Outbounds 2011-2012

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Abbie Bernet
2011-12 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Pamplona Rotary Club, District 2202,

Abbie - Spain

Abbie’s Bio

İHola! My name is Abbie Bernet, I am 16 years old and I live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida with my family. My family consists of my dad, mom, younger brother and sister, and my three cats. I am a junior at Ponte Vedra High School, but that is soon to change because I will be spending my senior year in… Spain!

At first I was hesitant to apply to Rotary. Then I read a Mark Twain quote in a classroom which made me realize that I wanted to jump at the chance to become an exchange student. Twain said: “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 gave me a nudge to apply, and I am so glad I did.

Although many people don’t understand why I would want to leave my family, I am so excited to have an additional family in Spain! I am ready to embrace this new year and see what not only Spain has to offer me, but what I have to offer Spain.

I am passionate about individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. One of my best friends who I have known since I was seven has autism. He inspired me to want to become a Special Education Teacher, and an advocate for these remarkable individuals. I have been active in Best Buddies in high school which has allowed me to reach out not only to kids with special needs, but also to my peers, by teaching them about Best Buddies and these individuals.

I am so thankful to Rotary and can’t wait to start my life-changing adventure. THANK YOU!

 Abbie’s Journals

September 15th- 2 weeks in Spain

After 18 very long hours of traveling, I arrived in Pamplona, Spain on September 1st, and was greeted by my wonderful host family. It was hard saying goodbye to my family and friends but I was excited to start my journey.

Many exchange students say how quickly the time passes by, for me it’s the complete opposite. It’s not that I’m not having fun, or not enjoying my stay; I love Spain. I love the people, the food, the life style, the shops, the views, I love everything, it’s just that my brain seems to calculate ‘days’ much differently. If I go out, that counts as one day, eating lunch counts as another day, and watching the news counts as another day as well, it’s weird.

My host family is always saying how I don’t eat enough and that my parents in Florida will be mad because I will be too skinny, but the truth is I eat more here than I would in Florida but that doesn’t seem to matter. I brought American food with me to give to my host family and my host grandmother is fascinated by it, especially the goldfish and slim jims which she says are so rich. I told my mom to mail me goldfish and slim jims and my host grandmother is so excited, I didn’t realize that crummy American food could make someone so happy, but then again my face lights up anytime I see a baguette which isn’t exciting for anyone else in Spain.

When I speak Spanish I sound like a 4 year old who also knows a bizarre form of sign language. Usually I just speak in the present tense and use my hands by pointing to my left to represent the past and to the right to represent the future. Whenever I don’t know a word I try to act it out which usually doesn’t work, and then whoever I am talking to just tells me to say it in English. Then if they don’t know the word in English they apologize because they don’t know much English which is even more embarrassing because I know they speak more English than I do Spanish. I should be the one apologizing because I’m in their country and I don’t know their language!

The first day of school was full of surprises. I expected that my teachers would sound like Charlie Brown’s, and they did. All I heard was “Wah wahh waaa wahh waa”. But I didn’t think that they would not realize that I was an exchange student, I didn’t think that they would assume my Spanish was nearly perfect, or that they would assume that I could listen and take notes, and I wasn’t expect my teachers to be confused if my name was Abbie, Abigail, or Elizabeth (my middle name). I also didn’t expect to freak out over not knowing how to flush the toilet, to see kids lined up by the school’s door smoking, or to call my teachers by their first names. The only weird questions I gotten at school have been “Do you really have cooking classes in the U.S.?” and “Do Americans really eat hamburgers every day for breakfast?” and “Have you been to L.A.? Why not?”

Here is a list of things I have noticed in Spain:

-You cannot be considered a Spanish teenage girl if you do not own a pair of ballet flats, the only problem is that they are the most uncomfortable shoes and multiple band aids must be worn on your heels at all times.

-Bread is served with every meal and the bread is wonderful. It could be considered dessert, it’s that good.

-Going to the grocery store almost every day is not uncommon because you buy food for what you will eat that day.

-The milk doesn’t have to be refrigerated until it’s opened. I still don’t understand how this works.

-To say okay in Spanish you say “vale” but not just once, usually people say it 3-4 times so that you can clearly understand that they understand.

-The paper is longer here, literally a piece of paper has like an extra inch.

-You can walk to anywhere you need to go, which is awesome.

-Cars appear out of nowhere and drive in the middle of plazas, and on roads that don’t look like roads at all, but walkers have the right of way.

-We don’t eat dinner until about 9-9:30 and lunch is usually at 2:30-3.

Muchas gracias to Rotary and to all of the people who helped me prepare for this amazing opportunity, especially to my family in Florida who I love and miss very much!

Monday, November 07, 2011

 ¡Hola! I can’t believe I’ve been in España for 2 months already; time is really starting to fly by!

I’ll start out by staying that I started a beginner’s Flamenco dance class for an hour and a half each week! My class is pretty small; there are 2 other teenage girls and about 5-6 middle-aged women. The class is very relaxed and it’s a lot of fun, I’m really glad I joined because it was a way for me to continue dancing and I look forward to going each week. I’m also very proud that I have been able to master most of the dance steps, whereas most of the other women are still getting their left and right mixed up, even though they speak the language that the class is being taught in!

I have realized that staying active during your exchange helps you in so many ways, it gives you something to do, you can meet new people, and it’s a great distractor, especially if you’re homesick. In addition to flamenco classes I will start reading books in English to little kids at a local bilingual school once a week. For Halloween, another exchange student from Canada and I also helped out with a Halloween party for an elementary school, we dressed up like witches and used Halloween words and activities to play charades and guessing games, the kids really enjoyed it, except for the preschoolers who were crying and terrified of us because we were wearing green face paint!

I attend a Catholic High School called Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) which I can walk to in about 5 minutes. It is a private school for preschoolers to grade 12, but there are 2 buildings to divide us, my building is the 7th graders up to the 12th graders. My classes are pretty difficult and they range from gym, computer class, religion, science, and English to Spanish literature, philosophy, Latin, Greek, and World History. Some of my teachers tell me that they don’t care what I do in class, as long as I’m happy, they’re happy. Other teachers like my Latin teacher expect me to understand, answer questions in class, and take the exams. In class I usually try to translate whatever we are working on and when we have exams in class I try to translate my Spanish Harry Potter book, which has really been helping me learn both useful and really bizarre words!

Of all the differences I have noticed in school, the teachers are the most different from my teachers in the U.S. Teachers here don’t check if you did your homework, they hardly ever collect any work, they don’t ever give quizzes, and teachers expect you to understand everything by yourself, there’s no extra help before school or anything like that. Of all my teachers, my gym teacher is the most different. While using a microphone she screams what our next crazy activity will be, such as playing tag while holding hands with a partner, doing lunges up a hill next to a busy road, or taking turns running around a circle hoping over our classmates’ backs hoping we don’t accidentally step on them. I tried explaining to my classmates that these types of activities would never happen in the U.S. but it’s so normal here they couldn’t see why it was so different from what I’m used to. Many students here study a lot, and if they have tests the next week they don’t go out on the weekends at all. But on the other hand a lot of the students are happy when they get a 5 (out of 10) which is technically failing so I don’t see why they would be pleased with that.

In October, one of the host families in my town brought me and the 4 other exchange students in my town to visit Zaragoza, Spain where the Fiesta of Pilar is celebrated. The fiesta is in honor of the patron saint of the city, the Virgen del Pilar (Virgin Mary of the Pilar). People from all over the world come to represent their country and bring flowers for a massive flower monument which by the end of the day had more than 5 million flowers! So many people wore traditional outfits, there were so many beautiful churches to visit, and there was also lots of music and dancing! A few weeks later, the same family also brought us to visit San Sebastián, a gorgeous beach in Northern Spain and Saint Jean de Luz in Southern France.

I’ve realized that no one can be fully prepared for their exchange, it’s just not possible. There is no way to explain what it’s like to have so many emotions at one time. Sometime it’s bad feelings when you think “Why am I here? I don’t want to be here anymore.” (Which happens to everyone- no one loves being an exchange student 24/7). But at the same time you can have so many positive emotions, bursts of energy where you think “I am in another country! I just spoke in another language! I am so proud of myself! ” You also can’t be prepared for the feelings towards you host family and new friends. My one month mark in Spain my host mom told me “We love you so much Abbie, we love you so much!” and I just sat there crying while the entire restaurant had stopped eating and talking to stare at me. Or hearing my host dad say to me “you are my champion daughter” because I biked 25 kilometers with him. I’m already dreading the fact that I will have to leave this family in early December to move to my next family, and I had no idea that I would feel this attached to a family, they are no longer a ‘host’ family, they are my family, no matter what.

The other day in one of my classes we got information about a trip our grade would be taking to Paris. I was so excited that I was going to have this opportunity to see Paris and spend time with my classmates. My teacher came over to talk to me and I said “We’re going to Paris! When?” but she said “Yes, Abbie! We’re going to Paris! But… you’re not. The trip isn’t until next year and you’ll be back in Florida.” This answer sunk my heart because it was the first I really realized that my time here in Spain is limited. One day I will not live here anymore, and I won’t be an exchange student any more. And one day I will be sitting in Florida while my classmates are on their field trip to Paris, and I won’t be with them, and there is nothing I can do about it. That means that I can’t take anything for granted, whether it’s being able to walk around a beautiful city, eat delicious bread, or especially spending time with my new friends and family here.

The other day in class my English teacher asked me how I decided to become an exchange student, and I really was blown away thinking about how it had actually happened. It was after hearing a Rotary presentation at my school. I had never heard of Rotary, or even becoming an exchange student, but in those 45 minutes my life was changed. I can’t help but think what if I was sick and missed that day of school? I would have missed the meeting, I never would have applied and I would never have come to Spain or met the amazing people I have. I would never have had the chance to learn Spanish as well, my family would never have hosted Belen from Ecuador, and overall my life would be very different and very boring. Future outbounds, you will never ever get this opportunity again in life, so I urge you to apply, be unique and go through high school a little differently, it will be the hardest year of your life, but it will be a year of discovering yourself, another culture, and a chance to build lifelong friendships and stories to tell for the rest of your life.

So thank you to Paula Roderick for coming to my school that day, it was the first of many days that you have impacted my life, and I’m so glad that I have you for all your help and support! Thank you to Rotary Florida, and Rotary Spain, I don’t know how I can ever thank you for all you have done for me and for simply giving me this opportunity!

January 15

January 15, 4 ½ months in Spain

¡Hola! I can’t believe it’s already January and that in about 2 weeks I will be half way through my exchange! Although I hate to think about my time being limited here, it helps to have a deadline because once July rolls around I will be out of time to become fluent, make meaningful friendships, and live like a Spaniard. There are some days I panic that I will never become fluent, or that I will my classmates won’t care when I leave, or that I’ll never understand this culture, but there are other days where I can see how far I have come since my first days in Spain. I can now communicate what I want to say, I am starting to really understand Spanish grammar, and I can understand almost everything when people speak to me. My classmates are patient with me, they want to hear what I have to say, I know that if I ever had a problem I could ask for help and they would drop everything and help me. As far as culture in Spain, I am truly living as any Sp anish teenager does, and just knowing that I easily lead an American or Spanish lifestyle makes me so happy.


Everyone is always asking me if Spain is different from Florida and how so. So here are a couple of examples:

  1. The grocery store:

– At the grocery store you can walk to the soda aisle and grab 1 can of coke for 50 cents. You just take as many as you want out of the pack. It may not seem like a big deal, but you can’t do that in the U.S.

– To unlock a cart you have to put in 1 euro, but you get the money back once you lock it to another cart. Apparently this stops people from stealing the carts because if they don’t return the cart they won’t get their money back.

– Things like Barbie dolls and gum are in security boxes in some grocery stores.

  1. School

– As I will always be amazed by our activities in gym class, I’ll fill you in on what we’ve been doing. Our last units involved juggling (with balls we made out of rice and balloons), merengue dancing, twirling ribbons, and now we are starting batons (but with 3 sticks instead of 1).

– Also the liberty that is given to students at school is very different from what I’m used to. The other day, my entire grade (which is about 90 people) went to the movie theatre, to watch a movie our school had picked out. In the public school system in the U.S. going to the movies would mean buses and permission slips but here, our teachers said, “We’ll meet you at the theatre across town in 30 minutes.” So we all walked while eating our lunch, it’s neat that they trust us to actually walk instead of skipping or the fact that we could even get there by walking.

  1. Food

– Spaniards eat 5 times a day: 1) Desayuno, breakfast which is usually something sweet and light (never eggs, pancakes, or bacon). 2) Almuerzo, which is a snack before lunch. I have my almuerzo every day at school, and people usually have a small sandwich. 3) Comida, lunch which is the biggest meal of the day. I usually have lunch between 2:30-3:30. 4) Merendar, a snack after lunch around 6 which almost always includes bread and chocolate (this is my favorite). 5) Cena, dinner which is a lighter meal and starts between 9-10 (and sometimes even later in different parts in Spain).

These little differences seemed so strange at first, but now I don’t think twice about it, it will be weird going back to Florida and having to relearn common rules and norms of society.

New Host Family

On my 100th day of my exchange I switched host families! It was hard to leave my first host family, the city I know inside and out, and to change everything I had finally adjusted to. When I had to say goodbye to my host mom, it was really hard we said that we wouldn’t say goodbye, only see you later because that´s the truth, I´m not leaving yet, I still have 7 more months to make memories with my first host family even if I´m not living with them. My new host family is my host parents and an older host sister who will be leaving to live in Germany soon. I won’t lie, it was really hard to move, and even after a month it’s still hard sometimes. But they are really nice, and always want to make sure that I understand, am happy, and that I’ve had enough to eat. I’m glad that I got to change families, this way I get to see how another family lives in Spain, because just like in the U.S., all families are different.


I am so grateful to have spent Thanksgiving, or Accíon de Gracias in Spanish, with 10 other exchange students with all the usual food, even a turkey, which actually took a while to find because they aren’t very common in Spain. It didn´t really feel like Thanksgiving though, because it was so different from the usual traditions I have with my family each year.

Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad! For the entire month of December, my city, Pamplona had lots of Christmas lights and decorations displayed all around the city. My host family and I had a big dinner, opened presents and went to mass at midnight for Christmas Eve. Christmas was a normal day with all the leftovers from the night before. Although Spaniards put up Christmas trees and talk about Santa, (Papa Noel) the most important day is not December 25th, but January 6th, the day that the 3 wise men came. Also, although my family had a Christmas tree, the most important decoration is the belen, which is Spanish for the nativity. Even the mall near my house a big belen on display, and I went to a museum that showed nativities from all over the world.

¡Feliz Año! Happy New Year! For New Year’s I went to my host family’s pueblo, which is Spanish for village/ small town. Many Spaniards go to a pueblo throughout the year and for special holidays where their grandparents live and other relatives. The pueblo I went to was really pretty with lots of small, old houses and a huge church that has the biggest population of storks in all of Spain. We celebrated New Years with lots and lots of food and at 12 o’clock we watched the ball drop in Madrid, just like in New York. At 12 o’clock we quickly ate a grape when the clock rang each hour on the clock, 12 in all.

The 3 Kings Day or día de Reyes Magos as I mentioned earlier, is very important in Spain. The night before there was a huge parade in Pamplona where the 3 kings made a special appearance; afterwards all the kids went home to go to bed so that the 3 kings could deliver their gifts. On the actual day I had lunch with my first host family and later I returned home to have rosco which is a typical dessert in Spain for this day. Rosco is a dessert made of bread and kind of like a big doughnut with candy fruit on top. Hidden inside each rosco are 2 figures; a little figure of one of the 3 kings and a bean, if you get the bean in your piece of rosco then you have to pay for next year’s rosco.

Even though I was awed by Spain when I first came, I think I am even more amazed by simple things than I was before. In my city I am surrounded by mountains which I just love to sit and stare at. The neat thing about northern Spain is the diversity of land. You can be diving next to lush green forests and green mountains and 2 minutes later you are in the middle of a desert. I also really appreciate the older buildings, castles, and churches that don’t exist in the U.S.

Last weekend with my Rotary club, we got to organize donated clothes to families in need. Especially now, many Spaniards are unemployed and the economic crisis has been affecting many families. I haven’t seen the effects of the economic crisis because for the most part, the South of Spain has been more affected than the North, where I live.

Congrats to the new outbounds, cherish the time before your exchange because in some ways it’s just as important as the exchange itself. This is your time to dream of what your new life will be like (which will end up being completely different), to get a head start on learning your language (don’t slack off- you will regret it), and to anxiously wait for your first email from you host family, your departure date, and to look at your new town on Google earth for the first of many times.

¡Hasta luego!


Alayna Mobley
2011-12 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: TBA, District 1911,

Alayna - Hungary

Alayna’s Bio

Szia! My name is Alayna Mobley and I just happen to be going on an amazingly fantastic trip to study abroad in… wait for it… just a second more……… HUNGARY! 😀 I am 15 years old living in sunny Jacksonville, and attending Creekside High School. By the time I leave for Hungary (I love saying that) I will be 16. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and love being outside. Anything that’s adventurous and exciting is my kind of thing. I’ve been traveling ever since I was in my momma’s belly (literally) haha. Anyways some of the things I like to do in my spare time are read, hangout with friends, boating activities, anything outdoors, and my main hobby is horseback riding.

I first heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange Program  back in October when Jack Murray came to my school to give a presentation on it. The second the presentation was over I headed straight outside to call my Mom and ask if I could do this. I knew this was for me. I had that feeling in the pit of my gut that I had to do this. It was an awesome feeling and I was accepted as you can see. I get the amazing chance to be able to learn another culture, how they act there, their customs, celebrations, religion, a new language, the second hardest language to learn at that! My mind is blown it’s so amazing! 🙂

But I would have never gotten to this point if it weren’t for Rotary, my family, and friends. Thank you Rotary and all of the Coordinators, chairs and officers (well everybody helping out!) involved in District 6970 for helping me get to where I am and where I’m going. I can’t thank you enough, although you’ll probably hear it every time I see you guys! I would also like to thank my family and friends for being so supportive of my decision to do this. I’m so thankful of this incredible chance of a lifetime. Oh, and if you’re thinking of applying to be an exchange student… DO IT! This is, as I said up there, a chance of a lifetime! Take it in your hands and hold on to it. As I like to say Carpe Diem (Seize the Day). Viszontlátásra! (Goodbye!)

Alayna’s Journals

Thursday, October 27, 2011

So it’s been one month and nine days since I stepped off the Air France plane onto Hungarian soil. Since I first saw my host family, smiles, balloons and all, waiting for me at the airport. And what I can say about Hungary is that it’s amazing, incredible, fascinating, and every good imaginable word you can think of! But saying all of those would be an understatement. The feeling of living here and being here is indescribable. I feel like I fit right in with the culture, people, and language! But don’t get me wrong, I definitely experienced culture shock. During my first week here I went for a walk. To explore.(: I was walking down the sidewalk, coming up to an elderly woman. Now remember, in America it’s poite to say “hello” or “Good Afternoon” when passing strangers. Therefore, me being the American that I am, I politely smiled and said “Jnapot kivanok” (I wish you a good afternoon”) to the woman and she glared and looked at me like I was insane! I was thinking in my head “What the heck?!? I was just trying to be nice!” But then as I passed more and more people I realized… wait a second.. they don’t do that here! I was so embarrassed at the time, but now I just look back and laugh. That was my first culture shock slap in the face.

Magyar is a language in itself; it’s unique, different, hard, interesting. But I’m getting it.(: And I’m surprisingly learning it fast! All of my friends and my family help me out with the language; my host sisters will point out random objects and say what it is in Hungarian and they make me repeat it until I pronounce it right. But it’s hard sometimes to understand the words I do know because they talk so fast! And I have to say”Lass! Lass!” This means “Slower! Slower!” I am beginning to be able to actually put sentences together instead of talking like a three-year old. But it’s hard because each Hungarian word changes form in each sentence, depending on who you’re talking about, what you’re talking about, and when and why you’re talking about it. But the language is not a huge struggle, and my pronunciation of words is pretty good. I am so happy that I’m understanding, speaking, and learning the language so fast.

Seven days… It takes seven days to break a habit. Seven days in a week. It took seven days for me to fully adjust. It might sound weird but on that seventh day of being here I could talk about my family without getting tears in my eyes. On that seventh day I finally ate everything that was on my plate… and more(: On that seventh day I didn’t get homesick’ I didn’t have the urge to call my Mom and Dad. I had finally gotten into a routine with my host family and on that seventh day I fully accepted everything that was new and embraced it. And ever since that seventh day I can honestly say that I am happy; happy to be in Hungary


Alyssa Melby
2011-12 Outbound to Iceland
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Paxon School of Advanced Studies
Sponsor: Deerwood Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Belo Horizonte – Pampulha, District 4760, Brazil

Alyssa - Iceland

Alyssa’s Bio

Hi, My name is Alyssa Melby, I am a junior at Paxon High School, and during the 2011/ 2012 year, I will be traveling all the way to the very northern, very cold island of Iceland. The teenage years, as everyone says in those cliche movies (but also true), are the times when you search for yourself. I am about to turn eighteen, become independent, a legal adult, my childhood will become deceased in 6 months (right before I leave). I really believe that this experience will be the last and most impacting chapter in my life that will tie all the loose ends of who I really am before I go out in the world on my own.

So why did I choose Iceland? I picked Iceland because of the people. Prior to even knowing about the Rotary club I saw a movie. It was called How To Train Your Dragon. During the end credits as I sat in absolute contentment after seeing one of my most favorite movies, they played that feel good song that always plays at the end a movie. I fell in love with it and had to look it up. I found out it was called Sticks and Stones by Jonsi. AND GUESS WHAT!? He’s Icelandic!! I listened to more of his songs and found myself entranced in the beautiful, ethereal sounds that is Jonsi! I also bought many CD’s of the previous band he was in called Sigur Ros (which means Victory Rose, named after Jonsi’s sister). I started researching more about Iceland and what got me the most interested in Iceland is it’s people. The people are very tolerant and open minded people. Iceland just seems like a very happy and peaceful place to live.

So now heres the part where I give you information on my personal interests, common-Alyssa-doings, and pretty much the person I am. I would characterize myself as a deep thinker. I like to examine situations in my life and really try to understand why they happened and how they could help me develop as a person. I never really had opportunities to express those deep thoughts until I walked into my speech class. I never knew I had a talent for writing speeches until I met my speech teacher Mr. Mairs. I admire that man like no other. He has inspired me to go out there and express myself. Whenever I went to speech tournaments I felt all those little ideas in my head explode. Not only am I interested in speech, but I also act. I’ve been in a number of plays but I think my favorite theater thing to do is improvisation. It is a lot of fun because it’s unscripted and everything comes off the top of your head on the spot.

To wrap things up before I write a book, This is me Alyssa; unique, philosophical, weird (but who wants to be normal), loving, and free- spirited. Thank you Rotary for changing my life!

Alyssa’s Journals

September 23

Before I tell about my experience so far within these first three weeks, I want to say that every exchange student’s experience is different and unique because each exchange student makes it their own. There is no set formula that we’re all supposed to follow because each one of us is unique and our experience goes according to our personality and how we handle things in our host country. I can say that my experience has been very special and I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.

First off, I want to say that I really lucked out with the host family I have and the school I go to. They are both a perfect fit for me and I don’t think I could be any happier with any other host family or school. I feel really comfortable and welcome in both environments because both my host family and the people at my school are warm and welcoming people and willing to go out of their way to help me and make me feel comfortable. Not only that, but I just feel that I can easily bond with them because it is so easy to be myself around them and talk about anything and just be honest.

It was almost instantaneous for my host family to actually feel like a family instead of strangers hosting someone they’ve never met before. It did not take much for me to fall in love with this family. I love it whenever my host father explains things to me about Icelandic culture or tells me facts about the landscape and history of Iceland when we go places. I love to watch how he does things like sailing or cutting up fish that he caught himself. I love it when my host mother talks about Icelandic traditions and the characteristics of Icelandic people. I also feel like I can go to her for anything or talk about anything. I love going out for coffee or going to the movies or the mall with my host sister. I have a lot of fun hanging out with her and talking about music or other things.

There are two words I would use to describe Iceland and that would be relaxed and comfortable. Iceland is a lot less formal than the United States and community is a lot stronger and plays a very important role in society and that is because the country is so much smaller than the United States. The schools are way, way, way less strict compared to the school I went to in America. No silly hall passes, no bells, no I.D.’s, no permission slips, no tardies, everyone is on a first name basis, the teachers actually treat the students with the maturity and intelligence they deserve, and overall it’s just a comfortable and free environment to be in.

One culture shock that I totally did not see coming was how stylish the Icelandic teenagers can be. EVERYONE LOOKS LIKE THEY CAME OUT OF A FASHION MAGAZINE!!! The women are stunningly beautiful and dress with sophistication. The men have these hair styles that you would never see in America. I remember when I was writing my research paper and I had to write about what teenagers wore on a regular basis. The internet said “just plain jeans and a t-shirt with sneakers will do.” That is complete and utter bull. I’d say that is sufficient support for the argument that you should never trust the internet. It also shows that experience is very vital in life and does way more justice for understanding a culture than just researching about it.

I would love to tell you more but I’m afraid you would look at this journal and go “This is way too long for me to sit here and read.” So I think this is enough for now and I will leave the rest for the next journal. The last thing I want to say is really important, especially for the other exchange students; open mindedness and proactivity play a key role in making a good exchange. Until next time, sjáumst!

November 30, 2011

When you are on a speech/debate team you learn one very important lesson. There are two aspects involved in speech. One is writing and the other is presentation. You can be an excellent speech writer but it means nothing if you cannot present in a manner that gets your message across. You can be an excellent presenter, confident, a crowd pleaser, loud and powerful voice, always knowing your way around the speech, but if your writing is shallow and senseless, you come off as arrogant. I was always a good writer but when it came to presenting it in front of judging eyes, I lacked the skills and confidence to get my message across. I always had to put a little more focus on my presentation skills.

Here, on my exchange, I feel like that tenfold. Communication is the basis and most vital part of an exchange and, of course, it has to be the most difficult thing to master. Learning the language of your country is the only way you will truly and wholly become a part of society and culture. It is exceptionally harder for me to do this because:

  1. Everyone speaks excellent English, sometimes better than Americans.
  2. Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
  3. Roughly 75% of Iceland’s entertainment is American.
  4. Once Icelanders find out you speak English and little Icelandic, it’s going to take them a death threat to get them to speak Icelandic with you instead of English. I’ve asked and asked and got down on my knees and pleaded for them to speak Icelandic with me, but they are so, so stubborn.

By speaking English with me they feel like they are keeping me out of the dark but what they’re really doing is pushing me further into the dark. Whenever I do ask them to speak Icelandic, they do but when they ask me if I understood and I didn’t they’ll say it in English. It’s like you’re offering them vegetables or candy. You tell them the vegetables have many benefits and are better for you than candy but the candy is just so tempting, you’ve got to take it. I don’t really blame them. If I were in their situation I’d get pretty impatient and frustrated too.

But, the important thing is that I keep on trying. I keep pushing. Eventually I’ll get there. “Þetta kemur,” that’s what everyone keeps telling me. It’s an expression meaning, “It will come.” This is the time of year where homesickness starts to hit pretty badly. It’s where we get a little depressed and anxiety overcomes. There are only a few hours of light in the day and the darkness psychologically messes with you. It’s cold and you’re always tired. But the holiday spirit and snow and the love and support of the other exchange students and family keep you pushing through. Þetta kemur.

January 17, 2012

Today on the seventeenth of January all of my classes have been cancelled, so I decided today would be a good day to update my journal. Indeed, today was an excellent day to write, for today, I realized something…

In my days as an exchange student, I like to reflect back on the reasons why I chose to become one. Sometimes I like to think that I decided it on a whim, triggering my mind to dream of adventure at the mention of such an experience. But buried deep beneath such extavagance were desires. Desires which sought its fulfillment in this crazy year.

When I first learned of the student exchange program, I heard stories that it changed the people who went into the program. They became fluent in another language, they adapted habits unknown in their home country, they learned to cook traditional foods of their host country, they changed their style of clothing, they made life long friends with peolple they couldn‘t even communicate with in the beginning of their exchange, they recieved love from an unrelated family, they became more confident, smarter, more knowledgable, more wise and mature. I desired all of that. So I went on this journey to try and make myself become all of that. I wanted to change who I was.

Now I realise that this is the wrong way to go about an exchange.

For a while, I was so focused on achieving the goal of being the perfect exchange student. I was going to become fluent in the language and speak it intelligently and with as less of an accent as possible. I was going to be very outgoing and talk to all of my class mates, so that I would become good friends with them by the end of the exchange. I was going to make my host family proud of my accomplishments in adapting to the culture. I was going to make excellent grades in all of my classes and impress everyone.

It turns out that trying too hard and being disappointed in yourself every time you make a mistake, will make you very depressed. And depressed I got. I wasn‘t any where near perfection.

I told my host my mom that I felt I wasn‘t adapting to the culture well enough. I also told her that I was a perfectionist and that I am always hard myself every time I don‘t do something exactly right. I also told her that none of the other exchange students were feeling as depressed as I was and that I thought maybe there was something wrong with me.

She said there was nothing wrong with me. Everyone handles things differently. The life of a perfectionist is a hard life to live. How it would be nice to live like the people who don‘t have a care in the world. She also said that she was once like me… then she became a mother of four children. =)

All my life I have always fixated on the outcome and I never focused on the journey itself. From now on, I am done trying to become someone different, I am just going to let it be and accept whatever happens. I am not going to think about the person I will be by the end of this exchange, I am just going to enjoy every moment of it, even if it means accepting my failures.


Anna Gibson
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Chumphae, District 3340, Thailand

Anna - Thailand

Anna’s Bio

Hello or should I say สวัสดี. My name is Anna Gibson. I am a senior at Saint Augustine High School and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. I am so excited to be spending my next year in Thailand. I can’t wait to travel half way around the world and experience such a beautiful culture.

I chose Thailand because of how different it seems from the United States. You can ride an elephant and explore the beautiful Buddhist temples. I think this upcoming year will be one of the best years of my life and one of my greatest experiences. I am still in shock that I will be traveling abroad and helping service foreign communities.

I live with my mom Susan and my blind dog, Brutus. I am an only child and both my parents have been very supportive throughout this process. We have lived in California, Arizona and Colorado. I moved to St. Augustine, Florida eight years ago. I love to play the piano and have been taking lessons since I was little. I am also in St. Johns County Center of the Arts for chorus and guitar. I have participated in school activities such as dance team, student government, and Interact Club.

Thailand will be challenging learning a new language, not to mention a new alphabet, but I couldn’t be happier. Thank you Rotary for this wonderful opportunity and I look forward to spending the next year of my life in Thailand!

 Anna’s Journals

September 15

After going through the long application process, the stressful interviews, language camps, Rotary club meetings, conferences, and of course the fun times at orientations…. I realize that Rotary Youth Exchange isn’t just a great opportunity but it has become my life. My fellow exchange students have become my family, the former exchange students have become my mentors, and the Rotarians that have dedicated their time and effort have become my role models. Thank you Rotary International for giving students like myself great opportunities to not just study abroad, but to open our minds to new and foreign cultures. In the past six weeks I feel like I have matured, grown stronger emotionally, and made the best decision of my life and I still have eight and a half months left. Rotary has prepared us as much as they could but you are never fully prepared to jump into another culture far different from your own.  Learning a new language, getting used to the food, religious customs, and in my case learning the different ways to bow and the “Waii” position are not easy tasks. But like I said this was the best decision of my life.

       Thailand is amazing place but very different from anything I could have imagined. Some things I just have to think…okay that’s normal here… For example, the other day my host family and I were driving down the highway and a truck sped past us probably going eighty miles an hour with three monkeys clinging to the bed of truck for their lives. I was the only one that gasped and when I pointed to them my host dad just looked at me like I was crazy.

         I live in a small country town surrounded by mountains. My host family owns a restaurant and our house is the four stories above it. Everywhere I go people stare at me, or want to take my picture, including monks. Thai people are easy going and very nice. They love Karaoke and it seems to be the solution to everything. Even at my last Rotary meeting the president asked “Are you sick? Sing Karaoke!” But the biggest question is “Do you like Som Thum? Papaya pok pok?” Everyone I have met in Thailand has asked me this question. Som Thum is a spicy papaya salad with sugar, fish sauce, chilies, and the papaya is sour. It’s like an explosion in your mouth. So my answer to this question is yes and no.

Thai food is amazing but I have eaten things I never would have thought I would eat. In the region of Thailand I am staying in, the people really do learn to live off of the land. The region of Isan is the most rural part of Thailand and defiantly the most authentic. I have tried pork liver, pig’s foot, Chicken blood, and yes bugs. None of which have been the slightest bit tasty.

      School is fun here. I have one Thai language class every day. I also take Thai dancing, culture and Buddhism. The other remaining periods I basically do what I want. I can go to class or go talk to the English teacher from Colorado. I can play sport, and play my ukulele. It doesn’t matter as long as I go to my Thai class. Mostly everyone at school knows my name mainly because I am the only exchange student, oh and I have blonde hair.

       I really like Buddhism. I have visited the temple many times, and I take Buddhism in school so I am learning how to pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Singha. Starting Monday I am going to the temple once a week and practicing with a Buddhist nun (shaved head and all). She can speak English and has worked with many other exchange students.


Anna Levin
2011-12 Outbound to Estonia
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Sponsor: San Marco Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Tallin, District 1420,

Anna - Estonia

Anna’s Bio

Tere! Minu nimi on Anna Levin! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Estonian language, that means “Hello! My name is Anna Levin!” I am currently enrolled in Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida as a freshman.  This whole thing hasn’t really sunken in for me yet. I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to traveling and have done so quite a bit, or because I’m just looking at this as another adventure rather than a life-altering exchange program. Either way, I am nothing but excited to get out and explore this vast and exciting world we have in front of us.

Now I don’t want to go on and give you my entire life’s story, so I think I’ll just skip the boring stuff and get on to telling you a little bit about how I work. I have been in the gifted program since I was in second grade. Therefore, I have never been one of the “cool kids” because I was considered weird. Being weird is something that I have learned to look upon in a good way. Being strange, odd, or just different is so much more interesting and exciting than being just like everyone else around you. I don’t find worth in petty drama or other such things to distract me from what’s actually important to my future.  I am an independent thinker and am stubborn to the core. I am also an atheist, but that comes purely from my obsession with logic and reason, not from some angsty adolescent need to rebel against my parents. I’m an only child which means that for most of my life I have been alone and had to find ways of entertaining myself. I suppose that it’s that mentality that has gotten me in the habit of living in my head. This is an attribute that doesn’t work in my favor when it comes to acting, which is what I go to D.A. .  However, should I be placed with a family where I have siblings, that alone would be a huge adjustment to my life.

I prefer to leave nothing left unsaid, which sometimes can get me in trouble. That being known, I am now very concerned as to how long and boring the bio will actually be. I apologize now for the extensive and probably useless information. YAY!

I don’t believe in regret. I like to take my mistakes as learning experiences that I would not have gotten otherwise. I like to think that that’s what this program is really about. Putting yourself out there, taking risks, failing, but then getting back up and not being afraid to try again until you get it. I want to take risks. I want to make myself look like an idiot. I want to mess up and be forced to discover new things from my errors. This may seem like common sense, but as I am in fact a perfectionist when it comes to most things, this is all a lot easier said than done.

Along with everything else, I want to thank those people who told me that I was crazy for wanting to do this. I want to thank those people who told me that I couldn’t or I shouldn’t. To any of you who think that I won’t succeed, I look forward to proving you wrong. This is what I want, so this is what I’ll do. But not only that, I’ll do it well.  ESTONIA HERE I COME!!

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another.” – Doctor Who

Anna’s Journals

So as this is my first journal, I’m not quite so sure how to begin. However, I figured I would follow in the footsteps of others and start with my journey over.

    In all of the time I had leading up to my departure, I was doing everything I could not to think about saying goodbye. I still try not to think about how everything at home is going on as usual without me. But anyway, my flights over to Finland, where I had a weeklong language camp before finally getting to Estonia, were fairly easy despite a missed connection in Munich that didn’t do too much harm. I don’t have any ridiculous stories to tell, which I guess is to my benefit.

    When I landed in Finland I was picked up by the Finnish and Estonian Rotex and taken on a bus with a bunch of the other exchange student to our camp in Karkku. Now Karkku was definitely a lot of fun. Even through days with 8 hours worth of language lessons, there was a real sense of everyone being in the same boat preparing for the same life-changing experience. It’s quite a lot to think about, really. But I’m very happy with the people I met and the friends I made there. Language camp was a week of exchange student bonding, more or less, and I really enjoyed my time in Finland. My favorite part of it all, however, was the combination of the Sauna and the lake. I definitely have a newfound love for lakes after that week in Finland.

    But now we get to the interesting part, finally arriving in Estonia after months and months of preparation from Rotary. From language camp, Raivo, one of the nicest Rotarians I’ve ever met, took all of the exchange students to Estonia to Helsinki. From there we took the ferry over to Tallinn where our host families picked us up. Never have I been so nervous to meet some one, as I was that day.  Despite the slightly awkward drive home, as was to be expected, my first night went rather well. I was greeted with cheesecake and coffee, two of my favorite things. I seem to have gotten along with my host brother, Gaspar, better than anyone else in the house, as we stayed up late talking about a bunch of random things for a couple nights. Although, I felt kind of like I was being babysat more than anything when I would go out to the city with him or meet his friends. However, my host sister, Kaarin, went away to a sort of gymnastics camp the morning of my second day and wasn’t home until about 10 days later. But regardless of that, I get along well with her too. I think the hardest thing about my host family is the fact that since my host father is away most of the time in Moscow, working, and I have new siblings of the ages of 18, 14, and 8, on top of the fact that my host mother is running around all of the time picking up the little one and working, this house is very stressful. Being an only child, the loud, busy, anxious behavior is a lot to take in, especially all at once. I’m still not quite used to it, but hopefully it’ll come in time.

    A week after my arrival was the 20th anniversary of Estonia’s independence, which was celebrated with a huge concert at the song festival grounds in Tallinn. The line-up was a collection of all of the best Estonian artist and the atmosphere was the happiest I’ve seen Estonians yet.

    For the two empty weeks I had leading up to school, I didn’t do that much to be honest. I just kind of hung out with my family and tried to get to know them a little better. The hard part about those two weeks was the fact that I didn’t know anyone besides my family so even if I wanted to go do something, I didn’t really have the option to.

    On the bright-ish side, my first day of school was September 1, and my first real day was today. Now I say bright-ish because on one hand, I’m very grateful to finally have met kids my age, but on the other hand, I feel more like a parasite than a classmate. Well that is a bit overdramatic, but also still pretty true. Since I don’t really know any of my classmates that well, not to mention that fact that they don’t speak English unless talking directly to me, socializing is hard. I mean really hard. Even if I go up to someone and try to start a conversation, as soon as someone says something in Estonian, the entire thing switches and I might as well not exist. Okay, I know this sounds really negative but this is just right now, I’m sure I’ll look back on this is a few weeks or even moths and think I’m insane for feeling the way I do at the moment, but when I applied for this exchange I promised to be honest, and that’s all I’m trying to do.

I never really understood why they kept pressing into us the idea that this exchange would be the hardest year of our lives, but now I get it. Being here I get it. It’s not just a language barrier, or a cultural difference. It’s the culmination of everything you have going against you, and everything that could bring you down, and having the courage and strength to not succumb, but to drive through the barriers with full force and not stop until you achieve what you set out to do: immerse yourself so deeply in another culture that it feels like your own. This is what I plan on doing. Right now it seems tough, and like a far-fetched dream. But if I keep working at it and refuse to accept defeat, I know that I can turn this year into the best one of my life.  

January 9

I’ve found that no matter where you are in the world, life has this amazing ability to change drastically overnight. I can attest to this in the fact that upon my arrival to Estonia, my life was changed. I didn’t know quite how at the time, but I knew it was going to be very very different. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll fully understand how much has changed in my life until I have to go home and try to live “normally” again….but I’ve grown to hate that word, normal. Normal is defined as conforming to a standard; typical, usual, or expected. If I was “normal”, I would never have gone on exchange and had this experience at all. I can’t even imagine why on earth anyone would want to be normal. To me, normal sounds completely and utterly boring.

So a lot has happened since my last post. For a while, life got to be pretty routine and uninteresting. However, things definitely picked up for the better over my winter break from school. I spent a lovely Christmas with my first host family, which was something different for me just because I don’t celebrate Christmas at home. It was a very full house with my host mother’s sister and her family in town from Italy. But I like the chaos, it never gets boring. For New Years, I went down to Tartu, in the south of Estonia, to visit my exchange student friend, Nora from Mexico. I spent three days down there with her, then after she came back to Tallinn with me for two more days. I love the fact that it’s so easy to get around this country 🙂 On the 5th I went to Helsinki with my host brother so I could visit my friends there. I got to see Victoria! 😀 But I also got to hang out with a ton of other exchange students, which is something that never really happens to much extent in Estonia given that there are only six of us here with Rotary.

I got back from Helsinki on the 7th and immediately change families. I’m actually really glad to be in my new family because my host parents don’t really speak much English so I get a chance to finally practice my Estonian at home! I’m also excited because my new house is beautiful and huge and I get my own room. As much as I liked the company of always having my host sister around in my last house because we shared a room, it’s nice to have a space of my own again.

I cannot believe I’ve been in Estonia for almost 5 months. I’m afraid to think about going home, especially since they say that time really starts to fly after the new year. These have been 5 of the most incredible, terrifying, stressful, life changing months of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.

Thank you so much to Rotary for this opportunity of a lifetime and best of luck to the new Outbounds! You have NO idea what a whirlwind you’re in for, but remember to take everything as a learning experience and you’ll have an amazing time.


Autumn Crosby
2011-12 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Harlösa, District 2390, Sweden

Autumn - Sweden

Autumn’s Bio

Hello hello! My name is Autumn Crosby and I am in love with saying that I am going to be a Rotary Outbound exchange student to SWEDEN! When I was making my decision for my top 5 countries Sweden was a country I went out on a limb and picked.  I was completely clueless about it, and I was shocked to hear I was actually going there.  I’m so so excited to be spending a year there.

  I am a sophomore at Pedro Menendez currently, but when I am on my exchange I will be a junior.  I love listening to music any time I can, I love it, but by no mean am I musically talented!  I play tennis and I also do yoga.  I have 2 older sisters that are part of the reason I applied for Rotary.  They supported me completely with the exchange.  They’ve been there with me every step of the way through the anticipation! My parents are also very supportive even though they will miss their baby!

  I first heard about Rotary when they came to my school and talked about it. By  the second time they came and talked I was hooked and I knew it was my time!  My freshman year I met my now good friend, Patrick from Switzerland, who said his exchange year was the best year of his life.  Then I met more exchange students and I was so envious of how much they were learning and gaining from their experience that I decided to do the same thing.

  I do worry about leaving my friends, but then I remember how many I will gain! The positives out weigh the negatives by far.  I get a lot of criticism about leaving and sometimes I do think twice, but that’s the reason I am doing this exchange.  My goal is to become so independent and self aware that I won’t even be fazed by people who are too close-minded to do what I am going to do.  I am so ready for this experience and to be completely submersed in the Swedish culture.

Rotary, an enormous thank you and appreciation to you.  You all are making my dreams come true.  Thank you a trillion times over.  I can’t wait to represent Rotary and the U.S.A

 Autumn’s Journals

Let me tell you, time flies. I can hardly believe that this time last year I was stressing about the 19 page application for this exchange. The day before I left St. Augustine I did all my favorite things with my friends and family, it’s the perfect thing to do before you leave. I never thought looking at my house for the last time before leaving for a year would be so hard. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest, it happened all at once, I broke down. From the day I left until the next day when I arrived I had never had so many emotions happen at once. I was calm before I left my house, then cried, then was fine in the car, then died a little when I said goodbye to my 2 best friends and my parents, then I was sooo nervous and excited to get off the plane and meet my host family for the first time.

Already after two weeks I was extremely homesick. I hadn’t been able to stay at my first host families house at all since I had gotten off the plane. I dropped off my luggage at the house then packed a bag for language camp in a different city. When the language camp was over my host family was still in Spain so I stayed in another house until they came back. I stayed at three different families in 2 weeks. It was rough, I wanted nothing more than to go home to Florida until I finally got to spend time with the family I am at now. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better host family. I get along with them so well and one of my host sisters Filippa is also 16 and we’re best friends.

The best thing happened the other weekend. I went to different cities in southern Sweden with my Host club President and his wife for a couple days, then when I came back my host family said they missed having me and they couldn’t wait for me to come back, the house was too quiet and not the same. Then Filippa said honestly it was horrible I missed you, and I’m so happy you’re here and we get along so well. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I love the Lirvall family.

School… I chose to be in first year which are students born in 1995. I should be in second year but I chose first because everyone is new and I figured it would be easier to make friends because no one had their cliques yet. No one talks the first day, it the most uncomfortable thing. But NOW, our class never stops talking and neither do I. The actual lessons are still boring because I am not fluent in Swedish and when the teacher talks about Swedish politics it’s incredibly hard to follow. Luckily this year doesn’t count for me so I’m not stressed about my bad grades.

Transportation… Buses will always be your main transportation in Sweden, or a bike. All families have cars but don’t always use them. The buses go so often that it’s not necessary to drive. I miss driving my car though!

Swedish… Honestly when I first came here it sounded like Chinese, it could have easily been Chinese and I wouldn’t have known the difference. But now I’m familiar with the way it sounds. It’s so much easier for me to read Swedish than for me to speak it. Yes, everyone in Sweden speaks English. It’s bittersweet. When I try to speak Swedish like when I order a coffee or something they hear my accent and automatically reply in English, it’s very frustrating. Or even on the bus when you tell the driver “ett barn till Södra Sandby” he laughs and makes fun of my accent! I mean honestly cut me some slack here I’m doing my best with this crazy difficult language! It’s not very hard to learn, but pronouncing the words is NOT EASY. My host family is doing a good job with speaking Swedish to me, but of course it’s not all the time because if I don’t understand then they explain it in English. But it’s really cool when you start to understand your target language, you feel accomplished.

Food… I am officially a successful exchange student, I have gained about 9 lbs in 2 and a half months! The food here is really good I like it, clearly. There’s always cheese and bread and dairy products so that explains the weight gain. They eat a lot of potatoes, fish, and sausage. Their salads aren’t usually made with lettuce more like just the toppings. Fika is a wonderful thing here in Sweden, it’s like a coffee break that Swedes make time for, it’s a good time to relax and talk. Swede’s eat the most godis (candy) and deserts, love it.

My best advice for someone thinking about being an exchange student is to make sure you really want this. It is NOT a vacation; it is an adventure. You realize that the world really isn’t so big. No, it’s not easy.

Sometimes it’s not very exciting, it becomes normal life and you’re just living it. You absolutely can’t be too shy to talk to people or be yourself or proud of where you are from. You will most likely be living like a college student; broke, stressed with studying your language, and sometimes a little homesick. But the people you meet when on an exchange make it all worthwhile. I love the country of Sweden, I would come back for the people that are here, but not for the weather…

So I’m now an expert at smiling and laughing at the right times when I’m sitting in a group of people and they’re speaking Swedish and I don’t understand. Now awkward situations kind of make up my life. Before I came to Sweden I was kind of always nervous about things and afraid to just go out on a limb and DO SOMETHING, but now I just do whatever and not have expectations because if I let myself relax then I know I will have fun. That’s what I love about this exchange it makes me fearless to live, that’s what this life is about, LIVING IN THE MOMENT.

Rotary, you are a God sent. Thanks a million for sending me on this exchange!


Autumn (Höst)


Britney Jenkins
2011-12 Outbound to India
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Mandarin High School
Sponsor: Mandarin Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nagpur North, District 3030,

Britney - India

Britney’s Bio

My name is Britney Jenkins, and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. I go to Mandarin High School, and am one of the first outbounds in several years from MHS. I enjoy lots of activities, but I especially love dance. I previously danced for seven years till this past year, when I finally hit the crossroads that come with every sport. My back had been hurting for quite some time already, and the doctor told me that I should quit. But I had danced for years, before with the same problem.

The final straw in quitting came to the point, or pointe rather, where I chose between pursuing pointe ballet and get wrapped into the world of training and hours of practice, or I could just walk away and live my life. So I decided to live my life and I spent the summer in Ireland and Spain with a wonderful group of nuns, from the Home of the Mother (no I do not plan to be a nun, but how many times in your life will wonderful people invite you to live in their house for months pop up? Not often I say!) Quitting dance, doesn’t bother me though because for 2011-2012, I’m going to be in India. A beautiful place, with beautiful people, and a very unique character. And, I’ll learn so much more than how to correctly do some long pique-tendu combination.

In my spare time since quitting dance, I’ve done several things though… I’ve learned that my painting needs great improvement. I’ve discovered that becoming tri-lingual can indeed, hurt your brain. (I take Spanish AND French, With French class literally being right after Spanish. Being quadra-lingual might make my head explode, but it’s so worth it.) I’ve taken the time to pick up the habit of learning how to actually make good cookies, from scratch. And I’ve spent time with my host-sister Blanka, who’s basically become a real sister to me in no time.

These things, though small really have taken up my time. And, it’s great. I’ll miss them when I leave, but that’s what English to French, and English to Hindi dictionaries are for! Not to mention Skype, for talking to my Hungarian sister, and I can bring cookies to India with my chocolate-chip prowess. The painting though, can be left behind in America, seeing as how it never was that wonderful to start with. Plus with all the beautiful artistry in my future country, I don’t think I’ll want to paint, I’ll just be the American girl gawking at everything trying to snap a photo.

As for what I want to do later in life though, at this moment my initial hope for my future is to become a teacher. And, I know that traveling to different countries, seeing different cultures, and schools of thought will only be beneficial to me in my future. This opportunity is something that is really a once in a lifetime deal. I’m so thankful to have been chosen, and I’m very thankful for the people that helped me to get here. So thank you everyone, for helping get to go to India.

From several sources I’ve heard that for travelers, that India is the destination to hit, because it has so much going on and is such an experience in whatever little place you may visit. So I just keep thinking that if a traveler is supposed to have the time and travels of their life in a few weeks visiting India, how am I going to be, after spending a whole year there? Thank you for such the wonderful opportunity once again!

Aapka bahut bahut shukriya!!! (Thank you very much!)

Britney’s Journals

India. India’s just a crazy place, where things make no sense, but make total complete sense.

I’ve asked all of the inbounds here if they think the same thing, and they just pause, maybe go “Uhh, well…” then nod because they can’t think of any better way to explain it. Or if they can, the end point is always the same, things make sense, but don’t.  It’s literally the only way to explain, dear old India. Sometimes, I absolutely hate India, and I completely can’t figure out how it came to why I now have to slap small children when they swarm me (which luckily I haven’t had to do yet, but I have been swarmed and it’s terrifying).  Then I love India, and how only certain things can happen here. And the feeling is usually how much I love India.

It’s like when you’re a small child and you read all these stories that happened in Medieval times and you thing, “Wow, how could that have happened?” But here you can totally imagine a storybook scenario, I can’t understand yet if that’s because it’s so magical, or because it’s so hidden from recent Western progression.  Maybe it’s a bit of both…

Luckily though, everyone’s told me that Nagpur is one of the cleanest cities in India; Pune seems to be the only rival to that claim. And honestly, I haven’t seen the drastic poverty that’s shocking, and I haven’t seen extreme garbage, so I guess it is. In Nagpur, the slums (which here seem to just be houses made by hand, though I’m sure my family’s kept me away from any extreme poverty) just seem like very small rickety plywood and tin houses. They’re one room.

I wonder how many people when they read that went, *GASP!* ‘One room!?’ And, honestly back in America I would have probably gasped at the thought too. Though, here my apartment is three, real rooms. Sure, my parents also have a flat down stairs, but it’s just used for sleeping. So the one we use all day  has bathrooms within the two bedrooms, with the kitchen and dining area conjoined, and it’s not an uncomfortable feeling; it’s actually very very comfortable. Indians keep their homes very clean, and even the poorer ones have hired help.

Family here is also everything, and my personal one just keeps growing!! Back in America I was an only child, with a host-sister who I called my own sister. But here we have a festival where we tie Rahki’s onto our brother’s wrists, now I have 5 brothers, and 3 sisters (in India, 4 counting dear Blanka), I’m especially close to two of my brothers, and all of my sisters. Three of them are exchange students, and we bug each other and kid with each other just the same. It really is amazing. Having brothers is nice, I never had one before, and it’s highly entertaining, and honestly sometimes annoying, it’s awesome.

People always ask me if I like India, maybe because I wasn’t too thrilled to come here honestly. I was scared what I would find, so I was very neutral about the whole thing. But now that I’m here, I love India. Maybe, it’s a pre-mature thing to say since I’ve only been here nearly three weeks (I arrived August 2) but the first impression is the strongest, right? And right now, I really love every moment I can spend exploring India’s pure greatness.

If I could put my thoughts together any neater than this journal I would, but the truth is that my thoughts here are never neat. They’re swarming with a bazillion ideas. About “How can that work?” Trying to remember if that’s the way you say that in English. And whether or not I’m going to accidentally run into traffic. After all I’m not a cow, a car could actually hit me.

So now for things that I used to love about journals, the lists!

Not weird, but creatively different things I’ve noticed:

  • Little old ladies, and men, and young women, and young men all dye their hair with henna so no one can see their grays, but then their hair turns traffic cone orange, and it’s totally socially acceptable.
  • There is no toilet paper, unless you go buy it yourself you better go get used to water.
  • Squats do exist, and YES they ARE awkward.
  • Bring hand-sanitizer, some people don’t understand the concept of soap in bathrooms. (as in, there is none to use)
  • People will take pictures of you if they think you look interesting
  • People may think you’re famous and ask for your autograph (it’s happened to all of the other exchange students, I’m the newest one so it hasn’t happened yet, what with all of the festivals lately, school’s been sparse)
  • Cleavage is a NO, showing your stomach is a YES. Old ladies will gladly show you the rolls they’ve collected from good eating and child-birth out of the sides of their saris. Even if you didn’t want to see it… You’ll see it.
  • Traffic laws? Ahaha that’s a funny joke. Sure they exist, are the followed? Only three are legally allowed in an auto-rickshaw, we ride with five and we sometimes go in the wrong lane into oncoming traffic.
  • Starbucks? No. Café Coffee Day? OH YES.
  • Bazaars? Kinda, Jaripatka? Best shopping location I know of, and one of the exchange students lives there!
  • American clothing? Kinda. But am I getting at least four Indian “suits” made for me at the moment? Yes. Is it expensive? Actually, not at all. It’s less than going to Forever 21 and getting a couple of shirts. It’s weird though getting accustomed to people doing stuff for you.
  • Do you really take rickshaws? Yes, and they’re auto-rickshaws with three wheels and everyone has a different interior, and you have to bargain with them (which can get really embarrassing when they offer lower then you offered them.)
  • Are there cows? Yes, I named one Mr. MooMoo when it decided to come up and chill next to me. People swerve around them when they drive.  

So India’s one of those special places, where you can never imagine a place like it, yet it exists right under your noses. I love it so much here, and I can’t wait to spend my year exploring India more. Thank you so much, everyone that gave me this opportunity. Thanks for trusting me enough to send me to such a difficult at moments, but completely magical place. I love it so so much.


Carter Grant
2011-12 Outbound to Peru
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, District 4450, Peru

Carter - Peru

Carter’s Bio

Hola, me llamo Carter Suzanne Grant! I mentioned my middle name because I am often confused for a boy, due to mi nombre.

Primero, meet me. I was born in the big city of Atlanta, . My family and I moved around a bit (Ohio and Colorado), and then settled down in St. Johns Florida eight years ago. I am a Presbyterian, and active in my church, Geneva. In addition to attending church religiously, I am in youth group there and help teach classes for children.

I am very academically inclined and a tenth-grader in the International Baccalaureate program (IB) at Nease High School. Me encanta biología, and would love to work in the field of plant genetics for a living.

In my spare time, I play tennis and spend time with my family. I have one sibling, mi hermano pequeño, Jarrett, and two amazing padres, Adrienne and Kevin. I am very thankful that my family members (immediate and extended) are so supportive of my international endeavors.

Also, I love to travel and meet new people, so this program is perfect for me. I got a little taste of international travel when I visited Europe this past summer.

You might be wondering why I am writing this short autobiography with Spanish words mixed in- I am because I will be going to the exotic land of Peru next year!

Before I became interested in this program, I didn’t know very much about Peru. However, the more I research, the more excited I get! Now that I am learning about the country, I am psyched to actually see it all!If I can, I would love to see: Machu Picchu(one of the new seven wonders), Lake Titicaca, and the Nazca Lines.

I would like to thank Rotary for this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait to begin on my adventure.

Carter’s Journals

October 19, 2011

I’ve been living here in Lima for about ten weeks now, and I am having the hardest time starting this journal entry…. I’m trying to think back to when I got here, about my first impressions. Which is a hard thing to do, because they seem normal to me now. But, I’ll try!

So, when I got off of the plane on my first day (2:00 AM on July 29th) I was met by a crowd of Peruvians- my family, my counselor, my host club president and his family, my district president, and many others too. Even though it was so late, they were very excited and greeted me with many kisses on the cheeks. Like many other South American countries, a kiss on the cheek is how you greet people. It was sort of challenging for me at first, because I have never been one for PDA. But now I am used to it, and I like that part of the culture. Peruvians definitely seem to be more warm than Americans.

When I arrived, we were on vacation, so I didn’t start going to school until about my third week. My two host siblings also go to my school, Colegio Santa Rosa. It is a Catholic school, and my uniform involves a plaid skirt and tie. It sounds weird, but I really like having a uniform! I’ve never been a big fan of shopping, trying on, or deciding on what clothes to wear. So, I don’t have to worry about that 5 out of the 7 days of the week!

Someone once said that writing just shows us how messy and unorganized our minds are. This is definitely the case with me, and as I am writing this there a thousand thoughts and memories running through my head. I would like to tell all of my readers (really just my parents and grandparents, probably!) everything. But, I’m leaving to go on my trip to Machu Picchu in an hour and I don’t have very much time. Speaking of trips, I have at least five planned with Rotary during my exchange year, so if you like awesome trips- Peru is definitely for you!

January 11

When I last submitted a journal, I was getting ready to go on my Cuzco/Puno trip with Rotary. So I’ll start off with that.

Peru (apart from the giant metropolis that is Lima) is a beautiful country with a varied landscape and I’m happy that I’ve been able to see so much of it. I’ve traveled by bus all over Southern Peru and up the North coast. To recount all the things I saw and did would take a long time (and we are supposed to write more about our normal lives and not so much about trips- sorry!), so I will let my pictures do most of the talking.

Here is a lowdown on what I’ve been doing. How it’s organized is sort of random.

We are in our summer vacation now until March, when I will be studying gastronomy in a university in Lima called Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL). Peru has some of the world’s best chefs and Peruvians take pride in and always talk about their food. Lima has some of the world’s cheapest and freshest seafood, and I can say that ‘ceviche mixto’ is probably my favorite Peruvian dish. I can’t wait to learn how to make it in university!

Dancing is a huge part of the culture here, and pretty much every town in Peru has it’s own traditional way of dancing. I have learned the Salsa, Samba, Scia, and Marinera. Whenever us exchange students are on a trip, we always dance with the locals. I saw one dance in Colca (Southern Peru) that was partly reenacting a folktale. It involved a “poisoned” orange, a scary cloth mask, and a rope with a rock tied to the end of it. Kind of frightening, and very Peruvian.

My family here is amazing, I have three siblings, although one is on her exchange in Citrus, Florida right now (Joseline). My brother, Luis Miguel (14) and my sister Fernanda (12) both go to my school too. They always help me with my Spanish and are patient with me. I can always be my self with them. I really couldn’t ask for a better family, and I know that I’m lucky to have them.

Living in a big city (Lima has almost 9 million people!) is a great experience for me, I’ve pretty much lived in the suburbs or in the country my whole life before this. Before I got here, I used to think that all huge cities were like New York City, with huge skyscrapers and a very fast- paced way of life. I was wrong. I call it “La Hora Peruana,” or Peruvian Time. It means that arriving to anything less than 45 minutes late is early. One time, my brother and I arrived at a Quinceñera (a party for a girl who is turning fifteen, it is very important in Latin American culture) over an hour after the time stated on the invitation, we were the first ones there and they were still people setting up for the party!

Rotary here is very involved with my life here, and I go to their meetings with my family every Wednesday, and I already feel close to all of the Rotarians. Peru is a third world country, so there is a lot of poverty and so forth. With Rotary, I have been to the poorer parts of the country and volunteered. The last time that we helped was the week before Christmas, and we handed out presents and food to families in the outskirts of Lima. This thought brings me to another point… la Navidad!

Peru is around 80% Catholic, and celebrating Christmas is a huge deal down here. Christmas Eve is much more important than the actual 25th. We stayed up until midnight on the 24th, and then we ate turkey, rice, and Paneton. After eating, we opened presents (I got a watch!) and then stayed up until 6 AM or so. The entire next day we just rested and went to church. My parents might be hurt from what is coming next (sorry!), but I wasn’t very homesick over the holidays. I truly had a great time, just hanging out with my host family.

Well, in short, I’m having a fabulous time here, and I am so happy that I decided to make the decision to spend a year in Peru! I feel like a part of my host family, and I rarely have trouble with the language anymore. Now, I know my way around Lima and I can use public transportation with ease. I really feel like I fully understand Peruvian culture. The only sad part is that I am more than halfway done with my exchange now. I only have about 5 months left to enjoy Peru, and I plan to make the best of them!

Chelsea Holmes
2011-12 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Istanbul, District 2420, Turkey

Chelsea - Turkey

Chelsea’s Bio

My name is Chelsea Holmes and I live in Saint Augustine, Florida. I live with my parents, Katherine and Thomas Holmes. I have a twenty year old sister/best friend, Candace, who is in Nebraska attending the University of Nebraska Omaha.  I am currently enrolled as a Senior at Saint Augustine High School.  I participate in the chorus, drama, visual arts, and student government at SAHS.

I am ecstatic to say that I have been chosen to be a 2011-2012 RYE student.  I moved from Nebraska to Florida my junior year of high school and I can strongly say I never thought I would feel happy that I ended up moving; this program changed that.

The country I am being sent to is Turkey. Of course, my mind is constantly wandering about what next year will be like, but my goal is to have absolutely no expectations.  I will prepare as much as I can here and then go to Turkey ready to absorb as much knowledge and culture as I can.  My two favorite things are people and art, and I intend to learn as much as I can about these two things in a completely different environment. Thank you so much Rotary for this incredible opportunity.

Chelsea’s Journals


Before I go much further, I will warn everyone that my english is getting worse, and it is 12 AM currently, because that is when I have time to write this, so please excuse my bad grammar etc. 🙂

The one piece of advice I will give to everyone is your exchange will not be like anyone else, you will probably think yours will at least be like the other people’s in your country.. but it could be more similar to someone in a different country considering how much your house location, school, host family, rotary club, and you effect it. I believe it is 50 percent what you are given to work with, and 50 percent how you choose to work with what you are given. Make your exchange what you want it to be. If you want to learn the language, study the language enough so you can only speak that language, don’t let people speak with you in English. If you aren’t happy with what you are doing everyday, find new things to do, you live in an awesome foreign country. If you don’t want to get fat, only eat what your host family gives you to eat, and don’t eat other things voluntarily (this helps save money as well). And altogether when you feel super bummed, depressed, or bored (I can honestly say I have yet to be super bored), look around and remember you are in a freaking foreign country and no matter what you are doing its so awesome!

Since I don’t know have exactly one thing to talk about, because I have been here for a while, I will just tell a few things that come to my mind about being here. Enjoy.

My host family was out of town when I first arrived so I had to sleep at a Rotex’s house my first night. My first night I went out with him and his friends, and then the next morning I was dropped off on a different continent (Istanbul is the coolest city ever), at my host aunt’s work, and shortly after, was on a six hour bus ride to the capital of Turkey, Ankara, with her. She knew no English and I sadly knew very little Turkish, gotta love dictionaries. The thoughts that kept going through my head included, “This is so ******* cool and beautiful, and I am so lucky” and, “Literally no one on this bus can communicate with me and no one knows exactly where I am right now, hopefully my aunt is safe *giggles to self*”. That night we arrived and I met tons only Turkish speaking people, was forced to eat lots of food (everyone else hadn’t ate all day because of ramadan), and had no idea which of the people were actually the family I would live with later hahaha. Later in the night I figured out which family was mine, and we were off from the major city, Ankara, to a village in Kirsehir, I spent the rest of the holiday there with extended family. It was overwhelming and I never knew what was happening, but it was so beautiful and eye opening. I kissed old people’s hands for candy, watched a chicken be slaughtered, and walked around mountains while hearing the call to prayer. I will never forget my first Bayram (Turkish Holiday).

I have been to Anıtkabir twice now, and it is extremely breathtaking. if you don’t know what it is, LEARN :). Atatürk is a fantastic guy, and made this country what it is today.

One day I was wondering around my school campus, (because it is a large campus on top of a bunch of mountains, including a preschool, middle school, high school, and university), when I stumbled across a ceramics building. I ended up going in with my close exchange friend, Fernanda, and now I go at least once a week. I have developed a great friendship with the old Turkish man that runs the building. I can come and go as I please. Some days I go alone and I study Turkish and drink tea with him, which is really good for me because we only speak in Turkish. Some days I go and make pottery while meeting University students taking ceramics class. I am so grateful for this discovery and love my pottery teacher so much. I can honestly say he is a huge reminder of why this program is so cool, I don’t know how else I could have had this relationship, and it is so important to me.

We had Turkish classes in a really famous area of Istanbul, where most night-life and tourists are known for going, Taksim. All the exchange students in Istanbul had to go every Saturday and Sunday for six weekends. I can honestly say the entire process made my Turkish worse, but I just think of it as something I paid for to learn my way around the city. My house is kind of far out on the Asian side, and to go to Taksim every weekend, I have multiple options of transportation. I usually include the ferry ride, because it is so beautiful and relaxing. Also, because my house is kind of far and my host parents do not let me come home late, I have ended up staying at at least half of the other exchanger’s houses. This has ended up being a really good thing for me, because I have seen different kinds of Turkish life, exchanges, and can get myself around lots of different areas in Istanbul. I can proudly say I could be dropped off at a random part in the city and I would be able to get myself home, I might be scared and laugh at myself a lot, but I could do it. I frequently use minibuses, otobuses, metrobuses, trens, dolmuses and ferries to get around (okay, an occasionally taxi, if I’m feeling lazy).

By the way, being foreign and using public transportation makes for the funniest stories.

Example number 1: My purse kept hitting this lady in the face one time, while she was sitting down and I was standing up. I tried to move, but it just kept smacking her in the face. Finally, she asked me in Turkish if I could please sit my purse down, but because of my Turkish level, I at first thought she was asking me if I would like to sit down, so I answered no with a huge smile. Then I replayed it in my head, laughed, and set my purse down.

Example number 2: My real mom in America sent me a package, you think it would just come to my house, but noooo that would be easy. It was held in customs a good hour away from my house. My host dad took me in morning traffic to pick it up, but I was left alone at a random place to get home… with my package. My host dad thought I knew how to use the metro bus from there, and I just told him I did, because he was clearly already frustrated that he had spent so much time driving me for a package probably filled with peanut butter and tampons, on his work day. I then got lost in the city of Istanbul for a good three hours.. with my huge box in hands. Public transportation is crowded, and conducted in Turkish. Throughout this day I had to set my box on multiple people’s laps and dropped it a few times when getting off wrong buses I tried to take. Altogether I made it to a familiar place, just to find that I didn’t have my home key wooooo. I then sat at a starbucks with my package, an americano, and Christmas music in the background; feeling pretty accomplished. At a certain point you don’t notice people staring at you anymore.

Example number 3:One night I was taking a taxi ride home from a close friend of mine’s house, because it was late and I didn’t know an easy public transportation route from her house yet. I had never explained to a taxi driver how to get to my house before, and I only knew how from one landmark. I got in the taxi, gave him the area and address, and he acted like he knew, and started driving. We talked a good amount, because he quickly found out I was foreign and was interested haha. I explained that I was a foreign exchange student, what I was doing here, and he told me about how he usually works on the European side and which shopping malls and places I should go to party hahaha. As we got closer to my residence, he started asking me questions, in which I would respond “I’m thinkinggggg (in turkish obviously)”, nervously. This ended up being an extremely humorous time. As I struggled to direct him with my terrible Turkish, he started chanting “SPEAK TURKISH CHELSEA”, in the rhythm of England’s Chelsea soccer team’s chant. Later he stopped at a gas station and bought himself cigarettes and some chocolate for me, explaining that he couldn’t handle me without a cigarette. Finally, with 35 liras to pay, I arrived home. The ride was completely worth 35 liras, I had a half hour conversation with an enjoyable guy in Turkish. And there was no English to rely on, because he didn’t know any. 🙂 Everyone going on exchange will find out that having English as a first language sucks, because even the other exchange students from different countries are learning English well, but we are just getting worse at our own language from having to use simple English all the time haha. With this being said, it is definitely still possible to learn the language, in the last month mine has definitely improved, because I remembered learning a new language is a huge part of why I am here and have been trying really hard.

Altogether, I have had difficult times here, but almost every difficult thing came with hilarity and was not impossible to handle. I have learned a lot about the way languages form culture and personalities, and have realized so much about my own country and language from experiencing another. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and am so glad I am in Istanbul. Talk to you all in another three months. 🙂

April 24, 2012

I apologize for my lack of journals, you can either blame me or a large starbucks coffee that was dumped on my computer making it so I do not have a computer. I am finally got myself to an internet cafe so complete things like the RYE journal. Although I do repeatedly replay the starbucks coffee falling on my computer over in slow motion in my head while cringing, it has brought some things. I am getting more sleep at night time instead of staying up on my computer , and I am watching more turkish television downstairs with my Turkish family.

Anyways, considering I am paying for my time spent on this computer, I will shortly summarize my wonderful last few months spent in Turkey.

December was definitely a landmark in my exchange and just for my life in general. Although the first month is really wonderful because you are seeing everything for the first time and kind of starstruck, December was much better for me. I was completely exhausted constantly, but I had finally figured out how to completely become independent and was holding conversations in Turkish. My close exchange friend and I decided to take a turkish class in a different part of the city after school, so we would take a bus from school everyday and then go home in the evening. This made us really start using our turkish more because the class level we got into was all taught in turkish and most of it was just for talking practice. It was mostly enjoyable though because we really got to know our way around and this certain part of the city, and it is definitely where I come now the most and where I will miss the most. I loved this class so much because it was made up of probably around ten of us all from different countries and different age groups, discussing topics in turkish. I learned so much about different cultures in a language that was so new to me, but I was able to understand and communicate my point, which is such a rewarding feeling. It is so much more rewarding than just traveling to a different country and sight seeing, in my opinion.

I have definitely learned here how much human connection is the reason I like coming to other countries. Of course it is nice seeing beautiful places, but being able to learn a different language and really understand someone’s personality through their language is so cool and beautiful, and it is definitely the reason I will continue to travel.

January and Febuary were more related with exchange fun and Rotary life. In January I moved houses multiple times, which was interesting but exhausting and pretty confusing haha, but if I wasn’t already someone that just goes with the flow, I really am now. I was at one house for only a week ,when Rotary found out I was sleeping on a couch while living with a single woman and her son was coming home for a university break and the three of us were going to share a one room apartment. Although that one was a little confusing (why am I the exchange student getting the super weird house situations? etc haha), I did get some good turkish practice from late night chats with the single woman. Honestly, most of my difficulties here have made for the most interesting learning opportunities. The family I am in now is so great and I have a really realy good connection with our bakici, which means looker and is the person that makes the food and watches my little brother when the parents aren’t home etc. She is one of my favorite people, I enjoy my time with her so much and will really miss her when I go home. In the end of January I went on a tour to southern parts of Turkey with Rotary which was very enjoyable. The weather was really cold, but the places were still all so beautiful and the time spent with the people was constantly fun. Turkey is such a beautiful country; honestly, if you are someone who likes traveling for sightseeing and history, its a really good choice for you. Pammukkale was the coolest place I have ever been by far. In Febuary I honestly can’t remember exact details other than I was just going out in the city a lot with friends. We made one street performer friend from Canada that was traveling the world this year, and he was here for Febuary, so a few of my friends and me enjoyed exploring with him and learning about his travels. I definitely learned how possible it is to travel if you want to from him. He is on ly 18 and just goes by street performing and meeting people on the way. If you want to travel, you can.

March and April have been filled with really working on my Turkish and just exploring the city. It might sound funny to say exploring the city since I have been here for so long already, but the first few months I didn’t have complete freedom how I do now, and honestly even if I lived in Istanbul for nine years, there would be places I hadn’t gone. I have been taking lots of photos lately now that the weather is finally nice, and really am just loving life as cheesy as it sounds . I am just thankful to be here. In about two weeks my family comes here which will be super weird feeling, but really awesome at the same time. There are so many places I go or things I do that I think “I wish my sister was here” or “I wish she could see this”, and now she will be able to see some! After my family leaves we have another Rotary trip which I am not sure if I am going on yet or not, then we have a district conference for a week in another city, an d then in June I am planning to travel a little bit around Turkey and maybe in Europe with some friends, and thhhhhhhhhhen I go home :o. Crazy. Although, I will miss it a lot here, I have a lot to distract me in America, and I am ready to come back to Turkey without a program and host families, to live on my own. I’m excited to go to University next year and become more prepared to travel and learn more languages etc .Thank you so much for this opportunity Rotary.

Christi Leonard
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Pato Branco Amizade, District 4640,

Christi - Brazil

Christi’s Bio

Oi! My name is Christi and I have been fortunate enough to receive an amazing opportunity to live in Brazil! Last year at this same exact time, I never imagined spending a year in another country. It’s quite amusing to see the reaction on peoples’ faces when they find out I will be in Brazil for a year instead of going straight to college.

I am a senior at Bartram Trail High School in a small town called St. Johns. My parents, Donna and Bob and my two sisters, Amy and Nicole make my life very interesting (in a good way). I enjoy participating in a competitive piano studio in which I compete at district and state level competitions. Eleven years of piano has brought much joy into my life and I absolutely love using this special gift God has given me. Last year I was crowned “Miss Bartram Trail” at my high school pageant, something I never thought would happen. I then continued on to compete for “Miss Senior High”. I was awarded “Most Talented” in both pageants and gained tremendous experience in interviews as well as public speaking.

As an active student in school, I take AP and honor classes and I am involved in many clubs. This year I created the World Foreign Language Club at my school and enjoy being the President. Also, I am the Historian for National Honor Society, Secretary for the National Beta Club, and a member of the Teenage Republican Club, Science National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, and Senior Women Club.

The remainder of my time is spent drawing, attending mass at San Juan Del Rio Catholic Church, teaching piano, cashiering at Publix supermarkets, running, traveling, and of course learning Portuguese and Spanish. When I attend college, I would love to major in International Relations, specifically Latin American Studies, and pursue minors in Portuguese and Spanish. I am certain that my experience as an exchange student with Rotary will assist me tremendously in any aspect of my future and I look forward to representing Florida.

Obrigada Rotary!

Christi’s Journals

October 20, 2011

07:10 AM

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” -Helen Keller

As I sit at my desk and type this journal, accomplished is the word I would use to describe my exchange up to this point. Navigating through almost every difficulty I could have imagined, I now find myself content with the unique experience I have created for myself here in Brazil. I never believed that this exchange would change me in just my first two months, but I was definitely proven wrong. With every adversity I face, I become a much stronger person accompanied by a whole new attitude about life. Most importantly, I now understand the concept of “speaking up” for myself. That within itself is the greatest lesson I have learned here so far.

The first image that comes to mind when people think of Brazil is exotic fruit, rainforest, and beautiful beaches. When traveling the 7-hour car drive from Curitiba, my state’s capital, to the small interior town of Pato Branco (White Duck), I could not help but think, “This is not the Brazil I had in mind”. But then I realized, I came to Brazil to experience a new culture, master Portuguese, and create new relationships with the local Brazilians; and that is exactly what I am doing.

As the saying goes, “you can never learn too much of your language before you arrive”. To my surprise, I think I learned just the right amount. Upon my arrival, I immediately had ease communicating my feelings and my first week I received multiple compliments on my language skills. It has been only two months and I already declare myself fluent. Whether it was studying my 501 Portuguese Verb book months before my arrival or having a basic knowledge of Spanish, the Portuguese language comes very natural and easy to me. It’s a great feeling when I think in Portuguese and make mistakes in English.

Having already completed high school in the United States, I found myself feeling very “mature” in the private high school I was studying at. In need of a more challenging environment, I was able to negotiate a move up to the local college in my town. There I study architecture at night and really enjoy learning about complicated subject matter. Students in my town have full time jobs and spend all night studying at college. It is quite impressive compared to college life in the United States. Here, one selects a field to study and then must pass an exam before entering college. Depending on the major, many years of studying for this exam are necessary to pass.

Aside from studying, I have participated in various volunteer projects. My weekly volunteer activity is a job as a teacher’s assistant at a local public school. They are always so eager to talk to me and I am equally as excited to share about my culture. Some common questions that I am asked regularly include: Do you like the band Red Hot Chili Peppers?, How do you like Brazilian food?, Have you been to Disney?, and other various questions regarding the United States. I am usually so overwhelmed by all their questions that sometimes I feel I am not teaching enough English, but I am beginning to see that my ambassadorial involvement with these Brazilian students may be the greater lesson I am teaching. Other volunteer projects that I have been involved with is assisting my host Rotary Club prepare a Japanese-style dinner for 500 plus Interact students, painting faces at a center for handicapped children, and the most rewarding project was helping underprivileged women gain their dignity back by doing their make-up, nails, and hair. My most recent volunteer activity was involvement in a lunch for women who have or had breast cancer followed by a parade. Whenever I feel that things are getting tough or lonely for me in Brazil, I reach out and help others and it forces me to redefine my life’s purpose once again.

An ordinary afternoon for me involves Portuguese lessons with the other exchange students, Spanish classes at another local college, studying, visiting my host mom at her work, or spending time with friends. Because air conditioning is extremely rare here, I have managed to find one place that has it…the bookstore. I have refused to buy any clothing or electronics in Brazil due to the price. A pack of gum with 3 pieces is the equivalent to $3.50 U.S. dollars. On the contrary, food is cheaper because the South is based on agriculture. If these facts were reversed I would be able to afford more clothing and lose weight (ha).

Many of my weekends have been spent attending religious events or passing time on the farm with my host family. Being Catholic, I find religion to be the most intriguing aspect of Southern Brazil. I have never been so touched by God’s power until this exchange; it is absolutely incredible how far my faith has taken me. If I do not attend mass Sunday night with my family, we participate in a mass Sunday morning. Morning mass on the farm is preceded by a parade with “Nossa Senhora Aparecida” (a religious Catholic figure) and followed by a huge religious party afterwards.

So far I have taken one trip to the Iguassu falls with all the exchange students in my district. The first day there, we went “shopping” in Paraguay. There is no way to describe how crazy the market was. As I was making my way through all the commotion, so many street vendors were pulling me and shouting! The second day we visited the largest waterfall in the world; Iguassu falls. To our disappointment, it poured the whole entire time. From what I could see, it was truly magical…good thing I have more time to return. In a couple weeks, I will travel to Pantanal and Bonito, two amazing places located in the state of Matto Grosso. Pantanal is actually one of the world’s largest wildlife refuges. There I will ride horses through the river, go piranha fishing, see animals that people only see in zoos (toucans and capybaras), go rafting and snorkeling in crystal clear waters and much more…I can’t wait!

One of my favorite moments so far was celebrating my 19th birthday in Brazil. That morning when I helped teach at the school, the kids sang Parabéns (Happy birthday) to me at least six times. After, my Rotary club threw a surprise birthday lunch for me at a Japanese restaurant…it was so thoughtful and they even got me a hair straightener! (mine from the U.S. doesn’t work here). When I returned from lunch, a huge bouquet of flowers were laid across my bed. I was so sure they were from my host family but then discovered the flowers were from my family in Florida. In that moment I couldn’t help but cry because I felt so grateful to have such an incredible family. Later that night, the exchange students in my town and a couple close friends came over for a small party. We ordered six huge pizzas and managed to not let any of it go to waste. My host mom ordered me a white chocolate and strawberry cake, gave me a very special gift and hosted a fantastic party for me! Words could not express how incredibly thankful I was. My second host family took me to the Paula Fernandes concert for my birthday…she sings traditional music of Southern Brazil called Sertenejo and is well known throughout the country.

Of course every journal must include a list of differences, so here it goes:

-If I walk around the house with bare feet, I am bound to receive stares…not because my family thinks it is gross, but because I might catch a cold.

-You must throw toilet paper in the trash bin next to the toilet and there is a button to flush the toilet.

-Ketchup or mayonnaise with pizza is a must…yes I tried it and no I did not like it.

-Every house is surrounded by a metal railing or fence to keep the robbers out…I am convinced they are used to contain the crazy, barking dogs.

-Cleaning products or wipes do not exist…. merely use pure alcohol on a cloth to clean surfaces.

-There is no carpet to cover the floor, just wood or tile.

-Almost every house has a chocolate stash…Brazilians are really addicted to it.

-Workers pump your gas for you at the gas station.

-Police never enforce any rules so seatbelts are optional…with the crazy driving I still use mine.

-Converse and Beetles are very popular…unfortunately my Sperry’s look like alien shoes to them.

-A heater is attached to the shower-head with electrical wires hanging about.

-Even if a house has a dishwasher, it is not used…. simply pass some soap and water with an old sponge and pronto.

-Never expect a Brazilian to be on time…punctuality is not in their vocabulary.

-A fork and knife are mandatory to eat any kind of food, especially pizza and burgers.

-Blonde highlights, even with the darkest hair, are very common and nail polish is a must.

-The whole world stops for lunch but dinner is small meal late at night.

-There are so many hills in my town…actually it feels like hiking a mountain to get anywhere.

-In the stores, attendants will follow you around the whole time even if you are just looking.

Rotex informed me that exchange would have its difficulties, but I am adjusting to my new life. I no longer question washing all dishes by hand or think twice about kissing someone on the cheek. Here, life is more simple and laid back but at the same time everyone is always working hard to maintain a decent life. I am extremely excited for my upcoming adventures and always look forward to another day in Brazil. Looking back, my past two months have really gone by fast but I have made the most of my time here. I still remember the day when Jack Murray gave the Rotary presentation at my school that would forever change my life. Everyday I wake up and thank God for making this opportunity available to me and to Rotary for making it happen. There is no way I would be in Brazil without the support of my parents; they are the brave ones for letting me go. As for now, até a próxima vez! (Until next time!)



It’s been quite a while since my last journal and I am having difficulty remembering everything that has happened in these last two months. Could it be the fact that I just can’t find the time to write anymore or that my mind is already on Brazilian summer vacation? Honestly I think as my Portuguese improves, I find myself struggling to create even the most basic thoughts in English. At five months into my exchange I continue to be complimented on my Portuguese. According to the book Outliers, “Success is not merely based on intelligence or the decisions and efforts we make; it is a result of having the strength and presence of mind to seize given opportunities”. The Rotary International Exchange program is an opportunity given to all high school students, but few grasp and take this life-changing chance. Had I not chosen to be an exchange student, I definitely would not be as successful with my language skills. At times I question whether applying for this program was the right decision, but then I realize that taking advantage of every opportunity that lies in front of me is what separates me from my peers. I am an out of the box thinker- a leader, a kind and compassionate ambassador striving to make a cultural difference in Brazil. For those considering applying or who have already been accepted to be a Rotary exchange student, absorb the fact that it is an opportunity that will change your life.

In Brazil, the four main trips available are: Pantanal & Bonito- a unique experience to discover hidden wildlife; Northeast Tour- a trip along Brazil’s northeast coast with the world renown beaches and rich African culture; Amazons- an adventure through one of the world’s largest rainforest reserves; and District 6970 Tour- an enriching visit to the largest waterfalls per volume in the world. In Pantanal & Bonito, I became one with the wilderness as I camped next to alligators and jumped off a waterfall! This coming January through February I will spend thirty days touring the Northeast coast of Brazil including Brasília, Brazil’s capital, and Rio de Janeiro. Trust me when I tell you this Florida girl could not be more excited to be reunited with a beach again!

What have I been doing up to this point? My days have been spent teaching English in exchange for Portuguese lessons, going to college, and spending time with friends. I just finished my spring term where I studied architecture, advertising and marketing. I explained to my school that I would like to learn as much about the different programs offered so it will aid me in future career decisions. When I return from my Northeast trip, I plan on studying law in the mornings and teaching English to my students in the afternoon. I am excited to learn about Brazilian law and more excited to have available time in the afternoons to participate in activities such as guitar lessons.

In all honesty, I departed the U.S. with images of Brazil from books, personal accounts, etc. and came to discover that the Brazil I live in is completely opposite of everything I had read and heard about. The closest airport to my city is seven hours away and the nearest town is one hour. In fact, the majority of the residents in my town have never even traveled farther than their city limits. Their pale skin and Italian and German influenced culture diversify them from their bronzed counterparts with African and Indian traditions. Most don’t know how to dance samba and most definitely don’t play soccer everyday. The accent is completely different than any found in São Paulo or the Northeast. Whichever area it may be, it is impossible to pinpoint the culture just by one person or city; one must examine all the differences.

My mom always tells me, life is truly a gift. In the week right before Christmas, I saw my baby host cousin being born and one of my best Brazilian friends pass away in a car accident. God took one special person’s life and brought a new one into existence. We cannot change the past or predict the future, but we can treat each day as a rare and precious gift that we may never receive again. That is how I feel about Brazil. It is still amazing to me that I am here, living in a place that was so foreign but now my home. I am so grateful that I can wake up everyday and have the ability to decide what I want to make of my day. I believe that I am making the most of my life by trying new things and making every day I spend in Brazil count.

December was what I’d like to call my month of change. I started summer vacation, switched families, and most importantly, really began to adapt. As much as I would like to believe that the adaption process was effortless and comfortable, it most undeniably was not. Not until my fourth month into exchange did I really feel a sense of reassurance with my current environment. All of a sudden, eating dinner at nine or not saying “God bless you” when someone sneezed didn’t feel so strange. In fact, it is complicated to point out cultural differences now because everything feels normal. Contrary to “The Middle Wave of Culture Shock” by Dr. Dennis White, the months of November and December were not filled with melancholy and homesickness. These months were the turning point of my exchange and my confidence really reached a peak. I have read multiple books in Portuguese with ease, tried chicken hearts (not a fan), went to various prom/gradua tion parties, fought with the mail service about $200 taxes on Christmas boxes, went to a country concert, and much more!

As for my new family, they are the reason I will have a hard time leaving Brazil. I cannot stress how much a host family can make all the difference in one’s exchange. Immediately upon entering their house, I was greeted with love and support. I have two wonderful host parents, four little sisters, a pet dog and parrot. We have shared some great memories together, such as my sisters’ dance recital, graduations, beach trip, Christmas, and New Years. In just the short three weeks I have lived here, I could not feel more at home. Especially during Christmas, a period of homesickness for many exchange students, my absolute favorite memories were made. Holding hands and praying around the Christmas Eve dinner was so special as my host dad thanked God for bringing me into their lives. The next morning I attended Mass and, to my surprise, Santa brought presents for me! I received many thoughtful gifts. I was so happy and overwhelmed by their generosity I didn&rsquo ;t even think about how far away I was from my real family. Later that night I did have the opportunity to Skype with my family in Florida. Last week I traveled to a beach in the city Pontal do Sul. My host dad went fishing while I enjoyed relaxing at the beach house with my three younger sisters. Despite the rain, I had a great time bonding with them. It was the first time I had been to a beach since I left Florida! The same day we returned from the beach it was time to go to the lake house for New Years. The house was still under construction, so there were no doors, sinks or windows. Imagine fifteen people in one small house without any privacy! I spent my weekend riding jet skis, awing over the beautiful landscape at the lake, and just sharing some great stories about 2011.

Life goes by quickly. At times, especially when one encounters difficult situations, a day may seem like eternity. In the scheme of things, I remind myself life is a gift and must be treated with open arms. If 2011was this great I can’t wait to embrace the new experiences 2012 has to offer. I depart tomorrow for my thirty-day journey to Brazil’s Northeast. When I return, my Floridian mom will come to learn about my new life and spend Carnival season with me. Brazil…bring it on! Até mais : )

March 12, 2012

“I think I need this shirt and I would love to have this sundress”, were some of my thoughts as I eyed my already over packed suitcase. If I thought packing for a whole year was complicated, arranging my belongings for a five week trip to Brazil’s northeast coast proved to be just as challenging. After coming to terms with my final baggage selections, I rushed out the door to what would be the greatest vacation of my life. Of course I knew I would be back the following month, but the goodbyes to my host family left me in tears. Could it be that in such a short time I became so attached to my new family? If saying a temporary goodbye now was tough, I am thinking how difficult my final departure will be when I return home to the United States.

Never place fifty-five exchange students, from all over the world, on one bus for an extended time together without expecting the most chaotic and amusing time of your life. It is truly amazing how in just a short period of time, I made the most incredible, extraordinary friends… friends who will leave lasting impressions on my heart and mind for the rest of my life. Our adventure began in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, with a surprise tour of the President’s home. President Dilma must have loved our excited, energetic screams so much she allowed us to enter the inside of her private home, a rare opportunity for even Brazilians themselves. In Lençois, I enjoyed hiking, swimming in the natural springs, and exploring an underground cave. The city of Salvador brought warmer weather, a private beach and a historical tour of its beautiful churches. Recife’s beaches were not quite like those of Salvador’s, but it was there that our dancing spirits came alive with a mini carnival party. Next stop – Fortaleza and a great day of horseback riding, followed by the sand dune town of Jericuacuara, which could only be reached by dune buggy cars. By far this was one of my favorite cities on the tour. I took advantage of the opportunity to surf and kayak on the water all day. The next day was spent on a dune buggy tour in which each buggy held four exchange students. Without a doubt it was the most exciting activity of the trip and I can still remember the blasting music from the buggies as we raced through the sand. The short day we stayed in the city of Natal was spent relaxing on the beach and visiting a fort, which entailed the most breathtaking view at sunset! After Natal, we toured Porto Seguro, Brazil’s first capital when the country was founded. The rich Indian culture along with an interesting history made it an unforgettable city. Last but not least, our final destination was the stunning city of Rio de Janeiro! From the samba lessons to a tour through favelas (Brazil’s slums), Rio offered the most magnificent sights. Christ the Redeemer was absolutely my most favorite scene of the whole trip. It was such an emotional experience as I approached the giant statue of Christ. Seeing one of the most amazing sites in the world proved to be a dream come true.

A week after my Northeast trip, I headed seven hours east to the capital of my state, Curitiba, to pick my Florida Mom up from the airport. I had become so accustomed to not seeing any Florida family that it felt like a dream as we hugged hello. We rode Curitiba’s historical tour bus, ate lunch at the second largest restaurant in the world, and ended the day at the beautiful botanical gardens. We then proceeded to Florianopolis, the beach capital of the state of Santa Catarina to visit family and see Saint Paulina’s church and shrine. After experiencing two larger Brazilian cities, I was then able to show my mom around my host city, Pato Branco. She became familiar with the roads I walk each day and the small stores I pass on my way into town. Most importantly, she met all the people who have impacted my exchange from my Rotary host club to my Brazilian friends and families. Just to show my American mom the culture I have been experiencing was a special moment for me. The next weekend my mom and I had the opportunity to visit and hike Iguazu Falls. The falls were completely awe-inspiring and pictures cannot do them justice. We also got to visit a native Brazilian bird park followed by a fascinating South American cultural dinner show with my host family. To explain every detail of my mom’s visit would be impossible, but let’s just say we made some of the most unforgettable memories of our lives. What an amazing gift!

As for an update on my volunteering….the principal at the public school I helped out with last year has now promoted me to teach classes all on my own. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon along with Wednesday and Friday mornings, any student has the opportunity to come to my classroom to receive help with English. Some students have no prior knowledge of English, while others come to improve. Whatever the case may be, they can ask questions, bring homework, or simply obtain conversational skills by speaking with me. This part of my exchange is and has been the most rewarding because I can see the results of my teaching efforts. The friendships I am making and the opinions I am changing about the United States most definitely reinforces why I am here. I have made memories with some of these students since the beginning of my exchange and they will always remind me why I love teaching and helping others. There’s not a better feeling than being wanted and appreciated for your skills, in my case, knowing English. Every student encounter always brings interesting discussions and laughs to my teaching day. I cannot begin to explain how humorous or difficult their questions can be, but here are a few:

*Do you know Michael Jackson personally?

*Why do Americans think favelas (Brazilian slums) are cool tourist sights?

*Why doesn’t anyone like Obama?

*Because the workdays in United States are always so busy, everyone has to eat at McDonalds, right?

*So, do you go out every night to the clubs?

*Are you married? (It is common to marry very young in Brazil)

*The U.S. economy seems to be declining. Are you going to come back and live in Brazil permanently?

*Why have Americans always considered Brazilians to be inferior? (Toughest question!)

*Are there really lockers in American high schools? (They think it is the most awesome thing)

*Can I take a picture with you?

*What is an exchange student? (Well…..)

*Why are Americans obsessed with facebook?

*Does racism still exist there?

*What are some negatives about Brazil? (I never like answering this question)

*Can I go on exchange just to get my driver’s license and come back? (That would go over well)

Depois, I mean, “after”…okay, for my English readers you should be warned in advance that my brain is now constantly thinking in only Portuguese. As I am writing this journal, my Portuguese/English dictionary is assisting me with simple translations. The first five months of my exchange I would simply consider what I wanted to say in English and then translate to Portuguese. Now I am experiencing a bizarre sensation that I cannot begin to describe. My brain is now divided linguistically and one half thinks in English and the other in Portuguese, even my speaking becomes disorientated at times. My mom noticed my new “ accent” when I was speaking/translating English to her. Strange as it seems, I am incapable of hearing this accent and it leads me to believe that I am losing my English skills. Good news- obviously the transition stage of my exchange is over and I am fluent in Portuguese. Even the Brazilians here say I have no American accen t, when I speak, which I would consider a huge compliment to any exchange student. Well this is the part of my exchange where I throw my hands up on the roller coaster and enjoy the ride. If the chart in my outbound handbook is correct, I am in my assimilation stage and preparing for my final months here. With my remaining time left, I will continue to teach my English classes, continue working on my Portuguese, possibly begin yet another language (French) and continue to participate in various service projects in my community. Looking back at the uncertainty and difficulties I faced seven months ago, I am very proud of staying strong, confident and faithful to my Rotary exchange. I was born to be an exchange student and I’ve never felt so much pride and courage in representing my country. My mom felt that pride as she watched me give a presentation to my Rotary host club all in Portuguese and heard people say that I was the best exchange student they have ever ha d in Pato Branco. Once again, thank you to both my American & Brazilian Rotary host clubs, my supportive and loving family and friends back home and to God for giving me the strength and audacity to see this journey through to the end.

Devante Gonzalez
2011-12 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Orange City, Florida
School: University High School
Sponsor: Four Townes/Orange City Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Sanyi, District 3500,

Devante - Taiwan

Devante’s Bio

Hi! My name is Devante Gonzalez; I’m 16 years old, and a junior at University High School. I’m so excited, because next year I’m going to be spending my senior year in Taiwan! This is a once in a lifetime chance to immerse myself in a different culture and surround myself in a totally different environment than what I’m used to. I think this will be so much more of a rewarding and fulfilling experience rather than a traditional boring senior year. Right now since I am a junior, I’m taking the classes I need online so even though I will be studying abroad I will still be able to graduate next year.

I live in Orange City, Florida with my mom, two sisters, Janay and Tiana, nephew Jasiah, and puppy Cali. We have lived here in Central Florida for almost eight years now; we are originally from New York. My family and I are very close and they are nervous about the fact that I will be out on my own in a foreign land without them. But they know how much it means to me to be able to do this, and therefore I am thankful that they are being so supportive.

I play soccer on our High School Varsity Team and I have either practice or a game everyday after school, so when I come home I’m exhausted. I’m not that great at it, but it is fun and I just love the game. I love music and like to dance, and I always have a song in my head. I also like to swim. I am a very good cook, I think. I make dinner at home sometimes, and I love to bake different kinds of desserts just because. I am a very outgoing and friendly individual that is easy to talk to and funny. I love to make people laugh. I always strive to be an optimistic and positive person. I appreciate Rotary for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity that will change my life forever.

Devante’s Journals

August 20

WOW! Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. It is not as interesting to read from a computer rather than actually experiencing everything in person! I guess now would be a good time, everyone is asleep and it is early. Also I want to write this before I forget everything. Hope you enjoy!

So… It is Friday morning. Just like any morning, but vastly different! This particular Friday morning I was leaving my home and going off to live in TAIWAN for a year which you already know! So I woke up at 6:30 with the family, walked my dog and got ready with a little last minute packing. And of course we are running late (nothing new). SO from my home to Jacksonville airport is about 3 hours away. So we were all in the car arguing at first but then reminiscing about really good memories and funny events in my life. It was nice. Then we finally get to the airport. Check in. Then head towards the security. My friend Kelly who is also going to be an exchange student to Taiwan was there waiting for me with her family. My family and I took our last pictures together and said goodbyes. Surprisingly my mom didn’t cry, though she had been crying for the past week. I guess she wanted me to leave with the image of her smiling. She is really the best mom and I already miss her!

So I go through security with Kelly by my side and I am texting and calling people to tell them goodbye. Then it’s 12 o’clock noon, we board our plane and begin our crazy journey! The flight from Jacksonville to Detroit was fast. I slept through most of it. Then when we arrived at Detroit airport were we met up with a whole group of people going to Taiwan including Elycia and Marco who took an earlier flight from Orlando airport. The other people in the group however are from rotary like me but from different states of the USA. This was the best flight I have EVER been on. All the kids going to Taiwan including myself were all together in the airplane so we got to know each other a little more. It was a huge plane and it was such a smooth flight. But the only problem was the horrible service! WHY ME!! The people that bring you your drinks and food were so rude to me! It was ridiculous! But other than that I was having a great time! So after like 17 hours on that plane we land in TOKYO, JAPAN! That was the quietest airport I have ever been to! I felt so cool because I used some of my Japanese skills to good use! Then we find another group of kids from more states of the USA. We all stuck together. About an hour passes and we go on a different plane. Taiwan here we come! This plane ride was different. Not so much exciting as it was anxiousness and nerve racking. The flight only lasted a few hours but it felt like forever!! AHHHH we finally land!! Woohooo!

When we get out of the plane we walked strait to immigration to get our passports checked. Then we go and get our bags from of course baggage claiming. I said bye to all my friends who are about to start their new life here in Taiwan including Kelly and Elycia, as I wait for my bags. I finally get the two big luggage bags that belong to me and head to where the exit is. When I went to leave the baggage claim there is a whole mob of Taiwanese people waiting there for their exchange student with signs. My family was in the back screaming for me and I recognized my host father! As the group of people waiting for me came close my hands were shaking so all I can do is hold on to my luggage’s tight so they wouldn’t notice! It was insane! I was so nervous and they were all so nice and welcoming! My host father and two guys around my age who will be a part of my second or third host family introduced themselves to me as Vinny and Filan. They both helped with the language barrier. The other people who greeted me I did not know. But they were nice.

My host father Richard asked me “are you hungry” and I said “YES!” We went to McDonalds! Taiwanese McDonalds is so much better then American McDonalds. After we ate, we brought home Filan. My host father Richard and I went to Vinny’s house to get washed up. Then we finally got to my host family home where I met my host brother Lucas! He is very kind but not very good English. They showed me my room which was awesome! Then I met my host mom. She is so nice and doesn’t know any English. She was very worried I wouldn’t like her house or the room she and the family prepared for me. But I LOVE IT! They really wanted to make sure I liked everything. There hospitality is the best. They always check to see if I am tired or hungry. Very nice people.

I am very happy to be here and I am so excited to become close with this new loving family.

February 3, 2012


Well after I wrote the first entry that night I didn’t sleep much. (I had slept too much on the plane.) So when the morning sun came up, I was up with it. I waited for everyone to get up so I could know what to do. I finally made enough sounds unpacking to wake everyone up! No, I didn’t unpack last night. I unpacked in the morning because I was just being the lazy American!

After I was settled in my room my host brother knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to get breakfast and of course I said yes. We took his moped to this breakfast shop close by! Oh yea, it was HOT outside 好熱! Summer in Taiwan is just as hot as Florida, if not more!!! My host brother tried his hardest to use his horrible English skills to tell me he will order me some “America breakfast.” The food here in every resturant is fast. I recieved my breakfast in less then 2 minutes. It was an egg and cheese wrap thing. It was good except for all the extra cheese. Apperently every american likes extra cheese on all of their breakfast foods. But not me. So I ate most of it and we went home, took an hour break and then Vinny came to the house and we went to lunch…. I wasn’t hungry and they were suprised. We went to a common noodle shop in my small town of SanYi. It was good but I was NOT hungry!!

The next few weeks were mostly the same thing because it was summer and all the boys were off from college so they were usually with me. The boys: Lucas, Nikky, Yi wei lai, Vinny, William, and Kevin. Those are all of my host brothers from the three host families I will be living with. I have a little host sister but I seldom see her. They are all cousins. Nikky and Yi Wei Lai are brother. Kevin, William and Vinny are brothers. Nikky, Yi Wei Lai, and Vinny were all exchange students to America before so their English is very good! I became closer to Vinny the most, I think. The whole summer was just us spending the days together and helping out in the family restaurant. It was like everything they did was with me and it felt great to be apart of the family. They were literally like real brothers to me. I never had brothers before.

We went to Taichung together many times to go to night markets which are very famous in Taiwan. The name explains it all. Its just locals who sell anythings and it just becomes a big market on the street, at night. You can buy really good food for cheap and you can walk around and it’s just something to do. In small towns a night market would only be once a week. But in big cities like Taichung and Taipei they have night markets all day, everyday! It’s interesting and very different!

Also in Taichung there are so many nice movie theaters! One movie we saw is very famous! It is a true love story in Taiwan about a boy in senior high school who was in love with this one girl, who many boys liked. It was a very good movie (my favorite) its called: You are the apple of my eye!

We took a charter bus (very common) and went on a family trip to the southern parts of the island with the boys and other family members from my host family including the grandfather. The grandfather was very sick and weak. He needed much help from everyone. But I know he had a nice time. It was a great trip! We stayed in a 4 star ☆☆☆☆ hotel in Kaohsiung and just had fun. It was very cool to see the beaches in Tainan that look nothing like Daytona or New Sumyrna. No waves!! A little boring! I burned my lip really bad from the grilled oyster! OW!!

Yi Wei Lai and I went to a Taiwan singer’s concert in Miaoli where I met a my friend Edern who is an Exchange student from France. He is also in my district! He is cool! The concert was amazing! It was a singer named A-Lin! She is a very famous Taiwan singer. She is extrodinary live!!! Taiwanese people love to give encores. She had about 4 encores!

The first District 3500 meeting with all the exchange students was unbelievably fun and there was so much talking!! The thing I was most happy about was seeing a girl named Hunter! I met her on the plane from Detroit to Japan! She was so cool! But the only thing I could remember about her was that she was from Colorado! So I thought when I was leaving the airport that this was the last time I would see her! But HERE she was!! She is so funny! One of my favorite exchange student friends! There is also Evelyn from California who is my really good friend, she is crazy! The meeting was great! Our district is a normal size but with a small group of exchange students! We ONLY have about 20!!!

That was the best summer of my life. I was starting this exchange off so well! I had families I loved and considered them as real family! I met the exchange students I will see the most in my year here in Taiwan! And I was getting use to the life here! It had to be the highest part of my exchange. But of course all good things had to end and ALL of my host brothers had to leave to go to their college for the new school year. It was sad. To be honest, I cried when Vinny was leaving because it was like I would never see him again. He was my brother. I wonder if my sisters in America felt this way when I left to come to Taiwan. Lucas and William go to school in Taichung 30 minutes away. Yi Wei Lai went to the military. Kevin, Nikki, and Vinny went go to school in Taipei 2 hours away… I havn’t seen Vinny since.

So one more week passed and then it was time for me to go to school!!

May 16, 2012

School. It was that time of the year. I guess it wasn’t clear enough that I was ready to hurry up and leave the house because I was getting very antsy and a little impatient with my host father because he was just taking his sweet time! That bugged me! So we finally set of to the school in Miaoli, 30 minutes away. This morning was not what I expected at all. When I first arrived with my host father we sat down in the office/lobby and waited for I don’t know what but then we went home… what was that???? Never found out but all I knew was that the next day was the real deal!

So of course I couldn’t sleep. My host father told me where and what time I needed to be at my bus stop so I got up, got ready and went off. My bus stop is on the next corner of the street next to a 7-11. So I go get some coffee and waited for my bus. Just then this crazy man drives to the bus stop like a maniak almost hits some students and parks in the middle of the road and gets out the car. It’s my host father! What is wrong with this guy? He looks like he just rolled out of bed and he looks crazy! What was the deal? So he walks fast over to me and says “where are you going?!?!” and I said “i am at the bus stop waiting to go to school.” and He says “NO! I drive you to your bus stop!” In my mind I am just thinking how crazy this man is to rush over here and tell me he wants to bring me to the bus stop not even 100 meters away. I have been there for a few weeks already and i was prety familiar with my small town. If i didn’t know how to get around in my town then I would be an idiot because my town is litteraly one main street… So back to my crazy host father- he end up just standing with me at the bus stop like I am 5 years old and talks to all the students there telling them who I am, giving them my phone number, and basically just telling them I am incapable of surviving alone so I need to be watched at all times. The most embarrasses I have ever felt in my entire life!!!

Finally the bus comes and after my host father talks to the bus driver for a good 10 minutes we are off to school! The buses in Taiwan are all like charter busses. They have cushions and is very comfortable and big! The Taiwan students of course where so nervous to talk to me they would just turn around and stare! Their stares where not comforting. When i arrived at school 30 minutes later i go to my classroom on the 4th floor and there is my class. Classroom 114. In Taiwan you never leave your class like to change periods. It is like elementary school when you have “your” classroom. But we dont have just one teacher. When the classes change the teachers do. So students stay in the same classroom all day everyday. When i first met my classmates in 114 they were extremely shy and timid. Also they were very quiet. When I would walk in the halls during break time in between classes everyone would just stare like I was a ghost! A very tan, tall, big eyed ghost! I would always smile and say hi to everyone (I still do). they usually would either say nothing or just burry they face in their hands and laugh shyly with their friends! They are so shy! Some people were very brave and would ask me my name. So I told everyone my name is “Gonzo.” It is a nickname that my host brothers and my host family like to call me because apparently my normal name is “too hard to say.” So I am Gonzo.

Days passed like months and the students loosened up more and more! Everyone would say hi to me! They would ask me a million questions now! Like:

-how old are you?

-how many siblings do you have?

-do you know Obama?

-what is your blood type?

-do you have many girlfriends?

-why are your eyes so big?

My school is huge! It is two long building. One with 5 floors and e other with 7 floors! It is very tall! We have to wear these horrible uniforms that are very comfortable. They are mustard yellow shirts with bright royal blue pants! My classroom 114 is a freshman art class. They are qa special class for students with special art abilities! I however, am not strong in art at all anymore. So they are very shy and quiet even without me there. Some of them are very crazy and outgoing and I made very good friends in that class. Also when we have break time i visit older classrooms and make friends who are closer to my age and very cool and fun. Like classroom 205. I went to a night market with a few friends from 205 on the last day of september. It was great. That was the first and last time i had stinky tofu! GROSS! I love all of my friends in school they are great! The thing i love most about Taiwan is the people! They are so warm and kind after you get passed the shyness! The nicest people on earth, I think!


So when October rolled around, I am still very fresh meat in Taiwan so everything is still new and unexplored! It was still a very weird thing for me to be here in this school. In Taiwan, school is so important and it takes up your whole day so everything is inside school, like clubs and events.

You can imagine I received so many different friend request on Facebook. So many people wanted to know me. There was one girl I talked to a little more then the others. I met her the first day of school and I thought I remembered who she was and what class she is in. But I remember asking her asking her a question and she said… “no, that’s not me. Are you sure you remember who I am?” so I told her “ok if I run into you in school say something so I will know it is you” she said “ok” and I said “How about taco?”

It was a few days that passed and when I was going to sign up early for a school club I had to bring my sign up sheet to classroom 205. I go inside and give the teacher my paper and this girl in the front row keeps saying “taco”. It took a few seconds but then everything clicked and I said “… OHHHH TACO!!!” so loud! Everyone started laughing. So from then on we called each other “Taco”

This month there is such a cool event in the school. It is when you choose what club you want to be in. There is a big courtyard and every club sets up a type of booth for people to go and sign up! There is every kind of club you can think of in this school. Swimming club, basketball club, badminton club, dance club, anime club, Japanese club, music club, magic club, mountain climbing club, movie club, game club, poker club, and many many more. So apparently they ring the bell and people have to run from their classes (remember 5 floors of students) and try to hurry and get a spot in the club they want. I don’t know for sure how it went… I couldn’t make it that day because I had to help my art class set up for an art show in a location close by. But I missed that whole thing. I was a little annoyed by that. But is ok I already joined the club I wanted before this day. Many people wanted me in their club. But I joined the mountain climbing club! It is not ha rdcore mountain climbing but we get out of school for an hour every other Wednesday and go travel somewhere and walk and chat and eat. What is better then that? I was so tempted to join dance club because I really like to dance but I am so busy and in dance club you have to practice every day after school but I cant because I will start my Chinese class in the University soon.

Speaking of… my Chinese class started this month! Oh it is so cool. In my class I have a teacher who is so very nice. She is the sweetest lady. Then I have two other classmates. All three of us are Rotary YEP students. My friend Edern is from France and Julian from Germany are both my classmates. All of us are beginners with Chinese so it started off well. Edern is in my rotary club so I see him often but he lives in a different town. And he excels with Chinese so much better then me. But that’s ok. Everyone learns at different paces. Chinese language is not as hard as it seems. When you are around it a lot you get accustomed to how things are said and you can pick out different words and understand what people are saying. Of course at this point I am not good at all with Chinese but still I am trying and working on it. You have to put effort in learning Chinese or else you will fall behind.

I didn’t really have an after school life yet because I didn’t know where to go or how to get there. So school was the highlight of my day! I never wanted to be home. On weekends I just wished it was the weekday so I can see my friends. I started to be with the classroom 205 more instead of my home room 114. 205 had Taco and her whole group of friends who are so funny and crazy! I loved spending time with them! Whenever I was with them I was so happy. Classroom 114 students are so very nice too, but they were very busy in art classes and I don’t have any art skills anymore so I didn’t enjoy being in the classes with them. Classroom 205 was just a normal class. Though the students in 205 are anything but normal. They have so many talented people. There is Kiki who is one of the best singers in school. There is 3 students who are really good dancers in dance club and then we have some of the star basketball players like LuLu and Jo-Ting-Wei (wei-wei)! We i-wei is the biggest guy in school (tallest and most muscle) he is just a monster. But he is so cool and hilarious! The only thing about this class is it had the lowest test scores. But that’s ok they made up for it in skill. We also won the tug of war competition in our school. And I say “we” because I was basically a part of that class now. They are awesome. Taco was the first to bring me to a night market near my school one Friday. It was nice. A little smaller then the ones in bigger cities but it was just nice to spend time with my friends.


My favorite month! Not yet winter but over with summer. That’s right, FALL! Also my birthday is November 8th so I am pretty excited! This month has a lot of surprises!

Well to start off my month it was my birthday and some of my classmates in 114 asked to come over my house. So I asked my host father and he agreed. It was nice we picked them up from the train station and went to my home. We ate noodles and watched a scary Korean horror film! Then they surprised me with a cake! Where did they pull that out of? I didn’t even see it with them at the train station! It was so sweet of them! Then we had a cake frosting fight! In Taiwan they love to do that. It was so fun and I got frosting everywhere.

In my few months here I have experienced so many birthdays in school that it was inevitable that something would be thrown at my face, like frosting. For some students in my school they get eggs thrown at them for their birthday or they throw shaving cream everywhere! When I went to school on my birthday SO MANY PEOPLE got me a gift. I got maybe 100 cards and the rest are food or candy or something! Some student I have never even met before made me such a nice card that was hand woven. It was crazy! My friend in classroom 214 knows I love Korean music so he purchased a Girls’ generation album for me with posters and other items. On this same day my favorite class 205 had a surprise cake for me in their class. It was so nice and in Taiwan when you make a wish you have 3 wishes. 2 you say out loud and 1 is secret. I was crying, it was so nice of them! Oh that was such a special day. Birthdays are huge things here. HUGE!!! So it was a little upsetting when my host family f orgot my birthday. Yea… Some people could say maybe it was a culture difference but it wasn’t. Birthdays are very important here. So that made me sad.

On November 21 I went to a SHINee concert! It was amazing. SHINee is a Korean pop group who is really popular out here. The concert was amazing even though it rained. Taiwan audiences are not very great. They don’t get excited easy so the crowd is mostly quiet. But it was still nice.

Winter is almost upon us. The weather here is dropping like crazy so be prepared new outbounds! It gets really cold here!!! REALLY COLD IN TAIWAN!

Dylan Curran
2011-12 Outbound to France
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bressuire, District 1510, France

Dylan - France

Dylan’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Dylan Curran and I am 17 years old. I was born in Heidelberg, Germany and currently I live in the United States’ oldest city, St. Augustine and soon I’ll be going to the fantastic country of France! I’ve lived in St. Augustine for 9 years and live with my Dad, Rich, my mom, Dawn, and a collection of animals: 2 cats, 1 dog, 1 bird, and even more. Along with my parents I have 2 brothers who live in Gainesville, and they visit every once in a while.

As of now I’m a senior at St. Augustine High School and am enrolled in a few of its academies. I love music and am an active member of my schools Chorus and Musical theater programs. Besides the arts, I’m a member of AICE, an academic honors program sponsored by Cambridge University in England. When I’m not at school, I’m usually hanging out with my group of friends at a book store or their houses.

Truly, I cannot thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity to go and live in France. I first found out about Rotary when I was a sophomore and in the middle of the presentation I knew I wanted to go on this exchange and have a truly life changing experience. My love for travel started as I grew up living in places like Senegal, Niger, and Germany.  I am truly fortunate to have had the opportunities to travel with my military family and experience these places.

I am a person who loves to be challenged with things and I know that this exchange will have its share of them, one obstacle that scares me quite a bit is the language. Though I’ve been learning French in school, the language is a little daunting, but I’m really excited by the challenge. I’ve also had a love of culture instilled in me by my parents and I can’t wait to experience the full shift into a French life style and all the new things I’ll learn about the world around me and even about myself.

Right now as I sit here writing, the idea I’ll be leaving is quite surreal and I try to imagine what is going to happen to my life in the next 7 or 8 months and for the most part, I don’t know. But with my hopes high and my mind open I’m sure that this Exchange will be truly most life changing thing in my entire life.

  So I’d finally like to thank Rotary International, my sponsor club Rotary Club of St. Augustine Sunrise, and all the volunteers of Rotary for this allowing me to embark on this great new adventure to France!

Dylan’s Journals

October 19, 2011

As of now, it as been exactly 8 weeks since I arrived in France. Since then it has been an amazing experience and I can notice my French coming more naturally.

But now I’ll go back to the beginning. On the morning I left the whole idea seemed surreal even when I ended up in Washington D.C. my brain kept saying “Nope, you are not going to France.” But something that helped me realize that it was actually happening was the other 40+ students from the eastern united states (and a few Canadians) who were all heading to the same place. France. But for me it still wasn’t real. The moment it actually became a thing was when I woke up on the plane and looked at my little map and saw that we were over Paris. Suddenly I was there. The rest of my first day was mostly waiting in the airport for the other people who were going to my district so we could take a bus to District 1510.

After waiting for 5-6 hours we embarked on the charter bus. As we reached the region we stopped several times letting a few people off at each stop. I got off at the 3rd stop with a Brazilian exchange student (Andreza) who was going to be going to the same school as me. After that we were driven by our counselor to his house where we stayed with him and his wife for our 1st week. It was a little surprising for me that my 1st lunch in France ended up being rabbit which ended up being delicious (though a little tough). As the week went by it would involve me sleeping in till about 11:00 (It got earlier each day so luckily the jet lag wasn’t too bad) I’d have lunch with Andreza and my counselor’s wife and then we would go to the town or visit a touristy thing. One of the touristy things was le Chateau de Brissac the tallest castle in all of France, it was amazing seeing the castle and learning about a place that has been there long before the United States were even formed.

The 1st Sunday after my arrival a big group of Rotarians had a huge picnic on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was perfect. I was able to meet my host family (except the oldest brother who goes to University in Rennes) but I couldn’t go home with them for 4 more days because they were preparing my room (which is my oldest host brother’s room actually). Anyways, back to the picnic and by the way the French came up with the word for a reason. One of the more odd things I ate was a Sanglier Patte which after quite a bit of charades and explanation that I didn’t fully understand I found out that it is wild boar, and it was delicious. After the end of the week I left my counselor’s house and it was sad because in only a week they had become like parents to Andreza and I. But I wasn’t sad once I got to my family’s house (Which is more of a castle) and got become further acquainted with my siblings and my parents.

Speaking of my family, I have grown so close to them in quite a short time. I’ll tell you from youngest to oldest, Philibert 8, Caroline 12, Pierre 15, Leonard 17 (He was in Michigan last year with Rotary), Jean-Roch 19 (Still haven’t met him, but he was an exchange student with Rotary to the USA), Maman and Papa(It took me a bit but I’ve been started calling them Maman and Papa). Life in a house with 4 other siblings can be quite hectic sometimes with occasional arguments but most of the the time they are very happy and absolutely great. I’ve bonded with my family in one aspect that most of them like singing it was cool, after my 1st dinner with them Caroline started playing Hallelujah on the piano and we ended up all standing around the piano and singing. A fun thing we do at the dinner table is that when the water pitcher is empty you have to put your hand on your forehead and the last person to do it has to refill the pitcher. My host brother is fluent in English and my parents speak really good English too but they’ve been really great and spoke exclusively French with me unless I direly need an explanation for something really important or if I don’t know 1 word I can ask “Qu’est-ce ca?” or “What is that?”.

Food. France is renowned for it and for good reason. I’ve gained 5 kilos (10 Pounds) from the food already and I fear I may gain more but I don’t care when I’m eating the kind of food I’m eating. The cheeses I’ve tried have been mostly really good (A few a bit too strong for me when it comes to taste), and I’ve even discovered my favorite cheeses that are so good with a baguette and some butter. Onto butter. My departement “Deux Sevres” is known for it’s copious amounts butter that are eaten, though I try not to use too much I can’t help it when it’s cooked into the food. All together most everything is great and I’ve even discovered that things I disliked in America, like tomatoes, are amazingly different here. I know it’s cliche but I’ve been sticking to the principal of trying anything twice, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

School. Lycee. That thing that here can be both incredibly tedious and amazing at the same time. Each day of class is different but every day I start at 8:00 and then end at 6:00PM except for Wednesdays when I end at noon and Fridays when I start at 10:00. To get to and from school I either take the bus or get driven by my parents if we take the bus in the morning I have to wake up about 30 minutes earlier than if we were driven because the bus stop is about 1km away from our house. Something I was surprised by was the quality of school lunches at my school everyday we have an appetizer, entree, desert and usually some fruit and cheese. Another thing that I was taken aback by is the amount of liberty you have at school, there is no dress code besides no hats in class, you can use your cell phone at school, just not at class everything 2 hours we have a 15 minute break were most people go outside to smoke. Also, if we have a free hour we are allowed to leave school and walk into town, I really like this that they trust the incredibly patient, nice, funny and accepting. The classes are fairly hard but I’m able to comprehend almost everything if I concentrate, but if I zone out I can end up lost. My teachers also are very sympathetic and understanding and though the only class I’ve received a grade in is English I’m hoping soon I’ll be able to be graded in the other classes. English can be interesting because in my class there are 3 guys from England so there are many times that the pronounciation of a word is disputed and the dictionary agrees with them (What has America been teaching me?!). Speaking of the English kids in my class, by some bizarre event the universe decided that my school in the middle of the countryside would have lots of English speakers from various parts of the world, it makes it difficult for me because I’m tempted to speak English with them but I know I shouldn’t so I’m often frustrated if they start speaking English when I ask them to stop (But usually at that point I go talk to someone e

So far I traveled quite a bit, I went to the beach with my family (Such a strange experience for a Floridian!) and we weren’t actually able to swim because the water was about 7C (That was a warm day). After the day at the beach we traveled a little bit north to the “Cote Sauvage” a long strip beach that is essentially tons and tons of rocks, I had a ton of fun with my siblings climbing on the windswept rocks. I’ve also visited a little place called the Village of the Trogolodytes, an abandoned village of French people who used to live in caves, that was nice because it was just me and parents getting to bond and I love the way they’re excited to share French history and French culture with me, my Dad pointed out to me that the wine cavern was a lot bigger than the grain storage cavern. Also, I’ve been able to visit a few large cities like Angers and Cholet and do a little shopping but everything here in France for the most part is more expensive, but it’s also so nice so it’s hard to resist sometimes.

In terms of Rotary, I go to my club each week on Thursdays at 8:00P.M. and it’s different students and expect us to come back and pretty much everyone does. By some serendipity I ended up in an amazing class (Woo Premier L1) with a group of people at my school that are from my breakfast club in America where we would get our food, sit down and then listen to a presentation, here everything is business for the 1st hour or so (So usually Andreza and I just sit and work on school work) and then we eat more fantastic French cuisine made by a member of the club who is a professional caterer. Also with Rotary I’ve had 2 weekends, one was a district conference to tell us the rules and get to know each other, that was really nice getting to meet the people from the southern hemisphere who have been here for 8 months and completely understand your current situation. The next weekend I went to Mont St.Michel and it was a meeting with 3 other districts I even got to see other Floridians, Olivia and Celia, for the first time since I’ve been here. Mont St. Michel was absolutely astounding and getting to walk across the bay was so much fun, I even got to submerge my self in quicksand then escape with the method they taught us.

So yea, that’s about it for 8 weeks of life here in France, and that’s exactly what it is. A new life.” Life in France has become natural for me. But that doesn’t mean that I’m still not constantly amazed and intrigued at something. I expect to wake up at 6:30 and have a bowl of hot chocolate for breakfast and then walk to the bus stop with my siblings. I know that I can’t speak fluently quite yet and I still haven’t had that dream, but I know that it will come because I learn more each day and can feel the slight shifts ever so often. It feels so normal to walk up to someone kiss them on both cheeks and say “Salut!” and “Ca va?” and then repeat that for each person in the group. It’s an astounding feeling and profound recently when people have asked me “How’s France?” I like to 1st say “French” but then I say “It is.” because it’s just feeling of being here and now, and that here just happens to be France. The whole reason I’m here is thanks to Family and Rotary and I can’t imagine not having done this.

A few extra things.

1. The method to escape from quicksand is something similar to the stanky leg.

2. If you think you’d had enough, you’re probably wrong so you should have some more.

3. Fresh bread from anywhere else will never be as good as bread from France.

4. Don’t be surprised when everyone smokes.

5. If you walk up to a large group of girls be prepared to kiss each and every one of them on each cheek and if they’re sitting on the floor, you still do it.

6. Though hugs are not very common here (Because they’re usually saved for comforting someone) I’ve converted a few of my friends to hugs and kisses on the cheek for a greeting. I even had someone walk up to me and say “I heard a rumor that you give really good hugs.”

7. Cows can be very intimidating if it’s a group of 30 of them and it’s just you and your host sister. (They like to stare).

March 29, 2012

7 months, and right now I feel as though I’m at a euphoric stage of my exchange. As of now, it seems like time is speeding up and the hours and days are just ticking away until June 20th, but for the most part I’m too busy to be thinking of that. So for now lets rewind to where I last left off with my other journal.

During the October and November it was only slightly weird for me to not be celebrating neither Halloween or Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was much more of a surprise because it actually took someone else asking me about Thanksgiving to realize that “Hey, it’s THAT Thursday.” But truly, I didn’t feel the least bit sad or down that I wouldn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving, in my head I simply accepted that the French don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so for this year neither do I.

As the days slipped into December, I had a conference in the biggest city in my district; Nantes. I had been to Nantes before for shopping and other things but with the Rotary I got to see the touristy stuff like this museum called “The Island of Machines” which is a place with giant robotic constructions of animals based on novels by Jules Verne (The author of 20,000 leagues under the sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth) like an elephant, a giant squid, and even a giant spider that freaked out quite a few arachnophobes.

With December comes the Holidays and in France the holidays are a much more subtle time, there are no extravagant light displays in someone’s lawn albeit there may be a few but never to the degree like I’ve seen in America, there are modest decorations around the house but luckily there is still the ever so sacred Christmas Tree. Now for Christmas, I was incredibly lucky because my host family and I departed two days before Christmas for the Alps, for a week of skiing. Now it was just my host family, it was the whole side of my host Dad’s family in one large house nestled in the village of Samoëns, so all together we were about 30 people spanning 3 generations. In France, Christmas eve is quite important for them so on Christmas eve we had a huge dinner where we at the traditional Christmas meal of turkey, foie gras, scallops and much more. After the dinner we went to a “Midnight Mass” though it was really at 9:00 because everyone thinks that’s more reasonable. The Christmas day was a little different from a normal Christmas, we woke up and went to open our presents (that are next to a pair of our shoes) but after that we went skiing from about 10am-5pm.I’d never done with my host dad and host brother and at one point I had a fairly bad fall and hurt my knee a bit, the problem was that it was only the middle of the slope and for returning back to our village, it would take quite a while. So, I went down quite slowly with my host dad helping me down the slope. When we got back up the mountain we went down a slope to get to a ski-lift to Skiing, naturally me being a Florida boy and having only gone skiing once on a trip to Colorado with my chorus, my skill level wasn’t exactly the highest, so often I was skied by myself on the lower level blues and greens.

As the week went on I progressed more and more though I still tended to stick to the blues, on Wednesday I had quite the experience… I was skiing on a slope take us to the trolley back to the village, the problem was when we got to the ski-lift it was closed so we ended up having to walk up a slope in ski shoes carrying our skis to get to another slope. This other slope just happened to be a red. My 1st red. It was hard and it took me a long time, but I eventually made it back, only with the help of my incredibly patient and helpful host dad. This ordeal got me thinking Skiing is really like an Exchange, when you start out, it’s hard and you’re gonna fall down, a lot, but the thing is that you have to keep on getting back up till you can go down a slope without falling, the only true way you’ll get better is by trying and not giving up.

My host family and I left the alps homeward bound on New Year’s Eve. I really had no time to recover from the trip because about an hour after getting home I went to a New Year’s party with a bunch of my friends from school. The next morning of New Year’s day was even more hectic… because I changed families, so my day was pretty much getting picked up from my friend’s house going back to pack and then leaving for my new host family. My new host family consists of my host mom and dad, my host sister Julie (who is going to the US next year), and my host brother Nicolas (who went to Australia last year). The change from families was quite drastic for me and to me it seems like my first family was a traditional French family (5 Children, Lives in the countryside, No T.V., Bread Cheese and Wine at every meal) while my new family is more of a modernized French family (2 children, T.V., lives in the town). Now that I’m living in the town it’s much easier to hang out with friends and I’ve been able to really do a lot more stuff. Something I didn’t have with my 1st host family was T.V., but I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because even with the T.V. I don’t watch it very much because it’s mostly American shows like The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and CSI but dubbed in French. With my host brother Nicolas we go to a soccer match almost every week to support his favorite team the FCN (Football Club de Nantes), and I’ve found a new interest in soccer that was never really there.

Near the end of January I went to a little conference where I got to talk all the soon to be outbounds from my district about why the US is a great place to go on exchange, I got a few questions about the education systems and food but I feel as though I did a good job of ridding a few people of American stereotypes. the most part as I settled into the rhythm of my new family and returning to school January and February came and went very quickly.

At the end of February we had a 2 week break that I kick started by celebrating the birthday of the Brazilian exchange student who is in my class, and then promptly after catching the flu. Luckily I managed to get well by Thursday because that was when my host family and I set off for Paris. In Paris we stayed with my host aunt, while in Paris I got to see Montmartre, and the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum that was simply amazing.

So tomorrow marks an odd point for me in my exchange, my birthday; the birthday that I will have in France my 19th birthday (An age usually not that remarkable besides being that much closer to 20) is now and forever my 19eme Anniversaire. Also a plus for this birthday is that fact that I get to celebrate it with the 450 exchange students who are also in France at Annecy. So for me, the months are flying past and as the time goes on and on, it keeps on accelerating and each day seems like it’s fleeting past at a pace I can’t keep up; I’ll definitely try my best to keep loving and cherishing each day here.

Oh, to all the people involved with Rotary Youth Exchange Florida that helped me and propelled me across this Ocean onto this journey of a lifetime you all have my eternal thanks and gratitude.

Emily Hatcher
2011-12 Outbound to Slovakia
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Ridgeview High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Žilina, District 2240,

Emily - Slovakia

Emily’s Bio

Hi ! My name is Emily and I’m 17 years old. I am a junior in high school and I have a part-time job. I live in an apartment with my mom and our two cats. Sometimes I stay with my dad, his wife and his two step daughters. In school, I participate in a lot of activities including my school’s Interact Club. Some of my hobbies include watching baseball, shopping, and visiting new places. I also like hanging out with friends and watching scary movies. I  L O V E to dance, and have been dancing since I was very young.

Fortunately I have received the opportunity to go to SLOVAKIA next year and I couldn’t be more excited! This is a once in a lifetime experience that only a few students get to have, and I am lucky enough to one of them!

At this point, there are no words that can express the gratitude that I have for Rotary. I cannot thank everyone enough because without all of the people involved, this wonderful program would not exist!

Emily’s Journals

Ahoj! So this is my first official journal on my exchange to Slovakia. Pretty exciting! I have been here in Žilina for about two and a half weeks and they could not have gone any better. I arrived to the Žilina airport on August 25th at about 10:30 at night. I was greeted by my host mom, Eva, and a girl who was an exchange student to the US last year. They were both very nice. The girl would translate for me and my host mom because my host mom can’t speak English. I look at that as a good thing though, because I am now forced to learn Slovak! We took our wonderful translator home and then we went home. It is just my host mom and me living in a nice little flat and I love it 🙂 She is so nice and pretty! There are two other exchange students in my city and we all go to the same school.

Since I have arrived I have done the following things:

–    Visited Strečno Castle

–    Went hiking in Terchová

–    Been to 2 swimming pools

–    Been shopping in 2 malls

–    Started school

–    Went to Orientation Meeting in Strečno

My host mom took me to a castle that is relatively close to our city and it was beautiful! We went on a tour of it and although I didn’t understand anything that the tour guide was saying, it was still really nice 🙂

We also went hiking in some mountains that had rivers going through them which were really nice.

My host mom is a very good swimmer so we have gone to some swimming pools and I almost got a tan! Woot!

School started last week and it has been good so far. Although the kids in my class are a few years younger than me, they are all SO nice! They help me whenever I ask for it and try to translate stuff for me if I am confused. They also helped me study for my test at the Orientation weekend…Which was a blast! This is the weekend where all of the exchange students from District 2240 (Czech Republic and Slovakia) get to meet up. It was held in Strečno, so it wasn’t very far from where I live. Everyone arrived on Friday and we had some activities for getting to know everyone. We also had a few seminars on the rules of 2240.

Saturday we had a few more things to listen to and then we were off to Strečno Castle. It was the second time that I was there, but it was just as fun and amazing as the first. Sunday we listened to a few more things and then it was time to go home. Some people had a very long way to travel. It was a great weekend and I met so many awesome people 🙂 I also got to see the only other Floridian in District 2240- Jennings Brower !

Things so far have exceeded my expectations, and I am so happy that Rotary has given me this opportunity!

April 18, 2012

So it has been a really long time since I’ve written a journal. I’ve been really busy ! And so much amazing stuff has happened.

To give an update on where I am now;

I’m currently in my 3rd host family and they are so nice! I have a host brother now who is 11 and he’s alright 🙂 In a week we are leaving to go on our Eurotour. I can’t believe it’s already that time. When I first read about it, it seemed so far away and now it’s in 3 days! We are going to Spain, Italy, and Monaco. It will be really great to see all of the exchange students again, too. We just had our Rotary Skiweek a few weeks ago also, and that was great. I learned how to snowboard (kind of)! It’s crazy how this year is almost over. I have about 2 1/2 months left here in Žilina and I don’t want it to end 🙁 I have learned so much so far this year and I can’t wait to see what these next few months have for me.

So on the language:

Slovak language is… hard to describe. In some ways its easy, you just have to learn and study. But it other ways… its incredible challenging. I think it’s come along quite nicely for me. I can have conversations and I understand when people are talking (even if they aren’t talking to me). It’s kind of funny, how even though you learn, and you get better, people still think you don’t understand anything. It’s funny because you can surprise them and talk back. But it also gets frustrating at times. When no matter how many times you tell people that you speak their language, they still think you don’t get it. But it’s okay. I’m sure it happens to a lot of people.

I have some close friends that are amazing! Exchange students and Slovaks. I’m not sure where I’d be with out them. They’ve helped with everything possible.

I still have a lot of cool experiences coming up so I will post more journals soon !

And Of course, none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for Rotary. They make this opportunity possible for everyone and I am grateful for it.

Emily Adams
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Thamuang, District 3330, Thailand

Emily - Thailand

Emily’s Bio


My name is Emily Adams and I’ll be spending the 2011-2012 school year in Thailand! I’ve lived in St. Augustine, FL my entire life with my mom and my dog, Buttercup. The three of us have a close connection. My mom and I talk, cook, and watch movies while one or both of us are tending to Buttercup, who always wants to play.

For the majority of the time, I keep very busy. This year, I am a senior at St. Augustine High. In addition to school, I also work, and dance. I love learning, working, and dancing. I work at Whetstone’s Chocolate with some of the most amazing girls! No, I have not gotten sick of chocolate. I’ve been dancing for about a year and a half. I take two classes at school and also ballet and contemporary at the Dance Company. One thing I’m looking forward to seeing in Thailand is the traditional dancing.

When I’m not doing any of those things, I spend time with my friends. I love them dearly and am happy that they are happy for me. Other interests of mine include reading, drawing, painting, cooking, music, yoga, camping, and taking pictures. I have a canon rebel xs, which I’m very excited to use on my exchange.

During my year abroad, I hope to expand my mind. I want to have a better idea from another point of view. I want to be able to note the similarities of Thailand and Saint Augustine, Fl, along with the differences. I’m excited to meet and have friends on the other side of the world, and from all parts of the world. I am excited to become fluent in Thai. I am excited to see elephants roam the street. I am just, so excited.

It still doesn’t seem real, and I still can not imagine getting on a plane for a year to be spent in Thailand. But thank you Rotary. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. Thank you mom and friends for giving me the extra push, I love you.

Emily’s Journals

August 27

It has been a little over two weeks since I’ve arrived here in Thailand but this country already means so much to me. I have fallen in love with a great group of people, delicious new foods and new places. It is so strange to say I have been here two weeks because I have learned a tremendous amount since stepping off the airplane. Upon arriving, I was nervous and unable to comprehend where the next hour, day, or week would take me. Now, as I sit here writing this I am able to predict those things. I am now able to communicate (somewhat) in a new tongue that once sounded so completely alien to me. I can now point out the direction from my house to school, the market and Bangkok. I now can say and comprehend an introduction of myself in Thai in front of a large group of people. I can do so many things and recognize so many foods and places that it is almost impossible that I’ve been in Thailand for just two weeks. But I have and as hard as it is to pick out what’s worth writing about and what’s not, here are a few moments worth remembering.

Exactly one week and one day upon arriving I was expected to give an introduction of myself fully in Thai to all members of my host Rotary club. With many thanks/kob kun ka’s to my “poo” (dad) for helping prepare it, I was literally practicing this introduction every hour until the night of. I was completely nervous. Any time I envisioned this speech, I saw it going exactly how my Spanish speech a few months prior went…drained from my memory the moment I was handed the microphone. So on this particular night I was very nervous and wishing to be anywhere but at this party before it even started. Upon entering, I was seated at a table full of Rotary members, the director of my new school and my school counselor. Of course, everyone began speaking Thai to me and of course, I had no idea what was going on most of the time. I literally began throwing any Thai I could think of into this conversation so I wasn’t completely hated. I felt completely awful and I felt as though they were all disappointed. Although then, they finally switched to English. They told me I was lovely and my Thai was very good for being in Thailand only a week. FINALLY, I could breath. A great amount of stress was thus drained and I began to actually enjoy myself. Around the dinner table, they all took turns showing and teaching me random things about the food and their culture. It was great, and very typical of a Thai feast- everyone was eating, laughing, and generally having a good time. But in the back of my mind I was still stressing. I knew my speech was coming and I knew it would leave me mind the mount I stepped on the stage. So the time finally came and my host sister and I were escorted on stage. As the microphone was handed to me I knew it was about to go completely awful. So I began and then it happened, I got stuck on the first sentence, on “kob kun” which means thank you. It was such a simple phrase and one of my favorites to use. The words would just not come out. But then, right as my “poo” began to yell it from the side of the

The following day was my first day of school. I came into the director’s office of my new school, Thamuang Ratbumrung, with my “maa” and “poo” around noon on last Wednesday. After causing me a little stress by speaking in only Thai, my new principal switched to English. He told me that his students had been waiting for me and then opened a window that led into the student courtyard. He pulled me beside him and yelled to the closest group of girls to come meet “Mali”. They all seemed genuinely excited which left me a little overwhelmed. After showing me his private bathroom (not weird, just different!), the director yelled back at the same group of girls to show me to the concert. So I was then led in a large auditorium that held close to 2,000 kids sitting on the floor. Apparently, everyone in Thailand wants to be a star and they all think singing and dancing is best thing in the world. “TMR” is a nationally known competition that travels to different schools in Thailand and hosts the students singing and dancing. As it began the director came onto the stage and notified everyone of my arrival. I was then given the opportunity to introduce myself (…yay..). As much as I felt like an idiot, the crowd welcomed me back with smiling faces. The concert lasted for three hours of performing but the winner was eventually was named King (predictable, there was only one guy group and all the girls screamed through most of their performance). And yet! This was still not the end to a much unexpected afternoon. Once over everyone got up to take pictures with the different groups. Somehow, I was pulled into the middle of this and there I was taking pictures with anyone and everyone for about 20 minutes. Finally arriving back in the car of my “maa” and “poo” all I wanted was a nap.

Thailand has been so unforeseen but wonderful to me. It is the beginning of a year that I know will all be over too soon. I’ve experienced some of the best days so far, and some of the worst. Some days I have gotten so frustrated because I can’t speak as fully as I want too. But then a few hours or maybe a day will pass and something will happen that turns everything better. This is usually when I have a little laugh because I remember being told that things would suck sometimes but it goes away and I’m left happier then I was sad/angry. I am very excited to what awaits me next, whatever it is. Every moment is precious this year. Rotary, I cannot thank you enough for what has already been given to me.

November 16, 2011

I’ve been in Thailand for about three months now. How time flies! I’ve have gotten so used to the same smiling faces and what now has become a weekly routine that it seems strange that one day I will not see these faces or have this routine. The month of September began where the end of August ended, school during the week, Bangkok during the weekend. Mondays through Fridays I’d wake up each morning at 6:15 for a shower and breakfast. My host father has an extreme affection for sweets so weekday morning breakfasts consists of a “kanom”(sweet bread) and “gaffe”(coffee). I arrive at school each morning at 730 to meet my friends and wait the national anthem to start. This tells us it’s time to go line up on the field with all the other 2,000 students. The national anthem is played again along with a prayer and a school song. This lasts a half an hour despite Thailand’s blazing sun that never fails to reach 85 degrees. Once released, it’s time for class which isn’t really class in comparison to school in Florida, although I’m not complaining. School is fun and the day always seems to go by fast. At 4 o’clock my dad or mom picks me up and we head to the market to pick up 2nd lunch/1st dinner. By the time I’m home and have eaten, it’s around 5 and I’m off to relax before I head outside to meet whoever is cooking. My day pretty much ends when I have eaten again with my family outside. Although no Thai meal is finished after the food is eaten, half the time is sitting around talking with one another. The exception to this routine is Friday night through Sunday night. Every Friday after dinner, my family loads up the car and heads to Bangkok to spend time with one another and so that my younger host brother and sister can take weekend classes. The weekends consist of sleeping past 7, shopping at one the Bangkok’s many malls, riding the sky train and spending time with my brother and sister.

The month of October was drastically different from September and what is beginning of to be of November. For the entire month of October, Thailand’s children take a break from school. Wooo! For 30 days, I got in the routine of not having a routine. I spent it worthwhile by traveling, cooking, shopping, playing, and of course-sleeping in.

But on a typical day in October I began by NOT waking up at 6 for school, but rather sleeping until eight-thirty or nine. I would then, mosey into the kitchen to find something left on the table for me to eat by my parents that are by that time at work. Usually “Yai Pon” (housekeeper/nanny) would take a break from whatever she was doing and try to communicate with me, we’d end up giggling and then go our different ways. The rest of the morning I would spend practicing Thai/ getting ready for whatever may come up during the day.

Around noon time, I’d go outside to have lunch with my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and the workers of my family. These hours spent outside were probably some of the best of October. After lunch I’d hang around as everyone else does, gathered around the table and talking away. A lot of cooking was done during this time (even though we had just eaten). I now can successfully make “pad kao pao”, “pad thai”, “pak boong”, and “som tom”. Som tom is by far my favorite and is now edible to all ^^. I also spent a lot of time with a worker who is now my closest friend at home, “P Than”. With her, I explored all parts of my backyard that I never knew existed. I spent many days with her and a three year old, picking flowers and riding bikes or watching soccer games between the workers. Late into the day when she’d have to start cooking I’d find myself back inside and showering for the 2nd of 3 I take every day. Afterwards all I typically wanted was quiet time trying to communicate all day in a new language can be very exhausting. Around dinner time, which is 630, I’d find myself back outside with the same group of people, fumbling over words and talking about food (this topic has became my best). This was my October, somewhat slow, but very refreshing and rewarding in its own way.

Hannah Hocker
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bishop Snyder High School
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Botucatu Cuesta, District 4310, Brazil

Hannah - Brazil

Hannah’s Bio

Oi todo mundo! My name is Hannah Hocker and I am spending the next year of my life as an outbound exchange to Brazil. I live in Jacksonville, Florida and I am Junior at Bishop Snyder High School. I am the baby of the family at 16 years old, with five older siblings and 3 nieces. My brothers and sisters are all currently attending college or have already graduated, so I live as an only child at home with my mom.

 I spend most of my time painting and modeling and I play softball.  I visit Nicaragua each summer to further deepen my love for traveling. I am almost fluent in Spanish, so Portuguese is a wonderful, new obstacle life has recently thrown at me and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Every now and then, you need a change of scenery to get out of your normal routine and Brazil will be a great way to open my eyes to new experiences.

My mom and I have a close relationship and she was fearful of my going abroad but now that it has sunk in, she realizes that God wouldn’t give me anything I can’t handle. I would like to thank my best friend Nikki Frechette and Bishop Snyder’s Interact advisor and Geometry teacher Mrs. Carroll for motivating me to participate in a year abroad and for providing me with the tools necessary to fulfill this opportunity. Without these two influences, I would still be simply daydreaming of schooling overseas. I was very excited to find out that I am hosting Mads Hoxbro, a student from Denmark, for the next few months. This will help me to learn more about the exchange program and see how it works from another student’s perspective. Many people, students and adults, that I’ve informed about my journey encouraged me to rethink my decision considering I will be gone for my senior year, but I know that it will be much more memorable to be submerged into a fresh culture in the long-run. I’ve learned to trust in myself and not other’s opinions.

Thank you so much Rotary for making this once in a lifetime chance attainable. I don’t know what to expect, but whatever it is, I know it’s going to be spectacular.

Hannah’s Journals

Today is October 4th, 2011, exactly two months since I arrived, so I figured it was time to check in. A lot has changed, probably me more than anything else. I have grown up. I have learned to open up immensely but also to hold back depending on the person and your relationship with them. I have learned that back home is not being held on pause and you cannot be a source of advice or assistance when you are miles away. You need to live in the moment here because you will never have it again. I have learned who to trust and what to trust them with. I have learned that crying does nothing for you. I have learned that no matter how much you want to squeeze your pride close to you, you need to go through embarrassments, humiliation, and language struggles if you truly need something or need to ask a question. I’ve learned if you laugh through language barriers and stay optimistic, people will give you as much patience as they can and as much time as you need.

I am not going to lie, I have had some days when I wake up, look out my window over my entire city and ask “Why in the world am I in Brasil? How am I even here?” Other days I will just be in the car on a long drive and catch a glimpse of a valley or large mountain and just go into shock thinking “Right now, geographically, I am IN Brasil, and I will be for another 9 months.” It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I love it.

Ending and Beginning

I can’t even really recall leaving. It was a blur. Two weeks before, I had to endure the hardship of saying goodbye to my exchange student Mads when he returned to Denmark. If I thought that was one of the hardest moments ever, I had no idea what was coming in two weeks. It seems now like I could mesh the two goodbyes together they were so close.

I probably did the worst preparing as an outbound. I feel safe to say this now that I am surviving and loving every single day of my life in my host country. I did not study up much on the language, I forgot my blazer before my farewell Rotary meeting and had to return home to retrieve it from my closet, and I packed for Brasil the day before I left. Yes. This is true. I feel like I didn’t sleep the night before, and in what seemed like 2 hours, I was awake, dressed, in the airport, bags checked, and accompanied by my mom, brother, and very close friends, making my way towards the last sight I wanted to see, security. In a very quick amount of time, we ate Burger King. Well I think only I did because I was starving, anxious, and wanted a good final meal in the US. Saying goodbye went by so fast but I clearly remember the embrace with my mom and best friend Nikki Frechette. The three of us were very close and hugged for 3 minutes.

After security I realized I was uncontrollably shaking and started crying hysterically. It came out of nowhere. I traveled from 11am to 6am the next day. The second plane (a 10 hour plane ride) was a red eye but I didn’t sleep one minute of my travels. Part of this may have been because there were approximately 130 screaming, chanting, and singing Brasilian kids my age returning from a Disney tour in Orlando. After entering the airport and greeting my family (my 2 host sisters and my father) we went shopping all day. This was my first impression of Brasil and I did not like it. Eighty reais for a tank top? Not happening. I then decided right then and there I will suffer through my year with the clothing I packed.


School started for me the week after I arrived. I was greeted my first day with hugs and kisses from everyone, and I mean everyone. I became very very quickly acquainted on my first day with my current great group of friends. They thought it was funny to introduce me to all of my teachers as Hannah Montana. School was my first really large culture shock. It is daily from 7am-12:50am. We have three 45 minute classes, a 20 minute snack break, four more 45 minute classes, and then dismissal. Cell phones, cameras, and iPods are all allowed during class. No one really listens to the teacher. There is no mandatory homework, no grading system, and exchange students are asked to sit in the hall during tests. The desks are never in the same formation for more than 1 hour. The uniform consists of sweat pants or spandex capris with the school tee shirt and any sneakers. All of the city’s schools are right next door to each other as well.


My first host family lives in an apartment. There are 5 floors and 2 apartments on each floor. We live on the 5th and there is no elevator. The house is far from school and I walk home most days. I love this because when I am eating the extremely fattening Brasil foods, I justify this by telling myself “But you walk home every day, you will work it off.” (Trust me, this is not true.) My host sister, Maria Beatriz is my best friend. She is 16 and is scarily my twin. Everyone in the town knows her as Tiz for short. (This in Portuguese is pronounced “cheese”.) She takes me to all of her parties and I have become very close with all of her friends. I thank her and give her much credit for this because I know it is not easy to have a tag-a-long who always needs an explanation to go with her since she looks nothing like the natives. Margarete is my host mom and her husband is Renato, Tiz’s stepdad. Renato is the Rotarian of the family. Pietro is my three year old host brother. Despite him dumping a gallon of rice in Tiz’s and my bedroom and then using my uniform pants to sweep it all around, or constantly running in my room and pushing the power button on my laptop during a skype session, he is the best. I love him. My father owns a construction company and is at work or on work calls often and travels a lot.


Besides the weekend parties, during the week, there are always churrascos (barbeques). At the churrascos, you will find so much meat being cooked and if you literally blink, it is gone. I have probably had 2 bites total since I have been here. There are also often a lot of Quince Anos which is a fifteenth birthday. These parties are very expensive and extravagant. Once in a while, there are class parties as well. I have my good circle at school which I mentioned before who took me in immediately and we are very close now. Their names are: Thais, Thaina, Pitu, Bruno, and Igor. My 2 best friends, who are also inbounds (Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from South Africa) are always with me after school or on the weekends.


The clothing here is very humorous. English is on almost everything and it is rarely spelled correctly or it has very stupid phrases. I have seen “Michael Jackson is not dead.”, “Kama Sutra”, and “Fashin and Glamur.” The minute you walk into a store, the employees are breathing down your neck, literally. If you pick up one item, they will start opening their inventory and shoving 6 others that have a similar style in your face. If you go into a dressing room, they will feed you articles of clothing that you didn’t even look at. Another difference that I had to answer many questions about is this concept of wearing a ring on your right ring finger. This in Brasil automatically says you are in a relationship and not available. My class ring makes my “boyfriend” that I have look real rich.

Nail polish is a necessity here, make-up is not. My mom quickly told me my nails were ugly and changed that fast. Appearance is very big here with teenagers. You’re rich if you own: Nike Shox, Gap, Hollister, Kipling, or Coca Cola clothing. This made me laugh because the majority of the above with the exception of Hollister are not flattering or “in style” with kids my age. They love their school supplies too. Pencil bags, notebooks, the whole nine yards. They are designed with things I had in 2nd grade but they love it here, girls and boys.

Road Rules are ridiculously different and shocking. They have lines on the pavement and seatbelts in the cars but neglect to use either. Red lights and stop signs are barely a tap of the brakes and turn signals are never used. Speed bumps are every thirty yards, but the same as red lights, you don’t slow down for them. All streets are one way and all cars are stick shift. The horn is your best friend and you will use it approximately 80 times per day.

I think adjusting to the language was extremely and surprisingly easy. I spoke none before arriving and I learned quickly with my sister’s iPhone translator, gestures, and charades. Now I can have conversations and do daily things like check out of a pharmacy or ask where some place is. I have yet to dream in Portuguese, but all in good time. It may have helped to study beforehand but it never stuck when I tried and I don’t regret it because submersion is still the best and fastest way to learn.


Everywhere you look, you will find cheeses, breads, and Brigadeiro (the amazing chocolate dessert here. It is unexplainable.) My family has fruit in the house but I rarely see it in cafés. There are never vegetables but always French fries or potato chip sticks. My favorite meal is the Stroganoff with chicken. I could eat it everyday. Milk and eggs do not need to be kept in a refrigerator. This has not settled with me yet and I think I will hold out on eating each for the year.


Jeans are dressy at the meetings and activities here. No one wears a suit or dress. My club has many service projects and activities or lunches. Everyone you see is a Rotarian and every adolescent I know in my town has been, will be, or wants to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

Activities/Daily Routine

Daily after school, I go eat with my family and then either head home or go back out with Rebecca and Victoria (the other inbounds). We usually go to Cravo e Canela Café and/or the shopping avenue.

I am a member at the local gym, which is very different from the Navy base gym I use to attend in Jacksonville. It is like a vacation getaway here. It has a bar, a barbeque restaurant, a snack bar, indoor and outdoor pools, indoor and outdoor soccer, tennis courts, a kids equivalent to Chuck e. Cheese, indoor and outdoor volleyball courts, and spas. It is very highly secured as well, I have to give my finger print to enter any area. Soon, I am going to begin swimming training and tennis lessons.


I’ve always stuck with the belief that God does not give you what you cannot handle and thought this to be true so far on my exchange until Homecoming week hit back home one week ago. Only after seeing pictures did it hit me that my senior class is living and breathing “Senior” every day, walking my school’s hallways, in and out of classes, going to lunches and extra-curricular activities without me with them and all I can do is watch through photographs. This is by far the hardest part of my exchange. Scents and music are the little helpers, or best friends if you will, of my nostalgias. Often, I get a familiar scent and crave food from back home. I think I miss certain places and atmospheres more than people sometimes. One always has memories with songs as well and this makes it very difficult. I hear a certain song and it triggers a place and a person or people. Hopefully these pass in time.

Funny Incidents:

As I exited customs upon entering Brazil, I recognized my sisters from facebook and hugged my father only to find he was not my father but a mere stranger who was also suddenly flabbergasted that a crazy American girl was embracing him like family. After which I noticed my father on a business call a few feet away.

The week of my second month in Brasil, I realized there were identical twins in my class that all along I had thought were one boy.

One day while walking home from school, a man pulled over and yelled “Nossa, voce e Americana!” upon which I started walking very fast away and panicking inside. As I approached my apartment building I recognized the same man standing outside the door by his car with a to go bag. It then hit me that my father had sent an employee out to pick up lunch for my sister and I and was simply trying to deliver. The worst part was just then I remembered my father telling me to wait outside school for a driver to give me Tiz and my lunch. Poor man.

This is all for now. I couldn’t have asked for a better host country and cannot wait to see what God has in store for me throughout the rest of my year. I am so thankful that this was handed to me one year ago and saying a simple thank you to Rotary is nowhere near enough, but it is all I can give for now. Thank you so very deeply to all of the people who are making this experience possible.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Today is December 4th, 2011, therefore marking my first 4 months in Brazil. I reread that sentence over and over and am so engulfed in astonishment and awe at how crazy it feels. Sometimes it feels like a year, sometimes 2 weeks, but the feeling of accomplishment for surpassing 4 months and the urge and yearning to continuously learn more is over-powering. If you lay my whole year out on a timeline, you could say I am just about half-way done. This horrifies me so much to think about. Four months down, Christmas tapping me on the shoulder, and then 5 months before I temporarily pause my foreign friendships and Brazilian life to return home. I will not use the word “end” because I plan on returning, more than once. It will never be over.

When I attended my final Rotary meeting in Jacksonville, I gave my farewell speech encompassing the idea of exchange being compared to a roller coaster. I explained (in a much shorter description since my president asked me to keep it short to fit the time slot) that you buckle into your seat, mentally and physically preparing to leave your foundation on the ground. As you slow your breathing, try to relax your body, and fix your flaws like hair in your face or nervous shaking in your palms, you imagine what you are about to experience. Once you’re strapped in, there’s no turning back, you just need to trust your foundation holding you there to introduce you to these new found twists and turns, maybe even several drops. There will be drops you don’t like, straight distances of just track where you’re asking “What’s next? This is dragging on”, twists you never expected in a million years, and corkscrews you wish you could reverse and do all over again. Once you have finished your run through, you are still so exasperated about what you just experienced that there are no words. After the cooling down time passes, you set your opinion into stone and wish you could go strap in again. Finally, once you’re ready to move on to other rides, you have the memories you will hold dear forever and tell to future riders.

Well in 4 short, very fast moving months, I have been so thankful to be on such a phenomenal coaster. I’ve been praised, scolded, interrogated, moved to my second house, and taught. Learning, learning, learning. I feel like in 4 months, I have aged 6 years. One month ago, I moved into my second family’s home. I am in love. My house is so relaxing and chilled out. I can take naps on the living room couch, peacefully play piano, sleep or read a book in the outdoor hammock, ride my bike around the city, or even grab the city bus into town with a bus stop literally right in my front yard. I have 2 dogs, a Greyhound and a Dalmatian, both which have created great bonds with me. I have 2 siblings, 9 year old Leonardo (Leo) and 7 year old Natalia (Nati). My parents are Marcos and Renata; both young, fun, and very musically oriented. We even have an outdoor “hang-out room” with a drumset, a row of different types of guitars, tambourines, and many other cool intsruments. My father works in the children’s intensive care unit as a surgeon and my mother is a professor at the college UNESP in the forest, nature, and flora and fauna field.

School has let out for summer break so I am very lucky to get to sleep in and casually go to the gym by bus at whatever hour I feel. In 6 days, my mother will arrive for the halfway mark of my journey. We will spend time in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and my city of Botucatu. She is only coming for 9 days which is actually great because it is right before Christmas.

I feel that I have definitely hit the stage where I am asking “Where did the progression go? Where is my improvement?” but it was bound to hit and all I have to do is keep working and keep conversing with natives, focusing on what words I didn’t know yesterday that I do today. I’ve come to the realization that I have also begun to fit in which in most cases in life, this is wonderful, but on exchange it means the exotic, new, interesting foreign girl is not so interesting anymore. She is steadily speaking our language and we are out of questions. This causes a very difficult wall to break down when it comes to asking to go out together, suggesting to spend the night at each other’s houses, and entering into very fast, slang-filled conversations that do not include you. I will say that it has become very easy to manage though. I can communicate well enough to buy minutes for my phone, purchase clothing, get groceries or lunch, or ask when the last bus past on my own. I have even had one or two interesting conversations at the bus stop, Forrest Gump style.

I still love my country here and believe it is ever-changing every day. I will never want to go home, but I have sunk in. I have become a resident of this wonderful city. I have changed even though I do not see it yet. And I have learned and become a better person. Thank you, Rotary. I can’t go a day without thinking where I’d be in the United States right now just dreaming of this adventure without your help.

Happy Holidays everyone.

February 7, 2012

It is February 4th so it’s time for my 6 month mark. Unbelievable. Half a year away from home. Concluding my US life and embarking feels like yesterday, so how in the world has 6 months past here in Botocatu, Sao Paulo, Brazil? I can’t wrap my head around it. At this point, it is all about transitioning. Things are changing. Don’t get me started on the seasons changing because I cannot even walk a block without dripping sweat. But that is the slightest of changes occurring. I have definitely come in and out, depending on the day, of homesickness, but halfway through you have mixed feelings the worst. Most kids will say I never want to leave or I am never going home, but I am much more logical than that. I look forward to going home. I look forward to telling my story. Soon after I return home, I will be shifting my life completely and changing everything I have ever known as I move to Europe. Not on exchange, but as the next step in my lifelong journey towards my destination. In a way, I am very excited to get home. Then there is the feeling of vomiting repeatedly and crying buckets when I think about leaving everything I have learned to love, learned to hate, and learned to accept. I will have to pack up and leave everyone I met.

Since we have past into 2012, the foreign friends I have made has changed. Iny my city, I had 2 best friends, Victoria from Pennsylvania and Rebecca from South Africa. South Africa exchanges January to January, so Rebecca left us. It was very difficult but soon after, Hudson joined us from Australia. I don’t know what we had done without him all along, but I am so glad we have him in the group now.

Things are currently going very well. I just switched to my THIRD host family. So strange to imagine how much time has passed since my first. This family is so incredible and so perfect, I know there has to be someone out there looking out for me. I live in a two story house on the center of town, I have 2 dogs, I have a swimming pool and huge barbeque kitchen all outback, I have a sauna, I have a balcony off the front of the house, and I have a very young, sweet couple for parents who have the most darling little 2 year old daughter named Maria Eduarda, but we call her Duda.

School has resumed and I am in the equivalent to a US senior class with my best friend Victoria from Pennsylvania so school is more than I could ask for. In the spring I will be going on the month long South Tour to the south of Brazil, Iguassu Falls, and other South American countries. I return to Jacksonville, Florida on June 3rd. I have 4 remaining months and I plan to make them the best months of this year. Thank you so much, Rotary.

April 23, 2012

Well I may be 19 days late here on April 23th, but I hit 8 months on April 4th. The last time I wrote, I skipped Christmas and New Years so I will fill in now. A lot has happened. Since February 4th, I have had my birthday, changes have occurred at school, I have gone on a trip, and I just moved to my final family.

I have definitely done my fair share of traveling around Brazil. The week before Christmas, my mom came to visit for 10 days. I met her in Sao Paulo where we toured for 2 days before flying off to Rio de Janeiro for 4 relaxing days in the sun on Copacabana beach. After visiting Pao de Acucar and Christ the Redeemer, we flew back to my city and stayed for 4 days to spend time with my friends and family here in Botucatu and to show my mom what and where I have spent my time for the 5 months before. Sooner than I hoped, her trip ended and my family was taking me right back to Rio for New Years. We spent 15 days there and it was wonderful.

My birthday came on March 9th and I had a wonderful celebration from my friends at school then a nice dinner with Victoria and Hudson that evening. The week after, Victoria and I were moved down a grade because of overflow on student capacity in our grade, so we were placed into second year. Again. We have managed just fine though.

March 23rd, I took a bus to Aracatuba to begin the South Trip. Here, I met with 10 others and we headed to Foz do Iguassu. There we met more and our first part of the trip group was around 20 people. We went to the waterfalls on the Argentina and Brazil sides (even in a boat under the falls) and we went shopping on the streets of Paraguay as well. Then we moved on to the southern cities of Brazil consisting of Curitiba, Florianopolis, Gramado, Canela, and Porto Alegre. We did very many tours and sight saw everywhere. In Curitiba, we had museums and gardens. In Florianopolis, we went to the beaches and shopping. In Canela, we went to parks and German bakeries. In Gramado, we went to chocolate factories and vineyards. Porto Alegre is where we met the last group of newcomers for the South Trip. Here we became 35. With this amazing group of unforgettable people, we went to Montevideo Uruguay, Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and Bueno Aires, Argentina. This was my favorite part of the tr ip. I made phenomenal new friends and saw astonishing places I wish I never had to leave. On April 15th, the trip ended in Aracatuba and I spent the weekend there with my new friends.

Now I am back here settling in again and 3 days ago I just moved to my last host family. They are wonderful. I have a 14 year old sister Isabella and wonderful parents Carla and Renaldo. Renaldo is the president of my club. I have 2 dogs and a brother Arthur as well but he is currently exchanging in Pennsylvania. I will live with this family for approximately a month until I go home. It pains me and even makes me feel sick to think of leaving this incredible place. I have made so many friends, memories, mistakes, repairs, and much much more. I want to stay forever but I know that isn’t logical. I am comforted by the fact I know I can always come back. No one is disappearing off of the Earth, I am just going home. Everyone will just continue living and if I ever feel that I miss them terribly, I can see them with a little money and time spent traveling. The people I have met and places I have seen will always be forever in my heart.

Jane Viviano
2011-12 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Istanbul-Bogaziçi, District 2420, Turkey

Jane - Turkey

Jane’s Bio

Merhaba! My name is Jane, I’m 16 years old and I’m going to Turkey! I’m currently a sophomore at Nease High School. I will be in Turkey for my junior year. At Nease, I am in the International Baccalaureate program. When someone asks me what IB is, I say that it is a challenging program for students who enjoy working hard. This is definitely true for me, I enjoy working hard. I view being a foreign exchange student as a challenge that I will enjoy very much and that I will remember for the rest of my life.

My favorite subject in school is history. I am very excited to learn more about the history of Turkey. I may be an anthropologist someday! I am also interested in architecture. Daphne Cameron suggested Turkey as one of my countries because of the architecture. So, my special thanks to you, Ms. Daphne.

I am involved in a lot of activities in and out of school. I love soccer and have been playing since I was 8 years old. I play for the JV team at Nease and for the soccer clubs in the fall and spring. I started playing the violin when I was 6 years old. I play for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra. I like to try new things. I started hip-hop dance this year after I failed miserably at ballet when I was 6. I also started JV lacrosse this year. Sometime I would like to try playing hockey. I spend my free time creating artwork and writing.

I have heard that…

1. Turkish is a hard language to learn

2. the people in Turkey are very warm and friendly

3. Turkey is a beautiful country

4. Turkey has amazing architecture

I wonder…

5. how many Turks in my area speak English

6. how school in Turkey is different school here

7. what kind of traditions my host family has

8. what perceptions Turks have of Americans

I hope that this exchange will help me become a better person, help me decide what I want to do with my future, and bring experiences that I will remember forever.

Every day, I try to imagine myself in Turkey. But I know that there is no possible way for me to expect what’s coming. I won’t know until I step off that plane in a country within two continents. It is an indescribable feeling just thinking about it. Rotary: thank you so much for giving me this opportunity and thanks to my family and friends for supporting me on this incredible journey that I am about to take.

Jane’s Journals

September 11th, 2011: 

Two weeks into my exchange

The week leading up to my departure was interesting. I hung around my house and basically did nothing except arrange my departure date. Sunday was the set date for me to leave, but either Hurricane Irene didn’t want me to go, or she wanted me to leave sooner. I left a day earlier, on Saturday, Chelsea Holmes with me all the way. It was nice that we were able to arrange to travel together.

I thought I wasn’t nervous when I got to the airport in Jacksonville, but apparently I was because I got sick in the garage parking lot. All I could do was laugh at myself. Saying goodbye to my parents was weird. It didn’t seem like I was leaving them, so since I couldn’t think of anything to talk about, I decided I better just fess up. I told my mom I never walked the dog that week like I was suppose to and I told my brother I stole his back-up iPod and that it was packed away in my checked luggage. I ended up going through security twice because my Rotary club came to say farewell after I was at the gate with Chelsea. I got some exercise running around the airport, but I was so happy that my Rotary Club came to say goodbye. Thanks guys!

Our flights went well. I don’t have any scary stories to tell. We flew from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Amsterdam and everything was easy and quick. The airport in Amsterdam was crazy, and things just got crazier from there. Chelsea and I went though security again and then realized we couldn’t go back out to go to the bathroom. The 3-hour flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul was agonizing. I was incredibly nervous. Seeing Turkey for the first time was definitely one of the most thrilling and exciting moments of my life.

I made a big deal of setting my first foot in Turkey when I took a leap off the jetway. My first landing on another continent, in another time zone, in another country (Canada doesn’t count 🙂 ). Chelsea thought I was crazy.

My host brother picked me up from the airport and our private driver took us home. My first observation: people drive like crazy, but somehow I always find it thrilling, especially when my host dad drives the Mercedes.

We had about a 20 minute drive home from the airport and I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the car window, as I expected. Everything about Istanbul amazed me, and it continues to all the time. My host brother showed me the house. My bedroom is on the fifth floor and from the balcony on the top floor, you can see our neighborhood and the city.

I wasn’t even in Istanbul for 24 hours before I was back on a plane, at 7am the next morning, for Bodrum, a wonderful little summer vacation town. There, I met my host parents and they are truly the most wonderful people. The first thing my host dad told me in his broken English was that I was not a guest; I was part of their family. Just like that. And not once this whole time have they treated me like anything else.

My host mother speaks a few words of English. It pains me to not be able to tell her how thankful I am for the patience she has, day after day, for my extremely slow learning and understanding. I want to tell my host dad how much I love being a part of his family. I want to talk about Rotary with him and tell him how much I love watching basketball too.

I tell my host brother how much he is like my brother in Florida. They are alike in so many ways. He takes me places and always tries to explain things. He answers my many questions and he covers for me when we get in trouble.

I want so badly for my host family to know that I wish I was born into their family, I wish I had grown up as the third child, the daughter, one they love as much as their sons. I know I can have someone who speaks English and Turkish fluently tell them all this for me, but I know that it has to come from me alone, at a time when I can I speak the language with ease.

I spent the next 8 days in Bodrum, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea (I don’t think it’s possible to drown, it’s incredibly easy to float), sitting by the pool (the water level is level with ground, interestingly to me), eating out every night except one (something I’m definitely not use to), and walking around the town (the streets are crowded even at midnight).

I told my parents I would skype them that weekend, but I ended up staying in Bodrum for three more days with my host parents while my host brother went back to Istanbul to study for an English exam. I was curious as to how I would get along without him (he was my lifeline), but it’s amazing how much you can communicate with people even if you don’t speak the same language. It was a concept Rotary taught us that I never quite understood, and now, I do. I also never realized how much you can communicate just by smiling.

Everyone that I come in contact with, whether they be family friends, waiters at restaurants, or people on the street, don’t know that I’m American. Even if I just smile all the time at them, they don’t realize it until they hear me speak English or someone tells them that I’m not Turkish. I happily take this to my advantage, as sooner or later, I will have no problem telling them myself that I am indeed Turkish.

We left Bodrum on the morning of the 6th and I was anxious to see how my life would be like in Istanbul. In the mornings, I come downstairs, eat breakfast with my family, and then I usually just hang around until the afternoon. I don’t mind it. Sometimes I just sit for hours, but somehow I’m not bored. Then, usually we do something, my brother takes me somewhere, we visit the city, we visit friends, etc. I never know what goes on until someone tells me. I’m always out of my comfort zone, everywhere I go. But like so many people told me before I left, that’s what you have to do to be an exchange student.

I hear the calls to prayer all the time. I’m interested as to when my first experience with the religion will take place. School starts in a week.

Everything I’ve eaten is yummy (except I wasn’t a big fan of Ayran, salty milk-ish yogurt). I feel bad when I can’t finish my meal. Everyone eats more than me here. I always have to tell them “doydum!” (I’m full!). My host family feels the need to buy my food that I usually eat (like pork…), but they need to know that I will eat whatever they have to offer and that I love to try new things. So far I’ve eaten octopus, spaguetti with yogurt, eggplant, lots of balık (fish), and many other Turkish specialties. Magnum ice cream bars are really common here (a luxury for me in the states). I absolutely LOVE turkish tea. I have this funny relationship with watermelon, and it’s been a joke in my family for a while. All because I ordered it at a restaurant one night and that the first word I learned in Turkish was…karpuz 🙂 way back in December.

I thought it would be really hard having everyone speak a language all the time that I don’t understand, but it’s not. I just sit patiently, listen and try to catch a few words. And sometimes, I just want to burst out laughing so badly at things that aren’t even funny. What’s hard is that when people laugh, I usually don’t understand, and it makes me want to cry.

Every time I think something horrible is going to happen like I’ll fall off the back of my host brother’s ATV, or my host mom will get mad at me for jumping in the pool with my clothes on (or riding on that ATV…), or making a horrible mistake in front of a bunch of people, it never happens. And usually, the things I fear the most turn out to be the most fun.

Some things to take note of:

•    Smoking is not discouraged here as much as it is in the USA

•    Pop music = sucky American pop music

•    There are random dogs and cats everywhere

•    When one sees a cat you “Tsss!” at it, while in America most people go “Aww, a kitty.” This makes me laugh every time.

•    In my family it is OK to put your elbows on the table and start eating even if everyone does not have their meal (I’m still getting use to this)

•    The most common car models I see are VW, Fiat, and some model with rhombus shaped symbol

•    People are amazed that I can drive and I have a car in Florida

•    Turkish television is really dramatic

•    Random people try to sell stuff along the highway

•    People wear everything and anything

•    Everyone is very friendly and people appreciate the effort when a foreigner tries to speak Turkish

•    Turkey is a beautiful country, no doubt about that

•    Most impressions that Turks have of Americans are true

•    Turkish flags are EVERYWHERE. Every time I see one I smile, if not on the outside, definitely on the inside.

All the time, I feel myself becoming less and less American and more and more Turkish. I feel as though I was born here and I’m finally being brought home. Istanbul amazes me all the time and I would much rather live here than anywhere else in the United States. Is that a bad thing?

For all you people who think negatively of Turkey, you should be ashamed. This country is seriously misjudged (and Turks know that Americans are judgemental) and at the time when I told people that I was going to Turkey and some of them said “Oh…Turkey, hmm…” I didn’t think much of it. But now, it makes me so angry that some people would think so negatively of a country that they don’t even know the capital city of. I question being an American, because here I am, falling in love with a country that’s not mine and defending it. And I’ve only been here two weeks.

I constantly have to remind myself that this is my exchange. It is my year and I shouldn’t be comparing it to ROTEXs, Rebounds, or current Outbounds exchanges. It’s like the expression about the elephant (Ms Paulaaaa!)…one bite at a time. I might be taking nibbles for the first month. Every exchange is different and personal, so if it takes me longer to do certain things than it does for other people, SO BE IT.

To all you Rotarians (Districts 6970 and 2420): Thank you/Teşekkür ederim for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s a dream that only a few (when you think about all the teenagers in the world) get to experience. It will change my life and I will always remember this amazing adventure.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

December 13th, 2011 – Just over 3 months in Turkey

Exactly one year ago today I learned that I would spend a year in Turkey. Here I am, living this life, learning this culture, trying to learn this language that I once thought seemed easy to learn. What a mistake that was. I’ve made more mistakes, experienced more awkwardness, and cried more times in these past three months than I’ve ever made, experienced, and cried in my entire life. But somehow I’m still here, learning little things, exploring the city and culture little by little, taking small steps everyday, one bite at a time…

I can easily say that two weeks ago I hit rock bottom. And just like all of the other times I fell down, I picked myself up, but this time I walked a little taller. A favorite quote of mine has now become the message I live by every day.

“Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

One important thing I’ve learned on this exchange is that there are things in life that you have no control over. There are some people you will never be able to change. There are some bad things that you cannot stop from happening. And once it’s in the past, there is no point dwelling over it, because you definitely cannot change that either.

I now start a new chapter in my life as an exchange student in Turkey. Soon I’ll say goodbye to the life I’ve been living and hello to a new family, a new life, and hopefully, a new start.

While the past three months have been the hardest months of my life, here are the positive moments and adventures. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t just a walk in the park.

Some of the most exciting, interesting, and memorable moments of my life in the past three months:

• The first time I was able to travel alone in the city. IT WAS A BIG STEP FOR ME.

• When my host dad hit 200km on the highway. Twice. Just because we had to turn back to get my phone that I left at the house. It was awesome

• Spending a day exploring the city with my Turkish friends and learning about Turkish history

• Visiting Sultan Ahmed Cami (Blue Mosque), Hagia Sofia, Topkapı Palace, and the Basilica Cistern with the Inbounds

• Taking the ferry for the first time across the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe. It never gets old

• Spending a weekend with the inbounds in Gebze and then performing a talent show at a Rotary meeting. I played my violin.

• The first day of school. It was one of my biggest worries about going abroad. It turned out to be the best first day of school I’ve ever had thanks to my kind and helpful friends and teachers who’ve made me feel welcome here in Turkey. I’m so lucky to have all of them. To all you guys: çok teşekkür ederim

• My first Fenerbahçe futbol game. I’ll never forget it. Teşekkürler Halit.

• My 17th birthday and Atatürk Commemoration Day. At 9:05am we paid our respects to the most loved and honored founder any country has ever had. For my birthday I received a outfit from my host mother, gifts from my friends, a cake (called pasta here) from my family, and a singing of the Happy Birthday song

• Visiting Atatürk’s resting place (Anıkabir) in Ankara. It was a long, cold, and rainy weekend with 500 other çocuklar (oh those little kids…), but I had a great time nonetheless.

• Kurban Bayram. It’s a religious holiday when you sacrifice an animal and give the meat to the poor. I went with my host dad and brother to watch the sacrificition of a sheep We ate it for the next week and I believe I took a bite of the heart and one of the kidneys. Uhhg. There was no school for three days and we spend the time with family relatives.

• All the fun class events: going to the kitap fuarı (a HUGE annual book fair), Group 4 project with a boat ride on the Golden Horn and experiments in the İstanbul University Biology Dept., and all the weekend CAS activities

• Thanksgiving party with Rotary. We had four turkeys (and no, its not called a turkey here. Its a hindi) and great night of feasting, family, and fun.

Some things to take note of:

• I can’t get over how many malls there are in this city…and they’re always building another one somewhere.

• In Turkey, you greet people with a kiss on both cheeks (men too), even if you’re just meeting them for the first time. Lets just say it was a little awkward at the airport when I greeted with a usual hug. Sorry about that one Mehmet…

• In Turkey, all drinking water comes from a bottle. A water bottle is about 30 cents. Cheap.

• Nutella is REALLY POPULAR. Çok seviyorum…

• You’ll always have an adventure in a bazaar It’s a good place to go it you’re looking for some excitement. You meet all kinds of people there…ALL KINDS…

• Along touristy spots, you can find street vendors selling waffles, freshly-squeezed juices, Turkish bread, mussles, and all kinds of nuts. How can people in Florida drink that stuff in the carton that they call orange juice???

• Milk does not taste the same here. It’s whole milk, but even if it says its not, it still tastes like it. I want my non-whole milk :/

• Soccer = life. Literally, LIFE. There are people here that will kill each other over a futbol match. No joke.

• At school, we stand up when the teacher enters the room and we knock and ask to come in if class has already started. The teacher-student relationships at school are much more friendly and casual than in the US public schools

• It’s cold in Istanbul from October to April, and while I will be huddled around the fireplace or heater this winter, there will be people swimming in the ocean in Bodrum. Not fair.

• I like the Metro. First, it’s fast. And second, you’ll always find some interesting people(s) in there. The funny tourists…a bunch of chanting Galatasaray fans shaking the metro car…a six-person fist fight. That was pretty disturbing.

• My classmates love British accents. Scratch that. EMIR loves British accents. I don’t understand this. Stop asking me to speak in one!

I often ask myself what I’ll get out of this exchange. Will I really learn Turkish? Will I make long-lasting friendships? Will I have a Turkish family to always come back to? What exactly will I learn from this year? The future’s pretty foggy for me right now, but once in a while I can catch a glimpse of what’s beyond those clouds. I notice a small change in the way I think, of how I perceive things, of how I’ve grown as a person and I remind myself that there will be a positive outcome in the end.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this chance of a lifetime. Also thank you to my family and friends for supporting me, but especially to my parents for giving up their daughter for a year so she can explore the world.

February 24, 2012

There once was a girl who lived in a bubble. She wanted to see more of the world, unlike most of the people around her. With some help and encouragement, she became foreign a exchange student.

Driving back to the town of Bodrum this past January, this is how I felt, as the beautiful mountains passed by the bus windows.

It hits you at random moments. Oh My God. I’m in Turkey.

I’m living a dream. How in the world did I get here?

I must be the luckiest girl in the world.

I moved to my second host family just before Christmas. The changes: a four story house to the fifth floor of an apartment building, a gated community one hour north of the main city to apartment community one hour east of the main city, living near the Bospherous to living on the coast of the Sea of Marmara.

My second life appeals more to me than the first. From my window I can see the five Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Life is much more upbeat and lively (especially with a 6-year-old host brother) than it was before. I now have two host brothers, ages 15 and 6. In the mornings, my host mother (who is also my biology teacher at school), my host brothers, and I have a one hour service bus ride to my school where it took me five minutes to get to from my last place. Can’t say I’m loving that change. In the evenings I help my host mother with dinner. Then we drink çay, watch TV, or I spend time with my host brothers. I have really bonded with my second family, something that, in the end, didn’t happen with my first family. My host mother calls me her daughter and me and my host brothers treat each other as if we’re siblings. They have become my second family, there’s really no need for the word “host”.

On New Year’s Eve I visited my host relatives and learned some of the Turkish cultural dances. At midnight I was in the perfect place- crossing the Bospherous Bridge from Europe to Asia. We stopped the car on the bridge and watched fireworks go off in the Bospherous. Now I can say for my 17th new year I was in two continents at once.

A funny thing I’ve noticed about the Turkish language: everyone is blunt in a straight-to-the-point kind of way which would be considered rude it you were speaking English. Examples: A lot of commands like, “I don’t want that”, “Give that to me”, “Come here”, the click of the tongue and raising of the eyebrows and head meaning no, calling our teachers “Hocam” which is technically the name for the priest in a mosque. But then again Turkish has many respectful everyday sayings lie Afiyet Olsun (enjoy your meal), Elinize sağlık (Good health to your hands), and Kolay Gelsin (may your work come easy). It’s a cultural difference that takes a little getting use to.

At school, we decorated our classroom with Christmas lights, garland, and snowflake patterns. There’s no Christmas in Turkey because it’s an Muslim country, but you’ll still find Christmas-y decorations. For our Christmas celebration with Rotary, we were taken out to a touristy restaurant in the famous Taksim area of İstanbul. There we saw belly dancing along with other performances including a man who could sing a song from any of the nations in the restaurant (over 20 different nationalities). I was impressed.

In my first journal I made a comment about feeling proud to be an American. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, being an exchange student in a place where national pride is always displayed, inside and out. In the beginning, I felt as though I was failing as an ambassador to my county: I wasn’t defending it or even supporting it. My classmates and I questioned whether there really was a true American. Someone in my class made a comment during a discussion about how American ruled the world. An American might be proud of that, but to me it was like a slap in the face. But being an exchange student has taught me to respect others’ countries, even if I don’t agree with the way their culture works, or how they have acted in history, or how their government operates. I will always have respect for Turkey, its people, founder, and religion, but there is now no doubt that I will always be proud to be an American. Nothing and no one will ever change that.

On January 14th my host dad picked me up from a teacher’s house that I stayed the night at. It was 3 degrees C and raining outside as we drove home. He informed me that a few minutes later the temperature would drop two degrees and it would be snowing. I couldn’t see how it was possible, but we went under a bridge and when we came out the world was white. It was like a dream. Snowy Istanbul is better than any snowy place I’ve seen in the US. It’s a winter wonderland.

Learning a language is hard in so many ways. When you’re in a country where English is the second language by most people, it’s really hard to distance yourself from it. At times I’m jealous of the exchange students in countries where English is rarely spoken. Speaking in Turkish has been a struggle for me since the beginning, but every day I’m speaking more and improving. That’s all that matters.

During the semester break in the second half on January, the Istanbul inbounds went on a tour of Western Anatolia. In nine days we went to Pamukkale, Antalya, Kaş, Fethiye, Bodrum, Kuşadası, İzmir, and Çanakale. I saw the ancient city of Ephesus, the Trojan horse in Troy, hot springs in Pamukkale, the Church of St. Nicholas, and the Dead Sea, just to name a few. I went to a hamam, prayed in the House of the Virgin Mary, and watched some crazy inbounds go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in 2 degrees C.

Last weekend, I visited my host father’s parents in their apartment in İstanbul. I love how simply and easy it is to live in the Turkish lifestyle. I would rather live in a two-bedroom apartment, eat meals around a small floor table, and have family visit all the time that the way I live in Florida. Families are so close in Turkey, I’m so glad that I’ve had the chance to experience it. After, my family and I went to Eyüp to visit the Eyüp Sultan Mosque and tomb of the Phrophet Muhammad’s close friend. I prayed in the mosque during the Maghrib (senset prayer of the five daily prayers) for the first time. It was quite and experience. Four women helped me with the prayer and as soon as they found out I was recently coverted and an American, they were ecstatic. They gave me blessings, a purple tespih (prayer beads), lots of kisses, and took a picture with me before letting me and my host mother leave. I’ll never forget that experience.

I’m looking forward to the next month here. We will host two German teachers next week and then my friend, an exchange student from Alaska, will stay with us the next week. My dad and brother are coming at the end of March and we will be staying at a hotel next to the Blue Mosque (my favorite place in Istanbul). I’m enjoying and cherishing every moment here now, I have just under 150 days left. Thank you Rotary for making me one of the luckiest teenagers in the world, this is one of the happiest time of my life.

Until next time, görüşürüz!    

June 7, 2012

At the end of March my dad and brother came to visit me for one week. We stayed at a quaint hotel behind the Blue Mosque and for six days I took them around the city to see all the things Istanbul has to offer. They met my host family and we had a typical Turkish dinner together. It was interesting, living the life of a tourist in Istanbul for a week, but I enjoyed watching the expressions on bazaar owners’ face’s when they discovered I was an American who could speak Turkish. I can’t say that I’m fluent, but I’m just glad I’ve made my family proud of what I’ve learned so far.

In the six days that they were there, I got to see many new places I had never been to. We took a tour in the Bosphorous that goes under the two bridges that connect Europe and Asia. We went to the top of a tower where you can view the whole city. We went to another tower by boat that sits in the Bospherous. One of the coolest places we got to see Dolmabahçe Palace, the living quarters of the last seven Sultans, the death place of the founder of Turkey, and the current area for important diplomatic meetings. The fact that Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of Turkey and Hilary Clinton had been there just 2 days earlier discussing Syria made the excursion even cooler 🙂 The interior of the palace was one of the most extravagently decorated places I have ever seen. Crystal chandeliers (the biggest one weighed 5 tons!), real elephant tusks and bear hid rugs from Czar Nicholas II, it was amazing.

In early April, all the exchange students began scheduled days volunteering at a Rotary academy school for disabled children. We baked, helped in music and art classes, and assisted with redecoration inside during the two weeks there. I also got to meet other exchange students from South Korea, Italy, and the US. It has been one of the few opportunities I’ve had to volunteer here in Istanbul and I enjoyed it a lot.

In mid-April, I had the opportunity to go with my host family to a Turkish village. It was great to be able to breath some fresh air and see rolling hills for once. The village had farms, gravel roads, cows, dogs, one mosque, and beautiful wild flowers and tulips. And of course people, no more than 200. Everything on the property that my host grandparents lived on was self-built except the hot water tank on the roof and the furniture in the house. They had fruit and nut trees in their fields, a bee farm, and strawberry and pumpkin patches. All over the village were pipes running fresh water. In the nearby forest I went into a fresh stream up to my ankles in freezing cold water. They thought I was nuts, but it something you have to do knowing you might not get the chance to do it again. We roasted meat over the fire, a Turkish thing, and carved skewers out of nut tree branches. We went to a lake later, where we decided to run a race along the flat gravel riverbank. There I fin ally got the concept into my brain that boys will ALWAYS be faster than girls. I know I won’t be trying to beat a boy in a race anytime soon because all it earned me was a skinned knee.

The next morning, we all woke up at 4am to drive to the city of Edirne and hour away. Why were we driving to another city at 4 o’clock in the morning? In the Muslim’s 5 daily prayers, the first is around 5am. In Turkey, if you don’t have the opportunity to pray the morning prayer in the Blue Mosque, one of the next best is Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. It’s one of the best places to see if you visit the town of Edirne on Turkey’s European side border with Greece and Bulgaria. The population is around 140,000, tiny in comparison to Istanbul’s 14 million, but a great place to see none the less. Edirne has many horses, some even just roam around the side of the roads. Edirne is also famous for the sport of oil-wrestling, something I have yet to experience here in Turkey. My host family and I ate börek for breakfast before walking around the town and then driving to my host dad’s sister’s apartment. April 23rd was a Monday and als o a holiday in Turkey: National Sovreignty and Children’s Day. My little host brother had fun with his new water gun and we watched a Children’s Day march including over 50 primary schools at the local stadium. Afterwords, we relaxed in a Turkish tea garden and I finally found adult-sized swings (there are only baby swings at parks) and the greenest grass I’ve seen in a long time.

At the end of April, my other exchange student friend from Alaska who lives in a Edirne came to stay with us in Istanbul for the weekend. We met up with Anna from Estonia and her mother and showed them some places like the Blue Mosque and the Archeology Museum.

In mid-May I travelled to Amsterdam to meet my mom who was flying in from the States. We spent five days in Amsterdam, biking and exploring around. I fufilled my first real aspiration in life, to visit Anne Frank’s House. Although I couldn’t speak any Dutch, I was able to speak Turkish with the owner of a Turkish market down the road from out place. He informed me that there are about 70,000 Turks in the Netherlands and after some research I learned that about 5% of Amsterdam’s population is Turkish.

After Amsterdam we came to Istanbul for three days visiting the Blue Mosque, Spice and Grand Bazaars, my host family, and Hagia Sofia. From there we took a 12 hours bus ride to the town of Göreme in Cappadocia in southern Turkey. Cappadocia is hard to decribe but basically it consists of ancient cities built on a plateau. Deposits that erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago have eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars that litter the landscape. The area is desert-like and full of history that dates back to the Bronze Age. It’s the most amazing place I’ve ever been to.

At the end of May all of our Istanbul Inbounds travelled by bus to Antalya for our district conference. Rotary arranged for us to stay three nights at a five-star beach club. We introduced ourselves one-by-one in a short speech in Turkish on the second day. We all have different levels of Turkish, but everyone did a great job. We were only needed for a few hours that weekend and after we had two full days at the resort. It was so relaxing, the food was great, and the pool slides were fun, but it was little sad knowing this would be the last time we were all together.

Fortunately, almost all of us inbounds were able to have dinner together at a Rotarian’s house last weekend and watch an end of the year video that one of our Canadians put together. We said our goodbyes and took the memories home with a copy of the video. I got a taxi home and had a nice conversation with the driver that night. It was great to hear him keep telling me that my Turkish was “çok güzel” very nice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when being a foreign exchange student, it’s a major problem, to associate yourself all the time with people that speak your language. Although it’s more comfortable and seems easier to learn through a person that knows both languages, you’ll never learn the language. I’ve cursed myself this year for putting myself in this situation for too long. I feel as though I’ve got myself stuck in a hole, and I just keep digging downwards instead of pulling myself out.

But instead of looking at it with bottle half-empty, I’ll look at it half-full. Turkey has claimed a part of my heart that will never go away. This culture, these wonderful people, and this beautiful land will always be inside, even when I’m not physically here, waiting for the next time I’ll be able to add something more to that part of my heart.

I’ll be able to add Turkish in there somehow, someday…

Jennings Brower
2011-12 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club
Host: Rotary Club of Brno, District 2240, Czech Republic

Jennings - Czech Republic

Jennings’s Bio

Wow… what can I say other than all the hard work is paying off! I’ve been accepted and I will be going to the Czech Republic!! My name is Jennings brower, I’m eighteen years old and I live in beautiful Ponte Vedra, Florida. I have a mom Nd dad, a sixteen year old brother and a 14 year old sister. I have the best family ever and I love them all very much. We also have a 12 year old German Shepherd names Scout and a small yellow dog who is 14 named Samba. Steel is our (more or less) 5 year old cat who is grey, big, and goofy. I play lacrosse currently for my high school, Ponte Vedra High-school.

Anyways I am so excited to kick off this journey right and show Czech what southern hospitality is all about! My dad has been a huge help with getting my application done on time (well, mostly) and getting me through this. It is a beautiful country with plenty of forest and many historical buildings in places such as the capital, Prague. There are also many different castles that have survived until today that I hope to see during my experience over there. Czech is a quite difficult language to learn that I started off knowing none of but even before I leave I will make it my responsibility to learn as much of it as I can so I can impress my first host family with how much I know!

Czech is going to be incredible and I am thoroughly excited to take off and meet new people on this quest. This will be a huge life changing experience and I look forward to it and highly appreciate this opportunity Rotary is giving me!

Jennings’s Journals

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dobry Den!

Since about a month before our June orientation, I have experienced the “Up” part of emotions towards leaving for my year abroad in Czech Republic. I don’t think we covered it, but I have realized since signing up for Rotary exchange, we go through I guess a mini series of roller-coasters. Each consisting of its own bumps, jumps, rolls, and chutes. When I first signed up and found out I made it through interviews and had been picked, I was excited of the possibility of a new and “foreign” journey that could literally and metaphorically take me places in life that many others may never have the chance to see or experience. That was the initial “climb” of the roller coaster, the first drop, however, came not so long after. One day I received a call that I was looking so forward to hearing. The call to announce host country placement. My call came from Paula Roderick and a few of the inbounds.

(since I have read some of the other journals from current Outbounds and inbounds alike, I know honesty and emotions are a big part of telling our personal stories so here’s my first possibly shocking roller coaster drop.)

When I had filled out my application I had put




4.Czech Republic


When Ms. Paula and the girls announced the first time where I was going I couldn’t understand what they said because of the inbounds different accents all intermixing all at once. So I politely asked again (a little worried that the first thing I heard didn’t sound a lot like “Sweden”) and when the words Czech Republic came through my phones earpiece, (honesty 101) my heart sank and I tried to give my best “thank you I’m so excited” through my disappointment so that the girls wouldn’t think they upset me with the news. My dad was an exchange student to Sweden in his gap year before college and I had really been hoping to follow in his footsteps and share a life experience with him since I had already (and still do) plan on  attending Florida State University (Go Noles!!)  at some point in my life to follow one of my mom’s life experiences. Even though I was bummed that I didn’t get my first choice, I realize now that even though I didn’t want to hear it at the time, this experience is my own and not my parents.

This leads me to my most recent and quite large up. Since about a month before our June orientation, I have experienced the “Up” part of emotions towards leaving for my year abroad in Czech Republic. Through talking to THE BEST (sorry other Rotex but I got to represent) Rotex ever, Liz Kane, and to others about how awesome the Czech Republic is, by looking at pictures, how cool her experience was, and yes (OMG!!!) even through that AWFUL research assignment that helped me learn so much about the country, I really have become excited about this trip and the destination I was chosen.  The climax, I guess you could call it, occurred three days ago when I Skyped my first family host sisters for the first time ever. I mean… wow.. Just wow. When Rotex say to get connected with your host families now because that will only inspire you more to study more and strive for success before you even depart, they know what they are talking about. My 18 year old host sister, Leona, is sadly going to have already left for her exchange trip to Japan before I arrive in the Czech Republic so I will not be able to meet her face to face, but my nine year old sister, Nikol, will still be there and will be my little sister while I am with my first host family. She is absolutely adorable and doesn’t speak any English. Leona was able to translate back and forth between Nikol and I talking and one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard is her response to my question, “are you ready to have a Big Brother around?” and she said something along the lines of “ I am very excited to have a big brother that will walk me to the bus stop, ride with me to school, walk me over to school, and at the end of the day take the same route back home because our schools are right across the street from each other. My heart instantly flew somewhere around a bagillion stories in the air. I was so excited and happy all at the same time. Someone over there was EXCITED to have ME come live with THEM in their country for a few months. Words can not explain it.

Long story short (too late for that) ((oh well J )) just talking to my sisters on Skype has motivated me enough to ask Liz for an assignment while I am off in Maine for three weeks so that I can have a larger vocabulary in order to better communicate with my little host sister Nikol when I arrive at the airport and see all of my first host family for the first time. Liz has made 18 sets of note cards for me to memorize over the three weeks away.

This is as far as I am right now and I can not explain how motivated I am to work towards this trip of a lifetime.

August 29

Dobry den!

Well its my first night in the Czech Republic and it has been nothing but awesome so far! That is other than the tear jerking goodbyes to my family at about 10:30 AM yesterday morning Florida time L. don’t worry mom and dad I’m doing just fine and moje host otec Ales and host matka Michaela are wonderful and especially little Nicole, my 9 year old host sister who doesn’t speak any English. Today at lunch after being picked up from the airport Nicole and I played tic-tac-toe on the back of a coloring sheet she received.  Even though we kept tying we both had wordless fun and we also shared some dance moves we both knew J and yes, right in front of the rest of the restaurant ha-ha. I love my new room and bathroom, ha-ha sorry Darby but its a lot easier to keep stuff organized when its one person in a room. Even as it is I would never take it over sharing rooms with you buddy. Messy or not. I thought I was going to be able to be strong and not cry on my morning of leaving but there was no way. It started after I had gotten dressed in my rotary travel garb ( I literally have never used that word before) and was waking up Darby and Kendall my sister and brother in the USA. Thinking this could be the last time I see them hit me hard. Then came the airport goodbyes after a not too shabby airport breakfast of French toast and eggs with my family. I survived my mom’s embrace without tears and then started sprouting them like a leak as I hugged my dad. Kendall was next and this opened the leak to a steady flow. But when my best friend, my partner in crime, my brother Darby came up I couldn’t help but completely each strong beam that had been holding my emotions from falling. So many memories flooded my mind of good times with him and I could not hold it back.

Enough about the sadness, but to be honest I believe that may be the hardest part of this whole trip.

The flying went smoothly except for a minor speed bump when I missed my connecting flight from Amsterdam to Prague because of a late arrival but it turned out completely fine. I’m here safe and that’s all that matters.

On the way home from the airport I caught glimpses of beauty from both Prague and Brno’s historic awesomeness. I look forward to exploring more.

But my family lives on the edge of Brno, in a quaint (another never used word) place called Old Lisen. Pictures will be up on face book soon.

Anyways I’m signing out and tomorrow I’m spending the day in Prague with my new friend Kuba Mach. Its going to be great and I promise to upload tons of pictures.

Dobrou noc a mluvim s yall later.

September 1

Well, well, well…

So everything continues to be awesome with a side of perfect on a hot golden platter. Nothing less : )

I have (fortunately) yet to be home sick which for me is a good thing. My parents know I used to have a problem with that just at two week summer camps ha-ha(not fun…).

The 2nd day I was here I met a new friend Kuba Mach who is my exchange sister’s(currently in Japan for her exchange) boyfriend and he is very cool. We became friends quickly and effortlessly. He , my host Dad, and I went to Prague (our ((Czech Republic)) Capitol City) because Aleš had some meetings. Kuba toured me around Prague by Bus, Metro, and trolley-buses, for about 8 and ½ hours. It was really awesome the architecture is absolutely breathtaking and I cant get enough of the cobblestone sidewalks and Prague Castle and just all of it. To think that I only live two hours from this beautiful city is exhilarating.

Yesterday Kuba toured me around our city Brno for about 6 hours and we saw all the important buildings and also free-toured the dungeons of the biggest castle in Brno. It was very cool but made me happy I didn’t have to live in one of those cells for more than a day. Ha-ha.

Today was the first day of school. This will sound very weird. I enjoyed it. I know. My Floridian parents are shaking their heads saying he’s lying. Ha-ha. Totally true though, I love my classmates(we stay with the same group of people all day so everyone becomes good friends throughout the year), my teacher, the way the school works, oh, and school today was only 2 hours ; ) which made it better too : ). There’s a guy in my class who’s name is Martin and he lived in Colorado for a year(I don’t know how long ago) a mluvite anglitcky moc dobře!(he speaks English very well.) He showed me the school and its very simple. Ponte Vedra High school is a 2 level, U-shaped school with many, many, many class rooms on each level. My school here is L-shaped with 3 classrooms on each level and a big field tucked next to the school for gym.

Mom and Dad, everything’s great, I’m safe and beyond happy : ) nothing to worry about.

Kendall, my little sister is just like you, she has a body made of noodles and her gymnastics tricks are crazy. From knots to balls, she can form to almost everything. She’s like a Czech Skylar.

Darby…. Stay lax, Bro. Protect our sister. Don’t mess with her too much while I’m gone.

Anyway tomorrow’s another day. Peace out Floridian and American friends, family, Rotarians, and Rotex.

September 8

Dobry den!!

Jsem moc dobře a ja mamarad moje rodina, moje kamarady, moje doma a everything else : )

Today was very interesting. I had Spanish class for the first time since I have been here. And I thought learning Czech in English was tough…. But no worries, I am now officially (I think) trilingual! I speak perfect, czec-lish, spang-lish, and span-ech!!!! : ) It surprised me though how I perfectly understood 95% of what the teacher said in Spanish but as soon as it was my turn to say my name, where I was from, and what I like to do in my spare time, I couldn’t think of any Spanish words but only Czech words. Even though I had studied 3 years of Spanish, the past three months of Czech have completely taken over. It was like I was speaking to a friend in my Czech school in Czec-lish but to the teacher in Span-ech. Filling unknown Spanish words with Czech : ). Good times.

Ha-ha anyways I still love life here and here’s another interesting story from today, I tried out for volleyball. It was actually more like a showing a coach how I play so he can help find me the right volleyball club in the city. I was only practicing with the team for maybe 45 minutes. And lets just say that afterwards I felt like I played the worse I ever have. My spirits were finally lifted when my dad Aleš told me that I had just practiced with THE BEST TEAM IN BRNO of my age. They had been professionals. Some of them even paid to play. And I had wondered why I played badly. He told me I actually played well but the fact that every one on that team had played all their lives and were planning to play volleyball the rest of their lives. That explained why all their players had been at least 6’3 and could jump like my one of my best friends Nate Cole (very good basketball player). So I felt better about myself. : )

I have decided to still look for a volleyball team with the coach that watched me today, but also keep enhancing my talent on the slack line. (tight rope). I can always get really good in an uncommon sport : ).

So just about 20 minutes my dad was telling me about a little kids movie that he took his daughter and my little sister Nikol to that he thought was actually a pretty good movie. He said it was a musical and one of the actresses is also one of the judges on “Czech Republic and Slovakia has Talent” (just as awesome a show ((talent wise)) as America’s Got Talent ((( for those of you possibly doubting))) 😛 ) and she is a incredibly talented singer. He was telling me about how she has a great vocal range and showed me one of her music videos and after I showed him Josh Turner (country singer) who I think has one of the best ranges of all the singers I know and I showed him the song “Would You Go With Me” and he loved it.

After that I decided to show him my favorite country song of all time. My Floridian Dad and I’s song. Yes, my real dad and I have a song that we dedicate to our father son relationship : ). The song is “I’ve Been Watching You” by Rodney Atkins. Halfway through the song I felt a pang of sadness as I thought of saying goodbye to my dad in the airport. In the music video it has clips of the dad and his four year old son doing activities. (to my Father Darby Brower) when I said goodbye to you at the airport I had flashbacks of watching baby videos of you and I doing things together and you always had so much joy and love in your eyes. At my birthday parties, when you would help me in those indoor playground places, when you and I would spend time together listening to “Morning Wood” with Casey on the fishing trip, and when you would help me in my biggest time of need when my back was in bad shape.  Dad you have always been so strong and you barely ever cry. Listening and watching our song with my host dad made me miss you more than anything.

I am so thankful for you and for supporting me to do this exchange because so far it is the best year of my life and I know it can only get better : ). You are the reason I am enjoying this part of my life so much and I can’t thank you enough.

So I officially dedicate this extremely deep journal to my father Barrington Darby Brower because he has always been my Rock to lean on : )

Czech Republic is wonderful, I have made many friends, I have tried so many new foods (fried cheese is awesome ((its like a giant mozzarella stick))) and my host family is nothing but great.

Tomorrow I leave for my first Inbound Orientation and I cannot wait to meet the other kids lucky enough to come to these wonderful countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia : )

Until next time,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dobry den! Cau! Ahoj! Jak se mate?

Good day! Hey! Hi! How are you?

These are only a fragment of the words and phrases that I have come to use and know in the past (ehhh almost) three months I have lived in the Czech Republic. Since my first few journals so much has happened and I will do my best to compact it so I don’t write a book, which with all my experiences right now, I promise would be a lengthy read, but surely a good one.

My first orientation in Strecno Slovakia was wonderful. I have always really liked being one of the first people to arrive at any Rotary weekend, in Florida or here in District 2240 Slovak and Czech Republic. I enjoy being able to play meet and greet with everyone that trickles in so that hopefully I will know and have talked to everyone and I can break the ice with teaching people how to slack line, throwing the American football, or by playing Ninja, the best non-prop-large group game ever invented. It was really interesting to see how people’s progress (or not) with the Czech language were going. On Saturday of the Rotary weekend we all toured Strecno Castle which was the first castle in Europe I had been to so it was a really cool experience to hang out in something other than the Spanish fort in St. Augustine . That night we had a very fun dance party and let me tell you, Spanish people are the absolute best. My best friend from the Czech inbounds is a guy named Alejandro Acosta and he is awesome. He and the other Latinos basically ran the whole night playing DJ with YouTube and teaching everyone to dance to each song. Being a goofy guy I of course donned the medium (towel sized) Czech flag as a cape during the dance night as to distract everyone from my ehh…dancing :D. Sunday (I think) we had a language test after breakfast which I did averagely on. Because of that I have boosted my Czech studies which you will read about in a little bit.

Fast forward to two weeks later where the strangest thing I’ve ever seen occurred. There I was, sitting on my bus, listening to my Czech Rap half asleep, normal morning right? Well, I decide to look out my window. I don’t know why but I just did. One stop from the main bus station, Stara Osada, the stop is Gajdosova and there is a big nice church and a subway station. Well this particular chilly morning a man with a strange ponytail and goatee decided to dance around some poor old ladies, on benches, and on the church steps…without any clothes on… yes ladies and gentlemen, I saw my first streaker… on my exchange. Was it a highlight? No, but definitely one of those moments you won’t (unfortunately) forget. So I looked around the bus and did what everyone else was doing. I turned forward and looked out the windshield with a blank face like nothing happened. Normal morning right?

My other trips have included another to Slovakia with Katrina Platkova (Slovak Rotex) and her husband to Spis Slovakia, where we stayed with her mom and dad (who is a Rotarian) and we went to Spis Castle, the second largest castle in central Europe. It was absolutely breath taking. We also went to Slovak Paradise; a mountain where we hiked and has at the top a giant slab of rock that juts out over empty space for hundreds of feet and you can lie down and look over the edge. It was beautiful and had great views. Lastly we hiked in High Tatras, and THERE WAS SNOW!!!! No big deal or anything to us Floridians right? . It’s the biggest mountain range in Slovakia and I can’t explain how wonderful it was but I have an album on Facebook with only pictures from that hike. Gorgeous. My latest trip was to Warsaw, Poland with my family and the Czech Republic Bartenders Association because my dad is the president. It was the 60th annual International Bartenders Association world championship for flair tending (flipping and juggling the bottles while making the special cocktail) and classic bartending (just making the special cocktail. Warsaw was very pretty but too modern for me because I like more historical buildings and so on but still very nice. My second Inbound Orientation was held in a city called Trebic, where I and the other 14 exchange students visted an old Jewish town, a beautiful old Jewish synagogue, and had a badminton tournament which my second host brother and i won! We also had a Speaking language test the first night after dinner as well as a three page written language test after dinner. I was very excited to get the results back(98 out of 100 on the written test) and find out that i currently have the best knowledge and use of the Czech language in all the exchange students living here .

In my spare time I have begun to go to a Gymnastics hall with my friends Petr Zilev and Michael Bejcek, to follow my childhood dream of becoming …. Spiderman. We learn and practice flips, spins, jumps, and vaults, which is what I’ve always wanted to learn to do but not had a place in Florida to try it. Other sports include Floorball, a game much like hockey on a basketball court, where you use a waffle ball instead of a puck, and sneakers instead of skates. Unfortunately I use a golf swing which is not allowed but I am learning fast. Slack line of course is still a favorite of mine (and now my gymnastics friends) but indoor spinning has become another favorite. Not only because one of my friends is the trainer, but it’s an awesome workout for one hour. It has proven to me that it is not only for girls (it kicked my butt the first time!). I have been to a hockey match(Kometa Brno((team name))) and I have found the fans are exactly like ours at a high school or college American football game, loud, obnoxious, and somehow singing or chanting in tune, all at once, so that the bleachers shake. I have also attended my first official Floorball game (Brno Bulldogs) and women’s basketball game (the team name escapes me but our mascot is a Frog.

In school I am in class 3.X which has three subjects (history, geography, PE) in English to see if learning in English helps learn the language faster. Because of its effectiveness my friends only spoke to me in English which (after I asked nicely) has stopped and we only speak Czech, but also I now have three only Czech language subjects with class 3.A, an all Czech class, when 3.X has English subjects. So everything is fixed so that I receive optimal Czech language!

OH MY GOSH THE FOOD!!!! I guess where I could begin with this mystical edible substance is when I was traveling with Katrina Platkova (Slovak Rotex((Lives in Brno))) and another Rotex to my first Rotary weekend in Slovakia. We stopped along the way at what is now my favorite restaurant in the 2240 Czech and Slovak Rotary District, “Koliba Drietomica” where I had one of my favorite Slovak dishes, “Halusky” which is potato dumplings with cabbage(like warm sauerkraut), sheep cheese (like fried macaroni and cheese), and pieces of sausage(delicious bite sized pieces of heaven). My favorite desert is Knedliky s ovoce which are hot baseball sized desert dumplings with a whole plum or nectarine cooked inside. Normally it’s served with shredded cheese, melted butter, and powdered sugar. It’s truly one of those meals where you have to think the whole time, “Pretend its Thanksgiving so it’s ok to eat all of this delicious food and don’t feel bad about it later…pretend its thanksgiving…” The list goes on and on of the foods I love but now for the foods that are waiting to be tried but are sometimes feared by foreigners in new countries. The first “interesting” concoction I tested my insides with was in one of my Rotary club meetings. I couldn’t read what the only thing on the menu was for dinner but the dinners at Rotary had yet to be anything but silver platter worthy so I figured it was going to be great. (WARNING- what I’m about to explain is not for the weak of heart or stomach) What was on the plate was normal white boiled rice with what looked like clear jell-o with pieces of meat floating around inside of it. As I took the first forkful to my mouth my second host brother and Rotex leaned over and asked, “So u like pig tongue huh? Good!”…..As I forced my way through the tongue jell-o, the only thing in my mind was a picture of me kissing a pig…. Nuff’ said. It didn’t taste good either unfortunately… The next food that is not a normal thing to splash down into my stomach acid was goose hearts. Yup. Goose hearts and w

So enough about the heavenly food here. Here’s a cool short story. A few weeks ago I had a Skype call with my Moms dad, Sherman Bryan Jennings, or for me and my siblings, “Peeps”. He had something very important to show me. He contributed a certain amount of money to Rotary in my name and explained some of my past “good deeds” to his Rotary Club of Orange Park and how I was going exchange and I have received the Paul Harris Fellow award. I told him how greatly honored I was to receive it and thanked him for doing it for me. That really touched my heart because he is 90 years old now, still a lively young man in my eyes as I always tell him . But he didn’t have to do that and he went out of his way to do something wonderful for another and isn’t that what Rotary is all about?

Anyways, about my current standing with learning Czech. My Czech lessons in school are not very effective for me. I only have one lesson a week after school on Tuesday and it’s only for 30-45 minutes. I have talked to the teacher myself but because of his schedule he could not make more time for us. So now I have two awesome Rotex friends who are helping me out. My good friend Katrina Platkova teaches English in a school and she is my major Czech Grammar teacher now. She gives me lessons for free whenever I have time that works with her schedule and she has made me a HUGE grammar workbook and everything. We normally meet Mondays before my rotary meeting for about an hour, Wednesday after school for about two and a half hours, the same on Friday and on the weekend Saturday or Sunday. She is a great help and I think it’s really speeding up my Czech learning. On my own I do homework from the grammar workbook and I learn words. When I left Florida I knew 218 words from flashcards made from Liz Kane, a Rotex who lived in Czech Republic two years ago. I am really proud of myself because I have taken her general flash card idea and blown the number up from 218 to around 950 words in almost three months. My personal goal is to be the first exchange student in Czech Republic to be functionally fluent a little earlier than halfway through the year. I can already have conversations with adults and teenagers most of the time understanding enough know what they want to say and being able to respond with not so perfect grammar but I know that will come with time and more practice.

So to those of you who took the time to read this, Dekuji moc, Thank you so much and I hoped you enjoyed it. I have also decided to take a different approach to blogs and I’ve started making video blogs on my YouTube channel (Theredsurfer268) about my marvelous stay in the Czech Republic.

Again thank you to Rotary for this incredible opportunity that not too many people can say they have and I promise to use it to the best of my ability. As you can see from this lengthy journal I am making memories for a lifetime here . Thank you for your attention!

Until next time,

Jennings Brower

Jilian Sands
2011-12 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Szeged Szent-Györgyi Albert, District 1911,

Jilian - Hungary

Jilian’s Bio

Every year Rotary has come to my school and given a presentation on their youth exchange program and every year I have told myself to apply. This year I finally stopped contemplating and filled out the program application. And I am very happy I did because I will be going to Hungary for my senior year!

While school takes up the majority of my time, in terms of hobbies, I enjoy anything having to do with tennis, whether it be playing or watching, baking, though only deserts, because when I try to cook, the food usually burns, reading, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with my family and friends. I also enjoy visiting my sister and brother- in- law in New York City a few times each year (this year’s visits included a week-long pastry making class and attending the US Open).

I love traveling and have been to several countries outside the US with my mom (including the UK and Italy). I enjoy learning about other countries, their histories and their cultures. I am so grateful that I have been given this incredible opportunity to learn not only about a new culture but even more about myself. I know this experience will shape many decisions I make in my life going forward. So thank you so much Rotary for what is sure to be an incredibly difficult, but rewarding once in a lifetime experience.

Jilian’s Journals

September 24, 2011

I arrived in Hungary a day short of a month ago. Acknowledging this also meant it was time for me to write a journal, my first journal to be exact and I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about an hour now trying to figure out how to start it, so this will just have to do…

My flights from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Amsterdam to Budapest were really easy, while only one delayed flight and even then it was only for about half an hour and we were already on the plane. I didn’t learn how easy they were until I arrived in Hungary and Nicole, another exchange student in Szeged from California, told me about her flights which unexpectedly included an eighteen hour layover in JFK, which I guess is a future caution to never fly internationally (or domestically) through JFK.

My first weekend here, I went to Dabas with my YEO, his wife, brother- in-law, and Raymond, one of the other exchange students in Szeged from Taiwan, for a small fish soup festival. There I also met some other inbounds from who are currently live in Kecskemét. It was my first time trying fish soup, but I was told it was solely for preparation of the fish soup festival that happens in Szeged every year. This brings me to the following weekend, when the exchange students from Pécs, Dabas, Kecskemét, and Szeged gathered with the Rotary club in Szeged for the festival. Although you would think that there would be little difference in fish soups, that not true, and the one we had in Szeged was just a little bit better, maybe it was the fact that there were no fish eggs in it, I’m not sure.

School here is a bit confusing, but as I’m in mostly English, Spanish, and PE classes, it’s not too bad, though at times I am honestly surprised when I walk into the halls and hear Hungarian. My school, which I’m told is the best in the city, is located just outside of the city center, so whenever we get out early Nicole and I walk around a bit and explore some.

My favorite night so far in Hungary came about a week and a half ago, when my Rotary club took Nicole, Sami (exchange student from Argentina), and I to Serbia for one of their parties. It may seem random that we’d go to Serbia for a party, but as it was less than an hour bus ride (including crossing the border) it wasn’t that unusual. While in Serbia, I watched some traditional Hungarian dances, and learned a bit myself, had dinner and a tiny bite of what was described to me as “Bambi” and a dessert filled with poppy seeds.

I have gotten used to a sort of weekend schedule, at least one for Sundays: the whole family (including my host aunt, her family, and the exchange student they are hosting) go to my host grandparents house for lunch, which actually really convenient seeing at we all live within a three house radius of one another. Sunday afternoons are when the fun really begins, either my host family or host aunt have a Ping Pong Party at their house. Neighbors and friends come over for a few hours to play multiple tournaments of doubles ping pong.

Last weekend, I spent the night at Nicole’s house where we made chocolate chip cookies for her host family. Needless to say they were a success and were almost gone by the next morning. I don’t know if chocolate chips are sold in Hungary, but Nicole’s host mom declared that if they are sold somewhere, she will find them.

My host family here is really great. I get along really well with my host sisters (Lili and Réka) and I end up getting most of my Hungarian help from them. My host parents remind me a lot of my parents back home, which has made it a lot easier to adjust here. Most times during the week, I end up watching either Game of Thrones with my host parents, or Desperate Housewives with my younger host sister Réka. Both of which are dubbed in Hungarian, so it makes following the shows a bit difficult, but when we walk movies there are usually English subtitles for me to be able to follow.

It may sounds weird, but at times I forget that I’m in the middle of Europe, in a country that speaks one of the most difficult languages in the world, but then you notice things like:

• Stoplights don’t just go from red to green, then go from red to red and yellow, then to green.

• At school you stand up when the teacher comes into the room.

• There is no lunch break at school, only a twenty minute break at eleven, but people are constantly eating throughout the day.

• You take the city bus to school; something I think is much better, if you miss one another comes ten minutes later.

• Ping Pong and foosball are everywhere

Although this past month has not been easy, it has been amazing. So thank you to my family and Florida Rotary!

Joe Lacinak
2011-12 Outbound to Kyrgyzstan
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bishkek, District 2430, Kyrgyzstan

Joe - Kyrgyzstan

Joe’s Bio


Hello, my name is Joe Lacinak and I live in Gainesville, FL. I attend Buchholz High School as a freshman, and could not be happier with my acceptance into the RYE program. Next year, I will be living in Kyrgyzstan. I feel extremely special to be going to Kyrgyzstan for the reasons of being the only RYE Florida student going there, and for being the first. Kyrgyzstan, which is in Central Asia, is exposed to several different cultures such as the Chinese, the Russian and the Uzbeks. Kyrgyzstan is a blend of many different cultures which makes it perfect for a RYE student.

As soon as I found out I was going on exchange in Kyrgyzstan, I started studying Russian immediately. Knowing that Russian is a fairly difficult language, I jumped right on it, starting with their alphabet. I am very lucky to have the inbound from Kyrgyzstan, Aidana, living in my city to help me with the Russian language and Kyrgyz culture.

Outside of school, I enjoy studying foreign languages, so it is no problem for me to keep up with my Russian studies. Other than languages I enjoy attending football games, practicing art, playing tennis and volunteering.

I am very eager to travel and have been very lucky enough to visit Costa Rica, Mexico and the Bahamas. Being a RYE student is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I’m very excited make my journey half way across the world to what I will call home in about seven months.

I could never thank Rotary enough for this unique, life changing opportunity. My gratitude to the Rotary program is endless for giving me a chance of a lifetime. It is because of them that I will be able to gain familiarly with a new culture and make it my own. I would also like to thank my family, for pushing me to my fullest potential and allowing me to be a part of this rare opportunity.

I am very excited for this upcoming year, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be the absolute best year of my life!

Do svidaniya moi druz’ya!

Joe’s Journals

September 9th

almost 3 weeks in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

I arrived in Manas International Airport (Which is also a US Military base) at somewhere around 4:00 in the morning. I had a total of five flights and was exhausted. A man waved me through customs and immigrations and I continued to find my two bags with the help of 3 old Kyrgyz ladies that I befriended on my flight from Turkey. I walked out of the terminal to see a large group of people holding up a bunch of signs. I spotted one with my name on it and was greeted by my host father, Ruslan, and my host aunt Gulmeera. The drive back from the airport was nothing short of terrifying. My host father drove well over a hundred miles an hour. Seat belts? I don’t think so! After we dropped off aunt Gulmeera at her apartment building, for the remainder of the drive, my host dad started talking really fast in Russian and Kyrgyz, and I had no idea what he was saying. I decided to repeat the last word he would say, nod, and say yes. It seemed to work. We arrived home, I was showed to my room, then I slept until about 1:00 in the afternoon. My first day, my host dad, my 11 year old brother Beklar and I went to the mountains. From where we were standing, we could see all of Bishkek. He pointed his finger to the north and told me that that was Kazakhstan. Later, we went into the city with aunt Gulmeera and went out to lunch. I tried sheep for the first time, and surprisingly, it was actually really good. I’ve also tried ram, lamb, horse, fermented horse milk, and the most memorable, dried, salted, horse milk that was rolled into balls… After lunch, they showed me the city, then it was time to go to sleep.

     I started school a week ago, and its been great. All of my classmates are kind, and helpful, so it was easy to make friends. None of my teachers speak English, and only a few of my classmates do, so my Russian is improving quickly, especially since my host family doesn’t either. In school, I doodle, attempt to take notes, answer ridiculous questions the students ask me ( Such as, “Have you met Denzel Washington?” “Joe, do you love me?” “Sarah Palin is the queen of Alaska, right?” And many more) sleep, study Russian and make friends. School is only from 8:00 to 11:30, so the rest of the day is usually spent walking around the city, going to parks, visiting one of the countless bazaars, and much more. To get home from school, I take the Marshrutka. The Marshrutka is a brightly colored minibus that if you pay 2 cents, will take you to a destination in the city. Lets just say you get what you pay for. There are about 8 seats in a Marshrutka but today I counted 32 people in one. Usually, I have one hand on my wallet, and one hand on the pole holding for dear life. It’s basically a god send to have a seat on a Marshrutka. When you need to get off, you yell, “остановить!!” (Stop!!) And the driver will slam on the brakes and give you about 2 seconds to get off.

      Kyrgyzstan is not a perfect country, it has many problems, and it’s not hard to see them/be exposed to them in daily life here. The poverty, ethnic tensions, corruption, the lack of sanitation, it was very shocking for me my first week here. But now that I’m becoming more used to it, I’m starting to see past it all and I’m now enjoying myself. Its not uncommon to have little girls trying to dig in your pockets and steal your money, or see the poverty. Its not strange anymore to see men passed out drunk on the sidewalk, or literally walk in trash sometimes because of almost nonexistent sanitation system. I’m not trying to talk people out of going to Kyrgyzstan, its a wonderful country, with welcoming people, and strong vibrant culture, but I’m not going to lie either and only tell the sunny side of things. Future exchange students should try to understand that when they get off that plane, their lives are going abruptly change. Nothing can prepare you for his experience, but try to come with no expectations, because it will never be what you thought it would be. I would like to thank my family in Florida for all the support whom I miss dearly, and for the Rotarians that made this all possible. THANK YOU!

Here’s just some of the differences and things I’ve noticed in Kyrgyzstan

-Kyrgyz squirrels are orange

-Stray dogs are everywhere, and sometimes they run in packs around town

-If you go out in the country or suburbs, cows, horses, sheep and even camels can be seen in the streets

-Women here either dye their hair either  maroon or blonde

-There are large holes, and random metal object sticking out of the ground always waiting to trip me

-Gypsies hate getting there photo taken, and sometimes may try to give you a cat

-After almost 3 weeks, my 5 year old host sister Ademi, many classmates, and most of the teachers think my name is John

-Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country, but sometimes you’ll see a women in a full burqa next to a women in high heals and a mini skirt

-A few days ago I saw a man carrying a baby cow on a moped

Asalaam Alakoum, eshterim zhakshi bi? For all you non Kyrgyz speakers out there, Hello everyone, how’s life?

People always want to know what it is like to live in Kyrgyzstan, so I am going to do my best in this journal to explain. As of right now, Central Asia is the least explored region of the world. It has earned nicknames such as “Land of The Stans”, Because Central Asia consists of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. Another nickname, is ‘Absurdistan’. All the Central Asian countries (excluding Afghanistan) were once part of the Soviet Union. Now, 21 years later, there is a movement in these countries to reclaim their identity as Kyrgyz or Tajiki, their religion Islam, their culture, and of course their language. Kyrgyzstan has two official languages- Kyrgyz and Russian. My Russian is far better than my Kyrgyz, but I am learning both.

I have a few favorite pass times here in Bishkek. Americans may like to watch Football, but the National sport of Kyrgyzstan, Ulaktartish is far more entertaining. Ulaktartish is an old game played by nomadic Kyrgyz. It is a mix of Rugby and Polo, on horseback, but instead of a ball, the Kyrgyz people decided to use a decapitated goat carcass. Nothing sets off the weekend like an Ulaktartish party. The city of Bishkek is filled with many bazaars (Outdoor markets). Bishkek also contains the largest bazaar in Central Asia- Dordoi Bazaar. However, my personal favorite is Osh Bazaar. I’m not sure how to explain Osh Bazaar. This market in particular is known for being dangerous, hectic, loud and dirty. Whoever told me that was right! Osh Bazaar is a place where you can by fruits and vegetables, dishwashers, any part of a sheep, knock off purses and bags, your neighbors cow, basically anything possible. If you visit, make sure you are a good bargainer, keep your hand on your wallet, and never look the gypsies in the eyes.

Kyrgyzstan is still highly undeveloped. 3/5 million of Kyrgyzstan citizens either live in small villages in extreme isolation, or are still practicing nomads. If taking a trip outside Bishkek, you are bound to see a LOT of yurts. What is a yurt? Well, a yurt is a circular felt tent made of animal skins, and nomadic Kyrgyz still live in them with their cattle, and migrate seasonally. However, not all the nomadic traditions are acceptable nowadays, although still practiced. One ‘tradition’ is bride kidnappings. Some nomadic Kyrgyz families believe it is socially acceptable if a young woman is not married, that a man has the right to forcefully take her and force her to do so. Most of the time, families of the groom and of the bride know about the wedding. Once the girl has the wedding veil on, the wedding evident in Kyrgyz culture. Approx 1/3 of Kyrgyz marriages are bride kidnappings or forcefully arranged. But, this is only practiced in small villages or in nomadic families. There are many human rights groups working in Kyrgyzstan against this practice.

Kyrgyzstan is 95 % mountains, and it is filled with high mountain lakes (Second highest in the world) forests, barin landscapes and rolling hills of the Tien Shan. Kyrgyzstan is a very ethnically diverse country, There are 40 ethnic groups, and out of my class of 25, there are 3 Uzbeks, 2 Russians, 2 Uighyurs , 1 Korean and an Afghan, all of which are from Kyrgyzstan.

Northern Kyrgyzstan, where Bishkek lies, is currently safe and peaceful. Southern Kyrgyzstan is both culturally vibrant and extremely unstable due to rising ethnic tensions with Uzbekistan. The southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh, endured the worst violence in Kyrgyzstan ever 2 years ago because of ethnic fighting. Also in 2010, Kyrgyzstan’s former President Kurmanbak Bakiyev fled the country after violent protests erupted in Bishkek. As I said in my first journal, I am not going to only tell the sunny side of things.

I am SO so happy that I was chosen to spend my year in Kyrgyzstan. Despite the problems the country may have, I LOVE Kyrgyzstan, and it is my home. Time is going by quickly now, and I am able to speak comfortably in Russian, but I still have far to come on my Kyrgyz. Again, THANK YOU ROTARY! Anyone who is thinking about applying for Exchange, please do it!


January 1st, 2012

Over 4 months in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!

Happy New year!

NOVEMBER: In November, Kyrgyzstan had its presidential elections. This was very interesting to observe since the past presidential elections haven’t exactly gone smoothly. But luckily for me, there was no major rioting and only minor protests. In the end, Almazbek Atambaev won, and is now the current president of Kyrgyzstan. I also got to go to his inauguration. Soon after that, I went to the namaz prayer with my first host father. I had never seen so many people in one place before. Thousands of Muslim men all congregated together and prayed. it was definitely one of the more interesting things I’ve witnessed.

A week later, the Rotaract president and friend of mine, Daniyar, called me and asked me if I wanted to go with him and his parents to western Kyrgyzstan for the weekend. I said why not? The next day I was off to the village of Dzongtala in the Issyk Kul region of Kyrgyzstan. It was a five hour drive from Bishkek, and we drove on the border of Kazakhstan for a 2 hours then drove in the windy roads in the Tien Shan. Finally, we reached a mountain peak where we could see the village. Near the border of China,. nestled in the Tien Shan, Dzongtala is a small village filled with more sheep, cows, donkeys and horses I have ever seen in my life. It is home to a few hundred people, and I was told I am the only foreigner these people have ever seen, and for most the only one they will ever see.

The purpose of the visit was to finalize the marriage of one Daniyar’s cousins. After a couple has been married and had there first child, the marriage is only finalized when the child has taken its first steps. While on the property, I saw that his family had a large number of animals. I befriended a nice sheep that I named Jonathan. Later that night, Jonathan was tied up and brought out for everyone to see. I thought everyone was going to pet it, but then I saw the knife being pulled out, and only then did I realize Jonathan was dinner. While everyone else was chowing down on Jonathan, I was told ‘Oh eat him Joe! Jonathan is delicious!’ I was also told that this family goes through 3 ‘Jonathans’ a month. The next day, I went Donkey riding and horse back riding in the Tien Shan. I have never felt more Kyrgyz.

The mountains surrounding the village are so high and beautiful, all of which are snow covered. I also was able to see how poor most of Kyrgyzstan really is. Most of the homes are made of mud, and are falling apart. The water system is horrible, and most people have to walk to a river about a mile from the village to obtain drinkable water. Rotaract in Bishkek is hoping to do a water project there, which I’m hoping to help with.

DECEMBER: Christmas wasn’t exactly ‘Christmas’. On Christmas Eve. Two other exchange students, Josette from Alaska, and Greg from Nebraska and I went to an American restaurant Called Metro Pub. The only American restaurant in Bishkek that has food that actually tastes like American food, crazy right? We exchanged our presents and had fun. The place was flooding with Americans. Believe it or not, Bishkek has a large number of American expats because of the American military base. I can’t tell you how many American contractors I met that night.

On Christmas day, I woke up, and opened up my presents from America. I then went to one of the 2 churches in Bishkek with my English teacher from school who is from Russia. After that, I went home and watched Madea’s family Reunion on TV in Russian, took a nap, then Skyped my family back home. It wasn’t exactly ‘Christmas’, but it wasn’t so bad. A few days ago, Josette and I were walking in a department store and ran into a pair of American flight attendants who were stuck in Bishkek for the week. They work for OMNI air, transporting American soldiers in Countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Anyways, we served as their tour guides and translators for the day. We showed them the biggest bazaar in Central Asia, took them on their first marshrutka ride, laughed at their reaction to fermented horse milk, and so much more. We had a great time. They will be back in Bishkek in about a month and hope to do something similar again.

NEW YEARS: On New Years Eve, I went bazaar shopping with my host brother and later that evening I went and visited my first host family. They were all happy to see me, and my little sister Ademi, who’s 5 insisted on me being a ‘horse’ and running around the house while she was on my back. I went back to my new host family and celebrated with them. My host grandma came over, and a few of my host cousins. it was a lot of fun, and I even got a home made ‘Shyrdak’, a wool blanket that my host mom hand made.

Next week, the other exchange students and I may go on a day trip to the neighboring city of Tokmok for fun. In April my American parents are coming to visit and in may, I hopefully will go to Turkey for my district conference. I’m half way through my exchange, and I can hardly believe it. Time is going by all too fast, and I’m told it will only go faster after Christmas. Congratulations and good luck to all the newly selected outbounds! Until next time


February 2, 2012

Feb 2nd- over 5 months in Kyrgyzstan

I can’t believe I’m over my half way point already, time really flies, but I’m really enjoying my self here.

In January, me, Josette (Alaska) and my friend Jason who is a Peace Corp volunteer in Bishkek were able to get a tour of the American Military base outside Bishkek. It was strange being around so many Americans again, I noticed how much I’ve changed culturally and felt almost out of place at times. The soldiers were very interested in us, since civilians are seldom allowed on base. Everyone was so nice to us, and they let us steal some of the American food and bring it back to Bishkek with us. I am now in possession of a ridiculous amount of Poptarts. I thought it was funny that some of the soldiers who lived on base didn’t even know how to say Kyrgyzstan. The military personnel often do charity work in the more impoverished areas of Kyrgyzstan. They told us about projects such as distributing coats, rebuilding homes, and helping with clean water supply which is a big problem in rural parts of the country.

The next weekend, I went snow skiing. I went with a few people from a Rotaract group, up in the mountains maybe an hour from Bishkek. I was told that they would have bunny slopes and easier hills to try first, since I have never skied before. Well, it turned out that they didn’t, the only slopes offered were extremely advanced, steep, and impossible for a beginner. I decided to give it a shot. I fell the grand total of 42 times. At first I thought I could do it, then the skis just started going super fast, and that’s when I realized this just wasn’t going to work out. After falling a bunch, I tried a new method by trying to lay down on my belly, and try to boogie board down the mountain. This resulted in a series of bruises all over me. Next, I tried to slide down on my back, but was almost ran over by some people who could actually stand up on there skis, so in the end, I walked, slid, and fell down the mountain until the bottom which took about 2 hours. I have decided I never want to ski again. But no one can say I didn’t try.

A few days ago, me and my friends Islam and Nursalton decided to go to Tokmok for the day. Tokmok is a smaller city an hour and a half away from Bishkek. We took a taxi on the way there, and we were slowed down on the way because a herd of sheep got into the road. I heard my taxi driver mumble, “I just got instantly hungry”. When we arrived, we got lunch at some tiny cafe along the road. one thing I noticed about Tokmok was that there were so many animals everywhere. In Bishkek, sometimes there is a herd or some cattle, but here, there were cows in the backs of trucks, in the road, herds everywhere. I asked them why, and they explained that there is a large animal market in Tokmok. We all decided to go see it for the experience. Well, I am very glad we ate before, because the animal market was downright disgusting. People were selling every farm animal imaginable, dead and alive. I saw people pushing cows into there car, on top of there car, on the trailer, everything. One old lady was selling live goats from the trunk of her car. If you all can imagine what this all looks like, imagine what it smells like…After that experience, we wanted fresh air. Just past the market, there were mountains and a field, and we went for a walk there. After about 30 minutes, a military jeep came zooming towards us. The soldiers were neither Kyrgyz nor American, so we were all confused. The soldiers began speaking to to my friends, and I realized we had wandered into Kazakhstan! We were told we had to leave, but not before I got an action pose photo of me in Kazakhstan.

Thank you all for reading!

Kelly Urban
2011-12 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Elkton, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nantou, District 3460, Taiwan

Kelly - Taiwan

Kelly’s Bio

Ni Hao!  My name is Kelly Urban and I am very excited to say that next year I will be outbounding my senior year in Taiwan!!  I have always wanted to travel to exotic places and meet different people all over the world, but I had no idea that I would ever have the amazing opportunity of traveling to such a beautiful and incredible country as Taiwan!  I am beyond excited for this new adventure and I know I will appreciate and gain a lot from it.

I am currently 16 and attending Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Florida.  I grew up in New Hampshire and New York and moved to Florida only a few years ago, but I love it!  It is so beautiful here and I love having fun with my friends and family.  I have an older brother, who is home bound do to an illness, but he is my inspiration and I love him immensely.  I am very passionate about music, theatre, animals, and living life to the fullest!  I am the most open minded person I have ever met, and when I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange I was extremely ecstatic and eager to learn more!  I came home and immediately revealed to my parents exactly what I knew I wanted to do; I wanted to be an exchange student.  I wanted to take my future senior year and turn it into an amazing adventure including everything I’ve always dreamed of accomplishing at a young age.  For this, I cannot thank RYE enough for giving me this amazing once in a lifetime opportunity!  Thank you so much for helping me start what will be the best experience of my life!

Each day I carry positive energy around with me everywhere I go.  Despite what may go on around me, I believe that a strong head and an open mind can do wonders for yourself and the people around you.  I believe that the true meaning of life is to give life meaning, and that is exactly what I plan on doing.  

Zàijiàn for now!

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” – Hilary Cooper

Kelly’s Journals

May 14, 2012

Welcome to my journey in Taiwan!! =]

Last year, when I was sitting in my high school auditorium being introduced to RYE Florida for the very first time, I had never imagined that throughout the following year, it would slowly become a huge part of my life, my future, and a huge part of who I am today.

A week before my departure, I stood looking at my suitcase thinking about everything I had been through to get to that very moment. All the mental, physical and emotional preparation I had endured to be able to take a breath of relief and say, ‘I’m ready’. And I am, So this is my adventure, my journey, this is my turn.

The Journey~

When I arrived at the airport, I checked my bag and waited with my family in front of security for my friend Devante to arrive so we could enter together. A couple Rotarians had come up to my mother and I and introduced themselves from a local Rotary club in my District. We talked about where I was going and we stood with them waiting to greet their inbound coming in from France! After saying goodbye they wished me good luck, and it came time for Devante and I to say goodbye to our families. We took pictures and gave one big last hug to everyone. As my mother began to cry, I knew that this was it, I was leaving and I wouldn’t see my family for the next year. It was hard, but I was prepared. We walked through security and onto our first flight to Michigan. The 2 1/2 hour flight wasn’t too bad but when we landed I was so excited. A few months prior, I had contacted an old friend from New York, who had told me she would also be exchanging this very year to Taiwan !! It was a crazy coincidence and at the gate, Devante and I met up with a whole bunch of kids going to Taiwan, along with our friends Marco and Elycia from Orlando. I saw my friend Emily for the first time in years and it was amazing. It was the first of many reunions that I know Rotary will be responsible for 🙂 We reconnected with some Starbucks and a 17hr plane ride to Tokyo! ~Not many people can say that 😉 ~

The flight wasn’t too bad…at least.. the first 5-6 hours. It was alot of fun, but as more and more hours passed it became worse. I knew I wanted to be able to sleep once I got home, so I tried to only sleep very little on the plane to avoid jet-lag. But it wasn’t fun, I grew exhausted and uncomfortable. In my personal journal I wrote this at about 3:35am, ” I’m tired, I’m hungry, and all I want to do is climb into a warm bed and black-out for about a week. I’ve been up since 6am, I’ve gotten about..3hours of sleep total and I probably wont get any more. I’ve never seen daylight last so long..I’m soar, really soar, and once I get a solid meal I’ma kiss the ground! “

When we arrived in Japan I was able to get through security with the others very easily. Japan has the quietest airport in the world! It was beautiful, and even though we were only there a little while, being as foreign and exhausted as I was, it was the most amazing thing in the world. After we all had to switch our seating do to a mix up, we finally boarded and headed to Taiwan!!! <3 At this point, all I wanted was a hug..and to sleep. When we were landing over Taiwan I had no words.. The feeling of ‘ Taiwan’ hadn’t really sunken in yet. At least.. I was too tired to realize. It was about 3-4 hours by time we landed, kissed the ground, went through immigration and found our luggage. I said goodbye to everyone, took a deep breath, and walked through the gate into the very beginning of my new life.

I walked out to find over 100 family members and Rotarians with banners and flags yelling and screaming for our arrival. It was one of the most amazing feelings ever..:) The first thing I heard was a young girl’s voice say, “Are you Kelly :D?! ” – It was my host sister Ting-Ting holding a giant banner with my face on it. They all gave me big warm welcome hugs with smiles all around and took the first of many, many pictures. The moment was foggy, but one important thing I do remember is the first thing my Baba (Host dad) said to me. He gave me a big hug and said, “We have been waiting a very long time for you.. 🙂 “

I waited for my host parents to bring around the car with Ting-ting. I watched all the cars and lights of the city and I couldn’t believe it. I, had made it. We headed to the store and I got a drink. My first thing in Taiwan, Tropicana orange juice. ( It was in Chinese, that counts for something). The car ride home was long and tiring, I kept dozing off, but I will never forget my conversation with Baba. He would ask me various things in Chinese or English. I struggled to understand and answer since I was so tired. He would talk and talk and eventually turn to Ting-ting and say “Ok ok I need a translator now” (Ting-ting spent 5 years of College in Utah). When he was finished he turned to me and said, “Right now, I believe my English, better than your Chinese. But, hopefully, by end of year, your Chinese, better then my English! Ok, yes? :)” Then he held out his pinky to make a ‘pinky-promise’. Then, there, I had made a very special pr omise to my Baba that I will never forget.. and I will forever intend to keep that promise.

After our 2-3hour drive home to Nantou in central Taiwan, I was welcomed home with open arms by my host brother Yzu-Yen, my other host sister Tien-tien, and my close cousins. They were all so nice and inviting. We talked a little bit but everyone knew I needed sleep badly. My Mama (host mom) reminded me that I had my Inbound Orientation/ Language Camp the next day, so I had to unpack my things but repack enough for the week ahead of me. Everyone was so nice and took care of me so well. My first conflict in Taiwan, figuring out if I’m suppose to sleep on the flat bamboo mat on top of my bed or if was just decoration. By time I went to sleep at 4:00am, deciding to just plop on my bed and pass out seemed like the best solution.. I had never been so happy to sleep in my entire life.

Month 1~

My first day went by extremely fast. I woke up at around 12pm with a perfect night’s sleep. Luckily I worked it out well enough so I didn’t have any jet-lag. I hopped out of bed and a few seconds later my Mama came in holding her IPad saying ‘ Zǎo :)’ -Morning- and sat on my bed ready to go over the first night questions. Not only did I just wake up, but I still felt kind of awkward, I was quiet and completely out-of-it. I knew I wanted to feel settled right away, but I know that’s something that would have to come with time. It felt great going over the first night questions because I had been looking forward to that moment for so long. My exchange had finally begun.

Ah breakfast, my first solid meal in days. I sat down at the familiar story-told round table seated for 8 and stared at the various dishes. I was handed a pair of chop sticks and a small bowl of rice, ‘take whatever you want’ my Mama said. I took what was closest to me, some calamari in some type of brown sauce. -It was amazing- Truly delicious and I ate that with my rice for my very first meal. I got ready and we left for my orientation camp. At camp I signed in and met all the other inbounds from around the world, though the shock of realizing that everyone was speaking MY language caught me off guard. I never realized how powerful English is around the world. Not that everyone was fluent, some people spoke very well but everyone mostly grouped together with people from the same country. The Language camp was held at Overseas Chinese University, it was pretty big and we got to walk around and get to know everyone. I was happy to finally meet a very good Braz ilian friend of mine Thiago, who I had been talking to for a while prior to coming to Taiwan. We both thought it would be a good idea making some friends before we came to our district, and finally being able to see a sort-of familiar face made things much more comfortable. As we ate pizza for dinner, our district chair introduced the plans and schedule for the week, making everyone incredibly excited.

After a miserable night of sleeping on a hard mat in the freezing cold ‘only know how to turn off if you can read Chinese’ air conditioning, we met for a meeting in the grand hall. The first day we took many pictures and were given many presentations on exchange rules and fitting into our new surroundings etc. We had to each introduce ourselves in Chinese/English and represent our countries. Throughout the rest of the week was just extremely fun, a normal day would include a quick breakfast, very helpful basic Chinese classes, break, class, yummy lunch, cultural activity/craft, break, dinner buffet, and ‘Party Time’. These days I will never forget, in one week we had all become so close, trying new things, hearing so many languages, learning about each other’s different cultures and creating exciting memories of water fights, late night stories, dancing, games, and just having a blast. The Rotex took everyone to our very first night market, I got to finally try the amazing bubble milk tea, and at the end of the week there was a huge dinner and a talent show for all of us to show some talent. My American friend Kris and I practiced all day and sang our hearts out. Everyone put on an amazing show and everyone was so sad to leave.. little did we know how much time we would actually get to see each other in the future, but I guess we just weren’t ready to let go of our only first week as an inbound family. But what I had learned after such an amazing week, which I as well, was not ready to let go of, my host father told me one heartfelt thing to remember as we drove away, “Every party, must come to an end.” But I knew, it was just the beginning.

The following week was crazy busy being introduced to new ‘firsts’ left and right. My host brother took me to eat cho dofu or ‘stinky tofu’ a famous dish in Taiwan. Not many foreigners enjoy it but I loved it 🙂 I was given a tour of my city and had my first Rotary meeting, which was really exciting. I first went to dinner with my host dad in my city and met with a group of Rotarians. They had a pre-meeting before the meeting and when dinner came we went into another room and I was I introduced to all the other members, handing out cards and shaking 100 hands smiling, trying to make a warm first impression. Learning all the Rotarian’s names like Boss, Shoes, Fire, Televy, Post, Blue, Life, etc. In Taiwan they choose their English names based from their profession or maybe a hobby or just something random like House or Car. And when you address a person you must use a title like Shushu, Ayi, Jiejie, meimei, Gege or Didi (Uncle, Auntie, older si ster, younger sister, older brother, younger brother) etc. ~even if they aren’t really a relative. At the meeting I gave my first speech, it was the very first time I had been nervous since my Rotary interviews, and it was the first moment that I truly felt like an exchange student. There I was being handed the mic. from my host dad about to give my very first speech in Chinese, and all I could think about was “How the heck do I pronounce all this!?” I gave it my best shot- thinking about it now, it must have been really funny for all of those Rotarians hearing me fail so abruptly in Chinese for 5minutes straight, for the odds of me only correctly saying 15 words tops couldn’t have been a far chance.

But that’s experience 😛

The next day my host sister took me to Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan. It was so much fun being in the 2nd largest city in the country! I went to a famous night market and we ate soo much. The well known fact to foreigners about Taiwan, THEY. EAT. A LOT. Pretty much all the time, I assume high metabolisms work well in their favor, but they definitely do eat a lot healthier. Since I hadn’t eaten much on the plane or very much during camp, I started to become very full, very quickly. One small bowl of rice and I felt like I just finished a Thanksgiving feast. This didn’t work so well in my favor, many people thought I didn’t like the food because I didn’t eat very much. Also in Taiwan, it’s very rude to not accept things that people offer you, as well as food. So it was difficult to explain that I loved the food, I just wasn’t hungry. So what did I do? I learned how to say ‘I’m full’…very quickly.

So back to my story, we had a 2-day city tour and we went to the beach which had blackish-grey sand and gorgeous water. It was the first time I had ever missed the beach..one of the things I surely took for granted. We traveled on motorbikes (scooters) all around Kaohsiung and it was a blast. It was the first time I’ve ever been on one and at first, I was pretty scared. I remember sitting on the back thinking ‘ oh I don’t like this..I don’t like this, I do not like this at ALL’ ~I loved it. When we got off I had such a rush of excitement and all I wanted was to ride more! It was crazy and such a great experience riding around the city at night with great speed feeling the wind in your hair looking at all the other bikes next to you (more bikes then cars) looking around seeing nothing but tall buildings, bright lights and TONS of Chinese signs everywhere. The feeling was amazing 🙂 ~Scooters are extremely popular in Taiwan because Taiwan is so s mall, the streets are very narrow and busy and scooters are extremely convenient to get around, and about every family has at least one. You’ll see anyone from 15-80yrs zoom-zoomin around on these crazy things, I love them, and just so you know mother, I want one :)~

So, *drum roll*

My first day of school.

Was I nervous? No, just EXTREMELY excited. I had gone to the school the week before to get my uniform, my schedule and meet with my homeroom teacher, along with my other 1-on-1 teachers. In Taiwan the students stay in the same room and the teachers change rooms. The teachers have cubicles downstairs and the students stay in the same room unless they have gym or computer class. They stay with the same group of people for all 3 years of Senior high school. ~Since Taiwan is so small, everything is built up, so all the buildings and homes are very tall and most homes have 3-5 floors. So my school has about 6 floors and each year you go higher and higher up the school with each grade you progress in~ So as I met my teacher she asked if I would mind meeting my class as well because they had been dying to meet me. As we walked through the hallways all the students smiled and screamed and giggled waving furiously through the windows. When I reached my class everyone jumped up and sta rted to scream, they were all very excited!! She introduced me and I introduced myself in Chinese and talked about my basic information. I go to a Commercial high school so all the students study for their profession. My class studies ‘Applied Foreign Language’ -or English- so they all speak some English. They practiced introducing themselves and if they didn’t have an English name (most did to my surprise) my teacher would say, ‘ pick one’. ~Cause it’s that easy~

During my first day I didn’t know what to expect. I rode my bike down the hill to school and met my homeroom teacher for a tour around campus. After making friends with some 3rd graders in the library, I met my classmates and we went to our first computer class. It was really odd getting use to all the attention. I expected a little, but it definitely isn’t something anyone can prepare you for. Everyone was staring at me left and right asking to take pictures, laughing and giggling and running away all shy. They point and say hello and everyone would get extremely shocked if I would say ‘Nǐ hǎo’ – Hello- or ‘Xièxiè’ -Thank you. During lunch, a few people from every class goes down to the bottom floor and brings up lunch trays filled with various dishes and sets them on the outside ledge of the classroom. Everyone brings their own bowls and chopsticks and takes whatever they like for lunch. They eat in the classroom and watch the news and a few more people help wash the bowls and set them to dry, as others bring the empty trays back downstairs. One of the first things I noticed during school is that everyone is so helpful and everyone contributes. There’s a lot of teamwork, and no one complains. Everyone is so nice and it helped me feel comfortable more quickly. I made many friends and was given many opportunities to be involved by being invited to many different activities, clubs, and events. Every day is different, I learn about Chinese music, language, and art. I have gym, computer class and English with my classmates. And I also learn Calligraphy and Shoa-lin kungfu outside of school. I have about one or two classes a day, but when I don’t, I try to spend as much time as possible with my classmates and study Chinese.

On September 10th we celebrated my first festival in Taiwan, the Moon Festival. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was extremely excited. All week my friends were eating a round cake-like treat called a Moon Cake, and teachers were giving me bags of fruit and such to take home to eat on the special day. All of my host relatives came to our house for a huge dinner, KTV( karaoke), mahjong, drinking, and telling stories all night. There were fireworks, which were beautiful but scared our dog Mickey who ran away.. but we found her a few days later 🙂 At night my Rotary club had a big event/dinner with the same activities, I went alone because my family had to host the party, but I had a fantastic time and it was great getting a lot closer to the Rotarians. 🙂

My first trip with Rotary was to Yilan, in North-Eastern Taiwan.

I invited my friend Caro from Mexico to join us on our journey, which was a fantastic idea. We traveled 3 1/2 hours towards the high mountains of Yilan. We stopped at 3 major tourist sites that were to die for amazingly beautiful, and took a boat to the famous Turtle Island. We were given a tour of the once aboriginally inhabited villages, and walked the trails around the eye-capturing scenery. Back in the city of Yilan, we were treated in a 5-star hotel with a spa which Caro and I took advantage of all night. The weekend was simply amazing, and it was the first time nature had truly touched my heart.

Klaudia Forgacova
2011-12 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Yulee, Florida
School: Yulee High School
Sponsor: Fernandina Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Amay-Villers-le-Temple, District 1630, Belgium

Klaudia - Belgium

Klaudia’s Bio

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Klaudia. I’m currently a senior at Yulee High School, home of the Hornets! I live in a small town about 15 minutes away from both and the beach. I live with my mom, dad, 20 year old sister, her boyfriend, my adorable 5 year old sister, and my big beautiful cat Muffie. This year’s giving me a full dose of excitement with early admissions at Florida State College at Jacksonville, high school graduation, turning 18, and, of course, living in Belgium!

I’ve moved a lot throughout my life and each place has shaped me into who I am. I was born in eastern Slovakia and moved to California when I was 2 years old. After moving around southern California a good bit, I came here to Florida just in time to start my high school career. I’ve loved absorbing all there is to every area I’ve seen and lived in and hope to continue learning all there is to this world while teaching some of my own culture for as long as I am able to.

One of my favorite things to do is simply spending time with my friends. No matter what we do, I always end up having a great time and laughing the day away. I also love caring for animals and children. I hope to one day have a career that allows me to make a positive difference in children’s lives.

I’m extremely bubbly and friendly. I find joy in what others deem as merely small details in daily life. Thanks to that, you can usually find me with a smile planted on my face! Most importantly, I’d like to express my gratitude to Rotary for choosing me to partake in this life changing experience and giving me something else to smile about!

Klaudia’s Journals

October 29, 2011

I’m fighting back tears as I squeeze my mom tight. Everything collapses around me. I let the tears slide down my face as I let go to take my little sister into my arms. All of a sudden, everything starts hitting me and my mind starts racing with thoughts about how I wouldn’t be there to tuck her in at night anymore, how I’d miss her first tooth falling out, and I just hope she’d still be constantly smiling like someone who has never heard the word “worry” when I return to my family in a year. As much as it breaks my heart to do so, I release my embrace, take my passport in my hand, and walk towards my plane and year as Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Belgium, away from my home and all its comforts.

4,500 miles of travel later, I wiped the tears off my face to make room for a smile and wide open eyes. Three months later, I find planting that smile on my face one of the best decisions I have ever made. Difficulty lingers in the corners of my daily life more than I ever imagined. I had just moved to a francophone country and I couldn’t speak French. Let the charades begin. I was in my new home, yet I was merely a blank canvas to everyone there. Without the optimism I carried behind my smile, I would have quickly succumbed to the adversities before me and been on the first flight back to Florida.

As soon as I arrived in Belgium, it became apparent to me and everyone else just how many gaps I had in my knowledge. I was in shock at how clueless I was. I held my fork and knife in the improper hands, ate pizza wrong, avoided the bathroom my first night because I had no clue where the light switch was, and silenced a room in utter shock by accidentally omitting one word from my sentence. The biggest shock, however, was just how closed off I unknowingly was to what’s out here in this big world. As terrifying as it was to be thrown into a world where the sky’s green and the grass is blue, having never discovered how much the world has left to instill in me would have been much worse.

It’s crazy how much life can change in what seems like the blink of an eye. After my short time here, I’ve immersed myself in Belgium and already consider it home. Maybe it’s because of all the waffles, fries, and all the other things Belgium is known for, but I quickly found that the life here is just that, life! The Belgians truly live and enjoy themselves and I couldn’t be happier to share their culture with them.

I couldn’t find the words to condense my time here in a simple journal, but I can assure you it’s not because I haven’t had anything to write about. I’ve built genuine relationships with my amazing families and friends here. I’ve met my new horses, cats, dogs, and chickens. Yep, chickens. I’ve passed by my cute neighbors, AKA cows, every day. I’ve said my teary eyed good bye to my absolutely fantastic and muy caliente host sister who left for an exchange in Argentina. I’ve visited my country capital a couple times, which I can’t even say I’ve done in the USA. I’ve attended many Rotary events: orientation (very different than in Florida!), mined the day away, kayaked in utter beauty, visited a fort and waved countless flags on top of it, saw my tiny town from up in a helicopter, and was even lucky enough to visit England with my Rotary club where I said something along the lines of “How adorable ol’ chap!” every two minutes. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam and let my inner nerd out in the Van Gogh museum and simply took in all the beauty around me. I’ve settled in at school and dressed up as Britney Spears for just any other day there. Even though I still don’t understand why in the world they lock the bathrooms when Europeans still have bladders, I actually love my school. When it comes down to it, it’s more about the overall experience here and how everything together has added up to what I’ve been able to apprehend from my exchange.

There are so many concepts I’ve heard of all my life, but never truly grasped until now by experiencing them firsthand. I now sincerely understand tolerance by embracing a culture differing so vastly from my own, independence by no longer having my family and friends around to hold my hand when times get tough, hard work by abiding by an attitude of “I must speak French” rather than “I’d like to speak French,” sincere joy by seizing each day knowing your time is limited, maturation by learning from the many mistakes I make, appreciation by being welcomed as true family, and, first and far most, myself through all of this.

I am forever indebted to Rotary and couldn’t have been more blessed!

Tantôt (for real, no more being late)! Bisous! (:

December 28, 2011

The other day as I was waiting for my bus with a friend, she asked me when I was going home. Without thinking twice, I responded with “Considering the bus will be here any minute now, pretty darn soon I’m hoping.” Then came that awkward moment of confusion until we realized that we each had something different in mind for my home. Over these past four months in this fascinating country, my adorable three road village has naturally become ingrained in my head as “chez moi” and I couldn’t be happier about that.

No matter how many excursions I have, whenever I reflect over my time here, I can’t help but automatically just think of the personal changes rather than what has occurred on the surface. The internal growth is constant. As an exchange student, you’re always finding yourself in situations where you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone until there’s really no longer a point in trying to maintain one. Starting to tear down those walls I’ve unknowingly built around myself throughout my whole life is one of the most difficult but most rewarding things I’ve done.

I’ve had so much luck here and I am so grateful for all the opportunities that have been granted to me. My second host family took me with them on a trip to the sea in the north of France and, oh goodness, it was beautiful! We also saw a seal in the water! For all you Floridians and even Americans, I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a wacko for including that little tidbit, but apparently it’s really rare here and well deserving of a freak out. Hearing kids excitedly yell the word for seal in French definitely made the whole trip!

The holidays have come and gone and they were absolutely wonderful! Homesickness overcame for the first time on Thanksgiving, but I had loved ones both here and back in Florida to quickly help me move past it. That weekend, my host mom was the amazing person she is and hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us and two other families. It was a wonderful thing seeing the Belgian and American cultures mix together, e.g. chowing down on some classic mac and cheese but it being a fancy dinner party lasting until 1 AM.

The Christmas that just passed is one that will forever be engraved in my memory. I could explain how it went but, in actuality, Christmas is about family and it’s really a matter of how each individual celebrates it. Yes, there was the main Belgian gist of it of celebrating it on Christmas Eve but I’m pretty sure not every Belgian has a 5 hour dinner because sometimes you’re just too busy dancing and singing to Elvis and Spice Girls to eat.

Many laughable mistakes later, my French has vastly progressed. Thank goodness! I don’t find myself to be fluent yet but I no longer view that point as some dot in the far off future. Now that I’m speaking and understanding the language, I’m truly seeing myself as part of my family, school, and group of friends and that brings so much light to everything. Also, it’s quite interesting being able to watch Sex and the City with your host grandma and sister and read Gossip Girl in French.

Félicitations to all the lucky new outbounds who are about to have their lives changed! Brace yourself guys! Hug your family and friends that you’ll learn to appreciate so much more when you no longer have that chance. Smile at the beautiful Florida sunshine that beats down even in the end of December. Most importantly, absolutely ENJOY yourselves abroad because time is going to speed right before your eyes!

L. J. Karlson
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Plutaluang, District 3340, Thailand

L. J. - Thailand

LJ’s Bio

My name is  LJ Karlson and I am Rotary Youth Exchange student who will be spending the next year in Thailand. I am a sophomore at Fleming Island High School but will be a junior by the time I leave for Thailand. Ever since my best friend’s older brother went on an exchange to the Czech Republic and told me how much fun it was I have wanted to go. I have lived in  and visited  other countries but nothing like Thailand.

I have two siblings, an older sister who is a senior at Fleming Island  High and a little brother who is in eighth grade. I love to play soccer, sail, listen to music, and to travel. I have a job were I am a referee for soccer and also have my own little lawn mowing business.

My biggest fear going to Thailand is the language. Thai is a language much different than English. It is a completely different and much bigger alphabet and they have so many words that look the same but are just pronounced differently. Its really hard to learn by my self especial because I don’t know if I am saying it right, but once I am in Thailand I think it will be allot easier to learn.

I had not really even thought much about going to Thailand until I heard that’s were I was going. At first I was pretty nervous about it, but once I started researching it I got really excited.  The best thing I like about it is that its a completely different culture than America. There are many sights you could see every day that you could never see any where else.

I am very excited and also very thankful for the Rotary to grant me this once in a life time opportunity.

LJ’s Journals

September 23, 2011

My first month in Thailand has been amazing. I have done more this month than I usually do in 2 or 3 back home.

I have had the privilege to meet all my host family’s many times and they are all really nice. My first family lives on a huge farm with about 100 cows, 10 dogs and many other random animals. I live by my self up at the top of the farm in a very nice little house with everything I need in it and my host family lives down in there main house.

My second host mom has a trip planned for me and the other Rye from Mexico every weekend so we get the chance to visit allot of the country. I’ve gone to Bangkok about 3 times and am going one more time this month to visit the US Embassy to here a speech on P.O.W and M.I.A and their work that they do in Vietnam and about the Vietnam war.

I have also visited Pattaya many times and has many foreigners in it. I have about one week left of school and then I am on break for about a month. During this month I will be doing allot of traveling with my family. My Family Has planned a trip for me to go to Singapore. We will go in December from the 19 to the 26 or 27 so I will get to spend Christmas there.

My school is extremely small and old and is not very academic but I have made allot of good Friends. Every day after school we usually go to the gym for about 2 to 3 hours to play soccer and Badminton. I have a really good cousin who loves to teach me Thai and helps me every day. I can now introduce my self and say many other useful phrases.

My Rotary club here is very involved in the community and sponsor many activities. The third day I came here they made me run a 10k that I was not at all prepared for. I have visited 2 other Rotary clubs and both of them were very friendly and welcoming. My first month has been amazing and I’m thinking that it will only get better with time.

January 16, 2012

My first five months here in Thailand have been beyond amazing. I can already notice my self growing in so many ways. After having to give a speech in Thai in front of my whole school the first week was here, I am no longer shy to speak out loud or in front of crowds. Last week we had to go to Pattaya to march in a parade and then do a performance on stage for the people in order to raise money to donate to the flood victims. During this, my job was the MC who was in charge of introducing the people and there routines, if this had been the old me back in America I would have been freaking out and had no confidence to do it but since I have gained the confidence I was able to do it with ease. School here is getting a lot better even tho its still crazy long.

I have got my self very involved with my school and now have just about a full schedule every day. Every Tuesday I have sport day were I get to play futsal and badmittion with my friends. Every Wednesday, my two favorite teachers take me out of school for a class called Thai culture. This class is a blast because the teachers, even no they don’t speak English, have great personalities and a great sense of humor, and the best part about it is that they take me to really cool places, two weeks ago we went to the national Sea Turtle conservation center were we were able to see hundreds of turtles and learn about the type they were and what these people are doing to preserve them. Last week we visited the temple were the Head monk, equivalent to the pope, Lived and worshiped for most of his life. It was a beautiful temple and it also had a room with a giant cage that contained a piece of the Buddhas body which I thought was really interesting. This week we went to a Chinese museum were we got to see hundreds and hundreds of artifacts dating back to the A.D. Times.

I am also very involved with my Rotary. I go to the meetings every single week and join in every fundraiser or activities that they have. Tomorrow I will be join them in going to Bangkok for the whole day to help provide support to the flood victims by giving out food and water or helping them stack sand bags. I have also put on 7 kilos which I am desperately trying to lose. I have got a new work out system that I created so hopefully that should do the trick. The other exchange students are very friendly and its all ways nice to see Annie and Rachel who are my fellow Americans.

Eight weeks ago we had our first trip which was to a mountain called Phu Kradung which is located in the north of Thailand about 16 hours away from where I live. We Started off the trip having a big party with the natives to celebrate Loy Kratong which a huge festival were people light these balloon like things on fire and release them into the air. All in all the festival was a blast and it gave us an opportunity to relax before our big week we had in front of us. The following day we had to wake up at 5:30 am to begin our 12 km mountain climb and when I say climb I mean climb. We were Constantly having to pull our self over rocks and other objects and helping each other out any way we could. For my group it took us 3 painful hours to reach the summit or the top but man was it rewarding. The rest of the week was spent wandering around the 27 kilo plateau that laid on top and visiting its many beautiful water falls. I also had my first in-counter of leeches which I must add are the most disgusting creatures ever.

I Have adjusted my self pretty well tho Thailand and its culture. Some things it only take you one time to learn like for example BRING TOILET PAPER EVERY WHERE YOU GO! I can not emphasize this enough for the Future outbounds to Thailand. Most places let alone even have a really toilet let alone paper. Its more of just a hole in the ground with a bucket and a hose next to it that your supposed to use instead of the paper. I can truly say that never in my life will I be ungratefully for any real toilet that has paper.

One big thing that I haven’t quite got used to is Thai time. In Florida the Rotarian’s emphasize being on time like crazy which I think is great because it gets us very prepared. In Florida when they say it starts and 7:30 that means you must be there at last 5 to 10 minutes early or else your considered late but here in Thailand its the complete opposite. If they say 7:30 You might be lucky if its starts at 7:45 or even 8. In Thailand there is really no sense of emergence to do really an thing.

My Thai has increased greatly within the past two months. I can now have a pretty good conversation and I can defiantly make it by on my own if I had to. As I’m typing this I am on a plane on my way back from Singapore. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to spend a week there with my host moms sister and my Thai sister. Singapore is a great country and a great place to spend a week, but I must say that I am re-leaved to be on may way home. Due to the fact that my host sister doesn’t speak English I was her translator for the week and to my surprise I was able to translate just about every thing she wanted me to. I have never felt so accomplished I’m my life as I did then. To know that I can now comfortably speak Thai and also translate it for people was the most rewarding feeling ever.

My Christmas is one that I’ll never forget, mainly because it the first year in my life I was away from my family during the holiday and that I did even celebrate it. I have noticed now that when ever I do allot of traveling I feel my self start to think about going home and crawling into my own bed, and by own bed I mean my Thai bed.

I feel so at home and part of most host family its crazy. I am able to do comfortably joke around and walk around my house like I’ve been there my entire life. I will be switching to my second host family soon. My current host mom told me that she wishes I could stay with them the whole year because she doesn’t know what she is going to do when I leave because the house will be so quite. My host dad also said something along those lines, he told me I had made a permanent family and that I am truly his son and that I will all ways have a room in his house. To know that the impact I have made on them is almost the same impact they have made on me. There is nothing nicer in this world to know that your have met people that now love you and that are just as upset that your switching host family’s as you are. Due to the fact I feel like I am with my real family here in Thailand I haven’t been home sick a single day and I’m starting to think that ill be extremely lucky and wont get home sick at all. Even tho I’m sad that I’m leaving my family I’m excited to move in to my new moms house. She is a very emotional person and has already fallen in love with me and the other exchange students. Each of my family’s also introduce me as their son which makes me very happy. My second host mom loves to travel and she invites me every time, thanks to a mixture of both my family I have seen so much of Thailand .

I realized that I only have about another 170 something days. Time is flying to fast for me. I am dreading having to leave Thailand. My life is at an all time high at the current moment and I’m not expecting it to go down any time soon.

Maranda Lyon
2011-12 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
School: Duncan Fletcher High School
Sponsor: Southpoint Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Esneux-Aywaille, District 1630, Belgium

Maranda - Belgium

Maranda’s Bio

Salut! My name is Maranda Lyon and I am proud to say I will be an exchange student with Rotary Youth Exchange, to Belgium! I am 16 years old and a sophomore at Fletcher High School, when I go on exchange I will be a junior. I live in Jacksonville Beach, FL with my father, mother, sister, grandmother, dog, and cat. My favorite things to do are just hangout with my friends, ride bikes, camp, go to the beach, and listen to music. I know I am going to miss everyone here so much, but in the end it will be worth all the hard work, every second, every breath, and every tear! But I sure am going to miss American football!

The more I read about Belgium the more I fall in love. I mean who doesn’t love chocolate, waffles, and French fries? Also the more I read about Belgium the more I think there isn’t a better place in the world for me to be. There always seems to be something going on in Belgium and I love to stay busy.

Let’s just begin with I am very outgoing, adventurous, giggly, and love to meet new people! I am looking forward to traveling the world and getting to know myself even more and maturing! I come from a VERY big family that has always been here for each other, and they are supporting me every step of the way.

I can guarantee if you are with me there will never be a dull moment. I’m a spur of the moment kind of person; I don’t like to just sit around doing nothing. Why waste your life away when you can be discovering new things? I remember the day so clear when the people from Rotary came in my Spanish class and told us about the exchange, as soon as I got out of that class I called my Mom and told her I was leaving for a year!

Last but certainly not least, I want to give a big Thank You to Rotary for giving me this change of a lifetime! There are honestly no words to describe how happy and excited I am to discover all the new things to come! Thank you so much!

Maranda’s Journals

September 14

Ahhhh! I have been in Belgium for a month now. That is SO crazy. How do I even describe this experience? So much has happened so far; I have met so many people, and have eaten so much! 😀 I love Belgium and all the people who live here.

Thinking about leaving Jacksonville wasn’t hard, it didn’t make me sad, and I honestly thought I would be the last person on Earth to cry. At the airport with my family and friends, I was just as happy as could be, dancing around in my rotary blazer with my sister and trying to crack jokes for my two best friends Alexis and Kayla who were crying their eyes out. Then the moment I actually had to be a grown up and venture off on my own through the Jacksonville airport, I started crying so hard. It was the weirdest thing. I honestly can’t even explain it. I know every single tear that I cried at that moment would totally be worth every single second of this life changing experience!

I remember my first glimpse of Belgium, cloudy. I got here at the airport and I remember being so confused. There were three tunnels to go through and I had no clue which one to go in! I chose the one with the most people that had American passports, haha. When I got to the front of the line, the passport-checking guy asked me why I had so many pins. I told him I was an exchange student here from Florida, and he gave me a pin! From there I picked up my luggage and headed on my way. I turned around the corner and saw so many people waiting, and you want to know what my clumsy self did? I dropped my suitcases everywhere, so embarrassing. I still yet to this day know if my host parents saw me drop them. At first I didn’t see them anywhere and I got so confused, then I saw them jumping and waving, I then proceeded to have the biggest smile on my face ever! They were so cute welcoming me with their little Belgian kisses on the cheek and offering to help me with everything!

My first week here everyone kept on asking me “Are you okay? You look lost. Ça va Maranda ça va? ” I was just taking everything in and trying to get my brain use to everyone speaking French and the time change. It was so embarrassing my first day here I went to my nephew’s Birthday party with a few of my family members here, and while I was watching the soccer game on TV I just passed out. The whole first week I slept so much! Also, during my first week I had a wonderful host sister named Naomi. I’m super glad I got to meet her because she explained a lot of things to me, introduced me to some people, and showed me around a bit! I love when someone ask me where I am from then I say Florida, they then get super excited and say “Me-am-me beach?!” Then I have to say no, but I live at the beach.

My second week was a lot better, because I got use to the time difference and I had a sleepover with my second host family! My host sister, Pauline, her friend Manu, and I all went to a dance party in my town. I met a lot f new people; it was a lot of fun! I love hanging out with my host sister Pauline, and it is easy since we live so close to each other! Usually at night time I go to the park in my town and hangout with a lot of people I have met here! Everyone here is really nice, even though a lot of them don’t speak English.

My third week here I started school, and before I walked into the school I was SO nervous. I was so scared of school and I thought of every bad possibility available. Luckily, my guidance counselor introduced me to three girls who are super nice and are now my new Belgian friends (they even invited me to hangout with them after school the first day!) They helped me all through out the week get around school. I also met a few other girls in my other class that are also super nice and have asked to hangout! I also now take the bus! On the way there it isn’t so bad because I have people to ride with, but the ride home I’m always scared I get on the wrong bus or I missed it, or I’ll miss my stop. Hasn’t happened yet though! (: Oh, and gym here, let me tell you, I don’t think I will be gaining any weight. So much running!

I hate to say it, BUT I seriously don’t miss home, at all. There is always so much going on here that there’s no way I’m ready to go home any time soon. I love my house here, I love my families here, I love my new friends here, I love the food here, I love the air here, I love the smell of my town, I love my school (even though I understand nothing), basically I love everything. Except the conversion rate of Dollars to Euros, that kind of blows.

Thank you SO much to the Rotary for this opportunity and all the support of my friends and family.

xxx Bisous

Favorite questions so far:

“ Is there a swamp in your back yard with alligators?”

“ So, do you travel to New York and California since they are so close to you?”

“ Is your favorite singer Flo Rida?”

February 2012

Hi there! So my journal is long over due, Oops, but without any further a due…..

My time here in Belgium seriously has gone by so fast! I’ve already been here for 6 months, and I only have 4 months left! So much has happened. Since my last journal it’s hard to compact it all, but I will try! 😀

So, the day before Christmas I switched families. It was sad because I loved my first host family they were super cool and some of the nicest people I have ever met! My second host family is really cool too though. I already knew them before I moved in so all is well. I’m really close to my host sister, and spend most of my time with her, my host brother is pretty cool too, sometimes I hangout with him & his friends. Sometimes it’s hard getting use to having a brother and I just want to punch him, which I usually do, but I’ve always wanted a brother so it’s also really nice.

In December it snowed here, and at first I was like aweeee yeah this is so cool, I freaking love snow. I had a huge snowball fight all over my village with a few of my friends and some of the neighbors. Then came 7 in the morning walking to the bus stop. Needless to say I sure was missing my Florida sun and roads without slippery ice! I had boots on with about 5 pairs of sock, and I wore 2 pair of leggings under my jeans, and a forever amount of shirts with jackets and a scarf. I was still cold. Now, I get excited if it’s 40 degrees. That’s a good day for me.

I think one of my favorite things to do here is go to “soirées” because I always get to meet new people and just dance all night long. It’s also kind of strange because the only music they play at soirées is dubstep and bass & drums. I love music like that but after I leave the party, I always think I will go deaf afterwards. Super good feeling.

I haven’t really gotten “home sick” yet, but yes I do miss things from America…like food and money. Something all exchange students know the feeling of. I mean of course I miss my family but not the way I miss chick-fil-a, the ocean, or country music on the radio. No offense. <3

Oh by the way, I dropped by France, London, Holland, and Germany for a little visit. No big deal. My favorite of them all was London. The atmosphere there was just incredible, not to mention all the boys with beautiful accents that made me want to cry! In the center of London, I had a dance off with a random stranger….and I totally won. Honestly, one of the scariest/happiest moments of my life!! Everything in London just seemed like a dream. As for Paris; it was breath taking. I remember entering Paris, and seeing the Eiffel Tower off in the distance, and all I could think was my life right now is so unreal. Every little thing I saw in Paris was so lovely. All the museums had so much history and all the landmarks as well. Oh, the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, unforgettable. I felt like I was on top of the World. I went to Holland with my first host mom and my friend Klaudia (in Belgium from Florida.) I’ve never seen so many people riding bikes around; they even had their own lane and lights. It was really strange just to see sheep walking around on the roads like it was no big deal. Germany was really cool, because I went there during Christmas time and there were little markets everywhere. In April I will be visiting ITALY for 2 weeks!!! I’ve only dreamed of going to Italy my whole life. I’m sure I am going to cry.

Yeah, so basically Belgium is really cool and everyone should come here on exchange and bring lots of warm clothes. That’s all.

A big thanks to Rotary for all they have done to get me here and support me! Also a big thanks to my family for supporting me every step of the way without any doubts!

Mary Cate Duff
2011-12 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Bishop Snyder High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bulle, District 1990, Switzerland

Mary Cate - Switzerland

Mary Cate’s Bio

Hallo! Bonjour! Ciao! Allegra! Grüezi!

My name is Mary Cate Duff. I am currently 15 years old and a sophomore at Bishop Snyder High School. However next year, I will be attending school in Switzerland! I first heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange when the Rotarians came to speak at my school. The more wonderful things I heard about the program, the more excited I have become! I am so very thankful for this wonderful opportunity offered to me and for all the amazing people of Rotary who have helped me!

I currently live in Orange Park, Florida. My oldest brother Timothy is a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. My younger brother Ben is 6 years old. Both my parents are in the military, so I am used to moving around, a lot. I run track and cross country, although I love all sports. In my house, we are big soccer fans, so there was a lot of excitement over last year’s World Cup, and both my brother and my dad have pointed out my future proximity to world-famous soccer clubs.

I wouldn’t consider myself particularly frank; however I do believe compassion and thoughtfulness are the best attributes a person can possess. My family sponsors an impoverished child in Guatemala. Although we often write to each other, I feel I cannot understand his daily life, due to my limited knowledge of the world outside suburban America. I sincerely hope this exchange will enlighten me in ways not possible in the confines of a classroom. With the experiences I wish to gain through the Rotary Youth Exchange, I hope to become a better person, more understanding of international issues, and thus able to make a positive impact in the world.

When my parents told me stories of their travels abroad, I was always fascinated, and now I cannot wait to my own journey! I have always loved learning about places all around the world and have been fascinated by different cultures and peoples. I enjoy challenging myself to improve in every way possible, and I would consider myself rather studious. Although I know this exchange program will be demanding, I intend to dedicate myself fully to the tasks presented to me. I am so very extremely grateful for this opportunity offered to me. My parents have been so supportive, as well as my friends, and for that I am extremely grateful. I honestly have no idea what to expect, however the Rotary Club and all the people involved have offered me such an amazing opportunity, and I feel there is no way I could express my gratitude.

Mary Cate’s Journals

September 16

So now I have been in Switzerland for about a month now…. Even I can hardly believe that!  There’s still so much I haven’t learned yet and don’t understand that I think I could spend the rest of my life here and still learn something every day.  But on the other hand, I’ve already learned so much! It’s the most amazing blend of emotions being here!  I couldn’t think of a more perfect first month!

To start, I arrived here in the middle of August.  It was definitely a little shock for me.  Looking back, I’m not sure what I was expecting.  For me, the size of the town was quite….I don’t want to say underwhelming because of the negative connotation but quite different than what I had expected, only about 2,000 people.  There are a lot of little shops, a little church, a tower (the reason the town is called La Tour-de-Trême – the Tower of the Trême, which is a little river which runs through the town) and no supermarkets.  On Sundays everything is closed, and nothing is ever open all night.  My host parents have showed me the town, and together, we have visited several other nearby towns.  My favorite was Gruyères.  It’s actually the most visited village in Switzerland –it is the most picturesque little town I have ever seen in my life.  It’s nestled in the Pre-Alps and offers visitors a panoramic view of the mountains.  The town is full of little shops, and it even has a castle!  It was quite funny though.  My host parents had told me in the morning that we would be going to the fromagerie that afternoon.  Since we get our milk from a farm about 5 minutes up the road by foot and our bread in town from another little shop, I figured we would just be walking to a cheese shop in town.  They told me we were taking bikes, but I still thought it would be less than a 5 minute trip. The 5 minute trip I had envisioned turned into a 25 minute ride with lots of hills – my favorite.  We made it to the fromagerie, saw a lot of cheese, and then continued on to Gruyères.  Quite an experience 🙂

Another thing that is quite different here is the cuisine.  All the people I’ve talked to seem to have a garden, however it’s not like the gardens in America with pretty flowers and maybe an herb or two, but only for show.  Here people use their gardens for actual food.  Instead of buying lettuce at the grocery store, my host mom and I will go out to the garden and cut the lettuce from the plant itself.  Then we wash it and have it with dinner!  One thing I have learned is that it’s best to just always be honest with your host family when it comes to food.  There is a plum tree in the backyard, and my host family left the plums on the tree so now it’s a prune tree.  Now I tend to be a little picky when it comes to food, but I had vowed to be more willing to try because after all, I’m only here for one year.  And so, one night, my host mom offered me some prunes.  I ate them, and she asked me what I thought.  I, not wanting to be difficult, told her I liked them.  Now these prunes were nothing special, and I didn’t particularly like them.  However, I have since learned that there are perhaps hundreds of ways to prepare prunes.  I’ve had prunes over oatmeal, prune cake, prune jelly, prune juice – really and truly a lot of prunes.  I even had prune parfait with “nature” flavored yogurt – which just means that it has no sugar – never again.  Luckily, the prunes are all finished now, but still I think I could go my whole life and never want another prune.  Ever.

One thing that has been difficult for me is the language.  I really believe no amount of practice could have prepared me for the speed at which people talk.  My first few days here were … certainly not the best of my exchange so far because I was literally lost in the conversations I was hearing.    It was quite difficult.  I had a solid grammatical foundation, but with conversational skills…rien!  However, slowly but surely,  with a lot of patience from my host family, I have improved.  I was actually able to relate a story to my host mom in one try and without either of us getting frustrated by the language barrier!

Other things I have learned about Switzerland.

1.    When walking down the road, you will greet almost everyone with a Bonjour or Bonsoir depending on the time of day.  However, if you say this with a smile, people think you are a tourist.

2.    Many Swiss consider it a responsibility NOT to drive a car.  For immediate needs, everything is within walking distance.

3.    There is a way to ride a bike like a tourist.

4.    Being environmentally conscious is a way of life.  My host mom hand washes all the dishes to save energy.  We have four different trashcans depending on the type of waste material.

5.    Geneva is incredible!! I’ve been 3 or 4 times now at it’s just an amazing city! I’ve also been to Berne, Zurich, Fribourg, and lots of other little villages around my town.

6.    Public transportation in Switzerland = amazing!  It’s always timely, clean, modern, accessible, just wonderful!

School starts soon, and I’m sure that will be … certainly eye opening.  I can’t wait! 🙂 I am so thankful for Rotary for sponsoring me and preparing me so well for this experience! I go to bed every night excited for a new day here in Switzerland!

January 17, 2012

The last 4 months of my life here in Switzerland have been…. Everywhere to absolutely amazing to extremely difficult! Every day I find myself facing new challenges and reaching new milestones.

I started school in September. To start, school here is run very differently. I am in the college – which is highest level of education offered, so everyone takes their studies seriously. My first day of school started out much like any other. My host mom woke me up, we ate the standard Swiss breakfast of bread and jam, and I took the bus to school with my host sister. It turns out that my class is actually one of the classes considered bilingual, so half of the courses are in German and the other half are in French, little did I know. So when the teacher started speaking to me very quickly in German, I was more than a little lost. Luckily I was in class with one of my friends from the local track club that I have joined, and he was able to explain to the teacher that I hadn’t understood anything she had said. Things are all worked out now, I don’t have classes in German anymore (not going to lie taking Wirtschaft did sound interesting.)

But, as I said before, all the students here are very serious about school. I have tried explaining to my classmates that it would be much easier if they didn’t stress as much, but some of them still are convinced that they need to have learned the material by heart at least 2 weeks before each and every examen. Other than that, I love my school. I am taking 13 classes I think, and there are days when it is a little overwhelming. I got very lucky with my class however, and everyone is always wiling to help me understand.

To describe an average day, I get up at about 6:45 every morning to a wonderful breakfast of brown bread and homemade jam. After getting all ready for school, my host sister and I take the city bus across the wonderful little town of Bulle and arrive at school promptly before the first bell, which rings at 8:10. Each day of the week I start with a different class, and I am still walking around with my schedule to remember which room I am in (or just following the people from my class.) My host mom packs me a delicious (usually-when it’s not prunes) Tupperware lunch every day. I usually finish school at 4 o’clock except for Mondays and Fridays. As for my classes, I enjoy most of them. It is funny however, my history teacher usually starts each class with some political remark and gets completely sidetracked from the lesson. Here, there are no lesson plans, so it is up to the teacher to decide what to teach. He assigned an exposition in the beginning of Octo ber, however, because of his lengthy commentaries, to this day, only 7 people of the 24 in the class have presented their projects. In my French class, my teacher enjoys asking me my opinion on the analysis of French literature. Actually, we each had to learn a classic poem by heart. To my luck, the poem I had to learn was riddled with “r’s,” which any native English speaker with knowledge of French knows are very difficult to pronounce. So imagine my gladness when I recited to my class “frous-frous frêles.” Everyone told me it was the best recitation of poetry ever, but I ended up not being able to finish the poem because I was laughing so hard.

The exchange students in Switzerland are very lucky in that the Swiss Rotary buys for each exchange student an Abandonnement General – which allows us to use ALL public transportation in Switzerland for FREE! So, I have been able to do a fair bit of travelling within my country. I cannot even begin to describe how absolutely gorgeous it is here. I have ended up just bringing my camera everywhere because it seems that whenever I don’t have it, Switzerland surprises me with yet another breathtaking view.

I am quite happy to say that I have had multiple dreams in French, and, better yet, I actually understood what I was hearing. I am at the point with le Français where I can understood almost everything I hear (in context,) and I can usually express myself. I am now able to tell my host mom stories at the dinner table about school with minimal grammatical corrections. At school, during our many free hours, my friends have started notebook for me with some of the more practical phrases in French.

My experiences with Swiss culture – My host family has been wonderful about showing me the local cultural events, things you can only experience in Switzerland. For example, we went to 2 Dèsalpes – a Swiss tradition where the cows descend from the mountains, walk through the towns dressed up with flowers and giant cow bells, and are led to the pastures down near the villages, which is accompanied by a little fair. I don’t think anyone could ever understand how many cows I saw. Literally. Two consecutive weekends of cows. Now, there are more and more “Marchés de Noël” – Christmas Markets –which are just adorable. My friends did end up taking me to one, and it was so nice jsut to walk around looking at the little stands and drink hot chocolate in the snow.

Naturally, I have been slowly eating my way through Swiss chocolate, but it is very hard to gain weight when you are eating the healthiest of your life at home. It is amazing to me the lengths at which Swiss people go to make sure that their diets are organic. I am a believer in healthy eating, but I find here that many people lack balance in their diets in their attempts to remain the most ecologically-friendly possible. The idea of being environmentally-friendly transitions into my school life as well, and we often have class with the lights off to save energy. It is amazing to me how conscientious everybody here is.

For the Christmas holidays, my host family took me to Italy with them to the little town called Livemmo where my host mom grew up. It was so different there even from my life in Switzerland, and it was sweet because my host mother wanted to share with me her childhood. She told me all about her favorite places to go, and we went walking around in the Italian Alps. But the little town that I was in, Livemmo, has a population of maybe about 150 people. Almost everyone is cousins or related in some way, and the first night there I got showed around to everyone, where I said “ciao” a whole lot and didn’t understand much else. After that trip, my host family took me for cross country skiing for the first time – epic fail – but it was a lot of fun. My host sister spent a lot of time laughing at me, and I spent a lot of time in the snow… but it was still a great experience. Now I have changed to my second host family, and they have signed me up for real ski lessons for Saturday!

Where I am right now, I can think back to who I was before. I know I’m the same person, but I have just had my eyes opened to so many new ideas and opinions. I cannot believe that I was lucky enough to have received an opportunity like the one I have right now. Thank you Rotary once again for all you have done for me through this amazing exchange!

McKenzie Bolin
2011-12 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Nease High School
Sponsor: St. Johns Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Nørre Snede Rotary Club in District1450 Denmark

McKenzie - Denmark

McKenzie’s Bio

Hej, Jeg Hedder McKenzie Bolin! (For those of you who don’t speak Danish, I said, “Hi, my name is McKenzie Bolin!”) In case you don’t know why I’m speaking Danish, it’s because next year I will be living in Denmark! I am 15 years old, although I will be 16 for my entire exchange year. I am currently a Sophomore at Nease High School where I’m in the International Baccalaureate program.

International Baccalaureate, or “I.B.” as most people call it, is an amazing program that I am very thankful to be a part of. It has taught me to always try my best and instilled in me how important work ethic is. The most important thing it has given me, though, is my love of learning new things and embracing other people’s opinions. This will be very helpful to me next year, when I will be constantly reminding myself that nothing is strange or weird, it’s just “different”.

I have lived in Florida my whole life, and I haven’t even lived outside of the Jacksonville area. I live at home, in Ponte Vedra, with my mom, my younger brother who is in 8th grade, and my maternal grandparents. My parents are divorced, but luckily for me, my dad lives close by, so I get to visit him on the weekends. I also have 4 dogs and 1 cat, which I count as a part of my family.

Some of my interests include volunteering, church, traveling, animals, lacrosse, and acting. I am in 3 clubs at my school: Best Buddies Club, Conservation Club, and Cultural Diversity Club. I also volunteer at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and at my church as a pre-school teacher on Sundays. This year, I started playing on my schools girls lacrosse team. I love it, because not only to I get to spend my time having fun with some friends doing something good for ourselves, but I also get to show off my school spirit. I have been acting for a few years now, and since I started, I have had small roles on T.V., a movie, and in multiple plays. I hope to someday become a zoo veterinarian as my career.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to do foreign exchange. No, I am not saying that as an expression, because my mom tells me that in first or second grade I asked if I could live in another country. From the moment I heard about Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew it was made for me! I am a very independent person and have always wanted to take an adventure on my own, so RYE was the perfect program. I am very excited to try many new things, foods, and cultural activities in Denmark.

I could not be more excited about going to Denmark! It still seems unbelievable that a year from now I will be living in Denmark, speaking Danish, and living like a Dane. I am sure it will be one of the best years of my life, and a great opportunity to experience another culture first-hand.

So many thoughts have been rushing through my head since I got the phone call about going having Denmark as my future host country…. I keep asking myself things like what my family and friends will be like, what my new home will look like, what I will do each day, and many more random thoughts and questions! It is so amazing to know that in a few short months, I will have all these questions answered!

I will never be able to thank Rotary enough for this amazing opportunity that will certainly be one of the best years of my life.

McKenzie’s Journals

July 19

As I sit here and write this, I know that my time in Florida is limited. I have a small 18 days left in “my world”. Florida is the world I have spent the past 15 years building. I have built a home, filled with family, friends, and comfort. That comfort I have built is the comfort of always feeling that I belong. I always know what is going on and I don’t feel out of place. One would like to think that the thought of leaving my entire world that I’ve spent so long building is insane and I would have a lot of anxiety about leaving it…. Well the truth is: I have never been more excited about anything in my entire life!

I have spent the past year of my life preparing for this and I know that I am ready! Just a few months ago I got an email that I had dreamed of getting for my entire life: telling me I was going to be an exchange student. Then, just 2 weeks after that, I got a phone call that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams: Jody Davis called to tell me I would be going to Denmark. Honestly, I never expected that. I knew I would be going on exchange, but I never expected Denmark. At the time, I had no knowledge about Denmark. I was in shock. It was a very excited shock, but shock nonetheless. Since then, I have spent every second learning about my future home and dreaming about my new life in my new world.

Since I was accepted into RYE FL, and chosen to go to Denmark, I have changed so much! I have already learned so much about myself and the world. Rotary always told us that after our exchange we would be more confident and responsible and independent, well honestly… I already feel like that (but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to how it will be after next year)! In the past year, I have learned to handle my own problems and I’ve learned so much about myself. I never imagined that I would be able to do everything I have done. Never could I have known that I was capable of handling visa issues and jumping through all the hoops I’ve had to jump through (and believe me, I had to jump through A LOT of hoops to make my exchange possible).

But, I don’t want to write these journals only to boast about all of my upcoming adventures. I want to allow everyone to know what it feels like to be an exchange student. There are ups and downs, and I’ve already had some. I had many downs whenever I would experience difficulties attempting to learn Danish (which I am now convinced is the hardest language to pronounce, but I do know it’s possible…. Somehow it has to be possible) or whenever I had an issue getting my visa (so stressful!). But, the one thing I want to make very clear, is that the ups have always been worth the downs. How do I know that? Well, any exchange student will tell you everything you do in your preparation year is worth the feeling you have when you read your first email from your host families and club counselor.  Now, I know my exchange is real, this isn’t just a dream I will wake up from (or so I continuously hope). I have skyped my host sisters and emailed my host moms. Nothing in the world can top that feeling of knowing that you belong in your new home and they are excited to see you!

I know next year will be hard. I know I will miss Florida and the comforts of the life I have built. But I also know that I must leave this life and go off on my own before I will ever be able to fully appreciate this life I’ve built and myself. So thank you Rotary, for making me the happiest teenager in the world. You have given me opportunities I could have only dreamed of so far.

September 6

I have been in Denmark for one month now and the only word I can possibly say is “Wow”! This past month has been amazing! I never imagined my new life would be this great! So, let me fill you in on everything that has happened so far!

My last week in Florida: I left on August 5th from the Jacksonville International Airport. The last week before I left was full of my “last times” of hanging out with my friends and seeing family members for a whole year. As I said my goodbyes, I honestly couldn’t bring myself to feel sad (not because I’m heartless, but partially due to my excitement and partially because I continuously felt as if I would see them again in a week). I officially got nervous when I went to the airport to greet Belen from Ecuador at the airport the day before I left. Then, the next day, it was my turn to leave. After hearing from all of my fellow outbounds who had already left and greeting an inbound, I finally had my chance. I didn’t cry as I had expected… I knew that I would be back in a year! The only time I really cried was when I looked down at Florida after my first plane took off (I still don’t know if they were tears of joy or of sadness).

Arriving in Denmark: I arrived in Denmark almost a full 24 hours later. I was completely exhausted (I had probably only gotten a good 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before I left and was so excited and nervous that I didn’t sleep at all on the way here). I was greeted by my club president, his wife, and their 2 granddaughters. That day I spent some time at their house, then went to my new home, unpacked, had dinner, and then went to a surprise party for my host sister in my 4th family (she had just returned from her exchange to Australia and her 17th birthday was that next week). I finally got to go to bed that night after 40 hours without sleep!

School: My school started one week after I arrived. The first day was crazy! I am in the first of 3 grades and on the first day, all of the upperclassmen decided to tease the 1st years. We were greeted at school by people waiting to paint our faces and spray our hair green- surprisingly, though, all of my class found it funny and we had a great day! The Friday of my first week was my birthday, which was amazing… but I’ll get to that later! School is surprisingly fun and easy here. I had thought that school would be much harder, but in the classes I understand (like math), I find them easier than in Florida, and all of the students get much less homework!

My Birthday: On my 2 week mark, I also celebrated my birthday! It was the Friday of the first week of school. My class sang to me (in Danish and English, because they use both songs here). My host families, host club, a few friends, and one Rotarian in my club all gave me gifts- which really surprised me since I had been here for such a short time! That night, my host mom invited some of my friends over for coffee and cake! And not just any cake… kage mand! It is cake shaped like a person, covered in candy- best cake on Earth (and when you cut it, you slit the throat and the birthday person screams!)

Intro camp: For my 4th week here, I went to intro camp. I was able to spend a week with 120 other exchange students. We had Danish classes and also did many other things, such as: private concert with the Danish band “Striving Vines”, spending a day in Aarhus (shopping and at the museum ARoS), watching a Danish film, along with plenty of other fun things! After spending a week with all of the other students, I can’t wait until our next get-together!

Fun things: I have already had some amazing experiences! I got to fly in a glider plane! I have been to the west coast of Jylland where I saw giant sand sculptures. A Rotarian in my club took me to a medieval festival, which was amazing!

This past month has been hard at times, but absolutely amazing! I am so happy with my decision to become an exchange student with Rotary! I have already had so many experiences that wouldn’t be possible back in Florida. I have grown as a person and have learned something new every day. My Danish is slowly but steadily improving, which makes me very proud!

Tak til Rotary og min familie og venner i Florida (Thanks to Rotary and my family and friends back in Florida!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just over 2 weeks ago, I celebrated my 3 month mark of being in Denmark, which I suppose means I should write a journal again!

My life has been crazy since I got here. So much has happened since I wrote last. Not only have I done so many different things, but I’ve experienced so many different emotions, met so many amazing people, learned more than I ever imagined (not just Danish, but about myself and the world as well), and changed as a person.

I have had an amazing time here, but that goes without saying I have also had some hard times. I knew that this year would be hard and would test me, but I will admit I was surprised at how hard it was and in what ways. I honestly didn’t expect to get homesick (which luckily I wasn’t ever too homesick and I never wished to go home, but I have had some days where I’ve missed my mom and dad), and I think I also didn’t realize how exhausting this exchange process can be! I think only exchange students understand what I mean when I say that I never knew it was possible to experience so many different emotions at once (sadness, joy, excitement, pride, disappointment, frustration, and pure happiness, along with other emotions I couldn’t even describe).

One really fun thing I experienced was visiting Copenhagen! My first host family took me to Copenhagen and Roskilde for 3 days and it was a great trip. During my fall holiday, they decided to take me to visit the country capitol (which is something I can’t say I’ve even done in the USA, my home country). The trip was really nice and it was great to see things I have only seen pictures before now. While there we toured castles, saw the harbor, saw churches older than the USA (well actually almost everything we saw was older than the USA which I found fascinating), and of course, visited the little mermaid statue. We also saw the changing of the guard at the Queens castle, where I had an interesting moment with a guard. After the changing of the guard, I decided to take a picture with one of the guards like many other people. I waited my turn, handed my camera to my host dad, and then stood the respectable distance from the guard… my host dad motioned for me to get closer to the guard. Once I tried to inch closer, the guard gave me a very angry look and then shooed me away. Normally I find it easy to make friends, but I guess for some reason he didn’t like me!

My favorite part about visiting Copenhagen was when I realized that I feel partly Danish. While there I felt the same way that I would expect to feel if I visited DC. I felt like a tourist since I don’t live in Copenhagen, but I didn’t feel like a foreigner. It is very hard to explain, but it was a feeling I really liked having!

Another fun thing I’ve done here was go to a national get together for the inbounds! I loved being able to catch up with some of my really good friends. I got to see the 2 other students from Florida, my oldies (the students who come in January- mostly from Australia and New Zealand), and all of the other exchange students! We spent the entire weekend catching up and bonding. We also had a crazy costume party which was a blast! I guess anytime you put a ton of excited exchange students together, blast Danish, American, Spanish, and Brazilian music, you’re bound to have a good time! That night no one slept, because we partied all night long.

I have already switched host families for the first time! I will have 4 families this year, so I will spend about 3 months with each family. I had met with my new family before I moved and I already loved them. My host parents are so sweet and so is my host brother (19) and they’re adorable dog! Even before I moved in, I knew they would be a great family for me, but for some reason, I was so nervous when the time came to move. I guess at that time, I had already put so much hope into them and was afraid that maybe after I moved in something would change and I wouldn’t feel the same way. I was also afraid of having to re-adjust to a new family, especially since I was just beginning to become comfortable here. Luckily, once my new host parents came to pick me up, all of my nerves calmed and within hours of living with them I already felt like a member of the family! I love my new host family and am so happy and thankful they are hosting me!

My Danish is improving step by step. It is hard, but I get better every day. I can understand most of what people say (given that they are willing to not say it at the speed of light!), but responding is still hard. I guess the best way to describe how I feel when I speak Danish is by comparing it to when a puppy barks. Anyone who has ever had a new puppy knows the reaction they have the first time they bark. At first, the puppy doesn’t know barking is possible, and then it hears other dogs bark and is curious. Then one day, the puppy will bark. Not knowing what just happened and given it’s their first time it feels strange, but over time, barking becomes less and less strange to them… I know this may seem confusing, but that is the best way I can explain how I feel speaking Danish. It is weird at first, but it is becoming more and more natural. My Danish has actually improved so much that I have already started dreaming and thinking in Danish. I had one very short dream in Danish a few weeks ago, as well as frequent moments of realization that my thoughts are occasionally in Danish.

Although my Danish is improving, it definitely isn’t perfect yet, as I have been reminded through some moments of misunderstanding! One day, my first host mom and I went to an outdoor market our town has every year. At the market they sell everything from animals to toys and books. That evening, my host dad asked my host mom what we saw that day. My host mom listed many different things, one of which being “kattekillinger” (which means kittens). I recognized “katte” as cats, but didn’t recognize “killinger” and thought that my host mom just said that we saw cats being killed! I guess my face showed my shock because my host parents asked what was wrong. I then explained that I had no idea people were killing cats, so they had to explain that it was kittens, not cats being killed.

Just 2 weeks ago while watching TV with my new host family I had another misunderstanding that lead to a funny store and a little embarrassment. While watching TV, the words “Sneen falder i 4 dage” (The snow falls in 4 days). I immediately got excited as my host family just watched and laughed! It turns out that the phrase was talking about the Juleøl (Christmas beer), not real snow… And by the way I have yet to see any snow here, but I’m hoping it will come soon! I guess one thing I have learned this year is to laugh at myself. I have realized that I am bound to mess up the language and with the culture and the best way to get through it is with a big smile and a laugh.

Although I may have some moments of confusion or misunderstanding, I am very proud of how much my Danish has improved. Before I came here, my understanding of Danish was horrible and I am now able to express myself and understand quite a lot. My accent and pronunciation is still horrible, but it is getting better. I even gave a full (20 minutes long) presentation to my Rotary club in Danish just 2 weeks ago. I was very nervous before (which is something that normally doesn’t happen but I guess the pressure of speaking that much Danish scared me), but it wound up going great! I loved being able to show off my new language skills and thank my host club for all they’ve done!

While I was presenting in Danish, I realized that just a year ago I was being told by Mrs. Roderick and Mrs. Cameron that I could be presenting in another language! At the time I honestly thought they were crazy to think I’d be able to speak another language in such a short amount of time, but (as always), they were right! I still can’t believe that just a year ago I was contemplating the possibilities of becoming an exchange student. Going to the Rotary presentation was the most life changing thing imaginable and I am so fortunate to have this opportunity!

Some other things I’ve done:

•Toured a cookie factory! In my future town, there is the Royal Dansk butter cookies factory, where a Rotarian in my club just happens to work! Knowing how much I love their cookies, she offered to take me on a tour. It was really interesting and a great experience.

•Gone to a district get together in Ry, a nearby town. We canoed 5km and hiked about 6-7 km (mostly uphill). Although they made us sweat all of our Rotary weight off (which by the way- Rotary weight is real, much to my dismay), we all had a great time getting to know each other. We also got a good laugh when we learned how to dance a Danish folk dance.

•Seen the “bogman” of Denmark in a museum in Silkeborg.

•Visited tons of museums!

•Gone with my club president, his wife, and my friend/ my clubs future outbound to my club president’s Somerhus (summerhouse) for a weekend.

•Gone to a Wafande concert with my French class where we won a rapping competition.

•Visited Kolding with my new host parents. Just last weekend we went into the town which is only an hour away from where we live. First we went to the GIANT mall there (as we drove up my host mom and I both got excited as we saw it!). After a few hours of shopping, we went to “Kolding huset” (The Kolding house- it is a Castle originally built in the 1200’s that has been burnt down and rebuilt since). It was nice because it was my first real outing with my new family and it was good to just spend a day with them (plus touring a castle is always fun!).

•Gone to a handball game! I can now call myself a handball fan!

The past 3 months have been crazy and I have been on an emotional roller coaster, but it has been the most rewarding experience of my life! I never imagined my life would be like this, but I love it! I love feeling like a Dane and speaking Danish. Rotary has given me an amazing experience and although my time here is limited, I will not waste it. I have already done and learned so much, and I know that will continue.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity and for all of your ongoing support! Thanks to my family and friends in Florida and here in Denmark, because without you I never would survive this year or had this chance. Much love from Denmark!

Walking down the streets, I no longer have the feeling of being forever amazed by everything I see. Instead of everything being special and new, now it’s normal. I no longer question things, and just do them without thinking about it. Danish comes to me much more naturally now and I struggle for words much less often. At first I thought that having everything seem much more normal to me would mean that I don’t appreciate them as much, but now that it has happened, I realized that isn’t true. Although I look at things differently, I still appreciate them as much. I no longer appreciate driving past cow farms everyday on the way to school because it’s new, I appreciate it because it’s become my life and my life in Denmark has become normal to me, which is what I always hoped for!

Since my last journal, things have been both crazy busy but also uneventful. I guess the reason for this isn’t because I haven’t done anything lately (because I have definitely done plenty) but more because of the fact that things that seem normal to me now (like going to my language class two times a week) aren’t as big of a deal to me as they used to be. I have been able to go out and see plenty of fun things lately, but I have also been able to see how my life would be if I was raised in Denmark. I have now experienced the Danish holiday season and been able to have an amazing time.

One fun thing I did recently was visit Copenhagen with my Rotary club president and his wife. It was great for me to get to spend some time with them and we had such a great weekend. One of the best things from that weekend was visiting Tivoli. Tivoli is an amusement park right in the middle of the city. It is completely magical and I will never forget the view I had when on the roller coasters looking over the walls of Tivoli into the city, being able to view both the new and old parts of the city.

I also recently had the opportunity of sharing an American classic with my host family. I made them a mini Thanksgiving dinner. Because it was just the 4 of us it was a small meal and unfortunately given that I made the meal in December in Denmark (which, by the way doesn’t have canned pumpkin or sweet potatoes). My host family loved the meal and I was happy being able to share Thanksgiving with them here (although my host parents practically had a heart attack just seeing how much butter I put into the meal).

My favorite thing I got to experience so far was a Danish Christmas! I have always been a sucker for Christmas and so celebrating Christmas here was amazing. First off, Christmas was celebrated all December long. I watched the countdown shows on TV, had one of the chocolate calendars that I used to have as a kid, listened to Christmas songs in Danish, and what has now become a tradition I will bring to America- we burned a “kalendarlys” which is a countdown candle that burns down each day! Although the Danes celebrate Christmas all December long, it really became Christmas about 2-3 days before Christmas when we decorated the tree (a real tree!) and the house got fully decorated with Christmas decorations!

Here, everyone celebrates Christmas on the 24th which seemed a tad off, but then I got over it because it meant I could open gifts a day early! My host family had a full house for Christmas (my host brother who lives at home, my host parents, their 2 daughters and their husbands, my host aunt, uncle, and grandma, and of course, me!). We had a special lunch, then went to church together, then came home and watched a Disney Christmas special that every Dane watches every year, and then the real celebration began! We all got dressed up, had a large delicious dinner, and then practiced the weird Danish tradition that I completely fell in love with- we danced and sang around the Christmas tree which had candles on it! After we finished that, we started opening presents which lasted a few hours! It was my best Christmas ever and I will forever be thankful to my host family and Rotary for allowing me to have had such a great experience.

Another major holiday in Denmark is New Years and I would say it’s celebrated even better than in America. On New Year’s eve, I stayed at home with my host family where we had many guests who came and celebrated with us! We watched Denmark’s Queen make a speech on TV about the past and future year. After that we had a huge meal and then celebrated the new year by watching the clock ring on TV in Copenhagen and then celebrated with great fireworks!

Just a few weeks ago I got to spend some time with my next host parents. They took me to Århus to visit “Den Gamle By”, which is a town where they have houses from older times. It was a great day, because not only did I get to learn about older times in Denmark, but I also got to spend some time with my future host parents.

One thing I’ve learned here is that my family back home isn’t my only family and that family is what you make of it. My family and friends have become very important to me this year. Not only do I have my biological family in Florida, I have my host families, my close friends, and my fellow exchange students (both from Florida and staying in Denmark). One of the hardest things I have gotten quite good at through this exchange is saying goodbye to family. First I said goodbye to my RYE FL family, then my friends and family in Florida, then my first host family, and now, my oldies (exchangers who come from January to January). Just this weekend I had to say goodbye to the oldie I was closest to. It was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to her was hard, knowing I probably won’t ever see her again, but I will never forget the memories we have together and her leaving also means that there will soon be new exchange students coming to take her place! It was also a lit tle strange because her going away party marked my 5 month mark, which also meant that I have 6 months left. It was a nice little reminder that my time here is limited, and so it should always be treated special because I only get one shot at my exchange.

My time here in Denmark has been great so far! I think a large part of that is because I have such a great host family and Rotary club here. I was very afraid I would get homesick around the holidays, but because of my great host family and how they have made me feel so at home with them, I wasn’t homesick at all! I will be moving in early February which is something I have mixed feelings about. I know my next host family is amazing, but I am so happy with this host family! I tell them all the time that I couldn’t have asked for a better host family!

Before I sign off I just want to say congratulations to the future outbounds (and to you lucky ones going to Denmark- tillykke!) Whether you realize it or not, you have just begun the best adventure of your lives! Enjoy your pre-exchange year and don’t wish it away because you will make it to your host country, but first you must experience the pre-year! I wish you all the best on your exchanges next year!

Thank you again to everyone back in Florida! Without all of the Rotarians and Rotex’s help last year, I am sure I wouldn’t be here right now!

April 7, 2012

“Exchange isn’t a year of your life; it’s your life in a year”.

8 months of my exchange have come and gone and with them I’ve changed and experienced things. I’ve had good and bad experiences, but they have all been important. Through everything I’ve experienced, I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and I’ve become the person that I am right now. I have accomplished things I’ve never thought possible, I’ve seen and done things I’ve always dreamed of, and I’ve learned- about myself and the world.

Whenever I would tell people I was going to Denmark for a year, one of the most common things said was “but a year is such a long time”. I have come to realize these people were never exchange students. With each passing day, I come to realize just how short a year is. It has gotten to the point that whenever someone brings up my “return home”, I have to tell them to not talk about it- my close friends in Denmark and I honestly can’t stand the thought of it, and talking about it makes it worse. I hate hearing people talk about things coming up that will be happening after I am back in Florida. I remember always hearing Rotary tell us that coming “home” will be the hardest part of our exchange, and I’m now starting to realize how true that is.

One of the many reminders about how quickly time passes was moving from my 2nd to 3rd host family. Moving day was one of the hardest days on my exchange. In the 3 months I lived with my 2nd family, I found complete happiness. I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with them. They helped me through things when I needed help (even when I didn’t want to admit it, but my host mom was way too good at realizing when I was having a hard day). I felt so at home in their house and with them, I never had to work at our relationship, they just automatically became like family. With them I was able to not worry about being a tourist and just live my life in Denmark. They were patient with my Danish (God bless their poor souls for all the hours they spent helping me learn this language).

Moving families was hard. I cried. A lot. I had to accept the fact that a part of my exchange was over. But, after the tears were shed and the bags were unpacked in their new home, I realized that my 3rd host parents are really great! I have come to feel at home in this house as well and I’ve had some great times with them as well. After I realized that my 3rd host family will never be the same as my 2nd, but can be just as good (just in a different way), I was able to have lots of fun with my new host parents. I have come to the conclusion that my 2nd and 3rd host parents can’t be better or worse than each other, they’re both great host families, but in 2 different ways.

Since moving, I have been able to travel around Denmark a bit and see some things (actually, A LOT of things). I’ve been to different cities (Århus, Ribe, Odense, and Silkeborg), seen more museums than I imagined Denmark had, and learned a lot about Danish history. Aside from seeing different things, I’ve also been able to spend some time with my new host parents (alright I guess since I’ve lived with them for 2 months now, I should stop calling them my “new” host parents). I’ve gotten to meet their family and have reached the same level of comfort around them that I had with my 2nd family and even with my family back in Florida.

I have been really busy spending time with my friends here. I find I am constantly going out to the city, shopping, sleepovers, small parties, or just to watch a movie with a friend or two. One of the most important decisions I made this year was to be certain that I always say yes to every opportunity and for now, I can proudly say I’ve done just that! Although at times I may have felt unsure or out of my comfort zone, I find I’m always happy I tried it.

Recently, I was able to celebrate a very Danish tradition, festelavn. It is basically the Danish version of Halloween and is in February. My school even had a big party and everyone dressed up! It was lots of fun and a cute tradition.

One of the most exciting things I was able to do lately was visit Paris! I went for a week to stay with my great aunt and uncle and was able to get in all the famous sightseeing. I was able to see so many things that, until now, I’ve only dreamed of seeing. It was an amazing trip and it was great seeing family that I haven’t seen in years. It was also a nice break, I got to think some things through and leave some of the rush of Denmark. As much fun as I had in Paris, though, I was happier than I thought I would be to come back home. It was great hearing Danish again and seeing my friends and family here! I realized by leaving, that Denmark has truly become my home and is the place I love.

Aside from the above mentioned things…. My life is fairly normal still. I go to school, spend lots of time out with all of my friends here (I really couldn’t have asked for better friends than the ones I’ve made here in Denmark), spend time with my host families, and live the life I’ve come to love.

Words can’t explain how thankful I am to Rotary. With the help of Rotary and my exchange, my entire life has changed. I’ve grown so much as a person in the past months and have been able to make my own decisions about my beliefs. My views have been tested through this exchange, and because of that I’ve realized how I truly feel about things. I’ve been forced to grow and mature past my age which is something I couldn’t comprehend happening from an exchange. This exchange has changed my outlook on life and has helped me grow into who I am. Without Rotary I wouldn’t be able to say any of these things and I also wouldn’t have met any of the people I have, I wouldn’t have seen the things I have, and wouldn’t have done the things I have. Tusind tak Rotary!

June 22, 2012

I suppose it’s safe to say time goes fast because I had no idea it has actually been so long since my last journal! As always, there has been so much that has gone on since my last update. I have moved host families, gone on plenty of trips with host families, spent 18 days in a bus on the most amazing trip of my life, and even started the countdown to coming “home”.

I can’t possibly list all of the small trips I’ve gone on since my last update, but I’ll just tell you the best. I think my favorite was going to Copenhagen for the Queens birthday. In Denmark, the Queen’s birthday is a national holiday and many people celebrate it by going to her castle in Copenhagen and waving to her at noon, and since my host mom loves the queen and I definitely needed to experience this, we did just that.

In the middle of May I left for the ultimate trip- Eurotour. I left for an 18 day bus trip spanning over 5,000km into 8 countries. I was able to bond with 49 other exchange students and experience many places that I otherwise may not have seen. Together, we sailed along the canals of Venice, walked the streets of Paris, stood on both sides of the old Berlin wall, and sat and watched the Monaco Grand Prix race trials.

Eurotour was definitely a highlight of my exchange and I will always have great memories of it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was excited about coming back home to Denmark. After spending 18 days without Danish I was overly-excited to hear the language again and couldn’t wait to start the last 6 weeks of my exchange. Once I got back in Denmark I moved back in with my 2nd host family instead of my 3rd (my 3rd host mom needed knee surgery making it better for everyone if I moved back to my 2nd family). My 2nd host parents were slightly afraid that since I now have summer, I may end up being bored, but I’m far from that.

The past 3 weeks of “post-eurotour” have been insanely busy. I started out with catching up with my friends since I missed them like crazy. Then I took a day trip to Northern Jutland in a town called Skagen (a beautiful place where you can see two sea’s meet and stand as far north in Denmark as possible) with my 2nd host family. I have also been on a day trip to the west coast with a Rotarian in my club, where I was able to try surfing for the first time (of course I would be the weird Floridian that learns to surf in Denmark of all places). I also spent an entire weekend with one of my best friends where we went to an amusement park and threw an American bbq/party for our friends.

Just this week I had an evening with my club president and his wife as well as all of my host families together. It was great seeing them all together and seeing my host moms come together to chat about stories they all had of me. I am currently preparing for my last Rotary meeting in Denmark where I will give a presentation (in Danish of course) for my club about my year. It’s crazy to see how different it is for me now, compared to back in November when I gave my first long full Danish presentation; I no longer feel nervous or have to struggle to write a 30 minute speech in a foreign language.

The next 3 weeks will probably be even more hectic than the last. I will eventually need to say the hardest goodbyes of my life (to my host families, classmates, and closest friends) as well as accomplish the other things I have on my calendar (like an American grill party for my 3rd family, legoland, and my school’s last party of the year). I know that leaving will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I suppose that’s how I know I’ve had such a great exchange.

My year has been full of struggles, whether they be in the form of Danish, school, making friends, or coming to feel at home with a family I just met. In the end, I couldn’t be happier about my decision. Exchange has been amazing in ways that I know only other exchange students will understand. Thank you to Rotary for allowing me this wonderful, life changing opportunity that I’d never have otherwise had. Through this exchange I’ve learned so much- I’ve become fluent in Danish, come to know so many amazing people, and learned the worst lesson for exchange students- that I can’t control time so I better have fun and make the most of it while I still can.

November 3, 2012

I’ve been back in Florida for over 3 months now and I still cannot accept the sad truth- my exchange is over. I’ve definitely experienced an entire roller coaster of emotions since returning home, and yes, I do still miss Denmark.

It’s hard for me to think that 3 and a half months ago I was standing in the Billund airport crying my eyes out, dragging my 5 pound blazer around, and hugging the people that I love most dearly goodbye. That whole day is a complete blur in my mind, and yet I continuously go over that day, second by second. I remember hugging each person goodbye, promising my best friend in the entire world that this would not be the end of our friendship. I remember the way the sun hit my tear filled face as the plane took off from Denmark. I can’t get the stream of images out of my head.

Oh… and maybe I should mention the crazy “we can’t find your plane ticket” drama…. Basically, my plane tickets weren’t issued properly (to no fault of anybody, but basically due to the airline merger drama). Then I was sent on a plane to Frankfurt and told to “figure it out there”, after much fighting and stress and long layovers (gotta love those Texas rainstorms that cause 6 hour flight delays!), I finally made it to Jacksonville.

Once I got home, I realized something. That day was both the worst and best day of my life. In that day, I of course had to say goodbye to everyone I love, but I also got to come back to everyone else that I love. That is the one day of my life (albeit the one 30 hour day of my life) where I was able to see everyone I love in one day, I was able to be in both of my homes in one day, and I was able to hug all 4 of my moms in one day.

As I said earlier, coming home hasn’t been easy. I still have random emotional outbursts of joy and pain when thinking about Denmark. I cry from happiness and sadness, sadness because I miss those moments with those people, but happy because I am just so happy that I was able to experience those things and meet those people.

It’s been hard adjusting back into a culture that used to seem so normal. I question everything now. I still have language lapses. Although my Danish is slowly slipping away, it will randomly pop up in unexpected moments, an occurrence my friends and family have started getting used to. I will admit that Americans confuse me. After experiencing something so different and amazing, I can’t help but wonder how some of my classmates are so content in their bland lives, not even curious about the world around them.

School was probably the biggest shock in general. I couldn’t get over the fact that I must now call my teachers by their last name and ask to go to the bathroom. And…. Well high school is tough in general, but once you’ve seen the world and matured, high school is next to impossible. But, I’m finding a way to survive.

During the summer, district 6970 hosted the welcome home dinner. When I received the email telling me to write a 3-4 minute speech about my exchange I thought Paula had lost her mind. There was no way I could do that. So, I decided to write about the best part of my exchange, the people. The love I saw last year was incomprehensible. My host families will always be a part of my life, as well as my amazing group of friends.

Somehow, I made it through my entire speech without crying. I came surprisingly close to surviving the entire night without crying, until Paula called everyone up to the stage. I immediately knew what we were receiving. In our preparation year, everyone in D6970 was asked to write a letter to their future selves explaining what we hoped we accomplished during our exchange. In the second I walked up to that stage I couldn’t stop myself anymore; because I knew what that letter meant. It meant I had accomplished everything I wanted. I had a successful exchange. And then I noticed something, I had written “Do not open this until you speak fluent Danish” on the outside of the envelope. That night I gladly tore open my letter and realized just how much I’d grown.

After last year, I know that I will never finish having an adventure. I will just move from one adventure to another. Some might call me crazy, but I know that I will be the happy person who can die knowing I gave life everything and I will refuse to live with regret.

Now I get to spend time helping others find their journey, since I’ve been staying as involved as possible in helping Rotary find possible new outbound student. It’s weird knowing that at the high school presentations I helped present, I was one of the audience members just a couple of years ago. It’s crazy thinking about how it only takes a moment to change your life forever.

This journey has been crazy. It has been the best thing that ever happened to me. It has been life changing. I now know who I am as a person. I know what I want in life. And I know that I am capable of accomplishing my dreams. Thank you Rotary, you have given me a gift that I will never be able to pay back, although I will spend my life trying.

Michael Martin
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Palatka, Florida
School: Palatka High School
Sponsor: Palatka Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Barreiras Rio das Ondas, District 4550, Brazil

Michael - Brazil

Michael’s Bio

I have really started living only in the last few years. Before I turned 16, I drifted through life. I watched what was going on around me, sure, but I did not really work toward what I wanted. Then, 12 December 2008 happened. My best friend died in a car crash at the age of 19. His death opened my eyes and made me aware that I was not going to live forever. After that day, I set out on a journey to truly live, and experience the things I had been content to watch from afar. This exchange is a big step outside of the ordinary for me, and I think Jake would be proud of me for it.

My name is Michael Martin, and I am a senior at the high school of a little town in Florida called Palatka. I have a younger sister whom I love dearly, a mom who has always supported me, and a father who has shown me responsibility and the value of working hard for what I want. I have a few friends whom I treasure dearly and will miss sorely on this exchange. Oddly, many of them have names that start with an A… Anyway, I have been a resident of this town my entire life, and have never even been outside North America. It seems appropriate in a way that my first trip out of the United States is to both a different hemisphere and a different continent.

I love music. One of the things I look forward to the most is listening to music I have never even dreamt of here. As well, I would like to see the world from a Brazilian perspective, rather than the narrow one I can see from the U.S. After I return to the U.S., I hope to use my new skills and language to find a career working to make peoples’ lives better. Whether that career is broad or narrow in its focus on those people is something I will figure out later.

I would like to thank Mrs. Cameron for coming to my high school (I told you I would follow through!), RYE Florida for all their work on my behalf, my friends who’ve helped me in their myriad ways, and my family for their love and support for what is sure to be a life-changing experience for me.


Michael’s Journals

September 15

I have a lot to say here, but I’m going to start with this: At times, I can`t believe that just a year ago, I met the lovely Mrs. Cameron at my high school for an afternoon presentation about Rotary Youth Exchange. At times I can’t believe that it’s been only 9 months since I found out I was going to Brazil for a year. Most of all, I have trouble at times believing that I’ve been here a month already. It feels both like I’ve been here for so much longer, and that time is shooting by.

August 16th was the official end of the first year of my exchange. Around noon, I left my little town of Palatka for Jacksonville and the airport that would launch me away from everything I’d ever known up till then. I arrived a good deal earlier than I needed to with my mother, father, and younger sister, but it gave me time to relax before going through security. I had never flown before (or even been in an airport, if I recall correctly), and was just the littlest bit nervous. The airport, thankfully, allowed my dad through with me, so I didn’t have any problems. It wasn’t very long before that the gate to my plane opened, and I was hugging my dad goodbye. I didn’t cry, but I think it was more shock than anything else. I had never been truly on my own, and here I was boarding a plane to another country (another world, it felt like!), alone. I took a deep breath, picked up my bags, and stepped.

That was 4 weeks ago today. When I arrived in Brasil, I made it through Customs and Immigration with little more than a smile (Thank you Randy), and eventually made it to Brasilia. There I was greeted by the Chairman of RYE District 4530, Mário Sérgio da Silva Cardoso, and spent the night in his home because my next flight was the next morning. After a quick flight to Barreiras, my beloved little (little?) town, I landed at the airport and was greeted by my rotary club in its quasi-entirety. I was so shocked by everything; I could barely remember the little Portuguese I knew. I met my first Host Mom, Inácia, whose daughter Ana is in Florida on exchange at this moment, and was given a grand view of my city from what I believe is the steepest hill I’ve ever been driven down. Barreiras is a very important agricultural town in extreme western Bahia, and while as big as Salvador, it’s still a lot bigger than my town in Florida.

I always thought of myself as a person tolerant of differences and able to adapt to just about anything. Living in Brasil (especially far inland in the Northeast, away from the touristy attractions) has taught me this: If you really want to find out some (potentially unsettling) thing(s) about yourself, remove yourself from everything familiar and comfortable. I never danced before coming here; I never walked through neighborhoods where it probably wasn’t a good idea to be alone at night; I never knew how it felt to be a stranger in another culture, curious to learn, and have someone go far out of their way to show you something they thought was important. I never went to parties, or even really wanted to (WHY?!?!). I was content to sit at home, or school, or work, and wish I was different, or things were different, and never actually do something for myself. I was the biggest thing standing in my own way, and standing in the way of all those social connections I resigned myself to never having. No More.

And now, for the thing that all exchange students are legally bound to do during their first journals (Look on the guarantee form, there’s another clause in microdot form): Lists!

• I’m not going to say anything about the roads and people driving in Brasil, except that you really should put your seatbelt on, no matter the weird looks you may get from the driver’s seat.

• Motorcycles are very common here, and a lot of the people on them ignore the few rules that other drivers follow.

• Conçerta sounds kind of like concert, but if you stick your head out the window listening for music as you drive through town with your host dad, he’s going to laugh at you the entire way to the repair shop.

• Also, Brasil uses the metric system. If you’re not really paying attention in class, and all of a sudden your math teacher asks for your weight, divide the number (in pounds) by 2.2 and say that. Don’t tell him you weigh 160 Kgs, or everyone is going to laugh at you. A lot.

• Apparently, Osama Bin Laden is alive here in Barreiras, selling ice cream. I’ll try to get a photo and post it in an upcoming journal.

• You will learn to love arroz e feijão, and having big lunches is something to look forward after school in the morning.

• Also, apparently, everyone knows Michael Jackson, Michael Phelps, and Michael Jordan. Oh, and Harry Potter too.

• Rachel (Outbound to Japan) is right: You can make someone laugh in any language. And people truly appreciate the effort you put into trying to communicate with them, so don’t let frustration stop you. Keep trying.

• It’s harder if you’re the only exchange student in your town, but you’ll learn Portuguese much faster. It’s that, or you can sit at home because you can’t talk to anybody.

And finally (also required), the advice portion for future outbounds. You are going to feel bad, very bad at times. Maybe it’s when you look up at the electrical wires running into your showerhead (I kind of wish someone had told me this before the last week before I left, and don’t worry, it’s not dangerous) (although Anna Shipley has a funny story about that from the inbound weekend…), or when you’re sitting in class by yourself because everyone else is working on an assignment that you don’t have to do. Maybe it’s the second week, when you are in the bathroom because your stomach still hasn’t adjusted to the food (it gets better, trust me), or when you’re lying in bed missing your friends, your family, the places you went where you could do what you wanted, say what you wanted, because you knew the language. All I can say is this: You’re tougher than you know, and you can make it through this. Just endure for one more day. Then another. And another. Soon enough, you’ll be spitting out Portuguese like you’d never have believed, and loving your new life. Also, it helps a lot to write down what you feel, whether in a journal, a blog (both for me), or something else. It makes looking back easier, and you might write a memoir one day. You’re going to need the notes.

Anyhow, I know this is a very long post, but it’s been a month, and I like to write. A tremendous “Thank you” to everyone involved in RYE Florida, especially Daphne Cameron, Jody Davis, Al Kalter, Bill Learn, Paula Roderick, all the Rotex, my RYE classmates, Rotary Club Rio de Ondas Barreiras, District 4550, and my wonderful family and friends for supporting me while I’m here. It won’t be long before I’m back and saying “I want to go home!!!” Até Mais -Michael

“Not all who wander are lost.” I discovered this quote not long ago, and I like thinking about it. For me, it speaks of a journey, one without a final destination. If such a journey has no pre-determined end, then our focus should be on the things found along the path; experiences that make us feel like the whole world is dancing; things that make us instinctively recoil in terror or disgust; ancient relics that force us to ponder the past. Moreover, in wandering, perhaps we will find some new path, leading us to places long lost, or never before seen.

So, it has been almost 5 months since I left Florida, and I have had too many experiences to ever relate in one sitting. In five short months, I think that to say I have changed completely is not wrong. I remember who I was in my old life, and I can see all the opportunities I passed on for some reason. I cannot wait to apply all the lessons I have learned here in Brasil, my adoptive home. It has not been easy being 4000+ miles from my family and friends, but I have to give my eternal thanks to the wonderful families and people of Brasil who have welcomed me so kindly into their homes, their lives, and their hearts.

The first half of December was a wonderful chapter in my exchange. I traveled from my city of Barreiras to Itapetinga for a meeting of the intercambistas in Bahia state (the ones who weren’t traveling on the Northeast trip, anyway). After a record (for me) 14-hour bus ride, I spent a amazing weekend with my fellow students, where I: played soccer for the first time in about 10 years (Although my friend Britta was a lot more valuable as a goalie); introduced myself (in Portuguese) from a stage, in front of at least 150 people, at a dance; met and stayed with a wonderful family whose son is hoping to be an exchange student next year; and finally had an opportunity to compare my Portuguese skills with the other exchange students (I’m doing very well for 5 months here). After that, I went to Ilhéus (a beautiful oceanside town that made me miss Florida so much!) to pass a few days before I went to Salvador the next weekend. I didn’t get to see the beaches I’ve heard so much about (I will visit them next time, even if I have to walk across town), but it was great seeing my friends Britta and Kate in their city, and spending time with the local Interact.

Then it was time to go to Salvador, to help with the Candidate interviews for District 4550 for next year. Britta and I made the trip by bus, and arrived in nighttime. The first time I came to Salvador I arrived in the morning, and was struck by how large and spread out the city was. This time, between normal city lights and Christmas decorations, it looked even bigger! After pizza and bed, the next day was Interview Time! A marathon twelve hours of asking the same questions over and over, studying the little details of the candidates, trying to determine who had the best reasons for going, who would do well completely off balance and who would just burn out – all from a 15 minute interview! Admittedly, it didn’t feel like the acid-test approach of my interviews, but I still have a better appreciation of what it’s like to choose people to put your hopes behind before handing them an airplane ticket to another country. (One small after-note: Interviews ende d at 5:15 PM, and afterwards I went to the bus station, bought my ticket to Barreiras (I cannot describe how proud and terrified I was that I did this by myself for the first time in Salvador), and waited for my 7:45 bus, before traveling for 12 hours. I took that Monday off.)

I had already spent 4 months with my first host family, so I changed to a temporary home with another Rotarian in my city. Marisete has made me feel so welcome, and I love having host siblings in house for once. I passed Christmas with her and her family, and that went better than I had ever hoped. My family in Florida never was very big, so we never had a big family get-together and party for Christmas. However, Marisete has a lot of family here in town, so it was a big event, and I really enjoyed it. I had thought that I would spend Christmas sad and thinking about being separate from my family…and, while I certainly felt those feelings, I only have one Exchange, and it was so easy to enjoy myself with everyone that I had a great time. Now, in the days before the New Year, I’m getting ready to change to my “Second Host Family,“ but I feel that Marisete was as much a family for me as the next two will be.

As always, a word for the future outbounds (besides heartfelt “Congratulations”!). I have the unique experience of being the only RYE student in my city. This has made my exchange both easier in some ways, and harder in others. Easier in that, lacking other intercambistas to talk to, I have had to make friends from the people I met in school, or from people my family knew. This in turn helped motivate me to learn my language.

At the same time, being (physically, since the internet is a wonderful thing) far from people who understand what I feel (and my efforts to express those feelings) has been tough at times. There were (and are) many times that I feel frustrated, because it feels like everyone just sees me as this giant baby, unable to talk properly, who has to be carried around and taken care of. Moreover, all I want to do is rant about it, but there is no one to talk to who understands and will listen. Be careful. These are the types of feelings that can turn sour and rotten if left bottled inside you. Write, run, box, play Capoeira, do anything to help draw these feelings out. It is far too easy to let resentment color your vision, and the wonderful people who have agreed to take you in do not deserve unwarranted prejudice.

So, in summary: At 5 months in, I’m doing very well with Portuguese; I already feel very comfortable with life here; I have many friends, both from my families and of my own work; I’m about to enter the New Year with another new family. I’m not happy all the time, but in general, I’m loving life. I don’t feel that the end of my Exchange is a deadline hanging over my head, waiting to drop like an iron cage. It’s more like a string tied ‘round my finger, a gentle reminder que eu preciso aproveitar minhas opportunidades, that I need to take advantage of the opportunities I have before I (and they) leave.

A million Obrigados to RYE District 6970, RYE District 4550, all the countless people who’ve helped me along this path (although, as always, I’ll single you out, Mrs. Daphne Cameron), my family (who I miss terribly), and all of my fellow outbounds and inbounds (Including Joe in Kyrgyzstan). I wish all of you an amazing Ano Novo. Até Proxima! -Michael

Rachel Williams
2011-12 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Ridgeview High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Nakorn Rajasima, District 3340, Thailand

Rachel - Thailand

Rachel’s Bio

สวัสดี!  I am Rachel Williams and I will be spending my next year in Thailand.  I never would have expected this, going to Thailand for a year will be absolutely amazing!  I am currently 16, sophomore at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park Florida. When I was sitting in class one day there was an announcement over the intercom saying there will be a meeting to be a foreign exchange student and when I heard that I got really excited!  I went to the meeting and now here I am going to Thailand.  I have always wanted to go out of the country, and love to travel a lot, but when I found out I got accepted that was the best thing ever.  I have never been away from home or my parents for more than a month so this will be a big challenge that I am willing to take.

I am an only child unfortunately; there are advantages and disadvantages to that! I have always wanted an older brother.  I play varsity soccer for my school team and love just playing any sports really.  I like being out doors; camping, kayaking, hiking, etc.  I love going to church; I go to Cross Road Lutheran and participate in a lot of stuff there.  I also love to volunteer at an animal farm.  I can be a very outgoing person but other times I can be a little shy at first.  I am also a really spontaneous person who always wants to do something or go on an adventure.  I rarely ever get bored because I can usually find something to do (why waste time just sitting around being bored out of your mind?).

I am really excited about the next year mostly because I get this experience that most kids do not get and it will be the best year of my life.  The biggest challenge I think will be the language; all those symbols look really tough, like being able to write and read them.  But I’m sure it won’t be too bad once you get the hang of it.  I am taking Spanish right now and it isn’t too hard and I think it is actually fun to learn so I hope it is the same with Thai.

I want to thank ROTARY for giving me this AMAZING opportunity to go to Thailand in the 2011-2012 exchange and making my dreams come true.


Rachel’s Journals

Monday, October 17, 2011

I have been in Thailand for two months now; it only feels like I have been here for 2 weeks! The time went by way to fast. .

My School is so much fun. There are 5 exchange student girls that go to my school. I go to a vocational college so technically I am not taking any “real” classes there all elective type classes which are great. My schedule is Monday: Flower, Cake Decoration, and Cocktail Class. Tuesday: Ballroom Dancing & Muay Thai. Wednesday: International Cooking & Thai Language. Thursday: International Cooking & Thai Massage. Friday: Packaging Design, Local Food & Muay Thai. I have those classes the rest of September and then in October we have a break and then we start back up in November but I will have a different schedule. There are ALOT of lady boy in my school, which are gay guys. They are actually really pretty and sometimes it is really hard to tell if it is a guy or girl!! Also in-between classes we have 2-3 hours to do nothing so we either make some friends or go and eat somewhere! My ride to school is a Sorng Tao which is a pickup truck with 2 benches in the back and a covering and window. It cost me 8 baht every time I ride it. They can seriously fit like 20 people on those things…it sucks when it is that crowded.

My family: So first of all My Family. My family is really confusing. My first host mom is the sister of my second host family but I live at my second host family’s house. I have a host brother and sister. My brother is 16 and he just left for Venezuela. My sister is 11 and I see her every now and then. She lives with my first host mom I think because her house is closer to the school. Haha like I said it is confusing. Everyone in my family can speak English just a little bit. My dad owns a restaurant. I see the dad usually like once a week because he travels a lot with his other job. My first host mom works at a coal factory about 2 hours away, well technically she isn’t my first host mom but she is my first host dads wife.

Everyone has a nickname in Thailand and that is what they go by and my nickname is Som which means orange. I got that name because I am from Orange Park. Then my Thai name that my family gave me is Donaya.

Food. “hew mai” I get asked this question all the time! They are asking if I am hungry. It will be like 10 minutes after I eat like a feast and feel like I am going to explode and they ask that Im like “mai hew mai hew”. It seems like now if I say “mai hew” they give me these dirty looks wondering like why I do not want to eat. The food is good but for me it is taking a lot of getting used to. I never ate spicy food back home so now I am kind of being forced to liking it! I got a gym membership…If you come here that might be a good idea or at least find out where the park is haha. Also when you eat here you have to use a fork in your left hand and a spoon in your right. You push the food onto the spoon with the fork and eat off the spoon. EVEN with noodles they put them all on the spoon and do it. I have been able to eat every food like that so far but just not the noodles. I recently just noticed I at a whole bowl of noodles with chopsticks! I was very surprised at that considering I used to have to use the ones with the rubber bands holding them together back in Florida.

I literally go to the mall every day. Any store that you need would be at the mall. It is 4 stories tall and they have everything. It is a good thing because the mall is right around the corner from my house so I can just go there whenever.

Just random things I have noticed:

-There are motorcycles everywhere here. It seems like most of the people drive one or at least own one. And I have seen 4 people on one. I don’t understand how they fit 4? I have also seen a person driving one holding a tree at the same time.

-Drivers here are crazy. I don’t think there are any speed limits and they don’t really pay attention to the lines on the road at all….if there even are lines. You will look out the window and there is a motorcycle or car like 2 inches from you, it’s kind of really scary sometimes.

-There are dogs EVERYWHERE. It seems like everywhere I look I see a stray dog. Knowing me and how much I love dogs I want to pet everyone I see. My host family always yells at me and says to not pet them because there dirty…oh well. Most of the dogs look like they have been through hell and back like my host moms dogs arm is cut in half and you can just like see the bone :0 it got hit by a car. The other night I was walking home from my friend’s house, I have to walk through like a big building where workers keep like a truck and just all this metal for making stuff and I have to walk through a gate to get to the road and there is four dogs that always sit there and don’t let me through till there owner comes out and calms them down, well I was walking and all of a sudden they just all started chasing after me so I ran into a random bathroom that was in there and was locked in there till I had to call my friend and had her help me get the guys attention.

-I always see old white men with young Thai women and it is really creepy.

-I came here thinking I would see elephants a lot. I live in a city so of course I am never going to see one just walking down the street. I have actually rode an elephant two times and fed them maybe five.

-I love shopping here; I seriously have spent so much money so far. I need to stop but everything is so cheap and I can’t help myself.

-Well today I got my first massage! It was amazing and a Thai massage. For one hour it only cost 120 baht so 4 US dollars. I am now going to go back at least once a week!

-EVERYONE in Thailand has a blackberry, so I decided to get one too.

-There are ants everywhere, you just have to get used to them.

These past two months has been pretty much getting used to everything. It was a really big culture shock at first because it seemed like everything was different. For example when you look at the car and it says you’re going 120, make sure you remember it is 120 kph and not 120 mph. I am now used to public transportation and know what buss I should get on to take me to different places.

The language is easy but really hard at the same time. You have to get the tones pretty much exactly correct or else you could be saying something totally wrong, which has happened many times. It is also difficult because everything is in symbols so you have to learn a whole new letter system. I have began taking Thai lessons so that is helping me more.

February 15, 2015

Wow! Can’t believe so much time has passed since the last time I have wrote, I have a lot to catch everybody up on. I can’t believe I have been here six months. It saddens me to think that I will be leaving this great country soon. I have grown and learned so much while in Thailand. I am home sick from school today and decided to write my journal.

In October I turned 17, I had a wonderful dinner with my host mom and my two best friends here that my host aunt made me. She made spaghetti, macaroni, and some other stuff I don’t remember (too long ago lol). My mom sent me a package filled with lots and lots of food that I have missed! (Thanks mom you’re the best). For Halloween the Rotarians in my city planned a Halloween party for the eight exchange students living here. At the party we ate, sang karaoke (of course) and danced and everyone was dressed up. My friends and I had fun trying to make a costume. Some of the costumes that people dressed up as were Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga (me), A gypsy, and Pikachu.

At the beginning of November my host sister got married so I got to go to a Thai wedding! It was really beautiful and a lot different than weddings in America. At the beginning they are all dressed in traditional Thai clothes and then later on they changed in to more modern wedding clothes. I felt honored when they asked me to be in there family photo. A couple days after the wedding all the exchange students and Rotarians went on a trip to Pattaya where we walked in a parade around the city raising money for the flood victims in Bangkok. It is right on the beach, so it was nice seeing the beach for the first time in months.

We had a Rotary trip to a mountain called Mount Phu Kradung. We drove several hours in a bus picking people up along the way. We then got to the town called Phu Kradung and stayed there overnight for the Loi Krathong festival.

Loi Krathong is set on the full moon night of (usually) November. The word Loi means “to float” while a krathong is something made of flowers and leaves that it set into the water as an offering to the water spirits as thanks for allowing the Thai people to use the waters. I floated 3 krathong that night. They were absolutely beautiful. Even more beautiful than those, however, were the floating lanterns. Many of us lit them together at the festival, watching them float into the air with their soft orange glow. We have so many pictures of the hundreds that were sent up that night. There was also a beauty contest in which an inbound was chosen to represent Rotary, and then there was a brilliant fireworks display.

The next morning, we climbed a mountain: Mount Phu Kradung. The first 5th of the climb was deadly, and we had to rest so many times, but it felt better and better the high you climbed as the air got cooler and a gentle breeze flowed through, not to mention the amazing view. I hiked up with a group of friends (who I pretty much spent the whole trip with) who called our group “The Adventure Gang”. At one of the stores on top of the mountain we bought little road signs that say “The Adventure Gang” on them to put on our blazer.

Over the next few days, we hiked to several different cliffs and waterfalls, looking for elephants and avoiding what we ended up calling “Jennies” or as more commonly known, leeches. So many people got bit by them, it was ridiculous. I actually ended up being the first person attacked by a leech, but luckily I avoided the giant spiders that one of my friends woke up beside. This was an amazing trip that I will never forget, thanks Rotary.

One word for December = HOT. In Thailand in December it is the “cold” season. It’s funny how it will get down to like 75 degrees and the Thai people break out there winter coats and scarves. There were Christmas decorations set up at the mall, which was cool but it still did not really feel like Christmas at all. Me and my friend were in the store and saw a little Christmas tree so of course we had to buy it!! We took it to my house and decorated it! On Christmas we had a lunch at my friends house and I ended up having to take the tree, huge backpack full of food, about five bags of food…including a duck onto the sawng tao (bus) which of course was crowded -.-. I´m used to getting weird looks but it was even worse with carrying a Christmas tree. Me and three other friends had our own little Christmas party and ate a lot of food. I’ve made so many memories here with my friends I know will always be thankful to Rotary for this great opportunity, my family, and friends for supporting me.

About one week before Christmas I had to change host families. I was really nervous about it but I already knew the family so it was a little better. I now live with my host mom and host dad, 2 host brothers my age, and lots of other people. My host mom is the president of my Rotary club. This family has really made me feel at home and I love it here so much. My one host brother went on exchange to Canada last year so he already speaks really good English which is helpful and my other host brother is going on exchange this up coming year, but he doesn’t know where to yet.

School is going good. It ends for the exchange students on February 17 and we might have to go back in May. It will be weird when I go back to Florida and will actually have to take real classes, considering here I only take “elective” type classes. Most days after school, I will go to the pool which is at the mall, or just go home. At the pool on weekends there are so many people there but there all under the umbrellas and eating and not one person was in the pool…I thought that was really strange.

Thai time is something that is a lot different. Here when they say be there at 7:30 they will get there at like 8:00. It is a lot different than Rotary in Florida because if they say be somewhere at 7:30 than you should be there by at least 7:20. It is defiantly something to get used to because they don’t care if your late for anything.

That pretty much sums up the end of 2011 for me. I only have about 120 days left in Thailand, and it saddens me to see that more than half of my time here is gone. Time flies by so fast, I have so much more to see and do in Thailand.

Samantha Conklin
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: Coastal St. Johns County Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Ribeirão Preto Jardim Paulista, District 4540, Brazil

Samantha - Brazil

Samantha’s Bio

Oi! (A way to say “hello” in Portuguese that I find quite entertaining.)

My name is Samantha Conklin. I’m currently an eighteen year old senior at St. Augustine High School. I am fortunate enough to graduate this upcoming June and spend my gap year living abroad in….*insert an intense and dramatic drum-roll here*…BRAZIL.

In this quaint little city I call home, I live with my mother, my three younger sisters, and my cat named Tabitha. No more than ten minutes from my house, live my grandparents. Thankfully, every single one of them was in full support of my decision to become a youth exchange student. I haven’t resided in St. Augustine my whole life, or Florida for that matter. I was born in Ohio, and have moved multiple times (my last being from Memphis, Tennessee). So, change regarding relocation isn’t something completely new to me, and hopefully will work to my advantage in the near future.

In school, my schedule revolves around my enrollment in the AICE program. As for extra-curricular activities, I’m a member of the InterAct club, and hold the position of “vice-president” in French Club.

When I opened the email that notified me of my acceptance, I practically went into a state of pure excitement/shock. Questions such as, “Is this for real?! For real, for real?! Did I read it wrong?! I was accepted?!” were thrown at my mother accompanied by a smile that was plastered to my face, and abundant amounts of joyous flutter-clapping.

I can’t explain how amazing it feels to know I’m going to take part in this program, and to be going to Brazil nonetheless. I send a huge “THANK YOU” to Rotary and its members for allowing me to embark on this journey that will surely challenge and change my life for the better.

–“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”–

Samantha’s Journals

Monday, October 10, 2011

Four cities.

Three flights.

Two continents.

One destination.

That’s what it took to end up where I am now, in Brazil.

As I’m writing this, I’ve just passed my 7-week mark.

(I’ve realized this year will pass rapidly, and that’s a sad thought.)

After saying goodbye to my tearing up family, I made my way through security and out of Florida from JAX on August 5th, headed to the airport in Dallas, Texas. Now, I find it necessary to mention that I had a few small nerves about having to travel alone. (Not to mention the pressure of not wanting to be an exchange student that missed a flight.) Hint for future exchange students: When Rotarians tell you to wear your blazer at all times in the airport, DO IT. My blazer ended up being spotted by four other exchange students from Houston and one from Mexico, all making their way to Brazil, and then I didn’t have to worry about being alone. I took an ever so long flight (over ten hours) and the next thing I knew, I was in the Sao Paulo airport. By the time I landed there, I honestly wanted nothing more than to shower, eat, and sleep the day away…but I had one more flight to catch. I arrived in the Ribeirao Preto airport about 1 o’clock, had to ask one of the flight crew members to help me with my back because it was too heavy for me to lift, and walked out of the baggage claim’s doors. As soon as I saw the large “Welcome Samantha” banner, and a bunch of strangers with smiles on their faces, the nagging feeling of needing a nice bed to sleep in completely left my mind. I was bombarded with the repetition of “Welcome,” kisses, and hugs.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been lucky to have experienced the sense of “homesickness” only twice, of course that’s along with the normal and occasional “I don’t understand” frustration and the “I’m surrounded by many people but still sometimes feel lonely” feeling. Everyone here is beyond nice though, which of course makes a world of a difference when in one of those moods.

I have a wonderful dad, mom, brother, and sister as a first host family.

I honestly find it hard to imagine what my exchange would be like up to

this point had I been placed with anyone else.

I’ve tried so many new things and I’ve met so many new people. (Occasionally feeling bad that it takes a few times to actually remember their names and not just their faces, when they always end up remembering mine.) And I’m growing in the process. When I came here I was extremely shy, awkwardly so…but with every new day that comes and passes, I can feel myself becoming more comfortable. As for the language, I find that to be the hardest part of an exchange. I know others will say, “You have Portuguese, that’s easier than trying to learn the one I have to learn.” But in reality, a new language is a new language. Period. From being here about two months, I can understand simple things, and can sometimes end up guessing what the person is talking about just by recognizing a phrase or a string or words. It’s more than reassuring when someone reminds you how good they think your Portuguese has gotten.

I know it’ll take time, and I’m trying to “take one day at a time.”


Another essential of being an exchange student, and something I’m learning I need to work on really quickly. Things won’t just happen because you think they will, or you dream about it….Time has to pass and hard work has to be done.

It’s crazy to think that back in Florida, right now, other students are getting ready to do exactly what I did one year ago….Apply for the chance of an exchange year. I can still pinpoint the day and approximate time I got the call saying I’d be coming to Brazil, or the exact time I checked my email and found out I was accepted for this amazing program. I’m excited for all those even CONSIDERING to apply, and I hope that reading the beginning journals of the current outbounds, and the journals of past outbounds, only encourages you to fill out the forms, and go for it. (That’s my advice: GO FOR IT.)

List time? Oh yes. These are just a few things I’ve learned/noticed:

• Don’t walk up to a stranger and say “Eu gosto” (I like) when pointing at their Justin Bieber T-shirt. They will give you a look that implies “You’re a weirdo” and your host sister will have to chime in, explain you like the SHIRT not the woman, and that you aren’t Brazilian. (Won’t do that again.)

• There’s no need to say “Saude” (Health) to someone you don’t know passing by you when you sneeze….Apparently it’s an automatic sign that you’re a foreigner.

• Brazilians seem to be really comfortable with themselves and their bodies.

• Cars will NOT stop for you. (Thankfully, I was told this one and didn’t have to learn the hard way…No need to worry, family.)

• Set times for meetings/classes/church/etc. don’t mean anything. It’s apparently normal to be late for everything.

• American music is on the radio….all the time. Which I find entertaining because even whenever someone can sing the whole song, I’ll ask in Portuguese, “Do you understand what the lyrics mean?” and they almost always reply, “No.” – Then again, I guess it’s the same for me and the Portuguese songs I can sing-along to, because half of them make no sense to me…

• Soap operas are really popular here. (Personal note: I like them! Hard to understand, but the facial expressions tell you all you need to know.)

• When people tell you in Brazil you’ll eat beans and rice with what seems like every meal, they aren’t kidding. I eat rice and beans with two meals some days, but it’s alright because it’s absolutely delicious.

• Brazilians are fanatics about soccer. I know this seems like a, “Duh,” moment, but I find it difficult for anyone to understand just how fanatic they can be unless you’ve been to a real soccer game here. I have. And though it was fun, I’d be lying if I said at some moments my eyes weren’t in a wide stance, wondering what the heck was going on.

• It’s hot here. (Obviously) But my city reaches 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s supposedly “winter-time.” I’ll need to save up some Rotary allowance to buy myself a personal carry-around fan.

• Speaking of money….I think it’s normal that every exchange student will experience the feeling of being completely and unfortunately BROKE. Rotary allowance-day is like Pay-day, and it’s something we all look forward to.

I could go on, but I think I’ll end my first journal here and get into more specifics when I begin to write my second. Thank you again, Rotary!


When people tell you in Brazil you’ll eat beans and rice with what seems like every meal, they aren’t kidding.

January 14

Five months.

It’s surreal to think I’ve been living in Brazil for the last five months. Some days it feels like a week ago where I was saying goodbye to my family and carrying around my Portuguese-English dictionary everywhere I went, while other days, five months feels about right.

It’s hard to think of everything that’s happened since the last time I wrote in October. The rest of the month passed by fairly normal, while in November, I experienced one of the things that every exchange student has to go through, switching host families. I wasn’t too nervous about the transition, since I had met my second family on multiple occasions and traveled with them prior to the actual switch. I can honestly say I’m completely comfortable and love this family already! In comparison to my other family, this family doesn’t speak English, and for that I’m glad.

Language, Language, and more language.

My Portuguese has improved, though sometimes it’s still easy to get on myself about not feeling quite up to par where language is concerned. Like I said, for the family I’m in now, English isn’t used so my ears have had to get accustomed to hearing only Portuguese with me translating a few things here and there when asked. I can understand most things that are being said around me, a lot easier than I was understanding a month or two ago. As for speaking, I think any exchange student will tell you, speaking is always the more difficult aspect. I still haven’t had a dream in Portuguese, but I try not to get down on myself and keep the hope that one day it’ll happen for me. It’s always best not to try and compare yourself level-wise to other students around you, and that’s what I remind myself. This is my year, and I need to continue taking things at me pace.

Oh the holidays.

It was strange for me to miss out on Thanksgiving, with it being an American holiday and all. I thought of the foods I was missing, the family I wouldn’t be with, the football games, but a little while afterwards, I thought of the things I have here that aren’t in the U.S. that I’ll end up missing when I return home. I celebrated my 19th birthday during the beginning week of December. With my birthday falling on a Monday, I had to attend my weekly Rotary meeting, and was surprised when I was welcomed, wished ‘Happy Birthday’ in both English and Portuguese multiple times, sung to twice, had presents, and a cake waiting just for me. It was just another assuring situation of how wonderful the people of my Rotary club are. And of course, the holiday that everyone always asks about, Christmas. I learned that Christmas here is different, for sure. Presents and spectacular decorations aren’t as big of a concern, and it’s more normal for families to take a trip somewhere together to meet up with other members of the family that might not live as close. As for myself, my family and I spent the Christmas weekend in Sao Paulo, while leaving that Monday to travel a few more hours to a large city that has multiple beaches! I never thought I would miss the sight of a beach that much when I left St. Augustine, but it was honestly refreshing to see salty water bordering fine sand. New Year’s ended up being great for me too! It was raining, and cold, but my family and I went out on the beach to watch the shooting of fireworks near a bridge, and it was beautiful. Not even just seeing the lights and hearing the booming sounds of the fireworks, but having been there with my host family that makes me feel like a true family member. Holidays weren’t too hard for me, but it’s always good to remember this when you’re missing out on a holiday that’s going on in your home country: There’s always next year.

With summer coming to an end in about a month, classes all over town, including school, will be starting back up again. I’ve already made plans to get more active: Joining a music class to re-learn how to play the clarinet and taking up a piano class. I’ll also be switching schools, going from a University to what’s considered the senior year of high school again. With me being in the University, I didn’t have a chance to have Portuguese classes or outside of school projects, so my Rotary club and I both think it’ll be better for participation reasons, even if I’ve already graduated back in the states. I can tell you that it makes things easier to do once you have some language skills under your belt. You feel more confident to step out of your comfort zone, and get into more things that you normally wouldn’t be getting into.

For the new outbound group: PARABENS! Us current outbounds are proud and excited for what we know you all will experience in the next few months. (Even if we have our moments of thinking that you’ll be the group to replace us.) Be ready for the experience of a lifetime, for the unexpected, and for discovering more about yourself. I can honestly say I’m more comfortable than ever with who I am. I’m growing into the person I want to be, and you all have just taken your first steps to doing the same.

And now time for what everyone skips down to read: The list.

– While everyone was writing statuses about being excited for Winter Break and nervous about finals, I was already out for Summer break.

– Country music is different here in Brazil.

– Dubbed films can be annoying when you already know an actor’s voice, but you deal with it merely to practice your language skills.

– Beans and rice have continued to be part of my diet for the past five months.

– Japanese food (particularly sushi) and Arabian food are popular here.

– On Brazilian beaches, it’s common to see everyone munching on corn on the cob.

– There are at least four English language schools in my city.

– American restaurants such as McDonalds and Outback Steakhouse are more expensive here.

– The Twilight series is just as big here in Brazil as it is in back in the U.S. I watched the film three times in movie theatres and each time, girls gushed when Edward spoke Portuguese. (Yes, I gushed a little bit myself too, but that’s not the point.)

– Brazilians overall tend to be naturally curious and friendly, which makes it less intimidating when meeting someone for the first time.

– There is a Brazilian song right now, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” that is currently famous and spreading around to different parts of the globe. (Future outbounds: learn this song and the simple dance to it.)

– Importation taxes on electronics aren’t the most fun thing in the world to deal with.

Thank you again RYE Florida, and the Rotary Foundation in general, for still being the reason that I’m in Brazil in the first place. Obrigada, obrigada, obrigada. This opportunity has given me the chance to live abroad and meet some extraordinary people, along with this being the opportunity I needed to discover exactly who I am and where I want to go in life. You’ve broadened my horizons.

Until next time.

Beijos e Abracos.

Sarah McIntyre
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
School: Fletcher Middle School
Sponsor: Jacksonville Oceanside Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Ribeirão Preto Jardim Paulista, District 4540, Brazil

Sarah - Brazil

Sarah’s Bio

Ola! My name is Sarah McIntyre. I am a Rotary Youth Exchange student. I’m currently at Fletcher Middle School but, I will be spending my first year of High School in BRAZIL! I am 14 years young. I live in Jacksonville Beach, Florida all my life. I have traveled outside of the Untied States for vacation but only to Canada and Mexico. That’s why I cant wait till I go to Brazil. I have one sibling and that’s my 16 year old brother Alex. Alex and I are very close. My mom is my hero and I try to be like her as much as I can. My mom loves to travel and has passed that on to me. Here is a little bit more about me.

I am a very social and out going person. I love to talk to anyone, everyone and meeting new people. All of my teachers and friends love me. I think mostly everyone I have met has liked me. I love school, it gives me the chance to learn new things and talk to my friends (who wouldn’t love that). I live at the beach so of course I am a BIG beach girl. Sitting on the beach reading a good book makes me feel amazing. I love scary movies. Give me some popcorn and a few scary movies on a rainy day and I will be all set. My favorite scary movie is Paranormal Activity. I also love music. I have no clue what I would do with out it. Some of my favorite singers are Rihanna and The Black Eyed Peas. I have a love for animals, I adore each and every animal(except snakes).

I am so happy that I will be going to Brazil! All I have heard about Brazil is that it is an amazing place to go and the people there are so nice. I don’t think I have heard one bad thing about Brazil. It’s gorgeous form the beaches to the jungle. The only thing I might have a hard time with in the language but, I think once I get there and start speaking it more I will learn it much better. I hope I will be able to speak it like I speak English. I am sure for the first few months I will stick out, and not fit in at all. I know after a few mouths I will look and act like I have lived there my whole life. I bet when I get back to Florida I will stick out more then I did in Brazil. I cant wait to learn a new culture and learn a new me. I think everyone has room to change and I know for me a lot of these changes will come out while I am in Brazil.

Thank you so much Rotary! I really appreciate everything you have done for me and how hard every one has work to send me to Brazil. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I can’t wait to go to Brazil! Thank you so much!

Sarah’s Journals

WOW I can’t believe I am already in Brazil! I have been here for about month now and it already has been the best month of my life! There is not a single word that could describe how my life has change in just the little time I have been here. I have had to grow up more than ever but in the end there is no place I would rather be than in Brazil!

Being at the airport with my mom, brother and best friends was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. Taking time with each person there to say goodbye was a lot harder then I’d thought it would be. My best friends Logan, Maddie, Kyriana and Brittany are like family so it was really hard to say bye. My brother and I are really close so, saying bye was really hard to. Although I have a saying, “It’s never a goodbye, always a see you later.”  Keeping that in mind I walk to the gate with my mom. She had to walk me to the gate! Well she thought she HAD to. I sat there with her and she gave me advice like moms do. When it was time to go I had to say my hardest goodbye, to my mom. Then as I was walking in the plane something in my head said, “you’re gone for a year that’s not long, you need to take every bit of it in and leave Jacksonville with a smile on your face.” That’s exactly what I did.

The feeling of coming off the plane was excitement mix with fear. To know that there would be a group of people welcoming me into their home was amazing. I walk out to them and all I said was, “Oi” (hi in Portuguese) and waved my hand and smiled. Right after my host brother Marcos came and gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek and said, “I can’t believe you’re real.” When I heard that, I was just over whelmed with happiness. Right after came another new person then another coming and giving me kisses and hugs. I wasn’t use to all the kissing so I stood there and took it all in. I knew once I left that airport that my exchange suddenly became a reality.

My first night I was sitting in the living room with my host brother and there was a moth flying around. I hate any kind of bugs, so I asked my host bother how to say disgusting moth and he said “mariposa nojento.” So a few night had past and I was sitting in the living room with my whole host family and there was a moth on the ceiling, so I said “mariposa nojento” and my whole family looks at me and starts laughing so hard! I was wondering why are they  laughing at me? Then they told me that they have never hear an exchange student learn this as the first words on there exchange. I thought about this and started laughing to cause out of all the thing to learn in Portuguese I learned, disgusting moth as my first saying! Now,  if my family ever sees a moth they point and look at me, so I will say, “mariposa nojento” which is my famous saying in Portuguese!

In my first week I did everything from rock climbing to exploring my new city. Curitiba is the best city in Brazil! It’s nothing like Jacksonville at all, there are huge buildings everywhere, a different park at every corner and I’ve never seen more malls in my life! I live right in the middle of the city. The location of my house is great! I’m between two big malls in Curitiba one is Shopping Curitiba and the other is Shopping Estação. Two really great malls in Curitiba! I go them about five times a week with my friends. I also live really close to my school which I walk to every day. Making lots of new friends in my school is something I’m good at. Everyone loves the blonde American girl and everyone wants to be my friend no matter if they can speak English or not. Everyone tries to speak English with me even, if they can’t and everyone comes up to me and says, “The book is on the table.” I just laugh because that make no sense at all and everyone says this to me. I have made lots of new friends and they are all amazing!

The best thing in Brazil is the FOOD! I have never eaten as much in my life as I have in Brazil. I will learn how to cook all of the meals my host mom makes for me! My favorite meal is Escondidnhs it has the best red meat in it! Some of my other favorites are Feljoada and Pastel! My favorite snack that my mom makes is Pao De Queijo, it’s kind of like cheese bread. Oh, I can’t forget I’ve never eaten so much rice and beans in my life but, it’s great because I love them! The desert in Brazil is like no other. Before coming to Brazil I didn’t eat desert at all and now I eat it every day! My favorite is Brigadeiro, it’s that best thing I’ve ever eaten! One thing that I have eaten that I didn’t like is Coracaozinho which is Chicken Hearts! Brazil has the best meat ever! They have these things class Churrasco, where they cook so much food and you just eat, eat and eat! They’re the best thing ever!

There is really no other place I would like to be than in Brazil. I feel like it’s my new home with my new families and friends. I am in love with Brazil. I’m hoping from reading this you will fall a little bit in love with Brazil yourself! There’ lots of more adventure to go on. I am just getting started! Tchau!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I have now been in Brazil for four months now! It goes by so fast it’s scary to think in six months I have to go home! What’s even scarier is I don’t feel like I will go home because Brazil is my home. I have my family and friends here and I am in love with this country. I never thought that I could ever say that my new home is a country. I have only lived here for four months but I can and love saying that Brasil is my home! I know that my new families and friendships will last forever!


I have taken many adventures in the past few months. I have gone to a beach in my state called Caioba. It was every nice but it rained all five days while I was there. I was able to spend some good times with my first host family. I also went to a beach called Camboriu in the state Santa Catharina. That state is right below my state Parana. It was very nice there but, again it rained until finally the next day it was a little sunny. The whole month of December I have been in a city called Toledo, it’s in my state of Paraná. It’s a small city and not much goes on here. I did travel to the famous waterfalls called Foz do Iguaçu. They were amazing! There were so many waterfalls and the views were breath taking. It was one moment in my life where I know that I will never forget it! Going there was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life. My plans now are to stay in Toledo until a little after New Year’s, then I am off to my Northeast dream trip!


Homesickness has been hard on me but every time I pull through it. I am really close with my mom and I thought that being away from her would be so hard but, in the end it’s not all that hard. I miss my mom a lot but I just think in 5 months I am going home and I won’t be able to see the people that are my new friend and family until who knows when, that is when all the homesick feeling go away. The holidays were the hardest part for me. It was the first time I was away from my family during Christmas. It was different but not all in a bad away. I got to see how my host family did Christmas and they made me part of their Christmas and for that I couldn’t thank them enough. When it’s the holidays the best thing to do (instead of sitting around and think about home) is to go and be with your host family in your host country. It makes everything feel a little better.

Host families

I think that I have been blessed with such great host families. I am now in my second family. It is just me and my mom, I love it. She treats me just like her own daughter and that’s one thing I couldn’t ask for more. One really hard part I had in my exchange was leaving my first host family. I love them! My host mom in that family is like my really mom she has helped me though hard times I’ve had and has been there for my first new experiences I had when I first came to Brazil. I call her my mom and she calls me her daughter and I am so thankful for that. It was so hard when I had to moves families. You get so attached to the people that take you into their homes. They give up a lot to host you and I can’t put into word how much these people mean to me. My families have change my life so much and in so many different ways. I love my new families!


Language has 100 percent been the hardest thing I have had on my exchange. When Rotary tells you to learn some of the language before you go on exchange PLEASE do it! I regret not knowing more when I came to Brazil. I am now starting to understand about 80 percent of what is being told to me. Speaking is very hard to but, I am coming along. It’s really a hard thing to do, learning a language but as long as you don’t give up you will learn it. Rotary gives you this opportunity, one thing they want to come out of it is knowing a language and without studying that won’t happen. Try your hardest and in the end all the hard work will pay off!

Next time, I will have the great things I did on my northeast trip and I can’t wait to share them with all you guys! Hope you have a great new year!

Sarah Bird
2011-12 Outbound to India
Hometown: Orange Park, Florida
School: Ridgeview High School
Sponsor: Orange Park Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Bharuch, District 3060,

Sarah - India

Sarah’s Bio

Namaste!  Hello! My name is Sarah Bird. I’m 16 years old, currently a junior at Ridgeview High School, and I will be spending my senior year in India! I feel so lucky to have this chance to travel overseas and completely immerse myself in such and interesting and diverse culture for a whole year.

I am a vegetarian, and have been for almost three years now. I love animals, especially dogs. In my spare time I like to swim at the beach, go sailing in the river, walk my dogs, and do community service with my clubs at school.

I live with my mom, step-dad, sister, two step-brothers, and two dogs in Orange Park. Over the summer and on breaks from school, my sister and I go to my dad’s house in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and her three kids – my step-mom, step-sister, and two step-brothers. I am the oldest of all seven kids in my mixed up family. I have lived in Orange Park since I was 7 years old; before that, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for a year. That was the only time I have ever traveled out of the US, besides one day I spent in Mexico a couple years ago. I don’t get a chance to travel much besides from here to North Carolina, so I know the next year will be unlike anything I have ever experienced.

After I come back from my exchange, I plan to get my high school diploma, then go to college and major in teaching English as a second language, which I hope to pursue as a career.

Thank you Rotary for choosing me for this extraordinary opportunity, I am so grateful for all you’ve done. Because of you, I know that the next year will be the best of my life!

Sarah’s Journals

August 31

 I wanted to go on exchange to India because it was different from the United States, and I got what I wanted – it’s completely different.

I left for India on Sunday, July 31st, and I was lucky enough to get to travel with another girl from my district, and we spent about 36 hours in transit – starting from the Jacksonville airport, then a two hour flight to Newark, where we has a 7 hour layover and met another RYE student who was on his way to Sweden. We also met a Rotex who was from India and had gone on exchange to Germany a couple of years ago. He was really nice and gave us a bunch of tips and advice about living in and adjusting to India. The flight to India was about 15 hours, where I had the best airplane food I have ever had in my entire life, and we got to Mumbai on Monday night. In Mumbai, they just waved us through customs, I guess because two teenage American girls don’t look like much of a threat to national security. After that we had to split up and go to different sections of the airport, so we said goodbye on the shuttle and then were alone in the Mumbai airport, which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually was. It was the middle of the night and the airport was mostly empty. I had an eight hour layover there, and I finally got to the local airport on Tuesday morning, local time, which would have been Monday night in America.

The first thing I saw in India, and the thing that continues to surprise and amaze me was the roads. On the road you pass cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, three-wheeled rickshaws, cows (so many cows), buffalo, donkeys, camels, goats, dogs, and people walking, all together on one street. People honk constantly; lanes are simply guidelines, as are speed limits and pretty much any other traffic rule. Roundabouts are used instead of traffic signals, and since it’s rainy season there are so many potholes it’s almost impossible to not hit your head on the roof of the car as you bounce down the road. Plus in India they drive on the opposite side of the road (usually) and sit on the opposite side of the car. I don’t think traffic rules are ever actually enforced, at least in this city. Usually to get places it’s easiest to take a rickshaw, because they can weave through traffic and potholes like you wouldn’t believe, and it’s usually only about 50 cents.

There are three exchange students living in my city; me, a boy from Chicago and a girl from Brazil. We’re all in the same class at school, which is an eleventh grade class because even though we’ve all already completed eleventh grade, twelfth grade is spent intensely studying for the board exams that determine your entire future, which we thankfully don’t have to take.

The first time I went to my school, a crowd of at least 50 kids surrounded me and started shaking my hand and asking me my name and where I was from – more and more kept coming, and I kind of felt like a movie star being attacked by a swarm of mini paparazzi. Eventually someone had to grab my hand and pull me out of the crowd, and a couple of nuns had to come and keep the kids from following us out. The next time I went to the school was for a dance performance, where a group of kids from each age group went on stage and performed some kind of dance, from Bollywood to traditional Indian dance, that they were doing for “sister appreciation day.” After all the dances were done, a bunch of the elementary kids came up to me and asked for my autograph, if they could take my picture. Apparently there hasn’t been an exchange student at my school in a long time, and the other two that are here now aren’t blonde but they still both get a lot of attention too.

School goes six days a week, Monday through Saturday from 7 am until 10:30 am for the older kids, because they spend the afternoons going to extra classes for further studies. There are two options for classes here, everyone chooses to take either science or commerce, and the two other exchange students and I are all taking the science track. We have an English class, a math class, a chemistry class, and a physics class.

Classes are only 45 minutes, and then there’s 30 minutes of recess at the end of the morning when everyone comes out and plays basketball or eats a snack and talks to their friends. All the kids at school are so friendly, and it helps that they all speak English fluently, because it’s very easy to talk to them and make friends, but we still need to learn Hindi because that’s what they use for normal conversations.

We have a Hindi class that we (exchange students) go to in the evening, after school I go to a Hindi crafts class where I’m learning things like glass painting, embroidery, and henna, which is pretty interesting, and afternoons are usually free to do whatever we need/ want to until Hindi class, and then after we go to a dance class where we’ve been learning everything from Classical Indian to Bollywood dance. There’s actually a dancing festival coming up at the end of September called Navratri, where people do a dance called Garba all night for 9 days; we’re learning that dance too, it’s a lot of fun.

What else…? I love Indian food, it’s so easy to be a vegetarian here because everyone else is too, and it’s actually not that spicy usually. Indian clothes are very unique and traditional, (although nowadays teenagers usually dress similar to American teenagers) the women wear saris and kurtas – a sari is a type of dress, and a kurta is a type of long shirt worn with long leggings. Everyone has at least one maid, my family has a servant who lives with us who can do just about anything I think, from cooking and ironing to getting something incredibly heavy down from an impossible high place, and we also have a maid who comes in the daytime that cleans and does the laundry and dishes . It’s rainy season so it’s not actually that hot usually, the sun has only come out 3 or 4 times since I got here, which is nice because you always have to wear jeans or capris, no shorts, so when it stops raining it is very hot. Also wild peacocks are really common here, and when it rains, they dance. It’s the coolest thing.(:

There’s so much more to India than that, there are slums and mansions, beggars and billionaires, people that speak only Gujarati, or only Hindi, and  people that speak English as well. There’s dirt and trash and pollution everywhere, but after a while you stop noticing it so much. Religion is a big part of life, the majority of people here are Hindu, even at my school, which is technically a Christian school, almost all of the students and a lot of the teachers are Hindu.

I love this country, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We’re going to start traveling in November; I’m so excited to see what else is there in this amazing place. Everything I’ve seen so far has been so surprising, I don’t even know what to expect anymore. Thank you so much Rotary and everyone who gave me the opportunity to spend a year here…it’s crazy to think that this is still only the beginning!

Taylor Jarrett
2011-12 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Bryceville, Florida
School: West Nassau High School
Sponsor: West Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Unna, District 1900,

Taylor - Germany

Taylor J’s Bio

Hello/Hallo! My name is Taylor Jarrett, I am 16 years old, and a junior attending West Nassau High School in Callahan, FL. I will be spending my senior year in Germany/Deutschland! That being said, let me tell you a little about myself..

I am very outgoing and adventurous. I have never met a stranger, and I have been to many parts of the world on both vacation and church mission trips. My family is very close knit and supportive of my ventures. My parents have always been there for me, and push me to pursue whatever I want to do in life. I have one sister- Hannah, and many grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even 3 dogs, all with whom I am very close.

My favorites in life would have to be sushi (spicy tuna), funny movies (The Hangover is my favorite!), rap and rock music, and hanging out with my friends. I have a 2001 Hyundai Sante Fe, which I call my baby. It is quite frequently taking my friends and I on weekend trips.

My best subject in school is history, by far. Everyday I look foward to going to my 4th period APUSH class! I am also involved in Yearbook, and my school’s High-Q team as well. My classmates would describe me as loud and somewhat of a class clown. I love my school and will surely miss my friends and teachers back home.

I consider myself very patriotic. I love my country and what it stands for. Also, I intend on pursuing a career in the International Relations field after college. I feel that RYE providing me the opportunity to go abroad for a year will help me tremendously in achieving this goal. Going to Germany is especially rewarding, as my family comes from a German background, and I will get the opportunity to explore my roots.. Ich liebe dich, RYE Florida!

Taylor J’s Journals

August 26

I have been in Germany for 36 hours and so far it has been great. My first experience with German culture came just after I got my bag in the airport. Security in Atlanta must of left a zipper open on my bag (surprise) and when I picked up my bag in the Duesseldorf Airport all of my change fell out. When this happened, immediately, 20 people started picking up the coins and giving them back to me. That was really cool and I’m not so sure if this would happen in the US.

Later my first day I came home and met my host family, they are all really cool and have various levels of English. My host dad and brother are both fluent. My host mother has “OK” English and my sister- not so good. My German is ok for a fresh inbound but I still need a lot of help. Sometimes I am so proud of myself for knowing certain things but also there are a lot of moments where I feel like a headless chicken.

My first trip on the autobahn was amazing, my host brother was going over 170 KM an hour on our way to Cologne. I couldnt help but think we were going to get pulled over.

The food is really good, I have always been a fan of German food and over the past day and a half I have had enough to feed a small army. Currywurst, chocolate, different types of cheese, yogurt…it is all good.

Germany is a really clean place and the people are really into the “green” movement. Almost everything is recyclable and Germans are happy to take the time to sort it. The edges of the road are not trimmed like in the US. German driving is crazy and road rage is very, very common here. So much so that the government made it illegal for someone to give “the finger” to another driver. And every car, I mean EVERY, is either black, gray, or navy blue. Volkswagens, BMWs, Mercedes, and even Fords fill the highways to capacity.

I have not been here long but from what I have seen things are going to be absolutely super. It’s fun to experience a different culture, learn a new language, and learn about your heritage. I cannot wait for whats next.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I have already been in Germany for two months and I can honestly say that the past two months have been the most amazing, exciteful, and challenging months of my life. I have completely fallen in love with the German way of life, and everyday I find myself becoming more and more German- in my thinking, in my behavior, and thankfully, in my speaking. I would now guess that I understand 60-70% of what is being said around me, and I take great pride in how far my German has come in the past two months, However, I realize that I still have far to go.

My life in Germany is very busy and fast paced. I keep myself occupied with school, German courses, and I’m even taking classical dance at a local dancing school. On the rare occasions that I have free time during the week I often go to different nearby cities with friends from school. I have met many people from my activities and have made many friends. I am liking school too, its very different than my school in the USA, with the German school having less hours, more pauses, and in general more freedom. While I still have trouble with the complex wording in use in the History, Geography, and Philosophy classes, I come to great use in the English class.

I have bonded with my school, my friends, and the community in a much closer way than in the United States. I find myself very fortunate in the fact that I made friends very fast and I am intergrating faster than I expected. Rotary Florida briefly mentioned something in the USA that I wish to be more emphasized to the future outbounds – Dont hang around other exchange students often!- I have found that the more time you spend with the natives of your host country, the faster you will intergrate.

I have just returned from a 10 day long “GermanyTour” which took me to many of Germany’s beautiful cities, including Hamburg, Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, and Munich. Germany is a really beautiful country and I am glad it’s becoming my -second- home. I learned much about Germany during this trip, and also saw that Germany is a very diverse country, not only in it’s people, but also in it’s culture. The local culture of Hamburg is very different than Berlin, and Berlin different than Munich.. etc. This is also true in the accents, When speaking to locals in Dresden they could identify by my diction that I had come from the Ruhrpott area. I was very happy about that!. It was truly inspiring to see a country with so much history, so much culture, a country that I love. Never did I think that I would have the opportunity to visit Neuschwanstein, go to the house of Goethe, or have a picture next to the Brandenburg Gate. Things that I have only seen in books are now ingrained in my reality, and of this I am truly blessed. On the German Tour, we did make one very sad, however necessary, visit to the former Buchenwald concentration camp. I had never put much thought to visiting a concentration camp before, and after seeing it I am glad I did. I feel that after seeing a place which so much horror had happened, a place where humanity was at a truly low point, that one cannot help but have a different outlook on life. On the other hand, I take great pride in Germany as to how far it has come in the past 70 years.

While on my Germany Tour I kept having this strange feeling that I missed home. It wasn’t until about the 6th day of the trip that I began to truly think about what I was missing. And then I realized, that what I was missing the most wasn’t my home in the USA, but my home in Unna, Germany and my German friends and family. It’s truly strange how much this place, 2 months ago just a dot on the other side of the globe, now feels like my home. And while these past 2 months have gone by much too fast (feels like 3 weeks), I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the next 10.

As I sit in my room (with my new host family) I think to myself, How have I been here 5 months already ?! But then I begin to realize, how much I have learned, how much I have changed, and all the amazing things that I have been blessed to experience.

I am living the good life now. Two weeks ago, I changed host families for the first time. I was very sad to say ”auf wedersehen” to my first family, I was very fortunate to be in their home and I will never forget the experiences we had together. What a job they had, to be my first insight into German culture and life. The late night curry chicken dinners, the fantastic Christmas with gluhwein, steak, gifts, and a beautiful German Christmas tree, And the endless laughter we shared together are things that not only introduced me to a culture, which I love more by the day, but also things I will cherish for the rest of my life.

That being said, I am very, very, very happy to be in my new host family! The transition was very easy and I am enjoying having a hostbrother who is a few years younger than me. We get along really well and I really feel as if I am part of the family. (It also helps that my host mom is a fantastic cook!)

My life in Germany is busier than ever. I recently had my ”abschlussball”, which is the German equivalent of prom. It’s a bit of a right of passage for German youth after they’ve completed their first dancing course, and definitely the talk of the town as hundreds of people are there to watch. I went with a local girl, and after having her toes stepped on a ridiculous amount of time in dancing practice, we managed to do quite well in the dancing tournament.

Now that dancing has ended I am turning more focus to my American football team. We practice twice a week and we recently got a new coach from Canada, and he cannot speak any German. Therefore, not only am I playing football in practice, but also playing Translator.

My life in school is also changing. As the acquistion of the language goes up, as any exchange student will tell you, so will the expectations of teachers in the school. And also, I am no longer known as just the ”exchange student” but as ”Taylor”, and I feel as if I have been with my class a lot longer than just 5 months.

Living in Germany and seeing a new society, as well as seeing the United States from an outside viewpoint, has dramatically changed my opinions on what we are, as a people, and as a nation. It has come to my attention, that, the future of the United States and its status in the world will depend on the willingness of the people to pull together and unite. The reality is that the world is becoming evermore interconnected, and countries are becoming more dependent on one another. The United States must use its influence in the world for good, and yes, the United States’ influence abroad is almost unbelievable. Almost everyone speaks English as a second language. The same American TV programs and music that are at home are also topping the German charts. Everyone knows whos running for president, and even who just won the primary in Florida. We, as Americans, must use this advantage for good, and let the world know what were really about. Being proud of where we came from, a nd confident in where we’re going.

I can’t believe this experience is half way over, and the thought of going home in 7 months is not something I like to think about. I love Germany, and sure, I miss my family and friends. However I am still not homesick. I have never had the thought ”I wish I was back home”, because everyday, more and more, I am at home.

Taylor – June 25, 2012

It’s been a long time since I wrote a journal, so I will now try and conquer the task of putting the last life changing 4 months into words.

In April we took a trip around Europe with Rotex. “Eurotour”, I have to say, was 3 of the most awesome weeks in my life!. 3 weeks, 53 exchange students, 8 countries. Such an equation is sure to pack a lot of fun. We began the long trip in Czech Republic, made our way to Hungary, Austria, Italy, Vatican City, Monaco, France, and ended in Belgium. The chance, and the pursuing reality to see so many things that were once a dream in a book or on television is an opportunity which few people can experience. And I could never thank Rotary enough for affording me the opportunity. To name everything that we saw, would be almost impossible, but I can honestly say I’ve had the true ”grand tour” experience. From eating spaghetti on the streets of Rome, swimming in the French Riviera, to spending a day in the year long circus in Vienna, I have lived it all! I also got a chance to spend time with a great friend and fellow 2011-12 Florida RYE stud ent Alayna Mobley in Budapest, Hungary!

Since my return to Germany I have been in whats called the ”highpoint” of my exchange. This period of time, before the bitter end, is where you will reep what you sow. You have made friends, you can speak the language, and, hey, you even have a clue about the public transportation. It’s seems that I am no longer an exchange student in my class. I have friends, I know them and their familes well, and they treat me as one of their own. My exchange student fame has captured the entire town. I walk down the street in Unna, and people know who I am. It’s a great feeling. My weekends are an endless string of Birthday parties, watching soccer, and exploring the many nearby cities of ‘RUHRPOTT’ with my friends. Sausage, bread, and schnitzel continue to be a normal diet staple and yesterday I realized I had just as much German language music on my Ipod as English!

My relationship with my guest family has also reached new levels. Having to live with someone for 5 months really lets you learn a lot about them. They treat me just like one of their own, the feeling of being a guest has long since disappeared. In April, we celebrated my birthday by going out to eat in an American style restaurant. It was a great 18 birthday, I got a pocket knife, a photo shoot with friends, – and a little taste of home.

In May, myself and a fellow exchange student from Mexico did a service project with Rotary, we went to many nearby Hospices and passed out flowers to the residents and talked with them. It was a rewarding experience, it allowed me to bond a little more with my adopted German community and also give a little happiness to people who need it the most.

Last month I took a leap foward for Rotary Youth Exchange by becoming a two country exchange student. Myself and 10 other students from my grade flew to England for a week long exchange. I was to help translate and also be a representative, not only of the USA, but also of Germany!! When my teacher told me this I knew I had made it. I have accomplished the task. Myself a foreigner in Germany for 10 months, to be chosen as a representative of my school, my city, and my classmates was an honor. I had a great guest family, and learned a lot of Britain and it’s culture. (and also learned that English food actually isn’t all that bad! )

It’s starting to feel all like a dream. I know have just over 1 month left and my life seems to be so perfect know. My life here established, the task 90% accomplished. I take great pride in my country, and of the position I have had over the past 10 months as an ambassador of the American people. While I have much waiting for me back in the US, it is beginning to be a sad time here in Germany. All the friends I’ve made in the past year are beginning to ask ”Taylor, when are you going back?” and it’s a painful reminder that I will have to leave them….temporarily. The next month will be spent tying up loose ends, enjoying my final few weeks with my best friends, and preparing for my family to visit in July. Maybe they will notice a difference in me? The past 11 months have been so life changing, the experience so great I can hardly put it into words. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Tori Wilcox
2011-12 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Melrose, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Londrina Norte, District 4710, Brazil

Tori - Brazil

Tori’s Bio

Oi! Meu nome e´ Tori Wilcox e eu sou um estudante. (I would do the whole bio in Portuguese but I’m not quite there yet.)

Hello! My name is Tori Wilcox and I am a student at F.W. Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. Last year my family hosted our first foreign exchange student, Teresa from Braunschweig, Germany. My dad had mentioned the Rotary Youth Exchange program before and I had heard the representative speak at my school but, really, Teresa convinced me to seize this amazing opportunity. She stayed with us at the end of last school year and her positive attitude about her whole experience really impressed me. She was constantly enthusiastic for every new experience and enjoyed things that I took for granted daily. Seeing every moment and every day as something new and exciting, an adventure, really appealed to me! And so, here I am. Five months after Teresa retuned to Germany, I was accepted to study in Brazil for a year and I couldn’t be more excited!

I am currently a senior in high school and will graduate just before my departure for Brazil. In my free time I enjoy photography, literature, archery, water-skiing (I live on a lake), and acting. I live with my parents, my two older brothers, four dogs, a cat, and a bird. I know, that’s a lot of animals (I’m including my brothers)! I joke but really, I love my family dearly. They are all amazing people and I could not have done this without them!

I would like to take this time to thank everyone who made this amazing experience a possibility for me and every other exchange student. We all appreciate everything that you do to make this program the success that it is! I am so excited to meet my new family and friends in Brazil that I can barely sit still!

Ate´ breve! (See you soon!)

Tori’s Journals

January 24, 2012

I’ve had some difficulty in my attempts to write my journals. I’ve been trying to convey every single thing that has happened to me in all my time here in a journal that I didn’t want to be so long that everyone lost interest in what I had to say. I’ve been trying to put into words all of my profound experiences in a way that properly portrayed the differences in culture and, simultaneously, my personal revelations. The things that have made me stronger as an individual and more confident, the things that tore me down and made me vulnerable in a way I had never experienced before, the things that made me feel at home while home was so far away, and the things that made me feel like a complete foreigner. So, in light of my writer’s block of sorts, I’m going to try something a little different all the while hoping that this successfully conveys everything I wanted to convey in the same way that I experienced it all.

I stepped from my host mom’s car unto the gravel parking lot. The gravel was red just like the earth turned up in the construction site across the street. Just like all the dirt I had seen since my arrival. My host mom started up the steps to the school; I followed. We hadn’t talked all that much, my host mom and I. When faced with speaking with a native Portuguese speaker who knew very little English, all my language preparation since January really didn’t seem like much at all. As a result of our communication difficulties I knew alarmingly little about my first school day, actually, about my school in general. I assumed we would go to the school’s office and an administrator of some sort would explain things to me. It seemed a little strange to me but I thought we were going through a side entrance. The parking lot had been off a side street with an electric gate and a guard. It was very small and didn’t have many cars in it. There really was n’t much of a “main entrance” on the side of the school that faced the main street either but that was probably it. My host mom and I passed a small cafeteria and continued up more stairs. Maybe the office was on the second floor? At the top of the stairs my host mom poked her head in a door and a man followed her back out. She introduced him as Roberto and with a quick “tchau, Tori!” turned around and made her way back to the car. I followed Roberto into the room and faced 30 of my soon to be classmates. Not an office, then. Roberto indicated that I should introduce myself so I used about half of the Portuguese I’d learned and did just that. They laughed. It wasn’t mean laughter so I wasn’t really that worried but I still had no idea why they were laughing. I got that nervous smile on my face that screams “I really hope they’re not laughing at me, but I’m pretty sure they are.” I took an empty seat and faced forward.

Beautiful. I made my way down A Garganta do Diabo. The Devil’s Throat seemed more like paradise to me. The weather was perfect; the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. I lifted my face to the heavy mist coming from the humongous waterfall to my left. I weaved in and out of tourists snapping 20 shots a second and reached the end of the boardwalk. Amazing. The end of the boardwalk, the Devil’s Throat, was perched on the edge of a cliff covered in water. Waterfalls under us, in front of us, all around us with a rainbow or two draped through the mist. Stunning.

That’s it? That was by far the fastest class on American History I’d ever had. My Brazilian class just covered in half an hour what I’d studied in high school classes for over two years. Thirty minutes to cover 200 years of history that my peers and I had researched, read, studied, colored. And, it made Americans and our history seem far worse than any of my research ever did. On a similar note, Brazilian French bread is very different from American French bread. This makes me wonder what French French bread is like…

I’ve observed that Brazilians are perfectly fine with making you wait. They are hardly ever on time and are completely unapologetic about it. I know that Brazilians not being on time for anything is a famed characteristic but what no one ever includes is that they hate to be kept waiting. They really despise it. My theory is that everyone always shows up late so that they are never the first one there. Buh dum ching!

My toes squished around in my shoes. Excellent. The mud has officially entered my shoes. Standing ankle deep in the stuff, really it was only a matter of time. But then this is a minor inconvenience. Totally worth it. My attention returns to the humongous stage in front of me and the crowds of ecstatic, dancing, Brazilian youths surrounding me. They also happen to be standing ankle deep in mud. In the rain. Gustavo Lima’s songs pour over us as we sing and dance. Dancing isn’t usually my strong suit but I’ve picked up on sertaneja quite nicely if I do say so myself. The mud is making it more difficult that usual; I almost lost a shoe.

Finally, I would like to convey my sincere thanks to Rotary for making this incredible and life-changing experience possible for all of us!

Até mais!


Victoria Gesell
2011-12 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Lappeenranta-Leiri, District 1430, Finland

Victoria - Finland

Victoria’s Bio

Terve! Minun nimeni on Victoria Gesell, I am 17 years old, currently attend Ponte Vedra High School as a junior and next year I am going to Finland. I stand at a tall 5’11 and ½’’, have hazel eyes and red hair. One of the perks to being so tall is that I’ll always know when it’s raining before everyone else does.

I live with my mom in Ponte Vedra Beach and visit my dad very frequently. Both my parents live in Ponte Vedra, but not their whole lives. They have traveled abroad and just hearing their stories has instilled in me a craving for adventure and new experiences.

When I am not at school studying U.S History, Chemistry, Latin and Art, I love to be drawing and painting. I started sketching poor excuses for stick figures not too long ago but with practice and time I can now proudly state that I am an artist. If I’m not drawing, then I am out laughing and enjoying the days with my best friends. I am a very independent, carefree, open minded person and fully support individuality and self expression. Why, because there should only be one You!

When I first attended the Rotary assembly I had an overwhelming, positive feeling and knew right then and there that I had to be an exchange student! After what seemed like a big blur, one night the phone call came and I will remember these words forever: “Victoria, you’re going to Finland.” I was immeasurably excited! To be honest, I knew very little about Finland at the time and must have researched for 3 hours that same night learning all about Finland’s culture and what a beautiful country it is. It’s a country selection that is a perfect match for me.

I know the next year of my life will be filled with wonderful experiences and knowledge that will forever be a part of who I am. I cannot thank Rotary enough for this excellent opportunity that I have been given, and can’t wait to begin my experience as an Outbound Exchange Student to Finland!


Victoria’s Journals

August 6

I am sitting in the Jacksonville Airport terminal waiting for my flight to arrive. My heart is racing with anticipation, my mind is exploring all of the possibilities that await me in just a few hours’ time and it seems almost impossible to describe this moment, but I will try my best.

  I have just said farewell to my parents and friends with a bittersweet goodbye. It’s always difficult to part separate ways with family, but I know what is waiting for me just across the ocean, and boy am I ready for it. For ten months I have been building up to this moment right here in the terminal. I have been very well prepared by Rotary through orientations, meetings and could not be here without all who have supported me within the RYE Florida organization. I want to thank everyone who has helped me get to this seat in the terminal totally confident and prepared with a special shout out to the BAOB’s and Ms. Paula!

  After I walked through security it finally caught up with me; this exchange is real. Not only is it real, but it is the best decision I have made so far in my life. Hands down.  A very wise person told me that each exchange is unique and is completely my own and that is completely true. For ten months I have been talking about leaving, but now the time has come where I must take the first steps to changing the rest of my life. Once I step onto the plane I am an Inbound to Finland.  Officially.

So it’s time to say nakemiin to Florida, and moi to Finland! See you all in a year!

  After I walked through security it finally caught up with me; this exchange is real. Not only is it real, but it is the best decision I have made so far in my life. Hands down.

September 22


As I am sitting here writing this journal I am amazed at how drastically my life has changed in just a little over a month living in Finland, and how I am changing too.

After my first week in my city I really didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying and for my first week of school I thought to myself, ‘Today is going to be the day I get lost’ but I somehow managed to make it back to my house unscathed. A month later and I can proudly say that I haven’t been lost once.

I would venture to say that school is considerably different in Finland than it is in America. Here, the students choose the classes they want to sit in for 75 minutes three times a week. There are 6 periods throughout the year, which are like semesters in Florida. Classes aren’t called “periods”, they are called courses. The periods are the semesters. If this makes any sense, you should feel accomplished. When the periods change and so do the courses. A fun little thing about Finnish school is that you can always have a free lunch. You get glasses, silverware and plates to eat with, unlike the Styrofoam trays and milk cartons you get in Florida. It’s quite nice. There are certain days where I have free periods for 75 minutes in between classes. Students are free to come and go to school as they please, no questions asked. My school is only a short walk from the city center so my friends and I regularly just go grab a coffee and chat.

Which brings me to my next topic. In Finland, there is no such thing as “small talk” and I like it. Finns just get straight to the point of the conversation and you will hear the shortest phone calls of your life here. But don’t mistake their frank approach to talking with being brief. I was having coffee with a few of my friends one afternoon and I finally noticed that we had been sitting there talking for well over 2 hours.

Many times I have caught myself talking to a friend back in Florida and not realizing that I was about to type in Finnish as a response thus totally confusing people. My Finnish is getting better every day. It helps to have Finnish class, but I also study on my own trying to take it one step at a time. I can understand half of the conversations around me and sometimes read along with the morning newspaper with my host family. It’s coming to me very easily and I really am not stressing about learning the language. I know that I am putting in enough effort to learn it and eventually it will naturally switch over.

Some people have told me that it’s hard to make Finnish friends but I will strongly disagree with that. My first night in my city my sister (I’ve dropped the ‘’host’’ part because I consider her my actual sister now) took me to a movie night at her friend’s house where I was already meeting new people and making plans to hang out. Finns typically don’t approach you, so you have to be very extroverted and go up to people and introduce yourself.

To be totally honest I can’t see how you wouldn’t want to be an exchange student. You can experience a totally new perspective on life and the world at a time where you are most impressionable. Every day I am excited to see what happens next in my life. Sometimes I feel as if my exchange is moving too fast, other times it feels too slow. I can feel myself becoming more and more adapted to the lifestyle here that everything feels normal. When someone brings up how things are in America, it almost feels foreign to me.

I know that becoming an exchange student was the best decision that I have made in my life. I was sitting in Florida feeling something was missing from my life; some kind of adventure, travel and new experience. The day I attended the Rotary Youth Exchange assembly at my school was the day I changed the rest of my life. I cannot thank my family, my Rotary club and all of Rotary for allowing me to be here in Finland. This opportunity means the world to me and there isn’t enough times I can say thank you that would express my full gratitude. Seriously.

Some things I have noticed are:

-If you see a person asleep in the park, leave him there. In America people would think a person passed out in a park was homeless or drunk. In Finland people think ‘’Oh that’s a good idea, I hope there is a spot for me in the sun.”

-You will get funny looks if you put jam on toast for breakfast in the morning. Sweets aren’t eaten for breakfast. I normally have raw salmon and a slice of Gouda on toast here, and I think this has replaced sugary breakfast foods forever for me.

-If you give a Finn a Poptart, they’re going to want a second. And if you give them a second, they will want to try them all.

-Going to sauna is possibly the best cure after a cold and rainy day in Finland. Or just the cure for everything.

-There is no “typical” Finn. Some are shy, and some make you wish they were shy.

-The coffee here, even if it’s from a cheap dispensing machine, is automatically 10x better than anything you can get in America.

-That a sauna is considered cold at 150°F, and you should probably throw some more water on the hot rocks.

-I really need to know the metric system. Nobody knows what I’m talking about and vice versa.

-Nobody really cares how you dress here. Some people look as though they just came from New York Fashion Week, others look like they dressed themselves in the dark.

To be totally honest I can’t see how you wouldn’t want to be an exchange student. You can experience a totally new perspective on life and the world at a time where you are most impressionable.

Monday, December 19, 2011

So have I really been in Finland for over 4 months now? It was very unusual to realize how long I have lived here. It no longer feels like a foreign place anymore. I understand how and why most everything around me works and happens. I’ve had good days and bad days, but never terrible days. This shows that I now consider life in Finland as normal.

I can see myself changing already. Most people don’t mention this to you, but you think a lot on exchange. You think about how to go about eating the strange food, you think in the host language, you think of what bus you’re going to have to take home and most importantly you think about yourself. Sometimes it’s exhausting to think so much. This is probably the reason why exchange students are notorious for enjoying a good nap.

There is no longer a language barrier for me. I can understand what mostly everybody is saying and it just comes naturally; meaning I don’t have to pause and think about what someone just said. Even speaking the language is easier than when I first arrived now that I have been around it longer. I never lost sleep because I wasn’t understanding the language. I just studied enough and practiced it often and it just clicked over. The concept of language in general is a weird one. Even reading English sometimes makes me confused.

It’s December now and the holidays are rushing in it seems. It feels like New Years was only a few months ago. Where is the time going? Its 5 days until Christmas and there are no decorations up in my house. Finns wait until maybe a day or two before Christmas Eve, or in some cases, on Christmas Eve to put up their trees and decorations. I’m experiencing a wide range of emotions right now. Of course I missed my family on my birthday last week, and I know I will be thinking of them come Christmas but it couldn’t be farther from being homesick. In 4 months I have never been homesick. Sure I’ve missed people, but there is a difference between missing family and friends and being homesick. I’m very excited to experience a Finnish Christmas. (it would be even better if there was some snow outside) Celebrating holidays in your host country, along with learning the language, is one of the best ways to be exposed to that country’s culture.

I have been told the new Florida Outbounds have been chosen and have found out their countries, and to that I say paljon onnea! (Congratulations!) I will always remember the moment I found out I was going to Finland. It doesn’t seem like that was a year ago. Things certainly do change.

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” -Tony Robbins

February 24, 2012

I feel like time is playing tricks on me. I have been living in Finland for almost 7 months. That can’t be right; I only just got here a few weeks ago! I always thought time passed by slower as you grow older. Clearly I was very wrong. If anything, it moves faster each day. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and even Valentine’s Day have all come and gone. The snow is showing signs of melting and the winter days are trying hard to hold on as long as possible. The sun shines more and more each day. Floridians think I am kidding when I say at one point I didn’t see the sun for months.

I think exchange has already taught me many, many things. It’s taught me that it’s okay to be alone. It’s helped me learn a lot about myself, how I feel about issues, and what kind of different things I can be interested in. It has also taught me what my limits, weaknesses and strengths are. Sure, I would have eventually figured all of these things out. But by jumping into a foreign environment surrounded by absolutely nothing familiar, I believe the process was quickened.

Every day has been a chance to learn something. New words or phrases in the language, new things to learn about myself and others, new foods to try, new areas of the town to walk through and enjoy along with so many other things. Small details that when left unnoticed, still appear small. But when looked at again, can become the biggest and most important details of the whole experience.

Nothing makes me happier than knowing my friends are also enjoying their exchanges just as much as I am and to hear about the new exchange students coming into the greatest year of their life thus far. Before coming to Finland I had made sure to not set any expectations. This helped me come to this country with an open mind free of anything that might cause disappointments. I would advise the new Outbounds to try and do the same. I was asked a question here once, ‘What is one of the things you are disappointed with on exchange here in Finland?’ they had asked. I answered with “Nothing. I haven’t found anything I haven’t liked or have been disappointed with.” At the time I wasn’t just trying to be polite, I was being honest. I tend to be like that. I say things openly and honestly, even if you aren’t ready to hear it. As I look back, I should have answered with how I am disappointed that so many people are missing out on this wonderful country. This journal and my pictures can only stretch so far. You really have to be here in order to understand. The same probably goes for everyone and everywhere else.

I have talked to a few other exchange students about this, and we all agree on it. We love out host countries, our exchange year, our families, our friends and our new languages with all our hearts. It’s still a painful subject when talking about going home in just a few months. However, I am ready to be back home when the time comes for it. I have plans and goals I am anxious to start accomplishing. Being on exchange has opened my eyes to many new possibilities I want to explore. You can be sure that this is the first of many travels for me.

June 1

With summer arriving in Finland I am getting asked many times about when I am leaving Finland. When is it time for me to go back home to Florida? But what does ‘home’ really mean? Of course it’s where your family and friends are, but I have family and friends here now too. I have put my life in Florida on hold to come spend a year on exchange. I have made a life in my host country in just 10 months. I would have never guessed that going on exchange means expanding your family to people from all over the world.

10 months ago I left everything familiar and boarded onto a plane heading to a new, exciting and completely different country. I didn’t realize at the time just how much I was going to change, grow, learn, love and experience. It’s something that Rotary can’t teach you or other exchange students can tell you. You have to be open minded and let the full experience come to you.

Being an exchange student is about understanding different cultures and ways of viewing the world. It’s about meeting new people, getting lost in your new school or city, trying seriously bizarre foods and learning a new language. It’s about sharing your opinions and culture with your new friends and family, and realizing that we all aren’t so different after all.

Exchange is not a year in your life, but a life in one year. A life that nobody wants to ever let go of. I know that the new Outbounds must be seriously excited and maybe a bit nervous about leaving soon to start their exchanges. It seems like just a few months ago I was feeling the same things about leaving Florida. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the beginning of the year and start the whole experience over again. The saying is that “Time flies when you’re having fun”. You have no idea how true that is until you are sitting at your desk and writing your journal with just 2 months left of your exchange year.

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