time I ate it was an accident, it was mixed in with some other various chicken parts and mushrooms, needless to say when I had that familiar taste in my mouth I had to pretend to blow my nose and spit the liver into a napkin. Other than that stuff, I like all Hungarian foods.

On the subject of change, I would like to pose a question to other exchange students. “ARE YOU LOSING YOUR MIND TRYING TO REMEMBER SIMPLE ENGLISH WORDS!?!?!” Because I am. Sometimes in conversation with English speaking people, I have to stop and try to remember an English word for a minute, which my Hungarian friends think is hilarious. Also, as mentioned by several Rotex and elder Rotarians before my departure, I have started to think in Hungarian. It wasn’t really a big deal at first, simple things like Yes or No (Igen vagy Nem) became automatic and even during Skype conversations with family and friends, such small things would slip out of my mouth as if I had no control over what I was saying. It has gotten really bad recently, where someone will be speaking English to me, and I am reading something in Hungarian, I will respond in a mixture of Hungarian-English, which I have dubbed (I don’t take credit for this) Hunglish. Hunglish is an appropriate form of communication when someone is learning Hungarian, because to speak full Hungarian sentences doesn’t start happening until after the first few months.

In the area of language, my confidence is soaring! I listen more than ever now when people are having conversation, I understand lots of expressions commonly used, and I have created a few of my own which have caught on among friends. I have been told countless times I speak very well in the Hungarian language, both by people I know very well and by people I have just met. I have been proud of my accomplishments before in life, but never has a feeling been so fulfilling as successful communication in a language I knew next to nothing of 4 months ago. I hate comparing myself to others, but from what I can tell I am one of the most fluent out of the exchange students in Hungary. I know I am not the best, because I have spoken to the best. There is a contest coming up in February, in my city, for non-native Hungarian speakers (specifically exchange students) to compete in. I have no thoughts of winning, but putting my Hungarian to the full test is something I do on a daily basis. I don’t expect to live up to the Drake Starling standard, but coming close would be pretty cool though.

I have plans to do more traveling in the near and distant future. I want to visit as many cities in Hungary as possible, while on my limited budget. I am being very frugal with my Forints (Hungarian Currency) and thanks to the dropping value of the USD even more so! Also, Euro-tour is coming up in June, so that is one more awesome trip I get to look forward to! Here is a list of the cities and monuments I will be visiting in the future…

I have no doubt by the end of this adventure I will be exhausted, but I will also have seen some of the coolest places in Europe!

Christmas is a wonderful day for many people around the world. But for an exchange student, Christmas means memories of Christmases past, and spoonfuls of homesickness that make them nauseous. Anyway, that’s how things have been for me the past few weeks. Everyone gets a little homesick sometimes, and Christmas is definitely one of those times. I’m pretty sure it says that in every RYE exchange students handy dandy notebook!

As for Christmas itself, it was better than the days leading up to it. On the 23rd of December, my second host family and I traveled to their second house in Eger, a beautiful city sort of near Budapest. Here we met with many family members whom I shook hands with and held conversation with over dinner (which was fish soup and goose, DELICIOUS). After dinner we all went to the living room and exchanged gifts, something I was not expecting at all. This exchange process on Christmas Eve reminded me of my sister begging and pleading my mother to let her open gifts that same night when we were much younger. My mother always fought my sister on this, but would eventually cave and let my sister and I open my Grandmother Kristi’s presents, which were always very interesting and useful. So for Christmas in Hungary I received quite a few presents, both from my host sister, host parents, and host grandparents, whom I barely know. I was very grateful and thankful for these gifts, as I always am. One of the gifts was a book full of 1000 words and phrases for small Hungarian children to learn with, it includes stickers of every word and object, which have to be placed on their corresponding pages. It will be a wonderful learning tool to expand my Hungarian vocabulary, which is not as extensive as I would like it to be.

A week before Christmas I was in Italy! The exchange students from my city and I were given the opportunity to go on this trip. The adventure lasted one week, and I had some of the best times on my exchange during that week. The whole trip was centered on skiing, which I had never tried before. For those of you who know me, I am not exactly an extreme sports inclined person. I have tried water-skiing, skateboarding, even windsurfing and failed miserably at everything. But despite my past failures, I can honestly say I am now an above average snow-skier. I will describe to you how the trip progressed day by day.

The first day, everyone got to the hotel where we would be staying and began to get settled in. Hotel Erica was awesome! The staff was very nice, and spoke great English. The bottom floor of the building had a “wellness center” which included 3 different saunas and steam rooms, massage parlor, tanning booth, as well as a 20 person Jacuzzi hot tub for tired skiers. I can tell you I took full advantage of this wellness center during my stay, with the exception of the tanning booth. Heck I’m from Florida; we don’t pay for skin cancer!

Anyways, the first day of skiing was very interesting. All the families (there were 7 different families, 4 with exchange students) made their way to the slope about midday. Up on the mountain, to say it was beautiful would be a massive understatement. I was dumbfounded. The sight was spectacular, and it stole my breath away, plus the oxygen was much thinner up there. The weather all through the week was very, very cold. In my family a minimum of 4 long sleeve t-shirts, 2 pairs of socks, and long underwear was required underneath the necessary ski pants and ski jacket. To be dead honest, I don’t think any amount of clothing would have saved me from negative 17 degree Celsius weather, plus the wonderful wind-chill. My face froze, countless times, which could only be countered by taking shelter inside one of the many bars/restaurants dotted around the mountain range. My skiing skills began to improve by the end of the second day. I fell down way less by the third day once I was able to control my speed, and by the fourth day I didn’t fall at all. Every day I was always exhausted and my legs felt like they were going to fall off. All in all, the trip was an incredible experience, and I can honestly say I will try to ski for the rest of my life.

The weekend before I left for my ski trip, I visited another one of the most beautiful places in Europe, Vienna! The trip started with a train ride to Budapest, where I met with all the other exchange students in Hungary as we got on a bus to the city of Győr! The ride to Győr was a few hours, and I spent the time catching up with people I had met at the orientation at Budapest back in September. Everyone has been having a wonderful time, and I only heard a few complaints about homesickness. Once we got to Győr we found out we would be sleeping in a student hostel, and I immediately thought about the horror films. After laughing off general feelings of awareness for my surroundings, as well as decisions of whom I would use as a human shield in the event of an attack, we all made our way to dinner.

The local Győr Rotary Klub hosted dinner, where a surprise was waiting for me. A person who I got to know a little bit during Rotary related events back in Florida. Monika Ignacz was an inbound in Florida last year. I saw her welcoming other exchange students at the door, so I shouted “hey Monika!” Her eyes lit up and she ran at me and gave me a huge hug. It was cool to reunite with someone you haven’t seen in 5 months and then talk to them like you saw them yesterday! She was impressed with my Hungarian, and kept telling me about all the things she misses about Florida. I agreed with her on about every point, and she even made me homesick for some things I had forgotten about.

After dinner we all went to bed early because we had a big day the next day. Not! Exchange students are super-human beings that can stay up all night talking and playing games, and the next day function like normal-ish crazy teenagers.. I love them all. The morning before our venture into Vienna, after breakfast it started to snow. Not only was it the first time I had seen snow fall in Hungary, but also for most of the kids there it was their first time seeing snow period! Brazilians were crying with happiness, and I caught about 100 snowflakes on my tongue. I am the master of that sport. After a while it got cold so we got on the bus to go to Vienna. After a short trip, we arrived at a truly amazing place. Vienna is awesome! There was a giant Christmas festival going on, that was our first stop. The Christmas festival was full of people from all kinds of places, Austrians, Germans, Hungarian and even some Americans I met with. Food stands sold German sausage, drink stands sold hot wine or punch. The city itself is structurally beautiful, but my group did get lost a few times… I also encountered an establishment I was actually for once in the mood for because of the freezing weather. Starbucks! The comfy couches and overpriced drinks were open arms welcoming me back and reminding me why I sometimes like Big-Corporation-Western-Society’s effect on the rest of the world. I only visited one museum, where some German girls asked to take a picture with me. I felt used and weird knowing that picture would be on some girls social networking page sometime in the near future. The Vienna trip was successful; I was happy I had seen another beautiful part of Europe and experienced so much culture in one day.

Before I finish, I want to say good luck to all the future Outbound Students, I can’t wait to hear from those headed to Hungary! I am sure Daphne has given you some assignment to talk to me, or to read April or my journals about Hungary. If she hasn’t assigned that yet, well she should! Questions about being an exchange student are welcomed, as well as anything regarding your upcoming responsibilities. Meet the deadlines, for He-who-must-not-be-angered shows no mercy towards slackers!

Much love from Eastern Hemisphere, and I hope everyone had a Happy New Year! That rhymed, but I am not about to start writing Haikus like some of the other crazy kids on this website… And now, Pictures!

May 31 Journal

 I would like to dedicate this chronicle of my exchange to my loving mother, who waited so long for it.

Months, weeks, days, minutes, seconds, moments. Time can only be measured by experiences. I feel the last few experiences of my exchange are the ones that will define how I feel about it for the rest of my life. That said, I have so much to look forward to in the little time I have left in Europe. There are also many things I am not looking forward to which may be the hardest things I have done in my entire life. It has always been about staying positive for me. I realized there is no point being sad about anything, because it won’t get you anything in the future. I’ve been following the words of one of everyone’s favorite deceased artists, Bob Marley. “Don’t worry, be happy.” For me though, it’s not so much about worrying, than being generally glum. This exchange is the perfect example of life as a whole. It’s short, too short to experience everything. Also, if you don’t enjoy it you will regret it.

Talking about ourselves is a waste of time. I write this journal for the benefit of my friends and family who are generally interested in what I have been doing. I do not write this for personal gain or recognition by the public or anyone else.

Everyone is ever changing, from the moment the fastest sperm finishes his race, to the moment our relatives stick us in the ground. Most worries of today concern fruitless problems that are either impossible or improbable to achieve the results that we desire. That is why I think it is our duty as humans to live out lives, because there are so many fruits to be tasted.

It has been proclaimed that “everything has already been said and done” While this points out the length of time documentation as well as communication has taken place, it fails to communicate the necessity to regard the world around us as our world, and we must do with it what we can. Time is everlasting, as far as we know.

I make it my mission very day to experience life, by cutting out the idle undertakings of our existences. While millions of people watch television, I prefer to count the clouds in the sky or the birds in the trees. Life is loitering all around us; we just have to interact in order to live.

Real life is coming at me like a speeding bullet. This exchange has been a time to reflect, think about my problems, and the problems of the universe. I believe I have a better understanding of the world around me. Decisions have been made, but the path in front of me has yet to be decided. I have the asphalt; it just has yet to be laid down.

Now then, enough with the philosophical stuff… You’re probably wondering what I have been up to lately?

I can account for the last few months in next to perfect detail, but to tell you of all of my adventures would be the equivalent of writing a book. The thought to write a book has of course occurred to me, but I have decided to write once I have graduated University.

In VERY recent news, today is May 31st 2010 and in 29 days I will board a plane to return to Florida. Some wait my arrival others, dread my departure. I myself am stuck, somewhere in the middle of insanity and absolute happiness. This past weekend I had a taste of what it will be like to leave all of those whom I have come to love this year. This Saturday was the district conference in Szentendre (small city near Budapest). I wanted to arrive early to the conference so Friday I packed my bags, grabbed my rotary blazer and jumped on a train to Budapest.

I arrived at about noon, and took the usual public transportation to my final destination. I was traveling to my friend Margot’s house. Margot is an exchange student from California, and I consider her to be more like a sister than a best friend. She of course, likes to sleep in, so when I called up to the house with the intercom, the maid picked up. I asked kindly if Margot was home, the maid told me she would come and open the gate. When she finally arrived at the gate I greeted her with a typical Hungarian greeting. “Kezed Csokolom!”(I kiss your hand) I proclaimed with a smile. She opened the gate silently while looking at the ground. When I thanked her she smiled and walked behind me back into the house to finish her tasks. Once inside, I climbed the 3 floors of stairs to Margot’s room, where I found Margot (of course), Huani (Brazil), Chandler (Wisconsin), Pedro (Brazil), and Carol (Brazil). Everyone was lookin’ tired, having just woken up when I slammed the bedroom door to greet everyone. I dropped my bags and jumped into bed with everyone. There were grumblings about breakfast, and wanting to take a shower, so I decided I would help. I went back downstairs with chandler to make breakfast. Chandler is 6 foot 1 with blonde hair, gauges who wears contacts/glasses. I always get a long with chandler, as he and I think alike on a lot of things. He was on exchange last year too, in Brazil! He speaks English, Portuguese and Hungarian fluently. We decided to make omelets for everyone. We chopped up Paprika (peppers), Sonka (ham), Hagyma (Onions) and added them to a hot pan of olai (vegetable oil). After everything was nice and sautéed, we proceeded to add the tojas (eggs). The omelet came out nicely, with only minor burning. Pretty good for two dudes in the kitchen.

After breakfast we all went outside. Chandler decided it would be a good idea to use the vizipipa(hookah/waterpipe). We all laid out in the sun on towels or reclining chairs. I chose a yoga mat to catch the sunrays on. We talked about plans for the weekend, and that night particularly. Soon chandler brought out the hookah with melon-flavored tobacco. At about 3 o’clock more people arrived. We had all had a little sun and decided it would be a good idea to jump in the pool! The new arrivals were John (New York) and Roxy (Mexico). We all jumped in the pool and started to play pool volleyball. I got spiked in the ear, no biggie. The swelling went down after 15 minutes. We decided after the pool that we would leave for the night at about 6pm. We all took showers, separately of course. Afterwards we started to get ready.

The bathroom was full of girls straightening their hair, dudes gelling/straightening. I brushed my teeth, and stole a miniscule amount of wax from Chandler. On accident, everyone but Carol put on black clothes. We decided we WANTED everyone in black, but Carol went in white. She was the “angel” of the group. Right when everyone was ready, Marina (Brazil) arrived. I love Brazilians so much, but one thing is true about them, they take longer than everyone to get ready. But they are usually the best looking when we leave the house. That night was crazy. We danced our gluteus maximus’s off! The clubs in Budapest on Friday nights are usually quite packed, and this night was no different. I think I saw 1000 different men and women, all moving in unison, to the typical “unsz aahnsz” beat of the club/house/techno/pop/dubstep music that was blasting through the speakers at 8,430 decibels. So after dancing for a few hours, we decided to turn in because we had things to do tomorrow.

The next morning, we all woke up at 8 o’clock to get ready for the Rotary District conference. I cut my khaki pants into shorts because it was too hot that day, but I had to wear nice clothes, so I put on a polo and donned my rotary blazer. We were out the door by 8:30 and at West End (a huge shopping mall in Budapest) by 9:45. There we met with 15 or 20 other exchange students, plus our president of rotary youth exchange Kertesz Bela. He is our boss, and I have mad respect for him. He has to deal with us plus all of our craziness, and he does a darn good job.

Once every exchange was accounted for, we made out way to the bus, which would take us to Szentendre. On the bus most people slept, talked or listened to music. Once we arrived in Szentendre, we took pictures of the beautiful landscape. Then we made our way into the hotel where the district conference was being held. There we waited, played some pool and foosball, but mostly waited. 2 grueling hours later, it was our time. We went inside the conference room, where approximately 200 Rotarians awaited us. Our president was awarded something, my district councilor was awarded something, they talked a little bit, announcements were made, and then we all sang a song. The song is about spring and it goes like this:

Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt, virágom, virágom*. Minden madár társat választ virágom, virágom. Hát én immár kit válasszak? Virágom, virágom. Te engemet, én tégedet, virágom, virágom.

After this presentation, almost all 25 of us went back to Budapest together on the bus. This was going to be the biggest party of the year, and everyone wanted to come. We started our evening at Margot’s house, where everyone got ready by showering, changing clothes, putting on makeup and generally getting ready to par-tay. So once everyone was ready, we got on the bus to go to Heroes Square. All 20 of us.

Wherever we went, people looked at us. It was as if they had never seen a mixed group of foreign teenagers going to party before. Most of us were speaking English, with the occasional Spanish or Portuguese. The busses and the trams were not prepared for us. In our wake we left death, destruction and frightened Hungarians. It was impossible to stay organized, but we managed to get separated just two times! A personal record for all Hungarian exchange groups since 2003.

After Heroes Square, we decided we wanted to go to a bar to hang out, like exchange students do. The first bar we found was nasty, so we decided to go to a different one that everyone was familiar with. This bar is called “Szimpla, Kert Mozi(which means Simple, garden movie theatre). On the way we found a gyros stand, and everyone ate something or other.

Once at the bar, we couldn’t find a spot to fit all of us, so we started asking people if we could steal chairs from their table. We made a giant circle of chairs around one area, then people started to separate into the usual “cliques.” I hate that sometimes this happens with exchange students, because in essence we are all the same. We just like to find differences and separate ourselves so that we may feel “special.”

After awhile, the bar scene was starting to get boring and smelled too much like one big cigarette. We all wanted to dance, so we set off in the direction of a good disco in Budapest. We walked, almost 10 kilometers, and by the time we got halfway, everyone was complaining they wanted to sit down and drink something. So we stopped at what is called Deak Ferenc Ter. There were about 1000 people in the square, and it was a cool place to hang out, for a while. Then it started to get cold. It was only 12:00 at this time, but I was beginning to get tired, and I wanted to start dancing before I passed out. So we left, and continued our search for the disco. We found it. And boyyyyyyyy did we dance! No matter what music was playing, someone’s foot was tapping, or someone was jumping around and screaming like a pig. At 3am a group of sick girls left, because they were tired, and well…. sick. The rest of us danced until 5 am. At about 5:30 we got on a bus home, and at 6 we arrived back at Margot’s house. When we went in the door, we counted 17 of us. 17 spots had to be coordinated. A few people ended up on the ground, others in beds, or on mattresses. I slept on a mattress. Before bed, we all wanted to eat something, so we made breakfast! At 7am, everyone had eaten, but we weren’t going to school (thank goodness) we all went to bed. At about 11 my host parents called, and I packed my things to leave. That day I slept in the car, and when I got home I slept some more. Today I didn’t go to school, I just slept, and as soon as I finish writing this sentence I’m going to sleep again!

So I am sure a few of you are wondering about my skills in the language. Let me just tell you a few experiences. Recently, I have been mistaken for Hungarian, or Slovakian because of how well I speak the language. I spent an entire day in a bus full of Hungarians and none of them knew I was an exchange student until I handed them my Rotary card. It was pretty funny. Also recently any time someone asks me where I am from, they make me show them my drivers license so they know I’m not lying about my origins. Sometimes I don’t even tell people I am American, I just say I’m Hungarian who lived in America for 18 years. Two weekends ago (21st -23rd of May) there was a Hungarian language competition in my city. (Almost) Every exchange student came out to compete. The competition consisted of a writing portion, as well as several speaking portions. I came in 3rd place, out of the 23 exchange students who came. I had not expected to win this competition, but I am glad I did place. I studied a lot this year, but I learned a lot more than just the language. I got to know the people, the culture, and the history of this unlucky but wonderful country. The people here amaze me day by day. I love Magyarország.

On a different note, I did some international travel recently for reasons I dislike talking about. Death in general is a very common subject of today, because death is just as big a part of life as birth. Whenever people die and people report about it on the news, it never affects anyone unless they were personal acquaintances or family of the dead. Death should never be feared by anyone, because it is an absolutely natural and inevitable part of life. Sure, life can be extended through exercise, good diet and evolution of body/mind; but at the same time one can never be sure when it is their time to expire.

My Great Grandmother was not a political figure, a war veteran, or a mountain climber. On the other hand, she was a maternal figure to many; the list of survivors is lengthy. Surviving are: two daughters, Andrea (Gerald) Nelson and Kristi (Arthur Coulton) Cowles; two sons, Michael (Lorraine) Cowles, Jhan (Colleen) Cowles; nine grandchildren, Lynnell (Bill) Grimes, Marney (Joe) Weaver, Wendy Nelson, Richard (Leanne) Nelson, Nils (Anneke) Nelson, Carrie Lynn (Mike) Dougan, Todd (Traci) Cowles, Clinton (Kellin) Cowles, and Taylor Cowles; 15 great-grandchildren, Adam and Andrea Grimes, Tanner Hayes, Kristina Nelson, Hannah, Erik and Mitchell Nelson, Aubrey, Magnus and Cammack Nelson, Sarah, Katie and Emma Dougan, and Aiden and Graham Cowles. I love my Great Grandma and I will miss her very very much.

On April 8th, I found out via Face book of my Great Grandma Betty’s death, and her funeral that Friday. My parents and my sister informed me they would like me to return to the United States for the funeral. I was devastated, and utterly confused. I felt bi-polar for the next few days, considering all of the options and the details. I didn’t know how much it would cost for me to go back to the US, and once I was there, how was I going to feel? Would the feeling of being with my family be overwhelming and make me more homesick than ever? Would I want to stay in the US and end my exchange early? Should I even risk going back there? Will leaving ruin the cultural experience of living in a foreign country for 1 year? I was driving myself insane with thoughts of all the different possibilities.

In the end, I was lucky in that my insurance company was willing to pay for my trip back to the US because of the death of my GG (Great Granny). So Thursday the 14th of April I packed my bags to return to the United States, for a period of 5 days. Friday morning my first host family the Marschalko’s took me to the airport in Budapest. They helped me to the ticket counter, where I received my boarding pass and gate information. The excitement inside of me was building. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. As sad as I felt, I couldn’t help but let my heart soar knowing I was going to see my family members whom I miss greatly. As I boarded the plane I smiled and said to myself “In a few hours I will be in Amsterdam, and from there I will fly to Wisconsin and see people who I love.” The flight was a short 2.5 hours. I de-boarded the plane, went through customs and found my gate, C7. Boarding started an hour earlier than departure, so I had thirty minutes of free time. I hit up one of the food stands with outrageous prices (6 Euro for a sandwich, and 2.5 for a bottle of water the size of a thimble). After dining, I entered through the security, where I was thoroughly questioned about my stay in Amsterdam (40 minutes total) and where I had come from etc etc… Afterwards, I took a seat and popped in my earphones. The flight was scheduled to leave in 1 hour. 10 minutes after I went through security, there was an announcement on the loud speaker, that my flight was cancelled due to a problem with the plane. I sighed. “Awesome” I thought. Things cannot get any worse. What I didn’t know is that Mother Nature was out to get me! Seismic activity during 2006-2009 caused an eruption of the volcano “Eyjafjallajökull.” Before they could schedule another flight out of Amsterdam to those of us who were stranded because of the broken plane, news reports showed that airspace in most of Western Europe was closed due to the plume of volcanic ash spewing thousands of meters into the air. As if my life couldn’t get any crazier. Thus began my 6-day stay in Schiphol Airport and the city of Amsterdam.

I found myself just saying “WOW!” This is an insane situation. Thousands of people, stuck in one giant airport. Everyone was thinking the same thing. “When and how can I get a flight home, and until then, can I get a hotel room?” The news from KLM arrived shortly after that thought dawned on everyone’s minds. The report was that all hotels in Amsterdam were booked, and that no flights would be leaving until tomorrow at the earliest. During this entire situation, in the midst of everyone’s gigantic problems, I myself had a problem. What was I going to do for the next 24 hours?

As I was asking myself this question, I overheard a conversation between two people standing next to me looking at the television. It was a group of two men, who looked like they could have been related. The first man was rather normal. He looked to be mid fortie-something, with his slightly overweight physique and balding head of brown hair. He stared up at the television with this short of frustrated expression and with a tone of almost asinine pomposity “Well, I’m not going to make it home for my wife’s pot-roast.” The guy next to him was taller, and built like a football player. He had dark red hair, which he wore combed back. He was sporting fore arm tattoos and dark sunglasses. His wardrobe consisted of all black, with a black backpack slung over his shoulder. After talking and getting to know these guys, I found out the first guy was named Gordon, and the second guy Mark. Mark and Gordon were originally supposed to be flying on the same plane as me, which had been cancelled. We were all in the same boat, and as we all discussed the problem at hand, we decided to stay together, and the first objective on our list was to contact our loved ones. I hopped on my laptop, using the graciously provided wireless Internet to enter the interwebs. I sent emails to both my parents, and also posted on facebook my situation, so as to maybe attract the attention of my equally internet-friendly sibling, or parents. It worked.

After notifying my parents the next matter of business concerned where I was sleeping. It soon became apparent that hotels might be hard to come by. Gordon decided he wanted to stay in the airport and sleep there. I wasn’t about to settle for the floor unless I had to. We decided to go out into the city to see what we could find the in the hostel market. Mark and I said our quick goodbyes to Gordon and started out of the Schiphol airport. We were greeted with lines of people, all on their cell phones or looking for taxis. We managed to find a BMW-taxi whose driver was of Arabic descent. I asked the nice man to take us to where there are Hostels in Amsterdam. He asked for 30 Euro up front, which Mark paid. After 20 minutes of riding in the leather environment, the man dropped us near what appeared to be a giant church, but ended up being the train station. We thanked the man and paid him the rest of the 50-euro fee he charged. Total rip-off. I suddenly realized it wasn’t going to be easy navigating this city. It was almost nighttime, and the environment was already a little crazy. Everywhere I looked, I saw gift shops, bars, red lights, and Café’s. This was the part where Mark took control of the situation. He asked a man on the street where he could find tourist information. This took us to a giant square with lots of stands and more gift shops. Mark soon discovered that all hostels were full-up and would not have rooms until the following day. This was when we decided to just head back to the airport or “Home Base.”

Mark was the reason I survived this situation and was able to remain calm for nearly the entire time. I felt safe with the giant man accompanying me everywhere I went. He was also a lot of fun to talk to, although I never asked him about things he had done or seen in the Iraq war. He did tell me of a few experiences with crowd like situations.

The first night in the Airport was very similar to the rest of them. We spent some time walking around looking in the different shops that airport Schiphol has to offer (like 100 shops). Our diets consisted of Burger King (typical Americans, I know) or different Middle Eastern food like Falafel or maybe Gyros. Everything was SOOOO expensive in the airport, so we tried to eat in Amsterdam every chance we could.

So of the three times I was Amsterdam during my 5-day stay, I must say my experiences of the nightlife are otherworldly. Mark and I were walking down a narrow street looking for a good place to relax, and maybe have a carbonated beverage. Suddenly I heard a tapping noise, which sounded somewhat like a woodpecker. I whirled around to find the source of this noise. What I saw was young scantily clad lass, who was beckoning me to come to the window. In complete innocence, I walked over and asked her “Yes? Can I help you?” She smiled and asked me same question back. It was at this point Mark grabbed me by the shoulder and informed me of my situation. Yes. There are prostitutes in Amsterdam, and they do try to entice passers-by to come inside their nasty windows. The rest of the night I refrained from talking to girls in red-lighted windows, as well as the blue lighted ones. Another interesting aspect of the evening was the amount of people who asked us if we were interesting in purchasing Cocaine. This part was actually very funny for me, because the manner in which these people talk to you in somewhat hilarious. Most of the time, when walking on the street and a man would walk past us on the street, he would not make eye contact, and ask in a rather nonchalant fashion “YOU BOYS WANNA BUY SUM COKE????” At this point, Mark would usually utter an obscenity under his breath or proclaim to the man “NAW MAN WE’RE GOOD.” I would always laugh, but after the 30th time it became annoying and we avoided these sorts of men like they were the plague. It’s an odd feeling to be pestered into buying drugs from street dealers, not to mention extremely dangerous. But I never felt my life in danger, or that we were going to be mugged. I was very confident that Mark would either A. Kill said mugger/drug dealer, or B. I would outrun the perpetrator.

Every night, seemed like the same. Mark and I constructed our makeshift beds on the floor or on the rows of chairs that served as makeshift beds. After we were ready to sleep, we would ask the KLM attendants when the planes were running again. Every time I talked to one of these ladies in blue, I always felt like they were lying and just saying what I wanted to hear, but I understood their situation and never lost my cool when speaking to them, no matter how frustrated I was.

My fifth day in Amsterdam, I decided enough was enough. I called in the cavalry; or rather the cavalry came to me. I received at email in the morning from Al Kalter saying there was a rotary family that would come to pick me up. There was a phone number, and I called them using my skype account. The family name was “Verdegaal.” They were super nice to me, and treated me like there own child. They had housed exchange students before, and they were happy to help me out. I was ecstatic when they offered to let me shower, and I must have looked like a starving child when they offered me a home-cooked meal.

The next day, I boarded a plane back to Hungary. I learned a lot during my 5 day stay in Amsterdam, and I am for sure going back.

At the end of February, I changed families for the third time. I was then living in a small village outside of the city, called “Alsóberecki.” (Since then I have moved again, but I will write about the Monok family in my next journal) The population is somewhere around 1000 people, most of them middle aged. The culture here is typical for most Hungarian villages. Most people live in their parents’ houses, because apartments and houses are very expensive here. So it is not uncommon for 3-4 generations of a family to live under one roof. A lot of families, including mine have gardens. In spring, they plant everything you can imagine. Working in the garden is hard work, but I love being outside. My new family is great. It’s made up of my host father “Peter”, my host mother “Andrea”, my host sister “Luca” and my youngest host brother “Bill or William.” I find it amusing that nearly this entire family shares names with my family and friends at home. My host Dad is a really interesting and a nice guy. He really likes exercise, which coincides with my interests. Our most recent adventure was a 60km bicycle ride to a nearby city and back. During my first week with the family, Peter took me to participate in his Karate class. Having taken karate for 3 years, and achieving the rank of black belt back in Florida, I figured I knew what was coming. When I arrived the room was filled with mostly adults, and a few teenagers. Every single person in the room looked like they could win any fight. The workout was hard, and by the end I was sweating, and my knuckles bleeding from hitting the bag. That same weekend, there was a Karate competition in my city. The total competitors numbered around 190 men and women from Hungary and Croatia. I helped build the fighting mat early in the morning, and then I watched people of all sizes and genders beat the crap out of each other all day. My favorite was the 70-kilo black belts, full contact, minimal protection (genitals and teeth), and fastest dudes ever.

The weather here is changing rapidly, and annoying enough to make me go crazy. In the beginning of March there was still snow on the ground in parts of Hungary. I kept hoping for warmer weather, and I got it. About a month and a half ago I spent a weekend in Budapest. The objective was to work on a presentation for Rotarians, and future Hungarian exchange students! I took the initiative a few months ago to get everyone thinking about the project, but unfortunately no real worked happened until the two weeks before. I always say, “Procrastination is intentionally adding stress to your life which further encourages you to complete the task.” In some cases, such as this, procrastination proved to be the wrong solution to a growing problem. When it was finally time to stand on stage and show all the effort we put in, it ended up being sort of a rushed, unscripted chaos that we dubbed “Hungarian Jeopardy.” We attempted to recreate the game using some flash-based software we found online, as well as translated questions about the United States. The idea was a great one; the reality is we needed podiums, buzzers, and someone with the personality of Alex Trebek. What we got was 6 people standing on the side of a stage, blabbering the answers in broken Hungarian after making fake buzzer sounds with our mouths. BZZZZZZZZZ! The end result was hilarious, for us anyway, and I am sure we made a good impression of our gathered extended knowledge of the Hungarian language. That was the highlight of that weekend. In between working on the project, playing UNO, or talking about Hungarian life, there wasn’t too much room for anything else. I did however have some disastrous but learning experiences on the public transportation in Budapest.

First off, I had only been to Budapest a few times before, and I had never taken any forms of public transportation in between those times. First, I rode the train from Sátoraljaújhely to Budapest. The total ride was 4 hours, pretty boring, and I finished Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Diary, a novel.” Funny title for a novel, Diary. Any way, I got sidetracked. After the train ride, I headed to the Metro-station, which I had been told would take me to Moszkva tér, where I could take a bus to one of the American exchange students’ house. The metro was fast, and the ticket had to be bought outside the station or else you could not go into the building. 320 Forints, no problem. Atferwards I got on the 128 bus, but I was supposed to go on the 129. So after trying to explain to the driver I was in the wrong place he took me back, for a price of course. That was frustrating enough.

The same weekend, I got on an electrical train that runs around Budapest. I had never been on one of these trains before, so I guess you could say I was mildly enthused by the idea. I stepped onto the train and out of the mud and snow composite. I took a seat on the train, and began to take in my surroundings. I needed to ride the train for 3 stops, but I never made it all the way there…

The ticket checkers got on the after the first stop. These “cops” made an announcement in the middle of the train ride; they asked to see everyone’s tickets. I panicked a little, and spoke entirely English to the guy (mistake). He asked me where I was from, and if I spoke Hungarian. I was panicked a little and answered “America, and yes, a little” in Hungarian. He smirked and informed me that I had to pay the overly convenient on the spot fine. It was 6000 Forints, which is about 30.00 USD. I just had one problem paying the fine, because I didn’t know I had to buy a ticket in the first place. I explained this problem the best I could in Hungarian, and then continued blabbering on in English. The man I was speaking to, told me to get off at the next stop. He grabbed me by the arm before we exited the train. I obliged. I had only 6000 on me exactly, and therefore no money for traveling home, but the guy was nice enough to get me 2000 back. The second man who I had not spoken too informed me where I could find tickets in the future. I thanked both the men, and proceeded to purchase a ticket from the nearby stand as they watched. I was wary of their stares drilling into my back as I stood in line, and eventually purchased my ticket. I turned around, and the men were walking away, presumably to inspect another train. My train rolled up five minutes later. I got on feeling safe that I could withstand any further pestering from ticket checkers. I realize they were doing their job, and that I should have read the signs, but I couldn’t help but notice one thing. I folded under pressure, and resorted to speaking English. I believe now that if I would have just spoken solely Hungarian, I might not have come off as some ignorant or cheap American tourist. It was definitely a lesson learned, and in the future I will always inquire about tickets before boarding public transportation.

All the mistakes I have made have made me really reflect on what kind of person I will be in the future. Coming to Hungary and starting this “new life” was my epiphany that changed the way I feel and act forever. Right now, at this point in my exchange I have a strong feeling, which makes me want to stay here. But at the same time, I know I have responsibilities in Florida, which have to be fulfilled before I do anything else with my life. I know for a fact I will come back to Hungary to meet with all of the people I am leaving behind. I love Hungary, and the USA almost the same, just for different reasons.

 

Alexandre (Alex) Britto
2009-10 Outbound to Finland

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Creekside HS
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Jyväskylä-Laajavuori Rotary Club, District 1390, Finland

Alex - Finland

Alex’s Bio

Hello, my name is Alexandre da Cunha Lima Britto. Everyone just calls me Alex. I am 16 now and will be 17 when I go outbound. I was going to be in the first graduating class at Creekside but I guess second isn’t bad either. I was born in Brazil and moved to Gainesville, Florida, when I was 4. And I just recently moved to Jacksonville. I am very excited to have the opportunity to be going to Finland with Rotary.

I moved to Jacksonville half way through my freshman year. It was hectic but I adapted and made many new friends. I still frequently go back to Gainesville to keep in touch with my friends. I live with my mom and dad and our two dogs Attila and Julie. My sister just graduated pre law at UF and is now looking at going to Washington and Lee University.

I am a very outgoing person, so most things I love to do are things that keep me busy. I have a passion for all kinds of sports. My favorite sport is wakeboarding/snowboarding. I see these sports as being equal to each other because they are very similar except for the temperature fact. I play soccer for Creekside varsity and I would like to play soccer in Finland because I believe that European Football is much better than American soccer.

Last year I had the chance to host Fernando Ishikawa, a Brazilian exchange student, at my house for 4-5 months. Yudi is someone that I will always keep in touch with. He has left an everlasting mark on my life. After having an exchange student stay at my house and sharing part of his experience with me, I would like to have a full experience like him and be able to share my journey with others.

Journals: Alex – Finland 2009-2010

August 9 Journal

So it’s day five in Finland and I got my computer working. Where do I start? Language camp was awesome even though we arrived late. Met some Finn Rotex, got picked up by my new family, and realized how amazing life is going to be for the time I will be with them.

I arrived in Jyväskylä to be met by my Rotary counselor for some coffee (it’s like water to a Finn). Went to sleep late because I still haven’t got used to the time difference……. My city isn’t very big but its about the size of Gainesville!!! Which is awesome cause I lived in Gator nation for 11 years and I loved it so I bet I will love it here too.

I have found and seen 3 full sized ski ranges that are within 15km of my house… man I can’t wait till it snows so I can thank myself for bringing my snowboard. Everyone in my family plays golf in the summer and downhill skis in the winter, so I’m perfectly set for the winter… I start track some time this month… and it’s year round… I also met my host brother’s best friend who is really cool… It’s hard to believe but my host brother graduating class only had 25 students including himself. Oh yeah I’m going to get my schedule tomorrow so I will probably post it along with some comments about the school I will be going to…

The people here are very shy, but once you get to know them they are the most wonderful people I have ever met. I look forward to starting Finnish lessons so I can understand it more!!!!

Hyvää yötä

December 5 Journal

So I’m writing this on a train because I just realized I’ve been here 5 months. Forgive me for now writing too many journals. I have made many friends at my school, I actually help teach my gymnastics class and English when the teacher needs it. We actually just got back from our ski trip to Lapland with Rotary. It was amazing to see the kids I met in the first district camp and the “Oldies” who will be leaving in January. Then I will become an oldie and meet the newbies.

In Finland, there is a tradition with the oldies and newbies. At the end of their stay here, the oldies give away a present to a newbie, but not everyone gets a present; these are things that have been passed down for several years or they are things that are new and being started into this yearly ritual. Sometimes they are personal from one oldie to their newbie, sometimes they are from all the oldies to one newbie, and sometimes they’re just stuff that someone did which reminded them of the person who had the gift before and they pass it on. I received one of the oldest gifts that has been pasted down. My gift is something that has been passed down from year to year to the guy who is single but is always with different ladies 😀 You have to keep in mind that these gifts are given from student to student, I felt very honored to receive this gift, and plan on continuing to live up to its name.

Many things have happened in the last months. I have become friends with almost all the Rotex in my country, some even that are not as active as others. Unfortunately my district is not so active as other districts in Finland, but at the same time other districts are so close, that when they have Rotex-planned events or trips, I have been traveling to attend them and meet other people. There are only 120 inbounds in Finland right now with Rotary, and even after 5 months it’s hard to know everyone.

I have switched families recently. It was interesting switching but at the same time I didn’t want to switch. I had gotten used to my first host family and I was scared on moving into a new home. The transaction has been great – me and my two host sisters get along pretty well, even though our schedules are totally loaded and we see each other only at home for dinner or weekends. I never really noticed how much all the stuff that I was told before I left were drastically wrong and at the same time some things were amazingly correct. At least for me, the whole mood swing thing and how we would get sad after the 3 months and happy again after Christmas hasn’t happened. I have been having an amazing time, I am open to trying anything new, and I am always doing something with my school or friends, I do see myself changing though, my motivations and habits are changing, I am adapting to the culture and experiencing it as much as possible. It is sometimes hard to avoid speaking about home and the experiences I have had at home, but I have been trying as much as possible not to focus my attention on things that will be there when I go back no matter what.

I still can’t believe that I am starting my 5th month in Finland. Time goes by 10x faster when you’re on exchange. I don’t like it sometimes. I have 36 hrs of school a week and I believed that would occupy my time, but it really doesn’t feel like it’s that long. It’s really interesting to see other exchanges, and listen to how they are adapting, help them if they are sad, and visit them when they ask. I used to not go and visit people sometimes because they live in the middle of nowhere, but lately I had someone visit me, and she lives in the middle of nowhere, but after she told me more about how beautiful her city is I have decided to go visit her soon. We have a Christmas break soon, it’s longer than the one at home. My new family has plans for us to go somewhere the 20th-27th, but I have no idea where because it’s a surprise 😀

Well, from now on I will try to keep my journal updated. Probably after my Christmas trip I can make another one. Also, pardon my English if it is deteriorating.

April 15 Journal

So today I am sitting on the train. I just noticed I haven’t made a Rotary blog since November…. Well, since November I have been in one family and I recently switched to my final family. We had a very “White” Christmas, which means there was a lot of snow. My host sister said that a few years ago there was no snow during Christmas. We went to my family’s Winter Cottage for new years and it was really awesome. I met some cousins in my host family and we went snowboarding for 3 days 😀

After the winter break it was back to school. School has become the biggest Drag ever… But honestly there no point not going, I mean if you sit at home on your computer you have officially wasted your exchange year. I attend school every day unless I am traveling, which happens a lot. Thanks to Finnish public transportation and regional train system it is very very easy to go visit other exchange students in Finland and meet their friends and their city.

For future students coming to Finland I recommend thing one: as soon as you get here get a student card so train tickets are 50% off, meaning bring extra passport style pictures with you (also to give to host families if you want to). Second is an mp3 player of some sort! And a very good library of music. You will have a lot of times where you have nothing to do and music really does help pass time 😀 Oh books are good too, I usually don’t read much but here in Finland I have so far read 9 full novels 😀

Finland is not a huge country and not a lot of people know much about this country. Honestly I think that’s why I am so happy I came here on exchange, and I will probably do one year of college here. I have made some amazing friends and my host families will always be a part of my family. One of my best friends here is actually coming to stay with me in Florida for a month during summer! Oh another thing for Future Finlanders (I know that’s not a word :D). People are very shy here; at first everyone is different and kids in this country have very unique personalities. But trust me you will make friends and suddenly you will know like everyone (more know you ) – it’s been hard for me to remember everyone I meet here, but trust me they find you on Facebook and if you stay 5 months without seeing them they will remember you and the exact conversation you had last time 😀

It has been 9 months since I left the good old sunshine state, I have sat through 3 months of dark winter, now I experience myself walking in full sunshine at 8pm and I can’t thank Rotary enough, they really do know and prepare us for 90% of what is going to happen to us on exchange 😀 The 10% they can’t help you with is the part where it is very different for every exchange student, your host families, friends, and how you change over your exchange. You don’t have to worry about none of these things though because it’s all things that work out and make your exchange year priceless! I think my exchange has been the best year of my life and best exchange ever!!!! Honestly everyone will say their country is best :d But Finland is definitely the Crown winner 😀

I have 2 more months and honestly I barely have time to sleep 😀 My actual parents are coming to visit … actually in 20 min I am meeting up with them 😀 Then I will be going to Russia with 97 other Rotary exchange students in Finland 😀 Then in June we start The Rotary Eurotour 😀 I am very excited for these trips and I can’t wait to see all my fellow exchange friends 😀 I will miss Finland very much 🙁

June 2 Journal

So my year is over in Finland. I feel like I’m leaving my life behind again. I have had an amazing year and no regrets, I honestly can’t thank Rotary enough for giving me this opportunity to mature and experience such an amazing culture.

I really wonder why kids don’t fight to come to Finland! My parents came to visit me and they also agree that Finland is one of those countries many people would never think of coming to visit but turns out to be one of the most beautiful countries. The people here are so shy people sometimes portray them as being rude or not friendly. I believe this is totally untrue! Yes Finns are shy but if you take the first move into becoming friends you will see the people are wonderful and kind! A Finnish friend is to me like family nowadays. I have come to learn how much they care and are willing to help you! I guess being here has made me appreciate my friendship back home and notice that you don’t need many friends! Just a few friends that are there for you no matter what! Rain or 3 meters of snow, a true friend will come see you to make sure you’re ok 😀 I really hope more kids start coming to Finland from Florida! I can’t wait to get back and meet the kids coming to Finland next year!

I am now going on Eurotour from June 6th-24th with all the other Rotary ex students in Finland! We will be traveling by bus all around Europe and I honestly couldn’t be more excited! I get to spend the end of my year with people I will forever remember 🙂

Even though I’m leaving right after Eurotour and will not be able to see all my friends in Jyväskylä, I’m 100% sure I will be having many friends that I have made who are going to come visit me in Florida. Kids in Europe love and dream about coming to Florida and yet I talk to people back home and they complain there is nothing to do! I have learned to appreciate the silent fun 😀 something Finns specialize in! You don’t have to be partying all the time to have fun! Sometimes just sitting on your porch and just talking to your best friends is enough!

Never look back! Just keep you memories and experiences in front of you! Live by them and cherish them! One small decision could have made everything different! A simple thing as not filling out your form because of fear can stop you from experiencing the best thing In the world: Change 😀

I am now a Rotary exchange student from Finland, inbound to Florida 😀 Life is an endless exchange; once you start your journey, it will never end!

 

April Bethea
2009-10 Outbound to Hungary

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Mainland HS
Sponsor: Flagler/Palm Coast Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Pécs Rotary Club, District 1911, Hungary

April - Hungary

April’s Bio

Who am I?

A seventeen year old going on eighteen years old going on twenty-eight? A senior getting closer to senioritis with every step she takes? A girl who was granted admission to the college of her dreams? A girl who has no idea where to begin describing herself?

All of the above? That’s probably about right.

I suppose I’ll just start from the beginning, more specifically my name. I am April Bethea and as I mentioned before I am about to turn eighteen. I attend Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, but live in Palm Coast. I was recently accepted to Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN and have begun the process of deferring for a year so I can go to Hungary! That’s right good old Magyarorszag.

In college I want to major in International Studies. I want to be a student of the world around me. I’m not content knowing only about the United States of America and I feel that Rotary is giving me an amazing opportunity. Full and total immersion, it doesn’t get any better than that. No candy-coated culture or history.

Now let’s get down to the bare-bones, the nitty-gritty: my family and my history. My parents are divorced. I live with my mother here in Florida, while my father lives in Sin City, Las Vegas, NV (not on the strip of course, he technically lives in North Las Vegas). Both of my parents were members of the Air Force and because of them I’m not able to say that I’ve never left the United States. In fact, because of them I can’t even say I was born in the US. I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany and didn’t move to the United States until I was about six. In addition to Wiesbaden, I’ve lived in: Mildenhall, England – Las Vegas, NV – Destin, FL – Leesburg, GA – Cedar Rapids, IA – Ormond Beach, FL and of course, Palm Coast, FL.

I’ve spent most of my life moving around and perhaps for that reason I’ve been jonesing to live somewhere new and exciting. In 2010 that new place will be Saint Paul, but in about eight months it will be Hungary. What’s more new and exciting than that? I’m nervous about leaving the US for a year, but at the same time, I’m beyond excited. That’s a bit of a contradiction, but it’s true.

Maybe it’s time for some adjectives. I wasn’t prepared to spout off such words during my interview, but now I think I am. I’m creative, independent, strong-willed, resilient, funny, nice, sincere, intelligent, and expressive. I could go on … but I won’t. I love to watch movies. Memento and Cinema Paradiso are two of my favorites. I also love to write and read. George Orwell’s essays are amazing. I love to listen to music. I have some favorite bands but mostly I just have a mesh of eclectic songs on my iPod. My favorite song is American Pie by Don McLean.

I would like to thank Rotary for this opportunity. I know that this experience will help me grow as a person and I am prepared and willing to go through the motions and to morph from a (yes, I know this is clichéd) naïve caterpillar into a worldly, sophisticated butterfly. And while I know the journey will be emotional and while I know I’ll miss not only my parents, but my younger brother in New Mexico, my friends, and all my aunts and cousins, I’m prepared to take this giant leap forward.

April’s Journals

August 30 Journal

“Although missionary work had already begun under Prince Géza, it was his son Stephen, later to be canonized, who accomplished the actual conversion of his people to Christianity. In return, the Pope sent a royal crown to Hungary and gave its ruler the title of Apostolic King. The Hungarians still cherish Stephen’s memory: it is true that Árpád conquered the land, but King Stephen was the real founder of the state.” ~ From A Brief History of Hungary by Corvina Kiadó

This is why they celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. This is why when I arrived in Hungary there were flags everywhere. This is why red, white, and green danced before me as we drove through Budapest that day. This is why the right side of the bridge we crossed from Pest into Buda was teeming with fireworks waiting to be shot off, why planes whizzed over the Danube preparing for the next day’s air race. Because hundreds and hundreds of years ago they canonized St. Stephen.

I caught a glimpse of the fireworks display in Budapest on the news and it was amazing. It lasted thirty minutes there, but the ninety-second highlight reel was all I got to see and it was enough for me to know that it was spectacular. Even the fireworks over the lake in my small town of Kozármisleny seemed more captivating then the ones back home. Maybe I’ve never paid that much attention before or maybe it was my mind secretly wanting to give Hungary a leg up, who knows.

If you read my last journal then you know that I was worried I wouldn’t get my visa in time to leave on the 18th, but I did and I’m here, have been for over a week. Which after months of waiting, trying not to get too excited, trying not to look at my countdown ticker every day, seems weird to say.

My journey across the Atlantic was none too exciting. I didn’t have hordes of people see me off at the airport. Just my mom, who spent the whole time trying not cry in front of me. She almost succeeded. I didn’t run into any other exchange students along the way, it was just me. From Orlando, to Detroit, to Amsterdam, to Budapest, I was by myself, a lone wolf, that girl in the funky blue blazer and because of that, because I have no tales of business card or pin exchanging, I won’t bore you with details of my flights. Especially since all I really did was sleep.

I woke up as we were beginning our descent into Budapest and I mean the real descent. Not when you have twenty-five minutes left and you have to turn off your electronics. The buildings already looked like architecture models when I opened my eyes.

What is Budapest’s airport like? Well this, I cannot tell you. We landed on the tarmac and were shuffled off to baggage claim by shuttle bus. I will tell you that the carts are free, that is, if you’re smart enough to continuously push down on the handle bar. I will also tell you that my bags came in like less than two minutes and that there was no line at “customs.”

My host family was waiting for me on the other side of the baggage claim door and it took me a few seconds to find them amongst the madhouse of people with flowers and signs. When we exited the airport I finally saw another exchange student. We didn’t speak to each other, but I could tell from his blazer that he was from Taiwan.

Before I continue on and tell you about my life in Hungary thus far, I must say something amongst the tales of homesickness that have been rolling in. I have not been homesick once since I’ve been here. I know that one day that tide of homesickness will wash over me and I’m constantly looking out for the storm, but that being said, I have not been homesick once. Maybe I’m abnormal, maybe it’s because had it not been Hungary it would have been Minnesota, maybe because I’ve accepted that this isn’t forever, that it’s just a year, maybe I truly am in the “Honeymoon Stage,” I just wanted to let the future exchange students know, that the rollercoaster might just start off smooth.

The day I arrived we did not go to Lake Balaton as originally planned, I guess I had more luggage than they anticipated. Though I will say that ninety percent of the weight in my second suitcase came from host family gifts. Children’s books are not as light as you’d expect. Instead I got my first taste of Budapest, we drove around the city, mostly the Pest side and my host family pointed out various things to me. We were going to go to Margaret Island, but the bridge had been closed off because of the holiday. Or that’s what I think happened.

As we drove to Kozármisleny, I fell asleep and woke up just as we were coming into town. I love my new home, my cozy room, the huge backyard, the porch from which you can see Pécs, it’s truly great. However, I don’t have the top floor to myself and I have zero secret passageways.

My host family is fantastic. My host mom, Éva, speaks very good English, which is quite helpful, especially since I have no real background in Hungarian. I learn new words everyday, but it’s the grammar that’s really giving me a hard time. Hungarian pronunciation is quite easy for the most part. Each letter has a sound, you look at the word, put the sounds together and presto! You’ve said something in Hungarian. Well, in essence that’s how it is, I still have people repeat words like crazy, but you certainly won’t find a word like phone in Hungarian.

The 20th (St. Stephens’s Day) my host family and I went to a party up the street. There were several little kids, including my host brother, and they all enjoyed playing with ice very much. They would hold the ice in their hands and then run up to you and put a cold hand to your leg. I didn’t know – and still don’t know – the word for cold so I would always act shocked when they did this. This emotion transcends borders.

The food at the party was delicious and around 8:40 my host sister, host parents, and I started walking to the lake in Kozármisleny to watch the fireworks that I’ve previously mentioned, the others drove. In a city like Budapest I’m sure the holiday would have been celebrated in a much different, bigger way, but I’m fine with memories I’ll have from this simple celebration.

The next morning we went to Lake Balaton, where we stayed until Sunday. I enjoyed the lake very much, though I only really went into the water once. My host father, sister, brother, and I would take bike rides around the town their lake house was in and the towns surrounding it. I enjoyed these bike rides very much, though on one of them, my host brother either didn’t want me to ride in front of him or by his father, I’m not sure which. All I know is that I would ride faster than him and try to get on the side of him because I didn’t want to bump into his bike, but instead of letting me he would speed up, swerve to the right, or speed up and swerve to the right. Which was a little frustrating.

Since coming home from the lake, I’ve gone into Pécs fairly often. My host sister would take me into the city and we’d generally meet up with her friends. One day we went to Orfű, a small village with a lake that is very close to here. This was enjoyable. It was my sister and her friends and I really didn’t understand anything, but I still enjoyed seeing something new. Though, the water was freezing and when they went in a second time, I didn’t join them.

On Wednesday, a surprise going away party was held in my host sister’s honor. At this party, I met another exchange student. Marco from Italy, he’s not on exchange with Rotary though, but through AFS. At one point Esme, my host sister’s friend, asked him why he wanted to learn Hungarian. His response was that he didn’t. If he wanted to learn a language he would have gone to Spain or the USA.

I’ve gotten this question twice since I arrived. “Why do you want to learn Hungarian? It’s not a very useful language.” But really, who determines a language’s use? Is Hungarian a widely spoken language? No. Does that mean the people in Hungary should give up Hungarian and start speaking English? No. A language is a part of a country’s culture and while I’m in this country I want to learn Hungarian. While Hungarian may not be widely spoken, it is difficult, one of the hardest languages in the world and if I master it or come close to fluency, isn’t that helpful in the long run? If in the future I’m able to open my mind to Hungarian, why can’t I open it up to French or German? Spanish or Russian? And moreover, do you know how fulfilling it would be to have a conversation in Hungarian, to be able to travel the country and know what people were saying to me? So fulfilling I can’t put it into words. I find use in Hungarian, the world might not, but I do and that’s enough for me.

Hungary is a lot of things. It’s old, it’s new, it’s over a thousand years of history in one small package, it’s clean, it’s dirty, it’s some of the prettiest buildings you will ever see covered in pointless graffiti, but it has won me over with its charm and its exceptionally nice people.

My host sister left today for Pennsylvania and I had my fingers crossed that she’d take the extremely hot weather with her and if the storm that just ended is any indication, she did.

I love it here so far and I’m sure there will be rough times ahead, but no one every said this would be easy.

Now, continuing the pattern, here are a few observations about Hungary:

The doors literally have keys in them, the old fashioned kind that are fairly long, in order to lock the door you turn the key.

When you flush the toilet you have to turn the water off yourself. On the newer toilets you push the flush button and then push the button that says stop a few seconds later. On the ones with the pull, you hold the string down until enough water has come down.

In the center of Pécs the pedestrian crossing sign will tell you not only how long you can walk, but also how long until you can walk.

Pécs, the city that is hosting me, will be one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2010, because of this, the pretty square I expected to see and several other sights have been torn apart for renovation.

At the Árkád in Pécs (the mall) there is an escalator that has no stairs. It’s like a moving sidewalk on an incline.

I live in the Southern Transdanubia region of Hungary and there are lots of hills, lots and lots of hills. You know those sharp curves at home that you come across, maybe not really in Florida, but up North and out West? Well, the drivers here don’t really slow down for those and it’s a little terrifying. Oh and people don’t pay too much attention to the line in the road that creates different lanes.

Unlike the nice yellow school buses that pick you up at home and then drive you straight to school, in order to get to my school I’ll have to ride the bus for ten or fifteen minutes and then walk uphill ten minutes. It’s not the steepest hill in the world, but I’m sure I’ll miss – well driving, but besides that – being dropped off right in front of the school.

Until next time,

Viszlát!

December 9 Journal

Hungarians love pálinka.

You see it everywhere, from family parties to rotary meetings, one thing that’s never missing – pálinka. Last month, I traveled with my host parents and the Rotary Club of Kozármisleny to Romania and can you guess what was passed up and down the aisles of the bus? Pálinka of course.

And when we left, do you know what the Rotary Club of Dej handed out as a parting gift? If you guessed pálinka, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

I suppose it’s like the French and their wine, except for the fact that in order for pálinka to be pálinka the alcohol content must be between 37.5 and 86 percent.

Now, it has come to my attention that I am a delinquent journal writer. A fact that I was very much aware of before it was written to me in email. I’ve thought about writing this journal for a long time and yes, you can readily find me on the internet, however, writing about myself and my life here is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do. I write and I erase, write and erase, but I solemnly swear to try and do less of that erasing bit.

As a delinquent journal writer, perhaps starting my journal talking about a type of alcohol isn’t the smartest thing in the world. But I’m supposed to talk about culture right? Well – for those of you who weren’t aware, drinking is a large part of the Hungarian culture.

December is here and while it is of course, the holiday season, my favorite time of the year, for a small group of people (those who probably frequent this site) it’s much, much more that. It’s Rotary Youth Exchange acceptance season, a good and wonderful time. If you happen to be from my district [6970] it’s probably also more than a bit nerve racking, because our interviews are horrible, scary, killer monsters; but don’t get too worked up over that. This advice is from someone who did get worked up over that and you can see how well everything worked out.

So, future outbounds, when the middle of December rolls around and you get that call telling you your shiny new country, if you’re lucky enough to be going to Hungary, I’d recommend you’d start practicing your “köszönöm, nem.” For, you will be offered pálinka and lets just say, Hungarians are proud of their pálinka and when you decline it, they’ll continuously tell you that it’s a special Hungarian drink and made from fruit and so on so forth. Be prepared to say no more than once in a single offering. Be prepared to want hit your head against a wall after hearing being told the same things about pálinka again and again.

When I last wrote I had been here twelve days and now, well, one hundred and twelve. Yeah, that definitely means I’m a delinquent. Time gets away from you, what can I say? So, what have I done these past few months? Let’s see: I’ve started school, been to orientation, harvested grapes, gone to Romania, restarted school, been to Venice, and plenty of other things of course.

My first school is where my YEO works and where the other two exchange students in Pécs still go. I, too, go there multiple times a week for Hungarian lessons, but attending school there I felt a vegetable. A feeling that I’m sure many other exchange students know well.

I now attend Janus Pannonius, a school very conveniently located in the center of Pécs. I suppose, conveniently isn’t exactly the best word currently, considering that the main square is in ruins and getting to school now involves taking really annoying little detours. However, unlike at my old school, while we have a main classroom and head teacher, we change rooms constantly and so, I don’t spend my whole day sitting in the same small, dark classroom. Additionally, at my old school my classmates were beginners in English and while of course, I’m here to learn Hungarian, it’s very nice to actually be utilized in English class. At my old school everything they did in class was from the book, no derivation, and so in the one class I thought I could be at least some help in, I was the same vegetable. At my new school I feel like much more of an asset and my classmates are much bigger assets for me. All I can really say is that I’m much happier with my school situation now then I was in September. Beyond that though, I feel very lucky to have a family who helped me make that switch and who also organized it so I was able to visit two new schools and then decide which was the school for me.

In mid-September we had orientation, which gave me an opportunity to meet all the exchange students and to really see Budapest for the first time. I’ve been two times since then. The last time was by far my favorite. My host dad had a conference during my fall break from school and I was able to just spend the whole day exploring. I walked over the Erzsébet híd [Elizabeth Bridge], up Gellért hill to the Citadella, and to Castle Hill. Budapest is an exceptionally beautiful city – it is by no means perfect, but its faults are part of its charm and there’s no taking its beauty away.

At a fall festival in September, my host mom informed me that we would be going to Romania the first weekend in October with the newly founded Rotary Club of Kozármisleny, to which my host father belongs. I was beyond excited when I found out we were going to Romania. Romania is one of those countries that has always fascinated me and I thoroughly enjoyed the four days I was there. The ride there and back? Not so much, but I’m used to long car rides, more used to them than Hungarians at least. On exchange I’ve come to realize that road trips aren’t a European thing.

I was asked to invite the other two exchange students in my town on the trip. They both accepted the invitation. I suppose I should point out that neither of the two other exchange students in my cities are from America, one is from Brazil and the other Ecuador. Let me just say that I now know what it feels like to sit on a bus for two hours on the border between two countries. You see, while Ricardo from Brazil was able to get over the border no problem, Bernardo from Ecuador had double the problems. First, he was issued a visa that allowed him one and only one entrance to Hungary and second, he needed another visa to get into Romania. In the end he had to wait at the border by himself for another hour, was picked up by the head of Rotary Youth Exchange here, taken to the train station in Szeged, where he got to take a train to Budapest and be picked up by his host family – not exactly a story with a happy ending, but an interesting one I think. I guess the lesson is always check to see what countries you need a visa for and which you don’t?

I had a lot of fun in Romania. We stayed in Dej and visited Cluj-Napoca as well (and Kozármisleny’s sister town for a little while on our way back). While there we were welcomed by the Rotary Club of Dej, who were very hospitable and who knew how to dance.

We toured both Dej and Cluj and visited a salt mine. I can now say, that not only have I been to a salt mine, but I’ve also seen a game of soccer played in one. In case you were wondering, Kozármisleny won.

Every night on our trip there was a Kozármisleny/Dej get-together. Saturday night being the biggest one, the gathering was recorded for local television. Thursday and Saturday these events were enjoyable, quite enjoyable. Friday though? Friday Ricardo and I, as well as two Romanian locals in their twenties whose parents are a part of the Dej Rotary Club, sat at a table and bonded as we waited oh so long for food and listened to the same horrible CD play over and over again. For example, one of the songs main word was “Ah” sang at different octaves and while when all is said and done I had a good time, it was boredom that led to that good time, and I’m sure it’s nothing like the bonding, occasionally singing, members of both clubs had as they shared their pálinka and chatted, or tried to chat, as Hungarian is not Romanian. Though, they probably had a better shot there than other areas as we were in the Transylvanian area of Romania, which was a part of Hungary for hundreds of years.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Romania. I had a great time. I was able to see a new country, one that has some serious natural beauty, however, Romania is not as clean as Hungary, it is far from being as clean as Hungary and driving on the road in Romania you’re a witness to poverty, an extreme poverty that I’m not used to seeing.

My host club counselor’s family owns a vineyard in Villány, a town in my county famous for its wine. She invited me to come with them as they harvested grapes and of course, I accepted this opportunity. Her family gathered at their small, but nice vineyard and we had breakfast and lunch in the one-roomed house on the grounds. Tables were pushed together, and covered with an array of different tablecloths, the place felt unbelievably cozy. I helped cut down grapes for a while, but when the three other kids went inside, I joined them and we played a game of Catan, which they assured me was very famous, but which I’d never heard of before.

At the end of October, I took a trip to Venice with a lot of the other exchange students here in Hungary. Venice was a beautiful maze and though I was only there eight hours, I had a great time, I only wish I could have seen more. We did not however, sleep in a hotel on the way to or from Venice, we slept on the bus and while I did actually sleep on the bus, when I got back to my bed, I slept and I slept hard. Two nights on a bus will do that to you I suppose.

Well, this journal is a long time coming and I should probably wrap it up soon because this is becoming a long-winded beast of journal, but before I do, I have a few words for you future outbounds. If you’re in District 6970, I hear you know who you are, so congratulations!

[In case anything I’ve said in the past doesn’t quite exactly add up please note that I expected this journal to be finished on the 29th of November – again, delinquent]

The next few months will go by fast, at times maybe not as fast as you want them to, but they’ll go by fast. In January you’ll have your first orientation and I’m assuming you’ll all know what counties you’re going to and I’m sure many of you, hopefully all of you, will be delighted with where you are going, whether it was a top choice or not. Everyone here asks me why I wanted to come to Hungary and at my first school my classmates wanted to know what my first choice was, because they knew it wasn’t Hungary, but I did want to go to Hungary and I was excited beyond belief when I found out my country.

Other people weren’t quite as excited, but not everyone can go to Japan. I believe with my group of outbounds that was the most popular place that people wanted to go to but weren’t actually going to. And if that’s the case, I’m sure you’ll grow to love Italy or Belgium or whatever country you’re placed in.

The world is a big place my friends, and being able to spend one year immersed in one of the two hundred or so countries there are out there is an unbelievable opportunity. Sometimes I get sad that I’m eighteen and will never have this opportunity again, while others get the opportunity to ‘yo-yo.’ One of the guys in Hungary is a yo-yo, he spent a year on exchange in Brazil, prior to his one here and while to my knowledge RYE Florida doesn’t yo-yo, which as popular as youth exchange is in Florida makes plenty of sense, it still saddens me that I’ll never have the opportunity to do this again with any organization. Cherish your exchange, because it’s a gift. No matter how much work you have to do to go on it or how little, it’s a gift and you should never think about returning it. I did for a few minutes last December and I can assure that would have been a terrible, terrible mistake, one that I could never take back.

As you will be told plenty of times, live where you are. I have moments where I wonder why I didn’t want to go to Belgium, because I had three years of French, I would have had a bit of a leg up there. With Hungarian my legs were flat from the beginning and is my Hungarian anywhere close to perfect? No! I have problems making sentences, but I understand a lot and I learn new things everyday and I try. And if you’re going to a country that speaks Finnish, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Croatian, Hungarian, any language that’s not popular and somewhat easy to find help with in the states, I can assure you’ll have problems. No matter where you go, you’ll have problems, you’ll have beast of a new language to contend with and such beasts aren’t easy to tame, but you’ll make strides. At least, I hope you’ll make strides, because I think language learning is essential.

Anyway, I have moments where I think about French, which I’m somewhat familiar with and for a second my mind starts to drift to some country not so far from here where they say “oui” and “non” instead of “igen” and “nem.” But as I make strides here, I feel good about myself. I feel good learning basics. I feel good with any and all progress and I honestly don’t think I would have felt the same way in a francophone country. With Hungarian I’m starting from scratch and working my way up the totem pole ever so slowly, but I’m moving up, I see from new heights everyday and if you end up with a country you secretly or not so secretly didn’t want or with a language you can’t even begin to wrap your head around, you’ll persevere, you’ll make it through, and it’ll mean so much more to you when you do.

It does to me and so I’ll end this once again thanking Rotary.

Köszönom szepén!

 

April Rust
2009-10 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze HS
Sponsor: Ormond Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Linz-Süd Rotary Club, District 1920, Austria

April - Austria

April’s Bio

Servus! That’s “hi” in German. My name is April Rust and I’m a sophomore at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have lived in Ormond Beach my whole life, enjoying the warmth and beauty of the beach. My family includes my two parents, brother, sister, our two dogs, and one cat.

I have many hobbies and pastimes such as playing sports, cooking, reading, collecting keepsakes, and spending time with my friends and family. I play volleyball, weightlifting, and softball for my school. I love cooking, especially baking, because it is very enjoyable to decorate and explore the different ways of creating baked goods. I have enjoyed reading every since I was a small girl, and a few of my favorite authors are Ann Brashares, Stephanie Meyer, and Louise Rennison. When the winds are strong, I go down to the beach and search for unusual shells, and other beach finds such as beach-glass. Friends and family are very important to me, and I love spending holidays with my relatives from Virginia and South Carolina.

On one night in December, Jody Davis delivered a bittersweet gift. He told me that I was going to be an exchange student in Austria! I was shocked because after being on the alternate list, my hopes and dreams had plummeted. I say this was a bittersweet gift because Austria wasn’t my first choice. I soon realized that it didn’t really matter what country I was destined to go to, but that I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to experience a new language, a new culture, and a new way of life. This was my favorite Christmas gift, because Austria is in the heart of Europe, and is a beautiful country with such welcoming and nice people. As an outbound for the 2009-2010 school year, I am ready for the most exciting and educational experience of my life, and I have faith in Rotary that they have selected the best country for me. Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange for such a life-changing opportunity!

April’s Journals

September 3 Journal

Sitting down this afternoon in the kitchen, I procrastinated writing this journal because there are too many wonderful events and new ideas that I wanted to share. I knew it would take a very long time to accomplish the task of writing my first journal.

It is currently my fourth week here in Austria, but let’s go back a wee bit… The night before I left for Austria I was freaking out; leaving all of my friends and family had actually made itself a reality. The day of my departure, I had breakfast with my best friends, and then we all said our goodbyes, sad ones too. My whole family came with me to the Orlando Airport where I was to depart for Frankfurt, Germany around 8:00 pm. We arrived around five and had plenty of time to spare after check-in so we ate dinner together at Chili’s.

Soon after, it was time to say goodbye. I stood in my spiffy Rotary Blazer decked out with pins in the middle of the airport, with my family by my side. I must have given a few hugs to each family member before I realized that it was time: Time to leave. So I mustered up all of my courage and put on a happy face for the Security Officials. I successfully managed to make it to my gate. It wasn’t until my friend called me that I started to break down. I cried and cried, half laughing at myself because a few people were giving me strange looks. When I finished the phone call, the man across from me made a crying face which certainly cheered me up.

Anyways, so then it was time to board, and I was really excited for the nine hour plane ride. Of course, I barely slept with all of the butterflies in my stomach, but they were good butterflies. I remember thinking that everything was about to change, and I was scared, but then this quote by Heraclitus hit me, “There is nothing permanent except change.” It was a breakthrough. I realized that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as many people make it out to be. Rotary has taught me otherwise. Without change, one couldn’t develop to one’s full potential. I believe now that of course, change can be difficult, but that it opens up numerous opportunities for knowledge and experience. I’m not sure which paths I will discover here in Austria, but I’m confident that the new change with affect me in countless, positive ways.

Arriving in Austria was so nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my new family blew every good thing I had heard about host families out of the water. I could look up words to describe them, but there is a special connection that really cannot be described, so I’ll leave it at that. My first week here was very busy. I visited my school called Kollegium Aloisianum, which is so beautiful! The old library tower is made out of stone, it’s quite wonderful. I went to the city, Linz, and did a little bit of window shopping with my host sister, Marlies, who is sixteen as well. On Tuesday, we went to a Rotary Meeting with my whole family because my host parents are Rotarians and my sister came because she is going on exchange to Canada this year. The meeting was really interesting, and afterwards all of the Rotarians ate dinner together. I even made a small little introduction of myself! I met a few of my host sister’s friends who will be going to the same school as me. On Saturday, my host mum’s sister and her family came around to our house. We ate goulash and had a really great day. That night I had to pack for Language Camp, Sprachkurs, in Altmuenster, which is near Gmunden.

Future August Outbounds to Austria : Here are a few tips about Language Camp.

1) It’s a language course, bring a notebook and writing utensils.

2) Bedding and bath towels are provided, but bring your own beach towel.

3) Expect to not use the computer.

Language camp was so much fun, and I actually learned quite a lot of German! A few of my favorite adventures: Walking into town, the ferry ride on Lake Traunsee, visiting Hallstadt, and the Rotary Talent Show.

After language camp, I went to my family’s mountain house in the Alps, IN THE ALPS! I was beyond ecstatic because I practically never see mountains, and the Alps are famous! The first day I hiked up this mountain to a cross where you can write your name, or saying a little something. I wrote, “Viele Grosse aus Florida, USA! –April Rust,” which means “Many Greetings from Florida, USA!”.

The food here is not too unfamiliar. For the most part, I recognize the flavors and such. My favorite Austrian meal is WIENER SHNITZEL! For those of you who’ve never tasted it, just imagine a Chick-fil-a sandwich without the bun, except that it tastes about fifty times better!

Now that Sprachkurs is over, I have just been relaxing and practicing German with my host family. School starts on September 14th, so I still have about a week and a half to go. In the next several days, I will visit my host mum’s family near Vienna, and of course tour Vienna as well.

I have really enjoyed and learned so much already, and it hasn’t even been a month yet! Of course I miss everyone back in Florida and the States, but I wouldn’t give this opportunity up. Things are certainly a little unfamiliar here, but I love it. I will leave you with a quote that I enjoy reading… “Es ist nicht besser, es ist nicht schlechter, es ist einfach anders.” Which means, “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.” To some people, different conveys something negative, but now thanks to Rotary and this exchange I have started to view it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding. Vielen Dank Rotary!

November 6 Journal

The last time I wrote it was summer here and I was enjoying the long days filled with excitement and rest. Now, school is full on and the days are shrinking, time wise, because of daylight savings and winter’s presence.

My first day of school was so nerve-wracking! Even though I knew some of the kids in the 7th form, I still was so nervous and scared because I was put in the 6th form! My host mum walked with me to my class and introduced me to some of the other kids she knew and also my “Klassevorstandum” which is similar to a homeroom teacher. Everyone was really nice and speaking German and I wasn’t as nervous after a while. Something really awesome about the first few days of school in Austria is that students only go for a few hours the first couple of days. Just long enough to meet your class that you’ve known your whole life and your “klassevorstandum” who’s also been with you since the first form. On the first Wednesday we had mass at a local church, it was wonderful 

My school is wonderful! Its full name is “Kollegium Aloisianum” but for short we all just say “Aloisianum”. It’s brilliantly located on the top of a hill, overlooking the city of Linz. My school is Jesuit which basically means Catholic, but we don’t wear uniforms! The forms run from one to eight. The first formers will turn eleven years by the end of the year, and the eighth formers will turn eighteen. My school does not have the typical time schedule as most in Austria, so I’ll tell you first about the typical school system. Most schools start around seven-thirty or eight in the morning and finish around twelve or one, just in time for the most important meal here: lunch! So then after the students leave school, most go home where a hot lunch is served. For my school, the time you get out depends on what class you’re in. In my class, we start everyday at 7:50, except for on Mondays, when the girls start at 9:50 because the boys have P.E. On Friday when the girls have P.E., the guys leave early. The rest of our schedule is as follows…

Monday- 9:50-4:00

Tuesday- 7:50-4:00 (every other Tuesday until 6)

Wednesday- 7:50-3:00

Thursday- 7:50-3:00

Friday- 7:50-1:20

There is quite a variety of subjects taught here, but unlike the states, the only thing we can choose is to learn more math and physics or more languages. I am in the “more languages” class. It’s really hard for me to understand the teachers right now, so in most of the classes I just focus on learning German or reading. The classes that I do participate in are “Spanish”, “English”, “Music”, “Art”, “P.E.”, and “Intensive German”. Most classes are two or three times a week, but Music, Art, and P.E. are only once a week. My host mum and I are trying to change my schedule so that I can take English in the lower forms to improve my German! The grading system is completely unlike what I’ve know before. The “grades” are from one to five, one being the best, and five being the worst. Homework is assigned regularly but is rarely checked for. We don’t have tests, but small “reviews” where we receive a plus or minus. We have exams that determine most of our grades. Exams for the first semester are in October/November and February. I’m not sure when the exams are for the second semester. Also, each class only makes exams called “Schularbeit” in five subjects. For my class it is German, Spanish, English, Latin, and Maths. For the rest of the subjects, we have little reviews every day where two to three people get called up and quizzed.

Schools for the most part don’t have sports teams like in the States. One can attend a school that focuses on sports but those are special cases. During my first P.E. class, we played Gymnastics! It was so interesting because I had never experienced learning Gymnastics during P.E. before! The next class Gymnastics again, but for the last thirty minutes we could either play badminton or volleyball. I chose volleyball and it was so much fun! Other interesting fun facts are that in Austria, each class has their own classroom, and the teachers come to us. When the teacher comes in we all stand until he or she says “sit down”, well in German of course  I think it’s “setzen”. Each class is fifty minutes long and afterwards we have a five minute break. After the second class we have a fifteen minute break. I think that is most of the differences and exciting facts about my school and schools in Austria!

Since writing my first journal, I’ve visited different places. The Rotary Youth Exchange Program in Austria is really strong and plans fun outings for us. All in all there are about eighty of us I do believe, about 3/5 newbies and 2/5 oldies. “Newbies” and “oldies” are terms we use to classify exchange students. Because Austria accepts students in August and in January, we have two different groups of exchangers. Right now I am in the “newbie” category. A ton of people don’t like being referred to as a newbie, but I love it! Basically how it works is that the oldie exchange students living by you accept responsibility for you by teaching you about the city, the bus system, the trains, anything. It’s rather awesome and I don’t know what I would have done without my wonderful Linz oldies  Sadly, they will leave in January, and we will become oldies! Even though January means the half-way mark of my exchange (mahh ) I am actually looking forward to caring for my newbie.

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth of September all of the exchangers went to Tauplitz where we climbed a 3,000 meter mountain. The leaders said that it would take three hours to climb but then failed to mention that it took three hours only one way! Oiii, that was a long and painful hike but seriously worth it because the top of the mountain was absolutely beautiful! All of the exchange students were so tired that a bunch of us took a quick power nap! Then later that night we had a surprise! The Rotarians gave us torches and then we walked somewhere in the dark. Well actually, the Rotarians gave everyone else torches. I was running late (not a big surprise to those of you who know me) so when I finally got outside, no one was there. I could hear voices and see fire off in the distance but I was dumbfounded. I just decided to walk in the general direction of the noise. So as I was making my way in the pitch black all alone, I see something move and I think it’s some of the exchangers, so I go up and say “hey guys!” but really it turned out to be a herd of Cows! I was sooooo freaked out so then I quickened my pace and finally caught up with the humans hehe!

The next Rotary weekend was in Vienna (Wien) from the 16th-18th of October. It was loads of fun! We went to see “Guys and Dolls”, in German! I was actually rather bored because I didn’t understand most of it, but there was a couple in front of us who kept unnecessarily verbally harassing the exchange students so at least we got some form of entertainment. On Saturday we visited Parliament and it was so incredible to see how much Roman times and Greek Mythology had influenced the structures of the Parliament building, and just Vienna as a whole. Later that night we all ate dinner together and then went our separate ways to go out and enjoy ourselves…

The next day (Sunday), we continued are tour by riding around Vienna and stopping every now and then. My favorite part was this building that was made out of curves. The artist wanted to prove a point that beautiful buildings didn’t have to be made only with straight lines. I loved it! So after a fun yet tiring weekend, we headed back with the train. Oh, I don’t think I’ve talked about the train! Wow, this is something I know I’ll definitely miss so much! I feel like I’m going to Hogwarts every time I step on a train, it’s just so mysterious for me.

I have been taking a dance course with my school friends because at the end of this month we have a “Debutante Ball” which is literally translated as a debutant ball, but really they are not similar. In Austria, people socialize by going to balls, so it’s of high importance to at least know the different dances. It’s a part of the culture for students to learn in the 6th form. The whole class gets registered at a dance school. This is also the year that most teens start “going out”. Not in the romantic sense but as in going to clubs and such. After dance our whole class goes out, it’s wonderful  I’m not that good at dancing but I like to think that I am okay. It also helps to have a partner who can lead 😉

Two weekends ago my friend Sara and I made an excursion. It involved riding the Strassenbahn completely one way. It took us fifty minutes just to go one way, it was awesome! Finally when we reached our destination (solar city) we went to Spar (small grocery store) and bought goodies! Then we walked around a somewhat creepy town. What made it creepy was that barely anyone was outside and it was so quiet. I guess that’s what happens when you live by a really big city!

So this past weekend was Halloween! Halloween hasn’t been celebrated like in the US for too long, maybe only fifteen or twenty years…So I was invited to a Halloween party at my Rotary Counselor’s house. I made American chocolate chip cookies and a thank you and they really seemed to love them! It was really really fun but unfortunately my friend and I had to leave early for dance class. Afterwards, we went to a club/bar type place and then walked to Altstadt which is probably one of the most well known streets for teens in Linz because it’s home to Sega Bar which is a dance club place. I met up with my exchange friend, Sara Maslen, who is from Oregon, and we went to go eat Kebaps! No, I don’t mean Kebobs or anything that involves cut up meat on sticks; I’m talking about Turkish Kebaps. I think that Zach, another inbound in Austria from Florida, talked about this in his journal, but here in Linz we call them Kebaps. So anyways, what are these delicious things?? Well, basically they are some type of huge circular bread that has been cut and stuffed with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and some type of white sauce. You can also get it spicy. So anyways, it’s a Friday night routine to go to the kebap place before going out. Now that it’s a routine, the kebap workers know me and so when I go they make me speak German with my American friend, well, more like “try” hehe.

Yes so yesterday it was my first time with that “sense of being Austrian”. For other exchangers, you either know what I’m talking about, or you will soon. For me, it didn’t last for too long, but regardless, I felt it. It started when I went to the city with my friend to buy my dress for the debutant ball. Afterwards, we went our separate ways, and I got on the Strassenbahn (a tram perhaps in English?). After a few minutes, it still wasn’t moving which was really odd because they run on a tight schedule. More and more people started getting off, so I decided to just walk to my bus stop. On my way I saw a huge crowd with banners and signs with German writing that I didn’t understand. At first I was really scared because I had always pictured protests to be violent. Nevertheless, I got out my camera, took a picture, and then proceeded to ask a guy what was going on. He said that in every town that had a university, the students were protesting because the money funds for university are going down and now students have to pay more. I think it was so amazing that tons of students were out in the streets in the cold weather doing a “demonstration” as they call it. So I started walking too. The signs were in German but they meant “Free education for free people!” Also, many of the students had whistles and clackers. We were chanting “wir sind hier und wir sind laud!” and then there was another part but I only know the translation to it. So basically in English it means “we are here and we are loud because you’re stealing our education”. Yes okay, so I’m not actually a student of a university here, but I can still relate. That’s why I joined in. Coming from the States where education is sooooo expensive, I know what it is like to think about how to financially manage college; it’s scary. I felt like such a part of the people because we were all together “demonstrating” for the same cause.

I remember when I first got here how I was so nervous to take the Strassenbahn or the buses because I didn’t know my way around. My first go at taking the bus went horribly wrong. My host mum said not to worry because if I couldn’t say it in German then people would understand English but whoa, she was way wrong. So I get off the Strassenbahn and make my way over to the bus stop but I don’t know which one to stand at because there are two going in opposite directions. I ask people in my best German where the bus that is going to Leonding is but no one understands me! Great! Then I resort to using English because I’m panicking. Lol But everyone I asked didn’t speak English either! Oii so finally I called my host mum and then I asked a stranger if he would talk with her; he said yes. Afterwards everything was fine  Now I know the bus system like the back of my hand, it’s wonderful! I told my host mom about it too and she said “remember when you were so nervous and I told you that in a little while we’d be laughing about it?” Well of course I didn’t remember that she had said that but now I’m laughing.

Yesterday I tried to speak “only German”, and I called it, “Nur Deutsch Tag” which basically means “only German day”. Unfortunately it didn’t work because I just am not that good yet. I still struggle with the language because the grammar is wild I think. I had always heard that English was so hard to learn but all of my Austrian friends say that German is way harder. The thing that gets me is the ending changes depending on the case. There are three main cases and there are different words that use each case. So there are so many different articles and adjective endings and such. Even though I am not fluent yet I speak about 75 % German with my family. I try in German and then if I don’t know it then they tell me how to say something. Also, my papa and brother will speak really fast and then my mama will translate it again slower in High German. My mama says though that my German really has improved the past few weeks and I think so too which makes me really happy. I haven’t had a dream in German yet unless you count this one scene in a random dream. So basically in my dream, this lady was talking to me in German and I responded in German as well but she was telling me the wrong things. For example in my dream the lady was saying that “Wie geht’s” really isn’t “How are you/How’s it going?” when it really is in German. I’ve decided to not count my “incorrect German” dream as my first dream in German.

I know that the applications were already due, so I wanted to congratulate all of the applicants! You’re one step closer to living your dream. Interviews are coming up, and hehe, they’re intense, but you’ll survive it if this is what you’re meant to do. If you get accepted, jump jump jump! This seriously has been such a great time of my life and I’ve been here barely three months. The application and interview process is the easiest bit so prepare yourself, but don’t fret because it really is all worth it. In the next few months you’ll be so excited about going but also dreading the next assignment from Al Kalter. But like I said before, it’s all worth it. RYE Florida, in my opinion, has one of the best programs. They prepare you and prepare you, and then some. Even though at the time it seems like hard and continuous work it’s all for your next year. When it feels like the work will never stop, believe me, it doesn’t really, but just that it changes. You go from studying about your host country and completing assignments for Rotary to living in your host country trying not to make a complete cultural dummy out of yourself and completing assignments for school. It’s all for the year that is supposed to be the best year of your life. The work never really lets up but you’ll have your support group of friends, family, Rotary, and exchange students from your home country and host country. Keep it going, future class of 2010-2011, it’ll be great!

Yes well now I’m really tired and I’ll go take a nap before getting ready for dance school! I’ll try and write more often from now on 

Tschüsi Bussi,

April

December 8 Journal

Hallo! I didn’t even realize that today was my fourth month anniversary in Austria until my friend sent me an SMS! It’s been going by so fast, it’s crazy! A bunch of things have happened since the last time I wrote…

At the beginning of November my really good friends who are about my parent’s age visited me from England. It was really fun showing them around my city and impressing them with my German (which is really not all that impressive). My host mama cooked dinner for them on Saturday and we had a really nice delicious meal.

The next uber exciting event was my debutant ball. After two months of dance school we finally had our ball. It was in the nicest ballroom in Linz, overlooking the “Landstrasse”, which is one of the main streets in Linz. I was so nervous but when we actually started to dance all of my nerves left me. I felt so special dancing a traditional dance that my own host mama danced when she was sixteen. Also that weekend I went to my first “Matura Ball” which is similar to a prom except that the music consists of ballroom styles.

I’ve taken two “Schularbeits” which are exams; Spanish and English. I received a 2 out of 5 (B) in Spanish and a 1 (A) in English. The tests are pretty much at the same level as I’m used to except for the grading. To get an A one can only make two mistakes. This seemed really hard but it forced me to study a good week prior to my test, something I’m not accustomed to. I really tried because I wanted my host parents to be proud of me. Even though I only take two out of the five schularbeits, I still get a feeling of achievement when I receive my good marks because I know that my hard work has paid off.

My German has gotten so much better but just when I think that I’m seriously improving I have a major setback. I will go the day feeling really good about my German and then I’ll get home and “bam!” I don’t understand a thing. This is also because there are so many different dialects. I’ve started to pick up on some of the dialect and my host sister makes fun of me and says I must learn “high German”.

This past Saturday my host mama, aunt, and I made Thanksgiving for our two families and my school friends. It was tons of fun because some of the food was unfamiliar to my family and friends. Two of my friends had never mashed potatoes so they got to try and they loved mashing them! My host mama’s birthday was on Sunday and whoa, that was not a good day. I was supposed to get up and eat breakfast with everyone at 9, but I ended up oversleeping. I didn’t set my alarm because I assumed that my host mama would wake me up since sometimes she wakes me up for school or other occasions. Well I was wrong. Exchangers: Don’t Assume! I ended up waking around 10:45 ish to an empty house except for my friend who had spent the night. I didn’t know where my host parents had gone! I called my mama and she said they were at the Advent fair. I was uber upset that day because not only had I missed my host mama’s birthday breakfast, but I also probably embarrassed my host parents in front of my host aunt’s family. I felt so ashamed that I had missed my mama’s birthday breakfast because I thought that she’d wake me up for it 

Also this past month I’ve become aware of a problem…me. speaking. English. Because there are two other native English speakers in my school I’ve become accustomed to hanging out with them during breaks and lunch. Also there are about ten other exchangers in my city. Some exchangers like this but I’ve slowly realized that it’s interfering with my German progression and my friend-making. For those of you who will be venturing out next year to your new countries, keep in mind that a familiar accent or face is comforting, but your first few months shouldn’t be comforting. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone then you can’t grow. I’ve realized that the hard way by starting off so excited about having exchangers in my city. Now I’m doubly trying to make more friends and speaking German with the other exchange students.

I suppose that is it for now. I’m really looking forward to the holidays because I love spending time with my family, especially my cousin Philip who is eleven. When I was his age I tried to make the weirdest laughs so the other night we had a laughing competition. Something rather immature for an almost 17-year old but what the heck, he’s my cousin! In one day I went from not knowing the kid to having a tickle fest with him. I can’t wait for a whole skiing week with his family and mine in February!

Und neues Austauchueler, viel Spass! Nachstes Jahr wird die bestes Jahr von deines Liebes sind!

Liebe Gruesse,

March 18 Journal

Wow there is so much to talk about; it seems crazy that it’s only been two months since the last time I wrote because time has been literally flying! Sadly, I’ve passed the half way mark; just like almost everyone else…This really makes me sad thinking about only 5 months left. I can’t imagine having to leave all of my friends, exchange students, and family….

Since the last time I wrote, the winter holidays have come and gone. Schools in Austria don’t get out until the 23rd of December. I found this really hard because I was used to getting out the week before. Although I ended up liking this because there wasn’t really any pre-Christmas boredom that I usually experience. So, here in Austria, the 24th is Christmas or otherwise known as Weihnachsten. I woke up to a “normal” day. My grandma and uncle were also at my house. So then we had a nice lunch around two with lots of food. Later we all got changed. This felt really awkward because I had never celebrated Christmas or opened presents with nice clothes on! Haa But the whole setting was so beautiful because the living room was lit with candles from the Christmas tree, and then everyone looked really nice with their spiffy clothes. There is a story like “Santa Claus” called Christ Kind which means “Christ Child”. Basically, while the children eat dinner, Christ Kind sneaks into the living room and lights the candles on the trees, and puts all of the presents around the room. Then when he’s finished, right before he flies away, he rings a bell. My host family set the whole thing up for me; it was really really sweet and nice that they let me experience the Christ Kind even though we all know it’s just for the kids. So then we all gave each other double-kisses as we wished each other “Frohe Weihnachsten” or “Schöne Weihnachsten”. Then my host brother, Ossi, started opening his presents. We all waited until he was finished, and then it was my turn. I had so many because two families were giving me presents. Then it was my host parent’s turn. After opening presents, we ate dinner. Well, more like we tried: D The fondue wasn’t working, so then we ended up just cooking the meat regularly.

A few days later we visited my host aunt, who lives near Schladming. We only stayed for a day but it was really fun because some of the family went skiing and then I went sliding down the little hills: D That night, my host brother, host cousin, and I all went to a club where we danced, which was naturally tons of fun! Then on Monday we came home and Monday night I went to a friend’s birthday party, so I was out again. Then things slowed down a wee bit until Wednesday, which was when I started to get excited about New Year’s Eve, or otherwise known here as Silvester. My host brother and I each had a few friends over for a party, and then around eleven we went to a Club called Empire: D It’s one of my favorite clubs.

Waiting for it to arrive,

No one around, only the feeling of serenity,

As if world peace had finally come.

I’ve accomplished the terrifying red beast,

Only to find out that I must do it again,

What with my fear of tragedy,

I slowly manage to totter along.

I repeat it once more,

Although this time is different,

I have the comfort of peace,

I can think, I can feel, I am alive.

Although this poem can relate to many things, I wrote it to display my feelings about skiing. I skied for the first time here in Austria, and it was amazing. Some of the best and happiest moments I have ever experienced were on the slopes. Having said that, I was completely scared. The easiest runs were my favorite, but we had to go on Medium (red) to keep up with the better skiers in the group. I was scared out of my mind, even though I could actually ski properly down the slopes. In my poem, I am trying to describe how there are things in life that can frighten you, but you can always find peace with it and with yourself. My time of peace during my skiing adventures was when we were on the chair lifts. It was only you and the nature, so beautiful and quiet. The trees covered with snow, and the mountains displayed right in front of my eyes…There is nothing like it. Also, when the weeklong vacation was over, I had so much gratitude for my ski teacher, for pushing me to overcome my fears. I’m going skiing thankfully again in March with Rotary, and I cannot wait!

Right now I’m looking out the train window, witnessing the scene of a week’s worth of constant snow. It is absolutely beautiful. I already know the winter will be one of the things I will miss a lot. I am heading now to Salzburg and then off to England to visit really great family friends: D

I should probably stop writing now because I have to get off soon. I hope all of the exchange students are learning about their new host country and language! I wish you all the best! Schöne Ferien!

Danke schön Rotary. Diese Jahre ist die beste meines Lebens! 😀

 

May 9 Journal

The last time I wrote, it was the middle of March and I was awaiting the arrival of my parents. It seems I’m usually waiting for something when I write my Rotary journals.

My parents visited me from the States at the end of March. At first I didn’t know how my families would get along, but they seemed to really like each other. My parents were in Europe for about a week and a half, but only in Austria with me for five days. I was so nervous waiting for them at the Vienna Airport with my host mom, I didn’t know what I would make of the situation. When I saw them coming through the doors, everything that I had felt at the beginning of my exchange came rushing back. After introductions, our first stop was the Schönbrunn, a summer castle/palace home on the outskirts of Vienna. Later that night my host dad drove us around the city, showing us just a quick view of the things we’d see the next few days. The next day, Thursday, we went to Hallstatt and Gmunden, two picturesque Austrian villages. My best friend, Sara, came with us too. She’s from the States as well, Oregon to be exact. We were going to take my parents to a salt mine inside of a mountain, but unfortunately it was still closed. We looked around the town, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant on a beautiful lake.

That night my host mom made a delicious meal, like usual, and my parents met my host brother, Ossi. After dinner Ossi and my host mom showed my parents the scrapbooks of when Ossi went to Argentina on exchange. Friday was “view my city and school” day, so we went to the school’s Easter Mass. Afterwards my mom and I went to a grocery store and I showed her my usual walk home from the bus stop after school. The rest of the day we went into the city and at night we ate Austria’s famous Schnitzel. On Saturday, my parents, Ossi and I went to Salzburg by train, where we walked around a castle and ate lunch in the city. That night we went out for dinner at a really elegant restaurant with a great view of Linz. After dinner, my host mom drove me into the city so that I go to one of my best friend’s 19th Birthday party.

The next day, Sunday, was our last day together. We got an early start and drove to Vienna. We went on a bus tour of the inner city and after we walked around the main street and went to St. Stephen’s Dome. For a midday snack we went to a café. After walking around a little more, it was time to drive to the airport. Saying goodbye felt weird. Of course my parents (and host mom) were sad, both inside and outside. Beforehand I thought that I would cry, but surprisingly I didn’t. Because of the fact I had already said goodbye to them once, the second time wasn’t as hard. It took me a few days to realize that I missed them heaps. I think about my parents now and I wonder how they ever let me go. I know my parents love me so much and I’m finally starting to realize that it’s not just Rotary and my host family and people here in Austria I need to be thanking. It’s my friends and especially my family, the people who first said, “Okay April, if you really want to do this, then do it”. All of my friends who supported me before and continue to support me now. I ramble on and on about my life here and how great it is, and they listen patiently, knowing how I get attached to places and people, and knowing that when I get home, they will be the ones I turn to in my time of need. Up until this point, I really haven’t felt extremely homesick this year. I believe I’m at the point in my exchange where I see that it’s almost over. I see that I have two months left, but those two months look so far away when I imagine being home again. When I picture having to leave my country and my family plus friends, those two months are just ticking away, and I have no way to stop it.

For Easter break my host family went to the Mountain House where we went skiing. I love love love skiing. I ski really slowly, and I look as if something is wrong with my back, but I love it. I’m usually scared, but the feelings of flying (slow in other people’s standards hehe) down the mountain having a screaming spasm, then finally making it to the bottom are such indescribable feelings. Then, on the ski lift back up, I have a laugh attack because I think of what I would look like as I slowly totter down the hill, screaming. The actual Easter holiday here was really weird for me. I’ve never missed an Easter Church service except for last year, and we were on vacation so it was a little different. Here we just didn’t go. Instead we had lunch with my host Grandma and Uncle. That night, I went to the “Osterball”, which I had been dreaming about since this time last year. My Easter break was fun, but it reminded me of things I missed back in the States.

At the end of April, I went to Assisi, Italy on a school trip. My Rotary club generously paid for it too which was an added bonus. I had never been to Italy, so I was super excited. We stayed at a hotel in Assisi, which is a holy city in the Tuscany province. One of the men who ran the front desk and kitchen had similar features as my dad. Even my friends were like, “yeah, he does look like him”. I thought it was really funny, because one of my friends said that my dad looked Italian. It was weird being in Italy without my parents because my mom is a Reverend and my dad is basically a wine connoisseur, pretty much two big things Italy is famous for; Churches and Wine. Before leaving, I learned a phrase that meant “I’m a girl” but besides that I knew practically nothing. Upon arriving, I realized Italian is one of the most beautiful languages I have ever heard. I picked up many of the words fast because of my Spanish studies. Walking into a café and not knowing how to communicate reminded me of when I first came to Austria. I don’t consider myself excellently fluent in German, but I am definitely proud of how much I’ve learned.

Some of the places we visited were Siena and Perugia. Both were really beautiful, but my favorite part was this special drum line type of thing that I was able to witness. Every year there is a festival at the beginning of May, so a week before this all of the men from the town get together and play huge drums as they walk through the narrow streets of the town. As they progress deeper into the town, the community comes out and watches. Many of the town members have the same symbols or emblems on sweatshirts and pants. This was my favorite part, because I felt like I was really experiencing the culture. I was blown away at the fact that grown men were coming out late at night to play the drums for the town. The culture seemed so alive and passionate, and I was definitely jealous. Italy has left an everlasting impact on me and I hope to learn the language and eventually return to visit.

This whole year I’ve been struggling with my listening comprehension of German. I can understand a lot better when I read or write, compared to listening. This past week at school I wasn’t even paying attention in my Spanish class when I realized that it was sinking in. My Spanish teacher was rambling on about our homework and I understood everything. I know that doesn’t sound like such an exciting thing considering I’ve been here for nine months, but my Spanish teacher speaks one of the most intense dialects I’ve ever heard, so understanding her pretty much made so happy and proud of myself. The next day I had English class, and my teacher was talking to us in German. I was going crazy because I understood what she was saying without trying. For the most part, I still think in English. I’m fooling myself if I think that I’ll be talking to myself in German, just because of the fact that there are three other exchangers at my school who speak English, so every day I always speak it. I do however, say weird things in German or count in German. One time I was in the shower and I was thinking about an essay I had to write in German and I started asking myself questions in German. That was accomplishing. This past Friday, I was talking to my exchange friend at a grocery store, and this lady came up to us. She asked us if we spoke German and we said yep. Then she asked us if we could help her pick out shampoo because she didn’t know any German. That was when I realized that I’m proud of my German knowledge. I might not be fluent but I understand most of the things I hear and read now.

This coming Wednesday, our Europe Tour starts. I’m beyond excited for this legendary event. All of my best friends are going, and even though it’s my last Rotary event here in Austria, it’ll probably be the most fun out of them all. Three weeks with my best friends, taking in Europe. What more can I ask? Hehe. I’ve been trying to catch up on some other languages like French and Italian, but I’ll just have to wing it.

About a month ago, a few of my friends said they were excited to go home, and I couldn’t understand their thinking, but now I do. I’ve missed my friends and family, and I’m finally coming to terms that it won’t make Austria any less meaningful if I admit that I’m excited to return back to my home land. I know that as soon as I get home, I’ll wish I was back here, going out with my friends on Friday nights, and sitting through my boring classes. Nevertheless, I’m excited to feel the comfort of my family, my friends, my home, and my old routines. Two months stand in my way. Two months are left. I have two months until I can see everyone again, but I only have two months to live my exchange to the fullest with the knowledge that I don’t know when I’ll see my Austrian country again.

Chauncy Clements
2009-10 Outbound to France
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Greater Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nantes Rotary Club, District 1510, France

Chauncy - France

Chauncy’s Bio

Bonjour tous les monde! Hello or as I should say “Bonjour,” my name is Chauncy Clements, and next year I get to go to La France! Vive La France!!! I am 17 and I live with my mother and father in sunny Gainesville, Florida home to the Florida Gators. I attend Buchholz High School, the best school not only in my city but in Alachua County.

In my spare time I like to hangout with my friends; we often go to the mall, or downtown, or to the movies, we always have a blast! We also love to go to Orlando, the theme park capital of the world!! I’ve been to Disney World and Universal so many times that I can’t even count. In my household we have two dogs: Diamond, a Bull Massive, and Denzi, a toy Chihuahua.

My family and I and family friends have started a new tradition that we go on cruise every year, because we love to travel and experience culture. So far I’ve been to Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the USVI. It was a great way to see how other people live in different parts of the world. And in some of the places we went I saw many people in poverty, and it really helped me appreciate living in the United States. Just seeing that not everyone is as fortunate as us makes you think a lot, and want to do better for the world.

~Now we Go back in time~

Ever since I was in the third grade I wanted to learn French. I used to read Madeline books, and also watch the TV show. I still don’t know why I want to learn the French Language, it’s just something that’s imbedded inside of me. So when I was in the fourth grade I asked my parents if I could take up French classes, and the response was NO!

Not discouraged, I went to the local library and checked out everything that they had on the French language (books, audiotapes, and videos). So as soon as I got home from the library I started watching the videos over and over, since most of the videos were for babies I was singing with the videos. And after a month I learn…no I taught myself how to count to twenty, and learned my ABC’s en Français!

So finally after all this hard work my parents could see that this wasn’t one of my “let me do this, then next week I quit” things – they saw a boy that enjoyed and had a passion for learning. So that was when I was enrolled in the Alliance Française De Gainesville. While I was at the Alliance Française I was able to pick up on the French Accent, and learned so much! I also loved eating the many treats that we were able to make, for example “Pain au chocolat” is to die for!!! Yum!

When I entered High School I started taking French classes again. While I was in French 1. I joined the French club, and I participated in an event called Le Congrès De La Culture Française en Floride or better known as simply Congrès. At Congrès I had to recite a poem, La Cigale Et La Fourmi. And the other French 1 students and I had prepared for a scènette (play) which was a modern Cinderella (it was very funny). And I took home a superior ribbon in both! Yah! That was the first time that I was active in a school related function and I had a wonderful time.

In my sophomore year, that’s when I was introduced to the Rotary Club. I was in French 2, we went to our auditorium and there was this man ( I forgot who it was) talking about foreign students, living abroad and it caught my attention. I had planned to go to the meeting but I wasn’t able to go. So I forgot about it, even though there were many foreign students in my school that year. Some were from Europe, but mostly from Asia and Latin America. I also went to Congrès that year were I did another poem, Le Dormeur Du Val, and I got another superior ribbon. And I took the Nation French Exam which I did pretty well in.

In my junior year my school didn’t go to Congrès, I was a little sad. But I was the French secretary for my French club and I was very busy. And I was honored within the French honor society later that year.

~Now this year~

This year was a new year, my last year of high school! I was going to attend the Rotary club meeting regarding the Rotary exchange program. So I went with my mother. We got tons of info and after that I started on my application. After I sent it in I felt a huge load of pressure. After I received the letter for the interviews, that’s when I was kind of freaking out. So I arrived bright and early to be interviewed and looking so confident also. I’m not even going to lie – I was freaking out. After the interviews I was physically and mentally tired and worried that I wouldn’t make it. In early December I got a letter saying:

Dear Chauncy, Congratulations on being accepted into District 6970’s Rotary foreign exchange program for 2009-10 school year.

I was ACCEPTED!!!! I was beyond happy – there was no word that I could think of to describe how I felt. Then about two weeks later I got the best present that anyone could get – I got my first picked country!! France! I was sooo…. Happy to read it! I was jumping up and down! I felt like I could fly, that was just amazing reading that letter. That was one moment that I would never forget.

~Now~

Right now I am just getting ready for the January orientation which is the 9-11th. I can’t wait. I’m prepared and ready to start this year off right! And my birthday is next month and I will be turning 18, Feb.14th and I can’t wait! I just can’t wait to start this new experience that will unfold during these next months and just to see how much I will be changing.

Merci Beaucoup Rotary! Vous sont vraiment chouette! Bisous!

 Chauncy’s Journals

August 20 Pre-departure Journal

“The only place where dreams are impossible is in your own mind.” By Emalie

Wow, where has all the time gone??? It seems like yesterday that I was filling out the Rotary Youth Exchange 2009-2010 application. Picking my five countries that I wanted to go to (France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Japan). Going to orientations while making friends, and also making buildings out of marshmallows and spaghetti which was a disaster. Listing to lectures and the helpful advice of the Rotex crew that I look up to for help.

And now I am less than 6 days from the biggest adventure of my life which is…GOING TO FRANCE!!!!!! It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll be gone for a year without my family, neighbors or friends. It will truly be test of adaption to survive in another country. I really haven’t even thought about it until lately this month, I’ve just been so wrapped up in actually living “La vie Française” .

Another thing that I have just realized is that on my exchange is that not only will I become fluent in French but I will see snow for the first time (and no I will not eat the yellow snow)! Consider I have NO winter clothes that would save my life under 45 degree weather. And also be on an airplane which I am nervous but excited nonetheless.

And speaking of clothes, never in my life would I imagine packing 100lbs of my life for a year. For me it was sad packing away all of my clothes out of my room. But it’s never goodbye just a very long (11 months to be exact) see you soon.

I will be on the Atlantic Cost in a city called Nantes (the former capital of Brittany/ Bretange), and my first host family will be the Cavés and they seem like a really nice family can I can’t wait to meet them. I have done so….much research on my city and its absolutely beautiful I can’t wait until I’m there!

And I’m also looking forward to eating bucket loads of Nuttela with freshly baked Baguettes. I’m still wondering what will be my first French meal.

Rotary has given me so much that I am thankful for. And with my exchange starting within a few days I will be sure to make them proud. I will serve as the best American ambassador that I can be. It may sound corny but I’m just so excited, nothing can bring me down.

Thank you for reading my 1st journal!! And there will be many more to come!

Merci Beaucop Rotary!! et A bientot!!!

October 1 Journal

Welcome back to the adventures of an American in France! Starring…..ME! Chauncy!

Wow I’ve been in France for a month and a week or two, but it feels like a day. It’s so true that the time goes by so fast. I love it here, the people are very nice and my host family is wonderful “la vie est belle”. Well I’m guessing you want to know what I have been up to so here is the spill.

August 25 2009

So on the day of my departure, I woke up at 5:00 am, well I never really slept which was a big mistake. After I woke up I was making sure that my bags had everything I needed in them. I thought that I was handling everything well. I was very happy but also anxious, it really felt as if my dream was actually coming true. And as I was leaving the house with my bags I said goodbye to my mom, and that was really hard for me, but I didn’t cry. After getting in the car with my brother and my dad, I just was checking for my passport which I didn’t have. So I ran back into the house almost flipping over my desk and got my passport.

At the Airport I checked my bags to see how much they weighed, and it turned out that my bags that weren’t supposed to exceed over 100lbs were 28lbs under. But I was happy considering some people actually went over 100lbs. Needless to say they were girls lol. So after meeting up with other exchangers in the airport we went through security. Since it was my first time going on airplane I found it strange having to take off my shoes. But after that was over, me and the other exchangers had to wait for like 2 hours. We were just happy and talking about how cool our exchangers are going to be and how we couldn’t wait to get in our new home countries.

In the crappy airplane which was taking us from Jacksonville to Washington I was lucky to be able to sit next to the other exchangers. One thing that I have to say is that the term “Ears popping” is just a small part that happens when you’re in a plane. Well for me at least, it felt as if someone was shooting my head through one ear and the other ear was being stabbed with a knife while I had a huge headache. So that was the longest hour and a half in my life.

At the Washington airport I was able to exchange my Rotary pins with people from different states and one from Canada. I ate my last American lunch at Wendy’s and had my last Starbucks which I miss so much since people here just drink coffee plain here. So waiting for the plane some exchanger and I walked around the airport until it was time to board the plane. On the plane I listened to my iPod, watched TV, and followed the map showing where we were. It was interesting – we flew out of Washington, went up the coast of Canada, past Greenland, south of England, and then arrive at l’Aéroport Charles de Gaulle. That was one memory that I will never forget – flying into Paris. And if you’re wondering my flight was 7 hours.

August 26 2009

So me and the other exchangers which was half of the plane got off, went to Customs which was sooooooooo cool because all of the signs were in French (it may seem dorky but it’s so cool seeing a sign in a different language besides Spanish). I waited about 20 minutes for my bags and then after that I said I met my Rotary President, and we waited about 6 HOURS for other exchange students in our district. And without even having to say I was very tired, and plus we had a 5 hour bus ride to our city, I didn’t get to my host family’s home until 10 pm that night.

My first couple hours with my host family were wonderful. I gave them a map of Florida and showed them where I lived. My first meal was Frosted Flakes and hot chocolate yum! But me being so tired I had to sleep, so I when to bed. The first day in Nantes was great I was able to walk around and see the city. My host family showed me some of the main places that I should see. And that same weekend they took me to their beach house in La Baule which is the biggest beach in Europe.

September 4 2009

My first day of school, I truly believe that school has been the biggest culture shock in my life here in France so far. Where do I even began …the French aren’t welcoming when they meet you. In French schools there are three different types of studies you can pick from. S (Hardcore Sciences and Math), L (Foreign languages and Humanities), and ES (Economy and Languages). I’m in ES. Lunch is an hour and half, on Mondays I don’t leave school til 6pm, but Wednesday–Friday I leave at 12:30. There isn’t any teacher student relationship, no posters or anything on the classroom walls. You have the same group of students with you in mostly all your classes. And I saved the best for last the students. We have 15-20 min breaks every two classes, and mostly all the students go out and smoke right IN FRONT of the school with the TEACHERS. That really shocked me lol.

As of today 2009

France is amazing!!! I love it here, and starting to make friends which is awesome. My Rotary club is the oldest in the city, and so nice to me. My Host family is taking me to the Southwest of France in 3 weeks, and Paris around the Christmas holidays. The French speak very fast. I feel that I’m understanding French better, just not being able to respond as fast.

Odd things I’ve been asked:

Is it true 5 yr olds can buy guns?

Do all American eat at McDonald’s?

Do Americans really eat turkey for Thanksgiving?

Does everyone have a car?

French food serving – Au contraire! The French eat A LOT! I’ve been eating more here than in Florida.

The cups here are like shot glasses.

Bread is served with every meal and is brought everyday!

Crepes are best served hot!

The French truly love food.

There are at least 4 boulangeries on every block.

Merci beaucoup Rotary!

February 3 Journal

Guess who is back??

Since having been titled as the laziest RYE journal writer, I feel that’s it’s time to let the people of Florida know how the last 4 months of my life has been.

~There you go~

Where do I even begin? Right now it doesn’t feel as if I’m an exchange student anymore. I feel as if this has always been my life, it’s like when someone moves from other city when they are young. You have to deal with changing schools, new house, new friends, all of which I have done, my life feels pretty normal.

I’m feel comfortable speaking French now, it’s improved so…much its almost mind shocking. I remember one time coming home from school – I was on the bus and I could understand most of the conversations being spoken around me on the bus. That may not sound like a big thing (it’s expected when you’re on an exchange to learn a language) but when you’re in a foreign country not fully understand what people are saying around you it’s scary. When you start going to your countries in 5 to 6 MONTHS you will understand what I’m trying to say.

My English level is getting worst. Just to let you know it kind of hard to write this journal right now. It may seem silly, but you tell me if it’s funny when your new English teacher asks you to conjugate a verb when you rarely speak English anymore. But then again from the French point of view Americans speak American not really English.

School is going by much better now than it was at the beginning. I’m starting to become more active in the classes. I actually have French friends now that I thought would never happen. It takes a lot of effort to become their friend. But it’s a wonderful thing have friends of the native land. They take you to places you would never know about, and also save you money showing you the American dollar friendly budget stores.

Here is a recap/highlights of Oct, Nov, Dec, and Jan;

Octobre

Rotary multi-district meeting at Le Mont st Michel (The second most visited monument in France)

There I saw Bridget and Simone!! We had a great time.

5 Irish and 3 Danish Students came to my school for a week.

The Danish speak Perfect English, and they have an American accent.

Paris and Les châteaux de la loire

About 2 years ago I hosted a teen from Paris, and during the Toussaint Holidays I was able to go visit him for 11 days. Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life. Les châteaux de la loire was also very interesting.

Master Public Transportation

I became able to go use the buses and Trams and not get lost.

Novembre

Becomes friends with two amazing Australians

Alex and Tess made school, feel like home.

November 17

The last time I wore shorts

Décembre

Rotary Meeting in Nantes

Seeing my Rotary friends.

December 18

y first time seeing snow.

Christmas

Didn’t feel like Christmas.

Christmas Break

St. Nazaire (Where they built Queen Mary 2) and La Baule (Biggest beach in France)

English

Becomes extra bad, speaks English with French grammar.

Money

The American dollar gets a bit better.

Janvier

Changed Host Families

Instead of having to wake up at 6:30 to go to school I can wake up at 7:30

Weather in France

Finally learns how to stay warm, and always have an umbrella handy.

Saying goodbye to the Aussies

That I’m visiting in December, love you Tess and Alex!

New Australians/ New Zealanders

Officially I’m an Oldie

Nantes, France

Feels like home.

Coming soon!! Février

Feb. 14th

My 19th Birthday

Feb 13-Mar 5 Winter Holidays

Going skiing in the Alps.

P.S. I would like to say to Rotary MERCI DES MILLE FOIS for this wonderful experience that you have allowed me to take part of. And I would like to congrat the new outbounds for next year, they truly don’t know how lucky they are until they get here.

à la prochaine fois Chauncy

 

Casey Hazard
2009-10 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze HS
Sponsor: Ormond Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Bergheim/Erft Rotary Club, District 1810, Germany

Casey - Germany

Casey’s Bio

Hello, my name is Casey Hazard. I am a sophomore at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, FL, which is a school that everyone in my immediate family has graduated from.

I live at home with my sister, dad and mom. My dad, sister and I enjoy going to local art shows together and viewing the unique pieces that eventually end up on our living room mantle. My mom is more musical than, I would say, anyone else in our family. You can usually find her singing down the hall or playing a little tune on the piano.

Writing has always been a major part of my life, ever since 2nd grade. It is a good outlet for me to let my feelings out. Writing also gives me a chance to be creative and write whatever I want about anything. Inside my closet there is a shelf of notebooks from elementary school. These notebooks are filled with stories, poems; you name it, it’s in there. Last year I bought myself a journal, and this has been very important to me. I try to write in it every night. Sometimes I will peer back into some of the old entries from a year ago, or even last week. I truly get lost inside that leather bound journal from how much things have changed and how quickly.

My family is very musical, both of my parents sing, my sister plays the piano and so does my dad. In the past six months I have gradually been learning how to play the guitar. Every week I learn a couple of new songs and sometimes I teach myself new songs too, to surprise my teacher.

Recently I was informed that I am being sent to Germany for next year. If any place to visit, Germany is the right choice for me. Not only do I have family over in that country, I have a German heritage. I will be able to explore the place where most of my family originated from and learn about their culture. Although the language is a little challenging, nothing new comes easy. I have been working on my German quite a bit and I already know how to say a few things correctly.

Well there you have it. I am a music loving, German, writer who is interested in art. This experience will truly open up many doors for me and I can not wait to see what Germany has in store. I am already so excited to be studying abroad next year.

Casey’s Journals

August 11 Journal

It is officially my second day abroad, and I already feel at home with my new family. The weather is exactly what I love, cool but not too cold. Jet lag is setting in and right now it is 9 in the morning back home, but here it is almost lunchtime, 1 PM.

The traveling part was very smooth, no problems at all. During one of my layovers I managed to meet a young man who was sitting in the same terminal as I. We began talking and I found out that he was also an exchange student in Germany years before. While discussing numerous topics about going abroad, he managed to throw in some valuable advice, such as “Your stay at Christmas time will be one of the roughest points throughout your journey. Keep your head up and remember that it is normal to feel sad. Also, remember that these times too shall pass and you will be back on your feet in no time.”

There isn’t much else I can write except for that I am so excited for the next upcoming months. I am very grateful to Rotary for giving me this experience. Even though it is just beginning, I can tell it will be something I will never forget.

Auf Wiedersehen

November 28 Journal

Part of me feels guilty for not writing for such a long time. I can’t believe it’s been almost four months here in Germany. The places I have visited have been absolutely beautiful. Everything I experience here is engraved in my memory, and I love thinking back to the things I did the week before. Already we had our first Rotary orientation. I have never met so many nice people at once; it was so refreshing to talk to other exchange students. The German is coming along quite well, in my opinion (I dreamed in German for the first time a few weeks ago).

School here is so different from Seabreeze. Our classes are different every day, and the schedules are very flexible. I like the way they have their classes here, I just wonder how it’ll be when I go back to the same schedule every day 7:30-2:45. Everything is different, and it’s nice to come across something that I’m familiar with. The teachers grade differently (50% speaking aloud in class, 50% test scores) and it’s a little weird to me that we don’t have to turn in papers. They really have the honor system in their schools. I’ve experienced quite a bit: Carnival, traveling to various parts of Germany, etc. The weather is kind of a drag though. I saw the sun yesterday for the first time in God knows how long. It’s interesting coming from a place where the sun shines every day to a grey sky and cold air.

My family here is such a good match for me. There’s something in each family member that is so comforting and I feel right at home with people I’ve only known for three months. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I am half way across the world. Often times I catch myself thinking that I’m on vacation someplace out west in the U.S., but then I remember that that’s not the case at all, and I’m glad that it isn’t.

It’s sort of surreal to me how easily everything is going so far. No rough patches have really hit yet, excluding my 2 hour detour home. I feel like I’m starting to change, in a good way. I am able to think about certain things differently than I did before. I’ve made mistakes and learned how to fix them. My skills under pressure have increased greatly. If I’ve felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable in a situation where I shouldn’t I have learned to adapt. Everything so far seems to fit like a glove, being optimistic most likely helps also.

I’m at ease with my decision to go abroad. I think that the things I will experience here will shape me into a completely different version of myself. I hope that everyone else is having as good of an experience as I am!

February 9 Journal

Looking back on my old pictures from the past 6 months here in Germany, I’m starting to already miss my year here. The time goes by so fast. Constantly writing out daily doings helps to recall somewhat, but it’s just not the same. The real friends that have come into my life since being here remind me. I don’t even want to think about leaving. I know that it’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life probably. Leaving the knot untied to whether I’ll see all of my friends again, it’s a terrible feeling. But I do as much as I can with what I have, and the time that is left.

I feel like I’m really developing as a person. I feel so different here, and I know that the people I have met and will meet are going to affect me for the rest of my life; in a good way. My memories keep me positive for the days ahead when I feel the slightest bit homesick, which might I add has only been once or twice. I can’t really say if I’m shocked by this. I feel like I fit so well here in Germany.

Coming from “the sunshine state”, and living in never ending bleakness has taken some getting used to. It’s difficult not seeing the sunshine for days on end, but that makes the days endowed with sunlight that much sweeter.

As for the German: I’m progressing every day. I wouldn’t say fluent yet, but I’m on the path towards it. I understand everything, and butcher the language when I speak. Being surrounded by natives is definitely a plus, not only to keep the language fresh in my mind, but to have constant help when I need it.

I didn’t realize how popular it was to go on an exchange year in Europe. I can say that majority of my German friends have lived a year abroad, which makes conversations more understandable when talking about my difficulties. There are 7 other exchange students at my school, all of which have become my closest friends. We assist each other with things that others couldn’t help with, and understand where the other is coming from even if we’ve only known each other for 4 months.

I have so many things rushing through my head that I can’t seem to grab onto one of them and write it out for you to read. I’ll just sum up my past 6 months here in one word: wunderbar!!

 

Conor Doherty
2009-10 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Downtown Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lerum Rotary Club, District 2360, Sweden

Conor - Sweden

Conor’s Bio

Hello,

My name is Conor Doherty and as you may have heard, I am going to Sweden! A couple of years ago, my family hosted two exchange students. One was from Finland so I had had heard about Scandinavia and I figured that would be a cool place to go. My sister and brother were also exchange students, Makena went to Brazil and Liam went to Switzerland. If it wasn’t for them, I would not be in this situation right now. I have heard millions of stories about their exchange years and how they had such a good time and that their years abroad had changed their lives, so I decided to uphold the new “family tradition” and go abroad myself. The topic of exchange always came up when my siblings were abroad so I had a lot of time to think about it, but finally decided that it would be best for me to go. The application process was difficult and the interviews were even harder (a lot harder!), but it was all worth it. The orientations are coming up soon as well, so I am excited about officially being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student.

I am currently a sophomore at Buchholz High School and although I am only 15 years old, I feel like I am ready to venture pretty far from the nest and become more independent, more responsible, and more intelligent. I am hoping that my year abroad shapes me into a better person the way my family has for the last 15 years. I think that having three siblings has made me the person I am and I think that being abroad will also change me, hopefully for the good. I am really looking forward to learning another language and to my year away from home, but I am most excited to see myself develop and change as the experiences and the culture are integrated into my life.

Thanks Rotary, for making this possible for me!

Conor’s Journals

August 29 Journal

I am not much for introductions, so I will just jump right in. On August 6th (my brother’s birthday), we set off to Jacksonville Airport from Gainesville. The whole way to the airport, I was just trying to keep my mind off of the point of the trip. Maybe I was scared, maybe just nervous, most likely both. When we arrived at the airport, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, so that was a good start. It was at the security checkpoint, at which I had to see my family for the last time for a year, that I started to feel the adrenaline. I hugged my family goodbye, said happy birthday to my brother, and walked away without looking back.

The airports were not too bad. I had never flown before, so this was my first airplane/airport experience. I found my gate fine and I didn’t have any problems. The last thing I did in America was in the Detroit airport, I bought a small fry from McDonalds (a sentimental moment). I almost had a bad experience in the Amsterdam airport. I could not find my flight on the sign so I went to the gate for a flight headed to Göteborg, but after a while I heard a voice on the intercom saying: “Herr Dorothy…fgdasifblewifbe” (something in Dutch – it was hilarious how they pronounced my name). “Mr. Doherty, please begin boarding at gate C4 immediately.” I was a long way from the right gate and I was the last to board my plane, but I made it.

I cleaned up a little and changed to a nicer shirt on the plane, and upon arrival, I saw my three host families and my counselor Lena. We all spoke briefly and introduced ourselves, I exchanged the cash I had for SEK and we headed home.

Later, we all met together again at a BBQ in my honor. We all ate some delicious food, a good first impression of Swedish cuisine, played fotboll, went swimming, and all chatted in English. A quick note: Everyone here has good English. They don’t admit it, but they do. David, my host brother, was about to leave for the US and he was trying to practice his English with me. (He is gone now to Seattle.)

In the first few days I did quite a bit, even with jet lag. I went swimming, paintballing, biking, etc. I tried to get over the jet lag as fast as possible and it worked pretty well, seeing as it only lasted a couple days, although some effects lasted a week or so. For example, I would wake up at noon everyday, still feeling tired (coffee helps). Since then, I have gone on an army ship with my host brother Simon, who is in the Swedish navy, I have stayed in Fristad for the week long language course, I have given a presentation at 7:00 in the morning, på Svenska, to a bunch of Rotarians in the Borås Rotary Club, I’ve wakeboarded; gone sailing; had fotboll practice; observed a floorball practice (which was insane by the way); picked wild raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries; unexpectedly seen the band Europe live; seen other live music like EMD which I don’t really like, but it was fun anyways; gone to Liseberg, an amusement park in Göteborg; biked to school everyday; visited multiple museums, and I don’t even know what else. I try to say yes to almost every offer that involves activity. I have pretty much only spent money on food and candy. Everything here is much more expensive than in the USA, so I try to conserve my money.

I started school last week and I have realized that the school here is so much more relaxed. There is an open campus and no tardies or anything like that (I still really try not to be late). The first days of school (8 days), we haven’t done much of anything because we are slowly easing into having school and we are getting to know all of our classmates. There is a two day trip planned for all of the students in the first year ekonomi class so that we can get to know each other better. My classes consist of: Swedish, English, Math, Social Studies, Geography, History, Sport, and Music. My schedule varies a lot and a lot of the time, the schedule is not followed for some reason.

I think I have summed up the first few weeks pretty well so I will leave you at that. Until next time, greetings från Sverige!

November 4 Journal

Well, it is time for journal number two. To summarize the time I have spent since the last journal in a few words would be impossible. I will at least try to do it some justice.

My Swedish is getting better and better. My overall understanding of speech is okay, much better at reading, not too great at speaking, but I try. I have Swedish lessons once a week and they are helping a little, but I think at home and in school are where most of the learning takes place.

The weather is not too bad yet. It only gets colder and colder. Every night it gets to be around freezing or a little lower so frost in the morning is common. During the day it does not get much warmer and the wind does not help. No snow yet, surprisingly, but I think it will come in a short time. There is more rain than I would like so it is gray quite a bit. I could go on about the weather because it seems to be a prominent subject in conversations, as Swedes care a lot about good weather because it is rare.

I have visited the Rotary club a few times and attend the meetings every other week. They seem to enjoy me and Joe’s (an exchange student from California also living in Lerum) company. Although, the meetings are Tuesday dinner meetings and I have soccer training on Tuesdays a little later in the day.

I am still playing soccer with the local team. It is a good way to make friends and stay fit. I can also work on my Swedish with them as well. The soccer trainings are fun, but now the weather is getting very cold and we practice at 8:00 at night, so all of the practices are very cold. Good thing there is a turf field to play on or the grass would all be dead…

School is going relatively well. The school is in only Swedish except for the English class, so it is tough to manage. But, I try hard, study, and do well on tests and homeworks. Not only are the tests hard because I can’t read the questions, but even if I do know the question, then all of the lectures are in Swedish and all of the papers that the teacher gives out and all of the books, so studying is very difficult. I like school, though. Many friends and it gives me something to do all day instead of just sitting around and doing nothing all day.

I have been hanging out with friends a lot recently. I can now travel freely because I bought a travel card for my free time, (called a fritidskort, literally free time card). Now travel is easy, even long trips where I have to take trains and busses and the like. That makes me wish we had a system so good in the US… But bowling and going to movies, even shooting golf balls on a golfing range.

Last week, my host family planned a surprise party for my host mom and all went well. Everything went according to plan: She had no idea and we set up this big party for her. I was in a suit and it was very fun. My whole family helped with the decorations and the service at the party and it was all really great.

Overall, the best thing for me is that I can see myself maturing. I can see in my thoughts and in my interpretations of events and ethics that I am definitely maturing. I don’t know if I want to mature so fast quite yet. Sometimes I just want to be a kid while I am a kid, but on the other hand I think it is great that my social skills and confidence are higher and I am developing into an adult. Either way, the experiences I am having here are shaping me slowly and I am sure you will be able to see this when I get home. Imagine: It has only been a few months so what will I be like in 9 more months?

So, I am having a good time in Sverige! Best regards to Rotary and the other exchange students. I hope you are having as much fun as I am.

March 6 Journal

It is hard to describe these last few months… I moved to my next family and am having a great time living at their house. I am set up to go to my next host family in just a couple of weeks. My Swedish is getting better every day. Sweden, for me, used to be a place where I was staying for a year. I feel like now it is much more like my home. I feel as though I have lived here for years. I can only imagine the day I get back to my own home and realize that it feels less like home than my Swedish home. It is such a strange feeling to be gone for so long; so long that the new place is now your home.

The day after writing my last journal entry, it snowed for the first time of the year. After that, it continued snowing and snowing and snowing. There is still snow on the ground and it is -5 C mid day now. The snow has been on the ground for months and hasn’t gone away at all. It has gotten down to -20 C in my town, Lerum. I just hope that spring is right around the corner so I can finally do something outdoors! It feels so restricting with snow on the ground everywhere. The upside to the snow is that I went skiing with my host family one day and that was fun. My next family is also taking me on a ski trip over the Easter break for four or five days. I am definitely looking forward to that!

I have experienced many things since my last entry, so I will tell you about some of them. Christmas (Swedish style)! I didn’t think that Christmas would be much different and for the most part I was right. There is not much of a difference between our way and the Swedish way of celebrating. The biggest difference is that they celebrate and open the presents on Christmas Eve instead of the way we do it, on Christmas day. Also, there are different foods and different little things like writing a rhyme on your gift to someone else. I thought this was fun because the person receiving the gift would try to guess what it was by the rhyming clue. However, through all of the good things that happened, this was my first Christmas away from my family. As bad as it sounds, I wasn’t as disturbed by it as I thought I would be. (Sorry mom!).

New Years Eve was also very fun. We had fireworks and were shooting them off all over the place. We also saw a fireworks show that people in the community organize and that was really cool. We then celebrated the countdown and stayed up late having fun.

I have also been sledding (which is really fun and surprisingly dangerous), skiing, Pain-balling, (like paintball without paint in the balls so that they are just rubber), going to school, freezing my butt off outside, and taking in Sweden! I also gave a presentation at my Rotary club and have given multiple presentations at my school about United States history, about Gainesville, and about being an exchange student. I have been having a lot of fun and I hope to continue that when spring comes!

Until next time,

Conor Doherty

 

Courtenay Johnson
2009-10 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Flagler Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze HS
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Jyväskylä-Päijänne Rotary Club, District 1390, Finland

Courtenay - Finland

Courtenay’s Bio

Hi everybody! My name is Courtenay Johnson!

I was born in Jacksonville, Florida. I am fifteen years old and I am the fifth of sixth children in my family. My second oldest brother, Adrian, is one my best friends. We do everything together from going to Orlando to simply going out to dinner. The youngest in my family is Jamison. He is eighteen months younger than I am. My grandparents unfortunately died before I was born, but I have two uncles on my mother’s side that I have never met.

My father is a dentist in Flagler Beach and my mother is a house wife. I love them both very much. My parents are very supportive of my decisions, but they always put in their own insight on the situation. What kind of parents would they be if they didn’t?

My school life is most excellent. I make good grades and I have a lot of friends that I cherish and love. I have always been very determined to be the best and to get the results I want and need. In fact, in May, 2007 I weighed over 300 pounds. With hard work and a boat-load of support from my friends and family I lost 110 pounds in a little over a year. My parents say I’m hardly recognizable.

I have recently been chosen to study abroad for one year in Finland and I’m soooo excited! I chose to be an exchange student because I want to experience a new culture, learn a new language and learn the ways of the people I do not know.

I cant wait to meet everyone in Finland and build new friendships!!!

 

Dominic Hoak
2009-10 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine HS
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Quito Sur Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Dominic - Ecuador

Dominic’s Bio

Salutations! My name is Dominic Hoak and I am a member of the graduating class of 2009!!! After graduation I have decided to take a route a little different than all of my friends; instead of going straight to a University, I am going to be spending a year in Ecuador as an exchange student. I AM SO EXCITED!!!!

Now where should I start to tell you more about me… hmmmm?

I’ll start with my familia (that’s Spanish for family; see I’m “basically” fluent). I live with my father. Our house is about a five minute bike ride from the heart of St. Augustine. St. Augustine is a beautiful little town, which seems to always have more tourists than residents. Furthermore, the beach is only three miles away anywhere you are. I’ve grown up here my whole life. My mom lives in Palm Coast about thirty minutes away. I don’t spend a lot of time there, but my mom always comes and visits me and we spend time together. My sister (Natalie) is two years older than me and a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, which is about two hours away (it depends on how fast you drive). Despite our differences I love her. I only spend holidays with her really, but we stay in contact online (the spacebook as my mom likes to call it [for those that don’t know, “spacebook” is an abbreviation for the social networking websites of myspace and facebook]). I love my family so much. They are so wacky.

So, some more about me. In my spare time I stay pretty busy. I’m involved in the Interact Club, Mu Alpha Theta, and Beta. I’m also in St. Johns County Center for the Arts (SJCCA) in drama. I’ve done plays since I was a kid and have been a part of SJCCA since I was a freshman. I’m also on the tennis team and swim team. I’m also in 4-H, which I LOVE! When I was 8 years old I went to my first 4-H event and it got me hooked. I’m also a working man. I’ve worked in the restaurant business for the past three years for the same family. It is a wonderful experience. One thing that I think I am most proud of, is being a St. Johns County Beach Lifeguard. It was an intense training process but the skills I have learned could not be attained anywhere else.

Now when I am not running around doing any of the above mentioned, I am with my friends. My friends are how you would say in today’s lingo “off the chain”. I love them so much. There is no other way to say it.

Well, that is the brief summary of the adventures of Dominic Davis Hoak. But before I go, I would like to say THANK YOU SO MUCH! I can not wait until August. I am so excited to start my life in Ecuador. As I’m typing this it is hard to hold in a scream of joy because I really can’t wait. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Until we meet again,

Dominic.

Dominic’s Journals

August 14 Pre-departure Journal

I really need to stop telling people that I am going to Ecuador next year, because I’m not; I’m going in 7 days! 7 days! Wow.

Rewind 10 months, and I am sitting in a room with both my parents watching a power point put on by the-one-and-only Daphne Cameron telling me everything I need to know to become an exchange student. Soon after that I started my Rotary Youth Exchange Application. And after all the nervousness, all the signatures needed, and all of the calls to Louise Anderson asking any minute detailed question you could possibly think of about my paperwork, I turned it in. This is when the waiting started. Soon after that I heard of my interview time and place. I went to my interview and continued doing what I became accustomed to, waiting. Waiting… Waiting. Then one day it happened. The last bell of school rang, I looked at my phone and saw a text from my dad saying “a Rotary envelope is at the house addressed to you”. I have to admit, I yelled something to my friend, who just looked at me bewildered, jumped in my car and went a little over the speed limit to my house to rip open an envelope and to have my eyes fall onto one word, “CONGRATULATIONS” and I haven’t looked back since.

One week after my letter, I learned I was going to Ecuador. A week after that I began checking the RYE Florida Website every hour to see if any more outbounds bios had been put on. A month after that it was time. Ryan Cullum, Louise Anderson, and I packed in her car for two hours to go on the way to Eustis, Florida for my first Rotary Orientation to meet all of the people I had read about (and wondered whether to add on Facebook or not.) The weekend was amazing. It might have been the first time I realized I was about to go somewhere completely foreign to me and do something not all could do. But the weekend came to a close and after the goodbyes, and realizations we wouldn’t see some people for five months we did what we begrudgingly did everyday. Wait. But time is what really helped D 6970 become so close.

The kids from my district are just awesome. There is no other way to say it. I have made some amazing friends through Rotary. I am very glad to have spent the past 8 months with these people. It has actually been really tough saying goodbye. Right now, it is an overwhelming experience I am going through. Conor, Maddie, and Zach have all left me. But I can take comfort in the fact Sarah, Simone, and Marea are all after me. Not to mention Nikki, “oh, I remember when I was at 22 days.” But Rotary has introduced me to all of these wonderful people that I know will have a wonderful year.

Not only are the people in RYE Florida great. But the preparation program for all of us students is amazing. Since I first got accepted I began learning more and more about the beautiful, amazing country Ecuador is (and if you too would like to know, I have written a wonderful 12 page paper which I will be glad to share with you). I’ve been through Cultural Boot Camp where I not only was able to learn so much about culture throughout the world, but also learned why to always respond to deadlines the first time they are given (case in point, one 5 minute speech about Rotary’s Polio Plus Campaign.) These might be a couple jokes but in all seriousness, Rotary has prepared us as much as they possibly can. Al Kalter, Daphne, and Jody are all amazing people, along with every other Rotarian involved in Rotary Youth Exchange. The work all Rotarians do for us is amazing.

But thanks to Rotary, my family, and friends, I have almost done it. My pre-departure checklist is almost complete.

Visa : Check

Passport : Check

Blazer : Check

Camera to document life : Check Possibly the most valuable of my tools…

A Rotary Smile : Check

And 2 suitcases filled with my life : well, I still have 7 days …

August 25 Journal

OK, just so everyone knows, I wrote a long journal filled with details explaining every little thing about my trip so far, and then my 1 year old cousin came up the stairs while I was talking with my aunt and deleted the whole thing. I was very sad but it was alright in the end. So here I go for a second time and hope I don’t leave anything out.

On Friday the 21st I woke up and headed to the airport with my parents, my sister and my two best friends. Once we arrived I began to check in. Afterwards my family and I went to sit in some chairs because I had some time to kill. I was filled with so many emotions it is impossible to describe my last minutes with my family. But soon I started to make my way through security with all of them watching me take off my shoes and get my bag searched. But then I was off. I went to my gate and about 15 minutes later Josh joined me and we waited to board our first flight to Miami. We made it there safe and sound, except for the fact we were sitting in the aisle with the propeller and I was not looking out the window most of the time in fear of it flying into the aircraft.

But once we landed and made our way around the Miami airport we ran into the first of about 15 exchange students we would meet. We all sat and talked for the whole layover. It was awesome getting to meet some friends right before we made our trip. We sat at Josh’s gate for the majority of the time and then once their flight was told they would be delayed, all of us students traveling for Quito made our way to our gate. We sat at the gate for 10 minutes, and then it was time. We started to make our way onto the plane. We then negotiated with a couple Germans and a flight attendant and managed to have some of us sit next to each other. The flight was uneventful (so was the food) but after four hours in the air we made it. Quito is gorgeous at night. Flying into the city was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. Soon after, my new friends and I made our way off the plane together and stood in the customs line. It went very fast, including the wait, maybe 10 minutes. Right after we got our bags as a group and as soon as we had everything we made it around the corner to the machine we placed our bags in. A couple of us had to go to a far one and as we walked over there were two doors that opened and a giant mob of people holding signs looking in the doors. I have to admit, and that point I looked at the two other exchange students with me, and we all freaked out a little. But it was alright, as soon as I made it out the doors I couldn’t find my family at first but then I saw their sign with my name spelled wrong and I knew I was at home. I gave my host mom a big hug and then my adventure started.

The first two nights I stayed with my counselor and his family (Esteban and Lily). They are so nice and they spoke good English which helped me learn my way around. During my time with them they showed me all around their city of Cumbaya and even took me to Quito to do some sight-seeing. They are two of the nicest people in the world and I am really glad to have them as my counselors. Well, it was soon time to move in with Teresea. I have to admit I was scared at first. She speaks no English, and my Spanish is far from fluent, but once I made it in the house and put my bags in my room, I felt at home. Teresa and I went on the roof of the house and I did a little looking. Our house is surrounded by mountains. It is amazing. After a few minutes of butchered communications, I showed her some pictures of my house, family, and friends (even some halfway across the world). As she was showing me some pictures of her family, I encountered exchange student hell. My host nephew (who calls me Tio now), came running in the room showing me cards and telling me the words in Spanish wanting me to repeat, a strange man entered the room for a minute and left, Teresa walked out and told me to follow, as we stood in the hallway I was looking at 3 women I had never seen before, a man climbing up the stairs, and 2 nuns staring at me blankly. I had no clue what to say or do except use the one phrase I told myself never to forget: Nice to meet you. As we made our way downstairs there were at least 8 others all talking to each other. Yet again I used my phrase of the day and it went very well. As I walked in the kitchen there were 3 women all bustling about preparing dinner for the small army in the house. About 20 minutes later we all sat down (in three different rooms), and began to eat. It was wonderful eating surrounded by family and that is one thing I like about many of the meals here. After dinner we all moved to the living room and talked for about 30 minutes … well, I listened.

The next day Teresa and I went to Quito (about 15 minutes away by car) and got my pictures for school. I ran into one of my comrades from the airport there and as our host moms talked the next thing we knew they were exchanging numbers and we both just stood there and smiled because we had no clue what was going on. Soon, we left the city and went to one of my aunts’ houses for lunch. We had another awesome meal and afterwards I spent time with two of my cousins and they taught me some Spanish out of a workbook and we went for a walk. The air here is so fresh (despite the overwhelming smell of exhaust). Afterwards we went back to my aunt’s house and we enjoyed conversations which I was able to participate in. My family now realizes that I can speak Spanish decently, just when whoever I am talking to is talking slowly. Even though we can understand each other in Spanish sometimes, we had an epic laugh over a miscommunication about alligators and how my aunt thought I could speak Italian. And most recently, I have gone to school to get my uniform. I actually really like it, because as I stand one foot above most people with my blonde hair, it is one thing to not make me stick out.

Information I have learned since arriving in Ecuador:

1 – Ecuador is the best, has always been the best, and will always be the best at everything.

2 – Crossing the street is fun.

3 – Driving in Ecuador is more intense than NASCAR. No one stays in their lanes and honking your horn at anything and everything is almost encouraged.

4 – Animals are not royalty, they are treated like animals.

5 – Dogs live in the street.

6 – Women do most of the housework. I ask to help and I am told to sit down.

Well, my nephew is trying to talk to me right now so I have to go figure out what he is saying.

¡Hasta Luego!

September 12 Journal

Well, I have been living this wonderful new life for 3 weeks now. It is everything I had imagined, and not foreseen. It is exactly what I wanted and dreaded at the same time. It is my own personal oasis at times, only to be followed by that one nightmare where I am giving a speech in my underwear. But one thing is certain, I love this city, this world, this new life that I am living in.

There are too many stories, too many memories, too many experiences to put into words. I feel like I have been here for so much longer than 3 weeks, and at the same time I feel like I just walked out of my front door in St. Augustine into this strange land. My city is beautiful. 10 minutes away from my house is this little thing called the Equator (you might have heard of it), I have traveled there with my cousins and of course taken a picture of being in the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time. I have also traveled to see some of the lakes and mountains in Ecuador. By the way, there is snow on top of some of the mountains here! WHAT! Snow, I know, right. But, I have gotten used to seeing it now (almost).

I have also gone to the language camp put on by the Rotary clubs of Ecuador. During the 5 days at this camp my Spanish improved even more, I made 26 amazing friends that are living in the Quito area, and I learned that no matter how much my friends and I practiced saying ingredients in Spanish, Pizza Hut will put whatever they want on your pizza. Also, I have gone and visited for the first time the Rotary Club Quito Sur (my host club). It is quite different from my Rotary Club back home (shout out to the Rotary Club of St. Augustine). For starters, at the meeting there were only 7 Rotarians. The Rotarians also smoked inside. I can’t even remember the last time I was indoors and people smoked, that was very very strange for me. But one thing that I could relate about both clubs was that the food was sooooo good. I don’t know what I ate, but I would be fine with eating it again. But that goes for all of the food that I have had in Ecuador so far. I hope everyone has a host aunt that can cook like my Tía Oneyda. All of the food I have eaten so far has been amazing (except for one incident with an empanada from a street vendor that my stomach didn’t necessarily agree with, and let me tell you, boy did it not agree). I really have to say that the food here is wonderful. The bread store at the end of my street makes some of the best bread in Quito, I swear.

However, despite all of the good news I now must tell you that my honeymoon is over. How do I know, you ask? Well it happens every year around this time in the United States as well… the beginning of a new school year. I walked into school the first day completely lost in my track suit uniform. My host mom was with me though so it was all okay. We sat on a bench for a little while and then one of the two people I knew showed up. The first was Juan Fernando who is in the same grade as me but in a different course. And then my friend Hilary from Rotary Language Camp showed up. The three of us made our way down to the little basketball/fútbol court and we all got into our course lines and listened to the Inspector (Principal) talk for a little while. Then we sang the National Anthem of Ecuador (Hilary and I mouthed the words) and then it was time to begin school. Luckily one of my professors is one of my host mom’s best friends, so that works out very nicely for me (especially since she was my first professor). And due to Juan Fernando I have plenty of friends in the school.

I am in the Sixth Course Social Science, and my classes are rather interesting (when I understand what the professor is actually saying). My classes consist of History, English, Philosophy, Geography, Literature, the equivalent of P.E. (but we call it CuFi), Economics, Computers class, French, Math, one class about social something, one class about Ecuador, and then one class about the world and nature. The way I classified school to one of my friends is the uniform of Gossip Girl (people give it whatever accessories they want, or don’t follow it at all), the attitude of The O.C. (parents pay a lot of money on school, and some of the kids don’t even bother to try), and the schedule of the Harry Potter books (the Professors teach every grade multiple times throughout the week including some double blocks, it takes some serious planning to make that schedule just right).

Everyone at my school is really nice. School was one of the first times I was able to see how Ecuadorian teenagers act not around their parents. People do not hesitate at all with their public displays of affection. I won’t go into extreme detail, but that is one difference that’ll some getting used to. Also, I feel that the girls are harassed a lot more here than in the United States, not a Chris Brown-Rihanna way; just accompanying the PDAs people are more physical here than in Florida. But as for actual school being concerned, I do like it. The campus is outside. So when I have to walk to my classes it is nice to get some fresh air. I have had two tests so far, one on the National Anthem of Ecuador, and one on the provinces and capitals of Ecuador. I did well on both of them, and scored higher than most of the other students on the provinces and capitals test. The only bad thing that has happened so far was that one kid tried to send me in the girls bathroom, luckily my friends stopped me in time and I haven’t had much more interaction with the other kid.

Peace and love to everyone back home, and all my friends around the world,

Dominic (or Dominique as they say here)

October 23 Journal

I am so sorry I have been a slacker on this. I think my contest with Jamie Lynn Patterson on who will have the most journals is done, especially since Max and Brandon are killing us both. But I have been here for two months now! How exciting. School has finally become a regular routine, I can get from Point A to Point B on a bus (well, there are only like 3 places I know how to get to, and I know how to get home from one of them, so I’m still working on that), and of course my Spanish is improving everyday.

Well my daily routine starts at 5:45 every morning. I shower, eat breakfast, and am waiting outside for the bus at 6:45. I get in the bus, climb to the third row and say hello to the four girls sitting behind me who greet me with a chorus of “Hola Domi.” I go to school, come home, eat lunch, start my homework (well, not always), partake in siesta (nap time), and then eat dinner only to sleep some more.

Also this past month I have experience Visa catastrophe 2009. Now I am now talking about my debit card, I am referring to the paper that allows me to stay in Ecuador for more than 90 days. During my flight I was sitting next to the window and I assume while I was filling out my immigration forms on the plane I set the folder containing all my Rotary paperwork, Visa paperwork, and anything else I received in order for exchange in between my seat and the window. Well luckily, my dad in the US tracked down all of these documents and I was able to turn them in the last day possible without having to pay $200. Basically, if you become an exchange student, don’t lost your Visa, and if you manage to do something like that tell your host family, counselor and everyone so you can find it before the day it is due.

Oh, and at school a couple weeks ago, I was asked to bring in 50 cents for the Principal’s birthday. I thought it was a little weird and all but I come to find out that it is a tradition. Well, one Wednesday we are sitting in French class when all of a sudden the school bell rings twice. People suddenly burst into action. Some people run out of the room with bags, others start fixing their hair, and one student (me) is sitting in his seat wondering what is going on. After I finally put it all together I went with what remained of my class to the gym/stadium. Since I am in sexto course (equivalent to a senior) I got to go down on the stadium floor to be with the principal. Well, a mariachi band randomly appeared and started playing a few songs. Everyone in my course starting dancing so I joined in. After the band left and everyone else had to go to their classes, the sexto course went to a private room that was all decorated and set up for the occasion. There was also a champagne toast between the principal and the students. I thought celebrating the principal’s birthday was weird, but I have gotten used to that now, even though the day after we celebrated a teacher’s birthday.

But more recently this past week I went to the coast of Ecuador in the city of Manabí with all of the exchange students in the country. The 50 something exchange students from the Quito area gathered around 0700 to begin our adventure. We soon left for the beach and after our 9 hour bus ride managed to get to our hotel around 1700. After we checked in the hotel (being the last group of exchange students to arrive) we jumped in the pool, greeted everyone, and started making friendships that now seem so much older than 5 days. It was basically a weekend of getting to know everyone, sightseeing a couple of the coast towns, participating in a parade (I held the American flag for most of the parade route), and of course frolicking on the beach. This was my second time at the beach here and I took full advantage of it; being able to run with the sand beneath my feet, diving into the waves, and playing in a little tournament of beach futbol made me feel at home. Also Ecuador Rotary put together a little banquet for us at the end of the trip where each country had a boy and girl representative. I was the guy from the USA, and next thing I knew I was participating in a dance contest (if you know me this is my type of thing). Well, I made it to the final round only to be beat by my friend Uli from Germany. We soon ate dinner (at 2330, blaaaahhhh), and afterwards had two full hours of dancing. I was rather satisfied when I learned that the DJ had Cotton Eye Joe because no matter how much I might have complained about that song in the states I was thrilled and proud to be able to dance to it (despite the fact I was a fountain of sweat at the end of it). The next day was the bus ride home where my conversations ranged with many people about their views of Americans, world politics, and what we plan to do with our lives.

But now it is back to everyday life. No more running around at the beach, instead when I walk up the stairs I am out of breath. I have been home about three days and haven’t been to school because I am sick and sound like a 90 year old smoker. I haven’t been able to talk since last Friday so none of the other exchange students know what my real voice sounds like which is kinda strange. Not to mention my skin is peeling like crazy because naturally I didn’t put sun screen on for 3 hours in direct sunlight on the equator, I’m stupid. But now I am going to go make myself another glass of tea and get better.

February 12 Journal

Por fin! So I am still down here in Ecuador even if I have been away from the Journal scene a little bit. But what can I say? I have been a little busy. I have changed host families. I have changed schools. I have been to bull fights. I have even been in the arena with a bull (scariest moment of my life). I have celebrated a tiny Thanksgiving in different customs. I have gone through the holiday season, and handled it pretty well all things considered. I have even turned a year older. There are so many stories that are mine, and mine alone. And no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to do them justice (also, I don’t want you to be reading for 4 hours, neither do you, I think). But this country, the cities I have been too, the people I have met, are overwhelming.

So where to try to begin… I spent the holidays with my first host family. We went to my Aunt’s house and had a huge dinner there and later we stayed up until midnight to open presents. The next day (25th of December) was just a day to relax, which was also the day that I tried mountain biking. If you were wondering, it was also the last day I tried mountain biking. The 26th we made our way to the beach, which we stayed there till the 3rd of January. Now I must say that that emotion curve knows what it is talking about. January 1st 0030 (AM), by far the worst part of my exchange. We spent the next couple days at the beach and returned home.

In between January 5th and 16th I did not go to school because I was about to change host families and since I was moving an hour and some odd minutes away, I was able to change schools as well. So far it has been great. I have already made a lot more friends and have even been a little busier after school. Oh yeah, my new school has 8 people in the entire graduating class. Umm, what else can I put in here???

Spanish is still coming along. I think my language skills are the same as a lot of other peoples, not where we want it. But there is nothing we can do about that, except study more, which brings me to the point that EVERY Rotary Youth Exchange Future Outbound has heard, will hear, and will repeat one day… Study your target language now. Not a week before you leave. Not with flashcards on the airplane (guilty of that). And most importantly, not HOPING that one day you will wake up 5 months into your exchange year and understand everything. Because you won’t. Oh, congratulations ’10-’11 Outbounds, to you all as well. I forgot that part earlier on.

I hope you are following around, because I am just skipping all over the place.

Carnaval is starting this weekend. Well, it is safe to say that everyone is already in the mood of spraying people with silly string, and throwing water balloons at each other. The water balloons is only a Quito thing, I think. In the south they throw eggs, water, flour, dirt, and anything else that flies onto people and gets them messy. But like I said, everyone is already ready. Just in fact yesterday as I was walking down the street with a couple friends, a school bus drove by and we were attacked by green silly string and water. It was funny for the most part, except the bus stopped and I had lost my full water bottle, which if I had would have been all over them in retaliation. But alas, you can’t win every battle. Oh, to celebrate the festivities of Carnaval my host family and I are going to the beach with one of my exchange friends Nikita.

Alright, well that is all I can think of without making this too long. Except a huge thank you to Rotary. We all say it. And we all mean it. Thank you thank you thank you. There is no other way to say it. Thank you, especially to the program back in Florida; Ms. Daphne, Al, Jody, and everyone else behind the scenes. Also to you, Louise, of course!

Next journal will be better with more details and pictures. And sooner.

Paz y amor!

 

Elizabeth Earnhart
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Mitraparb Khon Kaen Rotary Club, District 3340, Thailand

Elizabeth - Thailand

Elizabeth’s Bio

Sawat dii kha. Hello. My name is Elizabeth Earnhart and I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I am 18 years old and I am about to embark on the most fantastic opportunity of my life. I am ecstatic and oh so grateful at having been selected to be a Rotary exchange student this year. My destination? Thailand. The fact of the matter is that it’s all very surreal to me.

I am the oldest child in my family, my younger brother is 15, and I have always had what my mom calls, “wanderlust.” Throughout the years I would jump at any opportunity to travel across the US, but I especially liked traveling abroad. I think that my parents had to realize early-on that I was an explorer and would not be sticking around long after high school. But don’t get me wrong. I love my friends, my home, and my family.

I want to be part of the Rotary youth exchange because I want to break down cultural barriers, not only for myself, but for others as well. I want to give Thais a taste of real America, not the Hollywood version, and I want to tell Americans what Thailand is really like without any preconceptions getting in the way of the truth. This experience is going to be a challenging one. But the reward is going to be so much greater.

I am the kind of person who takes joy from being a friend to others. I love to encourage people, and to help them when they are in need. I tend to over-plan, yes, but I do not regret any minute of my usually hectic schedule. I love music, but I also love the outdoors, as well as camping, hiking, biking and SCUBA diving. Nature is endless, and you can always find something new. Sewing is another one of my favorite past-times. I make some of my own clothing, and it’s a very rewarding feeling wearing something that you’ve made. My faith is also something that is very important to me. I love to sing, read, and act every now and then. I even wrote my own monologue for the talent portion in the Miss Bartram Pageant last year.

And so, there you have it. I thank Rotary for this opportunity, and my family for their support. I cannot wait to embark on this adventure, to go to Thailand and learn a whole new way of life compared to how I now live. I am looking forward to meeting my future host families and friends. I cannot express the excitement that is growing inside of me. Thank you. Khap khun kha.

Elizabeth’s Journals

August 7 Journal

I arrived in my city, Khon Kaen about a week ago and Thailand is SOOOOO beautiful! I can’t stop smiling and everyone is so friendly and they all go out of their way to help even though most of them don’t speak English. The only two people I have met who speak English well enough to communicate effectively with are MaaMeow (another exchange student from South Africa) and PuuRee (a Thai boy who just got back from exchange to Canada). MaaMeow has been here already for 6 months so she is helping to teach me Thai. My oldest host brother is already at university in India, so I am using his room while he is gone. My 16 year old brother, Top, speaks some English but he is leaving for exchange to Canada on the 9th of August. My 14 year old brother, Tee, is just like Matthew in the sense that he plays W.O.W. all day, haha.

When I got to Bangkok, my mom, MayPen, Top, PuuRee, MaaMeow, and two other ladies from my Rotary Club, MayJeet (PuuRee’s mom) and MayOor had big posters with my picture on them and greeted me like I was their long lost daughter. It was so nice and the banners said “Welcome Home”. I learned that my Rotary Club is an all woman club and that is so cool and absolutely unheard of in the U.S. So we stayed the night in Bangkok and then went to JJ Market the next morning and then drove 7 hours to get to Khon Kaen.

Everything is extremely cheap, especially food. I have not purchased anything yet thought because as a part of their “family” I am paid for at meals. There are elephant pictures on literally EVERYTHING here, buildings, purses, walls, etc. And I got to pet and feed a baby elephant today! It was so cute and they are just led around Khon Kaen and you pay to feed it bamboo. It was such a cool experience, maybe next time I can ride a grown-up one!

Oh, and I thought that I was going to be really uncomfortable getting used to Thai toilets, but they are really cool actually. In my house there is a western style toilet and shower, so that is cool. But in public bathrooms the “toilet” is a squat-potty, so it is porcelain and you do your business, throw the paper in a waste basket next to the toilet (if there is paper) and then to “flush” you take a bucket that is in a barrel of water in the stall and you pour one or two bucket-fulls in until gravity does its job. It’s really neat actually.

But the whole experience overall has been more than awesome. I have tried SOOOO many different types of food already, it’s so diverse and a complete 180 from anything you would see in the States. My city is so full of life at night though. It’s almost ridiculous how late things stay open, like malls and night markets and salons open at this hour! Some of them do not even open their doors for business until it gets dark.

I am not going to school until a week from tomorrow because I have to get the uniform and also go back to Bangkok one or two more times this week to pick-up more inbounds and also to take some Thais who are leaving on exchange.

It is so awesome here, so real and unique and just overall amazing; full of life and color and new sights, smells and tastes. The weather is very similar to Florida, less humid during some parts of the day and more humid during others. It is the rainy season here now just like in Florida also. I feel like I am writing SOOO much, and yet there is so much that has already happened. Oh, I also was given a new name as soon as I was greeted at the airport. My Thai nick-name is Aarie (pronounced like the long “a” in apple, a rolling “r” and the “e” sound from the word bee). It is difficult to learn all of the politeness of the culture but I am working on it.

Sawat dii Kha.

-Aarie

September 7 Journal

So, I have been here for over a month and wow, what all am I supposed to say? I will start with school. I am at a demonstration school (high school) that is on the campus of Khon Kaen University and I am in the 11th grade. There are six classes (groups of students) in each grade level and there are a little under 40 people in my class but it doesn’t feel that large because not all of us are ever in the same room at the same time. I have 28 different subjects every week and school is from 8AM – 4PM Monday through Friday. I use my time during school to practice my Thai and I am also starting to learn how to read and write the language.

There are 44 consonant symbols in the Thai language and another 32 vowels, so memorizing those and how to write them is going slow, but it is also a lot of fun to have my class-mates walk up to me and help me pronounce them and ask me if I remember them etc. Finding a close group of friends is going slow as well, but it’s not a problem because I understand that right now there is still quite a large language barrier and also everyone is more than happy to be friendly to you and show you where to go and take you to class etc.

My Thai is still improving and I am still having daily Thai lessons with my mom at home. I am so thankful for this too because I can understand a lot more than I can speak and even the amount that I can speak seems to impress a lot of people. I really love my host mom and my host family, they are more than I could have asked for, really.

Two weeks ago in school there was a sports week and a parade. My class dressed me up in the traditional Thai dance costume and put me at the front of the parade! At first I was a little scared because I didn’t know where to go but then the marching band walked in front so everything was okay. Also for sports week they had football (soccer) games and basketball games and volleyball and swimming. I swam for my team and ended up receiving a gold medal in the medley and a silver medal in the freestyle race. It was so much fun.

I think also that half of the fun of things here so far is figuring them out. Confusion sometimes turns into frustration but most of the time it is like a puzzle, and if you can’t work it out at first, ask, try again, or just smile and laugh with the people you are with because you are enjoying just being in their company and appreciative of the fact that they are trying to help you to learn their language and their culture.

In the past month, my host brother Top has left to go to Canada on his exchange. And exchanges from Brazil (Anun), Canada (Dao), and Germany (Chai Lai) have come to Khon Kaen. It is quite a sight to see all of us walking down the street together or even when we see each other every now and then at school because people are always staring at us. There is so much more to say that I really can’t think of it all.

Our families took all of the exchange students to an ancient temple near the city of Korat a few weeks ago and it was so awesome and so large. I really love life here, it is so different from the states, the food as well and the culture, I just can’t soak it all in fast enough. Some food is pretty out-there though, I think the two things that have topped the list so far are coagulated chicken blood (served as cubes in soups) and chicken feet. But I am still going to try everything that is put in front of me because otherwise, I will be missing a part of something that I am supposed to be experiencing.

There is a night market in my city that is completely amazing as well. During the day the street is a normal one, used my traffic and located down town. But as soon as the sun starts to go down, vendors from everywhere emerge from who knows where and set up shop. The whole street is blocked off and endless food stalls and clothes shops and music stores etc are set up. One of my favorite things here is the fruit and also the coffee, it is really like nothing I have ever tasted in the states. Also at the night market it isn’t uncommon to see fried bugs for sale. My mom told me that she will take me to try them soon! Grasshoppers I heard were pretty good. =D I am really very excited.

Every time I experience something new and taste something new and see something new, I cannot wait to get more. I can only hope that new things will continue to be revealed, but I know that they will. I wish that I could recount more to write but there is too much to sort through. So until next time, chok dee, sawat dee kha.

Oh – I’ve posted some pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/41998919@N08.

October 11 Journal

There has been so much interesting stuff that has happened over the course of the break from school so far and there is still three weeks left! I have found some really good Thai bands that I like and that has put things in a new perspective, at least with the pop culture. Because most of the videos that you see on TV are the sappy love songs and they make you feel so sad when you watch them or even listen to them, but I found some good rock bands like “Big Ass” “Bodyslam” and “Clash” and a good rap artist “Titanium” as well as the ever-popular “Tatto Colour” “Potato” and “Clash” among others. “Tatto Colour” is from my city originally and went to a high school not even five minutes away from my house, they reminded me of “Yellow Card” in Jacksonville because they all went to Stanton High School, downtown too. Also, music is a really good way to learn the language as well and since karaoke is really popular here as well, that will help me learn the pronunciation.

One of the first things that we did after school got out was to go and see a Beijing Acrobatics show and that was really fun. Our leash has gotten a little bit longer because we have been here and their trust in us is growing, so that is exciting. Usually we can just ask to go out during the day and get on a song-tow (a taxi-truck thing) and go pretty much where-ever in our city as long as we are back by dinner time.

Another thing that we got to do which was really awesome was a photo tour of famous places right outside of Khon Kaen. We went to see the Snake Village where people fought with King Cobras and put their heads in their mouths… ugghh (I actually felt bad for the snakes because you could tell they weren’t interested in being a part of the show). But all of the other places were really pretty, like we went to a dam and also to the top of a mountain and to see a very large statue of Buddha on a different mountain. It was so fun and I really enjoyed stretching my legs and hiking and the nature and the views too.

And as far as Rotary functions go, we are always front and center. We attended a “Car Free Day” in Khon Kaen where hundreds of people rode their bikes through the streets just to promote not using as many cars because of the pollution and the smog that it creates. We started at 7am and ended around 10am but it was fun while it lasted! I had been missing going to the gym and getting exercise on a regular basis and then about two weeks ago I found a gym right near my house. My mom and I joined together and it only costs 2,000 baht a year for membership! That’s about $60 which is sooo awesome! But now I go to the gym when I have free time so hopefully I can start to get back into shape. =D

My brother who goes to college in India came home for a couple of weeks and that was so awesome to get to know him and hang out with him for the short time that he was here. We clicked from the start and I really feel that he is the big brother that I have never had. He was always looking out for me and it was so awesome because it made me feel even MORE a part of the family (which I didn’t know was possible because I am already soo close with my family and I wish I didn’t have to change).

The exchange students from my club are in the middle of doing a fundraiser right now to raise money to donate to a temple. The money will go to buy lunch for a school of boy monks at the temple for a week. This school is where the poorer families send their sons to get an education because it is free. We have been going to different locations around the city and singing songs and giving out bracelets that we made while asking for donations, I don’t know how much we have yet but the box it getting pretty heavy. =D And when we were doing this at the lake a few of the days they had this huge festival going on. There was a fair and a huge stage where there were performances and everything. It was to celebrate the end of a Buddhist fast that started in the summer. We got to send off a paper lantern into the sky at night with the full moon and it was so exciting.

While all of this was going on as well, I found out that I got accepted to the University of Central Florida for the fall semester next year and it was a complete relief and weight off my shoulders. I am stoked about that and when I told my mom she was so excited for me, she even got me a present in congratulations and gave me a big hug (hugs are pretty rare here by the way, so that was really cool). I really feel like I am her daughter, its such a neat feeling to experience that and know that you have two moms.

As for what I have eaten that is different this month… I would have to say that it was Shark Ear Soup… I really think that it was shark gills or shark fins or something, but they said that it was shark ear. It was a Chinese dish, and believe you me, if you think you know what Chinese food is, you have no idea! “Real” Chinese food is filled with things that A) you have no clue what they are and B) you don’t really want to know what they are. I think out of 10 different dishes that we tried that night, one of them would be considered edible by the average American, haha.

I also found another market right near my house and this one is a real Thai market. You walk through one section that is just fruit and the next thing you know you are standing next to the severed head of a pig (“Lord of the Flies” style) or you end up next to bins of live eels/frogs/fish/bugs/you-name-it ready to be bought and cooked up for dinner. It is really an interesting experience; every time I go, I see something new. Finding new markets is always exciting too because exploring the markets is really one of the most fun things to do when you want to go on an adventure! It’s one thing that I wish we had in the States because you go to one place and you can get anything you want and it’s not preserved or pre-packaged and it doesn’t come from a factory either.

One of my favorite foods that I have found here is called Sardra-pow. It looks like a cloud and it is a tasteless white fluffy steamed bun-type thing that has stuff inside of it. It can be filled with minced pork or a sweet custard or taro (which is also like a sweet bean-paste, sounds gross but it isn’t haha) or my favorite which is pork and bamboo with a sweet-spicy sauce. It is a great snack but it is really hard to find street vendors of them but I don’t know why, because everyone likes Sardra-pow.

I think that my favorite thing to do at home is to cook. My mom and my house-keeper have both been teaching me how to cook Thai food and usually I help them make lunch and sometimes dinner as well. It is really exciting when I get to make a dish by myself or with little supervision and it is so much fun to cook with them and joke around in the kitchen! I will have to start writing down recipes soon because there are so many different things that we cook. And my mom’s cooking is really better than most of the restaurants that we go to, so, maybe some of her skill will rub off on me. =D

Sorry this journal was so long, I just feel like there is so much to say to tell everyone. And even after I say it I feel like it isn’t enough description because while things are so much different here, they are so real and I just wish that everyone can experience at least a little bit of it through what they read. Thank you Rotary again, I cannot say thank you enough for this opportunity! PS: My conversations in Thai are still improving pretty well and I am almost to the point where I can read all of the symbols!

November 22 Journal

I knew that there was a reason for me putting off writing the journal for this month. At first I just thought it was so many things going on, my birthday, and just plain laziness, but now I realize that there was a completely different reason for it. It gave me the time to have a realization that there is more than can be seen, it’s under the surface and the exchange students in my city have just discovered it. I would love for this journal to serve the purpose of sharing all the amazing experiences that I have had in the past month. However, this journal needs to serve a much larger purpose.

In the past month, I have had my eyes opened. I look around me now and see a completely different Thailand than the one I entered almost four months ago. I don’t think that I expected this, and if I did I never expected it to come this early in my exchange. It is almost as if I turned 19 and everything changed overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I really love it here. But, as my friend put it to me; I entered Thailand as an enfant, with big eyes full of wonder. Like I had seen a silver spoon for the first time and was riveted when I saw what a spoon was, shiny and bright and exciting. But as I spent time here I grew up, usually it takes longer, but I grew up in four months and when I grew up I could see that the spoon was not as I originally thought. It was instead, tarnished and bent out of shape. I lost my innocence as that enfant, but as it turns out this is a very good thing especially because it happened so fast. I would rather be shocked by the truth now than be fooled and have the truth hurt more later. Ok, to get to the point, I apologize for the vague metaphors.

Lately my Rotary club has gone crazy with the amount of projects that we are doing. We have been to at least ten different functions outside of regular meetings this month so far. And while this sounds well and good, it leaves me with a feeling of frustration and disgust. The reason for this is because these functions are all for show. I didn’t realize until now how different my Rotary club at home is from my Rotary club here. At home when my club decided to do something, they would do it in the name of Rotary but for the good of the community around them. To help others. Here, when my Rotary club decides to do something, they do it in the name of Rotary, but they do it for themselves. To give the impression that they are helping others. The best way to explain this would be to compare two experiences that have left an impression on me here. The first would be when the other exchange students and I went to a village outside of our city to help improve their school during the school break. We went with a group called “Rotaract”. These are college age students who are aspiring Rotarians. We stayed in the village for four days and at night we slept in the school rooms. We cooked our own food and painted, played with the children, cleaned the campus, put up new posters, built bookshelves and an assortment of other things. We rode to the village on an open-air transport, woke up at six AM, went to sleep past one or two in the morning and had open-air showers. In essence it was a REAL experience. It was fun and at the end we knew we had left an impression. We had bonded with the kids, taught them “Duck, Duck, Goose“, learned their games and just had fun with them. It is something that I want to go back to, the children were more than adorable and so curious and fun-loving. I can’t even really put it into words, but that is something that I was proud to do with the name of Rotary attached to it.

However, just the other day our Rotary club told us that we were going to donate books to libraries at rural schools. At first it sounded like it might be a similar experience to the one we had before. We woke up early and went to the first location. When we got there we gave the school a few sports balls for the children, which isn’t a bad thing. But that is really the only beneficial thing we did there. We sat in a meeting for a couple for hours while the kids were nowhere to be seen, except peeking in through a window every now and then. At the meeting, our moms all stood up and introduced themselves and their businesses. Then they had us introduce ourselves. By this time we knew already that the reason we (the exchange students) had come was so that our moms could show us, the foreign kids, off. After introductions and a lot of talk about how Rotary wants to help in this way or that comes the pictures. This is part of what aggravates me because we then walked through their library and proceeded to leave. The exchange students were able to buy a little bit of time and we taught the kids how to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” but as soon as Rotary had taken enough pictures of this as well, they told us that we had to leave. It left me feeling empty and confused; why would we go to a school to “give the children books” for their benefit, and then not? We came, talked, took pictures and left, giving them only a few sports balls. That does not leave an impression (or improve a library). And yet when we were back in the car, we overheard Rotary talking about how we should make the pictures into postcards so that everyone would be able to see how much good we did for the school. We went to two other schools that day and did the exact same thing.

The point is that Rotary here will go somewhere and make promises of helping there and take a ton of pictures. But when they return home, they rarely do anything about the promises they made and yet they print the pictures in order to show others the good that they are doing for the community. There is another reason why this is so unsettling to me though. It goes against culture here. I would say that generally in the U.S. the average stranger would not stop what they are doing to help someone or go out of their way to be concerned about a complete stranger. But here, everyone is not only always smiling, but they help people they don’t know on the street to carry a package or they seem that something might be wrong and they ask if they can help etc, etc, etc. There are countless things that I see every-day that you would rarely see in the states, that go along these lines. The irony comes in where the Rotary clubs at home go to help others and here they just go through the motions to get their names out there for social recognition.

Please do not get me wrong though, this is not me complaining about my situation or asking for something different. I am fully enjoying my experiences here and I really love Thailand, all of the people and culture that surrounds me. This is just an observation, an epiphany that I have had that I felt should be shared for the sake of dispelling ignorance. On a brighter note however, I have been having such a great time at school since it has opened again. Before, to be completely honest, I hated school. It was boring and I couldn’t communicate with anyone and I felt like a burden. When school closed I could not say that I had made any friends. Acquaintances maybe, but no friends. Now however, my Thai has improved greatly and I can talk to my class. People ask me to come to class with them or to eat lunch with them now because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. I have had discussions about American vs. Thai culture and one of the girls wants me to have a sleepover with her soon. Another girl and I hung out the past weekend outside of school (first time that has happened!), we sang karaoke and it was so much fun! This sounds so insignificant, but to me the significance is more than I can put into words. I will never take friendships for granted EVER again, now that I know just how hard it is to obtain those friendships.

Another exciting thing is that the conversations with my mom have gotten more intense. Also, my dad and my house keeper join in the conversations. They are so cute really, my dad is so much fun to joke around with! We talk about American history, copyrights, famous people and books, culture, religion, family, college, everything. And I am getting more brave to talk to random people, the workers in my shop, people at school and my little brother (who doesn’t really talk much in general). The weather is getting cooler and while I am missing people at home things are still improving almost daily.

I would like to thank Rotary at home again, thank you for sending me to Thailand, thank you for this experience. Especially the chance to learn so many lessons and to grow so much; to find out who I really am amongst an environment that I am also discovering at the same time. For the chance to know what it is to really live as your own.

December 17 Journal

Wow, has it really been a month since my last journal? This has been the fastest passing month yet. It seems as if everything is catching up with everything else. In less than a month, one of my closest friends, MaaMeow, will be leaving to go back home to South Africa. Her exchange started in January of last year, so she will be leaving this coming January. And while I will miss her fiercely, I am happy for her that she gets to go back and be with her family. The other exchange students and I will also be changing host families soon, but we are not exactly sure when. It is such a strange feeling for it to be December and not see any signs of Christmas, like lights, trees, music, holiday food, or TV commercials. I mean, I don’t miss the same songs playing endlessly everywhere you go, or the food that makes you need a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight. But I do miss having the cold nights and chilly days, decorating the tree with family, shopping with friends and baking until you just can’t bake anymore. =D It is a fun kind of missing though, if that makes any sense. They are nostalgic and fond memories that make me smile and realize that I will appreciate it so much more next year.

But aside from that, everything is going really well here in Thailand. In the past few weeks there has been so much going on. There was a silk festival (the biggest annual festival in all of North East Thailand) about a block from my house! It lasted for 10 days and covered probably 4 city blocks that surrounded a big park, the streets to that area were closed and shops were set up, food vendors and two big stages for concerts to be held. I was able to go to two of the concerts on two different nights and they were so much fun. I saw SEK LOSO and CLASH, of which CLASH was more fun but there were so so many people there, it was hard to walk.

After the festival, all the exchange students plus my older brother and one of our mutual friends went to Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai together for 3 days. It is the second time that I have been to Chaing Mai, but this time we were there for longer and it was so much fun to get to see more! We went to see the Panda bears at the Chaing Mai zoo. They are on loan from China until the new baby is five years old, and they are SOOOO popular in Thailand. There is even a TV channel just for them and it is 24 hour footage of the baby and them eating bamboo and sleeping etc, lol. =D We were also able to go to the infamous Chaing Mai walking street. But we didn’t have near as much time as we needed or wanted to do all of the shopping there that we wanted to do. We also was a beautiful temple in Chaing Rai that is completely white, wow it was so amazing! The tour was supposed to go to the Golden Triangle as well but we were running late and we didn’t have time. It’s okay though because we got to visit a lot of other cool places, like the highest spot in Thailand (only 60 degrees F in December though)! But because we were 12 hours north of Khon Kaen the weather was a lot cooler and it felt soooo good! =D

My older brother is actually back from India for good. He didn’t enjoy school there so he is living at home and going to attend university here in the spring I think. It is cool to have him at home. Oh, and we have a new puppy at my house! =D It is 5 days old and I got to hold him the other day. Gosh he is SOOOOOOO cute and small. He can fit in the palm of my hand and his eyes aren‘t open yet and he can‘t hear yet either! But he makes such cute little noises and squirms around lol.

I feel like such a permanent part of my family now too. I am comfortable doing anything at my house and around my family, just like I have been living here as a real sibling or daughter for my whole life. Also, the language is going really well still. I am starting to read little words and I can write little things like my name etc. And I can understand so much. But at the same time I know that I need to learn so much more and I need to go so much further with trying to get better at the language and vocab and everything. I feel like I know a lot and it surprises me sometimes but I also know that I am behind, that I could have been so much better at this point than I am. It gives me the motivation to try harder, some days I don‘t want to try but it is necessary. It is frustrating though when people are SO surprised that you understand them and especially when they try to convince you that you don’t know what they are talking about or that you aren’t trying to say what you ARE trying to say. But I guess that I should just try to channel that into more motivation. I don’t want to feel comfortable with the level I am at, I want to be pushed beyond elementary.

I have though started to learn how to play the Kluei, which is a Thai instrument. It is similar to the recorder in the states. But I am learning one Thai song on it right now and I hope to learn another one soon. It is very fun and it is helping me to get to know more people at my school which is always a good thing. Today I watched a Korean soap opera with a friend from my class and got to talk to two people that I have never met before for over an hour. It was really awesome. =D And next week, the Princess of Thailand is coming to our school for the opening of the new building that we have. In a week our school have gone from dirt, concrete and white paint to grass, flowers everywhere, banners, ribbons, new paint on everything and decorations EVERYWHERE. It really is almost unrecognizable, lol. But I am excited to see what is actually happening next week when the Princess comes. =D It is such a big deal here and each of the members of the royal family has a special color assigned to them. The King is yellow, the the Queen is dark blue and this Princess is purple. But because she is purple, there is purple everywhere you look. I will take pictures and post them up on the flickr site.

I hope that everyone in the States and other Christmas-celebrating countries has a wonderful Christmas! And to everyone, a Happy New Year! =D Here, Christmas will just be the exchange students doing a small gift exchange and I am happy that it won’t be a big deal actually. I am sending my love and smiles to everyone in Florida! And as always, thank you Rotary for this awesome opportunity that is enabling me to become the best me that I can be, for giving me a chance to see everything through new eyes. =D

January 27 Journal

I keep experiencing deeper levels of comfortableness here. And I think naively every time that it can’t get more comfortable, that I have reached the zenith, but I have not.

As January comes to a swift close I don’t know where my month went. I changed to my second host family lest week and to be perfectly honest, I was worried. But as soon as I got here I realized that I love this family too, I mean I still have a special connection to my first host family because, well, they were my first and I stayed there for almost 6 months. However, I am doing very well at this house, I love my room and my mom is so sweet, this family is very different from my first, where they live, how they operate, their schedules etc., but I like it.

Things seem like they are getting smooth, my understanding of Thai is getting smoother (listening to fast conversations or instructions – I still have a hard time when people mumble or talk very softly but hey, I have the same problem in English sometimes) I can read lips sometimes even. I feel like while life is getting a little bit more lazy, that it is making things smoother, haha, that doesn’t make much sense. It might be the rain that is making things temporarily this way though. We have recently had a week of unexpected rain, the weather has been so crazy here lately. It is supposed to be the cold season from November to the end of February, however, we have not seen a drop in temperatures until about two weeks ago where it only dropped to about 60 or 65 degrees F. And then it started raining for almost a week straight when we aren’t supposed to see rain again until June, when the rainy season starts. I was excited to see the rain at first because I honestly missed it, but now I am aching for a little sunshine (but as soon as the sun comes back I know I will be cursing it haha.)

Christmas and New Year’s here was great. On Christmas I received a package from my sponsor club in the States (THANK YOU BARTRAM TRAIL ROTARY CLUB!) and it was awesome to receive little pieces of home. =D I also received a package from my friends and family that had a few needed items as well as a few Christmas tree branches. This was one of the best things I received, it smelled (and still smells a month later) so, so awesome! I passed out little pieces of it at school, to teachers, students, my family and let them smell what a real Christmas tree smells like, because they do not have evergreens in Thailand. So that was awesome, and then my exchange student friends and I took turns just smelling the branches all day haha. This is also the first time that I have been to school on Christmas day, and that was pretty interesting. For Christmas dinner we went and found a real Italian restraint and ate real pizza, which was almost a Christmas miracle itself. =D And after that we went dancing, the first time I have gone dancing on Christmas as well, but it was so much fun.

For New Years Eve we all went to the new big mall, Central Plaza, and watched the count-down from there. Our New Year started 12 hours before the New Year in Florida though. =D After the count-down we all went to a hip-hop party that a friend was having and we danced and watched rap battles and dance-offs until the sun came up. We then went home and crashed, later I went with my family to visit older relatives for New Year’s Day and receive their blessing for a healthy and prosperous new year.

One thing that I do miss is public affection, even just hugs to family members. If it was socially acceptable to, I would just lay my head on my mom’s shoulder at a restaurant or give my little brother a hug because he is just so cute sometimes. I feel a part of the family enough to do these things, like I would in the states. But showing affection here is something that is reserved for behind closed doors. I mean it’s ok, that is culture, but sometimes I just have these thoughts and then I have to remind myself. =D

Also, I reached a new level of family-membership the other day. My first host mom told me that her web-cam was broken so that she could use it but the person on the other end couldn’t see her clearly. And I immediately thought, “Mental note, pick up a web-cam next time you are on that side of town.” Then I stopped myself and thought, “Holy cow, this is something I would do for my family in Florida and here I am in Thailand being a real daughter, cool!” I didn’t want to buy the web-cam because I thought it would make them like me more, or because I thought I needed to pay them back for hosting me, I just saw a need and wanted to meet it because I am their daughter (don’t worry mom, I am still your daughter too, just the English speaking version). =D I love having moments like this though and as my 6 months left quickly turned into 5 months left I have realized that it is unfortunate that it takes almost the whole exchange to have frequent moments like these with host families and new friends. However, I have already made a plan to come back soon so the relationships formed will only have the chance to strengthen while I am in the States rather than weaken and fall away.

What else was it that I wanted to say? It might sound a little cliché but I have felt so much older and wiser lately. (I am of course still a little kid who loves to play and be silly sometimes…) but at the same time I feel like I am over-due to enter the world of adults (or at least the world of college). This year has already made me so much more prepared to live on my own, to manage my own money, to know how to schedule time and yet still have fun while doing all of these things. I came to the realization a couple of months back that if I can do all of these things in a language that is not my mother language, or a language that I have not entirely mastered yet, I can certainly do these things in English. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I am perfect at these things, but I am a lot more competent in them than I was before I came to Thailand. =D

On this note I would like to thank Rotary for this experience. And know that I do not just say this routinely, but as a real gesture of thanks because without you, none of this year, these relationships, or this maturity would have been possible. So thank you. Thank you mom and dad in Florida for financing this year and for your permission to go so far away for such a long period of time, I know that was not easy for you, but thank you! =D I have put new pictures up on my flickr site of our most recent adventures. Yours truly, อารีย์

March 8 Journal

During the month of February, every time that I looked at a calendar I got depressed. “God, when is it going to be over?” I kept thinking, I mean it is only 28 days. But I can’t exactly put my finger on why I kept thinking this. I’m not miserable, and I don’t want to leave by any means, I just found myself being very frustrated and always feeling not quite myself, whether that be pains or aches or just that weird feeling of hovering through existence. But now that it is early March already I want February back. I think that this is honestly the biggest Catch-22 I will ever experience. School ended last week for us and now we have a three month summer vacation (school will re-start the last week in May). And while this may sound awesome, it leaves such a big hole haha. I mean 8am-4pm everyday is free now… WOW! But the good thing about this is that I can come and chill with my first host family whenever I want and just talk with them about everything under the big-bright-hot-as-you-know-what sun. =D I really love them and while sometimes I do feel frustrated or just drained because of the heat, I really love Thailand, more than I can put into English at this point haha.

This month was pretty busy. It started out with a weekend of Regional Debates at KKU (the university in my city). It was fun, the debates were in English so we had a very unfair advantage but the people we were debating against and with were excited to be competing with us. And it made me really happy actually that we were far from winning at the end when the results came out. We were given topics that were about the area of Thailand that I am staying in, Issan. And this allowed the exchange students to learn a lot more about Thailand, Issan, politics and environmental issues here etc. But after two full days of debating, my head honestly hurt because of remembering English grammar and big words. =D It did however make me realize that I need to keep trying very hard to improve my Thai, because if I tried to do that in Thai, I would not have been able to get past the first issue. I mean, my Thai is okay… but it has just been okay for a while, it has been some time since it has grown much. I can explain my feelings and some other things more accurately in Thai than I can in English but I think that is just because Thai has more accurate descriptions for those things in general. Reading is also improving a little but it is so-so as well.

This year the Chinese New Year was in the same weekend as Valentine’s Day. That doesn’t usually happen but it was an interesting weekend because of it. For Chinese New Year, my family is half Chinese so we went to both of the Chinese Buddhist temples in the city. The first one we went to was SO crowded. What you did was you take a cooked chicken, duck and a piece of pork and put it on a table with a glass of whiskey, oranges and different Chinese sweets. You leave these here while you light incense and walk around the temple to all of the different shrines, kneeling or sitting on your haunches at each one and raise your incense between both hands to wai while making a wish, saying a prayer or hoping for good things. Some people even have chants, other times there are monks there in the temple already chanting. A VERY cool experience. After you place one stick of incense at each shrine until you have gone around the temple. Then you go back to the items you left and wai with each of those, three times each (three is a very significant number) and leave taking the items with you, throwing a paper type thing into a fire that is continuously going. We then went to the second temple and did the same thing, afterwards getting a picture taken with the dancing Chinese dragon. We then went home and I found out the next day that the food is then usually eaten, like a feast the next day by the family. And for the next few days you could hear fireworks going off every now and then, like you do when the 4th of July is getting near. Also that weekend, on Valentine’s Day, we went to a family reunion. It was my second host mom’s extended family all at my aunt’s house. There were 40 people there and all of them were wearing matching pink T-shirts that said “<3 r-ma” basically meaning “we love grandma”. The elderly, like in many (especially Asian) cultures are still very, very respected here. There was 4 generations there and it was kind of neat to see how everyone interacted together and to try to figure out who was whose kid and whose brother or sister etc. =)

We were invited to go to a Thai wedding this month as well. And as it turns out it was not the real wedding, it was only the engagement ceremony, but it took 3 or 4 hours. We had to dress in the traditional Thai style for this kind of engagement and wow, you need to see pictures of this. I felt like a fairy-godmother-pirate with a silk skirt, it was close to impossible to move in the thing haha. But hey it was fun to play dress up for a while and take a ton of pictures. We even got money for being there because it is Chinese tradition to give money to family (like the kids) at New Year and also to guests at weddings, and it was both! The groom-to-be was from Shanghai, China and the bride-to-be was Thai but they met in England while they were both studying there… whoa. He couldn’t speak any Thai and they will be living in Shanghai but it was cute.

In the past two weeks, another exchange student came to visit our group in Khon Kaen; she is from Spain and is staying in Bangkok and her name is Catuxa. By the second or third day that I hung out with her I really felt that I had found another long-lost twin. It is really eerie but we totally clicked and we are SO the same! So I have yet another place to visit: Brazil, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Thailand (again of course) and now Spain! She left to go back to Bangkok the other day but I will definitely make some time to go visit her and she is coming back to Khon Kaen once again too. We both got our hair braided, a few corn-rows on one side and left the rest down and it’s awesome. We also both have a LOVE for cooking and learning new things to cook, we both love to be ridiculous and joke about everything. And she just has one of those personalities that you can’t be upset around. As soon as you get around her you can’t help but just feel so happy and excited for life. She is truly an amazing person and friend and I am so glad that I met her.

This past weekend we had a District Conference for district 3340. I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I didn’t know what to expect really. (I just thought of endless meetings that I only half understood…) But it ended up being one of the best weekends I have had in a very long time. I got to see Twang, my Thai friend who was an exchange student at Bartram last year, and hang out with her, which was really really great. I also got to meet and actually get to know the other exchange students in my district and I am so excited to be going on the trip with the ones that I met later this month. One of the most exciting things that happened this weekend though is that one of the outbounds for next year from my club here, is going to FLORIDA!!! I cannot wait to see which district she is in and it will be sooo exciting to visit her while she is there and speak Thai with her and everything! =D

The conference really taught me to not judge people before really getting to know them and also to be tolerant of the people that you figure out you don’t like after getting to know them. Thailand has made me very verbal in the way that I feel and just speaking my mind, because a lot of the time people around don’t understand the English that you use. But being around other English speakers made me realize again that I can’t just say whatever I want whenever I want because it can very easily create sticky situations. (I am glad that I came to this realization before going back to the States.) The inbounds and outbounds from my club in Khon Kaen did a traditional Thai-Isaan style dance. We have been practicing everyday for two weeks and it was a lot of fun despite the moments that we didn’t really want to go to practice. I will hopefully be able to put up the video online soon. We dressed in the traditional Thai style and had about 3 pounds of make-up put on our faces, along with a lot of glitter. And the best part is that you dance with no shoes on, so there is no fear of falling or tripping or anything in complicated shoes.

At school, before it ended we were doing a lot of extra cooking classes with our teacher because she knew that our friends would be studying for exams and everything. It is so exciting for me though because I have learned and written down how to cook a lot of different Thai dishes like green curry, a traditional Thai soup, Thai desserts and a lot of other things that don’t really have English names. =D This weekend I ate a fried cricket and a red ant egg-filled omelet. The cricket tasted not bad, but not good enough to eat another one, somewhat similar to an old moldy potato chip I would say. And the omelet was good until you found out what was in it and then it was good as long as you tried not to think about what you were eating haha. The actual red ant eggs were white and oval in shape, about as big as half a pinky-finger nail.

The other day was a special Buddhist holiday here called We-sha Ka-buu Cha (rien tien). It was really cool actually because what we did was go to the biggest temple in our city and take incense, a lotus flower that hadn’t yet opened, a special candle and light the candle and the incense, walking around the temple three times. And while you walk, you think good thoughts, wishes for well-being for yourself, others etc. And the whole time you are walking you are surrounded by so-many other people, the monks in the temple are chanting and the environment it creates is really quite surreal. What you want to do is close your eyes, wai and let your mind wander without you controlling where it goes, letting it explore things that it hasn’t yet known exist. I don’t know, I probably sound crazy or “too-western minded” but it is as awesome as it is hard to explain. You leave the temple feeling peaceful though. I do enjoy going to temple here and I only wish that I could know about it at a deeper level that I don’t think is reachable with my current vocabulary.

The heat makes you feel alive in ways that I can’t describe. I mean yeah sure, sometimes you feel like you are going to faint because it is so hot, but it’s got something almost magical to it. As North Americans we would read a book about someone who lived in the Tropics and constantly and predictably think every time that the people in the book were “less” than we were because they didn’t use air-conditioning, because they just sat in the heat that was so overwhelming all they could do was sweat, talk, sleep and sweat some more. But this kind of heat and this kind of environment really makes you think, gives you the time to think and I think that it inspires you. It drains your physical energy but it at least makes you contemplate?

April 16 Journal

Well, I officially have just about two months left here. It is such a weird thought, don’t get me wrong I do love it here but at the same time I am so ready to be home too. I just got back to my city the other day from traveling in the south of Thailand with my family from the States. It was awesome in too many ways to count! I went and picked up my parents and my little brother in Bangkok, it was so surreal to see them again, especially here in Thailand. My brother is no longer “little”, he is still three years younger than I am but he is taller than my dad and has a bit of a beard going, haha. And mom and dad, well they were still mom and dad. =D We spent a day in BKK and then we all took a bus to a town in the south called Krabi. And the whole time I had to keep reminding myself that they couldn’t really understand what was going on around them like I could. It felt weird to have them depend on me, but at the same time I was so glad that I could be that person instead of them getting a tour guide or something. It is kind of a difficult concept to explain I guess. And my brother and I grew so much closer over the 10 days that they were here, we just sat and talked and talked and talked about so many things; me really feeling like the big sister finally taking up her role and being able to relate with school and life and friends. Cool really.

So we went to the south and stayed about 300 yards from the beach. I know that isn’t exactly a change of scenery for my family because we are from Florida but I haven’t seen the beach in over eight months, plus the beach in Thailand is so, unexplainably beautiful! We went SCUBA diving near Phe-Phe Island and we saw turtles, anemones with their clown-fish inhabitants, lion fish, and so many other things that I never even knew existed! It was really a great experience, and our dive guide was Thai so that made it cool that he could speak Thai to me about diving and English to my family, or I could translate if he didn’t feel like repeating information. We hung around the beach and went shopping in all the cute little shops, I took my family to eat Thai food until they were asking me if we could “please eat Italian or something else tonight?” haha. =D I had brought my computer too so that I could show them all of my pictures from this year so far and that was fun, just showing them everything and answering all of their questions. It was also pretty unique to warn them of the differences in social culture here; tell them about monks, all of the formalities but at the same time explain to them how relaxed and “sabai” everything is here and how genuinely nice and helpful Thai people are.

Earlier this month, my school had its prom. I didn’t know that Thai high schools had a prom, but it is much, much different from the prom that high-school students in the States know. First of all, the prom here is only for graduating seniors and their guests (dates), and second it is more of a sit and socialize and take pictures event. There is music but there is no dancing, well they did have a couple of groups do cover-dances of some Korean hip-hop songs but that was an organized competition. They do have a theme though, like in the States, but here people actually try really hard to match the theme. This year it was the color pink, and one of my friends borrowed a pair of hot-pink skinny jeans from his mom, found a hot-pink button up shirt and pulled it all together with a pair of hot-pink sneakers. It was the best outfit there and all I could do was congratulate him on his creativeness (and on his ability to wear his mom’s pants haha). =D And while I was so glad to have the opportunity to go to prom in Thailand, at one point I was sitting at a table just watching all of my classmates and friends up and around chatting and having the time of their lives. It made me really think, not that I don’t belong, but that I was glad that at that moment I was just sitting back and watching. Because this was THEIR moment. They have just graduated high-school, they are getting ready to move off in all different directions and they deserve this, they need this, unadulterated just to congratulate each other on a job well done and bask in their moment. I know how that feels, I graduated last May and I was reminded of that joy of accomplishment and freedom. I can honestly say that those moments were some of the happiest moments I have had in Thailand, just watching their excitement and their happiness bounce around the room in various shades of the color pink.

The weather right now is in the height of the hot season, above 100 Fahrenheit everyday, around 42 Celsius the other day even, whoa! I am just grateful for cold showers, rooms that do have A/C, water-water-water, and baby powder. =D

One thing that we did this month also was go fishing, but this was not your average get a pole and some worms and go to the river, fishing. We went mud-fishing, with our hands! It was one of my top ten experiences in Thailand so far. And I have never, ever been that dirty in my entire life. All of the inbounds this year and the outbounds for next year went (about eight or nine kids) and at first all of us were a little hesitant because we had not been told that this was the method we were going to use to catch fish. We pull up to this huge mud hole, almost as big as a football field that was about as deep as your upper-torso at the deepest point, mostly the mud just came up to your hips or waist. But we all get out of the car, take off our shoes and walk hesitantly down to the mud, and no one really wants to get in except for me haha. =D So I decide to go for it and I start to walk in, by my third step I was stuck in thick muck up to my waist, the only way to get out and get to the middle of the mud pond was to crawl on my hands and my knees, like they do in those army movies. Just thinking back on it I am chuckling, everyone was watching and I was laughing so hard that I was just getting more stuck. We ended up catching a few fish too small to cook, but some guys who were also out there (who do this for a living) helped us out and we cooked up some pretty large ones and it made a tasty lunch! We went swimming in the river afterward to get at least some of the mud off of us, but I know I took more than one long-long shower when I got home that day. =D

The other day, there was a funeral. The grandmother of one of the members of our Rotary club had passed away and our club, including the exchange students, went to be there for her. I did not know the woman who had passed away so I felt a little out of place there, but Thai funerals are very different from North American funerals. To start with, there is more than one ceremony or event to attend. Since Thailand is a Buddhist country most bodies are cremated, but before they can be cremated, the family and friends of the deceased have to pray over the body and insure that they will have a favorable re-incarnation. So the exchange students and I just sat and observed, there was the usual chants and incense and I wish that I was able to understand it but not even the Thai people do. When they chant, they chant in an older language called Pali, which to be honest a lot of scholars do not even understand. This is the first day, everyone gathers afterward to eat together and visit with each other. And the second part is a few days later. The second part is much like the first except that the people who came to the funeral go and give offerings and pay respect to the family while the monks are doing the chants. There are large wreaths of flowers everywhere, donated by different people and businesses and again, after the ceremonial part everyone gathers together to eat. Thai funerals are a very unemotional event. Death in Thailand is not mourned publicly like it is in other places, death is more of a matter-of-fact thing in which everyone understands that when you get to a certain stage in life, you die. When Thais mourn their loved ones, they do so in private so as not to affect others in a negative way.

Recently in Bangkok, I am sure that some of you have heard about the “Red Shirt” Party and their political protests. I would like to explain what is going on for those of you who don’t know and also those of you who already have heard about it because there is no room for hyped-up information. Everything right now is going fine, there is no reason to worry about anything because as of now the situation is still very peaceful. What has been going on is that the red party has been protesting and peacefully demonstrating in Bangkok since early March against the current political “yellow” party. The red party is a party originated from my area of NorthEast Thailand (also known as Issan) and they are backed my a man named Thaksin who was banned from the country by a military coup (led by the yellow party) in 2006. So Thaksin runs the red party from outside of the country and is currently the Minister of Finance for the Cambodian government. The red party is calling for a re-election, they “stand for” democracy and want their fair shot at a chance for political power. However, the demonstrations that the red party have been placing have been getting slightly more serious as of late, for example; the red party got a lot of their people to donate blood (some of the donators were even bribed to make their contributions) and the party then obtained fire trucks and sprayed the blood all over the Parliament building and the Prime Minister‘s house. Even this was considered peaceful (although quite disgusting) up until the other day when the red party forcefully broke through the gates and into the Parliament building. After this happened the Thai Government officially declared a State of Emergency in the Bangkok and surrounding areas. Things have semi-settled down within the past week but for a while there was fighting. A few days after the State of Emergency was declared there was fighting between the troops and the red party in which 21 people died and over 840 were injured. Currently there has not been any other “big-news” though.

From April 13th-15th was the national holiday of Songkran Festival. This is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday in Thailand all year long. It is the celebration of the Thai New Year and the reason for its un-paralleled popularity is because for three days straight people stop working, close shop, head to their home cities and go into the street to throw water all over each other! It is honestly the most fun holiday that I have EVER experienced, better than Christmas, your birthday, the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day combined. No Joke. Three days before Songkran even began you would be walking down the street or riding open-air public transportation and you would all of a sudden be soaking wet with water, only to realize that people had started throwing buckets of water into the streets early. =D But once Songkran began, wow, I don’t even know how to describe it really. All I can say is that it was literally a party in the streets for three days and three nights with no breaks. People set up huge metal drums of water in front of their houses or in the back of pick-up trucks to hold water in so that one could easily dip a bucket in and throw endless amounts of water on perfect strangers. It sounds kind of crazy to the western world I think but it is sooo much fun and after your first encounter with a splash of water, it is impossible to wipe that toothy grin off of your face.

So what we did was get in the back of our family’s pick-up truck with all of my little brother’s friends and ride around town, through the streets with all of the other pick-up trucks throwing buckets of water at the other trucks or at the people out in front of their houses, especially on people who were still dry or had already dried off. =D At one point we bought huge blocks of ice to put into our drums of water so that when we splashed people, or squirted them with water guns it would feel similar to taking a shower in an igloo.

Another key part of Songkran is baby-powder. It is a tradition that started with baking flour back when there was no such thing as baby-powder, and what you do is you smear it on your face and the faces of everyone around you. And it’s not uncommon for you to be walking down the street and someone you have never seen before in your life walks up to you and smears a handful of baby-powder on both sides of your face while wishing you a Happy New Year. It is shocking at first, especially when you have been in a country where public displays of affection (ie: hand holding, kissing, hugging, etc) even between friends and family is semi-frowned upon, but after the first day of Songkran one gets used to it. We got home at night and were completely exhausted but still so excited and energized, covered from head to toe in white baby-powder and soaked to the bone with water. You shower, eat, go to sleep, wake up the next day and do it again!

This description does not even do the holiday justice, I had it described to me so many times by former exchange students and Thais but I never expected it to be what it was. I know that I want to come back for next year and I have already planned that if I cannot, I will be celebrating Songkran in Florida some way or another. 😉

I would like to thank Rotary International, Rotary Youth Exchange Florida, and Rotary Thailand for the absolutely amazing year and opportunities that I have had and am having during my exchange to this wonderful country. Thank you for making this exchange possible and for continuing to give other students the same opportunities. I am about to go on a trip sponsored by my host district here in Thailand for two weeks and I cannot wait to see what is in store for me and the other exchanges that will be attending. After that I will be moving back to my first host family (YAYYY!!!) and shortly there-after school will be starting up again. Time really does fly, it only seems like a couple of weeks ago that I was marveling that I had already made it 10 weeks in my new country and I couldn’t fathom having nine more months to go… but here I am, nine months down and around 10 weeks to go and I cannot grasp where all that time went! To my family and friends at home, just two more months. =D To everyone else here in Thailand, I am trying not to think about the tiny amount of time I have left here, but I plan to make the most of it. So watch out Thailand, here I come, you can call me อารีย์ because that is my name.

May 18 Journal

Every host family needs to take their exchange student on a short trip in the beginning, middle and end of their exchange without any other exchange students. I am grateful that I am getting this opportunity but at the same time, I wish one like it had come sooner and made me realize sooner (help me to compare those parts of my exchange and the stages of my relationships) that I am not an exchange student but I am their daughter, their sister, and that it is real. I feel like I have been in this family, not from birth, but from adoption as such a small child that I cannot remember a time before this. I really love my family and this is almost more home to me than Florida. I do not want to leave this nest, I am not ready to fly on my own again but I realize the necessity of it so I must just walk to the edge, close my eyes and go for it.

That being said, yes, I am back at my first host family. Times now since I have been back have been my most happy moments of this whole exchange year. While everything is getting so busy with realizing all that I have yet to accomplish in the remaining month, I can come home and sit with my mom and just be at peace. I can smile and we can go to the temple and I can momentarily forget that I have to leave here so soon. I am still so torn when I remember the time left, I miss Florida, my friends, family, but I do not want to leave Thailand. I want to smush the best of both worlds together. Like a little kid who takes two Oreos, pulls them apart and then sticks the two halves that still have the cream attached together, creating a super-stuffed Oreo! Unfortunately though, Florida and Thailand are not Oreos and thus, that is not possible… =(

I would love to tell you all about my adventures on the Rotary trip that I took last month after Songkran, but right now I feel like it would be too much to put into this journal. I have to save some of my stories to tell when I get home, right? =) In a nutshell though, it was fantastic! It was great to meet all of the other exchange students again and really get to know them this time, to spend two weeks with them and get close to some and stay acquaintances with others. I really love that group and we had an awesome time making memories as we went through Koh Chang, Chantaburi, Koh Samet, Pattaya, Amphur Wha, Ahyuttaya, and Bangkok. And we did everything from snorkeling to temples to a lady-boy show haha. =) I have A LOT of pictures up on the flickr site that you can look through and the beach was sooo gorgeous, I cannot wait to go back.

I was actually invited to go with my host family next week and I am more than excited about that. I just got back from a trip to Bangkok with just my mom, dad and little brother. It was great, we only spent three days there and we picked up the new car but we also went to see Wat Pak Gaeo (The Grand Palace) and The Temple of the Golden Mount. We went shopping until we were all hot, exhausted and ready to go home, lol. And I love my exchange student friends here in Khon Kaen but it was awesome beyond explanation to be with my family without them around. This is the first time I have done something like that besides the everyday routine at home. And it give time for reflection, to learn more Thai (because there are not people speaking English to you all the time). So I am very excited to go with my mom and my grandma to the south again and just spend time with them. =) I had such a ridiculous smile on my face this whole weekend because of the time that I was able to spend with my family just as their daughter and there were so many moments that my eyes were open to that just confirmed to me that that is what I am. Also, when we drove into Khon Kaen last night I just kept thinking, “I’m home! We’re home! Ahh, home, home home!” =) As a family we were home.

Something that I have learned in the past month though is that it is good to be a careful and worried person sometimes. You give a soft impression and don’t step on too many peoples toes at the same time. And when you are just being serene and cautious (not a push-over) it actually gets you far because it lets people open themselves towards you and that in turn enables them to start forming the bonds of love and real relationship, bonds that lasts. Thailand has taught me, just go with the flow, things will work themselves out… but at the same time do not let yourself be taken advantage of.

I do apologize for the choppiness and the non-relatedness of this journal but this is how my brain has been working lately. I hope that it makes at least some sense and isn’t too “all over the place”. I did have a thought the other day though that it is quite unfortunate and angering that I am just getting to the point of reading more efficiently and now I have to leave. I know that it will slowly dissipate, just like my speech abilities, but perhaps there is a way I can practice that as well until I come back (which will hopefully be soon!) I want to thank everyone again who was, is, and will be involved in RYE. You are helping to change lives and also to sincerely change the world through it. You may not see these changes but your students and the people that they meet will know, there is something different about that girl/boy. Perhaps like some conversations I have had, people have changed their perceptions of America drastically, realizing it is not how Hollywood and reality TV make it out to be. That people who live there are made out of the same flesh and bone as they are, the only difference being that the idiots of our society are usually the ones who are the unofficial international representatives, watch out the world is watching.

I have a Thai heart. There is a pride that runs through the blood in my bones, a pride different from the average teenage pride, a pride much different than “American” pride. This is the pride of being not only Thai but essentially of being Issan too. Of finally becoming one of my people! As I write this I feel sad because as much as I feel this in my heart, people here and in the States as well see me and think the exact opposite. Yes, I am a “foreigner” who can eat spicy food, but it is more than that. They will never be able to see that I see things and feel with the same limbs that they do. That I yearn for the chance to help in the rice fields at least once because I know now what a special, honored task that really is. And again, writing this, knowing that you who speak English will read it, I know that I am already judged. Even the Western part of my brain is screaming at me, “What are you typing, are you crazy?” Because (no offense) most western-born people cannot understand this and these yearnings of my heart. Like why I want to live in a little apartment in Bangkok, continue my travels around the world, spend at least a year in India, and be fiercely independent while at the same time being hopelessly dependent, with my blue eyes wide open to the world and its people. I may sound absurd but I do not apologize, I was going to but then I realized that not only did this need to be spoken but it needed to be read as well.

 

Gabrielle “Gabby” Ceballos
2009-10 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas HS
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nexø Rotary Club, District 1470, Denmark

Gabby - Denmark

Gabrielle’s Bio

Hey there! My name is Gabrielle Ceballos, but you can call me Gabby for short. I am a 15 year old sophomore from Matanzas High School. Recently, I just found out I was accepted to the Rotary Exchange program and couldn’t be even more excited! A year ago, I thought to myself I would be sitting in the same high school just with different teachers the very next year. Never in a million years would I have thought I would actually be leaving to go to Denmark for a year! This is by far the biggest experience I can gain in my lifetime and I am ready to just absorb everything like a ginormous sponge :D.

I moved to Palm Coast, Florida about 10 years ago via Santiago, Chile and my birthplace of Connecticut and it definitely has been an experience. Meeting new people and residing in a new place can be rather interesting when you first start out, but things can only get better and they certainly have. Just as my new experiences with moving to Palm Coast, I can’t even begin to expect what new adventures and exciting experiences await in Denmark! Thank you so much Rotary for this life changing opportunity!

Two wonderful and amazing parents have raised me along with my older brother, Ryan. We are the Ceballos family and always will be. We are all spunky and fun and I wouldn’t change us for the world! If you ask a couple of my friends, they can probably agree with the fact that I am the one girl that will just randomly break out into song or random dance moves. Even a funny face or two you can sometimes get at the most random moments. Lacrosse is the sport I love and is one of the of the things that brings me a lot of joy. Some of my other hobbies I can add is my avid bookreading, rookie quilter, drawing, music listener (even my sad attempts to belt a song), movie lover and quoter, and some other things that can bring a great big smile to my face.

Laughter and smiles is one thing that I need in my life. The love of adventure and new experiences makes life even that more amazing. The next year in Denmark is the next chapter in my life that awaits me. I am so excited to start this super epic adventure! Yay!

Gabrielle’s Journals

September 12 Journal

When I close my eyes at night to sleep, I start to think that when I wake up everything is going to be a dream and I will still be in Florida, still in Palm Coast, and not experiencing the year of a lifetime. But then I open my eyes…..and I am in Denmark. One of the most amazing places I have ever been in my life. From the first day I got here on August 2nd, I had a feeling that the minute I walked off the plane everything was going to change and never be the same for me. So far this has proven true with my first MONTH of my exchange already over (which makes me sad thinking how I have to leave this beautiful place sooner and sooner everyday!!!) and what an A-MA-ZA-ZING time it has proven to be!!!!!!!

My first day in Denmark proved to be very adventurous since I met with a counselor from Rønne (John Anderson, who was super nice!) who then took me to meet the other exchange student going to Bornholm (Bridgitte from Nevada) then off to Bornholm we went. We ended up having to take a drive over the bridge to Sweden, then onto a ferry, and then eventually I met my counselor (Henrik) and off to my new home for the next 6 months. I love my host family and can’t imagine being with another family (Gert, Vivi, and my 17 year old brother, Tobias)! After finally being able to sleep after more than 24 hours without it, I continued to explore Nexø for the rest of the week until I had to leave again for København for language school and then Jylland for intro-camp.

Meeting EVERY SINGLE exchange student in Denmark proved to be amazing and I am so excited to see them again in October. When I finally returned to Bornholm, I got to start school which has proven to be one of the best times even though it is school. It’s rather nice having everything being so chill and relaxed and of course being with such great people as classmates. It certainly was a situation to adapt to at first, just like day-to-day routines. But being an exchange student, I have learned to adapt and do it all. I now have a daily routine that has become surprisingly easy to adapt to but I love it! But anyhoo, you start to realize some things just like Morgan said while you are here in wonderful Denmark:

Almost everybody smokes

There is no air conditioning, not even in most stores; you just open the windows and doors

You see bikes EVERYWHERE (but it is amazing – biking everywhere is fun!)

Some of the houses are older than the United States

Bread is eaten every day with almost every meal

The bread is absolutely amazing

The road signs are very different (not many stop signs since people do it themselves)

Fish is loved very much by the Danes (including herring, one of the most interesting fish I’ve ever tasted)

Overall, Denmark is simply amazing

This whole experience is already underway but yet it still feels so surreal and just like a dream that it’s hard to think I am actually here experiencing everything. You literally have to rid yourself of all fear/anxiety and take a giant leap and hope that you can land on your feet. Even with that sounding difficult, it is the one thing that is completely and utterly worth it. There is never a dull moment and always something new to experience. You get to experience life and actually start to see what you are made of. Even for just being here over a month, I can already tell that this year is literally going to be the most amazing year.

And I can’t wait to see what the next couple of months have in store.

November 29 Journal

So it has been a mighty long time since my last journal and A LOT has been happening in the past couple months! I have now been here in Denmark for about 4 months and so far everyday has been a new adventure. Without Rotary, I would never have gotten to gain these new experiences and have the opportunity for it all and I thank them very much for it. As we say in Denmark, Mange Tak (Thank you very much)!!!

Since the last time I wrote, a lot of things have been happening here. Even for being on the small but incredible island of Bornholm, many things always seem to be happening and taking place every day. School so far has been an interesting but good experience. Almost everyday I get up to get on the bus and start school at about 8:30. It’s nice though to not have school start until around 10:15 on days when I have a free first period which always feels good when I get to sleep just a little bit longer in the morning. But so far, my class is amazing and they are some pretty cool kids and have made things a lot of fun! They always help me and teach me things in Danish to try and say (which is progressing). They love when I try so I’m attempting to speak more and more even though I sometimes think I’m saying things completely wrong! But I can understand more and more everyday which is a huge plus.

The rest of September honestly seems like a blur since the month went by so quickly. It was filled of just school and hanging out around the island and exploring the area as much as possible. One thing that can be noted for September to even continuing now is how COOOOOOOLLLLD it is getting!!!!! It has truly been a while since I’ve been in cold weather and it just continues to get colder but even while shivering, it’s ironic to think how it is still warm in Florida probably and then here it’s freezing. But it’s also a breath of fresh air feeling the cool weather day to day.

October was actually a very busy month with fall break and also the AMAZING Holbæk Halloween Get-Together that Rotary threw for us. It was so much fun getting to see all the other exchange students again and getting to have so much fun. Definitely some of the costumes just made me smile whenever I saw them. That weekend for sure has given me some memories that won’t be forgotten. It’s always sad saying goodbye to all the others but it also makes seeing them again that much better J My class also had a visiting class from Spain come stay with us for a week which was a lot of fun! It was interesting to see how they were also getting to experience what I was experiencing and they were some pretty cool kids. Can’t wait to see them again in April when we go and see them!

November = Cold, fun, and Thanksgiving in Denmark! For the first time in years I actually got to see snow!!!! It was amazing seeing the little snow flurries and getting to stand outside and see the snow falling. It’s been the only day that it has snowed but it was for sure a memorable experience. My mind was blown when I also looked at the thermometer and saw it was only 1 degree Celsius that entire day (about 32 degrees Fahrenheit)!!! We expect to see these types of temperatures throughout December which shall be interesting. Believe me when I say that it was a sad day when I had to retire the flip flops….so sad. I actually had to start wearing shoes which actually proved to be interesting. But I’ve expanded to boots which keep my feet comfy and warm on the coldest of days J (being from Florida, I do miss my flip flops and can’t wait for warm weather to wear them again!!!)

I even got to celebrate Thanksgiving with one of the other exchange students’ family. Kyle’s (North Carolina) host family had never experienced Thanksgiving and wanted to taste ALL the food. I was lucky enough to be invited and I got to help Kyle cook a Thanksgiving dinner for us and his family and their friends. It was such a great time and even gave me a little piece of home when helping making the dinner since that’s what I do with my mom every year. But it was a fun time and helping his family experience an American Holiday J We also had another get together, but only for my district (Copenhagen, Bornholm, etc) and Rotary threw us a Thanksgiving along with having many Rotarians and families to join all of us. The exchange students also had to provide entertainment for the night for everybody and of course there was singing and dancing of all sorts for the night.

But so far that’s been my exciting couple of months and unforgettable experiences. I’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime and am so grateful for even being given the chance. My life here in Denmark is so different in so many ways. I’m given the chance to actually make decisions, do things myself, and also just to live life to the fullest. I’m changing even if I can’t quite see how but I know in some ways I am and also just having my mind just being expanded even more everyday with being here. I have been here almost 4 months and they simply have been the most amazing months of my life thus far. The rest of my year here in Denmark is just going to keep being amazing and I wish it would never end. Time sure is flying and I only wish it would slow down!!!!

Can’t wait for the upcoming months and more memories to come but I guess for now until next journal … Hej Hej!!!! (Bye!)

February 15 Journal

Wow. So finally past the half way mark…..and just wow. I can’t even believe that the time has passed so quickly and my time is growing shorter and shorter here in Denmark. And thinking about that just breaks my heart. I have learned to completely immerse myself into a new place, with new faces and places, and adapt and actually feel at home. Everything has just been so amazing that it doesn’t seem real. But then you wake up and realize that it is and that just puts the biggest smile on my face realizing that I’m experiencing this. Even getting the chance to experience this. Sooooo mange mange mange tak Rotary 🙂

But anyhoo, so far we have leaped into 2010 (whoa), I’ve moved host families, and have been experiencing non stop snow. Honestly, at first you love the snow…..but then slowly begin to loathe it especially after falling so many times :P. It’s been sooooo cold, definitely not Florida weather I’m used to. Even with the cold I must admit that the snowball fights have been well worth it as well as just messing around with the snow!! It’s just even fun to say snoooooow…or as the Danes say SNE!!! Even some of the days there have been snowstorms that have shut down the entire island of Bornholm!!! So I have watched many movies and drank much cocoa during those days. Spring time hopefully will be here soon and the sun will come back again! (after what seems a million year hiatus)

I also moved host families and my new one is amazing! its actually funny how they have the same humor as my own family so it will be fun watching how they are with my family when they come to visit. But other than that, it has been chill.

School is school and seems to be getting better with the language barrier everyday as I understand more and more everyday which is great so I’m not sitting there confused every second. Still love my class and have for sure made some good friends to come back and visit in the next couple of years. It is interesting how the Danish Gymnasium system works and I think I actually like it. Other than taking the bus at 7:30 (yikes) it’s all pretty great and an experience. But other than that, I have an upcoming trip to Spain in April with my class which will be amazing!!!! So I’m uber excited for that and getting the chance to celebrate my birthday with my class while there.

As time progresses, we live and we learn through experiences. And this exchange year has certainly been that so far. Advice to the new upcoming outbounds, be ready for your life to ultimately change and for yourself to grow in ways that you never would dream of. To grow in ways that will help you day to day and to experience every little thing while on exchange and to take it in stride. I can say so far, I will never forget this year and everything I’ve experienced since it has been some of the best times I have ever had.

All I can do is continuing to do is document my exchange and just say til next time Florida 🙂

😀

May 16 Journal

So 9 months later and only 59 days left to go!!! Time has really flown by and I haven’t even noticed it. I’ve experienced so much and seen so much in the past couple of months that I know I would have never even experienced if not for being here in Denmark. It’s hard to swallow actually having to leave Bornholm and everything that is now becoming normal to my daily life. I know I’m not the same and that in reality, I’ve grown and changed in so many ways. Everyday is an adventure and a fun one at that and I love life day to day more than I have in years.

Who can say honestly that their family’s travel plans were changed because of a VOLCANO in Iceland erupting? Not too many people…..other than Rotary exchange students 🙂 But other than a volcano prolonging my family’s visit to Denmark, they eventually arrived and I got to see them for the first time in 9 months!!! It was weird at first seeing them since the only time I would see them was via webcam on skype (thank you internet) but actually getting to hug them made me soooooo happy.

But I got to show my family around the small but amazing island of Bornholm for about 2 weeks and they seemed to really like it. I even got my mom to try Herring which is a specialty of Bornholm and I was mighty impressed she actually ate it since not many people like it. But they got to experience A LOT of Danish food thanks to my wonderful host families and also 2 weeks of the nicest weather that we’ve had since last summer!! It’s funny because as soon as they left the weather just turned right back to cold and gross bringing back the use of the winter jacket. I even got to show them around Copenhagen and around other parts of Denmark and it was great getting to just talk to them face to face, especially my brother. When I had to drop them off at the airport it was really sad but I surprisingly didn’t cry. I think because I know I’ll be seeing them so soon it didn’t really impact that I was saying goodbye again. But at least next time will be hello 🙂

OH!!! another a-ma-za-zing adventure was going to Spain with my class!!!!! Probably hands down one of the best trips I have ever taken. It even was during my birthday so that was pretty sweet. Kind of weird being in a totally different country for my birthday but my class made it really special so I was soooo happy that I have such great friends to make it a great birthday. I can definitely say I will go back to Spain sometime. It was such a beautiful country and experiencing it all with my class made it even that much more great .

But other than those recent adventures, we have Euro-Tour coming up in about a week annnnnnnnnd its going to be epic. Can’t wait for it.

The only down side to having all these things happen, if there is any, is that it shows me just how much little time I have left in Denmark which is a very sad thing to think about. Even with the time winding down so quickly, all I can do is enjoy it day to day and live it all to the fullest which is of course a very possible thing 🙂 So much to experience in such little time, oh jeg elsker dig Danmark. Rotary of course is to thank for every single experience I have had since being in Denmark. Without them none of it would of never been possible nor would I of even been able to dream to it being possible.

Tusind Tusind Tusind Tusind Tak Rotary 🙂

 

Helen Parker
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Episcopal HS
Sponsor: San Jose RC, District 6970, FL
Host: Curitiba Oeste Rotary Club, District 4730, Brazil

Helen - Brazil

Helen’s Bio

Hello. My name is Helen Parker. I am 14, turning 15 on August 11, 2009. I spent my freshman year at Episcopal High School of Jacksonville. I am very excited about the trip that I am going to take this year to Brazil. It is going to be an amazing experience and I know I’m going to enjoy it. I am mostly an only child, I have two older brothers, but they’re half-brothers so they have never lived with us. Their names are Jacob and Jeremy. My parents, Fred and Suzanne, are also excited for me to leave. They will miss me as I will miss them but we’ll all get over it.

I am a very active person. I really love to play sports. I play softball for school. I am a shortstop and look forward to softball season all school year. I’ll be skipping this year’s softball obviously because I’ll be in a foreign country. I also play volleyball. But the volleyball I play is more for fun than competition. Many of my friends are on the volleyball team at school and I play with them. My family also likes it because it’s a game for all ages. I love to wakeboard and skateboard. I’ve been skateboarding for a long time and just started wakeboarding a couple years ago. Even though I live near the beach, I have never surfed. I would like to learn though and many of my friends have offered to teach me. I love being with my friends and it will be very hard for me to leave them but, I’ll deal with it. We have sleepovers, go waterskiing, go mudding, and a ton of stuff. I really enjoy trying new stuff.

I’m very outgoing and enjoy talking to people. I’m working on learning Portuguese and I think I’m doing pretty good. It will be hard but I’m ready for the challenge. Thank you for this amazing opportunity.

Helen’s Journals

August 31 Journal

August in Brazil. Very different from an American August. First off, here in Brazil we have opposite seasons from the US. Like, summer in Brazil is winter in the US. So I got on a plane July 31st sweating from the Florida heat, and arrived in Brazil wearing multiple jackets. Most of Brazil is not cold. Brazil is actually known for its heat. But I was placed in an area of Brazil that has cold winters. The mornings here are on average 9 degrees Celsius. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit but it feels chilly.

When I first got here I did not have school because there was a swine flu outbreak. I luckily had been emailing my second half-host sister before I left so I spent this time with her and her friends. I call her my half sister because August 21 she left for Germany. Her year exchange with Rotary. I got to meet many of her friends though, so it’s not like she left me all alone.

I started school August 15th. Another awesome thing about Brazil is that their school year is reversed from the American one. So in November I get off school for summer vacation. YES. 2 summers. That’s right. School is nice for me. I really like it. I don’t understand what the teachers say because they go too fast but the other students I can continue with a conversation… most of the time.

I feel like I’m learning Portuguese really fast. Like I can already communicate with my host family and the parents don’t speak any English. In school I’ve made some friends and been to some barbecues. The barbecues are very fun. Every single meal has 50X more meat then the meals in the US. It’s crazy. We eat 2 different meats, usually beans and rice, and some vegetable. The food here is SO good. They fry anything they feel like and I eat whatever I feel like. This is a problem. Actually September 7th I start swim practice. I’m going to start swimming competitively (not well) for the club my family is part of. I look forward to being healthy.

I’m doing my homework in school and have taken a test already and got one of the highest scores in the class. Ya that’s right. Highest scores. J I’ll write next month and tell you how everything is going!

December 18 Journal

Hello RYE FL. I know it’s been a really long time since I’ve written but I’ve just been really lazy. Sorry. So Brazil has been amazing for the last 3 months. I switched families in November and I prefer my second family. They’re great. They always take me places and try to show me more of Brazil that I haven’t already seen.

I speak mainly Portuguese these days. My host mom and brother don’t speak English that well so even If I wanted to speak English I couldn’t. I only speak Portuguese to my friends and other exchange students, except for the Americans. I just need someone to understand my slang. I miss it. My Portuguese has gotten really good. I’m almost fluent, and I am really close to thinking in Portuguese. I only speak English with my host dad. I’ve asked him a thousand times to not speak English with me but here in Brazil, only the rich people speak English, so when someone speaks English they really want to show it off.

I got out of school December 8th. School doesn’t start back up until February. It’s summer break. In Brazil the seasons and the school year are opposite from the states because it’s the bottom half of the world. So on the 20th of December I’m going to this really nice beach called Florianopolis. I’m going with my family. It’s going to be so much fun. I’m going to surf like every day and finally get a tan. I’ll get back January 3rd. then 10 days later I will go on the Belo Brazil northeast dream trip for 30 days. This trip is going to be so much fun. All the exchange students from my district are going on it. We’ve only lost one exchange student so far this year. He was a German and he didn’t break and rules but he just didn’t like Brazil. We were all really sad to see him go, but if it made him happy, I suppose it was the right thing.

I’ve basically become accustomed to Brazil by now. It’s not all new for me anymore. But I seriously think that back in the states we should have more Brazilian restaurants. In Jacksonville, we have one but it’s a churrascaria, steakhouse, and it’s super expensive. We need like a chain restaurant or something. That sells traditional Brazilian food. Like coxinhas, a teardrop shaped fried thing. It’s usually about 3.5 inches tall and it generally contains either beef, chicken and cheese, or ham and cheese. It’s amazing. They should also sell pastels. Pastels are like, you take bread mix, flatten it out. Make a pocket out of it and put some kind of filling in it. Basically whatever. You fill it up about halfway, close it, fry it, then eat it. It’s so unhealthy but hey, that’s what makes it good! Brazilian sweets too. They have this thing called brigadeiro. It’s condensed milk mixed with something similar to Nesquik. Then they heat it up and let it cool. It get’s hardish then you roll it into little balls and cover it in cake confetti type things. I can’t explain it. It’s all soo godly.

Brazilian pizza is SO different. It’s like 50 times healthier then American pizza. And they don’t have ‘cheese pizza’ and ‘pepperoni’. They’ll put like chicken on pizza bread without sauce. I went to Pizza Hut here. It’s NOTHING like Pizza Hut back home. People actually dress up to go the Pizza Hut restaurant.

Clothes are really expensive here. But food is very cheap. Nike Shocks have to be the coolest shoe you can wear here. People LOVE them. You’ll find them for sale for what is equivalent to 250 American dollars. Sorry to basically give you a description of Brazil’s market but I find it SO different. I’ll write next month. Promise. Sorry about the delay.

Tchau from Brazil.

Helen

 

Grant Simon
2009-10 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Episcopal HS
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Niimi Rotary Club, District 2690, Japan

Grant - Japan

Grant’s Bio

“Open all the doors and let you out into the world.”

Hello! My name is Grant Simon and I am, at 14, a high school freshman. I have always loved to talk and be heard, never afraid to make my ideas known. Outgoing and outspoken, I consider myself to be independent. This has been the hardest quality for my family to accept. I think the fact that I would voluntarily leave them for a year shocks them, but they are finally letting me spread my wings and live life on my own. Standing at the edge of their nest, I look below and see a world of possibilities, a world waiting to be experienced by the fledgling at its threshold.

“Time for you to go out to the places you will be from.”

I truly love my family and friends- but I have learned that it’s not where you are from, but where you are going that matters. I am going to Japan. I know that I am going to miss them all more than I can ever imagine, but life is too short to spend it all at home.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –“Closing Time”

Thank you, Rotary, for giving me this opportunity. And even more thanks to all of you who supported me along the way.

 Grant’s Journals

October 18 Journal

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to begin this journal, other than with that one word: Wow.

I’ve been in Japan for almost two months now, and at this point in my exchange, I would recommend it to anyone. So far, I haven’t even hit a down on the Rotary Coaster. And frankly, I find it hard to be unhappy when I find myself living, or even just surviving, in a country and culture that is opposite my own in nearly every way.

Because so much has happened since I arrived, I’m going to try to brief you on my life, without doing it too much injustice:

The language. To be honest, I really didn’t study too much before I left. I learned how to count to ten, how to say my name and age, “hello”, “goodbye”, and “thank you.” That’s about it. And now I find myself having conversations, if only simple ones, every single day. I can communicate how I’m feeling, what I want, what I like, and what I don’t. I can ask questions, but more importantly, understand the answers I’m given. I’ve learned two alphabets (each consisting of 46 characters) so not only can I write, I can read! Although I usually don’t understand what I’m reading, the satisfaction I get from being able to associate the characters with their sounds, and then forming the words aloud, is enough for me. It doesn’t bother me much that I didn’t learn more in the States, because learning a language solely through immersion is like going from 0 to 60 in only a few seconds. The gratification you’ll get, I think, is worth the frustration.

The food. I’m fairly certain that most of you reading this won’t ever try most of the following items, and for that you’re probably lucky. But I’m sorry to say that the flavors aren’t exactly describable, so I’ll just list them.

Whole fish, including bones, organs, and head.

Tempura fried pig ears.

Raw horse.

Raw whale (sorry, Greenpeace).

Kangaroo jerky.

Cow tongue.

Apple and pea soup.

Miso flavored soft serve.

Horumon, from both cow and squid. Horumon is the Japanese term for the animal’s stomach, intestines, liver, and heart.

The worst, by far, was cow stomach. I gagged. But I did enjoy the tongue, horse, and whale. Obviously, they eat much more (much better) food than what I just named, but I thought I’d tell you what stood out. For those heading to Japan, don’t panic. It’s not like they shove these things down your throat. Just be willing to try anything once, find out what you don’t like, and from then on, respectfully refuse.

The town. With about 25,000 residents, Niimi is even smaller than what I considered to be my small hometown, Ponte Vedra. So small, in fact, that when I was on a walk one day, a woman who was waving and shouting “Guranto!” (the Japanese pronunciation of my name) approached me, and gave me a newspaper she was carrying- it featured myself. Because of Niimi’s size, moments like this happen fairly often. Also, because the town is somewhat remote, it has only fifteen native speakers of English. The town itself is situated in a valley, and there are green mountains in every direction you look. I’ve noticed that the Japanese maximize their limited flat land very well: where there isn’t a home or a store, there’s a rice field or a road. Driving here scares me, though, since these space-saving roads are often only the size of one lane, but have two directions of traffic, and can be located on the side of a mountain that has no guardrails.

The travel. Because I live in rural Japan, there isn’t a whole lot to do. But the upside to that is I get to travel, a lot. To date, I’ve been to thirteen towns and cities outside of my own. These include Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagoya, and towns on the Inland Sea. At Tottori Sand Dunes, which are like a little desert on the ocean, I got to ride a camel! I’ve visited multiple temples and castles, and Universal Studios Japan. Just this weekend I went to the oldest free public school in the world! I may not get to sample several countries on EuroTour, but I am getting a really in-depth look at this country, and I’ve loved it. I have to mention that Japan has the bluest, prettiest skies I’ve ever seen. Oh, and one last thing: in early December, my grade and I are going to Guam!! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that one.

The family. I feel as if I’m a part of my host family, although I don’t actually live with them. You see, they used to live next door to my host father’s grandmother, but she’s since died, and now I stay in her old house. Yes, I have a whole house to myself! I go next door for meals, or to just hang out. I have four host siblings, but the three oldest are all away at college. My seventeen-year-old host brother “lives” at home, but he’s only here on the weekends because his boarding school is an hour and a half away. My family has an apartment in that city, so my mom, who doesn’t work, stays there a couple nights every week. My dad is my school’s principal, and because of this, both of our houses are right next door to school. For me, this is very, very convenient.

The school. I got lucky with this one- I go to private school. First of all, Japanese private school students don’t all go on to university. Many go on to auto mechanic school, or pursue sports careers, so the atmosphere is very laid back. It’s far from the study-oriented school that I pictured, and I love it. Next, my classes. Japanese students have a different schedule each day, so at any given time I could be in Math or Kimono Sewing, Health or Japanese Pottery. I’m taking two kinds of Math, English, Japanese, Chemistry, and Health, as well as special culture courses, like Kimono Sewing, Japanese Cooking, Japanese Pottery, and Calligraphy. I also have a free period each day, during which I usually study Japanese, and a few periods each week to do a report, focused on an aspect of Japanese culture. Class sizes range from about 8 to 20 for regular classes, and as small as two in Pottery. Twice a week, after school, I also participate in the Interact Club. The last important thing to mention is that my school is an international boarding school- a very international boarding school. In my homeroom alone, there are two Koreans, four Chinese, three Taiwanese, a Japanese, and a Cambodian. Including myself, there are six different nations represented in just one class! My school has around 240 students in three grades, and about 90 of them are Chinese. It’s a mystery to me why so many students come to this school, when the public one down the street is better academically, but I love it nonetheless.

I just want to end by saying a big “arigatou gozaimasu” to everyone at Rotary, for because of you, I am lucky enough to call what I just described my daily life.

October 21 Journal

The other week I was lucky enough to meet a girl named Jarlene. She’s a former Rotary student from Pennsylvania who, just four years ago, was living the life I presently am: learning Japanese, attending Kyousei High School, even staying with my same host family. Now (only) 21, she fluently speaks both Japanese and Chinese and is completing an internship at the American Embassy in China, with hopes of becoming a Foreign Service Officer in the future.

Her life serves as an example of exactly what this exchange is meant to foster – a life that is multilingual and multicultural, open-minded and curious, one with a taste for adventure and an acquired desire to change. To see how such a life has unfolded, for me, has been both fascinating and encouraging. It’s people like Jarlene who take away all of your doubts. I no longer question, “Is this worth it? Did I make the right choice?” because she has proven to me that it is. It most certainly is.

Today, she sent me an email. MLIA. (But in all seriousness,) the advice she gave me really is applicable to every exchange student, and even to those who are interested. I thought I would share it (minus the parts specific to my town).

“Hi Grant!

How’ve you been doing since I last saw you? I meant to write you earlier once I arrived back in China, and I seem to have gotten caught up with stuff. Sorry! 😛

I just wanted to encourage you to use this year to discover more about yourself as a person and you’re probably already doing this without realizing it! I think it just comes naturally when exchange students are open-minded to trying and learning new things in a different culture, because it’ll help you grow as a person. And you’re already doing that with all the culture classes you’re taking at Kyousei! I know that my year in Niimi is still one of the most memorable and valuable life experiences I’ve had so far. I’m just so glad that you have the chance to experience all that Japan has to offer for yourself this year! 🙂

For me, I tried to constantly try new activities out of my comfort zone (things I would’ve never been brave enough to try back in high school and in the US). I can also be a bit of a perfectionist sometimes (and I don’t know if you struggle with this too), but I tried to remind myself to just relax, be myself, have fun and that it’s ok if I make some silly mistakes sometimes. (I think embarrassing or frustrating moments often teach me the most!)

During your exchange year, there will definitely be very happy as well as difficult times. I don’t know if you’ve experienced some hard times yet, but just know that when they occur, you have host parents, Kyousei teachers, and Rotarians who care about you and are looking out for you.

I wish you the very best in your exchange year, Jarlene”

(Thank you)

December 23 Journal

What makes this exchange so much fun is that it’s never a one-way street.

I constantly try to embrace these people and their culture, to share in their customs and practices, to speak their language, to hear their opinions and their beliefs. And for the most part I do. But I haven’t forgotten my own culture, my own language, and my own views on the world that often differ so greatly from those of the Japanese. And that, I believe, is a gift, because I’ve also been able to introduce my culture to them.

Yesterday (my four month anniversary!!) I made a gingerbread house with my little brother, Kazu. It’s something that I usually do with my family during the holidays so I thought it would be nice to share the tradition. Very few Japanese celebrate Christmas, and even fewer actually know what a gingerbread house is, but he was more than eager to learn about “an American Christmas” and all that it entails. We took turns icing and decorating and when all was said and done, it didn’t look too bad!

Oh, and it snows here! That makes me smile. I had seen snow before, but never as it was falling. Maybe it’s just because I’m from Florida but I think snow is just awesome. Not to mention cool! HAHAHA. So being the Floridian that I am, of course I had to make a snowman! Most of the snow from that day had already melted though, so it was more of a snow toddler, but after twenty minutes out in the cold my hands were numb and I was satisfied.

And because I didn’t write you a Thanksgiving journal… I am thankful for heated toilet seats. Definitely.

January 3 Journal

If you’re a future Outbound, please click here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ6CcEOmlYU

What I mean by that is, GET EXCITED!

I know you have your first orientation coming up- that’s the beginning! That will be the start to a very fun, very long, and very busy year full of “hellos”, “goodbyes”, and anticipation. If the draws of living in a foreign country and culture and learning a foreign language aren’t enough for you, I’ll let you know that I met many of my now closest friends through Rotary, specifically at last year’s Orientation. I’m sure you’ll do all of these things, is that not worth getting excited about?

What you’re about to commit to will truly be a wonderful pre-departure Rotary year. To get you started, I want to give you all a quick guide, an intro of sorts, to your first Orientation.

Some Orientation Dos and Don’ts:

Do befriend Daph(ne). When in doubt, make small talk about Canada.

Do listen to Al. Despite his size, he is in charge.

Do bring a camera. You’ll want pictures for memories. And Facebook, duh.

Do bring a pillow, A JACKET, a blanket (maybe two), and a towel. Trust me.

  • Do stop by Old Crow Bar-B-Que outside of the camp. Take the pig butt.

Don’t choose ten phrases that give people a bad impression because they might remember…

Don’t be antisocial. You’ll get a reputation.

Don’t take jumping pictures in a crowded room.

Don’t get on the seesaw with someone you don’t trust. You will get hurt.

As much as you’ll want to, don’t spend a lot of time in the bedrooms.

At times during your Orientation, you may ask yourself “what is there to do here?” Well I’ll tell you!

Stop by the One Way Café and the attached Christian bookstore.

Daydream about your international adventures-to-be.

Take Myspace pictures. What an easy way to bond!

Go to the playground! Don’t act like you’re too old for it.

Play Twister because everybody loves that.

A Few Things to Remember:

  • Rotex are cool. So talk to them.

Turn in assignments on time or you’ll get more.

Your friends who aren’t involved in Rotary probably won’t want to hear about your Rotary activities, which is why you should befriend other Outbounds, especially the ones who live near you.

The definition of the 4 D’s varies from person to person.

After Orientation ends, organize hang out events on Facebook, lots of people come!

Don’t let tha haters stop you from doin your thang!

 

Hollie Harrison
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Belo Horizonte – Novas Gerações Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil

Hollie - Brazil

Hollie’s Bio

“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.” Ben Stein

And I want this. I want to be an exchange student more than anything I’ve ever wanted, and luckily, I am graced with the chance to study abroad in beautiful Brazil!

Ola! I am Hollie Harrison. I am a senior at Buchholz High and have been in their Academy of Entrepreneurship throughout high school.

I live with my parents and am the youngest of three. My two siblings have moved out, gone to college and now have jobs. My dad and I are very much alike in that we are both stubborn yet very hard working. I am often called “Little David” because of our similarities. I have a dog and a kitten, both of which I love very much.

I have been in constant motion ever since I was little. From 5 to 10 years, I took many different dance classes and even tried out gymnastics and soccer for a year. At 10 years old, I realized my passion for swimming through swim lessons and have been a competitive swimmer ever since. We have 8 practices a week with a total of 20 hours or more.

I also compete in tennis and act in drama. For three years, I have been on the Buchholz tennis team. Also, I have taken theatre classes and acted in school plays, such as “Taming of the Shrew”, for my last two years.

Besides being a busy body, I love hanging out with my friends. We always manage to find creative ways to be together and enjoy ourselves. I love to be happy- so you’ll often find me laughing or smiling. I also enjoy writing little songs and/or poems, singing, playing with my pets, sports, etc.

“Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it.” Christopher Morley

And I’m excited to see how aspects of life are different in Brazil!

Hollie’s Journals

November 4 Journal

There’s always gonna be another mountain

I’m always gonna wanna make it move

Always gonna be a uphill battle

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side

It’s the climb

The struggles I’m facing

The chances I’m taking

Sometimes might knock me down

But no, I’m not breaking

I may not know it

But these are the moments that I’m gonna remember most, yeah

Just gotta keep going

As lame as it sounds, Miley Cyrus has it all right in her song “The Climb”. I have had a rough start here, but from what I hear from Rotarians here, “The rougher, the better it is for me because the more I will grow”. I have to agree. Future exchangers, be ready for some of the hardest times of your life, but also some of the most fun and memorable moments of your life. In the beginning, there may be more downs than ups. But it will all work out in the end as long as you give it your all. This I promise you.

But wow!!! Three months in already….

The first day I arrived, I was in complete shock. We got off the plane and went through Brazilian customs, which was a breeze besides filling out paperwork in Portuguese. I was picked up and driven home. This is when I realized: “Hollie, you aren’t in the United States anymore.” The drivers here are like madmen! If only someone could have taken a photo of my horrified face and me grasping the car for my life as we drove past cars almost hitting them. The lanes here are so tiny. The cars here are tiny too, but sometimes, the lanes are too small for the cars! Most of the time, there is a motorcyclist driving between two cars! During all of this, all I saw were small houses with gates around them. This isn’t what I had imagined Brazil to be.

My second week here I went to Rio de Janeiro. It was a lot of fun and I got to experience all of the usual tourist things! I went to Corcovado and all of the beaches. It was so beautiful, and I had so much fun with my family.

I am happy to say that I have made some of the best friends that I could possibly make. God was definitely watching over me when he showed me to these people. They have been so nice to me and have helped me with their language and have taken me out as often as they can to show me their culture! One of my best friends here is Sarah. Her grandpa started Betim Rotary, the Rotary in my city. But this Rotary doesn’t sponsor me. I am sponsored by the Rotary of Belo Horizonte, and since they are far away, Betim Rotary has been so helpful and welcoming to me. Sarah invited me to her Sweet 15, which was amazing. She held her party in a rented place called “Versailles” and it was decorated with special lights, flowers and modeling pictures that she did specifically for the party. To get into her party, you had to have this mini invitation and then next to the door were people taking gifts. There was a candy bar! I had too much fun there! I will probably return to the United States fat! There were tables with food and more candies! She had hired a personal photographer and videographer for the party. Each person at the party had to leave Sarah a “memoir” on film. I learned that it is customary for the birthday girl to give out havaianas (sandals) to each of her girl guests. I got my havaianas which are of a special design created by Sarah. Sarah did the valsa with 15 boys, which is very common at sweet 15’s. Sarah also took me and another exchange student (Logan from Belgium) the other day to her Grandpa’s farm (the one who started Betim Rotary). We rode horses, swam and had a churrasco. It was so much fun and I learned that many people here in Brazil have relatives that have farms and do what we did often.

I didn’t like my school, Colegio Tiradentes, so Rotary moved me to a new school, PUC (a university here). I am studying “direito” (law). I have learned that college here is very different from back home. Students only take courses directly related to their major. That is all that is required of them. Also, people here aren’t nearly as serious about school as we are back home. Students get up and leave the classroom all the time and teachers don’t do anything! A majority of students cheat on the tests and make it obvious, and normally the teacher doesn’t do anything about it. Despite this, I love my school. The people in it are so nice and helpful, and the teachers are hilarious.

I wish all of you future exchangers the best of luck in interviews. Those of you that get accepted, know that you are blessed. This is truly one of the best experiences anyone can ever have. It really is life changing. I hope it rocks your world like it has mine. I hope you have many struggles so you can grow and learn like I have. Good luck and love from Brazil!

Beijos e abracos,

Hollie G. Harrison

January 10 Journal

It is Christmas Eve in Frutal, Minas Gerais, and it is as hot and humid as Florida’s summer. There is no Christmas music or decorations whatsoever- meaning yes, there really is NO Christmas tree. And the thought that keeps crawling through my mind: “Is Christmas really tomorrow?”

But yes, it is. Brasil may not have the Christmas decorations or music, but Christmas spirit still is here. People who don’t know each other scream “Feliz Natal!”. The homeless roam the streets begging for money, and they receive in the giving, Christmas spirit. Families are gathering, and churches are ready with a Christmas sermon. It may appear differently, but it still is Christmas. And the people here do this every year! Every year it is this hot for Christmas! This truly is a Brasilian Christmas, or at least, Frutal Christmas. I do not live in Frutal. I live in Betim, but my family and I travelled here to see my grandma and the rest of our family- something that hasn’t change for me, travelling to see family for the holidays.

For New Years, I experienced even more new traditions. For New Year’s here, people wear the color with the symbolism that they want to happen next year. Most wear white for peace, but because of the economic difficulties back home that is hurting my family incredibly, I wore both white (for peace) and green (for money).

As Rotary will tell you, homesickness DOES kick in around this time. You will want to be home with your family decorating your tree and doing your usual traditions. But, you have to keep in mind, that you do that EVERY year! You have done these traditions every year and will continue to do them when you get home. You have to think like this or your homesickness will really get to you. Not to mention, you will be here! Learning and creating new traditions! You can bring some of these traditions to your family in the USA when you return! How cool will that be!?

When I last wrote, I was in the middle of changing host families. My second host family is incredible! I adore them! We are a family of only girls because my mom and dad divorced. They talk nonstop, which has made my Portuguese DRASTICALLY improve. I have only been with them for a month and half, and many people have seen a strong improvement in my Portuguese. I understand almost everything now, and if I don’t understand, I am always able to understand when they explain it in Portuguese. I still have trouble communicating back because of trouble with verbs, but my family is patiently helping me with that.

Now, I am about to leave for 25 days to Nordeste (the Northeast of Brazil). I will travel all of their amazing beaches, many state’s capitals and their national capital- Brasilia. I am very anxious for this trip, especially since I will be turning 19 during this trip. At first, I was sad to be spending my birthday on a bus full of exchangers instead of my family here in Brazil and my friends here. But then I remembered how hard Christmas and New Year’s was for me without my family and friends back home in the US and I realized that the best people to see on my birthday were my exchange friends. Because they can help me the most on this day with homesickness. Plus, my family is throwing me a party the day after I arrive home from Nordeste. Never forget your youth exchange friends. They understand you the most, with everything. Though, do not cling to them. Be very weary of this. Many of the exchangers in my state cling to each other instead of making Brazilian friends. DO NOT BE ONE OF THEM. You came here to experience the culture, and the best way to do that is to be with the people from that culture! Not to mention, learning the language too! Because the other exchange students tend to grasp on to English for life…..

I know that the new exchange students have been chosen, know their countries and have their first orientation very soon! I want to say to you all: *do not let time pass you by*. Take advantage of every opportunity! Study as hard as possible! Because the less you know, the more jokes and other things you miss out on! You want to be able to live life as normally here as soon as possible! And you certainly don’t want to look back and say, “Man, I can’t believe I spent that time goofing off when I could have been doing something meaningful.”

Also, I read Grant Simon’s journal, and as humorous as it was, take heed in everything he said. It is all TRUE.

Especially listen to not being alone. Many exchange students have done that here and it has not had good results.

I wish you all the best of luck!!!

With love from Brazil,

Hollie G

July 12 Journal

My last few months in Brazil were still full of much adventure and curiosity. I travelled on the Nordeste trip, which took me all around the North-East of Brazil. I went to Tiradentes, a historical city not just for my state but also for my country. Tiradentes was named after a Brazilian military leader in the “Inconfidência Mineira” revolution. They wanted full independence from Portugal and to create a Brazilian Republic. However, when the plan was discovered, he was arrested, tried, and hanged. He has been considered a national hero of Brazil and patron of the Military Police in the state of Minas Gerais (my state). The city I visited was named in his honor.

I sadly had to leave Brazil a month early for college and family matters. Leaving all the relationships that I had built there was incredibly hard, but I know that I will see them again someday. Coming home, I was filled with many of the same emotions I felt upon leaving for Brazil: sadness of leaving loved ones, excitement to see my family and friends in the USA again and to have American food, and confusion and disbelief that I was leaving.

Upon my arrival home, all family and friends were shocked about how much I have changed. Even my appearance was changed. Although they were shocked, they have loved the changes.

I too have loved the changes. I feel more independent and more aware of my surroundings and others. I like being able to relate the USA and Brazil. It has certainly given me more perspective on matters.

I still can’t believe my exchange is over. However, the cycle continues for the new outbounds to go and experience as much as they can and grow like I did. I wish you all courage. Make sure to listen more than you speak. That will make you understand, learn, and grow even more. Most of us are used to interrupting and talking whenever we please. You must remember NOT to interrupt and to listen more than you speak. Calculate your responses wisely. You will be judged on every encounter and NEVER forget that Rotary smile!

Good luck and enjoy!

Rotary, thank you again for giving me this opportunity. It has been and meant the world to me! I cannot describe how thankful I am. I hope to one day repay you for your generosity. Until then, I’ll be spreading that Rotary smile and telling anyone who listens about you.

Beijos e abracos! (xo)

Hollie

 

Jesse Coates
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Olimpia Rotary Club, District 4480,
Brazil

Jesse - Brazil

Jesse’s Bio

Ayyo! My name is Jesse and I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I turn 18 January 15th 2009 and will be celebrating my 19th birthday in Brazil. I couldn’t be more excited! While most seniors are busy planning for college and making their dorm arrangements, I am busy learning Portuguese and figuring out how to pack up my life for a year in only 100 lbs. worth of space.

I first learned about Rotary when I was in my freshman year and my Spanish class went to the auditorium to hear from two kids who spent the previous year overseas. At the time I thought it sounded cool, but I never thought that I could handle something that…foreign. But I decided that I would always keep the option in the back of my mind. I didn’t take a foreign language this year, so I almost forgot about Foreign Exchange completely. Then I met a boy in my English class who went to Japan for a year through a different program. Instead of working on our project, for the next 90 minutes I bombarded him with questions about his exchange. I decided to look into Rotary. The following weekend I met Pat Murray, who went to Hungary last year, and I had almost the same conversation with him that I had had with the other boy. I decided it was fate. I signed up for the meeting, filled out my application, survived the interviews, and was accepted into the Exchange Program.

I was raised with the idea that after I graduated high school, I would backpack across Europe for a month like my mother did when she was my age. She instilled the love of travel at a very young age. As a family, we’ve always gone camping and have chosen our pop-up camper over hotel rooms for years. I am very close to my Momma, Daddy, and my two younger sisters Lindsey and Casey. I will miss them so much when I leave, but all of us know that it will be an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

When I first brought up the idea to my parents about being an exchange student I wasn’t met with hesitant or surprised looks at all. My Dad informed me that he wasn’t surprised that I’d want to put off college for a year and spend a year expanding my horizons in another country. They encouraged me to apply and have been by my side through the entire process. They have always supported me in everything that I have ever done, and I can’t thank them enough for that.

I’m fun-loving, compassionate, and sarcastic. I love to giggle. I like trying new things and going on adventures. My friends and I are always going to the movies, the beach, the mall, and Starbucks. I have a passion for music, but I don’t know how to play any instruments. I’m interested in art and I am a section editor on my school’s yearbook staff. I love working with the elements of design and photography. I’m a huge Yankee fan with a soft spot for their shortstop Derek Jeter. I’m not exactly sure what I want to go to college for yet and I’m hoping that maybe I can be steered in the right direction this year.

Most of my friends think I am crazy for doing this. They don’t understand how I could leave everything familiar behind to go to a place completely unknown and alien to me. Yet, even though they do not understand, they support me. I love them all so much and will miss them terribly. I know I’ll have someone to come home to.

I would now like to take the time to express my gratitude to Rotary for taking this seemingly unreachable opportunity and placing it into my eager grasp. I know this will be a year of growing and learning and finding out who I really am.

I welcome this opportunity with open arms and bright eyes.

Jesse’s Journals

November 22 Journal

“I love my country, but I think we need to start seeing other people.” – seen on a bumper sticker

I’ve never been one to be good at expressing how I feel with words. I have always worn my emotions on my sleeve. But I will never earn a prize for a speech or be able to write something heartfelt enough to make someone cry. I’m just simply not good with “palavras.” So like Sarah said, I have had a horrendous time doing this journal. I have started at least 100 times and have never been satisfied. There is so much to say and I am just not quite sure how to say it.

BUT! I have decided to stop being a brat and try to explain what I am feeling and going through during this truly awe-inspiring experience. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to make my self sit down and write this journal. I can write an email, I can write a Facebook message, but I can’t write this. It should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. For me, it couldn’t be any more wrong. I have lived so much this past 3 months I can’t find words that express enough emotion for me to be satisfied. I know that words aren’t enough to let everyone else feel or see or touch anything that I am submersed in. So in some ways I’m like, “damnit, why even try to write.” But then I remember it is required.

I am being nagged in all directions. From my parents back home, to friends, to even the Brasileiros. Everyone wants to know what I have to say. I have ignored them up until this point and I have been lazy in my “show and tell.”

But enough of this nonsense because now I am here, internet and music off, brain focused, notebook open and letting my hands freely flow across my keyboard. Brasil is slowly but surely becoming the love of my life. Right now, I am in the puppy love, state of infatuation stage. Everything is new. Everything is exciting. Everyone wants to know me. Every day is a complete adventure. As more and more time passes I am slowly starting to see how truly hard it will be when I have leave this paradise. I can see that this love I am feeling will grow and become more mature as I live and become more a part of this culture.

I am not homesick. I was for about the first week because I understood NOTHING people said to me. But now I am comfortable. I can breathe. I have perfected my Rotary Smile. There are times that yes, I do miss my friends from home. I do miss my bed, my car, my sisters, my momma’s hugs, my daddy’s jokes, but I know all of these things are still in Florida and I know they will be there when my plane arrives back into the humid Floridian air in July of 2010.

Brasil is everything I expected it to be and more. The people are absolutely beautiful, in both a physical and personal sense. Within two minutes of arriving in a new place with people I am unfamiliar with, I am already feeling at home. Everyone is so warm and friendly. They want me to be happy and they want me to love Brasil as much as they do. Brasil is so relaxed. So wonderful. So different. So beautiful. Since day one, everything has been an adventure. My first night here, at 4 in the am, I managed to call the police. I was just trying to call home to tell everyone I was safe. I thought I dialed the wrong number, so I hung up to try again. I was right. 3 seconds later the phone rings and I instinctively answer. On the other end was a very distressed native Portuguese speaker. I threw the phone at my host brother and I remember the look on his face when he told me “Take care with this number, Jesse.” hahahaha. Mannn. Good one.

My first host family has been wonderful. For the first week I had two host brothers, David who is now 18 and Guiliherme who is now 10. I say “for the first week” because David is now loving life in Germany. He was my life saver my first week in S. America. Seriously. He was the only English speaker in this household and he answered every question I bombarded him with. He told me the rules. He took me to Thermas. He introduced me to all of his friends. I was a leech. But I know he enjoyed my company. 😀 And my host mom is an angel. She helped me with everything. Always. And she gives good hugs. She is also now addicted to chocolate chip cookies. haha.

School here…is school. I have never been a fan of school. I graduated early in January, so it was a good 7 months until I had to return this August. And omg, ugh. Everyone is always going to have a different exchange year. Different experiences. Different school. So what’s expected of you in school all depends on a million different things. I do nothing in school. Not because I am a lazy bum, but because there is nothing for me to do. No work sheets, no papers, no homework, no tests, no nothing. Just my very uncomfortable metal desk and my sweater as a pillow. BUT! Friends do always help this situation. So besides the fact that I am bored out of my mind, I do have people to talk to and keep things interesting. The only good thing about school is it is over by noon. This is a beautiful thing.

It’s very hot here. But I don’t mind. I live 5 minutes away from one of the most famous water parks in Brasil. That and I have a fear of the cold. Living in Florida all your life can do that to you. heh. Right now Brasil is heading into summertime because we are under the equator. Needless to say, I am pumped because that means no school. Yay!!

I am so thankful for this year. I am so happy. Every day. There are some times where I get super bummed because I want to hug my mom or have major girl talk with my best friends back home. These times are hard, but they don’t last long. I have a wonderful group of friends here. They’re so much fun. They’re so much help. I feel like they’ve been there for me for forever. It’s amazing how fast things and people become important to you when you’re put in this sort of situation.

Exchange students are definitely, THE best people in the world. No doubt. No matter how different two people are, if they have the exchange in common I think that’s all that matters. They get what’s going on in your head without actually having to listen to you tell them what’s up. Butttt, I am proud to say that my best friends are Brasileiros over exchange students.

Olimpia is such a small city. I don’t need to use a bus to get anywhere. Everyone knows everyone. There are no huge buildings and a lot of it is very country. However, it is now my second home. I couldn’t be happier walking to the super market to get an apple on my way to school. It’s such a cute place to live.

I have this rule of “not saying no.” And before any Rotarian freaks out, lemme explain. This rule was a larger deal when I didn’t understand anything that was said to me, but it still very much applies now. When someone offers to take me somewhere, I go. When someone offers to do something for me, I say yes. When someone says I should try something, I try it. No matter how tired I am. No matter how much I don’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter if I am “in the mood” for an adventure or not. I go. I said I was welcoming this year with open arms and bright eyes. So therefore I will not miss a thing. (**Disclaimer** :this does not include doing drugs, binge drinking alcohol, crazy sex parties, or driving a motorized vehicle). A good family friend once said “I collect experiences, good or bad.” I think this is a perfect thing to live by. Since I have been here, I have done and experienced so many things. I rode a horse … and enjoyed it … more than once (I hate horses). I was in a fashion show. Like a legit one. (I have super stage fright.) I ate chicken hearts (okay, ew). And so many other things that I would not have normally done. I have also been to a wedding. I went to one of the largest Rodeos in all of Brasil. I have been to shows in other cities. And I watched a baby horse be born. 🙂

Ah! The food. Oh jeeze. The food. It’s good. But omg, beans and rice. Every. Single. Day. No joke. I will die if I ever eat another bean in my life. But besides the ridiculously repetitiveness of this and how NO ONE gets sick of it, the food is delicious. Really. And brigadeiro is God’s gift to Earth.

Oh yeah! Annnnnnnnd, I have an English class! That is exciting. In exchange for Portuguese classes, I give English classes at a language school in my city. It’s so cool. I never would have expected to be in front of people…teaching. ew. But it’s a lot of fun. My class and I always have a lot of fun.

I am so happy here in Brasil. Rotary is a match maker. I am thriving and loving life. Embracing all things new and it’s beautiful. Everything is beautiful.

Thank you Rotary. Thank you Mommy and Daddy. Thank you Ms. Irwin. Thank you everyone who has helped me get to where I am right now. I can promise you that now that I have finally spit out this first journal, it won’t be another 4 months until you hear from me again. Scouts honor.

Beijos from Brasil<33

May 28 Journal

“Pra quem tem pensamento forte, o impossível é só questão de opinião”

When everyone told me this year would be hard, I listened to their words…but I don’t think they quite sunk in. It was more of an “in one ear and stay in the brain for 5 minutes, then out the other ear” kind of thing. I never actually realized that when people said “hard” they meant “really freaking difficult.” I have never felt so many things in my entire life. Over these past 10 months I have felt emotions that I didn’t even know existed before. But that’s only to say the least.

This year has really taught me about myself. What I can handle and how to handle what I think that I can’t handle. The word “can’t” has left my vocabulary. There have been times where I thought that I couldn’t take things anymore. I think the hardest month I had was from the end of December to around my birthday (the month of January). I just wasn’t happy. I felt that nothing was right, I felt my Portuguese still wasn’t up to par. I felt lonely. I wanted my home back in Florida. I wanted my blanket of comfort. My house. My car. My friends. My everything. It felt like something new went wrong every day. I would talk to my family back home on Skype and it would squish my heart into a thousand pieces to say good bye to them. To put it blankly, it just sucked. SO much. I would go into my host mom’s room and sit on her bed and just cry. She wanted to help me. So bad. I could tell. She would hug me and not let go and tell me it would get better and that I had to be strong. Just like my real mom would. I love her. An indescribable amount. She has a special place on my heart and I will never forget everything that she has done and continues to do for me. *-*

But anyways, it was about the end of January when I really started to think and re-evaluate things. Well, not just “things,” but rather, myself. I realized that my happiness is MY responsibility and not anyone else’s. It is no one’s job to entertain me. To make sure I am adapting and learning and studying and trying hard. My unhappiness is no one else’s problem but my own. And I was making it everyone else’s problem. I was mad at Rotary and my counselor because I didn’t want to face the fact that I, Jesse Coates, was wrong. I was blaming them for the things that I was unwillingly admitting were my fault. I have always been stubborn, and still continue to be, but this year has taught me that it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay because I am a human being. It’s okay to make mistakes. If you never make mistakes, you never learn. So, I admitted that I was in the wrong; that I was losing precious time of the most important year of my life, moping around and crying over things that I had complete control over. I looked into what it really was that was making me unhappy. I took some REAL personal time and started picking up the pieces of my messy life that I had spread everywhere. I admitted that I was wrong and realized that only I could fix my problems.

Since my own personal epiphany I have been absolutely thriving. I have strengthened my relationships with ALL of my host families. I had made life-long friendships, with Brasilians and the exchange students around me. I have traveled all over Brasil. I have done things I have never dreamed of doing. I have found my place in Olimpia. And I am happy. Truly happy.

Things have been so normal now. Things don’t surprise me anymore. I am living life as a Brasilian. And I have never been more proud of myself. I eat rice and beans every day with fresh squeezed juice. When someone tells me to be ready at 3 p.m. I am prompt to START getting ready at 4 p.m. I hug and kiss everyone on the cheek like we’ve known each other for years. I can samba. I can walk up to any random stranger and say to them anything that I would like in Portuguese. This place has really become my home and I just can’t imagine leaving in less than two months.

I have grown up so much this year. I have learned so much. I have changed so much. I am not the same blonde American who stepped off the plane in São Paulo almost 10 months ago. I am a better, happier, stronger person. And I couldn’t be more proud.

This year has been a complete roller coaster. Just like everyone said that it would be. They told me I would have hard times. That I would be upset. That things would go wrong. But they also told me that I would remember it forever. That I would have some of the happiest moments I have ever had in my life. That I would discover new things about myself. That I would fall full heartedly in love and never want to leave. I am in love with Brasil and everything it has taught me and shown me. I am so thankful for everyone who has made this year possible. My parents, my grandparents, all of my family and friends really. And Rotary. Rotary, I was totally mad at you earlier for putting me through this. But now I can’t thank you enough. Al Kalter, Daphne Cameron, Jody Davis, all of you, you know what you’re doing and I really just can’t express with words how thankful I am to have you guys in my life. Thank you so much.

Beijos e abraços,

Jesse

 

Joseph “Jay” McWilliams IV
2009-10 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine HS
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Lopburi Rotary Club, District 3350, Thailand

Jay - Thailand

Jay’s Bio

Hello everyone, my name is Jay McWilliams, and I attend St. Augustine High School, and I will be crossing the ocean to the opposite side of the world: Thailand. I’ve lived in St. Augustine for the 15 years of my life, and having never left the US, I welcome this opportunity with ecstasy and anticipation. I live with my parents, and I have one older brother who attends the University of Pennsylvania.

Throughout my life, things have always come in two categories: The tangible and the seemingly intangible. This opportunity being the latter for 14 years of my life, I still find it difficult to comprehend the vast chance which has presented itself. During my year abroad, I will do my best to not feel completely comfortable, as if at home. Following this principle would, I believe, help me to see how different this new world is, instead of searching for all that is similar.

Again, I would like to thank Rotary for all their support, and for giving me the opportunity to see beyond the horizon. This will, without doubt, be a pivotal year in my life, and I anticipate every moment of it.

Jay’s Journals

September 13 Journal

Sawatdee krap! I arrived in Lopburi, Thailand on August 1st. The day before had been a very long one, spent mostly a few miles in the air; thankfully, everything on the flight went smoothly. The jetlag that I experienced wasn’t too severe; the only real symptom I had of it was not being hungry. I hardly ate anything for two days after I got here, and I feel that concerned my host family a bit. But after the third day, I was recovered, and my appetite restored.

My family is one of the wealthier families in Lopburi. They own, and live on, a working saw mill. There are workers that come and go every day, and the front of the house is a store front. There is a guarded gate to enter the house, and guard dogs that they let out every night. There are multiple buildings on the property for the workers to live in, as well as a building that the family’s maid does laundry in. There’s a garden in the back which houses the dogs, as well as the biggest cat fish I have ever seen. I have two sisters who go to college in Bangkok, and one host brother that left two weeks after I got here to go to the U.S. as a RYE student. I was given a Thai name when I got here; it is Jindtanakan, which means Imagine. Most of my friends at school call me Jay, but some call my Lang (short for Falang, which means foreigner), while others call me Yong, which means curly.

Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. In the downtown area, you’ll find ruins of temples, and palaces on almost every street corner. There is also a very high monkey population in Lopburi. Wherever you turn, there’s a monkey sitting on the side on the sidewalk, or trying to take whatever things you’re carrying. Elephants are also not a strange sight around town. Sometimes, you’ll see one playing the harmonica for money, while other times, it will just be walking along the road.

Transportation is Lopburi is easy as well. There are things called Sorng Taew, which literally means: two rows. They are pickup trucks with two rows of seats under a roof in the bed. Each one has a different color that goes on a different route, and you pay ฿8 (8 baht), or about 25 cents, to go wherever you need to go.

I started school a week after I got here. My school is massive, and has about 3,600 students. The only real similarity between Thai high school and American high school is that they have classes, and they learn things. My first day of school, I was told to introduce myself in front of everyone. I did it in both English and Thai, and they went crazy when I was finished. Every day at school, everywhere I go, I hear someone calling my name and waving, or someone wants me to kick their soccer ball, or to come sit with them and their friends. One of the stranger things I’ve seen at school was when I was sitting at a table outside talking with my Thai friends. A man who apparently worked at the school came over to a group of boys playing soccer with a stick, made them line up, and began hitting all of them with the stick.

I’ve seen some beautiful places, and temples. The town that I live in used to be the capital of Thailand, and there are a few giant sets of ruins scattered around the town, as well as tiny foundations, and old temples to be found nestled among the buildings in the street. One of the ruins is King Narai’s palace, a past king of Thailand. The ruins are sprawling and vast as they are beautiful. One weekend, I went to Ayuthaya, which is an ancient Thai city with some very unique things, such as the only smiling Buddha, as well as one the biggest Buddhas I have ever seen. It was about three stories tall, golden, and surrounding by thousands of tiny Buddhas on the walls. It was possibly one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen.

My Thai knowledge and speaking skills are still very basic, but I have already learned a lot. I am capable of having very basic conversations, and I know the entire Thai alphabet, and can read almost anything…it just takes me a little while. The way I learn Thai at school is very laid back. Whenever I don’t have a class, I just go to the teacher’s lounge in the language department, and whichever teacher isn’t doing anything at the time, teaches me Thai.

Everything is ridiculously cheap here. I can buy a shirt that would cost 40 dollars in the U.S. for 4 dollars. One night, I was out with my friends, and we went to a night time noodle stand. Between the three of us, the bill was ฿50, which is a little more than $1. It’s almost shocking how cheap everything is.

All is well, and I look forward with incredible excitement to the months before me. Thailand has exceeded my expectations 100%. I have a great group of friends, a friendly, loving and understanding family, and an open door to the world. I don’t think I could ask for more. Until next time…

-Jindtanakan

จินตนาการ

December 2 Journal

สวัสดี America! I know that it’s been a while since my last journal was written, and I’ve been fervently reminded of this. There’s a lot to recount, so I best start around where I left off.

My last journal was in September, not long before my 16th birthday. On my birthday, my host family took me, one of my best YE friends, and other extended family of my family to a restaurant to eat dinner. When we arrived, the restaurant was covered in police, and Thai army personnel. Our initial thought was that something had occurred which would not allow us to eat there. But upon further investigation, we discovered that the princess was coming to eat at the same restaurant! This was very exciting, and every once in a while we were able to sight her just walking to and from the car.

At the end of September, the school semester ended. It would start at the beginning of November again, but this left us exchange students with little to do. Most of my Thai friends went to Bangkok to study for the university, so I couldn’t go places with them. Many days over that break were spent at home, reading books or studying Thai. One day, my host mom took me and one of the other inbounds in Lopburi (Leo, from Brazil) to go to one of the many army bases in Lopburi. My host mother was part of a juvenile justice committee, and they were sponsoring some sort of corrections program for kids at the base. That day, friends and members of the committee were given the chance to zipline on their training equipment. When my turn came around, I ended up doing it wrong and just bouncing up and down in the middle of the line. This was a great source of amusement to a large crowd of spectators and Thai juvenile delinquents, but it was a good time.

Two weeks after that, all the exchange students had an event in Angthong province. It was more or less a handicraft camp for us at one of the local arts schools in Angthong, but proved to be one of my most legitimate Thai experiences thus far. What made it this way was the family that I stayed with. All of the exchange students stayed with different families (I’m still not sure where they found the families, or how they’re connected to Rotary), and every day from Monday to Thursday, our families would take us the school so we could spend the day making crafts, and enjoying the company of the other exchange students. We arrived on a Sunday, and were given our families.

Now, my family in Lopburi is fairly wealthy, and lives in an established, well known part of town, and has a fairly new and very nice house. Relative to my idea of a nice house at the time, the house that I was staying in was the opposite. It was a very, very old, traditional Thai house that stood on stilts. The upstairs was one giant room (save the bathroom) with a TV, two beds and a couple of mats on the floor. The floor was ancient, creaking wood with inch wide gaps between each board. The roof was made of tin, and there was about 6 inches of space between the roof and the wall, so there was no shortage of mosquitoes. Luckily, everyone had mosquito nets, so nobody suffered too much. The downstairs area was the “kitchen” so to speak. It had a large table that the family sat on to eat, a refrigerator, a couple fans to ward away mosquitoes and a TV. Noted, all of these things were outside, the house acting as more of a pavilion with a roof, but no walls.

There were two older women who very much enjoyed feeding me, as well as asking about America. The house was situated in small village that was situated among seemingly endless rice fields. The family consisted of two parents, the two women who enjoyed feeding me (their significance to the family, I may never know), and four girls who I’m not sure how they were related to the family either. Every day, when I would get home from the school activities, they would take me on bike rides to look at temples, or they would go help the host mom work in the market. When the host father found out that I was interested in Buddhism (apparent by the Buddha hanging around my neck), he enjoyed telling me about it, showing me his large collection of Buddhas, and giving me more Buddha necklaces. “To protect from ghosts” they would say. As I got to know this family better, I began to realize that they don’t live in poor conditions, and that all of this is normal life for them. And it became normal life for me, and within two days, it was like I’d been there forever. It’s amazing how these things that would have seemed to disgusting and incredibly foreign to me are now so normal.

At the end of October, we had the Loy Kratong festival, which is a Buddhist celebration of starting new, and bringing good luck. Loy, in Thai means to float, and a kratong is a small vessel made of banana leaves and flowers that are floated down the rivers. This is to symbolize starting new, and getting rid of old grudges and such, as well as bringing good luck. All of the exchange students went to a place called Supanburi for Loy Kratong, and Rotary threw a big party for everyone. We were given kratongs, and floated them all down the river. When everyone let their kratong go, we shot off fireworks, and enjoyed the band and food that Rotary provided for us.

Loy Kratong in Lopburi was luckily two days long, so we could enjoy it in two different provinces. The city closed down the round-a-bout in the middle of town, and provided many shows, and markets for everyone to enjoy. My favorite was the Muay Thai fights, which was some of the best live fighting I’d ever seen. Unfortunately, it is proving incredibly difficult to find a Muay Thai place to practice in Lopburi.

The day after Loy Kratong, school started back up again. The month of November was very uneventful, with school, and pretty much nothing else. But, my Thai has started to improve again (my lack of interacting with my Thai friends in October slowed down its progress slightly). In a conversation with my friend, I described my Thai as “advanced basic”. My ability to read Thai has improved dramatically, and so has my vocabulary. Most of the time, I know the context of the conversation, but half of the time, I’m unable to come up with a response, despite the fact that I understand what is being asked. I still find it incredibly hard to understand students when they talk to each other, because of the speed, and amount of slang they use. TV is also very difficult to understand, but I can participate in a dinner time conversation with my family. I’ve already had a dream and a half in Thai, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, my thoughts will switch over to Thai. Besides that, I’m still learning more and more each day, and it could all only get better.

I’ve already switched to my second family, and I like them very much. They own a Michelin tire store right in the middle of town, so it’s very easy for me to get around. They enjoy traveling, also, so I’ll be able to see lots of Thailand with them.

Until next time….

– จินตนาการ

February 10 Journal

The month of December was relatively mild. I’d switched families, and there was a festival at my school for about two weeks, so there wasn’t very much school either. I went to Bangkok to stay with a boy from Mexico so we could go see concerts, and hang out with Bangkok. Life in Bangkok is much different from small town Thailand life, and I prefer the smaller, quiet atmosphere. And for some reason, I find it very difficult to speak Thai in Bangkok, because most people speak English, and when I attempt to speak Thai with them they give me a “What is wrong with you?” look, and continue to speak in English. Though Bangkok is vast, I am very happy that I don’t live there, because of these reasons, and because it’s incredibly expensive to do anything there.

Christmas and Christmas eve were a lonely couple of days. I had nothing to do, and I wanted to do something to commemorate, so I went to church with my Catholic first host family on Christmas eve, who is also hosting my best friend here, Leo from Brazil. Though I don’t usually go to church, it was something on Christmas (despite the fact that it was boring). The next day, I went to a party with my family that was unfortunately a karaoke party (the worst, and most incredibly boring sort, I have decided). Then, I went home and skyped with my family in America for the first time, which was a nice Christmas present. That weekend, I went to Bangkok for four days to see a concert with my friend, and go to a theme park with a couple other YEs. Then, two Mexican boys came to my city, and stayed here for a few days. All of these events were enjoyable, and I was happy to have so much company when school was not in session, and I missed home.

On December 31st, I left with my family for Chiang Rai in the North of Thailand to celebrate New Years. It was a long ten hour drive up, but it was full of scenery, and I was fortunate enough to have the backseat of the rented van to myself. We didn’t arrive until late afternoon, but the first place we went was the very famous White Temple. It is a very prime example of Buddhist contemporary art, with depictions of hell, large guardian spirits, and a few other morbid images on the outside of temple that houses the main Buddha image. On the inside, there were classical depictions of Buddhist culture, as well as more modern (and at time random) images, including a picture of Spiderman painted on the inside of the temple wall. It turns out that the artist of this place is a very eccentric man who is a pioneer of Buddhist contemporary art. This temple has been over 30 years in the making, and is still far from finished. It is quite a sight, and the amount of time put into it is very apparent.

That night, we just went back to the hotel, and everybody went to sleep. There was no festivities, or real celebration among my family for the New Year. This greatly saddened me, and I yearned to speak to someone at home. So, after the year turned, I stepped outside into the very cold, very clear night to make a call. The stars were very bright, and the sky was also dotted with Chinese lanterns, set off by people for good luck, or something of the sort. I called one of my best friends in Florida (who was also still in 2009), and I got my friendship fix. I fled the cold mountain air and crawled into bed for the first time in 2010.

On the first day of 2010, it was very cold in the mountains of Thailand. For the first time in a very long time, I had to wear more than one layer of clothing to stay warm. I was informed that the first stop on today’s journey would be the golden triangle, which is the river that divides Burma, Thailand and Laos. I fell asleep in the van on the way, but when I woke up, I was greeted by a magnificent sight. From Thailand’s last shore, there was a giant golden Buddha sitting on a Chinese style boat. Beside the Buddha, there was a dockyard, and a little market where foreign visitors could come and buy little souvenirs. On Laos’s not-so-distant shore, there was a huge red building with a golden dome. I was later informed that this building is the Laotian immigration building. On Burma’s shore, there was a huge casino (I found this to be a humorous contrast between countries).

And so, my family and I boarded a little boat which would take us to Laos. We got off the boat onto a very old wooden dock, and made our way up to the mainland via an ancient bamboo bridge that seemed to be unfit for so many people coming to and fro upon it all day. But, we reached Laos without incident, and now there I was, in Laos. The market was more like a collection of little huts in this small area with its wares on old wooden tables. The ground was red dirt (Northern Thailand and the surrounding area reminded me of in some respects), and there were chickens and dogs roaming about the stalls and trees. There wasn’t a whole lot of things here, mainly cheap knock-off clothes, and strange old Laotian traditional items, like knives, and oddly shaped pipes for smoking. Also, snakes in bottles that you could buy “to eat” as my host brother informed me.

From where I stood on the bank of the river, I could see four different countries. With Laos behind me, China to the North, and Thailand and Burma to my right, I realized how much there can be in such a little area to see, and maybe just how big the world is.

We left Laos the same way we arrived, across the rickety bamboo bridge, and down the Mekong river. When we arrived back in Thailand, we spent a couple of hours eating ice cream, and sitting in the area of the large Buddha. At last, it was time to go, so we made our journey through the mountains with Laos and China at our backs, we were now heading to Burma. We drove right up to the border and got out of our van. Thai people only need a “temporary border pass”, but I had to get my visa changed so that I could get into Burma. We walked trough the border station, and beneath a sign saying “The Union of Myanmar” in English, and in Burmese. All the people entering were being funneled into another small gate area, the Thai people entering the through the middle, and foreigners entering through a small a smaller passage separated by a small fence. My host sister came with me though, to ensure all went well.

As we walked towards the exit to this entry area, we came across a Burmese soldier. Without saying anything to me, or my host sister, he grabbed my arm a pushed me through a door way into a small room with four other Burmese soldiers stood carrying automatic rifles. They weren’t saying anything, just looking at me as if they expected me to do something. All I could muster up was a tentative, and stammered “Yes?”. One man sitting at a desk started speaking Burmese, this only increased my confusion. I could hear my host sister speaking in English to the guard outside, and then he opened the door, and handed me 500 baht. Apparently, that’s what these people wanted, because when I gave it to the man at the desk, they opened the door and told me to leave.

After this, we entered Burma with no further problems. All the merchants could speak Thai, so there was no communication problem. My family informed me that the gate was to close at around 5:30, so I had to meet them at the gate at 5:00, but now, I was free to wander the streets of Burma as I wished. I walked around, and bought a few movies, but I wasn’t very fascinated by this market. Everyone spoke Thai, and most signs were in Thai, so it really was no different from Thailand. I had the urge to see Burma, not Thailand within Burma. So, as I was looking for a way to see other parts of the town that weren’t within the market, I saw one of the exchange students in my district (Julia, from Germany) with her family in the market. I found this to be an interesting coincidence, so we hung out in Burma together. Unfortunately, she didn’t share my same urge to explore the real Burma, so what I saw of this town was limited, but what I did see was all very different from Thailand. The biggest appeal to coming to this market was how cheap movies are. I bought four, brand new DVDs for 100 baht (about $3). But I think I annoyed the sellers when I only bought 4 DVDs, because all the other Thai people in the store were buying about 30 DVDs at a time (most likely to resell in Thailand).

Finally, it was time to leave Burma and head back to Thailand. Naturally, it was much easier to get out than it was to get in. When we crossed the border again, my family stopped in the large square and decided to do a little bit more shopping. So they told me I could look around for about an hour. At this, I began to find my way through one of the markets. Everything in this one alley I found myself in was so Asian, I felt like I was in a movie. I walked through the alley, and to the foot of a mountain with a large stone staircase going up to the top, with two dragons on either side of the stairs, their open mouths gaping towards the market alley. So, I began up the mountain. The stairs were wide, sometimes requiring two steps just to get over one of the steps. When I arrived at the top, I found a temple, and a few other structures. I took a quick look at the buildings, then found my way to the side of the mountain.

All there was to see from here was Burma, and the town that we had just left. It was a cloudy day, and the sun was just starting to go down over the mountains. The clouds that hugged the mountains cast bright colors over the two countries, and they provided me with quite a sight. I looked down at the country, seeing many small houses built into the side of the mountain, as well as a Spirit Village made up of small white houses and shrines said to harbor the resident spirits. Behind me on the mountain was a giant statue of a scorpion facing Burma, the significance of which I am not sure, but it added to the mystery of the atmosphere. Burma was a mystery to me, and Thailand is as well, and all I wanted to do now was to know the two places like I know myself. I knew then that I was happy, and where I will be happy, with unknown things on either side of me.

The next day, we headed home to Lopburi. I rested for a day, then returned to school. The weekend after, we were informed that we had a Rotary conference in Bangkok, and that we would be required to give a speech in Thai. This greatly stressed out many of the other exchange students, because it was rumored that those who did poorly would be sent home. I knew that this was untrue, but it motivated many to write a very lengthy speech into Thai. When we had the competition, there were a few who had quite obviously put a lot of effort into the speech, and a few who at a glance, hadn’t. I didn’t prepare a speech, but instead I went to the podium and briefly told of a few of my experiences in Thai, all of which was pulled from the top of my head. There were ten winners, all of which won a Rotary 3350 backpack, and three grand prize winners. I find myself in the backpack winners, but I was not a grand prize winner. This did not bother me so much, because the two winners had not written the speech themselves, but instead used their teachers, and online translators to write their speech, but these two things were not exempt from the conditions of delivery. But, I was untroubled, in fact I was very content with what I had achieved with very little preparation, as well as a few other YE students.

One day, my friend from school took me to a mountain, and told me that there was a temple at the top. I couldn’t see it, so I decided to take his word for it. At the foot of the mountain was a very large temple, and he said that there were stairs that would take us to the top. There were stairs indeed, stairs up a very steep slope. It took us about two hours to get to the top, and at times we were climbing the stairs vertically. But when we got to the top, the view was awesome. But the best part was yet to come. On the stairs, there was a handrail going all the way to the top. On the way up, we had bought two plastic sacks that once contained rice or something like that. From the top, we slide on the bags all the way down the mountain. At times it was impossible to slide down (namely, the vertical times), but it was still a very good time.

Over the next couple months, we’re going to go on the trips, and I will get to see a lot more of Thailand. School is out now until May, so things will begin to slow down and become more relaxed. I’m the happiest I could be here, and all is going very well.

Until next time

สวัสดีครับ

-จินตนาการ

June 14 Journal

สวัสดี Florida!

The months following my last journal have been eventful for me, as well as the country that I’m in. As you’re bound to have heard something about, last month, Thailand experienced some of the worst civil violence in the country’s recent history. It had been on and off for a few years, but this year was intended to be one of great importance. While all of this was going on, I received a large amount of concerned messages from concerned people back home who wanted to make sure that I was okay, and far from the violence. I was, at the time, relatively close to it, but never experienced any of it. The closest I ever got to it was driving through Bangkok with my friend’s host family on one of the most eventful days, and seeing the plumes of smoke from the bombs and burning buildings that had been set off. Other than this, any violence was very far removed.

The two parties are known as the Red Shirts, and Yellow Shirts. The Red shirts are the poor and uneducated “peasants” of Thailand that make up the working class, and most of them hail from the North-East Isaan area of Thailand (most Thais in my area speak the Isaan language, but are ashamed of it because speaking it puts them in the same rung as the Isaan people). What the Red Shirts want is to be given equal voting rights, and equal class under a more democratic system. The Yellow Shirts, however, disagree. Yellow shirts are the upper class, rich, educated, metropolitan Thais. Most of them actually come from Chinese heritage, and employ the Red Shirts. The Yellow Shirts believe that the Red Shirts should not be given these liberties because they are less educated, therefore, unable to make the proper decision. A large part of the debate is also the two leaders of the parties, Thaksin for the Red Shirts and Abhisit for the Yellow Shirts, but I chose to leave that out of this explanation, because some people try to make the argument all about the two men, when I believe that the real issue is what I just shed light upon.

It is truly a tragic situation which is tearing the country apart, forcing the Thai soldiers (many of the same rung as the Red Shirts) to kill their own people in a confusing and complicated issue. For the first, and most violent parts of the struggle, all of it was centered in Bangkok. As the conflict drug on, small Red Shirt parties started to pop up in the surrounding provinces of Bangkok. In Lopburi, they would begin to gather at around 9 PM every night in one of the central junctions in town. They would sit there all night, drinking whiskey and watching orators on a projector screen. One night, another exchange student and I walked down to their camp with the intention of trying to buy one of their flags as a souvenir. When I asked a man if I could buy it, he told us that we could have them, and handed us two bamboo sticks with flags waving on them. As we made our way back, a man on a motorcycle followed us, and made us return to the junction. The man who gave them to us had forgotten to warn us about Yellow Shirts (I didn’t know that there were any around), so he had us take down the flags and told us to stuff them in our pants. This was my only real face to face interaction with any Red Shirts, and they were all very kind. Mostly all of the host families here (Rotary, in general really) are Yellow Shirts, and it’s interesting to get their point of view of the conflict.

Besides the Red Shirt crisis, the months follow my last journal have been rather quiet. The two Rotary Trips took place in March and April, and I switched families in between. My family now is very relaxed, and are very good to me. The Rotary trips were good also. They took place in the North and South of Thailand. The South trip was filled with tropical beaches, snorkeling and boat rides, while the North trip’s biggest highlight was Songkran. Songkran is the celebration of the Thai New Year, and is basically a massive water fight. I, and all of the other exchange students woke up early, strapped on our water guns, and took to the Chiang Mai streets. We were splashed, squirted and doused by people riding in truck beds, kids with small buckets and crazy tourist guys. This went on just about all day until we finally were exhausted and collapsed back at the hotel. The rest of the trip consisted of looking at temples, riding elephants, and learning about Northern Thailand’s culture, and in the evening we were given the freedom to roam around the area of the hotel as we pleased.

One of my main goals this year was to learn to read and speak Thai. Now, I can proudly say that I am one of the most proficient Thai speakers/readers in my district. Many people refuse to believe that I am not half Thai, and that I spoke very little Thai before coming, and I am frequently complemented on my accent (or lack thereof), and have a Thai phone conversation is incredibly easy, as I do it daily with my friends. This being said, I know that there is still very much to learn. Thai is a vast language, with multiple forms of speaking, and a ridiculous amount of synonyms (the hardest part of the Thai language, I have decided). In my years at home I intend to keep studying Thai, even just a little bit, to learn more and keep up what I already know, so when I return, it will be even better.

Now, 11 months after leaving the US for the first time, I can say that I am a changed person. I’m bilingual, and more confident. I feel I’ve become more relaxed with things that don’t matter as much, and become more serious about things that do. One of the main reasons I think that our parents send us on exchange, as well as one of the main goals of Rotary besides the learning of cultures and having a more worldly understanding, is to learn to be responsible, and perhaps more grown up in a sense. We learn this to use it now, in our adolescence, as well as transferring easier into adult-hood.

But what I’ve observed is that as I, and the other exchange students that have learned this lesson well also learned another thing: what it means to be young, and how fleeting youth is. Through experiencing what it’s like to be an adult and make your own decisions, I feel we learned even more valuable lessons about how young we are, and how to rejoice in the fact that we are still young, with long futures ahead of us. Long futures that will soon become the present, but this is not near as intimidating because we have known what youth is, and that we’ll do our best not to waste it on ourselves. This comes hand in hand with the ever present looming mountain of adult-hood that we have also learned a tremendous amount about. And though, now knowing youth, it will be more dearly missed, the realization of how great a thing you have is also realizing that it will one day be gone, and therefore, adult-hood isn’t as much as an end, but just another beginning, as is life. Of all the conclusions that one could come to in a year far, far away from home, I believe this is the most important that I have stumbled upon, and it will forever be with me.

Now, as my final weeks in Thailand close in upon me, I can say with no doubt in my mind that I have fallen in love with this country, and its people. And, like so many other exchange students have pledged to do, I will do everything thing in my power to make it back here as soon as I can. Because Thailand is my home now, and I will miss it will all of my heart.

โชคดีนะ

-เจ

 

Joshua “Josh” Redlitz
2009-10 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Orange Park HS
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Portoviejo San Gregorio Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Josh - Ecuador

Josh’s Bio

Hello! Bonjour! Buongiorno! ¿Buenos Días? What was to become of my English, French, and Italian tongues? I had no idea once I got the call. He said, “I just want you to have fun… in Ecuador!” I was shocked. I knew no Spanish and I needed to learn in 6 months!!! Quite a task on my plate, but with perseverance and a little help from family, friends, and Rotary, I think it is possible.

Hi, my name is Josh Redlitz. I am a newly accepted Rotary Youth Exchange Student who is being sent to Ecuador. I am a Junior at Orange Park High School. I am 16 years old, turning 17 in May. I have 3 brothers, and a dog. My oldest brother, Chris, is the one who inspired me to become a Rotary Exchange Student, for he went to Brazil with Rotary 2 years ago and had the time of his life.

Throughout my life, I have always been a very active individual. I have been involved in a lot of sports. I played little league T-ball for 2 years, football for 1 year, and soccer for 8 years. I am on the road towards the culinary business and have been interested in cooking since the 2nd grade. I also play piano and have played for 8 years. I am in all honors classes at school and a few college “AP” classes such as Chemistry, Statistics, and English Composition. I am a very friendly person. I am very open to trying new things and am very easy to get along with. I try to be funny a lot of the time, even though I may not be.

I am very eager to start this exchange process and hope for the best to all of my fellow exchange students. I leave you with one last statement: Hasta luego, Hasta pronto, nos vemos. Tengo que irme. I think that is how they say it. In Spanish, that means: see you later, see you soon, just see ya. I have to go.

 Josh’s Journals

August 10 Pre-Departure Journal

Wow, I can’t believe my adventure is almost over … wait, it’s just beginning. It seems like forever ago that I first applied for this exchange, and now look where I am. Just about one year ago, I came home from the last District 6970 Welcome Home Dinner with the thought in my mind, “How in the world am I going to convince my dad to let me do this!?!” Well, I guess you could say I kind of didn’t ask. It was almost a presumption. I asked him about the program and asked if I could go on an exchange, just like my older brother, Chris did. He gave the simple, cliché answer of “Well, I’ll really have to think about it.” So I asked my mom about it. She was all in favor for it and told me how to get my dad to be all gung-ho with the idea. I had to proceed with EVERYTHING by myself. So, I printed out all the forms, got every signature needed, and one night, laid it all out in front of him, and said, “All you need to do is sign in this few places and my application is complete; I already did everything else.” He looked surprised and proud and happily signed.

Then the brutal interviews that everyone was so nervous about and then the acceptance letter, then the destination country call. Jody Davis called my cell phone at about 7:30 p.m. one evening while at Dillard’s looking for Christmas gifts for my mom. He said, “Ecuador!”, and I have to admit, “YAY” was definitely not the first thing that jumped in my mind. It was more like, “HUH!?!” That was completely unexpected!!! I was originally hoping for Italy, already knowing the language, but ECUADOR? That was the last choice on my preferences! Well, I went along with the whole idea. Met my host family, went to the first orientation, and began my research project on Ecuador. I am not quite sure if it was the pictures of my host sisters and their friends, or the thought of eating roasted guinea pig that got me extremely excited for this, but it happened, I couldn’t be anymore pleased with my destination.

Then the real adventure comes: obtaining my visa. I found out, about 2 weeks before the visa forms were due that I had to make a personal visit to the Ecuadorian Consulate General in Miami to be able to obtain my visa. And in this 2 week period, I had to fly up to Massachusetts for a funeral… ugh! I was not a happy camper when I realized how much I had to do!!! I barely even had enough time to go to the bathroom!!! I was very often running around like a chicken with its head cut off!!! But, I got through it. I went to the final Orientation, said goodbye to everyone not in my district, and a month later, went to the Welcome Home Dinner again. In one year, all this happened and so much more will happen in the year to come. I have 10½ days until I leave for the awesome adventure and so much to do. I have to clean my room, pack, hang with friends, get host family gifts, and so much more little things… it almost seems overwhelming, but, again, with a little perseverance I will come through.

Well, time to get back to work! I have a lot to do. Talk to you again once I get to Ecuador!!!!!!

August 27 Journal

Ok, I’m going to start out with this: Working up the courage just to write this journal has been pretty intense. Now, when I say, working up the courage, I mean, everything that made me not want to write it I had to ignore, such as sadness, boredom, etc. The beginning is rather good, however, brace yourself, because I am going to share things that I never would’ve EVER had the guts to publicly share without feeling embarrassed.

I woke up at 6:30 am on August the 21st and from there, my journey began… I ate my last American breakfast (a couple of dollar store waffles loaded up with chocolate chips), took a shower, got changed, put on my Rotary blazer and at 7 o’clock, I was off to the airport.

At the airport, I checked in at about 8, which actually scared me because they couldn’t find my reservation for a couple minutes. When that crisis was over, I went over to the lobby and began playing cards with my family to kill some time. As we were sitting there, Dominic walked in to the area and we greeted him. My mom, God Bless Her, saw this as another opportunity to take more pictures. With mine and Dominic’s arms around each others shoulders, I didn’t think so many people liked this pose. I think there were about 10 to 15 flashes at that one moment. Finally, the mini photo-op was done and Dominic was headed through security to the concourse. I then said my goodbyes to my family. Hugs to everyone: Mom, Chris, Aaron, Conrad, Brittany, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, have I made my point? HAHAHAHA. Well, I went through security and as soon as I was done with security, I knew my family was still there looking for me, so I peeked my head around the corner through the exit and saw them waving. They were waving so hard, I thought their arms were going to fall off!!! I finally caught up with Dominic at the gate and about an hour later, we boarded our plane.

The plane was a bit intimidating. It was really small… REALLY, REALLY small!!! It had some large, rather rickety-looking propellers that moved it. Dominic and I had the pleasure of having the seats at the window, directly adjacent to these propellers. Dominic was rather apprehensive about the propellers. I think he only looked out the window about 3 times… and that was only to take pictures of the Miami Airport as we were making our final descent.

In the Miami Airport, we saw the first other exchange student. We first walked past her, looking for food, and it not being in our head right away that she was an exchange student. But then, through inductive reasoning of her being a teenager, sitting at the gate of the flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and putting on a jacket that seemed to be a Rotary exchange jacket, we quickly turned around and gave a big Rotary smile and greeted her. Eventually, after a long time of just walking around, we finally met up with everyone. All 15 of us Ecuador-bounds that Sheila told us would be here that day arrived. We took a couple pictures together and wrote each others’ names down on some pieces of paper for Facebook friends, only to soon hear that our flight to Guayaquil was to be delayed by 2 hours! I freaked out. The outbounds to Quito said their goodbyes and good lucks and were off to their gates, leaving us and our problem to ourselves.

Well, luckily, I had a phone card that I could call my mom with and attempt to call my host family with. No luck with the host family. It freaked me out. So, I had the bright idea of calling my mom one more time and ask her to get my brother, Chris, who is nearly fluent in Spanish, to contact my host family and let them know I would be late, and hopefully hurry, because it takes 3 hours for them to get to the airport from their house and it is only a 4 hour flight!!! So I had to leave it there, after 2 hours of attempting to reach my host family, my flight was soon boarding. I thanked my mom and brother one more time and me and my mom could not get enough “I love you’s” out of our systems. I eventually hung up and went back to my gate. We boarded and it was now time for our 4 hour flight. The meal on the flight was better than expected, but it was still pretty uneventful, but that is only because I fell asleep just after eating.

Now comes the harder parts of the journal for me to write:

We landed, everything was fine and dandy. Customs were quick, everything was fine and dandy. I walked out into the lobby with about 200 Ecuadorians standing there, waiting for their friends and family to walk out, only to see my host sister, Andreina, jumping up and down waving at me, everything was fine and dandy. We went to a phone booth to call my mom and let her know that I got there safe and sound… but I couldn’t reach her. My phone card wouldn’t work. I didn’t understand it. But my sister was finally able to use her cell phone, somehow and call my family. Now, 3 hour car ride home, all was silent. Well, that I can understand. It was 11:30 at night when we started out for home. We settled in the car, got in a nice comfortable position for sleeping, and we all dozed off for a nice 3 hours. When we got home, my family showed me around the house and showed me to my room and I got changed to my pajamas, flopped on my bed, and just fell asleep.

The morning is when the worst thing happened… I felt like I was going to puke. I felt so sick, it wasn’t even funny. I tried to occupy myself by completely unpacking everything, but that didn’t really help. This is where I started to get really homesick. The nausea certainly didn’t get any better with the awfully strange breakfast we had. I hope that wasn’t their version of cereal: cut up fish and onions in strangely-seasoned water, all cold. I felt even worse there. Well, we eventually headed out to the mall for the weekly grocery shopping. Me and my sister got some ice cream and I think that is when I started to feel a little better. We got home and I had nothing to do. I felt so bad. It is apparently custom to go into your room and close your door, not to come out for anything except for food, or if you are going somewhere. I tried this and I started to cry. I was soooo homesick, and it hadn’t even been 24 hours since I had arrived yet. I eventually had dinner and sat in my parents room and watched Fútbol, or as we Americans call it, Soccer. Once the game was done, I went to bed.

When Mama (that is what I call my host mom) got me up the next morning, we had breakfast in a restaurant which was definitely better than the day before, then we went to the beach. I saw the most amazing sight one could ever see. It was the beach, lined with houses beyond all imagination, and I saw it from up on a cliff. It was so wonderful. We eventually got down, and went sea side and me and my sister went on a large banana-looking raft that was pulled by a motor boat. THAT was fun!!!!! When we got home, I felt so homesick again.

I went into my room again. Came back out for dinner, then went and played some PS2 with brother, Jonathan. We played some Fifa Soccer and he kicked my butt, 3 times! I then went to bed.

The next few days were the worst. I was not in school yet, at least not for another week. My brothers and sister were all at college, and my parents were at work, leaving me home alone with the maid and a TV remote. This is what I have been stuck doing for the past few days, and it has been driving me mad!!!! I felt so sad everyday. And every night, I cuddled up with my prayer bear that one of friends at church gave me and cried myself to sleep, praying that I could either ask my parents if I could come home, or if things would get better. Well, Monday night, I was so tired of it. I sat Mama down and completely broke down in tears. She gave me the phone to call my parents. I called them and read them a little emotion journal that my mom told me to write and give to them when I returned. I did the unthinkable… I asked them if I could come home. My parents, being the wise, experienced, and loving people they are, said no way. They are extremely compassionate to my feelings and understand them 100%; however, I signed up, was accepted, and supported for a 1 year exchange not just because I was another applicant, but because people felt that I could do this. At this point, I didn’t think that I could do this. After a good talk with my parents back home, we set aside a time this week to get on MSN and use the webcam.

That is now what I am looking forward to: A chat on webcam with my entire family back home, including my little 8 pound Chihuahua. That and a package that my mom just recently sent of little things that should cheer me up and that should put a smile on my face. I have 2 more days of pure boredom… me, the maid, and a TV remote. I just hope that I don’t get so sad again as to ask my parents to come home. I may regret it for the rest of my life. Luckily, I have school next week and I am taking some rather easy classes: Math and Chemistry.

Well, okay, easy for me. At least it should be, I did get a 4 on both my AP Statistics and AP Chemistry exams this past year… 😀 As several other exchange students have said, as well as all of the counselors and program directors of RYE back home have said, DO NOT trust your emotions, at least not for the first few weeks or maybe even couple months. Take me, for example. I trusted them every day and every night and I cried every day and every night. It didn’t do me any good. Everyone has their ups and downs the first week or 2 or 5, but you can ALWAYS come through it… well, that is what everyone else says. I still have yet to figure that one out.

September 14 Journal

Chao!!!! Como estas!!! I am doing much better than the last time I posted. I have definitely seen the light that everyone has their ups and down, but they just need to get over it. I am now over it and doing well. Since the last journal, I have been really busy. I started school, went to Manta, went parasailing, and had my inbound orientation.

School has been magnificent. Everyone there is so friendly. Sometimes, they can even get to be a little too friendly. But, it’s nothing I can’t handle. I am in a Physics and Mathematics majoring class. The Math is really, really easy and the Physics is easy as well. We also have other classes, like English, literature, Gym, Drawing, Computer Graphics, and Chemistry. I love my chemistry class, because I am the smartest one in there. I know every thing the teacher is saying and more. Sometimes, I think I even know more than him. It was a little awkward for my first day of Gym. I didn’t realize that I had gym class that day so I hadn’t worn my gym uniform. I couldn’t participate, however, the teacher said it wasn’t that big of a deal. He said he would let it slide. But I still felt guilty because I was sitting in some cool, relaxing shade while the rest of the class was constantly running their butts off in the blazing sun. I felt really bad that I wasn’t working as well. All well, there was nothing I could do about it.

Parasailing is one of the most thrilling things you could ever do in your entire life. I absolutely loved it. I started to get strapped in and once we were ready, another guy had to come and help drag us off the cliff because we had the parachute behind us, weighing us down. We were running on the ground, full speed, but then, all of a sudden, there was just no ground. I was still running same speed and everything, just in the air. It was absolutely magnificent. I was able to see EVERYTHING. Ecuador is so beautiful, but even more gorgeous from the air.

Then there was the Orientation, and oh boy, could I go on about this. First, it was in a small city called Nobol. It is a quaint, peaceful little town. In Nobol, there was a camp, or moreover, a Christian Hotel. This is where we spent the week learning of Ecuadorian culture and the Spanish language. Every morning, at 6:30, I would wake up and go get ready for breakfast at 7. We would eat breakfast then go into these 2 “carriages of death”, as I call them. They really were scary, especially if you lied down on top. We would travel about a mile and a half to the other area of the camp and go have our presentation and activity for the day. This lasted about 4 hours, or sometimes, quicker. We would then eat lunch, and go back into the carriages of death, and head back to the main lodging for Spanish class. The Spanish class was really, really, really helpful. I learned a lot and the teacher was really good. From our 4 hour class, we would go to eat dinner and then the rest of the evening was free. We could either go onto the outdoor stage and dance, go swimming, or, if you were so inclined, go to bed.

The last day of camp, we played a cross culture simulation game. I already knew how to play it because I played it at my second outbound orientation in Florida. Because of this, I wasn’t allowed to play, however, they were really able to use my help in teaching it. It was a lot easier for me to teach this just because I had the first hand experience with this game. It was just as fun this time as last time. However, this time, we found some huge iron jail walls in the back of the room and we set those up for punishment to the visitors that were bad.

The bus trip back home was very eventful. We got pulled over by the cops 3 times and actually got into a bus crash. Some guy in a van tried changing lanes, but we were where the guy was changing to, so he ran us off the road. It was soooooo scary. Luckily there was a large pile of rocks and debris in front of us that stopped us and a large metal sign to our side that kept us from completely tipping over. We were really lucky. Me and my friends were thinking: “I wonder what would have happened if that sign wasn’t there.” Well, physically, we would be guaranteed injury. Maybe not serious, but everyone would have injuries. The entire bus would have been tipped over. Luckily, we didn’t have injuries and the bus didn’t tip over all the way.

I better get going. I have some sleep to catch up on. Hasta Pronto!!!

September 30 Journal

So, another 2 weeks have gone by, but yet again, it only feels like 2 days. Every day, I look at the date on my calendar and nearly have a heart attack. When I first got here, I was so sad. I would nearly have a heart attack because I thought I had the longest time left here; now I am starting to feel that I have little to no time left. I realize it has only been a month and a half, but when I say that I only have 9 months left, I just freaks me out. I keep thinking: I have 3 months left in school, then 4 months of break, then only 2 more months of school!!! HOLY COW!!! It is just ridiculous. I think about how fast the school year back home goes, and how much faster the break goes, then I get scared that this year will go by like a flash of lightning.

Time goes so fast here. Everything goes fast here, I mean, just take a look at that speedometer in the taxi that I was in!!! I feel that my time here is extremely precious. I went out with my friends the other day to a water park and had the time of my life. But then I look at what time I have left here in this paradise and I feel that I probably won’t be able to do that too many more times.

I feel that I need to do more in general. I feel that I have a duty to do, I feel that I need to help more, with my Rotary club. I feel that I have to do more of what I just did this weekend. It was a typical Rotary, do-good-er activity: the Rotaract club, interact club, and Rotary club all went out to a local town and helped the sick free of charge, with real medicine and real doctors.

I went out with my friends on Friday evening, not knowing what was being planned for us exchange students for this weekend. However, thankfully, another exchange student knew the basics. She said that we had to meet on Sunday in the morning at our Rotary club meeting place. So, I did. I met up with some local Interact students, Rotaract Members and Rotary Members. All of us students hopped on a bus and we were off to who knows where. We got to our destination: a private school in a nearby town. We walked in and there were probably about 200 sick people all there waiting for us. And that is where the work began. There were doctors, dentists, and pharmacists. We stacked medicine, organized patients, and handed out prizes, and we had a blast doing it. We exchange students were pretty much the stars of this activity. We were looked up to so much, and I’m not just saying that because all Ecuadorians are short, either. The announcer called us up several times, just to be the ones to hand out the giveaway prizes. Everyone loved us. And thanks to our temporary fame, something that the Rotarians back home taught us came back to me. We are there for just this reason: to make a difference. We are now a part of Rotary International: a world-wide community service organization, set out to make the world a better place to live in. We have to honor that and this function that we participated in is a perfect example.

Chao for now!!!

November 12 Journal

It’s been a while since I did this. I actually had to come to this website just to read what happened last when I wrote my last journal. I looked at what I last did and thought, “That can’t be true. Al must have just forgotten to put up my last journal because I have done sooo much since then. It feels like it all happened just yesterday though.” Time has been flowing by so fast. It is kind of frustrating really. We are nearly half way done with the month then it will the month of Christmas or Navidad. Which will mean that I am just about half way done with my exchange. It is really scary. I have a lot to catch you up on and let’s see how much I can get out of my head.

My life is amazing. I have an amazing house, amazing family, amazing friends, amazing school, but a TERRIBLE extent of vocabulary left in English. I have nearly forgotten how to speak English. And it definitely hasn’t helped my English that I am now trying to learn both French and Spanish at the same time. I hang out with my exchange friends a lot. They have actually inspired me to learn several languages and to want to travel the world. I look at them and they can ALL speak English and at least 2 other languages… well, at least those from countries that aren’t the USA. I am actually hanging out with these friends every day. My social life is at an all time high right now. I go out with my friends nearly every night, go out with my parents every weekend, and have several friends at school who are practically in love with me. Every day I go to school I have to give all of my guy friends handshakes and all of my girl friends a kiss on the cheek. I actually have girls at school who tell, “ahora, besame en la boca.” And for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, that means “Now, kiss me on the mouth.” I really can’t though because if I do, they will think that I am then their boyfriend, but several girls have asked me for a kiss on the lips. lol.

A few weeks ago, the exchange students of Ecuador had their Paseo Manabí and we took a tour of 3 major cities of the state that I live in: Portoviejo (my city), Manta, and Crucita. I remember getting to the hotel only to see a few friends from Portoviejo waiting there to greet me and a few Rotarians in the building waiting to search my bags as they were doing with all the students. I got past security with no problem, then I got to my room and the activities began. We waited for a while longer to find other students and then, all of a sudden, we saw 2 very large busses pull up and just start unloading about 62 students. I thought to myself… that must be Quito….. DOMINIC!!!!! I grabbed all of the other buddies I knew from our flight into Portoviejo and we greeted our long lost pal, Dominic. Later, I got into my bathing suit and at 8 o’clock at night, about 40 students were all in the pool and we were throwing random people in… taking their phones away from them of course. We climbed a cliff to see an amazing view and had a dance at the end of the Paseo. It was an amazing trip.

I had no school last week because it was the end of the trimester. My sister didn’t have classes on Monday and Tuesday, either. My mom and dad took off those 2 days from work as well and we went to 2 different beaches on either day. Monday, we went to a beach called San Lorenzo, about 2 hours south of Portoviejo, where I live. The weather there was very bad for swimming. It looked like it was about to rain, and it was very, very cold. So, instead of swimming, we took a boat ride to this neat little island about a mile off the coast. It was amazing. Then, on Tuesday, we went to a beach called Bahia just 2 hours north of Portoviejo. I knew the exchange student from Germany who lived there and I had his number, so I called him and we got to hang out for a while. It was quite exciting. This beach was absolutely beautiful, especially because it was the afternoon when we saw it, where the sun caught the water just right. After we were done there, we went to a family member’s house in Canoa, which was another 30 minutes north. I found out it was my dad’s ex-wife and her kids. That was pretty fun. They were sooo nice.

I climbed a mountain last weekend. THAT was cool. Me and 3 other exchangers and one exchanger’s family, climbing a mountain that seemed like the Amazon rainforest. This was fun. On parts going up, it felt like we would take 3 steps forward and slide 2 steps back. Then going down the mountain, me and another person got waaay ahead of the group. It felt we were taking 3 steps forward and jumping 8 steps forward. This was the most fun part. It was definitely harder than the way up… and a lot more dangerous. Let’s just say that you would not be able to climb up where we went down. There were several cliffs where we just had to jump.

Then, the next day, I went out with a few of my friends to the mall and then afterwards, we went to this little back road to a kiosk to buy some of the most amazing hot dogs in the world!!!! We decided to wait for taxis there because it was quite a distance from the mall to be walking at that time of night. Well, my friends all got their taxis first and I was left alone to get the last taxi. Not even a minute after my last friend had left, a robber came up. It really scared the heck out of me. First he threatened me with gun that he didn’t have, then with a knife that he didn’t have. Then he just grabbed my watch and broke it off. I pushed him back a little bit and then completely decked him in the face and laid him on his butt. Then I just ran as fast as I could back to the mall. I am quite glad that Chris taught me how to throw a mean right hook, just after he was in this exact situation. I guess that the Redlitz name is just forever cursed in RYE.

Well, I am pretty sure that is the gist of it, or at least what was the most important. Hasta proxima vez!

December 20 Journal

This exchange has brought me together with so many friends, and it’s not even halfway over yet. Not only has it brought me together with new friends, but people who I haven’t talked with in years. I found myself, the other day, on Facebook, looking for a couple friends who I haven’t seen or heard from in over 6 years!!! It is ridiculous.

That’s right, I was looking for my old elementary buddies. That’s not the only strange thing I caught myself doing. I was downloading Christmas music… Barry Manilow, Kenny G, and a bunch of other people I would never EVER listen to on a normal day. It is only because that is the Christmas music that my dad always listened to back home during Christmas time. And now, I am in Ecuador without my family during the most family oriented season of the year.

I remember everything that goes on during holidays in the US that I start to miss… Halloween, there was always a program on TV that hosted a “13 days of Halloween” and it would play Halloween movies for 13 days up to Halloween day. On Thanksgiving, you always have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade along with my mom’s homemade pies and turkey and stuffing. Then the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of Christmas. Black Friday was what we called it. It was the day that all of the stores’ Christmas specials started. At 4 in the morning, on Black Friday, people would rush into the stores, finding sales that are 50% off, Buy one get 3 Free, and other ridiculous discounts. That was also the day that I would be home still from break and set up everything Christmassy. I put up the Christmas lights on that day. We put up the Christmas tree and decorated it on that day. Put out the stockings for decoration, and started collecting Christmas cards and taping them on the giant glass slider window. Then after school everyday, when my dad got home, he would put a Christmas CD in the boom box and listen to Christmas music constantly. Then, right about where we are now in the season, school would be letting out, we would be taking our exams, and the bottom of the tree would be halfway filled already from presents from relatives. Everyone would be doing their last minute Christmas shopping and then, Christmas eve, we would go to the 8 o’clock Christmas eve service and when we get back, me and my brothers would have some hot chocolate and my parents would lock themselves in their bedroom and just wrap EVERYTHING at once. They always waited until the last minute to wrap anything.

I have been remembering things a lot. I have been extremely nostalgic this past month. Even if I hear a certain song, I start to feel really sad. For example, I was listening to U2 “Where the Streets have no Names” and I remembered the first time I listened to that song. It was sitting in front of the computer, looking at my uncle’s old music collection when I got a call from the hospital saying that I got the job that I had applied for. I then listened to it walking to take my blood tests for the job. If I here Eric Clapton “Layla”, I remember 2 things: first, I remember realizing how amazing that song is while standing under the overhang at school when it was pouring outside, waiting for my mom to come pick me up. Second, I remember working after school every Friday in the kitchen at school to help serve the football players food before their big game. I had it as my ring tone on my phone, and my phone went off and my culinary teacher heard it and her first words were, “IS THAT LAYLA!?!?!?!? THAT IS MY FAVORITE SONG EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!” I was so psyched because that was my favorite song as well.

I guess you can say this journal is a tribute to everything that I have missed the past month or two, or maybe even more. Everything that you had that you had taken advantage of really comes back to you when you are in a foreign country. From every piece of candy collected on Halloween, to every float going by in the Macy’s parade, to every Christmas light being lit, to every Christmas package being wrapped. The little things soon become the big things and the big things become unbearable to think about. You soon have nothing small enough to just brush off and forget. And you better darn well hope you don’t already have anything unbearable, because those will soon become killers.

I cant wait till I get home to have everything back again, but I don’t want to go home right now. I will be leaving so much behind. My family back in Florida, I know that I will see them again, but who says I will be able to see my friends and family here, again?

Every day that passes, I ask myself and other people ask me, what are you going to do with your loved ones here when you leave? Is there anyone you want to take home with you? Or are you going to try to live here? Or what are you going to do? I would really rather not think about that right now. Between that and the memories, I have realized that looking away from what I have right now just hurts.

Just live in the present and embrace it. Try not to look back or be paranoid about the future. I just now leave you with a quote that entails this all… “The past is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift—that is why it is called the present.”

January 12 Journal

“Information’s pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience.” -Clarence Day

Have you ever had that feeling where you experience something and then try and explain it to someone but constantly feel that they will not understand the extent of your emotions? The truth is, they really never will understand. I remember back to when I was writing my Rotary 12-page report on Ecuador and I kept thinking, “GEEZ!!! This is going to be AMAZING!!!!” Now, I am constantly thinking, “Boy, I really did not know what I was in for.” It is true, this country is absolutely AMAZING, but I didn’t understand that then. The report was a good help, a basic set of information so you know what to be prepared for. However, you realize, once you start to experience the country, that it really was just BASIC info.

Christmas – I knew that I was going to miss my family. I knew that I was going to feel strange without my family at my side. I knew that there was going to be a new culture here for this holiday. However, what I did not know what HOW much I was going to miss my family, HOW strange I would feel, and HOW different the culture here was. I had, for about 2 weeks, all of the gifts that I was to distribute to my host family, from me and my family back home that they sent me. I was ready for this. At 9 P.M. on Christmas Eve, my host mom calls me down to come open presents. I was thinking, “Wait, what? You don’t open your gifts on the actual Christmas Day?” So, obediently, I walked downstairs with enough presents in my arms that I couldn’t see where I was going and tripped a few times. I set the gifts down in front of the tree (thankfully the tree is still a tradition here) and my host parents just sat there in awe. I had no clue why, but soon I realized that the only thing besides that were a gift bag and a little hand-made card under the tree. I began to distribute the gifts to the designated receiver and told them to open them up. They opened everything with the most gracious faces I have ever seen. I opened up my gift and card and, strangely, I felt extremely appreciated. In the US, people usually get more than one gift, but in my host family, I got just one, and I couldn’t have been happier at that moment. We went to Church that evening and my brothers, after, went out to a disco and got drunk. That was the culture for Christmas Eve? Then, to top it all off, we went to the beach on Christmas Day. This was the strangest Christmas I have ever experienced, but yet, no one who hasn’t experienced it, won’t understand it, until they do so.

New Years – Let me first say that New Years Eve was the best, most exciting day of my exchange so far. There was not a hint of sorrow in my heart for missing another holiday with my Floridian family. In the morning, my sister and I went out to a local head store (yes, they sell heads… but for mannequins) and after, we took some old jeans, and a long sleeved shirt and about 5 years worth of newspaper and proceeded to stuff the clothes. We carefully placed the freshly purchased head on top, and we had our mannequin, or what they call here, our Año Nuevo. It is called this because it represents all of the bad things that happened in the past year. Then, at midnight exact, we burn it and put all of the bad happenings behind us.

Well, at about 6 PM, my parents took me out just for a drive around the town. My dad put me in the front for some strange, I didn’t understand why for a second there. He grabbed his 5 pound bag of change and we were off. They told me that we were just going to drive around and look at everyone’s mannequins, but they didn’t tell me that it was a tradition here, on New Years Eve, for there to be a transvestite every 50 yards seducing the cars that go by on the front passenger side window asking for about 25 cents and eventually making $50 by the end of the night. I must say, it was quite disturbing. I quickly understood the reason for me sitting in the front seat… my parents wanted me to get the full experience of Ecuador.

When we got home, it was about 11:30 PM, so we began to set up our mannequin in a nonflammable area. My brothers were bored, so they went inside, my sister was scared to light the mannequin, and my parents wanted me, again, to have the full experience. So they handed me a roman candle, matches, and gasoline and said, “Have fun!” I was wondering how I could use all 3 in one swing. You have no idea how big the smile on my face was. I drenched the dummy in gasoline, and began to light the roman candle with the matches, aimed the candle at the standing dummy, and 3… 2… 1… KABOOOOOOOOOOMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The fireball went hurdling at the mannequin and you could see the head fly off the body like a projectile from a slingshot!!!! It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw!! XD

A Very Rare Occurrence – Now this is something that just touched me to the heart and still has not let go. My Floridian parents told me to pick one of the trips that they would pay for, which I thought was very reasonable, so I quickly picked the Galapagos trip in April and left the February Amazon trip aside. About a week ago, my host mom walked into my room and asked me, “How much does the Amazon trip cost?” I told her the price then explained to her the reason why I wasn’t going to go. She responded, “Well, I was just wondering if you were planning on going or not because if so, we would be more than happy to pay for it.” That hit me soooo hard. I got on webcam with Floridian family faster than you can say……… any word in your vocabulary. I asked them if it was ok, and my mom even noted to me that the entire time I was on webcam, I was smiling. I didn’t realize it, and wasn’t trying to smile, but I just was. All of my exchange friends here are so jealous. I keep thinking I would be too. I felt so loved and appreciated by my family here. It was an incredible feeling to have someone you’ve only known for 5 months to offer up something so ridiculously generous.

Until Next Time!

HASTA LUEGO!!

February 20 Journal

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these, and I am kind of mad that I haven’t gotten to it. I have so much to talk about. 3 Major things that I must talk about… family change, my Amazon trip, and Carnival.

Well, I changed my family on January 14. My Dad was there to pick me up but my mom was in Panama. I got a really good connection with my Dad from the start. But when my mom came into the picture, things got a little on edge at first. She is just the type of person you need to get used to. She always speaks in a stern voice and her form of joking is telling you that you are in trouble for nothing with a really firm voice and a serious face, making you piss in your pants and then 30 seconds later, laughing. That has taken me some time to get used to, and I am still in the process of completely getting accustomed. The house is gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it. I have to say, right now, I love the change.

The Amazon trip was amazing. I cant even describe it. Even if I tried, you wouldn’t be getting the whole gist of it. It was sooo beautiful. For example, when we were getting back from our nature walk, we went in a giant, double-decker truck thingy and everyone in the group was on top. There was this one area where there was a break in the trees on the side of the road and we stopped and just stared and took pictures. You could see the entire Amazon and it was one the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We went to a shaman and got our spirits cleaned. That was quite an experience. He even let us try to smoke some of his shaman tobacco. That was some really strong stuff. I couldn’t breathe even after one roll. I don’t see how the shaman can do it. He smoked about 8 or 9 of those to cleanse all of us. Was he dizzy? Was he suffocating? Was he going to die of cancer? I have no idea. I just know that he is a beast.

After that, we went to go “hunt for our dinner”. We got to learn how to use a blow gun and a throwing spear. That was really fun. The blow gun was so accurate and strong. The spear was really hard to use. It was so heavy. I also got to have the first hot shower ever for 5 ½ months. It felt soooooooo good. We also went tubing in the river. Although, their version of tubing is drifting down stream, and their version of a tube, is your life vest. Lol. They did, however, have a really cool rope swing in the river. That was really fun. There was a parrot named Yolanda at the camp site. Me and a couple other students taught it to cuss at the other students, then the other students taught it to cuss at us in other languages… it was really funny. That bird caught on quick. We also got to eat grubs. That was quite an experience. They asked for 2 volunteers to try it alive and 2 brave, idiotic souls raised their hands. They told them to crush the head really quick or it will bite your tongue…. Eeewwww. Then we all had to eat them cooked. They were actually really good cooked. They tasted exactly like bacon. ;D jajajajaja

Carnival was amazing… aside from the fact that I got a massive sunburn and that my phone, money, shirt, and shoes were stolen. I was swimming in the water and I had put my stuff inside a bunch of rocks, and when I got back, everything was gone. So I had to walk back home, an hour long walk, in the blazing sun, with no shirt and shoes because I had no phone to call my family and no money to get a taxi. Ugh. Carnival was a blast though. People spraying silly string everywhere, little kids coming up to you and throwing powder charcoal at you… that was a little strange, and dumping water and beer all over you. About 2 times, my parents thought I was drinking because I smelled like beer… but once I took off my pants and let them smell them, they realized it was just some drunk people being jerks.

Well, that is all I got for now. Until next time!

Nos vemos y hablamos!

May 3 Journal

VAYA! Ha pasado mucho tiempo, cierto? Ha pasado casi 3 meses y no he escrito un diario. Entonces, tengo mucho a decir, mucho a contar… del fin de mis vacaciones, de uno de los mejores paseos por siempre: los Galapagos, y regresando a colegio!

WOW! A lot of time has passed, right? Almost 3 months has passed and I haven’t written a journal. So I have a lot to tell, a lot to clue you in on… the end of my vacation, one of the best trips ever: the Galapagos, and getting back into school!

Obviously, my Spanish has greatly improved since these 3 months have passed, and I regret to say that my English has severely diminished. I find myself stumbling for words at times when I am talking with my friends in English so I end up having to say it in Spanish and they understand me. I am glad, however, that I can already read old poetry in Spanish… ya know, the ancient stuff with weird words. I can understand it and am very glad, because I have some good poetry.

That’s beside the point. Well, the end of my summer was great. I had several students from other cities come and visit us students in Portoviejo. I was getting kind of excited for school to get back in session because I was just doing the same thing every day. But, once I got back in school, I was kind of disappointed. I thought that it would be fun like last year, but for the first few days, I learned that I got new teachers that were absolute jerks and weren’t even cool out of school.

About a week after I got into school, I got to skip a few days… 😀 That was really exciting, mainly because I went to the Galapagos during that time. That was an absolutely, ridiculously, amazingly, insanely fun trip. I got sunburned everyday, sometimes twice a day! I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but hey, I got some amazing color. 😀 Snorkeling was really beautiful. We went to the bay on one of the islands and we were snorkeling in there… I have never seen so many colorful fish in one place in my entire life! We even got to see some sharks. That was pretty exhilarating. I nearly peed in my pants when I first saw them, but, that was just because it startled me so much. The next day, we went to Tortuga bay.

The walk there was pretty brutal. It was about a 1.5 mile walk there in the blazing sun in one of the places in the world where the sun beats down on you strongest. Honestly, I am not really sure why they call it Tortuga bay, I didn’t even see any turtles there. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the giant turtles the first day there, but I thought I was going to be able to see some sea turtles there. Whatever.

The next day was one of the best. We went to one of the giant lagoons on the island. The salt water from the ocean mixed in with the fresh water from the springs and make the water extremely extremely clear. It was really cold water, but it was refreshing. That place was absolutely gorgeous. We were swimming in a bunch of caves and tunnels which was really fun and we were able to climb the walls of the lagoon up above the water about 20 meters and jump off. What a thrill that was. I didn’t go just because I didn’t feel like breaking my neck, but my friends did and after, I wished that I went. Whatever. That was absolutely beautiful day. I spent so much money on just sun block in the Galapagos. Of course I did buy myself some souvenirs: a wicked sick backpack, a really comfy hammock, and some awesome sleep pants. The Galapagos trip was the first week in April and I still have some amazing color from that trip… almost a month later!

Me and my best friend, Florian from Holland, are going to the gym now. I have lost so much weight here in Ecuador and now I am tired of being the really skinny kid. So I got a membership to a gym nearby for a month and hoped to come home with some muscles… something I can honestly say that I have never had. HEHEHEHE.

Well, that is about it that has happened in these past few months. I can’t really think of anymore. I got home June 1 and have just over a month left! I am very excited. I am extremely happy to get home and see my family and friends and home again, but I am very sad to leave here. I am afraid to lose everything that I have gained here. Family, friends, a new home, EVERYTHING. I look out my window everyday and see my home, wake up and say good morning to my mom and dad and brother, and go to school and say hi to my best friend and my teachers. It sounds like my life in the US, like my life at home.

This IS my home. This part for me feels like one of the hardest parts for me in this exchange. I have on my mind that in a month, I will no longer have all of this. I wish I could have the best of both worlds, but it’s just not possible. Maybe in a year or so, I can come back… I hope.

June 18 Journal

Well, I figure I have enough time for one more journal. This will be my final journal for the exchange as my year has just finished and as I start my journey as an RYE rebound.

My last month in Ecuador was extremely sad, but eventful. Since my departure date was set so much earlier than the other students in Ecuador, I was incapable of attending the final trip around the country. The chairman of exchange for my host club caught wind of this and asked me, “Well, at least you went to Quito (the capital), right?” I told her no and she just about flipped out. With just my luck, her husband (the president of my club) and his kids were going up there anyway the next week so she TOLD me that they were taking me… they didn’t even ask me, just told me. Lol. It’s not like I had a problem with it or anything, I just thought it was funny how they were so demanding. Anyway, the following week, me, my club president, 2 of his kids, and his oldest son’s girlfriend who was from Virginia were on our way to Quito for a bumpy 6 hour drive. We arrived in Quito at their apartment at about 10:00 p.m. They showed me to my room and I fell asleep in about 10 minutes! 😀

The next morning, I woke up bright and early to accompany my group to their original intentions for going to Quito: the dentist. So apparently the best dentist in Ecuador was in Quito and my president’s oldest son and his girlfriend needed 2 of their wisdom teeth pulled out, so they decided to get it done in Quito. My morning ended out with a bunch of laughs… both of their mouths were swollen and looked like they were sucking on a grapefruit. Their words weren’t slurred, just a bit muffled. Lol. The doctor said they weren’t to go out into the sun too much so they were unable to come with us to the next leg of the trip: the middle of the earth.

That’s right, we went to the Equator. It was so cool. We went straight into photo-op mode and took hundreds of pictures of me in different and interesting poses. I even tried to get photos with the llamas running around. It was kind of hard though because they all seemed naturally scared of me. After the middle of the earth, we went to the nearby volcano town… a town that actually resides in one of the craters of a volcano called Pululahua. It was soooooo cold there, ESPECIALLY for a volcano. The town only had a population of about 150… there was only one school for all of elementary, junior high, and high school and the whole school had about 25 students in it and there was only one teacher. This teacher had to come from Quito every day and go back every day. Sounds easy? Here is the catch, it was actually 1 hour of travel and only 10 minutes of it was in car. You have to drive to the edge of the mountain and then walk down the trail for 45-50 minutes. And it was normally about 50° F. Well, after returning from Pululahua, we went down the mountain and went to eat cute domestic animals called cuy. Well, maybe it is more familiar to you in the form of Guinea Pig. HAHAHAHA. That is right, I ate a cute domestic house rodent, and it was DELICIOUS!! Crisp skin; soft chewy meat; and it tasted just like chicken, just a little sweeter! 😀

The next day, it was just me and my president because the dentist victims were still sore and the other was in Japanese classes. My president and I were on our way to the teleferico cable cars to climb up the mountain. What an experience that was! It was sooo beautiful. I could see the 2 volcanoes that were actually in Quito: Pichincha and Wahwah Pichincha; and how majestic those were. I could see ALLL of Quito and I have never seen such a large downtown in my entire life!

Well, after that, I was out of Quito within 2 days. Our Quito trip was over, but the following week, my host family told me that we were going to Riobamba the following day for 3 days and that I had to pack for that. So, yet another fun trip was headed my way. We didn’t really do much on this trip, pretty much just hang around and have fun together in the house. However, we did go out and do one big thing together. We went up to one of the 3 mountains in Ecuador that has snow on it: Mt. Chimborazo. That was really cool, literally!!! Me and one other person ran the entire way up until we got to the cabin for some hot chocolate. We ran up 2000 ft in under 30 minutes! That was really tiring. We each got 2 hot chocolates and then everyone else arrived at the cabin. As soon as they got there, we left again, but this time, to go reach the snow. We went just to touch the snow and play in it for 5 minutes then go back down the mountain. No one else went to the snowy part because everyone else with us were either old people or were puking from the change in elevation. Lol. So I touched snow for the first time in over 2 years!! What a rush that was. The only bad thing from climbing that mountain was it really screwed up my ears. That was a month and a half ago and I still can’t hear right because my brother told me to clog my nose and blow, which I did so. Instead of helping, it actually blew my eardrum which I only discovered a couple days ago.

My last day was an extremely sad day. I had to say goodbye to my 2 best friends: Florian and Monika. Florian is from Holland and Monika from Austria. I never thought I would actually cry from saying goodbye to my friends or even my friends crying, but they both happened. I cried, Florian cried, and Monika cried A LOT!!! Hahahahaha. But it was still something that had to happen. I woke up at 1 in the morning on June 1st to my phone ringing… about 20 different times. They were various friends from Rotary who were all on the final trip that I was unable to go on. I hadn’t realized how much of an impact I made on them or how connected we had become. About 70% of them told me sincerely that the trip just wasn’t the same without me. It would have been about 20 times better if I was there. That hit me so hard and I started to cry again. Then, again, at 4 in the morning, I woke up again to get ready to go to the airport. I got dressed, had some chocolate milk, and went upstairs to go wake up my dad, but EVERYONE was awake all lined up waiting to say goodbye to me. And, yet again, I cried, especially when I said goodbye to my host mom. I loved her so much and miss her so much. My 8 year old brother, Luiggy, was still half asleep when I went upstairs, so he kind of didn’t know what was going on, but then my mom called me on my 3 hour trip to Guayaquil with my dad just to tell me that they love me and Luiggy finally started crying! I was always the one to start playing with him and he will no longer have that playing buddy. After getting my bags checked in, I said my goodbyes to my dad. You can only guess what I did with him… You got it, I cried, AGAIN! But, I had to cry for him. He was the one in my family with whom I connected the most. I said my goodbyes and waved to him crying as I walked through the double doors to go to passport control.

I reached Miami and had a 4 hour layover all by myself. Nothing special there, just had my first taste of good Italian food in over a year!!! However, I did start tripping out as soon as I got off the plane. All I heard was English, English, English, More English, EVEN MORE ENGLISH, and… ENGLISH!!! I was freaking out wondering where all the Spanish went to. I had to literally translate everything that was being said into Spanish in my head and everything I was saying into English from Spanish in my head. It was really weird. About 2 hours into my layover, I went over to a small candy shop and bought some American candies. The lady asked me what the jacket was for, and I, of course, told her that I went to Ecuador for a foreign exchange and all of a sudden, she just started speaking to me in Spanish and I tagged along without even thinking! It was so refreshing. I got on my plane for Jacksonville, played translator for an hour for the Cuban man who was sitting right next to me, and then landed. You know what the first thing that went through my mind when the wheels touched down? ……. BATHROOM!!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I hadn’t gone since the morning, and I figured that I wouldn’t want to wet myself from the excitement when I see my family waiting outside security. I was finally done with my business, and began to nearly run to the exit doors. I stopped right before the corner for the exit, took and deep breath and proceeded to turn the corner. “THERE HE IS!!!! OMG MY BOY!!!!!! JOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!” That is all I heard coming out of the terminal. I saw my entire family and a few select friends waiting for me outside the security tape with, of course, my mom front and center. As soon as I crossed the security tape, I dropped my bag and ran to my mom and hugged her as hard as I could and proceeded with my brothers and my dad and then my friends. What an emotional moment that was. Oh man. I will never forget it.

This exchange has been the love of my life so far. I have never felt so blessed to be given such a wonderful opportunity. I have 2 new families who love me dearly and who I love with all my heart and hope to see again. Everyone says, what a shame that you have to repeat your senior year. But, you know what? I don’t think of it like that. I don’t think of it as a year lost, but rather as a year gained. How many people in the world are given an opportunity as wonderful as this? There are 18,628,340 people in Florida, and this year, only about 75 of those were chosen to represent Rotary with this magnificent offer. This truly is a once in a lifetime experience and it is all thanks to Rotary international and RYE. Thanks to Al Kalter, Jody Davis, Daphne Cameron, Bill Learn, and all of the others working behind the scenes in the RYE Florida program. Thank you, as well, to Rafael Ramirez, German Lopez, and all of those behind the scenes in the RYE Ecuador District 4400 Program. I love each and every one of you and cannot express enough gratitude for everything you have done. Thank you.

 

Jennifer Gorman
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Callahan, Florida
School: West Nassau HS
Sponsor: North Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Cascavel Primavera Rotary Club, District 4640, Brazil

Jennifer - Brazil

Jennifer’s Bio

Hola!

My name is Jennifer most of my friends just call me Fer or J-fer.

I’m an 11th grader at West Nassau High School in a small town called Callahan. GO WARRIORS! I’m a sport fanatic who loves to just play the game. Basketball and softball have been a big part of my life for the past 8 years. I just love to get out and compete.

I live with my dad and my little brother Robert (12). Most nights you can find us watching UFC or WWE wrestling. Unfortunately my dad doesn’t like it too much when my brother and I decided to host our own UFC match in the living room. We used to run around with little plastic gold championship belts, pretending we were the current WWE champions. My favorite was always John Cena and thankfully he never fought like me because I was always trying to not hurt my brother….. too bad.

Most of my time is spent playing basketball, softball, or cross-country for the school and doing the endless amount of homework my honor and advance placement teachers feel obligated to give us. When I’m not tied up with school, you can find me hanging out with my friends or working at Mickey D’s. My goal in life is to just have FUN because without laughter and friends life would be miserable. Not to forget my biggest goal of them all is to attend the University of Florida and become a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. GO GATORS!

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.” And, thanks to Rotary, I will get to live my dream of traveling to Brazil and experience a life I never would have imagined. Sure… I dreamed of the possibility of living abroad for a year, but until Rotary it was just a distant dream…. hoped upon. But now, my dreams are coming true and all I can say is THANK YOU to everyone at Rotary and be thankful for the love and support my dad and brother are giving me throughout this adventure.

 Jennifer’s Journals

October 13 Journal

September 1st … MEU DEUS, today marks one month in the unfamiliar city of Cascavel.

I really don’t know where to begin!

Do I start with the fact that my emotions are as inconsistent has the “winter” season in Brasil?

Do I talk about how bad my português truly was and how with every second I spend here, it grows to flourish into what people call fluency?

Or…… Do I talk about my amazing host family and their beautiful home? That I now call my own.

Eventually I have to start somewhere. So I will start with my WELCOME PARTY! Pricila (my 16 yr old host sister, who just got back from GERMANY) planned the little party, with a bunch of her friends and other people who were curious as to meeting me! YES MEETING ME! The party was a blast ……… LOTS of fun and my first chance to realize HOW BAD I WANTED TO BE FLUENT IN PORTUGUESE. Mostly because everyone else was speaking Portuguese about OoO say 98 % of the time. But, all is well because I met 4 amazing/friendly people who I hang out with almost every weekend. (LOVE YOU GUYS) But, the one thing I wasn’t prepared for, was how late brasileiros start parties & end them. Because the next thing I knew, I was coming home at FIVE o’clock in the morning !! Shocked at what time it was! And at the fact that for once I actually like people calling me “Jenni” – maybe it’s the accents. I don’t know but I LOVE IT!!

Then later that week, I went to my first Rotary meeting with the Cascavel Primivera Rotary Club. It was a nice dinner where I exchanged flags, ate some interesting foods, and met my second host family “the Darcy’s.” And, I also discovered the best dessert EVER!!!! I don’t know what it is called but it’s some kind of fruit with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream in it. But, don’t let the fruit part deceive you because it balances the sweetness of the ice cream & adds amazing flavor.

0o0o0….. yea…. I must say I’m one of the Luckiest exchangers ever!! Because my summer starts in December (YAY!!!) lasting till the end of February and the 1st two weeks I was here. :DDD School, just so happened to be out due to GRIPE/PIG FLU/SWINE FLU. To me it seemed like everyone was over-reacting with all the germ-x and saying OoO… NO!! you can’t go anyyyywhere! YOU’LL get the Pig Flu!! People would wear these white masks like doctors wear which really made the whole epidemic more of a joke. (kinda of)

Also, I have become an unofficial member of one of the local Interact Clubs. Which is fun because I have met tons of Friendly & Fun people through it, so far! Plus, after the boring meetings we all go ROAMiNG around the city together to get ice cream or hit up the ONE & ONLY McDonalds in the city. J FUN J FUN!!

Now, there’s my host family who seems to be very nice, open, and FUNNY! But, my host parents live busy lifestyles because they own their own electric company that installs lights and stuff like that. Plus, my host mãe goes to night college right after work during the weeks and my host pai is involved in extra activities like the Rotary Club. So I spend major of my days after school at the house with my host brother Thiago (CHEE-ah-go) who’s 14 and my sis Pri. It’s very challenging at times because there is nothing to do in the house! NOTHING! We literally have two TV channels and well JUST MY LUCK my computer broke the fourth day I was here. -_- yea….. so dealing with the fact that I don’t have a car to go out with friends or go wherever has become more of an adjustment for me. But, on the BRIGHTSIDE of things…… I rode my FIRST city bus and have learned how to go to and fro on it. I must say that I’m SO PROUD of me!

WELL Beijos Beijos :*

October 7th …

68 days or two months & one week. Things actually started getting hard here. I’m feeling the pressure to speak português from my host family, Rotary Club, and friends. All I ever here is “Fala mais português” aka SPEAK MORE PORTUGUÊS!! It’s just I don’t know what to say …….. Do I go up to random people and be like “What is your favorite color?” and what about my family…. I find it awkward to just go up to them and say random stuff like that. And, I know so much, but I made the biggest mistake of ALL! I started talking to my host sister Pri in English. At first it was helpful because he helped me learn how to say things and understand. Some uses of words that made ABSOLUTELY no sense to me when translated into English. But, regardless of how hard I try to speak to her in only português. I FORGET!! It has turned into a bad habit to speak to her in English.

Then, there’s the fact that they watch A LOT of English movies with português subtitles and they listen to English music from 50cent, Eminem, Biggie Smalls, Tupac to Lady GaGa, Britney Spears, Rihanna, McFly. So………….English is all around me. Despite the fact that I study português every week day for 3 hours or more. I feel like I’m missing out because when I go out with friends they speak in português.

And, to be frank, I’m obviously not fluent in português yet. So at times they speak so fast that I’m like “What?.? Huh??” or I understand a few words. Uhhhh!!!!! It is SO FRUSTRATING! But, the frustration is what pushes me to study more and want to learn more. I swear learning a new language is like losing weight!! It takes time, effort, and focus. And, it DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT!

January 14 Journal

SUNDAY : DECEMBER 27th : 2009 …

Riding in a 4-door Toyota Corolla accompanied by silence & my shiny new jig-saw puzzle. Topic: my new Brazilian parents. Calmly waiting for the 10 hour drive to the beach to come to an end. Admiring how close the literally 3-D bubble like clouds look. Glancing out into the distance the clouds begin to blend with the rugged terrain. Which is a patch work of a variety of textures and shades of green with the occasional light brown thrown in. And, unlike the typical I-95 highway I ride down so often to visit family in Virginia. This Brazilian highway goes with the lumpy terrain….. upppp….. and …….dooownn the numerous smooth hills. But, what makes this particular highway so special is that once you exit a city, you’re literally surrounded by beautiful county side. Almost as if there wasn’t an enormous city trailing it a half mile back. It’s nothing but nature and clean fields. The perfect setting to reflect on the past two months.

Becoming accustomed to my new family came fairly easy to me. Even after the intriguing interest and excitement of meeting an exchange student wore off. My new host parents Darci and Elaine were already gifted with the knowledge of how to make sure I felt comfortable, happy, and one of the family. Perhaps this comes when you’ve already raise your three children and already enjoyed the company of an Taiwanese daughter just last year.

Regardless of their credentials they succeeded in making me feel like their real daughter and actually part of the family. It’s been 6 weeks now and the only problem I’ve had so far is being the typical exchange student who reaches their low point. That is guaranteed to them before they begin their exchange. As Natal or Christmas was approaching, I slowly snapped out of my unfortunate slump. Having my 1st Natal in BRASiL!!! During the summer!!! I didn’t have an option.

My 1st Natal in BRASiL was very minimal on the decorations, most Brazilian homes contained a small fake Christmas tree and they left the major decorating up to the city. And, for me Christmas music was non-existent. YEA!!!!!!! Some of you are probably thinking I got lucky on that one. :))) But, I actually love Christmas music!! I actually made a CD of my favorites last year. 😀 But, here Christmas is more of a time to get together with your family. Enjoy the time you have together, while of course eating Christmas dinner at 12:00 AM on the dot and gathering together the next day for a Christmas lunch.

It was the simplest Christmas I’ve ever experienced with hardly any presents, if at all. And, somehow just feeling like part of the family satisfied it all.

January 17 Journal

It’s been so long since I arrived in BRASiL. 5 Months!.!.!.! May not seem like a lot of time to the average person. As for me 5 months was plenty of time to reach a point where FLoRiDA is\was just a dream. A distant place where I lived in a small town where everybody knew everybody. And, you didn’t have to worry about who’s gonna be in your class next year because it’s gonna basically be the same people you met in kindergarten. A life I remember having, but can’t picture myself in now. Feels agessssssss……. AWAY! BRASiL has become my LiFE! The Brazilian culture has slowly embedded in my brain. Everyday I’m mistaken for a Brasileira….. UNTiL I open my mouth… :DDD haha “my American accent” Never really thought one could have an “American” accent in Português. Sounds stupid, RiGHT?.? But, for some reason I never even considered it. With every passing day, I grow to love the people around me even more and fall in love with the beauty of their culture and language. The simplest things amuse me now. For example, Brazilians always say “né” after statements\questions. Like “That was Funny, ne?” or “It’s good, ne?” It’s kinda of like saying Right?…. Or how my host dad (Darci) always says “Beleza ! tudo bem! tudo beleza” ME: “tudo” Darci: BELEZA!!

In English for you guys … beleza means beautiful when translated & tudo bem means like how are you. But, it’s so funny because every time he sees me “BELEZA?”… :DD

March 27 Journal

It’s Funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.

My Life couldn’t be summed up in a better way. Rotary preaches how this year will “change your life,” “be the best year ever,” or “open your eyes to so many new and exciting things.” General response: “yea…. uhhh huh… I know.” I never actually gave any thought to the overly popular phrases. I just knew them as facts of what was suppose to happen. It wasn’t until yesterday that I truly realized that I changed. One of my best friends Mirjam (from Germany) told me that when she first met me during our 1st months here, she thought I came across as uninterested, unenthusiastic, and well she really didn’t like me because of it. So Mirjam and Sally (Australia) didn’t ever ask me to hang out with them. But, it wasn’t my personality at fault. My problem was the fact that I was going through the motions of life because I was so focused on what I had to do. From one advance placement course to the next, to studying, student council meetings, basketball practice, softball practice, cross country, working, and well you get the picture. Then, I had my close group of friends that I did everything with. I never worried about making new friends, branching out, or doing something new and interesting. I was just so focused and stressed out over everything, that even when I had nothing to be stressed out about; I stayed in that phase of going through the motions. For crying out loud !! I spent a good majority of my time at the Rotary orientations for future outbounds: STUDYING!! I had become just another person in the world who was so wrapped up in becoming successful that they forgot to enjoy the journey that goes with it. And, well Mirjam pointed out to me that I’m different NOW! I’ve woken up!.!.! I’m attentive, I’m observant, I’m happy, I’m friendly, I’m adventurous, I’m the one saying Let’s GO, GO, GO! Let’s DO, DO, DO!.!

I’m happier than ever! I’m not stressed over what needs to be done. I just do it and approach everything in a light, but serious manner.

Now!! on a different note. I’m currently in my third and final host family. A month has already come and gone since I arrived. Dangerously close to the end of my exchange year. And, yet I don’t feel an inch of sadness. It’s not 3 months = yAY!.! I wanna go home and it’s not: NoOoOoo, I don’t wanna leave. My outlook is simply this: I have 3 months left in the wonderful Brasil, to have the most fun possible and make the best of my time here.

Sure, I get homesick at times and truthfully I just want to go home and speak my OWN language with my family in the personal way that my host sisters do and have that comfort of them knowing me better than they know themselves. Then, there’s the want to go shopping where it’s my fashion and buy lots of clothes because it’s ridiculously expensive here. Plus, my vision of me arriving in the Jacksonville Airport, where I am to be greeted by my family and friends. And, upon arrival surprising all everyone at how different I look as I walk up with my suitcases. Unfortunately I know everything is NOT going to happen the way I play it all out in my head. For this reason, I don’t focus on wanting to go home or missing my friends and family like most of my exchanger friends. I want to make the best of my time by going out and doing something everyday. Instead of retreating to TV or the Internet. I’d rather sit around, talk, and be bored with someone else. I mean I worked so hard to learn Português! When will I ever get the opportunity again if EVER to sit around and talk with Brazilians. Gosh, I am going to MiSS the beautiful sound of an Brazilian accent. 🙁 ……

June 1 Journal

25 days!

That is all I have left of my life in Brasil. I really don’t know how to feel, because the minute I sit down to really think about this year, saying goodbye, going home & getting back to my real life; MY HEAD starts to hurt. I am a tornado of emotions waiting to attack & destroy everything in its path. The ending has finally become real to me. Considering I had to see off my best friend Mirjam who went traveling for 3 weeks with her parents from Germany & I had the hope of seeing her again for 3 days and getting to meet her parents when they came to visit our city. Cascavel 🙂

Before I could blink those 3 days were over and there I was crying, as I said Tchau, tchau for now. Because of course we will still talk every week through skype and we already planned a Euro tour for the summer of 2012. But, in a way it feels as if a friend has died, because how do you go from spending everyday with someone for hours on end and POOF! they’re gone! Your only connection is a computer screen; which means it will never be the same.

I have to admit the people I will miss the most other than those who were so KIND to take me in as their own daughter, is the Exchangers from all over the world. My district 4640 and it is like a Big Family. We have gone on two big trips together, with our Chairman Irineu <3 who was so kind enough to pay for the five star trips. 🙂 WE LOVE YOU IRINEU !! There is 44 of us from mostly Germany, Mexico, and the United States with a little bit of Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Turkey, France, Slovakia, and Croatia thrown in. And, it doesn’t matter who you are in our family, you can walk up and hang out with anyone and it is like you’re best friends. Back in October was our first trip together to Foz do Iguaçu and then again in March we went to Curitiba and Camboriu.

The best times of my exchange were and still are with other exchangers from my district. We are always traveling to each other’s cities and staying with one another. I just went this weekend to Francisco Beltrão for the Birthday Party of Florent from France and 15 exchangers showed up. We were singing Brazilian country music (or Sertanejo as Brasileiros would say) and playing Wii, pool and what not until 8 am in the morning. 🙂 And, just 3 weeks ago; 20 exchangers showed up at EDi for the Interact event in my city. We formed our little group of exchangers and just spent the whole weekend being bored together during the endless amount of boring lectures. :PP Then, Interact threw a little dance party and of course us Exchangers formed a little circle in the middle of the dance floor and just went crazy dancing for 4 hours straight. 😀 While all the Brazilians sat there and stared at us, but then they would think … ” OoOoo they are exchangers” and just kinda of shrug. :DD

I can’t wait until our Conference in 10 days on the 11th, 12th , and 13th of June. It will be soOooo MUCH fun! Every Rotary club in my state of Paraná will come. Plus all the Interact Clubs, Rotaract Clubs, inbound exchangers and future outbound exchangers. It will be ultimately the last time all the exchangers from the Family 4640 will be togetherL. I’m so excited to see everyone together again, but at the same time, I am depressed with the fact that this Conference is just another marker in my exchange that screams “EVERYTHING IS ENDING!”

The next couple of weeks I will be very, very busy visiting all the exchangers and spending time with those I love in my own city. Soon, my life in Brasil will end and I will be left forever changed from the experience, but until then I will enjoy every moment I have left.

Beijos :*** Até mais J

 

Joel Haznedl
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: St. Johns Country Day School
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Araguaína Rotary Club, District 4530, Brazil

Joel - Brazil

Joel’s Bio

Heyy! I’m Joel and I was so excited to be selected as a foreign exchange student this year and even more ecstatic to find I am traveling to Brazil, my first choice. I am a junior at St. Johns Country Day School, a college prep school that has a 100% college acceptance rate, so it definitely provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully complete the next step into college.

I live with my mom, dad, and twin brother, Jake, who doesn’t look a thing like me… I wish. I love playing soccer and volleyball, but I prefer watching football because then I can paint myself blue and white with a bunch of friends and cheer on our tiny team. My mom is super chill and so is my dad, and both of their heads are turning gray, I mean they have to put up with twin boys! My brother Jake is one of my best friends no matter what I say sometimes, I know he will always be there to back me up or catch me when I fall. Seriously though, he is the starting quarterback and he could really catch me if I fell. Mainly, he is my bro and he is just awesome. Last but not least, my dad. He has bent over backwards for me, plus he is probably the goofiest guy you will ever meet, but when it comes time to be serious, he is a pretty good guy to talk to.

I have been playing soccer for most of my life, since I was four, and surprisingly 12 years later, I am still at it hoping to make it to the next level. I love volleyball as I said, but I don’t play competitively. Soccer and school take up too much time for that but I play whenever I get the chance. A lot of times the volleyball players at school say I should try out, but coach says that it would be way too much of me to be in that spandex! So I just stick to school soccer. I play club soccer and some of my best friends are on my team. Sometimes it is like I have more brothers.

I am also very involved with school. I am part of the Varsity Soccer Team, St. Johns Interact Club, volleyball club (started by my brother and I), and also the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I love doing service projects and helping people. Outside of school I am actively involved in my church and I am a certified lifeguard, soccer coach, and referee.

Some of my other interests include singing, any kind of athletics, eating, and this might surprise some people, but I absolutely love to shop. I love clothes shopping, my favorite store is American Eagle. My second favorite store is in North Carolina, but I often order from the catalogs. Can you guess the store? It’s Eurosport! There isn’t much better than opening a new pair of boots. Another hobby of mine is cooking. I love inventing new things for dinner. So far no miss hits!

There’s a little bit about me, some fun facts if you will, maybe something you’d find on the bottom of a Snapple lid a quick summary of me. Now before I wrap it up, I want to thank everyone who has made this experience possible and especially everyone who has helped me throughout my journey so far. Thanks mommy and daddy for always pushing me to pursue my dreams, and my brother for always being great competition for me, even though he must be slacking lately, and also everyone in the Fleming Island and Orange Park Rotary Clubs for putting so much time and effort into making this experience a life changer. Most of all, thank you to my future host families for having the courage and the hearts to take me in and assist me in my experience.

Joel’s Journals

September 2 Journal

It’s been just over a month since I arrived here to this wonderful city, Araguaina, this wonderful state, Tocantins, and wonderful country, Brazil. When I hopped off the plane at the dinky Palmas airport, I figured… “O, this is what I expected… I think I’ll head over to the belt and get my bags.” As I got my bags I was looking outside for a sign with my name with a bunch of people standing around it. Well, there was a sign, but a small one. It was an 8 X 11 sheet of paper with my name printed in 48 point font under a 3 in. Rotary International logo. I was kind of… surprised. There were men around the sign, too, but they all looked… confused. Until they all turned and saw the only non-brasiliero in the airport strolling towards them. When they noticed me, they sprang into life, all but jumping for joy. I was swarmed with man-hugs… all 8 of them. then I saw a boy with his Rotary blazer on too… I would soon learn that he was on his way to Mexico. We exchanged pins and we went our own separate ways, I with Andre, my exchange counselor, and he with the other guys from his host Rotary club. I threw my bags and blazer in the back of his small manual VW pick-up and we started the final four hours of my journey.

All the way he talked about himself, about Tocantins, and my favorite part… soccer! It turns out he is a really good player. When we finally got to Araguaina, there were loads of people out in front of a big Rotary statue holding a huge sign. As we drove up, horns were blaring… this is the biggest surprise. Andre and I walked up and were shrouded by a herd of people and pictures. This was very very fun. After an hour of chatting and trying to talk in Portuguese, Diego, Etienne, mae, e pai beckoned me to the car. We put my stuff in the trunk because we had somewhere to be.

It was a college graduation party. it was very different than anything id ever seen. This graduation party for his uncle was the first time I saw a Brazilian dance called foro. I’m learning. The next day we went to the farm. We played volleyball all day and went to the waterfall. That’s right, there is a waterfall in the farm grounds. I love it. It’s so fun to jump into the pool at the bottom. It is so great. I’ve gone three times and I finally got to ride a horse. We also had two concerts, Chiclete was the first and Jorge e Mateus was the second… they were very fun… and very crowded. My highlights so far have of course been soccer… I’m finally getting accustomed to the play here… it is very different from what I know.

Overall things are great. Thank you Rotary for all the opportunities laid in front of me and thank you Fleming Island and Araguaina Rotary clubs for all your support. Until next time, this is Joel Haznedl, signing off.

October 19 Journal

What an incredible past month and a half this has been… I’ve done so many things! I moved to a new family, I got to ride new horses, and I found my favorite one. He is white and brown and he loves to run, which is fine with me… even though when Monday came, I felt like I was kicked in the bum. My family also took me to aabb, a big club for swimming and various sports. I saw some of my friends there too and we played tennis all day… barefoot.

A few days later I would be leaving for my trip to Rio so I needed to get some clothes. I bought some jeans and underwear… it was very very expensive. Another thing… shopping here is much different, when they ask you what you want they take out literally every article within range of your size and lay it in front of you. It’s great!

Also, a great thing is my Portuguese is coming along splendid; I’m so excited to understand almost everything! Some people even missed the fact I was American… until they said something I didn’t understand and heard my signature catch phrase “nao entende,” which means I don’t understand.

Okay, so we finally left for our trip to Rio… our 36 hour bus trip… with loads of stops and days in between. We went to many cities… the only names I remember though are Brasilia, the capital, Rio, of course, and Ouro Preto… which means “Black Gold.” While in Rio, we went to a game… Flamengo v. São Paulo. Flamengo has the support of more than 30% of Brazilian population, and the rivalry is equaled only by Florida and . The game was so fun and was good because it was a “V” for Flamengo. We also went to the Christo and Pão de Açucar, both were excellent!

I met so many people too, I grew closer to people in my class and on our expeditions I met at least fifty Germans, a Swiss, former Rotary exchange student to Texas, and many others. With one of the Germans it was fun debating and conversing American politics. I find myself in political debates more often than not however. Some even get heated, one when I was at aabb, with a friend of my host family, he was getting hot and wouldn’t back down. Well I had to go and he swore in Portuguese. But it’s fun seeing foreign view of the republican, I haven’t met a single person that was pro-McCain. It’s funny, their limited view of American politics, yet they are still itching for a debate.

Also, while in Rio, I got a tattoo… well… I’m leaving it at that. Actually I am on the bus on the way back typing this. I think we’re going to stop in another city… great… I’ve already had to wash my clothes in a sink once. It’s 1:15 a.m. and I think I’ll go to bed.

December 7 Journal

OK… I have to admit… November wasn’t as difficult as everyone said, and boy am I glad for that! Now, having said that, it was tough. I loved all the Thanksgiving wishes but with each wish came a memory, a memory of home, a memory of family, a memory that stung my heart.

Another thing that’s been tough is the friends, always feeling the odd man out, always knowing you’re never THE best… Always second. On the soccer field, the good thing is the look on the other players’ face, but the bad part is when they tackle cleats up, every time. When they come in five times as hard on you, when they just mess with you till you can’t take it.

When all these things happen, I’ve learned, you just have to be yourself. Play your game and watch your step. The life of an exchanger is different than any other. We might hear about how hard the life is at home with our friends in high school, but they haven’t felt the solitude, the hardship, the pressure to do what we are asked, whatever it is. It’s very difficult to hold up, without mom or dad, always coming last… Dead last. Never the first, getting used to your family, or leaving a family you love near the same as your own.

I can officially say these first few days of December have been the most difficult yet. The first time I thought, “man, this next eight months is gonna feel like eight years… I need to get home, back to normal.”

I am excited for Christmas though. I get to go to Goiania which is a city in the state of Goias. It’s only about a ten hour car ride, but I’m used to it, going to Indy every Christmas and summer and sometimes Thanksgiving, 18 hours to grandma’s house.

Well enough for now, everything’s been great apart from the missing home. To the other exchangers, good luck and keep on truckin’. Thanks Rotary:)

January 7 Journal

In this past month and a bit I’ve seen some things, learned some things, and felt some things. These… ‘things,’ are the pieces that I know will put together the puzzle of my exchange, but not only my exchange, but me. These things, anger, loneliness, happiness, and togetherness. I’ve felt all these things in this roller coaster of my late November through December and on to these few days of January. This small composition will probably make some of you laugh, but the idea of this is to help prepare the future outbounds. This month has definitely been a fast, twisting, somersaulting, realization of life in general.

First thing ‘I’m gonna throw at ya’ is the anger, I figure to start with the ugly first so you’ll forget it by the end. There has been many times I got angry, whether my dad forgot me at school, or I got ditched, or even because I got stuck at home. The first one was being left at school, that’s a two mile walk, if you know where you’re going at least, but, I wasn’t too sure of Araguaina at the time. Well it was the afternoon session that ends at five and me and him had it set up to meet there at six. Now, I knew he was always late, so I figured I’d give him some slack, a thirty minute cushion. After the wait, I figured it wasn’t too long so I just hoofed it. I had taken this walk before with my good friend, Edwin, the Mexican exchange student living in Araguaina, so I thought I could make it back quick and easy. That quick and easy walk turned out to be an hour and fourteen minutes, forty-five of that in the dark and light rain.

When I got home, tired, wet, and angry, my mom saw the sarcastic smile on my face and asked where my dad was. I told her, “o, he’s at the farm, he forgot me at school.” I think that’s where I went wrong. The next day I didn’t say a word to him, not the drive to school, not the way home from school, not at lunch, not at dinner. Nothing. The thing was, he seemed oblivious to the whole thing, which not only surprised me, but, well it just surprised me. So I decided I’d talk to him the next day, it was Friday, so, I had to be nice. Well that was when he iced over. That soon came to not talking, “free” money, and not saying ‘no.’ Now some of you guys might see these as a good thing, and at first I tell you I did. It really felt like I had all the freedom in the world, like I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. But I soon figured out this wasn’t the case. Take a second and think what is would be like if a parent didn’t say a word to you, not a word. After the excited feelings left I figured, wow, this is really bizarre, and I tell you it definitely was.

Living in the states I never looked at myself as spoiled, my parents talked to me, they said no, they didn’t always give me money, but that wasn’t a problem… I mean who wouldn’t take a fifty to go to a party or somewhere, where you won’t use it. But all that is just kidding, I never took the money, not because I didn’t want it, not because I didn’t need it. I didn’t take it because I knew that’s how he was trying to apologize. He was literally trying to buy my happiness. But when they say money doesn’t buy happiness, it’s true. All the money buys is something to add to your mask to cover how you really feel. But this offering was different, it almost felt insulting. I can’t explain exactly why, or what I was feeling, maybe it was resentment, maybe it was fear, maybe I just plain didn’t care, but the fact was I couldn’t take the money. I knew that the only way to make it right would be to talk to him, however, due to my feelings, I waited for him to come talk to me. If you were wondering, that rarely ever happens, and I’m sure I knew he wouldn’t come talk to me, but I just didn’t care anymore. So I let the time pass until the last few weeks in the house, after I was hanging with Edwin at his house nearly everyday. This was after I had completely disconnected with my host dad. He had started forcing me to go to parties with the family, well he had my mom force me. I think he finally figured I was mad and the only way he was gonna fix it was to talk and I think he was a bit afraid of the outcome, or he just doesn’t know how to talk about things like that.

I finally figured why I was going to all these parties. The first one I arrived and knew lots of people but the ones I didn’t he made sure I met them quick and talked with them a good while. So that’s what I did, at first I thought nothing of it, until his party for his office where it felt like I was the poster child for the customers he had there and for his boss. I noticed I was being forced into talking to people, ‘no ifs, ands, or buts.’ Once I figure this out I just dropped off the face of the earth. This was about 2 weeks or so before I moved houses. Edwin had left, but I’m still really good friends with his host brother and I do enjoy hanging out with him every once in a while. It came to the point where I was chillin’’ with Guto, Edwin’s host brother, everyday, and sometimes even night too. The last week in that house I spent few hours at home. I can honestly say the hours at home were for sleeping. I had two lunches in that time, one dinner, and short nights of sleep. Well, only about four to six hours a night.

The final weekend came and they were headed off to the farm, and he didn’t even plan on me going, which was great because I was offered to stay at Guto’s house over the weekend, but, my host mom wanted me to go. The phrase that finished it for me was when he said that I had to go unless I had any parties. Well what do you know, of course I did! I had three barbecues on Saturday and Sunday and he seemed right pleased that I had the plans. He didn’t even tell my mom until after they got there. I spent my whole weekend there, three nights and days. Friday night till Monday, night. I thought this was the coolest thing in the world because I was leaving on Tuesday, and some of you might scowl because at this remark, but, I absolutely could not wait to get out of that house. Now don’t get me wrong, my brother’s non stop talking was obnoxious, but bearable. My mom actually treated me like her son, which was pretty cool, even though I still had to make my own plate for lunch when I was there. I guess I was just little exhausted. The day to move came, my brother, I think is still rejoicing, my mom was crying, and well, my dad, I think he was indifferent. O well, it didn’t bother me anymore, but I finally got into my new house. Looking back on this whole thing, I can definitely say I’m still angry with him, but I think I should have looked at all this in a different way. I view him as the bad guy, and for one thing, he was, but I then noticed how much of a jerk I had been by not forgiving him. I don’t know what I was feeling – I think it was just that time, being around Thanksgiving and all. But the feud is over now at least, because I moved houses.

Loneliness, it started about the time of Thanksgiving. I started noticing that I had good friends, really good friends, but not one could I talk to about anything. When I say anything, I mean, AN-NY-THING. Lacking that I started thinking about what I had at home, and quickly realized that nothing could match, Ty, my best friend pretty much since I started at my school in tenth grade. I mean, I used to think about her everyday, and I missed her a lot, but I finally figured out how much someone like that means to a person. That’s when the loneliness set in. It got to the point where the only things I had fun doing were soccer, volleyball, computer, and watching people with just as much loneliness on “Two and a Half Men.”

This soon became the cause of my days, everyday, I would wake up and go to school, after school I would take a short nap or sign in to my computer. Depending if I had soccer or not I would go to soccer, or just wake up and get on the computer and wait. Wait till I could drown my loneliness with laughter at someone else’s problems. Even if they are made up, but grossly true. The point of this ramble is the fact that to not be lonely I was alone, day in and day out, with the blinds, windows, and door closed. I finally saw that I was still lonely. After all, the base of the word alone and lonely are the same, ‘L-O-N-E.’ The word ‘lone’, an adjective, meaning having no companions, being solitary, or single.

I found something that would help, the guy who had the most in common with me, after all, I’m an Republican American with blue eyes and light hair in a democratic environment where only around one percent of the population has light hair and/or eyes. You could definitely say I stick out like a sore thumb. The guy I decided I need to get close with doesn’t have light hair, blue eyes, or even light skin. It was Edwin. Right now you’re probably thinking… “What did yall have in common?” The truth is, except from appearance, everything. He is the other exchange student, he is away from his friends, he is away from his best friend, he is feeling the exact same things as me. This is when we started hanging out nearly everyday. I can honestly say he became my best friend… Definitely no replacement for Ty, but a pretty darn good fill in.

This is when I started letting the loneliness go. I started missing my shows and getting off the computer to hang out with him, I started feeling better, talking to him, and we both started getting way better. We are about as close I can get to someone who is not Ty. This is the thing that helped me the most. Not the synonym, being alone, but getting a “substitute.” I dunno if our friendship will last long after the exchange, maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I hope it will and I know it’s something I won’t ever forget. Not for the rest of my life.

The next one, happiness, this one is the most interesting I think because it’s not happened to me in a long time. By long time, I mean before I really got interested in girls, which was like, sixth grade. It has been at the point for a long time that the only way I could find ‘happiness’ was, to “Put a Girl In It,” that’s in quotes because it is a song by Brooks & Dunn. There’s a quote in that song that says “if you’re ridin’ in your truck, put a girl in it,” and in the song it is meant how it’s said, but me being me, I took it for more than I should have. I used that phrase as a symbol filled allusion to my life. The truck became my heart, the empty seat became the space in my heart, and what did I think should fill it? Of course, what it literally said, I put a girl in it. I didn’t look at girl as a friend, or in a religious way. To me that part of the statement was just, girl. The double X chromosome.

Well I soon found out that wasn’t the way to do it. I always had my best friends but I had them pushed up against the wall of my space and filled the rest with good smelling perfume and pretty faces. It got me in loads of trouble ever since middle school and I just realized that that wasn’t the way to do it. Perfume doesn’t fill holes well, it just leaks out until you fill the hole with another one that smells good to you. Then the scent dies away and you need a new one again, and it soon becomes a never ending downward spiral. Let me tell you, relationships are not the key to happiness. Well relationships like that aren’t. The relationships that lead to happiness are your friendships, the ones you should really focus on. I found out, when I became really close to Edwin, that I had found it. It felt weird.

The first thing that crossed my mind was the feeling I hadn’t felt since I was a child. What is this? What do I do with it? How do I keep it? I figured out that your friends and family should take first place, that’s the first step to filling that hole. The second is to stop being lazy, get out and go have fun, don’t stay on the computer or watch television all day, that stuff just adds to the hurt. The third thing is, that in your fun, you remember who is with you, who is there for you, and kick it with the funky cats who you can truthfully call your best friends. They’re the ones that help you get out of trouble, they’re the ones that get in trouble with you, they’re the ones that know what’s best for you, even if you think they’re class five bonkers. Now saying this, Edwin is a normal chill dude, not entirely crazy, I mean, he has his moments when the monkey is definitely clapping the cymbals, but when it comes down to it, he’s boss at bestfriendmanship. He helped turn my frown upside down and see the light that I had turned off for so long. He helped me see that I didn’t need a girl to be happy, not even to be content, which I view as a step lower than happiness. He gave me that final kick in the bum that showed me who my happiness comes from. The ones who wipe my tears, my best friends.

One of the things that helped this exchange a lot is the feeling of togetherness that starts to grow on you as you find your group of friends, the binding force you feel when you get to know your family, the feeling you have when you are on a trip with other exchangers. This is one of the most refreshing feelings you will find on the Rotary Youth Exchange. You will find that there will be good times, and there will be bad, but just think about the amount of other students who are having the same problems, who are away from home, who have that same lost feeling you do. Always, always look to them. They are looking for the same thing from you. On your exchange you will have many friends native to your host country, but many of them you won’t remember, and many of them won’t remember you. The ones who really stick are the exchangers, once you’ve had your first encounter with the other students the desire for more time with them will arise. Let me tell you from experience, the other students will like a lot of the same things you, for me things like soccer and other sports. Another big thing most of us like to do is just have a bit of quiet, a bit of time to ourselves. Using this time will come in handy in tough times, times when you miss home, times when you’re alone and have no one to turn to, times when you are just tired of hearing your new language because you have literally been having to think through every word, every phrase that you speak. The best feeling of togetherness is when you get with the other students, there isn’t a more secure feeling in your exchange year than that little time you will have with them. Those are the things you’ll remember. When you get back home your stories will start with, “Well, I was at blank with the other exchange students and so-and-so did this and my friend Kain said this.” Those are the best times you’ll encounter.

Now that I got most of the things I learned off my chest and out into the world, I figure I should talk a bit more about my last month. Like I said, it was a bit rough with my past host family but with the fifteenth of December, I moved into my third house. I know it seems a bit early for that, but so far I’ve been moving houses in two month increments. My first house, I am going back for another month and I expect to stay in this one three months in full. I had many Christmas parties up to Christmas Day. The first party was of my second host father’s business. I knew no one, but this is the party where I felt like the poster boy. This is the one where I got stuck talking to his boss for nearly an hour. But I ended up having fun, I mean, it could’ve been worse. The second was the Christmas party for my first host father’s business. It was fun and I knew some people, but I didn’t take part in the secret Santa. I then had the Rotary Christmas party in which I got a new shirt and a picture frame. The next day I went to a barbeque with Guto and his mom to another Christmas party and I didn’t take part in that as it was for the old people. By old I’m talkin’ older than me.

The house we were at I’d been to many times and I can still say I love it. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and they have a nice pool. One guy even came and landed a helicopter in the back yard. It was so cool! The next day we went back for lunch to help finish the rest of the feijoada. Feijoada is a Brasilian stew that uses all kinds different meat and beans and all sorts of things. It is great mixed with hot sauce in a cup. I’m gonna learn how to make it so I can bring it back to Florida.

The Tuesday after that was the day I was moving out. There wasn’t much left to do. Guto left for Sao Paulo, Edwin was already there, and I had only a few friends home. So most of my days of the last week were organizing the music in my library. That’s over twelve hundred songs, one at a time. My time was finally full and being put to use. I also had to unpack into my new room and repack to have more space in my suitcase. I need more space because I am currently traveling for two full months. Before I started my travels I was hanging out with my friend Gabriella, her brother, and her brother’s girlfriend. We went to the clubbe to go swimming and play a bit of volleyball. The funny thing about AABB, the clubbe, is that to swim, you have to wear a sunga, which is a speedo. I must say, I do enjoy my bright red sunga. I’m actually going to buy some more, well I have to. Those are the plans for now anyway.

But later that day I went with Gabriella to a friend’s Christmas party where an old lady, who I didn’t know, read some parts from the bible. We then did the lord’s prayer in portugues and they recited a catholic prayer. It was really different. We also had a gift exchange which was cool but I wasn’t originally going to go, so, I didn’t take part. I got home at around 11:30 and watched the Simpsons and Criminal Minds until the next morning when we left for travels at five in the morning. The first place I stayed was Goiania. I was there for twenty-three days staying in my brother’s apartment. We were there for Christmas and to wait for my plane to Sao Paulo. The trip is only five hundred kilometers from Goiania, whereas from Araguaina, the trip is something like thirteen hundred kilometers. It’s a lot shorter, and a lot cheaper from Goiania. I think it’s worth staying in Goiania with my brother extra time for the cheaper faster flight. While there, we had three Christmas parties. The first was just a Christmas dinner where we read the same things as the other party the night before. We also sang hymns in Portugues. It really surprised everyone when they heard me singing.

On the twenty-third, we had a party at my aunt’s house. I didn’t participate in the secret Santa because I wasn’t expected to be there. My aunt had no idea I was coming. So the first one was fun, I got to meet my dad’s side of the family and my Grand got me some cologne. The day after, on the Twenty-fourth, we had another party in which I did participate in the secret Santa. I got my cousin who I hadn’t met but holy goodness is she gorgeous. She is the blonde in the picture with me at the bottom. I got her some earrings and a ring to go with it. My sister, Rayssa, the dark haired girl in the other picture with me, drew my name so she had to get me a gift. She got me a new pair of jeans, which I needed. I also need to hem them because my legs are way too short to fit, story of my life.

Then Christmas Day came and I got to talk to literally everyone. I talked to Ty, everyone on my dad’s side of the family in Indianapolis, my mom, and a few other friends. It was pretty cool seeing everyone and they were definitely surprised at my new four eights of an inch hair cut, considering it’s been since third grade that I’ve had my hair this short. I also found out that I had a bunch of things sent to me, however, I won’t get them until mid February because of my travels. After a few days of nothing, we went to a wonderful place with natural hot water. The name of the city is Caldas Novas. It has many hotels that have pools of this water. It’s so great, I could just live in the water. After three days in Caldas we returned to Goiania. For New Years, we went to a show. The singer was Claudia Leite, her name about describes her music. We’ll just say its a good thing that I brought some headache medicine. I mean, the show was fun, but I was ready for bed about half way through.

These last few days were great, some barbecues, parties with the family, going out with my brother and sister, everything you could imagine to complete a stay in Goiania. These few weeks were great! Now I’m waiting at my aunt’s house, here in Goiania, for my flight to Sao Paulo where my Northeast Super Dream Trip will start. It’s going to be a month of fun and beaches with a bunch of other exchangers. I can’t wait!

March 9 Journal

This journal consists of many things, for starters, it involves a month of fun…

So, the day of December 19 my third host family and I left the house where our next 12 hours would be spent riding in a cramped Hyundai Santa Fe. it wasn’t cramped as to there were so many people, I mean, we did have 5 people in 5 seats, but the fact of the matter was all our stuff. We had Rayssa, my host sister, both of our host parents, and the… what is she called… o ya, maid! Well due to my host mom and Rayssa packing 5 bags apiece and my suitcase the back seat wasn’t too pleasant of a place to sit. I had brought my big suitcase because directly from Christmas, I was to travel, but I will save the details for later.

So by the time we got there, we were all stinking to high heaven, tired, and most of all, hungry. We arrived at my host brother’s apartment in Goiania where he and my host sister live during their school. They don’t study in my city, they go to a big university in the state of Goias, UFG. UFG is the Federal University of Goiania, and it is no easy task to enter. They are both studying law.

Back to my Christmas. So the minutes there I met my host extended family… and, well, some of them are a bit strange. They even remind me of some of my dad’s side of my real family. Christmas was very very… interesting. We ate, a lot, like normal, but there was a tradition I had never seen in my life. Everyone got in a circle, and had a little paper with songs and scripture and even a little picture of Mary. We all sang, then ate, and some people prayed. By the time everyone got out, I was ready to crash. I ended up returning to my host grandma’s and lights out right as I hit the pillow. We had a few Christmas parties… six or something like that. We also did gift exchange which was fun and pretty funny. I got jeans from Rayssa. For regular presents, my host parents got me a pair of shoes, six t-shirts, a pair of pants and I think that’s it. I got a load. After Christmas we spent a few days at this wonderful place with natural hot water… The hotel had huge hot tubs, the size of swimming pools. I will remember the name and always return there.

So I was set to travel on my long trip that started the tenth of January, but my family was leaving to go home on the eighth. It was decided that I would stay at my host aunt’s house. I stayed for a few days and was at a churrasco, then I hit the airport.

So I waited for my plane and I saw my friend and fellow exchanger, Hugo, from France waiting also. I didnt talk to him until we landed in Sao Paulo because I knew that he didn’t recognize me, after all I had shaved my head a just few days prior. I got on the plane, put on my music, and my snores soon could be heard through out the compartments. Yes, I snore and yes, it’s very loud. Well, when we finally landed in Sao Paulo and I arrived at the baggage area, he had his bags and was with the Belo Brasil girl. Belo Brasil is our touring agency. So I got my bags and the two of us hopped in our taxi. We left her there because there were more students arriving later. We got to the hotel to find all the other exchangers in one room. We joined them and talked for hours and eventually went to get some food, but by that time everyone was starving… almost literally!

Well as the night drew to a close we all found ourselves out front of the hotel listening to stories and talking in groups. Those of you who don’t know me, well, I was one of the story tellers and in my new group of friends it was easy to talk to them and just have a good time. I met some of the funniest people that night.

So the next morning, 5 new students arrived and we were to get on our bus, however there were two buses leaving from the same point. Mine was destined for Brasilia and my friends, well of course they were off to Rio. This meeting was short but real sweet. The few of us hopped on my bus and were on the road to Brasilia. It turned out good, my friends Philipp and Jay were on the bus and we had some fun on the way. We made many, many stops to get to Brasilia. We had to pick up students and soon our bus was full except for 3 seats. We did a city tour in Brasilia, and watched the sunset off of the huge TV tower… at least that’s what I think it is.

After Brasilia, we were off to the real part of the Northeast Dream Trip. We were to cities and small towns, some had roads, some didn’t, some were brick, some were sand. The town that had no paved roads, Jericoacoara (jer-ree-kwa-kwa-ra), there was a beautiful beach and it didn’t stop by the water! The roads throughout the village were composed of sand, and there was a big rock called Pedra Furada that was excellent. My friend from Denmark, Alex, and I wanted to see it, but we missed when the group went. So we asked our… leader if we could go and he said it will be difficult to make in the two hours before dinner. He told us it would take a minimum of three hours without taking pictures. Well, of course, Alex and I were off. We went at a jog and a sprint, up and down the mountains of sand and sparse vegetation. We ran past other tourists and were told, at a run, we could make it by nightfall. Well, being the fact that we were half way there, it was too late to turn around. We kept on truckin! We made it with light still, and got a few pictures done. Now being me, I led us back through the hills figuring on physics and gravity to help us. Get up higher on the hills and find the paths going to the beaches first. These paths all went down, that’s where the physics and gravity comes in. We were armed with a camera that had our time, but neither of us were sure it was right. To see what time it was or how much we had left, we shot a blank foto and looked at the time it said. We were on our run back and, no lie, I kicked 11 rocks and one huge piece of wood. We made it back with forty-five minutes before dinner, so we hopped in the pool and still had time to shower.

At dinner, my big toe was really big. In our days there, we also took a dunebuggy ride and got to do sand boarding… It was an excellent experience. We went to other beautiful cities like Natal, which means Christmas, and Itacare. Both beautiful beach cities. Another City we visited which was my favorite was Fortaleza. We stayed in an absolutely breathtaking hotel right on the beach. The water was the color of the sky and the sand was white as snow. Fortaleza just was the perfect description a beautiful beach. We went to a bunch more cities, all with shopping malls and beaches. We even had one day where we were at a beach and they had a load of people dancing to Axé music. That’s the music they play at Carnaval. My favorite bands are Chiclete com Banana, Ivete Sangalo, and Banda Eva. At the end of the day, a few of us guys went to dance with them… that’s when it started. First my good friend, Jakob, from Denmark, got called up to dance samba. He got up and faked a ridiculously bad samba, that was hilarious. The next to be called up was of course someone who could dance single ladies… Well, all my friends had heard about my single ladies experience at my school before I left. So I got called up, and danced to single ladies with another guy… Of course it was videoed, and it will be in my memory forever. In front of three hundred people, dancing single ladies… excellent. Then two more guys, one from Germany and the other from Mexico got called up and they had dance like girls… there is a story inside of that, but I will save it for a living room chat.

We finished in Rio with samba and funk lessons where we learned the dance to Créu. Sexy sexy… We saw the Sugarloaf and the Christ and wrapped it up. Some of us were off to our cities on the way back to Sao Paulo, others, like me were back to the hotel to wait for our flight. The long bus ride went really really fast. The end of the trip came with tears from some and laughter from others, but one thing’s for sure… Everyone gained lifetime friends from that trip. For you future Brasil exchangers, the two trips you have to go on. The Northeast Dream Trip and I hear Amazon is a must. Those are the two.

So back to my travels, yes, I got home 2 months after I left for Christmas. That’s a long time away from home away from home… get it? So Carnaval, we were at the parties for 4 days but did other things too, we stayed in Salvador for a week, we, being my family. So after my northeast trip, I took my flight straight to Salvador, where I would land and stay at a family friend’s house for a night and a day and wait for my host family to arrive. So the tenth they met us at the shopping mall. Fantastic, we had lunch in the food court. I ate Burger King, the thing is, Burger King is excellent in every country, there is not a better international fast food restaurant. This is a strong recommendation for exchangers, always go with Burger King, it’s the better choice.

So after the food court we were getting our “abadás” ready. I say the actually word because I’m not sure what it is in English, you future exchangers, this will also happen to you, but an abadá is what we had to wear to get into our block. Carnaval in Salvador has many blocks, each of which is composed of one band or dj and two huge trucks. These trucks are rigged so the VIPs can go to the top and the band also can, they also have a men’s and women’s bathroom in the second one. They both blare music at deafening volume, I still have trouble hearing and it was a month ago from the 13th. They play music at the volume where everyone can jump up and down and dance and sing and go crazy and still hear it. After the first day I kept yelling because it was like I constantly had water in my ear. To decide where the blocks ended and began, there was an incredibly long and heavy rope held by the “Cordeiras,” the people paid to carry the rope. It was incredible!

The Carnaval sometimes started very early. One day, the first block left at 3 pm and the last one usually leaves at 12 or 1 am. There are also people who don’t go inside the ropes. There is “camarote” and also the “pipoca.” “Camarote” is where the people have a type of box. It’s raised off the ground and at some of the bigger boxes, a band might stop and do a minishow for the people in the camarote. The “pipoca” is for the people who didn’t want to pay. They are on the outsides of the street and in street clothes.

The crazy part about Carnaval is the police. There is one group that wears all black, they are riot groups and they do not have rules. If you touch the police in anyway, you usually take a shot in the gut with the nightstick, but I was warned the “black” police were the bad ones. Often times we would walk through an area and there would be tear gas in the air. It was in small amounts, but it’s impossible to not notice it. The security was very tight, but there were still many many fights. One time, we even saw a man who had gotten his head smashed against the sidewalk. It was so crazy.

The one block where the pipoca is the most dangerous was at Chiclete com Banana. Chiclete is a band that everyone in Brasil knows and out of everyone I have met in Brasil, I only know one person who doesn’t like. So it’s always full and always crazy. One day we were on the pipoca walking back to the car because our block finished and we walked by Chiclete. It took twenty minutes to pass two hundred feet of people. Two hundred feet of shoulder to shoulder, back to front, and sometimes people broke out into a fight and it would get dangerous because the bad cops would storm the area. Everyone knows they’re bad so everyone moves and that space of shoulder to shoulder back to front minimizes tenfold. There were times when I would have fallen but it was so tight I was literally held up off the ground.

One specific time I remember was one fight that was really close to our group so we backed off and my feet were literally off the ground but it looked like I was standing. My arms were one on my chest and the other at my side and I was “standing” in the supercrowd waiting for the cops to finish their work. I know I’m talking about the bad stuff but don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not all that crazy, it’s actually really really fun.

In my block, I was there three days. The first day we had Tomate, a singer who isn’t that bad but he isn’t one of the big guys at the show. The second was Banda Eva, one of my favorite Axé bands and the third was my favorite, Ivete Sangalo. The day of Banda Eva was the craziest in our block. There were many many people and everyone jumping up and down. To jump you had to stay with the people near you otherwise you would get some, what I like to call, “Carnaval burn.” That’s when you’re jumping up and down and you are rubbing against the people and friction literally gives you a burn similar to a rug burn.

The days were crazy and like I said, when I got home, my ears were ringing and talking was at high volume. Now I know how my Grand feels:) Love you Grandma!

The day after we did our three days of blocks we went to camarote. We had an excellent camarote. They had free drinks, two floors, and a club! It was amazing! When Claudia Leite, a crescending singer, was to come by, she stopped at our camarote and did a minishow for us! The TV cameras were from above us because the stage was on the second floor, the next day we were watching national TV and guess who we saw! It was so cool!

Back to the 11th, we had a show to go to. We went to see one of the most known American artists, Beyoncé. Her show was brilliant. Ivete Sangalo opened for her, and was also brilliant. I used to not like Beyoncé’s music, but I guess that was just what I needed. I have most of her show music on my iTouch now! It was fantastic, that is something I will always remember. This week was incredible, as was the two month travels. I love Brasil.

June 23 Journal

A few weeks have passed since my best trip on exchange. The trip to the Amazon was the most memorable yet. No, we didn’t see many animals, catch many piranha, stay in a bunch of great hotels, relax on beautiful beaches, or have any good parties, but, what our group had was memories. We danced on top of the boat, the guys team beat the Indians in soccer for the first time in the trip history, we got to jump off the top of our tour boat, we stayed in a hotel that rivaled a castle in size, we took boat rides into the forest to see Indian tribes, we visited a school, we had a canoe trip in hollowed tree canoes that sunk with the slightest movement, we made jewelry, and we just had fun! There is nothing I could say or even show you that would describe this trip. If you have heard the saying, “pictures say a thousand words,” it doesn’t matter how many pictures I show you, it won’t show you the power of this trip. The only way to show justice for you and the trip would be to experience it in the flesh. It is my highest recommendation for everyone to see the Amazon.

Because a few weeks has passed, it means my time is coming to an end. I am in my last month and my date is coming up. I’m leaving home to go back home. Saying that statement feels just as weird as it sounds. A part of me says I’m ready and another part thinks I’m crazy for leaving. Honestly, I don’t know which part is right. I was sent here to Brasil with 2 goals, to learn the language, and to learn the culture. Within six months, these goals were completed. With my last few months, I just honed my Portuguese and became even more Brasilian. I have done my job, and it is up to the next exchanger to finish his work and so on. So as my time finishes, I know that it’s my time to step aside and open the door for the next student to step into my shoes. I wish every one of you new outbounds… and inbounds, the best of luck in your exchanges. This is my last journal… Thank you everyone for your support and belief in me.

 

Kelsey Breen
2009-10 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Nease HS
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Sanyi Rotary Club, District 3500, Taiwan

Kelsey - Taiwan

Kelsey’s Bio

My name’s Kelsey Taylor Breen. I’m 15 years old born on June 17, 1993, and I am a sophomore at Allen D. Nease High School in St. Johns, Florida.

Facts about me

I love warm weather (This is a reason I think Taiwan is perfect for me).

I can’t stand the cold. My dad says I’m cold blooded because every time I’m over at his house I’m wrapped in blankets complaining saying “are you trying to freeze me out of the house”.

I spent most of my weekends at my godmothers’ house on the beach growing up.

Moved from Jax to Orlando with my mom for two years, 7th and 8th grade. Then I moved back to Jax.

I lived with my friend Jamie and her family for a month. I worked at their Thai restraint a little also. (Orlando)

Over in Orlando I did competition cheerleading

I was in a beauty pageant. Ms. Teen Orlando.

I got to sing with the Nease choir at Epcot Dec. 28 for candlelight.

I used to go to John Robert Powers acting agency. They even got me an extra part in Ace Ventura 3.

My favorite color is pink.

Interests

I love acting and singing.

I love reading (If you look in my room you’ll find books everywhere – under my bed, in my drawers, in the closet, I even have some just randomly on the floor).

I love Disney princesses except Snow White.

I own every Barbie movie that is currently out.

I like anime and manga.

Family

My mom is Wendy Cruff.

Older brother Christian Breen (18)

Boxer (dog) named Brandi

My dad is Patrick Breen and my step mom is Holly Breen

My cutest little brother in the world is Charles (4)

Jackrussel named Jackson

Kelsey’s Journals

August 22 Journal

My start to my exchange was what I’d call a half empty half full kind of thing. I almost missed my flight and they said I was too late to check in my luggage. So I have only 2 outfits till my mom can ship over my bags. But I’m trying to see this as half full – I mean I made it on the long boring uncomfortable plane ride and I get money to go shopping with my host sisters. See: half full. The brighter side.

It was so funny when I met my family at the airport. I myself looked like a zombie having just slept 16 hours in the most uncomfortable position. My face was red, my hair was messy, and I’m pretty sure I had imprints from the pillow on my face. But my host sisters were smiling and giggling and said I was pretty. I was so touched. I just wanted to gobble them up because they were so cute. My host brother was so sweet – he handed me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers and didn’t laugh at me when I tried speaking Chinese which I might add I am no good at just yet. We took lots of photos and then we went to a noodle shop. Okay so the food here in Taiwan isn’t what I’d call delicious. It wasn’t nasty either. Their soda was really tasty though. When we went into the little noodle shop I felt like I had a huge sign on my back saying I’m a blonde American so stare at me lol. After dinner my host brother took me next door to the 7-eleven it was so CLEAN … Americans beware: once you step into Taiwan gas stations, you’ll never wanna go back to your own dirty smelly ones.

So my room is on the third floor and it is huge and it’s got pink everywhere. It’s like it was made for me lol. I went to take a shower and I must say I was very surprised at their showers. It’s actually a spray shower head in the corner of a bathroom … there is no tub or anything. There was so much more room than there are in our tubs.

So after that I forced myself to go to bed at like midnight and then I woke up at like 7, wayyy too early, so I decided to start my first journal to kill time till my host sibs wake up which should be any minute now. So I’m going to go now. I’ll write my second journal once school starts.

September 22 Journal

OK let’s start from my last journal and my family waking up…. That day they took me to Llan Ho Da Xie (national united university) for an awards thing because Rotary had to do weekend lessons on how to be a host parent and there I met Nicky who went to Florida 2 years ago (woohooo go Floridians) … then I went shopping for clothes since my luggage hadn’t come yet (but it’s here now) …. OK time skip – I met Nicky and his cousin Kevin again on Tuesday which was my first Rotary meeting. Ok so Kevin went to New York two years ago also …. he and I went around San Yi the next day.

During this past month or so I did something every day but I think you’d get bored hearing it all so ill only say important stuff…

In my second week, I hung out with my brother and his friends a lot and they took me to play basketball and I was awesome at it …. I stood at the free throw line and my teammates kept passing me the ball and then I’d shoot and score so it would be our ball again so they passed it again and I shot again…on and on…

And also in my second week my host cousin and his two friends took me to the movies and then we went to my cousin’s school and I met some of his classmates and then when I got home I was rushed out with my mom and lil sis betty (15) and we did this belly dancing kinda class. It was so fun.

Now down to the important stuff. I’ve finally started school and I hate my uniform – it’s so ugly…yellow shirt and hot pink pants (PE uniform). I like the pants but not the shirt …and then our nice one is red skirt and white nice shirt … I saw a pink uniform shirt like light hot cherry blossom pink and a pink plaid skirt I must say I was very jealous … I want it… I love pink …… OK now back on topic – I’ve made a lot of friends but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to all the stairs and stares lol … everyone stares at me, it’s embarrassing … and my school is 7 floors high and there are 3 buildings … I’m on the 4th floor … so tiring …

I went out my 3rd weekend here with my classmates for their birthday (the twins in my class). We went to hot pot, then I went with my cousin and his friend Shane to the night market (which I’m in love with). I really love my school food because there is a convenience store connected to it =]…. I don’t do much in class but sleep, study, sleep, listen to music, English, and sleep … but the good part is the teachers come to us not the other way around … soooo nice

So 2 weekends ago I went to Nan Miaol with my friend Emma (she from New York) and we had so much fun …. We went to McD and these 14 year olds came in and bought me ice cream and were like nice to meet you, you’re very pretty…sooooo sweet.

So here is my warning to all people that are thinking about Taiwan for their place if you wanna do youth exchange … you will have to walk … a lot … also you will be taking busses everywhere … and trust me I’ve barely figured these busses out … so hard … tears =[… so be ready to be lost at least once.

Here is some randomness for you readers

The garbage trucks play music (Beethoven that du-nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-nu song)

They don’t flush toilet paper

We had a wild dog come into class (it just walked through front gates and up the stairs into my class … weirdness)

They stay in school till 5 but they have nap time after lunch

Everyone LOVES studying (OK not everyone but a lot)

My sister Betty left about 3 weeks ago … I miss her (she went to Germany)

They don’t have air-conditioning in school

You may get stalked and stared at here (cough cough) so get used to it if you come here

They have camera paparazzi everywhere so get used to taking pics =]

There are metal rainbow shaped poles here that are on the ground that are waiting to trip people … things to block cars and bikes from going that way… (it really just popped up and tripped me … it laughed at my misery)

Also a clock fell down from my wall the 3rd week I was here and glass cut my foot.

Oh and also 2 weeks ago I cut the side of my foot on the door because I accidently closed it on the side of it … it bled … a lot

END OF RANDOMNESS (read next month for more)

OK so here’s my last thing to write about … I started Chinese lessons at National United University and it is HARD!!!! But I’m improving ie dien dien (a little) … and I also am in chorus with Emma at NUU … It’s hard singing Chinese songs that are written in characters not pinyin…

November 13 Journal

As of right now I’m in the beginning of my third month here in Taiwan and it feels like time is passing by in the blink of an eye. I just wish I could have a remote control on life to rewind my time here and do it over and over so it never ends, but time doesn’t stop for anyone, so all I can do is keep going and try to make as many memories as I can here.

So many many things have happened in this past month. But my most accomplished moment of this past month is when I went shopping with my friend Emma. At 8:30 in the morning I took a bus to the train station and even had a short Chinese conversation with my bus driver. Then my friend Emma met me at the train station and we walked around that area for a few hours, then we walked to her house for lunch. After lunch we walked back to the train station and took a bus to Nan Miaol and shopped around there. After shopping at about 3:45 we started walking from Nan Miaol to National United University where we take chorus together and went to our chorus class. After that Emma stayed there and I got a ride from my Chinese teacher’s friend to the Nan Miaol bus station where I took a bus home … I must say that day made me feel very accomplished.

My school life is finally starting to get interesting. I embarrassed myself in front of the whole 1st year grade at my school. My school was having a singing competition, and the night before it, my class told me I would be singing a solo … in Chinese … so that’s about 16 hours to learn the song … IN CHINESE. So of course I did just that and memorized it. But when I got on stage everyone started screaming and there was no accompaniment so it was a capella and I just couldn’t think with all the screaming, so I forgot the tune which in turn made me forget the words … SO EMBARRASSING. But then everyone did the sweetest thing and sang the song with me … it was sooooo sweet and my class tried to cheer me up after =] I love my class.

After the singing competition an officer at my school asked me to join the flag team for the sports festival on the 21st and of course I agreed =] so now I’m a flag girl. And all last week I stayed after school with my class till 8:30 making a traditional Chinese dress by hand…from scratch…..which means me, Ms. Clumsy, dealing with needles and thread…it was not pretty but it was fun haha…and lastly my classmates used me as a model during art class which was sooo fun =]

Actually right now I have half days Monday thru Thursday. Fridays are my only full day at school. On Monday I leave at noon to go to a college for Chinese lessons and Tuesday I go to a kindergarten in the morning to teach English as an assistant teacher and to learn Chinese at the kindergarten. Then I come to school at noon. And Wednesdays I teach English at a junior high in the morning and come to school at noon. And last on Thursday at noon I leave for the collage again for Chinese lessons….I have to take the bus sooo much.

10 random things in Taiwan

Students here think it’s normal to stay after school till 8:30 to study

They have school here on the weekends

Elderly people ride electronic wheelchairs here in the streets….as cars

There is a convenience store connected to my school

Teachers come to you in school so you never have to leave your classroom unless it’s for an elective

McDonalds has pictures of healthy food all over the walls…like pics of apples and salad and water and healthy veggies and fruits…..but we all know…. it’s…… a….LIEEEEEEE

They have 12 courses in their meals here

So I’m at a wedding and sit through 12 courses of dinner and finally I think it’s time for cake but then nope… nothing ever goes the way you want it to… guess what everyone gets up and leaves…reception’s over, time to go…NO CAKE FOR YOU…they didn’t cut the cake in front of us or share it … tears =[

If you have a cold or cough or sneeze they ask “are you okay??? You should go to a doctor.” And if you have a blemish they ask “what happened” like it’s a cut or bruise or something – sooo embarrassing.

THERE ARE NO TAMPONS HERE

WO AI TAIWAN

December 26 Journal

聖誕快樂 (Merry Christmas)

I can hardly believe that just this time last year I was finding out that I would be going to Taiwan and now here I am in my 4th month over here in Taiwan. It’s scary how fast time flies by.

Over this past month I’ve been feeling a tiny bit homesick because Christmas was coming up but my host family quickly diminished that feeling with all of their kindness and love. They made me really feel like it was Christmas in Taiwan. My family told me they would like to do gift exchange with me and that they wanted to celebrate Christmas for me even though they’re Buddhist. so for Christmas I first went to school and brought Christmas stickers to school and randomly sticked my schoolmates with stickers haha … then my class and I played secret Santa and my Santa got me a beautiful red Christmas scarf ( I also got lots of candy and these cool basketball wrist bands that were pink).

Then at lunch time the Canadian teacher put on an inflatable Santa suit and we went to every classroom in the school and threw candy to the students. Haha it was so fun. After school I went to KTV with my mama, meimei, gege, and my gege’s friends. It was so much fun. My gege Bill dressed up as Santa Claus and passed out presents, then we played a game where Santa asked a question (in Chinese) and if we answered right we got to pick a card out of a bag and we got the present with the number it matched. I got a watch. We stayed till 11:00 but I got tired and fell asleep on a couch at 10. But privately my host mom got me a beautiful sweater and my host brother and cousin got me a pink scarf <3 so sweet. My other host cousin got me candy and a cool phone case. I got my mama and my meimei matching scarves, my brother new earrings, my cousin a hat, and my other cousin candy.

The junior high school I assist teaching English at also did a Christmas party and gift exchange. It was so funny because the students who guessed wrong had to do some crazy thing like break-dance or pushups. haha

On the 16th of December I went with 3 of my classmates dress shopping for the 18th’s dance. Before dress shopping, though, they somehow convinced me to try stinky tofu – it was so-so. And then we had this liquid drink with these little jubies in it. It was delicious.

On the 17th of December I went and watched the Riverdance with my host family. It was so cold but it was also so cool.

On the 18th or December I went to a Christmas party at a Pacific American school which means ENGLISH AND DANCING. My friends host brother invited us. It was so much fun. I bought a pink dress for the event and went with 4 other RYE girls. We danced till we couldn’t dance anymore. haha. The boys were shy so we would hold hands and circle a shy looking boy and make him dance haha. There was a little girl problem so me and my friend Rachelle had to run out in the middle of the dance to a 7-eleven in cold weather in dresses and heels. So funny. What was not funny was taking a train in a fancy dress….way too many people staring. But Rachelle’s host mom got us professional make up for the night, so nice.

And last but not least there was an earthquake rated 6.4 on the Richter scale. It was so cool but my little sister came into the computer room scared. She was sooo cute.

Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite part of the journal

Randomness in Taiwan:

Taiwan’s weather is almost as bipolar as Florida’s

Shopping is AMAZING AND CHEAP <3

The weekend hi-life bus stop is a 20 minute walk from my house

Commercials here are hilarious

You eat these rice balls with red bean inside during New Year’s which means you’ve grown a year

You get red envelopes at New Year’s

Most everyone is friendly here and shy

There are more motor scooters than cars here. haha

Everybody Loves KTV

Yes! Teas creamy milk tea with brown sugar and jubies is delicious <3

January 29 Journal

Five months. My half past point. There’s many good things about now being here in Taiwan for five months – for example my host parents allow me to go outside to different areas of Taiwan more with my friends, I’ve learned to get by in Chinese and not be completely clueless, and I’ve made many, many strong bonds. But the downside is that in only another 5 months I’ll be packing my stuff to go back to Florida. To all the 2010-2011 youth exchange students: make sure you make every second over in your new country count. To all 2010-2011 Taiwan students: if you have any questions you’d like to ask about Taiwan send me e-mails and I’d love to answer at the best of my abilities all of your questions.

So the month of January has been….very very packed with things to do. For new years I went to Taipei 101 with 8 of my classmates and friends. Taipei is very crowded on new year’s but the show you get to see at Taipei 101 is a once in a lifetime experience for RYE and I recommend to all you Taiwan students next year to go see it.

My host dad’s been gone in China a lot for business but he came home for new year’s weekend and we went bike riding with the family in memorial park and went to Tainan to visits my mom’s family for new year’s and Christmas and we went …BOWLING. It was so amazing I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve missed bowling with family.

My host mom’s birthday was on the 16 of January and I got her chocolates but instead of spending time with the family she went to a hot spring to relax. ahhh I was so jealous….buuttt the next day I went strawberry picking with my friend Emma and her and her host mom took me on my very first trip to the hot springs. It was AWESOME. My skin came out so smooth and silky.

Then the next Wednesday me, Emma, and David went to my little sister’s school camping trip… at an elementary school haha it was pretty boring but we managed to not bore ourselves to death somehow ^^. The next day me and Emma decided to cut our hair and Em got her curly hair straightened and bangs and I got mine cut and curled…it’s so short I’m no longer Rapunzel as my friends say haha. Then that Saturday all the 3500 RYE gathered in Tainan and we WENT.ON.A.BOAT…I’m on a boat was our theme music for the day. It was awesome. We also went to a market and made spin tops and got food yummy yummy food.

I’m officially on winter break now which means no school for a month. I’m kinda sad because I’ll miss my friends but we are going to hang out outside of school as much as we can ^^

Coming up … February fourteenth is NOT Valentine’s Day but Chinese new year’s. Which means red envelopes, lots of food, family gathering and dragons at temples, also make sure to stay awake to midnight so that the monster doesn’t get you and to put red envelopes up all over the house.

To all 2010-2011 RYE here’s my last piece of advice for the month of January. When you pack, pack light and pack stuff you don’t care about. Because your stuff will get ruined here. Your sisters will steal your shirts by accident, your brothers will take your girl boxers by accident cause your mom won’t know whose clothes are whose, so make sure all you have in your new home is stuff you will not miss. and also you’re going to want to shop a lot so make sure you have room in your suitcases to bring your new belongings home a.k.a. you should leave one suitcase EMPTY.

Now for everyone’s favorite

Randomness in Taiwan

Taiwan has a delicious restaurant called Modern Toilet where all the stuff is shaped as poo and bathroom stuff.

In Taiwan there’s Chinese, Japanese, and American haha, so if you’re white, they think you’re American … good luck European countries and Canada

Taiwan doesn’t give money tips

Taiwan has no tax

Taiwan men love to dress as women and dance to wondergirls’ song nobody

Taiwanese LOVE karaoke and beer

Taiwan has the best tea ever….yes! Tea is creamy milk tea with brown sugar…yummmmmm

Taiwan girls are sooo small and cute…so don’t expect to find much clothes that fit you here

Taiwan shopping…is….cheap ^^ so perfect for us broke RYE students … and you can also try and make price lower and sometimes they agree $$ CHACHING

April 9 Journal

I know I know 2 months with no journal….SORRY….. (insert super juniors song “sorry sorry”)

So the last time I wrote was in the end of January and now it is April. Hmmm where to start? Well during February we had the biggest event of the year, Chinese New Year. I was still at my first family for the new years. Chinese New Year is celebrated over a one week period. There are fireworks, lots of food, money, temples, and family. During the New Year my parents took me to Taipei to see a Van Gogh and a Da Vinci art exhibit. They also took me too central Taiwan in the mountains to see snow and play in it and I can say for sure that I could not feel my fingers after 5 minutes. During new years there were many dragon shows and fireworks. At the end of the New Year I moved into my second host family’s house.

On a side note….let’s take a second to talk about the wonders of trains….the things you can do on a train while you are alone in a car with only your friends…..imagine a whole car to yourselves…well you could

Sing loudly

Hang upside down on rails you hold onto

Dance

Pretend to be meditate

Act crazy and race along the area

Take crazy pictures

All of the above (I choose this one – which do you choose?)

At my new family’s house I have two brothers in their 20’s and a mother and father. When I first came to this new family I was very scared seeing as I had just spent the past 6 months at my first family’s house and was very much attached to their children and very comfortable in their home. But soon I became accustomed to my new life and new home. There are some conveniences that are, well, more convenient here in Tounglo where I now live. Like for fact I’m only a 5 minute walk from the train station or that there’s wireless internet and even a real bathtub/shower. Lovveee itttt. But the bad part is that the place is even smaller than Miaoli and the mosquitoes here in Taiwan are on steroids. But luckily they’re more attracted to my friends than they are to me.

Around the end of February there was a festival called the lantern festival going on. My family took me to Taichung to see the lanterns. This year was the year of the tiger.

After that there wasn’t much going on until March when we had a 3 day trip to the east. It was very fun, we went to Hualien and Ilan. While there I saw an old woman sewing Haka attires. And we went to coal mines with beautiful scenery and we went to museums and to a swinging bridge I thought would break that led to a temple. At night we were free to go anywhere so the first night we went to a beach and bought fireworks and lit them off and we sent a huge lantern into the sky that we got to write wishes on. On the second night me and my friends went to the ilan night market and ate dinner and walked around. I learned that I am very good at the claw games.

At school I have many friends and right now my class is planning our garden party which will sort of be like our sports festival but more fun. They want me to dance in it…..the Macarena….HECK NO!!! And there’s also a school dance coming up. I am very excited for both of these things and will take lots of photos.

This is my advice to new students coming to Taiwan and even to other countries. A great way to learn the language is by watching their soap operas (Taiwanese have the best) with subtitles and the speakers turned up so you don’t miss a sound.

Now I know you all have been dying for the best part of my journals….randomness in Taiwan so here it is for you

There’s a Casco here….YES!!!

They have no spring break in school =[

The American book prices are jacked up way too high

They think it’s abnormal to have 2 dogs….it’s either 1 dog or 3 and more, never two.

I saw a Ford truck here!!!! The first real truck I’ve seen in 7 months.

The best drink in the world is still jenju nai-cha but seeing as it’s not made in Florida I’m learning to make it.

Couples here wear matching outfits and sometimes have matching hair colors…like per se purple….it was lovely.

Buses and trains hate me.

My iTouch broke and they only have retail iTunes stores here, not the real stores…also they say it’s unfixable so I have to buy new a iTouch … mine was only 7 months old but they already have a new generation out so they stopped producing the one I have … but I only have to pay 95 American dollars for the new one.

Taiwan smells bad!

I LOVE BADMINTON! At my school there are 5 sports you can play. Swimming (seasonal), basketball, volleyball, badminton, and pin gong. Also if you’re lucky there is sometimes a 6th called dodge ball which I have only had the honor of playing once in my 7 months here.

Reading dismissed. That is all!

June 1 Journal

The month of May was probably one of the best months of my life in Taiwan so far.

May 9th was my school birthday where every class was selling something. Be it food, drinks, games, or art. It was all fun. My school sold hand drawn bags (my bag was horrible but my friend still bought It anyways. Bless her kind soul). I bought this drink with some kind of carbon ice that makes the drink all smoky like a witch’s cup. I went to a haunted house that didn’t scare me until the end where somebody grabbed my leg (evil friend). I also shot cans with a big shooting gun thing. It was like a machine gun but with pebbles. It was so much fun. At the end there was a school dance with some famous Taiwan rappers rapping at and some pretty cool dancing. Two of my friends came to it. We got a lot of attention because we actually know how to dance. I had 4 boys ask to dance with me ha-ha.

May 13 through the 22 my mother came to Taiwan for a jam packed full of crazy traveling nine days visit. I picked her up from the airport at 6:45 (she was 35 minutes late) and from there we stopped in Hsinchu for breakfast and bubble milk tea which she gasp did not like. I just don’t know how I can call her family anymore. Trust me it was really tough after that. Then my host dad took us to a temple and to lunch at a beautiful place called green arc. We then went to the hot springs and after had dinner. My mom couldn’t believe how much they could eat here. It was very funny to me. The next day we went and saw my school then went to Sanyi which is famous for its woodcarving. For dinner we went to a Rotary meeting where I showed my mom the Sorry Sorry dance and the Nobody dance with all the Rotary people. And my mom kept having people toast her and drink. She was very confused for a while ha-ha. Here you can only drink alcohol when you toast so the people just kept coming up to her to toast her.

The next day was Saturday and we traveled to Hsinchu for my speech contest and then we took a fast train to the very south called Kaohsiung. The next day we traveled to a beautiful beach called ken ting for 2 nights and 3 days. On the third day we then went to Taichung which has an amazing night market. We stayed there for one night. The next day we went to Sun Moon Lake and about 4 temples and Old Street and a wine factory all from 9:30 to about 4. We traveled that night to Taipei and had dinner at a restaurant with my host brother called Modern Toilet where everything is shaped as bathroom things. It was very humorous for my mom. We stayed in Taipei for 3 nights and 4 days. We went shopping, saw a movie, ate sushi express, and went to a temple and a zoo. On the 4th day I took her to the airport where I sadly had to say goodbye.

On the 28th of May I moved back to my first host family and on the 29th I went to a Rotex meeting in Hsinchu where pp.ent gave us all our MONEEYYY oh how I love money.

Randomness in Taiwan

My mom doesn’t like bubble milk tea

My mom doesn’t like stinky tofu

My mom loved my host families

My mom loved the countryside more than the city

I got my mom to say I’m stupid in Chinese ha-ha

Everyone thought my mom was my sister (which I quickly fixed)

My classmates made a beautiful book for my mom with notes to me inside and photos.

It’s so much cheaper to travel in Taiwan than it is anywhere else.

My mom loved the umbrellas in wine bottles in Taiwan

My mom is a camera-holic

My mom asked me to translate the craziest things into Chinese.

My mom said she thinks she’ll need a vacation after her vacation

We noticed that every house had water tanks on them in Kaohsiung

The gods couldn’t hear my mom

The gods can’t speak English mother.

The gods heard you this time mother congrats ;]

On June 17th I WILL BE 17 =]

Thank you for reading the month of May’s journal.

August 6 Journal

I’m no longer the foreigner. Now I’m just Kelsey. And I’m no longer the “special girl”.

I have now been back in America for about a month and It just doesn’t feel real. I feel like when I wake up in the morning I’ll be putting on my uniform and hoping on the bus to school.

Though I miss Taiwan I have learned many things on this once in a life time opportunity. I feel that I have grown up. Even if only just a little. I now have friends and family across the world and have formed bonds that will last me a lifetime.

I would like to tell about my last 2 months in Taiwan. In June it was my birthday and my classmates threw me a “surprise party”. They aren’t really good at the whole surprise thing but it was very sweet and made me cry on the inside a little bit. They hand made me a cake with an elephant decorated on top. My class is the art class after all. They got me beautiful presents like hair ties, key chains, earrings, my name on a traditional Chinese stamp, and even a cover case for my iPod that they bought on their trip to Japan. They then shoved cake on my face and tied me in ribbon and made me hobble around school all day. Supposedly its tradition….yippee. I hand-made a shirt that day that said 17 on the back and on the front it said in Chinese characters “give me birthday a.) Hugs b.) Kisses c.) Presents” many people were surprised that I could write in Chinese ha-ha. My host mother got me the most beautiful bracelet from Swarovski and my second host mom got me a beautiful necklace. My host brother and cousin got me a music box and my little sister a cute teddy bear. It was my most happy day in Taiwan. I had a dinner with a lot of my friends and brothers friends at a hotpot place and was very very very happy.

On the last day of school in June my classmates threw me a surprise goodbye party and I went to the city Hsinchu with my best friend Maggie. I was extremely happy. And I miss my best friend very much. But we call and text every day. We even got best friend matching rings that say forever friends on the outside and Kelsey & Maggie on the inside.

In July I was leaving. And for the last 10 days I stayed with my third host family. They were so kind and took me to night markets and got me a traditional Hakka parasol and a beautiful lantern. I spent my last days with my family and my best friend. For my last dinner we all went out to an American restaurant. we then after went to the night market for the last time. And that night my best friend and I packed about 3 times before we got my luggage perfect….she’s not the best packer ha-ha. It was very sad at the airport but my family was there and so was my best friend and we had bubble milk tea. I will never forget my life in Taiwan. And I promise to go back as soon as possible to visit.

Thank you for giving me more loved ones rotary. They are not my “Host” family they are my family.

 

Things that weren’t left behind in Taiwan:

1.) Throwing my toilet paper in trash can….my dad’s not too happy with that habit I got from Taiwan

2.) My love of bubble milk tea

3.) My best friends best friendness. We are still best friends even if we are on opposite sides of the earth.

4.) My knowledge of the trains and busses and all of Taiwan

5.) My awesome Taiwan clothes and jewelry

6.) My Chinese skills =]

7.) My hatred for vegetables and healthy food

8.) My love for Taiwanese soap operas

9.) Wearing masks when sick

10.) Wanting to eat with chop sticks

11.) Wanting to take my shoes off outside

12.) Saying “wei” whenever I answer the phone

13.) Saying “niga” which means UMMM whenever u don’t know what to say.

14.) My HATE of pop-a-squats!!!!

15.) MY LOVE FOR TAIWAN!

 

 

Mackenzie LaPorte
2009-10 Outbound to Lithuania
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra HS
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Klaipeda Maris Rotary Club, District 1460, Lithuania

Mackenzie - Lithuania

Mackenzie’s Bio

Hello and Labas! My name is Mackenzie LaPorte and I am absolutely ecstatic to say that next year I will be living in the beautiful country of Lithuania! I am a happy-go-lucky fifteen-year-old with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Some of my hobbies include: walking around the house singing some of my favorite show tunes, theater, spending time with my pals, eating food, skipping instead of walking, drawing, reading, and enjoying life! I have an incredible amount of energy that helps me live my life with passion and vigor! When I think about all the things there are out there to experience, all the people to meet, the places to see, I get so excited all over again about this opportunity that Rotary has given me! Above all I am extremely thankful to Rotary for making this happen for me, and for my parents supporting me that day I came home from school with a Rotary Foreign Exchange flier and the question, “How do you feel about me living abroad for a year?”

I am currently a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School and I live with my parents, brother, and dog. I have a very sunny outlook on life, and my friends will agree that it is virtually impossible for me to be in a bad mood. I love all of my friends to pieces, but have never been afraid to try something on my own. On the weekends we like to hang out, see movies, go out to eat, and most of all to laugh.

I look at next year as the greatest adventure of my life. I am setting out on my own personal odyssey; a great adventure that will take me in many directions. I will endure inevitable hardships, but my sails are strong. I know that when the storms pass and the waters calm, the sun will break through and I will remember why I embarked on my journey in the first place. So let’s set sail and see what we find! Lithuania, here I come!

 Mackenzie’s Journals

August 22 Pre-departure Journal

“Man I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same.” -The Wallflowers

So this is it. This is the beginning of my exchange! Tomorrow is what my last ten months have been centered around. Tomorrow is it. The funny thing is, though today was my last day it felt like any other. I went through the motions of every day, I woke up and ate a bagel, I checked my Facebook, I petted my dogs. Yes, of course there was something in the back of my mind saying, “Hey! You are going to live in Lithuania soon!” But you know, that voice has been with me for a lonnng time. And now it is saying, “You are going to Lithuania tomorrow… in 12 hours, in 1 hour.”

WHOA! When did this happen??? I AM going to Lithuania! Yes, yes, yes! This is happening, not in two weeks or in two months. It is happening now! Wowza. Tomorrow I will willingly leave everything I know; everything that I have built up over the last 15 years. Wooo! What a rush, huh? I am scared though. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, if I said I was not terrified. But I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t excited beyond belief. Isn’t this what life is about? You have to do the things that scare you! This is one of the things that give you that terribly wonderful feeling in your stomach that remind you you’re living, like a super crazy roller coaster. That is what I am feeling right now, and I will probably feel this for the next, ehh two weeks?

My bags are packed (mostly) and I have said goodbye to my friends. I have spoken to my other exchange friends who are already in their countries. When I talk to them I feel a mixture of envy and awe. That is going to be ME! I would have never believed it last year, but here I am now! Here I am on my last night in the USA writing my first journal. Here I am sitting among my suitcases and wonderful assortment of magazines for my flights. Here I am about to take the journey of my life! So, here I go! Thank you Rotary for allowing me to do the things that scare me, and for giving me the tools to make this exchange a successful one. Well I’m off! Until next time. J

September 20 Journal

I am sitting in my Lithuanian living room with my host sister Jadvyga who likes to be called “Bate” which means “shoe” in Lithuanian watching a Russian talk show that I just asked if was Russian in Lithuanian to which she subconsciously replied in Russian to which I understood which isn’t that impressive after all because she only said “Da.”

Phew! If you understood that, I congratulate you because it probably took some work. However, this has become my life now: A confusing and wonderful crossing of cultures and customs and foods and languages and people. I would never have it any other way now.

I’ve been in Lithuania for almost a month now, and I have been an undeniable slacker in the journal area. I know it, and I am guilty. Every time I logged on my computer, the “Word” icon on my desktop eyed me suspiciously, and I gave some excuse for why I couldn’t write a journal right then. But all those excuses aside the real reason I have not been able to write a journal was pinpointed perfectly to me by Grant in Japan, there is just too much to say.

Of course it is a daunting task trying to sum up everything that is happening! How do I pick what I should write about? How do I sift through the piles of new thoughts that have accumulated in my head since my departure and explain them in a way others can begin to understand? I can only try.

  1. Time has been doing strange things… very strange things. It’s slipping and crawling by simultaneously. I look back a week and it seems a year, then again I have lost all control of what to look for in the future, so maybe my inability to write a journal isn’t such a big deal in comparison. It’s a little disconcerting how my life has gone from having the assurance of the same people, the same places, the same routine, to just going along for the ride and seeing where life takes me. Oh but it is fabulous. Everything is fabulous! Lithuania is so wonderful. A friend asked me if it has been scary being all alone in a new country where I don’t speak the language and am in most respects helpless. This idea itself is scary, sure, but I haven’t yet felt any fear. This entire time I have been surrounded by the most helpful and kind people I have ever met. I have been crazy busy, and almost never alone. This environment filled with laughter, action, and wonder is not the best breeding ground for loneliness. I can honestly say I have not had any homesickness so far. (Is that supposed to happen?) I haven’t cried at all – other than a weak moment yesterday during Jack’s death scene in Titanic, but we won’t speak of that – Everything has been so smooth. Everyone has been so kind. I thought by this time I would have been reduced somewhat to a quivering heap, that I would have had regrets about my decision to be an exchange student … not at all.

Though there was one traumatizing experience that I have had, oh yes. If I had my way this incident would be pushed back to the far recesses of my brain and stored there for all eternity. Unfortunately, I must face what happened, and get it out in the open. Here goes people… I fainted in front of my class. Okay, maybe not the cataclysmic scenario you might have imagined, but to me it was horrible. I’ve always been a little queasy with piercings, even my own earrings made my stomach churn. So it was extremely stupid of me to ask a classmate about her ear piercings while we were waiting in the hall for class to begin, especially on a rather warm day where I hadn’t eaten since 7:15 am and was wearing way too many clothes. But I went ahead and inquired anyway. While she was talking a strange feeling came over me. My breath grew shallower, my stomach tied itself in knots, and I sprouted a cold sweat from my forehead. I leaned back against the wall to try to regain my stability. She detected the far-away look in my face and asked if I was okay. I then knew it was go time, my mission: reach the bathroom in as little time as possible or risk permanent humiliation by fainting in front of the class. Unfortunately, while my brain snapped into action, the rest of my body decided to disobey orders. Lights were dimming and voices were far away. I managed to mumble, “I need the bathroom.” At this point I started into what was supposed to be a calm and collected fast-walk to the nearest toilet. What happened was a frantic lurch towards said toilet. It was when I started to stagger that things went horribly wrong.

As my vision dimmed and my mind succumbed to the wonderful black of unconsciousness … I fell. My knee hit the floor and the rest of me started to sway in that direction. Thank GOODNESS Monika (friend) was there to drag me into the bathroom. Destination reached. Unfortunately it was the boys bathroom, that being the only one on that floor. As my head was still spinning the rest of the girls in my class came pouring into the bathroom. They all looked so worried and were asking what was wrong. Someone grabbed me some water on a napkin and I began to come back to reality again. Maybe it would have been better to go back to sleep. I realized the whole class had seen my little episode and probably thought I was a freak. Oh man. Of course that was not the case at all. Everyone was just wondering if I was okay. Looking at all of the girls in my class who were so concerned with my well being, I felt a rush of happiness. I realized these people cared about me, even though I had known them for so little time. At that point, life couldn’t have been better.

Of course another thing that makes an exchange exciting is just the little everyday differences such as these:

You don’t look into a broken mirror or you will get bad luck

Techno and House music is big here

Milk comes in bags

All the food is fresh “without chemicals” – I get teased by my older host sister’s boyfriend about the “chemicals” in peanut butter

Basketball is huge

There are beautiful women everywhere

We have different classes every day, but the same classmates

People may have more than one cell phone

There is no defined lunchtime at school

On TV there are lots of Russian channels

They learn British English in school

When someone is talking, you do not have to be quiet

If you faint in the hall your classmates rush to you in concern

Lots of people have piercings, not good for the weak-stomached among us

Girls don’t carry backpacks, they put their books in big purses

Mushrooms are eaten more than once a week

Don’t drink water, drink tea

If you order what you think is a waffle cone for ice cream, you will get an ice cream cone, and a separate actual waffle

They cannot pronounce the word “van”

Not everything is perfect, but it’s beautiful.

Thank you so much to Rotary in the US and Lithuania for letting me live out my dream. It’s better than I ever imagined.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I’m going to LATVIA on Friday. Life is pretty darn cool. J

November 22 Journal

Labas! Eik tu sau, labai atsiprasau kad as buvo labai blogai su mano leidinys! That was mistake ridden Lithuanian for “Hello! Oh my gosh, I am so sorry that I have been so bad with my journals!” But the wonderful thing is, despite the fact that my Lithuanian IS full of errors, I SPEAK LITHUANIAN. I can now join in my host family’s conversation at dinner, “Very tasty! Can I more food please?” I can talk about cute boys with my host sister, “I like boy! He very beautiful!” I can even ask the teacher for a book in class, “Teacher, can I to have book?” Though I may not be very articulate in my new language, and though I may get laughed at for my terrible Lithuanian grammar, I am able to communicate again, and it feels GOOD. The way I have been progressing in not only the language, but also in adapting to the life of this foreign country amazes me. Tomorrow is the beginning of my third month here, and I am yet again shocked that time has gone by so fast.

Life here is wonderful. How can I describe the kindness the Lithuanian people have shown me? My host family is amazing! I feel like I am part of the family, I am comfortable, it has really become my home. Just today my host father said something that I will not forget. He pointed to my host sister Jadvyga and said “Here is my Lithuanian daughter,” then he pointed to me and said, “and here is my American daughter!” How can I describe all the little things here I love? I love learning bad words from Vitalijus, I love whining about my little problems to Vita, I love watching movies and dancing around with Jadvyga. When I am feeling especially dramatic and playful, I love to scream “FINE! I will go back to America now! You all will miss me! GOODBYE.” I grab my fake belongings and march out the door. This is never a good idea, because Jadvyga is always quick to lock the door after me. I think I have learned my lesson with that little joke: Jadvyga always wins and I always end up outside yelling for her to let me in.

I had my 16th birthday here, and it was amazing. The weekend before my birthday I went to my host family’s cottage in the country where my other two host families joined us. We cooked, walked, and ate WAY too much. The whole time I was so happy… I was surrounded by amazing people who cared about me, we were communicating in a mixture of Lithuanian and English, and we were all having a great time. My cake was beautiful, the food was delicious as always, and my stomach ache was… painful. In a good way of course. 

Then came the day of my actual birthday, at school I was hoping just a few kids would remember. I would have been content with a few good wishes, or a few happy smiles. That morning the kids in my class barely said hello to me. I walked through the halls fighting back tears and feeling EXTREMELY pitiful. It was my 16th birthday and nobody knew or cared. During my Lithuanian lesson, I was interrupted by my friend who asked if I wanted to go to the cafeteria for some tea. I thought her timing was a little strange, but I agreed. We walked through the school and when we reached the cafeteria, I noticed the doors were closed… a rare occurrence. We opened the doors and there was my whole class, standing with balloons, Šakotis (a traditional Lithuanian cake) and a book. They burst into the Lithuanian birthday song “Su Gimimo Diena!” and I stood there with a huge smile on my face. This time when I battled the tears, it was not because I was sad. It turned out to be a wonderful birthday, one that I will never forget.

This next little piece I want you to read was written about a month ago. I was feeling particularly thoughtful one night and I decided to take a whack at being philosophical. I suppose it shows how feelings can change so strongly and rapidly, so take a look.

“It’s funny being an exchange student. Once you enter your host country, you leave behind everything you have ever known. We plop ourselves down into this strange land, stripped of all the comforts of home: friends, family, our own warm safe beds. All of this is gone, and that is an awful and also really cool feeling. We are left with just ourselves to rely on for comfort, alone in the world with a thousand new things barraging us every day. How can we not feel alone and helpless? How can we not feel frustrated, thrust into a foreign country without a clue what’s going on most of the time? The waves of emotion come and go irregularly, and being overwhelmed becomes an everyday routine… at first. But slowly we build friendships. Slowly we become part of the family. Slowly the house that we are staying in becomes a welcome sight at the end of a long day. We make friends, and we start to have a social life. Slowly things start to right themselves again in this world that once seemed so confusing. (It is also common to write a little dramatically when you are an exchange student, but hey, can you blame us?) I think for me I am starting to find new comforts. The old ones are safely stashed at home where I hope to find them when I return. And so now it has become up to me to acquire new ones. I have realized that I need to live where I am, to mold myself into a way I fit in with my new surroundings, yet still retain my values and sense of who I am. It is up to me to be adaptable and to work hard to keep up my Rotary Smile at the end of a hard day. I really can’t say it has all been cake, because it has not. That’s the reality of exchange. I can say though that I have yet to experience homesickness (Is that supposed to happen?!?!?!!) and I love every day here. There have been awkward situations, there have been frustrated tears, there have been silences formed by language barriers and there have been jokes that completely failed. But I have found myself laughing from my heart and smiling as wide as possible. After a long day I feel as though I am very slowly making steps to becoming bicultural. I feel an impatience to be completely assimilated into this country but I know that I will just have to hold my horses. I love Lithuania and I love the people. Unfortunately I love the food as well. Every day here is such a gift and I have to again thank Rotary. I am now a skinny jeans wearing, tea drinking, cepelinai eating, Lithuanian speaking, Rotary Youth Exchange student. I have double takes every day. I am in awkward situations every day.”

I was feeling rather pensive the night I wrote that. I still try to analyze my feelings here. I try to understand how I am changing, but sometimes I find that I need to just relax and go along for the ride. I find I am happiest when I am not sitting on Facebook looking at pictures of my friends at home or in other countries. I am happiest when I am in the city with my friends here, when I am storming out of my host house in all my dramatic glory. I am happiest when I am talking to friends at school, when I am having conversations entirely in Lithuanian. (I CAN DO THAT NOW!) I am happiest dancing while I wash the dishes with my iPod blaring, only to turn around to see my host family has been watching me and recording my sweet moves. I have ultimately found that I am happiest when I am just living here as a normal Lithuanian would. It’s pretty awesome.

These three months I have also managed to escape any real homesickness. Is there something wrong with me? I think I have had some mini breakdowns, but nothing of any consequence. I am all too aware that my time here is slipping by, and what I really dread is the day when I leave all that I have come to love in Lithuania. All I can say again is a HUGE thanks to Rotary in Florida and Lithuania for giving me all of the things I have here. I thank my host families, and all the people who have shown me so much kindness. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I will try to write again soon!!!

January 3 Journal

So I will just jump in! Everything is great here. Everything has gone better than I ever imagined. Lithuania is currently my everything. It’s such a great feeling to know that I have my own life here. Can you believe it?!?! I would have never thought that I would have this life… a life where I catch a bus with my friends and walk the city. Where Kafe3 is a normal hangout, where Cili Kaimas is my favorite restaurant, where the fancy mall that was once so exciting is just as boring to me as to the natives. I never thought I would come to know the ways of a whole city, let alone a foreign one! I never feel alone. I always have people I love here: my host family that I’m not afraid to sing annoyingly too, my friends who I can text when I’m bored, the people that built this life for me! And I can proudly say, all these people are Lithuanians.

Rotary in Lithuania is tiny. While some countries have hundreds of inbounds, we have a grand total of three. At first this was my biggest worry, and what I thought I would miss the most. RYE Florida has an amazing exchange program with kids from all over the world, and it is magic when all these different cultures collide to realize we are all the same deep down. Not only do these kids become best friends, but they become each others’ support system. I knew from that beginning that my exchange would be lacking that aspect, and it scared me. How could I compensate? Would I have to rely on myself for support? These questions bounced around in my head a lot before I left. When I met Dana and Ruth in August (the two other inbounds here) the Rotary magic did not fail. The three of us instantly became close, and the fact that our experience is so unique cemented our friendship even more. We are the only three teenagers living in Lithuania through Rotary… and it’s pretty awesome. Later this week Ruth and I will both travel to the Vilnius, the capital, to visit Dana and have what is sure to be an awesome time. I forgot to mention the three of us are spread across the country. It’s a little difficult, but when we get to hang out it is even more special.

Of course, since my American friends in Lithuania are hundreds of kilometers away, my support system consists of Lithuanians. My host family has become like my real family, when I hang out with my friends here, I feel as if I am with friends I have had my whole life. I have made friends with whom I talk to about more than simply biographical details. At the beginning of my exchange, one of the hardest things was not being able to completely express myself. I had limited language skills and I couldn’t say everything I wanted. But now I am starting to come into my own again. I am myself, but a newer more mature me. I have changed, but of course for the better. Another thing about Lithuania is, everybody knows everyone. When we walk down the streets in the city, we will always meet someone we know. I think it is cool how everyone is connected. And because it is rare for me to be with my exchange friends, that means I lose the ability to see Lithuania from an outsider’s perspective. It means I am that much closer to complete Lithuanian assimilation. Isn’t that cool?

Sadly, this assimilation has also resulted in the deterioration of my ENGLISH. I swear, I get worse and worse every day. I once was asked the English word for keramika (ceramics, so hard right?) and I could not for the life of me think about the English version of this word! My brain was only thinking in Lithuanian. It was such a weird feeling, one that has only reoccurred many times. I find myself thinking out sentences in Lithuanian, and sometimes, thinking in incorrect English. Due to my newfound incompetence, I have been reading rather voraciously, hoping to pick up some smart words like incompetence and voracious. J But in my defense, those words really are in my apparently shrinking vocabulary.

So! I should also cover Thanksgiving, Christmas in this journal! My Thanksgiving was a little unusual. A few days before, I was telling my host mom about our traditions. And on Thanksgiving, she and my host grandma prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for me! It wasn’t the same as at home, but it was enough to bring me to tears. When I beheld the dinner, I started blubbering “Ohhh this is sooo niceeee!” I think they were a little alarmed at my crying, and I was too. Though being an exchange student is undoubtedly difficult, crying has not been a common activity for me. Neither have long episodes of sadness. This is because I have my life here, and that is what I am busy thinking of.

Christmas was another cool experience! Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve my host sister and I both woke up sick, but it was still great. Instead of opening our presents on Christmas morning, we waited until midnight and then we opened them! My host grandma dressed up like Santa and gave out presents. Also, the day of Christmas Eve we couldn’t eat meat, only fish and other food. So at midnight we also got to enjoy our turkey feast. On Christmas day my host family had about 20 people over. Friends, family, everyone was in our house. My Christmas celebrations at home have always been small, so this was a really awesome new way to celebrate for me! My host dad even toasted me. I had the opportunity to talk to one boy that knew English very well. He told me a little about politics, school, and his free time. Who still fascinate me are the people here who speak English as fluently as I do. That was the case with this boy, and I asked him how he knew English so well. He replied, “Video and computer games.” So I guess they do come in handy!

A few days after Christmas, my host family left for Moscow. So now I am staying with another host family who lives in the city center. This is the family I came into for my first week in Lithuania, and it has been fun sharing with them how much I have learned and how much more I know about this country. They are such kind people, and they make me feel right at home. It has been different living downtown, I step outside my apartment building and there are people and life everywhere! My city is so perfect for me. When I tell people how much I love Klaipeda, they say “Oh but it is so small!” I am sure if you compared it to the major world cities, it is tiny. But to me, bus rides and city streets make me feel so urban. It is the perfect size. My favorite things to do with friends is just to walk around the city, we always see people we know. There are cafes to go into, shops to peruse. I love it!

What else can I say? It is so hard to write these journals, it is so hard to put my feelings into words. This experience is so much bigger than anything I can write. This is the first time in my life where I have truly stepped outside of my comfort zone. That said, I am so excited for the new outbounds!!! You guys are in for the ride of your lives. I am proud of everyone who has been brave enough to want to take something new out of life. And I have respect for you all, because this is a scary thing. No doubt, last year I was scared out of my mind. But also I want you to take this year before your exchange as an opportunity to grow and prepare yourself. Yes, prepare yourself language wise, and yes you need to pack the right things… but what is most important for survival is having an open mind. Through Rotary you will meet people you wouldn’t have before. You will see things in a new light, have different perspectives. And it is certain that you will be uncomfortable at times. But all these things will give you so much more insight into the world, so much more insight into your own country. All the things I once took for granted I am seeing from a new angle. How can I not have changed with all this? This year you guys will meet dozens of other likeminded teenagers, whether they are also future outbounds or the current inbounds. These people are your support system; they also share this unique experience. You are also lucky because RYE Florida is one of the best programs in the world. So embrace your fears! And don’t let discomfort scare you, let it motivate you to have an open mind. I am so proud of you all.

I can’t believe I have been here four months, and am going on five. Time has flown, and when I think about the day I leave here, I know it will be one of the saddest in my life. My time here is so special, something that doesn’t happen often… it’s Rotary Magic for sure. I am bilingual and bicultural. There are so many people I love and care about, and I know I will continue returning to Lithuania for the rest of my life. Thank you SO much Rotary. Happy New Year everybody!

March 20 Journal

How do I even begin to write this?

The feelings that have come in these past three months have alternated between floods of emotion and gradual understandings. Every day I find myself drifting off into my thoughts, thinking about how far I’ve come, putting my failures and triumphs in perspective, and most importantly trying to come to terms with how I’ve changed.

I like the person I’m becoming, and as every day passes I feel that person growing. I am somehow more sure of myself, more sure of what I want. But in other ways I am just as lost as anyone else, and I question everything I do. I guess that transformation will never be complete, how could it be? Since I’ve seen a little more of the world, I have realized that with each new person I meet I gain new perspectives, and each new place I see I can always find wonder. I am developing a thirst for new experiences, and I am not the scared little girl who arrived in Lithuania seven months ago. I am no longer intimidated by what I don’t understand. I have found such a good place inside myself, that I don’t need to be afraid. I am now aware that I am the only person in charge of how I feel is myself. And I am constantly surprised by just how good things really are.

I have learned an entire new language, picked up on the ways of a new culture, been isolated not only from my friends and family, but also from my natural values and ways of thinking, I have had to force myself to ADOPT new values and think from other points of view, I have seen poverty and lived outside the safety of Ponte Vedra, I have at times been utterly alone and found my confidence in myself as my support, I have sculpted my personality to be charming when I need to, sometimes adopting a care-free façade when inside I’m falling apart, I have learned to be more perceptive as to how my actions are affecting others. Perhaps the hardest thing that I finally realized is that this will never truly be my country, and that I will never completely understand the culture or people. No matter how hard I try I will still be perplexed when what I say is taken wrong, or when I don’t know why people are acting in certain ways.

All that difficult stuff said, I absolutely love this place. While the above reflections are melancholy, they are only a sliver of what I have experienced. I have three months left here and it will truly be the saddest day of my life when I leave. No matter how hard it sometimes is, I do have a LIFE here, and a wonderfully good one at that. I smile every day because I am happy. I laugh until my side aches with my friends. The people I have here… how can I explain how good they have been to me? How did I ever get this lucky? I feel as though I have stumbled upon something so good, and sometimes I can’t believe how much I love this place. Three months… what once seemed like an eternity will go by in the blink of an eye. I have resolved not to whine over how short my time is left, but to live every single day to it’s fullest. I want to make memories and I want to be remembered. Lithuania has already touched me in a million different ways, and I want to find a million more. What more is there to say? I love Lithuania, I love the people, I love my city, I love my life. THANK YOU Rotary! Words cannot ever express my gratitude.

June 12 Journal

“Well, my time here is up. It seems like just yesterday….” No. That’s not the way I’m going to go about writing my last journal. Actually, I’m still not quite certain how I want to go about writing this. I have started this journal multiple times, and my thoughts seem just to run together. I think I’m still in denial that I’m leaving! I have gone through my last few days pretty normally, meeting with friends, running errands, drinking my morning coffee and evening tea. But there is definitely something in the back of my mind reminding me that these routine activities will not last. There is the idea that I’m leaving, but it hasn’t yet become tangible though the suitcases and clothes strewn all over my floor suggest a very real departure in the near future.

How does one summarize an experience as unique and challenging as an exchange? The answer is that it can never actually be explained or written, only lived. But in an attempt to record this memory it could possibly be separated into two parts: the tiny everyday minutia, and then those really big ideas that I mull over during long car rides through the countryside. Let’s try to tackle those big ideas, shall we? I am sort of struck by the whole “full circle” theme of it all. Perhaps the weather has had some sort of affect on this, for when I came here it was warm, sunny, and perfect. Then came mild Fall, brutal Winter, and late Spring. And now I’m back to where I started again. The smells and sounds remind me of when I first got here, yet my mind is in such a different place. The bridge leading from the city center to the old town is now familiar and walking down the once confusing and foreign streets is easy. These once brand new and intimidating sights now carry memories that are mashed together so it is impossible to distinguish what’s what anymore.

I think of how I am such a different person. How my ways of thinking, opinion, and whole mind has changed. I’m still not exactly sure who that person is just yet. But possibly the most clear aspect I have discovered about myself is that I’m gloriously flawed. I have been tested, and on occasions I have failed miserably. But that’s kind of what exchange is all about. We have to fail to try again, to learn, and to reflect on what we’ve done wrong. There are parts of my exchange that I wish I had done differently, but if I had the chance, I wouldn’t change them. Every decision I’ve made, every turn I have taken, has led to where I am now. And that’s a darn good place. Through all the frustration of being misunderstood and misunderstanding, through the feelings of being utterly alone, through the point of view of an outsider, I’ve made it. I’ve finally made a life for myself! I have friends! Real live Lithuanian friends who I can call up at any time, who I can rely on, who give me a life here! I have three very different, very wonderful families who have showed me different aspects of Lithuanian home-life. And now I have to leave all this? While I went into this program knowing it had to end, I didn’t ever expect it to be this way. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t just be leaving a country behind, but a whole life. But I think it won’t be quite so dramatic. Lithuania has molded and shaped me into someone a little different, and it will be that person who goes back to Florida on Tuesday. The memory of Lithuania will be in everything I do, though the sights will be different.

Aghhh!!! But how do I explain how Lithuania is my everything now?!?! How I crave cepelinai instead of pizza, how I prefer leggings over shorts, how I even speak English with Lithuanian grammar! It’s crazy!!! It’s wonderfully kooky and weird how I am bicultural and bilingual. It’s so unpredictable. Who would have known that Lithuania was so wonderful for me? (Well Rotary did, but then again they are right a lot.) It’s just hitting me how much this place means to me. The love I have not only for my friends and families, but my city itself. I love the vibe, the cars, the sidewalks, I love my favorite bus stop in the middle of all the action. So now we can transition into describing the little things that make up my experience. The best way to write them is just to list those things… I love: picnics in fields on sunny days, slipping on ice and falling on my butt on the way to school, waiting for the bus in the rain, watching snow fall silently out of the window, sitting around in my friend’s backyard eating ice cream, taking millions of pictures in some sort of attempt to be artsy, I love the appreciation for art and beauty here! I love how my view of beauty itself has changed. I love cold beetroot soup on a hot day, I love jumping into the freezing Baltic Sea, I love my host cat keeping me company. I love watching movies with Jadvyga, I love hearing about the history of my host family’s last name, I love long car rides from one side of the country to the other, I love walking in the city center and wondering who I will meet. I love electronic music! I love how potatoes always hit the spot, I love how a cup of tea after a long day makes me feel better. I love understanding new words, I love an unexpected smile from someone I haven’t met, I love going to concerts, I love my painting class on Wednesdays, I love my arts and crafts class on Sundays, I love learning swing dances on Tuesdays and Thursdays! I love my green school jacket! I LOVE LITHUANIA. I will miss it more than anything in the world. I’m pretty sure I will be brought to tears on many occasions when I get home. Whether it’s a scent of something familiar, or the songs I have sung here… whatever brings me back will also bring nostalgia so sharp, that I will certainly stop what I’m doing to reminisce.

It’s time to thank everyone now… This year I have been given so much, and I am forever in these peoples’ debts. Thank you Simanskis family for showing me parts of Lithuania I’ve never seen before and watching the fireworks on New Year’s with me. Thank you Tamkevicius family for playing table tennis with me, showing me how to paint Easter eggs, and teaching me how to boil potatoes. THANK YOU Zavrid family for hosting me for over 8 months, thank you for making me feel like part of the family, for listening to me sing in the shower, for giving me a home. Thank you Jadvyga, for sharing your friends and whole life with me. Thank you Edita and Vytaute for always including me, and for being my friends. Thank you Agne for showing me that friendship is always important. Thank you Donatas for introducing me to the best music ever! Thank you to my class for making school fun! Thank you Ruth and Dana for understanding every frustration I had. Thank you Klaipeda Maris Rotary Club for hosting me! Thank you Mommy and Daddy for letting me take the trip of a lifetime. THANK YOU Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for making all possible, and for opening my eyes to the great big world outside.

I love Lithuania with all my heart. This is my second home, this is another place where I belong. This exchange was better than anything I ever imagined. This was magical, yet so real. Thank you. Aciu. DEKUI! Mano sirdis yra Lietuvoje, amzinai.

 July 29 Journal

Wow. It’s been more than six weeks since I’ve been home from Lithuania, and I’m not sure what to think of that. I’d like to talk a little about my last night and the day I left. On my very last night, I went with my host sister and our friends Dovile and Edita to watch the sun set over the Baltic Sea. It was about 11:30 pm and the sun was just going down. We drove to the sea, and when we got there I couldn’t help but running up the walkway to the shore. For some reason I was full of energy and exhilaration. It was the last time I would see the sun set over my beloved Lithuania, the end of my last day there. It was the end of a long day, and the end of a long ten months. When I ran out onto the sand I danced along the edge of the water, shrieking and laughing from how cold it was. I looked out over the sea and saw the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen in my life. The sky was streaked with pink and orange, and the sun was sinking into the waves. The water was sparkling, I kept remarking on how beautiful it was. I just stood there, and my heart swelled with so many emotions. But the one I remember the most was just being blissfully and simply happy… I felt so light and free and wonderful. I didn’t think about how it was the end of my time there or how I had to leave all my friends. I was just caught in that one moment, witnessing something beautiful and pure and simple. There was nothing in the world but me and that sunset, and I couldn’t be anything but happy while standing in front of it. We sat on the sand and talked, laughed, and reminisced.

I think we got home around 2 am. I still had a lot of packing to do, but I was dead tired from a long day of crying, saying goodbyes, and taking in the last sights of my city. I sat alone awhile and listened to music, trying to gather my thoughts, trying to tell myself that tomorrow wasn’t just another day. Sometime around 3 am, my host sister Jadvyga came into my room. She sat on my bed and said “I’m going to miss you so much Big Mack.” I sat next to her and hugged her and the next thing I knew she was sobbing. We sat there for a good ten minutes crying and hugging and saying how we would see each other again. When I think about all that this girl has done for me, I am so grateful. She opened her home with open arms, showed me her city, and taught me a whole language. I remember the first day we met, her barely speaking English, and me speaking no Lithuanian. I remember following her around the city, completely clueless as to where we were. I remember trying to communicate and leafing through my trusty dictionary that was completely abandoned after three months. We had intense dance parties together in the living room on weekend nights when there was nothing better to do. We got gym memberships for a month and vowed to get in shape. She dyed my hair pink (sorry mom!). She spent hours hanging out in my room and talking. She’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a sister. And that’s something indescribably valuable to me.

And my friends…. The morning I left, six of my closest friends woke up bright and early to see me off. I was so rushed and wired that I barely knew what was happening. But it came time to say goodbye. I stood outside of my house surrounded by a group of people I hadn’t known at all ten months earlier. I was surrounded by a group of people who had become my life. They helped make my life. When you’re an exchange student you really can’t do it on your own. You need the people there to help you. I consider myself independent, but I also learned that sometimes I need to trust in others that everything will be okay, viskas bus gerai. We all hugged, one by one. I just couldn’t believe I was really saying goodbye to them. Then I had to get in the car, and for the first 20 miles I just sat in the backseat crying and trying to realize that I was taking that road out of Klaipeda for the last time. On the plane out of Lithuania I was in the aisle seat, but as the plane took off I stretched to look out of the window to see the last of my Lithuania. It will forever be mano Lietuva. Just as when I first arrived there, I tried to take in all that I could see. The difference is that ten months before, I was trying to discern what my new country looked like, but on June 15th I was struggling with saying goodbye and seeing those green fields and blue lakes for the last time. I couldn’t help the tears rolling down my cheeks.

But you all know how it goes, the rest of my flights were long, my delays were long, and after more than 24 hours of traveling it was great to just be home. And oh my gosh how crazy that was! When I stepped out of the airport I thought I wouldn’t be able to breathe, the air was so thick and humid! Oh but seeing my friends was wonderful… Understanding everything around me was overwhelming! I re-discovered what eavesdropping was on the mostly American flight from Frankfurt to Washington. And just like that, I was home and I was no longer the foreign exchange student. I was Mackenzie from Ponte Vedra who lives with my mom and dad and dogs, no longer Mackenzie from America living in Lithuania for 10 months. It shocked me just how easy it was to readjust. I thought it would be harder, I thought I would no longer connect with my friends. But I was so happy to find out that my friends were still here, and I was able to pick my life back up again where I left it. When I got on the computer, one of my closest friends, Edita, had written me : “Palemone suzydejo visos geles… will always remind me of you singing like a drunk man (I was told quite often that my accent made me sounds like a drunk man) Ughhh too many things reminding me of you, we spend a lot of time together. It’s strange you came into our lives so unexpected and we fell for you, but I guess the most amazing things happen when you don’t expect them to, right? But all the perfect happy moments end so quickly, that’s how life goes and we have no choice just to adjust to the way life is and be happy with it. You had a wonderful opportunity to visit Lithuania , and so you took something very significant from here – our hearts, but you also left yours and so the memory will stay as long as our hearts beat.” Needless to say, that paragraph made me bawl.

But there is something that I’m uncomfortable with… The longer ago it is that I left Lithuania, the more it feels like a dream. It seems like a far away world, another life, another me. Though sometimes it seems distant, there are moments when sharp memories come back and hit me like a punch in the stomach. They are times when my life there is so clearly tangible, that an actual physical aching for what I miss takes over my heart. It’s weird to think that emotions could have an impact physically, but they can! It’s like my heart feels hollow, as if there’s something missing and there’s no way it can be filled. I don’t know why that is and I don’t understand it. I was talking to Grant who went to Japan, and we were saying how our lives are now split into three different people. There were the pre-exchange kids, who were essentially children. Then there were the during-exchange students… sometimes clueless and confused, sometimes confident. And there’s now. We’re kind of like people of the world. Now that we’re home we know a little bit more about what we want, and what we don’t want. But we’re definitely not at the end of the journey at all. It doesn’t end when you get home, and it doesn’t even end years later… No matter how dream-like it feels, Lithuania still affects everything I do. I have pictures of my memories there everywhere in my room, it’s always on my mind. I still talk to my Lithuanian friends, though I wish it was more often. And I still cry when I think about all the times I walked from my bus stop, or how I felt hanging out with my family, or the magic in the air when we stayed up all night at my class party, or the fun of walking in the city center, or the contentedness of just hanging around at a friend’s house playing basketball or eating ice cream.

Gosh I am changed, but gosh I am still not grown up. I love Lithuania… words can’t describe what that place means to me. But I also love my home here too. It is better than ever before, and I have my exchange experience to thank for that. There are some things I have realized I don’t like, petty little behaviors that maybe I’ve outgrown. But oh I still have got a ton of growing to do. Darn, I’ve still got two years of high school! I’m not super happy about that, but I have to realize that I’m still only 16, though I often feel older. I think the coolest thing I’ve realized is that I’ll never stop changing or growing. With every new place I go and every new person I meet, I will grow a little more. With every new experience it’s a different perspective. And I’ve realized that I never want to stay put for too long. I want to keep growing and I love change. I love the opportunities it brings. And most of all I simply love Lithuania.

 Thank you so much Rotary, thank you so much Lithuania. Thank you to everyone there who helped me grow quite a bit this year.

Lauren Youngerman
2009-10 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island HS
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Recife Encanta Moça Rotary Club, District 4500, Brazil

Lauren - Brazil

Lauren’s Bio

You’re a harbinger of good things to come

A sign that it’s all changing for me.

It’s a happiness, euphoria

Something out of a fantasy.

And that is exactly how I felt when I received that one phone call informing me that I would be going to Brazil for my junior year of high school. When I hung up the phone all sorts of emotions hit me at once. It was probably one of the happiest moments in my life, and probably the biggest life change in such few words. I can guarantee that I have absolutely no clue how this will effect my life, but I know it will. This knowledge has brought up a very common question … Who exactly am I?

The easiest, most unique way to describe me is I am Lauren Youngerman. I attend Fleming Island High School as a sophomore. I’ve spent all of my sixteen years living in northeastern Florida, and I am a total wimp when it comes to cold weather. I started off my life being an only child, but about a month after my fifth birthday I had to move over and share my family with my brother Tristan. Since then we’ve gone through many things together as a family, and I love them dearly. Throughout the years we’ve also gone through many pets, leaving us with our current dog named Jake, and cat named Spaz.

Well yes, that is all the easy stuff…. Yet again, the question does appear, Who exactly am i? Being a “Lauren Youngerman” that defines me as many things. Fun, unique, crazy, kind, caring, lovable, helpful, independent, friendly, entertaining, and so much more that would take forever to list! If sounding self-centered, that is the last thing I aim to be, I’m just confident on who I am. I’m the kind of girl who will hold her head up high no matter what happens, and I enjoy to make the best of any and every situation.

Fun is guaranteed when I’m in a place. Anybody would easily agree with me, no matter the situation, I can make things fun. There isn’t much that I do grudgingly, and I will try everything. Sure, sure try everything, but one may ask what I really truly love to do. Sailing is my most favorite thing to do in the world, and I try to do it whenever I can. I love the feel of rushing across the water being powered by an aspect of weather, the wind pushing me along the horizon. It truly is a magical feeling. I also enjoy the simple pleasures of life, however, such as hanging out with friends and family, exploring what there is around, shopping, and just watching a decent movie.

Well, I’d have to say, that pretty much sums me up. I’m ready for anything life throws at me, and I’m very excited about being able to spend a year abroad. I’d like to thank everyone who has made this wonderful opportunity possible, and I’m very honored to be a part of it.

 Lauren’s Journals

September 24 Journal

Oi Florida! Tudo bom?

So I’ve been in Brazil for over a month, and I’ve done an AMAZING job at putting off this journal. It’s not that I don’t have anything exciting to write about, but it’s just that I keep putting it off, I’m a master at procrastination. Sorry about that (: So, how do I put the most amazing month and a half of my life into words? It’s honestly not at all fully possible, it’s been so much more than I expected and over all just completely wonderful. I’ve had the best experience of my life so far, and I’m sure it’s only going to get better.

I left the United States August 2, 2009 on a flight leaving Miami at 9:20 PM (I did have another plane from Jacksonville to Miami before then, however). The 8 hour plane ride went by much quicker than I thought. I only was able to sleep for 30 minutes but I kept myself entertained by watching a movie and coloring, and I spent nearly 4 hours coloring in my Disney coloring book that I brought along. Landing in Salvador led me to confusion. Almost no one in the airport spoke English and I had such a hard time trying to find where I go to check back in to another flight after Customs! But luckily I experienced right off the warm and friendliness of the Brazilians and someone showed me the way. 3 hours later, I was on a plane again on my way to my city! I hadn’t really began feeling anything until I began to see the beach and the outline of a big city in the distance. I instantly knew I was going to fall in love with this beautiful beach city.

Leaving the plane I was greeted by my host family waiting outside the doors for me. Exiting that airport was stepping into another world I was so unprepared for, so excited for, and so ready for.

Sometimes, it’s so hard to believe I’m doing this. I’ve become so accustomed to everything that goes on in my life here, it’s feeling all too normal! I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m in Brazil. I already can see myself changing, I know I will never be that same girl I was before I left.

School here is wonderful. I don’t understand a thing, but it’s good. Everyone here is so much louder in the US, and at times school is so much more fun. However, one thing I noticed upon reading my friend’s journals was that most of them seemed to be really enjoying English class. Honestly, my English class is my LEAST favorite class. I don’t understand ANYTHING! How, one might ask, can I not understand a class that teaches the language that I actually know? Well, to begin with, my English teacher does NOT know English, she’s taught the class things that are wrong, I try to tell her and she ignores me because she doesn’t know what I’m saying. Also, when people try to ask me a question on how to write a certain form of a sentence, I get so confused! These were things I learned maybe in the 2nd grade and do not remember a single thing about! My friends here are quite disappointed that I can never help them with their English work. On my first English test I received a mark of 7.3/10 on the test. That shows how well my English is, right? Well besides English class, I have a variety of other classes which I still can’t remember what they are or what days they come on. I know I have 2 chemistry classes, 2 physics classes, 2 biology classes, a math class, a Portuguese class, a gym class, an English class, a composition class, and I think maybe another one or two that I’m forgetting. Here, teachers switch classes instead of students, so I never had to worry about going to the wrong classes. Overall though, school started off great but now has just become school, but I completely adore it and the people inside!

About my city? Rotary didn’t tell me that I’d be living my year abroad in complete paradise. I live an entire four blocks from such a beautiful beach! I go at LEAST once a week. I love it. However, you can’t swim in the beach here (or at least you aren’t supposed to, but I have anyways) because of a shark problem they have in this city. It’s so much more beautiful than the Florida beaches I’ve grown up with. They are definitely much cleaner and much more lively here! Someone is always trying to sell you food or jewelry or clothes or anything on the beach, it’s neat.

Since I’ve come to Brasil, I’ve already been on a few trips, but none of them outside of paradise. I’ve gone to the prettiest beach in the country, in my opinion the world, called Porto de Galinhas. I had never seen anything like that! It is the kind of beach you only see in pictures, yet it was completely real! I’ve gone to Maragogi, a beach in the state to the south, a few times as well. The first time I went to Maragogi was with Rotary. Oh, that was such a wonderful trip! I got to meet the other inbounds in the Norbrex multidistrict, they are all such lovely people. This was our inbound orientation, and we honestly did little with Rotary. We spent the weekend creating friendships, playing games, swimming in the ocean, building sculptures out of people buried in the sand, dancing, eating, feeding monkeys, turning guys into girls and vice versa, and overall just having an amazing time! I adore the other inbounds and cannot wait to see them again in December! I also went to Maragogi this weekend, but this time with my family and my sister’s best friend to my family’s beach house. I had a lot of fun (:

Brazilian food is the best thing in the world, really. I was a vegetarian before coming here, and I hadn’t eaten beef in YEARS. I just thought it was nasty. Now you wouldn’t hear me say that or even anything close. I love the meat in Brasil. There is such a variety of meats and flavors, it’s all delicious! A fairly common food here is chicken hearts, and as disgusting as that sounds, it’s very good.

Many of my friends here say that they prefer American (US) food more than Brazilian food. I am usually very confused by this statement and have to ask them what they mean by “American” food. This leads to disappointment for me, they respond with “Oh, my favorite is the Big Mac!” or just simply say “McDonald’s.” I then usually hear about how when they think of the US, all they think of is McDonald’s and Disney. It disappoints me to hear this, I don’t even like McDonald’s, but I’m glad I can be here to make an impact and change their views on what they think of “All Americans”. In being an exchange student, I realize there is a lot thought about me, especially when I am in a place that hasn’t seen other exchange students from Florida. They look up to me, this is how they will think of Americans. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I think I can handle it!

One can easily see that I’ve changed, at least a little already, and will continue changing. I’m welcoming said change. I’m also helping change the world around me by “sharing the sunshine state with the world”. Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it.

Beijos!

-Lauren Youngerman

December 1 Journal

Oiiiiiiiii Florida! It’s been a while, huh?

I’d like to begin with apologizing on how long it has taken me to write this journal. It’s hard, so many things happen at once and you can’t help but be overwhelmed. Brazil is treating me wonderfully! I’m having a tremendous time, and it’s only getting better! I have the most wonderful friends (some Brazilian, some other exchangers), a great family, and the most beautiful city.

Since my last journal I’ve done many things. I’ve gotten incredibly ill, I’ve visited some of the most beautiful cities nearby (Olinda), I’ve gone to the beach countless times, I’ve seen new moon at midnight with my host family, I’ve gone out with exchange students, I’ve gone out with Brazilians, and oh so much more. However, recently was when the real fun started to happen. A couple weeks ago I went to Miribilandia, a local “theme park”, with my school. Honestly? The park was terrible. It has very few rides/attractions, and some of the rides are the same ones that we have at our local fairs in Florida. It was an amazing day however. I know the rides definitely disappointed me, and I was going through kind of a funk at the time where I was just completely having a bad day. But this time of the year, the park hosts its Nights of Terror, where every night there are shows of pirates and cannibals while they run around the park with other frightening figures scaring people and there are also multiple horror houses to enter which will scare the socks off of you! This didn’t scare me at all, but it definitely made my day. Actually, no, what made this trip so great wasn’t because of the monsters, but my friends’ faces in fear of the monsters. The most hilarious thing I think I had seen. It was so wonderful; it was an amazing day for sure. I always have a good time with my friends from school. They are such wonderful people.

I’ve also done some pretty amazing things as well. A couple of weeks ago, Rotary had this “small walk” on the beach. This “small walk” was actually 25 kilometers, which is approximately 15 miles. I am not sure if I’m proud, or angry with myself/Rotary to be able to say I walked the entire way. It was pretty great though. With all my exchange student buddies, we walked along some of the prettiest beaches for 25 kilometers and just had a blast. When we finally arrived at the house we were going to, we had lunch and went swimming in the pool. All the Americans and other pale skinned foreigners were bright shades of red, and everyone was just exhausted. That morning, I woke up at 5 to make this walk, and we met at the beach at around 5:30… That’s even earlier than I wake up for school! I didn’t return to my house until maybe around 5 or 6 that evening, and shortly after I made plans to go to a party that night. I ended up staying at this party until after 4 AM and I arrived in my house shortly after 5. This was the most killer 24 hour day of my life, but definitely a great one. I had so much fun, and I really do love all of the people here.

Saturday, I went to a place where they make sugar. That was actually kind of interesting, minus the horrible smell. However I think what made it so great was going with the other exchangers. Not only did we go with the 8 kids in my city, but we went with about 16 or 17 other exchange kids from other nearby cities. When we arrived at this sugar cane factory place, we were made to wear these very sexy hard hats, and bright orange ear plugs. Watching the sugar cane being transformed into sugar and then into other products, such as Álcool for cars, was a really different and neat experience.

After that the 20 something of us piled into a small bus and took off for lunch. While eating lunch, I spotted a monkey in the restaurant. Not a little picture of a monkey, or a stuffed animal, but a living monkey climbing around the restaurant walls. This is one of those “Only in Brazil…” moments. Before coming to this country, I had never seen a wild monkey climb around in a restaurant, or have cats walk by and rub up against my leg in the middle of lunch, and the strangest part is that nobody thinks anything of it! It’s completely normal!

After lunch we all piled back onto the bus and went to a “reserva floresta Darwin.” We took a hike through the woods while being told about plants and such, and how many of the plants only found in Brazil are used in many medicines. It was pretty neat, and the best part was when our little tour guy dude spoke about this stuff –  it was in Portuguese but I could understand everything he was saying! This is always a wonderful feeling. After our little hike, we went over to this little place to see animals. The animals we got to see were a 2-headed snake, a “dog rat”, a variety of screaming monkeys, a two-toed sloth, and a large snake. There was something very interesting about these last two though, we all got to hold them and take pictures with them! That was really neat. I never would have thought of having a giant snake draped around my shoulders and feeling it slowly move with every muscle across my arms, or of being able to pet the fuzzy lazy animal that I only ever see in the Jacksonville Zoo when it’s sleeping! I really had so much fun this day.

Portuguese is a very difficult language, but I understand it more and more each day! I can’t say I’m fluent yet because commonly I stumble over words or am not quite sure what I’m trying to say or just some days I can’t seem to understand anything… But I am learning! Commonly when I talk to friends or family back home I catch myself slipping into saying something in Portuguese, or when I’m talking with friends here in English I suddenly change languages on them. It’s really cool thinking about this. Sometimes I even begin to think in somewhat broken Portuguese! However, I have not had a dream yet in this language, and that’s a real downer. I’ve been here for almost four months, and still nothing. I can’t wait for it to happen though!

Well, that’s all that is occupying my mind at the moment, except for the fact that I’ve got a lot to look forward to! My birthday is quinta, or Thursday, which also marks 4 months in Brazil. I’m quite excited and I plan on going to the beach for sure (since I can do that here). There is a downside though. My host parents will be in FLORIDA on my birthday, visiting Orlando and Disney World (How slightly ironic, huh?). Either way, I’ll still have a good 17th Birthday, and I’m actually really excited about that. A week and a half after my birthday, I get to go to a nearby city in the north east, called Natal, with all of the other exchange students. This will be a blast, I can’t wait. Then after that, Christmas and New Years, and so much more! J Sometimes, recently, I’ve been feeling quite homesick (because of the holidays and such), but all that I’ve got to look forward to and my amazing friends get me through it all! Eu amo Brasil!

Again, I must say Obrigada to everyone who has helped me get here. Thank you Rotary for making this possible, Thank you Rotarians for helping me out along the way, Thank you Mom and Dad for just being there and helping my dream become reality, and Thank You to anyone and everyone else who deserves a thank you!

P.S. In my last journal, I mentioned paradise. Right now I’d like to take a moment to reflect on that. It hasn’t changed, it is currently around 80-something degrees outside, and it will only get slightly warmer for the next few months. Because of this, right now I LAUGH at all of you back in FL or in more northern countries at the moment. I hate the cold, so this area of Brazil is absolutely perfeito para mimJ. It’s also very nice being on summer vacation right now, not having to wake up for school in the morning, and being able to go to the beach or shopping center every day? Oh, it’s simply perfect!

January 9 Journal

Before I begin telling you about my life in paradise, I’d like to wish everyone a feliz ano novo, or a happy new year. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas and New years, and wish that all is well for you in the new decade.

Since my last journal a lot of things have happened. In December my parents and friends threw a surprise birthday party for me at the local Pizza Hut, my best friend took me out to dinner on my birthday (which I spent most of the day at the beach), I went to Natal with all the other exchangers, I survived Christmas away from my family and friends, and so much more.

One weekend in December we went to a city in the northeast called Natal for our “Natal em Natal” (Literally translating into Christmas in Christmas, but the second “Natal” is the name of the city), and it was just absolutely wonderful. We stayed with families rather than staying in a hotel. The family I stayed with was really wonderful, I stayed with a girl (Paula) who went to the US a couple years ago and who has walls COVERED in harry potter, no joke. Paula and I quickly bonded over the food we miss from the US, such as Froot Loops and Mexican food, and easily became friends. Saturday, the only full day we had in Natal, began quickly. We were on the beach at 9:00 in the morning to help clean the already decently clean beach, and to give Christmas presents to the kids who helped us.

After this we all piled into a numerous number of Buggys and took off for the dunes. Being from Florida, just the site of these dunes was breath taking. These sand dunes were notably bigger than any hill I’ve ever seen in Florida. This experience was completely terrifying but undeniably one of the most fun things I’ve done. It was like a rollercoaster without restraints through mountains of sand. Near to the ending of our great sand adventure we stopped to take a group picture and hold some animals. In this area, when you looked around, you didn’t see much other than sand for such quite a distance. Here, there was a guy with a monkey, and a guy with an iguana that allowed you to hold and take pictures with the animals. So, I held a monkey. Actually, I didn’t hold it. That little monkey jumped around from people to people if anyone was near by. The little monster attacked my sunglasses which were on my face at the time, but it was incredibly cute. After our little break we all packed up and headed back to the dunes and on our way to a little stop where you could take something like a swing on a zip line into a lake. That was an incredible amount of fun. Once everybody got their turn, we headed out to lunch then back to meet with our host families again to eat dinner and get some rest before our party that night. Our party began at 10 PM and lasted till around 3:30 am. It was nice to be with all the exchangers talking, dancing, eating, and just having a good time (:. The next morning was even earlier, we had to meet at 8:00 in the morning for breakfast, and shortly after we were on our way back to our cities again. It was kind of sad knowing that I wouldn’t see most of these amazing people again until the district conference, but it was awesome because the kids from Aracaju (a city farther south, by a 10 hour bus ride or so) came to Recife that day.

My host parents were still in Florida at the time, so I ended up staying over at the house of Laya, my best friend from Germany. However, the exchange students from Aracaju needed a place to stay as well, and we ended up having 5 people in total sleep in Laya’s reasonably small room. Lexie, from the US, Johanna, from Germany, and Erin, from Canada, all stayed with us. We really had a blast. That night we went out to Skillus, a little restaurant in the shopping, to have dinner with all the other exchanger students from Aracaju and some Rotex. We then returned home and stayed up late just talking about all sorts of things, and just had a good time. Eventually we got to sleep and were awoken early the next morning to travel with everyone to Olinda and Recife Antigo. The day was a blast and ended with us going out to a bar with all the exchange students from both cities for several hours. Most of these people I don’t see or talk to too much, but still people that there is no problem connecting and talking to. I really love the group of exchange students in Norbrex. Everyone is really wonderful, and I’m really grateful to have such good friends here from all over the world. The next morning, the Aracaju exchangers packed up their van and headed back home. It was sad to say goodbye, because they are so far away, but I know I’ll see them again some dayJ. Finally, I went back to my home where my host parents had already arrived home from their Florida vacation as well.

However, December was a difficult month for me, but I’m sure it was difficult for most people. I was away from friends and family on my birthday and Christmas, and I did get a bit homesick. Here in Brasil, it’s summer time at the moment, and I’m so close to the equator at sea level, meaning it was quite far from chilly. Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas, and there weren’t any crazy different traditions. Of course Christmas was definitely different. Instead of celebrating on the 25th, we celebrated on Christmas Eve. I went to my host grandmother’s house for a ham and turkey dinner, and nobody could open any presents until midnight. It was nice, but I definitely admit that I miss the anticipation of waking up on Christmas morning to go look under the tree to see what was left there for me the night before.

Before I knew it, Christmas was over, and I was packed into the car with my host family on the way to their beach house in the beautiful town of Maragogi, where we spent our New Years. We spent 5 days there laying on the beach, swimming in the ocean, staying up till 5 am to watch the sun rise, going to the pool, playing in the sand, laying in the hammocks, and just had a great time.

New Year’s Eve, it’s common to wear certain colors to bring good luck into the New Year. Most people wear white because it symbolizes peace. I’m not sure what any of the other colors symbolize, but most people just stick with white anyways. I transitioned into the new year sipping champagne (less than half of a flute of it) with my host family on one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to, watching the fireworks shoot off all along the beach and looking up at the stars. It was wonderful. Sadly, I got sick around 2 am and decided it was best if I went to sleep. For some unknown reason I always get sick to the stomach whenever we go to the beach house. However, at 3:40 I received a phone call from my best friend who was still back in Recife wishing me a happy new year. This phone call woke me up just in time to go see the first sunrise of the year on a beautiful beach in paradise. I relaxed on the beach till around 5 when I was tired and decided to go back to sleep. I then woke up around noon, and the crazy Brazilian summer vacation cycle started all over again, and I wasn’t back in bed until 5am on the 2nd of January.

Ever since arriving here, I do believe that the number one cause of sleep deprivation is Brazil. I had one day of rest after coming back, then the next day I was out with friends again. This week I’ve been to several different parts of the city, out to Olinda, to Plaza Shopping on the other side of the city, to Shopping Recife several times, the beach numerous times, a variety of bars, and to several cinemas. This week I’ve been inviting anyone and everyone out, because I simply do not want to be sitting around at home all day every day. It’s been great.

Monday was tough, I got some bad news and was upset most of the day, but then I went on Tuesday out with Laya to see Avatar on her side of the city (that’s an hour and 20 minutes of busses just to get there) and everything was better. Wednesday I went to my shopping center with Laya where I bought these beautiful enormous shoes, and then out with my sister and a bunch of people to an oyster bar that night. That was fun. Thursday I spent the day at the beach with Carol (my sister) and some of our friends. That day ended with going out to see Couple’s Retreat that night. Friday we went to the Center of the city to this little market that was seriously located inside of an old prison. Call me weird or whatever, but that really was a creepy feeling for me. The little stands/shops were located in the old cells, and it was full of people, and I was just overcome with this incredibly creepy feeling. Afterwards, we went out to Olinda to take some photos of the beautiful city. That night my sister and I once more ventured out to the cinema with friends to watch Sherlock Holmes. I wasn’t overly impressed, but we had fun. We then got a bite to eat and headed home. Some friends of ours were at downstairs in our building, so we stayed out with them till around 2 before going back and going to sleep. This week has been incredibly exhausting, and I honestly haven’t gotten too much sleep!

There’s so much to look forward to, and I’m so excited about everything! Maybe this upcoming week I will be taking a trip to Natal again to visit Paula and see the city a little better. I will change host families on the 19 or 20 (Note, I’m still in my first host family). Carnival is in February, and that’s definitely an experience I’m looking forward to. School will start, and I will meet new people again. Life is just great at the moment, I’m enjoying every day in Brazil, and I don’t want to be anywhere else but here. I can understand full conversations in Portuguese, and I can take part in them.

However, I know I will never fit in completely here in Brazil. I look incredibly American, but I kind of like that. It’s kind of fun and nice to have people stop on the street and tell me that I’m incredibly beautiful, and then continue on once more. It does nicely for the self esteemJ. However, I’m still not dreaming in Portuguese. However when I dream, I seem to notice it lacks a language. There’s never any speaking, thinking, or dialect. I remember feelings, but never words. I’m thinking in Portuguese sometimes now. Not all the time of course, and I know this. Sometimes, I’m incredibly confused on what language I’m thinking in. I catch myself remembering conversations that were spoken in English completely in Portuguese, and vice versa. When I try to think about what language my thoughts are in, it honestly confuses me. Subconscious thoughts are really hard to follow and remember, and I’m not sure what goes through my mind at times (don’t laugh =P).

Carol, my host sister here, leaves this month for Germany. Germany was never one of my top 5 choices, but I can’t help but feel incredibly jealous of her. She’s getting all of that attention of people wanting to hear about what she’s doing and where she’s going. She’s filling out paperwork, buying presents and pins, clothes and necessities for her trip, and I’m incredibly jealous. Seeing the new outbounds on the site, and knowing that they are going to their first conference at Lake Yale, and starting to prepare for their adventure makes me incredibly jealous. It feels like just yesterday I was filling out my applications, shaking in my seat at my interview, getting that depressing letter in the mail that said “alternate”, getting the call saying I would be living in Brazil for a year, writing my bio, going to Lake Yale and getting lost, meeting some of the best people I’ve ever met (aka RYEFL Exchange students), working on a 12 page report about Brazil, giving a speech in Portuguese (which I’ve honestly not even done in Brazil yet), and just everything.

However, all of this dates back to farther back than a year ago. Half my exchange is almost over, and I’m so glad to be here. Thanks everyone who made this possible. I’m seriously living my dream. I’m changing. I’m learning. I’m teaching. I’m exploring. I’m helping others. I’m being helped. I’m being independent. I’m being ready for anything and everything. I’m trying new things. I’m speaking another language. I’m in a foreign country. I’m having the time of my life. I now have friends and family from all areas of the world. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t here right now, but I don’t think about it, I don’t really care. Nothing could be better than this.

Thanks Rotary for making this all possible, I’m doing the best I can of representing everyone back there, juro. Thanks to my family, for helping me financially, physically, mentally, and for everything you’ve done for me. Thanks to my friends for always being there for me when I was stressed out. Thanks to everyone. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be here, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

April 26 Journal

This is honestly the strangest feeling I’ve ever had. I can’t tell you how much I can’t wait to get home, but just the thought of leaving this place brings me to tears. The people, the culture, just everything is now a part of me. I go back home in 72 days, and that scares me even more than boarding a plane to a foreign country where I don’t know anyone for an entire year.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I’m enjoying my time here in Brazil. Seriously, what’s not to love? Since my last journal I have not had much access to a computer or to the internet, which was actually a good thing. A little note for any future exchangers: When the Rotarians tell you not to bring a computer, sure go ahead and bring one, but if you go on everyday to check your facebook and email your friends back home, you won’t be as happy as you could be. Being without connections back home made me just completely forget my life back home. Honestly, now, it’s difficult to tell anyone about my life “back home,” because I think of Brazil as my home now. Florida is a thing of the past, and Recife is where it’s at. Its scary thinking that I’ll have to go home this summer, it’s a scarier thought than leaving for a year to a foreign country where you hardly know the language and you don’t know anybody. But yeah, I’m completely in love with my life hereJ. Since the last time y’all heard from me, a lot has happened, and a lot has changed. I’ve ridden a horse in a fazenda in Gravatá. I’ve fallen off a horse in Gravatá. I’ve gone to the beach several times. I’ve experienced the Brazilian holiday of Carnaval. I’ve started school again. I’ve switched host families. I’ve eaten foods that don’t look to be edible but taste so delicious. I’ve just been enjoying the wonderful Brazilian culture and life style.

January 28 was my last day with my first host family, and the last time I have seen my host sister, Carol, on exchange. I feel terrible, I never had a chance to say goodbye to her because I moved while she was at the movies with friends and she left the next morning to begin her exchange in Germany. At some points of my exchange, we were really distant, but I think within that last month with her we managed to get pretty close. I don’t know if she will end up reading this, but I would like to leave a little goodbye for her:

Carol! Minha irmãzinha! Estou com saudades de você L. Você vai ser minha irmã para sempre. Gostei muito de você, e eu não vou te esquecer. Espero que um dia você vá me visitar na Florida ou eu vou voltar para Brasil. Desculpa que eu não disse “tchau” para você… Eu queria muito, mas estava na aula quando você foi. Estou pensando de você, e to com saudade! Beijos minha irmãzinha!

If you didn’t understand that, don’t worry, it wasn’t about youJ.

So, Yes, I switched host families on January 28, 2010. I really love my new host family. It’s much more “normal” for me. Instead of having two sisters, like the previous family, I only have one younger brother of ten years. My new host family made me feel welcome right away. They are great people, and I’m really glad that I’m living in their home. My new home is two blocks from my first, and about 6 blocks from the beach. Tragic that I live so far away, isn’t it? This is one of the larger buildings in the area with 30 floors and decent sized apartments. I now have my own room to stay in, it’s quite nice. The building is facing the beach, so there is always the most wonderful breeze blowing through to keep things cool. Speaking of the lovely breeze, I have absolutely no complaints on the weather here, it’s perfect. Okay, so back on the topic of my new building, it’s completely filled with life. There’s always a group of kids or teens running around downstairs. We’ve got a decent sized pool and a soccer court. I spend much of my time downstairs just hanging out. The people in the building are pretty amazing too. On the 13th floor, there’s another Rotary exchange student, from Poland, it’s really nice living so close to her. However she’s already gone back to PolandL. On the 29th floor lives a friend of mine who did exchange in last year and the view from his balcony is one of the prettiest things I’ve like ever seen. Also on the 18th floor lives one of my best friends, I met him here and have become very close with him and his family. I’ve met many other incredibly amazing people in the building as well but I don’t think I’ll bore you by talking about all of them. Within my first two weeks here I decided to play a game of futebol with some of the guys in the building. I can now honestly say I’ve played soccer until my feet have bled. Playing soccer with bare feet hurts the first time you do it; I got some pretty nasty blisters that popped. It hurt to walk for the next week and a half or so, it was pretty bad, but while playing I didn’t notice them at all. I guess I was having too much fun to notice.

Okay, so honestly when I started writing this, it was like early March. Now it’s Mid-April, and I’ve realized that I need to finish it.

So in February the Brazilian holiday of Carnaval took place. I wish I had great exciting stories to tell everyone about this, I’m sure every other exchange student does! Well I went to Olinda one day which was great, and Maragogi beach another. As for all of the other days, I passed really sick. It was not a fun time, and I’m so disappointed that I didn’t get to experience it more.

In March a lot of things happened. Or maybe you would think a lot of things happened, but in truth, not that much has. I’ve just been living my life here. These past eight months have felt like such a short period of time, but yet it’s also felt like forever. I think in Portuguese, I dream in Portuguese, I talk in Portuguese. My friends are Brazilians and other exchange students. My classes aren’t in English, and neither is the language spoken in my home. My English honestly sucks now. But, somehow, all of this is incredibly normal. I’m completely okay with it and wouldn’t want it any other way.

In the end of March I went with Rotary to the Paixão do Cristo. This was an Easter spectacular about the death and rise of Jesus Christ. It was really kind of cool. We hopped into the 3 hour van ride out to Nova Jerusalem and went to see the show. Before we entered, we being exchange students decided to take pictures. Soon enough there were crowds of Brazilian teens swarming us wanting to take pictures with us too. It was quite awkward but yet quite fun as well, Brazilians love their photos! Okay, so then we went in. This show is much different than any other show I had ever been to before. Instead of sitting and having the scenes change behind the curtain, you walked around from scene to scene. I thought it was a cool Idea at first, but after 3 hours of walking, I was exhausted! Afterwards we all headed back home.

The following weekend was Semana Santa, or the Easter weekend. I went to Gravatá with my family and stayed there for several days. I actually got a bit of a tan as well! It’s funny how I go to the beach and get sun burnt and go to a farm to get tanned. Well it was a nice weekend. I ended up going to a friend’s hotel one night and staying out till four. I was incredibly exhausted afterwardsJ.

This past weekend I went out with all the exchange students again to some hydro electrical dams. It was actually a pretty neat trip, but sadly a 7 hour bus ride. It was also quite sad that it was the last time that I might ever see some of those exchange students againL. We left early on a Friday morning and everyone was in the hotel by about 5 PM. We stayed in a little hotel in Paulo Alfonso, Bahia. Friday night after dinner, everyone collected on the roof and most of the exchange students ended up in the pool. There was a little band playing, and all of us were just goofing off and having a good time.

Saturday morning we were off to AL to see Xingo, one of the biggest dams in Brazil, or the biggest, I don’t quite remember. It was neat to see it. After the tour we went to the river that lead to the dam and rode a catamaran boat around. We stopped in this really awesome super deep part of the river with these giant rock walls surrounding to go swimming. We stayed there for a while, got a bit sun burnt, and just had a lot of fun. After we went back, we had lunch, and then started to head back. However before going back, we stopped in this little town called Piranha. Oh my gosh, definitely the worst part of the trip. Rotary, being the evil that it is, made us climb this huuuuuge hill with sooo many steps leading up to the top. This climb nearly killed me, I really do not like stairs. After we finished with this, and went back to the hotel, everyone was pretty much exhausted. It was a much less eventful night.

Sunday morning we all packed up and left the hotel at around 8 in the morning, but we didn’t go home just yet. Our first stop was the Paulo Alfonso Dam. This dam was SO much prettier than Xingo, but for sure much smaller. The river leaving from it also has some pretty waterfalls that we got to go see as well. After this stop we said our final goodbye to some of the exchange students that we will never see again, and began to head back to our cities. It was a really fun trip for sure; I absolutely love my fellow exchange students. I stopped thinking of them as friends a long time ago, these kids are my family. I will definitely miss themL.

Since then, nothing overly interesting has happened in April. It’s just been normal life. Don’t get me wrong, I love EVERY second of it, but it’s something I’ve become so accustomed to that it doesn’t have that initial thrill of “Oh I did this, and this, and I went shopping today, Oh I went to a party and I also did this…” It’s honestly much better this way. I couldn’t imagine things being any different, and I don’t think I’d want them to be. Sure I’ve had difficulties, things aren’t always perfect, but that’s how I learn and grow. I love my life here, and I love all the people in it.

So yes, Brazil has been treating me wonderfully. My English is getting terrible (and please don’t tell me you didn’t notice by reading my journal, even when I re-read it over and over again I can’t seem to get things right. Oh, and my mom comes this weekJ. On April 29, my mom arrives in what has been my home for the last nearly 9 months. It’s a very strange feeling for sure, but I am totally stoked! Without my mom finding the program I probably would have never gotten the chance to come here anyways. I’ll show her that getting me into this program was for sure the right thing to do. Okay, well I’m in the middle of the shopping center right now stealing their free internet, and I gotta get home so I can start getting ready to go out tonight!

Tchau! J Beijos Florida! Vou te ver no julho!

July 6 Journal

I’m not exactly sure where I left in my last journal, but anything since before then until June 11th, stopped being important on this date. On June 11th, 2010, the World Cup started. Brazil wouldn’t be Brazil without its soccer. The country literally seems to stop for every Brazil game. I had never had much interest in soccer, but I have watched almost every single game. I followed several teams through their games and actually became quite educated in the world of football. I watched the US do better than any Brazilian thought they would do. I saw two normally really good teams (Italy and France) lose quickly. However the Brazilian games were the ones that the whole country stopped to watch.

The first game was against North Korea, a game that everyone thought we would win in a heartbeat. This game I went to watch with that friend of mine that from the building. I mentioned him in my last journal, the guy from the 18th floor, his name is Caetano. He has become my best friend here in Brazil. He is closer to me than anyone in the world. I’ve also become close with his family, and they are such great people. This first game I went up to Caetano’s house to watch Brazil win. To make things interesting, we got together a bet of what the outcome of the game was going to be. I put my 5 Reals down on 2-0 for Brazil… and I almost won! Outside, no cars are on the road, nobody is out walking around. Everybody is gathered in front of a TV somewhere nervously watching the game. The first half, nobody scored anything, then in the second half Brazil made their first goal. A Brazilian goal is something totally indescribable. You’ve never heard anything like it, trust me. When the ball flies into the net, the city screams. You’re able to hear screams from probably everyone in the city. People are constantly blaring horns and just yelling “gooooooooooooooooooooooooal!” Fireworks get shot off. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Not too long after Brazil scored again. Things were looking good for me, until in the last 5 minutes, North Korea scored!?! Brazil was a bit confused at first, but we still ended up winning, so it didn’t matter too much. For the rest of the day the city was basically in party-mode, with everyone super excited about the win and the wins to come.

The next game was one June 20th, and I wasn’t able to watch all of it. I really wasn’t overly upset to be missing the game. The reason I missed half of it was because I had a flight to Rio de Janeiro! This trip ended up being the best trip I have ever made. I went with my best friend, Caetano, who actually lived in Rio for 2 years a while back. We stayed at his grandparent’s house which was located 2 blocks away from Copacabana beach. Rio is the prettiest city I have ever been in for sure. I had such a fantastic time.

My first day in Rio was spent visiting the “Sugar Loaf” or pão de açúcar in Portuguese. It is such a beautiful site. You can see basically the whole city from the top of this mountain thing. You go up by taking two different little car like things hanging from wires. I was completely terrified of them. But all in all, it was BEAUTIFUL. I enjoyed it so much J.

The next day we spent traveling to shopping centers and walking along the beach at Copacabana. There’s actually a Starbucks in one of the shoppings in Rio, called shopping Leblon. Oh my gosh! I was so excited to see Starbucks. I quickly got in line, ordered my “usual” and felt so incredibly happy afterwards! My friend Caetano was so amused at how thrilled I was to have Starbucks that day.

The following day (or maybe two days after, or even the day before, I’m honestly not sure; it’s difficult to remember which day was which) we started the morning off by watching a very emotional US game. I was so thrilled to see the United States win and pass on to the next stage. None of my Brazilian friends could believe that the US made it to the final 8 games. I also managed to watch on Saturday the US lose to Ghana. That was a very emotional game too, and we were SO close! I was honestly a bit disappointed afterwards, but all was good, because Brazil was still in! Oh and I did go to the “FIFA fan fast” on Copacabana beach when I was in Rio to watch the Brazil-Portugal game. It was a bit disappointing, but at least we didn’t lose this game.

There was one night we went to see a play called “A Giaola das Loucas”. It was a play about a bunch of gay men in drag. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like that before. I really enjoyed it, but wow, I have NEVER seen so many men in dresses and actually make decent looking girls!! It was a bit strange, but it was really good. It had apparently a lot of very famous Brazilian actors in it, which I thought was quite interesting. Speaking of famous people, we actually encountered one of the most well-known women in Brazil, Xuxa. She’s been on the TV for years, and basically everybody knows her. She was sitting in the row in front of us. Sadly we were without our camera, but at least we got an autograph from her and talked a little with her! When I told my friends back in Recife, nobody believed me at first 😛 but it was true!

One day we spent by visiting the Corcovado. That is one of the most beautiful places I have EVER been. If you don’t know what the Corcovado is, it’s only because you don’t recognize the name. You know the big Christ that is in Rio, the one that is always shown with the city? Yeah, that’s the Corcovado. The view from up there is absolutely beautiful! You can see the entire city from up there. And the Christ statue is so beautiful as well. I’m so happy that I got the chance to go and see it. Oh, and for any Brazilian who wants to say that the Corcovado is bigger than the Statue of Liberty, I researched it, and the Statue of Liberty is significantly bigger. And for those of you who don’t know, the Christ at Corcovado was a present from the French, like our Statue of Liberty was.

Throughout the rest of the trip we just had a great time, walking on the beach, visiting other parts of the city, going to several delicious restaurants and many different shoppings. It was such a great time. It’s a trip I will honestly never forget. On our last day there, we went to the Copacabana fort. I really enjoyed that. The sight from on top of the fort was beautiful, and it was such an interesting thing to go to. My Rio trip was the BEST trip I have EVER been on. Thanks to Rotary for giving me permission to go! I had an amazing time there J.

I came back from Rio on the 27th, and I basically went home and slept most of the day. I was so exhausted. However on the 28th was the next Brazil game. Again I went up to the house of Caetano to watch Brazil kick some butt! The game was Brazil and Chile, and of COURSE Brazil won J. It was a good game to watch. The next day I spent working on my Rotary presentation which I had to present on the 30th. I believe that my presentation went pretty well, I was really nervous about it though.

Now I’ve gotten up to the July 1st, 6 days before I’m supposed to leave. Today as I write this it is actually July 5th, and I’ve got only one day left in Brazil before I leave. I’m a little bit afraid of returning. I think the thing I am most afraid of for when I return is how people are going to react to my English. I’m sure that you while reading this can’t believe this is a 17 year old American writing this. I can’t believe my English is so bad, but I know it is. I’m sure I’ll get it back quickly when I return, but for the moment I’m terrified. I still can’t believe it’s going to happen. In the last week I’ve been going out with friends a LOT. I’ve gone to several good-bye parties, and several days just going out to a bar to drink a soda with some friends. I also went to watch the final Brazil game on the beach here in Recife. It was a lot of fun, but it was honestly incredibly depressing watching Brazil lose to Holland. The following game of Argentina-Germany was an interesting game. I would have sworn it was a Brazil game with the way the city screamed for every Germany goal. There is a really big rivalry between Argentina and Brazil, and everyone here was so happy that they got completely killed by Germany in this game.

So, tomorrow is my last day, and I can’t believe it. Not one bit. I don’t want to leave, but I am honestly excited to be going back. Brazil has become my home. Portuguese has become the language I speak. The people here have become my friends and family. I love this place. There are so many things I miss back in Florida that I am so ready to have again as well though. I’m caught between my two homes, my two nationalities, and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’m going to miss Brazil. However this year has been perfect. I had ups, I had downs, but overall the year couldn’t have been better. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’d gladly relive every second over again if I could. I had such a wonderful year, and I will never forget it. Thank you Rotary and to anyone else who has helped me get here. You don’t know how grateful I am to you for that. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! I’ve had an amazing year, and it wouldn’t have been so amazing if it hadn’t had been for you all. Thank you for everything. J

 

Susan “Liz” Kane
2009-10 Outbound to the Czech Republic
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: České Budějovice Rotary Club, District 2240, Czech Republic

Liz -Czech Republic

Liz’s Bio

Dobry den! My name is Liz Kane and am currently a junior/senior at Bartram Trail High School in Jacksonville, FL. I am working on graduating a year early to make my exchange a reality. Ever since I started high school, I knew that I loved to travel. Experiencing the world in my eyes is like being the kid in a candy store. I never wanted to read about places from a text book … I just wanted to be there. I guess you could say that this is the exact reason I fell in love with the idea of being a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

So here I am, about to take the greatest step in my life.

Sure, Mom and Dad were slightly hesitant when I brought up the idea… but after lots of hard work on my part (and lots of support on their end) I have finally been given the opportunity to experience another culture first hand.

Do you want to know the most exciting part?? I am spending my senior year in the Czech Republic!!

Besides my resounding happiness, I am quite normal. I have 4 dogs, a cat, a hamster, and an older brother. I enjoy playing soccer, snowboarding, and spending time with my friends. I also have a place in my heart for fashion and art. I love making my own clothes and experimenting with creativity. When I go to college, fashion and international business is what I want to study. Who knows…. Maybe after this experience my life will take a completely different path. I am so blessed to have family and friends who stand behind me in everything that I do. Without them, I would not have the chance to do something this amazing. I also need to thank Rotary for choosing me to participate in Youth Exchange. You have no idea how grateful I really am!

To say the least, I could not be happier.

 Liz’s Journals

August 10 Pre-Departure Journal

This is it. In less than 2 weeks I will be stepping off the plane in Prague and meeting my first host family. It is hard to imagine this sight after thinking about my arrival in the Czech Republic for so long. For the past few months I have been preparing for what is quite possibly the greatest adventure of my life. I went to orientation, attended Rotary meetings, and even tried to study what seems like the most impossible language in the world.

Today I signed up for a skype account and posted the message on Facebook reading “less than 2 weeks until departure, I am so excited.” It is this excitement that led me to put my thoughts into a pre-departure journal for all to read. Right now I feel as if my date is never going to get here. I read about all my other friends who are already abroad in envy that they are already experiencing life in a new way. Then I stop to think… gee Liz, that’s going to be you. Someone will open this page, read your journal, and feel this same envy… only you will be the one in the other country. Time is funny that way. You sit and play the waiting game only for it to sneak up and surprise you in a way you never felt possible.

Take the past 11 months or so. It started with a thought of being an exchange student. This led to an initial waiting of mom and dad’s approval. After I received said approval, it continued on to many late nights of application filling, letter writing, picture perfecting, and yes more waiting. I continued this state of waiting anxiousness up until I received a letter with my interview time and date. I talked at school with other exchangers to be like Jaime and Sarah, who happened to be just as nervous as me about interviewing. So the day came and went…. and I left my interview with a smile, unlike most I talked to. I felt I had made the perfect first impression and I had nothing to fear.

Soon came a random phone call from Daphne about the change I had made in country choices, and a new letter in the mail stating that my sponsor club is the Rotary Club of Mandarin. These little bits of information every so often kept me in the spirit of being an exchange student. This next wait was the worst of all. In the club sponsor letter it had said, “your country assignment will be coming shortly.” With this I gasp and run circles around the kitchen. That also happened to be the reaction when Jody called in the middle of December with “Liz, would you like to know where you are going to spend your exchange?” (well duh!). I could not forget the reaction of the two girls I was babysitting: “What’s a Czech Republic?”

Then came the January orientation, followed by waiting on news from my host district. This news came in bits and pieces throughout the following months including: host club, city, school, and best of all Family. I have not even made it into the Czech Republic yet, and I am in love with my host family. My host brother Ondrej and I have become very close, and even though we will only meet for 3 days (he is going on exchange to Minnesota), I have already made a Czech friend.

Now is the time. I have watched an inbound arrive (Yuri), I am picking up my host brother Laurenz on Thursday, and my last trip to the airport will be all about me. I am still nervous about some aspects of this new life I will become a part of, but I think the excitement has overcome all the bad emotions. I have 2 more Rotary meetings, 13 more days in Florida, and the next year to make my mark on the rest of the world.

Na shledanou!

Liz

August 28 Journal

All I can say is wow. What a roller coaster these first few days have been. There have been ups and downs and all kinds or crazy twists and turns. Where to begin…

On my way to the Czech Republic I had some minor mishaps. My flight from Jacksonville to Detroit went quite smooth, as I coincidently sat right next to my best friend’s dad. The 2 hours or so didn’t seem quite as long with a familiar face to talk to. He asked me all kinds of questions about youth exchange and my new family. All of which I was eager to answer. When we landed in Detroit I said goodbye in the tram that took me to the area of my next gate, to Amsterdam. (This my friends is where the trip starts to go crazy.)

The flight to Amsterdam was set to leave on time, until we were taxing toward the runway… and had to turn around. There was one broken toilet (granted there were 6 on the plane) and we had to go back to the gate to get it fixed. This is another one of those examples from cultural boot camp where any normal being would simply place an out of order sign on the door, but as Americans, we are required to ask maintenance to fix the problem. So, one hour later…. we are off the ground and on our way.

That being said, we landed in Amsterdam at around 6:45. In any normal airport, making a 7:05 flight from this would be do-able. But let me tell you, Amsterdam is no ordinary airport, it is the New York Stock Exchange of Airports. There are people running all over to catch missing flights, there is a mob standing in front of each line of the passport check, and they even have a special area called transfer (big yellow sign) for all the flights they usually move due to crazy delays and their own bad line management. I was in this special area. That’s right everyone… you know when you were late during orientation (which I wasn’t ) and Al or Daphne said “You just missed your flight,” well that was me. Missing my flight to Prague.

Unfortunately, my host family drove two hours from Ceske Budejovice to meet me at the airport, which I did not arrive at until about 6 hours later than expected. They picked me up and we headed home from there. Just me. No luggage, for that was still sitting in Amsterdam. I was pretty excited when I got there, until we got in the car…. about an hour into our journey I had my host dad pull over so I could throw up. This was mostly due to me being so tired from my flights and all the chaos my journey had ensued. Needless to say, I got home and slept all afternoon and all night.

Two days later, my oldest host brother left for his exchange in the United States. I miss him being around because while he was here he was the best translator I could ask for. He showed be around Budweis and where I would be going to school.

Now comes the worst part. I hate to be negative but I think it is only right that I share my feelings with all my journal readers and future RYE students. I have faced the most terrible home sickness that anyone could imagine. My first few days have been rough and there are many contributing factors. My luggage got lost, my host family speaks little English, my wall adapter for all my electronics is broken, I have nobody my age around, school has not started, I feel like I am wasting my time, and I miss my family very much. Two nights ago I even called my mom and said this is it, I have had it, bring me home right now.

I am hoping and praying that this feeling of sadness goes away soon, because I did not expect this at all. But RYE is all about the surprises and running into things that you never thought you would face. So I told my family I will give it a few more days and try to deal with what is in the present. I have turned off the distractions, and am trying a new approach. I am keeping a daily journal to make sure that I am trying hard enough for myself. After all, this whole thing is about me.

On a happier note, I would like to share some observations that I have here in Ceske Budejovice, CZ.

-The weather is currently perfect.

-I can now properly pronounce Ceske Budejovice

-I like watching Harry Potter movies in Czech with English subtitles

-As long as I take bus 2 or 15 I will make it home eventually.

Ahoy!

-Liz

September 11 Journal

I am doing really well here. It was hard at first, but now I could not be happier. Since writing my first journal I have started school here and attended orientation in Strecno, Slovakia. I am slowly but surely adjusting to my new life here in the Czech Republic, and keep falling deeper in love with my new home everyday. So let me share with you some new experiences I have had.

School is very different. I am with the same group of students all day long. Sometimes we move to a different classroom, but for the most part we are in the same seats all day. I have found that there are some tiny cultural differences that will take some time for me to get used to. One of these differences being socks with sandals in school. You are expected to change out of the shoes you came in and put on slippers or sandals. Oh, and did I mention the crocs? I thought I would be able to run away from them, but alas… just as popular in the Czech Republic. I do, however, greatly enjoy that once a class is over and the bell rings everyone pulls out food. My host mom always packs me a sandwich, candy bar, and drink everyday. In school my classes are: Economics, Sociology, History, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, Czech, German, and on occasion Physical Education (I say on occasion because it’s only one time a week). I am pretty sure that is it, but if I remember any others I will be sure to add an aside later on.

I think school is taken much more seriously here than in the United States. Everyone has a notebook for each subject and during lessons all they do is copy notes. I however sit in wonderment either staring out the window or asking the rebound in my class what the teacher is talking about. The teachers do not expect much out of me until I get to English class. This is when I get frequent questions on pronunciation or how to say certain phrases. On Fridays, I take optional English with a teacher who is British. This is nicer, because the class is a little harder and me and the other exchange student are asked more things. It was funny though, because halfway through class the teacher said it was time for a break, and we took like 20 minutes off. Me, the other exchange student from New York, and the English teacher walked next door to the pub for a coffee break. It was quite strange, but I thought it was nice at the same time.

Orientation in Slovakia was fun. There are roughly 40 inbounds in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined, which is one district. It took us 9 hours by train to get to Strecno from Ceske Budejovice. I was so tired. We ended up getting lost when we arrived in Strecno because it is a very small village. It was fun though because we went to a pizza shop and had Kofola until we received a call with directions from some Rotary people. Kofola, if you do not know, is like the Czech or Slovak version of Coca Cola with much more caffeine. During the time of communism they could not import Coke so they created their own version. It tastes nothing like normal Coke at all. I think it is pretty good, but my host family does not drink it. At orientation, I got to go rafting and see a castle with the other inbounds. I made some new friends, and realized how much language I need to study.

Two days ago, I went to go see the Prague Symphony Orchestra in my city. I went with my Rotary club and the two other exchange students hosted by my club. I will say that this kind of music is not necessary my favorite, but I really enjoyed the concert. I kept telling myself that I don’t have to like everything that I do here, but it’s part of the culture and it’s good to try it all.

I am learning new words and phrases everyday. My host family is very understanding that my language skills are terrible at best. My Rotary here is arranging for the inbounds in my city to take a language course soon, which I am hoping will help me out a little bit.  

In the meantime I will continue to sit in school and pretend like I know what they are talking about. I have learned when they say Americhanka or Anglitsky that they are talking about me, and hopefully soon I will be able to understand them.

I am going tonight to the Cinema with my host family, and tomorrow we are going on a bike ride down by the Vltava river. Chao for now!

September 23 Journal

I have two words for you all: Hladový vokno.

This may lead to the question… What on Earth is Hladový vokno? My friends, Hladový vokno is the Hungry Window. It is one of my favorite places. It is not clear to me what kind of magic is placed on the items that come out of this window… but I know there is something special going on. So if I go down the road of the Rotary 10 or 15 (I do not know the specific average), you can most likely blame it on the Hladový vokno. There are two locations known to me in České Budějovice, and both are fantastic. I always order a Slaninová II. It has bacon, onions, this strange cheese sauce that blows my mind, and maybe a few other things. I did not really read all the things on this sandwich. I think it was just one of the only ones I could figure out how to pronounce without sounding like a foreigner. I have found, however, that people here are very forgiving about my language skills. Even strangers are happy when I try, and the conversation usually will end with “Czech language is one of the hardest to learn, good luck with that,” in some variation of broken English.

Other then the sandwiches I am learning new things everyday. My host family told me how to take the bus to the zoo, so I went with one of my friends (yes, friends) this weekend. It is nothing like the Jacksonville Zoo. I had to find out how to waste 3 hours because that was when the next bus came back to that stop. The most exciting animal there was Medvěd hnědý or for those English speaking folks Grizzly bear. He was a cutie. I also made friends with some Klokan rudokrký (which are baby kangaroos). The day at the zoo was very fun, but the aspect of the trip I was most proud of was traveling to and fro without any problems. It was a good day.

Another thing I would like to share with you all that is cool is that me and the other exchange students are teaching a conversational English class for three weeks while the normal teacher is at home with a family emergency. Under any normal circumstance I would have said no way to teaching English. I have no experience and I feel like people my own age would not want to listen to me gripe and give them assignments. But, since school is not necessarily that exciting, and I really had no choice (the headmaster looked so desperate for our help)… I said yes. I teach English 3 days a week for two class periods. I do not think that teaching English is the best way to absorb Czech, but the kids that we teach are very nice about it. We teach them items such as American holidays and customs and in return we get our own lesson about how the Czechs participate in such things. I think the best lesson we had so far was an hour and a half with about 15 students comparing the United States education system and the educational system in the Czech Republic. It was neat to see how eager they were to learn about the life that we were coming from and how much they wanted to share opinions on the advantages and disadvantages. I have two more weeks of teaching English before I go back to having a normal class schedule.

Other then these things, life seems to be pretty normal for me here. I wake up, eat some food, catch the bus, walk to school, sit in school all day, explore the city, catch the bus home, eat dinner with my host family, do some random family activity (watch TV, or movie), take a shower, go to sleep, and then repeat. I like how comfortable I have become living with my host family, and love how they have adopted me into their family as their new daughter. When I meet new people with my host family, my host mom always introduces me as her daughter. It makes me smile that they think of me as a real part of their family.

Lastly, happy one month to me! YAY! It feels like it has been so much longer…. (I know in a few months I will be saying what the heck… where did all the time go).

Ahoj.

October 2 Journal

AHHHH!!!! I finally visited Praha! It was amazing.

My host family took me last weekend to see some of the touristy things that people usually come to the Czech Republic to see. It was really nice. We also participated in many of the touristy things that people always do in Prague. The funniest part about the whole thing is that I did not feel like a tourist. I felt like I was watching people come to my home and take lots of silly pictures and speak too much English when that is not what we speak here. It was strange how that affected me, but I thought it was really cool at the same time. It was very crowded in Prague when we visited. This was most likely because it was the day that the Pope was in the city visiting the “Baby Jesus of Praha,” which is a centuries old baby Jesus statue in one of the old churches.

The most interesting fact about this is that many people travel to Prague just to see this statue, that is everyone except the Czechs. Not many people here believe in organized religion so the people we saw in the church around the statue visiting were from other parts of Europe and some from South America. Also, the Pope never comes to the Czech Republic. This is his first visit in about 15 years. So that being said, people were crowded around the barriers of the Prague castle waiting to catch a glimpse at the Pope-Mobile….(and yes I was one of them).

The other highlights of the trip included a trip through the Baroque gardens, a trip on a boat down the Vltava to see the sights, walking across the famous Charles bridge, eating lunch off the old town square, and of course finding Starbucks (Al is probably reading this thinking.. how American is that?!?!?!). It was really funny however because I had to explain to my host family that Starbucks to me back in Florida was a very frequent occasion, and there are only two in the entire country here. Starbucks to them is much too expensive, because a coffee at a cafe is only 20 crown (about a dollar). That is why the only Starbucks in Czech Republic are in Prague, because people can afford it here. So when I saw that sign, my face lit up like Christmas. They made mention that we may have to go to Praha more often just so they can see me smile the way I did when we walked into Starbucks. My host brother even managed to tactfully acquire a bag of Starbucks coffee to bring back home (oh how I love my host family).

The next adventure I would like to tell you about has to do with package hunting. My dad sent me a really big package with some Florida shirts, a hoodie, some Halloween goodies to share with the family, and other random items. He wanted to gauge how long it would take so he would know in the future what type of mail would be the most economical in combination with receiving time on my end. This being said, when I checked my email I was able to see where my package was also. Well, once I saw they had tried to deliver it 2 times without leaving any sort of note, I became slightly confused. So being the motivated individual I was, I took the tracking number up to the main post office and managed to find out it was not there. But I did get a phone number and location of my package. This made the hunt go on. I called the number, listened to a murmur of Czech… and then got hung up on. Which meant in my book… ” Liz, good luck ever seeing that package.” Well since I was already looking forward to the Reese’s cups and had already explained how good they were to my host parents, I felt this obligation to find my package so I could share them with my family. I took a bus around the city too a post office that I thought was the one I needed, but was not and then was not able to look for longer that day because I had a Czech lesson in the afternoon.

I felt like the search was never going to end. Until at school the next day, in the English class I’m temporarily teaching, one of the students asked if I wanted him to help me at the post office. So he came with me and helped sort it all out. Long story short(er), I got my package the next day. My one friend who helped me said he was so happy to do so because he thought it would be a nice way to show his appreciation for all the help he has gotten in English. It made me feel really special. This adventure also gave me a great real world opportunity experience to practice my Czech skills. I learned every Czech word having to do with post office and sending and receiving packages. Should be a breeze when I start sending or packages.

Tak (so), I feel like I have written a lot for you all to read for now, but I promise the next journal will be more exciting because my family and I are going to Italy! So until then, na shledanou!

October 12 Journal

I thought the drivers in the Czech Republic were crazy, but they are most certainly not as wild as the ones in Italy. I think that this is a nice way to start what might possibly be a very long description of vacation hilarity and wonderment. As you may have read (or not) in my last journal, my host family took me to Italy for the weekend. This was amazing not only because I got to see Italy but it also gave me an opportunity to get to know my host family even better than before. We planned on leaving the house at 7 am…. so at 8:30 we were on our way. Here’s a cultural aspect for those thinking of visiting or coming here on exchange: the Czechs like being on time, enjoy being on time, but if they are not on time… it’s not the end of the world (You will see this later in the journal on the ride home also).

We made the 7 hour journey to Verona, our first stop in Italy, by way of Austria and Germany. It was so beautiful. The small villages that lined the roadway were picturesque and I felt like I had a postcard taped to the inside of the car window. My host dad also embraced the road trip as a way to give me more of the interesting history tidbits I pick up while living here. We drove through a small city in Germany by the Austrian boarder where my host dad went on a Hitler history tangent, throughout which he was very reassuring that he was by no means a supporter of his regime. They just love history. As the car ride wore on, I continued to sleep. It’s the easiest and fastest way to make it safely to your destination. At one point during my slumber I got a very gentle poke on the leg, “wake up, we are almost in Italy.” At this I was so excited, mostly because Italy is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, It was even very high up on my list of countries I wanted to go to on exchange.

When we finally arrived in Verona and it took us a solid 30 minutes to find the hotel, which was not bad at all. The streets are a confusing labyrinth of don’t turn this way and I don’t think so if your vehicle is bigger than a Vespa. When we reached the hotel, we discovered they had a guest parking area, to which my host family was most certainly relieved. We took an hour to unpack and refresh before going out to explore the city. My host family has been to Verona 5 or 6 times before, so they know what places are nice to see. If you are reading this thinking…”why does Verona sounds so familiar?,” it is because it has been way too long since you have thought about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This is the setting for the play. Even though the play is fiction, there is a family Capulet and they did live in Verona. Anyway, enough about Shakespeare. The town is so pretty. The ruins of the Roman empire are all around, and you feel as if you have stepped into a time machine while walking the streets. There were multiple occasions when I had to stop and pinch myself because I really did think that I was dreaming. We visited the Julieta house, the Verona Castle, the Roman theatre, and ate dinner in the town square (and yes I did have pizza).

I had to laugh at how small the espresso was. I think that is what keeps people going in Italy late at night. During the day there are less people, then all of a sudden…. bam! Let’s eat dinner for 3 hours. It’s culture and even with this I found myself thinking and relating more with the Czech lifestyle. I had conversations in Czech with my host family about different things. They explained to me one of the benefits of speaking Czech is that not a lot of people can. If you say something bad in English about food or the hotel you are in, then more people are likely to understand you. But if you say it in Czech, nobody around you knows what you are talking about. I love this! I feel like the new language I am learning is a secret one. My host family and I agree that Czech is one of the best languages to speak while traveling.

The second stop on our Italy trip was Milano. I was in awe with the dramatic change from small romantic Verona, to fashionably large Milan. We spent 3 hours in Milano just driving around (yes, looking for the hotel). I felt like there was this connection to one of the National Lampoon movies instead of “hey look kids there’s Big Ben… hey look kids there’s Big Ben again…,” it was “hey look Liz there’s the Duomo… hey look Liz there’s the Duomo again.” I like the Duomo. The gothic style just draws me in. It is amazing how something this spectacular has lasted so long. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that the Duomo in Milan is the 3rd largest Cathedral in the world? Well, if you didn’t, now you do. We also visited the Santa Maria delle Grazie, that housed Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” until they moved it to the museum next door. I did not get the opportunity to see the painting itself, because it is necessary to make reservations at least 3 weeks in advance. I did however see my fair share of churches and monasteries while in Milan. I would name them all, but there were way too many! I also enjoyed going through the fashion district. I could not afford anything by Gucci, Prada, Valentino, or Armani but it was sure nice to look.

After a nice night’s rest, I packed my bag and was ready to hit the road for an exciting ride home. My host parents thought it would be nice to drive up to Lake Como in Northern Italy and then go back the Czech Republic by driving through the Alps. Just think… (it took 7 hours to get here by highway), when we left “ake Como at around 2 pm I was ready for a nice mountain ride. At around 8 pm, we were still in Italy. We stop at a light on the road where they were doing construction work. My host dad turns around and asks “So Liz, you like adventure right?” Of course I say yes. Because that was what we were on, the adventure of following the mountain road. We had a road map of Europe and my host mom turns and points…”tade” she says. I’m going to be completely honest, we were nowhere near where we needed or even wanted to be. That being said… when we found the one sign that said Autostrada, we followed it. It took us 100 km to even reach the highway. And when we did, we were probably 2 hours away from where we had started. It sure was an adventure, and I loved ever second of it. I learned more about how my host parents function and can now recognize many Czech words having to do with travel. I also found that my host parents sort of function like the Jetsons. Do you remember that cartoon? We would stop at a rest area to use the restroom and fill the auto with gas and my host mom would stick out her hand for the money to go inside and get some food. It was adorable. It reminded me of the Jetsons how George Jetson would work and make the money only to have Jane spend it all. That was all I could think of. Our trip continued into the wee hours of the morning as I slept. We arrived back at the house at 4 am. That’s right… 7 hours to get there 14 to get back. I love it.

So today is a day of resting and fasting. The resting is because of the long trip, the fasting is because I ate way too much while I was in Italy. I was gone for 2 and a half days. In that time I ate 3 pizzas, a calzone, 2 plates of pasta, continental breakfast at the hotel on both mornings, gelato, tiramisu, and I’m sure much more that I can’t think of. Needless to say, I do not need to be doing any more eating today. If I do, it should only be fruit, yogurt, and water. Until next time….

Čau.

P.S. This has nothing to do with my trip to Italy. But I thought I would let the members of the Mandarin Rotary Club know how openly my host club has accepted Fluffy as a member of the club. They are fascinated with him. He even has his own chair at the end of the table. I cannot explain how or why, but Fluffy is a hit! More info and pictures coming soon!

October 20 Journal

Ahoj! It is very heavily debated as to which languages are the most difficult to learn and I do not think there will ever be a definitive list without one language fighting to be known as more difficult. So short of Chinese I would like to put in my vote for Czech being the 2nd hardest language. Nobody thinks of it being a hard language because they never think of the Czech Republic. If they do, it is probably assumed they do not have their own language. It is only spoken by about 12 million people worldwide, 11 of which live in the country. So, it is a rare occurrence abroad to find someone else who speaks Czech unless you are in the country itself. I think that is the best part, because once I have learning the language under my belt I can have side conversations in Czech so nobody understands (except the person who I find to speak with in Czech). Alright, so this means it is time for a brief Czech language lesson.

-The way it is spelled is the way it is pronounced. Very simple if you can actually get your mouth to make the sound of whatever letter you want to say. This goes well for me until I get to the letter Ř. It does not matter how you slice it, this letter is my least favorite letter in the alphabet… and surprise it only exists in Czech! Apparently it is to sound like: “rž” or like ‘rg’ in bourgois. It is so awkward. My classmates love trying to get me to say words that have that letter (which seems like all of them). Příští zastávka means bus stop, and I can’t even say the first part. It sounds like I tried to vomit way too many sounds at once.

-The accents are nice and not so nice at the same time. It helps with recognizing the sounds, but then when I try to type something on my English computer keyboard it takes me 20 minutes to write a Czech sentence. I bookmarked a Czech Alphabet link on my computer so I can copy and paste the letters. It works for now.

-The Czech language itself can be traced back to the 11th century. Pretty impressive if I do say so. It’s a synthetic language, which means a lot of word changing, but not as much word adding. It is perfectly okay to make a one word sentence. I will give an example: you go – jdeš or you will go – půjdeš. Another fun but bummer is that j is y, y exists but sounds like I or ee, and I is still alive too, and sounds just like I or ee also. So in the end, the only letter that got his sound stolen was J. Jan is a very common name here, but it pronounced like Yan or Honza. Or, if Jan is introduced to me he says you can just call me John (with hard J sounds). What?? you just say your name was Honza. Come on people. This whole concept throws me off.

-I am a fan of names here. Some of my friends are: Alžběta (bětka), Magdalena (Magda), Petra, Veronika, Kateřina (Katka), Ondřej (Pozzy), Flantišek and Eduard (Eda). I will use Eda as an example. When I talk about Eda to someone else it’s Eda. If I am calling him from across the room or trying to get his attention I say Edo. It works the same with everyone else. This leads to a constant situational ending letter change that makes my head hurt sometimes. The system of conjugation is really complex.

-My current favorite way to learn new Czech words is to go on walks with my Czech friends and have them point things out in the environment and tell me the Czech word. Then, about 2 hours later they will ask me what the words are. It’s a fun way to get to know the people and the language at the same time.

So that’s a good overview language for the moment. When I start drowning in grammar I might bore you all again with another language lesson. I have lessons 2 days a week with a teacher who has taught exchange students in the past. They are going well. Also, is it possible to decline in your native language? It often takes me a very long time to think of words that were once so easy to come by. Just a thought.

Until next time (soon I am sure, I like writing too much!). Čau.

November 1 Journal

I wish I could freeze time. I know that a little over two months is barely a dent in my exchange experience, but I already know that it is going to be over before I know it. It is November… last year at this time I was awaiting my interview and acceptance into the RYE family. Now, I am living my dream. What was once a thought, turned into an action, led me to being in this very seat, on this computer, writing my journal for everyone to read (well I like to think there are a lot of you).

Time is fascinating. Moments come and go. Feelings range from happy to sad, people that were once a very integral part of your life slowly disappear into the shadow that time has created. But the best part is that all that once was gets replaced with something new. The actions seem more kinetic, the people seem more relatable, the world is literally at your fingertips. I wish I could really put into a properly stated sentence how much I love all of these feelings. I am learning how to react on my own, there is no need to look behind me, for the future is what I make it. The Czech Republic is peculiar. Not in a bad way, but just… well peculiar. If I asked anyone back home something about this place they may say Prague, or that’s where you are on exchange. They would not be able to tell you that the people I have shared my time with so far in this place are amazing. They may seem to be quiet or shy at first, just like myself. But when the candle is lit, you can feel the warmth of the souls around you.

Since my last entry I have cooked an entire meal for my host family (which they called “American Day”), and I have shared and experienced Halloween. On “American day” I made pancakes, mac and cheese, hot dogs, cornbread, bbq pork, and brownies. Even though I do not think myself a distinguished cook, they seemed to think that I was the best one ever. The great feeling that I got out of that day, however, had nothing to do with food. It is the realization that there really are more cultural differences than you notice. When I sat down with my host family and they asked me what they were eating it was strange, because all of these foods seem so normal to me. It is like when we have brambory at almost every meal. I mean, I like potatoes, but I did not know I had to be prepared to love them.

Halloween was a very family oriented day. They treated it like an “All Souls day” where we went to 3 different towns and villages to visit the graves of deceased relatives. We lit candles at each gravesite and signed small crosses over the graves. All of the graves had been previously adorned with a multitude of flowers, still some families brought more. It was strange to see some of these graves, because many of the people who had died were war victims or soldiers. Which always leads me back to the line “If we could make every high school student in the world an exchange student, there would be no more war.” I feel that this is true. I have been accepted into a family and new life that I have created for myself. I feel like everyone who thinks of the United States that I come into contact with will think of me. Just as I have done in the past with other exchange students. It’s a great feeling knowing that you can change the world with small actions.

If you were wondering (I bet not), I am still not fluent in Czech. I fear I will not be for quite some time. But, all I can do is keep working on my language skills and they will come. I often get frustrated because I want to know what people are saying when they speak fast or slow! In school I want to learn everything that my class is doing. I want to be able to think and feel just as they all do. I want to be able to close my eyes and read the back of my eyelids in some sort of gibberish that only a small percentage of the world may understand. I want that to be me.

Lastly, I want to applaud all of the future exchange students out there. I have no idea how many of you read or even follow my journal, but I do not think any of you are fully aware of what a truly great experience this is. I wish I could tell you everything I knew about youth exchange, the emotions, the friendships, and the sense of self that you gain slowly over this year. But honestly, I would be lying if I told you anything. Because it is different for all of us, but we are all learning to become ourselves.

November 18 Journal

“What you think you create, What you feel you attract, What you Imagine you become.”- Adele Basheer

This quote is on the front of the journal my best friend gave me as a going away present. I did not think I was going to have to use it this soon. I have already filled up my first journal with pages and pages of stories and notes. When I grabbed this journal off my shelf, it was honestly the first time I had thought about the quote on the cover. I wonder how long it took Halie to find this journal in the bookstore… because this quote is so relevant to how I am feeling now. It symbolizes all the change that is happening and will happen in the months to come. My brain is always on the move. I don’t crave the old things that I once loved and could not be without. I do not miss the old life I had, as I did when I first arrived in this country. I have been here for about three months. I am at a level of happiness with people and surroundings that I once wanted to castrate (yes, I said castrate). Now, a blink feels like a wasted moment, until I realize my eyes are actually opening into a big adventure. When my mouth opens, my brain automatically responds with this gibberish that has become so warming. I almost fail to recognize myself, but I know this is only the start of a new me. I am becoming me.

I have seen new sights and sounds in addition to knowing my own home like the back of my hand (yes, I call my town home now). In the past feel weeks I have been to Prague (again :D) to see the musical Carmen, Jindřichův Hradec for an inbound weekend, and Bad Schallerbach in Austria. In Austria I went to Aquapulco, which is this amazingly fun indoor water park. Good news was that the sun was shining… so like any good Floridian exchange student that has been deprived of mass amounts of sunshine, I spent 2 hours of my stay in Aquapulco sunbathing. My body was very happy.

The only thing that is going downhill is the lack of warmth and sunshine. I had to go out and buy an even warmer jacket, because the walk to the bus stop every morning keeps getting colder and colder. Also, no wonder I am sure when January rolls around I will be frozen into an icicle. Generally, I find nothing else to complain about other than weather. If anything else, it is probably only how I have to wake up, go to school everyday, sit while they learn and look vacantly out the window at hopes that something a little more interesting will happen. NOOO WAIT!! What I meant to say was… I love going to school. We learn the most interesting things. I understand fully and comprehend all things that go on through the day and it brings me to tears the moment class is over for the day. * I really miss Sarcasm… it does not exist in this country.*

Other than this… I am not losing anything except the English language. I make the stupidest vocabulary errors, and I can’t even think about grammar. My friends in school will ask me questions about things that are so particular that I have no idea what to tell them. I almost always refer them to the other American exchange student and admit to myself that I have been defeated by the lack of English stimulation. I have just let that go though. I think it is such a fun experience to be so consumed in the new life you have created that you forget basic things. Today I mixed up the words savage and salvage. I have no clue what context it was in… but I was oh so wrong. I find the best solution to anything you do wrong: Laugh. It really is the best medicine.

So that’s about it. I am at a loss… I have found so much normality in my life that everything I could write would sound so mundane. You don’t want to hear about how happy I am riding the bus when I would have rather drowned than ride the bus in America. Or, how I clean my room and do my own laundry. Heck, I even offer to wash the dishes. Al, when this gets posted make sure you have EMS on stand-by… I don’t think my parents can read this sort of information without having heart attacks. 🙂

Zatím na shledanou.

November 29 Journal

Wait… what is it… did you say that there is a Christmas Tree in the Square?!?!?!? Does that mean it’s the official start of mass chaotic shopping and eating way too much food?!?!? Not only that, but it means that I am over 3 months into my exchange (holy $#!%), time really is going way too fast.

Until I start blabbering on about holiday traditions here and so on, I should tell you about my experience with Thanksgiving in a foreign country. Everyone was extremely interested in this American holiday. In fact, I happened to eat three separate Thanksgiving type meals! That’s more than at home, but I suppose in Florida it is made up for with days of turkey related leftovers. I had a meal with the Rotex at our inbound weekend, I had one with some friends from school, and another with my host family. Overall, I am very pleased with how well it went. I made some monkey bread for my friends and family and helped my babička (Czech for Grandma) with the turkey.

I love my babička. The only words she knows in English are “yes, no, and cabbage,” which in my opinion, is perfect. I wish that those were the only things people could say to me in English. Every time I go to visit her for lunch or baking cakes, I leave her flat with the biggest smile. She forces me to use my language skills and it makes me feel so good to finally understand almost everything that she says. While we were eating our “Thanksgiving” we were talking about dance lessons. She asked my host dad to help translate so I would understand. Here’s the best part: before he said anything to me in English, I translated it to him. He looked at my babička and then back at me and said “See, you don’t need me to tell you anymore, you understand fine.”(This is when you imagine that moment of running into the bathroom, locking the door and doing the happy dance while screaming in excitement.) It was one of the best moments I have ever had. All of the little moments like this one make me grow even closer to the family that Rotary has given me in the Czech Republic. I cannot imagine how I am going to leave them in January, but I know my next family will take care of me too J.

Now, it is time for the scoop on Czech holiday shenanigans. It’s true, Christmas is coming way sooner than I expected. This realization did not come until I had my babička strapped to my arm, while sipping punč and waiting for the city’s tree to be colorfully lit for the start of the Christmas season. The temperature was way too cold (5 degrees Celsius with a steady breeze is enough to make me want to hibernate for the winter). I stood next to my family in the square and listened to some Czech carols sung by a children’s choir. I looked all around the square… an ice skating rink had appeared, as well as a plethora of lights and decorations. It’s beginning to look and feel very much like Christmas. There are a few things that I am going to have to get used to. For example: Did you know that here presents will be delivered by Baby Jesus (in Czech Ježíšek ) ? Or, on the 5th of December we have Mikuláše (St. Nicholas day) when St. Nicholas comes to visit the children of the Czech Republic with an angel and devil by his side. The good children (if they promise to be good) receive a small gift or some candy while the naughty ones get coal or (typical) a potato. This all tends to be very confusing to me because 60% of this country is non-religious.

So when the tree was lit and my host brother said, “Advent. do you have in U.S.?” I looked and said yes, but then thought to myself they celebrate Advent? The answer is yes indeed. Advent is one of the most important seasons here. They do it just like textbook Catholics. They light the candles on the table (one for each week), small children keep Advent calendars, and they set out Nativity scenes. But, I was assured that even the people who aren’t religious can celebrate Advent. They just use it as the 4 weeks before Christmas to anticipate opening presents, which sounds legit to me. Personally, I am going to use Advent to get a better understanding of holiday traditions, which means saying yes to anything having to do with holiday things that are typically Czech. I have already promised babička one of my Saturday’s to bake cakes and candies and I am oh so excited to beat down Christmas dinner (I’ll explain in a future journal).

For now, I’m trying to stay busy and not let the holiday season be a low point. Everyone always says it’s one of the hardest parts of exchange and the homesickness will most likely be unbearable. Me, I am going to smile and embrace everything new and different for the next few weeks. I never know if I will get an opportunity like this ever again, so I am going to make the best of every moment no matter how embarrassing, disgusting, or strange I may find it to be. Tak čau.

December 9 Journal

This is called Půjdem spolu do Betléma (Let’s go to Bethlehem together):

Pů-jdem spo-lu do Be-tlé-ma duj- daj, duj- daj, duj- daj, dá! Je-žíš-ku, pa-náč-ku, já tě bu-du ko-lí-bat.

Zač-ni, Ku-bo, na ty du-dy: duj- daj, duj- daj, duj- daj, dá! Je-žíš-ku, pa-náč-ku, já tě bu-du ko-lí-bat.

A ty, Jan-ku, na píšť-alku: dud-li, tud-li, dud-li, dá! Je-žíš-ku, pa-náč-ku, já tě bu-du ko-lí-bat.

A ty, Mik-ši, na hous-ličky: hud-li, tyd-li, hud-li, dá! Je-žíš-ku, pa-náč-ku, já tě bu-du ko-lí-bat.

A ty, Váv-ro, na tu basu: rum-rum, rum-rum, ruma, dá! Je-žíš-ku, pa-náč-ku, já tě bu-du ko-lí-bat.

I am still learning it, but it is by far my favorite Czech carol…

Roughly translated: It is a story of going to Bethlehem to meet the Baby Jesus. It is calling on different people to play music for him. The first is Jim who plays the pipe, the second is Jack who plays the flute, the third is Mickey who plays a small violin, and lastly Lawrence who plays the bass. The sound in the middle of each verse represents the sound of the instrument being played (pretty creative, huh?). I just like it because it’s fun to sing… and watching my host mom and brother sing it on Mikuláš when the Czech Devil showed up at my host grandma’s flat was priceless.

Speaking of.. I think this is the coolest holiday ever. Mikuláš is epic. The square had thousands of people gathered to watch the small angel rappel from the Black Tower to the other side of the square. Then, after that was over, there was a huge angel who was paraded around the whole square. Then most people go out to the pubs or go to their home to wait for Mikuláš or čert (the devil) to show up at their house. Unfortunately for me, I was a terrible person this year… which meant my house was visited by the devil. So without any interruptions, screaming and chaos entered my host grandma’s flat and I got a pitchfork stuck in my face. I was prodded until I started singing a song (I chose Jingle bells because it was the first thing I could think of), and then the devil was pleased. Since I did not fail his test, he left me alone.

My host brother on the other hand was not so lucky…. when asked to sing he just sat there. Violence ensued and like any other child who gets visited by the devil, he was dragged to hell (in this case meaning across the living room with fierce resistance). I, of course, like any big sister would do in the situation….started laughing and pointing and taking lots of pictures. Did I mention how much I love this? My host grandma must have a way with holiday figures though because Mikuláš did us the honor of stopping by grandma’s with presents earlier in the day. Isn’t he sweet?!?! (Okay more like host dad and mom went shopping so Liz would eat her own weight in chocolate and gain all the weight she’s been trying to avoid since she stepped foot in this country.)

Since it is winter now and there is only really cold weather and rain, which in my opinion is much worse than snow. My host family told me that the weather this year is quite odd. It snowed for two days in October and now when people are looking for a white Christmas, their hope is dwindling. I am looking forward to everything that’s happening in the future (snow or not). My host family is taking me to the Christmas market in Vienna and we are also going to the Alps in Austria for a ski trip over winter holiday. So, whether or not there is snow in Czech does not matter, because I am still going to have a great time. Now, I am enjoying the winter nights with my friends ice skating on the square. It is not so expensive and it gives me a chance to do something that I don’t normally do in Florida (which is ice skate). My second host dad even invited me to play ice hockey with them if I want. I’m not so sure about that one….

I hope that everyone has a fantastic vánoční svátky (Christmas holiday)!

And because Sarah May did it in her journal, I must add a Rotary Blazer picture…. and those of you who know my creative persona will understand exactly how my blazer came to be this chaotic before I even hit 4 months.

 December 24 Journal

This, my friends, is the heart wrenching tale of my long lost friend. His name was Emil. And this is his story….

It was early, on that cold December morning, the 23rd I suppose. Emil was canoodling with the others waiting to be picked up by his new, loving family. His friends were coming and going as he stood quietly amongst the wake. Finally, the hand reached in from above, and plucked him from his slumber. He was confused, alone, and very scared. Once he arrived in his new home, a mere 10 minutes later, he was welcomed by a plethora of water and new smiling faces. It didn’t take long for Emil to make new friends and refresh after his journey. Of course, you know how outgoing those Rotary exchange students are ;). Emil and I were instant friends. We took pictures together and discussed our holiday plans. Little did he know, my family had something else in mind. A plan, in which, he became the victim. My poor, poor friend Emil…..

As the story continues, Emil and I parted ways, but only for an hour or two. I even received word that he was still doing just fine, and I needn’t worry about him at all. As it turns out, I was duped. When I went to visit Emil in the evening I was greeted with what looked like a vicious crime. I was assured, however, that this was not what it looked like. Emil was in no harm at all, especially in the comfort of what appeared to be a plastic bag. I held him as we rode in the car on our way to some sort of rendezvous. As I exited the vehicle, I held on to Emil with all my strength. I handed him over at the door to a man who appeared to be a caretaker. He was wearing an apron and I was greeted with a smile. (If you have a weak stomach please skip the next paragraph).

To my dismay, my young friend was taken from me under false pretenses. It wasn’t until I heard the muffled banging sounds that I became worried about Emil and his safety. Shockingly enough, by the time that I had thought to go check on him… It was too late. The man who greeted me previously had filleted my new friend. Emil was handed back to me in pieces, and I was on the verge of tears. I couldn’t help but think… this is not the happy ending I thought our friendship would have. As I took him home, in what was now a cooking pot, that I had started referring to as an Urn, I questioned the morals of my family.

But oh was he tasty!!! And I can’t help thinking that Carp on Christmas is the coolest tradition in the world.

What you have just read is indeed, quite true. It is what I have found to be one of the most interesting holiday traditions here in the Czech Republic. At first the idea seemed rather barbaric, but after being a part of the whole process and experiencing it for myself, I couldn’t help but smile at the differences. If you think about it, it can be compared to how most Americans always have turkey on Thanksgiving. Only here, you get to live with you dinner before you eat it.

I am going to try and keep this journal short because that story said it all. I just wanted to thank Rotary and my family again for letting me experience this. You have no idea what it means to me. So to everyone in the United States, Czech Republic, and all my other exchange friends in the world have a Hezký vánoce a štastný nový rok!! I love you all!

January 10 Journal

One day Lift ticket for Sternstein: € 22,00

Wiener Schnitzel mit pommes: € 9,50

Car ride back to Czech Republic: 64.4 km + gas

Visit to Hospital after said day in Sternstein: Nothing except the pain in my wrist and an excruciatingly long wait for various doctors to look at my x-rays because my host mom is a doctor so she has taken extra care to make sure her baby isn’t dying and hasn’t broken anything.

Finding out that my wrist isn’t broken and I can still enjoy my week long Snowboard trip to the Alps in Austria: PRICELESS!!!!

Thankfully, it was only a sprain. Regardless, it was still (and still is) painful, but I was so excited when they told me I could still snowboard with my new nifty wrist brace. Two thumbs up if you ask me. Basically… the story is, we went to the Czech/Austrian Boarder (on the Austrian side) so I could try out snowboarding before our week in the Alps. Because I am a goober, I fell and put all my weight on my arm. Then, of course, it hurt really bad. We got back home, and I asked my host mom to look at it. She told me it wasn’t broken (to which I didn’t believe her) and wrapped it up. I think I slept for a total of two hours that night and woke up still with gross amounts of pain in my wrist. Host dad calls host mom, who then arranges for x-rays and to have every doctor in the region examine my results. Turns out there’s a small crack in one bone in my arm not big enough to cast and some torn innards. No big deal says the 5 doctors who examined it and all tried to overanalyze it because I was the doctor’s daughter. They arranged for me to get this sweet brace for my wrist that allows me to feel like I’m Iron Woman. I can do virtually anything with this thing on and not cause any more damage to my wrist! This meant that I could still enjoy my vacation!

Speaking of vacations… I WAS IN THE ALPS!!!! THE ALPS! THE ALPS! THE ALPS! THE ALPS! (Okay sorry). It was amazing to say the least. When you live in Florida and the most you get is a freeze warning that declares a state of emergency by the Governor due to the citrus crop (thank you CNN on Austrian television that I don’t get in CR) you tend to get very excited when you see things this magnificent. The air was cool, the snow was….. well, snowy and the food, holy cow! Forget hungry window causing my weight gain, what I really meant to say was “I gained all this weight on my one week trip to Austria.” The ski/snowboard philosophy here from what I have experienced is much different. In the United States, when I go snowboarding, it’s an all day event. I start at 9 am and finish as soon as the lifts close with a small break for some sort of food. This food is shoveled down so fast that I don’t even have time to socialize and it’s back to the slope. In Austria… the story is so different. We start around the same time, perhaps a little later but, we stop for lunch. I mean STOP. About an hour later we get back on the slope (around 2 or so) and take a few more runs. Then around 3:30 (slopes close at 4:30) we stop for coffee, tea, or for the hardcore people some sort of Austrian bar concoction. Then we slowly make our way all the way back down the mountain to the lodge or the car. This is followed by a short break at our mountain flat which leads into more eating for dinner. After dinner I played Carcassone with my family and then stayed up to watch CNN, because I was so excited that there was a channel in English. My TV at home here only has Czech channels. It’s cool for learning, but when you are looking to inform yourself on the latest stories of the world, it’s nice to see the news. Downside: when there is very limited newsworthy coverage, you see the same headlines over and over (Thank you, CNN). Besides all the food and multiple bruises from falling so much, I had the best week ever! We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast type place run by Brun Hilda. No, I’m serious… That’s really her name. She made me breakfast every morning complete with eggs that had hats. They were the cutest thing ever and I regret not taking any pictures of them. She only talked to me in German, which was an experience… because I had no idea what she was saying. But, I put on that “Rotary Smile” said Guten Morgan, Auf Wiedersehen and good. For one week, I’m pretty pleased with my German language knowledge.

The way home was bittersweet. I knew that the best week I ever had with my host family was ending. Packing up all my belongings, I made my way to my next host family. It’s one of the best/worst moments in Youth Exchange that I have experienced thus far. I have become so attached to my 1st host family that when I was getting ready to leave they were trying to find excuses for me to stay. For example: “I think there is too much snow on the street to drive the car,” “I think it will be better if you have more time to pack,” “So… maybe you should move next week or the week after.” All of these made me realize just how lucky I was to have the time that I did with this family. I know that they will forever be a part of my life and I am so grateful to have been a part of theirs.

Moving is all part of the experience and as much as I am going to miss my last host family, I am going to move forward and give my current family the best of my time. I want everyone in my new life here to be able to share the same kind of relationship that I have conceived with my first host family. Step back world. I have a new family for 2 ½ months. It may only be the first day, but I promise to make this time of my exchange even better than the last.

January 22 Journal

Ahoj World.

Let’s see, what can I tell you that’s new? Well, you already know that I changed host families. You already know I’m gaining lots of weight. But, perhaps I can find something new to talk about. How about this: I started dance lessons! Not ballet or jazz, but traditional ballroom dancing. Many families send their children to dance lessons between the ages of 15 to 19 so they’re children can become “more refined” and “more cultured”. Since doing new things is one of those awesome little traits of being an exchange student, my host grandma, whom I love so much, seized the opportunity to buy me dance lessons as one of my Christmas presents. Lucky for me, the lessons are taught only in Czech.

This leads to the very interesting side topic of last Monday (about a week or so ago). Oh last Monday, how you made me very confused. The first week I moved into my new family, it was only my host parents because my brother was on a ski trip with his class in France. Seeing as my host parents do not speak very much English, this led to mass Czech language learning on my part because without that my answers would have been quite repetitive of yes’s, I understand’s, no, I’m not hungry, I really am hungry, and I’m going to sleep. I say this simply because those are usually my most important phrases of the day. But, since I was thwarted into this new environment, there is no time like the present to start studying much more than I was before.

Ok, so back to Monday. I had gone to school like any other normal Monday and was home around 2:30. I decided that I would have a snack and just relax before my dance lessons. This led to talking to my host mom briefly, watching some TV, eating a small dinner, and then taking a shower and getting ready to go. I was at my dance lesson from 5:30 to 8. I returned to the house, with my feet sore as could be, talked to my host parents, did not pass go and did not collect 200 dollars. I was so tired. So naturally, I went to bed early (wow, that never happens). Turns out by the time I wake up for school at 6:45 am, I was in so much mass confusion that I had to sit there and regroup for a few minutes. And why is this? Because I had my first 100% totally complete dream in Czech. I have had ones before that had only some phrases that were random and some words that I had used on repeat for any particular day. But never have I woken up and my first thought been “What the HE*L did I just dream about.” because to be honest, I really have no idea what my first dream in Czech was about. I think I was so surprised when I woke up that I completely forgot. I went to eat breakfast and was, well, wow. It was awesome. But at the same time, I am looking forward to the point where I can dream in Czech and be able to completely understand it.

Hmm. so after that interesting life story, I do not have much else to follow it with. Last night I stayed up way too late (meaning early morning) making food and dancing around my kitchen with my host brother. We made some noodles, played really loud music and shared in general hilarity. I think maybe one of my favorites was fighting over which CD’s to play. The creative strategy of “well, we should listen to my music, I’m being a good host sister and sharing my culture with you.” And about 10 minutes later it would be “Well, Liz, now that I know I don’t like that CD, I’m going to put in my music.” This is A.K.A “sharing our cultures”. I, in fact, always tend to lose at this. I don’t mind though. Czech music is usually pretty good, and my host brother also has an extensive collection of older English CD’s that I am also a fan of like The Beatles. My two favorite Czech bands here are Vpsaná fixa and Mandrage. Good stuff.

In the past week I’ve also attended the Rotary Ples for Cesky Krumlov with the exchange students there. It was a lot of fun. I think I met more people interested in me being an exchange student than I ever have in one sitting. I met Rotarians from Denmark, Austria, Turkey, Slovakia, and, of course, Czech Republic. Maybe, by the time Ples (fancy ball) season is over (now until late March) I will be an amazing dancer. I sure hope so.

Alright, well I’ve managed to spend enough time avoiding to walk to the bus stop to get to Czech lessons on time. so I should probably leave now. I’ll write more later, promise J.

February 2 Journal

Does anyone recall that line in the Outbound student handbook in bold print where it says “Be Prepared to Adapt”? For the most part, this really has not been too challenging for me. Making friends wasn’t so hard, and the most complicated barrier in even the hardest of times has been my language skills. And I am by no means complaining in any way, shape, or form. I am just letting you all know what I am experiencing now is a little bit more challenging than what I have faced so far.

Do you recall in my last journal or 2 mentioning that I moved? Well, at first I was just out of place mentally because I am so close with my first host family. I give them a lot of credit and without them, I probably would have been on my way back to Florida much earlier than anyone would have liked. But now, I have been living in my new home for exactly 23 days. This has been the hardest part of my exchange. Adaptation is a skill that I thought was easy.. No sir. Not at all. I literally changed lifestyles overnight. The Kubešovi family is my new family. My host mom is Marie, who I call Marie. Host dad is Honza, who I call Honza. My host brother. well he’s also Honza because 1 out of every 6 males in Czech Republic are named that. And yeah, I call him Honza too. I also have a host sister, Jana, who studies in Germany and another older host sister Maruška who lives down the street with her husband and daughter, Marketa (age 2). I have my own room upstairs, and it’s quiet and peaceful.

On Sunday nights after dinner, I sit down with my host family and I write out my schedule for the week. This is so the whole family knows what each other is doing. All my plans are thoroughly checked prior to engagement. My host mom has a copy of my school classes so she knows what time I will be home from school every day. I have dance lessons on Monday, Rotary meetings on Wednesday, and every other day of the week I normally have nothing exciting planned. In my new home, much more is expected of me. If I have no plans after school, I am home within 30 minutes of my school being finished for the day. If I do have plans, I am home at whatever time they agreed to. When I come home, I am to say “Ahoj,” so they know that I am there before I go up to my room. And. cool for me. best part.. Ready… Set.. No more English!! The only time something gets close to English is if I am so lost in understanding something that they will help me out. Other than that, plans are discussed and made in Czech, dinner conversations are in Czech, and misunderstandings are dealt with in Czech.. which for me means I am usually on the short end of the stick.

If you were wondering why it hasn’t really sounded like I’ve had any issues so far with everything it’s because I haven’t mentioned having problems. The only problem I have had is that it is taking me much longer than I had hoped to adjust to my new life in my new house. Every day I am learning something new about my host family and how they function. Examples: How plans need to be made a week in advance, flattening out clothes before folding is essential, you take-you clean up, even if we offer- you can get it yourself, mom is always right, I don’t eat soup with my left hand so why did you put the spoon on the left, umiš český, we discussed it 5 days ago in Czech.. why can’t you remember?, and we made plans and you’re going. None of these things are problems. They are all things that I have to adjust to. One of the experiences of being an exchange student is having the chance to move and experience a new family life. I just happened to move extremes from fluid to strict. Hence: I am the one who has to adapt. A word to others who may one day be in my shoes: don’t be shocked if you switch families and you think that your life is going to end. It won’t end. It will just take some more time to get used to everything that they do differently. My host family now has hosted multiple exchange students before from Mexico, Brazil, Australia, and Ecuador. I am their first American. I really don’t want to ruin their vision of America by being unreasonable. So as difficult as I have a feeling these next 2 months are going to be.. I will overcome it. Because I am an exchange student, and exchange students can do anything they put their minds to. (Yes, I am still wearing my Rotary Smile).

I also want to share with you the awesome time I had at Pec Pod Sněžkou at my inbound weekend for Czech Republic. It took 6 hours of cross country travel by train with some of my closest friends for a day of snowboarding and of course, the infamous Czech Language test. For without this language test, it really wouldn’t be a Czech Rotary weekend. I spent all day on that Saturday snowboarding in a small group (7 people) who actually knew what they were doing. The only part I didn’t enjoy was having to use T-lifts all day long. You know… the old school bars that skiers can use but snowboarders just look dumb because they have to put it between their legs?!?! Okay, well they always designated someone to go after me in the lift line because 9 times out of 10 I would fall within 4 seconds of trying to get on the lift. Regardless it was a really fun weekend. It made me realize how little time I really have left with some of my inbound friends, because the next Rotary function we have together isn’t until the end of May. After my day of snowboarding on Saturday, I said goodbyes and made the 6 hour journey from Trutnov back to Ceske Budejovice. *Side note* I love how easy it is to travel within the country, kudos to Europe for awesome modes of public transportation.

A big Děkuji to Rotary both in Florida and Czech Republic. I can’t thank you enough for everything you have given me. Ahoj! J

February 27 Journal

I started writing my journal awhile back, but found I had nothing interesting to say and/or that I was having one of those days that nobody really wants to hear about. But, now I have much more interesting things to talk about. This week was a school holiday and I had the opportunity to visit München, Germany (Munich). My current host sister is at University there and she offered to take me for the week and show me around the city. It was a nice break from the everyday, and I enjoyed every second of it.

I walked around Olympia park, the site of the 1972 Olympic games. The grounds were quiet, spare all the construction going on to make the park even nicer. I circled the complex and even had a look at the Olympic swimming pool, which was huge. After walking around and taking far too many pictures, we left and got on the underground to go eat lunch. I must say, I am fascinated with public transport in big cities here. I love it. It’s so practical and it makes me feel like I would never need a car. But, that all changed when we went to the BMW showroom.

This place is awesome. I know I can’t drive until I am back in the states anyways, but really… I loved sitting in the driver’s seat of all the cars that I will not be able to afford until I save up in my retirement fund (which is a long time). Me and my friend Rachael, who came with me to Munich, took dozens of photos because neither one of us had sat behind the wheel of a car in 6 months. We were a bit excited. I drove a car on the Daytona Speedway, via playstation and was pretty satisfied that this was the only amount of driving I could do in Europe. I watched an eager couple pick up their brand new BMW and take pictures with it as it rotated immaculately around the showroom floor. It was a fun time.

On a more serious note, I also had the chance to visit Dachau, the first established concentration camp. This was the camp that served as a model for all the other camps set up throughout Hitler’s reign. It was also the training place of the SS and became known as the “school of violence.” Spending a few hours here made me very thankful that I have the life that I do. I walked around the grounds and had a lot of time to reflect. I saw a short documentary film about the camp and what happened to the people who lived in it. I was surprised at how much that I didn’t know about the Holocaust, and how much I learned after I left. It was also interesting for me because I became interested in what happened to the Czech people who were imprisoned here. I started associating myself with Czechs and reading all about what happened to them throughout this time. Turns out, not many of them were actually imprisoned, because the Czech nation was being used to make weaponry for the war effort. So nobody wanted to mess with the people making the guns. Some were still taken, but it was not nearly as much as the other races or nationalities. It was amazing to me how it just started with one or two “imperfect” races and began to spread to other social groups. I feel like they began making excuses to just throw people into camps. It really shocked me. This was one of the most important days I spent in Munich because it opened my eyes to a past that I knew about, but really had not experienced.

On my last day in Munich, I visited the Deutches Museum, which is a technical museum. It was fun to run around the 6 stories of halls related to all sorts of different things. They have history of ships, planes, boats, physics, astronomy, photography, textiles, toys, pottery, glassmaking, and all sorts of other things. I even got a great view of the city from the Sundial garden on the 5th floor. There were more cars there… but I couldn’t sit in them L. I did however get to pretend I was the captain of a ship, make energy from hydrogen, and see a piano that was older than the United States. I usually like going to museums like this one where the exhibits are a bit more interactive. It was enjoyable, and thanks to it I have so many pictures that I have no idea what I am going to do with.

I think the most interesting thing was when I was leaving Germany. I was actually smiling. Because I had a great vacation, but I was thinking to myself I’m ready to go home. But now, home isn’t Florida, but rather Ceske Budejovice. I got back and told my host family all about my trip, ate dinner, took a shower and went to bed. Sounds exactly how it should be at home, and that’s how I felt. Granted I don’t always agree with mom and dad, but that doesn’t always happen in Florida either. Some things are getting shorter here, like my time left in the Czech Republic. I never thought that it would feel like there is nothing left.

Last night, I went out and just sat in the town square. I thought about everything and realized that I really don’t have that much time left here. I looked up and saw the tourists, smiled and said I’m glad that’s not me. I just reflected on the things I’ve accomplished since arriving, and the things I wish to accomplish before I leave. In the next 3 weeks or so, I become so busy that I don’t even know when I am going to have time to breathe. But, I guess that’s how it always goes for the exchangers. Everything seems to be going so slow, then comes New Years, you blink, and 2 months have already gone by. I can’t wait to share the rest of my adventures here with all of you, and I’m sure there will be more soon. Ahoj J

April 5 Journal

WOW! I have not written in so long. CO? I can’t believe it. I have been so religious about writing every once in a while to let the world know what was happening in my corner of the globe, then I became…. the slacker. I guess I should fill you all in on what has been happening with me.

As much as I want to sit here and say my month of March was amazing and super and spectacular, it is hard to do so. I look back now after starting and restarting this journal multiple times and made the decision to just tell it how it is. Because sugarcoating rarely helps anyone. I had a rough time at beginning of the month just due to general blah, I had to go to the hospital to get my leg cut open (uber fun), and I swear my booty has become the size of a wide load tracker trailer. Despite my personal series of unfortunate events, I have managed to keep striding on to enjoy everything that my life has thrown at me. I have decided that I will never enjoy cross country skiing and that no matter how hard I try not to, I will continue to eat everything on my plate to the point of tummy explosion. The food is just too good. I swear that everything that has happened to me, like being sick for almost 3 weeks solid now, has helped me to realize the good and bad that everyone gets when putting themselves through the exchange experience. You can’t always have a great day. Even the most optimistic people can have moments where they want to give up and just go to something new. If March has taught me anything, it is to just go with whatever life throws at you and learn from experience. Don’t let the little things bother you, pick up your baggage and just keep trucking. Without moments that are dull, you can never stand back up to something ten times better.

For example… I just came back from a week of snowboarding in Slovakia with a group of exchange students. Before this week, I was sick. During the week, well, I was still sick. And now, I’m still a bit sick. My second host family told me that if I didn’t get better before ski week I wasn’t going. Turns out that I wasn’t better, but I told them I thought a week away from my normal home environment would be good. I swear that the second I got to Slovakia and saw all the exchange students that I had not seen in 6 months, I was healed (not really, but I felt a whole lot better). My week will all my friends, old and new, made me feel 1000% better than I did when I arrived, and I would have to say it was the best (or one of the best) weeks of my exchange year. I got to share all my thoughts with other students living in a similar (yet MUCH different) culture, and learned that I wasn’t the only person on exchange hitting multiple speed bumps in a row. I felt like everyone wanted to make me feel better and show me a good time in their country (because there were only 3 of us from CR). It was so much fun. I got to go snowboarding every day, I got to climb up hills because it was too windy, and I even managed to start going on jumps.

I spend hours laughing with my friends, and even got some of the Slovak exchangers to play Carrcassonne (which I am pretty sure is the best game since Monopoly). Except none of them wanted to actually call it Carrcassonne, so we just referred to it as “Build-A-World.” I stayed up late every night and woke up to start each morning just as happy as I was the night before. At the end of the week, I did not want to leave. I was fighting with my suitcases at the door because they wanted to go out the door and I wanted nothing more than to stay a few more days. Leaving all of my friends at the train station to go back to Czech Republic was extremely hard. I won’t see most of them until the Greece/Italy tour in May. But lucky for me, some of them are coming to visit our city in a few days J.

The 10 hour train ride from Liptovský Mikolaš to České Budějovice was long, but so worth it. I arrived back in my city at around 9 pm, packed until 3 am, slept at 4 am, woke up at 8:45 to move to my new host family. I moved from super awesome convenient, city bus riding, within walking distance, waking up 1 hour before school starts to à Milíkovice. Now, every exchanger in Budejovice (minus our Aussie) has had the privilege of gracing the settlement of Milíkovice with our presence. You could possibly say that this is the most international settlement of our region. And, I say settlement because there aren’t enough people or houses to call it a village. I am the 28th resident of our little area, and I couldn’t have a more optimistic opinion. When I moved in I was asked, “About what is population in Jacksonville?” To which I answer around one million. Giggles ensued, and I had just realized I was in the “real” country. Welcome to the Czech Republic. *Side note* you know it’s tiny when there isn’t even a pub within walking distance. So in translation … Milíkovice = amazingly beautiful landscape with whatever natural beauty you could ever ask for, with the drawback of leaving for school an hour before you want to wake up. I can’t complain, my new host family is bigger, 2 brothers and 1 sister, grandparents, animals galore, and never a loss for company.

Now, I have a break from the ordinary because my dad is currently visiting from Florida. I have never been able to feel so good about myself ever. I have been forced to use my language even more than before as I show my dad the culture that I have now adopted as my own. I can speak to all my friends in Czech, order our meals, make sure the transport is taken care of, and yes… impress my family. I think my dad almost wet his pants when we were traveling from Prague back to Ceske Budejovice. We had just unknowingly sat down on the train in the first class cabin (with 2nd class tickets), and the ticket collector had said to me in Czech that it was bad and we should move. Well, we had lots of suitcases and my dad was tired from his flight, so I ran down the small corridor of the train and proceeded to ask how much it would cost to stay there. The attendant was so surprised that I spoke Czech (because he heard us speaking in English) that he told us to just sit and stay. About 30 minutes later he came back and we had a Czech conversation about where I was from and how well I was speaking Czech for a foreigner. He told me he couldn’t speak English, but he thought it sounded really nice. I told him that I thought Czech was such a pretty language and that I had felt such a good connection with the culture after only seven months. About 5 or so minutes later he told me that he had to leave to go do his rounds on the train, to which I said goodbye to him, and the door to our cabin shut. My dad looked like a deer in the headlights… or more like what just happened. As I explained the whole conversation in English he was just so surprised. I’m sure that neither of us thought that I would ever progress this far. Czech was always so hard for me, and until now, I didn’t think I was any good at it. Having the confidence boost from random people that ask me for directions now or who are interested in why I love the Czech language so much is the greatest feeling.

I know that this visit from my family will go by so fast and the rest of my exchange will seem to melt away. The last thing I want to do is leave my home. Because that is what the Czech Republic is now, my home. I can’t imagine leaving all of these things that mean so much to me. As I took my dad these last few days to visit my host families and meet the people who have shaped my life in this country, I have been able to reflect on just how lucky I am. I cannot thank Rotary enough for giving me the chance to be in the Czech Republic. As I walk the streets like a local and share with my dad the life I have been living, it becomes apparent to me that I am multi-cultural. I even enjoyed Easter a bit…. which is quite possibly the most violent Slavic holiday. I was hit with homemade sticks (or switches) by my host brothers and wow… it was abnormal to say the least. The switch that my first host family made was bigger than me! So, I was very far from excited when they pulled it out to hit me. It is said that being hit by these sticks is for good health and luck throughout the year. I was so scared. All day walking around the city I was watching carefully around every corner making sure that i wasn’t going to get smacked across the butt again.

Everything that was once foreign to me is normal, and I have to smile as my Dad watches all my quirks. I eat with both hands, wear new fashions, use strange expressions, and have made many mental notes about the the American culture after living here. It’s amazing how much I can say I have changed over these past few months. Nothing will ever be the same, and I am proud of what I have become. There is so much left to discover and so little time left before I have to go back to Florida. Here’s to making the best of the rest of my exchange year. You were all right…. it goes by so much faster than you would imagine. Thank you again to Rotary, my family, my friends, and Czech Republic. I Love you all.

May 15 Journal

Don’t you just love Volcanoes?

I think that they can sum up the last month, in more ways than one. I’m not sure how many of you this affected but this silly Icelandic volcano made me re-organize much of my family’s visit. Nonetheless, everything managed to work out nicely and I enjoyed every moment with both of my parents. My dad had the chance to see Prague for a whole extra week! And my mom, our single week was enough to make me happier than a clam. I had a chance to visit some cities I would never have gotten an opportunity to see on my own here, and spending time with my parents after so long was a breath of fresh air. But of course, both of them would tell you that seeing all the places wasn’t as cool as coming to visit me. With my dad we did a mini central/eastern European tour, and my mom was fortunate enough to see my Ceskoslovensko playground. They both met my host families and got to see where I have been living. They got thrown into Czech culture and both had the same “Everything is so cool” reaction (which made me proud of my little unknown country here in Europe). Overall, my April spent with my family was super nice. I feel like they have already realized that the little girl they sent over here is no longer the same person. I hope that makes it a bit easier when I return… J

The next most exciting thing that I have been doing is a tour of Greece and Italy with the other exchange students in my district 2240, from Czech Republic and Slovakia. I spent two weeks with some of the coolest people in the entire world, and got to see the birthplace of the ancient world. I swam in the Aegean sea (which is no Atlantic in terms of temperature), went to Delphi, and failed to get into Athens because of bombs and political riots. My first week was a bit confusing because we had to keep changing the itinerary because of the Athens riots. Overall though, Greece was very beautiful. And the food, OOHHHPAHH! It was great too. Looking at all the buildings, I felt like I had gone back in time. All the letters on buildings were reminiscent of my childhood remembrance of watching Hercules, and I wanted nothing more than to find some random person wearing a toga. But, sadly no togas. In Thessaloniki I got to walk along the coast and see a large body of water for the first time since being on exchange. As a Floridian, this is kind of a big deal. I also saw palm trees, which made all of the students from the northern US scream in delight. That was also fun to experience. I got to show off my uni-tard (which is another story I must share later on) to all the world. Greece wasn’t too keen on it, but when we got to Venice in Italy… oh man did we make some friends. From Greece to Italy we took an overnight ferry. It was one of the best days of my trip. I stayed up late playing cards with all my friends and watched the sunrise before we entered the port in Italy. As I said goodbye to Greece and realized half my tour was already over, I couldn’t have been more excited to see Italy.

Italy was just as amazing as I had thought it would be, the people, the atmosphere, and of course… the food. It Italy I visited: Naples, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, The Vatican City, Rome, Sienna, Lide di Jesolo, and Venice. I started to type what I enjoyed most on this trip and then had to erase my sentence because I realized that I just listed everything over again. I climbed Mount Vesuvius (active volcano…see volcano reference). I saw the Sistine Chapel. I was inside the Ancient Roman Coliseum. I ate the best gelato of my life in Sienna. And Venice, I think it held the best 2 days of my entire life. I walked around Venice with my closest friends all day, checking in every 2 hours with our group, and at the end of the day… I sat along the water with them. We all realized that exchange is almost over, but at the same time, our lives are just getting started. These are really the best days of our lives. Regardless of all the time spent on the bus that I could have lived with being much shorter, I had unreal amounts of fun. I had a 2 week vacation with amazing people and in beautiful places. I took some good pictures to remember it all by.

It has finally gotten to the point where I am fighting to realize it’s all going to be over. My exchange is getting closer to the end every day. I am finally back in my little Milikovice home, with my 28 other residents and my fields that extend to the horizon. This includes, once again, the 30 minute walk to the bus and the love/hate of being in the middle of nowhere. The time I just spent traveling went by so quickly… and in the same amount of time this go around, I will be boarding a plane back to my beloved Jacksonville. Everything is pretty set when I get back. I’m starting university, I’m leaving my home again, and I’ve grown up. I’m definitely not the same person who left. I don’t know who that girl is anymore. I’ve been happier in this past stretch of time than I have ever been in my entire life. I am so happy with who I am and I realize that I can do anything that I set my mind to. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I have been lucky enough to be a part of or experience everything that I have ever dreamed of. Nowadays, I feel like I wake up and I’m still dreaming. The people I spend my time with over here and the experiences I have shared with them are irreplaceable for the rest of my life. I could not be more thankful or blessed to have this experience.

I never truly understood the millions of thank-you messages at the end of all these journals before I left. But now, after living the dreams I’ve had, I fully realize why thanking Rotary is the least I could do. Dekuju moc, Rotary. You really have helped me into becoming an amazing individual.

May 28 Journal

Ještě jednou časopis pro vas = Once more a journal for you 🙂

As I sit here, once again, I’m starting to contemplate going back to Florida. I have my friends asking me if I’m excited to go home. I have mixed feelings about everything going on. But this is it. It’s happening. My exchange is slowly coming to an end, just like everyone said it would one day. I was packing today for my last mandatory Rotary trip: Ceský Krumlov, Slovakia, and Poland. It has taken me all day, and I still haven’t finished packing. I can’t imagine what it is going to be like when I have to fit my life back into those 2 suitcases and put them on a plane with me. Gah, I’m not looking forward to that at all.

The reason it has taken me all day to pack my things is because I’ve been using my well known habit of creative avoidance (which means my blazer got another makeover for the district conference next weekend). Every time I started to fold something to put it in my suitcase I got this weird feeling like it was already over. My host mom asked me this morning what date I was going back to the USA, and I walked upstairs to see my empty suitcase waiting for clothes and then I just had to sit on my bed and think. I know that there are people already on their way home from various places, and one of my best exchange friends is going home next week. but me… NEVER. I don’t want to think about going back. My room, that is not going to feel like my room, or my house, that my family re-modeled while I was gone, or my dogs. Are they even going to recognize me? There are so many things that I am not looking forward to. At the same time, I do have many AMAZING things to look forward to. I get to see my best friend, who I haven’t seen in months and rarely talked to at all these past few months. I get to hug my parents again. I get to start university in the fall. I get to come back to Florida with a new set of traits and attributes that I discovered about myself while away. I have so much to look forward to. A new me, a new life.

But also, I have to leave everything that I have grown to love: Babička Syllabová and her amazing apple strudel (which she needs to give me the recipe before I leave), My host families, my crazy long walk to the bus stop. Which means I’m even admitting that I am going to miss living in Milíkovice. I am going to miss the way it rains and looks all blah, all the time. I am going to miss walking through the park on the way to school. I am going to miss everything about česke budějovice. I am going to miss Velbloud, Modrý Dveře, švejk, masný kramě, želežna pána, Singer, and all the other cool places that I meet with my friends and have made memories. I am going to miss going to the Cajovná every Wednesday, as has been our tradition for at least 5 months now. I’m going to miss all my friends. I am going to miss how I MUST wear my slippers in the house and at school. I am going to miss eating. I think more than I am going to miss most other things. My poor body….

These past 2 weeks after my Greece trip I have had the opportunity to independently travel. After the 1st of the year, there is a rule in my district that you can go visit friends in the district with Rotary permissions. My district 2240, is the whole of Czech Republic and Slovakia. It makes for a large range of travel locations. I went to Slovakia to visit a bunch of my friends. And the answer is yes, it was a bit hard to get a hold of Slovak instead of Czech, but they are really similar. With most differences being in random vocabulary, I was still able to communicate with Frank’s host family (the family I stayed with in Slovakia). I had the greatest time meeting all kinds of people and learning (mostly comparing) the Czech and Slovak cultures. After my 4 days, I had to get back on the train and say čau. It wasn’t easy at all. I did not want to leave, but then again, I find that that is usually how it is on all the trips I’ve taken this year. Overall, I’m just in this state of wishing time would slow down, at the same time I want it to speed up. There are so many contrasting things going on in my mind. I am so happy with my new lifestyle. I love it here. But Florida. so soon. why?!?!?!?!?! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. You have such bad timing.

I should stop complaining. I was given a year, a year to make a difference, to discover, to learn, and to grow as an individual. My year was special, and if anyone were to ask me what I regret, or what I would change, I would reply: nothing. This year in the Czech Republic has been spectacular. I learned to speak Czech, which scares me still when I open my mouth. I made friends across many cultures. I grew up, a lot. And guess what? It’s not over just yet. I have a little less than a month. I still have time. I’m going to be in cram mode, speaking as much Czech as I can before I go to the states, eating all sorts of awesome foods, and spending time with all the people who have made my year absolutely amazing. I owe it to all the people who have made this exchange happen for me to enjoy my last few weeks as much as possible.

Note to all those special Rotarians (you know who you are): you were right, the whole time. J Thanks for everything along the way.

June 24 Journal

This is it. The goodbyes have started, followed by the unknown waves of varying emotions, and ending with the hugs and kisses of promises you hope to keep. As I have said goodbye the last week or so, I have learned some vital lessons. You never truly realize how much you have impacted someone’s life, until you are forced out of it. Let me explain: I have said goodbye to almost all the exchange students in Czech Republic, and to my first two families. I never want to leave. These people have affected me in ways that I did not comprehend were possible. As I went on the Farewell Canoe/Raft trip weekend, I started to see what was happening. Slowly, one by one, they leave home. Each date creeps closer and closer until it suddenly passes in a haze. The scary part… my date is the next date. June 26th. I am home in 2 days.

As I reflect on my year, I can be nothing but a proud exchange student. I spent my year battling ups and downs in order to transform myself into the amazing individual I believe I have become. I pack my suitcases only to reminisce on the time I have had, and thank everyone who has made this possible for me. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that it is over. Maybe the other exchangers know what I am talking about, but until you have lived it, or experienced exchange in one form or another, you will not understand. This is not a vacation. I do not want to leave my Czech friends, family, or life that I have grown to love. I am not ready to walk away from everything I have taken so long to shape and mold. But as it turns out, anything is possible… which means leaving is not the end of the world.

Leaving the Czech Republic is another opportunity that has presented itself (well forced opportunity, but nonetheless)… I can now reach out to people who are interested in the experience. I can be more motivated to study my international courses at university. I can live the life that I have always dreamed I would have, simply because I have the personal confidence that being on exchange has given me. I wish it were easier, in fact, I wish that all the things associated with this year had come without a challenge. But that’s just it. The challenge is necessary. It built my character. It build my emotional boundaries. And this challenge gave me a new lease on life, one that I appreciate and have come to know as my own point of view.

Thank you to everyone who made this possible, the Rotarians, my family, my friends, and everyone else who supported me throughout my exchange. Without all of you, I would not have been able to be as successful as I feel I have been. So in reflection, I can’t believe I actually did it. After all the emotions I ran though this year, and all the hard work, I realized how worth it exchange really is. You become a new person, a new you, and wow, is it amazing to experience. I wish that everyone, someday, could go through this. It is really the best decision I have made in my entire life.

One day, everyone who ever doubted me for one second will look back in appreciation of what I have accomplished. This is not the end, oh no. Trust me. One day, you will see me changing the world. I will be happy. I will live the life I have always dreamed of living. It starts now. Welcome to reality, and the life you always knew you had, but you could never find until this moment. Congratulations. You did it.

July 8 Epilogue

I have always been one of those stunningly awkward individuals you always see catching their gaze in unusual reflective objects. Car windows, ground puddles, the sunglasses of passers by, or even, yes, every mirror that I walk past. Curiously enough, image has never been something that has been overly important to me. For as long as I can remember now, I have tried to avoid make up as much as possible. The only time I would wear it being special occasions and when those around me ran toward me violently with some absurd shade of god knows what goo and tried to apply it on my face, only to tell me “see don’t you look so much prettier.” Truth is it never did anything but make me want to touch my face and rub it all off…

To me, this is how I always looked at my own image. I was constantly lingering at what it was, but never was interested in changing the way it was intended to look with passing time. So, I guess when I started this exchange looking young, cute, and innocent I never really gave it thought. It just happened. A reflection of the personality of the time, I suppose ;).

I entered a life that was… at first strange, melded into awkward, shaped into livable, re-molded into decent, smashed and build up into life itself, re-worked into surprisingly normal, conglomerated into something common, developed into something with ruts, smashed again to reveal even more ruts… (at this point imagine some indescribable low if you got lost somewhere in this sentence), followed by a smoothing of ground, replacing it with new ground, discovering the ground was a solid surface, locating luck and circumstance, noticing the surface is getting more beautiful every day, yearning for time to go faster so you can see what has become of the world you have watched this whole time and suddenly realizing that you want it to stop almost completely, so you don’t leave what you have taken so long to watch flourish.

This life described above was not a battle of self image physically, but the most tiring mental competition I have entered myself into the few 18 years I have lived. I can recall moments where I thought the world was ending, only to be followed by a lapse of something more beautiful than anything human. I subjected my mind to itself. A mental reflection, if you will. It took months and months of guesswork, cultural investigation, language barriers, and exhaustion to come to terms with the real thoughts I had. My personality is now a mix of old and new. My life as most people know it… is just beginning.

It’s interesting how a single year can change the outcome of so many aspects of a life. If I mapped each small choice I made throughout this last year and linked it to other related choices I have made, I could have easily taken my life in millions of directions. The slightest change would have altered things, not drastically, but enough to where it would be just that bit different. It would have become a shade darker or lighter and thicker or thinner.

As I leave the World with my final thoughts (I say world because I’m unsure how many people read this and where on earth they are physically located), I can be nothing but extremely satisfied. It took me a year, but I did it. I learned a lesson that far too many people in their own lives will never accomplish. I have learned to love and appreciate. No matter how many times it is said by various people, or to what degree, I must repeat it now. For this lesson, is the greatest lesson that I’ve learned. I have a love and appreciation for cultures, races, people, and lives that I never could have comprehended. I am happy. I can now go on with the rest of my life, battling the challenges with a stronger mentality, and loving those who deserve it with every ounce I know I can give.

I may look a bit different now, even some of my relatives failed to recognize me. I may use new weird mannerisms. I slowly am relearning to do things as an American, and re-molding my cultural identity. It will not be easy, but it’s not impossible. I have already started to notice the little things… like how doors lock the opposite way, free refills exist, you don’t have to pay to have ketchup at fast food, nobody gives you weird looks when you don’t finish all your food, I can drive, concrete exists everywhere, and of course, I have also noticed how dissimilar I really have become. It’s a good thing J

Being back in Florida isn’t bad. I do miss the life I had in Czech Republic, but as it turns out, I’ve already lived it. It’s time for me to move on to not bigger and better things, but just the rest of my life. It’s out there, and I’m going to go find it.

 

Mariah Coxwell
2009-10 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Callahan, Florida
School: West Nassau HS
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Alicante Rotary Club, District 2203, Spain

Mariah - Spain

Mariah’s Bio

¡Me llamo Mariah, y yo voy a España!

I love it when I have the chance to inform someone that I’m going off to Spain for a year. It’s really a dream come true, an opportunity of a lifetime, being given the chance to go abroad for a year. And I am so incredibly grateful! The sense of pride and anticipation I feel is simply magnificent. Thanks again and again to everyone making this possible.

Where I currently live, in the very small town of Callahan in North Florida, there are only two stoplights, and everybody knows everybody. I have quite a large family, with five brothers and two sisters. My house is constantly in motion, filled with three rambunctious little boys, two laughter-filled sisters, a comical 16-year-old brother and two amazing parents who deserve awards for their years of hard work. My older brother is married and in the U.S. ARMY, stationed in Alaska. The support from my family is truly phenomenal. My friends are awesome about everything too. Everyone has been with me 100%, because they all know this is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and that I will not only benefit myself, but others as well through this process and following.

I’m in love with travel, trying odd foods, and meeting new people. I also absolutely love to sing and to laugh. I easily identify the beauty in my surroundings and I always have a smile on my face. I am so intrigued with the idea that I am going to become bilingual. For awhile, I really had no clue concerning what I wanted to do with my life after high school. At last I have the self-assurance that I’ve longed for. I know this experience will open doors to things which I cannot even fathom. I can’t wait to share this life-changing experience with others!

 Mariah’s Journals

October 5 Journal

I would like to list some of the things that have happened in the past few weeks. I have almost been in Spain for a month now, and it really has flown by.

Since I arrived here, in my new city of Alicante, the beauty has simply enchanted me. Taking the bus to the center of the city is amazing, I get a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea lined with mountains and fantastic sky scapes. I also love taking walks (adventures) or meeting friends at the beach. The atmosphere is so relaxing and almost like a dream.

Yes, jet lag killed me for the first two days. But here most people like to enjoy what is called a “siesta”, which is an afternoon nap, something I partake in almost daily, when I do not have prior engagements with friends or language class. Siesta is one of my favorite things about this culture, along with the food.

While my first weeks here have been sometimes difficult, missing home or struggling with the language, my host father is always there to make me laugh. Now, I do not always understand his jokes in Spanish, but I do recognize some and I love hearing the English words he attempts to use every now and then. It brings me great joy to hear the strong accent and to joke around with my host family.

Ah, my first day of school.. I get introduced to some people by my new neighbor, Javier, then follow my new friends to find my class. And this year, new to the school, they have to move around classes, even though the kids in the class are nearly all the same. So, I end up following people everywhere, and it almost always works out nicely. Unless I happen to walk to the bathroom or take my attention away from whoever I am following, then I am in trouble. But, as I slowly explain in my best Spanish that I have this or that class and that I am an exchange student, I always get pointed in the right direction. People are super nice here, very helpful, which I appreciate so much. And soon enough I will have all of the locations of classrooms down. Until that time, I will follow whoever I can.

I have been lost quite a few times, I have walked more in one day than I would a week in Florida, and I have struggled with my confidence as far as speaking Spanish. Yet every circumstance always teaches me, strengthens me, and molds me more and more into who I am, or rather who I will be. I would not realize how incredible my life is and how important the people are around me if I did not have to go through some hardships. And so far they seem to pay off quite nicely by the way.

Have I mentioned the food? I think I did already, but it deserves the attention. I eat so much organic, fresh food that tastes so wonderful. It is definitely a key to my heart. Which I know I have to be careful, having a love affair with the food.. But really, as much as I walk, I think I will be just fine.

Language school is a great thing for me. Well, for anybody. I am in a class that lasts two hours every Monday and Friday, with men and women (and one other teenager) from China, from Germany, Austria, England, etc.. and I am loving getting to know people who are all having to learn a foreign language like me!

Many times I have had language miscommunications, like asking for “butter” for dessert instead of the postre I meant to vocalize. Every single day, I have at least one moment that sends me on an emotional high, something makes me laugh hard, or something beautiful takes my breath away.

Well, I must go eat, ¡hasta luego!

December 13 Journal

Hola, ¿Que tal? Quiero a explicar a mi vida a todos ustedes.. I’m afraid this journal is a little bit overdue. Nevertheless, I will try to elaborate as much as I can on all that has happened in the past 2 months. As with every exchange student, I’m experiencing a serious mental block trying to function in all English, because my brain is now getting accustomed to processing and outputting Spanish words, phrases, and sounds. Yet, with college coming in my near future, I must exercise the two languages as much as I can.

So, October was an eventful month. My host family and I, along with two other families, visited the southernmost autonomous community of Andalucía, in the city of Córdoba for a nice 4-day weekend. We saw so many amazing things, including the Mesquita of Córdoba, something that I consider another Wonder of the World. The Mesquita, or Mosque, is also a Cathedral, so it includes Moorish Muslim influence as well as Roman Catholic (it was built Muslim then overtaken by Catholic rule). I’d never seen something so huge and so different; it’s difficult to explain its intensity. Pictures don’t suffice, as the place breathed with ancient history, with faith and humanity. The city was very compact in the center, as the streets were nearly too narrow for most cars, and neighbors could practically reach across to the other side. We visited many old gardens and patios, which were gorgeous, we ate lots of authentic Andalusian cuisine, and heard not only Southern Spanish dialect, but overheard many other languages coming from Muslims, Brits, Americans, French, etc.. The trip was something I will never forget. It was a place very alive, full of tourists, pubs, and more importantly, a remarkable history.

Time between September and now really has flown by. And during so, the weather has been amazing. Yeah, being from Florida, the Sunshine State (or as the Spanish inquire frequently “it’s the Land of Flowers, ¿no?”) I’m used to relatively mild weather. But HERE, there’s less humidity, more sun (can you imagine) and it actually has been warmer these past few weeks than in North Florida. I’ve been at the beach close to my house 4 times in the past week and a half. I love it. So, I’m loving the weather, the time is flying by, and my life here is becoming natural and normal.

Something else this experience is providing me with is a better appreciation for EVERYTHING. I was already a very grateful person, but now my eyes have been opened to so many more things. “Gratitude is the memory of the heart”, and my heart is full, getting fuller, soon to overflow with so much. I see such a bigger picture now. I appreciate genuine, deep, laughter like nothing else. I know to laugh is something universal, but it takes new form and provides new feeling when this other language evokes it. That is where I find great joy. Laughing with my friends, or at my host father’s jokes, or just at myself when I mess up. The feeling is priceless.

Thanksgiving came quick, and almost passed without notice. Since nobody celebrates it here I really had to put on my English thinking cap (as silly as that sounds) and focus on what I was thankful for, as well as take a little time to eat some good old American apple pie and go out for turkey wraps at my favorite little Kebap restaurant.. not exactly your average Thanksgiving meal, but it worked for me and my 2 American amigos. It felt so good to focus all of my energies on the fact that I am in Spain, learning a new language, and meeting amazing people.

To be blind to the obvious blessings is to be ignorant to the truth. I am embracing what I have been given, and enjoying and learning from this year as much as I possibly can. I will never be able to say “thank you” enough. To my parents, to Rotary, to my host family: what you all do is greater than money, knowledge, power. You provide kids like me with dreams come true.

En fin, Alicante is my city. I don’t get lost any more, I give strangers directions. I don’t mind walking anymore, as it provides me with endless places to see. You cannot take the car out on the rocks and cliffs on the Mediterranean, you must walk. It is fantastic. I think more than I ever have, about EVERYTHING. So much goes through my brain, as is my heart and my spirit. Every situation I go through is a learning process. I laugh, I stress, I cry, I breath, I grow. Y mi vida es la vida que me encanta.

Did I mention, I am known as “María” now? It’s so very Spanish! I introduce myself and people assume I’m Española. ¡Qué felíz estoy!

February 28 Journal

“La vida es eso

que te pasa mientras

tu intentas

hacer otra cosa.”

These past months have been filled with more than imaginable. I have spoken to more strangers in my host language than I thought possible, making new friends constantly, and new memories to last me a lifetime. The greatest component of all is that I can laugh in my language, as well as cry, dream and really feel. I’m living Spanish.

By no means however has the time passed with such ease and felicity always, as this is still reality I’m living in, believe it or not. Each day poses new challenges for me (some uncomfortable or difficult) which provide brand new learning experiences. There are really tough moments in which I have to focus and purpose myself, since there is nobody here to tell me what to do. In this way I am understanding how to make decisions and cope with new situations. (Provided by my mistakes, since I am all about the trial and error theory.)

Like the quote above, “La Vida”, this life I am living is occurring before my eyes, during time in which I am trying to do other things. It’s showing me to stop and behold the beauty in everything. I can appreciate the littlest things now, and realize I must not take a single second for granted, nor person, decision, etc.

Now I take much pride in being able to have a phone conversation in Spanish, something that upon arrival made me feel nauseous, incredibly nervous, and uneasy. It’s funny, how things of the past look to me, now that I’ve advanced my language skills more than I perceived possible. I love it when my host mom or dad calls me at the house asking if I can make them dinner, or when I can give to an intellectual conversation. It even further gives me pride and joy to meet new people on the bus, or to be mistaken for a Spaniard. Those are great moments. Priceless moments.

It’s a little bit tough to recall certain events to tell from the past few months, as there have been numerous. And now that life here is absolutely normal and natural, the days and months passing are quicker and more routine. Scheduling my flight home is the last thing I want to do, with a summer in Spain ahead of me. But life is composed of seasons, not only those that have to do with the sun’s relationship with our home earth, but also seasons of life: of different friendships, learning experiences, of love, joy, that’s living. And this season I am in is, for lack of an English adjective, impresionante. Lo mejor año de mi vida. A season of growth, love, and admiration.

Okay, so I’m going to try and recall some interesting events … and chill out with the flowery talk of peace and love, though I go on for days like that.

I took part in a gigantic fiesta called Carnaval two weeks ago, something most of the Spanish really do up right. Every single person was dressed in any sort of extravagant costume, some men dressed as women Flamenco dancers, some mid-Western Cowgirls, a handful of blue Avatars–you name it I saw it. My friend Anna and I were “mariposas”, or butterflies. All night long we had people shouting “¡mariposa, mariposa!”..a great time indeed. Carnaval is a few days of festivities but the main night was Saturday before last. It’s a celebration of sorts right before Catholic Lent begins, a time to get everyone together for big concerts and dancing in the streets and simply enjoying the massive fiesta. Although we were still in the winter, people crowded even the beach to get their party on.

This past week, the beach has been absolutely beautiful. It’s certainly not hot enough to go take a dip in the sea, but the sun is heavenly. I’ve got a feeling I’ll return to Florida with a better tan than most, and that’s saying a lot being from the Sunshine State. Sunsets here are also dream-like and breathtaking.

And this morning, my mind stumbled across something, an epiphany of sorts. I got here in September of 2009, and began to count the days, trying to find an end to something that seemed so endless. Attempting to put a structure to something alien and unknown. And now that we’re nearly in March of 2010, I see my days here counting down. So it hit me, what nonsense this counting is, when all that really matters is living in the moment, in the now. What is planning for the future or looking back into the past when all action comes about in the present, the always alive, never dormant reality of the moment. So I continue, living for today.

 

Madeline “Maddie” Sortino
2009-10 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz HS
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Zug-Zugersee Rotary Club, District 1980, Switzerland

Maddie - Switzerland

Maddie’s Bio

Grüezi! I am Maddie Sortino. I am 16 and go to Buchholz High School for German 2, and dual enroll at Santa Fe College for the rest of my classes. I enjoy the dual enrollment program because it gives me more freedom and I don’t have to attend the same class every day. Not only that, but I am able to get ahead on my college credits. I live with my mom, dad, older brother, and my adorable dog. My oldest brother is in the Navy. I was born in Gainesville and lived here 7 years, then moved to Richmond, Virginia for 5 years, and came back. In my free time I like to hang out with friends, explore the outdoors, learn new things, volunteer at the Humane Society, go to shows, and play/listen to music. I’m fairly outgoing and enjoy meeting new people.

I have been wanting to do foreign exchange for the past year when I first heard about it from a friend who did it. I went on the website and began learning everything I could, and reading all the journals. My parents were a bit skeptical at first, and didn’t want me to leave so soon. After my mom went around asking people about it, and everyone told her she should definitely let me, she let me. Immediately after turning 16 I went and got a job to start raising money towards it. I was so excited and would not stop talking about it to all of my friends. They think that what I am doing is either insane or amazing.

One night I was hanging out with former exchange students Brad, who went to Germany, and Liam, who went to Switzerland. I got a call from Jody Davis saying that I was going to Switzerland! It was the absolute happiest I had been in so long. The timing was perfect too. I could barely talk except to yell to them, “I’M GOING TO SWITZERLAND!!!” Switzerland was tied for my number one choice, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to go there. It will definitely be the most enlightening, tough, and fun year of my life. I cannot think of a better way to spend my senior year. Thank you so much Rotary for making this possible.

Tschüss,

Maddie.

 Maddie’s Journals

November 1 Journal

So I can’t believe it. I’ve been living in Switzerland for almost 3 months now. In some ways it feels like I’ve been here forever, and at the same time, it seems like only a week has gone by.

When I woke up on August 7th, I immediately was a basket case of emotions. It was a mixture of panic, depression, and utter excitement. I couldn’t believe the day had actually come. Talking about doing the exchange year was so much easier than when it really came down to doing it. When I walked into the airport, I could not stop shaking. All that was going through my head at the moment was, “What in the world am I doing? Am I crazy?” Well the answer to the first question is – I’m having the most enlightening/amazing/tough year of my life.

On the plane ride to Zurich, I did not sleep at all. One of the enjoyable things I did was watch “Taken” on an international flight to Europe. Quite comical they’d have that as a choice to watch. After I finished watching it, the Dutch guy sitting next to me assured me that, “It is really not like that in Europa.” Then again, Switzerland is about the least scary country. Although it seems to be the least scary country, every Swiss home is required to have a bomb shelter, or have a place reserved in one close by. I find it funny that the neutral country is so prepared for war.

After claiming my baggage, I stumbled out, attempting to manage my suitcases, trying to recognize my host family from pictures, while mildly delirious. I hear, “Maddie?” and they try to hug me, yet I had no open hands to hug back. Then for my first bit of culture shock, they all went to kiss me. I didn’t even do it right, because I pulled away after two kisses, even though it’s three. I immediately felt welcomed after meeting them. I never really went through a very awkward time with my host family. My host mom and dad are both really nice and I like them a lot. I also have two host sisters. One is 14 and lives at home, and the other is 15, but is doing an exchange year in Canada right now. I am fortunate enough to live with the beautiful lake of Zug right in my backyard! It is amazing. This country itself is truly amazing.

For the first few weeks, I would wake up in the morning hearing another language, wondering where in the world I was. I always woke up so confused. It was such a strange feeling. I would usually wake up around 12, and here they eat their warm meal during lunchtime. So I’d have to wake up and eat dinner… that was a little odd getting used to. Everyone always eats at the table together, even if there are only two people at home.

I would also like to point out how ridiculous it is that I am trying to learn a language that everyone here hates to speak. I spend my time learning German, although everyone speaks Swiss German. Where I live it really is not similar at all. The people here would also rather speak English very poorly with you than speak High German (except for my host family). It makes it so much harder to learn, and the fact that I have to attempt to learn to understand two languages– one of which is impossible to study. Viel spass!! (much fun). But hey, not many people say they got to learn two languages on exchange.

Some things I did in my few months in Switzerland include: Going to Germany, taking ships around beautiful lakes, hiking in the amazing Alps, getting a terrible sunburn on only the left side of my body, actually developing a mild tan on only the left side of my body (let it be known, I have never developed any sort of a tan in Florida), seeing my favorite Swiss German rap band, going to a rock music festival, visiting cities all over Switzerland, and being ridiculously confused. I also went sailing for the first time in the French section of Switzerland with some of the strongest winds ever. I feared for my life the entire time, and was still soaked under about 20 pounds of gear. Nonetheless, it was an awesome experience I won’t forget. One of my favorite things to do here is get with a group of friends and go exploring in the forests in the mountains for hours.

The school here is crazy. Most every day I begin at 7:35am and don’t get out until 4pm. I take around 13 classes or so, maybe even more, and don’t understand any of them, except for English. I find myself getting lost in my own mind all the time. The school is also enormous. There are 9 buildings, some of which are up to 5 stories high. I get a workout every day just going to class, so I don’t really see why sport class here is mandatory!

In my town, Zug, there is an international school and also about 20 exchange students just in my school. So being a foreigner is really nothing special. That is kind of a shame, but some of the exchange students are some of the best people I have met. I love being able to say I have friends from all over the world. For my last Rotex weekend, we went to the oldest city in Switzerland and slept in a military bomb shelter. It was so much fun being together with all the exchange students doing crazy things. We had to go up to random Swiss people (typically pretty reserved people…) and ask them to draw a picture for us and teach us a Swiss song.

Things keep progressively getting better for me. All of the good times definitely make up for the bad. I think that is really important for someone to know when they are on exchange. If you want it to, it will get better. Oh and another thing to note– unless you are really lucky, you are going to gain weight! Especially if you go to a country with the most delicious chocolate, bread, cheeses, and everything fatty and delicious.

Thank you so much Rotary, my family, and everyone for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

Bis später! Maddie

February 21 Journal

So a lot has happened between my last journal and now… obviously. I ended up switching schools for numerous reasons. Now I attend school about a 20-minute bus ride away in the mountains where there is plenty of snow. This means waking up even earlier and getting home even later… I have gone to Zermatt, learned to ski, visited French and Italian Switzerland, celebrated Christmas and New Years, had my three best friends leave me, switched host families, went to Austria for a week, and celebrated Fasnacht.

All of the exchange students had a Rotary weekend together in Zermatt and it was really great. Most every Swiss person I’ve asked from my town hasn’t even gotten the chance to go there. It’s about 4 hours away and there are no cars in the town. It is small and absolutely beautiful, and you could see the famous Matterhorn mountain perfectly from the hostel. The first day we got to explore the town, were set off to do some crazy tasks that made complete strangers think we were crazy, went to a museum, ate fondue, and went dancing. The next day we were supposed to take a train up to the Small Matterhorn but there was such strong wind and snow that we had to go to a lower mountain, but it was still pretty cool.

Learning to ski has probably been one of the coolest things I have been able to do my exchange year. It’s something I have no chance of doing in Florida, and something that I really love doing. I was lucky enough to get everything given to me for free because my Rotary officer knew the head of a popular sports company. So of course I took advantage of this and have been skiing any chance that I can. It is absolutely beautiful to go skiing in Switzerland… the views are unreal. I’m pretty happy to say that at least now I can ski down a slope without falling every second or managing to take a wrong turn and become completely lost.

During Christmas break I went skiing and took a trip to Bellinzona in Italian Switzerland. It’s a small town with three big castles that you can explore. It was so weird to be in the same country yet not be able to communicate in the language you’ve been learning. We tried asking about four people directions, most of which were no help because we could not speak Italian. To start my break two of my best friends went home…Misha from South Africa and Rodrigo from Mexico. It was a weird feeling because I had spent so much of my time with them. The good thing is I know I will be seeing them again.

Christmas in Switzerland was nice. About a week before, I went to Bern, the capital, with my host sister to bake traditional Swiss Christmas cookies with a family friend. They were delicious. We celebrated Christmas on the 24th with family, friends, and a big dinner. It was kind of hard being away from my family, but it wasn’t my first Christmas away from home. There was a little bit of chaos though because in the middle of the evening they realized that there were ashes in the bathroom and then in their bedroom. Afterwards we noticed that the couches, furniture, walls, everything was covered in a light black ash. My host mom began freaking out, and everyone was vacuuming and trying to clean the furniture. We later realized that one of the candles had been burning a piece of the Christmas tree. This is why I prefer the rainbow electric lights we use on our tree at home! Oh, and for Christmas I accumulated a total of three kilograms of chocolate for presents. Keep the weight gain going! For New Years I ended up going to Zurich for fireworks and a big celebration on the street with my friend Johannes from Norway and a bunch of his AFS friends that I had never met. It ended up being a really awesome New Years.

Since then I have visited Geneva with some friends. I have also gone sledding a few times, and even night sledding with lights on your head… that was really funny. I switched host families in the middle of January. I had mixed feelings about it since I had it really well at my first host family. So far it has been a good experience and my new host family is also really nice but very different. A week after the switch my best friend here, Zach, from Australia went home. So now my three favorite people have all gone home and I switched families. It was definitely a big hit for everything to suddenly change like that.

Last week in the beginning of February I went to Bregenz, Austria to visit Zach Clauss for a week. That was really nice. It was interesting comparing the differences between the German and how the people/culture differentiates. I ended up meeting some cool people and we also visited two towns in Germany. When I got back to Switzerland, Fasnacht was being celebrated. This is like Carnival where everyone dresses up, there are parades, parties, etc. and it lasts for a week. I went to one of the parades in Luzern, and I also dressed up as an Indian and went out with some friends one night. It’s pretty funny to walk around the city and everyone is dressed in crazy costumes having a good time.

My German is continuously getting better. I can understand almost anything in normal conversations, and I’m slowly beginning to understand a bit more Swiss German. Now I get to look forward to my parents coming in April and Eurotour in June!

Thanks again for everything! Danke!

 

Davis “Max” Beard
2009-10 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Nease HS
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Utsunomiya-West Rotary Club, District 2550, Japan

Max - Japan

Max’s Bio

Konnichi wa! My name is Max Beard. I live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. I am a 17 year old Senior and I attend Nease High School. My favorite subjects in school are Physics and Psychology. I am also in our schools NJROTC program and actively participate in events. I hope to attend the United States Naval Academy after my exchange and major in Systems Engineering. Afterwards I am going to become a U.S. Navy SEAL.

Some of the things I am interested in outside of school are Tae Kwon Do (which I have been doing for around 12 years), keeping in shape, video games, technology in general, and hanging out with my friends (football games, movies, etc.).

I chose to do this exchange because I love experiencing the diverseness of different cultures and exploring new places. Once I heard I was going to Japan I was ecstatic! That was my number one pick, so you could imagine why I was so excited. I can not wait to go and have the experience of a lifetime! I would like to thank anybody who made this entire trip possible.

 Max’s Journals

August 26 Journal

Let me just start by saying that the country I will be spending the next 10 months of my life in is truly amazing. We can start off with departure day, I’m not quite sure where all the time went to but I left Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and got to Narita airport in Tokyo on Friday at 3 p.m. I was met by Ms. Matsuba (the YE chair for 2550) and Mai Maruyama, a Rotex who went to North Carolina. We sent my luggage to my host family and left the airport headed to ex-district governor Yoshio Ohtake’s lake house at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It took us about 5 hours to get there, partially because we got lost 5 or 6 times and got stuck in traffic in Tokyo. When we finally got there they showed me to my room and I was asleep within 2 minutes. I woke up at about 1:30 a.m. when the lights were turned on and I met Sam Estenson from Minnesota. We went to the upstairs room and talked for about an hour with the other exchange students and Rotex and then went to bed.

I woke up Saturday morning to a standard Japanese breakfast of sushi, tofu, bread, salad, and soup; among other things. After that we had the chance to go to an Onsen or hot spring but only the boys decided to go, you have to be nude to go to them. Everybody then went to lunch and went sightseeing around Hakone. We went to a Japanese supermarket to look around and it was really cool to see the things that they had there. Their biggest ice cream size is equal to our smallest! Their portions will take some getting used to. We went back to the cabin for a while and after that we continued onto dinner. After dinner we went to a karaoke place and that was a blast!

When I woke up Sunday morning I was ushered to the 3rd floor by Mr. Ohtake to see Mt. Fuji. There were umbrella clouds around the top of it which Mr. Ohtake said only happens once or twice a decade. We had breakfast and went to go sightseeing in Hakone more. We rode a cable car and a boat around Lake Ashinoko and then we went to a hot spring water park, it was a lot of fun and I had an amazing time. We went to a Chinese restaurant on the way back and had a huge meal, which included shark fin soup which is very rare and even the adults had never had it before.

On Monday we went to Fujikyu amusement park which was one of the most fun things I have done in a very long time. We only rode 3 roller-coasters because the lines were 2-3 hour waits but we rode a ton of small rides and got to know each other very well. After we left Fujikyu at 5 o’clock we went to a sushi buffet. It was all you can eat in 1 hour 30 minutes. There was a lot of different food there but I loved it all and decided I may even like Japanese food better than American food!

Tuesday was a blur of activity, we woke up at 6 and cleaned the cabin then we left for the Tochigi prefecture which is where I will be living. We had to give a speech in Japanese in front of the Japanese Rotarians and mine went pretty well, at least I think so. After I got to my host family’s house I was exhausted and I spent the rest of the night unpacking and talking – or trying to talk – to my oldest host brother.

Wednesday we went shopping for various things and visited my high school. I got fitted for a school uniform and then walked home with my host brother. I also went to city hall to register as an alien and then went to the post office to send some letters. I start school tomorrow and will be walking there with my oldest host brother who is 16.

I can tell this will be a difficult first couple of months but I am ready for the challenge and I am going to try my best to learn the language as quickly as possible.

 September 8 Journal

As I walked through the hallway with the only teacher at my school that spoke English, albeit broken English, I felt as if everyone in the whole school was looking and talking about me (which I later found out they were). With the amount of stares I was getting I thought I should have been an alien, which I legally am until Sept. 15th. I crossed the final threshold into my homeroom and walked into complete silence. “Great,” I thought, “Well at least I don’t have to make a speech.” Oh how wrong was I … the majority of the class period was spent of me introducing myself, flipping through my Japanese dictionary, introducing myself again, and answering the uncountable amount of questions that followed. Finally I was able to slide into my seat and catch a breath. The day went by at a crawl and since I couldn’t understand any of the lectures the teachers were giving I decided to practice my Japanese, so hopefully in a few months time I would be taking notes like the rest of the class. Since that day everything has proceeded to get better and better, including my Japanese!

The next day I was approached by a few classmates asking me if I wanted to play baseball that night with them and even the Captain of the volleyball team asked me if I would join him in playing after school! Unfortunately I had plans that evening playing baseball with my host Rotary club in their league match. Yes that’s right, the Rotary clubs in Utsunomiya have organized sports teams for the Rotarians. I also was asked that day, or rather told, that I was to prepare a five minute speech in Japanese to present to my host Rotary club about myself and my life and family at home. Luckily I had prepared a slide show of pictures in advance and would just show that to them and explain each as it came up, right? Wrong… Unfortunately, they do not have a projector, so I was going to be stuck up on an empty stage with all the lights on me. But that didn’t have to be done until the next Thursday, so I pushed that out of my mind and went on with my day. That night was a blast, and even though I was stuck in right field (for those who don’t know that’s the position all the bad players get, the same one I got when I played as a kid…) I still had a great time meeting all the Rotarians in my host club.

Ahh, my first day of school on Saturday. It only lasts until noon and is only one class the whole day, which is Math II for me. During lunch, which we eat in our homerooms, I was approached again by Takasu (the captain of the volleyball team) who told me that I should try out for the volleyball club and that tryouts were on Sept. 14th. I had been looking forward to joining a team since starting school so this was an awesome turn of events for me. After school Yoshi (my host brother), his best friend, and a few of his other friends invited me to go to a festival that the all-girls high school down the street was putting on. We wandered around and I got to see some of the popular sports in Japanese high schools, which include tennis, swimming, traditional Japanese archery, ken-do, soccer, and a tea making club.

School started up again on Monday after a ‘holiday’ on Sunday and I felt like I was finally getting into a routine. I walked to school with my host brother and looking around at all the amazing scenery realized every moment that I’m here I enjoy my new home more and more. After third period that day we were told that school was canceled because of the typhoon that was headed our way! A few of Yoshi’s friends came over and we played wii and baseball (Inside! Don’t worry) until dinner at 7. I used the rest of the time to finish up my Rotary speech which ended up only being half in Japanese and half in English, but my classmate Iida was going to help translate the English part at the meeting.

Finally the big day had arrived! I went through my first 3 periods of the day mumbling the words of my speech over and over again but was comforted by the fact that Iida was more nervous than I was! And he was speaking in his own language! My speech went really well and I met a ton of new Rotarians who, thankfully, told me that my Japanese sounded like a native speaker! Although I’m sure they were just being kind it is comforting to know that I am doing well.

Saturday morning I woke up and felt awful! I took my temperature and found it to be 37.9, and having no clue what that meant I took it to my host mother. Who gave a big “Ooh!” and rushed off into a cabinet fishing out some medicine and telling me to go back to bed. At three my host father woke me up and asked me if I wanted a tour of the city; of course I did! He showed me around to all their temples and shrines and we even got lost in a huge camping park in the mountains. We went by a restaurant to say hello to the secretary for the Utsunomiya West Rotary club he was very kind and even taught me a few kanji to remember! After we got home I went straight to bed, after all I was exhausted from my long day of adventure.

Tomorrow my host family is taking me to the hospital to make sure I don’t have swine flu, although I feel better I still have a fever and the school won’t let me come back until I am checked for the flu. It has only been 2 weeks and I have already made great friends and memories that I will never forget. I can’t wait to see what these amazing 10 months has in store for me.

Hope everything is going well!

-Max

September 20 Journal

Well this has been an interesting 2 weeks to say the least. Well the second more interesting than the first so I’ll give a brief overview of the first week. I went to the doctor on Sunday and got tested for swine flu, which thank the heavens I don’t have. He prescribed me some medicine and told me that once my fever went down and my symptoms were gone that I could go back to school… Unfortunately that didn’t end up happening the whole week! I had a fever all the way until Friday evening. The week off school gave me a great chance to learn Japanese though and I really think that I am catching on to the language pretty well. I’m also getting a lot more interested in learning it faster which makes it so much easier to spend a few hours a day on learning it.

On Saturday I went out to dinner with my dad, my two older brothers (16 and 13), and two of my cousins who were 24. We went to a sushi restaurant that had a huge revolving belt around where all the sushi was made and you would know the price by the color of the plate that it was on so you could just take whatever you wanted. It was really good and definitely really different; I want to try to find one in the U.S. when I get back! At the end we stacked up all of our plates and a waiter came by and counted them out and we proceeded to go up front and pay.

Monday I was back at school thankfully! During 3rd period my English reading teacher took me out of class to give me some Japanese lessons which were actually pretty helpful because I could ask him all the questions that I had about grammar and whatnot. We chose sports in gym today that would be the sport that we do for the rest of the year. The one that I chose was soccer and I actually met a ton of new friends that are doing the same so that is good that I will get to see them every time I have P.E.

On Tuesday I went to school feeling fine but I ended up leaving early because I started to have chest pains and a headache. My mother took my temperature when I got home and it ended up being 38.9 C (102.2 F) which was not good at all! Especially since we thought I was getting better. On Wednesday I went to the Doctors and he took a lot more tests than I expected. I ended up getting a chest and abdomen X-Ray, having my blood taken, and getting a urine sample. He told me to go home and get some rest and that he would call when he got the test results from my blood. He called later that night and told me that I had inflammation in my blood vessels and that my white blood cell count was above 20,000 and that the average was somewhere around 2,500, he also said that I should visit the hospital in the morning to get a more extensive X-Ray and a blood culture test done. After dinner Ruri Suga, a Rotex that went to Canada and is in my grade at school, came over and we talked for a while about how I liked Japan and what my hobbies were et cetera. She is really nice and I think that we will be good friends.

So Thursday I woke up around 5:30, ate breakfast and then headed off to the hospital around 8. I had a CAT scan done and a chest X-Ray first. Then they took my blood yet again, which has always been kind-of cool to me so it wasn’t that bad. After about an hour of waiting around they said my results were back and a long and confusing talk in broken Japanese and English I figured out that I would be staying the next two days in the hospital while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I mean of course they were saying “Don’t worry!” the whole time but you can’t help but have some thoughts when they tell you that they have no clue what is wrong with you. I can honestly say that my want to learn Japanese had gone up about 10,000% at this point and I learned pretty quickly that the word for “test” actually sounds quite like “cancer” so I was definitely freaking out a bit until my dad corrected my malapropism of the word, albeit it wasn’t quite humorous on my end my father thought it was really hilarious. So after I got my grim fate given to me I was rushed off to get an ECG done. Afterwards I was shown to my room and promptly had an IV shoved in my arm and a bag of who knows what hanging above me. The food was great though, at least that was a positive. But unfortunately my two days at the hospital were rather uneventful. I had brought a book with me so I finished that and spent the rest of my time sleeping.

Saturday I was finally able to go home! The Doctors still hadn’t determined what had caused my fever and high WBC count but they said that both had gone down enough to where it was safe for me to go home. As soon as I got home I had a ton of calls to make to various Rotary members to assure them that I wasn’t dying and didn’t have swine flu or leukemia. Alas I was exhausted even though most of my time at the hospital was spent sleeping, so after answering all of the worrisome e-mails from my parents about what was happening, as they had only been told that I was going to the hospital not what was wrong with me, I went to bed.

Sunday was a pretty restful day; I spent most of it doing Japanese lessons on LiveMocha though which have gotten increasingly more helpful! I went to my little brother’s baseball game and then had dinner with my family. I watched TV for a while and stayed up pretty late, mainly because my brother Yoshi and his friends decided that they wanted to make a band and bought a drum set and some amps for their guitars. They also kindly decided to set up their band directly above my room and since none of them know how to play the drums yet and they decided 2:00 A.M. was an awesome time to rock out. I’m sure you can see why my night was a long one.

Even though I have been sick for half of my first month here this has already been the experience of a lifetime. The experiencing different sights, people, and culture is something that I have always dreamt about doing and hey, I even got to experience a Japanese hospital stay! Not many exchange students can say that!

さよなら

-マックス

September 29 Journal

This week just happened to be infinitely better than last week, now that I’m out of the hospital… Imagine that! Unfortunately, me being in the hospital ruined my family’s plans to take me to a baseball game in the Tokyo Dome and go sightseeing in Kyoto over our week long school break. In the U.S. it would’ve been a fragmented break, but luckily Japan has a law where if a day happens to fall in between two holidays then it automatically becomes a holiday itself! Who could’ve created a better law!?

Monday was a pretty laid back day but my dad gave my brother (Yoshi) and I our new gym membership cards to the gym town the street so we decided it would be a good idea to go check it out. We were there for about an hour and a half and it was really awesome, way different that the YMCA that is near my house. They have the normal workout area, 2 aerobic rooms that they hold various classes in, 4 squash courts, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and an onsen (hot spring) in the locker room!

Tuesday I had a late breakfast with my brothers, minus Yoshi because he slept in until noon, then went out and got McDonalds and brought it back to the house. I talked to my brothers and cousin and watched TV until lunch-time when they insisted that we should go out to an American style restaurant. And I couldn’t resist! I wanted to see what the Japanese thought American food was like. I ended up getting a hamburger, but the Japanese don’t use buns and you eat it with your chopsticks so maybe a little off the average American restaurant. But hey, not all Americans use chopsticks in Japanese restaurants and my burger was really good so I won’t complain. After that we went bowling in a bowling alley that was at least twice the size of any one I have ever been to and the bowling balls were in size order and organized so I didn’t spend 30 minutes looking for the bowling ball that was just the right size. I ended up coming in second overall with a whopping 118 with which I was pretty disappointed. The man two lanes over on the other hand bowled a perfect game except for the 9th frame where he bowled a spare putting him at 277, which I thought was pretty amazing. The rest of my break was pretty relaxed and I spent most of it with my brothers and cousin.

Thursday was my first day back at school in three straight weeks! It was a lot of fun and after each one of my teachers got through asking me if I was feeling alright and then visiting the president of the school during lunch to tell him myself that I was feeling fine, I finally made it through the day. Friday was a P.E. day and since I’m in the soccer club that is what I ended up doing during the period. I am definitely glad I decided to start to play a sport because it’s a great way to meet other people who are very nice and although my soccer is ultimately lacking in skill I still had a lot of fun.

Saturday was a day that two Rotex and another exchange student who lives in Nakagawa (Sam Estenson) had been planning for a while so I was very excited for it. At 11:00 I went out to lunch with my Dad and we had a nice conversation about his days in high school. At around 11:50 we went over to the Utsunomiya train station to meet Sam who was getting off his train and we also met up with Ayano and Mai, two Rotex students who had gone to America. We spent our day meandering around Utsunomiya and since what we had planned to do, which was go-karts, was closed we went to a park and visited the Utsunomiya tower. We went back to my house, and after Ayano and Mai left, Sam and I went out to dinner with my dad, cousins, and brother to a revolving sushi restaurant. Which once again was very, very good. Sam spent the night at my house since there was a Rotary gathering the next day.

Sunday was an exciting day because everyone from the first orientation got to see each other again and talk to each other about their towns and Yukiko was there! We left for Tochigishi at about 9 and got there in roughly 45 minutes. The first part of the meeting we spent talking to all the Rotex about how we were doing and how we liked our host families and our new lives in Japan. We all had to give introduction speeches to the Rotarians, including the Rotex, and after that we all moved over to another building to have lunch. After lunch we spent the rest of the day walking around and sightseeing which included a boat ride on a river, a museum, and free ice cream! After walking back to the meeting place we all said our goodbyes and left with our respective families to go home and of course we were all looking forward to the next orientation in October!

It has been just over a month and I am having the most amazing time here. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me in the coming months and as my grasp of the language increases I’m sure so will the excitement that I get out of this amazing experience that has been given to me.

October 18 Journal

Alright so it’s been a while since I’ve written about my time here in Japan so I have got a lot to talk about!

We had exam week at school and since the only exams they were letting me take were English reading and Biology I didn’t do much other than study Japanese and play Sudoku. I actually did really well on both my Biology and English exams which I was happy about. I would’ve taken the Physics exam on Friday but my Dad decided to take me and my cousin みょじょ to Nikko that day for a sightseeing trip!

So at around 9 in the morning on Friday we left the house. My host father dropped my cousin and I off at an onsen (Hot spring) while he went off to get some things done. We were there for about an hour and I had a good time. I find the hot springs really relaxing even though the constant influx of questions from strangers doesn’t stop. After we were all rested up, みょじょ and I piled back in the van and we were headed back towards Nikko. To get to the top of the mountain where Nikko is located you have to first drive up a huge winding slope to the top, this particular slope prides itself in having 48 separate hairpin turns to get to the top. On the way up my cousin thought it would be fun to count every turn so every time we reached one we would all yell out the number. It actually passed the time pretty quickly.

We visited 3 different waterfalls while we were there; the first was Kegon falls, the second was Riyuzu falls, and the third was Yudaki falls. All three were really beautiful and I got some good pictures of them. We stopped by the Toshogu shrine and walked around there for a while. I always thought that Japanese architecture was really interesting so I had a great time looking at some of the structures that they had there. Lastly before we headed home we visited the famous Shinkyo or Sacred Bridge. While the bridge is only from 1636 the surrounding mountains were explored during the year 767. After walking around the bridge and snapping a few photos we all piled back in the car and headed home. I would say after about 2 minutes, both みょじょ and I were asleep in the car. What can I say – it’s been a long time since I have been a tourist!

So there were still exams going on when I got back to school on Monday, so more reading and Sudoku for me. Until Wednesday when… my younger brother Atsushi got Swine flu! Now in America this would be no biggie, life would go on as normal and Atsushi would get better, then go back to school. But this does not happen in Japan. My brothers and I were quarantined and not allowed to go to school until the next Tuesday. Now this happened on Thursday so luckily there wasn’t that much time to be spent away from school since Friday there was a big ceremony going on that we were missing school for anyways and Monday was a holiday.

Friday morning I woke up, went running, showered, read some, ate breakfast, and then put on my school uniform for my host dad’s grandfather’s 1 year memorial service. This was probably one of the most interesting things I have been to so far. There was a lot of chanting and praying that I found really interesting, partially just trying to translate what they were all saying. This went on for about 45 minutes before they had an incense lighting ceremony. There were three boxes with coals in front of the shrine and everyone that was in attendance (there were probably about 100 people there) would walk up, sit in front of the box, take a pinch of incense from a jar next to it, and throw it onto the coals. After that my Dad and his brother both spoke about their father and then we all headed off to the Utsunomiya Grand Hotel for a luncheon. The lunch was great and even though all the portions were small there were so many of them by the end it was a struggle just to finish.

After lunch I was really excited to get home because this weekend was the weekend that I was going to go stay in Nakagawa for the rice harvesting festival! I got invited by another exchange student, Sam Estenson (from MN), who is living in Nakagawa. Every year they host this homestay weekend and various exchange students from across Japan come and participate (not just Rotary exchange students). I had a blast getting to know a lot of new people and learning how to harvest rice the old fashioned way, not with a combine.

I left at about 4 for Utsunomiya station and boarded my first train ever! I was really excited about it and actually ended up enjoying it. Although apparently I liked being on the train a little too much because I missed my stop; after going through about 5 minutes of country with no city to be seen, I decided that I should probably get off at the next stop. But when I got off I found out that the next train going back the way I came wasn’t getting there for another 30 minutes. Fortunately my host mom had gotten me some doughnuts for the trip so I sat down in the deserted train station and ate my doughnuts, which were pretty good considering the circumstances. After I got to the correct station, I boarded a bus with all the other exchange students who were meeting at that station (it is the nearest train station to Sam’s town) and we headed off to Nakagawa.

I stayed with a homestay family while I was there that I met as soon as I arrived. I really liked them and they even made me promise that if I came to visit Sam again that I would stay with them! On Saturday we had the rice harvesting and after that everyone came together for a huge lunchtime meal and together we made this giant sushi roll. Before I left on Sunday my homestay family and I went bowling and went out to a soba restaurant for lunch. Instead of letting me take the train back again (since I missed my exit on the way there) my father offered to drive me home and even said it was 45 minutes faster. So their 3 kids and I piled in the van and we made it back to Utsunomiya in record time.

During school this week I had to get an ECG test for the field trip just like all the other students. After the test there was a super long assembly that lasted until an hour and a half after school was supposed to end. I have joined the Volleyball club and can come and play with them any day after school that I want to. I really enjoy playing volleyball and it is a great chance for me to get to know some new people and start to learn the language as it is used in an everyday environment.

Until next time, じゃね!

-マックス

November 13 Journal

Wow, it has almost been 3 months that I have been in this surreal country. It seems that sometimes the moments fly by almost too quickly to differentiate them and other times they seem to crawl by in agonizing detail.

To start, my host parents have cracked down on security around the house, keeping all the doors locked at all times because my Dad’s bag and iPhone got stolen out of our house around October 20th! The thief even ended up spending around 50,000円 on my host father’s credit card.

The Saturday after that I went to Round 1 (An Adventure Landing type place) with a group of current and past Rotary Exchange students and a Swedish exchange student from a different program. This place was amazing let me tell you they had anything you could imagine. Down on the first and second floors were all kinds of slot machines and chance games, up on the third floor you had all the arcade games like Time Crisis, Dance Dance Revolution, and Racing games but they were all free! Unlike at any other place I had been to you could play any of them as many times as you wanted to for no cost. They also had a ton of mini sports rooms set up for ping-pong, a mini pond with real fish that you could catch, basketball, bowling, roller skating, and even a huge magazine room with about 20 massage chairs! On the roof they had 7 or 8 batting cages, 2 tennis courts, a volleyball court, a soccer field, and even an archery range!

The next day we had our District Rotary conference and I was under the impression that I had to write a speech that I was to present in front of about 250+ Rotarian’s that were going to be there. Only to realize once I got there all I had to say was my name and my host club, you can bet I was pretty relieved after that.

Volleyball at school has been fun but I am thinking about joining the Soccer club because I enjoy soccer a lot more and there are only about 6 people on the boys volleyball team. Halloween came up pretty quickly and left just as fast, I don’t think one person that I knew even mentioned it, hah! On the 31st Nikko was hosting a Soba festival so my host family and I drove there for lunch and walked around a bit and then come back home. The next day was my school’s festival which I spent a couple of hours at with my host brothers, it was nice to see all the students since normally I only see those that are in my homeroom. Sunday I went to a Jazz festival with my host Dad and my little brother Hitoshi, the music was great and it was fun just to get out and see the city with my family.

The next two days were Holy days which meant no school but on Monday I almost walked out the door because my host Mom had forgotten. If it wasn’t for my Host father I would’ve completely shown up at school and been really confused.

That weekend we had another Rotary orientation but this time it was for the new outbound exchange students who would be leaving the following year. We had to make Power-points on our states and countries in order to promote them to the outbounds.

The Friday before Gustaf (Swedish exchange student), Ayano (Rotex from MN), and I went to Karaoke in Utsunomiya. It was a blast as I have never done real karaoke before. After Karaoke we got dinner before all of us headed home.

The overnight orientation at Akiyama was a blast. When we all got there we had lunch and then had about a 3 hour break until the meeting started. We all gave our speeches and the rebounds gave their presentations on their respective countries. We didn’t have time for our presentations so we postponed them until Sunday. After we all had dinner together the exchange students and outbounds got together and played some games hosted by the Rotex. We played Bingo (I won a Hello Kitty Blanket), a pictionary type game, and some type of game that involved shoving your facing in flour…. Overall it was really fun and it was great to meet the people who would be coming to our homes in the coming year.

Sunday after waking up we all went out to a field behind the cabins for some morning exercises and a quick walk. The fall colors here in Japan are beautiful and are something I am just not used to seeing in Florida. After we got back and had breakfast we finished up all of our presentations. I got a ride home from Ayano and on the way back we stopped for Ramen with her mom and grandmother (可愛い!).

This week at school has been rather uneventful, playing soccer and having Japanese lessons. It’s starting to feel like normal. I am looking forward to visiting Tokyo with some of my friends in late November and then December 3rd I have my school trip to Okinawa!

That’s all for now but with so much coming up in the next few weeks I’m sure I will be writing again soon!

December 22 Journal

Wow… What an amazing time I have been having lately, with my first trip to Tokyo, my school trip to Okinawa, and changing host families I have been truly blessed with this experience. And it’s not even half over yet.

Unfortunately the end of November was more of a routine than anything but that is expected after living somewhere for 3 months. It was filled with school, a lot of running, and even more Farmville (yes, I got addicted). Even in a routine though Japan never ceases to surprise me and I was about to have one of the busiest weeks of my life.

It started off with me going to on my first trip to Tokyo. I went with all the other exchange students in my area and we all ended up taking the same train which was pretty fun. When we got there we went straight to Kaminari-Mon or “The Lightening Gate”. This was followed by lunch and then we all walked around the main tourist area which is chocked full of stores, each one selling their own souvenirs and keepsakes that every good visitor just has to have one of.

After that we split up, half the group going clothes shopping and the other (consisting of only guys) headed to Akihabara or the world famous electric town. Akihabara is definitely something else, the first thing you have to think when you get there is “Where do I want to go?” There are tons of multi level stores with everything electronic you can think of. We decided to head to the first multi-level store we store. This one had (among other things) a floor devoted to figurines and a whole store devoted to Pokémon cards (some pricing up to 99,999 yen or 1000$). A few floors filled with weird and strange costumes and other oddities, some appropriate and some not even close. After that came the arcade, where I was surprised to find a man in skins (running or workout gear) stretched right inside the arcade. I was even more surprised when he hopped on the DDR machine and with about 25 people watching (no videos allowed or I certainly would have taken one) he started to play a song on the hardest difficulty on both of the pads at once! After that we headed back out and went over to a book store where I browsed around for a while Simon looked for a new game for his PS3. Finally it was time to head back to Harajuku and meet up with the rest of the group and after a quick dinner at McDonalds (classy I know) and a 2 hour train ride I was back home and asleep within minutes.

This didn’t end my exciting week though as a few days later I left on a plane out of Tokyo headed off to the tropical Islands of Okinawa. Now I could spend a long time talking about Okinawa but I will try to cut it down and only get at the good parts.

Now I was a little angry at myself on this trip because I forgot my camera and there were a lot of amazing sights to see here but hopefully I will end up getting some pictures from my classmates. The first day we visited two places, the Himeyuri Peace Museum and the Okinawa Peace Memorial. The Peace memorial is a huge area that borders the ocean and has a massive amount of marble slabs that contain on them all the names of both the American and Japanese that died in WWII. But by far the most amazing part of the day was getting to see the ocean again for the first time in months.沖縄の海はとてもきれいでした。This was I can honestly say the first thing that actually made me completely homesick and standing out on the beach with only the ocean in sight it was almost as if I was at home again. After this we had a nice long bus ride to our hotel where we immediately had dinner. There were 7 courses and I don’t think any table completely finished any of the courses. Except for my table of course, we were on a mission and we weren’t going to be beaten. By the end of the meal we were all groaning and definitely ready for a nice rest.

For the sake of space I will combine the second and third day and skip breakfast and dinner. But don’t worry, my table finished our meal every night much to the disappointment of the boy who went to the bathroom and came back to find that his plate had three times the amount of food on it as when he left. Friday we went to a nature preserve called Bios and again I was reminded how angry I was that I forgot my camera. We walked around a little, got to play with the goats, and went on a boat ride in a swamp. Okinawa was really starting to remind me of Florida, except for the mountains of course we don’t have those in Florida.

After we left Bios we went to an old style Okinawa town that reminded me of Williamsburg, Virginia. I picked up some nice souvenirs there to send out as Christmas presents to friends and family. After lunch and yet another bus ride we went to the Churami Aquarium. It was a cool place to see but Aquariums just aren’t something I can stay in for an extended period of time, so after a quick run through my group and I walked around outside and then headed down to the beach to sit and talk. We headed back to the hotel after that and it was a pretty late night but I eventually got some sleep.

The third day was probably the most fun. In the morning there were all different activities that you could sign up for. The one my teacher stuck me with was ironically looking for shells on the beach. Now don’t get me wrong, it was pretty fun. But I do wish I had done one like harvesting sugarcane or learning to cook Okinawa style foods. When we finished that we had lunch at the hotel where we would be spending that night (A different hotel than the night before) and then went to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Unfortunately I think I spent longer in the bathroom than I did browsing the museum (which wasn’t long, mind you). Fortunately after my brief visit I went back to the bus and found that my whole class was already asleep and had finished their tours too. When the teachers got done browsing around we all headed over to the main street and they told us we had 2 hours to wander around the many shops and stores that lined the street. I ended up spending most of my time talking to a Marine who was stationed in Okinawa about his time here. After everyone finished shopping everyone was exhausted so we piled on the bus and went back to the hotel for a nice meal and some sleep.

Sunday was the last day of my stay in Okinawa. Overall it wasn’t too exciting, but it was still fun. In the morning we headed off to Shurijo Castle Park. After a guided walkthrough and buying some postcards in the gift shop my classmates and I got some good shut-eye on the bus in the underground parking garage. After a nice nap we headed off to the airport where we had some time to wander around before catching our flight at 12:55. When I finally got back to the temple it was about 7:10 and I was, to say the least, done in for the night. The next day was a holiday off from school so luckily I got to sleep in.

After another day of watching the latest Gossip Girl it was finally time for me to move Host Families. In the morning my room was looking pretty desolate and I packed up some last minute things and then headed off to school. After school we packed all of my things into my counselor’s car and then I rode my bike over to the Baba’s house. It took me a long while and we had dinner at 9 o’clock. After dinner we headed over to the store to get me a pillow, a lunchbox, and a second lock for my bike. When we got back I took a shower and then headed off to bed.

This past weekend was my Rotary Christmas party. It was, to put it simply, a blast. I had gone early with Ayano to help wrap presents for the party. But after about 2 hours everyone else started to arrive. Once everyone was there the outbound students for next year gave speeches about the countries that they were going to be heading too next year. After that we played a version of Russian roulette that involved treats filled with spicy mustard. We got to watch a really ‘cool’ magic show and have a nice pre-meal before we headed over to the bowling alley. I ended up bowling a measly 132 but was pretty happy with myself because I haven’t bowled in a while. My score won the highest for the kids but didn’t even match the highest for the adults, which was 246. Dinner was good and gave everyone a chance to talk and to say goodbye when it was all over. It is always great to see all the exchange students together in one place because we all end up having a great time.

The past few weeks with the Baba’s has been absolutely amazing and I feel like I have gotten closer to them in 2 weeks then I had with the Inaki’s in 4 months. They are nice and always very helpful when I have a question about the Japanese language. My winter break just started today and will hopefully prove to be very exciting. I am headed to Tokyo today to spend 5 days there with some other friends and will be going skiing too! Sorry it has been so long since my last journal! But I promise I will write again soon about my Winter Break!!

January 23 Journal

Well it has been quite a while since I have written a journal, let me assure you though, it is no fault of my own… I promise. Alright well maybe I have been procrastinating this one for a while and I would have liked to have gotten it out sometime right after the New Year. But alas, it is now late January and I am just now sitting down to write about my very fun holidays.

Alright well where did we leave off? Oh yes, the start of my Winter break. Well the day after school ended for the holidays I was whisked away to Tokyo for what might have been one of the most fun Christmases I have had. The first night in Tokyo I got to meet my friend’s, who is also my host sister, host brother from when she was an exchange student in Minnesota. This year he is also an exchange student and was going to be spending the whole holiday with us. So after getting acquainted we headed back to Ayano’s (My host sister) apartment, grabbed some dinner, and hit the sack. Ayano had college classes the next day so Luke and I meandered our way over to Akihabara to look for some games and the other oddities that are to be found there. After grabbing some lunch at a local BK we headed back to the apartment to help everyone else prepare for the Christmas party that we were having. The party was a lot of fun and the night was even more fun because we headed out to see one of the many light shows that Tokyo has to offer around Christmas time. When we had our fill of the night life of Tokyo we found our way back to the apartment and got some much needed rest.

The next few days followed pretty much the same schedule. We moseyed around the Imperial Gardens, caught glimpse of Tokyo tower, went to a very rare Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, and managed (I still don’t know how) to go to McDonalds at least 5 times. We also did Karaoke from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M. which was a blast, although Ayano fell asleep within the first 30 minutes of us being there. The day after Karaoke was spent mostly sleeping and then cleaning up before we headed out to Utsunomiya (home) with Luke in tow. As soon as introductions were over we all went back to sleep and slept pretty well through the night.

The next day Luke, Ayano, and I went over to a Rotarian’s house to participate in their annual Mochi making ceremony. For those of you who don’t know what Mochi is, it is basically rice that is pounded into a paste and then shaped and eaten, especially around the New Year. We spent most of the day doing that and then went to an onsen and got dinner before coming home exhausted. We picked up Sam Estenson (another exchange student from Minnesota) from the train station on the way home and then we all got some much needed rest.

Two days after that we all went skiing, well I went snowboarding (this was my first time naturally, being from Florida) because it’s more manly, right? Well, to start with we thought we had found the easiest route at the very top of the mountain but when we got up there apparently it was a kid’s play zone and was closed off anyway. So I thought “What the hay, I might as well go down the hard slope all the way to the bottom. I’ll just go slowly.” I probably should have learned how to brake on a snowboard before I tried that, so after I ended up flipping head over heels all the way down the slope, I discovered at the bottom that my camera had fallen out of my pocket somewhere along my path of devastation. Luckily, about 15 minutes after I lost it someone turned it in to the lost and found with only a few scratches to bear. The rest of the day went without incident and by the end of the day I was going down the slopes like a pro.

The rest of my break was all a blur. Sam left soon after because he had to be home before the New Year. Luke and I went to Nikko with my host Dad and also went with him to a temple and out for coffee on New Year’s Day. I showed Luke around Utsunomiya for a day, including my old host family’s temple, my school, and one of the big parks around my area. Luke left around the 3rd and Ayano went back to college the same day.

The next five days were spent going running, reading books, riding my bike, and practicing my Japanese. This last weekend I spent with all the exchange students from our district in Sano checking out one of the light shows and looking at some old original school houses.

Next weekend I am going to Disney in Tokyo and will finally see how it compares to Disney in good old Orlando. I’ll make sure I keep you guys informed.

Until then, Sayonara!

-Max

April 8 Journal

Wow! It has almost been two months since my last journal! And to think that when I got here I thought I would be writing every week! Hah!

It has been an eventful past two months so bear with me. At the beginning of February I went to Tokyo: Disney Sea, which is just like the normal Disney other than the fact that there is a canal running throughout the whole park. It was a blast, and was also a great opportunity to get to know some of the outbound exchange students.

February in general was a pretty average month. I started to get used to my host family’s schedule and could probably have rode my bike to school asleep (In fact, I may have a few times). But just because it was average doesn’t mean that is was boring. The month was sprinkled with little events: A District Rotary meeting, various events with friends, and even the occasional Rotary club meeting. March has probably been the most fun month I have had while here in Japan. First of all, I only had 7 days of school the whole month! Secondly, I got to travel Japan with my family, who I hadn’t seen for 7 whole months!

March was a whirl of activity and after I had gotten used to the fact that I was going to see my REAL parents it seemed I was already on my way to pick them up from the airport. We spent three days in Utsunomiya, two days meandering around Osaka and Kyoto, and the last three days staked out in a deluxe suite at the Hilton in Tokyo.

The days seemed to fly by and before I knew it they were on their way back to Florida. There was no rest for me though, as soon as they were gone I was sent off to the annual RYLA seminar, which here in my district is only 2 days and 1 night. The seminar was a lot of fun and since all of the new outbound exchange students were there it was a great chance to get to know them all better. After returning from RYLA I immediately started on a speech about the weekend to present to my Rotary club.

And just yesterday all of the exchange students around Utsunomiya, only 3 of the 5 inbounds, got together and went to Karaoke and lunch. I also found out yesterday that the outbound who is heading to Florida, Chisato, will be hosted by my sponsor club and may even be living with my family next year!

Well that’s it for now, I will write again when I change host families on May 1st!

じゃあまた!

See you later!

May 18 Journal

Hey everyone!

Once again it has been too long since I have written a journal. But as it gets down to my last days here I find myself wanting to do everything so that I know when I get home I won’t have any regrets. This past month and a half started off really tough but has gotten a lot better and I am happy that I will be leaving Japan in high spirits.

At the beginning of the month I found out that my Grandfather passed away. For about a week I was feeling pretty down and thinking about home and my family a lot. In the end I decided to make the most of the time I have left here and to do my best in studying the language and culture.

I went to Yokohama with my host family and got to see the Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, which were absolutely beautiful. That same weekend there was a Rotary event for all the inbounds and future outbounds where we got to make soba (Buckwheat noodles). After making it we all got to sit down and enjoy our great cooking.

I have started to help Chisato, a future RYE exchange student (she will also be hosted by my Rotary Club at home) with her English and getting all her school forms and what not ready for next year. I got to go out to dinner with her parents and had a really great time getting to know them.

I spent one weekend staying with a pair of Rotarians while my host family was out of town and attended a Rotary sponsored event with them at Nikko. We got to plant trees in an old coal mine area where there was no vegetation whatsoever. The goal of the event is to plant 10,000 trees over a 10 year period. My school’s interact club also came and I got to meet the local Rotary clubs Rotaract members.

A week after this event I said goodbye to my host family the Baba’s and after a day of strenuous packing (and sending 2 huge boxes home to America) I headed out on my bike while my counselor drove my luggage. My current host family is Mr. and Ms. Okagawa and fortunately no more 30 minute bike rides for me. They are a leisurely 8 minutes from my school and only about 1 minute from the center of town and 2 huge malls (not that I have any room in my suitcases to buy anything).

My moving host families also coincided with Golden Week (a string of Japanese holidays that is 5 days long). That Sunday my host father and I (keep in mind he is 82 years old) made an hour long trek/climb up Kogashi mountain, which is about a 20 minute drive from my town. I had a great time and really got to know my host father well, I also found out that he is the Chairman of the Rotaract club so I would be seeing a lot of the friends that I met in Nikko the past week.

On my last day of Golden week I ran in a 10k race at a car/motorcycle track in a town called Motegi. It was one of the first sunny days Japan had seen for a while and was also brutally hot, I got sunburned for the first time since coming to Japan!

Alright, I realize I am being a little long winded so I will summarize the rest of this month. The weekend was a lot of fun. I went to Tokyo with a fellow exchange student and we spent the day shopping (well she did, I didn’t spend a dime), eating, and just having a great time. The next day was the District Rotary meeting in which myself and the other inbound students would be giving our LAST speeches! Albeit we still have our host club speeches to give but we were excited nonetheless. Before the meeting started we all got to visit a very special ceremony at a temple that few people (especially foreigners) get to see. After we had finished giving our speeches and making our goodbyes my host father and I went over to another Rotarian’s house to see his two Katanas (Samurai swords). Mind you, these were not fake and each one was around $4,000 when he got them and he said they are probably worth double that now. It was a really interesting experience and I am definitely glad that I had the chance to see them.

This past week was exam week at school so nothing too exciting going on. There has been so much during this exchange that I am thankful for and I’ve got no clue how the time has passed so quickly. All I can do now is make the most of the 30 days that I have left here, and of course look forward to writing one more journal for Al!

Until next time,

-Max

 

Morgan Milhollin
2009-10 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: San Jose Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Kolding Rotary Club, District 1460, Denmark

Morgan -Denmark

Morgan’s Bio

Hej! Jeg hedder Morgan Milhollin!

According to WikiAnswers, I just said “Hello! My name is Morgan Milhollin” in Danish. Yes, I know, you’re all very impressed with my skills. I am 15 years old, a sophomore at Bartram Trail High School, and I will be spending my junior year in Denmark! I am a lucky outbound who got one of their first choices, although I know that I would be happy anywhere. I have to say that I couldn’t be more excited about Denmark; I absolutely adore the cold (I’m sure that sounds strange coming from a Floridian).

I live in a town just south of Jacksonville called Fruit Cove with my dad, mom, and older brother. My oldest sister lives in West Palm Beach, while my other sister goes to UCF. I must admit that I am a proud Jaguars fan. I love to attend games and scream at the blind referees. At school I am the historian of the French Club and a member of the Teenage Republicans. After school I enjoy dancing, reading, repeatedly watching The Office, driving to Sonic with the greatest friends in the world, attempting to become a track star, and flexing my amateur photography skills.

When I first heard about the Rotary Exchange Program, I never even thought about applying. I figured it would be an automatic “no” from the parentals and completely out of reach for me. However, after attending a meeting, I knew I wanted to apply. Considering my dream is to travel around the world for National Geographic, this was a perfect way to begin my future career.

At 15 years old, I can’t say that I fully know myself yet, considering I have lived in the same house in the same neighborhood with the same neighbors for 13 years. I have been attending school with the same kids since kindergarten (I’ve even had the same lunch lady). I believe that to truly find yourself (as cliché as that may sound) you have to venture away from everything you’ve ever known and try something new. Even though I know that I will miss my friends and my family more than I could imagine, I know 100% that this trip is completely worth it.

 Morgan’s Journals

August 9 Journal

Hej alle!

I have been in Denmark for one week; it has felt like an eternity and it has felt like a brief second, all at the same time. It’s gorgeous here, and I still haven’t gotten over the view. My city, Kolding, is situated on the Kolding Fjord, and it’s spectacular. Across the fjord all you see is the old-fashioned homes scattered across the hill, and it looks nothing like America. I don’t think I have seen one piece of scenery that resembles the United States, and I really enjoy that. Also, my city has a castle. A CASTLE! That excited me to no end.

I suppose I should start at the beginning, in the airport. I will admit that I cried when I said goodbye. More like wept, actually. However, after getting to Detroit, I was fine. Although, as Caitlin already informed you, on the flight to Amsterdam we were stuck with a crying, kicking baby behind us, therefore we got zero sleep. Arriving in Amsterdam was great though, mostly because I had never been out of the country before. I almost died of happiness when the customs agent stamped my passport.

I can’t really remember anything interesting about my next two flights, all I remember is being tired. Unfortunately, when I arrived to Billund Airport in Denmark, the Rotarian that picked me up informed me that we were going straight from the Airport to Legoland (the amusement park made completely out of Legos). Of course, I wasn’t about to complain. Oh no! I am a Rotary exchange student. I was taught to adapt to any situation. But I will admit, I really did not want to go to Legoland. I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, and I was forced to march around a theme park for 4 more. I got through it, though. I am still alive.

Anyways, I will move on to happier things. This past week I have been living with my host counselor, and today is my first day with my host family. I love them already! They are really nice people, and I honestly am just relieved to be out of my counselor’s house. I detest living out of a suitcase. My host family consists of the parents, a 17-year-old son, and a 14-year-old daughter. They also have a 16-year-old son, but he is on exchange in Brazil. And I can’t forget to mention the dog, Zojka. I should probably move on to talking about the food. I love every piece of food here! The “Rotary 15” is definitely going to catch up with me fast. Even though I have only been here a week, I will try to make a list of some of the differences in Denmark:

Danes eat bread with everything. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you want a snack, you eat bread. But the bread is delicious, so I don’t mind.

Danes also put anything and everything on their bread. Chocolate, cheese, liverpaste…

Danes do not have air conditioning. They open their doors and windows instead.

You do not acknowledge the person walking past you. If you smile or wave they will stare at you like you are crazy.

Drivers will stop for pedestrians, but they will not stop for other drivers.

People actually obey the traffic laws.

Drinks don’t come with ice.

Everyone here smokes (which I found strange, considering that they are so environmentally friendly)

Every house either looks like it was built in the 1800’s, or it looks like it’s from the future. It makes for very interesting juxtaposition.

Having a Hyggeligt day = sitting around with friends or family, eating and having a cozy good time. Hyggeligt is a wonderful thing.

September 17 Journal

Hej alle sammen!

So, I have been in Denmark for one month and 16 days. This past month and 16 days have been incredible, terrifying, exhilarating, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. The 2nd week I was here was one of the hardest weeks I had ever had. That was when it really set in. That was when I realized that I wouldn’t see my family or friends for a whole year. I realized that I would have to forget everything I am used to, and that I wouldn’t see Florida until the summer of 2010. No matter what anyone says, it never really hits you until you get here. And it hit me like a big yellow school bus.

Luckily, I am past that now. After that awful week, things improved tremendously. The next week was IntroCamp (A.K.A. the best week of my life). IntroCamp was when all of the 150+ inbounds in Denmark met for a week of Danish lessons, day trips, and all around bonding experiences. The first day there I met my new best friends, Kayla and Lily – both from New York. I also met so many other people, from all over the World: Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Canada, Taiwan, Mexico, etc… In between Danish lessons we went to the city Viborg, and went in a really old, gorgeous church. We also explored around Århus (the second biggest city in Denmark), going to museums and shopping. I made so many new friends that week; I don’t even want to think about next summer, when I have to say goodbye. Oh, and I failed to mention that before going to the IntroCamp, I got to see Agnete!! She was a Danish exchange student to Florida last year that my family had the pleasure of hosting. I missed her so much, and I was so excited to finally see her again.

Denmark in general is wonderful. Every day I get to look out my window and see a sprawling field, and then look out the other window and see Kolding Fjord. It still hits me sometimes that I’m in Europe (in a good way though). My life here has become normal. I wake up, catch two buses, go to school, talk to my friends (I have friends! Yay!), come home, and do it all over again. Also, every Monday and Wednesday I take Danish lessons in Kolding, and those really help me. Luckily there are 3 other exchange students (from a different program) taking the same language class; It’s nice having people around who understand how I am feeling. I love Denmark, though. I really do. I can’t thank Rotary enough for sending me here.

A small list of the differences in Denmark:

Staring is accepted

Denmark really is the happiest country in the World; my host dad is constantly whistling.

The school throws par