Outbounds 2012-2013

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Alaina Roberts 
2012-13 Outbound to Indonesia
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3400, Indonesia
The Rotary Club of Bandung

Alaina - Indonesia

October 15, 2012

First of all I would like to thank Rotary for sending me on this great adventure. I would never been able to have this opportunity without the Rotary foreign exchange program and all of the volunteers hard work.

When I in district interviews for 6970, I was asked to perform in one of the rooms. At the time I felt that it was a completely worthless exercise and I refused to do anything more than sing head, shoulders, knees and toes. Since I have been in Indonesia I have been asked to sing, dance, tell stories, play music and just about everything else. I am not a shy person but in America I prefer to stand at the back of parties. I can now proudly say that I have performed Karaoke in front of an entire restaurant, joined a music club at my school and sung to my classmates on countless occasions. Music is part of life here and I am glad that I have been able to change so that I can ‘fit in’ Indonesian culture.

One thing that I have learned here is that nothing is truly universal. You might think that a legal sheet of paper would be the same size around the world- you would be wrong. You might think that McDonald’s is the same all over the world- here McDonald’s sells rice and chicken with the bone in it. You might think of all things the sun is universal- you would be wrong. Here the sun comes up at 5:30 every morning and goes down at 6:00 (I live very close to the equator so this time almost never changes). I am lucky that I got up early in America because everyone wakes up very early here; my school starts at 6:30. I have school 6 days a week, I wear a uniform and I go to a vocational school for Multi-Media. Out of all the differences between America and Indonesia school has to have the most different things.

Every morning at school we start off the day with a 30 minute ceremony that requires us to stand in attention while a teacher talks. On some Mondays this ceremony is even longer and I on one occasion I had to be walked to the back of the courtyard because I almost passed-out. Every day of the week I have a different schedule and different classes. My classes range from an hour and a half long to five hours long. Sometimes the teacher doesn’t show up or if they do show up they do not teach a lesson. Teachers are also allowed to smoke on campus.

Smoking is very popular here. I can barely walk down the street without being enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Even now, as I am writing this, my host father and his work friends are filling up the house with smoke. People here often ask me if I smoke to which I reply almost too enthusiastically that I do not smoke. There are almost no restrictions on smoking. People can smoke in restaurants, in other people’s houses and everywhere else in between. I think that this is the hardest thing to get used to. I can pretend to like to sing and I can go to school for long boring hours but the suffocating smell of smoke never fails to make me feel sick.

My body has taken the transition to Indonesia very hard. As soon as I got here I coughed for two straight weeks. Now I go though phases of being too tired to move, and being nauseous. It is not easy but despite the challenges I still love it here.

My love with Indonesia was not a “love at first sight” thing but, it has grown with each day I stay here. I find new things everyday that make me love this country even more.

When I first arrived in Indonesia it was Ramadan. If you didn’t know Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population (about 88% of the total population). During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat from sun up to sun down for thirty days. On my third day in Indonesia I was told that the local Interact club was going to pass out food to the needed. I signed up- excited to do some kind of service for my new country. What I didn’t know when I signed up is that we were going to wake up at 1am to pass out food because people could not eat during the day. I still went despite the time and I am so glad I did. It has become one of my favorite memories in Indonesia so far. We spent several hours driving around the city, finding people to help. Sometimes we would see someone on the other side of the street so we would run across, screaming at them to stop and take the food we were trying to give them. This experience is why I decided to do exchange through Rotary. I want t o be able to help people and many Indonesians are in dire need of help.

One day in English class, my teacher asked everyone in the class to say one think they know about America. I thought it was very funny so I wrote down the whole list here it is:
• America has four seasons
• Liberty Statue (this is how they phrased it)
• Hollywood
• Miami Beach
• Michael Bolton
• Kobe Bryan
• New York
• Washington (it is unclear if they were talking about D.C or the state)
• LA Galaxy (I looked it up, it is a soccer team- I didn’t even know about this)
• California
• Barrack Obama
• Los Angeles
• Hawaii
• White House
• Las Vegas
• Donovan (football player)
• Texas
• San Francisco
• US Navy
• Yankees
• Michael Jordan
• Disney Land
• Justin Beiber
• Golden Gate (bridge)
So, as Americans we should ask ourselves if we are proud of this list. Are we proud that all a 10th grade class of Indonesian students knows about America is this list. I am not. I try to teach my Indonesian friends everyday about the real America and how we are more than Hollywood and New York. One boy told me that he wanted to move to America because he likes Justin Beiber and if he moves to America, he will be able to meet him. I had to tell him that I have lived in America my whole life and I have not met anyone famous. I have been told by several people here that I am the first foreigner that they have ever talked to, I only hope I am a good example.

Thank you again Rotary for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

December 9, 2012

I have now lived in Bandung, Indonesia for almost 4 months. I cannot say that I have loved every minute of it but I am learning tons. I really have no idea how to write about the last 2 months of my life in one little blog. I have grown so much.

My Indonesian is getting much better and I can have full conversations in Indonesian and explain things in Indonesian, I have made more friends and I continue to learn about the culture.

I attended one of my friend’s father’s funeral. It was very sad but it was an interesting view into the culture that I do not see every day. In Indonesia the family must prepare the body for burial. The body was also buried wrapped in a white sheet, not in a coffin. My entire class went to support our friend during the funeral.

I have accepted that I will not learn anything at school. My teacher do not show up very often and when they do, they do not teach a lesson. At least I get to talk to my friends. I am concerned for my friends’ education. I am not really worried about learning anything, I am an exchange student after all but, my friends are not being taught and this is their education. I actually miss the American Education system, and I wish that my friends could have real classes and learn as much as I have been able.

Most of the food is standard now. I eat rice and fried soybeans almost every day. Sometimes it is very hard to swallow and I wish I could have American food but, most days I am fine.
I experienced a little bit of depression in November. I was not very busy and I had to do college applications so, I was not happy. Since then I have learned to be more active and try to do something even if it is not very fun.

I decided to make a list of some of the biggest cultural differences, of course there are much more but, these are some of them. Enjoy!

Cultural Differences:
1. Wet is clean
2. Old people grasp your elbow not hold your hand
3. “Belum makan nasi, belum makan” – If you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten
4. 2 showers a day
5. Food is not made per meal it is made for the day and then left on the table under a cover. Whenever you are hungry you can just go eat. Rice stays fresh all day in the rice cooker.
6. Time is not well defined and structured like it is in America.
7. Condiments go with EVERYTHING. (and not just a little)
8. Having a maid and/or a driver is perfectly normal
9. Smoking is very popular and it is legal/normal to smoke everywhere
10. If you are sick it is because you have not eaten (or you are cold)
11. People love wearing jackets (90 degree weather year round)
12. Littering is totally acceptable
13. Most people are Muslim (this causes MANY differences)
14. People believe in ghosts
15. People are very upfront about looks. It is not unusual for someone you don’t know to come up to you and say “I am the prettiest person in the class, do you think I am pretty?”
16. Most places including peoples’ houses and some classrooms require you to take off your shoes.
17. Burping and making other noises with your mouth is acceptable.
18. Almost everything is paid for in cash, credit cards are a pain and they are not accepted at most stores (only very nice malls let you use credit cards)
19. Shaking hands is very different: Before you shake someone’s hand their gender, age, respectability, religion and a hundred other contributing factors must run through your head. If someone does shake your hand (American style) the handshake is very weak and floppy, not strong and aggressive like we do in America. Many people will extend both hands and you slide yours in-between theirs (kind of like playing slide) and then you bring your hands to your chest. If someone is Muslim, you might be accepted to do a traditional Muslim greeting. The younger person takes the other’s hand and raises it to their head and bows at the same time. Finally, some people chose to do the kisses (2 kisses one on each cheek) but, you will never kiss a man. I know it is complicated, just imagine doing it every day.
20. Squat potties exist and just for everyone’s information I am pretty good at using them now.
21. People like touching other people for seemingly no reason.
22. School is fun and people like being at school. Teachers also don’t show up.
23. People like to ask very personal/weird questions. The word for this is “Kepo” it is used to describe a nosey person who asks too many questions.
24. Tea is served all the time.
25. They have local languages and most people know their traditional language as well as Indonesian.

I want to thank Rotary for sending me somewhere that I never thought I would go so that I could learn. I also want to remind everyone that I do a blog that I update much more often at myindonesianyear.blogspot.com If you are interested in my daily activities and enlightenment that is the place to look.

Here are some recent stories:

On the way home a group of about 7 elementary school kids stopped me. I don’t stop for anything while I am walking home and I really have no idea how they got my attention but, they did. They were all super cute and when I turned around they looked very nervous. I asked them what they wanted and they asked (very politely) if they could take a picture with them. I said that they could and we sat down to take a picture. Most of the children we very nervous and did not want to be in the photo I called them over and told them to sit next to me. After the picture, they thanked me and said goodbye. I love little kids and these were very nice and cute.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have terrible Hand-eye coordination. I am a swimmer but that does not mean that I am athletic in anything other than swimming. My brother, Jesse, finds opportunities to tease me about my complete lack of skill and so do many other people. So, I was at school and some of the guys in my class had a football, an American football, and they were passing it around. I was surprised that they had a real football, because American football is not very popular here, most people like Soccer. The boys were really bad. It was funny watching them. A lot of the time their passes would go short and they would just bounced the ball off the ground (not exactly allowed in the official rules of American football). I watched them play for a while and latter when I was tired of pretending to do school work I borrowed the ball and played catch with one of my friends. I was awesome. I am a celebrity at school and it isn’t like anyone actually has class they n eed to go to so about 50 people just sat watching me throw the football. None of my passes were bad and I was able to catch almost everything. I guess everyone has to have one shining moment and this was mine. I was a pro using the official Peyton Manning style ( 1. Elbow your brother 2. wipe the windshield 3. flick the booger). So proud of myself, when my friends told me that I was good I was like “Well of course I am awesome it is AMERICAN FOOTBALL”. I just wanted to record this moment because it will never happen again.

Let is my friend from Brazil and this happened at her school. She also told me about a game that she had played in one of her classes. The teacher drew two lines on the floor and said “If your answer to the question is Yes, stand on this line, if it is no, stand on this line.” Simple rules, simple game. It started with the usual, easy question “Do you like this class” etc and then it moved into more fun questions. “Have you had a boyfriend/Girlfriend ?” Almost everyone said yes. “Have you dated one person for a year or more?”, again the majority of the class said yes. “Have you kissed on the lips?”, this time Leti was the only one who said yes. So funny! No one in the USA would date someone for a year and not kiss. Also if someone has sex before marriage they will be “exiled from the community” (Direct quote from one of Bridget’s classmates). It is nice to be in a country with such innocence and I think that the y would be really shocked if they went to High School in America.

Sometimes all I want to do is fit in but, there are defiantly perks that come with being the most popular girl in school. I have never been part of the in-crowd and being a foreign exchange student is the best way to do it!

February 13, 2013


Indonesian food is good and I like it more every day. Every meal basically consists of rice and something that has been fried. Indonesians do not think that eating food while it is warm is very important and I still hate eating cold rice. I regularly eat from Warungs, which are small food stands on the side of the road. I recently started craving specific Indonesian food. I think that this means that my body has finally accepted the food. I still avoid spicy food because I never know how spicy something is and I normally only have a little water. But, I eat almost everything else. Eating fish that still have their heads and tails no longer phases me. I have eaten a ridiculous amount of ‘bizarre ‘ food and I discovered that cow tongue is actually good. The food situation gets better every day.


“I am always healthy in America and I am always sick in Indonesian” This is one of the phrases in Indonesian that I say all of the time. Since my last blog, I had to stay at the hospital for 2 nights because I had dehydration, diarrhea and a very high fever. A month later I ended up bedridden for 2 days because I was sick again. Every week, I fight diarrhea, constipation and other super fun things. I am being able to handle it better as time goes on but, I am going to be honest, it is not fun. Everyone tells you that your head will hurt from the new things but no one tells you that your body will literally shut down and it will not work properly even though you have lived in your new country for 6 months. Luckily, now I only have an ear infection and I am feeling much better. I would say that bad health is the hardest thing I have had to deal with. Not culture shock or the language just the depressing nature of being sick all of the time.


I love Indonesians. They are so nice and friendly and they always want to talk with me. The only problem is trying to get them to talk to me in Indonesian. I have lots of people to talk to at school even though it is really hard to hang out afterwards. Even when my Indonesian is imperfect people help me and try to figure out what I am trying to say. I cannot imagine that any other country has people this nice and I am so happy to be in Indonesia because of the people. They have weird fears (dark, dogs, etc) and they have very different health beliefs (rain hitting your head will make you dizzy and stomach aches are caused by wind coming into your stomach.) They are very honest and I get called a huge slew of names that would be considered rude in America but, I think it is funny. Sometimes I think I am in a little elfin world where everyone is short, happy and they love to sing. I love the people here!

What people think of me

Aunt Melly (councilor) thinks I am crazy. My friends treat me like a celebrity. People on the street scream at me and jeer like I am an alien. Lots of people are scared of me. I think I am doing well at representing Rotary and America. When people start talking to me they are always surprised that I can speak the language and that I am not scary. People already have ideas about Americans and America but when I show them pictures of my family and friends and my life back home they are always impressed. I also make funny faces at people randomly, which makes them laugh a lot and helps break the ice. I think I am making progress.


I am learning more every day. I can talk for hours in Indonesian with only a couple of words in English. I have not have a dream in Indonesian but, I can speak Indonesian before I am fully awake if my family wakes me up and wants to talk. I prefer talking in Indonesian. Of course there are topics that I am not very good at talking about but, I am getting better. I really think I will be fluent by the end of the year. My friends want me to also learn Sudanese, the local language. I have picked up a couple of words but, mostly I stick with Indonesian. Sudanese is a completely different language, the words have nothing in common and the grammar structure is very different so, it is very hard to learn. Fun fact: In Indonesian the adjectives come after the noun so you would say “I saw a car red.” which is easy until you want to say something more complicated like “My friend’s home” which is “home friend me”. I mix this up often but I am getting much better. I can speak faster and clearer now, I can’t wait until I am fluent.


This exchange has given me 5 months of anecdotal evidence that if you have expectations you will be wrong or disappointed.

The following is the translated version of a conversation I had with my friends :
Me: Hello!
Friend : Hey Alaina, How are you?
Me: I’m good.
Friends: You look (obviously cannot think of the word in English and they don’t want to say it in Indonesian – Waved their arms in a ‘skinny’ way)
Me: Skinny?
Friends: No not skinny… less fat
Me: I am sexy and I know it
Friends: No not sexy
Me: Well, thank you…
Friends: By the end of the year you will be skinny and look like Taylor Swift and you will be able to go home and get a boyfriend and live happily ever after.
Me: OK, sure
Friends: *Smiling at their super sincere compliment*
Me: *a little confused
I love my friends, the best part is that they don’t understand that they would be considered rude in America. Maybe we need more honest people in America. I feel super great when I receive super rude comments from random strangers (or friends).
• You have a terrible singing voice
• You could never be a model, you are too big
• You must be heartbroken because you don’t have a boyfriend
• Being called “Mr.” all the time (translation error I hope)
• Calling me really boring
• etc.
I was on a Rotary trip and we were on the road in a bus for 7 hours At some point on the trip we stopped at a gas station and some people bought Pop Mie (Instant noodles in a cup). When the finished they didn’t want to drink all of broth and there was no way to prevent it from spilling so they asked me to dump the broth out of the window. I was standing in front of a door and I opened the little window above it to pour out the soup. I poured out one girl’s and then I went for the second girl’s. I don’t know why I did it, possibly because I hadn’t slept well and I had been standing for about 5 hours but, I did it. I poured out the broth and then put my head out of the window to wave to the car behind us. The lock on the door was broken and the door opened with my head still inside the window. Luckily my feet didn’t move and I was able to swing the door shut. I sat down after that.

The following was my account of a Rotary trip to Pangandaran and the famous Green Canyon

We ate breakfast at the hotel and then got on the bus. We were told that we going to drive 20 minutes up the river and go “body rafting” in Green Canyon. I have never heard of body rafting before and I assumed that it meant we were floating down the river. This exchange has given me 5 months of anecdotal evidence that if you have expectations you will be wrong or disappointed. We were on the bus for more than an hour and we got to a building with supplies to go body rafting. We put on lifejackets, boots, shin guards and helmets. I thought this was a tad bit excessive for floating down a river but I went with it. We took smiling pictures in all our gear and then we got ‘instruction’. They told us that we were going to ride in the backs of trucks for about an hour before we would get to the location and then we prayed. Praying is not unusual in Indonesia and we thought it was like praying at school – tradition. What we didn’t know was that they were be ing serious. We got in the trucks in all of our gear. It was not comfortable and it was really hot but it only took about 40 minutes. We had to walk down a steep area to get to the river. The boots were not very good and it hurt to walk because the bottoms were as thin as socks. I also don’t enjoy hiking, I like walking on flat surfaces. We got to the water and I was already tired. I was looking forward to calmly floating down the river. I was one of the first people to start down the river. One of the guides was in front of me and he kept telling me to go to the left, under the trees and stuff. I have always been taught to stay in the middle, snakes and dangerous animals live on the sides and the trees are dangerous if you get stuck in them. I followed the guide but I was not happy about it. We had been in the water for a grand total of 1 minute when I was about to go under a branch and one of the guides behind me told me there was a snake on the tree. I panicked it wa s not graceful and I am not proud of it but I didn’t understand why I was under the trees in the first place. Shortly after the snake incident the guides told us to stop and I went to stand by the edge. I went to stand up but there was water in my boots. When I stepped on the rock the water in my boot moved and bubbled and it felt like I had just tried to stand up on an Alligator. In Florida, you never, never ever swim in rivers or lakes or marshes because there are huge alligators that will eat you. I screamed. One of the guides had to stop me farther down the river. We got out of the river and had to walk on the very steep bank (we crossed the river so now we were on the opposite side from where we started). I could barely walk I was shaking so bad. My legs and arms and everything was shaking. I was so mad and I was still recovering from the snake and the fake alligator. I shall only give you some of the highlights of our 4 hour death march.
• We stopped and crossed the river countless times
• The green water that Green Canyon is famous for was brown because it had rained the day before
• At some points the rapids were so bad the guides had ropes that we had to hang on to (remember that my arms and hands were already tired from the day before)
• I let go of a rope and had to *pardon my language* haul ass to get to the guide.
• We climbed around a class 5 rapid (might have been impassible)
• If we fell into the water at some points we would have died and there would be nothing anyone could do but watch.
• We jumped off a 3 meter rock into the raging river below
• I got out of jumping off another 2 meter rock by going through the rapids.
• We were forced to dive into the water from the side several time
• We were constantly being beaten with rocks
• The ‘extra protection’ just weighted us down, made it harder to swim and harder to climb
• We had to climb up and down a cliff face (straight up a wall) with no ropes, only Indonesian guides.
• We had to climb backwards down the cliff face and had to trust the guide to place our feet (I hugged my guide when I got down safely)
• Climb slippery rocks while we were soaking wet with no grip on our shoes.
• Several people came close to being lost
• The guides learned several choice swear words in at least 5 different languages
• We took smiling pictures and pretended nothing was wrong
• The view was beautiful
• I was in fear of my life the entire time- Not in a “If I fail this test my mom is going to kill me” in a ” There is no chance of survival if I fall”
• I would never ever in a thousand years do that again
• No one died and no one was seriously injured. We all had cuts and bruises but we were alive.
I consider this a miracle.
At no point did I sign or see a waiver. I am defiantly not in America anymore.
(Just thought Rotary Florida would love to know that I am being taken care of)
I went kayaking with my family in near a small town.
I could not paddle straight. It was nearly impossible. I was already tired of trying to control the stupid boat. And I was literally spinning in circles. This wouldn’t be super embarrassing if it was just in front of my family but all the locals were also watching me. When I go to small towns many people have never seen a white person before and they all look and stare and yell at me even more that what happens at school and in the city. We were in a small fishing village and I know that even the youngest could steer a little boat and they were probably laughing at the ‘white girl who can’t do anything’.


My school is under construction and all my classes have been moved. No one can tell me where they have gone or what time class is so, I spend a lot of time in the library. My school is much better than some other exchange students in Indonesia and I am happy but, I am also very confused. Most days I spent a couple hours in school sitting in the library talking to random people or typing for my blog. I don’t love my school but, there is not really anything worth complaining about.


Most of the time I use my driver to get from place to place or I get a ride with my councilor. The public transportation system is very disorganized and hard to use. I keep asking my families to teach me how to use it but they always say “later” which is Indonesian for no. I do take public transportation with friends or if I am not going very far and I can guess which car to get in.


Most people here are Muslim. My second family was the most religious and I learned a lot from them. I say Islamic catchphrases at school and we pray before beginning the day (not a typical Muslim prayer just a moment of silence). Islam has added to culture shock but now everything is normal. I tell time with the prayer calls and I like watching Islamic traditions. My 1st and 3rd host families are less religious. I am able to go to Christian church some weekends if my family is not busy, which is very nice of them.

Family life

I am now living in my 3rd host family. My Mom and Dad both work two jobs. They are doctors at a hospital and the run a clinic / daycare for mentally handicap children. Almost every weekend we do something together. So far I have been hiking and kayaking. My family is not like all other Indonesian families because they spend time together when they can and I enjoy the time we spend together. We even eat dinner together. Everyone of my families have been so different and I am glad that I didn’t just live at one house.


It is the rainy season! It has been raining almost every day since November but, it doesn’t both me. My 2nd host families house did flood while I was there and we had to de-flood the house but other than that the rain has not been too bad. It is cooler in Bandung because we are in the mountains and everyone always says “It is SO cold in Bandung”. News Flash it is 75-80 degrees and it isn’t exactly freezing. People were jackets all the time and if you took a picture you would think that it was 40 degrees outside by the way they dress. People don’t like to have dark skin so they wear jackets to hide from the sun or because they think jackets are cool. I am loving the fact that it isn’t cold. One of my friend asked if Bandung or Florida was colder, for the first time in my life I had to say that the winter in Florida was colder than somewhere else. I love the weather here.

April 2013


I love Indonesian food. I am going to have to collect recipes and learn how to cook some of my favorites. My favorite thing is the fruit. I really cannot express how good the fruit is here and it is infuriating that we do not have some of the same fruit in America. I try to explain what Mangis is or what Durian is or Rambutan is or any other of my favorite new fruits and no one in America can understand. It is also depressing that the fruit seasons are ending and changing and I might never taste Mangis again. I guess I will just have to make up for that by trying even more fruit.

I traveled to a nearby city to visit one of my exchange friends her host family owns 2 hotels and a school that teaches cooking and hotel management so we decided to cook American food for them.

The menu we were making consisted of the fallowing items: Mashed potatoes, white gravy, biscuits, deviled eggs and Apple Pie (we also asked Kiki to make fried chicken since Indonesians now how to do that really well and none of us were comfortable cooking the meat.). We started with the pie crust. I have never made a homemade pie crust before and this was the part that I was the most nervous about. Bridget’s YouTube videos came in handy by telling us that we had to use really cold butter or the recipe wouldn’t work. We mixed the ingredients and then put it in the fridge to thicken. Then we skinned the Granny Smith apples, cut them, mixed them with tons of sugar and then put them in the fridge too. Then we moved to the biscuits. It was a simple drop biscuit recipe and I knew that we would be able to make them without a problem. The problem turned out to be in the oven with was a huge oven (probably for pizzas) and it had an upper and lower flame temperature setting, which was in Celsius. We guessed and then put the biscuits in the oven. Bridget checked them every few seconds and we were able to get them the perfect light-golden-brown color. The pie crust had been in the fridge for an hour so we pulled it out. I spread flour on the table and the rolling pin and then I rolled the crust out. When it was the right size Bridget helped me get it into the pan and we patched up the holes. I convinced Bridget to bake the crust for a few minutes before we put the filling in so that it could set and she agreed (somewhat reluctantly). After five minutes in the oven we pulled it out and we shocked to see that it had shrunk in the oven and left the edges of the pie pan uncovered. We patched up the holes and then poured in the filling. We then rolled out the other half of the dough for the crust and made a top for the pie. I was given the honor of cutting the little slices in the top of the pie. We improvised a tin-foil edge cover then put it in the oven and hoped for the best. After 25 minutes we took the tin-foil off and put the pie back in. While the pie was in the oven we realized that we needed to do the other food items at the school too if we wanted everything to be done at the same time. Kiki and Leti ran home picked up the other ingredients we needed and then we got back to work. Bridget and I made the white gravy. I have made gravy with my dad before and I know that it really isn’t too hard. The recipe warned that we shouldn’t use whole milk, unfortunately Indonesia only sells whole milk so we used what we had and hoped for the best. My arm hurt after stirring the gravy until it was ready. When it was done we put it to the side. We then skinned the potatoes and cut them into cubes and then put them in the boiling water. The eggs got boiled in a separate pan. As we watched some of the eggs leaked into the water, we poured a little vinegar into the pot (which apparently helps keep the eggs from leaki ng). I never know when eggs are done and there was a lot of guessing involved. We took them out of the water and let them sit in a 5 minute ice bath. The eggs we perfect and we quickly pealed them and cut them in half. There was a little scare half way through when Bridget picked up an eggs that had a small black think poking out of the top of the egg, it looked like a beak and the egg was heavier than the others. Bridget and Leti wanted nothing to do with the egg so I cut it open. It was completely normal, there was no baby chicken inside. I put the yoke in a bowl and mixed them with mayo, mustard, salt and pepper and then spooned the mix back into the eggs. The potatoes we done so we mashed them and added milk, butter, salt and pepper. The Pie was done. We ran over to the oven an opened it. It was perfect. A 50’s housewife would be proud to but that on her windowsill. Then we carefully took everything to the car and got all the food safely home. By the time we got hom e the gravy looked terrible. It had congealed and looked like boogers. Bridget and I put it on the stove heated it up again and added more milk, we saved it and it turned out perfect. When the chicken had been fried and placed on the table we all dug in. It took a lot to explain what the gravy was for but after people got the hang of it they loved it. Even Bridget, Mrs. Vegetarian, who had never tried gravy before, liked it. Everything was a success but nothing stood out like the perfect Apple Pie. I served it to everyone and no one waited to dig in. Things taste better when they are homemade. Immediately everyone was asking when we would be making another pie, even though the one we had just made wasn’t gone yet. Nothing feels as good as accomplishing something.

I have almost stopped getting crazy cravings, except I really want Mexican food. Other than that I am really enjoying Indonesian food.


I thought I was going to make it the entire year without throwing up. I was wrong. Unfortunately, my record was broken at the beginning of March while I was on vacation in Jakarta. Other than that my health has finally started improving. I don’t get terribly sick when I travel and my body is adapting more. The other day I ate at a mall with my host family my chicken was still red and I never got sick after eating it. The misery does end! (Although leave it to me to get sick after I have declared that I am no longer sick). In terms of mental health I was becoming very depressed because I had nothing to do but, since I have started traveling much more I feel much better. I am hoping to get through the rest of my exchange with fewer and fewer health incidents.


The best part of exchange and the most frustrating part. I love Indonesians. I know when I go home I will have panic attacks being around so many tall white people. Whenever I see another white person I kind of freak out. This sounds silly but it is a learned reaction when you are surrounded by small Asians all the time. I know that I always feel better at the end of the day if I have talked to people. Even if it is just some random person at a restaurant or at my school I love talking to people. I also know that I have learned a ton about dealing with different types of people. In America I was always able to select the people that I was with and I was already adjusted to my family. Now, I know that I have the patience to work with people that are very different from me. Exchange students are the best we talk about the coolest things and I am learning a tiny bit of Portuguese from my Brazilian friends. I will miss the people and the attitude of life here when I go home.

What people think of me

Some days I have no idea what people think of me. I hope it is good. I hope people think I am a good representative of the United States but I really don’t know. My host families seem to like me and they always want to talk to me, which is a good sign. My councilor thinks I am crazy and she often talks down to me. My friends at school think I am lazy and don’t know why I am never at school. They also refuse to tell me what time class starts and when I should come to school (it changes every day). My teachers are afraid of me, I am a big scary white girl, even though I speak Indonesian and I don’t interrupt the lessons. Most Indonesians are very blunt and tell me that I am fat and other not so nice things. No matter, I haven’t had any serious confrontations with anyone and that in itself is a huge deal. Some people think because I am American I know every artist that has every come out of America and all of their work. I do not have that all-encompassing knowledge and that disappoints people but, there is nothing I can do about that. I hope that I am doing a good job.


I can comfortably say that I am conversationally fluent. I defiantly do not know everything, not even close but I can get my point across effectively. People understand me when I talk to them and I understand people when they talk to me. Unless I am talking about something beyond my abilities such as discussing American gun laws with my host parents, I am able to communicate completely in Indonesian. It has been a long road and I am glad that I have made so much progress. I haven’t had a dream in Indonesian yet but I am still holding out hope. I hate speaking English now. When I am with Indonesian people I get offended if they speak English to me even though I am trying to communicate in Indonesian. I love this language and I want to continue to get better.


I have not had a good experience with kayaks but I was willing to try again. One of my Dad’s friends came to our house with his wife and their 14 month old son. We all had to wait for a while until my sister came home from a friend’s house and we left around 10. It took 2 hours to get there. When we were almost there we stopped at a dam. It was pretty cool and I even saw a big lizard. My family claims that it is “exactly like an Alligator” but, this thing was only about 3 feet long, which is a very tiny Alligator. We got to the lake at about noon and unloaded the kayaks. It was really hot outside and I was wondering why we weren’t getting in the water. My dad said that we were waiting for the sun. This only caused more questions, why would we wait for the sun? My dad said that we were waiting for it to be cooler. Whatever. We finally did get in the water. The wife of my dad’s friend was complaining about the heat while wearing a jacket because s he didn’t want her skin to be black and she was very nervous about going out on the lake. This caused the baby (who was also wearing way too much clothes) to cry and cry. The other family ended up sitting out and not being able to get on the water because the baby wouldn’t calm down. I could not paddle straight. It was nearly impossible. We ate lunch on some rocks on the other side of the lake. The tuna sandwiches were really good. On the way back, I was already tired of trying to control the stupid boat. And I was literally spinning in circles. This wouldn’t be super embarrassing if it was just in front of my family but all the locals were also watching me. When I go to small towns many people have never seen a white person before and they all look and stare and yell at me even more that what happens at school and in the city. We were in a small fishing village and I know that even the youngest could steer a little boat and they were probably laughing at the ‘white girl who can’t do anything’. When we finally got back, I never wanted to try kayaking again. The ride home was long and wet because I could not change my clothes.

I was traveling in Jogjakarta and I wanted to go to Prambanan with two of my exchange friends, Sid and Daisy. We went for sunrise. My alarm went off at 2:50am. Sid and I were up and dressed in 5 minutes and brought our stuff down stairs Daisy got out of her bed after we were completely ready and took her time getting ready. Sid and I sat downstairs waiting for the driver. He did not come until 4 (he should have been there at 3). We loaded the car and we were off. At this point we were all to awake to fall asleep again. Because it was so early there was almost no one on the road and we made great time getting to the temple just after 5am. We walked onto the property and looked for a way in. The gates were all locked and we settled on finding a great spot to watch the sunrise behind the mountains. It was gorgeous. We watched for an hour until the pack opened then we bought our tickets and went in. At Prambanan and many other Indonesian places tourist (BOLE) are forced to pay mo re money for tickets. We each have a Kitas , which is a pass saying that we are allowed to live in Indonesia for a year and it gives us the right to Indonesian prices. When we were admitted into the park we headed straight for the temples. It had started raining and we saw a man renting umbrellas. There was a bole couple getting an umbrella when we went up to him. He told us that each umbrella was 20,000 Rupiah (2 dollars) we responded in Indonesian saying that we would pay 10,000 Rupiah (1 dollar). The man said that all the umbrellas were the same price and he would not except our offer. We went to walk away, deciding that we would just spend the morning in the rain. Then the bole couple walked out of ear shot and the man called us back saying that he would take our offer. There is something very funny about knowing that someone else paid twice as much as they should have. We each bought an umbrella and continued on the path. Words cannot really do the sight justice (or at least not my words, I am sure some poet somewhere could). It was magnificent. The sun was still coming up behind the mountains and there was almost no one at the temple yet. Most of the people there were other white people and we were spared from the annoying Indonesian people always asking for pictures. I took a ton of pictures and posted them all on Facebook (my name is Alaina Roberts friend me if you want to look at the photos). Amazing. Everything was perfect in a very, “I am really in Indonesia” sort of way. Sometimes exchange doesn’t feel real, much like an out of body experience. It is like you are watching someone else do things and that you are just dreaming but then there are moments of absolute clarity, those are the best moments on exchange. Amazing, everything I hoped it would be and much more. Even Daisy seemed content with the scene. We stayed and walked around the temple until we believed that we had seen everything that we could. We then walk ed out of the park just as 5 buses of school children arrived. We hurried out, glad that we weren’t stopped by the annoying children.


I haven’t been to school in 3 weeks and I am about to leave on a 2 week trip to Bali, Lombok and Komodo Islands so I will not be returning for some time. As far as I am concerned school is a complete waste of time. My friends can’t hang out with me after school and we don’t learn anything in school. I just sit in the library for hours talking to random people and then I go home. No one will tell me when class is and when I should come (changes every day). I am not on any of the attendance records and I don’t think the school notices when I chose not to show up. I think the worst thing about SMK (Vocation school) is that the kids in it have no way to escape to a better life. Students have to pay for SMA (regular high school) and most poor people just don’t have the money to send their kids to SMA so their kids go to SMK and learn nothing and are corralled into manual labor jobs and then the cycle continues. Coming from a country with the American Dream is a real thing this is very hard to watch. I feel terrible for my fellow students. At the same time education does not seem to be a big deal to them and they do not take advantage of the lessons they are given. One day a teacher actually came to class and he taught us how to use Photoshop to make a picture of a person look like an Avatar. I thought the lesson was great and followed the whole thing (which was in Indonesian by the way). When I turned around to check on my friends they were playing around on their computers and watching cartoon while complaining that they couldn’t follow the lesson. I want to help these children but I don’t know if they want help or if they care at all about their future. Some of the girls in my class have told me their life plan it is: Get married, have children, stay at home, the end. To me this is a very sad story and I believe they should be aiming for more.


Getting around is very frustrating. The driver does not live at the house and is often very busy. Most days I am left in the house with no way of getting out. I can walk to the local convenience store but that doesn’t do me much good. I ask people to teach me how to use the Angkot system but no one will. I would teach myself but there is no map, no routes, just jump in a van and know where it is going. I don’t know my way around the huge city well enough to do this by myself. I am glad that I can’t drive because driving is crazy and I would still sit in the house out of fear. I wish I could transport to places easier but I guess I enjoy going places more because I can’t always do what I want, when I want to do it.


I tell time by the Prayer Calls, I love hearing them every day. Everything has basically stayed the same since the last time I wrote except I had an interesting conversation with some people I met at school
Girl: What languages do you know?
Me: English and Indonesian
Girl: Do you know Sudanese (local language)?
Me: No, Sudanese is very hard.
Girl: do you speak Islam?
Me: I know some phrases. (We say Islamic greetings everyday at school and I have picked some catch phrases up)
Girl: Oh, You say [Islamic catch phrases] in America too!
Me: No, I learned them in Indonesia
Girl: But you Salam right? (Salam is when a younger/lesser person greats an older/higher ranking person but holding the “better” person’s hand to their head)
Me: Of course we do not do that in America.
Girl: But, how do you greet older people?
Me: We just shake hands, everyone is equal.
Girl: *Confused silence*
Me: And there are not many Mosques in America so you can’t hear the prayer calls everywhere
Girl: What!?!
Me: Most people in America are Christian.

The girl had to leave but I hope she thought a little about religion and how it influences her culture without her even noticing it.

Family life

I travel with my host family (3rd) often. I went on a 3 day Kayaking trip with my host dad and I have been on many other adventures with them. They are super nice and I feel like I am really part of the family. At restaurants we share each other’s food and drinks. I feel very comfortable with my family with means that it is time to change families again. I have 4 families and I will be moving as soon as I get home from Bali in mid April.


The rainy season is almost over and I don’t want it to end. I know that may people want it to be done but I like rain and I don’t want it to get any hotter. I still live without AC, I have been without since December and I will finish my exchange without it. I think it is pretty impressive to say that I lived in a tropical country with no AC for 7 months. No one in their right minds in America goes without AC, maybe we should rethink some things.

Thanks Rotary!

Alex Refosco
2012-13 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3350, Thailand ,The Rotary Club of Chaophraya Nakhon Sawan

Alex - Thailand

October 14, 2012

Sawatdee ka, I have now been in Thailand for two months. Looking back I have done so much, even if it doesn’t seem like it because everything just seems normal now. It is really strange to be writing this Journal. Before I became an exchange student I used to read all of the exchange student’s journals. Once I was accepted an a RYE student I read them even more because I was amazed at all the thing people where doing. Well now I am writing my first Journal and while there have been plenty of times I have just had normal days to day life, I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff, too.

When I first got to the Bangkok airport it was dark so my grand idea of seeing the city, didn’t happen. What did happen was my I said bye to the other exchange students from Florida who were on the flight with me, and me and my host family headed out to get some food at McDonalds. After that I fell asleep in the car and missed the 3 hour drive to my small city of Nakhon Sawan.

The next day I woke up reasonable early at 9 am, considering I had not really slept most of my travel time, it started a pattern that I still haven’t been able to break, I can’t sleep-in in Thailand. Oh well it worked out because me and my host family got in the car and drove out of Nakhon Sawan to the country. There we visited a school, to check on a clean water filter Rotary had donated, so all the students could have clean water to drink. The next two days where very similar we went to a total of 3 schools, with a group of Rotarians,and checked on water filters, handed out backpacks and donated books. The backpacks we handed out were stuffed with soap, a towel, a dictionary, etc. packed full for many of the students who were affected by the massive floods in Thailand last year. My area of central Thailand was hit especially hard, in fact my host families house was flooded by several feet of water. My host mom in particular helps a lot with promoting literacy in Thailand by providing books to rural schools. It was really cool to visit all of these school, a few even performed traditional Thai dances for us!

Then on Wednesday, five days since I arrived in Thailand, I started school. I was told to prepare a speech in English to give for a little presentation at my school, and was there bright and early at 7:30 ready to give it. Only right before I got up on the stage a teacher came up to me and said don’t say your speech just introduce your self in Thai. *So this is to any future exchange students* actually write and memorize a small introduction in your host language, you never know when you will have to give a speech in front of your school of 4,000 without any warning. This also happened to me at all three of the rural schools we visited.
After wards I was shown to my class and got a very loud cheer from everyone. All the students were so happy I was in their class and everyone wanted to know all about me or as much as their English skills would allow. The rest of the day I just sat in class and answered my classmates questions. (In Thai schools, you stay in the same class and the teachers switch classrooms). Now to be totally honest I hated school that first week, I got hit with horrible homesickness, the school day lasted forever, everyone was very nice but I could only speak to one person who was good in English. I really really could not stand it. Since then I really started to enjoy school, but it took time, this was one thing I was not expecting about being an exchange student. After about two weeks I got my own schedule and it got much better. Even though I could recognize some math and science topics, it became pretty clear I couldn’t follow along with the rest of the class, so I now take some other classes and can go to the library for any period I don’t want to join (say Biology or Pre-Calculus). I still go to my normal class on occasion, I eat lunch with them, line up with them during announcements and I always help out the teacher in English class. In English class mostly I just sit there and explain English or American words, ideas, and answer their questions. These can be very random and are really pretty hard to explain, these include: “what is the difference between nice and beautiful?”, “what is surfing and why is it popular in Australia” (based on a section in the textbook), “are you sure there are 50 states in America and not 56” (I have no idea about this question, I guess they included territories?), and the strangest was “what is the dispute over Marijuana in California?” (this question was posed by the teacher based on a practice test in the textbook so I had to explain to the class what Marijuana was and why people in California are arguing about it). The list goes on and on, so be ready for some really random questions!
I also take a few art classes, a Chinese class, help with the elementary aged English classes, and I even got the special privilege of getting a private flower arranging class given by the head of the department, and received the honorary name Bua meaning lotus. By honorary name Bua I of course mean no one can pronounce the name Alex so they decided to call me Bua instead, and by private flower class I mean I have the head lunch lady teach me how to make flower arrangements in the back of the cafeteria. Actually, my teacher is very good at it and we make a lot really cool stuff.

After about a week things started to get into a routine and I started to like school more and more. Though I still do not like the Thai school system and here is why: first it is very inefficient, school lasts most of the day 7:45 until 4 and many students take extra classes after wards, then they spend a good portion of time doing homework and studying for the one big university exam that determine whether or not they get into a good college; second, a lot of kids don’t pay attention in class, they talk, eat, draw pictures, one day I counted 8 kids sleeping. I could go on and on but it easiest to say they system could be improved.
I do meet and hang out with the other exchange students in my town sometimes. I am the only exchange student at my school (so I get stared at a lot there, and people shout good afternoon a lot too, no mater what time of day it is because its all they can say in English), but I hang out with them on the weekends or after school, when my Thai friends are studying. I used to think spending so much time with other exchange students defeated the purpose of coming all the way to Thailand, but I realized even when we hang out we still are speaking Thai to buy a snack, or hang out at places where Thais hang out.

So I was planning on this being short but since it is already so long, I will save you some time and just make a few bullet points about things I have noticed and thought were strange or different in Thailand. I am also doing this because there is no possible way for me to explain everything I have done and felt since arriving, just know that if you become an exchange student you will have to do a lot of smiling and you will have no idea what is going on 99% of the time.

There are motorcycles everywhere! and most road rules are taken suggestions, even wearing a seat belt, so streets in Thailand can be kind of scary.

Thai teenagers love cartoons and Facebook, if you come to Thailand be ready to get all sorts of friends requests and see a lot of animated drawings or song quotes. On that note, you will never escape American Pop songs, they love it here, along with K Pop.

For girls, hair must be kept short(chin length) or worn in braids at Thai school. Fingernails must be kept short too, otherwise the teacher will cut them.

They love Disney! I have yet to see any of my classes physics note with out at least five pictures of Mickey Mouse on them.

On Thursdays (for me it varies by school) we have scout day where we wear special uniforms that look like old fashion Girl Scout uniforms and do different activities. Most of the guys then go to military training, once they are old enough.

McDonalds and KFC deliver here.

They have the most intense fly-swaters. They look like small tennis rackets and when you push button they get a surge of electricity so flies do not stand a chance. Still it doesn’t even put a dent in the fly population

If you thick school buses in America are crowed you have never ridden on a Song-taow. They are covered pick-up trucks with two parallel benches in the back.

Tuk tuks are fun! They are like a motorcycle with a bench in the back that is covered and used like Taxis. Thailand still has taxis (which come in all sorts of colors) but Tuk tuks are less expensive and more fun, if its not raining.

They are defiantly more conservative with clothing here.

Everything is super cheap, except electronics. I can buy a can of coke-cola for 6 Baht or about 20 cents and a basic lunch at school (a dish of noodles and a drink) costs about 28 Baht or roughly 1 US dollar.

Even so you will defiantly get ripped-off if you ever visit Thailand, its perfectly legal to charge more to tourists, or farangs (white people)

Coffee makes you white and skinny here (or so they claim they have no real regulation on it). It is advertised all the time on TV and is sold health stores. Last week we had an inbound “camp” because there is no school in October and all the exchange students were drinking coffee in the morning. My host mom who organized it, kept telling me how strange it was the boys where drinking coffee, it is for girls only she said.

Yes, Thailand is sexist, and will treat you differently if you are foreign, its just a part of their culture.

Thai people will never flat out tell you if you are doing something wrong or something that is considered impolite, you just have to pick up little subtle hints or notice when your host family acts differently. It gets very confusing but Thais will often give you slack if because you are foreign and they rules are very… complicated.

Buddhism is the main religion here so Wats (temples) are everywhere, they are all gorgeous and very ornate. When you visit one, though, you can not show much skin or they will give you a cloth to cover yourself with.

They wai here all the time. It is comparable to shaking hands but done much more often, to basically anyone you meet. It is for respect so younger people wai to older people, students to teachers, etc.

To wai you place both hands about chest level and the bend your head to tough your hands. How far you go down depends on how senior the person is, with friends it is maybe chin level, teachers about nose level, and monks forehead level so you are almost making a right angle.

At some point you will have to use a squat toilet, they are very common here and sometimes they even have signs on regular western style toilets telling people not to stand on the seat because they are not used to them. But most houses do have regular toilets

You might have a hard time finding toilet pepper in public bathrooms here often Thais will use a water hose, just make sure you always have an extra stash of toilet paper and hand-sanitizer every time you go out.

Even so toilet paper is still very common but here people use it as tissues. They literally take out the middle cardboard center of toilet paper and put the roll in a tissue box.


January 2013

Sawadeeka! Hello! I have now been in Thailand for 5 months! Let me start by saying how hard it is to actually sit down and write these journals. Not because I have nothing to write about, but because so much has happened there is no way I could write down everything I have done, seen, felt, and experienced. My Thai is improving everyday, but it does not feel like it. I can understand a good portion of what is being said around me, even when I am not directly addressed, but I have a terrible time speaking back. This makes people think I do not understand and switch to English, which gets very frustrating. Thai it self is not difficult grammatically, and a lot of words make logical sense. For instance the word for ice is nam kang, nam meaning water and kang meaning hard, so ice is hard water. Still learning a language is never easy, and with tones and pronunciation, Thai is challenging.

I guess I will start with Sports Day, which is actually a week long sports competition but because there are no plurals in Thai is it just called sport’s day. It is one of the biggest events of the year and each school in Thailand s it sometime between early november and late December. I was lucky because the first day of school in Thailand was the sign up day for sports day (they start preparing months in advance!). At that point I had no idea what was going on and accidentally signed up for the basketball team. All the signs where in Thai and everyone was running around like crazy so I just walked over to a random group and wrote my name. I am just glad I did not accidentally sign up for dak gaw (similar to hackysack but with a wicker ball and one of Thailand’s favorite games so everyone is very good) or Chairball (like soccer but you throw the ball and try to score my throwing the ball into a basket that is held by a person standing on a chair) because I alrea dy knew the rules of basketball. So by November everyone was very excited. There were tons of sports some similar to ones we play in America (running, volleyball) and plenty of others (badminton, a kind of volleyball played only with your feet, ping pong ((it is a sport here)), etc.). The most interesting one to me was cheerleading, where there were complicated hand movements, costumes, a story, and singing. So how teams competed was against other colors. Each classroom was assigned one of four colors (Go Green!) and for each sport there was a tournament. The winner in each sport both girls and boys got a trophy, the team who won the most trophies won Sport’s Day. But not everyone in all schools is allowed to participate, at my school anyone who wanted to could join a team, but at other schools only boys were allowed to practice and compete. What I found the most different between America and Thailand was the way spectators cheered. On the first day I asked my friend wh ile we were watching the running competition my other friend was running in “what do you say in Thai to cheer?” she responded, “you scream.” I thought at first she was just kidding, but no, to cheer you literally make a blood curdling scream as loud as you possibly can. I had such a fun time, a won the second place trophy in girls basketball! 

The rest of November was mostly school. School in Thailand lasts a really long time, but it is fun once I stared making a lot of friends, mostly because students don’t really pay attention in class, even though they spend all of their free time after school studying. My thanksgiving was great though! I got a package from my mom and was able to make my favorite pumpkin pie for my host family. (They were shocked I mixed pumpkin and cinnamon together.) the best part though was my host family surprised me with a big Thanksgiving dinner, getting a roast chicken and a pizza! (traditionally Thanksgiving food is pretty hard to find in Thailand.) It was great!

Right at the beginning of December I had an amazing opportunity. I go to a catholic school, which is pretty rare in Thailand as most people (even most of the ones at my school) are Buddhist. During the first week in December my school in Thailand was hosting a conference of all the sister schools across Asia and the Pacific, and I was chosen to be a representative for Thailand at the conference. It was held in Bangkok and lasted almost a week. I had so much fun meeting so many kids and I got to help them all understand some cultural aspects of Thailand. On the last night I even did a traditional Rumthai (Thai dance)! 

Christmas time was pretty strange. I had a great time, and got several wonderful packages from my parents and grandparents in America, which was amazing!!! I was happy I was in a catholic school this time of the year because I got Christmas day off, I think I was the only exchange student in my district who did not have school. Also on Christmas Eve we had a Christmas pageant. I played an angle and did a little ballet dance. Basically it was the same as every other Christmas story but they rushed the begging up to when Jesus was born and then had a whole long scene about a king and Indian belly dancers. I asked why there were Indian belly dancers in Bethlehem, and no one ever gave me a clear answer. I think my host family (and host sister, Ball, especially) liked celebrating Christmas. They are Buddhist and never had celebrated before so we make tons of Christmas cookies and put up decorations. In the evening I met up with a few of the other exchange students in my town an d we all had a Christmas dinner at a Korean grill restaurant. It was a great christmas.

I was really expecting to be homesick around this time, but it just didn’t happen. As far as homesickness goes, I had just awful homesickness the first maybe month or so I was here and after that it just went away and I started to really love Thailand. At first I could barely eat the food and kept making tons of cultural mistakes, but after a while I got used to everything and truly do love it. 

Then just on January 10th I celebrated Children’s day. Basically a whole day where kids get spoiled. Actual Children’s Day was January 12th and I woke up to an air show above my house and an impromptu marching band next-door that lasted most of the morning and afternoon, but on the 10th we celebrated at my school. I wasn’t really expected anything to be different that day just a normal Thursday, but in the morning my host mom said to wear my regular uniform(not a scout uniform like regular Thursdays), and as we were walking out the door she handed me a bag of uncooked rice and a spoon. By this time in my exchange I was really used to really seemingly random things happen, and just to go with what everyone else was doing so I did not think much of it until I got to school. So, instead of the large courtyard filled with lines of students talking and waiting for morning announcements I found a huge maze made out of rope and desks. about 7:45 everyone lined up b y their class all along the maze like path. Then 22 Buddhist monks in a line walked past us and each person put a spoonful or two of rice in their offering bowl, this ended up being a lot of rice from each of the 4,000+ students and the bowls kept being emptied into large sacks. We ended up with so many sacks full of rice it took several truck loads to haul it all off. Then we all went to the covered area of the courtyard and sat there while 86 (the age of the King) monks chanted. After a few minutes on of the monks walked around and sprayed water on the crowd (a type of blessing) and bopped a few kids on the head (who knew monks had a sense of humor?). It was really strange. I liked listening to the monks and participating in Buddhist traditions but my school in Thailand is Catholic, so the whole ceremony took place less than 10 feet from a church.
So I will say I had awful homesickness the first few weeks I was here, I especially didn’t like school. Now I have gotten used to school and I even like it. One things though that still drives me crazy, is the uniforms. I never wore a uniform before so that in itself took a little getting used to, but what really annoys me is I have four separate uniforms! I have a regular Thai school uniform which is standard across the country, I have a sports uniform to wear on days I have P.E., a scout uniform for a girl scout/military activity I have on Thursdays, plus a special green shirt for special days. I keep comparing it to the new Karate Kid movie, where the main charter keeps wearing the wrong uniform on the wrong days. I can not tell you how many times I have worn my scout uniform when I should have worn my regular uniform, or my regular uniform when i should have worn my sports uniform. It does not help that they keep switching the days. Either way everyone stairs at m e, so I guess it is not to different from any other day having kids stare at me (being the only non-asian in my school). Also, who ever decided we should wear a long thick pair of sweatpants for P.E. in Thailand heat, really did not think things through.
That is basically what I have been up to the last couple of months in Thailand! One thing that I find hilarious is all the funny questions I get asked. For anyone who becomes an exchange student, you will defiantly experience these crazy questions, too. Here are a few of my favorite questions I have been asked while in Thailand.

My friend at school “do you have Facebook in America?”
Me “yes, Facebook is from America.”
My friend “really? well what about Oreo’s, have you ever tasted them? Do you have them in America?”
Me “Oreos are also from America.”
My friend: “really? I thought they are from Thailand…”

A teacher at a school “where are you from?”
Me “I am from America, Florida.”
Teacher “I know where that is, that’s the state that boarders Cuba and Canada, right!”

Another friend from School: “where have you traveled before”
Me “I have been to the Bahamas.”
My friend “Where is that?”
Me “It’s in the Caribbean.”
My friend “Oh WOW! Isn’t that dangerous? Because of all the Pirates! Like the movie Pirates if the Caribbean.”
Me “No thats just a movie, there have been no pirates like that for a few hundred years.”
My friend “Really!?! I though they were real…”

In class one day, “have you been to all the states in America?”
Me “No, but I have been to a lot”
Classmate “Have you been to Venezuela?”
Me “Venezuela is not a state. Its in South America, near Colombia and Brazil”
Classmate “Oh I thought Brazil was in Europe”

Well the list goes on and on. This is not everyone in Thailand but people have actually said these things. Most of the time the questions are about if I have something in America, people think most things are from Thailand. Thats not saying anyone is stupid they usually just don’t think the question through or honestly never learned.

So that is my mid-year journal. I am sorry I am submitting it so late. I thought I sent it in months ago, but it must have had some issue and did not work. I am having a wonderful experience in Thailand and I can not thank Rotary enough for such an amazing experience!

Aly Burton 
2012-13 Outbound to India
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970,

Host: District TBA, India

Aly - India

September 2 , 2012

Exactly a month ago, I arrived in Nagpur, India. I left the comfort of my home in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, 3 days prior, and had spent these last 3 days either on a plane or trying to entertain myself in the airport terminals during excruciatingly long layovers. It was hectic and overwhelming traveling internationally for the first time, and even more terrifying, the fact I was completely alone. I was either in a state of rushed panic trying to run across airports to get on my plane on time, or complete boredom during the 8 and 9 hour flights, changing positions, trying to get comfortable, and finally giving up and reading a book. My plane landed in Amsterdam at the same time my plane departing to Mumbai was boarding, I barely remember anything about the Amsterdam airport. Just the whooshing of European stores and international faces passing by as I ran to my gate, just moments before it closed. During my 6 hour layover in Mumbai, after be ing informed the airline had lost my luggage and I had to wait in line for an hour to fill out a form so they could return them to me at their earliest convenience, I was coerced into leaving the airport trying to find a payphone to call home and was not allowed back in because of the guards who spoke little English and knew nothing about my foreign confusion despite the look of desperation on my face and the blazer which proudly represented the flags of the USA and India. I was forced to find the domestic terminal on my own, so I put on a serious face and allowed my instincts to kick in. I found a woman I saw on my flight to Mumbai from Amsterdam and timidly asked her in broken Hindi if she spoke English. She of course did and after I explained the situation, she led me to a prepaid taxi kiosk and argued with the man in lightning-speed Marathi until she told me to hand him 150 rupees in exchange for a small ticket. It finally hit me. I was in for a terrifying ride in a prep aid taxi, by myself, through the dark streets of Mumbai. At one o’clock in the morning, I found myself remembering all the brilliant bribing methods I learned before leaving the states. I tempted the driver with a 500 rupee note if he got me there quickly and safely. By the grace of God I made it within minutes and was able to talk my way into the airport without a ticket because of my Rotary credentials. After walking into the domestic airport, I noticed no one was working the check in kiosks. I had to wait in the main room for four hours before I was allowed to check in with my electronic ticket and step into the terminal. I saw out of the corner of my eye the look of something quite familiar. Standing across from me next to a pillar inside the airport was tuft of blonde hair and a pale, pink hand holding a briefcase. My American-ness instantly kicked in and I walked up to the man with a huge smile of relief on my face. At this point, I had no idea where to go and I was still in shock from the images of the men sleeping in the street, the homes with caved in roofs, and the children begging for single rupees during my taxi ride through the night in Mumbai. The man was from the US on a mission trip to the south of India. I pestered him with questions and told him my story and how I just needed to contact my parents back home but my cell phone was dead and I couldn’t charge it without the adapter that was conveniently located in one of the suitcases the airline had lost in Amsterdam. He gladly handed me his cell phone and told me not to worry about the international charges and that I should really let my family know I was safe and sound. I was so grateful to him for allowing me to contact home, and for the fact he helped me through foreign security, and stayed with me in the terminal during that night in Mumbai until his plane took off, just 40 minutes before mine.

Now that this intense first impression of my new home had passed and settled, I realized I was in for one crazy year. It was now time for my flight to Nagpur, the city within India that I would be living in for the next 10 months. The flight from Mumbai to Nagpur was short but it was the part of my travel experience that I remember the best. I was the only person sitting in my row, so I moved to the window and watched the landscape of the country underneath me was we ascended and descended. Flying above Mumbai in the light of early morning, I could see the hundreds of small homes built practically right on top of each other, and the huge towers and buildings on the skyline that appeared to be businesses and hotels for the thousands of people that fly into and out of Mumbai every day. Then we rose above the clouds; it was the most beautiful, peaceful flight, jumping from cloud to cloud, enjoying the sweet, spiced chai and Indian breakfast provided by the airline. When coming down from what seemed to be the closest to Heaven on Earth I will ever see, I saw the landscape of Nagpur peeking through the white mist of cloud. Nagpur really is very green and very beautiful. There were acres of forests and plant life and waterways and little villages that were surrounded by their own little farms and temples. It was incredible to see a new way of life from this view, looking at a wide-screen view of these little towns and making out the figures of children playing outside their homes early in the morning. Then I saw the city. It was huge. Bigger than I imagined, and before I knew it the seatbelt sign turned on and we were landing at the Nagpur Airport. The airport was very small, but more than enough for the travel that goes in and out of the city. Of course I didn’t have my luggage, so as soon as I stepped off the airplane, I grabbed my carryon and took off for the main entrance. I instantly saw my family through the glass doors of the airport, an d I beamed with nervous excitement. When I walked outside, they were all smiling and holding signs… one, an oversized picture of me that said “Welcome to India Alyssa!” and another that spelled out “welcome” on 7 small, heart-shaped balloons. I was overwhelmed with the wonderful welcome and I was led to the car that would take me to my new home.

At first I was wondering “Why is the driver on the wrong side of the car?” “Why is the car on the wrong side of the road?” “Why is the speedometer in Kilometers and not MPH??” “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY COWS STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET?”

My host sisters giggled at me and the surprised expressions on my face when I saw something that fascinated me that, of course, they were completely used to. I pulled out my camera and snapped shots of everything: the cows, the temples, the traffic, the fact no one here pays attention to the lanes on the road…

After about a 10 minute drive we reached my new home. When I walked inside the gate I noticed there were flower petals on the floor and garlands of fragrant flowers hanging from the door, welcoming me to their home. They placed one garland around my neck and performed a traditional Indian ceremony, called Aarti, which is commonly done to invite new people into someone’s house. A small fire was lit on a metal plate that was waved in front of me in a circular motion. My host mother took a small pinch of bright red, vermillion powder from the plate and placed a small dot, known as a tikka, on my forehead. It was a beautiful ceremony, which I have seen performed many times in the month that I have been here. My first and second days were difficult. I remember the shock of the spicy food, the shock of the language barrier, the realization that I had not learned as much Hindi before my departure as I should have, the shock of cultural differences, and having to sleep that fi rst night in a new bed, in a new room, in a new house, in a new country, without the support of any of my friends or family back home. I had to create a new life for myself, and I did just that.

In the month that I have been here, I have seen more, learned more, tasted more, smelled more, heard more, and felt more than I ever have in my life. The only way I can explain life in India, courtesy to my fellow American exchange student friend, Rebecca, who coined the term, is complete sensory overload. It is tiring and exciting and overwhelming. There is too much to see, too much to hear, too much to feel, too much to taste… You are literally smacked in the face with the sight of bright colors, animals walking around (including monkeys, which are commonly spotted even in suburban areas), fast paced cars and bikes zooming past you in 10 different directions, sounds of instruments (the low beat of drums in the distance, the sounds of sitar and Hindustani singing classes), exotic birds chirping, and street vendors and people yelling “wow” at the sight of a foreigner, the tastes of foods that are either incredibly sweet or unbearably spicy, and constant feeling of anxious excitement that goes hand in hand with all the craziness that is India.

You would think this excitement would die down after getting used to it, but it is quite the contrary. Every day, more new and exciting things happen. I have not experienced one complete day of boredom here in India. I have joined 5 hobby classes, which are classes that children take outside of school, and every day (except Sundays) I am getting some sort of exercise, both mind and body. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I take a Yoga class from 3 to 4, followed by a Sitar class from 5 to 6, and a Kathak class (traditional Indian dance class) from 6 to 7. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I take a Hindi class with the same Yoga teacher from 3 to 4, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays only I have a Painting class from 5:30 to 7. I am a busy, busy girl. I attend school from 9 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon, and because I don’t understand the lessons in Hindi, I sit in the back and practice my Hindi in pre-school Hindi books made for children. During my first 2 weeks here, I taught myself how to read and write in Hindi and I am learning more and more every day. I understand most of what people say to me, and if I don’t understand, I can say “I didn’t understand you, speak slowly please, I do not speak Hindi” in Hindi. One problem with language learning is that most people in India speak English. They always try to speak English to me, but they are always very surprised and appreciative when I try my best to switch over to Hindi or at least add some words in if I know them. Most importantly though, I can read the script; this means I can ride my bicycle anywhere and be able to read the street signs. I know if I am in Bajaj Nagar (the area I currently live in) or a neighboring area because each square (intersection) has signs pointing in any direction telling you how to get to other squares and areas. The layout is actually quite simple, maybe in another month, I will know where everything is without having to ever ask directions.

When you don’t know how to get somewhere however, India has these helpful little tools called auto rickshaws. For less than 1 or 2 USD, you can get pretty much anywhere in the city. When my friends and I decide we need new kurtis or we’d like to go out for some coffee, we can easily flag down a rickshaw and haggle the price down to a reasonable amount and off we go. Easy as pie. With the Rotary rule of no driving, this is the most helpful and inexpensive way of exploring the city safely with other exchange students.

Of course I have become quite close with my exchange friends because we spend every day together, but I have also made many Indian friends during this month here. Some of my best friends here I have met at school as part of the Rotaract club and some friends being mutual friends of my host sister, who has very quickly become my best friend and the person I look up to here in India. She is beyond helpful with all language issues and cultural confusion and I love having her as a sister. Same goes with my host parents, I absolutely love how my host mom allows me to watch her cook meals and teaches me all the ingredients by name in Hindi and Marathi, and my host father always makes an effort to make me smile every day with his free-spirited jokes and beaming smiles every morning when I come downstairs for breakfast and chai.

I have yet to see any big religious celebrations, but soon, there is the 10 day long festival celebrating the Hindu deity, Ganesh, called Ganesh Chaturthi. I am so excited for this celebration that consists of 10 days of Pooja (or prayer) and a submersion of the Ganesh statues into the water on the last day. Diwali, the largest celebration in India, the celebration of lights, is also coming up in November, and I am incredibly excited to be a part of that.

There are too many celebrations to count, every day is treated a celebration here. People here view life in a new and positive outlook that I am not used to. Each and every moment is special and every person has their own light and their own niche in society. I appreciate being alive. I appreciate having my legs to walk on, and my eyes to see with, and my mind to see more with. I appreciate the people I have met, and even the people I haven’t met yet that will influence my life, and I’m sure there will be many. In the Yoga class I am taking, our teacher has been one of the people here that has opened my eyes to new and bigger things. By eyes, I don’t mean my superficial eyes, but the eyes within. He has taught us that to truly see, you have to close your superficial eyes. He has taught us lessons about bliss, about happiness and the misery that follows the strife for satisfaction, the benefits of Yoga and spirituality, and countless stories and lessons about the Gods, Goddesses, and Great Masters of India. One experience that I consider the most life altering since I have been in India was a few days ago when we were invited to watch our Yoga teacher give praise to his Music Master. We walked from our classroom to his Master’s home, where we watched as he thanked his Master for his knowledge in the most spiritual way known in India. I watched in complete awe as he lit the musky incense, chanted the prayers under his breath, and placed handfuls of flowers and powders of bright pink and red vermillion color onto his Master’s feet. He then offered him apples, Indian sweets, shoes, and some other gifts. The master accepted this praise and in return, with the power offered to him, placed a tikka onto my Yoga instructor’s forehead. To complete the ceremony, I watched my instructor take a garland of fragrant flowers and place it around the pictures of his Grand Master and Great Grand Master. Through all of this prais e, his Master remained humble, and even sang a song for us exchange students, which was a kind of beautiful music I feel blessed to have heard. After returning to the classroom that afternoon, we practiced meditation, and in the newfound peacefulness I achieved by watching such a complex and spiritual ceremony, I slipped into my deep subconscious. When my teacher told us to open our eyes and wake up, I continued to lay there paralyzed, unaware of my surroundings, in a world of my own. I didn’t come out of this state until my friend, loudly, chanted Aum into my ear. I was not asleep, and I awoke instantly, with an intense burst of energy. If I understood his explanation correctly, my teacher explained that I was able to be woken up because my sense of hearing was the last remaining connection to my physical body. When my friend yelled Aum into my ear, it instantly brought me back. The reason I felt such a burst of energy was because during meditation, you are receiving energy in vast amounts from the cosmic energy of the universe. When you sleep for 6 hours, you only retain 5% energy from the universe because the rest of the time you are sleeping, you are in dream state, and not completely detached from your physical body. With only 30 minutes of meditation, you gain 60% energy from the universe. I am still stunned about this concept, but I believe in it wholeheartedly. It was incredible. Absolutely mind blowing the intense burst of energy and my slow detachment from my physical body, I still can’t believe a novice like me achieved something like that, no matter how simple or short it may have been. I feel awakened. My teacher taught us you can only truly be awakened when you close your eyes. I now believe I understand what he meant by that.

Ok, ok… this journal has gone on long enough. It is a full 5 pages in Times New Roman 12 pt. font. So let’s cut to the chase.

Rotary Youth Exchange doesn’t just give you the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures and learn a new language. It gives you independence and the life skills necessary to know how to be self-sufficient. It gives you the opportunity, and the ability to find yourself. To explore yourself, and learn who you truly are. It has only been a month for me, and I am already feeling these waves of energy and positivity. I am so enlightened, I really don’t know how things could get better than this… but I know for a fact, it will.


December 4, 2012

I have now been in India for exactly 4 months and one day. I must say, this journey has been quite a roller coaster. Although I am still learning new things every day and enjoying life to the fullest, there have been many difficulties along the way that I never expected to encounter. Despite the big setbacks and the surprising mini-disasters, I have survived through it and remain optimistic every day.

India is one of those places where at the end of your exchange, you become someone very wise. If anything, I’m grateful for this experience because I will never take things for granted again. I wish some of the things I have seen here I could un-see. Some things have really scarred me and haunted me. But at the same time I am glad I’ve experienced it. I’m happy about the mental lashings because it only makes me more aware. It only makes me stronger. The small things that you encounter here every day make you think: “God, this is unreal. I have heard about this but I never knew it actually existed.” You just don’t KNOW until you physically see it in front of your face. You don’t know what selflessness is until you see a poor woman giving the only money she has to her child for food. You don’t know poverty until you’ve had an Indian child lay the head of her dead baby brother on your lap and ask for a single rupee, which couldn& #039;t even buy you a slice of bread. You don’t know devotion until you see a yogee deny all possessions and live life as an impoverished man for the love of his God. And you don’t know family until you’ve seen 10 family members living in a one bedroom house, with smiles that shine brighter than any rich man living in a palace. India is proof that there is a large amount of good and bad in the world. Nothing is solid. I’m more understanding of that now. Exchange in India is not what I expected, and be honest, not what I wanted out of exchange. I wanted to learn another language. I wanted to make lots of friends and go to a school where I would learn new and useful things every day. But Indian exchange it is not about the language, or the schools, or the people, or the temples, or the colors, or the exchange rate… It’s about YOU. I’m different. I just hope I haven’t changed in a negative way. I’m just growing. I’m so cynical no w but also so open minded. I’m so judgmental and yet so accepting at the same time. I’ve learned so much, and yet I still can’t have a conversation in Hindi after 4 months of living here. I don’t know what or who I will be at the end of this exchange. As for now, I have found the pleasures of the little things that keep me going. Some days I hate it here and want to go home more than anything. Some days I look at my friends and think of all the wonderful times we’ve had and will have together, and decide that I have to stay.

India is just one of those places where there is no black or white. Everything is gray. Everything contradicts itself and nothing really makes sense in my American mind. Most days I just tell myself “It isn’t my country; they do things differently here, so just go with it.” But sometimes I have to tell myself that there’s a reason why things are different in America, and I begin to appreciate my country more than I ever have. This isn’t to say that life is bad here in India. There are plenty of useful things I have learned here and lessons that have made such positive impressions in my life. Like I said, it is all gray. India is a balance between misperception and clarity, rural and urban, wealth and poverty, corruption and honesty, and right and wrong. If there’s one thing I have learned from being here, it is how to be a better person. I have become someone I am proud of by correcting the wrong in me that I see as wrong in others and by o btaining the good aspects I have seen in the kind people I have met here. This exchange has really been an eye opener. I am not naïve about the world anymore. I know you can’t trust everyone and you can’t live life expecting everyone to be courteous and respectful. I also know that there is so much more to life than the normal day-to-day things we learn as teenagers in America. This is a vast and diverse world we’re living in, and unless you see it, you’ll never understand it fully.

Callie Norton
2012-13 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970,

Host: District TBA, Austria

Callie - Austria

August 31, 2012

Guten Tag! So I’ve been in Austria for a little more than three weeks now and I’m loving it! It’s so crazy to think that it’s already been so long sense I left Florida. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess. I’ve met so many amazing people and experienced so much! I already feel like I’ve learned more than I ever could if I hadn’t left the U.S. It’s crazy how much confidence and independence I’ve gained.

Almost everything here is so different: the cars, the food, the language, etc… But I think that’s the fun part. Some things I’ve had to learn the hard way but, for the most part, everyone’s been pretty understanding. I was so nervous getting off the plane in Munich, but once I met my host family for the first time I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. I feel like my German is getting much better too! All I really knew before I landed was “Where is the bathroom” and “I’m hungry” which seemed to get me through the first day or so. But now I can carry on conversations and I don’t have to answer “yes” to everything I hear just because I don’t understand it.

It’s not always fun and games though… It can be really frustrating and challenging when everything is new to you. Whenever I get upset about something I have to remind myself that I’ve only been here for three weeks. I don’t expect myself to have perfect German or understand every aspect of the culture. I still don’t understand why we have to change shoes when we walk into school. Even the toilet confused me at first (which, thank gosh, only took me a few minutes to figure out). But I know, in time, with a little hard work, I’ll get everything worked out.

So here’s to Rotary! Without you, I would have never had this amazing opportunity to learn so much and taste the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my entire life! Thank you!

December 28, 2012

Servus! In my last journal, I wrote I can’t believe it had already been three weeks since I had arrived in Austria. Now I’m coming up on month 5! It’s been over a year since I made the best decision of my life and filled out the application to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student. In December of 2011, I got a phone call congratulating me that I had been chosen to give Austria a little taste of Florida. I didn’t realize how much Austria could change me when I got on that plane in August. It gets harder every day to think that out of all the places I could be and all the people I could know, I was lucky enough to land here. I’ve learned and grown so much over the last five months and I’m excited to see what the next six will bring.

If you want a look into the typical life of an exchange student, we basically eat chocolate, sleep, and chat on the computer all day. If you want a look into my exchange life, reread the previous sentence. So one thing I’ve realized is if you look at exchange as a whole, it’s not too different than the life of any teenager. What makes it so special is the detail. My typical everyday routine consists of an annoying alarm at 6:00 giving myself just enough time to sprint down to the bus stop at 6:45. I go to school and talk with my friends. I come home and sleep before volleyball practice. I eat dinner and then check my Facebook before I go to bed. But here’s what makes this so different than a typical day back in Florida. When I wake up in the morning, I see hills and snow out my window. When I walk into the kitchen I don’t say “morning!” but instead “Morgen” I ask the bus driver for a ticket “nach Ried, bitte” and ha ve to stand when there is no more space to sit. I get to school and change my shoes and when the Professor walks into the classroom we all stand until he says we can sit. When I go and get a cup of coffee with my friend between classes, we talk about making a daytrip to Vienna. Most of this may not sound too exciting, but it’s a lot different living it than hearing about it. All of the things the people here have grown up doing is completely new to me. And figuring the easy stuff is the hard part. Every day is a new surprise. Depending on how you take that surprise can make or break your exchange.

I was excited to see how the people celebrated Christmas here. Almost everyone in Austria is Roman Catholic so I wasn’t expecting it to be too different than my Christmas back home. I’m not catholic but I think, for the most part, it would be the same. I couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, we got the tree about three days before Christmas and didn’t decorate it until Christmas day. I woke up at 12:00 on the 24th thinking it was Christmas Eve. Surprise! Christmas comes a day early in Austria. We decorated the tree with bright pink ornaments because my hostmom wanted to have an American Christmas tree this year. But we also put real candles and sparklers on it too! I’m surprised I didn’t set the entire house on fire. That would have made a good story… We had a big dinner and then had to wait for the “Christkind.” In Austria, there is no Santa Clause. The Christkind is said to be Jesus in the form of a child. On Christmas, He leaves gifts under the tree and rings a bell to let you know He was there. But before we could open the presents we sat in a circle to sing Christmas songs in German and tell a Christmas story. When we finished, we joined the rest of the town in the church where we had a Christmas service. We all then enjoyed some warm Glühwein or Punsch outside. The next two days are also considered part of Christmas and are dedicated to spending time with family. Even though we did so much for the holidays, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Maybe that’s a good thing and I’m glad I got to see how another part of the world celebrates the birth of Christ. 

The break has been a little long for me though. I think I am the only exchange student who can say I love going to school. Three days out of school and I was already missing my friends. I’m not sure how I’m going to live through the next week or so. At this point, it’s hard to think that in just 6 short months I’ll be on a flight back to the sunshine state. I’ve heard from so many exchange students in the past but never really understood that the feelings exchange students experience can be so confusing sometimes. When I think about leaving, I think about all the amazing friends I’ve made here that I have to leave behind. But then I think of all my amazing friends I get to see again back home. It’s crazy how much sorrow and excitement I can feel all at once. No matter how hard it has been or will be, I’m so glad I made this decision. I’ve learned and changed so much. Some things that seemed impossible a year ago are nothin g to me now. That doesn’t mean that everything is easy, but nothing is impossible.

So with that I want to thank Rotary 100 times! It’s hard to understand how thankful I am to be able to do something like this and Rotary got me here. Vielen Dank! 

April 12, 2013

Liebe Leute,
So this is the last stretch of my exchange. In a little over three months I will get to see my friends and family again, sunbathe on the beach, eat at my favorite frozen yogurt restaurant, shop at target!! But I always get super confused thinking about it. On one hand I am so excited to see my beloved Florida again, but that also means I have to give up the second home I made here in Austria. I know as soon as I get on the airplane in Munich, I will never be able to come back to the way things were during my exchange year. And that kills me. But thinking more and more about it, only makes me realize how much I’ve learned this year and once I go back, I can take everything I’ve learned with me. Not only to better myself, but everything around me too. I can’t exactly explain what I have learned, but I can tell you what I’ve been up to for the past few months…

A group of people I don’t think I can survive without I like to call my fellow exchange students. It’s really crazy how many are in my town. 7 of us for a town my size is unbelievable. But when all of us from all over the country get together… imagine you have 100 best friends, up for anything, and they are all confined in one area. I feel bad for our supervision. But then you strap skis to their feet and give them a mountain. Ski week!!! one of the most action packed weeks of my exchange. For the 70 or 80 crazy exchange students there, only 5 had to be sent to the hospital. I would say that’s pretty good. The week started out a little uneasy. They separated us into 6 groups. 2 were for the snowboarders and the other 4 for skiers: absolute beginner, intermediate beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I signed up for intermediate knowing I wasn’t a total beginner but c’mon…the “mountain” in North Carolina I’m used to skiing is n othing compared to the Alps. I stared to get a little down on myself when I was always the last one down the mountain thinking I wasn’t good enough to be in the intermediate group. Second day in and I find out they actually placed me in the advanced group! I immediately asked to switch out but thankfully I had a great instructor who reassured me I was doing fine and already improving so much since the first day. The others in my group were understanding and told me they had no problem waiting a few seconds at the bottom of the slope for me to catch up. To make it even better, some if the students in the group bellow us moved up. Then I felt about at speed. And I’m so proud of myself for sticking it out in the advanced group. Granted I was the slowest but that’s not really important… And I learned so much too. We had ski class the mornings of the first four days and free time afterwards. Free time was great because I could meet up with my besties and caref ully go completely crazy. In this time I ran into two other exchange students, almost skied of a cliff, wiped out multiple times on the last jump of the “fun slope,” attempted suicide on the moguls, and even took a run in only a tank top. Altogether, I think it’s safe to say it was a successful week.

Right after ski week, my family came to visit and see a little bit of Austria. It was great to finally see them again and it felt like nothing had changed. They were still the crazy family I had left on the other side of the airport security 8 months before. It actually felt like I had never left. Six days was definitely not enough time to see everything we wanted to, but it was just enough time to catch up and get a break from the exchange life. I got to show them Ried, Linz, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich before we had to say goodbye again. This time wasn’t so hard for me though. I know my mom will disagree but three months feels like nothing.

I think it will be very hard to leave. I’ve made some of my best friends here and living on the other side of the world from them will not be easy. But being so far will only make it so much better to see them again. So even though I know I have a rough few months coming, I’m so glad I’ve been giving the time that I have to make those friendships. Learning a new culture, language, land, climate, and completely different way of life was and is so much more than I could have ever expected. I know it sounds cheesy but there is no other way I can describe it and still there is no way to put these feelings into words.

So with that, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my exchange. Something I wouldn’t be able to do without Rotary. I couldn’t be more thankful. Bis zum nächsten Mal!

Chandler Nelson
2012-13 Outbound to France
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, FL
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1780, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Voiron

Chandler - France

December 26, 2013

I will send a more descriptive journal soon, but this one is because I have a deadline and I am not at home with my computer.

I cannot begin to describe to you everything I have experienced in the past two months. It’s just not possible. To try and tell you what it feels like to live in another country is ridiculous. It is something that you have to experience on your own, and even then it is unique to every person. That is why I encourage every kid to go on an exchange. Everyday, I try new things. I learn new things. I see new things. And I experience new things.

Since the day I arrived in France I have been confused, happy, surprised, and tired. I guess because your brain is constantly listening and working when everything is in another language, you are tired much more often. This is hard for me, because not only is it hard to understand when people talk in another language super fast, it is even harder when you are dead tired. On top of that I workout, do judo and basketball here. I fell asleep in class once and I guess I snored pretty loud and the teacher was upset… I won’t do that again.

The food here is amazing! You’re like Of course it is, It’s France! No, you don’t understand. I live on a farm in the mountains and almost everything we eat is natural. I feel like I eat twice as much as I did in the United States, and I just sit back and laugh at all the exchange students who are gaining weight. I think of have gained 4-5 lbs but I’m pretty sure it’s muscle.

I feel like I still suck at French :/ My host mom and some of my friends tell me I am doing well in French but when you don’t understand 80% of the things people say. It’s hard to believe them. I mean yeah I have improved, but I wish I would learn faster.

I would like to thank Rotary, Mrs. Paula, My family, my friends here, my friends in the US, my host family, and God for helping me accomplish everything. I will not let you all down. Don’t worry about me, and enjoy yourselves.

December 26, 2016

Joyeux Noël!
My Christmas here was very unique. It really didn’t feel like Christmas to me. Erin, a girl from South Africa who did an exchange with my host family 3 years ago, is here for our Christmas Break (which is her Summer Break). She is really helping me right now, because everyone is out of town, I’m kinda bored, and she is fun to talk to. On Christmas Eve we all went to the Catholic Church in the village for the Christmas Mass. It was rather boring and insanely hot because basically the whole village was packed into this one tiny church. Then Christmas morning we all got up at 7 am because Emma and Jean Paul (My host sister and my host dad) had to go to work as ski monitors from 8am to 5pm. (We, is Nathan, Sylvie, Emma, Erin, Jean-Paul, and then my three grandparents.) We all opened our gifts, I got a jacket, and everything I need to snowboard for the whole year here for my host parents, and then right after Emma and Jean Paul left. Afterwards we kinda just chilled and then prepared some of the food for lunch. Around 11 my host Aunt and her family arrived and we had a huge lunch that lasted 3 hours. I tried Fois Gras (duck liver), oysters for the first time, escargot (snails), and various cakes, bonbons, cookies, and other desserts. After I did a puzzle and that was my Christmas… I also Skyped with my family which was cool. I hope they are happy with the gifts I sent them. I am happy here but a lot of times it is really difficult. My host siblings can be so freaking annoying sometimes, and then the stress of life and trying to do homework during the break really drains my morale. If Erin wasn’t here my Christmas would have been a lot worse. I try to snowboard as often as possible. I love snowboarding now, it is so fun and gets me away from the world. For me it can be a rush, or it can be relaxing. I am happy here and love experiencing new things. I miss everyone in the U.S. Hope you had a Merry Christmas <3

April 11, 2013

Wow, it’s been forever since I last wrote a journal here. I write in my personal journal every week but never here. If anyone actually reads this, I’m sorry I haven’t written more often.

The past couple months have honestly been some o the hardest and depressing months I’ve ever had in my life. I always seem to feel alone here in Bois Barbu. We rarely go out and there isn’t much to do in Villard. Having said that I have also had some of the BEST moments I have ever had in my life! I have visited Lyon, Grenoble, Voiron and Valence a couple times since I last wrote. In Lyon I ate at a Chinese restaurant with my host mom and host bother. Then my host mom and I went and did a tour of a Roman amphitheater which was incredibly huge! At Valence I went with my host mom’s family to a beautiful park which was right next to a big shopping plaza. I had so much fun because there were animals (horses, ducks, geese) that we got to see. I went to Voiron this past weekend for a get together with my Rotary club (my 2nd since I’ve been here 😛 ). It was ok, my friend Justine, her two sisters, and I were the only kids there, but we had a good time all the sam e. We danced the salsa and the waltz and then the Rotarians sang karaoke! The next day I went with some friends to Grenoble to a sort of fair they have once a year. We had so much fun riding the attractions and eating candy apples! After that we drank some Monster energy drinks and played laser tag! Oh my Goodness, It was sooo much fun!

I am going to go out on a limb and say I’m fluent in French now. I love it! I can talk with every one easily and I’m no longer scared to talk to my professors now haha! I seem to be having more trouble speaking English then French. My Spanish is actually doing better now too 🙂

It’s hard to realize that there are really only about 2 months left, but I’m sure they will be the best!

Claire Hepler 
2012-13 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bishop John J. Snyder High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2201, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Vigo

Claire - Spain

November 4, 2013 

 My first two months in Spain have been the most amazing, rewarding, and difficult of my life. Vigo is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I am completely in love with mountains and fall weather. 

When I arrived, my host family gave me hugs and kisses in the airport and spoke way too fast. (This is a recurring theme of life in Spain.) I couldn’t imagine having better host parents. They are always very friendly and open, they want to help me with the language and school, and they always make sure I have everything I need. My host dad is an amazing cook and loves Formula One racing. My host mom and I love to watch game shows together. We live in a fourth floor apartment (yes, there is an elevator) a short walk away from my school. My host sister and I each have our own rooms.

The people here are always so friendly and welcoming. Meeting strangers isn’t weird at all because they are always very nice and genuinely interested in your life. When you meet new people, they are obligated to kiss you once on both cheeks (this works more in my favor when I’m introduced to boys, and less when I go to Rotary meetings). You kiss your parents when you get home, and you greet your friends with two kisses. If you don’t greet your friends with two kisses or a hug, people will think that you are fighting or not speaking to each other. Spanish people are also very short. I am very tall here. Seeing tall people is a little rare. Women are always wearing heels to compensate. Men seem to go bald a lot later in life here. There are very few balding, middle-aged men.

Spanish people speak faster than you can ever imagine. Everyone has to slow down considerably when they speak to me. I watch a lot of TV and movies in Spanish, and with subtitles I can understand everything. In Spain they speak Castillian Spanish, which is different from what they speak in Latin America. They are very proud of their accents here and never want to be compared to Latin Americans. Latin American Spanish is a bit easier to understand because they don’t have the “th” sound for z and c. I go to a language school three nights a week, and my teacher is very nice and very helpful. I feel like I have learned a lot, but I still have a long way to go.

I’m in the part of Spain called Galicia and there is another language here called Gallego. Most of the signs on the street are in Gallego and a few of my classes in school are taught in Gallego. It’s more like Portuguese than Spanish, but still very similar. Gallego isn’t like Catalan because no one uses it in their daily life. There is also a separatist movement in Galicia, but it’s not nearly as bad as in Catalonia.

School is incredibly challenging and very boring. Classes start at 8:45 and end at 2:20, so I have much less school here than in Florida. The teachers speak incredibly fast about subjects of which I have little to no vocabulary. I take notes and do homework when I know we have it (it’s not always clear and my classmates don’t always tell me). The teachers are generally very nice to me or don’t acknowledge that I don’t understand what’s going on. My physics/chemistry teacher comes over to my desk every day and explains everything in broken English even though I’ve told him at least four times that I took chemistry last year. My Spanish Language and Literature teacher has me bring books to school to read during her class and write down the words I don’t know. I have Gallego class in school, but I go to the library instead. We have a 15 and 30 minute break during the school day. Lots of kids at school smoke during the break. If you have a little bit of money you can go to the grocery store in the mall or a bakery or candy shop. My friends at school find it absolutely hilarious to swear in Spanish. I’ve learned lots of swears very quickly, but I don’t know what most of them mean. There seem to be significantly more curse words in Spanish than in English.

Food is a big deal. One does not simply have sandwiches for lunch. Every meal is with your family and every meal has way too much food. You must eat everything that is on your plate. Always. If you don’t want more, they ask you if you liked it. Here is a typical conversation at a meal: Spanish Person: Patti, do you want more? Me: No, thank you, I’m full. Spanish Person: Here have a little more *puts more food on my plate* 

Sandwiches are snacks and cappuccinos are after dinner drinks. My city, Vigo, is on the Atlantic and has a big port, so we eat a ton of seafood. The seafood is a bit more complex though, because you don’t just get the filet, you get the entire fish, bones and all. It’s taken me quite a bit of practice to master navigating around all the bones in fish. I still watch how everyone else does it first if we are having some new seafood I haven’t tried yet. After meals, my host dad usually makes a cappuccino and I am encouraged to eat yogurt and fruit. My favorite foods so far are jamon iberico (super fancy ham), mazapan (a sweet Spanish dessert that tastes like cookie dough), and hot chocolate that is so thick you have to use a spoon.

Courtney Ager
2012-13 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Orlando, FL
School: Winter Park High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2050, Italy
Valle Sabbia Centenario Rotary Club

Courtney - Italy

September 29 2012

Stepping off that airplane onto Italian soil was the first day of the greatest experience in my life. I can still remember the smell of my second host family, the warm and welcoming embraces I received. The breakfast they bought me, and all of the questions they had: “How was your flight? Stanca? Tutto bene?”. I remember the cool air as I stepped out of the airport, and how vastly different it was from the hot, dense, humid air of Florida. I remember arriving to the Faustini’s house and having lunch; how delicious and extremely filling it was. I honestly miss that first day here. Everything was so new and exciting and different. Everything was disorienting and strange and NEW! I still marvel at the beauty of everything here. How gorgeous the lake is, no matter how strange the weather. Just being at the lake is one of my favorite things here, because it’s so calm, and beautiful.

My next favorite thing here are my friends. I was so lucky that there is an exchange student in the Central Florida area this year from Salo’. His name is Andrea Faustini, and before I left we were able to hang out. He talked to his friends, and told them about me. When I arrived here, they welcomed me, and talked with me and invited me places. I now hang out with a good variety of people and I just love that people here are so welcoming and friendly. Most of the time we go to bars and drink coffees and tea. A few times we have been to someone’s house to play pool and drink more soda’s and tea’s. We walk around the lake, and eat gelato and go window shopping, just like any other normal group of teenagers. They all ask me for help with English, and they help me with my Italian. My friends like tennis, and football, and hanging out, and playing video games, and talking and motorbikes. Italian teenagers are just like American teenagers; they just dress nicer , and speak Italian (;

I attend school at the Liceo Enrico Fermi, and I take the Linguistics course. My class is 5 D. 5 is the highest level of classes in Italian schools. Unfortunately, because I’m in the Linguistico, my classmates take classes such as English, Italian, Latin, French, and German. Fortunately for me, instead of taking Latin, French, and German I get to switch to another english class somewhere else in the school. I like this because it allows me to socially interact and meet many people. My other classes are very difficult. It’s hard to understand Philosophy and Physics and Biology when they are being taught in Italian. So I get to doodle most of the time, which is allowing to me explore my artistic side!

I have gotten to travel a little since I’ve been here. The second day after I arrived, my host parents flew me out to Sardinia and I spent a week there. It was absolutely gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After a week in Sardinia, we went to the Trentino area and spent the weekend. I think that Trentino is my favorite area so far. Everything was so crisp and clean and the buildings and architecture was so different. 

December 8, 2012

Writing a blog post is probably one of the hardest things that I have to do on exchange. So much happens in such a short period of time that it seems IMPOSSIBLE to sum up a month or two in a few paragraphs. But I’m definitely going to try! 

My host family understands (and shares) my love for traveling. I have been so blessed to be placed in a family who has traveled and taken me around to different cities in Italy, and shown me the historical and artsy places. 

So far, I’ve been to:
Cinque Terre

And next week, I believe I am going to Venice with another exchange student and his family. Traveling, BY FAR, is my favorite thing to do. I feel that I need to see as much as I can of this historical place before my year is over.

I have seen my FIRST snow since being here, and was it amazing. One weekend my host family, another exchange student, and I went to Folgaria. When we got there, snow was on the ground. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself! My friend is from Wisconsin, so she did’t understand my excitement. But it was fantastic! I got to have my first snowball fight, first snowman, first snow angel. It was amazing! And it even snowed last night! Seeing snow fall for the first time too was exciting. A friend and I went walking around the Lake and it started snowing. He laughed at me for my excitement, but it was amazing and beautiful!

I have been so lucky to find a good group of friends here. They are the sweetest and nicest and coolest people I have met. Everyone has been so welcoming, and understanding when my Italian skills aren’t very good. But, every day I’m improving.

Ciao for now, A dopo <3

March 6, 2013

How I envy all of you Future Outbounds. I wish I could relive those days. Counting down the days until you leave, anxiously awaiting news of your host family, city, school, etc. Daydreaming about “what your life this time next year” will be like. I can honestly say that I miss that period. Because it means I would get to have a longer time until the end of this year. Longer time until I have to make that plane ride home. Sure, I have 4 more months until I have to leave… but that is no time at all to an exchange student.

Italy has had such a cold and long winter. It’s still supposed to snow next week, and I am missing my lovely Florida weather right now. Apparently this “isn’t even that cold” but to a Floridian, it’s freezing. Spending holidays away from your family, spending important days so far away from home can be extremely heartbreaking. But as soon as you overcome those heartbreaking days, it makes you a stronger person.

It’s true, what they say about your exchange becoming easier after the holidays. But I’d say that my depression hit shortly after I got to Italy… I had no friends, my host family was never home, and I was extremely lonely. I was a person who was used to having people around, and doing things. Not someone who sat in their room all day. And depression hit hard at first. But now, I go out all the time, and I have plenty of friends. Depression and sadness still hits me even now, though. I really hate that there are two other exchange students in my school, because everyone loves them. They speak fluently, and are attractive guys from exotic places, and so all the students like them. It’s hard to see people react differently between me and the others, but I have my friends and so all is okay.

Traveling is by far my favorite thing to do here. I’ve been to Olbia, Sardinia (2nd day!)
Monterosso, Cinque Terre
Gardone Riviera

and at the end of the month, I will be going to Florence. I love that I have seen so much of this gorgeous country, and that I still get to keep on traveling because I would love to see as much as I can before I leave. 

Emily Loftis 
2012-13 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: St. Johns, FL
School: St. Joseph Academy
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1920, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Bregenz

Emily - Austria

October 30, 2013

Guten Tag! Hello everyone! Well what can I say? 3 months ago I said goodbye to my friends, my family, my school, my everyday life, my language, and my home country. I said goodbye to everything that I knew and everything that was comfortable in search of something new, something to open my mind to the world. Let me just say so far it’s the best decision I’ve ever made! I’ve been living in Austria for almost 3 months now and its nothing like I expected. Its so much more! Since the time I have arrived in this beautiful country, I have done many things. From playing soccer and beach volleyball with my cousins, trying new foods, shopping, practicing the language, meeting new people, making new friends, to visiting new places like Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Vienna, Altmünster and many more! 

I’m staying in a small town called Wolfurt, which is in the western-most province of Austria, Vorarlberg. Wolfurt is a beautiful town with about 8,800 people and it is located near the city of Bregenz, which is the capital of Vorarlberg. I am located near the Lake of Constance, which touches Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. I live with my 1st host family, The Geigers! I have three sisters, Eva (12), Monika (17), and Martina (15) who is currently spending her exchange year in Missouri, USA. I live in an almost identical situation to my life in Florida! Next door I live my host-cousins and also my Aunt, Uncle, and grandparents. One big Family! It seems like everyone in Wolfurt is related somehow. I’m so thankful to be blessed with a great family to spend my time with this year. We have two rabbits and also two cats. Our house is located on a hill called Oberfeldgasse and our house is a two-minute walk away from the town church. Also just a short walk from my house is the best ice cream shop called Kolibri! Speaking of the food in Austria, it’s amazing to say the least! Ive had plenty of Wiener Schnitzel and Austrian cheese and chocolate. Also I go to school in Bregenz, which is a ten minute bus ride or a 15 minute bike ride away. I can practically ride my bike anywhere I need to go, which I love. Its an excuse to go out and get active and to see the beautiful landscape that Austria has to offer. 

Ok well enough of the routine and basic info in my journal. I figured I should give you a little intro into my life as an Austrian. 

When I was preparing to go abroad as an RYE student, I learned about different things like culture shock and cultural differences. At first I thought “well Austria won’t be THAT different, I mean its just a European country. Yes maybe they speak a different language and will talk with an accent but that’s it.’ Well now living in the Austrian lifestyle, its amazing how different the my life in Florida and my life in Austria actually are. They are different in big and small ways: Both of which can be difficult and easy to adapt to. 

Some basic differences include: 

  • Drinks are almost always served warm. Ice is never served in drinks, even in restaurants.
  • Most people drink sparkling or ‘Bubbly’ water, unless of course you get it from the tap
  • The ‘Y’ and the ‘Z’ on computer keyboards are switched so of course I spell everything wrong ☺
  • Stop signs are not common. In most towns there aren’t enough people to need stop signs. Cars yield to each other and also most roads are rounded or curved and not straight.
  • Almost every car is Stick Shift, not automatic
  • Lunch is the big meal of the day where families cook and eat together
  • Breakfast and Dinner usually consist of different types of fresh bread from the bakery with jams, sliced meats, and cheeses
  • Almost every town is built around a church. 
  • Shoes are usually not worn in the house unless they are slippers or ‘house shoes’. Everybody’s shoes are on a rack or in a closet near the main door of the house. 
  • We greet with handshakes in almost all cases unless its very close friends. Yes I could really go for a hug right about now!
  • ‘mahlzeit’ or ‘Guten Appetit’ are the usually sayings to begin eating
  • Also for “cheers” or toasting with alcohol, everyone clinks glasses and usually says “Prost!”
  • Sometimes dogs are allowed in restaurants and cafes 
  • When a teacher walks into the classroom, all students stand to welcome them in
  • (This one is just a random point) But everyone is interested in my views on the Presidential election in the US. OBAMA? Or ROMENY?
  • That list just scratches the surface! But honestly that ok because with each new difference, I learn something about the Austrian culture and lifestyle! 

Another point that I love so much about living here, is that so much time is spent outside, well at least not when its raining. Whether its swimming in the lake, soccer, badminton, beach volleyball, biking, hiking, skiing, or sledding, its all done! Before I came to Austria, I would have sighed at the thought of going hiking or maybe for a bike ride but now its these things that I look forward to, especially when you have great sights like these to see! 

I have already had many opportunities to do fun things like go to a roller coaster park in Germany, learn to sled, visit a castle in Feldkirch, spend a weekend in Vienna, go to a rock concert, experience snow for the first time, go to an opera and so much more that I don’t even now where to begin. There are so many amazing opportunities that exchange has already brought me in 3 months that I can’t wait for the rest of the year! 

While I have been given so much, I have also learned to give of myself. Its not all about me or what I want or what I’m comfortable with. Its my job to adapt to the new culture, country, and family. Its not their job to adapt to me! (Words from Mrs. Paula Roderick right there!) And these words couldn’t be more true! They have helped me so much so far in my exchange. 

I still can’t believe the ways that only 3 months in a new country, culture, and lifestyle has changed me. From my feelings, to confidence, to independence, to views and my outlook on life its all changed, for the better I believe! Personally, Im a very impatient person. Yes, I bet you are wondering how well impatient goes with a year full of new things: New things that take time to get used too. Well honestly, at first it was quite difficult. I wanted to learn the language quickly and expected it to happen overnight. I expected myself to make friends in a new school instantaneously. I expected myself to jump into a new culture and just click with it on the spot. I was constantly frustrated that things weren’t going the way I had planned. Now Im laughing at myself for believing that these things would happen or for even having expectations at all. Things like these don’t happen over night and they take time, which I have discovered makes them all the better. Now I notice how working hard in the language is rewarding slowly but nevertheless rewarding. Also I don’t know how I expected to make friends right away when I didn’t speak the language they did. Well now with more means of communication, these friendships are growing and making everyday better. I remember ordering my first ice cream in German! I was so proud and happy. In Florida, I wouldn’t have thought twice about ordering something to eat but now it is such a big accomplishment. Or finally having a conversation with my only german speaking, Oma (grandma)! That was a great feeling! These little moments are what make exchange so awesome. Now these are the small moments that I look forward to everyday! Of course with learning a new language comes many mistakes; EMBARRASSING mistakes, but then again these are the moments that I now laugh at. I’m still making mistakes in the language everyday too but when I finally get it right, its going to feel that much better! 

A year ago, I was just another teenager who was close-minded to the rest of world. I didn’t care about other countries, in fact, I probably laughed at other cultures and ways of life. Now I ask, How can you possibly judge someone else’s lifestyle or culture when you have no clue what it’s about, when you aren’t living in it, when you aren’t experiencing it first hand? Well now I realize that you can’t. You need to go out and immerse yourself in a new culture. Soon enough the boundaries that I used to have in my mind, keeping me from other countries and cultures, have come crumbling down. I now realize that just because people don’t do things the same way I do, or have the same beliefs that I do, that they are not wrong. We are all just simply different. We all have ways of life, beliefs, and much more that we may not always see eye to eye on, but bottom line is that we are all human beings, people created for the world, people create d to bring the world together in peace. For myself, I love learning about and experiencing new cultures now. 

Well I could write for hours but I’m going to go pack for my trip to Prague, Dresden, and Berlin in the morning! (once again three places I never would have thought I would have gotten the chance to see a year ago!)

Ok so now I’ve tried to give you an overall summary of my exchange so far from what I’ve done to what I’ve learned! Well first of all I’d like to say that those of you reading this right now who are eligible for the RYE program… should be applying and getting ready for those interviews! I promise it’s a decision you won’t regret. But the truth is exchange is REAL: You will have the good times, bad times, fun times, hard times, challenging times, and most of all the rewarding times. This doesn’t even begin to cover the never-ending list of ways to describe exchange, SO I GUESS YOU’LL HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF.

February 16, 2013

Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to write about what’s been going on! I’m not even sure where to begin to describe what’s happened in the last 4 months. Well last time I wrote, I was getting ready to head out on a trip with all of the other Austrian Inbounds. It was amazing! We traveled to the cities of Prague in the Czech Republic, and Dresden and Berlin in Germany. All three of these cities were absolutely stunning and beautiful! I can’t even begin to describe the amount of fun we had all together as an Inbound group of probably 100.

There is one special tradition that I of course brought to Austria: THANKSGIVING! I cooked an entire American Thanksgiving dinner with my host mom for the whole family! We cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, pumpkin pie, and so much more! It was such a great night, getting to bring something special to me and my family at home to my family here in Austria!

Then December came around and that meant Christmas Season! Christmas in Austria is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. It was definitely a different Christmas than I had ever experienced but it was interesting to celebrate it in a different culture with different traditions and events that I was used to. All of the Inbounds took a trip to Salzburg about 2 weeks before Christmas. It was so much fun. We got visit a castle and had a breathtaking view of all of Salzburg, covered in a blanket of snow, from the top. The Rotary weekends are always so much fun and a blessing because we all come together as a huge family and get to see and experience so many new things! Throughout the whole month of December, there are Christmas Markets everywhere, in almost every town and village. You can go and enjoy food, sweets, small shops and much more. One of the most typical Christmas Market drinks in Austria is Gluhwein. This is warm wine cooked with many spices and served in a traditional Christmas mug. Another traditional food is Maroni! These are roasted chestnuts that you crack open and eat. Normally you go with your family and stand around, order gluhwein, enjoy the lights and much more. On the 6th of December is the day of St. Nicholas. It’s tradition that Nicholas comes to the home of the children dressed like a bishop with his staff and tall hat bringing, small goods like chocolate, nuts, and fruit to those who have been good. Along with Nicholas comes Krampus, a beastlike creature who is supposed to punish those who have been bad. We also put up our Christmas tree the day before Christmas. It was real too! At home we have a plastic one, so this was new for me. Also in Austria, there is no Santa Claus! Instead on Christmas Eve, the ‘Christchild’ comes into the house and puts the presents under the tree when the children are out of the room. The bigger celebration is also done on Christmas Eve as appo sed to Christmas day with family at home in Florida. We enjoyed a nice family dinner together, than sang Christmas songs and prayers and then opened the gifts. Later in the evening, the whole family went to Mass. Christmas Day was very relaxed. We had a large meal with the family and just hung out. Even though the Christmas traditions were different, I couldn’t have asked for it any other way! I also love family events here because it’s quite similar to my life in Florida. Here all of the family is basically neighbors! So when we are all together it includes, immediate family, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles…pretty much everyone!

I decided to spend New Year’s with my host family. We enjoyed dinner and just hanging out until it got dark and then it was time for the fireworks! We live on a hill known as Oberfeldgasse, which was the absolute best location ever! Not only could we shoot off our fireworks but also we are higher up than most people and so for miles all you could see was hundreds of fireworks being shot up and lighting up the night sky! I could see them all the way into the mountains of Switzerland. It was absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life!

In the first week of January, our entire family and some friends took a day trip to Innsbruck for the International Ski Jumping tournament! That day was so much fun because there was so much Country pride and spirit. We all had our Austrian Flags and hats and were waving them around and yelling and cheering and what not! Every time an Austrian skier jumped, the crowd was crazy! And of course an Austrian skier won the tournament!

Yesterday I actually just returned from my family’s ski trip in the Montafon. We stayed in Gargellen, a ski village in the mountains. We spent the week there because it was our school’s semester break! It was such an amazing time! I learned so much especially about skiing because coming from Florida, I had never done it before! I’m much better than I was on my first day. I’m still the slowest and always come in last but I enjoying skiing so much! I actually accomplished my first black slope too, which is the most difficult! The red slopes, which are intermediate, aren’t even a problem anymore! My host family taught me and everyday it was better! It was such a fun vacation because when we weren’t skiing, we just hung out, played games, sometimes went out at night and just had a good time! This time last year I would have never even pictured my self -going down a black slope in the mountains of Austria, nevertheless even learning how to ski a t all!
Wow there is just so much to talk about! These are only the big events that have happened! It so hard to talk about all the small fun things like going out with friends on the weekends and basically just enjoying life here!

I can’t even begin to describe the amount of ways that I’ve changed as a person since being here. I’ve learned to be independent, open minded and so much more. All of the things that seemed so foreign to me 6 months ago are like second nature! I remember going to school the first day and it was like a maze. I was so confused and had no idea what to think. Now everything is so familiar! The roads, villages, towns, faces, traditions are all a huge part of my life now. Instead of them being things I once resisted, I now accept them all and couldn’t be happier!

I just recently, in the last week, reached my 6 month mark of my exchange! I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that my exchange year is more than half way over. While that though makes me sad, I’ve decided to embrace everything that comes my way from now until July, because that’s all the time I have left, which doesn’t seem like enough in this new country I can call home! In one week I will be switching to my second host family. I couldn’t be more thankful for everything that my first host family has done for me and they will always be considered family in my heart! Also in one month my Mom will be visiting Austria! I can’t wait for her to share this wonderful experience with me, even if it is only for 2 weeks out of a whole year! These next couple months will be crazy! Full of excitement and many other emotions, but I can’t wait to just live out every moment that this wonderful opportunity has brought and will bring ☺

Emily Westlake 
2012-13 Outbound to Italy
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: P.K. Yonge High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2060, Italy
The Rotary Club of Opitergino Mottense

Emily - Italy

I have been living in Oderzo, Italy for one month now and this is truly a dream come true! When I landed in Italy I was immediately greeted with hugs and kisses by my first and second host families and my Rotary counselor. After all the hello’s, we left the airport and drove to my house in Oderzo. Once I got a tour of the house and put everything in my room we all sat down to eat lasagna that my host mom had prepared earlier. After lunch, I was so happy to finally get some sleep after an exhausting flight. When I woke up, my host sister and I went to meet some of her friends at a gelateria (ice cream shop) near my house. Although I had no idea what anyone was saying, it was really nice to go out with people and see my new town.

My first week in Italy was the last week of summer vacation before school started so there was a lot of fun things going on. My host sister and her friends organized a picnic so they could all meet me and hear about life in Florida and the United States. When my host sister told me we were going to a picnic, I thought it would be a short little lunch at the park in the afternoon. It turned out to be an all day thing and we stayed at this park for 7 hours. Although I was really tired and I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, it was really nice to meet people and start making friends. The day before school started we drove to a different town to get school supplies from a shopping center. I was getting really excited to start school and see how it compares to school in the States.

I was aware I had to take the bus to school and I thought I knew what to expect because I had seen other people take the bus around town and it didn’t look too complicated, but I was SO wrong. The bus I take to school is the biggest bus in the city of Oderzo and its like the size of two regular busses put together with a stretchy thing in the middle so it can turn easier. The bus has around 100 seats inside and 4 doors to enter. About 150 students cram on the bus and sit/stand on top of each other so more kids can pile in. I have never felt so oxygen deprived and claustrophobic in my entire life. When I finally got to school the English teacher took me to my class and I met all of my classmates. Everyone welcomed me right away and my desk was put in the center of the classroom. School in Italy is very different than my school in Florida. We start at 8am and ends at 1pm. Students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers move to different rooms. Some classes are only 1 hour a week while others are 7 hours a week. My classmates are so helpful and always make sure I can understand what is going on. After school I take the bus back to Oderzo and go home for lunch with my host siblings and host mom.

The food here is so delicious. I have always been a big fan of Italian food so I was really excited to finally taste authentic Italian dishes. I am seriously in love with everything I have eaten here. Pasta is served at least once a day and there is bread with every meal. In Florida, I never ate tomatoes because I didn’t like them very much. Now, I eat tomatoes ALL the time and they are one of my favorites here. Gelato is another one of my favorites! There is a gelateria on almost every corner and they are all so cheap! Gelato is typically eaten as a snack around 5:30pm. The mealtimes are also different here. Breakfast is still eaten in the mornings before school but we eat lunch at 1:45-2pm which is a lot later than when I ate in Florida. There is a snack around 5:30 (usually gelato or pizza) and then dinner is around 8 or 9pm.

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I left home! I am so excited to see what else Italy has in store for me. I am in such a beautiful place and I am so thankful to all of Rotary for making this possible.

It has been entirely too long since I’ve last written a journal and I honestly cannot believe that seven months have flown by this quickly. I have no idea how to put these last 6 months into words but this is the best I can do.

The places I’ve been: 

Way way back in October I had my first meeting with the 7 other exchange students in my district. We went to the Barcelona sail boat race in Trieste. It was so nice to finally meet other exchange students and see how everyone else was adjusting to their new lives. We instantly became best friends and now every time we see each other we always have a blast. It’s really nice to have people who understand exchange problems and they always have the best advice. I have been to Trieste multiple times to visit the other exchange students and for Rotary meetings. Shortly after Barcelona I had the amazing opportunity to go to Rome for 5 days with my host sister and one of her friends. It was really awesome to experience Rome with the locals and not feel like a tourist. Of course we saw all the famous and touristy things in Rome but I also got to see more of the local things which were really nice too. Sometime in November my host family took me to Venice. I had heard so much about this beautiful place and I had been dying to go ever since I arrived here. When my family told my we were going I was jumping with joy. It was everything I had dreamed of and more. I was lucky enough to go back to Venice for Carnival with about 23 other exchange students from other districts. Carnival in Venice is such a traditional and unique thing to experience and it was really special to be there with all the exchange students. Every year right after Christmas my host family goes to the mountains for a week of skiing. This year I got to go along with them and try skiing for the very first time! Being from Florida I’ve never had the chance to see such beautiful mountains completely covered in snow and then to top it off I got to ski in these mountains! It was one of the best weeks of my exchange so far and it is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. After the week in the mountains I switched to my second host family. They took me to Sicily f or 2 weeks to visit my host father’s family and the area where he grew up. It was a great way for me to get to know my second host family before settling into the routine of a new family and a new house. At the end of February I returned to Rome with another exchange student and a few Rotarians to see the Pope’s last Angelus Blessing in St. Peter’s square. It was really amazing and I am so thankful to the Rotarians who took us. Shortly after, My mother from Florida came to visit me for Easter and I returned to Rome for the third time. While in Rome we went to mass on Easter Sunday in St. Peter’s square to see the new Pope. There were about 250 thousand people there. Spending Easter in Rome was awesome but spending it with my mother was even more special. It was great to see her after 7 months and show her around this beautiful country that I have been living in!

Exchange is not all about traveling and sight seeing, so now I will move on to the more important things!

School: As I mentioned in my previous post, school here in Italy is VERY different than my school in Florida. For example, school hours are different, classrooms don’t change, school on Saturday, no cafeteria, etc. After only 3 weeks these were the few things I was able to notice about my new school. Now that I’ve been here for some time and I can understand more of the language, I have found a million new differences between my school at home and my Italian school. For example, students are expected to sit 5 hours a day and take notes while the teacher lectures. There are no worksheets to do in groups, no collaboration between students, no projects to present to the class. It’s all pretty much individual work and you study your notes for tests. So the only grades you get are test grades. This is really different for me but it seems like an effective way of teaching/learning because all my classmates do well in school. Interrogations or oral tests are a huge t hing here. At first I thought it could be compared to presenting a PowerPoint project or something similar that I have done a thousand times in Florida but the difference is that there are no computers or any other kind of technology; it’s just the student and the teacher and the teacher can ask any questions they want and you have to answer correctly. When you participate in sports at school, you compete against other classes in your same school, not other schools. School sports aren’t at all popular and they are nothing like American high school sports teams! School was extremely hard for me in the first few months because I didn’t understand anything that was going on and I was so bored because the teachers never gave me work to do. When the second semester started I had a better grip on the language and I finally started following the lessons and doing the same things my classmates were. It is so much better now and I actually enjoy getting up in the mornings for school. 

Family: My first host family consisted of my host mother, host father, host sister (14) and host brother (12). The first few months with them were difficult because I wasn’t used to having younger siblings and it was hard communicating/relating to them. Once my language started improving my relationship with the family improved so so so much. We were able to talk about problems I was having and they were able to help me. We got to know each other better and learn about each others culture. They taught me everything I know and I will never ever forget everything they have done for me. Of course nobody could ever replace my family in Florida but I feel so at home with my first host family I often forget that we only just met 7 months ago. It feels like I’ve been with them for a lifetime. My host sister and I have become so close we stopped calling each other by our names and now we just call each other “sorella” which is the Italian word for sister. She has been such a great friend and sister to me and I know our relationship and bond will never end. She means the world to me. Leaving them after Christmas and moving to the second host family was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. My second (current) host family consists of my host mother and host father. They have a daughter on exchange in Missouri. When I switched families I also moved to a different town so now I am closer to my school which means I get to sleep in later and I don’t have to take the bus! My host parents are so sweet and they always make sure I have everything I need and that I’m happy. They know how their daughter feels as an exchange student so they understand all my exchange problems and if I’m having a bad day they understand that’s its just normal and they always help me with anything I need. I am so thankful to both of my families for accepting me and taking me in. My exchange would be completely different had I not been placed with these families.

Language: Because I live in a small town there is hardly anyone who speaks English. It has forced me to speak only Italian and I’ve learned pretty quickly. Yes, I could have studied way more before I left and I probably should have but I think I’ve done pretty well with learning the language considering I started with close to nothing. After about 3 months I could understand more or less than 50% of things said directly to me and I could respond to about 30% of it. Now after 7 months I am able to understand pretty much everything. I don’t have to translate everything to understand it, I just get it. I don’t think in English anymore and Italian just makes sense. It’s weird to think that just seven months ago I didn’t understand anything and now watching movies, reading books, and regular conversations are not difficult for me. Speaking is definitely harder but I’m learning new things and becoming more confident each day. I am really proud of myself and how much progress I’ve made in the last 7 months. This truly is the best way to learn a new language.

This exchange has been such an amazing, incredible and eye-opening experience filled with memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you so much to Rotary for this opportunity. There will never be enough words for me to express how thankful I am to everyone who has made this possible. I can’t believe there are only 3 months left of my exchange but I hope to make them the best 3 months ever!

Gentry Allen 
2012-13 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: P.K. Yonge High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3470, Taiwan
The Rotary Club of District 6970 Tainan

Gentry - Taiwan

September 8, 2012

Traveling to Taiwan!
A lot of people asked me if I was nervous going to Taiwan and to be honest I didn’t really know that to feel. I was this weird mix of sort of nervous but way too excited. My flight schedule was Jacksonville to Chicago (2hr) to Hong Kong (15hr) to Kaohsiung (1hr), then a short drive to Taiwan (30min). Once I got to Chicago I called the other exchange student who was to be traveling with me, David, to see where I am supposed to meet him and Nico, because we were all flying together to Hong Kong and Kaohsiung. This is when he told me that because of the Typhoon that’s about to hit Taiwan, our flight to Kaohsiung is canceled and that we will have to take the flight that leaves the next morning. AKA we would have a 10 hour layover in the Hong Kong airport. The 15 hour flight to Hong Kong wasn’t has dreadful as I thought it was going to be. The plane had this cool high tech computer screens for each seat, where I was able to watch my own movies, and of course I slept.

Once in the Hong Kong airport, I checked myself into the traveler’s lounge where I slept on a really comfortable chair, charged my electronics, ate who knows what (something with rice) and showered. Then I boarded the flight to Kaohsiung at 8am!

After arriving (9am), breezing through customs and tracking down my suitcases I walked out of these doors and there to greet me was all these Rotarians and my host family! It was the best feeling to know that they were as excited to know that I was in Taiwan as I was. My family drove me to their house in Tainan, where I learned the word for cake, and they tried to tell me that we were going to go eat some? Get the apartment, which is in a big apartment building, took a shower and went off with my family to eat this cake. Well it just so happened that where the cake was, was also where my rotary club was. This is the point where I experienced culture shock. All I could do was sit there, smile and say thank you as countless Rotarians came to me introduced themselves and try their dishes. Oh, by the way, Taiwan as far as I’m concerned has THE most delicious food.

While I’m there, some of the children of other Rotarians (college students) ask me if I would like to ‘go’ with them. Not sure were ‘go’ was, but hey! I’m an exchange student so I said yes. Next thing I know we are on our way to another county to go to this restaurant that only serves shaved ice with mangos. AMAZING! Then they took me to the Tsengwen Reservoir which is in-between breath taking mountains. After we go to my first temple, which was the Ancestral temple of Chiang Family in Lu-Tao-Yang. That evening they took me to a restaurant where we could see the mountains and later when it was dark the city lights of Tainan in the distance. Finally they notice that I’m about to passed out with exhaustion so they take me home.
Once at home I give my host family their gifts and we run through the first night questions. Which I was very excited to do, because over the years I’ve watched our exchange students, Belen, Teresa, Aidana and Nina, go through these questions. But was very interesting because the only way to do so was to nod yes/no and go show me the part of the house we were talking about.

I’m SO SO SO incredibly thankful to Florida Rotary and Tainan District 6970 rotary. I think everyone should be an exchange student, it is the most meaningful and life changing experience.
I love Taiwan and I’m never coming back! (just kidding mom)

My first day of school in Taiwan was unlike any day I have ever encountered. I arrived at the school at 7:30am and was tucked away in the student affairs office where I nervously practiced my speech, which I only learned the day before I was to present. At this point I had been a total of 4 days in Taiwan, and my Chinese was so bad I could barely even pronounce my own Chinese name. Finally, my school counselor led me to the auditorium packed with the Students of National Tainan Chia-Chi Girls Senior High School (CCGSH). As soon as I arrived students that I walked by shrieked with excitement and shyly giggled to each other. I walked up on to the stage and sat with all the teachers of CCGSH. I was front row and on display for the entire school to see the first ever exchange student to attend CCGSH.

The opening ceremony began, and many teachers and school officials came to the podium to welcome everyone to another school year. Of course I had no idea what anyone was saying, but I nodded my head in what seemed like the appropriate times and applauded when everyone else did. Lastly the principle took the stage and introduced me and played a short video I had made of pictures to introduce myself and Florida. Then the moment came, and I was ushered to the front of 1,000 students. I tried my ultimate best to speak clearly my ‘Rotary speech’ and when I finished the entire auditorium went into an uproar in cheers for me. I felt truly welcomed to my new school, but mostly I was just glad to survive the whole ordeal. The press also attended the ceremony press and my picture was taken to appear in 2 local Tainan newspapers the following week.

I have been in Taiwan for almost about two months now, and slowly Taiwan life is becoming my normal everyday life. It’s normal now to hear fireworks going off at all hours of the night AND day. It’s normal now that at school the students think I’m some sort of celebrity. It’s normal that I eat Taiwanese food like noodles, dumplings, pearl tea and questionable animal parts (It’s better not to ask). I completely love my Taiwan life. I can feel myself changing into a completely different person. I’m even more responsible, independent and challenge facing then when I arrived to Taiwan. The other day I walked into my room and saw my bed was made. I thought to myself, “Who came into my room and made the bed?” Then I realized it was I who had made the bed. It is small changes like this that I realize I’m growing as a person.

Taiwan’s people are passionate in all that they do. They are a gift giving, nonstop singing, always eating culture, and will be your friend for life. A Rotarian once asked me if I thought that in my other life time that I was a Taiwanese person. I’m starting to believe that this is true.

December 5, 2012

Everyday at school, after climbing four flights of stairs, I arrive at my classroom, class 211. Eighteen girls, nineteen including me, will be preparing for a rigorous day of school and dance training.

My classmates are training to become professional dancers. Most days our class will take dance classes up to 4-5 hours a day in ballet, modern, pilates, and the traditional Chinese dance style. The teachers are always pushing us to jump higher, stretch further, turn longer.

Dance has become so much more to me. It is the part of my day that makes sense. Especially ballet, a style I have been studying since I was 3 years old. At first I could not make out what the teachers were instructing to us, my only aid was my eyes, to watch and copy my classmates. But now it is become so much clearer. Stretch. Foot. Turn around. Hand. Jump. Feel.

Not everyday is always sunshine, rainbows, and tutus. I am most defiantly the worst dancer in my class. My classmates are extremely talented. They have amazing flexibility, endurance, and technique. My first full week of classes seemed more like bootcamp than a dance class. It sounds silly but the ugly duckling is the perfect metaphor in this case. The traditional Chinese dance I find to be very difficult, mostly because I have never seen this type of dance style before. I have to watch every carefully how to do each movement, but my classmates are eager for me to learn with them, often helping me into the correct pose or demonstrating the movement.  But the amazing thing is that my classmates take me as I am. They tell me they don’t care that I’m not the prettiest ballerina, and together we can learn to be better dancers.

My classmates are the most hard working individuals that I know. Everyday they come to school with a smile on their face, tackle exams and tough school material, and continue to throw themselves into the dance profession. During recital season, my classmates would be at school from 7:30am-9:00pm every day for school, dance training and rehearsal. Also returning to school on the weekends for more practice.
Every moment during the day is used for constant practice.  Everyday I come to school inspired by my classmates to work hard in everything I do.

My classmates and I share a unique bond. Without them I would feel out of place in Taiwan. They give me a purpose to wake up everyday, to attend school, to work hard. My exchange in Taiwan has been a change in mind and body. We may not speak the same language (yet), but we all speak dance. 

January 6, 2012

When I sat down to write this journal, in honor of the newly selected inbounds, I stared blankly at the keyboard. Where do I start? How can I even began to sum up how much their lives will change in the next 2 years? But that’s the thing, there is no way to explain what its like to be an exchange student. You can only you live it yourself. There is no way to describe the high of learning a new culture. The confusion of what direction you think your life is heading, but really you have no idea. The constant struggle of the need for your heart to be in two places at once.

I dedicate this journal to you, future outbounds to Taiwan. How can I explain to you what a special place Taiwan is? I can attempt to ease some confusion, but in reality you have no concept of what Taiwan life will be like. I certainly had no idea. But I think that is best. If you come to Taiwan with an open mind you will be able to see it’s beauty.

10 Things You NEED to know about Taiwan to Survive your first month.

1. Learn how to use the squat toilet before you get off the plane. You may think you know what your doing, but really you don’t. Educate yourself, because they are everywhere!

2. Girls, well guys too, but especially girls -ALWAYS carry a pack of tissues with you. Almost all public restrooms will not have toilet paper. Enough said.

3. Dinners are eaten family style with the main dishes in the center. You will have a small bowl of rice which you will place your selections on top of. You must finish everything in your bowl. No exceptions.

4. Always eat until your satisfied, because it will be mostly likely your host parents will continue to place food into your bowl, or have something else delicious for you to try.

5. RICE RICE RICE, everyday.

6. You will have a air conditioner in your room. Turn it off when your not in the room! (In my case I only use it when I’m sleeping.)

7. You must remove your shoes before entering someone’s house. My suggestion is to bring “easiely removable” shoes.

8. I know we all come from Florida and we Floridians love our flipflops, but be sure to bring other shoes. The streets are dirty and your feet will get dirty from walking everywhere and using public transportation.

9. Chinese is hard. Start learning now! At minimum memorize your Rotary Speech. You have a 100% chance that you will have to introduce yourself to the entire school and many people will be impressed that a foreigner can introduce themselves in Chinese. I have been in MANY situations where I had to stand in front of a crowd and introduce myself. Don’t be the exchange student who’s host parents have to do it.

10. Respect the elders. Respect your host parents. Respect your teachers. Respect your Rotary. It may seem obvious, but Taiwanese culture is built on 5,000 years of tradition. Don’t forget that.

I tried my ultimate best to come to Taiwan completely open minded and adaptable to any situation I may find myself if. And truthfully it has helped me become more adjusted with my new culture. There will be many things you will not understand about Taiwanese culture. But, don’t be scared. Rotary chose you for Taiwan because they believe you are smart, independent and adaptable.
Good Luck!

March 21, 2013

There are three words to describe Chinese New Year in Taiwan. Eat, Pray, Honor.

In my case, I ate for 5 days straight. In each home I visited I found one commonality , as soon as we walked in the door, food was offered to us. Then, after socializing with all the family members, we would eat a huge family meal. I have never eaten so much in my ENTIRE life. The only way to describe how much you will eat during Chinese New Year is to imagine eating a Thanksgiving sized  meal for lunch AND dinner…. for multiple days. And of course only in Taiwan, after you have completely stuffed yourself, you will go to the night market after dinner for even more snacks or pearl tea. The amount that Taiwanese people can eat remains a real mystery to me.

A lot of your time during Chinese New Year will be spend traveling to temples. Most of which are very old and are temples your family has been praying at for generations. I can remember one great aunt having us stop at every temple we passed, to pray for the New Year. We also visited a few grave sites of deceased relatives to pay respect and pray over them.

Chinese New Year is spent traveling to as many elder relatives as physically possible. I traveled to Penghu, a tiny island off the west coast  of Taiwan, to visit my host father’s mom and dad. I also went to Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan for my host mom’s parents. Then, Rotarians picked me up and took me to their family gatherings in my own city of Tainan. When you visit these relatives they will have a special gift for you. It’s called the red envelope and inside a red envelope will be money. When an elder offers you a read envelope you must thank them and wish them good luck.
My Chinese New Year was made special by the elders I visited. I would always find myself wedged on a bench between a grandmother and great aunt. Or sitting on the floor with my host cousins watching grandpa play mahjong with the uncles. My hand was held, my plate was full, and I was called the American granddaughter.

One great aunt in particular will forever stand out in my mind. Standing no taller than maybe 5 feet, this women lived in her family’s generational home located behind a temple -a house well older than 100 years. She did not speak any Chinese, so instead I had to use Taiwan’s second language, Taiwanese. As we were walking her to the car, because the streets were too narrow to drive a car down, she told me “You are very far away from your mother, today you will be my granddaughter”. Just like that, I was apart of her family. She didn’t leave my side the entire day, even holding my hand when we were walking.

This is another moment when I realized how different my life has become, that the person I came here as is very different from the person I am now.  My exchange was made in the oldest city of Taiwan, where you can get lost in small alleys,  where the locals don’t speak Chinese but instead Taiwanese or Hakka, where there is a temple every 5 feet, where you sit on the floor in your host relatives 100 year old houses. Exchange is more than just living in a big foreign metropolitan. The life I built in Tainan I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Chinese New Year is a magical time in Taiwan. It is the time of the year you can see how loving and caring the Taiwanese people are. It’s a time to eat. A time to wish good luck. A time to cherish your family. It’s a time that I am so incredibly thankful to experience. Thank you Rotary.
Happy New Year! 新年快樂!

June 18, 2013

There will be times on your exchange when you will look down at your feet and wonder. How did I get here? This is a question I pondered while staring into the stage lights of Japan’s cultural dance festival, Yosakoi. Yes, Japan. This year I had the rare opportunity to travel to Japan twice with my classmates, funded by the Taiwanese government to promote tourism to Taiwan.
We first traveled to Japan October of 2012, where my classmates performed at a smaller show and then we traveled for three days exploring Osaka, Japan. But, the second time we would travel to Japan in June 2013, I was invited to perform alongside my classmates.
Because we were a sponsored team, my classmates and I practiced almost every day for an entire month. My teachers pushed us to our very limit to perform our best for the people of Japan. I have never pushed myself so hard physically and mentally. Each practice was a practice really of body and mind because practice was solely taught in Chinese (and a little Taiwanese too). But, never have I been so excited to tackle a challenge.
When we arrive in Sapporo, Japan, we all become instant local celebrities. People everywhere wanted to take pictures with us. Even a news team came from Tokyo to film a story about the dancers from Taiwan. People of course were always a little confused why there was a ‘foreigner’ in the dance group. But my classmates would always exclaim “She is Taiwanese too”.
My time in Japan was defiantly the peak of my exchange. It tested everything that I have learned while in Taiwan; Foreign travel, my Chinese Language, traditional Chinese dance and being an ambassador.
The opportunity to perform in Japan to represent not one, but two countries is something I will never forget. I’m so incredibly honored that Chia-Chi Girls Senior High School and the Taiwanese government believed in me enough to allow me represent their country.
The journey to Japan defiantly wasn’t an easy one, but never in my life have I ever felt so alive and purposeful.
Thank you Chia-Chi Girls Senior High School. Thank you Tainan South East Rotary. Thank you Taiwan.

Grant Zwolinski 
2012-13 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3480, Taiwan
The Rotary Club of Shaungho

Grant - Taiwan

October 21, 2012

This is so surreal to looking on the RYE Florida page and seeing my name on the side where the current outbounds are. I’ve been here almost two months now and I figured I was already late enough to catch you up to speed on what’s been going on in Taipei. Let me just start off by saying that flying here is not fun… At all it took almost 16 hours of air time to fly halfway around the world. I was greeted at the airport by around 15 people including all of my host moms and dads my club counselor and his wife my host brother and then a couple of people who I am still not sure who they were. After that I enjoyed my first dinner in Taiwan….. I dove into the culture pool head on for this, my dinner consisted of but not limited to: Stinky tofu-like the name says it smells horrid-some boiled cow heart, then some what I thought was fish but it was sheep stomach. Let’s just say that was an experience all of its own, it’s safe to say I wont be trying that again for a while. So the whole first week I am here my little brother keeps saying on Saturday we go fishing, so I assume that we are going to go to a river or the ocean, but no again I was mistaken. Fishing here consist of a pool in which you stick a baited bobber in to catch, are you ready…. Shrimp, yes we were fishing for shrimp in which after instead of bringing home we cooked them right then and there. Speaking of which the Taiwanese enjoy fresh fish at a restaurant, like you pick out the fish, lobster or shrimp out of an aquarium tank and they take it to they kitchen cook it then serve it to you, right then and there. 

Speaking of food, well I can really indulge in too much because everything has ingredients I can’t have which is upsetting because I was looking forward to go on an eating spree but sadly this cannot happen. But on the bright side I joined culinary club at school and I am learning how to make and prepare all kinds of interesting fare. On the list of things I can eat is called hot pot in which you sit at a table with a pot in front of you and throw everything you want into the pot and cook it…. It’s safe to say that it is delicious and I plan on eating it many more times. What I do not plan on trying for the third time is stinky tofu, all form of it, it is just not appealing to me a much as it is to others. Also on the lists of no need to try a third time: pig heart, intestines, pigs blood cake, chicken feet and all types of animal stomachs. 

I have made a lot of new friends here during my past couple of months and some of the guys I am just as close as people back home. Unfortunately I don’t get to hang out with my classmates very often as they are always busy studying for their next test which are a daily occurrence. Weekends are no better because they have Saturday school and Sunday school…. So much school here. On the list of my favorite expeditions I have gone on is one day I decided that I wanted to go up in the mountains with a group of 6 other guys and go hike up a small river. It was nice because even though Taiwan is a island I have spent little to no time at all in the water. Another one of my “genius” ideas was to get in a breakdance battle with some students… Now I’m not saying we lost, I’m just saying that we may or may not have technically “won” mainly because we just kind of ran away from the five guys all spinning on their heads. Also another one of my great ideas was to get an Asian haircut which consist of shaving the sides of my head and a whole lot of gel to hold it up there. It’s safe to say I’m currently letting it grow back out to normal length. My friend Braden is exactly like me, he dives and pole vaults, the only difference is he is from Pennsylvania which is far from similar to Florida. If you know me back home then you know that if there were two of me then we’d do some crazy things. Well that happens an example of which is we needed to see if we could come home from the pool on the MRT shirtless because there is no signs that say we can’t. So the next thing i know i am sitting on a packed MRT with no shirt and everyone was staring at me. Turns out you aren’t technically not allowed to do it, it is just frowned upon. Another thing we did was when we went back to the river we ended up wearing speedos and water shoes on, yet again we got some strange and perplexed looks from the locals(except for one old man who was wearing the same thing). 

My Chinese is progressing surprisingly quick. I can hear and read very well but I do not speak so well compared to the Taiwanese on any level. But my listening has gotten to the point where my host family will speak entirely in Chinese and I can comprehend it for the most part. When I can speak Chinese I do, and I try to seek new opportunities to try to perfect it in real world situations. So I get “lost” a lot and ask for directions even though I already know where to walk I just want to work on getting my speaking perfect. Reading actually is the most surprising thing to me because it is not that hard to remember for the most part the only major problem is writing it down seeing as my english handwriting is far from perfect.While my Chinese has grown my English is starting to fade besides my ACT vocab, but the more colloquial terms seem to fade the most because no terms are used in the same part of the country or world. A great example of this is when I was at the beach with some friends I couldn’t think of the surfing term for when you get held under by a wave, I later had to text someone back home to relearn it is called being pinned. 

My host family is now my family and I call my host mom just mom so when I get off the phone and say “alright mom i’ll be safe, love you” the other exchange students think I am talking to my mom back home but I have to explain its my host mom but it shocked me when I found out no one else calls their host mom just mom. My family life is good when I eat dinner I talk about my day and my plans for the next couple of days and ask everyone how everything is going with them. I get along with my host brother and he an I go out sometimes ( when he isn’t studying to get into a good high school). I also go to places with them such as the mountains, the beach and other Rotarians houses or events. 

It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done leaving my family and friends behind to go to a place halfway around the world. I was never really homesick but some things back home got me really upset like the passing of one of my friends, but I knew I was going to pull through it I had to pull though because I know it is for the best. Home is here now, streets that were once so foreign to me are now so familiar, the same goes for sights. I am no longer weirded out when my fish still has a head on it, I actually think its wrong without one. I don’t think twice when I order things in Chinese because I am confident in what I am saying. I feel that my new Rotary family here isn’t just confined to Taiwan any long but has merged with back home to make one single family. I look back at myself a year ago and can’t believe that I am now the one in Taiwan, no more research about the island, no more anticipating where I am going to live in my new home, no more questioning myself if I made the right choice to come here. I realize that this year I going to be perhaps the most life changing year in life, and I am so appreciative of it. Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for allowing me to come to where I now call home.扶輪社台灣. Thank you mom and dad promise that I will not let any of you down. 


Grant Zwolinski(賴和平)

January 24, 2012

As you all already know the holiday season is dwindling down and things will return to normal once again. The thing is in Taiwan western holidays have a very strange place in this society. The holidays are openly displayed from Halloween all the way up to Christmas which may seem normal but the thing is nobody celebrates these holidays. There were no little children running around apartments dressed as their favorite super hero. No turkeys or mash potatoes, for the most part there are no ovens in this country so these dishes are not easily made. There was trees and lights everywhere for Christmas but no Santa in the mall. The biggest surprise is how fast stores transform themselves from one holiday theme to another. There is a general merchandise store by my school and I was walking down there to get some Halloween stuff on sale which would be usual in America. To my surprise the shop has already been transformed into a thanksgiving shop, the next day. Meaning there was no sale the store just simply took down the items and stored them for next years ex-pats.

I realize that it is not cold in Florida for Christmas but it is still much colder than here. It has been in the mid 70’s this winter except on some rainy days where it will dip down to low 60’s. Yet everyone here is bundling up with 3 jacket when they step out the door. My host Mom is convinced that I will be cold as I walk out of the house with only my hoodie on in 70 degree weather, no matter what I say I normally leave the house wearing the scarf she puts around my neck. The only thing is it rains…. A lot we had three straight weeks of rain, its not nice rain it is whipped at you from all directions due to the wind tunnel effect the buildings have in this city. The sun is not really out here because of overcast and when it is it is not out long because sunset is around 5:15, I miss the Florida sunshine I will say that.

I am now officially on winter break now and I will have to admit it feels weird not having a long time off of school since August. Seeing as I haven’t had much time off I really haven’t traveled much around the island but I am really hoping that I get to during this next month. ,Although I have not traveled to much I have learned a lot about Taiwanese culture through countless classes but more importantly through the art of calligraphy. This alone has been a huge experience to see the almost ceremonial set up for this ancient art. I expect to do a whole lot more because of Chinese New Years coming up and we rewrite the seals of the household. I did get off for the western new years, which was really unique because exchange students from all over the country came to Taipei to see the fireworks around Taipei 101. There was around 200 exchange student in the same general area which was nice for us but the Taiwanese people near us were very confused because large groups of foreign teenagers were together. We also had a little mini Florida reunion I got to see Dakota and Gentry. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Nicole because she was away with her host family but she had a good time and that is all that really matters.

Since I last wrote I have also moved host families which was one of the more emotional periods of my exchange thus far. It reminded me much of when I left Florida to some extent. My mother after taking care of me in the beginning where I was much like a child had realized that I had to move on to what was next in life for me. I really enjoy my new host family, they are very kind people and they speak almost exclusively in Chinese to me so my Chinese skills have improved. I do not have any host siblings in this new family which is a new experience because I am the youngest of three in my family back home so not having siblings is kind of strange to me. I enjoy it though because my family likes to spend time with me and help me.

On the opposite side of that I had to make my first rounds of goodbyes by acknowledging that my two Australian friends would no longer be with us. It was hard on us to see them leave but then I thought about how hard on them it actually is. They have to say goodbye twice since their exchange is January to January. Once to the friends that would be leaving them and once when they are leaving their friends. But that is the exchange cycle so we all knew it was going to happen eventually. It is still weird going to rotary events and looking around to find them but of course they are not there. 

I am really excited for Chinese New Years, it takes place in the beginning of February this year. Everyone is telling me about how much fun it is and how much it means to this country. I can’t wait for all of the festivities that the Chinese New Years celebration brings in. It is going to be very nice to spend a lot of time with my host family too, and I feel that I will grow closer to them. As of right now my host parents are keeping me out of the loop for what is going to happen and what we will do on New Years because they want to surprise me. 

Well that’s it for now I will be sure to update once my vacation is over with plenty of pictures and stories to tell.

Sincerely Grant Zwolinski.

April 11, 2013

You know it’s crazy, I never thought that I would be able to stand in front of a 
Chinese restaurant that I have never been to and read the menu as if it was 
English. I didn’t even think it was gonna happen the first couple of months in 
Taiwan, but now I can as if I have known all along what it meant. Chinese 
doesn’t seem foreign at all anymore I know that at first I thought it all 
sounded the same and looked similar but now I can hear the differences in each 
word while it may not be as apparent as English but it is there. It finally 
just clicks for me and it is really amazing to know that my hard work has 
started to pay off. My speaking could be better but it’s close for sure it is 
not a very forgiving language when it comes to that. 

My winter break was, relaxing to say the least not very eventful because we 
didn’t leave taipei much. But I got to spend a lot of time with my second host 
family and learn about all of the traditions and customs of Chinese New Years. 
Such as writing the new seals for the doors on our house, leaning about my host 
ancestors and many other things. I got to travel to the south of Taiwan in the 
mountains for a few days and visit my host grandparents. I stayed in a 200 year 
old house in the mountains and learned how to pick star fruit and betel nut from trees. Well 
not actually pick you just kind of shake the tree until the nuts fall off, I got 
hit in the face a couple of times for looking up to see if there were any left. 
We went to temples for nine days and they showed me the way to pray while 
holding incense. It is really funny because the first day my host parents say we 
wake up go to the temple to say what I heard as bye bye so I thought I was going 
to a funeral the next morning. As it turns out they did not say bye bye but the 
Chinese word for pray which sound very very familiar and it seemed fitting at 
the time.

Also I ate…. A lot, we had a mini feast for every meal for nine days. I 
gained about 4 pounds in the course of the new years festival. Everyplace we 
would go to that had shrimp my host mom would tell everyone not to worry Grant 
will finish all of them, she did this as a joke but as it turns out I probably 
had about two and a half dozen shrimp every dinner….. Thanks Mom.Overall it 
was a unique opportunity to learn about the largest, most extravagant festival 
of the lunar calendar. It’s safe to say I said 新年快樂 over 1000 times (it means 
happy New Years) while the break may have been relaxing I barely slept the 
entire New Years because people would stay up and light huge fireworks in the 
middle of the street you would hear a drunk man scream 新年快樂(xin nian kuai le) 
then see a huge firework followed by a even bigger boom. Now I know what you are 
thinking “Grant we have big fireworks in Florida”, yes but these are bigger much 
bigger after all they did invent them.

I moved to my final host family and it is very different but nice. I have a host 
brother who is about the same age as me and we get along very well, which is 
good because we share a room. I also have my first host pet it’s a cat… That 
weighs about 20 pounds who always is talking and sleeping on my pillow when I 
want to go to sleep. I try to move him but he is just soo large it is hard to 
grab him to pull him off so I just kind of poke his belly until he moves.I also have two older sisters that are not home very often an a grandma who likes 
to tell me I’m too skinny and I need to eat more(in that respect she is very 
similar to my real grandma). My host brother is a really nice guy it’s just a 
shame we do not get to do much together because he is always busy studying for 
his next test or at cram school because his school doesn’t offer a course. I do 
take up every opportunity I can though to hang out with him. 

Recently I went on a trip to Kenting ( pronounced kending) for a spring break 
sort of thing. The beaches were beautiful the water was so clear and the coral 
was beautiful and this is all 20 feet off of the beach. We ended up staying in 
tents which was a really good bonding experience for us and we met some other 
foreigners that were down there as well. One of them from Spain actually came to 
Saint Augustine through a sister city program and knows some people I do. We 
both found this crazy because the world ain’t as big as some people make it out 
to be. I keep forgetting the sun is stronger down here so I keep on getting a 
little bit toasty after the beach or a day on the river. The most relaxing part 
of the trip was just to get away from the big city and rain to settle for some 
wide open spaces and blue skies. I will be returning there shortly for a class 
trip and hopefully this time I can go surfing ! It’s been way to long since I 
last was on a surfboard so it will be funny to see if I can pick it back up 

Overall Things over here seem to be winding down a lot as I approach my final 60 
days in Taiwan. I’m making new friendships that I know won’t last long but they 
will be worth it. Trying to do more because I know that there are something’s I 
haven’t done yet an places I haven’t seen. Trying to absorb the last bit of 
Chinese I can before I leave here because I know it will not be the same once I 
am home. Everything is just falling in to place and before I know it I’m gonna 
be landing in JAX airport. So for now I am going to live in the current, And 
live in the wise words of Ferris Bueller.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you 
could miss it.

Thank you Rotary once again,

Grant Zwolinski

Hadley Peterson 
2012-13 Outbound to Argentina
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Stanton College Prep
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 4845, Argentina
The Rotary Club of Resistencia Oeste

Hadley - Argentina

October 30, 2012

These past two months have been literally the best two months of my life. Not the easiest two months, but the best two months. They have included the best, hardest, happiest, and most miraculous moments of my life. I think that is what exchange is about…the moments. All the big and small moments that makes up your year and your memories.

It’s all the moments put together. The moment: where you get off your plane at the smallest “international” airport you have ever seen to be welcomed by your Rotarians and the people that will become your family and your friends, where you walk into your classroom on the first day of school only to be stared at and then asked a million questions in rapid fire feeling like you will never understand anything, when you have to give your first Rotary presentation and you are so nervous you swear you will drop dead right on the floor, when your birthday is during a 10 hour car drive but you don’t care because you are with your amazing host family seeing some of the most amazing landscapes of Argentina, when your classmates surprise you with a cake for your birthday at school, when you stand at the top of Iguassu Falls with 40 exchange students holding the USA flag over your head, when you give directions around your city in Spanish, when you can successfull y take the city bus without getting lost, when you have a dream and you swear it was in Spanish but unfortunately cannot remember precisely if it was or not, where you learn to dance Tango, where you see where Brasil, Paraguay, and Argentina all meet, when your 7 year old host sister draws you in her family drawing… I have experienced all of this and more in my first two months in Argentina. All of these emotions and more. It has been the most exhilarating two months of my life, and I know I only have more to come.

I have all of this to thank because of Rotary. I would like to send out a HUGE thank you to RYE Florida. When I came here I can honestly say I was the most prepared student in my district, and perhaps in all of Argentina. I knew more about the exchange program, Argentina, and Spanish than anyone else. (Well, minus the 3 Mexicans in my district…and the Brasilian…and the Italian…they knew a lot of Spanish…) But, RYE Florida prepares you well. The language prep you do before you go is well worth it, because when you get to your country you are going to feel like you have been hit by a language hurricane. It is so much harder than you have ever imagined. Luckily, I can talk about almost any subject without having to switch to English and sometimes my accent even sounds good. Even though, I have started Spanish classes here because the verbs still trip me up even though that’s what I studied most before I came here. And, I go to English schools to teach English in exchange for conversations in Spanish. (This is a great way to help the community and improve you language skills.)

I would like to apologize for how late this entry is. I have been so busy learning, living, and taking my first two months in.

Hola! I just passed my three month mark in Argentina. That is weird to think about. Time is going so fast and so slow all at the same time. It is turning into summer here which is also a weird thought. Usually it is about 90-100 F during the day, and it isn’t even “hot” yet. Most days we have airconditioning in the main parts of the house but a lot of the time the power goes out because I live kind of far away from the center of town. But it is okay, because during summer you spend most the time near the pool drinking terrere, which is mate but with juice and cold. However, I haven’t been home for the last 20 days. Which means unfortunately I wasn’t here for the last day of school which in Argentina involves lots of water balloons, shaving cream, silly string, eggs, and flour. But that’s okay! Because I just got back from the best 20 day travel of my life!

It was 20 days with 72 exchange students. We stayed the night in 5 cities, visited 15 others, went to at least 12 National Parks, and tallied a lot of kilometres and hours in the bus.

But it was well worth it. I had so many life changing experiences. We saw penguins as they walked right next to us, whales, seals, and dolphins as they swam right next to us, and we even got to pet llamas. We saw so many beautiful landscapes including deserts, volcanoes, mountains, snow, and GLACIERS. Speaking of, I WALKED ON A GLACIER. Not just any glacier, but the only glacier that is both landlocked and growing. We also saw it break apart which sounded like thunder. I swam in the Pacific Ocean, lakes, and the Atlantic Ocean- all which were freezing. I saw native Indian cave paintings, visited a hippie colony, went to a school to talk about the USA, went in the Canal Beagle, was part of a rally, and even met the President of Argentina (which if you didn’t know she is a pretty controversial person here.)

But it wasn’t all the cool things I did or saw that made this trip so amazing. It was the people I met and the feelings the trip gave me. I only fell in love with Argentina more during the trip. I only fell in love with being an exchange student more. I realized how amazing some of the things I am doing are. The trip made me so thankful for this year. It made me realize that no matter how difficult a moment may be I have people that support me and moments to look back on that are crazy amazing! I can’t explain how amazing the travel was, or how great it is to know you have bestfriends all over the world. But that is part of being an exchange student the pure happiness that you have just from living.

I would like to leave this journal with three separate little notes.
1) Congrats to all the newbies that have been chosen! Relax right now! Time flies by and before you know it you will be getting ready to leave! Feel free to talk to me if you have any questions, I know you do!
2) For those in their countries. We already got through Thanksgiving! We can do the holiday season! Just remember “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
3) Thank you so much Rotary. This is truly more than I could have imagined.


In 8 days I will have been here for 4 months. These have been the fastest, slowest, most exciting, agonizing, and emotional months of my life. I love it here and would not change one second. Even so, it is true that with exchange you get stuck in ruts. Whether it be you go on an exchange student trip and come back and everything seems just bland, when you feel like you cannot connect to your classmates because they are so much younger, if it is because you are about to have vacations for 3 months and the time seems lonely, or maybe it is because it is close to the holiday season and it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit and there are no signs of Christmas. Or maybe it is a mix of it all. Anyways, even if you feel a little down or a little confused- you are still going to be so thankful and amazed everyday for being in your country with your new family and friends. However, with the mix of emotions I had been having I just felt like I was lacking something in my life. I had been trying for about a month to set up a continual afternoon service job, but trust me the Rotary in other countries won’t always be like RYE Floirda and sometimes it just works differently- even though they still help so much.

Well, today I went to a “guarderia.” I went with Rotaract and Interact. I am so blessed to have such active Rotary youth clubs in my city. We went to the outskirts of my city, which is the capital of the poorest province in Argentina. A “guarderia” is a place where kids without parents or whose parents work during the day go. It was life-chaning, meaningful, and honestly one of the best days I have had in Argentina. We just played with the kids; soccer, arts, and dancing. It was amazing to see how happy these kids were with nothing. Some of the kids were there because their parents left them because of deformities, some kids didn’t have clothes that were clean or that fit, and there were babies without parents. It was a “guarderia” payed by the government. But it didn’t have fans or air, and in my province in the summer it gets to 115 degrees. They don’t have access to water either. It was a blessing to get to go there and help. W e helped put up a Christmas tree and decorate the whole place, and gave out presents for Christmas. I even brought candy canes and some pencils that my mom mailed to me from the USA (I thought they would go to better use here than with my friends.) The whole experience made me so thankful for what I have, my year here, and so much more. Walking home from the event I felt so alive, so full, and so satisfied. I know I am changing everyday here and learning more about myself, but this made me so aware that I just need to be helping people somehow in someway.

Sorry for the random trail of thought- this experience just meant so much to me. I just needed to write about it here for y’all!

March 7, 2013

I am unfortunate to say it has been a long time since my last journal post. I always wanted to be the exchange student that was updated on their RYE-FL blog posts, but I let myself down. Luckily, I have been keeping my blog on an independent website which I have linked previously here about every week.

Time flies on exchange. They always tell you that in the orientations, and the Rotex tell you that once January hits it flies by even faster. It is true. I have passed my 6 month mark and sadly I have only 3 months more here as I am writing this blog post.
They also always tell you that you will not want to return to Florida. And it isn’t that I do not want to see my family (I do), but I have fallen head over heels in love with my life here. Honestly, I can see myself returning here and living here happily. Sure, I do not live in the safest, most modern, or cleanest place. But I live in a place filled with happy people, simple life, full of passion, and I love it.

I think I will just describe pretty much what I have been up to lately and everything typical here.

I have been on summer vacation since I returned from my South Trip which was the end of November, and we don’t go back to school until March 18th. So basically I have had four months of school vacation. Most people in Argentina use this time to travel after the holidays happen, unfortunately I was unable to travel with either of my two host families during this time. Luckily, I got to visit the neighboring province of Corrientes. I got to go to the capital city of the province, went to see Carnaval, and went to the beach city of Paso de la Patria.

First off, I want to mention the holidays. It is so different here. I think mainly because we are used to such a commercial build up in the United States and our holidays are in the winter. Here I had Christmas in about 115 degree weather, and was in the pool. So the first big tradition for Catholic families here (which the majority are) is to put up your tree on the 8th of December. However, at least in the North of Argentina real trees are not used because they cannot be found. So plastic trees are common, and are usually really short. They are immaculately decorated with red, white, and gold. Homemade ornaments aren’t really common. The kids then write a letter to Papa Noel and put it in the tree, and eventually he will come and take it. On Christmas (24th), the family goes to mass and comes home to eat. Typical foods are cold foods and finger foods. At midnight the celebration begins, and you will notice it as everyone starts doing fireworks and toasts with champagne. There is even a countdown on the television, similar to our New Years countdown. You go into the street and greet all your neighbors. As this was happening, I cried from pure happiness. I was so overwhelmed by how beautiful the celebration of Christmas was. It just felt so pure and happy to me. Then you go back inside, and Papa Noel has delivered all the gifts. It isn’t like in the States, with loads of gifts. The family members don’t even gift to each other. Every person receives one gift. Then the teens, including me, go out with their friends and party until the sunrises. Which means the 25th is basically just a normal day, which is pretty different. New Years follows the same pattern. Toasts at midnight, fireworks, and partying. Except, my New Years was rained out- so no fireworks or partying. But it still was great!

Okay moving on, Carnaval was one of the most amazing experiences I have had here. Corrientes is the Carnaval Capital of Argentina. One parade of Carnaval lasts from 10 at night to 6 in the morning. You scream, dance, sing, take pictures, and use silly string. It was lots of fun and definitely a great insight into the culture.

In Paso de la Patria, I got to go to the river. You can see Paraguay on the otherside of the river so it is very cool. My current host-family has a house there. So I have plans to go down again and I am very excited.

I have spent the rest of the time of vacations in my city with my friends, and to be honest I am ready to get back to school. I will be joining the “Quinto” class which is like senior year. We have designed our special shirt that we will wear and we are getting ready to present it in May. (I will tell y’all more about that when it happens.)

I also changed host-families for the first time in February. It was really hard for me. I had become really attached to my first family. On my last night they showed me a video of all our moments together, including the videos of when I arrived at the airport and me drinking mate for the first time. When my mom dropped my off at my temporary host house (I stayed with an Italian exchange student for a week while I waited for my 2nd host family to return from vacations) the last thing she said to me was “I love you daughter. If you need anything, ever, we will always be here for you.” We both walked away crying. I can honestly say I am truly blessed with both my host-families. My second host family is just as great.

Ok, other things about my life:

Food: Breakfast is milk. You can drink it with coffee or chocolate, hot or cold. But there is always milk. Then maybe toast, or cereal, or cheese. Lunch is the biggest meal. The work and school day stop for lunch. It always has meat. It can have pasta, potatoes, milanesa, steak, basically anything goes. Salad is always present. But it isn’t how our salads are- it is ground up carrots, sliced up tomatos or potatoes, ever present mayonnaise, basically anything goes again. And for dinner leftovers are common or they call for food. And everything delivers here, I guess when there is no drive-tru you just call it to your house?

TV: Soccer, all the time. But you have to choose River or Boca. Novelas, and they all seem the same: you can’t tell who is dating who, who is pregnant with whose baby, and generally bad actors. Also when they end it is a huge deal, and reruns are always on. Also, it is okay for sex to be on TV.

Weather: I come from Florida, I should be accustomed to heat. But I am not. It is the same exact climate here. And I sweat myself to death everyday. I think it is because A/C is basically non-existent in the majority of places.

Transportation: The driving age is “18.” Tons of people drive before that though, which I think contributes to the hectic roads. Motos (motorcycles) are more common than cars because it is easier to find parking spots and they behave traffic rules even less. Bikes and pedestrians are common. Taxis and remis (taxis you call) are common too. Horse drawn carts are also a mode of transportation, but only for the lower class of people. Buses are very efficient here, but very expensive. In fact, they are the most expensive in my city than in the whole county.

What people think of me: I have had so many questions addressed to me because I am from the USA. Surprisingly, the majority of intelligent or interesting questions or responses are from taxi drivers. I have been asked if I knew Forrest Gump (I had to explain it was a fictional character), why so many people are shot in the USA (warning for future outbounds- please prepare intelligent gun awareness responses), and every sort of question I could have received about Obama. Here I am considered blonde, which is amazing for me. It is amazing for everyone here that I am from Florida, and have been to Disney and Orlando, and just horrifies them I have never been to Miami or NYC.

There you go some things about my life here in a nice long post to make up for not writing in so long. As I have been writing I have been thinking why I love it here so much. I have come up with some reasons. I love how the people sing, dance, and laugh so freely. I love the monkeys in the park. I love walking down the street to bakeries and fruit stands. I love the simple life. I love the people and the passion. I love how the families are so close and important to each other. I honestly, cannot, think of one thing I do not like. I am so thankful to be here.

March 15, 2013

This journal will be about what I have learned on exchange so far. I still have 2.5 months left, so it isn’t complete.

1) All the practical things; like use a bus, wash clothes and dishes by hand, how to register for school, how to use a taxi, how to cook…etc. Oh, and how to ration money, and convince the mail to give you your packet without paying the crazy income tax.
2)Always say yes.
3) Don’t sit at home when you can be outside running and exploring.
4) And don’t eat when you are having a hard day
5) Try to love your host-family and they will love you back.
6) The only people who understand you 100% are the other exchange students.
7) Always speak your host-language, or atleast tell your head is throbbing and you just need a little break.
8) Learn your host-language, don’t give up, and accept corrections.
9) It will be hard, of course it will. There will be days that just plain suck. Just don’t let it bug you, move on, and don’t think about home.
10) It doesn’t matter what people think of you. Do what you want to do.
11) Try everything once.
12) Take time to laugh everyday, every hour.
13) Be patient, life will take its course.
14) Responsibility and respect, are very important.
15) With effort you can reach any goal.
16) I will always have a second home (with two actual families) to return to
17) I learnt about dreams and adventures.
18) How to say goodbye.
19) How to make decisions and seize the moments.
20) And to love the USA even more as an American citizen.

And I love everything that I have learnt. It is all a blessing. I am so thankful. For the hard moments and the moments that lifted me up and made me remember why I decided to this. A year on exchange is a whole life. It is friends, families, and school. It is changing everything you knew. It is learning and growing. That is what exchange truly is and what I have learned the most.

April 28, 2013

Exchange is so weird with time. Your first months pass so slowly. You are learning and doing new things everyday. You count each week, each month as it passes… “I have been here 1 month, 2 months, 3 months and 2 weeks.” Then it hits Christmas and you think, “Where did all my time go?” or “I need to make a list of everything I have to do, because I only have a little bit of time left.” And then New Year’s passes and it is April, in literally a blink of an eye. And its seems that you did nothing special, you were just living life, but how did more than 3 months pass so quickly? You arrive at your 6 month anniversary in your country, and instead of counting how many months you have been here, you count how many you have left. And then comes the day that you have less than 2 months left, you are counting the weeks until you go back home. But you aren’t counting them in anticipation, you are cou nting them in dread. You realize you have to maximize your time, you tell yourself to stop sleeping so much… Then you notice how much you have done. How well you have done your year. You don’t have any regrets. People start telling you how little time you have left and start talking about things that will happen once you are gone… And you resent them a little.

I have 6 more weeks left. 6 weeks to live life to the maximum, to be with my friends and family here, to learn things, to do things… And I am starting to realize; that yes, my heart will break going home. I don’t want to leave. But my heart won’t break it will just make two little hearts and one will stay here. It will stay in my home in Argentina, and when I want I can return. I have done what I can here. I am not saying I am ready to hop on the plane by any means. But, I am thinking about returning without resentment now. I know that I have people who love me waiting on the other end. I have a life to continue. Adventures to have.

So time may go fast, and everyone will tell you not to pay attention to it. But it is inevitable. So just remember, do all you can to make this year the best you can. And, when you return take all you have learned with you.

Exchange isn’t only weird with time. But with all those feelings you get. You will be the most emotional person ever on exchange. You feel everything stronger and more passionately. But luckily there are the people in your life that are there for you forever. That is your family. I have had the best luck with my host families here. I was used to having my family be the 5 of us in the USA. We weren’t the kind to get together with our family every holiday and we don’t even call everyone on their birthday. But now my family is so much bigger, and so much more connected. I know that their is nothing like my mom’s hugs, or being silly with my sisters, or talking about everything with my dad. But I have met other people who are part of my other family with other amazing characteristics. I have a sister who jumps into my arms every time I see her, and another who helps me with any question I have. I have 3 brothers. That I can send music to, play futbol with, a nd I have never had a brother. I have 2 more sets of parents who love me. Who cry with me, talk with me, and help me. I have aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents… I see them every week or skype them or talk to them on Facebook. I have a group of sisters. Of exchange students. Who understand every up and down. And with whom I can talk about anything. And I have that person who I am inseperable with, my other half. Anna from Italy is truly my sister, and one of the most perfect relationships I have had in my life. I am blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me and love me. In every corner of the world (the world is round?). I know they will always be there for me. Even if I don’t see them or talk to them for awhile, they will be there. My family (the one in Florida) helped me become the person I am in 18 years. And my families here helped me adapt that person even more. I am forever thankful to the both.

I am thankful for so many things and people now. My exchange year was the perfect fit for me and I can’t thank Rotary enough for this year.

I went on exchange trying as hard as I could to arrive with no expectations. But, I still came with the expectation that this year would change me, yes or yes. I have had people ask me how am I changing and I never had a response. But I realize now it isn’t the drastic changes, it is the adaptations to what is already there. I am more passionate, I think more, and step-by-step I have become Argentinean (complete with love for mate, asados, and siestas.) I have developed a much stronger relationship with God during my exchange as well. All of this is due to how I live life here. I notice the daily blessings so much more here. I see the sunset and sunrise everyday. I notice the people who have nothing, and how blessed I am. I see the passion in the way people dance, talk, and act here. In their smiles and thoughts and actions. I notice the sky and the stars. I notice what I have in my life; both here and there more now. Something has changed in me. I don’t know if it was noticing what I have or what I don’t (from going to orphanages and hospitals and even walking down the street.) Or just adapting so 100% to another culture. But I know for sure this year was in plan for me, my life was supposed to have this year in Argentina. This year was made for me so I could learn how to learn, to help, and to notice. I know my year isn’t done yet. But I know that the expectation I had about changing and having to DO something is gone. I have learnt, grown, noticed, helped, smiled, and made relationships to last a lifetime.

What I have done in a month and a half:
-Went to Salta and Jujuy with my host-family. We saw all the cool things to see. I ate llama. I climbed mountains. I danced folklore.
-Participated in 2 government protests. [The president here has gone down 11% in the polls in just 2 months. It is now almost impossible to leave the country, get dollars, and the economics here are 67% likely to get worse this year]
-Went to a hospital and orphanage to give donations out to children. My province is the third poorest in Argentina. 38% of people are below the poverty line, and 52% of children aged 2-5 are malnourished.
-I went to the Museum of Memory. It was the largest clandestine center during the Dirty War. I learnt that lots of my family and friends here were affected personally.
-Started school for the year
-We had our “senior year” party. Where we paint shirts with our class number and get together with the other “seniors” for an asado in the afternoon and a party at night.

But most importantly I am living life here. I live my Argentinean life everyday. It doesn’t really matter if something “special” happens.

Kaylin Burgess 
2012-13 Outbound to Switzerland
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1980, Switzerland
The Rotary Club of Zug-Kolin

Kaylin - Switzerland

How do I explain the best two and a half months of my life in one journal entry? It almost seems impossible to me that it has really been two and half amazing months in Switzerland. It feels like it was just yesterday when I arrived in the airport to meet the family that I would be living with until December.

When I said goodbye to my family in Jacksonville I didn’t feel as sad as I had expected. I knew I was about to begin an adventure unlike any other. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. The flight was long and really tiring. But I was really lucky to have Matt from Connecticut to fly with me. When we got off the plane we were both beyond freaking out. I was so nervous to meet my host family and see my new country for the first time. When I walked out into the main part of the airport I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was trying to push my 3 suitcases on a cart that was taller than me; therefore it was really hard to see anything. I couldn’t really hear anything either because everyone was shouting. My head was spinning and I felt like I was in a movie or something, then all the sudden I heard someone call my name and I saw my host parents for the first time. They were holding a sign that said my name and they looked really friendly. When I walked over to them they each gave me 3 kisses on the cheek. In Switzerland the kisses are really confusing. Close friends give one kiss on the cheek, family gives three, and then other people sometime one, two, or three. Therefore in the beginning I always found myself dreading the hellos and goodbyes because I was always unsure of how many for each person. But after a couple months I got completely used to it and it seems weird to not do it now. With my host parents in the airport were my YEO, Bernard, and my friend Nina, who was an Inbound to Florida last year. Bernard was extremely nice and it was so good to see Nina again. Having Nina there made me feel so much more comfortable and it was also cool to see her in her native country. In the airport was the first time I tried Rivella and I’m not going to lie it was a bit strange at first. Rivella is a fizzy drink but Swiss people drink it like Americans drink Gatorade. Now that I have had it a few times I love Rivella and I find myself drinking it really often. My first impression of Switzerland was that it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Literally you can go anywhere and everything looks like a post card. 
My first encounter with difference in Switzerland was the doors. In Switzerland the doors are very different. They are a little bit difficult to close and they have an extra piece that covers the crack between the door and the wall. Then, when I try to lock them I have to do it with a key and it doesn’t always work… Then to unlock them it doesn’t work as well so I can find myself helplessly locked in the bathroom.

Other differences:
• Everyone here drinks water with bubbles and most people think that natural water is gross. However, I think water with bubbles is the so disgusting and personally it hurts my throat.
• Everyone here smokes… really everyone. It is impossible to walk down the street here and not smell smoke.
• There are cows everywhere in Switzerland and I have a strange fascination with them so every time I see one I always want to go up and pet it and for Swiss people the cows are like no big deal. Also the cows wear bells so you always hear cow bells everywhere you go.
• Bread and chocolate are their own food groups in Switzerland and naturally they’re delicious. 
• Hiking is huge in Switzerland and biking as well. I have been warned that biking is really intense here so I haven’t gone yet. But I have gone hiking a few times and I don’t think hiking and I are the best of friends… All the time I see really old people on the bus in hiking gear and I always wonder how they do it… Swiss people are like superhuman.
• Nobody can really say my name properly here so it has turned into Kyleen
• Everything is really small and close together here which is much unlike the U.S.
• Public transportation is huge here and one of my absolute favorite things. Switzerland is known for their excellent transportation system. I can reach any village in the whole country via public transport so cars are almost unnecessary. The trains and buses are extremely clean and comfortable so there is no reason to not use public transport. Rotary Switzerland purchases a GA for all exchange students which allows us to use all public transportation in the whole country for free. That has been one of the nicest things for me here because it makes it extremely easy to make day trips to see all of Switzerland. 
• Public transport in Switzerland is also known for being extremely punctual. Therefore, absolutely everyone in Switzerland must wear a watch. People are always in a bit of a rush here to catch the next train/bus/etc. 
• I think that for me the biggest difference between Switzerland and the U.S. is the people. In the U.S, I see so many individuals. There are so many different races and people with different styles of clothing. But in Switzerland most people look relatively similar and dress more or less the same.

I have been extremely lucky with my host family in Switzerland. They are so wonderful, I really love them. I have a host sister who is currently doing an exchange year in Peru and I have a host brother who is doing his Swiss military year and is home on the weekends. In Switzerland every male is required to undergo military training but since the Swiss military in not active all of the men in training are allowed to come home on the weekends. My host brother is in a special part of the military that plays music because he is a really good saxophone player. So he trains for military while also doing all the military music concerts. When I first found out that my host brother would only be home on the weekends I was a bit nervous because I have never been an only child before and I thought it might be a bit awkward. But I couldn’t have been any more incorrect. I like my host brother, but I’m glad that I have had the weeks with just my host parents. It has gi ven me a better opportunity to form a great relationship with them. My host family is quite special because on the right side of our house is my host dad’s father’s house and on the left side are my host dad’s uncle, aunt, and kids. So I really feel like its a little family community here. Also every Saturday the whole family gets together and has coffee. I really like this tradition because I have gotten to know the other family members as well.

School here is good. It is really different. In school I was able to pick what my main subject would be so I chose economics and law. I have 13 subjects which include Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, Math, English, French, German, Sport, Art, Media, Economics, and Law. In school here I stay with the same people for every class which is kind of nice because I have gotten to know all the people in my class really well but it also not so nice because I haven’t gotten to meet very many other people. My class was really welcoming and nice. My host sister from my 3rd family is in my class so I have gotten to know her quite well so now when I live with her it will be nice because we already know each other. School is a little difficult especially in the beginning when I didn’t understand anything, but I had to give a presentation for a project in German for Biology. That was embarrassing to say the least. In the very beginning of school I had a German clas s that I attended for 4 weeks every morning for about 3 hours and then I went to normal school. I found that really helpful because I could learn German and still make friends with my class mates.

Learning German in Switzerland is really difficult because they don’t speak the normal High German, they speak Swiss German. Swiss German is basically High German if you take out all grammatical rules and say words however you feel like with some throat noises thrown in there as well. Now that I have been here for two and a half months I can understand almost everything when people are speaking in High German and I can understand some things in Swiss German. However, speaking is really difficult and that is something that I am really going to have to work at. It takes so much courage to say anything and that is something that I definitely wasn’t expecting.

I live in Zug, Switzerland and it is a bit different than other cities in Switzerland. Zug is really international so when I walk around the city I always hear other foreign people as well. I like it because it is different but it can also be a little bit annoying because absolutely everyone speaks English here. Zug is also really small and there is only one high school so all the exchange students are in the same school. There are 11 of us in the same school and that has been really nice because I have gotten to know people from all over the world really well and we are like a little family. I have also made many Swiss friends in my school and on the weekends everyone hangs out by the lake in Zug, which is really beautiful. I was surprised at how quickly I made Swiss friends because before I came I was told that Swiss people are more reserved and harder to make friends with but I didn’t really feel that way. I felt immediately welcomed so for that I am really lucky.

My Rotary club is here was also really welcoming and nice. My Rotary club is a bit different than a typical Swiss Rotary club because the club is entirely couples. I think it is really cool to have a Rotary club of couples because it gives the couples something to do together for the benefit of society. I have been to my Rotary club meeting twice and the last time I went I was invited to the Swiss National Circus and I am really looking forward to that.

I have had the opportunity to do many awesome things while I have been here such as:
• I went on a boat ride on the lake of the Luzern with my host parents and then we rode the steepest cogwheel railway in the world up the mountain Pilatus. From there I walked up the rest of the mountain and I could see what seemed like the whole country from the top. It was really beautiful. 
• I went on a cave tour with the other exchange students and a Rotarian. It was really cool to see the inside of the cave which was under a mountain. The cave is always ten degrees Celsius and being a Florida girl, I was freezing. 
• I got to go to the French speaking part of Switzerland to see my host brother perform in a military concert. It was really nice to see the French speaking part because it is an entirely different culture than the German speaking part even though it is in the same country. People in the French speaking part are a little bit more go with the flow than in the German speaking part. My host brother’s concert was really cool because he performed with bands from Russia, Scotland, England, France, and the Netherlands. At the beginning of the concert they started to announce things in French and I was thinking to myself oh no… But then when they started to translate into German I felt myself really relieved. It was a weird feeling to be relieved that the announcements were in German because before German seemed so confusing. That weekend my host family and I stayed in a hostel which I thought was really cool because I had never stayed in one before. 
• I have already had one Rotary weekend where I hiked up a mountain with 60 other exchange students and then stayed in a house on the top. That was one of the best weekends of my exchange because I got to know all of the other exchange students and the view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking. 
• During the fall break I got the chance to go to Italy, which has always been a dream of mine. The food in Italy was so good and the culture is quite different as well. While I was in Italy I saw the leaning tower of Pisa, soaked up the sun at the beach, went to Florence, went to Portofino, and went to Genoa.
• I also had the opportunity to go to Germany. I toured the beautiful city of Frankfurt and had the chance to see my German friend that my family hosted last summer. Germany felt the most similar to America that I have been to yet. It was really nice to hear High German everywhere because I could understand almost everything that was going on. While in Germany, I went to a blind museum. It was such a cool experience. In the museum they gave me a stick and then told me to go into a room with nine other people that is completely dark. Then they simulate it to make me feel like I am in a train station and other normal daily activities. The blind museum was absolutely terrifying because well obviously I couldn’t see anything but I also couldn’t communicate very efficiently either because the whole tour was in German.

Being away from Switzerland made me realize how nice it is. Switzerland is the closest to perfect I think a country can get. There is very little crime here and the country is so clean. It is now the end of my fall break and I will return back to school tomorrow. In November I will take a trip to the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland and in December I will move to my second family.

Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime!

So much happens in one year, especially in one year away from the place I have been for my entire life. This is experience brought wonderful people, experiences, and a new country into my life. I have eaten Italian pizza, seen the Berlin wall, and hiked in the Swiss Alps. I have been to more places than I ever thought I would be able to visit at age 17. I have gotten to know a new culture that I respect and love. I spent Christmas away from my family. I have gotten comfortable speaking to people in a language other than my own. I have made friends who live all over the world and also a close group in Switzerland. I have learned that in many ways people are the same and also very very different. I have been shown how accepting people can be to strangers by the ways home were open to me with welcoming arms. This experience has taught me to appreciate my own family so much more and to really enjoy every moment of time. Not every moment of any year is sunshine and butterflies and of course there were some low points, but I know that the low points were almost more important than the high ones. I have gotten to know the world a little better and I can now walk around with a sense of confidence that I can always find my way. I am no longer nervous about new experiences and instead accept new challenges with ease. The time goes ever too quickly, but I know I will return someday soon to my now second home. I am really excited to see what is in store for me going ahead and I will take allI have learned from this year with me into the future. Thank you to all the people who made this experience possible for me and supported me when things were hard.

Kendall Hale 
2012-13 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: St. Johns, FL
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2230, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Warszawa-Jozefow

Kendall - Poland

September 11, 2012

It has been one month since I arrived in the beautiful city of Warsaw, Poland. Putting into words everything that Poland has brought to my life, in just one month, is almost impossible! This month has been the most stressful, crazy, tiring, exciting, and definitely the most amazing month of my life! Okay, it is best to start from the beginning.

Before I came to Poland I was really nervous about the plane ride here. I had never been out of the country before and I was so nervous that my bags would get lost or that I would get lost! Because of this fear, I was going to make it a priority to fly to Poland with one of my closest friends Leslie Gibson (she is also an outbound from FL in Poland). We met up in the Orlando airport and we both said goodbye to our families (and of course cried a little). We were so lucky because the flight attendant let us both take an extra bag without paying any extra money and she made sure we were seated next to each other on both of our flights! Our flight to Frankfurt was easy (and on time) and after only an hour layover, we flew quickly and safely to the Warsaw airport. We were both greeted by our families and before I knew it I was in a taxi on my way to my new home. My fears of the flight were gone and now I could focus on Poland!

We arrived in Warsaw about 3:00 pm and from that moment until 12:00 am I was on the go! I was so excited to finally be in Poland that I forgot I was even tired. My host mom and host sister spent the next day and a half showing me the city they love. The most amazing thing about Warsaw is the way they show their history. The people know the struggles they have been through in past times and they make sure to show just how far they have come. Walking down an average street, you can expect to pass shrines and memorials of WWII. Everything means something and I was in ‘information overload’ my first few days here with facts on everything we passed. Every building, bench, and statue had a different story that meant so much to my family; it was amazing!

My third day in Poland, I was on my way to Krakow for a two week language camp with all (or almost all) of the inbounds in Poland. These two weeks were very interesting haha. They were awesome but stressful all at once (sounds like the exchange life haha). The inbounds in Poland are so amazing and we all had a lot of fun on our trips around Krakow. We visited churches, malls, and salt mines during our camp. The stressful part came during the polish lessons! Polish is a VERY difficult language especially if you are like me and have never learned another language (except American Sign Language which, although I love, doesn’t help very much with learning Polish). We had 4 hours of lessons a day and once again, I was in overload!

I’m not going to lie; I was very excited to go back to Warsaw. I am officially in LOVE with this city! There hasn’t been one moment that I wished I was in another city. My host family is AMAZING and the people in Warsaw are awesome! I was told by a lot of people that the people in Poland, Warsaw especially, were going to be much colder than those in the South. I was happily surprised to find out this was not the case! Everyone is so friendly and I can’t help but smile everywhere I go! I live with just my host mom because my sister, Milena, went to the US on exchange. I miss her terribly but I know she is having an awesome time just like I am! My host mom and I get along almost too perfectly! She is so caring and always takes care of me (and makes sure to feed me a LOT). I love her so much and I don’t want to leave her!
This past Monday I started school here in Poland and it is quite different to that in the US. Despite the difference, I am already having a great time at school! I have English class a few days a week and it makes me laugh when I get questions wrong (which actually happens more than it probably should seeing that English is my first language haha). I don’t understand much of anything in school ,but I try and listen to everything and pick out the words that I do understand. I have Polish lessons every day in school and I hope to get a tutor soon because I am VERY determined to learn Polish! It is difficult because all of the teenagers, at my school especially, speak English very well.

Poland hasn’t just been a walk in the park like I have made it seem; a few things have been difficult to get use to haha. To begin with, I still haven’t fully figured out my shower here. You hang it up yourself on the wall and it always manages to fall off and get water all over EVERYTHING! Also, people in Poland drink ‘gazowana’ water (carbonated water). Anytime you order water in a restaurant, you get gazowana. I think the hardest thing to get use to, however, is the fact that they drink mainly tea so I am drinking a lot less water than I am used to back home! The idea of drinking just water seems foreign to them here! Also, I have never used public transportation before in my life so getting use to using a subway, train, tram, and bus (all in one day) can get very confusing! Finally, the public bathrooms here cost money! In most malls you can go for free but around the city it costs you money! The first time I went in one of these I got ye lled at, in Polish of course, for not paying the money at the door haha. All of these differences only make me love Poland more! EVERYONE READING THIS GO TO POLAND IT IS AMAZING!

I am already having the best time of my life and if you are reading this and are interested in being an exchange student DO IT! It won’t be easy, but it will 100% be worth it!

January 21, 2013

I have officially been in Poland for 100 days now! Even as I am writing it down, it doesn’t feel real! Looking back at my last journal entry makes me realize just how far I have come living in Poland. I’ve finally began to adjust to the Polish lifestyle and I am beginning to feel at home! My host mom and I are now at the point where we know enough about each other to live together like a real family. My room and my bed finally bring me comfort after a long day, and I have gotten used to the showers here (or almost) haha.

Since this is only a journal entry, and not a book, I will focus on just a few of the amazing things I have experienced while in Poland. To begin with, I had the opportunity to go with my class from school on an overnight trip to Krakow. I was the only exchange student who went and I am so glad I did! My classmates are so amazing. They tried to translate as much of the tours as they could and they always included me in everything they did. This was the first time I actually felt like I was making Polish friends which, to me, was definitely one of the highlights of my first 100 days in Poland. I honestly believe I have the BEST class in the world! They always invite me to go to girls nights at their homes and to hang out with all of their friends after school. I never feel excluded from the group and I feel like I can be myself in class without having to impress everyone. I think this is really important and I love them all so much.

In addition to my school life, my personal life here has been pretty interesting! In October half of the exchange students in Poland (around 20 people) went on a trip around Central Europe! This trip was so perfect and I couldn’t have had more fun anywhere else. We went to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. We had about a day in each city and I honestly could have spent one month in each city and still have new things to see. Everything was SO unbelievably beautiful and I wanted to stay forever. My all-time favorite city was Prague because of how beautiful the city looks from a hill. All of the buildings are magnificent; by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

The next thing that has been, well, AMAZING, is all of the AMERICAN holidays here in Poland. Yes, I did say American holidays. In Poland they don’t really celebrate Halloween instead they celebrate the day after to honor those that have passed away in their families. Going trick-or-treating is not a common pastime here in Poland by any means. However, my amazing friends made Halloween possible in Poland. A few exchange students met up at my friend’s house from school all decked out in our Halloween costumes and ready to go cukiernik-albo-przyku. We went from apartment to apartment knocking on the doors and hoping for candy. Some families had us come in and take photos with them and others just gave us any kind of ‘treats’ they could find. One lady even gave us money and told us to go buy some candy that we like! Our bags were so heavy by the end of the night we didn’t even know how we would finish eating everything (but of co urse we did). Another holiday they don’t celebrate here in Poland is Thanksgiving (big shocker huh?). I knew that this time of year would be hard for me, especially this holiday, because my family back in the US always has a really big Thanksgiving with our entire family. My friends here knew this and they were determined to make my Thanksgiving the best yet and, somehow, they did just that. It really was the worst and best Thanksgiving of my life! It was the worst if you look at it from a normal Thanksgiving mindset. I didn’t spend time with my family, I didn’t eat turkey with tons of dessert, and I didn’t spend the day with fellow Americans. But if you look at it from my new viewpoint; today was the best Thanksgiving ever. I spent time with my NEW exchange family (they really are family to me now). I ate KFC (not exactly turkey but it did its job) with people who love me and I realized how thankful I am for this exchange and everything it h as given me. AND I spent the day with people from all over the world who were willing to celebrate a day that is important to me. I never have felt that thankful in my life and it really was the best day ever! The funny part is that out of the 15 people celebrating Thanksgiving at that KFC, only 2 of us were from the US.

Finally, the Polish holidays here have also been amazing. As I mentioned earlier, November 1st is a big holiday here in Poland. It is tradition to spend the entire day at the cemetery with your family lighting candles on the graves of the deceased. It is said that no grave is to be left unlit so the entire cemetery is covered in different colored candles! The cemeteries in Poland aren’t like those in the US they are much more magnificent. They are very old and every grave has a candle on it, especially on this holiday. I spent the entire day with my host mom looking at how beautiful the cemeteries were. Spending the day with my mom and being able to participate in something that was so important to her really was really great. November 11th is the Polish Independence Day and this is also a huge holiday in Poland. My Rotary Counselor organized an Independence Day Run that all of the exchange students went to. We ran (or should I say walked) the 3.2 km path and finished in last place. We might not have been the fastest people but we had a lot of fun participating!

I could go on and on of all of the amazing things I have done and seen in Poland but honestly, there is no real way to put into words just how incredible these past 100 days have been. One year ago I would have never been able to guess that I would have family, friends, and a life here in the beautiful country of Poland, but now I do. This exchange has helped me grow as a person already and I know in the months to come I will grow and learn even more! I know I’ve said it before but COME TO POLAND it is amazing! I can’t wait for my next 100 days here when I will be skiing in Italian Alps, vacationing in Budapest, Hungary and travel around Europe for a month sightseeing in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Monaco, and Italy.

April 2013

The first day of spring just passed and believe me, you would never imagine spring if you were living here! It has been five months of snow in this beautiful country of Poland. Everyone here keeps saying how they haven’t seen a winter like this in 80 years, but to me it’s the only winter I have known. Before coming to Poland, I way I wanted to live or attend college where it snowed because I HATED the heat in Florida. I conjured the thought of winter as images of snow as a white wonderland as described in a book; perfect. However, I didn’t take into account some of the things you might lose such as sunlight. I haven’t seen the sun in over 5 months. Actually, I take that back. There was one week of sunshine before the second round of winter hit. I actually find myself wishing for a little Florida heat and sunshine. Despite the weather, I have never been happier.

Starting tomorrow I will begin the last two months of my exchange and I have plans for every single day, most of which include my favorite thing — traveling. I leave tomorrow for my trip around Europe. We will be traveling to 7 different countries for 17 days with 30 exchange students living in Poland. When we return home, I will spend a few days in Krakow, Gdansk, and the mountains of Poland vacationing with my second and third host families. In June, I will have yet another weekend with ALL of the Polish exchange students at the beach. I will conclude the Polish exchange with attending a two-day concert festival before heading back home to Florida. All of this sounds so exciting, but, it is also a little sad. I want to enjoy every second before I have to leave but as I make my plans I can’t help noticing the calendar days and how quickly I’m running out of time! I wish I could spend so much more time here in Poland with all of my friends. The thought of leaving this amazing country and the wonderful people makes me so sad. Of course I miss my home, family, friends but I also know how much I will miss my new home, my new families, and my new friends. The difference is this — when I left Florida in August I knew that I would be returning in just one year, but, when I leave Poland in June I won’t know how long it will be before I return.

Instead of focusing on the things I have yet to do, I’ll tell you what I have already experienced in Poland since the New Year. Shortly after Christmas I switched to my second host family. This family was more amazing than I can describe. I had a mom, dad, and little 7-yr-old sister living at my house and sometimes my two older brothers would visit. They had been my best friend’s first host family so I knew them really well before even moving in with them. Since my first host family consisted of only a host mom, it felt like I was part of the family again and I loved it! I actually enjoyed staying in with them and even going grocery shopping was fun with them. During my stay with them another Brazilian exchange student moved in and became my sister. Every day after eating dinner, we would sit with our mom and talk for hours. I was truly happy. When Easter came, it was time to switch to our third host families. Leaving was difficult since I had grown so at tached to this family. I cried. I could not imagine being so close with another family. I have been with my third family for a week and a half and I am happy to say they are as amazing as the family before! I didn’t think it was possible to be as happy as I was, but I honestly am. I live with my mom, dad, 14-yr-old sister, and 10-yr-old brother. I also have an older brother who studies abroad and visits on holidays. I have been so blessed to have some amazing families that opened up their lives and homes to me. I will treasure them always.

Since I have lived in Florida almost my entire life, I had never seen snow before. This being said, it was obvious that I had never been skiing before either. To me this concept seemed impossible and terrifying but I would soon learn otherwise. I took a trip to Italy with another Rotary club along with 10 other exchange students. I also went with Przemek Gorbat who was on exchange to Florida (my city actually) last year from Poland. Having the opportunity to see him in Poland was so amazing for me. We stayed in Livigno, Italy for one week and it was perfect. I was also lucky enough to see my close friend from Florida, Kaylin Burgess, who is on exchange in Switzerland. The trip as a whole was just amazing as I learned some key concepts of skiing and also just got to spend time with people I love in an amazing city. Shortly after arriving to Poland, I had another opportunity to go skiing in Zakopane with my second host family. Along with my best friend Monique, we all went for one week to ski. I was given a ski instructor and by the second day I was going down the big slopes. I had so much fun being with family and friends in the snow and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Both of these trips were so amazing and I will remember them forever.

In Florida, before I had my own car, my parents would chauffeur me around. I remember always thinking how nice it would be when I got to Poland. I knew that public transportation would soon become my life but I never fully grasped what this meant. When I first arrived in Poland I was a little intimidated, but I quickly became proficient and comfortable using public transportation for everything from attending school (there are no school buses here), shopping, sightseeing and traveling. I loved that I could get so far with very little effort. I was reading 2 or 3 books a week while traveling on public transportation. Once the snow starting falling, it wasn’t so appealing. My second host family lived 1 hour and 30 minutes from my school. Unfortunately the bus only came every 30 minutes so if you didn’t plan your trip EXACTLY, you could miss the bus and have to wait 30 minutes in the cold wet snow. With my third family, I use the metro and a bus to make the h our trip to school. Luckily, I have had my fellow exchange students living with me or near me so I rarely have to make these trips alone. I have learned that a 2 hour trip is nothing; it could just be you going to school. The 2 hour driving trips to Orlando from my house don’t seem so long now.

Overall, my exchange has been just what I had hoped it would be. My time in Poland has been perfect. I lived by the advise Rotary gave us “Don’t make expectations,” “Keep an open mind,” and “Your exchange is what you make it.” I didn’t have preconceived ideas or expectations to meet and live up to. Of course it has had its ups and downs. It wouldn’t be real if it wasn’t and I appreciate the ups even more. My exchange has been AMAZING, MIRACULOUS, INCREDIBLE, ASTOUNDING, and MARVELOUS. I am grateful every single day to Rotary for allowing me to have this astonishing opportunity that will help me in the future. I’ve learned so much about Polish people, their lifestyle and culture. I’ve learned about adaptation, accommodation and compromise. Most of all I have learned about myself. I am even eating vegetables now and enjoying it. I cannot wait to see what my last two months have in store for me. I just pray the time goes by VERY SLOWLY!

Maddie Tibbetts 
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
School: Ponte Vedra Beach High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 4760, Brazil
Club TBA

Maddie - Brazil
November 2012

These past 2 months have been the best of my life. Brazil is so indescribably wonderful, but according to my agreement with Rotary I have to attempt to describe my time here.

Everybody tells you time flies on exchange, but for me those were the same people that said that high school would fly by. So of course I didn’t believe them. I’ve been here for over two months, that’s 1/5 of my exchange gone. That’s 25% of the best year of my life, over. Days, weeks, MONTHS pass and I’m left astounded and wondering where all that time went. So please, all you future exchange students, promise me you will realize that your time on exchange is very short and don’t allow yourself to waste a moment of it.

Although time has flown by, I feel proud of how I’ve spent it. I live in a very small town named Varzea Da Palma. When I say small, I mean truly tiny. When I first heard the news that I would be living in a town a little smaller than Sawgrass and Marsh Landing combined (residential neighborhoods in my home town) I was disappointed. Upon my arrival I realized my initial disappointment was absolutely ridiculous. Although I live in a small town, I still live in Brasil. It’s still radically different from anything I’ve ever experienced and every day is better than the last.

An average day for me consists of school from 7:15 until 12:15, a traditional Brazilian lunch from 12:30 until all the food is gone, A city wide nap from whenever lunch ends until 14:00, then I volunteer at the local orphanage from 15:00 until 19:00. After all of that I’m free to hang out with my lovely host family, go to festas (parties) or boates (nightclubs) with my host sister, or just grab some delicious acai with my friends.

I adore my host family. I have yet to switch host families yet and I don’t think I want to. But here’s hoping my next host family is as lovely as my first. I currently live with my host father, Pio, my host mother, Nadia, and my host sister, Ariella. I’m so grateful to Rotary for giving me such a perfect first host family.

Having a host sibling around your age is amazing. Ariella and I do absolutely everything together. From day one Ariella has been helping me, with my Portuguese, with school, with making new friends, with everything. I also had the good fortune to be placed in my sister’s class. I’m currently in the third year at CNEC. I’m the Brazilian equivalent of a senior.

I just got back from my first inbound orientation; in our statewide district we have 47 exchange students. We had to part ways two days ago, and we already miss each other greatly. Our orientation was the best one I’ve ever been to. How many Rotary orientations end with spelunking in hundred year old mines? We toured the beautiful cities of Ouro Preto and Belo Horizonte. These two cities alone hold so much history; I loved every minute of our time there. Although none of the exchange students are Brazilian, we’ve definitely all become accustomed to spending nights singing and dancing together. I can’t wait to see them all again on the northeast trip!

I was able to stay an extra day in Belo Horizonte (beautiful horizon) with the lovely Katharina. Katharina is a 16 year old from Germany; she lives in Montes Claros which much to my dismay is nearly 3 hours outside of my small city. My city is small and sort of secluded; therefore I’m an hour away from the closest exchange student. Although being the only exchange student in my city can be lonely, I feel that it allows me to delve even deeper into Brazilian culture.

I love Brasil, my town, my family, and all my new friends. I’ve never been happier; the culture here is so vastly different. My language skills have improved immensely and I couldn’t be more proud of how far they’ve come. Learning a language is not easy but it’s rewarding. I’m so thankful for this amazing opportunity rotary gave me and all the hard work Rotarians did to get me to this point.

Madison Smith 
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1630, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Malmedy Hautes-Fagnes

Madison - Belgium

November 1, 2012

So here it is, I’ve been in belgium for 49 days. I’ve learned that I’m a horrible packer, I have no clothes for this freezing weather! (Today was 1 degrees celsius…) How to properly hold my spoon and my fork, that a lot of words are the same in french as in english, Europeans love America and American icons, but hate the “American Way.” That I miss my dog, my family, Sunshine, The beach, waves, the smell of the salty air and the warmth! but I’ve also learned that I love belgium! the different culture, the language, the new friends I’ve made, the chocolate, the close distance between different countries, the friendliness, and how welcoming belgians are. Also the way my host dad and real dad are so similar. How my host sister and i had an automatic “sisterly bond.” <3 Wearing cute scarfs, The cow farm next door and feeding the babies. 
But lets rewind to my first few days. I left the safety of my family and friend, my sweet little town, and my beloved country to arrive in a place unknown. It was my first plane flight from Jacksonville FL to Philadelphia PA, alone I might add.. At first I cried a little bit, but my long plane flight from Philly to brussels Belgium made me feel 10X worse.. an 8 hour flight felt like 20 and I cried for the majority of the time, not only because I was leaving everything I’ve know for 18 1/2 years, but because I didn’t know what to expect once I got there! The food tasted horrible and I couldn’t sleep. Finally, I arrived on August 21, it was overcast. When I first saw my host mom I went to hug her, she went to bisous (kiss) me on the cheek. Once I finally realized what she was doing it was too late we were already walking to the car. Not much was said on the car ride home, due to them not being able to understand me, and me not being able to understand them. Once we got home we ate lunch out in the back yard at the picnic table. I went and tried to unpack and to discover my new house. My neighbors came over a few hours later to greet me, although they were never nice. I didn’t go to sleep until about 12 that night I had been up for more then 24 hours. The next day my neighbor Dorita, who is my host moms best friend came over and we went into our cute town named Malmedy. One of the only things I knew how to say was hot fudge sunday and ham (dame blanche and jambon) so they took me out for hot fudge sundays, assuming I loved them since I knew the word. Yes, they were amazing! Over the next few days I tired to become acclimated to the time and weather and my new surroundings. Finally, I got to meet the other exchange student, who ended up living next door to me. His name is Yael, from Mexico. We have become very close, since were the only ones who understand what it’s like. Over then next few weeks my new family took me to s ee Liege, Luxembourg, and took me to shop for about a straight week! which of course I didn’t mind at all. The exchange students met in Brussels one weekend and got to see parliament and the beautiful town, and all the exchangers from so many different countries. After a little bit of time Yael and I took a trip to Liege at about 6:45 we decided it was time to catch the train home, we got lost on the way to the station and for some reason thought our train would still be there once we finally arrived. so we got on and after a hour of riding (when our destination was only 45) we realized we didn’t recognize anything we saw pass by out of the train window.. We finally found the train guide and asked where we were headed, and he replied Berlin Germany… once the shock of heading to a different country very far from our town set in, we realized we should get off at the next station. We did and there was not a single person there. So, we called Yael’s mom, a nd she came to the rescue, although she laughed at us the whole way home. We should have arrived home at 8:00 and instead arrived home at 10:45, with my first day of school the next day. On my first day of school it was easy to make friends, a lot easier then I thought it would be, people just kept coming up to me, even though I wasn’t understanding a word they said. But they were all very nice and welcoming. At 1:00 we had a “meeting” in the courtyard, it was to announce that Yael and I were at the school and everyone needed to welcome us very kindly. I didn’t know what the principle was saying but once I heard “the Mexican and American Yael and Madison!” then everyone one looked at us. The next few weeks went by quickly. I became acclimated to my school and family’s routine. I love eating chocolate and Hot tea at 5:00 when I get home from school. I don’t like waking up at 6am to get ready for school though, and having my school day s 3 hours longer than normal is a little bit rough. I find it strange how small Belgium is, and how close it is to its surrounding countries yet people do not travel often. To drive 45 minutes away to the next big town is a big deal! I think its quite funny, considering we drive 2 hours to Orlando and drive to Jacksonville all the time and its no big deal. About 2 weeks ago my Art History class took yael and I to Paris, it was an amazing site to see! We saw the Eiffel Tower when it was lit up, the louvre museum, The Lock Bridge, Noter Dame and The Arch of Triumph. The best part of all was that I saw a man with a Florida Gators sweatshirt on! If you know me you’ll understand why this was such a big deal. Go Gators! The first time I saw snow was this week, I went outside at about 10pm and thought it was rain until I realized how white and big the pieces were. If it hadn’t of been so cold I would have stayed out there for ever to watch how pretty it was. Sunday mornin g I woke up to find it all over the ground. Although I love seeing the snow, a Florida girl is not cut out for this weather! I will travel to London to see a friend on Nov. 2nd which I am very excited about! I went skiing in a fake snow place and it was one of the hardest things i’ve ever tried! But I’m going with my host sister and her friend for a week the day after christmas to the Alps in Austria… Skiing that will be a funny sight for everyone to see! My host family is taking me to poland to see Auschwitz, since I find it very interesting, and I will also go to Italy with my Rotary here for 11 days along with a bunch of other students in Rotary. Needless to say I now love to travel! I can’t wait to see what my upcoming months have to offer! J’aime la Belgique

Mallory Morse 
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1620, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Charleroi

Mallory - Belgium

November 2012

In front of me stood the extensive airport security and behind me lingered my family, waiting for the imminent goodbye. I glimpsed back, giving them a reassuring smile as I fought back tears, knowing I wouldn’t be seeing them again for twelve long months. With luggage in hand and a prayer in my head, I stepped into what is known to be the greatest year of an exchange student’s life.

Living independently from my family, seeing the world’s most beautiful cities, and tasting foods I never dreamed existed is only the beginning of all that is Rotary Youth Exchange. Apart from gaining once-in-a-lifetime memories, I am acquiring a lifetime’s worth of lessons and knowledge.

Living in a foreign country has opened my eyes to the diversity of the world’s beliefs and lifestyles. I have witnessed the differences first-hand and have grown to appreciate them. Some nuances of Belgian culture, any American is bound to question: whether it be men drinking Belgium’s signature beer for breakfast or redundantly kissing all 26 of your school mates’ cheeks every morning. True submersion occurs only when you stop questioning the culture. The moment I sat down with the old men drinking Jupiler and felt insufficiently greeted without my morning “bisous” was when I truly appreciated and adapted to this new way of life. I recognize that differences aren’t negative, but a chance to understand and share new ideas.

When I first arrived in Belgium, I had never spoken any French. Teaching myself how to listen, understand, and speak a new language was my first and foremost responsibility. After two months of translating sentences word-by-word and willing my brain to remember vocabulary from hundreds of flash cards, countless headaches have come, but so has progress. One of the best moments you will experience as an exchange student is when you catch yourself using foreign expressions in your head as you do things. In French, a very popular phrase is “comme ça” which means “like that” and when I’m doing work, I say it I’m my head without thinking about it.

I am defined by where I come from, where I have been, and where I plan to go. Luckily, Belgium is so small, I have already been across the entire country. I have also been to France and England, and plan to travel to Italy and German soon as well. With each new country I see, I get to experience a different culture and meet people who expand my view of the world. I’m quickly discovery how vastly different people are on the other end of the spectrum. As each day passes, I’m realizing who I want to be, and on which end of the spectrum I belong.

January 2013

Well, I have been in Belgium for a little more than 4 months now. Nearly half of my exchange is over and it’s extremely difficult to grasp that concept. It feels like I’ve just arrived, but also like I’m living a life I’ve always known. I suppose the best way to give an accurate glimpse of what an exchange in Belgium is like is to share a bit about different aspects of daily life.

Here in Belgium people dress pretty well for school. For me, that’s normal because in Florida I went to an art school and my friends and I would always get pretty dolled up for school. However my Canadian best friends always whine about how at home they could show up to school in slippers and “bunny hugs” (what Canadians call hoodies…). Apart from the sweater or dress and heeled boots I usually wear for school I also have to add a heavy jacket and a scarf. It’s cold here. Not only is it cold, but it’s wet, which makes going outside rarely sound desirable.

When I’m finished getting prepped for school, I eat breakfast with my host family, and to your surprise, no we don’t eat waffles every morning. My host mom drives me to school, or I take the bus. There are a lot of schools within very short distances of each other in Belgium because every school has grades k-12. Belgians kids are very welcoming to exchange students: my fellow exchange student and I are friends with everyone in our grade, but of course have our close knit circle, too. Everyone else at the school knows who we are, even if we don’t know them: thats part of being an exchange student. If you are “the American” at school, at a party, or anywhere you go, somehow EVERYONE knows you and usually want to talk to you or even take pictures with you, like you’re Taylor Swift or something!

The school schedules are very different here: I have a different number of classes everyday and the teachers are in different rooms everyday, which was very confusing my first week! I take French classes with 6th graders and have English, religion, geography, calculus, and gym with rhéto (seniors). Gym is very different from home also, for example, this last month we went to a rock climbing center for class.

One perk of the Belgian school week is that on Wednesdays all the schools across the country finish at lunch time. Us exchange students (about 300 kids) take advantage of our short day and always get together after school. We take the trains and spend our Wednesday afternoons getting frites and seeing a new city.
On weekends, my friends and I go to festivals, parties or just take a train to a new city to explore. With our “go pass” we can travel to and from any city in the country for just 10€. I have seen all of the major cities in Belgium, just traveling with my friends: Brussels, Liège, Anvers, Brugge.. The list goes on.

When I’m at home, I hang out with my host family. They all watch American shows here, especially Desperate Housewives and crime shows. My host mom cooks a delicious meal then we all watch a show together in the living room and have fruit for dessert. Then I go to sleep and start it all over the next day.

A lot of days in exchange are just normal, boring days; you can’t expect everyday to be crazy incredible. You will have ups and downs and some days when you won’t even understand why you chose to leave everything you know and love to come on exchange. BUT, then you have one of those crazy incredible days that no one you’ve ever known can say they have experienced and you’re reminded why you came. You’re 100% guaranteed to have at least one of those amazing days, and once you do, you realize that day is worth 364 boring days.

March 2013

I only have three months left. How is that possible? Time has gone by so fast and I have experienced so much since I left my home on August 18th of last year.

I’ve made best friends: some of which are just a couple hours from my home town, some who call Belgium their home, and some who live even further than where I am now. I have explored and know well an entire country which was once completely foreign to me. I can speak and understand a language of which before sounded as far from my own language as a bark of a dog. I have eaten foods I never even heard of and have tasted drinks I will be searching frantically for when I get home.
I have sipped wine in the south of France, with a host mom that has adopted me as her own daughter. I crossed the channel to London; ate fish and chips, saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the British museum and every other major landmark in London. I explored the dreamy city with my best friends from the U.S. and Canada as well as spent an evening out with some real live Brits. I’ve had my first white winter and my eyelashes have now caught countless snowflakes. I spent Christmas with a family other than my own and watched my baby sister open her gifts through a Skype screen. I counted down to the New Year six hours earlier than I would have at home, standing under fireworks in the capitol of Europe. I have traveled to Budapest and Warsaw, reuniting with my fellow RYE Florida exchange students and spending a week seeing places I never imagined I would. I’ve soaked in the hot baths of Hungary and watched the sunset over Pest from the top of a castle. I’ve eaten re al Polish pirogues and lived a day in the life of a fellow Floridian exchanging in a country even colder than mine. I’ve dressed up in costumes for countless festivals and celebrations that have become as dear to me as the Belgians who made them worth while. I have been shocked by many traditions and even disgusted by some others. I have come to think like a Belgian: an hour train ride is too long, it’s never too early for a Jupiler, and a bit of sun is a rare gift from God.

I shouldn’t say I ONLY have three months left, I should say I STILL have three months left. I’ve done more than I ever imagined was possible in just seven months, now I have three to finish what I’ve started and make my exchange the most amazing year of my life. A great exchange isn’t just handed to you on a silver platter, you have to take the opportunities that are presented to you and YOU have to make them into memories you’ll want to treasure forever.

La vie est Belge.

Nick Doolin 
2012-13 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1420, Finland
The Rotary Club of Borgå

Nick - Finland

November 2, 2012

Hej! Hur mår du? Hey! How are you?

So, I’m pretty sure I’m the last one to do a journal… yeah… Believe it or not. It is actually hard for me to describe my exchange. So, I’m going to write and hope it comes out okay.  

You would think that it would be very hard for a LOUD, ”touchy-feely”, questionably over excitable person like me to come to a quite, stay AWAY from me, calm country like Finland well… we’ll get to that.

First let’s talk about ”Where I Live” (Var jag bor)
I live in a small town (big for Finland) of 50,000 called Borgå. Borgå is a Swedish speaking town in southern Finland. Living in in a ”FinnoSwede” or ”Finland Svensk” is almost like living in a totally different country than Finland. FinnoSwedes are said to be almost annoyingly happy but since I’m ”like that” I think it’s awesome. Borgå’s main industry is the Neste Oil refinery but since we are only 45 minuets from Helsinki most people that live here commute to Helsinki for work. Although Borgå is a Swedish speaking town about half of of the people here speak Finnish. It’s really kind of funny how separate we are even we are so close.  
Even though though there is no language barrier (all people in Finland must speak both Finnish and Swedish. Although the Swedish speakers are better at Finnish that the Finnish speakers are at swedish.) Swedish Finns and Finnish Finns won’t interact, talk, or even do business together unless they have to. We go to deferent schools, have different churches, different places to hang out. I have no idea why this is and just kind of have to accept it as part of the culture.

FINLAND IS COLD and I love it.
People here find it strange how someone that grew up in a hot place like Florida could love the cold as much as I do. I don’t really understand myself. The hardest part about the cold is learning how to wear your clothes and not look really really stupid.

And now you get to find out how I am.
As of now I’m in this sort of weird middle ground where I don’t consider myself a true Finn but I know I’m no longer the flag waving American me that sings the nation anthem before he goes to bed. I have lots of friends here and I live an every day life like every one else. Except it’s like a million times more exciting because I’m not from here. Being here and living this way is just as shocking and different as going to say Thailand. But in the same way completely different. If you are not an exchange student and what I just said made no sense to you. That okay you are just no an exchange student (yet?) and if it did you’re lying.

Becoming an exchange student.
Warning if you decide to try to become an exchange student it is going to be very hard and it will take over your life.
If you really want to change the world this is the way to do it.
The proudest moment of my life was about a week ago when some one came up to me and said ”Next year or ten years from now you aren’t going to be that Canadian or French kid that came here. You’re going to be Nick the American that wasn’t what we thought Americans were like.”

Alright my hand is cramping up and I still have to spell check.
See Ya!!
Go D6970!!!!!!!!

April 19, 2013

Let me tell you about this guy Nick Doolin. Nick will do almost anything at least three times. Once for fun, twice for money, and three times because he’s already this far and three is cooler than two. Yes, it is true that Nick is quite adventurous but here are some things that he would never ever do.

He would never avoid standing within arms reach of strangers.
He would never sit and listen to other people talk and not say something.
He would never have a place to go and think.
He would never enjoy being alone.
He would never give up on style for practicality.
He would never sit quite on the bus even though everyone on the bus is his friend.
He would never take a bus. (Like really he has a car)
He would never wear work boots and a scarf to school.
He would never clean his room everyday.
He would never skip a meal to go running in the first rain.
He would never regularly spend an hour sweating to death with nothing to do but sit. (sauna)
He would never any of these things.

And yet here I am. Doing all of them and not understanding how I ever did them different. I’m on the tail end of my exchange and dread the day it comes to an end. I would really like to tell you more but I have no idea how to. My life here sometimes does real. Like it’s so perfect how could it be real. Right now I’m just savoring every minuet until I’m back to realality. I just want to say that the best days of my exchange have been when nothing special happens. I get up, go to school, talk to my friends, have coffe, and go home. These are the day that I think I come from here and I’m just living my life, as a Finn.

Nicole Viera 
2012-13 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 3490, Taiwan
The Rotary Club of Tuchengå

Nicole - Taiwan

你好! 我叫 Nicole Marie Viera, 和我的中文名字是李淼!

Hello! My name is Nicole Marie Viera, and my Chinese name is Li Miao! I have already been in Taiwan for over two months now, and it is truly unbelievable how fast time has gone! My exchange has been going extremely well so far and I am quickly learning the language. Chinese is actually a lot easier than people think. It is still hard, but not as difficult as people make it out to be. I can already recognize characters and hold short conversation, but I think my writing is my biggest strength right now.

I am still with my 1st Host Family and change December 1st. I am extremely close to my 1st family and honestly don’t want to change. But that is one of the jobs as an exchange student, so I have to. My 1st family has made me feel at home from the start. Even with the dramatic change of being an only child in a family of three (plus a dog), to becoming a family of seven with three siblings (the other three being my Mama, Baba and Gemma from the Philippines). I really love having siblings, especially Kevin Brandon and Lily, because they make everything a lot more fun and interesting both in and outside the home! It really is a different experience sharing an home with other teenagers/kids. Especially now in a three-story apartment (penthouse? I can’t remember the word). Kevin is 16, Brandon is 14 and Lily is 6!

School is also very fun! I go to a high school and attend class Monday through Friday. There are two buildings in my school: “the Main Building” and “the Back Building.” Both buildings’ classes start at 8:20AM. The main building gets out at 5:30PM, while the back gets out at 8:30PM. There are three exchange students at my school (including me) and I am the only one taking classes in the back building. Thankfully, though, exchange students arrive to school at 8:20AM and and all leave at 4:30PM everyday. In the mornings I attend actual classes with all of the Taiwanese students and after nap time (yes, nap time) I attend Chinese class for three hours; Monday through Thursday. My Chinese Teacher (中文老師Emma) is the coolest. She is 22 years old, and makes learning Chinese so much fun.

And yes, if you are wondering, you do become “famous” at school. Especially the couple of weeks. Boys and girls always stare and smile, while some are actually brave enough to say “Hello~!” If you wave back and greet them back, boys congratulate themselves amongst their friends and girls giggle in pure happiness. Even after a month, people will still stare at you but will start to warm up and try to talk to you. You can actually speed up the process of them talking to you if you show some knowledge of knowing Chinese. I just want to say this now, Taiwanese people aren’t as shy as some people think. They are not shy people that are afraid of approaching foreigners, they are just worried about their English is not good enough. Most, if not all, do not know you come to Taiwan to learn their language so they assume you will only want to speak English. Because of this assumption and their concern over their “poor English” they will avoid holding conversation with you at first. But if you share your interest of Chinese, or even Taiwanese, they will all get super excited and start bombarding you with new vocabulary and friendships!

I have quickly developed friendships this way! Also, thanks to Kevin, I have even more Taiwanese friends, outside of my own school. I have honestly yet to run into an unfriendly person here! You can just as easily approach people in the public and they will willing offer their help to you. Everyone I have met in Taiwan, so far, has been so kind to me. They have all been patient with me, even when I first got to Taiwan and understood barely anything.

I have also been given the opportunity to travel during my stay here. I’ve visited the east coast, flown sky lanterns, visited night markets and temples, and even conquered my fear of heights by riding one of the glass-bottomed Maokong Gondolas (thank you Sara, Laura, Pei and Emma). I am truly grateful to be on this exchange.

When I first saw Taipei 101, I was honestly surprised at how small it was. I perfectly understand that it is the 2nd tallest building the world, but having travelled 13411.7km (8333.6 miles), from Florida, USA to Taipei, Taiwan, seeing a building stand only 509 meters (1,669.9feet) made me realize how small we actually are compared to this vast world we live in. It is truly unbelievable to me. It still surprises me that I have travelled to the other side of the planet. I feel so at home that sometimes I forget I am an exchange student on a job.

Orion Morton 
2012-13 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1620, Belgium
The Rotary Club of Colfontaine-Borinageå

Orion - Belgium

October 22, 2012

Salut, tout le monde !

It seems like such a long time ago that I said goodbye to my family, friends, and town, but simultaneously the time here has flown by. An exchange student’s perspective of time is definitely strange. Regardless, every second, no matter how fast or slow, is one that I love here. My host family is really welcoming and I felt “at home” immediately. It helps that I have a host brother in Brazil on exchange, so I think my family treats me as they want him to be treated: as a true son and member of the family. I have met more people than I could possibly remember here so far, both Belgians and other exchange students. There are around 230 RYE inbounds in this tiny country, which has been très cool. In addition, at my school, along with a 2 RYE students from Mexico and Brazil, there is an Ecuadorian and 5 other Mexicans with other programs. I’m trying to refresh my 4 years of dormant Spanish to keep up with them! My school, St. Stanislas, is a Jesuit sch ool (but is still public) and is over 450 years old, before St. Augustine was even founded. That definitely puts into perspective the difference between European and American “old.” I am a rheto (the equivalent of a senior) here, and my class has been quite welcoming to us exchange students. School works quite a bit differently here, though. I have a different schedule each day, we have an hour for lunch and another 20 minute break, and if the teacher isn’t there, we simply don’t have class. I guess substitutes don’t exist here (actually, today, 2/3 teachers that I would normally have weren’t there, so they just let us go home before school even started!) To give an idea of what school is like, my schedule goes like this: Monday, wake up around 6:45, leave the house at 7:30 for school which starts at 8:10. I have 3 hours of French, then a break, then 2 more hours of Religion (which is just a codename for philosophy, I find.) Then, I’ll go to a park or somewhere to eat lunch, then I have an hour each of Geography and History. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings I have a French language course for foreigners at a local university, from 9:00-12:30, so I get to sleep an extra hour those mornings. Then I return to St. Stan for an hour or two or French or History and Geography. Wednesdays are well-loved because we get out of school at 11:50! I especially like them as well because I have, in addition to even more French, Spanish class. It’s a first-year class, so since I’ve already studied Spanish it’s pretty fun. In general, I find that school is at a higher level here. St. Stanislas is the (self proclaimed) best school in my town, though.

Speaking of my town, Mons: it is an amazing city. The moment I first ventured into the downtown I became enamored with it. With nearly 100,000 people, it’s a “big” city for me, but not so big as to be overwhelming. It’s easily walkable (and walk, I do. A lot) and quite charming. Despite Belgium’s reputation as being flat, Mons was built on top of a “hill” and has many sloped streets. In addition, the countryside around is riddled with these abrupt-looking hills that I later found out are actually artificial: This area was the first area in Continental Europe to colonize because of it’s natural resources, and these hills were made by the earth they dug up to mine for coal and metals. People here are incredulous when I say that Mons is a big city and that the surrounding area isn’t flat. It’s all a matter of perspective! 

Mons is also a university town, so there is always something interesting going on with the young people. Additionally, it’s the town where the Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, got his political start; he’s actually still the mayor and lives here when he’s not in Brussels. Consequently, I met him (for the first time) 6 days after my arrival here. He just was passing through a student area on a Friday night and everyone was so casual about seeing him, though my friends were sure to introduce me. A few weeks later, he came to the little festival the village I actually live in just outside Mons and he remembered me! I have since seen him walking down the street a few more times. I’m determined to be best friends with him by the time I leave. 

Belgium is a seriously awesome country for exchange students. Seriously, come here. There are over 230 RYE students here, an area 1/5 the size of the entire state Florida, though the vast majority of us are in the French-speaking Wallonia, which halves the size again. That’s not to mention all of the hundreds of other exchangers with other programs, too. But of course, Rotary is the best! Rotary at the district and multi-district level is quite active and we often have activities together. So far, we have had a day in Brussels, an orientation day for just my district, a day in the capital of Wallonia, a kayaking trip through some really breathtaking scenery in Dinant, and we have an “exotic dinner” coming up where students from teams based on their nationalities to prepare a typical dish from their country or region. Also, based off my observations it must be a requirement for the male Rotarians to have fantastic facial hair. My counselor/YEO has probably the most magnificent mustache I have personally seen. But perhaps the cooler thing is that Rotary here gives us freedom to travel around the country since it’s so easy with the awesome train system. I’ve been many places so far, including Brussels several more times and, of course, Bruges (watch the movie In Bruges if you’ve never seen it!) It’s pretty neat to be on the train, and, as soon as we cross the border from French-speaking Wallonia to Dutch-speaking Flanders, the language on the train and signs switches. It’s nearly like going to another country (many people would actually like this to be the case, but it’s a bit of a sensitive issue.) But to fully get the Belgian experience I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Dutch, as well. I feel rather fortunate to be an English speaker here actually, because if you combined a language very similar to Old Dutch and a language very similar to Old French and let them brew for close to a thousand yea rs, you’d get a language very similar to Modern English. English is Germanic in structure, which makes Dutch easier, but much of it’s vocabulary comes from French. This is useful because if I don’t know a word in French I say the English word with my best guess as to how it would be said in French accent, and more times than not, it’s the French word as well. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how my French has been coming along for not having studied it in school. I think I understand roughly 3/4 of conversations now, and I’m hoping to call myself conversationally fluent by December. 

Of course, no journal about la Belgique would be complete without talking about the food. Yes, I eat some sort of waffle nearly every day, whether it’s a simple plain one for a snack at school or one loaded with chocolate or raspberries or any number of things either inside or on top of it. Yes, Belgium indeed invented, and perfected, the French fry. The preferred condiment is mayonnaise, though, rather than ketchup. Yes, I eat chocolate literally every day. It simply wouldn’t be a complete day without it. 

The cold and rain are fast approaching, send us over some Floridian sunshine if you can manage it!

À la prochaine fois !

April 12, 2013

Enfin ! 

Wow. The months that have passed since my last journal have been the most intense, challenging, and fulfilling of my life. I have millions of excuses for the time taken to write this new one (including a broken hard drive on my computer), but I apologize nonetheless. 

In all of our training to become a RYE student, we hear repeatedly that our year abroad will simultaneously be the most difficult and the most fun year of our lives. I, at least, just took that information in at face value, but I could have never imagined how true it would become, nor in the ways it did. I won’t lie, the Belgian winter was really tough; between the shortened days and the constant rain/fog/clouds/snow, there were stretches of not seeing the sun that lasted up to a month. Being from Florida, I definitely took the sun for granted. Things quite literally become depressing. Coupled with the holiday season taking place at the same time, I caught the winter-time blues. It didn’t help that this was the least sunny and coldest winter since before World War II! At times when all of my Belgian friends were busy studying for their important exams, I felt like I simply wasn’t doing much. Lost in my own mind, I questioned why I had chosen to go on exchange t o this odd little country. 

However, in January, as my “oldies” tearfully left and my “newies” arrived, my attitude changed. Having these new RYE students (primarily from the Southern Hemisphere) experience everything for the first time again allowed me to gain a fresh perspective, make new friends, and feel rejuvenated. And now, a few months later, I can easily say that I am the happiest that I have been. I love my city, my school, my host families, and I love this peculiar divided country and the freedom I have here. As I sit here writing this, I’m waiting at the gate to fly to Switzerland, dead tired. I returned from a 10 day trip with Rotary to Spain just yesterday. The feeling I got when I woke up on the bus, in Belgium, was surprising. I felt the same comfort I would get as if returning to my home in Florida when I was younger. It was nice to see the omnipresent waffles, French fries, and beer again. I, along with most of the others on the trip, had become homesick for Bel gium. And at that moment, I felt successful in my exchange. This was what I had come here for: not just to see beautiful sights and get fat eating so many waffles, but to really feel as though I had made a new home. And I truly feel that I have. 

Of course, it also helped that I have seen some amazing things in the past few months. In December, I spent a weekend in London with my host family, in February, I visited some RYE FL friends in Budapest and Warsaw, and, as I said before, I just spent an incredible 10 days all throughout Spain with about 70 other RYE students. I have also continued to travel just throughout Belgium regularly, since it’s so easy with the train system. It’s pretty awesome to casually be able to go to Brussels, the capital of Europe, on a Wednesday afternoon and be home in time for dinner. Although recently, me and some of the other exchangers in my city have really been exploring just around Mons. It really is a wonderful, quintessentially European city. Small enough to walk across in 20 minutes, big enough to be home to 3 universities and the prime minister, it has a lovely grand place and a belfry beautiful enough to be a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Mons and the surrounding area, k nown as the Borinage, have a strong identity themselves. This was one of the first areas in continental Europe to industrialize because it used to have very fruitful coal mines, thus, it was once one of the most prosperous regions around. However, in the past half-century or so, the area has fallen on hard times and high unemployment. If anything, this has only forced the “Borains” to band together in the community to make it, creating an even stronger culture. They have their own dialect and language, their own festivals, and own specialties. It has been fun getting to know the Borain culture as well as the the typical Belgian one, and I can’t wait until the end of May, when the Ducasse de Mons, an absolutely massive festival, will happen here. This city will also be the European Capital of Culture in 2015, so major works are taking place all over, including a new train station being built. 

School has continued on normally, but frankly it isn’t very exciting. I still go to my French course for foreigners, which has helped my progress immensely. I suppose I consider myself conversationally fluent, though I think I’m a bit hard on myself sometimes. I still struggle with certain words, but I did have a bit of an “a-ha!” moment back in December. As I was riding the bus, I was just thinking about my exchange and realized “Hey, I speak French. It’s far from perfect, but I can still, at its most basic meaning, *speak* it.” Around the same time, I had my first time being mistaken for a Belgian! I still have problems sometimes speaking very formally (and the subjunctive is the bane of my existence) but overall I’m pretty content with my progress. 

As my French continues to progress, so does my self confidence. Sometimes I’ll just get those moments where I realize how awesome it really is to be an exchange student, but also how many difficulties I have overcome. This makes me feel like I have the power to do anything. Never before have I been more proud of myself. I now feel fluent in a new language, a new culture, and a new family. I can’t wait to get back to Florida a more confident person, but for the moment, TIME, PLEASE SLOW DOWN! 



Rachel Miller
2012-13 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 4430, Brazil
The Rotary Club of Cambuciå

Rachel - Brazil

Rachel’s Bio

Hey there! My name is Rachel Miller and I have been selected to be an exchange student in Brazil! Anytime that I met or spoke to an inbound student spending their year in Jacksonville, I never imagined that I would ever be given the chance to experience it myself. Now that I have been given such a unique, and not to mention life-changing, opportunity it has given me the realization that with dedication and hard work, I can achieve the goals that I set for myself.

I have been born and raised in the suburbs of Jacksonville known as Switzerland, and I am currently in my senior year at Bartram Trail High School. I am eighteen years old, and have a large and loving family consisting of my mother, Lisa, and father, Mark. I have a brother seven years older than me named Jordan, and a sister that is fourteen years older than me named Sarah. You may have noticed the strange age difference, but I guess it just goes to show that God has a sense of humor! But needless to say, we are all very close and supportive of each other. My passion in life is art. I consider this a blessing, because I find a way to use it in practically everything I do and I use it as a tool to grow, express, and define myself as a person.

As for my life as a student, I take several Honors and AP classes and I am heavily involved in the National Art Honors Society. Through the club and my portfolio class, I have built up a large collection of projects in which I occasionally enter into competitions. After I graduate and return from Brazil, my plan is to attend Florida State University, the University of North Florida, or the Savannah College of Art and Design. However, I have not decided on what exactly I will major in. The remainder of my free time goes towards spending time with family, friends, cashiering at Michael’s Arts and Crafts store, and learning as much as I can about Brazil and picking up Portuguese as a new language. I can’t wait to begin this wondrous and exciting new chapter in my life, and it’s all thanks to Rotary!

Rachel’s Journals

November 2012

I’ve been here in one of the largest cities in the world for just over three months and experienced more things in the past 99 days of my life than most people experience in a lifetime. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion between excitement, fear, blissful happiness and home sickness. My first month here was the fastest and it seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. Leaving home was the most difficult. I had many family members at the airport to see me, from my great Aunt to my one-month old nephew to say goodbye. From there I began my 15 hour journey to Atlanta, then to Sao Paulo Brazil. On the plane ride from Atlanta to Brazil, I had my first encounter with a Sao Paulo Brazilian as he continuously tried to sleep on me for 10 hours and the man from Washington sitting next to me seemed to get a kick out of it. When I arrived in the airport, I was completely lost and ended up just following the crowd to the baggage claim where I ended up having to figure out how to carry three luggage bags that were each the same weight and almost the same height as me. When I walked out of the terminal I was greeted by my host mother, host brother and now one of my best friends here who is another exchanger from Mexico. They greeted me with a Brazilian flag, balloons, hugs and excitement while everyone in the airport began clapping as I hugged my new family. A complete stranger even gave me a hat with the Brazilian flag on the front! The first of many pranks that my host family pulled on me was telling me that it was tradition for when a foreigner arrives in Brazil, for them to sit and pop a balloon in the middle of the airport so that everyone could see! I agreed and I’ll just say that it was the first of many embarrassing and funny memories made. Immediately after I was picked up from the airport, I was brought to a large Rotary gathering where I had to introduce myself to everyone with a weird mixture of English and Portuguese and from the re I was taken to my new home. I started school two weeks later at a private school on the same road as my apartment and everything kicked off from there. Being a blonde-hair, green-eyed American attending a small private school everyone seems to know who you are and a lot about you. Some of the cutest memories I have is when people would come up and try to introduce themselves to me in English and then them being completely flabbergasted when I replied because they couldn’t understand a thing. I never truly realized how fast Americans speak until I had to speak with non-native speakers. The school that I attend is actually a German school, so it makes things even more interesting! Even in one of my school assignments, I was in Spanish class where I was partnered with a Chinese girl who didn’t speak Portuguese or English to complete an assignment given in Portuguese about a film that was in Spanish with Portuguese subtitles all in a German school in Brazil. In ca se you were wondering, we got one of the higher grades of the class for that assignment! As for culture shock, there hasn’t been a lot so far. Everyone is different, and the customs that they share aren’t so different from those in America. I’ll admit, the ketchup with pizza is a little strange for me, and bread with butter for breakfast everyday takes some getting used to. But I think being tricked into eating chicken heart has been the most memorable so far. The best motto I can give to future exchange students going to any country is ‘Don’t Ask, Just Eat.’ I can tell you, if it looks strange you don’t want to know what it is until after you have eaten it. But as of recently, I teach an English class every day after school to children at a day care center and go to several other Rotary projects. My language is improving more and more each day and each day has something new to teach me. If it’s one thing I have learned from ex change so far, it’s that patience is a virtue and an open mind is imperative. Everything happens for a reason and if you open your mind and heart to a culture and its people, you’ll be surprised as to what you will find. 

April 2013

So- it’s been a long time coming but I’m finally able to publish another blog. To the exchange students that are planning to spend a year in Brasil waiting to hear how things are going- sorry about that wait. I can remember sitting and checking journals of exchange students in Brasil the year before me and I would get so impatient and frustrated that they weren’t posting what was going on, but trust me you’ll understand once you get here. I don’t have the words in the English (or Portuguese) language to describe the past 8 months of my life. I’ve experienced things here in Brasil that I never even thought were possible. If you would have asked me a year ago from today how I felt about leaving to live in Brasil for a year, I would have told you that I wasn’t nearly as excited as I would be had I been leaving to live in one of my top 5 countries. If I could go back in time, I would probably slap myself b ecause I had no idea what was in store for me here. The places I would go, the people that I would meet, the language that I would be thinking in..the culture that I would be immersed in. You’d think that since I’ve been living in the largest city in Latin America, there wouldn’t be a huge culture difference when compared to the United States. I thought the same thing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s also another thing that I never saw myself doing moving to a big city. I’ve always been a country mouse. I went to New York City when I was around 9-10 years old, and don’t get me wrong; I loved it so much, but I was always more comfortable in the suburbs of Jacksonville Florida. Everything moves so fast in the city life, and it threw me for a loop when I first arrived and I’m doing so many things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Even though I practically die from the amount of people in the su bway every morning on my way to school- the subway is one of my favourite things about living here. You don’t have to rely on cars, gas money, driving in traffic if you’re wanting to go somewhere on your own all you have to do is grab the bus schedule, catch a cab, or learn your way around the subway. I never thought I would love the city life so much. 

As I said before- it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog and there has been a good reason for that. I moved to a small town in December for three months, called ‘Bertioga’ and when I say small town- I mean REALLY small. There’s literally one avenue and the most exciting store there is an ice cream store. I was hesitant about moving there at first, but I ended up really liking it there. The town is on the beach, and although there’s not many people there it was nice to have some time to myself where there was just quiet sometimes. There’s always someone somewhere in the city, and lots of noise. In Bertioga, I had time to just relax. I hardly had access to technology though. It was just me and my host mom there in a small townhome, so there was no need for wifi or a computer there. I sometimes had 3G on my iPhone, but my phone eventually stopped working out there as well. (Hence: No blog posted) I lived there for technically two mo nths, because in January I went on the ‘Northeast Dream Trip’ for 23 days (which I’ll write about in the next paragraph), but I also got to know another beach area called ‘Riviera’. Riviera was REALLY nice. Here is where I spent a lot of my Carnaval, and it was really cool. They didn’t have the crazy face paint, feathers, costumes and parades but they celebrated through throwing water balloons at each other from the different apartment buildings, (and also by driving by in cars to peg you with a balloon or on the street) and also by having churrasscos (Brasilian barbeque) then at night hanging out at the beach. Quite different than the Carnaval I experienced in Rio de Janiero and Recife. All in all, Bertioga was a really great experience for me.  
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I went on what is called the ‘Northeast Dream Trip-23 days’. This trip truly changed my life. I went from the incredible city of Brasilia with all of the crazy architecture and seeing the President of Brasil’s house, to the Cristo statue in Rio de Janiero. I saw so many things and met so many people that I’m at a loss for words when I try to explain. A good amount of time is spent traveling on the bus, in fact I can remember spending 22 hours straight one day just traveling. The first day I traveled to Brasilia, then onto Lenois, Salvador, Natal, Olinda, Recife, Macio, Porto Seguro, and Rio de Janiero. There were many small towns in between and the big thing that all of the exchange students bought on this trips was the bracelets. People that live in the towns nearby the beaches will make and sell jewelry and it’s some of the most beautiful craftsmanship I’ve ever seen in my life. By the time th e trip was finished, my wrist was filled almost to my elbow in bracelets and ribbons that I had bought and was given to me. I was able to tour Brasilia and see all of the amazing architecture, and I the coolest part to me was being able to go to the President’s house (or at least in front of it). My favourite stop definitely Lenois. Here is where we did most of the hiking, and exploring (mind you I made the mistake of only taking flip-flops). The first day we hiked up through the mountains until we reached a waterfall where everyone slid down the rocks and swam in probably the blackest, coldest water I’ve ever swam in. We ended up traveling to two different waterfalls, and I can remember having to hike through woods and caves to reach the first one. At the first waterfall, when the water mixed with this clay it turned into a temporary dye not just for your skin, but for your hair as well. I ended the day with bright red hair, skin and clothes. The next da y, we went to a second set of caves where we had to hike through a forest which almost seemed like the amazon. I’ve never seen trees so tall or been in a place where I felt so small. Everything was bright green, yellow or a dark brown and it was the most incredible place I’ve yet to see in my life. I remember standing in the cave and the guide had us turn out any lights and just stand completely still and silent so all you could hear was the occasional bat moving in its sleep in the rocks above. It was so silent and still that you could hear your own heartbeat. On our way out of the cave, it started to rain so everyone literally had to hike up the waterfall (in flip flops again) with the same clay as the previous waterfall soaking our clothing. Everyone had to ride home soaking wet and bright red. Overall we saw everything from exotic beaches and people, to some of the most famous tourist spots in Brasil. We had experienced more things in 23 days then a lot of people do in their entire life. I did everything from hiking up that waterfall, to walking up to the Cristo Statue and getting lost in the mountains of Pao de Acucar. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I returned back to Bertioga from my Dream Trip, I stayed there for another 3 weeks or so then I moved host families back into the big city. I’m now living in Belem, SP with my family of two sisters, a host mom and a host dad. I’ve started going back to school and I’m continuing to learn something new every day.  

I don’t know how to explain my life in Brasil to where I can try and have someone understand what an exchange student goes through. Even when you try to imagine, you can’t come close unless you experience it for yourself. Where there are the good things there will be the bad things too and it’s a lesson learned with experience. Exchange isn’t always picture perfect, and the phases that we as exchange students go through are very real. You have the good experiences and the bad. The happy days and the sad days. You become confused a lot, and even lost sometimes. But that’s life anywhere because life is complicated and it would be boring if it weren’t. No one wants to live a life where you know how everything will work out and everything that is supposed to happen. If you have everything figured out then you’re doing something wrong because then you can’t grow and isn’t that the entire point of living? Of becoming an exchange student? I think what a year as an exchange student teaches you, is that it’s important to never stop that hunger for wanting to know the world and the people in it and to continue to grow into the biggest and best person you can be. To continue to feed that hunger for wanting more out of life. The most that I have learned from the past 8 months is about me. I’ve learned things about myself and things that I’m capable of that I never even imagined possible. I’ve seen my friends in all of their different countries and how much they have grown and it just comforts me in the fact that I know exchange is worth all of the effort. All of the effort that Rotary, the parents, the host families but especially the exchange student put into it. Exchange has been the best decision of my life as of yet, so I guess I’ll have to see where it goes from here. 

Ryan Butzloff 
2012-13 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1940, Germany
The Rotary Club of Horizonte-rostockå

Ryan - Germany

November 2012

I have been in Germany for almost three months now and I am already learning so much. I arrived in Germany on July twenty-seventh (a Friday). It was around 1:00 pm when my host family picked me up in Hamburg. I was tired and hungry and a bit jet-lagged. We walked to the car (a really nice Audi) and they drove me to Rostock with the roof down.

When we were in Rostock I received my first German meal it was schnitzel with pommes. Which is breaded pork with french-fries. It was really good. After that, I put my things in my room and went back downstairs. Something that I should explain is my host family owns a hotel and restaurant the flat/apartment being on top of the restaurant. When I went downstairs I was immediately put to work; I had to help with grill with my host father. I was grilling nachensteaks and bratwursts and I was grilling fish and Rind (beef). I was doing this while my host father was taking the orders of the guests and serving them their meals.

After the BBQ we stopped working and I got to go upstairs and relaxed, well, not exactly I stayed up talking with my host family and until midnight until I finally went to bed. Luckily I was able to sleep in and relax in the morning. The rest of Saturday we went to the city Warnemunde, this is the bigger part of Rostock. We went to the beach and relaxed then went and ate.

On Sunday we ventured into the city center by bike to go to the museum of Rostock, it is a very small museum but non-the-less full of information in a language that I couldn’t read. My host family did the best they could to translate the information, but something’s I didn’t understand. Since it was Sunday all the small shops and stores were closed. In fact almost every shop/store in Germany is closed according to the German law. The week that followed was fun because I did not have school and I was able to meet another exchange student from Australia that has been in Germany for seven months. 

When school started to be honest I wasn’t nervous until I walked into my class. Everyone kind of just looked at me and went on with what they were doing. Some people did come up to me and ask me questions in German, they saw the look of my face when they asked me and then tried to communicate with me in English. When class started the teacher was asking me questions in German and of course I did not understand but he persisted into a yell until one of my soon to be friends tells him that I do not speak any German what so ever so he stopped talking to me and moved on into the lesson. 

School now is great I have many friends and I am even friends with the teacher that shouted at me the first couple days of school. My friends are helpful with me learning German and they are also very patent which is a big difference in the US where people might not be as patient with you. 

All in all I am having a great time and it has been really fun so far. My host family is great and the food is DELICIOUS. I love German food. My host family has taken me to many places, like, the biggest zoo in northern Germany 2 really big aquariums/museums and the have taken me to see two soccer matches, a hockey game and a handball game. I real big difference between the sports in the US and the sports in Europe is the fan base. The fans in Europe sing loudly (non-stop) and are fully dressed with merchandise from team. While in US the fans are loud but they don’t sing a lot. It was a really cool experience going to see these games. As well fans bring instruments and they get together and do songs for the team.

Sarah Wiegreffe 
2012-13 Outbound to France
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 1680, France
The Rotary Club of Strasbourg Centre

Sarah - France

This has got to be about the third time I have tried to write this blog entry. One of the hardest things I have come across on exchange is trying to express my experiences adequately in words. With the exchange students here I can never shut up about my exchange, but with family and friends back home I find myself at a loss for words. I get asked all the time by French people if I enjoyed something I did or somewhere I went or something I ate, or if I like it here, and my answers may come out simple in French but in reality everything is so much more- people are more than nice, the food is more than delicious, and the things I do and places I see are more than great.

Last week was four months in France, and I wish time would slow down. I feel entirely at home in my city, at my school, with my French family and friends, and with the other exchange students. I’ve realized things I missed out on in the U.S. that I would have never experienced had I not gone on exchange, from public transportation to French pastries to being a middle child to escalade.

Public transportation. I’ve developed such a love/hate relationship with it. I’ve had my fair share of running through the cold rain, waiting forever to find out I missed the bus by 2 minutes, or squishing onto jam-packed buses. Even though there are days when I miss being able to drive, I love the ability to be able to go places without having to rely on someone to give me a ride as might be the case if I did not drive in the U.S. The public transportation here is affordable and accessible, as well as environmentally friendly, and many people use it, considering gas is expensive, there is little room for parking, and driver’s licenses cost upwards of 1,000 euros! At a young age kids here are able to have freedom like I never knew before driving, because they have public transportation. I am lucky to live in a part of the city with great bus access, and there is also a tram in the inner city and the gare, or train station, where for 10 to 20 euros you can h op on a train and take a day or weekend trip to other cities in the region, perfect for visiting the other exchange students when we have our Rotary weekends.

French pastries. Or to make your mouth water even more, let’s just talk about French food in general. There is very little, if anything, I have eaten here that I haven’t liked. Bread and cheese really are staples here. Even the school cafeteria serves different varieties of fancy cheeses every day. From anywhere between 40 and 80 cents you can have a caramel cappuccino from a coffee vending machine, and for 70 cents you can buy the most heavenly chocolate filled pastry called a pain au chocolat at school during break. Needless to say I know where the majority of my money has gone!

Being a middle child. I am so lucky to have such a sweet and generous host family, even though sometimes they probably think I’m crazy for my American ways. In the U.S. I have one younger brother, now I have an older French brother and a younger French sister. They help me immensely with my French, and I have picked up a lot of slang and conversational things from speaking with them, things that you can’t learn from a textbook or in classes.

Escalade, better known to you as rock climbing. The school sports are very different here. Because school can go from 8 am to 6 pm several days a week, there isn’t much time for extracurricular sports or competitive sports teams. However, there are intramural-type sports open to all students during the hour and a half lunch break, so I do rock climbing with some friends for 4 or 5 hours a week. The sports in P.E. class are also a bit violent. We did 6 weeks of French boxing, which involved punching and kicking each other repeatedly in the forehead and stomach.

One thing I still cannot wrap my head around after four months is the generosity and kindness I have come across through my exchange, both here and in the U.S. Never did I expect to meet so many people who have given their time and encouragement to make my exchange possible, many of them people who were complete strangers before I got involved with Rotary, some before I arrived here four months ago. I feel so blessed, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for everyone, especially Rotary Florida, District 6970, District 1680, my host family, classmates and teachers, Rotary clubs, and family and friends back home.

“It is our choices who show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

-J. K. Rowling

A la prochaine!

 April 12, 2013

This Saturday at the Rotary conference in my district, I’ll be giving a speech about what this year has brought me. It’s funny, I can talk in French but I have so much trouble writing in English. It’s honestly the hardest thing to describe my life here to Americans, because to me everything about it has become completely normal.

So this Saturday. First of all, I’ll have to assure everyone that I really do come from Florida, seeing as to how pale I’ve gotten. The impression here of Florida is that it is like a continuous vacation, quite interesting.

I’ve been on exchange for seven and a half months now, and it honestly feels like seven and a half weeks. The exciting thing about exchange is that there are always new things coming up, from big events like school vacations, holidays, changing families, bus-trips, or weekends with the other exchange students, to the small events of the week, like lunch in the city with school friends or volunteering at the food bank. I’m always learning the most random interesting things, whether from the other exchange students, from my French family and friends, or even from what I pick up on in class.

What have the past almost eight months taught me? I could spend a day talking about the obvious cultural differences, like the clothing, the food, the weather, the school system. But what I find the most interesting is how I myself have changed, which is what I’ll be taking about Saturday. If I hadn’t made the decision to take on this adventure, I wouldn’t understand myself at all like I do now. I see more clearly now my strengths and my weaknesses, but I also see how I have changed. I am so much more patient and flexible, more self-confident and assertive. I keep on doubting my English, which is awesome. I know it would have taken me years to develop the same qualities back in the U.S. These things we learn as exchange students aren’t like anything you can learn from a textbook, with a teacher, in a desk. These are real life experiences, and a ton of them packed into ten short months.

I now see that life is almost never black and white. Everything depends on perception, convictions, beliefs. One thing Rotary Florida often advised us Outbounds was to never think of the things that would occur as bad or good, correct or incorrect, just different. This is something I had memorized, like I memorized the words of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, before leaving the U.S., without really understanding the meaning or the importance of the words. It took experiencing another culture to get it.

Now I see that in reality, we live in the grey. Each person values things differently, whether silence or speech, presentation or depth. It’s clear that Americans will always understand me better than the French or people of other cultures. But that’s the point of exchange- to put yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you could say you lose yourself to find yourself again.

The expression “The adventure begins at the end of your comfort zone” doesn’t really translate into French, but I’ll be trying to communicate it anyway. When I reflect on all that I have been able to do that I would have either not had the opportunity to do or would have never made the choice to do, I am ecstatic I chose this year for myself.

Katie Marshall
2012-13 Outbound to India
Hometown: Fleming Island, FL
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District TBA, India

Katie - India

Katie’s Bio

Namaste! Hello! My name is Katie. I’m 17 years old, and a senior at Fleming Island High school. I’ll be spending next year in India! I’m so lucky to have this amazing opportunity, and I’m sure my year in India will be a fantastic one! I live in Fleming Island, Florida with my mom, dad, and younger sister Jenna, who’s 13 years old. We also have an older sister, Alyssa, who’s 19, and is going to school at UCF.

In my free time, I like to dance, play ultimate frisbee, bake, watch documentaries, write, and more than anything, hang out with my friends. Music has a huge part of my life. I play guitar and piano, write my own music, and my friends and I are always going to shows.

Going on this exchange has always been one of my biggest dreams, because for as long as I can remember, other countries, cultures, languages, and people have fascinated me. One day I’d like to work for the US Foreign Service, and quite possibly be an ambassador to the UN.

I’m so excited for my year in India, and I’m so grateful to everyone that has supported me, my friends and my family, and everyone involved in the RYE program for helping to make my dreams come true! Thank you all so much!

Sebastian Karlson
2012-13 Outbound to Norway
Hometown: Fleming Island, FL
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2275, Norway, The RC of Sortland

Sebastian - Norway

Sebastian’s Bio

Hi, my name is Sebastian Karlson. I am a freshman at Fleming Island High school and also a rotary youth exchange student. Next year I will be spending a year in Norway!

I have two siblings, both of them are older than me. My oldest one is my sister, who is 18 and a student at Texas A&M. I also have an older brother who is 16 and is spending the year in Thailand on an exchange with the rotary. I love to play soccer, I play for Fleming Island High School as well as the Clay County Soccer Club. I also enjoy just listening to music or going out with friends. And i also have a job! I am a referee for youth soccer games. There were two people who mainly influenced me on my decision to do an exchange. The first one was my first exchange student, his name was Eric and was from Sweden. Before we got Eric if you had asked me if I wanted to to an Exchange I would tell you never in a thousand years. But after having Eric I was really began thinking about applying to be an exchange student. The second person who really made me want this exchange was my brother. As I have mentioned earlier he is an exchange student in Thailand, and after talking to him and hearing him speak another language and seeing pictures of how much fun he is having and all of the new experiences he is having I knew I wanted this exchange more than anything! I am most exited about going to Norway because of the language, and the snow. I have never lived where it snows like it does in Norway.

Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Sebastian’s Journals

November 2012

It’s been a little over three months since I have arrived here in Norway, and I have loved every second of it. One massive difference I can think of right now is all of the snow! It started snowing around the 20th of October and it hasn’t stopped since. And as I found out I am not very good at winter sports as I have never really seen snow before now. For instance skiing on the water in Florida is much different than skiing on the snow in Norway. On the subject of sports I have finally been cleared to play soccer for a team here in Norway, and I get to play in my first match on Sunday. I also do a lot of different sports here than just skiing and soccer, the class I am in at school is a sports class so we do a lot of different sports almost every day. Some of which I would not think of to be fun, but to my surprise was a blast! For example I’ve done gymnastics a few times since I started school here and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I must say I got extremely lucky with having such an amazing host family. I have a great host dad and host mom and awesome host siblings. In fact I have three host brothers, so I am never bored at home. I have also met and been in contact with my second host family quite a bit and they seem great as well, so like I said I got extremely lucky with the host families.

It’s honestly hard to believe that I have already been here for three months as for I have constantly been doing stuff and time has flew! I have been to southern Norway for an inbound orientation camp and have also been to Tromsø, a city about five hours north of where I live right now. It’s amazing that I live so far north now so yes it is extremely cold but also there are amazing Northern Lights here. I have seen the Northern Lights probably about five times now and once was with other exchange students that came to visit me.

July 9, 2013

Wow I’m really sorry to Rotary on how late this journal entry is. It is amazing how quick time flies by, my exchange is almost over here and it went so fast. I had such an amazing year though there has been much sorrow as well. My time was shortened one month do to my father’s accident, but I can say I am happy to have returned to finish my exchange. If I hadn’t I would have missed all these great experiences I’ve had since then.

For instance my class trip to Björkliden has been one of my favorite moments of the year. Here in Norway they do school trips right, instead of taking a bus to the Zoo or a museum they really out do themselves on school trips. Mine this year was with my class when we went to a ski resort in northern Sweden called Björkliden. The first day we arrived there we were split into groups and we had to make snow caves to sleep in over night. This I can honestly say was not my favorite part of the trip, the best part were the two days after, when we were just allowed to ski all day. This I think is definitely the best memory I will have of my Norwegian class.

After Björkliden things for me didn’t slow down at all. About a week later my host family took me with them on a trip to Svalbard. Svalbard is the closest I ever see myself coming to the North Pole at 78 degrees North. The best part about Svalbard had to be the dog sledding. Before I came to Norway I’d of course wonder what I’d be doing here in Norway. And I knew I would probably end up doing a lot of skiing, but dog sledding? That I did not see myself doing, but I absolutely loved it!

I couldn’t name one favorite part of my year, that’s impossible! But I can definitely say that Eurotour is up there with the rest of the memories! The Norwegian Eurotour this year was like no other. It was truly amazing, instead of going to all the very touristy typical Eurotour cities in western Europe we went to eastern Europe! It was two weeks of traveling with some of the best people in the world, exchangers!

Overall I have had an absolutely fantastic year, a year I wouldn’t change a single part of. It hasn’t been an easy year, I have faced many challenges whether it was age related, language problems, or the decision to return to Norway and finish my exchange or not. But I can happily say that I feel like I made the right decision and am proud to have completed my exchange here in Norway.

Krista Hill
2012-13 Outbound to Denmark
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District TBA, Denmark

Krista - Denmark

Krista’s Bio

Hej alle! My name is Krista and I will be spending the next year of my life somewhere in the small Scandinavian country known as Denmark!

I am a senior at Paxon School for Advanced Studies and will go on my exchange as a gap year. While everyone around me is anxiously awaiting acceptance letters to college, I will be studying up on my dansk! It is an amazing feeling to finally know where I will be going, and I am so excited for the years that lie ahead! I currently live with my sister, mother and maternal grandparents, and our two dogs, Daisy and Reuben. I also have my dad, step mom, step brothers, and half sister. It keeps things interesting :). I love to listen to music and read and draw and do all sorts of other crafty-type things.

A few years ago if you had told me I would be spending a year in another country as a foreign exchange student, I would have called you a liar. I didn’t think that exchange programs existed outside of high school movies. I first heard about Rotary Youth Exchange my first day of junior year, when I met an inbound named Mads who just happens to be from Denmark! A little later on in the year Bill Learn visited my school and I just knew that this was something I had to be a part of. Denmark really appealed to me because it is such a small and progressive little country. History is most definitely my favorite subject in school and I’ve always been fascinated with European and Scandinavian history in particular. The way the government provides so much for it’s people and how Danes emphasize equality and a high standard of living is amazing and very different from the views of so many here in America.

Danish will certainly be an interesting language to study. The language is very flat and some have said it sounds almost as if Danes talk with potatoes in their mouths :). Nonetheless, I will take this opportunity to learn a new language, culture, and lifestyle and run with it! I have lived in and around Jacksonville my entire life so I am super excited to get the opportunity to live away from home for a year and stay with families who are sure to be very different from my own. I would like to thank everyone who has made it possible for me to do this, I appreciate it so much! This is such a wonderful program and I wish that everyone had an opportunity to do something like this. Mange tak!

Taylor Grinnen
2012-13 Outbound to Russia
Hometown: Orange City, FL
School: University High School – Orange City
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2220, Russia

Taylor - Russia

Taylor’s Bio

Привет! My name is Taylor Grinnen and I am 16 years old. I am currently enrolled as a senior at University High School. I am graduating a year early because I have sufficient credits for graduation. This upcoming year, I will be a 2012-2013 Rotary Youth Exchange Outbound Student to Russia! I live in Orange City, Florida, located in between Daytona Beach and Orlando. I live with both of my parents, my younger sister, and our Golden Retriever named Kenzie. I have lived in Florida my whole life, but I often travel throughout the United States. I have only been out of the country twice on a cruise; we went to the Bahamas, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. At school I enjoy art, science and foreign languages. I am currently in my fourth year of Spanish, and my first year of French, and I can’t wait to start learning Russian. I also enjoy Biology and Marine Science. In school I am in the Spanish Club and the Literacy Club.

I am rarely ever bored; even the simplest activities will spark my interest. In my spare time, I really enjoy baking cookies, being with friends, fishing, going the movies, and traveling. Thank you Rotary for giving me this incredible opportunity to be a foreign exchange student! I am thrilled to go to Russia and I can’t wait to experience the culture and begin a new adventure.

Taylor’s Journals

February 18, 2013

I am now living with my second host family in a duplex house in the city centre. My family is really kind and welcoming to me, always treating me like family. My host mother and I get along really well.  Just the two of us went for a trip to St. Petersburg for two days, and we are going again tomorrow for 4 days.

Already I have traveled around Finland, Southern Russia, and Moscow region. In March my family and I are going to Prague and Vienna!

I have 3 host siblings: Sasha who is 17 and lives in Petersburg,  Vlad and Nastia are twins in the 7th grade. Since being with this family, I have joined art school which I go to on the weekdays. On the weekends, Sasha comes home and we do some activity and have a lunch on Sundays.

I attend a small private school with about 200 students. School is for 6 days a week from 9:00 until usually 2:10, each class lasts 40 minutes with 20 minute breaks in between. At this time students can do homework, talk with friends, walk around, play outside, or eat in the cafeteria.

The weather is very predictable here: cold with grey skies.

When I first arrived here in September, I was wearing shorts for two weeks, and one day I woke up to discover that winter had begun with a foot of snow on the ground. Now, winter is long, and most days cold. Anything above 10 F is considered warm. Most days are with grey skies, and only 8 hours of day light. Despite this, the occasional days of sun and frost are some of the most beautiful days I have ever seen!

• When entering the house, you must immediately remove your shoes (there is usually a special hallway for this) and put on house slippers

• Russians drink hot tea called chai. This was hard to get adjusted to (I was told that is traditionally 5 times a day), but now I always enjoy green tea with milk!

• They use the metric system. Although I now feel temperature in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, I still can’t understand distance.

• People are really reserved and prefer to keep to themselves, and to the people they already know.

• People don’t have sleepovers. Friends are for in school, and for after school walks around town/going to cafes. In my 2 months with my second host family, not once have they had friends over at the house.

• The food here is very different in a very small way. Everything is heavier, but soup (which is eaten everyday, usually for lunch, or directly after school) is very watery, with a few vegetables.

• Juice here is delicious!  You can find it in any flavor of any fruit!  My favorites are Peach, Mango, and Apple with Pumpkin.

• Smetana is the sour cream of Russia. Russians love it and are proud of it and believe that it only exists in Russia.  They put this on everything!  Soup, cake, meat, sweets, bread, and just by the spoonful!

• ‘Salad’ to a Russian means something entirely different from my idea of salad. There are countless various kinds of salads, all consisting of small diced vegetables, small diced meat or fish, mixed together with mayonnaise or smetana. Similar to a potato salad, with more vegetables.

School goes up to 11th grade and there is school on Saturday

• In school, they use notebooks of graph paper, rather than lined paper

• People dress more formally for school, girls often wear high heels

• In USA it is expected that you be on time, you should be 15 minutes early. Here being on time is being 15 minutes late.

• Roads are in very poor conditions, often there are holes, cracks, and uneven or unflattened sections of the road.

• Almost everybody lives in apartment buildings which most often look plain and run down on the outside, but clean, small and modern on the inside

• Probably the first thing I noticed, is that almost always, the stairs start out tall, and gradually decrease in size as you ascend up a stairwell.  Or vice versa.  I have still not adjusted to this, and I frequently fall up and down the stairs!

• Houses have colored, scented toilet paper

• A public bathroom you may have to pay 10-20 rubles to use. You’ll be lucky if the public (or school!) bathroom has a toilet seat, you’ll be even luckier if they have toilet paper!

• There are larek at every bus stop and corner. Lareks are little huts that sell pirozhki, or individual baked pies of meat, vegetable or sweet.

• Clothes dryers don’t exist, everyone hangs their clothes on a clothes rack in the house which can can many days to dry.

Rotary did I really great job of preparing us for exchange! I am so grateful to Rotary to have given me this opportunity to live my dreams and explore another culture!

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