Outbounds 2013-2014

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Alysa Malespina
2013-14 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Ängelholm

Alysa - Sweden

Alysa’s Bio

Hej! The name’s Alysa Malespina. Pleased to meet you. I, along with twenty-something other students, have been both persevering and lucky enough to make it into the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. We have battled the application, catr fought through the interviews, and now we’re really going. I’m really going. My country? you may ask. Sweden.

The first question most of my friends and family ask when I tell them whaere I’m going is “Why didn’t you choose someplace warmer?” To which I reply “Have you ever seen a picture of the place?”

At this point, I will find the nearest smartphone, show the offender a picture, and they will then remain silent on the matter. However, Sweden has more going for it than natural nbeauty (though I might be hard-oressed to find somme aspect I enjoy more). Sweden has an incredibly rich and interesting history, a political system vastly different from the one I was reaised in , and apparently, some really fun festivals. Speaking of, if anyone tries to send me back to the US before midsummer, they will not be able to find me before June 20th.

Now a little anout me: I love reading. I love reading and learning and riding horses— for fourteen years, in case anyone was curious– and talking to people who know lots about lots. I especially love doing anything that could be considered “awesome”– that’s why I went after Rotary Youth Exchange. It seemed like the absolute coolest thing to do at the time. (And still does!) To anyone reading my journal, I hope you like cool things, too, because I’ll be doing and writing about as many as possible. I really hope all of you enjoy reading my journal. And to everyone at Rotary Youth Exchange: thank you. All of you have a dedication to love of learning and new experiences that I find astounding– in fact, more astounding than your ability to work with paperwork, which is saying something. Thank you again for what I’m sure will be an adventure of a lifetime. And so we go.
Alysa’s Journals
August 5, 2013
I wrote this on June 16th, but late’s better than never:

I’m a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Last October, I heard a talk about some program in which I could live abroad for a year, make new friends, become bi-cultural, and all that sort of thing. It sounded cool, so I just kinda filled out the application, turned it in, and hoped my parents would get more on board with the idea as time went on. I was accepted by Rotary after a series of interviews, I got my country (Lithuania) and I went to my first weekend at a place called Lake Yale. It’s a summer campey place with a playground and a lake; all the trimmings, it’s pretty nice.

All 80ish of the outbound students (those leaving the US) come together for a weekend of talks and lectures about all the basics of being an exchange student: don’t die, do anything stupid, or come home early. Over the next six or so months, I got my country changed to Sweden, did some essays, rode in a few horse shows, finished my IB testing, decided which college I would attend, and ate lots of popsicles at the Hyppo, a popsicle store near my house.

That’s all you need to know about my life before this weekend for this blog to make sense. So, that is what you shall get. I didn’t write in much more detail because I don’t remember most of it. (Well, I’ll remember the horses and popsicles until my memory decays, but the school-related stuff already seems to have lost its grip on me.)

Fast-forward to this weekend. We went to Lake Yale again for a “Cultural Boot Camp” and I think I speak for all the Outbounds when I say I had an outstanding time. We played quite a few games and we had quite a few conversations about said games. That were fun, but those weren’t the things that affected me most this weekend. What did? My peers. I have never had a group of people I enjoy more than out RYE Florida Outbounds.

That’s why I feel so confused.

I have never met a group of people I love more. It is both one of the most and least diverse group I have met. Diverse in the usual ways, but similar in that they all value experience, understanding, adventure, and in that they desire to make themselves lost just for the sake of being found again on a map of their own creation.

But I won’t see them again for a year. And in about six weeks I’m going to meet a group just as fantastic.

Another outbound said to me a few weeks ago that he’s no longer in Florida, he’s in Peru (the country where he’s going, in case you, dear reader, are a little slow). I can’t say the same thing. In general, I pride myself on being very present, in the present, wherever I presently am. I can live with people and things moving in and out of my life, and I’m almost always fine with it.

However, after this weekend, I find myself really, really angry. Not at me, or my parents, or Rotary; I’m angry at time. I want it to move fast and slow at the same time because I can’t wait for the next thing that’s going to happen, but I don’t want what’s happening now to end. I want to meet and spend forever with my future friends in Sweden, and a I want to do the same with my friends that I met just last January. Unfortunately, I don’t even have one forever to fill, let alone the endless ones I need.

I haven’t even left yet, and I already understand why the Doctor hates endings.

August 8, 2013

I have been in Ängelholm for a little over 24 hours now, and I could certainly not think of many places I would rather be (pretty much only Rivendell and Gallifrey). The weather is what I would say is like a crisp autumn day, close to the beach, adorable town that I can take the bus to in a period of ten minutes, and there are quite a few horses around. I’m going to try to find a barn where I could muck stalls on weekends or something for a ride or two, but they’re nice to look at regardless. My host family is pretty darn cool, if I do say so myself. I’m their fourth exchange student, so they’re quite helpful in guiding me through and tolerating my cluelessness.

A quick narrative breakdown of yesterday before I get to my new cultural insights and all that jazz: I got on a plane at Jacksonville, had a six hour layover at Dulles in Washington, DC (with almost zero internet access) and got on an 8-hour flight to Copenhagen— a business class 8-hour flight! I got upgraded for free because someone had to move to economy to sit with someone or something. I got off the plane and was met by my host dad, mom, and sister (in the house, we also have my host brother, his girlfriend, and another exchange student form NZ), we drove into Sweden and an hour north. My day consisted of a trip to the grocery store, a trip downtown for an international food festival and some shopping, and my hose sister Linnea’s going away party. She’s leaving for Boise, Idaho early next week.

Now, what all my readers are probably waiting for: things that confuse/amaze me about Sweden!:

*there is no humidity, so the air feels super crisp

*the bowls look like plates and it is confusing

*the water in bottles doesn’t really look carbonated, but it is.

really, really carbonated

*there is bacon-cheese in toothpaste tubes

*everyone is like four feet taller than me

*also at the party last night 80% of people were blonde. People

will say, “Oh, only 40% of Swedes are blonde.” don’t

believe anyone who tells you this. They are liars.

*you can leave windows and doors open without fear of a

horde of insects taking over your house

*I have the opportunity to live here for a year.

September 11, 2013

Hej! I’ve been in Sweden about a month now, and I’ve failed to be a very good blogger.

In fact, since my last update I have

• Started school

• Switched programs twice

• Went to Liseberg

• Started SFI

• Visited Hamlets house

• Gone to a crayfish party, a gong away party, and another dinner party

• Canoed 26 kilometers on a Rotary trip

• And generally lived the life of an exchange student

I feel bad about my lack of blogging, but as you can see, I’ve been busy.

School… is nice. My school is six buildings, with three stories. It has a dining hall and a separate café, and all the classes take place in different classrooms and at different times of day each day. Some days I have one class, some I have five. Its more like university than American high school. I’m doing the humanistika program which is languages and the like. I take French, English, Swedish, math, philosophy, history, and Swedish for immigrants.

I have several Swedish friends, plus 4 exchange students, which is pretty good for an exchange student in Sweden for a month—this is not one o those countries where being this exotic American will gain you legions of friends, which is nice in a way, because it makes you feel very normal. Some people find me interesting, some don’t, some put up with me speaking like a three year old, some don’t.

That’s the thing—exchange is normal. Like the rest of life, if you make it wonderful and exciting, it will be, and if you don’t, it won’t. I was talking to my host dad last week and he said that one of their previous exchange students, who went home, by the way, went on exchange to `find herself´, which O don’t think is what you can do on exchange. Exchange is something you do when you’ve found yourself (whatever that means), are very confident in the person you are, and are ready to meet some new people. You have to be confident in yourself already, because exchange is not easy. You will not be instantly happy and have friends. Exchange life has been a series of moments, in some of them I am surrounded by a huge number of people, and that can be stifling, but it can also be fun, and you have to make it fun. The next day, you could be walking through school, alone, not understanding what people around you are saying, and feel more alone than anyone in that world. But you have to take those moments as they come, too. But coming into exchange, you have to be able to deal with taking control of your view every moment, and that’s not something everyone is disciplined enough to do, so before you go, make sure you are.

Anyway, enough of that. Now I think I’ll talk a bit about cool, fun Swedish stuff.

It is already cold here. Me and my host family went out to get pizza on August 31, and I was wearing two cashmere sweaters and a blazer. This winter, if I stop updating, it’s probably because I’ve died of frostbite.

I went to Hamlet’s house! On a field trip to Denmark—Horatio gave us a tour, and I was fangirling so, so hard. I got to see where the epic duel happened, and also I met my current class, of about 5 girls, and they are wonderful and I’m grateful they’ve taken me in. I love Lauren and Juanje, but I’d rather not spend my whole year with other exchange students.

We have had some very nice dinner parties. I mean, I always love dinner parties, I could survive for weeks feasting only on others merriment, but the food here is usually pretty good, so Im glad I don’t have too. My first was a crayfish party to say goodbye to Vilhelm and Ebba, my host brother and his girlfriend, who are moving to New Zealand. It involved crayfish, schnapps, and a horde of Swedish twenty year olds. They were all very nice, and by Swedish standards I am a much better dancer than I am in the US.

Ebba’s parents had another goodbye dinner, and they are amazing, amazing cooks. I think I ate an entire zucchini pizza, tons of these brilliant Swedish mushrooms, they’re small, yellow-orange, and made of happiness, and a quarter of this blackberry pie thing. The food was so, so good.

We also had another party at our house with my host parent’s friends. I won a corn on the cob eating contest, and we had a lovely time over dessert. I think most of my favorite moments in Sweden have involved doing things over coffee.

Speaking of, Swedish coffee is better than American coffee. It’s not as bitter. Also, they don’t really have Starbucks over here. They have Espresso House, which is crazy expensive, but very good. We went to Starbucks after our trip to Liseberg, the amusement part in Göteborg, and it was even more expensive. We’re talking seven dollar tall coffees, here. Also, Liseberg, though not as nice as our parks in Orlando, has this drop ride, where you get to sit over Göteborg for like 20 seconds before being dropped, and it was one of the best views I’ve ever seen, and one of my favorite moments thus far in Sweden.

Lastly, this weekend I had a camping/canoeing trip with Rotary. We went for 26 kilometers over two days, and I got to be with my partner Emmy both days, and there was a campfire (which may or may not have made me a tad homesick) and I got to sleep under the stars and it was, all in all, a very lovely weekend. In fact, it was so lovely, I was inspired to ask my friend Sofi if I could join her scout group, and I have been granted permission. We’re going hiking soon, so prepare to read about that in a future update.

November 2, 2013

As I write this, on November 2, 2013, I have been in on exchange for 90 days; and my god, what a 90 days it has been. Exchange is in full swing, and everything I was told would happen, has happened. The projected highs and lows have been spot on. Rotary has been right about everything, and in only three months, my exchange has changed me more than I thought it could in a year.

First, I give you a summary of my adventures since my last journal. I’ve canoed 20-plus kilometers. I’ve seen a production of Hamlet in Swedish. I’ve had fika for hours in Stockholm. I’ve learned how to drink strong espresso without any milk or sugar. I’ve picked mushrooms with my host family and had them for dinner.  I’ve ridden a horse for the first time since I left the US. I’ve navigated the Paris metro system. I’ve been homesick for my home in Sweden; and for approximately 100% of these events, I’ve had mini mental breakdown while trying to understand both how lucky I am to be here (seriously, thank you mom, dad, and rotary for helping me make this happen) and how proud of myself I am for making this happen (thank you mom, dad, rotary, friends, and Haddenloch for making me the kind of person who can do this.)

That being said, exchange has not been a three month long vacation. I still feel guilty that I’m not fluent, or even conversationally fluent, at this point, and I imagine I won’t stop feeling guilty until I am. I still have to deal with living day-to-day with a culture that is much less organized and type-A than I’m used to (Though if I need to vent about that, there’s a German exchange student in my town who understands my pain). And I still need to deal with homesickness, which honestly didn’t hit me until I saw pictures of my stable’s Halloween horse show, which to me is the beginning of the ‘’holiday season’’. To top it off, at this point in Sweden, it’s pitch black by 5 pm. To deal with all of this, my usual plan of ‘’be busy all the time’’ hasn’t been quite enough, so I’ve taken up baking, in an apparent effort to make my host family obese. Both my host family and my exchange student family, both in Sweden and from Florida have been so much help. I’m also super lucky to have an amazing group of Swedish friends who tolerate me speaking Swedish like a small child (ironically, my best Swedish friend, Sofi, is half-Lithuanian, so I feel super cool when I know things about Lithuania and she’s impressed by my knowledge).

Perhaps the most important part of my exchange, however, is repeating the message to myself, loud and clear, that an experience doesn’t have to have immediate results, add to the bottom line, or make you more prepared of some career, to be important and worthwhile. This is a belief that I’ve held my whole life as a longtime fan of obscure science, fantasy novels, and other purely ‘’intellectual’’ pursuits. However, as I moved closer to University, adulthood, and all that jazz, it because more difficult to take time and do something which only was meant to delight and teach me. In Sweden, I’m not learning Spanish or Chinese for a job, I’m not doing a study abroad program or internship at university (though I’m sure that people who do these things do have some wonderful experiences). I am here enjoying a people and a culture. I’m also here learning that hobbits and wizards and orphans on the run from pirates aren ’t the only things in the world that can be enchanting. And growing up in the rather puritanical culture of the US, I started to feel my doubts about doing things merely for the pleasure of doing them, because that is what ‘’adults do’’. Travel, like novels, films, and other various arts, is form of ‘’escapism’’—not like the escape of the deserter in the military, but the escape of a one of those heroes and heroines in a dystopian novel. It frees you to see the values of the culture you were born to and the culture you now live in, and it allows you to take the best of both, and leave the worst.

These 90 days have been so, so amazing, and I can’t wait for the next 8 months (!) of buying an infinite number of wool socks, having fika, traveling, and making flower crowns.

December 6, 2013

So, at this point writing blogs is getting a little difficult—exchange no longer feels like a cool trip, it just feels like life, and when you’re just living day-to-day, it gets hard to remember that you’re doing something really cool that’s worth reading about. Then I thought of what I wanted to read about when I found out my country, and this blog will be mainly related to that.

School: School in Sweden is very, very different than it is in the US. It’s about a million times more relaxed, which I think is great for exchange purposes, but I’m not too sure what I think of it as a system. Each of my classes I have twice a week, and each of those classes I will have between one and two hours of class time. Most of the time we spend in class is just working on assignments on the Macbooks the school gives all the students (except for me, I use my Lenovo, and we’re very happy together.) You call your teachers by their first names, and you can go to the bathroom without asking. Sometimes I have an hour or two between classes, and this is spent either going on tumblr or having fika in the school café with my friends. My school has a café and a cafeteria—the cafeteria serves a pretty good (10,000x better than in the US) lunch, and it’s free, and the café has chokoladbollar, coffee, kanelbollar, and other delicious, sugary things, but you have to pay. If the teacher is not there, you don’t have class. Also, one of the most interesting things, to me, is that both the teachers and students move classrooms. For example, I have French on Mondays and Thursdays, but each class has a different time and a different room. This is resulted in me still not having my schedule memorized. As far as grades go, as long as I participate, all is well.

Swedish Rotary: Swedish Rotary is hard to get used to after US Rotary. My US Rotary club was very involved in the local community, and they had some volunteer opportunities. Thanks to the Swedish government, not quite as much volunteer work in needed in Sweden. The first meeting I went to I asked what opportunities I could have to help out, and my president told me that they mainly send money to Doctors Without Borders, and there wasn’t too much I could do to help with that. I also thought it was really interesting that my club of about 30 people only had two women, which seemed strange to me, as Sweden is famed for its gender equality (though I have heard that other clubs have a better gender distribution). Rotary is also pretty relaxed in Sweden. I don’t mean that in a ‘’exchange students break the Ds all the time and everything is okay’’ kind of way, though we do have some risqué, Rotary-sponsored, snowmobile driving. I mean that, at least in southern Sweden, travel rules are very relaxed. As long as you’re responsible and reasonable, Rotary will say yes to most of your travel requests, even out of Sweden. Though if you take advantage of the freedom they give you, I have heard stories of Rotary coming down pretty hard on exchange students. Be smart. There aren’t too many rules, so follow the ones that exist.

Weather: It is cold. You will be cold. Expect to spend a lot of money on winter clothes and accessories when you get here. It’s an unavoidable evil, and if you don’t plan, you will be poor after the first cold day when you have to leave school and buy some clothes so you don’t die of frostbite. You do not make good financial decisions when you just really want something warm on your body.

Language: Yes, most people speak English. Yes, it is hard to get people to always speak Swedish to you. Do note, that even though you can’t control what language people speak to you, you can control what language you speak to them. My speaking is better than my listening because of this, as many Swedes get annoyed when they have to talk slowly and repeat things. Try to insist, but don’t be rude about it. If you find someone who will help you learn and speak Swedish to you, be friends with them, and try to surround yourself with people that are patient with your language learning. Another note: if you travel to other parts of Sweden and don’t understand what people are saying at first, don’t beat yourself up about it, as regional accents are quite distinct. For example, my host family is from Stockholm, and they tell me I can’t speak a word of Swedish, only Skånska, which is the name of my regional dialect.

Fika: fika is a Swedish tradition of coffee and pastries with friends. It can be done as many times as you want per day, and the time is never wrong for a fika. This tradition, combined with the Swedish love of mushrooms, has made me 90% sure that all Swedes are giant hobbits. Why the entire world has not adopted fika, we may never know, because it is the best.

Public Bathrooms: Speaking of things that are the best, the entire world should model their public bathrooms off of Swedish ones. Individual rooms, individual sinks, and you know when the doors are locked, because the area above the lock is red. Swedish design at its finest.

Food and exchange weight: Most main courses in Sweden is pretty bland, with lots of potatoes, and many raw vegetables and salads. Also they eat a lot of meat. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, you will be in heaven. I’m not a huge fan of Swedish food, as it’s not terribly interesting or vegetarian-friendly, but it’s rarely bad. Most of the food I cook for my host family gets complaints fro being ‘’too’’: too spicy, to heavy, too much flavor. Where Swedish cuisine shines, though, is in the desserts. Pies, cakes, cinnamon and chocolate buns, all really good, and all the leading causes of exchange weight in Sweden. On exchange weight: if you aren’t terribly healthy and active in the US, you will probably lose weight if you only fika once or twice per day. If you play sports and eat really well in the US, you will gain a few kilos, but you will survive.

Fashion: anything warm. Bring lots of warm clothes, don’t bother with sandals, maybe bring one pair of shorts. Girls usually dress in a 90’s grunge style; boys have more of a classic American look. They are all well dressed; abut not super fashion-y. In the winter, all Swedes look the same. Dark pants, dark jacket, dark scarf, dark hat, dark gloves. I recommend you follow suit.

Culture shock: this caught me pretty unawares. ‘’Oh, western civilization,’’ I said. ‘’We’re all pretty much the same,’’ I said. I was wrong, and knowing that the culture was going to be super different would have made the first few months a bit easier. All my time as a student in the US was very much based on the idea of ‘’achieve the most and be the best.’’ And now more than ever I realize that competition is one of the core values of US society. In Sweden, this is not the case. Few students are ‘’overacheivers,’’ as Sweden has more of a culture of collaboration than of competition. That attitude was hard for me to adjust to, especially since I came from a school environment that was more competitive than most. Interestingly, Swedish classes are not separated by level, like standard, honors, AP, and IB, but by subject, like science or language. There’s also this idea of ‘’lagom’’ in the culture, which is an idea of everything in moderation. This is another thing that takes some getting used to, coming from the idea of ‘’work hard, play hard,’’ ‘’more is better’’ culture of the US. Most of this I’ve come to understand and have gotten used to, though I still find the need for Swedes to plan everything approximately three years in advance to be odd, as well as the fact that they label weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to casually tell someone that I’ll be busy the weekend of week 33.

So, future exchange students to Sweden, I hope that answers some of the questions you have. And to everyone else, there’s a peak at my everyday life in Sweden.

Amaris Hayes
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: S. Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Porto Seguro

Amaris - Brazil

Amaris’ Bio

Hello! I’m Amaris Hayes; I’m 17 from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. I am so excited to say that I will be spending the next year in Brazil. I can’t wait to experience life in another part of the world, because even though I have travelled and moved throughout my whole life, I know nothing will compare to the journey that I am about embark on. Here at I home I literally live across the street from the beach. I don’t go much but I’m sure I will appreciate it a lot more once I leave. I live with my mom, dad and younger sister, who plans on applying to Rotary next year. In school I’m a part of the AICE program as well as a member as SJCCA (St. Johns County Center of the Arts). I’ve been acting since I was five and it is very important to me. My second love is movies, I even have a mini collection here at home, and I hope to have a future in film one day whether it’s acting or directing it’s something that I’m very passionate about. In my free time I like to bake, and I find any excuse to practice my decorating skills whether it’s a friends’ birthday or cast parties for the plays and musicals at school. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take anything for granted and want to make the most out of life. And what better way to do that then to experience a whole new part of the world and do something that most kid my age would never dare of doing. You hear a lot of teenagers say “You only live once, so make the most of it!” and as cheesy as it seems I feel like I’m actually doing it!

Amaris’s Journals

December 12, 2013

It’s been a little over three months in Brazil and I can honestly say I can’t believe it. I’ve already done so many things and meet so many people from all around the world. I’ve been whale watching, hiked in the mountains and seen some amazing views, swam in caves, and live in one of the most beautiful cities right on the beach, that people travel from all over to see. Now I’m on ‘summer’ break now, so my schedule is a little relaxed. I get up in the morning have breakfast and then go into the city to meet up with the other exchange student sometimes, or stay at home with my host sister and watch a movie. My family own a restaurant on the beach so at lunch time we usually walk there and have lunch before walking around the main square. During school however my schedule was very exhausting. I would wake up at 6 am to travel to school that started at 7:30. I took two buses (often in the mornings however I would need to take a taxi van because the first bus would be to slow and I wouldn’t make it to class on time) , a ferry boat, and then about a half mile walking to get to school, all together about an hour and a half. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays school would let out at 1pm, and on those days I would have my Portuguese lesson from 4pm to 5pm. But on Wednesdays and Fridays I would be let out at 1pm for lunch and then return at 3pm for afternoon classes until 6pm and take the commute back home, usually a little longer than it would take in the mornings. I take Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Sociology, Geography, Portuguese (two glasses one is more of a writing, the other is Literature/Grammar), History, Math (which is more college algebra) and English. It sounds like a lot, but every day you have a different set of them, so it’s not so bad. When I go back, I’ll be with the same group of kids and teachers, just in a different room which is nice.

The food here is so amazing I honestly don’t think I can explain it. But these are a couple of my favorite things.

– Guaraná

– The fruit juices

– Brigadeiro

– Feijoada

– The fruit here is like anything you’ve ever tasted believe me!

When I would read these I really liked the culture differences/things they know about America so here we go…

– Lunch is the big meal here, while dinner is more of a snack; a soup, sandwich, or a small pizza.

– Most restaurants are self-service/buffet style

– Sodas aren’t as popular as the natural juices (My favorite thing!)

– You will hear every Brazilian Rotex/Rebound/Inbound say that the fruit here is better. They are right.

– Everyone is obsessed with red solo cups.

– The first thing my host sister asked me was “What is twerking?”

– I arrived tail end of the VMA’s/ the Wrecking ball video, so I got a lot of Miley questions.

– McDonalds

– Michael Jackson

– Obama vs. Romney

– I got asked about Syria quite a bit.

– Guns (not just the Brazilians, the other exchange students as well)

– Shopping (everything here is expensive, so when I mention $20 jeans, at the store I use to work at, everyone is amazed.)

– Always eat with a knife and fork. I’ve hardly ever used a spoon.

– Trayvon Martin (There was an exercise in my book for my English class based on politely cartoons and small article about it in which it changed the place from Florida to Oregon.)

– One Direction

– Beyoncé

My exchange started a bit strange, having to fly immediately to my orientation before meeting my host family, and from then on it’s been pretty much out of the ordinary. By now I’m sure you’ve read about all of the other journals expressing how much they love their country and how fast the time has gone by and most popularly “I can’t imagine leaving!” and I envy those kids. Not to say that I don’t love Brazil because I do the people are generally friendly, I’m only a walk away from the beach and the food is phenomenal. However I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about home every day or that the hours don’t seem longer here. Nothing about my exchange has been ‘normal’ thus far. Sure I’ve had the typical exchange mishaps. Made some cultural mistakes, said some things I didn’t mean to say, or translated something wrong. The usual good old stories that always seem to get a laugh, but I never had an ‘ease’ into the culture, or a proper introduction to friends. I was alone. A lot, nearly every night, I was left home alone most of the time without internet (which is why I don’t have other journals like most of the other students.) And for a month with no phone, and about a mile walk away from any stores, with little money, because although we do receive allowance, you will quickly learn the value of money. So from very early on I’ve felt abandoned. I wanted my friends, and the comfort of my life in Florida. I was stuck in this foreign country, with very little language skills, or resources. I wish I could say that I’m a lot better now, but then I want to be honest, and I’m not going to sugar coat this. Sure, my situation and living arrangements have changed but my feelings remain the same. And the fact is. I’m miserable. I’m not having the time that I was told I would have, not entirely anyway. Not saying that you won’t, but what I’ve learned, don’t expect to have the same stories that you’ve read form Rotex/Rebounds or what’s on this website, because there is only so much you can say in a three page word document.

They express to you how hard it is and you spend two weekends at Lake Yale or maybe a few meetings with your district discussing how troublesome this year would be but nothing could possibly prepare you for this. It could be my personal experience, or maybe not. I don’t want to scare you, but for the new kids, just know that last year I was in your shoes. I was sitting at my computer spending a lot of time going through journals, and getting so excited about the things they experienced and the places they traveled with the trips through rotary. But I don’t remember reading about the harder times. And honestly, there are no words to explain to you how it feels. I could sit here at my computer and write a novel about how difficult it is, and how I’m feeling but you will never truly know until you’re here. It’s not just missing home, that’s the wrong word. It’s more than just missing your family or your friends. It’s more of a loneliness than anything. It happens at night when you’re about to go to sleep, after all the excitement has died down, and your just lying in your bed, looking up at the ceiling and realizing that your thousands of miles away from home, in a country that you may still be struggling for language, and discovering new things about the cutler. You’ll feel it when you’d have to defend yourself, against stereotypes, or explain yourself or your strange behavior to your host family and friends, realizing that you’re the only person that eats that way, or that you’ve forgotten you’re shoes to where around the house in your room by your bed, because you still haven’t gotten use to the idea. That’s ‘homesickness’. It’ missing the feeling of belonging somewhere, its feeling like you’re alone with no one to speak to or no one understanding you. And sure you have you counselor, but they’re not going through what you are. You maybe with other exchange students, and they are great! Or you could be in my situation with one other exchange student, where it’s difficult/expensive to get to them, and you might not be able to see them like you would want to, or they could be form another as well and still won’t understand your view.

I remembered on one of the last days of our last orientation at Lake Yale. They sat all of the outbound in a room with the Rotex, no adults just future and past exchange students, and someone asked about homesickness. And one of the Rotex said “Yes it will happen to you. It happens to everyone.” And I didn’t believe her. I thought sure, I’ll miss home but I’ll be so preoccupied living my own life I won’t be bothered! I’ve moved around a lot as a kid so I understand missing old friends. But I couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t want to scare you but I want you to know that it will happen to you. And you’re reading this and they might just seem like letters on a screen to you and I could be just spending my time writing for my own good, but if, just if, on your exchange you’re feeling the way I am, you’ll be able to think back to this and think that you’re not crazy. That this is what happens on exchange, because believe, from this day on everything will be moving so fast. One minute you’re in a room in Florida, listening to Al Kalter about the D’s and the next thing you know you’re taking your daily bus route to school on the other side of the world.

This hasn’t been the time that I was expecting or hoping for, but I’m hoping that at the end of the day, I’ll be able to look at this and say that this was the best days of my life. I’ll be fluent in another language and have friends from all over the world and eventually it’ll all be worth it, no matter how much it may not seem like it right now.

Austen Britt
2013-14 Outbound to Turkey
Hometown: Bryceville, Florida
School: West Nassau High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Kadikoy

Austen - Turkey

Austen’s Bio

Hello! Merhaba! I am Austen Britt and this year I am going to Turkey! I am 17 years old and currently live in Bryceville, Florida and attend school at West Nassau High in Callahan. I live at home with my mother and father and our 2 dogs – Chewie (a German Shephard) and Bear (a Schipperke). I have an older sister who is married and now has 3 beautiful kids. I am a very proud uncle. My brother-in-law is a Youth Pastor near Tampa and is one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. Growing up I lived all around Jacksonville until finally settling down in the Arlington area. I went to a public school for elementary then made a transition to a private, Christian school for Junior High. I went to University Christian High School for my freshman and half my sophomore year. There I played football and truly began my relationship with Christ. My father decided to move us out to the country and that’s how we ended up in Bryceville. It took some getting used to, but now I love it here. I finished my sophomore year at West Nassau and have been there since. Now I’m in my senior year. I joined ROTC at school and have made many close friends that are more like family to me now. I heard about Rotary from a friend of mine who I rode the school bus with. He got accepted and spent a year in Germany. I was so jealous of him! One day he came back with people from Rotary and gave us a presentation. From then on, I knew this is what I wanted to do! A few months later, I’ve been accepted and now I’m getting ready to go to Turkey! I’m so excited for Turkey! It’s such a beautiful country with a beautiful culture and a long, rich history. I know in my heart that this will be the most amazing adventure and experience in my life. I hope to learn so much from it. Thank you so much Rotary International! En iyi dileklerimle! (Best Wishes!)

Austen’s Journals

My journey here to Turkey was an adventure all in itself. I was very stressed, but happy and excited all at the same. As I stopped at each airport I felt a wave of relief, followed by more worries. I was able to relax during a two-hour layover in Atlanta, but I wasn’t so lucky in New York. I only had minutes to spare between getting off the plane at JFK and boarding my one-way flight to Istanbul.

The flight to Istanbul is one I’ll never forget. For my first time flying over seas it sure left an impression on me. I’ve never experienced turbulence so rough before. I was able to calm down by distracting myself with the in-flight movies (‘Silver Linings Playbook’, and ‘The Great Gatsby’) and sleeping. I also caught myself staring at the computer screen of one passenger’s laptop that happened to be watching Breaking Bad. But little did I know about the wave of stress that was to hit me after landing in Istanbul.

I was so excited! I was finally going to have access to Wi-Fi so I can contact my family and counselors of my arrival, and maybe get some breakfast too. I ate very little while traveling. Oh how foolish I was to assume it would be that easy.

After having my passport and visa checked I went to pick up my luggage. I was so happy to see my suitcase had safely arrived. However some of my luggage was missing. Before boarding the flight from Atlanta to New York I was told I couldn’t carry on my small suitcase, even though I had no problem carrying it with me from Jacksonville.

I didn’t worry myself, though I had good reason too. I took care of it later, at the time I needed to find my family. Getting through customs was surprisingly easy. An officer looked at my passport, asked for my reason being there, I answered Rotary Exchange, and he sent me on through. No one checked my bags or anything. Some people assumed I was in the military. A security guard asked if I was in the Navy. I thought it was funny.

I was officially in Turkey! Now to get some Wi-Fi and…oh wait! That’s right! And look at me without any passwords, 3G, cell service, or a clue.

Using what little Turkish I knew, I asked for directions to the nearest customer service booth. Once there I spoke to an employee in English about the Wi-Fi and she informed me there was one area in the airport that offered free Wi-Fi, but I would have to go upstairs and across to the other side of the airport. Now I wasn’t about to do that because I was where I needed to be and plus I knew I’d get lost.

I went looking for my host family or someone from the Rotary. I saw so many people in a crowd waiting with welcome signs. Some were written in English, Turkish, Arabic, and even in Korean. But none were for me. I looked at the time and realized my flight was two hours early! I knew my family wouldn’t be there for a while so I did the only thing I could think of. I found the nearest Starbuck’s.

Lucky for me there was one near by. It was getting hot wearing my Rotary blazer and walking around everywhere with my backpack and luggage. At Starbuck’s I ordered a bottle of water and sat vigorously scrolling my phone trying to find Wi-Fi. I asked the barista lady about the Wi-Fi and she said it wasn’t free. The room felt warmer.

I went back to the crowd of people looking to see if my host family was amongst them. I didn’t recognize anyone so I went back to the service desk to see if they could help in any way. While on my way a man who was only a few years older than me approached me. He spoke English. He was a Rotex and he recognized me by my blazer.

He called my counselor who gave him my host mom’s phone number. He was on the phone for less than a minute when he said “they’re over there!” I looked to my far right by the exit door and immediately recognized my host mom and brother. They smiled and greeted me. I was finally going to leave the airport!

Driving through Istanbul was interesting. Traffic here is very different from what I’m use to in Jacksonville. Apparently seat belts and speed limits are optional. My warning to any American interested in visiting Turkey; don’t drive! Just take a taxi, bus, or dolmush.

We met with my Rotary counselor Mert, and then they took me out to eat. My stomach was still trying to settle from all the excitement so I didn’t eat much. However the food was delicious. We had spicy Adana Kebabs, tomatoes with cucumbers and rice. I tried a popular Turkish drink called Ayran, it’s a salty liquid yogurt drink that Turks love. Mert warned me I would be craving Ayran before the end of the year.

My family took me home so I could get settled in. We live in a huge apartment with an amazing view of the sea. We sat on the balcony eating fruit and talking, really getting to know each other. My host family is so great to me! And I’m very excited about what’s in store for the rest of the year!

October 31, 2013

Getting accustomed to my new home life has been great so far! We eat most of our meals out on the balcony, unless it gets too cold. I have an amazing view of the Marmara Sea, the Princes’ Islands and the city’s coastline. It almost feels like I’m on vacation.

Breakfast is very different from what I’m use to back home. Turkish breakfast usually consists of tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, nuts, cheese and toast. Sometimes my host mother will cook eggs or an omelet to go with breakfast. Since pork is rare to find in these parts I have to substitute my usual sausage and bacon with sucuk. Sucuk (sujuk) is a spicy red sausage made from goat. Regular dairy products in America usually made from cow milk, but here in Turkey dairy products are actually made from goat milk. Most cheese (penar) and ice cream (dondurma) are made from goat milk.

Lunch is usually a smaller meal, more like a snack really. I usually have a sandwich with some fruit for lunch. Dinner is a big meal, and isn’t much different from American dinners. I’ve had Turkish pizza, BBQ chicken, shredded beef with rice, kebabs and kofte (which is like a Turkish mini burger).

The first two weeks with my family was very relaxing. I usually got to sleep in wake up and have breakfast and chill out with my host brother. My host parents would go to work, they own their own business. My host brother would sometimes take me to the tennis club my family is members of and we would relax by the pool for a few hours. Every night my brother and I would either be on the Internet or playing video games. Sometimes we would sit on the balcony with a movie projector and watch a movie.

As mentioned in my previous journal my luggage went missing back in New York. Both my mother and my host mother were on the case calling the airlines and making sure it was on its way. It’s funny that my luggage actually traveled around more than I did. Somehow it found its way to Amsterdam.

Eventually I got my luggage back. My host brother and I had to go all the way to the airport to retrieve it. We took a ferry down Marmara and I was able to see almost the entire coast of Istanbul. The day I got my luggage back was actually the day my family and I were going on holiday to an old city by the Aegean Sea called Ayvalik.

Ayvalik was once a Greek city but was later occupied by the Turks. You can actually see remnants of the old Greek culture that once thrived there. Most Greeks from Ayvalik actually moved and settles on the Island of Lesbos, which is still part of modern day Greece. You could see the island from the beach. We were going to visit the island one day but it turned out to be too expensive, there were other things to do though.

Everyday I woke up to breakfast ready to be served then the family got together and we went to the beach for several hours, we would head back to my family’s villa around noon or so and have lunch prepared for us by the grandmother. After lunch we would all take naps until evening and then we would spend the evening in downtown Ayvalik. We would usually have this delicious toast sandwich for dinner, made with sucuk, salami and cheese between two toasted buns. For desert some nights we would have lokma, which is this ball of fried dough spiced with cinnamon. The surface is crunchy but the insides would melt as you bit into it!

We stayed there for over a week then sadly we had to return home. School was starting soon and I really needed to work on my Turkish. I’m feeling confident though; I know I can do this! The future looks bright and I can’t wait for the rest of the year to unfold!

December 2, 2013

 On the Sunday, the day before the start of the school year the Rotary Club of Istanbul got together for a picnic/charity event. All the inbounds and Rotex were required to come of course. I was so excited to see other exchange students! It was refreshing to know that I wasn’t alone here in Turkey.

There are exchange students here from all over the globe! Together we’re representing the United States, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, France, Germany, and Taiwan. I love everyone; there is a strong bond between all of us. We’re like one big multicultural family! And of course we all took time to exchange pins, business cards, phone numbers and Facebook accounts.

The Rotex here in Istanbul are great! Most are either 18 or in their early 20’s. I’m able to relate to my counselors very easily because of this. Which helps my situation better if I ever need help. And to be honest in the past several weeks my counselors have been very helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost trying to go somewhere! It happens though, and Istanbul (home to 17 million people) is obviously a big place!

We’ve done a lot together as group so far with the Rotex and Inbounds. Other than the picnic we’ve also gone on a safari up in the mountains in an area outside of Istanbul called Sapanca. There was actually a nasty storm that blew in across the sea from Russia a few days before, so by the time we were up in the mountains the whole place was covered in snow! Now to a home grown Florida kid that was exciting! Other than that we usually get together for everyone’s birthday and celebrate.

I guess I’ll talk about my school a little. I go to a private high school; most exchange students are assigned to private schools. This year however we have our first students assigned to public schools. I guess the Rotary is experimenting to see how it goes. So maybe the next student from Florida to Turkey might go to a public high school! We’ll see. Now as stated before, I attend a private school. Marmara Private High School, also known here in Turkey as Marmara Koleji.

My school, as well as most schools here in Turkey, is a mixed campus from grade school all the way up to university. So I see middle school, high school, and college students all day. We’re separated of course throughout the campus. Unfortunately my high school wing is right next to the younger grades so I do get to see little monsters running around every day. Meh, it’s not so bad.

The service bus system here is quite impressive though! There is no designated stop you have to walk to. The school bus stops right in front of my apartment. The service bus driver is required to have information about me of course and that includes my host parents’ number. So whenever I’m running late for the bus or taking too long to get ready, he’ll call and wake up my host parents and that’s really embarrassing. That’s only happened one time of course. Oh also whenever I’ve had to miss school because of being sick or I had to do something with the Rotary I’ve needed to either bring the service driver a note a day before or I’ve had my host mother call him to let him know. So this a pre warning in case any future students thinks about skipping school. The service driver will have your parents’ number and they will call. And no I’ve never skipped school; I’m a good student!

December 3, 2013

I’ll go ahead and apologize if there is any confusion. The last journal I posted, including this one, were actually meant for several weeks ago. I’ve just been very busy this past month (November) that I completely let it slip my mind to update. I promise to continue updating more frequently now. Once again I do apologize.

Anyhow, so my lifestyle has been completely changed since I’ve come to Turkey. Everywhere I turn there’s something else I need to do, or I have the option of doing. Why back in October I was invited by my classmates to join them to a Model United Nations conference on the European side of Istanbul. It was very fun and exciting, and I had no idea what I was doing (that happens a lot by the way). Luckily for me the rules of the MUN are that all conferences are to be held in English, so that was an exciting surprise. I didn’t know that was the rule; neither did I know that I had to be in a suit and tie, plus dress pants and shoes. I just wore my Rotary blazer with jeans and my boots. Its safe to say I got fussed at, but once I explained myself everyone understood. So I wasn’t kicked out! And that’s good! One girl actually recognized my Rotary blazer (side note: Rotary blazer will save your life! It’s always helpful!), her brother was an exchan ge student a few years ago and she was interested in doing an exchange as well. So I got to talk to her plus a few other students while I was there, so hopefully I was able to recruit a few more future exchangers.

I mentioned how me and the other inbounds went up to the mountains and played in the snow. That was cool! We were with the Jeep safari group that drove up the side of the mountains and took us on the back roads, and if you would look out of the window all you would see is everything plus down, because there weren’t any safety rails on the sides of these narrow roads we drove on. But all the drivers knew what they were doing; they’ve done this many times. Or at least that’s what they told us. They were pretty much the equivalent of Turkish rednecks. Plus when we got to the campsite they built us a campfire and made hot sandwiches with sucuk (soojook), spicy Turkish sausage. And we had hot tea, so yeah we had a great time that day.

There was a big holiday in October as well (and no I don’t mean Halloween, there’s more on that later), known as Kurban Bayram or the Muslim Feasting Holiday. It’s kind of like a Muslim Thanksgiving. Unfortunately I was not able to spend it with my host family, they went on a trip to Paris for the week. So I stayed with another host family (I like to call them my back-up host family). All week long my host mother made food, and I’m pretty sure I gained a lot of weight just in that one-week cause there is a lot of eating involved. Thankfully Turkish food is the best!

I had a host sister, so a little switch up from a brother. Her name is Aicha, and she’s awesome! We have a lot in common, and we actually continue to hang out sometimes. She was an exchange student to the United States with Rotary. She spent her exchange in Michigan; I kept telling her she missed out by not going to Florida because RYE Florida is the best!

I’m not sucking up too much am I?

Anyway, so we spent a lot of time together that week. Her family took me to some really cool places. We went out to eat; we went to Taksim, which is the epicenter of Istanbul, and on the day of Bayram I got to meet the rest of the family. Which is really cool! There’s a tradition on Bayram where kids/teens/young adults must kiss the hand of their mother/father/oldest person in the room. You basically kiss the top of the hand then place it on your forehead to show your respect to them. Plus! Usually the oldest person will sometimes give you candy or some money, not like 5TL or something, maybe just a little pocket change is all. In the case for me I got nothing. Oh well they fed me so I was happy anyway.

So Bayram finishes and my actual host family came back from Paris and brought me a souvenir, which was really cool! Apparently my host brother was depressed and missed me the whole time, which made me feel great, plus I missed them too!

Now Halloween was right around the corner but for some reason it didn’t feel like it. Want to know why? Cause they do NOT celebrate Halloween in Turkey. Yeah I know, it kind of stinks but that’s how it is. It’s not for any religious reasons; Halloween just isn’t that popular here. On the contrary thanks to modern Westernization, American media, and the Internet most of the hipsters here in Turkey love Halloween! It has an underground popularity.

Back in the states I love Halloween! I go all out for it every year! So it’s only natural that I felt kind of bad because I couldn’t celebrate it this year (price we pay for being exchange students. It’s worth it though!). But thankfully my host family is the best in the world! We had a little Halloween celebration, nothing much, just a big dinner plus cake, candy and a scary movie. My host family doesn’t even like scary movies so that was really cool of them to do that for me. I love my host family here. Some of the other exchange student’s families did the same thing for them. Plus the Rotary club threw us a late Halloween party too. But I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post. Thanks again!

December 4, 2013

 Okay so in this post I’ll pretty much get caught up so my next journal will be more up to date. Once again I apologize and I’ll try not to forget again. Which will be somewhat difficult because Turkey is awesome and I’m always busy. But I’m now doing this not only for my RYE Florida audience but also for the next lucky student who will be in my shoes next year. I’m already excited for you, whoever you are!

Anyway so last I left off I was all sad and bummed about no Halloween, but my family is the coolest ever so we had a little Halloween thingy and it was cool. So the Rotary club here in Istanbul actually threw the rest of us exchangers a Halloween party too! It wasn’t a really big deal; there was music, food, lights, some few decorations and dancing. Oh! And we also got to dress up in costumes, which was kind of hard because not too many people celebrate Halloween here in Turkey. But luckily while me and a group of exchangers were lost in some alley way looking for a restaurant that serves Mexican food for some odd reason, we stumbled upon a smorgasbord of all these cool hipster shops with Halloween masks, music t-shirts, and stuff! It was kind of like Hot Topic, but Turkish. Obviously.

So some kids found dresses and make up, I found an alien mask that was pretty cool, so that’s what I wore to the party. Not really much of a costume but it were better than nothing I guess. However I did find a really cool scarf with flames on it. So now I wear that all the time because it’s freezing here! I’ll get more into that in the next journal. So the Halloween party was cool! We ate food and danced and took lots of pictures. But like they say, “its all fun and games till someone has a seizure and faints due to the strobe lights”, which is what happened to my friend Venice. She’s okay now! Apparently this happens quite a lot for her, I’ll tell you what happened on Thanksgiving in a minute. If she knew I was writing this she’d probably be mad at me. So shhh….

Anyway after Venice was all right she went home and most of us felt badly because she was really embarrassed. I felt bad because she had been trying to get me to dance with her all night and I never did. I don’t dance so lets just get this clear. She’s a sweet girl too so of course I felt bad, we’re good friends now and she’s not mad at me for not dancing, though she’s still always trying to get me to dance and I don’t know what else to tell her, it isn’t happening. But when I told that to my Rotex they told me otherwise because apparently there is going to be a ball in the spring and we all have to dance, so the Rotary is going to pay for us to have lessons. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, and hopefully burn it as well.

After the party was over a few of us went to Taksim to meet up with these exchange students from Izmir (a city down the Aegean coast of Turkey) that happened to be in town. What was really cool was the Izmir kids got permission from their families and Rotex to go to Istanbul by themselves! We’re lucky to even go around town by ourselves! But I’m not complaining. Plus it’s a six-hour bus ride from Izmir to Istanbul. And I couldn’t stand the 5-hour ride from Istanbul to Ayvalik, and that’s not including the 1-hour ferry ride across the Marmara Sea.

So once we got permission we took the metro (subway) to Taksim, the only problem we forgot was that it’s a Saturday night. Believe me when I say that the most popular area in town is never an easy place to walk around on a Saturday night! Especially a Saturday night! It was already late and we were starving and miserable and by the time we actually found the Izmir kids we had to turn around and go home or we’d be late, which is quite common when living in Istanbul because everyone is late! Traffic here is terrible, because no one really obeys traffic laws; they just sort of do what they want when they want, and when there is a car accident its like the end of the world almost cause everybody stops! Its crazy when you first arrive in Istanbul and witness it, then it gets annoying when you have to deal with it so many times, then you just sort of get use to it. It is very different from Florida indeed my friends. So I left that night cold and hungry and kind of gru mpy, also I had a nice two-hour trip home and went straight to bed because we had Turkish class the next day. Life in Istanbul! Its actually not as bad as it sounds, these are only a few minor consequences, trust me there’s so much more about Istanbul that I can’t even put into words, you’ll just have to come here and experience it for yourself.

So other than the Halloween party we had a Thanksgiving party as well. But before the Thanksgiving party let’s talk about Thanksgiving Day. We’re not usually able to have a holiday party on the actual holiday, especially if it’s not an official holiday here. For example we’re planning a Christmas party for December 28th, because the 25th is a school day, which will kind of stink. But my family is thinking of letting me miss school that day because I’m actually planning to go to Church that day with some Christian friends of mine and really celebrate the meaning of Christmas. And yes they do have Churches here but we’ll talk more about that later around Christmas.

So Thanksgiving Day! I actually got to miss school that day because the exchange students needed to meet up together with the Rotex so we could all go to the police station and get our residence permits. We were actually passed our legal 90 days but what were they going to do? Arrest us? Anyway so we on the Asian side needed to meet up at the Autobus station at 2:30, so I figured it was in the middle of a week day so traffic shouldn’t be too terrible, I left around 1:15. I got on the first minibus to Kadikoy, I didn’t need to go all the way to Kadikoy mind you, and the autobus station was on the way there just 5 minutes down the road. So I’m standing on the bus, there were a lot of people on the bus that day so sometimes you’ll have to stand; I’m finally able to grab a seat on the back of the bus after 15 minutes or so. As we’re going down the road I see this HUGE mosque that I always see when I’m going to Kadikoy, now usually we kee p going straight, but this time we took a right. And I’m thinking to myself why did we just go right? We continued going and stopped a few times to pick up more passengers, so now the bus was over crowded. I could turn around and still see the minarets of the mosque from a distance. It had been almost 10 minutes now and I knew I was going to be late, plus I wasn’t going to stop anywhere near where I needed to go.

I did my best not to panic, plus this man next to me told me to calm down we were going to Kadikoy. I was too worried and frustrated at the time to even think of what to say in Turkish, cause this had never happened to me before. Plus with the overcrowded bus I think my claustrophobia was starting to kick in as well so I knew I had to get off before I had a meltdown! So I quickly yelled “Inmek Istiyorum!” “I want to get off!” in Turkish. As soon as I heard the doors open on the bus I got up and pushed everyone out of my way, I jumped off and looked behind me and could still see the minarets of the mosque and began running.

I knew people were staring at me and wondering why I was running but I was in a hurry to really stop and notice, I just kept running. I felt like Forrest Gump but I knew I looked like an idiot, well more of an idiot. I love Forrest Gump okay! Anyway I just kept running until I got close to the mosque, and from a distance I could see another minibus that was headed in the correct direction I needed to go. I guess the driver noticed me because he opened the doors and honked at me till I hopped on. After I paid and sat down I took a look at my watch and saw that I had actually ran for 5 minutes straight! No wonder I was exhausted! And remember when I said since it was the middle of weekday traffic shouldn’t be as terrible? Well I was wrong.

Anyway so I was maybe half an hour late at the least, and my rotex kept reminding me all night. We picked up the students on the European side in front of some mall and I needed to run inside and get cash from an ATM because I had spent the change I was going to use to get home on the 2nd minibus, my rotex said I had 5 minutes. But since everywhere is crowded in Istanbul it took me like 15 minutes so I got yelled at again, my Thanksgiving Day wasn’t going as good as I hopped and/or wished it would. Once we got to the police station we all sat in a room and got yelled at by both our rotex and the police for being too loud. So remember to be very quiet in police stations! We were there for half an hour or so and it was already starting to get late so everyone was hungry, but no we didn’t have time to stop for food, we all needed to get home said our rotex, who was also in a bad mood that day. So traffic of course is very bad and in the middle of it our dear friend Venice decides that being conscious is boring so she throws up, has another seizer and faints again. Poor girl, she’s okay though! No worries. We were able to take her to a nearby hospital from there and her host family was coming to get her. Unfortunately for the rest of us that was the end of the line with the bus, so we had to walk several miles to the nearest metro bus station and hop on another one. From there us Asian side kids took the bus going to Kadikoy, we were still in Europe at the time mind you. So that was a fun 40-minute ride across the Bosporus.

Once we arrived to Kadikoy I hopped on the first minibus to Kartal (that’s where I live) and enjoyed another 40-minute bus ride to myself. When I got home my host family had already eaten but left me half a pot of spaghetti noodles, needless to say I ate all of it. My host mom was happy; she even left the burner on a little so it would stay warm for me. Once again, I love my family so much! It’s the small things they do, like feed me noodles that makes a difference. Anyway once I told this to my parents back home, my father said that this had been a character-building day for me. Trust me future Turkish outbound, you will have days like this too! I hope it’s not as bad as I had it, maybe worse. Just kidding, no I’m not.

So I would love to tell you about our actual Thanksgiving dinner party we had and my amazing experience that night but I have to go eat dinner now. So we’ll save it for tomorrows post! Thanks again!

December 5, 2013

 Okay to start of today’s journal let’s continue where we left off, so Thanksgiving Day was interesting, and by interesting I mean it was a complete headache. Or as my father back in the states likes to say, “it was a character building day”, trust me you future Turkish exchangers you will have plenty of those waiting for you here! I’m so excited for you! Now as I mentioned the Rotary was kind enough to throw us exchangers our own Thanksgiving dinner party. We were all suppose to prepare a meal from our home countries, so of course you had the Americans arguing who was going to make Turkey or Apple pie. Well we all took time to figure out who was going to prepare what, and I got mashed potatoes! Lucky for me that mashed potatoes is also a common dish served in Turkey, so it was easy for me to explain to my family what I was cooking and I also received help from my host mother. Yeah my family is many types of awesom e!

So there’s this somewhat embarrassing story about potatoes, I’ll try to sum it up real quick. Since I’m so busy I forgot to ask my mother to pick up potatoes from the store. So one day after our Turkish lessons I looked across the street and saw a Migros. Migros is a popular super market here in Turkey, you’ll see them all over the place, it’s basically the Publix of Turkey, and in some places you go it’s more like Winn-Dixie if you know what I mean. So I went into the store and bought an entire sack of potatoes. Hooray for doing things at the last minute! Oh and I was hanging out with some friends after class too, so I spent the whole walking around with a sack of potatoes stuffed in my backpack.

So anyway, this dinner party was provided by the Rotary, but planned by exchange students. So it became a headache as well, since no one knew till the day of when we were all suppose to arrive. Most of the exchange students like to like to meet up ahead of time someplace so we can all go together in groups, it makes things easier I guess. However I was in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove making the worlds greatest mashed potatoes ever! So I by the time I looked at my Facebook notifications and saw that we needed to be at the restaurant by 5:30 and a group of my friends were going to meet around 3:30 in Kadikoy, it was already 1:30, so initially I knew I was going to be late…again.

My potatoes still needed an hour to cook, cause I had to make enough for 40 people. Some of the exchange students host family’s came to the dinner, my family unfortunately couldn’t make it because they already had made plans for that evening. So they’re not perfect, but it’s okay. I had to get there by myself though so that was frustrating. I messaged my friends that I would probably make it around 4:00 and if I wasn’t there then just go ahead without me. Well I walked out the door by 3:00 and Istanbul traffic decided I could get to Kadikoy by 4:30, so of course no one was there. I had to take a ferry because the restaurant was in Levent, the area where our Turkish classes are, and it’s all the way on the European side.

I needed to put some money on my Istanbul card, an Istanbul card is a special card you need to purchase when visiting or living in Istanbul. The card itself cost only 6TL (TL=Turkish Lira), which in the exchange rate 6TL is only $3. You put money on the card and use it to pay for using the Ferry, Metrobus, Train, or Metro.

So now that I’ve explained what that is I can continue the story without you getting confused. I needed to put some money on my Istanbul Card, luckily I had 20TL cash in my pocket, which would be enough to last me 3 weeks. So I go to the machine that is used to put money on the card, I wish I actually knew the name; I inserted the money and put my card on the scanner, as I looked over I saw that my ferry was about to leave so I quickly removed my card and ran to gate. As I put my card on the payment scanner, the screen said I had no money left and I was confused then I remembered that when I took up my card the screen never turned green to signify that the money was put onto the card, the nice gentlemen behind me in line was happy to accept my generous donation of 20TL.

I asked someone when the next ferry would arrive; the next wasn’t until 5:00. I would have called my counselor to inform him I was going to be late, but since I was late on my phone payment I could only make emergency calls, which I still don’t even know how to make those yet. So I went to the ATM get some more cash, then PROPERLY put money on my Istanbul Card, I double-checked this time. Then I paid at the gate and waited for another hour. Eventually the ferry came and I had a long ride over to Europe, took the Metro to Levent and arrived in time to actually be one of the first few students to make it. So everyone was a little late, but dinner was delicious and my mashed potatoes were awesome!

January 25, 2014

Hello all! It’s been a while. So I pretty much left off in mid December so we have a lot to cover. I’ve had some snow days, a school field trip, Christmas and New Years. All exciting stuff and very different from what I’m us to back in Florida.

So to start off I woke up on a really cloudy morning one day, looking outside my window thinking it was raining and getting all bummed out because rain in Istanbul can be depressing at times, till I took a closer look and realized IT’S SNOW! And from the look of it, it had been snowing all night. It was like a blanket almost covered everything. It was kind of scary watching the cars on the roads; cause Turkish drivers are crazy so you don’t want to combine all that with icy snowy roads. Not a good combination. Anyway my host brother and I watched the news with intent waiting to here the announcement that schools were closed, but to our surprise no they weren’t. In fact they were all open that day. But thankfully I have the best host parents in the world, they let us stay home that day, but we had to go to school the next. So my brother and I played in the snow all day and had a good time. The next day at school, a lot of kids stayed home that day as well, b ut the rest all played in the snow during the 15-minute breaks between classes. For a Florida kid this was a magical week.

Speaking of school, I forgot to mention my classmates little habit of deciding not to show up for school on random days thus leaving me alone to my own devices for 8 and a half hours in a classroom of boringness. Well on Christmas Eve they decided to do just this. So I made myself comfortable ‘till a friend of mine popped in and told me that she and her class were going on a field trip to Istanbul University and since I was 18 I really didn’t need permission to go, so I went. It was an interesting day; I don’t really think they planned out what to do that day. We didn’t even have a tour scheduled, we just walked around one building at the university for about half and hour then everyone decided to split up and go shopping. Lucky for us Istanbul University is in a really old touristy area of the city. So I went shopping and bought a few souvenirs for myself, and ate at a café with my friend. It wasn’t the most productive day but at least i t wasn’t a wasted day.

Now Christmas Day I woke up a little earlier than usual, after getting permission from my host parent for skipping school that day. You see Christmas isn’t as big a holiday here in Turkey as it is in most Christian majority countries. So yes there was school that day, but not for me and other exchange students who all had permission from family and Rotary to skip school that day, and most of us really did it for religious reasons. We all met up in Taksim on the European side and walked together to a very old Church called “St. Anthony of Padua” or “San Antoine” as its called here by the locals. We went to an early Christmas Service held in English. After church we went to an American café down the road called “Amy’s” or “Missy’s”, it was something like that. Anyway the owner was a nice American lady and she made us so many pancakes. Trust me when I say pancakes are hard to come by here in Turkey, so tha t was probably one of my favorites Christmas presents this year. And later that night I got to video chat with my family back home. It was weird not being back home but it was still a very memorable Christmas.

New Years! Happy New Year by the way! New Years eve was family time. Here in Turkey most of our western Christmas traditions have been incorporated into the new years celebration. So there was gift exchanging, lights, and decorations, new Years trees, and even Santa Claus or Baba Noel (his Turkish name). My family went and visited my host grandmother and aunt’s apartment. There we had snacks, music, lots of food and right after the clock had stroke midnight we all exchanged gifts. I got some cool t-shirts and my own slippers. I love my gifts. I bought a game of “Jenga Boom” for my family to play together. And speaking of gifts about mid January I received my care package from my family back home with some late Christmas gifts and classic snacks you can’t get here in Turkey.

They said the holiday season was to be the hardest part of our exchange and they did not lie. It wasn’t easy and I battle many negative feelings to just go home. But I learned that no matter what home will always be there, its waiting and I will be home quicker than I think, so I might as well live it up here in Istanbul while I have this chance. Time flies too fast my friends. Make the most of every moment you’re all given. That’s all I got for now, tomorrow is the first day of my big tour here in Turkey with all the exchange students. I’ll post all about that next month when we get back, till then thanks for reading! See you soon! Cheers!

May 7, 2014

Greetings once more! It’s been a while since I’ve last updated my journal because the past few months I’ve been busy like never before. I’ve been busy living because despite the projects you’ll have to do with Rotary or with school, living a new life in a different country is what being an exchange student is all about!

I last left off right before I was about to depart on my first tour! The Western Anatolia tour! Where all the Istanbul exchange students and I had the privilege to tour the entire western half of Turkey. Seeing cultural small towns and villages, to huge touristic cities, as well as amazing ancient artifacts and sights along the way.

Our tour started from Istanbul stopping in the small town of Pamukkale, where we visited the ruins an ancient Greek/Anatolian settlement and natural springs, which was nice because it was kind of chilly that day and the warm water felt great!

The next stop was the city of Antalya. Before our trip I’ve heard much about this popular holiday getaway and how many Turks and Europeans own homes there. Which didn’t surprise me because it was very beautiful there as well as modern. However I will advise anyone who would like to visit here to wait till the summer months when it isn’t freezing cold and raining every day. We just had to go in January! But I digress; it was still very nice to visit. We stayed in Antalya for two days because there were several sites around the area we needed to visit. Day one of Antalya we stopped at the coast and saw a natural waterfall flowing into the Mediterranean Sea, which was the first time I’ve ever seen the Mediterranean. We were also able to visit the ruins of an ancient Roman/Anatolian settlement, which included ancient Roman bathhouses and the remains of an ancient amphitheater, which is still in use today!

The next day we left Antalya early in the morning and headed up the coast to a town called Demre, home to the final resting place of St. Nicholas. That’s right kids Santa Clause was Turkish…well actually not Turkish. He was really an Anatolian Greek and a Roman citizen. So I guess you can say he was Greco Roman. Either way his final resting place is in modern Turkey, well what’s left of him because Italian sailors stole a lot of his bones a long time ago. But his tomb remains in the ruins of the ancient church he founded in the town he grew up in. Fun fact! A lot of Russians live and visit Demre quite often after the Russian federation offered to purchase the town from Turkey but the Turkish government turned down the offer.

Later that day we visited ancient Greek temple mounds carved into the side of a mountain! We took a nice boat ride down an old creek and stopped on a small island right off the coast. The coolest thing ever was standing on that beach in the warm sun watching the waves wash ashore then turning around to see a snow topped mountain standing off in the distance. That is something you will never experience back in Florida.

We spent the night in Bodrum, another popular vacation destination for many Turks and Europeans. The next day we toured the city and visited a historical castle that was established by Medieval Greek knights during the Crusades. There was a collection of unimaginable treasures and artifacts; there were even the skeletal remains of a princess there! I saw a dead princess! And her room was huge! And I still think its weird they have her skeleton on display and not in the tomb, but still pretty cool! The castle was seriously like something out of ‘Game Of Thrones’! And this was also the first time I’ve ever been in a real castle before. I’m not counting Topkapi Palace in Istanbul because it wasn’t anything like a castle and it had been restored and modernized so much over the years. This castle was genuine!

That same day we travelled out to see the Acropolis, the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. At one point there was another temple beside the Apollo temple in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis, but ancient Christians destroyed that a long time ago. It still amazes me how those people of ancient times could build such structures.

The next day was a day I have been waiting for a long time. The day we visited Mother Mary’s house. Yes Mary the mother of Jesus Christ lived out the remains of her life in Anatolia with the apostle John, whom Jesus gave Mary to as his mother while He was on the cross. As a Christian seeing the final resting place of Mary was a very amazing and spiritual experience. People from all over the world come to visit Mary’s house. The new Pope was there not too long before. Even Muslims come to make a pilgrimage to Mary’s house, because Mother Mary is considered sacred in the Muslim religion as well. We visited the wishing wall by Mary’s house as well and got to drink holy water from the fountains of Mary.

Later that day we visited another Biblically historical sight, the ancient city of Ephesus. Where the Apostle Paul had gone and preached the gospel and even wrote letters to the Church of Ephesus in the book of Ephesians which we have in the Bible today.

Ruins, ruins and more ruins! We ended off our trip the last day by stopping in Canakkale, which has several historical war stories. First, Canakkale was where the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand took place, which set off the First World War. Secondly, Canakkale is where the invasion of foreign troops landed when seizing hold of the Ottoman Empire during WW1, specifically British and Australian troops. To this day Australians have an official holiday and even visit this location in memory of the many troops that lost their lives. Last but not least we finished off our final leg of the tour with visiting the ancient city of Troy, where the historical battle of Troy took place between the Spartans and Trojans, as Homer mentioned in the Iliad. To sum it up there was a lot of old ancient ruins and a giant wooden horse. At this point we were all so tired and ready to go home to Istanbul.

So that was our Western Anatolian Tour. A truly a memorable experience I will never forget! I’ll include some pictures from my tour in the next journal update I submit. Thanks again for reading and tune in for next time! Cheers!


Hello again, here’s another update on what’s been going on for me over here! So the Western Anatolian Tour started on the last week of January and ended around the first week in February, which means only one thing to me…my birthday!

Yes, since I came to Turkey I’ve aged. One year to be exact. I left the states when I was eighteen and now I will be returning as a nineteen year old. Now it’s weird celebrating your birthday away from home. Being away from all your friends and family. Unless you’ve actually experienced it you wouldn’t understand, but I think we all go through this at some point in our lives. It was a tough day for me, at least at first.

In the morning everything was the same as usual; I showered, ate breakfast, talked with my host brother and set off for school. I’m so use to my mom back home waking me up and telling me “happy birthday” and doing other embarrassing mom things she does, but not this year though. At school everything was normal, teachers came and went, students talking loud and goofing off, and I watched YouTube videos most of the day to try and cheer myself up. When I returned home my host mother was there earlier than usual. When I asked her she said she came home early because she had to cook, clean and get things ready for my birthday. Apparently they planned to have a big meal prepared and invite some family to come over. I was pleasantly surprised.

That night it was just my host family and I, along with the aunt and grandmother who make delicious food! We had a nice big dinner with some of my favorite Turkish food and some traditional birthday treats. After dinner we had cake and they even surprised me with presents, just some really nice shirts that I wear when I go to Rotary events. We had Turkish birthday cake, which was a chocolate/vanilla mixed with strawberries, bananas and raspberries stuffed inside, and topped with sparklers. Here in Turkey cakes have to be extravagantly decorated but the one thing that all Turkish cakes must have are sparklers, which make it look even cooler! We had cake and tea, sat around and talked then ended the night with Turkish coffee. My host mother and aunt look at the coffee grounds left over in the bottom of the cup and read our fortunes. I would tell you mind but then it wouldn’t come true.

So to some up everything, it wasn’t exactly the best birthday party I’ve ever had but it certainly was the most memorable one I will ever have. Plus at the end of the day I logged onto Facebook and saw all the “happy birthday” messages my friends and family back home and around the world left for me, which fulfilled my happy birthday.

Another thing that has been going on lately with us over here in Istanbul is dance! In just two weeks from now is an annual weekend Rotary event for all the districts here in Turkey that is being hosted in Antalya and as exchange students we are all required to go. My district however has thought of a great idea and volunteered all Istanbul exchange students to perform a traditional Turkish folk dance on one of the days of the event. So for the past few months we have been going to dance class every Sunday morning since the beginning of March. At first we weren’t excited (except for some of the Brazilian students) and actually some were really upset that we’re being made to dance. There’s a huge argument right now about whether or not its fare, but technically we’re still required to, so we have. To be honest it’s actually kind of fun and its one interesting way about learning another culture by learning a traditional dance. We have been learning Trakya Dans or Thracian Dance. The traditional dance of Thrace, which is the area of Turkey, that’s located in Europe next to Bulgaria. I was disappointed though that we didn’t learn Black Sea Dance, which is much faster, more aggressive and a lot of fun! I love Black Sea music and in Istanbul it is very popular.

So the Rotary event is coming soon and I think that will be a great way to end my year in Turkey by performing in front of my host club. Hopefully my Rotex counselor will film it and I’ll see what I can do to post it on the sight. In my next update I’ll include pictures from the tour and my birthday. Thank you again for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Cheers!

Austin Cook
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970,

Austin - Brazil

Austin’s Bio

Oi! My name is Austin Leigh Cook, but most people know me as Austin Leigh Grant. I am so ecstatic and so grateful to be spending next year studying abroad in Brazil!

My road to becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange Student all started back in September 2009 when I went to the RYE Assembly during first period with my Spanish class. I remember being so drawn in by the presentation that the whole rest of the school day my mind was stuck on preparing a “pitch” to my parents on why I need to apply. That evening my parents and I stood around the island in our kitchen discussing the exchange program but we decided it was not the best time for me.

That year three of my friends applied and were accepted. As each year passed I learned more about and grew closer to this amazing program. I got to know the many wonderful inbounds that came to not only my high school but to the district of 6970 as a whole. I also got to see many of my friends go off as outbounds and witness, when they returned, how they had changed in such a positive way.

The pivotal point in my decision to apply occurred in July of 2012 when one of my friends, who had just come back from her exchange year, posted a desperate message on Facebook asking for someone to host one of the three inbounds in our area for the first semester of the following school year. With only a few weeks before school would start, none of them had a host family to come live with yet and without a host family their exchanges could not have happened. Knowing how devastated I would be if after months of hard work and preparations, I was told that I could not go on my exchange because no host family could be found for me, I knew I had to help.

My family ended up being blessed with hosting Dasha from Russia for the first semester, we really became close. (Unfortunately in a couple of weeks I will have to see my sister move on to another host family, which I know will be a difficult day for the both of us.) The experience of hosting (even though it is not always flowers and sunshine) made me realize just how badly I wanted to be able to experience another culture first hand though exchange, like all the wonderful students I had meet did. That time when I brought up applying for the exchange program, it took no convincing of my parents, they knew too that this program was for me and that it was my time. After two interviews and a long application, I received an email of acceptance! I had been yearning to have the opportunity to be an outbound since that September day when I first learned of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.

After over four years it is now finally my time to embrace a year studying abroad. I look forward to immersing myself in the Brazilian culture (playing some Futebol!) and learning Portuguese no matter how difficult it may be at times, as well as sharing the customs of the United States of America with the people I met in Brazil. Overall I look forward to the lifelong friends I will make and the self-change that will happen within me while I am there.

I am currently a senior at Ponte Vedra High School, GO SHARKS! In school, I really enjoy math, economics, and theatre. I plan on becoming a doctor or engineer, but whatever my profession is I look forward to giving back to the community as much as I can. I like to volunteer and raise money for various charities, such as The American Cancer Society. I spend almost all my free time on music: listening to it, searching for new songs, and of course dancing and singing alone to it! I also love animals, nature, and architecture; which I take a lot of photos of. (I foresee thousands and thousands of pictures being taken while I am in Brazil.)

I am originally from New Jersey but I moved to Florida when I was ten years old. Now, I live in sunny Ponte Vedra Beach with my amazing Mom, Sharon, the only true father I’ve ever known, my wonderful Step-Dad Scott, and my very adorable little six year old brother, Xander. We have two dogs, Luke (named after Luke Wilson, Luke Skywalker, and Cool Hand Luke) and Fleur (named after the French word for flower). Luke is a big sweetie, he is a Gordon Setter, Golden Retriever mix who we rescued and Fleur is a tiny three and a half pound Chihuahua who is just as sweet and loves to give kisses. I know I will miss my family and dogs while I am away but I cannot wait to live in Brazil…is it August yet!?!

Brandon Francis
2013-14 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beacb, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Khok Sa Med Chun

Brandon - Thailand

Brandon’s Bio

สวัสดีครับผมชื่อแบรนดอนฟรานซิสครับ (sawadee krap phom chue Brandon Francis krap) That was a lot of work putting that sentence together! Anyways as you probably guessed my name is Brandon Francis and those with smart inference skills by me writing in ไทย know that I am going to Thailand next year for foreign exchange. Let me first start off and say that I am extremely nervous about this trip. First of all Thai is nothing close to Japanese, Korean Chinese, Spanish, or Latin, or any languages I have a familiar background. Second I know absolutely nothing about Thailand or its customs. I guess the statement that “we aren’t afraid of the dark but what’s lurking in It.” is true. However this makes me more excited for this trip because it is something new that has not been experienced. Now for a little information about me… (What to say????)! I guess I’ll start with my name which is Brandon Nicholas Astor Francis, I am 17 years old, go to Ponte Vedra High School, I’m in 11th grade, live in Ponte Vedra Beach grew up in Montclair New Jersey and have a family of four: my mother, and two dogs, Yuki and Kisaki, and I. Another interesting tidbit is I am Jamerican (Jamaican + American). I haven’t travelled outside the country recently but I have travelled to Jamaica Mexico, Barbados, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, so travel isn’t really that new to me. I don’t really have a favorite hobby these days, I’d like to say I’m a jack-of-all trades, I dabble into a bit of everything; even though I suck at some things and am better in others. However, I really enjoying drawing, listening to music (K-pop), doing martial arts and SPONTANEOUS DANCING. My favorite classes I am currently enrolled in are Chinese, Art, and Calculus. My aspirations in the future consist of going to Cornell University and majoring in Architecture, becoming a polyglot and residing in a foreign country. Now this isn’t all of me but a brief compilation of information I find interesting about myself. I am looking forward to writing again in the near future in Thailand, but for know…. พบกันใหม (phob gan mai) See You Later

Brandon’s Journals

September 2, 2013

Well, let me just say that my first week in Thailand has been very hectic and fattening (food galore!) I left last Monday morning to board on a flight to take me to the other side of the world and arrived there after 2 days’ worth of travel. That was an experience alone. From my baggage getting lost, to me not being able to meet up and contact anyone, made my travels a little frightening and scary but it all worked out. For the past couple of days I have been eating lots of food because when Thai people have a get-together, the meals are HUGE. Not only are the meals are HUGE but my family loves to give me more food every time I finish my plate. (I’m getting fatter just by talking about it.) But so far I am totally enjoying my experience in Thailand. (Although, I’m not looking forward to the homesick stage of my journey, I hope it comes quick because I don’t want it to be near the end of my exchange.) For more frequent updates you can follow my vlogs on YouTube.com

November 28, 2013

สวัสดีครับทุกคน. เขาใจไหม? I bet you didn’t understand that.  Well Howdy folks! So here marks the end of my third month in Thailand and the beginning of the Holiday season and the home sickness is beginning to kick in. (Oh boy!) On the topic of holidays, it’s the most difficult thing to do to try and think of the things you need to do in both countries like making my packages early because it takes about two weeks for packages from Had Yai, Thailand to go all the way to Jacksonville, Florida. (Currently wrapping presents and making cards.

So I guess I’ll start from the beginning of the month. (It’s so hard to remember everything I’ve done so I have to look into my picture and video folders. 5555+) After just looking through my picture the first major thing that happened this month was my really good exchange student friend from Belgium, recently just moved host families and I was helping her getting used, the change. JUST KIDDING! It was more like my friend totally adapting the situation like a good exchange student should. BTW I don’t know if I mentioned this but her house is HUGE complete with a pool and everything! (See picture.) Personal pools are very rare in Thailand, the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.

My second adventure was traveling to Pattani and Yala to visit a temple for an offering service and to visit a waterfall. I remember at first I was a bit confused why we were going to a temple, (welcome to the life of an exchange student) and why so many people were dressed really nicely standing in front of the temple, holding these flower sculpture made out of money, and not moving anywhere. Then unexpectedly music started playing and then I spotted through the crowd some ladies begin to dance, doing intricate motions with their hands and moving their feet to the beat. The crowed began moving forward following the dancers and the musicians into the temple. I was very confused, and as I turned to ask my host parents what was going on but they had disappeared into the crowd. So like usual, the exchange student ends up following the crowd and doesn’t have a freaking clue if the crowd is going to end up doing something ridiculous. So I managed to find my parents after ent ering this hall like building carpeted and chair lined up in rows, I managed to get from them that this was a ceremony to give offerings to the temple, and they raised a whopping 2 million baht (HOLY COW!) Anywho after the ceremony at the temple, my family tavelled to the next province over so we could go PLAY IN WATERFALL WHICH WAS TREMENDOUS AMOUNTS OF FUN; even though we couldn’t go the way to the top of it. (My host mom didn’t want to go all the way to the top.)

Loy….Loy…Kratong, Loy…Loy….Kratong. An annual holiday the Thais celebrate on the 12th month of the Buddhist calendar on the day of the full moon, Usually in November. I have a love-hate relationship with this particular holiday because when making the Kratong it kept falling apart, and my kratong’s fire blew out…well everyone’s did. It was windy (Talk about patience being tested.) But one aspect I love about this holiday brings the family together.

Well that’s all for now. It’s 1:30 in the morning and I really need to go to sleep so บ้ายๆ. Also i have a youtube channel which I try to update daily. if you want to keep up with me that’s the best way.

Brennan Coker
2013-14 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida

Brennan - Germany

Brennan’s Bio

Guten tag! My name is Brennan, and I come from the sunny shores of St. Augustine, Florida. I’m thrilled to take part in the incredible opportunity of being a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for welcoming me to the lovely country of Germany! All my life, I’ve loved to travel, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing parents that share my passion for world travel. Throughout my lifetime, we’ve traveled as a family to several countries all across Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, etc. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to take interest in and appreciate culture more than ever before. As an exchange student, I will be able to truly experience a culture and I’ll learn to better understand both myself, and the world in general. I could not ask for a better opportunity to do what I love most. I live with my mother, my father, and our cats in the historic district of St. Augustine. My home is central enough that I can ride my bike almost anywhere, which is really nice. I think I’m very lucky to live in St. Augustine, which is both the oldest city in the United States and definitely one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. I’m currently a senior at St. Augustine High School, where I’m enrolled in the arts program. In my free time, I enjoy making art, going on bike rides, baking, photography, listening to music, and spending time with friends. I love to be outdoors, and I love all things related to art (mostly ceramics and photography). I’m also passionate about the environment and nature. I have always considered education important and in the future, I plan to attend college and seek a degree in something involving social sciences, sustainable design methods, anthropology, or historical preservation. I would also be interested in attending college to study a foreign language if the opportunity presents itself. Whatever career I choose, I would love for it to involve travel, culture, and spontaneity. When I first found out about Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew it was very unique. The idea of living in a foreign country for a year appealed to me so much that I was completely sold. I became completely immersed in the world of Rotary, becoming close friends with the inbounds to our district, as well as hosting Sharvari, an inbound from India. When it cae time for me to apply for the program, I felt that going abroad during my gap year would be the best option for me, and I was thrilled to find that I had been accepted in November 2012! When I discovered I was going to Germany, I was even more excited. When I chose my countries, Germany was one I put at the last minute, due to Austria, one my original five, being taken off of the list. Looking back now, I can’t believe Germany wasn’t one of my original top five! I’m so honored to have been accepted to this incredible country and to have the opportunity to explore Germany -and Eastern Europe- to my fullest ability. I am completely enthralled at the prospect of being an exchange student and working to broaden my somewhat limited perspective. Through this program, I know I will be granted with the adventure of a lifetime and an experience well worth waiting for. Of course, I could never go without giving a big thanks to my parents for being so supportive, and of course to Rotary for putting faith in me and blessing me with what I know will be an incredible year. Das abenteuer kann beginnen, Let the adventure begin!

Brennan’s Journals

December 3, 2013

Moin! Well, it’s been awhile. In fact, more than awhile. I apologize in advance for my disappointing lack of news here, and for not being as diligent as I promised a few months back. It’s been said time and time again by outbounds turning in journals late, but I really just couldn’t find the words or the right place to start. The truth is (and I am speaking to future outbounds here) these past four months have been a complete and utter whirlwind. Yes, four months. It sounds crazy, right? The idea of leaving my family, friends, and home four months ago sounds so insane, in fact, that I can’t even put it into words. Life has a funny way or working when you’re on exchange. You start to lose track of time, and four months can seem as long as a lifetime and, at the same time, as short as the blink of an eye. In just two short weeks, it will have been exactly a year since I found out the country I would be spending the next year of my life in (which happens to be the beautiful country of Germany, if you somehow didn’t know) and so I figured I would try to write a short (most likely incredibly long) passage for you future inbounds to describe some things you might want to know about how your life could be very soon.

I left home on July 25, 2013. I was the first in my district to leave, and one of the first in the whole state of Florida. I must say, while exchange is something I have planned on doing and looked forward to for my entire high school career, I didn’t hold myself together very well when the time came to go. It was emotional, to say the least. Since I left so early, all of my friends still had their lives going on as normal, and most of them, understandably, had no idea what I was going through or even what I had exactly signed up for. I had lived in the same home with my parents for my entire life, so even though this program was a great adventure that I been so, so excited about for such a long time, pulling up those roots and finally leaving was not without hardship.

Outbounds: leaving will most likely be tough. Packing will be tough, preparation will be tough, goodbyes will be tough, your flight will be tough. You will have rushes of anxiety and sadness and excitement and constantly feel like you have forgotten something (this sounds ridiculous but it is so true) and maybe even have second thoughts, but trust me… it gets better.

When I got off my plane in Hamburg, Germany, I was at the wrong arrival gate and spent nearly 45 minutes ambling aimlessly across an airport with no idea where I was or what to do. My luggage had been lost and I had no way to get in touch with my host family. It was perhaps not the best introduction to my new home. Eventually, I found them waiting for me at the next gate, and I received such a lovely welcome that nearly all my worries went away. I was met by my host mother and sister, and I immediately felt comfortable. I guess what I am trying to say is that on exchange, you will learn to appreciate the little things, like simply knowing there are people there for you that care about your well-being…. like small kind gestures, people saying hi to you on the street, and people remembering your name. I think learning to see these things and not take them for granted helps to make you a better person.

I live in a tiny village called Neufeld, with only about 400 people living here. I am convinced that I have the best host family I could have asked for. My host brother lives in Hamburg and my host sister is on exchange in Brazil, so it is just me and my host parents at home most of the time. I really love home life here. I live in a beautiful house right on the water. The fields surrounding my home (and most of my village) are filled with sheep and geese. Just 5 km away from my village is the much bigger town of Marne, where I go to school. I am in the 12th grade in Gymnasium, the German equivalent of a higher-level US high school. I spend a lot of time in Marne, because while I do love Neufeld, it is very small and very quiet. Pretty frequently, my friends and I will take a train to Hamburg, where we can stay with either my host brother or my host mother’s brother and spend the weekend in the city. I could not be more thankful for this. I have completely fallen in love with Hamburg, one of the most incredible cities ever, which is luckily just an hour’s train ride away from my town. Hamburg has a certain energy that just couldn’t be replicated in the States, and I have come to absolutely adore it.

Since being here I have experienced things I never thought I would. I have spent time in some of the most beautiful places I could dream of, met some of the most genuine people from all across the world, eaten amazing food, and tried my best at getting comfortable speaking what I believe to be a pretty challenging language. I encourage all of the outbounds…. try things! If you only listen to one piece of advice Rotary gives you during your exchange, let it be this one: never say no to an opportunity. Thinking about how much I would have missed out on if I had said declined opportunities makes me feel really glad that I kept an open mind and didn’t turn things down, even when they may have sounded strange. Because of that open mind policy I’ve kept, I’ve walked 7 km through knee-deep mud to an amazing island in the middle of the north sea, gone to the biggest heavy metal festival in the world with a VIP ticket, seen some of my favorite musicians at an awesome Hamburg music festival, taken a train alone to Denmark to visit one of my best friends (with only somewhat disastrous results), gone to famous Hamburg football team games, visited the south of Germany, modeled in a fashion show, and formed the most incredibly day-brightening friendships with the best people I have ever met. I also will be going to the Canary Islands in Spain with my host family in January, and will be spending a month touring all of Europe in May. This is a Rotary Youth Exchange journal so you can expect cheesiness without a doubt, but here is some MAJOR cheese for you all: Keep an open heart and mind, and beautiful experiences will come your way. (Wow…. okay, it’s over now.)

In the last four months, I’ve learned a lot about what it really means to be an exchange student. There are some major challenges, and so I thought I would go ahead and offer my own findings here in case a future outbound with some curiosity happens to read this.

I’ve made a list of all the things that I’ve learned since being here that I wish I had known before I left. Hopefully this will be helpful for someone….

-You are human. You will make mistakes, whether you incorrectly translate something into your language and embarrass yourself or unknowingly bring up a huge taboo subject. It’s natural, and people will understand. Don’t have the world’s highest expectations for yourself.

-If you want to hang out with other exchange students, go ahead. Don’t feel bad for not only hanging out with your classmates from your host country. Exchange students make amazing friends and they know exactly what you’re going through. Not to mention you get to learn more about other countries besides just your host country. My best friends here in Germany are Brazilian and Mexican and I learn new things from them every day, plus we provide each other with an incredible support system.

-Trying to speak your host language is very, very important, but English is also one of the world’s major languages. A lot of people you meet will speak it, and if it helps you to connect with people, share amazing moments, or even form friendships, I say go ahead, use it. Leave the guilt of speaking your native language behind for a few minutes. It’s fine.

-Don’t expect everyone to want to be your friend. In Florida, I feel we are really overly welcoming to our inbounds, but that may not be the case in your host country. This isn’t because your peers are unfriendly; they merely see you as an equal and sometimes friendship is earned rather than automatically granted.

-If you are going to Europe, be ready for changes in your environment. For example, if you are coming to North Germany, where I am, you will have to get used to the sun setting at 4pm. This is hard, but you will find ways to deal with it and soon it will seem normal.

-You are bound to come across those who have deep-set negative opinions about Americans. Prove them wrong, be open-minded, caring, peaceful, and classy. Since being in Germany, I’ve really been tested by European standards on what it means to be an American. It has been really difficult and challenging and I can seriously say that I have grown and changed as a person (both in my way of thinking and in my opinion of my home country) so much just in these four months since my arrival. It’s really special to be able to go into a conversation and surprise others who seem to think all Americans are the same. I love to see how the idea of Americans practicing open-mindedness and tolerance shifts their opinion of the US. A friend recently told me she was talking to a guy I had spoken with earlier, and he told her he didn’t usually like Americans, but when he talked to me he actually felt differently, and he thought I was “really cool for an American.” That r eally made me happy.

-Try to speak your host language. You will sound ridiculous. People will laugh. Laugh with them. They are also probably really happy and impressed that you’re trying what may seem impossibly difficult to you. And eventually, all of that stuff that sounded like nonsense when you first got there will start to click in your brain. It may be something really small, like understanding a word in the middle of a complicated overheard conversation, but that’s still a step forward.

And finally, most importantly, this is a year of your life. It is amazing and beautiful and full of moments that will take your breath away, but it is also just a year of your life. Don’t expect every moment to be filled with parties and adventures and never-ending fun. Yes, there will be adventures to tell amazing stories about when you get home, more than we can ever dream of having had back in Florida. But there will be days when it’s very hard for you, and also days that are just that– normal days. You will learn to find joy and inspiration in simple moments like biking around town with your friends, making pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving with your host family, or jumping on a trampoline in the rain. It sounds cliche, but it’s the little things that really make your year.

So, all in all, it’s been a whirlwind of a time here…. but alles gute!

Liebe aus Deutschland (love from Germany)!

Carley Jordana
2013-14 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Quevedo

Carley - Ecuador

Carley’s Bio

¡Hola! Me llamo Carley Jordana! Hi my name is Carley Jordana! I am 15 years old and currently attend Pedro Menendez High School. And I will be spending my junior year in ECUADOR!! I was born in St. Augustine, Florida, and have lived in the same house my whole life. I am the youngest of 7, and I have a niece and a nephew. My family is big, loud and loving, and I will definitely miss them while I’m abroad. I also have 2 dogs, Rocksea and Jazzmine, and a cat Amelia. I live about 5 minutes from the beach, and my favorite thing to do is read on the beach. I enjoy English class, and am completely confused by chemistry. I play soccer and run track and cross country, but also enjoy relaxing and watching movies. I am a Christian, and my ultimate goal in life it to bring God glory by spreading His love. I aspire to be part of the global community (which I hope to do next year on my exchange), and possibly become a doctor for the program Doctors Without Borders, or a similar organization. I have traveled to more than half the states in the USA, but besides a little cruise, I am yet to leave the country. I always enjoy learning the different values and customs of the places my family and I travel. For instance, some places revolve around architecture or a national park. This is a large reason for why I chose South America; the people have such rich culture that is very different from the culture I grew up with. I also enjoy learning Spanish and believe it is a beautiful language to speak and hear. I can’t wait to gain many lifelong relationships, and experiences. Ecuador is going to be an epic adventure I will never forget! Special thanks to Rotary for making this experience possible, and all those who helped and encouraged me throughout the process of becoming an exchange student.

Carley’s Journals

September 5, 2013
Hola USA!
So I have been here in Quevedo for about a week and a half and it has been by far the most interesting couple of days of my life. I arrived on a Saturday night in the Guayaquil airport. I made it through customs and then experienced my first culture shock: Baggage claim. I like to call it baggage claim hunger games style. The room was very large and there were piles of bags everywhere and people everywhere and I had to fight for a spot next to the luggage belt. As I watched it seemed like people were just aggressively grabbing bags off the belt every few seconds. It was wild. I also notice that every person had about 2 or 3 bags each. No one packed light! A family of 5 had 3 luggage carts that were all loaded full with bags. 

I finally made it through baggage claim and walked out to meet my family. I saw a sign with my name in the hands of a woman I did not recognize. I went and kissed her on the cheek and then walked around the isle to meet her. She was a Rotarian from my host club as well as my neighbor who lives across the street. I then met my host mom, Jorge Herrera the Rotary exchange program chairman of Ecuador and some other very nice Rotarians. I quickly called my parents and then we got in the car and headed to KFC for dinner. I laugh when I think about how I had my first American KFC in Ecuador. It took me about an hour to really pick up an ear for understanding all of the Spanish.
The car ride home was my second culture shock. The driving laws here are more like guidelines and are not very important. I figured this out when we passes a speed limit sign that said 21 Km/(I forget the measurement) and I look at the speedometer and we were going about 100, and at the same time we passed a police car who was clearly speeding as well. I have learned that people here are all about efficiently traveling. The taxi drivers have a mission to get people places quickly, so they do, but they are still good drivers, just like everything they are dif ferent kinds of drivers. When we got home I met my host father Gerardo and my host sisters: Irina (26), Nataly (22), and Ivann (21). They are all very sweet and helpful to me. They showed me the apartment where I live and I have my own room and bathroom! 

The apartment is very pretty and all of the furniture is very nice. That night I gave them all gifts and thanked them for allowing me to live here with them. The routine since then has been that we wake up at 9 every morning (until this coming Monday when I start school and will have to wake up at 6 every morning) and eat the breakfast the maid Luisa has prepared: (always) coffee, freshly made juice, a type of bread with jelly or ham and sometimes eggs. I really like breakfast here in Ecuador. Then my host parents go to work.
My host parents are both doctors. Us girls either just hangout or go out to the tennis club or mall or something. In the mornings when we are home I try to do more Spanish learning with my books or computer. Around about two o’clock my host mom and sometimes host dad come home for lunch, which is the most important meal of the day in South America. We normally have a soup (my favorite is cauliflower soup), salad (lots of unions and corn and rarely lettuce) and a plate of rice and meat or fish. After lunch my host parents go back to work and again the host sisters and I either go out or hangout here. Sometimes I go out with my new friends then. 

I have gone to the mall with my friends, theater, to their church to play basketball and to their house where I helped them with English projects. The people here in Ecuador are so sweet, and everyone in my school wants to meet me. The other night at the theater with my friends there was a teenage boy who was one of the main acts in the show that new friends and goes to the school that I am going to go to. In Ecuador if you know anybody you kiss on the cheek and everyone they are with, so he came over and said hello to my friend first that he knew and then came to me and said “hola Carley” and gave me a kiss. I was stunned, how did he know my name? After he left I asked my friend and she said that everyone in the school knows my name and that I am pretty much famous.
To finish the schedule: at night we hang out together and watch tv shows or movies, the other night I watched Hangover part 3 with my host sisters. There are a couple of shows that I am addicted to now that the family watches together. All of the people on TV here are always gorgeous and very dramatic. The only thing that is unfortunate is that the majority of the movies on TV are American and for most people here these actors in the movies and some shows are their impression of Americans. Hangover is a good example of why this is unfortunate. We also eat a light dinner around 8 or 9.
Another shock to me was when I went to the Rotary meeting the day after I got here. I asked if I should wear a dress and my family quickly said no, so I wore jeans and a blouse. We took a taxi there and took the dogs (I have two host dogs: Luna and Michita). One of the pictures that I attacked is of the Rotary building. When I got there I noticed that there is no air conditioning, which is like most places here in Quevedo. When I walked in my host mom introduced me to about 40 people and then I was served lunch. The meeting lasted for about four hours and it was much less formal that my Rotary back in St. Augustine. Throughout the meeting there was a stray dog running through the building. The Rotary here only meets once a month in that building. They had a cake and they sang happy birthday to all of the people who had birthdays in August and after they sang the people had their faces shoved in the cake which is a cultural tradition here. It was like a small food fight for a few minutes. Then after speeches were given I went up and exchanged banners with the Rotary president and I gave a small thanks and sat back down. It was a very fun day. 

The other night my host mom came home from work early and asked if I wanted to see the delivery of a baby (she is a pediatrician) and since I would love to be a doctor, I gladly went. We went to the Rotary hospital where my host mom works occasionally. We put on medical outfits and put our hair in nets and mouth coverers. We then went into the surgery room where the C-section was being performed. I stood to the side and watched. It was fascinating. Once the other doctors pulled the baby out they gave it to Gina (my host mom) and I went with her to take care of the baby. She measured, weighed, cleaned, and examined it and explained every step to me. The baby was a boy and he was adorable. It was a very interesting night and since then I told my host mom that I want to help out at the hospital if I can. I can’t wait, who knows what I will see next!
Overall this has been an incredible experience so far and it’s only been a couple of days. I have learned so much Spanish and culture and I have really learned that the people are the same here, but their lifestyles are just different, not worse like so many Americans may think, just different. Like Ms. Daphne Cameron always says, everyone laughs and cries in the same language. I have become a more accepting person and since I never know what the schedule is I have become very flexible to do whatever the plan might be. I have enjoyed my adventure so far and owe all of my thanks to my host family, host Rotary, family and friends back in the USA and Rotary in Florida. Thank you.
Tonight I am off to Guayaquil for a couple of days! So many adventures await me!


September 28, 2013


I have now been living in this incredible country for an entire month. It has been by far the most interesting month of my life. I have tried things I never could have done in the United States and seen things that literally don’t exist back in the states. I am now an addict of fresh juice every day twice a day and I have witnessed Gui, which is a very large Guiney pig that is strewed on a metal bar and roasted. I am yet to try it but it is on my list.

First of all I would like to apologize for my poor English that I use throughout this document, I am honestly doing my best but the more Spanish I learn the worse my English gets. Anyway, a lot has happened between my last blog and now. I will just tell you the 4 most exciting and important events that took place:

1. On the weekend of my second week my host mom, 2 sisters (Nataly and Ivanna) and I went to Machala, Ecuador, which is about 15 miles from Peru. We stayed in Hilary Nature Resort. The resort was in such a beautiful location. You had to go up the hill to get to it and then you looked out in every direction at the rolling hills of Ecuador. There were 4 pools and slides and free food everywhere and we stayed in a beautiful room with a very nice shower. While there, my host mom attended a medical conference since she is a pediatrician. My sisters and I went to all of the pools, took loads of pictures, ate at buffets every meal, went to the zoo, rode a zip line, went to a show every night (with my host mom) and afterwards took a bus down the hill to the disco tec where we danced. The entire weekend was very fun. On Sunday we rode back 7 hours to Quevedo.

2. The next day I woke up bright and early, 6:00AM for my first day of school in el Colegio de Genisis. I put on my uniform which is a collared shirt and jeans and my host dad drove me for my first day. When I got to school I waited a little while before being walked to my class. When I did get to my class (which is on the 2nd floor and has only 3 walls and the 4th one is open to the outdoors) the woman I was with introduced me to the class and told them all about me, then she asked me if I wanted to say something and since I was so nervous all I could get out was “Hola” which made the class laugh. Once I was given a seat in the very back of the class, the class president stood up and gave a very nice welcoming speech that I didn’t really understand but knew that it was a friendly salutation. My classes: biology, chemistry, physics, functions (math), English, Spanish, literature, a current events class, PE, and others that I don’t even remember. I only have about 5 or 6 of them a day and the others rotate throughout the week. The kids here have a lot of presentations so I did a lot of sitting and listening to other students talk for the first week. Anyway, on the first day kids were generally very fast to introduce themselves and all of them are very kind. If I would ever try to have a conversation with any one of the kids, about 5 or 6 other kids would quickly crowd around me to hear the American speak. The young kids here were even more excited to see me and I felt like Taylor Swift on the first day as they all crowded around me to hear what my name was and if I like Justin Bieber or One direction.

Cultural differences that I noticed in school were things like the way that they are always touching each other when they talk, girls and girls, guys and guys and guys and girls. At first I thought that every girl I saw talking to a guy was dating them because they were really touchy but then I noticed everyone did it and when they touch each other, like a hand on the others shoulder or stomach or face, they are very rough especially when they are joking around. I have found this to be true with adults as well. Please don’t think that I am complaining, just describing what I have seen. All of the kids here (off all ages) have so much energy. I am a person who requires quite a bit of sleep and when I would get to school at 7 in the morning and see all of these fully energized kids, I was confused as to how they were so awake. The kids here also have very different relationships with their teachers. For one, they call some of them by their first names and also they talk b ack to their teachers like friends do when arguing and are also playful with their teachers. This was very different for me since the majority of teachers in my school in Florida are fairly professional and highly respected.

After school for the first 3 days I was very tired and overwhelmed from all of the energy of the school and the day of thinking in Spanish and I had to take a nap every day. I have only gone to one week of school since I have been here and have the next 2 weeks off due to the school schedule.

3. That Sunday after my week of school my parents drove me 2 hours to go to Santo Domingo where I was picked up by a bus with other exchange students and taken to Mompiche, Ecuador. We were in a resort there for language camp for 5 days. Ecuador takes in a large amount of exchange students considering the size of the country. This is because the youth exchange program was started many years earlier than the majority of other countries. In my language camp there were around 75 students and that was just half of the students in the country. I roomed with Kiia from Finland. I learned a lot about Finland throughout the week from her. Our room was beautiful and it overlooked the Pacific Ocean which made me beyond happy! I also made friends with people from: Belgium, France, Switzerland, Brazil, USA, Japan, Denmark and Canada. Our daily schedule was: wake up at 7 for breakfast (buffet style), go to language classes at 8, classes are from 8-10:30 and from 11-2, then go to lunch (buffet) and to the pools or beach and then classes again from 5-7 and the rest of the knight was fun. At the beginning of language camp they gave us a test to see how well we knew Spanish and divided us up into 4 groups. Much to my surprise I was in the 4 group which was the highest level. I had a great time all week at the beautiful beaches, one day I got an impressive jellyfish sting that wrapped all the way around my arm. The jellyfish here are very cool, the one that stung me had a body about the size of a very small lime and one stinger that was about 2 and a half feet long. Also while at camp we went to many shows at night which were very impressive and entertaining. Overall I had a very fun, relaxing week in paradise.

4. The final event I will tell you about took place the day after I got back. My host mom woke me up and told me that the Governor of Rotary in all of Ecuador was in Quevedo and she wanted me to come meet him. I was incredibly tired after my busy week on the beach but I quickly got ready and put on my newly decorated Rotary blazer. We first rode to the Rotary Park in central Quevedo that was built back in 1980 and has a large monument right in the middle of it. I met the governor and his wife along with a large group of other Rotarians there in the park. The governor’s job is to go to every club in all of Ecuador and check up on their progress from year to year. After many pictures were taken we then went to the Maternal Rotary Hospital in Quevedo and were given a tour of the hospital (the same hospital where I saw the C-section). We then went to the Rotary building for a long meeting led by the governor about the Rotary of Quevedo. After that, we headed to a local Chin ese restaurant and had lunch together. Muyrico! I was then dropped off at home were I slept all afternoon till my host dad woke me up for a Rotary meeting/party. I again dressed and went to the Rotary building with my family. One thing that surprised me is that I got to see really how unpunctual Ecuadorians are. The meeting was said to start at 8, so it started at 9:30. I was considered an important person at the meeting so I got to sit up front at the special table with the governor and his wife, the president of my club and his wife, the future president, the president of Roteract and a couple other important people. I also had to give pins to all of these important people and come up with something to say on the spot because I never really understand what is going on before it happens so I didn’t prepare something to say. After many speeches were given and the meeting part of the evening concluded we ate dinner and a member of Rotary started singing. Within an hour of eating everyone was dancing and they were all drinking. We partied and danced for quite a few hours and the party did not conclude until 2 in the morning. It was a very fun evening and overall a real pleasure to meet the governor and his wife.

Those are all of the main events that have taken place and characterized my last 3 weeks. Every day is an adventure and I am always enjoying the feeling of not knowing what my plans are or where I am going, it’s great, I never have to worry!

I would like to give a shout out to Mr. Rob Overly, I can’t think of an important quote of his but I would just like to thank him for all that he has done to get me here and thank him for pushing me and never allowing anything to be too easy, causing me to work even harder and helping me in the long run.

And a special note to any students thinking about doing this program: I’d say that if you can look at yourself and believe that this is your kind of adventure, go for it! Don’t think for a second that any of the process is easy, but since last October I feel that I am a very different, more mature, and abled person and I get to see the results of all of my hard work this last year here and now in my new home. I am so glad that I get the honor of doing this, and I’m sure you will love it too.

Well I have to go make more memories, bye for now!


November 19, 2013

 11 Weeks:

Hello! So I have now been here for almost 3 months and it’s still an adventure, but it is more like my new home now. A lot has happened since my last blog and it is so hard to decide what to write about. I will always try and write about my trips that I go on, so I can share my experiences with you all. With that said, I finally got to go to Quito! It was the week after I got back from Mompiche because I had a 2 week break from school. It was a 5 hour drive up, and I say up because I live at about 10 feet above sea level and Quito is about 10,000 feet above sea level. Once in Quito we stayed in our apartment that my parents own since they are originally from Quito and all of their family is there. My host sisters all live and go to school in Quito, it was nice to visit with them. My host parents, sisters and I went the day after I arrived to introduce me to all of my extended family. I first went to my host dad’s side of the family and met my host: grandfather, gr and mother and uncle. They cooked us lunch and gave me gifts and were incredibly loving towards me as if I had been part of the family forever. After we headed to meet my host mom’s side of the family who all live in one large building with different apartment complexes. I was also welcomed there with open arms and served famous Quito bread and coffee as a late night snack.

I enjoyed getting to meet my host: grandfather, grandmother, 2 uncles, aunt, 2 cousins and family dog. What is really cool is that both sides of my family are related! My host mom (I will now just refer to her as Gina and same with host dad who is Gerardo) married Gerardo and her sister married the cousin of Gerardo. So it’s really just one really big family! While in Quito I got to go shopping in some malls, but unfortunately all of the clothing was very expensive as it is in all of Ecuador. I also got to go shopping in a local (very large) market. I spent $100 and didn’t feel any guilt! I had to resist from buying everything. I purchased: alpaca blanket as well as sweater, head band, scarf, pants (they are super colorful and definitely a fashion statement), bracelets, and 2 purses. I have never had so much fun shopping. I also was able to learn how to bargain. At first I was willing to pay any price, but luckily I had my host sister (Ivanna) with me and she lowered all of the prices till I learned how to do it myself. I got to see many old churches, including a tour of the church where Gina and Gerardo were married. I have never seen a more beautiful building in my life. Gold everywhere and paintings dating back to the 1600s. Incredible! I touched and took pictures with the president’s house. I ate a lot all of the time.

I walked down a historical street that was super cute and fun, for those of you from St. Augustine- it reminded me a lot of St. George Street. I also ate an empanada that was larger than my head, stuffed with cheese and covered in sugar! And one of my favorite things I got to do was go to Panecillo (small mound of bread). This place was at the top of this very round, tall hill that a large statue was built at the top of. It is comparable to the statue in Rio but of smaller size. Since like 95% of the population is Catholic there are many saints and virgins. The saints are all different men with different purposes, but the virgins are all Mary mother of Jesus with a slightly different look and meaning. For instance, you could have Laura the virgin of travel. The statue at the top of the hill was of a virgin who represents good with a halo on her head and bad with a snake wrapped around her feet. It is a beautiful statue and we went to see it at night which made it even more beautiful. Since it was night, we also got to look in both directions to see lights covering the valley and hillsides/mountainsides of all of Quito. It was so beautiful.

I had a great trip to Quito and was able to return the next week end with my host parents. The following Wednesday I packed and headed to Manabi, Ecuador for a 5 day trip with 140 other exchange students. Manabi is on the coast, so we spent a lot of time every day at the beach. We stayed in the city of Crusita, but we also visited Portoviejo, Manta, and Montecristi. We were in a parade and we marched through the streets each singing our national anthem with the other kids from our countries. We went shopping in a local market and visited a multitude of beaches were we played games and sports and got sunburned because we forgot our sunblock! I really enjoyed getting to know students from all over the world and here about their similar situation and the incredible experiences they have had. It can be really relieving to here from another person in the same shoes that they are having the same struggles and that you are not alone. I may feel like the only student in my situation since I am the only student in my town, but in reality there are 2 thousands other students around the world facing the same difficulties and joys.

After the exchange student trip I have been here in Quevedo in school. I have been in school for over 4 weeks in a row and everything has been very relaxed and routine like. I am doing my best to stay in shape after school, using YouTube workout videos and our elliptical machine. My ultimate goal is to somehow get a bike and ride it after school on the sidewalk that follows the Quevedo River.

I am willing to argue that I have one of the most unique exchange experiences of any exchange student this year. For one, I am the only exchange student in my entire city, which is rare, but of course this is not the only reason. I am the first exchange student EVER in my city, and one of the few if not only American who lives here. I am the first American that most of these people have ever seen in their city. I have dreams of being a doctor someday, and I was coincidently placed in a home with 2 doctors as host parents as well as in a city with a Rotary hospital, which are not very common. I am given the opportunity to go to the hospital and witness surgeries from only feet away, and I have learned so much from my experience in the hospital already. The anesthesiologist has explained to me where he places the 6 inch long needle and how he knows where to put it, what he injects, how he injects the anesthesia and of course I get to watch the entire event and question him the whole way through. The most incredible C-section experience I have had yet is when one of the doctors let me help with the surgery. He first started with what you would think was simple: washing your hands. There are 4 sides of your hands and arms and you have to scrub them a specific way with a specific brush and you should always keep your hands up higher, so nothing drips down on your hands. That alone took enough talent to humble me. He then helped me put on the special apron like robe over my scrubs, gloves and then he had me stand across from him between the tray of tools and the other doctor. He told me all of the names of the tools and then began the surgery. He explained as he went and it was all incredibly interesting. Eventually he asked for a tool and for the most part I remembered the names and was able to hand them to him. They removed the baby and handed him over to my host mom (the pediatrician) and then began the repairing. They had about 4 layers to sew tog ether, and they allowed me to be the one to cut the string after sewing, in other words I got blood on my hands! I was ecstatic, also incredibly nervous, but super excited! So that is what I would say is my fist surgery.

I am incredibly thankful to my host family and club for what they help me to experience here in Ecuador and I am always thankful to Rotary back home for granting me this opportunity! Well I just found out today that I am going to the Amazon on the 22 of November which makes me so excited! Time to buy some serious bug spray! I will be sure to write and give you all of the details when I get back!


January 11 2014

Ali punch! (Good morning in the native Amazonian language, cichua)

So what have I been up to for the last month and a half? Let me tell you:

Like I left off in the last blog, I went to the Amazon. My host family and I drove to Quito and dropped me off at the airport on Friday morning with the other exchange students. From there the group of about 25 students and I took a flight to Coca in the Amazon. From there we took a 2 hour boat ride on the Napa River to a beach, from there we walked 30 minutes through the woods and from there we took a 15 minute canoe ride to the Sacha Lodge, where we stayed. It goes without saying that we were in a very remote location very far from the nearest city. I roomed with 2 other girls: Freir from Denmark and Olive from Switzerland. We were also divided into 5 groups, my group: Olive, Freir, Cristina from Czech and Caroline from Germany. All of us from different countries. We were also assigned to a native man named Luis who was our guide for the trip. He taught us some cichua and also showed us all of the different plants that could be used as medicines. I have grown up going on va cations out west where I go hiking in mountains, forests and beaches, therefore I am fairly comfortable with nature, but the Amazon is a whole other world and I felt like I had never stepped foot outdoors in comparison to the local guides who had grown up in the Amazon.

Our late night activity on the first day was to go canoeing on the lake and in the side streams. It was a bit of an adrenalin rush since we really couldn’t see much, but could hear the animals all around you. We encountered a Chameleon lizard that was about 2 feet long and had blended into the branch right above our heads, a fish jumped in our boat and one of the girls screamed, and when we were on the main lake I flashed my light across to the other side and saw to yellow eyes reflecting back at me. It turned out to be a crocodile sitting in the water. I really enjoyed that night.

The next day we arose at 5, ate breakfast, and were hiking by 6 in the morning. They had us up really early because the Amazon gets incredibly hot by midday. We hiked to a tower which we went up, and at the top we were above the tree line. There were 3 towers, each connected by a long bridge. From the towers we saw all sorts of exotic birds that were beautiful. We took photos, talked, laughed and most of all we enjoyed the sunrise in the Amazon. We continued hiking after the towers for an hour or so and saw many different bugs, plants, owls and my personal favorite, trees. Like I said, I have been in many different forest and have seen the thickest trees in the world as well as the tallest, but I have never seen a tree that compared to the trees in the Amazon. I don’t even know how to describe them, so I am just going to post a photo of one of them. Point being that Amazon trees are incredible! After the hike we went in the butterfly house and saw and ore of beautiful b utterflies. After lunch we did another very cool hike through the woods were Luis taught us how to make bracelets out of a special leaf, I am still wearing mine today over a month later. We returned to the lodge in a canoe. During our free time my roommates and I had a dance party before heading to dinner. After dinner we went for a night walk and saw some birds, and millions of bugs. The coolest thing we saw was a black tarantula from about 3 feet away.

The following day we arose early and went to a local indigenous town. The women there explained to us their way of life and showed us many techniques they use for cooking. 2 bowls were passed around and everyone took sips out of them. They were both types of teas, the first was fine, and the second almost made the kid sitting next to me vomit. The women also played some music and performed dances. Before we left we bought handmade items in the gift shop. Later that afternoon we took a canoe down a thin stream to a dock, and from there we took a hike to a zip line. We each took turns doing the zip line and when we had all finished we hiked to an incredibly tall tree. There were stairs wrapped around the tree, and at the top there was a deck. We watched the sunset from the top. It was incredible.

The final day we got up early, ate and backtracked all the way back to Quito like we came. It was really hard for me to say goodbye to the other students and go back to my city where I am the only one, especially when they all at least have one other student in their cities.

After the trip I continued on with school as normal. I had a small revolution in school that I didn’t think would happen. Ever since I started school I have always liked it okay, but never been excited to go or really enjoyed my time that much. I simply went and was there and then left. Up until November it was like this. Then all of the sudden, the way the kids started treating me changed as I became more like one of them, and I began changing myself. Little jokes or conversations would connect me with another student in a way that I would have never realized. A distinct day I remember was when I finally was “let in on” the class prank. It is a habit of the kids in my class to slap the backs of other kids’ necks when they walk by their desk or are near each other. And finally another student slapped my neck. I know that this sounds ridiculous, but the littlest things can make the biggest difference. From then on I could slap the necks of the other kids and it would be acceptable. There were other jokes too that made a difference. I say that I didn’t think that my loving of school would ever happen because I couldn’t figure out what would have to change to make me like it. Turns out, I was the part that had to change. So future exchange students, don’t assume that just because you don’t like something in the beginning (3 months) it doesn’t mean it won’t change. Hang in there!

On my final day before Christmas break we had a celebration at my school. We first played the championship soccer game, which my class won. Both the girls teams and guys teams for my class we the champions of all of the sports at my school, I have a pretty awesome class! I then quickly changed into my Mrs. Clause outfit and was then in a Mrs. Clause and Santa Clause competition with another boy from my class in front of the entire school. We got second place! We then ate lunch and danced to a live band that they brought in. They later had a viuda competition. Viudas are a large part of the tradition of New Year’s here in Ecuador. Viuda translates to widow in English and the tradition started as a metaphor of the old year (2013 for instance) dying like a man and the widow has to move on with her life. Well the only thing strange about this tradition is that the people who dress up as viudas are always men. The men play the role of the women widows and walk around the str eets wearing dresses, wigs, high heels and makeup on New Year’s Eve. It is a very interesting thing to see. Anyway, in my school they chose 2 boys from each class to dress up as women and strut around in the middle of all of us students like women. It was hilarious! And again the boys from my class got second place. It was a really fun day at school and afterwards we went to the house of one of the students and hung out. It was a great way to start of Christmas break.

Jumping back a little, starting about 12 days or so before Christmas my family and I began going to the Novena. About 85% of the population of Ecuador are Catholic, I personally am not Catholic, and therefore I got to enjoy many different traditions this year. The Novena is a Catholic 9 night celebration of the story of Christmas. Here in Quevedo I do not have any extended family so now my family celebrates the Novena with a close group of about 15 friends. Every night we went to a different house and also hosted the Novena here in our apartment 2 times. It starts with everyone arriving about an hour late, but that is expected, and then they read out of a special book written for the Novena. The book analyzed a different part of the story of Jesus every day. After reading the adults went around in a circle discussing their opinion of the lesion to be learned from this nights reading. After we handed out gifts using the secret Santa system. We then proceeded by eating dinner t ogether and then heading home at about 12:00PM. We did this for 7 nights, the 8th night we went to a Mass and the 9th night had a party instead. At the party we talked, ate, ate, took pictures, ate, and exchanged the final gifts revealing who had who in the gift exchange. We didn’t return home until 3:00AM that night.

During Christmas break my sisters returned home from Quito and stayed here in the house with us. (Little review: I have 3 sisters, Irina (27), Nataly (23) and Ivanna (22)) We hung out around the house and rested during the week and would take occasional family trips to the mall at night. My sisters are always very fun to be around and I always enjoy their company.

On Christmas Eve the real festivities began. Here in Ecuador Christmas Eve is more important than the actual Christmas day. On Christmas day we were in the house spending time together listening the Christmas music and cooking. I took pictures of all of the steps to remember how to cook the foods for when I return home. They cooked and cooked and cooked. We all changed our outfits and were ready to eat at about 11 at night. First we took lots of photos and then we sat down to eat. My host parents each gave a small speech as a thanks to God and to the families. We then began the feast: Turkey, Christmas rice, a special potato salad, appetizers and we washed it all down with a glass of wine. Note to future exchange students: You are not allowed to drink alcohol, unless your host parents or host Rotary allow you. I drank the glass of wine because it was a part of the tradition and it would have been rude to refuse it.

After dinner they said a special Christmas Catholic prayer and then we opened presents. They do not make a big deal about gifts like we do in the states, but I gave them each a gift and they all gave me one large gift together. I received: flats shoes, a dress, earrings and perfume, all made by indigenous people from the city of Otavalo. We finished off the night with some ice cream. It was a very interesting Christmas I will never forget. On Christmas day I Skyped my parents in the morning and then watched Christmas movies all day with my host family.

We left the following Monday for a few day trip to Quito. My host parents wanted me to see more of the country while I had vacation time, as did I. We left in the early afternoon and headed for the Andes. We first stopped around 4 o’clock at Quilotoa Lake. I was unaware as to where we were heading and was just following my family as we were walking up to a viewing point, and was completely surprised to see the most beautiful lake I had ever seen in my life right in front of me. The lake is in the center of a very old volcano and is the most beautiful color blue. It took me a minute to realize I was looking at the lake that I have seen in a handful of guidebooks and magazines. My host family kept asking me if I liked it, all I could think was “What a ridiculous question. Who wouldn’t like this lake?” We all took bunches of pictures at the lake. We were walking around the viewing center, when we happened to run in to Gerardo’s cousin. It’s a small world. We then went and ate choclo (Ecuadorian corn) with cheese and some other beans form the locals. We stopped for dinner in Latacunga. We then continued on driving and drove to Ambato. We stayed the night in Ambato and then continued on the next morning. We were stopped on the roads about every 10 meters by the viudas since it was New Year’s Eve. The viudas were all dressed in women’s clothing, with wigs and big personalities. They would stop the cars with rope or logs and beg for money for their baby (baby doll). Some would touch my host dad’s face, others blew kisses, made inappropriate comments to my host dad (hilarious) and one even told my host dad that he loved him. We finally made it to Banos were we bought Pepito, our Viejo doll. Viejo dolls are also a part of New Year’s tradition here in Ecuador. The word Viejo means old and originally they were all men dolls, this tradition goes along with the viudas. The viejos represent the old y ear all well and at 12:00 AM the people throw all of the viejos that they bought into piles and burn them. Also representing the end of the other year. We named our doll Pepito. We tied him to the front of our car for the day and later burned him in the night.

We walked the streets of Banos during the early afternoon and then drove to “casa del arbol” = tree house. It was a small building in a tree right next to a volcano with an incredible view over Banos and all of the other mountains. I also really enjoyed the swing there. The swing was connected to the same tree and when you swung forward you swung over the edge of a cliff. It was super cool.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in Banos that night. We walked the streets and ate and had a really good time watching the fireworks, viudas and burning of the viejos.

I am now back in school and everything is going good. My Spanish has gotten very good and my friend in school called me fluent. I was more than flattered.

The mental journey of this exchange has not gotten any easier, I go through days not having a clue who I really am and others where I feel I have never known myself better.

Thats all for now, until next month.



January 25, 2014

Today is my 5th month anniversary of living in Ecuador. I’m pretty positive that I just hit the “bottom” and now things are headed upward until I have to leave. Not to scare you, the bottom is just the hardest part of the exchange. I had what I think was a normal exchange student Christmas season, with a little bit of homesickness, and at the same time I was super excited to celebrate the holidays in a different culture. Now I am just living, learning and laughing more than ever before in my life. I saw a quote the other day that I think is adorable and incredibly true.

“Laughing is when you’re so full of happiness that it bursts”

I have learned to laugh with and at the same things as the people here that I may have never thought was funny before. Now, I can hardly control my laughter, and I laugh every day. The other day we were playing Ninja (google it) in class and I accidently slapped a girl right across the face. She was fine, but we all must have laughed for a good 5 minutes. You may not think that it sounds like a funny story, but like I said you learn their sense of humor.

I think I have decided that my favorite difference between Ecuador and the United States, is the kids’ attitude about school. From what I have experienced from my previous 2 years of high school in Florida is that it is a depressing place (jail) that kids are forced to go to. Very few people really enjoy it. Students (including myself) complain about every homework, teacher and anything slightly unpleasant and we counted down the days until summer. Here though, it’s different. For the first time in my life, I was sad yesterday was Friday and that I had a weekend break. Kids go to school, yes because they have to, but they also want to go. They don’t like homework or teachers any more than we Americans do, but they just have fun at school. Not 5 minutes goes by without someone making a joke. We all laugh and have fun all day, and I am disappointed that we have to go home at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, we still have boring or down days, but w e almost always have fun at school. Just wanted to share this because it’s awesome!

This is part of one of my personal journal entries from my 11 weeks here in Ecuador:

“New things: food (MEAT), culture (everything), family (I meet a new cousin every time I go to Quito), language (hard), sense of style (jeans without back pockets), housing decorations/furniture (sharp corners and white), ethnicity (brown or black hair, skin stains, flatter faces and the most charming smiles in the world), children (by far the cutest I have ever seen), Futbol/soccer (not a sport, a way of life), music (every song has the word Corazon/heart in it), city (Quevedo- my little NYC), and the same thing that keeps the world going round LOVE (done differently with the same meaning).”

I also want to share an incredible poem my best friend wrote for me when I left for my exchange:


She walked into the plane with sorrow on her lips but hopefulness in her heart.

An unseen tear in her eye; her courage a work of art.

She would be leaving so much behind but gaining even more.

Her eyes no longer blind, her life an open door.

The adventures she’d have would compare to none.

The memories and friends are sure to last long after she’s done.

I can’t imagine all the places she’ll go or the things she’ll see…

But I do know that that girl has inspired me.

The kindness she possesses is unlike any other.

She is amazingly herself, there will never be another.

She makes me want to be the absolute best that I can

Her example is what I follow, what I take is her hand.

It is hard to watch her go, but I know it’s for the best.

I’ll be missing her dearly; these times put my heart to the test.

But the love she earned at home will always be waiting.

She has nothing to fear, the last bits of doubt began fading.

And so, with everything to gain, we watched as she turned and walked onto the plane.


*Shout out to my awesome friend Summer back home along with all of my other wonderful friends!

So since today is a special day I just decided to do a special blog. In general everything is going really good, I’m just going to school and living a normal life. I have vacation break starting February 21 through mid to late April.

That’s all for now!


March 7, 2014

Hola Amigos de Los Estados Unidos!

Hope all is well back with you all in the states. I am doing really well, I still face “hard times”, but generally I feel that I have been able to enjoy the second half of my exchange more. They told us it would be like this, the first half is about adjusting, learning the language, meeting everyone and some occasional sadness, while the second half is about really living like a local. I live a normal life here in Ecuador, I go to school, take classes, laugh with my friends, ride the bus home, eat lunch, take a lot of naps, go play soccer, or do a school project at a friend’s house, hangout with my host parents, sometimes I eat dinner, and I go to sleep. I have a simple life here, don’t mistake simple for easy, my life is not easy as I am living in a foreign country with a foreign language and culture that still give me plenty of challenges. I have faced the most challenges internally, figuring out who I am now as I am changing. I’m not positive as of why, but my emotions are like a rollercoaster. My mood can change so quickly and sometimes for no reason. I like to compare the exchange experience to what they say pregnancy is like: Its roughly 9/10 months, your emotions are all over the place and you get fat. Don’t let that scare you though, the exchange experience is incredible! I feel sick to my stomach when I think about it ending in 4 months, saying goodbye to the amazing people I have met, so I don’t think about it and I live it up while I still can!

So I wanted to share about my birthday celebration. My birthday was on the 5th of February. The kids in my class threw a surprise party for another classmate (his birthday was on the first of February) and I. It was so much fun! I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the kids that I care so much about, the kids that have made this exchange for me. The kids that make me laugh when I’m homesick, the kids that have pretty much taught me all of the Spanish I have learned, and the kids that have changed the way that I see this world. I truly care about each and every one of the 32 kids in my class and I am so overjoyed that our paths crossed this year. Anyway, they had 2 cakes for us, one that they shoved our faces in and the other for eating. It is a tradition here in Ecuador to shove the face of the birthday girl or boy in the cake, it is probably one of my favorite cultural traditions here in Ecuador that I intend to bring back to the United States (watch out friends and family). They bought hamburgers and pizza for everyone and we hung out laughing, dancing, taking pictures and finished the night by watching a scary movie together. I loved my party. Later on my actual birthday Rotary threw me a party with dancing, cake and games. I also enjoyed that party a lot. I am overall very happy with how my birthday turned out.

This last weekend I traveled with my host dad to Quito (the capital) where my family is from. We went and visited my grandparents from both sides and had a good time with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. I meet a new family member every time I go to Quito. I enjoyed hanging out with 2 of my host sisters (my other sister and host mother are in Miami). I got back on Tuesday night. Wednesday and Thursday I went to school and finished the year off. I am now on a 2 month vacation break, which makes me more sad than happy because I already miss my classmates. Yesterday after school got out, we all went to the next city over, Valencia, where a few of the kids in my class live and we had a Carnaval party. Carnaval is a holiday here that is celebrated like a food/water fight. People throw water balloons at each other, powders of all different colors, foams and eggs. I got an egg cracked on my head by a friend, it smelled! After we were completely messy we showered off and jumped i n the pool and played some games. We finished the night off by eating a pile of chicken fingers and French fries. It was a blast.

This vacation break I will be traveling all over the country: Salinas (beach), Quito (mountains) and the Galapagos (islands). I am super excited and I plan on writing about it for you all.

That’s it for now.



May 5, 2014

“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” – Thomas Szasz

Hello again USA,

I posted the quote above because I believe that it has such an incredible truth to it. Discovering Carley has been a humbling journey as it feels like I had to lose myself completely in my first 5 months and then find/create myself in the second half. It is nothing you can prepare for; Rotary warned me but I did not understand the concept till I was in the situation. I hit a point in January where I felt completely empty on the inside. I had no opinion, no personality, no idea what I wanted and nothing to say to anyone. It was hard and frustrating, but it didn’t last forever. I began to find myself again and I was surprised to see the girl I was creating. I do and say things sometimes that make me wonder where the old Carley went. Sometimes I see myself creating a quality that I don’t like so I have to do my best to change that and replace it with a better quality. I still have days where I don’t know who I am, and those days aren’t fun, but then I&rsq uo;ll have a day where I’ve never been more confident in who I am as a person, and it makes every hard moment worth it.

I have had the last 2 months off of school for vacation break (just like summer break). The school year on the coast is from May to the end of February, while in the Sierra (mountains) the school year is the same as in Florida. I have probably been to Quito (the capital of the country) about 6 or 7 times. In total that’s about 60 hours of driving. I got to go to the Mitad Del Mondo or Middle of the World where I got to stand with one foot in the western hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere. I also got to go to a museum, see a show and eat a very typical dish all while in the middle of the world. I spent Semana Santa or Easter week in Quito with my family. We ate fanesca, a typical soup eaten only during semana santa. Fanesca is made up of over 10 different kinds of grains and is a dense, flavorful dish. On Easter Sunday my host family took me to a mass in one of the most famous churches in all of Ecuador. The Basilica is a huge church that is absolutely in credible! The ceilings are super high, all of the windows are with colored glass, they have the bodies of some of the most important political and religious people stored there, and everything is made of stone so it was very cold inside. We listened to mass (it was so cold during the entire service!). Afterwards we enjoyed a pizza as a family.

In March I took a family trip to the beach with a group of family friends. There were about 40 of us who went to a resort in Salinas, Ecuador. We stayed there for 4 days. I went with my two host parents and my two sisters: Nataly and Ivanna. I had loved soaking up the Ecuadorian sun, but warning to all: THE SUN IS VERY DANGEROUS ON THE EQUATOR! I will admit I got a little bit burnt that week. Every meal was buffet style and there was an all the time snack bar with hamburgers and hotdogs. We all put on a few pounds. I personally enjoyed not having to eat meat, so I ate pasta at almost every meal. During the day we went to the beach or pool and at night after dinner we went to a show and then went dancing in the disco teck until late at night. My sisters have taught me the basics to dancing throughout the year. Overall, it was an awesome family week at the beach!

I also had the pleasure of going to the Galapagos Islands for 5 days. Last summer I got a job; I saved up all of my work money to be able to pay for the extra trips on my exchange. I was happy that I was able to pay for my own adventure 800 miles off the coast of Ecuador! I went with a group of about 40 other exchange students from the coast. I did not know the kids very well, but I made some really good friends throughout the week. We flew from Guayaquil to the island of Santa Cruz where they drove us to our hotel. We stayed in a very cute city with a port and little shops. Our hotel was very nice too, with a pool, plenty of food and organized tour guides. I roomed with a friend from Belgium named Ines. The guides then split us into 2 groups. My group was of 19 girls. The first day we all went to Tortuga Bay where we went swimming in the crystal clear water. It was the first time I had been in the ocean since my family trip to the beach in March. I almost cried tears of joy as I entered the water. The ocean will always be my home. That evening they took us out to walk around the city. We were surprised to find a sea lion sleeping on one of the benches in the middle of the pier. The sea lions from the Galapagos are different from any other kind of sea lion and can only be found in the Galapagos. The next day we woke up at 5:30, ate breakfast, and we were off at 6. My group got on a boat and rode for 2 hours to a place called the sleeping loin. The sleeping lion is an island that rises straight out of the middle of the ocean and looks remotely similar to a sleeping lion. There are canals carved through the sides of the island. We went snorkeling in these canals. The water was very cold! It was incredible to look down and not be able to see the bottom. The sides of the rocks were covered in sea plants and fish swam alongside them. All of the fish were incredibly unique with bright colors and different sizes. A sea lion swam under my legs less than a meter away from me; it was awesome! I also got to swim directly over top of a sea turtle. Sea turtles are now one of my favorite animals. After snorkeling we ate lunch on our boat and then went to a private cove beach. We swam with stingrays there and explored hidden beaches. By the end of the day I was quite tired, but that didn’t stop me. The Rotarians said we could go out in the city on our own, so we went out shopping. I spent way too much money! I bought all sorts of souvenirs.

The next day was my favorite. We woke up and got in a bus that took us to the other side of the island. From there we got on a big yacht where they served us breakfast as they took us to another island. When we arrived at island Bartolome, I went on the beach and took pictures of the unique lava formations. I then went snorkeling. The fish were gorgeous; so many colors. I was hanging out in the reef when out of nowhere a sea penguin swims right by me. I tried to follow him, but he was much faster than me. I then wandered around the corner to another cove where I found a huge school of small bait fish hanging out and 6 penguins feeding on them. I was blown away! The coolest part is that penguins are not at all scared of people, so they would swim by me and bump me. I laughed to myself as I had 6 penguins to myself while the other 18 girls were all chasing 1 penguin around in the other cove. A few minutes later I was just swimming along when I looked to my left and saw an iguan a swimming about 5 feet away from me. It was such a cool moment! Later I went to the other side of the bay and saw a huge puffer fish as well as a 5 foot white tipped shark that was about 20 feet away from me! Pretty incredible! After snorkeling we went on a hike up the side of a very small volcano and at the top we got to see Pinnacle Point. One of the most famous views from all of the Galapagos. It was incredible as it looked down on volcanoes surrounded by a bay of super blue water. When we got back on the boat they fed us lunch. As we were riding along to another beach we encountered a school of dolphins that began to swim along with the boat. I sat on the very tip of the boat with my feet dangling over the water and dolphins jumping about a meter away from my feet! It was unreal! We snorkeled at the next beach and saw some huge star fish. My friend and I were just wandering around when a sea lion jumped in the water about 15 feet from us. He appeared to be very angry an d made direct eye contact with us for a good 10 seconds before swimming off. We went back to the beach as quickly as we could. We napped on the front of the boat on the ride home. It was an even more tiring day than the previous one! We went out on the town that night too, but returned back early to get some good rest.

The next morning we took a boat ride to Isla Isabella- Isabell Island. It was about a 2 hour ride. When we got there the guide took us on a little hike through a lava field. It was crazy to see all the different forms of lava. We then arrived at a lava canal with water in the middle. On the sides we saw families of iguanas and in the water there were bunches of sharks. After that they took us snorkeling again. It was cool, we got to touch a sea turtle. I approached an iguana on the rocks and found out that they spit when they feel threatened! Once back on the main land they drove us to take pictures at a lake with flamingos. They then took us to visit the famous Galapagos turtles! They are huge and wrinkly, but they crawl much faster than you would think, not fast, but not too slow. After lunch we went back to the dock and went swimming by the rocks, where we found a few more iguanas. On the beach by the dock there were about 15 sea lions piled up in the shade, growling rando mly. I took a few pictures of them. On the way back to Santa Cruz our yacht ran out of gasoline so we hung out on the front of the boat for 20 minutes and enjoyed the open ocean. It was so incredibly peaceful. That night, our final night, we went out and enjoyed ourselves to the full. We walked all over the city and laughed a ridiculous amount.

The next day we visited a small turtle zoo and then back to the airport. Once back in mainland Ecuador I said a few very sad goodbyes before I hopped a bus to my city. I had an incredible trip to the Galapagos and it couldn’t have gone any better! I fully recommend that everyone should go there in their lives!

I just started classes again today. I was very excited to getting back to class where I could be with my classmates every day.

I have less than 50 days till I return to Florida and one more Rotary trip left.

See you soon Florida,


Connor Bradley
2013-14 Outbound to Peru
Hometown: St Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: District 4450, Peru
The Rotary Club of San Borja Sur

Connor - Peru

Connor’s Bio

Life is an adventure, it’s not easy and it’s not fair, but it’s an adventure nonetheless! For as long as I can remember this has been how I’ve described my life and what I’ve always tried to do. My name is Connor Bradley and I am from the small town of Elkhart Indiana. When I was three years old my parents, my brother, and I all moved to Jacksonville where we have been ever since. My family has always been my biggest supporters and we’ve been through everything together. I am a competitive soccer player and I coach flag football at a local recreational league. School for me is always exciting because I get to learn something new every single day, not just about my classes but also about my classmates and myself. I always appreciate being able to go because I know how much work it takes for that type of opportunity. Outside of my classes I participate in several extracurricular activities. Clubs like Political action and Model U.N. along with Spanish and Science national honor societies take up most of my free time. When they don’t you’ll almost always find me on a field playing or coaching. This opportunity to me represents a chance not only to change my life but to change others lives as well, whether they be here at home or abroad in my new home country. I am a fun loving person but I care enough to be serious at the right times and I can handle stress when it comes my way. This whole experience from right now to the day I return and beyond will change my life and take me in a completely new direction. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come but I’m here now and I could never be more excited. I think its time to throw caution into the wind and live in the real world the way we were always meant to: out of our comfort zones testing ourselves to all of the different cultures and people all over the world!

Connor’s Journals

July 30, 2013

How can one begin to explain the feeling of being in another country, completely separated from everything they know? Language, customs, food, weather, the world becomes reinvented and every detail becomes not only important but also captivating. Last night around 11:00 P.M. local time I arrived in the beautiful country of Perú and got my first taste of what it means to be an exchange student.

Full of anxiety and excitement I found my way through customs, baggage claim and finally to finding my host family. My first moments in Perú were filled with “Welcome Home” balloons and enough hugs to fill a lifetime. It was the moment I had waited for, 10 months in the making I was standing in front of my host family, speaking the language and realizing that in this new world I was completely at the mercy of my wit and curiosity. All of my new lessons to be learned couldn’t be helped by my past experience because my new home is very different then the one I left. There was one thing however that I discovered will always be the same no matter what country I am in: people care for each other, they look out for one another and although I was full of nerves and anxiety my family knew that and helped me feel right at home. Today was Peruvian Independence Day and I could not think of a better way to start becoming Peruvian then watching La parada militar with my host dad and brother. I wish I had the words to describe what it feels like to become a part of another culture, but I guess that’s why it is such an incredible experience to be an exchange student, especially in a country as special as Perú.

I can’t explain waking up and having un cafe con leche with my family and chatting about what the day will bring. Or having lunch en La bistecca, a famous restaurant here in San Borja Sur. Tonight I met my first Peruvian friends and its funny how much we already get along, they remind me of so many of my friends back home and yet in new ways they are completely different. The food, sights, and sounds of Peru are incredible and I couldn’t be more thankful for what Rotary has done. If you are a student reading this please take it form me: this experience is well worth it in every way… I know this is only my first full day but I promise you that all of the activities and assignments are well worth it! I remember my first informational meetings, my first interview with my home club, cherish the entire process because it will make memories for you that you will never forget.

Every time I turn around there is something new. A new sight, sound, friend, memory, it is hard to believe that after one day I could be filled with so much emotion. It truly is the little things in life that make all the difference and I am very certain that this adventure is just beginning; the real fun is just starting. Now that I am here it will probably be a little while before I send another blog. There is much to do for me to become Peruvian and I think its time I got started! Tomorrow my friends and I are going to a movie, and it is hard to explain how something I am so used to could now be a life long memory. Thank you Rotary for this opportunity, thank you mom, dad, and Samuelito for everything you have helped me with I know we are always going to be family and I love you guys incredibly. And finally thank you to all of the Rotarians here in Perú… without your help and dedication I would not be sitting where I am right now. Its time for me to go and begin this adventure with all of the love and support that my life has blessed me with! ¡Viva Perú!

 August 22, 2013

Hard to believe really that it was more than three weeks ago that I stepped off my flight to Lima Peru and walked out into a new world. Now it almost seems like a dream coming here, as if it wasn’t even real. Then again after more than three weeks with a new family, school, city, and country I guess that feeling can almost be expected by any voyager who has left there home in search of something truly important: adventure. Much has happened since my last entry so I won’t drag on the sentimental peace for all of you readers who are busy at work or school! The last note on my thought process here would be that Peru is growing more like home to me and the quaint differences between my lives in Florida and here in Lima are becoming just a part of my existence here. I can’t change them so I adapt and smile knowing that at the end of this year my customs in Florida will be the ones who seem different to me! Anyway on to business matte rs!

First and foremost my biggest change since my first week journal has been that I am now in School here in Lima! A very good private school named San Ignacio de Recalde. With a Green and cream colored uniform, school song (which happens to be slightly catchy), and rotating teachers instead of students it was very easy to see the changes I would be making between my new school and Creekside Highschool, the one I left back home. I have over 10 different classes including different Maths, Sciences, Language and literature classes (Spanish obviously), Dance, Gym, Civics, and of course History! *A short side note on the dance class, the guys in this class learn traditional Latin Dances and a fellow inbound and I are learning a dance from the traditional ranchers of Peru, some of the most fun I have ever had! I find my classmates to be great people and the teachers are all extremely caring for all of the students making sure that everyone (including the exchange students in my class ) know what we are doing everyday. The first day of school the Director announced us as Cultural Ambassadors from different countries here in Peru to learn what there is to learn and live what there is to live. Its very hard to describe the significance of what he said on all of us who heard it, it reminded us just what it is were doing here.

Outside of school my life has expanded here in Lima and everyday it seems that life is taking me off into some new adventure with friends or family! The food, music, people, and atmosphere of Peru as a whole is incredible and I am positive that there is not a better country for me to do exchange with (yeah maybe a little biased ;)). My host family is incredible and my host sister and brothers have been so nice in showing me the ropes about moving around the city so that now I am doing it by myself, a feeling that seems insignificant but I promise you is very important for an exchange student! We have taken trips to Los Alamos, Barranco, La Molina, Chosica, Chincha and many more wonderful places all around Lima. The food and music here is to die for and whether it be Chicha Morada, Chifa, Bembo’s or La Bistecca I found myself with great cuisine. My life here is a Peruvian one and after that I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The language for me improves everyday and each time I speak I find myself with new vocabulary, new conversations, and new ways to branch out to the people with whom I am sharing this new world. I am becoming a part of the country not as a tourist or a foreigner, but rather as a Peruvian, perhaps that is the feeling that I will always carry with me. The Rotary camps, school, social events, are all fun don’t get me wrong and I love them. But what makes them all worth while is that I am taking part in them in a culture different then my own, I am finding new customs, new connections with where I am, and I am writing a new story that one day I will be able to tell in full to all of the wonderful people who have supported me.

Thank you to my family, friends back home, Rotarians hear in Peru and back home in Florida, my fellow inbounds, and now my fellow Peruvians. Through all of you and through the help of the Lord I am here living the adventure I have always dreamed. I have been blessed with so much during my life, may I never forget the love that has been shown to me both here and at home. Until our next meeting my friends!

September 4, 2013

Vivir es dar cuenta a las experiencias de la vida, recordar los momentos increíbles, y compartir su aventura con el resto del mundo. Si se hace eso entonces es imposible no disfrutar las cosas básicas que existen en cada oportunidad… especialmente las oportunidades de un año de intercambio. Eso fue mi meta para este año acá en Perú y hasta este momento todo ha pasado con energía, amistad, y el amor entre personas de países diferentes. Les he dicho las cosas de mi mente pero ahora es el tiempo para compartir las cosas “raras” que existen en esta cultura… en mi nueva casa aquí en Lima.

So you think you know Perú? Well that’s what I used to think to so if you find yourself thinking this then please sit back, keep all hands and feet in the chair, and enjoy the ride!

Peruvians I must say are some of the most loving people I have encountered and if you ever decide to come down to this incredible country you will learn pretty quick that personal space is a thing of the past and everyone starts becoming your best friend rather quickly. When you first meet someone in public it is courtesy to kiss them on the cheek granted the two people are both women, or one of them is a women, normally two guys give a firm hand shake and a warm “¡Hola!” to start the conversation. This is true even at formal meetings like Rotary Reunions where its respectful to meet and greet every person before the meeting starts and somewhat disrespectful to leave someone out!! And I do mean EVERY person! 😀 Here in Perú its best you forget embarrassment because people don´t really judge you for the little mistakes you make, they understand we’re all human and they are really quick to forgive! One of the really comforting things I have found out about my new home! In school the story is roughly the same, the people are incredibly nice, sarcastic, and love great humor, they really love enjoying life and for me that’s really refreshing! We make jokes, work on assignments, have some hilarious conversations with the teachers and at the end of the day it really feels like I am a part of that class, and they´re some of my really good friends here in Lima which is why I will never forget some of the little ins and outs of Peru that they’ve taught me!

In my house if you enjoy your good health then you better greet my host mom when you get to the house and always say goodbye when you leave with a kiss on the cheek and a quick ¨¡Chao!! That’s just a rule of thumb for my house and if you don´t…. well you can expect to hear about it later! ☺ My house is one of the warmest places I think I have been and I don´t mean temperature-wise obviously (although we are in the middle of winter here in Lima so some warmth would be nice!) but rather just in spirit, my host mom, brothers and Dad always ask me how my day at school was and it seems like it hasn´t taken them long at all to really “get” me. It seems like even now they understand my personality and what type of Intercambista I am, which goes a long way and I don´t really feel like a foreigner in our house anymore, I feel like a brother, and a son to them which is exactly what they told me I was! “Ahora hijo, no er es gringo, eres Nuevo Peruano con nosotros!” those were the words that my friends and family told me a few weeks into my exchange, welcoming me into “being Peruvian” with them! My older brother Julio is a soccer playing star who´s always looking to help someone out and I really couldn´t ask for a better older brother! He started taking me out my first week and because of that I´ve got the confidence and the know how to do some exploring, make some memories, and really become a part of Peru and the city life here in Lima!

Well the weather here is something to behold I tell you and it changes as quickly as some people change their minds when you start driving into different regions of Lima! As of right now its Winter and that means cold, windy, and not a whole lot of sun with the exception of a few days here and there when we´ve seen it peek through the clouds over the mountains! I wear a lot of undershirts, sweatshirts, and of course my Peruvian “Chullo” a traditional hat here in Peru with its colorful Alpaca and Llama designs, a real trademark here in my country! In about 2 months we should be getting into summer and I´m already excited! Although winter really hasn’t been too bad, coming from the blistering heat of the sunshine state a little cold air and some mist has been something different and fun for me!

Well if you ever wanted to live life on the edge you should come down and see the traffic in Lima, its probably one of the biggest differences between my country back home and my new found love here in Peru. We have over 8 million people and it definitely shows, living here in metropolis is slightly different then my little suburbia of Saint Johns country and watching the cars drive bumper to bumper with no rhyme or reason at first made me scratch my head but now is something I have really come to enjoy! Every car ride seems like a roller coaster and traffic laws are not exactly the norm so when you are riding in a car, hold on to your hat! What I love most about being in Peru is that the mindset of our culture is to really make your own way, live your own life, and enjoy what you find important everyday! Friends, family and memories are the true “measuring sticks” so to speak of the happiness down here and Peruvians enjoy a very rich cultural history, something that they take great pride in. Here in our country “being Peruvian” is a great honor and something to be very proud of! Life here is dominated by public transportation and it really is the lifeline of the city, if you want to go somewhere its time for a bus, combi (my personal preference) or a taxi! I think what you really need here, not only to duck and dive in between morning traffic but also just to exist here in Lima is some real grit, you need to have some confidence in what you’re doing and who you are because being in the big city there are some times where you need to keep things under control and make the best of a situation. As long as you do that, you live with energy and passion, and respect the language and historical culture of this country then you will not only like Peru, you´ll fall in love with it like I have. It really becomes a part of you and you realize that you’re changing even if you can’t see the immediate effect s yet!

I couldn’t be more happy or feel more at home than here in Peru, of all the countries in the world I could have been sent to it brings me the greatest joy to sing our anthem, wave the red and white of our flag, and remember that this place will always be a second home to me. The adventure has one month under its belt and already I’ve got enough memories to keep me busy for a year! It will be awhile before I write again and perhaps the most important thing to remember is that life doesn’t exist in a camera’s photo or the page of a book, its in the everyday differences you make and the wonderful things that you see. As they say in Perú: Chao! And of course

¡Viva Perú!

October 5, 2013

Perú… ¿Cómo puedo describirte en más palabras de que ya he dicho? Cada día yo paso acá en este maravilloso país se encuentra más fácil ver tu cultura, sentir el ritmo de tu corazón, y entender más de que significa ser Peruano. No quiero salir de ti y cuando imagino estar en otro país me da pena. Cuando una persona dice Perú yo sonrío porque yo sé bien que estoy acá en el país más bonito del mundo. Gracias a ti por todo, mas de dos meses y ya me siento parte de la patria, parte de ti.

¡Hola a todos! Obviamente este es mi blog y sé que hace mucho tiempo que publiqué algo pero por fin estoy listo para contarles como pasa acá en Lima, y en general, en el Perú. Por favor quédense en sus asientos porque tengo mucho para decirles ☺ ¡Empecemos!

Hi everyone!!! It’s been awhile huh? (I apologize if my English is bad… its starting to decline pretty quickly these days which for my Spanish is a great sign!) Well I promise you all that it has been a great part of the plan and now that I have held the suspense for about a month now I think its time to inform everyone how the trip is going, how this incredible country is changing everything me and at the same time reminding me deep down the person I am! Everyday is something completely new and I love it so much I could not be happier to be in this beautiful country with these amazing people and this vivid, colorful, loving culture! Well a lot of crazy and wonderful things have happened since I last wrote to you so I think its time I got started!

First thing first, my language learning has hit hit a huge learning curve and started to floor through the roof. Now switching between English and Spanish is becoming harder and harder, hearing instructions in Spanish is by far easier then English and I am definitely seeing fluency development at a very very exciting pace! Through a lot of hard work at home before this trip and during my time here in Peru my Spanish has increased nearly ten-fold and at every turn I see new benefits come from that, whether it be simply talking to strangers, Rotarians, my classmates, or my host family I am just loving being able to communicate so much and it is mostly for that I am feeling so at home here in Peru, I don’t feel like a stranger because the people aren’t seeing me as a stranger, (If you are excited about joining Rotary then this should definitely be something that gets you excited!) Of course I have had my translation mishaps like everyone else! Which have been some of my favorite memories here in Peru! Everyday is new vocab, new grammar, street slang or Jerga as we call it down here! The tempo has become 10,000 times easier just being down here and when I speak I realize that I am speaking very very quickly even if it doesn’t feel that way! I am so excited about everything going on with the Spanish here and it is such a beautiful language I know I will be bringing it back with me to my home in the U.S. and I know it will always be a part of my life, I will never forget it because it represents such a crucial part of my “Peruvianness”!

Okay so now we start getting into the last couple of weeks since my last posting! Well I don’t know about other countries and what they are able to do through Rotary in their countries but I do know that here in Peru we have incredible opportunities to do amazing things that other students might not be fortunate enough to take part in. Nearly two weeks ago we were able to visit the National Congress of the Republic and meet representatives from one of the most powerful bodies in the entire country as well as meet the vice president of the Congress himself! When we entered the Congressional offices I hardly knew what to think, I was inside one of the most historically important buildings in the entire history of my new country, it gave me chills just to realize the history wrapped up in such a place. I really don’t know how to describe the feeling of taking part in an event like that which we did in the congress, we were presented to the congressional members by co untry, we were able to take pictures with them and we even received pins for our blazers and copies of the Peruvian constitution from the Vice President of the Congress! That day in the congress I did something that I don’t believe I will ever forget. On behalf of my country, my family, my state, and myself I presented the Vice President with a gift on National television in Peru. I gave to him a book of American Statesmen that had been printed in 1942 and when I handed him that small but humble sign of respect between my country and his he told me that as a student, person, and as an ambassador I was representing my country well and he finished be telling me that with people like me the future peace of our generations will be met. How could I begin to describe to anyone the feelings I had. With all of the emotions that were running through me I thanked him, told him that I would accept such a challenge with all the heart I could, smiled, and returned to my seat. I gue ss you could call that a “Rotary Moment” one of those special times where you remember just how much you mean to the name of your country and what your actions really say about where you come from. I will never be able to forget such an experience and I know it is something that will always remind me of just how big and connected the world is!

Well it wasn’t long after that trip to the congress that I began my first trip as an Exchange student inside of the beautiful country of Peru! Our first destination was to the South where we would visit several key beautiful places in such an amazing country! Arequipa, Colca, Tacna, and Arica (Chile) all made the list of our first Viaje and it was in these places that we really gained a feel for what being Peruvian really was. We left last Thursday, which feels like a year ago now, and I think it was worth every hour of lost sleep that we left the house at 3:30 A.M. to be at the Airport in Callao. When we all arrived at the check-in I don’t think our feelings could have been more excited! I was so anxious to see the world outside of the Middle Western Coast, which I had become so fond of, and go visit some of the most historical and cultural sites in the whole country!

Our first day was our trip to El Cañón de Colca a huge canyon that runs down the south of Peru in the Sierra. We flew first to Arequipa, which is the second largest and most important city in the entire country. From Arequipa we took a several hour bus ride to Colca, which in reality is a series of towns that is scattered at different sites along the canyon. The elevation of the canyon was about 16,000 ft so altitude sickness at first for a lot of our group was very common, the air was thin, and water was an absolute necessity as was chewing the traditional Coca leaf. Since the Pre-Incan period of the highlands Coca leaves have been chewed because of their help in respiration. When we stopped at one of the small stores in Colca we were recommended to buy several small bags. Not exactly the tastiest item but they definitely did the trick. Usually you place three or four small leaves in a small bunch, and then you fold them together and place them in one side of y our jaw kind of like gum. When you chew you don’t swallow the leaves, just the natural liquid inside and it’s this liquid that helps you breathe at much higher elevations. Everything in Colca was made from Coca: tea, candies, the leaves themselves, everything. It had been and is currently used by the people of that area to battle altitude sickness. In Colca we found several incredible examples of Peruvian wildlife, which truly represent so much of the history and culture here. Llamas are obviously very well known here In Peru and around the world it seems to be a very common fact that they can be found in numerous places here in Peru where they used to be used as beasts of burden. However several other animals maybe less known to the world exist in this great country. Alpacas (perhaps the more traditional and cultural form of the Llama) the Andean Condor (one of the largest birds flying birds found in the world), and the Vicuña (the oldest descendent of bo th the Llama and Alpaca) all roam the Sierra and great highlands of the country.

The first day we drove from Arequipa to Colca we saw a lot, numerous Vicuñas and Llamas in the wild stretches of the highlands and as I watched the great mountains and deserts of the Cordillera pass by us I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic, the place by which we were passing was incredibly old and far more ancient then we could ever have imagined. People had been connecting to the those hills as a source of life for thousands of years and numerous families and communities were following the same traditions there ancestors did so long ago. That night we ended up in our hotel/paradise. Built in to the side of the canyon our lodging was situated near the bottom of a deep valley and laid right next to a runoff of the River Colca. With naturally fed thermal pools found next to the river it was one of the beautiful places I have seen. We enjoyed singing some songs as a huge group that night around the huge fire pit that had been made in the center of all of the rooms.

We had over 6 languages spoken between us and yet we all sang and that night is going to be a memory I will always have as an exchange student! After the fire that night we all got on the bus to go to a small restaurant in the center of town where not only did we taste traditional food of the canyon (I personally got to try an Alpaca Steak which was amazing!!) but we also got to witness traditional dances performed by several traditional Andean dancers. It was incredible and I could hardly believe my eyes when they pulled me out of the crowd to go dance with them! I heard a great cheer from my Rotary Group and there I was dancing traditional Peruvian dances in the middle of the Andean Highlands… How could I describe it more?

The next day we went to the Cruz del Condor, a viewing point for Andean Condors in the area. What an experience! Situated at one of the higher points of the canyon we were able to hike around the cliffs and we actually did get to see one of the condors. What a beautiful creature! With great contrasts of black and white in its plumage the Andean Condor is one of the most amazing birds I have seen! The Condor was once seen as a God amongst the Andean peoples before the arrival of the Spaniards and rain was believed to be one of the gifts it was thought to bring which gave life in the form of crops and grasses for grazing animals. In some parts the Condor, Mountains, and Rivers are believed to be Gods and especially in the area of Colca there are numerous traditional beliefs that still maintain great popularity!

After our time in Colca and the Canyon of the Condor we soon packed up our things and traveled to Arequipa the second largest and most important city in all of Peru. Known for its great agriculture and historical importance, Arequipa represents the largest influence of politics and culture outside of Lima. It was here that we got to visit several historical sites like the Plaza de Armas, Monasterio de Santa Catalina, La Catedral de Arequipa, la casa del Fundador, and so much more. Also it was in Arequipa that we were given free time, a couple of hours were given to us over several days of the trip to go out by ourselves to experience Arequipa and with my group we had an amazing time visiting several historical sites, tasting the local cuisine, and really getting a feel for the city!!! Each site brought something new and it was such an amazing time just to be able to spend sometime with some of my best friends in the world here in Peru, they are like my family and I will neve r be able to forget any of them! We all have so much in common and just being able to spend time with other world travelers who are ready for anything is just incredible, I couldn’t ask for anything more and I couldn’t help but smile when I was with them during the entire trip. They are always going to be there and that is something truly exciting and special about Rotary Youth Exchange.

Arequipa is settled between the Volcanic Mountains of Misti, Chanchani, and Pichu Pichu (or the sleeping Indian)! In these mountains several years ago was found a mummy so well known here in Peru and throughout the world that it has been described as one of the best preserved specimens of mummies in the world! Nicknamed “Juanita” we were able to visit her museum in Arequipa! The city was not only an anthropological symbol but represented also one of the turning points of the Pacific war between Chile and Peru. Arequipa was one of the final advances of the Chilean Army before they were turned back towards the south. All in all Arequipa is a mix of traditional cultural ideas and modern concepts; it was really an amazing place to visit!

Proceeding from Arequipa we travelled about 6 hours by bus to the south to the desert town of Tacna, which lies very very close to the Peruvian-Chilean border! The sun was always out, and the city was definitely in the desert environment, outside of the city were giant sand dunes as far as the eye could see and I realized just how harsh the Cordillera could be to someone that was trying to survive it without being in a city like Tacna. In Tacna we visited numerous cultural cites like El teatro municipal, El ferrocarril, and so much more also traveling to the Plaza de Armas de Tacna and the Catedral which had been partially rebuilt since an earthquake struck the city some years ago. The night we arrived in the city we were welcomed by Rotary club of Tacna to a dinner that everyone enjoyed, it was a great blessing to be brought in by the different clubs who were willing to help provide food for nearly 40 Exchange students!

The next morning we had to be up very early because we crossed the border into Chile (a process which took nearly 2 and half hours)! Now you see there has always been this great Rivalry between Chile and Peru since the War of the Pacific in which Chile took territory from Peru and then Bolivia. When we entered the border no more than 100 yards from the border control offices we began to sing the Peruvian National Anthem together as a whole. The sound of it gave me chills! There we were, mixed group of students from over 7 different countries all-residing in Peru and we were singing our new home’s Anthem in the borders of her rival! We were all filled with a tremendous Patriotism in that moment for Peru and it was such a gift to be a part of. We realized then how much we loved Peru and how it had become our home. When we went into Chile we visited the city of Arica, which was a historical battleground between the two countries in the 19th century. Chile was a beautiful c ountry with a great climate and a beautiful coast but I don’t think it can compare to the beauty of Peru <3 ☺ .We visited several museums and we were able to pass through several artesanía shops in the city in order to buy some souvenirs.

Finally after one more day in Tacna after our day in Chile we returned home to Lima last night. After so much travel, tours, dinners, official Rotary events, and in overall just fun I cam back to Lima as happy as I could possibly be because after a trip like the one I have just taken I can’t help but feel closer to my fellow exchange students and my new home.

Everything in Peru is just going as well as it possibly could and for that I must be so thankful. The language, like I told you all earlier, is running so smoothly and everything is falling into place just like I thought it would at this stage of the game! The weather is getting nicer as we turn into summer here and I actually have a week of vacations after this weekend because last week were exams! My friends in my Colegio are amazing, friendly, and funny, and I couldn’t think of not being in San Ignacio de Recalde. This coming week I have no idea what my plans are and yet I am very okay with that, really my mindset (and the mindset in general here) is to let your worries go, try your best and enjoy yourself, which has been something I have really held on to. Just being here in Lima and in Peru in general has me so excited and I could never thank Rotary enough for what they have done as well as all of the people back home which have made this possible for me, whether t hey be teachers, friends, family, anyone who I can thank I am going to because this is a life changing experience in everyway and I couldn’t be more blessed to be here! I have so much to tell you guys about everything that is going on here but I suppose I will stop there and let you take a breather! Next time I will give you another “Cultural Update”! Until then I hope that everyone has a wonderful time! As for me I’m going to keep living this Peruvian life, learning what it truly means to be a part of my new culture, and loving every second of it. Until we talk again everyone! ¡Chao, y Viva Perú! <3

October 28, 2013

Perú… tan bonito es su bandera, el pendón bicolor de rojo y blanco. Los Andes se quedan en su tierra tan bonita, maravillosa, llena de historia y tradición. Espero recordar este país tan importante y su belleza para siempre. De la selva, la Cordillera, la sierra, dentro de todo se encentra nuestro orgullo de ser Peruanos… ¡Viva Perú!

(Spanish in Progress…Please excuse the English Mistakes!)

Well today is a very very special day for my journey here in the beautiful country of Perú. Today is my official third month mark for being here and I really didn´t know where to start trying to describe it. So much has happened, so much has changed in three short months and it is so hard for me to try and explain everything and anything that has happened here! There´s simply too much Perú for a blog like this!

Lima, and what I really love about this place is that in every street and corner you can find more of the amazing Peruvian culture we enjoy here. After the trip last month I returned to my colegio to reintegrate myself with being back here in Lima instead of out and about in the countrysides of this great country. Unfortunately things here are still a little cold and damp as we are just starting to move into spring! However we have had our first few days of sun here in Lima and when it comes out everything definitely changes! We are extremely close to the equator so obvious the sun is much stronger here than it was even in the Sunshine State of Florida! As we get to see more and more of Summer weather we all begin wishing more and more that it was December so we could swim, surf, and enjoy the beautiful climate here in Peru.

School life has been very very very entertaining and a great experience for me! My classmates are awesome and hilarious which makes every class funny and a new experience for all of us. The teachers here joke around a lot too which is a lot of fun because they really do a good job of being friendly with the students and that is one particular difference that I think there is between the United States school system and our program here in Perú. The schools are slightly smaller here in Lima because they are private, so the student’s don’t have as many in each class and everyone gets to know each other a lot more! That part of school I am really enjoying! Kids in the same grade level all know each other and yeah I am sure you´re probably saying ¨well that’s easy if they only have 10 kids! ¨ But actually our grade has over 100 students and yet everyone seems to be good friends! Likewise we don´t have nearly as many problems with the &u ml;norms of highschool: Drama, fights, people really disliking each other, we really don´t see as much of that here in my School of San Ignacio de Recalde and so it is really a friendly place to be! I also have a few Rotary Youth Exchange students that I have gotten to know really well and that has been a lot of fun to kind of discover all of this together with them! My best friends in school are absolutely incredible people and they are what I would like to call the “Traviesos” because they are snappy, sarcastic, funny, and I would miss them in a heartbeat! We always have a lot of fun no matter what class we are in and I always talk to them when there is something on my mind. Great people and some of my best memories have been from my School!

Speaking of a great times I got to have one of the most important days of my life celebrated here in Peru, and let me tell you, what a day! My 18th birthday was this past Friday and I wish I was lying when I write that the party started at 12:01 that morning and ended at 8 the next night! 😀 Peruvians pretty much are allowed to do everything at 18 which is why that it is such a big age to celebrate here, and I really got to see that in full form this past weekend! It all started at midnight that Friday morning! I woke up to someone tapping me on the shoulder and before I even know what was happening my entire family was in my bedroom singing me happy birthday in Spanish and very broken English! They brought me a chocolate cake and at 12:30 we were all eating as a family celebrating my “coming of age” in Peruvian culture, it was so much fun just to be there, just to realize what extent my family had gone through to remind me that even in a different continent then my home, I was still in a house where I was loved and that feeling can’t have a price tag, absolutely unforgettable. There is something about that situation, that no matter what language you hear the song in, you remember the most important things in life and that was what was so impressive about that moment, just how much love, and caring I saw from my family, even if I wasn’t their son by blood, it didn’t matter at all, they loved me all the same and for that I thank Rotary for showing me that moment because it is on that short list which will always be remembered.

After about an hour of eating cake, making jokes, and simply having a good time we all got back into bed at about 1:30 and that morning I had school so I had to get up at 6! The party continued at school the next day and I was really able to see what “friends” really mean here. In the United States usually the person who is celebrating brings some food, drinks, enough for us to have a party, relax and enjoy. Here in Peru, the person having the party is not expected to bring anything, its their day being celebrated and that’s why its not there job to bring food, or drinks for the others, its their day to enjoy! Now here too I got to see something extremely heartwarming, my best friends at school all prepared for that day and during our Recreo we had a birthday party with a chocolate cake, Inka Cola, Chips, cookies, the works and I was honestly surprised at how much they were really willing to spend for someone else. Back home that is one thing that I have alw ays wished for, just a little bit more of an open mind in our culture to spend money for other people sometimes, and that’s why that party having a good time with my friends really showed me something culturally significant about my new home! When I was making my birthday wish we moved on to our next tradition regarding birthdays! When a person is celebrating they have to take a bite of the cake as a whole, when they do this everyone has to push their whole face into the cake! After having my head smashed into a delicious chocolate cake I brought my face up with a complete chocolate mask just in time for a photo with all of my friends!

Up to this point it had been a fantastic day and it just got better! That night my host family asked me what I wanted for dinner and we had a huge feast with Polla a La Brasa (a famous chicken dish) with Rice, French fries, a salad, and a nice glass of red wine! It was incredible to be able to share such memories with my family and the stories we told and laughed about will always stay with me. Simply a great birthday and with me I had my best friend here in Peru Emilie from Denmark whom my parents encouraged me to invite. With a great friend, a tremendous family, and incredible food it was one of the best ways I could possibly think of ending my Cumpleaños.

The following day however the real party started! At 10 A.M. I met all of my good friends at a local spot here in Lima and we all went to play soccer with our Rotarians for a few hours before heading to lunch. It was great to get everyone together and to see our Rotary Members again, who are always ready to get back in touch with us students and see how life is going! After that and a nice lunch made by our Rotary members my counselor gave me a few gifts and they too proceeded to sing Feliz Cumpleaños! I was so happy to be with all of my good friends that I couldn´t have prepared a better afternoon! Finishing our lunch we all decided to go to the Miralfores District for some great markets and great spots to hang out and enjoy some great company as a group. After passing a few hours in Parque Kennedy we finally finished up and went our separate ways home, I got home about 8 and after two days of partying I was happier than I could possibly try to put down on paper !

Well now we have what I would like to call LAS NOTICIAS IMPORTANTÍSIMAS!!! Ok so here´s the deal, in January I will be able to travel to the very far North of Peru for a month and a half to stay with a host family in the city of Piura! 😀 A coastal city with plenty of sun, great food, and cool sites to see I am extremely excited about this rare opportunity! As my Rotary organization here in Lima has connections with other clubs throughout Peru, we were able to make the transfer and I am extremely excited to be able to travel to a city with only about 200,000 people compared to the ten million we have in Lima! The history, culture, food, will all have a much smaller influence from international powers and companies and that I am excited to see, how do the people there live differently then they do here? Are any of the perspectives different? This opportunity is truly important and very special to the kids who are here in Lima because only a few of us are going to be able to take these trips! To know another part of Lima culturally will be a tremendous time and I will be making the trip with a good friend of mine Colin from Belgium! Being able to make such a journey to the far extremes of Northwest Peru will be another once in a lifetime trip!

Well everyone that’s it for this edition of the blog! I can’t tell you all how happy I am to be here, simply to be a part of it and there isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t think of thanking Rotary, my family, my friends, and everyone back home and here in Peru who has helped me and supported me over the last 18 years! I am the luckiest guy in the world for all the great lessons and memories you’ve given me and to repay you I am going to do everything I can to live this opportunity like the life changing venture it is! I love this country, its people, and I will always be proud to be a part of it! Thank you Rotary! ¡Viva Perú! <3

November 30, 2013

 ¡Buenas Tardes a Todos de la Ciudad bonita de Lima en el Perú! Les escribo esta vez para compartir una aventura importantísima de mi vida y también para contarles cómo pasa la vida acá en Perú. ¡Ojalá que leas esta publicación y la disfrutes completamente, saludos de Lima! ☺

Well everyone long time no see huh? I think the last time I posted was in early October so perhaps it would be a great time to play a little bit of catch up and let everyone back home know how things are going here in the beautiful city of Lima! First off this post will be a little bit of a longer writing because of the fact that our last trip to the south of this beautiful country was very long with lots of historical sites, amazing memories, and numerous cultural points that I am anxious to share with you guys! SO I promise that if you read through this, even if it is long, you will hopefully not get bored because we are going to have plenty to talk about! Alright well enough chitchat I think it’s about time I got on with it!

Well it all started the 7th of November and ended the 15th of the same month, although it might not seem like a long time you are going to learn just how much a Rotary group can do in 8 days! We kicked off our tour to the South by beginning in the ancient Capital of the Incans: Cuzco, a beautiful city with a very large amount of historical tradition and significance for the once great Incan Empire, which dominated life in in the Andes region for several centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century! Our first stop was to the beautiful temple of Curicancha, which used to act as a traditional center of the city before it was partially destroyed by Spanish troops and renamed Santo Domingo. Here we found a very important spiritual center dedicated to the Incan gods of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, astronomical phenomena that the Incans believed guided and watched over their civilization! We saw several different types of important building styles and were taught how and why many of the structures of this great Empire appear the way they do. Continuing on our trip we visited such sites as Q’engo, Tambomachay and Saqsayhuamán, all of which held particular functions in the days of old for the bustling city of Cuzco, some acted as important agricultural sites, some as guard sites, others as the earliest forms of center for transferring information in the form of male runners who would carry goods such as seafood from the coast or information regarding other parts of the empire! It was said that a runner could run 25 Kilometers in one day and that the Incan Leader could enjoy fresh seafood brought all the way from the coast!

Our following day of adventuring was by no means less exciting than the first and as we traveled further and further into the interior of the Valle Sagrado. It became much more clear to me how the Incans believed that the world around them, the water, mountains, sun, how all of those things could be Gods for a civilization. Some of the most beautiful sites I’ve been to and simply the view was enough to take your breath away, I make no joke when you could feel just how ancient that world really was, and maybe it was just me but I tried to imagine Incan families scattered throughout those high terraced walls, living life like they had been for centuries. One of my favorite aspects of this trip as a whole was that the feeling we received from being in these sites were important for many reasons and to many people, not just people with Incan heritage, or Peruvians, but in general just as a human being it was impressive to be standing in one of our father societies, one of the largest in the two Americas, for me that feeling at times simply robbed me of words and a new sense of Peruvian patriotism swept over me, and again I realized just how much this country has become a part of me. Its not a vacation, or a simple tour, it’s a life changing experience that has changed me in some ways I can see and some ways I will never guess at. I could never be more thankful for such an opportunity, not just for this life changing trip but for receiving Peru in general because I couldn’t dream of being in another country, it is as if I was always meant to come here! Well now that I have successfully gotten off on an emotional hallmark moment let me bring it all back with the actually tour!

Alright so where was I? Oh that’s right! The Valle Sagrado was the home of some of the more famous Peruvian animals and plants including the Llama, Alpaca, Condor, Vicuña, Parrots, and Guanaco! We had the pleasure of visiting a wildlife reservation in this valley to become face to face with these beautiful creatures and learn a little bit about how conservationists are working with the government to stop illegal trading of materials like Toucan feathers, and illegally sold furs from animals such as the Guanaco and Vicuña. In the reservation we also were able to view Pumas, and get a “bird’s eye view” of some Condors! 😉 I had to try a cheesy joke at least once throughout this blog, if I didn’t how would I know you were actually reading? Well off we go again back to the straight facts! Jaja! Alright after the Valle Sagrado we went to two very important sites of Pisaq and Ollantaytambo! Pisaq was a very rich agricultural sector of the valley where the people would normally grow Corn and potatoes to keep their nutrition well balanced and healthy in the high mountain altitude. Great terraces had been built into the side of the mountains and it was said that the storehouses of Pisac were so efficient using only the sun and high mountain climate that it was calculated they could keep some vegetables fresh for up to 5 years!! That kind of makes our refrigerator look like a tin can if you ask me! Pisaq was extremely impressive and the work it took to get the terraces etched into the side of the mountains must have been incredible work, really something to appreciate because the Incans were an advanced civilization but they were still working with basic tools made of stone and wood.

Well our next city was just as important and perhaps even more so politically then Pisaq was, the next city on our Great Peruvian adventure was Ollantaytambo! Ollantaytambo served as a temporary capital for the Incan Leader Manco Inca when Pizzarro arrived and conquered the original capital of the Cuzco. For several years Manco Inca was able to defend this great city valiantly but the force of the Spaniards was too much and eventually he retreated to the final capital of the Incan Empire to Vilcabamba where he was finally defeated and the Incan empire brought to an end under Spanish domination. The city was extremely impressive and the great look it had over the mountains was nothing short of jaw dropping, it was quite clear how the incans chose it to be a capital city, it over looked a very low set valley which would have allowed Manco Inca to notice any Spanish assault ahead of time and plan accordingly! After a long day of touring, many names in Quechua, and a great Incan history lesson we were finally ready to hit the “Mack Daddy” ultimate tourist spot in Peru…. Machu Picchu!

It was a very very foggy morning from what I can remember when we left for Machu Picchu, a site that no doubt has gone a long way in changing not only my time here in Peru but life in general for me, how I look at the perspective we all find ourselves in. We were stationed in a small tourist town just at the base of the site and I remember the night before I was trying to prepare myself for the moment I had waited so long for…. What would I be able to say? Would I be able to say anything at all? The second question as you will see later on was a much fairer question, but that’s later in the story. So leaving from the small town of Machu Picchu we mounted our bus and before we could believe it we were ascending up the steep sleeps of the mountain ranges and because of the fog that was so heavy around us it felt as if we were diving right into the heavens themselves. About 20 minutes of our serpentine road and finally the bus pulls to a halt. We all got off, got our tickets punched and passport checked, and continued into the site. At first we saw almost nothing because of the density of the mist circling around us, and after several minutes of hiking the guide finally stopped us near a small ledge that overlooked the valley.

Out of the corner of our eyes a small ray of sunlight poked through the clouds and slowly as if the mists were blankets over a slumbering giant they peeled away until finally we were left with a view that at least for me will represent one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The city of Machu Picchu, jewel of the Incan empire, sitting in the morning sun, there were no words to describe it, just a still peace and tranquility flowed through that place and there was no force I didn’t think that was going to stop it. We had the pleasure of visiting all of the temples, living quarters, and other import facilities including two very well known sites: the Incan bridge, y La Puerta Del Sol. These two sites were extremely important in maintaining the city and La Puerta del Sol acted as the only means of entrance. It was truly a tremendous city to visit and the history I truly believed was living in those walls, you could feel it when you were hiking through the variou s sections of the city, it was simply there. Now as for someone who loves history as much as I do Machu Picchu was like a kid in a candy store, the techniques they used, the equipment, the beliefs all of it was something I could and did appreciate and more than that, it was a culture I could still see continued today in some respects here in Lima and other places around Peru. Here are the truly important phenomena that this culture of the Incas is not completely gone and it helps influence all of us living here in Peru, no matter what city you are from.

Finally after a long day of touring, numerous hikes, and countless panoramic photos we returned to camp and got to take a short rest before eating and returning by train to Cuzco. After a day that started off at 5:30 in the morning I had finally seen Machu Picchu, jewel of the Incan Empire, from what I could tell it was a day very well spent and one (in my opinion) that I will never forget! The day after we were able to take a free time in the city of Cuzco and a small group of friends I find myself traveling with decided to go to the Plaza de Armas in order to really appreciate some of the beauty of the city. It was not a disappointment, the city center was stunning and of course La Catedral was situated right next to the Central building sets! Our touring in cuzco would not be over quite yet however! The following day we visited to more historic sites of Moray and Chinchero. Alright Moray first! Moray was actually a beginning laboratory for the Incas who were trying to dis cover at which temperatures and altitudes best grew the crops that they were using to sustain themselves. In order to test these variables the Incas used a system of large agricultural rings set between several medium sized valleys. By encircling each ring with in another ring in ascending order until they were at the same level with the base of the valley the Incas were able to use the temperature changes in each depression to determine at what setting best grew there needed crops. At first glance the site struck me as a religious center of some sort so it greatly surprised me and filled me with some awe when I realized how their system had worked, truly an impressive thing to see. Chinchero was not as much as a city known for any deeply made ruins, or tourist spot, it however was significant because was the city that has been found to adhere most to the traditional beliefs, languages, and religion of the Incas. In essence it is one of the closes places you are going to fin d still living as their ancestors did so many years ago. We had the pleasure of visiting a fabric-making center where 6 or 7 families lived together and they showed us some of the traditional customs of their culture deeply rooted in the Andean fashion. A very respectable sight for sure and something that I really appreciated, seeing this ancient culture in action is a moving experience I would believe for anyone who saw could see it.

Finishing our tour in Machu Picchu and thereafter in Cuzco we made our final push during our trip, this time to the city of Puno located on one of the highest lakes in the world: Lake Titicaca! About 6 hours by bus from Cuzco to Puno the trip was well worth it and the adventures that would follow the next two days would always be remembered. The first stop was the island of Taquile a very high rocky Isla that reminded me of being on the Greek isles, very beautiful! We were able to hike to the top, take plenty of beautiful pictures and then make a nice peaceful descent back down! Our second visit, which was incredibly memorable, was to the Island of Amantani. On this island we got to try something slightly different, instead of staying in a hotel that night we actually got to live with traditional families on the islands and most of them had been living in the ways of their ancestors for years. Some, like my family for example had limited electricity and only used it for a lit tle lighting, not for cooking, washing, or anything of the sort! It was truly a humbling experience to get to live with a family like that and share a historic culture with them! That night they brought all of us to the center of the Island and gave us traditional clothing because that night we were actually able to have a huge “Welcome” party that was centered on traditional dancing! I don’t know if I have ever had so much fun and I know it was a memory that I am always going to keep!

After our fun-filled dance night we made our final push on the tour, our trip to the Los Uros or better known as the “Floating Islands”. It was hard to believe but if you can try to picture a huge raft big enough for 6 families with houses, a kitchen, and everything on nothing but floating reeds situated out in the center of the Lake. That is what we saw when we first arrived and I think it had every one of our jaws dropped! It was an incredible process on how they made the islands and the was really a work of human engineering, everything was made out of this reed material that had been growing on the lake I am sure for centuries. Much of their food, boats, houses, all came from this reed and it was incredible to see how a people could actively sustain themselves with one major product, very very impressive! We were able to have lunch on the islands and enjoy the beautiful sun settled on the water. Finally after 7 or 8 days of intense travel, touring, and numerou s hotels we ended our viaje.

As a whole this entire trip really helped me understand more about this beautiful country and I was really able to see and realize the ancient routes of this culture and how customs started centuries ago can still influence our lives here. I loved it and the connection between Peru and me has never felt stronger than when what it is now after that trip and nearly four months in this incredible nation. I love it, I learn it, and I live it everyday and that for me is a complete dream to live here, speak the language and be a part of what has become my culture. I must say that I could never have asked for a better country for this program and everyday I stay here my life becomes more and more changed in the best way possible. In two days I will be here for four months…. My how time flies when you’re changing your life… ¡Viva Perú! ¡La nación de mi corazón! Te amo Perú <3

January 5, 2014

Its wonderful and yet dreadful how time flies isn’t it? It certainly doesn’t seem like a little over five months since that cold Peruvian winter night in which I landed in Lima, Perú. It’s nearly impossible to believe that I have been through so much here, in so many ways I have changed and I would like to think that those changes are all for the better. Perú has been the biggest self “remapping” project in my lifetime and I must say that even though there have been ups and downs, in the end I see the life I led returning stronger than it could have ever been without this year abroad. One thing I notice is just how different our exchanges are as exchange students and yet at the same time how similar. We all face different challenges that take on different forms, and yet in the end we solve those problems in the same way using: determination, optimism, reflection, and a drive to change where we are a nd what we are doing for the better. Exchange students can be some of the most inspiring friends and family you can have because there comes a moment when you realize that you have surrounded yourself with people who believe that they can make a difference in the world and more importantly they have STARTED DOING IT!

Things have been incredible while I have been here in Perú and I could never be more thankful for that, it has become my home and I cannot imagine leaving (which is why I have distanced myself from thinking of June and July!), it has become the country I know and my “home away from home” has been found and I have never been happier than I am right now. During one of those most important family times of the year I am away from my own, away from my country, and yet I am having the time of my life. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my parents, grandparents, brother, aunts, uncles, and the whole gang! What it does mean is simply that I know that I am going to be here for one year and instead of wishing I was home (which some people do quite often) I am going to leave my eyes open, take it all in and in one year’s time be 100% Peruvian American! That was the mission I set out on back in the end of June and I am very happy and proud to say tha t goal is being reached. And more importantly, I am making family and friendship ties that will last a lifetime, I have shared my life with them and they have all become inseparable parts of my story, my world that will always stand out when I look back on life.

There has been a lot going on recently and I have a lot to tell about this beautiful and amazing country that I have been able to call my home. First of all is the fact that while I was here I was able to graduate from San Ignacio de Recalde, my colegio here in Lima, and getting the opportunity to see my friends walk and receive their diplomas was simply incredible, one of the more reflective moments of my exchange, watching a group of students achieve what they had worked a long time for resonated well with me and reminded me just how fast life really does pass us by and why everyday we should try to run out and grab as much of it as we can! ☺ I think I will backtrack just a tad however because I forget to tell you that I was included in a very large traditional dance show in the beginning of December before the graduation! My friends and I danced a dance named Tucumanos as well as accompany another group by playing the Cajón! As I was saying we too were given our diplomas and to become a part of the school was an incredible rewarding experience, even though the system was very different from ours and what I had been used to, Colegio is where I met all of my very good Peruvian friends and for that I am thankful to have been not only included but truly given a very graciously accepted courtesy of the school when we as exchange students needed it.

A few days after the official ceremony we had our unofficial ending to the Promoción of 2013…. Prom. Now before you go off guessing at what Prom was like here let me tell you one thing, it is NOT like the prom in the United States and I say that meaning it is much much better… If a prom starts at 8 at night and ends at 6 the next morning and people are dancing the entire time then you know you have a very good party going and going to Peruvian Proms (I was actually luckily enough to be invited to two!) were two of the most entertaining and memorable nights of my entire life and I mean that with absolute seriousness because it was a night that will always be remembered by those that were able to take part. I spent it with my friends, bestfriends, and very good people and of course that just puts the cherry on top of it all! Thank you Promotion 2013 for making my time at San Ignacio de Recalde the best I could ever have imagined!

Outside of our party going mentality the Exchange students and myself have been visiting some very important sites here in Peru and we have had the pleasure of recently visiting the Palacio Del Gobierno very near the center of Lima! A beautifully constructed and decorated modern palace it was a spectacle and certainly contained a number of Peruvian historical items and accounts which play a major role obviously in the Peruvian national identity!

Of course recently we have had the major holidays of December and January and those of course come with their own stories! Christmas was spent very very well with my host family and it came with its own Peruvian customs of course! First we went to mass at 6 P.M. and got back close back to 7:30, afterward we had our own time of Prayer and we sang Spanish worship songs to show just how thankful we were for the blessing of another Christmas remembering that Jesus christ was born for us! Truly moving and it was fantastic to take part of! After chatting and greeting the entire host of uncles, aunts, and cousins, we all sat down for a large christmas dinner at 11 complete with the traditional “fixins” simply added with some Peruvian Spice! Turkey, Ham, Camote, Rice, fruits, numerous other foods, and a tall glass of Red wine! At midnight we sat round the christmas tree and everyone opened up their presents! The kids were so excited and the smiles people had will be a memory I will always keep with me! Finally we walked outside and watched the Christmas Fireworks because fireowrks here in Peru are incredibly common and for about three more hours we kept the party going into the christmas morning, finally getting home at about 3:30 A.M.! Certainly impossible to forget!

The last week of mine has been filled with mixed emotions really, as it commonly is with the New Year’s celebration my year of 2014 has its ups and downs. When I say “down” I don’t mean that it is sad or upsetting, simply a change… this week I am saying goodbye to my first host family. I could never be more thankful for all that they have done for me in these first five months here in this country and I know I could never forget them as my host family, they took me in when I knew nothing about this new world and they taught me everything I needed, they are my family and I love them very very much. As excited as I am to be traveling to Sullana a small city in the northern reaches of the country, I know that I already miss my life here in Lima a little and miss my host family a lot. I know that I was lucky enough to live with an amazing family and we have moments, memories, jokes, and stories that will never leave me… Mamá, Pap&aac ute; , Jorge, Julio, y Johanna, los quiero un montón y nunca no podré decirles a ustedes el amor que he sentido estos cinco meses pasados, me aceptaron como hijo, hermano y amigo, gracias por todo y sé que algún día los voy a visitar y nosotros nos vamos a acordar todo de lo que ha pasado. Tenemos nuestros chistes, cuentas, memorias, y momentos inolvidables, gracias por todo que han hecho por mi y los quiero como familia.

Everything in Peru is going so so well right now and I couldn’t be happier with what I am doing and who I am becoming, so many things have changed and I still have over half of my Exchange ahead of me which is a very very exciting thought to me! I have so much more I want to change and I know things will happen in the next months that I could never dream of! Thank you to all of my friends and family everywhere out their in the big world who have made this entire year such a blessing, my special thanks go out to all of you, I wish the best this holiday season and may your days be blessed with good times with the people you care about! Chau de Lima, Peru! 😀 ¡Los quiero un montón! ¡Viva el Perú!

March 31, 2014

We have all imagined the scene right? The traveler throwing their belongings in a bag and leaving at a moments notice for the first chance of adventure even if he is unsure of the path in front of him, where it may lead, and where it will end. We have all imagined the scene… but the last two months I feel I have actually gotten to live it. The last time I wrote in this blog I believe it was the beginning of January and change was certainly easy to find, a new year, new family, a new half of the exchange, the journey was at a turning point and even if I didn’t know it then the months to follow would be some of the most memorable in my life.

It all started one hectic day at the bus stop in Lima, as I was awaiting my bus to Sullana; a small northern city that I believe I had mentioned in this blog before hand, I received a call from my chairman here in Lima saying that for some unknown reason the Rotarians that were going to take me in were not available and so in the blink of an eye I was forced to cancel my ticket pick up my bags and go back home… my trip had been lost and it appeared that the rest of my summer was going to be spent here in the capital. However, being lucky as I have been during my exchange that is not the end of the story, about an hour later I received a call from the same chairman offering me not one but two separate trip opportunities one to the Highland city of Huaraz, and the other to the more tropical city of Pucallpa situated in the Amazon. I am sure an onlooker would have said that my racing around to leave that same day for Huaraz was quite in the fashion of Mr. Baggins. Hoppin g in a car with a Rotary family and four other exchange students I began my first day of what would be a chain of trips. And how did I finish it? Sleeping peacefully at the doorstep of the Peruvian highlands. That, my good friends, is where my adventure would start.

Huaraz was a very small peaceful town with the traditional culture of the Sierra, it was based on tourism because the local mountain ranges of the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca offered a number of tours and foreigners were abundant. The culture in that city is incredibly close to the traditional way of life practiced by the Incas for centuries. The idea of a cyclic relationship with earth and its products like the Potato, corn, and fish are symbolic of how the customs of that empire have been passed down and conserved in the highlands of this beautiful country. Quechua is spoken regularly and most know Spanish as a second language. Seeing the history of its people in the social norms of the city Huaraz was a great cultural stop for us to get to know and understand more of life in the Andes. In total we were there for 6 days, however everyone of those six days was used incredibly and we were able to book tours to several large hiking spots such as Lake 69, a beautiful crystal blue lake at nearly 15,000 reached only by a three hour intense mountain path! We were able to bungee jump from a bridge about 120ft high over a rocky canyon with a small river at its base and we were able to climb down canyons in and through waterfalls. We were able to eat huge amounts of fresh trout, which was the primary dish of the town as well as corn, and potatoes, which here in Peru are absolute staples for almost all meals. All in all it was a fantastic trip and I could not imagine not being able to make a stop in the region of Ancash. Unfortunately my stay couldn’t have been longer, and after six short days I was already leaving back to Lima.

However my stay in the capital was not to be drawn out. I was only able to just shake of a short-term traveler’s rest before heading to the airport. This time my destination was going to be a little bit farther and (if possible) even more exotic because I was going to the tropical Jungle city of Pucallpa. Arriving it reminded me much like home, the warm humid jungle air, the mosquitos already swarming as you stepped off of the plane, it was a much more familiar site to me and from the first minute I stepped out of the airport I know that Pucallpa was going to be special, and by the end it flew higher than my most built expectations could have imagined. I was staying with my friend Colin a Belgian, and our host family, Chelita, Hernan, Erika, and Pia in a beautiful house nearly six kilometers away from the center of the city. It was much more distant and that reminded me or of the peaceful lifestyle I had seen and become apart of back home and in Costa Rica. Truly loving, warm, and radiant people, Colin and I know knew that the hospitality of the Selva was going to be very different than we were thinking previously. We begin eating a lot more meats and fish and several incredibly delicious plates such as river trout, Piranha, fried sweet bananas and so much more. We were in the region of Yarinacocha, which has a beautiful, and captivating range of rivers and lakes situated at its banks. There we were able to spot river dolphins and fish for the famous Piranha. When we were not out venturing in the Amazon we were back at home with the family enjoying a very warm, kind, loving culture where parties and family cookouts were incredibly common. Everybody brought their favorite food or drink and the whole family enjoyed and danced for hours and hours. The warm climate of the Jungle was only matched by the emotional friendliness and warmth of its people.

From the Coast of Lima to the rainy highlands of Ancash, to the tropical sunny shores of the lakes of Yarinacocha and Ucayali, the journey just didn’t stop for me and in every place I had the pleasure of traveling to the last few weeks it reminded me even more just how special this country is, each region has its own customs and traditions but all of the different zones of this country recognize their pride in being Peruvian and for me that is an inspiring idea. The food was incredible, the tours spectacular and the adventuring endless. This is the experience I had always wished for in an exchange year and now as I said earlier I have the pleasure to live it! I could not be happier or more content with all of my surroundings. This country with its foods, dances, histories, and tales is made purely from culture and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be sent to. It is home for me and I am proud to say that! All in all my January and February were full of nonstop travel and the adventure of the last few months doesn’t stop there… two days after my return to Lima from Pucallpa I left for a two week trip to the Northern Coasts of Peru where I would get to spend my days on some of the most beautiful beaches of South America, but to hear that story you are all going to have to wait for my next blog! (I have to somehow keep some interest flowing don’t I? ;)) Take care all of you, and remember, seize everyday, there are beautiful moments simply waiting to be enjoyed! Cuídense mucho y abrazos para todos! Nos vemos pronto! Chau! Y por supuesto Viva el Perú! 😀

May 2, 2014

Well I think I have had you all waiting long enough… some of you have been patient enough to wait for my next entry, other seem to be a little pushy! I will take that as a sign that perhaps my writing is at least a little enjoyable for you all! ☺ This time I have news of another Rotary Trip, our trip to the Northern coast of Peru as well as some short stops in our neighbor Ecuador! It was an incredible trip all around and it helped us round off our visiting experience to the four corners of the country that we have been so lucky to call home! So here it is: Our trip to the North!

Our excursion would start in the beautiful city of Trujillo one of the most distinct and important cities in the country well known for its incredible seafood and Marinera Norteña (a traditional dance found along the coast which represents a significant portion of the Peruvian culture). We were situated in a small district just outside of the city named Huanchaco and while we were there we were able to visit and enjoy the Pacific beaches that the coasts offered as well as excellent dishes such as Chicharrón de Mariscos, Ceviche, and many others. The first major archeological site on our tour was to the site of Chan Chan, the large set of ruins on the coast constructed by the Pre-Incan civilization of the Chimú. This site acted as one of many capitals owned by this culture and it was one of the most significant trading posts for the region. Its architecture is constructed to resemble many of the most important aspects of the civilizations everyday life. This can explain why symbols such as waves, pelicans, fish, and sea otters can all be found in abundance. The Chimú were a very successful entity and like many other cultures of their day they worshipped the natural bodies around them such as the sea, the sun, and the moon. Chan Chan offered tremendous sites and was crucial for getting to know the northern culture that inhabited the north of my country before the Incan Empire came into power.

After our trip to Chan Chan we were able to continue our tour with a visit to the capital of another Pre-Incan power, the Mochica culture that flourished in the North and held a political and religious capital at the site of the Huaca del sol y de la Luna. This beautiful site gave us the chance to see beautiful and detailed Pre-Incan architecture and witness the advanced society of the Moche. We saw sites used for human sacrifice as well as the wonders of a city situated at the base of el Cerro blanco which is the mountain jutting up from behind the Huaca. Perhaps a little clarification is needed. “Huaca” is a word in Quechua, which means sacred place and the Moche held this zone in high accord not only politically but as well religiously and it was crucial in the governing of this society. Crime was incredibly low, the people only took what they needed, respected laws, and an army was raised to protect the civilization from its local neighbors. Ending our first day amongst the ruins of the North we finished off the day with a trip to La Plaza de Armas in Trujillo, which actually has the largest square footage of all of the major plazas in the country!

From Trujillo we traveled a few hours North to the next major city found along the coast: Chiclayo. In one of the largest fishing capitals in the country we were able to enjoy not only a beautiful city and busy beaches but also a tremendous jumping off point to visit one of the most well known men of the ancient world… El Señor De Sipán! The Lord of Sipan is a famous leader of the Moche culture who was discovered in 1987; one of the most significant attributes of his remains is that he is one of the most completed sets of remains that have been found in South America. Little to no action of robbers had been witnessed to the site in which he was found and because of his intact remains scientists have been able to determine physical features such as hair color, skin color and other basic physical components. He was wrapped in numerous gold ornaments in the tradition of the Moche and was buried with his wife and several of his favorite aids. A unique tradit ion performed by this culture was the wearing of a small piece of gold worn right over the mouth. When one first looks at this very odd facial jewelry it doesn´t seem to have much purpose. However it served tremendously for leaders both religious and political, the sound waves that they spoke would resonate off of the gold allowing them to hear their own words more clearly and therefore better enhance their pronunciation and dictation to their people.

Being the busy and travel loving exchange students we are however we were not going to stop there! After our trip to see the Lord of Sipan we took the long bus ride to our final stop in Peru: Tumbes. Tumbes is also a fishing community and is significantly more tropical than its counterparts to the south. While in this beautiful city we were able to enjoy several trips to natural aviaries, crocodile and caiman sanctuaries, and an incredibly active and friendly northern culture. Situated much closer to the equator, Tumbes was much warmer and at the same time it gave us the perfect opportunity to swim in its warm tropical beaches after tours through its canals which we took by boat!

Following our ever-winding path up the northern coast of Peru we eventually went so far that we crossed into Ecuador stopping in the beautiful city of Guayaquil! A beautiful modern city, Guayaquil offered a breathtaking fusion of Spanish Architecture and modern innovation, our touring through the bustling city included trips to see Tortoises from the Galapagos, The Park of the Iguanas where iguanas are permitted to roam freely, as well as a viewing tour provided by a double decker viewing bus. Our adventure into Ecuador however would not end there, after two days in Guayaquil we pressed onward to the beautiful beaches of Las Salinas known in Ecuador as one of the most beautiful area of beaches in the region. We were able to soak up some sun after several long days of touring, and experiencing a culture that was different to our home in Peru.

Finally as our trip started coming to an end we crossed back into our beautiful Peru and traveled to the last stop on our busy escapade: Zorritos. Zorritos is a well-known area full of beautiful beaches and great food. With a tropical setting all around us the Exchange Student group was able to relax, strengthen even more so those bonds between us and really take the final steps into making all of us one big happy family. With beach bonfires, seafood, and hours spent among the surf I would say the last few nights of our visit to the North were not only successful but some of the best times I have ever had! Thank you Rotary for all of the opportunities you give us and to all of you I can only say: until next time! ☺ ¡Que disfruten cada día! ¡Y que viva el Perú!


May 6, 2014

I suppose I have never felt more confusion about who I am or what I do then the last few weeks that I have been here in my new home of Perú. For all the future exchange students that will be taking on this incredible journey you should know that this once in a lifetime experience is incredibly rewarding, but at the same time you must also realize that what almost every Rotarian who knows this program will tell you is true: You will not come back the same person that left the United States the year before. For me that realization has never been clearer.

The last few months for me have been hard simply because now the reality of having to go back home has finally hit. With all the trips, friends, and Rotary family I started to realize just how much of a home Perú has meant to me and how hard it is going to be to leave. I can remember my first days of school, my first day in my host family’s house and how scared, nervous, and excited I was to take on my new world and discover everything it had to offer. Its been nearly 9 and half months since I left my home in Florida and now I feel as if going back home will be not only the closing to one chapter in my life, but also the beginning of another.

Its a confuisng feeling, we are prepared to gain a new world, language, customs, and culture and yet we can never be prepared enough for the return journey that at one moment or another hits us all. For me the most important idea that I have found is that Perú will never truly leave me as long as I remember all of the incredible things that it has taught me. And when I return with every song I teach to my family and friends, every dance I enjoy, every traditional dish of food I make, and every word of Spanish I speak will always keep me close to the country that has been in my heart since day one.

I have come to appreciate so many different things while I have been here, a new appreciation for my home in the United States and Florida, a huge appreciation and love for my family whom without I would never have been able to take my adventure the way I have, my values as an American and the simple pride of being able to see my country from a view point that maybe I would never have had had I not gone on Rotary Youth Exchange. For me this experience has opened my eyes to so many things, and although I have faced hardships culturally, linguistically, and socially, every one of the challenging moments that I have experienced I know have made me a better person and that is the heart of this Exchange for me, falling in love with a new home, discovering a new world, and at the same time discovering the sides of me that perhaps I never really knew.

So the expedition is finally coming to a close… as the months count down and the day of my return draws nearer I will not stop living this dream of mine, everyday brings a new oppurtunity for me to enjoy, reflect, and remember all of the great moments that have come to define my Exchange. I can remember the day I recieived the application, the day I was told I would be an Exchange student, and the day I left Jacksonville Airport and said goodbye to my family. For me it always seemed that a year would be so much longer and now my journey has come full circle. Thank you Rotary International for everything you have done for me, thank you for a new world to discover, a new country to call home, and a new sense of pride for the person that I am. For those things and so much more I will always be grateful. Thank you

Emily Weiss
2013-14 Outbound to Czech Republic
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
School: Mainland High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida

Emily - Czech Republic

Emily’s Bio

“You’ll never leave where you are until you decide where you’d rather be.” Ahoj! My name is Emily Weiss and I am a 17 year old girl living in the small, oceanside town of Ormond Beach, Florida. My home family consists of my mother and father, my not-so-little brother, Brian, and our four-legged family members, Buddy and Artemis. They are the most loving and supportive family anyone could ask for, and I am so thankful that they’re mine! I am a senior at Mainland High School, and additionally I attend classes at the local community college. Here at home I love to be involved and doing things with friends or in the community. Among my favorite things to do are cheerleading, dance, going to football games, and working. But what sets me apart from your average high school student is that in just a few short months I will be traveling to the beautiful Czech Republic where I will be spending my gap year on exchange! Earlier on in the application process my dad was always talking about how cool it would be to see Prague, so with this placement I’m sure I’m not the only one thrilled! I have always wanted to see more of the globe and become a citizen of the world, not just another country; what better way than to become an exchange student? Even though Czech seems like a really difficult language, I’m excited to jump in and get started on, what I’m sure will be, a challenging road to fluency. Not to mention how eager I am to meet the people I will meet and see the places I will see. I’d like to thank everyone along the way who provided so much assistance and support, without you none of this would be possible. It means so much to me to have this opportunity and know I have such a wonderful group of people standing beside me and all of us, exchange students, to help us the whole way through. So thank you!!!!! And I cannot wait to begin this journey!(:

Erica Burns
2013-14 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Bak Hai

Erica - Taiwan

Erica’s Bio

Ni Hao! My name is Erica, and I’m going to Taiwan! This is such an amazing opportunity. When I first found out I was accepted, I was in shock. I sat there for a second thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ Then when I found out I’m going to Taiwan, emotions flooded inside me! I am very thankful for everything that has happened. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and I have moved 8 times, in 5 different states. I just moved to Florida during the Christmas of 2011. I have been to many Spanish speaking countries, but I have never been to an Asian country. I am excited for everything from language to people to architecture to culture, but I think I am most excited about the food! I love food so much, I cannot wait to see the differences (as I’m sure there are plenty!) I have been told I am a very fun, energetic person. I spend most of my time either doing color guard, or hanging out with my friends. For those of you who do not know, color guard is the part of the marching band that spins flags, rifles, sabres, etc. Right now, we are working on our winter guard routine, where we perform in the gymnasium without the band. I am currently on the flag and rifle line, and I love my rifle more than anything (just kidding.) As I said, when I am not in guard, I love to hang out with my friends. I have made so many friends through Rotary, and this adventure has just begun! So thank you Rotary for everything you have given me!

Erica’s Journals

August 31, 2013

The day has come! I leave for Taiwan tomorrow at 10:15 am! All of my nerves are in a tight knot. I feel like I don’t have enough time to hang out with all of my friends or family before I leave. I have talked to all three of my host families already (I feel so lucky!) I have been hanging out with my friends, and my mom has been taking off work to spend more time with me. I have gone through my luggage multiple times, making sure I have everything. I hope I have enough gifts, shirts, shorts, hats… anything I could need! And I know I do, but I’m getting very anxious and I need things to distract me.

And don’t get me wrong, I am so excited and thankful to be an exchange student! I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world!…wait…maybe I would…haha. But in all seriousness, this opportunity has already changed my life forever, and it’s only just the beginning. It’s the beginning of the beginning. It’s the start!..of something new!… now that song is stuck in my head.

Through this process, I have grown apart from a lot of friends, which is really hard. But I’ve made more friends than I’ve lost. And I know this is just a part of being an exchange student, but it truly does show who your true friends are. And I’m going to make so many friends over in Taiwan, and it is going to be great! I’m so excited for the ups and the downs this next year has in store for me. It is going to be the hardest thing I’ve had to handle in my life, but I know it will pay off in the end and turn out to be the best year of my life. Now all I can do is wait for the morning to arrive and take me on my journey into the unknown!

September 11, 2013

Okay… So… Wow. I’ve been here for about two and a half weeks, and I cannot explain how much life has changed for me. First, let me summarize my travels.

In Atlanta, I met up with a guy from New York. His name is Justin, and he has become one of my best friends here. On the plane to Tokyo, I had a very interesting set of emotions. First of all, this plane was the biggest piece of machinery I have seen in my whole life. The wing alone was larger than the plane I took to Atlanta. But I wasn’t sad. At all. I was bouncing off the wall excited and happy. I was talking so fast that Justin couldn’t get a word in for about the first two-three hours. Exhaustion took over and I got very… Emotionally tired. In Tokyo, we met up with a bunch more exchange students. Before we boarded to go to Taipei, I looked at everyone and said “so, are you guys ready to question everything you think you know about yourself?” And the thing is, to be an exchange student, you must be ready to forget what you think you know. Because in your new life, you don’t know anything. You don’t know anything about where you’re goin g, what to do, and (worst of all) you don’t know who you are.

So as soon as I landed, I was confused. I didn’t know where we were or where to go of what to do. There was so much I had to go through to get to my host family. But once I tackled that battle, I got my luggage and went out into the unknown. As soon as I walked through a large doorway, I heard “EEEYYYYIIIICCCCAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!” (Not Erica. Eyica). I found my entourage, and wow. Just wow. They took my bags and did pictures before I could say hello! I had no idea who these people were! Only two people were introduced to me. My counselors. If I remember correctly, there were 8 people that came to get me, and I didn’t know which couple was my family. So awkwardly, I waited until everyone left, and figured out who my family was.

And we left. And got in the car. And I almost died. The driving here…scared the crap out of me. My host dad was going so fast and honking and swerving… And I didn’t realize until the next day that everyone drives like that. But anyway. I got home and took a shower and went to bed.

The next day, I went to orientation where I met a lot of other exchange students. Honestly, orientation was uneventful. It was short and the Rotarians just talked. Nothing like the orientations we have back home. But I met people, which was good! After that, I went to lunch with my first and second families, counselor, and another exchange student. (Her name is Levy. She and I share the same host families.)

During lunch, Levy and I got to learn how to use chop sticks! The correct way, that is. And the food was amazing. Let me repeat that. The. Food. Was. AMAZING! I love the food here. No, I don’t eat puppies or kittens. I eat the same ingredients as I had in the USA, but it’s prepared A LOT differently. So to try to sum up how meals here work, you don’t have your own meal. You have a bowl, smaller than the size of my fist, and you order a bunch of plates of food. You put what you want in your bowl, and you eat it. All of it. If you’re unsure if you’ll like it, only put a little in your bowl. And flavors mix because you put everything in that bowl, but it’s okay. It’s good. And you will have so many dishes. And they come out one at a time, so I never know how many plates are coming. It’s a gamble on how much to eat. Like I’ve told other people, I’m pretty certain my stomach has doubled in size because I eat so much here.

After I was here for maybe 2 days, my family took me on a 22 km bike ride. Wow. I was in pain for a week afterwards, it was so difficult. There were a couple points where we had to go up very large hills. I tried so hard to bike up it, and I couldn’t. So I would just start laughing and say nope! And I got off my bike and walked it up the hill

As for school, I love it. I don’t like how I go from 8-5, but I enjoy it. This is my schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday- Mandarin Chinese classes at a college 8-12 and high school 12-5; Tuesday, Thursday- high school 8-5. Also, there is also another exchange student in my school. She’s from Brazil, and I love her so much. We’ve become such good friends.

The other kids at school are so wonderful. And of course they aren’t their stereotypes. Yes, they do a crap ton of studying, but they are the friendliest people I have ever met. I’ll walk around campus, and I’ll find people staring at me. I’ll smile, wave, and say hello. I have made so many friends at school. But something I’m noticing about other exchange students is they soak up all of the attention, and then wonder why people stopped paying attention to them. The thing is, they are people. They’ll love to talk to the foreigner, but the exchange students don’t give them attention back. They don’t ask the Taiwanese people questions too. They just answer questions given to them. And I’m so happy to have Taiwanese friends. They’re wonderful.

Now here is a lovely adventure I went on after school. I don’t understand the geography of New Taipei City. One day, I had to go home after school but I missed the bus. So I decided to take the MRT home. I understand the MRT (train) more anyway. Buuuuut, I didn’t know how to get from the MRT station to my apartment. So what did I do? I walked around the city for an hour and a half until I found a familiar road. I was really struggling not to cry. But finally, I got home and was so proud of myself. I kept using the Chinese skills I had to ask where to go. Basically, I kept saying “dehe rou?” And pointing in the direction I thought it was. Most of the time I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever been that emotionally strained in my life, but I got through it and now, I know how to get home, and I will never forget it.

And just to let everyone (aka parents) know, I was safe. Taiwan has to be one of the safest places on Earth. I have never felt more comfortable to ask strangers for help. And out of learned behavior, I still be smart about everything. I’m still careful. But I know I am not in danger.

As for right now, I’m on a bus. The inbounds in my district took a two day trip to Tainan and Kaohsiung for a big rotary meeting, and we’re on our way home. This whole trip, I cannot help but notice the beauty of Taiwan. I say it so much, but I can’t get over it. The cities, the mountains, the middle of nowhere… It’s all just so beautiful. On the bus trip, we have managed to watch a lot of movies (the avengers is playing right now), and sang karaoke. The karaoke was so much fun, hahaha!

And it’s so interesting the names I respond to here. I respond to Erica, of course. And 雯雯 (my Chinese name), Florida, USA, bear, panda, Burns, white girl, and (my personal favorite) That-one-girl-from-the-south-eastern-part-of-America. Yes, an exchange student calls me that, and yes, I respond.

I have a lot more adventures I could talk about, but I think that’s enough for this journal haha. I’ll write again soon!!!

再見! bye bye!

October 2, 2013

So it’s been a full month guys. And just thinking about that is crazy!

Rotary teaches us about an “exchange cycle” which is basically how our emotions will go throughout the year. I can feel the emotions changing already to the next stage. Things here are starting to get routine, so not much is ever new and exciting anymore. I’ve had my holy crap moment, and I can tell you that’s it’s a difficult feeling to describe. It’s exciting and scary and depressing all at the same time. Not depressing because I’m in Taiwan, but because I know that I’m going to miss out on a lot of stuff back home with my family. Exciting because, Well I’m in Taiwan! And scary because… I have no idea what I’m doing haha. It’s very difficult to describe for me

There are some things the Taiwanese people say and do that make me think “wow.. They’re so rude” but I really have to remind myself that I’m the one in a different culture. They aren’t being rude to me. And I hear Al’s voice ringing in my head, “nothing is ever better or worse; just different.” And when I think about that, I feel a lot better

Now, despite what Al says, the best and worst of Taiwan!

The worst:

-the city. Yes, this is also in the best. But it’s in the worst for the same reason. It’s always alive. I can’t ever have a quiet moment to myself!

-the rain. As an American girl, I LOVE to dance in the rain. It’s so much fun. But here, there are so many chemicals and pollution from China in the air that sometimes we get acid rain (which will make your hair fall out). So no dancing in the rain for me. I like my hair right where it is

-the bus system. I cannot express how much I dislike the buses here. Not because of the actual bus, but because for whatever reason, I can’t figure it out. Still. I’ve been here for a month and I still get off at the wrong stop, or get on the wrong bus, or go to the wrong bus stop. Taking the bus frustrates me more than reading and writing and speaking in Chinese all combined into one. Everyone else understands it, it’s just me.

-studying. all of my classes are electives (an art class, two music classes, etc) so I’m not the one who studies. The Taiwanese kids can never hang out because they’re studying. I’ve made lots of Taiwanese friends, but I can’t spend time with them outside of school.


-the food. It’s so tasteful and wholesome and it’s so amazing. My stomach has doubled in size. I eat sooo much here! My favorite food is dumplings. Hands down

-the people. They’re so nice and helpful, no matter what. Even if we can’t understand each other, they’ll do whatever they can’t to help. One guy couldn’t explain to me how to get to school once (because I got REALLY lost. I do that a lot) so he literally walked me all the way to school.

-the city. Again, it’s always SO alive! I feel like I have so much energy because of how much is going on ALL OF THE TIME!

-the temples. Please understand that I’m not kidding when I say anytime I walk past, or ride past a temple, I lean over and take a deep breath in, savoring the smell. They burn a lot of incents, and it smells like the best thing on earth

-the MRT. I love taking the metro. I completely understand it. Even if I get on the wrong MRT for say.. Half an hour before I notice because I’m talking to another exchange student (not that it’s ever happened before cough cough), it’s an easy fix. I walk a few feet to the MRT across from the one I took and BAM! I’m on the right path again. And the MRT is fast. I like fast

-balance. I’m going to have amazing balance when I get back because of the busses and MRT’s. I’m not sure how to describe how many times I’ve almost fallen on the MRT or bus because of the constant stoping and going or because we’re turning

-mangos, pineapple cakes, lemon tea. Need I say more? Those three things I have become addicted to. All of the fruit is amazing, but I cannot get enough of mangos and pineapples. And the pineapple cakes are to die for. They aren’t actually cakes, more like pastries, but they’re amazing. And I’ve always loved lemon tea, but I only drink that and water here. I can’t get enough of any of it

-mango shaved ice. Again, need I say more? Obviously it’s shaved ice with the most heavenly mangos on earth topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Holy amazing

-bowling. My friends, exchange students and Taiwanese, go bowling here. But it is not the same as in the USA. For the bowling part, the main difference is everyone gets two lanes, which is difficult to get used to, but I love it because if one person is gone, you can keep playing without skipping them. But, what I love about this bowling a ally is they have a three story arcade that is free. Yes, FREE! It’s awesome. End of story

November 18, 2013

I’ve come to the conclusion that being an exchange student is indescribable. My classmates are concerned sometimes about how fast my emotions can change. But how can you describe the joy feel when you begin to understand something your teacher says? Of course other people think “hey that’s awesome! You’re doing good!” But for exchange students, it’s so much more than that. And the flood of emotions you get when in the MRT, your brain goes to read the Chinese before the English. The joy isn’t because of the fact that I can read the Chinese, but the fact that I read the Chinese first. But how do you explain that to someone else? How could I explain the feeling I get when I come to my best friend’s home- I consider them my true Taiwanese family- to a hug from my best friend’s host mother? It seems so simple, but hugging is not in the Taiwanese culture. So why does she hug me every day? Because she know s I need one. She knows if I’ve had a good day I want to hug someone. She knows if I’ve had a bad day, I need to hug someone. She knows if I am homesick, a hug could make all the difference. But how could I explain the emotions felt because if that? On the flip side, how could I explain the frustration that comes from people telling me my Chinese isn’t good enough? How do I explain coming to my own host family and being told that I’m not doing good enough? To explain the feeling of not being wanted. Just being someone in a persons house because they had to take someone in because they sent their daughter on exchange? People know the feeling must suck. But add in emotions from everything else, and I feel like a ticking time bomb. I just keep waiting to have a moment where the only thing I can do is cry. I won’t be able to explain why, I won’t be able to even look at the person in front of me. And I will cry for everything going on. I will cry for the laughter, for the joy, for the pain, for the love. And I know that it’s okay. I know this exchange will forever be something in my heart and I’m not willing to give it up because my life has turned around. That’s why I joined this program. I joined for the full experience. I knew I wouldn’t be easy.. But no one could have explain how intense this would get.

January 5 2014

So I haven’t posted for awhile, so here are a few large things that happened

I had my first earthquake. It was a 6.3 magnitude in Taipei but there wasn’t any damage. I had locked myself out of the apartment and no one seemed to be home. My parents weren’t answering my phone calls, so I ended up in my neighbors apartment.

My neighbors are a three generation family, and I was watching SpongeBob SquarePants in Chinese with the grandson and granddaughter. I was also sitting next to their dad on the couch.

Everything started to shake. Originally I thought it was the grand daughter wiggling on the couch because she was hanging on the arm. Then it started to get worse and I realize it wasn’t her. Now, I’ve never been I an earthquake before, so I didn’t exactly know what was happening. Then the dad said “huh. An earthquake” like he was saying “huh. SpongeBob is on” and I started freaking out inside. To him I said-very fast- “what!? Earthquake? What do we need to do? Do we need to get to safety? Why are we just sitting here?” And everyone just laughed at me and said it was fine. Seriously. We didn’t even get off the couch. I started to really get nervous when I saw the glass chandelier swinging back and forth…..

Later, the news was reporting that it lasted a whole minute. For those of you who don’t know, that’s super long.

But everything was fine in the end. In fact, I was thinking about my day and realized that I should have been home alone when that happened- which would have been.. Not a good memory. and the days events leaded up to me being at their apartment.. So I guess it wasn’t too terrible haha. but I will always look back and smile

Another thing I never posted about is a memory I will cherish forever.

We went on another trip with Rotary. Everyone was moaning and groaning because it was so hot, and we went to another place that no one had any care in the world about. It was another Buddhist temple. I kept trying to keep everyone’s spirits up, but I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t interested either.

We walked around as a monk gave us a tour which only 1/3 of the exchange students were listening to. Then we went to a place that our guide said wasn’t open to the public.

Everyone just kept talking until we came to the first room.

The room was completely made of dark wood with green mats in perfect formation on the floor. At the front of the room was a Buddha made of pure white marble. That’s when our guide told us this was where the monks came to pray every day. Her voice echoed off the walls to such a degree, no one dared make a sound. All you could hear was our steady breathing as we took all of this in.

Conversation began again as we moved to the next room. There were tens of thousands of hand carved Buddhas on the wall. So many and so small that it took us awhile to even notice them. In the center of the room was a 15 foot handmade “house” for Buddha. No one was allowed to go in but we could pay our respects, which we did.

Then came the room. Even before we walked in, we could tell it was going to be bright. When we did, it wasn’t what we expected at all. The room was completely made of white marble. The floors, the walls, the ceiling, all of it. But there were no windows, nor were there lights. I still don’t know how the room was so bright, other than the marble.

In the center of the room, was a very large Buddha made of completely white marble with gold Buddhas on the “clothing.” The best description I can think of is heaven. When people go to heaven in movies, it’s always a completely white room, which there seems to be no end. That was the room we were in. Our guide didn’t even say anything about the room.

This time, between the lack of sound and the scene in front of us, no one dared even breathe. If you looked around at our faces, I’m sure they were the same. In awe and some crying.

And that was it. The end of our tour. I don’t know how long we were in there because the feeling of every emotion, every sense, was just gone. We felt calm, all of our stresses were none existent, peaceful. It’s an experience I’ll never forget

February 18, 2014

The holidays. We are all warned about how homesick we will feel around the holiday season. Not having a thanksgiving. Spending Christmas with another family, learning their customs. Not seeing the ball drop at a party with your friends. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. But when you make the best out of it, it can be amazing.

Let’s start with thanksgiving. For me, thanksgiving is going around all of Indiana to see my entire family- and my family is huge (love you mom and dad!). So this year I didn’t. I got to Skype a couple groups, but it wasn’t the same. All of the Americans were upset because we weren’t having a thanksgiving- so we decided to have our own. All of the Americans in my district (and an Aussie and a Brazilian) went to the most American restaurant (that was in our price range) we could find. We drew a turkey and put it in the center of the table (turkey is not common in Taiwan and is expensive if you can find one). We got burgers with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans. None of it tasted all that great. Then, we all of course wanted pie but they didn’t have any. So we bought some kind of an apple desert. We sat around the table and shared stories from past thanksgivings and it made us feel a little more at home. And we all got a little closer.

Christmas was easily the hardest holiday to get through. In Asia, they obviously don’t have Christian beliefs, so Christmas wasn’t supposed to happen. But in Taipei, the government likes to advertise Christmas as a time of gifts and spending to make more money. So Christmas was everywhere. A lot of exchange students were getting really upset and frustrated because Christmas was put in their face but they couldn’t celebrate it. And the meaning of Christmas was gone. However, just like thanksgiving, we threw ourselves a party- with the help of Rotex (kids who went on exchange before). We had a secret Santa, a dance, magic tricks, and so much more. We were able to forget that we weren’t with our families back home, and had a Christmas party with our rotary family.

New Years honestly was so much fun. Exchange students from all over Taiwan came up to see the fireworks at Taipei 101! I saw Jess and Will and together we counted down to the new year of 2014! The fireworks lasted about 5 minutes and the smoke stayed in front of 101 so it got hard to see at some points. After the fireworks, I had to go straight home (curfew is really early here). Taxis were all rented out so that wasn’t an option. So I had to take the MRT. I stood in line OUTSIDE the station for a little over an hour. Then in the station for about half an hour. I called my family to tell them I was safe but late (make sure you do that. Trust me).

But the holiday that made being in Taiwan all worth it was Chinese New Year! This year is the year of the Horse (馬) and my host uncle is a horse. For all of Chinese New Year, we went around Taiwan (including Taichung). I saw extended family and basically, it was like Christmas. It was a time to be with family and celebrate everything you have. We even had the people playing games in the corner (here it was mahjong), the people cooking, and the people watching tv (everyone else). Then we got red envelopes with money in them. Each one will more than likely have 600NT in it (6 is the lucky number) and we get a lot. And of course, we ate, and ate, and ate until we couldn’t move.

If I can give exchange students advise, no matter what country you’re going to, don’t make the holiday season an excuse to have pity. It will be hard, but keep spirits high and make the best of everything- no matter how hard it may get.


April 22, 2014

Wow, I haven’t written in awhile. Okay, so here’s what’s happened recently In Taiwan!

I’ve changed host families, and they’re wonderful!

I have gone to Japan with my school which was so much fun! I got to go skiing for the first time in my life and I can’t wait to try again

I have realized how little time I have left in Taiwan which makes me excited and sad. I want to go back to Florida, but I don’t want to leave Taiwan!

I thought of some advise I’d like to give future exchange students.

1) be aware you’re in a completely different culture, and don’t think only from your perspective. In Taiwan, a very lucky number is 6. There is a bus number 666 in Taipei, which to Christian’s, is a very bad number. But to Taiwanese, it must be the luckiest bus ever!

2) never say no. And I mean to everything. No matter how full you are, try just one more food item your host family gives you. Try foods you don’t like. Try them more than once. You’d be surprised. Go on trips, even of you think it’ll be boring. I got up at 5 am on a Saturday morning with my host family to go do something that sounded so boring, and it’s one of the best memories I have now

3) become a family member. Especially in Asia, family is number one. I come home almost everyday to be with my family- rarely with exchange students. And they tell me all the time how nice it is to have an exchange student that cares about more than partying. I have exchange friends, and we hang out too, but family is very important. Don’t forget that

4) never give yourself pity. Every exchange student has a hard time, just with different things. Some people have a really hard time with homesickness, some people don’t get along with their families, some people have a really hard time learning the language. Don’t think you’re the only one with problems.

5) when learning the language- especially tonal languages- learn the hardest part first. Even if the hardest thing is grammar. For my total language people- TONES ARE IMPORTANT! They’re the difference between coming home and saying “hi mom I’m home!” And “you’re a horse! I’m home!” And pronunciation is important for the difference between saying “there’s a dead mouse in the road” and “there’s a dead teacher in the road” so PAY ATTENTION! Haha

6) learn how to make your favorite food. Even if you can’t make it back in the USA, learn how to make it. And learn to make a food you can make in the USA too. Trust me

7) see things from your culture’s point of view, not your own. For example, if rotary tells you to learn Chinese faster and better, understand it’s because you’re in a culture where studying is what they’re about. Or if your family says your curfew is 9 pm and you can only hang out a few days a week, it’s because the culture. Kids in Taiwan don’t hang out hardly at all. That goes for people in every country, but I only have Taiwanese examples

8) people will say things to you that will make you mad. They will say things about America that aren’t true, they will say things because they don’t understand. Learn to explain with a smile, and walk away. Or just walk away.

I know you may be wondering what to do about host family gifts too!! This is what I’ve found effective: women like Bath and Body Works. It’s very rare if they have it at all. And they love the smell; fathers tend to like Florida license plates. In other countries, they’re plain with not much decoration, so they like America’s license plates. All of my host dads hung them up in the main areas of the house very proud. Kids like Disney. No matter what their age. Trinkets, stuffed animals, etc, people love it

I hope that makes up for a long absence and helps you guys!

Hannah Baker
2013-14 Outbound to Korea
Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Seocheon

Hannah- South Korea

Hannah’s Bio

(안녕하세요, 제 이름은 한나입니다)  Hello, my name is Hannah, I live in Ponte Vedra, Florida and I am fifteen years old. I am a freshman at Allen D. Nease High School. I am a member of the Spanish Club, which is hosted by my Spanish Teacher. In my spare time, when I’m not doing anything school related, I enjoy pleasure reading. I’m absolutely ecstatic to be one of the many Outbounds for the 2013-2014 school year to South Korea; Nonetheless, I know  I will have many difficulties that I will need to face, even before I go and when I go. As the eldest of two little sisters, I know that there will be a lot of responsibility put on my shoulders but I am up for the challenge. I know that not many people get an opportunity like this, and few are chosen; However, I’m up to meet this life changing experience head on. When I get back I know I will return a new person. My only question to you is are you ready to face a challenge head on knowing that it could change you and make you a greater person for the better?

Hannah’s Journals

August 23, 2013

It’s been a little over a week since I’ve arrived in South Korea. Today and yesterday, make the begging of many school days to come. An other than me, there are four other exchange students; one from Michigan state and her name is Sarah; one from Germany and her name is Vera; one from Mexico and her name is Olga; and the best for last, Allen who is from Taiwan. Not only that, yesterday had we gotten to meet our district chair, as well as going to the Korean Educational Office.

We even got to go to our Rotary Club, which was sponsored by all men. Afterwards we went to Lottaria which is equivalent to an American McDonald’s. Did you know another name for Sprite products in Korea is cider? They even have flavored packets for your fries. Which I did not know until my host sister Ji-Won, a former exchange student, told me.

Did you know that Korean pizza is way sweeter than American pizza? Or that the high schools are split up to either all boys or girls? How about if you’re under the driving age, then the only way to get around is by taxi or bus?

October 3, 2013

It’s been a little over two months since I’ve been here, in Korea. I have enjoyed korean thanksgiving, to national holidays, as well as exciting outings, and even having the opportunity to wear and own a traditional korean dress (hanbok). All the while, learning how to make tea and serve it.

October 14, 2013

Today was my school’s English Festival. We got to do a scavenger hunt. And some of the questions included; how old I was (me)? Write down the address of the Mexican exchange student (Olga), what’s the full name of the German exchange student (Vera)? What’s the name of Sarah’s high school (Michigan)?

Afterwards we had diner and then continued the festival with a speed quiz, which we exchange students couldn’t take part of because we knew English. Then we did a dance. Then we finally left to allow the thirds years and our host parent (s) talked about high schools. My school is a middle school, because high school wouldn’t be able to give us the help we would need. This weekend I was able to meet former exchange students that went Korea, they were from Indiana and Mexico, and I met another one from Germany.

Mondays and Fridays I have a Korean class; Tuesdays I have hanbok class; where we are hand sewing a vest. Tuesday evenings I have a salmunori (drum) class. Wednesday evenings tutoring the Korean Students, and Thursday evenings we have cooking class. Which have been unfortunately cancelled the last three weeks.

December 18, 2013

 This past Monday I switched to my second host family; they are amazing. Although I still miss my previous host family a lot. I’m glad I can still see them. It’s almost Christmas, and where I am Christmas is not much celebrated; mostly in the big city like Seoul. Despite that, there are a few who do go to church that day.

As of this Friday I will be going to Seoul to see a musical, with the whole school of course. YAY! And for those on winter break already you are so lucky. My break isn’t until sometime next week.

February 6, 2014

Who knew going to a museum could be so much. Other than that they all were pretty much the same. Though I do believe they each had something to make them uniquely different. But it is difficult to tell if anyone else noticed.

For example, how many people can tell the difference between money and an object worth more than any given amount of money? Besides, only a select number can define, understand; and to an extent explain the past experiences of those who came before us. All the while putting those experiences on display and into simple words; for those who are to lazy to try, better yet, wanted to understand.

However, each person different from the simplest of likes like old articles. Each having their own story, from the time it was made, to the many experiences it endured, to it’s ending and then finally to its final resting place.

Then again, it would me boring if everything were they same, now wouldn’t it.

Just like a snowflake no two are exactly alike; for opposites attract, likes reply; every writer has their own pen; a painting never tells the same story twice. The list could go on and on.

Like ends of time every begging has an end and when one ends another begins.

On the other hand, museums do give us the chance to allow us to see what others could only image what might or could happened. Without getting the option of seeing what has only just been opened. And who is to say evolution truly ever stops. For I believe nothing truly has ever stopped. Although I do not think it ever well. Because there is always change, no matter how acute it is.

February 26, 2014

would’ve thought! Defiantly not me but oh well.

First we had to take a train which was three hours long, and did you know that was my first real train ride ever?! Anyway when we got there the train station was humungous and I mean huge. So we got lunch, then went to where were staying. This was a guest house, with traditional rooms and all, even futons no beds.

After settling in we went to our first destination a famous tourist street; we had to take a metro (subway) and then a connecting line. Once we got there we walked a bit then started shopping, I got an “I love Korea” t-shirt and Starbucks socks.

A little later we went to get dinner and boy let me tell you, I never had Pizza Hut like we did that night. When we were done we went to see a Nanta (drum) performance and I mean it was the bomb; literally!

The following morning, we did our morning routine, and then we went to a famous market that Korean grandmothers and other older women like to shop. After that we went to this famous palace located in Seoul. For lunch we had fried pork cutlet and it was to die for, oh my goodness!

That night we went Namsan Tower, as for dinner we had Taco Bell. Too bad Olga (Mexican exchange student) felt that it wasn’t a taco.

The final day we packed and went to a museum before we left and then had to rush to take a metro back to the train station, have lunch and then take the next train back to Seocheon.

April 28, 2014

It’s been a while and I apologize. However, my time in my host country is coming to an end; and I’m trying to do as much as I can. For example, my fellow 교환 학생 (exchange students) made flower pancakes (my self not included). Despite that, I was able to go shopping with my host 엄마 (mom); I bought a nice denim blouse, school shoes, and everyday shoes as well. Afterward we went to the 서천 시장 (Seocheon market); she got 오렌지, 더마도, 백, 물고기도 (oranges, tomato, pear, and fish too). Then home again.

If I think about it, I get sad when I realize that I’ll miss everyone that I’ve come to know so well and got to spend time with. Such as 엄마, 언니, 어빠, 아빠, 할머니도. (Mom, older brother, older sister, dad, grandmother too). Even though I don’t fully know or understand Korean, but with what I do understand I try to talk to 엄마 about my day like I would my own mom. Or, when 힐머니 try’s talking to me even if I don’t fully understand we still are able to make each other laugh. As for 아빠, we may not be as close I still try to have a conversation every now and then but I do hold a lot of respect towards him. On the other hand, 언니는 어빠랑 (older sis and older bro) are AWESOME, though it does help that they were both exchange students to the U.S. 언니는 플리다 갈게요. 어빠랑 미지겐 갈게요. (older sis went to Florida 2012-2013 and older bro went to Michigan 2011-2012). So they both speak English, but I try not to use English as much, unless I absolutely do not understand.

Therefore, knowing all that I know and if I truly wish to see everyone again I’m going to have to do my part to maintain my connections. Connections that not everyone gets to see, know, and have. And with these connections something wonderful is born; a friendship and kinship that transcends far from skin, race, country, age, or other means.

What makes it better is that in my host district a girl will be going to Florida district 6950. And if anyone from that district happens to read this please email me if you wish to know more about the knew student from South Korea. P.S. If you don’t mind please help her out. 만니감사합니다 하나 (many thanks Hannah).

Also if there are any other questions pertaining to my experience in 대한민국 (Republic of South Korea).

Hunter Whann
2013-14 Outbound to France
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Amiens

Hunter - France

Hunter’s Bio

Bonjour! My name is Hunter Whann. I am currently 15 year old, and I live in Saint Augustine. I’ve moved a lot in my lifetime, from Gainesville to Tampa, Fort Myers to Jacksonville, and now I’m in Saint Augustine. At my current high school, Bartram Trail, I’m a sophomore. I participate in the National Honor Society and I take few AP/Honors classes. However, I’ll be spending my junior year in the incredible country of France!

At school, I have some of the best friends I think I’ve ever had, so I am sad that I’ll be leaving them so soon. I have never been outside of the country, but I’ve seen a lot of the south-eastern United States. I’ve always wanted to travel internationally, so I am excited that my first time will be in a place like France, and for nearly a year. My older sister recently left for college, and my younger brother just started middle school. My parents are sad that 2 of their 3 children will be gone from home, but they are excited about the experience, and have supported me the entire time. Personally, I am thrilled to be going on exchange to France. I have French family, I’m taking French in school, and France will be a terrific cultural experience. Again, I am tremendously excited to be going to France, and I know that I am going to make it the greatest year of my life.

Hunter’s Journals

Bonjour! Ah, so this is my first blog update for exchange. Oh my goodness, I don’t even know where to start! I can’t believe I’ve only been here for just over a month, yet I’ve already done so much. I’ve been all around my host city, Amiens, but I’ve also visited Lille, Arras, Boulogne, Le Touquet, and, of course, Paris. I’ve met some incredible people too! I have a bunch of French friends at my school, and a lot of them speak English well (but I try not to take advantage of that [anymore]). Oh my gosh, the other Rotary exchange students in my district though! Students from all over the world: Canada, fellow ‘Muricans, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Croatia, Turkey, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. I love hanging out with all of them; there is nothing like being with fellow exchange students, it’s so fun! My host fam ily is great too! My host mom, dad, brother, sister, they’re all incredible! So hard to put into words, my exchange so far has been incredible. Best decision of my life, no joke, and I am so grateful to Rotary for choosing me for this adventure!

Now I’ll get into some details. Oh my goodness, I love France! The way the cities are build, everything is closer together. I can leave my house and it’s only about a 10 minute walk to get to the center of town, which is where all the shops and restaurants are. If I don’t feel like walking, I can hop onto a bus and proceed to my destination. I like to hang out in the city with friends, namely other exchange students. There’s another American, from Texas, and a Brazilian in Amiens with me. Admittedly, we speak English a lot when we’re together, however(!), we help each other out a lot with the French language. Of us 3, I am the best with it. I studied for a year at school and had a private tutor 8 months before I left, so yeah, I’m pretty good with French already. I’ve translated to my friends’ host parents, and am one of the guys who get looked at when it’s time to speak French when it’s just us “noob ies”. I don’t know, I’ll go into more details about France in later updates, but I absolutely love it here! In my opinion, it’s really something that needs to be experienced first-hand, on exchange.

The French culture isn’t incredibly different as it would be in, say, India, but there are some things that would seem strange to an American. Goodness, I miss hugs. The French barely (if ever) hug! Guys do there little handshakes, “checks”, with their guy friends and do this cheek-kissy thing with their friends that are girls. If you go to hug them, they get super freaked-out. A lot of French teens smoke too, A LOT. And it’s perfectly fine with adults for 14/15-year-olds to smoke right in front of them. French teens can also just go to a bar, sit down, and order a beer. It’s weird seeing it for the first time as an American, but I’ve gotten used to it. And Homesickness? Yup, every exchange student has been there. It’s pretty intense for a while; you have to find something to snap out of it. I got lucky though, I hit my low right before an exchange student party in Arras, and I was cured of my homesickness and was even giv en a new appreciation of my exchange in France.

So yeah, that’s just a peek into my exchange year so far. I’ll have much more to blog about later in my journey for ya’ll back across the pond! This is the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life, and I suggest it to anyone and everyone. The application process may be a pain, but it is so worth it! About a year ago now, Rotary came to my school and gave a presentation on RYE, and I thought it’d be worth a shot, and oh my goodness, was I right! I can’t imagine what I’d be doing right now if I hadn’t gone for it. Until my next update, salut!

November 1, 2013

Salut, here’s another (short) update from yours truly over in Amiens, France. Things are still going well for me, but I’ve been a little tired lately. I’ve been off from school for the past 2 weeks, and I’ve seen all my friends, become more familiar with my city (and a few others), partied a little, etc. It’s now Friday, I have 2 days of vacation left, but no plans, nothing to look forward to.

Regardless, I’m still psyched that I’m in France. One of the things I like here is that I can take a train to anywhere in my district on incredibly short notice. In the U.S., you’d have to get a ride from a parent or something, but here I just take a 10 minute walk to the train station and choose somewhere to go.

I’m still missing my homeland though. It’s been difficult lately with the language. Without school, I don’t have a steady schedule to practice French. And whenever I’m with other exchange students, we all just speak English. It’s been difficult to communicate in French to my host family more recently. It feels weird to say that I have a reason to look forward to school restarting; it’ll get my French back on-track.

For any future exchange students who may be reading this, be prepared. This isn’t a year in your life, this is a life in a year. It’s too much to put into words, let alone written words, but you’ll find out.

December 20, 2013

Hello again! Just re-reading some earlier entries in my RYE blog, I realized it has been a good while since I’ve updated it, which is going to make this hard because SO much has happened (in a good way)!

I’ve just started my Christmas vacations here, and it feels so great, I have such a great 2 weeks planned. This weekend, I’m going to Paris with my new host family (who are great, by the way). I’ll be visiting my host grandparents who live there, and, weather-allowing, be taking a bicycle tour through the city! I’ll be with them for Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day I’ll be with my first host family. Then I’ll have some free time before a New Year’s Party and a going away party for one of my “oldies” (Australian/New Zealanders who’ve exchange from January to January). All that will be great, but I know I’ll be back in school before I know it.

Speaking of school, things are going better there, I’d say. I’m starting to participate more in my classes, and I think my teachers like it. When I get back in 2014, I’ll be (finally) stopping with English classed and starting with classes that focus on the French language, which will be incredibly helpful. I’ve progressed so much already, but I know when I start studying more intensely (and learning to write in French better), I’ll really take off.

Like most (or rather, all) other exchange students, I’ve had spouts of homesickness. Things were hard on Thanksgiving, but I got to skype and talk to my family, which was great. I also got to see all the American food I’m missing here in France. It’s funny, for Thanksgiving lunch, me and Zach (the other American in Amiens) went to McDonald’s, which was the closest thing we could find here to American food. Mais, ça va, I can’t really complain about the French cuisine, it’s just not the same as good ol’ American food.

I have some of the best friends here too. I have plenty of French friends at my school and they’re really fun to hang out with. Every 2 classes there’s a 10 minute break, and my school has an “MDL” (Maison des Lycéens) and we just go there to chill. There’s a TV, a pool table, plenty of seats, board games, cards, and vending machines. Aside from my French friends though, the other exchange students are always incredibly fun to hang out with. Last weekend was a gathering in Arras for a Rotary-sponsored Christmas market where we all sold trinkets from our home countries. It was also the last Rotary weekend for the oldies though, sadly. Knowing I’m about to become an oldie makes me excited and sad at the same, because it marks the near mid-point of my exchange.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. This Christmas will be an especially difficult one, the first one I’m spending away from family. This exchange has already molded and changed me so much; I know that when I get home, I’ll be such a different person than when I left, but a stronger, more independent, smarter person, and better prepared for any challenges that await me later in life. But with that, I bid everyone Merry Christmas, Happy New Year’s, and à la prochaine!

March 23, 2014

Wow, it’s truly been awhile since I’ve updated my RYE blog (sorry about that). Regardless, I have plenty of news to share!

Since my last update, I’ve changed my host family (on my 3rd now), and they’re great! I have 2 host brothers, Viktor and Roman, and 1 host sister, Lucy, and they’re super nice. I really like this host family, and I’m set to change to my 4th (and last) host family in a few weeks. All my host families have been great so far, I can’t see the next one being any less than that. I’ll be living in a little village outside of my host city, Canaples, which may be a bit of change, but I’ll get to see another side of France.

But anyways, I’ve been keeping myself busy over here. I just got back from a week in the south of France with my host family. It was incredible! I saw some larger cities, like Lyon and Avignon, but I also visited many smaller French villages, which was cool. It was interesting to see all the Roman ruins; we definitely don’t have that in Florida. I also saw a few châteaux, French mansions, which are few in number in the north where I live.

I hit a big step in my exchange at the beginning of February though; I met the new exchange students from the land down under. Australian, New Zealander, and South African exchange students arrive and leave in January, while the rest of the world comes and goes in the summer. But yeah, they’re all super cool, and I feel like it will be way too soon that I’ll be saying goodbye them.

When I get on the plane to go back to Florida, I will definitely be happy to be going home. I’ll be going to see my family, my friends, and everything else I’ve been missing for 7 months. But I will be sad to be leaving France at the same time. The culture, the way of life, the language, the people I’ve met; they’ve all had a big impact on me over my exchange. And now I feel torn, part of me wants to stay and live in France and the other wants to go back to Florida, but I wouldn’t ever regret going on exchange, this was the best thing to ever happen to me.

But I’m not alone in this. I always have the other exchange students to talk to, because they’re going through the same thing. All the wonderful people I’ve met and friends I’ve made through Rotary Youth Exchange, it’s unimaginable. I hope that any interested students who may be reading this blog feel encouraged to sign up for RYE, and that any outbounds reading are excited to be doing such an amazing program.

May 4, 2014

Today marks the last day of my 2-week Easter vacation. It’s also my last vacation before the end of school at La Providence. When I go back tomorrow, I’ll only have 19 more days left of class. It’s the strangest feeling knowing my year is coming to an end here in France. In the US, the years come and go, you move up a grade, everyone knows the drill; but it’s so much more than that on exchange. The language I’ve learned, the culture I’ve absorbed, the friends I’ve made, and the things I’ve done here have made this year extraordinary.

I recently moved back in with my first host family, which has been spectacular. It’s a shame though that I never got to meet my fourth host family. The host dad became very sick and they couldn’t take me in. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be back with my first host family. They all make me feel like part of the family, which I really enjoy. And they’ve been kind in allowing me to invite friends over, which has made this vacation a lot better.

If I had to choose the one thing about RYE that I love the most, hands-down, it would be the people I’ve met. Going off of that, the friends I’ve made. Whether they’re French, American, Canadian, Mexican, Brazilian, Australian, Indian, or Turkish, this is one of the greatest sets of friends I’ve ever had. It’s hard for me to describe, I just feel like there aren’t any students like exchange students, and I’m blessed to be one.

The French Rotary is really nice too. They organize Rotary weekends nearly every month, and the destinations are spread out well within the district: Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Amiens, Hazebrouck, Arras, and even one weekend in Paris. That was actually an awesome weekend in Paris because all of the RYE students in France got to together for a few days (650+ exchange students from around the world). My district was in 1 youth hostel with about 5 other districts. So as you can imagine lots of students, lots of languages, lots of cultures.

I really wish I had better writing skills, but this is about all I have in me right now. What I can’t wait for is getting back to the US and telling all my friends and family in person my experiences on exchange. But I mean, this isn’t my last entry, so until next time: bonne continuation!

June 7, 2014

As I’m writing this journal entry, I have a little under a week left here in France, and it (for lack of a better work) sucks. I can remember getting off the plane and finding my way through Charles de Gaulle airport as if it was yesterday. I remember finding my first host family after getting my big suitcase and beginning the 1 and a half car ride to my city of Amiens. When I really stop and think about my exchange, it seems like a lifetime. But just briefly reflecting over it, it passed in the blink of an eye.

I cannot complain though, I know that I have accomplished so much in my year abroad. I’m fluent in another language, I have friends all over the world, and I have grown into cultured, more mature person. My experiences here in France will be invaluable when I go out into the world and start another chapter in my life. When I go back to the United States this Saturday, it’ll be a new beginning for me.

But as for what I’ve been doing lately, I just got back from my bus trip of Europe. With 40-or-so other exchange students, I visited Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Milan, Mont Blanc, and Geneva in a matter of 12 days. It was quite simply the greatest trip of my life (so far), after exchange, of course. Seeing all the different cultures and languages and lifestyles was absolutely incredible. Having never left France beforehand, it was great to finally see more of Europe. And of all the cities I went to, Geneva was my favorite. We took a guided tour of the United Nations office there and then had free time to roam the city. I went down to the lake and it was absolutely beautiful. Seeing the Swiss architecture with the Alps in the background and all the boats on the lake was breathtaking.

That’s all I can think of to say right now, I’ll post some more journals this week when it gets closer to my departure. Maybe then more things will come to my mind about the end of exchange. Until then, à bientôt.

Ian Stark
2013-14 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Büdingen

Ian - Germany

Ian’s Bio

Hello! My name is Ian Stark, and I will be spending the next year in Germany. I am very excited to have this opportunity and I am grateful to the Rotary Organization for making it all possible. I have an older sister who also did a rotary exchange spending a year in Hungary who has told me it was one of the most memorable times of her life. Although this will be my first time to travel to Europe, I have been a host brother to four different people from European countries over the past four years. I am confident that this will be a great experience. I am currently a senior at St. Augustine High School and am involved in several activities, groups, and organizations. I am in an accelerated AICE (Advanced International Certificate Education) program that is affiliated with Cambridge University in the UK. I also serve as president of the AICE advisory board. I am very involved in my high school’s chorus program and have participated in chorus for the last four years. Currently I sing in the Advanced Chamber Choral group, a Show Choir group and have been selected to participate in the Florida all state choral program. Finally, I have participated in a number of musical comedy show productions in various rolls. I serve as president of the choral program as well as president of our high school National Honor Society – in which we organize and participate in community service projects to help others. Athletically, I have participated on our cross-country team for the past four years, and I hope to continue running while overseas – perhaps even do a marathon. With all of my academic obligations and my extracurricular activities I don’t have too much free time. When I do find some, I enjoy hanging out with my friends. I also love to watch movies and listen to music. Right now, I only know of two German movies, and one German band, but I am sure that will change by the time I come back! My father was a physician in the Navy and now he works in private practice. During my early years I lived in a number of states but I am happy to say the last 6 years have been spent here in Florida. From my past exchange brothers and sisters, I have heard how fantastic how fantastic the exchange experience can be and amazing it is to live in another country. Ich freue mich auf diesen Austausch so viel und ich bin sicher, es wird das beste Jahr meines Lebens sein!

Ian’s Journals

September 9, 2013

I have now been in Germany almost exactly a month. Despite this, I still feel like I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing new things each day. While I hope this unique feeling of new discovery continues through my year, I’m hoping my ensuing confusion to new situations will gradually fade. There are such simple aspects of life here that no one ever explains to you.

It’s hard to describe my impression of Germany. Although I’ve been here a month, the middle 2 weeks were spent at our district’s mandatory language camp. It was phenomenal to be able to meet all the other students here from around the world, however I couldn’t exactly use it to decide what I thought of the German culture.

People in Germany seem to be much less open to strangers. After spending 2 weeks with other exchange students (almost all of whom were from South America), it was a very different experience and takes some getting used to. School is extremely hard some days if people don’t want to talk to you, but other days may be really enjoyable. I’ve found the teachers are extremely varied as well. Some have been extremely nice and inviting, while others I think didn’t even notice a new student was in the class. Right now it’s extremely confusing as I don’t have a schedule, so I never know what class I will go to next. It also doesn’t help that each class can be in all different classrooms through the week. What’s more, teachers can simply decide not to show up, in which case, class is canceled. Altogether it’s a truly unique experience.

I imagine the quality of an exchange frequently depends on the quality of your relationship with people you meet. Even though I’ve been in school for a week, it seems to take much longer to feel like you belong here. I’m hoping as time goes on, I’ll meet more people and be able to feel involved in the student life here.

My time here has definitely been hard, but it has also had its moments of real enjoyment. Of course, this is precisely what Rotary said it would be during the first few months. Therefore I can only surmise that over time the hard parts will become easier and the fun parts will be even more common.

October 18, 2013

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here two months already. It’s much easier now that I actually know people and understand how the school works and everything. School is still quite an experience as I can’t understand everything, however my German is slowly improving and I’m sure eventually I’ll be able to join in the discussions and be even more involved.

It’s funny, everyone said that I’m going to miss so many things about Florida, be it the weather, my family, the beach, or the people. However, for the most part, I’m getting along fine and haven’t had the huge homesickness for those things everyone said to expect. No one said anything about the food though. Others may feel sad because they haven’t seen their parents. I feel sad because my family can’t send fried chicken through the mail (yet). I have literally found myself fantasizing about all the things I’ll eat when I come back. As it turns out, explaining fried butter to Germans is quite difficult. Not even McDonald’s can satisfy me. Just an example, the small drink size here is 300 ml. The small in America is 700 ml. That’s bigger than the large here. Plus America gives you free refills. I have yet to find a restaurant that even gives free refills for water.

That’s not to say the food here is bad by any means. Actually I must say I’ve developed an affinity for Turkish food. I can’t pronounce half the things on the menu, but that certainly doesn’t diminish the taste. In addition to that, the German food itself is delicious. Obviously Schnitzel is becoming a favorite of mine, though it is rare I get to have it because my family doesn’t eat meat very often. I suppose I should be thankful as it’s probably kept me from gaining 15 pounds, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming of fried food. Also, just an observation of eating habits, in my family the main meal is lunch. As in, that’s when the whole family sits down together and talks and whatnot. Dinner is actually quite unorganized, and often simply involves just each person getting something to eat on his or her own. I don’t know if that’s a German thing or a European thing or just a my-family thing, but I thought it was interesting.

My entire stay here has been full of little observations such as that. It’s like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, “The funniest thing about Europe is the little differences.” I’ve never left my country before, so every day I see little differences that everyone here sees as normal. Before coming here, I had never seen a small, standalone butcher shop or bakery. All I’d seen was Publix or Panera and such. Certainly those places exist in America, but here, you don’t even have to try to find them. Those little differences all add up and really are what make up an exchange.

I have no idea what the rest of this year will bring, however I know that I will do my best to make sure I have the greatest time possible. Obviously priority number one is learning German, but I know in another month or two, I’ll be able to speak easily with people. I won’t be fluent, but enough to have a full conversation. My biggest goal for this year is to eat a massive meal at Waldgeist. My second biggest goal is to be near fluent in three languages when I return. “Three languages?” you ask. Yes, as it so happens, more than two-thirds of the exchange students on my district are from South America, and seeing as I had four years of Spanish, it would seem a waste to not better it. Obviously German takes priority, however in the latter half of my year, I hope to learn some Spanish as well. I know it will be difficult, but hey, why not? As long as I stay positive here and try everything Germany has to offer, I know I will have a good time with anything I do.

Izzy Schwartz
2013-14 Outbound to Thailand
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Eastside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Kanthaluk

Izzy - Thailand

Izzy’s Bio

Hello all! My name is Jeremy Schwartz, but you can call me Izzy. I am currently a fifteen year-old living in Gainesville, Florida. I attend the I.B. program at Eastside High School — 17th in academics in all of the United States of America. Rock climbing and playing in band are my main extracurricular activities, but I also enjoy writing poetry, exercise of any kind, and listening to lots of music (latin, jazz, funk, hip-hop, and some alternative). I am very personable, as in I have always done well with other people, and my social and conversational skills have always been my strongest assets. The idea of going somewhere else to experience a brave new world has always been a dream of mine. Being around college students who study abroad through UF, I have always heard about how great the international experience can be. Discovering the Florida RYE program has been a life changing event for me. Slipping into my everyday thoughts, my every action seems to be inclined to this program. I am so grateful to have made it this far, for I can already see the effects. The interviews were very stressful, but even in just those interviews I feel I grew as a person, and that’s one thing Florida RYE is guaranteed to do. Being an alternate, I don’t really know what to expect, though that unknown factor has been great for keeping me on my toes. I have researched most, if not all, of the possible countries and their cultures. My primary hope is for a Spanish speaking country, because I feel it would be the most helpful language to know in the U.S.A, and I find Spanish culture to be very intriguing and I looooooooove Latin music of all types. Though I am not keeping my head in the sand and sticking with just Spanish, I must keep an open mind, especially as an alternate. No matter where I go, I’m sure it will be the time of my life. Until then, ¡Adios!

Izzy’s Journals

August 13, 2013

Hi, so I believe this to be my first journal, so hello there. I have now been in Thailand for about 2 and a half days. And I have learned so much already. If I were to characterize what defined my first day in Thailand, it would be doorways. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense, I really mean doorways. Naturally, Thai people aren’t that tall, and naturally– I am 6 feet and 1 inch. This combination leads to banging my head into many doorways. Despite having low ceilings and doorways, Thai people are extremely welcoming and very nice, which makes up for my resentment of their entryways. Although Thai people are very nice, they really enjoy their cultural customs, so be careful not to cross certain lines (especially with the older generations) or conversations may become silently awkward. To avoid such awkward silences, remember to: not touch anyone’s head, don’t step over people, don’t point your feet at people when you cross your legs, and always bow first to the older person. Also, the people that I have met detest pacing, which is something I habitually do whenever I need to think. So just hold in all that potential energy for another time, and sit your butt down. Another thing that I feel is in need of discussion; Thai bathrooms. Most toilets are not flush toilets, but they look very similar (in Thai peoples houses, not at public areas such as gas stations, those look like large holes in a concrete slab). No toilet paper, just a bucket of water, and a spray hose, which is really not that bad. One last thing, remember to speak slowly at first, or Thai people will think your fluent and then begin to speak very rapidly, and if your like most exchange students, you probably can’t understand rapid dialects of Thai.

This was Izzy Schwartz, keep it real, rotarians.

September 29, 2013

Hello all! I have been in Thailand now for…. I think about 45 days. So yes, I apologize how far spaced apart my journal entries are… but it’s quite hard to build one’s energy up. Not that I am sad, or lazy; I just always feel tired. And from what I have been told by my fellow FL exchange students– this is a universal effect. But never mind about that such and so! I am in another country, and that fact still occasionally blows my mind.

Rotary will tell you many times that you will stick out– but you never wholly understand that fact until you arrive in your country, and especially once you go to school. You become aware of your every action as a “FOREIGNER”, and everyone knows you as a “FOREIGNER”, and people say that you must be a certain way because you are a “FOREIGNER”, and everything that you say is amazing to them; such as the fact that you listen to “FOREIGNER”. As an extrovert; I generally enjoy the company of people, and their attention. This may affect ones confidence, as it has done mine. Which is great, because I was not the most self-confident young man in FL that I am today. Although do not let it control your brain– it does not make you a superhero, and it does not give you the ability to say whatever you want. Meter your words, and take care in what you do and how you do it. You are in a different country, and that means you may have to act a little differently to conform.

More about my personal experiences! I am going to Trad for RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), where me and many other exchange students in Thailand will go to listen to lectures we mostly won’t understand. But it should be lots of fun, because there are many activities as well! So yeah, that should be a fun one, indeed. Also I have made many great Thai friends– I will actually be going to a friend of mines birthday party tomorrow.

Hope you all enjoyed,

Sincerely, อิทธิ

October 29, 2013

Dear world, this is Jeremy “Izzy” Schwartz– with another recounting of my life as an exchange student.

This last month (my second month) has been peculiar for me– I never noticed myself changing until I remembered that rotary drilled it into our heads we will not be the same person when we come back– for the better. I haven’t been sad– actually I haven’t cried yet, but I have felt sluggish and tired. Friends of mine here have reacted different ways in a few months. The two other exchange students in my town were simply sad– they cried, they didn’t do much, and they didn’t participate in the culture as much as they should have. Which I’m fairly certain is very common; it’s part of what makes the first three or so months so hard. I haven’t reacted quite the same, I guess.

The first month I was bouncing off the walls with happiness– everything seemed amazing to me, the food tasted great, the people were nice, and my Thai was coming along very well. Actually faster than the other exchange students in my entire district; all and all the first month was a breeze. Now I am 15 days away from being in Thailand for three months. Sometimes it feels very surreal– I’ll look about my classroom and find myself being taught about Buddhism by a teacher who shows up 30 minutes late to class everyday. I sometimes think about the words I’m saying and realize their in a different language. Sometimes I think in Thai, sometimes the non-acclimated part of my brain tries to fight it, but I am well on my way to being Thai. But something has been odd lately, it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just odd. I feel slow, my energy is depleted, I’m thinking about things from a different perspective, and the enormity of this exchange is beginning to press upon my temple, threatening to give into complete recognition. Is this maturing? Don’t get me wrong, I feel great. It’s just that I feel different; the knowledge that I will come back as an advanced variation of Izzy is peculiar to me. Great, but peculiar.

But enough about my life changing experiences, let’s talk about the experiences that are changing my life. Last week I went to a beautiful mountain resort by the name of Wang Naam Kiew. It was my host mother’s birthday, so her and all her friends from high school took a one day vacation. I also went to a coffee shop/sheep farm, and had amazing coffee and saw sheep, and also hid in a well– currently my facebook profile picture. I then went to Thailand’s 2nd largest city, Nakhon Ratchasima, and went to an awesome but very confounding market; acting more as a maze.

One note about Thai people; to all those future exchange students going to Thailand. If I Thai person does not an answer something, they will either mumble about nothing in particular, or not answer. This has infuriated me up till this point; when I came to the epiphany that this is their culture, and that I need to adapt– not them. You will always think: “Oh but in America we do that this way” or, “In the States that’s not good, or that is good”. Stop referencing to what you know is normal, come to Thailand with no expectations about culture, and merely absorb what you see. That is the best way to be an exchange student; soak in the culture that surrounds you, instead of trying to change it.

December 5, 2013

 It is the 12th of December, and I have not written a rotary journal in what seems to be far too long.

So let us begin. I just came back from a father day celebration– which is a much bigger deal in Thailand than it is in the United States– not that people in Thailand love their fathers more, but because the main thing that is celebrated on fathers day (wan pa) is the big “daddy”; the king.

The celebration began with a bunch of very cute school children singing traditional Thai folk songs, and occasionally a single child would step out and sing TREMENDOUSLY. I don’t know if this is just because the Thai style of singing is easier expressed by younger people, or just that my little city has 10 child prodigy singers. Either way… the beginning of the celebration was wonderful. Then different groups of young Thai dancers from cities around my district (municipal, not rotary) performed to traditional “Ram Thai” music. This went on for about an hour and a half, which was interesting but not extremely exciting. But what happens next! We all stood up with these candle holders shaped like flowers, lit candles inside them, and then stood up and sang songs praising the king of Thailand. One thing people should know about Thailand– the king is extremely important to them and for Thai people; represents everything that makes Thailand the country it is. Disrespecting the king is actually a felony in Thailand, as in you can serve jail time for simply saying you dislike him. After singing songs to the beloved king (we actually sang the songs toward a massive portrait of the king) we then went out lakeside (man-made lake) and set our candles along the railing. While I was setting my candle down into the railing a massive firework went over my head that shook the ground– not that the firework was actually that great in size, but it was about 200 feet away from the celebration. This proceeded with a great spectacle of fireworks that lasted about 40 minutes, and which was beautiful and reminded me of the Magic Kingdom…

I am coming out of a lazy period of my exchange; where getting the energy to do much more than eat, sleep, run, and play badminton took more energy than was worth it. Now, I was not depressed, sad, frustrated, or anything of the sort. I was just in a weird mood, but I am happy to say I fully moved out of that and I’m now trying to express my creative strokes wherever they might go. As of today I composed music, practiced my trumpet, played badminton, went to festival, and studied some German… just because I can.

Note to all exchange students– the rotarians and rotex members will give you a general idea of what will happen to you whilst abroad, and while you should listen intently to every word they say; do know that being abroad affects every person differently. I have not been homesick; although I do love my family, my friends, my pets, and most everything else in Florida. I do not miss any of those things. It may make me sound like some horrible person, but I feel so well integrated in Thai culture. And although I do have my complaints– I have felt quite at home for the most part. This helps that I have a fabulous host family who are quick to fit needs unsuitable to their own. They have gone out of their way to help me on many occasions, and for that I can’t thank them enough.

Another story to demonstrate the ways and sways of Thai people: Today I ate 4 plates of food, and immediately afterward my mother called me fat…. I am completely used to this, because this is simply what Thai people do. They think that fat is a good word, because fat means well-fed and rich. I am 6’1 and 154 pounds, so fat isn’t really the best word to fit me, as I’m actually trying to gain some weight right now. As I lost 6 pounds since coming to Thailand… So no, the idea that you will always gain weight on exchange is not always true; especially in District 6970 Asia.

April 7, 2014

Dear World,

I, Jeremy Isadore Schwartz, am nearing the end of my rotary exchange. In about 2 months I will be leaving my pleasant little town of Kantharalak. Just thought I had to get that out of the way.

These last few months have been most interesting and jovial, a mixture of seeing my sister and family friend in Thailand for a week, my Thai improving, and going on my last big rotary trip with my fellow exchange students. Although it has been a sobering experience, as I’m beginning to realize that soon I will have to actually leave Thailand. In the beginning of my exchange I didn’t think I would have any trouble with the return process of my exchange, but now that it nears, I fear my hands are more tightly wrapped around Thailand than I had imagined. A note to all future exchange students, never underestimate how much you will fall in love with your area, no matter how dirty, impoverished, or just outright peculiar it is. Kantharalak will always be my second home, and now I realize that more than ever.

I returned home from the southern trip just 2 days ago, and all I can say is that I am amazed at the diversity that Thailand has to offer. We spent about 2 weeks traveling around the southern part of Thailand, most of the time was spent island hopping, but we also had several stops in the ocean, directly located over coral reefs. Not only the islands were interesting, but also the people. The dialect and general features of Southern Thai peoples is completely different, with a more Malaysian influence in look and form of speech. The only part that I did not enjoy about the trip was being in Phuket, which was originally very hyped by the Rotarians in my district. Not that Phuket is necessarily a bad city, but it’s kind of the Las Vegas of Thailand, and I don’t think more needs to be said, not that it deducted anything from my experience in the South– I will still remember beautiful beaches and lingering sunburns.

One last thing; don’t underestimate how attached you will be to your fellow exchange students. Exchange students all come together with one thing in common, being a foreigner, and from that commonality you all draw together as family quite quickly. As much as I have fallen in love with Thailand, I think the hardest part of my exchange will be leaving my foreign friends; although I will miss my Thai friends as well, there is something special about the relationship between a bunch of kids who all went through the same experience, at the same time, in the same general area of a country.


Izzy/Ihteet(Thai for power)/KowPoad(Thai for corn)

Jay Rhoden
2013-14 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: Pedro Menendez High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Wroclaw

Jay - Poland

Jay’s Bio

Cześć! My name is Jay Rhoden I am 17 years old, and I am going to Poland for a year! I come from a large family of six kids; I have three brothers and two sisters. My family is very close I see each of my siblings just about every day. I am a senior at Pedro Menendez High School. I spend a lot of time doing school work and working my job. I work at a restaurant called Salt Water Cowboys; it’s a little restaurant on the Matanzas River. I love my job and the people I work with. My favorite thing to do is to travel. I have been on over six cruises, traveled up the coast countless times and down to the Florida Keys many times. The past three years Mrs. Daphne has come to my school to do the Rotary Presentation and I was always been so intrigued by it. But I wanted to wait until my senior to take the chance and fill out my application. I began my application the day that Mrs. Daphne came to my school. I was expecting to have to do some convincing with my parents, but, to my surprise, they were both very supportive and they knew it was something that I really wanted to do. I am beyond excited for the changes that are going to happen through my year abroad. I am so thankful to District 6970 for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Also, thanks to Costal Rotary for choosing me among others to sponsor and help me throughout my year. I cannot wait to get to Poland! Do wiedzenia!

Jay’s Journals

August 9. 2013

7/09/13- For those of you who are considering exchange… DO IT! I haven’t even left yet, but I know that this will be the most amazing experience of my life. I mean what’s better than hanging out with 79 other crazy kids who are as fearless and goal driven as you? Don’t get me wrong, it is no cake walk, it is a lot of hard work. You first must fill out that long application that just seems to get longer as you fill it out. Then after those great applications you get to prepare for the most intense interviews of your life. Yes, I said interviews, there are more than one. The first interview decides if anyone even wishes to sponsor you for district interviews. This is referred to as the home interview, this is as challenging as the district interview, but still be ready for a lot of questions.

Once interviews are complete, it’s a waiting game. You have about two months before you find out which country Rotary has decided to send you to. But, as soon as you find out that city, be prepared to buy all of the books you possibly can, because you will need them. You will go through your awesome Orientations at the great Lake Yale where you will make the greatest friends you could imagine.

Let me side step into the last few days I have had at home. When you finally receive a departure date you will be the most excited person in your town, but then once it does settle in, you realize “Wow, this is actually happening”. My emotions have been on the longest most energy draining rollercoaster you could possibly imagine. I have gone from “YES! I’m leaving” to “Holy Crap I’m leaving”. I brought myself out of the fear that was holding me back, by constantly reminding myself why I chose this path less traveled, why I wanted to be culturally diverse. I remember that those that I’m leaving will still be there when I return. So as I anxiously await my 14 hour flight to the wonderful city of Wroclaw, Silesia, Poland… I write this to tell you to make the decision I did, stand out from the crowd and become your own unique person.

08/13/13- I have arrived in Poland after a grueling 14 hours of flying, jet lagged doesn’t even begin to explain the feeling I am currently enduring. I started out in wonderful Orlando to fly my way to Charlotte for a connecting flight. The sun was shining and it all looked great, until takeoff. The clouds decided to gather over the airport, bringing nice winds and heavy turbulence. Luckily for me the person I was seated next to, continued to crack jokes throughout the flight, putting me at some sort of ease. Landing was about as great as takeoff was, a shift in the wind almost caused us to do a go-around and have to do that horrible approach all over again. I had a short time once I reached Charlotte to take break from the hustle of airline transportation. My next flight was from Charlotte into Munich, Germany. The plane was much larger so taking off in mild weather did nothing to the plane. The flight was a smooth 8 hours and 50 minutes. My first step onto European ground was amazing, I really enjoyed my short time in Germany until I had to get on the last leg of my journey. Once again the weather was not in my favor and caused a lot of turbulence on my short flight to Wroclaw.

I have finally arrived to the amazing country of Poland, and let’s just say I wouldn’t trade this for anything. I write this as I lounge in my bed with the window open and the cool Polish breeze sweeping over the garden in the back yard. My family is amazing, they are the nicest people, and have already done so much for me. Next week we will say farewell to my host sister Paulina as she makes her journey to the US. I am very excited to be going to Bydgoszcz next week to meet all of the other exchange students for a 10 day long language camp, but for now, Do Widzenia!

September 5th, 2013

Words cannot describe how happy I am with my life at the moment. I am in the beautiful country of Poland and I love it more each day. I’ve been here almost a month now and I have done so many things in such little time. My first week here I toured around the awesome city of Wroclaw and was able to see old town (Known as Rynek). The city is much bigger than I was expecting. But it is very easy to navigate around the city with the public transportation. Later in my first week, my host family took me too a beautiful castle just south of my city. The castle was very large and contained a lot of history due to its age and location in Poland.

My last ten days were spent in Bydgoszcz where my language camp was. It was probably the most fun that I have had in a long time. Let’s just say exchange students are the best people you will ever meet in your life. The people 55 people that I have met are much like my exchange friends from Florida, everyone has a goal to accomplish and they are very ambitious, which I guess you must be to go away from home for a year. We spent the quick ten days, with 4 ½ hours of Polish lessons, followed by an hour and a half of sports. Even with the strenuous schedules, it was amazing. I can now say that I have lifelong friends from Brazil, Mexico, France, USA, Taiwan and Australia!

September 29th, 2013

I just arrived home from the BEST 10 days of my LIFE! On the 20th I left Poland to go on vacation to Spain for a week. We stayed in a city in the South of Spain called Malaga. It was beyond anything you could ever imagine and pictures just won’t do it justice. Everywhere you looked there was crystal blue water. Mountains covered the horizon and the sky was a shade of blue you could only get in Spain. I traveled all over the coast even going to the Island, Gibraltar, which is owned by England, so everything was in English. Which was a very nice break from all of the other languages I had been hearing over the first few days.

When I arrived back in Poland from Spain, a lot of emotions hit, the last time I flew into Wroclaw Airport was almost two months ago. It was my first day in Poland. I recalled all of the emotions, happy and sad, but, very excited. It was my friend Megan’s birthday, so my friend Caroline and I took a train right after I got off of the plain, to go to Bydgoszcz, which, was about an 8 hour train ride, right after my 4 hour plane ride. Needless to say, I was exhausted. The time I spent there was great though. It had been about two weeks since I had seen the exchange students from Bydgoszcz, so I was excited to see my friends again. We went out to a nice dinner on the city and had friends over later on in the night. The next day we went to a diner that sold authentic American food. It actually tasted American too. Everything I’ve I had in Poland that claims to be American, ends up just being fried Polish food.

October 14th, 2013

Well, I just got back from an amazing weekend in Prague. The city is far more beautiful than words can describe. Because the Nazi rule never took much affect over Czechoslovakia, what is now separated, contains a lot of history because it was not destroyed during the war. The old city of Prague stretches far and wide. It is one of the biggest of any Cities historical area. It was very beautiful there and I hope to go back very soon. I think the best part of the trip, was at the point when my host father found out we were lost two hours after leaving Prague. We had been driving in the wrong direction the entire time. So we stopped continuously, only to get more lost than what we already were. We finally talked to a person at a gas station and bought a map. They said “The best way to get back to Poland, is going back to Prague and trying again.” This made me laugh a lot, we had to drive 3 hours back to Prague and then another 4 hours to get to Wroclaw. Although it was frustrating to be lost at 10 pm. I was with my host dad and other exchange students, so we made the best of it. We also got to visit more of the Czech Republic than what we had bargained for!

December 5, 2013

 November is only the beginning of the trying months for an exchange student. With birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s slowly creeping around the corner. I cannot say that November was an easy month for me because that would be a lie. While I may not have shown it on the outside, on the inside I was struggling. But, rather than staying home and consoling myself I made plans to have a thanksgiving party and to go travel for a few days. If I can give a piece of advice to the new exchange students, when you feel homesick or down for any reason, DO NOT STAY AT HOME. Especially do not Skype your family or friends when you feel down, while you may think it will help, all it will do is make you feel worse.

My solution to get over my thoughts about home for thanksgiving, was to make one of my own. All my host parents said is “Whatever you need, we will get it.” So I started planning things out, mind you I almost never cook in Poland or back home, so this was going to be a huge challenge for me. I had to email my mom and get advice because I had no idea that I had to baste the turkey or pluck off the remaining feathers around the legs. Regardless of how unprepared I was, I made one of the best tasting dinners that I have ever had, don’t tell my mom that because she will start making me cook! I fed about ten people and didn’t have any complaints. The turkey was juicy, the mashed potatoes were buttery and the yams were sugary. I invited over the other exchange students in my city and some of our friends from school. It was difficult not being home for this day, thanksgiving is a big holiday for my family. Having a family of eight people that all live in the same city, means everyone comes to my house for thanksgiving, and we are all one big family. Not to mention all of my siblings are married or dating someone and almost all of them have at least two kids, which means my house is regularly full of people for hours on end. While I may be thousands of miles away it felt like I was at home, but not home in the US, home in Poland. Being surrounded by awesome people, I really feel like I belong here.

In November, I also took a trip to a city called Czestochowa, to visit my friend Donnella, who is also an exchange student from Florida. I had some preconceived ideas about the city because of my friends from Poland. Apparently Czestochowa is only known for having the largest church in Poland and that the city has nothing else. Well, I still went with my head held high hoping to make the best out of my time, I mean I had 5 days to spend with one of my best friends. I arrived in the city and was pleasantly surprised. There was much more to the city than what I expected. It’s not nearly as big as Wroclaw, but it has its perks that Wroclaw doesn’t have. It reminds me a lot of my city from back in the US. It’s smaller, but there are a lot of people in the city. While I was there Donnella was planning a Thanksgiving dinner for us and her friends from school. We were up by 7 am that Thursday, even though we didn’t even start cooking until 11. Everything tur ned out perfect, and it wasn’t a problem that the turkey was still cooking when everyone was supposed to be there. Mainly because her friends were a little late. She introduced me to her friends and within an hour we were all pretty good friends and were talking like we had known each other for a while. One of her friends, Basia, was having a start of Hanukkah party with her family and friends, and she decided to invite us to it so that we could experience it. It definitely different from any other religious event I have ever been too. It was very relaxed and inviting. There was a short lecture of current Jewish events with in Poland and Europe. After that we made traditional, and some non-traditional, dradles with our friends. They also made these pancakes made out of shredded carrots, they compared them to potato pancakes. They were very good once you sprinkled a little brown sugar on them! The next day Donnella went with our friend to go get her haircut and I met he r friend Adam in the city to go for a tour. He stressed to me that the main attraction to Czestochowa was the large church called “Jasna Gora”. We went and walked around the church, which could be better described as a fort or a castle. We went to the very top of one of the churches towers, which looked over the entire city. We also went inside of the very crowded church to see what is known as the “Black Madonna”. To enter the room that the Black Madonna is in, you must start out side and walk in on your knees, as a sign of respect and honor. It’s very hard to describe how beautiful the inside of the church really is. It is something that must be seen to truly admire.

The day after I arrived back in Wroclaw, we had our first snow day. I went to school when it was snowing a very small amount. I only knew it was snowing because I saw a few flakes on cars while walking to my tram stop. But, once history class started, I looked out the window to find it was snowing very heavily and the snowflakes were huge. After history was over, me, Guilherme and Lymari (the other exchange students in my city) went outside to see it. None of us are from parts of the world that get to enjoy the beauty of snow. We had to rush back inside for our special Polish class and singing class. Luckily for us we convinced the singing teacher to take us outside for a snowball fight. Within an hour of the snow beginning to fall, everything was covered in snow. It was very exciting and beautiful seeing the city covered in glistening snow. It made me appreciate my cities beauty much more. We went around the city for two hours walking through parks and over bridges to see h ow everything looked in the snow. The only downside to a snowball fight, is when you don’t have gloves and after about five minutes, it feels like your hands are going to fall off, but you continue to play anyways!

It has been almost four months since I started this amazing journey, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I have met so many friends over these past months that I know I will have for the rest of my life. This is a journey that I know I will never forget for the rest of my life and I am eternally grateful to Rotary for allowing me to participate in this amazing life. It truly is a life-time in a year. It hasn’t been a smooth trip the whole way, but, I count my blessings for it not being as difficult as it could have been. Polish is one of the most difficult languages for foreigners to learn, but I am happy with my progress thus far. But don’t take that as me saying I am fluent or near it. I still have a long journey left ahead of me and I am looking to learn as much as possible from this experience. It is very hard to believe that I am almost half way through these 10 months in Europe. Small words of wisdom to the upcoming exchange students, don’t take any of your days of exchange for granted, cherish each one, because it’s only a year and you’ll be sitting in your room trying to sum up just one month of exchange and realize that it is going by much faster than what you ever expected it would.

January 13, 2014

Well a lot has happened in the past few weeks. A mixture of emotions, doesn’t even begin to describe how I have felt this past month. I’ll start with the amazing Rotary weekend I had in my city! All of the exchange students within Poland met in my city, to enjoy an amazing Christmas meeting and celebration.

We began our meeting on Thursday, where the other exchange students in Wroclaw and myself, along with Rotaract, welcomed the inbound students to our beautiful city. It took around four hours to gather all 51 exchange students into a single building. Once gathered we had an amazing opening with pizza and refreshments. We were given most of that day and night to reunite and share stories and amazing experiences that we had while we were apart. To say the least, it was a reunion of epic proportions! We started off Friday with a trip to an old Nazi Cole Mine in the mountains near Wroclaw. It was ran by Nazi soldiers, where they put prisoners to work. It was not known why the Nazis opened this mine, because it didn’t actually produce any products that would be used by the army. After visiting the mines, we took a trip to the castle Ksiaz, which I have written about in my previous journal. Once we left the castle we went for a nice lunch in the village and had a traditional Polish lunch. Rotaract decided to keep us out and take us to a party at a bowling alley. Rotaract paid for all of us to go bowling for 2 hours and then to go back to the Hostel for some more pizza! Saturday morning we were required to be ready by 7:30 am and to report downstairs outside of the Hostel. We were taken on a tour of the city to see the most popular sights around Wroclaw. Our first and most important stop was at Panorama. Panorama is a building in a circular shape that features a live painting, where part of the art piece is painted on a wall and the other part is a real object protruding from the wall. The meeting came to an end on Sunday morning, where many goodbyes were once again due.

The next biggest obstacle for us exchange students to overcome, Christmas. For most cultures, Christmas is a very big family event, if not the biggest. For me, it is especially a large gathering. Coming from a family of six kids, I typically have almost 30 people at my house on Christmas morning. My family in Poland consists of two host parents and one host sister, so it is a big change for me to live with such a small family. In Poland, the Christmas festivities begin Christmas Eve, which is the most celebrated day, unlike in the US. Christmas Eve is the night that people open gifts and have a big dinner together. Poles only eat fish on Christmas Eve, due to it being a heavy Catholic influenced country. Christmas day is for religion and realizing the true meaning of Christmas. I will say that Christmas was not an easy time for me. Being away from home has not affected me much, until this time. Things are just very different and it can be difficult to adjust to some traditions. But from the beginning we were told that it wouldn’t be easy, I just never realized how true that was until now. Still, at this time it was not the worst thing, because I knew to remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a few holidays away from home is nothing to cry over.

I will tell each and every one of you exchange students that the goodbyes do not stop once you leave Florida. Goodbyes will haunt you your entire exchange. I thought I would be done with tear filled goodbyes after I left my family in friends, but I realized it’s just the beginning of many. January 12th I had to tell my best friend that I have had in Poland, goodbye. Because for those of you who don’t know, when you get to your country, you may have an Australian that has been living there for 7 or 8 months. I had to say my hardest goodbye to my Australian friend, and I can tell you for sure, it is worse than saying bye to your family. I knew when I left Florida that I would be back in 10 short months, but I don’t know when I will see my Aussie. Going to the airport at 7 am almost killed me, because I knew what was coming. But luckily for me, it was tear filled laughs, because if there is one thing that me and my Aussie did, it was always laugh in heart wren ching situations.

I am half way through my exchange, and I wish I could go back to my first day here, just to live it all over again. I would never change my decision to be an exchange student. Rotary is the best Organization in the world and words cannot describe how appreciative I am to them. Rotary really is built of the most amazing people you can ever meet!

January 21, 2014

The most difficult times for and exchange students take place at an airport. All of the goodbyes and hellos and getting lost in the Charlotte airport and the Munich airport. The stress and anxiety of being at an airport is indescribable. Whether you’re leaving everything you know, returning to everything you knew or saying goodbye to the amazing people you have encountered on your life changing journey, and airport is where it all begins.

Last week I had to say one of the hardest goodbyes for me, an oldie (Australian exchange students come in January and leave when you are half through your exchange) of mine took her long journey back to Melbourne, Australia. This girl was my best exchange friend and helped me through in difficult situation that I encountered in my first few months in Poland. From learning to by a tram ticket, to ordering my food at Pizza Hut, she helped me every step of the way. Others looked at us like we were crazy and some even were scared to talk to us, because everywhere we went it was like a party! I’ll admit, the first time that I met her I was very intimidated by her. This girl was already speaking fluent Polish and making her way through the city like she had lived there her whole life. I just don’t know where I would be now in Poland without all of her help.

Saying goodbye at the airport made me think of how in 5 short months, I will be making the same journey back home and leaving everything that I grew to know. The wonderful language, culture and amazing food. I couldn’t help but become slightly depressed, but realize that I really need to cherish the next months because they will go by very quickly.

I have had my biggest break through with Polish finally! I have been dreaming and Polish and speaking it on a regular basis with friends and my host family, but it is truly amazing to really realize that you can speak conversationally in another language. The new Australian arrived and her first day at school really tested my language skills. I had to translate things that friends were asking and her responses. But the real test was in my Polish class. My teacher of Polish does not know any English and I was asked to translate her Polish to English for the new student. Without thinking, I was able to translate her polish to the new Aussie and to translate the Aussie’s English into Polish. Since you don’t know my Polish teacher, I will tell you that she speaks very fast and complicated Polish, much like other teachers in Poland. It was a small accomplishment, but it was very fulfilling. Sometimes on exchange you it is just assumed that you know Polish, so you spea k it. But at times you don’t really think about how far you have come until you see exactly how you were in the beginning and compare it to how you are now.

I really feel like I belong in this culture. I don’t forget about my American citizenship, but I feel like a Pole now and let me tell you, to an exchange student, that is the most valuable feeling. Everything feels so natural now and it is so amazing that in 5 months that a person can feel like that. I know now that I am truly an international student and that I now have more than one home!

Once again I must thank Rotary for all of their hard work! These people devote their time and take out time from their friends, family and work, to make sure that we are all comfortable and happy with where we are. I get emails at least once a month by a Rotary member, making sure that everything is still going great and I’m glad that I can make them proud and that they chose ME of all of the applicants to represent our country and to grow as an individual. I mean 5 months after leaving home I have gained all of the confidence in the world and I have finally became the adult that I always wanted to be! Don’t ever take Rotary for granted, because without them you wouldn’t be going on this amazing journey in to the unknown. I mean what other organization takes a bunch of crazy kids and sends them all over the world and in 10 short months, receive the most grown up, respectable adults you could imagine. You are truly amazing Rotary and I thank you so much for choosing me and believing in me!

February 12, 2014

Well it has only been about 2 weeks since my last journal, but so many things have happened in those two weeks, that I think I should really tell my readers about! Well to start it off this past week I spent my time in the Northern region of Italy in a small village called Folgaria. Rotary set up an amazing trip for us exchange students to go skiing in the Italian Alps! To say the least it was my favorite trip that I have taken on exchange so far.

I left my beautiful city of Wroclaw to travel to a friends’ town called Poznan, about three hours away. I stayed at one of my best friends’ house, from Mexico, for two nights, where all we did was feed off each others excitement about a week of skiing in Italy. I mean how many people get to say they have done that! We spent the nights going around and exploring the awesome city of Poznan. To reflect back, I made the decision to get my ski equipment from Wroclaw instead of renting in Italy, now I don’t understand why I made that decision, because that meant I had to carry these huge skis and ski boots, along with my already heavy luggage. Let’s just say I looked like a crazy person getting on and off of the small train doors.

On Friday morning we began our journey to Gorzow Wielkopolski in the North-West part of Poland, where we would meet the participating exchange students to begin our second journey to Italy. Friday morning was a bit of a mess because there were eight of us getting ready to go to the bus station with all of our luggage and ski/ snowboarding equipment. Needless to say we missed the first two buses that we wanted to take. The buses was nice and cozy with every seat filled and people not enjoying the excited group of exchange students headed to Italy. I don’t think we made it better by singing “We are the World” and “Danza Kuduro” for the three hour bus ride, but some did love us and even began to sing along.

We arrived in Gorzow to find a group of Rotarians waiting to take us to their homes for dinner and snacks before our long bus ride. We arrived at about 3 pm and had 5 hours to kill before the overnight journey. My friend Liberato, from Brazil, and I were taken to the same house to relax until meet up time.

To be honest finally getting to Gorzow was the biggest relief of my life! Before the trip there were many problems with bank transfers, contacts and travel. I spent the last month stressing non-stop, because this was a trip I had been preparing for and been excited for since October. It took until three days before my departure for everything to finally go through and my spot on the bus to be secured.

Liberato and I left the Rotarians house at about 7 pm to drive to the travel agency where we would me the other participants. Only 16 exchange students were able to go on the trip, so the travel agency filled the other 24 spots with friends and family. That part made us exchange students nervous because if you have ever been on a trip with us, you know we don’t sleep no matter what time it may be. We are filled with way too much energy and excitement to keep it all in. Luckily for us, the other people were just as crazy as us and we spent most of the ride singing Disco Polo songs. We did however finally tier out around 3 am and all of us fell asleep.

We woke up at our third break of the journey somewhere in Austria. That was our first view of the Alps. Let me tell you it was the most unreal thing I have seen in my entire life. The view was the most amazing thing any of us have ever laid our eyes on. I have seen mountains before, but the Alps are just something that something that you can’t compare anything else to. We continued driving and just kept getting further into the jaw-dropping mountains.

We arrived in Italy after 16 hours of driving and torturous roads that winded up the side of one of the biggest mountains I have ever seen. Normally I’m fine with things like that, but we were in a big tour bus, filled to capacity and not even a foot of road left for any errors in driving.

We all got off the bus and took some time to take in our amazing surroundings. Everywhere that you looked, you could see mountains pushing their way up into the sky. Folgaria is a quiet ski village placed right on the edge of a steep mountain. It is exactly what you would picture a mountain town to be. People walking dogs and children, small restaurants, a million pizza places and small shops on every corner.

The hotel we stayed at was “Hotel Irma” which is situated directly in the middle of the village. It is a very nice hotel with big rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. The first day there, was set aside for people to explore and to obtain their ski equipment. We spent the whole day and night walking around looking at all of the sites and stores around the place. At 6 pm we had to be back at the hotel for our first real Italian dinner! When we walked in to the restaurant, there was a buffet set up for us to start eating. Little did we all know, that was just for an appetizer and we were going to receive three other courses of food. By the end of dinner I felt like someone was going to have to roll me out of the restaurant. But, that didn’t keep us from doing the same thing every night, even when we were aware of the other courses, we continued to pig out on all of the pasta and pizza that our stomachs could possibly hold!

The second day would be our first day of skiing in the Alps. Mind you I have been skiing before (once and only for about 30 minutes). We were asked at the beginning if we had ever been skiing before, even my 30 minutes counted as experience. Little did I know, by saying yes to this, they were going to take me to the advanced slopes and trails. Luckily, I was able to push all of my inhibitions aside and ski down every slope they brought us to. Except for one…. It was the steepest slope at the resort. It started at the top of the mountain and went all the way to the bottom. I made it half way down and then just couldn’t handle it anymore and slid down the rest of the slope on my butt. Even the experienced skiers said that is was very rough for them and they took their time going down it.

The third day of skiing was much better for me. I finally learned how to control my turning and stopping and was able to go down the slopes with no problems and without even take time to think about my imminent death. Saying that, I will tell you there were a few falls, but nothing bad at all, mainly just sliding on my side, but being able to get right up and continue down the mountain. We spent six hours every day on the mountains, taking only a one hour break for lunch and then going and doing it all over again.

I continued to improve throughout the week, even calling on the attention of the pro skiers to comment on how much better I was doing in such a short time. I have never really been the athletic type, but apparently skiing was something I could really do! By the last day, I was able to keep up with all of the people that had been skiing for most of their lives. It was a very proud moment for me when all of my fear left and I just attacked the mountains with all of the confidence in the world.

It was another breathtaking moment for me, arriving in a beautiful country and spending six days skiing in the Italian Alps. I get moments like these where all I can do is just think how lucky I really am to be in this amazing place. I have so many people to thank for making this year possible for me, but so little time left in this place. I knew as soon as January arrived, that exchange would go by in the blink of an eye. In one short month I will be leaving for a three week journey around Europe, then I will be in London for a week, and after that my family will be in Poland to visit me. After all of that I will only have a week left in Poland and the hard goodbyes to all of my amazing friends and family will be here. I look back and see all of the things that I have experienced and just can’t believe that this is all real. In three and a half months I will be flying back home and all of this will be just a memory. I continue to say this, but future exchange students ; don’t take a single day for granted because it will be over all too soon. This will be the best time of your life, I can promise you that! You will become a native of whatever country it is that you may be going to. Never forget who got you here though. Make sure to thank Rotary and your parents, because they are your biggest supporters and they only want the best for you!

Jojo Woolbright
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Apucarana

Jojo - Brazil

Jojo’s Bio

Hello! My name is Jocelyn Woolbright and I am so excited to start my year abroad in Brazil! When I found out I was going to be living in Brazil I was overcome with joy because it was my first choice. I never imagined I would have this great opportunity presented to me and am so thankful to be going to my dream country. I am seventeen years old and am a senior at St. Augustine High school. My year abroad will be my gap year after high school and before college. My city is the oldest city in the United States, filled with history and adventure! Though small, I could not picture growing up anywhere else! I live with my mom, retired greyhound dog Sheba (named after Queen Sheba “The Destroyer” which does not fit her at all), and 20 year old brother who comes home on the weekends from college. My brother really sparked my interest in studying abroad because he was a Rotary Exchange student in 2010 living in Paraguay. I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to travel, spending a month in Thailand visiting an exchange student that lived with me, and visiting my brother in South America. I’m very active in school participating in many clubs, playing on the tennis team and being a member of the AICE program. Since soccer is so popular in Brazil I am excited to learn and show off my skills when I return home. I have been told that I was a beast at soccer when I was little but would always quit in the middle of the game, but that won’t happen in Brazil! I’m loud, outgoing and eager to learn anything new. Almost anything will make me laugh! I am looking forward to the challenges of leaving home and living in another country! I would like to say thank you to my family who always supported me with any decisions I’ve made, friends who supported my leaving (though sad on both parts) and Rotary for this great opportunity! I cannot wait to start this great chapter in my life, meeting new friends, having three more wonderful families and learning a new interesting culture! Who knows who I will be this time next year?! Tchau!

Jojo’s Journals

September 4, 2013

Being a Rotary Exchange student is hard. It is not for the weak, you have to be very strong and independent to leave everything you know to start a new life which may be better or worse then your previous one. I will be very honest in my journals with all of my experiences. When I lived in Florida I had a very easy life, going to the beach most days, sleeping until noon, hanging out with my friends everyday, here in Brazil I live very differently. When I signed up for Rotary I thought I knew everything about exchange because I had hosted 3 exchange students in my home and my brother studied abroad in 2010 in Paraguay. But I never knew this is what it would feel like.

I left my small town of St. Augustine for Apucarana Brazil on August 22. I was not nervous or afraid, it was a numbing feeling. I was in a sort of limbo because I was leaving my family and simple life, to start a unknown life which I had no certainty about! Of course I had talked to my host families through Facebook but how do you really get to know someone’s way of life through a social website?! I said very quick goodbyes to my mom and brother because I knew my mom would cry and when she cries everyone cries! I am very lucky I did not have any problems on my way to Brazil, though I did get lost in the São Paulo airport which was kind of scary but I made it! I arrived in the Londrina airport at 10:17 Friday morning with my first host family welcoming me! They immediately hugged me and kissed my cheek and in that moment I knew I did the right thing deciding to become an exchange student. Though I had never met them they treated me like family and I felt safe! My c ity is an hour away from Londrina which is the largest city in my state of Paraná. Everyone in the car was speaking Portuguese and I was jet lagged because I did not sleep a wink on the plane so my mind was going crazy from sleep deprivation and shock! I arrived at my house, which is a small apartment in Apucarana. It is very different from my house in Florida but I love my families apartment in Brazil! It is small and cozy and I think it makes the family closer living in a small place. My next couple days were busy meeting my first host families family, they have a huge family!! Everyone is so kind and love to ask me questions about America and my life.

I love my city in Brazil! Everything is very close and everywhere you look you see hills with many houses and building which is different to me because in Florida all you see is trees! My first week in Brazil was amazing. I went started school which is extremely boring, and very different. Also I am a little older than most of my classmates, but I can’t speak Portuguese very well so I might as well be a 5 year old! School starts at 7:15 and goes to 12. I do not understand a word the teacher say because they speak very fast, so I usually read or study Portuguese. It is not very difficult to make friends here because people at my school love to talk in English and are so interested about my life in the US. I try very hard to talk in Portuguese because I really want to show everyone that I am trying to learn which they admire! Although my first week was amazing, with delicious food (did I mention brigadeiro, OMG!) and loving people I did not expect to get emotional whatsoev er. My host mom is so kind she is probably the nicest woman in the planet and we always talk in google translate at night about my day and how I am enjoying Brazil. The first couple days of this I would let out a couple tears, not because I miss my home but because everything is so different and new to me. I am used to being very independent and here it is hard because I cannot get my opinions and feeling across because I do not know how to say it! People think I am shy here but I am the exact opposite, it is difficult to show your personality when you can only say very little.

I love Brazil so much and my first couple days I dreamt that I was being sent back to the US and I woke up so happy because it was only a dream! I have a very busy life in Brazil, I play tennis twice a week, dance classes twice a week with my host mom and sister which is so fun and Portuguese classes twice a week! I am a busy girl! I love it though because it allows me to meet more people and create a stronger bond between my host family. I am so thankful for Rotary for giving me this wonderful opportunity, my Rotary club is very welcoming and I seriously could not have asked for a better experience here in Brazil. I would not change one thing about my new life, actually maybe starting school a little bit later. I get excited when I learn new world and phrases in Portuguese because I know it is one step closer to being fluent! I feel like the luckiest girl in the world for being placed in a great family, having awesome friends and making so many great memories. I have only be en here a week and a half and it has already gone by so fast!

December 4, 2013

 So much has happened since the last time I have written! Many things have changed in good and bad ways. I have been in Brazil for about 3 months, I have so much to say about my experience here. I will start with school. I recently changed school which has been the best decision I have made here. The previous school I went attended was not the best, most of the exchange students in my city went to that school so it was hard to branch out and meet new people. I spoke English all the time with them, so learning Portuguese was harder. The people in my school were nice but it was hard to communicate with them. After about a month or so, I asked my host family if I could change schools. It was a hard decision for me because I was having an internal debate on whether to change my daily routine and comforts of my exchange student friends, for something I did not know. I did not know if I would have friends at my new school or what people would think a bout me. But a huge part of me liked the excitement of meeting new people outside of my group of exchange friends. My first day at my new school was one of the best days ever. I went to every single class room and talked to all the students, and everyone was so excited to be my friend and ask me questions about my life! People in my school call me the “famous Jocelyn” which is so strange! I can say I am 100% happier at my new school and that is because I made a change. My Portuguese has improved tremendously! I understand so much more! It is crazy how your brain starts to adapt to a new language! Before my exchange year, it was so difficult to study the language because no one in my city spoke Portuguese! I thought I would be very slow at learning. But now that I am here it is crazy how much you pick up by hearing it all the time. I think it is so fascinating how much your brain can adapt!

My host family is amazing. I have had no problems with them. They treat me as their daughter and I am so thankful to have such an amazing family! It will be so hard to leave them, it makes me sad just thinking about it! I only have two host families here which is nice because I will have more time to create relationships with them. I will move back to my first host family in May, which is better for me because I want to be able to thank them for everything when I can talk Portuguese very well! I go to Rotary meetings every Wednesday night, which are dull but I look at it as something I have to do because I am here because of them! I make a huge effort to talk to everyone at my Rotary club because I want them to remember the amazing American girl they hosted 🙂 My Rotary club came up with the best idea for me and the other exchange student in my club to do during the day every Wednesday! Before every Rotary meeting, I go to a different Rotarians house for lunch and follow them around the whole day! I see where they work and how they live their life. I have been to three house holds so far and I have learned so much! I works in auto shop one week, a rice farm the next and a plastic factory after! I love seeing the different jobs of the people in my Rotary club, and asking them questions about work and their personal lives!

It is now summer now for me, which is nice but I miss my friends from school! Now that is is summer, I have time to travel with my family which is going to be amazing! Last month I went to Isla do Mel which is a beach about 7 hours from my house! The water was so cold, and very different from the beaches in Florida. But it was nice to be with my family on vacation! My family works so much, I am home alone a lot so it is nice to bond with them when they are not so busy! Though I am home alone a lot, I am very busy! I always am out eating with friends, going to see movies or walking around town! I make a big effort to hang out with my friend from school because I do not just want exchange friends, I want Brazilian friends too!

May 12, 2014

 I have been in the best country in the world for about 6 and a half months! I can’t believe how fast it has gone. When I first arrived here I was happy to be in a new country but it was not easy. Trying to learn a foreign language and make friends when you can barely understand the language. But now everything is easy. I have friends and don’t need to speak any english at all. Its fulfilling knowing that I did it! I understand so much and can actually have good conversations with Brazilians easily. It is hard understanding people talk in large groups but I am getting there! I recently started school again, Brazilian summer starts in December and ends in February. So it has been a change, waking up at 6:30 and going to a new class with new classmates. I switched host families February 1st which was hard. I love my first host family so much, they helped me with everything when I first arrived here. My first host mom is unlike anyone I have met in the world. She is friendly with EVERYONE! She has this warm essence about her, there is no way you cannot love her! All of my exchange friends always talk about how jealous they are that my first host family is so family-like. I call them Mãe and Pai! So yes it was very hard to move, but I was excited to have a new surrounding! My second host family is very nice too! I am so lucky I have two amazing Brazilian families! I have a host sister who is 15 and is going on exchange next year. We get along so well! My house is a lot bigger than in my previous host family. I lived in an apartment and now I live in a two story house. Also I have air conditioning in my room! Everyone who has been to Brazil will tell you I am a lucky girl! It is incredible hot here and most houses in my city do not have air conditioning so I feel so blessed!

Although my exchange has been the best year of my life so far, I have had some problems. I was sick for about a month which was scary and frustrating. I went to the hospital for 3 days and then had to visit many doctors for a month straight. Back in Florida I never had any problems with my health, but here all hell broke loose!! For a while I was told I might have to return to the states which was so devastating. When I first arrived here in Brazil, I was home sick and a couple times I wished my exchange would go faster. But now, my whole outlook on life has changed! Of course I miss my family and friends, but I have made so many friends here and I feel so comfortable here!

I have been able to travel a lot with my families and Rotary! My favorite trip was with Rotary to Florianopolis which is in the state of Santa Catarina which is just below my state of Paranà. It was a very small group of exchange students, only 10 of us. I have always dreamed about Carnival and have seen the celebration in movies but the real things exceeded my expectations! The other exchange students and I danced all night! It was the best vacation I have even been on in my life! We went to two different street Carnivals, which were basically a street marked off so cars couldn’t pass with food and music. Everyone was dancing in the streets and spraying foam everywhere. On this trip I also went to many different beaches, which were so beautiful! But the water was very cold! I went sand boarding, which is a lot harder than it looks. I was happy to meet new exchange students from my state and make amazing memories with them. I am now back to the real world of scho ol, gym and studying Portuguese. I am going to start taking Portuguese classes twice a week. When I first arrived here I did them and they helped tremendously. I want to do them again to be able to talk like a Brazilian! I have so many amazing things planned for the next couple months, the first half of my exchange was great but I know the last half will so much better. I am so excited to see what the future holds 🙂

Kaela Rider
2013-14 Outbound to Austria
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, Florida
School: Fletcher High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Zell am See

Kaela - Austria

Kaela’s Bio

Hello! My name is Kaela Rider. I’m 15 years old. Currently a sophomore at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, FL. I am looking forward to spending my junior year abroad! I live with my mom, dad, twin sister, Alix and our dog, Yuppy in Atlantic Beach, FL. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and lived there for eight years until I moved to the Sunshine State. I love to read, write and swim. I also enjoy photography. My education is important to me and some of my favorite subjects in school are World History and Chemistry. I have always been interested in traveling the world and living in a different place and culture. I’m thankful for Rotary sponsoring me to do just that. Applying for this exchange program was such an easy decision. It was a automatic YES in my book and also in my parents. I have been lucky enough to have parents who have traveled extensively and inbound friends that have supported my choice in becoming a youth exchange student. My life will be different as soon as this exchange starts no more practicing the language and talking in English. Now its talking and practicing my new language all in one. I feel like I am prepared to take on this adventure, this new life but we will see as soon as the planes wheels lift up and take off. Hopefully this exchange broadens my horizons and I come home a changed person for the better. I could not have done this without Rotary, my family and friends and I just want to say thank you for supporting me and helping me get this one in a lifetime opportunity. Life is full of twists and turns and exciting adventures and I can not wait to start out on one of my own exciting adventures.

Kaela’s Journals

September 3, 2013

I arrived in Austria on August 8, which is my birthday. What an amazing birthday gift Rotary gave me! On August 11 I left for language camp where I stayed for two weeks and got an intro into the German language. School does not start until September 9 so I still had summer vacation after I got back. My host family and I went to Vienna for a few days were we went sight seeing and shopping.

The town that I live in is called Zell am See. The population is about 9,368 which isn’t that much different than Atlantic Beach which has around 12,000 people. My first host family is truly amazing. They are so nice and funny. I have my host parents and 2 host siblings. A brother who is 13 and a sister who is 16. We have to change shoes as soon as we get into a house or school. You either have house slippers or wear socks. Every morning we have fruit, bread and homemade jam for breakfast. The bread here is delicious. Nothing can compare to it back in Florida. Lunch is usually the big meal of the day with spaghetti, meat or potato dishes and salad. Dinner is cold cuts and bread or soup. In Austria you keep your fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand as well as both arms on the table at all times. You use your fork to cut most foods and only the knife when needed. The ice cream here is delicious! Its so creamy and there is ice cream shops on almost every corner. The toilet was so confusing at first. I was not sure what button to press at first since there are two to the flush the toilet but after the first couple times I learned.

German language is hard to learn. But thankfully it is coming along. It can be so frustrating sometimes when everything is being said in German and you can pick out words here and there but it still does not make any sense to you. But I always remember that soon I will understand these conversations and I will be able to reply in longer sentences and have a larger input because soon I will also be speaking German.

I am reaching my one month mark here in Austria and I have already fallen in love with Austria so much. It feels like I have just arrived here while at the same time it feels like I have been here so much longer. Its crazy thinking that just a year ago I was applying to become an exchange student and now I am here in Austria as an exchange student!

October 16, 2013

Grüß Gott!

It has been two months here in Austria. The days are flying by and I find myself wishing that the days could be longer and for time to go slower.

I have already had so many amazing opportunists that I would never have been able to do in the U.S. I have stayed a weekend in Vienna, got lost in Salzburg, spent the night in a hostel, seen the first snow of the season, seen an opera in Vienna, went hiking in the freezing cold, ridden a train across the country, visited a castle in Kaprun, seen a bone house and so much more.

It’s funny how being in a new country all by yourself makes you realize what kind of person you really are. There is no way to describe the feeling you get when you realize how independent and confident you are coming. How you have this take on the world attitude because you know you can. Little moments of accomplishments make exchange worth it! The first time I ordered a coffee for myself and then food at a restaurant, switching trains successfully, having a small conversation with a friend and giving directions to a tourist because it made me realize that no longer am I tourist myself but I am at my second home.

Just one year ago I was a normal teenager going through the everyday routine of life in Florida. Today I am an exchange student not knowing what tomorrow will bring but knowing that whatever it brings I will be ready for it. One year ago I sent in my application to Rotary Youth Exchange and began preparing for an interview in front of Rotarian’s who would decide if I was ready for a year abroad. One year ago I thought I was accepting of other cultures and today I realized just how closed minded I really was. While I accepted parts of cultures I did not accept the culture as a whole. Today I can truly say that I can now accept the culture as a whole. Their beliefs and customs, the food they eat and the way they dress. While I will not always see eye to eye on their customs, eat the same food they eat or even dress the way they dress I am willing to give it all a try and to accept it even if it is not the same as my culture.

In just a two weeks I leave on a trip to see Prague, Berlin and Dresden. I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to these places! And right now I need to begin packing for my weekend in Vienna. So good luck to all you future Rotary Youth Exchangers on the interviews. Exchange is real and it is the most amazing opportunity in your life so go for it.

Leandra Pino
2013-14 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: District 2203,
The Rotary Club of Denia

Leandra - Spain

Leandra’s Bio

¡Hola! My name is Leandra Pino, I am 15 years old and a sophomore at Fleming Island Highschool. I have two older brothers and I live at home with both of my parents. When I’ am not busy with school work I’m usually playing sports like Softball and dance. I have been playing softball for 8 years and I have danced since I was 5 years old. I also like to spend time with my family and friends. It is my honor to represent my country and rotary club In Spain! I have been inspired to be an exchange student for about two years now. In the summer of 2011 I spent almost a month in Europe through the People to People program. Throughout my stay in Italy, France, Switzerland and Austria I spent 3 nights with an Austrian family and that has encouraged me to study abroad in another country and learn a new aspect of life and other cultures. It is my hope to soak up as much of the Spanish culture as I can and come back fluent in the Spanish language. I cannot explain in words how thrilled I am to be able to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. I would like to thank God, Rotary, and my family and friends for all their support and encouragement to make my dream come true! I would also like to say a special thank you to my grandmother for her tireless efforts in helping me through the acceptance process and being my number one fan!

Leandra’s Journals

October 13, 2013

Picture this: Living in the unknown; living where you don’t know anything; living where you know no one; living where all you hear is a language that you only studied 2 years of; living where you struggle talking to the native speakers; living where your family is an ocean away… only at the age of 16. Well that’s me. I have made Denia, Spain my new home in a little over a month. I live in a small beach community called Les Rotas, which is minutes away from Denia, a city that lies right on the Mediterranean coast. My house is seconds away from the beach where I enjoy riding my bike along almost every day. I live with just my host mom and I couldn’t have asked for a better first host family. Her only son Yanko is a Rotary Exchange student to Taiwan. Mi mama has no daughters, so I’m privileged to fill in for even this short period of time.

A few days after I arrived in my beautiful new home town, I went to my first Rotary orientation weekend in Madrid where I took my first train ride. We stayed on the very top of a gigantic mountain. To get up this giant mountain that we took a huge charter bus! We must have had a really talented bus driver, because to this day I still have not a clue of how we made it up this mountain with narrow roads and sharp turns. Finally when we get up this mountain I see small blue tents in an open pasture… needless to say there is NOTHING else BUT these small blue tents. Let’s just say it looked much different than our Rotary orientations in Florida. Anyways… we all struggle rolling our suitcases through the dry pasture that looks like it hasn’t received a drop of rain in years. While doing this we have to dodge large piles of cow poo going to our assigned tents. We had to fit 5 to a tent & it was extremely cold on top of this mountain at night so we all became VERY close that night.. Literally. This was honestly the best weekend of my life, I met so many incredible people that I bonded so easily with.

My first day of school was absolutely a mess. First I had to find my name on a list to know which room to go to and what time, I was to report to room 201 at 10:30. I get to room 201 and it’s a room full of only boys and they all just stared at me – wondering why I’m there. I introduce myself to the teacher and she said something really fast and I had not even a clue what she said, but thank God for hand gestures. I walked to the building where the teacher had pointed; they brought in my counselor who speaks perfect English. I explained to her what happened and she took me up to the class to see what the problem was. Well… come to find out I was in mechanics class; much confusion on this class placement! After a forty five minutes wait, they simply needed to change the room number! The next day I was able to finally meet my teacher and classmates. They were all very welcoming with open arms and they helped translate what the teacher was saying. School is a little challenging because some of my classes are taught in Spanish, and others are taught in Valencian. Valencian is language spoken by the community of Valencia, which is a Province in Spain. Being here just a month, I am learning and catching on very fast; good thing.

Here in Spain I am very active. I ride my bike into the city, which is 3 miles from my house, almost every day. While riding my bike I also set a new fashion statement, my host mom insists that I have to wear a helmet and a neon crossing guard vest. I know she is only looking out for me though, driving here isn’t nearly the same as it is in the U.S. I also just started dance at a competitive dance academy, where I do Pointe and regular ballet. In addition to dance, I also swim at the club pool Monday -Thursday, because Friday I dance. Recently I went kayaking on the Mediterranean, yes in the middle of the ocean, with my two exchange friends Joliann who is from Quebec, Canada and April who is from Chicago, Illinois. That was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I have never been kayaking before and I was so scared I was going to flip my kayak and become a sharks lunch, but survived a new experience and am here writing my journal. I have met lots of interesting people and in all honesty, they are the best people I have ever met.

Not even a month into my exchange I was already taking a trip to Munich, Germany for a week with my host mom, to visit some old friends of hers, who she had when she lived there. We drove and it took us a total of 26 hours to get there. The landscape, the trees and just everything was so pretty on our journey to Germany. We made a few stops along the way; our first stop was in Carcassonne, France where we stayed the night and visited a giant castle, with the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen. We also visited the Museum of the French Revolution, which was filled with amazing history. Our second stop was at a friend of my host mom’s house. She lived on the border of Germany, Austria and France. We visited another castle that was on the very top of a mountain that we hiked up to get to. The view on top of the castle was absolutely worth the hike up the mountain. The view was unexplainable. Peaceful would be an understatement. We finally made it to Munich , Germany where we stayed at another friend of my host mom´s. We went to the center of Munich, which was astounding. I try comparing it to Times Square in New York, but it was better than that. It was better than any city I have ever been too. While in Munich I went to Oktoberfest, which is where Oktoberfest originated from. In two weeks approximately 6 million people where to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, it is known to be one of the biggest fiestas in Europe. Being in Germany is when I realized how grateful and honored I am to be blessed with this wonderful opportunity. I am so excited to see what the next 9 months have in store for me, I remember when this was only a dream and now it’s reality…

January 14, 2014

A lot has happened since I posted my last journal, I have found so much about myself and went through some of the happiest times of the year, not with the same faces I spend those days with every other year. In November, on Thanksgiving day since here in the Spain they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, my Rotary Club had a Thanksgiving dinner for all the exchange students in my city, with my host parents, and all the Rotarians. In fact, it had the normal thanksgiving menu like, turkey, mashed potatoes etc. Although the food was great, I knew something was missing. I felt kind of empty or lost, spending thanksgiving without my family was definitely really hard, but I couldn’t have been more blessed to spend it with such amazing people. Then, came the busiest time of the year and also the hardest part of my exchange, December. You probably are wondering how I spent my holidays here in Spain. Well on Christmas Eve or “Noche Buena” , my host family and I had dinner together which was a fish, a whole fish with eyeballs and everything. I watched my host mom prepare this fish and she literally poured 7 bags of salt on it, then put it in the oven. I could feel my blood pressure rising. No I’m only kidding, it was actually good. Also I had shrimp, and my city, Denia, is known for their shrimp. They’re also really expensive, usually 80 euros a kilo. Then after dinner we waited until midnight to open our gifts. On, Christmas day, I ate lunch with my family and their friends. Christmas Eve is the more the festive day, more then Christmas day is here. On New Years Eve, I learned something I never heard of before, you have to wear red underwear, to bring good luck in the new year, as well as eating 12 grapes at midnight. On the night of January 5, when the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Parade) takes place in every town and city, with hundreds upon hundreds of people crowding the main roads in order to get a glimpse of the reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings into town. Typically, in Spain, it is not the Baby Jesus, Santa Claus or St. Nicholas who brings gifts on Christmas Day, but rather the Three Kings, whose generosity is put to the test on January 6, the day of the Epiphany. Children, families, and entire cities throughout the country celebrate this Spanish tradition. Although the holidays were really hard for me to spend away from home, I am so happy to be learning so much and living the life you would see in movies.

Mark Mimms
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Recife

Mark - Brazil

Mark’s Bio

Oi! My name is Mark Mimms, and I am headed to Brazil! If you were to ask me how I feel about my upcoming trip, it would take me well over an hour to explain how happy and excited I am to be an exchange student with Rotary! I am 18 years old, and I live with my Mom and Dad in St. Augustine, Florida. I have a sister named Katy who graduated from the University of Florida and is living on her own in nearby Jacksonville, working on her career. I love to play sports, golf and basketball in particular, and being with my friends is always time well spent in my eyes. I’m currently a senior at Bartram Trail High School, and in my four years at Bartram I have done so many different things, from playing varsity golf to participating in clubs and focusing on my rather difficult studies, you would think I would have had more than my fair share of high school! However, once I decided to pursue being an exchange student, I knew that the once in a lifetime experiences I would gain by spending a gap year overseas would far outweigh the benefits of going straight to college. I am so excited to learn more about the world outside of the U.S. and I can’t wait to learn not just another language, but another way of life. From all of the past journals I’ve read about exchange to Brazil, I realize that it will not all be fun and games, but nevertheless their stories have only caused me to want to go more, because of all of the unique experiences and fun times they have had. In all, I am ecstatic to be able to embark on a new chapter of life, one that I am sure will be filled with some ups and downs, special memories, and life-long friends. All I know for sure is that it will be a period of my life that I can look back on and be proud of.

Mark’s Journals

August 31, 2013

When it’s the dead of night and you’re the only passenger awake on a plane that is surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see, that’s when you know that it’s real. When you see the first few tall buildings you snap a few pictures thinking it’s the downtown area only to realize that there are hundreds more on the horizon, that’s when you can see that it’s real. When you land and try to get through customs and immigration and baggage claim, well that’s when you hear it’s real, because it seems the whole word is talking at you and you don’t understand. Nothing could have prepared you for the amount of times that you had to say “Desculpe, eu não falo Português” and other phrases you wrote on a little notecard back in March, asking people to please speak slower and if they would not mind repeating themselves. Brasil, I am here. Let’s get started.

Food is a big part of the culture here in Brazil, and man is it good. It seems like every meal here I am being force fed more beef or chicken with potatoes and rice and oh my god there is just so much good food it’s hard to describe. On Wednesday my Rotary counselor took me out to dinner at a real Brazilian steakhouse, a churascaria called Ponteio. It’s a buffet style place that is really upscale, and waiters bring different cuts of meat to your seat and let you choose which ones you want. In all I tried six or seven different types of meat, from filets and roasted chicken to thick steaks and ribs. It was absolutely delicious, I had never felt so full in my life. In my home here, portion sizes are much smaller, cups and plates are probably half the size of the ones in the US, and another thing completely different is that my family has two maids, who do all the work around the house. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, chores that kids in America have don ’t exist here. It’s very weird for me to not at least help clean up after I eat, but here we just leave our plates on the kitchen counter and go about our business. However, that’s how it is done here, and you know what they, just do as the locals do, just because you do it a different way does not mean that your way is better than theirs. Plus, the added perk of never doing dishes or having yardwork is really nice, I can’t lie and say I don’t enjoy it! My family here is very nice, both of my parents are cardiologists who work in different hospitals in the city, and my three host siblings are near my age and very cool. Two of them, my sisters Juliana and Carol, are former exchange students, and my host brother Pedro leaves for Germany in January. My host dad does surgery, and he said I might have a chance to be able to observe one someday, which would be very cool! My siblings go to the American School here in Recife, so they speak English very well, and my host parents speak enough to get by alright. However, we try to speak in Portuguese as much as possible so I can learn as quickly as possible. Portuguese is a very difficult language to learn. Not so much the grammar and written parts, but speaking the language and understanding what is said is the hard part. People speak so fast and with an accent that makes it very hard to comprehend what they are talking about, but when spoken slowly I can understand and hold a decent conversation. Hopefully in the upcoming weeks and months I will slowly gain proficiency in the language. Until then, I could always use more practice on my charades.

Brasil is a completely different world. I have been here now one week, and the differences range from the major car companies (VW & Fiat if you were wondering) to the taste of the milk. I’m not kidding about the milk either, it legitimately is different and cereal in the morning just isn’t the same. My first week was started off by what might possibly be the best first day in exchange student history. After I met my host family at the airport and was shown what is now my home, a second floor unit in beautiful Bahía Blanca on Avenida Boa Viagem, I showered quickly, ate a tapioca com queijo (which might have been from heaven) and then caught a ride with the governors of Rotary in my area to Maragogi, a city two hours south of Recife. There was the inbound conference for the Rotary exchange students in my district, which includes several surrounding states. In total, there were close to 55 or 60 exchange students there from all over the world, and even though I arrived a day late everybody welcomed me and we had an amazing time that day. From playing volleyball to swimming in the ocean where it’s warm water even in the depths of winter to attending a meeting about Brazil and eating a Brazilian dinner with my new friends, it was extraordinary. We went to bed about two or three in the morning, capping off an all-time best first day, ever.

In the days after Maragogi, my Portuguese progressed rapidly as I spent time acclimating myself to the way of life here in Brazil. I visited the beach, ate a lot of Brazilian food, and worked on my Portuguese the first three days of the week, and on Thursday I started school. School here is completely different than back home. First off, most of the teachers have almost no control of the classroom, students talk all through the class and have their phones out and are generally not paying attention. However, the teachers don’t seem to mind. They only care that the kids pay attention when they need to, and the rest of the time they don’t care what the students do. Walking into school the first day I was a little nervous and a little excited to get my exchange underway at full speed. I didn’t understand much of anything said to me and of the hundred people I met I remember maybe ten names. I know that sounds bad, but I’ve never been the best with nam es and many are satanically hard to pronounce. I was very much the center of attention those first two days, but hopefully everybody will get used to me and I can just be a part of the school, not some stranger who walks in their midst. A few students speak a little English so if necessary I can get help, but for the most part I speak and am spoken to only in Portuguese. No amount of bookwork can prepare you for the accent and the speed of the language, but over the past few days I’ve been able to have decent conversations with some of the guys in my class about soccer, the city, and just everything in general. I’m sure that I speak with the grammatical correctness of a snot-dribbling toddler, but for the first week it’s better than I had hoped.

As I’m finishing up this journal, my mind wanders to what I will do next. Maybe I’ll go to the beach later, or on a run. I might continue doing more work on my Portuguese, or ask my host brother if there is a pickup soccer game sometime today we could go play in. A week into Brazil, I realize that the directions my exchange can go in are infinite, and the saying that your exchange is what you make it is most definitely true. Hopefully by the next journal I will have experienced more culture shock, more ups and more downs, and most definitely more Brazilian food. Tchau!

October 8, 2013

Sitting here an hour after lunch, during the sixth week of my exchange listening to the music float in from the kitchen where Maria is simoultaneously cooking, cleaning, and gossiping with Patricia, I can’t stop thinking about how everything is going back home. Everybody gets homesick, it’s not a disease that’s cured with a shot or medicine, but with embracing the fact that when leaving behind one life to embrace another there will be tough times involved. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.. to the pantry to search for more chocolate. Not kidding, I am very fortunate to be in a family that keeps chocolate around the house. Call me a bloodhound, but when that stuff appears, I find it quickly and it doesn’t last long. Mercifully, I am not the typical exchange student who stuffs their face and gains a lot of weight; having to walk nearly everywhere counteracts that. What I would give to be able to drive again.. . Since I last wrote, much has happened, my language skills have increased greatly, not close to where I want to be, but part of staying positive about the situation is recognizing improvement when it happens.

It’s funny how as my Portuguese moves forward, my English begins to fall apart. During the times we spent at Lake Yale, the Rotex all said that over time you’d lose some of your English skills. I didn’t believe them until it started happening, and my grammar freak friends back home started becoming upset because I don’t use their, they’re, and there correctly. Me no English good. It’s great news for being able to talk in Portuguese, awful news for the college essays I’m writing. By far the most difficult part of the language so far has been understanding the accent and different sounds used, which quite honestly is a complete surprise to me. I thought coming in it would be hard to grasp the grammar and subtleties of the language, but I realized quickly that without understanding what’s said to you it’s very hard to respond in kind. Go ahead and say out loud the word

abacaxí. I’ll let you know later how wrong you are with the pronunciation. Overall I am satisfied with how I am coming along, with my studies and with more time I have no doubt that fluency will come, and quickly. Until then, I will keep on making mistakes and laughing about them, because what else can you really do when you think you said “lived” but you really said “died” and the shocked look on the faces of the people tell you nothing except that you really screwed up this one. One positive side effect of learning Portuguese is that my comprehension of Spanish is growing as well. After taking four years of Spanish in high school, I knew a little bit, but the similarities between the two languages helps a lot. It has gotten to the point where sometimes in my Spanish class I’m not sure if the teacher is speaking in Spanish or Portuguese, I’m too busy translating it and trying to understand. Whatever works, right? Rotary talks about a daptability to situations, while I’m sure that’s not quite what they meant, however it fits my definition for the term and so that’s what I’m rolling with. Learning a new language is like a stone rolling down a hill, it starts slowly but over time gains momentum until suddenly the understanding comes in great leaps and bounds compared to before. Time is still my friend, and with many more months left in my exchange, I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible.

While I realize that talking about the difficulties with the language is not the most glamorous stuff, I’ll go ahead and get to the juicy part, the info that everyone wants to know. What have I done with all my time in Brazil these past six weeks? Did I go to the beach every day filled with beautiful women in bikinis and to the club every night with my friends until four in the morning? Sadly, the answer is no. I know, you’re aghast. How could I not be partaking in such wonderful activities? Brazil is all about partying, playing soccer, and that big river in that jungle somewhere. Truth is, my life here is normal. Nothing for the front page of the tabloids, unless the exchange student trying to stay awake in his Portuguese class is front page news these days. I walk around the areas that I know and I don’t marvel at the buildings or spare attention for the stray dogs in the streets, nor does the waves crashing less than 100 yards away capture my attention li ke they did when I arrived. Normality is setting in. My weekdays are filled with school, and peppered with sports after. I play soccer with my friends after school some days, and just recently I began playing basketball on Wednesdays and Fridays. I don’t go out to parties every Friday and Saturday; I’m more apt to spend that time with my friends or family. Many days after school I come home and have nothing to do, these days are the hardest for me. I’m a very active person by nature, so to be cooped up at home refreshing my Twitter and Facebook feeds is not my number one choice. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, normally I’ll go for a run down by the beach or be out with my friends rather than be at home, but when I am home that’s when the feelings are the most felt. Missing family, friends, the comforts of home, it’s all to be expected and I knew it would happen during exchange. It’s one of those things I’m determined to grind and get through, because I know it’s a temporary phase. Knowledge is power, and knowing that it will pass makes it easier to get through the lows. Knowledge, and chocolate. Seriously can’t emphasize enough the importance of chocolate. Nutella is the symbol of most exchange students, but for me, it’s chocolate. Chocolate cakes, chocolate bars, chocolate milk.. you get the point. Truth be told I just took a break from writing this to go get some. Is there a 12 step program for addiction to chocolate? I might need it. All nonsense aside, my life here is just that, a life. It’s so ordinary that to me, it is extraordinary. I too thought that my time here would be like a vacation, and the first week, it basically was. After that however, I have started to settle down and enjoy getting into the groove and a routine. I found a gym, am eating regular meals, going to school and generally just living the life of a normal Brazilian, except that here I’m taller t han most and have blond hair and blue eyes. So yeah, except for that and the language skills of a six year old, I’m basically Brazilian. One occasion that really surprised me was the week long Olympics that were held at my school last week. It’s actually a common thing in Brazil. There was a whole Opening Ceremony with all of the teams from each class and performances with speeches and everything. Then, we competed in volleyball, basketball, soccer, and handball over the week. I am sad to say that no, my team in basketball did not win 1st place in basketball. I let down the Dream Team. We came in second though, in both basketball and soccer. The soccer was on a field the size of a basketball court, so it wasn’t quite the real deal, but it’s all we play as there is not enough room in the city for full sized fields. Quick story here, I saved a penalty in the semi-finals of soccer to advance to the finals. Kind of a big deal, what can I say. In all, it was a ctually a great week with a lot of fun and the biggest event that has happened since I last wrote.

One of the stereotypes about Brazil that is actually true is that they play soccer all day. The national religion is soccer. Every day, they talk about soccer. If the conversation is at a lull, just bring up the last game and you’ve got fodder for another hour of talk. I’ve had the privilege to go to a couple games of one of the teams here in Recife, Santa Cruz. Don’t let the fact that of the three teams in Recife, they’re in the lowest division. They’re still the best. My host family is Santa Cruz supporters, so naturally so am I. We got great seats both games I went to, and in those two games Santa Cruz hasn’t lost, so I’m basically their lucky charm. Not that I’m saying they should invite me to every game, but it could be a wise idea if they want to continue their run of success. Playing soccer with the Brazilians here is quite the humiliating experience, I’ve stuck to playing goalie because I’m marginally better at that then being out on the field and I can get lucky sometimes and fool people into thinking I’m decent in goal. Soccer here is just as important as I thought it would be, and a definite part of fitting in and embracing the culture for me, is playing soccer. It’s the main social activity with my friends, the time to relax and have fun. I suck now, but when I return to the States, watch out.

Quite honestly, there are a thousand other topics I could go into about Brazil and my life here. I could give the play-by-play of every day, the good the bad and the ugly. However, it’d be about as fun to read as a Jaguars game is to watch these days. Trying to sum up the moments that stick out is all I can try and do to give a sense of what it’s like here, though no amount of words crafted in the most clever of ways can describe what a person sees and feels on a day to day basis. I try to make up for it with a bunch of pictures, but the only way to truly understand it is to experience it. When I think of it like that, I truly realize how lucky I am to be here, at this point in time. A year ago I had never thought about spending time abroad, but this experience is everything I had hoped it would be through my first six weeks or so here. The good, the bad, the ugly, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

January 6, 2014

I’ll start off with an apology, for it has been quite some time since I have last written a journal. However, I decided to wait until after the holidays so I could share the events and happenings of that important time period, as well as the events that happened before. This leaves me with a long time period to cover, a space of three or so months in which I spent my days doing a wide variety of activities, such as playing soccer, speaking portuguese, dancing samba, and singing Brazilian music, with varying degrees of failure.

When I last wrote, I was in the middle of the school year and just finally getting acclimated to a normal life here in Brazil. Not much changed until the summer holidays arrived, in the first week of the December. I spent my last week of school guessing in a semi-educated manner the correct answers on my finals, and then after that I was free to do as I pleased. As I’m sure you imagine, much madness ensued, including another Rotary-sponsored event, this time an early Christmas party at Maragogi, the same place where I spent my first day here in Brazil. I met all of my friends from all over the multidistrict again, and spent most of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday doing anything but sleeping. We went to the beach, on a long hike through the surrounding countryside and forests, played soccer and volleyball, ping-pong and pool. We stayed up late, woke up early, and to top it all off the last night we spent there we had an early Christmas dinner followed by a legit party, complete with DJ and flashing lights. It was a weekend where memories were made, from trekking through the forests and encountering trees hundreds of years old, to staying up all throughout the night partying with other exchange students until the sun rose over the beach, one of the best sights I have seen here in Brazil. Once the busses rolled around and we were all on the way back to reality, the mood was somber but promises were made to see each other again, promises that will hopefully be able to be fulfilled by all. After that exhausting weekend, there was not much time to rest and relax, as nearly two weeks after I set off for another beach, where I spent my birthday, Christmas, and New Years with my family. In all we spent a little over two weeks in paradise there, with the only worries being which type of cake would be for desert tonight. If you asked anybody how much I ate during that time, they would say as much as fits an American. As much as it pains me to say, m y will to eat is many times greater than my will to disprove that particular stereotype. America, you have my apologies. While I might be eating enough for three, I’ve also been keeping active, and there is the real accomplishment. I’ve gained about 8-10 pounds since I got here, and I like to joke that it’s all muscle, from being at the gym and playing soccer and basketball with my friends. Nobody I know anymore thinks that all Americans are couch-potatoes, that much I have been able to disprove. You’re wondering why I’m talking about food and what I did during Christmas, and why I’m focusing on all things external and not about how I feel inside and how emotionally wrecked and homesick I was. In truth, during a time traditionally hard for exchange students I did not have a terribly rough time. I was able to skype my parents on Christmas, but besides that I really didn’t have much contact because of the terrible wifi at the beach. I spent my time in the moment, laying in a hammock with a book while listening to the waves crash on the white sand or spending time playing strange card games or dominos with my family, largely unplugged from the outside world. Nearly all of the extended family was there, occupying the house and one next door that was rented for the holidays. It was a relaxing, peaceful time, punctuated with laughs and jokes and bookended day after day by the sun rising over the Atlantic in the morning and huge family dinners after it set. I cannot emphasize enough just how much food an extended family numbering nearly two dozen people can eat. Name an animal, and it was probably roasted, grilled, fried, or otherwise cooked and displayed on the grand table as the main course. Of course I don’t mean anything out of a menagerie, however we most likely ate out the local farm. Chicken, pork, lamb, steak, bread with every meal, fresh fruits and desserts on desserts on desserts – it&rsq uo;s a wonder I didn’t gain more weight than I did.

At the moment, it’s nearly one in the morning on a Tuesday. With no school tomorrow or the next day or even this month, I have more freedom to create my daily schedule. Today there was a party for my cousin here in Brazil, he turned 21. My host brother just turned 16 Sunday, and he’s in the middle of preparing for his own exchange, a year in Germany. He’ll leave the first day of February, a couple days after my family returns from their nearly three week vacation back home in Florida. Yeah, you read that right. My host family is going to spend nearly three weeks IN MY STATE. I of course am extremely jealous, however I will be able to capitalize on the situation; my mom will be sending another care package back with them. WOOHOO. Helllllo chocolate and peanut butter. How I’ve missed you. As for me during these three weeks, well I’ve become the main subject in the ongoing novella ‘Who wants to keep a foreigner in their house’ in whi ch this really good-looking American guy gets shuttled around between the houses of the extended family of his host family. I may or may not be exaggerating about the really good-looking part, and the drama surrounding my living arrangements as well. Actually, my host parents have already organized for me to spend most of the time in the house of my uncle here, who has three sons 18, 19, and 21. They’re all really cool and I spent the holidays with them, so we’re fairly close. It’ll be a great time I’m sure, and I’ll be able to use this time to experience a little more Brazilian culture. May the video game beatdowns re-commence, and forever end with me victorious. Looking back at my old journals, I realized that I spoke as if I had already learned all there is to know regarding the language, and that is absolutely false. I only recently dreamt in Portuguese, and while that is considered a milestone moment in exchange, in reality for me it has on ly forced me to re-dedicate myself to my Portuguese. It’s nowhere close to where I want it to be, though over the last two weeks I have switched my methodology and benefitted from it greatly. I now focus only on Brazilian media, Brazilian music and tv shows and movies. I’ve taken to re-watching shows I like in Portuguese on Netflix, such as Breaking Bad, and I spent a lot of time finding Brazilian music that I actually enjoy, so that I can move away from the music I like back home. I have built up a sizable library of Brazilian music that I listen to in place of my English-speaking music, and I credit this new strategy for the majority of my recent improvement in the language. I cannot emphasize enough for any future exchange student who might stumble across this account of my exchange that the earlier you start the better. I catch myself thinking in Portuguese now, and that is scarier than you might think it would be. A part of me asks, in English, just what in the world I’m doing, and the other half replies indignantly in Portuguese to shut up and go away, this is what I need. Nowadays when I get home from the gym, my headphones are blaring a Brazilian rap song, which probably draws more looks than it really should. I’m finally used to the looks that follow when I walk down the street, and if I was in their shoes I would gawk as well. Imagine a tall, blonde haired and blue eyed American, walking down the street with the sound of Brazilian rap spilling out over the street. A comical moment for onlookers, I have no doubt.

I’ve spent four and a half months in another country, living another life. I’ve spent four and a half months speaking another tongue. I’ve spent four and a half months of my life away from my family. I have yet to spend one second regretting my decision to take on this challenge. I have yet to spend one second lamenting the fate I chose, because I have spent every moment here in Brazil with the mindset that this is one of the best experiences I will ever have in my lifetime, and that I have no time to waste it being sad. Even in the moments where the skies are grey and my feelings blue, logic kicks in reminds me that I live on a beach in Brazil, while my friends are currently stressing over exams and oh, did I mention it’s summertime? That I’ll be spending two weeks in the Amazon? That the US will play a World Cup game in my city? With all of these wonderful experiences on the horizon, the future can only be better for the things that make me the man I am. Whenever you’re upset about work, or school, try to visualize me, walking down the street getting evil eyes from the natives. If that doesn’t cheer you up, hopefully you’ll be in a better place by the time my next journal rolls around! Also, if anyone coming to Brazil on exchange would like to talk, please find me on Facebook. I remember wishing at this time last year that more people had updated their journals more often, so by all means if you wish to learn more, contact me! Tchau minha gente, até mais!

March 30

 It’s been some time since the last journal, and I can’t lie, writing these journals have become more laborious as my exchange progresses. It’s as if a mixture of my declining English skills and trying to put off any thoughts of returning have combined to take the flair out of sharing my experiences, even though it brings me great joy to do so. Regardless, the show must go on, and on it shall go, albeit with slightly less grammatical correctness than in the past. Some major events have happened here in the past few months. Carnaval, changing families, adapting to new and changing circumstances, all the while continuing the routines I’ve built here that make me think my life is almost normal. Summer has come and gone, and while it’s true that’s more a change of mindset than of changing temperatures, there has been a subtle change in my mannerisms and habits here. My steps are quicker, my speech faster, as if I ’m rushing to complete everything I can with the time I have left. It’s an odd and troubling feeling when you lay down at night waiting for the day to see your family while a different notion roars through the swirling thoughts of your mind, urging you to never leave. Just like anything else though, the key is to block out what you can’t control and focus on what you can, which is enjoying the moment with the fierceness and drive that you would hardly expect to find in some average teenager who bags your groceries at Publix. However, we all know that exchange students aren’t your average teenagers.

To start off, I must say that yes, I’m aware that the sordid details of Carnaval interest all of you greatly, however that’ll come later. I assure you I will quench your thirst for insider knowledge on the biggest party in the world, but changing host families is an event with a much bigger impact on every single aspect of exchange, and in truth is much bigger story than Carnaval. I changed host families after spending around five months with my first host family, and like nearly all exchange students, I was loathe to leave. I had become accustomed to my not-so-new-anymore life in Brazil, with the daily routine I had established, and to the people in my life, such as my host family and all my friends. My school, my neighborhood, my family, all of those things had become so natural that when the call came that I would be moving it knocked me out of my sense of security and told me that everything was going to change, again. Not only was I leaving my host family , I would be leaving my school as well to move across town. Changing schools is not normal during exchange, and my mood was less than great as I went to my school one last time to say goodbye to all of my friends and explain that I was being moved away to another part of the city. Many promises were made to connect during the holidays and on weekends, and I still hope to fulfill every single one of those promises. Leaving my friends when I originally left for exchange was difficult, but the knowledge that I would without a doubt see them again in less than a year comforted me. This time, I was changing neighborhoods, not continents and yet I felt as if the distance was even more insurmountable than the miles and seas that separate Recife and my home in Florida. Thankfully I can say that I have met up with several of my friends from my first school in the past two months since I changed families. Saying goodbye to my family was equally difficult, however I have been able to s ee my host siblings and other members of the extended family here and there, and I have kept in touch with them. As much as it sucks to experience the end of an era, it is equally exiting to begin a new one. While I thought I was extremely lucky by having an amazing first host family, lighting must have struck twice because my second host family is just as, if not more, amazing than my first. I have a host brother who is 18 and two host sisters who are 15 and 13, while my host dad is a lawyer and my host mom works at a local school. I can’t say enough good things about them all, and in my new apartment I’m able to have my own room, which is wonderful after spending the previous five months sharing a room with my host brother in my first family. My host dad is extremely nice and loves to joke around, sometimes to the point where you can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. My host mom is always very nice and all of my siblings here are great, my host b rother and I hang out often and get along well because we are of a similar age. Meanwhile, I have started at a new school, and with that came the whole process of being the new kid on the block. At least this time I was more prepared for the hilarity that ensues, and my Portuguese was good enough to be able to respond to the thousands of questions I received in my first week. Among some of the more notable ones were questions like, “Do you hate Obama?” and “How much McDonald’s do you eat a week” as well as some other interesting inquiries. I have made new friends in my new school and now that I’m a couple months into my new surroundings, I’m feeling very comfortable and continuing on with a normal life, at least as normal a life that you can have when you’re an exchange student in Brazil. I can happily say that I am enjoying every moment here in this crazy country.

When the subject is enjoying life, then the next logical step is euphoric, unbridled, and utterly chaotic revelry, right? Okay maybe that’s closer to like the fourth or fifth step, however it’s true to say that nothing is more synonymous with those than Carnaval. Four day long block party? Check. Shops and streets closed while street vendors sell beer and water at the same price? Check. Carnaval is everything I thought it would be, and so much more I had never thought it could be. Fights in the streets, couples crowding every corner or even just stopping in the middle of the street to say their intimate hellos, not to mention crowds so large the front page of the paper doesn’t appear to be showcasing a party it looks like it’s displaying a tsunami of people. Without a doubt I was able to live in the moment, however knowing the significance of my first and possibly last Carnaval gave a differentiated perspective that I came to appreciate. I enjoyed mys elf during the greatest four days of the year, but I also strove to remember every single minute of it, because these are the parts that I’ll be talking about for years afterwards. What exactly did I do during Carnaval? Well, I was a part of the world’s largest block party, on the street with some other exchange students, 15 semi-trucks outfitted to hold bands and famous singers on top, and two million of our new best friends. Two million is not even an exaggeration; it was definitely not a festival for the faint of heart, or the claustrophobic. I spent time in Olinda, which is recognized as being one of the best cities in which you can experience Carnaval. Olinda is set on a hill, so once you climb to the top you can look down on the entire city and not find a street brimming with people and small bands walking around playing frevo, the type of music Carnaval is known for here, and is a huge part of the culture in the Northeast. Finally, I closed out the festivi ties in Recife Antigo, the most ancient part of the city. Where on a normal day street vendors would reside hustling tourists were large stages for the various concerts happening, from techo music to traditional samba to rock, and everything in between. I spent most of Carnaval hanging out with some other exchange students from my city, one advantage of my change in host families is that I’m much more centrally located, and it’s much easier for us to hang out together than it was when I lived with my first host family. In all, Carnaval was absolutely amazing, and I hope that this was not my last one. It’s something so big that it needs to be experienced more than once just to pick up all of the little pieces that you missed the first time through. I guess you could say the same about exchange itself, that it’s such a big part of your life that your desire to return is always there, just so you can remember the good times and pick up new things that yo u might’ve missed on the first time through.

As far as my Portuguese goes, there is one thing that doesn’t get enough credit; the advancement of your language skills and the resulting gains in overall happiness that you experience on exchange. As a fully fluent conversationalist in Portuguese with only an obviously American accent holding me back from progressing further, I can tell you that the last two months have been much more enjoyable than the first two, despite the fact that this part should be more “boring” because it isn’t all new and exciting anymore. I challenge the statement that is commonly made, that after three months you will be fully settled in and happy, because that doesn’t happen until you truly have control over the language. Confidence in your ability is a factor, as well as how much of the language you actually know, and being able to replicate the native sounds well enough to be understood and understand others without mishap. Once all of this is under your grasp, then I believe that you are fully acclimated. I felt pressured at the beginning of my exchange to hit that three month fluency mark, and then when I didn’t it was the whole “you’ll be dreaming in your host language by Christmas” mark that I aimed for. Except, here’s the thing. I was dreaming in Portuguese by Christmas, yet I still didn’t feel comfortable in the language. Everybody said my Portuguese was really great and that I was progressing well, everyone believed I spoke well, except me. Only when I finally believed that I spoke well was I comfortable enough to start truly settling into my exchange. It is truly a process, and it can be a long process for some. My process was not as long as my friends, and not as short as others. It depends on the person; the cookie-cutter idea of a timeline for fluency is not the end-all be-all of language acquisition. You only become fluent in a language when you yourself believe that you are fluent, not before and not after.

While I realize my time here is coming to close with less than three months left here in Brazil, I still have ample time to continue to live my life here as I want it to be lived, with every opportunity that is offered to me taken with gratitude and every moment made into a memory that can be cherished long after I have returned to the real world of work and stress and college. This will not be my last journal, for much has yet to happen. The World Cup and my quest for tickets are still ahead, along with my trip to the Amazons with 50-something other exchange students. Many days of struggling to wake up for school lie in my future, as well as many lunches with my families and parties with my friends. Even though the end nears, nobody said that I can’t make the end of my exchange better than the beginning and the middle, and with that thought fixated in my head, I march onward to the local McDonald’s for a snack because all of this writing has made me really hun gry. Yes, I realize that ending with that comment leaves you with the mental image of me sitting in McDonald’s gorging on Big Macs, but it’s exactly what I was shooting for because sometimes in a foreign setting all you need is a little taste of home.

May 23, 2014

37 days. 888 hours. I could keep going but mental math hurts my brain, and it’s a sad subject matter. While it isn’t my most original opening, I guarantee I won’t be the last to open with the number of days left in my host country. It’s something so shocking, so mind-numbing, that when any exchange student goes to write the last journal from their host country, it feels like it’s the only thought running through your brain as you sit and type. 37 days. 37 days. Tomorrow it’ll be 36. After this weekend it’ll be 35. By the end of next week I’ll have less than a month. Where did the time go? What am I doing with this time, the one thing in life that you can spend all you want, but the only change you get back is the change that you make. There goes another minute there, and another one here, though I consider the time used on a pantry-raid for sweets time used wisely. Your number ticks in your head day in and day out, when you wake up groggy and sullen in the morning to get ready for school and when you lay in your bed at night wishing that sleep would wash over you and smooth out your troubled mind like waves crashing on the sand, it follows you around like the monkey on your back or the Grim Reaper. It’s the motivation, if you even needed more, to make every moment count, to forge friendships while you can, to enjoy your life as if it’s going to end soon, and in a way that last part is true. My life here in Brazil is ending, but don’t look for any hysterics coming from me about the subject. Making a fit over reality is time wasted, and wasting time is the one activity that I definitely don’t have time for.

One thing I will always have time for however is sharing my experiences and stories about my exchange, and man is there a lot to catch up on! My trip to the Amazon jungle is by far the single most important event of the last couple months, followed by the Rotary conference that happened just last week. Those two, along with my plans to use my last month here as well as possible, are more than enough for me to discuss without driving everybody crazy with a super long journal. To start off, here is a big shout out to JACARÉ!! Without a doubt the best boat on our Amazon trip, with the best people and friends that I may have only known for ten days but friends that I’ll remember for a lot more than ten years. During the trip, which lasted roughly 10 days, we spent about 7 days on the river, 70 exchange students spilt into three different boats. In case you couldn’t tell, I chose the best boat, along with all my friends, new and old. Our boat transformed from a bunch of strangers to a true family in such a short period of time that it is truly incredible. From the crazy Aussie who arrived in January to my friends that I knew from my district, Norbrex, to the Frenchies and the Asians and the Mexicans, we all formed one crazy, international family. Of course when everybody thinks of the Amazon, they want to know about all of the cool things to see and do there, but as my exchange has proven to me once again, events are made memorable by the people you share them with, not by the event itself. It makes sense, I am sure everybody would agree they’d rather see a concert and have the best night of their life with 50 of their friends instead of experiencing it all alone. Bonding is made easy when you’re young with a wild heart and a strong ambition to be free of all constraints, even more so once the realization that you will most likely never see these people again sets in. Some would think that this fact would make coming to gether harder, not easier. After all, if you’re never going to see them again, then why put in the effort to make significant connections with these total strangers? Of course that’s flawed logic, because if you want to have the best time of your life you better get off your butt and get to know the people around you, you’ll be paid back ten-fold in companionship and laughter, and who knows you might even learn a thing or two about others and about yourself too. Friendships made on that boat will not be forgotten, that is one thing I can assure you of. As for the actual Amazon jungle itself, well it was something to behold, majestic trees soaring over the river with wildlife howling from seemingly every bush and branch, rivers so wide you couldn’t see the other side, river water meandering slowly downstream trying to carry it with you, it is truly a place that deserves to be preserved for years and years to come. From fishing for piranhas to crocodile hunting, sleuthing for sloths and swimming with pink dolphins, the activities we did in the Amazon were varied and spectacular. There was a little down time every day, where we would sit on the exposed part of the boat and relax, catch a tan and talk about anything, watch movies, play cards or chess, always with the music blaring of course, thanks to a handy AUX cable and some speakers set up in the boat. We swam in the river and slept in the jungle, rode in canoes to see indigenous tribes and walked through paths experiencing the jungle in all its glory. We visited schools in rural communities, and played an extremely muddy and wet game of soccer, errr football, against the locals, which I’m proud to say the Gringo Dream Team won, 4-2 in penalties. Yours truly played goalie for part of the first and all of the second half, allowing no goals and saved two penalty shots in the shootout. Sliding through the muddy feeling with my teammates after securing the game winning save was without a doubt a moment I will never forget, and was definitely worth throwing myself around like a poorly controlled hand puppet for most of the afternoon. Sadly we didn’t see any jaguars or other big animals while in the jungle, it appears that a three groups of roughly 25 exchange students each make too much noise in a jungle normally occupied by the whispers of the wind and the songs of birds and insects. As powerful as words may be, there is a reason they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that saying is perfect to describe my time in the Amazon. Needless to say, the Amazon will stay close to my heart for a long, long time and when I look back on my exchange, this trip will have a prominent place in that picture.

About three weeks or so after I had to experience the pain of saying goodbye to friends I’ll probably never see again but definitely never forget, there was a huge Rotary conference for District 4500 over the weekend, which includes the majority of three states in the Northeast of Brazil, in the city of Gravatá, about 40 minutes away from Recife. Most of the exchange students went on the same bus, one that started from the northernmost state in the district and meandered it’s way south in a rather leisurely fashion until it reached Recife, roughly two and a half hours late. Brazilian time, it’s a scary phenomenon, and it’s real. Once we all finally managed to get to the hotel Friday night, we had just enough time to eat pizza and practice the various routines and dances that we would be performing in front of hundreds of Rotarians the next morning. Rather, everybody else got to practice their various routines and dances for the presentation the next morning, while I spent that time sitting in a corner practicing the pronunciation of every word in the speech that I was to give after the presentations. A couple of weeks before, I had been approached and asked to give a speech at the end, and I naturally jumped at the chance to get out of the ridiculous dance routine the North American contingent had concocted for the conference. I’m only partially kidding about that, I was happy to do it and to speak in front of the Rotarians, but I can’t lie either, I was really happy to get out of that dance. After the presentations from all of the exchange students had finished, I was introduced and slowly walked up onto the stage. I was honestly worried that my speech would not be enough to put the cherry on top of the performances, they all were very well done, even the North American one. As the room grew quiet and the crowd settled in to hear me speak, I looked out over the room and realized that this point is the climax of my time as an ambassador for my country and for Rotary Youth Exchange. This was the time to not just break, but demolish any stereotypes that existed about foreigners, or Americans in general. To be known as the timid American, or the one that sped through his speech faster than a racecar coming around Turn 3, or the one who’s Portuguese was laughably bad, was not something I wanted to be known as. I took a deep breath, steadied my hands, and began. By the fifth line, I knew I would knock it out of the park, because my pace was good, my pronunciation on point, and most importantly, I didn’t mess up the first four lines which definitely aided in the confidence department. After I had finished, I exhaled deeply and looked at one last time as the people in the crowd, from the little boy sitting in one of the first couple rows to my fellow exchange students all the way to the district governor applauded, I knew that the last seven minutes of speaking had impacted the lives of many, many people in that room. Afterwards, I took countless pictures with my friends, my host family, and the people from Rotary that I knew, but also took many more with people I had never met before, and spoke to many kids who all of a sudden were talking about how they wanted to become exchange students when they were older too, and the looks on their parents faces was all I needed to see to know that taking the time and effort to write and give that speech was more than worth it. After the elation of absolutely nailing the speech all of the presentations, all of the exchange students had the rest of the day free, and we spent the time joking, laughing, swimming, and generally enjoying each other’s company, because the next morning we would all be going our separate ways again, and that this goodbye might be the last for some of us. Sunday morning was filled with tears and promises of reconnecting, whether via travel here in Brazil or once every body was back home, and I hope that all of us can keep our promises to see each other again, because we share a bond as exchange students that few, if any, people outside of exchange students will understand.

For me, the next month lays ahead of me as something to be conquered, to wake up every day and seize the day through force, to bleed out every single second of that day so that I might enjoy it more. I will travel throughout the Northeast, to cities like Natal, Caruaru, and Campina Grande. I will experience the summer festival that is São João. I will witness the nation stop as Brazil kicks of the World Cup on the 12th of June, and I will witness in person the US play against Germany in Recife in their final group match game, a game that will feature myself wrapped in an American flag screaming obscenities in Portuguese like a native, cheering on my team while at the same time talking trash to my German friend, who will be sitting right next to me wrapped in her German flag screaming obscenities in Portuguese, cheering on her team. It will be the crowning moment of my final month here in Brazil, and three short days after that, I will be right back to where I started, over the Caribbean, wondering just what in the world happened to all that time I had when I landed here. Before I wrote this journal, I read every single one of my previous journals and laughed at my silly jokes, remembered with fondness the memories that my stories evoked in my mind, and I realized that while I have shared so much here, I have so much more to share. This is not my last journal; I will write one more after my exchange is over, as a way to review my year abroad and a way to bring to a complete close my time abroad. As I finish this journal, a new day is born, and a new number starts to tick in my head like an old grandfather clock. 36 days. 864 hours. My promise? To make every single one count.

July 13, 2014

I cannot lie, I have been putting off this promised final journal entry for some time. It is not something that I want to do, but it is something I feel I have to do, not only to keep my word and bring about an end to my journals, but to bring about a sort of closure for myself. These last two weeks back home have had their ups and their downs, although I am luckier than most in that my transition back to what I now refer to as “real life” has been free of strife. I do not call this life of mine in Florida my “real life” in a way to devalue my time in Brazil, instead I use that phrase to clarify even more how much my life in Brazil meant to me. It was truly a different life, a life that now seems surreal to me. Did I really spend 10 months in Brazil, with people I’d never met before, speaking a language I hadn’t known beforehand, experiencing a whole range of emotions from jubilance to melancholy, or was i t all a dream? Did I really turn strangers into my closest friends, take mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and turn them into my family? It can’t be. However these memories are much too clear to come from a dream, and besides if it was a dream then I wouldn’t have been able to feel the pain I felt as I said goodbye to these people who had become so dear to me, for what quite possibly could be the last time in my life.

My exchange was punctuated by story-worthy events, from the World Cup game I attended between the United States and Germany, the time I spent in the Amazon rainforest, making it through Carnaval with my head attached and liver intact, those memories will last me for a lifetime. It is the little things that stick with me though; the smaller, seemly insignificant moments that remind me of what I learned and loved on my exchange. Day trips to the beach in Boa Viagem with my friends from Denmark, Poland, and Germany. Going to school and joking around with my friends during class, or early in my exchange ducking my teacher’s eye when it scanned over the classroom looking for someone to answer the question because I was unconfident in my Portuguese. My walks home from school, passing the same stores and people day in and day out and thinking about how this image must be seared into my brain, so that I may never forget. It truly is the little things in life that bring happiness into your life, and it is the small moments of my exchange that I will treasure the most.

As I settle back into life in Florida, working full time at a factory in downtown Jacksonville and preparing to start at the University of Florida in the fall, I think back often on my year abroad. Pushing buttons on a machine at work isn’t the most mentally taxing task that I perform on a daily basis, it’s actually on the same level as brushing my teeth or drinking my coffee, but it does give me ample time to reflect as I wash the machine cut and polish lengths of pipe for eight hours a day. It allows me to think about all the moments of my exchange, and what I really took away from it. Sure there is the obvious, the ones we all talk about when first starting to describe our exchange, we talk about the new language we speak and the new culture we lived in and how it affected our lives, but only afterwards can you think upon how much you really changed, and that how things back home that you might’ve found worrisome or difficult before become simple matte rs, and you wonder why you ever feared that silly scholarship interview or that application you had to do. After all, how does any of that compare to the apprehension and bewilderment you feel on your first day of school in a new country as you get attacked by swarms of people you’ve never met chattering at you in a language you don’t know wanting to know all about your life. Going through that experience, and many others like it, prepare you in subtle ways for many things that you wouldn’t think would be affected by your time abroad. You learn how to budget not only your (very limited) supply of money but also you’re even more limited supply of time. Throughout my year abroad, as I watched my bank accounts slowly dwindle from four digits to two, I learned how to make my money stretch to fit my needs. As my countdown started with 10 months on it, then half a year, then three, then two, and finally less than one, I learned how to use my time to maximiz e every opportunity I had to experience more of the world around me. These skills aren’t the ones you think of when you speak on your exchange, but they are only a few of the many attributes you bring back from a year abroad, besides your newfound worldliness and a more skilled tongue.

My time in Brazil is not something that can be classified in absolutes. I cannot declare in black and white statements the ways my year abroad has changed me. In many different aspects of my being, I changed in varying degrees. There are fifty shades of gray that cover the changes I’ve undergone, from the nearly unnoticeable to the blatantly obvious. Brazil will forever be in my heart and in my thoughts, and for that I am thankful to have had this opportunity. Through it all however, the thick and the thin, the good and the bad, the happiness and the sadness, there is one thing I can say with certainty… I regret nothing.

Rachel Bosnyak
2013-14 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Kouvola

Rachel - Finland

Rachel’s Bio

Tere! My name is Rachel and I will be spending next year in the amazing country of Estonia! I am sixteen years old and a sophomore at Creekside High School. I enjoy reading, spending time with friends, running track and cross country for my school and playing guitar for my Church’s youth group band. My mom passed away when I was 8 years old so I now live with my dad, David, and my sister, Lauren. I love them both so much! I love traveling but I’ve never been out of the country before so that in itself will be a new experience for me. I am so excited that I get the chance to study abroad and learn all about the language and culture of Estonia. I found out about the Rotary Youth Exchange program through some of my friends who went to an informational meeting held by Rotary at Creekside. After hearing all about how awesome the program was, I searched through Rotary’s website and read journal after journal from Outbounds already having the experience of a lifetime. I knew the program was right for me and immediately started filling out an application. After all of the paperwork, interviews, and weeks of waiting to see if I got in, I was accepted! Then came some of the longest weeks of my life, waiting to see where I would be going. When “The Big Reveal” finally came around, I found out I would be spending my year abroad in Estonia. It would be an understatement saying that I was surprised. Honestly, I hadn’t really considered Estonia when I was filling out my application. This was a wonderful surprise though because now, after learning more about this incredible country, I can’t picture myself anywhere else. It’s perfect! I can’t thank Rotary enough for giving me this amazing opportunity that will surely change my life forever. Also, thanks to my friends and family who have been so helpful and supportive throughout this whole process. I am so grateful to all who have made this exchange possible and I can’t wait to begin my adventure in Estonia. Head aega!

Rachel’s Journals

November 3, 2013

Well, now that it has been two months I think it is time to FINALLY write a journal.

Before I get started, there may still be a little Estonian flag over by my name. To prevent any confusion, I am not on exchange in Estonia, I am actually in Finland. My country was switched rather last minute. Finland and Estonia are both amazing countries and I strongly encourage you to learn about both of them.

The flights to Finland went smoothly. It all started with the “one ticket to HEL” given to me at the Jacksonville airport. Then it was a quick flight to Chicago O’Hare before my final departure to Helsinki, Finland.

I live with my current host family, the Nikkinens, in Kouvola which is in southern Finland. It is a rather packed house. There are my host parents, Kata and Timo, Laurel the au pair, and my host sisters Heidi (12), Noora (11), Kristina (8), and Elisa (5). Going from a family of 3 to a family of 8 has definitely been a challenging but very fun experience. My whole family is very athletic so we are always busy with practices and games. I recently joined a soccer team and have been able to make lots of Finnish friends this way. In the winter I am hoping to start ice skating.

Kouvola, the city I live in, is the tenth largest city in Finland with about 90,000 people. It was also voted one of the ugliest cities in Finland, but I don’t see it. I actually think Kouvola is quite beautiful. It is small and charming. It’s a major rail junction in Finland so lots of trains come through our train station. It is also just below the “Lake District” in Finland so there are lakes just about everywhere! Kouvola was originally built on paper mills. The largest one here is where my host parents both work as chemical engineers. Kouvola also has a national park, Repovesi, a small amusement park called Tykkimäki, and upwards of 5 billion coffee shops. That’s not an exaggeration. They’re everywhere! Much to the surprise of the Finnish Rotex, there are five exchange students living in Kouvola. Usually there is one. It is a great group. There is Makyla from Washington, Leah from California, Fernanda from Brazil, Jemima from Australia, and myself. Jemima is our oldie who came in January and will stay a few more months until this coming January. I go to school with her at the Kouvolan Yhteiskoulun Lukio.

School is very different in Finland. The school year is split up into five terms each lasting about two months. In each term, students select new classes to take. Each course is given a number and then the numbers are arranged on a schedule. You never have all of your classes on a single day. Also, with the way the schedule is arranged, you often start and end school at different times each day of the week. Confused yet? Last term I took History, Spanish, Philosophy, and English. This term I have Biology, English, Latin, and Music. Though students do have mandatory courses, they are pretty much free to learn whatever they like. Each grade is usually split into two or more “classes” based on the typical course path of the students. For example, my class is 12B. The 12B kids have the option of taking some courses in English. On the other hand, 12A is the math and science class and 12C is the language class (Swedish, German, Russian, etc.) At the end of the term there is an exam week that will determine if you passed your classes.

My teachers at school have been wonderful. Right now, Jemima and I are helping our English teacher organize a “language cafe” where students who are learning other languages can talk with native speakers over coffee. It will be a big event at our school in a couple of months. Also, one of my teachers has made it a class project for everyone to teach me how to roll my r’s. She said I can’t swear properly in Finnish until I learn how to.

If you have read about the Finnish educational system before you would know that it is pretty unorthodox but one of the best systems in the world. Kids don’t start school until the calendar year they turn 7. Once course exams begin for students, on an international scale they score at or near the top in math, science, and reading every year. Also, the gap between the strongest and weakest students is one of the smallest in the world. This is probably because all students are taught in the same classroom, regardless of skill level.

Teachers are selected from the top 10% of college graduates and are regarded highly in the community. The school environment, in my opinion, is much more relaxed. We call our teachers by their first names and we are not held to strict rules during the day. Does this bring complete and utter chaos? Not at all. In fact, it is a major stress reliever. Everyone knows how to behave and be responsible with school work so there seems to be no need for strict rules. I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of such an excellent school system.

The food in Finland has been pretty good so far. At school, everyone gets free lunch. This is usually some kind of salad, potatoes, meat with sauce, and bread. Most Finns will tell you it is terrible, but honestly it is not bad at all. I think the most unusual things I’ve tried so far are reindeer and moose. They were…. well…… not my favorite things. The billions of coffee shops here can be explained by the fact that Finns drink coffee all the time. My school even has a coffee maker for the students. It’s pretty great.

Now I promise, Finland is not a frozen tundra for the entire year! When I first got to Finland the weather was beautiful! Mid-70s and sunny every day. As fall rolled around it started to rain more frequently and get a bit colder. It was amazing getting to experience a real fall. All the leaves changed to bright yellow, red, and orange. Now, it is starting to get even colder! For the past few nights there has been some light snowfall and in the morning I get to wake up to white streets and a beautiful blue sky. I was worried about the cold in Finland but so far I have been enjoying it very much. We’ll see if I still feel that way come January! The sun is setting much earlier now. Some days I get out of school and it is almost pitch black! I think the actual time of the sunset is close to 4:30 and as time goes on it will be even earlier. It is crazy to think that in August the sun was still out at 9:00 pm and now, three months later, it is gone by 4:30. Welcome to Finland.

I’m not gonna lie, Finnish is hard. Like REALLY hard. In fact, it is one of the most difficult languages in the world for English speakers to learn. The fact that EVERYONE here speaks English makes it even trickier. Since I only had a month to study Finnish before I left (I’d been studying Estonian before), I didn’t have the strongest language base when I first got here. Luckily, things have improved a lot since then. When the language is all around you it is impossible not to be learning. I am constantly picking up new words and I understand more and more of what people are saying. My host family and friends are extremely helpful. They are always more than happy to teach me new words, whether they are particularly useful or not. I think my favorite so far is “kovemmalle!” which means “louder!” or “turn it up!”. I study Finnish every day in hopes that by the end of this year I will be fluent.

All in all, my life in Finland has been pretty great so far. I am well adjusted now and everything feels pretty normal. I have a life here with friends, family, school, and hobbies. Those cultural things that at first caught me off guard are just another wonderful part of everyday.

I’ve seen every star in the sky from my host family’s summer cabin.

I know that you eat cream cheese with bread, not bread with cream cheese.

I have jumped into a freezing lake after sauna.

I can tell you the bus and train schedules for Helsinki and Lappeenranta.

I know what tram to catch to get to the ferry on time.

My IPod speaks 20 different languages.

I know the best grills, coffee shops, and restaurants in Kouvola.

I know what mushrooms NOT to pick in the woods.

They know me at Grilli Kipsa.

I could name someone who is currently in or has been in almost any country in the world.

I have not known what I was eating, and liked it.

I have a global family.

I have not one home, not two homes, but three.

I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Rotary has opened so many doors for me and, to everyone who had a hand in getting me here, I cannot thank you enough.

If you are a prospective exchange student wondering if you should apply for this program, do it; it will change your life forever! If you are a future outbound, get ready for the experience of a life time!

January 21, 2013


• Public transportation. I love that I can take a bus or train literally anywhere! Though I do miss my car in the States sometimes, I think when I return I will miss Finland’s trains more. They’re cheap, they’re fast, they’re “green”, they’re always running. Get with it Florida!!!

• Sauna. I have really come to appreciate sauna. Sometimes after a long cold day it is nice to just go home and relax there. Also, jumping into a frozen something (lake, snow, cold shower, etc.) after sauna, though obviously very cold, is extremely fun and really does leave you feeling good.

• Snow. It is so much fun! I don’t know how I’ve lived without it for so long.

• Christmas. Finland goes all out for Christmas but not in the same way the U.S. does. Christmas is really something special here. The traditions are wonderful and fun and Christmas leftovers for 3-4 days is not something you complain about. Also, the real Santa (Joulupukki) is Finnish. Don’t argue, he is.

• Finnish language. It really is beautiful. It is incredibly hard to learn but once you start catching on you can’t help but feel pretty proud of what you’ve accomplished.

• Hockey. It’s not football but it is quite entertaining. Kouvola’s hockey team is comparable to Jacksonville’s football team. Not the best. The games are cheap though and always fun to watch.

• No niin. The thing you say when you don’t know what to say.

• Walking. Everything is so close here. I can walk to school, walk to the store, walk to the library, walk to the train station and it’s completely normal. I love it!

• Safety. Finland is a very safe country. Going out after dark (a.k.a. 3 in the afternoon) is not a problem at all. Though it is always good to be cautious, there really isn’t much to be afraid of here.

• Freedom. Parents are pretty trusting here and I think they are more willing to let their kids be independent. It has been an interesting and very enjoyable change of pace.

• Rye bread. Happiness.

• Pastries and coffee. The pastries are warm and flaky and the coffee is strong. How much better can it get?

• Most everything else. I love Finland!

Maybe not quite as fantastic:

• All of the fish. I don’t like fish and the fact that it is a common feature of our school lunch here isn’t exactly my favorite thing ever. Fish lovers, welcome to paradise.

• Warm winters. It snows and then it all melts away and you’re left walking in a giant dirt slushy.

• Random really cold days during the warm winter. Frozen dirt slushy = me falling on my butt in the middle of the street.

• Kouvola is a small city. There’s not always a lot going on here but I do love it. I still always manage to have fun and traveling is always an option.

• Finnish music. I’m sorry Cheek but you’re just not my favorite.

• Exchange rate/prices. A 2/3 ratio favoring the Euro. Also, Finland is wicked expensive. To put it simply, it sucks.

• Homesickness. It hits everyone eventually. Whether it’s a little or a lot, it still hurts.

A lot has happened since I last posted a blog entry. I have since changed host families, gone on the Lapland Tour, celebrated many holidays, and traveled a ton!

A few days before the Lapland tour I left the Nikkinen family to become a Hasu. I must say, I have been incredibly lucky when it comes to host families. I love both of my host families so much! I can’t help but wonder whether or not it is a coincidence that both times I have been put into very large families. We were 8 in the Nikkinen family and now in the Hasu family we make 9! There are my host parents Pekka and Helena and then my host siblings, Emmi (22), Topi (21), Simo (19), Outi (17), Iina (15), and Aino (8). It feels very normal now living with so many people. There is always something happening! Of course it took some getting used to at first but I can hardly imagine it being any other way.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. While still living with my first host family, I got the chance to celebrate Halloween and introduce some new American traditions. We threw a Halloween party with some about 30-40 relatives and friends. Halloween really isn’t a holiday that is celebrated in Finland but the party was as great as one from the States. People went all out dressing up in costumes and we spent several days making Halloween themed foods. The night of the party, I went out with some of the kids to surprise the neighbors by trick or treating. It was great fun getting to see the neighbors’ stunned faces when they opened their doors and found eight kids dressed in funny costumes. After a cheerful “Karkki vai kepponen!” from us, our candy bags were filled with whatever loose candy or change the unsuspecting neighbors had lying around their houses. The kids had so much fun and for many of them it was their first time ever trick or treating. Th ey were so happy and excited about their candy adventure and I loved being able to tag along.

The holiday season continued with Thanksgiving in November. A couple days before the holiday I surprised my friends at school by baking them an apple pie. The smoke alarm may or may not have been set off in the baking process. Nevertheless, it was still a great pie! The actual Thanksgiving day was a bit tricky because it was the last day I was spending with my first host family. My host mom wanted to make my favorite stew since it would be my last night there. Laurel and I, therefore, made some Thanksgiving side dishes to accompany the stew. Among these were green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, rolls, and a big apple pie. Despite missing a good deal of the ingredients we needed, the Thanksgiving dishes came out great!

Shortly after switching host families I went on the long awaited Lapland tour! 130 exchange students above the Arctic Circle for 5 days. It was amazing! I got to downhill ski for the first time ever, meet some reindeer then eat some reindeer (Terrible, right?), ride along in a dog sled, see the Northern Lights, jump into the snow after sauna, snowshoe, be on the brink of frostbite, visit Santa’s village, and hang out with some incredible people from all over the world! Thank you so much Rotary for an unforgettable trip!

After returning from Lapland, my oldie, Jemima, and I helped our English teacher with the “language cafe” at our school. Basically this was a big gathering where students learning a foreign language could talk with native speakers over coffee. Since every student in Finland learns English, we had no shortage of people coming over to talk to us. Jemima and I each had our own table and over the four “rotations” our tables were always full. It was a lot of fun!

Later that same week my host brother had his graduation party and then we celebrated Independence Day (December 6). On both occasions I got to meet more of my new host family and I began to really feel more settled in.

The beginning of December also meant the beginning of the Christmas season. Joulukuu (December) literally translated is “Christmas” month! My Christmas celebrations actually started in November though with a “Pikkujoulu” party at a Rotex’s house in Kotka. All of District 1430 came together to do some hiking, grill makkara, make gingerbread cookies, drink glöggi, and meet the real Joulupukki. Later in December I went to a Rotary Christmas party and then a Christmas market in Tampere with two of my host sisters. Closer to Christmas I went with all of my host sisters and host cousins to Grandma’s house to make some traditional Christmas foods. My favorite was the porkkanalaatikko, a sort of sweet carrot and rice casserole. Delicious! On Christmas Eve, we watched a Finnish Christmas movie, ate porridge, went to sauna, had a big family dinner, and got presents from Joulupukki! Even though it was a “black Christmas” it was wonderful and absolutely unforgettable! Getting to be a part of a Finnish Christmas was an amazing experience that really reminded me how lucky I am to be here. I love Finland!

The past four months have absolutely been some of the best of my life. Finland really is an incredible country. Thinking back to when I was filling out my application, I can’t believe that I didn’t put it as one of my Top 5. Thank goodness Rotary knows what they are doing though because I am having the time of my life here! The people I have met, the things that I’ve done and seen make me realize just how lucky I am. This time last year I was only dreaming about my exchange, wishing time would move faster. Now I am here living it, savoring every second of it, and wishing time would slow down. I can’t believe it is almost halfway over.

A little advice for future exchange students, take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you. Even if it is something small or seemingly insignificant, it may end up being one of the fondest memories from your year. The times when you take a chance on something, stepping completely out of your comfort zone and just going for it.

I have nothing but love and appreciation for Rotary. You have made so much possible for all of us exchange students. I don’t know where I would be without this year. Even in such a short time, I know that I have learned a lot and grown as a person. I can’t wait to see what adventures are in store for the rest of this year!

On homesickness, it is going to hit everyone eventually. For me, I don’t feel homesick often but sometimes something here reminds me of home and I can’t help but feel a little sad. I miss my family and friends, I miss the stupid warm Florida winters, I miss oranges, I miss the beach, and even school sometimes. It’s weird, my life in the U.S. almost feels like a dream. I love Finland though and my life here. I honestly wish I could stay forever! I know it has been said millions of times but staying busy and enjoying every second of your exchange will help make the homesickness pass. Not once have I really just wanted to quit and go back to Florida. I feel worse when I think about the fact that this year is almost halfway over than I do when I feel homesick. I am incredibly proud to be representing RYE Florida, and my country abroad and I am also incredibly proud to call the amazing countries of Finland and Estonia home. Yes, I am still very proud of the country I was switched from. Estonia always has a piece of my heart.

Every year there will likely be at least one exchange student who has their country switched. If you are like me, that switch will feel like one of the most horrible things that has ever happened to you. I had eight months in which I fell completely in love with Estonia. I was heartbroken. That month of uncertainty where there was still a chance I could be going to Estonia was one of the most stressful and emotional months of my life. I held out hope and was let down. But I did gain some amazing things from this. Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I don’t have one home, not two homes, but three. I have come to love and appreciate Finland like I do Estonia. I am so proud to have anything at all to do with these two wonderful countries. When I first got to Finland, it was very easy for me to get discouraged if something didn’t go right. I went right to thinking about how things would’ve been different in Estonia. Luckily, soon I realized how ridiculous those thoughts were. I learned to handle these problems in a better way and eventually I began to accept my situation, really enjoy my exchange, and realize that I love Finland just like I love Estonia.

If it is true that everything happens for a reason, then I think that this played out just like it was supposed to. By originally having Estonia as my country, I met one of my best friends in the entire world and I got to learn all about and fall in love with an amazing country that otherwise I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about. By being switched to Finland, I have come to love yet another amazing country, I have developed a wonderful life here in Kouvola, I have met several new friends, and I have become a member of two beautiful host families that I love like my own. Though process of switching was painful, it has made me a better and stronger person and has opened up even more incredible opportunities for me.

Though my year is already halfway over, there are still plenty of adventures to come! Thank you Rotary for letting me discover the world!

Randy Jaycox
2013-14 Outbound to Hungary
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Stanton College Prep
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Pécs, District 1911

Randy - Hungary

Randy’s Bio

Szia! A nevem Randy Jaycox. In other words, Hi! My name is Randy Jaycox. Yes, I am lucky enough to be the outbound student to Hungary in 2013-2014! I am seventeen years old and a senior at Stanton College Prep in Jacksonville, Florida. It is such an honor to have the experience of living in another country through the Rotary Youth Exchange. I don’t know how to express how excited I am to be a part of the exchange. All I can do right now is keep thanking my family and Rotary about a million times! In Jacksonville I live with my family whom consists of my two older sisters, Shannon and Noelle, and my parents, Bill and Mary. I have two dogs and two cats. My dog’s names are Moose, who is a Great Pyrenees, and Butler, who is a Silky Terrier. My cat’s names are Bella, who probably is the softest and sweetest cat I’ve ever seen, and Toot, who is probably the meanest cat I’ve ever seen! People always tell me that I am very easy going and that I should have no trouble fitting in. For club and for school I play very competitive soccer. I love to work on my car, in fact my dad and I rebuilt my engine (which took all summer!). My sister Shannon was also an exchange student to Brazil! Shannon is who I got the idea from to apply for the youth exchange. When we visited her, I thought that was the coolest experience and from the on the idea, to do the same thing, grew in my mind. I am already lucky enough to have traveled to so many different countries (which I’m sure inspired my love of traveling). I love the faces I get when people ask me, “Where are you going to college next year?” and I just respond with, “Well I’m not going to college next year. I’m going to Hungary.” After I enjoy their shock, I go on to explain the program. The more I think and the more I tell people about it, the more excited I get. I am thrilled to be going to Hungary, which I heard from quite a lot of people is a beautiful and amazing country! I can’t wait for the adventures I hope to be having when I am there! Although Hungarian is a very interesting language I’m sure over time I will be able to conquer it!

Randy’s Journals

September 28, 2013

I have been in Hungary for eight months today. These past eight months have been exhilarating. I really do not know how to express my feelings toward this exchange all I can say is it has been “szuper” so far- my host family is great, my school is great, and my city is great! I guess will roughly describe the past two months. The trip getting here was something; I went from having a total of 12 hours flying/layovers, but it turned into a 28 hour experience! It was weird though because I thought I would freak out when something like that would happen, but I felt very calm the whole time. My original itinerary was Jacksonville to Atlanta, Atlanta to Rome, and Rome to Budapest. My Atlanta to Rome flight was delayed so then I was going to miss my flight from Rome to Budapest. Now that doesn’t seem to bad, right? Well they didn’t tell us we would miss our connecting flight, if we had one in the morning, until 10 minutes before we started to board. My flight fro m Rome to Budapest was at 10 in the morning. The people at the kiosk told everyone that if we had a connecting flight at 10 or later the next day we would miss it. i tried calling my travel agent to get me a new ticket before getting on the plane but it was a big mess because when I landed in Rome I had no way of contacting my travel agent or family or anyone, I didn’t have wifi or international calling… I was a little confused on what to do because surprisingly no one in Rome’s airport spoke english! So ended up walking around Rome’s airport for an hour looking for Delta’s kiosk. Anyways long story short, my new itinerary became Rome to Amsterdam, 6 hour lay over there, then Amsterdam to Budapest. That was a long day of flying! For the next two weeks I had a language camp in Dabas. Dabas is a very small town outside of Budapest. It was a very interesting experience although I did have a lot of fun. All the other exchange students were there as wel l so we all became good friends after the camp. I am very thankful for the camp because it taught me quite a bit of the language, which might I add is a very difficult language. I have read and been told that it is somewhere in the top five hardest languages to learn! On the last day of camp my host family came to pick me up and we had a five hour drive to Pécs, we talked the whole way. For the next two weeks before school, my family took me to many places. First they took me on a tour of Pécs which took a few days. We went to Orfú, a village outside of Pécs, to go swimming and walk around. There are many lakes in Orfú, it’s a popular tourist destination. We also went to lake Balaton for a few days. It is the biggest lake in Europe, I believe, or at least in Eastern Europe it is. The first week of school was very interesting! I’m in a class with Mary, the other exchange student from Florida, and Emily, an exchange student from Aus tralia. I don’t know if its such a good thing that we are all in the same class, but I am enjoying myself and I have made friends! None of the teachers, except for the english teachers, speak english so in most of my class I study Hungarian, read, or do University work for my applications. Almost every weekday after school, the exchange students and our Hungarian friends all go to Árkad. Árkad is the major shopping center here and it is quite big! For the past two weeks we have had some sort of festival, every weekend it’s different. There are about 30 stands set up in the square in the middle of the city and a new group preforming in an outdoor concert everyday! It has been really fun! Some days after school I go train with the University soccer team! That has been interesting since none of them speak English. At home I try to use my Hungarian, but my family knows a tiny bit of english so they try to speak to me in English! It gets frustrating someti mes when I ask them to speak in Hungarian, but after a minute of that they switch to English… Even though it’s frustrating I still really like my family! The food here is pretty good, they eat pretty unhealthy here though. Most of the food is fried and people never eat vegetables! It’s kinda strange, the only vegetables they eat are peppers and tomatoes! I take the bus everywhere I already know the city backwards and forwards including all the bus routes and most of the numbers! My host parents bought me a monthly pass for the bus so I just get on without paying, it makes things very easy. Well I believe that is a rough description of what I have been doing! Until next time!

January 5, 2014

In my last journal submission, I said that I have been in Hungary for 8 months, that was a mistake. Then, I was only here for 8 weeks.. now it’s been 5 months! Since September quite a bit has happened. I have travelled to new cities, I just switched host families, I have experienced more awkward situations, I have gained new friends and I have experience four holidays away from home. I’m going to pick up where my last submission left off. I went to my first movie soundtrack concert here in Pécs, that was pretty cool! The played famous soundtracks from movies like Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. I’ve never experienced a concert with an orchestra and where I had to wear a suit! The Concert hall here is the second largest and most beautiful in Hungary! A few days later My host family and I went to Graz, Austria. They decided they wanted to going shopping for a day in Austria! Graz was a very beautiful city and the shopping center we went to was bigger than any I have ever seen! My host parents also speak German so it was very easy to get around. When we were in Graz, I could really see the difference in the standard of living between Austria and Hungary. You might be thinking, “oh, Graz is a very nice city in Austria, that’s why.” Pécs is also a very nice city in Hungary, but the differences are very noticeable. In october I also visited many festivals in surrounding villages with two other exchanges students, Angelo and Taylor. They are both from Brazil and Angelo speaks english, but I have to communicate with Taylor through my small knowledge of Spanish! The village festivals are just as interesting and fun as Pécs’, they offer more spectator and consumer contact than the big city festivals! My dress code at school is like public school’s dress code in Florida, but there are occasional times were we have to wear our “uniform”. On impo rtant days we were this “uniform” which consists of boys wearing a black tie, white shirt, and black suit. The girls have a more tightly controlled outfit, it is a specific uniform that sort of looks like a sailors uniform. Next came Halloween. Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine because every year I would do the same thing. I would find an awesome costume, most likely something from my favorite movie that year, go to my best friends house, and then of course go trick-or-treating! The build up to Halloween was probably better, in my opinion, than the trick-or-treating itself. I would always watch scary movies every night, even though I hated them, and my family and I would always get a huge pumpkin and carve it. My dad, being the architect that he is always had to make the pumpkin look awesome! The last thing that always got me excited was seeing the Halloween decorations on people’s houses. My Halloween in Hungary consisted of me sitting at h ome watching scary movies. So it wasn’t quite the same, but it wasn’t bad. I got to watch scary movies still! Hungary’s Halloween is on the first of November and is quite different. They travel to all of the cemeteries where their relatives are buried, and pay their respects by leaving candles on the tomb/gravestone. At night it looks very beautiful, we travel to a city called Mor which was a few hours away and it was dark during our drive home. Passing through all the cities was a site I will never forget because in every city, village, and town people were walking around with candles in their hands and all of the cemeteries are lit up by the candles. It was unforgettable. After halloween, I visited a city called Székesfehérvar. It was also a very beautiful city and was rich with history, in fact it was the “King’s city”, everything related to kingship happened there. One day at school, my friends and I were playing soccer and on e kid kicked the ball over the fence into an area thats outside of school. This place is an empty, forest type of area that is not accessible unless you climb over the fence on top of a wall. This wall fence is over 20 feet tall, but of course my friend embarked on his adventure to climb the wall and fence and find the ball in the jungle on the other side. The only way to get back over is if we toss a rope over the fence so he can climb back up! Back in Florida this would not be allowed, but in Hungary the gym teachers tell them to do it! It’s very dangerous and each time someone goes over they get hurt, but of course child’s safety is not a concern here 😛 haha. One weekend there was a race that occurred on Pécs’ mountain Mecsek. During the day all of the cars are out in the main square for everyone to see and then at night they race along the mountain’s roads! That was quite interesting because there is an age limit on the cars, they can’t b e newer than 1970. We also started our “Prom” dance back in October when its not until January 19th. Apparently the dance is a huge thing here and we do it as a class instead of individual dancing. Now that its January I know that its a really big dance even though I don’t really know it and it’s in two weeks.. Skipping ahead, the next holiday I missed was Thanksgiving, this one is a nice holiday for everyone because most people are with their families, but this year I was with my other family. I did make it more like the holiday back home than I did for Halloween, but it still wasn’t quite the same because they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I did some traveling in the weeks after thanksgiving, I went to a city called Miskolc. It is the second or third biggest city in Hungary and went for a birthday party, I had many exchange student friends there! That was fun, a week or two later I went to a city called Györ for a Rotary meeting. Every ex change student was required to go so it was nice to see all of the exchange students again, the last time I saw everyone was in the language camp in Dabas, back in August. On November 27th we had our first bit of snow in Pécs, it lasted about week. Angelo and I were in the gym and when we came out everything was covered in an inch of snow, it was crazy! We were freaking out, we were taking videos and pictures of basically what looked like rain and everyone around was were probably thinking we were crazy! Unfortunately that was the only time we go snow. Since then we have not received snow, but they say it may come in Febuarary. Next thing I knew Christmas came, but here its a little different and that’s sort of why I thought it came so quickly. On December 6th, their Santa comes- he delivers candy to all. Christmas is like a three day thing here, we say Merry Christmas the 23rd, 24th, and the 25th. The 24th is the real Christmas day and the day where we eat a big dinner and share presents. Christmas was a tough time for me, the toughest, but it wasn’t too bad because I had a Christmas with my host family on the 24th and on the 25th I had a Skype Christmas with my family in Florida. This was the only time I felt some homesickness, but not anywhere enough to make me want to go home. I had New Years recently which was really fun. This was the only holiday that wasn’t very different. At night I went to the main square where a massive party/festival was taking place and a friend from Budapest came! We hung out with my Hungarian friends and at midnight watched the fireworks! During New Years there is an interesting tradition where we have to eat turkey and lintels otherwise we are banished from the country! haha 🙂 Two days ago I switched host families, this was weird because I knew the next family, but I was comfortable with my first family. I did stay with my first family for 5 months so I, of course, grew a good bond with the m. It is weird with this family, but soon the awkwardness will go away. Luckily they have a daughter who is the same age and she was an exchange student to Mexico. Unfortunately my host father and host sister speak english fluently, but they will speak Hungarian to me. Now like I said its been 5 months and some of the other exchange students from Florida in other countries are already fluent in their host countries language. I am not close to that.. granted they did know some of the language before traveling there and the languages are similar to English. I wish I knew more, but its quite difficult especially when your first family spoke mostly english to you. I do think this language is cool and fun to speak and I want to speak more, but it’s so dang hard! I am getting better/understanding more and I am studying more so hopefully by my next journal entry I will tell you I progressed greatly! Now to talk about the exchange feelings and for people wondering what its like or will be like for them (if they are future exchange students)….

Every exchange student knows that, for this entire year, you are NEVER 100 percent comfortable. Though, the thought of going back is sad. Every day here is interesting and not in the touristy way. Not in the “wow i tried new food today” but in the “what did i just do” way. I’m learning Hungarian. I don’t want to speak english. Its strange to think that I’ll be back in my house eating the same food, listening to the same music, and talking to my friends about the same stuff as if I never left. It will be like I paused time and everything will go back to the way. Luckily some things will be different. I start University when I come back, Thank God! I could not go back to high school! Memories will come to me next year and I laugh to myself or I’ll tell someone about them, but no one will understand why it was so funny or why it made such an impact on me. It will be like my life in Florida died and for 1 minute i gained the life of some k id living in Hungary. Its already so hard to explain. I try to tell me friends or family back home on Skype, but I can’t. I always find myself telling them “Oh, I have so much to tell you” or “Oh, I was going to say something really interesting!” It’s like everyday its so different from back home, nothing seems boring, but when I tell someone about it, it sounds boring.. In Györ, we played a game where we had to think of what our exchange means to us or what our favorite or worst days were. Everyone had so much difficulty saying what their exchange meant to them, it was so much and so little at the same time. And the for the days question it was just as hard, except we had so many days that were terrible and so many that were great. It was hard to just pick one. Sometimes I find myself telling people here or back home what they want to hear. Nobody wants to hear “oh, my exchange is ok right now” or “yeah the food is alright.& quot; Wether its people living here or in Florida everyone wants to hear you are having a great time so people say this year is amazing when at that moment they are homesick. Now I’m not saying this is how us exchange students feel all the time, but its difficult to describe this year. Its like going through puberty again, but only in one year and your maturing in a different way. I hope this helps explain a little bit.

If I can figure it out I’ll put some pictures up, but if not just imagine beautiful old buildings and snowless mountains 🙂


January 7, 2014

In my last journal submission, I said that I have been in Hungary for 8 months, that was a mistake. Then, I was only here for 8 weeks.. now it’s been 5 months! Since September quite a bit has happened. I have travelled to new cities, I just switched host families, I have experienced more awkward situations, I have gained new friends and I have experienced four holidays away from home. I’m going to pick up where my last submission left off. I went to my first concert here in Pécs, that was pretty cool! They played famous soundtracks from movies like Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. I’ve never experienced a concert with an orchestra and where I had to wear a suit! The Concert hall here is the second largest and most beautiful in Hungary! A few days later My host family and I went to Graz, Austria. They decided they wanted to going shopping for a day in Austria! Graz was a very beautiful city and the shopping center we we nt to was bigger than any I have ever seen! My host parents also speak German so it was very easy to get around. When we were in Graz, I could really see the difference in the standard of living between Austria and Hungary. You might be thinking, “oh, Graz is a very nice city in Austria, that’s why.” Pécs is also a very nice city in Hungary, but the differences are very noticeable. In october I also visited many festivals in surrounding villages with two other exchanges students, Angelo and Taylor. They are both from Brazil and Angelo speaks english, but I have to communicate with Taylor through my small knowledge of Spanish! The village festivals are just as interesting and fun as Pécs’, they offer more spectator and consumer contact than the big city festivals! My dress code at school is like public school’s dress code in Florida, but there are occasional times were we have to wear our “uniform”. On important days we were this “uniform” which consists of boys wearing a b lack tie, white shirt, and black suit. The girls have a more tightly controlled outfit, it is a specific uniform that sort of looks like a sailors uniform. Next came Halloween. Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine because every year I would do the same thing. I would find an awesome costume, most likely something from my favorite movie that year, go to my best friends house, and then of course go trick-or-treating! The build up to Halloween was probably better, in my opinion, than the trick-or-treating itself. I would always watch scary movies every night, even though I hated them, and my family and I would always get a huge pumpkin and carve it. My dad, being the architect that he is always had to make the pumpkin look awesome! The last thing that always got me excited was seeing the Halloween decorations on people’s houses. My Halloween in Hungary consisted of me sitting at home watching scary mov ies. So it wasn’t quite the same, but it wasn’t bad. I got to watch scary movies still! Hungary’s Halloween is on the first of November and is quite different. They travel to all of the cemeteries where their relatives are buried, and pay their respects by leaving candles on the tomb/gravestone. At night it looks very beautiful, we travel to a city called Mor which was a few hours away and it was dark during our drive home. Passing through all the cities was a site I will never forget because in every city, village, and town people were walking around with candles in their hands and all of the cemeteries are lit up by the candles. It was unforgettable. After halloween, I visited a city called Székesfehérvar. It was also a very beautiful city and was rich with history, in fact it was the “King’s city”, everything related to kingship happened there. One day at school, my friends and I were playing soccer and one kid kicked the ball o ver the fence into an area thats outside of school. This place is an empty, forest type of area that i s not accessible unless you climb over the fence on top of a wall. This wall fence is over 20 feet tall, but of course my friend embarked on his adventure to climb the wall and fence and find the ball in the jungle on the other side. The only way to get back over is if we toss a rope over the fence so he can climb back up! Back in Florida this would not be allowed, but in Hungary the gym teachers tell them to do it! It’s very dangerous and each time someone goes over they get hurt, but of course child’s safety is not a concern here 😛 haha. One weekend there was a race that occurred on Pécs’ mountain Mecsek. During the day all of the cars are out in the main square for everyone to see and then at night they race along the mountain’s roads! That was quite interesting because there is an age limit on the cars, they can’t be newer than 1970. We also started our “Prom” dance back in October when its not until January 19th. Apparently the dance is a huge thing here and we do it as a class instead of individual dancing. Now that its January I know that its a really big dance even though I don’t really know it and it’s in two weeks.. Skipping ahead, the next holiday I missed was Thanksgiving, this one is a nice holiday for everyone because most people are with their families, but this year I was with my other family. I did make it more like the holiday back home than I did for Halloween, but it still wasn’t quite the same because they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I did some traveling in the weeks after thanksgiving, I went to a city called Miskolc. It is the second or third biggest city in Hungary and went for a birthday party, I had many exchange student friends there! That was fun, a week or two later I went to a city called Györ for a Rotary meeting. Every exchange student was req uired to go so it was nice to see all of the exchange students again, the last time I saw everyone was in the language camp in Dabas, back in August. On November 27th w e had our first bit of snow in Pécs, it lasted about week. Angelo and I were in the gym and when we came out everything was covered in an inch of snow, it was crazy! We were freaking out, we were taking videos and pictures of basically what looked like rain and everyone around was were probably thinking we were crazy! Unfortunately that was the only time we go snow. Since then we have not received snow, but they say it may come in Febuarary. Next thing I knew Christmas came, but here its a little different and that’s sort of why I thought it came so quickly. On December 6th, their Santa comes- he delivers candy to all. Christmas is like a three day thing here, we say Merry Christmas the 23rd, 24th, and the 25th. The 24th is the real Christmas day and the day where we eat a big dinner and share pre sents. Christmas was a tough time for me, the toughest, but it wasn’t too bad because I had a Christmas with my host family on the 24th and on the 25th I had a Skype Christmas with my family in Florida. This was the only time I felt some homesickness, but not anywhere enough to make me want to go home. I had New Years recently which was really fun. This was the only holiday that wasn’t very different. At night I went to the main square where a massive party/festival was taking place and a friend from Budapest came! We hung out with my Hungarian friends and at midnight watched the fireworks! During New Years there is an interesting tradition where we have to eat turkey and lintels otherwise we are banished from the country! haha 🙂 Two days ago I switched host families, this was weird because I knew the next family, but I was comfortable with my first family. I did stay with my first family for 5 months so I, of course, grew a good bond with them. It is weird with t his family, but soon the awkwardness will go away. Luckily they have a daughter who is the same age and she was an exchange student to Mexico. Unfortunately my host father and host sister sp eak english fluently, but they will speak Hungarian to me. Now like I said its been 5 months and some of the other exchange students from Florida in other countries are already fluent in their host countries language. I am not close to that.. granted they did know some of the language before traveling there and the languages are similar to English. I wish I knew more, but its quite difficult especially when your first family spoke mostly english to you. I do think this language is cool and fun to speak and I want to speak more, but it’s so dang hard! I am getting better/understanding more and I am studying more so hopefully by my next journal entry I will tell you I progressed greatly! Now to talk about the exchange feelings and for people wondering what its like or will be like for them (if they are future exchange students)….

Every exchange student knows that, for this entire year, you are NEVER 100 percent comfortable. Though, the thought of going back is sad. Every day here is interesting and not in the touristy way. Not in the “wow i tried new food today” but in the “what did i just do” way. I’m learning Hungarian. I don’t want to speak English. Its strange to think that I’ll be back in my house eating the same food, listening to the same music, and talking to my friends about the same stuff as if I never left. It will be like I paused time and everything will go back to the way. Luckily some things will be different. I start University when I come back, Thank God! I could not go back to high school! Memories will come to me next year and I laugh to myself or I’ll tell someone about them, but no one will understand why it was so funny or why it made such an impact on me. It will be like my life in Florida died and for 1 minute i gained the life of some ki d living in Hungary. Its already so har d to explain. I try to tell me friends or family back home on Skype, but I can’t. I always find myself telling them “Oh, I have so much to tell you” or “Oh, I was going to say something really interesting!” It’s like everyday its so different from back home, nothing seems boring, but when I tell someone about it, it sounds boring.. In Györ, we played a game where we had to think of what our exchange means to us or what our favorite or worst days were. Everyone had so much difficulty saying what their exchange meant to them, it was so much and so little at the same time. And the for the days question it was just as hard, except we had so many days that were terrible and so many that were great. It was hard to just pick one. Sometimes I find myself telling people here or back home what they want to hear. Nobody wants to hear “oh, my exchange is ok right now” or “yeah the food is alright.& quot; Wether its people living here or in Florida everyone wants to hear you are having a grea t time so people say this year is amazing when at that moment they are homesick. Now I’m not saying this is how us exchange students feel all the time, but its difficult to describe this year. Its like going through puberty again, but only in one year and your maturing in a different way. I hope this helps explain a little bit.

Ryan Nuckols
2013-14 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of SP Tatuape

Ryan - Brazil

Ryan’s Bio

Ola! My name is Ryan Nuckols and I will be spending the year between my Junior and Senior year in Brazil. I go to Creekside High School in St. Johns, Florida. I live with my parents, my younger brother, Kyle, and my dog, Izzy, in Julington Creek Plantation, which is about thirty minutes south of downtown Jacksonville. I am very active, both in and out of school. At Creekside, I participate in National Honor Society, Hispanic Honor Society, Junior Gentlemen, and Ultimate Frisbee. While doing these fun clubs and sports, I have a schedule consisting of mostly AP and honors classes. My favorite out of school activities are baseball and Venture Crew. I have obtained both my black belt and my Eagle Scout along with other accomplishments from my activities and clubs. I am so excited for the opportunity to live and study in Brazil next year! It will be the experience of a lifetime! I can’t wait to meet new friends and get to live the year as an exchange student in Brazil! It will be the best year of my life!

Ryan’s Journals

August 25, 2013

My adventure began on Saturday, August 2nd. I flew in to the airport that morning at around 9. I walked out of the terminal to a group of people yelling “Ryan”!!! I noticed my host dad with a huge sign which said, “Bem-vindo Ryan”. The second I got to them it became picture time. There were cameras flashing from every direction. I felt like a celebrity! After the airport, I went to a bakery with my new host family. The food was so good!

I started school that Monday. I go to a Catholic school that is next to two malls and a metro station, so it is always crowded with people. I remember walking into class with my principle and she introduced me to the class. The second she stopped talking everyone went crazy and yelled at the teacher to let me sit with them. Once I got a seat, all the people sitting next to me started bombarding me with questions in Portuguese! The kids in my class were so interested in me.

I have started to adapt to my new school. I have made friends and do things with them after school like playing soccer and watching movies. Since I am with one class all school day, it has been easy for me to become friends with people. The most difficult part about school has been understanding my professors, but I am beginning to understand them.

My everyday life has changed a lot. Every morning I wake up for school at 5:30 and go out to eat breakfast at a bakery. The bread and coffee in the morning is so delicious! After that my host dad drops me off at a mall on the other side of the metro from my school. I walk through the crowded mall/metro area and to my school. Class starts at 7 a.m. For lunch, I usually go to the mall with friends. This is much different than my school in the United States. School ends at either 12:30 or 4 depending on the day. After school, I go home with my host dad or go out with friends. At night, I normally go out for dinner with my host dad and sisters. We always have a great time! I usually don’t get in until around 9:30. Then I go to bed.

In these first three weeks, I have loved Sao Paulo! I have seen the huge downtown and even gone to a tango and samba show! I am always spending time with my host family and friends! Sao Paulo is such an amazing city and I believe it is the perfect place for me to do exchange in!

October 5, 2013

So I have been in Sao Paulo for two months, and it is still as exciting as it was when I first arrived! Every day has a new adventure in store! I have already been to some of the “touristy” areas with my friends. We went to Avenida Paulista, which is known as the “Times Square of Brazil” and MASP (Museum of Art in Sao Paulo). Also, my friends took me to Liberdade, which is the Japanese community in Sao Paulo. It is where the Japanese population first settled in Brazil.

One thing that I love about this city is how diverse it is! It is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world! I have friends here with families from Portugal, Italy, Bolivia, Japan, China, and much more. Also, the city never stops growing! Every day I see new buildings around me. It’s a nonstop city day and night!

So my school here has an awesome tradition that all of the third year (final year) students participate in. Every Friday the kids dress up as something different. Today was hobo day! Everyone had old, dirty clothes on and we all took pictures. It was really fun! We have already done team day, tacky day, and hippy day. I think next week we have Rock day. I can’t wait!

I am proud to say that I have, for the most part, figured out the metro and bus system for one of the biggest cities in the world! I now take the bus to school. My school is about five miles from my house, but it takes almost an hour to get there! The traffic here is horrible! People aren’t kidding when they say Sao Paulo has the worst traffic in the world. The streets here are always jam packed with cars, motorcycles, and buses.

Another thing I love about Brazil is that every weekend is exciting! I’m always going on small adventures on the weekends, with either my host family or friends. I have done to the beaches, festivals, and this week I am going to the Nations Fair. I am so excited and honored to be able to represent the United States this weekend! I will represent my home country in what I already feel like is my second home country!

So I am now at the five month point of my exchange. A lot has changed in the last couple of months. The first change being….summer in Brazl! Since Brazil is in the southern half of the world, summer is during the months of December, January, and February. During this time there is a two month summer break for December and January! Being in the city for summer is so much fun! I can now go out and see my friends on a daily basis, not to mention that there is Christmas and New Year! The summer here is a blast!

As I write this I am preparing for the Northeast trip that starts in a few days. What is the Northeast trip you ask? It is a 23 day vacation and exploration of Rio de Janeiro, the beaches of the Northeast, and Brasilia! I will be on it until the end of January! And I am ready for the heat because it’s supposed to be around one hundred degrees every day! Luckily I’ll have my swimsuit and shades.

I just celebrated Christmas with my family, which of course was bittersweet. It was weird not being with the family back at home, but my family here did everything they could to make me feel right at home. We had a huge turkey dinner and at midnight started opening gifts! Since I have a ten year old sister and a five year old brother, the belief of Santa was still there. This made the holiday really fun for me! The youngest one was so anxious to see what he got from Santa! After the gifts the kids were exhausted! It was already two in the morning.

New Year was so much fun here in Sao Paulo! Me and some friends got together and went to Avenida Paulista. We got there six hours before midnight to get a spot before the street filled up. Two million people went there that night! It was so packed! We saw some of Brazil’s best and most famous artists perform. It was very similar to last year, when I went to Times Square for the New Year. The main difference was that it was 80 degrees warmer here in Sao Paulo! The New Year celebration was amazing and I know that this year will be too!

May 28, 2014

So the last few months have been…well…amazing to say the least! From the Northeast trip to preparing for the World Cup, it has been a great time! I have met so many awesome people and done so many fun things in the last few months its hard to even describe. I will truly never forget this part of my life.

It all started with the Northeast trip. This was literally the greatest vacation I have ever been on! We began the trip in Rio de Janeiro, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The water was so blue on the beautiful beaches were among the greatest I had ever seen. The mountains in the background make it the most breathe taking city along with the Christ the Redeemer statue that looks over the cities inhabitants. We explored the city for three days and I can honestly say it was one of the best places I have ever been!

After Rio, we adventured up to the beaches in the Northeast. These beaches were as beautiful as Rio but with the warmest water the biggest waves. It felt like we were in Hawaii. We also went the Brasilia, the capitol of the country. It is a beautiful city with modern design. The last, and most important, thing that made this trip so great was the people that were with me on it. I met so many life long friends because of this trip and I couldn’t have been with a better group of people! I will never forget the Northeast trip.

So after the Northeast trip I returned to school, but this time with a different class. I missed my class from the year before, but it wasn’t hard making friends with my new class. So far things have been great with them. We just went to some museums and the biggest park in the city on a field trip today. We all had a great time! This new class will hopefully be just a great as the last one.

Maybe the best thing that has happened to me on exchange has been becoming so close with some of my friends. A group of five others and I have become such close friends. It is a bond that will never be broken for the rest of our lives! I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends. They are like a family to me! It is one of the greatest gifts this exchange has bestowed upon me.

Samantha Bicknell
2013-14 Outbound to Sweden
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease Senior High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
HOST: The Rotary Club of Upplands Väsby

Samantha - Sweden

Samantha’s Bio

Hallå! Jag heter Samantha, jag är 17 år gammal och jag kommer att bo I Sverige nästa år! Translating that to English, I said “Hello, I’m Samantha, I am 17 years old, and I will be living in Sweden next year!” Yes, I am very excited at the fact that I will having an adventure of my own, in just a few short months in the “Land of the Midnight Sun”. It’s nice to know that after the dreadful application is filled out, the intimidating home interviews are over, and the even more nail-biting district interview is done with and accomplished, it’s a great feeling to know it’ll be well worth it! My whole life, I’ve been surrounded by a worldly family that each have their own stories of their travels and tales of the great places they’ve experienced. I have family members from England, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, and so on and so forth. But when would I have my time to tell my story? As from now on, I will have my own story to tell. Today, is officially the first day for the rest of my life! I can remember myself back in September with my Spanish 3 class, going to some assembly. I never would’ve realized how life changing this assembly would turn out to be. Seeing all the rebounds and inbounds speaking in their foreign languages fascinated me. I wanted to be standing up in the front of the auditorium speaking an impressive language that would awe the crowd, like all the students did that day. I wanted to wear that navy blue blazer, that were coated with pins and souvenirs, that made them sound like Santa’s reindeer when they walked around. I wanted to be in those pictures that they presented of the outbounds in their host countries. When Mr. Murray asked everyone who was considering it, my friends thought I was crazy for raising my hand. But a little bit about myself, I was born and raised in St. Augustine, Florida, by my two lovely parents, Pamela and Stuart, alongside my younger brother, Keaton, my 2 dogs, Penny and Bailey, and my kitten, Minuit. I currently attend Nease High School as a Senior and a goalie for the Lady Panthers Varsity Lacrosse Team (GO PANTHERS!), however, I will have to give up my love for lacrosse to complete school in order to go on this adventure of a lifetime! During my spare time, I am usually hanging out with my best friends, completing my online class work to graduate early, or cramming in even more homework from my regular public school. My life can be stressful and hectic at times, but I know, it will all be worth it in the end! When I want something, I fight for it. I try everything humanly possible to make that dream come true. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something so bad in my life, and I thank all of the Rotarians for everything they do to make dreams, like mine, come true. They really underestimate their true greatness, and I really cannot thank them enough for everything they’ve done. I want to thank my parents who’ve supported me every step of the way, my best friends who have been there for me whenever I doubted myself, I’d like to thank all of the inbounds and rebounds for being so gracious and welcoming and always willing to answer my questions, and the Rotarians for helping me along the way into getting me more steps closer to my dream. And with that, I look forward to each new step into this adventure! Hej då!

Samantha’s Journals

August 28, 2013

Today marks my 25th day of living here in the beautiful land of the Midnight Sun, and I don’t really know where to start.

I’ll start off with my arrival in Sweden. After 10 hours of traveling throughout the night, I was shockingly more awake than ever from the anticipation and excitement of landing in Sweden. I arrived at around 12:00pm the following day where my host family stood with a welcome banner that said ‘Välkomna till Sverige Samantha!’ It was then I realized that this exchange is real. I really am in Sweden, and I am about to start the best year of my life. I had to keep reassuring myself that this wasn’t a dream.

For the first few days, I spent time with my lovely host family. We take many family trips to their Swedish country home and out to different sections of the country. So far, I’ve been to Åre (beautiful skiing resort; however there was no snow at the time), Halmstad (by Gothenberg; a beach town as well to remind me of home!), Dalarna (Swedish country side), and all different parts of Stockholm. They take me to all these breathtakingly beautiful and interesting places and every day here is a new adventure for me. They make sure I get a real and true experience of Sweden in every aspect. They made my transition so easy and painless because they were so welcoming, kind, and ever so caring. It feels like I’d never even left home.

Then I met the other exchange students. Already, we are getting so close and it feels like I’ve known these people my whole life. We share each of our own unique experiences in Sweden and we go out on our own adventures and experience Sweden altogether. We all have the same awkward Swedish conversation stories, we all waste our money on fika, we all jump around like crazy people with our flags and end up on Swedish national television, and we all end up getting lost in the tunnelbana or taking the wrong train. I’ve already made lifelong memories with them that I will never forget. They are all like my brothers and sisters and I love them already.

Thereafter, I started school… where do I even begin with Swedish school? I’ll begin with the fact of how relaxed and calmed down Swedish school is. Everyday is a different schedule with different times. The past 2 days, I’ve started school at 12.00, and no, I am not skipping; school literally started at noon. It’s also hard to tell the difference between the students and teachers because the teachers dress SO casually (and very fashionably)! My male teacher was (I kid you not) wearing a jean dress shirt with shiny metal studs on the shoulders with bright red skinny jeans. It’s saying something when your teacher dresses more fashionable than you do…

My Swedish friends at school are so sweet too! It was hard at first making friends since the Swedes are naturally shy, so you really have to go out of your way to make friends with people. Luckily, I made a great group of friends and they are just like my friends back at home. They help me with my Swedish and ask me questions about America and the English language, and we always have fun times when we’re together.

I could go on for days telling you all the things I’ve done, the places I’ve visited, and all my incredible experiences I’ve had so far, but I can barely think of words to express how my exchange has been. It’s because there are no words to describe exchange. I could sit here and try to tell you what exchange is like, and that still wouldn’t be enough because it’s indescribable. I haven’t even been here for a whole month and I’ve already met so many amazing people, made so many great friends from around the world, seen some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, tried the most delicious foods that I can’t have back at home, and I am just having the time of my life overall. If you are considering exchange, I can promise you one thing; you won’t regret it and overall, it will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made in your life. You will learn, you will become open minded, you will grow as a person, and you will experience something new that will change your life forever!

I can already tell that this is going to be one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to make… but for now, I am just absorbing every single moment, sight, and experience in Sweden for the time that I do have left here. I can’t wait to see where more this adventure will lead me.

Till then, tack så mycket allihop och hej då!

October 7, 2013

I guess it is that time again! A few days ago, I proudly embarked on my 2nd month in this beautiful country, and there are no English, nor Swedish words to describe my experience so far here. And get used to me saying this a lot, because there are no words to describe exchange, let’s face it; it’s an experience only described by experiencing it yourself.

During these two months, I’ve come to realization about a lot of things. I’m learning more and more everyday about the charming Swedish culture, and I am learning more and more about myself everyday. I am learning what I am capable of, how strong I am, how adaptable I am, everything. I’m finding out some really deep stuff about me that I didn’t even care to think about or even notice. I’m changing subconsciously, and noticing it at the strangest times as well. I seem to find something new about lots of things, and usually in the most uncomfortable or awkward ways. Let’s face it, exchange is a whole year of awkward experiences, but overall, it is worth it and makes for great stories!

There is so much I’ve done here, and way to much to recite and tell you about now. I’ve learned that Sweden is a very underrated and unappreciated culture, and as Americans, we barely scratch the surface of this interesting and charming culture. So as my ambassadorial duties are, here are some little factoids and stories you may not have known about Swedes:

1. The Swedes are very lagom. What is lagom you ask? There are two words in the Swedish language that are not found directly translated to any other language, and that is fika (my favorite Swedish word) and lagom. Lagom in English, translates to the phrase ‘not too much, not too little, just right’. You always need the perfect amount of everything, not too much, not too little.

2. Swedes are extremely equal here. In an article I read, Sweden is number one in the world for gender equality, and it’s true. Everyone here, even beyond gender, are equal. Everyone earns the same respect from everyone else, and it is equally given in return. Another funny thing about being equal, is that it’s hard to declare leadership in anything such as group projects, group decisions, anything. Before making a decision with anything, there must be a fair group discussion and compromises and final answers must satisfy all parties. It makes the Swedes feel uncomfortable to be put in charge of others. It’s the strangest thing, yet one of the most refreshing things I’ve experienced so far.

3. Swedes are very punctual. They love to always be on time, and on top of that, they plan EVERYTHING. I promise, you will never meet a Swede that doesn’t care much for planning. From dinners to even watching television! I am not kidding. They have special apps to help them with planning how much TV they watch and what shows to watch.

4. Swedes love to sing. Whether good or bad, Swedes love to sing and hear other people sing. They have shows dedicated to just other Swedes getting together and singing. And no, I’m not talking about singing competitions (although those are also very popular here along with chorus competitions), I’m talking about shows that air in Göteborg and Stockholm where more famous Swedish singers/songwriters sing with crowds of other Swedes just to sing.

5. Everyone wears American themed clothes here. The American flag is probably the biggest fashion statement here in Sweden. Why don’t they wear the Swedish flag instead? Because it is seen as racist, due to the fact that one of the biggest issues in Sweden now is immigration. Representing the Swedish flag shows that you are against immigration and overly prideful. It is seen as rude to be overly prideful about being Swedish. You never boast about your background or your country ever.

6. Can we just take a moment to admire those things that are Swedish? Such as H&M, IKEA, AVICII, ABBA, Volvo and such. Round of applause for Sweden.

7. And speaking of American things, the Swedes love the Americans in general. If we are to go with the typical American view from other countries in the stereotype, you would think they would hate us. But the Swedes find us very interesting.. yeah, interesting would be a good word. They think we are very strange, and sometimes they don’t understand why we do things, but overall, they love our television shows, our cities, our culture, and our people overall. I’ve never felt so welcomed as an American ever.

8. Also, it’s pretty touchy to bring up the Vikings in some areas. With the Swedish stereotype, people usually think of the blood thirsty Vikings, known for destroying, murdering, and conquering many different countries from around the world way back when. Whenever you begin talking about the Vikings and how terrible they were, the Swedes get very uncomfortable. They don’t like to be reminded of their terrible murderous ‘phase’. And it’s funny, because the Swedes are the exact opposite of what the Vikings did.

9. Americans, Italians, whoever, say what you want, but honestly, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten has come from Sweden. It’s called Kebab and it’s the only flavor of pizza that should ever be eaten. Just try it sometime.

10. American college students have their ramen noodles and tater tots as their main source of easy food. Swedes? Try Swedish meatballs, pasta, and ketchup. And not in the mood for that? Blood pudding.

11. Swedes love their house music. That is the only stereotype that has lived up to it’s standard so far. And when I mean everyone, I mean everyone. Children, teenagers, adults, elderly people, everyone! I absolutely love their love for house music, especially AVICII. Has anyone realized how amazing he is?

12. CONVERSES ARE EVERYWHERE! Especially the white pairs. Try to find a Swede that doesn’t own a pair of white converse. I dare you.



14. Swedes love to travel. Rotary really knew what they were doing when they were assigning our countries, but the Swedes and I can relate to our excessive needs of travel. And not to mention it is very easy. Booking flights in Sweden are up to 75% cheaper than in the United States. Even to really distant places like Thailand and India. Currently, I am planning a trip to London to visit my Aunt and my budget for traveling alone is under 100 American Dollars… yeah, beat that. And with that, they are all for weekend getaways! Almost every Swedish family owns a summer house or rents one. Although they are called summer houses, they make sure to take monthly treks out for a weekend just to get away from their work and the city. I cannot tell you how many times and how many different summer houses I have visited.

15. As an American, people usually compare all the Scandinavian countries as one, like their all the same. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. The Scandinavian countries see themselves as brothers and sisters; and not due to the fact that they’re close together, but because they like to pick on each other and mock each other every once in a while, until they realize they are pretty similar and love each other at the end of the day. Now, what I am about to say is not based off what I think, but what the Swedes have told me so far about the other Scandinavian countries. In this case, I will explain the differences between the languages. In Sweden, Swedish and Norwegian are very similar. You can get through a small conversation with almost little to no language barrier. The Swedes put it this way: Swedes speak sing-song like, Norwegians sing even more sing-song like, Finnish is the ugliest language, and the Danish speak like they have potatoes in their mouth. On ce again, this isn’t my point of view, but what every Swedish person has explained to me so far. Yet, the Danish do speak a little funny 😉

But those were some quirky little facts that you may or may not have known about Sweden. Charming, isn’t it?

With every day, I am falling more and more in love with this country. I can’t even believe that there is anything more amazing left to offer, yet, I still have a whole year ahead of me for discovery and experience.

And with that, hej då!

November 10th, 2013

And I am back once more for another update post! Currently, here in Sweden, we are almost half way through November, and it has rained every single day since the first day of the month. Sunset is also around 3:30 on some days, and it is pitch black by 4. Yes, the winter is slowly creeping up on us here in Sweden. The funny thing is, is that I think I am the only person here in Sweden that is excited to actually see the winter. Speaking of complaining about the weather, Swedes ALWAYS complain about the weather. And here I am, the annoyingly optimistic American cheering on this miserable weather. But through the miserable, dark, cold weather, things are just perfect here in Sweden.

They say it’s around your 3-4 months (usually the holiday season) when you begin to feel homesick. I hadn’t thought, cried, or complained about home since I’d been here, but the other day when my day was a little slow, I stopped and thought. Thinking about home and my friends back in St. Augustine did make me a little sad. What was this that I was feeling? For a few hours or so, I was a little depressed. But it took me until 00:05 that following night to realize why I was so sad.

I was amazed.

I wasn’t sad. I had realized that it had been almost a year since I began preparing for joining Rotary. I spent countless hours on homework and online homework for my online classes because if I made Rotary, I would have to graduate early. Although it wasn’t guaranteed that I would make Rotary, I had to get started to cover my bases. I had spent extra hours on learning phrases from each of the native languages of my countries of choice. I spent even more hours on practicing speeches and mock interviews with my mom to prepare for my interviews. I spent hours of just thinking to myself, Sam, there is no way you’re going to make this. You would have to work so hard to be one of the 21 lucky students in your district to make it. It would take a miracle, it’s impossible. I spent nights crying over this sometimes.

Then I went to the interviews, and took a few deep breaths and earned a spurt of confidence for me to get through my district interview. I still to this day have no idea how I did it or what came over me on that day, but I am so happy for it. I spent the following days pacing around my house, hoping, and praying I would get that ACCEPTED email from Daphne.

Then I was accepted. For about 10 seconds, my heart stopped, then for the following 20 minutes after, it was spent screaming, jumping, hugging, crying, running, hitting my toe on every furniture corner in the house, and calling everyone I knew to tell them I had been accepted into Rotary.

Then came Reveal Day. I had spent days wondering which country I would be spending the next year in. I had spent hours online looking at the beautiful landmarks of my possible countries I would be sent to. I spent hours of ranting with my parents about which countries I thought I was being sent to. My whole body was shaking as I walked into that conference room in the library, where I held my little square of paper that said 19. I had spent 18 presentations shaking, sweating, holding my breath until I found out my country. I spent those 30 seconds of hearing the lovely Swedish Rotarian, Catrine, speaking the beautiful, sing-song language of the Swedes, welcoming me into her home country with open arms. And while spending those 30 seconds, I was jumping and holding in screams from my happiness! I spent an hour that following night at dinner researching Sweden on my Iphone and calling all my family telling them the country I would be sent to.

Then came the months of preparation. I spent my weekends to myself, in my room, completing my senior and junior classwork, while trying to learn Swedish. I spent nights of crying to my mom at how hard this year was and how I felt like just giving it all up. I spent nights crying to my mom on how hard school was and how getting through this year would take a miracle. I spent hours talking with rebounds, outbounds, and inbounds from Sweden to get advice, and making some life long friends along the way. I spent hours on my weekends, after school, before school, and even during school, trying my best to complete my classes and graduate on time.

Then came graduation. I’d spent weeks in shock; Wow, I made it. I really made it. I spent my whole time with my family afterwards crying with joy, it was all over and I could start my life in Sweden. I spent the following weeks and months attending my final Rotary meetings, bonding and thanking everybody for all the hard work they were doing to get me to Sweden.

Then it came my time to say my goodbyes. I’d spent the following week meeting with all my amazing friends and family and started saying my goodbyes. I spent my time crying while giving away my final hugs and kisses to everyone, but was happy to know I was finally leaving for this amazing year that I had worked on for, for what seemed like eternity.

Then, I’d finally made it to Sweden, and it was pure bliss. I spent my times bonding with my host family whilst traveling and enjoying Sweden. I spent my times embarrassing myself in front of the Swedish culture. I spent my times making new friends from all around the world. I spent my times wasting my money on the almighty fika breaks with friends. I spent my times laughing and spending memory making moments with my newly made international friends. I spent my times attempting to be confident in my Swedish skills. I spent time trying the crazy Swedish traditions. I spent time trying the crazy European fashions. I spent time trying to understand my teachers in Swedish. I spent time making my Swedish friends laugh over the differences between the US and Sweden. I spent my time the way I had always wanted it to be and even beyond that.

So what was I crying for? How much my life has changed in the time span of less than a year.

Yeah yeah, call it lame or call me a cry baby, but you can’t imagine the feeling until you experience it yourself. It’s amazing how much your life can change in the span of a year. Last October, I would’ve never imagined myself in Sweden, let alone anywhere else overseas. You grow so much before and during exchange, it’s amazing.

Exchange changes you on so many levels; personally, mentally, physically, emotionally, logically, culturally, everything. It changes everything, and definitely for the better. It changes your perspective on things, from all sorts of topics. It changes your outlooks on life. It changes your attitudes towards different things. You learn to adapt, you learn to experience and enjoy foreign things, you learn to become more tolerant, you become more understanding, you become more wise, and you become more you. You realize the person who you are really meant to be. You learn not to do things to please other people, but to please yourself. You learn how to be the best person you can be, for yourself and for the benefit of others.

So I know there are many of you right now back in Florida, wondering if this may be for you, if you’re ready to go on this type of adventure, and all I can say is try it. You’ll be amazed of what your life could become. And no matter what the outcome, you will never regret it. And yes, it’ll be challenging to get here, but it sure as hell is worth it. I do not regret going through all I did to get here. I would go through it all over again if that meant I could be in Sweden. But we’ve all been in your position. There are so many perspectives of joining RYE and so many people to go to about it.

But there was my two cents on exchange and life right now. And if it wasn’t for my amazing family, awesome friends, and RYE Florida and RYE Sweden, I wouldn’t be here. I thank you all so much for everything you have done not for just me, but all the other exchange students world wide.

For those who are applying now, if you have any questions, need advice, or anything, you can always contact me on Facebook!

Lycka till allihopa!

Mycket kärlek från Sverige

January 6, 2014

Hello readers. Welcome back for an all new installment of my monthly life in Sweden. I am sorry it has been so long since I’ve last posted, but this last month has been absolutely nuts. I’ve noticed in most of my posts, I’ve talked more about deep mushy gushy lesson learning things, but this time, it’ll be a little different.

Since my last entry back in November, lots has happened. I’ve turned 18, I saw my first snow day, I made a snow man, I celebrated Christmas, I celebrated New Years, I’ve moved host families, I went skiing for the fist time, I saw my first wild moose, I went to a Bruno Mars concert, I bought my tickets to London to visit my aunt, and my parents booked their tickets to come visit me in March! I probably forgot something, but oh well.

I’ll start off with the first day of December. Swedes don’t mess around when it comes to the month of December. You think Americans are crazy when Christmas time is near? Come to Sweden and I promise you will change your mind. Because not only does Christmas happen in December, but so does Sankta Lucia Dag and Sunday Advents, which are all huge deals here. By the way, did I mention that Christmas lasts 3 days here?

Starting the first day of December, the days get shorter, colder, and darker. The sun can set during any time from as early as 4:30 to even earlier times like 2:30 in the afternoon. Have I gotten used to it yet? That answer is no. Every day is harder to wake up, and even harder to stay awake during school when outside it is pitch black. I was warned about this darkness coming from all the Swedes I had talked to prior, and all of the videos I’ve watched. I was told that the suicide rates go up during the winter time, the weather is absolutely miserable, and so on and so on, but to me, it wasn’t that dramatic.

Onto the first advent that took place on the 6th of December, you will see that every house in Stockholm – let alone the whole country of Sweden – was decorated with all sorts of ljus (lights or candles, mostly candles) and stjärnor (stars) in the windows of the houses. Every Sunday is usually spent with your family, where you watch special Christmas-y television specials and where you eat pepparkaka (ginger breadmen but in the shapes of hearts and stars), drink glögg (Swedish warm mulled wine with almonds and rasins), and sit by the fire. I had never really heard of advent being celebrated in America, or at least my family never did, but I think these little Sunday nights were very comforting and nice. That is a good way to describe the Swedish month of December; comforting and nice.

Then it was onto Sankta Lucia Dag. Still, I really have no idea why Scandinavia celebrate Sankta Lucia Dag. The real Sankta Lucia had absolutely nothing to do with Sweden. She was an Italian saint who was a martyr and somewhere along the lines of her story, ended up gouging her eyes out. However, she was the bearer of light. She was seen as a beautiful blonde woman, who wore a long white dress with a red ribbon, and wore a wreath on her head bearing candles. They celebrate Sankta Lucia Dag by having concerts and dressing up. It is nearly impossible to miss a Sankta Lucia Concert because they are everywhere. Churches, pre schools, primary schools, gymnasiums, choirs, everywhere. I went to one by myself at the local church by my school where I watched my host sister and fellow exchange student Hikaru from Japan perform in her Lucia concert. It is a very beautiful holiday and comes with beautiful performances. The whole church was darkened, with the only light coming from Lucia ’s candle wreath, and the other girls that held their candles in the luciatåget (literally translates to Lucia Train, but it is more like a group: includes stjärngossar, pepparkaksgubbar, tomtar, och tärnor). Also, lots of Lucia Dag special food is eaten, like Lussekatter, which are yellow saffron buns in the shapes of Ss, and they are very good. I think I ate about 9 of them on my first try. It was definitely a moment I will never forget about the Swedish culture.

Then a few days before Christmas, we got our Christmas tree the Viking way… Yes, we chopped down our own Christmas tree, in the woods. I am no longer in Florida anymore.

Then onto the days of Christmas, and yes, I said days. Christmas is celebrated for 3 whole days, beginning with Julafton, or Christmas Eve. Their Christmas Eve, is what Christmas Day is to Americans. It begins by watching Kalle Anka at 3:30. It is a Christmas tradition here in Sweden to watch ‘Kalle Anka’ – or Donald Duck’s Christmas Special. In this program, they show many different cartoons from Disney. And EVERYONE watches this, of all ages. After, you will commense the shoveling of food. Yes, the famous julbord. Julbords are another thing here in Sweden that is impossible to not attend or avoid. I had attended 4 julbords. And for those who don’t know what is included in a Swedish Julbord, here is a general list of items included:

Julskinka – Christmas Ham

Köttbullar – Swedish meatballs

Various types of Sil – pickled herring (I even got to make my own! It was very good if you’re asking)

Roastbiff – Roast Beef

Leverpastej – liver sausage like stuff

Prins korv – Small cocktail hot dogs, and literally translates to Prince Sausage

Various types of Lax – Salmon

Lutfisk – a special Scandinavian fish eaten around Christmas

Potatisallad – Potato salad

Rokt Potatis – Boiled potatoes

Potatismos – mashed potatoes

Rödbetor – red beets

Janssons frestelse – ‘Janssons Temptation’ which is a potato casserole with anchovies at the bottom

Fläskkorv – smoked pork

Knäckebröd – crisp bread, but that is eaten year round

And yes, you will eat everything. And that’s not even including desserts, and here is a basic list for desserts:

Fruktkaka – Fruit cake, and yes, it is eaten literally here and not as a joke.

Ostkaka – Cheese Cake, but not like our cheese cakes. They also eat our cheese cakes too

Pepparkaka – Ginger snaps

Ischoklad – Ice chocolate with a different taste

Knäck – caramel like hard candy with almonds (I made some and it was a huge fail)

Ris a l’amande – rice pudding stuff

Chokladbollar – chocolate balls (eaten year round)

During this time, there are also many other Christmas drinks. For example, around Christmas time, LOTS and LOTS of alcohol is consumed. With every julbord, there is snapps. And I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but you always have to sing a special snapps song with the whole entire family or group you are with before you take a sip, and everyone must sing and take a sip with you. On top of that, there’s lots of special jul öl, or Christmas beer only sold aroud Christmas time, which means everyone must take advantage of as much as they can before it goes away. And then there is my favorite Christmas drink, Julmust. I think while on my way back America and I have my 3 hour cry, 20 minutes of that will be because that there will be no more Julmust in America. Julmust is a special Christmas soda. I can’t even describe the taste either, because it doesn’t really taste like any other drink. If you add Dr. Pepper and a little bit of Coca Cola, and ta ke away a little bit of the carbonation, that is almost Julmust, but not as good.

During or after the julbord, you can also finish watching the final episode of Julcalendern. Julcalendern is a childrens program shown on the TV and played on the radio and it is all focused around Christmas. Every night, there is a 15 minute episode on Channel 1, and while watching that, you have to follow along with your actual Julcalendern, or Christmas Calendar, which includes pictures of the program, puzzles, games, crosswords, etc. I was probably the only 18 year old in Sweden that followed along with the Julcalendern program, but I had no shame. This year, it featured Familjen Hedenhös, which is a family of Cavemen which was a popular Swedish cartoon, and how they travel into the future and discover Christmas. It was very cute.

Following the julbord, you will waddle yourself over to the Christmas tree where you will open presents. Now because I was not a small child, Tomte (Santa) didn’t come to the door to drop off my presents. But that is a huge Christmas tradition in Sweden. Usually, your father is Santa of course, and he will say ‘I need to get the newspaper’, and while he is out, Santa will show up and deliver presents, and shortly after, dad will be back, and you have to describe everything that has happened while he was gone. However, after a few years, the children start getting the idea that dad is Santa after all. And you can do either of two things: tell them the truth or do what my 3rd host father did. My third host father, Frederik, told me that they had a secret train of Santas throughout the neighborhood. Most of their children were the same age, and started getting the hints about the real Santa around the same time. So they decided to be the Santa of the other fami ly’s houses so the children would be really stunned! Smart idea, eh?

For Christmas, I got some movies, lots of socks, underwear, books on Sweden and a fika giftcard from my host family. I was so grateful that they were able to open their house for Christmas to a complete outsider like me and really make me feel like a family member. It was a Christmas I will never forget.

Then Christmas Day came. On Christmas Day, it is a little more calm than Christmas Eve. You sit around the house, bake goodies if you want, and eat ham sandwiches from the julskinka which lasts quite some time. Then Christmas night, you have yet another Julbord, but the food is so good, so you never have to worry about getting tired of it. Then that night, I introduced them to my family’s Christmas tradition of watching A Christmas Story. It was a little different because I don’t think they understood the American jokes and the American humor in the movie, so it wasn’t really the same watching it which made me a little homesick but I was happy to introduce them to it.

Then Annanda Jul comes, which is the day after Christmas. And guess what you do on that day? Yes! We have ANOTHER Julbord. However, I’ll back track a little. For breakfast, we ate a traditional Swedish porridge, which is called Julgröt. It is just like porridge, with a white rice and milk type taste, where kanel and socker (cinnamon and sugar) are added on top. However, one cannot simply eat Julbord without suffering a consequence. In the mix, there are two almonds. If while you’re eating your gröt, you have either of the almonds, you must create and recite a poem about Christmas or somebody in the family, and if you do, you will have good luck for the coming new year. Fortunately, my host brother earned both almonds in his gröt and had to recite two poems.

The following days after Christmas, we went up to the countryside of Sweden called Dalarna, and we went skiing. It was the first time I had ever gone skiing in my life and my host parents said they could barely tell I was from Florida after they saw me, not to brag or anything.. Then the day after we arrived back home, it was New Years. My Swedish New Year was one of those times that made me realize how happy I was to be here. How happy I was to be in Sweden, to be doing exchange, to be with my international family, to be on the highest point in Stockholm while watching the whole city light up with lanterns and fireworks, to count down to the New Year in Swedish, to just be alive! It was an exhilarating feeling, and definitely a sight and feeling I will never be able to recreate in my life again. It was that one moment of greatness.

Following New Years, I would have to move within the next few days to my new host family. My new host family didn’t live far away from the host family I’d been living with, but it would be a whole new environment. From living with my host parents, host brother and a dog, I would move into a new house with new host parents, a new host sister, and another exchange host sister from Japan. I would have to start all over again, with a new bus, new train, new way to school, a new school, everything! Needless to say, I was very nervous and feeling a little homesick. Before I came to Sweden, I had never moved in my entire life, so I didn’t know what it would feel like to move into a new house and family. I think my host mother saw this feeling in me, and 2 days before I switched, she took me to the famous ABBA museum in Stockholm! It was kind of our goodbye trip together, but it was amazing! I had been listening to ABBA my whole life, and it was weird to think that I would be in the country and city that the band emerged from. I even live near Björn! So we sang, we danced, and enjoyed the whole time there! It was excellent.

Then switching day came, and shockingly, I didn’t cry. I was so grateful for my first host family to have did all they have done for me, and I will never forget them. They were there for everything. They knew me before I spoke a word of Swedish, they were there during my first moments of being in the new foreign country, and they taught me everything I now know about my city, the language, the people, and Sweden in general. I am so grateful for them, and I am so happy for them to have come into my life. But I knew moving would only add more memories, and would include another new family into my life that would open my eyes to a new perspective of life in Sweden, so I put on a smile and began unpacking into my new room at the Leijonhuvfud family house.

Now it is currently day 2 with my new family, and I am loving it here. I have such fantastic host parents and an awesome host sister who even did exchange in America! And I also love my other host exchange sister, Hikaru from Japan, so we are both in the same boat together!

I can’t wait to see what else this year has in store. And as always, thank you Rotary, my amazing host family, my great American family, and my ever loving and supporting friends.

The adventures continue in Sweden.

PS- HAVE AN AWESOME WEEKEND NEWBIES! Get ready for the ride of your life and keep pushing through, exchange is closer than you think 😉

February 9, 2014

Hey again everybody! I have a feeling this next post is going to be one of the hardest ones for me to write, because this is my halfway post. So try to bear with me on this one! Some reality is about to kick in.

Everything was settling in very well. Since I last wrote, I have switched host families, and I think I’ve settled in. Coming from someone who has never moved in her life, I think I am handling these adjustments pretty well. I live with a family of exchange students, and no, I am not kidding when I say that. My host mother, Agneta, was an exchange student in Switzerland when she was a high school student. My host father was an exchange student in New York, USA when he was a high school student. My older host sister, Louise, was an exchange student in Utah, USA two years ago. My younger host sister, Hika, is an exchange student from Japan. My two younger twin host brothers, Claes and Wilhelm, are exchange students in Indiana (Claes), and Toowomba, Australia (Wilhelm). So with that, I feel very comfortable in this house! And it has almost been a whole month since I’ve switched. I’ve noticed that nearly everything on exchange moves at least 5 times fast than it ne eds to be. So as my first set of advice in this post, is to just cherish your moments. I know that really goes without saying, but you will be amazed at how fast time flies while on exchange, it’s almost hard to grasp everything, and you’re haunted always by the fact that you will only have this for only one year (or for another 6 months in my case), so cherish and enjoy every moment while on exchange.

And it wasn’t really until I moved to my 2nd host family that I realized I was really just living a normal life here in Sweden. I rarely ever felt like I was a tourist anymore, let alone an exchange student. It felt like I’ve lived here almost my whole life. I could get to school without a problem, I knew the bus system like the back of my hand, I’ve helped tourist make their way around Stockholm, I had a new favorite fika place, and I could make my way around and be polite in my host language. I felt comfortable and didn’t feel like an outsider so much! It’s weird to think that my life back in Florida was completely polar opposite, and it’s almost hard to remember things of what it was like in Florida, like how it feels to be in warm weather. It’s crazy!

Just like the rotarians and rotex will tell you, you can never escape the goodbyes. You imagine just leaving your home country and leaving your host country is your only goodbye, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Exchange is a whole year of hellos and goodbyes. Not only your real families, but your supportive host families, the great friends you meet along the way, the interesting people you’ve come to know, the people you become really close with, everything ends with a goodbye. And with that, I had to endure one of the hardest goodbyes in my life.

For the first 5 months of my exchange, I had a set of Australian, New Zealand, and Brazilian mentors (or Oldies) that had been living in Stockholm, who helped myself and the other Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and such of getting around Stockholm, communicating with other people, introducing us to the new culture, and everything. Along the way, we all became really close and we became international brothers and sisters. They were all people that have changed my life, and I will never forget them. They were all apart of my first memories of my exchange. But like I mentioned, with every hello, ends with a goodbye. It was one of the most nerve wrecking and heart wrenching moments of my life. We all jumped on the Arlanda Express train, directly towards the airport where we would hug, cry, take pictures, and say our final goodbyes to our amazing oldies. And it wasn’t necessarily the goodbye that made us all so sad, but the unknowing. I had no idea when I would ever see the m again. Was this it? Would this be my last and final memory of them? Would we ever met again? It’s the goodbye that hurts, but the oblivion and unknowing that kills. But with moments like these, I’ve learned that it’s best to just say “Vi ses” instead of “Hej då”. (See you soon instead of goodbye).

But with a depressing ending comes some sort of light in replacement. The following week, we introduced our newbies. We suddenly transformed into Oldies before we knew it, and then we found out that it was up to us to mentor them. We weren’t new to this culture anymore, we were the wise and cultured ones to pave the way for our new Aussies. Our special newbie was named Patrick from Queensland, Aussie Land. Unfortunately, we weren’t there to greet him at the airport, but the following afternoon, we met him for his first fika! Although exhausted, he managed very well and he fit in perfectly with the crazy eclectic Täby group! We love him very much, even though he is a reminder that our year is almost over.. But I mean that in the nicest of ways 😉

The following weeks upon our newbie’s arrival was filled with activities. With the newbies coming in, you really get to rediscover and relive your first moments in Sweden through your newbies. Like listening to them try to pronounce Danderyds Sjukhus (a Metro/Bus stop) or Sjuksköterska (nurse), making them try latkris and Kalle’s Kaviar, and showing them around Stockholm and telling them funny stories about our memories of our first months in Sweden. We took multiple trips out to Stockholm, went skiing, played in the snow, took a sauna and ran into the snow, ate some really good älg soppa, and had an overall fantastic time. Exchange students know how to have a good time and know how to make the best out of any situation no matter what.

I feel like I have nearly completed my mission over here in Sweden. I feel like I have almost fully adapted into this culture, and I feel very accomplished, and along with this, I have a story with proof.

2 weeks ago, I went to Mora, Dalarna, Sweden, which is in the traditional countryside of Sweden. Mora is a great destination for Midsummer, camping, hiking, and skiing especially. My host family, along with 5 other host families from my city in Täby, went all together to the woods in Mora. All of the other exchange students, besides myself, Hika, and Patrick (our newbie) had seen snow. This trip was our first real taste of what snow was like. In Täby, there had been maybe less than a foot of snow, but in Mora, there were about 1 and a half metres which was a HUGE difference. So there, we took part in many snow time activities, like skiing for the first time – which by the way, was one of the best things I have ever done! Probably my new favorite thing – had a snowball fight, went out on the pulkas (sledding), built a snow man, and did the Swedish tradition of taking a sauna. We were all dared to do the ‘Swedish Challenge’ which is staying in the sauna unti l you begin to sweat and feel very very warm, then immediately run out and bury yourself in the snow all around your body, then run back into the sauna and wait for the snow to melt. So being the exchange students that we were, we did it. We did it about 3 times. Afterwards, instead of running in the snow, we decided to just stand outside, but we added a game to it, making it into who could stay out the longest. There were 3 Swedes, 3 Americans, 1 Aussie, and 1 Japanese girl. So there we all stood outside in the freezing cold while it was snowing. I had never been more proud of myself when myself, along with Patrick and William (younger host brother to my friend) outlasted everyone else! I then realized I wasn’t a Florida girl anymore, but a full on viking! Unfortunately, I didn’t outlast the little Swede, but still, I was so proud. And he would’ve never backed down!

Anyways, life is good here in Sweden, and like every time I mention it, I couldn’t be more thankful for my amazing family, my amazing host families, my best friends, the awesome exchange students who haven’t left my side since day one, the supportive Rotarians in Sweden and in Florida for everything you do for me and every other exchange student, tack tack tack tack tack tack tack igen o igen o igen!

April 18, 2014

So this one is going to be a long one..

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote, or at least it has felt like it because I have so much to tell you all! Since I last wrote, so many things have happened. I will be a bit scatter-brained because I honestly don’t know where to start, so please, bare with me!

All the crazy excitement began when my mom and my brother came to visit me in Stockholm. They stayed for twelve days, and within those twelve days, we were able to reunite and reconnect together as a family, explore and discover new things together as a family, and I got to introduce them into a culture that I now have claimed as my own. I can proudly say, I have accomplished one of the biggest things I have ever wanted to have, and that is my own culture to claim expert as. I have many relatives from all over the world, and they each have their own. I grew up hearing stories from my dads parents about what is was like living in England and living in Japan, and I heard from my mothers mother what is was like growing up in Quebec and what it was like learning English. I had dreamed of having one of those stories of my own, and with my mom and brother coming to visit, I finally felt that I had my own culture and country to talk and tell stories about.

But besides the self accomplishment, I had a fantastic twelve days with my mom and brother. For those who have had their family members visit them while on exchange, they will understand, but having family coming to visit you makes you feel all sorts of emotions. You fall in love with your country again by revisiting all the places you first went to when you were on exchange, you realize how far you’ve come since you moved to your host country, and it puts your through a whirlwind, because for the first time in a very very long time, there is someone who is more foreign and out of place to your host country than you are. The family visit was an awakening for me and it was such a great wake up call. I realized how well I could understand and direct my family and myself around my host city, I was happy with how well my speaking and translating skills have gotten, and I was glad with how well I had adapted to the Swedish culture.

However, as a short overview of what exactly we did, we did loads of touristy things. We explored loads of museums, and my mom and I were able to experience the ABBA museum together – yes, this was a very groundbreaking moment for us. We got lost around Stockholm, I introduced all of my host parents to my real parents (another really bizarre but comfy feeling), and we even took a short cruise to Helsinki, Finland. We both were able to discover a new land and new culture together, which was awesome.

After the fantastic twelve days, I was onto another adventure. I went to Kiruna for my second time, but this time, it was with many other Rotary Youth Exchange Students from all over Sweden. This was the first Rotary trip I had attended, and it was the second one of the year. For those of you who don’t know, Kiruna is a city in Sweden that is above the Arctic Circle. It is very cold, there are loads of snow, loads of reindeer, loads of beautiful nature, and there aren’t so many people. This is a completely different scenery when compared to the city, but it is very refreshing!

There in Kiruna, we had heaps of activities to do. We started off with visiting the ice hotel, which is amazing. It was also my second time there, but it never ceases to amaze me. Then after, we got to meet reindeer, eat reindeer and talk with the Sámi people at the Sámi museum. For those of you who do not know who the Sámi people are, they are the natives of Sweden. It’s funny how things work out too, because my grandmother, ever since I was a child, she would send me articles about these people, because my nickname ever since I was a child was Sami, which is very similar. So I came to Sweden with tons of previous knowledge and fascination about the Sámi culture.The Sámi people also live in Finland and Russia and have their own language that is related to Finnish and Hungarian. The Sámi people are also the only people who are allowed to own and herd reindeer in Sweden. It really is a beautiful culture and I had such a great time learning about it. Also, did you know that reindeer is one of the best meats to eat? It has 23 minerals contained in it, unlike pork which has 2 and beef that has 4-5.

Overall, my week in Kiruna was fantastic. I made loads of friends from all around Sweden, and made loads of memories.

But 3 days after, I was onto another adventure. Except this time, it was in England! I went to Burwash, England for 10 days to visit my Auntie Fiona, Uncle Anton, and my 2 little cousins. During my visit, I stayed with my family, did quick sight seeing in London, visited Stonehenge (one of the items on my bucket list), drank loads of PG Tips and loads of scones, and overall had a fantastic time. This is my second time in England, and I always saw England as my home away from home, but after visiting it after I’ve been living in Sweden for 8 months, England nearly feels like more of a foreign country to me than Sweden does. And I have been surrounded by British culture my whole life. Then I realized, I wasn’t visiting England as an American, but more as a Swede. I swear, exchange really does things to you.

And guess what I am doing now? You guessed it! I am on another adventure with my host mom to meet up with my host dad, host sister, host exchange brother, and the whole family on the West Coast of Sweden in Hunnebostrand. Did I mention I arrived home from England last night at 11:30? And it’s 9 am as I write this now. Then when I come home, I switch to my final host family. Busy busy busy, but I can’t complain. I love living life like this with each day being a new adventure, I couldn’t ask for it to be better, besides maybe making my exchange longer. I am pretending that I am not going home, so the fact that I am actually going home doesn’t make me sad. I am trying so hard not to mention or even notice the fact that I have a little under 3 months left in this country.. but before I get too depressed, I will stop here.

Thank you for reading, and there are more stories to come!

Big thanks to my amazing families here in Sweden, to my amazing family back home in St. Augustine, to my amazing Rotaryklubb i Upplands Väsby, and to my amazing Rotary Club of Coastal St. Johns back at home! Love you all!

Sierra Melton
2013-14 Outbound to Bosnia
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Sarajevo

Sierra - Bosnia

Sierra’s Bio

Zdravo, my name is Sierra Melton. I am currently a senior at St. Augustine High school. I love to swim, read, go scuba diving, caving and hanging out with my friends and family. Ever since Mrs. Cameron came to speak to my school about Rotary Exchange in 2009, I have known that I wanted to be a part of this program and now I am! I am headed for the beautiful country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I look forward to learning much about the culture and history of Bosnia, and especially making new friends and families that will last a lifetime. I am currently an only child so I am looking forward to adding brothers and sisters to my family. School is very important to me but the education I will get from meeting new families and friends is the most important part of this adventure!

Sierra’s Journals

September 2, 2013


Well today was the first day of school! It wasn’t till today that it sunk in that I am here for a whole year. I have only been here for a few weeks but it has felt longer than that. The things that I have seen I could not have seen or learned from just sitting at home reading about it! For those student trying to decide whether or not to decide whether to apply I say do it. These few weeks in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina I have been the best weeks I could imagine. You must be thinking, like all the people I have talked to, “Why Bosnia and Herzegovina?” and my answer is that this country is so rich in culture and language that why wouldn’t i choose it! This city and language is so different from what i and use to that it should throw anyone out of their comfort zone but for me I feel at home walking through the streets that are cracked from the bombs and grenades that went off almost 20 years ago and living in a house that was the first house to be h it by the grenade that started the last war. These things that I see and the stories I hear amaze me and make me realize that i wouldn’t want to spend my year any other way. That Sarajevo is my home now and I love it here! Sure the place can make the exchange but the major part of exchange is you willing to go outside of your comfort zone and say yes to every opportunity there is just like everyone tells you to do. Make the decision and apply today because you will never regret it!

Doviđenja i Sretno


October 18, 2013

So a little over two months I stepped off a plane and into a new life. It has been easy but also really hard. When I stepped off that plane i was not expecting easy but i was not expecting it to be this tough. The culture is amazing but different. My host mother is a great mother but here in Bosnia and Herzegovina parents show their love with things they are not real affectionate like mothers in America well at least mine. This has been a challenge for me to get use to and I finally am accepting it. Another change is all the beggars. You are just walking home from school and on the street there are three to five year old children just wailing and begging for money. They are covered in filth. There is no fix to this but doing the best you can by buying them food does help. There are many differences but the hardest is the language. Like I said I thought this would be easy that I would learn it easy. Learning Bosnian has been the toughest challenge i could imagine but one I know I will overcome. On a lighter note I just got to celebrate my first Bosnian national/religious holiday. It is called Bajram. It is basically a holiday that is equivalent to Thanksgiving but instead of turkey and stuffing I had lamb and spinach pie. There are many differences but I have learned that you can grow in unimaginable ways.

January 28, 2014


Wow it is hard to believe that I am over half way through my exchange! It feels like yesterday that I just got here. This month has been filled with new experiences. I have reached my half way mark as well as move to a new host family. This family is entirely different from my last host family and I love it. I love how I am finally learning Bosnian even if it is tricky. I also am enjoying the experience of sharing a room with my host sister as well as home cooked food! This city is filled with so many great things to do and I have just scratched the surface. Hopefully soon I will get to go skiing finally because it only just started snowing again. School will start tomorrow though for the second semester which will hopefully mean that as my Bosnian progress so will my ability to things in class. In high school we all wish we had the classes where we could do nothing but relax well I have finally gotten to experience it and to me it is utterly boring and pointless. This has definitely been the best year I could imagine. You really do make life long friends from all different countries that i can not wait to visit!

February 7, 2014


Well I switched families about two weeks ago and I can already see the change. My host family only speaks Bosnian with me so am now able to understand when they talk most of the time my next step is learning more words. I have also experienced new events right now. Currently in Sarajevo and other major cities there are massive riots going on. For me this is a completely new experience. I have never had to deal with people protesting in my tiny town of St. Augustine. Sure it is a little scary but it also makes you wonder what is going on in your country to cause people to go to such lengths to make a point. It makes you want to investigate what is going on in your country because that is what it is now YOUR COUNTRY it is making me think what do i not know about my country and i want to learn more. Madi, Andrea, and I are not allowed to leave our house and in some cities school and work has been cancelled. Like I said this is a new change for me. We know we are fine and tru thfully we are since our houses are away from that part of the city but watching what is going on in the news even if you do not understand can be frightening. I am not writing this to freak anyone out or worry because I know if it gets bad that Rotary will have us out within a second but I also believe that Rotary will keep us safe and not send us to a dangerous place. This year has been full of many different experience and this is just another to add to my list of opportunities. I hope all is well back in Florida.

Doviđenja i sretno,


Tony Meoño
2013-14 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: Rotary Club de Tres Cantos

Tony - Spain

Tony’s Bio

My name is Tony Meoño. I’m 16, and currently a sophomore at Flagler Palm Coast High School. I live in Palm Coast, with my mom, step-dad, and our 3 dogs. As you probably guessed, I have recently been accepted to do an exchange for my Junior year in high school, and I couldn’t be happier! I’ll be going to Spain for my exchange, and hopefully perfect my Spanish along the way. I’ve always loved learning about different cultures and languages, and I’ve always been told that living in a certain place is the best way to learn about their culture. Thus I came to the decision that I should take the opportunity presented to me, and live in a different country for a year (or so). I’m passionate about soccer and music. I am in my school’s choir, and that is an extremely important part of my life. But soccer has always been there, in times of doubt and in times of joy, it’s one of the activities that I find the most joy in. Though I am anxious, I’m hoping that my exchange will be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had… and that I will return a new and better person. In the end, I’ll take the good with the bad, and have a great time!

Tony’s Journals

December 2, 2013


If there is one word you could use to describe exchange, it’s different.

The first day I got here, I got off the plane in Madrid without problems, and found my parents, again without problems. It’s strange to think that changing your entire life can go off without a hitch, but it did. That day, we went back to the house, but made a stop at a churreria, where they basically ordered a bunch of churros and liquid chocolate. LIQUID CHOCOLATE. That kind of set the theme for the day, as that made me sleepy, and I when we finally arrived, I closed the windows (which can become blackout windows by pulling this string) and slept for 20 hours.

As the first few weeks passed, I kept noticing the big differences in between the American culture and the Spanish culture. How they were not punctual in any way, they had this thing called sobremesa, which literally does not translate, and it’s just a time that they sit after dinner or a meal, and talk FOREVER. But, there were also lots of great big things, the fact that they have incredible bread, and that the people are generally very laid back and relaxed. It’s also nice to see an incredibly old culture, because ours is, relatively speaking, a baby nation and in turn we don’t have the grand architecture of places such as Spain and the rest of Europe.

Spaniards like to play a lot of soccer, and they have 5-a-side courts all over the place, with futsal courts as well, and a lot of polideportivos, which are basically gyms with every sport you could imagine. The people take great pride in being Spanish, except for the people from the Basque Country, or from Catalonia, but don’t put things like their Spanish flag in their front yard, nor do they sing their national anthem in school. They think that’s too cult-like. But, I digress..

Where they hang out is quite different, they normally don’t just like go over to someone’s house to stay the night, nor do they just go to have lunch. They will meet in bars, or go for coffee. Also, they don’t do very much during the week unless it’s planned ahead, because their parents worry about their studies much more than in the United States. But all in all, you can always find something to do.

One of the major differences I’ve noticed so far is the education system. In the US, even if we don’t like the teacher we have to maintain a certain level of respect and cordialness in class, because not only is it a big part of their job and they demand respect, they really want to teach. Here, it’s more or less their job, and in turn they garner very little respect from their students, which is disheartening. School is also a bit unorganized, and a lot of teachers just miss a lot. They also have close to no practical lessons, it is all theory, which is extremely different from the lessons in the states.

But, all in all, I am enjoying Spain more than I could have ever imagined, and I still have so much time to go until I have to think about coming back.

Til next time, Ciao, au revoir, hasta luego. Dios te bendiga.

March 13, 2014

Life is change. As time begins to change, we gradually realize that, while there may be a few constants, we are constantly moving, constantly evolving. To me, the middle part of this exchange has been the perfect exhibit of that change. From the changing of families, which in and of itself is a strange feeling, to holiday traditions that you don’t know about.. you’re made to adapt.

Let me start with the changing of families. It’s not a bad thing by any means, because it lets you see a different point of view in the same society that could be completely different. Different rules, different speed of life, different manner of living…everything. But the biggest surprise to me was the fact that, one day I was going about my life with a different family and then the next I was with my new family. And it almost seemed as if to those around me, nothing had changed. My life had just changed drastically, yet everyone else seemed to just go on. I was kind of left with my jaw dropped, as even my new family kinda just kept going.

One of the best things about this middle part is finally being accustomed to almost everything. Every now and again, you’ll still make one of those glaring mistakes. But for the most part it seems as if I´m now an official part of the society, and they always tell me “Eres uno de nuestros”, which is just like one of us. The first time they told me that, they were really surprised by just how happy I was to get that compliment.

Another great thing is finally being able to think in my host language. Spanish is now a good bit easier for me to rattle off then English is. People never think I’m American, as in from the US, they know I am a foreigner from my accent, but they always ask me if I am from Latin America. It’s a great feeling honestly.

Being an exchange student absolutely has its perks, because as much as it is a difficult thing to do, people want you to have a good time in their country. Thus, you get invited to most things, you make a lot of friends, and you experience more than an average person because well, you’re a novelty in this new country. You come to accept the fact that some people will never take you seriously because of this, and that a certain resentment comes from some people. But, that is life.

An exchange year is more than just a year in your life, it’s many experiences, the passing of much time, crammed into one period of time, and it´s almost overwhelming at times.. But I couldn’t ask for any more.

April 28, 2014

Exchange is an extremely clarifying event in a young person’s life. Things become clearer right from the start, and you gradually gather information about both yourself and your surroundings. You become a bit polarized in some aspects, as you see the great and the awful things of your host-society, but also much more rounded as a result of the knowledge that differences are just changes and they neither have to be good or bad.

But, let’s start with the interesting stuff.These last few months have been some of the most incredible of my life. My eyes have now seen things that I could’ve only imagined just a year ago. My latest grand trip was to Italy, Brescia to be precise. The first trip in Italy was to Lake Garda, which was beautiful by itself and moreso because of the town that capped off the peninsula, Sirmione. That day, I experienced real Italian gelato for the first time and I have to say.. I can never return to regular ice cream again. The next day, we went to Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and it was just about every bit as magical as I thought it would be while reading the story.From the colloseum there, to Juliet’s balcony, to just the old castle high above the city, it was incredible to be in a place so well preserved in time. It’s also mind boggling to be surrounded by structures that literally date back farther in time than your enti re country. Bergamo was our final destination, and it’s basically just a town in which the aristocrats lived during the Renaissance and now stands as the epitomy of architecture of that time in Italy. Europe in general, I suppose is much more like the last two sentences than I had ever really thought before coming here.

To be completely honest, even the towns and architecture in Spain, and Europe in general, is just a lot more complex and detailed than ours. For example, I went to Cartagena with my host family a couple of weeks ago, and although the town was destroyed around 60 years ago in the Spanish Civil War it still is as intricate and beautiful as it is said to have been before. I feel that the Spaniards take a lot more pride in their buildings and what they have to offer to outsiders than we are. People generally go to Cartagena for the beach and the port there, but to me the thing that really grabbed was the mountain behind my family’s house there. On top of the small mountain there is a castle that is now abandoned, which means that you can scale the mountain and just hang out on top of the castle for a while without anyone bothering you. Just you and nature for a good while.

But, every place generally has its positives and negatives. Spanish culture and Spain in general is interesting, but it has a few quirks that, depending on who you are, can be to your liking or not. One thing that seems to be becoming a lot more common in this generation of Spaniards is a huge lack of maturity. This can be seen in many facets of their lives, such as the small amount of respect the have for their teachers, to their constant feeling that they “deserved to be dealt a better hand”. I know this are small things, but they all kind of add up and get aggravating after a while. Also, one thing that any American will realize when they go on exchange is that EVERYONE has an image about our country, whether that image is a good one or a bad one depends on who you talk to. It’s kind of draining after a while, because they have such strong feelings toward a country that they know very little about. For instance, today we were studying the dropping of th e atomic bomb and my teacher (who is a great man, and knows what it is like to be a foreigner in a different country) told me to hold all the comments I felt necessary until the end of the lesson. I sat and listened for 40 minutes as the majority of them kind of sad that we are really proud of that decision and that we’re glad it converted us into the power that we are in the world now. It shocked me, and kind of hurt to be honest. I kept it short after they all finished because I didn’t want to say anything out of spite, but basically what I said was “Saying we are proud of that decision is ignorant. We view it now, and are almost ashamed. Being proud of the bombings would be like saying that Spaniards are proud of the bombing of Guernica.” They all kind of looked on with a look of shock, as if I had just like insulted their country. But all of the mistakes we’ve ever made, or that our government has ever made is magnified in the view of Europeans i n general.

Another thing that is still evident in Spain is a bit of racism. Probably a result of the fact that, before around 30-40 years ago there were no foreigners in Spain. But to me, many people look at me funny because of the color of my skin, because they know I’m from Latin America. They feel like we owe them something, that they are superior, and that we barely speak Spanish. It is pretty shocking how many people feel that way, to be honest. It also happens with the Africans here, and especially the Magrehbis(moors).

But, in the end, generally things are alright. You have to make the best of any situation you are in, because if not you will not be the happiest you can be in life. I officially have less than 80 days in this country, and despite all its flaws.. I don’t know if I’m ready to go back quite yet.

Will Foody
2013-14 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
School: St. Augustine High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Chung-Li West

Will - Taiwan

Will’s Bio

Hello! My name is Will Foody and next year I will be living in Taiwan! I know that it will be very different from most exchanges, and more challenging, but I am ready to take this opportunity. I look forward to an adventurous year filled with many new friends and places. I live in St. Augustine, Florida, but I wouldn’t technically consider this my hometown, as I have only lived here for three years. My father was in the Air Force, so this is actually the sixth state I have lived in, along with Mississippi, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, and Texas. I am pretty used to moving around, and I think I’ve developed a strong ability to making friends and finding excitement in all kinds of situations. Even though I have only lived in St. Augustine for three years, however, it is where I now consider my home in the U.S. Hopefully in a few months I will have a place in Taiwan that I will consider home! I live very near downtown, so this is where my friends and I spend most of our free nights. We ride bikes, longboard, or just walk around the old streets of the city until eventually making our way to a taco or pizza shop. My house is also very near the beach, though, as I do live on an island, so we also spend our time there when the weather is nice. The biggest part of my life, though, is music. I attend my county’s center of the arts, which is part of my high school, and this is where I take all my music classes. I play the piano, and my time here at the SJCCA (St. Johns County for the Arts) has helped me greatly improve with my playing. I have taken piano, music theory, and jazz improvisation classes here, and I am the pianist for the Jazz Ensemble in our school. I met most of my friends through these classes, so I’m always surrounded by music. Since most of my friends our musicians, we constantly play music together, and I have my own band with two other of my best friends. I love learning about the music of other countries and cultures, so I hope I can continue my musical interests while in Taiwan. One of the most overwhelming thoughts right now is the idea of learning Mandarin, but I am ready for the challenge. I think I will feel more accomplished and proud of myself for learning this difficult language and spending an entire year in such a different culture than those in more Western cultures. I’d like to thank my mother and father for being so supportive through this entire process, and thank you to Rotary for giving me this life-changing opportunity!

Will’s Journals

October 27, 2013

Hello, world! I’ve been in Taiwan for over 2 months now, and…and…and…and. This lack of words is why I have yet to submit a journal entry, and I apologize to my family and friends for this. Every time I try to put my experience into words, it seems impossible. I would describe it as “indescribable,” not necessarily in a good way, nor a bad way. Let me just describe my daily life and some things I have done so far, and then we’ll see if I can express my feelings about them after.

The first few days here were honestly just… miserable. (just to relieve you, I’m much better now). I felt like I was completely torn out of my entire world, out of everything I knew and was used to, and abandoned on the other side of the world, all alone. No one can accurately describe “culture shock” to you, not until you’ve experienced it yourself. That being said, I’m slowly appreciating it more and more, now that it’s not so overwhelming and daunting. Thankfully my family is very, very nice and welcoming, which has helped immensely. Taiwanese people in general are very hospitable, especially to foreigners. They love to talk with you and be friends, though they may be shy at first. I have a host mother, father, and two younger brothers. One is currently on exchange in Germany, and the other one is here. My father is an architect and teaches at the local university. My mother is currently a “stay-at-home” mom, which is nice, because we share a good amount of common interests. She plays the cello and brings me to classical concerts occasionally, which is nice. I also got very lucky that they have a piano, which also helps me a lot. Whenever I am bored or feeling down, I feel better by playing some of my favorite familiar songs.

I go to school every day from 7:30 to 5:10. In the morning, I go to classes I have chosen that are with the Taiwanese students. Some classes include cooking, music, German, and Spanish, all of which are taught in Chinese! I think, if/when I learn a little German, I’ll be speaking it with a Taiwanese accent. After lunch.. and nap time (see photos below), I go to my actual Chinese language class with the other 4 exchange students at my school. The lesson is about 4 and half hours…every day. It’s long, but I’m lucky to have lessons so often. The exchange students at my school, including me, I’d say have the best Chinese in our district, just because we have class so much. It helps so much. Like I said, I’ve been here for about 2 months, and I can already a pretty decent conversation with a native speaker. I still make mistakes all the time, which is very easy to do in Chinese. The tones are very difficult, and the same word with a different tone can mea n something totally different. I have found this out the hard way, haha. It seems that every time I make a mistake in my tones, it means something extremely inappropriate. I’ll give one example. The Chinese word for “with” and the Chinese equivalent of the “f” word sound almost exactly the same, but with different tones. I accidentally said the latter to my very traditional host grandfather, and he just stared at me. Thinking he didn’t hear me, I just kept repeating it. Youth exchange is full of many awkward situations, but they make for many funny stories!

Every Tuesday and Thursday, the other exchange students from my school and I spend the first half of the day at a local elementary school. We’re supposed to learn with them and have regular class with them, but most of the time they’re too distracted by 5 giant foreigners sitting behind them to pay attention. The children absolutely love our visits, and the whole school runs to us when we walk in. They love to give high fives and say “Hi, William!”, which ends up just sounding like “Hi, Wei-Lian.” We play basketball with them every time we visit, and they really enjoy watching me dunk on their very low basketball hoops. They all stand there and say “Woooooowwwww!” It’s very funny. There’s usually a small group of little girls that follows me around, and whenever I turn around to look at them, they squeal and run away. I probably give 200+ high fives during the few hours I’m there. Another good part about going there is learning Shufa, which is Chinese calligraphy. We do it without the students, so we actually get to learn without having kids jumping on my back. On a more serious note, I find their attitudes towards us very interesting. You can see so much joy in their eyes, just from being there and talking to them, but you start to think, “Why?” Why do you love me so much just because I’m American? Why do so many people here want to be European or American, why do they think Western people are more attractive? Not just at the elementary school, but many people throughout the whole society. Unfortunately, in several ways, you can see Western culture slowly replacing their own, but there’s still much culture still unchanged. After all, their entire way of thinking is different, and I don’t think any Hollywood movie will change that.

Back to my school day. Although I am 18 years old, and already graduated in the USA, I am a first-year student at my high school. This is because the seniors are extremely busy with their upcoming exams, and wouldn’t really have time for me. And by busy, I mean…BUSY. Some students (like my host brother), before special exams, will go to “cram school.” This is where, after getting out of school at 5:10, you stay until about 9 PM to prepare and study for their tests. Everything in Taiwan is based on tests, which I don’t necessarily I agree with, and more Taiwanese students/people are starting to realize the faults in this system as well. So, if you’re an American student reading this, especially in St. Augustine, don’t complain about going to school at 9:15 and having to write a few essays a month.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m about 6’1” and have very long wavy hair, or at least I did when I arrived here. You could say I stand out a little in a crowd of Taiwanese people. Taiwan’s ethnic population is about 98% Han Chinese, with the other 2% being aboriginal and foreigners. The constant attention and “popularity” was pretty amusing and funny at first, but it gets old after a while. Sometimes I get stopped in the street or in the hallway, usually by a young Taiwanese girl, and asked if I can take a picture with them. My school is used to me now, but they still say hello to me everywhere I go, which is nice. They don’t stare at me as much, that just happens on the bus now. The Taiwanese students are very welcoming and generous. They want you to love Taiwan, and they do little things to make you more comfortable…like giving me food. This is the greatest gift for an exchange student.

When I first arrived, I had trouble with the food, but it’s completely fine now. In fact, the few times I’ve eaten American food here, I’ve gotten a stomach ache. I think I’m pretty used to Taiwanese food, though there are still some foods I have not yet had the courage to try. I HAVE tried some interesting things, though, such as chicken foot and pig stomach. Never again. The chicken foot was alright…tasted like chicken…but the pig stomach, just no. Everything else is good though!

I hope these random thoughts were helpful/informative in some way to you. It’s very difficult to describe something so foreign and special, being a youth exchange student in general, to someone that has never experienced it. That’s why, to all the teenagers out there, you MUST participate in it. The youth exchange program, and the Rotary youth exchange program specifically, is like an invisible world inside of your own world. One day you know absolutely nothing about it, then all at once you’re part of it and suddenly you know people from literally all over the world. And then once you join it, you realize it’s everywhere, you just weren’t seeing it before. You go from a small-town high school student to a global citizen. There’s more to it, though. It may seem all magical and romantic and amazing, and sometimes indeed it is, but it’s also quite difficult. In fact, a great deal of the time. It’s more difficult than you can imagine. With these difficulties come great rewards, however, like hopefully being fluent in Chinese by the time I return home. For those of you applying or waiting for your country, you must be ready for many outcomes. I chose all countries in Europe and South America, and so receiving Taiwan was quite a shock. After much reflection, I decided I would rather be an exchange student here than not be an exchange student at all, and I’m very glad I made that decision. Sometimes it takes everything out of you, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and this is where the benefits of Rotary step in. No matter whatever country you are in, and whether the actual Rotary club in your host country is good or not-so good, you’ll have the other exchange students. They are in the same situation as you, and you can always find support, or just good company, in them.

I can’t believe it’s been an entire year since I was applying for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, and now I’m a Taiwanese high school student, speaking Chinese, eating rice for every meal and playing ping pong every day. Yeah, by the way, I’m getting really good. For anyone reading this, student or adult, and for the students- no matter which country you want to go to, please feel free to ask me any questions via e-mail or Facebook. My e-mail is willfoody@aol.com, and my Facebook is William Foody. If I think of anything else I’ll make sure to put it in my next journal!

P.S. – My chinese name is 高傅偉 (Kao Fu Wei), which means “great tall master.” So that’s awesome.

May 14, 2014

Well, seeing as I just realized it’s been 7 or so months since my last journal entry, I’d say there’s quite a bit I need to catch you guys up on. As in…basically my whole exchange, haha. Where do I even start? I’ve been putting this journal off for a while because, honestly, I’m not ready to think about Florida again yet. I’m completely adapted to my environment now, completely immersed, completely comfortable…this is just my regular life now. These foreign people around me are now my closest friends and family; this strange room that I considered “someone else’s” room is now my room; these crazy, busy roads where I’d get lost and scared are now where I make new friends and know my own shortcuts. This strange, little country somewhere over in District 6970 Asia that I’d never heard of is now what I can consider a home.

And, the cool thing is, Taiwan hasn’t changed at all. It’s been the same as the day I got here, 8 ½ months ago. I’m more comfortable now, though, because I’ve changed. I’ve fully accepted Taiwanese culture into my life. As an exchange student, especially in a place so very foreign, it’s difficult to let go of your own culture and lifestyle. But actually, it makes it even more difficult this way. You’ll never fit in, you’ll never have a good time, you’ll never experience anything worthwhile. So, eventually, you just have to learn how to let go of all that negativity, and basically just give yourself over to this way of life. It’s not forgetting your past or where you come from, it’s just allowing more experience and knowledge to enter your mind instead of closing it off to anything new.

You just gotta learn to roll with it. Things like “Alright they’re eating the pig brain, I guess I should eat it, too” and “Crap I just realized when I went to the restroom 20 minutes ago I walked back into the wrong party…but these people seem cool, might as well sing a couple karaoke songs with them, then head back.”

ANYWAYS, let’s get down to it. What have I been doing?

Let’s see…I’ve witnessed political uprisings and protests, I’ve performed Tai Chi in front of thousands of people, I’ve eaten pig tail/feet/ears (and most recently chicken testicles), I’ve learned how to plant rice from an old lady in the mountains, I’ve done fire-breathing in a street parade, I’ve participated in a government forum about the future of my city, I’ve been cliff jumping off waterfalls, I’ve had my parents and family come visit me, I’ve participated in Taiwanese youth military camp, I’ve filmed a short movie for my school that won them some sort of award from the Ministry of Education, I’ve experienced the countless festivities of Chinese New Year, and much more that I can’t exactly recall right now. In addition, I just passed my Chinese proficiency that I’ve been preparing for for months, or I guess all year really. There are 3 levels to the test: A, B, and C (A being the lowest and C being the highest). All the exchange students in my district received level A, besides my Italian friend and I. We were the only two that passed level B, so I was rather proud of that!

I can feel my exchange slowly coming to an end, and there’s no time to lose. Exchange makes you appreciate a lot of things you took for granted before, and the most valuable thing to me right now is TIME. I don’t waste days anymore, I just can’t afford it. I can physically feel the time slipping away, like my heart’s made of an hourglass, and recently this has put my exchange in a “maximum drive” sort of mode. If I’m not at school, I’m taking a bus through the mountains to hike to a temple or biking to some hot springs, and basically just trying to do EVERYTHING I can before I’m gone, specifically opportunities I just won’t have again for a very long time. I make lists every day: places I still need to go, things I need to buy, foods I need to eat, people who I should get to know better, everything. I’m really fortunate that I’ve found some other friends that have just as much enthusiasm about “seizing the d ay” as I do, and I’m even more excited for what’s to come. Our upcoming plans: live temporarily with the monks in a Buddhist monastery, host an “exchange student Prom” that we created ourselves, prepare a time capsule with everyone from the district/create a scavenger hunt for next year’s students, visit some aboriginal villages, visit all the places on my list in general, and basically just keep going strong until my very last day.

Sorry if this post is lacking a little in “in-depth” detail, but I just wanted to give you a little summary on what I’ve been up to and how I feel right now. However, I think these photos below will explain more than I could with words, and hopefully satisfy your curiosity. I will try to post again soon!

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