Outbounds 2010-2011

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

Ariana - Hungary

Ariana’s Bio

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

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

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

Szervusz!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Someone I am is waiting for my courage.

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

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

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

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

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

This perfect moment. Just let me fall.”

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

 

Ariana’s Journals

August 17

 Little train to the heart

Little light in the dark

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

Cause you’ve been hiding for days

Wasted and wasting away

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

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

Follow the lights to this city

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

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

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

Or you could spend tour whole life holding on

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

Believe the tunnel can end.

Believe your body can mend.

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

So let’s go put up a fight

Let’s go make everything alright

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

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

And it’s not always pretty

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

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

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

Or you could spend tour whole life holding on

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

Don’t wanna wake up to the telephone ring

Are you sitting down I need to tell you something

Enough is enough you can stop waiting to breathe

And don’t wait up for me

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

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

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

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

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

Get up and go, Take a chance and be strong

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

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

Or you could spend your whole life holding on

Don’t spend your whole life holding on

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

September 14

A new world calls across the ocean

A new world calls across the sky

A new world whispers in the shadows

Time to fly, time to fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Round an unexpected bend and the road will end

In a new world

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

A new world calls for me to follow

A new world waits for my reply

A new world holds me to a promise

Standing by, standing by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That the surface sometimes cracks to reveal the tracks

To a new world

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

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

You have a house in the hills

You have a job on the coast

You find a lover you’re sure you believe in

You’ve got a pool in the back

You get to the part of your life

You hold the ring in your hand

But then the earthquake hits

And the bank closes in

Then you realize you didn’t know anything

Nobody told you the best way to steer

When the wind starts to blow

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

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

And you’re suddenly a stranger all of a sudden

You life is different than you planned

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

To be sure of what will be

Then you might be free

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

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

A new world crashes down like thunder

A new world charging through the air

A new world just beyond the mountain

Waiting there, waiting there

A new world shattering the silence

There’s a new world I’m afraid to see

A new world louder every moment

Come to me, come to me

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

September 29

She’s a good girl, loves her mama

Loves Jesus and America too

She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis

Loves horses and her boyfriend too

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

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

It’s a long day living in Reseda

There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard

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

I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

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

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

And I’m free, free fallin’

Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

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

All the vampires walkin’ through the valley

Move west down Ventura Boulevard

And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows

All the good girls are home with broken hearts  

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

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

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

And I’m free, free fallin’

Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

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

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

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

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

I wanna glide down over Mulholland

I wanna write her name in the sky

Gonna free fall out into nothin’

Gonna leave this world for a while

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

And I’m free, free fallin’

Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

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

October 25

I have, I have you breathing down my neck

Breathing down my neck

I don’t, don’t know what you could

Possibly expect under this condition

So I’ll wait, I’ll wait

For the ambulance to come, ambulance to come

Pick us up off the floor

What did you possibly expect

Under this condition, so slow down

This night’s a perfect shade of

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

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

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning

‘Til there’s nothing but dark blue

Just dark blue

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

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

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

 And this flood, this flood

Is slowly rising up, swallowing the ground

Beneath my feet, tell me

How anybody thinks under this condition

So, I’ll swim, I’ll swim

As the water rises up, sun is sinking down

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

Suggesting it’s best that I slow down

This night’s a perfect shade of

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

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

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue, dark blue

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning dark blue

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

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

 We were boxing, we were boxing the stars

We were boxing, you were swinging from Mars

And then the water reached the west coast

And took the power lines, the power lines

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

There was nothing we could do it was dark blue

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

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

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

 Dark blue, dark blue, have you

Ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning and burning down

Dark blue

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

Well, I’m here with you, I said

The world could be burning

Now there’s nothing but dark blue

If you’ve ever been alone

You’ll know dark blue

If you’ve ever been alone

You’ll know, you’ll know

 Lyrics from “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin

November 19

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

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

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

Behind us you will only see our dust

So we just keep smilin’, move onward every day

Try to keep our thoughts away from home

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

And satisfy our wanderlust to roam

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

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

 You know we’re havin’ good days

And we hope they’re gonna last

Our future still looks brighter than our past

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

Our mem’ries remind us

Maybe road life’s not so bad

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

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

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

Still we go on digging every show

The cities in the land all extend a welcome hand

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

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

 Well, you know we’re having good days

And we hope they’re going to last

Our future still looks brighter than our past

Feel no need to worry, no reason to be sad

Our mem’ries remind us

Maybe road life’s not so bad

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

Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Maybe road life’s not so bad

Road life’s not so bad, oh yeah, yeah

Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Lyrics from “Making Memories” by Rush

December 29

Slow down you crazy child

You’re so ambitious for a juvenile

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

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

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

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

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

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

 And you know that when the truth is told

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

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

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

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

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

Slow down, you’re doin’ fine

You can be everything you want to be before you time

Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

Too bad but it’s the life you lead

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

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

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

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

 You got your passion, you got your pride

But don’t you only know that fools are satisfied

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

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

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

Slow down you crazy child,

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while

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

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

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

 And you know that when the truth is told

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

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

Why don’t you realize, Vienna waits for you

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you

 Lyrics from “Vienna” by Billy Joel

February 8

I’m a suspect, I’m a traitor,

I’m only here in body visiting

Yellow faces, in the distance scream

The beauty is in what isn’t said

I’m rising to my feet

Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me!

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

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

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

 My just so, my last call

My life is yours, in your gifted hands

Confetti rainfall, in the quiet street

These things I’ve found are special now

The knot is in my reach

Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me!

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

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

 Movie Screens, Photographs

Through another’s eyes I can see

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

The best reward is earned and I’ve paid

For every single word, I’ve ever said

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

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

 Confetti rainfall, in the quiet street

The beauty is in what you make it

So get up on your feet

 Because tonight, the world turned in me

Because right now, I don’t dare to breathe

 Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me

Oh babe I know, it’s alive

It’s somewhere for us to find tonight

Chase this Light with me.

 Lyrics from “Chase this Light” by Jimmy Eat World

March 7

From today all the days are only half as long

Nothing left to love about

Yesterday’s one million years ago

The day before already went down

Time’s been replaced by a countdown

The sun is shining in the night

So here are the words, just think twice

Wake me up cause time is running out

It’s running out

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

Live every Second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Before it’s too late

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

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

 From today your life is just a TV show

You can even get a planet for free

The whole galaxy is chilling out

And time is all you can see

Don’t thank us now is all that counts

Remember that before you forget

So here are the words, just think twice

Wake me up because time is running out

It’s running out

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

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

 Live every Second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Wake up, wake up, wake up

It’s over now

Wake up

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

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

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

 Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Live every second

Here and now

Don’t let go

Before it’s too late

Before it’s too late

Stop it now

 Lyrics from “Live Every Second” by Tokio Hotel

 April 30

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

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

We got older, but we’re still young

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

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

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

“Here we lay again, on two separate beds

Riding phone lines to be that familiar voice

And pictures drawn from memories

We reflect on miscommunications and misunderstandings

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

We turn our music down and we whisper

Say what you’re thinking right now”

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

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

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

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

We got older, but we’re still young

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

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

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

“Jumping to conclusion made me fall away from you

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

We’re sitting on the ground and we whisper

Say what you’re thinking out loud”

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

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

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

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

We got older, but we’re still young

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

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

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

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

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

We got older, but we’re still young

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

We’re not ready to give up”

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

May 30

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

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

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

Images around me don’t identify inside

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

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

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

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

It fascinates and captivates and gives my heart no peace

The mountain holds a sunrise in the prison of the night

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

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

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

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

I live to climb that mountain to the fountain of Lamneth

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

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

Whiteness of confusion is unfolding from my mind

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

I catch a scent of ambergris and turn my head surprised

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

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

Enchantment falls around me and I know I cannot leave.

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

Another endless day, silhouettes of grey

Another glass of wine, drink with eyes that shine

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

Another foggy dawn, the mountain almost gone

Another doubtful fear, the road is not so clear

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

Draw another goblet from the cask of 43

Here’s a misty memory, hazy glimpse of me

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

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

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

Look the mist is rising and the sun is peeking through

See the steps grow lighter as I reach the final few

Hear the dancing waters, I must be drawing near

Feel my heart is pounding, with embattled doubt and fear

Now at last I fall before the fountain of Lamneth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still I am.

Selected lyrics from “The Fountain of Lamneth” by Rush

 

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

Alejandra - Brazil

Alejandra’s Bio

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

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

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

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

Adeus!

 Alejandra’s Journals

August 20

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

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

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

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

Other times though, I find myself in a pickle.

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

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

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

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

Tchau!

September 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 16

Day 193

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

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

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

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

May 27

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Emily - Thailand

Emily’s Bio

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

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

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

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

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

 mily’s Journals

August 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

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

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27

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

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

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

I need to travel here before I go…

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

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

I need to think about goodbye presents…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

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

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27

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

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

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

I need to travel here before I go…

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

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

I need to think about goodbye presents…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

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

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27

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

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

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

I need to travel here before I go…

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

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

I need to think about goodbye presents…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

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

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27

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

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

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

I need to travel here before I go…

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

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

I need to think about goodbye presents…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Emily’s Bio

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

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

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

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

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

 

Emily’s Journals

August 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

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

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27

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

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

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

I need to travel here before I go…

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

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

I need to think about goodbye presents…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily’s Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 September 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

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

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

Emily’s Bio

สวัสดี ! My name is Emily and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who will be spending next year in Thailand! My family hosted an Italian exchange student when I was ten and three more after that (Italy again, Japan, and France) but ever since our first I was very interested in the program and the people involved. Currently I attend Fleming Island High School and I’m a sophomore. I have been out of the country a few times on vacations with my family but I am really looking forward to experiencing this adventure on my own and not only learning about myself but learning about other people and other cultures.

I have an older sister who is a senior at Fleming and an older brother who will be graduating UCF this year. My main interests are making fun memories with my family and friends. I enjoy outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, and jogging. I also have a part time job at Publix, and volunteer with the Girl Scouts.

My biggest fear about the upcoming year is the language. I think the real challenge will be memorizing what the symbols mean (there are no spaces between words!!) and then being able to read them. Once I have that mastered I’m sure it will be much easier not only to meet people at my school but to share experiences with my fellow exchange students.

What really attracted me to Thailand in the first place was reading the journals about how different it is. You can walk down the street and see a monkey! What I really wanted was something entirely different from the norm here and whatever happens I’m positive it will be an unforgettable year.

I am so grateful to Rotary and everyone involved in this program for providing me with this amazing experience and believing in me to represent them well.

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Emily’s Journals

August 12

We left my house at exactly 3:45am which is right when we meant to. My parents, my grandmother, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and my brother’s girlfriend all took me to the airport. When we got to the airport at 4:20am I checked my bags in which took about half an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing. My first flight was good; I sat next to a man who had traveled all throughout Thailand and other Asian countries. Once I got to Chicago I walked across the airport to the wrong gate. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be I sat in my gate and decided to call my mom to tell her I had arrived safely. That’s when I realized I had no phone. I must have left it on the counter at Starbucks in Jacksonville. So I was just going to have to use pay phones for the rest of the day.  About 20 minutes later I realized I had been sitting next to Brooke! Brooke is the other girl from Florida going to Thailand. We talked for a while and she left to make a call. When she returned she had three other Rotary Exchangers headed to Thailand from Colorado. So we sat around and talked for the rest of our five hour layover. We all realized none of us knew very much Thai, and we agreed Rosetta Stone is only good if you don’t plan on actually speaking to anyone.

I slept through most of my 21 hour flight to Japan. While on the plane I saw Emily, an outbound from Syracuse I met when I did my third orientation there and another outbound from New York.

Once off the plane and in Japan i met Yin. She was an inbound who had lived in Syracuse and was on her way home. At the gate a girl came up to our group and asked if we were with Rotary. It turns out she was an outbound on her way to Thailand from California. So our group was now up to nine. We found our gate and decided to get some food. We all decided to have our last American meal, McDonalds. Then we spent the remaining hour and a half figuring out the Japanese pay phones. I was able to talk to my mom for a minute, but she sounded really tired, I think it was about four in the morning in Florida.

So I boarded the plane to Bangkok thinking it still doesn’t seem real. Once there we got through customs and went to get our bags. We walked out and imminently  saw Rotarians. Eventually I found my two host cousins and a Rotarian with them. They asked if I was hungry and if I wanted anything. Then the Rotarian left and said he would see me later. My host cousins and I went to a hotel in Bangkok. Kuwan (my cousin who spoke English) said he would get me at eleven the next morning and we would go meet my host mom. So I went to bed in Thailand for the first time!

The next morning when Kuwan came to get me I didn’t really know what was going to happen that day. What I didn’t expect was that he would put me on another plane. But this time the flight was only an hour long. I landed in a city about three hours away from my town. My host mom, her sister, and her sister’s husband were there to greet me, and I was presented with a beautiful pink stuffed elephant. We went to a restaurant and ate spicy food, and they all laughed when my face turned red. Then we went to a grocery store and bought things to make the American meal I was to cook for them, pancakes! We dropped Toe, host moms brother-in-law, off at his house and started the three hour car ride to my host town. We got there around seven and went to the silk shop my mom owns. Then we went to her house and I unpacked and went to bed.

 The next day I made grilled cheese for breakfast and we went back to the silk shop, which doesn’t have regular hours it just opens whenever we get there. I slept in the back until lunch time. Then I met a friend of my host moms and her son and daughter. We talked with them for a while, her daughter spoke English. Then I went to their house to use their computer. When I got back to the shop me and my mom left to go home and shower before the Rotary meeting. This meeting is nothing like the Orange Park Sunrise meetings. It was held in a kitchen with a bed in it. On the bed were a new born baby and his mother. The baby was one of the member’s grandsons. I went around to each member and said hello and then I was presented with flowers. Oh by the way my Thai name is Maa Lee, which sounds kind of like Emily and means flowers. We ate a lot of fruit and then left that house and walked down the street to another house where we drank chi and green tea. Once we left we went to an outdoor restaurant and had dinner. I made sure to try everything but I can’t eat too much spicy things yet. The restaurant had a stage and a dance floor and we watched Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dances. The dances were being performed in honor of the Queen, because it was the Queen’s birthday and so it was Thai mother’s day.

I’m going to start school on Monday the 16th. I already have my uniform. It’s a navy blue skirt and light blue shirt. I have to get my name embroidered in Thai on the front. I’m very excited to start school I hope it will help me learn Thai faster.

Nakhon Phanom is so beautiful. It’s right on the Laos border and the Makro River. From my mother’s front porch I can see the river and Laos. There are mountains on the other side of the river too and I’m told this is Vietnam. My host mom has a garden with trees that have the white and pink flowers on them, and she takes these flowers with her when we are in the car, or going to the shop. Everything around me, the nature, the river, the people, the language, everything is so wonderful I’m not sure how I’ll be able to leave.

 September 10

I never really got why other exchange students I’ve known didn’t like writing journals. Now I do. I honestly don’t want to sit down and write about my first month in Thailand, I want to just go on into my second month! But I understand that it’s important to reflect for a bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I only wrote one journal. So today last month was my first day in Nakom Phanom, Thailand. In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for four years not four weeks. In other ways I can’t believe a month could go by so fast.

I can’t figure out how to sum up the month of August. I wrote it about three different ways before I just decided on a paragraph about all the big things. Then I decided the biggest thing was school. My first day of school was I think the first time it hit me in the face that this is REALLY different. I was escorted in the morning by my host mom, the president of my host Rotary club, and three other Rotary members (all in matching club purple polo’s). Once at the school we met the principal, another administrator, a girl from Canada who would be spending six months in Thailand, and her mother. They all talked for a while, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying. Then I and the other girl, whose Thai name is Me which means bear, walked to our class. We are in the English program so about half of our classes are in English and half are in Thai and our classmates are the best English speakers in school. We pretty much stay in the same room but we leave the room for some classes. My class mates were so excited to meet both of us, but they hated the Thai name that my mom gave me because apparently a lot of foreigners pick Malee as their Thai name. So they just call me Emeee until they decide on a better name for me. After the first class which was English, we had free time. We have free time between every class, and it last for 15 minutes to two hours. During this time they play cards, watch movies, listen to music, gossip, eat, or nap. It’s very very loud and hectic. The first time I had to move out of our room to go to science class, was kind of like if you saw a one eyed green alien walking around my high school. All the students literally stopped, stared, pointed, yelled, and whispered when I walked by. Many screamed FALONG which basically means white person. I didn’t really know how to react so I just smiled and waved. I’m a celebrity in this school and in this small town, and it’s not good for my ego.

The next weekend was the inbound orientation for district 3340. It’s odd to think of myself as an inbound, I’ve been an outbound since last December. It was a lot of fun. There were about 25 kids from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and America. There were supposed to be forty something, including another in my town, but a lot pulled out because of the unrest last year, which they talked about and of course everything is perfectly fine now and we are far far away from where anything happened. I told my mom last year that I always have fun with Rotary kids because we’re all the same kind of crazy for taking on this experience. We listened to all of the same things Daphne and Al told us at our orientations last year, and bonded over the rolls they served us with a meaty surprise inside. Then it was time to say goodbye till next time. That night I went shopping with my mom and aunt. I never want to go shopping anywhere but Thai night markets. Where else can you drink corn milk, buy some of the cutest/cheapest clothes ever, and pet an elephant?

Moving on to food. I would like my readers to think about what they ate today. Did you try anything new? Did you eat anything interesting? Did you have anything you didn’t like? Or maybe you had something great that you intend to eat again as soon as possible. I don’t think I ever really thought about food until I got here. In America I ate cereal and McDonalds and whatever my dad cooked for me and that made up most of my meals. In Thailand I try something new I love every day, and something new I hate every day. In the morning I drink tea and look at the view on the front porch with my mom. At school I pay 15 baht (about 50 cents) for soup with noodles chicken and vegetables or a bowl of rice with pork and veggies. During math my friend and I share a bag of seaweed flavored chips. After school I eat roasted pork on a stick and sticky rice in a bag in the back of my mom’s cloth shop. Every night after we close around 8 we go to a different restaurant because my mom doesn’t like to cook. Because my town is so close to Laos and Vietnam the three cultures mix together. I try Vietnamese food and go to restaurants owned by someone from Laos just as often as I eat traditional Thai dishes. There are also some very popular Korean restaurants that serve grilled meat and veggie and noodle soup. It’s hard to really get just by the picture but you cook your own meat and soup on the table. It’s actually very common to be served your meal raw and cook it yourself in different ways at your table.

Another cool new experience was going to a Buddhist temple. I went with my mom and aunt and it was actually sort of like a day trip. We drove about an hour to a special temple. Once there I was given three flowers and three things of incense. We went into the temple where there is a huge statue of the Buddha. I kneeled while my mom and aunt prayed. After prayer we bowed three times. Then you leave the flowers and put the burning incense in a big bowl of sand. Then they showed me how to predict your fortune. You get this cup full of what kinda look like chopsticks. You shake it until one falls out. Each stick has a number on the end, my number was 18. So you go over to these little wooden cubbies, and each has a number with pieces of paper. You find your number and take your paper and on your paper is your fortune, it’s written in Thai, Chinese, and English. Once out of the temple. You get three little squares of gold foil, about the size of your finger nail. You stick them on one of the seven statues on the Buddha that’s outside. I think the idea is that eventually the statue will be covered in gold to look golden plated. Each statue is different for the different days of the week. Most people stick there foil on the statue of the day of the week they were born on. Then you bang a gong three times. I’m not sure why everything is done in three’s, but that seemed to be the trend. Once done at this temple we drove to where a monk lived. There was a small temple with chickens outside and a house on stilts. We had met a friend of my mom’s at the last temple and were with their group. It was me, four women, and a man. The man was able to sit closer to the monk, although he was on a platform. We gave him flowers and candles and a bag I think was full of food. The man talked and laughed with the monk for a while. Once we left there we went to another temple. The biggest yet. It was beautiful and my mom told me over and over again that everything was handmade. We walked around and saw the temples to different gods. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of this religion so maybe they weren’t all gods. I’m not really sure, just more stuff to learn:)

This month was mostly about getting into a routine. Getting up for school on time to sing the national anthem in the blazing sun in the morning. Figuring out what lines at lunch have the least spicy food. Never putting your shoes on all the way because you will just have to take them off again when you get to the classroom or the house. Learning the card game of choice in my class. Making friends. I’m not sure if an extra amount of learning happens in the first month or if I will just learn as much every other month. It’s work. Learning a language, meeting someone new every day, handling things on your own without the help of your parents or best friend. I’m used to being independent back home but this is a different kind. I usually have a companion for my adventures, and this one is all my own.

Here are some random things I learned this month that weren’t big enough for their own paragraph:

When a Thai person tells you something is not spicy that means it’s a little spicy. And when they tell you it’s a little spicy that means there are probably three different kinds of peppers and your mouth will hurt for a day after eating it.

According to my class mates I look like the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry potter movies.

Every white tourist is my brother or sister.

If you are allergic to peanuts its best to stay away from Thailand because it’s pretty much found in 75% of all meals.

There are ants everywhere so just get over it.

Horror movies are extremely popular here. So far during free time in class I’ve seen the Haunting in Connecticut, Saw III, and Paranormal Activity.

Most Thai’s think American High School is exactly like Gossip Girl and are a little disappointed to hear otherwise.

When I asked my friends what American meal they wanted me to cook for them they said spaghetti and French fries.

80’s style hair do’s and aerobics classes (complete with spandex and hula hoops) are extremely popular for middle aged women.

 There is no limit to how many people you can fit on a motorcycle (the most I’ve seen is a family of five, baby in the basket on the front)

So August is done. Reflection complete. On to the next month and next chapter of this changing year:)

October 5

Oh My Buddha! Is it really October already!! By the way, a lot of my friends say Oh My God because someone says it all the time in a popular T.V. show and every once in a while you’ll hear some smart alic say Oh My Buddha! The first time I heard it I seriously almost died laughing.

Anyway the month of September went by surprisingly fast considering I didn’t do very much. School has been going on here for 5 months (since May) so the first term is over now. My class mates had to take mid-terms and now we get about two weeks off of school. The week before midterms they had no classes except music. So they would be at school for the normal 8 hours but only have music class for maybe 45 minutes. Since I don’t sing or play any instruments I was told not to go to school for that week. The next week was midterms. Midterms in Thailand are VERY DIFFERENT! I went to school in the morning on Monday and nobody was there, so I called my friend and she told me that school would start at one p.m. So I went home and slept for a few more hours. When I got to school for the second time that day I walked in on my class taking their biology test. A few students were not in their uniforms and the ones that were didn’t have their shirts tucked in. The test was a 30 question multiple choice test. I have only been at school about a month and a half and I thought it was really easy. Of course like all tests in Thailand none of the students took it seriously. They were talking and sharing answers the entire time and the teacher didn’t do anything! Once the test was done he asked if they wanted to take their chemistry test now or later. They all voted to take the test Wednesday. So I guess the students schedule when they want to take their midterms? After school the teacher told me that I didn’t have to take the other tests if I didn’t want to (during this conversation I was thinking “why would I want to take a test?”) so that was the second week in a row I did not attend school. I really like school but there always seems a reason for me not to go!!

So on all these free days I had I would get up early and go on walks with my mom. We would walk down the river and then into the town and buy these kind of donut things that we would dip in green sweet sauce and eat on the walk back home. Some days I would go back to sleep and other I would go with my mom and aunt to open the shop. We have been making hula hoops to sell during a big boat race in the river at the end of October. It’s a lot of fun actually. You can make them with different fabrics and glitter and ribbons. I made one for myself with chaeta print and pink ribbon 🙂 When I’m not making hula hoops, I mess around on the internet and try really hard to learn the alphabet. I know 12 out of 44 letters but it’s so hard to remember and there is one letter that sounds like gnaw gnoo. The “gn” sound is almost impossible for me to say correctly and my mom and aunt always laugh when they hear me practicing. My friend has told me that falongs always have trouble with this letter. At lunch I would walk to the market with aunt for rice and pork on a stick or two shops down to eat noodle soup. At night sometimes I would walk around the night market with friends from school and eat frozen soda popsicles.

Also in September I went on a tour with my aunt and her friends and a friend of mine from school. The tour was to two temples in Loyet and then to a big market. The first temple we had to walk up these stairs on the side of a mountain. It was a long walk but the view from the top was amazing! When we went inside the temple there was a monk sitting on his platform the platform and the monk were inside this glass box. This particular monk was really old and at first I thought he was fake, and then I saw him blink and noticed the door on the side of the box. Honestly it kind of scared me at first, I had never seen the monks in boxes like this before and I’m still not entirely sure why he was in there. The next temple we went to was the biggest one I’ve seen so far. It was also up a mountain and we could see it from really far away. My friend told me that this temple is supposed to be the most beautiful in Thailand. It was really gorgeous, and very tall. We walked up to the top, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, and at the top was this big kind of case thing and inside that was a bone from The Buddha. The view from the top was of big fields and a small village and the gardens of the temple. It was a little surreal to think that I’m at the most beautiful temple in Thailand with my friend Ple and my Thai Aunt and I’m looking at an insanely beautiful view, and then we went shopping 🙂 It was a cool trip and probably the highlight of September.

I decided to write this journal today because tomorrow I’m going to Bangkok! And I don’t know if I will remember everything from September after I come back from that trip.

But there are two other things that have happened recently that I want to tell you about.

The first was I think a week ago, I had a little ah-ha moment. I was sitting on my porch with my mom and aunt eating dinner. They had got this thing for me to try that they said was like Thai spaghetti, but they got it without peppers so I could actually eat it, and it was delish. But as I was eating the Thai spaghetti I looked up and the moon was right over the river and under it I could see the outline of a mountain and and the lights from the cars in Laos. But the moon was HUGE! And it had this orange-ish look to it. So I yelled and pointed “Ahh! Sui!” (Beautiful) and my mom and aunt looked up and did the same thing! So we ran across the street (in our Pajamas) to get a better look. I tried to take pictures but every single one I took came out ugly and this scene was just so so pretty. After maybe an hour of just standing there looking at the moon my mom asked me (in Thai 🙂 if this was making me home sick. I told her (in Thai 🙂 that it didn’t because in Florida there is no mountain, and no river, and no flower garden in my yard, and no Laos. Thailand, and that particular moment, was just so happy and pretty and perfect and I couldn’t have that moment anywhere but right there!

The second was last night. I was sitting in my living room with my mom and aunt and we were watching the finally of a really popular Thai TV show called Wanita. We watch a different show every night of the week, but I think Wanita is my favorite. Any way we were sitting and watching and I was cutting fabric to make hula hoops with the next day and the doorbell rang. It was my second host mom, my two sisters, and brother. My second moms name is Pet. I met them all my second day here, but didn’t actually know they were my second family at the time. I hadn’t met my older sister though. She studies at a university in Khon Khen, so that was my first time meeting her. They had come because my moms had to talk about something, but my little sister and brother came because they missed me 🙂 We all talked for a long time about a lot of random things like how pale I am, and what I’m learning, and where else in Thailand I want to go, and what foods I like. It’s was a lot fun just sitting and talking with my families. I already love my siblings so much!! I really really like my first family, my mom is always looking out for me and helping learn something new all the time, and my aunt is always showing me new things and how I can help at the shop. But at the same time I can’t wait to live with my next host because I love my older and little sister and my brother is such a goof ball!! It will be bitter sweet when I change families, but luckily I don’t have to think about all that just yet!

Tomorrow I’m off to Bangkok! I will leave at 6am with a Rotarian from the other club in Nakom Phanom. While I’m there I will also see my friends from school who will be there at the same time! I’m really really excited because the big city will be very different from scenic Nakom Phanom!!

I have heard that a lot of people are reading my journals back home. It makes me so happy that there are many people who care to read about this crazy adventure of mine 🙂 I just want to say thanks to everybody (especially those in Rotary) for your support and prayers!

November 12

Grab a snack this is a very long journal.

When I left you last I was about to leave for Bangkok, and I was on a 2 and a half week break from school. I went to Bangkok with a member of my host clubs family. I want to tell you about this family because they have been so good to me and are always checking in on me and making sure I’m good and happy. The mother as I said is a member of my host club and was president I think last year. The father is the current District Governor and their daughter is a member of the other Rotary club in Nakhon Phanom and was the president two years ago; I have mentioned her before I think her name is Meena but she spent a year in England and when she was there she was called Ann and that’s what everyone calls her now (Thai’s are really into nicknames or choosing a western name to go by). So anyway I got up really early and Ann came to pick me up at my house. It’s about a ten hour drive to BKK and I felt so bad for her because she had to drive all that way, but it turns out we were taking one of the vans that her hotel (her family owns a hotel in Nakhon Phanom) rents to people with a hired driver. So the ride there was very comfortable. Vans here are all silver and very roomy inside with 2 or 3 rows of comfy seats. They are equipped with everything you would need for karaoke including a d.v.d. player and microphones. We watched some movies but mostly slept, and karaoke isn’t that fun with only two people. When we got to Ann’s sisters house her mom was there too. The first day in BKK Ann and I went to a really old temple that was HUGE. It was decorated with porcelain from China because when it was built, China and Thailand were trading a lot and the king that built it really like Chinese porcelain. We also went to another temple that is famous because you can get a message there but there were a lot of people and we didn’t get a chance. Then we took a “took took” to a really big whole sale mall that was really cheap and went shopping. The next day we spent the entire day in probably the biggest market ever. It literally had a map at the beginning and we had to go into a tourism place to ask directions, IN A MARKET! On the third day the entire family (Mom, Ann, Ann’s sister, husband and two children, Ann’s brother and wife and child) all loaded into the vans and went to Pattaya. Pattaya is like the Vegas of Thailand but on the Ocean. We spent two days and one night in Pattaya. We went shopping, spent a day at the beach, we also went to a floating market and a Lady Boy show. The floating market was really cool it was a basically a river and on both sides a paved side walk and a lot of shops. The Lady Boy show as amazing! I have never been to Vegas but I’m guessing the cabaret shows are the same as Pattaya’s Tiffany Show. All the girls were so beautiful it’s a little hard to believe they weren’t always girls. Before we left Pattaya I got to go on an elephant ride. It was a lot of fun but I don’t think the elephants were treated very well which is pretty sad. All in all it was a really cool trip and I am so grateful for Ann and her family for taking me 🙂

When I got back it was time for me to experience my first Thai festival. They have A LOT of festivals throughout the year. This one was called Lai Reufai or The Illuminated Boat Procession. For eight days in October many Thai’s only ate vegetarian dishes, and there were yellow flags in front of restaurants to show that they offered vegetarian meals. At the end of these eight days there was a parade at night where everyone wore white and carried plastic bowls with candles and incense in them. At the end of the parade we got on this big boat and went out into the middle of the river. On the way we said prayers and made speeches and talked. Once we were at the part of the river we wanted to be at we put the plastic bowls into the river and they floated away. It was really pretty because they still had candles and incense inside them so when they were far away they were just little lights flickering as they flowed to wherever they were going. Not very environmentally friendly but still really pretty. Every night up to the 23 when the actual festival happened there would be these lights in the river. Also during this week people came from Chang Mai and Kohn Khen to sell things at the seemingly endless night market that took up about five or six streets. They sold everything from furniture to clothes to snacks and I even got a full body 45 minute massage for about three dollars which was pretty great. Two days before the festival one of the administrators told me that he wanted me to participate in something the school was doing. So he told me that I would have to learn two Thai dances and perform them in a parade the day of the Boat Procession. I tried my very best to learn them but after the first day they realized there was no way I was going to be able to do them right so they decided it would be better for me to present the actual boats. So the day before the festival me and seven other class mates went to the radio station that would be broadcasting from the river about the boats. What we were there to do was describe them and we were recording the day before incase it rained. The next day we met where the boats would be passing and as each passed we took turns describing them live on the radio. The only odd part was we did it in English. I don’t know why because I doubt more than two people could understand us but it was still fun. The boats are really just really long bamboo trunks criss crossed and attached are candles and the candles when lighted create an image. Most were of the King, temples, and Nagas (river spirits in the form of snakes. There were about 35 boats in total. Along with the boats floating down the river there were also the same plastic bowls I talked about before. I thought it was really pretty but all my friends think it’s boring because they have seen it every year of their life.

Another cool thing I got to do this month was go a service project with my Rotary Club. Every year the Nakhon Phanom Club, the Khong River Club (Ann’s Club), a club from BKK, and a Club from Japan donate a bunch of second hand bicycles to children. This year they also donated reading glasses. I got to take part in the ceremony where they gave the bicycles away. Of course this ceremony included dancing because Thai’s always are looking for some way to work dancing or singing into any occasion.

School so far this semester is pretty much the same for me. I found out all that free time we have we aren’t actually supposed to have. We actually have every class back to back but a lot of the time teachers come late or don’t come at all or only stay for half or less of the class. Also we are supposed to have class until 6:30pm everyday (which means about ten hours of school. Yes I agree with you that that is crazy! But about 4 every day one of my friends says “I think you can go home now” and I am not one to argue with leaving 2 and a half hours early. The other day an administrator called me into his office. I thought I was going to get yelled at for letting my friend copy my English test earlier that day but he said he wanted me to help solve the talking problem that my class has. I told him that I think they can’t concentrate because they have to learn for ten hours every day and it’s too long. When I told my friends what I had told him they laughed for so long and told me I had said the right thing.

Since I took one day of Thai dance class I really wanted to take time to learn more about it so now every Wednesday and Thursday I go to take Thai dancing lessons from 4-5. It’s really hard but a lot of fun and really pretty when done right. They all have very thin fingers that they can bend really far back and they use their hands as a main point in most of the dances. I also like this class because it’s not part of the English program which means that they only speak Thai, which means I have to speak Thai, which is good: )

Lately I have also been going to way more temples that usual. Sometimes four in one week. We usually get up early and go to the temple where we pray for a long time (I memorized one of the easier prayers which made my mom really happy). Then we eat on the floor of the temple and talk. Then they take this really long string and it goes around all the people inside the temple and then we pray some more. My mom said that we will go to a lot of these kinds of things the month after Lai Reufai. I like it because it means I get to miss school, eat really good food, and be shown off to my mom’s friends which she really likes to do: )

This month I got to see my second family a lot because my mom #2 (her name is Pet) went to some temples with us and we went to dinner with them another time. I think I said this before but I totally love my little sister. She is so nice and we talk to each other in this weird kind of Thai-nglsih ( ya know like spainglish). We talk about everything!! School, movie stars, food, clothes, music, EVERYTHING! I don’t know what my older sister in America was always complaining about I love being an older sister 🙂

I also went with Ann’s family to the Christian church for All Saints Day. All Saints Day isn’t that big of a holiday in America so I’m not even sure what American Christians do but I do know what Thai Christians do. It was a lot of fun actually. The church here is really big and in the back there is a large cemetery. All the graves are like stone boxes above the ground there aren’t any under the ground. We lit a lot of candles and there were at least 20 on every grave. Then they had a mass outside and after served food. I helped hand out sandwiches that Ann’s hotel had donated.

This past week I was able to attend a Thai wedding reception. It was pretty cute. When you walked up the bride and groom were standing in front of a wall of purple and white balloons and every single person took a picture with them. We then sat down at a table and ate while listing too… guess! Guess what the music was……. KARAOKEE! Then the bride and groom were given flowers to by their parents. As we left we were given the party favors which were ying and yang salt and pepper shakers.

Yesterday I spent the day at a temple just outside of Nakhon Phanom. I was supposed to be picked up at 7 but when I got up at 7:10 I didn’t panic because in Thailand when they say 7 they mean 7:45ish. Anyway I got dressed in all white and Ann picked me up and we had breakfast at her hotel. When we got to the temple there were maybe 100 kids sitting in long rows on the floor. They were staying at the temple for four days; kind of like a church camp. Ann’s Club, the Khong River Club was sponsoring it. They had a monk talk and tell a story and then some of the teachers talked about being aware of every movement your body makes. The main thing the students were learning over the four days was meditation but also being conscience of every part of your body. It was cool but when we were meditating I did dozing off a little bit…

Today I went to school and brought the scrap book my best friend made for me before I left Florida just to show my Thai friends what my American friends are like and what we do. THEY LOVED IT! It was so funny because I showed them my parents, my girlfriends, some ex-boyfriends. They got to see pictures of me at my high school football games and me at the beach (in a bikini which they thought was hilarious). And now they want me to make them shirts like the ones me and my friends made for a football game. They all want to come to America and go to high school and birthday parties and the beach so I told them that if they ever did come I’m happy to host them, (hope that’s okay mom!)

Tonight at 6pm I’m getting on a bus with my Aunt and we are going to tour Bangkok for four days! So I’m super excited for that!

OKAY! I think that’s all for now! Na dee sawat!

December 21

I have been procrastinating writing this for like 2 weeks. This trip seems like so long ago but that’s what I last talked about, the trip to BKK with my aunt. We got on a bus and 13 hours later were in BKK and then took a cab to this place where we were meeting the other people in our tour. That’s when I realized we weren’t staying in BKK. We were going on a tour to Lat Bouri. Thai people go on tours of Thailand a lot for short vacations. So we got on the tour bus and drove to Lat Bouri which is near the sea.

The tour was for Thai people so of course it was all in Thai and I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of most of what the tour guide said. We stopped at a really old temple that was in a cave, and outside were a bunch of monkeys and we could feed them corn or bananas. The minute you had some food in your hand they like attacked you, it was kind of scary. I tried to get a RYE picture like Jay’s from last year but it came out bad, so I will have to try again. We also went to this place with a really big statue of a famous monk, and visited several beaches but only just stopped, walked around, and left. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and every night we went to a seafood restaurant. I’m not sure how I feel about Thai seafood. It’s really good like all Thai food but they serve it with all the bones and head still on. The head thing doesn’t freak me out, but I’m so scared I’m going to coke on a bone, so I usually just don’t eat it when I can avoid it. One of the men on the tour loved hearing me speak Lao and he tried to teach me some so I can say hello, delicious, and good morning in Lao which is really similar to Thai. Like delicious in Thai is sap and in Lao it’s sap-ily.

When I came back from that trip I had just enough time to do laundry and then I left again for the first Rotary trip to Pru Kradung. It was a four day trip hiking up the mountain staying a couple days and then hiking back down. I met the German exchange student; her name is Inken, in Skhon Akhon about an hour and a half away. Then we drove to Udon about 2 and half hours from Skhon Akhon to meet the exchange students from Canada (Ryan) and Mexico (Oscar). We stopped for a little while in the mall in Udon, and then continued to Pru Kradung. The last bit of the trip from Udon to Pru Kradung was really interesting. We were with two Rotarians in a two seater truck. That meant that the four exchange students sat in the bed of the truck with our bags for maybe four hours. In a weird way it was kind of fun. When we got there we met the other exchange students from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, and America! That night was the festival of Loi Kratung. We ate and watched Caterina (Brazil) be in a beauty pageant. The big thing you do during Loi Kratung is you take these paper bag things and turn them upside down and under them is this thing and you set it on fire and the bag fills up with smoke and then you let it go and it just flies away and you make a wish. It’s really pretty but when like 100 people do it at the same time it looks really cool.

The next day we got up early and hiked up the mountain. It was fun but it made me notice how completely out of shape I am. It isn’t actually a mountain it’s a platue, so the top is flat. The next few days we walked around the top. We went to cliffs, went swimming in freezing cold waterfalls, saw wild elephants, and ate super delish Pat Thai. The day we had to climb down wasn’t that fun. It was really steep and graceful me fell, multiple times, in the same place on my leg. So it was really scraped up by the time I got to the bottom. All in all it was a really fun trip especially because I had been exchange student deprived since August. Most of the others in my district had visited each other or gone to Rotary functions together but I hadn’t seen anyone since the first orientation, so I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye.

The day after I got back was the beginning of sport week in my school. It was opened with a parade. So I got back from Pru Kradung at about midnight and then got up at 5 to go to school and get my hair and makeup done for this parade I was walking in, with my very icky messed up leg. My job was to hold a banner with another Thai boy in Matium 3 or grade 9. He’s half Thai, half American and he defiantly looks pretty white. So it was two falongs holding this banner and a bunch of beautiful Thai girls all done up dancing behind us. We walked from the middle of the town to my school and then when the parade ended there was a party on the field at my school. I didn’t stay for that because my leg was killing me. The next week was sport week. The school is divided into four colors; pink, blue, orange and yellow. My class was pink. The first two days the four colors went up against each other in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. On the 3rd day the four colors made these stands and were judged on them. Our theme was the Pink Theater and was all about movies. Then we had a dance and cheerleading competition between the four colors. Pink won for cheerleading and we got cookies as our prize. The rest of the week we had no classes. The week after that we had “twin sport day” which was a soccer game between Nawpawa (my school) Peeat. This also began with a parade that my principal asked me to be in. So I got up early and went to school, but this time my friends from class were also in the parade so I met them at school and we all had our makeup done, but this time they didn’t tease my hair to death because I was going to wear a huge crown thing. We were supposed to be angels but Thai angels which are different from what you picture an angel would look like.

This time I got to sit on a float and I was on the right side of a Thai boy and on his right side was a lady boy dressed like me only she looked better. On the float behind us was the lady boy in my class. She was sitting in a paper lotus flower with her wig on and makeup done and she looked really cute. After the parade we got to go watch the end of the soccer game. Because the pink cheerleaders had won the week before they were the ones cheering at the game. Thai cheerleaders are very different than American ones. Thai cheerleaders have actual costumes instead of the little uniforms American cheerleaders have, and Thai cheerleaders instead of like “go team” have real dances that are supposed to be about the school. Another really different thing is how the audience cheers for the players. Like in America you would yell encouraging words or like a “wahoo” but here they scream. Like an axe murder is coming after you, that kind of scream. The first time I heard it I thought somebody was hurt or bleeding or something and then I understood and now it’s just funny. So this week was the first week I actually went to school and had a class in about a month.

It’s really weird to think Christmas is in five days. It isn’t cold here, it feels like Florida in September or October. And we didn’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving which are like things that lead up to Christmas so I can’t believe it’s really December and my birthday is next month and that means I’ve been here for more than 5 months. I think if I was in a Christian country I would feel more homesick. But I feel more like I’m having a year-long August. There are a lot of Christmas lights around but they have been up all year in front of shops and buildings, I guess Thai’s just think they look cool.

I see my 2nd host family all the time. My second mom stops by the shop a lot and sometimes brings my little brother and sister which is fun because they quiz me in Thai words and I quiz them in English. My counselor explained to me that I would change in January and spend two months with them, and then change to my 3rd mom and spend the last three months with her. I think the rotation is weird, to spend six months with one host and so little time with the other two. I think they did it like that because my next two hosts speak English and my current host doesn’t and they want me to improve as much as possible before changing into an English speaking family.

As for my Thai I think I’m pretty decent now. I understand almost everything and can usually answer. I think my sentences are kind of broken but people can understand me. My friends tell me they love my accent. It’s weird to think I have an accent but how I say things sounds different when my friends say them. I think I talk much slower too, but when I try to copy exactly how they say something they say “No no Emily! Say like you say!”

We have a new teacher from the UK at my school. He teaches physics. The first class my friends and I were talking about him so we were talking in Thai because we didn’t want him to know. At the end of the class he wanted to talk to everyone separately and began with me. The first question he asked me was “Are you Thai?”In my head I was like ummm do I look Thai? And his second question was “How good is your English?” I think he isn’t that observant because I don’t look the littlest bit Thai and I speak with an American accent. So I explained to him that I was an exchange student and then he asked a bunch of the normal questions people ask when they know you’re an exchange student.

Today I walked home from school today, because I thought I could use some kind of exercise. I will never get used to everyone staring at me. I have been here for 5 months and been in two parades. It isn’t a big town everyone has seen me before, but they still point and yell or whisper “falong” when they see me. People across the street stop and watch me walk by. They yell out “hello” usually because that’s the only English word they know and they figure I can’t speak Thai. Every once and a while I’ll walk by a group of boys and one will ask me to marry them. In bigger cities there is a good amount of white people but they are mostly old men who come to Thailand to get married. Even in Nakhon Phanom there are a few men like that. But it’s rare to see a 16 year old American girl walk down the street.

Back in Florida the new Outbounds know their countries and it is so weird to think last year I got a phone call telling me I would be going to Thailand. And then I had to tell my friends, and do research, and talk to my sponsor club, and all that stuff seems like so long ago. I’ve talked to the outbounds going to Thailand next year, it’s just weird to think I was them last year, and it didn’t really seem real. But I’m here now, and I have a Thai family, and Thai friends, and I go to Thai school, and speak Thai, and eat Thai food. And next year they get to do that too! And they’re so lucky, because it’s such a cool thing to be doing.

February 25

I spent Christmas with my mom, aunt, grandma, and grandma’s friend in Bangkok at an Otop festival that happens every year there in the arena. It’s basically a lot of booths set up selling different things. While we were there we went to visit my Mothers Nephew, (he got me from the airport) who had just had a baby. I saw this commercial before I left Florida for this movie/documentary following the first few months of three different babies from America, Asia, and Africa. I think it’s really interesting that taking care of a baby can be so different depending on where you are in the world. I mean it’s a baby; they’re all the same right? But when we got there we all sat on the floor around this baby and they let me hold him for a while but he started to cry. Then they took out this string that had been blessed and tied it around money and then tied that to his wrist (he was not happy about that) and said some prayers. Then they pulled down this babies pants so I could see… That wasn’t the first time that had happened, in my second journal I talked about going to the Rotarians house where the baby was on the bed, they did the same thing there. I think it’s just this Thai thing they do if you go to see a new born boy, they want you to know it’s a boy.

When I got back to my town I spent a few days home before going to visit Inken (Germany) in a town about an hour from me. I spent New Year’s with her and we had a lot of fun. We went to a party with her whole family and everyone gave each other presents and we ate A LOT of food. At about 10 p.m. we went back to Inken’s house. A lot of the time in Thailand your family doesn’t stay up to count down for New Year they just go to bed. But the young people stay up so we went to a party with her friends. It was a lot of fun we did sparklers in the street until it was 2011! I spent the next three days with her and then back to Nakhon Phanom and school.

On the 9th of January (exactly 5 months in Thailand) I changed to my second host, where I will stay for 4 months. I really like them I have a little more freedom to go places and my little sister is so great and helps me out all the time. This new house is also very pretty, it’s a little farther from the city part of my town and there is a rice field next door, sometimes the water buffalo wander into the yard which doesn’t make the two ex-police dogs we have very happy.

For my birthday Inken came to stay for the weekend. I went to school Friday, and then that night my friends, family, and family’s friends all went to eat Sukie (the Thai BBQ I always talk about). We all ate way too much and then had cake from my friends and another from my family. The next day I showed Inken around Nakhon Phanom (you can see it all in one day) and we went on the boat tour on the Mekhong River.  

Then it was February!! Last week of school!! For Valentine’s Day we had a little party in my class and some people got flowers but my friends all gave me stickers, and by the end of the day we were covered in heart stickers. The last few weeks my class has been studying a lot because they have final exams coming up. My principal told me I don’t need to take them so I’m staying home the last week. On the 18th I went to a temple with my mom, and little sister and brother. We each got flowers and candles and walked around the temple three times. A lot of my friends from school were at the same temple. As we were walking we said a lot of prayers and then went to light candles on my Mothers Grandmothers graves. This little festival was called Vientien.

This past Monday was the “Graduation” ceremony for grades 6 and grades 3. In Thailand they have pre-school, 6 year elementary school, and 6 year Jr. High/High School, same as in the U.S. But here when you go to Grade 7 the numbers start over. So grade 1-6 is called Bo.1-6 and grades 7-12 are called Mo.1-6. So I just finished Mo. 5. Once you complete Mo. 3 you have the choice to continue school or stop. So the graduation is for Mo. 3 and Mo. 6. It wasn’t actually a ceremony but Mo. 1, 2, 4, and 5 stood in two lines while Mo. 3 and 6 paraded in the middle of the two lines. The Mo. 3 and 6 students were given flowers, candy, presents, giant stuffed bears, banners, pictures pined to their shirts, and bracelets with the school colors. It was a lot of fun. Once the parading graduates were finished there was a concert in the auditorium of students who could sing and play any instrument, and a slide show of pictures of the grads. Everyone had a lot of fun and all my friends were excited because it was only one year until that was them!

I am very excited for my summer holidays because during that time I will travel a lot. Next month there is the Rotary District Conference and all the inbounds were asked to make a traditional dish from their country (Yay! We get to eat more!) and perform a skit about their country. There are three of us from America. Me, Alyana from Arizona, and Tim from Oregon. We will serve Cook Out food like hamburgers, home fries, and Coke. And for our skit we are going to sing the 50 states song. I’m really excited to see what everyone makes and watch their skits. For ten days in April Rotary has a trip to Chang Mai, a really big city in North West Thailand, and I’m super excited for that.

Reading some of my past journals I’ve talked a lot about where I’ve traveled to but not so much about actual Thai things, so I will try to be better about that.  

Thailand has many different kinds of transportation. There are the big buses that can take you to any city. These buses are all really tall because they are double deckers, but you only ride in the top, they are also really colorful with drawings on the sides. In large cities they have these adapted motorcycles with three wheels and a cover over two seats in the back, this is called a took took and I have a picture in another journal. Then they have this thing that looks like a cross between pickup truck and a bus. It has benches in the back and can hold a lot of people, and sometimes you see them with people riding on top. Then they have the Song Taow which actually is a pickup truck with benches in the back and a cover over the top. And then they have Samlo which are like took tooks but have benches in the back instead of seats and can hold more people; there are a lot of Samlos in my town. Then in bigger cities they have your regular taxi. The Song Taows are probably the easiest thing to use because they run on a schedule and only cost about 8 Baht. Took tooks are very expensive because tourists like to use them. I took a trip to Khon Khean in January to go to my friend’s birthday party. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Khon Khean. Once in Khon Khean I had to take a Song Taow to the bigger bus station where my friend was supposed to pick me up. She called me and asked to meet me in the Mall because it was easier. So I took a taxi to the mall. Only the driver took me to the wrong mall. Once I figured out I was in the wrong mall I had to take another taxi to the different mall. The second taxi charged me way too much because I was a falong, but I just wanted to get to the right place so I didn’t care.

I really like that this family has dogs. I like to play with them and it’s not common in Thailand to play with dogs. Most are outside dogs because they are kind of dirty, and aren’t given baths. Because the dogs are outside all the time, people don’t get very close to their pets. In America dogs and cats become part of the family. When they die you get very sad. You bury them in the back yard and have a little service and put a cross there to mark the spot. My family had a third dog who died in January. It was really old and sick. But when the dog dies here you put it out by the trash and they take it away. Kind of weird to talk about in a journal but it just seemed like something very different.  

On a lighter note my crazy food of the month was shrimp. Here they have really tiny shrimp like the size of tadpoles. They put these guys in a bunch of different dishes. I had them last week in a salad. My little brother, dad and I went out to eat lunch. They brought this bowl with a plate over it to the table and my dad lifted up the plate. A little gray shrimp jumped out onto the table. Apparently this was a salad with live shrimp in it. Leng (my little brother) took out a ball of sticky rice, chose a nice looking little shrimp and squished the rice and shrimp together and popped it in his mouth. I was just a little freaked out. For a little bit I just watched them eat this stuff. Then I decided it would be a shame if it ended up being really good and I never tried it. So I did. It was gross. But I’m very proud of myself for trying 🙂

I’m trying to stop thinking of things as strange or weird, but just different. Things that are said or done differently aren’t wrong; they are just not the same. My American mom told me that she was showing Eric (Swedish Inbound staying in my house) pictures from when I went dogsledding in Minnesota. She asked me if doing that trip alone when I was 14 change me in a way to want to do this year abroad now. I said that trip didn’t really change me. I’ve always been this kind of person. I don’t think this year will make me a different person, I don’t think I’ll go back and see everything differently. But I think this year is helping me to realize that the world is huge, and there are a lot of people on it. And all these people have crazy different lives but they’re happy. I don’t think this experience will change how I think about things, but it has and is changing what I think about.

April 21

So I’m right in the middle of summer holidays and constantly traveling. At the beginning of March there was a District Conference in my favorite city that all the inbounds prepared food and skits for. I went 3 days early to stay with a Brazilian girl. The District Conference was a lot of fun but a little hectic, especially when we had about 20 kids from 7 countries making food in the same house at the same time. We also got to meet next year’s District 3340 Outbound. They were a little shy but still fun to get to know. After the D.C. I stayed another 3 days with the same Brazilian girl and then went to my German friends City about an hour from my city. I stayed with her 2 days and then went to Bangkok for about a week to say goodbye to another friend who was going home. When I finally got back to my city I had been gone 22 days.

Once back I was told my host was moving and I would have to stay with my first host a little before I could move to my 3rd. So I stayed with my first host and then on the 30th went to go on the Northern Culture Trip with Rotary. I picked up my German friend in her city because we always travel together, and we took a bus to Bangkok where we met with the rest of our district to fly to Chang Mai. We were to spend 10 days in Chang Mai and Chang Rai in the North West of the country (D. 3340 is North Eastern or Esan District). On this trip we got to go on zip lines through mountain jungles, ride elephants and see them paint pictures and play football, and see the famous tribe with the long neck women. We went to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, and we got to learn a lot about the old drug wars that happened there. We spent a night in mountain village where the residents were kind enough to take us in groups of 3 into their homes for the night. I really liked this trip because we learned a lot of history about this particular region in Thailand. It was a really good trip but a little sad at the end because it was time to say a final goodbye to our District Chair and the other Rotarians who had been there for us throughout the year.

Directly after this trip it was time to celebrate Thai New Year. This festival is the most exciting, soggy, crowded, and just plain fun thing ever. Every city in Thailand closes down their main street and for about 3 days (sometimes a week depending on what city) everyone populating that town walks around or sits in the back of pickup trucks and throws buckets and buckets of water on each other. Sometimes it’s really cold ice water, and sometimes its normal but it doesn’t matter because it is so crazy hot that if you don’t get splashed for a few minutes you start to dry and you have to go find someone to dump water on you. Everyone also wears Hawaiian shirts, but I’m not sure why, and they walk around with baby powder and mix it with water and go up to strangers and put it on your face. This is supposed to show respect for the person and it makes merit for your family whenever you put it on someone’s face. Making merit for your parents or family is very important for Thai lay people (Buddhist people). But if you’re are a group of about 10 farongs then every random Lady boy, old drunk man, or little girl wants to smother your face in this powder so it gets a little annoying after a while. I celebrated with some other YE’s in a city called Korat. We just walked up and down about 3 different streets and danced with people and got very wet and put powder on people’s faces and just had a really good time. The Brazilians and German we were with were comparing it to Carnival and they said it was more crowded and friendly. In Brazilian Carnival you don’t touch people but here every stranger was your friend and it was okay to spray them with water or rub baby powder all over their faces. Its one thing I really like about this country, when they have a festival (which is a lot of the time) everyone becomes your family; most people in Thailand are so friendly and so willing to get to know you or to share anything they can with you, even if they don’t have much themselves.

When I finally got back to my city after being gone 19 days it was time to change host families. I had kind of been homeless while I was traveling because my second family I was staying with was gone already and I wasn’t actually living with my first. So the day after I got back I changed to my 3rd and final family. It was different than I was expecting but better. I had only met my 3rd mom two times and both times at her restaurant so I thought that I would be living with a single woman above her restaurant. But it turns out I’m living with her, her sister and sisters son, and her mother in their families house. My mom explained that she wanted me to help out in her restaurant which I was really excited about because I’ve worked at Publix since I was 14 and kind of missed working. So my first day I ate lunch in the restaurant and met the two other waitresses, Cow and Gate. And the two cooks Johnny and J.J. I also met two other women who work there, but I forgot their names. The waitresses and cooks are all about my age but their all a little shy to talk to me. I had never worked in a restaurant but I really liked my first night. I just brought plates out to people and refilled drinks because I couldn’t take orders because the cooks can only read Thai and I can’t write. Then after dinner I rode the bike back to the house, it’s a nice bike ride down the river and doesn’t take too long. So every day I’m supposed to ride it to the restaurant to help for lunch then I can stay there until it’s time to help with dinner or I can go back to the house and then ride the bike back for dinner. It’s a little exercise which is nice but my mom’s restaurant serves farong food too so me and the other kids eat the extra French fries all night so maybe that’s not good.

The other family business is a fish farm in Nakhon Phanom so tomorrow my mom will take me there to see it. Family business are everywhere in Thailand. For most people their families have done the same thing for generations, whether it’s a restaurant, shop, or farm.

I have a little more than two months left. I have my last two months entirely planned out, where I will travel and when. School starts on the 18th of May but because I completed my junior year already my Rotary and school said I don’t need to start. I will probably go for the first two or three weeks to say goodbye to my friends and teachers, but after that I want to travel some more before I leave.

May 27

So I haven’t been on top of these journals and everyone has been bugging me about them (by everyone I mean my mom).I only have about one month left here so I’ve been traveling like crazy.

I started school on the 18th. It’s weird to go back to school, the summer break was really long, and my Thai got a lot better since.

It’s so weird to know I have such little time left. It seems like everything I do or think about has to do with leaving.

I need to travel here before I go…

I need to get these papers signed for my school in America…

I need to practice my goodbye speech for my Rotary Club…

I need to think about goodbye presents…

It’s so crazy to only have a month and only ever have to do things that have to do with leaving or being back in Florida.

The thing I think about the most is next year. I think about the insane culture shock I’ll have when I come back. I think about making Thai food for my family. I think about hosting a girl from Belgium. I think about how hard school will be. I think a lot about the kids coming to Thailand next year. The inbounds for Thailand 2011-12 have a Facebook group that I’m a part of. It’s awesome to answer their questions or tell them about their Cities. Oh and Daphne these kids are so good about learning their language, they started studying way earlier than me…

There is so much to learn here, and I wanted to tell all you Outbounds a lot of stuff so I decided to do it in this journal.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.   – Douglas Adams

I wanted to share that quote because it made me think of next year’s Thai Inbounds. I know I’m probably the only person ever to put Thailand as their #1 on their application. I just wanted to tell you guys that even if Thailand wasn’t your first choice, you will be happy Rotary didn’t give you your first choice.

I know you totally freaked out when your Rotary called you and told you that you were going to Thailand. Some of you it might have been a good freak out and some maybe scared freak out. Thailand is on the other side of the world. That’s scary! You are totally aloud to freak out. Thailand is a hard place to go to for a year. The language is hard, they don’t use ABC’s. The food is weird; they eat bugs and ant eggs (which are actually super delicious). It is never ever cold here. The school uniforms take a lot of getting used to. It’s also a country where its super obvious if your foreigner, it’s not the same as being a blond girl in Sweden (I love you Alexa;) Plus you guys are in for a big culture shock! Just the way people think is different.

But you know what? The hardest and scariest part is having to say goodbye. Over the course of a year you get so used to it all that the thought of going back home is way scarier then the first thought of coming here. You’re English will get really bad because you never use real English. You’ll get bummed at the thought of eating potatos instead of rice with every meal. Winter will become a scary thing. You will dread the thought of having to pick out clothes in the morning before school. You might even think that you’ll miss strangers staring at you all the time and wanting to touch you and tell you you’re beautiful. Maybe it’s just me or maybe its most exchange students, but on exchange you will fall madly in love with the places and people who become your best friends, your family, and your home.

I know how your feeling right now; excited to leave but also scared and sad. The next year for you will not be your easiest one, but it will be the one you cherish the most.

Right now for me I’m going to try hard not to think about what next year holds for me and finish this one. Living in the moment is much easier said than done.

 

Halsey Kinne
2010-11 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze Senior High School
Sponsor: Ormond Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Santos Oeste Rotary Club, District 4420, Brazil

Halsey - Brazil

Halsey’s Bio

Oi! I am Halsey Kinne, and I am going to Brazil. Currently, I am an honors senior at Seabreeze High School. I will graduate with the class of 2010 before departing for my host country.

I have wanted to be an exchange student since I first learned about the program my freshman year. After being friends with all of the inbounds attending my school over the past few years, I came to realize this opportunity was sometime I had to do. I applied to the program with high hopes and am completely thrilled to be representing the state of Florida and the United States while in Brazil.

I am very enthusiastic, passionate, and involved in everything I participate in. I have cheered for eight years, am Senior Editor to my school newspaper “The Breeze”, and also am a peer mentor to students in my school. I like shopping, reading, and relaxing (especially since I never seem to have a free moment!).

I would like to thank Rotary for choosing to sponsor me in the year ahead, and I would also like to thank my parents and my younger brother, Blaine, for their complete and utter support.

 Halsey’s Journals

August 9

Oh. My. Goodness.

It is here. Finally, here!

After ten months of knowing that I would be spending the next year living in the wonderful city of Santos, the time has finally come for the good byes, the packing, and the reality of this incredible year ahead.

So many people have asked me if I am nervous or scared, and I am.  But the reality of the situation is that my excitement trumps any of those feelings!  Even as I write this, the butterflies in my stomach are dancing around with such a joy that it is difficult to write down in words.

I would not be able to do this without my incredible support system of friends and family.  Through this experience I have come to love Silvia Posse (Turkey) and Robert de La Torre (Italy) as my brother and sister.  I have found great words of experience and guidance in Rotex members Natalie (Brazil), Noah (Brazil), Drake (Hungary), Andee (Italy), and rebound April (Austria).  Of course, my exchange sister Carolina (Eli, Paraguay), my brother Blaine, my mom, and my dad gave me the courage to go for my dream of living in another country. And District 6970 has become my family, with the rest of the RYE Florida 2010-2011 class!

So here the adventure begins, and I am not looking back!

August 30

It is absolutely crazy to think that I have been here for over two weeks, but it is true!  I am in Brasil, something that I have been waiting to arrive for well over 8 months.  So much has happened in the week before I left and the week that I have been here, I think it will be easiest to explain everything in subsections…

 The last week and the airport

The week before I left was a wild go around of trying accomplish last minute tasks, saying “See you next year” to my friends and family, running errands, and finding time to sleep in the middle of it all.  Suddenly the countdown I had been doing ended, and I woke up on Friday the 13th knowing that my life was going to completely change in the next year.  

After checking my baggage, my family and I ate at the airport Mario’s restraints.  Then the hard part came:  Having to say good bye to them.  Despite all of my excitement about leaving, I cried when I had to leave them at security.  Saying good bye is very, very hard no matter what your disposition on the situation may be.  Once I got through security and waved good bye one last time, I was okay and back to being excited.  My flight from Orlando to Miami went smoothly, and after an emotionally hard layover in Miami, I was on my way to Sao Paulo!

Arriving and the first day

My flight to Sao Paulo went smoothly, but we arrived a little late.  I went through Customs and Immigration with no issues and picked up my suitcases.  At baggage claim, many people had crowded the area, and I was not able to pick up my suitcases the first time they came around.  A nice Brazilian man closer to the suitcases tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what part of Brazil I was going to in English.  When I looked at him a little shocked, he explained that a few years ago he had gone on exchange to the USA with Rotary, and the he had recognized my blazer.  We spoke until my bags came around and he kindly got them for me and wished me luck.

When I first walked through the sliding doors and saw my host parents smiling faces, all my anxiety disappeared!  Everything was fine: I was with my family now.  We drove two hours back to Santos while I spoke with my host Dad in English and stared out the window at the beautiful scenery!

After dropping my bags at the house, we went to a churrascaria.  Now, I had been told that I would try many different strange foods on my exchange, but I never expected it to begin less than 3 hour into Brasil!

So what did I eat?  Chicken Hearts.  Yes, that’s right! Chicken hearts!  They are a delicacy here, and many Brasilians adore them. As for me, I had three, but that was plenty for the girl entering some culture shock.    After that, we returned home and I slept for the next few hours.  That night, my host mom helped me unpack my bags before we left to go to the pandaria down the street.  We picked up fresh bread and a cake to celebrate my arrival. It was a wonderful first day!

School

I began school 3 days after I arrived, and that in it of itself was an entire experience and deserves a journal of it’s own.   I will say that the students are wonderful about speaking slowly and even try to speak English with me.  I enjoyed that the first few days, but now I am asking them to speak Portuguese with me.  After all, that’s why I’m here!

Language

For the record, you can never study too much.  

Seriously, I had practiced, studied, and tried to learn more than the basics of Portuguese in Florida, but it was absolutely nothing compared to the real thing.  The first few days were difficult because of that fact.  My first host dad speaks English, and during those early days, he would be nice and translate things for me.  Now, after about a week and a half, I am on my own.  Only when things get really confusing or I have absolutely no idea what is going will he explain in English.  

And you know what?  I love that!  Because of this, I study everyday after school.  I speak the Portuguese that I know and look for words to expand my vocabulary.  Even if I make mistakes, it is okay!  I am learning, and it is the effort and drive to learn that counts.

Santos is beautiful.  The town is on canals, which makes it easy to give your location to somebody.  My house is about a 10 minute drive from my school, a 10 minute walk to the local malls, and about 15 minutes away from the gorgeous beach.

Right now, I share a room with my host sister Mariana.  I have two host puppies, Pipa and Boo.  My family lives in a beautiful apartment complex near many of the other exchange students, so I always have friends nearby.

I had the chance to go to Sao Paulo about a week after I arrived in Brasil.  We went to a Churrascaria again, and I had chicken hearts again.  Afterwards, my family and I went to an open air Japanese market.  Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, so it was very fun to walk around the different stalls and see the various merchandise.  Sao Paulo is a huge city, and even though I have been there twice now, I know I haven’t seen the tip of the ice berg!

I also had Inbound Orientation this past weekend!  I was a blast to have so many exchange students from different all over the world.  There are over thirty students in my district from the USA, Mexico, Poland, Germany, Japan, Taiwan,  France, and Denmark.  Needless to say it was crazy, but in those three short days together, we already formed bonds that will last much longer that the year ahead.

At the orientation, all the students had to introduce themselves.  Typical, right?  The moment I said I was from Florida, every adult in my district smiled and said, “So you are one of Al’s kids!”.  Among these people were the Chariman of my district, the President of Belo Tours, the Director of Belo tours, the past Chairman of my district, and the Inbound Coordinator.  So if you are going to Brasil and are from Florida, you are very lucky!  You have a reputation to hold, so wear that Florida Rotary smile with pride!

I cannot wait to see what the year holds.  There have been some moments of homesickness, but you recognize what you miss, allow yourself to miss it, and then things get back to normal.  Whenever homesick happens, I just remind myself, “I am in BRASIL!”, and suddenly, things get better.

Beijos e abraços, Halsey

 September 7

You know that Rotary saying, “Never say no to any opportunity”?  In case you were wondering, it is 100% true.  

 Over the past two weeks, I have had some incredible chances to go out and see different aspects of Brasil.

 The first one began when I went with my host mom to her school in a town just west of Santos, Cubatão.  I spent the day in her office, talking with some of the first and second graders, and then staying for their Father’s Day performance.  They sang a few songs thanking their dads for being great dads, and it was adorable.  Two days later, I was invited to go to Expoflora, a flower exposition held in the town of Holambra (which is Holland in Portuguese) with the same students I had met a few days before.  It was very cool.  There were many different flowers, colors, sights, and expositions to see.  Plus, since I was with all of the kids I met at her school, I got to speak in Portuguese for the entire day!   The most fun part of the day was right at the closing.  One of the final activities that this exposition holds is the flower petal shooting!  The Expoflora mascot comes to the top of the tower and then begins to shoot flower petals and confetti from a tube.  It is crazy!  Everyone in the park gathers around this platform, waving their arms to try and catch the falling petals and singing along with the loud music playing in the background.  

I also went kayaking with a few other exchange students and our host families in an area called Bertioga.  The drive alone was a treat with the rolling mountains, dense tropical trees, and the occasional bright flowers.  When we finally got to our destination, I did not think that things could get any better… but, of course, they did!  Our group of nine people took three canoes down this remote river that was surrounded by trees, pristine water, and the sounds of the forest around us.  It was incredible!  We stopped at a very small sand area about 45 minutes into paddling to take a break and just enjoy our surroundings.  Then we began the trek back to where we started.  In words, this adventure sounds simple, but when you are in the middle of it all, it is very real and very different.

 My host families have also taken me around to the towns surrounding Santos.  I have been to the first city in Brasil, São Vincente.  Cedric from France, Espirit from Michigan, and I went after our Rotary meeting on Friday to one of the mountains that overlooks the city and Santos.  It was very cloudy, so the pictures we took did not come out very clear, but the view was gorgeous!  I have also been in Praia Grande for a short time, São Paulo a few times, and São Bernardo for orientation.  

Each place I have been, part of the adventure has just been the drive to the locations. The drive to Holambra took about 4 hours, and it took the same time frame to get back, but it in that time, you see the diversity of Brasil.  There are the industrialized cities and the pristine tropical forests.  There are the favelas and the skyscrapers.  There is sunshine, clouds, smog, and clean air.  It amazes me how different everything can be.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever stop being completely star struck by the many wondrous things in my new home, but I don’t think I ever will be.  It is true that every day on exchange is a new adventure, and that each chance is a new opportunity.  You take each one that you get, because you never know what might happen next.

October 31

Happy Halloween! Or as it’s said here, Feliz Halloweenie! As I write this, my family is during the 10 hours that takes us home form Minas Gerais. What better time to catch everyone up on what I have been up to?

Things I have done since my last journal:

* Gone to a real Brasilian soccer game (Go Santos!)

* Understood what my teachers actually said in class

* Heard negative views on the USA

* Been called a “gringa”

* Taken the wrong bus and ended up in the wrong city

* Had a real conversation with my host mom

* Seen a Brazilian film… In Portuguese, no subtitles

* Finished applying for college

* Learned how to Samba and Fo Haw

* Bought a Brazilian bikini

* Created my true Rotary Family

School has been a whirlwind adventure since I started 2 2/12 months ago. It is hard to imagine that I have less than 3 weeks left, and none of them are full weeks! When I first got here, things were crazy: I was brought in and introduced to my class, swarmed by all the students for two weeks because they wanted to speak with the “Americana”, and had constant adventures trying to understand and being understood. Since that first day, I have lost the shiny new toy complex, but I fee like a real part of my class now. Speaking of which, my class is crazy- seriously! They have the reputation for being the worst behaved class on campus. Teachers here switch classes, not students, so during those breaks, the guys are always up to something; right now it’s hackisak tournaments that the teachers sometime get involved with. At my school, there are three exchange students: Esprit from Michigan, Cédric from France, and myself. It’s nice having them here, especially when days can be overwhelming.

Like I wrote before, I am currently driving home from Minas Gerais. I went with my first host family to visit my host mom’s mom. We went to the city of Umberlandia –a city full of warm weather, blue skies, green grass, and red dirt. When you think of Brazil, you probably do no think countryside, but the geographic diversity is amazing. While I was there I got to try a whole new conglomeration of foods –fruits, quejo minaras, Guarana miniero, pão de quejo minaras, seuquilos, and a few other fish and chicken dishes native to the area. All of it was so good and so different from the “normal” food eaten in Santos. The area is the opposite of Florida because it is all hills that roll and roll and roll. Normally, it felt like were on a type of rollercoaster, going up and down the steep hills five times a day. Even though our trip was short, I am so happy my family gave me the opportunity to see another part of Brazil.

Things I have gotten used to:

* Rice and beans- eaten every day at lunch

* Listening to the conversation instead of trying to talk the entire time

* Brasilian driving and the constant thrills it brings

* The continual daily banter that sounds less foreign every day

* Bread, bread, bread, bread, bread- another key staple in an Brazilian’s diet

* The increasingly warm weather because it is now summer!

More and more, I am learning that there are good days and bad days for language, life, and activities. I had my first bad bout with homesickness that lasted around a week. Each day seemed to have no end, the weather was depressing, and I continued to get into a deeper slump. I do not know what started it, and I do not know how I managed to pull myself out of it. However, I do believe that recognizing what I was experiencing and realizing it would end certainly did help. My friends and I went to see Eat, Pray, Love, and the movie is exactly right: Every thing just needs a balance. Your bad days make you stronger and help you appreciate the really good days. The holidays are around the corner, and they are going to be tough not spending them with my family in Florida. However, I am excited to experience them with my new families I have found down here!

March 25

I would say better late than never, but the lovely Miss Daphne Cameron will tell me “Better never late”!

As a result, my apologies for not writing in a very, very long time. The thing is, life has just become so incredibly busy here, that the thought of writing a journal about every thing is a little overwhelming!

So where to start?

November was a crazy month. School for the year finished for summer vacation, Portuguese lessons with the other exchange students also came to an end for break, I switched to my second host family at the end of the month, celebrated my first year without Thanksgiving, prepared for the holiday month of December, and had my first year of summer vacation that started in my “winter months”. I also had the chance to go to the beautiful beach town of Maresias with my first host family during the first weeks with past inbound Clarissa.

As December approached, not going to lie, I was rather wary. Many people will tell you that this part of your exchange is the toughest part. Not only has the honeymoon phase of the exchange ended, but now you have to celebrate the holidays without your family. For me, I did not end up too terribly homesick. I helped my host mom with two service projects the entire month bringing the Christmas spirit to two very different groups. One of the projects worked with underprivileged kids; we collected presents for over fifty different children and threw a huge party full of food, cake, a visit from Papai Noel, and lots of fun. The other project was in association with Rotary to commemorate the holidays with the elderly women of a local nursing home; we prepared baskets full of vanity items like shampoo and lotion, sang lots of carols with Rotary’s band members, and I even played a few carols on the piano. Christmas Eve night was one of the best experiences that I have had in Brazil. The entire day was spent cooking, welcoming family, cleaning, and waiting for midnight to come. A little before midnight, we began our Brazilian Christmas feast (with a few traditional American dishes) and opened presents after we finished. I managed to skype my family back in Florida and each of my families wished a happy holiday to the other.

New Years, though, was better than Christmas. Much like Christmas, the entire family came to the house and had dinner at around 10 before heading to the beach to welcome in the New Year. Despite the fact it poured as the fireworks signaled that 2011 had started, my family and I smiled and cheered and danced with all the other people on the beach. All of January was spent doing typical summer vacation activities like going to the beach, walking around the city, and traveling. It was during this month I got the chance to go to Rio de Janeiro with my family! We went for the weekend to visit some of our relatives and for me to know the city. I got to see all of the famous locations like Pao de Acucar, Corcovado, Copacabana, and the beaches of Ipanema. Rio is an amazing city with beautiful locations, and I managed to take over 300 pictures in less than 24 hours…. I also went to the concert of my favorite Brazilian group, Exaltasamba, twice, had an American baking day with some of the other exchange students, and said a sad good bye to our “oldie” Australian before welcoming the “newbies”.

February was a month of getting back in the motions. School started again- but the cool thing was, I could actually talk with people in my class! I could understand them and they could understand me. It was the complete opposite of all the feelings I had when I had my first “first day” of school in August! During the summer, I made the transition from broken sentences to keeping a conversation, and proceeded to learn more every day with my classmates’ help. This was the month that I knew something had changed, and that made me very proud.

March so far has been wonderful. I had my golden birthday (19 years old on the 19th of March), and I could not be happier to have celebrated it in Santos with my friends and family. We had a Brazilian churrasco with lots of meat, bread, friends, family, and laughs. It was pouring, again, but that didn’t damper my spirits when every one began singing “Parabens” (Happy Birthday!). I almost cried as I looked at all these wonderful people, that 7 months ago I had never met, but here and now, they were the most important people in my life. It was a day that will stay with me forever.

I am excited for the upcoming months: I am going on a cruise with Rotary and then I am going to the Amazons for 10 days. I can’t wait to write and tell you all about those too!

I would like to take a second and congratulate the new outbound exchange students class! Parabens! You did it, and I hope you know that your adventure is just beginning now. Seriously, start studying your language, don’t miss you deadlines, and make a point to know where you are going. You may think that six months is a long time, but trust me, I flies by!

On exchange you learn alot of things. First and foremost, you learn about yourself. I have learned where I stand on social, cultural, and political issues through a better understanding of myself, my beliefs, and my morals. I have learned how to listen to others. I have learned that I can be weak, but I have the strength and courage to see it through. I have become introspective. Second, you learn about the world around you. Obviously, you are living in a different country and culture, but you learn exactly why having things so different is sometimes so beautiful. There are times that my host mom will say or do things and my reaction is that she is insane – however, some of the things I say or do make her think that I am crazy. Despite this, I think it what makes our bond even stronger sometimes because we have the ability to share the diverse points in our lives.

But through all these months, there is one thing that I am absolutely certain of: I have changed. Alot.

In some ways, I do not even realize it yet, and in other ways it has become very obvious to me. How I interact with my classmates and other Brazilians, how I eat my meals, how I participate in daily life, and how I even talk have transitioned to more that of a Brazilian and less than that of an American. How I view country interactions, politics, policies, etc. has become more informed and knowledgeable because of my desire to be a true world citizen. The way I follow local superstitions (don’t go to bed with hair wet- you will get a cough!; don’t eat the middle of the French bread- it will make you fat!; don’t walk around the house without shoes on- you will get sick!), the way I find it easier at times to speak Portuguese, and the way I now dream in a different language with my Brazilian family as my actually family all tell me that I am on my way to making a full transition. I kind of find it fun to think of what my family back in Florida will think when I get back….

 

Erin Harty
2010-11 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: St. Johns , Florida
School: Creekside High School, St. Johns, Florida
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Aalborg Stigsborg Rotary Club, District 1440,Denmark

Erin - Denmark

Erin’s Bio

Hello, my name is Erin Harty. I am a 16 year old attending Creekside High School in St Johns, Florida.  I live in Florida with my two parents, Leland and Louise, my younger brother, Ryan, and our dog, Spot.  Ryan is 14 years old and also attends Creekside High School.  My older brother, Jordan, is a freshmen at Penn State University.  

Until this summer my family lived outside of Philadelphia in a small place called Doylestown.  Regardless of the move, I have still managed to continue doing everything that I love.  I am a dedicated Venture Crew and CISV member.  Venture Crew is the co-ed division of the Boy Scouts. CISV is an international peace organization focused on building global friendships and achieving peace through understanding.

A large part of my life is devoted to art, literature, and music. I love to draw and paint. I am almost always sketching or doodling and hope to one day become an art teacher.

English class has always been my favorite academic subject. I love all the books we read and I especially enjoy learning about what they mean. Writing has always been a great way for me to express myself. I love writing essays more than any other assignment in school. I’m not the best speller in the world but I tend to get my point across well anyway.

Listening to music and singing are my favorite pastimes. I have the lyrics to so many songs stuck in my head that it is hard not to just break out in song. My friends and I tend to bond over music, even if we don’t like the same bands or songs, which is unusual because I listen to so much music it is hard to find a person who doesn’t like at least one band that I do.

I love to travel and try new things just like my parents. Ever since I was young my parents took me and my brothers to do just about everything they could think of. Camping, fishing, snowboarding, rock climbing; you name it I’ve probably done it or wanted to try it. My family has a big influence on my life but I don’t just consider blood relatives family. My family is made up of everyone I love and care about, especially my friends. Most of them I have known since I was young so they understand how crazy and adventurous I am. Ever since I was young I would go away all summer long to all kinds of camps and international excursions so when I told them I will be living in Denmark most of them weren’t shocked at all. When they heard me say “I’m gonna be a foreign exchange student!!” they just laughed and said “Well it’s about time.”

Living in Denmark is going to be a wonderful experience and I am very thankful to Rotary for choosing to send me to Denmark for a year.

 Erin’s Journals

August 17

I have only been in Denmark for a few weeks but I feel like I’ve been here for months. My trip began with me saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. It continued on to Chicago where I made some last minute goodbye phone calls. The next piece of my adventure was in the Frankfurt airport, where Nova (another exchange student) and I got quite lost and confused… I thought I lost my passport! I realized it was on the plane in my old seat because I had switched spots. The hostess were very nice and helped me find my passport before the plane was closed. When I went back into the airport only Nova was there with my bags. All the other students we had met up with in Chicago were gone. We were left to make the trek through the airport by ourselves. Finally, we reached to proper line to get our tickets for our next flights. There were problems with our reservations however; something about the tickets being reserved for the day before. We showed the attendants our itineraries and assured them that were were on all the proper flights all the way to Frankfurt. After a long while the attendants gave us our tickets and we were on our way.

The airport was very different for anything we had been in before. The hall to security for our gate was long and white and littered with shops on both sides. Shops that we wouldn’t expect to see in an airport. There were expensive stores and widely recognized brands everywhere. It was more of a mall than an airport. Once we got to security we paid close attention to what everyone else was doing. Nobody removed their shoes or their liquids baggie. And you put your things on the belt one by one, rather than the massive mob that swarms around the metal tables in the US airports. It was so organized! It was rather amazing. Nova unfortunately had some trouble here and there because she had dislocated her arm a few days before but, none the less, we got through security quite speedily. We also found this really net dispenser in the bathroom! It looked like a gumball machine and it gave out mini finger tip toothbrushes!! It was quite exciting. Eventually, we got to our gate and in a few minutes we were joined by the rest of our group. How we beat them exactly, we are not sure but we boarded the airplane and were sad to see that one of our friends got left behind. Luckily he was paid for his wait (about 300 euros) and received a voucher for a new flight later in the day. So off we went to Copenhagen!

We landed on time and were amazed to see that this airport was very similar to the Frankfurt one in that all the halls were white and covered in shops! After going to the transfer station we hiked out to our gate. I say hiked because we had to have gone down the longest terminal hallway in all of creation. It took us an hour to reach our gate! I was so tired that I fell asleep before the plane to Aalborg was fully boarded.

When I woke up we were in Aalborg! FINALLY! I was expecting lines of people at a customs stop, mass confusion, even a few stern voiced security guards but what I saw was probably the most shocking thing I had witnessed all day. It was my families (well at least two of them) and my counselor gathered to come greet me. I received hugs and handshakes and exchanged many hello’s and how are you’s. It hadn’t hit me that this would be my family but I did feel something: the absolute NEED for sleep! We put my stuff in the car and talked about things that every Dane converses about: the weather, how the trip was, and more weather. I told them about what I was feeling and all my reactions made them laugh. They were shocked when I thought their house was small because, for Denmark, their home is quite large. We spent the afternoon touring the house, eating, and talking. I finally got to take a long need shower. The best part of my shower is that I got time to think about everything. Everything that had happen in the past two days didn’t seem real. As I scrubbed my hair and skin to remove the layers of public airplane gunk, it was as though I was also scrubbing away the dream state I had been stuck in for hours. It helped make everything feel more real at least long enough for me to comprehend that I had finally made it to Denmark.

After my shower I had dinner with my family but I honestly couldn’t tell you what we talked about or ate because I was so tired I can’t even really picture it. I remember that my new little host brother, Oskar, didn’t speak any English. I also know that I didn’t speak Danish. My mind just couldn’t wrap itself around the words I had worked so hard to prepare. As soon as dinner was done I excused myself and went to my room. The white walls and plain, uncluttered tables were soothing and for the first time in days I closed my eyes and immediately felt that deep pull of sleep engulf me entirely. And everything that had happened just slipped away into black…

The next morning I woke up suddenly! I looked outside my window and who was there but my host mother! She told me that it was 6 in the morning. Even at six in the morning my host mother looks adorable. She has the most beautiful eyes and the sweetest smile. She reminds me a lot of my mom. Both of them are tiny and sweet. The only difference is that my mother would never be up at six in the morning doing laundry. NEVER! I didn’t want to wake up anyone else so I decided to quietly unpack my room. I figured that if I didn’t do it soon I would never feel like part of the family because I would be living out of a suitcase (well… suitcases). After struggling with the closet for some time I finally figured out how it opens! It has two sliding doors, in case you were wondering. The first was not the problem. It was figuring out the second that gave me some issues. But rest assured! I got everything all put away in the closet and in these little locking cabinets (they look similar to little metal lockers that are short and wide, set on wheels). After unpacking I found myself tired once again so back off to sleep I went.

When I woke up I ate breakfast with my host sisters Ida and Mia, my host sister’s boyfriend, Morten, and my little host brother, Oskar. After breakfast Oskar showed us his unicycling videos. It turns out that Oskar is actually a unicycling champion! He has tons of medals and can do all these amazing tricks! He tells me I will have to learn to ride while I’m here. Personally, I’m excited too but I’m just afraid of the injury I know will result because of my attempts to balance on one wheel. It will be fun though, and any resulting bloodshed will make for a great blog.

After breakfast we cleaned up and decided to go back to bed for a little while. Unfortunately, Ida tried to wake me up multiple times and I had no idea. Eventually, I did wake up and we left the house and went to my second host family’s/ Ida’s best friends house. Signe is the name of my second host sister. She lives in the city of Aalborg which is right across the bridge from Norresundby (the city I’m living in). When you walk into her house all you see is stairs! There are LOTS AND LOTS of stairs in her home. I then realized what my family ment when they said they had a big house for Denmark. Although there were lots of stairs in Signe’s house, the rooms were pretty small. Her kitchen was the size of my bedroom here in Denmark. I was very tired though so I really wasn’t thinking about anything. The only thing I had enough energy to worry about was what we were about to eat. Mia told me we were headed to the market to buy stuff for lunch. On the way I talked with Mia’s boyfriend. It turns out he has excellent English and he told me lots about the city. When we got to the store I was amazed to see that it lacked all the random unimportant stuff our grocery stores are filled with! It was all food. Well, food and wine. It was very interesting. We bought some of what we needed then we walked to what would be equal to a Walmart in the US to buy some fresh (and I’m probably not spelling it right) Levepastie. It’s essentially meat paste. We got home and loaded the porch table with food and sat down to eat. I tried Levepastia on rye bread (a Danish favorite). Although it looks and smells similar to canned dog food it actually isn’t that bad! I actually kind of enjoyed it! The boiled eggs on rye bread were gross though. But hey, I at least found one Danish food I liked. Once I was pretty sure I would not starve here in Denmark we cleaned up and headed to the car.

The cars here are tiny by the way. Much smaller than my families big red suburban. The car my family has seats five and they only have one. Mia, Morten, Ida, Signe, and I then drove to a place called Blokhus. It is a beach on the west coast of Denmark. We stopped and had ice cream from this little shop. It was magnificent! I had chocolate and coconut with this strange pink marshmallow type cream. Needless to say, I loved it!

We walked along the beach and I was surprised to find that this beach was nothing like I had ever seen before. I have been to the west coast, all along the east coast, the gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, St. Kitts, and never had I seen a beach quite like this. The sand itself continued from the water back to the dunes in a perfectly flat slate. The dunes were far away from the water too. Cars were able to pull right up onto the beach. It was sunny and beautiful but the wind wiped all the heat from the air and your body so that you wished you had a sweatshirt. The waves were constant and gorgeous. It was impressive to see! And the water was soo cold. I only placed a hand in it but that was enough.

We drove to the summer house and dropped off Ida and Signe and began the journey home. Mia, Morten, and I talked about lots of things on the way back. We talked about music, people, Danish speaking, English sayings; lots of stuff. It was hard to explain but I felt so comfortable with these two. It felt like I had known them from much longer than a day. When we got to the house we had tacos for dinner. I helped cut vegetables and Mia and Marianne (my host mom) spoke danish. After dinner I saw my first movie with Danish subtitles. It was an altogether wonderful day. After the movie I laid down in my bed once again and didn’t feel longing to be home or even the smallest twang of homesickness but instead contentment. I was confident in my ability to live here as a Dane and to adjust to the way of life here. I feel asleep that night and dreamed of nothing except unicycles.

The next big step for me was meeting my host Rotary club. Honestly, I was extremely nervous. My host sister Ida is their outbound student this year. It made me so happy that I wouldn’t have to go alone. Ida got ready in jeans and a nice shirt and I figured that I wouldn’t look out of place if we matched. I was wrong. Although, jeans and a nice shirt would have defiantly blend in at my sponsor club they didn’t at my host club. I guess I should have taken a hint from where they meet that they are a much more fancy Rotary club. They meet on Monday afternoons at the Hotel Hvid Hus (which means white house). They are a dinner club and so the men come right from work still dressed in their suits. It was very interesting to see that many of them had tie clips and little rotary symbols on their business attire. They were all very sweet to me even if we couldn’t understand each other entirely. The meeting was so official and orderly. It was as though they had done it a hundred times: greet everyone, sit down, eat, make small talk, sing danish songs, listen to announcements, listen to guest speakers (Ida and I), then continue to the meeting. Everyone knew what was supposed to happen when, except me. I couldn’t understand the small talk, I didn’t get to greet everyone in the room, I kept forgetting to use my fork in my left and my knife in my right, and I was all together very awkward and out of place. But I imagine even if I knew what was going on I would have still felt strange because I don’t know these men quite yet. I know my sponsor club and I love going to their meetings and hearing them joke with each other. I can’t wait to get to know these men however, because I know that I will really enjoy going to meetings once I do. I have already been invited to my next meeting and I am eager to go.

The biggest event that has happened to me since I have been here just took place last Wednesday. It was bigger than being lost in Frankfurt, meeting my family, and going to my Rotary meeting all put together. It was my first day of school! My host family was dropping my sister Ida off at the airport so I had to go to stay with my second host family. I was very thankful for that though because Signe goes to my school and I got to know here very well. She went to Chile last year on exchange so she was incredibly helpful and was able to soothe many of my nerves about the first day of school. I asked her to pick out my outfit for my first day of school because I didn’t want to stand out to much. As we walked to school the next morning I felt a little strange in a skirt and leggings but they were both things I had bought myself so I was glad to finally have a reason to wear them. But I felt really stupid when I got to the school and saw what all the other first class students were wearing. Jeans, T-shirts, Converse, distressed knees, neon bracelets, funky unmatching socks. I had walked into a sea of Erin Harty type people and I was the only one who didn’t quite fit. WAY TO GO! For day kids I had met had responded to me telling them that I was going to the Katedral Skole with remarks about it being the “hippie school”. I saw why they said it. I wouldn’t call the kids hippies though. Free spirited is a much better word to describe them. They were artists, musicians, and down right strange teens and I was so happy to see that I would fit in. Even if I was the only one in a floral skirt! The first day was a shortened day so that all the first classers could leave by eleven before the older kids could come to school and harass us for not being as old as them. I supposed even in Denmark there is such a thing as the freshmen hunt. It was good for me though because two hours of non-stop danish was enough to make my head spin. One of the tutors in the class served as an interpreter to me so that I didn’t miss anything important. I felt like I missed everything! I’ve never felt so totally helpless before. Every time we had to do anything I had to be specifically instructed like some kind of child. It wasn’t embarrassing exactly, it was just, well, defeating. I felt like it would be forever before I could do anything without being told. There were a few things I did notice about the school that is very different than school in the United States. Kids raise their pointer finger instead of their hand. You call the teachers by their first names. It is okay for teachers to come in with un-ironed shirts and pants, and sandals. Your homeroom is where you spend most of your classes. Not only do you room from room to room but your teachers do too. Classes can get canceled, like at college. You can leave campus to get food. You can smoke on school property. Kids rush outside to smoke a cigarette at every break of every class. And last but not least, teachers are not very good at danish, so don’t ask them where the restroom is because not only will you be confused, they will be confused and when you walk away you will still have to pee.

All in all Denmark has been wonderful. The weather is an adventure in itself and every place I have been in Denmark is different and unique. The city is beautiful and even though I ride my bike 7 Kilometers to school in the morning I secretly enjoy it even if I don’t tell my host mom that. I’m eager to see what else Denmark has in store for me.

Thank you again Rotary for this wonderful opportunity. It is one I will always treasure.

September 21

So today my school guardian (guardian angel is definitely more fitting) ask me to submit a few lines to her about why I am here.  When I sat down at the computer I had no idea what I was gonna say.  As soon as I started typing it took me all of five seconds to figure out what I had to say.  I was shocked by the answer but only because it took me just now to realize that this is why I wanted to be here.

So here it is, here is what I wrote to her. The reason I am here:

I am here because being an exchange student is the trip of a lifetime.  How many chances do you get to go and experience a whole new way of life?  How many people can say they had the strength to live among strangers and adapt to a new situation?  It’s an experience that allows me to be myself and find out who I really am.  It’s a chance for me to challenge myself to do amazing and difficult things.  I knew it would be hard.  I know it will get harder.  I also know that in the end it will be worth it.  I will know a knew language.  I will have met so many wonderful people.  I will have thousands of new stories.  And I will have three new families and houses to call home.  Being an exchange student never sounded scary to me.  It still doesn’t.  All my friends tell me how brave I am to go through with this.  I don’t think of being an exchange student as a test of bravery or strength.  I think of it as a test of your mind and confidence.  You have to be head strong and confident enough in yourself to look like a total fool trying to do everything the Danish way but still love doing it.  Most of all, I am here because I know that one day, I will be faced with some sort of challenge, it will be something that will be absolutely terrifying but I will have the courage to face that challenge.  Because if I can make it through this year and survive as an honorary Dane then I can succeed at just about anything.

November 16

My brother came to visit me. It was so weird to have him in my host house but it was so nice to see him!! It was amazing. I told him about everything I had done and he told me about everything I had missed. He said mom tried to make pancakes the way I do and it didn’t really work. He also said my paintings were still sitting unfinished in my room but the hallway never smelled like paint anymore. He said he was unicycling a lot and missed helping me learn. He told me about school and his troubles with English and Math.

The whole time we had tea and just hung out. Then we watched a movie. I was so sad to see him leave. And the whole time this was happening not once had it occurred to me this was my host brother from my first house, not my real brother. At twelve years old, he has already seen so much of the world and knows who he truly is. He has so much figured out just because he does what he wants and doesn’t let anyone get in his way. He is my best friend here and I miss him, even though we live 13 kilometers from each other. He knows my favorite movies and I know his favorite songs. We wrestle, fight, and hug daily and I can’t help feel as though he is family.

What amazes me more is that I know if Oskar hadn’t been my first host brother I wouldn’t be the exchange student or even person that I am now. Every time I wanted to stay home he would tell me to get out of the house. He pushed me to learn to unicycle and to try new things. He wasn’t afraid to speak Danish with me. And he always knows when I need a hug. In a way, leaving my first host house felt so much like leaving my actual home. Oskar and I didn’t want to say “goodbye” because we will see each other again but, at the same time we knew it wouldn’t be the same, just like me and my real brother did three months ago.

As he left that day I really understood how real these relationships we are having are. These aren’t just people you stay with, or just friends in passing like at summer camp. These people are going to leave a mark forever. How much of a mark will all depend on how close we let them get.

January 2

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  Well, it’s almost Christmas Day now, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I have been living in this house for 42 days.  In these 42 days I have done more than I ever could have imagined I could accomplished in such a short time.  I can’t even begin to tell you everything I’ve done.  I won’t even try!  It would take far to long and I honestly, don’t have the patience to tell all of it, because I know that nobody will ever appreciate the experiences the way I do.  But, I will tell you about how, in these short 42 days, I have celebrated multiple holidays, BIG HOLIDAYS!  I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, my 17th birthday, and, just a few hours ago, Christmas.

As you all can guess, Thanksgiving is only celebrated in America.  That doesn’t take a genius to figure out.  But, until this year, I never truly appreciated Thanksgiving the way I should have.  The whole idea to celebrate it actually was my friend Natasha’s.  She is another Rotary Exchange Student in my city from California.  One day she walked into Danish class and told me that we should make Thanksgiving dinner.  We took up the entire class listing the foods we wanted, who would come, where it would be, all the little details.  I can assure you my Danish teacher was not happy when we were sitting in the back of the class talking about sweet potatoes and turkey while he was trying to teach us something about numbers, which we had already learned.  Still, we decided to get together again and finalize recipes and shop.  So, the shopping date was set for the next Thursday.

On Thursday, we quickly made a list of ingredients.  Thank God for Allrecipes.com!  Then we were off to the store.  Until this year I had never seen cranberry sauce that did not come out of a can, nor had I ever seen the filling for a pumpkin pie that was not pre-made and AGAIN canned.  We had to make everything from scratch.  EVERYTHING!

The entire trip went like this: Natasha and I “We need____.”  Natasha’s mom:”Oh, here it is! (picks up some sort of fruit or vegetable)”  Natasha and I: “Uhh… doesn’t it come in a can?!?”  Natasha’s mom: *looks at us like we are absolutely crazy and disgusting for wanting canned food*

Once the shopping trip was over I took on the task of making two apple pies and one pumpkin from scratch so they would be ready the next day.  This took a long time, and I ended up sitting on my kitchen floor till about 2 just playing solitare alone.  But, I learned a very very very important lesson that night so all future outbounds to Denmark listen up!  DO NOT!  REPEAT!  DO NOT EAT ANYTHING WITH RAW EGG EVER!   The eggs here are not safe raw!  Exchange students have some real horror stories about the raw eggs here.  So be very very careful!  My host sister freaked out when I tasted batter with raw egg in it.  I was fine!  Don’t worry, but I was lucky.  SO, PAS PÅ!

So finally it was Friday (yes, we celebrated late, we know), it was time almost time to eat.  After I got lost walking to Natasha’s, in the snow, with no gloves, carrying 3 really really heavy pies, I found myself standing in the worlds MESSIEST kitchen.  I’m talking, bread crumbs all over the counter, dishes everywhere, a pot of some brown bubbling goo that tasted amazing and smelled like Terryake (Natasha’s attempt at gravy), and random spices covering the table.  Sweet little Natasha was giving her best attempt at making Thanksgiving dinner alone.  It took us a while but we finally got everything done or cooking.  When all my friends arrived we felt kind of silly though.  In Denmark, when people come over you are supposed to be ready to eat but I have never been to a Thanksgiving where the food was DONE when I got there.  It’s just how it is.  So after explaining, we waited.  After about an hour everyone was there and the food was ready.  Our Danish friends looked a little worried about the food but in the end they LOVED it all.

The most amazing part though, wasn’t the food, or the fact that they liked our weird American sweet potatoes with marshmellows and butter.  It was when we went around the table one by one and said what we were thankful for and my friend Sasha actually began to cry.  She said how thankful she was that we were here, and that we would do all this for them, and that we could all be together.  She understood everything that Thanksgiving was about from one meal, one.  She understood it without football, or her family, without struggling in the kitchen, without seeing it year after year after year.  She embraced our tradition so fully and instantly.  It was the most touching experience I have ever had and it didn’t even matter that I had burned the marshmellows, that the gravy had lumps, and that half the food was cold.

A week after Thanksgiving was my 17th birthday.  My family at home doesn’t do anything big for birthdays.  Of course, when we were little we always had these big themed birthdays but now that we are all older we normally just sing and have a dinner that the birthday person chooses and we watch them open gifts.  So, we do celebrate, just not in a big way.  Birthday’s are big in Denmark.  They are huge family and friend events.  And it literally begins the moment you wake up.  My host family came into my room and woke me up singing and gave me a present to open.  Then we all went upstairs for breakfast and I had even more gifts.  I got a scarf, hat, and mittens.  All things I REALLY REALLY needed.  Then in school, we sang to me and everyone gave me hugs and told me “Tillykke!!”  Which is congratulations, kinda… its odd but I love it.  After school some of my best friends came to my house for cocoa and cake.  It was so amazing when we got home to see that my host mom had cleaned and decorated the kitchen.  There were Danish flags EVERYWHERE!  I love that they celebrate with their flag.  My guests all arrived which included to Danes (my best friends), two AFS exchange students (who attend my school), and one Rotary Exchange student from California (she lives right near me and we are super close).  They gave me the sweetest gifts, and I loved each of them so much because they got me such meaningful things!  My two Danish friends are gonna paint me a picture to take home with me.  Natasha (from California) gave me handmade earrings.  Angie and Isabela got me an elephant stuffed animal and a picture frame full of pictures of all the people I really love here in Denmark.  I was so happy to see how much they cared and how much they knew about me.  Once all my friends left we cleaned the kitchen again and MORE guests came over.  This time it was my first host family and my counselor, Irene.  We had dinner, which was amazing because my host mom Helle is a beast in the kitchen.  Then we had birthday cake!

Personally, I think the birthday cake is the best tradition of all.  Their birthday cake is kinda flat and tastes like a cinnamon roll.  Its covered in candy and has a big piece of marcipan across it with your name on it.  The cake is shaped like a boy or girl depending on what the birthday person is.  The best part, by far, is when the birthday person cuts they cake, they cut its head off first and everybody SCREAMS!  When I first witnessed this it was my host sisters birthday and I freaked out!  I had no idea what had happened.  I thought my host sister had cut herself or something!  I was so pumped to cut the head off my cake this year, yes I know that sounds weird.  It was a little odd to see all my brothers and sisters and parents in the same room.  It was especially weird to think about how I still have more brothers, sisters, and parents in Denmark.  I was so happy to see everyone especially Irene.  She’s probably the sweetest woman ever and she is so helpful as a counselor and it ment a lot to me that she was there.  It just made me feel like Rotary was truly interested in my experience.

The funniest part of the whole day was that it wasn’t actually my birthday!  We were celebrating early because we didn’t know if I was gonna be in town on my birthday!  On my real birthday I was at a Rotary event for all the exchange students in our district.  It was a Hygge weekend where we all just got together to talk and do, well, nothing.  It was the best birthday I’ve ever had.  I spent the entire day running around with my friends and talking about everything with them.  It brought us a lot closer.  When dinner came around I stood on a chair and heard happy birthday songs in 4 different languages.  I also got to pick my desert first, exciting, I know.  But honestly, it was just the most Hyggeligt birthday I’ve ever had.  When we found a cake in the middle of the night we turned it into birthday cake and everyone sang AGAIN.  Over and over I just kept thinking about how amazing my birthday had been just because I spent it with all these amazing exchangers who I didn’t know super well but still was close to them because we share this experience.

After my birthday came a rush of shopping, wrapping, and preparing for Christmas.  I had a little trouble with what to buy my family at first, but it all came together eventually.  Leading up to Christmas I had lots of mixed feelings.  I would be shopping and suddenly remember how when we were little and my parents would give us a list and we would run around Target for an hour buying presents for each other and avoiding the others so they wouldn’t know.  I also felt kinda sad every time I would realize that I didn’t have any presents to wrap on Christmas Eve, that’s when I used to wrap all my Dad’s last minute gifts.  But at the same time I was so excited to spend Christmas in Denmark.  I was so glad that it snowed all the way up till Christmas.  I was ecstatic when we put up the Christmas tree.

Constantly leading up to Christmas people would ask me about my Christmas traditions.  In the US, my family does a different thing for Christmas almost every year.  Our family is far away and most years we go see them and visit but some years we don’t.   Every year changes just a bit, but the things that don’t are that we always sign this table clothe that my grandma has then she stitches over the words so they dont wash out and my mom ALWAYS marks my and my brothers gifts with ornaments that represent us.  We get new ones every year.  This year, for some reason, I realized how important that tradition is to me.  Sure it’s silly but it’s true, I love that tradition because it shows who we were every year of our lives.

So on the morning of the 24th, everyone was excited.  In Denmark, you celebrate Christmas on the 24th. The best part that night after we ate dinner, we all got together and went around the tree and held hands and began circling the tree and singing.  I felt like I was in Whoville or something.  It was so silly to just stand around the tree and sing about how pretty it looked.  Then it got sillier.  We broke the circle in one place and my little host brother ran us around the house into EVERY room.  We just kept singing and running and laughing all through the house.  My host mom said it was so that we could bring Christmas to every room.  I felt just like a little kid in a way, because I was so excited and everything seemed to important and magical.  The whole afternoon of opening presents was fun and cozy and I was so happy.  I did think about my family that day but not a lot.  I guess it was because I was with my family, it just wasn’t my blood relatives.  I was positive I wasn’t gonna cry, that was until I opened a gift from my host mom.  It was an ornament, a danish design.  It’s a single silver star.  I didn’t even speak at first.  It was so unexpected.  My real mom had sent me an elephant one from home and that meant so much to me but then, when I saw that my host mom had realized how important that the ornaments my mother gave me were, I just, I was in shock.  Even now I can’t help but tear up a bit, I can’t believe how much this ornament means to me because I know my host mom bought it just so I could feel at home.  I do, I really do.

Christmas morning I woke up at nine, and got on my computer.  My family from the states called.  They had just got back from church.  We have a tradition of opening one present before bed every year.  So, after they got back from Midnight mass, we opened our gifts, all of us, together.  I even had one.  Yeah, it was a little weird looking at my family all together doing something so familiar on a computer screen.  It was even weirder to think that they were just talking to me through speakers and still pretended it was as if I was there.

Later on Christmas I watched my brother open up these boxes that have the peom “Twas the Night Before Christmas” on them.  It tied everything up.  Every holiday I have celebrated is about tradition.  Every holiday was different here than it is in the states.  Every holiday was a mixture of emotions.  And every holiday turned out more perfect than I could imagine.  As I counted down the New Years, standing on a couch holding hands with Danish friends I couldn’t help but feel completely at home.  Denmark has truly become my home, I don’t feel like an exchange student anymore.  I just feel like, I’m a girl with lots of families, living my life here in Denmark.  So, as the last seconds ticked by, our hands squeezed tighter and tighter, then the bell rang in Copenhagn and we all jumped into the New Year, a year I’m sure I will never forget.

January 28

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

On the corner of Vestebro and Hassiresgade there’s a cemetery on both sides. If you walk past it, toward the train tracks, tucked away behind other buildings you will find the Katedral School.

At first glance, the area doesn’t look too nice. It’s back behind buildings, there are old cars scattering the street, and there’s graffiti on all the surrounding surfaces. The school is old an brick, and resembles a hospital from a horror movie. But, if you go inside, you will be amazed.

When you walk into Katten you see color and creativity everywhere. Every wall is covered in students’ art. Every surface has been used for self expression. It’s big, old and makes you feel like you are in a mansion. The library is filled to the brim with books both, ancient and new and you can find just about anything in there.

The best part of the school is found on the second floor of the main building. If you manage to find your way up there you will notice room 201. That’s mine. This room isn’t especially different from the rest. White walls, cream floors, a few tables, some chairs; nothing fancy. The thing that makes this room amazing is the people. On an average day there will be at least two students on World of Warcraft, at least four on Facebook, a bunch drawing, and at least two sneaking food. You will see all types of clothes, some of these outfits are things you could never even imagine. Neon, black, fashionable, t-shirts, heels, and Doc Martens all mixed together. Each person is original, each is unique, and they are all joined by this one love that we share: art.

If you look to the back row, you’ll see four girls. One with long blonde hair and green headphones most likely laughing away at something. She’s got a loud laugh, big smile, and is the funniest person I’ve ever known, this is Katrine. Another girl has red dreads, cheek piercings, and gauges. If she isn’t leaning back in her chair staring off into space she’s got her paint pens out and is drawing out her latest piece. If you ever get a chance to talk to her, you’ll never forget it. She has the sweetest voice and is truly the nicest person I have ever met, this is Nanna. The next girl is more intimidating. High cheek bones, strong chin, dark red hair pulled into a high teased ponytail, and jet black stilettos set her apart. She looks like a model that would beat you up for saying bad things about her. If you look past it, you will soon see that’s not true. She’s gorgeous but not scary. She cries the most in our class and has the biggest heart. She loves everyone, especially me. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind but she feels just as bad as everyone else if people reject her, this is Sasha. The last girl you will see looks similar to the rest, dark hair, pale skin, pierced ears, leggings, and Doc Martens. Often you will see her writing, drawing, or sleeping. She always wears a smile, always manages to make people laugh. She is almost always hugging someone and the class says she the sweetest person they have ever met. I can only find two differences between her and the rest of the class, she has extremely dark brown eyes and has English as her first language. The last girl is me.

My class is special. They except me as one of them, they don’t think of me as the awkward exchange student. Sure, they sometimes call me a stupid American, but it’s true, I am. They never for a second let that stand in the way of us being close. I have heard about other exchange students’ challenges with school and their classes. I have heard that some classes don’t even talk to the exchange students. My heart breaks for these students. My Danish friends are some of the best I have ever had, here and in the United States. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully express how glad I am that in that first week when Sasha asked me if I wanted to go to the city with them after school that I said yes. Even though she intimidated me, A LOT, she is now one of my absolute best friends.

Like I said before, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, you never know what person is underneath the make-up and combat boots.

When you are on exchange your miss the most random things.  You come to realize a bunch of the silly little things you would do at home.  Things that just felt natural and right.  For example, when my friends used to come over we would always end up in the kitchen.  We would bake, talk, eat, and just sit around in there for hours.  I remember tons of times when a group of my friends had been invited over and we spent the night sitting on the floor laughing and listening to music.  It never seemed to matter what time it was.  We would just spend time there.  In Denmark, that doesn’t really happen.  You hang out with your friends in their room.  Other exchange students and I have actually noticed this more and more, and we have come to miss our kitchen hang outs.

One day, I was at another exchange students house and we ended up in the kitchen, just sitting around with her host sister for hours.  It was amazing!  We just talked, drank saft (which is like liquid koolaid mix and you just add water to it) and took pictures.  It was by far one of the best nights I’ve spent with another exchange student.  It was so comfortable and it was so nice to be taken back to an old “tradition” but in a new language.  It was just kind of a reminder how people are not so different after all.

Sure, everyone reading this may think I’m absurd.  Yes, it is a little silly to think that spending a couple hours talking in a kitchen meant so much to me, but it’s only because you learn to appreciate the everything.  You finally see how all the little things add up to make a truly amazing time.  You stop taking things for granted.  You especially learn to cherish each moment, especially those spent with people you love.

So, thank you to my friend Esther from Nebraska and her sister Isabella, for an absolutely memorable evening.  It’s one I will surely remember.

April 14

 

This whole year has been full of adventures!  Whether it was school things, rotary events, shopping days, bike rides, visiting friends, or traveling to various cities and countries, I had a great time.  There are four really amazing adventures I have just taken recently that I know I will cherish for a long time.

The first is my class trip to Aros.  Aros is an art museum in Århus.  They recently brought in this new exhibit that was said to be absolutely mind-blowing.  Since we are the art class at my school our teacher was eager to take us.  We met nice and early on a Thursday morning and gathered onto buses and prepared for the drive.  I grabbed a seat next to my friend Katrine and quickly fell asleep.  When we woke up we were parked outside the museum and kids were all rushing out of the bus, through the snow, and up to the giant glass doors.  After hanging our coats and bags we were ushered downstairs to their featured exhibit room and there they were:  a dozen or so perfectly made marble sculptures.  They were beautiful and inspiring.  They were crazy, controversial, and so gorgeous that I still can’t get them out of my head.  For hours I just walked around and stared in silence at the marble.  The rest of the exhibits seemed almost bland in comparison.  At the end of the day we all loaded back on the bus and either fell asleep or took pictures until we arrived back at the school and head home.

In the last year I have become very close with this one group of girls in particular.  They are Katrine, Sasha, and Nanna.  We all started out in the same class but by Christmas it was just me and Katrine.  Sasha and Nanna have both dropped out and now I don’t get to see them as often, but every once in a while we all meet up at Katrine and Sasha’s art studio and spend the afternoon drinking tea and listening to music.  The only way to describe the experience is with a very special Danish word, hyggeligt.  It’s more than cozy, its perfect, even if it is only an hour or two sitting with my best friends drinking amazing tea and just laughing is priceless to me.

I got an amazing opportunity last month to go on a trip of a lifetime: a ski vacation in Norway!  Nanna’s family invited me to spend ten days with them skiing and snowboarding at a place called Gaustatoppen.  It is beautiful and well work all the work of getting permission.  I must have spent hours writing and talking with my parents, my host parents, Nanna’s dad, Nanna, my counselors, and multiple Rotary district members.  It was handfuls of emails, calls, and texts but in the end, I was given the the privilege of leaving the country with my friends family, something our district has denied multiple times this year to many exchange students.  Maybe I was just lucky, maybe I just said the right thing, maybe it was the fact that every email, text, and call I made was in Danish.  No matter what the reason they agreed was, on March 11th I arrived in Norway with one of my best friends.  The week was spectacular!  I stayed in a house with about 20 members of Nanna’s family.  There were 8 kids, three teenagers, and many adults.  We were stocked up on boxes full of food and enough movies to keep us in the house for weeks.  Every morning we woke up and ate breakfast, packed lunches, and hit the slopes.  If you ever went snowboarding in the states you know how the slopes are just crawling with snowboarders, well on average, I only saw about 5 each day.  It was weird and I felt bad when my strapping in and out slowed down the group.  They never seemed to care.  The best part was that everyone was a great skier so we could just go one run after another and go almost anywhere we wanted on the mountain.  Nanna’s family really took to me and I fell in love with them.  There were sometimes her Norwegian aunts and cousins were hard to understand but, for the most part, I understood everything, even when her aunt would call me EARR INNN instead of Erin.  Overall, it was the most unforgettable ski vacation I have ever taken!

The last adventure I have to share wasn’t with a Dane but rather, another exchange student, Natasha, from California.  Natasha lives maybe three minutes by bike from my house.  She is also here with Rotary.  Even though she doesn’t go to my school we have still become exceptionally close friends.  One Saturday, I went to Natasha’s house, woke her up, and made her get ready.  She isn’t much of a morning person but we had plans to go shopping.   We got ready and got on our bikes, we started heading towards town when we realized I had forgotten stuff at my house.  In the three minutes between my house and hers we decided that instead of the city, we wanted to bike to the Ikea near us.  We looked up the address and filled a post-it with various lefts, rights, and strange city and street names.  We made it to the shopping center that we knew was near Ikea, and decided to get the things we were going to go to town for first.  As we walked in we encountered some non-Danes.  We followed them inside trying to figure out where they were from, we decided Sweden, because they sang when they talked.  The shopping center we went to is very American.  I know that may be weird for you guys to understand but there are lots of Danes that find indoor, huge shopping centers, with food places, a Wal-Mart style store, and bunches of clothing stores, all in the center of one big parking lot, scary and uncomfortable.  It’s not ‘’cozy’’ to go to.  For us, it was like home, even more so when we saw that it was American Week and there were red, white, and blue flags covering everything.  We made some purchases then set out to find Ikea.  After a misread in directions, a missed turn, and a short trip out into the countryside of the Jutland Peninsula, we got our butts turned around and to the Ikea.  It was a legendary moment for the both of us.  Neither of us had been to Ikea before!  We started off with food, marveling at how cheap the lunches were, and then we went downstairs to go through the store.  We couldn’t help but laugh when we realized that between all of our host families we owned pretty much the entire Ikea.  It was fun to be in a store that sold things at a large scale again, we hadn’t been since we left the states.  We biked back to Natasha’s house where we spent the next hour laughing on her bathroom floor and eating vegetarian lasagna with her host parents.  When I look back, most of my most memorable days here in Denmark have included Natasha.   The things we do many not seem all that special, but it’s the company that matters, and Natasha has proven to be the perfect person to adventure with.

You know that feeling when spring starts and all you think about is finishing school and having the summer to kick it with your friends?  You know that feeling when you are so tired and all you want to do is go home and curl up in your bed?  You know how when something upsetting happens and all you want to do is hug your sister and hear her say it’s alright?  How about that moment when you walk into a room and immediately your best friend knows something is wrong?  Now think about all those people, the ones you just put into those scenarios.  How long have you known these people?  Your siblings, your friends; you’ve probably known them for years, maybe even your whole life.  Now, listen up, and listen good, every person I just thought of, I’ve known for less than 8 months.  That’s right, my sister, my best friend, my class, my families; I have only known them for 8 months.  When, I think about my friends, it isn’t like they are people I just met or casual acquaintances, these people know me, truly know me.  I almost can’t believe that Katrine and I only met the 1st week of this school year.  Every time I think of going home, I soon panic.  I’m dreading ‘’goodbye’’ most of all.

I’ve learned so much about myself and about the world.  My views on my country and my lifestyle have changed.  I have made changes and acquired habits that I refuse to lose when I return home.  I have found a stronger more confident me that I’m proud to be.  I’ve truly found my strengths and admitted my weaknesses.

At 17, I’ve experienced more of life and more of the world than most people.  I’ve seen things some will only see on the Discovery and Travel channels.  I’ve met so many people, each has shared something with me, whether it’s a story, a joke, a good time, or unquestionably great advice, I’ve grown from them.  Every moment, word, person, and place, has added to my life, to my story.  They have shaped my development, my character, and my actions.

So, you know that feeling when a movie ends, in a way you are happy because everything ended well but the whole rest of the week you can’t stop talking about it and the only thing you want to do is see it again?

That’s what it is like to go home, that’s what is coming for me.  Although it has to end, I won’t fight it.  The best part of the movie is always the climax and the only way to know it was a great movie is if it leaves you craving for more.

April 14

”Adapt yourself to the life you have been given; and truly love the people with whom destiny has surrounded you.” -Marcus Auretius

With only a few months left until all of this comes to an end, I realize how important what I have learned this year is.

When I arrived here I looked at everything as though it was coated in gold. Every meal, ever house, ever person, everything new, was exciting. I took pictures of everything and anything. I saved ever slip of paper, ever scrap of evidence. When I first got here I was obsessed with figuring out all the nitty gritty bits of being ”the perfect Dane”. To put it simply, when I first arrived here, I was an exchange student.

Now some of you will probably laugh, some of you will make faces, but I guarantee ever outbound and inbound understands exactly what I am talking about. They went through the same thing. There is nothing Rotary can do to prepare you for this year. There is nothing you can do to make you 100% ready to face this year. It’s impossible. You can learn your language and talk to yourr families, this will make it so much easier, but at the end of the day you won’t be prepared.

This information may scare some of you. Don’t let it. Of course you won’t be prepared, no two exchanges are the same. Even if a student comes from my club, goes to my school, has my families, they still won’t have the same experience. They won’t have my friends, my classes, or my teachers. Most importantly, they won’t be me. I am a unique individual. I´m artist, a singer, a writer, a dancer, a cyclist, a Dane, an American. I love dogs and sunny days. I sing and give hugs to all my friends. I doodle through Spanish and eat more than any teenage boy. All of these things make me who I am. They make me different and the same.

Before I arrived I could have never imagined my life here. I’m sure I have said this before, but it’s true. Everything I have learned and gained here is because of me. I took the opportunities. I set the wheels in motion. I am responsible for how great my experience has been. I am the reason I have three amazing and loving families. I am the reason I have learned to unicycle, speak Danish, and write. I choose to be myself and find the friends that fell in love with me, just because I am me.

So, to all of you that are about to leave on your exchange, all of you who are studying your flashcards and reading these journals, to all of you who are texting your friends asking if they believe in you and your ability to handle the upcoming you; I have one thing to say. You can do it. You can, and you will. Believe in yourself. Find that sense of adventure that encouraged you to sign up and hold on to it. Don’t let it go. This year will be more challenging than any survival hand book can even begin to explain, but that’s what makes it worth it.

Yes, you will have to change, but not into something you are not. You will evolve into a more true you. You will become the person you have had deep inside you all along. You will find a strong confident side that you never knew existed.

Trust me, it will all be worth it. After all that will happen you will reach the day when you are walking along with your friends and you are talking about how weird it is to go ”home”, and all they will have to say is ”I can’t believe it, you aren’t American, you’re Danish”.

Be smart. Be safe. Be open-minded. Be happy.

May 27

It’s amazing the smallest comments can change your whole outlook on things.

Over week 8 (the winter vacation), I went back with my first family.  It was an amazing week, it was weird to be there again.  To them, it felt like nothing had changed.  To me, everything was different.  They have a new couch, new TV, my room was full of my sister’s clothes again, both my sisters were in the United States, the bathrooms were all finished, and the part that weirded me out the most, they moved all the furniture around.  Nothing was how I left it.  It was a slightly rude awakening, but soon things were back to normal; Oskar and I would wrestle, talk, watch movies, and eat far to much cake.  One day, we decided that we really wanted to go unicycling.  So, we called around looking for rides.  When every single person turn us down, we decided to shove the unicycles in trash bags and try the bus, praying the would let us on.  We grabbed some money and started walking to the closest bus stop.  Oskar was acting very worried and I really didn’t understand until he said something that made me laugh.  “I don’t know how to take the bus, I’ve taken it maybe ten times, and never alone.”  I take the bus a handful of times a week, they are all over the city.  It was so funny to me that I got to teach HIM how to take the bus.  The whole time he kept asking if I was sure about the bus, which only made me laugh more.  For once, I felt like the older sibling.  And I realized, I am.  When I got here I didn’t know anything about the city so I leaned on Oskar, but now that I know my city, HE leans on ME.

As we got closer towards the city center, I saw some girls from my school walking by the bus.  I mentioned casually to Oskar that I knew them, I didn’t think anything of it.  We reached our stop and started to walk to the warehouse that the unicycle club owns.  In the matter of feet between the stop and the warehouse who should I see but one of my really great friends Kaymi.  She’s and exchange student from Venezuela and she just happened to be in the city waiting for a ride.  We both exchanged excited hellos and rushed through a quick conversation before parting ways.  After we were out of ear shot Oskar turned to me and said “I can’t believe it, I’ve lived here all my life, 12 years, and YOU are the one who knows all these people in town!!”  I can’t even explain how overjoyed I was.  Months ago, I literally knew nobody in the city, not a soul.  And now, I walk around and see familiar faces daily.  I three great brothers, five amazing sisters, six loving parents, tons of exchange student friends, and even more danish friends.

I spent the rest of the day treasuring the fact that this is my city.  Aalborg is my city.  My home, my friends, my families, my life is here.  Of course, yes I have a life back in Florida and Philadelphia too, but they aren’t my home, not now.  I can walk this city alone and know exactly where I am going.  I can give directions, navigate buses, work the train by my self.  I can talk with shop keepers without them trying to switch to English.  I can order food, get haircuts, and return clothes without the help of somebody else, like my mom, which if you know me, is a big deal!  It could be that I’m growing up, or that I’m just comfortable here, maybe it’s a bit of both.

For all of you getting ready to go, don’t stress.  Don’t lose sleep about what to pack, about perfecting your language, about making friends, about host family gifts.  After a few months, it won’t matter, it will all be a silly memory.  After a few months, it’s real, all of it.  After a few months, you will know your city, your friends, you families.  After a few months, you will have a whole new life, one that you love, and your only regret will by similar to mine: bringing so many pairs of shoes.

June 5

Every year since I was in fifth grade, I’ve read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. Every year I find that this book has helped me.  (Now, please, nobody get offended.  I don’t want anyone to write off what I’m saying because of the title.  I respect all religious and I respect those who choose not to practice any. I promise this is not a religious entry.)  For those of you that have never read this book it’s about a pre-teen girl who moves from New York City to New Jersey, and goes through the challenge of figuring out who she is, where she fits in, and throughout her school year she finds herself pressured by herself and everyone around her to make a choice for herself.  It’s a Judy Blume book so, it is a bit silly, but this book means a lot to me.  In many ways, it mirrors my life.  I have moved around a lot in my life, I’ve been faced with the same problems and similar choices.

For those of you about to go on exchange I suggest you read it.  It will take a few hours tops.  It’s short, simple, and a quick read.  Most of you will probably just roll your eyes at this and say, “yeah, right! I just finished that crazy essay about my country AND I’m learning my language AND I’m finishing school.  I don’t have time.”  I say, shut it.  I know you have time.  I was you last year.  I did everything you did and still had time to sit in my pj’s every Saturday morning and watch Avatar the last airbender while eating pizza rolls.

I think this book would be beneficial to you all of you will be a lot like Margret.   You will be in a new place so different from home.  You will all have the parents you are living with very different opinions from your parents at home (represented by Margret’s Grandmother).  You will all experience confliction and separation from the others but you will also experience true friendship.  The thing I want you to pay most attention to, if you do end up reading this book, is her year long school project.  It is the question that is in the back of her mind all year long.  It is the question that lies under almost every decision she makes in the year.  It’s what she strives to figure out.  Whether you know it now or not, you all have one of these questions.  Some of you may have many.  I have three.  They will go with you throughout the year.  They will be the questions you think about over and over in the dead of night.  They will be what you journal about in class.  They will be hidden in the topics you choose to discuss with your new friends and families.  You will spend you year racking your brain trying to answer these questions.  Almost all students have told me at least one of their questions was “Who am I?”  These questions can be about anything important to you, sexuality, beliefs, future, what you really want, who you really care about, whether or not you are making good decisions, if the things you are doing are worthwhile.  Every person that leaves for exchange goes to learn something.  You all have your reasons for traveling.  You all have questions that are waiting to be answered; you just don’t know it yet.               

So, take my advice.  Take the time.  Turn off your TV for a few hours, and read the book. You’ll understand why in about 12 months.

June 22

This is it, this is the end.  I’ve felt it coming for a long time, but it’s finally here.  It’s the first day of my last week, and my life couldn’t be crazier.  It’s currently 2 in the morning but I have no time for sleep.  I have a laundry list of things I need to do before I leave, and somehow I’m finding the time to write this journal.  Some would say my priorities are shot. Exchange students would say “You can sleep when you’re home!”.

 Today, I’m writing for all you parents out there that are just like my mother.  Every week she would go through, read the journals, and tell me what was going on in the world.  She knew exchange students by their first names and countries.  Reading these journals was her way of preparing for what was to come.  So, today, this journal is dedicated to all you parents that are reading this now, hoping that I give you some good news, some hope, some piece of information to pass on to your child to prepare them.

What I have to say, you may not believe.  But I figure you all need to get a proper warning before it creeps up on you.

WARNING:  Your child WILL grow up!  Your child WILL become an independent adult!  Your child WILL NOT need your help! If something goes wrong YOU CAN’T help them!  Your child WILL change!  Your child WILL NOT be the same person when they get home!

And somehow, that’s all part of the beauty of exchange.  No, this is not bashing you parents.  My parents know I love them very much.  But they also have come to realize, they are no longer in my loop.  Things happen that they don’t know about until long after.  When I have a bad day, I don’t call my mom.  I hug my host mom.  When I need advice, I talk to my host dad.  Not my real dad.  When I need a haircut, I make the appointment, ride my bike there, pay with my rotary credit card, and track how much money is left in my account.  I make my appointments.  I do my homework.  I choose my curfew.  I’m a big girl now.  I can take care of myself.

All you parents out there, don’t expect to get the same person back.

Get excited about the future, because the adult that comes home will be more remarkable than you could ever imagine!

I have watched my friends and myself over the course of the year and I can honestly say, I’m proud of everyone of us.  We have all made huge steps in our lives.  We have all taken that leap out into the world.  Instead of talking about spring break and weekend parties, I discuss religion, politics, college, and what jobs I could go into with my career.  When we plan day trips we think about things like the weather, transportation, costs, and our schedule before we think about which rides, movies, or people will be there.  Lots of this, I will admit, does have to do with the fact that Danes are probably the most practical people in the world.  But in all honesty, exchange students are old souls.

You should also be ready for the unexpected.

The things we discover out here in the world can be quit unexpected and sometimes, quite shocking for those at home.  It’s unfortunate that you can’t watch us through all the stages of our changes, it would probably make things like, changes in religion, sexuality, politics, and personality, so much easier to take.  Do your best to be understanding.  You have to understand, the things we decided out here aren’t peer pressure, brain washing, or insanity.  Our water is fine.  We aren’t crazy.  We have had the time to think about this.  The decisions we make out here, we make souly for ourselves, and nobody else.  We are given the chance to see multiple points of view and choose what we truly believe.  To tell us that we are wrong and that we will understand when we are home is close-minded, and foolish of you.

My very best of friends here comes from Nebraska.  When she got here, she was extremely religious.  She would cry herself to sleep almost every night because according to her religion every single one of her new Danish friends would be going to hell.  And it didn’t make sense to her.  Throughout the course of the year, she has pulled a complete 360.  She is a totally new person.  She is a proud and out lesbian.  She has different religious views.  And she is more confident and happier than she has ever been.  All these things are good.  They are great things.  These are all tremendous progresses, but guess who didn’t get any warning of these things until AFTER they happened.  I’ll give you one guess.  Her parents.

Parents, what I’m trying to say is, don’t think of this as a year you are giving up.  Don’t think of this as a vacation, a missions trip, or a social experiment.  This is not summer camp. This is life.  This is the world.  This is change in the making.  It’s time to embrace that.  So, get ready to say goodbye to the child who stands before you today.  Get ready to say hello to the young adult that has had the chance to find themselves in the world.  Get ready to support them.  Get ready to love them.  And get ready to sacrifice some of your money, your beliefs, and your time with them so that they can find out who they truly are.  Do it for them.

It will be worth it.

And if you ever think to yourself, you can’t do it, you’re not ready, or you’re not strong enough, just think of my mom.  She has served her time.  She watched me grow up via Facebook and these journals.  And she couldn’t be more proud.

Mor og Far, tusind tusind tak!  I er den beste forælder i hele verden!  Jeg elsker jer.  Og altid jeg skal husk mit år her i Danmark.  Nu, jeg er stalt af hvem jeg er.  Nu, jeg er klar til gå ud og hav en virklige godt liv.  Nu, jeg er glad.

 Take a deep breath, cause it’s almost time.

 

Gregory “Greg” Collins
2010-11 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Benahavis-Costa del Sol Rotary Club, District 2203, Spain

Greg - Spain

Greg’s Bio

I’m so excited to be writing this bio because this means it’s official — I’m going to Spain! Since I found out this dream come true, it’s been one Wikipedia search after another to learn everything I can about anything Spanish. Jeez, Wikipedia is super addictive! I just can’t help myself because I’ve found Spain to be incredibly diverse with an overwhelming sense of fun and festivity. I CAN NOT WAIT to get started on my journey! I am so grateful for this tremendous opportunity that Rotary has given me. I plan to take advantage of every minute of it; be it running and screaming down the cobblestone streets of Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls, or merely sitting here, today, dreaming about it.

I live in the quiet suburbs of Jacksonville in a place called Fleming Island, tennis courts and pool access included. I have a mom, dad, and sister. I usually spend my time living the Florida lifestyle with lots of beach trips, sports (in the water and out of it), and no White Christmases. My father is an airline pilot so we travel a lot, but only for short trips (2 to 5 days tops), making it impossible to fully immerse myself in the culture of the foreign city and country. We stay just long enough to speed over to the city’s famous art museums and important buildings and then take off for someplace else. Of all the countries to explore I have always been the most interested in Spain and Spanish culture, and now I have the time and opportunity to fulfill that dream. With my enthusiasm and confidence I am sure I can make this dream into a workable, livable reality.

Spain has an immense amount of influence on the world and even my home state here in Florida. To see the Spanish influence on Florida you needn’t look any farther than its name. Florida actually means “land of flowers” in Spanish. They were the first explorers and conquerors of the Indian masses, taking over large parts of the Americas which (gasp!) included Florida. The many Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans who populate the state are Spanish in origin and language. Spain is the seed which all Latin American culture has sprouted from. As much as I love Latin culture, I love its mother culture even more.

Learning to speak Spanish fluently will also help me help my community. When I get back I plan to work as a translator for The Way free clinic in Green Cove. It is a great charity organization which fills basic medical needs for lower income families including many Hispanics. They need translators to make sure they clearly understand their symptoms and give them the proper medical help.

Rotary, thank you so much for choosing me to work as an ambassador of the US in Spain. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole eight months to get started on my journey.

Greg’s Journals

August 19

Y´know I think foreign exchange is kind of like skydiving. You can either start flailing and shriek´, ´´NO NO NO IM GONNA DIEEE!´´…. or you can really go for it and have the time of your life. Here I was, on a plane from Brussels to Malaga attempting to communicate with a guy that spoke neither english nor spanish and I suddenly realize….. I´m in the air.

 I LOVE YOU MOMMY!! Because my mom is probably my most avid reader, I just wanted to tell her that. Well Brussels airport was an adventure. From the urinals that are shaped like those ultra-modern egg-shaped chairs and all of extremely beautiful shops to how they liked to spontaneously change my gate to the other side of airport they liked to make things exciting. I frantically ran to the other side of the airport while Justin Bieber played over the loudspeakers.

I got to Malaga in one piece on August 14th and met my family. They´re all really great people and I´m really excited. Tatiana is 16 just like me but she´s leaving for Minnesota August 20th (sad face). La Feria del Malaga is going on now so I get to hang out with Tatiana and her friends and dance the night ,and part of the day, away. I owe you one Tati! We get home at like 6 o´clock in the morning which is just perfect for me because I´m still on US time. After so many hours every day of dancing I´ve learned how to dance! Now I know what your thinking….´´ Greg, you know how to dance now? with that plus your devilish good looks you must get all the girls!´´ The thing is actually I learned how to ¨´´dance´´, not ´´dance well´´. As any self-respecting Spaniard will tell you, there is a difference. haha

 La Feria Del Malaga is a weeklong holiday. We need more weeklong holidays in the US por favor. This holiday is made up of two parts… During the day there are festivities in the center of town. There are live performances, bull fights every day, and lots to see and do. However, that is not La Feria Del Malaga. La Feria Del Malaga is the one at night at the edge of the city. Half of the fleet of buses in the city are running to La Feria and the other half are running back to the homes. La Feria is all lights and huzzahs. It obviously has an ENORMOUS fair-like section which is definitely the biggest fair I´ve ever seen with its got four small rollar coasters and countless rides and attractions. The side we went to mostly though was even more interesting… They had set up makeshift clubs in the middle of nowhere complete with bouncers and dance floors! And I´m not just saying one or two. There are rows upon rows of these things. Each have their own unique style. The only difference between these and regular clubs is these don’t actually have ceilings…. or stable walls. ´

 So I have to admit even though I feel like a girl saying, it was really hard for me to decide what clothes to bring. I´m sorry but I just couldn’t leave without my t-shirts. wouldn’t have been right. I believe in ´´No T-shirt left behind´´ so I ended up bringing like my entire closet of them. Funny thing is, people don´t wear t-shirts outside of their homes here. No matter how classy and high-end my tuxedo t-shirt is, it just doesn´t make the cut here in Spain. One time when me and Tatiana were going out I tried to wear a very nice Ralph Lauren T-shirt. She said (in translation) ´´Get dressed´´ and I said (also translated),´´ I am dressed´´. She started freaking out like I just shot somebody and before I knew it, I was in a button down.

 Now its 5:12 in the morning here and Tatiana (plus another Spaniard going to Minnesota and the family) are heading to the airport. I was ready to go with them but either the car was too small or I was too big. Either way its time to go back to sleep. Here´s Greg signing out.

…  Here´s Greg signing on. In the last two hours I went for a run and ate a bocadillo (glorified version of a sandwich). I thought of some extra memories to tell you all about and even though I´m delusionally tired I´m writing them down. Only for you Rotary!

My next topic is an extremely serious one. I´ve come to find that Malaga is being controlled from behind the scenes by a group with potential mafia connections. Only at night can you see whos truly in power. That´s right. Cats. If your out at night in Malaga you have a right to be afraid. Not of robbers….. of rabies. Everywhere you go there are packs of these little sirens ready to strike. There are the super cute lil´ kitten ones and the semi-scary miniature pumas. All look like they just want someone to pick them up and start petting them… that is until you get in their paw zone. Then they scratch the hell out of your hand until you need serious medical attention. Do all European cities have kitty problems? Because there is definitely too many homeless cats here. If you want a new cat or two (or a dozen) don´t go to the pet store. Come to Malaga, Spain.

 So yesterday was Tatiana´s last day in Malaga, so I decided to make her a Florida style Key Lime Pie! Turns out they don´t have pie crusts in Spain (or half of the ingredients in the recipe) so everything had to be done from scratch. Pilar showed me how to make the pie crust and I figured out how to make Key Lime Pie with only half of the ingredients. We threw some extra stuff in there hoping that they would make good substitutes, and guess what? they did! Only problem was the crust was really buttery like a croissant. Butter and Lime isn´t actually the best combo so instead of eating it as a pie, we had key lime pudding. delish.

August 28

Hello America. (Or small group of friends and family. whatever.)

I´m here to explain in excruciating detail the second leg of my adventure in Spain. Because of the rave reviews (mostly from my Mom and Grandma) I have decided to write so much that upon reading it you will stand up and suddenly understand exactly how to flamenco dance… PS please don´t ask me how to flamenco dance. I have no idea.  

I didn´t know this but to dance the Flamenco you need one of those little Japanese fans. The women here not only use them when they´re flamenco dancing (which they do surprisingly seldom) but also when they do anything else. These fans have a lot of holes all over them so I´m pretty sure you don´t get much airflow from waving them around. Maybe they´re just for waving. Which is cool too.

Pictures just don’t do Ronda justice……

Yesterday, with many fan-waving women in tow, we made our way to Ronda which is the best pueblo blanco ever. A “pueblo blanco” is a town with all white buildings and they dot the andalucian countryside. Andalucia is a hot region so the people made white buildings with thick walls to insulate the buildings and keep them cool. They´re pretty much man-made caves.  Ronda is the best of the bunch with an unforgettable history and it´s own exacting culture. (I should write travel books). Looking past that it has a history going back to the Phoenicians in 900 BC and the fact that it was the birth place of bullfighting, It also looks like it´s from freakin´ Lord of the Rings. The city is built on a plateau split in two by a massive 30 story gorge with an epic bridge connecting the two. The cathedrals, a bull fighting ring with mystique, horse ride, and fantastic, unreal views. Everything was perfect. Everything minus one. Yep, tourists.

Dang tourists who aren´t me! The population of Ronda doubles in the summer because of the huge amount of day-trippers coming from the surrounding area. At least, unlike in Venice, the people like you. They are extremely happy to take your money.

The food of Spain are actually super different than I expected. Where are my burritos? Where are my jalipiño peppers? The actual food of Ronda of Andalucia and of Spain have a less obnoxious and more finessed nature to them. Less flames and more wine. I´m proud to say that I successfully tried rabo de toro (bull tail) and let me tell ya… it is delicious! It was so juicy that in the instant it glanced my tongue, it turned into a stew. (Maybe that´s because it´s like 100% fat or something) either way, its like chocolate and bacon had a baby in my mouth. I also learned how seriously the Spanish take their jamon (ham). It looks like bacon and when I said that at the restaurant, the family said if I keep talking like that I´m going to have to sit at my own table. They treat ham similar to how we treat good wine. The pigs are taken excellent care of and then they are slaughtered and mixed with salt and spices. This is then stored for several years until it is ready to eat. Unlike bacon, jamon is extremely soft like a pillow and (like the robo de toro) easily breaks down to juicy goodness. I guess the Spanish really like meat that you don´t even need to chew because this is the second one of the day.

For all you Ernest Hemingway fans (if you aren´t one you should be) Ronda is one of his favorite town and he some of his best stories were written about here. Other such notables who used Ronda as a place of inspiration for their works include Alexandre Dumas, David Wilkie, Orson Welles (buried in Ronda), and Rainer Maria Rilke. I would like to recommend you read A Dangerous Summer by Ernest Hemingway which immortalizes one of Ronda´s greatest matadors, shows you the inner struggles experienced by bull-fighters, and will make you cry while doing it. Three for the price of one.

Many of the writers look to the bull ring of Ronda for inspiration. As any true bull fighting enthusiast will tell you, the greatness of the sport is in the way the matadors gracefully dance with their powerful partners. They don´t think it is a sport at all because there is no winning or losing but is more alike to art. The Rondan bull ring is a true marvel and has been there for over 400 years.

Many people (especially in Barcelona) take a totally different view of bull fighting. Strangely, they think bulls actually have feelings like pain and that they don´t like being repeatedly stabbed with swords and spears. The response is that the bull doesn´t actually HAVE to go after the picadors and matadors, but even after getting stabbed they keep coming back for more. Also the bulls have much better lives than say…. steaks. Cows have to live in super close proximity and are killed in 9 months. Bulls get to roam the fields for several years before the fight. Also if they are exceptionally brave or don´t fight at all (whatever extreme you want) they will be allowed to go back to the fields for the rest of their life. So I dunno…. maybe I need to watch a bull fight to know which is right.

Barcelona must´ve seen a bull fight they didn´t like because they´re making bull fights illegal in Catalonia right now. Catalonian politicians are attempting to separate themselves more and more from the larger Spanish community. I´m not exactly sure what they want and I´m pretty sure they don´t know what they want either.

Systematically, all electronic devices are turning against me. When I arrived here my host family gave me a phone. I don´t have a phone anymore. Did I lose it? Did it get stolen? Did it break? No. No. And sort of. Actually my Spanish cell phone has lost it´s soul. It now wants a PIN number and it refuses to work until I get it. Problem is… I have no clue what the PIN number is. Rafael (my host dad) said he had it on a piece of red cardboard under the phone when I arrived. Ok. But we have a cleaning lady here which means that piece of cardboard didn´t have a chance. Yesterday, my camera also decided to stop working for no reason. Next was all the electricity in the house (at a time when its 104 degrees here.) I was ecstatically happy to accompany my second family on a trip to Marbella primarily because their car has air-conditioning.

I have two tourist books about Spain and both just cannot stand Marbella. One says,” Marbella, once a humble fishing village, is an eyesore filled with tacky resorts.” Good thing I´m a fan of tacky (I will take a trip to Las Vegas any day of the week). My second family is really cool and we had a great time barbaque-ing on the grill, swimming in the pool and ocean, and playing a very interesting hybrid of tennis and wall ball.

On a note of language frustration the people of Malaga have lost their S´s. Here it´s “Buena Noche” instead of “Buenas Noches. ¿Como eta? instead of ¿Como estas?. This is very confusing to me and i wish they would speak Español instead of Epañol. Thank you.

While traveling around and being with my host family I learn sooo much Spanish. but I want to learn much much more Spanish. Faster. That´s why I´m taking a two week Spanish course at the Insituto Malaca starting this Monday. Wish me luck!

November 25

I’ve started school and I´m proud to say I have mastered the English language better than anyone at my school! I can say that with confidence because 1) I can count in English higher than 20 and 2) I know all of my colors. What I´m trying to say is no one speaks any English here. Even my English teacher cannot speak English. It’s like the blind trying to teach the blind over there. I´m helping them out a lot and I´m sure I’ll have a lot more Spanish masters (by the requirements I specified above) in the next week or so.

So, I’ve been waiting with such anticipation for my first dream in Spanish but It hasn’t happened yet. Yesterday however, my whole family overheard my sleep-talking/yelling , ¨AHHHH! MISQUITOS GIGANTES!¨ and sleep-talking/not yelling ,¨uno más cuatro son cinco.¨. (how these connect im not exactly sure.) Alright asleep Greg. I say that’s close enough. Check in the box! whooo!

I´m going to make an exemption to my new ¨your not allowed to talk about things that would make people jealous¨ rule for Gibraltar. I´m sorry but that was just too amazing to leave out. They have wild monkeys! That’s right Thailand, you are not the only one. The other Pillar of Hercules in Tangier looks close enough to touch and the people there speak a sweet and sour Spanish and English mix which is my new favorite language. Who knew there are actually people who speak Spanglish as a first language? They can start the sentence in English and end it in Spanish. They are like language DJ´s….. Awesome.

PS you know that Tacky Eyesore town named Marbella that I talked about in the last segment? I live there now! I actually really like it here with it here ( I’ve seen Antonio Banderes)

The Spanish really need to fail in some sports pretty soon because this is getting ridiculous. Top in Fútbol, top in Formula 1, winner of this year’s tour de France, winners of motor racing, top of Europe in Basketball, Top in tennis….. I like sports but I can’t watch this stuff all day! I don’t why but I don’t really like being number 1 because then you’re supposed to win. It’s no fun saying,¨ Yeah, beat those underdogs! Woof woof woof! Wooow who expected the team that was expected to win, to win? INCREDIBLE!¨ Good news is I know my soccer now. No not exactly the playing part but im a great spectator. I know all the teams in Europe. Who’s good, who’s bad, and who the heck is Zlaten Ibrahimouvic. I’ll get to the ¨exactly knowing how to play¨ part of the game later. Right now there’s some Champion’s league to watch.

I´m always singing. Even when I´m not singing aloud, a song’s bouncing around in my head or at the least some kind of commercial jingle. The problem is most of my backtrack of songs are in the English language. To combat this, I have learned a complete arsenal of Spanish songs. Yes, they are mostly Disney and world cup songs….. to be fair they’re ALL Disney and world cup songs. Still worth it. They’re just so easy to learn now! =)

According to Wikipedia, only 35 percent of Spain’s citizens complete college. It has one of the worst educational programs in Europe. After reading this I was thinking, ¨ whooo hoo! eaaaasy A! (or 10. whatever.) So turns out the reason there is such a low success rate is because Bachalauriate is SO HARD. Like seriously everyone here knows how to study. 3 hours a day. every single day. I´m proud of myself if I look it over for 15 min the day of the exam.

The Spanish people are slowly but surely sabutaging my Spanish. Here they speak a dialect called Andaluz which is still considered Spanish….. just really really difficult to understand Spanish with loads of slang. Its Slanglish. As a greeting they say ¨Que paja io?¨ or ¨Que pa pisha?¨. Lets break these down for ya. The regular Spanish phrase is ¨Que pasa (nombre aqui)?¨ What happened to that? Well, the s turned into a j on the first one because the adalusion people really like j´s and ¨io¨ is from ¨tio¨ which means only uncle in Spanish,however in andaluz it means pretty much everything. ¨oye tio!¨ ¨Tioo!¨ ¨ Tioo, no deberías haber comido eso, solo era decoración tio¨. And the other one makes even less sense. Im pretty sure ¨pisha¨ means the same thing as ¨polla¨ but nothing is certain. This is Spain. Plus they really like to cuss here but its in Spanish which for some reason makes it seem totally normal to me.

Y hay algo mas? Well I’m living in San Pedro now, (a barrio of Marbella) and I´m with a really great family (they do not replace my real family but they do a nice job trying). We have Puerto Banus nearby which is a place with a great beach, six 5 star hotels, and pretty much a car show every single day along the water. I´m playing a lot of padle with my host brother at the local club. Padle has all the same rules as tennis except it is played on a smaller court and you can hit it off the walls makes it about twice as fun. Life is good. Hard and complicated but all-around good. Toda esta bien pero nada esta perfecto. I will be hearing from me by next month I promise 😉 Don’t sweat the small stuff cuz thats not what counts. You gotta keep going to what lifes all about.

March 1

I lied. You did not hear me by the next month. Sorry! I didn´t think that the journals would be so hard to keep track of when I first got here (hence two were written in the first month) but after a bit of time, it was getting much harder to separate my emotions in an easily understandable, logical manner.

Life gets really complicated really fast on exchange. I´m going to have to take AT LEAST a billion years of psychology to understand what I feel sometimes while I´m here separated from my parents and my American friends because it´s a rollar coaster. Seriously, yesterday I was crying about something and the next minute I was laughing until I cried (no, someone did not come cheer me up. yes, I am weird like that now.) I just thought of something that happened that day and it totally destroyed that great depressed feeling I had going on. I really felt good about it after I was done because I hadn’t cried since the ¨YOUR ALL ROTARY EXCHANGE STUDENTS!¨ day and the Rotex speech. After the crying and the laugh/crying it was over I looked in the mirror (Don´t tell me you don´t do that. Your face gets all red and splotchy and for some really it wills you to look at it) and felt calm about what I needed to do and how I wanted to finish the rest of my exchange year and live my life.

My family and I went to Ponferrada for two weeks during the Christmas holiday and I had the best trip and new years of my life while still having time to have the worst Christmas Eve. Life is fickle that way. We got there on Christmas Eve and I went to dinner my host parents´ parents and their friends. Now just for that to settle in my host parents are 60 and 55. Their parents and their friends are in their late 80s early 90s. It was a very strange night between getting yelled at for being American and being told how ignorant and stupid Americans are. Then I went to bed. The end. haha it´s not exactly my ideal white Christmas fantasy. The next day was much much smoother. I met the other younger half of the family and they were all extremely hilarious and distinct. There were the ones that were pro-Franco, Monarchists, anarchists, socialists, and communists (my host parents). The pro-Francos wanted me to kiss their portrait of Franco and the anarchists wanted me to burn it. I said I´d give him a handshake but we didn´t know him well enough for first base yet. This joke satisfied almost everyone so I sat there in the middle awkwardly pleased. The food was as rich and diversified as the entertainment

That night I went out with my newly met host cousin and her friends. They were really fun but I´m starting to feel doubt in Spain’s wildly inconsistent taste in music. They love techno and house music, but somehow balance that with a love for glam and hair heavy metal. The disco we went didn´t play any songs less heavy or more modern than ¨killing in the name of¨ by Rage Against the Machine. They had the Christmas Day NBA games on so, I watched Orlando Magic beat the Lakers and did victory dances to Moterhead and Metalica for the rest of the night.

The next day we went up into the mountains and on top of a giant dam. you could see of hundreds of miles around because other than the small mountain range there, Castille-Leon is as flat as Florida but without viewing obstacles such as houses or trees or life. It was actually one of the most incredible views that I had ever seen…. until I went on my daytripping tour of northeast Spain. After that the view from the dam seemed like an everyday occurrence like going to school or getting your hair cut (they just never do my hair exactly how I want it so I keep going back. I think they have a pretty good business model)

I´m just amazed how nice the people are here! They are like Canadians or something. If I ask a random person on the street where a good restaurant or tourist site is they don’t just tell me. they show me, even when the place is like 6 blocks away. It´s like ¨hey can I take 30 min out of your day so you can bring me on a mini-tour of your town?¨ ¨Why sure random American who speaks Spanish!¨ They are that cool. Things are going well and I´m looking forward to the rest of the ride.

July 6

So finally it´s here! Summer. All the Spanish have been telling me that the Costa del Sol is the place to be during the summer with David Guetta at the discos and the beaches fill up with foreigners in bikinis.

Also finally all my friends in university get back from Salamanca, Madrid, Granada, and Barcelona. I was super excited. I´m pretty sure this was one of the first things they told me. “Heeyy so were you here for summer?” “Uh no.” “Wow, man you missed out big.” Summer fun is taken very seriously here. I couldn’t wait for all the excitement to start. Too bad when they say ¨summer¨ they really mean ¨July and August¨. See, the thing is the majority of the universities in Europe don’t let out all of their students until mid- July which for me is like a year without a Santa Claus or 4th of July (read: things not really celebrated in Spain). I

I´m leaving my home here on the 5th of July so times running out for me in la Costa del Sol but I like to think that I´m making space for another person to experience this great country.

July 26

As a truly profound philosopher once noted, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know which one you’re gonna get”. Life is full of choices and results but sometimes these two do not correlate. Making a decision that seems to lead to happiness or enlightenment sometimes ends up leading somewhere unexpected. You may reach for that nice heart-shaped chocolate, which you are sure is caramel filled, only to find it to have all the charm of eating straight toothpaste.

 Foreign Exchange is like picking up that nice heart-shaped chocolate, which you are sure is caramel filled, only to find out….. it is not. At first bite you are thinking, “Hey this isn’t what I bargained for! I’m a caramel kind of guy” but then you get to the second stage of it’s sensation and it’s much sweeter than it’s initial state. It then wistfully dissolves with a bittersweet aftertaste left like a lump in the back of the throat. It’s a much more complex flavor than that mere caramel you had beseeched the chocolate gods for. You then are forced to ponder…. what if I had chosen the caramel-filled one I had so wanted? As said by the great American poet Robert Frost,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

One symptom of reverse culture shock is a newfound struggle with the English language. To my immediate frustration and my friends infinite amusement, common English words that I’ve spent my whole life speaking now oafishly stumble along like my father after the magic tea cups ride. They vomit out but never in the order nor context that I desire. I can’t even figure out a good style of writing to use for this journal. I want to play the role of the deep thinker in here but my own feelings and doubts are damaging the script!

I guess I’m going to have to get used to mixed feelings for a while. Can I seriously be pathetically overjoyed? Or happily depressed? Excited to be home but sad to have left all my friends in Spain ? There is a moment of reflection at the end of any trip but this year in Spain will probably keep me contemplative for years to come. This poem by Elizabeth Coatsworth helps put into perspective the feelings I have for Spain and the hope I feel to come back to it someday…

What is once loved

You will find

Is always yours

From that day.

Take it home

In your mind

and nothing ever

Can take it away.

With pride I can report that I am now a much greater help at the Way Clinic in Green Cove Springs. I volunteer as a translator for the medical staff and check the patients in for treatment. Without this year abroad It wouldn’t have been possible to help as much as I am now. Thankfully, with the help of the RYE Florida program I have this opportunity to volunteer at a great organization and be a benefit to our community.

THANK YOU ROTARY FLORIDA !!

 

Lily Wohl
2010-11 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Seabreeze Senior High School
Sponsor: Ormond by the Sea Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Hannut-Waremme Rotary Club, District 1630, Belgium

Lily - Belgium

Lily W’s Bio

Bonjour tout le monde! Je m’appelle Lily Wohl, j’ai dix-sept ans, et l’année prochaine j’irai en Belgium depuis une année!

Hello everyone! My name is Lily Wohl, I’m 17 years old, and next year I will go to Belgium for a year! I am a senior at Seabreeze Senior High School in Daytona Beach, Florida, and becoming an exchange student is a lifelong dream of mine that is finally coming to fruition! I’ll start by telling you a little about myself, but first and foremost I would like to thank Rotary from the bottom of my heart for giving me this incredible opportunity.

My greatest passion in life is music. I have been singing for as long as I can remember, and I began piano lessons at the age of 5 and have been playing since. I am the accompanist for my school’s musical theater program, and recently played in the pit orchestra for their fall musical, and I participate in the school’s Vocal Ensemble. I recently began voice lessons to help improve my voice.

Languages are also a great passion in my life. I read Hebrew (although I do not know as much as I wish I did), I have taken 3 years of French, 1 year of Spanish, and 1 semester (so far!) of Latin. Also I know some Yiddish and can hold a conversation in American Sign Language. I cannot wait to become truly bilingual, and my goal is to become conversationally fluent in as many languages as possible.

I have always loved adventure and travel; my first flight was an unaccompanied flight across the country at the age of 6, and I have been to Israel twice. I have traveled through almost every state on the eastern seaboard, visited California several times, and have been to Las Vegas, Nevada. I am actually writing this bio on an airplane on the way to Virginia from Florida! Needless to say, I love to go to new places, and Belgium will be the most incredible trip of them all.

Thank you to all who made this trip possible, especially to those who thought that I would make a fine addition to the program and invited me to become a Rotary Ambassador 2010-11. I cannot wait for this adventure to take off!

Lily W’s Journal

August 31

17 days, 4 hours, 48 minutes, 10 seconds. Wow.

That’s how long I have been here in Belgium. It feels simultaneously like it has been a lifetime and a minute. Strange how 8 hours on an airplane can feel so much like eternity, when 8 hours in my host country feels like an instant.

I “woke up” on August 13th, 2010 (and by woke up, I mean I got up, as I hadn’t actually been able to sleep at all) at around 5:30 AM, feeling calm and peaceful as I gathered the last of my belongings and stuffed them into my already bulging suitcases. I suppose that the feeling hadn’t hit me yet, but then again, it still hasn’t hit, so maybe that’s normal. I got my things together, ate a small breakfast of cereal, and hit the road towards the Orlando airport with just my dad as a companion. We stopped for gas at the local favorite gas station, and as I sat in the car waiting for my dad to finish pumping, all I could think about was that I wouldn’t see this pretty city and this well known gas station or any of my friends here for a WHOLE year. This was a tad saddening, but at the same time a smile spread across my face because I began to think about the amazing adventures I was about to have.

We finally arrived at the airport, and when I tried to get my tickets, my passport wouldn’t read in the scanner. Oh darn. Eventually, however, it was worked out, and I received my two boarding passes for my flights to beautiful Belgium. We walked to the security area, and from there I had to go it alone. I didn’t cry, surprisingly, and neither did my dad, but I did give him a big long hug before trooping off to be thoroughly searched. In the security line I realized that I had forgotten the 3 oz. rule for bottles and liquids, and had to forfeit my hair products…. Needless to say, that was not my favorite part of the morning, but I quickly got over it and made my way to my gate, where I sat for another couple of hours with Abby (Belgium outbound). My first flight was relatively uneventful, and in the Washington Dulles airport Abby and I had about 4 hours to meet and hang out with most of the other Belgium outbounds from the USA. The long flight was peaceful and calm, but I was so full of nervous energy for the entire flight that I slept for only about 20 minutes.

For some reason I thought it was a GREAT idea to exchange my euros in the airport, and by doing so I lost nearly $100 dollars of value as a result of the TERRIBLE exchange rate in the airport. I guess we always have to learn, huh?

When I walked out of the secured area in the Brussels airport, there was a HUGE crowd of people waiting for the exchange students; it was so big that there were metal restraining fences to keep them away from the door as we came out! However, I couldn’t see my family anywhere. I was starting to worry, and I felt very lost and confused among this sea of people all hugging the people I had met 8 hours previously, looking for my own family to greet. All of a sudden a blonde girl stopped me and asked, “Are you Lily?” Of course, my answer was “Yes,” and she then informed me she was my host cousin, and that my host mom had been feeling sick that morning and had gone to get blood drawn, and that she, my host dad, and my host brother would be arriving within about 10 minutes. I greeted my Rotary counselor, who also happens to be my host uncle (the dad of the host cousin who had greeted me), and we chatted for a few minutes in a strange mixture of French and English, which was a direct result of extreme fatigue. I also met a few oldies, and finally my family arrived, and there was a very warm atmosphere all around.

We arrived home, and I was given the tour of my quaint and charming home, and then I was told that I had about 15 minutes until it was time to leave for my host grandparents’ 50th anniversary party. Let me tell you, the Belgians know how to eat. The food at this party was incredible. It was a lovely afternoon, despite the fact that I felt so terribly exhausted that I completely abandoned all efforts of speaking in French with my family and spoke in English with my host brother and cousin, until I drank some Coke, which gave me just enough of a caffeine burst as to allow me to continue speaking in French with my new family.

After the party we arrived home at around 9 PM, and shortly afterwards I passed out in my very comfortable new bed, feeling very happy and content with this new place.

Since then I have had some interesting adventures, including attending the City Parade in Brussels to listen to techno music for hours (WHICH WAS AWESOME), and for now I spend the majority of my mornings at home, watching movies in French, as my host mom works during the day and I am, for all intents and purposes, alone in the house. I am so terrifically excited to start school, as I NEED to make new friends and figure out how to get around here, and I feel that the French practice I will get at school will be so incredibly useful to me. I went last week to sign up for my courses, and I’ve got some interesting ones, including Islamic religion, but I have a rather heavy course-load, which is a tad bit worrisome…

I joined a choir that is participating in a musical theatre show this week and next week, and though its incredibly difficult to memorize and learn the songs in French, let alone understand the stage directions that I am being given, it is a truly awesome experience that is helping me to learn more French and culture quickly.

My host family is wonderful  They are such kind people and they do all they can to help me feel welcome. Its probably helpful that my host mom really reminds me of my real mom. Everyone has been so friendly here so far, and I hope that continues, and I’m doing my best to take one day at a time and make the best of each day. I only felt a little homesick after about a week, but that has since subsided and I am loving it here.

Belgium is an incredibly lovely country. There are cows and farm animals EVERYWHERE (although that can be contributed to the fact that I live in a small country village with about 800 inhabitants), and there are beautiful rolling hills and quaint towns and villages. Just looking out my window is a joy! It is, however, much colder here than in Florida, and I already am wishing for a warmer coat. It also rains quite frequently here, but that doesn’t bother me (yet).

This past weekend was the inbound orientation for my district and I made some great friends and strengthened ties with some old friends, and all around had a great time.

I already feel adapted to this strange but real adventure. French no longer sounds different to me, whether I understand it or not, and I can communicate well with everyone I have come across, for the most part. This whole experience is exhausting, and I sleep like a baby EVERY night, but every wonderful day and evening is worth the bleary-eyed mornings where I have to get coffee from the AWESOME coffee maker in our kitchen.

If you are considering exchange, I don’t say “DO IT,” I say CONSIDER IT! It is not for everyone, and you have to be very strong to leave home and jump into the unknown, but if you feel that you can handle that, it is so worth it.

November 10

Coucou!

In 4 days I will have been in Belgium for 3 months.  3 entire months of my life have passed here.  What have I been doing for these last 3 months that have caused them to pass so quickly?

My life here is sometimes extraordinary, sometimes a bit boring, and most of the time regular and happy, but the truly extraordinary thing about this life is that it is my real life.  No longer is a year in another country, on another continent, in another place that is entirely different, just a dream.  I am here, in Belgium, and it couldn’t feel more natural.

Speaking of dreams, though, I already had my “dream”.  In fact, I dreamt in French throughout my entire first week, but I don’t consider those to be the real first fluency dreams, because they were only as a result of the “French shock”, and I didn’t understand them completely.  However, now I dream rather frequently in French, and I understand everything that happens.

I have had no real problems with my language so far.  Having had studied French for more than 3 years before leaving, I already had a firm grasp on the basics of the language upon arrival, and, luckily, languages tend to come easily for me.  I would consider myself conversationally fluent;  I have few problems in daily conversations, and I am passing all of my classes at school, save French, in which I read (in French, of course), because the coursework of the senior class is at a level much too hard for me.  I am also in the process of reading the Harry Potter series in French, which is really a fun task for me, because I love discovering the little differences (who would have thought that Voldemort’s name is “Tom Elvis Jedusor” in French?!?!?!).  I’ve finished the first and second, and am in the middle of the third at the moment.  

I honestly love my host parents.  They are two of the sweetest, most genuine and simple-hearted people I have ever met.  Even though they lead stressful lives, they are always willing to chat with me and spend time with me, whether that means having a cup of coffee in the morning before school, watching TV together after dinner,  or having a big family dinner every Sunday.  They help me so much with my French, and thankfully neither of them speaks more than a few key words in English, so I always have to discover new words to fully express what I need/want to say.  

My host brother is a bit more difficult.  He is 15 and is a bit of a juvenile delinquent.  Thankfully there has never been any tension between us, but that is mostly due to the fact that there has never been any type of relationship between us at all.  Even though our rooms are right next to each other, it is as if we live in different places entirely.  We do not greet each other, we do not say hello, and we do not speak at all.  However, I honestly have no problem with that, because I would rather have no contact with him than unpleasant contact.  The only real problem that I have with him is that he plays very loud and unpleasant music all day long, but there is nothing that I or my host parents can do- they have tried everything, and I would rather just deal with it than make a scene about it.  

Without a doubt, however, I absolutely love this family, and while I know that my second family is very nice also, I am dreading having to change and leave behind this family of mine, and I am also dreading the 2 months that it will take to get used to the next family, only to have to leave again after another month and a half.

I know that right now it’s recruitment and interview season.  For those of you waiting for your responses, my only advice is to trust Rotary.  They know what they are doing.  If they don’t select you, it’s because they sensed in you something that would make you not ready to handle the year abroad (yet). If it is truly your dream, and you aren’t chosen, you can try again next year, after a year of contemplation. For those of you who are selected, hang on, because it’s a wild ride.  Prepare yourself for assignments and work, but prepare yourself for 8 amazing months, and then a year that will change your life and make you grow, whether you have the best time of your life or not.  

If Rotary doesn’t give you your “dream” country, accept it with grace.  Rotary only exchanges with quality programs, and whether you think you want to go somewhere or not, remember that people live happily in every country on the list, and you can too, if you throw yourself into becoming part of the new culture.  

There are few things that I truly miss here, but I suppose I should list them anyway.

1)   Hugs.  Belgians are affectionate people, but hugs are normally reserved for sad occasions (and drunken occasions).  Being a rather hug-oriented person, I find the lack of personal contact truly difficult.

2)   Driving.  My host parents are very gracious about giving me rides all around, but they are often not available, and living in a small village with only a school bus during the week (and nothing at all on the weekends) leaves me a bit stranded when there is no one to drive me to the train station or a friend’s house.  

3)   My piano.  I really miss the ability to print out a few pages of music and go straightaway to my piano to learn them.  In my third family there is a piano, but I don’t arrive there until April.  

4)   Music classes.  I have a truly wonderful choir here, but I really miss having an entire class of kids my own age all together learning music.

5)   My family and friends.  I am managing quite fine without my family and friends, but on rough days, sometimes it seems like the only thing that can help is a hug or a sleepover.

I recently traveled to both Paris and London with Rotary, and both trips were fantastic.  Paris is truly more than I could ever have dreamed of, and I spent an amazing weekend there with amazing people, amazing sights, and amazing experiences.  London was also incredible, and I will most definitely keep memories of the two trips with me for the rest of my life.

My journal is getting a bit long; I probably ought to end it here.  To the new exchangers- do not deceive yourselves.  You will forget to journal, and you will dread it.  When I was still at the orientations I thought that it would be absolutely no problem at all, but let me tell you, it becomes very easy to put it off for later.  

January 15

It has certainly been a while since my last journal, so with this one I’ll attempt to keep you all updated, without boring you to tears.

Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS to the Rotary class of 2011-2012! You guys must be special if they have picked you, and you can do this! When the workload seems staggering, look at it with a smile and say, “This is ALL I have to do to live in another country for a year? Wow, how lucky am I!!” Don’t be late, and don’t get any tattoos before leaving, do be attentive, do STUDY your language, do prepare yourself mentally, and do get ready to have one of the most influential (and hopefully wonderful) years of your life! Rotary is counting on you, and I believe in you all!

So, to begin with my current life here in Belgium. This country has not only fulfilled and exceeded my expectations, but has become my home. It is difficult to describe the sensation of feeling at home in a place so different; I leave my house in a modest village, catch the public bus to school, speak in French for the entire day with friends and adults, and return home to spend the afternoon at home or participating in some other activity. All of this has become so normal to me, and I don’t even notice anymore when I had a long conversation in French without struggles.

As for my language, I am VERY proud to say that today, Wednesday January 12th 2011, I am fluent in French. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I speak as well as a native, and I doubt that I ever will, but that does mean that I speak throughout the day, understanding everything and being able to express any sentiment or idea that I would like to, and having an accent that is subtle enough to fool the Belgians into thinking that I have been here for years; also, they no longer think I have an American accent, but instead a general English-speaker’s accent, impossible to tell whether I come from Britain or from America.

I am also very proud and surprised to say that I have not yet been homesick. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss family and friends, but I don’t feel any need to return to my life in Florida, except to give my loved ones a hug, spend a few days seeing them, and to return to Belgium immediately.

I believe that there are several major reasons for not being homesick, among them being that 1)I adored my first host family, 2) I spoke the language well and quickly, and 3) I am Jewish, and therefore do not celebrate the traditional Christian holidays that tend to make people oh-so-homesick.

I very recently changed host families, and am comfortable here in my second home, even though I really do need some time to adapt. They are very nice people, and I will fit in well here, I believe, but it was very difficult and stressful to leave my first host family, with whom I was very happy. It’s not always easy to change, but we can do our best and hold our heads up throughout!

School is going well; for the winter examinations I took 2 exams and passed both of them, and I am receiving good marks on my reports.

I really adore my friends here! I have a couple of close Belgian friends, but most of my best friends here are exchange students coming from all over the world! (Australia, India, all over the United States, etc.) I will admit that sometimes it is difficult to make friends, but overall people are very friendly here.

I spent a lovely Christmas with my host family and my choir, performing a midnight mass on Christmas Eve and spending a fun evening with my host family the next night. Belgians know how to party! For New Year’s Eve I went to Brussels with several friends, exchange students and Belgians, to watch the fireworks and roam the busy streets, which was one of the best experiences!

Recently I spent a day participating in an English immersion program for Belgians, while watching films, performing skits, singing karaoke, and all around having a good time!

Being an exchange student has changed my life, and I would like to thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity!

Je vous remercie pour tous que vous avez fait pour moi! Merci Rotary!

À bientôt!!

April 25

It has been a while since my last journal, and lots of things have happened since then, so I figured I would update you guys!  My life here is in full swing, as always, and I think that I have really found my “groove” here just recently (which will make it even harder to leave come July 5th, 2011).  I changed families for the second time about a week ago, and what an awesome week with my third and final host family!  I feel very comfortable here already, as opposed to my second family, where I was really quite unhappy all the time.  Thankfully, though, my third family is just about as ideal as it can get!

I’m having such a great time in Belgium, but it gets harder and harder to think about my return with every day that passes.  I haven’t gotten to the point of crying about it yet, but I think its just because I’m in denial.  I don’t want to think about it, but unfortunately people ask me ALL the time when I’m supposed to be leaving!  It’s terribly sad.

On a happier note, right now is a traveling period for me!  A couple of weeks ago I went to Amsterdam, where I spent 3 AMAZING days with my Rotary friends, and a few days ago I got back from a trip to Greece for 11 whole days!  My countries visited list just keeps growing!  Right now I have USA, Israel, Belgium, France, England, Holland, Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Germany on there, and later on this year I’ll be adding on the Czech Republic and potentially even Spain or Sweden!  I love the fact that I’m getting to see so much of the world that I didn’t know before.  It is really a bizarre thing for me to see how small, and, at the same time, how large Europe really is.  To get to Italy (in order to then take the boat to Greece) we passed through 3 separate countries!  Suffice it to say that I am not ready to leave this place.

Speaking of leaving this place, however, I only have a couple of months until my plane touches down in Florida.  I am ecstatic at the prospect of seeing my family and friends again, but I just wish that they could come here instead, and that I could stay here forever!  However, I knew when I signed up for this program that I would eventually have to leave, and that doing so would be incredibly painful.  I comfort myself with the fact that when I get home, I get to head off the beautiful and amazing New College of Florida!

I’m very happy with my friends here.  Unfortunately I haven’t made very many friends at school, but at least everyone is friendly with me, and I have a few good friends to pass the day with.  Outside of school, however, I have plenty of great friends!  I joined a choir my second week here, and I made many friends there, especially my friend Rianne, who is one of my best friends here, and who lives in the same village as me.  We even sang a duet together for my village’s cabaret!  Also, I am quite close with many of the other exchange students.  It is true what they say, that only an exchange student can really understand what you’re going through! I love to just hop on the train with a few of my exchanger friends, go to some random Belgian cities, and spend the entire day wandering around and having fun.  People in Europe are very open and helpful, and if ever you ask for a recommendation for something to do in a city they are more than willing to help (especially when you speak their language!).  I have had some absolutely amazing days doing things that were completely unexpected and suggested by strangers.  

I have some great things coming up in the next couple of months as well.  In a couple of weeks I’ll be going to Belgium’s best known amusement park, Walibi, with the Belgian Rotex, and I am planning on screaming my head off on all of the roller coasters!  Also, I would like to see if I could soon plan a trip to Spain during the month of May or June to visit some distant cousins.  In early May I have my final Rotary club presentation (2 months before my departure!), and all of my host families are invited to see it.  In June I have a couple of exams at school, and then I have a 7-day trip to Prague!  I’m certainly doing my best to fill up each day with as many wonderful experiences as possible, because when will I ever get to do this again?

I promise to any of the new outbounds that are reading this that I will try to write another journal soon, because I realize that I have been slacking.  It’s just that life here in Belgium is so fantastic that I forget that I need to keep you all updated as well!  

Thank you again to Rotary for this fantastic opportunity, and I can’t wait to see you all in 70 days, 16 hours, 56 minutes, and 30 seconds!  (Alright, those last two might be a bit precise. But in that general time frame!)

Jennifer (Jenny) Hendricks
2010-11 Outbound to Greenland
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Greater Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nuuk Rotary Club, District 1470,
Greenland

Jenny - Greenland

Jenny’s Bio

Hej! My name is Jennifer Hendricks; I am 16 years old, and a sophomore at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. I will be 17 during my exchange year in Greenland. I will be in layers and layers of clothes to stay warm in the cold climate of Greenland, a drastic change from Florida’s heat and humidity. It will be so amazing to visit a place that is rarely visited by people. I know it sounds crazy for a girl from Florida to go to Greenland, but I like the challenge and an opportunity to be a little different. I have always been a go getter and am excited for this challenge, which I know will change my life forever. It’s kind of scary to think that I will not be with my friends and my family, but that’s what this whole thing is about, creating new friends and family. I have no doubt in my mind that I will be walking off that plane with a huge smile on my face and running to meet my new family.

Friends and family would say that I am an outgoing and spontaneous teenager. I enjoy swimming, when it’s hot outside and playing on my Wii fitness in colder weather. Since I was little, I have been flying around the United States. I have flown to Boston to learn about our history, visited friends in Pittsburgh, PA, and relatives in Wisconsin. I used to fly to New Orleans to visit my dad, and now fly to see him in Seattle, WA. Eight hours on a plane doesn’t bother me anymore. As a very independent young lady, I think that this is the right thing for me to do. Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange for this great opportunity! Farvel!

 Jenny’s Journals

August 22

Wow, my first journal already! It’s so exciting, everything I see or do, I always think “Oh, this is going in my journal!” And now that I have started to write it, I don’t know where to begin.

I left Gainesville for Jacksonville on Friday evening went to dinner with my mom and her best friend, Sheila, then the next day woke up at 6:30 for my 9:54 flight to Washington Dulles. A lady at the check in counter gave me this word of advice, and other exchange students probably no this already, but she said, and I quote, “Trust NOBODY!” It’s true; you can’t believe what people say, I mean yes, your host parents and Rotarians, but others not so much. You never know in a foreign place. I wasn’t nervous or sad, until I boarded the plane. I didn’t really know what to do at that point; I just sat there blankly, trying to find out what I really felt. (Sorry Daphne that I missed you in JAX!)I had a five hour layover in Dulles, and all I did was read a book and eat some lunch. I got on my next plane for Copenhagen, and boy was it a long journey! When dinner was served, turbulence occurred and guess what happened, yes, my meal went all over my clothes. My mom told me to bring an extra pair of pants, but I said “Mom, there is no point when I won’t encounter anything.” Man, was she ever right. I barely slept the whole time and by then I had finished my book and had about 3 hours left. As soon as we landed in Copenhagen I was supposed to grab my bags, but I didn’t know that until I was at the gate, but luckily enough somebody there grabbed it. I got to Kangerlussauq and had to board my next plane for Nuuk. We got to Nuuk, but the fog was so bad we had to turn back around.  I got to the airport thinking I was in Nuuk looking for Udo and Birgit, but it looked so familiar. As soon as I looked around I saw a lady I talked to on the plane from Copenhagen, she helped me figure everything out. So, soon enough the fog had cleared and I was headed for Nuuk.

My host family is so amazing. They treat me as if I am part of the family; I wash your clothes, but do not iron them, you do something and you leave a note, don’t ask to do something, just do it. I love the feeling that I am trusted and I know that I will not let them down. As soon as I arrived they took me fishing, I was the first one to catch a fish, and it was nothing we could eat. POISONOUS! Then I caught another but it was a baby cod, which is no good. Daniela and Marcus, guests from Germany, were making jokes about how if you cannot catch the fish, you cannot eat the fish. It sounded better in German. We have also gone out to an ice berg where I got to “pet” it! 😀 The weather is so nice and when the sun is out, it can be quite warm. Soccer matches have been going on a lot lately, and we live right on top of a hill so we look out our windows and see people sitting on the rocks watching the game go on in the stadium. It’s kind of neat.

I had school a day after I arrived, it was overwhelming but I survived. School is so much different, all the buildings are spread out like a college and you stay with the same class the whole day, so they become your good friends. Teachers are not as strict as I am used to. We only have three classes a day and they last for an hour and thirty minutes with smoke breaks. Almost all the kids here smoke. My host mom calls Greenland the laid back country. You could never come to school or do your homework and they don’t really mind it. During lunch you are allowed to go home and eat and then expected to be back at school at 12:15. School starts at 8:15 and ends at 13:50 (1:50). There are always school activities going on and everybody participates. Everybody is everybody’s friend, no cliques. The students in my class are giving me Dansk lessons when the teacher leaves the room, and on snack and walking to class breaks. I get a few words in once in awhile, but each day it gets better.  Hopefully in a month I will be able to understand it. J

All I can really say is that Greenland is a beautiful place, and I am SOOOO happy that I chose it! I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, jumping out of bed putting my scarf and jacket on and heading to school. Greenland was a great place to put me in. (: Tak Rotary!

September 19

When I first chose Greenland, it was to be different, be the crazy girl from Florida going to an ice sheet, but now, it’s because my heart belongs here. It sounds crazy, I know, but Greenland makes me smile. I wake up every morning smiling and humming, enjoying everything around me. The Ravens screeching of hunger, or maybe talking to each other; the wind gently tapping your window. It’s so relaxing! The snow has finally fallen on the mountains, and soon it will be covering the green grass. My world will soon be white, and the sky will be dancing with the northern lights.

Things to know about Greenland:

When you’re meeting someone, girls give you hugs, boys give you a hand

Everyone speaks English, so don’t sound out every word to make them feel stupid

Smoking in restaurants is normal

Not all alcoholics (Nete told me to put this up)

Lovable, down-to-earth people

Houses, schools, hospitals, grocery stores, like any other town

The stones on the mountains are the oldest in the world

Kalaallisut/Greenlandic is the most spoken Eskimo language

You eat TONS of bread and fish!

Babies are left in strollers outside when you shop

Dogs and cats can do their own thing

Ravens eat out of trash cans

No recycling

Greenland has the FRESHEST water on earth (: It’s really yummyy

My “host” family is my family now. We do everything together! From walking the dogs – to family game nights. You don’t get home sick when you feel at home. Of course I miss my mom, dad, and brother, but you need to focus on the now and where you are. My “host” sister, Sofia, is one of my closest friends here. She’s such a sweetie and is just like me! All my friends say we look a lot alike, and we both smile and say thanks! We both share clothes, and always ask “Does this look alright?” or “What should I wear tonight?” I love being a big sister. I also got to meet my “host” brother, Sebastian, who’s in boarding school in Denmark. He’s tall and really nice. Plus, we goof on Sofia a lot. That’s what being the youngest is like!

I have been so busy with school, hanging around town, and being with my host family that I haven’t had the feelings of being homesick. I guess we all know that were going to be back home within a year, and we have to live life to the fullest. Being an exchange student is hard, sometimes when you hang out with your friends, they talk in Danish, French, or another language, so you have no idea what they are saying and then you sit there like a lost duck waiting for someone to talk to you. I am starting to understand the language more and more every day. I am also trying to learn Greenlandic and German (since my host family speaks German the most), but Danish is much easier. Words are very similar; they just have a more ughh sound. It’s so fascinating to listen to them talk, I always smile and giggle when I see them speak English because they seem so happy!

As my journey continues in the extreme cold weather about to get colder, I must say that the Northern lights are the most beautiful thing alive. The first night I saw them was when I went on a long walk with my best friend Nete, she told me to look up and see the northern lights, I did and I started to cry. It was amazing, something you can’t really describe. It makes you all giddy inside and want to dance. The green strings of lights are dancing in the dark sky, and it just makes you wonder how something so beautiful has come along. It was by far one of the best experiences here. I remember a night I went to the far side of town with my two friends Lauritz, an exchange student from Germany through AFS and Thomas. We stayed on the mountain for at least 3 hours taking pictures of the northern lights and staring at the stars, and the shooting stars as well. I can’t wait until the ground is covered in white fluff and the sky is dark with the dancing green lights. It’ll be the prettiest thing on the earth!

October 27

At the beginning of October, my host mom, Birgit comes up to me and says, Cuno, my next host father, would like to take me hunting for the weekend. I was super excited, but had no idea what you need to bring to go hiking. I packed warm clothes and Sofia checked over the things I picked out, and approved. I left Friday to the harbor to meet with Cuno. He brought a lady from Canada, Kirstin who hunts mainly for research. During the 2 hour boat ride, Kirstin, Cuno, and I talked about how Danish and English are so similar. The water was calm and the air was cool. Ice burgs flooded the water, so every second the boat would go left, right, left, right and so on. I saw a whale and a seal on the way there, and it was my first time! When do you ever get a chance to hike 10 miles and hunt for reindeer in Florida? Well, never! That’s something great about being in Greenland, but it has its disadvantages too. For example, the terrain is squishy and the hills are high. 10 miles may seem like 100 when you reach the reindeer. Nothing can stop you when walking through muddy holes, no snakes, no alligators, and especially no spiders. I kept looking down thinking there might be a snake, and then I remember that Greenland has no snakes. We may not have the little things, like snakes and alligators. But we have the foxes and the polar bears. I learned something interesting about polar bears this weekend on my hunting adventure. When you see a polar bear, you don’t run into different directions, you sure enough don’t stand by yourself; you hook arms with your hunting buddies to make yourself look bigger than the polar bear. They’ll feel threatened and move on.

I think it’s time to start talking about the language… Man, I never realized how hard Danish is. Sure, I practiced a lot before I came here, but it felt like I didn’t know anything when I got here. The pronunciation is really hard. You have the ø, æ, and å. They all sound completely different, but at the same time they sound the same. Although I am learning Danish, I am also learning Greenlandic. It’s a very tricky language. I am getting good at, and my friends, which are mostly Greenlandic say I am better than Marie, my other friend who’s from Denmark. They always laugh at us when we try talking in Greenlandic to one another because we sound so funny. The reason for that is, they talk with their tounge and throat, and so does Danish. English uses the front of your mouth. Everyone goes ”THHHHHHH! Jenny!!” and I try, and try, but never seem to get it right. The word rød, in Danish, which means red. Is one of the hardest words I know. I sat at lunch one day and kept trying to say it, my friends and I eventually gave up. My goal while I am here is to learn Danish, but I realllly want to learn Greenlandic! It is so amazing and I love the difficulty. (I am going to translate random words in Danish and Greenlandic so you can learn!)

My skin has never been so dry, or white. My classmates always comment on my very pale skin, saying ”You’re from Florida, shouldn’t you be really tan?!”, I simply say ”I guess I am from Greenland now.” They all love that I consider my self a Greenlander/Kalaaleq/Grønlænder. I have used about 3 bottles of lotion already, and I have 5 more waiting to be used.

It seems crazy to me that practically everyone here smokes. Friends always tell me, “Today’s the day I stop…Or this can be my last pack.” I never believe them, because the next day, they have a new pack and are running out on the 5 minute pause during class. My friend Aimee told me the youngest she has seen smoking was 4 years old. I was lost. I wanted to know how a 4 year old even got the smoke and how they knew to use it and light it. I couldn’t believe the words that came out, a FOUR year old? Like really?! I still can’t believe it. It completely shocked me. There they are 4 years old and already ruining their lungs. How is that even possible? After she told me that, I never was able to stop talking about it, then my best friend, Nete, told me “Jenny, it’s just the way things are. It seems crazy to us too, but we can’t stop them. If they want to do that and try to look cool, then let them.” I realized she was right. I am in a new culture, I shouldn’t be standing there comparing this or that to America, I should just realize that I am somewhere new and I can’t do anything about the way that they live.

The most popular myth in Greenland is the Tupilak. It’s a mask made of bone or teeth from a whale, and when you have a hatred for someone, you tell the Tupilak and it goes and tries to scare the person who you cursed. The job of the Tupilak is to scare the person or try and kill them, if they don’t succeed at what their job is, then they must kill the owner who made them.

The snow has finally fallen on the ground! Tuesday night Nete, called me and told me to look out my window, so I did, and I screamed seeing there was snow on the ground. Since, for the past week, I was staying at my next host families house while my other host family was in Florida (LUCKY), I told Susanne that I was going outside to play in the snow. She giggled and said you have fun baby. And I was talking on the phone and running in the snow. I was so happy, I couldn’t stop giggling and smiling. It felt like I have never seen snow before. The next day, me and Lauritz got into a snowball fight at school. He won; and got scrapes from slipping on the ice. Since, in my future I want to be a nurse, I was like here you need to clean this up! All my friends call me the mother of the group. I guess it shows that my mom has taught me well.

 November 29

Greenland’s weather has turned for the worst. Thanks to Global Warming, I am stuck walking in rain.. Which I hate! It’s freezing cold and it’s raining! Let’s not forget to mention the strong winds, it feels like you are walking in a hurricane. It’s starting to get dark around kl. 13.30 (1:30 pm) and starts getting bright about kl. 10 (am). It’s hard to adjust, but after a week, it becomes adaptable. I still take naps after school, which messes me up, because then I don’t go to bed until 1 or 2. I don’t really know what I do, but I usually text my friends or read. Snow finally fell on the ground at the beginning of November, which means it’s going to be a long winter! The snow only stays on the ground for a few hours, but it’s not the fun fluffy snow, it’s the slushy, hard to walk in snow. I still need to buy good shoes for the snow, but they are so expensive! I want some seal boots, but then I won’t be able to take them back to Florida! The ponds are frozen since the weather has been cold, so I have been able to run on it. After school, my friends and my host sister have played on it, it’s really fun! Dangerous yes, but you only live once! 😀

I recently switched host families. My host sister, Sofia, was crying and wouldn’t let me go. She’s so cute! But my new host family, is so sweet. I have a day where I have to cook dinner, and put on “Dish Duty”! 🙂 It’s actually feels like I am more independent. Plus, they eat SUPER SUPER SUPER healthy, so I have lost even more weight. It’s fun though, we always watch crime shoes together!

I am a freshman all over again at school! Being picked on, also boys always trying to get with the younger girls. But instead of a high school, it’s more of a college. They want to prepare you for what will be in your future, since most students go to Denmark for college. I feel like it will be helpful when I get back to Gainesville, and going to Santé Fe Community College (Duel Enrollment). Right now, 1G which is the whole first year must write a report. It’s about water, how interesting, not! I have a group of 2 of the smartest girls in class and the sweetest, lucky me! Since we have this report, we get to take class off for Geography, Chemistry, and Biology. At school, lunch break usually ends up as a snowball fight, girls against boys. We all know who wins, the boys. Only because they don’t have purses, and run in heels. I have slipped sooooo many times going down the hill that I have just gotten used to it. At school, we have the 3G’s be the master of the 1G’s class. Meaning 1G’s are the slaves. So, there is this party called the slave party for all those who haven’t got a master yet. I was going to go, thinking it would be fun, until… I found out that when the master “buys” you, they say I want to buy that person for ___ shots! Like, omg, so I am totally not going. I don’t feel like cleaning up after my friends and having to be scared if I can’t find them. It wouldn’t be any fun for me! So, my friend, Aimee and I decided that we’re just going to chill and watch some movies, like we always do. (: Actually, I am very happy with my grades at school!!! Probably better than they are in America. I got a 43/45 on my Greenlandic exam, and got a B overall in that class. I was very happy, and so was my mommy!

I have some of the best friends I could ever ask for. I feel so close to them already, and we already have planned moving in together. One of my friends, Inuuna, she plans on kidnapping me so I can’t leave her and Nete in Greenland. Since, most of my friends will either move to Denmark or just drop out of school, which is common. We do everything together; from shopping to having crazy sleepovers! I have learned everything about my friends, like what pushes their buttons, and how they are when they don’t want to do something. My friend Inuuna always says “Want to watch a movie?” and that always means “Want to watch a movie so I can sleep?” So, whenever she asks that, I just start laughing.

What adventurous food have I had since I have been here? Well, I have had seal, reindeer, muskus, and whale! Seal is delicious, and so is everything else!! I learned that when you first eat seal, you have to watch how much you eat because if you eat too much then you’ll throw it up. Whale is reallllllly chewy! The other day, I was at my friend Inuuna’s house sleeping over, and we were eating whale, and she was just chewing it like it was nothing, I put it in my mouth and felt like my teeth were breaking. She started laughing saying that she has Greenlandic teeth and I don’t. I was just laughing, and trying my hardest to chew! Reindeer is quite amazing, probably the best meat you will ever taste.

January 13

ALEE! SUIT? (=

Time has flown! I can’t believe that I have been here for 5 months already, and only have 4 months left. My friends and I talk about it all the time. It makes us all want to cry, but we’re so happy that we’ve bonded. I have met some amazing people here, and these people I will never forget. They have become part of my family. We already planned the night before I leave and the day I leave. We’re going to have a big sleepover, watch movies, and share memories. Then I will go to the airport with all my friends, host families and Rotarians, do our goodbyes and be on my way to Denmark for the Euro Trip.  We already plan on bringing boxes of tissues! This place has really taken a place in my heart- the people, the nature, and the city. I couldn’t look at it without smiling and feeling warmth. I still may not fit in as much as I would like, but I consider myself a Greenlandic. I am trying my hardest to learn the national language, but it is really tough. I actually am better at speaking Greenlandic than Danish! I understand all Danish, and still learning on how to speak better. I’m having some difficulty in pronunciation.  

I’m exhausted. I never thought that I wouldn’t like school so much. It tires me out, having the 34 hours a week doesn’t help that much. I come home and just try to relax as much as possible. Reading helps a lot, but also running. Although I find it tough running on ice, it gives me time to think. Everyone needs that time alone, to just open up your mind.

Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!  Probably the best time of my life! It was so different, and exciting. I started off by waking up early, kl. 9, and eating some breakfast. You start off by giving each person one gift. After breakfast, you clean, cook and get ready for everyone to arrive. After that you get dressed in fancy clothes to enjoy dinner. You have tons of food, and dinner last for a couple hours. Once dinner is finished you open all the doors in your house and light the candles on the tree. Then you join hands and sing songs- Greenlandic, Danish, and English. Then you form a line and dance around the house going in each room, which believe me was super silly. I couldn’t stop giggling. You open gifts after dancing and giving your hugs. I got all Greenlandic presents.

HAPPY NEW YEARS! This New Year’s will never be topped. It was the longest and wildest time ever! We get dressed up at about kl. 18 and then start dinner at about kl. 18.30. Around kl. 19.50 You go outside to watch fireworks for Denmark’s New Years. Man, what a beautiful site! Then you go inside to eat some more, and drink Greenlandic coffee. (It’s really strong!) Then at kl. 23.40, “Dinner for One” comes on, it’s this old movie that plays every year, and was probably the funniest thing I have seen in awhile. After the movie, you say happy New Year and go outside for another show of fireworks. This time it lasts for 45 minutes. It was so spectacular. After 12, you go off to meet with your friends and spend the rest of the night out. It was a memory that I’ll never forget!

And I am so excited to know that there are upcoming exchange students who are where we were last year, it’s so exciting! And more people should choose GREENLAND!!! 😀 Good Luck. God Jul and Happy New Year everyone.

April 3

Greenland is my home, and always will be. There isn’t a day that goes by without me smiling and laughing so hard I feel like I just did a work out. I’ve tried to see what it would be like when I get home, but it’s hard to picture myself somewhere else. Everyone has those addictions, and mine is Greenland. My heart fell in love with the people and city, my mouth speaks in 2 languages, and my stomach is in pain from all the laughter. Who would want to leave a place that has really become somewhere you love? Not as a vacation, but as a home. I’m happy to say that my best friend, Inuuna, is coming to visit me for a month in Florida. It gives me a chance to show her my culture and how I live. It also will help me stop my sadness from leaving this fantastic place.

All those people who didn’t believe that going away for a year would really do much, well if only they knew how much they were missing out on this life changing experience. Who can go back and say that they had the best high school experience in a different way than others – we can. People will never understand how much we gave up going through this exchange, whether it’s making up a year of high school or passing down a great job. We all sacrificed something, and came out of it with a head held high, a crushed heart, and a new image. You have to see things in a different way, positive rather than negative.

People always ask me about weather. Either is it cold, or is it always dark. Well, you never know what the weather really is like. Some days the weather is warm and bright, or freezing and snowing. The snow was melting last week, then it started snowing this week, and now it’s melting again. It just doesn’t know what to do. No matter the weather, I walk home every day. Just to get that alone time to take in everything that’s happening. It’s been blowing my mind.

When you’re on exchange, you always want to join a club or a sport. It helps you meet new people. I have started taking karate. It’s so much fun, and I am actually really good at it, at least that’s what my trainer tells me. Some of my friends and I joined together, and now we always bring it up. We always say that if someone bothers us, we know karate. I have decided to take it up when I get back to Florida. It’s a great way to release stress and gain confidence. I would never think of myself as doing karate, but it gets your energy up and you can’t help but feel so happy afterwards.

My school always throws a party every month. I had prom at the beginning of February. I went with my friend Maasi as his date. Later on, at about 11 pm, my friend Inuuna and I decided that we were bored, so we went to her house and watched movies. That was my first and last prom. The last one we had is called “Fastelavn” it’s sort of like Halloween but it’s in February and you don’t dress up scary. You dress up in fun clothes. Both my friend and I were a “West Ham United’s Worst Hooligan” which was a lot of fun. We chanted our anthem- Forever Blowing Bubbles and we blew bubbles afterwards. It was a lot of fun.

 

Halie Mosher
2010-11 Outbound to Estonia
Hometown: Saint Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail HS
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Haapsalu Rotary Club, District 1420, Estonia

Halie - Estonia

Halie’s Bio

Hi! My name is Halie Mosher and this coming year I will be an outbound exchange student to Estonia. I never expected to be sent to Estonia, but I’m very excited to go there and have this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m so very grateful that I’ve been chosen to be an exchange student through RYE and that my long journey is now really coming to life.

Currently, I am a senior at Bartram Trail High school in Jacksonville, Florida. I live with my parents and older brother as well as my two dogs and cat. I have been a figure skater for almost eleven years and love everything about it. I also enjoy playing other sports (despite the fact that I’m really terrible at most of them) and any activity that puts me outdoors. I like sewing, traveling, music, playing cards, and pretty much trying anything new and exciting. I love a challenge and just living my life, having fun as I go.

Like it has for so many others, RYE has been coming to my high school every year, inspiring select students to go global. Since my freshman year, I have been appealing to my parents to travel abroad, but (for valid reasons) I was always denied. It took years of convincing and maturing to get my parents on board with my overseas idea, but now they couldn’t be happier for me. They have helped me every step of the way and I don’t know what I would do without them.

I would also like to acknowledge my best friend who ultimately gave me the push I needed to become an exchange student. Without her, my foreign hopes would probably remain a dream, unlike the reality they soon will be.

From day one, this has been a challenging process, and it appears that it won’t get easy anytime soon. I have come to understand that there will be language barriers, new faces, and cultural differences that I might have difficulties adjusting to. Who knows what the future holds, but honestly that’s one thing I found so appealing. Thank you so much RYE and everyone involved in making this longtime dream of mine come true. I have no idea what to expect, but whatever it is I know it’s going to be a life-changing experience.

Halie’s Journals

September 4

So, here it goes, my first journal abroad. It seems almost surreal that future students might be able to go to the RYE website, click on my name, read my journals and perhaps be a little inspired. Maybe someone will bring up my name somewhere… like… “yeah, that Halie seems like she’s having a wild time in Estonia…” I won’t hold my breath for the inspired part (or the “wild time,” as my Haapsalu is adorably quaint and quiet), but maybe I can entertain someone with a few interesting stories from my year. I won’t bore you with every detail of my day, but I can try to write the highlights I experience. I really hope that you enjoy what I have to say because I honestly enjoy every minute of every experience I have. Okeydokey, let the journals begin…

I began my exchange journey the same way everyone does; I said goodbye to my family, stepped on a plane…, then had a layover for seven hours, stepped on another plane…, and then did the same thing once more. I arrived at the airport almost three hours early and spent almost three hours of it waiting at the airport Starbucks with my family. We took pictures, reminisced, and played cards for a while. It was a good ol’ time. I won a few hands of gin rummy (I’m pretty sure they let me win just for the memories) and before I knew I was getting dangerously close to missing my flight.

We started waiting through security and it seemed every time I got in one line the other one would move faster (I’m pretty sure everyone knows that feeling). The rest of my family was watching me through the glass as I was watching the clock. I was really starting to freak out, and my inner thoughts were getting violent (Oh, come on! Seriously, sir? Can you not get those slip-off shoes OFF?!)(Ohhhhh, now you decide to take the laptop out of your bag?!?! )(Help your child with her jacket, can’t you see she needs help?). I was strong though, my inner angry thoughts stayed my inner angry thoughts.

I finally got through airport security and started jogging down towards my gate (at which time my mom decided she needed to use the restroom). I could just see it now… I’d have to call up Al (oh, geez) and break the news. “Yeah, Al, ya know that filght I was supposed to get on… mhm, the one to Estonia… yeah, ok, I’m kinda not on it now.” I can just imagine his reaction to that. Then it would be on to Daphne… I’ll skip that thought… and finally my travel agent. But, I’m not in a body bag, so as you can guess, I made it! I cut it close though. I ran up to the flight terminal and everyone was already on the plane and seated for take-off. My goodbye with my mother was short and sweet (and left the shoulder to my rotary jacket wet with tears).

I started out alone, but on every flight I had I met up with more exchange students. I never seemed to sit near any of them on my flights, but I randomly sat next to a very nice woman on my longest flight (we’re actually friends on Facebook now!), which made it much more bearable.

I never thought I would be glad for a long layover in an airport, but I was in Munich. It took almost an hour just to get our passport checked after getting off the plane (it didn’t help that all the people were pushy line-cutters). After that, six exchange students started wandering around the Munich airport trying to find the Lufthansa ticket counter. Having been on United flights thus far we all had to change airlines to get on the next flight (sounds simple, right? I laugh at your assumption… haha). Our carryon luggage was starting to get heavy for everyone too, so two groups of three got luggage carts and loaded them up. We got them stuck on the moving walkways (we wound up having to pick the whole thing up to get it off) and ran them into everything (they’re really hard to steer), but at least we had them.

After searching, asking various airport workers where to find Lufthansa, and splitting up to “divide and conquer” the problem we found an automated ticket counter. An airport worker tried to help us, but for some reason the machine wasn’t working. We were directed to another counter somewhere else, but the counter worker there told us to go to the automated machine (yes, the one we had already gone to). We went back to the machine, but (imagine that) it still wasn’t working. Finally, another student and I found a baggage counter, where we got our tickets. Fortunately, everyone managed (one way or another) to get a ticket from somewhere, so it was off to the terminal.

The security line for the terminals was very short (thank God). I was lucky enough to have my travel pillow tested for foreign diseases. After waiting a few minutes the test came back negative and I was thrilled to be disease free (can you imagine what kind of story I’d have if the test came back positive?!). Overall, the group got through security quickly and we made it to our gate with plenty of time to spare.

After about 30 hours of plane traveling, I was in the Helsinki airport with eight other exchange students. We all picked up our luggage and headed outside to get on a bus that would take us to Karkku for language camp. Unfortunately, we soon realized that not everything and everyone was going to fit on the bus, there simply wasn’t enough room.

We waited for an hour, in the surprising Finnish heat, as the bus driver looked at the luggage at every different angle he could. He would tilt his head to the right, step a few feet over, and then ponder for a while. Then continue the process by moving to the left a few inches and so on. After a while, he finally accepted what everyone already had: not all the junk was getting on the bus. Out of the twenty or so bags that didn’t fit onto the bus you can probably guess two randomly selected suitcases that were left behind. Yep, mine. The Rotary people there assured me that my luggage would be fine, but I think I was understandably nervous to leave my metaphorical “life-in-a-suitcase” behind. But, what could I do? Nothing. But where could I sit? That was another matter completely.

There wasn’t a single seat left, so one other lucky traveler (a fellow American from New York) and I were lucky enough to sit in the emergency seats. They might have been on the stairs of the bus, and they might have been slightly uncomfortable, but they gave the best view out of any “real” seat we could have been in. I didn’t care that much anyway, I was so tired that I slept the whole way there.

Three more hours of driving and we had arrived to our camp, but (cue dramatic music) the camp didn’t have power. It was just like a horror film. There had been an unexpected hailstorm the night before and some wires had been damaged. I tried to look at it on a positive side… it was slightly romantic eating by candlelight with all of these strangers.

The daylight was gone, so it was time for all of the students to get their rooms. We were staying at a school, so we all stood in line for our dorm room assignments. I was a handed a funny-looking key (which we were later advised to keep safe. If anyone lost it, they’d have to pay the school 300 Euro to replace it). One of the Finnish Rotex students offered to drive kids to their rooms, since those who had luggage would have to carry it. I had no luggage, but I accepted the ride anyway.

I finally got to my room, which was dark, and I met my roommate. A perky Nebraskan who I met in the Chicago Airport let me use her shampoo, so I at least got a shower, but still no clean clothes. I slept like a rock that night and still woke up exhausted.

My bags had supposedly arrived to the main building, so while everyone was getting ready I walked down the gravel road towards clean clothes. I couldn’t get anyone to drive me to my room, so it looked like I would be dragging them back out to my building. I saw my new German friend (she began flying with us from Munich) and asked if she would help me. She agreed and we were off and away.

Each of us pulled a wheeled bag down the paved driveway and up the road, and we pulled, and we pulled… until we came to the largest hill this Florida girl has seen in years. I looked up the hill in horror. I still swear that it wasn’t there before. I guess when I was being driven up the hill and walking down the hill I didn’t realize how steep it was. I assumed I had an ex German friend at this point.

It was only getting worse. The huge paved hill was quickly turning into a huge dirt hill with rocks all over it. I expected the wheels of my bag to just fly off or the handle to snap (then I could watch in terror as the bags slid back down this mountain). I’m sure it was by divine intervention that the bags made it intact. Luckily, I didn’t have a stroke in the heat, but by the end we were definitely panting and out of breath. All I could do was laugh.

The rest of the week doesn’t provide any amazing stories, but I met a lot of great people from all over the world. There were Finnish seminars (where I learned the “Finnish way”), Estonian language classes, good eating, and fun activities for hours every day. I learned some crucial phrases, my numbers, my colors, foods (essential knowledge), and more in Estonian. I felt like I was two again, but I was still proud to know more language than I did before.

By the last day of camp, I was ready to start the next leg of my journey. I watched as all the Finnish inbounds were picked up by their host-families and taken home. It was just like watching puppies being picked from a litter. The six Estonian inbounds still had hours to go before we would see our host-families, so we loaded our stuff into a van for the ride back to Helsinki.

The van was a manual, so each gear shift jerked us everywhere. The air-conditioning wasn’t working well and the windows were supposed to stay shut (I’m still not sure exactly why, but that’s what we were told). After the three hours in the van, we were all looking a little green. The car was driven up onto the ferryboat for a two hour ride to Tallinn (and all the students scrambled out of the van for fresh air).

The ferryboat wasn’t a quaint little craft you imagine, it was a huge ship. There were multiple restaurants, shops, and even a grocery store to occupy the time. The two hours flew by, and before I knew it, the boat was docked.

After we drove off the boat and parked host-families started picking up the students. I watched again as puppies were being taken home, wagging their little tails the whole way. One by one they were picked, until it was just me. The lone wolf (a lone puppy just sounds too sad, so I changed it into a wolf), my tail wasn’t wagging anymore. Finally, after about twenty minutes, the Estonian coordinator who was with me got a call. My host-sisters was with a member of my rotary club, and they had been there the whole time (just in the wrong spot). I was a happy puppy once again.

I felt so much better when my sister stepped out of the car and gave me a big “welcome” hug. The drive to Haapsalu takes a little over an hour (I swear we made it in half that time with the Rotary guy) and it wasn’t long at all before I was home. My mom and older host-sister greeted me at the house with big hugs too. I couldn’t help but sigh in relief. The week had been fun but very hectic, I was so happy to just be in a stable environment (with minimal surprises).

As my family showed me around my new house, I couldn’t help but say the word “cool” a million times. But everything was cool, and new, and exciting. I had a goofy smile on my face the whole time (and I’m pretty sure they thought I was psychotic), and then my sister took me out to meet all of her friends. I switched from being a puppy to something like a new purse (I don’t mean to be smug, but I really felt like a designer purse at this point). Everyone ooo-ed and aww-ed over me (I’m not going to lie, I feel pretty special). By the end of the night, I was really (really, really, really, really) exhausted, so I slept amazingly in my new bed.

I have a beautiful room, a beautiful family, and a beautiful life right now. I haven’t had too much homesickness yet (relative to the fact I’m over 6,000 miles away), but that doesn’t mean it’s all been cake either. There have been short times when I’m frustrated, exhausted, cold (luckily, as in temperature, not attitude), sad, and lonely. But every time I even begin to feel down some little thing cheers me right back up. Every day is a rollercoaster of emotions, but I just try to be myself at all times. I’ve never once wanted to give up, which is the best encouragement I have right now, and I think that’s pretty darn good.

And now I leave you with a quote (because I always love when people leave really thoughtful quotes that make you think… hmmm):

“Large streams from little fountains flow,

Tall oaks from little acorns grow.”

– David Everett

(plus, the poem rhymes, which makes it even more awesome… hmmm)

PS- stay tuned for journal #2 about my week in Tallinn, it should be a real doozie!

(spoiler alert: I get lost in Tallinn A LOT)

November 24

Not much has changed in the last three months, yet sometimes it feels like everything is different. I’ve settled into a normal daily schedule, in fact there are some days when it feels like I’ve been in Estonia doing this all my life. Most things didn’t take too long to adjust to, but the quickly changing weather was definitely a big shock.

The first snow of the year came on October 22! I’ll always remember that day, but I’ll mostly remember it because it’s my mom’s birthday, not because of the snow (you probably didn’t want to know that…). The day before it was like any other fall day, slightly breezy but overall very nice. BAM!!!! I looked out my window to see a thick blanket of snow covering everything. I didn’t even have a winter coat or boots yet, so I was quite cold and terrified of slipping on the ice (I have a hard enough time not tripping over my own feet on a normal day). Estonians wear high heels all year round, they could care less if there’s ice on the ground and heaps of snow to step through, however I’m not nearly as talented. I wore my rain boots through the snow and managed to only fall once. I was pretty proud of myself.

The next day my host-mom took me shopping to get my winter essentials. There was nothing to be had in my tiny town of Haapsalu, so a few days later she drove me over an hour away to the next biggest town.  I don’t think she realizes how much that day meant to me. We walked around, laughed, and just talked. Afterwards, when I thanked her for the wonderful day, she just smiled and said “you’re my daughter, I couldn’t let you freeze!” That made the day even better.

At school I’m definitely at the stage in my exchange where I’m “normal.” Occasionally I’ll meet someone new and they’ll ask me a bunch of questions, but I think people are generally used to seeing me around. My friends all have busy schedules, mainly filled with studying, so I decided to fill up my schedule too.

I take Estonian cooking classes, three different Estonian handicraft classes, and aerobics classes with my host-mom. Besides learning Estonian, I wanted to learn German, so I have German lessons twice a week. Then, I decided I wasn’t learning Estonian very well on my own, so I just started after school Estonian tutoring. I’m not the best at sports, but I do love singing, so I joined the school choir (which will sing at a National festival in July). Friday and Saturday nights are the only time my studious friends don’t have loads of homework, so you can find me out and about with them.  

Making myself busy has prevented any intense homesickness. When I don’t have time to think about the things I’m missing in America I can focus on getting the most out of my time in Estonia.

I’ll admit, there are some pretty depressing days here, but I’m trying to keep a positive outlook. It’s always cold, which is something very different from Florida, but I’ve handled that pretty well so far. I’m partially used to the cold because I was a figure skater for so long, but I can hardly stand the darkness of Estonia. Unless it’s snowy, it’s dark. However, if it is snowy it’s absolutely beautiful here. The white illuminates the little bit of light and sometimes everything looks like it’s glowing. There are some snowy days that glow so brightly I feel like I’m in a sci-fi film, it’s actually pretty awesome. It’s a true pain to walk through, but I always hope for snow.

To counter when it’s not glowy (just an icky darkness all around), I’ve started dressing in obnoxiously bright colors. My winter coat is hot pink (honestly, a color I wouldn’t wear in Florida), my boots are bright white, my school bag is bright yellow, I have crazy hats and scarves, and my mom even sent me some brightly colored tights to wear around.

I’ve actually been abroad for a little over three and a half months. In the beginning I noticed little things that were different, like the way I hold my knife and fork, the way I tell time, or even the way I say my “ABC’s”, but now I don’t seem to really notice all that much. Every once in a while I’ll be caught off guard by something a bit unusual, but I just shrug it off as “interesting.” Being an American living in Estonia I’m severely outnumbered by Estonians, so it’s best not to call their customs “weird” or twist my face into an odd expression. “Interesting” is good, and it works in pretty wide range of “interesting” occasions. Plus, isn’t “interesting” what being an exchange student is all about?

There have been some hard times already and I’m not even at Christmas, supposedly the hardest time of all. I miss my friends, family, and boyfriend, but it’s also more than that. I hate to be the typical “fat American,” but I miss the food. I miss being able to have any type of food I want at practically any time. Besides the fast-food (geez, I really want some Taco Bell right now!!), I miss the variety of things you can cook in the US as well. I miss cooking in my own kitchen, using utensils and measurements that I’m familiar with. I miss how easy it was to find something at the store and the convenience of one store having anything you would need (I’ve found “one stop shopping” isn’t really the Estonian way). I miss clothes driers, my clothes aren’t nearly as soft when they’re hung dry. I miss feeling like I have a place instead of drifting around in limbo, not an Estonian but unable to be fully American.

I’m unable to be fully American, but in my time here I’ve become even more patriotic (which is saying a lot if you know me very well). I have so much more appreciation for my American life and love for my amazing country. I definitely want to straighten out “American” stereotypes when people ask me questions. I was asked by my English teacher to make a presentation on the US and present it to all of her classes. I did the presentation eight times and every time I gave it I had even more pride to be an American.

There have been a few recent events which I will have memories of for the rest of my life. If I wrote about them now I would go on for pages and pages, so I think they require their very own journal (can you feel the suspense building?). So, for now, I leave you with my thoughtful quote:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

January 14

For this journal, I feel the need to backtrack a few months to describe a very important event in my exchange.

At that point in time, I had been in Estonia about two months. I was really learning a lot about the culture and the life of an Estonian teenager. People started asking me what I liked and didn’t like, what were the differences, and what I missed from home. This really made me reflect on my own life as an average person growing up in America.

I can never express what I have experienced in my life with these wonderful people. While I can never know what it truly means to be Estonian, they’ve opened a window into their world that I cannot reciprocate. I can tell them about my family, my friends, the food I eat, and the ways I waste my spare time, but they still wont know it. I felt selfish, like I was only carrying out part of my exchange; I was learning from my host-country, but I wanted to bring just a little bit of America to them too.

It was October, and I finally saw my opportunity to share some America… Halloween. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, a holiday all about consuming as much sugar as you possibly can, dressing up, and just having fun. As soon as I got the green light from my host-family there was no stopping me.

Thank goodness my best friend, and fellow American exchange student (actually, she’s the only other American RYE student besides myself in Estonia), Marina, agreed to help me. We knew finding Halloween themed items in a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween would be difficult, but we were up for the challenge.

We covered all the bases:  A few days before the party, my younger host-sister and her friend came over and we carved pumpkins. It was their first time ever doing it, and I have to tell you, they were darn good! Then, my host-sister and I spent hours decorating the house, I was so thankful she helped. By the end, there were spider webs everywhere, caution tape covering most of the doorways, skeletons on the cabinets, and a plastic mural on the front door. It was brilliant!

Once Marina arrived from Rapla (a town about an hour away),we cooked for three days straight, making “mud brownies,” “morgue bean dip,” “mini mummy pizzas,” “nasty nachos,” “mummies in a blanket (like pigs in a blanket),” “brain spaghetti,” and (most importantly) PB&J sandwiches in the shape of ghosts. There were countless other cookies, cakes, cupcakes, candycorn, popcorn balls, roasted pumpkin seeds, homemade rice crispy treats, and Halloween candy. It was truly a Smörgåsbord (AKA “rootsi laud” in Estonian). On top of that, Marina and I made this delicious punch, made with cool-aid and ice cream. Yum!

Since Estonians don’t celebrate the holiday, I figured finding a Halloween costume to wear would be nearly impossible. Marina and I went on a quest around town for a get-up and wound up truly victorious!! With just a few added accessories, we were a cowboy and Indian… classic!

In the invitation, I made it very clear that anyone who came had to wear a costume, but they weren’t supposed to spend money on anything. It was a real whoot to see how creative they were. There were classic zombies, witches, ghosts, angels, and devils. One boy dressed as Dracula and made a real coffin to go with him (an accessory that took up most of the hall space) and my host-sister dressed as black mail (wearing all black and a postage stamp on her shirt). There was also Santa and Mrs. Clause, Mario and Luigi, Minnie Mouse, Edward Cullen, Dr. House, a mime, a ninja, and countless others. All-in-all, over forty people came, and they were all dressed up!

We ate, played games, sang karaoke, and had a really great time. It was a special moment for me when they all yelled “thank you,” and I felt like I really had given them something to remember. Estonians are sharing their wonderful culture with me, now I finally felt like I was giving back in some minute way. I hope that somehow they continue the tradition and celebrate every October 31st.

Now, I feel the need to make a few “shout-outs” to some special people. Thank you to Marina for helping me cook, clean, shop, and laugh nonstop. To my host-family, for being open-minded and understanding to my strange enthusiasm for this odd holiday. To my friends, for participating wholeheartedly in the celebrations. And, last but definitely not least, to my mom, who sent me decorations, fun-sized candy, Halloween cookie cutters, candycorn, and countless other knickknacks that gave the party true character. I will remember my 2009 Halloween for the rest of my life, and it wasn’t possible without all of you!

So, now I leave you with my “quote of the journal”:

“You will look back on the times you laughed and you will cry. You will look back on the times you cried, and you will laugh. You will always remember close friends, and you will always keep memories of them in your heart. Life is hard, it’s tough, and it’s unfair, but everyone gets over the hurt and the pain, eventually. You always end up with a smile on your face, if you give it a chance.”

May 9

Right now it’s a wonderful 50 degrees in Estonia. After over 6 months of freezing, I can finally walk outside without my snow boots, which kind of look like I’ve just cut a car tire to pieces and stuck it on the bottom of my feet. I can fashion a light jacket and maybe even (cue angelic music) a cute pair of shoes. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and my clothes are now hanging outside on a clothesline to dry. Yes, my friends, spring has finally shown it’s shy face in Estonia.

But, what I find even more remarkable than the actual weather, is my reaction to it. If I were in Florida, at this temperature, I’d be pulling out my parka and every bit of winter apparel I own. However, right now I find this weather divine. Can I make a life lesson from this… you bet your butt I can!

Throughout my year in Estonia, I’ve had experiences, some great, some being rather down. When I emerge from the other side of the tunnel, I can finally see what I was stumbling over in the darkness to reach the end.

It took the freezing cold for me to appreciate the tepid.

It took weeks of gray days and darkness to appreciate the light of the sun.

It took living a year without certain luxuries and customs to appreciate what I have.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve grown as a person in my year abroad, I’m the same girl, good or bad, hate me or love me. However, I have learned to appreciate every single thing I have. Whether it be drinking sweet tea, having a big Thanksgiving dinner, getting ice cubes in my drinks, or the convenience of 24 hour stores, I appreciate them all. It’s funny how the simple things can stick out to you. But, if it weren’t for the bitter, you wouldn’t be able to taste the sweet (how existential is that, right?).

There have been “alright” moments during my exchange, like when you get a recipe from your grandma, but you just can’t seem to make it as delicious as she does. I’ve had bitterly disgusting times, like when you accidentally mistake the sugar for the salt. But the times I remember most are with amazing people that I could only meet abroad. People who add foreign ingredients completely new to me, who forget the recipe and add secret elements of their own. They’ve helped me make this one of the most memorable years of my life, and for that I can never thank them enough.

Now, this journal has made me hungry, so I’m going to go have a cookie and big glass of milk (I bet you’re hungry now too, huh?).

I leave you with my “quote of the journal,”

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

July 7

“Better late than never.”

That will be the theme of this journal. As usual, I’ve left an important task until the last minute, or days in this case: journaling. I’m looking at my blog space on the RYE website and I’ve done a pretty disgraceful job. My hope is for students to read my journals and be somewhat inspired to go to Estonia, to maybe fill out their exchange student application and write down Estonia as a “top 5” choice. I want people to know how spectacular this country is, but it’s hard for them to do that when I’ve written very little, when my journals barely go past October. Trust me, there’s a bit more that’s happened in the last nine months. I’ve had such an amazing experience, and I’d like to share some of it with anyone willing to read it.

I’m going to pick up where I left off in my last journal, after the Halloween party.

Two weeks after the party was my 19th birthday.

I expected my birthday to be no different from any other day in Estonia… that was until my host-sister pushed me into a dark room.

I was told we were going to a friend’s apartment for a typical Friday night get-together, but as we were walking down the hall of the apartment building, my host-sister suddenly pushed me through a door. The room was black for a few seconds and then the lights flipped on. I was standing on a stage looking at a huge group of people holding a “PALJU ÕNNE” (Happy Birthday) sign. It was as surprise birthday party that my host-sister and friends had organized for me. All of a sudden,  I was handed a microphone, I guess they wanted a beautiful speech, but I was still so shocked the only thing I could say was “thank you.” Then, being the graceful creature that I am, I proceeded to fall down the steps of the stage in front of everyone as I tried to get down. Yep, no matter what country I’m in I will always be a klutz.

One of the coolest things about the party was that they tried to make it very “Estonian” for me. There were all types of typical and traditional foods and games; we even sang Estonian karaoke songs. The cake they made me was amazing, and to top it all off, they gave me a phenomenal picture drawn by one of my friends and everyone signed it.

I felt so special that people I had met just three months before would go through all this trouble for me. It was definitely one of the best moments of my exchange.

Just over a week later was Thanksgiving. Some of the teachers asked me to give a presentation to the class about what exactly Thanksgiving was. I showed them pictures of foods normally eaten, but more importantly, I brought in all sorts of paper and crafts. I showed them how to make a turkey by tracing your hand, how to fold paper to make a pilgrim hat, and how to glue fake feathers to a headband; we now had all the makings of first grade Thanksgiving reenactment.

I also wanted my host-family to experience a little bit of my American holiday. My mom sent me a box from the US with a few canned items that you can’t really find in Estonia, but the box came over a week too late. Thus, I had to make a Thanksgiving meal from scratch. Thank God my host-mom helped me with the turkey, or it would have been burnt to a crisp. But I wound of making greenbean casserole (which means I had to make my own cream of mushroom soup and onion crunchies for the top), pecan pie (yep, I made the crust and filling), stuffing (no boxed stuff), a turkey (with some sort of weird glaze I found from google recipes), and sweet potato pone (that’s actually really easy, no extra effort there). No, it didn’t really taste all that good, but they didn’t have anything to compare it to, so they  truthfully claimed it was the best Thanksgiving dinner they’d ever had!

The first week of December was the rotary trip to Lapland, Finland. We spent a whole day driving by bus to the very north of Finland, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life, but it was a memorable experience. I went snowshoeing in the forest, riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, followed by a nice dogsled ride pulled by huskies. We had a little snow sculpting competition between the exchange students, where my group made a lovely penguin we named Isosceles. I got to practice my lassoing skills on a fake reindeer (I actually caught it!), and fed some real reindeer by hand. Though I was quite sad when we ate a Lapland traditional meal later in the week… reindeer. It didn’t taste bad, it was just a little depressing to pet a reindeer and later that night eat one, but I figured this would be the only time or chance I would get to try it, so I did.

It was a fun week with all of the exchange students, and now I can officially say that I survived the arctic circle!!

Three weeks later, before school was let out for winter break, there was a winter ball. The Jõuluball was an annual school dance, and this year’s theme was “the Oscars.” There was a red carpet walk with paparazzi, tv interviews, and musical performances throughout that the 11th graders organized. The band they chose was great, and I had the best time dancing the night away with my friends.

Near the end of the dance, the Christmas king and queen were announced, though because of this year’s theme, they were now called “Romeo & Juliet.” You can imagine my shock when my name was called out for Juliet. I felt like the prom queen as they gave me my sash and crown, and then I waltzed with Romeo… well, I guess you can call it waltzing. It was more like me standing in front of everyone and stepping allover Romeo’s feet while music played. But, like I said, Estonia doesn’t change the fact that I’m a klutz. I don’t think I stopped smiling for weeks after that superb night.

Christmas was an odd time. I didn’t really feel excruciating homesickness, it was just weird not being with my family like I was every year before. But I’d like to think I embraced this new Christmas tradition instead of getting depressed. I helped decorate the Christmas tree and put up a bunch of red and green paper chains. I made the house look like an elementary school classroom, but my host-mom thought it was cute anyway.

Europeans actually do all of their Christmas celebrations on Christmas eve night. It’s not really that big of a deal, I just always remember waking up excited on Christmas morning, but here everything is already done by that time.

My host-family took me with them to Rapla, a nearby town where my host-grandparents live. First, I went with them to the cemetery, where everyone goes on Christmas Eve night to put candles on graves of loved ones passed. The candles illuminated the snow, making it surprisingly pretty.

After we came home from the cemetery, the family sat down and exchanged secret-Santa gifts. Everyone was so happy as my host-grandma put on the Santa hat and passed out presents. My host-sister gave me beautiful Estonian jewelry and a candle that looks like the Estonian flag, a candle that will never be burned because it’s so darn pretty.

However, presents aren’t the highlight of Estonian Christmas, food is! There was so much food that I think it could have lasted until next year, and it was all delicious. Yes, I even loved the Estonian national food… blood sausage. Come on, exchange is all about trying new things, so don’t dis it till you try it!!

We spent the night in Rapla and went home the next morning, where I woke up with the worst cold of my life.

You would think that celebrating New Year’s while sick would be awful, wouldn’t you? Well, I have to tell you, my new year in Estonia was the best I’ve ever had!

Of course, I didn’t have a fever or anything when I left, I just had absolutely no voice because my throat was so gross.

On New Year’s Eve afternoon, I took the bus to Tallinn with about five friends. I met up with Marina (my exchange friend living in Rapla) and we hung around the city for a little while. This coming year was a big one for Estonia, not only was the country switching currencies the next day on January 1st (from kroon to Euro), they were also becoming the European Capital of Culture for the year 2011. There was a big ceremony in the city, famous Estonian bands played all night, and there was a huge fireworks display when midnight came around. The celebration seemed to never end! From there, we went to a place called Von Krahl, one of my favorite places in Estonia. It’s a two story building, one floor is where live bands play indie music, the other level is a nightclub with a DJ. I stayed there all night, listening to music and dancing with my friends. I caught the bus back to Haapsalu in the morning utterly exhausted, but it was more than worth it.

Well, since this concludes the 2010 portion of my Exchange year, I think I’m going to end this journal here. My 2010 was busy, exciting, and just the beginning of my wonderful adventures in Estonia, so hopefully you can look forward to reading about the rest soon.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

 

Morgan Anderson
2010-11 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Emmental Rotary Club, District 1990, Switzerland

Morgan - Switzerland

Morgan’s Bio

Where to start? Well, first off I was always the kind of kid that loved adventures and new experiences, so of course when I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange from an orientation at my high school I jumped at the opportunity. The more I became informed about the exchange the more excited I became. When I discussed this amazing opportunity that I had at hand with my friends, to my surprise they didn’t respond with excitement for me. I was thrown questions like “Why would you want to leave your family and your friends to live with complete and total strangers?” I thought about it and responded with “Who wouldn’t want to do that? (being the outgoing and adventurous type.)” Despite my friends’ lack of interest I was not discouraged, for I am as independent as it comes.

I went through the whole process of being interviewed and questioned with not only being nervous with the outcome if I was going to be chosen or not. So with the nail biting anticipation I waited it out, and soon enough got an e-mail and a phone call letting me know I was accepted and going to Switzerland! I was and am beyond thrilled. My heart skipped beats and I probably went a few days with a sore throat form screaming with excitement. Enough about how happy I am for my upcoming year, let me explain a bit of what I’m all about.

I attend Buchholz High School where I currently am a junior. I’m very involved in the Buchholz Varsity Debate Team. I have been competing for three years (I love to talk, go figure I found my niche at school). Along with being involved in that I also am a huge activist in the community, a few places I help out with are: donating blood regularly, working at the homeless shelter, and volunteering at the Humane Society. I live with my Father and Mother. I have an older sister but she goes to college in North Carolina. My favorite place in the world would have to be Disney World, and my dad and I visit Disney (my second home) quite frequently. I’m really going to miss that place when I leave, but I’m sure I can handle it.

This program has and is going to open up so many doors for me. I can’t wait to get the show on the road and be placed into Switzerland. I have to say to anyone who has the least bit of interest in this program to check it out. This is an experience of a lifetime and I am so glad I have been given the ability to embrace this new life. Thank you so much Rotary for having the faith in me and giving me the opportunity that will forever change who I am for the better.

 Morgan’s Journals

August 8

This feeling no one will ever know unless they experience it. You step onto the plane, looking over your shoulder at your family waving goodbye, your eyes fill with tears of joy and sadness, everything will be alright. The stranger next to you on the